Lobbying the Incoming Trump Administration To Continue Normalization with Cuba  

Major supporters of U.S. normalization of relations with Cuba have been lobbying the incoming Trump administration to continue that policy. This includes Cuban entrepreneurs, as discussed in a prior post, and most recently U.S. agricultural and business groups.

Agricultural Groups[1]

On January 12 over 100 U.S. agricultural trade groups, including the American Farm Bureau and the American Feed Industry Association, sent a letter to President-Elect Trump. It said, ” we urge you to continue to show your support for American agriculture by advancing the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba and building on the progress that has already been made.”

The letter cited a recent deep dip in farm income to bolster their argument that U.S. farmers needed more trade. “Net farm income is down 46 percent from just three years ago, constituting the largest three-year drop since the start of the Great Depression.”

They also mentioned that under an exception to the U.S. trade embargo from the year 2000, Cuba may import agricultural products for cash, but this cash limitation limits the ability of U.S. agriculture to export to Cuba. Therefore, the letter calls on Trump to allow normal trade financing and credit so the sector can better compete for the Cuban market.

The letter concluded with these words: “As a broad cross-section of rural America, we urge you not to take steps to reverse progress made in normalizing relations with Cuba, and also solicit your support for the agricultural business sector to expand trade with Cuba to help American farmers and our associated industries. It’s time to put the 17 million American jobs associated with agriculture ahead of a few hardline politicians in Washington.”

Business Groups[2]

On January 17 the Cuban Study Group, an organization of Cuban-American business leaders, led a group of advocates for U.S.-Cuba normalization, in submitting to the President-elect a memorandum entitled “U.S. Policy Toward Cuba: the Case for Engagement.”

It argued that continued engagement with Cuba will create U.S. jobs and facilitate more positive change on the island. It states “constructive engagement — including the reduction of travel and commercial barriers — is the best strategy for supporting the Cuban people and boosting U.S. jobs and exports.” Indeed, further progress toward normalization stands the best chance of improving security just off U.S. shores, reducing irregular migration, enhancing the management of U.S. borders, and encouraging continued, positive evolution inside the island.” More specifically, continued engagement with Cuba should produce the following benefits to the U.S.:”

  • “U.S. Job Creation. Further engagement would allow the United States to regain lost market share in emerging Cuban markets from economic competitors such as China, Vietnam, and Brazil and employ thousands of U.S. workers in agribusiness, infrastructure, tech, and tourism.
  • Cuban-American support. Lifting restrictions on remittances and travel allows Cuban-Americans to support their families in Cuba and provide critical seed funding for the island’s nascent private sector.
  • Cuba’s burgeoning entrepreneurial sector. In just a few years, Cuba’s private sector has grown to account for 30% of the country’s workforce. U.S. travelers to Cuba have become the principal source of revenue for many small businesses.
  • Greater access to information. Internet access is growing, and continued engagement can further contribute to connectivity and the development of civil society in Cuba.”

Moreover, they say, “to reflexively reverse course could have pernicious consequences for U.S. economic and foreign policy interests and the prospects of evolutionary change in Cuba.”

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[1] Engage Cuba, Over 100 U.S. Agriculture Groups Urge Trump to Strengthen U.S.-Cuba Trade Relationship (Jan. 13, 2017); Reuters, U.S. Farmers Ask Trump to Stay the Course on Cuba, N.Y. Times (Jan. 12, 2017).

[2] Engage Cuba, Cuba Groups to Trump: Reversing Course Could Harm Cuban People and U.S. Interests (Jan. 17, 2017); Reuters, U.S.-Cuba Detente Supporters Make Last-ditch Effort to Sway Trump, N.Y. Times (Jan. 17, 2017).

The other signers of the memorandum are the American Society/Council of the Americas; the U.S.-Cuba Business Council; the Center for Democracy in the Americas; Ted Piccone, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution; Richard E. Feinberg, Professor, UC San Diego and Senior Fellow (non-resident), Brookings Institution; William M. LeoGrande, Professor of Government, American University; Engage Cuba; Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA); Latin America Working Group; National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC); Christopher Sabatini, Executive Director, Global Americans and Lecturer, Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs; The National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International (NCBA CLUSA) National Tour Association (NTA) United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) TechFreedom The American Society of Travel Agents NAFSA: The Association of International Educators; the National Foreign Trade Council, the American Society of Travel Agents and the Association of International Educators; Christopher Sabatini, Executive Director, Global Americans and Lecturer, Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs; The National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International (NCBA CLUSA); National Tour Association (NTA) United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA); TechFreedom; The American Society of Travel Agents; NAFSA: The Association of International Educators.

 

U.S. and Cuba Continue To Implement Normalization of Relations

President Obama in the final days of his presidency continues to press forward with additional implementation of the policy of normalization of relations with Cuba. The January 12 U.S.-Cuba agreement regarding migration associated with the U.S. ending two immigration benefits for Cubans was discussed in an earlier post.

Here we will discuss (a) the recent joint meeting regarding trafficking in persons; (b) another joint meeting regarding the two countries’ claims against each other; and (c) a new U.S.-Cuba Law Enforcement Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). Recent comments by Cuban leaders about President-elect Trump also will be discussed.

Meeting Regarding Trafficking in Persons

 On January 12 and 13 the two countries met in Washington, D.C. The Cuban delegation “outlined the measures that are being implemented in [Cuba] to prevent and address this scourge, as well as the support and assistance provided to the victims, as part of the “zero tolerance” policy implemented by Cuba in any form of trafficking in persons and other crimes related to sexual exploitation, labor, among others.”[1]

Meeting Regarding Claims

On January 12 the U.S. State Department announced that the two countries were meeting in Havana that day for the third government-to-government meeting on claims. The meeting was to build upon their previous discussions for an exchange of views on technical details and methodologies regarding outstanding claims.[2]

Outstanding U.S. claims include claims of U.S. nationals for expropriated property on the island in the early years of the Cuban Revolution that were certified by the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, now with interest totaling $8 billion; claims related to unsatisfied U.S. court default judgments against Cuba; and claims held by the U.S. Government. The U.S. continues to view the resolution of these claims as a top priority.

Outstanding Cuban claims include those of the Cuban people for human and economic damages, as reflected in the default judgments issued by the Provincial People’s Court of Havana in 1999 and 2000 against the U.S. As stated in a prior post, these judgments were for $64 billion on behalf of eight Cuban social and mass organizations plus $54 billion on behalf of the Cuban Government for alleged U.S. efforts to subvert that government. (These were default judgments in that the U.S. did not appear or contest these lawsuits in Cuban courts.)

In addition, Cuba repeatedly has asserted at the U.N. General Assembly its damage claims against the U.S. for the latter’s embargo. Last November these alleged damages totaled $ 125 billion.

The representatives of both governments reiterated the importance and usefulness of continuing these exchanges.

As usual, the governments’ public announcements about these closed-door sessions are not illuminating. Prior posts have discussed some of these claims and proposed ways to resolve them, primarily by an international arbitration proceeding at the Permanent Court for Arbitration at The Hague in the Netherlands.[3]

Agreement Regarding Law Enforcement

On January 16, in Havana the MOU was signed by Jeffrey DeLaurentis, chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, and Vice Adm. Julio Cesar Gandarilla, the newly appointed Cuban interior minister. It provides for the two countries “to cooperate in the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking, money laundering and other international criminal activities.”[4]

“The arrangement will establish a framework for strengthening our partnership on counternarcotics, counterterrorism, legal cooperation, and money laundering, including technical exchanges that contribute to a strong U.S.-Cuba law enforcement relationship,” the White House statement said. “The arrangement will establish a framework for strengthening our partnership on counternarcotics, counterterrorism, legal cooperation, and money laundering, including technical exchanges that contribute to a strong U.S.-Cuba law enforcement relationship,” the White House statement said.

The U.S. National Security Council stated, “The goals of the President’s Cuba policy have been simple: to help the Cuban people achieve a better future for themselves and to advance the interests of the United States. While significant differences between our governments continue, the progress of the last two years reminds the world of what is possible when we are defined not by the past but by the future we can build together.”

Granma from Havana reported that the agreement covered “the prevention and combating of terrorist acts; drug trafficking; crimes committed through the use of information and communication technologies, and cyber security issues of mutual interest; trafficking in persons; migrant smuggling; flora and fauna trafficking; money laundering; the falsification of identity and travel documents; contraband, including firearms, their parts, components, ammunition, explosives, cash and monetary instruments.”

Cuban Officials’ Recent Comments About President-elect Trump[5]

The Guardian from London reports that in a recent interview Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s top diplomat with respect to the U.S., said it is “‘too early” to predict which path the new administration will follow. “There are . . . [some] functionaries, businessmen [other than anti-normalization Cuban-Americans whom] Trump has named, including in government roles, who are in favor of business with Cuba, people who think that the US will benefit from cooperation with Cuba, on issues linked to the national security of the US.” Cuban officials say that they plan to wait for action rather than words because Trump has repeatedly flip-flopped on the issue of rapprochement – and also put his business interests above his country’s laws.

Nevertheless Vidal warned, “Aggression, pressure, conditions, impositions do not work with Cuba. This is not the way to attempt to have even a minimally civilized relationship with Cuba.”

Her analysis was echoed by Ricardo Alarcón, who spent 30 years representing Cuba at the United Nations and another 20 years as president of the country’s National Assembly, before retiring in 2013. He said, “For two years we have been talking to a sophisticated president with an intelligent, skillful discourse. Now we have a gentleman who is capable of saying anything and nobody is sure what he is going to do.”

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[1] Cuban and U.S. delegations discuss combating trafficking in persons, Granma (Jan. 16, 2017).

[2] U.S. State Dep’t, United States and Cuba to Hold Claims Discussion (Jan. 12, 2017); Cuba Foreign Ministry, Third Meeting on Mutual Compensation between Cuba and United States (Jan. 12, 2017).

[3] See generally posts listed in the “U.S. & Cuba Damage Claims” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries.com—Topical: CUBA.

[4] White House, Statement by NSC Spokesperson Ned Price on Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes’ Travel to Cuba (Jan. 16, 2017); U.S. Dep’t of State, United States and Cuba To Sign Law Enforcement Memorandum of Understanding (Jan. 16, 2017); Reuters, Cuba, United States to Fight Terrorism, Drug Trafficking and Other Crimes, N.Y. Times (Jan. 16, 2017); Assoc. Press, US, Cuban Interior Ministry Sign Law-Enforcement Deal, N.Y. Times (Jan. 16, 2017); Cuba and the U.S. sign Memorandum of Understanding to increase cooperation associated with their national security, Granma (Jan. 17, 2017).

[5] Yaffe & Watts, Top diplomatic negotiator in Cuba warns Trump: ‘aggression doesn’t work,’ Guardian (Jan. 17, 2017).

Other Current Developments Regarding Cuban Migrants to U.S

When the U.S. decided on January 12 to end immediately the “dry foot/wet foot” immigration policy, as discussed in a prior post, two groups of Cubans faced immediate consequences.

First, many Cubans are stranded in Mexico or Central America unable to be allowed into the U.S. without a visa. Now many of them are waiting in place on the hope that Donald Trump after his January 20 inauguration will reverse the January 12 cancellation of that policy or make an exception for those in limbo.[1]

Alternatively if any of them are fleeing “persecution” in Cuba, they first must satisfy a “credible fear” test at the U.S. border and then subsequently apply for asylum in the U.S. They, however, will generally be held in immigration detention for potentially months and success is far from guaranteed. It can take years for asylum to be granted given the crushing caseloads for U.S. asylum officers and immigration judges.

Second, also affected is a group of Cubans known as Marielitos who are in the U.S., and whose situation requires a historical explanation.[2]

From April through October 1980, pursuant to Fidel Castro’s decision, nearly 125,000 Cubans were allowed to leave the island by boat from the port of Mariel on the north coast of the island west of Havana. Most were law-abiding, but some had just been released, by Fidel’s orders, from Cuban prisons and mental institutions. Within a few years after their arrival in the U.S. almost 3,000 of the “Marielitos” were in U.S. prisons after convictions for committing new and serious crimes in the U.S.

The Cuban government in 1984 agreed to take back 2,746 of these criminal Marielitos. But the U.S. deportations were slow and in some years did not take place at all. At one point, Marielitos who had been awaiting deportation for years rioted in several cities.

Now nearly 250 of this group of 2,746 have died, and, by June of last year, 478 of the original 2,746 remained in the U.S., but some of this smaller group are elderly or very ill, and the U.S. government has lost interest in deporting some of them.

The January 12, 2017, agreement between the U.S. and Cuba allows the U.S. to deport or remove up to 500 of the 2,746 Marielitos and send them back to Cuba, which agreed to accept them. Moreover, Cuba has agreed to accept other Marielitos who have been convicted of crimes in the U.S. as part of this group of 500, but were not part of the original group of 2,746.

I have a personal connection to one of the Marielitos. Before I retired from practicing law in June 2001, I was appointed by Minnesota’s federal court to represent, pro bono, one of them who was in immigration detention at the federal government’s medical facility in Rochester, Minnesota (the site of the famous Mayo Clinic). He had been convicted of a serious crime in Rhode Island, as I recall, and after completion of his criminal incarceration, the U.S. put him in immigration detention for deportation or removal to Cuba, but Cuba would not accept him back. Although he was not an attorney, he had filed, pro se, a habeas corpus petition with Minnesota’s federal court, and my task, as his pro bono attorney, was to analyze and submit a legal brief in support of that petition. I did so.

Before the government submitted a response to my legal brief and before the court had to make a decision on the petition, the U.S. government decided to permit my client’s release from immigration detention. At the Rochester medical facility, he was suffering from a terminal disease, and I believed the government’s decision for his release was not based on the quality of my legal arguments, but on its desire to reduce its costs of keeping him in that facility.

Not long after my “successful” representation of this Marielito and his release from the Rochester facility, my legal argument was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in Zadvydas v. Davis, 533 U.S. 678 (2001), holding that the Constitution did not permit the U.S. to detain indefinitely immigrants under order of deportation whom no other country will accept. To justify detention of immigrants for a period longer than six months, the government was required to show removal in the foreseeable future or special circumstances.

Four years later, the U.S. Supreme Court decided, 7-2, in Clark v. Martinez, 543 U.S. 371 (2005), that the Zadvydas decision applied to Marielitos, whose return Cuba would not permit.

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[1] Assoc. Press, Cuban Migrants Steps From US Border Hope for Trump Solution, N.Y. times (Jan. 14, 2017); Assoc. Press, US Policy Change on Cuban Migrants Leaves Many Stranded, N.Y. Times (Jan. 13, 2017).

[2] Robles, ‘Marielitos’ Face Long-Delayed Reckoning: Expulsion to Cuba, N.Y. times (Jan. 14, 2017); Mariel boatlift, Wikipedia; Greenhouse, Supreme Court Rejects Mariel Cubans Detention, N.Y. Times (Jan. 13, 2005); Zadvydas v. Davis, Wikipedia; Zadvydas v. Davis, 533 U.S. 678 (2001); Clark v. Martinez, Wikipedia; Clark v. Martinez, 543 U.S. 371 (2005).

 

 

 

Additional Reactions to End of U.S. Immigration Benefits for Cubans

There have been extensive White House comments as well as others’ reactions to the January 12 end of special U.S. immigration benefits for Cubans–“dry foot/wet foot” and the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program—that was discussed in a prior post. Now we look at additional White House comments and the extensive reactions—positive and negative—regarding this change.

White House Comments[1]

There were two additional sets of White House comments about the change. On the early evening of January 12 and hours after the announcement of the change, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson, an unidentified senior DHS official and Benjamin Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor, conducted a lengthy conference call with the press on the subject. At the next day’s press briefing White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest made comments on the subject. Here is a summary of new points that were made at these events.

Press Conference Call

Johnson: “Going forward, if a Cuban migrants arrives here illegally, the Cuban government has agreed to accept that person back . . . if . . . the time [between] a Cuban migrant leaves Cuba . . . and the time that we commence a deportation proceeding against the individual is less than four years.”

The “reason for the four-year period is . . . a law in Cuba (enacted in response to the [U.S.] Cuban Adjustment Act) that essentially says that if a person has left Cuba, after two years they are considered to have effectively migrated from Cuba.  In the course of our negotiations, the Cuban government agreed [to change that period from two to four years].” In addition, Cuba has agreed to accept other Cubans “on a case-by-case basis.”

“Ultimately, we seek to get to a place fully consistent with the international law under which the Cubans will agree to accept everyone back who is ordered deported by our country.”

“This is the ending of a policy that was put in place 20 years ago.  This is not the enactment of a policy that can be repealed by a subsequent administration. So I wouldn’t characterize it as creating a policy that could be repealed [by the Trump administration].”

Rhodes: “What we’ve seen in recent years is a continued uptick in Cuban migrants coming to the [U.S.].  We attribute that to a variety of factors — one, that Cuba has liberalized its own exit policies with respect to Cubans leaving the country; two, the change in our policy — the normalization of relations that began on December 17, 2014 — I think created an expectation in Cuba that this change might take place and therefore people were motivated to migrate.  Also, though, the increase in resources available to the Cuban people, particularly through our remittance policies, also made it more possible for Cubans to travel.”

“There has been a steady increase to some 40,000 Cubans granted parole in fiscal year 2015; 54,000 roughly in fiscal year 2016.  And what we had also seen is a growing number of Cubans who had begun a journey to try to reach the United States who were in a variety of Central American countries . . . creating both humanitarian challenges and strains within those countries as large numbers of Cubans were essentially stuck there and then facing a very difficult and dangerous — journey to our southern border in some cases.”

“Ultimately . . . we’d like to see people be able to increase their economic prospects within Cuba.  That is why we have taken steps to open up a greater commercial and people-to-people relationship, and have encouraged the Cuban government to pursue economic reforms.  That, ultimately, is the best way to ensure opportunity for the Cuban people going forward.”

“The Cuban Adjustment Act is the legislative architecture around these policies.  That provides preferences including adjusted status, green card status, and certain benefits to Cubans who are paroled into the country. . . . We do believe it would be the appropriate step for Congress to repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act.”

“We did not want to speculate publicly about the likelihood of this change for fear of inviting even greater migration flows.”

“On the congressional point, while we did not have regular updates on what were very sensitive negotiations, we have over the course of the last year or so, frankly, heard from members of Congress, from both parties, who were expressing increasing concern about the migration flows.  In fact, in some cases, we were being urged to do something about it.  And we’ve also heard increasing interest and even pieces of legislation being introduced that seek to amend or repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act, whether it’s the benefits provided under the Cuban Adjustment Act or the act itself.  So this is an issue that we’ve discussed with members of Congress from both parties, and around this announcement of course we’re doing many notifications to those interested members. . . . It was clear to us that Congress was taking a greater interest in this issue, given the uptick in migration flows and the strain that was placing on certain communities.”

“[E]arly in the post-revolution history, it was very clear that the overwhelming number of Cubans who came to the [U.S.] and ended up doing incredible things here in the [U.S.] absolutely had to leave for political purposes, or very much were leaving for political purposes.  I think increasingly over time, the balance has tilted towards people leaving for more traditional reasons in terms of seeking economic opportunity and, frankly, having not just the benefits of “wet foot, dry foot” and the adjusted status, but also literal benefits under the Cuban Adjustment Act.  That’s not to say that they’re not still people who have political cause to leave Cuba.  And as we do with any other country, political asylum continues to be an option for those individuals.  But we have seen the balance shift to more similar reasons in terms of people pursuing economic opportunity.”

“[U]ltimately the best future for Cuba is one that is determined by the Cuban people, both in terms of their economic livelihoods and in terms of their political future. . . . [It is] important that Cuba continue to have a young, dynamic population that are clearly serving as agents of change and becoming entrepreneurs, and being more connected to the rest of the world. . . . [We] believe that this change is in service of creating more incentive for there to be the economic reforms that need to be pursued on the island in terms of opening up more space for the private sector, allowing foreign firms to hire Cubans, so that they can be responsive to the economic aspirations of their people. So in the long run, the best way for Cubans to have this opportunity is for them to be able to pursue it at home through an economy that has continued to pursue market-based reforms.”

We “believe very strongly, in this administration, of course, that our Cuba opening is the best way to incentivize that economic reform; that as more Americans travel, as more Americans do business, as there are greater commercial ties, that ultimately is going to create more opportunity for people in Cuba, as well as creating opportunities for Americans.  And so that’s very much the approach we’d like to see continued going forward, and ultimately the one that has the best opportunity to deliver results to the Cuban people.”

The “Cubans will be treated like everybody else.  People from anywhere can issue a claim of asylum; that does happen frequently. There’s not going to be a separate queue for Cubans.  So just like any other migrant who reaches our border, they have certain claims that they can pursue, but they’ll be treated as other individuals from other countries are.”

Press Briefing

At the January 13 press briefing, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest made the following extensive comments about the change:

“This policy change was codified in an executive agreement between the U.S. government and the government in Cuba.  As even some of the incoming administration’s nominees have noted, there’s a tradition of subsequent Presidents observing and adhering to the executive agreements that were put in place by the previous President unless, of course, a specific decision is made to change the policy.”

“President-elect Trump . . . on January 20th . . . [will] be able to exercise all of the executive authority that are invested in the presidency at his discretion.  We believe that there is a strong case to be made about normalizing relations between our two countries, and this is just the latest step in that process to ensure that we are treating Cuban migrants the same way that we treat migrants from other countries.”

The “response to this announcement . . . is indicative of how public opinion is changing on these issues, including in the Cuban-American community.” There is “a growing majority of Americans who agree about the direction that the President [Obaama] has moved the relationship between the [U.S.] and Cuba.”

“[T]he migrants from Cuba will be treated in the same way that migrants from other countries are, which is to say legitimate claims for refugee status or for asylum will be subject to due process, which means that their claims will be evaluated.  And if they have legitimate claims for asylum, then that will be granted. But that will be adjudicated through the regular process . . . that migrants from other countries go through as well.”

“There was . . . a successful effort to brief the incoming administration shortly before this policy change was made public.”

It “takes time to negotiate these kinds of executive agreements, particularly with a country like Cuba that does not have a long history of negotiating these kinds of agreements with the United States.  For more than 50 years, the United States pursued a policy of diplomatic isolation with Cuba.  And so it’s only over the course of the last year or so that we’ve had the kind of diplomatic opening that will allow us to have these kinds of conversations.  So, negotiating these kinds of executive agreements takes time, but as soon as this agreement was completed, we announced it right away.”

Mr. Trump “certainly seems to be motivated by financial interests in some pretty important ways; he has over his professional career.  So I think he’ll find . . . [the economic argument for normalization] persuasive, particularly when you consider that there were reports that his company was negotiating with Cuba for exactly those kinds of agreements.  So he obviously recognizes the economic opportunity that’s there.  There’s more than a hundred flights every day between the [U.S.] and Cuba.  That’s cancelling a lot of flights if he wants to roll back this policy.  And I can’t imagine that the U.S. airline industry is going to be particularly pleased by that kind of development.”

“There are thousands of Americans that have an opportunity to travel to Cuba, and they’ve had an opportunity to enjoy their time there, learn a little bit more about the country, enhance ties between our two countries, and they’ve been able to return to the United States with all of the cigars and rum that they could pack into their suitcase if they choose to.  I don’t think those Americans are going to be particularly pleased to see that policy rolled back.”

For “more than 50 years, there was a policy of diplomatic isolation in place that had no material impact in improving the human rights situation in Cuba.  If anything, it got worse.  This policy has been in place for about a year.  And is there more that we would like to see the Cuban government do with regard to protecting human rights?  We absolutely would.  But our view is that the ability of the United States to advocate for those kinds of improvements is enhanced when we deepen the ties between our two countries.  When there are more Americans that are traveling to Cuba, when there is more communication going back and forth between Cuba and the United States, when there are more Cuban Americans that have an opportunity to visit family and send money to family in Cuba, all that is going to promote freedom.  That’s going to promote our values.”

“There has not been nearly as much an improvement in human rights in Cuba as we would like to see.  But the [normalization] policy has been in place for a little over [two years].”

We also have removed “an impediment to our relationship with countries throughout Latin America that have important relationships with Cuba.  For most of the last 50 years, those countries in Latin America didn’t apply that much pressure to Cuba about their human rights situation, and [instead] were focused on the [U.S.] and our failed policy of trying to isolate them.  Now that that impediment has been removed, it’s not just the [U.S.] that’s encouraging the Cuban government to improve their human rights situation, but you’ve got countries throughout the Western Hemisphere that are making the same argument.  So all we have done is to increase pressure on the Cuban government to improve the human rights situation there, and, at the same time, the American people have enjoyed a number of material benefits, including monetary benefits, that I do think will be persuasive to the incoming President as he determines what policy he believes is best with regard to the [U.S.] and Cuba.”

Positive Reactions[2]

 A New York Times editorial applauded the ending of this policy, which was “misguided for several reasons. It encouraged Cubans to embark on perilous, and often deadly, journeys on rafts across the Florida straits and across borders in South and Central America. It exacerbated Cuba’s brain drain, particularly after 2006 when Washington created a pathway for medical professionals abroad to defect by applying for visas at American embassies. And it unjustifiably gave Cubans preferential treatment while Haitians and Central Americans who were fleeing far more desperate circumstances were deported.”

This policy, says the Times, “has served as an escape valve, giving a way out to tens of thousands of Cubans who were frustrated by the island’s authoritarian government. Young Cubans have grown up regarding immigration to the [U.S.] as an option that has become a core part of the Cuban psyche.”

Now, the Times continues, there probably will be “pent-up dissatisfaction [that may] embolden more Cubans to press for economic changes and political freedoms as the era of rule by Raúl Castro draws to an end [in early 2018]. This would be hard and risky in a police state that stifles dissent by rewarding loyalists, punishing critics and sowing division among groups agitating for change. Eliécer Ávila, a prominent opposition leader, said, ““In the long run, I feel this will be beneficial by putting pressure on us to take responsibility for our homeland. The fundamental problem here is not the laws of other countries but the reality we live with.”

The Times concluded,  “should be clear to . . . [President-elect Trump’s] team that rolling back the recent progress would be foolish.”

A Washington Post editorial reached the same conclusion as the Times while emphasizing that the “dry foot/wet foot” policy “not only induced discontented Cubans to make a dangerous journey, but also relieved pressure on the regime to meet their legitimate demands at home. In recent years, the policy has also led to various scams, such as Medicare fraud perpetrated by Cubans who quickly settled in South Florida and then returned to the island with ill-gotten money.”

The incoming Trump administration was urged by the Washington Post “to treat [Cuban asylum] claims with the generosity they deserve while noting that the U.S. continuing “to set aside 20,000 immigrant visas per year to Cubans [was] an unusually high number properly reflective of Cuba’s unusually repressive system.”

Jon Anderson in the New Yorker points out that the change “should also help curtail a gruesome people-trafficking network that, over the past two years, has bled tens of thousands of Cubans of what little money they have in order to make it to the United States. Many of the migrants have sold their homes to obtain the cash to pay the traffickers who smuggle them through different countries before they reach the United States. One of the networks funnels people through a Mafia-controlled section of Colombia on an arduous and dangerous trek, sometimes lasting as much as three weeks, through the Darién jungle into Panama. Numerous Cubans, as well as other nationalities, have been robbed, raped, and killed along the way. In Mexico, an unavoidable part of any overland journey to the U.S. border from the south, Cubans fall prey to traffickers linked to the violent drug gangs there, at times with corrupt police involvement.”

Representative Albio Sires (Dem., NJ), a Cuban-American, said that “in recent years [some Cubans] used [the dry foot/wet foot policy] to reap economic rewards by sending money back to the island or even going back themselves to visit. While I am sympathetic to the plight of all the Cuban people, this program was designed for those asylees and refugees that were forced to flee. Money sent back to the island has no choice but to pass through the hands of the regime that for years has been using this program to fill their coffers.” He, however, questioned the timing of this change with an incoming president who has made many “hateful and disparaging remarks about refugees, minorities and immigrants.”

Negative Reactions[3]

Cuban-American representatives in Congress registered their typical negative reactions to U.S. normalization with Cuba: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Rep., FL); Carlos Curbello (Rep., FL); and Mario Diaz-Balart. Representative Curbello, however, admitted that the old wet-foot/dry-foot policy had been “grossly abused and exploited by many Cuban nationals, while also inadvertently bolstering the Cuban regime. A change to this policy was inevitable. I remain firmly committed to supporting the victims of persecution in Cuba while ending all abuses of America’s generosity.”

 A negative opinion also was registered by Carlos Eire, a Cuban-American who arrived in the early 1960’s as a “Peter Pan” kid and who now is an author and the T.L. Riggs Professor of History and Religious Studies at Yale University.He argues that many Cubans saw the December 17, 2014 announcement of rapprochement . . . [as] new support from the [U.S. that] could prolong the life of the Castro regime indefinitely and allow it to rule despotically; and . . . [as a sign] how Cubans would no longer continue to be viewed by the [U.S.] as an oppressed people.” The January 12 termination of ‘dry foot/wet foot’ “has completed . . . [Obama’s] utter betrayal of the Cuban people — a legacy move set in motion two years ago [and] has burdened Trump with a no-win situation with the potential to seriously tarnish or weaken his presidency right from the start.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on January 12 released a statement from the Chair of its Migration Committee, Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Texas. Expressing disappointment over the “sudden policy change,” he said, “While we have welcomed normalizing relations with Cuba, the violation of basic human rights remains a reality for some Cubans and the Wet Foot/Dry Foot policy helped to afford them a way to seek refuge in the United States.”

The Bishop added, “Cuban Americans have been one of the most successful immigrant groups in U.S. history. The protections afforded them were a model of humane treatment.” This change “will make it more difficult for vulnerable populations in Cuba, such as asylum seekers, children, and trafficking victims, to seek protection. . . . My brother Bishops and I pledge to work with the outgoing and incoming administrations to ensure humane treatment for vulnerable populations, from Cuba and elsewhere, seeking refuge in the United States.”

The Cuban Observatory on Human Rights (OCDH), criticizing the change, said thatmany Cubans do not want or can not live in their own country” and that Cuba has not guaranteed “there will be no reprimand or violations of the human rights of” the Cubans the U.S. returns to the island.

Ramón Saúl Sánchez, leader of the Miami-based Democracy Movement, believes the change “will not stop the Cubans leaving the island, because in Cuba ‘there is a tyranny’ that will create more deaths (of rafters) in the Florida Straits.”

Jose Basulto, founder of Brothers to the Rescue: “Freedom is going to have to be sought now inside Cuba.” It is “sad” that Cubans have always bet on escaping from Cuba rather than fighting for freedom within their country.

Conclusion

This blogger remains persuaded that the “dry foot/wet foot policy is not justified, at least in recent years. Now many, if not most, Cubans wanting to come to the U.S. are motivated by an entirely understandable desire to improve their financial circumstances. That same desire exists in many people from many countries throughout the world. There is no special reason why Cubans should be preferred over all these other people.

As Secretary Johnson, Deputy National Security Advisor Rhodes and Press Secretary Earnest emphasized, if the Cubans are fleeing Cuban persecution for their political opinions, then they may and should submit an application, under U.S. and international law, for political asylum.

The U.S. parole program for Cuban medical personnel is also unjustified. Cuban students receive their medical education without any tuition. As a result, it is only reasonable to require such students, after receiving their medical degrees, to “give back” by serving on a Cuban foreign medical mission for which they are paid more than they would have earned in Cuba. Yes, the Cuban government is paid more for their services on such missions by foreign governments than the medical personnel are paid by the Cuban government, but that also is reasonable and appropriate. The contention that such service is illegal forced labor or semi-slavery is absurd.[4]

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[1] White House, On-the-Record Press Call [by Jeh Johnson and Benjamin Rhodes] on Cuba Policy Announcement (Jan. 12, 2017); White House, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 1/13/17.

[2] Editorial, Ending a Misguided Cuban Migration Policy, N.Y. Times (Jan. 13, 2017); Editorial, Obama’s latest step on Cuba actually seems necessary and proper, Wash. Post (Jan. 13, 2017); Anderson, Obama’s Last Big Cuba Move, New Yorker (Jan. 13, 2017); Congressman Sires Statement on the Administration’s Decision to End “Wet Foot, Dry Foot” (Jan. 12, 2017).

[3] Ros-Lehtinen Statement on Latest Obama Concession to Castro Regime: Elimination of Wet Foot/Dry Foot and Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program (Jan. 12, 2017); Diaz-Balart, Have You No Shame, President Obama? (Jan. 12, 2017); Curbelo Comments on DHS Announcement Regarding End of Wet-Foot Dry-Foot Policy (Jan. 12, 2917); Eire, Wet foot, dry foot, wrong foot, Wash. Post (Jan. 13, 2017); USCCB Migration Chairman Expresses Disappointment over Abrupt End of “Wet Foot/Dry Foot Policy—Policy Has Long Benefited Cuban Migrants and Refugees (Jan. 12, 2017); OCDH Position on the Elimination of the Policy of “Dry Feet/Wet Feet (Jan. 13, 2017);Reactions: Obama’s policies have been ‘a betrayal of Cubans,’ says Mario Díaz-Balart, Diario de Cuba (Jan. 13, 2017).

[4] See posts listed in the “Cuban Medical Personnel & U.S.” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries.com—Topical (CUBA).

Secretary of State-Nominee Rex Tillerson Addresses U.S. Policies Regarding Cuba     

Rex Tillerson
Rex Tillerson

In his opening statement at the January 11 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on his nomination, Secretary of State Nominee Rex Tillerson made the following comments about U.S. policies regarding Cuba:[1]

  • “And we must adhere to standards of accountability. Our recent engagement with the government of Cuba was not accompanied by any significant concessions on human rights. We have not held them accountable for their conduct. Their leaders received much, while their people received little. That serves neither the interest of Cubans or Americans.”

Later in response to questions by Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), a Cuban-American and a noted opponent of normalization, Tillerson said he would advise the president to veto any legislation codifying President Obama’s thaw with Cuba, at least until the Trump administration can conduct its own review of that policy. In addition, Tillerson said the current U.S. normalization policy has not benefited most Cubans.

Tillerson specifically added that he would also advise Trump to veto any measures to lift the Cuban embargo, and “examine carefully the criteria” under which Cuba was taken off the list of state sponsors of terrorism, to determine “whether or not that de-listing was appropriate.”

Tillerson did not commit to indefinitely maintaining the above positions, instead deferring to the results of the new administration’s forthcoming review to determine its long-term Cuba policy.

Tillerson underscored that the United States “cannot ignore the law” and must comply with measures such as the Helms-Burton Act, which codified the embargo in 1996, and stated that economic restrictions must remain in force until the Cuban government complies with certain conditions, among them that the Castro family leaves power. Any modification of that legal basis on the policy toward Cuba “should be done by Congress,” according to Tillerson, who committed to strictly enforcing the law.[2]

The obvious follow-up question that I believe was not asked is whether one of the objectives of the promised review of U.S. policies regarding the island will be recommending changes to relevant statutes.

Responding to a question by Senator Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ), a Cuban-American opposed to normalization, Tillerson said that advancing human rights and democracy in Cuba and returning to justice U.S. fugitives like Joanne Chesimard, convicted of aiding and abetting the murder of a New Jersey State Trooper, would be a condition of any further engagement with Cuba.

Conclusion

This hearing was bad news and good news for advocates of normalization like this blogger.

The good news is Tillerson’s prediction that the new administration will conduct a review of existing U.S. policies regarding Cuba before making any changes in them.As previoulsy stated, this review should include recommendations to Congress for changes in existing statutes on the subject.

The bad news is the series of suggestions that many of the normalization policies will be cancelled.

Although I agree that so far Cuba has not made significant concessions on human rights, I disagree with the implicit conclusion from this statement: the U.S. needs to demand Cuban concessions on human rights as a condition for the U.S. making any further economic “concessions” to the island. This is the policy that was followed for over 50 years before December 17, 2014, without the desired result.

I also disagree with his prospective recommendation of a veto of any legislation ending the U.S. embargo of Cuba. In addition, I reject his implication that the U.S. May 2015 rescission of its designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism” was not justified. As explained in earlier posts, the embargo is unjustified and counterproductive for the U.S. while  previous “terrorism” designations were ridiculous and unjustified and the rescission was fully consistent with the law and the facts and was implicitly endorsed by Congress’ failure to approve a joint resolution countermanding the rescission. [3]

Finally I disagree with Tillerson’s testimony that the Cuban “people have received little” from U.S.-Cuba engagement or normalization. As previously stated in various posts, the increased remittances from families and friends in the U.S. to others in Cuba, all made possible by the Obama Administration’s loosening of U.S. restrictions, have been a major source of funding for the expansion of family-owned businesses on the island. That expansion has helped to reduce the portion of the Cuban economy controlled by state-owned enterprises and has increased the income and well being of Cuban entrepreneurs and their employees, who are and will be a significant force for further modification of the Cuban economic and political system.[4]

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[1] Secretary of State Designate Rex Tillerson: Senate Confirmation Hearing Opening Statement (Jan. 11, 2017); Rex Tillerson Confirmation Hearing: Live Coverage, W.S.J. (Jan. 11, 2017); U.S. Senate For. Rel. Comm., Nomination Hearing for Secretary of State Nominee Rex Tillerson (Jan. 11, 2017) (video); Demirjian, Tillerson says Trump is prepping to review Obama’s Cuba policy, Wash, Post (Jan. 11, 2017); Menendez, Secretary of State Nom Rex Tillerson gives commitment to justice during Senate confirmation hearing (Jan. 11, 2017); Kasperowicz, Tillerson would recommend veto of bill ending Cuba embargo, Wash. Examiner (Jan. 11, 2017).

[2] Of greater interest to most of the media about this hearing was Rubio’s challenging questions to Tillerson about whether he favored sanctions against Russia and whether he thought Putin was a war criminal. (E.g., Sanger & Flegenheimer, In Rocky Hearing, Rex Tillerson Tries to Separate From Trump, N.Y. Times (Jan, 11, 2017).)  Were such questions about Russia merely a Rubio ploy to solidify Tillerson’s opposition to Cuba normalization?

[3] See posts listed in the “U.S. Embargo of Cuba” and “Cuba State Sponsor of Terrorism?” sections of List of posts to dwkcommentaries–Topical: CUBA.

[4] See posts listed in the “Cuban Economy” section of List of posts to dwkcommentaries–Topical: CUBA.

Washington Post Endorses Continued Normalization with Cuba

The Washington Post opens its January 10 editorial by properly recognizing that the “lasting foreign policy legacy of a president often doesn’t become clear until years after he leaves office. That may be particularly true of President Obama, because some of his most distinctive initiatives were, in large part, bets on long-term results. . . . [T]he president’s decision to reopen relations with Cuba without requiring any political liberalization by the Castro regime will be judged on whether greater engagement with the United States eventually helps to bring about that change.”[1]

The editorial concludes by urging President-elect Donald Trump to “improve on . . . [President Obama’s policy of normalizing relations with Cuba]. A break with Havana would dash the hopes of millions of Cubans who still expect the [U.S.] to use its leverage to promote real change. Mr. Trump should freeze contacts with the regime’s security agencies and link any further U.S. economic concessions to an increase in political freedom.”

In between these words the editorial laments what it sees as a Cuban escalation of “[r]epression against the political opposition . . . since the death of Fidel Castro;” the decline of U.S. exports to the island; and what it sees as the slow pace of expansion of Cuban self-employment financed, in part, by U.S. remittances to Cuban family and friends.

Conclusion

I applaud the editorial’s recognition that the process of normalizing relations with Cuba is a long-term project that Trump should not abandon, but instead seek to improve.

The editorial, however, fails to acknowledge that Cuba is going through its own long-term project of moving from a state-owned to a mixed economy. This is not an easy task. Indeed, last April Raúl Castro in a speech to the Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba criticized the old habits of many within the state-owned enterprises; praised the economic contributions of the self-employed, now 30% of the national economy; and complained about some low-skilled workers like gas-station attendants earning more money than high-skilled workers like physicians.[2]

This Cuban long-term project is made even more difficult by the economic collapse of its ally Venezuela and the resulting reductions of the latter’s economic support of Cuba, which is briefly mentioned in the editorial along with the 1% decline of the Cuban economy in 2016.

Cuban repression of what we see as political dissent may be factually well founded. But our criticism of such repression needs to be tempered by recognition that the U.S. continues to conduct covert or under-cover so-called “democracy promotion” activities in Cuba and that Cuba has legitimate reasons to be concerned about such activities. This blog, for example, has repeatedly criticized such “democracy promotion” programs and urged that they be conducted only with the cooperation of the Cuban government.[3] Moreover, it would be short-sighted to condition further U.S. economic liberalization on improvements in Cuban human rights; this approach failed in its implementation from 1959 through December 2014.

Finally the U.S. needs to recognize and support Cuban entrepreneurs, many with funding from U.S. remittances, who are improving their own lives and those of their employees and who are becoming an important non-state source of ideas and advocacy.[4]

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[1] Editorial, How Trump could bring real change to Cuba, Wash. Post (Jan. 10, 2017).

[2] Raúl Castro Discusses Socio-Economic Issues in Report to Seventh Congress of Communist Party of Cuba, dwkcommenataries.com (April 19, 2016).

[3] See posts listed in “U.S. Democracy Promotion Programs in Cuba” in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical (Cuba).

[4] Here are some of the dwkcommentaries.com posts that touch on the Cuban economy: Cuba to Legalize Small and Medium-Sized Private Business, (May 25, 2016); Cuba Press Offers Positive Press About the Island’s Private Enterprise Sector, (June 1, 2016); Economists Discuss Current Cuban Economic and Political Situation, (Aug. 1, 2016); Cuba Faces Economic Challenges (Dec. 14, 2016); Cuba’s Economic Ties with Venezuela Are Fraying (Dec. 14, 2016); U.S. and Cuba’s Efforts To Continue Normalization (Dec. 9, 2016).

More Reasons To Believe There Is a Dim Future for U.S.-Cuba Normalization   

Tomorrow the new Republican-controlled Congress convenes with the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump coming on January 20, and on their agendas is “unraveling some of the most significant policy prescriptions put forward by the Obama administration.”[1]

Most of this speculation about upcoming changes in national policies does not include cancelling Obama’s policy of normalization of relations with Cuba. But as prior posts have indicated, President-Elect Trump’s most recent statements have criticized that policy as have Vice President-Elect Mike Pence and some of the appointees to the transition team and the new administration, especially Reince Priebus, the new White House Chief of Staff; Cuban-American Mauricio Claver-Carone, a transition team member for the Department of the Treasury; Mike Pompeo, a Congressman from Kansas and the nominee for Director of the CIA; and General Michael Flynn, the proposed White House National Security Advisor. [2]

In addition, three more Cuban-Americans have been appointed to the transition team, two of whom have been opposed to such normalization. They are (1) Yleem Poblete, who has been assigned to the transition team for the National Security Council; (2) John Barsa, who will work with the Homeland Security team; and (3) Carlos E. Díaz-Rosillo, who will work on policy implementation. [3] Here is a preliminary examination of these appointees.

Yleem Poblete.

For nearly two decades Yleem Poblete has advised members of Congress on a wide variety of global issues as a member and director of the staff of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. She also co-leads a consulting group, The Poblete Analysis Group, with her husband, also a Cuban-American, Jason Poblete. She also has served as an assistant professor and researcher for the director of the Institute of Inter-American Studies at the University of Miami.[4]

She and her husband have written articles critical of President Obama’s pursuit of normalization with Cuba. They argued that Cuba was a ‘state sponsor of terrorism,” a designation rescinded by the State Department in May 2015; that the re-opening of the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C. increased the risk of Cuban spying on the U.S.; and that Cuba was a “pariah state [that] has earned every punitive measure imposed by the U.S.;” it “helped create and grow the Western Hemisphere drugs for arms network;” its “[h]ostile acts carried out by Havana’s spy recruits in the U.S. government are linked to American deaths;” it “also continues to collaborate with fellow rogues such as Iran;” it “harbors terrorists, as well as murderers and other dangerous fugitives of U.S. justice.”[5]

After the death of Fidel Castro last November she tweeted, “Lost in talk of #castrodeath is #cuba regime murder of Americans, safe haven 4 terrorists & US fugitives, #Iran ties, arms to #NorthKorea.”

John Barsa

Barsa was the first director of the Department of Homeland Security Public Liaison Office, where he worked with the Department’s Secretaries Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff. Barsa also has experience with high-tech companies and was an assistant to Florida Republican Congressman, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a Cuban-American known for his opposition to normalization. After Fidel Castro’s death, Barsa said, ““The contrast between Obama’s and Trump’s statements on the death of Fidel Castro is refreshing. MAKE CUBA GREAT AGAIN.” Barsa is a graduate in International Relations from the International University of Florida.[6]

Diaz-Rosillo.

According to his Harvard University biography, Diaz-Rosillo is a lecturer on government at Harvard University; Allston Burr Assistant Dean of Harvard College, Dunster House; and director of transfer advising at Harvard College. His research focuses on the American presidency, campaigns and elections, political leadership, public policy, and comparative chief executive politics. His work examines the different instruments of power that chief executives have at their disposal to affect policy. He holds undergraduate degrees summa cum laude in international relations (BA) and civil engineering (BSCE) from Tufts University, as well as graduate degrees in public policy (MPP) and government (AM, PhD) from Harvard University.[7]

Internet research did not uncover any statements by him about Cuba.

Conclusion

As a prior post stated, there regrettably are grounds for believing there is a dim future for continuation of normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations. Those of us in the U.S. who believe that this is an erroneous move need to continue to advocate for normalization and to share that opinion with our Senators and Representatives, the Trump Administration and our fellow U.S. citizens.

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[1] E.g., Steinhauer, With New Congress Poised to Convene, Obama’s Policies Are in Peril, N.Y. Times (Jan. 1, 2017).

[2] U.S. Reactions to Death of Fidel Castro, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 30, 2016); The Future of U.S.-Cuba Normalization Under the Trump Administration, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 22, 2016).

[3] People of the Year: DIARIO DE CUBA names the most noteworthy persons of the year, Diario de Cuba (Dec. 27, 2016).

[4] Cuban-American Trump Transition Team to National Security Council, News Marti (Dec. 1, 2016); Dr. Yleem Poblete, The Poblete Analysis Group.

[5] Poblete & Poblete, Yes, Cuba is a State Sponsor of Terrorism, Nat’l Review (Jan. 6, 2015); Poblete & Poblete, The U.S.-Cuba Deal Heightens the Spy Threat, W.S.J. (Jan 12, 2015) 2015); Poblete & Poblete, U.S. Cuba policy: Myth v. reality, The Hill (Jan. 26, 2015).

[6] A [fourth] Cuban American . . . joins Trump’s transition team, Diario de Cuba (Dec. 6, 2016); Secretary—John Barsa, Republican National Hispanic Assembly of Virginia; Prieto, The Mark of the Zorro; Cuban Americans in Trump’s Team, OnCuba (Dec. 15, 2016).

[7] Harvard University, Carlos E. Diaz-Rosillo, PhD.