U.S. Reactions to New U.S. Anti-Cuba Policies 

U.S. objections to the new U.S. policies regarding Cuba (and Venezuela and Nicaragua) have been registered by a Bloomberg News editorial; by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; by Representative Eliot Engel, the Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and other representatives and by groups and individuals outside the government. They will be discussed first.[1]

Then we will look at support for the policies from three Cuban-American legislators (Sen. Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), Sen. Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ) and Rep.Mario Diaz-Balart (Rep., FL); from Sen. Rick Scott (Rep., FL); and from Walter Russell Mead of the Wall Street Journal.

Given the legitimate current U.S.  preoccupation with the Mueller Report and its implications, there have been no editorials (to date) on these Cuba policy changes in other leading newspapers (New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal) or by the sponsors of the pending Senate bill to end the U.S. embargo of Cuba (Senators Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN), Patrick Leahy (Dem., VT) and Mike Enzi (Rep., WY)) or by the Chair of the House ‘s Cuba Working Group Steering Committee (Tom Emmer (Rep., MN).

Critics of the New Policies[2]

  1. The Bloomberg Editorial.

Although it was worthy for the U.S. to seek to persuade Cuba to stop helping Venezuela’s Maduro, Bloomberg says the new policies are “the wrong way to get results.”

In fact, says Bloomberg, the new U.S. policies and actions will “inflict real damage on Cuba,” and  “that’s unlikely to make the country’s rulers budge. Instead, opening the [U.S.] floodgates for litigation against Canadian and European companies doing business in Cuba will fracture the international front against Maduro — not to mention swamping U.S. courts with troublesome lawsuits.” In fact, such litigation is “more an attack on America’s friends than on Cuba or Venezuela.”

Moreover, according to Bloomberg, “Aside from dividing what could have been a U.S.-led coalition [against Venezuela’s Maduro], the new escalation will play into the hands of aging hardliners, encouraging Cuba to seek help from Russia and China, and weaken potent internal forces for change.”

  1. Engage Cuba

Engage Cuba, the leading bipartisan coalition of businesses and others who support U.S.-Cuba normalization, issued the following critical comments:

(Statement by James Williams, President of Engage Cuba)

  • “President Trump is doing this for one reason, and one reason only: to appease fringe hardliners in South Florida ahead of the 2020 election. The only way to get property claimants what they deserve is through diplomatic negotiations, which President Trump just threw off the table. . . This lets the Cuban government off the hook and shifts the burden to American, European and Canadian companies. American companies and our closest allies will now be paying instead of the Cuban government.”
  • “The hypocrisy of the Trump administration cozying up to the most brutal dictatorships in the world in Saudi Arabia, Russia and North Korea, but claiming to care about democracy and human rights in Cuba, is like living in a parallel universe. President Trump himself tried for years to open up a Trump Hotel and golf resort in Cuba.”
  • “U.S. travel and remittances are the lifeblood of the private sector entrepreneurs in Cuba. These restrictions are a cruel betrayal and a knife in the back of Cuban civil society and the prospects for a growing independent private sector in Cuba. The Cuban people are already struggling under tremendous difficulties, and these actions only make it worse. We need a policy that focuses on empowering the Cuban people and advancing American interests, not continuing a 60-year failed policy that only serves fringe domestic politics in South Florida.”

(Property Claim Lawsuits)

  • “The Trump administration has chosen to break precedent with every administration since President Clinton by failing to waive Titles III and IV of the the LIBERTAD Act, commonly referred to as the Helms-Burton Act after its sponsors. When Title III takes effect on May 2, American companies and foreign firms will be subject to lawsuits in U.S. courts over the use of properties that were nationalized by the Cuban government following the 1959 revolution. Title IV will also take effect, requiring the denial of U.S. visas for anyone “trafficking” in confiscated Cuban properties, as well as their relatives.”
  • “In opposition to international law, Title III affords claimant rights to Cuban Americans who were Cuban citizens at the time their property was confiscated. Currently, there are 5,913 certified claims of seized American property in Cuba, but the State Department has estimated there could be a flood of up to 200,000 claims with the full activation of Title III.”
  • “Due to Title III’s potential to jeopardize U.S. trade interests, every U.S. administration since the law’s enactment in 1996 has suspended its implementation, typically for a period of six months. Today’s announcement marks the first time Title III has been fully activated and U.S. firms will be subject to lawsuits.”
  • “Companies from the biggest U.S. trade partners, including the European Union, Canada, and Mexico, will also be subject to property claim lawsuits under Title III, though most countries will protect their companies from having to pay damages to U.S. property claimants. The EU and Canada have threatened retaliation in the World Trade Organization.”
  • “Meanwhile, U.S. adversaries like Russia and China are unlikely to comply with Title III lawsuits and will instead align themselves with Cuba against this extraterritorial U.S. policy. By maintaining a trade embargo, the U.S. has already left a vacuum in Cuba for adversarial influence. As Cuba continues to be isolated by the Trump administration, it will increasingly turn to Russia and China, who offer them favorable credit terms and invest in high-profile projects.”

(New Restrictions on Remittances,Travel, and Financial Transactions)

  • “Bolton also announced there will be new limits on non-family travel to Cuba and U.S. remittances to the island, a heavy blow to Cuba’s nascent private sector (roughly one-third of the workforce) which greatly depends on remittances and U.S. travelers to keep their small businesses alive. Remittances will now be capped at $1,000 per quarter, a dramatic departure from the $4 billion that flowed to the Cuban people after the Obama administration lifted all limits on remittances in 2015.”
  • “Five Cuban government-run businesses will be added to the list of entities with which direct financial transactions are barred. New Department of Treasury regulations will prohibit U.S. banks from processing “U-Turn transactions,” Cuba-related funds transfers from a bank outside the U.S. that pass through U.S. financial institutions before being transferred to banks abroad where neither the originator nor the beneficiary is a U.S. national.”
  1. U.S. Chamber of Commerce

“Six decades of trying to isolate Cuba has failed to bring change to the island, and today’s move only doubles down on this strategy. The U.S. Chamber’s support for a new approach to Cuba is founded in our profound conviction that more engagement with the Cuban people — on the basis of free enterprise and free markets — is essential to democratic change and improvements in the Cuban people’s lives.”

“We strongly support U.S. government efforts to protect the property rights of U.S. citizens abroad, but full implementation of Title III is unlikely to achieve those aims and is instead more likely to result in a protracted legal and diplomatic morass that ensnares U.S. courts, companies and partners. . . . Furthermore, it is difficult to see how this action squares with the administration’s earlier commitment to hold harmless U.S. companies legally authorized and previously encouraged to do business in Cuba.”

“Many American companies will now be subjected to countersuits in Europe, Canada, Latin America, and elsewhere. Today’s announcement threatens to disrupt our trade ties to these countries, which are among our closest allies and best customers. Instead, we should be working with them to make the case for democratic change in Cuba.”

  1. Center for Democracy in the Americas

Another U.S. group that supports U.S.-Cuba normalization, the Center for Democracy in the Americas, said through its executive director (and former Obama National Security Advisor) Emily Mendrala, “Capping remittances is mean-spirited, and can only be understood as the U.S. government’s attempt to create economic hardship among the Cuban people. Ambassador Bolton’s speech conflated Cuba with Venezuela, and he announced a policy approach that does the same. The two countries are different, living through very different moments, and to exploit events in Venezuela to settle Cold War scores with Cuba is a distraction from real needs in Venezuela.”

  1. Cuba Educational Travel

Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel, added other critical comments. First, “the measures on remittances and travel threaten the economic survival of Cuban families and the viability of thousands of independent small businesses allowed to operate since 2010 under reforms implemented by former President Raúl Castro.” Second, “The only winners here are a handful of members of Congress and those stuck in the past that support them. The losers are millions of Cubans on and off the island and the overwhelming majority of Americans that support engagement with Cuba.”

  1. Current and Former Federal Government Officials

Representative Eliot Engel (Dem., NY), the Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, stated, ““President Trump’s rejection of over two decades of bipartisan consensus on a key piece of U.S. policy toward Cuba will further isolate the United States from our Latin American and European allies and diminish our ability to promote democracy in Cuba and Venezuela. Sadly, this decision will do nothing to resolve U.S. property claims in Cuba—an important goal toward which we must continue to strive.”

Similar statements were issued by Representatives Kathy Castor (Dem., FL), James McGovern (Dem., MA), Barbara Lee (Dem., CA) and Donna Shalala (Dem., FL).

Benjamin Rhodes, a former Obama adviser who helped negotiate the December 2014 U.S.-Cuba normalization agreement, said, “Restricting remittances that can be sent to Cubans will directly hurt the Cuban people. This is a shameful and mean-spirited policy.”

Mark Feierstein, a former National Security Council’s Director for the Western Hemisphere, tweeted: “As Bolton delivers speech in Miami today on Cuba, it’s useful to keep in mind that according to public opinion polls, most Cuban-Americans approve the measures taken by the Obama Administration to support the Cuban people. The [National Security Council]. . . is out of step with majority opinion in Miami.” In another tweet  he stated, “What we’re leading the Cuban people toward is a darker day, where there will be less economic opportunity.”

  1. Other Americans

Tim Fernholz, who covers space, the economy and geopolitics for Quartz, has addressed the new policies’ adverse effects on the emrging Cuban private sector. He says, “The Trump administration is setting out to crush free markets in Cuba.” These policies “will damage Cuba’s nascent private sector far more than a ruling regime that has out-lasted six decades of US embargo. Trump is pulling the rug out from Cuba’s cuentrapropistas—literally, self-employed—eliminating their sources of capital and revenue and reducing their influence during the all-important transition to a post-Castro Cuban government. . . . US policy toward Cuba, meanwhile, is defined by a near-theological belief that isolating the Cuban people will lead them to abandon national self-determination.”

Supporters of the New Policies[3]

The two Cuban-American Senators and one of the Cuban-American U.S. Representatives, as expected, endorsed at least some of the new U.S. policies. So did Senator Rick Scott. So did Walter Russell Mead, who is the James Clarke Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs and the Humanities at Bard College, a Distinguished Fellow in American Strategy and Statesmanship at the Hudson Institute, and The Wall Street Journal’s Global View columnist.

Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) said, “”By no longer suspending Title III of the Freedom Act, the Trump administration is the sixth of impunity by the Castro regime. The United States is opening the door to justice and enabling victims of the Cuban dictatorship to rightfully sue their perpetrators. Today, as we commemorate the value of the fallen heroes in the Bay of Pigs invasion, history is once again being written. ”

Senator Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ) offered a similar statement: “By fully implementing Title III of the LIBERTAD Act, the United States is rightly providing U.S. citizens with the means to hold the Cuban regime accountable through the U.S. justice system.”

Representative Mario Diaz-Balart (Rep., FL) issued a lengthier statement, which is extracted below:

  • “At long last, victims of confiscated properties will finally have the chance to pursue claims to recoup losses suffered at the hands of the Castro regime.”
  • “President Trump and his administration have demonstrated remarkable solidarity with the Cuban people and the regime’s other victims in tightening sanctions by prohibiting financial transactions with the Cuban military.
  • “Cutting off resources and investment to the regime in Cuba will benefit both U.S. national security interests and regional security interests for neighbors in our hemisphere.”

Senator Scott stated, “Americans can finally sue for property stolen by the Cuban regime. We must continue to do everything we can to cut off the money supply to the Castro Regime, which continues to prop up dangerous dictators like Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua.”

Walter Russell Mead. He starts with the proposition that Venezuela presents the key challenge of Latin America. “Left to accelerate, the breakdown of governance and civilized life in Venezuela can only create more refugees, enrich arms smugglers and drug cartels, allow forces like Hezbollah to insinuate themselves more deeply in the region. On the other hand, a return to some kind of stability under a pro-business government would initiate an economic recovery that would help the people of Venezuela and their neighbors alike, and deprive the terror cartels of much of their arms and funding. Crucially, if Venezuelan oil production recovers, it would help stabilize world energy markets and significantly increase American leverage with both Russia and Iran.”

“The continued collapse of Venezuela’s economy means the Cuban regime is also facing disaster. From the Trump administration’s point of view, this is a historic opportunity. If Cuba . . . abandons socialism on Mr. Trump’s watch, the president’s prestige at home and abroad would soar.”

Therefore, says Mead, the Trump Administration hopes for “historic victories in Cuba and Venezuela.” That plus  “the fear of a costly defeat have combined to persuade the Trump administration to adopt some of the most far-reaching economic sanctions ever imposed.” In short, no previous U.S. president “has been willing to impose sanctions that alienate powerful allies to this degree over Caribbean policy. That Washington is pressing ahead suggests how high a priority Venezuela has become for the administration.”

Conclusion

There are so many reasons to oppose the new U.S. policies towards Cuba, as this blogger does. Just refer to the above section regarding such opposition and to the similar discussion in the previous posts cited in footnote 1.

As always, this blog invites reasoned comments, pro or con, or corrections from all readers of this post.

===================================

[1] Prior posts have discussed (a) the April 17 announcement of the U.S. allowance of litigation over alleged trafficking in American-owned Cuba property that was expropriated by the Cuban government, circa 1959-60; (b) National Security Advisor John Bolton’s April 17 announcement of additional Cuba sanctions; (c) Cuban reactions to these changes; and (d) European and other countries’ reactions to these changes. These changes take effect in the midst of Cuba’s current dire economic situation, which was the subject of another post.

[2] Editorial, Cuba Is a Problem That Trump Is Making Worse, Bloomberg (April 22, 2019); Press Release, Engage Cuba Statement on New Cuba Sanctions (April 17, 2019); Engage Cuba, Memorandum: New Sanctions on Cuba Announced April 17, 2019 (April 2019); U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Statement on Cuba and Title III of the LIBERTAD Act (April 17, 2019); Center for Democracy in the Americas, CDA STATEMENT:Cuba Sanctions announcement (April 17, 2019); Cuba Educational Travel, CET Statement on President Trump’s Cuba Policy Changes (April 17, 2019); Engel on Implementation of Article III of the Helms-Burton Act (April  17, 2019); U.S. Rep. Castor: The Trump Administration’s Announcement of New, Hardline Restrictions on Cuba Brings Pain to Families, Hurts Growing Cuban Private Sector (April 17, 2019); McGovern Statement on Trump Administration;’s Reckless Policy Change Toward Cuba (April 17, 2019); Congresswoman Barbara Lee Slams President Trump’s Backwards Policy Towards Cuba (April 17, 2019); Caputo, Trump crackdown on “3 stooges of socialism’ has 2020 thrust, Politico (April 17, 2019) (Rep. Shalala quotation); Reuters, Trump’s Cuba Hawks Try to Squeeze Havana Over Venezuela Role, N.Y Times  (April 18, 2019) (Rhodes quotation); Feierstein Twitter Account; Fernholz, Cuba’s entrepreneurs are under attack by Donald Trump, Quartz  (April 22, 2019).

[3] Press Release, Rubio Commends Trump Administration’s Move to Hold Cuba Accountable (April 17, 2019); Press Release, Rubio Highlights Importance of Trump Administration’s Commitment to Democracy in Latin America (April 17, 2019); Press Release, Menendez Statement on Announcement to Let Cuban Americans File Suit over Property Confiscated by Cuban Regime (April 17, 2019); Diaz-Balart: Trump Administration’s Full Implementation of Title III Is a Monumental Decision   (April 17, 2019); Press Release, Sen. Rick Scott Applauds President Trump For Fully Implementing Title III of the Libertad Act (April 17, 2019); Mead, Trump Takes Aim at Caracas and Havana, W.S.J. (April 22, 2019).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Update on Trump Administration’s Threat To  Allow U.S. Litigation Over Cuba’s Expropriated Property

A prior post reported that the Trump Administration was considering not continuing the waiver of the right of certain owners of Cuban property that was expropriated in 1959-60 to bring litigation in U.S. federal courts.  Here are two updates.

First, Engage Cuba, an U.S. bipartisan coalition supporting normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations, published a strong objection to such a move.[1] Here are the reasons for its objection:

  • “There are 5,913 certified claims of seized American property in Cuba . . . [and] the State Department estimates that a flood of up to 200,000 claims if the suspension [of the right to sue] were ended.”
  • “Property claimants would be more successful in earning compensation through high-level diplomatic engagement, given that foreign companies are unlikely to cooperate.“
  • “Future attempts to encourage legal business with Cuba would be much more difficult . . . [and the authorization of U.S. litigation] would have a chilling effect on the broader effort to continue normalizing relations and could spill into other areas like travel, academic exchange, and research collaboration.”
  • “As U.S companies are not exempt from Title III suits, they could face a slew of lawsuits and would be extremely unlikely to expand operations in Cuba despite their past success on the island.”
  • “Companies based in Europe and Canada are among the top foreign investors in Cuba [and] Canada, the U.K. [and Mexico] all have laws prohibiting their companies from complying with Title III suits . . .[plus the] European Union . . . has indicated it will do [the same] . . . if the law goes into effect. The result could be a retaliatory measure that allows litigation against U.S. companies. These legal tensions could also spill over into other aspects of bilateral relationships with U.S. allies.”
  • “Thousands of U.S. lawsuits against Chinese companies could upset an already delicate trade relationship and provoke retaliation. Meanwhile, the U.S. has already left a vacuum in Cuba for adversarial influence, particularly from Russia and China. As business with U.S. companies becomes less viable for the Cubans, they will increasingly turn to our adversaries, who offer them favorable credit terms and invest in high-profile projects.”
  • U.S. “isolation rarely allows for improvements in human rights, and Cuba is no exception. Strained relations with our allies will only escalate this problem. Without a multilateral effort to hold the Cuban government accountable, the U.S. will have a harder time pushing Cuba toward greater freedom.”

Second, an anonymous Administration source said that it is very likely to act on this  proposal, but limit it to only the 6,000 existing claims and to exempt U.S. companies currently doing business in Cuba. Although this would reduce the harmful effects of such a change, it still is objectionable for the reasons advanced by Engage Cuba.

===========================================

[1]   Engage Cuba, Urgent: Trump Administration May Allow Lawsuits for Confiscated Property in Cuba (Jan.—2019).

 

 

 

 

 

 

·

 

 

 

Reactions to New U.S. Regulations About U.S. Travel to Cuba and Transactions with Cuban Entities  

On November 8, the Trump Administration announced new regulations regarding U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba and Americans transactions with certain Cuban entities, all as discussed in yesterday’s blog post. Here are initial reactions to that announcement in the U.S. and in Cuba.

 U.S. Reactions[1]

Engage Cuba, a major coalition supporting U,S,-Cuba normalization, released a lengthy statement criticizing the new regulations. It said they “create a more convoluted, confusing and counterproductive approach to Cuba policy. This ‘Keystone Cops’ Cuba policy hurts those it claims to help and helps those it claims to hurt.” In addition, this action has “fumbled our Cuba policy right into the hands of Vladimir Putin. While the Cuban people and U.S. businesses lose out, reverting back to our policy of isolation is a gift to the Kremlin. Russia is quickly expanding its foothold in Cuba, looking to regain its once diminished sphere of influence in our backyard. Abandoning Cuba and allowing Russia to fill a leadership vacuum is undoubtedly a threat to our national security.

Moreover, according to Engage Cuba, “These new regulations are a kick in the gut to Cuban entrepreneurs who are struggling to support their families. Americans are significantly contributing to the growth of Cuba’s private sector. Today’s announcement will only make it harder for Americans to travel to Cuba and support the growing private sector.”

Senator Patrick Leahy (Dem., VT), a leading advocate for normalization, said the new regulations “are reminiscent of the Cold War and what one would expect of a paranoid totalitarian government, not a democracy like ours. [They are] onerous and petty restrictions on what private American citizens can do in Cuba — an impoverished neighbor that poses not the slightest threat to the United States. Far from promoting human rights in Cuba, these new regulations will hurt fledgling entrepreneurs and the rest of the Cuban people by discouraging Americans from traveling there.”

Senator Diane Feinstein (Dem., CA) tweeted that “isolating the Cuban people did not serve US interests before and certainly will not now.”

Representative Mark Sanford (Rep., SC), who is the author of a pending bill for freedom to travel to Cuba, said the new regulations were “outdated and an unfair limitation of American freedom.”

Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), a major force for harsh U.S. measures about Cuba, had a luke-warm reaction to the new U.S. regulations. He criticized the State Department for failure to include on the Cuba Restricted List “several entities and sub-entities that are controlled by or act on behalf of the Cuban military, intelligence or security services They Gran Caribe Hotel Group and Cubanacan,” which are owned by the tourism ministry, not the military.

Rubio asserted that “individuals within the bureaucracy who support the former administration’s Cuba policy continue to undermine President Trump.” Similar views were expressed by Representatives Mario Diaz-Balart (Rep., FL) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Rep., FL)

Cuba Reactions[2]

Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s top diplomat in the 2015-16 bilateral negotiations, said the new rules were a “serious reversal” in ties between the two countries. She believed the new regulations were unjustified and a great political nuance. They adversely will affect U.S. businessmen, who will lose interesting business opportunities existing on the island today, as opposed to their competition. At the same time, they will harm the Cuban economy, both the state and the private sector.

The U.S. category travel for ‘Support for the Cuban People,’ she said,’ does not “hide its subversive background, such as the one that encourages travelers to carry out activities to justify the U.S. legality of their visits to Cuba. These activities include maintaining contacts with the Cuban people, supporting what the U.S. defines as civil society and promoting their independence from the Cuban State.” She also said the U.S.’ Cuba Restricted List is an “arbitrary list that is made up of “a diversity of Cuban entities supposedly linked, in an unfounded manner, to the defense and national security sector.”

Conclusion

 This blogger sides with the critics of the new regulations.

====================================

[1] Engage Cuba Statement on New Cuba Sanctions (Nov. 8, 2017); Leahy, BREAKING: Leahy REAX To New Treasury Dept. Regs. Restricting Travel & Transactions By American Citizens In Cuba (Nov. 8, 2017); Rubio Statement on New Regulations to Implement the President’s Policy to Empower the Cuban People (Nov. 8, 2017); Rubio: ‘Bureaucrats’ to blame for softening Trump Cuba policy,’ Miami Herald (Nov. 8, 2017); Diaz-Balart: Regulations Are First Step Towards Implementing POTUS’ Cuba Policy (Nov. 8, 2017); Ros-Lehtinen Responds To Announcement of New Cuba Regulations (Nov. 8, 2017).

[2] Assoc. Press, The Latest: Cuba Says New Trump Rules Mark Reversal for Ties, N.Y. Times (Nov. 8, 2017); Gomez, Washington deepens retreat of relations with Cuba (+ Video), Granma (Nov. 9, 2017); Measures restrict rights of the Americans and will damage the Cuban economy: Josefina Vida (+ Video), CubaDebate (Nov. 8, 2017).

 

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Holds Hearing About Cuba

On May 20th the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing, “U.S.-Cuban Relations—The Way Forward.”[1]

 Chairman Corker’s Opening Statement

Senator Bob Corker
Senator Bob Corker

The Committee Chair, Bob Corker (Rep., TN) opened by stating that the hearing would focus “on the strategy behind the President’s significant shift in U.S. policy towards Cuba.” Even though this shift “has been welcomed in Latin America and the Caribbean . . . significant differences of opinion exist in the [U.S.] over the extent to which this change in policy will advance U.S. interests and improve circumstances for the Cuban people.”

Therefore, according to Corker, the strategic issue was “how our nation can best engage strategically with the region and beyond to help Cuba rejoin the mainstream of the Americas and offer its citizens the same rights and freedoms enjoyed by citizens of other countries in the region.”

Ranking Member Cardin’s Opening Statement

Senator Ben Cardin
Senator Ben Cardin

The Ranking Member of the Committee, Senator Ben Cardin (Dem., MD), stated, “The President’s action [on December 17th] brought with it a new opportunity to forge a bilateral relationship that will strengthen our efforts to advance and defend U.S. national interests, and will allow our government and our citizens to expand support for the Cuban people. Today’s hearing provides an important opportunity to review the advances achieved under the Administration’s new Cuba policy and to understand the strategy for moving forward.  Without a doubt, this is a complicated process and it will take time to achieve the progress we want to see.”

“[W]e all stand together in our aspirations to see the Cuban people have the opportunity to build a society where human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected, where democratic values and political pluralism are tolerated, and where individuals can work unobstructed to improve their living conditions. We also share concerns about critical issues, such as the Cuban government’s ongoing abuse of human rights and the presence of American fugitives in Cuba, especially those wanted for the murder of U.S. law enforcement officers.”

“But, the central question is: how can we best advance these aspirations while also addressing these concerns? It goes without saying that our previous policy did not achieve the progress that we wanted to see, and so a new approach is needed.”

“President Obama has laid out a new path based on the belief that principled engagement will bring more results. I think that this is the right path for the following reasons:

“First, for far too long, the Cuban government has used U.S. policy as an excuse to justify its shortcomings and the hardships the Cuban people face.  The Cuban government also has exploited U.S. policy for diplomatic gains, focusing international debate about what the U.S. should do, rather than about what Cuba needs to do to better provide for its citizens.”

“Second, despite differences we may have with a government, our foreign policy should always endeavor to support that country’s people to the greatest degree possible.  Our disagreements with the Cuban government are well known and many.  But, over time, we have allowed those disagreements to get in the way of developing a strategy that utilizes all of our resources to empower the people of Cuba.”

“I have no doubt that the dynamism of American society will make a positive contribution to empowering the Cuban people and provide them with the information they need to build the future of their country.”

“Third, the Administration’s new Cuba policy will provide the U.S., and especially our diplomats, with new tools to engage directly with the Cuban government to have principled and frank discussions about the issues we disagree about and how we might work together better on issues of common interest.”

Testimony of Assistant Secretary of State Jacobson

Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson
Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson

Roberta Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, testified, “[W]e have begun to see the Administration’s new approach to Cuba providing space for other nations in the hemisphere and around the world to focus on promoting respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cuba and elsewhere in the region. This was illustrated at the Summit of the Americas in Panama last April. Engagement by the President and the Secretary at the Summit re-invigorated our momentum on a variety of issues.”

“Our new approach has drawn greater attention to the potential for greater political and economic freedom for the Cuban people and the gap between Cuba and other countries in the Hemisphere. More Americans are travelling to Cuba, getting past the rhetoric, meeting Cubans, and building shared understanding between our people. We have seen practical cooperation in our official dialogues with Cuba on issues in our national interest like maritime and aviation safety, telecommunications, and environmental cooperation.

“Our future discussions on law enforcement cooperation, coupled with the ongoing migration talks, will expand the avenues available to seek the return of American fugitives from justice as well as the return of Cubans residing illegally in the United States. The same is true for future talks on human rights and settling American claims for expropriated properties. Most importantly, the President’s new approach makes clear that the United States can no longer be blamed as an obstacle to progress on things like access to information and connecting Cubans to the world.”

Nevertheless, “significant differences remain between our two governments. We continue to raise our concerns regarding democracy, human rights, and freedom of expression. And we will seek to engage with all Cubans to gain their perspectives on the best way forward for the country.”

“Our policy towards Cuba is based on a clear-eyed strategy that empowers the Cuban people to determine their own future by creating new economic opportunities and increasing their contact with the outside world. That is why we made it easier for Cuban-Americans to travel and send remittances to their families in Cuba, and opened new pathways for academic, religious, and people-to-people exchanges. These changes create powerful new connections between our two countries and help the nascent private sector in Cuba, which is already an agent of positive change on the island. The steps we have implemented build on this foundation by increasing authorized travel, authorized commerce, and the flow of information to, from, and within Cuba.”

“Our new approach emphasizes targeted forms of commerce that offer economic opportunity to independent Cuban entrepreneurs or, like expanded communications, benefit all Cubans. Comprehensive changes in our economic relationship will require Congressional action to lift the embargo. The President has urged Congress to begin that effort. In the meantime, we are using available policy tools to promote a prosperous, democratic, and stable Cuba.”

“In a short period of time, we have already started to see U.S. enterprises seizing the new opportunities. The regulatory changes we announced are intended to increase the financial and material resources available to the Cuban people and the emerging Cuban private sector. They also enable U.S. companies to offer expanded telecommunications and internet services in ways that could help Cuban civil society members advance their aspirations and collectively become more prosperous.”

“Regarding the Administration’s decision to rescind Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, as President Obama said, ‘throughout this process, our emphasis has been on the facts.’ . . . We will continue to have differences with the Cuban government, but our concerns over a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions do not relate to any of the criteria relevant to that designation.”

“While progress has been made in our efforts to reestablish diplomatic relations, there is more to do to ensure a future U.S. Embassy will be able to function more like other diplomatic missions elsewhere in the world and foreign diplomatic missions in Cuba. Even today, under challenging circumstances, our diplomats do their very best to represent the interests and values of the United States, just as we do in hundreds of places around the world. Our engagement with the broadest range of Cubans will expand once we establish diplomatic relations with Cuba.”

Testimony of State Department Counselor Shannon

Counselor Thomas A. Shannon, Jr.
Counselor Thomas A. Shannon, Jr.

State Department Counselor Thomas A. Shannon, Jr. testified, “My purpose today is to address the regional context in which . . . [the U.S. Cuba] policy is unfolding, and to lay out some of the strategic dimensions of our diplomacy.”

“The decision to engage with Cuba and seek normalization of our bilateral relationship attempts to create a new terrain on which to pursue a future that meets our interests and corresponds to our values. Our commitment to democracy and human rights, and our desire and hope that the Cuban people will know the benefits of liberty and become the sovereigns of their own destiny, is no less for our action.”

“The President has been clear about the commitment in our Cuba policy to our enduring and fundamental principles of self-government and individual liberty. However, he has also been clear about our inability to effect significant change in Cuba acting alone across so many decades. Instead, he determined that our efforts would be more effective if we could position Cuba squarely within an inter-American system that recognizes democracy as a right that belongs to all the peoples of our Hemisphere, believes that democracy is essential to the political, economic, and social development of our peoples, and has the juridical instruments, treaties, and agreements to give shape, form, and weight to these commitments. It was our determination that this kind of environment would be the most propitious to support the only legitimate agent of peaceful and enduring political change in Cuba: the Cuban people.”

“The Americas, and specifically Latin America, has anticipated many of the events that are shaping our world. It is a region that has moved largely from authoritarian to democratic government, from closed to open economies, from exclusive to inclusive societies, from autarkical development to regional integration, and from isolation to globalization.”

“Latin America is the first developing region of the world to commit itself explicitly to democratic governance through the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the first to build a democratic model of development, and the first to establish regional structures to promote and protect human rights.”

“While creating a broad base of shared political values, Latin America has also constructed shared economic understandings and a commitment by many of the most successful countries in the Hemisphere to market economies and free trade. In the process, it has built sub-regional integration and political dialogue through organizations like the Common Market of the South, the Andean Community, the Union of South American Nations, and the Central American Integration System, all the while preserving larger hemispheric institutions, such as the Organization of American States and the Summit of the Americas process, that connect Latin America to the Caribbean and North America.”

“As Latin America advances into the 21st century, it is undergoing a second generation of change. Politically, it has consolidated democratic government and is strengthening democratic states and societies. This has opened up political institutions to new voices and actors, deepening the representativeness of many Latin American governments and challenging traditional elites and interests. In some countries, weak democratic institutions have not been able to contain the social energy unlocked by democratization, leading to populism and political polarization as groups struggle for control of the state. As troubling as this phenomenon can be, it does not define the democratization of the region but instead presents a challenge for the region to show how it can address such incidents through the organizations and institutional mechanisms it has created.”

“Economically, Latin America is building innovative integration mechanisms such as the Pacific Alliance, and reaching into Asia and North America to find new and important economic partners. We have FTAs with 12 countries in the Hemisphere, and the continued globalization of Latin America is driven not only by the regions abundant commodities, especially food and energy, but also by growing middle classes that have created attractive markets for manufactured goods and services.”

“The profound changes unleashed in Latin America show clearly that democracy and markets can deliver economic development and address longstanding social inequities such as poverty, inequality, and social exclusion. In effect, Latin America has used democracy and markets to launch peaceful social revolutions that are transforming many countries in important and long-lasting ways. Our ability to promote profound and dramatic change in Latin America is an example of what the United States can accomplish through diplomacy and engagement.”

“If we accomplished such a profound transformation in our Hemisphere through engagement, why not try the same approach with Cuba? And better yet, why not try it in partnership with countries and institutions that are now prepared to work with us because of the President’s new policy?”

“Cuba today finds itself part of a dynamic, vibrant region where transformative change has been the watchword for several decades. And it finds itself in a region where the momentum of that change will continue to reshape political, economic, and social landscapes. In such an environment, the Cuban people will find many models and partners from which to learn and choose. We should be one of those models and partners.”

Questioning Assistant Secretary Jacobson and Counselor Shannon

Of the 11 Committee members in attendance, six made comments and asked questions supportive of U.S.-Cuba reconciliation: Ben Cardin (Dem., MD), Barbara Boxer (Dem., CA), Tom Udall (Dem., NM), Tim Kaine (Dem., VA), Edward Markey (Dem., MA) and Jeff Flake (Rep., AZ).

With Chairman Corker being judiciously noncommittal in his comments, the other four in attendance were hostile to the reconciliation: Bob Menendez (Dem., NJ), Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), Ron Johnson (Rep., WI) and David Perdue (Rep., GA).

In response to Senator Corker’s opening question about whether to date the U.S. had obtained any changes in Cuba policies, Jacobson implicitly said none by emphasizing that the U.S. actions to increase the ability of U.S. nationals to travel to Cuba and to send remittances to Cubans were assisting the latters’ ability to form businesses and over time to be agents for change. The same was true, she said, of new U.S. policies to encourage U.S. businesses to export telecommunications equipment to the island. Shannon added that the new U.S. policies helped the U.S. with other countries in Latin America, especially within the Organization of the American States (OAS) and the Summit of the Americas.

Jacobson also mentioned the OAS and the United Nations as well as continued U.S. annual reports about human rights as means the U.S. would use to assess whether Cuba makes improvements in human rights. She also reiterated her point about U.S. travel and investment in Cuba as instruments for aiding such improvements, all in response to a question from Senator Rubio.

Rubio also pressed Jacobson to concede that the U.S. and Cuba had different notions of human rights. She did so with respect to free speech, peaceful assembly and elections, but she did not point out the U.S.-Cuba agreement on many theoretical issues of human rights as discussed in a prior post.

Another major Rubio argument was increased American travel to Cuba merely benefited the Cuban government and military, which owned, in whole or in part, hotels and car rental companies. The amount of such travel to Cuban bed and breakfasts in private homes was insignificant and, in any event, such private establishments had to pay big fees to the government for such businesses. Moreover, Rubio continued, many of these hotels and other properties had been owned by Americans and others and stolen by the Cuban government. Therefore, Rubio said, the U.S. should not be promoting such increased travel.

Senator Boxer responded to this argument by pointing out that the U.S. permits travel to Viet Nam, China and Russia where hotels and other businesses are owned by the state. She also pointed out that direct interactions between U.S. and Cuban citizens should encourage the latter to want more rights. In addition, Boxer said, the rapprochement was improving cooperation regarding Cuba for the U.S. from Europe and others in this Hemisphere. An example was Panama’s reaction to Cuban efforts to suppress free speech at the recent Summit of the Americas in that country.

However, I was surprised that no one responded to Rubio’s argument about hotels that had been stolen by the Cuban government. Indeed, there are substantial damage claims against the Cuban government for its uncompensated expropriation of property, and this is one of the claims the U.S. now is asserting against Cuba, and a prior post argued for submitting these and other damage claims by both countries to an international arbitration.

Senator Johnson focused on provisions of the Libertad Act (a/k/a the Helms-Burton Act) imposing preconditions on U.S. relaxing sanctions against Cuba, presumably as a predicate for an argument that President Obama’s easing of certain sanctions was unauthorized and, therefore, illegal. Jacobson pointed out, however, that other laws had exceptions to sanctions and provided authority to the President to do what he has done. Moreover, she said, the Administration had asked Congress to enact legislation repealing the U.S. embargo of the island, including the Libertad Act.

Senator Menendez, a Cuban-American and a vigorous opponent of the reconciliation, barely concealed his anger over the change in U.S. policies. Since December 17th, he argued, there has been no improvement in Cuban human rights, and in fact there has been a deterioration on this subject.

Senator Perdue reiterated Menendez’ argument about human rights and asserted that Cuba was still a state supporter of terrorism. It allegedly was helping Islamist terrorists, had shipped arms to North Korea that were intercepted in Panama and had another ship with explosives that on February 28, 2015, was intercepted by Colombia. Counselor Shannon pointed out that this Colombian government action was an example of the increased cooperation the U.S. now is obtaining from others in Latin America as a result of the new U.S. policies about Cuba.

Senator Kaine stated that there are roughly 600 bilateral relations in the Western Hemisphere and that the only one without normal diplomatic relations is U.S.-Cuba. In addition, there are no inter-state wars in the Hemisphere and the only civil war is in Colombia, which is the subject of peace negotiations now being held in, and aided by, Cuba. Counselor Shannon concurred, saying this was a remarkable achievement for the Hemisphere going along with its economic and democratic improvements.

 Conclusion

This hearing, in my opinion, did not really provide any new information about the issues or the positions of the participants, which probably why it was not covered in U.S. news media.[2]

The hearing and the lack of news coverage underscored the importance of U.S. citizens who support the reconciliation efforts to convey their opinions to their Senators and Representatives and of the formation and actions of groups like the U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba and Engage Cuba Coalition.

====================================================

[1] This post is based upon a video of the hearing and on the embedded citations to the opening statements of Senators Corker and Cardin, the testimony of Assistant Secretary Jacobson and Counselor Shannon and to some of the comments by Senators Rubio, Menendez and Perdue.

[2] This brief article is the only one found in a Google search: Gomez, Senators question wisdom of Obama’s Cuba policy, USA Today (May 20, 2015),