Cuba Helped Venezuela Suppress Military Dissent

Reuters recently uncovered documents and other information disclosing how Cuba in 2008 began to assist its close ally Venezuela in suppressing dissent within the latter’s military. [1]

The precipitating event for this assistance was the December 2007 Venezuelan referendum that unexpectedly defeated a proposal that would have enabled President Hugo Chavez repeatedly to run for re-election. [2]

Cuba-Venezuela Agreements

In response to this referendum defeat, Chavez in early 2008 turned to his friend and ally, Fidel Castro, who said that Chavez needed to ensure absolute control of his country’s military and proposed what became in May 2008 two agreements between the two countries that allowed Cuba’s armed forces to:

  • Establish the Coordination and Liaison Group of the Republic of Cuba (GRUCE) of eight Cuban “military experts” to send Cuban advisors to inspect and train Venezuelan soldiers. This training included questioning soldiers about their political beliefs so that they could be the “tip of the spear” in the fight against “traitors.”
  • Review and restructure parts of the Venezuelan military and oversee its “assimilation” and “modernization.”
  • Provide in Havana up to three months of espionage training for groups of up to 40 Venezuelan intelligence agents to enable them to infiltrate and control the Venezuelan military.
  • Restructure the Venezuelan intelligence service’s mission from spying on foreign rivals to surveilling the country’s own soldiers, officers and even senior commanders and preparing the Venezuelan intelligence agents to “discover and confront the subversive work of the enemy.”

Implementation of the Agreements

The Venezuelan intelligence service now known as the Directorate General of Military Counterintelligence, or DGCIM developed a system for strict surveillance of Venezuelan military personnel that included the following:

  • DGCIM agents, often dressed in black fatigues, were embedded in military barracks to compile dossiers on perceived troublemakers and report any signs of disloyalty.
  • The DGCIM also began tapping the phones of officers, including senior military commanders, to listen for conspiracies.
  • DGCIM agents interrogated suspected disloyal troops and officials, often aided by torture.
  • DGCIM arrested many soldiers and officials for disloyalty, and today 200 to 300 individuals are in detention.
  • Now there are at least 1,500 DGCIM agents.

The implementation of these agreements, say experts, has enabled the Venezuelan military to stand by Chavez’ successor, Nicolás Maduro, and help “him weather an economic meltdown, widespread hunger and crime, and the emigration of more than 4 million people – more than 10 percent of Venezuela’s population in recent years.” In short, that implementation has “proven crucial for Maduro’s survival as president.”

Conclusion

To date, I have not seen any Cuban or Venezuelan response to this Reuters article. Is there another side to this account?

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[1] Reuters, Special Report: How Cuba Taught Venezuela to Quash Military Dissent, N.Y. Times (Aug. 22, 2019).

[2] In February 2009, however, another referendum approved an amendment to the constitution that enabled Chavez to run for and commence to serve another presidential term starting in January 2013 that was shortened by his death in March 2013.

Mexican Historian’s Disavowal of Support for Fidel Castro

Enrique Krauze, a Mexican public intellectual, historian, author, producer and publisher, has written at least two fascinating essays about U.S.-Cuba relations.

U.S. Cuba at the Start of Obama’s Opening to Cuba [1]

Less than a month after the December 17, 2014, joint announcement of the U.S.-Cuba decision to seek better relations, [2] Krauze wrote that “Cuba has been the epicenter of anti-Americanism in modern Latin America. As a political ideology it was born during the Spanish-American War of 1898 [3]  [and] reached its height with the victory of the Cuban Revolution in 1959.” Between those two years, “with some exceptions, the political, diplomatic and military balance sheet of the United States in Latin America was nothing short of disastrous.” In response, “the region . . . [had] a surge of nationalism.“

The success of the Cuban Revolution “opened a new cycle of intense anti-Americanism. . . . The rage thus engendered was the most effective weapon of survival for the repressive and dictatorial Cuban regime.” But the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the rise of democratic governments in some Latin American countries resulted in the [orphaning] of Latin American Marxists. “Only the great obstacle of the American boycott of Cuba has remained an outmoded and divisive force.”

“In [Obama’s] re-establishing relations with Cuba, the United States renounced its ‘imperial destiny’ and recovers much of the moral legitimacy needed to uphold the democratic values that led to its foundation (and also of the countries of Latin America). Obama’s action is meant for the good of all the Americas, including the United States. And freedom of expression in Cuba is an absolute necessity for its success. No people or country is an island unto itself. The Castro dynasty has kept Cuba as such for 56 years.”

Moreover, “acclaim for the [new] agreement is widespread in Latin America. By his historic announcement on Dec. 17, Obama has begun to dismantle one of the most deeply rooted ideological passions of the southern continent” and may have “begun the final decline” of Anti-Americanism in Latin America.

Krauze’s Disavowal of Fidel Castro [4]

According to Krauze, the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 “inspired political awareness in almost all the [Mexican] writers, activists and intellectuals of my generation [including Krauze himself]. Our university professors, contemporaries of Castro, saw in him the definitive vindication of [José Marti’s] ‘Our America’ against the other, arrogant and imperialist, America. The literary supplements and magazines we read — by Julio Cortázar, Mario Vargas Llosa, Gabriel García Márquez, Carlos Fuentes — celebrated the Revolution not only for its economic and social achievements, but also for the cultural renaissance it ushered in.”

Krauze’s enthusiasm for Fidel Castro turned to disappointment in 1968-69 when Cuba supported the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia while Mexican tanks were combatting student movements in Mexico. Yet it still was difficult in Mexico to criticize Cuba.

In 1980 Krauze had his “final break with Fidel Castro” when “hundreds of people stormed the Peruvian embassy in Havana, seeking asylum” and “more than 100,000 Cubans left the port of Mariel for the United States, revealing a fracture in Castro’s utopia.”

In July 2009 Krauze visited Cuba “and was captivated by its natural beauty and the ingenuity and warmth of its people” and discovered in books that before the Revolution, “Cuba had a rich and diversified economy. In 1957, Cuba had around 6,000,000 heads of cattle, well above the world’s per capita average. . . . [In short] Cuba was already one of the most advanced countries in Latin America in 1959.”

But in 2009, “cows are so scarce that killing one carries a multiyear prison sentence. Not too long ago, in order to eat beef legally, farmers ‘accidentally’ sacrificed them by tying them to train tracks.”

At his trial in 1953, “Fidel famously declared, ‘History will absolve me.’ That’s no longer a sure thing. An awareness of freedom awakens sooner or later when faced with the obvious excesses of authoritarian rulers. If history examines his regretful legacy through that lens, it may not absolve him.”

With few exceptions, “Latin American historians and intellectuals . . . have refused to see the historical failure of the Cuban Revolution and the oppressive and impoverishing domination of their patriarch. But the parlous situation in Venezuela — with Cuba as a crutch — is undeniable, and the Cuban reality will be increasingly hard to bear. This has been Lenin’s decade. Perhaps the next one will belong to [Cuban patriot José] Martí.”

President Obama’s opening to Cuba in December 2014 inspired hopes that this would come to pass. “Unfortunately, the current president of the United States, Donald Trump, has marred any possibility of conciliation, which has further isolated Cuba and so perpetuated Castroism.”

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[1] Krauze, End of Anti-Americanism?, N.Y. Times (Jan. 7, 2015).

[2] U.S. and Cuba Embark on Reconciliation, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 21, 2014).

[3] U.S. Intervention in Cuba’s War of Independence from Spain, 1898, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 26, 2019); U.S. De Facto Protectorate of Cuba, 1898-1934, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 27, 2019).

[4] Krauze, My Sixty Years of Disappointment with Fidel Castro, N.Y. Times (Aug. 21, 2019

U.S. De Facto Protectorate of Cuba, 1898-1934

Prior posts have discussed the 1898 U.S. intervention in the Cuban war of independence from Spain in what the U.S. has called the Spanish-American War. Although the fighting in that war ended in August 1898 and the war officially ended by the Treaty of Paris of December 10, 1898, U.S. troops remained on the island and Cuba came under the dominance of the U.S. [1]

That became official in 1901 with the Platt Amendment to an Army Appropriations Bill and with Cuba reluctantly amending its constitution on Christmas Day (December 25, 1901) to include these provisions of the Platt Amendment:

  • “The government of Cuba consents that the [U.S.] may exercise the right to intervene for the preservation of Cuban independence, the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty, and for discharging the obligations with respect to Cuba imposed by the treaty of Paris on the [U.S.], now to be assumed and undertaken by the government of Cuba.”
  • The “government of Cuba shall never enter into any treaty or other compact with any foreign power or powers which will impair or tend to impair the independence of Cuba, nor in any manner authorize or permit any foreign power or powers to obtain by colonization or for military or naval purposes or otherwise, lodgement in or control over any portion of said island.”
  • The Cuban “government shall not assume or contract any public debt, to pay the interest upon which, and to make reasonable sinking fund provision for the ultimate discharge of which, the ordinary revenues of the island, after defraying the current expenses of government shall be inadequate.”
  • All “acts of the United States in Cuba during its military occupancy thereof are ratified and validated, and all lawful rights acquired thereunder shall be maintained and protected.”
  • The Cuban “government . . . will execute, and as far as necessary extend, the plans already devised or other plans to be mutually agreed upon, for the sanitation of the cities of the island, to the end that a recurrence of epidemic and infectious diseases may be prevented, thereby assuring protection to the people and commerce of Cuba, as well as to the commerce of the southern ports of the United States and the people residing therein.”
  • To “enable the United States to maintain the independence of Cuba, and to protect the people thereof, as well as for its own defense, the government of Cuba will sell or lease to the United States lands necessary for coaling or naval stations at certain specified points to be agreed upon with the President of the United States.”

These same provisions of the Platt Amendment also were included in the May 22, 1903, Cuban–American Treaty of Relations of 1903.

This treaty was used as justification for the U.S.’ Second Occupation of Cuba from 1906 to 1909 that was initiated on September 29, 1906, by Secretary of War (and future U.S. president) William Howard Taft,  when he established the Provisional Government of Cuba under the terms of the treaty and declared himself its Provisional Governor. On October 23, 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt issued Executive Order 518, ratifying that order by Taft.

These Cuban constitutional provisions lasted until May 29, 1934, when the U.S. and Cuba signed the 1934 Treaty of Relations that in its first article abrogated the 1903 Treaty of Relations and thereby allowed Cuba to delete these constitutional provisions. This marked the official end of the US de facto protectorate.

Cuba’s Lease of Guantanamo Bay to the U.S.

It was in this context of the de facto U.S. protectorate that Cuba in 1903 leased to the US Guantanamo Bay and an island at the western end of Cuba “for the time required for use as coaling or naval stations only, and for no other purpose.” The annual rent was $2,000 “in gold coin of the United States.”

In early 1933, in order to fight severe deflation Congress and President Franklin D. Roosevelt implemented a series of Acts of Congress and Executive Orders which suspended the U.S. gold standard except for foreign exchange, revoked gold as universal legal tender for debts, and banned private ownership of significant amounts of gold coin.

In 1934, the U.S. recalculated the gold equivalent rent for Guantanamo at $3,386. In 1973 the US recalculated the rent at $3,676 and in 1974 at $4,085, which has been used to this day.

Except for the first year (1959) of Revolutionary Cuba, Cuba has refused to cash the U.S. annual rental checks. When Fidel was president, he kept them in a desk drawer and loved to show them to visitors. Now they all are in a Havana vault somewhere.

But this 1903 lease is still the legal basis for the U.S.’ continued use to this day of Guantanamo.

The original $2,000 rent in 1903 would be $55,709 in today’s dollar while in gold it would be $309,869. But it never officially has been changed.

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[1]  U.S. Intervention in Cuba’s War of Independence, 1898, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 26, 2019); U.S. Entry Into Cuban War of Independence and Establishment of Protectorate of Cuba, 1898-1934, dwkcommentaries.com (April 23, 2017).

 

 

President Eisenhower and U.S. Covert Plan Against Cuba

The U.S. State Department’s Office of the Historian has published two important and largely declassified documents relating to the initial U.S. (Eisenhower Administration) response in 1959-60  to the Cuban Revolution. Here are summaries of those documents.

“A Program of Covert Action Against the Castro Regime”[1]      .

The author of this document, dated March 16, 1960, was the 5412 Committee, which was “the name given to the group assigned responsibility for the planning and conduct of covert operations” and whose “working methods and the people who compose it should be protected.” After its name apparently was published in a 1964 book, The Invisible Government by David Wise and Thomas B. Ross, the name was changed to an “utterly drab and innocuous” name, the 303 Committee, without altering its “composition, function or responsibility.”[2]

The “Objective” of this proposed covert program was “to bring about the replacement of the Castro regime with one more devoted to the true interests of the Cuban people and more acceptable to the U.S. in such a manner as to avoid any appearance of U.S. intervention. Essentially the method of accomplishing this end will be to induce, support, and so far as possible direct action, both inside and outside of Cuba, by selected groups of Cubans of a sort that they might be expected to and could undertake on their own initiative.”

This proposed program to be undertaken by the CIA had the following four “major courses of action:”

  • The “creation of a responsible, appealing and unified Cuban opposition to the Castroregime, publicly declared as such and therefore necessarily located outside of Cuba.”
  • “So that the opposition may be heard and Castro’s basis of popular support undermined, it is necessary to develop the means for mass communication to the Cuban people so that a powerful propaganda offensive can be initiated in the name of the declared opposition. The major [proposed] tool . . . is a long and short wave gray broadcasting facility. . . “ [3]
  • “Work is already in progress in the creation of a covert intelligence and action organization within Cuba which will be responsive to the orders and directions of the ‘exile’ opposition.”
  • ”Preparations have already been made for the development of an adequate paramilitary force outside of Cuba, together with mechanisms for the necessary logistic support of covert military operations on the Island. . . . [This force will] be available for immediate deployment into Cuba to organize, train and lead resistance forces recruited there both before and after the establishment of one or more active centers of resistance. . . . [A] limited air capability for resupply and for infiltration and exfiltration already exists under CIA”[4]

President Eisenhower’s Approval of the Program of Covert Action[5]

CIA Director Allen Dulles presented a summary of the above Plan for Covert Action at a White House meeting on March 17, 1960.

In response, President Eisenhower said, “he knows of no better plan for dealing with this situation. The great problem is leakage and breach of security. Everyone must be prepared to swear that he has not heard of it. He said we should limit American contacts with the groups involved to two or three people, getting Cubans to do most of what must be done.  . . . [The President] understood that the effort will be to undermine Castro’s position and prestige.”

The President  “told Mr. Dulles . . . [to] go ahead with the plan and the operations.” The President, however, added, “that, as he saw it, Castro the Revolutionary had gained great prestige in Latin America. Castro the Politician running the government is now losing it rapidly. However, governments elsewhere cannot oppose him too strongly since they are shaky with respect to the potentials of action by the mobs within their own countries to whom Castro’s brand of demagoguery appeals. Essentially the job is to get the OAS to support us.”

Secretary of the Treasury, Robert Anderson,  said “Castro is trying to inflame Cuban opinion and create an incident against the Americans which would touch off attacks on Americans in Cuba which might result in the death of thousands. The President stated that once . . . [the paramilitary invasion] gets started, there will be great danger to the Americans in Cuba.” Anderson added, “that if Cuba is to seize the Nicaro plant [6]  or other U.S. Government property, we could not stand on the sidelines. In response to a question by the President, it was brought out that there is no treaty on this, and that Cuba of course has the right to confiscate the plant so long as compensation is given.” (Emphasis added.)[7]

In addition to those already mentioned,  this meeting was attended by the following officials: Vice President Richard Nixon; Secretary of State Christian Herter; John N. Irwin, II, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs; Admiral Arleigh Burke, Chief of Naval Operations; General Goodpastor, White House Staff Secretary;  Major John Eisenhower, Assistant Staff Secretary to the President (and the President’s son); Colonel J.C. King, Chief of CIA’s Western Hemisphere Division; Livingston T. Merchant, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs; Mr. Roy R. Rubottom, Jr., Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs; Richard Bissel, CIA Deputy Director for Plans; and Gordon Gray, U.S. National Security Advisor.

Other Eisenhower Administration Documents About Cuba[8]

The above documents are contained in a collection of 629 documents published in 1991 by the State Department’s Office of the Historian. It is available online and contains the following parts:

  1. U.S. interest in the Cuban revolution, the overthrow of the Batista government, and the consolidation of power by Fidel Castro, reevaluation by the U.S. Government of the policy of shipping arms to the Batista government, January-June 1958 (Documents 1-68).
  2. Kidnapping of U.S. citizens by Cuban rebels, June-July 1958 (Documents 69-106).
  3. Continuing violence during the Cuban electoral campaign and reappraisal by the U.S. Government of its support of the Batista government (Documents 107-151).
  4. Fall of the Batista government, November-December 1958 (Documents 152-206).
  5. Fidel Castro’s assumption of power, January-April 1959 (Documents 207-272).
  6. Visit to the United States by Prime Minister Castro, April 1959 (Documents 273-305).
  7. The Cuban Government’s promulgation of an agrarian reform law, and the question of asylum for Batista, May-October 1959 (Documents 306-369).
  8. Adoption by the Department of State and the Eisenhower administration of a revised policy toward Cuba, October 1959-January 1960 (Documents 370-423).
  9. Recall of Ambassador Bonsal and formulation within the U.S. Government of a program of covert action against the Castro government, January -April 1960 (Documents 424-498).
  10. Inauguration by the U.S. Government of a policy to weaken the Cuban economy, April-July 1960 (Documents 499-548).
  11. Response by the United States and the Organization of American States to signs of increased Soviet support for the Cuban government, July-September 1960 (Documents 549-580).
  12. Consideration by the U.S. Government of possible severance of diplomatic relations with Cuba, September-December 1960 (Documents 581-629).

Conclusion

A reasonably informed student of U.S. history already would know that in the early months of the Kennedy Presidency in 1961 the U.S. supported an unsuccessful paramilitary invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs (Playa Girón) and that this operation had been planned in the later days of the Eisenhower Administration. Thus, the above documents from the earlier administration merely provide details on its planning for this invasion.  In addition, these two documents indicate that the earlier administration  was actively engaged in trying to create, on the island and elsewhere, a Cuban opposition to Castro and a covert intelligence and action organization on the island; as well as a radio propaganda program whose signals would be sent to the island. These facets also are not surprising given what we already knew about this period.

This understanding of the historical context also may partially explain the cursory treatment of these two documents in an excellent and well documented book about the U.S. and Cuba by U.S. experts on Cuba, William M. Leo Grande and Peter Kornbluh: Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana (University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 2014). However, as the book’s title suggests, its focus is on negotiations between the two countries, not on what was happening that led to negotiations. In any event, here is what is what this book said about these two documents:

  • “On March 17,. . . Eisenhower signed a top secret authorization for ‘A Program of Covert Action Against the Castro Regime,’ giving the CIA the green light to begin covert paramilitary operations to roll back the Cuban revolution.” This was the same day that Cuban President Osvaldo Dorticós, rejected “ a feeler” put forward by a legal advisor to the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Mario Lazo, to Cuban Treasury Minister López-Fresque that the U.S. “was prepared to work aggressively to halt that exile flights from Florida that were burning Cuban sugar cane fields . . . if the Cubans , in return, would be prepared to engage in serious talks on a broad range of issues.” (Pp. 33-34)
  • The Covert Plan of March 1960, as quoted above, called for the development of a TOP SECRET paramilitary force to invade Cuba which in fact happened in April 1961 in the early days of the John F. Kennedy Administration. The LeoGrande and Kornbluh book merely states the following: “as president-elect, [Kennedy] . . . was briefed by the CIA on Eisenhower’s covert paramilitary project to invade Cuba with an exile brigade. As president, [Kennedy] . . . ignored the entreaties of several Latin American governments that, at Cuba’s behest, tried to intercede at the last minute to broker a U.S.-Cuba dialogue before the Bay of Pigs invasion. Instead, Kennedy gave the green light, sending a CIA-led paramilitary exile force at Playa Girón [Bay of Pigs] on April 17, 1961, in the hope that the invaders would somehow spark a popular uprising. They didn’t, and within seventy-two hours, the brigade’s beachhead had collapsed; more than twelve hundred of them were taken prisoner.” (Pp. 42-43.)[9]

These two documents also recently were referred or alluded to by a Cuban source.[10]  However, these references were merely jumping-off places for a diatribe against the U.S. Some of these other points may be justified, but they would need to be analyzed, carefully and dispassionately. Moreover, this Cuban source ignores the progress that was made in addressing these and other issues in the two countries’ bilateral meetings in 2015-16.[11]

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[1]  Paper Prepared by the 5412 Committee (Mar. 16, 1960) (# 481).

[2] National Security Action Memorandum No. 303 (June 2, 1964).

[3] In 1983 President Ronald Reagan established Radio Marti, whose mission was to hasten the fall of Cuban President Fidel Castro and communism on the island. (Radio Marti, Wikipedia.)

[4] This is an obvious reference to the paramilitary force that invaded Cuba’s Bay of Pigs in April 1961 during the Kennedy Administration.

[5] Memorandum of a Conference With the President, White House, Washington, March 17, 1960, 2:30 p.m.

[6]  During WWII, the U.S. government built a nickel processing plant near Nicaro, Cuba under a U.S.-Cuba treaty that exempted the plant from Cuban taxes. The plant was closed after the war in 1947, but reopened with improvements in 1952. After the Cuban Revolution took control of the country’s government in January 1959, Cuba that same year adopted a new mining law imposing sharply increased taxes on mining and export of minerals. In protest the U.S. stopped shipments from the plant in December 1959. Thereafter Fidel and Che made frequent verbal attacks on the U.S. over the plant; and in October 1960 Cuba nationalized the plant. (Bart, Flow of Nickel from Cuba Halts, N.Y. Times (Dec. 18, 1959); U.S. Nickel Plant Hindered in Cuba, N.Y. Times (Mar. 25, 1960); NICARO Talks to Reopen, N.Y. Times (Aug. 2, 1960); Soviet Mission in Cuba: Group Plans Help to Reopen U.S. Nicaro Nickel Plant, N.Y.Times (Nov. 30, 1960); Veloz Placencia, Che’s passion for the nickel industry, Granma (Aug. 23, 2017).

[7] This admission by a top U.S. government official in 1960 that “Cuba of course has the right to confiscate the plant so long as compensation is given” should not be forgotten in the ongoing dispute over Cuban compensation for its expropriation of U.S.-owned property in Cuba and the U.S. recent steps to allow enforcement of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act. It also must be remembered that Cuba over the years repeatedly has admitted  that it has such an obligation under international law, that Cuba has resolved similar claims by other countries and that in various U.S.-Cuba discussions in 2015-16 the two parties exchanged information about compensation for such properties. Finally it cannot be forgotten that Cuba does not have the financial resources to make such compensation in full.

[8] In more than 450 individual volumes the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Historian has published Foreign Relations of the United States series to offer the official documentary historical record of major U.S. foreign policy decisions and significant diplomatic activity.”

[9] In a footnote LeoGrande and Kornbluh say the best account of the Bay of Pigs disaster is Peter Wyden, Bay of Pigs: The Untold Story (New York, Simon & Schuster, 1979). See also Kornbluh, Bay of Pigs Declassified: The Secret CIA Report on the Invasion of Cuba (National Security Archive Documents)(New York, The New Press, 1998)

[10] Escuela, Cuba denounces war on our people, Granma (May 22, 2019).

[11] See posts listed in the “U.S. (Obama) & Cuba (Normalization), 2015” and “U.S. (Obama) & Cuba (Normalization), 2016” sections of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries–Topical: CUBA.

 

 

National Security Advisor Bolton Discusses New U.S. Sanctions Against Cuba

On April 17, as discussed in a prior post, the U.S. State Department announced new sanctions against Cuba. The major change was eliminating the waiver of Title III of the Helms-Burton (LIBERTAD) Act allowing U.S. litigation by U.S. owners of Cuban property that was expropriated by the Cuban government in the early years of the Cuban Revolution. This Act also allows the U.S. to deny or revoke U.S. visas to any person or corporate officer “involved in the confiscation of property or trafficking in confiscated property,” as well as their family members.

Later that same day in a Miami speech National Security Advisor John Bolton  proudly announced that “President Trump decided to END the Helms-Burton Title III Waivers, once and for all and that under Title IV of Helms-Burton no U.S. visas would be issued to “anyone who traffics in property stolen from Americans.” In addition, Bolton announced additional anti-Cuba measures.[1] As noted in a prior post, Bolton’s hostility towards Cuba is not new.

The Additional New Sanctions

The additional new sanctions announced by Bolton are the following:

  • Remittances from Cubans in the U.S. to family members on the island will be reduced by the U.S. Treasury Department to $1,000 per person [payor or payee?] per quarter. According to Bolton, the unlimited remittances permitted by the Obama Administration had allowed the Cuban government to evade U.S. sanctions and obtain access to hard currencies.
  • “Non-family travel” or “veiled tourism” to Cuba will be subject to new (and unspecified) restrictions in order to “steer American dollars away from the Cuban regime, or its military and security services, who control the tourism industry in Cuba.” (However, there still are 12 categories of permissible U.S. nationals travel to Cuba under Treasury Department regulations.)
  • The State Department will add five companies to its Cuba Restricted List, including Aerogaviota, an airline controlled by Gaviota, a group of tourism-relative companies controlled by the Cuban Armed Forces.[2]
  • The U.S. Treasury Department will adopt new regulations to “end the use of “U-turn transactions,” which allow the regime to circumvent sanctions and obtain access to hard currency and the U.S. banking system.”

Bolton’s Remarks

Bolton, once again, referred to Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua as the “troika of tyranny” and their leaders as “the three stooges of socialism.” They all now are “beginning to crumble” and the U.S. “looks forward to watching each corner of this sordid triangle of terror fail.”

While accusing Cuba of propping up Venezuela’s Maduro with thousands of security force members in the country, Bolton also warned “all external actors, including Russia, against deploying military assets to Venezuela to prop up the Maduro regime.”. The United States will consider “such provocative actions a threat to international peace and security in the region.” Bolton noted  that Moscow recently sent in military flights carrying 35 tons of cargo and a hundred personnel.

In short, from Bolton’s perspective, “the destinies of our nations will not be dictated by foreign powers; they will be shaped by the people who call this Hemisphere hme. Today, we proudly proclaim for all to hear: the Monroe Doctrine is alive and well.” (Emphasis added.)

In addition, Bolton had harsh words for President Obama’s efforts to normalize relations with Cuba. The National Security Advisor said, “Tragically, the Obama administration’s misguided Cuba policy provided the Cuban regime with the necessary political cover to expand its malign influence and ideological imperialism across the region.” He added, “In no uncertain terms, the Obama administration’s policies toward Cuba have enabled the Cuban colonization of Venezuela today.” The Trump Administration’s changes were designed to reverse “the disastrous Obama-era policies, and finally end the glamorization of socialism and communism.”

“To justify its policy of normalizing relations with Cuba, President Obama said Cuba (quote) ‘poses no genuine threat.’ Tell that to the American diplomats who were attacked in Havana. Tell that to the terrorized people of Venezuela. The reality is that the Obama government sought to normalize relations with a tyrannical dictatorship.”  In contrast, Bolton reminded his audience that Trump met with Cuban opposition activists like the Ladies in White and called the late Fidel Castro “a brutal dictator.”

Bolton also implicitly criticized Obama by saying “Naïve beliefs have now given way to clear-eyed common sense. We are no longer surrendering American liberty in the name of global governance. We are no longer selling out our friends to appease our adversaries. [We] are no longer sacrificing the interests of the American people to pursue idealistic fantasies—in Havana, Tehran, or anywhere else.”

After reciting the U.S. and allies’ efforts regarding Venezuela, Bolton said when Maduro falls, “we know that Cuba will be next.”

“Let me be clear: The Trump administration will NEVER, EVER abandon you,” Bolton said. “We will need your help in the days ahead. We must all reject the forces of communism and socialism in this hemisphere — and in this country.”

The Ignominious Timing and Location of the Announcement

Bolton intentionally and ignominiously chose the date and location for this announcement. Last week Bolton tweeted, “[I am] Pleased to announce that I will be joining the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association on April 17 in Miami to deliver remarks on the important steps being taken by the Administration to confront security threats related to Cuba, Venezuela, and the democratic crisis in Nicaragua.”

The date, April 17, was the 58th anniversary of the U.S. disastrous invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs (Playa Girón). Recall that this failed military invasion of Cuba was undertaken by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-sponsored paramilitary group Brigade 2506.  The U.S. gravely underestimated the force-power in Cuba and consequently led their troops to their own destruction. The U.S.-sponsored combatants were members of a counter-revolutionary military group (made up of mostly Cuban exiles who had traveled to the U.S. after Castro’s takeover plus some U.S. military personnel).This invading force was defeated within three days by the Cuba Revolutionary Armed Forces under the direct command of Fidel Castro.[3]

The location of Bolton’s remarks was  the Miami gathering of the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association. In his remarks Bolton paid them homage. He compared the aging Cuban Americans to “the brave men of Bunker Hill, Belleau Wood and Normandy,” and said the new measures were being undertaken to “honor your courage . . . by boldly confronting the evils of socialism and communism in the hemisphere.”

In his remarks, Bolton said, “This is just the beginning. As long as the people of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua stand for freedom, the United States will stand with them. The remarkable story of Brigade 2506 helped inspire President Trump’s hard-hitting Cuba policy. During the 2016 campaign, he visited you here in Miami, he heard your heroic accounts, he saw your stirring pictures and today he is proud to stand by your side.”

“Together, we can finish what began on those beaches, on those famous days in April, 58 years ago today,” Bolton said to rousing applause from the aging brigade members who backed Trump in 2016 when he narrowly won the state.

Conclusion

Bolton’s vigorous embrace of the Monroe Doctrine is outrageous. That Doctrine is a self-proclaimed right to intervene militarily and otherwise in any other country in the Western Hemisphere when a U.S. president deems it appropriate.  From a Latin America perspective it was often seen as a U.S. license to intervene at will in other countries’ internal affairs and is contrary to international law. It, therefore, was entirely appropriate for then Secretary of State John Kerry in 2013 to state that “ the Monroe Doctrine is dead once and for all.”[4]

Also inappropriate was Bolton’s criticism of President Obama’s adoption of policies to normalize U.S.-Cuba relations. I thought and still think that was one of his administration’s greatest accomplishments.[5]

Another objection needs to be registered to Bolton’s comments about the Bay of Pigs. The U.S. financed, organized and ineptly assisted the Bay of Pigs invasion, I always have regarded it as horrible stain on U.S. relations with Cuba that repeatedly needs to be denounced.

Future posts will look at reactions to these U.S. policies from Cuba, the U.S. and other countries.

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[1] This post was updated after discovering on April 20 the text of Bolton’s speech on the website of the U.S. Embassy in Cuba.  See U.S. Embassy in Cuba, Ambassador Bolton Bay of Pigs Veterans Asociation-Brigade 2506 (April 17, 2019); Gámez Torres, Bolton coming to Miami to discuss U.S. action on Miami to discuss action on Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, Miami Herald (April 12, 2019); Solomon, Reichmann & Lee (AP), Trump Cracks Down on Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, Wash. Post (April 17, 2019); DeYoung, Trump administration announces new measures against Cuba, Wash. Post (April 17, 2019); Bolton announces new sanctions against Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, Wash. Post  (Jan. 17. 2019 (partial video of Bolton’s remarks); Gámez Torres, U.S. restricts travel, remittances to Cuba as part of a new policy under Trump, Miami Herald (April 17, 2019).

[2] These five entities were added to the Cuba Restricted List on April 24, 2019: State Dep’t, Department of State Updates the Cuba Restricted List (April 24, 2019); State Dep’t, List of Restricted Entities and Subentities Associated with Cuba as of April 24, 2019 (April 24, 2019). See also these posts to dwkcommentarie.com: New Restrictions on U.S. Travel to Cuba and Transactions with Certain Cuban Entities (Nov. 8, 2017); More Cuban Businesses Forbidden to U.S. Visitors (Nov. 16, 2018); U.S. Authorizes U.S. Litigation Against Entities on Cuba Restricted List (Mar. 5, 2019); Cuba Modifies Its Cuba Restricted List (Mar. 13, 2019).

[3] Bay of Pigs Invasion, Wikipedia; Brigade 2506: Official Site of the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association.

[4] Johnson, Kerry Makes It Official: ‘Era of Monroe Doctrine Is Over,’ W.S.J. (Nov. 18, 2013).

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

 

State Department’s Announcement of New Sanctions Against Cuba

On April 17, the U.S. announced new sanctions against Cuba. The major change was eliminating the waiver of Title III of the Helms-Burton (LIBERTAD) Act allowing U.S. litigation by U.S. owners of Cuban property that was expropriated by the Cuban government in the early years of the Cuban Revolution. This Act also allows the U.S. to deny or revoke U.S. visas to any person or corporate officer “involved in the confiscation of property or trafficking in confiscated property,” as well as their family members.[1]

State Department’s Announcement of Sanctions[2]

The State Department made the official announcement of this change in remarks to the Press by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said the following:

  • “In 1996, Congress passed the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, also known as Libertad. Until Title III of that act, United States citizens who had their property confiscated by the Castro regime were given the right to file suit against those who traffic in such properties.”
  • “But those citizens’ opportunities for justice have been put out of reach for more than two decades. For now more than 22 years, every president, every secretary of state has suspended Title III in the hope that doing so would put more pressure on the Cuban regime to transition to democracy.”
  • The “Trump administration recognizes reality. We see clearly that the regime’s repression of its own people and its unrepentant exportation of tyranny in the region has only gotten worse because dictators perceive appeasement as weakness, not strength.”
  • “President Obama’s administration’s game of footsy with the Castros’ junta did not deter the regime from continuing to harass and oppress the heroic Ladies in White, a group of women dedicated to peacefully protesting the regime’s human rights abuses.”
  • “More broadly, the regime continues to deprive its own people of the fundamental freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association. Indeed, according to NGO reports, Cuban thugs made more than 2,800 arbitrary arrests in 2018 alone. In the run-up to the country’s recent sham constitutional referendum, one that enshrined the Communist Party as the only legal political party in Cuba, the regime harassed, beat, and detained leaders and – opposition leaders and activists. Three hundred and ten people were arbitrarily detained according to the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation.”
  • “Cuba’s behavior in the Western Hemisphere undermines the security and stability of countries throughout the region, which directly threatens United States national security interests. The Cuban regime has for years exported its tactics of intimidation, repression, and violence. They’ve exported this to Venezuela in direct support of the former Maduro regime. Cuban military intelligence and state security services today keep Maduro in power.”
  • “Sadly, Cuba’s most prominent export these days is not cigars or rum; it’s oppression. Detente with the regime has failed. Cozying up to Cuban dictators will always be a black mark on this great nation’s long record of defending human rights.”
  • “For these reasons, I’m announcing that the Trump administration will no longer suspend Title III. Effective May 2nd, . . . the right to bring an action under Title III of the Libertad Act will be implemented in full. I have already informed Congress of my decision.”
  • “Implementing Title III in full means a chance at justice for Cuban Americans who have long sought relief for Fidel Castro and his lackeys seizing property without compensation. For the first time, claimants will be able to bring lawsuits against persons trafficking in property that was confiscated by the Cuban regime. Any person or company doing business in Cuba should heed this announcement.”
  • “In addition to being newly vulnerable to lawsuits, they could be abetting the Cuban regime’s abuses of its own people. Those doing business in Cuba should fully investigate whether they are connected to property stolen in service of a failed communist experiment. I encourage our friends and allies alike to likewise follow our lead and stand with the Cuban people.”
  • “As I said throughout my trip to South America this last week, the Trump administration is committed to helping grow the wave of democracy, good governments, and openness, which is steadily building throughout the entire Western Hemisphere. On my trip last week, I saw these positive changes firsthand, and told our friends and allies that we’re with them. We’re on the side of what’s right and what is just.”
  • “Today we are holding the Cuban Government accountable for seizing American assets. We are helping those whom the regime has robbed get compensation for their rightful property. And we’re advancing human rights and democracy on behalf of the Cuban people.”

Immediately after the Secretary’s remarks, Kimberly  Breier, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, responded to journalists’ questions. Here are her significant responses:

  • “[O]bviously we’ve been in very deep and close contact with our allies in Europe and Canada and around the world as we consulted on this decision over the past several months as the Secretary had been shortening the period of suspension with his previous decisions. I think it’s clear if you look in the macro sense we have broad agreement with our allies in Europe and Canada and around the world on the policy objective, which is to promote democracy in Cuba and to free the Cuban people from the tyranny that they live under.”
  • “We are in broad agreement on this. Where we sometimes disagree is on the best way to achieve that. And I think at the end of the day, you’ll need to speak to the European Union and to our allies as to what response they will have, but I would like to emphasize that European companies that are operating in Cuba will have nothing to worry about if they are not operating on property that was stolen from Americans post-revolution. So I think the vast number of European companies will not have any concerns operating in Cuba.”
  • We “took a decision today based on our laws and our sovereign concerns for the property of American citizens and Europeans will respond as they see fit, and we will continue to work closely with them on this policy and on the policy in Venezuela.”
  • The “decision today is part of the trajectory that started with the Trump Administration’s NSPM-5, which was announced in June of 2017.[3]The objective of that was . . . to support the Cuban people and to deny resources to the regime, and in particular to the security services in Cuba. So this is part of a trajectory. We have since published a Cuba restricted list. We have since amended the restricted list several times, and this is part of the trajectory of the administration trying to ensure that we support the people of Cuba and not the regime of Cuba.”
  • The “Secretary’s decision was about the actions of the Cuban regime; certainly, the actions of the Cuban regime in Venezuela are part of the context of the moment in which we are living. And we are very clear, and . . . the Lima Group, which is a group of 12 countries in the Western Hemisphere, for the very first time this week announced its concern over Cuba’s role in Caracas and made public its concern, and called on the Cuban regime to support the transition in Caracas. So I think it’s a very important moment in our relations in the hemisphere as well.”
  • Over “the past two years building off of NSPM-5 and looking at the various tools that we have to implement the President’s vision for how we would conduct this policy. I think you’re going to be seeing quite a bit more from us, and that this is the beginning of a new process on this that recognizes the reality on the ground in Cuba, which is in the past 20-plus years the underlying reality in Cuba has not changed for the average Cuban..[There was no direct response to the question about whether the U.S. was considering t returning Cuba to the State Sponsors of Terrorism list.[4]]
  • “There will not be any exemptions [from this new sanction for any U.S. company doing business in Cuba].” (Emphasis added.)
  • The “Foreign Claims Settlement Commission . . . has certified nearly 6,000 claims for property confiscated in Cuba with a total value of approximately 2 billion. With interest, we believe that value is somewhere in the $8 billion range. The most recent estimate we have from 1996, at the time that the law was enacted, that there could be up to 200,000 uncertified claims that were not certified by the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, and that value could very easily be in the tens of billions of dollars. But it will depend on, of course, whether claimants decide to pursue legal cases or not.”[5]

The day before the official announcement in an embargoed briefing for journalists, an unidentified senior State Department official said that foreigners who have been trafficking in such properties  have “had over 20 years of profiting from property stolen from American citizens.”

Hints of This and Other Anti-Cuba Measures[6]

For the last several weeks the Administration has been hinting that more anti-Cuba measures were coming.

One such  hint came from Vice President Mike Pence at a U.N. Security council meeting on April 10, when he said, “For decades, Cuba has tried to create client states across our region.  While normal countries export goods, Cuba exports tyranny and strong-arm tactics.  Even now, Cuban military and intelligence services train and support and equip Venezuela’s secret police as they silence opponents, jail and torture members of the opposition.” Pence added, “Last week, the United States took action to sanction ships transporting Venezuelan oil to Cuba.  And soon, at President Trump’s direction, the United States will announce additional action to hold Cuba accountable for its malign influence in Venezuela.” (Emphasis added.)

 Two days later, President Trump issued his Proclamation on Pan American Day and Pan American Week, which said, in part, “Sadly, the people of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua continue to live under tyranny and authoritarianism.  The brutality and corruption of the illegitimate former regime in Venezuela has crippled the country and brought it to ruin.  We must not forget that the struggle is one between dictatorship and democracy, between oppression and freedom, and between continued suffering for millions of Venezuelans and an opportunity for a renewed future of freedom and prosperity.  The community of democracies in our Western Hemisphere must continue to support the people of Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua as they fight for the restoration of democracy and liberty. (Emphases added.)

Another tip came from the State Department when it announced that  that the U.S. was adding four companies and nine vessels  to the list of Venezuelan companies  that were sanctioned for transporting oil to Cuba.[7] The Department also said the U.S.“will continue to do all we can to stand up against Cuba’s support for the former Maduro regime and its hostility to the Venezuelan people’s aspiration to a peaceful, prosperous, democratic future. Cuba’s intervention only seeks to delay the inevitable—the peaceful transition back to freedom and democracy that is underway in Venezuela, led by the Venezuelan people, Interim President Juan Guaido, and the National Assembly.”  (Emphasis added.)

Another hint came directly from Secretary Pompeo on April 14 in a speech in Cucata, Colombia, when he said, “ “Cubans must understand too that there will be cost associated with continued support of Nicolas Maduro.”  (Emphasis added.)

Conclusion

Later the same day (April 17), U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton in a speech in Miami addressed these new sanctions and other santi-Cuba measures that will be discussed in a subsequent post. Another post will review the responses to these new measures from the U.S., Cuba, Europe and Canada.

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[1]  Baker, Trump to Increase Pressure on Cuba by Lifting Lawsuit Limits, N.Y. Times (April 16, 2019); Reuters, In Major Shift, Trump to Allow Lawsuits Against Foreign Firms, N.Y. Times (April 16, 2019); Assoc. Press, Trump to Allow Lawsuits Over US Properties Seized in Cuba, N.Y. Times (April 16, 2019); DeYoung, Trump administration will allow U.S. citizens to sue over property seized after 1959,  Wash. Post (April 16, 2019).

[2] State Dep’t, [Secretary Pompeo’s] Remarks to the Press (April 17, 2019); State Dep’t, Briefing With Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Kimberly Breier (April 17, 2019).

[3] NSPM refers to National Security Presidential Memorandum on Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba (June 16, 2017). See President Trump Announces Reversal of Some Cuba Normalization Policies, dwkcommentaries.com (June 19, 2017).

[4] See posts listed in the “Cuba: State Sponsor of Terrorism?” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[5]  See Resolution of U.S. and Cuba Damage Claims, dwkcommentaries.com (April 6, 2015).

[6] White House, Remarks by Vice President Pence at a Special Session of the United Nations Security Council  on the Crisis in Venezuela/New York, NY (April 10, 2019); White House,  Proclamation on Pan American Day and Pan American Week (April 15, 2019); State Dep’t, The United States Takes Action To End Cuba’s Malign Influence on Venezuela (April 12, 2019).

 

Washington Post Criticizes New Cuban Constitution

On March 1, a Washington Post editorial criticized the new Cuban constitution.[1]

First, the editorial expressed surprise over the “share of eligible voters who cast “no” ballots or stayed home.”   Indeed, the total number of registered voters who voted “No” or stayed home or who submitted spoiled ballots was 1,853,545 or 21.4% of the electorate while 78.6% voted “YES.” [2]

In contrast, the Post continued,  the last constitutional vote in 1976, when Castro had established a totalitarian state, 99.02 percent voted yes.” This change, argued the Post, constituted ‘unmistakable signs that hundreds of thousands of people have lost their fear of the authorities and lost their patience with a decaying economic and political system.”

Second, the new constitution “is the handiwork of the authoritarian clique that stumbles on after Castro’s death. The key decisions were made by a commission appointed by former president Raúl Castro, who still leads the Communist Party, and has amendments by the rubber-stamp parliament.”

Third, the “new constitution does not allow any oxygen into the closed political system, saying the [Communist Party]  is the “superior driving force of the society and the State.” Indeed, Article 5 states, “The Communist Party of Cuba, unique, Marxist, Fidelist, Marxist and Leninist, organized vanguard of the Cuban nation, based on its democratic character and the permanent bonding with the people, is the superior political force leader of the society and of the State.” 

Fourth, “[g]enuine political competition — the essence of democracy — was absent. The state-run news media ignored those who would advocate a “no” vote, and in the final day, nervous about the outcome, the authorities blacked out the digital newspaper 14ymedio, run by the dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez, who had openly called for a “no” vote on social media. José Daniel Ferrer García, a tough-minded activist and regime opponent, was detained after sitting in a park in Santiago de Cuba with a hand-lettered sign that proclaimed, ‘No.’” [3]

Fifth, “The new constitution is hardly earth-shattering. It recognizes private property for a “complementary role in the economy,” but continues to enshrine a “socialist economic system based on ownership by all people of the fundamental means of production as the primary form of property as well as the planned direction of the economy.” For most Cubans, this reality is a dystopia reminiscent of the Soviet Union, with shortages of eggs, butter and other basics.”

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[1] Editorial, Cubans are losing their patience—and their fear, Wash. Post (Mar. 1, 2019).

[2] See Cuban Citizens Approve New Constitution, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 26, 2019)/  This total of 21.4% may be overstated as some qualified voters may not have voted even though they supported the constitution or spoiled their ballots for innocent reasons.

[3] See Cuba Arrests Opponents of Proposed New Constitution, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 14, 2019); posts listed in “Cuban Bloggers” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries.com—Topical; CUBA