Another U.S.-Cuba Dispute Over Human Rights

On December 7 U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sent an  open letter to Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, and Cuba immediately and angrily denounced the letter without responding to the specific questions advanced by Pompeo.

Secretary Pompeo’s Letter[1]

The letter asked for a “substantive explanation of the detention of the [following eight] political prisoners” and “whether [Cuba] . . . continues to incarcerate . . . [them]  as charged with ‘pre-criminal dangerousness’ and “for an explanation of the charges and the evidence against the other individuals [on a list provided by the U.S. in January 2017]:”

  • Yosvany Sanchez Valenciano, Melkis Faure Echevarria, and Yanier Suarez Tamayo of the Cuban Patriotic Union;
  • Eduardo Cardet Concepcion of the Christian Liberation Movement;[2]
  • journalist Yoeni de Jesus Guerra Garcia;
  • Martha Sanchez of the Ladies in White; [3] and
  • Jose Rolando Casares Soto and Yamilka Abascal Sanchez of the Cuban Youth Dialogue.

The Secretary also said that the U.S. “has for decades expressed profound concern regarding Cuban political prisoners. Such prisoners include those charged with pre-criminal ‘dangerousness, ’defined [in Cuban law] as ‘the special inclination an individual has to commit crimes demonstrated by conduct in manifest contradiction to the rules of socialist morality.’ Former President [Raúl] Castro, in a news conference with then President Obama in March 2016, said that if U.S. officials presented him with a list of political prisoners, they would be released that very night. He received such a list, but political prisoners remained in detention. U.S. representatives [also] raised the issue during the October 2016 Human Rights Dialogue in Havana. They were told all prisoners were in jail for sound reasons and that, if we had questions as to the reasons, we could raise them. Our representatives were also advised that pre-criminal ‘dangerousness’ was no longer used as a basis for imprisoning people.”

 Cuban Responses[4]

The Cuban Foreign Minister responded on Twitter, ” Pompeo lies and slanders. U.S. government  is a global repressor [of human rights and] lacks moral authority.” In another tweet, Rodriguez said he has asked “Washington to lift the embargo, restore visas for Cubans” and “stop the repression of migrants, minorities and the poor.”

Cuba’s more extensive response to Secretary Pompeo’s letter was made by  US Director of Cuba’s  Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Carlos Fernández de Cossío. He said the U.S. “acts dishonestly when it raises concerns about the human rights situation in Cuba or anywhere.” He added that the “constant and flagrant abuses against its own population and the population of many countries in the world, and their alliance throughout history with dictatorial regimes authors of the most opprobrious crimes, disqualify the moral authority of the American rulers.”

The Pompeo letter and “his public management are nothing more than acts of propaganda.” They accompany . . . “the unwillingness of that government to sit down with Cuba, with seriousness and commitment, in a bilateral dialogue between equals, to deliberate on the issue of human rights and how to advance with sincerity towards constructive cooperation on the subject. . . . [and if] the United States were truly interested in the human rights of Cubans, it would not impose a criminal economic blockade that punishes the entire nation, nor would it place increasing obstacles to orderly emigration, nor to consular services on which tens of thousands of Cubans depend. ”

Fernández de Cossio concluded, “Cuba is a country in which human rights are respected. . . .  [and contrary to the U.S.]”the Cuban government and society as a whole are mobilized to promote and guarantee the legal framework, public policies and the effective enjoyment of the rights of citizens, including the rights to a life worthy, free of exploitation, marginalization, social alienation, discrimination of any kind, violence, crime and abuse of power, and with access to quality health and education services for the entire population, among other guarantees.”

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, An Open Letter to the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Cuba (Dec. 10, 2018)   (the letter itself was dated December 7, 2018); Assoc; Press, US Demands Answers From Cuba on Imprisoned Dissidents, N.Y. Times (Dec. 11, 2018).

[2] See U.S. at U.N. Condemns Cuba’s Imprisonment of Political Opponents, dwkcommentareis.com ( Oct. 17, 2018).

[3] See Search Results for: Ladies in White in dwkcommentaries.com.

[4] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Tweets by Foreign Minister Rodriguez (Dec. 2018); Cuba Foreign Ministry, Statement by the Director General of the USA of the MINREX on false accusations of the Department of State of the United States (Dec. 10, 2018).

 

New Yorker Report on Medical Problems of U.S. Diplomats in Cuba

The November 19, 2018, issue of The New Yorker has a lengthy article about the medical problems experienced by some U.S. diplomats in Cuba starting in late 2016 (and after the U.S. presidential election). [1]

The conclusion, however, is the same as previously reported: some U.S. personnel did suffer injury and the U.S. Government has publicly stated it does not know the cause or perpetrator of these injuries.[2]

But the article does provide greater details about many of the victims having been CIA agents and about the U.S.-Cuba interactions over these incidents.

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[1] Entous & Anderson, Havana Syndrome, New Yorker at 34  (Nov. 19, 2018).

[2] See posts listed in the “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2017-18” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

Inspirations for Minnesota Orchestra’s South African Tour

This August the Minnesota Orchestra will be in South Africa for concerts in five cities while previews were provided in concerts at its home in Minneapolis.[1]

The Inspirations for the Tour

There are at least three events that inspired this tour.[2]

  1. The Orchestra’s Trip to Cuba[3]

In May 2015 the Minnesota Orchestra went to Cuba for two concerts in Havana. On this short trip the U.S. musicians discovered the joy of meeting and working with young musicians from another country at their music schools and in side-by-side rehearsals, an experience to be duplicated in South Africa. These Cuban interactions inspired a freelance clarinetist on the tour, Rena Kraut, to create a Minnesota non-profit, Cuban American Youth Orchestra (CAYO), whose mission is to provide “a professional-level musical and educational experience in which Cuban and American youth can turn to each other with honest curiosity and a true desire for mutual learning [and thereby] leave a musical imprint on the hearts of our musicians, staff and audience, cultivating a spirit of goodwill and hope for our mutual futures.”

Moreover, said Music Director Osmo Vänskä, Cuba changed the ensemble after a contentious 16-month labor dispute and lock out. “We had already started to do things a new way with more collaboration, more teamwork. . . . Now, when we go somewhere, we don’t want to play and go home. We want to leave something there.”

The Cuba trip also demonstrated that this organization could respond quickly and competently to new opportunities. On December 17, 2014, Presidents Obama and Raúl Castro simultaneously announced that the two countries had started a process of normalizing their relations, and soon thereafter the Minnesota Orchestra announced that it would be going to Cuba in May 2015 for two concerts in Havana. This experience gave them confidence that they could tackle new opportunities and did not have to wait for larger, more prestigious orchestras to blaze paths.

As Kevin Smith, the Orchestra’s outgoing CEO and President recently stated, the South African tour of five concerts in five cities over 11 days and nearly 9,000 miles from home and the integration of two choirs with different native languages in a country whose native languages probably were unknown to the Minnesotans was on “steroids” compared with the two back-to-back concerts in one city (Havana) over less than one week with only orchestral music and “only” 1,630 miles from home in a country whose native language (Spanish) was probably known to at least some of the Minnesotans.

  1. Music Director Vänskä’s Conducting a South African Youth Orchestra

In 2014 in Pretoria, South Africa Music Director Vänskä conducted the South African National Youth Orchestra and said this experience was “a turning point in my life.” One reason for that impact was his learning that some of the musicians lived in tents and tin shacks and still loved music and could play at the highest level. When the Minnesota Orchestra visits that city this August he will lead side-by-side rehearsals with that same youth orchestra. He said, “It is a great experience when young musicians can sit next to the professional musicians and share these things.” In South Africa, he added, classical music is sometimes seen as being “for white people,” but he hopes this tour will reach the country’s black people too.

At a welcoming dinner this August in Cape Town, Marilyn Carlson Nelson, the Chair of the Orchestra’s Board, toasted the person who invited Osmo to conduct this youth orchestra because that person “created the dream in Osmo’s head that we must come [to South Africa] and we must make music and make the world better place through musical understanding. So thank you, Osmo, for letting us be part of your dream.”

  1. Celebration of Nelson Mandela’s Centennial

In 2016-17 the Orchestra realized that 2018 would be the centennial of the birth of Nelson Mandela with many celebrations around the world, and the Orchestra people thought that  such a tour would be another appropriate way of honoring Mandela.

Making the Dream a Reality

Turning the dream of a South African tour into a reality obviously required a lot of planning and financial resources.

The financial support for this expensive project was provided by an anonymous couple and by the following nine major Minnesota-based companies or affiliates: Ecolab Foundation;  Medtronic Foundation, TCF Financial Corporation; Land O’Lakes, Inc.; 3M Corporation; U.S. Bank; THOR Companies; Target Corporation; and Pentair. Some of the funds from the Medtronic Foundation will be used to buy concert tickets for less-fortunate South Africans and their children.

Minnesota Orchestra Board Chair Nelson said, “We are immensely grateful to our individual and corporate donors for making this project possible. We live in an interconnected world, and the ‘Music for Mandela’ project underscores this idea, bringing together business support, community members, cultural interests and international performers to harness the power of music by commemorating an iconic visionary of our time.”

To assist with the tour logistics, the Orchestra retained Classical Movements, a U.S. company that since 1994 has arranged 250 concerts in South Africa, mainly by U.S. choirs. Classical Movements President Neeta Helms said, “After working in South Africa since 1994, Classical Movements is very grateful that one of the top orchestras in the United States will make this historic, first-ever tour to South Africa. It is an enormous undertaking and a statement of the importance of Africa and the growth of orchestral music in this most choral of countries. This dynamic and visionary Orchestra is exactly the right musical ambassador to pave the way for others to follow.”

Conclusion

The Orchestra’s CEO and President, Kevin Smith, said, This [tour] is our chance to musically honor a great leader and to share music and goodwill across international borders. It is a unique opportunity to bring cultures together through music, and we are honored to play a role in the Nelson Mandela centenary celebration.”

Principal Horn, Michael Gast, put it well when he said, “We are not averse to risk and challenges. We’re the orchestra that goes where others haven’t or won’t.”

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[1] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Minnesota Orchestra Celebrates the Life of Nelson Mandela (July 24, 2018); Minnesota Orchestra’s “Celebrating Mandela at 100” Concert (July 29, 2018).

[2] Minnesota Orchestra, Program: Sommerfest 2018; Classical Movements, Minnesota Orchestra: Music for Mandela; Ross, Ode to Minnesotan and South African Joy, StarTribune (July 22, 2018); Ross, Packing instruments and loads of goodwill, StarTribune (July 5, 2018); Ross, South African tour represents ‘a new way’ for Minnesota Orchestra, StarTribune (Aug. 10, 2018); Ross, Another first for Minnesota Orchestra: A tour of South Africa, StarTribune (Aug. 10, 2018); Ross, Gallery: Minnesota Orchestra previews South African tour: ‘Music became a weapon against apartheid, StarTribune (Aug. 10, 2018); Ross, In a historic moment for Minnesota Orchestra, music echoes the words of Nelson Mandela, StarTribune (Aug. 13, 2018); Kerr, Minnesota orchestra hopes voices rise, walls fall on South Africa tour, classical MPR (Aug. 7, 2018).

[3] See thee posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Minnesota Orchestra To Go to Cuba (Feb. 13, 2015); Minnesota Orchestra Goes to Cuba This Week! (May 11, 2015); Minnesota Orchestra’s Trip to Cuba Garners National Recognition (Dec. 17, 2015).

 

Should U.S. Indict Raúl Castro for 1996 Downing of Cuban-American Planes?

In 1996 in the midst of U.S. private aircraft flights near and over Cuba by Cuban-Americans opposed to the Cuban Revolution, two such planes were shot down by Cuban military planes, and three U.S. citizens and one U..S. resident were killed in the crash.

Now , on May 22, 2018, two Cuban-American politicians—U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) and U.S. Representative Mario Diaz-Balart (Rep., FL)—have asked President Trump to have the U.S. Department of Justice investigate whether the U.S. could and should indict Raul Castro, Cuba’s former President, for the deaths of the four Americans.

After looking at this request, we will examine what happened in 1966 and in two U.S. criminal cases about this incident. We conclude with an evaluation of the merits of this request

Rubio and Diaz-Balart’s Letter to President Trump[1]

The letter urged the President “to direct the Department of Justice to review whether Raúl Castro should be indicted for the illegal and heinous act of shooting down in international waters two American civilian aircraft flown by Brothers to the Rescue [“BTTR”] on February 24, 1996.”

BTTR, according to Rubio and Diaz-Balart,, was “a humanitarian organization that operated rescue missions to search for Cubans who fled the island by sea.The journey from Cuba is treacherous, and many have perished in the attempt.”

This letter continued, “On February 24, 1996, the Cuban Air Force—unprovoked and without warning—shot-down two unarmed Brothers to the Rescue [“BTTR”] planes in international waters, murdering three American citizens, Carlos Costa, Armando Alejandre, Jr., and Mario de la Peña, as well as one United States legal permanent resident, Pablo Morales.”

Thereafter, the letter says, “a U.S. federal court [in Miami] indicted the head of the Cuban Air Force, General Rubén Martínez Puente, and the two MiG pilots, Lorenzo Alberto Pérez-Pérez and Francisco Pérez-Pérez, on charges of murder.”

The letter also says, “a member of the WASP spy ring ultimately was convicted for conspiracy to commit murder for his role in planning the shoot-down, and was sentenced to life in federal prison.  Shamefully, the previous administration, as part of its appeasement policy, commuted his sentence and let him return to a hero’s welcome in Cuba.  However, the Cuban operative ultimately responsible, then-Minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces Raúl Castro, was never indicted.”

The letter concludes, “Taking these bold actions would demonstrate to our adversaries that they cannot act with impunity against Americans, and that human rights abusers and criminals will be held accountable for their crimes.  Most importantly, it would send a signal to the Cuban people that the United States will not permit their oppressors to operate without consequences.”

Cuba’s Downing of Two U.S. Civilian Planes[2]

According to the trial evidence in one of the criminal cases mentioned by Rubio and Diaz-Balart, BTTR, an anti-Castro Cuban exile group in Miami, repeatedly and knowingly had violated Cuban airspace since 1994 with the following details:

  • In 1994 a BTTR flight flew near the Cuban coast with a television reporter who filmed Cuban military fighter jets circling, but not firing at the BTTR plane.
  • Later in 1994, another BTTR plane flew over Cuba near Guantanamo Bay and dropped BTTR bumper stickers, and again Cuba did not fire at the plane.
  • In 1995 BTTR announced that it would commit civil disobedience in Cuban waters, and in response the U.S. State Department issued a public warning that no one should violate Cuban waters and airspace. Nevertheless BTTR proceeded to send a boat into Cuban waters and a plane flew over Havana for 13 minutes dropping anti-Castro leaflets and religious medals. Again the Cuban military did not attack the BTTR plane.
  • Immediately afterwards the Cuban Government complained to the U.S. FAA and requested action to prevent violations of Cuban sovereignty and stated, “Any craft proceeding from the exterior that invades by force our sovereign waters could be sunk and any aircraft downed.” In response the U.S. State Department reiterated its warning that U.S. planes should not violate Cuban airspace and quoted the Cuban warning.
  • Nevertheless in January 1996 BTTR flew twice to Cuba and presumably over international waters dropped anti-Castro leaflets that landed in Havana. Again Cuba requested the U.S. to stop these flights.

On February 24, 1996, three light-civilian U.S. planes that were operated by BTTR flew from Miami to Havana. All three at one time were in international airspace close to Cuba’s territorial waters. One of them clearly flew into Cuban airspace, but was not shot down. The other two civilian planes were shot down by Cuban MIG fighters, killing three Cuban-American citizens and one non-U.S. citizen. Cuba defended its actions by contending that the planes were shot down within the territorial limits of Cuba whereas the U.S alleged that the downings had occurred over international airspace. According to one of the courts in the Cuban Five case, these two planes did not enter Cuban airspace and were shot down in international airspace, 4.8 and 9.5 miles (land miles or nautical miles?] from Cuban airspace.

The concept of national and international airspace is complicated. National airspace is the area or portion of the atmosphere above a country’s territory that is controlled by that country and above a country’s territorial waters, which generally is considered to be 12 nautical miles [or about 13.8 land miles] out from the coastline of the nation. All other airspace is known as ‘international airspace.’

In any event, the two planes that were shot down were at least very close to Cuban airspace after a history of such planes entering Cuban airspace and dropping leaflets and medals and potentially dropping bombs.

Cuban Spy Network in U.S.[3]

In September 1998 five Cuban men (“The Cuban Five”) were arrested in Miami and indicted for conspiracy to commit murder (of the four men killed on February 24, 1996); conspiracy to commit espionage; conspiracy to commit crimes against the U.S.; use of false identity and documentation; and being unregistered agents of a foreign government.

The Cuban Five, however,  were not directly involved in any of the above BTTR incidents. They did not shoot down the private planes on February 24, 1996. They were not in any of the Cuban MIG fighter jets that were involved in that incident.

Instead, according to one of the court opinions in their criminal case, they were in the U.S. as agents of the Cuban Directorate of Intelligence and members of its Wasp Network that was organized for espionage in southern Florida. The Network was to gather and report information regarding operations of U.S. military facilities, U.S. political and law enforcement agencies and U.S. nongovernmental organizations supporting regime change in Cuba, including BTTR. To that end, the Five attempted to penetrate the Miami facility of the U.S. Military’s Southern Command while one of the Five obtained employment at the Key West U.S. Naval Air Station and reported information about the Station to the Cuban Government. Their mission also was to stop flights to Cuba by BTRR.

In November 2000, the trial of the Cuban Five started in federal court in Miami and ended in June 2001 with a jury verdict of the Cuban Five’s being guilty on all counts. As none of the Cuban Five had been directly involved in shooting down the airplane in 1996, the key legal issue on the conspiracy to commit murder charge was the U.S. legal principle of conspiracy. Under U.S. law (U.S.C. sec. 1117), “If two or more persons conspire to [murder], and one or more of such persons do any overt act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each shall be punished by imprisonment for any term of years or for life.” In simple terms, the overt act of shooting down the plane is attributed or imputed to all members of the conspiracy even though some were not directly involved in that act.

In December 2001 (three months after 9/11), the Miami federal court sentenced the Cuban Five to lengthy sentences. In later 2009, after extensive appellate proceedings, the district court reduced the sentence of Guerrero from life to 262 months, of Labanino from life to 30 years and of Gonzalez from 19 years to 18 years.

Two of the Cuban Five  subsequently completed their sentences and were returned to Cuba in 2013 and 2014. On December 17, 2014, as part of the U.S.-Cuba agreement to pursue normalization of relations,  President Obama commuted the sentences of the other three Cubans to time served and released and returned them to Cuba. They are Antonio Guerrero, 56, a U.S. citizen; Ramón Labañino, 51; and Gerardo Hernández, 49.

Criminal Case Against General Martinez Puente and the Cuban Pilots[4]

On August 21, 2003, Cuban General Rueben Martinez Puente, the head in 1996 of the Revolutionary Air Force of the Republic of Cuba, and the two Cuban jet-fighter pilots who shot down the two planes operated by BTTR (Lorenzo Alberto Perez-Perez and Francisco Perez-Perez) were indicted by a federal grand jury in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in Miami for conspiracy to kill the U.S. nationals in the February 1996 crash, four counts of murder and two counts of destruction of aircraft.

The three defendants in this case were and are Cuban citizens and apparently were in Cuba at the time of the indictment and have remained there. Thus, on Nov. 10, 2003, the district court entered an order transferring them to its Fugitive File “until such time as the defendants are apprehended.” That is the last entry in this case’s file.

Conclusion

For this blogger, the foregoing objective review of the evidence relating to the letter from Senator Rubio and Representative Diaz-Balart yields the following conclusions:

  1. The BTTR was not “a humanitarian organization,” at least with respect to the private planes it had flown to Cuba.
  2. The BTTR apparently did not “operate rescue missions to search for Cubans who fled the island by sea.”
  3. Instead the BTTR, at least from 1994 through early 1996, operated to harass the government of Cuba by dropping anti-Castro leaflets over Cuba itself.
  4. On February 24, 1996, the Cuban Air Force was provoked by the BTTR flights that day and previously.
  5. Prior to July 24, 1996, the Cuban Government repeatedly sought the assistance of the U.S. Government to stop the BTTR flights to Cuba.
  6. The U.S. Government, however, did not adequately attempt to stop BTTF flights to Cuba.
  7. Yes, the U.S. in 2003 indicted the head of the Cuban Air Force and the two Cuban pilots of the jet fighter planes that shot down the two private planes flown by BTTR pilots on February 24, 1996, but nothing has happened in that case because the Cuban defendants have not been in the U.S.
  8. Yes, the U.S. in 1998 indicted the Cuban Five for various crimes, even though they were not personally involved in the shooting down of the two BTTR planes on February 24, 1996, and they were convicted and sentenced to U.S. prison for long periods of time. By December 2014, two of them had completed their sentences, been released from U.S. prisons and returned to Cuba, and on December 17, 2014, the remaining three’s sentences were commuted to time served (16 years including pretrial detention) by President Obama and they also were released from U.S. prison and returned to Cuba while Cuba simultaneously released U.S. citizen Alan Gross and another man who had spied for the U.S. from a Cuban prison and returned them to the U.S.
  9. The release of the remaining three of the Cuban Five on December 17, 2014, was part of the praiseworthy overall U.S.-Cuba agreement to embark on the path of normalization of relations. It was not, as the Rubio/Diaz-Balart letter states, part of the shameful “appeasement policy.”[5]
  10. There never has been any contention that Raúl Castro was involved in any way in the downing of the two BTTR planes in February 1996. Instead Rubio and Diaz-Balart allege that at the time Raúl was Minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces and thus presumably in overall charge of everything involving the Cuban Air Force.
  11. now nearly 87 years old and no longer Cuba’s President, Raúl Castro is still Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba and has retired to Santiago de Cuba at the eastern end of the island. Presumably he will not be coming to the U.S. in the future, especially if he were to be indicted as Rubio and Diaz-Balart suggest.[6]

In short, the suggestion that Castro be indicted is a cheap, unfounded political trick only designed to continue to stroke the egos of the Cuban-Americans in Florida who cannot forget and forgive the past. The U.S. should not waste time and money on such a wild-goose chase.

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[1]  Press Release, Rubio, Diaz-Balart Call for DOJ to Consider Indicting Raúl Castro for Murder of American Citizens (May 22, 2018); Torres, Rubio, Diaz-Balart want investigation of Raúl Castro in 1996 shoot-down of exile plane, Miami Herald (May 22, 2018).

[2] The BTTR flights and the February 1996 crashes, as established by trial evidence, are covered in  U.S. Imprisonment of “The Cuban Five” and Their Releases from U.S. Prison, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 31, 2014).

[3] The extensive U.S. litigation in the criminal case against the Cuban Five is reviewed in U.S. Imprisonment of “The Cuban Five” and Their Releases from U.S. Prison, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 31, 2014); U.S. and Cuba Embark on Reconciliation, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 21, 2014).

[4] Indictment, U.S. v. Martinez Puente, No. 03-20685 CR-Seitz (S.D. FL Aug, 22, 2003) Notice to Transfer to Fugitive Status, U.S. v. Martinez Puente, No. 03-20685 CR-Seitz (S.D. FL Nov. 10,, 2003); Criminal Docket, U.S. v. Martinez Puente, No. 03-20685 CR-Seitz (S.D. FL ) [searched on May 26, 2018].

[5] U.S. and Cuba Embark on Reconciliation, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 21, 2014).

[6] The retirement of Raúl Castro: a luxurious estate in Santiago de Cuba, CiberCuba (May 2018).

 

 

 

 

Developments Regarding the Summit of the Americas 

Later this week the Summit of the Americans takes place in Lima, Peru. Interesting  developments regarding the Summit have taken place from the U.S. and Cuba.

U.S. Developments[1]

On April 10 President Trump cancelled his scheduled attendance at the Summit of the Americans in Peru. The stated reason was his need to attend to the new crisis in Syria: the Syrian regime chemical weapons attack on some of its citizens and President Trump’s announcement that the U.S. was considering a military response.

The New York Times reporter, Julie Davis, said, “Scrapping the trip spared Mr. Trump potentially unpleasant interactions with leaders of Latin American nations whose citizens have been insulted by his harsh language about their countries as sources of illegal immigration, criminal gangs and illicit narcotics. White House officials said Vice President Mike Pence would attend the summit meeting in the president’s place.

“Skipping the Summit of the Americas sends a terrible message about U.S. disengagement in our hemisphere, compounding negative message of Trump’s Cuba, NAFTA and immigration policies,” was the opinion of Benjamin J. Rhodes, who served as a deputy national security adviser in Mr. Obama’s White House and who was the principal negotiator of the U.S.’ opening to Cuba in December 2014.

A similar opinion was voiced by Richard E. Feinberg, a senior Latin America fellow at the Brookings Institution and professor at the University of California San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy. He said, “Trump’s dropping out of the Lima summit is an appalling demonstration of disrespect for Latin America. “This has to be seen in the context of a president who has been ranting and railing against Latin America continually for the last several years. They’re his bête noire. They’re his scapegoat for everything that’s wrong in America, from immigration to narcotics to alleged loss of jobs from trade.”

A more nuanced opinion was offered by Christopher Sabatini, executive director of Global Americans, a group promoting better engagement in the region. He said,  “The truth is, given the level of discourse on trade, immigrants and intervention coming from this administration, not paying much attention to the region may be welcome by a number of governments as they search for their own alternatives. The question though is what it means for U.S. leadership, not just now but over the long term.”

The region’s leaders  seemed to be taking the U.S. decision in stride, reflecting some of the unease generated by Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and growing economic self-confidence in a region long resentful of Washington’s dominance.

The U.S. State Department announced that Acting Secretary of State John J. Sullivan will accompany Vice President Mike Pence at the Summit, where the U.S. “will promote priorities of mutual interest to the region, including supporting democracy; addressing the political and humanitarian crisis and restoring democracy in Venezuela; stemming corruption and transnational crime, and promoting economic prosperity.” Sullivan will meet separately with leaders from Peru, Brazil, Haiti, Mexico, Bahamas, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

The State Department noted that Sullivan “will also engage with members of Cuban and Venezuelan independent civil society.” Apparently he will avoid meeting with Cuban President Raúl Castro.

In another release the Department said it had “received numerous, credible reports that the Cuban government prevented, and continues to prevent, members of independent civil society from traveling to Peru to participate in the Summit . . . .  Cuban authorities prevented these individuals’ travel through arbitrary stops at the airport, short-term detentions, and visits to individuals’ homes to warn them against trying to leave the island.”

The Department’s release further stated that the U.S. “condemns these actions. We call on the Cuban government to facilitate full, robust participation in the Summit by allowing the free and unrestricted travel of its citizens, a universal human right.” As a result, the U.S. “stands with the brave activists facing repression by the Cuban regime. We are working with the Government of Peru and civil society to promote a Summit that features open, inclusive dialogue with the full participation of independent civil society representatives from Cuba and the hemisphere.”

At the Press Briefing the same day, the Department said that on April 12 Sullivan would be meeting with “with Cuban NGOs and opposition leaders,” but there was no meeting scheduled with Castro.

Cuba Developments[2]

Cuba has an official delegation of people from its purported civil society, who already are in Peru to attend the alternative Peoples Summit that has been organized by Peru’s General Confederation of Workers (CGTP). Its leader said it would express “support for the Cuban Revolution and reaffirm the commitment to progressive and left governments of Latin America and the Caribbean currently being ‘sabotaged by imperialism.”’ On April 12 they have planned an anti-imperialist rally called “Trump out of Peru,” but with Trump not coming, they will have to have a different theme.

The official Cuba delegation of civil society has criticized “attempts by mercenaries and groups with links to terrorists to pass for supposed representatives of Cuban civil society.” The official delegation’s official statement expressed their desire “to contribute the experience of the Cuban Revolution that has, over almost 60 years, constructed a consensus in favor of our political, economic, and social system, forged through participative, socialist democracy, in which human beings constitutes the highest priority, and in which government is exercised by the people.”

These Cubans vandalized a Lima billboard that said in Spanish (here in English translation): “Cuba, enough of corruption, repression and impunity, stop human rights violations.”

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[1]  Davis, Trump Cancels Trip to Latin America, Citing Crisis in Syria, N.Y. Times (April 10, 2018); Assoc. Press, Latin America Takes Trump’s Forgoing of Summit in Stride, N.Y. Times (April 10, 2018); U.S. State Dep’t, Acting Secretary Sullivan Travel to Lima, Peru, To Participate in the Summit of the Americas (April 10, 2018); U.S. State Dep’t, On Cuba’s Restriction of Civil Society Participation in the Summit of the Americans (April 10, 2018); U.S. State Dep’t, Department Press Briefing-April 10, 2018.

[2] Gómez, People’s Summit kicks off in Lima, Granma (April 10, 2018); Statement from Cuban delegation to 8th Summit of the Americas parallel forums, Granma (April 9, 2018); ‘Shock troops’ of the Cuban regime in Lima vandalize the fences that denounced the repression, diario de Cuba (April 11, 2018); “CUBA in #Cumbre”, Cuba Debate.

 

Signs of Possible Increased U.S. Hostility Towards Cuba

A recent post discussed challenges about Cuba facing the Trump Administration this April: President Trump’s attendance at the Summit of the Americas in Peru and the U.S. reaction to Cuba’s election of the new President of the Council of State.

Recent developments have added to the apprehension that these and other events may be occasions for more U.S. hostility towards Cuba.

Future U.S. Actions Regarding the Summit of the Americas[1]

In a letter last week to the Secretary of the Organization of American States (OAS), Rick Scott, Florida Governor and rumored U.S. Senate candidate this year, called for the exclusion of Cuba at the upcoming Summit. This request was due to the “oppression and misery” that the Cuban people have suffered for more than 60 years. “For six decades, the sovereignty of the Cuban people has been taken hostage by a brutal dictatorship that has imprisoned, tortured and murdered innocent people to preserve their regime.”

Another reason for such exclusion, according to Scott, was the recent electoral process on the island as a “fraudulent effort to carry out the so-called elections as the dictatorship moves towards a dynastic succession.” In short, “Obama’s policy is a tragedy for the Cuban people, and a top priority for America’s next President to reverse.”

The Governor’s request was reiterated by the Cuban Resistance Assembly and anticipated this last February by Freedom House’s Director Carlos Ponce when he said that Castro’s attendance at the 2015 Summit in Panama was “a great spectacle that did not represent an advance in democracy and human rights on the island.” In fact, it included the regime sending “violent groups to threaten  and persecute the Cuban leaders of civil society who participated.”

Future U.S. Reaction to Election of New President of Cuba

In addition to Governor Scott’s criticism of this year’s Cuban electoral process, the previous post about challenges to the Trump Administration mentioned that on March 9 Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) and five Florida Republican U.S. Representatives sent a letter to President Trump urging him to “denounce Castro’s successor as illegitimate in the absence of free, fair, and multiparty elections, and call upon the international community to support the right of the Cuban people to decide their future.”

On March 14, Congressman Curbelo added this statement for his reasons for such criticism: “It’s  clear the Cuban people are ready for a new beginning. Now more than ever they need the support and solidarity of the American people, the American government and its diplomats, and all freedom loving people throughout the world. Given the absence of free, fair, multiparty elections this past weekend, I continue to urge President Trump to declare Raul Castro’s successor as illegitimate.”[2]

New Officials in Trump Administration

 President Trump has nominated or appointed two officials who have a history of hostility towards Cuba–Mike Pompeo and John Bolton– while another appointee, Carlos Trujillo, may hold such views.

Secretary of State Nominee Mike Pompeo[3]

President Trump has nominated Mike Pompeo, the current Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), as the next Secretary of State, a position that requires confirmation by the U.S. Senate.

In 2015, when Pompeo was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, he co-sponsored a bill, the Cuban Military Transparency Act, to prevent any U.S. financial transaction with companies managed by the Cuban military that did not become law, but was implemented last year by a President Trump executive order.

In June 2017 Pompeo and Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) met at CIA headquarters with several members of the Brigade 2506, which is a CIA-sponsored group of Cuban exiles formed in 1960 to attempt the military overthrow of the Cuban government headed by Fidel Castro and which in 1961 carried out the abortive Bay of Pigs Invasion landings.

John Bolton, National Security ‘Advisor[4]

On March 23 President Trump appointed as his National Security Advisor, John Bolton, who over many years consistently has been hostile to U.S.-Cuba normalization. Here are examples of his views on this subject:

  • As Under Secretary of State for Arms Control, Bolton in 2002 accused Cuba of developing biological weapons in collaboration with U.S. adversaries and said Cuba remained a “terrorist” threat to the U.S. Bolton’s disputed claims were shown to be baseless in the 2004 National Intelligence Estimate, which found that while Cuba had the technical capability to produce biological agents, there was no evidence of any biological weapons development.
  • Bolton criticized the rapprochement between Cuba and the U.S. in December 2014, calling the decision to pursue normalized relations “an unmitigated defeat for the United States.”
  • In July 2015, just after the U.S. decided to resume full diplomatic relations with Cuba, he published an article saying that this decision “untethered our foreign policy from any discernible American interests.”  In short, Bolton said, “Obama’s policy is a tragedy for the Cuban people, and a top priority for America’s next President to reverse.”

Unsurprisingly Senator Marco Rubio applauded the appointment of Bolton as “an excellent choice.”

Cuba immediately responded in Granma, saying  Bolton  had “a very dark past in relation to Cuba” with strong ties to “the ultra-right of Cuban origin in Florida.” This appointment “comes in the midst of a new campaign against Cuba in which pretexts and evidence have been used without scientific evidence to justify unilateral measures that affect hundreds of thousands of people on both sides of the [Caribbean] and hinder the exchange on issues of mutual interest.”

New U.S. Ambassador to OAS[5]

Last week the U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination of Carlos Trujillo as the new U.S. Ambassador to OAS. I have not discovered Trujillo’s views about U.S. policy towards Cuba and the OAS relationship with the island, but given his background and support by Senator Rubio, I suspect that he too is hostile towards the Cuban government.

Conference at Florida International University[6]

Recently Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., participated in a conference at the Florida International University in Miami that was organized by Senator Rubio and some of his Republican colleagues in the House of Representatives.One of the topics of the meeting was how to improve democracy in Cuba and Venezuela. Before the meeting, Representative Mario Diaz-Balart said, “The Castro regime continues its decades-long oppression of the Cuban people, while providing illicit support to other sham regimes in the region, including those in Venezuela and Nicaragua.  By promoting democracy, civil society and human rights in our hemisphere, we promote stability and prosperity among our neighbors, and strengthen friendships with allies.”

New U.S. Federal Government Budget[7]

The budget approved by the United States Congress last week, which will allow government financing until mid-2018, includes $ 20 million for promotion of democracy in Cuba, scholarships to promote leadership among young Cubans and improving Cuba’s access to the internet. Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, says these are funds to “promote a supposed regime change in Cuba.”

On the other hand, Congress did not adopt a proposed amendment to the budget that would have restricted funding for the U.S. Embassy in Havana to pre-Obama Administration levels. This congressional rejection was applauded by Engage Cuba, a U.S. coalition of private companies and organizations working to end the travel and trade embargo on Cuba. It said, “By eliminating this senseless budget provision, Congress has averted a foreign relations debacle that would have upended progress on law enforcement cooperation, migration, and commercial ties. We commend the bipartisan majority of lawmakers that fought to preserve our diplomatic engagement with Cuba. Slashing embassy funding would hurt Cuban Americans and the Cuban people, and turn back the clock to a discredited counter-productive Cold War policy that failed for over 55 years.”

Conclusion

Although not surprising, these developments are unfortunate for those of us who advocate for increased normalization between the two countries. We must continue to be vigilant in resisting any and all Trump Administration hostility towards Cuba.

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[1] Rick Scott asks the OAS to exclude Raúl Castro from the Summit of the Americas, Diario de Cuba (Mar. 24, 2018).

[2] Press Release, Curbelo: Following Another Empty Voting Exercise on the Island, the Cuban People Need Support and Solidarity (Mar. 14, 2018).

[3] Falćon, Foreign Policy of the United States: the extremists circle closes, CubaDebate (Mar. 26, 2018); CIA, The Bay of Pigs Invasion; Brigade 2506, Wikipedia.

[4] Bolton, Obama’s outrageous Cuba capitulations, N.Y. Daily News (July 13, 2015); Center for Democracy in Americas, Cuba Central News Brief: 3/23/18; The regime complains of a possible worsening of relations with Washington after the appointment of Bolton, Diario de Cuba (Mar. 24, 2018).

[5] The Senate confirms Carlos Trujillo as US ambassador to the OAS, Diario de Cuba (Mar. 23, 2018); Press Release, Rubio Welcomes Confirmation of Carlos Trujillo to Serve as U.S. Ambassador to OAS (Mar. 23, 2018).

[6] Press Release, Diaz-Balart, South Florida Members of Congress Host Ambassador Haley for Latin American State of Affairs Discussion (Mar. 2, 2018).

[7] Washington releases funds for subversion in Cuba and border wall in Mexico, Granma (Mar. 25, 2018); Press Release, Engage Cuba Applauds Defeat of Budget Provision to Slash Funding for U.S. Embassy in Havana (Mar. 23, 2018).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Upcoming Cuba Issues for Trump Administration

On April 13-14, President Donald Trump will attend the Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru, and on April 19 Cuba’s national legislature will elect a new President of the Council of State to succeed Raúl Castro. Both of these events will require Trump to comment on U.S. policies regarding Cuba, and already U.S. forces are proposing responses.

 Summit of the Americas

Because of U.S. opposition, Cuba was not included in the first six such summits, 1994-2012, but in October 2014, the major countries of Latin America let it be known that Cuba no longer could be excluded from the next summit in April 2015. Therefore, when President Obama on December 17, 2014, announced that the U.S. and Cuba had agreed to commence a process of normalization, the U.S. abandoned its opposition to the inclusion of Cuba in such Summits. As a result, in April 2015 Cuba was included in the seventh such summit in Panama and Presidents Obama and Raúl Castro held a cordial meeting on that occasion.[1]

This year will be the eighth such summit, which are institutionalized gatherings of the heads of state and government 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 in the Americas. This year’s theme is Democratic Governance Against Corruption.[2]

On March 9, the White House announced that President Trump will attend the eighth Summit, where he likely will be met by hostile reactions to his Cuba policies as well as his anti-immigrant statements, proposal to build a wall on the Mexican border and tariff and other anti-free trade proposals and rhetoric.[3]

According to Ben Raderstorf, a program associate in the Inter-American Dialogue’s Peter D. Bell Rule of Law program, President Trump “comes to the summit meeting with considerable baggage, making the risks far greater. His participation may even end up being counterproductive to the meeting’s primary aims of furthering human rights, democracy and inter-American diplomacy.” Therefore, he and his administration need “to understand that America’s credibility in Latin America is extraordinarily low. [Mr. Trump’s] rhetoric about ‘drugs,’ ‘rapists’ and ‘the wall” ‘has clearly resonated south of the border.” As a result, only “16 percent of Latin Americans approve of Mr. Trump’s job performance — a rate even lower than his approval rating among Latinos in the United States.”[4]

Mr. Raderstorf concludes by recommending that Trump “follow three simple guidelines: Listen first. Talk softly. And do your homework.” Will Trump be able to do that? We may be doubtful, but let us wait and find out.

This analysis is confirmed by other countries in the Western Hemisphere having begun “forging closer commercial ties with one another and paring back some of their own protectionist policies” and creating “a free trade area reaching from Canada to Chile.” At the same time these governments “are increasingly looking to Asia, and China in particular, to expand trade, obtain loans and finance infrastructure projects” while “Mercosur — the trade bloc that includes Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay — have jump-started trade negotiations with the European Union.”[5]

Election of New President of Cuba

On March 11, over 8 million Cubans voted to elect 605 deputies for their national legislature (National Assembly of Peoples Power), and on April 19 those deputies will elected the country’s next President of the Council of State to succeed Raúl Castro. The widely assumed choice for this office is Miguel Diaz-Canel, who is now the First Vice President of Cuba.[6]

On March 9, Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) and five Florida Republican U.S. Representatives (Ron DeSantis, Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Ted Yoho) sent a letter to President Trump urging him to “denounce Castro’s successor as illegitimate in the absence of free, fair, and multiparty elections, and call upon the international community to support the right of the Cuban people to decide their future.”[7]

The letter added, this upcoming election is “a predetermined, charade election orchestrated by regime officials will continue the dictatorship” and “yet another example of the regime’s dictatorial repression of fundamental freedoms which must not be recognized by those who value freedom and democracy.”

The U.S. response to this request by Senator Rubio and others may have been signaled by the comments of the U.S. representative last week at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva Switzerland that were quoted in a prior post: “We condemn the undemocratic electoral process in which the Cuban people cannot freely choose their future leaders.”

Conclusion

Any U.S. criticism of the Cuban process for electing its president of the Council of State seems particularly inappropriate. As we well know from the 2016 U.S. presidential election, U.S. citizens do not directly elect the U.S. president; instead they elect individuals to be members of the Electoral College who then elect the president. The 2016 election also is now under investigation for illegal interference by Russia, and the U.S. system is under constant legal challenge for the gerrymandering of congressional districts and for state laws that are designed to suppress voting instead of their purported purpose of preventing fraudulent voting.

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[1] See the following posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Continued Bad News About U.S. Policies Regarding Cuba (Oct. 9, 2014); Comment: U.S. Now Willing To Accept Cuba at Summit of the Americas? (Oct. 9, 2014); U.S. Clarifies Positions on Cuba and Venezuela in Preparation for Summit of the Americas (April 8, 2015); Seventh Summit of the Americas Is Underway in Panama (April 9, 2015); President Obama’s Major Speech at the Summit of the Americas (April 16, 2015); Cuban President Raúl Castro’s Major Speech at the Summit of the Americas (April 17, 2015); Presidents Obama and Castro’s Meeting at the Summit of the Americas (April 18, 2015); Other Remarks by President Obama at the Seventh Summit of the Americas (April 19, 2015).

[2] OAS, Summits of the Americas.

[3] Assoc. Press, Trump to Attend Summit of the Americas Meeting in Peru, N.Y. Times (Mar. 9, 2018).

[4] Raderstorf, Can Trump Succeed at the Summit of the Americas?, N.Y. Times (Mar. 16, 2018).

[5] Londoño, Darlington & Politi, ‘World Upside Down’: As Trump Pushes Tariffs, Latin America Links Up, N.Y. Times (Mar. 18, 2018).

[6] Reinaldo, Rubio & Perez, Elections in Cuba: Elected 605 deputies to the National Assembly (+Infographics and Video), CubaDebate (Mar. 12, 2018); Cuba’s Elections, 2017-2018, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 29, 2017); Another Perspective on Cuba’s Current Elections, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 5, 2017).

[7] Press Release, Rubio, DeSantis Urge President Trump to Denounce Castro Successor (Mar. 9, 2018).