U.S. Ends Special Immigration Benefits for Cubans

On January 12, the U.S. announced that it is ending, effectively immediately, the “dry foot” immigration policy for Cubans and the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Policy. Below we will examine these cancelled policies, the U.S. announcement of the policy changes, Cuba’s announcement of the U.S. policy changes and reactions to the changes.

The Cancelled U.S. Policies[1]

The “dry feet” policy has allowed any Cuban who arrived on land (with “dry feet”) at a U.S. point of entry to come into the U.S. and, absent negative factors, qualify for U.S. permanent residency status after one year. This policy originated soon after the early years of the Cuban Revolution before the U.S. in 1967 had ratified the international treaty on refugees and before it had adopted in 1980 a statute implementing that treaty (the Refugee Act of 1980) and when the U.S. assumed that all Cubans arriving in the U.S. were fleeing persecution.

This policy originally included Cubans who were intercepted on the water by the U.S. Coast Guard. However, in response to the Cuban Government’s legitimate concerns about the personal safety of Cubans attempting to reach the U.S. on unsafe boats, the U.S. (Bill Clinton Administration) and Cuba on September 9, 1994, reached an agreement whereby the U.S. would return to Cuba its nationals who were intercepted at sea, i.e., who had “wet feet.”

The U.S. Cuban Medical Professional Parole Policy, which was adopted on August 11, 2006, allowed “Cuban medical personnel conscripted to study or work in a third country under the direction of the Cuban government to enter the U.S.” It was available to “health-care providers who are sent by the [Cuban government] to work or study in third countries and who . . . are often denied exit permission by the Cuban Government to come to the [U.S.] when they qualify under other established legal channels to migrate from Cuba. Doctors, nurses, paramedics, physical therapists, lab technicians and sports trainers are examples of groups that may qualify for the . . . program.”

U.S. Announcement of the Change[2]

 On January 12 President Obama announced that the U.S. “is ending the so-called “wet-foot/dry foot” policy, which was put in place more than twenty years ago and was designed for a different era.  Effective immediately, Cuban nationals who attempt to enter the [U.S.] illegally and do not qualify for humanitarian relief will be subject to removal, consistent with U.S. law and enforcement priorities.  By taking this step, we are treating Cuban migrants the same way we treat migrants from other countries. The Cuban government has agreed to accept the return of Cuban nationals who have been ordered removed, just as it has been accepting the return of migrants interdicted at sea.”

The President also said the U.S. is “ending the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program. The [U.S.] and Cuba are working together to combat diseases that endanger the health and lives of our people. By providing preferential treatment to Cuban medical personnel, the medical parole program contradicts those efforts, and risks harming the Cuban people.  Cuban medical personnel will now be eligible to apply for asylum at U.S. embassies and consulates around the world, consistent with the procedures for all foreign nationals.”[3]

This termination follows months of negotiations with the Cuban government over the latter’s agreeing to accept returning Cubans.

Nearly simultaneously with the President, Jeh Johnson, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which includes the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), issued a statement: “To the extent permitted by the current laws of our two countries, the [U.S.] will now treat Cuban migrants in a manner consistent with how it treats others; unauthorized migrants can expect to be removed unless they qualify for humanitarian relief under our laws.”  The Department also released a Fact Sheet and the Joint Statement of the two governments about the change. Johnson pointed out that Cuba will take back citizens as long as less than four years have passed between the time the migrant left Cuba and the start of the U.S. deportation proceedings.

These changes do not affect U.S. law regarding “refugees” fleeing persecution in their home countries. Thus, if a Cuban fears “persecution” upon returning to the island, then the individual may apply for asylum in the U.S. as a “refugee” under international and U.S. law if the individual can establish that he or she has a “well-founded fear” of “persecution” in Cuba “due to” his or her “political opinion, race, religion, nationality or membership in a particular social group.” (Statutory words are in quotes.) They may do so in the U.S. or at an U.S. embassy or consulate in another country.[4]

Cuban Announcement of the Change[5]

Welcoming this change, the Cuban Government stated, “After nearly a year of negotiation and encouraged by the restoration of diplomatic relations on July 20, 2015, based on mutual respect and political will to strengthen these links and establish new understandings on various issues of common interest, [the two] governments were able to concretize this commitment that should contribute to the normalization of migration relations. . . .”

The U.S. “wet foot-dry foot” policy gave Cubans “preferential and unique treatment not received by citizens of other countries, so it was also an incitement to illegal departures. Its implementation and that of other policies led to migratory crises, kidnapping of ships and aircraft and the commission of crimes, such as trafficking in migrants, trafficking in persons, immigration fraud and the use of violence with a destabilizing extraterritorial impact on other countries of the region [that were] used [for] transit to arrive at American territory.”

This change will meant that the U.S., “consistent with its laws and international norms, shall return to the Republic of Cuba, and the Republic of Cuba, consistent with its Laws and international norms, will receive all Cuban citizens, who . . . are detected by the competent authorities of the [U.S.] when they tried to enter or stay irregularly in that country, violating its laws.”

The U.S. “Parole Program for Cuban Medical Professionals, which was part of the arsenal to deprive the country of doctors, nurses and other professionals of the sector, . . . and an attack against Cuba’s humanitarian and solidarity medical missions in Third World countries that need it so much. This policy prompted Cuban health personnel working in third countries to abandon their missions and emigrate to the [U.S.], becoming a reprehensible practice that damaged Cuba’s international medical cooperation programs.”

It “will also be necessary for the U.S. Congress to repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966.”

Unaffected are prior agreements “to prevent illegal departures by sea and to return to Cuba all persons who are intercepted in those acts or who enter the Guantánamo Naval Base. The Government of the United States will continue to guarantee regular migration from Cuba with a minimum of 20,000 people per year.”

“Both governments agreed to apply their migration laws in a non-selective manner and in accordance with their international obligations. They also undertook to prevent risky exits that endanger human life, to prevent irregular migration and to combat violence associated with such manifestations, such as trafficking and trafficking in persons.” In addition, “the parties will promote effective bilateral cooperation to prevent and prosecute those involved in trafficking in persons, as well as crimes associated with migratory movements, which endanger their national security, including the hijacking of aircraft and vessels.”

“In keeping with its international obligations and its legislation, the Government of the Republic of Cuba ratifies its commitment to guarantee regular, safe and orderly migration, as well as to fully comply with this new agreement for which the corresponding measures have been taken internally. It will continue to guarantee the right to travel and emigrate to Cuban citizens and to return to the country, in accordance with the requirements of immigration law.”

The Cuban Government also published the Joint Statement of the two governments as had DHS in the U.S.

At a press conference on January 12 Josefina Vidal, the Cuban Foreign Ministry official responsible for relations with the U.S., said that the joint “agreement recognizes the need to facilitate regular migration for the benefit of both countries, to prevent irregular migration and to prevent risky exits that endanger human life and to combat violence associated with this phenomenon and related offenses, such as trafficking in persons and trafficking in persons.”

Vidal was joined by Gustavo Machin, the Deputy Director of the United States Department of the Cuban Foreign Ministry, who summarized the joint agreement. He added that “Cuba will accept that persons who were included in the list of 2,746 Cuban citizens who migrated by the port of Mariel in 1980 [“the Mariel boat lift”] and were considered ineligible to remain in the [U.S.], . . and [those] who cannot now be returned will be replaced by other persons and returned to Cuba. Cuba will also consider receiving other Cuban citizens who are currently in the [U.S.], who violated [U.S.] laws and whom U.S. authorities have determined cannot remain in its territory.”

 Reactions to the Change[6] 

As to be expected, U.S. congressional response was mixed.

Senator Patrick Leahy (Dem, VT) said, “This is a welcome step in reforming an illogical and discriminatory policy that contrasted starkly with the treatment of deserving refugees from other countries.” Senator Jeff Flake (Rep., AZ) stated that eliminating the policy “is in our national interest. It is a win for taxpayers, border security, and our allies in the Western Hemisphere. It’s a move that brings our Cuba policy into the modern era while allowing the United States to continue its generous approach to those individuals and refugees with a legitimate claim for asylum.”

Representative Kathy Castor (Dem., FL) and co-author of a bill to end the embargo (H.R.-442), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2017/01/12/representatives-emmer-and-castor-introduce-bill-to-end-embargo-of-cuba/ said, ““The end of the “wet foot/dry foot” policy should be followed by congressional action to lift the outdated economic embargo and improve economic conditions for everyday Cubans. . . . I have witnessed how the ‘wet foot, dry foot’ policy created an uneven playing field for immigrants from other Caribbean nations who are also seeking the opportunity to pursue the American dream.    I have also seen Cubans who try to come here for short term visits to see family members negatively affected by ‘wet foot/dry foot.’  The change in policy today will help ensure that we can have safer and more orderly migration with all of our Caribbean neighbors.”

Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) said that the incoming Trump administration should reverse the part of the executive order ending the medical parole system and that there should be assurances that Cubans “who arrive here to escape political persecution are not summarily returned to the regime [but] . . . are given a fair opportunity to apply for and receive political asylum.”

Representative Illeana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican who emigrated from Cuba as a child, decried the elimination of the medical parole programs, calling it a “foolhardy concession to a regime that sends its doctors to foreign nations in a modern-day indentured servitude.”

According the Senator Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ), “Today’s announcement will only serve to tighten the noose the Castro regime continues to have around the neck of its own people.” He added, “The Obama administration seeks to pursue engagement with the Castro regime at the cost of ignoring the present state of torture and oppression, and its systematic curtailment of freedom.”

A positive view of the change was taken by Peter Kornbluh, a co-author of “Back Channel to Cuba,” which recounts the secret negotiations between the United States and Cuban governments that forged the policy of engagement. He said, “The exceptionalism of the ‘wet foot, dry foot’ policy toward Cuba is a relic of the Cold War, and this decision by the administration is really its final effort to normalize an area of interaction between Cuba and the United States, migration, that is clearly in need of normalization.”

James Williams, the President of Engage Cuba, the leading coalition of private companies and organizations working to end the travel and trade embargo on Cuba, said these changes are “a logical, responsible, and important step towards further normalizing relations with Cuba. The ‘wet foot, dry foot’ policy has been an enduring problem that decades of hostility and isolation failed to solve. This change, which has long had strong bipartisan support, would not have been possible without the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba.”

Phil Peters, president of the Cuba Research Center, said that the number of Cubans entering the United States is actually much higher because tens of thousands more overstay their visitor visas and still others migrate legally. “This is a favor to Trump because it’s a tough measure to take, but it’s the right measure to take,” Mr. Peters said. “These are economic migrants coming here that, unlike any other nationality, get a big package of government benefits without any justification.”

Kevin Appleby of the Center for Migration Studies of New York praised the specific change, while questioning the broader rules covering asylum. “The good news is that it ensures equal treatment between Cubans and asylum-seekers from other nations,” he said. “The bad news is that our asylum system is broken and does not afford adequate due process and protection to those who need it.”

Support for this change of policy also was voiced by Pedro Freyre, the chair of the international practice group of the Washington, D.C. office of law firm Akerman LLP. He observed, “This partially closes Cuba’s escape valve and will put pressure on Cubans to move forward more rapidly with reforms.” For years, he said, the last resort for Cubans frustrated with the lack of opportunity on the island has been to hire a “lanchero,” or people smuggler and attempt to reach the U.S. “Now they will have to look inward to see what they can do to fix Cuba.” The same opinion was offered by Jorge Mas, president of the Cuban American National Foundation, who welcomed the change and said it would pressure the Cuban government to improve conditions on the island.

Average Cubans and opponents of the island’s communist leaders said they expected pressure for reform to increase with the elimination of a mechanism that siphoned off the island’s most dissatisfied citizens and turned them into sources of remittances supporting relatives who remained on the island. This point was emphasized by Benjamin Rhodes, White House Deputy National Security Advisor and a principal negotiator of the rapprochement, saying, “It’s important that Cuba continue to have a young, dynamic population that are clearly serving as agents of change.”

Last year thousands of Cubans who were seeking to reach the U.S. border with Mexico and to come into the U.S. with “dry feet” created major logistical and financial problems for Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama and to a lesser extent Colombia and Ecuador. This naturally upset the governments of those countries, especially when their citizens were not eligible for these U.S. immigration policies.

Therefore, these governments welcome the U.S. terminating the policies. El Salvador’s foreign ministry said, “There cannot be migrants of different categories.” Honduras said it would wait to see if the flow of Cubans actually declined.

Cubans who had left their homeland and were now trying to reach U.S. soil when the decision was announced lamented the policy change. “It has fallen on us like a bucket of water because were never thought that at this point and with so little time before Obama leaves office that his government would make this horrible decision,” said Eugenia Diaz Hernandez, a 55-year-old Cuban in Panama whose voyage with her daughter and granddaughter had taken her through Guyana, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. “We are adrift.” Another Cuban, Jose Enrique Manreza, who ran a soda warehouse in Havana, is now stranded in Mexico, after selling his house and belongings in Cuba to raise $10,000 for his journey to reach the U.S. “Imagine how I feel, after I spent six days and six nights running through rivers and jungles in the humidity.”

Conclusion

This policy change, in my opinion, was long overdue. I pray and hope that the incoming Trump Administration will not reverse this change.

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[1] U.S. Dep’t of State, Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program (Jan. 26, 2009)  See generally posts listed in the “Cuba Migration to U.S.” and “Cuban Medical Personnel & U.S.” sections of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries.com—Topical: Cuba.

[2] White House, Statement by the President on Cuba Policy Changes (Jan. 12, 2017); Dep’t Homeland Security, Statement by Secretary Johnson on the Continued Normalization of Our Migration Relationship with Cuba (Jan. 12, 2017); Dep’t Homeland Security, Fact Sheet: Changes to Parole and Expedited Removal Policies Affecting Cuban Nationals (Jan. 12, 2017); Dep’t Homeland Security, Joint Statement [of U.S. and Cuba regarding changes in U.S. immigration policies] (Jan. 12, 2017); Reuters, Obama Administration Ends Special Immigration Policy for Cubans, N.Y. Times (Jan. 12, 2017); Assoc. Press, Obama Ends Visa-Free Path for Cubans Who Make It to U.S. Soil, N.Y. Times (Jan. 12, 2017); Caldwell & Pace (AP), Obama making change to Cuban immigration policy, Wash. Post (Jan. 12, 2017); DeYoung, Obama ending ‘wet-foot, dry foot’ policy allowing Cubans reaching U.S. soil to stay and receive residency, Wash. Post (Jan. 12, 2017); Davis & Robles, Obama Ends Exemption for Cubans Who Arrive Without Visas, N.Y. Times (Jan. 12, 2017); Lee, Schwartz & Córdoba, U.S. Ends ‘No-Visa’ Era for Cuban Emigrés, W.S. J. (Jan. 12, 2017).

[3] See posts listed in the “Cuban Medical Personnel & U.S.” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries.com—Topical: CUBA.

[4] Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Art. I (A); 8 U.S.C. §1101(a)(42)See generally the following dwkcommentaries.com blog posts: Refugee and Asylum Law: Modern Era (July 9, 2011); Refugee and Asylum Law: Office of U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (July 10, 2011); Becoming a Pro Bono Asylum Lawyer (May 24, 2011);Teaching the International Human Rights Course (July 1, 2011).

[5] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Declaration of Revolutionary Government (Jan. 12, 2017); Cuba Foreign Ministry, Joint Declaration Cuba-United States (Jan. 12, 2017); Cuba ratifies its commitment to regular, safe and orderly migration, Granma (Jan. 12, 2017); Assoc. Press, Havana Hails End to Special US Immigration Policy for Cubans, N.Y. Times (Jan. 13, 2017).

[6] Flake Statement on Elimination of Wet Foot, Dry Foot Policy (Jan. 12, 2017); Menendez Statement on Latest Cuba Policy Changes (Jan. 12, 2017); Rubio Comments on Obama Administration Changes to Cuba Policy (Jan. 12, 2017);Castor, Statement on Ending “Wet Foot/DryFoot” (Jan. 12, 2017); Engage Cuba Statement on Administration ‘Wet Foot, Dry Foot’ Policy Announcement (Jan. 12, 2017);Ben Rhodes: ‘There is bipartisan support’ for Congress to repeal the Adjustment Act, Diario de Cuba (Jan. 13, 2017); Wheaton, Obama’s shift on Cuban immigrants could put Trump in a bind, Politico (Jan. 12, 2017); Reuters, Cubans on Road to U.S. Distraught About Newly Closed Border, N.Y. Times (Jan. 13, 2017).

 

 

 

Another U.N. Condemnation of the U.S. Embargo of Cuba

                                                                                       O

U.N. General Assembly
U.N. General Assembly

On October 26, the United Nations General Assembly voted, 191 to 0 (with two abstentions), to adopt a resolution proposed by Cuba to condemn the United States embargo of Cuba. For the first time in the 25-year history of the annual vote on such resolutions, the U.S, rather than opposing the text, cast an abstention, prompting Israel to do likewise.[1]

This post will examine the resolution’s text, its presentation by Cuba, its support by other countries and the arguments for abstention offered by the U.S. and Israel. This post will then conclude with a brief discussion of reaction to the abstention in the U.S. Prior posts discussed the similar General Assembly resolutions against the embargo that were adopted in 2011, 2014 and 2015.

The Actual Resolution

The actual resolution, “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba” (A/RES/71/5 and A/71/L.3) had two principal operative paragraphs.

It reiterated “its call upon all States to refrain from promulgating and applying laws and measures [like the U.S. embargo against Cuba] . . . in conformity with their obligations under the Charter of the United Nations and international law, which, inter alia, reaffirm the freedom of trade and navigation (¶ 2). It also urged “States that have and continue to apply such laws and measures to take the steps necessary to repeal or invalidate them as soon as possible in accordance with their legal regime (¶ 3).

The resolution’s preamble reaffirmed “the sovereign equality of States, non-intervention and non-interference in their internal affairs and freedom of international trade and navigation, which are also enshrined in many international legal instruments” and recited the previous General Assembly resolutions against the embargo. It then welcomed “the progress in the relations between the Governments of Cuba and the [U.S.] and, in that context, the visit of the President of the [U.S.], Barack Obama, to Cuba in March 2016” while also recognizing “the reiterated will of the President of the [U.S.] to work for the elimination of the economic, commercial and financial embargo against Cuba” and “the steps taken by the [U.S.] Administration towards modifying some aspects of the implementation of the embargo, which, although positive, are still limited in scope.”

Cuba’s Presentation of the Resolution

Bruno Rodriguez
Bruno Rodriguez

Speaking last in the debate, Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, presented arguments for adopting the resolution. Here are extracts of that speech:

“[T]here has been progress [between Cuba and the U.S. since December 2014] in the dialogue and cooperation on issues of common interest and a dozen agreements were signed [and] reciprocal benefits reported. Now just announced the vote of the US abstention on this draft resolution.”

“The [U.S.] president and other top officials have described [the embargo/blockade] as obsolete, useless to advance American’s interests, meaningless, unworkable, being a burden for [U.S.] citizens, . . . [harming] the Cuban people and [causing]. . . isolation to the [U.S.] and [have] called [for the embargo/blockade] to be lifted.”

“We recognize that executive measures [to reduce the scope of the embargo] adopted by the government of the [U.S.] are positive steps, but [have] very limited effect and scope. However, most of the executive regulations and laws establishing the blockade remain in force and are applied rigorously to this minute by U.S. government agencies.”

“Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress has not approved any of the 20 amendments or legislative initiatives, with bipartisan support, . . . [for] eliminating some restrictions of the blockade or even all of this policy. [Moreover,] there have been more than 50 legislative initiatives that threaten to reinforce key aspects of the blockade, preventing the President [from] approving new executive or implementing measures already adopted.”

“It cannot be underestimated in any way the powerful political and ethical message that [action by this Assembly] . . . sends to the peoples of the world. The truth always [finds] its way. Ends of justice prevail. The abstention vote announced surely is a positive step in the future of improved relations between the[U.S.] and Cuba. I appreciate the words and the efforts of Ambassador Samantha Power.”

“[There] are incalculable human damages caused by the blockade. [There is no] Cuban family or industry in the country that does not suffer its effects on health, education, food, services, prices of goods, wages and pensions.” For example, the “imposition of discriminatory and onerous conditions attached to the deterrent effects of the blockade restrict food purchases and the acquisition in the U.S. market for drugs, reagents, spare parts for medical equipment and instruments and others.”

“The [embargo/] blockade also [adversely] affects the interests of American citizens themselves, who could benefit from various services in Cuba, including health [services].”

“The [embargo/] blockade remains a massive, flagrant and systematic violation of human rights of all Cubans and qualifies as an act of genocide under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948. It is an obstacle to cooperation [in] international humanitarian areas.”

“The blockade is the main obstacle to economic and social development of our people. It constitutes a flagrant violation to international law, the United Nations Charter and the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace. Its extraterritorial application adds further to its violation of international law nature of magnitude.”

“Other causes, in addition to [the blockade/embargo] . . . , determine our economic difficulties: the unjust international economic order; the global crisis; the historical distortions and structural weaknesses caused by underdevelopment; high dependence on energy and food imports; the effects of climate change and natural disasters; and also . . . our own mistakes.”

“Between April 2015 and March 2016, the direct economic damage to Cuba by the blockade amounted to $4.68 billion at current prices, calculated rigorously and prudently and conservatively. The damages accumulated over nearly six decades reach the figure of $753 billion, taking into account depreciation of gold. At current prices, [that is] equivalent to just over $125 billion.”

“On 16 April 2016 President Raul Castro Ruz said, ‘We are willing to develop a respectful dialogue and build a new relationship with the [U.S.], as that has never existed between the two countries, because we are convinced that this alone . . . [will provide] mutual benefits.’ And last September 17, he said ‘I reaffirm the will to sustain relations of civilized coexistence with the [U.S.], but Cuba will not give up one of its principles, or make concessions inherent in its sovereignty and independence.’”

“The government of the [U.S.] first proposed the annexation of Cuba and, failing that, to exercise their domination over it. The triumph of the Cuban Revolution . . . [prompted the U.S. adoption of the embargo whose purpose] was ‘to cause disappointment and discouragement through economic dissatisfaction and hardship … to deny Cuba money and supplies, in order to reduce nominal and real wages, with the aim of causing hunger, desperation and overthrow of government. ‘”

“The [new U.S.] Presidential Policy Directive [states] that the Government of the [U.S.] recognizes ‘the sovereignty and self-determination of Cuba’ and [the right of] the Cuban people to make their own decisions about their future.’” It also states “the U.S. will not seek a ‘change of regime in Cuba.’”[2]

But the Directive also says “’the [U.S.] will support the emerging civil society in Cuba and encourage partners and non-governmental actors to join us in advocating in favor of reforms. While the United States remain committed to supporting democratic activists, [we] also [will] participate with community leaders, bloggers, activists and other leaders on social issues that can contribute to the internal dialogue in Cuba on civic participation.’ The Directive goes on to say: “The [U.S.] will maintain our democracy programs and broadcasting, while we will protect our interests and values, such as Guantanamo Naval Base … The government of the United States has no intention of modifying the existing lease agreement and other related provisions.’”

The Directive also asserts that Cuba “remains indebted to the [U.S.] regarding bilateral debts before the Cuban Revolution.”

The U.S. needs to “recognize that change is a sovereign matter for Cubans alone and that Cuba is a truly independent country. It gained its independence by itself and has known and will know how to defend [its] greatest sacrifices and risks. We are proud of our history and our culture that are the most precious treasure. We never forget the past because it is the way never to return to it. And we decided our path to the future and we know that is long and difficult, but we will not deviate from it by ingenuity, by siren songs, or by mistake. No force in the world can force us to it. We will strive to build a sovereign, independent, socialist, democratic, prosperous and sustainable nation. We will not return to capitalism.”

Other Countries’ Statements of Support[3]

During the debate the following 40 countries expressed their support of the resolution:

  • Latin America: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic (for Commonwealth of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC)), Ecuador, El Salvador, Jamaica (for Caribbean Community (CARICOM)), Mexico, Nicaragua, Saint Vincent and Grenadines, Uruguay and Venezuela (for Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)).
  • Africa: Algeria, Angola, Libya, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger (for African States), South Africa, Sudan and Tonga.
  • Middle East: Egypt, Kuwait (for Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC)) and Syria.
  • Asia: Belarus, China, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea [North Korea], India, Indonesia, Iran, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, Russian Federation, Singapore (for Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)), Thailand (for Group of 77 and China) and Viet Nam.
  • Europe: Slovakia (for European Union (EU)).

U.S. Abstention[4]

Samantha Power
Samantha Power

The U.S. Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Samantha Power, announced the U.S. abstention before the debate and voting on the resolution. Here are extracts of her speech about that vote.

“For more than 50 years, the [U.S.] had a policy aimed at isolating the government of Cuba. For roughly half of those years, U.N. Member States have voted overwhelmingly for a General Assembly resolution that condemns the U.S. embargo and calls for it to be ended. The [U.S.] has always voted against this resolution. Today the [U.S.] will abstain.”

“In December 2014, President Obama made clear his opposition to the embargo and called on our Congress to take action to lift it. Yet while the Obama Administration agrees that the U.S. embargo on Cuba should be lifted, . . . we don’t support the shift for the reason stated in this resolution. All actions of the [U.S.] with regard to Cuba have been and are fully in conformity with the U.N. Charter and international law, including applicable trade law and the customary law of the sea. We categorically reject the statements in the resolution that suggest otherwise.”

“But [today’s] resolution . . . is a perfect example of why the U.S. policy of isolation toward Cuba was not working – or worse, how it was actually undermining the very goals it set out to achieve. Instead of isolating Cuba, . . . our policy isolated the [U.S.], including right here at the [U.N.].”

“Under President Obama, we have adopted a new approach: rather than try to close off Cuba from the rest of the world, we want the world of opportunities and ideas open to the people of Cuba. After 50-plus years of pursuing the path of isolation, we have chosen to take the path of engagement. Because, as President Obama said in Havana, we recognize that the future of the island lies in the hands of the Cuban people.”[5]

“Abstaining on this resolution does not mean that the [U.S.] agrees with all of the policies and practices of the Cuban government. We do not. We are profoundly concerned by the serious human rights violations that the Cuban government continues to commit with impunity against its own people – including arbitrarily detaining those who criticize the government; threatening, intimidating, and, at times, physically assaulting citizens who take part in peaceful marches and meetings; and severely restricting the access that people on the island have to outside information.”

“We [,however,] recognize the areas in which the Cuban government has made significant progress in advancing the welfare of its people, from significantly reducing its child mortality rate, to ensuring that girls have the same access to primary and secondary school as boys.”

“But none of this should mean that we stay silent when the rights of Cuban people are violated, as Member States here at the [U.N.] have too often done. That is why the [U.S.] raised these concerns directly with the Cuban government during our [recent] historic dialogue on human rights . . ., which shows that, while our governments continue to disagree on fundamental questions of human rights, we have found a way to discuss these issues in a respectful and reciprocal manner.[6] We urge other Member States to speak up about these issues as well.”

“As President Obama made clear when he traveled to Havana, we believe that the Cuban people – like all people – are entitled to basic human rights, such as the right to speak their minds without fear, and the right to assemble, organize, and protest peacefully. Not because these reflect a U.S.-centric conception of rights, but rather because they are universal human rights – enshrined in the U.N. Charter and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – which all of our 193 Member States are supposed to respect and defend. Rights that are essential for the dignity of men, women, and children regardless of where they live or what kind of government they have.”

The U.S. concedes that it “has work to do in fulfilling these rights for our own citizens. And we know that at times in our history, U.S. leaders and citizens used the pretext of promoting democracy and human rights in the region to justify actions that have left a deep legacy of mistrust. We recognize that our history, in which there is so much that makes us proud, also gives us ample reason to be humble.”

“The [U.S.] believes that there is a great deal we can do together with Cuba to tackle global challenges. That includes here at the [U.N.], where the decades-long enmity between our nations has at best been a distraction – and at worst, an obstacle – to carrying out some of the most important work of this institution and helping the world’s most vulnerable people.”

U.S. Reactions[7]

Engage Cuba, a U.S. national coalition of private companies, organizations and state and local leaders working to lift the embargo, said, “Year after year, the international community has condemned our failed unilateral sanctions that have caused great economic hardship for the people of Cuba and continue to put American businesses at a competitive disadvantage. The fact that the Administration and Israel abstained from voting for the first time ever demonstrates the growing recognition that the U.S. embargo on Cuba is a failed, obsolete policy that has no place in today’s international affairs.”

Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), on the other hand, blasted the abstention, saying the Obama administration had failed to honor and defend U.S. laws in an international forum. Similar negative reactions were registered by Senators Ted Cruz (Rep., FL) and Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ), Republican Representatives from Florida, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, and the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC.

As an U.S. citizen-advocate for ending the embargo as soon as possible, I am pleased with the U.S. abstention and agree with Ambassador Power that this vote does not mean the U.S. agrees with the resolution’s stated reasons.

Moreover, too many in the U.S. believe the Cuban damages claim from the embargo is just a crazy Cuban dream, but I disagree. Given the amount of the claim, Cuba will not someday tell the U.S. to forget it. A prior post, therefore, suggested that the two countries agree to submit this and any other damage claims by both countries for resolution by an independent international arbitration panel such as those provided by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague in the Netherlands.

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[1] U.N. Press Release, U.S. abstains for first time in annual UN vote on ending embargo against Cuba (Oct. 26, 2016).

[2] A prior post replicated the Presidential Policy Directive while another post provided reactions thereto.

[3] U.N. Press Release, General Assembly Plenary (Oct. 26, 2016); The defeat of the blockade is the world’s largest moral and political victory for the people of Cuba against the empire, Granma (Oct. 26, 2016) (Venezuela’s statement); Today not only do we vote against the blockade, we voted for hope, Granma (Oct. 26, 2016) (Bolivia’s statement).

[4] Ambassador Power, Remarks at a UN General Assembly Meeting on the Cuban Embargo (Oct. 26, 2016).  Israel, which also abstained, merely said that it welcomed the improved U.S.-Cuba relations and hoped it would lead to a new era in the region.

[5] A prior post reviewed President Obama’s eloquent speech in Havana to the Cuban people.

[6] A prior post reviewed the limited public information about the recent human rights dialogue.

[7] Ordońez, For 1st time, U.S. changes its position on U.N. resolution blasting Cuba trade embargo, InCubaToday (Oct. 26, 2016); Engage Cuba, Press Release: Engage Cuba Praises First Ever Unanimous Passage of United Nations Resolution Condemning the Cuban Embargo (Oct. 26, 2016); Lederer & Lee, US abstains in UN vote on Cuba embargo for the first time, Wash. Post (Oct. 26, 2016); Rubio, Rubio: Obama Admin Ignoring U.S. Law on Cuba Embargo, Giving More Concessions to Castro Regime at U.N. (Oct. 26, 2016).

El Salvador Wins Arbitration Over Gold Mining

On October 14, an international arbitration panel (the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes) ruled that El Salvador did not have to pay compensation to Oceana Gold, a foreign mining company that was denied a concession to drill for gold in the country. The panel also ordered Oceana Gold to pay the Salvadoran government $8m to cover the majority of the country’s legal costs.[1]

Oceana Gold’s predecessor, Pac Rim Cayman, LLC, in 2009 had initiated the arbitration against El Salvador seeking more than $250 million after the country refused to grant it permits to mine gold on the company’s El Dorado property in the department of Cabanas.[2]

There was celebration of the victory in El Salvador’s government. Its attorney general, Douglas Meléndez Ruiz, said,“For the people of Cabanas who have been fighting to defend their environment, it is mission accomplished. It is an important step for the country to have been victorious in this lawsuit.” Similar thoughts were expressed by Lina Pohl, the country’s environmental minister: “What is clear is that investments are welcome if they respect institutions, if they respect the environment and health.”

Bernardo Belloso, president of the Association for the Development of El Salvador, part of a national roundtable opposed to metallic mining, said the ruling “vindicates our right to determine our own development path.”

The long-running dispute over whether gold mining would be permitted in El Salvador included the deaths of several activists against the mine. The anti-mining movement has long alleged that these deaths were directed by mining interests, but prosecutors never treated the crimes as anything other than “common” violence in the country.[3]

Although El Salvador was victorious in the arbitration, the country still lacks a comprehensive law banning or regulating extractive mineral mining, and continues to act under the moratorium against further mining permits originally adopted during the ARENA administration of president Tony Saca.

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[1] Malkin, El Salvador Wins Dispute Over Denying a Mining Permit, N.Y. Times (Oct. 14, 2014); Prevost & Kennard, World Bank tribunal dismisses mining firm’s $250m claim against El Salvador, Guardian (Oct. 14, 2016); El Salvador wins gold mining arbitration, Tim’s El Salvador Blog (Oct. 15, 2016).

[2] Gold mining arbitration to commence in Washington, D.C., Tim’s El Salvador Blog (Sept. 14, 2014).

[3] A previous blog post mentioned my visiting the area near the site of the disputed gold mining on my 2010 trip to El Salvador. My blog posts about El Salvador focus on my trips to the country, my pro bono representation of Salvadoran asylum applicants, Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, the four American churchwomen’s mission to the country and their murders, the six Jesuit priests mission to the country and their murders and the El Mozote Massacre.

U.S. Continues Its Absurd Special Immigration Benefits for Cubans  

This blog has frequently criticized the U.S. special immigration benefits for Cubans under the Cuban Adjustment Act and the wet foot/dry foot policy.[1]

On August 29 nine Latin American countries joined together to call for the U.S. to end these policies. Their joint letter was signed by the foreign ministers of Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and Peru, all of which recently have been affected by large numbers of Cubans transiting through their countries to reach the U.S.-Mexico border and gain admittance to the U.S. under these policies.[2]

The letter expressed their “deep concern” that U.S. policy toward Cuban migrants is creating a humanitarian crisis and encouraging “a disorderly, irregular and unsafe flow of Cubans. Cuban citizens risk their lives, on a daily basis, seeking to reach the United States. These people, often facing situations of extreme vulnerability, fall victim to mafias dedicated to people trafficking, sexual exploitation and collective assaults. This situation has generated a migratory crisis that is affecting our countries.”

The letter also requested a meeting on these issues with Secretary of State John Kerry.

The letter was announced on August 29 by Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Guillaume Long, saying, “The fact that nine foreign ministers have signed this letter shows the strength of the sentiment in Latin America that United States policy is creating a migration crisis in our region. It’s time for the U.S. to change its outdated immigration policies toward Cubans, because they are undermining regular and safe migration in our continent.” Long added that the decades-old policy also is a form of “terrible discrimination,” given that scores of migrants from other Latin American countries are forced to “hide and often live decades with the threat of deportation” if they are undocumented, while Cubans are given residence if they step foot on U.S. territory. This injustice must stop for the wellbeing of all.”

The prior week the Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel González told the McClatchy news organization that the issue has cost his country millions of dollars it doesn’t have and has raised complaints from Costa Ricans about spending resources on stranded foreigners when they were needed by the nation’s own citizens. “The difficulties between the U.S. and Cuba has a direct consequence on other countries in our region that serve as transit. And we are, in a way, paying the consequences of that bilateral relationship.”

Cuban migration indeed is a serious problem for these Latin American countries and for Cuba. More than 46,500 Cubans were admitted to the U.S. without visas during the first 10 months of the 2016 fiscal year compared with more than 43,000 in 2015 and just over 24,000 in 2014.

The continuation of this combined policy has been criticized by the New York Times editorial board. This “anachronistic policy is irrational, strains relations with America’s neighbors and endangers lives. It also has the effect of easing pressure on Cuba’s authoritarian government to make economic and political reforms by offering an incentive to those who are most dissatisfied with the status quo to take a dangerous way out.”[3]

A similar criticism was offered by a prominent writer on Latin American affairs, Andrés Oppenheimer. He said, “It’s time to revise the U.S. government’s special status for Cuban refugees. But it should be done as part of a new commitment by all countries in the region to grant asylum to Cuba’s political refugees, and to press Cuba to abide by international human rights laws. . . . It’s time for all sides to end Cuba policies that are relics of the Cold War. Washington should change its much-abused laws giving special status to all Cuban refugees, and Latin American countries should end their shameful silence on Cuba’s repressive dictatorship, which is at the root of Cuba’s main problems. These are new times that require new policies by all countries.”[4]

Nevertheless, on August 30, a U.S. State Department spokesman acknowledged receipt of the letter from nine Latin American countries and merely said, “the Cuban Adjustment Act remains in place and wet foot/dry foot remains U.S. policy regarding Cuban migration.” He also added these comments: “we are concerned for the safety of all migrants throughout the region, including migrants seeking to journey northward through South and Central America and Mexico. Irregular migration often involves dangerous journeys that illustrate the inherent risks and uncertainties of involvement with organized crime, including human smugglers and traffickers in attempts to reach the United States. We continue to encourage all countries to respect the human rights of migrants and asylum seekers, and to ensure that they are treated humanely. And we’re going to continue to, obviously, engage governments in the region on this issue going forward.”[5]

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[1] See posts listed in “Cuban Migration to U.S., 2015-2016” in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Cuba.

[2] Ordońez, Nine Latin nations band together to plead with U.S. over Cuba, InCubaToday (Aug. 29. 2016); Telesur, Nine Latin American Countries Slam US for creating migrant crisis, Global Research (Aug. 29, 2016); Assoc. Press, LatAm Diplomats Urge US to Change Policy on Cuban Migrants, N.Y. Times (Aug. 29, 2016).

[3] Editorial, Neighbors Question Cuba Migration Policy, N.Y. Times (Aug. 31, 2016).

[4] Oppenheimer, It’s time to change Cubans’ special immigration status, InCubaToday (Aug. 31, 2016).

[5] U.S. State Dep’t, Daily Press Briefing (Aug. 30, 2016).

Update on Status of Extradition of Defendants in Spain’s Criminal Case Regarding the 1989 Salvadoran Murders of the Jesuit Priests 

Previous posts have reported that the National Court of Spain in 2008 commenced a criminal investigation of the 1989 murder of six Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador. In May 2011 the Spanish court issued the equivalent of an indictment of 20 former Salvadoran military officials for their alleged involvement in those murders.[1]

One of these defendants had died; one had been living in the U.S.; two have been cooperating with the Spanish investigation; and the whereabouts of three are unknown. The other 13 are believed to be living in El Salvador.

Ever since May 2011 Spanish authorities have been seeking extradition of 13 of these men from El Salvador and one from the United States. But extradition has not happened yet. Here is an update on the status of those efforts.

 Developments in El Salvador

In December 2011 Spain requested extradition of 13 of them who were then believed to be in El Salvador. In May 2012, however, the Supreme Court of El Salvador denied extradition of the 13 on the ground that the country’s constitution prohibited extradition of its citizens.

In August 2015, in an unrelated case, the Constitutional Chamber of the Salvadoran Supreme Court ruled that, according to a treaty on international cooperation in criminal matters to which El Salvador is a party, an INTERPOL red notice requires both the identification of the location of the defendants and their arrest and detention pending an additional filing, such as an extradition request. This decision appeared to be in direct conflict with the just mentioned Court’s May 2012 ruling against extradition in the Spanish case.[2]

In response to the August 2015 ruling, the Salvadoran Human Rights Ombudsman, David Morales, on November 16, 2015, petitioned the country’s Supreme Court to review its 2012 decisions refusing to arrest and order the extradition of 13 former military officials who were subjects of the INTERPOL arrest warrants.[3]

The Ombusman also issued a resolution asking Spanish authorities to re-issue the arrest warrants for extradition purposes in this case. This request was endorsed in the Spanish case by the U.S.-based Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) and the Spanish Association for Human Rights (APDHE).

On January 4, 2016, the Spanish court’s Judge Velasco honored that plea by requesting INTERPOL to re-issue the international arrest warrants for all the Jesuit Massacre case defendants who reside in El Salvador for their extradition to Spain to face the charges.

On January 6, the Salvadoran government said it will cooperate in the execution of those warrants and the extradition of former Salvadoran military officials and soldiers, but that the country’s Supreme Court would make the final decision.

In February 2016 Salvadoran authorities arrested and detained four of the former Salvadoran military officials who are sought for this Spanish criminal case. The four were former colonel Guillermo Alfredo Benavides Moreno; former sergeants Ramiro Ávalos Vargas and Tomás Zárpate Castillo; and former corporal Ángel Pérez Vásquez. The Salvadoran National Civilian Police (PNC) force said that it would “continue the search and capture of the rest of the wanted persons and will inform the public in the opportune moment.” To date, however, no additional arrests have been reported.

On July 14, 2016, the full Supreme Court of El Salvador was scheduled to release its decision on the latest request to issue extradition warrants in this case. The day before, however, the Constitutional Chamber of the Court decided that the country’s Amnesty Law was unconstitutional, which was discussed in a prior post. As a result, the full Supreme Court stayed further proceedings about the extradition warrants.

On August 16, 2016, the Supreme Court unanimously, 15-0, decided that former colonel Guillermo Alfredo Benavides Moreno could not be extradited.[4] The court, 11-4, also ordered that Benavides be detained in a Salvadoran prison in accordance with his conviction and imposition of a 30-year sentence by a Salvadoran court before passage of the amnesty law; after the passage of that law Benavides was released from prison. As a result, extradition was barred by a provision of the El Salvador-Spain extradition treaty that says extradition can be denied “if the person whose extradition is requested “has been tried and finally acquitted or convicted [of the same crime].”

The Supreme Court, however, has not yet ruled on the request to extradite the other three men– former sergeants Ramiro Ávalos Vargas and Tomás Zárpate Castillo; and former corporal Ángel Pérez Vásquez. They also were tried by a Salvadoran court for illegal homicide, which is an essential element of the crime now being pursued in Spain, but these three men were acquitted in a Salvadoran trial with many alleged irregularities. Strict application of the rationale of the above Supreme Court decision and the cited provision of the extradition treaty and the underlying notion of no double jeopardy suggest that they too should not be subject to extradition, but the irregularities in their trial are impediments to that analysis.[5] We now await the Salvadoran Supreme Court’s ruling on these three men.

Developments in United States

As explained in a prior post, a Magistrate Judge in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina on February 5, 2016, upheld the requested extradition of Orlando Montano Morales to Spain in this case. https://dwkcommentaries.com/2016/02/06/resumption-of-spanish-criminal-case-over-1989-salvadoran-murder-of-jesuit-priests/

On April 1, 2016, Montano filed in that court an Application for a Writ of Habeas Corpus, which is the only way for him to appeal or challenge that decision.[6]

On April 26, the U.S. moved to dismiss that habeas application. Its brief argued that the certification of extraditability would not be overturned if there was any evidence warranting the finding that there was a reasonable ground to believe that the individual was guilty of the crime in the foreign country and that there was such evidence in this case. On June 10 the U.S. submitted its reply to the petitioner’s opposition to the dismissal motion; it argued that the response raised no issues needing further rebuttal.[7]

Montano Morales, however, was not finished. On July 21, he submitted another brief arguing that there was insufficient evidence to support the certification order’s probable cause conclusion. He also asserted that the court should consider certain declassified U.S. government cables with respect to the probable cause conclusion. On August 10, the U.S. again rejected Montano’s arguments, emphasizing that the habeas review was “limited to ascertaining ‘whether there was any evidence warranting the finding that there was reasonable ground to believe the accused guilty of the asserted crimes’” and that there was such evidence.[8] (Emphasis added.)

The matter is now submitted for decision by U.S. District Judge Terrance W. Boyle.

According to Patty Blum, senior legal adviser with the Center for Justice and Accountability, which filed the original complaint in the Jesuit case with the Spanish court in 2008 and which supported the request for extradition of Montano, the habeas corpus application is unlikely to “get much traction substantively” as the order granting extradition already rejected the core arguments of the new petition and the Magistrate Judge “did a thorough job of reviewing the record and giving a reasoned, detailed opinion.”[9]

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[1] Prior posts covered the marvelous ministries of these Jesuit priests and their university (University of Central America or UCA); the circumstances of their horrible murders; the Salvadoran military’s attempted cover-up of their involvement in these crimes; the flawed Salvadoran criminal prosecution of a few of the military personnel so involved and their absolution by a Salvadoran amnesty law; the investigation and report on these crimes by the Truth Commission for El Salvador; other legal proceedings regarding these crimes; the Spanish criminal case over these crimes; El Salvador’s 2012 denial of Spain’s request for extradition of most of the suspects in the case; and the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Jesuit martyrs in November 2014. These posts are identified in reverse chronological order of posting in a computer-generated list.  They also are identified in logical sequence in “The Jesuit Priests” section of my manually prepared List of Posts to dwkcommentaires—Topical: El Salvador. There also is extensive discussion of the Spanish case in the website of the Center for Justice and Accountability, the U.S.-based human rights organization that is involved in that case.

[2] Spanish Judge Re-Issues Request for the Arrest of Military Officials, CJA (Dec. 2015); Dalton, Spain calls for arrest of 18 soldiers accused of killing priests in El Salvador, El Pais (Dec. 23, 2015); Reuters, El Salvador will cooperate in arrest of 17 former soldiers accused of killing priests, Guardian (Jan. 6, 2015); Labrador, Spain orders again capture Jesuit Salvadoran military case, El Faro (Jan. 5, 2016).

[3] Human Rights Ombudsman asks extradition slaughter of Jesuits, El Mundo (Nov. 16, 2015).

[4] Labrador, Arauza & Zabiań, Court refuses to extradite Colonel Benavides, but agrees to send him to prison, El Faro (Aug. 17, 2016); Melendez, Supreme Court Decides Not To Extradite Jesuit Case, LaPrensa Grafica (Aug. 17, 2016); Reuters, El Salvador Court Denies Extradition of former Colonel to Spain, N.Y. Times (Aug. 17, 2016).

[5] The Salvadoran trial was covered in a prior post as was the release of Colonel Benavides under the Amnesty Law.

[6] Application for a Writ of Habeas Corpus Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 2241, et seq, Montano Morales v. Elks, No. 5:16-HC-2066-BO (April 1, 2016).

[7] Memorandum in Support of Motion To Dismiss Application for Writ of Habeas Corpus, Montano Morales v. Elks, No. 5:16-HC-2066-BO (April 26, 2016); Response in Opposition to Federal Respondents’ Motion To Dismiss Application for Writ of Habeas Corpus, and Request for Hearing, Montano Morales v. Elks, No. 5:16-HC-2066-BO (May 18, 2016); United States’ Reply to Petitioner’s Response in Opposition Regarding Motion To Dismiss Application for Writ of Habeas Corpus, Montano Morales v. Elks, No. 5:16-HC-2066-BO (June 10, 2016).

[8] Supplemental Filing To Support Petition for Write of Habeas Corpus and Request for Hearing, Montano Morales v. Elks, No. 5:16-HC-2066-BO (July 21, 2016); Government’s Response to Supplemental Filing To Support Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, Montano Morales v. Elks, No. 5:16-HC-2066-BO (Aug. 10, 2016).

[9] Cooper & Hodges, Extradition appeal among setbacks in Jesuit massacre, Nat’l Cath. Rep. (April 13, 2016); Assoc. Press, Ex-Salvadoran colonel fights extradition in Jesuit killings (Apr. 1, 2016).

Extradition Has Become a Hot Topic for the United States

Extradition is the legal process “by which one country (the requesting country) may seek from another country (the requested country) the surrender of a person who is wanted for prosecution, or to serve a sentence following conviction, for a criminal offense.  In the U.S., international extradition is treaty based, meaning that the U.S. must have an extradition treaty with the requesting country in order to consider the request for extradition.”[1]

That process is now a hot topic in the U.S. Most recently Turkey is pressing the U.S. to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric living in Pennsylvania, to Turkey to face charges of being involved in the attempted coup in that country. Another pending request, this from Spain, seeks the U.S. extradition of Inocente Orlando Montano Morales, a former Salvadoran military officer living in the U.S., to face criminal charges involving the 1989 murders of Jesuit priests in El Salvador. Extradition also is one of the many unresolved issues in the process of normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations: will Cuba extradite certain U.S. fugitives and will the U.S. do likewise for certain Cuban fugitives.[2]

Therefore, a better understanding of international extradition is necessary to follow these developments. Such a primer can be found in a 2001 U.S. State Department report to Congress and a recent U.S. government brief in the previously mentioned Spanish case for extradition of the former Salvadoran military officer from the U.S.[3] Assuming those sources are fair summaries of the process, this post omits citations to statutes and cases other than  to note that extradition is the subject of 18 U.S. Code, Chapter 209.

U.S. Extradition Treaties

U.S. extradition practice is based almost entirely on individually negotiated bilateral treaties, which the U.S. brings into force following Senate advice and consent to ratification. The U.S. is currently a party to 109 such treaties.[4] While most of these treaties currently in force have been negotiated in the last 30-40 years, many of the treaties still in force are quite old, in some cases dating back to the 19th Century.

For many reasons, however, not every request for extradition results in a fugitive being delivered to the requesting country. Sometimes the requesting state doesn’t know where a fugitive is located and makes multiple contingency requests for provisional arrest and extradition. In other cases, fugitives learn they are being sought and flee or go into hiding. Even following a fugitive’s arrest, court proceedings and appeals can last a very long time and can be delayed by fugitives’ exercising all possible rights to challenge extradition.

In addition, most such treaties provide specific bases on which extraditions can be delayed or denied. The obligation to extradite under a bilateral extradition treaty is not absolute and protections are included in the treaty to accommodate both U.S. and foreign interests. While the exact terms of such treaties result from country-specific negotiations and thus vary somewhat among the treaties, there are the following typical types of qualifications on the obligation to extradite:

  • An almost universal treaty exception, known in international extradition law as the “non bis in idem” doctrine, is similar to the double jeopardy doctrine under U.S. domestic law. It provides that extradition will be denied when the person has already been either acquitted or convicted for the same offense in the country from which extradition is requested, or, in some instances, in a third country.
  • A similarly widely adopted exception is that extradition is not required where the crime at issue is a “political offense” (a term which can cover treason, sedition or other crime against the state without the elements of any ordinary crime, or which under U.S. law can cover ordinary crimes committed incidental to or in furtherance of a violent political uprising such as a war, revolution or rebellion, especially when such crimes do not target civilian victims) or a “military offense” (a crime subject to military law that is not criminalized under normal penal law).
  • U.S. treaties also typically provide that extradition may be denied if the request is found to be politically motivated. Some of our treaties provide that extradition may be denied if the request was made for the primary purpose of prosecuting or punishing the person sought on account of race, religion, nationality or political opinion.
  • Perhaps the highest profile exceptions to the obligation to extradite are bars or limitations in some countries on the extradition of their own nationals.   The U.S., however, makes no distinction between extraditing its own nationals and those of other countries and advocates that all countries adopt the U.S. policy due to the ease of flight and the increasingly transnational nature of crime.
  • Some U.S. treaties provide that if the offense for which surrender is sought is punishable by death under the laws in the country requesting extradition but not in the country holding the fugitive, extradition may be refused unless the requesting country provides assurances that the death penalty will not be imposed or, if imposed, will not be carried out. Sometimes these provisions are included in the treaty at the insistence of our treaty partner, because many countries in Europe and elsewhere oppose the death penalty. Sometimes the U.S. insists on such provisions in order to retain sufficient flexibility to ensure that the U.S. is not obliged to surrender persons for execution for relatively less serious crimes.

Older U.S. treaties that were negotiated before the late 1970’s contained a list of offenses that would be covered. In newer U.S. treaties this list approach has been replaced by the concept of “dual criminality,” usually providing that offenses covered by the treaty include all those made punishable under the laws of both parties by imprisonment or other form of detention for more than one year, or by a more severe penalty (such as capital punishment). Such a formulation obviates the need to renegotiate the treaty to provide coverage for new offenses, strikingly exemplified by the currently evolving area of cyber-crime. Indeed, to avoid having the dual criminality analysis applied too narrowly, most treaties provide further guidance, including that an offense is extraditable whether or not the laws in the two countries place the offense within the same category or describe it by the same terminology. A major goal in the U.S. current ambitious treaty-negotiating program is to negotiate new, modern treaties that eliminate the “list” approach in favor of dual criminality treaties.

Other limitations on the obligation to extradite, which vary to some extent from treaty to treaty, would relate to requests for extradition for extraterritorial offenses where the two countries’ laws differ on the reach of jurisdiction over such crimes. In such cases, the U.S. seeks the greatest possible flexibility in our treaties to permit extradition for offenses that have taken place in whole or in part outside the territory of the requesting party.

U.S. Practice Regarding Foreign Government Requests for Extradition

The U.S. practice regarding foreign government requests for extradition involves the Department of State, the Department of Justice, a U.S. attorney, a U.S. district court and the Secretary of State.

  1. U.S. Department of State

The extradition process in the U.S. starts when the Department of State receives a request for extradition from a foreign country. That Department initially determines whether the request is governed by a treaty between the U.S. and that country, and if there is such a treaty and the request conforms to the treaty, that Department will prepare a declaration authenticating the request and send it to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs.

  1. U.S. Department of Justice[5]

The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs examines the foreign country’s request to determine if it contains all of the necessary information. If it does, the request is sent to the U.S. Attorney for the district where the subject of the request is located. Thereafter the Office’s attorneys will assist, as needed, the U.S. Attorney.

  1. U.S. Attorney

The U.S. Attorney then prepares and files a complaint with the local U.S. district court seeking a warrant for the individual’s arrest and certification that he or she may be extradited. The U.S. Attorney also files briefs and appears at any hearings in the district court in the case.

  1. U.S. District Court

The complaint, of course, is served upon the subject of the proceeding, who has a right to be represented by counsel and to contest the complaint.

The court then conducts a hearing to determine if there is probable cause that the subject has violated one or more of the criminal laws of the country seeking extradition. This is not a criminal trial, but like a preliminary hearing in a criminal case to determine if the evidence is sufficient to sustain the charge under the treaty’s provisions.

At such a hearing, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Criminal Procedure and Evidence do not apply. Thus, the evidence may consist of hearsay and unsworn statements, and the judicial officer does not weigh conflicting evidence and make factual determinations. Instead the officer only decides whether there is competent evidence to support the belief that the individual has committed the charged offense under the other country’s laws.

At this hearing, the individual has no right to submit a defense to the charges or evidence that merely contradicts the other country’s proof or poses conflicts of credibility.

If the court finds after the hearing that (a) there is a criminal charge pending in the other country against the individual; (b) the offense underlying the charge is encompassed by the relevant treaty; (c) the individual is the person sought by the foreign government; (d) the evidence supports a finding that the crime for which the individual is sought was committed; (e) the evidence supports a finding that the individual committed the crime; and (f) the treaty has no other basis for denying extradition; then the court issues a certification that the individual is subject to extradition.

Such a certification may be challenged only by the individual’s filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus to the same district court.[6]

If there is no petition or it is denied, the court sends the certification to the Secretary of State.

  1. U.S. Secretary of State[7]

Under U.S. statutes, the Secretary of State is the U.S. official responsible for determining whether to surrender a fugitive to a requesting state. In making this decision, the Secretary may consider issues properly raised before the extradition court or a habeas court as well as any humanitarian or other considerations for or against surrender, including whether surrender may violate the United States’ obligations under the Convention Against Torture. The Secretary also will consider any written materials submitted by the fugitive, his or her counsel, or other interested parties.

If the Secretary decides to extradite, the Secretary issues and serves a warrant for the extradition, and the individual is extradited to the other country.

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, Report on International Extradition Submitted to the Congress Pursuant to Section 211 of the Admiral James W. Nance and Meg Donovan Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 2000 and 2001 (Public Law 106-113) (2001); U.S. Justice Dep’t, Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Extradition;Memorandum in Support of Motion To Dismiss Application for Habeas Corpus at 2, Montano Morales v. Elks, No. 5-16-HC-2066-BO (E.D.N.C. April 26, 2016).

[2] Future posts will examine the requests from Spain and Turkey while an earlier post reviewed a district court’s issuance of the certification for extradition to Spain of the former Salvadoran military officer: Resumption of Spanish Criminal Case Over 1989 Salvadoran Murder of Jesuit Priests?, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 6, 2016). Another post reviewed U.S. and Cuban extradition issues: Issues Regarding Cuba and U.S. Extradition of the Other’s Fugitives, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 24, 2015).

[3] See n.1.

[4] The U.S. currently has bilateral extradition treaties with 109 countries.

[5] Justice Dep’t, Office of International Affairs.

[6] A prior post erroneously stated that such a certification was subject to an ordinary appeal to the relevant U.S. court of appeals.

[7] State Dep’t, Extradition.

El Salvador’s Supreme Court Invalidates Salvadoran Amnesty Law

On July 13, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of El Salvador decided, 4 to 1, that the country’s amnesty law of 1993 was unconstitutional. This post will examine that decision and a subsequent post will discuss the impact of that decision on the pending criminal case in Spain regarding the 1989 murders of the Jesuit priests in El Salvador.

 The Court’s Decision.[1]

The Chamber held that the country’s amnesty law of 1993 was unconstitutional because it was “contrary to the access to justice” and the “protection of fundamental rights” as impeding the state from fulfilling its obligation to investigate, try and punish grave violations of those rights. Indeed, the court said the government has an obligation to “investigate, identify and sanction the material and intellectual authors of human rights crimes and grave war crimes” in its civil war and to provide reparations to victims.[2] The court also suggested that prosecutors begin with about 30 cases highlighted by a U.N. Truth Commission in March 1993.[3] The cases include massacres, assassinations and kidnappings by combatants from both the armed forces and the guerrilla army called the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). One of the most prominent was the 1989 murders of the Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her daughter.

The court’s announcement of its decision stated that the 1992 Peace Accords ending the civil war had contained no provision for an amnesty; that the country’s National Assembly had no power to grant an amnesty to persons who had committed crimes against humanity or war crimes constituting grave violations of human rights and that its constitution and international law of human rights required the conclusion of invalidity.

The court also stated that the crimes against humanity during the civil war were not individual and isolated acts, but the result of guidelines and orders issued by organized apparatuses of power with hierarchies of command.  This implies criminal responsibility of the direct actors, those who gave the orders for the crimes and those commanders who failed to countermand the orders and thereby failed to exercise control over the hierarchies.

Much to the surprise of this blogger as a retired U.S. attorney, one of the Chamber’s four judges in this very case, Florentine Menendez, made a public statement about the decision. He said, “We’re not raising hatred or reopening wounds,” but rather emphasizing “the strength of the constitution and the right to life and justice” for the victims. The decision rescues “the jurisprudence of the Inter-American system of human rights protection to heal the wounds of the past and finally close the page and get a national reconciliation.”

Positive Reactions to the Decision.[4]

The next day the decision was celebrated at a ceremony in San Salvador’s Cuscatlan Park, the site of a 275-foot granite wall etched with the names of 30,000 civilians killed in the country’s civil war and the locations of nearly 200 massacres committed between 1970 and 1991. Below are photographs of David Morales,El Salvador’s human rights ombudsman, who made remarks that day, and of part of the granite wall.

David Morales
David Morales
Cucatlan Park
Cucatlan Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

At this celebration, David Morales said, “If prosecutors and judges are willing to comply with the ruling, it will generate for the first time in El Salvador the first glimmers of reconciliation.” He added that many Latin American countries have already abolished their amnesty laws and begun to prosecute crimes dating to the civil wars and military dictatorships of the late 20th century.

Benjamin Cuellar, former director of the human rights institute at the University of Central America (UCA) and one of the petitioners in the lawsuit, said, “This is the first step that will take El Salvador to true reconciliation; so that the institutions work and bring to justice those who commit crimes, regardless of who they are.”

UCA, the home of the murdered Jesuit priests, stated, “The majority of the victims are more noble than the victimizers.   They do not want vengeance, they want the injustice to be recognized.   And the State is obliged to honor them.  It is time to put the victims in the center.   The new phase that is opened for the country is positive, it means an advance for democracy and justice, and constitutes a late but just recognition for those who had been disrespected in their memory and in their pain.”

The Center for Justice and Accountability, which has been involved in various Salvadoran human rights cases, including the Spanish case regarding the murder of the Jesuit priests, said, “Today’s decision marks a moment many of us have hoped for, for a long time, as we struggled by the victims’ side. The victims have been demanding justice since the peace was signed and the brave truth commission report was published. The amnesty law passed only seven days after was a betrayal to the victims’ hopes and the whole peace process. With it, justice was excluded forever. Today’s decision brings back hope for investigation and prosecution both inside and outside the country.”

A group of independent United Nations human rights experts declared: “This historic decision for the country brings hope to victims and confidence in the legal system…. More than twenty years after the end of the conflict, this decision will restore the fundamental rights of victims to justice and full reparations.”

Amnesty International praised the decision: “Today is an historic day for human rights in El Salvador. By turning its back on a law that has done nothing but let criminals get away with serious human rights violations for decades, the country is finally dealing with its tragic past.”

Another voice of support for the decision came in a New York Times editorial calling it “ a remarkable ruling that opens the door for relatives of victims of war crimes to hold torturers and killers accountable.” “However,” the editorial continued, “there appears to be little political will in El Salvador to revisit a painful chapter of its history in courtrooms. Politicians across the political spectrum have questioned the viability of war crimes tribunals at a time when the country’s judicial institutions are overwhelmed by endemic gang violence.”  Nevertheless, the Times suggested that El Salvador should create “a prosecution unit and gives it the tools and independence to pursue the most emblematic cases of the conflict” like the El Mozote Massacre,” which has been discussed in prior posts.

Negative Reactions to the Decision.

The lack of political will referenced in the Times editorial can be seen in the country’s President, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, a member of the FLMN, asserted that his government had always been committed to the restoration of the victims of the war and to building a culture committed to human rights.   However, he said the court’s decision did not meet “the real problems of the country and far from solving the daily problems of Salvadorans, worsens them.  Judgments of the Constitutional Chamber ignore or fail to measure the effects on our living together in society, and do not contribute to strengthening institutionality.”

Another FLMN leader had a similar reaction. The former president of the National Assembly, Siegfried Reyes, said the decision was “surprising and seeks to weaken and hit the governance and hit the security plans that the government is implementing effectively.”

The country’s Minister of Defense, David Munguia Payés, asserted that the decision was a “political error” and would be a setback to the process of pacification which had occurred since the end of the civil war.”  He openly worried that the ruling would turn into a “witch hunt.”

Mauricio Ernesto Vargas, a retired general who represented the armed forces in the peace negotiations, said the court’s ruling could intensify political polarization in a country with no shortage of problems: a gang-violence epidemic, a migration crisis, crop failures and economic stagnation.

 The country’s Attorney General, Douglas Melendez, had a more nuanced view. He said, “We respect from the institutional point of view this ruling. We will do what we have to do, we will fulfill our constitutional responsibilities.”

The conservative political party ARENA (founded by a leader of the death squads in the 1970s and 1980s, and in control of the government when atrocities like the massacre of the Jesuits occurred and the authors of the amnesty law) published an official statement urging respect for the court’s decisions, but also noting that the decisions would present challenges for the process of reconciliation and the strengthening of democracy and institutions.

Now we will have to see whether this decision leads to any Salvadoran investigations and prosecutions for the serious human rights crimes of its civil war and to a resumption of Spain’s criminal case regarding the 1989 murders of the Jesuit priests. (The latter subject will be covered in a subsequent post.)

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[1] El Salvador Supreme Court (Constitutional Chamber), Press Release (July 13, 2016), http://static.ow.ly/docs/20.%20Comunicado%2013-VII-2016%20Ley%20de%20amnist%C3%ADa_50Yr.pdf; Post war 1993 amnesty law declared unconstitutional, Tim’s El Salvador Blog (July 13, 2016), http://luterano.blogspot.com/2016/07/post-war-1993-amnesty-law-declared.html; Malkin & Palumbo, Salvadoran Court Overturns Wartime Amnesty, Paving Way for Prosecutions, N.Y. Times (July 14, 2016); Maslin, El Salvador strikes down amnesty for crimes during its civil war, Wash. Post (July 14, 2016), https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/el-salvador-strikes-down-amnesty-for-crimes-during-its-civil-war/2016/07/14/5eeef2ec-49bf-11e6-8dac-0c6e4accc5b1_story.html.

[2] Prior posts have discussed the Amnesty Law: International Criminal Justice: El Salvador’s General Amnesty Law and Its Impact on the Jesuits Case, dwkcommentaries.com (June 11, 2011),  https://dwkcommentaries.com/2011/06/11/international-criminal-justice-el-salvadors-general-amnesty-law-and-its-impact-on-the-jesuits-caseEl Salvador’s Current Controversy Over Its General Amnesty Law and Supreme Court, dwkcommentaries.com (June 16, 2011), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2011/06/16/el-salvadors-current-controversy-over-its-general-amnesty-law-and-supreme-court; The El Mozote Massacre: The Truth Commission for El Salvador and the Subsequent General Amnesty Law and Dismissal of the Criminal Case, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 13, 2012), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2012/12/13/the-el-mozote-massacre-the-truth-commission-for-el-salvador-and-the-subsequent-salvadoran-general-amnesty-law-and-dismissal-of-criminal-case. It should be noted, however, that U.S. federal courts have held that the General Amnesty Law is limited to Salvadoran judicial proceedings and thus does not bar U.S. civil lawsuits for money damages against Salvadoran defendants. (El Salvador’s General Amnesty Law in U.S. Federal Courts, dwkcommentaries.com (June 14, 2011), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2011/06/14/el-salvadors-general-amnesty-law-in-u-s-federal-court-cases.

[3] Prior posts have discussed the Truth Commission: International Criminal Justice: The Jesuits Case in the Truth Commission for El Salvador, dwkcommentaries.com (June 9, 2011), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2011/06/09/international-criminal-justice-the-jesuits-case-in-the-truth-commission-for-el-salvador; The Salvadoran Truth Commission’s Investigation of the 1980 Murders of the Four Churchwomen, dwkcommentaries (Dec. 19, 2011), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2011/12/19/the-salvadoran-truth-commissions-investigation-of-the-murders-of-the-four-american-churchwomen; The El Mozote Massacre: The Truth Commission for El Salvador and the Subsequent General Amnesty Law and Dismissal of the Criminal Case, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 13, 2012), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2012/12/13/the-el-mozote-massacre-the-truth-commission-for-el-salvador-and-the-subsequent-salvadoran-general-amnesty-law-and-dismissal-of-criminal-case.

[4] Thanks for Tim’s El Salvador Blog (http://luterano.blog spot.com) for much of the information on the reactions to the Chamber’s decision.  David Morales: The sentence “is a tool of greater scope to demand justice, DiarioCoLatino (July 14, 2016) http://www.diariocolatino.com/david-morales-la-sentencia-es-una-herramienta-de-mayores-alcances-para-exigir-justicia; Dalton, Declared unconstitutional the amnesty in El Salvador, El Pais (July 14, 2016) http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2016/07/15/america/1468541983_506876.html.