Rejection of Criticism of Cuba’s Cancellation of Open-Microphone Event in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución and Arrests of Its Organizers

Tania Bruguera
  Tania Bruguera

On December 30th Cuban authorities cancelled an open-microphone event at Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución and detained or arrested its organizers. The principal detainee was Tania Bruguera, a Cuban citizen who lives on the island and in Miami, Florida and who is a performance artist. She intended to provide an open-microphone for any attendee to give a one-minute statement on his or her opinions and recommendations for Cuba’s future.

This cancellation and related arrests have provoked strong condemnation from the U.S. Department of State and major U.S. newspapers. Initially I was persuaded by such condemnations and worried that they would foster U.S. political resistance to recent U.S.-Cuba reconciliation. After further investigation, however, I have come to reject such harsh condemnations. In order to understand this conclusion, this post will examine what happened in Havana, the reactions from the State Department and western newspapers and then the reasons why I reject such condemnations.

Cuban Events Relating to the Open-Mike Performance[1]

Plaza_de_la_Revolution

Plaza3

On December 30th Cuban performance artist Tania Bruguera was planning to stage an open-microphone event, “Yo tambien exijo,” [I also demand],” in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución, the huge public square usually reserved for large government-sponsored events.[2] (The photo on the top shows an empty Plaza while the other one has a large crowd in attendance.) She planned to give any attendee a one-minute platform to discuss his or her opinions about, and recommendations for, Cuba’s future. She told the U.S. National Public Radio that she wanted “people in the street [to] come and share . . . [their] doubts, [their] happiness – whatever [they] think right now about what is happening in Cuba, and what is the idea of Cuba that [they] want?”

Bruguera was proceeding with these plans even though her application for a permit had been denied and even though the Government’s National Fine Arts Council had told her that it would not be providing her with institutional support for the event as proposed because it “would negatively impact public opinion, in a key time of negotiation between the Cuban government and the government of the United States.”

On December 30th the Council issued a public statement documenting its decision not to support the event. It said, “Under current circumstances, it is unacceptable performing this purported performance in the symbolic space of the Plaza of the Revolution, especially considering the extensive media coverage and manipulation that has been in the media broadcasters counterrevolution.”

The Council, however, also stated that Bruguera had rejected its suggestions on conducting the event subject to the following conditions: (a) move the event to the National Museum of Fine Arts, a prestigious cultural institution in the field of visual arts; (b) the Museum would be freely open to diverse people of dissimilar social sectors; (c) the government would “reserve the right” to bar people whose “sole interest is to be provocative;” and (d) the performance would be limited to 90 minutes.

Just hours before the planned event, Cuban police detained, on public disorder charges, Bruguerea and at least three leading dissidents: Antonio Rodiles, the head of Citizens Demand for Another Cuba; Eliezer Avila, the leader of the opposition group Somos Mas; and Reinaldo Escobar, a senior editor of a dissident website 14medio.com. Escobar’s spouse, Blogger Yoani Sanchez, was also detained at her home by police. There were reports that up to 50 members of the political opposition were detained.

Ms. Bruguera was released the next afternoon along with most of the political dissidents. She then announced she would hold a news conference and public gathering on the Malecón, Havana’s coastal highway, at the memorial to the Maine, the American battleship that sank in Havana Harbor in 1898. Cuban agents, however, stopped her en route to the gathering and took her away for interrogation. She was told she could not leave Cuba “for two or three months” while the case was being processed. Again she was released.

However, on January 1, 2015, she was arrested again along with several dissidents when they went to a jail to demand the release of 15 additional dissidents who had been arrested on the day of the planned event. The next day (January 2) she was released.

Reactions to the Cancelation and Arrests

On December 30th, the U.S. Department of State issued a Press Statement saying the U.S. was “deeply concerned about the latest reports of detentions and arrests by Cuban authorities of peaceful civil society members and activists . . . [and] strongly condemn[ed] the Cuban government’s continued harassment and repeated use of arbitrary detention, at times with violence, to silence critics, disrupt peaceful assembly and freedom expression, and intimidate citizens.”

The Statement added, “Freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly are internationally recognized human rights, and the Cuban government’s lack of respect for these rights, as demonstrated by today’s detentions, is inconsistent with Hemispheric norms and commitments. We urge the Government of Cuba to end its practice of repressing these and other internationally protected freedoms and to respect the universal human rights of Cuban citizens.”

The Statement concluded that the U.S. has “always said we would continue to speak out about human rights, and as part of the process of normalization of diplomatic relations, the United States will continue to press the Cuban government to uphold its international obligations and to respect the rights of Cubans to peacefully assemble and express their ideas and opinions, just like their fellow members of civil society throughout the Americas are allowed to do.”

Also on December 30th Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson tweeted “Freedom of expression remains core of US policy on #Cuba; we support activists exercising those rights and condemn today’s detentions.”

These views were shared by the New York Times’ December 30th editorial, “Cuba Turns Off Critics’ Open Mike.” It said, “By stifling critical voices, the Cuban government is showing its unwillingness to tolerate basic freedoms most citizens in the hemisphere enjoy.”

The Times’ editorial continued, “This move, unfortunately, will amplify the criticisms of those who opposed Mr. Obama’s historic shift on Cuba policy. Heavy-handed tactics by the Castro government will give them ammunition next year, when Republicans will control both chambers of Congress, to stymie the Obama administration’s steps to ease the embargo through executive authority and dim the prospects of legislative change to pare back the web of sanctions Washington imposes on Cuba. That result would be a shame and, in the long run, self-defeating for Havana.”

The editorial on the same subject by the Washington Post, which earlier opposed the December 17th reconciliation, was in the same vein. It stated, “[T]he Castro regime has been left free to continue stifling dissent, while reaping the economic and political benefits of Mr. Obama’s ‘engagement.’ Raúl Castro declared in a speech shortly after the agreement was announced that the Communist political system would remain unchanged. Two weeks later, not one of the 53 political prisoners the White House said would be freed — about half of the total identified by human rights activists — has been reported released.”

The Washington Post editorial concluded, “Cubans who seek basic freedoms continue to be arrested, harassed and silenced, while the regime celebrates what it portrays as ‘victory’ over the United States. If support for the Cuban people and American values is supposed to be the point of this process, then it is off to a very poor start.”

People opposed to the resumption of relations with Cuba were quick to hold up the arrests as a sign that the Castro government had no intention of pursuing political change and would reap only economic benefits from Mr. Obama’s moves. For example, Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida and a Cuban-American, tweeted, “Castro govt. arrests of activists in #Havana exposes the folly of new Obama #CubaPolicy.”

Rejection of the Condemnation

As a long-time member of the American Civil Liberties Union and as a pro bono attorney in one of its important free speech cases, I am a strong believer in the importance of free speech. Therefore, I initially concurred in the State Department and New York Times’ condemnation of Cuba’s cancellation of this event and related arrests, and I worried that this controversy might cause the U.S. to abandon the recently announced U.S.-Cuba reconciliation.

On the other hand, I was and continue to be troubled by the State Department and most of the articles about this event not mentioning the Cuban Fine Arts Council’s willingness to support the event in another location and with certain limits. This action by the Arts Council suggests at a minimum that the State Department and western media are over-reacting to these events and unfairly rushing to judgment.

These U.S. critics also forget that governmental authorities in the U.S. sometimes determine that it is not appropriate to stage a protest at a particular time and place. It just happened in my home state of Minnesota at the Mall of America (MOA) on a big shopping day (December 20th). Although MOA officials had told the organizers that it was against its policies for them to hold a “Black Lives Matter” protest at the Mall on that day,[3] they did so anyway as this video shows. After 2,000 to 3,000 protesters flooded a Mall rotunda and held “die-ins” in front of several nearby businesses, riot-gear-clad police officers arrested 25 for trespass, peacefully dispersed the crowd and tried to block people from re-entering the rotunda. Afterwards the local city attorney announced plans “to file additional charges against ‘ringleaders’ of the protest and to seek restitution for the costs of 250 police at the event and lost sales during the two to three hours when more than 75 stores in the mall were closed.” On January 5th some of the protesters spoke against such prosecution at a city council meeting. This story obviously is not yet over.

In addition, there is a report that raises the much more serious question of whether the event was an idea of Cubans acting by themselves. According to the Wall Street Journal, an opponent of reconciliation with Cuba, at the scheduled time for the event, “Cuban cellphones received mysterious messages from a Florida area code offering cheap beer to all those gathering on the plaza.” This was confirmed in an interview by U.S. National Public Radio with Marc Frank, a U.S. journalist who was one of about a dozen people at the Plaza at the time of the planned event. He said, “text messages were sent from somewhere in Miami to a lot of cell phones here, including mine, basically saying that there’s going to be an event at the Plaza de la Revolución, and there’d be free beer.” Frank added that “Tania is an artist, lives some in Cuba and mainly in Miami, . . . [but] she’s not really well-known in Cuba at all.”[4]

These messages about free beer in the Plaza from a Miami telephone number raise the question of whether the event was actually being planned by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) or another U.S. government agency or by Cuban-Americans opposed to the reconciliation of the two countries.

As discussed in prior posts, USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) had funded via a private contractor at least three covert (or as the agency prefers to say “discreet”) programs in Cuba to promote civil society and dissent or regime change, all without the prior knowledge or consent of the Cuban government. One was for U.S. citizen Alan Gross to take communications equipment to Cuba, for which he was arrested, convicted and imprisoned in Cuba for violating its laws.[5] Another such USAID program via a private contractor unsuccessfully tried to create a Cuban social media program Yet another used Central Americans to promote purported HIV informational efforts on the island. The final one that has been discovered so far by journalists again via a private contractor attempted to infiltrate the Cuban rap-artist community.

These USAID programs were sharply criticized in a November New York Times editorial, as discussed in an earlier post. The editorial said, ““Far from accomplishing . . . the goal [of instigating democratic reforms on the island], the initiatives have been largely counterproductive. The funds have been a magnet for charlatans, swindlers and good intentions gone awry. The stealthy programs have increased hostility between the two nations, provided Cuba with a trove of propaganda fodder and stymied opportunities to cooperate in areas of mutual interest.”

Instead, the Times’ November editorial argued, “The United States should strive to promote greater freedoms on the island of 11 million people and loosen the grip of one of the most repressive governments in the world. Instead of stealth efforts to overthrow the government, American policy makers should find ways to empower ordinary Cubans by expanding study-abroad programs, professional exchanges and investment in the new small businesses cropping up around the island. They should continue to promote Internet connectivity, but realize that accomplishing that goal on a large scale will require coordination with the Cuban government.” Moreover, “Washington should recognize that the most it can hope to accomplish is to positively influence Cuba’s evolution toward a more open society. That is more likely to come about through stronger diplomatic relations than subterfuge.”

Perhaps the Times forgot this editorial when it more recently lambasted the Cuban actions over the “open-microphone” event.

In any event, the U.S. government apparently has not learned the lesson outlined by the Times in October because the USAID website, which says it was last updated on December 16 (the day before the announcement of U.S.-Cuba reconciliation), still contains general information about its Cuba programs to “[p]romote human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

In addition, on December 22, 2014 (five days after that announcement), the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor issued a Public Notice of its “Request for Statements of Interest: Program Fostering Civil, Political and Labor Rights in Cuba.” The Bureau’s prospective funding of $11 million would be used for typically funded proposals, the Bureau said, like “[o]rganizational assistance to Cuban civil society to improve management, strategic planning, sustainability, and collaboration of local civil society groups; [o]ff-island trainings, short-term fellowships, or engagement; [d]istribution of software that would be easily accessible in an open society; . . . [and] ]a]ssistance mechanisms designed to provide independent Cuban civil society with tools, opportunities, and trainings that civil society counterparts in open societies can access.”

Both the USAID and State Department statements read as if they are promoting programs in Cuba without the knowledge, cooperation or agreement of the Cuban government. This is contrary to President Obama’s statement in his nationally televised speech on December 17th, in which he said the U.S. would “raise those differences [with the Cuban government] directly . . .[such as] democracy and human rights in Cuba. But I believe we can do more to support the Cuban people and promote our values through engagement [with the Cuban government].” He added, “no Cubans should face harassment or arrest or beatings simply because they’re exercising a universal right to have their voices heard, and we will continue to support civil society there.”

Similar thoughts were expressed the same day in the White House’s FACT SHEET: Charting a New Course on Cuba.” It said, “We know from hard-learned experience that it is better to encourage and support reform than to impose policies that will render a country a failed state.” It also stated, “The Administration will continue to implement U.S. programs aimed at promoting positive change in Cuba, and we will encourage reforms in our high level engagement with Cuban officials.”

Although President Obama apparently was talking about encouraging the Cuban government to expand the Cuban people’s rights to express different opinions on what their government should do, a prior post shows some ambiguity in these statements that could allow the continuation of the USAID and State Department’s covert or “discreet” efforts to promote regime change.

If the open-microphone event, in fact, was orchestrated by USAID or some other U.S. government agency, it is Orwellian. Such programs purport to promote democracy and human rights with undemocratic and non-human rights means. Such programs are publicly mentioned—in very general terms—on U.S. government websites yet are conducted covertly or “discreetly” on the island. Such programs are hostile to a country with which the U.S. purportedly is attempting to build a normal and respectful diplomatic relationship. These programs also logically motivate Cuban authorities to be vigilant in reacting to events like the “open-microphone” one.

In other words it is horribly stupid and unwise to have such behind-the-back programs when the two countries are embarking on a long and complicated path for full reconciliation. As the New York Times said in November, the U.S. “should recognize that the most it can hope to accomplish is to positively influence Cuba’s evolution toward a more open society. That is more likely to come about through stronger diplomatic relations than subterfuge.”

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[1] This account of the planned event and the arrests by the Cuban government is based on articles in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street JournalGuardian, Los Angeles Times,  National Public Radio, the Cuban Fine Arts Council and again the New York Times.

[2] The Plaza is the 31st largest public square in the world; it measures 72,000 square meters (774,936 square feet) and has been the site for crowds of 1 million for major speeches by Fidel Castro and for a mass celebrated by Pope John Paul II. The idea that the open-microphone event might create such a large crowd should have been seen as ridiculous by everyone, including the Cuban authorities, and a small gathering like the 12 or so that showed up on the 30th would have demonstrated the over-reaction of the those authorities in shutting it down and the State Department and western media in attacking the shut-down.

[3] Before the protest the local city (Bloomington) sent a letter to the protest organizers warning that the city would enforce the mall’s private-property rights under the authority of a Minnesota Supreme Court decision that held the MOA was a private entity with the right to exclude demonstrators.

[4] The Director of Security Operations at Telecommunications Company of Cuba reported that since December 21st Cuba had been receiving electronic messages calling for participation in an event with Tania Bruguera. These messages came from a platform “Wake Cuba,and these messages were similar to previous ones paid for by USAID.  Another Cuban source states that some Cuban email addresses were hacked and used to send emails to Cubans about this event.

[5] Gross on December 17th was released from Cuban prison and returned to the U.S.

Cuban Government Meets with Religious Leaders

Díaz-Canel Bermúdez
Díaz-Canel Bermúdez

Granma, Cuba’s state-owned newspaper, and the Cuban News Agency have reported that Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, the First Vice President of the Cuban Councils of State and Ministers and a member of the Cuban Communist Party’s Central Committee (Political Bureau),[1] recently met with Cuban evangelical and protestant leaders from the Cuban Council of Churches. [2] The meeting’s purpose was to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the first meeting between Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro and leaders of the Council and to discuss current challenges facing the organization.

After the first meeting in 1984, considered to be milestone in relations between the church and State, a practice developed of holding periodic meetings between all religions and the leadership of the country to promote work and dialogue.

The Recent Meeting

Rev. Joel Ortega Dopico
Rev. Joel               Ortega Dopico

Rev. Joel Ortega Dopico, the President of the Cuban Council of Churches and a pastor of the Presbyterian-Reformed Church of Cuba, highlighted the importance of sustaining the churches’ relations with the government and of the role the Council has played, at crucial moments, for the Revolution, such as the Council’s “staunch opposition to the U.S. blockade against the Cuban economy, fighting for the return of Elián [Gonzalez to Cuba from the U.S.] and the release of our five anti-terrorist brothers from the unjust incarceration they have been subjected to in the U.S.”

Rev. Raúl Suárez
Rev. Raúl Suárez

 

Rev. Raúl Suárez, the pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Havana, recalled Fidel’s comments at the first of these meetings in 1984 about the need for mutual understanding between Cuban religious organizations and State institutions and Cuban society.

Rev. Pablo Odén Marichal
Rev. Pablo Odén Marichal

Rev. Pablo Odén Ma­ri­chal, Executive Secretary of the Cuban Council of Churches and Vice-President of the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Matanzas, Cuba, stated that “protestant churches have been a means of cultural penetration in Cuban society” and given this reality he urged for “a greater strengthening of the ethical and behavioral work of the faith toward the community of believers and society, based on human and patriotic values.”

Marichal emphasized greater participation of the inter-faith movement and churches in the search for solutions to problems facing Cuban society, such as an aging population. He stated, “We must revive Fidel’s idea of a strategic alliance between revolutionary Christians and Marxists, for which permanent dialogue is necessary.”

Díaz-Canel, the government Minister, commented on the importance of transmitting this historic occasion to the current generation in order to strengthen dialogue and unity among Cubans. He described the meeting as an encounter of faith, friendship and memories. He said, “It is touching to remember all those moments – lack of understanding at times which was later overcome through respectful dialogue.”

He also expressed the desire to address concerns about Cuba’s social and economic order, as well as challenges being faced in the struggle to strengthen and promote social values “in order to prevent the establishment of a base of neocolonial and neoliberal capitalist reconstruction. This is the struggle we must assume, strip away all the pseudo culture, all the banality and selfishness and individualism,” he concluded.

The First Meeting in 1984

Martin Luther King, Jr. Center, Havana
Martin Luther King, Jr. Center, Havana

In 2007 I heard directly from Rev. Raúl Suárez  about the circumstances surrounding the first meeting between Cuba’s Revolutionary government and the Cuban churches. This happened when I was with a group of Westminster Presbyterian Church members from Minneapolis that visited Havana’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Center, which is affiliated with the adjacent Baptist Church, where Rev. Suárez was the pastor.

Suárez told us that in 1984 he learned that Jesse Jackson, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for President that year, was coming to Cuba. Jackson said that Fidel Castro had invited him to discuss the status of 22 U.S. citizens then being held by the Cuban Government. Jackson said that he also wanted an invitation from a Cuban church so that he could participate in a religious service in Cuba. Jackson asked Suárez, then Executive Secretary of the Cuban Council of Churches and Director of International Relations of the Cuban Baptist Church, if that would be possible. Jackson also gave Suárez a letter to provide to Castro on this issue.

Suárez  then contacted Fidel, who responded that it would not be a problem even though atheism was the established “religion” in the Cuban constitution at the time.

Jackson made his trip to Cuba in June 1984 and gave a speech to 4,000 students at the University of Havana with Castro in attendance. Afterwards the two of them and their aides walked a few blocks to the nearby Methodist Church where Jackson would be preaching. As they neared the church, Suárez heard a Castro aide say to Fidel, “Take off your hat, you are close to a church.” Fidel took off his hat. Suárez was surprised by this comment and Fidel’s response. Suárez told Fidel that the people in the Plaza de Revolution (supporters of the Revolution) and the people in the church were one and welcomed Fidel to the church. Fidel said, do not ask me to preach.

There were 700 to 800 people in the church that day, including 35 church leaders and the Roman Catholic Archbishop (in 2007, a Cardinal). When Castro entered the church, the choir extemporaneously cried, “Fidel, Fidel, Fidel.” Castro did make a short speech from the pulpit with a cross behind him. (Another Cuban pastor who was present told me that Castro obviously felt uncomfortable with the Bible on the lectern and awkwardly put his hands behind his back.) Castro praised Dr. King and Jackson and said there was a need for more exchanges between the churches and the government.

Later that same day Suárez was invited to a dinner with Fidel and Jackson. This was the first time he had ever shaken Fidel’s hand, and Fidel asked him to come to the airport the next day to say goodbye to Jackson.

Soon thereafter Suárez asked for a meeting of religious leaders with Fidel and submitted to Fidel a document of concern about the official policy of atheism’s limiting the space for religion.

This resulted in a four-hour meeting between Fidel and about 14 Protestant leaders and the College of the Roman Catholic Bishops. Fidel expressed surprise at the Protestants, saying that when he was a boy in Jesuit schools, Roman Catholics disparaged Protestants. At the end of the meeting Castro made a covenant with these leaders: the churches will made an effort to understand “us” while Fidel and the Cuban Communist Party will make an effort to understand the churches. This agreement, said Fidel, should be easier for the churches than for the Party.

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[1] Díaz-Canel often is seen as a potential successor to Raúl Castro as President of Cuba.

[2] The Council was founded in 1941 as “a fellowship of churches, ecumenical groups, and other ecumenical organizations which confess Jesus Christ as Son of God and Savior, according to the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, and seek to respond to their common calling, to the glory of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” It gives “unity to the Christian Churches of Cuba” to facilitate cooperation with other churches around the world. Its purposes include encouraging “dialogue between different movements and institutions as a means for churches to expand their ecumenical vocation of service, thus deepening their responsibilities towards society and all of God’s creation. [The Council] also promotes study, dialogue, and cooperation among Christians to increase Christian witness and enhance life in Cuba.” Its membership now includes 22 churches, 12 ecumenical groups and centers, 3 observers and 7 fraternal associates.

 

New York Times Again Urges Normalization of U.S.-Cuba Relations

In its third editorial within the last two weeks, the New York Times on October 26th again called for normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations. This time the focus was what it perceived as shifting U.S. opinions on the subject. [1]

The starting point for the latest Times’ call for normalization was its assertion that “younger members of the [Cuban] diaspora have staked out views that are increasingly in favor of deepening engagement with the island.” In addition, “Several prominent Cuban-American businessmen who were once strong supporters of the embargo have changed their stance and become proponents of engagement. The pro-embargo lobby raises a fraction of the money it once did.”

“That evolution [in public opinion of Cuban-Americans] has allowed a growing number of seasoned politicians to call the embargo a failure and argue that ending America’s enmity with Cuba represents the best chance of encouraging positive change on the island.”

“Charlie Crist, the former governor of Florida who is in a tight race for his old job, recently said he was interested in traveling to Cuba, an idea he later scrapped, blaming a busy schedule. Mr. Crist, however, has emphatically said he has come to see the embargo as a relic that must be shelved. Hillary Rodham Clinton wrote in her memoirs, and repeated in a recent interview, that she now favors repealing the embargo, which she called a failure, because it has ‘propped up the Castros.’”

“In Florida, members of Congress have staked out positions on Cuba that once would have been considered political suicide. Representative Kathy Castor, a Democrat from Tampa, traveled to the island last year and made a strong appeal for an end to the sanctions, saying the United States was failing to capitalize on economic reforms underway on the island. She feels that far from hurting her politically, the stance has made her more popular among constituents, including Cuban-Americans, who want to play a role in the island’s future.”

“Even in Miami, where old-guard positions remain popular among older exiles, who are largely Republicans, there have been notable changes. In 2012, Joe Garcia became the first Cuban-American Democrat from Miami to be elected to the House. While he publicly supports the embargo, Mr. Garcia holds views significantly different from other South Florida members of Congress. For instance, he has called for clinical trials in the United States of a Cuban diabetes treatment that shows great promise. He also favors easing travel restrictions to the island.”

Another measure of this changing public opinion is “President Obama now [receiving] . . .more correspondence from lawmakers who favor expanded ties than from those who want to keep robust sanctions.”

As a result, “White House officials are deliberating over how much progress they might be able to make on President Obama’s longstanding interest in expanding ties with Cuba,” including his support for “repealing the embargo when he was running for the . . .[U.S.] Senate in 2004.”

The major political barrier to progress on the issues that require congressional action, like ending the embargo, is “a small but passionate group of Cuban-American lawmakers [who are] adamant about maintaining the status quo. The most vocal defenders of the embargo are Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey; Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida; and Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, both Miami Republicans.

The most important of these opponents to changing U.S. policies regarding Cuba is Senator Menendez, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who could use that position to block Administration measures on other issues, including “confirmation of federal nominees in retaliation for further moves to ease the embargo.”

Menendez’ rhetoric about what he says are the evil ways of Cuba is intense. This April he “delivered a long, impassioned speech on the Senate floor, arguing that despite the myriad foreign policy crises in the world, Washington needed to focus on the abuses of ‘a Stalinist police state’ 90 miles away. He displayed photos of dissidents and warned that expanded travel by Americans to Cuba was enabling a despotic state.” Mr. Menendez’s loathing of the Cuban government has only increased because he believes the island’s intelligence service sought to destroy his career by planting a fabricated story in the media suggesting that he had patronized underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic.”

The understandable personal reasons why some Cuban-Americans oppose normalization of U.S. relations with Cuba “should not continue to anchor American policy on a failed course that has strained Washington’s relationship with allies in the hemisphere, prevented robust trade with the island and offered the Cuban government a justification for its failures.”

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[1] On October 13th the Times urged ending the U.S. designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism,” stopping the U.S. embargo of Cuba and restoring normal diplomatic relations with the island. On October 19th the Times recommended U.S. collaboration with Cuba in combatting Ebola in West Africa as an important step towards normalization.

New York Times Commends Cuba for Fighting Ebola in West Africa and Again Urges U.S.-Cuba Normalization

In an October 19th editorial, titled “Cuba’s Impressive Role on Ebola,” the New York Times applauds Cuba for “having pledged to deploy hundreds of medical professionals to the front lines of the pandemic,” for already having 165 medical professionals on the ground in West Africa and for standing “to play the most robust role among nations seeking to contain the virus.” Cuba, therefore, “should be lauded and emulated.”

In contrast, says the Times, the U.S. and several other wealthy countries only have pledged funds to fight the disease. “It is a shame that Washington, the chief donor in the fight against Ebola, is diplomatically estranged from Havana, the boldest contributor” and that “American and Cuban officials are not equipped to coordinate global efforts at a high level.”

This most unfortunate situation “should serve as an urgent reminder to the Obama administration that the benefits of moving swiftly to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba far outweigh the drawbacks” as was argued in a prior Times editorial and emphasized in a recent post to this blog.

Under these circumstances, the U.S. should be ready, willing and able (a) to treat and transport any Cuban health workers in Africa who become infected; (b) to “commit to giving any sick Cuban access to the treatment center the Pentagon built in Monrovia [Liberia] and to assisting with evacuation.” The Obama Administration, however, has “callously declined to say what, if any, support they would give [the Cubans].”[1]

The Times also notes that Fidel Castro in an October 19th essay in the Cuban newspaper, Granma, said that Cuba “will gladly cooperate with U.S. personnel in this task [of combatting Ebola], not in search of peace between these two states which have been adversaries for so many years, but rather, in any event, for World Peace, and objective which can and should be attempted.” According to the Times, “[Fidel’s] absolutely right.” [2] His essay also commented on Cuba’s hosting on October 20th the Extraordinary Summit of the ALBA-TCP on Ebola as discussed in another article in Granma.

[1] The failure of the Obama Administration to embrace Cuba’s heroic contributions to the fight against Ebola unfortunately is consistent with the Administration’s pathetic pseudo-rebuttal of the many arguments for normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations as discussed in a prior post.

[2] In an another recent essay Castro impliedly endorsed the New York Times editorial calling for normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations while he quoted virtually all of the editorial itself without any disagreement (with one exception), even to the editorial’s criticism of the Cuban economy and its treatment of dissidents. See also Londoño, Still Pondering U.S.-Cuba Relations, Fidel Castro Responds, N.Y. Times (Oct. 14, 2014).

Tom Hayden: Will U.S.-Cuba Normalization Fail Again?

[This is a re-posting of an August 15, 2014, article in The Democracy Journal by Tom Hayden, political activist for social justice, author and Director of the Peace and Justice Resource Center. Article licensing information appears on tomhayden.com (http://tomhayden.com/), which granted permission for this re-posting. Many similar posts have been published on https://dwkcommentaries.com/tag/cuba/.%5D

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On May 12, President Obama held a confidential conversation in the White House with Uruguay’s president, Jose Mujica, the former Tupamaro guerrilla leader. The meeting was a fateful one. Did they discuss Uruguay’s becoming the first Marijuana Republic? Perhaps. Did they discuss the US-Cuba diplomatic impasse of 55 years? Most certainly, because three weeks later at an Organization of American States (OAS) meeting in Uruguay the delegates reaffirmed a decision to officially invite Cuba to a summit in Panama next May.

The Obama administration will have to accept Cuba’s recognition by the OAS this spring or sit sheepishly in isolation. Fifty years ago, the OAS voted 15-4 to terminate all diplomatic relations and trade with revolutionary Cuba. Uruguay was one of the four dissenters in those days, when the revolutionary Mujica was underground, and has not changed its position over time. One doesn’t need gray hairs to observe that the US policy towards Cuba is obsolete and counter-productive. Ten years ago, then state Senator Barack Obama called for diplomatic recognition. Hillary Clinton recently revealed her support for recognizing Cuba as secretary of state. Recent polls, even in Florida, show majorities in favor of normalization. Inner circles in both countries are trying to explore a rapprochement, wary of pitfalls and domestic critics.

The most important recent change in US policy is the lifting of the travel ban on Cuban-Americans visiting the island. As many as 500,000 travel back and forth every year, visiting family, sharing dialogue, spending millions in remittances. On the Cuba side, all agree that Raul Castro has opened significant space for private investment and entrepreneurs once condemned as counter-revolutionary. Businesslike bilateral talks are underway about issues of mutual interest, from currency exchanges to potential oil spills.

The biggest obstacle, from the Cuban view, is a persistent US program of covert “democracy promotion” – or, regime change – aimed at subverting the Cuban government by funding dissident networks in Cuba. “Stupid, stupid, stupid!”, is how US Sen. Patrick Leahy recently described the leaked revelations about a secret social media “Cuban twitter” program called ZunZuneo, after a Cuban hummingbird. One among fifty years of subversion projects, ZunZuneo was launched in 2009 after Obama spoke of building a new relationship. Its sponsor was the US Agency for International Development [AID], even after an AID contractor, Alan Gross, was arrested in Cuba for distributing communications equipment in violation of Cuban law.

Gross, now serving a 15 year sentence, is at the center of the heightened tensions now threatening normalization. Gross, 65, is widely reportedly in poor health and threatening to take his own life if he’s not released by next year. Should that occur, according to one top US official, it would end any hope of Cuba winning the return of one of its agents, Gerardo Hernandez, one of the Cuban Five who were captured in DATE while surveilling anti-Castro Cubans flying into Cuban airspace to drop propaganda materials. When two exile pilots were shot down by the Cubans after warnings conveyed directly to the US government, the Five were imprisoned on conspiracy and espionage charges. Two have served their time in federal prisons and returned to Cuba. Two others will finish their terms shortly, leaving Gerardo Hernandez facing a double life sentence.

Prisoner swaps have occurred before, for example in 1978-79 when President Jimmy Carter and Fidel Castro orchestrated the release of Puerto Rican nationalists who were imprisoned for shooting up the US House of Representatives in 1954. Although the releases were described as unrelated, the Puerto Ricans were pardoned and returned to their island while separately the US received a group of its agents held in Cuban prisons.

It would be logical therefore to swap Gross for Gerardo Hernandez, even if arranged separately, but nothing seems logical about the US-Cuban deadlock. According to interviews with participants, such a staged swap finally was being considered a few weeks ago – until the fiasco of the Obama administration’s trade of five Taliban officials for the return of the American POW, Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl. Republicans, some Democrats and the mainstream media complained that the five-for-one deal favored the Taliban, and then the issue became inflamed by hazy reports that Bergdahl had abandoned his Afghan base and was perhaps “anti-war.”

The Obama team was flat-footed in their response, failing to notify even their top Congressional allies. That  failure violated a legal requirement that Congress be informed thirty days before any such deal, an obstacle that most likely would have killed the swap. But Democratic leaders were furious at not even being informed of the move.

That’s why Alan Gross remains behind bars in Cuba with no deal for his release remotely possible. With the Gross matter unresolved, the entire process of normalization could go off track.

Many in Washington view the Cubans as too stubborn in the Gross case. But the Cubans have been burned by unfulfilled promises and miscommunications many times over the decades, and leaving Gerardo Hernandez behind is unacceptable to them – just as Obama argued that leaving Pfc. Bergdahl behind was out of the question.

The Cuban dilemma is that if anything should happen to Gross they will never see Gerardo back and a rapprochement could slip away. It may sound shocking to many Americans, but the death of Alan Gross in a Cuban prison would serve the interests of some in the anti-Castro Cuban lobby that is deeply threatened by the prospects of normalization. The death of Gross would serve the narrative that Castro’s Cuba operates a heartless gulag, ignoring the many proven examples of Cuban exile terrorism directed from Miami against Cuban civilians, like the 73 Cubans killed in an airline bombing in 1976. Cuban exiles have been a perfect examples of the “cancer on the presidency”, the metaphor once used by Nixon aide John Dean. They were the lead conspirators in the 1972 Watergate break-in, and the 1976 assassinations of Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier and his American assistant Ronnie Moffett, on embassy row in Washington DC. Their violent attacks on Cuba from a Miami enclave are too numerous to document.

Cuba will make its own decision for its own reasons in the Gross case, and may have to make it soon. Since the Obama administration fears any appearance of a quid pro quo in the wake of the Bergdahl fiasco, should Cuba expect nothing in exchange for the release of Gross as a humanitarian gesture? That might depend on the initiative of the many in the US Congress who recognize that it’s long past time for a better relationship with Cuba. They could, for example, communicate private guarantees of White House action. They could try deleting the $20 million in federal funds for “democracy programs” in the wake of the ZunZuneo scandal. They could send a letter to Obama requesting Cuba’s removal from the list of four countries designated as “terrorist” states, which hampers Cuba’s access to financial capital. They could urge the president to lift the ban on Americans traveling to Cuba or spending US dollars there, thus undermining the current embargo. If they can’t do anything in response to a release of Gross, they could watch the prospect of normalization drift away.

Another recent crisis may shadow the US-Cuban process, revealing the complications of the impasse.. A long-planned improvement of relations between Russia, Cuba and Latin America is underway just at the moment when clouds of the Cold War are darkening the horizon over the Ukraine. Russia’s Vladimir Putin has just forgiven ninety percent of Cuba’s $30 billion debt owed to Russia for three decades, fueling the anti-communist suspicions of the Cuban Right. The arrangement is helpful to Cuba’s economy, long embargoed by the US, and adds a new counterweight against the US pressures on Cuba. If initial reports that Russia re-establishing a spy base on the island, that might chill the relationship further. Cuba, of course, has a sovereign right to accept a Russian base, especially as US regime change programs continue.

Whatever the spillover from the Bergdahl affair and the growing Russian-American conflict, however, nothing can stop the clock ticking towards 2015 when Obama has to decide whether to join the Organization of American States in restoring Cuba to equal membership. If that’s what the president’s confidential White House meeting with Uruguay’s Mujica in May was all about, the process of normalization may yet survive the remaining obstacles to resolution after five long decades.

Cuban Events in Minnesota

Although far from Cuba, Minnesota has a strong interest in the island: its relations with the U.S. and its politics, religions, history, arts and people. Here are upcoming events in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul demonstrating that interest:

Date Time Event & Place
Cuba: The Accidental Eden.” This small island’s varied landscape, its location in the heart of the Caribbean and its longstanding place at the center of Cold War politics have all combined to preserve some of the richest and most unusual natural environments of the hemisphere. For decades, Cuba’s wild landscapes lay untouched while its Caribbean neighbors poisoned or paved over their ecological riches. Now, Cuba’s priceless treasures are about to face an onslaught. Tourism is already on the rise and most experts predict tourism will double once the U.S. trade embargo ends. What will happen to Cuba’s stunning biodiversity – an island filled with amphibians, reptiles and the most biologically diverse freshwater fish in the region? (National Public Television’s Nature’s Episode # 2711 was shown on local public television station, tpt, on August 3 & 4, 2014, and is available online as a DVD.)
Race to Revolution.” Dr. Gerald Horne, the author of Race to Revolution, discusses his book’s thesis that the histories of Cuba and the U.S. are tightly intertwined and have been for at least two centuries, including the interconnections among slavery, Jim Crow, and revolution. Slavery was central to the economic and political trajectories of Cuba and the U.S., both in terms of each nation’s internal political and economic development and in the interactions between the two countries. This was a Sojourner Truth radio program that was broadcast on August 29th, but can be heard anytime for the next 90 days at www.kpfk.com.
Sept. 2 7:00-8:00 pm Cuban Missile Crisis: Three Men Go to War.” This film tells the inside story of the Cuban Missile Crisis, exploring how in October 1962 the earth teetered on the very brink of nuclear holocaust. The documentary brings to life the three central characters John F. Kennedy, Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev, and explores how the world’s most powerful men fell into an abyss of their own making and what courage and luck it took to climb out again. tpt Channel 2.
Sept. 2 8;00-9:00 pm Fidel Castro Tapes.” This film takes viewers on a journey like none other. This program uses only news and documentary footage — past and present — to detail the life and times of one of the most controversial political figures of the 20th Century. There is no narration in this film and no interviews. Instead, The Fidel Castro Tapes relies solely on the words of journalists who covered the major events in Castro’s life to tell the story. It is a unique approach, one that gives the viewer a chance to experience the life and times of Cuba’s leader as if they were actually living through them. tpt Channel 2.
Oct. 5 7:30 pm A Night in Havana.” A special concert with pianist Nachito Herrera, a Cuban-American resident of the Twin Cities, and his Cuban Orchestra with a dance floor! Ordway Music Theater, 345 Washington Street, St. Paul; www.ordway.org; tel: 651-243-2825. Tickets start at $23, but $10 discount with promo code “NACHITO SPECIAL.”
Oct. 6 5:50-7:30 pm What Does the Future Hold for Cuba-U.S. Relations?” Cuba’s top diplomatic official in the U.S., Dr.José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez, will speak about U.S.-Cuba relations, the impact of Cuba’s economic reforms and ongoing U.S. sanctions and the prognosis for normalized relations. Co-sponsored by the Minnesota International Center and the University of St. Thomas, the event will be at the University of St. Thomas, Thornton Auditorium, 1000 LaSalle Avenue, Minneapolis. MIC & corporate members, cosponsors & students, $5; others, $15. Advance registration requested online or by phone (612-625-1662).
Oct. 11 2:00 pm Reembarque (Reshipment).” Film about Haitians immigration to Cuba in the early 20th century and their life in Cuba by Cuban documentary filmmaker, Gloria Rolando. Discussion after the film by Rolando and Robert Byrd, program director of the Jerome Foundation’s Film and Video Program. Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Pillsbury Auditorium, 2400 Third Avenue South, Minneapolis. FREE.
Oct. 22 7:30 pm Creole Choir of Cuba. Experience the heart and soul of Cuba through irresistible melodies, poetic lyrics and impassioned vocal and percussive performance. With influences from both the Caribbean and West Africa, the Creole Choir of Cuba tells stories of survival, faith and tragic history, drawing you in with infectious music. Ordway Music Theater, 345 Washington Street, St. Paul; www.ordway.org; tel: 651-243-2825.

If you know of other Cuban events in Minnesota through the end of this year, please add a comment with the relevant information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Creole–http://www.ordway.org/performances/14-15/creole-choir-of-cuba/

 

Film–http://new.artsmia.org/event/durades-dialogue-film-reembarquereshipment-with-gloria-rolando-and-robert-byrd/

U.S. Stupidity and Cowardice in Continuing to Designate Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism”

On April 30, 2014, the U.S. Department of State issued its annual report on terrorism in the world: Country Reports on Terrorism 2013. A prior post reviewed the report as a whole.

We now examine this report’s designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” [“SST”], i.e., as a country that has “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism.” This post’s analysis is also informed by the U.S.’s similar designations of Cuba in the annual reports on terrorism for 1996 through 2012. Earlier posts analyzed and criticized the reports about Cuba for 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

State Department’s Rationale

The following is the complete asserted justification for the Department’s designation of Cuba for 2013:

  • “Cuba was designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1982.
  • Cuba has long provided safe haven to members of Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).  Reports continued to indicate that Cuba’s ties to ETA have become more distant, and that about eight of the two dozen ETA members in Cuba were relocated with the cooperation of the Spanish government.  Throughout 2013, the Government of Cuba supported and hosted negotiations between the FARC and the Government of Colombia aimed at brokering a peace agreement between the two.  The Government of Cuba has facilitated the travel of FARC representatives to Cuba to participate in these negotiations, in coordination with representatives of the Governments of Colombia, Venezuela, and Norway, as well as the Red Cross.
  • There was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups.
  •  The Cuban government continued to harbor fugitives wanted in the United States.  The Cuban government also provided support such as housing, food ration books, and medical care for these individuals.”

Rebuttal of State Department’s Rationale

On its face alone, this alleged justification proves the exact opposite: Cuba is not a state sponsor of terrorism. Nevertheless, a detailed rebuttal follows.

U.S. Admissions of the Weakness of Its Designation

First, the report itself admits, “There was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups.” This is consistent with past U.S. admissions that there was no evidence that Cuba had sponsored specific acts of terrorism (1996, 1997) and that there “was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups” (2011, 2012, 2013). Similar admissions were made in the U.S. reports for 2005, 2008, 2009 and 2010.

Second, earlier U.S. reports admitted that “Cuba no longer supports armed struggle in Latin America and other parts of the world” (1996, 1997, 1998, 2008, 2009) and that in 2001(after 9/11) Cuba “signed all 12 UN counterterrorism conventions as well as the Ibero-American declaration on terrorism” (2001, 2002, 2003).

Third, the latest report’s Western Hemisphere Overview says the FARC  “committed the majority of terrorist attacks in the . , . Hemisphere in 2013.” There is no mention of Cuba in this overview. The same was said in the report for 2012.

Fourth, there is no mention of Cuba in the latest report’s “Strategic Assessment” that puts all of its discussion into a worldwide context.

Fifth, the latest report makes no allegations against Cuba regarding money laundering and terrorist financing, which was one of the purported bases for the SST designation for 2012. Thus, the U.S. apparently has recognized the weakness of such charges were evident to all, as discussed in this blogger’s post about the prior report and a related post about Cuba’s adoption of regulations on these financial topics.

All of this rebuttal so far is based only on what the State Department has said about this designation since 1996.

In addition, the Cuban government has taken the following actions that strengthen the rebuttal of the designation and that, to my knowledge, the U.S. has not disputed:

  • Cuba publicly has stated that Its “territory has never been and never will be utilized to harbor terrorists of any origin, nor for the organization, financing or perpetration of acts of terrorism against any country in the world, including the [U.S.]. . . . The Cuban government unequivocally rejects and condemns any act of terrorism, anywhere, under any circumstances and whatever the alleged motivation might be.”
  • In 2002, the government of Cuba proposed to the U.S. adoption of a bilateral agreement to confront terrorism, an offer which it reiterated in 2012, without having received any response from the U.S.
  • Cuban President Raul Castro on July 26, 2012 (the 59th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution) reiterated his country’s willingness to engage in negotiations with the U.S. as equals. He said no topic was off limits, including U.S. concerns about democracy, freedom of the press and human rights in Cuba so as long as the U.S. was prepared to hear Cuba’s own complaints. In response the U.S. repeated its prior position: before there could be meaningful talks, Cuba had to institute democratic reforms, respect human rights and release Alan Gross, an American detained in Cuba.

But let us go further.

Cuba As an Alleged Safe Haven for Terrorists

The only remaining asserted basis for the “SST” designation is Cuba’s alleged providing safe haven to individuals with two U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations—ETA (an armed Basque nationalist and separatist group in Spain) and FARC (an armed Colombian rebel group)—and to certain fugitives from U.S. criminal proceedings.

Analysis shows that these charges do not support the SST designation.

            a. ETA

Prior U.S. reports say there were only 20 to 24 ETA members in Cuba, and the latest report says “Cuba’s ties to ETA have become more distant, and . . . about eight of the two dozen ETA members in Cuba were relocated with the cooperation of the Spanish government.” Thus, there are only 12 to 16 ETA members remaining in Cuba, and by now they must be older people who have not participated in any terrorist activities in Spain for many years. They are “side-line sitters.”

Moreover, the 2011 and 2012 U.S. reports state that Cuba is “trying to distance itself” from the ETA members on the island and was not providing certain services to them.

Earlier U.S. reports also reflect the limited nature of the charges regarding ETA. Of the 20 to 24 members previously on the island, the U.S. said, some may be in Cuba in connection with peace negotiations with Spain (2009). In May 2003, the U.s. reported, Cuba publicly asserted that the “presence of ETA members in Cuba arose from a request for assistance by Spain and Panama and that the issue is a bilateral matter between Cuba and Spain” (2003). In March 2010, a U.S. report stated, Cuba had “allowed Spanish Police to travel to Cuba to confirm the presence of suspected ETA members” (2010).

Moreover, in March 2011 the Spanish Ambassador to Cuba told former U.S. President Jimmy Carter that Spain was “not concerned about the presence of members of . . . ETA . . . in Cuba.” Indeed, the Spanish Ambassador maintained that this enhances his country’s ability to deal more effectively with ETA. In fact, the Ambassador added, some ETA members are there at the request of the Spanish government.

At least the last three U.S. reports say that Cuba is providing “safe haven” to the ETA members, but their separate chapters on the legitimate international problem of terrorist safe havens have no mention whatsoever of Cuba.

It also should be noted that there has been some movement towards an understanding to resolve the ETA challenges to the Spanish government. In September 2011 an international verification commission was established to help broker such a resolution, and the next month ETA announced a unilateral cease-fire. More recently, February 2014, that commission announced its corroboration of a partial disablement of ETA weapons. The Spanish government, on the other hand, publicly has refused to negotiate and instead has insisted that ETA admit defeat and surrender unconditionally. In addition, the government still enforces a criminal law against publicly glorifying terrorists or their actions  with April 28th arrests of 21 Spaniards for praising terrorist groups such as ETA and radical Islamists, for encouraging further attacks, and for making fun of victims on social networking sites.

In the meantime, Spain as a member of the European Union is participating in negotiations between the EU and Cuba to establish a Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement without any mention of ETA members being on the island. Recently the parties completed the first round of those negotiations with an understanding that the final agreement will have these four components: political dialogue and governance; cooperation and sectoral policies; the economy and trade; and management of the bilateral relationship. The subject of human rights will remain an issue in the chapter on the Political dialogue and governance.

In summary, I submit, any objective analysis shows that Cuba’s limited connection with a small number of ETA members is no legitimate reason for the U.S. SST designation.

            b. FARC

Most of the reasons for the speciousness of the charges regarding ETA also apply to the charges regarding the Colombian group, FARC.

In addition, the 2008 U.S. report said in July of that year “former Cuban President Fidel Castro called on the FARC to release the hostages they were holding without preconditions. He has also condemned the FARC’s mistreatment of captives and of their abduction of civilian politicians who had no role in the armed conflict.”

There is no indication in the State Department’s reports of the number of FARC members allegedly in Cuba, but for 2009 the U.S. reported that some may be on the island in connection with peace negotiations with Colombia (2009 report).

Moreover, in March 2011 the Colombian Ambassador to Cuba told former U.S. President Jimmy Carter that Colombia was “not concerned about the presence of members of FARC . . . in Cuba.” Indeed, the Ambassador maintained that this enhances their ability to deal more effectively with FARC.

Cuba’s limited connections with the FARC resulted in a September 2012 statement by Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Relations about the then recently-announced peace talks between Colombia’s government and the FARC. It stated that Cuba “has a historical commitment to peace in Colombia and efforts to put an end to [her] . . . political, social and military conflicts.” To that end, the Cuban Government “has made constructive efforts to . . . search for a negotiated solution, always responding to a request from the parties involved and without the slightest influence in their respective positions.” The statement continued. For over a year, at the express request of the Government of Colombia and the FARC, “the Cuban government supported the . . . exploratory talks leading to a peace process,” and as a “guarantor” Cuba participated in these talks. “The Cuban government will continue to . . . [provide its] good offices in favor of this effort, to the extent that the Government of Colombia and the FARC . . . so request.” The Government of Colombia publicly stated its gratitude for Cuban facilitation of such negotiations.

As a result, the last two U.S. reports admit that Cuba has “supported and hosted negotiations between the FARC and the Government of Colombia aimed at brokering a peace agreement between the two sides.” In addition, Colombia’s president has said that support for such negotiations by Cuba and Venezuela has been crucial in helping the two sides to reach agreement on conducting the negotiations.

In May 2013, the two sides announced an agreement to distribute land to small farmers and undertake development projects that would improve rural education and infrastructure that will not take effect until a final peace agreement is reached.

In short, Cuban involvement with some FARC members is not a legitimate basis for the U.S. designation of Cuba as a SST .

            c. U.S. fugitives

There apparently were or are over 70 individuals living in Cuba who are fugitives from criminal charges in U.S. relating to violent acts in the 1970’s purportedly committed to advance political causes, but, as the U.S. has admitted, since at least 2005 Cuba has not admitted any additional U.S. fugitives. In addition, the U.S. also had admitted that in a few instances Cuba has extradited such fugitives to the U.S. (2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009).

One of the U.S. fugitives, William Potts, this year voluntarily returned to the U.S. after serving a 15-year Cuban sentence for the 1984 hijacking of a Piedmont Airlines passenger plane with 56 people aboard in the U.S. and forcing it to go to Cuba. On May 1, 2014, Potts appeared in a U.S. federal court and pled guilty to kidnapping (with a possible life sentence); under a plea agreement, the government dropped an air piracy charge (with a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years). Potts is asking the court to give him credit for the 15 years he already served in a Cuba prison on the same charge. Sentencing is scheduled for July 11th.

None of the other U.S. fugitives apparently is affiliated with any U.S.-designated terrorist organizations. The issue of whether or not they will be extradited to the U.S. is an appropriate issue for bilateral negotiations between the two countries.

In any event, the presence in Cuba of some fugitives from U.S. criminal charges is not a legitimate basis for the U.S. designating Cuba as a SST.

Conclusion

The U.S. designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” is absurd. This conclusion is shared, in less colorful language, at least by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, former President Jimmy Carter, the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, the Center for Democracy in the Americas, the Center for International Policy, the Latin American Working Group, The Atlantic Magazine’s noted national correspondent (Jeffrey Goldberg) and a retired U.S. Army Brigadier General (John Adams).

Not surprisingly the Cuban government comes to the same conclusion. In response to the latest designation, it stated,” Cuba’s Foreign Ministry “energetically rejects the manipulation of a matter as sensitive as international terrorism by turning it into an instrument of policy against Cuba and it demands that our country be definitively excluded from this spurious, unilateral and arbitrary list.” Last year, it said “the only reason Cuba is kept on this list is . . . an attempt to justify the U.S. blockade of our country, as well as the adoption of new measures to limit our financial and commercial transactions, to strangle the Cuban economy and impose a regime which responds to U.S. interests.”

The U.S. itself also has damned the designation by faint praise. In a press briefing about the most recent terrorism report, a journalist pointed out some of the weaknesses of the stated rationale and asked when the U.S. would cancel the designation. The State Department spokesperson refused to speak directly about the purported rationale for the Cuban SST designation. Instead the spokesperson said, “there’s not a routine process by which you re-evaluate the state sponsors. . . . [and the annual terrorism reports just list those on the SST list. It is not]as if every year we look at those and re-evaluate them in some way based on the report.” [1] She added she knew of no plans to remove the SST designation for Cuba.

Whatever legitimate issues are raised by these U.S. reports, I submit, they are appropriate subjects, among many, for the bilateral negotiations that a prior post recommended should occur between the U.S. and Cuba to the end of reconciliation and restoration of normal relations.

In the meantime, this SST designation is ridiculous, absurd, stupid. It can only continue, in this outsider’s opinion, because of the Administration’s political cowardice in facing resistance to an elimination of this designation, especially from influential Cuban-Americans in Congress, especially Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,[2] and Republican Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.[3]

All U.S. citizens should protest this SST designation to President Obama, Secretary of State Kerry, Senator Menendez (and your own Senators), Representative Ros-Lehtinen (and your own Representative).

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[1] The State Department also posted this statement on its website. “While there are no statutory triggers for review of a State Sponsor of Terrorism designation, the State Department can review such designations at its discretion. With respect to criteria for rescission, there are two possible pathways to rescission of a State Sponsor of Terrorism designation, in accordance with the relevant statutory criteria. The first path requires the President to submit a report to Congress, before the proposed rescission would take effect, certifying that: (1) there has been a fundamental change in the leadership and policies of the government of the country concerned; (2) the government is not supporting acts of international terrorism; and (3) the government has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.The second path requires the President to submit a report to Congress, at least 45 days before the proposed rescission would take effect, justifying the rescission and certifying that: (1) the government concerned has not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding six month period, and (2) the government concerned has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.

[2] In April 2014, Senator Menendez made a speech on the Senate floor endorsed Cuba’s SST designation while castigating Cuba on all sorts of issues.

[3] Responding to the latest designation, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R., Fla.), said Cuba “continues to pose a national security threat to the United States.” She added that recently “the Castro regime has been responsible for training the ‘colectivos’ in Venezuela that violate human rights and murder innocent civilians and Cuba was caught trying to ship military equipment to North Korea in violation of many United Nations Security Council resolutions [and the] tyranny in Havana is also guilty of harboring terrorists, providing safe haven for American fugitives, and building a sophisticated spy network that seeks to undermine our national security interests at every turn.”