New Yorker Report on Medical Problems of U.S. Diplomats in Cuba

The November 19, 2018, issue of The New Yorker has a lengthy article about the medical problems experienced by some U.S. diplomats in Cuba starting in late 2016 (and after the U.S. presidential election). [1]

The conclusion, however, is the same as previously reported: some U.S. personnel did suffer injury and the U.S. Government has publicly stated it does not know the cause or perpetrator of these injuries.[2]

But the article does provide greater details about many of the victims having been CIA agents and about the U.S.-Cuba interactions over these incidents.

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[1] Entous & Anderson, Havana Syndrome, New Yorker at 34  (Nov. 19, 2018).

[2] See posts listed in the “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2017-18” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

Recent Violence in Cameroon Calls for International Action

The  west-central African country of Cameroon has been experiencing increasing violence. The underlying conflicts giving rise to this violence are protests by the minority Cameroonians whose primary European language is English (the Anglophones) against discrimination and persecution of various forms and violence carried out by the national government that is controlled by the majority Cameroonians whose primary European language is French (the Francophones). [1]

The time has long come for people around the world to demand that the Cameroonian government, with the assistance of other countries and international agencies, address the legitimate grievances of the Anglophones and with the cooperation of certain Anglophone separatists bring this discrimination, persecution and violence to an end.

Recent Events[2]

There have been at least three recent events that demand that the U.N., the U.S. and others expand their roles in Cameroon to end the discrimination against the country’s Anglophones and the resulting violence..

The first happened on October 30. As discussed in a prior post, on that date, a U.S. citizen was killed by gunfire in one of the English-speaking regions.

Second, on October 31, the separatists kidnapped 11 male students children from a Presbyterian secondary  school in the English-speaking North West Region of the country, but were released after the school had paid a ransom of the equivalent of $4,400.

Third, on  November 4, the separatists kidnapped 78 students and three staff members from that same Presbyterian school.  On November 7, however, the separatists released all of the children after warning them not to go back to school; the principal and one teacher were retained. A school official said no ransom had been paid, but the church was forced to close the school and send 700 students home because the state cannot assure their security

Reactions to These Recent Events[3]

On November 5, the national leader of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon (the Moderator), Rev. Fonki Samuel Forba, issued a statement on the recent events at one of its schools.

  1. It called on “whosoever has committed this grave act of inhumanity on these innocent children and the staff members of this institution to immediately and unconditionally release them.” [This] is an open serious crime against humanity that no one in his/her right senses, no government and organization would hesitate to vehemently condemn. We roundly and strongly condemn that intention, planning and execution of this act of kidnap with every iota of our energy!”
  2. “We call on both the Cameroon military and the Ambazonia militia to respect the right of children to education. This is a universal right that all governments and anti-government forces everywhere on earth respect and protect.”
  3. “We call on the government of the Republic of Cameroon to take very urgent measures to resolve the Anglophone crisis that has led to the killing of thousands of innocent children of God, be they military or civilians, and the destruction of overwhelming private and public property, homes of people and entire villages.”
  4. “ We call on both the Cameroon government and the Amazonia fighters to agree on providing maximum security for the innocent young Cameroonians to exercise their right to study. And that these innocent children and their teachers should not be used as baits and sacrificial lambs.”
  5. “We call on the international community to take note of these grievous cycle of acts of inhumanity that have become a daily occurrence in Anglophone Cameroon that puts the lives of over seven million people in harm’s way. We also call on the international community not to be aloof, but look for ways to urgently assist in ending this crisis.”
  6. “That we will suspend the education of young Cameroonians provided by the Presbyterian Education Authority . . . wherever there are security challenges.”

The Moderator’s statement concluded with “a call on all God-fearing Cameroonians and beyond to continue to pray fervently that God should take away this dark cloud of evil and wickedness that has descended on Cameroon, particularly the Anglophone community.”

On November 8, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) issued a statement that called for various actions by U.S. Presbyterians, including  contacting “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to thank him for the State Department’s call for peaceful dialogue and unhindered access to humanitarian aid workers.”  In addition, ask “him to continue to monitor the situation and support a peaceful resolution to the conflict.”

On November 6, the  U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the kidnapping of the children and school staff members. He called for “their immediate release and return. . . .  There can be no justification for these crimes against civilians, particularly minors.” He added that the U.N. “stands ready to assist” in the peaceful resolution of the conflict in Cameroon.

On November 6, the U.S. State Department Spokesperson, Heather Nauert, issued a statement condemning “in the strongest possible terms, the November 5 kidnapping of [these]  students and staff and calling for their “immediate and safe return.” She also “expresses grave concern over the burgeoning Anglophone Crisis in Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest regions. We urge an immediate halt to the indiscriminate targeting of civilians and burning of houses by Cameroonian government forces and to attacks perpetrated by both Anglophone separatists against security forces and civilians. The systematic intimidation based on ethnic and religious affiliation, including in Yaoundé and Douala, must stop.” Finally she urged “all sides to end the violence and enter into broad-based reconciliatory dialogue without preconditions.”

This U.S. Citizen’s Response

As a U.S. citizen of  European-American heritage, I have been blessed to have many Cameroonian-American friends through our mutual membership at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church as well as many Cameroonian friends through our church’s partnerships with a Presbyterian Church in Kumba Town in the Southwest (Anglophone) Region of Cameroon and with an HIV-AIDS non-profit organization in Douala, the financial center of the country in its Francophone area. These connections have led to my participation in a Westminster mission trip to that country and to fellowship this past May with a Cameroonian delegation to our Minneapolis church.

I, therefore, appreciate the preceding comments by leaders of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon and the U.S and by officials of the U.N. and the U.S.

But their words are not enough. There needs to be action with at least the threat of the use of military force by the U.N., the African Union and/or the U.S. to broker an enforceable agreement to stop the Cameroonian government discrimination, persecution and violence against their own citizens whose primary European language is English and to stop the violence perpetrated by those Anglophones whose patience has been exhausted.

A copy of this blog post will be sent to Cameroon President Paul Biya; U.S. President Donald Trump; U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; U.S. Ambassador to  Cameroon Peter Henry Barium; U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith; U.S. Representative Keith Ellison; U.S. Represntative-Elect Ilhan Omar; Rev. Denise Anderson and Rev. Jan Edmiston, Co- Moderators of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); Rev. Fonki Samuel Forba, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon; the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres; the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet Jeria; Paul Kagame, Chairperson of the African Union; and Emmanuel Macron, President of France.

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[1] Previous posts about Cameroon are listed in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries.com–Topical: CAMEROON.

[2] Assoc. Press, Separatists Kidnap 79 Pupils in Cameroon’s Restive Northwest, N.Y. Times (Nov. 5, 2018); Searcey, Cameroon Students Have Been Released, Officials Say, N.Y. Times (Nov. 7, 2018); Assoc. Press, 79 Kidnapped Cameroon Students Freed, Says Church Official, N.Y. Times (Nov.7, 2018); Reuters, Cameroon Child Kidnappers Warned Victims Not to Go To School, N.Y. Times (Nov. 8, 2018).

[3] Assoc. Press, UN Chief Urges Speedy Release of Kidnapped Cameroon Pupils, N.Y. Times (Nov. 6, 2018); U.S. State Dept, U.S. Concerned Over Violence Uptick in Cameroon (Nov. 6, 2018); Moderator, Rev. Fonki Samuel Forba, Presbyterian Church in Cameroon, Communique on Successive Abductions at Presbyterian Secondary School (PSS), Nkwen, Bamenda (Nov. 5, 2018); U.N., Secretary-General Condemns Kidnapping of Students, School Staff in Cameroon (Nov.6, 2018).

Russia Is Identified as Suspect of Harming U.S. Diplomats in Cuba 

On September 11, 2018, NBC News exclusively reported that U.S.intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia is “the main suspect” for causing the medical problems of the 26 U.S. diplomats stationed in Cuba. In addition, NBC reports that “the victims [also] include multiple CIA officers, at least one member of the U.S. military, and representatives of other agencies.”[1]

This conclusion is reported to be “is backed up by evidence from communications intercepts, known in the spy world as signals intelligence.” This prompted the U.S. investigation to turn to “the Air Force and its directed energy research program at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, where the military has giant lasers and advanced laboratories to test high-power electromagnetic weapons, including microwaves. . .  Although the U.S. believes sophisticated microwaves or another type of electromagnetic weapon were likely used on the U.S. government workers, they are also exploring the possibility that one or more additional technologies were also used, possibly in conjunction with microwaves.”

NBC News further reports that although “the U.S. believes sophisticated microwaves or another type of electromagnetic weapon were likely used on the U.S. government workers, they are also exploring the possibility that one or more additional technologies were also used, possibly in conjunction with microwaves, officials and others involved in the government’s investigation say.”

On August 14, “the U.S. convened officials from the Energy Department, the National Institute of Health, the State Department and the Canadian government at the Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore, California, according to State Department medical officials. U.S. experts attending a neurotrauma conference in Toronto were linked in by videoconference as [University of Pennsylvania] physicians presented their most recent technical findings. But the summit ended with no new medical revelations”

“The strong U.S. suspicion that Russia is behind the incidents means that Cuba’s government is no longer considered the likely culprit. Still, officials did not rule out the possibility that the Cuban intelligence services may have offered the Russians some level of cooperation or tacit consent.”

Nevertheless, NBC News said the evidence “is not yet conclusive enough, however, for the U.S. to formally assign blame to Moscow.”

Indeed, on September 11, Heather Nauert, the State Department’s spokesperson, in response to a journalist’s question, said the following: [2]

  • “We have seen . . . a firestorm of reports out there today assigning blame to the Russian Government according to some unnamed U.S. Government officials. I would caution you all to be very skeptical of those officials’ statements right now. As you should be aware, the investigation continues into what has caused. . . – what we have called health attacks on our State Department employees who have been working in Cuba. There is no known cause, no known individual or group believed to be responsible at this time. We are looking into it. Our position has not changed. The investigation is ongoing. We have not assigned any blame and we continue to look into this, so I want to be very clear about this.”

Relevant to the NBC News report is the increase of Cuba-Russia cooperation on various matters in recent years. A noted U.S. expert on Cuba, Professor William LeoGrande, provided the following summary of the recent Cuba-Russia rapprochement:[3]

  • In 2000 “when Putin “succeeded Boris Yeltsin as Russian president,” Putin  “began rebuilding Russia’s global influence by repairing relations with traditional allies.” The first step was “Putin’s 2000 trip to Havana, which resulted in expanded trade deals. . . .”
  • “Raul Castro in 2009 visited Moscow during which the two governments signed 33 cooperative agreements, including $354 million in credits and aid for Havana.“
  • In July 2014, Putin visited the island again and agreed to forgive 90 percent of Cuba’s $32 billion in Soviet-era debt, with the remainder to be retired through debt-equity swaps linked to Russian investments.
  • When Raul Castro returned to Moscow in 2015, Russia had signed agreements to invest in airport construction, the development of the Mariel port and metallurgy and oil exploration, and had also agreed to lend Cuba 1.2 billion euros—about $1.36 billion at the time—to develop thermal energy plants.”
  • In September 2016, Russia announced a new package of commercial agreements in which it will finance $4 billion in development projects focusing on energy and infrastructure, and Cuba will begin exporting pharmaceuticals to Russia.

According to LeoGrande, “Both Havana and Moscow refer to their relationship as a ‘strategic partnership’ that has diplomatic and military components. Diplomatically, Cuba supports Moscow’s positions on Ukraine, Syria and NATO expansion. Militarily, Russia is refurbishing and replacing Cuba’s aging Soviet-era armaments. Russian naval vessels visit Cuban ports, and Russia reportedly wants to establish a new military base on the island.”

Conclusion

Interestingly as of the early morning of September 12, this blogger has not found any published reactions to the NBC News report from Russian or Cuban governments. Nor has there been other reporting or comments from U.S. officials or U.S. or international news organizations.

Be on the outlook for reactions to the NBC News report.

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[1] NBC News, U.S. Officials suspect Russia in mystery ‘attacks’ on diplomats in Cuba, China (Sept. 11, 2018); Reuters, Russia the Main Suspect in U.S. Diplomats’ Illness in Cuba: NBC, N.Y. Times (sept, 11, 2018).

[2] U.S. State Dep’t, Department Press Briefing—September 11, 2018.

[3] Professor LeoGrande ‘s Comments on the Strengthening Cuba-Russian Relationship, dwkcommentaries (Jan. 3, 2018). See also Trump’s Hostility Towards Cuba Provides Opportunities for Russia, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 19, 2017).

Recent Developments Regarding U.S. Diplomats Sickened in Cuba 

There have been two recent developments regarding U.S. diplomats sickened in Cuba.

New Confirmed Case in Cuba [1]

The first was on June 21, when the U.S. State Department announced that a 25th U.S. diplomat working at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba has been sickened by a mysterious illness. This case suggests that “whatever caused the illnesses in late 2016 and the first part of 2017 had started again or was continuing. Yet the U.S. at least privately still states that it has no idea of whom or what may be behind the attacks.

This is one of the two potential cases that the U.S. announced on June 8, as discussed in a previous post. The other individual is still under evaluation.

The official announcement of this development came at the June 21 Department Press Briefing, when spokesperson Heather Nauert stated the following:

  • “On June 21st, following a comprehensive medical evaluation, one U.S. diplomat working at the U.S. Embassy Havana was medically confirmed to have experienced health effects similar to those that were reported by members of the U.S. Havana diplomatic community. This is the first medically confirmed case in Havana since August of 2017. The number of Americans now affected is 25. Previously, that number was 24; it is now 25. The health and well-being of our personnel remains our top priority here at the State Department. The investigation into the origin of these symptoms continues, and it is an interagency effort.”
  • “The interagency community continues to work diligently to determine the cause of the symptoms, as well as develop mitigation measures. We informed the Cuban Government of this occurrence on May the 29th of this year. The Cuban Government assured us that they will continue to take this seriously and are continuing their investigation. We strongly remind the Cuban Government of its responsibility under the Vienna Convention to protect our diplomats.”
  • “Our other employee is still being evaluated at this time, so we don’t have any updates on his or her condition yet.”
  • The U.S. has “had conversations with the [Cuban] government, reminding them, of course, of their responsibility under the Vienna Convention. They have pledged to be of assistance in the investigation. . . .”

Other Patients Have Retained Attorney

The other recent development has been at least eight of the 25 U.S. diplomats, intelligence officers and relatives with medical problems from their service in Cuba have hired an attorney, Mark Zaid, to take action to ensure reimbursement for medical expenses.[2]

Zaid, a Washington, D.C. attorney who often represents former/current federal employees who have grievances against the U.S. government, said, “Are they being treated or are they being studied? It’s not entirely clear what is happening.” He added that some of the victims had problems accessing their medical records at the UPenn treatment center because the records are government property. “They are doctors working for the U.S. government.”

Moreover, the attorney added that the uncertainties tied to the cases have placed the government in a predicament because of the mystery not just on the so-called attacks but the injuries experienced. For example, federal employees who have been injured by incidents such as explosions, “the wounds have been specific and concrete, not strange brain and neurological damages. It’s much more complicated.”

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, Department Press Briefing-June 21, 2018; Harris,25th Person at U.S. Embassy in Cuba Is Mysteriously Sickened, N.Y. Times (June 21, 2018); Assoc. Press, 1 More US Worker Confirmed Hurt by Mystery Cuba Incidents, N.Y. Times (June 21, 2018).

[2] Torres, These Americans suffered severe neurological disorders in Cuba. Now they have a lawyer, Miami Herald (June 20, 2018).

U.S. Reactions to the New President of Cuba

A prior post reported the April 19 election of Miguel Díaz-Canel as the new President of Cuba. U.S. reactions to that election  have been unanimous: at least initially there probably will be no major changes in Cuba’s international and domestic policies, and many also say there was not a democratic transition of power. Here is a sampling of these U.S. reactions.

U.S. Reactions

Soon after Raúl Castro in his April 19 speech referred to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s leaving the Summit of the Americas, Pence tweeted the U.S. will not rest until Cuba “has free & fair elections, political prisoners are released & the people of Cuba are finally free! #CubaLibre.”[1]

On April 18 a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council told an independent Cuban news outlet, “The United States has no expectation that the Cuban people will see greater liberties under Castro’s hand-picked successor. We will continue to show solidarity with the Cuban people in their petition for freedom and prosperity, so we are not expected to change our policy of directing funds to the Cuban people and away from Cuba’s military, security and intelligence services.”[2]

The previous day the spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, Heather Nauert, said, “As we watch what’s taken place at the Cuba national assembly, we certainly see that that’s not a democratic transition. So when we see that something is not a democratic transition, that’s of great concern to us. We would like citizens to be able to have a say in their political outcomes, and this certainly does not seem like regular folks will have a say. . . . They basically don’t have a real or meaningful choice because it’s not a democratic process. We hope that Cuba’s new president will listen to the Cuban people. We’re not sure that that’s going to happen. We would like a more free and democratic Cuba. We will be watching but aren’t overly optimistic, because this isn’t a democratic process.”[3]

A New York Times editorial stated, “Rául Castro, who handpicked this loyal apparatchik as his successor, remains at the helm of the Communist Party and the armed forces; his son runs the intelligence services; his ex-son-in-law runs the military’s vast business interests. In his first speech, Mr. Díaz-Canel vowed there would be no “capitalist restoration” and concluded with a slogan that has not roused the masses for some time now: “Socialism or death! We will triumph!”[4]

The Times’ editorial also stated, “President “Trump should join with Cuba’s other neighbors to encourage the new Cuban leader to expand the private economy, release political prisoners, increase access to the internet, decentralize power and in other critically needed ways finally break his country out of the Castro cocoon.”

After noting his concurrence in not expecting major changes in Cuba, Christopher Sabatini, a lecturer at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and executive director of Global Americans, urges changes in U.S. policies regarding the island. He says, “While it is not in America’s interest to promote investment to prop up an anachronistic, repressive regime, it is also not in its interest to stand by while a neighbor’s fragile economy crumbles under the weight of its failed policies. In the worst of cases, an economic implosion would produce social unrest and waves of migrants to American shores.” To that end, he suggests, “Multilateral banks like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, at Washington’s urging, could be given special allowances to offer economic assistance to the next Cuban government while providing international cover for American-led efforts. Any aid should come with a strong message from Washington and the banks that the Cuban government must refrain from repression in response to protests.” Sabatini also recommends that the U.S. restore the full staffing of the U.S. Embassy in Havana.[5]

Engage Cuba, a U.S. coalition of businesses and others that supports U.S.-Cuba normalization, issued two statements about this change.[6]

The first one said this “is a historic and potentially transformative change. The new Cuban president will face an internal political struggle between continuity and reform. I hope that they choose reform and openness, including greater support for the private sector and access to the internet.” It added, “The [U.S.] must also seize this historic moment. After 60 years of a failed embargo, it is time to recognize that with this Cuban transition comes opportunity. We must show leadership and constructively engage. If President Trump is willing to meet with the hostile leader of North Korea, surely we can talk with Cuba. If the U.S. abandons Cuba and fails to lead, we can be sure our adversaries in China and Russia will fill the void, and the losers will be the Cuban people.”

The second press release from Engage Cuba stated the following:

  • “U.S. policy . . . [should] encourage the change we’d like to see. For almost 60 years we have pursued an embargo policy that has failed. With new generational leadership in Cuba, we now have an opportunity to reimagine our policy for the 21st century. We know that continuing the embargo will not work, so let us not double down on 60 years of failure. President Trump and Congress should seize this moment, support the Cuban private sector, let American businesses compete, and look to the future with a modern policy of constructive engagement. After all, the American and Cuban people overwhelmingly support engagement and improved relations. Washington politicians should listen to them for a change.”
  • “Diaz-Canel inherits the challenges of Castro’s Cuba, particularly on the economic front. In the interest of institutional continuity, reforms under Diaz-Canel are expected to be gradual. But market distortions caused by the country’s multiple exchange rates, slow GDP growth, and declining exports will test the new president’s ability to balance badly needed reform with preserving Cuba’s brand of socialism.”
  • “The transition comes at a time of historically low diplomatic engagement between the U.S. and Cuba. The health incidents affecting U.S. diplomats remain an unsolved mystery,which the State Department has used as a rationale for slashing U.S. embassy staff in Havana. Diplomatic personnel have been reduced to 40 percent capacity (12 officers), with no consular services for Cubans seeking U.S. travel or immigrant visas.”
  • “In this transitional period, the fragile U.S.-Cuba relationship poses national security risks for the U.S. Both Russia and China have ramped up exports and investment in Cuba and expressed interest in increasing military and intelligence presence in the region. Further U.S. withdrawal from Cuba could jeopardize the dozens of agreements and joint security initiatives between the two nations.”

The leading long-time U.S. opponent of normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations, Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), stated, “The sham ‘elections’ in Cuba were nothing more than a predetermined charade by the Castro regime. With Raul Castro stepping down today, and his appointed crony Miguel Diaz-Canel taking his place, Cuba will continue to be imprisoned under the rule of an oppressive single-party political system. The Cuban dictatorship portrays this election as a step towards change, yet we know that Diaz-Canel and the regime will remain an enemy of democracy, human rights and the impartial rule of law. If Castro really wanted democratic change for Cuba, he would allow the Cuban people to determine their fate through free, fair, and multi-party elections. “[7]

Cuban Reactions Through U.S. Eyes

 According to a U.S. journalist in Havana, no Cubans seemed to have been watching and listening to the televised April 19 speeches by Díaz-Canel and Raúl Castro. “Instead, a collective sense of apathy seemed to permeate Havana, a feeling that appeared to have been fostered, at least to some degree, by the government itself.” This was coupled with “a sense of hopelessness.”[8]

Conclusion

As apparent from many previous posts, this blog consistently has called for U.S.-Cuba normalization, rescinding the U.S. embargo (blockade) of Cuba, restoring the full staffing of our Havana Embassy and of Cuba’s embassy in Washington, D.C., rescinding the recent U.S. warning about U.S. citizens traveling to the island, ceasing U.S. efforts that seek to change Cuba’s regime, continuing the bilateral meetings that address issues of common concern and engaging in efforts to resolve other long-pending issues (U.S. claims for Cuban compensation for expropriation of property owned by American interests, Cuban claims for damages from the embargo and other actions and disputes about Cuba’s lease of Guantanamo Bay to the U.S.).

Such changes in U.S. policies would do a lot to encourage changes in Cuba’s policies and improve the lot of the Cuban people.

It must also be said that U.S. does not have standing to criticize  Cuba’s not having a national popular election to choose its president. How can anyone forget that the U.S. still uses an antiquated indirect way (the Electoral College) to choose its president and vice president while some state voting laws have been designed to discourage voting by African-Americans.

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[1] Assoc. Press, The Latest: Pence tweets response to Cuba’s Raul Castro, Wash. Post (April 19, 2018).

[2] The White House rules out changes in its policy towards Cuba, Diario de Cuba (April 19, 2018).

[3] U.S. State Dep’t, Department Press Briefing-April 17, 2018.

[4] Editorial, A New Cuba After the Castros? Not Quite, N.Y. Times (April 20, 2018).

[5] Sabatini, We Shouldn’t Ignore Cuba, N.Y. Times (April 17, 2018). 

[6] Press Release, Engage Cuba Statement on Selection of New Cuban President (April 19, 2018); Press Release, Engage Cuba Statement on Cuba’s Presidential Transition (April 19, 2018).

[7] Press Release, Rubio Statement on Sham Cuban “Elections,” (April 18, 2018).

[8] Ahmed, Cubans Doubt a Change at the Top Will Bring Change at the Bottom, N.Y. Times (April 21, 2018).

Cuba’s Elections, 2017-2018

Cuba has elections by private ballot for members of its local legislatures (Municipal Assemblies of People’s Power); provincial legislatures (Provincial Assemblies of People’s Power); and national legislature (National Assembly of People’s Power). The initial such election in 2017-2018 occurred on November 26 for the local legislatures. This post looks at that election and the direct elections early next year for the other legislatures and the indirect election on February 24, 2018, of Cuba’s president.[1]

Municipal Assemblies of People’s Power Election

On November 26, Cuba held its national election of delegates to 168 Municipal Assemblies of People’s Power, which are local governing bodies. There were more than 42,300 polling stations and 27,221 candidates, 35.4% of whom were women, and 19.4%, young people. The majority of candidates have secondary and higher education, and workers from the production and services, as well as administration sectors, are most widely represented, although there are also non-state sector workers among the candidates. These candidates were chosen by nomination assemblies from September 4 through October 30 with the participation of 6.7 million voters. Such elections occur every two and a half years.[2]

Preliminary electoral data reveals that 7.6 million Cubans voted, which was 85.9% of those on the electoral register and that 11,415 delegates were elected. Another 1,100 delegates will be elected in a second round of voting on December 3 as a result of ties or no one receiving more than 50% of the valid votes.[3]

The 85.9% turnout sounds incredibly high to American observers. However, it was the lowest participation since the late Fidel Castro imposed a system of elections in 1976. Moreover, 8.2% of the ballots were left blank or annulled. Thus, a combined 22.3% of the population did not vote or rejected the government-sanctioned candidates. Even this figure may understate the proportion of non-participation as opposition activists question the validity of the official statistics.

The U.S. State Department immediately attacked the validity of these municipal elections. Its spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, said they were “the first stage in what we consider to be a flawed process that will culminate in a non-democratic selection of a new president in 2018. Unfortunately, the elections that took place further demonstrate how the Cuban regime maintains an authoritarian state while attempting to sell the myth of a democracy around the world.” She added, “Despite courageous efforts by an unprecedented number of independent candidates this year, none . . . [was] allowed on the ballot. The regime, once again, used intimidation, arcane technicalities, and false charges to discourage and disqualify independent candidates from running. Democracy is not quantified by participation alone; democracy is undermined when voters may only choose candidates who follow one ideology.” [4]

Yet another negative comment was made by Ms. Nauert. “It’s important to remember the dozens of political prisoners who are unjustly held in Cuba. So far in 2017, there have been more than 4,500 arbitrary detentions for political motives. The detentions show that Cuban citizens cannot exercise their fundamental freedoms to organize, assemble, or express themselves. Those are all vital components of democratic elections.”

There indeed is evidence that the Cuban Government took steps to discourage, and in fact, to eliminate independent candidates from running for these municipal government positions. An independent Cuban news source reported that the “majority of the  independent candidates  who tried to run for the ‘elections’ in the Nominating Assemblies of constituency delegates did not achieve their goal. The regime frustrated the effort through arbitrary arrests, police summons, criminal proceedings, acts of repudiation and even the capture of people.”[5]

Miguel Diaz-Canel, Cuba’s First Vice President and the rumored next President, openly said before the elections that the government was  “taking all steps to discredit” the  independent candidates because if they reached the Municipal Assemblies that “would be a way to legitimize the counterrevolution within our civil society.”  Just after he voted, he made a lengthy statement to the  press, saying the voting would deliver a message to the world. “What message? Unity. Conviction. A message that our people don’t bow down, not to a hurricane and even less to external pressure and some people’s desire to see our system change.” He also said the future presidents of Cuba “will always defend the Revolution and will rise from among the people. They will be elected by the people. Are people forced to vote or do they take on a duty, take on an expression of continuity” in the socialist system?  “I believe in continuity and I am certain that we will always have continuity.”[6]

Provincial Assemblies of People’s Power Election

Each of Cuba’s 14 provinces has its own Assembly of People’s Power that oversees transportation and communication systems throughout the province and recommends legislation regarding national crime and allocations of resources for development. Each such Assembly elects a provincial committee whose  president functions as the provincial governor.

The provincial assembly members are elected directly by the people to five-year terms, Only candidates belonging to the Communist Party of Cuba are allowed to run. Their next election will be in early February 2018.

 National Assembly of People’s Power Election

In early February 2018 there will be a national direct election of 614 members of the unicameral National Assembly for five-year terms. This election is limited to a slate of approved candidates chosen by the National Candidature Commission, and such candidates run unopposed. Candidates are required to obtain at least 50% of the valid votes to be elected. If no candidate passes that threshold, the seat is left vacant although the Council of State my choose to hold a special election to fill the vacancy.

The National Assembly “is the supreme organ of state and the sole legislative authority. . . . [and] has the formal power, among others, to approve the budget and the national economic plan; elect the members of the Supreme Court; and generally oversee the rule-making activities and electoral processes of the provincial assemblies and municipal assemblies.” But it “meets [only] twice a year for a few days to rubber stamp decisions and policies previously decided by the governing Council of State.”

Since the National Assembly meets only twice a year for a few days each time, the 31-member Council of State wields supreme legislative authority. Another body, the Council of Ministers through its nine-member executive committee, handles the administration of the government and the economy.

Cuba’s Presidential Election

There is no popular election of the president of Cuba. Instead, the newly elected National Assembly will elect an individual for that position for a five-year term with possible re-election to another such term. The current president, Raúl Castro, age 86, has said that he will not seek another term, and the current First Vice President, Miguel Diaz-Canel, is widely expected to be chosen for that office on February 24, 2018.

In addition to Diaz-Canel’s recent comments noted above, he also was the highest-ranking official at a concert held on the steps of the University of Havana last Saturday night in tribute to Fidel Castro on the first anniversary of his death. Afterwards Diaz-Canel said he was optimistic about the attitude of Cuban youths toward the system founded by Fidel Castro in 1959 and led by a member of the Castro family for nearly six decades. “When one sees young people gathering in solidarity in the name of the Cuban people, feeling so much for Fidel, I’m convinced that we’ll see the youth and the Cuban people out defending the revolution at the polls tomorrow.”[7]

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[1] This post’s simplified account of the provincial and national legislatures of Cuba and certain other organs of its government is based upon the following sources: The structure of Cuban State, Granma (Mar. 11, 2014); Cuban Government, Legislature, countriesquest.com; CIA World Factbook: Cuba;    Cuban parliamentary election, 2018, Wikipedia; Cuba’s Government, Global Security.org. Comments correcting any errors in this account are most welcome.

[2] Elections begin in Cuba, Granma (Nov. 26, 2017); Morales, Garcia & Pérez, Cuba ready for election day, Granma (Nov. 24, 2017); Elections in Cuba, Wikipedia.

[3] Morales, Second round elections scheduled for 1,100 constituencies, Granma (Nov. 28, 2017).

[4] U.S. State Dep’t, Daily Press Briefing (Nov. 28, 2017); Reuters, U.S. State Department Criticizes Cuban Municipal Vote as ‘Flawed,’ N.Y. Times (Nov. 28, 2017).

[5] Independent observers register numerous ‘incidents’ in the municipal ‘elections,’ Diario de Cuba (Nov. 27, 2017).

[6] Torres, Cuba had the lowest election turnout in four decades. Is the government losing its grip? Miami Herald (Nov. 28, 2017); Low participation in the ‘elections’ without opponents of the regime, Diario de Cuba (Nov. 28, 2017); Torres, 175 Cuban dissidents tried to run for office. Here’s how Castro’s government reacted, Miami Herald (Nov. 10, 2017).

[7] Assoc. Press, Cuba’s Expected Next President Starts to Take Higher Profile, N.Y. Times (Nov. 26, 2017).

Senator Leahy Criticizes Trump Administration’s Reactions to Alleged “Acoustic Attacks” on U.S. Diplomats in Cuba  

U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (Dem., VT) on October 19 criticized the Trump Administration’s recent reactions to the alleged “acoustic attacks” on U.S. diplomats in Cuba.[1]

First, he points out that the Administration repeatedly has stated that despite intensive investigation, the U.S. does not know how or who caused the problems and that it does not believe Cuba did so. Nevertheless and illogically, the U.S. has reduced U.S. staffing of the Havana embassy, expelled 15 Cuban diplomats from the U.S. and issued a travel warning about Americans travel to Cuba.

Moreover, these U.S. reactions “are not only counter-productive to solve this mystery, but will inevitably punish the Cuban people, separate Cuban-Americans from their loved ones on the island, hurt U.S. companies interested in doing business in Cuba, and disrupt further progress between our countries on academic and cultural exchanges, negotiations over fugitives and property claims, public health, and maritime security.”

Second, “whoever is responsible for these attacks has a clear agenda: to sabotage the nascent rapprochement between the [U.S.] and Cuba. . . . While we don’t know who is responsible, we do know there is a clear motivation for our foreign adversaries, like Russia, to drive a wedge between the [U.S.] and Cuba to help achieve their geopolitical goals. And, as we are seeing increasingly around the world, when we disengage our adversaries rush in.”[2]

“Without a hint of evidence, nor a motive, linking  the Cuban government with these incidents,” Leahy said, “it appears as though our actions were driven by political expediency, not diplomacy.”

The next day, October 20, the State Department raised the number of affected diplomats from 22 to 24.[3] The Department’s spokesperson, Heather Nauert, said the two additional victims “do not reflect new attacks.” Instead, they are based on “medical evaluations of personnel who were affected by incidents earlier this year.” She added that the U.S. “can’t rule out additional new cases as medical professionals continue to evaluate members of the embassy community.”

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[1] Leahy, Punishing Without Evidence: The Trump Administration’s Gratuitous Steps To Roll Back Progress Between The United States and Cuba, Huff. Post (Oct. 19, 2017); Patrick Leahy: Moscow could benefit from increase  in tension between Washington and Havana, Diario de Cuba (Oct. 20, 2017).

[2]  A prior post reviewed the frantic pace of Cuba-Russian relations after the election of President Donald Trump, even more so after the eruption of U.S.-Cuba relations associated with the medical problems of U.S. diplomats.

[3] Assoc. Press, US Says 2 More American Victims Confirmed in Cuba Attacks, N.Y. Times (Oct. 20, 2017); Reuters, U.S. Says 24 People Harmed From Recent ‘Attacks’ in Cuba, N.Y. Times (Oct. 20, 2017).