The Closing of the Session of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean

On May 8, as reported in a prior post, the biennial session of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) opened in Havana. The post looks at its closing session on May 11.[1]

The 2030 Agenda and Its SDGs[2]

In September 2015, the U.N. General Assembly at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit 2015 and after 8 rounds of intergovernmental negotiations that included contributions from a wide variety of actors, approved the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its corresponding Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Therefore, the ECLAC embraced that 2030 Agenda with the following SDGs:

  • Goal 1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere
  • Goal 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
  • Goal 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
  • Goal 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
  • Goal 5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
  • Goal 6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
  • Goal 7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
  • Goal 8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
  • Goal 9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
  • Goal 10. Reduce inequality within and among countries
  • Goal 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
  • Goal 12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
  • Goal 13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts*
  • Goal 14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
  • Goal 15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
  • Goal 16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
  • Goal 17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

ECLAC’s “The Inefficiency of Inequality”[3]

The session approved ECLAC’s”The Inefficiency of Inequality.” According to its  Executive Secretary, Alicia Bácena, “We believe that equality, productivity and democracy are complementary strategic goods, which cannot be substituted for each other, even more so in a world experiencing sharp economic, political and environmental tensions.”

Equality, she said, “creates inclusive institutions and a culture that rewards innovation and effort, not the social class, ethnicity, gender or political connections of economic actors. In addition, it strengthens the positive democracies that require technical change, economic and political stability and care for the environment, and it enables access to capacities and opportunities on equal footing, in a context of technological revolution.”

“In the global economic framework, equality helps expand aggregate demand and reduce the intensity of domestic and external conflicts by promoting development.” She noted that Latin America and the Caribbean is the world’s most unequal region, with an average Gini coefficient of 0.5 compared with 0.45 for Sub-Saharan Africa, 0.4 for East Asia and the Pacific, and 0.3 for the countries of the OECD.

She added that “tax evasion in the region amounts to 6.7% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in terms of income tax and the value-added tax alone, while in the social arena gaps in access to education, the high rate of teenage motherhood, and ethnic-racial discrimination continue to perpetuate inequalities.”

There are also notable territorial inequalities between the different socioeconomic levels in aspects such as life expectancy, infant mortality, the illiteracy rate and access to drinking water in the home, to mention just a few. This is compounded by an economic model based on the extraction of natural resources, reduced and low-quality investment in infrastructure, gaps in the obtainment of sanitation, electricity and Internet, as well as the high costs resulting from the destructive effects of extreme climatological events that stem from climate change.

For these reasons, Bárcena emphasized, the task that lies ahead for the region is to move toward sustainable development in its three dimensions: social, economic and environmental. To achieve this, it is necessary to revitalize investment and fully insert the region in the fourth industrial revolution, with a central focus on decarbonization and decoupling growth and environmental impact.

ECLAC’s Executive Secretary underscored that the sum of national actions is not enough; multilateral institutions are needed for greater global cooperation, as well as the provision of global public goods and means of implementation that close gaps in financing, technology and trade. “Our region has an enormous chance to modernize and propose new agreements that close financial, technological and trade asymmetries at a global level.”

ECLAC’s Executive Secretary’s Concluding Comments

 The Executive Secretary also  ratified the session’s granting priority to the future development of the Caribbean countries. She explained that the “small island states are the most vulnerable in the area, due to international financial challenges and the effects of climate change.” In short, “The Caribbean first, we have said it loud and clear.”

Cuba Foreign Minister’s Comments

Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Relations, Bruno Rodríguez, warned that the attacks on multilateralism are increasingly more serious and new threats are lurking in the region. “The process of implementing the 2030 Agenda poses great challenges for our countries. While there is progress, poverty and inequality are on the rise and financial resources are insufficient. New resources are essential.”  He also commended the important role played by ECLAC, and particularly its Executive Secretary in supporting the countries and following the Agenda.

Cuba Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment’s Speech

Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, Rodrigo Malmierca, said that the 2030 Agenda is “a guide in the fulfillment of the objectives for the sustainable development of the region” and that Cuba as pro tempore president of the organization will support this Agenda and “provide assistance to the most vulnerable countries, with special attention to the Caribbean regions. We do it with a high commitment and awareness of the challenges we face. We need to achieve a better articulation of regional strategies from solid commitments to do better and united.”

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[1] Closing of the ECLAC: Cuba will reinforce the fight against inequality, CubaDebate (May 11, 2018); ECLAC, Foreign Ministers and UN Authorities Defend Multilateralism as a Key Tool for Sustainable Development with Equality (May 11, 2018).

[2] U.N., United Nations Sustainable Development Summit 2015 (Sept. 25-27, 2015); U.N. Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (Sept. 2015).

[3] ECLAC, The Inefficiency of Inequality. Summary; ECLAC, Equality Not Only Promotes Social Well-Being, but Also Contributes to an Economic System Propitious for Learning, Productivity and Environmental Protection (May 10, 2018).

The Opening of the Current Session of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean  

During the week of May 7 the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), one of five U.N. entitles promoting economic and social development in the world, is holding its 37th biennial session, this time in Havana, Cuba.

Three important opening speeches were delivered on May 8 by Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel, ECLAC’s Executive Secretary Alicia Bárcena and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, a native of Portugal. Here are highlights of these speeches.[1]

Cuba President’s Welcoming Speech[2]

 “ECLAC, which for decades has been a benchmark for economic and social knowledge in Latin America and the Caribbean, at a regional and global level, has contributed decisively to placing equity at the center of development, has shown that the region continues to be the most unequal planet, and has studied certain structural causes of the problem, which will surely be addressed in this meeting.”

“It is necessary to transform the culture of inequality, associated with the colonial past of our nations and which particularly affects the indigenous populations, people of African descent, girls and women. It is also, in our opinion, a consequence of imperialism, neoliberalism, macroeconomic policies that for decades favored the transnationals and deepened the differences: of classes, by the color of the skin, territories and urban and rural population.”

“There will also have to be serious challenges that include the slow growth of productivity, the lack of diversification of the productive structure and poor technological modernization.”

“There is no other option but to advance regional integration and development with equity, which will lead us to reverse the pyramid where, in the main countries of the region, the richest 1% of the population appropriates a huge part of the population’s riches.”

“ECLAC correctly points out, ‘inequality has not only economic, but also political, social and cultural implications’”.

“The distribution of income and wealth is the central element in closing this gap and for this, States must have access to food, work, quality education, health, and the right to education. culture and better conditions of existence.”

“While it is true that we must address, as the central theme of this meeting, ‘the inefficiency of inequality,’ the real objective must be the ‘search for equal opportunities and social justice’ and, consequently, the reduction and elimination of the growing poverty, suffered by hundreds of millions of Latin Americans and the Caribbean.”

“The recent history of the region showed that adequate public policies led to successful results of social progress and economic growth that drew tens of millions of people out of hunger, illiteracy and lack of culture, as reported by ECLAC. It would be inadmissible and cruel to  attempt to impose a neoliberal wave like the one that made our peoples go back a decade.”

“It is necessary to fight to make the theme of the Sustainable Development Agenda 2030 a reality, that is, that ‘nobody is left behind’”.

“With the Paris Agreement, a path leading to confronting climate change may have begun, affecting all of us in one way or another; but in the Caribbean States these threats multiply and impose enormous strains on their economies that require special and differentiated treatment, and, at the same time, greater support, solidarity and cooperation.”

“It is essential that, when addressing the issue of inequality, we also do so with access to knowledge.”

“Information and communication technologies favor development. To reduce the gap between ‘those who have’ and ‘those who do not have”, and between rich and poor countries, it will be essential to try to eliminate the difference between ‘those who know”‘ and ‘those who do not know,’ between knowledge and the ignorance.”

“We must bet on a use of these technologies that promotes social solidarity, creates values, contributes to peace and the economic, cultural and political sustainability of our nations.”

“In the same way, the growing monopolization of the media and the attempt to impose, through them, a single thought, consumerism, manipulation of the will of people and values ​​far removed from it, obliges us to reflect and constantly analyze. the realities and aspirations of our countries.”

“For our part, despite the difficulties facing the Cuban economy, particularly due to the intensification of the blockade imposed on Cuba for almost six decades, we will continue to focus on the development goals set in order to preserve, expand and deepen our achievements.” (Emphasis added.)

“We work on the preparation of a National Plan for Economic and Social Development until 2030, whose strategic axes are intertwined with the Sustainable Development Goals, as part of the process of updating the Economic and Social Model, begun in 2011, governed by the premise inviolable not to leave any homeless citizen. We will never apply the known shock therapies that only affect the most needy.”

“In a particular way, we reiterate in this forum the commitment of Cuba with solidarity cooperation towards other countries, based on mutual respect, selfless help and complementarity. Despite shortcomings and difficulties, we will maintain this will, following the principle of sharing what we have, not what we have left.”

“We have received the presidency pro tempore of ECLAC for the period 2018-2020, and of two of its subsidiary bodies: the Committee for South-South Cooperation and the Forum of the Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on Sustainable Development.”

“We do so with a high commitment and awareness of the challenges we face, focused on continuing to promote cooperation among the countries of the region in the materialization of the new 2030 Agenda. We will put our efforts in supporting ECLAC’s vocation to promote the search for a fair, equitable and inclusive world that recognizes people as the central element of sustainable development. We will strive to promote unity within diversity. . . . [while] ratifying the thesis of José Martí: ‘the good of many is preferable to the opulence of a few.’”

 ECLAC’s Executive Secretary’s Speech[3]

 Cuba “is testing its own paths in the face of the brutal human costs that the imposition of an unjust blockade has imposed for more than 50 years. We evaluate it every year, as an Economic Commission, and we know that this blockade costs the Cuban people more than 130 billion dollars, at current prices, and that it has left an indelible mark on its economic structure. (Emphasis added.)

“As of 2010, ECLAC has positioned equality as a fundamental value of development and as an irreducible ethical principle and in synchrony with the growing relevance of the issue in citizen demands.”

“We have said that equality is at the center of development, because it provides policies with an ultimate foundation centered on a rights approach, with a humanistic vocation that reflects the most precious heritage of modernity. It is also a favorable condition to move towards a development model focused on closing structural gaps and technological convergence that allows us to advance to higher levels of productivity, with economic and environmental sustainability, thinking about future generations.”

“Today we take a step further and we bring you a proposal and a bet, with policy proposals that we have expressed in the document called: The inefficiency of inequality.”

“We affirm that inequality is not only unfair, but inefficient and unsustainable. We have brought empirical evidence to show this statement, why it is inefficient. Not only from the social point of view is unacceptable, but from the economic point of view is not viable for the future.”

“Why do we affirm this? Because it generates and sustains institutions that do not promote productivity or innovation, because it rewards or punishes class, ethnic or gender belonging, and because it generates a culture of privilege that reinforces these inequalities, which incorporates inequality into social relations as if it were something natural, as if it were something acceptable, and it reproduces it in time.”

“Discrimination closes opportunities and also represents the loss of learning and innovation paths favorable to productivity, especially in the discrimination of women. The glass roof that restricts the advancement of women in their careers is also a ceiling to productivity.”

“Today in our continent poverty has the face of a woman. One third of Latin American and Caribbean women do not manage to generate income and are economically dependent, and when they do, their salary is significantly lower than that of men with equal education and skills.”

“The costs of excluding institutions are many, let’s notice the great losses of potential productivity that result from the inequality of access to education and that occur in a generation and sometimes in our region are transmitted to other generations, intergenerationally, and this is especially serious in the context of the technological revolution, where the capacities . . . to absorb technical progress endogenously, are indispensable to compete and generate employment.”

“Our endemic structural heterogeneity is the factory of inequality, it has its roots in the culture of privilege, and it emerges, precisely, in that conjunction of structures with little diversification, low intensity of knowledge, and inefficient institutions. That is why we propose a path, to move from the culture of privileges to the culture of equality, to achieve these tasks that are undoubtedly associated with growth and productive diversification with innovation. But we must . . . expand our fiscal spaces to sustain financing capacity and also to protect those citizens who are going to be marginalized in the context of these profound transformations, especially in the world of work.”

“We bet on a new welfare regime, which is based on public finances that move from the current role of crisis management to one that is development-oriented, progressive and sufficient tax systems, increase in public investment, which is the most punished variable when there is a matter of fiscal consolidation, increase in public investment and social spending, to achieve just closing these structural gaps.”

“We need a macroeconomics for development, which seeks to preserve. Yes, real stability is very important . . . in those decades where it was so urgent to preserve and achieve real stability and financial stability through policies . . . that protect . . . public investment.”

“A determined struggle against corruption in the public and private sphere is required. It is sad . . . that 57% of Latin American citizens do not trust their institutions; we have to change this. That is why a mechanism is urgently needed, renewed institutions that allow greater control on the part of citizens: If paying taxes is a duty, monitoring public spending is a right. . . . [Because] no matter how hard the countries try to make a fiscal discipline, a national fiscal policy, it will be necessary to establish global fiscal rules to eradicate the transnationalization of the evasion, the tax illusion and ending the scheme of globalized fiscal privileges.”

“The increase in investment rates in Latin America remains a pending task. Notice that the levels of gross fixed-capital formation have been below the levels recorded in other regions, while Latin America has been around 20%, East Asia has reached very high levels, over 30%, reaching sometimes 40%. We can no longer ignore it, the growing gap between these two regions is closely linked to investment and innovation.”

“That is why today we want to reinforce our conviction and commitment to propose, to build together with the Member States, precisely, this road that we have to travel together, also making an accurate reading of what is happening in the present. Because it is true that we have better prospects for global growth, that there is better synchrony, more than 140 countries growing at the same time; but there are worrying contingencies and uncertainties.”

“We are also alert to trade confrontations between global economic factors, coupled with the return of more protectionist policies. We see with concern the deployment of a rapid technological revolution, which is difficult for us to keep pace and pace, while drawing potential threats to the future of work.”

“ECLAC in our region has projected for this year a growth of 2.2%. We are growing again after a couple of years of recession, and also the trade picks up slightly with better prices in raw materials; but what is a pending task . . . is regional integration.”

“We must continue to fight for greater regional integration, not only commercial but productive with integrated industries . . . in our region. This is more necessary than ever, because our region . . . is still the most unequal region in the world. All our singular richness in natural resources and human capacities still does not translate into a more dignified life for all its inhabitants.”

“In this past year more than 187 million people continue to live in poverty and, of these, 62 million in extreme poverty. [This is a] warning sign, because we are committed to eliminate poverty in all its forms by 2030. Then we have to accelerate the pace and propose a great environmental impulse that promotes industrial and technological policies that deploy the range of low-carbon productive activities such as renewable energy.”

“We propose greater integration of new, innovative, digital, technological industries that connect us, that link us, that link us through productive chains, human chains and that stimulate growth.”

“The region must overcome a development style that expresses environmental inefficiencies and is highly exposed to the growing impact of climate change. And the truth is that we do not have to look for the evidence very far, the recent catastrophic events show it clearly.”

The most affected part of our region, where all of us must strongly support each other is the Caribbean, and that is precisely why at ECLAC we have made the decision that in all ECLAC sessions there will always be a session of the First Caribbean. This is fundamental, because the historical magnitude of the hurricanes Irma and María underscore the urgency to act and act collectively.” (Emphasis added.)

“The economic costs of climate change in the region, calculated by ECLAC, to 2050 are between 1.5% and 5% of regional GDP. In some Caribbean nations, in the recent disaster, this calculation even reaches figures above 100% of GDP. This is what happens to us in the region and its impacts are not linear, they affect heterogeneously in different regions, periods and differently from social groups, especially the most marginalized.”

“Therefore, it is urgent that the civilizing agenda of the 2030 Agenda has equality in the center, with an identity and domicile in Latin America and the Caribbean, that from our history, from our rich diversity, from our shared hopes and challenges common we give it its own face, our institutions and we impose the urgencies that our reality demands.”

“The 2030 Agenda outlines a way to launch a new generation of policies and institutions, a new style of development and achieve a virtuous circle of growth, equality and sustainability. We owe it to the present and future generations.”

U.N. Secretary-General’s Speech[4]

“Decade after decade, ECLAC has been a progressive paradigm and authoritative voice of social justice in the world economy. The Commission has played a precursor role in integrating the economic, social and environmental dimensions of development. ECLAC has promoted, with perseverance and courage, a vision of development that considers equality as the driving force of growth. You at ECLAC have focused on a deeper meaning of equality, have looked beyond income, as a measure of well-being and as a decisive test of development cooperation, and have always maintained attention to equality of rights in its broadest sense, economic, social and political equality.”

“ECLAC has done everything on the basis of solid, rigorous research and delivery to share experiences that link national priorities with global deliberations.”

“Seventy years after its founding, ECLAC continues to be present where it has always been, in the first line of efforts to promote an equitable globalization, presenting empirically based policies, technical analysis and knowledge aimed at forging an economic, structural and progressive transformation .”

“This decision and this approach are now more necessary than ever before. We know the challenges facing our world. It is true that globalization has brought many benefits: more people have emerged from extreme poverty than ever before, the global middle class is greater than ever, more people have a longer and healthier life, but too many people are left behind. Women are still less likely to participate in the labor market and gender wage inequality remains a global concern.”

“Unemployment among young people reaches alarming levels, with a tragic impact on the well-being of young people, on the development possibilities of countries and even in some parts of the world with a negative impact on security.”

“Fundamental inequalities make it more difficult for people to enjoy better health, education and access to justice. These inequalities make it harder for people to earn a decent salary and live with dignity. For more than a generation, the richest 1% of the world’s income has grown twice as fast as the poorest 50%.”

“Like it or not, the increase in inequality has become the face of globalization and has generated discontent, intolerance and social instability, especially among our youth.”

“People wonder, rightly: What world is this in which a handful of men – because the richest in the world are men, in extreme wealth gender inequality also exists – accumulates the same amount of wealth as half poorest of humanity?”

“At the same time, the way we live and work is being transformed by the effect of technologies, from bioengineering to artificial intelligence and much more. But we must take advantage of the potential of the fourth industrial revolution and at the same time protect ourselves from the risks it poses. This is probably the most difficult challenge that we will have in the next two decades, making the fourth industrial revolution an origin of wellbeing and progress and not a risk that can have very negative consequences for the lives of our societies and our economies.”

“In an increasingly complex and multipolar world, we must redefine the concept of development, especially in transition regions and middle-income countries, such as those in Latin America and the Caribbean.”

“I congratulate ECLAC for partnering with the European Commission and the Development Center of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to allocate a fund of 10 million euros to countries in transition. We need a global economy that benefits everyone and creates opportunities for all. We need an equitable globalization.”

For this,  . . the 2030 Agenda is our fundamental contribution. The eradication of poverty is and remains our top priority. The 2030 Agenda is our road map, and its objectives and goals are the instruments to achieve that goal of eradicating extreme poverty.”

“The objectives of Sustainable Development make clear our ambition and our commitment: to empower women, achieve productive inclusion of young people, reduce climate risk, create decent jobs, demobilize clean investments in favor of inclusive growth and offer dignity and more opportunities for everyone on a healthy planet.”

We “must support the efforts made by the countries to mobilize their internal resources; but those efforts must be accompanied by a stronger commitment on the part of the international community to combat tax evasion, money laundering and illicit financial flows.”

“The audacity of the 2020-2030 Agenda calls for equally bold changes in the work and activities of the United Nations. Our efforts to reposition the United Nations Development System are based on creating a new generation of country teams that support countries, that reinforce national leadership and promote national ownership in favor of sustainable development.”

“We are committed to creating a system that responds to demand, aimed at achieving results at scale and rendering accounts for the provision of support to make the 2020-2030 Agenda a reality. The support of ECLAC is essential to help the countries of the region to implement the Agenda and sustainable development.”

“In September 2019, I will convene a climate summit in New York, where leaders from all fields will meet to fulfill the Paris Commitments, but also to elaborate more ambitious plans for sustainable development, because the Paris Commitments do not they are enough; plans that are based on investment in a resilient and low carbon development.”

Conclusion

As is typical for occasions like this, grandiose language is used to proclaim the objectives of the organization. Whether such language is justified, only time will tell.

It was surprising to this observer to hear Executive Secretary Bárcena say anything about the U.S. embargo (blockade) of Cuba. It was even more surprising to hear her say that “the blockade costs the Cuban people more than 130 billion dollars, at current prices,” which happens to be the same amount claimed by Cuba last November in the U.N. General Assembly debate over the annual resolution against this U.S. embargo.[5]

Although the Executive Secretary said, “We [at ECLAC] evaluate it [the impact of the embargo (blockade)] “every year,” she did not provide details about the calculations or methodology that produced the amount of the alleged damages or who or what ECLAC office did that analysis. Nor did she indicate whether or not Cuban officials were involved in that ECLAC effort.

Nevertheless, Cuban officials undoubtedly were pleased to hear her make this pronouncement even though it does not constitute conclusive proof of such an amount (or any other amount). Instead, it is an another allegation that has not been subjected to U.S. (or any other) analysis, cross-examination or contrary evidence.

As this blog has suggested, both Cuba and the U.S. should agree to submit all of their damage claims against each other, including the embargo claim, for resolution to the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague in the Netherlands under its Arbitration Rules 2012 before a panel of three or five arbitrators.[6]

These points regarding the alleged damages from the embargo (blockade) are notwithstanding this blogger’s consistent opposition to the embargo and urging the U.S. to end the embargo as soon as possible. It does not advance any real U.S. interest and obviously imposes some negative impact on Cuba. Moreover, the alleged damages obviously constitute a contingent liability of the U.S., and any rational actor should seek ways to reduce such a contingent liability, the easiest of which is stopping the practice.[7]

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[1] Other aspects of the ECLAC meeting  are d discussed in ECLAC, News;  Borrero, Cuba shows that economic growth and equality are not incompatible, Granma (May 9, 2018).

[2] Diaz-Canel, Cuba reiterates its commitment to partnership for development, based on mutual respect, selfless help and complementarity, Granma (May 8, 2018).

[3]  Bárcena, The 2030 Agenda outlines a way to launch a new style of development, Granma (May 8, 2018). Ms. Bárcena holds degrees in biology and public administration from the National Autonomous University of Mexico and Harvard University and has held positions at U.N. headquarters before becoming ECLAC’s Executive Secretary. (Ten years of the first woman in charge of ECLAC, Granma (May 8, 2018).)

[4] Guterres, Let’s commit ourselves to continue creating, to keep working and to keep fighting for not leaving anyone behind, Granma (May 8, 2018).

[5] See Another U.S. General Assembly Resolution Condemns U.S. Embargo (Blockade) of Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 1, 2017).

[6] Resolution of U.S. and Cuba’s Damage Claims, dwkcommentaries.com (April 6, 2015); Resolving U.S. and Cuba Damage Claims, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 13, 2015).

[7] See posts listed in the “U.S. Embargo of Cuba” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

 

Trump’s Hostility Towards Cuba Provides Opportunities for Russia              

As noted in previous posts, President Donald Trump in only one year in office has expressed hostility towards Cuba in various ways. Those actions have created opportunities for other countries to increase their connections with Cuba and thereby damage U.S. business relations with the island and potentially U.S. national security.

Opportunities for Russia

The foremost beneficiary of these U.S. changes has been Russia.

On December 16, in Havana Cuba President Raúl Castro and Economy Minister Ricardo Cabrisas met with the head of Russian oil company Rosneft, Igor Sechin, for discussions about increasing Cuba’s purchases of oil from Rosneft and modernizing the island’s oil refinery in Cienfuegos. Also participating in the meeting was Mikhail L. Kamynin, Russian ambassador in Cuba.[1]

This May Rosneft started shipping some oil to Cuba, the first significant such sales since the early 1990s. The resumption of this relationship is in response to the U.S. hostility and discouraging U.S. business with the island and to the significant reduction of Venezuela’s shipments of such products to Cuba and the resulting shortages of fuel and electricity for Cubans.

Other Russian beneficiaries are Avtovaz, Russia’s biggest carmaker; KAMAZ, Russia’s largest truck manufacturer; and Sinara, a large locomotive manufacturer. Next month Avtovaz will ship 300 new shiny Lada automobiles to Cuba and hopes to ramp up such exports, thanks to financing from Russian government development bank VEB. Last month Sinara delivered the first of 75 locomotives worth $190 million ordered by Cuba in 2016.[2]

In addition, Russian Railways (RZD) is negotiating to upgrade more than 1000 km of Cuban railroads and to install a high-speed link between Havana and the beach resort of Varadero, in what would be Cuba’s biggest infrastructure project in decades worth $2.26 billion

Aleksandr Bogatyr, Russia’s trade representative in Cuba, said that there Has been a “renaissance” as he forecast bilateral trade could grow to $350 million to $400 million this year, one of its highest levels in nearly two decades, up from $248 million in 2016.

A major obstacle to all of these deals is Cuba’s lack of cash and Russia’s own economic problems. Yet in 2014 Russia forgave 90 percent of Cuba’s $35 billion Soviet-era debt and started providing export financing to Russian companies looking to sell to the cash-strapped island.

An outsider to the Russian connection, Jason Marczak, Director the U.S.-based Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, observed, “Russia sees it as a moment to further its own relationship with Cuba” and “the more the Russian footprint increases in Cuba, the more that will reinforce hardened anti-U.S. attitudes and shut out U.S. businesses from eventually doing greater business in Cuba.”

Challenge to U.S. National Security

All of this also represents a national security challenge to the U.S. This April a group of high-ranking military officers wrote an open letter to the Trump administration urging continuation of the U.S. opening with Cuba. One of the letter’s signatories, retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. David L. McGinnis, said, “If Russia is willing to offset oil supplies from Venezuela and some other things, maybe Cuba doesn’t have much of a choice but to let them re-establish political warfare operations there.”

This general Russian threat to the U.S. is recognized in the National Security Strategy of the United States of America that was released on December 18. At the very start on page 2 it states,, “China and Russia challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity. They are determined to make economies less free and less fair, to grow their militaries, and to control information and data to repress their societies and expand their influence.” This was made specific with respect to Cuba  on page 51 with the following statements: “In Venezuela and Cuba, governments cling to anachronistic leftist authoritarian models that continue to fail their people. Competitors have found operating space in the hemisphere. . . . Russia continues its failed politics of the Cold War by bolstering its radical Cuban allies as Cuba continues to repress its citizens.”  (Emphases added.)

The U.S. National Security Strategy reacts to the Russian challenge by saying that  the U.S. with Canada and “key countries in the region . . . . will build a stable and peaceful hemisphere that increases economic opportunities for all, improves governance, reduces the power of criminal organizations, and limits the malign influence of non-hemispheric forces. . . . We will catalyze regional efforts to build security and prosperity through strong diplomatic engagement. We will isolate governments that refuse to act as responsible partners in advancing hemispheric peace and prosperity. We look forward to the day when the people of Cuba and Venezuela can enjoy freedom and the benefits of shared prosperity, and we encourage other free states in the hemisphere to support this shared endeavor. (Emphases added.)

But this presidential document fails to acknowledge that this Russian involvement was precipitated, in part, by the Trump Administration’s own hostility towards Cuba and that a continuation of normalization of relations with Cuba would not have provided “operating space” in Cuba for “competitors” like Russia.[3]

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[1] Reuters, Cuba’s Castro and Russian Oil Executive Meet in Havana, N.Y. Times (Dec. 17, 2017); Raúl receives Igor Sechin, Granma (Dec. 18, 2017).

[2] Reuters, Cuba Boost Trade Ties with Cold War Ally Russia as U.S. Disengages, N.Y. Times (Dec. 19, 2017).

[3] White House, National Security Strategy of the United States of America (Dec. 2017).

 

 

 

Update on Hurricane Irma’s Impact on Cuba

Now that Hurricane Irma has left Cuba, greater details have emerged about its impact.

Early Reports

On the morning of Sunday (September 10) Reuters reported that “waves of up to 36 feet (11 meters) smashed businesses along Havana’s sea-side drive, . . . pummeling famous hotels such as the Copacabana, which were evacuated along with flooded neighborhoods.  Although the hurricane “did not hit Havana directly and brought only moderate wind and rain, . . .  the storm surge was still driving giant waves over the sea wall.” Associated Press added, “Seawater penetrated as much as 1,600 feet (500 meters) inland in parts of the city. Trees toppled, roofs were torn off, cement water tanks fell from roofs to the ground and electrical lines are down.” As a result, “emergency workers in inflatable boats navigated flooded streets Sunday along Havana’s coastline, where thousands of people left their homes for safer ground before Hurricane Irma hit Cuba.”[1]

Late Sunday afternoon Cuban authorities warned that the floodwaters in Havana could linger for more than a day as waves as high as 20 feet (6 meters) continued to pound the city. The U.S. Embassy astride the Malecon was damaged; its black perimeter fence, exterior panels, windows and doors were damaged. High-end hotels Melia Cohiba and Rivera also were damaged.

72 miles (116 km) east of the capital, Varadero, the country’s most important tourist resort, was whipped by winds, but it appeared to escape the full fury of the storm. The head of civil defense for the province said, “Our preliminary estimate of damage in Varadero is that it was concentrated in metal structures, false ceilings, and some buildings.”

On Sunday morning Raúl Castro as the President of the National Civil Defense Council issued a statement that the hurricane “has strongly impacted electrical infrastructure in practically the entire country, which impedes the concentration of brigades of specialized linemen in a particular zone.”[2]

Early Sunday afternoon that Council’s Advisory No. 6 stated, “Although Irma is gradually moving away from the island, it continues to represent a threat to Cuba. Its outer bands continue to affect the country’s central and western regions, with heavy and locally intense rainfall. Tropical storm strength winds continue to be felt from Sancti Spíritus to Artemisa, as well as storm surges along the northwest coast from Matanzas to Artemisa, the northern coast of the provinces of Sancti Spíritus and Villa Clara, and the southern shoreline from Camagüey to Matanzas.”

The Miami Herald has been publishing photographs of the effects of Irma in Cuba.[3]

Center for Democracy in the Americas’ Special Report

On Monday, the Center for Democracy in the Americas issued a special report, which is reprinted here in its entirety.[4]

“Hurricane Irma slammed into Cuba over the weekend, leaving 10 dead and causing destruction and flooding across the island. Irma, which made landfall in the country’s northeastern provinces as a Category 5 storm, was the strongest storm to hit Cuba in 85 years, according to Reuters.”

Damages

“The hurricane wrought havoc in Cuba’s keys, badly damaging most structures and all but destroying the international Jardines del Rey airport in Cayo Coco. Cuba’s President Raúl Castro released a statement Monday, saying, ‘Given the immensity of [Irma’s] size, practically no region has escaped its effects.’”

“Though Havana avoided a direct hit, the capital city saw extensive flooding, with 36-foot waves rising well over the Malecón (seawall) and seawater reaching one-third of a mile inland, according to Reuters and the Associated Press. The U.S. Embassy in Havana, which is located along the Malecón, saw structural damage to its fence and severe flooding inside the building.”

“According to CubaDebate, 7 of the 10 reported deaths across Cuba occurred in Havana, mostly due to falling structures and live electrical cables lying in the city’s flooded streets. Much of the island remains without power or cell service.”

“Cuba had evacuated over 1 million people, including over 8,000 tourists, prior to the storm’s arrival.”

Economic Impacts

“Irma has brought consequences for a number of Cuba’s principle economic sectors, including the sugar and tourism industries.”

“According to Granma, 300,000 hectares of sugarcane crops and 40 percent of sugar refineries in Cuba suffered some degree of damage from the storm. Cuba harvested 436,000 hectares of sugarcane in 2015, the last year for which data was available.”

“Meanwhile, the extensive damage to the Cuban Keys has left many of the country’s most popular resorts uninhabitable. President Castro stated that damages ‘will be recovered before the start of the high season’ for tourism.”

Response

“In his statement, President Castro said, ‘It is not time to mourn, but rather to rebuild what the winds of Hurricane Irma tried to destroy.’ Countries including Ecuador, Bolivia, and Russia have stated their intention to deliver aid to the island.”

“Prior to the storm reaching Cuba, the country sent nearly 800 doctors to affected Caribbean islands, according to Granma.”

President Castro’s Public Statement

The previously mentioned statement on Monday morning, September 11, by President Raúl Castro.[5] said “practically no province was spared [Irma’s] effects,” especially “severe damage to [the island’s] housing, the electrical system, and agriculture.”

“It also struck some of our principal tourist destinations, but damage will be repaired before the beginning of the high season. We have on hand for this the human resources and materials needed, given that this constitutes one of the principal sources of income in the national economy.”

“The days that are coming will be ones of much work, during which the strength and indestructible confidence in the Revolution of Cubans will again be demonstrated. This is not a time to mourn, but to construct again that which the winds of Irma attempted to destroy.”

Economic Impact

New York Times reporters talk about the problem of rebuilding tourist infrastructure facing many Caribbean islands, including Cuba.[6] They report, “Travel and tourism accounts for a higher share of the Caribbean region’s gross domestic product than it does in any other region in the world, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council, supporting more than 2.3 million jobs. . . . In Cuba, the long-term implications could be even worse. The hardest-hit parts of the islands contain a significant share of its tourist infrastructure and bring in precious foreign currency for the communist nation. Without that, the country loses one of its primary sources of income to purchase items on the global market, including the construction materials it will need to repair the damaged infrastructure.”

On Monday, they report, “President Raúl Castro recognized the importance of resorts to the Cuban economy and promised they would be rebuilt before the start of the peak season, which runs from December to April. The target is ambitious, but with Venezuela, the island’s main economic partner, racked by its own crises, Cuba can’t afford to miss it. The Cuban government announced on Monday that 10 people had died as a result of the storm, bringing the death toll in the Caribbean to at least 37.”

Cuba’s sugar industry, another important Cuban industry for employment and export earnings, suffered significant damage. According to Liobel Perez, spokesman for AZCUBA, the state sugar monopoly,  “Some 300,000 hectares (740,000 acres) of cane were affected to different degrees” and 40 percent of the country’s mills were also damaged, as were warehouses and other parts of the industry’s infrastructure.[7]          

Conclusion

To meet the huge problem of rebuilding Cuba’s housing and infrastructure this blogger suggests that Cuba rescind its new restrictions on cooperatives that engage in construction that were discussed in a prior post.  Cuba needs all the help it can get as soon as possible.

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[1] Reuters, Irma’s 36-Feet Waves Slam Havana, Winds Pummel Varadero Resort, N.Y. Times (Sept. 10, 2017); Assoc. Press, Cuba Sees Devastation as Hurricane Irma Veers Toward Florida, N.Y. Times (Sept. 10, 2017); Assoc. Press, Waves from Irma Flood Havana Coast Even as Storm Moves Away, N.Y. times (Sept. 10, 2017); Advisory No. 6 from the National Civil Defense General Staff regarding Hurricane Irma, Granma (Sept. 10, 2017); Cuba responds to Irma, Granma (Sept. 10, 2017); Irma disappears the melecón of Havana, Cubadebate (Sept. 10, 2017) (photos of Havana); Irma: The sad trace of an unwanted visitor, Cubadebate (Sept. 10, 2017) (photos of Havana); In photos, trees shot down by Irma in several places in Havana, Cubadebate (Sept. 10, 2017); National Civil Defense Council General Staff announcement regarding deaths associated with Hurricane Irma, Granma (Sept. 11, 2017).

[2]  Instructions from President of the National Civil Defense Council, Granma (Sept. 10, 2017).

[3] Photo gallery: Hurricane Irma Cuba/Sun,. Sept. 10, 2017 , Miami Herald (Sept. 10, 2017); Hurricane Irma in photos: heavy flooding on the Cuban coast, from Matanzas to Havana, Miami Herald (Sept. 10, 2017); Photo gallery: Hurricane Irma strikes Cuba/Sat., Sept. 9, 2017, Miami Herald (Sept. 10, 2017).

[4] Center Democracy in Americas, Cuba Central News Brief Special Report: Cuba Recovers After Irma (Sept. 11, 2017).

[5] Castro,  A call to our combative people, Granma (Sept. 11, 2017).

[6] Ahmed & Semple, In the Caribbean, Rebuilding Nations—and the Tourism Industry, N.Y. Times (Sept. 11, 2017); Reuters, Hurricane Irma Kills 10 in Cuba, Castro Calls for Unity, N.Y. Times (Sept. 11, 2017).

[7] Reuters, Irma Severely Damages Cuban Sugar Industry, Crop: State Media, N.Y. Times (Sept. 11, 2017).

U.S. State Department’s Positive Assessment of Cuban Religious Freedom  

On August 15, 2017, the U.S. State Department released its annual report on religious freedom in nearly 200 countries and territories in the world. This report is a requirement pursuant to the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended; legislation that upholds religious freedom as a core American value under the Constitution’s First Amendment, as well as a universal human right. This law calls for the government to, quote, “[Stand] for liberty and [stand] with the persecuted, to use and implement appropriate tools in the United States foreign policy apparatus, including diplomatic, political, commercial, charitable, educational, and cultural channels, to promote respect for religious freedom by all governments and peoples.”[1]

The release was accompanied by remarks from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who said, “conditions in many parts of the world are far from ideal. Religious persecution and intolerance remains far too prevalent. Almost 80 percent of the global population live with restrictions on or hostilities to limit their freedom of religion. Where religious freedom is not protected, we know that instability, human rights abuses, and violent extremism have a greater opportunity to take root.” He specifically mentioned serious concerns about religious freedom in ISIS, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Bahrain, China, Pakistan and Sudan. Subsequently Ambassador Michael Kozak, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, conducted a telephone conference briefing with journalists.[2]

Our focus here is examining the report’s substantially positive assessment of religious freedom in Cuba in 2016.[3] A more negative evaluation of Cuba was provided earlier this year by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an unusual, quasi-governmental group; its report about Cuba  also will be discussed before providing my own observations.

State Department’s Assessment of Cuba[4]

Religious Demography

“The U.S. government estimates the total population at 11.2 million (July 2016 estimate). There is no independent, authoritative source on the overall size or composition of religious groups. The Roman Catholic Church estimates 60 to 70 percent of the population identify as Catholic. Membership in Protestant churches is estimated at 5 percent of the population. Pentecostals and Baptists are likely the largest Protestant denominations. The Assemblies of God reports approximately 110,000 members and the Four Baptist Conventions estimate their combined membership at more than 100,000 members. Jehovah’s Witnesses estimate their members at 96,000; Methodists at 36,000; Seventh-day Adventists at 35,000; Anglicans, 22,500; Presbyterians, 15,500; Episcopalians, 6,000; Quakers, 300; and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), 100. The Jewish community estimates it has 1,500 members, of whom 1,200 reside in Havana. According to the Islamic League, there are 2,000 to 3,000 Muslims residing in the country, of whom an estimated 1,500 are Cubans. Other religious groups include Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Buddhists, and Bahais.”

“Many individuals, particularly in the African Cuban community, practice religions with roots in West Africa and the Congo River Basin, known collectively as Santeria. These religious practices are commonly intermingled with Catholicism, and some require Catholic baptism for full initiation, making it difficult to estimate accurately their total membership.”

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and prohibits discrimination based on religion. The government and the Cuban Communist Party monitored religious groups through the Office of Religious Affairs (ORA) in the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) and continued to control most aspects of religious life. Observers noted that the government harassed some religious leaders and their followers, with reports of threats, detentions, and violence. Evangelical and other Protestant religious leaders reported the government threatened to expropriate some religious properties under zoning laws passed in 2015 but took no action during the year. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reported in a January publication that there was an increase in government threats to close churches from 2014 to 2015. The majority was related to government threats to close churches belonging to Assemblies of God congregations, but the Assemblies of God and the government were able to reach an agreement which enabled the churches to stay open. Religious groups reported a continued increase in the ability of their members to conduct charitable and educational projects, such as operating before and after school and community service programs, assisting with care of the elderly, and maintaining small libraries of religious materials. Multiple high-level leaders from Catholic, Protestant, and minority religious groups agreed the religious freedom environment had improved compared to past years.” (Emphases added.)[5]

There were no reports of significant societal actions affecting religious freedom.” (Emphasis added.)

“U.S. embassy officials met with officials from the ORA to discuss the registration process for religious organizations and inquire about the rights of nonregistered groups to practice their religion. Embassy officials also met with the head of the Council of Cuban Churches (CCC), an officially recognized organization that has close ties to the government and comprises most Protestant groups, to discuss their operations and programs. The [U.S.] Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom and the [U.S.] Special Representative for Religion and Global Affairs met with leaders of Catholic, Protestant, and minority religious groups to discuss the religious freedom environment in the country. The embassy remained in close contact with religious groups, including facilitating exchanges between visiting religious delegations and religious groups in the country. In public statements, the U.S. government called upon the government to respect the fundamental freedoms of its citizens, including the freedom of religion.”

U.S. Commission’s Evaluation of Cuba[6]

On April 26, 2017, the Commission released its 2017 report on religious freedom in 36 countries and one region, in contrast to the nearly 200 countries covered by the State Department. The Commission’s nine unpaid, part-time commissioners are appointed by various federal government officials supported by an ex-officio non-voting member (U.S. Ambassador David Saperstein), an executive director, four directors, an executive writer, five policy analysts, one researcher and four administrative staff, all based in Washington, D.C. It apparently has an annual budget of only $ 3.5 million.[7]

The 36 countries (and one region) evaluated by the Commission fall into the following three groups:

  • The 16 countries that the Commission believes constitute “countries of particular concern” (CPC) or “any country whose government engages in or tolerates particularly egregious religious freedom violations that are systematic, ongoing, and egregious” and that the Commission recommends that the State Department so designate. (Pp. 3-4)
  • The 12 countries that the Commission believes constitute “Tier 2 nations in which the violations engaged in or tolerated by the government are serious and characterized by at least one of the elements of the ‘systematic, ongoing, and egregious’ CPC standard;” Cuba is one of these 12 countries (Pp. 3-4)
  • The 8 other countries and one region that the Commission has monitored, but are not deemed to be CPC or Tier 2. (Pp. 3-4)

For Cuba, the Commission’s “Key Findings” were the following: “During the reporting period, religious freedom conditions in Cuba continued to deteriorate due to the government’s short-term detentions of religious leaders, demolition of churches, and threats to confiscate churches. In addition, the Cuban government harasses religious leaders and laity, interferes in religious groups’ internal affairs, and prevents—at times violently—human rights and pro-democracy activists from participating in religious activities. The Cuban government actively limits, controls, and monitors religious practice through a restrictive system of laws and policies, surveillance, and harassment. Based on these concerns, USCIRF again places Cuba on its Tier 2 in 2017, as it has since 2004.” (P. 134)

Almost all of the specifics that purportedly underlie these Key Findings relate to churches affiliated with the Apostolic Movement;[8] Assemblies of God churches, which the State Department reports had settled its problems with the Cuban government; the Western Baptist Convention; and the detentions of Ladies in White protestors (pp. 136-38). Apparently, the Commission’s discussion of Cuba is based in whole or in part on reports by Christian Solidarity Worldwide, which has headquartered in the United Kingdom with offices in Washington, D.C. and Brussels, Belgium and which only obtained U.N. accredited consultative status after eight years by the U.N. Economic and Social Council in April 2017 by a vote of 28-9 with 12 abstentions.

Purportedly based on these Key Findings, the Commission made certain recommendations to the federal government (p. 134).

Conclusion

I believe that the State Department’s assessment on Cuba is more reliable than that from the U.S. Commission, as a mere comparison of their respective reports and as the mere listing of the various religious groups active on the island in the Department’s report should demonstrate.

Moreover, the Department has experienced diplomats in Cuba who met during the year with various Cuban government and religious officials supplemented by visits to Cuba by Washington, D.C. Department officials with responsibility for assessing religious freedom around the world. In contrast, the Commission is a very small organization with limited resources in Washington, D.C. without personnel in Cuba or visits to Cuba and that apparently has focused on a small number of Cuban churches, some of which apparently are affiliated with a little-known church in California and with apparent reliance on a little-known U.K. group that only recently received U.N. accredited consultative status by a divided vote.

The Department’s assessment also is supported by my personal experience.

Over the last 15 years as a member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church I have been actively involved in our partnerships with a small Presbyterian-Reformed Church in the city of Matanzas on the north coast of Cuba and with the national Synod of that church. I have been on three church mission trips to Cuba to visit our partner and other Presbyterian-Reformed churches and its campimento (camp) on the island, the ecumenical seminary in Matanzas (Seminario Evangelico de Teologia), Havana’s office of the Council of Cuban Churches and Havana’s Ebenezer Baptist Church and its affiliated Martin Luther King, Jr. Center and Pastor Rev. Raúl Suárez, who has served in Cuba’s legislature (National Assembly of People’s Power).

I also have welcomed and discussed Cuban religious life with Cuban members and pastors on their visits to Minneapolis, including Rev. Dra. Ofelia Miriam Ortega Suárez, the Directora of Havana’s Instituto Cristiano de Estudios Sobre Gênero and a member of Cuba’s legislature (National Assembly of People’s Power). In addition, I have heard from other Westminster members and pastors about their trips to Cuba. This includes some Westminster members who have been involved in installing clean water systems in Cuban Presbyterian-Reformed churches through the Living Waters for the World Ministry of the Synod of Living Waters of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), our denomination, and a Westminster member is now the Moderator of the Cuba Network Coordinating Team for that organization.[9]  Finally I read widely about Cuba, especially its relations with the U.S. and its religious life.

These connections have been very important to me personally and to others at Westminster as we stand in solidarity with our Cuban brothers and sisters. I also was impressed and moved by Pope Francis’ encouragement of U.S.-Cuba normalization and reconciliation in 2013-2014 and his pastoral visits to Cuba and the U.S. in 2015.[10]

I, therefore, believe that at least in the 21st century there has been an ever-increasing role for, and freedom of, religion in Cuba as this poor country struggles to improve the spiritual and economic welfare of its people. I also believe that Westminster and other U.S. churches’ partnering with Cuban churches and people along with Pope Francis’ witness have been God’s servants aiding, and continuing to aid, these encouraging changes.

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, Preface: International Religious Freedom Report for 2016 (Aug. 15, 2017); U.S. State Dep’t, Overview and Acknowledgement: International Religious Freedom Report for 2016 (Aug. 15, 2017).

[2] U.S. State Dep’t, Secretary Tillerson: Remarks on the 2016 International Religious Freedom Report (Aug. 15, 2017); Special Briefing: Ambassador Michael Kozak, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (Aug. 15, 2017).

[3] Other posts have discussed the State Department’s and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s previous assessments of Cuban religious freedom along with comments by others and the international law regarding freedom of religion; they are listed in the “Cuban Freedom of Religion” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Cuba.

[4] U.S. State Dep’t, International Religious Freedom Report for 2016: Cuba (Aug. 15, 2017).

[5] This positive development was emphasized in the body of the Cuba report, which stated, “Religious groups reported their leaders continued to travel abroad to participate in two-way exchanges between local faith-based communities and those in other countries. The majority of religious groups continued to report improvement in their ability to attract new members without government interference, and a reduction in interference from the government in conducting their services.”

[6] U.S. Comm’n Int’l Religious Freedom, 2017 Annual Report (April 26, 2017); Press Release: USCIRF Releases 2017 Annual Report (April 26, 2017).

[7] Grieboski, The Case for Pulling the Plug on the US Commission on  International Religious Freedom, Huffpost (Dec. 18, 2011); Press Release: Rubio Celebrates Signing Of U.S. Commission On International Religious Freedom Reauthorization Act Into Law (Oct. 15, 2015).

[8] The Apostolic Movement apparently is headquartered in San Diego, California as “a Fivefold Ministry organization headed by an Apostolic team of Fivefold Ministers . . .[with] a mandate from God the Father through the Lord Jesus Christ, to go and prepare the Body of Christ for the final move of God . . . [by finding] the Hidden Warriors whom He has hidden away, waiting for the time of their manifestation [based upon the belief that] God has reserved for Himself apostles, both men and women, who are not currently visible or part of the Status Quo Church System.”

[9] A brief discussion of these Westminster connections with Cuba occurs in this blog post: Praise God for Leading U.S. and Cuba to Reconciliation (Dec. 22, 2014).

[10] See the blog posts listed in the “Pope Francis Visits to Cuba & U.S., 2015” in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

Reducing Adverse Impact on Cuban Entrepreneurs of Trump’s Partial Ban on U.S. Person-to-Person Travel to Cuba   

As described in a prior post, on June 16 President Donald Trump announced a ban on U.S. citizens going to Cuba on individual person-to-person travel to be effective upon future adoption of regulations and instead requiring such travel to be only in organized groups. Another post then reviewed the anticipated adverse impact of this change upon Cuba’s emerging private enterprise sector (b&bs, restaurants, taxis, tour guides and others) by forcing visiting Americans to travel in buses and hotels owned by the Cuban government (including its military and security forces), which presumably will be banned by future regulations implementing another Trump policy change.

That is still the assessment of the anticipated impact[1] and, therefore, why this blogger advocates the prompt congressional passage of bills granting Americans the freedom to travel to Cuba as discussed in another post.

Indeed, the Associated Press confirms this view with reports of recent cancellations of reservations at b&bs in Havana and Trinidad, a colonial city on the south coast of the island, and by a prospective American traveler for this very reason. “Tour operators ‘should be opening Champagne’ because of the new policy, said John Caulfield, former chief of mission of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana and co-founder of the nonprofit Innovadores Foundation, which seeds innovation in Cuba.”[2]

The Associated Press, however, reports ways for Cuban entrepreneurs to reduce this adverse impact on their business with American travelers. Some small bed-and-breakfast owners plan to create informal associations of neighboring businesses so they can accommodate larger American groups. And at least some tour operators say they already use privately owned villas, casas and eateries, and engage with local guides, entrepreneurs and artists. And presumably the future U.S. regulations banning U.S. businesses from dealing with Cuban businesses owned or controlled by the Cuban military or security services will prohibit tour operators from having their travelers staying in hotels so owned or controlled and instead booking accommodations at privately owned enterprises.

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[1] Kunović, Five things you need to know about Trump’s Cuba policy—and who it will hurt, Wash. Post (June 22, 2017).

[2] Assoc. Press, New Trump Rules on Cuba Travel Leaves Winners and Losers, N.Y. Times (June 27, 2017).

 

 

 

 

More Cuban Arrests of Dissidents

On Human Rights Day (December 10) the U.S. State Department launched an international campaign calling on 10 governments around the world to free 10 political prisoners. Such Political prisoners, the U.S. said, “should be free to believe. They should be free to be loved. They should be free to be home.”

One of them is Cuban Julio Alfredo Ferrer Tamayo, who is ‎”affiliated with the Cubalex Legal Information Center, an NGO that works to provide citizens with free legal assistance. On September 23, authorities arrested Julio during a raid on the organization’s Havana office, where they also confiscated office equipment and files, and even strip-searched some of the staff. He had a suspended three-year sentence from allegedly falsifying public documents, a charge which civil society groups say is politically motivated. Julio Alfredo’s family didn’t know his whereabouts for several days after the arrest, but he has since been able to communicate with his daughter.”[1]

There also have been recent arrests of other Cuban dissidents.[2]

On December 18, in Santiago de Cuba, the police raided the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) in Santiago de Cuba and eight other homes of activists in that city, Havana and Palma Soriano.

A total of 115 UNPACU dissidents were arrested. This included their leader, Jose Daniel Ferrer. As of December 20, several were still detained and two, Lisandra Rivera Rodríguez and José Luis Álvarez Chacón, were allegedly charged with alleged “attempted” crimes.

In addition, the police seized UNPACU laptop computers, CDs, cell phones and other equipment used by the dissidents.

Members of another dissident group, Ladies in White, were arrested this past Sunday and prevented from attending mass at a Catholic church, and on December 20 more than 40 such members were detained and prevented from attending a Literary Tea in Central Park in Old Havana.

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[1] A prior post discussed the raid and arrests at Cubalex.

[2] Ferrer, UNPAC and the homes of several activists, Diario de Cuba (Dec. 18, 2016); The regime breaks its own repressive marks: 115 UNPACU activists were detained on Sunday, DiariodeCuba (Dec. 20, 2016); Some 30 Ladies in White arrested in Havana and Matanzas, Diario de Cuba (Dec. 18, 2016); More than 40 Ladies in White detained in Havana to prevent them from attending a literary tea, DiariodeCuba (Dec. 20, 2016).