“Is One New Humanity Possible?”

Sunday, October 7, was World Communion Sunday at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. This was celebrated with global music, including pieces from African-Americans (“McKee” by Matthew H. Cori and “In Christ There Is No  East or West”), Japan (“Here, O Lord, Your Servants Gather” by Isao Koizumi), Taiwan (“Search Me, O God”), Argentina (“Glory, Glory, Glory”), Jamaica (“Let Us Talents and Tongues Employ”) and South Africa (“Thula Sizwe”).

The sermon, “Is One New Humanity Possible?” by Senior Pastor Tim Hart-Andersen explored this global theme as well.

The Scriptures

Ephesians 2:11-22 (NRSV):  

  • “So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by those who are called ‘he circumcision’—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body[ through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into dwelling place for God.”

The Sermon

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near…that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two.”

“The problem in Ephesus 2000 years ago was a divided humanity and the animosity that came with it – not all that different from the times in which we live, in many ways.”

“So Christ Jesus came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.”

“From the Jewish perspective the population of the ancient Greek city of Ephesus was split in two, those “who were near’ – Jews, members of the covenant community of God’s people – and those ‘who were far off’ – Gentiles, outside the circle of the covenant community. ‘Near’ and ‘far off’ are not geographic terms; they refer to neighbors, co-workers, fellow students, people you see in the store, between whom there existed, in the words of Ephesians, a ‘dividing wall of hostility.’”

“In Ephesus those not sharing the same faith tradition or language, culture or politics did not share the same humanity. They were separated. They were other. They were alien. They were far off and someone else was at the center.”

“The problem of ‘the other’ is as old as humanity itself. It was there in Ephesus, and it is here, among us, today. It appeared in a variety of guises back then; the world was divided into male and female, slave and free, Jew and Greek. There was always the other.”

“It’s no different in our time. Racism grows out of an othering based on skin color. People with differing abilities become the other. Or people making minimum wage. Or immigrants. Or people of wealth. Or people living on the streets. And on and on it goes…rural-urban, left-right, Republicans-Democrats, men-women.”

“Sometimes we’re the other; sometimes we do the othering. We all tend to conjugate humanity into what we perceive to be its constituent parts – as if that will solve something or somehow satisfy us.”

“On the contrary, that tendency, if left unchecked, will be our undoing. That’s true not only in our national life, but on the global stage, as well. If we continue to approach the world and life in our communities as if our particular group or nation . . . [was] at the center, isolated from others not like us, that center will not hold. The dividing walls of hostility between them and us, if not dismantled, will ruin us.”

“The response of the Christian Church in ancient Ephesus was to use their imagination and develop a dream of an utterly different world in which people celebrated and welcomed the other. The followers of Jesus referred to it as a new humanity, and they saw it as God’s intention in Jesus Christ. The goal was not to do away with differences or cover them over or negate them, as if they weren’t real, but, rather, to learn to live with them, and to see them as a strength…in fact, places where God might be found.”

“’So then you are no longer strangers and aliens,’ the writer of Ephesians says, ‘But you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.’”

Václav Havel argues that only by transcending the self – which is the goal of religious traditions – will we overcome our tendency to deny the humanity of the other. He defines transcendence as…“A deeply and joyously experienced need to be in harmony even with what we ourselves are not, with what we do not understand, with what seems distant from us in time and space, but with which we are mysteriously linked because, together with us, all this constitutes a single world.[1]

“One new humanity.”

“At the conclusion of one of the most rancorous and dispiriting and painful weeks in recent American history, and a month away from a pivotal, acrimonious election, one new humanity seems impossible to attain – almost ludicrous to consider, even laughable. Political culture has been debased to a take-no-prisoners approach in which survivors of sexual assault are mocked, opponents are bullied, and lying has become acceptable.”

“As followers of Jesus we’re committed to a moral vision for our life together, but it doesn’t look like that.”

“One new humanity will not abide division based on race or economics, gender or social position or power. It will insist on the inherent worth of every individual. It will never stop asking how to make the world more just. It will seek to sustain the one, beautiful planet we have. And it will reject fundamentalism of any kind, because fundamentalisms, whether religious or political, are always declared at someone else’s expense. They thrive on an ‘other,’ who is wrong, who is outside, who is not included.”

“This is not a secular vision, devoid of spiritual content. It’s a religious vision – our religious vision. Ephesians is clear about this, and we should be, too. For us, Jesus Christ is the wellspring of one new humanity. To follow Jesus means to enter into the difficult work of learning to live together with all our differences and disagreements. Our faith in Jesus compels us to speak the truth, yes, sometimes with righteous rage, but always in love, trying not to let anger over injustice turn us into that which we protest.”

“One new humanity. Small steps matter. It will take disarming imagination to do this, like that of a seven-year old. We’ll need a new way of seeing the world, born of our religious conviction and counter to everything the world tells us. We’re going to have to resist and reject the way the world is and offer an alternative vision.”

Václav Havel says a divided, rancorous, hostile world calls for transcendence that refuses to let the way things are, be the way they have to be. Can we not dream beyond the ugly reality that has such a vice-grip on us and then work together toward that dream, that vision that emerged from Ephesus so many years ago?”

“The monk Thomas Merton described a vision, . . . so moving and so descriptive of the essence of what we’re trying to do with a religious vision that reaches past the otherness in which we dwell. It happened to him on March 18, 1958, in Louisville, Kentucky. ‘At the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district,’  Merton writes,’I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers.’”[2]

“Our nation is desperate for such a vision to begin to remove the dividing wall of hostility – not to make us all the same and agree on everything, but to teach us to live with our differences in a way that honors them and respects them, and each one of us. I’m not talking only about political differences, although they may be uppermost in our mind these days. But I’m also thinking about race and socio-economic status, and education, and geography, and where we live in the city.”

“The old order was based on fear, and when we are afraid of one another we turn each other into enemies. The new order that comes out of the gospel is based on hope – and, as Maya Angelou says, ‘Hope and fear cannot occupy the same space.’”

“E pluribus unum. Out of many, one. It was the imperfect vision of the nation’s founders, with which we are still blessed and which we are still trying to get right.”

“Last summer in New Mexico we climbed to the top of a high mesa one day. It was a stunning view. We could see for miles over the desert landscape. Another couple soon joined us. They were immigrants from Albania. We talked, and they told us their story. They had fled as refugees to Greece, Italy, and other countries, before finally being welcomed to the U.S. They were so happy to be here. They both had settled and found jobs, and now they were on a road trip to take in their new country.”

“’God bless America,’ they said in heavily accented English. They were aliens no more.”

“Citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.”

“One new humanity is possible, but it will take vision, and work. It’s the calling of the church. Some of us will have to set aside the privilege we enjoy, by virtue of where we fit in the culture, in order to enter the narrative of people considered the other, because our very status is a wall, whether we want it to be or not, between us and them. A good way to begin might be by listening to one another, listening to one another as we have never listened before.”

“Westminster’s Race and Grace dialogues are one place where that listening is happening. It happens, as well, in our global partnerships in Cuba, Palestine, and Cameroon, as we listen and then learn the stories of people who have been othered by history. And it can happen where we work, with our neighbors, at school. Even in our families. I know families are feeling these dividing walls of hostility. I hear it all the time from church members.”

“I had my own Thomas Merton-like moment last week. We went out to eat at a Vietnamese restaurant 15 blocks south of here called Quang Restaurant.

“It has one big, open room, no divisions, with lots of tables, and they were all full. It was like walking into the world at dinner. There were people from Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Europe sitting at the tables. Older folks, young families, single adults, children running around. Different languages. People who drove fancy new cars and others who came on the bus. Mixed groups eating together and talking with one another.”

“It was noisy and steamy and smelled of good food, and I suddenly felt kinship with them all, as if everyone were at the same table. It was World Communion Sunday a few days early. I had glimpsed – in Quang’s – the friendship within the human family that God so desires of us.”

“One new humanity is possible, through the transcendent power of God’s love, as we know that love in Jesus Christ – a love that can overcome anything that wants to keep us apart, even the dividing walls of hostility among us. And then one new humanity, one new humanity, has a chance of growing.”

“Thanks be to God.”

Reflections

One new humanity is possible. Everyone can contribute to making that possible, one small step at a time. With humility each of us needs to recognize that one individual cannot do it all yourself, but that you can do something within your limited circumstances. Also recognize that sometimes you will fail in this effort and you will ask God for forgiveness.

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[1] Václav Havel (1936-2011) was a Czech statesman, writer and former dissident, who served as the last President of Czechoslovakia from 1989 until its dissolution in 1992 and then as the first President of the Czech Republic from 1993 to 2003. The above quotation appeared in Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, The Dignity of Difference [New York: Continuum, 2000], p. 45); Sachs, now Baron Sacks, MBE is a British Orthodox rabbi, philosopher, theologian, author and politician who served as the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth from 1991 to 2013.

[2] Thomas Merton’s Mystical Vision in Louisville, Spiritual Travels.

 

 

 

Developments Regarding the Summit of the Americas 

Later this week the Summit of the Americans takes place in Lima, Peru. Interesting  developments regarding the Summit have taken place from the U.S. and Cuba.

U.S. Developments[1]

On April 10 President Trump cancelled his scheduled attendance at the Summit of the Americans in Peru. The stated reason was his need to attend to the new crisis in Syria: the Syrian regime chemical weapons attack on some of its citizens and President Trump’s announcement that the U.S. was considering a military response.

The New York Times reporter, Julie Davis, said, “Scrapping the trip spared Mr. Trump potentially unpleasant interactions with leaders of Latin American nations whose citizens have been insulted by his harsh language about their countries as sources of illegal immigration, criminal gangs and illicit narcotics. White House officials said Vice President Mike Pence would attend the summit meeting in the president’s place.

“Skipping the Summit of the Americas sends a terrible message about U.S. disengagement in our hemisphere, compounding negative message of Trump’s Cuba, NAFTA and immigration policies,” was the opinion of Benjamin J. Rhodes, who served as a deputy national security adviser in Mr. Obama’s White House and who was the principal negotiator of the U.S.’ opening to Cuba in December 2014.

A similar opinion was voiced by Richard E. Feinberg, a senior Latin America fellow at the Brookings Institution and professor at the University of California San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy. He said, “Trump’s dropping out of the Lima summit is an appalling demonstration of disrespect for Latin America. “This has to be seen in the context of a president who has been ranting and railing against Latin America continually for the last several years. They’re his bête noire. They’re his scapegoat for everything that’s wrong in America, from immigration to narcotics to alleged loss of jobs from trade.”

A more nuanced opinion was offered by Christopher Sabatini, executive director of Global Americans, a group promoting better engagement in the region. He said,  “The truth is, given the level of discourse on trade, immigrants and intervention coming from this administration, not paying much attention to the region may be welcome by a number of governments as they search for their own alternatives. The question though is what it means for U.S. leadership, not just now but over the long term.”

The region’s leaders  seemed to be taking the U.S. decision in stride, reflecting some of the unease generated by Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and growing economic self-confidence in a region long resentful of Washington’s dominance.

The U.S. State Department announced that Acting Secretary of State John J. Sullivan will accompany Vice President Mike Pence at the Summit, where the U.S. “will promote priorities of mutual interest to the region, including supporting democracy; addressing the political and humanitarian crisis and restoring democracy in Venezuela; stemming corruption and transnational crime, and promoting economic prosperity.” Sullivan will meet separately with leaders from Peru, Brazil, Haiti, Mexico, Bahamas, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

The State Department noted that Sullivan “will also engage with members of Cuban and Venezuelan independent civil society.” Apparently he will avoid meeting with Cuban President Raúl Castro.

In another release the Department said it had “received numerous, credible reports that the Cuban government prevented, and continues to prevent, members of independent civil society from traveling to Peru to participate in the Summit . . . .  Cuban authorities prevented these individuals’ travel through arbitrary stops at the airport, short-term detentions, and visits to individuals’ homes to warn them against trying to leave the island.”

The Department’s release further stated that the U.S. “condemns these actions. We call on the Cuban government to facilitate full, robust participation in the Summit by allowing the free and unrestricted travel of its citizens, a universal human right.” As a result, the U.S. “stands with the brave activists facing repression by the Cuban regime. We are working with the Government of Peru and civil society to promote a Summit that features open, inclusive dialogue with the full participation of independent civil society representatives from Cuba and the hemisphere.”

At the Press Briefing the same day, the Department said that on April 12 Sullivan would be meeting with “with Cuban NGOs and opposition leaders,” but there was no meeting scheduled with Castro.

Cuba Developments[2]

Cuba has an official delegation of people from its purported civil society, who already are in Peru to attend the alternative Peoples Summit that has been organized by Peru’s General Confederation of Workers (CGTP). Its leader said it would express “support for the Cuban Revolution and reaffirm the commitment to progressive and left governments of Latin America and the Caribbean currently being ‘sabotaged by imperialism.”’ On April 12 they have planned an anti-imperialist rally called “Trump out of Peru,” but with Trump not coming, they will have to have a different theme.

The official Cuba delegation of civil society has criticized “attempts by mercenaries and groups with links to terrorists to pass for supposed representatives of Cuban civil society.” The official delegation’s official statement expressed their desire “to contribute the experience of the Cuban Revolution that has, over almost 60 years, constructed a consensus in favor of our political, economic, and social system, forged through participative, socialist democracy, in which human beings constitutes the highest priority, and in which government is exercised by the people.”

These Cubans vandalized a Lima billboard that said in Spanish (here in English translation): “Cuba, enough of corruption, repression and impunity, stop human rights violations.”

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[1]  Davis, Trump Cancels Trip to Latin America, Citing Crisis in Syria, N.Y. Times (April 10, 2018); Assoc. Press, Latin America Takes Trump’s Forgoing of Summit in Stride, N.Y. Times (April 10, 2018); U.S. State Dep’t, Acting Secretary Sullivan Travel to Lima, Peru, To Participate in the Summit of the Americas (April 10, 2018); U.S. State Dep’t, On Cuba’s Restriction of Civil Society Participation in the Summit of the Americans (April 10, 2018); U.S. State Dep’t, Department Press Briefing-April 10, 2018.

[2] Gómez, People’s Summit kicks off in Lima, Granma (April 10, 2018); Statement from Cuban delegation to 8th Summit of the Americas parallel forums, Granma (April 9, 2018); ‘Shock troops’ of the Cuban regime in Lima vandalize the fences that denounced the repression, diario de Cuba (April 11, 2018); “CUBA in #Cumbre”, Cuba Debate.

 

Secretary of State Tillerson’s Provocative Remarks About Latin America

On February 1, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson embarked on a seven-day trip to five Latin American countries (Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Colombia and Peru). Before he did so he delivered an overview of this trip in a major speech at the University of Texas, Austin entitled “U.S. Engagement in the Western Hemisphere.” In addition to talking about the countries he will be visiting, he touched on Cuba and Venezuela and, in response to a professor’s question, the Monroe Doctrine, which will be discussed below. [1].

The Secretary’s Speech and Answers to Questions

  1. Cuba

The Secretary’s prepared remarks about Cuba essentially reiterated President Trump’s National Security Presidential Memorandum, which has been discussed in previous posts. In addition, in response to a professor’s question, Tillerson criticized President Obama’a policy of normalization’s allegedly not obtaining advantages for the U.S. “other than a clear economic opportunity for U.S. business interests, which is great.” But  “that was coming on the backs of the Cuban people, who are still very repressed.”

The Trump Administration’s policies, he claimed, are all directed to helping the Cuban people. “That’s what we want to do is help the Cuban people.” Nevertheless, at the same time, “we stay engaged with the Cuban authorities that in this transition, can they find their way to maybe a different future? I don’t know. We’ll see.”

2. Venezuela

According to Secretary Tillerson, “he corrupt and hostile regime of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela clings to a false dream and antiquated vision for the region that has already failed its citizens. It does not represent the vision of millions of Venezuelans – or in any way comport with the norms of our Latin American, Canadian, or Caribbean partners.”

“Our position has not changed. We urge Venezuela to return to its constitution – to return to free, open, and democratic elections – and to allow the people of Venezuela a voice in their government. We will continue to pressure the regime to return to the democratic process that made Venezuela a great country in the past. . . .”

“We encourage all nations to support the Venezuelan people. The time has come to stand with freedom-loving nations, those that support the Venezuelan people, or choose to stand with the Maduro dictatorship, if that is your choice.”

Tillerson returned to Venezuela in response to a student’s question whether the removal of President Maduro was “ necessary, and what could the U.S.’s role be in the possible regime change, especially considering the turmoil that could surmount from such a change?”

The Secretary’s response: “Well, President Maduro could choose to just leave. . . . “We have not advocated for regime change or removal of President Maduro; rather, we have advocated that they return to the constitution. We do not recognize the constituent assembly as legitimate, and they need to get back to the constitution and follow the constitution.” (Emphasis added.)

“I think there will be a change. We want it to be a peaceful change. Peaceful transitions, peaceful regime change is always better than the alternative of violent change. In the history of Venezuela and in fact the history in other Latin American and South American countries, oftentimes it’s the military that handles that, that when things are so bad that the military leadership realizes they just – they can’t serve the citizens anymore, they will manage a peaceful transition. Whether that will be the case here or not, I do not know. Again, our position is Maduro should get back to his constitution and follow it. And then, if he is not re-elected by the people, so be it. And if the kitchen gets a little too hot for him, I’m sure that he’s got some friends over in Cuba that can give him a nice hacienda on the beach, and he can have a nice life over there.” (Emphasis added.)

3. Monroe Doctrine

A  professor asked about Tillerson’s opinion of the Monroe Doctrine, which was a unilateral principle of U.S. foreign policy first enunciated in the 1823 State of the Union Address by President James Monroe and in 1850 became known in U.S. parlance as the Monroe Doctrine. Monroe stated that any “further efforts by European nations to take control of any independent state in North or South America would be viewed as “the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.” At the same time, Monroe noted that the U.S. would recognize and not interfere with existing European colonies nor meddle in the internal concerns of European countries.[1] 

Perhaps caught off guard by this question, Tillerson said, “Well, I think it clearly has been a success, because as I mentioned at the top, what binds us together in this hemisphere are shared democratic values, and while different countries may express that democracy not precisely the same way we practice democracy in this country, the fundamentals of it – respect for the dignity of the human being, respect for the individual to pursue life, liberty, happiness – those elements do bind us together in this hemisphere. So I think it clearly was an important commitment at the time, and I think over the years, that has continued to frame the relationship.”

Tilleson added, “it’s easy for the United States as a country, because of our size and our engagements with so many countries and regions around the world, . . . through nothing more than just perhaps a period of neglect, to let certain relationships atrophy a bit. . . . I think we’ve gone through those periods of time in our history as well, and if you look back and whether . . . by individual country or regionally as well, due to other events, sometimes I think we have forgotten about the importance of the Monroe Doctrine and what it meant to this hemisphere and maintaining those shared values. So I think it’s as relevant today as it was the day it was written.”

Cuba’s Criticism of the Secretary’s Remarks [3]

Cuba’s Criticism of the Secretary’s RemarksOn February 5, 2018, Cuba’s Foreign Ministry registered its strong objection to the Secretary’s comments about Cuba, its ally Venezuela and the Monroe Doctrine, which, Cuba said, were ones of “arrogance and contempt.”

According to Cuba Tillerson had “reiterated U.S. interference “ in Cuba’s internal affairs, on demanding from our upcoming electoral process changes that are to the liking of the United States.” He also ”aimed at undermining the unanimous repudiation of the region of the retrogressive measures and tightening of the economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba, whose purpose is to harm the Cuban economy and people to attempt to subdue the country.”

Cuba added that “Tillerson’s comments about the history of military overthrowing elected governments in Lain America “openly instigate the overthrow, by any means, of the legitimate government of Venezuela” and are also “clearly in line with the regime change schemes that have claimed the lives of millions of innocent victims in various parts of the world and promoted violence, war, humanitarian crises and instability, demonstrating their failure.”

Moreover, said Cuba,  the Secretary’s defense of the Monroe Doctrine reiterated “the postulates of the infamous doctrine that established as a policy that the Americas were the backyard of the United States.”

In short, the Secretary’s remarks “adds a new act to what has been a pattern of successive outrages in the history of domination of our region, and confirms the sustained contempt with which the government of President Donald Trump has unequivocally referred to the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean, whose peoples it denigrates whenever it has the opportunity.”

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cuba condemns this new attack against Cuba and Venezuela, which follows the recent disrespectful statements of President Trump in his State of the Union Address.”

“Before departing for his imperialist tour, the Secretary of State announced that 2018 will be the year of the Americas and made clear that he will seek to encourage division and submission among Latin American governments. In doing so, he will come up against the repudiation inspired by his announcements and the dignity of the peoples of the region, who bear the memory of the hundreds of thousands of dead and disappeared by the military dictatorships sponsored by the United States, and that Secretary Tillerson today calls to repeat.”

“Ours has been a continent subjected to the humiliating dominance of the U.S., interested only in extracting its resources in an unequal relationship. But Our America has awakened and it will not be so easy to crush it.”

Conclusion

Tillerson’s direct comments abut Cuba were rather limited and by themselves did not deserve Cuba’s strong rejection. However, the Trump Administration’s announced policies regarding Cuba do deserve the Cuban rebuke. Those policies also are not aimed at helping the ordinary Cuban people, especially those who are now engaged in the island’s private sector.

Although this blogger has not  carefully followed recent developments regarding Venezuela, he does believe that the country is in a horrible mess and that President Maduro’s actions are a major cause of this situation. While Tillerson did call for a peaceful solution to the country’s problems, was his unnecessary reference to military coup d’tat solutions in Latin America an implicit call for such action in Venezuela? If so, it was totally inappropriate and undiplomatic. And Cuba was right to criticize him for those remarks.

Unless Tillerson previously has been tipped off about the professor’s interest in the Monroe Doctrine, the question may have caught him off guard and the Secretary’s response obviously did not recognize the hostility throughout Latin America to the U.S. history of trying to impose its solutions to various problems upon the countries Latin America. This too deserved Cuba’s criticism.

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, [Secretary’s] Travel to Texas, Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Colombia, and Jamaica, February 1-7, 2018  (Feb. 1, 2018); U.S. State Dep’t, Secretary of State Remarks, U.S. Engagement in the Western Hemisphere (Feb. 1, 2018).

[2] Monroe Doctrine, Wikipedia.

[3] Cuba rejects a return to the Monroe Doctrine, Granma (Feb. 5, 2018). 

 

State Department’s New Travel Advisory System for Cuba and Other Countries          

On January 10, the U.S. State Department announced its new system for travel advisories for all other countries in the world.[1] The sources in footnote 1 describe this new system. Here are the highlights from a Department briefing.

General Information

First, the Department “needed to make it more accessible to people. And that’s why in November we went to a mobile-friendly design for our website. We also needed to make sure that the information was more easily understood, putting it into plain language, making it clearer why we were ranking countries, why we were citing them as a threat or a risk, and making that very obvious to people. And finally, making the information more actionable. We often got questions from people saying, ‘Well, I’ve read your Travel Warning, but what does it mean? What am I supposed to do?’”

“We have gone to a Travel Advisory for every country . . . . And within that Travel Advisory, we have gone to a four-level ranking system, starting with a Level 1, which is ‘Exercise normal precautions’ (e.g., Aruba);  Level 2, ‘Exercise increased caution’ (e.g., Jamaica); Level 3, ‘Reconsider travel’ (e.g., Cuba); and level 4, ‘Do not travel’” (e.g., Mexican states of Colima, Guerrero, Michoacán, Sinaloa and Tamaulipas due to crime).

“And for each country that has a Level 2 or above, we will specify what we think those risks or threats are, why is it that we’re telling people to consider – reconsider travel or to exercise caution or not to travel at all. And those risks and conditions and circumstances are going to be very clearly spelled out with icons – C for crime, T for terrorism, U for civil unrest, H for health issues, N for natural disasters, E for time-limited events such as elections or major sporting events, and O for other, which is our catch-all for the things that don’t fit into those other categories.”

 Travel Advisory for Cuba.[2]

The new Travel Advisory for Cuba  has the “Level 3: Reconsider Travel” ranking, rather than its previous warning not to go to Cuba. Here is what the new Advisory says:

“Reconsider travel to Cuba due to health attacks directed at U.S. Embassy Havana employees.”

“Over the past several months, numerous U.S. Embassy Havana employees appear to have been targeted in specific attacks. Many of these employees have suffered injuries as a consequence of these attacks. Affected individuals have exhibited a range of physical symptoms including ear complaints and hearing loss, dizziness, headaches, fatigue, cognitive issues, visual problems, and difficulty sleeping.”

“Because our personnel’s safety is at risk, and we are unable to identify the source of the attacks, we believe U.S. citizens may also be at risk. Attacks have occurred in U.S. diplomatic residences and at Hotel Nacional and Hotel Capri in Havana.”

“On September 29, 2017, the Department ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and their family members to protect the safety of our personnel. Due to the drawdown in staff, the U.S. Embassy in Havana has limited ability to assist U.S. citizens”.

“Read the Safety and Security section on the country information page.”

“If you decide to travel to Cuba:

In the State Department briefing on the new system, the spokesperson said the following about Cuba:

  • “As we were putting all this together, we did a very careful assessment. We talked to all of our experts, and this is where we came out on Cuba.” The new Advisory “eliminated a reference to the responsibility of the Cuban government to prevent attacks on U.S. diplomats, which was included in the previous one.”
  • We “have significantly reduced our staffing at our embassy in Havana. Whenever we do that, traditionally we have always issued a Travel Warning, and that has not changed. This is reflected now in the Level 3 ranking that we’ve given to Cuba.” We now “have a very small footprint in our embassy in Havana. We have very, very limited consular resources and our ability to help people in an emergency is extremely limited. So that’s another factor that plays into it.”

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[1] State Dep’t, Fact Sheet: New Travel Advisories for U.S. Travelers (Jan. 10, 2018); State Dep’t, Briefing on the Department of State’s New Travel Advisories (Jan. 10, 2018).

[2] State Dep’t, Travel Advisory: Cuba—Level 3: Reconsider Travel (Jan. 10, 2018); Torres, State Department softens travel warning to Cuba, recommends ‘reconsidering’ trip, Miami Herald (Jan. 10, 2018).

Another U.N. Condemnation of the U.S. Embargo of Cuba

                                                                                       O

U.N. General Assembly
U.N. General Assembly

On October 26, the United Nations General Assembly voted, 191 to 0 (with two abstentions), to adopt a resolution proposed by Cuba to condemn the United States embargo of Cuba. For the first time in the 25-year history of the annual vote on such resolutions, the U.S, rather than opposing the text, cast an abstention, prompting Israel to do likewise.[1]

This post will examine the resolution’s text, its presentation by Cuba, its support by other countries and the arguments for abstention offered by the U.S. and Israel. This post will then conclude with a brief discussion of reaction to the abstention in the U.S. Prior posts discussed the similar General Assembly resolutions against the embargo that were adopted in 2011, 2014 and 2015.

The Actual Resolution

The actual resolution, “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba” (A/RES/71/5 and A/71/L.3) had two principal operative paragraphs.

It reiterated “its call upon all States to refrain from promulgating and applying laws and measures [like the U.S. embargo against Cuba] . . . in conformity with their obligations under the Charter of the United Nations and international law, which, inter alia, reaffirm the freedom of trade and navigation (¶ 2). It also urged “States that have and continue to apply such laws and measures to take the steps necessary to repeal or invalidate them as soon as possible in accordance with their legal regime (¶ 3).

The resolution’s preamble reaffirmed “the sovereign equality of States, non-intervention and non-interference in their internal affairs and freedom of international trade and navigation, which are also enshrined in many international legal instruments” and recited the previous General Assembly resolutions against the embargo. It then welcomed “the progress in the relations between the Governments of Cuba and the [U.S.] and, in that context, the visit of the President of the [U.S.], Barack Obama, to Cuba in March 2016” while also recognizing “the reiterated will of the President of the [U.S.] to work for the elimination of the economic, commercial and financial embargo against Cuba” and “the steps taken by the [U.S.] Administration towards modifying some aspects of the implementation of the embargo, which, although positive, are still limited in scope.”

Cuba’s Presentation of the Resolution

Bruno Rodriguez
Bruno Rodriguez

Speaking last in the debate, Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, presented arguments for adopting the resolution. Here are extracts of that speech:

“[T]here has been progress [between Cuba and the U.S. since December 2014] in the dialogue and cooperation on issues of common interest and a dozen agreements were signed [and] reciprocal benefits reported. Now just announced the vote of the US abstention on this draft resolution.”

“The [U.S.] president and other top officials have described [the embargo/blockade] as obsolete, useless to advance American’s interests, meaningless, unworkable, being a burden for [U.S.] citizens, . . . [harming] the Cuban people and [causing]. . . isolation to the [U.S.] and [have] called [for the embargo/blockade] to be lifted.”

“We recognize that executive measures [to reduce the scope of the embargo] adopted by the government of the [U.S.] are positive steps, but [have] very limited effect and scope. However, most of the executive regulations and laws establishing the blockade remain in force and are applied rigorously to this minute by U.S. government agencies.”

“Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress has not approved any of the 20 amendments or legislative initiatives, with bipartisan support, . . . [for] eliminating some restrictions of the blockade or even all of this policy. [Moreover,] there have been more than 50 legislative initiatives that threaten to reinforce key aspects of the blockade, preventing the President [from] approving new executive or implementing measures already adopted.”

“It cannot be underestimated in any way the powerful political and ethical message that [action by this Assembly] . . . sends to the peoples of the world. The truth always [finds] its way. Ends of justice prevail. The abstention vote announced surely is a positive step in the future of improved relations between the[U.S.] and Cuba. I appreciate the words and the efforts of Ambassador Samantha Power.”

“[There] are incalculable human damages caused by the blockade. [There is no] Cuban family or industry in the country that does not suffer its effects on health, education, food, services, prices of goods, wages and pensions.” For example, the “imposition of discriminatory and onerous conditions attached to the deterrent effects of the blockade restrict food purchases and the acquisition in the U.S. market for drugs, reagents, spare parts for medical equipment and instruments and others.”

“The [embargo/] blockade also [adversely] affects the interests of American citizens themselves, who could benefit from various services in Cuba, including health [services].”

“The [embargo/] blockade remains a massive, flagrant and systematic violation of human rights of all Cubans and qualifies as an act of genocide under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948. It is an obstacle to cooperation [in] international humanitarian areas.”

“The blockade is the main obstacle to economic and social development of our people. It constitutes a flagrant violation to international law, the United Nations Charter and the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace. Its extraterritorial application adds further to its violation of international law nature of magnitude.”

“Other causes, in addition to [the blockade/embargo] . . . , determine our economic difficulties: the unjust international economic order; the global crisis; the historical distortions and structural weaknesses caused by underdevelopment; high dependence on energy and food imports; the effects of climate change and natural disasters; and also . . . our own mistakes.”

“Between April 2015 and March 2016, the direct economic damage to Cuba by the blockade amounted to $4.68 billion at current prices, calculated rigorously and prudently and conservatively. The damages accumulated over nearly six decades reach the figure of $753 billion, taking into account depreciation of gold. At current prices, [that is] equivalent to just over $125 billion.”

“On 16 April 2016 President Raul Castro Ruz said, ‘We are willing to develop a respectful dialogue and build a new relationship with the [U.S.], as that has never existed between the two countries, because we are convinced that this alone . . . [will provide] mutual benefits.’ And last September 17, he said ‘I reaffirm the will to sustain relations of civilized coexistence with the [U.S.], but Cuba will not give up one of its principles, or make concessions inherent in its sovereignty and independence.’”

“The government of the [U.S.] first proposed the annexation of Cuba and, failing that, to exercise their domination over it. The triumph of the Cuban Revolution . . . [prompted the U.S. adoption of the embargo whose purpose] was ‘to cause disappointment and discouragement through economic dissatisfaction and hardship … to deny Cuba money and supplies, in order to reduce nominal and real wages, with the aim of causing hunger, desperation and overthrow of government. ‘”

“The [new U.S.] Presidential Policy Directive [states] that the Government of the [U.S.] recognizes ‘the sovereignty and self-determination of Cuba’ and [the right of] the Cuban people to make their own decisions about their future.’” It also states “the U.S. will not seek a ‘change of regime in Cuba.’”[2]

But the Directive also says “’the [U.S.] will support the emerging civil society in Cuba and encourage partners and non-governmental actors to join us in advocating in favor of reforms. While the United States remain committed to supporting democratic activists, [we] also [will] participate with community leaders, bloggers, activists and other leaders on social issues that can contribute to the internal dialogue in Cuba on civic participation.’ The Directive goes on to say: “The [U.S.] will maintain our democracy programs and broadcasting, while we will protect our interests and values, such as Guantanamo Naval Base … The government of the United States has no intention of modifying the existing lease agreement and other related provisions.’”

The Directive also asserts that Cuba “remains indebted to the [U.S.] regarding bilateral debts before the Cuban Revolution.”

The U.S. needs to “recognize that change is a sovereign matter for Cubans alone and that Cuba is a truly independent country. It gained its independence by itself and has known and will know how to defend [its] greatest sacrifices and risks. We are proud of our history and our culture that are the most precious treasure. We never forget the past because it is the way never to return to it. And we decided our path to the future and we know that is long and difficult, but we will not deviate from it by ingenuity, by siren songs, or by mistake. No force in the world can force us to it. We will strive to build a sovereign, independent, socialist, democratic, prosperous and sustainable nation. We will not return to capitalism.”

Other Countries’ Statements of Support[3]

During the debate the following 40 countries expressed their support of the resolution:

  • Latin America: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic (for Commonwealth of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC)), Ecuador, El Salvador, Jamaica (for Caribbean Community (CARICOM)), Mexico, Nicaragua, Saint Vincent and Grenadines, Uruguay and Venezuela (for Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)).
  • Africa: Algeria, Angola, Libya, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger (for African States), South Africa, Sudan and Tonga.
  • Middle East: Egypt, Kuwait (for Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC)) and Syria.
  • Asia: Belarus, China, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea [North Korea], India, Indonesia, Iran, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, Russian Federation, Singapore (for Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)), Thailand (for Group of 77 and China) and Viet Nam.
  • Europe: Slovakia (for European Union (EU)).

U.S. Abstention[4]

Samantha Power
Samantha Power

The U.S. Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Samantha Power, announced the U.S. abstention before the debate and voting on the resolution. Here are extracts of her speech about that vote.

“For more than 50 years, the [U.S.] had a policy aimed at isolating the government of Cuba. For roughly half of those years, U.N. Member States have voted overwhelmingly for a General Assembly resolution that condemns the U.S. embargo and calls for it to be ended. The [U.S.] has always voted against this resolution. Today the [U.S.] will abstain.”

“In December 2014, President Obama made clear his opposition to the embargo and called on our Congress to take action to lift it. Yet while the Obama Administration agrees that the U.S. embargo on Cuba should be lifted, . . . we don’t support the shift for the reason stated in this resolution. All actions of the [U.S.] with regard to Cuba have been and are fully in conformity with the U.N. Charter and international law, including applicable trade law and the customary law of the sea. We categorically reject the statements in the resolution that suggest otherwise.”

“But [today’s] resolution . . . is a perfect example of why the U.S. policy of isolation toward Cuba was not working – or worse, how it was actually undermining the very goals it set out to achieve. Instead of isolating Cuba, . . . our policy isolated the [U.S.], including right here at the [U.N.].”

“Under President Obama, we have adopted a new approach: rather than try to close off Cuba from the rest of the world, we want the world of opportunities and ideas open to the people of Cuba. After 50-plus years of pursuing the path of isolation, we have chosen to take the path of engagement. Because, as President Obama said in Havana, we recognize that the future of the island lies in the hands of the Cuban people.”[5]

“Abstaining on this resolution does not mean that the [U.S.] agrees with all of the policies and practices of the Cuban government. We do not. We are profoundly concerned by the serious human rights violations that the Cuban government continues to commit with impunity against its own people – including arbitrarily detaining those who criticize the government; threatening, intimidating, and, at times, physically assaulting citizens who take part in peaceful marches and meetings; and severely restricting the access that people on the island have to outside information.”

“We [,however,] recognize the areas in which the Cuban government has made significant progress in advancing the welfare of its people, from significantly reducing its child mortality rate, to ensuring that girls have the same access to primary and secondary school as boys.”

“But none of this should mean that we stay silent when the rights of Cuban people are violated, as Member States here at the [U.N.] have too often done. That is why the [U.S.] raised these concerns directly with the Cuban government during our [recent] historic dialogue on human rights . . ., which shows that, while our governments continue to disagree on fundamental questions of human rights, we have found a way to discuss these issues in a respectful and reciprocal manner.[6] We urge other Member States to speak up about these issues as well.”

“As President Obama made clear when he traveled to Havana, we believe that the Cuban people – like all people – are entitled to basic human rights, such as the right to speak their minds without fear, and the right to assemble, organize, and protest peacefully. Not because these reflect a U.S.-centric conception of rights, but rather because they are universal human rights – enshrined in the U.N. Charter and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – which all of our 193 Member States are supposed to respect and defend. Rights that are essential for the dignity of men, women, and children regardless of where they live or what kind of government they have.”

The U.S. concedes that it “has work to do in fulfilling these rights for our own citizens. And we know that at times in our history, U.S. leaders and citizens used the pretext of promoting democracy and human rights in the region to justify actions that have left a deep legacy of mistrust. We recognize that our history, in which there is so much that makes us proud, also gives us ample reason to be humble.”

“The [U.S.] believes that there is a great deal we can do together with Cuba to tackle global challenges. That includes here at the [U.N.], where the decades-long enmity between our nations has at best been a distraction – and at worst, an obstacle – to carrying out some of the most important work of this institution and helping the world’s most vulnerable people.”

U.S. Reactions[7]

Engage Cuba, a U.S. national coalition of private companies, organizations and state and local leaders working to lift the embargo, said, “Year after year, the international community has condemned our failed unilateral sanctions that have caused great economic hardship for the people of Cuba and continue to put American businesses at a competitive disadvantage. The fact that the Administration and Israel abstained from voting for the first time ever demonstrates the growing recognition that the U.S. embargo on Cuba is a failed, obsolete policy that has no place in today’s international affairs.”

Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), on the other hand, blasted the abstention, saying the Obama administration had failed to honor and defend U.S. laws in an international forum. Similar negative reactions were registered by Senators Ted Cruz (Rep., FL) and Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ), Republican Representatives from Florida, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, and the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC.

As an U.S. citizen-advocate for ending the embargo as soon as possible, I am pleased with the U.S. abstention and agree with Ambassador Power that this vote does not mean the U.S. agrees with the resolution’s stated reasons.

Moreover, too many in the U.S. believe the Cuban damages claim from the embargo is just a crazy Cuban dream, but I disagree. Given the amount of the claim, Cuba will not someday tell the U.S. to forget it. A prior post, therefore, suggested that the two countries agree to submit this and any other damage claims by both countries for resolution by an independent international arbitration panel such as those provided by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague in the Netherlands.

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[1] U.N. Press Release, U.S. abstains for first time in annual UN vote on ending embargo against Cuba (Oct. 26, 2016).

[2] A prior post replicated the Presidential Policy Directive while another post provided reactions thereto.

[3] U.N. Press Release, General Assembly Plenary (Oct. 26, 2016); The defeat of the blockade is the world’s largest moral and political victory for the people of Cuba against the empire, Granma (Oct. 26, 2016) (Venezuela’s statement); Today not only do we vote against the blockade, we voted for hope, Granma (Oct. 26, 2016) (Bolivia’s statement).

[4] Ambassador Power, Remarks at a UN General Assembly Meeting on the Cuban Embargo (Oct. 26, 2016).  Israel, which also abstained, merely said that it welcomed the improved U.S.-Cuba relations and hoped it would lead to a new era in the region.

[5] A prior post reviewed President Obama’s eloquent speech in Havana to the Cuban people.

[6] A prior post reviewed the limited public information about the recent human rights dialogue.

[7] Ordońez, For 1st time, U.S. changes its position on U.N. resolution blasting Cuba trade embargo, InCubaToday (Oct. 26, 2016); Engage Cuba, Press Release: Engage Cuba Praises First Ever Unanimous Passage of United Nations Resolution Condemning the Cuban Embargo (Oct. 26, 2016); Lederer & Lee, US abstains in UN vote on Cuba embargo for the first time, Wash. Post (Oct. 26, 2016); Rubio, Rubio: Obama Admin Ignoring U.S. Law on Cuba Embargo, Giving More Concessions to Castro Regime at U.N. (Oct. 26, 2016).

Another U.N. General Assembly Resolution Condemning the U.S. Embargo of Cuba                                                                                    

U.N. General Assembly, 10/27/15
U.N. General Assembly, 10/27/15

On October 27, 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 5 (A/RES/70/5), 191 to 2 {the U.S. and Israel against with no abstentions) on the necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the U.S. against Cuba. This was the 24th consecutive year that the Assembly has condemned the embargo, this time with the largest number of members voting for the resolution.[1]

This post will review the resolution itself and the debate leading to its adoption and preliminary documents filed with the General Assembly before concluding with observations about where we go from here.

The Resolution

These are two key provisions of this resolution:

  • First, the General Assembly reiterates “its call upon all States to refrain from promulgating and applying laws and measures of the kind referred to in the preamble to the present resolution, in conformity with their obligations under the Charter of the United Nations and international law, which, inter alia, reaffirm the freedom of trade and navigation.”
  • Second, the General Assembly “again urges States [e., the U.S.] that have and continue to apply such laws and measures to take the steps necessary to repeal or invalidate them as soon as possible in accordance with their legal regime.”

The Debate

Here we will look at Cuba’s arguments in favor of the resolution, the comments of other U.N. members supporting the resolution and those of the two countries opposing the measure (the U.S. and Israel).

Cuba[2]

Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez
Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez

In presenting the resolution, Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez, opened by acknowledging that last December 17 U.S. President Obama “recognized that the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed against Cuba had failed, is obsolete, has not met the originally envisaged goals and causes damages to the Cuban people and isolation to the US Government.” To that end the U.S. President “has urged the Congress . . . to do so . . . [and has used] his executive prerogatives to modify its implementation.” Nevertheless, “the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed against Cuba is being fully and completely implemented.”

The U.S. removal removal of Cuba “ from the spurious list of States Sponsors of International Terrorism was the inevitable rectification of a nonsense, but this has hardly had any impact on the implementation of the blockade, which is supported by a far more comprehensive system of previously established sanctions and laws.”

“The blockade is a flagrant, massive and systematic violation of the human rights of all Cubans; it is contrary to International Law; it has been described as  a crime of genocide by the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948 and is the main obstacle to the economic and social development of our people.”

“The human damages it has caused are inestimable.  Seventy seven per cent of all Cubans have been suffering the blockade since the day they were born.  The shortages and deprivations that it causes to all Cuban families cannot be accounted for.”

According to rigorous and conservative calculations, the economic damages it has caused after more than half a century amount to [US$ 833.755 billion (based on the price of gold) or US$ 121.192 billion (current prices).

“Historically, the United States has intended to establish its domination and hegemony on our homeland and, since 1959, it has tried to change the political, economic and social system that our people,   fully exercising the right to self-determination, has freely chosen.”

“The lifting of the blockade will be the essential element that will give some meaning to the progress achieved in the last few months in the relations between both countries and shall set the pace towards normalization.”

“Cuba is ready to accept the opportunities and face the challenges of a  new era in the relations between  both countries, but it will never negotiate its socialist system or its internal affairs, nor will it allow any blemish on its independence, which was conquered at the price of the blood of its best sons and daughters and after the huge sacrifices made by many generations since the beginning of  our independence wars in 1868.”

“As has been reiterated by President Raúl Castro Ruz, both governments must find the way to coexist in a civilized manner, despite their profound differences, and advance as much as possible for the benefit of the peoples of the United States and Cuba, through a dialogue and cooperation based on mutual respect and sovereign equality.”

“We appreciate and recognize the progress achieved recently with the re-opening of embassies, the visits paid by the Secretaries of State and Commerce and the exchange of delegations; the functioning of a Steering Committee; the expansion of the areas of dialogue and cooperation, particularly in the filed of air and aviation safety; the combat of drug-trafficking, illegal migration and traffic in persons; law enforcement, environmental protection and health, among others. We are really interested in developing fruitful relations; offering our hospitality to the US citizens who enjoy the freedom of traveling to Cuba; expanding enriching, cultural, sports, scientific and academic exchanges; promoting a multifaceted cooperation in areas of common interest, trade and investments. We have initiated a human rights dialogue with a strict reciprocal character and despite our huge differences.”

“We have presented a new draft resolution that reflects the reality of the rigorous and oppressive implementation of the blockade against Cuba and also welcomes and recognizes, in the new preamble paragraphs, the progress achieved in the course of last year.”

On behalf of the heroic, self-sacrificing and fraternal people of Cuba, I ask you to vote in favor of the resolution.”

Other Countries.

Luxembourg, an U.S. ally, expressing the common position of the European Union members, said that the U.S. trade policy towards Cuba was fundamentally a bilateral issue, but that the effects and side effects of U.S. extraterritorial legislation and unilateral measures were also negatively affecting the EU’s economic interests. The EU’s Common Commercial Policy had firmly and continuously opposed such measures. The EU and the U.S. had agreed in 1998 to alleviate problems with U.S. extraterritorial legislation and the U.S. had to fully respect and implement that agreement.

Speakers from 37 other countries voiced their support for the resolution while many also welcomed the renewal of diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Cuba and the island’s removal from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. Some of these speakers, however, said the steps taken by the U.S. were still limited and that the embargo remained unchanged or had even been tightened since the historic rapprochement was announced last December.

Colombia’s permanent representative, for example, said her country was optimistic that Obama will obtain Congress to lift the embargo, which “runs counter to international law.” Jamaica’s representative, speaking on behalf of CARICOM, said the embargo wasn’t only punitive against Cuba, “but an impediment to our shared regional development.”

United States of America[3]

Ronald D. Goddard
Ronald D. Goddard

A short explanation for the U.S. vote against the resolution was provided to the General Assembly by Ronald D. Goddard, U.S. Senior Advisor for Western Hemispheric Affairs. He mentioned last December’s historic announcement of a new era in U.S.-Cuba relations and some of the subsequent steps toward normalization. In addition, he said that U.S. President Obama had “called on Congress to lift the embargo as soon as possible and has taken executive action to adjust regulations to facilitate many transactions involving Cuba.”

Therefore, Goddard continued, the U.S. regretted “that the Government of Cuba has chosen to proceed with its annual resolution. The text falls short of reflecting the significant steps that have been taken and the spirit of engagement President Obama has championed.. . . If Cuba thinks this exercise will help move things forward in the direction both governments have indicated they wish, it is mistaken.”

Israel.

Israel, the only other U.N. member to join the U.S. in opposing the resolution, merely said that it had followed the adoption of the resolution with great interest and welcomed the renewal of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the U.S. Given Israel’s special relationship with the latter, it had voted against the resolution.

Preliminary Documents Regarding the Resolution

Cuba’s Report to General Assembly. In June 2015 Cuba submitted a 37-page report to the General Assembly on its last year’s resolution on the embargo (blockade). This report contains a list of the U.S. statutes and regulations imposing the embargo and blockade and asserts that these U.S. actions have violated the Cuban people’s right to health and food; education, sports and culture; and development. In addition, this U.S. policy allegedly has damaged Cuba’s foreign commerce and investments; and finances, especially with its extraterritorial applications. These alleged damages total US$ 121.192 billion (in current prices) or US$ 833.755 billion (adjusted to reflect the depreciation of the US Dollar against the value of gold).[4]

These alleged damages include the alleged blocking of Cuban access to diagnostic equipment for monitoring the treatment of leukemia patients; preventing the sale to Cuban hospitals of devices critical for pediatric heart surgery patients; and hindering efforts by the U.N. Development Program getting medicine and support into Cuba for its over 18,000 patients living with HIV/AIDS.

U.N. Secretary-General’s Report to General Assembly. On July 30, 2015, the U.N. Secretary-General submitted a 178-page report to the General Assembly summarizing the comments on the resolution from 156 governments and 33 U.N. agencies and entities.[5] The U.S. and Israel, the only two countries to vote against the same resolution last year, had not submitted any comments at the time of the publication of this report, and the Holy See merely stated that it had “never drawn up or applied economic, commercial or financial laws or measures against Cuba.”

The other 155 governments basically supported the resolution with the European Union and Japan emphasizing that the U.S. “trade policy towards Cuba is fundamentally a bilateral issue,” but that “the extraterritorial extension of the [U.S.] embargo . . . violate commonly accepted rules of international trade.”

Of the 33 U.N. agencies and entities, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights says that generally coercive economic sanctions justified on human rights grounds more often than not fail to improve those conditions; instead they punish the poorest people, the intended beneficiaries of the sanctions, at the cost of increased unemployment and poverty and risks to their health.

Conclusion

This blog consistently has called for the U.S. to end its embargo (blockade) of Cuba. It also has recommended that Cuba’s claims against the U.S. for alleged damages from the embargo be submitted for determination to the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague in the Netherlands. In such a proceeding the U.S. could mount any and all arguments it has against (a) the major premise of the claims (the embargo is illegal under international law) and (b) the amount and causation of the alleged damages from the embargo. In the meantime, this blog has pointed out that as a matter of financial prudence the U.S. should end the embargo as soon as possible to reduce the amount of this contingent liability.[6]

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[1] United Nations, Despite Resumption of Relations between United States, Cuba, General Assembly Adopts, Almost Unanimously, Resolution Calling for Blockade to Be Lifted (Oct. 27, 2015); Assoc. Press, UN Overwhelmingly Condemns US Embargo on Cuba, N.Y. Times (Oct. 27, 2015); Reuters, Amid Renewed U.S., Cuba ties, U.N. condemns Embargo for 24th Year, N.Y. Times (Oct. 27, 2015); Whitefield, United Nations Votes 191-2 to condemn U.S. embargo against Cuba, Miami Herald (Oct. 27, 2015). As an example of the very limited U.S. coverage of this important U.N. action, the StarTribune, which is the major newspaper in the State of Minnesota, merely stated the following in an 8th page column of “nation+ world” news in the October 28th print edition: “UNITED NATIONS: Vote condemns embargo on Cuba In the first U.N. vote on a resolution condemning the U.S. embargo against Cuba since the two countries renewed diplomatic ties, the U.N. voted 191-2 in favor of the condemnation. The United States said that it couldn’t support the resolution because it failed to take into account ‘the significant steps in the spirit of engagement’ undertaken by the United States.”

[2] Bruno Rodriguez: “We will continue to present this draft resolution for as long as this blockade persists,” CubaMinRex (Oct. 27, 2015) (official Cuban Foreign Ministry English translation). On the day the resolution was debated in the General Assembly, Cuba’s newspaper, Granma, and its website, Cubadebate, had a minute-by-minute reporting of the proceedings starting at 08:33 a.m. (CDT). The Cuban Foreign Ministry has a separate website, “CubavsBloquero,” regarding the embargo (blockade). Another special Ministry website focuses on Cuba-EEUU {United States} relations.

[3] U.S. Mission to U.N., Explanation of Vote at a UN General Assembly Meeting on the Cuba Embargo (Oct. 27, 2015)  In the weeks before the General Assembly vote, the U.S. reportedly considered abstaining on the resolution this year. Last week, however, the U.S. decided it would not abstain because the text did not fully reflect the new spirit of cooperation between the two countries

 [4] Report by Cuba On Resolution 69/5 of the United Nations General Assembly entitled “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States of America against Cuba” (June 2015). The Report breakdown for some, but not all, of the components of these alleged damages, but does not explain how the alleged gold standard dollar figures were calculated.

[5] U.N. Gen. Assembly, Report of the Secretary General: Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba (July 30, 2015)

[6] E.g., Letter to President Obama Regarding Cuba (Aug. 17, 2012) (recommends ending embargo); Senator Klobuchar Introduces Bill To End Embargo of Cuba (Feb. 13, 2015) (Cuba’s “damage claim must be recognized as a contingent liability of the U.S., and ending the embargo will minimize the amount of that liability”); Resolution of U.S. and Cuba’s Damage Claims (April 6, 2015).

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Unsatisfactory “Case for Reparations”

840The June 2014 issue of The Atlantic devotes 20 black-bordered pages to “The Case for Reparations” as the lead and cover article by Ta-Nehisi Coates, its national correspondent.

This is a serious subject by an author who has been obtaining some prominence or notoriety this year occasioned by his best-selling book, “Between the World and Me,” which was discussed in a previous post.

Moreover, on September 28, 2015, the MacArthur Foundation awarded one of its prestigious Fellows or “genius” grants to Coates and asserted that he “brings personal reflection and historical scholarship to bear on America’s most contested issues . . . without shallow polemic and in a measured style.” In “The Case for Reparations,” according to the Foundation, “Coates grapples with the rationalizations for slavery and their persistence in twentieth-century policies like Jim Crow and redlining . . . [and] compellingly argues for remuneration for the economic impact on African Americans denied the ability to accumulate wealth or social status for generations. [The article is] deeply felt and intensely researched.”

I, therefore, was expecting a serious discussion of this important issue.

Instead, I was profoundly disappointed in the analysis as well as the quality of the research and writing of this article and strongly disagree with MacArthur’s glowing commentary on the article.

Coates’ Discussion of Reparations

Coates mentions that certain scholars have discussed how reparations might be implemented. One, he says, suggested multiplying the number of African Americans in the population by the difference between white and black per capita income and then presumably paying that difference to each African American each year for a decade or two. Another, Coates reports, proposed a program of job training and public works for all poor people. (P. 69) But Coates does not endorse either one.

Instead Coates hides in generalizations. He says reparations means “the full acceptance of our collective biography and its consequences” and “a revolution of American consciousness, a reconciling of our self-image as the great democratizer with the facts of our history” (p.70).

On the last page of the article (p. 71) Coates becomes more specific by advocating congressional adoption of a bill for a federal study of the issue of reparations that has been offered by Representative John Conyers (Dem., MI) for the last 25 years. Without examining the details of the bill or the arguments advanced for the bill by Conyers, Coates states, “No one can know what would come out of such a [study and] debate. Perhaps no number can fully capture the multi-century plunder of back people in America. Perhaps the number is so large that it can’t be imagined, let alone calculated and dispensed. But I believe that wrestling with these questions matters as much as—if not more than—the specific answers that might be produced. An America that asks what it owes its most vulnerable citizens is improved and humane.”

This is not, as MacArthur suggests, a compelling argument “for remuneration for the economic impact on African Americans denied the ability to accumulate wealth or social status for generations.”

The Conyers’ Bill

An examination of the Conyers bill itself does not buttress the claimed genius of the Coates article. In the current session of Congress this bill is H.R.40: The Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act. A quick examination of the Library of Congress THOMAS website reveals that the bill (in sections 4, 5 and 7) would establish a commission of seven members (three to be appointed by the U.S. President, three by the Speaker of the House of Representatives and one by the president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate) to hold hearings and issue a report of its findings and recommendations.

The key to the bill is section 2(a), which would make the following factual findings that Coates takes most of 20 pages to elucidate:

“(1) approximately 4,000,000 Africans and their descendants were enslaved in the United States and colonies that became the United States from 1619 to 1865;

(2) the institution of slavery was constitutionally and statutorily sanctioned by the Government of the United States from 1789 through 1865;

(3) the slavery that flourished in the United States constituted an immoral and inhumane deprivation of Africans’ life, liberty, African citizenship rights, and cultural heritage, and denied them the fruits of their own labor; and

(4) sufficient inquiry has not been made into the effects of the institution of slavery on living African-Americans and society in the United States.”

Section 2(b) of the bill  then states the commission would examine and report on these factual predicates plus the “de facto discrimination against freed slaves and their descendants from the end of the Civil War to the present, including economic, political, and social discrimination.” With such factual determinations the commission would be charged to “recommend appropriate ways to educate the American public of the Commission’s findings” and “appropriate remedies.”

Representative Conyers’ website  contains a discussion of the bill that at least alludes to the following challenging sub-issues that would face such a commission and that are not examined by Coates: “whether an apology is owed, whether compensation is warranted and, if so, in what form and who should be eligible.”

Resolution for Rectification of Misdeeds Against African-Americans

More importantly, Coates’ article does not mention a resolution (H.Res.194) adopted in 2008 by the U.S. House of Representatives that has lengthy factual preambles about the evils of slavery and Jim Crow. [1] The House in H.Res.194 more importantly also:

  1. “acknowledges that slavery is incompatible with the basic founding principles recognized in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal;”
  2. “acknowledges the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow;”
  3. “apologizes to African Americans on behalf of the people of the United States, for the wrongs committed against them and  their ancestors who suffered under slavery and  Jim Crow; and”
  4. “expresses its commitment to rectify the lingering consequences of the misdeeds committed against African Americans under slavery and Jim Crow and to stop the occurrence of human rights violations in the future.”

Yes, this is only a resolution by only one chamber of the Congress, but it is closer to the result apparently being advocated by Coates than the Conyers’ bill.

U.S. Presidential Statements About Slavery

H.Res.194 in a preamble asserts that “on July 8, 2003, during a trip to Goree Island, Senegal, a former slave port, President George W. Bush acknowledged slavery’s continuing legacy in American life and the need to confront that legacy when he stated that slavery `was . . . one of the greatest crimes of history . . . The racial bigotry fed by slavery did not end with slavery or with segregation. And many of the issues that still trouble America have roots in the bitter experience of other times. But however long the journey, our destiny is set: liberty and justice for all.”[2]

In another preamble H.Res.194 asserts, “President Bill Clinton also acknowledged the deep-seated problems caused by the continuing legacy of racism against African-Americans that began with slavery when he initiated a national dialogue about race.”

Neither of these presidential statements is mentioned by Coates, both of which support his opinion favoring reparations.

Caribbean States’ Reparations Claims

Apparently at least 14 states in the Caribbean are preparing claims for reparations for slavery against their former colonial rulers: Great Britain, France, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands. Britain’s Prime Minister Cameron recently rejected that reparations idea.[3]

Again there is no mention of these claims by Coates even though they lend credence to his advocacy of similar reparations in the U.S.[4]

Litigation Over Contracts for Deed

Coates leads the article with a lengthy discussion of problems faced by blacks on the west side of Chicago in the 1960’s in financing purchases of homes and as a result being forced to do so on contracts for deed with unscrupulous sellers (pp. 56-59). Coates then enthusiastically endorses these black purchasers’ bringing a federal lawsuit against the sellers for reparations (or money damages). On the next page (p.60), however, Coates tells the reader, without any citation of source, that in 1976 the black plaintiffs lost a jury trial supposedly due to anti-black prejudice of the jury and even later in the article (p.67) he says that as a result of the lawsuit some of the plaintiffs were allowed to own their homes outright while others obtained regular mortgages.

Coates, however, fails to mention that according to a secondary source from the University of Illinois-Chicago, the west-side case went to trial in the Spring of 1976, and in November 1979, the jury decided that the sellers had taken advantage of the buyers for higher profits, but that the sellers were so ruthless they would have cheated anyone, not only blacks, and, therefore, the jury rejected the racial discrimination claim, and the plaintiffs’ lawyers decided not to appeal this decision.

That same secondary source reports that a related case from the south side of Chicago went to trial in 1972 before a federal district judge with a jury. At the close of the evidence, the court directed a verdict against the plaintiffs saying that they had not proved a prima facie case of discrimination. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded for a new trial. That new trial occurred in 1979, without a jury, before a district judge who decided in favor of the defendants, and the Seventh Circuit affirmed.

Clyde Ross was prominently mentioned at the start of the Coates’ article about the housing discrimination that led to the above litigation, and after the publishing of the Coates article, Ross said in an interview, “I don’t know why we would even discuss [reparations] . . .when that would never happen. It involves taking money, property, from other people, from the people with power and wealth. How could that ever come to be? In theory, yes it is a good idea, but it’s better to be practical. I support equality under the law. I just want to be able to pay off a mortgage knowing that I am getting the same deal as the white guy. That’s all I ask.”

Coates also did not uncover in his research the successful Minnesota lawsuit in the 1920’s by a black couple against white landlords who after accepting contract-for-deed payments for 25 years denied the couple possession of the Minneapolis house on the false assertion that their payments were only rent. The couple’s attorney, by the way, was Lena Olive Smith, the state’s first black female lawyer who became the leader of the city’s NAACP branch in the 1930s.

Conclusion

I am not a scholar of race relations in the U.S. or of reparations generally or in the U.S. specifically. The above discussion of facts that apparently were not discovered by Coates was based upon this blogger’s perfunctory Internet searching.

The Coates article also is difficult to read because of the lack of an introduction and conclusion and of any headings or subdivisions amidst the parade of often densely packed paragraphs that do not follow in a logical order.[5]

This blogger as a retired lawyer might be seen as engaging in an inappropriate  lawyerly criticism of the Coates’ article. But Coates presumably is advocating for others to embrace the conclusion that reparations are a necessary response to a major societal problem. As an advocate, he should write to be more persuasive.

This blogger as a white American is supportive of civil and human rights generally and is willing to consider a well-written and documented case for U.S. reparations for slavery and Jim Crow. Unfortunately the Coates article does not do that. It needs additional research and a major rewrite. (As always, I invite others’ comments of agreement or disagreement.)

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[1] U.S. House of Reps., 110th Cong., 2nd Sess.,  H.Res.194 (July 29, 2008)..As February 23, 2007, was the bicentennial of the British Parliament’s abolition of slave trading, the 110th U.S. Congress (2007-2009) had 150 bills and resolutions that mentioned the word “slavery,” but this blog has not “drilled down” to determine their details.

[2] President Bush Speaks at Goree Island in Sengal (July 8, 2003)

[3] E.g., Search for “slavery,” Guardian; Bilefsky, David Cameron Grapples with Issue of Slavery Reparations in Jamaica, N.Y. Times (Sept. 30, 2015); Assoc. Press, Cameron Provides Caribbean Aid, Rejects Slavery Reparations, N.Y. Times (Sept. 30, 2015); Room for Debate: Are Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Reparations Due?, N.Y. Times (Oct. 8, 2015).

[4] Coates does mention Massachusetts’ granting a 1783 petition for reparations by a black freewoman; 17th and 18th century Quakers’ granting reparations; the 1987 formation of a National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America; the 1993 NAACP’s endorsement of reparations; a lawsuit for reparations brought by Harvard Law School Professor Charles Ogletree, Jr. (without mentioning its details or outcome); and Germany’s reparations to Israel for the Holocaust (pp. 61, 70-71).

[5] The online version of the article added headings I through X, but most of them are quotations from sources in the sections, requiring the reader to dive into the sections to discover their significance. Another post discusses Coates’ “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” The Atlantic (Oct. 2015), which also has chapter headings, most of which do not help the reader.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More about Coates:

 

Brooks: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/21/opinion/david-brookss-letter-to-ta-nehisi-coates-about-race.html

 

Ltrs re column: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/21/opinion/david-brookss-letter-to-ta-nehisi-coates-about-race.html

 

http://www.salon.com/2015/07/17/david_brooks_scolds_ta_nehisi_coates_i_think_you_distort_history/

 

http://crooksandliars.com/2015/07/dont-be-fooled-all-forelock-tugging-david

 

http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/david-brooks-nyt-ta-nehisi-coates

 

http://talkingpointsmemo.com/cafe/ta-nehisi-coates-david-brooks-american-dream

 

http://jezebel.com/listening-to-ta-nehisi-coates-whilst-snuggled-deep-with-1718506352

 

http://www.alternet.org/media/david-brooks-relies-ignorant-white-privilege-attack-ta-nehisi-coates-new-book

 

http://townhall.com/columnists/marknuckols/2015/07/17/tanehisi-coates-cheers-deaths-of-911-rescuers-david-brooks-apologizes-for-being-white-n2026881

 

http://aaihs.org/ta-nehisi-coates-david-brooks-and-the-master-narrative-of-american-history/

 

http://www.citypaper.com/arts/books/bcp-072915-books-coates-gunnery-20150724-story.html

 

https://www.thewrap.com/new-york-times-columnist-david-brooks-blasted-for-white-privilege-letter-to-ta-nehisi-coates/

 

http://flavorwire.com/528823/the-american-dream-david-brooks-loves-so-much-is-rich-white-americas-greatest-tool-of-social-control