Additional Information About U.S. Reactions to the U.S.-Cuba Restoration of Diplomatic Relations

Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, published an article regarding U.S. reactions to the restoration of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba.[1]

It reported positive reactions from Democratic Senators Patrick Leahy, Chris Murphy, and Ben Cardin and from Republican Senator Jeff Flake and Republican Representative Bradley Byrne.

Others expressing support were Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State and current candidate for president in 2016, and Wayne Smith, a former head of the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba.

Opposition, Granma reported, came from Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz; Republican Representatives John Boehner and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen; and Republican presidential candidate, Jeb Bush.

The article also included a reference to a public opinion survey taken May 27-June 17, 2015, by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs that showed that “Americans favor lifting the trade embargo on Cuba and believe the proposed changes in U.S.-Cuba relations will have mutual benefits.” More specifically, the survey demonstrated the following:

  • “Two in three Americans (67 percent) support the United States ending the trade embargo with Cuba.”
  • “Support for ending the embargo is bipartisan, with majorities of Democrats (79 percent), Republicans (59 percent) and Independents (63 percent) all in favor of lifting the ban on U.S. trade with Cuba.”
  • “A majority of Americans are very or somewhat confident that the proposed changes in U.S.-Cuba relations will have benefits for both countries. Majorities of Americans say the changes will help the Cuban economy (70 percent), help U.S. businesses (62 percent), improve living standards in Cuba (60 percent), improve the image of the United States in the world (57 percent), improve human rights in Cuba (54 percent) and improve political freedoms in Cuba (53 percent).”
  • “Majorities of all partisan groups are very or somewhat confident that the proposed changes in U.S.-Cuba relations will help the Cuban economy (78 percent of Democrats, 65 percent of Republicans, 70 percent of Independents).”
  • “Otherwise, Democrats and Independents are more confident than Republicans in the benefits. Majorities of both Democrats and Independents are confident that the changes will help U.S. businesses (75 percent of Democrats, 61 percent of Independents) and improve Cuban standards of living (71 percent of Democrats, 59 percent of Independents), while Republicans are divided (50 percent each). Democrats are also more confident than Republicans that the proposed changes in U.S.-Cuba relations will improve the image of the United States in the world (74 percent of Democrats, 45 percent of Republicans, 52 percent of Independents), improve human rights in Cuba (68 percent of Democrats, 38 percent of Republicans, 55 percent of Independents) and improve political freedoms in Cuba (65 percent of Democrats, 39 percent of Republicans, 53 percent of Independents).”

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[1] Positive reaction to reestablishment of diplomatic relations dominates within the U.S., Granma (July 2, 2015); Chicago Council on Global Affairs, As U.S., Cuba Make Embassy Announcements, Chicago Council Survey Shows Americans Support Ending Cuba Trade Embargo (July 1, 2015).

 

Letter to President Obama Regarding Cuba

On August 13, 2012, I sent the following letter regarding Cuba to U.S. President Barack Obama.[1]

Many of the United States’ policies regarding Cuba are not in our national interest and should be changed. I write specifically about (1) the U.S. embargo of Cuba, (2) the U.S. designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism,” (3) the U.S. denigration of religious freedom on the island and (4) our refusal to enter into negotiations with Cuba on the broad range of issues that have accumulated since the Cuban Revolution of 1959 without Cuba’s satisfying various U.S. preconditions.

1. U.S. Embargo of Cuba

The U.S. embargo of Cuba, in my opinion, is an out-of-date relic of the days of U.S. hostility toward, and fear of, the Cuban Revolution. Today Cuba poses no serious threat to the U.S. Cuba’s regrettable human rights violations are understandable and could be more successfully addressed in bilateral negotiations. Normalizing relations, including rescinding the embargo, would be in the economic interest of the U.S. by creating export and investment opportunities for U.S. businesses. Moreover, ending the embargo would be in the overall interests of the U.S., especially with respect to our relations with other countries in the Western Hemisphere. This is examined more fully in my blog posts: “The U.S. Should Pursue Reconciliation with Cuba,” (May 21, 2001); and “U.N. General Assembly Again Condemns  U.S. Embargo of Cuba,” (Oct. 25, 2011),

The U.S. should end its embargo of Cuba.

2. U.S. Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism”

The U.S. State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2011 (July 31, 2012), assert two grounds for designating Cuba as a “State Sponsor:” (a) its being an alleged safe haven for certain ETA and FARC terrorists and U.S. fugitives; and (b) its alleged financial system deficiencies relating to money laundering and financing of terrorism.

Neither ground withstands serious analysis as shown by my blog posts: “Yet Another Ridiculous U.S. Designation of Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism,” (Aug. 7, 2012) and “Additional Thoughts on the Ridiculous U.S. Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism,” (Aug. 9, 2012).

The U.S. should rescind this designation.

3. U.S. Denigration of Cuban Religious Freedom

The U.S. State Department’s 2011 Report on International Religious Freedom (July 30, 2012), had many positive things to say about the status of this important freedom in Cuba in 2011 that is confirmed by my personal experience with the subject. The report also has certain negative comments on the subject with which I do not disagree.

The resulting question, I believe, is “Is the glass half empty or half full?” I believe it is more than half full of this important freedom. The U.S. needs to remember that Cuban society and history is very different from the U.S. and humbly recognize that those differences do not mean that its religious freedom is fundamentally flawed.

My real complaint here is with the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s unrealistic overstatement of the negative aspects of Cuban religious freedom and its continued placement of Cuba on its Watch List.

My views on this subject are fully explained in my blog posts, “Cuban Religious Freedom According to the Latest U.S. Report on International Religious Freedom,” (Aug. 3, 2012) and “The Cuban Revolution and Religion,” (Dec. 30, 2011).

The U.S. should cease denigrating Cuban religious freedom and instead explore through respectful bilateral negotiations whether there are ways for the U.S. to assist Cuba in further expansion of such freedom on the island.

4.  U.S. Negotiations with Cuba

In addition to the issues discussed in this letter, there are many others that need discussion, negotiation and resolution. They include Cuban compensation for expropriated property in the Cuban Revolution, enhancement of human rights on the island, emigration and immigration between the two countries, the status of Cuba’s lease of Guantanamo Bay to the U.S., the continued U.S. imprisonment of four of the so called “Cuban Five,” Cuba’s continued imprisonment of Alan Gross, the status of U.S. fugitives in Cuba, exploration and drilling for oil in the Caribbean Sea between the two counties, Cuba’s re-entry into the Organization of American States and re-establishment of full diplomatic relations.

Perhaps such negotiations would be assisted by having the two countries agree to the appointment of a respected international mediator/conciliator to supervise the negotiations.

Cuba repeatedly has said that it is willing to engage in respectful negotiations with the U.S. on all issues. Most recently on July 26th (Revolution Day marking the 59th anniversary of the Cuban uprising against former President Batista), Cuban President Raul Castro in a public speech reiterated his country’s willingness to engage in negotiations with the U.S. as equals. He said no topic was off limits, including U.S. concerns about democracy, freedom of the press and human rights in Cuba so as long as the U.S. was prepared to hear Cuba’s own complaints. (Assoc. Press, Cuban president Raúl Castro willing to hold no-limits talks with America, Guardian (July 26, 2012); Assoc. Press, Cuba–An Impromptu Invitation, N.Y. Times (July 27, 2012).)

The U.S. should accept Cuba’s offer to engage in broad-scale negotiations over all issues between the two countries.


[1] Copies of the letter were sent to Hillary Rodham Clinton, United States Secretary of State; David Benjamin, United States Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator for Counterterrorism; Suzan Johnson Cook, United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom; Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, Chair, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom; John F. Kerry, United States Senator and Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Amy Klobuchar, United States Senator from Minnesota; Al Franken United States Senator from Minnesota; and Keith Ellison, United States Representative from Minneapolis, Minnesota.

U.S. Releases Annual Report on Human Rights in the World

On May 24, 2012, the U.S. Department of State released its annual report on human rights conditions in every other country in the world. Secretary of State Clinton said that the reports “make clear to governments around the world: We are watching and we are holding you accountable. And they make clear to citizens and activists everywhere: You are not alone. We are standing with you.” Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner added, “In too many countries, egregious human rights violations continue, including torture, arbitrary detention, denial of due process of law, disappearance, and extrajudicial killings.”

The annual U.S. reports cover internationally recognized individual, civil, political, and worker rights, as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and various international treaties. The U.S. Department of State submits reports on all countries receiving assistance and all United Nations member states to the U.S. Congress in accordance with the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and the Trade Act of 1974.

The Department of State prepares these reports using information from U.S. embassies and consulates abroad, foreign government officials, nongovernmental and international organizations and published reports. U.S. diplomatic missions abroad prepared the initial drafts of the individual country reports, using information they gathered throughout the year from a variety of sources, including government officials, jurists, the armed forces, journalists, human rights monitors, academics, and labor activists.

Once the initial drafts of the individual country reports are completed, the Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, in cooperation with other Department offices, work to corroborate, analyze, and edit the reports, drawing on their own sources of information. These sources included reports provided by U.S. and other human rights groups, foreign government officials, representatives from the U.N. and other international and regional organizations and institutions, experts from academia and the media. Bureau officers also consult experts on worker rights, refugee issues, military and police topics, women’s issues, and legal matters, among many others. The guiding principle was to ensure that all information was reported objectively, thoroughly, and fairly.

As Secretary of State Clinton stated on the release of the latest report, “Congress mandated these country reports more than three decades ago to help guide lawmakers’ decisions on foreign military and economic aid, but they have evolved into something more. Today, governments, intergovernmental organizations, scholars, journalists, activists, and others around the world rely on these reports as an essential update on human rights conditions around the world – where we have seen progress, where progress has come too slowly or at great cost, and all too often, where it has been rolled back.”

In my work as a pro bono lawyer for asylum seekers in the U.S., for example, these reports were important corroborative evidence to support the claim of someone who alleges that he or she has a well founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, ethnic group, political opinion or membership in a particular social group if returned to his or her home country. In addition, my experience with some of the country reports, especially El Salvador, has shown that over time they have become increasingly more objective.

With respect to China, the new report said that human rights had deteriorated. It cites “repression and coercion” of rights advocates, tight restrictions on political dissidents, curbs on journalists and on Internet access, and “severe cultural and religious repression” of ethnic Uighurs and Tibetans.

The next day (May 25th) China said that the U.S. report was inaccurate and irresponsible. As the Foreign Ministry spokesperson said, the report was “baseless, biased and completely wrong.” In fact, the spokesman said China has made world-recognized gains in improving human rights since broad social and economic reforms were launched 30 years ago. China’s economy has grown rapidly over the last three decades, and the government marks poverty reduction as one of its greatest human rights achievements. Moreover, the person said, “The Chinese people themselves are the most qualified to judge China’s human rights condition . . . . Countries can hold talks about human rights on equal footing to increase mutual understanding and help each other improve, but should never use the relevant issue as a tool for interfering in the internal affairs of other countries.”

China simultaneously retaliated with its report on human rights in the U.S. It criticized the arrest of Occupy Wall Street protesters and other alleged U.S. violations of civil and political rights.

The Chinese report on human rights in the U.S. reflects other countries’ frequent criticism of the U.S.’ annual reports for failure to evaluate and criticize the U.S. itself. But the U.S.’ recent submission of its own human rights record to Universal Periodic Review by the U.N. Human Rights Council, as discussed in a prior post, is another means for the U.S. to do just that with on-the-record comments and criticism by other governments.




U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Holds Hearing on the Law of the Sea Convention

On May 23, 2012, the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing on the Law of the Sea Convention that the Committee called “The U.S. National Security and Strategic Imperatives for Ratification.”

Senator John Kerry

Opening the hearing, Democratic Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Committee Chairman, said he was “deeply supportive” of the treaty and believed “it is now more urgent than ever that we ratify it because to remain outside of it is fundamentally, directly counter to the best interests of our country.” Ratification, he said, “will protect America’s economic interests and our strategic security interests.”

Kerry promised a comprehensive set of hearings so that proponents and opponents of the treaty can be heard. Kerry, however, said he would delay a Committee vote until after the November election in order to keep the debate about ratification out of the “hurly-burly of presidential politics.”

Three Obama Administration officials–Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey–were the witnesses at the May 23rd hearing. Their full testimony is available online.

Secretary Hillary Clinton

Secretary Clinton said, “Whatever arguments may have existed for delaying U.S. accession no longer exist and truly cannot even be taken with a straight face.” By refusing to ratify the treaty, Mrs. Clinton said, the U.S. could fail to exploit untapped oil and gas deposits buried beneath the offshore seabed. It could lose out to Russia, Norway and other countries in staking claims to the Arctic Ocean, where melting ice is opening up untold mineral riches. And the U.S. could lose credibility in challenging China’s maritime ambitions in the South China Sea.

Secretary Leon Panetta
General Martin Dempsey

Secretary Panetta and General Dempsey focused on the national security benefits, arguing that by instituting rules and a mechanism for resolving disputes, the treaty reduces the threat of conflict in hot spots like the South China Sea and the Strait of Hormuz, which Iran has threatened to block in retaliation for oil sanctions. Panetta’s lengthy earlier speech about the treaty was summarized in a prior post.

Two Republican members of the Senate Committee voiced opposition to ratification. Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma complained that under the treaty, the U.S. would have to transfer billions of dollars in royalties from oil and gas production on the continental shelf to an international authority, which would redistribute the money to less developed countries. Senator James Risch of Idaho said the treaty would oblige the U.S. to adhere to international agreements to stem greenhouse gas emissions. “That’s got Kyoto written all over it,” he said, referring to the climate change treaty previously rejected by the United States.

There is other opposition to ratification. Last week the U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment to a defense spending bill that banned funding for implementation of the treaty. Also opposed are The Heritage Foundation and other conservative organizations.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, however, supports ratification as offering “clear legal rights and protections” to U.S. businesses to “take advantage of the vast natural resources in and under the oceans off the U.S. coasts and around the world.”