More U.S. Actions Against Cuba

Last week the U.S. announced three more actions against Cuba: (1) sanctions on more Venezuelan vessels and entities transporting oil to Cuba; (2) U.S. travel restrictions on Raúl Castro and family; and (3) urging other countries to join the U.S. campaign against Cuba’s foreign medical mission program. Here are details about those U.S. actions followed by this blogger’s reactions to them.

Venezuelan Entities and Vessels Transporting Oil to Cuba [1]

On September 24, the U.S. “designated four companies that operate in Venezuela’s oil sector as sanctioned, and identified as blocked property four vessels associated with this activity.”

“This action further targets Venezuela’s oil sector and the mechanisms used to transport oil to Nicolás Maduro’s Cuban benefactors, who continue to prop up the former regime.  These sanctions are a follow-on to the designations and identifications announced on April 5 and 12 that targeted entities and vessels known to be involved in the transportation of crude oil from Venezuela to Cuba.”

“With this action, the sanctioned entities will be denied access to the U.S. financial system.  In addition, a freeze will be placed on these entities’ U.S. assets.”

In a speech to the U.N. General Assembly on September 28,  Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez had these words about this and prior U.S. actions inhibiting or preventing such oil shipments.  Only “a few months ago the US government has started to implement, criminal, non-conventional measures to prevent fuel shipments from arriving to our country from different markets, by resorting to threats and persecution against the companies that transport fuel, flag States, States of registration as well as shipping and insurance companies. As a result of that, we have been facing severe difficulties to ensure the supply of the fuel that the everyday-life of the country demands; and we’ve been forced to adopt temporary emergency measures that could only be applied in a well-organized country, with a united and fraternal people that is ready to defend itself from foreign aggressions and preserve the social justice that has been achieved.” [2]

Travel Restrictions on Raúl Castro [3]

On September 26, the U.S. State Department announced that it “is publicly designating Raul Modesto Castro Ruz, the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party and General of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces, under Section 7031(c) of the FY 2019 Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, due to his involvement in gross violations of human rights.  Section 7031(c) provides that, in cases where the Secretary of State has credible information that foreign government officials have been involved in significant corruption or a gross violation of human rights, those individuals and their immediate family members are ineligible for entry into the United States.”

“As First Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party, Raul Castro oversees a system that arbitrarily detains thousands of Cubans and currently holds more than 100 political prisoners.  As General of Cuba’s Armed Forces, Castro is responsible for Cuba’s actions to prop up the former Maduro regime in Venezuela through violence, intimidation, and repression.  In concert with Maduro’s military and intelligence officers, members of the Cuban security forces have been involved in gross human rights violations and abuses in Venezuela, including torture.  Castro is complicit in undermining Venezuela’s democracy and triggering the hemisphere’s largest humanitarian crisis, forcing 15 percent of the Venezuelan population to flee the country and precipitating a food shortage and health crisis of unprecedented scale in this region.”

“In addition to the public designation of Raul Castro, the Department is also publicly designating his children, Alejandro Castro Espin, Deborah Castro Espin, Mariela Castro Espin, and Nilsa Castro Espin.”

Cuba immediately responded to this action in remarks by Foreign Minister Rodriguez in his previously mentioned address to the U.N. General Assembly. He said this action was based on “gross slanders” and “is void of any practical effect, aimed at offending Cuba’s dignity and the feelings of our people. This is nothing but vote-catching leftovers that are being tossed away to the Cuban-American extreme right. . . . the open and offensive falsehoods that are being used in an attempt to justify them, which we strongly reject, are a reflection of the baseness and rottenness resorted to by this administration, which is drowning in a sea of corruption, lies and immorality.”

More generally the Foreign Minister said that the tightening of US sanctions against Havana reflects the “rot” that Washington goes to asphyxiate the Island and that the “criminal and unconventional measures” of the Trump administration against Cuba are “electoral crumbs” intended for “the Cuban-American extreme right” before the 2020 elections.

U.S. Call for Reports of Alleged Abuses of Cuban Medical Missionaries [4]

Also on September 26, this at the U.N.’s New York Foreign Press Center, the U.S. hosted a briefing on alleged abuses in Cuba’s foreign medical mission program that was moderated by Morgan Ortagus, State Department Spokesperson. In the Department’s background for this event, it alleged, “These programs employ up to 50,000 healthcare professionals in more than 60 countries, and are a major source of income for the Cuban regime. However, some former participants describe coercion, non-payment of wages, withholding of their passports, and restrictions on their movement. The U.S. State Department has documented indicators of human trafficking in Cuba’s overseas medical missions each year since the 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP Report), including in the 2019 TIP Report and we remain deeply concerned about these abuses.”

Carrie Filipetti, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs,  said that two Cuban doctors, Dr. Tatiana Carballo, and Dr. Ramona Matos, would discuss their experience in this Cuban program, which allegedly “is not intended to provide support to countries in need, but rather as a manipulative corruption scheme intended to boost revenue for the Cuban regime, all under the guise of humanitarian assistance.” Filipetti further alleged, “The Cuban Government collected revenue for each professional services and paid the worker a mere fraction of the revenue, almost all of which was deposited in a bank account in Cuba, to which they only had access upon completion of their mission and return to Cuba; . . . [The Cuban government] “collected $7.2 billion in a single year from the export of professional services through [this program] and, while those services were ongoing, refused to provide even a living wage to those who were participating in it; that doctors are coerced into the labor program and deprived of their rights and pay while separated from their families in Cuba; [that] they are given no rights to travel; they are forced under Cuban surveillance; and they see retaliatory measures taken against their families should they choose to speak out.”

The Deputy Assistant Secretary then contended that these alleged practices constituted illegal “labor trafficking.” She hoped that this presentation will “inspire countries who have participated in the Cuban doctors program to condition any future participation on direct payments to the doctors and other fair labor practices.  It is clear that anyone who hears these stories and continues to engage with the Cuban doctors program without insisting on fair labor practices is complicit in these crimes.”

Assistant Administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean, John Barsa, urged “independent journalists, social media, bloggers, inside Cuba and outside Cuba, to try to bring light to this” Cuban program and “civil society groups to support and advocate for” the Cuban professionals.

The U.S. Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States (OAS), Carlos Trujillo, asked for other countries in Latin America to stop participating in the Cuban medical mission program.

John C. Richard, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large, Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, argued that the Cuban medical mission program was engaging in illegal forced labor as asserted in the U.S. annual reports on that general topic. He also pleaded for host country governments and civil society to examine the practices in Cuba’s medical missions in their countries and ensure the healthcare professionals’ rights are protected.

Dr. Tatianna Carballo, who had worked in Cuba’s medical missions program in Venezuela for seven years and in Brazil when she left the program. She graduated from free Cuban medical education in 1994. In Venezuela, she and other Cuban doctors were under  “military supervision” while being paid only 10 to 15% of the monies paid by Venezuela with the balance sent to accounts in Cuba when and if they returned. But if they did not return, as Dr. Carbello did not, the money in the Cuban account was seized by the government.

In Brazil, she was paid only 20% of the fees paid by Brazil, only some of which was paid directly.

Dr. Ramona Matos was in the program in Bolivia for one month in 2008, where her Cuban passport was seized by a Cuban agent upon arrival in that country. . . where she was assigned to a community at high altitude with attendant medical complications and where she was forced  to prepare false patient records. In 2013 she was in the mission in Brazil, which she later left and forfeited monies in an account in Cuba. Now she is in the U.S. under a U.S. visa under its Cuban medical professional parole system, which no longer is in effect.

Dr. Rusela Sarabia, another Cuban doctor who was in the Venezuela mission, 2011-2014, but did not make a presentation, said in the Q&A session, that she was forced by Cuban agents to tell every patient to support Maduro in the elections and to submit false reports about the number of patients who had voted for Maduro.

Yet another Cuban doctor who did not make a presentation, Dr. Fidel Cruz, but in the Q&A session added that after he left the program, one of his sons, who is a doctor in Cuba could not get a job as a doctor and has to work as an exterminator while his other son, also a doctor, was assigned to work as a doctor in a Cuban small town far from his parents’ home. The father sees his sons’ predicaments as ways to try to silence the father.

Cuba also immediately responded to this U.S. action. Foreign Minister Rodriguez in his previously mentioned address to the U.N. General Assembly said that the “international medical cooperation programs that Cuba shares with tens of developing countries, which are designed the assist  the neediest communities, based on a feeling of solidarity and the free and voluntary will of hundreds of thousands of Cuban professionals, which are being implemented according to the  cooperative agreements that have been signed with the governments of those countries.  They have enjoyed, for many years now, the recognition of the international community, the UN and the World Health Organization for being the best example of   South-South Cooperation.”

Reactions

Sanctions Against Certain Venezuelan Entities and Vessels. According to Reuters, Venezuela’s oil company PDVSA stated on September 25 (the day before the previously mentioned  U.S. announcement) that it intends to increase crude oil shipments to Cuba to help mitigate Cuba’s current fuel shortage. This will involve nine vessels, two of which scheduled to depart from Venezuela this week.[5]

Although this blogger is unable to confirm or deny this purported Venezuelan announcement, this U.S. effort to hamper, if not eliminate, such shipments is clearly designed to harm the Cuban people and economy and is a major factor in Cuba’s current energy and economic difficulties. Therefore, this U.S. sanction is exceedingly unfortunate and should be terminated ASAP.

Castro Travel Ban. When Castro was Cuba’s President, he came to the U.N. General Assembly in New York City, the last time in 2015. Presumably he could still do so under the U.S.-UN Headquarters Agreement unless it does not cover former officials of another country. But to this blogger, it appears very unlikely that Castro has any intent or desire to come to the U.S.

Thus, this ban against him is just a U.S. propaganda ploy. However, this blogger has no knowledge if this U.S. action would adversely affect his four children.

U.S. Campaign Against Cuba’s Foreign Medical Mission Program. As argued in a previous post, the U.S. strenuous and repeated arguments against the Cuban program are based upon the faulty legal premise that the program is engaged in illegal forced labor. The U.S. also ignores the obvious financial incentive for Cuban doctors to leave Cuba and come to the U.S. where they potentially could earn significantly more money.

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[1] State Dep’t, United States Takes Actions Against Entities and Vessels Operating in Venezuela’s Oil Sector (Sept. 24, 2019);Treasury Dep’t, Treasury Further Targets Entities and Vessels Moving Venezuelan Oil to Cuba (Sept. 24, 2019).

[2] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Statement by H.E. Mr. Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cuba, at the General Assembly Debate of the Seventy fourth Session of the United Nations General Assembly, September 28, 2019. New York.

[3] State Dep’t, Public Designation of Raul Castro, Due to Involvement in Gross Violations of Human Rights (Sept. 26, 2019); Reuters, U.S. issues travel ban for Cuba’s Castro over human rights accusations, support for Venezuela’s Maduro (Sept.26, 2019); Assoc. Press, US Hits Cuba’s Raul Castro, Family with Travel Ban, N.Y. Times (Sept. 26, 2019); The US veto on Raúl Castro seeks to ‘outrage the dignity of Cuba,’ says Bruno Rodriguez, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 28, 2019).

[4] State Dept, A Call to Action: First-Hand Accounts of Abuses in Cuba’s Overseas  Medical Missions (Sept. 26, 2019); Reuters, U.S. says Cuban medical missions are trafficking doctors (Sept. 26, 2019),.

[5] Reuters, Venezuela doubles down on oil exports to Cuba despite U.S. sanctions—sources (Sept. 25, 2019).

 

More Reasons To Believe There Is a Dim Future for U.S.-Cuba Normalization   

Tomorrow the new Republican-controlled Congress convenes with the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump coming on January 20, and on their agendas is “unraveling some of the most significant policy prescriptions put forward by the Obama administration.”[1]

Most of this speculation about upcoming changes in national policies does not include cancelling Obama’s policy of normalization of relations with Cuba. But as prior posts have indicated, President-Elect Trump’s most recent statements have criticized that policy as have Vice President-Elect Mike Pence and some of the appointees to the transition team and the new administration, especially Reince Priebus, the new White House Chief of Staff; Cuban-American Mauricio Claver-Carone, a transition team member for the Department of the Treasury; Mike Pompeo, a Congressman from Kansas and the nominee for Director of the CIA; and General Michael Flynn, the proposed White House National Security Advisor. [2]

In addition, three more Cuban-Americans have been appointed to the transition team, two of whom have been opposed to such normalization. They are (1) Yleem Poblete, who has been assigned to the transition team for the National Security Council; (2) John Barsa, who will work with the Homeland Security team; and (3) Carlos E. Díaz-Rosillo, who will work on policy implementation. [3] Here is a preliminary examination of these appointees.

Yleem Poblete.

For nearly two decades Yleem Poblete has advised members of Congress on a wide variety of global issues as a member and director of the staff of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. She also co-leads a consulting group, The Poblete Analysis Group, with her husband, also a Cuban-American, Jason Poblete. She also has served as an assistant professor and researcher for the director of the Institute of Inter-American Studies at the University of Miami.[4]

She and her husband have written articles critical of President Obama’s pursuit of normalization with Cuba. They argued that Cuba was a ‘state sponsor of terrorism,” a designation rescinded by the State Department in May 2015; that the re-opening of the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C. increased the risk of Cuban spying on the U.S.; and that Cuba was a “pariah state [that] has earned every punitive measure imposed by the U.S.;” it “helped create and grow the Western Hemisphere drugs for arms network;” its “[h]ostile acts carried out by Havana’s spy recruits in the U.S. government are linked to American deaths;” it “also continues to collaborate with fellow rogues such as Iran;” it “harbors terrorists, as well as murderers and other dangerous fugitives of U.S. justice.”[5]

After the death of Fidel Castro last November she tweeted, “Lost in talk of #castrodeath is #cuba regime murder of Americans, safe haven 4 terrorists & US fugitives, #Iran ties, arms to #NorthKorea.”

John Barsa

Barsa was the first director of the Department of Homeland Security Public Liaison Office, where he worked with the Department’s Secretaries Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff. Barsa also has experience with high-tech companies and was an assistant to Florida Republican Congressman, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a Cuban-American known for his opposition to normalization. After Fidel Castro’s death, Barsa said, ““The contrast between Obama’s and Trump’s statements on the death of Fidel Castro is refreshing. MAKE CUBA GREAT AGAIN.” Barsa is a graduate in International Relations from the International University of Florida.[6]

Diaz-Rosillo.

According to his Harvard University biography, Diaz-Rosillo is a lecturer on government at Harvard University; Allston Burr Assistant Dean of Harvard College, Dunster House; and director of transfer advising at Harvard College. His research focuses on the American presidency, campaigns and elections, political leadership, public policy, and comparative chief executive politics. His work examines the different instruments of power that chief executives have at their disposal to affect policy. He holds undergraduate degrees summa cum laude in international relations (BA) and civil engineering (BSCE) from Tufts University, as well as graduate degrees in public policy (MPP) and government (AM, PhD) from Harvard University.[7]

Internet research did not uncover any statements by him about Cuba.

Conclusion

As a prior post stated, there regrettably are grounds for believing there is a dim future for continuation of normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations. Those of us in the U.S. who believe that this is an erroneous move need to continue to advocate for normalization and to share that opinion with our Senators and Representatives, the Trump Administration and our fellow U.S. citizens.

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[1] E.g., Steinhauer, With New Congress Poised to Convene, Obama’s Policies Are in Peril, N.Y. Times (Jan. 1, 2017).

[2] U.S. Reactions to Death of Fidel Castro, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 30, 2016); The Future of U.S.-Cuba Normalization Under the Trump Administration, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 22, 2016).

[3] People of the Year: DIARIO DE CUBA names the most noteworthy persons of the year, Diario de Cuba (Dec. 27, 2016).

[4] Cuban-American Trump Transition Team to National Security Council, News Marti (Dec. 1, 2016); Dr. Yleem Poblete, The Poblete Analysis Group.

[5] Poblete & Poblete, Yes, Cuba is a State Sponsor of Terrorism, Nat’l Review (Jan. 6, 2015); Poblete & Poblete, The U.S.-Cuba Deal Heightens the Spy Threat, W.S.J. (Jan 12, 2015) 2015); Poblete & Poblete, U.S. Cuba policy: Myth v. reality, The Hill (Jan. 26, 2015).

[6] A [fourth] Cuban American . . . joins Trump’s transition team, Diario de Cuba (Dec. 6, 2016); Secretary—John Barsa, Republican National Hispanic Assembly of Virginia; Prieto, The Mark of the Zorro; Cuban Americans in Trump’s Team, OnCuba (Dec. 15, 2016).

[7] Harvard University, Carlos E. Diaz-Rosillo, PhD.