U.S. Senate Hearing on Medical Problems of U.S. Diplomats in Cuba

On January 9, a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing entitled “Attacks on U.S. Diplomats in Cuba: Response and Oversight.” The Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women’s Issues was chaired by Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), a noted critic of normalization of U.S.-Cuba relation, who said the purpose of the hearing was “to establish the facts surrounding the attacks on U.S. diplomats in Cuba, and conduct oversight over the State Department’s handling of the attacks.”[1]

The witnesses were three officials of the U.S. State Department: Mr. Francisco Palmieri, Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs; Mr. Todd Brown, Diplomatic Security, Assistant Director, International Programs; and Dr. Charles Rosenfarb, Medical Director, Bureau of Medical Services.

The hearing started with lengthy opening statements by Rubio and the Ranking Member, Bob Menendez (Dem., NJ), both very critical of the Department’s response to these incidents or “attacks.” [2] The hearing itself focused on the following four topics:: (1) the nature of the injuries; (2) the cause of the injuries; (3) the perpetrator of the “attacks;” and (4) the State Department’s appointment of an accountability review board.

  1. The Nature of the injuries

 While the symptoms may vary, all 24  of the medically-confirmed cases  have described some combination of the following symptoms: sharp ear pain, dull headaches, tinnitus (ringing in one ea), vertigo, visual focusing issues, disorientation, nausea, extreme fatigue. Some have been diagnosed with mild brain injuries similar to what might happen from a concussion.

  1. The cause of the injuries[3]

In early July, the Bureau of Medical Services at the State Department convened a panel of academic experts to review case histories and the test results up to that point. And they arrived at [the following] consensus: ‘the patterns of injuries were most likely related to trauma from a non-natural source.”

Mr. Brown said investigators are considering possible causes other than a sonic attack, including a viral attack. He also said the possibility that someone deliberately infected people with a virus has not been ruled out. Dr. Rosenfarb testified that evidence suggest that( this is “not an episode of mass hysteria.”

Brown also said he would not rule out a sound component entirely. He said there had been an “acoustic element” associated with the sensations and feelings experienced by diplomats who fell ill. He said it’s possible the sound masked some other technology that caused the damage.

Dr. Rosenfarb said investigators are confident that something indeed caused medical harm to the Americans.

“Perplexing” was a frequent word in this discussion.

  1. Perpetrator(s)

Senator Rubio in a Fox News interview before the hearing said Havana is one of the most tightly controlled cities in the world. “There is no way you can conduct sophisticated attacks targeting American government officials in Havana without the Cuban government at least knowing about it.” [4] He repeated this opinion or conclusion at the start and at the end of the hearing.

  1. Accountability Review Board

Senator Rubio obtained admissions from the witnesses that a “serious injury” of at least one U.S. diplomat in Cuba happened no later than May 2017 and that the Secretary of State had not appointed an accountability review board within 60 days thereafter, as required by statute, and indeed had not yet done so.[5]

Acting Secretary Palmieri tried to remedy this apparent breach by testifying that Secretary Tillerson on December 11, 2017, had decided to convene such a Board and that the statutory required notice to Congress was “forthcoming.”

The same question came up later the same day at the Department’s Press Gaggle, [6] when the Department spokesperson, Under Secretary I. Steven Goldstein, initially said, “We are going to create, as we’ve said previously, an accountability review board, and I would expect that we would have the announcements of the chair and the members of the board available for release within the next week.” He then was pressed with a reporter’s question about Senator Rubio’s apparent contention that the Department and the Secretary had violated the law by not making an earlier appointment of such a board. Goldstein had the following response:

  • “We don’t agree with [the allegation that the law was violated].The assistant secretary today made clear [at the hearing], and we have said too, that it took us time to get the investigation in place. The investigation is continuing, and we believe that we . . . had the authority to determine when the accountability review board should be set in place. I think let’s not lose focus here. There’s 24 people that had injuries, and those people are receiving treatment, and we’ve had over 20 conversations with the people of Cuba. . . . [The] government investigators have been down four times; they’re going down again within the next few weeks. And so our primary goal at the present time is to find out why this occurred, to prevent it from happening again in Cuba and the embassy of Cuba or in any other place where American citizens are located.”
  • “It took time to set up the . . . board because we were hopeful that we would be able to know what occurred. . . . [T]his investigation has taken longer than we anticipated, . . . but it is now time to go forward. . . . I expect the names [for the Board] to be announced over the next several days.”


Only five of the nine subcommittee members attended the hearing, and the members will be submitting written questions to the witnesses, and there will be classified briefing of the subcommittee. Thus, the complete record will not be available until later. [7]

At the conclusion of the hearing, Rubio said that the following were two established facts: (1) 24 Americans had been harmed while in Cuba and (2) the Cuban government at least knew who was responsible for causing such harm. “The idea that someone could put together some sort of action against them, 24 of them, and the Cuban government not know who did it, it’s just impossible,” Mr. Rubio said. He noted that the Americans in Havana became sick just after Mr. Trump’s election, and speculated that rogue government officials from either Cuba or Russia had sought to create friction between Havana and the new administration in Washington.

Under Secretary Goldstein voiced a similar opinion by saying, “We believe that the Cuban government knows what occurred. So what we’d like to them to do is tell us what occurred.”

After the hearing, Cuba’s diplomat who has been intimately involved in U.S.-Cuba relations , Josefina Vidal, said  the hearing was chaired by two Senators (Rubio and Menendez)  “both with a vast record of work against better relations between Cuba and the United States, and the promoters of all kinds of legislative and political proposals that affect the interests of the Cuban and American peoples, and only benefit an increasingly isolated minority that has historically profited from attacks on Cuba.” She continued:

  • “From [the hearing’s] very title “Attacks on U.S. Diplomats in Cuba,” it was evident that the true purpose of this hearing . . . was not to establish the truth, but to impose by force and without any evidence an accusation that they have not been able to prove.”
  • “The State Department does not have any evidence that allows it to affirm that there have been attacks against its diplomats in Havana, or that Cuba may be responsible, or have knowledge of the actions of third parties.”
  • “I categorically reiterate that the Cuban government has no responsibility whatsoever for the health conditions reported by U.S. diplomats. Cuba never has, and never will, perpetrate such acts, nor has it or will it permit third parties to act against the physical integrity of any diplomat, without exception. The Cuban government is aware of its responsibilities and fulfils them exemplarily.”
  • “I affirm that the investigation carried out by Cuban authorities, the results of which the State Department and specialized agencies of the United States have had ample and systematic access to, has shown that there is no evidence at all regarding the occurrence of the alleged incidents and no attack of any kind has occurred.”
  • “Nothing presented by the government of the United States throughout this period, including today, provides evidence that the health problems reported by its diplomats have their origin or cause in Cuba.”
  • “We reject the politicization of this matter and the unjustified measures adopted by the United States government, with a high cost for our population, Cuban émigrés and the U.S. people. We also condemn the political manipulation of these events by anti-Cuban elements, who seek to aggravate the bilateral atmosphere, with the sole purpose of returning to a an era of confrontation, with negative consequences for both countries and the region.”
  • “Cuba is a safe, peaceful and healthy country for Cubans, for foreigners, for accredited diplomats and for the millions of people who visit us every year, including U.S.”[8]

This blogger’s opposition to Senator Rubio’s hostile approach to Cuba has been expressed in a prior post. That approach is against U.S. economic and strategic interests. It provides openings to Russia and the EU, for example, to pursue various developments with Cuba while the U.S. stands on the sidelines. Moreover, that approach contradicts Rubio’s stated desire to support Cuba’s emerging private sector and the Cubans investing and working in that sector.

Senator Rubio also erroneously stated that it is a fact that Cuba has one of the world’s most pervasive surveillance systems in the world and, therefore, has to know if some third-party has perpetrated attacks on U.S. (and Canadian) diplomats. At most that is an allegation or theory, which has been denied by Cuba. Rubio also ignores that whatever security and surveillance system Cuba has undoubtedly is prompted, at least in part, by the long history of U.S. hostility towards the Cuban Revolution, including covert or undercover efforts to promote regime change on the island. Moreover, in its responses to the medical problems of some of its diplomats in Cuba, the U.S. repeatedly has emphasized Cuba’s obligation under the Geneva Convention on Diplomatic Relations to protect other countries diplomats on the island, an obligation that presumably requires Cuba and other nations, including the U.S., to have some idea as to the whereabouts of  those diplomats.


[1]  Senate Foreign Relations Comm., Subcommittee Hearing: Attacks on U.S. Diplomats in Cuba: Response and Oversight (Jan. 9, 2018); Reuters, U.S. Won’t Send Americans Back to Embassy in Havana Yet: U.S. Officials, N.Y. Times (Jan. 9, 2018); Assoc. Press, In Wake of ‘Attacks,’ Tillerson Not Returning Staff to Cuba, N.Y. Times (Jan. 9, 2018); Assoc. Press, US Considers Whether Virus Might Explain Attacks in Cuba, N.Y. Times (Jan, 9, 2018); Assoc. Press, US Says ‘Viral Attack’ Among theories in Cuba Illnesses, N.Y. Times (Jan. 9, 2018); Harris, U.S. to Open Formal Inquiry on Americans Sickened in Cuba, N.Y. Times (Jan. 9, 2018). In the days before the hearing, disputes erupted over what happened to the diplomats, as discussed in a prior post. (See also posts listed in the “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries–Topical: CUBA.)

[2] Press Release, TOMORROW: Rubio Chairs Hearing on Attacks on U.S. Diplomats in Cuba (Jan. 8, 2017); Press Release, Menendez Opening Statement at Cuba Hearing (Jan. 9, 2018).

[3] Some Canadian diplomats in Cuba have suffered similar injuries or effects, but on January 10, a Canadian official said Canada has not reached any conclusions on the cause(s) of such ailments. Reuters, No Conclusion on Cause of Health Symptoms at Embassy in Cuba-Canada Official, N.Y. Times (Jan. 10, 2018).

[4] Press Release, Rubio Presses State Department on Response to Attacks on U.S. Diplomats in Cuba (Jan. 9, 2018).

[5] The State Department has a statutory obligation to “convene an Accountability  Review Board” . . .  not later than 60 days after the occurrence of an incident [of] . . . .any case of serious injury.” The Department also has an obligation to “promptly notify the Committee on International Relations of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate of the incident” of the convening of such a board. (22 U.S.C. §4831.) U.S.

[6] U.S. State Dep’t, Press Gaggle (Jan. 9, 2018).

[7] The subcommittee members in attendance were Senators Rubio and Tom Johnson (Rep., WI), Bob Menendez (Dem., NJ),), another Cuban-American critic of normalization; Tom Udall (Dem., NM); and Jeanne Shaheen (Dem., NH). The absentees were Jeff Flake (Rep., AZ), a supporter of normalization who was just in Cuba; Cory Gardner (Rep., CO); Johnny Isakson (Rep., GA); and Tim Kaine (Dem., VA). Two of these absentees (Flake and Gardner) and Menendez were attending the simultaneous White House conference on immigration.

[8] Vidal, Cuba is a safe, peaceful and healthy country, Granma (Jan. 10, 2018).

U.S. Continues To Suspend Part of Its Embargo of Cuba 

On July 14 U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon notified appropriate Congressional committees that the Trump Administration would suspend Title III of the Helms-Burton Act (a/k/a the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act) for a six-month period beyond August 1. The law requires Congressional notification at least 15 days before a suspension is to begin.[1]

Title III allows former owners of commercial property expropriated by Cuba to sue foreign companies and the Cuban government for using or “trafficking” in those confiscated holdings.

But ever since the enactment of the Helms-Burton Act, every president has routinely suspended Title III at six-month intervals. Such suspensions have been prompted by U.S. fear of alienating important U.S. trading partners such as Canada, Mexico, and EU countries from the filing of a potential tidal wave of lawsuits in U.S. federal courts brought by persons whose Cuban properties had been expropriated against companies from those U.S. trading partners that use Cuban tourism properties, mining operations, or seaports.[2]

This suspension by the Trump Administration is the first action on Cuba since President Trump announced his new direction on U.S.-Cuba relations during a June 16 speech in Miami. It is the latest sign that President Trump is not fully reversing President Barack Obama’s opening of relations with Cuba.[3]


[1] U.S. State Dep’t, U.S. Determination of Six-Month Suspension Under Title III of LIBERTAD (July 14, 2017); Whitefield, Trump to suspend lawsuit provision of Helms-Burton in August, Miami Herald (July 17, 2017); Assoc. Press, Trump Administration Again Suspends a Part of Cuba Embargo, N.Y. Times (July 14, 2017).

[2] After the December 17, 2014, announcement by President Obama and Castro that the two countries were embarking on a path of normalization, they have engaged in discussions or negotiations about obtaining Cuban payment of U.S. persons’ claims for expropriation, now believed, with interest, to total at least $ 8 billion. Although Cuba has recognized that it has an international legal obligation to pay such claims and has paid expropriation claims from other countries and although Cuba has an economic and political interest in paying these U.S. claims, Cuba does not have the cash to do so and instead has asserted claims against the U.S. for alleged damage from the U.S. embargo and other acts. See these posts to this blog: Resolution of U.S. and Cuba’s Damage Claims (April 4, 2015); Resolving U.S. and Cuba’s Damage Claims (Dec. 13, 2015); U.S. and Cuba Discuss Their Claims Against Each Other (July 30, 2016).


[3] President Trump Announces Reversal of Some U.S.-Cuba Normalization Policies, dwkcommentaries.com (June 19, 2017).


European Union and Cuba Agree To Cooperate on Political Dialogue, Cooperation, Trade and Economic Relations             

On December 12, in Brussels, the European Union and Cuba signed the Agreement on Political Dialogue and Cooperation. It will form the legal platform for future relations to support economic development and promote democracy and human rights on the island.[1]

The Agreement is divided into three chapters: (1) political dialogue, covering issues such as governance, human rights, stability and regional and international security and weapons of mass destruction; (2) cooperation, which is the most comprehensive and identifies sectors of cooperation; and (3) promotion of trade and economic relations based on the rules governing international trade, as well as strengthening of existing relations “on the basis of mutual respect, reciprocity, mutual interest and respect sovereignty.” The Agreement also states the goal for both sides is to “engage in dialogue for the purpose of strengthening human rights and democracy.”

The Agreement was signed by the EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, and Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez, and below is a photograph of them on this event.


Minister Mogherini said, “This is a historic day, we’ve turned a page. Today we’re starting to write together a new chapter.” She also stated, “The developments in Washington that will come as of the end of January onwards will not affect in any way the relations between the European Union and Cuba. We are friends, we are partners. We want to work together and we will work together. The impact of this on others, it’s not for me to judge.”

This thought was echoed by Minister Rodriguez. “Relations between the EU and Cuba do not go via Washington and I remain convinced that there is now a very promising opportunity afforded us to further improve” EU-Cuba ties. He also noted “one major obstacle to trade relations between the EU and Cuba” — the U.S. economic and financial blockade.

Mogherini, supporting Rodriguez, said, “The European Union has raised concerns about the extraterritorial effect of U.S. sanctions on Cuba. We will continue to do so because we believe that this is not only in the interest of the island and its people — all of them — but most of all in our case, it’s in the interest of Europeans to tackle this issue.”

This new pact must now be ratified by national and regional parliaments in all EU member states before it can enter completely into force, although the bloc has decided to provisionally apply parts of it immediately.

As a prelude to the signing of the pact, on December 6, the EU agreed to terminate its 1996 Common Position on Cuba that required Cuban progress on human rights and democracy before normal trade relations with the EU.

This development should be a wakeup call to U.S. opponents of normalization of its relations with Cuba. The U.S. is not the only country that has relations with Cuba and delaying our normalization gives our competitors an advantage.


[1] Norman, Trump Presidency ‘Will Not Affect in Any Way,’ Relations between EU and Cuba, W.S.J. (Dec. 6, 2016); Assoc. Press, EU, Cuba Sign Cooperation Pact, Vow Trump Will Not Hurt Ties, N.Y. Times (Dec. 12, 2016); The European Union and the regime sign the Agreement on Political Dialogue and Cooperation, Diario de Cuba (Dec. 12, 2016); Cuban foreign minister arrives in Brussels for signing agreement with the EU, Granma (Dec. 11, 2016); The European Union repealing Common Position on Cuba, Diario de Cuba (Dec. 6, 2016); Delegation of the European Union to Cuba, Cuba and the EU, 10/05/2016.

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


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.


[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).

European Union Moves to Normalization with Cuba

On September 22, the European Commission proposed that the European Union member countries adopt the Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement with Cuba to normalize relations between the EU and Cuba. According to the Commission, the agreement “opens new avenues to support Cuba’s process of economic and social modernization, to foster sustainable development, democracy and human rights, as well as to seek common solutions to global challenges.”[1]

The next step in the EU process will be review of the agreement by the EU’s European Council, which is composed of 28 heads of state or government of the member countries, before the EU’s official signing of the agreement.

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, stressed that this agreement is “the result of a fruitful and constructive work the EU and Cuba have done together and marks the turning point in our relations.” She also said the agreement “creates a clear common framework for intensified political dialogue, increased cooperation across a wide range of policy areas, and a precious platform for developing joint action on regional and international issues.” The agreement also will mean an end to the EU’s “Common Position” on Cuba, adopted in 1996, which has prevented normal ties between the EU and the island.

An editorial in Spain’s El Pais said that this agreement showed European realism and determination not to lose ground to the United States after the U.S. decision to seek normalization of its relations with Cuba. Indeed, said the editorial, the EU Common Position has proven to be ineffective as the Castro regime has not moved a millimeter in its principles and as European businesses enterprises have continued to maintain activities on the island.[2]


This EU decision is not the only effort of other countries to expand commercial and other relations with Cuba, prompted in part by desires to do so before the U.S. wakes up and moves to full normalization. For example, recent visits to Cuba by officials from China and Japan have emphasized those countries’ desires to do just that.[3]

These developments constitute another reason why the U.S. as soon as possible should end its embargo of the island and take other steps towards full normalization with Cuba. Too many of the U.S. opponents of such changes implicitly assume that only the U.S. matters to Cuba and that, therefore, the U.S. has maximum leverage over the island. Wake up to reality, U.S. opponents!


[1] Eur. Comm’n, Press Release: European Commission proposes Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement with Cuba (Sept. 22, 2016); Prensa Latina, EU proposes normalization of relations with Cuba, Granma (Sept. 23, 2016). The historical background for this agreement was reviewed in a prior post.

[2] Editorial, European realism in Cuba, El Pais (Sept. 25, 2016).

[3] Reuters, China, Cuba Agree to Deepen Ties During PM Li’s Havana Visit, N.Y. Times (Sept. 24, 2016); Reuters, Japanese PM Says Want to Deepen Economic Ties with Cuba, N.Y. Times (Sept. 23, 2016).

Issues of Cuban Human Rights To Be Discussed by Cuba and United States (Part I)

On March 26 Cuba announced that the U.S. and Cuba will commence their negotiations regarding human rights on March 31 in Washington, D.C.; this was covered in a prior post.

Now we examine issues of Cuban human rights that probably will be put on the agenda for further discussions by looking at the recent speech on this subject by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla. [1] Subsequent posts will look at the U.N. Human Rights Council’s most recent Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Cuba and at the latest U.S. State Department report on Cuban human rights (the one issued in 2014 for 2013). Observations about these sources will be made in a later post while other subsequent posts will engage in a similar analysis about issues of U.S. human rights that are likely to be covered in the bilateral talks.

Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla
Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla

As discussed in a prior post, the U.N. Human Rights Council opened what it called its “High -Level Segment” on March 2, 2015, at its headquarters in Geneva Switzerland. One of the speakers that day was the Cuban Foreign Minister, whose speech will be excerpted below.

Cuba’s Commitment to International Human Rights. The Foreign Minister stressed Cuba’s “commitment to a genuine international cooperation based on the indivisibility of human rights, non-selectivity and non-politicization” and to “the struggle for the establishment of a more just, democratic and equitable international order that would remove the obstacles that hamper all national efforts that are made to guarantee the exercise of all human rights.”

Cuba, he asserted, maintains “a high level of cooperation and interaction with the procedures and mechanisms of the [U.N.] when it comes to universal human rights and a positive dialogue with the organs created by virtue of international treaties. It is in that spirit that we are conveying an invitation to the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the [U.N.] Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons” to visit Cuba.

“Despite its deficiencies and difficulties, Cuba has shared and will continue to share its achievements and experience with other nations, with which we have made a selfless contribution to the exercise of human rights by other peoples of the world.”

For example, under Cuba’s “cooperation project known as ‘Miracle Operation,’ 3.4 million persons from 34 countries have undergone eye surgery free of charge.  Likewise, 9 million persons have already graduated from the literacy program ‘Yes, I Can,’ and 1,113,000 persons have graduated from the follow-up program ‘Yes, I Can Continue.’”

“Today, more than 51 000 Cuban health cooperation workers are offering their services in 67 countries of the world.” Cuba “will continue offering our cooperation in the struggle against the Ebola virus in Africa. More than 250 voluntary and specialized health cooperation workers of the medical brigade ‘Henry Reeve’ are taking part in this struggle in the most affected regions.  Another 4,000 Cuban health cooperation workers are participating in the prevention program that is being implemented in 32 African countries.”

“On the occasion of the Seventieth Anniversary of the [U.N.], the Principles and Purposes that were enshrined in [its] Charter and supported its creation are more valid than ever.  As was recently stated by Cuba’s President Raúl Castro Ruz: “We will never renounce our ideals of independence and social justice, or abandon a single one of our principles, nor cede a millimeter in the defense of our national sovereignty.  We will not accept any pressure regarding our internal affairs. We have earned this sovereign right through great sacrifices and at the price of great risks.”

People’s Participation in Government.The Foreign Minister emphasized that “more than 2,000 organizations and associations of an infinite diversity contribute very actively to the economic, social and cultural life [of Cuba]. . . . The participation of the people in the Governments’ decision-making processes, . . . has been the experience of the Cuban Revolution.”

This was illustrated in 2011 by the Cuban government’s consultations with the people over the proposed economic and social program that included “the introduction of 400,000 amendments thereto and the modification of two-thirds of the original text.  More recently a new Labor Code was discussed following this same procedures.”

Workers’ Rights. In Cuba “almost all workers – including those who work in small private businesses–are unionized and protected by collective agreements.  There are union representatives in the Council of Ministers as well as in the ministerial and corporate organs. In 1938 [long before the Cuban Revolution], the workers’ movement in Cuba managed to found a Unitarian Workers’ Central, which today encompasses as many as 17 different unions and thousands of other grassroots organizations.”

The Foreign Minister also raised the subjects of the International Labor Organization’s Convention 87 [2] and Convention 98 [3], both of which have been ratified by Cuba.

Palestine. Cuba supports “the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to a State of their own, on the pre-1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital.  The [U.N.] General Assembly should act with resolve and guarantee, without further delay, the full [U.N.] membership of Palestine.”

Venezuela. “We ratify our firmest support to the Bolivarian Revolution and the legitimate Government headed by President Nicolás Maduro Moros.” (Several posts have investigated the reactions of Venezuela, Cuba and other countries to a U.S. executive order imposing sanctions on seven Venezuelans.)

Cuba’s Negotiations with the EU and the U.S. Cuba’s current negotiations with the U.S. and the EU over human rights and other issues were noted. Rodriguez said those discussions will occur within the agreed reciprocal basis of “sovereign equality, mutual respect, non-interference in internal affairs [and] respect for the legal systems of the parties.”


[1] This portion of the post is based upon the following: Vigezzi, Statement by Bruno Rodriguez at Human Rights Council in Geneva, Nat’l Network on Cuba (Mar. 2, 2015); U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Human Rights Council hears from 11 dignitaries as it continues its High-Level Segment, (Mar. 2, 2015); Cuban Foreign Minister speaks at the Human Rights Council, Granma (Mar. 4, 2015). The Cuban Foreign Minister’s speech also criticized certain aspects of the human rights records of the U.S. and other unnamed industrialized countries; these comments will be examined in a later post about issues of U.S. human rights that might be added to the agenda for discussions between the two countries.

[2] ILO Convention No. 87 (Convention on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise [sic], 1948) has been ratified by 153 states, including Cuba and all 28 EU members. The U.S. has not so ratified and thus is not a party to this treaty although there are many federal and state laws on the subject.

[3] ILO Convention No. 98 (Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949) has been ratified by 164 states, including Cuba and all 28 EU members. The U.S. has not so ratified and thus is not a party to this treaty although there are many federal and state laws on the subject.











Cuba Meets with European Union and Russian Ministers

This week Cuban leaders have held meetings in Havana with the foreign ministers of the European Union and Russia.

European Union-Cuba

A previous post examined the recent history of Cuba’s relations with the European Union (EU), including their negotiations on improving relations in 2014 and earlier this month. Another set of such negotiations or meetings took place in Havana on March 23-24 with the EU’s [1]

The most recent meetings were with the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini.

EU +Castro

She met with Cuban President Raúl Castro and Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla. Also present were Stefano Manservisi, Mogherini’s chief of staff; Herman Portocarero, EU Ambassador to Cuba; and Rogelio Sierra Diaz, Cuba’s Minister and Deputy Foreign Minister. (To the left is a photograph of Mogherini and Castro.)

In addition, Magherini met with the President of the National Assembly of Popular Power, Esteban Lazo Hernández; Vice President of the Council of Ministers and Minister of Economy and Planning, Marino Murillo Jorge; and Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, Rodrigo Malmierca.

Afterwards Magherini said that although the pace of progress in the EU-Cuba talks on improving their relations was “slow,” it was gaining “political momentum” and that the two parties had “decided to speed up the rhythm of our negotiations, hopefully to manage to finalize the framework of our dialogue and agreement by the end of this year.” She also referred to the signing of a program between the island and the EU in the amount of 50 million euros until 2020, which will be used in commercial areas and especially in agriculture and complimented Cuba for its essential role in regional processes such as the Colombia-FARC peace negotiations taking place in Havana.

A Cuban newspaper reported the President Castro observed that “in a friendly atmosphere,” the two of them “exchanged ideas about the links between the EU and Cuba .They agreed on the importance of developing relationships of mutual respect, based on the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter. Also, they discussed issues of common interest of the international agenda.”

Bruno Rodriguez reiterated Cuba’s “willingness to work to advance these links and . . . constructive engagement with the negotiations for an agreement on political dialogue and bilateral cooperation that is underway.” He also noted Cuba’s appreciation for the votes of EU members in support of Cuba’s resolution against the U.S. blockade (embargo) at last Fall’s U.N. General Assembly meeting.

Magherini and Bruno Rodriguez will see each other at the Summit of the Americas on April 10-11 in Panama, to which both Cuba and the EU are invited for the first time before the two of them meet in Brussels on April 22. In addition, Cuban officials will attend a summit of European and Latin American leaders scheduled for June in Brussels.

Russia-Cuba [2]



On March 24, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met in Havana with Cuban President Raúl Castro. Also present were Mikhail L. Kamynin, Russian Ambassador to Cuba; Alexander V. Schetinin, the Director of Latin America at Russia’s Foreign Ministry; Cuban Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla; and Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister, Rogelio Sierra Díaz. (Above is a photograph of Larov and Castro.)

The participants discussed the excellent state of their relations and ratified the willingness to work together in the effective implementation of the bilateral economic agenda and deepen exchanges in areas of common interest. Castro thanked Russia’s support for ending the U.S. economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba and reiterated his country’s opposition to the unilateral sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its NATO allies against Russia.

Larov said, “Normalization between the United States and Cuba makes us happy. We salute this rapprochement,” and “we call for the lifting of the (U.S.) trade and financial blockade of Cuba as soon as possible.”

Earlier Larov met separately with Foreign Minister Rodriguez and with Ricardo Cabrisas, Vice President of Cuba’s Council of Ministers. They discussed bilateral cooperation and the interest of Russian companies in investing in Cuba’s development.


Simultaneously a Russian ship of the class generally used for intelligence gathering was in the Havana Harbor as shown in the photograph to the left by Desmond Boylan/Associated Press.


These meeting emphasize that Cuba’s redefining its relationships with the U.S. is not the only bilateral issue facing Cuba and that the U.S. is in competition with the EU and Russia for improving economic relations.

culPanama Canalbra-cutAnother factor influencing all of these discussions is Cuba’s construction of a deep-sea port at Mariel to accommodate larger ships going through an expanded Panama Canal, which announced this week that the expansion should be completed next year. (To the right is a photograph of one portion of the expanded canal.)


[1] This section of the post is based upon the following sources: Reuters, EU, Cuba to Speed Up Talks, Seek Deal by End of 2015, N.Y. Times (Mar. 24, 2015); Raúl received the High Representative of the European Union, CubaDebate (Mar. 24, 2015); Raúl received the High Representative of the European Union, Granma (Mar. 24, 2015); Forte, Visit of European High Representative promotes relations with Cuba, Granma (Mar. 24, 2015); Abellán, EU foreign affairs chief steps up talks for new Cuba cooperation policy, El Pais (Mar. 24, 2015).

[2] This section of the post is based upon the following source Assoc. Press, Russian FM Visits Cuba, Calls for End of US Trade Embargo, Wash. Post (Mar. 24, 2015); Reuters, Russian Foreign Minister Praises New U.S.-Cuba Relations, N.Y. Times (Mar. 24, 2015); Raul held meeting with the Foreign Minister of Russia, CubaDebate (Mar. 24, 2015); Raul meets with Russian Foreign Minister, Granma (Mar. 25, 2015).