Cuba’s Current Dire Economic Situation 

In the midst of the flurry of recent commentary about the new U.S. policies regarding  Cuba, including this blog’s current exploration of the many facets of those policies, it is easy to ignore or forget Cuba’s very difficult current economic situation, which only will be made worse by these U.S. policies. Here is some information about that economy.[1]

According to the Associated Press, “After two decades of relative stability fueled by cheap Venezuelan oil, shortages of food and medicine have once again become a serious daily problem for millions of Cubans. A plunge in aid from Venezuela, the end of a medical services deal with Brazil and poor performances in sectors including nickel mining, sugar and tourism have left the communist state $1.5 billion in debt to the vendors that supply products ranging from frozen chicken to equipment for grinding grain into flour, according to former Economy Minister José Luis Rodríguez.”

“That economy is afflicted by deep inefficiency and corruption. Many state employees demand bribes to provide services to the public. Others spend only a few hours a day at their jobs, spending the rest of their time doing informal private work or selling supplies stolen from their office, warehouse or factory. Despite a highly educated and generally well-qualified workforce, Cuba’s industrial sector is dilapidated after decades of under-investment. The country produces little of value on the global market besides rum, tobacco and the professionals who earn billions for the government working as doctors, teachers or engineers in friendly third countries.”

“The agricultural sector is in shambles, requiring the country to import most of its food. Economy Minister Alejandro Gil said Saturday that Cuba would spend $5 billion on food and petroleum products this year.”

“Over the last 20 years, many of those billions came from Venezuela’s socialist government, which has deep ties to Cuba’s and sent nearly 100,000 barrels of oil daily for years. With Venezuela’s economic collapse, that has roughly halved, along with deep cutbacks in the economic relationship across the board. And the news has been bad in virtually every other sector of the Cuban economy. Nickel production has dropped from 72,530 metric tons in 2011 to 50,000 last year, according to Rodríguez, the former economics minister. The sugar harvest dropped nearly 44%, to a million tons. The number of tourists grew only 1%, with many coming on cruise ships, a relatively unprofitable type of visitor. Overall GDP growth has been stuck at 1% for the last three years.”

“Meanwhile, under agreements Castro struck to rehabilitate Cuba’s creditworthiness, the country is paying $2 billion in debt service to creditors such as Russia, Japan and the Paris Club.”

“Stores no longer routinely stock eggs, flour, chicken, cooking oil, rice, powdered milk and ground turkey, among other products. These basics disappear for days or weeks. Hours-long lines appear within minutes of trucks showing up with new supplies. Shelves are empty again within hours.”

“No one is starving in Cuba, but the shortages are so severe that ordinary Cubans and the country’s leaders are openly referring to the ‘special period,”’the years of economic devastation and deep suffering that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba’s Cold War patron.”

“‘It’s not about returning to the harshest phase of the special period of the ’90s,’ Communist Party head Raul Castro said last week. ‘But we always have to be ready for the worst.’”

“Two days later, President Miguel Díaz-Canel said cutbacks were necessary because: ‘This harsh moment demands we set clearly defined priorities in order to not return to the worst moments of the special period.’’”

==============================

[1] Assoc. Press, Shortages Hit Cuba, Raising Fears of New Economic Crisis, N.Y. Times (April 18, 2019).

 

 

“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.

=================================

[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.

 

 

 

U.N. Official’s Report About  U.S. Poverty Is Criticized by U.S. 

On June 22, Philip G. Alston, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights,[1] presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland his final report criticizing certain U.S. poverty policies. It immediately was condemned by U.S.  Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley with a  prompt retort by Mr. Alston. We will examine these developments and then analyze this controversy.

Special Rapporteur’s Report on U.S.[2]

In his oral summary of the report, the Special Rapporteur made the following overall findings:

  • “[T]he combination of extreme inequality and extreme poverty generally create ideal conditions for small elites to trample on the human rights of minorities, and sometimes even of majorities. The [U.S.] has the highest income inequality in the Western world, and this can only be made worse by the massive new tax cuts overwhelmingly benefiting the wealthy. At the other end of the spectrum, 40 million Americans live in poverty and 18.5 millions of those live in extreme poverty.  In addition, vast numbers of middle class Americans are perched on the edge, with 40% of the adult population saying they would be unable to cover an unexpected $400 expense.”
  • “In response, the Trump administration has pursued a welfare policy that consists primarily of (i) steadily diminishing the number of Americans with health insurance (‘Obamacare’); (ii) stigmatizing those receiving government benefits by arguing that most of them could and should work, despite evidence to the contrary; and (iii) adding ever more restrictive conditions to social safety net protections such as food stamps, Medicaid, housing subsidies, and cash transfers, each of which will push millions off existing benefits.”
  • “My report demonstrates that growing inequality, and widespread poverty which afflicts almost one child out of every five, has deeply negative implications for the enjoyment of civil and political rights by many millions of Americans. I document the ways in which democracy is being undermined, the poor and homeless are being criminalized for being poor, and the criminal justice system is being privatized in ways that work well for the rich but that seriously disadvantage the poor.  Underlying all of these developments is persistent and chronic racial bias.  That bias also helps to explain the abysmal situation in which the people of Puerto Rico find themselves.  It is the poorest non-state in the Union, without a vote in Congress, at the mercy of an unelected and omnipotent oversight board, and suffering from record poverty levels in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.”
  • In many cities and counties, “state and county taxes are capped; public budgets are slashed; governments are left without essential resources; they instruct their police departments to impose and collect more fines to fund the general budget; these fines fall overwhelmingly upon the poor; the victims cannot pay the fines and so additional penalties and fees accumulate; most scrimp and pay but some default and are imprisoned; when they are in prison their economic and family situations collapse; and when they emerge from prison they are even less unemployable because they have a conviction.”

Based upon these finding, the Special Rapporteur made these recommendations for the U.S.: (1) “acknowledge that America’s proudest achievement –a vibrant democracy – is in peril unless steps are taken to restore the fabric from which it was crafted, including the adage that ‘all are created equal.’” (2) “Stop irrationally demonizing taxation and begin exploring how reasonable taxes can dramatically increase the social well-being of Americans and the country’s economic competitiveness.” (3) Provide “universal healthcare [that] . . . would rescue millions from misery, save money on emergency care, increase employment, and generate a healthier and more productive workforce.”

Ambassador Haley’s Criticism of the Report[3]

 On June 21 (the day before the official release of the report), Ambassador Haley in a letter to U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (Ind., VT), said. “ I am deeply disappointed that the Special Rapporteur used his platform to make misleading and politically motivated statements about American domestic policy issues. Regrettably, his report is an all too common example of the misplaced priorities and poor use of funds proven to be rampant throughout the UN system. The report categorically misstated the progress the [U.S.] has made in addressing poverty and purposely used misleading facts and figures in its biased reporting.”

“It is patently ridiculous for the [U.N.] to examine poverty in America. In our country, the President, Members of Congress, Governors, Mayors, and City Council members actively engage on poverty issues every day. Compare that to the many countries around the world, whose governments knowingly abuse human rights and cause pain and suffering.”

“Rather than using his voice to shine a light on those vulnerable populations [in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo], and so many others, the Special Rapporteur wasted the UN’s time and resources, deflecting attention from the world’ s worst human rights abusers and focusing instead on the wealthiest and freest country in the world.”

U.S. Mission to Geneva’s Criticism[4]

“The right to property, the right to pursue one’s own livelihood, and the right of free association are core economic and social rights by any reasonable definition, and have been core rights of the United States since its founding. The world knows that the U.S. economy is the largest, the most influential, and the most innovative on the planet.”

“Indeed, the U.S. is entering a new era of economic growth and prosperity.  Strong gross domestic product growth and increasing investment have already created 3.4 million new jobs, brought 900,000 workers off the sidelines since the President took office, and lowered unemployment to its lowest point in nearly 50 years.  The administration is fighting for American jobs and American workers, and standing strong with those that are standing strong for a more prosperous American economy. Sadly, Mr. Alston’s report does not give due credit to current policies enacted by this administration to spur economic growth and the prosperity it brings for all Americans.”

“We note that U.S. federal, state, and local governments guarantee emergency health care, a right to equal access to education, pursue policies that promote access to food, and support the need to promote, protect, and respect human rights in carrying out housing policies.  For example, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and other federal agencies support communities that establish centralized or coordinated assessment systems, emphasizing that coordinated entry processes to ensure all people experiencing a housing crisis in a community have fair and equal access and are connected to available housing and related assistance based on their strengths and needs.  Across the nation, local homelessness provider organizations under a consortium called “Continuums of Care” support persons in emergency shelters and transitional housing programs as well as those living unsheltered on the streets through grants providing critically needed support to local programs on the front lines of serving individuals and families experiencing homelessness.  In January of this year, the ‘Continuums of Care’ provided a record $2 billion to support more than 7,300 local homeless assistance programs across the nation.  There is also robust funding for programs such as Emergency Shelter Grants and other programs like Community Development Block Grants that can be used to assist homeless.  This U.S. administration stands shoulder-to-shoulder with our partners to support real housing solutions for those who may otherwise be living in our shelters or on our streets.”

“Furthermore, the [U.S.] has robust legal protections to prohibit discrimination in the enjoyment of rights that are provided by domestic law.  For example, in the area of housing, HUD actively monitors and enforces laws prohibiting discrimination.  In 2016, HUD, along with its state and local partners, investigated more than 8,300 housing discrimination complaints and obtained over $25.2 million in compensation; through its Fair Housing Assistance Program, HUD paid state and local government partners more than $24.6 million to support local enforcement activities and outreach activities.  That same year, HUD also awarded through its Fair Housing Initiatives Program $38 million in grants to 155 organizations for private enforcement to prevent or eliminate discriminatory housing practices and for educational initiatives to inform individuals of their rights and responsibilities.”

“It is regrettable that the Special Rapporteur, while acknowledging that the political status of Puerto Rico is beyond his mandate, nevertheless chose to opine on the matte. Puerto Rico is a self-governing territory of the United States that achieved self-determination in 1952. In successive referenda, the residents of Puerto Rico have made the democratic choice to maintain the island’s current status or to pursue statehood, with a very small fraction opting for independence. Like the states of our federal system, the vast majority of Puerto Rico’s affairs are governed by a popularly elected governor and legislature, and disputes are settled by Puerto Rico’s independent judiciary.  It is baseless to argue, as the Special Rapporteur does, that Puerto Rico “is no longer a self-governing territory” when in fact its residents enjoy and exercise extensive democratic rights.  Furthermore, the U.S. administration is awarding over $18 billion in disaster recovery and mitigation funds to Puerto Rico, through HUD’s Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery Program.”

“Accusations that the [U.S.] shows ‘contempt and hatred’ for the poor, including accusations of a criminal justice system designed to keep low income persons in poverty while generating public revenue, are inaccurate, inflammatory, and irresponsible.  The U.S. funds large public assistance programs designed to help low-income Americans, including $565.5 billion for Medicaid, $63 billion for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, and $42.5 billion for housing assistance programs.  In fact, more than $1 trillion dollars in means-tested benefits are provided to the poor annually by federal and state governments.  Based on some measures of consumption, poverty is down by 77 percent since 1980.  Recent studies using the Consumer Expenditure Survey suggest that only 175 of 222,170 surveyed American households reported spending less than an extreme poverty threshold figure of $4.00 a day, which implies that there are only approximately 250,000 persons in “extreme poverty” circumstances, rather than the exaggerated figure cited by the Special Rapporteur.  Regardless, any number of Americans with this severe level of economic difficulties should not be ignored, and a stronger focus of the Special Rapporteur on the problems and remedies for this population would have been welcome.”

Special Rapporteur’s Response[5]

“The suggestion that this Council should only consist of rights-respecting States was made long ago by the US and others, but abandoned because there are no workable criteria to determine who should qualify under such a test, and because a body composed only of self-appointed good guys would not only be tiny but would be talking unproductively among themselves.  Human rights promotion requires robust engagement, not behaving like the kid who takes his football and goes home.”

“Ambassador Haley complained that the Council has done nothing about countries like Venezuela.  In fact I and several other special rapporteurs reported earlier this year that ‘vast numbers of Venezuelans are starving, deprived of essential medicines, and trying to survive in a situation that is spiraling downwards with no end in sight.’  We warned of ‘an unfolding tragedy of immense proportions.’”

Moreover, “this Council has published many report detailing the situations in [Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo].” And “when [the U.S.,] one of the world’s wealthiest countries, does very little about the fact that 40 millions of its citizens live in poverty, it is entirely appropriate for the reasons to be scrutinized.”

“If this Council stands for anything, it is the principle of accountability – the preparedness of States to respond in constructive and meaningful ways to allegations that they have not honored their human rights commitments. The United States position, expressed by Ambassador Haley, [erroneously] seems to be that this Council should do far more to hold certain states to account, but that it should exempt the [U.S.] and its key allies from such accountability.”

“Ambassador Haley called my report ‘misleading and politically motivated.’ She didn’t spell out what was misleading but other stories from the same media outlet emphasized two issues.”

“The first is that my report uses official data from 2016, before President Trump came to office.  That is true, for the simple reason that there will be no Census Bureau data on the Trump era until September this year.  But these data provide the best available official baseline, and my report then factors in the effects of the combination of massive tax cuts for the wealthy and systematic slashing of benefits for the less well-off.”

“The second criticism . . . is that the US ‘economy continues to roar to life under President Trump.’ Indeed, the US economy is currently booming, but the question is who is benefiting. Last week’s official statistics show that hourly wages for workers in “production and nonsupervisory” positions, who make up 80% of the private workforce, actually fell in 2017.  Expanding employment has created many jobs with no security, no health care, and often with below-subsistence wages.  The benefits of economic growth are going overwhelmingly to the wealthy. Average pre-tax national income per adult in the US has stagnated at $16,000 since 1980 for the bottom 50% of the income distribution, while it has really boomed for the top 1%, a trajectory that has been quite different from that in most European countries. Even the IMF has warned that in the US “prospects for upward mobility are waning, and economic gains are increasingly accruing to those that are already wealthy”. In other words, the American dream of mobility, is turning into the American illusion, in which the rich get ever richer, and the middle classes don’t move.”

U.S. Withdrawal from U.N. Human Rights Council[6]

 As reported in a prior post, on June 19, the U.S. announced its withdrawal from the Human Rights Council, and on June 22, a spokesman for Ambassador Haley said that the Alston report had nothing to do with that decision. However, when Alston arrived in the U.S. last year, as noted above, he recently said, “A senior official said . . .my report could be a factor in whether the U.S. decided or not to stay in the council. I think I was being sent a message.”

Conclusion

There are many reasons why Ambassador Haley’s criticism of this report is unwarranted. Here are some.

First, the U.S. in June 2017 apparently joined other Council members in approving the resolution extending the mandate for the Special Rapporteur to, among other things, “(a) Further examine the relationship between the enjoyment of human rights and extreme poverty; [and] (b) Identify alternative approaches to the removal of all obstacles, including institutional ones, at the regional, national and international, public, corporate and societal levels, to the full enjoyment of human rights for all people living in extreme poverty.” That resolution also called “upon all Governments to cooperate with and assist the independent expert in his or her task, to supply all necessary information requested by him or her and to give serious consideration to responding favorably to the requests of the independent expert to visit their countries, to enable him or her to fulfil his or her mandate effectively.”[7]

Second, the U.S. invited the Special Rapporteur to visit the U.S., initially by the Obama Administration and then by the Trump Administration on June 8, 2017, at a Human Rights Council meeting.

Third, on November 29, 2017, a Human Rights Council Press Release announced that the Special Rapporteur would be visiting the U.S. in December 2017 with a detailed itinerary “to examine government efforts to eradicate poverty in the country, and how they relate to US obligations under international human rights law.” Mr. Alston said, “Some might ask why a UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights would visit a country as rich as the United States. But despite great wealth in the US, there also exists great poverty and inequality.”[8]

Fourth, on December 15, 2017, at the conclusion of his visit to the U.S., the Special Rapporteur released a statement on his visit with the following comments that later turned out to be a preview of the final report the following June:[9]

  • The U.S. is harnessing “neither its wealth nor its power nor its technology . . . to address the situation in which 40 million people continue to live in poverty.
  • He provided some details on both the negative and positive things he had witnessed as well as statistical comparisons of the U.S. with other countries. “American exceptionalism was a constant theme in my conversations.  But instead of realizing its founders’ admirable commitments, today’s United States has proved itself to be exceptional in far more problematic ways that are shockingly at odds with its immense wealth and its founding commitment to human rights.  As a result, contrasts between private wealth and public squalor abound.”
  • The then “proposed tax reform package stakes out America’s bid to become the most unequal society in the world, and will greatly increase the already high levels of wealth and income inequality between the richest 1% and the poorest 50% of Americans.  The dramatic cuts in welfare, foreshadowed by the President and Speaker Ryan, and already beginning to be implemented by the administration, will essentially shred crucial dimensions of a safety net that is already full of holes.”
  • The “indispensable ingredients for a set of policies designed to eliminate poverty. . . include: democratic decision-making, full employment policies, social protection for the vulnerable, a fair and effective justice system, gender and racial equality and respect for human dignity, responsible fiscal policies, and environmental justice. Currently, the United States falls far short on each of these issues” while providing further details.

Fifth, the Special Rapporteur, as of June 2018, has visited or plans to visit or has made comments about other wealthy countries (United Kingdom, and Japan), developing countries (China and Brazil)  and poorer countries (Ghana and Venezuela). [10]

Sixth, the Special Rapporteur correctly observes that human rights obligations are imposed on every country, regardless of its wealth.

Finally, recall that Ambassador Haley first criticized human rights groups for their failure to support U.S. efforts to reform the Human Rights Council as a contributing cause for the U.S. withdrawal from the Council.

The short response to the Ambassador is Shakespeare’s line in Hamlet, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

===========================================

[1] Alston is an Australian citizen and John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law, New York University and Director of NYU Center for Human Rights and Global Justice. Here is the website for the Special Rapporteur.

[2] U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Oral Statement by Mr. Philip Alston Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights (June 22, 2018); Assoc. Press, UN Expert Slams US on Poverty, Quitting Global Rights Body, N.Y. Times (June 22, 2018).

[3]  Haley, Letter to Sen. Sanders (June 21, 2018); Stein, Nikki Haley: ‘It is patently ridiculous for the United Nations to examine poverty in the United States, Wash. Post (June 22, 2018).

[4] U.S. Mission to Geneva, Country Concerned Statement in Response to SR Alston’s report on the United States (June 22, 2018).

[5] U.N. Hum. Rts. Council,  Oral Statement by Mr. Philip Alston Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights (June 22, 2018).

[6] Stein, ‘I think I was being sent a message’: U.S. warned U.N. official about report on poverty in America, Wash. Post (June 22, 2018).

[7]  U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, HRC/RES/35/19 Human rights and extreme poverty (June 22, 2017); U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, HRC/RES/8/11, Human rights and extreme poverty (June 18, 2008).

[8] U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Press release, UN expert on extreme poverty and human rights  to visit USA, one of the wealthiest countries in the world (Nov. 29, 2017).

[9] U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Press Release, Statement on Visit to the USA, by Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights* (Dec. 15, 2017); U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Special Rapporteur, Press Conference, Washington, D.C. (Dec. 15, 2017).

[10] U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Press Release, Venezuela: Dire living conditions worsening by the day, UN human rights experts warn (Feb. 9, 2018); U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Press Release, China: UN experts concerned about health of jailed rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong (Mar. 23, 2018); U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Press Release, Brazil: UN experts alarmed by killing of Rio human rights defender who decried military intervention (Mar. 26, 2018); U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Press Release, Japan: Benefit cuts threaten social protection of the poor, UN rights experts warn (May 24, 2018); U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Press Release, Ghana’s main economic initiatives will do little to reduce poverty, warns UN expert (June 20, 2018).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cuba’s Universal Periodic Review Hearing by the U.N. Human Rights Council

On May 16, the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland held a 210-minute public hearing on its third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Cuba’s human rights record. The hearing consisted of Cuba’s report by its Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez, and other Cuban officials; comments and recommendations by 140 countries (50 seconds each for a total of approximately 117 minutes); and responses by the Cuban officials.

Before the hearing,, the Council received Cuba’s human rights report, a summary of U.N. information about Cuba, reports from stakeholders (human rights organizations and others); and advance questions from some U.N. Members. The  224 submissions from stakeholders, for example, included around 17 that said Cuba’s constitutional and legislative framework “guaranteed the enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.” The Cuban Human Rights Observatory, and others, on the other hand, said that Cuba had not undertaken any reforms to promote the exercise of political freedoms.[1]

Cuban Government’s Report[2]

From the times of the US military occupation, which severed our independence, under the governments it imposed, 45 per cent of children did not attend schools; 85 per cent of persons lacked running water; farmers lived in abject poverty without ever owning the land they tilled and immigrants were brutally exploited. In Cuba [during those years], workers and farmers had no rights.  Extrajudicial execution, enforced disappearances and torture were recurrent.  Discrimination based on the color of the skin was brutal; poverty was rampant and women and girls were even more excluded.  The dignity of Cubans was tarnished and Cuba’s national culture was trampled upon.” (Emphasis added.)

“The Cuban Revolution led by Commander in Chief Fidel Castro Ruiz transformed that reality and continues to strive to improve the quality of life, wellbeing and social justice for all of our people, thus implementing all human rights. That willingness to protect human dignity, provide equal opportunities and ‘conquer all the justice,’ has remained unchanged and unswerving until today.”

“Our country has continued to take steps to further improve its economic and social development model with the purpose of building a sovereign, independent, socialist, democratic, prosperous and sustainable nation by strengthening the institutional structure of our political system, which is genuinely participatory and enjoys full popular support.”

In accordance with the Constitution, we have continued to strengthen the legal and institutional framework for the protection and promotion of those rights, and we have introduced modifications and proposals adapted to the needs and realities of the Cuban society and international standards. The attention to citizens has been equally improved by means of the expansion of the mechanisms, ways and recourses in the hands of the population to denounce any  infringement of the legal system or their rights; file claims or petitions to the competent authorities; channel up their opinions and concerns and actively participate in the adoption of government decisions.”

The Foreign Minister then provided more details about Cuba’s “protection of the right to life. . .; law enforcement authorities . . . [being] subject to rigorous control processes and popular scrutiny.; . . .There has been no impunity in the very few cases of abuses involving law enforcement agents and officials;” no traffic in firearms; continued strengthening of “people’s participation in government decision-making and the exercise of the freedoms recognized under the Constitution and the law;” increased “effectiveness of the control exercised by all citizens over the activity of state organs, elected representatives and public officials;” advancing “the promotion of the right to full equality; in the struggle against elements of discrimination based on the color of the skin and against women;” and  increasing “support to prevent and cope with manifestations of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.” He also mentioned increases in numbers of civil society organizations, and said defenders of human rights enjoy government recognition and support.

However, in Cuba, “the legal system cannot be infringed upon or subverted to satisfy a foreign agenda that calls for a change of regime, the constitutional order and the political system that Cubans have freely chosen.  Those who act this way are not worthy of being described as human rights defenders; they rather qualify as agents to the service of a foreign power, according to many western legislations. (Emphasis added.)

Cuba has continued to strengthen its cooperation with the UN mechanisms that take care of these issues. . . We have strictly complied with all  . . . 44 of the 61 international human rights instruments [into which we have entered.]”

“Cuba has continued to promote initiatives at the [U.N.] Human Rights Council and the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly, for the defense of human rights, including the rights to development and peace.  We have consistently opposed every attempt to politically manipulate said bodies; selectivity as well as double standards.”

Likewise, “huge efforts are being made, amid adverse financial conditions, to preserve the purchasing power of salaries and pensions, improve access to food, adequate housing and public transportation, while preserving and even enhancing the quality of universal and free education and public health. No one will ever be left to his or her own fate in Cuba.”

“We cannot but mention our condition as a small island developing country, faced with an unfavorable international economic situation, characterized by the prevalence of irrational and unsustainable patterns of production and consumption; market regulations and non-transparent and less than democratic international financial institutions. Added to this are the adverse effects of climate change and the impact of natural disasters of high intensity on our economy.  Substantial resources should be invested to cope with them. (Emphasis added.)

“The strengthening of the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States against Cuba and its extraterritorial implementation causes deprivations and continue to be the main obstacle to the economic and social development of the country.  This unjust policy, which has been rejected by the international community, violates the purposes and principles of the UN Charter and International Law and represents a flagrant, massive and systematic violation of the human rights of our people, thus qualifying as an act of genocide under the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948.” (Emphasis added.)

“We demand the return of the territory usurped by the US Naval Base in Guantánamo, where the United States maintains a detention camp in which serious human rights violations and acts of torture are committed.”(Emphasis added.)

“The political and media campaigns against Cuba, which distort our reality, intend to discredit our country and conceal Cuba’s undeniable human rights achievements.“ Emphasis added.)

We are opened to dialogue and will offer all the necessary information based on the respect and objectivity that should characterize this exercise, in which there should be no double standards or politically motivated manipulations, which we will not accept, because, as was expressed by the President of the Council of State and Ministers, Comrade Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez on April 19, “there is no room for a transition that ignores or destroys the legacy of so many years of struggle.  In Cuba, by the decision of the people, there is only room for the continuity of that legacy with the Revolution and the founding generation, without giving up to pressures, without fear and setbacks, always defending our truths and reasons, without ever renouncing sovereignty and independence, development programs and our own dreams.” (Emphasis added.)

Other Countries Comments and Recommendations[3]

During the hearing a total of 339 recommendations, many of which are repetitious, were made. Many countries, especially those friendly with Cuba like Russia and China and developing countries, made no recommendations at all. Others were more critical: members of the European Union (EU), United States, Japan, Canada, but also Mexico, Peru, Costa Rica, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay. Gabriel Salvia, the General Director of the Center for the Opening and Development of Latin America, said, “It is a great step forward for more Latin American countries to point out the human rights situation in Cuba,”

Near the end of this section of the hearing, the U.S.’ 50-seconds were the sharpest against Cuba.[4] Michele Roulbet, the U.S. delegate, said:

  • “The April presidential transition again robbed the Cuban people of any real choice in shaping their country’s future; the same actors are in charge, many just with different titles, selected in a process that was neither free nor fair. The government stacked the system against independent candidates, none of whom were able to run for seats in the National Assembly, which selected the president.”
  • “The Cuban government continues to criminalize independent civil society and severely restricts the freedoms of expression, association, religion or belief and the right of peaceful assembly.  It routinely applies laws to silence journalists and critics, and punishes those working to expand access to information and freedom of expression for those in Cuba.”
  • In an “attempt to silence opposition voices, the government reportedly continues to use arbitrary and politically motivated detentions, torture, harassment, and travel prohibitions.  Recent examples of this include those who attempted to monitor the undemocratic presidential transition; those who have advocated for political change; and those who were prevented from participating in the 2018 Summit of the Americas in Lima and this UPR process.”

The U.S. then made the following three recommendations to Cuba: (1) “Reform its one-party system to allow for genuinely free and fair multi-party elections that provide citizens with real choices [regarding their government. “(2) “Cease the practice of arbitrarily detaining journalists, opposition members, and human rights defenders, including preemptively, and adopt a legal framework that ensures judicial independence.” (3) “Release arbitrarily detained or imprisoned individuals who were detained and imprisoned for peaceful assembly, investigate and report on government activity, or express political dissent, and allow them to travel freely both domestically and internationally.”

About midway through this section, Cuba responded to some of the criticisms. It denied the existence of political prisoners in Cuba, restrictions on the right to strike, or even the obstacles to travel freely, while insisting on the independence of the justice system. Cuban. Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez described the alleged dissidents and human rights activists as “agents of a foreign power,” a regular practice of the regime to attempt to discredit opponents.

Cuba’s Closing Comments[5]

Foreign Minister Rodriguez in his final statement at the hearing said, “It is regrettable that certain countries are continuing to manipulate the human rights question for political ends, to justify the embargo on Cuba and ‘regime change.’ hey have no moral authority and on the contrary are the perpetrators of extensive, well documented and unpunished violations of human rights; they ride roughshod over the aims of the Universal Periodic Examination and persist in selectivity, double standards and the politicization of human rights.” (Emphasis added.)

These practices, which in recent years have started to reemerge, discredited the [former U.N.] Commission on Human Rights and prompted its replacement by this Council. We will be on a retrograde path if we allow such deviant practices to be consolidated in the Council’s work. Respectful dialogue reflecting the principles of objectivity, impartiality and non-selectivity; and the respect for each people’s self-determination, its right to decide its own political, economic, social and cultural system, and its development model, are the cornerstone of international cooperation in this area.” (emphasis added.)

A small number of the recommendations have an interventionist character, contrary to the spirit of cooperation and respect on which this exercise is based. One of the recommendations is strange: it is the United States which is prohibiting its citizens from travelling to Cuba and restricts their freedom to travel; it is Washington which is denying Cubans, Cuban families, consular services and visa issue at its embassy in Havana.” [These recommendations will be rejected.] (Emphasis added.)

We are keeping to our “socialist and democratic revolution, with the humble and for the humble” proclaimed by Commander-In-Chief Fidel Castro and inspired by José Martí’s brotherly formula: “With everyone and for the benefit of everyone”.

U.S.-Cuba Subsequent Conflict Over Cuba’s UPR[6]

Immediately after the Geneva hearing, from the U.S. Mission to the U.N. in New York City,  U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, issued a statement. It said that the UPR process expects countries “to allow independent civil society organizations to fully and freely participate in their UPR process. However, the Cuban government blocked independent Cuban civil society members from traveling to Geneva to participate in their review process, just as they did last month when they blocked Cuban civil society members from traveling to Peru to participate in the Summit of the Americas.” (Emphasis added.)

Ambassador Haley added, “A country with a human rights record as abysmal as Cuba’s is no stranger to silencing its critics. But the Cuban government can’t silence the United States. We will continue to stand up for the Cuban people and get loud when the Cuban government deprives its people of their human rights and fundamental freedoms and robs them of free, fair, and competitive elections, denying them the opportunity to shape their country’s future.” (Emphasis added.)

Meanwhile the live webcast of the hearing was watched in Miami by some Cuban-Americans, who were gathered at the headquarters of the Cuban Democratic Directorate, whose website says, “Since its inception in 1990, the Cuban Democratic Directorate  has been characterized by a consistent and cohesive strategy for liberty and democracy in Cuba.” The Miami-based Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba, which was established in 1992 “to promote a nonviolent transition to a free and democratic Cuba with zero tolerance for human rights violations,” complained that Cuba had flooded the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights with letters sent by Communist Party organizations, the Cuban Women’s Federation and other organizations affiliated with the government that contained “absurd praise about the Cuban system.”

Remaining Steps in Cuba’s UPR[7]

Following the UPR hearing,  Cuba this September will submit a formal response to the recommendations, and the Working Group then will prepare a draft of the Outcomes Report. This report will provide a summary of the actual discussion, including the questions, comments and recommendations made by States to Cuba, as well as the responses by the Cuban Government.

Such outcome reports are not all that illuminating. For example, the one for Cuba’s prior review in 2013, which probably will be a lot like the one forthcoming for this latest review,[8] contains a summary of the hearing–presentation by Cuba (para. 5-26), interactive dialogue and responses by Cuba (paras. 27-169)—and a mere sequential listing of the repetitive recommendations made by the states at the hearing (paras. 170.1-170.291) although there also is an integrated more useful 45-page “thematic matrix of the recommendations.”

Another document from 2013 set forth Cuba’s views on these conclusions and recommendations and its voluntary commitments. It  listed many recommendations that “enjoy the support of the Government of Cuba;” others that have been noted by the Government; and the following 20 that  did “not enjoy the support of the Government:”

No. Country Recommendation
170.136 Belgium Adopt legislation to improve immigration & relations with Cuban diaspora
170.139 Belgium, Czech Repub., Slovenia Implement legal safeguards to protect human rights defenders, journalists, against abuse of provisions for criminal prosecution & release all political prisoners
179.162 Belgium Amend the Law of Criminal Procedure in order to avoid the cases of indefinite extension of the preliminary investigation
170.171 Romania, Estonia & Hungary Remove restrictions on freedom of expression notably concerning the connection to the Internet; Reconsider all laws that criminalize or restrict the right to freedom of expression & right of internet freedom; Lift restrictions on rights to freedom of expression that are not in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; ensure affordable & unhindered access to the internet for all.
179.172 Spain Allow freedoms of expression, association &assembly; allow human rights associations to obtain legal status through inclusive and official registration
170.173 Switzerland Lift restrictions hindering free expression & ensure that human rights defenders & independent journalists are not victims of intimidations or arbitrary prosecutions & detentions
170.174 U.K. & Northern Ireland End measures to restrict freedom of expression & assembly including short-term detentions and use of criminal charges such as “precriminal social dangerousness”, “contempt” and “resistance”
170.175 Ireland Repeal legislation relating to so-called “pre-criminal social dangerousness”
170.176 U.S.A. Eliminate or cease enforcing laws impeding freedom of expression
170.177 France Guarantee freedom of expression & peaceful assembly plus free activity of human rights defenders, independent journalists & political opponents
170.179 Canada Take further measures to improve freedom of expression by allowing for independent media &  improving access to information through public access to internet by taking advantage of the recent investment in the fiber optic network
170.182 Austria Guarantee free, free & independent environment for journalists and ensure that all cases of attacks against them are investigated by independent & impartial bodies
170.183 Netherlands End repression, investigate acts of repudiation & protect all persons who are targets of intimidation or violence
170.184 Poland Liberate immediately & unconditionally all prisoners held in temporary detention or sentenced in connection with exercising their freedom of opinion & expression as well as freedom of assembly & association
170.187 U.S.A. Release Alan Gross and imprisoned journalists such as Jose Antonio Torres immediately. [Gross was released on 12/17/14]
170.188 Australia Stop limitations on civil society activities, including short-term detention of political activists
170,189 Germany Stop harassment, intimidation & arbitrary detention of human rights activities
179.190 Hungary Stop short-term detentions, harassments & other repressive measures against human rights defenders & journalists. Implement legal safeguards to ensure their protection against abuse of provisions for criminal prosecution
170.192 Australia Reduce government influence & control over internet as part of a broader commitment to freedom of expression
170.193 Germany End online censorship

 

The report finally has to be adopted at a plenary session of the Human Rights Council. During the plenary session, the State under review can reply to questions and issues that were not sufficiently addressed during the Working Group and respond to recommendations that were raised by States during the review. Time is also allotted to member and observer States who may wish to express their opinion on the outcome of the review and for stakeholders to make general comments.

Conclusion

After the final adoption of the Outcomes Report, the Council has no authority or power to compel Cuba to do anything. Instead, Cuba “has the primary responsibility to implement the recommendations contained in the final outcome.”

=====================================

[1] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Cuba’s Human Rights Record Being Subjected to Universal Periodic Review by U.N. Human Rights Council (April 30, 2018); Advance Questions for Cuba’s Universal Periodic Review by the U.N. Human Rights Council (May 11, 2018).

[2] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuba will continue to build an ever freer, more democratic, just and fraternal society (May 16, 2018).

[3] ‘It is a great step forward for more Latin American countries to point out the human rights situation in Cuba,’ Diario de Cuba (May 16, 2018); Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuba reiterates its commitment to cooperate with the UN human rights system (May 16, 2018); Havana warns that it will reject the recommendations of the UN with criticism of its ‘constitutional order,’ Diario de Cuba (May 18, 2018).

[4] U.S. Mission to U.N. (Geneva), U.S. Statement at the Universal Periodic Review of Cuba (May 16, 2018).

[5]  Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuba reiterates its commitment to cooperate with the UN human rights system (May 18, 2018); Havana warns that it will reject the recommendations of the UN with criticism of its ‘constitutional order,’ Diario de Cuba (May 18, 2018).

[6] U.S. Mission to U.N., Press Release: Ambassador Haley on Cuba’s Human Rights Record (May 16, 2018).

[7] U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Basic facts about the UPR.

[8] U.N. Hum. Rts.  Council, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Cuba (July 8, 2013); U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Cuba: Addendum: Views on conclusions and recommendations, voluntary commitments and replies presented by the State under review (Sept. 2013); U.N. Human Rts. Council, Matrix of recommendations.

 

Discussion About Cuba at the Washington Conference on the Americas

On May 8 the U.S. Department of State hosted the Americas Society’s Council of the Americas’ 48th Annual Washington Conference on the Americas with U.S. administration senior officials and distinguished leaders from across the Americas to focus on the major policy issues affecting the hemisphere..[1]

The speakers at this event were Acting Secretary of State John J. Sullivan; U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley; U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) and Benjamin Sasse (Rep., NE); other U.S. State Government officials (U.S. Treasury Undersecretary for International Affairs, David Malpass; U.S. Agriculture Undersecretary of Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs, Ted McKinney; U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Francisco Palmieri) plus Brazilian Ministry of Finance Secretary for International Affairs Marcello Estevão; and International Finance Corporation Chief Executive Officer Philippe Le Houérou.

The bulk of the comments were directed at combatting corruption and at criticizing Venezuela and then at Nicaragua with only a few barbs at Cuba, as discussed below.

Acting Secretary Sullivan’s Remarks[2]

Acting Secretary Sullivan said, “Our engagement in the Americas, of course, is not a recent phenomenon. Since the birth of our republic, the United States has had strong relationships in the Western Hemisphere, bonds built on geography, shared values, and robust economic ties. We strive to coexist peacefully and to do so in a mutually beneficial way.”

The U.S. “Caribbean 2020 strategy is increasing private sector investment in the Caribbean, promoting Caribbean energy security, and building resilience to natural disasters. The Caribbean Basin Security Initiative seeks to enhance maritime interdictions, build institutions, counter corruption, and foster cooperation to protect our shared borders from the impact of transnational crime.”

“Threats to the hemisphere occur on a number of other complex fronts, requiring coordinated and sophisticated responses. Whether building capacity to counter cyber threats, supporting de-mining in Colombia, or combating trafficking in persons, the United States is committed to being the security partner of choice for the Americas in the years ahead.”

“The United States is the top trading partner for over half of the 34 countries in the Western Hemisphere. Annually, we trade $1.8 trillion in goods and services with the hemisphere, supporting millions of jobs and leading to an $8 billion surplus in goods and services in 2017.”

“Underpinning our economic engagement is respect for the rule of law and shared values. Corruption both undermines and corrodes the confidence our citizens have in democratic institutions.”

“Finally, we must keep working together to ensure that the people in this hemisphere can live according to democratic values. . . . While most of the region enjoys democratic rule, a few outliers – Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela – continue to undermine the region’s shared vision for effective democratic governance as enshrined in the Inter-American Democratic Charter.” (Emphasis added.)

The United States remains committed to championing freedom and to standing with the people of Venezuela and Cuba in their struggle to achieve the liberty they deserve. . . . We look to our partners – including governments and civil society organizations – to join us in speaking up whenever and wherever the hemisphere’s shared democratic principles come under attack.” (Emphasis added.)

U.S. Ambassador Haley’s Remarks[3]

“I am here today because the Trump Administration places a high priority on the Western Hemisphere, its security, its prosperity, and its freedom. And we recognize that the United States must reassert our leadership in the hemisphere.”

“I have seen time and time again at the United Nations that when the United States fails to lead, we suffer, and the world suffers. This is even more true in our relationships with other nations. There is no substitute for strong U.S. leadership, based on our values of political and economic freedom and respect for human rights.”

“The prosperity of the United States is critically tied to the prosperity of the hemisphere. Our future is bound up with our neighbors.”

“Among other things, we are each other’s largest and best trading partners. The United States sells more goods and services to our neighbors in the Western Hemisphere than we do to China, Japan, and India combined. While a lot of attention is placed on issues of trade with China, we should keep in mind that we trade nearly three times as much with the Western Hemisphere as we do with China.”

“We are also dependent on each other for our security.”

“And the principle that ties it all together is something else the United States has in common with most of our neighbors in the hemisphere – a commitment to freedom. . . . The western hemisphere is increasingly dominated by countries that share our political and economic principles.”

“The great human rights activist Natan Sharansky had a test for evaluating the freedom of societies that he called the “Town Square Test.” According to Sharansky, if someone can walk into a town square and express his or her views without being arrested, thrown in prison, or beaten, then they lived in a free society. If not, they lived in what he called a ‘fear society.’”

“As we look across the Americas, it’s pretty easy to tell the free societies from the fear societies. It’s a testament to the people of Latin America – and the love of freedom and dignity that exists in the human heart – that most of the hemisphere is free.”

“Across Latin America, the good news is that these challenges are increasingly dealt with through a commitment to the rule of law and democratic institutions. The region is far from perfection, but the progress is unmistakable.”

The democratic process  “has exposed the rot at the core of the Nicaraguan government. Like his patron in Caracas and his mentors in Havana, the Ortega government has stayed in power by rigging elections, intimidating critics, and censoring the media.” (Emphasis added.)

The Cuban-Venezuelan-Nicaraguan model of socialism, dictatorship, corruption, and gross human rights violations has proved to be a complete and total failure. It has caused the suffering of millions of people. (Emphasis added.)

“We cannot allow the last, few surviving authoritarians to drag down the hemisphere. As neighbors, the United States and all the nations of Latin America are bound together on this journey.”

Senator Rubio’s Remarks[4]

Senator Rubio’s hostile opinions regarding the Cuban government are well known and appear to be a major factor behind the Trump Administration’s policies on Cuba. At this conference, Rubio was brief. He said, “What I care about in Cuba is political freedoms. The ability to have independent political parties, and a free press and to speak your mind, that’s what I support in Cuba.” (Emphasis added.)

About a week later, a Rubio complaint led the State Department to cancel a seminar, titled “Cuba under [Miguel] Díaz-Canel,” because it only was going to feature speakers who support normalization with Cuba. The scheduled speakers were Carlos Saladrigas, president of the Cuba Study Group; Marguerite Jimenez of the Washington Office on Latin America; American University professor William LeoGrande; and Philip Peters of the Cuba Research Center. LeoGrande and Peters also are advisers to Engage Cuba, a bipaartisan coalition which favors lifting the U.S. embargo.

Americas Society Background[5]

The Americas Society “Is the premier forum dedicated to education, debate, and dialogue in the Americas. Its mission is to foster an understanding of the contemporary political, social, and economic issues confronting Latin America, the Caribbean, and Canada, and to increase public awareness and appreciation of the diverse cultural heritage of the Americas and the importance of the inter-American relationship.”

Its Council of the Americas is “the premier international business organization whose members share a common commitment to economic and social development, open markets, the rule of law, and democracy throughout the Western Hemisphere. The Council’s membership consists of leading international companies representing a broad spectrum of sectors, including banking and finance, consulting services, consumer products, energy and mining, manufacturing, media, technology, and transportation.”

=======================================

[1] State Dep’t, Deputy Secretary Sullivan To Deliver Opening Keynote Remarks at the 48th Annual Washington Conference on the Americas (May 7, 2018); Council of the Americas, Washington Conference on the Americas.

[2] U.S. Embassy in Havana, Remarks at 48th Annual Washington Conference on the Americas (May 8, 2018).

[3] Americas Society. Remarks: U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley to the 48th Annual Washington Conference (May 8, 2018).

[4]  Press Release, VIDEO: Rubio Delivers Remarks at Annual Washington Conference on the Americas (May 8, 2018); Torres, State Department postpones event on Cuba after Sen. Rubio protests, Miami Herald (May 17, 2018).

[5] Americas Society, About AS/COS .

 

World Faces Demographic Challenges

“The world has made spectacular progress in every single measure of human well-being,” is the cheery synopsis of the new book, “Enlightenment NOW: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress “ (p. 52)  by Harvard University’s Johnston Family Professor of Psychology, Steven Pinker.

Important aspects of this “spectacular progress,” he says, are world-wide increasing life expectancy, declining maternal mortality and declining birth rates (pp. 53-57, 125-26, 273).

Unless I missed it in the 453-page book, however, Pinker does not grapple with the problems created by lower birth rates coupled with longer life spans. Examples of such problems are seen in Iowa and Minnesota in the U.S. and Brazil, Japan and Cuba.

Iowa [1]

For the Wall Street Journal, Iowa is an example of “a problem playing out in many parts of the Midwest, a region with lower unemployment and higher job-opening rates than the rest of the country. Employers, especially in more rural areas, are finding that there are just too few workers.” In fact, if “every unemployed person in the Midwest was placed into an open job, there would still be more than 180,000 unfilled positions, according to the most recent Labor Department data. The 12-state region is the only area of the country where job openings outnumber out-of-work job seekers.”

This problem is associated with low birth rate coupled with and an outflow of people. A net 1.3 million people living in the Midwest in 2010 had left by the middle of last year, according to census data. The area also attracts fewer immigrants than the rest of the country.”

Minnesota [2]

A similar problem exists in Minnesota. Last month, its unemployment rate dropped to 3.2%, compared with 4.1% nationally. This has made it difficult for “manufacturers, construction firms and repair-service firms to fill job vacancies and replace departing retirees try to meet the need for more employees, some firms, “employer associations and cooperating unions are working jointly to expand the labor pool.”

For the tech sector of the economy, last year Minnesota added 3,500 jobs, up 1.4% to 250,000 and constituting around 8% of the state’s total work force. And there is demand for even more such workers.

Minnesota’s need for immigrants is especially pronounced in the assisted-care industry. In late March the Trump Administration announced that it was ending, effective March 31, 2019, the Deferred Enforcement Departure program for certain Liberians in the U.S. One of the largest communities of Liberians lives in Minnesota and at least 1,000  are members of a local union that provides workers for assisted-care facilities.

Brazil[3]

“Retirement outlays already eat up 43% of Brazil’s national budget, and health care about 7%, while two expenditures that are critical to economic development—education and infrastructure—claim only about 3% each.” Its “social security system’s revenue shortfall widens each year as the worker-to-pensioner ratio shrinks.” This problem is exasperated by decisions last century to grant pensions to millions of peasants and informal workers who hadn’t paid [into the pension system]. . . . Rural workers paid about $3 billion in social-security taxes for the 12 months through September 2017, while rural retirees drew about $36 billion in benefits.”

The solutions are obvious. “They can raise the minimum retirement age, increase the number of years that workers must pay into the system, or reduce payouts. The bad news is that such measures tend to repel voters.”

Other Countries[4]

Brazil is not alone.

Japan has a very low birth rate, very high life expectancy and very low immigration. As a result, it has an aging, declining population, which should lead to declining economic and political importance in the world.

Cuba has the same sort of problems. It has a declining birth rate associated with readily available abortion services, longer life-spans associated with good health care and many younger people leaving the island to find greater economic opportunities elsewhere.

 More generally, “throughout Latin America and Asia, decades of falling birth rates and growing life expectancies have produced more retirees with fewer workers to underwrite their care. For government policy makers, this means challenges as burgeoning pension and health costs leave less money for economic development.”

“The United Nations projects that by 2050, the number of potential workers per retiree in upper-middle-income developing countries such as Brazil will tumble from the 2015 figure of seven to just 2.5.”

“Credit-rating firms are getting anxious. Standard & Poors estimates that unless there are major changes to publicly funded pension and health-care systems, population aging will help drive net government debt in the biggest emerging economies to extraordinary levels—307% of gross domestic product in Brazil, 274% in China, 262% in Russia and 341% in Saudi Arabia by 2050.”

Conclusion

The U.S. now has a fertility rate below the replacement rate. It, therefore, needs foreign immigrants to sustain population growth, especially in the rural parts of states like Iowa and Minnesota.[5]

Such immigration also would provide workers to pay into the Social Security trust fund and thereby help to finance the increasing number of older Americans who now draw benefits from that fund and who face rising costs of medical care.

======================================

[1] Raice & Morath, Iowa’s Employment Problem: Too Many Jobs, Not  Enough People, W.S.J. (Apr. 1, 2018).

[2] St. Anthony, Horizon Roofing lures workers with higher pay, training, as industry embraces apprenticeships, StarTrib. (Mar. 25, 2018); St. Anthony, Twin Cities tech employment grew 1.6 percent last year, but many jobs go unfilled, StarTrib. (April. 2, 2018); Trump to end deportation protection for Liberians, StarTrib (Mar. 27, 2018); Koumpilova, Local Liberians rally to salvage deportation protection program, StarTrib (Mar. 16, 2018);Koumpilova, Trump administration announces end of deportation reprieve for Liberians in Minnesota, elsewhere, StarTrib (Mar. 28, 2018).

[3] Kiernan & Magalhaes, These Developing Countries Are Getting Old Before They Get Rich, with Dire Consequences, W.S.J. (Apr. 2, 2018).

[4] See n.3 supra; these posts to dwkcommentaries: The Importance of a Growing U.S. Population, dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 27, 2017); Projected Cuban Population: Stabilizing and Aging (Sept. 6, 2016); Cuba Addresses Its Declining and Aging Population (Oct. 17, 2016); Cuba Faces Economic Challenges (Dec. 14, 2016); Comment: Cuba’s Economic and Political Challenges for 2017Comment: Cuban Government’s Bleak Economic Assessment for Cuba (Dec. 28, 2017); Economic Problems Bedevil Cuban government and President Raúl Castro (Mar. 23, 2017); Comment: Elderly Cubans Unable To Retire (Mar. 26, 2017); Cubans Want Economic Growth and Opportunity (Mar. 22, 2017).

[5] The Importance of a Growing U.S. Population, dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 27, 2017).

 

Cuba Pays $60 Million of Indebtedness to Major Creditor Nations     

The week of October 15 Cuba paid $60 million of indebtiness to 14 wealthy creditor nations. Last year Cuba paid $40 million to the same group. The total debt is $2.6 billion after the creditors in 2015 forgave $8.5 billion of $11.1 billion upon which Cuba had defaulted through 1986 plus charges.[1]

These creditor nations known as the Club of Paris are the following: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Under the 2015 agreement, Cuba agreed for the first time to grant the creditors equity in development projects, in areas like manufacturing and agriculture, in exchange for a portion of their debt holdings. Many of these restructuring agreements include the establishment of so-called counter-value funds, under which a percentage of debt is discounted in exchange for the potential profits stemming from participation by a creditor country’s firms in Cuba joint-development projects.

The counter-value funds have an estimated combined value of around $750 million of the $2.6 billion owed. Japan, Spain, France and Italy – Cuba’s largest Paris Club creditors – are furthest along in negotiating swaps.

  • For example, a $46 million French project to develop cattle ranching and dairy products in central Camaguey province is ready to sign, according to France’s ambassador to Cuba, Jean-Marie Bruno.
  • Another example is Spain which has a project ready to manufacture cardboard and another aluminium structures for construction capable of resisting earthquakes and hurricanes, both involving Spanish companies.

This access to Cuban development projects gives the European countries and companies an advantage over U.S. companies who are banned by various U.S. laws from such projects.

This payment happened during dire economic times for Cuba due to the political and economic crisis in its ally Venezuela, declines in Cuban exports and tourism due, in part, to the damages caused by Hurricane Irma.

Cuba’s payment in these circumstances showed the importance Cuba attaches to the 2015 agreement with this group of major creditor nations.

==============================================

[1] Reuters, Cash-Strapped Cuba Makes Debt Payment to Major Creditors-Diplomats, N.Y. Times (Oct. 18, 2017); Chow, Cuba Reaches Deal to Pay $2.6 Billion in Arrears to Paris Club, W.S.J. (Dec. 12, 2015); Paris Club, Agreement on the Debt Between Cuba and the Group of Creditors of Cuba (Dec. 12, 2015).