U.S. Opposition to “Abortion” and “Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights” at U.N. High-Level Meeting  

On September 23, 2019, the U.N. General Assembly held a High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage that aimed to accelerate progress toward universal health coverage for everyone around the world, which would include access to health care services, medicines and vaccines in accordance with the U.N.’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, under which all countries have committed to try to achieve universal health coverage by 2030.[1]

At this High-Level Meeting, Alex Azar, the U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary, read a joint statement on behalf of the following 19 countries representing more than 1.3 billion people: the United States of America plus Africa (Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Sudan), Eastern Europe/North Asia (Belarus, Russia), Europe (Hungary, Poland), Latin America (Brazil, Guatemala, Haiti) and  Middle East (Bahrain, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen).

The U.S. Joint Statement[2]

“We believe that health of women, men, children and adolescents supports and improves the overall health of our families and communities, and that the family is the foundational institution of society and thus should be supported and strengthened.”

“We commend the United Nations and the Member States on the significant work done on the Universal Health Coverage Political Declaration,[3] and for the high priority placed on expanding access to health care.”

“We therefore urge Member States to join us in focusing on the important work of expanding health and opportunities for all people, and especially those in situations of risk and/or vulnerability.”

“To make the most meaningful progress without delay or dissension, we respectfully call upon Member States to join us in concentrating on topics that unite rather than divide on the critical issues surrounding access to health care.”

We do not support references to ambiguous terms and expressions, such as sexual and reproductive health and rights in U.N. documents, because they can undermine the critical role of the family and promote practices, like abortion, in circumstances that do not enjoy international consensus and which can be misinterpreted by U.N. agencies.” (Emphasis added.)

Such terms do not adequately take into account the key role of the family in health and education, nor the sovereign right of nations to implement health policies according to their national context. There is no international right to an abortion and these terms should not be used to promote pro-abortion policies and measures.” (Emphasis added.)

Further, we only support sex education that appreciates the protective role of the family in this education and does not condone harmful sexual risks for young people.”  (Emphasis added.)

“We therefore request that the U.N., including U.N. agencies, focus on concrete efforts that enjoy broad consensus among member states. To that end, only documents that have been adopted by all Member States should be cited in U.N. resolutions.” (Emphasis added.)

“To this end, we also understand the important role the Sustainable Development Goals play in assisting countries realize their own path to universal health coverage, in accordance with national policies and legislation.”

“We strongly support the highest attainable health outcomes for women, men, children, and adolescents holistically and throughout their lives.”

We support equal access to health care, which includes, but is not limited to reproductive concerns, maternal health, voluntary and informed family planning, HIV, elimination of violence against women and girls, and empowerment to reach the highest standard of health.” (Emphasis added.)

“We support programs to improve the health, life, dignity, and well-being of women, men, children, and families, and we will continue to be their stalwart defender.”

“Let us focus on concrete issues and challenges to accelerate access to health for all.”

“To this end, international solidarity has a key role to play, in order to the build broad consensus by member states.”

Preceding U.S. Letter Urging Support of the Joint Statement[4]

Prior to this High-Level Meeting, Secretary Azar and U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo reportedly sent a letter to at least some of the other U.N. members that were to attend this High-Level Meeting encouraging them to sign this joint statement opposing “harmful UN policies, especially at the World Health Organization, that promote sexual and reproductive health and rights” and “ensuring that every sovereign state has the ability to determine the best way to protect the unborn and defend the family as the foundational unity of society vital to children thriving and leading healthy lives.”

This letter reportedly also said, “We remain gravely concerned that aggressive efforts to reinterpret international instruments to create a new international right to abortion and to promote international policies that weaken the family have advanced through some United Nations forums.” Evidence of this [effort] is found in references throughout many multilateral global health policy documents to interpret ‘comprehensive sexuality education’ and ‘sexual and reproductive health’ and ‘sexual and reproductive health and rights’ to diminish the role of parents in the most sensitive and personal family-oriented issues. The latter has been asserted to mean promotion of abortion, including pressuring countries to abandon religious principles and cultural norms enshrined in law that protect unborn life.”

Other U.S. Challenges to U.N. Documents

This U.S. letter and the Joint Statement are consistent with prior efforts by the Trump Administration to delete and remove language from various U.N. agreements. Here are examples of this effort: (a) this April intense lobbying by U.S. officials resulted in the removal of references to sexual and reproductive health from a UN security council resolution on combatting rape in conflict; and (b) the U.S.previously attempted to water down language and remove the word “gender” from UN documents.

On September 24 Secretary Azar remained at the U.N. to attend President Trump’s address to the General Assembly and to meet with other governments representatives. He also was interviewed on Tony Perkins’ “Washington Watch” radio program  [5]

Opposition to U.S. Joint Statement[6]

The Netherlands’ Minister of Foreign Trade, Sigrid Kaag, spoke out in a competing joint statement issued on behalf of 58 countries. Although it did not mention the U.S. Joint Statement or use the word “abortion,” her joint statement clearly opposed the U.S. position. Her main points were the following: (1) “We strongly believe that SRHR [Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights] is an integral part of Universal Health Coverage and the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals]. (2) “Investing in SRHR has proven to be affordable, cost-effective, and cost saving.” (3) “Gender-related barriers to accessing UHC [Universal Health Care] must be addressed, including by direct involvement of women, adolescents and marginalized groups in policy and program design.” (4) “Investing in comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services in UHC is necessary to address the needs of women, girls, adolescents and people in the most marginalized situations who need these the most.”

Sweden’s Minister for International Development Cooperation tweeted that the action was “unbelievable news” and that “women’s rights must be protected at all times.” Another objector was Françoise Girard, president of the International Women’s Health Coalition, who said that “sexual and reproductive rights are human rights, and are enshrined in UN agreements for almost 25 years now” and that “the Trump administration’s position is extreme and its repeated attempts to strip women, girls, and gender- diverse people of their rights at the United Nations have failed.”

Shannon Kowalski, director of advocacy and policy at the International Women’s Health Coalition, said the Pompeo-Azar letter “shows how they are trying to erode international consensus and roll back the clock for women and girls. It’s not just abortion that they care about, they care about women’s ability to exercise autonomy over their bodies and about denying them critical access to the services they need.” That Pompeo and Azur both signed the letter suggests an escalation of the US strategy to undermine policy statements, she added.

Keifer Buckingham, senior policy adviser for international public health at the Open Society Foundations, said that rather than an escalation, “it could be them just putting out in public what they have been doing in private.” She said the US was effectively sending a message of “if you’re not with us, you’re against us”, which could have funding implications.

Other civil society and women’s rights groups expressed alarm at the efforts and accused the U.S. of aligning with countries like Saudi Arabia and Sudan with poor human rights records and, also, of putting unfair pressure on poor countries that depend on U.S. aid.

Support for U.S. Joint Statement[7]

On the other side of this controversy were anti-abortion groups that praised the statement as a sign of the administration’s “strong pro-life leadership on the world stage.” For example, the group Susan B. Anthony (SBA ) List issued a statement, saying, “From day one, President Trump has worked to restore respect for life as a foundational American value, not only in our domestic policies, but in our international relations as well.”

Conclusion

This speech by Secretary Azar, the preceding letter and the U.S. lobbying for other nations’ support against abortion and reproductive health can be seen as confirmation of fears that the U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights that was announced this June was designed to put a gloss of respectability on efforts to attack women’s rights and to appeal to the Administration’s base of very conservative religious supporters.[8]

As noted in other posts, this U.S. Commission emphasizes the July 4, 1776, U.S. Declaration of Independence’s statement “that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” But the Commission ignores that phrase’s indications that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are “among” certain unalienable rights; i.e., there are other such rights. Moreover, the Commission ignores the very next sentence of that Declaration: “That, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” In other words, this Declaration recognizes that these recited rights need to be “secured” by subsequent legislation that will have details not specified in this Declaration. (Emphasis added.)

Moreover, the U.S.-promoted Joint Statement’s requiring all 193 U.N. members to adopt a U.N. document or treaty as a precondition for them to be used in other U.N. documents would give every one of those members a veto right on the subsequent use of those documents or treaties. Is there any such document or treaty that has such unanimous approval? (That is exceedingly unlikely.) It also is  antithetical to the provisions of such treaties requiring a certain number of ratifications in order for the treaties to go into effect for the parties to the treaties. In short, this provision of the Joint Statement would totally prevent progress on these and many other issues.[9]

In short, the U.S. positions expressed in the U.N. speech by Secretary Azar were most unfortunate.

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[1] HHS Dep’t, Secretary Azar Represents the United States During UNGA High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Care Coverage (Sept. 23, 2019); U.N. Gen. Ass’bly, uhc 2030.

[2] U.S. HHS Dep’t, [Secretary Azar], Remarks on Universal Health Coverage (Sept. 23, 2019); Howard, U.S. wants the U.N. to oppose terms such as “reproductive health and rights” in policies, CNN (Sept. 23, 2019).

[3] The Political Declaration stated that the High-Level Meeting will have “a dedicated focus for the first time on universal health coverage . . . and [a strong recommitment] to achieve universal health coverage by 2030” with 83 numbered paragraphs of specific actions towards that goal. (U.N. Gen. Ass’bly, Political Declaration on the High-level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage (Sept. 10, 2019).)

[4] Cha, U.S. joins 19 nations, including Saudi Arabia and Russia: ‘There is no international right to an abortion, Wash. Post (Sept. 24, 2019); Ford, Leaked letter suggests US is rallying UN members to oppose abortion, Guardian (Sept. 23, 2019).

[5] HHS Dep’t, Secretary Azar Attends Presidential Address at UNGA, Furthers U.S. Partnerships on Health through Bilateral Meetings (Sept. 24, 2019).

[6] Netherlands Ministry Foreign Affairs, Joint Statement on SRHR in UHC (Sept. 23, 2019).

[7] SBA List, Pro-Life Groups Praise Trump Admin’s Defense of Life at the UN (Sept. 24, 2019).

[8] See posts to dwkcommentaries about the Commission on Unalienable Rights.

[9]  See List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Law (TREATIES).

 

 

 

 

White Anxiety and Fearing Immigration     

My prior post about the U.S. need for immigrants also mentioned the fear many Americans have of immigration. Although I favor immigration, I did not make explicit one of the reasons why many white Americans fear immigration.

Now Pat Buchanan has made it explicit. Last week on the Laura Ingraham show when he said that the demographic danger facing whiteness “is the great issue of our time. And, the real question is whether Europe has the will and the capacity, and America has the capacity to halt the invasion of the countries until they change the character — political, social, racial, ethnic — character of the country entirely.” He added, “You cannot stop these sentiments of people who want to live together with their own and they want their borders protected.”[1]

Buchanan expanded on this point on his blog, “The existential question, however, thus remains: How does the West, America included, stop the flood tide of migrants before it alters forever the political and demographic character of our nations and our civilization?”[2]

This prompted the New York Times columnist Charles Blow, an African-American man, to observe: “Make no mistake here, Buchanan is talking about protecting white dominance, white culture, white majorities and white power.”

According to Blow, we are seeing “white extinction anxiety, white displacement anxiety, white minority anxiety.” Some white Americans have “conflated America with whiteness, and therefore a loss of white primacy becomes a loss of American identity.”

This fear, says Blow, underlies many aspects of the Trump Administration: “immigration policy, voter suppression, Trump economic isolationist impulses, his contempt for people from Haiti and Africa, the Muslim ban, his rage over Black Lives Matter and social justice protests. Everything.”

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[1] Blow, White Extinction Anxiety, N.Y. Times  (June 24, 2018).

[2] Buchanan, Trump and the Invasion of the West (June 19, 2018)

Cameroon’s Human Rights Record Being Subjected to Universal Periodic Review by U.N. Human Rights Council: The UPR Hearing                    

This year Cameroon’s human rights record is the subject of its third  Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. Prior posts reviewed the nature of the UPR process and the pre-hearing papers for this UPR. Now we review Cameroon’s May 16 UPR hearing with a focus on the various comments made about the current conflict between the majority Francophones and the minority Anglophones.[1]

This hearing was limited to 3 ½ hours (210 minutes) and each of the 76 countries was limited to 1 minute 25 seconds (85 seconds).

Cameroon Government’s Comments

The Cameroon Government opened the hearing with comments by H.E. Mr. Mbella Mbella, its Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Near the end of his remarks, he said, “The social crisis in the North-West and South-West (Anglophone regions) began at the end of 2015 with strikes of lawyers and teachers. In response the government created the National Commission of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism to protect and ensure the balance of security and freedom.”

Earlier he laboriously discussed the process of preparing this national report, the implementation of recommendations from the prior UPR, the ratification of various human rights treaties, the adoption of the National Plan for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and the records of prosecutions and convictions for violations of human rights.

U.N.  Members’ Comments

There were 76 governments that made comments at the hearing (32 of whom were also Human Rights Council members plus 44 other U.N. members). Most of the comments and recommendations concerned Cameroon’s ratifying and enforcing various international human rights treaties, protecting the rights of children, women and LGBTQ people and other topics.

However, only the following 14 countries specifically addressed the current conflict between the Francophone-Anglophone communities:

  • Australia. Concerned about “recent violence between Cameroon security forces and protesting minority groups in [its] South-West and North-West [regions].” Recommends Cameroon “lift unnecessary restrictions on freedom of assembly, investigate alleged excessive use of force in disbursing demonstrators and assure arrested protestors receive fair trials.”
  • Austria. Concerned about “deterioration of the situation of the communities in the Anglophone regions of the country.” Recommended “ending the practice of secret detentions and ensure that no one is detained in a secret site, including unregistered military detention sites.” Recommended Cameroon “engage in a dialogue at the policy level with representatives of the Anglophone communities so as to identify appropriate measures to adequately respond to the violence affecting the South-West and North-West regions.”
  • Belgium. Concerned about “repressive approach in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon that runs the risk of exacerbating violent tendencies when there is a need for dialogue.” Recommended that Cameroon “take appropriate measures to ensure that the security forces act in compliance with laws and international human rights standards, conduct “independent and transparent inquiries on allegations of excessive use of force and bring perpetrators to justice.”
  • Canada.. Expressed “condolences to families of victims of violence… especially … as a result of tensions linked to claims of Anglophone community in North-West and South-West. Recommended that Cameroon “engage in sustained dialogue with representatives of the Anglophone community in North-West and South-West so as to provide consensus-based solutions while upholding human rights.”
  • Chile. Concerned with “general crime environment that exists in the English-speaking areas of the country as well as the accepted use of force against protestors in these regions.”
  • Czech Republic. Recommended “investigation of alleged torture and other ill treatment of other detained persons and incommunicado detainees.” Recommended “recognition of the right of citizens to express their views in dealing with programs of the English-speaking provinces.”
  • Germany. Concerned about reports of “violations of freedom of press and assembly, especially in the English-speaking areas of the country.”
  • Haiti. Recommended “effective implementation of the official Bilingualism Policy in consultation with all stakeholders to ensure equal treatment of the English-speaking minority.”
  • Honduras. Recommended “effective implementation of the Bilingualism Policy so as to ensure the English-speaking population does not suffer discrimination in employment, education and access to legal services.”
  • Republic of Korea. Recommended that Cameroon “redouble its efforts for the full and effective implementation of the official bilingual policy and ensure that the Anglophone minority are not subject to inequality in access to public services, administration of justice and freedom of speech. “
  • Slovakia. Concerned by “reports of human rights violations and abuses such as arbitrary arrest and extrajudicial executions by government forces and armed forces against members of the country’s Anglophone minority.”
  • Switzerland. Concerned by “violations of fundamental freedoms in the framework of the Anglophone crisis and anti-terrorism efforts. Demonstrations have been violently repressed and arbitrary arrests and detentions in difficult conditions have been made. “ Recommended that Cameroon’s “anti-terrorism law be reviewed and amended to ensure it is not used to restrict freedom of expression, association and assembly. “Recommended that “any reported cases of violations or abuses by Cameroon’s security forces are subjected to independent inquiry and prosecution.”
  • United Kingdom. Noted that “the Anglophone crisis has led to violence and disruption to many people and urged the government and all parties to fully respect and guard human rights.” Recommended that the government “allow various international agencies to have access to Anglophone separatists leaders extradited by Nigeria and held incommunicado by Cameroon since January 2018.”
  • United States. U.S. expressed concern overcredible allegations of human rights violations and abuses by security forces.  We call on the government to credibly investigate these allegations and hold those responsible to account.  We are also concerned by reports of harassment and intimidation of youth, civil society, journalists, and opposition leaders, particularly in the Northwest and Southwest Regions, as well as restrictions on the rights of peaceful assembly and freedoms of association and expression.” (Emphases added.)

The U.S. also called on the Cameroon government “to respect the human rights of everyone, including the 47 [Anglophone] Cameroonians forcibly returned from Nigerian custody to Cameroonian authorities in January.  We expect the government of Cameroon to afford all individuals detained all of the rights and protections provided under domestic and international law.” (Emphasis added.)

 Finally the U.S. made these recommendations: “(1) Acknowledge and investigate credible allegations of human rights violations and abuses, and hold those responsible to account.(2) Respect the rights of peaceful assembly, and freedoms of association and expression, including when exercised online, and afford all of those detained all the rights enshrined in Cameroon’s constitution and under international law. (3) Decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations and immediately cease targeted discrimination and violence against LGBTI persons.”[2]

It also is noteworthy that France, which governed what is now the Francophone area of Cameroon after World War I until 1960, made comments without saying anything about the current Francophone-Anglophone conflict. Nor did two members of the troika for this UPR—Iraq and South Africa—while the third member of that group—United Kingdom—did as noted above.

Cameroon Government’s Response

At the end of the hearing, Cameroon’s Foreign Minister made a lengthy response to the many comments made by the other countries. He ended those remarks with the following extensive comments about the “Anglophone problem.”

“After World War II, under U.N. supervision, we obtained independence from France and the United Kingdom and created a single country by merging the two colonial states. There were not separate English-speaking and French-speaking countries, and now these linguistic groups have merged and are mixed and cannot be separated.”

“At the end of 2016 there was a corporate clamor by lawyers and teachers’ unions in the South-West and North-West. The government responded to these claims, and now no unions are making claims.”

“Some extremists used the unions claims to question the structure of the state by arguing for federalism. But the Constitution did not permit federalism. Instead the President asked for dialogue. Thus, the Prime Minister and Head of government intervened to conduct dialogue with the North-West and South-West. This resulted in a major decision to create the Commission for Bilingualism and Multiculturalism, which recognized the country was a multi-ethnic state with different linguistic communications.”

“Nevertheless, the extremists continued to commit acts of violence—burning houses, kidnapping, rape and destructive calls for hatred of communities.”

“But there is no Anglophone problem as such. Instead the government is working for some decentralization without giving in to the violence. There has been progress in these efforts. Not all are asking for a separate country.”

“The states in the North-West and South-West maintain law and order and seek to protect the people against abuses and to assure freedom of expression and movement without violence.”

“Some of the protesters have treated law enforcement officers like animals by cutting off their arms and feet. No one will tolerate this.”

“There are no extrajudicial executions.”

“Pursuant to Cameroon’s extradition treaty with Nigeria, Cameroon requested, and Nigeria granted, extradition of 47 Cameroonians who had committed acts of terrorism in Cameroon. They are not refugees. In Cameroon they are properly housed and will answer to the rule of law with assistance of counsel. They were not arbitrarily arrested. Instead they were arrested in Nigeria pursuant to international arrest warrants.”

“There is freedom of expression in Cameroon marked by openness in media. There are 1,200 publications, 25 private television channels, 25 private cable channels and 107 private radio stations. This freedom of expression has been enhanced by a 2015 law about electronic communications and the creation of a special fund for audio-visual communications.”

“In 2017 there was a temporary suspension of the internet in the North-West and South-West due to some messages promoting violence. On April 20, 2017 the Minister of Communications advised global operators to reset connections.”

Conclusion

The final stage of the Cameroon UPR will take place in September 2018, at which time the final report will be presented by the Troika.

The comments about the Francophone-Anglophone conflict by 14 countries and by the Foreign Minister’s concluding comments will be discussed in a future post. Another post will address this blogger’s general reactions to the UPR process that are raised by his review of the recent UPR process for Cameroon and for Cuba.

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[1] U.N. Human Rts. Council,  Cameroon Review—30th Session of Universal Periodic Review (May 16, 2018)  The following quotations and analysis of the comments by the Cameroon Foreign Minister and by U.N. members are based upon listening to their recorded comments in English or translated into English by U.N. interpreters when some of their voices were difficult to hear or understand. Thus, there may be errors in the following account of their comments. The exception is the U.S. which published its comments on the website for the U.S. Mission to the U.N., Geneva.

[2] U.S. Mission, Geneva Switzerland, U.S. Statement at the UPR of Cameroon (May 16, 2018).

 

Developments Regarding the Summit of the Americas 

Later this week the Summit of the Americans takes place in Lima, Peru. Interesting  developments regarding the Summit have taken place from the U.S. and Cuba.

U.S. Developments[1]

On April 10 President Trump cancelled his scheduled attendance at the Summit of the Americans in Peru. The stated reason was his need to attend to the new crisis in Syria: the Syrian regime chemical weapons attack on some of its citizens and President Trump’s announcement that the U.S. was considering a military response.

The New York Times reporter, Julie Davis, said, “Scrapping the trip spared Mr. Trump potentially unpleasant interactions with leaders of Latin American nations whose citizens have been insulted by his harsh language about their countries as sources of illegal immigration, criminal gangs and illicit narcotics. White House officials said Vice President Mike Pence would attend the summit meeting in the president’s place.

“Skipping the Summit of the Americas sends a terrible message about U.S. disengagement in our hemisphere, compounding negative message of Trump’s Cuba, NAFTA and immigration policies,” was the opinion of Benjamin J. Rhodes, who served as a deputy national security adviser in Mr. Obama’s White House and who was the principal negotiator of the U.S.’ opening to Cuba in December 2014.

A similar opinion was voiced by Richard E. Feinberg, a senior Latin America fellow at the Brookings Institution and professor at the University of California San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy. He said, “Trump’s dropping out of the Lima summit is an appalling demonstration of disrespect for Latin America. “This has to be seen in the context of a president who has been ranting and railing against Latin America continually for the last several years. They’re his bête noire. They’re his scapegoat for everything that’s wrong in America, from immigration to narcotics to alleged loss of jobs from trade.”

A more nuanced opinion was offered by Christopher Sabatini, executive director of Global Americans, a group promoting better engagement in the region. He said,  “The truth is, given the level of discourse on trade, immigrants and intervention coming from this administration, not paying much attention to the region may be welcome by a number of governments as they search for their own alternatives. The question though is what it means for U.S. leadership, not just now but over the long term.”

The region’s leaders  seemed to be taking the U.S. decision in stride, reflecting some of the unease generated by Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and growing economic self-confidence in a region long resentful of Washington’s dominance.

The U.S. State Department announced that Acting Secretary of State John J. Sullivan will accompany Vice President Mike Pence at the Summit, where the U.S. “will promote priorities of mutual interest to the region, including supporting democracy; addressing the political and humanitarian crisis and restoring democracy in Venezuela; stemming corruption and transnational crime, and promoting economic prosperity.” Sullivan will meet separately with leaders from Peru, Brazil, Haiti, Mexico, Bahamas, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

The State Department noted that Sullivan “will also engage with members of Cuban and Venezuelan independent civil society.” Apparently he will avoid meeting with Cuban President Raúl Castro.

In another release the Department said it had “received numerous, credible reports that the Cuban government prevented, and continues to prevent, members of independent civil society from traveling to Peru to participate in the Summit . . . .  Cuban authorities prevented these individuals’ travel through arbitrary stops at the airport, short-term detentions, and visits to individuals’ homes to warn them against trying to leave the island.”

The Department’s release further stated that the U.S. “condemns these actions. We call on the Cuban government to facilitate full, robust participation in the Summit by allowing the free and unrestricted travel of its citizens, a universal human right.” As a result, the U.S. “stands with the brave activists facing repression by the Cuban regime. We are working with the Government of Peru and civil society to promote a Summit that features open, inclusive dialogue with the full participation of independent civil society representatives from Cuba and the hemisphere.”

At the Press Briefing the same day, the Department said that on April 12 Sullivan would be meeting with “with Cuban NGOs and opposition leaders,” but there was no meeting scheduled with Castro.

Cuba Developments[2]

Cuba has an official delegation of people from its purported civil society, who already are in Peru to attend the alternative Peoples Summit that has been organized by Peru’s General Confederation of Workers (CGTP). Its leader said it would express “support for the Cuban Revolution and reaffirm the commitment to progressive and left governments of Latin America and the Caribbean currently being ‘sabotaged by imperialism.”’ On April 12 they have planned an anti-imperialist rally called “Trump out of Peru,” but with Trump not coming, they will have to have a different theme.

The official Cuba delegation of civil society has criticized “attempts by mercenaries and groups with links to terrorists to pass for supposed representatives of Cuban civil society.” The official delegation’s official statement expressed their desire “to contribute the experience of the Cuban Revolution that has, over almost 60 years, constructed a consensus in favor of our political, economic, and social system, forged through participative, socialist democracy, in which human beings constitutes the highest priority, and in which government is exercised by the people.”

These Cubans vandalized a Lima billboard that said in Spanish (here in English translation): “Cuba, enough of corruption, repression and impunity, stop human rights violations.”

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[1]  Davis, Trump Cancels Trip to Latin America, Citing Crisis in Syria, N.Y. Times (April 10, 2018); Assoc. Press, Latin America Takes Trump’s Forgoing of Summit in Stride, N.Y. Times (April 10, 2018); U.S. State Dep’t, Acting Secretary Sullivan Travel to Lima, Peru, To Participate in the Summit of the Americas (April 10, 2018); U.S. State Dep’t, On Cuba’s Restriction of Civil Society Participation in the Summit of the Americans (April 10, 2018); U.S. State Dep’t, Department Press Briefing-April 10, 2018.

[2] Gómez, People’s Summit kicks off in Lima, Granma (April 10, 2018); Statement from Cuban delegation to 8th Summit of the Americas parallel forums, Granma (April 9, 2018); ‘Shock troops’ of the Cuban regime in Lima vandalize the fences that denounced the repression, diario de Cuba (April 11, 2018); “CUBA in #Cumbre”, Cuba Debate.

 

Cuban Communist Party Holding Its Seventh Congress

CongressOn April 16-19 the Communist Party of Cuba will hold its Seventh Congress to set the country’s economic path through 2030.[1]

Granma, the Party’s official newspaper, reported that he Congress will work in four commissions or committees on the following topics: (1) “the conceptualization of Cuba’s socio-economic model;” (2) “the development plan . . . for the nation’s vision, priorities and strategic sectors” through 2030; (3) “the implementation of the Guidelines approved by the 6th Congress [in 2011] and their updating for the next five years;” and (4) analysis of “progress made toward meeting the objectives agreed upon by the First Party Conference [in 1975].”

The Guidelines approved at the last Congress included legalizing home and car sales, encouraging the development of mid-size cooperatives with dozens of employees and eliminating exit permits for Cubans to travel outside the country.

There will be 1,000 delegates, including “Party cadres, deputies to the National Assembly, representatives from Central State Administration bodies, our civil society, combatants, researchers from scientific centers, university professors, intellectuals, and press editors.” Women constitute 43% of the delegates, while 36% are Black or of mixed race. In addition, there will be 280 invitees, including 14 “members of Party units in our international solidarity missions, from five countries: Venezuela, Brazil, Haiti, Bolivia and Ecuador.”

In anticipation of the Congress, some “party members [have been] complaining about a lack of the advance debate on economic and social reforms seen in the past.” In response, Granma published a lengthy article admitting it had received “expressions of concern from Party members (and non-members, as well) inquiring about the reasons for which, on this occasion, plans were not made for a popular discussion process, similar to that held five years ago regarding the proposed Economic and Social Policy Guidelines of the Party and Revolution.”

Such expressions of concern said Granma, were seen as “a demonstration of the democracy and participation which are intrinsic characteristics of the socialism we are building.” Nevertheless, after reviewing the elaborate processes leading up to the decisions of the prior Congress and the difficulties in implementing all of its resolutions, Granma said that “rather than launching another process of discussion on a national level, half way along the road, what is more appropriate is finishing what has begun – continuing to carry out the people’s will expressed five years ago, and continuing to advance in the direction charted by the 6th Congress.”

This Granma article also stated that the forthcoming Congress would be evaluating six documents: (1) evaluation of the national economy’s performance during the five year period, 2011-2015; (2) progress in the implementation of guidelines [set in 2011]; (3) an updating of these guidelines for 2016-2021: (4) the conceptualization of Cuba’s socio-economic model of socialist development; (5) the Economic Development Program through 2030; and (6) the implementation status of the First National Conference’s objectives approved in January of 2012. As a result, according to Granma, the Seventh Congress “will give continuity to the previous Congress and the First National Party Conference [in 1975], and provide a much more precise definition of the path to be taken by our country – sovereign and truly independent since the triumph of the Revolution, January 1, 1959 – in order to build a prosperous and sustainable socialism.”

U.S. observers thought Party officials have been “particularly secretive” about this meeting and wondering whether the party signals it wants faster steps toward a more free-market system—such as allowing Cubans to operate more types of businesses—or if it keeps the current pace or even slows things down.” So far, however, “the only article in the official Granma newspaper to deal substantially with the congress made no mention of new initiatives” and instead said that “officials will review the implementation of economic guidelines adopted in 2011, only 21% have been put fully into practice.” [2]

Some believe President Obama’s March visit to the island “stirred great enthusiasm among ordinary people who do want change and are pushing for a better life, thereby putting pressure on Cuba’s leaders. Related to this thought is speculation that there might be a move to more selection of leaders by popular vote. Doing so for the National Assembly seems exceedingly unlikely, but such a move might come with direct election of mayors.

The Congress will be facing a vastly different economy than when it met in 2011. Now about a quarter of the labor force are working in a growing private sector, many in the booming tourist trade and are doing well financially The other 75% of the population who depend on state-sector jobs are struggling to survive on salaries that average about $25 a month, as consumer prices spike.

Many of those in the private sector now are limited to an odd list of 201 occupations that runs from cutting hair to acting as clowns in parties and want to see a greater liberalization that would permit professionals, such as lawyers, engineers and architects, to strike out on their own.

Other economic issues facing the Congress are (a) whether foreign joint ventures will have the freedom to hire Cuban workers directly, instead of having to go through state employment companies that keep most of their salaries; and (b) whether the government will create a legal framework for small and medium-size businesses to be able to export and buy supplies from a now largely nonexistent wholesale sector.

Observers also are watching to see if Miguel Diaz Canel, who was named first vice president of Cuba’s Council of State three years ago, and is widely regarded as Raúl Castro’s successor, will be promoted to second secretary of the Communist Party, succeeding the 85-year-old hard-liner José Ramón Machado Ventura.

A New York Times’ editorial complained that any economic reforms to come out of the Congress “remain a mystery to all but a few senior leaders of the party. While the policy review that preceded the last party conference, in 2011, included broad debate by rank-and-file party members, this time top officials have not shared information with them or solicited their views.” [3]

This “surreptitious approach,” says the Times, “s shortsighted at a time of change and rising discontent. Ordinary Cubans, including those who are critical of the Communist Party, should have a say in how the country will be run and by whom, without fear of reprisal and persecution.” Moreover, “If reforms continue at a glacial pace, young Cubans will keep fleeing the island in droves, fueling a exodus that has become a referendum of sorts.”

Now we wait to see what happens.

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[1] Morales, Looking toward 7th Party Congress, Granma (Feb. 29, 2016); Party congress less than a month away, Granma (Mar. 28, 2016);Eight questions about the Party Congress, Granma (April 14, 2016); 7th Party Congress begins, Granma (April 16, 2016). Here is more general U.S. information about the Communist Party of Cuba and its Sixth Congress.

[2] Assoc. Press, Cuba’s Future Economic Model in Spotlight at Party Congress, N.Y. Times (April 8, 2016); Padgett, Party Time In Cuba—With Marx, Not Mojitos. Here is What the Congress Might Do,,WRLN (April 12, 2016); Córdoba, Post-Obama Visit, Cuba’s Communist Party to Signal Next Steps, W.S.J. (April 15, 2016); Whitefield, Cuba’s Communist Party meets at critical time for country, Miami Herald (April 15, 2016); Assoc. Press, In Slow Dance With Capitalism, Cuba’s Communists Turn to Future, N.Y. Times (April 16, 2016).

 

 

 

 

 

[3] Editorial, Cuba’s Path to the Future Is Shrouded in Secrecy, N.Y. Times (April 15, 2016) http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/16/opinion/cubas-path-to-the-future-is-shrouded-in-secrecy.html?ref=opinion

Commemorating the First Anniversary of U.S.–Cuba Rapprochement

The first anniversary of U.S.-Cuba rapprochement, on December 17, 2015, was not marked by any ceremony in either country. Instead, public statements were issued by the White House, the U.S. State Department, the de facto U.S. Ambassador to Cuba, Jeffrey De Laurnetis. U.S. Senators and Representatives, Cuban officials and others. Nothing new or surprising was said in any of them.

White House[1]

On the anniversary date, President Obama released a statement on the subject. He said that during this year “we have taken important steps forward to normalize relations between our countries” that were detailed in the previously released FACT SHEET discussed below. The President continued, “We are advancing our shared interests and working together on complex issues that for too long defined—and divided—us. Meanwhile, the United States is in a stronger position to engage the people and governments of our hemisphere. Congress can support a better life for the Cuban people by lifting an embargo that is a legacy of a failed policy.” Nevertheless, “Change does not happen overnight, and normalization will be a long journey.”

The earlier White House FACT SHEET. listed the following eleven significant steps of normalization this past 12 months:

  • U.S. “removal of Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism List;”
  • “re-establishment of diplomatic relations and opening of embassies; “
  • Secretary of State Kerry’s visit to Cuba;
  • the establishment of the U.S.-Cuba Bilateral Steering Commission, which has produced a working relationship to protect the environment and manage marine protected areas in Cuba, Florida and the Gulf of Mexico; an expansion of counternarcotics cooperation, increased cooperation to prevent smuggling; an understanding to re-establish direct postal services between the two countries; and commencement of discussions on property claims;
  • the commencement of talks to improve Cuban human rights;
  • cooperation on medical relief to Haiti;
  • easing of restrictions on U.S. citizens travel to Cuba, resulting in a 54% increase of such travel;
  • easing of U.S. restrictions on commerce with Cuba;
  • easing of U.S. restrictions on telecommunications and internet commerce with Cuba, resulting in several private business transactions to do just that;
  • discussions to increase cooperation regarding security of trade and travel flows;
  • U.S. support of Colombia-FARC peace talks monitored by Cuba; and
  • The Administration’s continued advocacy for congressional ending the U.S. embargo of Cuba.

Benjamin J. Rhodes, Mr. Obama’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, who participated in the secret talks that led to the rapprochement, said, “We went into this with no illusions that the Cubans were going to radically change their political system overnight, but our belief has been that greater engagement, greater people-to-people ties, greater commercial activity does open up space for the Cuban people. Part of what we are doing is raising people’s expectations, and that’s appropriate.”

Rhodes added, We reject this notion that our opening is a form of concession, because the opening is the whole point — we think it’s in our interest to have people traveling down to Cuba and doing business there. There’s a natural momentum to these things.”

President Obama himself last week stated that he hopes to visit Cuba during his last year in office, but only if enough progress has been made in bilateral relations, he is able to meet with political dissidents, and if he can possibly “nudge the Cuban government in a new direction.” In response, Josefina Vidal, an official in Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, said Obama would be welcome, but “Cuba has always said … it is not going to negotiate matters that are inherent to its internal system in exchange for an improvement in or the normalization of relations with the United States.” [2]

U.S. State Department [3]

The U.S. would like change to happen “more quickly” and to see “increased access information online.” In addition, the U.S. hopes that Cuba “will give their citizens more space so they can exercise freely their civil and political rights.”

The U.S. and Cuba “very soon” will start a pilot program for renewed direct mail service.

U.S.-Cuba negotiations on direct commercial flights between the two countries are near a successful conclusion “ very, very soon.” The discussions on damage claims have just started, but their resolution remains a “top [U.S.] priority for normalization.”

For progress on Cuban economic issues, the U.S. believes the April 2016 congress of the Communist Party of Cuba will be important.

“Safe, legal, and orderly [Cuban] migration remains a priority of the U.S.,” which has “done our best to comply” with accords with Cuba on that subject. But “the Administration at this point has no plans to alter our current migration policy toward Cuba and Cubans,” including the Cuban Adjustment Act.

The U.S. continues to encourage Cubans to go to the U.S. Embassy in Havana “for the several available avenues for legal migration to the U.S.” In addition, the U.S. is “encouraging governments in the region to find . . . coordinated and comprehensive solutions that focus on preventing the loss of life and ensuring that human rights of all migrants are respected and promoting orderly and humane migration policies.”

Jeffrey DeLaurentis[4]

Mr. DeLaurentis, via teleconference from Havana, said, “A year ago President Obama “made it clear that our aspiration for the Cuban people remains that they enjoy a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic society.”

“Over the course of the past year, we have made good progress and come a long way. Our two countries have engaged in historic dialogue on a wide range of issues. We have discussed concrete objectives on civil aviation, direct transportation of mail, the environment, regulatory changes, and counter-narcotics and have either reached understandings on those topics or continue to narrow our differences in ways that suggest we could soon conclude such understandings.”

“One of the President’s goals in announcing the new approach to Cuba was to promote increased authorized travel, commerce, and the flow of information to the Cuban people. In that regard, we have seen an increase in authorized travel by U.S. citizens by over 50 percent. Our regulatory changes help promote a Cuban private sector that now accounts for at least one in four Cuban workers. And Cuba recently signed roaming agreements with two U.S. companies that promote the flow of information. But more could be done on the Cuban side to take advantage of new openings.”

“A year ago, we had very limited engagement with the Cuban Government. Now we are in open conversation on issues that matter to the United States.” This includes working “together to combat transnational crime, protect our shared ecosystem, and create opportunities for the people in both nations to thrive.”

“However, we still have areas of disagreement. . . . such as property claims, fugitives, and human rights.. . . Still, the re-establishment of diplomatic relations and the opening of our embassy have given us a more effective platform through which to promote U.S. interests and values on those and all bilateral issues. It is worth recalling [that] Secretary Kerry noted during the flag-raising ceremony in August – normalization will not happen overnight.”

“The President last year called on the Cuban Government to unleash the potential of 11 million Cubans by ending unnecessary restrictions on their political, social, and economic activities. The Administration has taken a number of steps within the President’s authority to support a growing private sector in Cuba and strengthen people-to-people ties. The President has called on Congress to end the embargo.”

U.S. Senators and Representatives

Senators Patrick Leahy (Dem., VT) and Jeff Flake (Rep., AZ), both of whom have been to Cuba several times this past year, sent a letter to President Obama urging further loosening of U.S. travel, export and financial restrictions with Cuba. [5]

On the other hand, Cuban-American Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, both of whom have been persistent critics of normalization, offered objections to what they saw as failed policies.”[6]

Cuban Officials[7]

On December 17 Cuba’s Foreign Ministry released a statement that concluded, “To achieve normal relations between the two countries, the [U.S.] must remove, without any conditions, the economic, commercial and financial blockade which for decades the U.S. has maintained against Cuba. Nor can one speak of normalization, while the illegally occupied Guantanamo Naval Base and other policies of the past that are harmful to the sovereignty of Cuba are not removed.“

Earlier, Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Relations’ Director General for the United States, said, “We can say that Cuba and the United States have made progress in their relations, with a marked difference from the preceding stage,” She noted progress in the political and diplomatic fields with the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, the reopening of embassies and the removal of the island from the U.S. list of countries sponsoring terrorism. She also highlighted the personal meetings between the leaders of Cuba and the U.S.

More specifically she said the two countries were close to concluding an agreement for civil aviation and had expanded or created cooperation in search and rescue; the fight against drug trafficking; migration; port maritime security, application and enforcement of the law; and health.

On the other hand, she commented, there is more to do. The U.S. needs to end the embargo, return Guantanamo Bay to Cuba, stop “subversive programs and illegal broadcasting” as well as abolish its special immigration policies regarding Cubans.

Vidal concluded that “even with the differences that exist between our countries, better links will only bring benefits to both countries and their peoples. We really believe that a model of civilized coexistence is the best contribution that we can leave the present and future generations of Cuba, the U.S. and the entire region.

Others

Everyone, supporters and critics of normalization, agrees that change has been slow and that much more needs to be done to facilitate a complete normalization. Nevertheless, as two experts on this relationship recognize, there has been progress.

Julia E. Sweig, a Cuba specialist and senior research fellow at the Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, observed, “It was just pure fantasy to think, as it has been for the last 60 years, that the United States could directly shape the nature of the Cuban political system. It feels like we’re getting excited about tiny steps, but those tiny steps, against the backdrop of the thicket of laws and regulations that have produced a ‘no’ as the answer to any question, and now we’re figuring out how to get to ‘yes’ — that’s progress.”[8]

Scott D. Gilbert, a Washington-based lawyer who helped negotiate Cuba’s release last year of Alan Gross, said, “When you stand back and look at this against the backdrop of almost 60 years of complete adversity, complete lack of dialogue, absolute distrust, it’s been a remarkable year. But there is frustration and disappointment on both sides that more deals haven’t gotten done. It’s a process that still needs a lot of work.”[9]

Alan Gross himself stated, “Our relations will not be normalized for some years to come, will not be totally normalized. But I believe that both governments are working towards that, We need to be patient to see this relationship evolve.” He specifically wants to see the U.S. end its embargo of Cuba, which is “stupid” and a “complete and utter failure.”

Jeanne Lemkau, a clinical psychologist and professor emerita of family medicine, commented on her 12th trip to Cuba, this October, to the central and eastern part of the island. She saw a creative example of the Cuban entrepreneurial initiative: a young man peddling shoes from a carefully arranged display on the top of a jeep chassis, snuggly parked next to his house. In addition, she saw many people using laptops and mobile phones; homes freshly painted in lovely Caribbean colors, a luxury that was once far beyond the resources of most Cubans; beautifully renovated hotels; and recently cleaned streets.[10]

Conclusion

As a strong advocate for U.S.-Cuba reconciliation, I too have mixed feelings on this first anniversary. I am glad that one year ago both countries decided to pursue normalization, that the previously mentioned steps towards normalization have been taken and that the normalization process is continuing. On the other hand, I am especially disappointed that the U.S. has not yet ended its embargo of the island and its special immigration benefits for Cubans.

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[1] White House, Statement of the President on the Anniversary of Cuba Policy Changes (Dec. 17, 2015); Obama, Statement by President Obama on the anniversary of the changes in policy toward Cuba, Granma (Dec. 17, 2015); White House, FACT SHEET: One-Year Anniversary of the President’s Policy of Engagement with Cuba (Dec. 16, 2015); Davis, Year After Cuba-U.S. Thaw, Obama Says Change Will Take Time, N.Y. Times (Dec. 16, 2015). Assoc. Press, Marking Anniversary, Obama Says Long Journey for US, Cuba, N.Y. Times (Dec. 17, 2015); Reuters, Obama Says U.S., Cuba Continue to Have Differences, N.Y. Times (Dec. 17, 2015).

[2] Reuters, Obama Says May Visit Cuba in 2016 if Citizens Enjoy More Freedoms, N.Y. Times (Dec. 14, 2015); Reuters, Cuba Says Obama Welcome to Visit but Not to Meddle, N.Y. Times (Dec. 17, 2015).http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2015/12/17/world/americas/17reuters-cuba-usa.html

[3] U.S. State Dep’t, Background Briefing on the Progress Made Toward the Normalization of U.S.-Cuba Relations (Dec. 15, 2015).

[4] U.S. State Dep’t, Special Briefing by Jeffrey DeLaurentis on the One-Year Anniversary of the President’s Policy of Engagement with Cuba (Dec. 15, 2015).

[5] Flake, Flake, Leahy Urge President to Expand U.S. Engagement with Cuba on Anniversary of Renewed Relations (Dec. 16, 2015); Schwartz, Senators Urge Obama Administration to Further Loosen Cuba Rules, W.S.J. (Dec. 16, 2015).

[6] Ros-Lehtinen, One Year Later, Obama’s Cuba Policy Has Proven To Be A Sham and Cubans Are No Closer To Freedom and Democracy, Says Ros-Lehtinen (Dec. 16, 2015); Diaz-Balart, One Year Later: The Results of Obama’s Concessions to the Castros (Dec. 17, 2015).

[7] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Editorial: The lifting of the blockade is essential for a normal relationship (Dec. 17, 2015); Gomez, Josefina Vidal assures that Cuba and the U.S. have made progress, Granma (Dec. 17, 2015); Elizalde, Josefina Vidal: Significant progress has been recorded between Cuba and the US, CubaDebate (Dec. 16, 2015). Granma also published commentaries on the first anniversary by the Cuban Five, Gomez et al., A year in which freedom fits all, Granma (Dec. 17, 2015). Another article provided commentary on the embargo. Gomez, A year later, the blockade is still there, Granma (Dec. 17, 2015).

[8] Davis, One Year After Cuba-U.S. Thaw, Obama Says Change Will Take Time, N.Y. Times (Dec. 16, 2015).

[9] Assoc. Press, American Marks 1 Year Since Being Freed From Cuban Prison, N.Y. Times (Dec. 17, 2015).

[10] Lemkau, Observations of an ever-evolving Cuba, LAWG (Dec. 16, 2015).

 

 

Additional Details About U.S.-Cuba Secret Discussions Leading up to the December 17, 2014, Public Announcement of Rapprochement

A prior post covered the surprising December 17, 2014, announcement of U.S.-Cuba rapprochement while another post discussed the initial public information about the preceding secret U.S.-Cuba negotiations about normalization; yet another post integrated that information into previous public information about U.S.-Cuba relations in President Obama’s second presidential term, 2013-2014.

Now Peter Kornbluh and William LeoGrande. both leading scholars on the relationship between the two countries, have added the following additional details about such previous secret discussions:[1]

  • In response to the January 2010 devastating Haiti earthquake, the U.S. and Cuba engaged in unprecedented cooperative disaster relief in that country.
  • Thereafter in 2010-2012 two top State Department officials—Cheryl Mills, the Chief of Staff for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Julissa Reynoso, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs—had secret discussions with Cuban officials that initially focused on Cuba’s releasing U.S. citizen Alan Gross from a Cuban prison and the U.S.’ allowing the wives of two of the Cuban Five to visit their husbands in U.S. prisons.
  • By September 2011, the Cubans had explicitly proposed swapping the Cuban Five for Alan Gross, but the U.S. was not prepared to do so. Instead, as a show of good faith, the U.S. arranged for the wives of two of the Cuban Five to secretly visit their husbands in U.S. prisons while Cuba permitted Judy Gross regular visits with her husband in a military hospital in Havana.
  • In May 2012, Clinton received a memo from her team that stated: “We have to continue negotiating with the Cubans on the release of Alan Gross but cannot allow his situation to block an advance of bilateral relations…The Cubans are not going to budge. We either deal with the Cuban Five or cordon those two issues off.”
  • This May 2012 memo arrived soon after Clinton and President Obama had returned from that April’s Sixth Summit of the Americas where they had been chastised by heads of states furious over the U.S. stance on Cuba. Afterwards Clinton “recommended to President Obama that he take another look at our embargo. It wasn’t achieving its goals and it was holding back our broader agenda across Latin America.”
  • After his reelection in November 2012, President Obama approached Massachusetts Senator John Kerry about replacing Clinton as secretary of state and raising a new approach to Cuba. Kerry was receptive. As Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he had been a vocal critic of the USAID democracy promotion programs that financed Gross’ secret missions to Cuba and also had long opposed the US economic embargo of the island.
  • During the U.S.-Cuba secret discussions in Canada in 2013=2014 that were discussed in a prior post, The U.S. was not willing to talk about the USAID programs or the status of Guantán­amo Bay. Cuba, on the other hand, was not willing to discuss human rights or U.S. fugitives living in their country.
  • In September 2013 Senator Dick Durbin (Dem., IL) suggested to National Security Advisor Susan Rice that the U.S. should see about getting Pope Francis involved in helping the two countries resolve their differences.
  • In February 2014, Senator Patrick Leahy had his staff collaborate with former White House counsel, Greg Craig, to draft a 10-page memo of options “to secure Mr. Gross’ release, and in so doing break the logjam and change the course of U.S. policy towards Cuba, which would be widely acclaimed as a major legacy achievement [for President Obama].” The document, dated February 7, laid out a course of action that would prove to be a close match with the final accord.
  • Apparently also in or about February 2014, Leahy sent a confidential message to Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega, asking him to encourage the Pope to help resolve the prisoner issue. Drawing on the close ties between Obama’s Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough, and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C., the White House also “got word to the Vatican that the president was eager to discuss” Cuba at the upcoming upcoming March private audience with the Pope.
  • In early March 2014, a small group of Cuba policy advocates, including representatives of a newly formed coalition for changing U.S. policies regarding Cuba, met with Cardinal Seán O’Malley in the rectory of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston. The advocates of change explained the recent trends, the conversations with President and others in the administration and Congress and indicated this was a historic moment, and a message from the Pope to President Obama would be significant in moving the process forward. A letter from Senator Leahy was given to Cardinal O’Malley urging him to focus the Pope’s attention on the “humanitarian issue” of the prisoner exchange.
  • During this same time period, Leahy personally delivered a similar message to Cardinal McCarrick and arranged for yet another to be sent to Cardinal Ortega in Havana. There now were three cardinals urging the Pope to put Cuba on the agenda with Obama.
  • At the private audience later that month (March 27), Obama told the Pope that the U.S. had something going with Cuba and that it would be useful if the Pope could play a role.” (Other details about the audience were provided in a prior post.) A few days later, Francis summoned Cardinal Ortega to enlist his help.
  • On May 1, 2014, Leahy, along with Senators Carl Levin (Dem., MI) and Dick Durbin (Dem., IL) and Representatives Chris Van Hollen (Dem., MD) and Jim McGovern (Dem., MA) met in the Oval Office with Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and National Security Advisor Susan Rice. The legislators urged Obama to press for Gross’ release and replace the policy of hostility with one of engagement. “You said you were going to do this,” McGovern reminded the president. “Let’s just do it!” Obama had a non-committal response,”We’re working on it” and gave no hint of the back-channel diplomacy then well underway.
  • On May 19, 2014, the previously mentioned coalition released an open letter to Obama signed by 46 luminaries of the U.S. policy and business world, urging the president to engage with Cuba. The signatories included former diplomats and retired military officers—among them former U.N. Ambassador Thomas Pickering; Cuban-American business leaders like Andres Fanjul, co-owner of a Florida-based multinational sugar company; and John Negroponte, George W. Bush’s director of national intelligence. The same day, not coincidentally, the conservative US Chamber of Commerce announced that its president, Tom Donohue, would lead a delegation to Cuba to “develop a better understanding of the country’s current economic environment and the state of its private sector.”
  • During the summer of 2014 the Pope wrote forceful, confidential letters to Obama and Raúl Castro, imploring the two leaders“to resolve humanitarian questions of common interest, including the situation of certain prisoners, in order to initiate a new phase in relations.”
  • To safeguard his communications, the Pope sent both letters via papal courier to Havana—with instructions to Cardinal Ortega to personally deliver the message into the two presidents’ hands. After delivering the Pope’s letter to Raúl Castro, Ortega then sent his top aide to Washington to advance his clandestine diplomatic mission to deliver the other letter to Obama. But arranging a secret face-to-face meeting with President Obama was easier said than done. Alerted to the problem, Cardinal McCarrick conferred with White House officials, who enlisted his help as a secret back-channel go-between. In early August, McCarrick traveled to Cuba carrying a note from Obama that asked Ortega to entrust McCarrick with delivering the Pope’s letter to the White House. But Ortega’s papal instructions were to deliver the message himself. McCarrick, therefore, left Cuba empty-handed.
  • Back in Washington, McCarrick worked with McDonough at the White House to arrange a secret meeting for Ortega with the President. On the morning of August 18, Ortega gave a talk at Georgetown University—providing a cover story for his presence in Washington—and then quietly went to the White House. (To make sure the meeting did not leak, U.S. officials kept Ortega’s name off the White House visitor logs.) Meeting with the President on the patio adjacent to the Rose Garden, Ortega finally completed his mission of delivering the Pope’s sensitive communication, in which he offered to “help in any way.”
  • In October 2014, at the Pope’s invitation, the two sides met at the Vatican and hammered out their final agreement on the prisoner exchange and restoring diplomatic relations. The U.S. representatives, Rhodes and Zuniga, also noted Obama’s intention to ease regulations on travel and trade, and to allow US telecom companies to help Cuban state enterprises expand internet access. They acknowledged these initiatives were aimed at fostering greater openness in Cuba. Cuban officials said that while they had no intentionof changing their political system to suit the United States, they had reviewed the Americans’ list of prisoners jailed for political activities and would release 53 of them as a goodwill gesture. The Pope agreed to act as guarantor of the final accord.
  • On October 12, the New York Times published an editorial calling for ending the U.S. embargo of Cuba and for a new relationship between the two countries; it turned out to be the first of a series of editorials on various aspects of the relationship.[2] These editorials were the work of Ernesto Londoño, a new member of the Editorial Board and a native of Colombia. He talked to administration officials, Senator Leahy’s office, and the new coalition, but recently said, “There was really no collusion or formal cooperation in what they were doing and what we were doing. The Times simply saw an opportunity to push the policy it advocated forward. We figured it was worthwhile to give it a shot.”
  • On November 6, 2014, Obama’s National Security Council met to sign off on the details. Later that month, the negotiating teams convened one last time in Canada to arrange the logistics of the prisoner exchange.

These additional details about the over two years of previously secret negotiations should be merged with the earlier post about President Obama’s Second Term Record Regarding Cuba, 2013-2014. Together they demonstrate the diplomatic skill of that Administration in achieving this historic breakthrough that will benefit both countries.

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[1] Kornblu & LeoGrande, Inside the Crazy Back-Channel Negotiations That Revolutionized Our Relationship with Cuba, Mother Jones (July 2015)  This information will be incorporated in a new edition of their book: Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana that will be published this October by the University of North Carolina Press.

[2] Previous posts covered the other Times editorials that commended Cuba’s foreign medical missions (Oct. 19), recommended normalization (Oct. 26) and prisoner exchanges (Nov. 3) and criticized USAID programs on the island (Nov. 10), the U.S. Cuban medical parole program (Nov. 17) and the U.S. designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism” (Dec. 15).