Rumors of Upcoming Trump Administration Rollback of U.S. Normalization of Relations with Cuba

As reported in prior posts, the Trump Administration presumably has been conducting an overall review of U.S. policies regarding Cuba.[1] Although the completion of that review has not been publicly announced, there are rumors that in mid-June the Administration will be announcing a rollback of at least some of the various normalization measures announced by the Obama Administration starting on December 17, 2014.

Rumored Reversals

Even though U.S.’ Cuba policies have not had much public attention in these days of focus on revelations of Trump campaign connections with Russia, the pro-U.S.-embargo lobby apparently has used support for the Administration’s non-Cuba legislation (e.g., health care) to extract promises from Trump on rolling back the present policies. High on the list of rumored roll backs are limiting people-to-people U.S. travel to technical categories and stopping any U.S. trade or licenses that would be associated with “military” entities of the Cuban government.

This rumored reversal is happening even though all federal administration agencies support further negotiations with Cuba for better relations, especially in the areas of illegal immigration, national security, human trafficking, environment, trade, commerce, healthcare. These agencies influence have been hampered because there is no one in charge of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the State Department.

These unfortunate changes were hinted in President Trump’s statement on the May 20th so-called Cuban Independence Day when he said:[2]

  • “Americans and Cubans share allegiance to the principles of self-governance, dignity, and freedom. Today, we remember patriots like José Martí, who devoted himself to making Cuba an economically competitive and politically autonomous nation. He reminds us that cruel despotism cannot extinguish the flame of freedom in the hearts of Cubans, and that unjust persecution cannot tamper Cubans’ dreams for their children to live free from oppression. The Cuban people deserve a government that peacefully upholds democratic values, economic liberties, religious freedoms, and human rights, and my Administration is committed to achieving that vision.” (Emphasis added.)

Trump’s statement, not unexpectedly, was not well received in Cuba. Later the same day an “Official Note” was read on Cuban state television describing Trump’s message as “controversial” and “ridiculous,” especially on May 20, which Cuba sees as the date in 1902 when Cuba became a “Yankee neo-colony” or de facto U.S. protectorate after its status as a Spanish colony ended. More specifically May 20, 1902, was the date the Platt Amendment was added to the Cuban Constitution and 11 days after the signing of the Treaty of Paris by the U.S. and Spain ending the so-called Spanish-American War.[3] Cuba’s true Independence Day is January 1, 1959, the date the Cuban Revolution took over the government of the island.[4]

Resistance to Reversals

There, however, is resistance to any such rumored reversals.

First, the Trump Administration itself recently submitted its proposed Fiscal 2018 budget for the State Department that does not include any funds for the so-called Cuba “democracy promotion” programs by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).[5] In a letter accompanying this budget request, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the request “acknowledges that U.S. diplomacy engagement and aid programs must be more efficient and more effective, and that advancing our national security, our economic interests, and our values will remain our primary mission.” These undercover or covert USAID programs, in this blogger’s opinion, are unjustified and counterproductive and should have been cancelled a long time ago.[6]

Second, another voice for resistance within the Trump Administration is U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, who is a Trump appointee. On May 17 he appeared before the House Agriculture Committee. In response to a question by Representative Rick Crawford (Rep., AR) about his bill, Cuba Agricultural Exports Act (H.R.525), that would eliminate the U.S. requirement for Cuban cash payments upfront to purchase U.S. agricultural exports, Perdue said, “I think that’s something I would be supportive of if folks around the world need private credit to buy our products, and I’m all for that. [7]

Third, a May 24 letter to President Trump advocated the maintenance of the current U.S. policies regarding U.S. travel to Cuba. It came from a group of over 40 U.S. travel service providers that offer legal, authorized travel to Cuba. It asserted that the recent increase of such travel “has had a significant impact on our businesses by increasing our revenue and allowing us to hire more American employees. Additionally, it has helped the Cuban private sector, and fostered strong relationships between Americans and Cuban religious organizations and humanitarian programs.” The impact on Cuba’s private sector was emphasized: “Many U.S. travelers visiting Cuba stay in privately run B&Bs, dine at private restaurants, hire independent taxis and purchase goods and services from entrepreneurs. They are greatly supporting the growth of the Cuban private sector.”[8]

Fourth, another force for resistance to any such roll back is Cuban Ambassador to the U.S., José Ramón Cabañas, who along with other Cuban diplomats has been traveling to many parts of the U.S. and conveying Cuba’s best wishes for better relations with the U.S. and how such relations will benefit many Americans. I well remember the visit he and his wife made to Minneapolis in 2014 before he had the title of Ambassador and his low-key, pleasant and intelligent discussion of the many issues facing our two countries.  More recently he has been to Harvard University and Montana State University and visiting mayors, governors, legislators and ordinary Americans in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Montana, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Louisiana, the Washington suburbs and Florida. At the University of Louisville, the Ambassador said, “We are ready and open to work with the Trump administration, and we believe that we can build a future of cooperation with the United States in many subjects, although we recognize that there are many areas in which we will not agree.”[9]

Conclusion

Now is the time for all U.S. supporters of normalization to engage in public advocacy of these policies and to urge their U.S. Senators and Representatives to oppose any rollback of normalization.

We also need to express our support of those who have introduced bills in this Session of Congress to end the embargo and to expand Americans’ freedom to travel to Cuba:

  • Senator Heidi Heitkamp (Dem., ND), Agricultural Export Expansion Act of 2017 (S.275);
  • Senator Jerry Moran (Rep., KS), Cuba Trade Act of 2017 (S.472)(end the embargo);
  • Representative Mark Sanford (Rep., SC), Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2017 (H.R.351);
  • Representative Tom Emmer (Rep., MN), Cuba Trade Act of 2017 (H.R.442)(end the embargo);[10]
  • Representative Kevin Cramer (Rep., ND), Cuba DATA Act (H.R.498);
  • Representative Rick Crawford (Rep., AR), Cuba Agricultural Exports Act (H.R.525); and
  • Representative Jose Serrano, (Dem., NY), Promoting American Agricultural and Medical Exports to Cuba Act of 2017 (H.R.572), Baseball Diplomacy Act (H.R.573), Cuba Reconciliation Act (H.R.574).

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[1] The Future of U.S.-Cuba Normalization Under the Trump Administration, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 22, 2016); More Reasons To Believe There Is a Dim Future for U.S.-Cuba Normalization, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 2, 2017); Three Experts Anticipate Little Change in U.S. Policies Regarding Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 10, 2017); Washington Post Endorses Continued Normalization with Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 11, 2017); Secretary of State Nominee Rex Tillerson Addresses U.S. Policies Regarding Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 12, 2017); Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State Nominee, Provides Written Responses Regarding Cuba to Senate Foreign Relations Committee, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan 23, 2017); Lobbying the Incoming Trump Administration To Continue Normalization with Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 18, 2017); Cuban Entrepreneurs Express Frustration and Confidence, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 28, 2017); Uncertainty Over Future Cuba Policies of Trump Administration, dwkcommentaries.com   (Apr. 5, 2017).

[2] White House, Statement from President Donald J. Trump on Cuban Independence Day (May 20, 2017).

[3] The U.S. 1898 entry into Cuba’s Second War of Independence and establishment of the de facto protectorate lasting until 1934 was reviewed in a prior post.

[4] Torres, Havana lashes out against Trump’s Mary 20 message to the Cuban people, Miami Herald (May 22, 2017); Sánchez, There is no future without the past, Granma (May 23, 2017).

[5] Whitefield, No USAID funds for Cuba in Trump budget proposal, Miami Herald (May 24, 2017); Schwartz, Trump Administration Proposes 32% Cut to State Department Budget, W.S.J. (May 23, 2017); Secretary Tillerson, Letter Regarding State Department’s Budget Request (Fiscal 2018) (May 23, 2017).

[6] See posts listed in “U.S. Democracy Promotion in Cuba” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[7] USDA Secretary Perdue Supports Bill to Expand Ag Exports to Cuba, Engage Cuba (May 18, 2017);

[8] Over 40 Leading U.S. Travel Companies and Associations Urge President Trump Not to Roll Back U.S. Travel to Cuba, Engage Cuba (May 24, 2017).

[9] Whitefield, Cubans become the road warriors of D.C. diplomatic corps, Miami Herald (May 22, 2017).

[10] Representatives Emmer and Castor Introduce Bill To End Embargo of Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 12, 2017).

 

Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State Nominee, Provides Written Responses Regarding Cuba to Senate Foreign Relations Committee

On or before January 20 Rex Tillerson provided written responses to questions from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that is considering his nomination to be Secretary of State.[1] Here we will look at those responses regarding U.S. policies regarding Cuba.

Tillerson’s Responses Regarding Cuba

Many of his responses were “Yes, if I am confirmed” and are not understandable without the question. The following are his responses regarding U.S. policies regarding Cuba [with portions of the questions inserted in brackets to make the answers more understandable]:

  • “If confirmed, I will engage with Cuba but continue to press for reform of its oppressive regime. I will support human rights defenders and democracy activists in Cuba, empower civil society, defend freedom of expression, and promote improved Internet access and I will ask our allies to do the same.”
  • “Yes, if I am confirmed, [I will continue to support programs that promote democratic voices and initiatives in Cuba like Radio and TV Marti].”
  • “If confirmed, I will engage bilaterally and multilaterally to bring these fugitives [like New Jersey cop-killer Joanne Chesimard] to justice.”
  • “Yes, if I am confirmed, [I work with the Treasury Department to ensure that no revenue from American businesses goes directly toward supporting the Cuban military and the regime].”
  • “If confirmed, I will press Cuba to meet its pledge to become more democratic and consider placing conditions on trade or travel policies to motivate the release of political prisoners.”
  • “I will work bilaterally and multilaterally to identify training and technical assistance opportunities to assist with judicial reform, if I am confirmed.”
  • “Yes, [I will stand by President-elect Trump’s commitment to reverse the Obama Administration’s Cuba regulations until freedoms are restored on the island]. There will be a comprehensive review of current policies and executive orders regarding Cuba to determine how best to pressure Cuba to respect human rights and promote democratic changes.”
  • “Yes, [I will stand by Vice President-Elect Pence’s commitment to reverse the Obama Administration’s Cuba regulations].”

Conclusion

Perhaps not too surprisingly, these responses do not add much clarity on the new administration’s policies regarding Cuba. As he said in his live testimony to the Committee and in these written responses, there are hints that the new administration will change at least some aspects of the Obama Administration’s policies to normalize relations with Cuba. But first there will be “a comprehensive review of current policies and executive orders regarding Cuba to determine how best to pressure Cuba to respect human rights and promote democratic changes.”

Those of us who support normalization need to be on guard and register our objections to any proposed retreat from that important, positive development for the U.S. and Cuba and indeed all of Latin America.

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[1] Secretary-of-State-designate Rex Tillerson’s confirmation answers on Latin America, Latin America Goes Global (Jan. 20, 2017)

Secretary of State-Nominee Rex Tillerson Addresses U.S. Policies Regarding Cuba     

Rex Tillerson
Rex Tillerson

In his opening statement at the January 11 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on his nomination, Secretary of State Nominee Rex Tillerson made the following comments about U.S. policies regarding Cuba:[1]

  • “And we must adhere to standards of accountability. Our recent engagement with the government of Cuba was not accompanied by any significant concessions on human rights. We have not held them accountable for their conduct. Their leaders received much, while their people received little. That serves neither the interest of Cubans or Americans.”

Later in response to questions by Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), a Cuban-American and a noted opponent of normalization, Tillerson said he would advise the president to veto any legislation codifying President Obama’s thaw with Cuba, at least until the Trump administration can conduct its own review of that policy. In addition, Tillerson said the current U.S. normalization policy has not benefited most Cubans.

Tillerson specifically added that he would also advise Trump to veto any measures to lift the Cuban embargo, and “examine carefully the criteria” under which Cuba was taken off the list of state sponsors of terrorism, to determine “whether or not that de-listing was appropriate.”

Tillerson did not commit to indefinitely maintaining the above positions, instead deferring to the results of the new administration’s forthcoming review to determine its long-term Cuba policy.

Tillerson underscored that the United States “cannot ignore the law” and must comply with measures such as the Helms-Burton Act, which codified the embargo in 1996, and stated that economic restrictions must remain in force until the Cuban government complies with certain conditions, among them that the Castro family leaves power. Any modification of that legal basis on the policy toward Cuba “should be done by Congress,” according to Tillerson, who committed to strictly enforcing the law.[2]

The obvious follow-up question that I believe was not asked is whether one of the objectives of the promised review of U.S. policies regarding the island will be recommending changes to relevant statutes.

Responding to a question by Senator Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ), a Cuban-American opposed to normalization, Tillerson said that advancing human rights and democracy in Cuba and returning to justice U.S. fugitives like Joanne Chesimard, convicted of aiding and abetting the murder of a New Jersey State Trooper, would be a condition of any further engagement with Cuba.

Conclusion

This hearing was bad news and good news for advocates of normalization like this blogger.

The good news is Tillerson’s prediction that the new administration will conduct a review of existing U.S. policies regarding Cuba before making any changes in them.As previoulsy stated, this review should include recommendations to Congress for changes in existing statutes on the subject.

The bad news is the series of suggestions that many of the normalization policies will be cancelled.

Although I agree that so far Cuba has not made significant concessions on human rights, I disagree with the implicit conclusion from this statement: the U.S. needs to demand Cuban concessions on human rights as a condition for the U.S. making any further economic “concessions” to the island. This is the policy that was followed for over 50 years before December 17, 2014, without the desired result.

I also disagree with his prospective recommendation of a veto of any legislation ending the U.S. embargo of Cuba. In addition, I reject his implication that the U.S. May 2015 rescission of its designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism” was not justified. As explained in earlier posts, the embargo is unjustified and counterproductive for the U.S. while  previous “terrorism” designations were ridiculous and unjustified and the rescission was fully consistent with the law and the facts and was implicitly endorsed by Congress’ failure to approve a joint resolution countermanding the rescission. [3]

Finally I disagree with Tillerson’s testimony that the Cuban “people have received little” from U.S.-Cuba engagement or normalization. As previously stated in various posts, the increased remittances from families and friends in the U.S. to others in Cuba, all made possible by the Obama Administration’s loosening of U.S. restrictions, have been a major source of funding for the expansion of family-owned businesses on the island. That expansion has helped to reduce the portion of the Cuban economy controlled by state-owned enterprises and has increased the income and well being of Cuban entrepreneurs and their employees, who are and will be a significant force for further modification of the Cuban economic and political system.[4]

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[1] Secretary of State Designate Rex Tillerson: Senate Confirmation Hearing Opening Statement (Jan. 11, 2017); Rex Tillerson Confirmation Hearing: Live Coverage, W.S.J. (Jan. 11, 2017); U.S. Senate For. Rel. Comm., Nomination Hearing for Secretary of State Nominee Rex Tillerson (Jan. 11, 2017) (video); Demirjian, Tillerson says Trump is prepping to review Obama’s Cuba policy, Wash, Post (Jan. 11, 2017); Menendez, Secretary of State Nom Rex Tillerson gives commitment to justice during Senate confirmation hearing (Jan. 11, 2017); Kasperowicz, Tillerson would recommend veto of bill ending Cuba embargo, Wash. Examiner (Jan. 11, 2017).

[2] Of greater interest to most of the media about this hearing was Rubio’s challenging questions to Tillerson about whether he favored sanctions against Russia and whether he thought Putin was a war criminal. (E.g., Sanger & Flegenheimer, In Rocky Hearing, Rex Tillerson Tries to Separate From Trump, N.Y. Times (Jan, 11, 2017).)  Were such questions about Russia merely a Rubio ploy to solidify Tillerson’s opposition to Cuba normalization?

[3] See posts listed in the “U.S. Embargo of Cuba” and “Cuba State Sponsor of Terrorism?” sections of List of posts to dwkcommentaries–Topical: CUBA.

[4] See posts listed in the “Cuban Economy” section of List of posts to dwkcommentaries–Topical: CUBA.

Washington Post Endorses Continued Normalization with Cuba

The Washington Post opens its January 10 editorial by properly recognizing that the “lasting foreign policy legacy of a president often doesn’t become clear until years after he leaves office. That may be particularly true of President Obama, because some of his most distinctive initiatives were, in large part, bets on long-term results. . . . [T]he president’s decision to reopen relations with Cuba without requiring any political liberalization by the Castro regime will be judged on whether greater engagement with the United States eventually helps to bring about that change.”[1]

The editorial concludes by urging President-elect Donald Trump to “improve on . . . [President Obama’s policy of normalizing relations with Cuba]. A break with Havana would dash the hopes of millions of Cubans who still expect the [U.S.] to use its leverage to promote real change. Mr. Trump should freeze contacts with the regime’s security agencies and link any further U.S. economic concessions to an increase in political freedom.”

In between these words the editorial laments what it sees as a Cuban escalation of “[r]epression against the political opposition . . . since the death of Fidel Castro;” the decline of U.S. exports to the island; and what it sees as the slow pace of expansion of Cuban self-employment financed, in part, by U.S. remittances to Cuban family and friends.

Conclusion

I applaud the editorial’s recognition that the process of normalizing relations with Cuba is a long-term project that Trump should not abandon, but instead seek to improve.

The editorial, however, fails to acknowledge that Cuba is going through its own long-term project of moving from a state-owned to a mixed economy. This is not an easy task. Indeed, last April Raúl Castro in a speech to the Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba criticized the old habits of many within the state-owned enterprises; praised the economic contributions of the self-employed, now 30% of the national economy; and complained about some low-skilled workers like gas-station attendants earning more money than high-skilled workers like physicians.[2]

This Cuban long-term project is made even more difficult by the economic collapse of its ally Venezuela and the resulting reductions of the latter’s economic support of Cuba, which is briefly mentioned in the editorial along with the 1% decline of the Cuban economy in 2016.

Cuban repression of what we see as political dissent may be factually well founded. But our criticism of such repression needs to be tempered by recognition that the U.S. continues to conduct covert or under-cover so-called “democracy promotion” activities in Cuba and that Cuba has legitimate reasons to be concerned about such activities. This blog, for example, has repeatedly criticized such “democracy promotion” programs and urged that they be conducted only with the cooperation of the Cuban government.[3] Moreover, it would be short-sighted to condition further U.S. economic liberalization on improvements in Cuban human rights; this approach failed in its implementation from 1959 through December 2014.

Finally the U.S. needs to recognize and support Cuban entrepreneurs, many with funding from U.S. remittances, who are improving their own lives and those of their employees and who are becoming an important non-state source of ideas and advocacy.[4]

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[1] Editorial, How Trump could bring real change to Cuba, Wash. Post (Jan. 10, 2017).

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

[3] See posts listed in “U.S. Democracy Promotion Programs in Cuba” in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical (Cuba).

[4] Here are some of the dwkcommentaries.com posts that touch on the Cuban economy: Cuba to Legalize Small and Medium-Sized Private Business, (May 25, 2016); Cuba Press Offers Positive Press About the Island’s Private Enterprise Sector, (June 1, 2016); Economists Discuss Current Cuban Economic and Political Situation, (Aug. 1, 2016); Cuba Faces Economic Challenges (Dec. 14, 2016); Cuba’s Economic Ties with Venezuela Are Fraying (Dec. 14, 2016); U.S. and Cuba’s Efforts To Continue Normalization (Dec. 9, 2016).

Cuba’s Recent Arrests of Journalists

The international Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports that Cuba currently has arrested and jailed without charges two print journalists.

They are Manuel Guerra Pérez, director of the independent bulletin Cimarrón de Mayabeque, and its editor, Lisbey Lora, who were arrested and detained on November 28, 2016. They were in the process of investigating for articles for their publication, which is part of the network of independent, local publications supported by the Cuban Institute for Free Expression and the Press. Guerra Pérez reported on local issues, including politics, corruption, and health conditions in the Cuban province of Mayabeque.

Earlier this year, September 28, CPJ issued a special report on Cuba that concluded, “Cuba’s press, emboldened by President Raúl Castro’s call for reforms in 2010, are finding more space for critical comment, but harassment and intimidation from authorities, a legal limbo caused by outdated and restrictive press laws, and limited and expensive access to the internet is slowing the island nation’s progress toward press freedom.”

This earlier report coincided with CPJ’s annual report listing Cuba as 10th on its list of the 10 worst censored countries in the world.

 

 

Where Is the Sense of Vocation in Roger Cohen’s Writings?

A prior post provided a positive review of Roger Cohen’s comments about life and death in his New York Times columns. While reaffirming that assessment, his selected comments in that review do not directly express a sense of vocation. Perhaps there are other columns that do just that. If so, I would appreciate someone pointing them out.

Vocation is at least a Christian concept that may not be familiar to Cohen, who is Jewish. Here then are my thoughts on vocation from prior posts.[1]

Rev. Timothy Hart-Andersen at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church in a recent sermon presented the challenge of vocation or calling this way: “When Jesus calls we get up and go, stepping forward in the direction of the one calling us. Being a follower of Jesus is not a destination . . . . Being called to follow Jesus is a way of life, a pilgrimage on which we embark together.”

Vocation also has been discussed by, an author and an ordained Presbyterian pastor. He said the word ‘vocation’ “comes from the Latin vocare, to call, and means the work a man is called to by God. . . . The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. . . . The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

For me, vocation implies a dedication to a certain kind of work or service over a period of time. A one-time effort probably does not count. On the other hand, in my opinion, vocation does not necessarily require a lifetime commitment to doing a certain thing. Indeed, an individual’s circumstances change over time, and what was a vocation for one period may not be appropriate for another period. Thus, an individual may have several vocations over time, some of which might be simultaneous. This at least has been true for me.

Some people may decide that they shall start engaging in a particular vocation. They know from the start that a certain course of action shall be their vocation, perhaps inspired by what they believe to be the word of God. Others discover after the fact that what they have been doing for a period of time has been and is their vocation. I am a member of the latter group. Moreover, some people discover a vocation when they respond affirmatively to someone else’s invitation or request to do something. Others embark on a vocation that they choose by themselves. I have experience with both of these.

Deciding on what shall be or is a vocation should be, in my opinion, a matter of reflection, meditation and prayer and in some cases discussion with others to assist in discerning a true vocation.

The concept of vocation often seems like doing something for others without any personal rewards other than feeling good about helping others. I, therefore, am amazed by the many ways I have been enriched by these endeavors.

My latest vocation is researching and writing posts for this blog to promote U.S.-Cuba reconciliation, to share my knowledge of international human rights law and other subjects and to attempt to articulate an intelligent exposition and exploration of important issues of Christian faith. It is my way of doing evangelism.

I imagine that Roger Cohen must have a similar sense of vocation about his writing columns for the New York Times regarding international and domestic political topics and living and dying even if he does not articulate this personal endeavor as a vocation. His new column, The Rage of 2016, is certainly a passionate and despondent reflection on what is happening in our world these days. It ends with the following:

  • “The liberal elites’ arrogance and ignorance has been astounding. It is time to listen to the people who voted for change, be humble and think again. That, of course, does not mean succumbing to the hatemongers and racists among them: They must be fought every inch of the way. Nor does it mean succumbing to a post-truth society: Facts are the linchpins of progress. But so brutal a comeuppance cannot be met by more of the same. I fear for my children’s world, more than I ever imagined possible.”

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[1] My General Thoughts About Vocation (Feb. 6, 2014); My Vocations (Feb. 23, 2014).

 

 

U.S. Reactions to the Death of Fidel Castro

The November 25th death of Fidel Castro has prompted comments from President-Elect Donald Trump and his aides, the Obama Administration, U.S. Senators and Representatives, U.S. editorial boards and columnists and U.S. business interests and others. All of this has fueled speculation about the future Trump Administration’s policies regarding Cuba. These topics will be explored in this post along with this blogger’s observations.

President-Elect Trump and His Aides[1]

On Saturday morning after Castro’s death the previous night, Donald Trump tweeted, “Fidel Castro is dead!” Later that same day he issued this statement:”Though the tragedies, deaths and pain caused by Fidel Castro cannot be erased, our administration will do all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty. While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve.”

Vice President-Elect Mike Pence on Saturday voiced a similar reaction in a tweet: “The tyrant Castro is dead. New hope dawns. We will stand with the oppressed Cuban people for a free and democratic Cuba. Viva Cuba Libre!”

On November 28, Trump issued another tweet on the subject. He said, “If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal.”

These comments were corroborated by Trump’s top aides.

On Sunday, November 27, two of the aides said that Trump would demand the release of political prisoners held in Cuba and push the government to allow more religious and economic freedoms. Reince Priebus, the incoming White House chief of staff, said the president-elect “absolutely” would reverse Mr. Obama’s policies if he didn’t get what he wanted from Cuba. “We’re not going to have a unilateral deal coming from Cuba back to the [U.S.] without some changes in their government. Repression, open markets, freedom of religion, political prisoners—these things need to change in order to have open and free relationships, and that’s what president-elect Trump believes, and that’s where he’s going to head.” Similar comments were made the same day by Trump’s spokeswoman, Kellyanne Conway.

On Monday, November 28, Trump spokesman Jason Miller gave this more nuanced statement to reporters: “Clearly, Cuba is a very complex topic, and the president-elect is aware of the nuances and complexities regarding the challenges that the island and the Cuban people face. This has been an important issue, and it will continue to be one. Our priorities are the release of political prisoners, return of fugitives from American law, and also political and religious freedoms for all Cubans living in oppression.”

The Obama Administration[2]

President Barack Obama’s statement extended the U.S. “hand of friendship to the Cuban people” and stated that “history will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him.” According to the President, Cubans “will recall the past and also look to the future. As they do, the Cuban people must know that they have a friend and partner” in America.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a similar positive statement. He extended “our condolences to the Cuban people today as they mourn the passing of Fidel Castro. Over more than half a century, he played an outsized role in their lives, and he influenced the direction of regional, even global affairs. As our two countries continue to move forward on the process of normalization — restoring the economic, diplomatic and cultural ties severed by a troubled past — we do so in a spirit of friendship and with an earnest desire not to ignore history but to write a new and better future for our two peoples.”

On November 28 White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest responded to several questions about Cuba and Castro’s death. Here are a few of those responses:

  • For the U.S., “I wouldn’t expect any impact [of Castro’s death] on the kind of progress that we’re committed to making on our end to begin to normalize relations with Cuba.”
  • “[W]e have seen . . . greater freedom for American citizens to visit Cuba, to send money to family members in Cuba, to engage in business and seek business opportunities in Cuba.  It also enhanced the ability of the [U.S.] government to maintain an embassy in Cuba where U.S. officials can more effectively not just engage with government officials in Cuba but also those activists in civil society that are fighting for greater freedoms. . . . They also facilitate the kind of people-to-people ties that we believe will be more effective in bringing freedom and opportunity to the Cuban people, something that they have long sought and been denied by the Cuban government.  And after five decades of not seeing any results, the President believed it was time to see something different. . . . [We] clearly haven’t seen all the results that we would like to see, but we’re pleased with the progress.”
  • Castro “obviously is a towering figure who had a profound impact on the history of not just his country but the Western Hemisphere.  There certainly is no whitewashing the kinds of activities that he ordered and that his government presided over that go against the very values that . . . our country has long defended.”
  • “[T]here is no doubt that we would like to see the Cuban government do more [on human rights], but this policy has not even been in place for two years.  But we certainly have enjoyed more benefits than was enjoyed under the previous policy that was in place for more than 50 years and didn’t bring about the kinds of benefits or the kinds of progress that we would like to see.”
  • “[T]hose Cuban citizens that do work in industries, like cab drivers or working in restaurants, even Airbnb owners, are benefitting from the enhanced economic activity between Cuban citizens and American citizens who are visiting Cuba.  They are paid at a higher rate, and they’re enjoying more economic activity than they otherwise would because of this policy to normalize relations with Cuba. . . . [T]here is a growing entrepreneurial sector inside of Cuba that is benefitting from greater engagement with the United States.  That’s a good thing, and that is a benefit that is enjoyed by the Cuban people directly.”
  • “[T]here certainly is no denying the kind of violence that occurred in Cuba under the watch of the Castro regime.  There has been no effort to whitewash the history, either the history between the United States and Cuba or the history of what transpired in Cuba while Mr. Castro was leading the country.”
  • “That’s why upwards of 90 percent of the Cuban people actually support this policy and they welcome the greater engagement with the United States.  They welcome the increased remittances that are provided Cuban-Americans to family members in Cuba.  They welcome the increase in travel by American citizens to Cuba.  There’s a lot to offer.  And the Cuban people certainly benefit from that kind of greater engagement.  And that’s why the President has pursued this policy.”
  • The U.S. “relationship with countries throughout the Western Hemisphere, particularly in Latin America, is as strong as it’s been in generations. And all of that would be undone by the reinstitution of a policy that has failed after having been in place for more than five decades.”

The next day, November 28, Press Secretary Ernest announced that the U.S. will not send a formal delegation to Cuba to attend the Castro funeral but instead will dispatch a top White House aide and a principal Cuba-normalization negotiator, Benjamin J. Rhodes, to be joined by , the top U.S. diplomat in Cuba.

U.S. Senators and Representatives[3]

Senator Bob Corker (Rep., TN), the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, stated, Under Fidel Castro’s brutal and oppressive dictatorship, the Cuban people have suffered politically and economically for decades, and it is my hope that his passing might turn the page toward a better way of life for the many who have dreamed of a better future for their country. Subsequently after meeting with Mr. Trump about a possible appointment as Secretary of State, Corker said Mr. Trump’s “instincts on foreign policy are obviously very, very good.”

The Ranking Member of that committee, Senator Ben Cardin (Dem., MD), said, “The news of Fidel Castro’s death brings with it an opportunity to close the deep divisions that have been suffered by Cuban society and by Cuban Americans in the U.S.  For Castro’s purported goals of social and economic development to be attained, it is now time for a half-century of authoritarian rule to give way to the restoration of democracy and the reform of a system the has denied Cuba’s citizens their basic human rights and individuals freedoms. As the United States awaits a new Administration, we must continue our partnership with the Cuban people as they seek to build a more hopeful future for their country.”

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a Cuban-American and Republican presidential candidate this year, said in a statement: “Sadly, Fidel Castro’s death does not mean freedom for the Cuban people or justice for the democratic activists, religious leaders, and political opponents he and his brother have jailed and persecuted. The dictator has died, but the dictatorship has not…The future of Cuba ultimately remains in the hands of the Cuban people, and now more than ever Congress and the new administration must stand with them against their brutal rulers and support their struggle for freedom and basic human rights.” Senator Bob Menendez (Dem., N.J.), a Cuban-American who has opposed Mr. Obama’s policy, issued a similar statement.

Senator Jeff Flake (Rep., AZ), who has supported normalization and is the lead author of a Senate bill to end the embargo, merely said, “Fidel Castro’s death follows more than a half century of brutal repression and misery. The Cuban people deserve better in the years ahead.”

Minnesota’s Senator Amy Klobuchar (Dem.), the author of a Senate bill to end the U.S. embargo of the island, said the following: “Passing my bill with Republican Senator Jeff Flake to lift the trade embargo with Cuba would create jobs and increase exports for American farmers and businesses, and it could create unprecedented opportunity for the Cuban people. For far too long, U.S.-Cuba policy has been defined by the conflicts of the past instead of the realities of today and the possibilities for the future. The Cuban and American people are ahead of their governments in terms of wanting to see change. We need to seize this opportunity and lift the trade embargo.”

Minnesota’s other Senator, Al Franken (Dem.) said that, in the wake of Castro’s death, he hopes the Obama administration’s work to repair relations with the island nation is upheld by a new administration. “Over the past few years, we’ve made important strides to open up diplomatic relations with Cuba, and now I urge the country’s leadership to put a strong focus on improving human rights and democracy.”

On the House side, one of Minnesota’s Republican representative and an author of a bill to end the embargo, Tom Emmer, said that Congress should seize the opportunity to “assist in the transition to a democracy and market economy” in Cuba and denounced “isolation and exclusion.” He added, “The passing of Fidel Castro is yet another reminder that a new day is dawning in Cuba. As the remaining vestiges of the Cold War continue to fade, the United States has a chance to help usher in a new Cuba; a Cuba where every citizen has the rights, freedom and opportunity they deserve.”

The statement from the Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan (Rep., WI), stated, “Now that Fidel Castro is dead, the cruelty and oppression of his regime should die with him. Sadly, much work remains to secure the freedom of the Cuban people, and the United States must be fully committed to that work. Today let us reflect on the memory and sacrifices of all those who have suffered under the Castros.”

U.S. Editorial Boards and Columnists[4]

The New York Times’ editorial opposed any retreat from normalization. It said such a move would be “extremely shortsighted.” The new process of normalization, it says, “has helped establish conditions for ordinary Cubans to have greater autonomy in a society long run as a police state. It has also enabled Cuban-Americans to play a larger role in shaping the nation’s future, primarily by providing capital for the island’s nascent private sector. While the Cuban government and the Obama White House continue to have profound disagreements on issues such as human rights, the two governments have established a robust bilateral agenda that includes cooperation on environmental policy, maritime issues, migration, organized crime and responses to pandemics. These hard-won diplomatic achievements have benefited both sides.”

 If, on the other hand, said the Times, the normalization process is abandoned, U.S.-Cuba “cooperation is likely to wane. That would only embolden hard-liners in the Cuban regime who are leery of mending ties with the United States and are committed to maintaining Cuba as a repressive socialist bulwark. In Mr. Trump, they may find the ideal foil to stoke nationalism among Cubans who are fiercely protective of their nation’s sovereignty and right to self-determination.”

The editorial from the Washington Post, while criticizing some aspects of President Obama’s opening to Cuba, stated U.S. policy should “align itself with the hopes of ordinary Cubans and the legitimate demands of the island’s pro-democracy movements. That does not necessarily mean reversing the renewal of diplomatic relations and relaxed restrictions on the movement of people and goods; most Cubans still want that. But it should mean that official exchanges with the regime, and any concessions that benefit it, should be tied to tangible reforms that benefit the public: greater Internet access, expansion of space for private business and tolerance of critical speech and assembly by such groups as the Ladies in White.”

Conservative columnists and commentators welcomed Fidel’s death. George Will hoped, if not reasonably expected, “to have seen the last of charismatic totalitarians worshiped by political pilgrims from open societies. Experience suggests there will always be tyranny tourists in flight from what they consider the boring banality of bourgeois society and eager for the excitement of sojourns in ‘progressive’ despotisms that they are free to admire and then leave. Carlos Eire, a Cuban exile, author and the T.L. Riggs Professor of History and Religious Studies at Yale University, suggested a 13-point negative epitaph for Fidel’s tomb. The first point was: ”He turned Cuba into a colony of the Soviet Union and nearly caused a nuclear holocaust.” The last point was this: “He never apologized for any of his crimes and never stood trial for them.”

Another Washington Post columnist, Kathleen Parker, agreed that Fidel was a terrible dictator, but argued that Mr. Trump “should understand that Fidel Castro loved the embargo more than anyone because, as ever, he could blame the [U.S.] for his failures. For Trump to fall into this same trap [by keeping the embargo] would be a postmortem gift to Castro and breathe new life into a cruel legacy — the dictator’s final triumph over the [U.S.] and the several American presidents who could never quite bury him.”

U.S. Business Interests and Others[5]

Important interests that typically are regarded as important by Republicans are arguing against any retreats from the Obama Administration’s pursuit of normalization of Cuba relations

First, many U.S. companies are now deeply invested in Cuba under the current administration’s policy. These companies include major airlines, hotel operators and technology providers, while big U.S. phone carriers have signed roaming agreements on the island. “I think the American business community would be strongly opposed to rolling back President Obama’s changes, and strongly in favor of continuing the path toward normalization of economic and diplomatic relations,” said Jake Colvin, vice president of the National Foreign Trade Council.

Second, the U.S. farming industry is strongly supportive of normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations. For example, Kevin Paap, president of the Minnesota Farm Bureau, does not want the next administration to take any steps that would put U.S. farmers at a further disadvantage in the Cuban market. “Every other country in the world has diplomatic and trade relations with Cuba, and what we don’t want to do is lose that market share to the European Union, Brazil, Argentina.” Mr. Paap added that U.S. market share in Cuba has decreased in recent years as other countries are able to provide better financing.

But agricultural producers across the country, from rice producers in Louisiana to Northwest apple farmers to Kansas wheat growers have pushed for more, including lifting a ban prohibiting Cuba from buying American agricultural goods with U.S. credit.

Cuba’s wheat consumption is about 50 million barrels a year, said Daniel Heady, director of governmental affairs at the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers. Although not a huge market, “it’s right off the coast and it would be extremely easy for us to deliver our product.” “It is something that Kansas farmers are extremely interested in,” Heady said. “In a world of extremely depressed commodity prices, especially wheat, 50 million bushels looks extremely good right now.”

Republican governors from Texas, Arkansas and elsewhere have led trade delegations to Cuba, along with their state farm bureaus and chambers of commerce.

A U.S. journalist with extensive experience with Cuba, Nick Miroff, echoed these thoughts. He said, “A return to more hostile [U.S.-Cuba] relations . . . could also bring a new crackdown in Cuba and further slow the pace of Raúl Castro’s modest liberalization  measures at a time of stalling economic growth. Hard-liners in Cuba’s Communist Party would gladly take the country back to a simpler time, when the antagonism of the United States — not the failure of government policies — was to blame for the island’s problems, and the threat of attack, real or imagined, was used to justify authoritarian political control.’

Moreover, according to a Wall Street Journal report, any U.S. abandonment of normalization with Cuba “could drive a new wedge between Washington and Latin America . . . not only by leftist allies of Cuba like Venezuela and Bolivia but also by conservative governments in Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Colombia. It would also likely complicate regional cooperation on a range of issues, from immigration to security and anti-drug efforts.”

In Miami, many of the island’s exiles and their children and grandchildren took to the streets, banging pots and pans, waving American and Cuban flags, and celebrating in Spanish: “He’s dead! He’s dead!”

Meanwhile in faraway Minnesota, even though it has relatively few Cuban exiles, celebrated its Cuban connections. They range from festivals and restaurants in the Twin Cities that preserve and highlight Cuban culture. Its politicians in Washington, D.C. have been leaders in efforts to lift the trade embargo on Cuba, citing the potential for economic and political advancements and job growth. Christian communities in Minnesota also value their religious and moral obligations to Cubans. Cuba’s expanded Mariel Port could carry Minnesota-made goods. Other Minnesota-based companies, including Sun Country Airlines, Radisson Hotels and Cargill, could benefit from lifting the embargo.

Last year the Minnesota Orchestra took a historic trip to Cuba as the first U.S. orchestra to perform there since Obama began negotiations in 2014. Next June, some Orchestra members will perform in Cuba again along with Minnesota Youth Symphonies. They also will be joined by Cuban-American jazz musician, Ignacio “Nachito” Herrera, and his wife, who works as an attorney. Herrera grew up during the Cuban Revolution and credits Castro’s leadership for the career opportunities he and his wife have achieved. Indeed, Herrera met Castro in the 1980s while being recognized in a Classic World Piano competition. Castro was humble, Herrera said, and deeply curious about his accomplishments.

Concluding Observations

This blog consistently has applauded the U.S. pursuing normalization with Cuba. The death of Fidel Castro does not change that opinion and advocacy. Fundamentally I agree with President Obama that the 50-plus years of U.S. hostility towards Cuba has not worked—it has not persuaded or forced Cuba to change its ways and it has interfered with our having friendly relations with countries throughout the world, especially in Latin America.[6]

Indeed, the countries of the Western Hemisphere in their Summits of the Americas have made it clear to fellow member the U.S. that they would no longer reluctantly acquiesce in the U.S. desire to exclude Cuba from such Summits, and at the last such gathering in 2015, after the announcement of U.S.-Cuba normalization they praised both countries for this move.[7]

The broader world disapproval of the U.S. hostility towards Cuba is shown by the annual overwhelming approvals of resolutions condemning the U.S. embargo of the island by the U.N. General Assembly. Nor should the U.S. continue to ignore its very large contingent liability to Cuba for its alleged damages from the embargo. (The U.S., of course, disputes this contingent liability, but prudence for any nation or entity facing such a large contingent liability dictates cutting off that risk by stopping the behavior that allegedly triggers the risk.)[8]

Opponents of normalization usually point to Cuban deficiencies on human rights and democracy. But such opposition fails to recognize or admit that the U.S. does not have a perfect record on these issues, including this year’s U.S. election and efforts at voter suppression and the U.S. indirect election of the president and vice president via the Electoral College. Moreover, such opponents also fail to recognize or admit that at least some Cuban limits on dissent and demonstrations undoubtedly are triggered by their fear or suspicion that the U.S. via its so-called covert or undercover “democracy promotion” programs in Cuba is financing or otherwise supporting these efforts at regime change on the island. Finally as part of the efforts at normalization the U.S. and Cuba have been having respectful dialogues about human rights issues.[9]

Another issue sometimes raised by opponents of normalization is Cuba’s failure to provide financial compensation to U.S. persons for Cuba’s expropriation of their property in the early years of the Revolution. But such criticism fails to recognize that Cuba has paid compensation to persons from other countries for such expropriation, that it is in Cuba’s interest to do the same for U.S. persons, that the two countries have been respectfully discussing this issue as well, and there is no reason to expect that this issue cannot be resolved peacefully.[10]

Opponents of normalization also seem to believe or assume that only the U.S. and Cuba are involved in these issues. That, however, is not true. Perhaps precipitated by the December 2014 announcement that Cuba and the U.S. had agreed to seek normalization and reconciliation, other countries, especially the members of the European Union, have been accelerating their efforts to resolve differences with Cuba so that the U.S. will not beat them to gain competitive advantages with the island. China also is another competitor.[11]

Finally Cuba’s current major ally, Venezuela, obviously is near collapse and being forced to reduce its support of Cuba, thereby threatening Cuba’s stability and viability. The U.S. does not want to see Cuba become a failed state 90 miles away from the U.S. Such a situation is even more dire today according to Tom Friedman’s new book, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations. He asserts at page 270 that it “may even be more difficult [for inhabitants of a failed state to reconstitute itself] in the age of accelerations. The lifelong learning opportunities you need to provide to your population, the infrastructure you need to take advantage of the global flows [of information], and the pace of innovation you need to maintain a growing economy have all become harder to achieve. . . . Catching up is going to be very, very difficult.”

For the U.S., once again, to act like an arrogant bully towards Cuba will not achieve any good result. All U.S. citizens interested in Cuba’s welfare and having good relations with the U.S. need to resist any efforts by the new Administration to undo the progress of the last two years.

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[1] Assoc. Press, Trump Slams Recount Push as ‘a Scam,’ Says Election Is Over, N.Y. Times (Nov. 26, 2016); Reuters, Trump Says He Will do All He Can to Help Cuban People, N.Y. Times (Nov. 26, 2016); Assoc. Press, Vice-President-Elect Pence Says ‘New Hope Dawns’ for Cuba, N.Y. Times (Nov. 26, 2016); Assoc. Press, Trump Aides Say Cuban Government Will Have to Change, N.Y. Times (Nov. 27, 2016); Flaherty, Trump aides say Cuban government will have to change, StarTrib. (Nov. 27, 2016); Schwartz & Lee, Death of Fidel Castro May Pressure Donald Trump on Cuba Promises, W.S.J. (Nov. 27, 2016); Mazzei, Trump pledges to ‘terminate’ opening to Cuba absent ‘better deal,’ Miami Herald (Nov. 28, 2016); Cave, Ahmed & Davis, Donald Trump’s Threat to Close Door Reopens Old Wounds in Cuba, N.Y. Times (Nov. 28, 2016).

[2]   White House, Statement by the President on the Passing of Fidel Castro (Nov. 26, 2016); U.S. State Dep’t, Secretary Kerry: The Passing of Fidel Castro (Nov. 26, 2016); White House, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 11/28/16; White House, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 11/29/16; Harris, Obama to Send Aide to Fidel Castro’s Funeral, N.Y. Times (Nov. 29, 2016).

[3] Sen. For. Rel. Comm., Corker Statement on the Death of Fidel Castro (Nov. 26, 2016); Griffiths, Corker praises Trump as State Department speculation continues, Politico (Nov. 29, 2016; Sen. For. Rel. Comm, Cardin Statement on the Death of Fidel Castro (Nov. 26, 2016); Rubio, Rubio: History Will Remember Fidel Castro as an Evil, Murderous Dictator (Nov. 26, 2016); Menendez, Senator Menendez on Death of Fidel Castro (Nov. 26, 2016); Flake, Flake Statement on the Death of Fidel Castro (Nov. 26, 2016); Ryan, Statement on the Death of Fidel Castro (Nov. 26, 2016);The latest: US House Leader Urges Remembering Castro Cruelty, N.Y. Times (Nov. 26, 2016); Klobuchar, Klobuchar Statement on Passing of Fidel Castro (Nov. 26, 2016); Emmer, Emmer Statement on Death of Fidel Castro (Nov. 26, 2016).

[4] Editorial, Threatening Cuba Will Backfire, N.Y. Times (Nov. 29, 2016); Editorial,Editorial, Fidel Castro’s terrible legacy, Wash. Post (Nov. 26, 2016); Fidel Castro’s demise can’t guarantee freedom for the people of Cuba, Wash. Post (Nov. 28, 2016); Will, Fidel Castro and dead utopianism, Wash. Post (Nov. 26, 2016); Eire, Farewell to Cuba’s brutal Big Brother, Wash. Post (Nov. 26, 2016); Parker, Don’t give Fidel Castro the last laugh, Wash. Post (Nov. 29, 2016). Eire is the author of Learning To Die in Miami: Confessions of A Refugee Boy (2010) and Waiting for Snow in Havana (2003).

[5] DeYoung, Trump’s threat to terminate opening to Cuba may draw opposition from business, Republican states, Wash. Post (Nov. 29, 2016); Miroff, Cuba faces renewed tensions with U.S., but without Fidel Castro, its field marshal, Wash. Post (Nov. 28, 2016); Dube & Johnson, Donald Trump’s Line on Cuba Unsettles Latin America, W.S.J. (Nov. 28, 2016); Klobuchar, Minnesota Artists, Leaders Reflect on Castro’s Legacy (Nov. 26, 2016);  Miroff & Booth, In wake of Castro’s death, his legacy is debated, Wash. Post (Nov. 28, 2016).

[6] See List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[7] Previous posts have discussed the Seventh Summit of the Americas in April 2015. https://dwkcommentaries.com/?s=Summit+of+the+Americas.

[8] Previous posts have discussed the U.N. General Assembly resolutions on the embargo in 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2016 and the suggested international arbitration to resolve the disputes about Cuba’s damage claims resulting from the embargo. (See posts listed in “U.S. Embargo of Cuba” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[9] See posts listed in “U.S. Democracy Promotion in Cuba,” “U.S. & Cuba Normalization, 2014-2015” and “U.S. & Cuba Normalization, 2015-2016” sections of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[10] See posts listed in “U.S. & Cuba Damage Claims” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[11] See list of posts in “Cuba & Other Countries” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.