U.S. Announces Agreement To Restore Diplomatic Relations with Cuba

On July 1, 2015, the U.S. and Cuba announced an agreement to restore diplomatic relations. This post will discuss the U.S. announcement and reactions.[1] A subsequent post will do the same for the Cuban announcement and reactions.

U.S. Announcement

President Obama & Vice President Biden
President Obama & Vice President Biden

In the White House’s Rose Garden, President Obama announced the plans to reopen the embassies. Here is what he said:

  • “More than 54 years ago, at the height of the Cold War, the United States closed its embassy in Havana.  Today, I can announce that the United States has agreed to formally re-establish diplomatic relations with the Republic of Cuba, and re-open embassies in our respective countries.  This is a historic step forward in our efforts to normalize relations with the Cuban government and people, and begin a new chapter with our neighbors in the Americas.”
  • “When the United States shuttered our embassy in 1961, I don’t think anyone expected that it would be more than half a century before it re-opened.  After all, our nations are separated by only 90 miles, and there are deep bonds of family and friendship between our people.  But there have been very real, profound differences between our governments, and sometimes we allow ourselves to be trapped by a certain way of doing things.”
  • “For the United States, that meant clinging to a policy that was not working.  Instead of supporting democracy and opportunity for the Cuban people, our efforts to isolate Cuba despite good intentions increasingly had the opposite effect -– cementing the status quo and isolating the United States from our neighbors in this hemisphere.  The progress that we mark today is yet another demonstration that we don’t have to be imprisoned by the past. When something isn’t working, we can -– and will –- change.”
  • “Last December, I announced that the United States and Cuba had decided to take steps to normalize our relationship.  As part of that effort, President Raul Castro and I directed our teams to negotiate the re-establishment of embassies.  Since then, our State Department has worked hard with their Cuban counterparts to achieve that goal.  And later this summer, Secretary Kerry will travel to Havana formally to proudly raise the American flag over our embassy once more.”
  • “This is not merely symbolic.  With this change, we will be able to substantially increase our contacts with the Cuban people.  We’ll have more personnel at our embassy.  And our diplomats will have the ability to engage more broadly across the island.  That will include the Cuban government, civil society, and ordinary Cubans who are reaching for a better life.”
  • “On issues of common interest –- like counterterrorism, disaster response, and development -– we will find new ways to cooperate with Cuba.  And I’ve been clear that we will also continue to have some very serious differences.  That will include America’s enduring support for universal values, like freedom of speech and assembly, and the ability to access information.  And we will not hesitate to speak out when we see actions that contradict those values.”
  • “However, I strongly believe that the best way for America to support our values is through engagement.  That’s why we’ve already taken steps to allow for greater travel, people-to-people and commercial ties between the United States and Cuba.  And we will continue to do so going forward.”
  • “Since December, we’ve already seen enormous enthusiasm for this new approach. Leaders across the Americas have expressed support for our change in policy; you heard that expressed by President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil yesterday.  Public opinion surveys in both our countries show broad support for this engagement. . . .
  • “Here in the United States, we’ve seen that same enthusiasm.  There are Americans who want to travel to Cuba and American businesses [that] want to invest in Cuba.  American colleges and universities . . . want to partner with Cuba.  Above all, Americans who want to get to know their neighbors to the south. And through that engagement, we can also help the Cuban people improve their own lives.”
  • “Americans and Cubans alike are ready to move forward.  I believe it’s time for Congress to do the same.  I’ve called on Congress to take steps to lift the embargo that prevents Americans from travelling or doing business in Cuba.  We’ve already seen members from both parties begin that work.  After all, why should Washington stand in the way of our own people?”
  • “Yes, there are those who want to turn back the clock and double down on a policy of isolation.  But it’s long past time for us to realize that this approach doesn’t work.  It hasn’t worked for 50 years.  It shuts America out of Cuba’s future, and it only makes life worse for the Cuban people.”
  • So I’d ask Congress to listen to the Cuban people.  Listen to the American people.  Listen to the words of a proud Cuban-American, Carlos Gutierrez, who recently came out against the policy of the past, saying, ‘I wonder if the Cubans who have to stand in line for the most basic necessities for hours in the hot Havana sun feel that this approach is helpful to them.’”
  • “Of course, nobody expects Cuba to be transformed overnight. But I believe that American engagement — through our embassy, our businesses, and most of all, through our people — is the best way to advance our interests and support for democracy and human rights.  Time and again, America has demonstrated that part of our leadership in the world is our capacity to change.  It’s what inspires the world to reach for something better.”
  • “A year ago, it might have seemed impossible that the United States would once again be raising our flag, the stars and stripes, over an embassy in Havana.  This is what change looks like.”
  • “In January of 1961, the year I was born, when President Eisenhower announced the termination of our relations with Cuba, he said:  It is my hope and my conviction that it is ‘in the not-too-distant future it will be possible for the historic friendship between us once again to find its reflection in normal relations of every sort.’  Well, it took a while, but I believe that time has come.  And a better future lies ahead.”
Secretary John Kerry
Secretary John Kerry

The same day Secretary of State John Kerry from Vienna, Austria also discussed the plans, including his intent to travel to Havana for the opening of the embassy later this month. His statement included the following:

  • “Later this summer, as the President announced, I will travel to Cuba to personally take part in the formal reopening of our United States Embassy in Havana. This will mark the resumption of embassy operations after a period of 54 years. It will also be the first visit by a Secretary of State to Cuba since 1945. The reopening of our embassy . . . is an important step on the road to restoring fully normal relations between the United States and Cuba. Coming a quarter of a century after the end of the Cold War, it recognizes the reality of the changed circumstances, and it will serve to meet a number of practical needs.”
  • “The United States and Cuba continue to have sharp differences over democracy, human rights, and related issues, but we also have identified areas for cooperation that include law enforcement, safe transportation, emergency response, environmental protection, telecommunications, and migration. The resumption of full embassy activities will help us engage the Cuban Government more often and at a higher level, and it will also allow our diplomats to interact more frequently, and frankly more broadly and effectively, with the Cuban people. In addition, we will better be able to assist Americans who travel to the island nation in order to visit family members or for other purposes.”

In addition, the State Department conducted a special briefing by a senior official on this historic development. This individual said, “We’re confident that our embassy in Havana will be able to operate similar to other embassies operating in restrictive environments. We will be able to meet and exchange opinions with a variety of voices and views both within the government and outside. We’ll be able to engage a broad range of Cuban civil society and citizens.” The conditions for “access to diplomatic facilities, travel of diplomats, and the level of staffing . . . are acceptable for carrying out the core diplomatic functions necessary for implementing the President’s new policy direction on Cuba.” There were not any agreed “constrains or restrictions” on the exact types of programs or facilities that each of our embassies conducts.

According to the State Department spokesperson, there will be future discussions or negotiations with Cuba over human rights, telecommunications, health issues, fugitives, law enforcement, U.S. claims for property expropriation, Cuban claims for damages under the embargo and U.S. broadcasts to the island. Until there is a nomination and confirmation of an ambassador, Jeffrey DeLaurentis will be the charge d’affaires and will lead the embassy.

Jeffrey DeLaurentis & Marcelinio Medina
Jeffrey DeLaurentis & Marcelinio Medina

Also earlier the same day Cuba’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that the head of the US Interests Section in Cuba, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, had delivered to the Acting Foreign Minister, Marcelino Medina, a letter from President Obama to Army General Raul Castro confirming “the restoration of diplomatic relations and the opening of embassies in the respective countries” on or after July 20. Here is the text of that letter:

  • “I am pleased to confirm, after high-level talks between our two governments, and in accordance with international law and practice, that the United States of America and the Republic of Cuba decided to restore diplomatic relations and permanent diplomatic missions in our respective countries 20 July 2015. This is an important step forward in the normalization process, which started last December, with regard to relations between our two countries and peoples.”
  • “In making this decision, the United States are encouraged by the mutual intention to enter into friendly and cooperative relations between our two peoples and governments, consistent with the purposes and principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, in particular those relating to equality sovereign states, the settlement of international disputes by peaceful means, respect for the territorial integrity and political independence of States, respect for the equal rights and self-determination of peoples, non-interference in internal affairs States as well as promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.”
  • “The United States and Cuba are parties to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, signed in Vienna on April 18, 1961, and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, signed in Vienna on April 24, 1963. I am pleased to confirm the understanding the United States that the above conventions apply to diplomatic and consular relations between our two countries.”

Although the U.S. can easily change the plaque on its building in Havana to one proclaiming that it is the Embassy of the United States of America, the State Department has said it needs $6.6 million to retrofit the building to make it suitable as an embassy. This may require a supplemental appropriation by Congress.

The U.S. will need an Ambassador to Cuba, and such an appointment needs to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. In the meantime, as just noted, the U.S. has a capable career diplomat running the interests section, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, who will be in charge.

Reactions to the Announcement

The announcement of re-establishment of diplomatic relations drew widespread praise. Senator Jeff Flake (Rep., AZ) stated, “It’s long past time for U.S. policy toward Cuba to be associated with something other than five decades of failure. It is difficult to overstate the importance of resuming diplomatic relations ‎with Cuba, in furthering our own national interests, benefiting our relations in the region, and encouraging a positive future for the Cuban people. I am confident that this move will lead to increased travel and contact between U.S. citizens and everyday Cubans, to the benefit of both.” Senator Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN), a co-sponsor of a bill to expand U.S. travel to Cuba and the author of a bill to lift the trade embargo, said, “This is the first step that must happen in order to lift the embargo.” Democratic Senators Patrick Leahy (VT) and Benjamin Cardin (MD) issued similar positive statements.

Engage Cuba, a bipartisan public policy organization dedicated to coalescing and mobilizing American businesses, non-profit groups and concerned citizens for the purpose of supporting the ongoing U.S.‐Cuba normalization process and enacting legislation to reform U.S. travel and trade restrictions with Cuba, issued a statement of support. It said, “We applaud this important step in bringing the U.S. and Cuba closer together, and urge Congress to hasten the day when American travelers and companies have the freedom to engage with one of our nearest neighbors. Opening embassies in Washington and Havana is an important step toward the day when Americans can make their own decisions on where they travel, and our businesses can compete with the rest of the world. We are making history by making it clear that America’s engagement isn’t a concession, it is a show of strength and the best way to promote our values and create opportunities for both Americans and the Cuban people.”

Moreover, said Engage Cuba, “A vast majority of the American people – and 97% of the Cuban people – support re-establishing diplomatic relations. Today is a great day for the American and Cuban people who seek a brighter future for their two countries. After 54 years of a failed Cold war policy, better days finally lie ahead.”

A similar supportive statement came from the Center for Democracy in the Americas (CDA), which is “devoted to changing U.S. policy toward the countries of the Americas by basing our relations on mutual respect, fostering dialogue with those governments and movements with which U.S. policy is at odds, and recognizing positive trends in democracy and governance” and which is a member of Engage Cuba. CDA stated, “”This is a moment we have been working toward for many years. The restoration of diplomatic relations between our countries is a major achievement that will help to heal decades of mistrust and will open opportunities for the U.S. and Cuba to collaborate on issues of mutual interest like immigration, environmental conservation, and regional trade. We applaud the tireless work of Cuban and U.S. diplomats, policymakers, academics, and activists who have helped make this possible. We are ready to work with all our allies to defend these positive steps initiated by President Obama and to move forward with removing the embargo once and for all.”

The day before this announcement, President Obama held a joint press conference at the White House with the visiting President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff.[2] In his opening remarks, Obama said, “As President, I’ve pursued a new era of engagement with Latin America where our countries work together as equal partners, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.  As we saw at the recent Summit of the Americas, the United States is more deeply engaged in the region than we’ve been in decades, and I believe the relationship between the United States and Latin America is as good as it’s ever been.  We’re focused on the future — what we can accomplish together.”

After he had reviewed the many ways that Brazil and the U.S. cooperate, Obama commented, “And finally, we’re working together to uphold democracy and human rights across Latin America.  I very much appreciate President Rousseff and Brazil’s strong support for our new opening toward Cuba.  I updated Dilma on our progress, including our work to open embassies in Havana and Washington.  And I believe that Brazil’s leadership in the region, as well as its own journey to democracy and a market economy can make it an important partner as we work to create more opportunities and prosperity for the Cuban people.”

In her response President Rousseff remarked about “the importance for Latin America of the recent decision made by President Obama and by President Raul Castro, even with the partnership with Pope Francis to the effect of opening up relations with — or resuming relations with Cuba, a very decisive milestone and point in time in U.S. relations with Latin America.  It is really about putting an end to the lingering vestiges of the Cold War.  And it ultimately elevates the level of the relations between the U.S. and the entire region. May I acknowledge the importance of that gesture to all of Latin America and also to world peace at large.  It is an important example of relations to be followed.”

These thoughts were echoed in the subsequent Joint Communique by the two presidents: “President Rousseff praised President Obama’s policy changes towards Cuba, and the Leaders agreed that the latest Summit of the Americas (held in Panama, on April 10 and 11, 2015) demonstrated the region’s capacity to overcome the differences of the past through dialogue, thereby paving the way for the region as a whole to find solutions to the common challenges facing the countries of the Americas.”

As anticipated, however, Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), a Cuban-American, immediately issued a press release condemning the agreement.[3] It said:

  • “Throughout this entire negotiation, as the Castro regime has stepped up its repression of the Cuban people, the Obama Administration has continued to look the other way and offer concession after concession. The administration’s reported plan to restore diplomatic relations is one such prized concession to the Castro regime. It remains unclear what, if anything, has been achieved since the President’s December 17th announcement in terms of securing the return of U.S. fugitives being harbored in Cuba, settling outstanding legal claims to U.S. citizens for properties confiscated by the regime, and in obtaining the unequivocal right of our diplomats to travel freely throughout Cuba and meet with any dissidents, and most importantly, securing greater political freedoms for the Cuban people. I intend to oppose the confirmation of an Ambassador to Cuba until these issues are addressed. It is time for our unilateral concessions to this odious regime to end.”

Conclusion

I am glad that my recent concern about the delay in announcing resumption of diplomatic relations has been alleviated. This is an important development in the            reconciliation of our country with Cuba. Now all advocates for reconciliation need to notify their senators and representatives to oppose any of the measures put forward by Senator Rubio and others to try to block this important move.

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[1] This portion of the post is based upon the following: White House, Statement by the President on the Re-Establishment of Diplomatic Relations with Cuba (July 1, 2015); Letter from Barack Obama [to] Raúl Castro, Granma (July 1, 2015); Letters between Obama and Castro to restore diplomatic relations, el Pais (July 1, 2015); Kerry, Statement on Cuba (July 1, 2015); State Dep’t, Special Briefing on Re-Establishment of Diplomatic Relations with Cuba (July 1, 2015); Baker & Davis, U.S. and Cuba Reach an Agreement to Reopen Embassies, Officials Say, N.Y. Times (June 30, 2015); Schwartz, Córdoba & Lee, U.S., Cuba Reach Agreement to Establish Full Diplomatic Relations, W.S.J. (June 30, 2015); Center for Democracy in Americas, Press Release: CDA Applauds Announcement That U.S. And Cuba Will Reopen Embassies (June 30, 2015); Minister for Foreign Affairs will receive †he Head of †he Section of Interests of the United States, Granma (July 1, 2015); Ayuso, Cuba and the United States announced the reopening of embassies on Wednesday, El Pais (July 1, 2015); Flake, Re-Establishment of Diplomatic Relations with Cuba (June 30, 2015); Engage Cuba, Press Release: Statement from Engage Cuba on Announcement that U.S., and Cuban Embassies Will Re-open (July 1, 2015); Rubio, Rubio Comments On Obama Re-Establishing Diplomatic Relations With Cuba (July 1, 2015)

[2] This portion of the post is based upon the following: White House, Remarks by President Obama and President Rousseff of Brazil in Joint Press Conference (June 30, 2015); White House, Joint Communique by President Barack Obama and President Dilma Rousseff (June 30, 2015); Harris, Leader of Brazil Visits Amid Home Turbulence, N.Y. Times (June 30, 2015).

[3] Senator Rubio in a letter to Secretary Kerry in June “vowed to oppose the confirmation of any ambassador until issues like human rights, fugitive terrorists and billions of dollars of outstanding claims were resolved.” The Senator said it is “important that pro-democracy activities not be sacrificed in the name of ‘diplomacy’ just so that we can change the name of a building from ‘Interest Section’ to ‘Embassy,’ ” Similar negative press releases came from other Cuban-Americas in the Congress: Senator Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ) and Republican Representatives from Florida, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart.

 

 

 

 

 

Congressional Opponents of U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation Accept Terrorism Rescission

On April 23 U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Rep., FL), a Cuban-American, announced that congressional opponents of U.S.-Cuba reconciliation reluctantly had accepted President Obama’s decision to rescind the U.S. designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” that was the subject of a prior post. [1]

She said that she and 35 other representatives had been preparing to draft a resolution opposing the rescission before a joint decision was made not to go forward. The reason was their conclusion that a “joint resolution to repeal President Obama’s de-listing of Cuba from the state sponsor of terrorism list would not have the far-ranging implications that many had assumed it would.” Legally, Ros-Lehtinen said, Congress cannot prevent the White House from taking Cuba off the list because not all the statutes that govern designation of a country as a state sponsor of terrorism provide a way for Congress to block a de-listing.

The Congressional Research Service and the State Department, on the other hand, earlier had said a joint resolution by both houses could block the rescission, provided the resolution withstood a veto by Mr. Obama.

Several analysts had cast doubt on whether there was enough support in Congress to try to block Mr. Obama’s decision. Indeed, Christopher Sabatini, a scholar of U.S.-Cuba relations at Columbia University, suggested that the Republicans’ legal review provided cover for the possibility that the votes to oppose rescission were not there.

“This was the hard-liners’ white flag,” Mr. Sabatini said. “They had been planning to present a piece of legislation in the allotted 45 days to overturn the removal of Cuba from the list, but couldn’t get a majority. Rather than risk looking even more isolated, they abandoned it.”

Nevertheless, according to Ros-Lehtinen, she and the other 35 representatives “are concentrating our efforts on promoting legislation that will hold the Castro regime accountable for its nefarious activities. We plan to file broader legislation regarding Cuba that will help ensure that U.S. national security is protected and that our country continues to advocate for human rights on the island. Removing Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terrorism list does not truly lift significant sanctions as many sanctions remain codified in law.”

A week earlier just such a bill, the Cuban Human Rights Act of 2015 (H.R.1782) was introduced in the House by Rep. Chris Smith (Rep., NJ), the chair of the House global human rights subcommittee; the cosponsors (as of April 23) are Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Rep.,FL), Mario Diaz-Balart (Rep., FL), Albio Sires (Dem.,NJ), Carlos Curbelo (Rep., FL), Leonard Lance (Rep., NJ),Tom MacArthur (Rep., NJ), Mark Meadows (Rep., NC), Rodney Frelinghuysen (Rep., NJ), Frank LoBiondo (Rep., NJ), Peter King (Rep., NY) and Dana Rohrsbacher (Rep., CA).

According to the official summary, H.R.1782 expresses the sense of Congress that the U.S.-Cuba relationship should not be changed, nor should any federal law or regulation be amended, until the government of Cuba ceases violating the human rights of the people of Cuba; the U.S. should overcome the jamming of radio and television signals of the Radio y Television Marti by the government of Cuba, and the Broadcasting Board of Governors should not cut staffing, funding, or broadcast hours for Radio y Television Marti; if certain human rights conditions are not met the U.S. Permanent Representative to the U.N. should oppose and encourage other U.N. members to oppose Cuba’s continued membership on the U.N. Human Rights Council; and the annual Stae Department trafficking-victims report to Congress should include an in-depth analysis of the facilitation of or involvement in severe forms of human trafficking by any official of the government of Cuba or of companies wholly or partially owned by the government of Cuba.

On the other hand, the summary says the bill may not be construed as: prohibiting the donation of food to nongovernmental organizations or individuals in Cuba; restricting the export of medicine or medical supplies to Cuba, or abrogating any requirement that such exports be verified in conformity with the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 or any other applicable federal law; or prohibiting or restricting any other form of assistance specified in the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, including telecommunications, mail, and support for democracy.

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[1] This post is based upon the following: Ros-Lehtinen, Press Release: Any Legislation Regarding Cuba Must Be Substantive and Have Significant Legal Effect (April 23, 2015); Archibold, Cuba Moves Closer to Exit U.S. Terror List, N.Y. Times (April 24, 2015); Whitefield, Republicans won’t challenge Cuba’s removal from terrorism list, Miami Herald (April 23, 2015); Whitefield, Cuba human rights bill introduced; State says Cuba will talk about return of fugitives, Miami Herald (April 15, 2015); Chris Smith, Press Release: Bill to Promote Cuban Human Rights introduced in House of Representatives, (April 15, 2015).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

President Obama Rescinds U.S. Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism”

On April 14th President Barack Obama rescinded the U.S. designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” and so notified the Congress. This post will review that decision and its background. [1]

As discussed in a prior post, on December 17, 2014, President Obama asked Secretary of State John Kerry to undertake a review of whether the U.S. should rescind this designation while another post reviewed the statutory framework for this process: review and recommendation by the Department of State followed by a decision by the president and notification of such a decision to the Congress with such a decision to become effective 45 days after that notification. Yet another post set forth the reasons why this blogger believes that such past designations of Cuba have been unjustified, absurd, ridiculous.

 State Department’s Recommendation

Secretary of State’s Press Statement.

On April 14, 2015, Secretary Kerry publicly announced that the State Department had recommended that the President rescind the designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism.” His press release stated that last week the “Department submitted a report to the White House recommending, based on the facts and the statutory standard, that President Obama rescind Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.”

“This recommendation,” the Statement continued, “reflects the Department’s assessment that Cuba meets the criteria established by Congress for rescission . . . . whether Cuba provided any support for international terrorism during the previous six months, and whether Cuba has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.” This conclusion was based, in part, upon “corroborative assurances received from the Government of Cuba.”

Nevertheless, according to the Secretary’s statement, “the United States has had, and continues to have, significant concerns and disagreements with a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions, [but] these concerns and disagreements fall outside of the criteria for designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.”

Department’s Background Briefing.

At a special briefing on April 14th, a senior State Department official noted, “the Cubans have for a long time shown us many, many, many speeches by their leaders, both Fidel and Raul, in which they have rejected terrorism; many instances, in fact, of terrorist acts that they have decried publicly, I think the latest probably being the Charlie Hebdo incident in France. But certainly, there are lots of incidents that they can point to. And in terms of commitments for the future, they point to both statements by their leadership and ratifications of international treaties, and the assurances that they gave us.”

Another senior official stated, ”the assurances they provide were fairly wide-ranging and fairly high-level. . . . [T]hey addressed the key elements that we know in the past have been a factor. [T]hey also addressed the pledge or the assurances that they will no longer support acts of terrorism in the future.”

One of the officials in response to a journalist question said, “The statutes . . . provide that no rescission can be made if within 45 days after the receipt of the report from the President the Congress enacts a joint resolution on the issue prohibiting the rescission. The President, of course, can veto any such joint resolution and Congress then, of course, can further act to override the veto. . . . Congress has the right to act.”

 President Obama’s Decision

That same day (April 14) a White House press release stated the President had “submitted to Congress the statutorily required report and certifications indicating the Administration’s intent to rescind Cuba’s State Sponsor of Terrorism designation.”

This presidential decision was based upon the previously mentioned State Department recommendation that was based on its “careful review of Cuba’s record, which was informed by the Intelligence Community, as well as assurances provided by the Cuban government.”

This press release also stated, “As the President has said, we will continue to have differences with the Cuban government, but our concerns over a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions fall outside the criteria that is relevant to whether to rescind Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.  That determination is based on the statutory standard – and the facts – and those facts have led the President to declare his intention to rescind Cuba’s State Sponsor of Terrorism designation.  More broadly, the [U.S.] will continue to support our interests and values through engagement with the Cuban government and people.”

  • The actual presidential message to Congress was even shorter. It stated, “Pursuant to the Constitution and the laws of the United States, and consistent with section 6(j)(4)(B) of the Export Administration Act of 1979, Public Law 96-72, as amended (50 U.S.C. App. 2405(j)), and as continued in effect by Executive Order 13222 of August 17, 2001, I hereby certify, with respect to the rescission of the determination of March 1,
    1982, regarding Cuba that:(i) the Government of Cuba has not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding 6-month period; and

    (ii) the Government of Cuba has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.

This certification shall also satisfy the provisions of section 620A(c)(2) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, Public Law 87-195, as amended (22 U.S.C. 2371(c)), and section 40(f)(1)(B) of the Arms Export Control Act, PublicLaw 90-629, as amended (22 U.S.C. 2780(f)).”

Reactions to the Decision

Senators Patrick Leahy (Dem., VT), Dick Durbin (Dem., IL) and Benjamin Cardin (Dem., MD) were among those officials who offered immediate support of the decision. Geoff Thale of the Washington Office on Latin America, a private group that promotes democracy in the hemisphere, said: “Taking Cuba off the list of terrorist states is a sensible, and long-overdue step. Whatever U.S. and Cuban differences, the Cuban government has not been a supporter of terrorism.  Taking Cuba off the list will remove an unnecessary irritant in the relationship, and perhaps allow us to discuss the real differences we do have in a more serious way. It should help pave the way for normal diplomatic relations.” The same sentiment came from another U.S. NGO focusing on Latin America, the Latin American Working Group.

Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s top diplomat for U.S. Affairs, endorsed the decision. She said, “The Cuban government recognizes the just decision taken by the President of the [U.S.] to eliminate Cuba from a list on which it never should have been included, especially considering that our country has been the victim of hundreds of acts of terrorism that have cost 3,478 lives and disabled 2,099 Cuban citizens. As the Cuban government has reiterated on multiple occasions, Cuba rejects and condemns all acts of terrorism in all their forms and manifestations, as well as any action that is intended to instigate, support, finance or conceal terrorist acts.”

Not surprisingly long time Cuban-American opponents of the U.S.-Cuba rapprochement criticized this decision: U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) and Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ) and Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtine (Rep., FL) and Mario Diaz-Balart (Rep., FL).

Rubio’s opposition undercuts his just-announced presidential campaign assertion that the “time has come for our generation to lead the way toward a new American Century.” In contrast, he said, “too many of our leaders and their ideas are stuck in the twentieth century. They are busy looking backward. . . . They look for solutions in yesterday.” Sorry, Senator Rubio, your ideas and solutions for U.S.-Cuba relations “are stuck in the twentieth century . . . in yesterday.” Stop looking backward!

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[1] This post is based upon the sources which are hyperlinked in this post along with the following: Archibold & Davis, Obama Endorses Removing Cuba From Terrorism List, N.Y. Times (April 14, 2015); Reuters, Obama Tells Congress He Plans to Remove Cuba From Terrorism List, N.Y. Times (April 14, 2015), Reuters, Cuba Gave U.S. Assurances It Will Not Support Terrorism in Future: U.S. Officials, N.Y. Times (April 14, 2015); Assoc. Press, Obama to Remove Cuba From State Sponsor of Terror List, N.Y. Times (April 14, 2015); DeJong, Obama removes Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, Wash. Post (April 14, 2015); Tharoor, After 33 years, the U.S. dropped its claim that Cuba sponsors terrorism. Here’s what it means, Wash. Post (Apr. 14, 2015); Barack Obama announces intent to remove Cuba from list of state sponsors of terrorism, Granma (April 14, 2015); Wash. Office on Latin America, Press Release: White House Announces Cuba’s Removal from ‘State Sponsors of Terror List (April 14, 2015); Latin American Working Group, Statement about Cuba’s removal from list (April 14, 2015); Assoc. Press, Cubans Hail Removal From US List of State Terrorism Sponsors, N.Y. Times (April 15, 2015). The actual State Department recommendation could not be found on the Internet, but when it is so available, another blog post will review that document

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. Policy Implications of State Department’s Report on Cuban Human Rights

A prior post reviewed the U.S. State Department’s just-released 2013 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices while another post discussed its chapter on Cuba. Now we look at the implications of that report for U.S. policies regarding Cuba.

Some people assert that the negative aspects of Cuban human rights justify continuing U.S. hostility toward the island. They see the Cuban glass of human rights at least half empty. Notable among them is U.S. Representative Mario Díaz-Balart, a Cuban-American and a Republican Congressman from Miami, who remains a stalwart powerful defender of the embargo and other anti-Cuba policies of the U.S.

Others, including this blogger, reach the opposite conclusion based, in part, on the belief that the Cuban glass of human rights is half full.

Rev. Raul Suarez
Rev. Raul Suarez

As Rev. Raúl Suárez put it at the February 27th briefing for the U.S. Congress, “Cuba has many problems but Cuba isn’t hell . . . . We have many good things that have been achieved [but] . . . Cuba is not the Kingdom of God.” Suárez added, “God . . . wants us [Cubans and Americans] to live like brothers and sisters.”[1]

Indeed, the humility expressed by Rev. Suárez should lead the U.S. to the same conclusion. As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said last month on release of the Human Rights Reports, “from our own nation’s journey, we know that [human rights] is a work in progress. Slavery was written into our Constitution before it was written out. And we know that the struggle for equal rights, for women, for others – for LGBT community and others – is an ongoing struggle.” Secretary Kerry admitted that we  “know that we’re not perfect. We don’t speak with any arrogance whatsoever, but with a concern for the human condition.”

In evaluating Cuba’s mixed human rights record and deciding on U.S. policies regarding that country, that same humility should cause we in the U.S. to remember the U.S. immense superiority in economies and military might and the long-standing U.S. actions of hostility towards Cuba, including the following:

  • the U.S. usurpation of Cuba’s war for independence from Spain in the late 19th Century (what we in the U.S. call the “Spanish-American War“);
  • the U.S.’ making Cuba a de facto U.S. protectorate in the early 20th Century;
  • the U.S. support for the invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs in 1961;
  • the U.S. threats of military action against Cuba during the pressured Cuban missile crisis of 1962;
  • the CIA’s hatching several plots to assassinate Fidel Castro when he was Cuba’s President;
  • the U.S. conduct of an embargo of Cuba over the last 50-plus years; and
  •  the U.S. Government’s Commission on Assistance for a Free Cuba setting forth what amounted to a U.S. blueprint for taking over Cuba.

This history provides Cuba with many legitimate reasons to be afraid of the U.S. It, therefore, is understandable why Cuba has harshly treated what we call “dissidents” and what Cuba fears are or could be supporters of a U.S. takeover.

And we in the U.S. should know from our own history since 9/11 that societies and governments tend to clamp down on civil liberties when they fear outside interference or attacks.

Cuba’s regrettable lapses on human rights, though perhaps understandable in context, should not be a reason for continued U.S. hostility toward the island.

Therefore, as a prior post argued, improving Cuban human rights should be one of many items on an agenda for a comprehensive, mutually respectful negotiation between the two countries. The objectives of such a negotiation, in my opinion, should be restoration of full diplomatic relations; ending the U.S. embargo against Cuba;[2] terminating the unjustified U.S. designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism;” [3] terminating the one-sided U.S. lease of Guantanamo Bay; and compensating owners for expropriation of property on the island as part of the Cuban Revolution.[4]

Such a negotiation, in my opinion, is in the interest of the U.S. Cuba poses no threat to the U.S. Our businesses and farmers would benefit economically from open relations with Cuba. Normalizing our relations with the island would be seen by most people in the world, especially Latin America, as a sign that the U.S. is a mature, rational country.

These thoughts were echoed by the Cuban religious leaders who held a U.S. congressional briefing on February 27th. Joined by the President and CEO of Church World Service, [5] they reaffirmed their long-held opposition to the U.S. embargo of Cuba.

They also called “for the U.S. government to end the ban that prevents U.S. citizens from visiting Cuba and seeing the island for themselves; to take Cuba off the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism . . . ; and for the American government to open up trade and commerce in ways that support the small enterprises, cooperatives, and non-profits that are emerging on the island. Finally, the U.S. and Cuban governments ought to open a high level dialogue between our countries to normalize relations and discuss differences in ways that honor and respect the dignity of both nations.”

Before the commencement of such complicated negotiations, the U.S. President should commute the sentences of three of the Cuban Five to the 15-plus years they already have spent in U.S. jails and prisons and let them return to their home country. Similarly Cuba should commute the sentence of U.S. citizen Alan Gross to the time he already has spent in Cuban prison and allow him to return to the U.S.

Given the long period of hostility between the two countries and the apparent lack of movement toward negotiations, I believe that the assistance of a neutral third-party mediator would be helpful to both countries. Such a mediator, in my opinion, should be someone who is bilingual in English and Spanish with experience as an international mediator, who is in fact and perceived to be neutral and who has the time (and staff?) to make a major commitment to this process.

Such a mediator indeed could and should step forward and invite representatives of both countries to participate in mediated negotiations, rather than wait on them to agree on such a process.

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[1] Suárez is a Baptist pastor and the founder and director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center in Havana. When I visited the Center in 2007, Rev. Suárez told our group that he had founded the Center because he thought King’s philosophy of non-violence and social justice was relevant to Cuba, especially to Afro-Cubans. He also said that in 1984 he and other religious leaders met with then President Fidel Castro to protest the government’s endorsement of atheism (or scientific materialism) as limiting the space for churches, and after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, Cuba abandoned that endorsement and provided more space for churches to participate in issues facing the island.

[2] Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter also call for ending the U.S. embargo. So too does world opinion as evidenced by the U.N. General Assembly’s passing resolutions condemning the embargo for the last 22 years. The last such resolution in October 2013 was passed 188 to 2 with only the U.S. and Israel voting against it.  A prior post to this blog also has argued for ending the embargo and summarized the 2011 General Assembly resolution against the embargo.

[3] This blog has reviewed the State Department’s asserted rationale for the “State Sponsor of Terrorism” designation and called it ridiculous for 2010, 2011 and 2012 and absurd for 2013. This blog also noted Cuba’s adoption of legislation against money laundering and terrorism financing and thereby negating one of the purported reasons for the designation.

[4] In a letter to President Obama that was reproduced in this blog, I called for the U.S. to terminate the Guantanamo Bay lease and for Cuba to compensate property owners for expropriating their property. A comprehensive review of this lease is found in Michael J. Strauss’ The Leasing of Guantanamo Bay.

[5] Church World Service was founded in 1946 with this mission: “Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, comfort the aged, shelter the homeless.” It now has 37 Protestant member communions all over the world.

U.S. State Department’s Latest Report on Cuban Human Rights

U.S. Flag
U.S. Flag

The U.S. State Department’s just-released 2013 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices’ chapter on Cuba needs analysis.[1]

The Report’s Negative Comments about Cuban Human Rights

The Executive Summary of its chapter on Cuba has a strongly negative tone. It states the following:

  • “Cuba is an authoritarian state led by Raul Castro, who is president of the council of state and council of ministers, Communist Party (CP) first secretary, and commander in chief of security forces. The constitution recognizes the CP as the only legal party and ‘the superior leading force of society and of the state.’ A CP candidacy commission preapproved all candidates for the February uncontested National Assembly elections, which were neither free nor fair. The national leadership that included members of the military maintained effective control over the security forces, which committed human rights abuses against civil rights activists and other citizens alike.
  • In January the government largely dropped travel restrictions that prevented citizens from leaving the island, but these reforms were not universally applied, and authorities denied passport requests for certain opposition figures or harassed them upon their return to the country.
  • The principal human rights abuses were abridgement of the right of citizens to change the government and the use of government threats, extrajudicial physical violence, intimidation, mobs, harassment, and detentions to prevent free expression and peaceful assembly.
  • The following additional abuses continued: harsh prison conditions, arbitrary arrest, selective prosecution, and denial of fair trial. [2] Authorities interfered with privacy, engaging in pervasive monitoring of private communications. The government did not respect freedom of speech and press, severely restricted internet access and maintained a monopoly on media outlets, circumscribed academic freedom, and maintained significant restrictions on the ability of religious groups to meet and worship. The government refused to recognize independent human rights groups or permit them to function legally. In addition, the government continued to prevent workers from forming independent unions and otherwise exercising their labor rights.
  • Most human rights abuses were official acts committed at the direction of the government. Impunity for the perpetrators remained widespread.”

The Report’s Positive Comments about Cuban Human Rights

This Executive Summary paints a bleak picture of Cuban human rights, and I have no doubt that many of these points are legitimate. But I still believe that it overstates the negatives.

Indeed, the Executive Summary failed to acknowledge that the Report itself stated there were “no reports that the [Cuban] government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings . . . [or] politically motivated disappearances.”

In addition, the Report itself stated in Cuba that there was “no societal pattern of child abuse;” that the government operated family counseling centers; that the government “continued to carry out media campaigns” against domestic violence; that the government “actively promoted racial integration and inclusiveness;” that a government resolution “accords persons with disabilities the right to equal employment opportunities and equal pay for equal work;” and that there was no “discrimination officially reported or permitted based on sexual orientation” accentuated by President Castro’s daughter’s promotion of LGBT rights.

With respect to Cuba’s prisoners and pretrial detainees, the Report conceded that they “had access to visitors;” that many “were able to communicate information about their living conditions through telephone calls to human rights observers and reports to family members;” that they “could practice limited religious observance;” and that “the Catholic Church and the Cuban Council of Churches reported access to prisoners during the year, with services offered in prisons and detention centers in most if not all provinces.”

On Cuban religious freedom more generally, the Report merely incorporated by reference the section on Cuba in the Department’s most recent International Religious Freedom Report that this blog previously criticized as understating the extent of religious freedom on the island.[3]

Moreover, the new overall Human Rights Report admits that “religious groups reported greater latitude to express their opinions during sermons and at religious gatherings than in the past;” that “[r]eligious leaders in some cases criticized the government, its policies, and even the country’s leadership without reprisals;” that the “Catholic Church operated a cultural center in Havana that hosted debates featuring participants voicing different opinions about the country’s future, at which well-known dissidents were allowed to participate;” and that the “Catholic Church published two periodicals that sometimes included criticism of official social and economic policies . . . [and] a pastoral letter advocating for political and economic reforms and greater rights for citizens.”

The new overall Report also says that the “Catholic Church received permission to broadcast Christmas and Easter messages on state-run television stations . . . [while] the Council of Churches, the government-recognized Protestant umbrella organization, was authorized to host a monthly 20-minute radio broadcast;” that religious “groups reported the ability to gather in large numbers without registering or facing sanctions;” and that “[r]ecognized churches, [and] the Roman Catholic humanitarian organization Caritas . . . were . . . legally permitted to function outside the formal structure of the state, the [Communist Party], and government-organized organizations.” In addition, there were “no reports of anti-Semitic acts.”

Finally the Report concedes that the Cuban constitution and other laws prohibit abusive treatment of detainees and prisoners and provide alternative sentencing for nonviolent offenders and juveniles as well as rights to seek redress for improper prison conditions and treatment. Cuban law, the Report said, also specifies reasonable procedures for investigations and prosecutions of alleged crimes.

Conclusion

Cuba’s regrettable lapses on human rights, though perhaps understandable in context, should not be a reason for continued U.S. hostility toward the island. A subsequent post will examine what this blogger sees as the implications of this report for U.S. policies regarding Cuba.


[1] A prior post reviewed the Department’s overall summary of global human rights in 2013.

[2] The most recent annual report (May 2013) from Amnesty International makes similar allegations about Cuba as did Human Rights Watch’s April 2013 submission to the U.N. Human Rights Council regarding its Universal Periodic Review of Cuba.

[3] This blog criticized the prior reports on Cuban religious freedom by the State Department and by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. In addition, another post reviewed positive comments on religious freedom from religious leaders with direct experience on the island. Similar points were made on February 27th, 2014, by six Cuban Protestant Christian leaders at a congressional briefing hosted by U.S. Senator Jeff Flake (Republican of Arizona) and Representative Jim McGovern (Democrat of Massachusetts). In response, a strong supporter of current U.S. policies regarding Cuba launched an unwarranted ad hominem attack on these leaders.