Senator Leahy’s Senate Floor Speech To End Embargo of Cuba

As mentioned in a prior post, on February 7, Senator Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN) introduced the Freedom To Export to Cuba Act (S.428) with cosponsors Patrick Leahy (Dem., VT) and Michael Enzi (Rep., WY)./

On February 15, Senator Leahy delivered a lengthy and persuasive speech on the Senate floor supporting this bill and ending the embargo. Here is the text of that speech.

After commending Senator Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN) for introducing this bill and urging other Senators to support the bill,, Senator Leahy said, “This bill is about ending the anachronistic prohibitions in U.S. law that for decades have limited U.S. engagement with Cuba, including preventing American companies from exporting their products to Cuba.  The fact that legislation to do so is even necessary is illustrative of the absurdity of the situation in which we find ourselves.  Companies from Europe, Russia, China, Mexico, and every other country can sell their products to Cuba, which is just 90 miles from our coast, but American manufacturers and retailers are largely shut out of the Cuban market. . . . This bill would enable American companies to compete, which every believer in a free market should support.”

“It is also important for Senators to know that punitive actions by the Trump Administration last year to further restrict the right of Americans to travel to Cuba have had devastating consequences for Cuba’s fledgling private sector – the very people the White House and supporters of the restrictions profess to want to help.  The fact that they have said nothing about the harm they are causing Cuba’s struggling entrepreneurs demonstrates that they care more about continuing their failed policy of sanctions, regardless of who they hurt, than about helping the Cuban people or about protecting the right of Americans to travel freely.” 

“The latest ill-conceived attempt by the White House to punish Cuba would permit Title III of the Helms-Burton Act to go into effect.  This would allow, among others, individuals who were Cuban citizens when their property in Cuba was expropriated half a century ago to sue in U.S. courts any Cuban, foreign, and even American company whose business in Cuba today uses that property.  That could be an airport, port, warehouse, hotel, restaurant, you name it.  Virtually every American and foreign company investing in Cuba would suddenly be liable for treble damages.”

“The purpose, as the law’s authors made clear when it was enacted 23 years ago, is to harm Cuba’s economy by making it completely inhospitable for foreign investment.”

“As my friend in the House, Representative Jim McGovern (Dem., MA), has pointed out –

  • ‘It’s no mystery why Presidents Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Trump blocked Title III from going into effect every six months for the past 23 years.’
  • ‘It is hypocritical – it penalizes companies for doing what American companies do all over the world.’
  • It is contrary to international law, which recognizes the right of expropriation and requires compensation.’
  • ‘It is an extraterritorial sanction that guarantees a response from our trading partners, like Canada, Spain and the EU, including complaints at the World Trade Organization.’
  • ‘And if you care about agriculture, be warned: It will open a new front in the trade war, with all the repercussions that can bring.’
  • ‘It will allow Cuba to claim victim status and rally international support.’
  • ‘It will clog our courts with lawsuits.’
  • ‘It will make it impossible to negotiate compensation for U.S. claims in Cuba, and, in the end, hurt the very Americans who seek compensation for the property they lost.’
  • ‘It will divide us from friends and allies who are now working for a peaceful solution in Venezuela.’
  • ‘And it will guarantee that new investment in Cuba will come from the Russians, Chinese and others who are hostile to the United States, and whose state-owned companies can’t be sued in U.S. courts.’

“I agree with my friend in the other body [Rep. McGovern].  What the White House is considering would trigger an avalanche of unintended consequences that would bring U.S. commerce with Cuba to a halt, harm relations with our allies in this hemisphere and beyond, and make resolving property claims more difficult.  I ask unanimous consent that a piece by William LeoGrande on Title III of the Helms-Burton Act published in the February 13, 2019 issue of OnCubaNews be printed in the Record following my remarks.” [This article will be published in a separate post to this blog.]

Like “many issues, Members of Congress have strong feelings pro and con about U.S. relations with Cuba.  It is no secret that, after more than half a century of a policy of isolation that has achieved none of its objectives and primarily hurt the Cuban people, I, like Senators Klobuchar and Enzi and many others in this body, favor closer relations.”

“Conversely, there are those in Congress and the Trump Administration who believe strongly that we should ratchet up the pressure on the Cuban government in an attempt to achieve those elusive goals.”

“I have often spoken publicly about the lack of political freedom and civil liberties in Cuba.  But I also think it is important to try to be objective:  to criticize when called for and to acknowledge positive changes when they occur.”

“I recognize that those who favor maintaining the failed economic embargo have a longstanding, visceral antagonism and resentment toward the Cuban government.  While they rarely, if ever, mention the corrupt and brutal Batista regime that enjoyed unqualified U.S. support until it was overthrown in 1959, they have legitimate reasons to criticize the mistreatment of the Cuban people by the current government and its support for the corrupt and repressive Maduro regime in Venezuela.”

“But they too should acknowledge that threatening and bullying Cuba has not worked.  In fact it has made the situation worse, and provided an excuse for the Cuban government to blame its own failures on us.  They should also acknowledge positive changes in Cuba, but they never do.  Not ever.  It is almost as if they are psychologically, ideologically, or emotionally incapable of saying one positive thing about the Cuban government, no matter what positive things it does.”   

“Perhaps they are afraid that if they did, they would alienate their donors in the Cuban-American community.  Of course, we know that Cuban-Americans are divided about the U.S. embargo.  Some are hardcore believers in the embargo, and they always will be.  But at least as many – and increasing numbers – oppose the embargo, especially those who were born after the Cuban revolution.” 

“I wonder what the pro-embargo isolationists would say if the Cuban government were to stop harassing and abusing dissidents who favor a more democratic system.  Would those who oppose the embargo say anything positive?” 

“What if the Cuban government decided to embrace a free market economy and let private businesses flourish?  Would those who oppose the embargo say anything positive?”

“I doubt it.  I doubt it because no matter what positive reforms occur in Cuba, they will continue to defend the embargo until Cuba is a full-fledged democracy and those who currently hold power either die or are voted out of office.” 

“We all want Cuba to become a democracy, where civil and political rights are respected, and the sooner the better.  But those same defenders of the embargo support billions of dollars in U.S. aid – and weapons sales – to countries that are led by authoritarian, brutal, and corrupt dictatorships and monarchies, some of which have held power for decades or generations.”    

“How do the pro-embargo diehards reconcile that?  They don’t and they can’t.”

“The fact is, Cuba is changing.  Not nearly as fast as we and the Cuban people would like, but it is changing in ways that few would have predicted not very long ago.”

“Last year, Raul Castro’s hand-picked successor, Miguel Diaz-Canel, became President and he promised a government more accessible and responsive to the people’s needs.  How he delivers on that promise remains to be seen.”   

“Since 2010, after the Cuban government recognized that the Internet is essential if Cuba wants to be part of the modern world, Internet access has exploded.  The government has opened hundreds of public Wi-Fi hot spots and cyber cafes in the past five years, and home Internet access became legal and available in 2017.  Today, almost half of the Cuban people have personal cell phones that were illegal just a decade ago.”

“As others have pointed out, these changes have encouraged new forms of communication, networking and organizing via social media.”

“But change does not come easily in Cuba, as it does not in many countries.  Last July, the government announced onerous new regulations on the private sector, covering a wide range of issues:  food safety, labor contracts, procurement, taxation, limits on the size of private businesses.  The new rules were an attempt by hardliners to crack down on the private sector, which was criticized for black marketeering.”

“But private entrepreneurs resisted, and they challenged the regulations as contradictory to the government’s own plans that recognizes the private sector as important to economic growth and employment. They appealed to government officials and spoke publicly about the harm the new rules would have on their businesses.”

“When the final regulations were issued, several that had caused the most resentment were dropped.  According to the Minister of Labor and Social Security, the decision to revise the rules was due to ‘the opinion and experiences of those directly involved.’”

“The government also retreated on a new law – Decree 349 – requiring artists, musicians and performers to register with the state and pay a large commission on their earnings from private engagements, and it banned work with objectionable content and empowered inspectors to shut down any offensive exhibition or performance.  Clearly, an attempt to further limit free expression.”

“Since the 1980s, Cuban artists have had more freedom to be critical of the government than other social sectors, and so it was not surprising that Decree 349 ignited widespread protests.  After social media was used to mobilize opposition within the Cuban arts community and among artists abroad, the government agreed not to enforce the law until implementing regulations are drafted in consultation with the arts community.”

“According to one observer, ‘during [the latter half of last year], nearly 8.9 million Cubans debated the draft of a new constitution in their workplaces, neighborhoods and schools.  Communist Party members were told not to argue with even the most radical proposals for amendments, and the ensuing debates were freewheeling, often lasting past their scheduled time.  Among the main topics: whether the president and state governors should be directly elected by voters; whether the concentration of wealth and property should be allowed; whether term limits and age limits for leaders were a good idea; and whether the Communist Party should be subordinated to the constitution and hence the law.”  Not long ago it would have been unthinkable to openly debate these issues, especially as part of a constitutional reform process.”

“One article that attracted intense debate recognized same-sex marriage, and was promoted by Raul Castro’s daughter, a long-time activist for LGBTQ rights. The proposal sparked strong opposition from evangelical churches supported by the Catholic Church.  Gay rights advocates countered with campaigns of their own.  The chance of a significant ‘no’ vote on the entire constitutional reform led the government to drop the provision from the final draft of the constitution with a pledge to consider it later.”

“This surge in mobilization by well-organized constituencies utilizing social media to resist government policy, from burdensome private sector regulations to gay marriage, is unprecedented in Cuba.  The government’s willingness to not only tolerate these organized challenges but to change policies in response to them, is significant. “   

“As has been noted, none of these issues dealt with the rigid structure of the Cuban system.  Cuba remains a one party state, in which those who challenge the system are treated as criminals.  But the precedent of organized interest groups mounting successful campaigns to challenge and change government policy is now established, which is positive.” 

“None of the longstanding critics of the Cuban government in the U.S. Congress or the Cuban-American community [has] acknowledged any of this, nor are they likely too.  For them, anything less than a wholesale change of government in Cuba is unworthy of mention, even though they apply a very different standard – a double standard – to other authoritarian governments.  In fact, they would ridicule anyone who regards such changes as positive or worthy of recognition.”

“As we know from our own experience, political reform is difficult.  Our own Electoral College, an anachronism designed to protect a slave-holding minority, remains in effect more than two centuries later.  Five times, in the world’s oldest democracy, it has prevented the winner of the most popular votes from being elected president.”  

“The Cuban people want to live better and they want a lot less government control over their lives.  Armed with cell phones and the Internet they are going to make increasing demands of their government.  This is happening at a time when Venezuela’s economy is collapsing and the survival of the Maduro regime, Cuba’s closest ally in the hemisphere, is in question.  Not surprisingly, the Cuban government is trying to limit the pace of change and to secure other benefactors.  It is turning increasingly to Russia, Algeria, Iran and other countries that welcome the chance to challenge U.S. influence in this hemisphere.” 

“This is a time for the United States to be actively and visibly engaged in Cuba, for Americans to be traveling to Cuba, for expanding educational, cultural, and professional exchanges between the U.S. and Cuba, and for American companies to be competing in Cuba.  It is not a time to return to a failed policy of threats and ultimatums, driven by domestic politics rather than by what is in our national interests.”

“That is why I am cosponsoring the Freedom to Export to Cuba Act.  And it is why I intend to support other bipartisan legislation to replace our failed Cuba policy with one that serves America’s interests, not the interests of a shrinking minority, and not the interests of Russia and other countries that are reaping the economic benefits of our self-defeating policy of isolation.”

Reaction

I concur in the rationale and conclusion of this speech: end the U.S. embargo of Cuba.

While I believe there is valid documentation of the Senator’s assertion that Cuba has limits on free speech and assembly, he views this in isolation from Cuba’s situation. Cuba is a small country facing the vastly larger and more powerful  U.S., which for many years has had various hostile policies and actions against Cuba, including secret and undercover so-called “democracy promotion” programs on the island. In that context, it should be easy to understand why Cuba is concerned about dissidents and free speech and assembly.  Accordingly reliable U.S. assertions about the abolition of so called “democracy promotion” programs on the island should be a precondition to improving Cuban freedoms of speech and assembly.

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Senator Leahy,  Statement of Senator Leahy On the Freedom To Export to Cuba Act (Feb. 15, 2019). 

More Hostile Comments About Cuba from U.S. Vice President Pence and U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States  

As discussed in a previous post, harsh rhetoric about Cuba recently has come from the lips of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and the new U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), Carlos Trujillo. Now there has been more such rhetoric.

Vice President Pence[1]

On May 2, the Vice President at his Ceremonial Office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, conducted the swearing-in of  Carlos Trujillo, a Cuban-American, as the new U.S. Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States. In his remarks, the Vice President said, “In Cuba, the Castro name may be fading, but its legacy of tyranny lives on and hangs over that country like a cloud, darkening the future of all who call that island home.”

On May 7, the Vice President appeared at a Special Meeting of the Permanent Council of OAS at its headquarters in Washington, D.C. and said the following about Cuba:

  • “In Cuba, the longest-surviving dictatorship in the Western Hemisphere still clings to power.  For nearly 60 years, the Castro family systematically sapped the wealth of a great nation and of the Cuban people.  While the Castro name is now fading, the oppression and police state they imposed is as powerful as ever.”
  • “Today, the United States once again stands with the Cuban people in their stand for freedom.  No longer will our dollars fund Cuba’s military, security, and intelligence services — the core of that regime.  And in this administration, we will stand and we will always say, ‘Que Viva Cuba Libre.’”
  • “But Cuba’s leaders have never been content to stifle just their own people’s freedom.  For generations, that communist regime has sought to export its failed ideology across the wider region.  And today, the seeds of Cuban tyranny are bearing fruit in Nicaragua and Venezuela.”

The main topic of his address, however, was the announcement of new U.S. measures against Cuba’s major ally, Venezuela:  imposing financial sanctions on three Venezuelans; providing $2.5 million to help Venezuelans temporarily living in Colombia; and demanding Venezuela’s president to open the country to international aid. In addition, Pence demanded that the country suspend what he called a fraudulent election later this month and called for the other OAS members “to cut off Venezuela’s corrupt leaders from laundering money through your financial systems;” “to enact visa restrictions that prevent Venezuela’s leaders from entering your nations;” “to hold [President] Maduro accountable for destroying Venezuela’s democracy;” and to vote to suspend Venezuela from the OAS.

Ambassador Trujilo[2]

At his May 2 swearing-in, Ambassador Trujillo criticized President Obama’s being in Cuba in 2016 “shaking hands, eating hotdogs, and celebrating a baseball game with a dictator who tortured and imprisoned political prisoners and dissidents throughout many years.” The new Permanent Representative concluded by saying, “I look forward to working diligently with that resolve and never wavering until Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and the Western Hemisphere is free and able to enjoy the liberties and democracies that we all celebrate.” (Emphasis added.)

On Sunday, May 6, on Univision, Trujillo said that “Raul Castro should be tried for his crimes against human rights” and that he hopes for the OAS , and for other agencies, that these trials will be held.” These comments were supported by a spokesman for the International Justice Commission of Cuba, which is composed of civil rights activists from 10 countries.

Cuba’s Response[3]

The Cuban response was provided on May 7 by its  Foreign Ministry’s Director General for the United States,  Fernandez de Cossio. He rejected what he called “aggressive and false” statements by Vice President Pence at the OAS meeting. Indeed, Pence  allegedly lied when he claimed that the U.S. has a long-standing commitment on the continent to democracy and freedom and that the U.S. supports the Cuban people. Moreover, the U.S. has intensified the blockade (embargo) of the island, aimed at stifling its economy and people while the OAS Is “known for its support for the most horrendous crimes on the continent, ranging from coups and brutal dictatorships to assassinations, torture and disappearances.”

Minister Fernandez continued. Vice President Pence does not realize that Latin America is different and that the U.S. policies will fail. Cuba will continue to build an independent, sovereign, socialist, democratic and sustainable country, and will also continue to support the construction of our America in solidarity and respectful of the diversity of peoples.

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[1] White House, Remarks by vice President Pence at Swearing-In Ceremony of Carlos Trujillo as U.S. Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States (May 2, 2018); White House, Remarks by Vice President Mike Pence During a Protocolary Meeting at the Organization of American States (May 7, 2018); Assoc. Press, US Hits 3 Venezuelans, 20 Companies, With Sanctions, N.Y. Times (May 7, 2018).

[2]  White House, Remarks by vice President Pence at Swearing-In Ceremony of Carlos Trujillo as U.S. Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States (May 2, 2018); Carlos Trujillo: Raúl Castro must be tried for his crimes against human rights, Diario de Cuba (May 7, 2018).

[3] The MINREX qualifies Pence’s statements as ‘aggressive and false,’ Diario de Cuba (May 6, 2018); Cuba rejects aggressive speech by Mike Pence, vice president of the United States, CubaDebate (May 7, 2018).

Grim Cuban Economic News 

Grim news over Cuba’s economy was delivered in July 8 speeches to the country’s legislature (the National Assembly of People’s Power) by Cuba’s President, Raúl Castro, and by Cuba’s Minister of Economy and Planning, Marino Murillo. Naturally the Cuban people are worried. Here is a summary of those developments.

President Castro’s Report[1]

Raúl Castro
Raúl Castro

“In December 2015 I [projected that we would experience] financial constraints as a result of declining export revenue . . . [due to] falling prices for our traditional items as well as damages [to our] relations of mutually beneficial cooperation with various countries, particularly with Venezuela, which is being subjected to an economic war to weaken popular support for its revolution.”

“In the first half [of 2016] GDP grew by only one percent, half of what we had projected. This is the result of worsening external financial restrictions, driven by the decline of export earnings, coupled with the constraints faced by some of our major trading partners, due to falling oil prices.”

“There also has been a contraction in fuel supplies that had been promised by Venezuela, despite the firm will of President Nicolas Maduro and his government to fulfill that commitment. Obviously this has caused additional stress on the functioning of the Cuban economy.”

“Nevertheless, Cuba has managed to maintain compliance with the commitments made in the process of restructuring of debts to our foreign creditors. However, I must admit that there have been some delays in current payments to suppliers and I thank our partners for their confidence and understanding of this situation and reaffirm the commitment of the Government to meet the outstanding maturities and to continue restoring the international credibility of the Cuban economy.”

“Nor can we ignore the harmful effects of the US blockade and the US ban on Cuba’s use of the US dollar in its international transactions.”

“In these adverse circumstances the Council of Ministers adopted a set of measures to address the situation and ensure the main activities that ensure the vitality of the economy, minimizing the effects on the population.”

“As expected, in order to sow discouragement and uncertainty among citizens, there have been speculations and predictions of an imminent collapse of our economy with the return to the acute phase of the special period. These dire warnings have been overcome thanks to the resilience of the Cuban people and their unlimited confidence in Fidel and the Party. We do not deny damages that may occur, even higher than at present, but we are prepared and better able then to reverse them.”

“Faced with these difficulties and threats, there is no room for improvisations and much less for defeatism. In the short-term, we face the situation with great energy, fairness, rationality and political sensitivity; and we continue to strengthen coordination between the Party and the Government with much optimism and confidence in the present and the future of the Revolution.”

“We must reduce expenses of all kinds that are not essential, to foster a culture of saving and efficient use of available resources, concentrating investment in activities that generate revenue from exports, substitute imports and support strengthening of infrastructure, ensuring sustainability of electricity generation and better use of energy carriers. These programs will ensure the development of the nation, in short, non-stop.”

“At the same time, the social services that the revolution has obtained for our people and measures to gradually improve their quality are preserved. In the midst of these difficulties were made several measures aimed at increasing the purchasing power of the Cuban peso, including the decrease in prices of a set of products and articles of broad demand for our population.”

“Similarly, despite the prolonged drought plaguing us, we begin to see the fruits of other actions to ensure better collection and distribution of agricultural products, confirming greater presence of these markets and a slight but progressive reduction of selling prices. These measures have been welcomed by the population as relief to Cuban families.”

“In addition, these measures have guaranteed the internal financial balance through appropriate levels of supply in the retail market, while progress is being made in the implementation of pay systems linked to productive results, all of which has enabled us to avoid inflationary pressures.”

“This morning the National Assembly of People’s Power agreed to support in its spirit and letter the update of the Guidelines for Economic Policy and Social Party and the Revolution for the period 2016-2021 that were adopted by the Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba. This will entail the legislative development and adoption of legal standards required to continue improving the legal and institutional basis in the interests of economic changes in the country.”

“We reaffirm that we will continue updating our economic model at our sovereignly determined pace, forging consensus and unity of Cubans in the construction of socialism.”

“The rate of change will continue to be conditioned by our ability to do things right, which has not always been so. This requires ensuring the preparation of policy documents, training and mastery of content, conducting monitoring and implementation and timely rectification to any deviations.”

“As clear evidence of our strength and experience, we have had favorable results in implementing the plan of prevention and confrontation of mosquito-borne diseases.

“The complex circumstances of the national economy will not weaken in the least, the solidarity and commitment of Cuba to the Bolivarian Revolution and Chavista with President Maduro and his government and the Civic Union Military brother Venezuelan people. We will continue lending to Venezuela, to the best of our ability, collaboration agreed to help sustain the achievements in social services that benefit the population. True friends are known in difficult times and Cubans will never forget the support of Venezuelans when we faced serious difficulties.”

“In commemorating the Day of National Rebellion [on July 29] we will do so with the conviction that the Cuban revolutionary people will again face difficulties without the slightest hint of defeatism and full confidence in the Revolution.”

Economy and Planning Minister’s Comments[2]

 Marino Murillo
Marino Murillo

In his July 8 speech to the Cuban legislature, Marino Murillo, a member of the Politburo, Vice President of the Council of Ministers and Minister of Economy and Planning, essentially repeated the main points of President Castro’s report.

Conclusion [3]

The 1% increase in Cuban GDP for the first half of 2016 stands in contrast to the 4.7% increase for the first half of 2015. According to Reuters, Venezuelan shipments of crude oil and refined products to the island nation decreased around 20% for this period.

As a result of these economic problems and challenges, Cuba is concentrating on reducing expenses, promoting conservation and efficient use of available resources; concentrating investments on activities that generate exports and replace imports; strengthening infrastructure; assuring the sustainability of electrical generation; and facilitating better use of energy resources. The plan is to reduce total electricity consumption by 6% while not cutting residential use and key revenue-generating sectors such as tourism and nickel production.

More than 450,000 U.S. citizens or residents were among the 3.5 million tourists to visit the island last year, when the total number of visitors rose 17% from 2014, and the number of U.S. visitors for the first half of 2016 was up 26% to 304,000 out of a total of 2.1 million visitors to the island. Those numbers are likely to rise further when commercial flights from the U.S. begin later this year.[1]

Cuba’s future exemption from electricity restrictions for privately-owned businesses that cater to tourists could be seen as a Faustian bargain. Cuba desperately needs the hard currencies that tourists bring and spend on the island. On the other hand, the increasing numbers of U.S. visitors are tending to spend their money on Cuban bed-and-breakfasts, taxis, meals in privately-owned restaurants and other services that will increase demands for electricity and nurture Cuba’s nascent urban middle class and increase pressures for political and economic change.

Signs of these changes already can be seen. Public offices and state-run companies have cut work hours and are limiting the use of air-conditioning. Cinemas have cut the number of film screenings, and petrol stations are running out of fuel more frequently than in the past few years.

According to a New York Times journalist, many Cubans now fear “a return to the days when they used oil lamps to light their living rooms and walked or bicycled miles to work because there was no gasoline.” Regina Coyula, a blogger who worked for several years for Cuban state security, voiced one aspect of that fear: “We all know that it’s Venezuelan oil that keeps the lights on. People are convinced that if Maduro [the President of Venezuela] falls, there will be blackouts here.”

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[1] Castro, Faced with the difficulty, there is no room for improvisation or defeatism, Cuba Debate (July 8, 2016)(English translation of text of Castro speech), http://www.cubadebate.cu/opinion/2016/07/08/raul-castro-la-velocidad-de-los-cambios-seguira-estando-condicionad a-por-nuestra-capacidad-de-hacer-las-cosas-bien/#.V4Tyf5MrLj0;There is no room for improvisation or defeatism, Granma (July 8, 2016)(report about Castro’s speech), http://www.granma.cu/cuba/2016-07-08/el-pueblo-revolucionariocubano-nuevamente-se-crecera; Reuters, Castro Admits Cubans Face Hard Times as Economy Slows Sharply, N.Y. Times (July 9, 2016), http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2016/07/09/world/americas/09reuters-cuba-economy.html?_r=0; Assoc. Press, Raul Castro Says Venezuela’s Crisis Hurting Island Economy, N.Y. Times (July 9, 2016), http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2016/07/08/world/americas/ap-cb-cuba-parliament.html.

[2] Murillo, Cause the least possible services to the population, Granma (July 9, 2016); Marino Murillo: Come adjustments in the economy, without affecting basic services to the population (+ Video), Cubadebate (July 8, 2016) (the English translation of his speech in the Cuban press is impossible for this blogger to follow and understand); Reuters, Cuban Economy Minister Details Dire Economic Measures, N.Y. Times (July 9, 2016), http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2016/07/09/world/americas/09reuters-cuba-economy-austerity.html.

[3] Burnett, Amid Grim Economic Forecasts, Cubans Fear a Return to Darker Times, N.Y. Times (July 12, 2016), http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/13/world/americas/cuba-economy-venezuela-power-cuts.html?ref=world; Althaus, Growing Flow of Americans Remakes Cuba, W.S.J. (July 12, 2016), http://www.wsj.com/articles/growing-flow-of-americans-remakes-cuba-1468365712.

 

 

The Council of the Americas and the Americas Society: Other Supporters of U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation

The Council of the Americas (COA) [1] and the Americas Society (AS) [2] previously announced their support of the December 17th announcement of the U.S.-Cuba rapprochement and of the more recent presidential rescission of the U.S. designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism.”

On April 21st COA and AS held their 45th annual Washington Conference at the U.S. Department of State. The theme this year was “Integration & Innovation: The Americas Agenda.” One of its speakers was U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Secretary Kerry quoted President Obama’s speech at the recent Summit of the Americas: the U.S. is engaged in “a new chapter of engagement in this region. I believed that our nations had to break free from the old arguments, the old grievances that had too often trapped us in the past, that we had a shared responsibility to look to the future and to think and act in fresh ways. [There is] . . . a new era of cooperation between our countries, as equal partners, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.” This commitment was being met, Kerry said, –“and not solely because of our new policy towards Cuba.”

Therefore, stated Kerry, “what we need is . . . a common agenda for the shared progress, a blueprint for the next steps that will help to ensure the democratic and economic promise in the region is actually fulfilled. That is why the [U.S.] is engaged throughout the Americas on priorities that our partner governments and its citizens themselves have identified as important. These priorities fall into three broad categories. They include the building blocks of shared prosperity – education, innovation, trade, investment. They include energy and environmental security. And they include reconciliation and strengthening democratic and inter-American institutions across the board.”

Kerry specifically addressed Cuba. He said, “In December, President Obama made the courageous decision to update our Cuba policy, which was doing far more to isolate [U.S.] from our friends in the hemisphere than it was to isolate Havana. In Panama, the President and I met for hours with our Cuban counterparts, the first such formal meetings since the 1950s. And we’re committed to moving forward on the path to normalized relations. This new course is based not on a leap of faith, but on a conviction that the best way to promote U.S. interests and values while also helping to bring greater freedom and opportunity to the Cuban people is exactly what we are doing.”

Kerry also said the “same principle applies to Venezuela. In Panama, President Obama spoke briefly with President Maduro, and a week earlier, State Department Counselor Tom Shannon was in Caracas at the invitation of the government. It is no secret that relations between our two countries have been severely strained in recent years. But I began my tenure as Secretary with a long conversation with the then-foreign minister of Venezuela in an effort to promote a more productive relationship, and the [U.S.] remains open to further addressing our differences and attempting to find areas of common ground.”

Another speaker at the Conference was New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who said he is opposed to the new U.S. rapprochement with Cuba, describing the Castro government as a ”dictatorial family regime that denies freedoms to their people and is a sponsor of terrorism.” He spoke of the Cuban government’s asylum of Assata Shakur, who was convicted of murdering a New Jersey state trooper in 1973. Stating that he is not opposed on principle to welcoming Cuba back into the “family of civilized nations, there is still a ways to go for that to happen.”

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[1] The COA says it is, “the premier international business organization whose members share a common commitment to economic and social development, open markets, the rule of law, and democracy throughout the Western Hemisphere. The Council’s membership consists of leading international companies representing a broad spectrum of sectors, including banking and finance, consulting services, consumer products, energy and mining, manufacturing, media, technology, and transportation.”

[2] The COA is affiliated with the AS, which describes itself as “the premier forum dedicated to education, debate, and dialogue in the Americas. Its mission is to foster an understanding of the contemporary political, social, and economic issues confronting Latin America, the Caribbean, and Canada, and to increase public awareness and appreciation of the diverse cultural heritage of the Americas and the importance of the inter-American relationship.” The COA and AS have a Cuba Working Group, which includes “corporate leaders from the worlds of banking, financial services, energy, telecommunications, hospitality, pharmaceuticals, and law. Working group meetings look at the steps companies can take under current U.S. restrictions to pre-position themselves for future investment. This effort has produced a series of papers on regulations and laws affecting U.S. business activity under the U.S. embargo and in Cuba.”