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

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

Tillerson’s Responses Regarding Cuba

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

Criticism of U.S.-Cuba Law Enforcement Agreement 

The head of New Jersey’s state police has criticized the two countries’ law enforcement agreement of January 16, 2017, because, he says, he has read the agreement and it does not require Cuba to extradite Joanne Chesimard (a/k/a Assata Shakur) to the U.S.[1]

After reviewing what we know about this woman, we will examine the police statement and provide commentary.

Chesimard/ Shakur

In the 1960s-1970s Chesimard, a U.S. citizen, was a member of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army in the U.S. In 1977 she was convicted in New Jersey state court for aiding and abetting first-degree murder, assault and battery of a police officer (New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster), assault with a dangerous weapon, assault with intent to kill, illegal possession of a weapon, and armed robbery during a gunfight on the New Jersey Turnpike in 1973.

She was sentenced to life in New Jersey state prison, but in 1979 she escaped and in 1984 traveled to Cuba. At some time thereafter President Fidel Castro granted her asylum, and she has been living there under the name Assata Shakur. She is now around 70 years old. The FBI has listed her as one of its “Most Wanted” and offered a reward of $1 million for her apprehension; the New Jersey Attorney General has offered to match that reward.

Since at least 1997 there have been various unsuccessful attempts by the U.S. government and others to obtain her extradition to the U.S.

Statement by New Jersey State Police Superintendent

The Superintendent Rick Fuentes’ January 18 statement reads as follows:

  • “On Monday, January 16, 2017, the White House signed a law enforcement pact with the government of Cuba that included the sharing of national security information on matters related to fighting terrorism and the scourge of the international narcotics trade. I have read this pact with great interest, as any aspect of the continued negotiations to normalize relations with Cuba impacts our continued advocacy to seek the return of Joanne Chesimard. Chesimard executed New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster in 1973 and fled to Cuba after escaping a New Jersey prison in 1979. She is most prominent among a rogue’s gallery of cop killers and domestic terrorists that have been given sanctuary by the Castro regime these past thirty years.”
  • With a continued sense of bewilderment and confusion not uncommon to the course of these negotiations, the pact does not address the return of: Joanne Chesimard; Victor Manuel Gerena, a member of Los Macheteros who was removed from the FBI Top Ten list one month ago; Charlie Hill, a member of the Republic of New Afrika, alleged to have killed a New Mexico state trooper in 1971; or, William Guillermo Morales, the murderous bomb-maker for the Puerto Rican separatist group, FALN.”
  • “Their omission from this agreement and from the negotiations-at-large is so glaring as to signal a clear intent by the Obama Administration to ignore these fugitives. By burning the last bridge to this Administration’s opportunity to gain their negotiated return, families who have long suffered the consequences of their terrorist acts and law enforcement everywhere in this country have been shown the back of the hand. An ignominious torch has been passed to the next president.”
  • “We are not deterred. I can say, unequivocally, that Governor Chris Christie, State Attorney General Chris Porrino and I remain resolute in our efforts to follow every political course leading to the return of Joanne Chesimard and the other remaining terrorist fugitives. We approach the next presidential administration with a renewed sense of optimism and moral superiority that justice will prevail.”

Comments

The Superintendent’s statements regarding Chesimard/Shakur are believed to be basically correct, and it is most understandable that the New Jersey State Police want her extradited to the U.S. and returned to New Jersey state prison.

The Superintendent says he has read the recent MOU in question and that it does not require Cuba to make that extradition. I have not been able to locate that MOU so cannot independently verify the validity of his statement. But for present purposes I will assume that his statement about the MOU is basically correct.

I assume, on the other hand, that the MOU does not contain a U.S. agreement to not continue to seek her extradition or a Cuban statement or promise not to extradite her. If it had, I am confident that the Superintendent would have so stated and raised the ante for his protest.

He also asserts that the subject of this requested extradition has not been raised by the U.S. in “the negotiations-at-large.” Although I have not been personally involved in those negotiations, I believe this to be a false statement. As noted in earlier posts, public reports indicate that the two countries’ respective requests for extraditions of criminals or suspects, which I believe includes the U.S. request regarding Chesimard/Shakur, have been the subjects of several such bilateral negotiating sessions since December 17, 2014.

As a result, I conclude that the parties have not been able to come to an agreement about such extraditions or about a judicial procedure for resolving any such disputes. Therefore, there apparently was no mention of the subject in the MOU in question.

Moreover, the Superintendent also fails to recognize a major legal issue regarding the requested Chesimard/Shakur extradition because of an extradition treaty between the two countries. Therefore, we will look at that treaty and the issue it raises regarding this possible extradition.

U.S.-Cuba Extradition Treaty.

As explained in an earlier post,[2] on March 2, 1905, the two countries entered into such a treaty, the “Treaty between the United States and Cuba for the mutual extradition of fugitives from justice.” Under this treaty, as amended, each country shall grant extradition of persons covered by Article I for crimes covered by Article II, as amended and expanded by Articles I and II of the Additional Extradition Treaty between the parties, which entered into force on June 18, 1926.

The persons covered by Article I are “persons who, having been charged as principals, accomplices or accessories with or convicted of any crimes or offenses specified in the following article, and committed within the jurisdiction of one of the high contracting parties, shall seek an asylum or be found within the territories of the other: Provided that this shall only be done upon such evidence of criminality as, according to the laws of the place where the fugitive or person so charged shall be found, would justify his or her apprehension and commitment for trial if the crime or offense had been there committed.” This obviously covers Chesimard/Shakur, who does not fall within the exception under Article V of the treaty, “Neither of the contracting parties shall be bound to deliver up its own citizens under the stipulations of this Treaty,” unless she has been granted Cuban citizenship.

The long list of crimes covered by Article II, as amended, includes (1) “Murder, comprehending the offenses expressed in the Penal Code of Cuba as assassination, parricide, infanticide and poisoning; manslaughter, when voluntary; the attempt to commit any of these crimes.” This obviously covers the requested extradition discussed here.

Under Article VI of the original treaty, however, the requested country (Here, Cuba) is not obligated to extradite someone when the offense is of “a political character.” The exact language of this provision states, “A fugitive criminal shall not be surrendered if the offense in respect of which his surrender is demanded be of a political character, or if it is proved that the requisition for his surrender has, in fact, been made with a view to try or punish him for an offense of a political character.” (Emphasis added.)

The only limitation on this exception is in Article VI itself, which states, “An attempt against the life of the head of a foreign government or against that of any member of his family when such attempt comprises the act either of murder, assassination, or poisoning, shall not be considered a political offense or an act connected with such an offense.” This exception, however, is not applicable to the case under consideration here.

Moreover, Article VI states, “If any question shall arise as to whether a case comes within the provisions of this article [VI], the decision of the authorities of the government on which the demand for surrender is made, or which may have granted the extradition shall be final. (emphasis added.) This exception seems to cover Chesimard/Shakur as discussed next.

The Treaty Issue Regarding Chesimard/Shakur

After fleeing to Cuba in 1984, at date unknown the Cuban government apparently granted her political asylum and perhaps Cuban citizenship. Assuming that to be the case, that appears to negate Cuba’s obligation under the treaty to extradite her to the U.S.

It is not known whether the Cuban government has the legal authority to revoke that grant of asylum (and of citizenship?) and whether it would do so in this case. However, after a bilateral negotiation session in Washington, D.C. in February 2015 Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s lead diplomat for these negotiations, said the issue of extraditing people between Cuba and the U.S. had been discussed many times in the past and that the two countries had signed a treaty on the topic in 1906 which has a clause such that it would not apply in cases involving political activities. “Therefore, Cuba has legitimately given political asylum to a small group of U.S. citizens, because we have reason to believe that they deserve this and that is how far we’ve gone. And when one grants political asylum, then you cannot get into these types of discussions.” She added that after the Cuban Revolution of 1959 the U.S. had not honored the treaty when Cuba asked the U.S. to extradite “members of the Cuban dictatorship who were responsible for terrible crimes.”[3]

In June 2016, the two countries held another negotiating session in Havana focused on counterterrorism cooperation, the subject of the January 16, 2017, MOU. Outsiders speculated that the meeting may have included discussions about a possible high-profile prisoner swap: U.S.-jailed Cuban spy Ana Belén Montes in exchange for Chesimard/Shakur). The State Department, however, has refused to confirm that such an exchange was being discussed. Instead the Department merely stated that the U.S. “continues to seek the return by Cuba of fugitives from US justice” and that the State Department “brings out the cases of fugitives to the Cuban Government to be settled and will continue to do so at every appropriate opportunity.” [4]

Therefore, unless there is some error in my analysis, the strong desire by many in New Jersey and elsewhere in the U.S. for this extradition appears to be a lost cause unless the Cuban government has the authority under its own laws to revoke the grant of asylum (and citizenship?) and chooses to exercise it. Or the Cuban government just decides to extradite her without changing her asylee or citizenship status.

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[1] Assoc. Press, With No Deal on Convicted Killer, Police Slam US-Cuba Pact, N.Y. Times (Jan. 20, 2017),‘Goodbye, Obama! NJ State Police slams president on the way out (Jan. 18?, 2017); New Jersey State Police, Colonel Rick Fuentes’ Response to the Recently Signed U.S./Cuban Law Enforcement Pact (Jan. 18?, 2017).

[2] Issues Regarding Cuba and U.S. Extradition of the Other’s Fugitives, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 24, 2015). Moreover, the “political offense” provision of the U.S.-Cuba treaty is not sui generis, but in fact is a common provision in other U.S. extradition treaties. (Ibid.; Extradition Has Become a Hot Topic for the United States, dwkcommentaries.com (July 25, 2016).

[3] U.S. and Cuba Hold Productive Second Round of Negotiations, dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 6, 2015).

[4] U.S. and Cuba Discuss Counterterrorism Cooperation, dwkcommentaries.com (June 10, 2016).

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

Rex Tillerson
Rex Tillerson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

U.S. and Cuba Discuss Counterterrorism Cooperation

On June 8, U.S. and Cuba officials met in Havana to conduct their first Counterterrorism Technical Exchange. The U.S. delegation included representatives of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and U.S. Department of State. The Cuban delegation was from the Ministries of the Interior and Foreign Affairs, the Attorney General’s Office and General Customs of the Republic.[1]

Before the meeting the Department of State said, “Coordination and cooperation on counterterrorism has been one of several important topics discussed in law enforcement dialogues between the United States and Cuba. We welcome the opportunity to bring together technical experts to discuss this topic of common interest.”

Afterwards, the Cuban Foreign Ministry merely said that the meeting was conducted with “respect and professionalism” and that “both parties agreed on the importance of progress in cooperation in this sphere and agreed to continue the meetings of technicians on the topic.”

Outsiders speculated that the meeting may have included discussions about a possible high-profile prisoner swap: U.S.-jailed Cuban spy Ana Belén Montes in exchange for longtime American fugitive in Cuba, Joanne Chesimard (n/k/a Assata Shakur). The State Department, however, has refused to confirm that such an exchange was being discussed. Instead the Department merely stated that the U.S. “continues to seek the return of Cuba of fugitives from US justice” and that the State Department “brings out the cases of fugitives to the Cuban Government to be settled and will continue to do so at every appropriate opportunity.”[2]

Montes on September 21, 2001 (10 days after 9/11), was arrested and subsequently charged with conspiracy to commit espionage for the Cuban government during the 16 years she worked as an analyst for the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency. The charges also stated she had revealed the identities of four U.S. secret agents. Montes eventually pleaded guilty to spying, and in October 2002 she was sentenced to a 25-year prison term followed by five years’ probation. Recently an international campaign has been started to seek her release from U.S. prison.

Chesimard/Shakur, as discussed in a prior post, was convicted in a New Jersey state court for participation in the murder a state trooper in 1973 and sentenced to life imprisonment, but in 1979 broke out of a New Jersey prison and in 1984 fled to Cuba, where she was granted political asylum and perhaps Cuban citizenship.

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[1] Dep’t of State, United States and Cuba To Hold first Counterterrorism Technical Exchange in Havana (June 7, 2016); Minrex, Cuban and U.S. officials discuss counterterrorism, Granma (June 9, 2016).

[2] Ayuso, United States and Cuba speak of terrorism, ElPais (June 9, 2016); Torres, Speculation rises over possible exchange of Cuba spy for American fugitive, InCubaToday (June 8, 2016); Ana Montes, Wikipedia; Latell, New revelations about Cuban spy Ana Montes, Miami Herald (Aug. 2, 2014); Whitney, Cuba, War and Ana Belen Montes, counterpunch (Feb. 8, 2016).

Seventh Summit of the Americas Is Underway in Panama

Summit logoThe Seventh Summit of the Americas will take place in Panama City, Panama on April 10 and 11. Such Summits are institutionalized gatherings of heads of state and government of the member states of the Western Hemisphere where leaders discuss common policy issues, affirm shared values and commit to concerted actions at the national and regional level to address continuing and new challenges faced by countries in the Americas. [1]

In the meantime, preliminary Summit events are underway while planning for the meetings of heads of state and government are nearly complete.

This post will review the plans for this Summit by the organizers and then discuss Summit developments involving the U.S., Cuba and Venezuela. [2]

 The Summit Organizers’ Plan

The Summit’s central theme is “Prosperity with Equity: The Challenge of Cooperation in the Americas” with several sub-themes, including education, health, energy, environment, migration, security, citizen participation and democratic governance. These issues will be discussed by 35 heads of state and government. In addition to these officials, the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, will attend.

The priority of the organizers in Panama is to work on a comprehensive document titled “Mandates for Action”, which will contain agreements from all countries involved on topics related to health, education, security, migration, environment, energy, democratic governance and citizen participation.

The Summit’s main events will take place in the ATLAPA Convention Center in central Panama City as shown in the photograph below.

PanamaCtr

The Summit also will host the four following forums:

  • Civil Society Forum will seek to promote governments’ consultation and coordination, dialogue and exchange with civil society. It also will offer input and recommendations for the consideration of the participating States.
  • The Youth Forum will provide young entrepreneurs an opportunity to offer their recommendations to the participating States.
  • The Business Forum will explore the trade and investment opportunities and public-private sector cooperation.
  • The University Presidents’ Forum will focus on academic mobility, the role of innovation and technology in enhancing research skills and college education for the region; and the importance of scholarly research on entrepreneurship and sustainable economic development.

 U.S. Plans for the Summit

 A prior post reviewed some of the U.S preparations for the Summit. In addition, the U.S. Department of State asserts that this Summit “is an historic opportunity to deepen partnerships, collaborate on shared challenges, and make tangible commitments to securing a brighter future for all of the people of the Americas. . . . The [U.S.] is working closely with partners throughout the Americas to ensure the 2015 Summit upholds our common commitment to inclusive economic development, democracy, and human rights, while providing robust engagement among government leaders, civil society groups, and regional business communities.”

The U.S. especially has been calling for the participation of Cuban civil society in the Summit. Indeed, in his December 17th announcement of the rapprochement with Cuba, President Obama said, “we are prepared to have Cuba join the other nations of the hemisphere at the Summit. . . . But we will insist that civil society join us so that citizens, not just leaders, are shaping our future.”

Interestingly I have not seen any news or information about the U.S. inviting U.S. civil society, youth, business or university presidents to participate in the Summit.

The U.S. was hoping that by the time of the Summit, the U.S. and Cuba would have re-established normal diplomatic relations and that this would be an occasion for the two countries to enjoy receiving congratulations from the other countries in the Americas.

The resumption of normal relations, however, has not yet happened, and now there are many countries demonstrably upset over President Obama’s executive order of March 9th imposing sanctions on seven Venezuelans. This week at Venezuela’s invitation, a senior Department of State official went to Venezuela to meet with the country’s foreign minister.

The Washington Post this week published an editorial criticizing the U.S. opening to Cuba. It said there have been no benefits to the U.S. to date while Cuba has gained. President Castro will attend the Summit. Soon the U.S. probably will rescind its designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” in disregard of Cuba’s alleged “continued support for Colombia’s terrorist groups, its illegal arms trading with North Korea and the sanctuary it provides American criminal JoAnne Chesimard.” In addition, says the editorial, Cuba is joining Venezuela in unjustifiably attacking the U.S. over President Obama’s executive order imposing sanctions on seven Venezuelans.

Cuba’s Plans for the Summit

According to the Cuban press, the country has been preparing for full participation in the Summit. The Cuban Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, Rodrigo Malmierca, emphasized that over 100 representatives of Cuban civil society, including youth, academics, intellectuals, entrepreneurs and coop leaders would be going to the Summit. They will show the possibilities that Cuba provides for the development of international economic relations from the adoption of Law 118 Foreign Investment and Development Special Zone Mariel (ZEDM).

On Tuesday pro-government representatives of Cuban civil society in Panama issued a statement denouncing the presence at the Summit of other Cubans who allegedly were “mercenaries paid by the historic enemies of our nation,” i.e., the U.S. Such Cubans, the pro-government representatives said, “make up a tiny ‘opposition’ manufactured from abroad, lacking any legitimacy or decorum. Several of its members are publicly linked to recognized terrorists who have caused infinite pain to the Cuban people.”

The statement asserted, “It is offensive that such people, who have made betraying the homeland a well-paid profession and shamefully usurp the name of the country that they slander and offend day after day, are participating in these forums. For the dignified and sovereign Cuba that has withstood more than five decades of blockade and harassment, for the overwhelming majority of Cubans, for us, we who have come to Panama with modesty and a spirit of cooperation to share experiences of our social development, it is unacceptable that there are people of such low moral character here.”

The next day, Wednesday, during one of the forums, about 100 supporters of Cuba’s government heckled Cuban dissidents by calling them “imperialist” and “mercenaries” Organizers appealed for calm during the hour-long frenzied scene. The pro-government groups joined by pro-government groups from Venezuela angrily marched out, saying they wouldn’t attend the proceedings in the presence of individuals they accuse of trying to destabilize Cuba’s government.

From Havana, Cuban Vice-President (and reputed future president) Miguel Diaz-Canel, stated, “Nobody could think that in a process of re-establishing relations, which we’re trying to move forward on with the [U.S.], Cuban support for Venezuela could be made conditional. If they attack Venezuela, they’re attacking Cuba. And Cuba will always be on Venezuela’s side above all things.”

A Cuban online newspaper, CubaDebate, has a journalist in Panama to provide minute-by-minute tweets about the Summit.

Venezuela’s Plans for the Summit

Venezuela plans to make a major effort to obtain the Summit’s condemnation of President Obama’s executive order imposing sanctions on seven Venezuelans. For example, President Maduro will bring a petition against the executive order that has been signed by over nine million of his people. A Caracas pollster said, “Maduro is taking advantage of Obama’s order. It’s an extreme campaign that distracts from the internal problems of the country. You just want your people in the street, proselytizing and campaigning.”

In addition, Maduro’s political allies are sending 825 activists to the Summit to protest Obama and support Maduro.”There will be marches, caravans and anti-imperialist stands,” said Rafael Uzcategui, secretary general of the ruling Fatherland for All, who said that Nicaragua, a close ally of Chavez, will send a delegation with a similar purpose.

Others plan to focus on Venezuela’s alleged human rights violations. In recent weeks many countries and human rights organizations have criticized Venezuela’s imprisonment of political dissidents. This includes the U.N., the European Parliament, the governments of the U.S., Spain, Canada and Colombia and the Socialist International, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, among others.

Now 21 Latin American presidents have issued a statement to denounce the “democratic alteration” of Venezuela and to advocate for the release of prisoners and the restoration of political autonomy. Their proposed Declaration of Panama asks the Summit of the Americas to seek a solution to the Venezuelan crisis “that respects the constitutional principles and international standards.” The signers of this statement include Colombians Andres Pastrana, Alvaro Uribe and Belisario Betancur; Costa Ricans Laura Chinchilla, Rafael Calderon, Miguel Angel Rodriguez and Luis Alberto Monge; Chilean Sebastián Piñera ; and Spain’s José María Aznar.

In addition, this week 28 human rights organizations across the continent (including: Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Transparency International and the International Commission of Jurists) issued a statement requiring cessation of “harassment against human rights defenders of human rights ” and called on the governments participating in the Summit of the Americas” to demand the government of Nicolas Maduro to ensure that the defenders and human rights defenders can carry out their work without fear of reprisal.”

A group of Venezuelan human rights organizations will be going to Panama to present their complaints about human rights in their country. President Maduro’s response is to call them “CIA stooges.”

Conclusion

New York Times editorial has urged U.S. and Cuban government officials at the Summit to “not ignore” the Cuban civil society representatives, “but rather work to amplify their voices. They have struggled for years to be heard in their own country, where those critical of the Communist system have faced repression.” The Times also notes that some Cubans “who cannot afford a trip to Panama or are restricted from traveling have pledged to hold a parallel meeting in Cuba. . . . Increasingly, the [Cuban] government will have to reckon with the fact that many of the dissidents’ aspirations are shared by most Cubans.”

Now we will have to see what actually happens at the rest of the Summit.

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[1] Prior Summits were held in Miami, Florida, USA (I, 1994); Santiago, Chile (II, 1998); Quebec City, Canada (III, 2001); Mar del Plata, Argentina (IV, 2005); Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago (V, 2009); and Cartagena, Colombia (VI 2012). This process also held a Summit on Sustainable Development in Santa Cruz, Bolivia in 1996 and a Special Summit in Monterey, Mexico in 2004.

[2] In addition to information from the Summit’s website, this post is based upon the following: Vyas, Venezuela’s Maduro Takes Petition Against U.S. Sanctions to Summit of the Americas, W.S.J. (April 8, 2015); Sanchez, Senior U.S. official in Venezuela for meetings with Maduro, Wash. Post (April 8, 2015); Goodman & Rodriguez, Cuban dissidents heckled at Americas Summit, Wash. Post (April 8, 2015); Statement by the Cuban delegation to the parallel forums of the Summit of the Americas, Granma (April 7, 2015); Gómez, Given the presence of mercenaries, Cuban delegation abandons Civil Society Forum, Granma (April 8, 2015); Editorial, Mr. Obama’s opportunity in Panama, Wash. Post (April 7, 2015); Neuman, In a Surprise, a Top Kerry Adviser Visits Venezuela, N.Y. Times (April 8, 2015); Reuters, Defying U.S., Cuba Stands by Venezuela on Eve of Regional Summit, N.Y. Times (April 8, 2015); Meza, US seeks to open a channel for dialogue with the government of Maduro, El Pais (April 9, 2015).