Resolution of Problem of Cuban Migrants Stranded in Central America

On December 28, 2015, five Central American countries and Mexico apparently resolved the problem created by the presence of 6,000 to 8,000 Cuban migrants in Costa Rica. Many of the circumstances leading up to the presence of these migrants have been discussed in prior posts.[1] This post will review subsequent events that have made the problem more pressing for Costa Rica, the recent agreed-upon solution for this problem and issues presented for its full implementation.

Recent Developments

On December 18, 2015, Costa Rica suspended its participation in the political bodies of the Central American Integration System (SICA) because of the refusal of three members (Belize, Guatemala and Nicaragua) to seek a regional solution to the transit of the migrants on their way to the U.S.[2]

On the same date, Costa Rica announced that it would no longer issue any more transit visas to Cubans seeking to enter the country and that it would deport to Cuba any Cubans in the country without such visas. [3]

On Sunday, December 27, Pope Francis led the Angelus Prayer with pilgrims and tourists gathered in St. Peter’s Square from the window of his study in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican. Immediately after the prayer, Francis said, “[M]y thoughts at this time to the numerous Cuban migrants who find themselves in difficulties in Central America, many of whom are victims of human trafficking. I invite the countries of the region to renew generously all necessary efforts to find a timely solution to this humanitarian tragedy.”[4]

Agreed-Upon Solution[5]

On Monday, December 28, Costa Rica, Panama, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and Guatemala met in Guatemala with the International Organization for Migration and agreed to what they called a “pilot project” to resolve the Cuban migrants problem. Here the main points of that “pilot program:”

  • In the first week of January 2016, 250 of the 6,000 to 8,000 migrants in Costa Rica will be flown from San Jose, Costa Rica to San Salvador, El Salvador, where they will obtain the latter’s transit visas.
  • These migrants will then be transferred to buses to be taken from El Salvador through Guatemala and Mexico to the latter’s northern border with the U.S. while obtaining on the journey the latter Guatemala and Mexican transit visas.
  • At the U.S. border, the migrants will present their papers to U.S. immigration officials and presumably will be allowed to come into the U.S. under its dry feet/wet feel policy.

In addition, the five Central American countries and Mexico reaffirmed their commitment to combat human trafficking networks, to apply the law “without delay” in order to severely penalize this illegal activity that “unfortunately obliges countries in the region to return to their country of origin all persons entering their territory in an unauthorized manner, ”to prevent irregular migration and to firmly combat the crime of human trafficking, and primarily to protect the integrity of migrants and ensure respect for their fundamental rights,” They also agreed to convene a Regional Conference on Migration to address this issue in its entirety.

El Salvador’s announcement of this agreement stated that its participation in the solution was “in line with the call made by His Holiness Pope Francis, in his message of December 27.” This sentiment was echoed by Edgar Gutiérrez, a political analyst and former Guatemalan foreign minister, who said, “I believe that the pope’s comments were extremely important to accelerate the negotiation process.”

The U.S. and Cuba were not directly involved in the negotiations of this agreement, but according to the Wall Street Journal, both of these countries had pressed the Central American countries to reach a regional agreement on resolving the current situation before the end of this year. They did so after the U.S. reportedly rejected a Costa Rica request for the U.S. to airlift the migrants directly to the U.S. and after Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez stated that “Cuba requests that the solution for the thousands of Cuban migrants in Costa Rica is adequate, taking into account the welfare of these citizens, and that it is as swift as possible.”

Just before this agreement was reached, the New York Times published a letter from Costa Rica’s Ambassador stressing “the growing humanitarian and economic challenge that Costa Rica faces in caring for [the Cuban migrants].”[6]

Concerns About the Agreed-Upon Solution

 The current public information about the agreed-upon solution presents the following questions (and problems):

  • Will the ‘pilot project” be successful?
  • If it is successful, how many separate flights and bus trips will be necessary for all 6,000 to 8,000 migrants legally in Costa Rica? Based upon the 250 migrants involved in the “pilot project,” it will require a total of 32 such ventures for 8,000 migrants.
  • Over what period of time?
  • The “pilot project” and implementation for all of the 6,000 to 8,000 migrants now in Costa Rica with transit visas will be expensive. At only $1,000 per person the total cost would be $6 million to $8 million. Who will pay for it? The countries directly involved clearly are not wealthy countries and presumably cannot afford it. As a result, they probably will ask the U.S. to do. So. Will the U.S. agree to do so?
  • Will the U.S. still have the dry feet/wet feet policy in effect when the “pilot program” and other migrants arrive at the U.S. border and, therefore, be permitted to come into the U.S.?

An overarching concern is whether this agreement will encourage additional Cubans to leave their country in an effort to get to the U.S. next year, especially after Cuban President Raul Castro’s December 29 speech to the country’s National Assembly warning Cubans that next year will be a difficult year for the Cuban economy.[7]

Carlos Raúl Morales, Guatemala’s foreign minister, said, “We are finishing the work of the smugglers, and of course it will incentivize the arrival of more illegals, but in solidarity we could not ignore the drama in Costa Rica.”  Similar thought were offered by Eric Olson, a Latin American analyst at the Wilson Center in Washington.

Central American officials, however, stressed the deal was one-off due to a humanitarian situation and that Costa Rica has ended the transit-visa program that had opened the door to Cuban migrants. “This solution is absolutely an exception for those people who had already arrived legally,” Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel González told reporters after the agreement was reached on Monday. “Costa Rica has been very clear that we cannot establish a permanent mechanism” for Cuban immigrants. A Mexican diplomatic official concurred: “The agreement among all of us is that we had to solve this under the principle of shared responsibility and that the problem cannot repeat itself.”

Another result of the surge of Cuban migrants through Central America and of the agreement to resolve the current situation will be the enlistment of all of the Central American countries plus Mexico in Cuba’s effort to persuade the U.S. to terminate as soon as possible its “dry feet/wet feet” immigration policy for Cubans.

This U.S. immigration policy can also be seen as part of the U.S. “visa waiver” program, which currently is under legitimate review for future restrictions to attempt to prevent foreign terrorists from coming to the U.S.[8]

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[1] Cubans in Central America Provide Cuba with Opportunity To Reiterate Its Objections to U.S. Immigration Policies (Nov. 20, 2015); Update on Cuban Migrants in Central America (Nov. 27, 2015); U.S. and Cuba Fail to Resolve Complaints About U.S. Immigration Policies (Dec. 1, 2015); Status of Cuban Migrants in Central America Still Unresolved ((Dec. 11, 2015).

[2] Costa Rica Foreign Ministry, Costa Rica suspends participation in political bodies of SICA refusal to Nicaragua, Guatemala and Belize agreed solution to the transit of Cuban migrants, (Dec. 18 2015).

[3]   Assoc.Press, Costa Rica Suspends Visas for Cubans as Regional Protest, N.Y. Times (Dec. 18, 2015); Assoc. Press, Costa Rica Moves to Deport 56 Cuban Migrants, N.Y. Times (Dec. 26, 2015).

[4] The Words of the Pope at Angelus, 27/12/2015Pope Francis Angelus appeal for Cuban migrants, Va. News (Dec. 27, 2015).

[5] Assoc. Press, Costa Rica: Some Stranded Cubans to be Allowed to Continue North, N.Y. Times (Dec. 28, 2015); Costa Rica Foreign Ministry, Countries in the region agree to give exceptional, safe passage and ordered Cuban migrants (Dec. 28, 2015); Guatemala Foreign Ministry, Press the Republic of Guatemala regarding the meeting held to address the immigration status of Cubans in Costa Rica (Dec. 28, 2015); El Salvador Foreign Ministry, El Salvador reiterates its readiness to cooperate with immigration crisis solution (Dec. 28, 2015); Central American agreement to transfer first group of Cuban migrants, Granma (Dec. 29, 2015); Iliff & Montes, Accord Over Cubans Stranded in Costa Rica Sparks Fear of Illegal Migration Wave, W.S.J. (Dec. 29, 2015).

[6] Macaya, Letter to the New York Times (Dec. 28, 2015).

[7] Iliff & Montes, Accord Over Cubans Stranded in Costa Rica Sparks Fear of Illegal Migration Wave, W.S.J. (Dec. 29, 2015); Assoc. Press, Raul Castro Prepares Cuba for Tough Year Despite US Opening, N.Y. Times (Dec. 29, 2015); Raul Castro, We never accept conditionalities for lacerating the sovereignty and dignity of the homeland, Granma (Dec. 30, 2015).

[8] E.g., Hulse, Some revealing Moments as Congress Closes the Door on 2015, N.Y. Times (Dec. 21, 2015)

Status of Cuban Migrants in Central America Still Unresolved  

Previous posts have discussed the plight of Cuban migrants in Central America on their way for entry to the U.S. under its current “dry feet” policy. Nicaragua refused to admit such migrants from Costa Rica, and a regional meeting of foreign ministers failed to resolve the problem.[1] That is still the case.[2]

Other Countries‘ Refusal To Help

On December 8, the President of Costa Rica announced that his country had failed to find other countries in the region that are willing to take any of the approximately 5,000 Cuban migrants in Costa Rica so that they may continue their journey north to the U.S.

Belize has rejected Costa Rica’s request to allow the Cubans to transit through that country while Guatemala has requested a Mexican pledge to allow the migrants to go through that country to the U.S. before Guatemala will let the Cubans enter their country.

Nevertheless, Costa Rica has stated that it would not deport any of the Cubans to their home country against their will.

In the meantime Costa Rica has asked Ecuador, Colombia and Panama to limit the transit of any more Cubans. Panama now has approximately 1,000 Cuban migrants.

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ Concern

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has expressed its concern about the plight of the Cuban migrants in Costa Rica. The Commission, however, welcomed the decision of the Costa Rican government to grant transit visas to Cubans and to seek cooperation of other states in the region to facilitate the safe, orderly and documented transit of the migrants to the U.S. The Commission also has taken note of the November 30 U.S.-Cuba meeting about various migration issues.

The Commission reiterated that States have an obligation to respect and ensure the human rights of all migrants who are under their jurisdiction. Those rights are derived from the principle of human dignity

More specifically the Commission has urged the Nicaraguan government to investigate its alleged ill-treatment of the migrants. And to implement training programs on guidelines for use of force and the principle of non-discrimination. The Commission also has stressed the principle of non-refoulement, which necessarily implies that people are not rejected at border or expelled without an adequate and individualized analysis of their situations; the absolute prohibition of collective expulsions; and the obligation to take special measures for the different treatment of vulnerable groups within migrants.

In addition, the Commission urged the Cuba not to put obstacles to people wishing to leave the country.

Upcoming Costa Rica-Cuba Bilateral Meetings

On December 13-15, Costa Rica will hold apparently prearranged bilateral meetings in Havana because the published agenda does not include any mention of the migrant crisis. Instead that agenda includes the following:

  1. Create a strategic alliance to link ecosystems biotechnology research
  2. Strengthen ties of cooperation among public universities that have institutes of biotechnology.
  3. Create links between software industries.
  4. Promote training processes in high performance sport developing anti-doping testing.
  5. Increase tourism connectivity by adding Costa Rica to flights that Cuba receives from China, Russia and Turkey,
  6. Exchange experiences and knowledge in health case, especially primary care, cancer treatments and vaccines.
  7. See investment opportunities in Cuba for Costa Rican businesses.

Let us hope that perhaps behind the scenes the presidents of the two countries will discuss and find ways to reduce or solve the crisis.

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[1] Cubans in Central America Provide Cuba with an Opportunity To Reiterates Its Objections to U.S. Immigration Policies (Nov. 20, 2015); Update on Cuban Migrants in Central America (Nov. 27, 2015); U.S. and Cuba Fail To Resolve Complaints About U.S. Immigration Policies (Dec. 1, 2015); President Obama Should Exercise His Legal Authority To End U.S. Admission of Cubans with “Dry Feet” (Dec. 4, 2015).

 

[2] Reuters, Belize Rejects Plan to Allow Cuban Migrants to Pass Through Its Territory, N.Y. Times (Dec. 8, 2015); Costa Rica Foreign Min., Belize says Cuban migration must be resolved as a regional issue and for now not serve this population (Dec. 8, 2015); OAS, IACHR Expresses Great Concern Regarding Situation of Cuban Migrants on the Costa Rica-Nicaragua Border (Dec. 8, 2015); Costa Rica Foreign Min., Commission expresses deep concern over situation of Cuban migrants at the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua (Dec. 8, 2015); Assoc. Press, Costa Rica Will Not Send Cuban Migrants Home, N.Y. Times (Dec. 9, 2015);Costa Rica President Sends Message to Cuban migrants to failure of negotiations with countries in the region, Granma (Dec. 9, 2015); Guatemala demands Mexico pledge over blocked Cuban migrants, Tico Times (Dec. 9, 2015); Costa Rica Foreign Min., Bilateral ministerial meetings agenda official visit to Cuba (Dec. 10, 2015).

 

 

Update on Cuban Migrants in Central America

A prior post discussed the conflict between Costa Rica and Nicaragua over Cubans trying to traverse Central American countries on their way to the United States. Since then, the foreign ministers of the eight countries of the Central American Integration System (SICA) and of other interested countries (Cuba, Ecuador and Colombia) held an inconclusive meeting to discuss that situation and thereafter Ecuador announced a change in its policies for Cuban migrants. Here is a summary of those developments.

Situation of Cubans in Central America

An estimated 3,000 Cubans are now stuck in Costa Rica over Nicaragua’s refusing to allow their entry into that country for their journey to the U.S. Many of these Cubans have smart phones and social media that have assisted them in their trek from Ecuador to Central America and, they hope, on to the U.S.[1]

SICA Foreign Ministers Meeting

The situation of the Cuban migrants was the focus of the just mentioned SICA meeting on Tuesday (November 24) . Note that the U.S. was not present or invited.[2]

The situation was prompted by Nicaragua’s refusing to admit Cuban migrants from Costa Rica. Nicaragua said Costa Rica had created and manipulated this crisis by seeking to ignore the real cause: the U.S. immigration policies that need to be changed. “Our governments do not have the resources to deal with this new threat to our national security,” suggesting that Nicaragua was faced with the wave of Cubans that could facilitate terrorism or migrants from other countries. Nicaragua also criticized the Cold-War-era U.S. policies that allow the Cubans special status as migrants.

The Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the Cubans in Costa Rica came legally to different nations of Latin America, with all the requirements established by the migratory regulations of their country. “In an attempt to reach U.S. territory, [however,] they have become victims of traffickers and criminal gangs, which unscrupulously profit from the control of the passage of these people through South America, Central America and Mexico.” Moreover, Cuba stated that the migrants also were victims of the politicization of the migration issue by the U.S. government, through the Cuban Adjustment Act and the “wet-foot, dry-foot policy.”

Cuba also said it has remained in contact with the governments of the countries involved. Indeed, Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parilla, visited officials of its allies, Ecuador and Nicaragua, on November 19 and 20 respectfully to discuss the situation.

Ecuador supported Nicaragua’s position by saying that under international law creation of humanitarian corridors only applies in situations of war or armed conflict which was not the case here.

The Salvadoran Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hugo Martinez, afterwards said it was necessary to reach a comprehensive solution that addressed the current immigration crisis. He also said that El Salvador will ask the International Organization for Migration to support Costa Rica in shelter conditions for the Cuban migrants. However, he said, allowing the passage of the migrants was subject to the “principle of self-determination” of each of the SICA countries and that the migration was not encouraged by the country of origin (Cuba) or by the Central American countries, but by the U.S. with its special immigration policies for Cubans.

After the meeting Costa Rica’s Foreign Minister, Manuel Gonzalez, said that Nicaragua had refused again to cooperate in finding and adopting a solution for the migrants.

The solution proposed by Costa Rica was an arrangement to enable the safe, orderly and documented transit of the Cuban migrants so that they would avoid falling prey to international trafficking networks. According to Gonzalez, Nicaragua objected to this proposal and did not present any viable alternative approach.

Ecuador’s Requiring Visas for Cubans

On November 26 Ecuador announced that effective December 1 it will require Cubans to have visas to enter the country. Ecuador’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Xavier Lasso, said this change was to honor commitments it made at the SICA meeting “to stop human rights violations and even loss of lives” and to halt threats to Cuba’s population. Lasso also urged the U.S. to rescind its “dry feet” immigration policy so that Cubans would no longer attempt this journey.[3]

The next day hundreds of Cubans gathered at the Ecuadorian Embassy in Havana to protest the new visa policy. They were angry because they say they had bought airplane tickets to Ecuador before visas were required. An Embassy spokesman said the Cubans would have to get a new visa and speak to the airlines about refunds.[4]

Conclusion

I agree that special immigration benefits for Cubans arriving on land in the U.S. and the risk that these benefits will be eliminated are prompting many Cubans to try to come to the U.S. as soon as possible. I also agree that these U.S. laws and policies should be eliminated as soon as possible.[5] In a future post I will attempt at least a preliminary legal analysis of the claim that the Obama Administration on its own by executive order or changes in regulations could do this.

I also agree that the U.S. should abolish the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program as discussed in prior posts.[6] Again I have not attempted to determine whether the Obama Administration on its own by executive order or changes in regulations could do this or whether it requires Congress to pass a bill. (I would appreciate comments on this issue by those with more knowledge of the issues.)

The continuation of these U.S. immigration laws and policies will clearly be at the top of the Cuban agenda for the biannual round of bilateral discussion of migration issues in Washington, D.C. on November 30. Now Cuba will emphasize the recent Cuban migrant situation in Central America as an additional reason for prompt U.S. action.[7]

I originally was baffled by the U.S.’ continued assertions that there would be no changes in U.S. immigration policies regarding Cuba because those policies, in my opinion, are so illogical and inappropriate for countries with normal relations. Now I suspect that those assertions were based upon the Administration’s assessment of the difficulty (or impossibility) in obtaining Congressional approval of any necessary legislative changes on these issues and the Administration’s belief or hope that such assertions would discourage Cubans from immediately accelerating their plans or desire to leave Cuba for the U.S.

I reach these conclusions even though I suspect that Nicaragua’s precipitating the current problem in Central America was at the request of its close ally, Cuba, because, in my opinion, (a) Nicaragua would not do anything regarding Cuba against the latter’s wishes; (b) Cuba is concerned about the number of Cubans leaving the island and with Nicaragua’s assistance perhaps could stop a major route for such an exodus; (c) Cuba would like to have another occasion or reason to blame the U.S. for the problem; and (d) Nicaragua’s complaints against Costa Rica are absurd. I also believe, for similar reasons, that Ecuador’s recent requirement of visas for Cubans was at the request of Cuba.

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 [1] Assoc. Press, Social Media Helps Drive Historic Cuban Exodus to US, N.Y. Times (Nov. 23, 2015).

[2] Sica meeting will address situation of Cuban migrants in Central America, Granma (Nov. 20, 2015); Cuban Foreign Minister held working visit to Ecuador and Nicaragua, Granma (Nov. 22, 2015); Begins Tuesday SICA meeting on migration in Central America, Granma (Nov. 23, 2015); Moran, Cuban migration could generate humanitarian crisis, ContraPunto (Nov. 23, 2015); Assoc. Press, Central American Officials Meet on Cuban Migrant Problem, N.Y> Times (Nov. 24, 2015); Foreign Ministers Discuss in El Salvador on Cuban Migrants Situation, Prensa Latina (Nov. 24, 2015); SICA meeting solution Cuban migrants issue in Costa Rica, CubaDebate (Nov. 24, 2015); Costa Rica Foreign Ministry, Nicaragua PREVENTS regional and humanitarian solution for protection of Cuban Migrants (Nov. 24, 2015); Moran, Nicaragua blocks outlet for Cuban immigrants, ContraPunto (Nov. 24, 2015); SICA Meeting in El Salvador: Regional gathering discusses situation of Cuban migrants in Costa Rica, Granma (Nov. 25, 2015); Gomez, Central America, a broker of broken dreams, Granma (Nov. 26, 2015).

[3] Ecuador Foreign Ministry, Ecuador requests tourist visas to Cubans starting December 1 (Nov. 26, 2015); From December 1 Ecuador requires visas for Cubans, El Commercio (Nov. 26, 2015); Ecuador asked the Cuban visa from December 1 (+ Note of the Foreign Ministry), CubaDebate (Nov. 26, 2015); Ecuador announces visa requirement for Cubans, Granma (Nov. 26, 2015); Assoc. Press, Ecuador to Require Cubans to Get Entry Visas, N.Y. times (Nov. 26, 2015); Cubans need visas to enter Ecuador again, LaHora (Nov. 27, 2015); Soraya, Ecuador puts a stop to the arrival of Cubans, El Pais (Nov. 27, 2015).

[4] Reuters, Cubans Protest New Ecuador Visa Regulation, N.Y. Times (Nov. 27, 2015); Assoc. Press, Hundreds Gather in Havana in Frustration at Ecuador Visa Rule, N.Y. Times (Nov. 27, 2015).

[5] E.g., Results of U.S.-Cuba Discussions After Ceremonial Opening of U.S. Embassy in Havana (Aug. 18, 2015).

[6] E.g., New York Times Calls for End of U.S. Program for Special Immigration Relief for Cuban Medical Personnel ( Nov. 23, 2014)

[7] Cuban Foreign Ministry, Cuba and the United States will hold a new round of migration talks, Granma (Nov. 26, 2015); U.S. State Dep’t, United States and Cuba Hold Migration Talks, Counter-Narcotics Dialogue (Nov. 25, 2015)

Cubans in Central America Provide Cuba with an Opportunity To Reiterate Its Objections to U.S. Immigration Policies

U.S. immigration laws and policies regarding Cubans have reemerged into the spotlight. After a brief look at those laws and policies, we will examine the new controversy arising over Cubans in Central America.

 U.S. Laws and Policies[1]

In 1966, the U.S. adopted the Cuban Adjustment Act that provided certain immigration benefits to Cubans. In 1995 this statute was amended to allow anyone who fled Cuba and entered the U.S. to pursue permanent residency a year later.

In addition, the U.S. and Cuba in 1994 and 1995 entered into migration agreements to promote “safe, legal and orderly migration” between the two countries. Under one of its provisions, the U.S. agreed to stop permitting Cubans intercepted at sea to come to the U.S. On the other hand, this agreement did not touch on the U.S. practice and policy of admitting Cubans who arrive on land at a U.S. port of entry. This is the so-called U.S. “wet feet/dry feet” policy.

Since the U.S.-Cuba December 2014 rapprochement, the Cuban government repeatedly has complained about this Act and the wet feet/dry feet policy and has requested the U.S. to abolish them. The U.S., however, has consistently told the Cuban government that the U.S. was not planning to change its immigration policies regarding Cubans.[2]

Current Issues About Cubans in Central America[3]

As noted in an earlier post, since the December 2014 U.S.-Cuba rapprochement there have been increasing numbers of Cubans coming to the U.S. to take advantage of the provisions of the previously mentioned Act and policy before, they fear, those provisions will be rescinded. For example, more than 45,000 Cubans arrived at U.S. checkpoints along the Texas-Mexico border in the U.S. fiscal year ending September 30, 2015.

Many of the Cubans flew from Cuba to Ecuador, which allows them entry without visa; and from there they traveled by land through Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica with the objective of continuing through Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico to the U.S. For all their current frustration over recent actions by Nicaragua, most of the Cubans’ anger is aimed at the Cuban government, which they accuse of cronyism, mismanaging the economy and limiting free speech. One of the Cubans, a teacher and a father of two, now in Costa Rica said that his grandmother had sold her house for $5,000 to pay for his passage to the U.S. and that he cannot return because his family is waiting for him to start sending money back.

This situation recently reached a new level with the precipitating events taking place in Central America. Over 1,500 Cubans on their migration have been in Costa Rica after initially being excluded from that country and then admitted after Costa Rica last Friday (November 13) said it would be issuing special seven-day transit visas to Cubans.

On Sunday (November 15), Nicaragua, a close ally of Cuba, closed its border with Costa Rica. This Nicaraguan action forced the Cubans to turn the Costa Rican side of a border station into a temporary shelter with makeshift beds, piles of luggage and improvised washing lines. Hundreds of others are being housed in buildings around a nearby small town.

Nicaraguan Military @ Border
Nicaraguan Military @ Its Border
Cubans @ Costa Rican Bprder
Cubans @ Costa Rican Bprder

 

 

 

 

 

Nicaragua simultaneously asserted that Costa Rica was creating a “humanitarian crisis” by allowing the Cubans into its country. Costa Rica was accused of “failing to comply with its obligations as a state” and of violating Nicaragua’s sovereignty.

The Nicaraguan complaint was confirmed the next day in a blistering press release in which it “deplores and condemns . . . the irresponsible, disrespectful attitude [towards] all international conventions and agreements on human mobility [by] Government of Costa Rica.” The latter allegedly had violated Nicaragua’s “national territory, our sovereignty” and had made “the unprecedented claim . . . [to the] right to determine the entry into our territory of people in a situation of illegality and violent behavior intended to” occur in Nicaragua. The statement also reported that on Tuesday (November 17), Nicaragua would bring this alleged “serious crisis” to the Security Commission of the Central American Integration System, SICA. Nicaragua also said it would present its complaint to the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).

Theses accusations immediately were rejected by Costa Rica, and on Tuesday (November 17) Costa Rica’s Foreign Minister Manuel Gonzalez proposed the creation of a “humanitarian corridor” for Cubans transiting Central America. “Countries have to prevent migrants falling into the hands of networks and coyotes, because remember that the migrants’ purpose is to arrive in the [U.S.] and we will try to do everything possible [for them] to achieve” that goal. The Foreign Minister also said that “Costa Rica is neither the origin nor the destination country for the Cubans, and the government has undertaken all necessary efforts to deal with this situation responsibly under the strict guidance of international treaties” and that he had not ruled out taking the migrant problem before the Organization of American States (OAS) and other international forums. In the meantime Costa Rica was trying to organize a meeting of the foreign ministers of the Central American countries and Mexico.

 SICA’s Consideration of the Situation[4]

As indicated above, Nicaragua’s complaint was considered on Tuesday by a subcommittee of the Security Commission of the Central American Integration System, SICA, in preparation for the Thursday meeting of the Commission.[5]

At that later meeting, Nicaragua accused Costa Rica of attempting to avoid discussion of the issue at SICA and to “systematically block” Nicaragua’s request. It also was alleged that Costa Rica never warned Nicaragua that more than 1,900 Cubans were about to show up at the border. The Nicaragua Foreign Ministry’ s press release regarding this meeting again was blistering in its complaint against Costa Rica. It said the following:

  • Nicaragua denounced “the systematic blocking [by] . . . Costa Rica” of SICA’s considering the “irregular and illegal migration of Cubans.”
  • Nicaragua also denounced “the arrogance of Costa Rica . . . ignoring international law and agreements . . . has violated our territory, threatened and blocked Trade and International Freight, and is concentrating more Cuban citizens on our southern border, to pressure and blackmail our government.”
  • Costa Rica’s suggested humanitarian corridor would subject “Americans, including children, to “hazards, even dying, in an effort to reach the [U.S.]”
  • Nicaragua proposed that SICA demand that the U.S. provide reciprocity to Central American citizens seeking entry to the U.S. in the same manner that it treats Cuban migrants.

Costa Rica denied these allegations, and the subcommittee agreed on the need to see this issue from a holistic perspective and human rights, not as a security issue. Afterwards, Costa Rica’s Foreign Minister said, “The countries [of SICA] have reacted in a positive and supportive way. They have understood that the humanitarian aspect is at stake and should be tackled, comprehensively, by the entire region.”

On Monday (November 23) the SICA Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs along with others, by invitation, from Cuba, Ecuador, Colombia and Mexico will meet to find a comprehensive solution to the situation.

Cuba’s Response to Central American Situation[6]

On Tuesday (November 17), the Cuban Foreign Ministry issued a statement about the situation in Central America that gave greater prominence to its objection to the U.S. Cuban Adjustment Act and the dry feet/wet feet policy. Here are the main points of the Cuba statement:

  • These Cubans in Central America “have become victims of traffickers and criminal gangs which unscrupulously profit from their control of the passage of persons through South America, Central America and Mexico.”
  • “Cuban authorities have maintained ongoing contact with the governments of the countries involved, with the goal of finding a rapid, appropriate solution, which would take into consideration the wellbeing of the Cuban citizens.”
  • “The Ministry of Foreign Relations would like to emphasize that these citizens are victims of the politicization of the migration issue on the part of the United States government, the Cuban-American Adjustment Act, in particular, and the application of the so-called “wet foot-dry foot” policy, which gives Cubans differentiated treatment – the only one of its kind in the world – which admits them immediately and automatically, regardless of the route or means used, even if they arrive in an illegal manner to U.S. territory.”
  • “This policy encourages irregular immigration from Cuba to the United States, and constitutes a violation of the letter and spirit of Migratory Accords currently in effect, in which both countries assumed the responsibility to guarantee legal, safe, orderly emigration.”
  • The statement went on to object to another U.S. immigration policy affecting Cuba: “the U.S. government’s continued maintenance of the so-called Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program . . . to encourage Cuban doctors and other medical personnel to abandon their missions in third countries, and emigrate to the United States. This is a reprehensible practice, meant to damage Cuban cooperation programs, and deny Cuba and many countries the vital human resources they need.”
  • “The Ministry of Foreign Relations reiterates once again that the ‘wet foot-dry foot’ policy and the ‘Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program’ are inconsistent with the current bilateral context, impede to the normalization of migratory relations between Cuba and the United States, and create problems for other countries.”
  • “The Ministry of Foreign Relations confirms that Cuban citizens who have left the country legally, and abide by current Cuban migratory law, have the right to return to Cuba, if they so desire.”

Conclusion

I agree that special immigration benefits for Cubans arriving on land at U.S. ports of entry and the risk that they will be eliminated is prompting many Cubans to try to come to the U.S. as soon as possible. I also agree that these U.S. laws and policies should be eliminated as soon as possible.[7] Although I am a retired attorney, I have not attempted to determine whether the Obama Administration on its own by executive order or changes in regulations could do this or whether it requires Congress to pass a bill to do this. (I would appreciate comments on this issue by those with more knowledge of the issues.)

I also agree that the U.S. as soon as possible should abolish the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program as discussed in prior posts.[8] Again I have not attempted to determine whether the Obama Administration on its own by executive order or changes in regulations could do this or whether it requires Congress to pass a bill to do this. (I also would appreciate comments on this issue by those with more knowledge of the issues.)

I originally was baffled by the U.S.’ continued assertions that there would be no changes in U.S. immigration policies regarding Cuba because those policies, in my opinion, are so illogical and inappropriate for countries with normal relations. Now I suspect that those assertions were based upon the Administration’s assessment of the difficulty (or impossibility) in obtaining Congressional approval of any necessary legislative changes on these issues and the Administration’s belief or hope that such assertions would discourage Cubans from immediately accelerating their plans or desire to leave Cuba for the U.S.

I reach these conclusions even though I suspect that Nicaragua’s precipitating the current problem in Central America was at the request of its close ally, Cuba, because, in my opinion, (a) Nicaragua would not do anything regarding Cuba against the latter’s wishes; (b) Cuba is concerned about the number of Cubans leaving the island and with Nicaragua’s assistance perhaps could stop a major route for such an exodus; (c) Cuba would like to have another occasion or reason to blame the U.S. for the problem; and (d) Nicaragua’s complaints against Costa Rica are absurd.

Now we will see what happens next Monday at the meeting of the foreign ministers of the SICA members and their guests.

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

[1] U.S. Pub. L. 89-732, 80 Stat. 1161 (Nov. 7, 1966); U.S. Pub. L. 94-571, 90 Stat. 2703 (Oct. 20, 1976) U.S. Customs and Immigration Service, Green Card for a Cuban Native or CitizenThe Cuban Adjustment Act, Wikipedia; Moffett, U.S. Allows Cuban Migrants Different Treatment aboutnews; Wet feet/dry feet policy, Wikipedia; Johnson, Cuban Migration: Averting a Crisis, Imm. Policy Center (June 2003).

[2] E.g., Results of U.S.-Cuba Discussions After Ceremonial Opening of U.S. Embassy in Havana (Aug. 18, 2015).

[3] Salinas, Nicaragua deports hundreds of Cuban migrants back to Costa Rica, El Pais (Nov. 17, 2015); Costa Rica Foreign Ministry, Regional government seeks to arrange an appointment to find about our a migration of Cubans (Nov. 17, 2015) (Ministry’s English translation); Costa Rica Foreign Ministry, Government Rejects Accusations of Costa Rica Nicaragua Case for Cuban Migrants (Nov. 16, 2015); Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry, Nota de Prensa (NP 060-2015) (Nov. 16, 2015); Tensions between Nicaragua and Costa Rica by Cuban migrants; convene meeting of SICA and Cuba blames US (Nov. 18, 2015); Murillo, Costa Rica struggling to deal with Cuban migrant crisis, El Pais (Nov. 19, 2015); Reuters, Stranded at Nicaragua Border, Cuban Migrants’ American Dream in Peril, N.Y. Times (Nov. 18, 2015).

[4] Nicaragua Foreign Ministry Press Release, COMUNICADO “NICARAGUA DENUNCIA BLOQUEO SISTEMÁTICO DE COSTA RICA EN EL SICA A DISCUSIÓN SOBRE EMIGRACIÓN IRREGULAR EN LA REGIÓN CENTROAMERICANA, (NP-063-2015) (Nov. 19, 2015); Assoc. Press, Costa Rica Says Regional Bloc to Consider Cuban Migrants, N.Y. Times (Nov. 19, 2015); Costa Rica Foreign Ministry, SICA supports Costa Rica proposal for Council of Foreign Ministers of the region to find solution to migration crisis, (Nov. 19, 2015).

[5] SICA is the “institutional framework for Central American Regional Integration” that was created in 1991. Its current members are Belize, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. Its headquarters is in El Salvador.

[6] Ministry of Foreign Relations Statement on Migratory Policy, Granma (Nov. 18, 2015); Reuters, Cuba Blames U.S. for Migrant Crisis in Central America, N.Y. Times (Nov. 17, 2015); Assoc. Press, Cuba Blames US for Instigating Surge of Migrants From Island, N.Y. Times (Nov. 17, 2015).

[7] E.g., Results of U.S.-Cuba Discussions After Ceremonial Opening of U.S. Embassy in Havana (Aug. 18, 2015).

[8] E.g., New York Times Calls for End of U.S. Program for Special Immigration Relief for Cuban Medical Personnel ( Nov. 23, 2014). Another blog post has rejected the U.S. claim that the service of Cuban medical personnel on that country’s foreign medical missions constitutes illegal forced labor.

Issues of Cuban Human Rights To Be Discussed by Cuba and United States (Part II)

On March 26 Cuba announced that the U.S. and Cuba will commence their negotiations regarding human rights on March 31 in Washington, D.C.; this was covered in a prior post.

Issues of Cuban human rights that probably will be put on the agenda for further discussions were first examined in a prior post about the recent speech on this subject by Cuban Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla.

In Cuba’s March 26th announcement of the upcoming talks, Pedro Luis Pedroso, Cuba’s Deputy Director General of Multilateral Affairs and International Law, referred to “the recognition Cuba received at the last Universal Periodic Review [UPR] by the U.N. Human Rights Council, where the international community praised and commended Cuban achievements in areas such as education, health and access to cultural rights, and the contribution the island has made in those same areas in other countries.”

Therefore, this post will look at that UPR of Cuba while another post will discuss the latest U.S. State Department report on Cuban human rights (the one issued in 2014 for 2013).

The Nature of the UPR Process [1]

In order to assess the recent UPR of Cuba, we first must understand the UPR process, which provides the opportunity for each of the 193 U.N. members, on a periodic basis, to declare what actions it has taken to improve its human rights and to fulfill its human rights obligations.

The UPR process includes a report on all human rights issues from the subject country, compilations of information about the country from various U.N. organizations and from “stakeholders” (non-governmental organizations), a public interactive session of the Human Rights Council about the country, a report by a working group about the proceedings that includes conclusions and recommendations, the subject country’s responses to those conclusions and recommendations and a subsequent evaluation of the UPR by the Council.

It is exceedingly important, however, to know that these conclusions and recommendations are merely a systematic compilation or listing of all those that had been offered by all of the countries participating in the UPR. Hence, there is a lot of duplication and overlapping in this part of the report, which is not similar to an independent judicial body’s reaching certain findings and conclusions based upon an evaluation of often conflicting evidence. Indeed, the Working Group’s report expressly states that the conclusions and recommendations “should not be construed as endorsed by the Working Group as a whole.” In short, there is no overall “grade” of a country’s human rights performance by the Working Group or by the Council as a whole.

Most Recent UPR of Cuba [2]

The most recent UPR of Cuba occurred in 2013.

1. The Report of  the Working Group.

The key document in figuring out what happened in this UPR is the “Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review—Cuba” that was issued on July 8, 2013. It has the following standard structure, after a brief Introduction:

I. Summary of the proceedings of the review process

A. Presentation by the State under review

B. Interactive dialogue and response by the State under review

II. Conclusions and Recommendations

The “interactive dialogue.” This section of this report states that there was such a dialogue about Cuba involving 132 delegations at the session on May 1, 2013, and sets forth a brief summary of that dialogue in 144 numbered paragraphs. One example is paragraph 31, which states, “ Nicaragua highlighted the commitment of Cuba to human rights despite the blockade, and condemned the [U.S.] convictions against five Cubans.”

The only reference to U.S. comments in this dialogue is in paragraph 77, which states the U.S. “raised concerns for impediments to multiparty elections and freedom of expression and referred to Alan Gross and Oswaldo Paya.” Cuba, according to paragraph 111, responded to this U.S. comment by saying that “freedom of the press was guaranteed in Cuba“ and by “reiterated[ing its] . . . willingness . . . to continue talks with the [U.S.] . . . on the situation of Mr. Gross and of other individuals who were held in detention in Cuba and in the [U.S.].” [3]

Conclusions and Recommendations. This section starts with the following statement: “The recommendations formulated [by all the countries participating] during the interactive dialogue and listed below will be examined by Cuba, which will provide responses in due time, but no later than the twenty-fourth session of the Human Rights Council in September 2013” (para. 170). This section of the Report is concluded by this statement: “All conclusions and/or recommendations contained in the present report reflect the position of the submitting State(s) and/or the State under review. They should not be construed as endorsed by the Working Group as a whole” (para. 171).

The actual conclusions and recommendations are summarized in 292 numbered subparagraphs of the Report. Those offered by the U.S. are for Cuba to “allow for independent investigations into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero” (para. 170.138) [4], to “release Alan Gross and imprisoned journalists such as Jose Antonio Torres immediately” (para. 170.187) [5] and to “eliminate or cease enforcing laws impeding freedom of expression” (para. 170.176).

2. Cuba’s Responses to the Recommendations.

In response to the U.S. recommendations and 20 others from other countries, Cuba said they “do not enjoy [its] support . . . on the grounds that they are politically biased and based on false premises; they derive from attempts to discredit Cuba by those who, with their hegemonic ambitions, refuse to accept the Cuban people’s diversity and right to self-determination. These proposals are inconsistent with the spirit of cooperation and respect demanded by the UPR process.” Moreover, said Cuba, they “are incompatible with constitutional principles and national legislation, and whose content is contrary to the spirit of cooperation and respect that should predominate at the UPR.” [6]

The other 20 numbered recommendations that were so summarily rejected by Cuba related to protecting human rights defenders, including journalists, against abusive criminal prosecutions, harassment and intimidation (Czech Republic, Austria, Australia, Germany, Hungary); release of all political prisoners (Czech Republic, Belgium, Slovenia, Poland), end indefinite extensions of preliminary criminal investigations (Belgium); improve freedom of expression (Romania, Estonia, Hungary, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom, France, Canada); repeal laws relating to “pre-criminal social dangerousness” (Ireland); end repression, investigate acts of repudiation and protect targets of intimidation and violence (Netherlands); and end Internet censorship (Australia, Germany).

Cuba, however, did accept 230 of the recommendations while noting, “Many of these . . . have already been complied with, or are in the process of implementation , or are included among future national priorities.” Therefore, these items “will be implemented in accordance with our capabilities and in step with the evolution of the circumstances within which Cuba is pursuing its aim of complete social justice.”

The remaining 42 recommendations were “noted” by Cuba as matters to be examined with the understanding that its “process of ratifying an international instrument is very rigorous;” that is stands ready “to continue cooperating with . . . the UN System’s human rights machinery;” that it is “philosophically opposed to the death penalty: and wants to eliminate it when suitable conditions exist;” that it has an “extensive and effective” system for resolving human rights complaints; that its “system of criminal justice . . . ensures fair and impartial hearings and full guarantees to the accused;” Cuba is working at expanding internet access; and “the right to freedom of expression and assembly . . . [is] enshrined in the Constitution and . . . national legislation.”

3. Human Rights Council’s Evaluation of this UPR. As paragraph 170 of the Report of the Working Group provided, the Council was to review the UPR of Cuba at its session in September 2013 after Cuba had submitted its response to the conclusions and recommendations. That Cuban response was just summarized, and the Council on September 20, 2013, reviewed this UPR and approved, without a vote, a resolution “to adopt the outcome of the universal periodic review of Cuba, comprising the report thereon of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review . . ., the views of Cuba concerning the recommendations and/or conclusions made, and its voluntary commitments and replies presented before the adoption of the outcome by the plenary to questions or issues not sufficiently addressed during the interactive dialogue held in the Working Group.” [7]

Criticism of the Recent UPR of Cuba

It must also be noted that an observer has alleged that Cuba “corrupted and abused” this UPR process by prompting the submission of many “fraudulent” stakeholder NGOs; there was a total of 454 submissions regarding Cuba compared with the next highest, 48 on Canada. As a result, says this observer (UN Watch), “numerous statements of praise taint the UN’s official summary” of stakeholders’ submissions. UN Watch also alleges that the compilation of information from U.N. agencies was unfairly slanted in favor of Cuba. [8]

Another observer (International Service for Human Rights) reported that during the UPR of Cuba, 132 countries, at 51 seconds each, took the floor to ask questions and make recommendations. As a result, Cuba received 293 recommendations, the highest number that a State under review has ever received at the UPR, but 121 of them started with the verb ‘continue,’ thus requiring minimal action to be taken by Cuba. [9]

Conclusion

I do not know whether any of NGO stakeholders at this UPR were “fraudulent,” as alleged, but it does appear that Cuba “stacked” the process to minimize the time available to authentic critics of its human rights record and to maximize the time available to its supporters. It also appears as if Cuba rejected recommendations for improving many foundational human rights.

In any event, because the UPR process does not involve a truly independent fact-finder to assess the human rights record of Cuba or any other country in such a process, I reject the assertion by Cuba’s Deputy Director General of Multilateral Affairs and International Law, Pedro Luis Pedroso, that Cuba obtained a laudatory evaluation of its human rights record by the U.N. Human Rights Council. In short, I think this UPR is irrelevant to Cuba’s human rights issues.

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[1] Details about the UPR process are provided on the Council’s website. The process involves a “working group,” which is composed of all 47 members of the Council.

[2] All of the documents about the UPR of Cuba are available on the Council’s website, including the Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review—Cuba, dated July 8, 2013.

[3] As discussed in a prior post, Alan Gross was released from a Cuban prison on December 17, 2014, and returned to the U.S. as part of the U.S.-Cuba agreement to re-establish normal diplomatic relations.

[4] Paya was a Cuban political activist, a leader of the political opposition to the to the Cuban government. He was the founder and organizer of the Varela Project, which collected enough signatures to present to the government a request for changes in legislation. He was awarded the Andrei Sakharov Prize for Human Rights of the European Parliament in 2002. On July 12, 2012, Paya was killed in an automobile crash in Cuba under suspicious circumstances; Harold Cepero, a youth leader, was also killed in the crash. Many people believe they were murdered by government agents.

[5] Torres, a correspondent for the Cuban government newspaper, Granma, wrote an article about alleged mismanagement of a Santiago Cuba aqueduct project and of the installation of the Cuba-Venezuela fibre-optic cable. Afterwards he was charged and convicted of spying and sentenced to 14 years in prison and cancellation of his university degree in journalism.

[6] Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review—Cuba: Addendum: Views on conclusions and/or recommendation, voluntary commitments and replies presented by the State under review [Cuba] (Sept. 2013).

[7] Report of the Human Rights Council at its 24th session (Para. 24/114) (Jan. 27, 2014).

[8] UNWatch, Massive Fraud: The Corruption of the 2013 UPR of Cuba.

[9] Int’l Service for Human Rights, Unprecedented challeng to the Universal Periodic Review (May 31, 2013)  See also Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law, Alleged Fraud During Cuba’s Universal Periodic Review, Human Rights Brief (Oct. 24, 2013).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

International Reaction to U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation

The overwhelming international response to the December 17th announcement of U.S.-Cuba reconciliation has been very positive, especially in Latin America. Future posts will examine the responses in Cuba and the U.S.

Latin American Reactions [1]

Virtually all Latin American countries had been increasingly frustrated with the 50 years of estrangement and hostility between the U.S. and Cuba. According to a historian of the region, Enrique Krauze, “Cuba has been the epicenter of anti-Americanism in modern Latin America” and the Cuban Revolution of 1959 “opened a new cycle of anti-Americanism.” 

Now, Krauze continues, the U.S. has renounced its “imperial destiny and recovers much of the moral legitimacy needed to uphold the democratic ideals that led to its foundation (and also of the countries of Latin America).”

The President of Brazil congratulated Raul Castro, Obama and Pope Francis. Similar comments were made by the leaders of Mexico, Peru, Colombia and Nicaragua.

Jose Miguel Insulza, Secretary General of the Organization of American States, the regional forum where Cuba’s seat has been empty since 1962, said Obama’s decision removed a major irritant in Washington’s relations with Latin America. “This ends the attempt to isolate Cuba for so long. Cuba is undertaking a process of economic reforms that will, I hope, lead to political reforms.”.

These reactions were emphasized by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, Roberta Jacobson, who said, ““Our previous Cuba policy was clearly an irritant and a drag on our policy in the region,”  adding that it had caused friction even with countries friendly to Washington. She said that countries “with whom we have significant differences are going to be, let’s say, thrown off their stride by a move like this.”“It removes an excuse for blaming the United States for things,” she added.

The Wall Street Journal reported the day after the announcement of the detente that government officials, diplomats and scholars believe this change has “the potential to redraw political and economic alliances across the hemisphere,” especially with countries like Argentina, Ecuador and others. It will be most difficult for Venezuela, which has held “a long-held animosity toward El Imperio–the empire.”

But the President of Venezuela immediately called the detente a “victory for Fidel and the Cuban people” while also acknowledging President Obama’s “courage” in “perhaps the most important step of his presidency.”

On January 26th the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) [2] applauded the agreement’s making possible Cuba’s attending the Summit of the Americas in Panama this coming April.

European Reactions [3]

On the day after the historic announcement, the European Union released a statement hailing it as a “historic turning point.” It continued, “Today another Wall has started to fall. These moves represent a victory of dialogue over confrontation.”

The leading newspaper of Spain, El Pais, editorialized, “Today, when freedom seems to be calling for an end to the doors of Cuba, Spain must accompany Cubans in their new journey: supporting their political, economic and social modernization, with clarity, consistency and realism; aware of the limits of his diplomatic skills-but place value on the european-dimension and also aware that resetting relations with Cuba, the United States restored its relations with Latin America.”

Positive comments of the change came from leaders of Germany, Italy, France and Spain.

Other International Reactions [4]

Canada, we recall, hosted some of the secret U.S.-Cuba negotiations that resulted in the December 17th announcement of the start of the process of their reconciliation. Afterwards Canada’s Foreign Minister, John Baird, said, “”I agree with this policy. I don’t think previous U.S. policy has been effective. If you flood Cuba with American values, American people, and American investment, it will help transform the country.”

U.N. Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, said at a press conference on December 17th, “I have been informed in advance by the US Government.  This news is very positive.  I’d like to thank President Barack Obama of the United States and President Raul Castro for taking this very important step towards normalizing relations.  As much of the membership of the United Nations has repeatedly emphasized through General Assembly resolutions during the last many, many years, it is time that Cuba and the United States normalize their bilateral relations.  In that regard, I heartily welcome today’s development.  I sincerely hope these measures, this announcement will help to expand further the exchanges between the two peoples who have been separated quite a long time.  The United Nations stands ready to help both countries to cultivate their good neighbourly relations.”

Conclusion

I would appreciate comments identifying other international reactions.

As was anticipated in the December 17th announcements by presidents Obama and Castro and as we already have seen, the path to lasting reconciliation is not easy for either country. There are many unresolved issues for the two countries over the last 50-plus years.

These words of congratulations from around the world will have to justified by the further negotiations of the two countries. If they fail to resolve these issues, the international reaction will be severe, and if other countries and international organizations believe the U.S. was primarily responsible for such failure, then there could be even worse anti-Americanism unleashed.

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[1] Rebussio, Maduro: It is a victory for Fidel and the Cuban people, El Pais (Dec. 17, 2014); Mezzi, Venezuela is left alone, El Pais (Dec. 17, 2014); Anderson, Mynaya & Vyas, Detente Scrambles Political Calculus in Latin America, W.S.J. (Dec. 18, 2014); Assoc. Press, AP Analysis: U.S. Was at Odds With World Over Cuba Policy, N.Y. Times (Dec. 18,2014); Romero & Neuman, Cuba Thaw Lets Rest of Latin America Warm to Washington, N.Y. Times (Dec. 18, 2014); Assoc. Press, Latin America Cheers U.S.-Cuba Rapprochement, N.Y. Times (Dec. 18,2014);  Krauze, End of Anti-Americanism?, N.Y. Times (Jan. 7, 2015); ECLAC applauds presence of Cuba in Summit of the Americas, Granma (Jan. 26, 2015)

[2] ECLAC was established by the U.N. in 1948 to contribute to the economic development of the region and to promote its social development. Its 44 members include 11 from Asia (Japan and Republic of Korea), Europe (France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and United Kingdom) and North America (Canada and U.S.) with historical, economic and cultural ties to the region. In addition, 13 non-independent Caribbean territories are associate members. 

[3] Rebussio, Maduro: It is a victory for Fidel and the Cuban people, El Pais (Dec. 17, 2014); Reuters, “Another Wall Falls:’ Europe Hails U.S.-Cuba Breakthrough, N.Y. Times (Dec. 18, 2014); Editorial, With Cuba, El Pais (Dec. 21, 2014).

[4] Goldberg, Canada’s Foreign Minister:U.S. Influence Will Make Cuba Better, Atlantic (Dec. 21, 2014), Reuters, U.N.‘s Ban Hails Obama for ‘Courageous’ Cuba Move, N.Y. Times (Dec. 20, 2014); U.N., Press Conference by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at United Nations Headquarters (Dec. 17, 2014).

New York Times Calls for End of U.S. Program for Special Immigration Relief for Cuban Medical Personnel

On November 17th the New York Times published another editorial in its series urging changes in U.S. policies regarding Cuba.[1] Under the title “A Cuban Brain Drain, Courtesy of the U.S.,” the editorial targets the U.S.’s Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program (CMPPP).

In order to understand the editorial, we first must look at the Cuban government’s policy and program of sending Cuban medical personnel to other countries and then at the CMPPP’s response to that Cuban program. Thereafter we will examine the Times’ rationale for its recommendation along with the arguments for the Wall Street Journal’s support of the CMPPP before we voice our conclusions.

 Cuban Policy and Program of Sending Medical Personnel Abroad

According to a 2011 article in the Wall Street Journal, since 1973 Cuba has been sending medical ‘brigades’ to foreign countries, “helping it to win friends abroad, to back ‘revolutionary’ regimes in places like Ethiopia, Angola and Nicaragua, and perhaps most importantly, to earn hard currency. [The] Communist Party newspaper Granma reported in June [2010] that Cuba had 37,041 doctors and other health workers in 77 countries. Estimates of what Cuba earns from its medical teams—revenue that Cuba’s central bank counts as ‘exports of services’—vary widely, running to as much as $8 billion a year.”

Again, according to the same Wall Street Journal article, Cuban doctors often desire such overseas assignments because they provide opportunities to earn significantly more money than at home. “When serving overseas, they get their Cuban salaries [of $25 per month], plus a $50-per-month stipend—both paid to their dependents while they’re abroad. . . . In addition, they themselves receive overseas salaries—from $150 to $1,000 a month, depending on the mission.” Many on-the-side also engage in private fee-for-service medical practice, including abortions. As a result, many of the Cubans are able to save substantial portions of their overseas income, which they often use to purchase items they could not have bought in Cuba like television sets and computers. Other desirable purchases are less expensive U.S. products that they can sell at a profit when they return to Cuba.

The Wall Street Journal article adds, “Since Hugo Chávez came to power in Venezuela in 1998, Cuba has been bartering its [medical personnel] . . . for Venezuelan oil. The U.S. Energy Department estimates that in [2010] Venezuela ships Cuba 90,000 barrels of oil a day—worth more than $2 billion a year at [then] current prices. In addition, Venezuela pays Cuba for medical teams sent to countries that Mr. Chávez considered part of Venezuela’s “Bolivarian” sphere: Bolivia, Honduras, Ecuador and Paraguay.”

As a result of this quid pro quo, Cuba has over 10,000 medical personnel serving in Venezuela. According to the Los Angeles Times just this past September, the working conditions in that country for the Cubans are horrible. Many of the clinics lack air-conditioning and functioning essential medical equipment. The Cubans’ workload is often “crushing.” Common crime is rampant, and the Cubans are often caught in the middle of Venezuela’s civil unrest between followers of the late Hugo Chavez who want the Cubans to be there and more conservative forces that oppose the Cuban presence. As a result, as we will see below in the discussion of CMPPP, many Cuban medical personnel serving in Venezuela have chosen to defect to the U.S. under CMPP.

The Times editorial says, “This year, according to the state-run newspaper Granma, the government expects to make $8.2 billion from its medical workers overseas. The vast majority, just under 46,000, are posted in Latin America and the Caribbean. A few thousand are in 32 African countries.”[2]

Facts Regarding CMPPP

A U.S. Department of State website says this program was announced on August 11, 2006, “by the Department of Homeland Security in conjunction with the Department of State, [as a program] that . . . would allow Cuban medical personnel conscripted to study or work in a third country under the direction of the Cuban government to enter the United States.”[3]

Under the program “Cuban Medical Professionals” (i.e., health-care providers such as doctors, nurses, paramedics, physical therapists, lab technicians and sports trainers) are eligible if they meet the following criteria: (1) Cuban nationality or citizenship, (2) medical professional currently conscripted to study or work in a third country under the direction of the Government of Cuba, and (3) not otherwise ineligible for entry into the U.S. Spouses and/or minor children are also eligible for such parole.

According to the Times’ editorial and the Wall Street Journal, the program “was the brainchild of Cuban-born Emilio González,” a former U.S. Army colonel, the director of the U.S. Citizen & Immigration Services from 2006 to 2008 and a “staunchly anti-Castro exile.” “He has characterized Cuba’s policy of sending doctors and other health workers abroad as ‘state-sponsored human trafficking.’” The Cuban doctors, he says, work directly for health authorities in other countries and have no say in their assignments.

The Times’ editorial includes the following table showing the official numbers of CMPPP visas that have been issued:

Fiscal Year Number
2006      11
2007    781
2008    293
2009    519
2010    548
2011    384
2012    681
2013    995
2014 1,278
TOTAL 5,490

Given the large numbers of Cuban medical personnel that are sent to Venezuela to help pay for Cuba’s importation of Venezuelan oil, it is not surprising that the largest number of defections of Cubans has been from that country. As of the end of FY 2010, according to the previously mentioned Wall Street Journal article, the total defections by country were the following: Venezuela, 824; Colombia, 291; Bolivia, 60; Dominican Republic, 30; Ecuador, 28; Guatemala, 25; Brazil, 21; Namibia, 21; Peru, 19; and Guyana, 14.

Apparently the largest number of defections from Venezuela continues in light of the previously mentioned difficult working conditions. For FY 2011-2014 there were an additional 1,181 Cuban defections from Venezuela to the U.S. under CMPPP for a grand total of 2,005.[4] In addition, many of the Cubans in that country fear being seen going to the U.S. embassy in Caracas and instead fly to neighboring Colombia and apply there for CMPPP.

Another obvious reason for such defections under CMPP is the desire of the Cubans to earn more income in the U.S. I have met a Cuban neurologist whose wife was a skilled nurse, but who worked as a waitress in a nearby resort in order to earn more income and obtain tips in hard currencies. Like almost all Cubans, they did not earn enough to afford to have their own automobile and told me about Cuban television announcements that people who had an automobile or other vehicle had a special obligation to give rides to anyone in a white coat. Later while on a mission in Central America they defected to the U.S. under CMPPP. At least as I heard their story, they were merely looking for a way to improve their lives financially.

The Times’ Reasons for Ending CMPPP

The editorial starts by noting, “Secretary of State John Kerry and the American ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, have praised the work of Cuban doctors dispatched to treat Ebola patients in West Africa. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently sent an official to a regional meeting the Cuban government convened in Havana to coordinate efforts to fight the disease. In Africa, Cuban doctors are working in American-built facilities.The epidemic has had the unexpected effect of injecting common sense into an unnecessarily poisonous relationship.”

Therefore, says the Times, “it is incongruous for the [U.S.] to value the contributions of Cuban doctors who are sent by their government to assist in international crises like the 2010 Haiti earthquake [and the current Ebola crisis in West Africa] while working to subvert that government by making defection so easy [under CMPPP].”

Moreover, says the Times, “Cuba has been using its medical corps as the nation’s main source of revenue and soft power for many years. The country has one of the highest numbers of doctors per capita in the world and offers medical scholarships to hundreds of disadvantaged international students each year, and some have been from the United States. According to Cuban government figures, more than 440,000 of the island’s 11 million citizens are employed in the health sector.”

The creation of CMPP was really motivated by a desire by anti-Castro Americans “to strike at the core of the island’s primary diplomatic tool, while embarrassing the Castro regime.” This is hardly a worthy motivation for the U.S.

For a poor country like Cuba, it makes sense to use one of its few economic strengths to bolster its foreign exchange earnings. Is this not an example of the concept of comparative advantage first formulated by classical economists Adam Smith and David Ricardo? The program also helps Cuba garner good will around the world for helping to improve the health of others. There is no legitimate reason for the U.S. to be opposed to such a program.

Adds the Times editorial, “American immigration policy should give priority to the world’s neediest refugees and persecuted people. It should not be used to exacerbate the brain drain of an adversarial nation at a time when improved relations between the two countries are a worthwhile, realistic goal.”

In 2006 when CMPPP was commenced, Cuban medical personnel could not obtain their government’s permission to leave the island for any reason, and this was asserted as one of the reasons for the U.S.’ creation of CMPPP. Last year, however, the Times says, “the Cuban government liberalized its travel policies, allowing most citizens, including dissidents, to leave the country freely. Doctors, who in the past faced stricter travel restrictions than ordinary Cubans, no longer do.”

Moreover, the Times asserts, “The Cuban government has long regarded the medical defection program as a symbol of American duplicity. It undermines Cuba’s ability to respond to humanitarian crises and does nothing to make the government in Havana more open or democratic. As long as this incoherent policy is in place, establishing a healthier relationship between the two nations will be harder.”

Finally, according to the Times, “Many medical professionals, like a growing number of Cubans, will continue to want to move to the United States in search of new opportunities, and they have every right to do so. But inviting them to defect while on overseas tours is going too far.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Reasons for Supporting CMPPP

The Wall Street Journal’s opinions on this subject are frequently uttered by its columnist on Latin American issues, Mary Anastasia O’Grady. The headline for her November 9, 2014, column makes clear her ultimate conclusion: “Cuba’s Slave Trade in Doctors.” She asserts that Cuba’s policy and practice of sending some of its medical personnel to other countries is an “extensive human-trafficking racket now being run out of Havana.”

Her argument centers on the Cuban government’s being paid for these services by other countries like Venezuela or by international organizations like WHO and the government’s paying its medical personnel only some of the Cuban government’s revenues for their services. But this ignores the fact that any corporation or other business entity that sells services, pays the people who actually provide the service less than what is collected by the corporation because there are other cost factors that have to be covered plus a profit.

While she admits that “Cuban doctors are not forced at gunpoint to become expat slaves,” she argues they “are given offers they cannot refuse.”

Conclusion

When the CMPPP was created in 1966, Cuba’s government prohibited its medical personnel from leaving the island, and one of CMPP’s original rationales was providing a legitimate way to provide them with a way to leave Cuba and go elsewhere. Now, however, the Cuban government permits such citizens to leave. This change, in this blogger’s opinion, eliminates the only arguably legitimate basis for CMPPP.

The allegation by some supporters of CMPP that Cuba’s practice of sending medical teams to other countries is a form of human trafficking is absurd, in this blogger’s opinion. The Cuban government has paid for all of the education of its medical personnel, and sending some of them to serve in foreign countries is a way for them to compensate the state for their free education. This Cuban practice is like the U.S. practice during some wars of having a selective service system and drafting some people to serve in our armed forces. Similarly we in the U.S. from time to time have debated having some kind of required national non-military service program for younger citizens without anyone arguing that it would be illegal human trafficking.

The U.S. State Department issues annual reports on the status of other countries’ human trafficking, which the reports define as “umbrella terms for the act of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud, or coercion.” This compelled service requirement uses “a number of different terms, including involuntary servitude, slavery or practices similar to slavery, debt bondage, and forced labor.”

Although the latest U.S. report on this subject unjustly casts Cuba into the report’s Tier 3 status,[5] as argued in a prior post, that report rejects the argument that Cuba is engaged in human trafficking when it sends its medical personnel to other countries. Here is what that report says on this issue:

  • “Some Cubans participating in the work missions have stated that the postings are voluntary, and positions are well paid compared to jobs within Cuba. Others have claimed that Cuban authorities have coerced them, including by withholding their passports and restricting their movement. Some medical professionals participating in the missions have been able to take advantage of U.S. visas or immigration benefits [under the CMPPP], applying for those benefits and arriving in the United States in possession of their passports—an indication that at least some medical professionals retain possession of their passports. Reports of coercion by Cuban authorities in this program do not appear to reflect a uniform government policy of coercion; however, information is lacking.”

This blogger, therefore, supports the Times’ calling for an end to CMPPP.

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[1] Under the overall title of “Cuba: A New Start,” the prior editorials (all of which are simultaneously published in Spanish) have urged overall reconciliation between the two countries, including ending the ending of the U.S. embargo of the island, the U.S. designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” and re-establishing normal diplomatic relations; U.S.-Cuba collaboration in combatting Ebola in West Africa; recognizing changing U.S. public opinion on relations with Cuba; U.S.-Cuba exchange of prisoners; and ending USAID covert programs to promote regime change in Cuba.

[2] Another issue unrelated to CMPPP is whether or not the services provided by the Cuban medical personnel meet the professional standards of the country where they serve. A South American ophthalmologist has told this blogger that she frequently has been called to fix problems created by Cuban doctors on such missions, but this blogger has no information about any comprehensive study of this issue.

[3] The program’s stated statutory authorization is INA section 212(d)(5)(A), 8 U.S.C. 1182(d)(5)(A) (permits parole of an alien into the United States for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit); 8 CFR 212.5(c) & (d) (discretionary authority for granting parole), whereby the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) may exercise its discretionary parole authority to permit eligible Cuban nationals to come to the United States.

[4] This calculation is based upon a November 9, 2014, article in Venezuela’s El Universal newspaper.

[5] Tier 3 is a U.S.-created category of countries that the U.S. asserts “do not fully comply with [a U.S. statute’s] minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so”.