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

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

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

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

State Department’s Assessment of Cuba[4]

Religious Demography

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

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

Executive Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

U.S. State Department Unjustly Continues To Allege That Cuba’s Foreign Medical Missions Engage in Forced Labor 

As noted in a prior post, the U.S. State Department on June 27, 2017, issued its annual report on human trafficking, and Its discussion of Cuba (pp. 143-45) included the allegation that Cuba had engaged in illegal forced labor with its foreign medical mission program.

This allegation has been present in previous annual reports, some of which have been discussed in other posts.[1]

Report Regarding Cuba’s Alleged Forced Labor in Its Foreign Medical Missions

The latest report observes, presumably correctly, that the Cuban penal code does not criminalize forced labor. Therefore, the report, also presumably correctly, states that Cuba “did not make efforts to identify or protect victims of forced labor” and  “did not report having procedures to identify victims of forced labor.”

In addition, the report says, presumably correctly, “The government is the primary employer in the Cuban economy, including in foreign medical missions that employ more than 84,000 workers in more than 67 countries, including Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela. These medical missions constitute a signficant source of Cuban government income.”

Implicitly conceding that there was conflicting evidence, this report said, “Some participants in foreign medical missions as well as other [unnamed] sources allege that Cuban officials force or coerce participation in the program; the [Cuban] government has stated the postings are voluntary, and some participants also have stated the postings are voluntary and well paid compared to jobs within Cuba.” (Emphases added.)

This report continued, “The Cuban government acknowledges that it withholds passports of overseas medical personnel in Venezuela due to security concerns; the government provided ID cards to such personnel in place of passports. There are also claims about substandard working and living conditions in some countries. In the past, there have been claims that Cuban authorities coerced participants to remain in the program, including by allegedly withholding their passports, restricting their movement, using “minders” to monitor participants outside of work, or threatening to revoke their medical licenses or retaliate against their family members in Cuba if participants leave the program.“ (Emphasis added.)

“In 2015, Cuba reinstituted restrictions on travel for specialized doctors and some medical personnel, requiring them to obtain an exit permit from their superiors before leaving the country. On September 9, 2015, the government agreed to reinstate medical personnel who had left their positions while abroad. As of April 1, 2016, the Cuban authorities claimed that 274 medical professionals who returned to Cuba and were rehired at the same salary and level of responsibility they had before leaving. More recent data was not available.”

This report, consistent with prior reports, alleges or assumes that Cuba is engaged in illegal forced labor of Cuban medical personnel in foreign medical missions and that Cuba does not recognize forced labor as a possible issue affecting its nationals in medical missions abroad.

Analysis of the Allegation

This U.S. allegation is flawed for at least the following seven reasons.

First, while previous reports admitted that “information on the scope of . . . forced labor in Cuba is limited,” the latest report admits there is conflicting evidence about whether medical personnel’s participation in the foreign mission program is coerced and that the Cuban government denies such illegal coercion.

Second, most of this report’s recitation of alleged facts about the foreign mission program do not relate to, or substantiate, the forced labor allegation.

Third, “Internationalist medical aid has been a longstanding part of the Cuban people’s tradition of solidarity, since the beginning of the Revolution. As early as 1960 a brigade was sent to Chile following an earthquake there, and to Algeria in 1963, to support the new country recently liberated from colonialism.” At least four Cuban doctors who have participated in such missions have recorded how they treasure the positive impact of those experiences on their professional and personal lives.[2]

Fourth, the accusation of forced labor for such participants has been rejected in a detailed study by Indiana State University’s Emeritus Professor of International Politics and Latin America, Dr. H. Michael Erisman.  He says, although there may be “some cases where . . . [Cuban medical professionals] are pressured into accepting overseas assignments, . . . most evidence indicates that the overwhelming majority are motivated by philosophical and/or pragmatic considerations. In the first instance, one needs to understand that the Cuban medical profession . . . is permeated by norms which stress self-sacrifice and service to the community, both at home and abroad. At the core of this ethos is the principle, which is firmly entrenched in the curriculum of the island’s medical schools and reinforced throughout one’s career, that health care should not be seen as a business driven by a profit motive, but rather as a human right that medical personnel have an unconditional duty to protect. Such convictions often underlie participation in the medical aid brigades. There are, however, also some pragmatic factors that can come into play. Overseas service could . . . help to further one’s professional aspirations and for some assignments the total remuneration involved is more generous than what is available back in Cuba. . . . [T]hese are the considerations which apply to the vast majority of people” in such programs, not involuntary servitude.[3]

Fifth, relevant to this issue, but not mentioned in the Report, is the fact that medical education in Cuba (at the Latin American School of Medicine) is free. As a result requiring medical graduates to pay the country back by such participation seems entirely appropriate and may indeed be a contractual or quasi-contractual obligation. The recent $67 monthly salary for Cuban physicians in Cuba compared with the $24 or $27 monthly income of other Cubans is a result of Cuba’s adoption of a “pyramid” compensation system whereby highly trained workers like physicians earn more than lower-skilled workers like busboys. This system, however, is being undermined by lower-skilled workers like gas-station attendants and waiters earning additional income from stealing and illegally selling gasoline and from earning tips in hard currency at restaurants and hotels serving foreign tourists. Indeed, Raúl Castro in his speech at the April 2016 Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba called this the “inverted pyramid” problem that had to be solved.[4]

Sixth, this Report and its predecessors do not cite to the relevant international legal definition of “forced labor” to assess this claim or set forth any legal analysis purportedly supporting the allegation. This is not surprising as international law does not support this allegation.

Most pertinent is the Forced Labour Convention, 1930, which Cuba and 177 other state members of the International Labour Organization have ratified (as of 2016). The U.S., however, has not so ratified, yet another reason why the U.S. charge is inapt.

This treaty’s  Article 2(1) preliminarily defines  “forced or compulsory labour” as “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily,” But there are five exceptions to this definition set forth in the treaty’s Article 2(2). One such exception, in subsection (b), states  ”the term forced or compulsory labour shall not include . . .  any work or service which forms part of the normal civic obligations of the citizens of a fully self-governing country.” (Emphases added.)[5]

Cuba clearly is a “fully self-governing country” and the participants in the foreign medical missions are Cuban “citizens,” and as previously stated, such participation is regarded as “part of the normal civic obligations” of such citizens with the appropriate medical qualifications. Thus, under the most relevant statement of international law, Cuba has not engaged in illegal forced labor with respect to the foreign medical missions.

Seventh, there has not been any fair adjudicative process that has determined that such illegal coercion exists.

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[1] Relevant posts to dwkcommentaries.com: U.S. Upgrades Cuba in State Department’s Annual Report on Human Trafficking (Aug, 7, 2015); U.S. Reasserts Upgrade of Cuba in Annual Human Trafficking Report (July 2, 2016); U.S. Senate Hearing on on 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report (July 20, 2016).

[2]  Ledn, Cuban doctors share their experiences in internationalist missions, Granma (Nov. 26, 2015).

[3] Erisman, Brain Drain Politics: the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Programme, Int’l J. Cuban Studies  269, 286-87 (2012).

[4] Raul Castro Discusses Socio-Economic Issues in Report to Seventh Congress of Communist Party of Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (April 19, 2016).

[5] This and other parts of the definition of “forced or compulsory labour” were reaffirmed in Article 1(3) of the Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention, 1930.

Cuba’s Unchanged Status in U.S. State Department’s Annual Report on Human Trafficking        

The U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, among other things, establishes a definition of “human trafficking” and requires the Department of State to issue annual reports on such conduct in every country of the world.

The latest such report was issued on June 27, 2017.[1] Upon its issuance Secretary of State Rex Tillerson noted that the preamble to the Act states, “The purpose of this act is to combat trafficking in persons, a contemporary manifestation of slavery, whose victims are predominantly women and children, to ensure just and effective punishment of traffickers, and to protect the victims. As the 21st century begins, the degrading institution of slavery continues throughout the world.” Other remarks were provided by Ivanka Trump, Advisor to the President; and Susan Coppedge, Ambassador-at-Large, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.[2]

Background

“The Department places each country in this Report onto one of four tiers, as mandated by the TVPA. This placement is based not on the size of the country’s problem but on the extent of governments’ efforts to meet the TVPA’s minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking.”

The top tier (Tier 1) consists of “governments [according to the Department’s judgment that] fully meet the [Act’s] . . . minimum standards.” However, that ranking “does not mean that a country has no human trafficking problem or that it is doing enough to address the problem. Rather, a Tier 1 ranking indicates that a government has acknowledged the existence of human trafficking, has made efforts to address the problem, and meets the TVPA’s minimum standards. Each year, governments need to demonstrate appreciable progress in combating trafficking to maintain a Tier 1 ranking. Indeed, Tier 1 represents a responsibility rather than a reprieve. A country is never finished with the job of fighting trafficking.” The latest report has 36 countries, including the U.S., in Tier 1.

Tier 2 consists of those countries “whose governments do not fully meet the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to meet those standards.” For the latest report 80 countries were placed in Tier 2.

Tier 2 Watch List this year has 68 countries, including Cuba, “whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards AND: (a) the absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing; (b) there is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year; or (c) the determination that a country is making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with minimum standards was focused on commitments by the country to take additional future steps over the next year.”

Tier 3 this year has 23 “countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so. There also are 3 countries that are not ranked and instead labeled as Special Cases.

In 2015 there was criticism by some senators about that year’s upgrading of Cuba and Malaysia. Subsequently that same year the previously mentioned State Department Office agreed to brief the Senate Foreign Relations Committee prior to releasing future reports in an effort to prevent any inappropriate influence over the country rankings recommended by the TIP office. As a result on June 21, 2017, Ambassador Coppedge did just that.[3]

Report Regarding Cuba

“The Government of Cuba does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated significant efforts during the reporting period by prosecuting and convicting sex traffickers; providing services to sex trafficking victims; releasing a written report on its antitrafficking efforts; and coordinating anti-trafficking efforts across government ministries. In addition, the government investigated indicators of trafficking exhibited by foreign labor brokers recruiting Cuban citizens. However, the government did not demonstrate increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period. The penal code does not criminalize all forms of human trafficking. The government did not prohibit forced labor, report efforts to prevent forced labor domestically, or recognize forced labor as a possible issue affecting its nationals in medical missions abroad. Because the government has devoted sufficient resources to a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute significant efforts to meet the minimum standards, Cuba was granted a waiver per the Trafficking Victims Protection Act from an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3. Therefore, Cuba is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for the third consecutive year.”

The Report then goes on to provide the State Department’s recommendations for Cuba; assessments of the island’s prosecution, protection and prevention of trafficking; and its Trafficking Profile.

Reactions[4]

On July 13, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on the 2017 report with testimony from Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, whose opening statement did not mention Cuba, and from Ambassador Coppedge. [5]

The statement on the new report from Senator Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ), a Cuban-American, merely referenced a bill he had introduced to reform the State Department’s process for publishing its annual TIP reports, and re-published his statement about the 2015 report that criticized its granting a waiver to downgrading Cuba.

Surprisingly Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), another Cuban-American and a fierce critic of the “promotion” of Cuba to Tier 2 Watch List in 2015, issued a statement about the latest trafficking report that said nothing about Cuba’s continued placement in that category.

Earlier in 2017 Senator Menendez along with cosponsors Senators Rubio, Tim Kaine (Dem., VA), Cory Gardner (Rep., CO), Rob Portman (Rep., OH) and Christopher Coons (Dem., DE) introduced the Trafficking in Persons Report Integrity Act  (S.377), which would reform the State Department’s annual trafficking reports. The press release by Rubio said the bill was prompted in part by “The past two TIP reports . . . [containing] unwarranted, politically-driven upgrades of countries with deplorable human trafficking records, like Cuba and Malaysia.”[6] However, as of August 15, 2017, no actions had been taken on the bill.

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, Trafficking in Persons 2017 (June 2017).

[2] U.S. State Dep’t, Remarks at the 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report Launch Ceremony (June 27, 2017).

[3] Sen. Corker, Press Release: Corker Takes Part in State Department Launch of 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report (June 27, 2017).

[4] Menendez, Sen. Menendez Reacts to the 2017 TIP Report (June 27, 2017); Rubio, Rubio Statement on State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report (June 27, 2017).

[5] Senate For. Relations Comm., Hearing to review the 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report (July 13, 2017);  Sen. Corker, Press Release: Corker Opening Statement at Hearing on 2017 State Department Trafficking in Persons Report (July 13, 2017); Deputy Sec. State Sullivan, Opening Statement Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on the 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report, July 13, 2017.

[6] Press Release, Rubio, Menendez Reintroduce Legislation to Reform State Department Human Trafficking Report (Feb. 14, 2017).

President Obama and Moroccan King’s White House Meeting

In November 2013, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI met at the White House with President Barack Obama. Below is a photograph of the two men in the White House.

Their subsequent Joint Statement “reaffirmed the strong and mutually beneficial partnership and strategic alliance between the [U.S.] and the Kingdom of Morocco; . . . [their mapping] out a new and ambitious plan for the strategic partnership and [pledging] . . . to advance our shared priorities of a secure, stable, and prosperous Maghreb, Africa, and Middle East.   The two leaders also emphasized our shared values, mutual trust, common interests, and strong friendship, as reflected throughout our partnership.”[1]

Democratic and Economic Reforms. After the President “commended the [King’s] action and the leadership . . . in deepening democracy and promoting economic progress and human development,” the two men “reaffirmed their commitment to work together to realize the promise of Morocco’s 2011 constitution and explore ways in which the [U.S.] can help strengthen Morocco’s democratic institutions, civil society, and inclusive governance. . . . [They also] reaffirmed their commitment to the UN human rights system and its important role in protecting and promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms, and committed to deepening the ongoing U.S.-Morocco dialogue on human rights, which has been a productive and valuable mechanism for the exchange of views and information. . . . [The] President expressed support for Morocco’s initiative to reform its asylum and immigration system based on recommendations from Morocco’s National Human Rights Commission.  The President [also] welcomed Morocco’s intent to take concrete steps to . . . [ensure] women fully participate in public life, and that they lead and benefit from inclusive economic growth.”

Economic and Security Cooperation. “The two leaders emphasized that the [U.S.] and Morocco are dedicated to working together to promote human and economic development in Morocco [under several specified programs].” They noted that the two countries [had] signed a Customs Mutual Assistance Agreement . . . to expand bilateral cooperation on the detection of money laundering, trade fraud, and other financial crime. . . . [and] a Trade Facilitation Agreement that furthers the U.S.-Morocco Free Trade Agreement and represents a forward-leaning, 21st century agreement on customs reform and modernization. . . . These important initiatives reflect our common commitment to building stronger economic ties with and among the region.”

They both “recognized the importance of Morocco as a trade and investment platform for North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa and the benefits of maintaining an attractive business climate for investment in Morocco.” A prior and upcoming “U.S.-Morocco Business Development Conference” each “aims to build on business-to-business contacts in aviation, the agriculture and food industry, and energy to expand trade and promote investment, as well as regional economic integration.” Morocco also will be hosting the “Global Entrepreneurship Summit, and both leaders highlighted the importance of fostering broad-based economic opportunity in the region, particularly for young people and women.”

Educational and Cultural Cooperation. The two leaders expressed their commitment “to exploring further cooperation to promote mutual understanding and interfaith dialogue in Morocco and throughout the region, . . . to enhance and diversify [their] exchange programs, . . . [to ratify and implement an] agreement on the registration and status of the system of American schools in Morocco, . . . to strengthening ties and increasing mutual understanding between Moroccan and American youth.”

 The Issue of the Western Sahara. “The President pledged to continue to support efforts to find a peaceful, sustainable, mutually agreed-upon solution to the Western Sahara question. . . . [The U.S.] has made clear that Morocco’s autonomy plan is serious, realistic, and credible, and that it represents a potential approach that could satisfy the aspirations of the people in the Western Sahara to run their own affairs in peace and dignity.  We continue to support the negotiations carried out by the United Nations . . . and urge the parties to work toward a resolution. The two leaders affirmed their shared commitment to the improvement of the lives of the people of the Western Sahara and agreed to work together to continue to protect and promote human rights in the territory.[2]

 Regional Security and Counterterrorism Cooperation.The leaders noted their partnership on the [U.N.] Security Council over the past two years in the advancement of international peace and security, including in Mali, the Sahel, Syria, Libya, and the Middle East.  They reaffirmed their commitment to continue to deepen civilian and military cooperation in the areas of non-proliferation and counter-terrorism.  To address their deep concern for the continuing threat posed by terrorism, the [U.S.] and Morocco intend to continue cooperation to bolster democratic criminal justice institutions and to counter the threat of violent extremism in the region.  The leaders also reinforced their commitment to regional cooperation initiatives.”[3]

 “The leaders are committed to continuing close cooperation in the Global Counterterrorism Forum and to work to strengthen regional political, economic, and security ties across North Africa and the Sahel, including through a reinvigorated Arab Maghreb Union and other regional forums.

“The President encouraged Morocco to join the [U.S.] in founding the International Institute of Justice and the Rule of Law in Malta, which intends to train a new generation of criminal justice officials across North, West, and East Africa on how to address counterterrorism and related security challenges through a rule of law framework.”

Africa. “The President acknowledged . . . the King’s leadership and the actions carried out by Morocco in the field of peace keeping, conflict prevention, human development, and the preservation of cultural and religious identity. In this context, both countries committed to explore joint initiatives to promote human development and stability through food security, access to energy, and the promotion of trade based on the existing Free Trade Agreement.  [They] were pleased to note their common assessment of the critical role of human and economic development in promoting stability and security on the African continent, and committed to explore in greater detail concrete options for pragmatic, inclusive cooperation around economic and development issues of mutual interest.”

Middle East Peace. His Majesty commended the continuous commitment of the . . . [U.S.] to advance Middle East peace.  The President acknowledged the contribution of His Majesty, Chairman of the [Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s] Al Quds [Jerusalem] Committee, to the efforts aiming to achieve a two state solution.”

Conclusion. The President and His Majesty the King [emphasized] . . . their shared commitment to the special and longstanding relationship between the [U.S.] and . . . Morocco, which in 1777 became the first nation to recognize the independence of the [U.S.].  [The two leaders] . . . reaffirmed their commitment to stay in close contact and to continue on a path of increased cooperation that will strengthen the [U.S.]-Morocco strategic partnership.”

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[1] White House, Joint Statement by the United States of America and the Kingdom of Morocco (Nov. 22, 2013).

[2] As noted in a prior post, the U.N. Security Council on April 28, 2017, unanimously passed a resolution extending the mandate of the U.N. Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) until 30 April 2018 and calling on the parties to that conflict to resume negotiations under the auspices of the Secretary-General without preconditions and in good faith, in order to facilitate a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution.

[3] Another prior post discussed Morocco’s current bilateral and multilateral counter-terrorism activities.

Cuban Reactions to Trump’s Reversal of Some U.S.-Cuba Normalization Policies

On June 16, as noted in a prior post, President Donald Trump announced a reversal of some aspects of the Cuba normalization policies that had been instituted by his predecessor, President Barack Obama.

Another post looked at U.S. reactions to this reversal. Now we look at Cuban reactions, and a subsequent post will set forth this blogger’s reactions.

Remember that despite all the hostile rhetoric in Trump’s announcement, he set forth only two changes to be implemented in subsequent regulations: (1) prohibit U.S. business transactions with Cuban entities owned or controlled by the Cuban military of security forces; and (2) prohibit U.S. citizens from engaging in individual person-to-person travel to Cuba.

The Cuban Government’s Reactions[1]

The Cuban Government’s lengthy statement made only passing references to these two measures. It said they were made “with the intentional objective of denying [Cuba] income,” of creating “additional obstacles to already restricted opportunities available to U.S. businesses to trade with and invest in Cuba” and of imposing “further restrictions on] the rights of U.S. citizens to visit our country.”

The Cuban statement instead is devoted to objecting to what it calls “the hostile rhetoric” of President Trump’s announcement of the changes, which recalls “the era of open confrontation with our country” and which “constitutes a setback in relations between the two countries.” The U.S. President justified these policy changes “with alleged concerns about the human rights situation in Cuba and the need to rigorously enforce [U.S. embargo] blockade laws, conditioning its lifting, as well as any improvement in bilateral relations, on our country making changes elemental to our constitutional order.”[2]

However, said the Cuban Government, the U.S. embargo or blockade “causes harm and deprivation to the Cuban people and constitutes an undeniable obstacle to our economy’s development, but also impacts the sovereignty and interests of other countries, generating international condemnation.”

Moreover, these U.S. policy changes “contradict the majority support of the U.S. public, including the Cuban émigré community in that country, for the lifting of the [embargo] blockade and normal relations between Cuba and the [U.S.’]” Instead these policy changes “favor [the] political interests of an extremist minority of Cuban origin in the state of Florida, which for small-minded reasons do not desist in their pretensions to punish Cuba and its people, for exercising the legitimate, sovereign right to be free and take control of their own destiny.”

“The government of Cuba denounces the new measures to tighten the [embargo] blockade, which are destined to failure, as has been repeatedly demonstrated in the past, and which will not achieve their purpose of weakening the Revolution, or breaking the Cuban people, whose resistance to aggression of any kind or origin has been proven over almost six decades.”

“The government of Cuba rejects the manipulation of the issue of human rights for political purposes, and double standards in addressing it. The Cuban people enjoy fundamental rights and freedoms, and have achieved accomplishments of which they are proud, and which are only a dream for many of the world’s countries, including the . . . [U.S.], such as the right to health, education, social security, equal pay for equal work, the rights of children, the right to food, peace and development. With its modest resources, Cuba has contributed, as well, to the expansion of human rights in many places around the world, despite the limitations imposed given its condition as a blockaded country.”

“The [U.S.] is in no position to teach [Cuba] a lesson. We have serious concerns about [the U.S.] respect for and protection of human rights in [the U.S. and other countries].”

“Upon confirming the decision to reestablish diplomatic relations, Cuba and the [U.S.] affirmed the intention to develop respectful, cooperative ties between the two people and governments, based on the principles and purposes enshrined in the United Nations Charter . . . .: the inalienable right of every state to choose its own political, economic, social, and cultural system, without interference of any kind; and on equality and reciprocity, which constitute irrevocable principles of international law.”

“The government of Cuba reiterates its willingness to continue the respectful dialogue and cooperation in areas of mutual interest, as well as the negotiation of pending bilateral issues with the government of the [U.S.]. Over the last two years, it has been demonstrated that . . . the two countries can cooperate and coexist in a civilized manner, respecting differences and promoting all that benefits both nations and peoples, but it cannot be expected that, in order to do so, Cuba will make concessions which compromise our independence or sovereignty, nor accept conditions of any type.”

Cuban Foreign Minister’s Reactions[3]

The following Monday in Paris, France, Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez, re-emphasized these points at a press conference. Again, he made only passing references to the two specific changes in U.S. policy. He said they “reinforce the ban on U.S. citizens traveling as tourists to Cuba, and restrict their civil liberties; they limit the freedom of U.S. citizens to travel.”

He said President Trump’s announcement in Miami was “a grotesque Cold War-era spectacle” before an audience of terrorists that was “an affront to the Cuban people, to the people of the world, and to the victims of international terrorism across the globe.” The announcement “marks a step back in bilateral relations, as has been recognized by countless voices within and outside of the [U.S.], the majority of which out rightly reject the announced changes” and will adversely affect [U.S.] relations . . . with Latin America and the Caribbean, and will severely damage the credibility of its foreign policy.”

“These frankly unpopular measures ignore overwhelming support for the lifting of the [embargo] blockade and the normalization of relations with Cuba by members of the U.S. Congress, many of whom are Republicans; the country’s business sector; various civil society organizations; the Cuban émigré community; the press; social networks; and public opinion in general.”

These changes “will restrict the freedoms of U.S. citizens, cost [U.S.] taxpayers more money, reduce the opportunities of [U.s.] companies and business people against their competition, [and] lose {u.S.] income and jobs.”

These U.S. changers “also ignore the overwhelming majority view of the Cuban people, who wish to have a better relationship with the people of the U.S. They will cause human harm and deprivation; they will affect Cuban families. They will bring economic damage not only to state-owned enterprises in Cuba, but also to [Cuban] cooperatives [privately owned businesses], and will especially harm self-employed or private workers. They will also harm and increase discrimination against Cuban émigrés settled in the [U.S.].”

These U.S. changes will “reinforce our patriotism, our dignity, our determination to defend national independence by all means, in the spirit of José Martí, Antonio Maceo and Fidel Castro Ruz.”

Nevertheless, Rodriguez “reiterate[d] Cuba’s willingness to continue the respectful dialogue and cooperation in areas of mutual interest and to negotiate pending bilateral issues with the [U.S.], on the basis of equality and absolute respect for our independence and sovereignty. As demonstrated by the advances achieved in the last two years, Cuba and the [U.S.] can cooperate and coexist in a civilized manner, respecting the profound differences between our governments and promoting all that benefits both countries and peoples.”

Yet, “Cuba will not make concessions essential to its sovereignty and independence, will not negotiate its principles or accept conditions, as it has never done, never, throughout the history of the Revolution. As the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba establishes, we will never negotiate under pressure or threats.”

In response to journalists’ questions, the Foreign Minister made the following additional comments:

  • “Regarding the issue of the so-called ‘U.S. fugitives in Cuba,’ I can reaffirm that, under our national law and international law and the Latin American tradition, Cuba has granted political asylum or refuge to U.S. civil rights fighters. Of course these people will not be returned to the United States, which lacks the legal, political, and moral foundation to demand this.” (This has been Cuba’s consistent position as this issue was raised in negotiations with the Obama Administration before and after the December 17, 2014, announcement of the two countries embarking on the path of normalization.)
  • “U.S. citizens who committed crimes in Cuba, such as the hijacking of aircraft, were sentenced by Cuban courts and served long prison terms in Cuba. By unilateral decision, and in an act of goodwill, the Cuban government in recent years has returned to the United States 12 U.S. citizens who were fugitives from the U.S. justice system.”
  • “President Trump consistently said throughout the election campaign that he . . . would seek . . . a better deal with our country. For Cuba, “a better deal would mean lifting the [embargo] blockade, returning the territory of the Guantánamo Naval Base [to Cuba], accepting the concept of mutual compensation that would greatly benefit certified U.S. property owners, due to the nationalizations of the 1960s.”
  • “The blockade [embargo] is a piece of the Cold War; it is criminal, genocidal, according to the Geneva Convention on Genocide. It is absolutely unjust and arbitrary. It is a crude, systematic violation, flagrant and systematic, of the human rights of all Cubans, hurting Cuban families, causing damage and deprivation. On the other hand, the blockade [embargo] infringes on the interests of U.S. citizens, of its companies, of its business people, and also constitutes a violation of the civil liberties and political rights of U.S. citizens who are prohibited from traveling to Cuba.”
  • It “would seriously damage the very interests of the [U.S.] and of its citizens, if the U.S. government prevented or disassociated itself from cooperation with Cuba, which is a neighboring country and contributes to stability in the region, to the solution of regional and hemispheric problems, which has been a victim of, and actively fights, international terrorism, as well as drug trafficking; trafficking in persons; cyber-crime; against the use of digital media from one country to surreptitiously attack another; against crimes of fraud, money laundering, in which, necessarily, the interests of the continent’s countries coincide.”
  • “I can reaffirm that Cuba will attend to, honor, the agreements signed, and I reiterate our willingness to negotiate and sign new cooperation agreements in other areas. Because our way of thinking is to respect, in a civilized manner, the great differences which exist between our governments, but to advance in all that can benefit the two peoples, in our national interest and that of the Cuban people.”
  • “It is clear that the measures being implemented by the U.S. government will harm the Cuban people, and especially harm sectors with which the U.S. government has expressed the most interest in building relations. In Cuba, it would be impossible to hurt the state sector of the economy without seriously hurting the cooperative sector, the self-employed, or small private businesses, in particular in the areas that some of these measures address, like the ban on individual travel by U.S. citizens under ‘people-to-people’ licenses.”
  • “[T]hese measures, no doubt, [also] prejudice U.S. interests. The paradox is strange, because the U.S. President has said that his priority is the U.S. citizenry, the creation of jobs, seeking opportunities for U.S. companies and businesses, making them more competitive. With these measures, he is doing exactly the opposite.”

Cuba’s rejection of the rhetorical demands by President Trump has elicited the strong support of Russia, which has maintained close ties with Havana and in March signed a deal to ship oil to Cuba for the first time in over a decade. Russia said that Trump was “returning us to the forgotten rhetoric of the Cold War.”

Cuban Citizens’ Reactions[4]

In addition to the Cuban government, Cuba’s emerging entrepreneurs oppose the change in the U.S. travel rules. They have grown and prospered as Americans over the last two years have flocked to the island on airlines, patronizing thousands of private bed-and-breakfasts and restaurants. For example, Camilo Diaz, a 44-year-old waiter in a restaurant in Havana, said, “When [Trump’s] cutting back on travel, he’s hurting us, the Cuban entrepreneurs. We’re the ones who are hurt.” A similar opinion was voiced by

Havana resident Marta Deus, who recently set up an accountancy firm and courier service, to cater to the emerging private sector. She said, “We need clients, business, we need the economy to move and by isolating Cuba, they will only manage to hurt many Cuban families and force companies to close.”

This obvious adverse impact on Cuba’s emerging private businesses is also obviously adverse to the U.S. interest in encouraging this sector that promotes economic gains for many Cubans and that constitutes a growing counter-weight to the Cuban state controlling everything. The change also promises to increase the cost of Americans going to Cuba because hotels are more expensive than the new, small b&bs.

Expressing a contrary opinion is Jose Daniel Ferrer, who leads the Patriotic Union of Cuba, the country’s largest dissident group. He said, “When the Obama administration stopped condemning human rights violations in Cuba, the regime here said ‘look we can do this and nothing happens, so we can continue repressing more forcefully.’” Other dissidents agree repression has worsened but say rolling back the detente, which will hurt ordinary Cubans, is not the solution.

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[1] Revolutionary Government Statement: Any strategy directed toward changing Cuba’s constitutional order is condemned to failure, Granma (June 19, 2017); Reuters, Cuban Government Says Trump Will Not Weaken ‘the Revolution,’ N.Y. Times (June 16, 2017); Assoc. Press, Russia Says Trump Is Using ‘Cold War Rhetoric’ on Cuba, N.Y. Times (June 18, 2017); Reuters, Russia Criticizes U.S. for ‘Anti-Cuban’ Approach, Says It Sides with Cuba, N.Y. Times (June 18, 2017).

[2] The prior post about the U.S. announcement of the limited changes to U.S. policy did not discuss or quote President Trump’s full-blown condemnation of many Cuban policies and practices and U.S. past and current efforts to change those policies and practices. The full text and summaries of that speech are available in the following: White House, Remarks by President Trump on the Policy of the United States Towards Cuba (June 16, 2017); DeYoung & Wagner, Trump announces revisions to parts of Obama’s Cuba policy, Wash. Post (June 16, 2017); Davis, Trump Reverses Pieces of Obama-Era Engagement with Cuba, N.Y. Times (June 16, 2017); Schwartz, Trump Announces Rollback of Obama’s Cuba Policy, W.S.J. (June 16, 2017).

[3] Rodriguez, Cuba will not make concessions essential to its sovereignty and independence, nor will it negotiate its principles or accept conditions, Granma (June 20, 2017); Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuba Highlights Strong Rejection to Trump’s Policy, (June 19, 2017); Live Press Conference of the Cuban Foreign Minister (+ Video), Granma (June 19, 2017); Ahmed, Cuba’s Foreign Minister Calls Trump’s New Policy a ‘Grotesque Spectacle,’ N.Y. Times (June 20, 2017). The day after his press conference, Foreign Minister Rodriguez repeated some of these comments in an interview by a Russian press agency. (‘Total regress’: Trump would blame Havana for climate change, if he believed in it—Cuban FM to RT, Russia Today (June 20, 2017).)

[4] Reuters, Reuters, Cubans Fret New Trump Policy Will Dampen Tourism Boom, N.Y. Times (June 14, 2017); Miroff, In booming old Havana tourist quarter, Trump speech puts Cubans in a bad mood, Wash. Post (June 16, 2017); Reuters, Cubans Say Crestfallen That Trump Rolling Back Détente, N.Y. Times (June 16, 2017).

President Trump Announces Reversal of Some Cuba Normalization Policies

On June 16 in the Little Havana district of Miami, Florida, President Donald Trump announced a reversal of some aspects of the Cuba normalization policies that had been instituted by his predecessor, President Barack Obama. With a flourish at the end of his speech, Trump signed the National Security Presidential Memorandum on Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba to document the new policy. Back in Washington, D.C. the White House issued a Fact Sheet and a Background Briefing and the U.S. Department of the Treasury issued Frequently Asked Questions and Answers About the New Policy.

An examination of these documents, however, reveals that there is more smoke than fire to the changes. Most of the preexisting normalization policies and actions are not affected, and the changes that were made by executive action can be overturned by federal legislation.

Subsequent posts will review U.S. and Cuban reactions to these changes before providing this blogger’s reactions and recommendations.

National Security Presidential Memorandum[1]

The Memorandum’s purpose in grandiose language is “to promote a stable, prosperous, and free country for the Cuban people. . . . [to] channel funds toward the Cuban people and away from a regime that has failed to meet the most basic requirements of a free and just society [and to condemn abuses by the Cuban regime]. . . . [The] Administration will continue to evaluate its policies so as to improve human rights, encourage the rule of law, foster free markets and free enterprise, and promote democracy in Cuba.” (Section 1)

The Memorandum in section 2 then states the Administration’s policy shall be to:

  • “(a) End economic practices that disproportionately benefit the Cuban government or its military, intelligence, or security agencies or personnel at the expense of the Cuban people.
  • (b) Ensure adherence to the statutory ban on tourism to Cuba.
  • (c) Support the economic embargo of Cuba described in [federal statutes] . . . (d) Amplify efforts to support the Cuban people through the expansion of internet services, free press, free enterprise, free association, and lawful travel.
  • (e) Not reinstate the ‘Wet Foot, Dry Foot’ policy, which encouraged untold thousands of Cuban nationals to risk their lives to travel unlawfully to the [U.S.].
  • (f) Ensure that engagement between the [U.S.] and Cuba advances the interests of the [U.S.] and the Cuban people. . . . [including] advancing Cuban human rights; encouraging the growth of a Cuban private sector independent of government control; enforcing final orders of removal against Cuban         nationals in the [U.S.]; protecting the national security and public health and safety of the [U.S.], including through proper engagement on criminal cases and working to ensure the return of fugitives from American justice living in Cuba     or being harbored by the Cuban government; supporting [U.S.] agriculture and protecting plant and animal health; advancing the understanding of the [U.S.] regarding scientific and environmental challenges; and facilitating safe civil  aviation.”

The Memorandum in section 3 concludes with detailed directions for implementation.

White House Fact Sheet[2]

The White House Fact Sheet on this policy change stated the following as its objectives: (1) “Enhance compliance with United States law—in particular the provisions that govern the embargo of Cuba and the ban on tourism; (2) Hold the Cuban regime accountable for oppression and human rights abuses ignored under the Obama policy; (3) Further the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and those of the Cuban people; and (4) Lay the groundwork for empowering the Cuban people to develop greater economic and political liberty.”

The Fact Sheet then stated the following “Summary of Key Policy Changes:”

  • “The new policy channels economic activities away from the Cuban military monopoly, Grupo de Administración Empresarial (GAESA), including most travel-related transactions, while allowing American individuals and entities to develop economic ties to the private, small business sector in Cuba. The new policy makes clear that the primary obstacle to the Cuban people’s prosperity and economic freedom is the Cuban military’s practice of controlling virtually every profitable sector of the economy. President Trump’s policy changes will encourage American commerce with free Cuban businesses and pressure the Cuban government to allow the Cuban people to expand the private sector.”
  • “The policy enhances travel restrictions to better enforce the statutory ban on United States tourism to Cuba.  Among other changes, travel for non-academic educational purposes will be limited to group travel.  The self-directed, individual travel permitted by the Obama administration will be prohibited.  Cuban-Americans will be able to continue to visit their family in Cuba and send them remittances.”
  • “The policy reaffirms the United States statutory embargo of Cuba and opposes calls in the United Nations and other international forums for its termination. The policy also mandates regular reporting on Cuba’s progress—if any—toward greater political and economic freedom.”
  • “The policy clarifies that any further improvements in the United States-Cuba relationship will depend entirely on the Cuban government’s willingness to improve the lives of the Cuban people, including through promoting the rule of law, respecting human rights, and taking concrete steps to foster political and economic freedoms.”

Significantly this Fact Sheet did not contain actual new regulations to implement the policy changes. Instead, “the Treasury and Commerce Departments [were directed] to begin the process of issuing new regulations within 30 days.  The policy changes will not take effect until those Departments have finalized their new regulations, a process that may take several months.  The Treasury Department has issued Q&As that provide additional detail on the impact of the policy changes on American travelers and businesses.”

White House Background Briefing[3]

The prior day the White House conducted a background briefing on this policy change for journalists.

In addition to presaging the chances noted above, it stated that the new policy was the result of “a full review of U.S. policy toward Cuba [led by the] National Security Council . . . [under the leadership of] General McMaster, [that] engaged in a thorough interagency review process, including more than a dozen working-level meetings, multiple deputies meetings, and principal meetings.  This interagency process included . . . the Treasury Department, the State Department, Commerce Department, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Transportation. . . .”

“Additionally, during this process, the President met with members of Congress who are experts on Cuba policy and have been leaders in formulating Cuba policy, from a legislative perspective, for years.  These members also worked with us hand-in-glove in providing technical guidance and policy suggestions as we continued to formulate the policy and went through multiple drafts.”

“The President and other principals also met with members on both sides of the aisle in this process, and even, additionally, were sharing thoughts with those who have, I think, been advocates — in particular, agricultural trade with Cuba.”

U.S. Treasury Department FAQs[4]

The June 16th FAQs emphasize that the Department’s changes will become effective only upon its issuance of amendments to its Cuban Assets Control Regulation, which are expected in a couple of months.

The upcoming amendments will end individual people-to-people travel. But still permissible will be group people to-people travel: “educational travel not involving academic study pursuant to a degree program that takes place under the auspices of an organization that is subject to U.S. jurisdiction that sponsors such exchanges to promote people-to-people contact. Travelers utilizing this travel authorization must maintain a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that are intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities, and that will result in meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba. An employee, consultant, or agent of the group must accompany each group to ensure that each traveler maintains a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities.”

“The announced policy changes will not change the authorizations for sending remittances to Cuba.”

Vice President Pence and President Trump’s Speeches Announcing the Change[5]

Trump’s speech was a full-blown condemnation of many Cuban policies and practices and U.S. past and current efforts to change those policies and practices that went far beyond the limited changes previously mentioned. He was introduced by Vice President Pence, who reiterated some of the same rhetorical devices regarding Cuba.

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[1] White House, National Security Presidential Memorandum on Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba (June 16, 2017).

[2] White House, Fact Sheet on Cuba Policy (June 16, 2017).

[3] White House, Background Briefing on the President’s Cuba Policy (June 15, 2017).

[4] U.S. Treasury Dep’t, Frequently Asked Questions on President Trump’s Cuba Announcement (June 16m 2017); U.S. Treasury Dep’t, Frequently Asked Questions Related to Cuba (Jan. 6, 2017).

[5] White House, Remarks by the Vice President on the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba (June 16, 2017); White House, Remarks by President Trump on the Policy of the United States Towards Cuba (June 16, 2017); DeYoung & Wagner, Trump announces revisions to parts of Obama’s Cuba policy, Wash. Post (June 16, 2017); Davis, Trump Reverses Pieces of Obama-Era Engagement with Cuba, N.Y. Times (June 16, 2017); Schwartz, Trump Announces Rollback of Obama’s Cuba Policy, W.S.J. (June 16, 2017).

 

 

U.S. Secretary of State Tillerson Criticizes Aspects of U.S.-Cuba Normalization          

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on June 13 criticized at least some aspects of U.S. normalization of relations with Cuba. He did so during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing over the State Department’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2018 (October 1, 2017—September 30, 2018) that is 30% less than the current budget, including a total elimination of funding for so-called democracy promotion programs through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). [1]

The Committee Chair, Bob Corker (Rep., TN), said that he knew President Trump would announce certain changes to Cuba policy this Friday in Miami and asked Mr. Tillerson to explain these upcoming changes. The Secretary responded as follows:

  • “The general approach is to allow as much of this continued commercial and engagement activity to go on as possible because we do see the sunny side…we see the benefits of that to the Cuban people. But on the other hand, we think we have achieved very little in terms of changing the behavior in the regime in Cuba, its treatment of people, and it has little incentive today to change that. In fact, our concern is they may be one of the biggest beneficiaries of all of this, which just again promotes the continuance of that regime. As we’re developing these business relationships and as we’re enjoying the benefits of the economic and development side, are we inadvertently or directly providing financial support to the regime? Our view is we are.”

Senator Corker said he understood that American businesses are eager to operate in Cuba, but cited Cuba’s continuing shortcomings in free expression and other civil liberties. The Senator added, “I do hope we end up with a policy that, over time, will cause the Cuban people themselves to be able to reach their aspirations. It’s a country that has incredible potential.”

Tillerson also said the Obama policy of engagement had “financially benefited the island’s government in violation of U.S. law” and that Cuba “must begin to address human rights challenges” if it wants the U.S. to continue such normalization. Tillerson acknowledged that normalization has led to an increase in U.S. visitors and U.S. business ties. However, Tillerson added: “We think we have achieved very little in terms of changing the behavior of the regime in Cuba …. and it has little incentive today to change that.”

Tillerson agreed that moves toward more normal relations with the United States have helped some Cubans lift themselves out of poverty and provided opportunities for U.S. companies. But, he observed, there is a “dark side” to relations with Cuba, noting that the government in Havana continues to jail political opponents and harass dissidents. “We are supportive of the continued economic development, as long as it is done in full compliance with our existing statutes to not provide financial support to the regime,” Tillerson said. “That’s the focus of our current policy review.”

The State Department’s proposed budget’s elimination of so called “democracy promotion” programs for Cuba and other countries through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) drew the attention of Senator Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ), a Cuban-American and fierce critic of U.S.-Cuba normalization. He said, ““I am appalled that you have completely zeroed out Democracy Assistance for countries including Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. As brave citizens continue to risk their lives advocating for the basic freedoms we enjoy here, this budget sends a message that the United States is no longer on their side, and abandoning the pursuit of justice. It effectively withdraws American leadership around the world, pushing the door open for Russia and China to increase their scope of influence.”

As a result, Menendez asked Tillerson, “Does this administration believe that support of democracy and human rights is a reflection of American leadership and values?” After Tillerson said “Yes,” Menendez asked, “How can you say that then when the budget completely zeros out assistance for democracy assistance?” Tillerson then tried to avoid the question by saying that other parts of the budget could be used for the task.”

More generally at the hearing Committee members, both Democrats and Republicans, expressed great skepticism over the proposed budget’s 30% reduction. Senator Corker said he and his staff had quit trying to analyze the details of the proposed budget because such an effort was “a total waste of time” as the proposed budget “is not going to be the budget that we’re going to deal with. It’s just not.” Another member, Senator Lindsay Graham (Rep., SC) became almost “derisive” as he contrasted global needs with the proposed budget that, he said, was putting the lives of U.S. diplomats at risk.

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[1] Rumors of Upcoming Trump Administration Rollback of U.S. Normalization of Relations with Cuba, dwkcommenetaries.com (May 25, 2017): Reuters, Tillerson Signals Tough Trump Administration Stance on Cuba, N.Y. Times (June 13, 2017); Harris, Will Cuts Hurt Diplomacy? Tillerson Tries to Ease Senate’s Worries, N.Y. Times (June13, 2017); Schwartz, Trump Plans Rollback of Obama Cuba Policy, W.S.J. (June13, 2017); Press Release: Corker Credits Secretary Tillerson for Unprecedented Outreach (June 13, 2017); Press Release: Menendez Pushes Tillerson on Cuts to State Department Human Rights (June 13, 2017); U.S. State Dep’t, FY 2018 Budget Testimony (June 13, 2017).