Cuban Migration Developments  

In recent weeks there have been significant developments regarding Cubans leaving, and returning to, the island and possible changes to U.S. laws regarding Cubans coming to the U.S.

Cuban Migrants in Central America

  1. “Test Plan” for Transit of Cuban Migrants to U.S.

As reported in prior posts, about 8,000 Cuban migrants have been stranded in Costa Rica on their journeys to the U.S., but last December Mexico and certain Central American governments agreed on a “test plan” to transport the migrants via air and bus from Costa Rica through El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico to the U.S. border.[1]

On January 12 the initial group of 180 of these migrants started this journey, and on the next morning they had arrived in Ciudad Hidalgo on the Honduras-Mexico border, where they were granted 20-day transit visas. They were then put on their own to get to the Mexico-U.S. border. The first of them reached the Mexico-U.S. border at Laredo, Texas on the evening of January 14. And on January 18 a group of 30 arrived in Florida (Tampa, Sarasota, Fort Myers and Miami).[2]

In anticipation of the arrival of many of these Cubans in the Miami, Florida area, the mayors of Miami-Dade County in Florida have asked the federal government for funds to assist in welcoming many of those Cubans who are expected to come to their county.[3]

  1. Evaluation of “Test Plan[4]
Guatemala Meeting
Guatemala Meeting

On January 20 Guatemala hosted a meeting with representatives of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Belize and members of the International Organization for Migration to review the operation of the “test plan.” During the meeting an analysis of the operation was performed and each country presented their experience in the management of migration and visa issues as well as logistics and security. They concluded that the process was successful and that the passage of the Cuban migrants was made in a legal, orderly, safe and transparent manner. They also agreed to collaborate better and improve coordination needed for future transfers and to meet again on February 15 to review further progress.

  1. Future Transit of Cuban Migrants to the U.S.

The representatives at the January 20 meeting also concluded to resume the transit of Cubans in Costa Rica on February 4 with two weekly flights (February 9, 11, 16, 18, 23 and 25) from Costa Rica to El Salvador followed by their busing to the Honduras-Mexico border and thence on their own to the Mexico-U.S. border. Priority will be given to households with pregnant women or children, with earlier dates of entry into Costa Rica, the numbers on their Costa Rica visas and the financial resources to pay for the transit. In addition, Costa Rican officials will visit Cubans remaining in shelters to renew their visas.

Each Cuban will pay $555 for the charter flight, the bus and food arranged by a travel agency. Once in Mexico, the Cubans will receive a 20-day transit visa to make it on their own to the U.S. border. U.S. and Mexican officials hope is to hatch a similar plan for the 3,000 Cubans stranded in Panama.

 Cuban Migrants By Sea

On May 2, 1995, in response to a large increase in Cubans who were attempting to make the dangerous crossing of the Caribbean Sea to get to Florida, the U.S. and Cuba entered into an agreement whereby the two countries “reaffirm their common interest in preventing unsafe departures from Cuba. Effective immediately, Cuban migrants intercepted at sea by the [U.S.] and attempting to enter the [U.S.] will be taken to Cuba.”[5]

Since then, the U.S. has done just that. Such an agreement and practice, it was believed, would discourage other Cubans from attempting such dangerous journeys. This then became known as the “wet feet” part of the U.S. disjunctive dry feet/wet feet policy. Here are the statistics on such interdictions:[6]

Fiscal Year

(Oct.1-Sept. 30)

Number of

Interdictions

1995    525
1996    411
1997    421
1998    903
1999 1,619
2000 1,000
2001    777
2002 666
2003 1,555
2004 1,225
2005 2,712
2006 2,810
2007 2,868
2008 2,216
2009    799
2010    422
2011    985
2012 1,275
2013 1,357
2014 2,111
2015 2,924

So far in Fiscal 2016 (10/01/15-01/14/16), the U.S. Coast Guard estimates that 1,942 Cubans have been interdicted at sea or have attempted to land in the U.S. or have actually landed by sea. For the first half of January 2016 alone, a total of 396 Cuban migrants have been picked up in the waters between Florida and Cuba and returned to Cuba. The increases in Fiscal 2015 and so far in Fiscal 2016 are believed to have been caused by the December 2014 announcement of normalization between the two countries and Cubans’ concern that the U.S. might end its special immigration benefits for Cubans.[7]

In addition, the U.S. Coast Guard reports that more of the Cubans who have been interdicted and put on Coast Guard vessels are jumping overboard, trying to poison themselves or making self-inflicted wounds in attempts to be taken to U.S. shore. As a result the Guard has added security personnel on the vessels.

A Guard official recently said, “Immigration policies have not changed, and we urge people not to take to the ocean in unseaworthy vessels. It is illegal and extremely dangerous.”

Some Cubans Returning to Cuba[8]

Nick Miroff of the Washington Post reports there is a “growing number of Cubans who have opted to move back to the island in recent years as the Castro government eases its rigid immigration rules. The returnees are a smaller, quieter counter-current to the surge of Cubans leaving, and their arrival suggests a more dynamic future when their compatriots may come and go with greater ease, helping to rebuild Cuba with earnings from abroad.”

Indeed, Miroff says, these returnees or “repatriates are not coming back for socialism. They are coming back as capitalists. . . . [or as] trailblazing entrepreneurs. Prompted by President Raúl Castro’s limited opening to small business and his 2011 move allowing Cubans to buy and sell real estate, the repatriates are using money saved abroad to acquire property and open private restaurants, guesthouses, spas and retail shops.”

In 2012, Cuban immigration officials said they were processing about 1,000 repatriation applications each year. “The numbers appear to have increased since then, at least judging from anecdotal evidence and the proliferation of new small businesses in Havana run by returnees.”

“Many of the repatriates . . . are returning from Europe and Latin America. Cubans in the [U.S.] may be more reluctant to return to the island because of their relatively high incomes . . . [in the U.S. and because U.S.] economic sanctions also make it essentially illegal for any U.S. resident to go to Cuba and run a business. And the ability to buy property remains mostly restricted to Cubans who live on the island.”

Possible Changes in U.S. Immigration Laws Regarding Cubans

 As noted in previous posts, Cuba and now Central American countries have been vigorous opponents of the U.S. policy of allowing Cubans who arrive on land to come into the U.S. without visas, and the U.S. Administration repeatedly has said it has no intentions of changing that policy.

In the meantime, the only congressional bill to end the special treatment for Cubans arriving by land at the U.S. border that was offered by Representative Paul Gosar (Rep., AZ)—Ending Special National Origin-Based Immigration Programs for Cubans Act of 2015 (H.R.3818)– has gained little support beyond its nine cosponsors.[9]

Under another law, Cubans who have arrived in the U.S. by land are automatically eligible for federal public assistance under the Refugee Resettlement Program. On January 12, 2016, Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, introduced a bill to end these automatic federal benefits.[10]

The bill, The Cuban Immigrant Work Opportunity Act of 2016 (S.2441), which has no cosponsors and which was referred to the Senate Finance Committee, would terminate the automatic eligibility for federal public assistance for Cuban nationals under the Refugee Resettlement Program, while maintaining it for those that have been persecuted that are in need of resettlement assistance.

Rubio said, ““It is outrageous whenever the American people’s generosity is exploited. It is particularly outrageous when individuals who claim to be fleeing repression in Cuba are welcomed and allowed to ‎collect federal assistance based on their plight, only to return often to the very place they claimed to be fleeing. The weaknesses in our current law not only allow the flow of American tax dollars into the Castro regime’s coffers, it also undermines the legitimate cause of those Cubans who are truly fleeing repression and political persecution.”

Rubio’s rationale for this bill would also justify the U.S.’ ending its previously mentioned “dry feet” immigration policy.

Yet another special U.S. immigration program for Cubans—the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program—is under consideration for cancellation by the Obama Administration.[11]

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[1] Cubans in Central America Provide Cuba with an Opportunity to Reiterate Its Objections to U.S. Immigration Policies (Nov. 20, 2015); Update on Cuban Migrants in Central America (Nov. 27, 2015); Status of Cuban Migrants in Central America Still Unresolved (Dec. 11, 2015); Resolution of Problem of Cuban Migrants Stranded in Costa Rica (Dec. 30, 2015).

[2] Date set for the departure of first group of Cuban migrants from Costa Rica, Granma (Jan. 8, 2016); Robles, Cubans, Fearing Loss of Favored Status in U.S., Rush to Make an Arduous Journey, N.Y. Times (Jan. 9, 2016); Reuters, First Group of Stranded Cuban Migrants Leave Costa Rica, N.Y. Times (Jan. 13, 2016); Assoc. Press, Cubans Begin Pilot Transfer From Costa Rica to Mexico, N.Y. Times (Jan. 13, 2016); Assoc. Press, Stranded Cuban Migrants Brought by Air, Bus to Mexico, N.Y. Times (Jan. 13, 2016); Reuters, Mexico to Grant Transit Visas to Cuban Migrants, N.Y. Times (Jan. 13, 2016); Perez & Cordoba, Stranded Cuban migrants brought by air, bus to Mexico, Wash. Post (Jan. 13, 2016); First group of Cuban migrants arrive in Mexico, Granma (Jan. 13, 2016); Assoc. Press, Stranded Cuban Migrants Make Plans to Cross Mexico, N.Y. Times (Jan. 14, 2015); Assoc. Press, First of 8,000 Stranded Cuban Migrants Cross Into US, N.Y. Times (Jan. 15, 2016); Barbero, The first Cubans stranded in Central America come to Miami, El Pais (Jan. 19, 2016).

[3] Barbero, Miami seeks help from Obama before the arrival of Cubans, El Pais (Jan. 7, 2016),

[4]  Prensa Latina,Guatemala: Cuban Migrant Issue to be Tackled in regional Meeting, Esacambray (Jan. 20, 2016); Costa Rice Foreign Ministry, Next trip to Cuban migrants will be on February 4 (Jan. 20, 2016); Central American governments agreed to Cubans plan, Granma (Jan. 21, 2016).

[5] U.S.-Cuba Joint Statement on Migration, May 2, 1995, Dispatch Magazine.

[6] Focus on Cuba: Current Issues and Developments at 41 (2008); U.S. Coast Guard, Alien Migrant Interdiction (May 31, 2015)

[7] Clary, Number of Cubans intercepted at sea rises to highest level in two decades, SunSentinel (Nov. 4, 2015); Flechas, U.S. Coast Guard repatriates 169 Cuban migrants, Miami Herald (Jan. 14, 2016)  Rohrer, Post-Thaw, Cuban refugees surge in Florida, Orlando Sentinel (Jan. 19, 2016); Assoc. Press, Coast Guard: Migrants Fleeing Cuba Increasingly Violent, N.Y. Times (Jan. 20, 2016).

[8] Miroff, Amid a historic wave of emigration, some Cubans are returning home, Wash. Post (Jan. 1, 2015).

[9] Gosar, Press Release: Gosar Introduces Bill to End Wet Foot/Dry foot Policy & Stop Cuban Amnesty (Oct. 23, 2015)

[10] Rubio, Rubio Introduces Legislation To End Rampant Abuse of Cuban Refugee Resettlement Benefits (Jan. 12, 2016); Reuters, Republican Rubio Authors Senate Bill to Curb Cuban Immigration Benefits, N.Y. Times (Jan. 12, 2016)  A companion bill (H.R.4247) was introduced in December 2015 in the House by Representative Carlos Curbelo, a fellow Cuban-American Republican from Florida. It has 12 cosponsors and was referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

[11] U.S. Ending Its Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program? (Jan. 8, 2016).

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).

 

 

President Obama Should Exercise His Legal Authority To End U.S. Admission of Cubans Arriving with “Dry Feet”

The U.S. has a law and policy that allows Cubans who arrive on land (with “dry feet”) in the U.S. to be admitted to the U.S. without visas and to be eligible one-year later to apply for permanent residency[1] This blog repeatedly has called for that law and policy to be ended because it is antithetical to the U.S.’ having a normal relationship with Cuba.[2]

A related and important legal issue is whether the president by executive order may end that law and policy. This post will examine how this law and policy work and whether the president, without Congress, may end that policy of admitting those Cubans arriving on land.

 How the Current Law and Policy Work

 The Cuban Adjustment Act of November 2, 1976, as amended, allows any Cuban “native or citizen who has been inspected and admitted or paroled into” the U.S., after one year of “physical presence,” to apply to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to adjust his or her U.S. legal status to permanent resident alien. Such an adjustment, however, is not automatic or guaranteed by that Act. Instead, the Act provides that the Attorney General has “discretion” to do so if the Cuban applicant “is eligible to receive an immigrant visa and is admissible to the [U.S.] for permanent residence.” If the applicant does not satisfy those requirements, the Attorney General has the discretion to deny the application.[3]

The admissibility requirement involves examination of the applicant’s health; any criminal history in or outside the U.S., especially involving “crimes of moral turpitude,” prostitution, “commercialized vice;” participation in, or support of, terrorist activities; military or paramilitary activities; membership in the Communist Party; and other issues.

Recently many Cubans have been fearing that the U.S. will abolish this policy and have been leaving the island, especially through Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica and then on through Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico to reach the U.S. Now many are stranded in Costa Rica and Panama. (See n.2.)

How Can the U.S. Dry Feet Policy Be Abolished?

Significantly, in my opinion, the Cuban Adjustment Act does not require the U.S. to admit into the country any and all Cubans who arrive by land. Indeed, it says nothing whatsoever about that issue. Instead the Act only provides a benefit (the right to file an application to become a permanent resident alien of the U.S.) after he or she has been in the U.S. for a year after having been “inspected and admitted or paroled into” the U.S.

This fact about the law has been recognized by by a respected U.S. academic commentator on U.S.-Cuba issues—William LeGrande. He concludes that the “’dry foot’ policy . . . is a matter of executive discretion [and] could be rescinded by the attorney general without prior notice.” In short, stop admitting such Cubans into the U.S.[4]

On the other hand, in my opinion, the Administration does not have the legal authority, without congressional adoption of a statute to repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act, to stop considering applications for permanent residency, based upon the facts and law, submitted by Cubans who have been in the U.S. for at least one year.

Meanwhile, some Cuban-Americans in Congress are voicing opposition to that policy because it has been allowing Cubans who are granted legal status in the U.S. under that policy to return repeatedly to Cuba. And one Republican Congressman, Paul Gosar (AZ), on October 23 introduced a bill to repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act and the policy. (Ending Special National Origin-Based Immigration Programs for Cubans Act of 2015 (H.R. 3818)); with nine cosponsors it has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.[5] :

Conclusion

This commentator, therefore, concludes that the president has the authority to cease admitting into the U.S. any and all Cubans who arrive at the U.S. border and that he should exercise that authority and do just that. (U.S. immigration law is very complex and I do not have intimate knowledge of its many details. Therefore, I would appreciate anyone with such knowledge to point out any errors in my analysis and conclusion.)

Moreover, the president should do so immediately because of the large number of Cuban migrants stranded in Central America on their journey to the U.S.

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[1] Cubans who are intercepted at sea and thus have “wet feet” are returned to Cuba by the U.S. unless at sea they assert a fear of persecution if returned to Cuba. This is a result of September 1994 and February 1995 agreements or accords between the U.S. and Cuba to seek to stop Cubans from taking dangerous journeys in small boats in the Caribbean to try to reach the U.S.

[2] E.g., Cubans in Central America Provide Cuba with an Opportunity To Reiterate Its Objections to U.S. Immigration Policies (Nov. 20, 2015); Update on Cuban Migrants in Central America (Nov. 27, 2015); Assoc. Press, Costa Rica Asks Belize to Accept Stranded Cuban Migrants, N.Y. Times (Dec. 4, 2015).

[3] Cuban Adjustment Act, Pub. Law 89-732 (Nov. 2, 1966)(as amended); USCIS, Green Card for a Cuban Native or Citizen; U.S.CIS, Green Card Eligibility; USCIS, Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status; USCIS, Instructions for I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status; CLINIC PowerPoint, Cuban Adjustment Act (Mar. 19, 2014); Cuban Adjustment Act, Wikipediia. Some commentators have argued that the statute’s saying the Attorney General has “discretion” to grant permanent residency means that the president, without Congress, may abolish the “dry foot” policy. CDA, The Doorbell in the Wall (Nov. 20, 2015); Muse, U.S. Presidential Action on Cuba: The New Normalization? Americas Quarterly.) This “discretion” language, however, in my opinion, has nothing to do with whether the president has the authority to end the policy without congressional approval.

[4] LeoGrande, A New Crisis of Cuban Migration, N.Y. Times (Dec. 5, 2015).

[5] Gosar, Rep. Gosar Introduces a Bill to End Wet Foot/Dry Foot Policy and Stop Cuban Amnesty (Oct. 23, 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.

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[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.

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

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

 Chairman Corker’s Opening Statement

Senator Bob Corker
Senator Bob Corker

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

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

Ranking Member Cardin’s Opening Statement

Senator Ben Cardin
Senator Ben Cardin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Testimony of Assistant Secretary of State Jacobson

Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson
Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Testimony of State Department Counselor Shannon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questioning Assistant Secretary Jacobson and Counselor Shannon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Conclusion

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

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

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

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

Presidents Obama and Castro’s Meeting at the Summit of the Americas

Raul Castro & Barack Obama
Raul Castro & Barack Obama

On April 11th U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuba’s President Raul Castro had a private meeting at the Seventh Summit of the Americas in Panama after each of them had given their major speeches. Here are their public statements immediately before that meeting  as well as Obama’s subsequent press conference on these issues. [1]

 President Barack Obama’s Pre-Meeting Comments

“This is obviously a historic meeting. The history between the United States and Cuba is obviously complicated, and over the years a lot of mistrust has developed. But during the course of the last several months, there have been contacts between the U.S. and the Cuban government. And in December, as a consequence of some of the groundwork that had been laid, both myself and President Castro announced a significant change in policy and the relationship between our two governments.”

“[A]fter 50 years of policy that had not changed on the part of the [U.S.], it was my belief that it was time to try something new, that it was important for us to engage more directly with the Cuban government and the Cuban people. And as a consequence, I think we are now in a position to move on a path towards the future, and leave behind some of the circumstances of the past that have made it so difficult, I think, for our countries to communicate.”

“Already we’ve seen majorities of the American people and the Cuban people respond positively to this change. And I truly believe that as more exchanges take place, more commerce and interactions resume between the [U.S.] and Cuba, that the deep connections between the Cuban people and the American people will reflect itself in a more positive and constructive relationship between our governments.”

“Now, obviously there are still going to be deep and significant differences between our two governments. We will continue to try to lift up concerns around democracy and human rights. And as you heard from President Castro’s passionate speech this morning, they will lift up concerns about U.S. policy as well.” [2]

“But I think what we have both concluded is that we can disagree with the spirit of respect and civility, and that over time it is possible for us to turn the page and develop a new relationship in our two countries.”

“And some of our immediate tasks include normalizing diplomatic relations and ultimately opening an embassy in Havana, and Cuba being able to open an embassy in Washington, D.C. so that our diplomats are able to interact on a more regular basis.”

“So I want to thank President Castro for the spirit of openness and courtesy that he has shown during our interactions. And I think if we can build on this spirit of mutual respect and candidness, that over time we will see not just a transformation in the relationship between our two countries, but a positive impact throughout the hemisphere and the world.”

“And President Castro earlier today spoke about the significant hardships that the people of Cuba have undergone over many decades. I can say with all sincerity that the essence of my policy is to do whatever I can to make sure that the people of Cuba are able to prosper and live in freedom and security, and enjoy a connection with the world where their incredible talents and ingenuity and hard work can thrive.”

 President Raul Castro’s Pre-Meeting Comments (English translation)

“Mr. President, friends from the press, we have been making long speeches and listening to many long speeches too, so I do not want to abuse the time of President Obama or your time.”

“I think that what President Obama has just said, it’s practically the same as we feel about the topics, including human rights, freedom of the press. We have said on previous occasions to some American friends that we are willing to discuss every issue between the [U.S.] and Cuba. We are willing to discuss about those issues that I have mentioned and about many others, as these — both in Cuba but also in the [U.S.].”

“I think that everything can be on the table. I think that we can do it, as President Obama has just said, with respect for the ideas of the other. We could be persuaded of some things; of others, we might not be persuaded. But when I say that I agree with everything that the President has just said, I include that we have agreed to disagree. No one should entertain illusions. It is true that we have many differences. Our countries have a long and complicated history, but we are willing to make progress in the way the President has described.”

“We can develop a friendship between our two peoples. We shall continue advancing in the meetings which are taking place in order to re-establish relations between our countries. We shall open our embassies. We shall visit each other, having exchanges, people to people. And all that matters is what those neighbors can do; we are close neighbors, and there are many things that we can have.”

“So we are willing to discuss everything, but we need to be patient — very patient. Some things we will agree on; others we will disagree. The pace of life at the present moment in the world, it’s very fast. We might disagree on something today on which we could agree tomorrow. And we hope that our closest assistants –some of them are here with us today — we hope that they will follow the instructions of both Presidents.”

President Obama’s Post-Meeting Press Conference

Immediately after his meeting with President Castro, Obama held a press conference with the following additional remarks about Cuba.

“In keeping with the Inter-American Democratic Charter, we continue to stand up strongly for democracy and human rights.  This was the first Summit of the Americas to include a formal role for civil society.  As I said at yesterday’s forum, the [U.S.] will continue to deepen our support for civil society groups across the Americas and around the world.  I’m pleased that there was widespread agreement among the nations here that civil society groups have a permanent role in future summits.  And the [U.S.] will support this work through the new innovation center we’re creating to empower civil society groups across Latin America.”

“How to promote greater opportunity for the Cuban people was also a major focus of my meeting with President Castro, the first between leaders of our two nations in more than half a century.  I told President Castro in private what I’ve have said in public — that our governments will continue to have differences and the [U.S.] will continue to stand firmly for universal values and human rights.  At the same time, we agreed that we can continue to take steps forward that advance our mutual interests. We’ll continue to work toward reestablishing diplomatic relations, reopening embassies in Havana and Washington, and encouraging greater contacts and commerce and exchanges between our citizens.”

“I’m optimistic that we’ll continue to make progress and that this can indeed be a turning point — not just between the [U.S.] and Cuba, but for greater cooperation among countries across the region.”

“[W]ith respect to Cuba, there is majority support of our policy in the [U.S.], and there’s overwhelming support for our policy in Cuba.  I think people recognize that if you keep on doing something for 50 years and it doesn’t work, you should try something new.”

“And so the American people don’t need to be persuaded that this is, in fact, the right thing to do.  I recognize that there are still concerns and questions that Congress may have; we’ve got concerns and questions about specific activities that are taking place in Cuba, and human rights and reform.  And there were two members of the Cuban civil society that were in attendance at the meeting that I had yesterday who expressed much of what they have to go through on a day-to-day basis.  They were supportive of our policy of engagement with Cuba. And so I don’t think that it’s so much we have to persuade anybody.”

“The issue of the State Sponsor of Terrorism list — as you know, the State Department has provided a recommendation; it’s gone through our interagency process.  I’ll be honest with you, I have been on the road, and I want to make sure that I have a chance to read it, study it, before we announce publicly what the policy outcome is going to be.” [2]

“But in terms of the overall direction of Cuba policy, I think there is a strong majority both in the United States and in Cuba that says our ability to engage, to open up commerce and travel and people-to-people exchanges is ultimately going to be good for the Cuban people.”

“It was a candid and fruitful conversation between me and Raul Castro.  I can tell you that, in the conversations I’ve had so far with him — two on the phone and, most recently, face-to-face — that we are able to speak honestly about our differences and our concerns in ways that I think offer the possibility of moving the relationship between our two countries in a different and better direction.”

“We have very different views of how society should be organized.  And I was very direct with him that we are not going to stop talking about issues like democracy and human rights and freedom of assembly and freedom of the press — not because we think we are perfect and that every country has to mimic us exactly, but because there are a set of universal principles for which we stand.”

“And one of the goals of my administration is to have some consistency in speaking out on behalf of those who oftentimes don’t have a voice.  And I think during his speech in the plenary session, he was pretty clear about areas of U.S. policy he doesn’t like, and I suspect he’s going to continue to speak out on those.”

“What’s been clear from this entire summit, though, is the unanimity with which, regardless of their ideological predispositions, the leaders of Latin America think this is the right thing to do.  Because what they see is the possibility of a more constructive dialogue that ultimately benefits the Cuban people, and removes what too often has been a distraction or an excuse from the hemisphere acting on important challenges that we face.”

“So I am cautiously optimistic that over the coming months and coming years that the process that we’ve initiated, first announced in December, reaffirmed here at the Summit of the Americas, will lead to a different future for the Cuban people and a different relationship between the United States and Cuba.

“On Cuba, we are not in the business of regime change. We are in the business of making sure the Cuban people have freedom and the ability to participate and shape their own destiny and their own lives, and supporting civil society.”

“And there’s going to be an evolution, regardless of what we do, inside of Cuba.  Partly it’s going to be generational.  If you listened to President Castro’s comments earlier this morning, a lot of the points he made referenced actions that took place before I was born, and part of my message here is the Cold War is over.  There’s still a whole lot of challenges that we face and a lot of issues around the world, and we’re still going to have serious issues with Cuba on not just the Cuban government’s approach to its own people, but also regional issues and concerns.  There are going to be areas where we cooperate as well.  Cuban doctors deployed during the Ebola crisis made a difference; Cuban activity in Haiti in the wake of the earthquake made a difference.  And so there may be areas of collaboration as well.”

“What I said to President Castro is the same thing that I’ve said to leaders throughout the region.  We have a point of view and we won’t be shy about expressing it.  But I’m confident that the way to lift up the values that we care about is through persuasion.  And that’s going to be the primary approach that we take on a whole host of these issues — primarily because they don’t implicate our national security in a direct way.”

“And I think that we have to be very clear if Cuba is not a threat to the United States.  That doesn’t mean we don’t have differences with it.  But on the list of threats that I’m concerned about, I think it’s fair to say that between ISIL and Iran getting a nuclear weapon, and activities in Yemen and Libya, and Boko Haram, Russian aggression in Ukraine and the impact on our allies there — I could go down a pretty long list — climate change — so I think our approach has to be one of trying to work with the region and other countries, and be very clear about what we believe and what we stand for, and what we think works and what doesn’t.”

“And so often, when we insert ourselves in ways that go beyond persuasion, it’s counterproductive.  It backfires.  That’s been part of our history — which is why countries keep on trying to use us as an excuse for their own governance failures.  Let’s take away the excuse.  And let’s be clear that we’re prepared to partner and engage with everybody to try to lift up opportunity and prosperity and security for people in the region.”

I “did not get into the [minute] details [about rescinding the State Sponsor of Terrorism with President Castro.] As I said before, the State Sponsor of Terrorism recommendation will be coming to me.  I will read it; I’ll review it.  There’s a process whereby if, in fact, I accept those recommendations, Congress has an opportunity to review it, as well, and it will be there for people to see.”

“I think that the concerns around the embassy are going to be mostly on the Cuban side.  They haven’t dealt with an American embassy in Cuba in quite some time.  And changing in this way is, I’m sure, an unsettling process.  We’re accustomed to this.  We . . . “are familiar with how that gets done in a way that’s consistent with improving diplomatic relations over the long term.  This is probably a more profound shift for them than it is for us.”

“But we stand ready to move forward.  We’re confident that it can lead to an improved dialogue.  And our bottom line at the end is, is that it can lead to an improved set of prospects for the Cuban people.”

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[1] In addition to the hyperlinked text of these remarks, this post is based upon the following: Lederman & Kuhnhenn, In historic face to face, Obama and Castro vow to turn the page, Wash. Post (April 11, 2015), DeYoung & Miroff, Obama and Castro hold historic meeting, agree to foster a ‘new relationship,’ Wash. Post (April 11, 2015).  Future posts will cover other aspects of the Summit of the Americas. Prior posts set forth substantial extracts of Obama’s and Castro’s major speeches at the Summit.

[2] As discussed in a prior post, President Obama on April 14th rescinded the designation of Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, to be effective in 45 days.

 

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

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

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

 President Obama’s Speech

Obama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Seventh Summit of the Americas Is Underway in Panama

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

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

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

 The Summit Organizers’ Plan

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

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

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

PanamaCtr

The Summit also will host the four following forums:

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

 U.S. Plans for the Summit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cuba’s Plans for the Summit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Venezuela’s Plans for the Summit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Cuba Meets with European Union and Russian Ministers

This week Cuban leaders have held meetings in Havana with the foreign ministers of the European Union and Russia.

European Union-Cuba

A previous post examined the recent history of Cuba’s relations with the European Union (EU), including their negotiations on improving relations in 2014 and earlier this month. Another set of such negotiations or meetings took place in Havana on March 23-24 with the EU’s [1]

The most recent meetings were with the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini.

EU +Castro

She met with Cuban President Raúl Castro and Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla. Also present were Stefano Manservisi, Mogherini’s chief of staff; Herman Portocarero, EU Ambassador to Cuba; and Rogelio Sierra Diaz, Cuba’s Minister and Deputy Foreign Minister. (To the left is a photograph of Mogherini and Castro.)

In addition, Magherini met with the President of the National Assembly of Popular Power, Esteban Lazo Hernández; Vice President of the Council of Ministers and Minister of Economy and Planning, Marino Murillo Jorge; and Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, Rodrigo Malmierca.

Afterwards Magherini said that although the pace of progress in the EU-Cuba talks on improving their relations was “slow,” it was gaining “political momentum” and that the two parties had “decided to speed up the rhythm of our negotiations, hopefully to manage to finalize the framework of our dialogue and agreement by the end of this year.” She also referred to the signing of a program between the island and the EU in the amount of 50 million euros until 2020, which will be used in commercial areas and especially in agriculture and complimented Cuba for its essential role in regional processes such as the Colombia-FARC peace negotiations taking place in Havana.

A Cuban newspaper reported the President Castro observed that “in a friendly atmosphere,” the two of them “exchanged ideas about the links between the EU and Cuba .They agreed on the importance of developing relationships of mutual respect, based on the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter. Also, they discussed issues of common interest of the international agenda.”

Bruno Rodriguez reiterated Cuba’s “willingness to work to advance these links and . . . constructive engagement with the negotiations for an agreement on political dialogue and bilateral cooperation that is underway.” He also noted Cuba’s appreciation for the votes of EU members in support of Cuba’s resolution against the U.S. blockade (embargo) at last Fall’s U.N. General Assembly meeting.

Magherini and Bruno Rodriguez will see each other at the Summit of the Americas on April 10-11 in Panama, to which both Cuba and the EU are invited for the first time before the two of them meet in Brussels on April 22. In addition, Cuban officials will attend a summit of European and Latin American leaders scheduled for June in Brussels.

Russia-Cuba [2]

 

Serguei-Lavrov-y-Raúl-Castro1

On March 24, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met in Havana with Cuban President Raúl Castro. Also present were Mikhail L. Kamynin, Russian Ambassador to Cuba; Alexander V. Schetinin, the Director of Latin America at Russia’s Foreign Ministry; Cuban Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla; and Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister, Rogelio Sierra Díaz. (Above is a photograph of Larov and Castro.)

The participants discussed the excellent state of their relations and ratified the willingness to work together in the effective implementation of the bilateral economic agenda and deepen exchanges in areas of common interest. Castro thanked Russia’s support for ending the U.S. economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba and reiterated his country’s opposition to the unilateral sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its NATO allies against Russia.

Larov said, “Normalization between the United States and Cuba makes us happy. We salute this rapprochement,” and “we call for the lifting of the (U.S.) trade and financial blockade of Cuba as soon as possible.”

Earlier Larov met separately with Foreign Minister Rodriguez and with Ricardo Cabrisas, Vice President of Cuba’s Council of Ministers. They discussed bilateral cooperation and the interest of Russian companies in investing in Cuba’s development.

CubaRussia-0a5c9

Simultaneously a Russian ship of the class generally used for intelligence gathering was in the Havana Harbor as shown in the photograph to the left by Desmond Boylan/Associated Press.

 Conclusion

These meeting emphasize that Cuba’s redefining its relationships with the U.S. is not the only bilateral issue facing Cuba and that the U.S. is in competition with the EU and Russia for improving economic relations.

culPanama Canalbra-cutAnother factor influencing all of these discussions is Cuba’s construction of a deep-sea port at Mariel to accommodate larger ships going through an expanded Panama Canal, which announced this week that the expansion should be completed next year. (To the right is a photograph of one portion of the expanded canal.)

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[1] This section of the post is based upon the following sources: Reuters, EU, Cuba to Speed Up Talks, Seek Deal by End of 2015, N.Y. Times (Mar. 24, 2015); Raúl received the High Representative of the European Union, CubaDebate (Mar. 24, 2015); Raúl received the High Representative of the European Union, Granma (Mar. 24, 2015); Forte, Visit of European High Representative promotes relations with Cuba, Granma (Mar. 24, 2015); Abellán, EU foreign affairs chief steps up talks for new Cuba cooperation policy, El Pais (Mar. 24, 2015).

[2] This section of the post is based upon the following source Assoc. Press, Russian FM Visits Cuba, Calls for End of US Trade Embargo, Wash. Post (Mar. 24, 2015); Reuters, Russian Foreign Minister Praises New U.S.-Cuba Relations, N.Y. Times (Mar. 24, 2015); Raul held meeting with the Foreign Minister of Russia, CubaDebate (Mar. 24, 2015); Raul meets with Russian Foreign Minister, Granma (Mar. 25, 2015).

 

 

Mogherini–

 

http://dwkcommentaries.com/2015/03/10/european-union-and-cubas-negotiations-over-human-rights-and-other-issues/