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).

U.S. and Cuba Discuss Counterterrorism Cooperation

On June 8, U.S. and Cuba officials met in Havana to conduct their first Counterterrorism Technical Exchange. The U.S. delegation included representatives of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and U.S. Department of State. The Cuban delegation was from the Ministries of the Interior and Foreign Affairs, the Attorney General’s Office and General Customs of the Republic.[1]

Before the meeting the Department of State said, “Coordination and cooperation on counterterrorism has been one of several important topics discussed in law enforcement dialogues between the United States and Cuba. We welcome the opportunity to bring together technical experts to discuss this topic of common interest.”

Afterwards, the Cuban Foreign Ministry merely said that the meeting was conducted with “respect and professionalism” and that “both parties agreed on the importance of progress in cooperation in this sphere and agreed to continue the meetings of technicians on the topic.”

Outsiders speculated that the meeting may have included discussions about a possible high-profile prisoner swap: U.S.-jailed Cuban spy Ana Belén Montes in exchange for longtime American fugitive in Cuba, Joanne Chesimard (n/k/a Assata Shakur). The State Department, however, has refused to confirm that such an exchange was being discussed. Instead the Department merely stated that the U.S. “continues to seek the return of Cuba of fugitives from US justice” and that the State Department “brings out the cases of fugitives to the Cuban Government to be settled and will continue to do so at every appropriate opportunity.”[2]

Montes on September 21, 2001 (10 days after 9/11), was arrested and subsequently charged with conspiracy to commit espionage for the Cuban government during the 16 years she worked as an analyst for the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency. The charges also stated she had revealed the identities of four U.S. secret agents. Montes eventually pleaded guilty to spying, and in October 2002 she was sentenced to a 25-year prison term followed by five years’ probation. Recently an international campaign has been started to seek her release from U.S. prison.

Chesimard/Shakur, as discussed in a prior post, was convicted in a New Jersey state court for participation in the murder a state trooper in 1973 and sentenced to life imprisonment, but in 1979 broke out of a New Jersey prison and in 1984 fled to Cuba, where she was granted political asylum and perhaps Cuban citizenship.

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[1] Dep’t of State, United States and Cuba To Hold first Counterterrorism Technical Exchange in Havana (June 7, 2016); Minrex, Cuban and U.S. officials discuss counterterrorism, Granma (June 9, 2016).

[2] Ayuso, United States and Cuba speak of terrorism, ElPais (June 9, 2016); Torres, Speculation rises over possible exchange of Cuba spy for American fugitive, InCubaToday (June 8, 2016); Ana Montes, Wikipedia; Latell, New revelations about Cuban spy Ana Montes, Miami Herald (Aug. 2, 2014); Whitney, Cuba, War and Ana Belen Montes, counterpunch (Feb. 8, 2016).

The Second Day of Pope Francis’ Mission to the Cuban People

On Sunday, September 20, 2015, Pope Francis celebrated mass in Havana’s Plaza de Revolutión before a crowd of thousands. In attendance were Cuban President Raúl Castro and other government officials. The Pope also had separate private meetings with Fidel and Raúl Castro and later presided at a vespers service and met with a group of young people.[1]

Celebration of Mass in Plaza de la Revolución

Mass

Crowd @ mass

 

 

 

 

The above photos show the large crowd at the Sunday morning mass at Plaza de la Revolución. In his homily Francis said, “The Gospel shows us Jesus asking a seemingly indiscreet question of his disciples: ‘What were you discussing along the way?’  It is a question he could also ask each of us today: ‘What do you talk about every day?  What are your aspirations?’  The Gospel tells us that the disciples ‘did not answer because on the way they had been arguing about who was the most important.’  The disciples were ashamed to tell Jesus what they were talking about.  As with the disciples then, we too can be caught up in these same arguments: who is the most important?”

“Jesus does not press the question.  He does not force them to tell him what they were talking about on the way.  But the question lingers, not only in the minds of the disciples, but also in their hearts.”

“Who is the most important?  This is a life-long question to which, at different times, we must give an answer.  We cannot escape the question; it is written on our hearts.  The history of humanity has been marked by the answer we give to this question.”

“Jesus is not afraid of people’s questions; he is not afraid of our humanity or the different things we are looking for.  On the contrary, he knows the ‘twists and turns’ of the human heart, and, as a good teacher, he is always ready to encourage and support us.  As usual, he takes up our searching, our aspirations, and he gives them a new horizon.  As usual, he somehow finds the answer which can pose a new challenge, setting aside the ‘right answers,’ the standard replies we are expected to give.  As usual, Jesus sets before us the ‘logic’ of love.  A mindset, an approach to life, which is capable of being lived out by all, because it is meant for all.”

“Far from any kind of elitism, the horizon to which Jesus points is not for those few privileged souls capable of attaining the heights of knowledge or different levels of spirituality.  The horizon to which Jesus points always has to do with daily life, also here on ‘our island.’ something which can season our daily lives with eternity.”

“Who is the most important?  Jesus is straightforward in his reply: ‘Whoever wishes to be the first among you must be the last of all, and the servant of all.’  Whoever wishes to be great must serve others, not be served by others.

“Here lies the great paradox of Jesus.  The disciples were arguing about who would have the highest place, who would be chosen for privileges, who would be above the common law, the general norm, in order to stand out in the quest for superiority over others.  Who would climb the ladder most quickly to take the jobs that carry certain benefits.”

“Jesus upsets their ‘logic.’ their mindset, simply by telling them that life is lived authentically in a concrete commitment to our neighbor.”

“The call to serve involves something special, to which we must be attentive.  Serving others chiefly means caring for their vulnerability.  Caring for the vulnerable of our families, our society, our people.  Theirs are the suffering, fragile and downcast faces which Jesus tells us specifically to look at and which he asks us to love.  With a love that takes shape in our actions and decisions.  With a love that finds expression in whatever tasks we, as citizens, are called to perform.  People of flesh and blood, people with individual lives and stories, and with all their frailty: these are those whom Jesus asks us to protect, to care for, to serve.  Being a Christian entails promoting the dignity of our brothers and sisters, fighting for it, living for it.  That is why Christians are constantly called to set aside their own wishes and desires, their pursuit of power, and to look instead to those who are most vulnerable.”

“There is a kind of ‘service’ that truly ‘serves,’ yet we need to be careful not to be tempted by another kind of service, a ‘service’ that is ‘self-serving/’  There is a way to go about serving which is interested in only helping ‘my people,’ [or] ‘our people.’  This service always leaves ‘your people’ outside, and gives rise to a process of exclusion.”

“All of us are called by virtue of our Christian vocation to that service which truly serves, and to help one another not to be tempted by a ‘service’ that is really ‘self-serving.’  All of us are asked, indeed urged, by Jesus to care for one another out of love.  Without looking to one side or the other to see what our neighbor is doing or not doing.  Jesus tells us: Whoever would be first among you must be the last, and the servant of all.  He does not say: if your neighbor wants to be first, let him be the servant!  We have to be careful to avoid judgmental looks and renew our belief in the transforming look to which Jesus invites us.”

“This caring for others out of love is not about being servile.  Rather, it means putting our brothers and sisters at the center.  Service always looks to their faces, touches their flesh, senses their closeness and even, in some cases, ‘suffers’ in trying to help.  Service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas. We serve people.”

“God’s holy and faithful people in Cuba are a people with a taste for parties, for friendship, for beautiful things. It is a people who marches with songs of praise.  It is a people who has its wounds, like every other people, yet knows how to stand up with open arms, to keep walking in hope, because it has a vocation of grandeur.  Today I ask you to care for this vocation of yours, to care for these gifts that God has given you, but above all I invite you to care for and be at the service of the frailty of your brothers and sisters.  Do not neglect them for plans that can be seductive, but are unconcerned about the face of the person beside you.  We know, we are witnesses of the incomparable power of the resurrection, which ‘everywhere calls forth the seeds of a new world.’”

“Let us not forget the Good News we have heard today: the importance of a people, a nation, and the importance of individuals, which is always based on how they seek to serve their vulnerable brothers and sisters.  Here we encounter one of the fruits of a true humanity. ‘Whoever does not live to serve, does not ‘serve’ to live.’”

“We have heard in the Gospel how the disciples were afraid to question Jesus when he spoke to them about his passion and death.  He frightened them, and they could not grasp the idea of seeing Jesus suffer on the cross.  We too are tempted to flee from our own crosses and those of others, to withdraw from those who suffer.  In concluding this Holy Mass, in which Jesus has once more given himself to us in his body and blood, let us now lift our gaze to the Virgin Mary, our Mother.  We ask her to teach us to stand beside the cross of our brothers and sisters who suffer.  To learn to see Jesus in every person bent low on the path of life, in all our brothers and sisters who hunger or thirst, who are naked or in prison or sick.  With Mary our Mother, on the cross we can see who is truly “the greatest” and what it means to stand beside the Lord and to share in his glory.”

“Let us learn from Mary to keep our hearts awake and attentive to the needs of others.  As the wedding feast of Cana teaches us, let us be concerned for the little details of life, and let us not tire of praying for one another, so that no one will lack the new wine of love, the joy that Jesus brings us.”

“I ask you now to join with me in praying to Mary, that we may place all our concerns and hopes before the heart of Christ.  We pray to her in a special way for those who have lost hope and find no reasons to keep fighting, and for those who suffer from injustice, abandonment and loneliness.  We pray for the elderly, the infirm, children and young people, for all families experiencing difficulty, that Mary may dry their tears, comfort them with a mother’s love, and restore their hope and joy.  Holy Mother, I commend to you your sons and daughters in Cuba.  May you never abandon them!”

Although the Pope had no direct remarks regarding political issues facing Cuba, he did mention the ongoing peace negotiations in Havana between the Colombian government and the FARC rebels. He said, “I feel bound to direct my thoughts to the beloved land of Colombia, ‘conscious of the crucial importance of the present moment when, with renewed effort and inspired by hope, its sons and daughters are seeking to build a peaceful society.’ May the blood shed by thousands of innocent people during long decades of armed conflict, united to that of the Lord Jesus Christ crucified, sustain all the efforts being made, including those on this beautiful island, to achieve definitive reconciliation.  Thus the long night of pain and violence can, with the support of all Colombians, become an unending day of concord, justice, fraternity and love, in respect for institutions and for national and international law, so that there may be lasting peace.  Please, we do not have the right to allow ourselves yet another failure on this path of peace and reconciliation.” He also added a word of gratitude to President Raul Castro for his efforts to assist the negotiations.

Meeting with Fidel Castro

The Pope & Fidel
The Pope & Fidel

In the early afternoon Francis met with Fidel Castro for about a half-hour at the former Cuban leader’s home. The conversation was reported to be informal and took place in the presence of Castro’s children and grandchildren.

In the Pope’s gifts for Fidel were a collection of sermons by Castro’s former Jesuit teacher, the Rev. Amando Llorente, and two CD recordings of the priest, who was forced to leave Cuba soon after Fidel took power in 1959 and who died in Miami in 2010. Other papal gifts were two books by an Italian priest, Alessandro Pronzato, and copies of Francis’ papal encyclical “Praise Be” and his book, “The Joy of the Gospel.”

Francis’ biographer, Austen Invereigh, thinks the Llorente materials were sending a subtle message to Fidel, whose rule was marked by conflict with the Catholic Church and other groups.

Castro gave Francis a collection of his own conversations about religion with Brazilian priest Frei Betto: “Fidel and Religion: Castro Talks on Revolution and religion with Frei Betto” (1988),

Meeting with Raúl Castro

Pope + Raul@ PalceRaul +Pope

 

 

 

 

Later in the afternoon the Pope met with President Raúl Castro and other government officials at the Palace de la Revolutión as shown in the above photographs. The President showed Francis what appear to be official gifts for the Pontiff on display inside the Palace: a huge crucifix made of oars and a painting of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, Cuba’s patron saint.

Before their private meeting at the Palace, Pope Francis was heard saying to Castro: “In the first place I want to thank you for the warmth of the reception, the fact that in your speech you’ve cited things that really send a signal of (inaudible) and warmth. I also want to thank you for the pardons [of 3,522 prisoners].”

Vespers Service

Pope Francis @ Cathedral
Pope Francis @ Cathedral

That evening Francis presided over a vespers service in Havana’s 18th century Immaculate Conception and San Cristobal Cathedral.

He did not read his prepared homily, but instead spoke extemporaneously on the importance of poverty to the Roman Catholic Church. “Our dear mother church is poor. God wants it poor, as he wanted our Holy Mother Mary to be poor. The spirit of the world does not follow the path of the son of God who emptied himself and became poor to be like us.”

He also warned of the dangers of falling prey to the temptations of wealth. “When possessions enter the heart and guide your life, you have already lost, you are no longer like Jesus. He quoted St. Ignatius when he said that poverty was the mother and also the wall of consecrated life. Pope Francis summoned the spirit of dispossession, to leave everything behind in order to follow Jesus.

Meeting with Young People

Francis finished his busy day with a meeting with hundreds of young people at the Félix Varela Cultural Center, which is the former San Carlos and San Ambrosio Seminary and which is not far from the Cathedral.

The young people presented him for blessing a cross that will accompany them during World Youth Day in 2016, and one of them said, “Our great strength lies in maintaining solidarity at all costs to help us to overcome any obstacle.” Their representative then welcomed the Pope to Cuba, saying “the Cuban youth love you.”

In his message to the young people, Francis cited the words of a Latin American writer: “People have two eyes, one of flesh and the other made of glass, with the one of flesh we see what we are looking at, with the one made of glass we see what we dream.” The ability to dream must be included within the objectivity of life. “He who cannot dream is not young.” Dream that the world may be different, if you give the best of yourselves you will help to have a different world. “ Do not forget to dream,” he insisted.

A family is destroyed by enmity, a country destroyed by enmity, the world is destroyed by enmity. And the biggest enmity is war,” the Pope stated. We all must have respect for differences and work together for the common good. Let’s negotiate, but not kill the world anymore. We are killing the ability to unite, to create social friendship.”

“To you, young Cubans, although you have different views, I want you to be accompanied, seeking the future and the dignity of your homeland together. At the end something even better awaits you, the sweet hope of the motherland we want to achieve. I will pray for you and ask you to pray for me, and if one cannot pray because he is not a believer, at least, wish me good things. May God bless you all.”

Conclusion

Once again I am impressed and moved by the words and actions of Pope Francis. He has a constant message of humility, love and forgiveness for individuals and nations. I give thanks to God for Francis!

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[1] Yardley & Ahmed, Pope Francis Celebrates Mass at Political Heart of Cuba, N.Y. Times (Sept. 20, 2015); Reuters, Pope Celebrates First Mass in Cuba, N.Y. Times (Sept. 20, 2015) (video); Assoc. Press, Pope in Cuba Begs Colombia, Rebels to End Conflict, N.Y. Times (Sept. 20, 2015); Assoc. Press, The Latest: Pope Presides Over Vespers Service in Cathedral, N.Y. Times (Sept. 20, 2015); Reuters, Pope Meets Fidel Castro, Warns Against Ideology on Cuba Trip, N.Y. Times (Sept. 20, 2015);Assoc. Press, The Latest: Pope speaks of importance of poverty to the church, Wash. Post (Sept. 20, 2015); Pope Francis in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución (+ Photos), Granma (Sept. 20, 2015); Pope Francis in Cuba: Minute by minute, Granma (Sept. 20, 2015); Pope in Havana: prays for success of Colombian peace talks, Vatican Radio (Sept. 20, 2015); Pope in Cuba: serve rather than be served, Vatican Radio (Sept. 20, 2015); Pope meets former Cuba president Fidel Castro, Vatican Radio (Sept. 20, 2015); Pope at Vespers: Be a poor and merciful Church in Cuba, Vatican Radio (Sept. 20, 2015).

 

Minnesota Orchestra Goes to Cuba This Week!

MN OrchestraAs discussed in a prior post, this February the Minnesota Orchestra announced that it would be playing two concerts in Havana, Cuba on May 15 and 16. At the invitation of the Cuban Ministry of Culture, Music Director Osmo Vänskä and the Orchestra will play Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy with the Cuban National Choir and Cuban pianist Frank Fernandez as well as Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, Eroica. In addition, on the 15th they will play Beethoven’s “Egmont Overture,” and on the 16th Leonard Bernstein’s “Symphonic Dances” from West Side Story and Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

According to a recent article in Minnesota’s StarTribune newspaper, [1] this past January the Orchestra’s president, Kevin Smith, thought it would be great if the Orchestra could be the first U.S. ensemble to go to Cuba after the December 17th announcement of rapprochement between the U.S. and the island nation. Smith immediately called Minnesota’s U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar and asked for help in pursing this idea. She, of course, said yes with this comment: “This trip is an example of the type of relationship we want to continue building between our people. Cubans are looking forward to more opportunities to interact with Americans.” [2]

Smith then asked the Orchestra’s musicians if they would give up a scheduled week of vacation in May in order to go to Cuba. They too said yes with enthusiasm. An Orchestra violinist, Aaron Janse, who was in a small advance group that went to Cuba in April, said, “We absolutely feel that we represent the state, the United States. We have a responsibility to be a bridge between the two countries. For us, as a community, to get this all together speaks volumes to where the Minnesota Orchestra is.”

Both concerts will be broadcast live by Minnesota Public Radio’s classical music stations (99.5 FM in the Twin Cities) on May 15 and 16 at 7:30 p.m. (CDT). Tune in.

The Orchestra also will visit a musical school and arts university and hold a joint rehearsal with a Cuban youth orchestra. The Minnesota Orchestra members will give small “Minnesota Orchestra” pins to people they meet. Presumably they will be wearing “Minnesota Twins” baseball caps as they travel around Havana. As former Minnesota Twins Cuban-American baseball player, Tony Oliva, has said, Cubans know about the Twins and their cap.

Accompanying the Orchestra on a chartered direct flight from the Twin Cities to Havana will be a group of board members and community supporters as “cultural ambassadors.” They will be led by board member, Marilyn Carlson Nelson, and her husband, Glen Nelson, who are paying for the trip. As a co-owner and former chairman of Carlson Companies, a global hotel company, Carlson Nelson is interested in business opportunities in Cuba for her company.

On a historical note, the Orchestra (then called the Minneapolis Symphony) in 1929 and 1930 performed in Havana, and one of its pieces on the first trip was Beethoven’s “Third Symphony,” which will be played again this weekend by the Orchestra. MPR News has a 1929 photograph of some of the Symphony members getting ready to board a ship in Havana after their first trip.

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[1] In addition to the StarTribune article, check out information about the trip on the Orchestra’s website and in a MPR News article.

[2] As discussed in prior posts, Senator Klobuchar is a strong advocate for U.S.-Cuba reconciliation. She is the author of the pending Senate bill to end the U.S. embargo of Cuba. She was a member of a U.S. Senate delegation that visited Cuba this February. She endorsed the formation of the U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba that is being lead by Minnesota’s Cargill Incorporated.

Resolution of Issues Regarding Cuba-U.S. Lease of Guantanamo Bay

Since the December 17, 2014, announcement of rapprochement, Cuba has voiced at least three demands or issues regarding its lease of Guantanamo Bay to the U.S. The most serious one is ending the lease and returning this territory to complete Cuban control. The second is the U.S.’ paying for use of the territory since the Cuban Revolution’s takeover of the island in 1959. The third is Cuba’s objection to the U.S.’ establishing and maintaining a prison for detainees after 9/11 and to the U.S.’ alleged mistreatment and torture of those detainees.

Understanding these issues requires an examination of (a) the Cuban war for independence, 1895-1898, and the Spanish-American War of 1898; (b) the terms of seven documents relating to the lease, all of which predate the Cuban Revolution; and (c) the position of the Revolutionary government toward these documents and the lease. [1] In conclusion, this post will discuss methods for resolving these issues.

Before all of that, here are maps and photographs of Guantanamo Bay.

Guant map1

guantanamo.bay

 

 

 

 

Gitmo look west

_245513_us_base_guantanamo300

 

 

 

The Cuban War for Independence and the Spanish-American War [2]

In 1895 Cubans started a revolt or war of independence from Spain, which responded with ferocity, launching its “reconcentrado” campaign that herded 300,000 Cubans into re-concentration camps. Spain’s tactics infuriated many Americans, who began to raise money and even fight on the side of the Cuban nationalists while American businesses with economic interests on the island were worried about the safety of their investments. U.S. President William McKinley wanted an end to the Cuban-Spanish conflict, but demanded that Spain act responsibly and humanely and that any settlement be acceptable to Cuban nationals.

In November 1897, an amicable resolution appeared possible when the Spanish granted the Cubans limited autonomy and closed the re-concentration camps. But after pro-Spanish demonstrators rioted in Havana in January 1898 to protest Spain’s more conciliatory policies, McKinley ordered the U.S. battleship Maine to Havana to protect American citizens and property and to demonstrate that the U.S. still valued Spain’s friendship.

With the Maine safely moored in Spanish waters, the Spanish-American relationship was jolted by the publication in a New York newspaper of a letter by the Spanish minister to the U.S. describing McKinley as “weak and a bidder for the admirations of the crowd” and revealing that the Spanish were not negotiating in good faith with the U.S. Americans saw the letter as an attack on both McKinley’s and the nation’s honor. The American public’s anger only intensified following an explosion on the Maine and its sinking on February 15, 1898, in Havana Harbor, killing 266 crew members. The Navy, on March 21, reported that an external explosion, presumably from a Spanish mine, had destroyed the ship.

With diplomatic initiatives exhausted and the American public wanting an end to the Cuban crisis, McKinley, in mid-April 1898, asked Congress for authority to intervene in Cuba, which it granted. Spain soon broke relations with the U.S., and the U.S. blockaded Cuba’s ports. On April 23, Spain declared war on the U.S. Two days later the U.S. did likewise with the Teller amendment committing the U.S. to the independence of Cuba once the war had ended, disclaiming “any disposition or intention to exercise sovereignty, jurisdiction or control over said island, except for the pacification thereof.”

What became known as the Spanish-American War lasted only a little over three months with U.S. victories in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines ending in a cease fire on August 12, 1898. Under the Paris Peace Treaty of December 10, 1898, the U.S. obtained Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippine Islands while Spain renounced its claim to Cuba, which remained under U.S. military occupation until 1902.

Thereafter, Cuba would be a de facto U.S. protectorate until 1934.

The Lease of Guantanamo Bay

The first five of the seven documents relating to the Guantanamo lease were created during the period that Cuba was a de facto protectorate of the U.S.

  1. Act of Congress (March 2, 1901). On this date, President McKinley signed an Act of Congress that included what was called “the Platt Amendment,” which authorized the U.S. President “to leave the government and control of the island of Cuba to its people so soon as a government shall have been established in said island under a constitution which, either as a part thereof or in an ordinance appended thereto, shall define the future relations of the United States with Cuba, [and shall include the following: provisions]:
  • “I. That the government of Cuba shall never enter into any treaty or other compact with any foreign power or powers which will impair or tend to impair the independence of Cuba, nor in any manner authorize or permit any foreign power or powers to obtain by colonization or for military or naval purposes or otherwise, lodgement in or control over any portion of said island.”
  • “III. That the government of Cuba consents that the [U.S.] may exercise the right to intervene for the preservation of Cuban independence, the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty, and for discharging the obligations with respect to Cuba imposed by the treaty of Paris on the [U.S.], now to be assumed and undertaken by the government of Cuba.”
  • “”VII. That to enable the [U.S.] to maintain the independence of Cuba, and to protect the people thereof, as well as for its own defense, the government of Cuba will sell or lease to the [U.S.] lands necessary for coaling or naval stations at certain specified points to be agreed upon with the President of the United States.”
  1. Constitution of Cuba (May 20, 1902). On this date, the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba was promulgated, and Article VII of its Appendix provided: “To enable the [U.S.] to maintain the independence of Cuba, and to protect the people thereof, as well as for its own defense, the Cuban Government will sell or lease to the [U.S.] the lands necessary for coaling or naval stations, at certain specified points, to be agreed upon with the President of the United States.”
  1. U.S.-Cuba Agreement (February 23, 1903). Pursuant to the just mentioned Cuban constitutional provision, on February 23, 1903, the U.S. and Cuba entered into the “Agreement . . . for the Lease of Lands for Coaling and Naval stations.” Its Article I stated that Cuba “hereby leases to the United States, for the time required for the purposes of coaling and naval stations, the following described areas of land and water [Guantanamo Bay and Bahia Honda] [3] situated in the Island of Cuba”

This Agreement’s Article II stated, “The grant of the foregoing Article shall include the right to use and occupy the waters adjacent to said areas of land and water, and to improve and deepen the entrances thereto and the anchorages therein, and generally to do any and all things necessary to fit the premises for use as coaling or naval stations only, and for no other purpose.” (Emphasis added.)

This Agreement concluded in Article III, whereby the U.S. “recognizes the continuance of the ultimate sovereignty of the Republic of Cuba over the above described areas of land and water, on the other hand the Republic of Cuba consents that during the period of the occupation by the [U.S.] of said areas under the terms of this agreement the [U.S.] shall exercise complete jurisdiction and control over and within said areas.”

Unlike most leases, this agreement did not set forth a set period of time for the lease or the compensation or rent to be paid.

  1. Treaty between the United States of America and Cuba (May 22, 1903). This treaty in Article I states, “The Government of Cuba shall never enter into any treaty or other compact with any foreign power or powers which will impair or tend to impair the independence of Cuba, nor in any manner authorize or permit any foreign power or powers to obtain by colonization or for military or naval purposes, or otherwise, lodgment in or control over any portion of said island.”

Article III provides, “The Government of Cuba consents that the United States may exercise the right to intervene for the preservation of Cuban independence, the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty, and for discharging the obligations with respect to Cuba imposed by the Treaty of Paris on the United States, now to be assumed and undertaken by the Government of Cuba.”

Article VII adds, “To enable the United States to maintain the independence of Cuba, and to protect the people thereof, as well as for its own defense, the Government of Cuba will sell or lease to the United States lands necessary for coaling or naval stations, at certain specified points, to be agreed upon with the President of the United States.”

  1. Lease of Certain Areas of Land and Water for Naval or Coaling Stations in Guantanamo and Bahia Honda (July 2, 1903). This instrument details additional terms of the lease in seven articles. Its Article I specified the compensation that the U.S. would pay to Cuba for the leased territories: “the annual sum of two thousand dollars, in gold coin of the United States, as long as the former shall occupy and use said areas of land by virtue of said agreement.” Under Article II, the U.S. agreed “that no person, partnership, or corporation shall be permitted to establish or maintain a commercial, industrial or other enterprise within said areas.”

There still was no set period of time for the lease of the territory.

On November 12, 1903, Guantánamo Bay Outer Harbor passed into U.S. hands “without any formality” and was “effected in a quiet manner.”

  1. Treaty between United States of America and Cuba (May 29, 1934)By 1934 there had been changes in the overall relationship between the two countries. The U.S., pursuing President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “good neighbor” policy, proposed to nullify the previously mentioned May 22, 1903, U.S.-Cuba Treaty. Cuba had become increasingly upset with the earlier treaty’s Platt Amendment granting the U.S. the right to intervene in Cuba, and Cuba welcomed the idea of nullifying the 1903 treaty. Negotiations to that end proceeded quickly; and a new Cuban-American Treaty of Relations was signed on May 29, 1934, and after rapid ratifications by both states it entered into force on June 9, 1934. This effectively ended the U.S. de facto protectorate of Cuba.

The 1934 treaty in Article II also stated: “All the acts effected in Cuba by the [U.S.] during its military occupation of the island, up to May 20,1902, the date on which the Republic of Cuba was established, have been ratified and held as valid; and all the rights legally acquired by virtue of those acts shall be maintained and protected.”

Article III added the following language with respect to the naval station at Guantánamo Bay: “The supplementary agreement in regard to naval or coaling station signed between the two Governments on July 2, 1903, also shall continue in effect in the same form and on the same conditions with respect to the naval station at Guantánamo. So long as the United States of America shall not abandon the said naval station of Guantánamo or the two Governments shall not agree to a modification of its present limits, the station shall continue to have the territory it now has, with the limits that it has on the date of the signature of the present Treaty.”

The implication of Article III is that the U.S. at any time can walk away from the lease at Guantánamo (abandon the base), but the Cubans can never revoke the lease.

  1. Change in Amount of Rent (1938). Although the source document has not been located, secondary sources say the annual rent for Guantanamo was changed in 1938 to $4,085 (U.S. Dollars), which was the 1938 equivalent of $2,000 in U.S. gold coins. That term has never been changed. Indeed, the U.S. documents transmitting the annual rent checks in that amount for 2011, 2012 and 2013 merely refer to the July 2, 1903, Lease while stating the amount of $4,085 was “computed in the manner of which the government of Cuba has been advised in connection with previous rental payments.” [4]

Cuba’s Revolutionary Government’s Positions Regarding the Lease

Soon after the Cuban Revolution took over the government in January 1959, it started calling for the U.S. to get out of Guantanamo. Over time Cuba set out four different, and sometimes contradictory, legal arguments for invalidating the lease. Even though some international law experts thought Cuba had a good argument for such invalidation: rebus sic stantibus (fundamental change of circumstances), [5] Cuba never instituted legal proceedings to that end. In addition, while the U.S.S.R. still existed and was a major Cuban ally, the Soviets argued that the lease was an “unequal treaty,” but that legal theory was not embraced by the U.S. and most Western nations.

In addition, Cuba has refused to cash the annual U.S. checks for $4,085 made out to the “Treasurer General of the Republic” (a position that ceased to exist after the Revolution). One such check, however, was cashed in the early days of the Revolution, Cuba says, due to confusion. (Many years ago during a televised interview, Fidel Castro opened a desk drawer in his office to show the collection of uncashed checks.)

At least by 2004, Cuba accepted the lease as valid while asserting that control over Guantanamo “will eventually revert to Cuba because of the nature of the arrangement, ad defined by its domestic law, which prohibits perpetual leases. For example, in 2004, Cuba’s Foreign Ministry stated the arrangement “does not grant a perpetual right but a temporary one over that part of our territory, by which, in due course, as a just right of our people, the illegally occupied territory of Guantanamo should be returned by peaceful means to Cuba.” In short, said Cuba, the lease is valid, but U.S. occupation of the territory is illegal. This argument is ridiculous, in the opinion of this blogger, a retired U.S. lawyer.

There have been at least two U.S. responses to these Cuban arguments of invalidity of the lease. First, under the international legal principle of pacta sunt servanda (the contract is the law between the parties), the lease remained a valid agreement between the two states and Cuba has a legal obligation to adhere to agreements previously entered into despite a change in governments. [6] Second, the revolutionary government’s acceptance of at least one of the annual rent checks was an admission of the lease’s validity or a waiver of Cuba’s objections thereto.

Conclusion

As a retired U.S. lawyer, without doing any legal research, I see potential issues of lease invalidity due to (a) possible undue influence or coercion by the U.S. in establishing the terms of the original lease in 1903 and the modifications in 1934 and 1938; [7] and (b) the U.S. use of Guantanamo possibly exceeding the uses permitted by the lease. Any such claim, however, would be potentially subject, at least in a domestic legal dispute, to the affirmative defenses of waiver, estoppel, ratification, laches and statute of limitations. [8]

The argument for invalidity based on the U.S. use of Guantanamo has been rejected by Professor Strauss. He notes that the lease permits the use of Guantanamo as a “naval station,” which is a term created by the U.S. to allow its Navy to determine the range of activities that could occur at such a “station” and which has been used for fewer functions than a full naval base and more recently as a full naval base. As a result, says Strauss, the limitation on use is “largely meaningless in a practical sense.”

In any event, if Cuba now were to assert a right to terminate the lease, over U.S. objection, then I suggest that such a claim should be submitted to a panel of three arbitrators at the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague under its existing Arbitration Rules. Presumably the U.S. in addition to resisting the claim would have a contingent counterclaim (in the event of an arbitration award of termination) for reimbursement for the value of U.S. improvements to the territory.

Such an arbitration proceeding should also include any Cuban claim for compensation for the U.S. use of Guantanamo for 66 years (1960-2015). If, however, such a claims is only for the $4,085 annual rent established in 1938 for a total of $269,610 (without interest), then the claim should be resolved quickly by the U.S. paying the amount of the claim. If, however, the claim is for a higher amount based upon some theory to void the $4,085 figure and instead use a larger amount of alleged fair market value, then presumably such a claim would be contested by the U.S. and a proper claim for arbitration.

Of course, at any time the two parties could negotiate a new lease of Guantanamo, presumably for a specific term of years, with a right of renewal, at a higher and annually adjustable rent. Such a new lease could also impose limits on U.S. use of the territory such as prohibition of the operation of a prison or detention facility.

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[1] An excellent overall discussion of the U.S. lease of Guantanamo is contained in Strauss, Cuba and State Responsibility for Human Rights at Guantanamo, 37 So. Ill. Univ. L.J. 533, 533-36 (2013).  See also Notes on Guantanamo Bay; Wikipedia, Guantanamo Bay Navy Base.

[2] This brief summary of the two wars is based on American President: William McKinley: Foreign Affairs, Miller Center, Univ. Virginia.

[3] Bahia Honda was never used by the U.S. and reverted to Cuban control.

[4] Boadle, Castro: Cuba not cashing US Guantanamo rent checks, Reuters (Aug. 17, 2007); Shiffer, Annual rent for Girmo Naval Base: $4,085, payable to Cuba, StarTribune (Oct. 10, 2014) (contains U.S. transmittal advices for rental checks for 2011, 2012 and 2013).

[5] The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties that entered into force on January 20, 1980, sets forth “the codification and progressive development of the law of treaties,” which are “international agreement[s] concluded between States in written form and governed by international law.” (Preamble & Art. 2(1)(a).) Its Article 62 recognizes a “fundamental change of circumstances” as a ground for “terminating or withdrawing from” a treaty and defines the conditions for such a ground. Cuba is a party to the treaty, and although the U.S. is not, the State Department has said that this Convention “is already generally recognized as the authoritative guide to current treaty law and practice.” (David Weissbrodt, Fionnuala Ni Aolain, Joan Fitzpatrick, Frank Newman, International Human Rights: Law, Policy, and Process at 127-28 (4th ed. LexisNexis 2009).)

[6] The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties notes that “the principles of free consent and of good faith and pacta sunt servanda are universally recognized” and its Article 26 under the heading “Pacta sunt servanda” states, “Every treaty in force is binding upon the parties to it and must be performed by them in good faith.”

[7] The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties in Article 52 provides, “A treaty is void if its conclusion has been procured by the threat or use of force in violation of the principles of international law embodied in the Charter of the United Nations.”

[8] The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties provides in Article 45 that a “State may no longer invoke [breach by the other party or fundamental change of circumstances] if, after becoming aware of the facts: (a) it shall have expressly agreed that the treaty is valid or remains in force or continues in operation . . .; or (b) it must by reason of its conduct be considered as having acquiesced in the validity of the treaty or its maintenance in force or in operation . . . .”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nancy Pelosi and Other House Democrats Visit Cuba

A delegation of Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives led by Nancy Pelosi, the Minority Leader of the House, visited the island, February 17-19. They went “to build upon the announcement of U.S. normalization of relations and other initiatives announced by President Obama” and “to advance the U.S.-Cuba relationship and build on the work done by many in the Congress over the years, especially with respect to agriculture and trade.” [1]

The eight members of the delegation were David Cicilline (RI), member of the House foreign Affairs and Judiciary Committees; Rosa DeLauro (CT), the senior Democrat on the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee and Co-chair of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee;  Eliot Engel (NY), the senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee; Anna Eshoo (CA), Ranking Member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications Technology; Steve Israel (NY), Chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee; Jim McGovern (MA), member of the House Agriculture Committee and Co-Chair of the congressional Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission; Collin Peterson (MN), the senior Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee; and Nydia Velazquez (NY), the senior Democrat on the House Small Business Committee. [2]

After their arrival in Cuba, they first went to the U.S. Interests Section’s building on Havana’s Malecon. There they met with the Chief of Mission, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, and his team. “We are proud of them and the U.S. Marines serving us there,” Pelosi said. 

cuba-nancy-pelosi-bruno-rodriguezOn February 18th the delegation had a three and one-half hour meeting with Cuban Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez. and Josefina VIdal, the Foreign Ministry’s leader of the current negotiations with the U.S. (Left is a photograph of Pelosi and Rodriguez.) According to a Cuban website, they “discussed issues related to the current context of ties between the two countries, including restoring diplomatic relations, opening embassies and the debate in Congress on lifting the blockade [embargo] against Cuba.” Afterwards, Pelosi said, ““We discussed areas of interest to the United States and Cuba, and our delegation listened to their concerns, including the embargo, bank and credit financing,” Pelosi said. “We underscored our commitment to human rights in Cuba and agreed to build upon the historic opportunity before us to make progress in our relationship.”

Pelosi+Diaz

On the 19th Pelosi and the delegation met with Miguel Diaz-Canel, Cuba’s First Vice President and presumptive next Cuban president. (Right is a photograph of Pelosi and Diaz-Canel.) They talked about Cuba’s market-style economic reforms, bilateral relations and prospects of the U.S. Congress lifting the country’s 53-year-old trade embargo of Cuba. Afterwards Pelosi told reporters, “There is strong bipartisan support to lift the embargo in the Congress, however it’s not universal and it certainly does not appear to be shared by those in power who have the ability to bring a bill to the floor.”

The delegation also met with leaders of Cuba’s legislature (National Assembly), including its vice president, Ana María Mari Machado. According to Pelosi, “During the meeting, we exchanged views about the actions taken by President Obama and President Raúl Castro. We agreed to continue our interparliamentary dialogue on areas of agreement and disagreement.”

U.S. House of Representatives Democratic leader Pelosi, Archbishop of Havana Cardinal Ortega and members of a delegation of congressional Democrats pose for a photograph in Havana

Other meetings were held with Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega (left is a photograph of the Cardinal and the delegation); American students at the Latin American School of Medicine; young entrepreneurs of the island’s emerging private sector; and representatives of civil society, but not with Cuban dissidents.

At a press conference on their last day on the island, Pelosi said, “We’re very positively impressed by what we heard here about our future prospects and the relationship.” Representative Engel noted they had raised the topic of human because “We’re very concerned with human rights and dissident rights. I’d like to see more changes from the Cuban side.”  Representative McGovern concurred with this comment: “The best way to promote human rights is to accelerate this new process to establish formal embassies in Havana and Washington.” The delegation also said they also spoken with Cuban officials about U.S. food sales to the island, internet technology and the island’s emerging small-business sector.

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[1] This post is based upon the following: Press Release, Pelosi Leads Congressional Delegation to Cuba (Feb. 17, 2015); Reuters, Pelosi Traveling with Lawmakers to Cuba, N.Y. Times (Feb. 17, 2015); Fram, Pelosi Leads House Democrats Visiting Cuba, Assoc. Press (Feb. 17, 2015); Press Release, Pelosi Statement on Historic Delegation’s Meetings in Havana (Feb. 18, 2015); Miller, Nancy Pelosi visits Havana, meets with top Castro regime officials, Wash. Times (Feb. 19, 2015); Oleaga, US, Cuba Relations Update: Representative Nancy Pelosi Leads congressional Delegation to Cuba, Hopes to Advance Renewed Relations, Latin Post (Feb. 19, 2015); Cuba FM Meets with Nancy Pelosi, Havana Times (Feb. 19, 2015); Cuban FM meets U.S. lawmakers on normalization of ties, Xinhua (Feb. 19, 2015); Trotta, U.S. congressional delegation meets Cuba’s heir apparent, Reuters (Feb. 19, 2015); Miroff, In Havana, Pelosi delegation promotes Obama’s Cuba thaw, Wash. Post (Feb. 19, 2015); Agence France-Presse, US-Cuba talks tackle human rights, reopening embassies (Feb. 19, 2015);Torres, Pelosi and other Democrats meet with Cuban officials in Havana, Miami Herald (Feb. 19, 2015); Miguel Diaz-Canel received the leader of the Democratic Party in the House of Representatives of the US, Granma (Feb. 19, 2015); Nancy Pelosi: The lock [embargo] is a “measure unsuccessfully,” CubaDebate (Feb. 19, 2015)(English translation by Google Translate); Press Release, Pelosi Statement on Historic Congressional Delegation’s Final Day of Meetings in Cuba (Feb. 20, 2015).

[2] Representative Peterson is a cosponsor of H.R.403 (Free Trade with Cuba Act) while Representatives DeLauro, McGovern and Velazquez are cosponsors of H.R.664 (Export Freedom to Cuba Act of 2015).