President Obama’s Eloquent Speech to the Cuban People

On March 22, U,s, President Barack Obama addressed the past and future of U.S.-Cuba relations in a lengthy and eloquent speech at Havana’s Alicia Alonso Grand Theater. The in-person audience of 1,000 included Cuban President Raúl Castro and other officials and U.S. officials and business people. By live television, the audience also included the Cuban people. {1]  Below are photographs of the exterior of the Theater and of President Castro and other Cuban officials in a balcony at the Theater for the speech.

Theater exterior

Castro + @ speech

 

 

 

 

Here we will examine the speech itself, and a subsequent post will look at the reactions to the speech in Cuba and the U.S.

Summary of the Speech

Obama recognized that the two countries shared many things, including being colonized by Europeans and helped by slaves from Africa as well as patriotism and pride, love of family and hope for our children.

The last 50 years, however, have caused many disruptions in our countries’ connections. We are like two brothers who have been estranged for years even as we share the same blood.

The December 17, 2014, joint announcement of our two governments seeking restoration of normal relations was prompted by the U.S. recognition that its policies, including the embargo, were not working and needed to change and that the U.S. needed to help the Cuban people. Obama was in Cuba to end the last remnant of the Cold War and to declare that Cuba need not fear the U.S.

Even though the U.S. was not seeking to force change on Cuba, Obama stated that there were important universal rights that were as important for Cubans as they were for U.S. citizens: equality before the law; right to education, food and housing; freedom from arbitrary arrests; rights to practice their religious faith, assemble, organize, protest peacefully, criticize the government and elect their government leaders. Here is a photograph of President Obama giving the speech.

Obama speech

Text of the Speech

Here then is the actual text of his speech with an opening quotation from a poem by Cuba’s revered national poet, Jose Marti, that offered friendship and peace to both his friend and his enemy, “’Cultivo una rosa blanca’ [I plant a white rose]. Today, as the President of the United States of America, I offer the Cuban people el saludo de paz [the greeting of peace].”

“Havana is only 90 miles from Florida, but to get here we had to travel a great distance — over barriers of history and ideology; barriers of pain and separation.  The blue waters beneath Air Force One once carried American battleships to this island — to liberate, but also to exert control over Cuba.  Those waters also carried generations of Cuban revolutionaries to the United States, where they built support for their cause.  And that short distance has been crossed by hundreds of thousands of Cuban exiles — on planes and makeshift rafts — who came to America in pursuit of freedom and opportunity, sometimes leaving behind everything they owned and every person that they loved.”

“Like so many people in both of our countries, my lifetime has spanned a time of isolation between us.  The Cuban Revolution took place the same year that my father came to the United States from Kenya.  The Bay of Pigs took place the year that I was born. The next year, the entire world held its breath, watching our two countries, as humanity came as close as we ever have to the horror of nuclear war.  As the decades rolled by, our governments settled into a seemingly endless confrontation, fighting battles through proxies.  In a world that remade itself time and again, one constant was the conflict between the United States and Cuba.”

“I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas. I have come here to extend the hand of friendship to the Cuban people.”

“I want to be clear:  The differences between our governments over these many years are real and they are important.  I’m sure President Castro would say the same thing — I know, because I’ve heard him address those differences at length.  But before I discuss those issues, we also need to recognize how much we share.  Because in many ways, the United States and Cuba are like two brothers who’ve been estranged for many years, even as we share the same blood.”

“We both live in a new world, colonized by Europeans.  Cuba, like the United States, was built in part by slaves brought here from Africa.  Like the United States, the Cuban people can trace their heritage to both slaves and slave-owners.  We’ve welcomed both immigrants who came a great distance to start new lives in the Americas.”

“Over the years, our cultures have blended together. Dr. Carlos Finlay’s work in Cuba paved the way for generations of doctors, including Walter Reed, who drew on Dr. Finlay’s work to help combat Yellow Fever.  Just as Marti wrote some of his most famous words in New York, Ernest Hemingway made a home in Cuba, and found inspiration in the waters of these shores.  We share a national past-time — La Pelota [baseball]– and later today our players will compete on the same Havana field that Jackie Robinson played on before he made his Major League debut. And it’s said that our greatest boxer, Muhammad Ali, once paid tribute to a Cuban that he could never fight — saying that he would only be able to reach a draw with the great Cuban, Teofilo Stevenson.”

“So even as our governments became adversaries, our people continued to share these common passions, particularly as so many Cubans came to America.  In Miami or Havana, you can find places to dance the Cha-Cha-Cha or the Salsa, and eat ropa vieja [shredded pork or beef].  People in both of our countries have sung along with Celia Cruz or Gloria Estefan, and now listen to reggaeton or Pitbull. Millions of our people share a common religion — a faith that I paid tribute to at the Shrine of our Lady of Charity in Miami, a peace that Cubans find in La Cachita.”

“For all of our differences, the Cuban and American people share common values in their own lives.  A sense of patriotism and a sense of pride — a lot of pride.  A profound love of family.  A passion for our children, a commitment to their education.  And that’s why I believe our grandchildren will look back on this period of isolation as an aberration, as just one chapter in a longer story of family and of friendship.”

“But we cannot, and should not, ignore the very real differences that we have — about how we organize our governments, our economies, and our societies.  Cuba has a one-party system; the United States is a multi-party democracy.  Cuba has a socialist economic model; the United States is an open market.  Cuba has emphasized the role and rights of the state; the United States is founded upon the rights of the individual.”

“Despite these differences, on December 17th 2014, President Castro and I announced that the United States and Cuba would begin a process to normalize relations between our countries. Since then, we have established diplomatic relations and opened embassies.  We’ve begun initiatives to cooperate on health and agriculture, education and law enforcement.  We’ve reached agreements to restore direct flights and mail service.  We’ve expanded commercial ties, and increased the capacity of Americans to travel and do business in Cuba.”

“And these changes have been welcomed, even though there are still opponents to these policies.  But still, many people on both sides of this debate have asked:  Why now?  Why now?”

“There is one simple answer:  What the United States was doing was not working.  We have to have the courage to acknowledge that truth.  A policy of isolation designed for the Cold War made little sense in the 21st century.  The embargo was only hurting the Cuban people instead of helping them.  And I’ve always believed in what Martin Luther King, Jr. called ‘the fierce urgency of now’ — we should not fear change, we should embrace it.”

“That leads me to a bigger and more important reason for these changes:  Creo en el pueblo Cubano.  I believe in the Cuban people. This is not just a policy of normalizing relations with the Cuban government.  The United States of America is normalizing relations with the Cuban people.”

“And today, I want to share with you my vision of what our future can be.  I want the Cuban people — especially the young people — to understand why I believe that you should look to the future with hope; not the false promise which insists that things are better than they really are, or the blind optimism that says all your problems can go away tomorrow.  Hope that is rooted in the future that you can choose and that you can shape, and that you can build for your country.”

“I’m hopeful because I believe that the Cuban people are as innovative as any people in the world.”

“In a global economy, powered by ideas and information, a country’s greatest asset is its people.  In the United States, we have a clear monument to what the Cuban people can build: it’s called Miami.  Here in Havana, we see that same talent in cuentapropistas [self-employed workers], cooperatives and old cars that still run.  El Cubano inventa del aire. [Cubans invented the air.]”

“Cuba has an extraordinary resource — a system of education which values every boy and every girl. And in recent years, the Cuban government has begun to open up to the world, and to open up more space for that talent to thrive.  In just a few years, we’ve seen how cuentapropistas  can succeed while sustaining a distinctly Cuban spirit.  Being self-employed is not about becoming more like America, it’s about being yourself.”

“Look at Sandra Lidice Aldama, who chose to start a small business.  Cubans, she said, can ‘innovate and adapt without losing our identity…our secret is in not copying or imitating but simply being ourselves.’”

“Look at Papito Valladeres, a barber, whose success allowed him to improve conditions in his neighborhood.  ‘I realize I’m not going to solve all of the world’s problems,’ he said.  ‘But if I can solve problems in the little piece of the world where I live, it can ripple across Havana.’”

“That’s where hope begins — with the ability to earn your own living, and to build something you can be proud of.  That’s why our policies focus on supporting Cubans, instead of hurting them.  That’s why we got rid of limits on remittances — so ordinary Cubans have more resources.  That’s why we’re encouraging travel — which will build bridges between our people, and bring more revenue to those Cuban small businesses. That’s why we’ve opened up space for commerce and exchanges — so that Americans and Cubans can work together to find cures for diseases, and create jobs, and open the door to more opportunity for the Cuban people.”

“As President of the United States, I’ve called on our Congress to lift the embargo. It is an outdated burden on the Cuban people.  It’s a burden on the Americans who want to work and do business or invest here in Cuba.  It’s time to lift the embargo.  But even if we lifted the embargo tomorrow, Cubans would not realize their potential without continued change here in Cuba. It should be easier to open a business here in Cuba.  A worker should be able to get a job directly with companies who invest here in Cuba.  Two currencies shouldn’t separate the type of salaries that Cubans can earn.  The Internet should be available across the island, so that Cubans can connect to the wider world and to one of the greatest engines of growth in human history.”

“There’s no limitation from the United States on the ability of Cuba to take these steps.  It’s up to you.  And I can tell you as a friend that sustainable prosperity in the 21st century depends upon education, health care, and environmental protection.  But it also depends on the free and open exchange of ideas.  If you can’t access information online, if you cannot be exposed to different points of view, you will not reach your full potential.  And over time, the youth will lose hope.”

“I know these issues are sensitive, especially coming from an American President.  Before 1959, some Americans saw Cuba as something to exploit, ignored poverty, enabled corruption. And since 1959, we’ve been shadow-boxers in this battle of geopolitics and personalities. I know the history, but I refuse to be trapped by it.”

“I’ve made it clear that the United States has neither the capacity, nor the intention to impose change on Cuba.  What changes come will depend upon the Cuban people.  We will not impose our political or economic system on you.  We recognize that every country, every people, must chart its own course and shape its own model.  But having removed the shadow of history from our relationship, I must speak honestly about the things that I believe — the things that we, as Americans, believe.  As Marti said, ‘Liberty is the right of every man to be honest, to think and to speak without hypocrisy.’”

“So let me tell you what I believe.  I can’t force you to agree, but you should know what I think.  I believe that every person should be equal under the law. Every child deserves the dignity that comes with education, and health care and food on the table and a roof over their heads. I believe citizens should be free to speak their mind without fear, to organize, and to criticize their government, and to protest peacefully, and that the rule of law should not include arbitrary detentions of people who exercise those rights. I believe that every person should have the freedom to practice their faith peacefully and publicly. And, yes, I believe voters should be able to choose their governments in free and democratic elections.”

“Not everybody agrees with me on this.  Not everybody agrees with the American people on this.  But I believe those human rights are universal. I believe they are the rights of the American people, the Cuban people, and people around the world.”

“Now, there’s no secret that our governments disagree on many of these issues.  I’ve had frank conversations with President Castro.  For many years, he has pointed out the flaws in the American system — economic inequality; the death penalty; racial discrimination; wars abroad.  That’s just a sample.  He has a much longer list. But here’s what the Cuban people need to understand:  I welcome this open debate and dialogue. It’s good.  It’s healthy.  I’m not afraid of it.”

“We do have too much money in American politics.  But, in America, it’s still possible for somebody like me — a child who was raised by a single mom, a child of mixed race who did not have a lot of money — to pursue and achieve the highest office in the land.  That’s what’s possible in America.”

“We do have challenges with racial bias — in our communities, in our criminal justice system, in our society — the legacy of slavery and segregation.  But the fact that we have open debates within America’s own democracy is what allows us to get better.  In 1959, the year that my father moved to America, it was illegal for him to marry my mother, who was white, in many American states.  When I first started school, we were still struggling to desegregate schools across the American South.  But people organized; they protested; they debated these issues; they challenged government officials.  And because of those protests, and because of those debates, and because of popular mobilization, I’m able to stand here today as an African-American and as President of the United States.  That was because of the freedoms that were afforded in the United States that we were able to bring about change.”

“I’m not saying this is easy. There’s still enormous problems in our society.  But democracy is the way that we solve them.  That’s how we got health care for more of our people.  That’s how we made enormous gains in women’s rights and gay rights.  That’s how we address the inequality that concentrates so much wealth at the top of our society.  Because workers can organize and ordinary people have a voice, American democracy has given our people the opportunity to pursue their dreams and enjoy a high standard of living.”

“Now, there are still some tough fights.  It isn’t always pretty, the process of democracy.   It’s often frustrating.  You can see that in the election going on back home.  But just stop and consider this fact about the American campaign that’s taking place right now.  You had two Cuban Americans in the Republican Party, running against the legacy of a black man who is President, while arguing that they’re the best person to beat the Democratic nominee who will either be a woman or a Democratic Socialist. Who would have believed that back in 1959?  That’s a measure of our progress as a democracy.”

“So here’s my message to the Cuban government and the Cuban people:  The ideals that are the starting point for every revolution — America’s revolution, Cuba’s revolution, the liberation movements around the world — those ideals find their truest expression, I believe, in democracy.  Not because American democracy is perfect, but precisely because we’re not.  And we — like every country — need the space that democracy gives us to change.  It gives individuals the capacity to be catalysts to think in new ways, and to reimagine how our society should be, and to make them better.”

“There’s already an evolution taking place inside of Cuba, a generational change.  Many suggested that I come here and ask the people of Cuba to tear something down — but I’m appealing to the young people of Cuba who will lift something up, build something new.  El futuro  de Cuba tiene que estar en las manos del pueblo Cubano. [The future of Cuba must be in the hands of the Cuban people.]”

English “And to President Castro — who I appreciate being here today — I want you to know, I believe my visit here demonstrates you do not need to fear a threat from the United States.  And given your commitment to Cuba’s sovereignty and self-determination, I am also confident that you need not fear the different voices of the Cuban people — and their capacity to speak, and assemble, and vote for their leaders.  In fact, I’m hopeful for the future because I trust that the Cuban people will make the right decisions.”

“And as you do, I’m also confident that Cuba can continue to play an important role in the hemisphere and around the globe — and my hope is, is that you can do so as a partner with the United States.”

“We’ve played very different roles in the world.  But no one should deny the service that thousands of Cuban doctors have delivered for the poor and suffering. Last year, American health care workers — and the U.S. military — worked side-by-side with Cubans to save lives and stamp out Ebola in West Africa.  I believe that we should continue that kind of cooperation in other countries.”

“We’ve been on the different side of so many conflicts in the Americas.  But today, Americans and Cubans are sitting together at the negotiating table, and we are helping the Colombian people resolve a civil war that’s dragged on for decades. That kind of cooperation is good for everybody.  It gives everyone in this hemisphere hope.”

“We took different journeys to our support for the people of South Africa in ending apartheid.  But President Castro and I could both be there in Johannesburg to pay tribute to the legacy of the great Nelson Mandela. And in examining his life and his words, I’m sure we both realize we have more work to do to promote equality in our own countries — to reduce discrimination based on race in our own countries.  And in Cuba, we want our engagement to help lift up the Cubans who are of African descent, who’ve proven that there’s nothing they cannot achieve when given the chance.”

“We’ve been a part of different blocs of nations in the hemisphere, and we will continue to have profound differences about how to promote peace, security, opportunity, and human rights.  But as we normalize our relations, I believe it can help foster a greater sense of unity in the Americas — todos somos Americanos [we are all Americans].”

“From the beginning of my time in office, I’ve urged the people of the Americas to leave behind the ideological battles of the past.  We are in a new era.  I know that many of the issues that I’ve talked about lack the drama of the past.  And I know that part of Cuba’s identity is its pride in being a small island nation that could stand up for its rights, and shake the world. But I also know that Cuba will always stand out because of the talent, hard work, and pride of the Cuban people.  That’s your strength. Cuba doesn’t have to be defined by being against the United States, any more than the United States should be defined by being against Cuba.  I’m hopeful for the future because of the reconciliation that’s taking place among the Cuban people.”

“I know that for some Cubans on the island, there may be a sense that those who left somehow supported the old order in Cuba.  I’m sure there’s a narrative that lingers here which suggests that Cuban exiles ignored the problems of pre-Revolutionary Cuba, and rejected the struggle to build a new future.  But I can tell you today that so many Cuban exiles carry a memory of painful — and sometimes violent — separation.  They love Cuba.  A part of them still considers this their true home. That’s why their passion is so strong.  That’s why their heartache is so great.  And for the Cuban-American community that I’ve come to know and respect, this is not just about politics. This is about family — the memory of a home that was lost; the desire to rebuild a broken bond; the hope for a better future the hope for return and reconciliation.”

“For all of the politics, people are people, and Cubans are Cubans.  And I’ve come here — I’ve traveled this distance — on a bridge that was built by Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits.  I first got to know the talent and passion of the Cuban people in America.  And I know how they have suffered more than the pain of exile — they also know what it’s like to be an outsider, and to struggle, and to work harder to make sure their children can reach higher in America.”

“So the reconciliation of the Cuban people — the children and grandchildren of revolution, and the children and grandchildren of exile — that is fundamental to Cuba’s future.”

“You see it in Gloria Gonzalez, who traveled here in 2013 for the first time after 61 years of separation, and was met by her sister, Llorca.  ‘You recognized me, but I didn’t recognize you,’ Gloria said after she embraced her sibling.  Imagine that, after 61 years.”

“You see it in Melinda Lopez, who came to her family’s old home.  And as she was walking the streets, an elderly woman recognized her as her mother’s daughter, and began to cry.  She took her into her home and showed her a pile of photos that included Melinda’s baby picture, which her mother had sent 50 years ago.  Melinda later said, ‘So many of us are now getting so much back.’”

“You see it in Cristian Miguel Soler, a young man who became the first of his family to travel here after 50 years.  And meeting relatives for the first time, he said, ‘I realized that family is family no matter the distance between us.’”

“Sometimes the most important changes start in small places. The tides of history can leave people in conflict and exile and poverty.  It takes time for those circumstances to change.  But the recognition of a common humanity, the reconciliation of people bound by blood and a belief in one another — that’s where progress begins.  Understanding, and listening, and forgiveness. And if the Cuban people face the future together, it will be more likely that the young people of today will be able to live with dignity and achieve their dreams right here in Cuba.”

“The history of the United States and Cuba encompass revolution and conflict; struggle and sacrifice; retribution and, now, reconciliation.  It is time, now, for us to leave the past behind.  It is time for us to look forward to the future together — un future de esperanza [a future of hope].  And it won’t be easy, and there will be setbacks.  It will take time.  But my time here in Cuba renews my hope and my confidence in what the Cuban people will do.  We can make this journey as friends, and as neighbors, and as family — together.  Si se puede.  Muchas gracias. [Yes we can. Many thanks.]”

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[1] White House, Remarks by President Obama to the People of Cuba (March 22, 2016); Agence France-Press, President’s Full Speech in Cuba, N.Y. times (Mar. 22, 2016) (complete video of speech); Davis, Obama in Havana Speech, Says Cuba Has Nothing To Fear from U.S., N.Y. Times (Mar. 22, 2016); Reuters, Obama Challenges Communist-Led Cuba With Call for Democracy, N.Y. Times (Mar. 22, 2016); Assoc. Press, In Cuba, Obama Calls for Burying ‘Last Remnant of Cold War,’ N.Y. Times (Mar. 22, 2016); Eliperin & DeYoung, Obama addresses the Cuban nation: “It is time now for us to leave the past behind,’ Wash. Post (Mar. 22, 2016).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Holds Hearing About Cuba

On May 20th the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing, “U.S.-Cuban Relations—The Way Forward.”[1]

 Chairman Corker’s Opening Statement

Senator Bob Corker
Senator Bob Corker

The Committee Chair, Bob Corker (Rep., TN) opened by stating that the hearing would focus “on the strategy behind the President’s significant shift in U.S. policy towards Cuba.” Even though this shift “has been welcomed in Latin America and the Caribbean . . . significant differences of opinion exist in the [U.S.] over the extent to which this change in policy will advance U.S. interests and improve circumstances for the Cuban people.”

Therefore, according to Corker, the strategic issue was “how our nation can best engage strategically with the region and beyond to help Cuba rejoin the mainstream of the Americas and offer its citizens the same rights and freedoms enjoyed by citizens of other countries in the region.”

Ranking Member Cardin’s Opening Statement

Senator Ben Cardin
Senator Ben Cardin

The Ranking Member of the Committee, Senator Ben Cardin (Dem., MD), stated, “The President’s action [on December 17th] brought with it a new opportunity to forge a bilateral relationship that will strengthen our efforts to advance and defend U.S. national interests, and will allow our government and our citizens to expand support for the Cuban people. Today’s hearing provides an important opportunity to review the advances achieved under the Administration’s new Cuba policy and to understand the strategy for moving forward.  Without a doubt, this is a complicated process and it will take time to achieve the progress we want to see.”

“[W]e all stand together in our aspirations to see the Cuban people have the opportunity to build a society where human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected, where democratic values and political pluralism are tolerated, and where individuals can work unobstructed to improve their living conditions. We also share concerns about critical issues, such as the Cuban government’s ongoing abuse of human rights and the presence of American fugitives in Cuba, especially those wanted for the murder of U.S. law enforcement officers.”

“But, the central question is: how can we best advance these aspirations while also addressing these concerns? It goes without saying that our previous policy did not achieve the progress that we wanted to see, and so a new approach is needed.”

“President Obama has laid out a new path based on the belief that principled engagement will bring more results. I think that this is the right path for the following reasons:

“First, for far too long, the Cuban government has used U.S. policy as an excuse to justify its shortcomings and the hardships the Cuban people face.  The Cuban government also has exploited U.S. policy for diplomatic gains, focusing international debate about what the U.S. should do, rather than about what Cuba needs to do to better provide for its citizens.”

“Second, despite differences we may have with a government, our foreign policy should always endeavor to support that country’s people to the greatest degree possible.  Our disagreements with the Cuban government are well known and many.  But, over time, we have allowed those disagreements to get in the way of developing a strategy that utilizes all of our resources to empower the people of Cuba.”

“I have no doubt that the dynamism of American society will make a positive contribution to empowering the Cuban people and provide them with the information they need to build the future of their country.”

“Third, the Administration’s new Cuba policy will provide the U.S., and especially our diplomats, with new tools to engage directly with the Cuban government to have principled and frank discussions about the issues we disagree about and how we might work together better on issues of common interest.”

Testimony of Assistant Secretary of State Jacobson

Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson
Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson

Roberta Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, testified, “[W]e have begun to see the Administration’s new approach to Cuba providing space for other nations in the hemisphere and around the world to focus on promoting respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cuba and elsewhere in the region. This was illustrated at the Summit of the Americas in Panama last April. Engagement by the President and the Secretary at the Summit re-invigorated our momentum on a variety of issues.”

“Our new approach has drawn greater attention to the potential for greater political and economic freedom for the Cuban people and the gap between Cuba and other countries in the Hemisphere. More Americans are travelling to Cuba, getting past the rhetoric, meeting Cubans, and building shared understanding between our people. We have seen practical cooperation in our official dialogues with Cuba on issues in our national interest like maritime and aviation safety, telecommunications, and environmental cooperation.

“Our future discussions on law enforcement cooperation, coupled with the ongoing migration talks, will expand the avenues available to seek the return of American fugitives from justice as well as the return of Cubans residing illegally in the United States. The same is true for future talks on human rights and settling American claims for expropriated properties. Most importantly, the President’s new approach makes clear that the United States can no longer be blamed as an obstacle to progress on things like access to information and connecting Cubans to the world.”

Nevertheless, “significant differences remain between our two governments. We continue to raise our concerns regarding democracy, human rights, and freedom of expression. And we will seek to engage with all Cubans to gain their perspectives on the best way forward for the country.”

“Our policy towards Cuba is based on a clear-eyed strategy that empowers the Cuban people to determine their own future by creating new economic opportunities and increasing their contact with the outside world. That is why we made it easier for Cuban-Americans to travel and send remittances to their families in Cuba, and opened new pathways for academic, religious, and people-to-people exchanges. These changes create powerful new connections between our two countries and help the nascent private sector in Cuba, which is already an agent of positive change on the island. The steps we have implemented build on this foundation by increasing authorized travel, authorized commerce, and the flow of information to, from, and within Cuba.”

“Our new approach emphasizes targeted forms of commerce that offer economic opportunity to independent Cuban entrepreneurs or, like expanded communications, benefit all Cubans. Comprehensive changes in our economic relationship will require Congressional action to lift the embargo. The President has urged Congress to begin that effort. In the meantime, we are using available policy tools to promote a prosperous, democratic, and stable Cuba.”

“In a short period of time, we have already started to see U.S. enterprises seizing the new opportunities. The regulatory changes we announced are intended to increase the financial and material resources available to the Cuban people and the emerging Cuban private sector. They also enable U.S. companies to offer expanded telecommunications and internet services in ways that could help Cuban civil society members advance their aspirations and collectively become more prosperous.”

“Regarding the Administration’s decision to rescind Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, as President Obama said, ‘throughout this process, our emphasis has been on the facts.’ . . . We will continue to have differences with the Cuban government, but our concerns over a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions do not relate to any of the criteria relevant to that designation.”

“While progress has been made in our efforts to reestablish diplomatic relations, there is more to do to ensure a future U.S. Embassy will be able to function more like other diplomatic missions elsewhere in the world and foreign diplomatic missions in Cuba. Even today, under challenging circumstances, our diplomats do their very best to represent the interests and values of the United States, just as we do in hundreds of places around the world. Our engagement with the broadest range of Cubans will expand once we establish diplomatic relations with Cuba.”

Testimony of State Department Counselor Shannon

Counselor Thomas A. Shannon, Jr.
Counselor Thomas A. Shannon, Jr.

State Department Counselor Thomas A. Shannon, Jr. testified, “My purpose today is to address the regional context in which . . . [the U.S. Cuba] policy is unfolding, and to lay out some of the strategic dimensions of our diplomacy.”

“The decision to engage with Cuba and seek normalization of our bilateral relationship attempts to create a new terrain on which to pursue a future that meets our interests and corresponds to our values. Our commitment to democracy and human rights, and our desire and hope that the Cuban people will know the benefits of liberty and become the sovereigns of their own destiny, is no less for our action.”

“The President has been clear about the commitment in our Cuba policy to our enduring and fundamental principles of self-government and individual liberty. However, he has also been clear about our inability to effect significant change in Cuba acting alone across so many decades. Instead, he determined that our efforts would be more effective if we could position Cuba squarely within an inter-American system that recognizes democracy as a right that belongs to all the peoples of our Hemisphere, believes that democracy is essential to the political, economic, and social development of our peoples, and has the juridical instruments, treaties, and agreements to give shape, form, and weight to these commitments. It was our determination that this kind of environment would be the most propitious to support the only legitimate agent of peaceful and enduring political change in Cuba: the Cuban people.”

“The Americas, and specifically Latin America, has anticipated many of the events that are shaping our world. It is a region that has moved largely from authoritarian to democratic government, from closed to open economies, from exclusive to inclusive societies, from autarkical development to regional integration, and from isolation to globalization.”

“Latin America is the first developing region of the world to commit itself explicitly to democratic governance through the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the first to build a democratic model of development, and the first to establish regional structures to promote and protect human rights.”

“While creating a broad base of shared political values, Latin America has also constructed shared economic understandings and a commitment by many of the most successful countries in the Hemisphere to market economies and free trade. In the process, it has built sub-regional integration and political dialogue through organizations like the Common Market of the South, the Andean Community, the Union of South American Nations, and the Central American Integration System, all the while preserving larger hemispheric institutions, such as the Organization of American States and the Summit of the Americas process, that connect Latin America to the Caribbean and North America.”

“As Latin America advances into the 21st century, it is undergoing a second generation of change. Politically, it has consolidated democratic government and is strengthening democratic states and societies. This has opened up political institutions to new voices and actors, deepening the representativeness of many Latin American governments and challenging traditional elites and interests. In some countries, weak democratic institutions have not been able to contain the social energy unlocked by democratization, leading to populism and political polarization as groups struggle for control of the state. As troubling as this phenomenon can be, it does not define the democratization of the region but instead presents a challenge for the region to show how it can address such incidents through the organizations and institutional mechanisms it has created.”

“Economically, Latin America is building innovative integration mechanisms such as the Pacific Alliance, and reaching into Asia and North America to find new and important economic partners. We have FTAs with 12 countries in the Hemisphere, and the continued globalization of Latin America is driven not only by the regions abundant commodities, especially food and energy, but also by growing middle classes that have created attractive markets for manufactured goods and services.”

“The profound changes unleashed in Latin America show clearly that democracy and markets can deliver economic development and address longstanding social inequities such as poverty, inequality, and social exclusion. In effect, Latin America has used democracy and markets to launch peaceful social revolutions that are transforming many countries in important and long-lasting ways. Our ability to promote profound and dramatic change in Latin America is an example of what the United States can accomplish through diplomacy and engagement.”

“If we accomplished such a profound transformation in our Hemisphere through engagement, why not try the same approach with Cuba? And better yet, why not try it in partnership with countries and institutions that are now prepared to work with us because of the President’s new policy?”

“Cuba today finds itself part of a dynamic, vibrant region where transformative change has been the watchword for several decades. And it finds itself in a region where the momentum of that change will continue to reshape political, economic, and social landscapes. In such an environment, the Cuban people will find many models and partners from which to learn and choose. We should be one of those models and partners.”

Questioning Assistant Secretary Jacobson and Counselor Shannon

Of the 11 Committee members in attendance, six made comments and asked questions supportive of U.S.-Cuba reconciliation: Ben Cardin (Dem., MD), Barbara Boxer (Dem., CA), Tom Udall (Dem., NM), Tim Kaine (Dem., VA), Edward Markey (Dem., MA) and Jeff Flake (Rep., AZ).

With Chairman Corker being judiciously noncommittal in his comments, the other four in attendance were hostile to the reconciliation: Bob Menendez (Dem., NJ), Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), Ron Johnson (Rep., WI) and David Perdue (Rep., GA).

In response to Senator Corker’s opening question about whether to date the U.S. had obtained any changes in Cuba policies, Jacobson implicitly said none by emphasizing that the U.S. actions to increase the ability of U.S. nationals to travel to Cuba and to send remittances to Cubans were assisting the latters’ ability to form businesses and over time to be agents for change. The same was true, she said, of new U.S. policies to encourage U.S. businesses to export telecommunications equipment to the island. Shannon added that the new U.S. policies helped the U.S. with other countries in Latin America, especially within the Organization of the American States (OAS) and the Summit of the Americas.

Jacobson also mentioned the OAS and the United Nations as well as continued U.S. annual reports about human rights as means the U.S. would use to assess whether Cuba makes improvements in human rights. She also reiterated her point about U.S. travel and investment in Cuba as instruments for aiding such improvements, all in response to a question from Senator Rubio.

Rubio also pressed Jacobson to concede that the U.S. and Cuba had different notions of human rights. She did so with respect to free speech, peaceful assembly and elections, but she did not point out the U.S.-Cuba agreement on many theoretical issues of human rights as discussed in a prior post.

Another major Rubio argument was increased American travel to Cuba merely benefited the Cuban government and military, which owned, in whole or in part, hotels and car rental companies. The amount of such travel to Cuban bed and breakfasts in private homes was insignificant and, in any event, such private establishments had to pay big fees to the government for such businesses. Moreover, Rubio continued, many of these hotels and other properties had been owned by Americans and others and stolen by the Cuban government. Therefore, Rubio said, the U.S. should not be promoting such increased travel.

Senator Boxer responded to this argument by pointing out that the U.S. permits travel to Viet Nam, China and Russia where hotels and other businesses are owned by the state. She also pointed out that direct interactions between U.S. and Cuban citizens should encourage the latter to want more rights. In addition, Boxer said, the rapprochement was improving cooperation regarding Cuba for the U.S. from Europe and others in this Hemisphere. An example was Panama’s reaction to Cuban efforts to suppress free speech at the recent Summit of the Americas in that country.

However, I was surprised that no one responded to Rubio’s argument about hotels that had been stolen by the Cuban government. Indeed, there are substantial damage claims against the Cuban government for its uncompensated expropriation of property, and this is one of the claims the U.S. now is asserting against Cuba, and a prior post argued for submitting these and other damage claims by both countries to an international arbitration.

Senator Johnson focused on provisions of the Libertad Act (a/k/a the Helms-Burton Act) imposing preconditions on U.S. relaxing sanctions against Cuba, presumably as a predicate for an argument that President Obama’s easing of certain sanctions was unauthorized and, therefore, illegal. Jacobson pointed out, however, that other laws had exceptions to sanctions and provided authority to the President to do what he has done. Moreover, she said, the Administration had asked Congress to enact legislation repealing the U.S. embargo of the island, including the Libertad Act.

Senator Menendez, a Cuban-American and a vigorous opponent of the reconciliation, barely concealed his anger over the change in U.S. policies. Since December 17th, he argued, there has been no improvement in Cuban human rights, and in fact there has been a deterioration on this subject.

Senator Perdue reiterated Menendez’ argument about human rights and asserted that Cuba was still a state supporter of terrorism. It allegedly was helping Islamist terrorists, had shipped arms to North Korea that were intercepted in Panama and had another ship with explosives that on February 28, 2015, was intercepted by Colombia. Counselor Shannon pointed out that this Colombian government action was an example of the increased cooperation the U.S. now is obtaining from others in Latin America as a result of the new U.S. policies about Cuba.

Senator Kaine stated that there are roughly 600 bilateral relations in the Western Hemisphere and that the only one without normal diplomatic relations is U.S.-Cuba. In addition, there are no inter-state wars in the Hemisphere and the only civil war is in Colombia, which is the subject of peace negotiations now being held in, and aided by, Cuba. Counselor Shannon concurred, saying this was a remarkable achievement for the Hemisphere going along with its economic and democratic improvements.

 Conclusion

This hearing, in my opinion, did not really provide any new information about the issues or the positions of the participants, which probably why it was not covered in U.S. news media.[2]

The hearing and the lack of news coverage underscored the importance of U.S. citizens who support the reconciliation efforts to convey their opinions to their Senators and Representatives and of the formation and actions of groups like the U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba and Engage Cuba Coalition.

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[1] This post is based upon a video of the hearing and on the embedded citations to the opening statements of Senators Corker and Cardin, the testimony of Assistant Secretary Jacobson and Counselor Shannon and to some of the comments by Senators Rubio, Menendez and Perdue.

[2] This brief article is the only one found in a Google search: Gomez, Senators question wisdom of Obama’s Cuba policy, USA Today (May 20, 2015),

Oppose Congressional Attempts To Restrict U.S. Travel to Cuba!

On April 28th the U.S. House Appropriations Committee released the draft of a bill that contains two provisions that would restrict U.S. travel to Cuba.[1]

The draft 155-page bill is titled “A BILL –Making appropriations for the Departments of Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, and related agencies for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2016, and for other purposes.” The Committee’s summary of the bill says nothing about Cuba. Instead it says the bill would allocate $55.3 billion for “transportation, infrastructure and housing programs of national need and significance.”

One of the proposed restrictions is found in Section 193 of the draft bill (pp. 69-70), which states as follows:

  • “None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to facilitate new scheduled air transportation originating from the United States if such flights would land on, or pass through, property confiscated by the Cuban Government, including property in which a minority interest was confiscated, as the terms confiscated, Cuban Government, and property are defined in paragraphs (4), (5), and (12)(A), respectively, of section 4 of 5 the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996 (22 U.S.C. 6023 (4), (5), and 7 (12)(A)) [Helms-Burton Act] : Provided, That for this section, new scheduled air transportation shall include any flights not already regularly scheduled prior to March 31, 2015.”

The other proposed restriction is in Section 414 of the draft bill (p. 154), which states as follows:

  • “None of the funds made available by this Act may be used by the Federal Maritime Commission or the Administrator of the Maritime Administration to issue a license or certificate for a commercial vessel that docked or anchored within the previous 180 days within 7 miles of a port on property that was confiscated, in whole or in part, by the Cuban Government, as the terms confiscated, Cuban Government, and property are defined in paragraphs (4), (5), and (12)(A), respectively, of section 4 of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996 (22 U.S.C. 6023).[Helms-Burton Act].”

This draft bill was prepared by the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies, which is chaired by Rep. Mario Balart (Rep., FL), a Cuban-American who is a vocal opponent of U.S.-Cuba reconciliation. The other Republican members of this subcommittee are John Culberson (TX), Evan Jenkins (WV), David Jolly (FL), David Joyce (OH), Kevin Yoder (KS), and David Young (IA). The Democrats on the Subcommittee are Henry Cuellar (TX). David Price (NC), Mike Quigley (IL) and Tim Ryan (OH).

Next week the full Appropriations Committee will debate and vote on this draft bill, and in June will debate and vote on an appropriations bill for worker training, education and health programs. According to the New York Times, “[l]awmakers expect at least one of them to fail on the House floor, forcing budget talks to resume again, this time with Mr. Obama at the table.”

The other Republican members of the Appropriations Committee are Robert Aderholt (AL); Mark Amodei (NE); John Beutier (WA); Ken Calvert (CA); John Carter (TX); Tom Cole (OK); Ander Crenshaw (FL); Charles Dent (PA); Chuck Fleischmann (TN); Jeff Fortenberry (NE); Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ); Kay Granger (TX); Tom Graves (GA); Andy Harris (MD); Steven Palazzo (MS); Scott Rigell (VA); Martha Roby (AL); Harold Rogers (KY), Chairman; Tom Rooney (FL); Michael Simpson (ID); Chris Stewart (UT); David Valadao (CA); and Steve Womack (AK).

The other Democrats on the full Committee are Sanford Bishop, Jr. (GA); Rosa DeLauro; Sam Farr (CA); Chaka Fattah (PA); Michael Honda (CA); Steve Israel (NY); Derek Kilmer (WA); Marcy Kaptur (OH); Barbara Lee (CA); Nin Lowery (NY); Betty McCollum (MN); Charles Pingree (ME); Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA); C.A. Ruppersberger (MD); José Serrano (NY); Peter Visclosky (IN); and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL).

Just looking at the names of the Democrats on the Committee reveals that at least the following are already on the record favoring U.S.-Cuba reconciliation and, therefore, should be opposed to the previously mentioned provisions that would restrict U.S. travel to Cuba: Rosa DeLauro, Sam Farr, Steve Israel, Barbara Lee, Betty McCollum and José Serrano.

I call for all supporters of U.S.-Cuba reconciliation to contact members of the Appropriations Committee and urge them to delete the previously mentioned provisions and to oppose any other efforts to restrict U.S. travel to Cuba. Contact information for representatives is available at http://www.house.gov/representatives/#state_me.

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[1] This post is based upon the following: House Comm. on Appropriations, “A BILL –Making appropriations for the Departments of Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, and related agencies for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2016, and for other purposes” (April 28, 2015); House Comm. on Appropriations, Appropriations Committee Releases the Fiscal 2016 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development bill (April 28, 2015); Shabad, GOP spending bill would restrict travel to Cuba, The Hill (April 28, 2015); Weisman, Senate Passes Cost-Cutting Budget Plan, N.Y. Times (May 5, 2015).

 

 

 

 

 

 

President Obama’s Major Speech at the Summit of the Americas

On April 10 and 11, Cuba for the first time was welcomed to the Summit of the Americas. Presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama exchanged handshakes and friendly greetings, and their speeches promised commitment to the process of reconciliation. Other leaders of the Americas celebrated this demonstration of reconciliation.

President Obama made several speeches and remarks at the Summit. This post will discuss his April 11th speech to the Summit’s plenary meeting; subsequent posts will cover his other remarks and those of President Castro.

 President Obama’s Speech

Obama

“When I came to my first Summit of the Americas six years ago, I promised to begin a new chapter of engagement in this region.  I believed that our nations had to break free from the old arguments, the old grievances that had too often trapped us in the past; that we had a shared responsibility to look to the future and to think and act in fresh ways.  I pledged to build a new era of cooperation between our countries, as equal partners, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.  And I said that this new approach would be sustained throughout my presidency; it has, including during this past year.  I’ve met that commitment.”

“We come together at a historic time.  As has already been noted, the changes that I announced to U.S. policy toward Cuba mark the beginning of a new relationship between the people of the United States and the people of Cuba.  It will mean, as we’re already seeing, more Americans traveling to Cuba, more cultural exchanges, more commerce, more potential investment.  But most of all, it will mean more opportunity and resources for the Cuban people.  And we hope to be able to help on humanitarian projects, and provide more access to telecommunications and the Internet, and the free flow of information.”

“We continue to make progress towards fulfilling our shared commitments to formally reestablish diplomatic relations, and I have called on Congress to begin working to lift the embargo that’s been in place for decades.  The point is, the [U.S.] will not be imprisoned by the past.  We’re looking to the future and to policies that improve the lives of the Cuban people and advance the interests of cooperation in the hemisphere.”

“This shift in U.S. policy represents a turning point for our entire region.  The fact that President Castro and I are both sitting here today marks a historic occasion.  This is the first time in more than half a century that all the nations of the Americas are meeting to address our future together.  I think it’s no secret — and President Castro, I’m sure, would agree — that there will continue to be significant differences between our two countries.  We will continue to speak out on behalf of universal values that we think are important.  I’m sure President Castro will continue to speak out on the issues he thinks are important.”

“But I firmly believe that if we can continue to move forward and seize this momentum in pursuit of mutual interests, then better relations between the [U.S.] and Cuba will create new opportunities for cooperation across our region — for the security and prosperity and health and dignity of all our people.”

“Now, alongside our shift toward Cuba, the [U.S.] has deepened our engagement in the Americas across the board.  Since I took office, we’ve boosted U.S. exports and also U.S. imports from the rest of the hemisphere by over 50 percent.  And that supports millions of jobs in all of our countries.  I’ve proposed $1 billion to help the people of Central America strengthen governance, and improve security and help to spark more economic growth and, most importantly, provide new pathways for young people who too often see their only prospects an underground economy that too often leads to violence.”

“We’re partnering with countries across the region to develop clean, more affordable and reliable energy that helps nations to combat the urgent threat of climate change, as [Brazil’s] President Rousseff already noted.  Our 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative is working to bring 100,000 students from Latin America to the [U.S.] and 100,000 students from the [U.S.] to Latin America.  The new initiatives that I announced in Jamaica will help empower a new generation of young people across the Americas with the skills and job training that they need to compete in the global economy.”

“During the course of my meetings with CARICOM [Caribbean Community], as well as my meetings with SICA [System for Integration of Central America] as well as the discussions that I’ve had with many of you bilaterally, there have been additional ideas that we’re very interested in — finding ways in which we can expand access to the Internet and broadband; how we can structure private-public partnerships to rebuild infrastructure across the region; and to expand our commercial ties in a broad-based and inclusive way.  Because I am firmly of the belief that we will only succeed if everybody benefits from the economic growth, not just a few at the top.”

“At home, I’ve taken executive actions to fix as much of our broken immigration system as I can, which includes trying to help people come out of the shadows so that they can live and work in a country that they call home.  And that includes hundreds of thousands of young people we call DREAMers, who have already received temporary relief.  And I’m remaining committed to working with our Congress on comprehensive immigration reform.”

“So the bottom line is this:  The [U.S.] is focused on the future.  We’re not caught up in ideology — at least I’m not.  I’m interested in progress and I’m interested in results.  I’m not interested in theoretic arguments; I’m interested in actually delivering for people.  We are more deeply engaged across the region than we have been in decades.  And those of you have interacted with me know that if you bring an issue to my attention, I will do my best to try to address it.  I will not always be able to fix it right away, but I will do my best.”

“I believe the relationship between the [U.S.] and the Americas is as good as it has ever been.  I’m here today to work with you to build on this progress.  Let me just mention a few areas in which I think we can make more progress.”

“First, we will continue to uphold the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which states that “the peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy.”  I believe our governments, together, have an obligation to uphold the universal freedoms and rights of all our citizens.  I want to again commend [Panama’s] President Varela and Panama for making civil society groups from across the region formal partners in this summit for the first time.  I believe the voices of our citizens must be heard.  And I believe going forward, civil society should be a permanent part of these summits.”

“Second, we have to focus on reigniting economic growth that can fuel progress further in those communities that have not been reached.  And that means making the Americas more competitive.  We still have work to do to harmonize regulations; encourage good governance and transparency that attracts investment; invest in infrastructure; address some of the challenges that we have with respect to energy.  The cost of energy in many communities — in many countries, particularly in Central American and the Caribbean, are so high that it presents a great challenge to economic development, and we think that we can help particularly around clean energy issues.”

“We have to confront the injustice of economic inequality and poverty.  I think that collectively we are starting to identify what programs work and which programs do not work.  And we should put more money in those things that do work, and stop doing those things that don’t.  We don’t have money to waste because of too many young people out there with enormous needs.  I think President Varela is right to focus particularly on education and skills building.  And this is an agenda which we should all tackle collectively.”

“Third, we have to keep investing in the clean energy that creates jobs and combats climate change.  The [U.S.] is today leading this global effort, along with many of you.  And I should point out that America’s carbon pollution is near its lowest level in almost two decades.  Across the Americas, I think we have the opportunity to expand our clean energy partnerships and increase our investments in renewables.”

“And finally, we have to stand firm for the security of our citizens.  We must continue to join with our partners across the region, especially in Central America, but also in the Caribbean, to promote an approach, a holistic approach that applies rule of law, respects human rights, but also tackles the narco-traffickers that devastate so many communities.  This is a shared responsibility.  And I’ve said before that the [U.S.] has a responsibility to reduce the demand for drugs and to reduce the flow of weapons south, even as we partner with you to go after the networks that can cause so much violence.”

“So, a new relationship with Cuba.  More trade and economic partnerships that reduce poverty and create opportunity, particularly focusing on education.  Increased people-to-people exchanges.  More investment in our young people.  Clean energy that combats climate change.  Security cooperation to protect our citizens and our communities.  That’s the new chapter of engagement that the [U.S.] is pursuing across the Americas.”

“I want to make one last comment addressing some of the points that [Ecuador’s] President Correa raised and I’m sure will be raised by a few others during this discussion.  I always enjoy the history lessons that I receive when I’m here.  I’m a student of history, so I tend to actually be familiar with many of these episodes that have been mentioned.  I am the first one to acknowledge that America’s application of concern around human rights has not always been consistent.  And I’m certainly mindful that there are dark chapters in our own history in which we have not observed the principles and ideals upon which the country was founded.”

“Just a few weeks ago, I was in Selma, Alabama celebrating the 50th anniversary of a march across a bridge that resulted in horrific violence.  And the reason I was there, and the reason it was a celebration, is because it was a triumph of human spirit in which ordinary people without resort to violence were able to overcome systematic segregation.  Their voices were heard, and our country changed.”

“America never makes a claim about being perfect.  We do make a claim about being open to change.  So I would just say that we can, I suppose, spend a lot of time talking about past grievances, and I suppose that it’s possible to use the [U.S.] as a handy excuse every so often for political problems that may be occurring domestically.  But that’s not going to bring progress.  That’s not going to solve the problems of children who can’t read, who don’t have enough to eat.  It’s not going to make our countries more productive or more competitive in a global economy.”

“So I just want to make very clear that when we speak out on something like human rights, it’s not because we think we are perfect, but it is because we think the ideal of not jailing people if they disagree with you is the right ideal.”

“Perhaps President Correa has more confidence than I do in distinguishing between bad press and good press.  There are a whole bunch of press that I think is bad, mainly because it criticizes me, but they continue to speak out in the [U.S.] because I don’t have confidence in a system in which one person is making that determination.  I think that if we believe in democracy it means that everybody has the chance to speak out and offer their opinions, and stand up for what they believe is right, and express their conscience, and pray as they would, and organize and assemble as they believe is appropriate — as long as they’re not operating violently.”

“So we will continue to speak out on those issues not because we’re interested in meddling, but because we know from our own history.  It’s precisely because we’re imperfect that we believe it’s appropriate for us to stand up.  When Dr. King was in jail, people outside the United States spoke up on his behalf.  And I would be betraying our history if I did not do the same.”

“The Cold War has been over for a long time.  And I’m not interested in having battles that, frankly, started before I was born.  What I am interested in is solving problems, working with you.  That’s what the [U.S.] is interested in doing.  That’s why we’ve invested so much in our bilateral relationships, and that’s why I will continue to invest in creating the kind of spirit of equal partnership and mutual interest and mutual respect upon which I believe progress can advance.”

 

 

 

Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church’s Connections with Cuba

Westminster Presbyterian Church
Westminster Presbyterian Church

Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota has connections with Cuba that go back to the late 19th century. For most of this period (1890—2000), the connection has been indirect through our denomination (now the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)). The direct connections have been since 2001.

 Indirect Connections, 1890-1966

 In 1890 Cuban Presbyterianism started when a Cuban layman (Evaristo Collazo) asked the U.S. church’s Board of Foreign Missions for counsel and oversight for the school and worship services he and his wife Magdalena were holding in their home in Havana. That Board responded by sending Rev. Antonio Graybill, who held services, baptized forty adults, organized a congregation, ordained two Elders for the Session, and then ordained Callazo to the ministry and installed him as pastor. [1]

In 1904 the U.S. church organized the Presbytery of Havana with five pastors and seven congregations under the jurisdiction of the Synod of New Jersey. In 1930 it became the Presbytery of Cuba, but still as part of the Synod of New Jersey.

In 1946, the Cuban Presbyterian-Reformed Church joined with the Cuban Methodist and Episcopal churches to create the Evangelical Theological Seminary (Seminario Evangelico de Teologia or SET) in the city of Matanzas on the north coast of the island about 90 miles east of Havana. (In 2006 the Methodists withdrew from SET in order to establish their own seminary in Havana.)

In 1966 (five years after the Cuban Revolution), the overall governing body (the General Assembly) of the U.S. church approved an overture or motion by the Cuban Presbytery to be dismissed from the U.S. church in order to become an independent church. This overture came from the Cuban church’s recognition that it had to face on its own Cuba’s “new political, social and economic situation.” Cuba was now “socialist, shaken by a Revolution which left nothing untouched by its transformation,” and the Cuban church “had the responsibility of interpreting the Christian faith in its own environment.” One of Westminster’s former members, John Sinclair, then the U.S. church’s secretary for Latin America and the Caribbean, played a key role in this change.

Indirect Connections, 1967-2000

At the inception of the independent Cuban Presbyterian-Reformed church, it had 3,082 members in 30 churches.

Immediately following its independence, the Cuban church adopted the U.S. church’s Confession of 1967 for its guidance, but started to develop its own theological reflection. The “Word of God became something nearer, more urgent, more vivid and more dramatic. The Church realized that God himself was involved in that revolutionary process which . . . led to the creation of a new society of greater justice for the people and of peace for society. The Gospel of ‘good news for the poor,’ of ‘freedom for the oppressed,’ and ‘sight for the blind’ came down upon us with all its prophetic implications.”

Ten years later, in 1977, the Cuban church adopted its own Confession of Faith to speak to Cubans’ contemporary situation. This Confession starts with “The Centrality of the Human Being Given in Jesus Christ.” It asserts that the “human being [is] the center of interest and concern of God” and, therefore, “of the Church of Jesus Christ.” The human being is an “econome” or steward of all things on behalf of God. “The human being is a social being and a free person. History is seen as “the Integrating Reconstruction of the Human Being, since the Human Being is being disintegrated by sin. . . . [and] the Kingdom of God [is] the Fulfillment of History.”

During this period, Westminster’s connections with Cuba continued to be indirect via its denomination. Here are some of the highlights of these events:

  • In 1985 the Presbytery of Long Island and the Presbytery of South Louisiana established contact and began visits to Cuban congregations in the Presbytery of Havana and the Presbytery of Matanzas respectively.
  • Also in 1985 the Cuban church invited agencies of the  PC(USA) to a consultation in Havana. They drafted a Mutual Mission Agreement that included procedures for forming ties between governing bodies of the two churches. The agreement was adopted by both General Assemblies in 1986.
  • In 1990 the Cuban church celebrated the Centennial of Presbyterianism in Cuba. Attending was a  Presbyterian delegation from the U.S.  Protestant Church leaders meet with Fidel Castro to discuss church-state relations. Castro asserts that religious groups were providing important support for the Cuban people in a time of great stress and should be respected. 
  • In 1995 the first Partnership Consultation was held in Havana, bringing together leaders of the Cuban church with staff of the U.S. denomination and representatives of the then four partner presbyteries: Long Island, Santa Fe, South Louisiana and Transylvania.
  • In 1996 the U.S. Presbyterian Cuba Connection was founded as an unofficial network of Presbyterians for interpretation, advocacy, and financial support of the life and mission of the Cuban church. That same year the leader of the U.S. church visited the Cuban church, participating in the October Conventions of the latter’s presbyteries.
  • In 1999 the Cuban Evangelical Celebration united the great majority of Cuba’s 49 Protestant Churches in a series of 19 municipal and four national public rallies, culminating on June 20 in the Jose Marti Revolution Plaza in Havana in a three-hour program of hymns, prayers, music, dance and a sermon attended by 100,000 persons, including President Fidel Castro and a number of government leaders.
  • In 2000 the Celebration of Mission Partnership in the New Millennium was held in Cuba bringing together  representatives of the U.S. church with an equal number of representatives of the Cuban church. A joint declaration of intention and commitment was adopted.

 Direct Connections, 2001- Present

During this period indirect connections similar to the ones previously mentioned continue, but now Westminster developed and strengthened its own direct connections.

In 2001 Westminster formed its Cuba Task Force to explore whether and how our congregation could have a more direct connection with the Cuban Church. (I was a member of this Task Force.) After a couple of exploratory trips to the island, we established a partnership in 2002 with Versalles Presbyterian-Reformed Church in the city of Matanzas. In our written Covenant Agreement, for a set period of time, each congregation covenanted to pray for and with each other, to engage in Bible study together, to share our personal stories, to visit each other and to stand together against all that is unjust in solidarity as brothers and sisters in Christ. (This Covenant Agreement has been renewed several times.)

Since 2002, every year Westminster members have visited our partner congregation under several licenses from the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Our visits typically include Sunday worship together, sometimes with our Spanish-speaking pastors delivering the sermon; attending meetings of its governing body (the Session); enjoying a fiesta at the church; having meals at the church and in the homes of members; visiting a school and medical clinic near the church; and staying in the church’s dormitory. The church also has printing equipment that prints materials for many of the Protestant churches on the island. (I have been on three such trips.) In more recent years some of Westminster’s high-school and college students have gone to our partner congregation to assist in conducting a Vacation Bible School for its young people and others from the neighborhood. (Our next trip to Cuba is this February.)

We also have hosted visits by Cubans from our partner and other Cuban churches and often helped defray the costs of their travel to the U.S. This coming June we are expecting the visit of a female member of the Cuban church to attend a national meeting of Presbyterian Women. In addition, last March we hosted a meeting of various churches and other organizations interested in Cuba with the First Secretary of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C. and in October with its Chief of Mission (or de facto Cuban Ambassador to the U.S.)

In 2002 we also formed a similar partnership with the governing body for the whole Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Cuba. In 2007, as part of its Sesquicentennial Capital Campaign, Westminster committed to make a substantial monetary grant over five years to the Cuban Synod to assist its education and development of ordained and lay leaders. These gifts have been made through the U.S. Treasury Department’s license to our denomination that permits certain transfers of money to Cuba.

Although Westminster does not have a formal partnership with SET (the ecumenical seminary) in Matanzas, we do have a close informal relationship. Today SET is an ecumenical institution for basic and advanced theological training of pastors and lay leaders of Cuban and other Latin American churches. It also is the home of the history of Cuban Protestantism and of the Ecumenical Movement in Cuba. In addition, SET is engaged in exchange programs with institutions in the U.S., Europe and the rest of Latin America. Situated on a hill overlooking Matanzas’ bay, it is one of the most beautiful places on the island with soft breezes usually flowing from the bay.

Since SET is in the same city as our partner congregation, our travelers to Cuba always visit the Seminary, and some of our financial grants to the Cuban Synod have subsequently gone to SET to assist in its education of church leaders. In addition, the current head of SET, Rev. Dr. Reinerio Arce, has visited Westminster several times and has delivered the Sunday sermon on at least one occasion. (This coming May or June he plans to visit us again with his yet unnamed successor as head of the seminary.)

Another way that Westminster carries out its Cuban ministry is keeping all members informed of our various activities on the island. All who go on mission trips, for example, commit to sharing their experiences with other church members. In addition, our church library now has many books about Cuba.

All of these direct connections with Cuba have prompted Westminster to become an active member of the Presbyterian Cuba Partners Network, a group of U.S. churches with Cuba partners. So too is Westminster an active member of the Presbyterian Cuba Connection that provides funds to the Cuban church under a general license from the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

As a result of this involvement, some members, including this blogger, have learned a lot about Cuba and its relations with the U.S. and have become advocates for improving those relations.

Nachito Herrera Concert at Westminster

As mentioned in a prior post, another example of our Cuba connections occurred this January 11th with a free concert at the church by Cuban-American jazz pianist Nachito Herrera.

Congressman Ellison
Congressman Ellison

Before the start of the concert itself, Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison from the Twin Cities made brief remarks.[2] He said that President Obama’s December 17th announcement of the historic changes in the relationship of the two countries demonstrated the importance of persistence and hope for all who have been urging such changes for many years, as had most of the people in the audience. He congratulated us for having this persistence and hope. This lesson also was demonstrated, he said, by the current movie, “Selma,” which the Congressman recently had seen with his children. His parting injunction to us all: now we all need to keep the pressure on Congress to end the embargo and support the reconciliation.

Hart-Andersen & Herrera
Hart-Andersen & Herrera
Concert audience
Concert audience

 

Nachito was introduced by Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen, our Senior Pastor, who said our church has had a partnership with Nachito. We take things to his family in Cuba on some of our mission trips, and Nachito plays music at our church. Implicitly Tim was saying the church had the better part of that understanding.

To a capacity-crowd in our Great Hall, Nachito played Cuban music with great passion. He also told us that he was surprised and overjoyed by the December 17th news of the historic change in the two countries’ relationship and wanted to celebrate this important change by sharing his music with Westminster, which he regarded as part of his family. He also was very happy with the U.S. release from prison of the remaining three members of the Cuban Five, and in recognition of this event he returned his “Free the Cuban Five” button to two members of the Minnesota Cuba Committee.

Prof. August Nimtz, Jr., Aurora Gonzalez, Frank Curbelo & Nachito
Prof. August Nimtz, Jr., Aurora Gonzalez, Frank Curbelo & Nachito

Nachito concluded the concert by saying that he and his wife (Aurora Gonzalez) recently had become U.S. citizens and by playing a beautiful jazzy rendition of “America the Beautiful.”

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[1] This historical sketch of Presbyterianism in Cuba is  based on a summary of that history by Dean Lewis, a Presbyterian minister with long involvement with Cuba.

[2] Ellison is the Co-Chair of the House’s Progressive Caucus, which on December 17th released a statement that said the following: “Congress must lift the trade embargo and normalize travel between our two nations, which are only 90 miles apart. The Congressional Progressive Caucus looks forward to working with President Obama and members of Congress who want to stabilize relations between the U.S. and Cuba.”

President Theodore Roosevelt and William C. Brown’s Interactions Regarding Railroad Regulation, January-May 1907

As we have seen in a prior post, William C. Brown, the Senior Vice President of the New York Central Railway (and my maternal great-great-uncle), was a major public spokesman for the interests of the railroads in 1907.

Brown also interacted privately with President Theodore Roosevelt over these issues in February 1907 and again in April-May 1907.This post will look at these interactions.

Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt
William C. Brown
William C. Brown

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

February 1907

Brown’s January 28th letter to Theodore P. Shonts

Brown’s interaction with the President started with the former’s private letter of January 28th to Theodore P. Shonts, the Roosevelt-appointed Chairman of the Isthmian [Panama] Canal Affairs Commission,[1] who recently had announced his resignation from that position effective March 4th.[2]

This seven-page letter’s going into great detail about the current position of the railroads is very unusual. Presumably Shonts knew all of the railroad problems and issues and by virtue of his government position had opportunities for presidential meetings. It is as if the letter really was written to be read by someone else, namely President Roosevelt. This interpretation, in my opinion, is confirmed by Brown’s immediately making the letter public.[3]

Brown’s letter emphasized the challenges facing the railroads. He said the recent “tremendous increase in the commerce of the country has almost swamped the railroads. Terminal facilities . . . are . . . inadequate; single track lines must be double-tracked; double-track roads must have three or four tracks; grades must be reduced, and the equipment of the roads must be greatly increased.” To remedy these inadequacies will be very expensive. For the New York Central, he said, in 1907 alone this will require capital investment of $130 to $ 140 million.

According to Brown, railroads also were facing increased labor costs for 1907 of 8% to 14% or an increase of $75 million for all railroads. Other costs also had increased, and total costs, including labor, were up 40% from 1897.

On the other hand, said Brown, “there is a continuous, organized and persistent effort on the part of shippers to reduce the [railroads’] revenues” which may lead to requests for the ICC to reduce freight rates. In addition, Congress probably will reduce compensation for the railroads’ carrying the mails.

However, without increased freight rates, said Brown, railroads will be forced to substantially reduce the capital improvements that are so necessary.

As a result, in Brown’s judgment, there is growing opinion in the U.S. and abroad that “the President and both the great political parties are prejudiced against the railroads,” thereby “making it almost impossible to sell any kind of railroad security except at a rate of interest and discount that make it almost prohibitive.” If the railroads are forced to halt their needed capital improvements, “the growth and development of the country will soon be stopped by the inability of the transportation lines to handle the products of mine, factory and field.”

Although Brown favored the past “regulation of the railroads by Federal authority, supplemented by state regulation” and regarded “the legislation thus far enacted . . . necessary and wise,” Brown asserted that President Roosevelt must publicly declare that:

  • “the railroads are an important and inseparable part of the wealth of the Nation;
  • “they have contributed more than any other agency in its upbuilding, growth and prosperity;”
  • “the future growth and prosperity of the country depends on, and will . . . be measured by the growth of the great lines of transportation, both rail and water;”
  • “disaster cannot come to them without serious injury to every business interest in the Country;” and
  • the people must give “fair, unprejudiced, and friendly consideration . . . of the interests, the rights, and the welfare of the railroads.”

Shonts’ February 1st letter to Brown.

Seeing Brown’s January 28th letter as really intended for other eyes, in my opinion, is also confirmed by Shonts immediately responding to Brown with a report that Shonts had discussed Brown’s letter with the President and had provided him with a copy of the letter.[4]

According to Shonts, Roosevelt had said he “would have no difficulty in treating with the railroads of the Country if the managing officials were all imbued with the same spirit as [Brown].” In addition, the President had the following specific comments on Brown’s letter:

  • Roosevelt “entirely agreed” with Brown’s statement, ‘I am not an alarmist, and . . . disposed to take a hopeful view of any situation; but the increase in expense and reduction in rates cannot continue much longer without bringing the lines of cost and compensation too near together as to stop all improvement in present, or the creation of additional, transportation facilities.’
  • According to Roosevelt, the “movement for increased pay for employees, and shorter hours of labor, carried with it the necessity for the maintenance of remunerative rates.”
  • The President believed “the public was [not] so much interested in cheaper transportation as in adequate facilities.”
  • The Government, said Roosevelt, had not contended for reduced rates, but the prevention of “unjust discrimination in rates.”
  • The President suggested there be a “safe-guard . . . [for] issuance of future securities, by requiring the railroads to specify the use to which the proceeds of such would be put [to enhance the railroad], not to the buying of parallel or competing lines.”
  • The President also was “heartily in favor of protecting the owners of railroad securities so that purchasers might rely on the security of their investments.”

Brown’s February 3rd letter to Roosevelt’s Secretary.

Responding to this indirect word from the President, Brown on February 3rd sent a letter to Roosevelt’s secretary, William Loeb, Jr.,[5] with enclosed copies of Brown’s previously mentioned January 28th letter to Shonts, a February 1st Wall Street Journal editorial about railroads[6] and Brown’s correspondence with the Journal about same.[7]

Brown did so, he said, because he cares “so much for the President’s approval” and because he believes “our views so nearly coincide on almost all the great questions . . . at the present time.”

In addition, Brown thought “the President and every good citizen of the United States, regardless of party, can say ‘Amen’ to the sentiments” in the February 2nd letter to Brown from Sereno S. Pratt, the Editor of the Wall Street Journal,[8] who said the following:

  • “The movement for corporate reform . . . has accomplished an immense amount of good, and I do not believe that the corporations as a whole will ultimately suffer from it.”
  • On the other hand, this movement “has awakened a spirit of hostility to all corporations, a spirit of hatred of wealth, so that it is full time for the defenders of individual liberty and the rights of private property to get together . . . for the purpose of impressing upon the country the need for wise discrimination. We certainly do not want to destroy wealth and make honest enterprise impossible.”

The Serano Pratt letter was prompted by Brown’s February 1st letter to Dow, Jones & Company with thanks for the editorial. It was for “most railroad men in the country, a ‘cup of cold water to a thirsty traveler.’ Its “words of kindly commendation are appreciated by . . . the railroad men.” For Brown, “Nothing can be more discouraging and disheartening that the wholesale, indiscriminate censure and criticism . . . to which railroads as a whole have been subjected during the last two years.” After all, railroads “are not, even taken as a whole, entirely without virtue and merit; and, in some cases, some roads are entitled to a very great deal of credit for the manner in which they have been operated, and their contribution to the growth and prosperity of the country through which they run.”[9]

Brown concluded his letter to Roosevelt’s secretary with a reference to these words on Grant’s Tomb: ‘Let us have peace.’ Now, said Brown, “it would be a gracious thing if the President would accept the almost unconditional surrender of the roads, and say to the public and to the thousands of disheartened, discouraged railroad men of the Country, ‘Let us have commercial and industrial tranquility and peace.’”

Another enclosure with the letter to Loeb was Brown’s January 22, 1907, letter to Joseph Nimmo, Jr., a statistician for the Interstate Commerce Commission, responding to a request for Brown’s opinions on various issues regarding railroad regulation. Brown said “no [enacted] legislation . . . will result in injury to the railroads . . . unless the [ICC] shall deplete their revenue by reducing freight rates.” Brown said, the “spirit of hostility against the railroads which seems to be felt by member of both parties, and by the [Roosevelt] administration, whether real or not, is rapidly creating a feeling of distrust, and is discrediting the railroads . . . to such an extent as to make it very difficult at the present time to secure any money for needed improvements and promises to make it almost impossible to do so in the near future.” Brown added that he agreed with Hill’s estimate of $5 billion as the amount of needed capital investment by all the railroads over the next five years.[10]

April-May 1907

As mentioned in a prior post, on April 18th Brown was a featured speaker at a banquet in Buffalo, New York where he talked about the railroads’ difficulties in raising capital for improvements due to public agitation against the railroads and his belief that President Roosevelt would exert his “powerful influence . . . fearlessly and forcefully in protecting the railroads from injustice.”[11]

The New York Times article about Brown’s speech came to the attention of Roosevelt. The next day (April 19th) Roosevelt wrote a letter to Brown saying he “heartedly” agreed with the part he had seen and inviting him to the White House the next week. The President especially wanted to hear Brown’s views on the issue of the valuation of railroads.[12]

That White House meeting took place on April 29th, and the nature of their discussion that day is revealed by their subsequent correspondence.[13]

The next day (April 30th) Brown in a letter to the President discussed his upcoming Decoration Day Address about railroads. Brown said he knew Roosevelt did “not want to do any one an injustice or say anything go unnecessarily increase or prolong a feeling of bitterness, which in the interest of all should be eliminated.” The President, however, had suggested (in their April 29th conversation (or in a draft of the speech shared with Brown?) that railroad owners mistakenly or selfishly had not been “doing all that could be done in . . . furnishing additional facilities” to alleviate public inconvenience. Any such suggestion, said Brown, was “mistaken” and “unjust to the directors, officers, and owners of the railroads.” In fact, the “railroads have done everything possible to meet conditions which the tremendous increase in business has forced upon them.”[14]

Brown’s April 30th letter also said that any announcement of the President’s idea of valuation of railroad properties should “be accompanied by some statement that will reassure timid investors.” Otherwise, such an announcement could leave the calamitous impression that such valuations will be used “to decrease [freight] rates, increase taxation, or both.” Enclosed with the letter was a document with Brown’s thoughts on the valuation issue, but this document was not available from the archives. Brown closed the letter with assurances of his “very high personal regard” for the President.

The President’s May 1st responsive letter said he had deleted the sentence of the speech, to which Brown had objected (railroad owners had mistakenly or selfishly failed to furnish additional facilities??). Roosevelt thought Brown’s ideas on valuation were better than the President’s draft on the subject and that the Director of the Census Bureau had cautioned the President on using its statistics on valuation of railroad securities.[15]

On May 2nd Brown replied to the President. Brown sent a page from a draft of his forthcoming (May 13th) speech in Syracuse, New York that had certain statistics. (This enclosure was not available from the archives.) After consulting with others at the New York Central Railroad, Brown said they all thought that his statistics along with those from the Interstate Commerce Commission “will do much to restore confidence and reassure investors in regard to the safety and stability of railway securities.” Finally, Brown urged the President to call if he can be of service in any way. Again he closed with assurances of his “very high personal regard” for the President.[16]

The next day (May 3rd), Brown again wrote to Roosevelt. He said the enclosure he had sent with his prior letter “should be made a little stronger in its characterization of stock watering jobbery” and include “a commendation of those roads that have not been guilty of this thing.” Again, Brown expressed his “very high personal regard.”[17]

On May 4th, the President responded to these two letters from Brown. He thanked him for the statistics he had provided, but urged Brown to make “full use of them in [his] Syracuse speech” and that if Roosevelt used them in his Decoration Day speech, it would be in a different form.[18]

The next missive from Brown was a handwritten letter of May 8th enclosing a recent letter he had received from General Granville M. Dodge[19] (which is not available from the archives). Brown said that the following Dodge statement “voices the sentiment of the railroads almost without exception: ‘Obey the law. Build up the country.’” Brown closed with “I know the railroads have no stauncher friend than yourself” and assurances of his “high regard.”[20]

The final letter in this exchange came from the President on May 9th. He said he liked the Dodge letter and already had referred to Dodge as “a railroad man who was a type of what a good citizen should be.” Roosevelt also said the final version of his Decoration Day speech will include some of Brown’s suggestions.[21]

Conclusion

These interactions show an amazing collaboration between a president and a private citizen. As a result of this collaboration and of Roosevelt’s discussions with other railroad executives in this time period, the President’s Decoration Day speech, which will covered in a subsequent post, contained many points that helped to alleviate the railroads angst.

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

[1] Letter, Brown to “My dear T.P. [Shonts] (Jan. 28, 1907) (Image # 71-0572 through 0578 provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Divisions and Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University, www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org). As noted in a prior post, in 1900 Brown and Shonts and another Midwestern railroad executive (Paul Morton) joined Roosevelt, then Republican vice presidential candidate, on his campaign train from Quincy, Illinois to Chicago.

[2] Shonts Quits Canal; Heads Interborough, N.Y. Times (Jan. 24, 1907); Shonts Quits Canal Work, N.Y. Times (Mar. 5, 1907). In accepting the resignation, Roosevelt said Shonts had shown “energy, administrative capacity, fertility of resource, and judgment in handling men . . . [and] entire devotion to your work.” (President Not Indignant, N. Y. Times (Jan. 24, 1907).)

[3] On February 2nd, Brown released to at least the New York Times a copy of his letter to Shonts, and the next day the Times published an article about the letter. (Says Railroad Whacking Menaces the Country, N.Y. Times (Feb. 3, 1907). The Times said Brown’s letter was believed to be part of an organized campaign by “important business interests” to convince Roosevelt that the “movement against corporations is going beyond bounds” and ”threatens seriously to handicap further development of the country’s industries and transportation systems.”

[4] Letter, Shonts to “My dear W. C.” Brown (Feb. 1, 1907) (Image # 71-0642 & 0643 provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Divisions and Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University, http://www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org). The Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University has advised me that through an unpublished analysis of several sources, including the presidential desk diaries, that on January 29, 1907, the President had a “Canal conference with Theodore Shonts.” This probably was the occasion when Shonts discussed Brown’s letter with the President.

[5] Letter, Brown to “My dear Mr. Loeb” (Feb. 3, 1907)(Image # 71-066 & 067 provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Divisions and Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University, http://www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org).

[6] Editorial, Railroads Need Encouragement, W.S.J. (Feb. 1, 1907). The editorial said the railroads need “material and moral encouragement.” More specifically they need coal, cars and engines, more trackage, money and mercy. “They have been hammered and hammered by their critics,” but now need “human appreciation of their concern and their predicaments.”

[7] Letter, Brown to Dow Jones & Co. (Feb. 1, 1907)(Image # 71-0626 provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Divisions and Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University, http://www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org); letter, Serano S. Pratt to Brown (Feb. 2, 1907)(Image # 71-0657 & 0658 provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Divisions and Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University, http://www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org). Brown’s letter to the Journal said the editorial was like a ‘”cup of cold water to a thirsty traveler’” because “[n]othing can be more discouraging and disheartening than the wholesale, indiscriminate censure and criticism . . . to which railroads as a whole have been subjected during the last two years.”

[8] Letter, Sereno S. Pratt to W. C. Brown (Feb. 2, 1907)(Image # 71-0657 & 0658 provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Divisions and Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University, http://www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org).

[9] Letter, Brown to Dow Jones & Co. (Feb. 1, 1907)(Image # 71-0626 provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Divisions and Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University, http://www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org).

[10] Letter, William C. Brown to Joseph Nimmo (Jan. 22, 1907) (Image # 71-0489 through 0493 provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Divisions and Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University, http://www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org). I wonder if this letter’s being in the Theodore Roosevelt collection at the Miller Center indicates that the letter somehow was obtained by the White House and reviewed by the President or one of his aides.

[11] William C. Brown, Address to the Buffalo Chamber of Commerce (April 18, 1907); Hughes Tells of Republic’s Foes, N.Y. Times (April 19, 1907).

[12] Letter, Roosevelt to Brown (April 19, 1907) (Image # 345-0665 provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Divisions and Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University, www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org).

[13] W.C. Brown at the White House, N.Y. Times (Apr. 30, 1907).

[14] Letter, Brown to Roosevelt (April 30, 1907)(Image #308-0873 & 0874 provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Divisions and Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University, www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org).

[15] Letter, Roosevelt to Brown (May 1, 1907) (Image # 345-0779 provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Divisions and Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University, http://www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org). Roosevelt apparently was referring to one or all of the following letters to the President from the Director of the Census Bureau, all of which were provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Divisions and Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University, http://www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org): letter, North to Roosevelt (April 22, 1907)(Image # 308-0863 through 0867); letter, North to Roosevelt (April 22, 1907)(Image # 73-0348); letter, North to Roosevelt (April 30, 1907)(Image # 308-0875 & 0876).

[16] Letter, Brown to Roosevelt (May 2, 1907)(Image # 308-0777 provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Divisions and Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University, www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org). In fact, Brown did give a speech on May 13, 1907, to the Syracuse, New York Chamber of Commerce that made many of the same points as the Buffalo speech. He again supported federal and state regulation of railroads so long as it was “undertaken in a spirit of the most liberal conservatism; the radical, the agitator, the reactionist on both sides should be suppressed.” (For Government Control, N. Y. Times (May 15, 1907).)

[17] Letter, Brown to Roosevelt (May 3, 1907)(Image # 308-0878 provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Divisions and Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University, www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org).

[18] Letter, Roosevelt to Brown (May 4, 1907)(Image # 345-0822 provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Divisions and Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University, www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org).

[19] Dodge was a Major General for the Union Army in the Civil War (1861-1866), an Iowa Congressman (1867-1869) and an engineer for the Union Pacific Railroad who was a leading figure in the construction of the transcontinental railway. During the 1880s and 1890s, he served as president or chief engineer of dozens of railroad companies.

[20] Letter, Brown to Roosevelt (May 8, 1907) (Image # 308-0884 provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Divisions and Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University, www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org).

[21] Letter, Roosevelt to Brown (May 9, 1907) (Image # 345-0867 provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Divisions and Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University, www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org).

Federal Regulation of the Railroads in U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt’s Second Term (1905-1909): The Hepburn Act

During President Theodore Roosevelt’s second term in office (03/04/1905—03/04/1909) there were two major developments regarding federal regulation of railroads: congressional enactment of the Hepburn Act regarding railroad freight rates in 1906 and public controversy over proposed increased freight rates in 1907-1908 with the Financial Panic of 1907 in the background.

This post examines the circumstances surrounding the Hepburn Act.[1] Other posts will discuss the Panic of 1907 and the controversy over freight rates.

Background

As discussed in a prior post, in 2003 the Elkins Act was adopted to increase the power of the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to combat rebates on railroad freight rates. By late 1904, however, critics were saying although this Act apparently had substantially reduced rebates, it had facilitated railroads’ establishing collusive pricing. It had not produced lower rates. In short, it had not produced benefits to farmers and other shippers.

The ICC itself expressed similar views in its Nineteenth Annual Report on December 14, 1905. It said, “various devices for evading the [Elkins Act] . . . have [been] brought into use, but the actual payment of rebates as such has been . . . established by convincing proof, on which prosecutions have been commenced and are now pending. More frequently the unjust preference is brought about by methods, which may escape . . . [the Elkins Act], but which plainly operate to defeat the purpose [of the statute]. . . . [T]his type of evil has by no means disappeared and . . . is liable to increase unless effectively restrained.”

Roosevelt’s Advocacy of Additional Railroad Regulation

Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt

President Roosevelt, recognizing the flaws in the existing set of laws regulating railroads, set about advocating for new laws to enhance such regulation in his second term.

Indeed, he did so in his December 6, 1904, Annual State of the Union Message after he had been re-elected, but before he had been inaugurated for his second term. With respect to the “great corporations,” he stated, “the need for the Government to act directly is far greater than in the case of labor, because great corporations can become such only by engaging in interstate commerce, and interstate commerce is peculiarly the field of the General Government . . . . The National Government alone can deal adequately with these great corporations.” He continued, “Great corporations are necessary, and only men of great and singular mental power can manage such corporations successfully, and such men must have great rewards. But these corporations should be managed with due regard to the interests of the public as a whole. Where this can be done under the present laws it must be done. Where these laws come short others should be enacted to supplement them.”

Later in this Annual Message Roosevelt said, “it is necessary to put a complete stop to all rebates. Whether the shipper or the railroad is to blame makes no difference; the rebate must be stopped, the abuses of the private car and private terminal-track and side-track systems must be stopped, and the [Elkins Act] . . . which declares it to be unlawful for any person or corporation to offer, grant, give, solicit, accept, or receive any rebate, concession, or discrimination in respect of the transportation of any property in interstate or foreign commerce whereby such property shall by any device whatever be transported at a less rate than that named in the tariffs published by the carrier must be enforced.” He added, “the most important legislative act now needed” is to vest the ICC “with the power, where a given rate has been challenged and after full hearing found to be unreasonable, to decide, subject to judicial review, what shall be a reasonable rate to take its place; the ruling of the Commission to take effect immediately, and to obtain unless and until it is reversed by the court of review.”

Nearly 10 months later in a speech in Raleigh, North Carolina Roosevelt said, “The management of the . . . intricate web of railroad lines which cover the country, is a task infinitely more difficult, more delicate, and more important than [the management of the wagon roads]. . . .[The] Government . . . [must] exercise a supervisory and regulatory right over the railroads; for it is vital to the well-being of the public that they should be managed in a spirit of fairness and justice toward all the public. Actual experience has shown that it is not possible to leave the railroads uncontrolled. Such . . . a lack of system is fertile in abuses of every kind, and puts a premium upon unscrupulous and ruthless cunning in railroad management; for there are some big shippers and some railroad managers who are always willing to take unfair advantage of their weaker competitors, and they thereby force other big shippers and big railroad men who would like to do decently into similar acts of wrong and injustice, under penalty of being left behind in the race for success. Government supervision is needed quite as much in the interest of the big shipper and of the railroad man who want to do right as in the interest of the small shipper and the consumer.”

At Raleigh Roosevelt added that the U.S. needs “an administrative body with the power to secure fair and just treatment as among all shippers who use the railroads and all shippers have a right to use them.” There are abuses by the railroads according to Roosevelt. “Rebates are not now often given openly. But they can be given just as effectively in covert form; and private cars, terminal tracks, and the like.” Congress must grant the ICC or another government agency the “power to make its findings effective, and this can be done only by giving it power, when complaint is made of a given rate as being unjust or unreasonable, if it finds the complaint proper, then itself to fix a maximum rate which it regards as just and reasonable, this rate to go into effect practically at once, that is within a reasonable time, and to stay in effect unless reversed by the courts.” Moreover, the ICC needs to have the power “to make a full and exhaustive investigation of the receipts and expenditures of the railroad, so that any violation or evasion of the law may be detected.”

In the December 5, 1905, Annual State of the Union Message Roosevelt returned at length to federal regulation of the railroads. He introduced the topic with these words:

  • “The first thing to do is to deal with the great corporations engaged in the business of interstate transportation. As I said in my [last Annual] Message . . ., the immediate and most pressing need, so far as legislation is concerned, is the enactment into law of some scheme to secure to the agents of the Government such supervision and regulation of the rates charged by the railroads of the country engaged in interstate traffic as shall summarily and effectively prevent the imposition of unjust or unreasonable rates. It must include putting a complete stop to rebates in every shape and form.”

Roosevelt continued. A “competent administrative body [must have] the power to decide, upon the case being brought before it, whether a given rate prescribed by a railroad is reasonable and just, and if it is found to be unreasonable and unjust, then, after full investigation of the complaint, to prescribe the limit of rate beyond which it shall not be lawful to go the maximum reasonable rate, . . . this decision to go into effect within a reasonable time and to obtain from thence onward, subject to review by the courts. It sometimes happens at present, not that a rate is too high but that a favored shipper is given too low a rate. In such case the Commission would have the right to fix this already established minimum rate as the maximum; and it would need only one or two such decisions by the Commission to cure railroad companies of the practice of giving improper minimum rates.”

This “proposal is not to give the Commission power to initiate or originate rates generally, but to regulate a rate already fixed or originated by the roads, upon complaint and after investigation. A heavy penalty should be exacted from any corporation which fails to respect an order of the Commission. I regard this power to establish a maximum rate as being essential to any scheme of real reform in the matter of railway regulation.”

“The law should make it clear so that nobody can fail to understand that any kind of commission paid on freight shipments, whether in . . . [the form of an immediate reduction of the rate] or in the form of fictitious damages, or of a concession, a free pass, reduced passenger rate, or payment of brokerage, is illegal.”

Roosevelt also cautioned “that these recommendations are not made in any spirit of hostility to the railroads. On ethical grounds, on grounds of right, such hostility would be intolerable ; and on grounds of mere national self-interest we must remember that such hostility would tell against the welfare not merely of some few rich men, but of a multitude of small investors, a multitude of railway employees, wage-workers ; and most severely against the interest of the public as a whole.”

Moreover, according to Roosevelt, “on the whole our railroads have done well and not ill; but the railroad men who wish to do well should not be exposed to competition with those who have no such desire, and the only way to secure this end is to give to some Government tribunal the power to see that justice is done by the unwilling exactly as

it is gladly done by the willing.” In addition, a government determination of “reasonable” rates would aid railroads against “irrational clamor” and unfounded claims.

The Hepburn Act

Jonathan P. Dolliver
Jonathan P. Dolliver

To carry forward this top priority of the President’s agenda, Roosevelt in early 2006 chose a junior Senator, Jonathan Prentiss Dolliver of Iowa, [2] to draft the legislation. However, Senator Elkins, who had sponsored the prior bill on such rates in 1903, was not supportive of the President’s proposal and also was upset that the President had chosen Senator Dolliver of Iowa to draft the legislation.

On January 27th Senator Dolliver, apparently recognizing considerable resistance to the bill in the Senate, took the unusual step of sending his bill to the House before Senate action. The House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce quickly and favorably reported the bill to the full House, which on February 8th passed it with only seven negative votes. The bill would authorize the ICC to set reasonable rates whenever the actual rates were justifiably challenged and give railroads 30 days to appeal such decisions to the courts; it also would require the railroads to adopt a uniform and public form of bookkeeping.

Obtaining Senate approval of the bill, however, was more difficult. Conservative Senators opposed the legislation and, acting on behalf of the railroad industry, proposed amending the proposed legislation to give federal courts the power to review and reverse any ICC determination of rates. Roosevelt, however, resisted and took his case to the people and succeeded in pressuring the Senate to approve the legislation without this judicial review feature.

The fight in the Senate was not yet over. In order to obtain sufficient votes for passage of the bill, Roosevelt (a Republican) for five weeks secretly had backed an amendment proposed by Democratic Senators Joseph Weldon Bailey Sr. (Mississippi) and Benjamin Ryan Tillman, Jr. (South Carolina) that would limit judicial review of ICC orders on unreasonable rates to questions involving the ICC’s authority and the constitutional rights of the railroads. On May 4th, however, when it was apparent that the Tillman-Bailey Amendment did not have the necessary votes, Roosevelt, without notice to Bailey and Tillman and much to their consternation, announced at a hastily called press conference that the President supported a “broad” judicial review amendment proposed by Republican Senator William Boyd Allison (Iowa); this amendment had no limits on the scope of such judicial review, leaving it to the courts to decide the scope of review.

Thereafter, on May 18th the Senate approved the Hepburn bill, with the Allison amendment, with only three negative votes. A subsequent conference committee reconciled the two versions of the bill with the approval of the two houses of Congress.

On June 29, 1906, Roosevelt signed the Hepburn Act (“An Act to amend an Act entitled ‘An Act to regulate commerce,’ approved February fourth, eighteen hundred and eighty-seven, and all Acts amendatory thereof, and to enlarge the powers of the Interstate Commerce Commission”), 34 Stat. 584 (1906). The following are the significant provisions of the Hepburn Act:

  • The ICC was empowered to replace existing rates with “just-and-reasonable” maximum rates with the ICC to define what was “just and reasonable.”
  • The ICC orders were made binding upon issuance unless and until a federal court overturned them.
  • Anti-rebate provisions were toughened.
  • Free passes were outlawed.
  • The penalties for violation were increased.
  • The ICC was granted the power to prescribe a uniform system of railroad accounting, to require standardized reports and to inspect railroad accounts.
William P. Hepburn
William P. Hepburn

 

The Act is known as the Hepburn Act because the Chairman of the House Committee that first approved the bill was Congressman William Peters Hepburn, Republican from Clarinda, Iowa.[3]

Interestingly the town of Clarinda was the home of some of the in-laws of my maternal great-great-uncle, William C. Brown, who owned a home and a farm there as well. It would be interesting to know whether Hepburn and Brown had any social or political interactions in Clarinda or in Washington, D.C.

Reactions to the Hepburn Act

Scholars consider the Hepburn Act the most important piece of legislation regarding railroads in the first half of the 20th century.

W. C. Brown
W. C. Brown

William C. Brown, then a Vice President of the New York Central Railway, shared this opinion. He said in February 1908, “The Hepburn law has released the railroads from a helpless condition of rebates and preferential rates, and its value can hardly be overestimated, both to the railroads and to the great majority of the public which did not participate in, nor profit by such practices.”[4]

More generally he said on that occasion, “The principle of the control and regulation of railroads by the nation and the several States has been accepted in good faith by the railroads, and they have entered upon the task of adjusting their operations to the changed conditions resultant upon laws recently enacted.” His only caveat was railroads’ needing “a fair and impartial hearing and the . . . right to appeal to the courts to prevent injury or to secure redress of injustice.”

Similar comments were made by Brown in an April 18, 1907, speech at the Buffalo, New York Chamber of Commerce: “I am firmly and unalterably in favor of regulation of railroads by the Nation and States.”[5] This comment was after Brown in his speech had stated that “the railroads were being operated intelligently, skillfully, vigorously to the last limit of capacity. Yet almost any other business has offered higher and more certain returns than railroads, and it will be impossible for railroads to raise needed capital unless such investment will be reasonably attractive and secure resulting from assurance of reasonable cooperation and protection. This will be difficult in light of extreme hostility and indiscriminate agitation that has resulted in unjust and harmful legislation in many states.”

In the New York Central’s annual report for 1909, Brown said, “Governmental regulation of railroads, within proper limitations, is of benefit to the public, to the railroads, and to those who hold their securities.”[6]

Therefore, it was not surprising for Brown to say in a September 24, 1910, letter to “My dear Col. Roosevelt,” after Roosevelt was out of office, “During your term as President, as you know, I steadfastly supported your ideas in regard to Corporations.”[7]

Even though there was not major public controversy over the details of the Hepburn Act after its passage, there was considerable public and private debate over whether this Act would allow the railroads to increase their freight rates as we will see in subsequent posts.

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[1] This post is based upon the cited sources plus Edmund Morris, Theodore Rex at 375-77, 417-34, 422-24, 426-28, 433-35, 438-39, 442-44, 446-48, 506 (New York; Random House; 2001); Blum, Theodore Roosevelt and the Hepburn Act: Toward an Orderly System of Control in Morison (ed.) The Letters of Theodore Roosevelt (Cambridge, Mass.; Harvard Univ. Press; 1952); Miller Center, President Theodore Roosevelt: Domestic Affairs; Hoogenboom & Hoogenboom, A History of the Interstate Commerce Commission—From Panacea to Palliative at 38-40, 47-57 (1976); Hoogenboom, Hepburn Act, in Bryant (ed.), Railroads in the Age of Regulation, 1900-1980 at 198 (New York; Bruccoli Clark; 1988); Kolko, Railroads and Regulation, 1877-1916 at 107-48 (Princeton; Princeton Univ. Press; 1965); Wikipedia, Hepburn ActTillman Discloses Roosevelt Secret, N.Y. Times (May 13, 1906); Allison Amendment in Bill, N.Y. Times (May 13, 1906).

[2] Dolliver was a lawyer in Fort Dodge, Iowa before election as a progressive Republican to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1888, where he served until 1900. He then was appointed to fill a vacant seat in the U.S. Senate, where he served until his death in 1910. Dolliver gained national attention for his prowess as an orator. One example of this skill was his explanation of Iowa’s traditional allegiance with the Republican Party: “Iowa will go Democratic when Hell goes Methodist.”

[3] During the Civil War, Hepburn had helped organize a company of the Iowa Volunteer Cavalry, which elected him as captain. He advanced to the ranks of major and eventually lieutenant colonel and gained recognition for his valiant service in the War. After the War he moved to the small southwestern Iowa town of Clarinda, where he was the editor and part owner of the local newspaper and practiced law, including representation of the Burlington Railroad. Hepburn served in Congress, 1881-1887 and 1893-1909, and became a national leader of progressive Republicans. The Hepburn Act was the culmination of his legislative work on transportation issues and his most prominent accomplishment in the House. In addition, he co-sponsored the Pure Food and Drug Act and supported the annexation of Hawaii, the construction of the Panama Canal and reducing the power of the Speaker of the House.

[4] Praises Rebate Law, N. Y. Times (Feb. 2, 1908).

[5] William C. Brown, Remarks at Chamber of Commerce, Buffalo, New York, April 18, 1907).

[6] Regulations Help Railroads Along, N. Y. Times Mar. 13, 1910).

[7] Letter, William C. Brown to Theodore Roosevelt (Sept. 24, 1910) (image # 93-059 provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Divisions and Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University, www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org ).