U.S. State Department’s Recent Actions on U.S. Policies Regarding Cuba

In two press interviews on January 23, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo addressed questions about Cuba.  Earlier in the month an unnamed “Senior Department Official” also had comments about Cuba and two days later the Administration announced new sanctions. Here is a summary of those developments.

Pompeo’s Interview by El Nuevo Herald/Miami Herald [1]

A reporter for el Nuevo  Herald and the Miami Herald asked, “Is the U.S. considering further sanctions against the Cuban Government?  And if so, how can you assure that those measures won’t hurt Cuban families already affected by some restrictions on visa and air traveling?”

Pompeo responded, “It’s always something that we consider very carefully.  We love the Cuban people.  We wish them enormous success.  Indeed, we expend a lot of energy and time to try and help them have that success.  At the same time, the policies of the previous administration were putting lots of money in the pockets of the regime.  The very leaders, the very dictators, the very communists that have repressed the Cuban people for so many decades now were being bolstered and supported by some of the commercial activity that’s taking place.”

“So our mission set has been to do our best not to harm the Cuban people – indeed, just the opposite of that: to create space where there’ll be an opportunity for democracy and freedom and the economy inside of Cuba to flourish while not lining the pockets of the corrupt leadership there.”

Pompeo Interview by WIOD-AM Miami[2]

The radio host, Jimmy Cafalo, asked, “How . . .[do American values] apply to our part of the world here in south Florida, when we are concerned about Venezuela or concerned about Cuba?”

Secretary Pompeo answered, “So President Trump’s been very realistic about how our foreign policy ought to be conducted.  He’s not about nation-building; he’s about protecting the American people.  When we stare at this problem set . . .with these communist regimes in Cuba, in Nicaragua, in Venezuela, America has always been committed to trying to help those people establish democracies to stamp out communism.  We continue that effort.  It’s good for the region, it’s good for the people of those countries, and it’s important to the citizens of south Florida and people all across the United States.”

Another question from Senor Cafalo, “Do you believe we should move closer to Cuba?  I mean, it seems it’s a vacillating element.  With the previous administration, we were moving much closer, and people with families there were going over and back and forth and trading a lot of things.  And now that seems to have just all but shut down.  What’s your take on Cuba?”

The Secretary’s response: “President Trump doesn’t want to see trade taking place with Cuba that is benefiting the regime, benefiting these oppressive communist dictators who are treating their own people so horribly, so terribly.  So our mission set has been to do all that we can to support the people of Cuba, while making sure that money, dollars, trade, all the things that prop up this military, this junta, this set of dictators that have done so much harm to the people of Cuba – you know them so well, they live – so many live in this region.  Our mission set has been to create the conditions where the Cuban people can have the opportunity to throw off the yoke of communism.”

Previous “Senior Department Official” Statement[3]

On January 8, an unnamed “Senior State Department Official” at a Special Briefing at the Department on “2019 Successes in the Western Hemisphere Region,” said the following about Cuba:

  • “The United States will cut off Cuba’s remaining sources of revenue in response to its intervention in Venezuela. We’ve already eliminated visits to Cuba via passenger and recreational vehicles. We suspended U.S. air carriers’ authority to operate scheduled air service between the U.S. and all Cuban airports other than Havana. This will further restrict the Cuban regime from using resources to support its repression of the people of Cuba. Countries in the region have also taken action regarding the Cuban Government’s program which traffics thousands of Cuban doctors around the world in order to enrich the regime. Brazil insisted on paying the doctors directly at a fair wage. The Cuban regime in response withdrew the doctors from Brazil. Doctors have also now left Ecuador and Bolivia.”

In response to a journalist’s question about whether the U.S. was planning to close the U.S. Embassy in Havana and to cease all diplomatic relations with Cuba, the Official said the following, ”[As] long as the Cubans keep doing what they’re doing, especially in Venezuela – I mean, we’ve had problems with what they do in Cuba forever, but they’re . . . intervening in another country now. We’ve been pretty clear with them that the pressure on them is going to continue to rise. And we haven’t ruled in or out any specific [actions] I [previously] mentioned some of the measures we’ve already taken; there will be more.”

U.S. Additional Restrictions on U.S. Air Travel to Cuba[4]

Only two days after the Senior Official’s Special Briefing, Secretary Pompeo issued a Press Statement announcing that at his request, “the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) suspended until further notice all public charter flights between the United States and Cuban destinations other than Havana’s José Martí International Airport.  Nine Cuban airports currently receiving U.S. public charter flights will be affected.  Public charter flight operators will have a 60-day wind-down period to discontinue all affected flights.  Also, at my request, DOT will impose an appropriate cap on the number of permitted public charter flights to José Martí International Airport.  DOT will issue an order in the near future proposing procedures for implementing the cap.”

U.S. Embassy in Havana said, “Today’s action will prevent the Cuban regime from benefiVenezuelating from expanded charter service in the wake of the October 25, 2019, action suspending scheduled commercial air service to Cuba’s airports other than Havana.  Today’s action will further restrict the Cuban regime’s ability to obtain revenue, which it uses to finance its ongoing repression of the Cuban people and its unconscionable support for dictator Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.  In suspending public charter flights to these nine Cuban airports, the United States further impedes the Cuban regime from gaining access to hard currency from U.S. travelers.”

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and other Cuban officials blasted the move, calling it a violation of human rights that would hinder family reunification. As put by his colleague, the foreign ministry’s General Director for U.S. Affairs Carlos Fernandez de Cossio tweeted, this new measure by the U.S. would punish Cubans “on both sides of the Florida Strait.” It also validated the previous prediction by Cuba President Miguel Diaz-Canel, when he said there “is a turn of the screw every seven days to suffocate our economy.” And Cuba’s Ambassador in Washington, D.C. said the new limitation was imposed to “limit the amount of people that see CUBAN reality by themselves.”

A U.S. voice also criticized this move. Engage Cuba, a nonprofit coalition of private companies and organizations advocating for the end of the U.S. embargo, stated in a tweet, “Just tragic. This is heartbreakingly cruel. Cuban families now cannot travel to see their loved ones.”

Conclusion

All of this is “old news” of the Trump Administration’s repeated desires to increase sanctions against Cuba supposedly to induce Cuba to change many of its policies. Needless to say, that premise is unfounded. Instead, these U.S. measures make life harder for Cubans on the island as well as Cuban-Americans with relatives back home on the island. These U.S. measures also harm the emerging private sector on the island, which presumably should be encouraged by a Republican administration. (In contrast, the Obama Administration from December 2014 until its last days in January 2017, engaged in respectful discussions and negotiations over many issues that had accumulated over the prior 50-plus years and sought to encourage the Cuban private sector. That is the legitimate way to seek to resolve these matters.) [5]

Of special note is the U.S. campaign against Cuba’s foreign medical mission program. Recently Cuba filed a statement with the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland that asserted the program was “committed to the principles of altruism, humanism, and international solidarity, which have guided it for more than 55 years” and that allegations that doctors are forced to participate are “absolutely false. It’s unacceptable to mix Cuba’s medical collaboration with the horrid crime of human trafficking, modern slavery or forced labor.” [6]

It also should be mentioned that this blog repeatedly has denounced the specious rationale for the Trump Administration’s hostility towards Cuba’s foreign medical mission program, especially the allegation that it is engaged in illegal forced labor.[7]  However, recent allegations that some of the individuals on these missions were not health professionals, but instead were engaged in political activities, and that some Cuban doctors were forced to create false patient records are more troublesome. Cuba denies these allegations, but no independent investigation and analysis of these claims has been found by this blogger. [8]

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[1] State Dep’t, Secretary Michael R. Pompeo With Nora Gomez Torres of El Nuevo Herald and Miami Herald (Jan. 23, 2020).

[2] State Dep’t, Secretary Michael R. Pompeo With Jimmy Cefalo of South Florida’s First News, WIOD-AM Miami (Jan. 23, 2020).

[3] State Dep’t, Senior State Department Official On State Department 2019 Successes in the Western Hemisphere Region (Jan. 8, 2020).

[4] State Dep’t, United States Further Restricts Air Travel to Cuba (Jan. 10, 2020); Reuters, U.S. Seeks to Squeeze Cuba by Further Curbing Flights to Island, N.Y. Times (Jan. 10, 2020); Finnegan, U.S. further restricts air travel to Cuba to increase pressure, abcNews (Jan. 10, 2020).

[5] See posts listed in the sections on “U.S. (Obama) & Cuba Relations (Normalization)” for 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 in the List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[6] Krygien, The U.S. is pushing Latin American allies to send their Cuban doctors packing—and some have, Wash. Post (Jan. 21, 2020).

[7] Here are just two of the posts criticizing the Trump Administration’s campaign against Cuba’s medical mission program:U.S. Unjustified Campaign Against Cuba’s Foreign Medical Mission Program (Sept. 4, 2019); More U.S. Actions Against Cuba (Sept. 30, 2019).

[8] E.g., 80% of what Bolivia paid to Havana for doctors was going to ‘finance castrocomunismo,’ Diario de Cuba (Jan. 22, 2020); Gamez Torres, Bolivia severs relations with Cuba over dispute about controversial medical program, Miami Herlad (Jan. 24, 2020).

Important Updated Source of News About Cuba 

Engage Cuba, the leading U.S. bipartisan coalition of businesses and others who support U.S.-Cuba normalization, periodically is publishing by email a list of current news articles about U.S.-Cuba. There is a form to sign up for such updates on the first page of its website (https://www.engagecuba.org).

Here is the most current such list (as of 4/24/19):

Today’s Cuba News

 

POLITICS

Click here to read Engage Cuba’s explainer on the new sanctions announced last week.
Sun Sentinel: To Help Him Win Florida, Trump Goes Retro on Cuba

By Randy Schultz
Going retro on Cuba played well with the Republican politicians and Bay of Pigs veterans in Coral Gables for Bolton’s performance. The change, though, will make us few friends in our part of the world.

Associated Press: Trump Cuba Policy Worries European Companies

By Andrea Rodriguez
The Trump administration’s crackdown on business with Cuba’s communist government is causing unprecedented concern among European companies on the island.

Episcopal News Service: Episcopal Church Raises Concerns on Trump Policy Enforcing Provisions of Cuba Embargo
By David Paulsen 
The Episcopal Church urges an end to provisions that hamper the mission of the Church in Cuba and that contribute to the suffering of the Cuba people.

World Politics Review: Trump’s Latest Reversal in Cuba Policy Is a ‘Slap in the Face’ to U.S. Allies
To understand the implications of this move, WPR spoke with contributor William M. LeoGrande, an expert on Latin America at American University and the co-author of “Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana.”

Daily Business Review: Policy Change May Result in Flood of Cuba Seized Property Lawsuits
By Alec Schultz
Title III is likely to generate a flood of new lawsuits in the United States, based upon a federal statute for which there is currently no established precedent.

The Guardian (Opinion):  Cuba is the Real Target, not Venezuela
By Peter McKenna
Most people think that the U.S. diplomatic and economic full-court press of President Nicolás Maduro is all about Venezuela and its Bolivarian revolution. It’s not. At its core, it has more to do with compelling regime change in Havana.

World Politics Review: Is Cuba Hoping to Emulate China With Its New Constitution?

By Luis Carlos Battista, Ricardo Barrios
A new constitution, which was formally adopted earlier this month, is Diaz-Canel’s first major accomplishment since his inauguration last year and should set the tone for the remainder of his tenure. Cuban authorities appear to have consulted many other countries’ constitutions in redrafting their own, and one country stands out: China.

New York Magazine: Cuban Players Helped Build the Modern MLB. America Doesn’t Want To Help Them
By Will Fischer
Trump has taken a harsher stance against Cuba and is less willing to make exceptions — even if it means preventing human trafficking.

The Washington Times (Opinion): Punishing Baseball Fans with a High-Priced Publicity Stunt
By Ron Paul
One area one would think that Mr. Bolton could do no harm is with our national pastime — Major League Baseball (MLB).
 

BUSINESS & TECH

Reuters: Cuba Orders Further Cuts to Power Generation

By Marc Frank
The Cuban government has ordered its state-run power system to further reduce electricity generation in the latest sign that a cash crunch exacerbated by new U.S. sanctions is taking an economic and human toll.

INTERESTING FINDS 

The Guardian: Cuba’s Faded Movie Theatres – in Pictures 
By Carolina Sandretto
In 1958, Cuba had 511 cinemas, and Havana alone had 130 – more than either New York or Paris at the time.

AS/COA: Meet Cuba’s Emerging Artist, Cimafunk

By Elizabeth Gonzalez
From Pinar del Rio to Havana, from Paris to New York, Cimafunk is taking his Afro-Cuban sound on the road.
EVENTS
May 2 & May 19-26: Cuban American Youth Orchestra Send-Off & Inaugural Tour
Minneapolis, MN & Havana, Cuba 
The group will kick off the 2019 ‘Juntos en Armonía’ Cuba tour at their send-off concern in Minneapolis on May 2 at 6:30pm at Westminster Presbyterian Church.

May 5: Creativas^2: Havana- Miami Creatives Exchange
Miami, Florida
Creativas2, a new initiative spearheaded by Havana-based HAPE Collective, CubaOne and Cuba Educational Travel, will bring four of Havana’s brightest women entrepreneurs to Miami.

Spring 2019: International Year of Cuba Events
Western Kentucky University 
WKU continues its celebration of the 2018-19 International Year of Cuba. Read also: “‘Rap Cubano’ Adds to WKU’s International Year of Cuba.” and “International Year of Cuba provides many opportunities for students to explore the country.

 

New Bill To End U.S. Embargo of Cuba

On February 7, U.S.Senator Amy Klobuchar (Dem.,MN) introduced a bill in the Senate to end the U.S. embargo (blockade) of Cuba: S.428: A bill to lift the trade embargo on Cuba.

The bill has two initial cosponsors: Patrick Leahy (Dem., VT) and Michael Enzi (Rep., WY) and was referred to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.

In a press release Senator Klobuchar said the bill “would eliminate the legal barriers to Americans doing business in Cuba and pave the way for new economic opportunities for American businesses and farmers by boosting U.S. exports and allow Cubans greater access to American goods. The legislation repeals key provisions of previous laws that block Americans from doing business in Cuba, but does not repeal portions of law that address human rights or property claims against the Cuban government.”

Senator Klobuchar added, “Instead of looking to the future, U.S.-Cuba policy has been defined for far too long by conflicts of the past. Cuba is an island of 11 million people, just 90 miles from our border—lifting the trade embargo will open the door to a huge export market, create jobs here at home, and support both the American and Cuban economies. Our bipartisan legislation will finally turn the page on the failed policy of isolation and build on the progress we have made to open up engagement with Cuba by ending the embargo once and for all.”

Cosponsor Senator Enzi stated,“History has shown that the embargo with Cuba has not been very effective. This bipartisan legislation would benefit the people in America and in Cuba. It would provide new opportunities for American businesses, farmers and ranchers. We need to open dialogue and the exchange of ideas and commerce that would help move Cuba forward. It is time to work toward positive change.” 

The other cosponsor, Senator Leahy commented, “Decades after the end of the Cold War we continue to impose punitive sanctions against Cuba, a tiny island neighbor that poses no threat to us. After more than half a century, the embargo has achieved none of its objectives.  President Obama took a courageous and pragmatic step in opening diplomatic relations with Cuba, but President Trump has reinstated the failed isolationist policy of the past.  It is up to Congress to end the embargo, which is used by the Cuban government to justify its repressive policies, and by foreign companies to avoid competing with U.S. businesses that are shut out of the Cuban market.  Lifting the embargo will put more food on the plates of the Cuban people, allow them to access quality U.S. products, and encourage reforms in Cuba’s economy, all while benefiting American companies.  I commend Senator Klobuchar for her steadfast leadership on this issue.”

Cuba relies on agriculture imports to feed the 11 million people who live on Cuba and the 3.5 million tourists who visit each year. This represents a $2 billion opportunity for American farmers annually. The Freedom to Export to Cuba Act repeals the current legal restrictions against doing business with Cuba, including the original 1961 authorization for establishing the trade embargo; subsequent laws that required enforcement of the embargo; and other restrictive statutes that prohibit transactions between U.S.-owned or controlled firms and Cuba, and limitations on direct shipping between U.S. and Cuban ports.

The legislation has been endorsed by Engage Cuba, the Washington Office on Latin America, the Latin America Working Group, and Cargill.

This blogger over the last eight years repeatedly has called for ending the embargo and presses the Senate and House to pass this or a similar bill and for the President to sign same.

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Klobuchar Press Release: Klobuchar-Enzi-Leahy Introduce Major Legislation To Lift Cuba Trade Embargo (Feb. 8, 2019); Enzi Press Release: Bipartisan coalition in Senate introduce legislation to lift Cuba trade embargo (Feb. 8, 2019); Leahy Press Release: Klobuchar, Enzi, Leahy Introduce Major Legislation to Lift Cuba trade embargo (Feb. 8, 2019). 

New Yorker Report on Medical Problems of U.S. Diplomats in Cuba

The November 19, 2018, issue of The New Yorker has a lengthy article about the medical problems experienced by some U.S. diplomats in Cuba starting in late 2016 (and after the U.S. presidential election). [1]

The conclusion, however, is the same as previously reported: some U.S. personnel did suffer injury and the U.S. Government has publicly stated it does not know the cause or perpetrator of these injuries.[2]

But the article does provide greater details about many of the victims having been CIA agents and about the U.S.-Cuba interactions over these incidents.

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

[1] Entous & Anderson, Havana Syndrome, New Yorker at 34  (Nov. 19, 2018).

[2] See posts listed in the “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2017-18” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

Small Chance of Liberalized U.S. Rules for Agricultural Exports to Cuba  

The U.S.-China trade war initiated by the Trump Administration has had a significant negative impact on U.S. agricultural exports to that country. In response, some U.S. senators and representatives have been pressing for relaxation of U.S. restrictions on such exports to Cuba. These advocates include Senators Heidi Heitkamp (Dem., ND), Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN) and Tine Smith (Dem., MN)  and Representatives Collin Peterson (Dem., MN) and Tom Emmer, (Rep., MN). [1]

In addition, a bipartisan group of over 60 agricultural associations, businesses and elected officials from 17 states have urged the two congressional agriculture committees to include in the pending farm bills a provision to remove restrictions on private financing of U.S. agricultural exports to the island. [2]

This week Cuba President Miguel Diaz-Canel in New York City for a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly met separately with a bipartisan and bicameral group of Members of the U.S. Congress, including Sen. Ron Wyden (Dem., OR), Rep. Karen Bass (Dem., CA), Rep. Kathy Castor (Dem., FL), Rep. Robin Kelly (Dem., IL) Rep. Gregory Meeks (Dem., NY) and Rep. Roger Marshall (Rep., KA). Rep. Marshall told AG NET that the U.S. “can and should be Cuba’s number one supplier of commodities like sorghum, soy, wheat, and corn.”

But legislation to expand such exports by allowing credit sales to Cuba did not make it into the pending farm bills in both houses of the Congress, and most observers and participants think chances are nil of such a provision being added. And Senator Heitkamp’s provision in the Senate bill to allow the U.S. Department of Agriculture to use federal funds to develop the Cuban market could easily be cut from the bill in a conference committee.

The reason has more to do with politics than economics, according to Ted Piccone, a specialist in Latin American issues at the Brookings Institution. “It basically comes down to domestic politics in Florida,” Piccone said.

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

[1] Spencer, Little appetite for effort to bolster ag trade with Cuba, StarTribune (Sept. 21, 2018).

[2] Engage Cuba, Agriculture Groups Support Farm Bill Cuba Provision that Would Save $690 Million (Sept. 5, 2018).

Recent U.S.-Cuba Developments 

Here are updates on several U.S.-Cuba issues.

U.S.-Cuba Bilateral Commission Meeting[1]

On June 14 in Washington, D.C., the U.S. and Cuba held their seventh meeting of the  Bilateral Commission that was started by the Obama Administration and Cuba.

Afterwards the State Department said the two parties “reviewed . . . areas for engagement that advance the interests of the [U.S.] and the Cuban people including combatting trafficking in persons; facilitating safe civil aviation; law enforcement cooperation; agricultural cooperation; maritime safety and search and rescue cooperation; resolution of certified claims;[2] advancing understanding of environmental challenges; and protecting the national security and public health and safety of the [U.S.]”

The State Department also said, “The [U.S.] reiterated the urgent need to identify the source of the attacks on U.S. diplomats and to ensure they cease. We also reiterated that until it is sufficiently safe to fully staff our Embassy, we will not be able to provide regular visa services in Havana. We expressed our continued concerns about the arbitrary detention of independent journalists and human rights defenders. The [U.S.] acknowledged progress in repatriating Cubans with final orders of removal from the [U.S.], but emphasized Cuba needs to accept greater numbers of returnees.” The U.S. also voiced concern about the “arbitrary detention of independent journalists and human rights defenders” in Cuba.

“Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, the top Cuban official at [this meeting], told The Associated Press that his delegation had “challenged the U.S. on the use of the word ‘attack.’ “There is no evidence of a weapon, there is no evidence of a source, nobody can point to motivation and yet they continue to use the word ‘attack.’ We see it as politically motivated.’” He also noted that neither American nor Cuban experts had been able to determine what caused the symptoms. He renewed concerns that the Trump administration is using the incidents as an excuse to roll back U.S.-Cuba rapprochement started under the Obama administration.

This objection to the U.S. verbiage for this problem was reiterated in a statement by the Cuba Foreign Ministry. “The Cuban delegation urged the government of the [U.S.] to desist from the continued political manipulation of the alleged health cases, which became the pretext to adopt new unilateral measures that affect the performance of the respective embassies, in particular, the rendering of consular services depended upon by hundreds of thousands of persons.” Cuba also raised its objection to the U.S. “travel warning” for Cuba, saying it “hinders the scientific, academic, cultural, religious and entrepreneurial exchanges, as well as the visits by Americans to a country that is internationally recognized as safe and healthy.”

The Cuba Foreign Ministry statement added, “The Cuban delegation rebuffed the regress in the bilateral relationship imposed by the government of the [U.S.] and called attention on the negative consequences thereof for both peoples, the Cuban emigration and the international and regional environment. The Cuban delegation reiterated that the economic, commercial and financial blockade continues to be the main obstacle to any perspective of improvement in the bilateral relationship and denounced its intensification with the adoption, in particular, of additional financial measures of aggressive extraterritorial nature.” Another Cuban objection was registered to what it said were U.S. actions, which were “intended interference in the internal affairs of Cuba, with the open manipulation of the human rights issue, which is flagrantly, massively and systematically violated with the implementation of the blockade.”

The Cuban Foreign Ministry, on the other hand, acknowledged “that it has been demonstrated that it is possible to cooperate and live in a civilized manner, by respecting differences and promoting that which benefits both countries and peoples. It expressed Cuba’s willingness to continue the bilateral dialogue and to work on issues of common interest through the active implementation, based on concrete proposals, of the bilateral agreements subscribed as those on environmental protection, law enforcement, health, agriculture, hydrography and geodesy, among others.”

Finally the State Department announced that the parties had “agreed to hold the next rounds of the biannual Migration Talks and the Law Enforcement Dialogue this summer.”

Another source mentioned that since Trump took office, the two countries have met around two dozen times on topics such as migration, public health, combating illicit drugs, environmental protection, law enforcement, agriculture, people smuggling and migration fraud, fugitives from justice, cyber-security, anti-money laundering, human trafficking, maritime safety, civil aviation and human rights.

Overall Evaluation of U.S.-Cuba Relations Under Trump[3]

Mimi Whitefield, who closely follows Cuban developments for the Miami Herald, notes that U.S.-Cuba relations appear to be stalled since President Trump gave his speech in Miami announcing retreats on U.S. engagement with Cuba.

However, she points out, the Havana-based “Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation documented 5,155 such cases last year, compared to 8,616 and 9,940 during the last two years of the Obama administration.” And in May 2018 they fell to 128, the lowest monthly total in three years, which may have been affected by “factors that affected Cubans’ activism: Poor weather conditions kept many people indoors, Cubans were preoccupied and took more time trying to find food and other staples, transportation was difficult, and the deaths of 112 people in a May 18 airline crash left the nation shell-shocked.”

Whitefield also states that the U.S. List of Restricted Entities and Subentities Associated With Cuba as of November 9, 2017, with which U.S. persons are not to have any dealings, has not been updated and does not even include all the hotels run by Cuba’s military conglomerate, and Americans still have the option of staying at hotel chains operated by the Cuban Ministry of Tourism.

U.S. visitors to the island declined 56.6% in the first quarter of 2018 versus the prior year, with enormous adverse impact on Cuba’s emerging private sector. “Cuban entrepreneurs complain that the confusing U.S. travel policy has hurt them disproportionally because individual travelers tend to stay with them rather than at state-owned hotels. Business, some say, is down 30 to 40 percent because U.S. travel in general is down.”

On the other hand, says John McAuliffe, executive director of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, which promotes engagement between Cuba and the U.S., “there is one form of travel to Cuba that is booming and that is cruises, and most of the revenue from the cruise industry goes to the state. With cruise terminal fees, buses, tours, and cruise passengers eating at mostly state restaurants, it’s channeling more money to official circles.”

Expansion of Bipartisan State Councils Supporting  Engagement with Cuba[4]

 On June 12, Engage Cuba, a bipartisan coalition promoting U.S. engagement with Cuba, announced that there are now 18 states with bipartisan state councils supporting these efforts. The latest is Pennsylvania, which like the others will seek to build statewide support for pro-engagement policies and ending U.S. trade and travel restrictions on Cuba.

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, United States and Cuba Hold Seventh Bilateral Commission Meeting (June 14, 2018); Cuba Foreign Ministry, Seventh Meeting of the Cuba-United States Bilateral Commission held in Washington, D.C, (June 14, 2018); Assoc. Press, US Renews Call for Cuba to Probe Cause of Health ‘Attack,’ N.Y.Times (June 14, 2018); The US urges the Government of Cuba to identify the origin of attacks on diplomats, Diario de Cuba (June 14, 2018).

[2] The “certified claims” probably refers to claims against Cuba by U.S. nationals for their claims for compensation for Cuba’s expropriation of their property on the island in 1959-1960 that were certified by the U.S. Department of Justice. See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Resolution of U.S. and Cuba’s Damage Claims (April 6, 2015); Resolving U.S. and Cuba Damage Claims (Dec. 13, 2015).

[3]  Whitefield, Has President Trump’s year-old Cuba policy helped the Cuban people? Miami Herald (June 14, 2018).

[4]   Engage Cuba, Pennsylvania Leaders Launch Engage Cuba State Council (June 12, 2018).

 

Conferences About Continued U.S.-Cuba Cooperation on Various Issues 

This past week there have been two gatherings in Washington, D.C. focused on promoting U.S.-Cuba collaboration on various projects.

Environmental Sustainability and Historic Preservation[1]

 The first conference was on June 4, Advancing Environmental Sustainability and Historic Preservation in Cuba, that was organized by the Center for International Policy and the Ocean Doctor organizations. It explored opportunities for small-scale, collaborative initiatives to successfully advance environmental sustainability and historic preservation in Cuba and celebrated the release of the two organizations’ report, “A Century of Unsustainable Tourism in the Caribbean: Lessons Learned and Opportunities for Cuba.”

This gathering emphasized that Cuba has developed differently from any other country in the Caribbean. Many of its natural ecosystems remain remarkably healthy, and the country’s cultural heritage remains authentic and largely intact. The efforts to normalize relations between Cuba and the U.S. by President Obama fueled dramatic growth in tourism and interest in investment on the island, sparking concern that Cuba now faced the same scale of pressures that have resulted in environmental and heritage degradation throughout the Caribbean. With the advent of the Trump presidency and chilling of relations, some of these pressures have waned, but likely only temporarily.

One of the participants was Cuba’s Ambassador to the U.S., José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez, who underscored the actions of cooperation that continue to develop today between various U.S. governmental agencies and organizations and their Cuban counterparts. He  also highlighted the validity of the bilateral instruments signed between Cuba and the United States during the Obama Administration.

Among the other speakers were Salih Booker, Executive Director, Center for International Policy; Dr. David E. Guggenheim, President of Ocean Doctor; Robert Muse, Lawyer specialized in Cuban affairs; Dr. Brain M. Boom, Vice President for Conservation Strategy at New York Botanic Garden; Norma Barbacci; plus preservation consultants.

 Agricultural Trade Relations Between the Two Countries[2]

On June 7  Engage Cuba, a bipartisan advocate for U.S.-Cuba normalization, and the Washington, D.C. office of the McDermott Will & Emery law firm, sponsored a conference,  “Fostering bilateral agricultural and economic capabilities.”

The roundtable was composed of Senator John Boozman (Rep., AR.) Rep. Rick Crawford (Rep., AR). Rep. Thomas Emmer (Rep., MN) and Rep. Roger Marshall (Rep., KS) with Cuban Ambassador to the United States, José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez, and moderated by James Williams, President of Engage Cuba, a  bipartisan  advocate for U.S.-Cuba normalization.

The event emphasized the necessity to lift the economic, financial and trade embargo imposed on the Island for more than 55 years and to stress the importance of reversing the failed policy of the United States towards Cuba.

Senator Boozman recalled that nowadays American farmers face a situation in which almost all the prices for their products are low, and that there is a market in Cuba, which can be provided with American products, given the Island’s high import of commodities. However, he said, “American agricultural producers face significant commercial barriers to trade with Cuba. Lifting the ban on private banks and companies from offering credit for agricultural exports to Cuba will help level the playing field for our farmers while exposing Cubans to American values and ideals.”

“The U.S.-Cuba relationship is critical to our economy.” stated Congressman Emmer, the Chair of the bipartisan House Cuba Working Group, as he also reaffirmed his commitment to work for the lifting of the embargo and “to break through for a new chapter in our two nations’ history.” Rep. Emmer added, “The time to begin renewing our relationship with our neighbors just 90 miles of the Florida coast is now. With American farmers suffering some of the lowest commodity prices we have ever seen, Congress has an opportunity to take action and make real change. The Cuba Agricultural Exports Act, sponsored by Rep. Crawford, would lift financing restrictions imposed by the embargo on agriculture exports. The result would be relief for our farmers and a first step toward redefining the American-Cuban relationship. While my bill, the Cuba Trade Act, accomplishes the ultimate goal or lifting the embargo completely, passing Rep. Crawford’s bill can, and should, happen immediately,” He also pointed out how the failed U.S. policy towards the Island has had a negative impact on the Cuban and U.S. peoples.

Representative Crawford stated, “For years the United States has had an estranged relationship with Cuba and for years we’ve seen no reversal in the tactics used by Cuba’s oppressive government. Trade with Cuba is a vessel that will create change in Cuba and bring economic opportunity to American farmers. Most Americans agree that it’s time to lift the embargo on Cuba and Congress needs to meet that desire by working to pass my bill, H.R. 525 and others like it.”

Representative Marshall said, “With an open market to Cuba, Kansas could top $55 million in additional sales. While we are renegotiating our trade deals, we have a $2 billion market untouched right under our nose. It is time to throw support behind this mutually beneficial economic opportunity. It is through leadership in Congress, and discussions like this roundtable that we will begin to make these lasting changes.”

The Cuban Ambassador thanked the Senator and Congressmen for their leadership in this topic, highlighted that Cuba is an ideal market for American products and underscored the existing potential for agricultural and trade relations between both countries. He also recalled that Cuba and the United States signed two memoranda of understanding in the field of agriculture in 2016 and 2017, which are still valid.

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[1] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Experts debate about Cuba-US collaboration in topics such as environmental sustainability and historic preservation (June 6, 2018); Ocean Doctor, Advancing Environmental Sustainability and Historic Preservation in Cuba (June 4, 2018).

[2]  Cuba Foreign Ministry, U.S. Legislators advocate for trade relations with Cuba, Granma (June 8, 2018); Rep. Marshall: AR, MN, KS Lead Trade Talks with Cuba Ambassador (June 8, 2018).