Other Reactions to U.S. Ordering Removal of 15 Cuban Diplomats   

On October 3, the U.S. ordered the removal of 15 Cuban diplomats from the U.S. as discussed in a prior post while other posts looked at recent developments on these issues and on Cuba’s reaction to that U.S. decision and order. This post will discuss reactions from others.

Opposition to Expulsion of Cuban Diplomats[1]

The harshest criticism of this decision along with others recently taken by the Trump Administration has been leveled by Harold Trinkunas, the deputy director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Richard Feinberg, professor at the School of Global Policy and Strategy at the University of California San Diego and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.They say the following:

  • “This White House and its pro-embargo allies in Congress have opportunistically seized on these mysterious illnesses affecting U.S. diplomats to overturn the pro-normalization policies of a previous administration, using bureaucratic obstruction and reckless language when they cannot make the case for policy change on the merits alone.”
  • By taking these precipitous actions, Trinkunas and Feinberg argue, “this White House is doing exactly what our adversaries in the region seek to provoke. Overt U.S. hostility [towards Cuba] empowers anti-American hardliners in the Cuban regime opposed to stronger bilateral relations between the two countries. In addition, [the announced American travel restrictions and warning hurts] the privately-operated [and progressive] segments of the Cuban tourism sector, and . . . [thereby weakens] the emerging Cuban middle class.”
  • Furthermore, they say, “a breakdown in U.S.-Cuban relations allows Russia, China, Iran and Venezuela to deepen their influence in Cuba and the broader Caribbean Basin. By pushing Cuba away, the U.S. is pushing it towards other actors whose interests are not aligned with our own.
  • “Our partners in Latin America welcomed the change in U.S. policy towards Cuba in 2014 as a sign that the Cold War had finally ended in the Western Hemisphere. The [Trump] administration’s retreat from the opening towards Cuba alarms our friends in the Americas and calls into question the enduring value of U.S. commitments . . . . This pattern of reckless animus towards diplomacy comes at a cost to the international reputation of the U.S. with no apparent gain for our interests abroad.”
  • “U.S. hostility [also] risks damaging the coming transition to a new Cuban government after President Raul Castro steps down in early 2018 by strengthening the hand of anti-American hardliners who oppose further economic opening on the island.”
  • “It damages Cuban-Americans and their families by impeding travel and the flow of funding associated with their visits, and those of other American visitors, which have allowed the Cuban private sector to gain traction. It also damages U.S. relations with our partners in the region, who have long criticized what they see as senseless hostility between the U.S. and Cuba. And finally, the Trump administration’s approach serves to widen the door to U.S. geopolitical adversaries, such as Russia and Venezuela, to advance their interests in Cuba and in the region.”
  • “Many of our professional diplomats, both those stationed in Havana and those at the State Department, oppose the dramatic downsizing of the U.S. and Cuban missions. While all are concerned for the safety of U.S. personnel, the health incidents seem to be in sharp decline. The U.S. diplomats in Havana are proud of the gains in advancing U.S. interests in Cuba, and they wish to continue to protect and promote them.”

EngageCuba, the leading bipartisan coalition promoting U.S.-Cuba normalization and reconciliation, said, “”The diplomats and their families suffering from unexplained health issues deserve answers. If the U.S. government is serious about solving this mystery, they shouldn’t make it more difficult to cooperate with the Cuban government during this critical time of the investigation. This decision appears to be purely political, driven by the desire of a handful of individuals in Congress to halt progress between our two countries. Expelling Cuban diplomats will not solve this mystery; it will not improve the safety of U.S. personnel, but it will make it harder for hundreds of thousands of Cuban-Americans to visit their families on the island. We hope that the driving forces behind this decision are comfortable with their Cuban-American constituents being unable to visit their loved ones.”

This EngageCuba statement followed the one it issued about the reduction of staffing of the U.S. Embassy in Havana. It said, “”The safety and security of all diplomatic personnel in Cuba, and anywhere in the world, is the first priority of our country. Whoever is behind these serious and inexcusable attacks on American diplomats must be apprehended and brought to justice. We must be careful that our response does not play into the hands of the perpetrators of these attacks, who are clearly seeking to disrupt the process of normalizing relations between our two countries. This could set a dangerous precedent that could be used by our enemies around the world.

EngageCUBA continued, “It is puzzling that the Trump Administration would use this delicate time in the investigation to advise Americans against traveling to Cuba, given the fact that none of these attacks have been directed at American travelers. We are also concerned for the Cuban people, who will be impacted by this decision. Halting the visa process in Cuba and discouraging Americans from traveling to Cuba will divide families and harm Cuba’s burgeoning private sector, civil society groups and efforts to improve human rights on the island.”

In conclusion, said EngageCUBA, “the U.S. and Cuba must redouble efforts to solve this mystery as quickly as possible in order to keep our embassy personnel safe and continue to move forward with strengthening relations between our two countries.”

A New York Times’ editorial similarly observed, “until there is concrete evidence about the source of the attacks, the Trump administration is wrong to expel Cuban diplomats from Washington. . . . Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s explanation that Cuba should be punished for failing to protect American diplomats presumes that Cuba was at least aware of the attacks, which the [U.S.] has neither demonstrated nor claimed. “Furthermore, “Until something more is known, punishing Havana serves only to further undermine the sensible opening to Cuba begun under Barack Obama. President Trump has made no secret of his disdain for the détente — in June his government ordered restrictions on contacts with Cuba that have slowed the flow of visitors to the island, and last week the State Department warned Americans not to travel there, though there is no evidence that tourists are in danger. The sonic attacks on Americans are too serious to be used for cynical political ends.”

Geoff Thale, director of programs at the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights advocacy group, said: “The United States is using the confusion and uncertainty surrounding these events as justification to take a big step backwards in U.S.-Cuban relations. This doesn’t serve our national interests, or our diplomacy, and it most certainly doesn’t do anything to help advance human rights or a more open political climate in Cuba. This is an unfortunate decision that ought to be reversed.”

Tom Emmer (Rep., MN), the Chair of the Congressional Cuba Working Group, stated, “The Administration’s decision last week to withdraw all non-essential personnel from our embassy in Havana was concerning but understandable to ensure the safety of our foreign service staff on the island. Unfortunately, yesterday’s actions do not seem to advance our efforts of identifying a cause or culprit behind these ‘sonic attacks.’ Instead of sending us back down a path of isolation, we must foster open lines of communication as we continue the investigation to determine who must be held responsible for these attacks on Americans. We cannot lose sight of the fact that an improved and sustained relationship with Cuba brings us one step closer to ensuring the stability and security of the entire Western Hemisphere.”

Senator Ben Cardin (Dem., MD), the Ranking Member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, more guardedly said, “Although . . . [the] decision to expel Cuban diplomats brings parity between U.S. and Cuban embassy personnel levels, I am concerned that it may also stoke diplomatic tensions and complicate our ability to conduct a thorough investigation of these attacks. The U.S. should not take actions that could undermine our bilateral relations with Cuba and U.S. policies aimed at advancing our strategic national interests in the hemisphere.”

Although the most recent Cuba Travel Warning from the State Department strongly discouraged Americans from traveling to Cuba, “several cruise lines operating ships in and around Cuba have released statements pushing back on the warning, noting that no tourists have been harmed in these incidents.” Moreover, “several cruise companies had already announced significant expansion of their Cuba operations before the warning was issued.”

Approval of Expulsion of Cuban Diplomats[2]

This latest U.S. announcement is what was recommended by a Wall Street Journal editorial and by U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, who immediately tweeted that this was “the right decision.” His subsequent press release Rubio stated, “I commend the US State Department for expelling a number of Cuban operatives from the US. No one should be fooled by the Castro regime’s claim it knows nothing about how these harmful attacks are occurring or who perpetrated them. I have called on the State Department to conduct an independent investigation and submit a comprehensive report to Congress. . . . All nations have an obligation to ensure the protection of diplomatic representatives in their countries. Cuba is failing miserably and proving how misguided and dangerous the Obama Administration’s decisions were.”[7]  He added, ““At this time, the U.S. embassy in Havana should be downgraded to an interests section and we should be prepared to consider additional measures against the Castro regime if these attacks continue.”

This news should also be welcomed by the Washington Post, whose recent editorial continued this newspaper’s hard line about U.S.-Cuba relations by refusing to believe Cuba’s denial of knowledge about the cause and perpetrator of the “attacks” on U.S. diplomats in Havana. It asserts “recent events suggest that the unpleasant reality of Fidel Castro’s dictatorship remains in place” and that “For decades, the Cuban state security apparatus has kept a watchful eye on everything that moves on the island, and informants lurk on every block. It begs disbelief that Cuba does not know what is going on. Unfortunately, this kind of deception and denial is all too familiar behavior.” Therefore, if “Cuba sincerely wants better relations with the United States, it could start by revealing who did this, and hold them to account.”[8]

This suspicion of Cuban involvement in the attacks received some corroboration by the Associated Press, which reports that six unnamed sources say that “many of the first reported cases [of attacks] involved intelligence workers posted to the U.S. embassy.” Moreover, of “the 21 confirmed cases, American spies suffered some of the most acute damage, including brain injury and hearing loss that has not healed.” U.S. investigators, according to the AP, have identified “three ‘zones,’ or geographic clusters of attacks, [which] cover the homes where U.S. diplomats live and several hotels where attacks occurred, including the historic Hotel Capri.” Both the State Department and the CIA declined to comment to the AP. This report undoubtedly will fuel efforts to overturn normalization of relations between the two countries.[9]

Conclusion

I agree with Trinkunas and Feinberg, the recent decisions about Cuba by the Trump Administration do exactly what our adversaries in the region seek to provoke: empower anti-American hardliners in the Cuban regime opposed to stronger bilateral relations between the two countries; damage Cuba’s upcoming transition to a new government after Raúl Castro leaves the presidency early next year; and hurt and weaken the privately-operated and progressive segments of the Cuban tourism sector. In addition, those decisions weaken U.S. relations with most other governments in Latin America while damaging many Cuban and Cuban-American families seeking to maintain and increase their ties. Those decisions also allow Russia, China, Iran and Venezuela, all of which are hostile to the U.S., to deepen their influence in Cuba and the broader Caribbean Basin.

I must also note my surprise that at the two recent State Department press briefings no journalist followed up on the previously mentioned Associated Press report that the initial U.S. diplomats who reported medical problems were U.S. intelligence agents to ask whether that report was valid and other related questions.

All who support the continuation of U.S.-Cuba normalization and reconciliation should oppose these moves by the Trump Administration.

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[1] Trinkunas & Feinberg, Reckless hostility toward Cuba damages America’s interests, The Hill (Oct. 5, 2017);  EngageCuba, Statement on U.S. Expulsion of Cuban Diplomats in Washington (Oct. 3, 2017); Engage Cuba, Statement on U.S. Cuts to Havana Embassy & Travel Alert (Sept. 29, 2017); Editorial, Cuba and the Mystery of the Sonic Weapon, N.Y. Times (Oct. 5, 2017) (this editorial also noted that the reported medical problems “are real and serious” and that “Cuba’s repressive government must be the prime suspect”); WOLA, U.S. Plan to Expel Two-thirds of Cuban Embassy Needlessly Sets Back U.S.-Cuba Relations (Oct. 3, 2017); Emmer Statement on Administration’s Decision to Remove Cuban Diplomats from Washington, D.C. (Oct. 4, 2017); Cardin Questions Expulsion of Cuban Diplomats amidst Attacks on U.S. Personnel in Cuba (Oct. 3, 2017); Morello, U.S. will expel 15 Cuban diplomats, escalating tensions over mystery illnesses, Wash. Post (Oct. 3, 2017); Gomez, U.S. orders 15 Cuban diplomats to leave; Cuba blames Washington for deteriorating relations, Miami Herald (Oct. 3, 2017); Glusac, Despite Travel Warning, Cruises to Cuba Continue, N.Y. Times (Oct. 5, 2017).

[2] Rubio Press Release, Rubio commends State Department’s Expulsion of Cuban Operatives (Oct. 3, 2017); Editorial, Cuba plays dumb in attacks on American diplomats, Wash. Post (Sept. 30, 2017); Assoc. Press, APNewsBreak: Attacks in Havana Hit US Spy Network in Cuba, N.Y. Times (Oct. 2, 2017).

 

Recommended Obama Administrative Actions To Promote U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation         

On August 29, a U.S. coalition made important recommendations for the Obama Administration to promote further U.S.-Cuba reconciliation by taking administrative actions that did not need congressional authorization.[1] Here is a summary of these recommendations:

  1. Facilitate Greater Financial Engagement and Expand Commercial Transactions.”

These recommendations included (a) authorizing, “by general license, or a general policy of approval, participation by U.S. investors in business arrangements in Cuba, including with state-owned firms, cooperatives, or private sector firms, when the goods or services produced benefit the Cuban people;” and (b) authorizing “by a general policy of approval, the import and sale in the United States of Cuban agricultural products made by the private and cooperative sectors, including transactions that pass through Cuban state export agencies.”

  1. Expand Health-Related Engagement.”

These recommendations included (a) eliminating “barriers which deny U.S. citizens access to clinically proven Cuban-developed drugs; (b) authorizing “U.S. pharmaceutical and medical equipment companies to include Cuban hospitals and health centers in their clinical trials;” and (c) authorizing “U.S. entities (universities, research centers, and private firms) by general license to collaborate in medical and health-related research and development projects in Cuba, including commercial projects.”

  1. Strengthen Security Cooperation where there are U.S. Interests at Stake.”

These recommendations included (a) deepening and extending “counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics cooperation;” and (b) building “gradually on military–to-military contacts.”

  1. Eliminate or Suspend Programs that Fail to . . . Promote Democratic Opening.”

These recommendations were (a) suspending or redirecting “the ‘democracy promotion’ programs now funded through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL), and USAID, while conducting a review of existing programs to ensure they are consistent with the President’s policies of normalization of relations with Cuba;” and (b) ensuring that “any program or policy that is carried out under this rubric should be conducted openly, transparently, and with the goal of expanding contacts between the people of the US and Cuba without interfering in Cuba’s internal affairs.”

Amen! This blog repeatedly has called for just such action. (See posts listed in “U.S. Democracy Promotion in Cuba” in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Cuba.)

  1. Normalize Migration.”

These recommendations were (a) increasing “the number of visas [the U.S.] issues for Cubans to obtain legal residence;” (b) ending “preferential treatment for Cuban migrants arriving at U.S. borders;” and (c) ending “the Cuban Medical Professionals Parole Program, which offers incentives to Cuban doctors working abroad to leave their country and immigrate to the [U.S.].”

Amen again! This blog repeatedly has called for just such action. (See posts listed in “Cuban Medical Personnel & U.S.” and “Cuban Migration to U.S., 2015-2016” in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Cuba.)

Conclusion

The coalition’s letter also supported Congress’ enacting measures to end the U.S. embargo of Cuba; to give U.S. farmers better access to the Cuban market, by permitting private financing for U.S. agricultural sales; to provide full staffing for the U.S. Embassy in Havana to protect American citizens and provide visas to qualified Cuban applicants; to better manage irregular migration from Cuba; and to take steps to level the playing field for U.S. businesses interested in the Cuban market, relative to foreign competitors.

The coalition consisted of Geoff Thale (Program Director, Washington Office on Latin America); Ted Piccone (Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution); William LeoGrande (Professor, American University); Fulton Armstrong (Senior Faculty Fellow, American University); Alana Tummino (Senior Director of Policy, Americas Society/Council of the Americas); Sarah Stephens (Executive Director, Center for Democracy in the Americas); Mavis Anderson (Senior Associate, Latin America Working Group); Tomas Bilbao (Managing Director, Avila Strategies); Mario Bronfman (Private consultant); and James Williams (President, Engage Cuba).

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[1] Letter, Coalition to President Obama (Aug. 29, 2016). This blogger assumes that the coalition independently researched and concluded that the Obama Administration has the legal authority to take such administrative actions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

President Obama Rescinds U.S. Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism”

On April 14th President Barack Obama rescinded the U.S. designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” and so notified the Congress. This post will review that decision and its background. [1]

As discussed in a prior post, on December 17, 2014, President Obama asked Secretary of State John Kerry to undertake a review of whether the U.S. should rescind this designation while another post reviewed the statutory framework for this process: review and recommendation by the Department of State followed by a decision by the president and notification of such a decision to the Congress with such a decision to become effective 45 days after that notification. Yet another post set forth the reasons why this blogger believes that such past designations of Cuba have been unjustified, absurd, ridiculous.

 State Department’s Recommendation

Secretary of State’s Press Statement.

On April 14, 2015, Secretary Kerry publicly announced that the State Department had recommended that the President rescind the designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism.” His press release stated that last week the “Department submitted a report to the White House recommending, based on the facts and the statutory standard, that President Obama rescind Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.”

“This recommendation,” the Statement continued, “reflects the Department’s assessment that Cuba meets the criteria established by Congress for rescission . . . . whether Cuba provided any support for international terrorism during the previous six months, and whether Cuba has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.” This conclusion was based, in part, upon “corroborative assurances received from the Government of Cuba.”

Nevertheless, according to the Secretary’s statement, “the United States has had, and continues to have, significant concerns and disagreements with a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions, [but] these concerns and disagreements fall outside of the criteria for designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.”

Department’s Background Briefing.

At a special briefing on April 14th, a senior State Department official noted, “the Cubans have for a long time shown us many, many, many speeches by their leaders, both Fidel and Raul, in which they have rejected terrorism; many instances, in fact, of terrorist acts that they have decried publicly, I think the latest probably being the Charlie Hebdo incident in France. But certainly, there are lots of incidents that they can point to. And in terms of commitments for the future, they point to both statements by their leadership and ratifications of international treaties, and the assurances that they gave us.”

Another senior official stated, ”the assurances they provide were fairly wide-ranging and fairly high-level. . . . [T]hey addressed the key elements that we know in the past have been a factor. [T]hey also addressed the pledge or the assurances that they will no longer support acts of terrorism in the future.”

One of the officials in response to a journalist question said, “The statutes . . . provide that no rescission can be made if within 45 days after the receipt of the report from the President the Congress enacts a joint resolution on the issue prohibiting the rescission. The President, of course, can veto any such joint resolution and Congress then, of course, can further act to override the veto. . . . Congress has the right to act.”

 President Obama’s Decision

That same day (April 14) a White House press release stated the President had “submitted to Congress the statutorily required report and certifications indicating the Administration’s intent to rescind Cuba’s State Sponsor of Terrorism designation.”

This presidential decision was based upon the previously mentioned State Department recommendation that was based on its “careful review of Cuba’s record, which was informed by the Intelligence Community, as well as assurances provided by the Cuban government.”

This press release also stated, “As the President has said, we will continue to have differences with the Cuban government, but our concerns over a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions fall outside the criteria that is relevant to whether to rescind Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.  That determination is based on the statutory standard – and the facts – and those facts have led the President to declare his intention to rescind Cuba’s State Sponsor of Terrorism designation.  More broadly, the [U.S.] will continue to support our interests and values through engagement with the Cuban government and people.”

  • The actual presidential message to Congress was even shorter. It stated, “Pursuant to the Constitution and the laws of the United States, and consistent with section 6(j)(4)(B) of the Export Administration Act of 1979, Public Law 96-72, as amended (50 U.S.C. App. 2405(j)), and as continued in effect by Executive Order 13222 of August 17, 2001, I hereby certify, with respect to the rescission of the determination of March 1,
    1982, regarding Cuba that:(i) the Government of Cuba has not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding 6-month period; and

    (ii) the Government of Cuba has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.

This certification shall also satisfy the provisions of section 620A(c)(2) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, Public Law 87-195, as amended (22 U.S.C. 2371(c)), and section 40(f)(1)(B) of the Arms Export Control Act, PublicLaw 90-629, as amended (22 U.S.C. 2780(f)).”

Reactions to the Decision

Senators Patrick Leahy (Dem., VT), Dick Durbin (Dem., IL) and Benjamin Cardin (Dem., MD) were among those officials who offered immediate support of the decision. Geoff Thale of the Washington Office on Latin America, a private group that promotes democracy in the hemisphere, said: “Taking Cuba off the list of terrorist states is a sensible, and long-overdue step. Whatever U.S. and Cuban differences, the Cuban government has not been a supporter of terrorism.  Taking Cuba off the list will remove an unnecessary irritant in the relationship, and perhaps allow us to discuss the real differences we do have in a more serious way. It should help pave the way for normal diplomatic relations.” The same sentiment came from another U.S. NGO focusing on Latin America, the Latin American Working Group.

Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s top diplomat for U.S. Affairs, endorsed the decision. She said, “The Cuban government recognizes the just decision taken by the President of the [U.S.] to eliminate Cuba from a list on which it never should have been included, especially considering that our country has been the victim of hundreds of acts of terrorism that have cost 3,478 lives and disabled 2,099 Cuban citizens. As the Cuban government has reiterated on multiple occasions, Cuba rejects and condemns all acts of terrorism in all their forms and manifestations, as well as any action that is intended to instigate, support, finance or conceal terrorist acts.”

Not surprisingly long time Cuban-American opponents of the U.S.-Cuba rapprochement criticized this decision: U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) and Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ) and Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtine (Rep., FL) and Mario Diaz-Balart (Rep., FL).

Rubio’s opposition undercuts his just-announced presidential campaign assertion that the “time has come for our generation to lead the way toward a new American Century.” In contrast, he said, “too many of our leaders and their ideas are stuck in the twentieth century. They are busy looking backward. . . . They look for solutions in yesterday.” Sorry, Senator Rubio, your ideas and solutions for U.S.-Cuba relations “are stuck in the twentieth century . . . in yesterday.” Stop looking backward!

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[1] This post is based upon the sources which are hyperlinked in this post along with the following: Archibold & Davis, Obama Endorses Removing Cuba From Terrorism List, N.Y. Times (April 14, 2015); Reuters, Obama Tells Congress He Plans to Remove Cuba From Terrorism List, N.Y. Times (April 14, 2015), Reuters, Cuba Gave U.S. Assurances It Will Not Support Terrorism in Future: U.S. Officials, N.Y. Times (April 14, 2015); Assoc. Press, Obama to Remove Cuba From State Sponsor of Terror List, N.Y. Times (April 14, 2015); DeJong, Obama removes Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, Wash. Post (April 14, 2015); Tharoor, After 33 years, the U.S. dropped its claim that Cuba sponsors terrorism. Here’s what it means, Wash. Post (Apr. 14, 2015); Barack Obama announces intent to remove Cuba from list of state sponsors of terrorism, Granma (April 14, 2015); Wash. Office on Latin America, Press Release: White House Announces Cuba’s Removal from ‘State Sponsors of Terror List (April 14, 2015); Latin American Working Group, Statement about Cuba’s removal from list (April 14, 2015); Assoc. Press, Cubans Hail Removal From US List of State Terrorism Sponsors, N.Y. Times (April 15, 2015). The actual State Department recommendation could not be found on the Internet, but when it is so available, another blog post will review that document