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

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

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

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

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

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

Inspirations for Minnesota Orchestra’s South African Tour

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

The Inspirations for the Tour

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

  1. The Orchestra’s Trip to Cuba[3]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Celebration of Nelson Mandela’s Centennial

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

Making the Dream a Reality

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

 

U.S.-Cuba Skirmishes at the Summit of the Americas

The confrontation of Presidents Donald Trump and Raúl Castro at the Summit of the Americas in Peru, as anticipated in a prior post, did not happen. Each of them cancelled his trip to the Summit. Instead Cuba sent its Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez, while the U.S. sent Vice President Mike Pence, and the two of them exchanged verbal insults. The Secretary of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, also leveled criticism at Cuba.

OAS Secretary General[1]

On April 13, the OAS Secretary said the governments at the Summit “cannot allow the Cuban people to continue to be oppressed by an infamous dictatorship, a dictatorship that carries the weight of decades of human rights violations … tortures and executions. We have to be faithful to fundamental ethical values. Indifference in the face of dictatorship is to break the fundamental ethical values of policy.”

Cuba since 1962 has been suspended from the OAS. Nevertheless, “the resolutions of the OAS still apply to Cuba because it is still part of the Inter-American system. A suspension does not spare it from having to meet its responsibilities. That’s why we demand democracy for Cuba and the application of the Inter American Democratic Charter.”

The Secretary General also urged those at the Summit to “continue to put pressure on the regime. Let’s not recognize the [Cuban] rules for succession that the dictatorship wants to impose on its people.” This was an endorsement of the call earlier in the week by about 30 former heads of state and government from Spain and Latin America who urged the governments at the Lima summit to refuse to recognize the new Cuba government that is scheduled to be appointed April 18 or 19.

Almagro also condemned the Cuban delegation in Lima for an outburst of screams and slogans on Thursday that forced him and civil society activists to move a meeting to a closed-off hall. The Cuban delegates shouted “liar” at Almagro and “down with the worms” at the Cuban opposition activists in the room. “Today we had a very clear example of the levels of intolerance and how they want to silence the voice of dissidents in Cuba,” said the OAS secretary general. “They brought intolerance to our system, brought the voice of hatred, the voice that certainly tries to drown other voices. They have tried to dismantle our own democracy, the functioning of the Summit of the Americas. And that we cannot allow,” Almagro said. “And we cannot allow that in Cuba. It would not be ethical.”

Foreign Minster Rodriguez[2]

 On April 14, Cuba Foreign Minister Rodríguez addressed the Summit. “Our America, . . ., united by a common destiny in the search for its second and definitive independence, continues being sacked, intervened and vilified by the North American imperialism that invokes the Monroe Doctrine[3] for exercise of domination and hegemony over our peoples.”

“It is a story of wars of conquest, dispossession of territories, invasions and military occupations, coups d’état and imposition of bloody dictatorships that assassinated, disappeared and tortured in the name of freedom; of rapacious plundering of our resources.

Today there is the danger of a return to the use of force, the indiscriminate imposition of unilateral coercive measures and bloody military coups.”

He continued, “Our America, with its cultures and history, the territory, the population and its resources can develop and contribute to the balance of the world, but it is the region with the most unequal distribution of income on the planet.”

The richest 10 percent amass 71 percent of the wealth and, in two years, one percent of the population would have more than the remaining 99 percent. It lacks equitable access to education, health, employment, sanitation, electricity and drinking water.”

“We will only advance through regional integration and the development of unity within the diversity that led to the creation of CELAC [Community of Latin American and Caribbean States].”

“Recent events show that the OAS and its hysterical Secretary General are instruments of the United States.”

“Now, the objective is to reestablish imperialist domination, destroy national sovereignties with unconventional interventions, overthrow popular governments, reverse social conquests and restore, on a continental scale, wild neoliberalism. For this, the fight against corruption is used as a political weapon; prosecutors and judges act as ‘political parties’ and voters are prevented from voting for candidates with strong popular support, as is the case of the President, political prisoner, Luiz Inacio “Lula’ Da Silva whose freedom we demand.”

“It is hidden that corruption prevails among conservative politicians, parliamentarians and politicians and in electoral systems, in corrupt laws and political models, by nature, based on money, on corporate ‘special interests.’”

“People are manipulated from private monopolistic property on media and technological platforms. In electoral campaigns, there are no ethical limits: hate, division, selfishness, slander, racism, xenophobia and lies are promoted; neo-fascist tendencies proliferate and walls are promised, militarization of borders, massive deportations, even of children born in the territory itself.”

“In the hemisphere, massive, flagrant and systematic violations of civil and political human rights are increasing; and economic, social and cultural rights of hundreds of millions of human beings.”

What democracy and values ​​are spoken of here? Of those of President Lincoln or the “dream” of Martin Luther King , that would elevate the American people to whom indissoluble bonds unite us ?, Or of those of Cutting and of the supposed “anti-system” extremist conservative?

“Cuba will not accept threats or blackmail from the government of the United States. We do not want confrontation, but we will not negotiate anything of our internal affairs, nor will we yield a millimeter in our principles. In defense of independence, the Revolution and Socialism, the Cuban people have shed their blood, assumed extraordinary sacrifices and the greatest risks.”

“The progress made in recent years [2014-2016], based on absolute sovereign equality and mutual respect, which are now reversed; They showed tangible results and that civilized coexistence, within the deep differences between governments, is possible and beneficial for both.”

“The [U.S.] blockade [embargo] and financial persecution harden, cause deprivation to our people and violate human rights, but the isolation of the US government throughout the world, in American society itself and in Cuban emigration also grows with respect to that genocidal policy, obsolete and unsuccessful.”

“The international rejection of the occupation of our territory in Guantánamo by the Naval Base and the detention and torture center located in it increases equally. [The U.S.] suffers total discredit [of] the pretext to reduce the staff of the Embassies and affect the right to travel of Cubans and Americans.”

“Next April 19, in the year 150 of our independence fights, with the constitution of a new National Assembly of the Popular Power will culminate the general elections. Cubans and Cubans, especially the youngest, closely linked to the Party of the nation, founded by Martí and Fidel; together with Raúl, we will commemorate the victory against the mercenary aggression of Playa Girón [Bay of Pigs], firm, confident and optimistic.”

Vice President Pence[4]

 On April 14, as the last scheduled speaker at the Summit, Vice President Mike Pence touched on many issues. He said the following about Cuba.

A ”tired communist regime continues to impoverish its people and deny their most fundamental rights in Cuba.  The Castro regime has systematically sapped the wealth of a great nation and stolen the lives of a proud people.  Our administration has taken decisive action to stand with the Cuban people, and stand up to their oppressors.”

“No longer will the United States fund Cuba’s military, security and intelligence services — the core of that despotic regime.  And the United States will continue to support the Cuban people as they stand and call for freedom.”

“But Cuba’s dictatorship has not only beset its own people, as we all well know — with few exceptions in this room acknowledging that.  Cuba’s dictators have also sought to export their failed ideology across the wider region.  And as we speak, they are aiding and abetting the corrupt dictatorship in Venezuela.”

Earlier Vice President Pence met with  Rosa María Payá, daughter of the late Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá, who told him about Cuba Decide, a movement that promotes political change in Cuba through peaceful mobilization and the holding of a binding plebiscite whereby the Cuban people would decide their political system. Payá said, “What the Cuban people want is freedom, what the Cuban people want is to decide on another system.” Pence told her that he admires “enormously the courage” that her father had, “his commitment to freedom in Cuba” and her “courage” with her current “important work. ‘We are with you for the freedom of the Cuban people,’

Reply by Cuba Foreign Minister[5]

Invoking the right of reply, Cuba Foreign Minister Rodríguez had these additional comments on April 14.

“The Vice President of the [U.S.] seems ill-informed, ignores reality, hides the truth. I want to ask Mr. Pence directly if the Monroe Doctrine guides his government or not, in his policy toward Latin America. I want to respond with words from Bolívar: ‘The United States seems destined by Providence to plague America with miseries in the name of freedom.’ I want to quote Marti: ‘What I did up to now, and I will do, is to prevent the United States from spreading through the Antilles and falling with that force more on the lands of America.’”

“I reject the insulting references to Cuba and Venezuela and the humiliating attitude for Latin America and the Caribbean that [the U.S.] has assumed. The moral vacuum of the government of the [U.S.] cannot be, it is not a reference for Latin America and the Caribbean.”

“In the last 100 years they bear the responsibility for the most brutal abuses against human rights and human dignity. All the despotic governments in the region, all without exception, have been imposed or have received support from the government of the [U.S.], including the most cruel military dictatorships. Shameful acts like Operation Condor[6] or the bloody coup d’état in Chile[7] are about the conscience of North American governments.”

“Mr. Pence’s country has been the first and the only one to use the nuclear weapon against innocent civilians. It is responsible for criminal wars and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of deaths, massacres of civilians, including children, women and the elderly, which they call collateral damage. It is responsible for acts of torture, disappearances, extrajudicial executions and kidnappings.”

“The government of the [U.S.] is the author of massive, flagrant and systematic violations of the human rights of its own African-American citizens, of Hispanics, of migrants and of minorities. It is a shame for humanity that in this country of extreme wealth there are tens and tens of millions of poor people. They have a differentiated racial pattern in their prisons and the application of the death penalty is where most judicial errors associated with the execution of people occur; It is where students are killed by guns, whose lives were sacrificed to the imperative of political lobbying, particularly in Florida”

“The government of the [U.S.] has received tens and tens of millions of dollars from the arms lobby, and a Miami senator [Marco Rubio] has received no less than 3 million for the same concept. Miami is where the political mafias are, where confessed international terrorists take refuge and is also the place of the famous electoral fraud of the year 2000.”

“Mr. Pence has not said, when he talks about corruption, that his country is the center of the laundering of financial assets of drug trafficking and the smuggling of arms to the south that destabilizes entire countries. The electoral system that has elected him and the legislature, in which he has served for a long time, is corrupt by nature, because it is supported in an unusually legal way in corporate financial contributions and the so-called Political Action Committees.”

“It is the [U.S.] government that imposes a fierce protectionism, which does not take into account that it will ruin industry, agriculture and employment throughout our region. It is where the political lobby has imposed the idea that climate change is an anti-American invention. It is the political and electoral system where there has been scandalous traffic with the private data of tens of millions of its citizens.”

“If [the U.S.] government were interested in the well-being, human rights and self-determination of Cubans, it could lift the blockade, collaborate with our international cooperation, instead of sabotaging it, and give funds to Cuban medical collaboration programs in the world and literacy programs.”

Mr. Pence “has referred insultingly to Cuba. I respond with the text of the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace, signed in Havana by the Heads of State of Latin America and the Caribbean in 2014, whose principles include the inalienable right of peoples and States to freely give their own political, economic, social and cultural system.”  I also respond with a paragraph of the historical document signed at the time of this event, at the José Martí International Airport in Havana, by His Holiness Pope Francis and by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill . . .:’Our fraternal encounter has taken place in Cuba, at the crossroads between North and South, East and West. From this island, symbol of the hopes of the New World and of the dramatic events of 20th century history … ‘”

“We are a few hours away from the 57th anniversary of the [Bay of Pigs] bombing of US planes at airports in Cuba, in which Cubans died in defense of our independence and sovereignty, in whose farewell to duel the socialist character of the Cuban Revolution was proclaimed, and It is surprising that, f[after] so many decades, Vice President Pence has come here to use the same language that led governments of that time to carry out this terrible event.”

“The events that have taken place in recent years [2014-2016] show that coexistence between the United States and Cuba is possible, productive and can be civilized. For that, do not wait for him, nor the delegation that now occupies the seat that he has just left, for Cuba to give up one millimeter of its principles, nor cease in its efforts to build socialism.”

Conclusion

Unfortunately these verbal skirmishes are to be expected in the Age of Trump at gatherings like the Summit. Now we all will see whether this week’s election of Cuba’s new President of the Council of State will lead to any changes in at least the rhetoric between the two countries. Also unfortunately most observers, including this blogger, do not anticipate any immediate changes.

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[1] Torres, OAS secretary general: ‘We cannot allow the Cuban people to continue to be oppressed,’ Miami Herald (April 13, 2018).

[2] Bruno Rodríguez at Summit of the Americas: “Cuba will not accept threats or blackmail from the United States, CubaDebate (April 14, 2018).

[3]  Then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on February 1,  2018, in response to a professor’s question said that U.S. citizens had “forgotten about the importance of the Monroe Doctrine and what it meant to this hemisphere and maintaining those shared values. So I think it’s as relevant today as it was the day it was written.” (See Secretary Tillerson’s Provocative Comments About Latin America, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 7, 2018).)

[4] White House, Remarks by Vice President Pence at First Plenary Session of the Summit of the Americas (April 15, 2018); Mike Pence to Rosa María Payá: ‘We are with you for the freedom of the Cuba people,’ Diario de Cuba (April 14, 2018).

[5] Cuban foreign Minister: the US government cannot be a reference for Latin America, CubaDebate (April 15, 2018); The Cuban regime repeats its script in Lima: it says that “it will not negotiate anything or yield a millimeter, Diario de Cuba (April 14, 2018).

[6] Operation Condor was  campaign of political repression and state terror in Latin American countries involving intelligence operations and assassination of opponents, mainly civilians, originally planned by the CIA in 1968 and officially implemented in 1975 by the right-wing dictatorships of the Southern Cone region of South America.(Operation Condor, Wikipedia.)

[7] In 1973 Chili’s military deposed its President Salvador Allende and his government. In 2000 the U.S. Intelligence Community released a report that stated, “Although CIA did not instigate the coup that ended Allende’s government on 11 September 1973, it was aware of coup-plotting by the military, had ongoing intelligence collection relationships with some plotters, and—because CIA did not discourage the takeover and had sought to instigate a coup in 1970—probably appeared to condone it.” (1973 Chilean coup d’état, Wikipedia.)

 

Upcoming Cuba Issues for Trump Administration

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

 Summit of the Americas

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

This year will be the eighth such summit, which are institutionalized gatherings of the heads of state and government of the Western Hemisphere where leaders discuss common policy issues, affirm shared values and commit to concerted actions at the national and regional level to address continuing and new challenges faced in the Americas. This year’s theme is Democratic Governance Against Corruption.[2]

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

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

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

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

Election of New President of Cuba

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

[2] OAS, Summits of the Americas.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Congressional Delegation Visits Cuba

A delegation of six U.S. senators and representatives, all Democrats, visited Cuba from February 17 through 21. They were Senators Patrick Leahy (VT),  Gary Peters (MI) and Ron Wyden (OR) plus Representatives Jim McGovern (MA), Kathy Castor (FL) and Susan Davis (CA). [1]

Leahy, the leader of the group, announced that the purpose of the trip was “to meet with U.S. and Cuban officials, officials of other governments, and Cubans in the emerging private sector to discuss: the presidential transition in Cuba; U.S. and Cuban investigations of health incidents involving U.S. government personnel in Cuba; cooperation on maritime security, search-and-rescue, narcotics and human trafficking, and migration issues; the impact of the withdrawal of U.S. Embassy and Cuban Embassy personnel and of revised Treasury Department regulations on U.S.-Cuban relations; and opportunities for public health, law enforcement, scientific, environmental, commercial, educational, cultural, and other engagement with Cubans.”

Meeting at Cuba’s Foreign Ministry

On February 20 they met with the Director General of the United States of the Cuban Foreign Ministry, Cárlos Fernández de Cossío.

They discussed, among other topics, the medical problems of certain U.S. diplomats that occurred in Cuba. Cossío emphasized that  there was no evidence of attacks on the diplomats and Cuba’s difficulties of carrying out a rigorous investigation.

Meeting with President Raúl Castro

On February 20 the delegation also met with President Raúl Castro, who was joined by Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and Director General Cossio. Below is the official photograph of the meeting. The Cuban release about this event merely stated, “During the meeting they exchanged about matters of interest to both countries.”

Other Activities

The delegation met with Cuban entrepreneurs who said Trump’s Cuba policy was hurting their businesses. Surprisingly there have been no reports that there was discussion of last year’s actions by the Cuban government to curtail the growth of the private sector or its new proposed regulations to impose even more onerous restrictions on that sector that apparently were leaked to the public the day after the delegation left the island as discussed in a prior post

An objective of the delegation was not met. They wanted to meet with Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel, Castro’s presumed successor, but he was not available.

Press Conference

At the conclusion of their trip, on February 21, the delegation held a press conference at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, and below is a photography of the delegation at this event.

According to Diario de Cuba, Senator Leahy said, “The embargo does not make sense and the reversal of the policies negotiated by Barack Obama and Raúl Castro does not help the US or Cuba.” In fact, he said, President Trump’s retreat from engagement with Cuba was “erroneous” and “stupid.”

Leahy also addressed the medical problems of some U.S. diplomats who had been stationed in Cuba. He said, “If we have to find out if something happened, it is a big mistake to close our embassy or to pretend that the Cubans close theirs. How are you going to get visas? How to maintain medical cooperation? What about the students? Of the projects in agriculture? There are many projects that are paralyzed.” 

Moreover, according to Leahy, the Cuban government has been cooperating in trying to ascertain the cause of these medical problems  and he believes the island’s authorities do not have the slightest intention to harm U.S. citizens who visit Havana. Indeed, not a single one of his colleagues had any fears about traveling to Cuba as they believe the island to be a safe place, and have even travelled here with their spouses, and in Leahy’s case, with his 13 year-old granddaughter.

Leahy added that there are many American diplomats who want to work in Cuba despite the symptoms that Washington previously said affected 24 U.S. government officials and spouses. As a result, Leahy urged the State Department on Wednesday to restore embassy staff in Havana as soon as possible.

Leahy also stated, “”Whoever is [the new] president in Cuba will make a mistake if he thinks we should maintain tensions between our countries, which is easy to say, but we have to go back to the dialogue we had between Obama and Castro.”

Representative McGovern, again as reported by Diario de Cuba, offered that protection of U.S. diplomats is “paramount,” but it was an “error” by the Trump Administration to cut the Embassy’s staff and to expel Cuban diplomats in Washington. Moreover, “US policy toward Cuba has been guided by paranoia and suspicion,” which he described as “stupid” because it has not yielded any fruit in more than fifty years of hostility. “Cuba is changing, it will soon elect a new president and it will have a generational change of leadership. Unfortunately, at that historic moment for Cuba, the involvement of the United States will be limited.”

Senator Wyden added that the delegation had stressed the importance for Cuba to unify its two currencies and “Cuba officials repeatedly said that this was the year to get it done.” Representative Castor subsequently added that the delegation asked the Cuban government to eliminate the 13 percent exchange tax on the U.S. dollar with respect to the CUC, the local convertible currency. The Cuban officials responded by saying “they would like to do that, but they have said that in the past,” said Castor.

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[1] Press Release, Leahy To Lead Congressional Delegation To Cuba (Feb. 16, 2018); Delegation of the United States Congress Visits Cuba, CubaDebate (Feb. 18, 2018); Senator Leahy visits the MINREX headquarters in Havana, Martí (Feb. 20, 2018); Raúl received a delegation from United States Congress, Granma (Feb. 21, 2018); US congressmen criticize Trump’s turn toward politics as “erroneous and stupid,” Diario de Cuba (Feb. 21, 2018); US congressional delegation reaffirms need to improve relations with Cuba, Granma (Feb. 21, 2018); US Congressmen insist on the need to improve ties with Cuba, CubaDebate (Feb. 21, 2018); Assoc. Press, US Lawmakers Say It’s Time to Restore Staff at Cuba Embassy, N.Y. Times (Feb. 21, 2018); Marsh, Cuba tells U.S. delegation monetary unification on cards this year, Reuters (Feb. 21, 2018); Torres, Cuba shares plans for single currency and more during a visit by U.S. lawmakers, Miami Herald (Feb. 21, 2018). 

 

Subdued Commemoration of Second Anniversary of U.S.-Cuba Rapprochement    

December 17, 2016 was the second anniversary of Presidents Obama and Castro’s joint announcement that their two countries had embarked on the path of normalization and reconciliation. The U.S. commemoration of this date was subdued. The White House held a small gathering that was not widely publicized .The Cuban government, on the other hand, apparently did not hold any such event. But two Cuban publications published sketchy comments on the anniversary.

White House Commemoration[1]

On December 15, the Obama Administration hosted a private gathering across the street from the White House at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. President Obama did not attend, but did send a letter to the 20 or so attendees encouraging them “to carry forward the work of strengthening our partnership in the years ahead.”

The gathering was addressed by Benjamin Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor; Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the acting U.S. ambassador in Havana; and three high-level officials from the U.S. Commerce, State and Treasury departments. Another speaker was

José Ramón Cabañas, the Cuban Ambassador in Washington. Also in attendance were U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont and U.S. Representative Kathy Castor of Tampa, Florida, both Democrats.

Rhodes and DeLaurentis touted the administration’s accomplishments and, at different times, got emotional — Rhodes remembering support from Cuban-American friends in the wake of stinging criticism over his work, and DeLaurentis describing his work in Cuba, where he began and might end his diplomatic career, as the most rewarding of his life.

The attendees were Cuban Americans, Cuban government officials and business partners in Washington, including Miami entrepreneur Hugo Cancio, who publishes an arts magazine in Cuba; Felice Gorordo, founder of the Roots of Hope nonprofit; former U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez; John McIntire, head of the Cuba Emprende Foundation; Miami attorney Ralph Patino; Giancarlo Sopo, founder of the CubaOne foundation, and Miami Foundation president and chief executive Javier Alberto Soto.

Another attendee, Ted Henken, a Baruch College sociology professor and Cuba expert, observed, “It was partly a celebration of what has been achieved, and a mourning” for the intense political fight that awaits.”

As Ric Herrero, former head of the pro-engagement Cuba Now group and the current president of Manos Americas, a social entrepreneurship nonprofit, put it, the gathering was “bittersweet. There was just a lot of gratitude toward the administration for their commitment to this cause and to everything they’ve done.” But they all were left with the questions: “What next? Where do we go from here? Because there is no certainty.”

Indeed, a chief concern among attendees was that Trump’s “volatile” personality could ignite a war of words with the Cubans, who have so far kept silent about the president-elect’s Cuba statements. On the other hand, attendees noted, Trump doesn’t have a clear political ideology, and could be more interested in showing up Obama on Cuba by negotiating more concessions.  However, Rhodes said, “We would like nothing more than the new administration to succeed beyond what we did.”

Obama supporters at the meeting thought that Trump had a willingness to keep negotiating with Raúl Castro’s government and that U.S. regulatory changes, following a top-to-bottom policy review, could take time–so long, perhaps, that by then Castro might near his own retirement, scheduled for February 2018.

“We’re living through a lot of uncertainty, but there’s a pretty strong consensus that Trump is going to realize that turning back the clock is going to be very difficult,” said Carlos Saladrigas, president of the Cuba Study Group. “Returning to a failed policy doesn’t make any sense.”

However, at a December 16 “thank You” rally in Ordlando, Flordia, Trump told the crowd, “America will also stand with the Cuban people in their long struggle for freedom. Their support has been unbelievable. The Cuban people. We know what we have to do, and we’ll do it. Don’t worry about it.”[2]

Cuban Observance

No Cuban commemoration event was found in searching Cuban public sources, Instead, two articles on the subject were found.[3]

The CubaDebate article reviewed some of the key things that had happened since December 17, 2014, while reiterating Cuba’s fervent desire for the U.S. to end its embargo (blockade) and to return Guantanamo Bay to the island. It also alleged that President Obama had done “much less than he could, given the broad executive powers that he [allegedly]possesses and that [allegedly] would have allowed him to reduce the blockade to its minimum expression.”

Nevertheless, the article stated, on December 7, 2016, Josefina Vidal of the Cuban government reaffirmed Cuba’s willingness to continue this process and expressed its hope that President-elect Donald Trump will take into account, when he takes office on January 20, what has been achieved” over the last two years.

These same points were essentially repeated in the article in Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba. It also added the following points:

  • Obama had acknowledged for the first time that the U.S. policy of “aggression” [“hostility” would be more diplomatic] against Havana was a failure and had ended up isolating the U.S. itself. It also alleged that the U.S. methods were changing, but not its objective – regime change in Cuba.
  • The U.S. still has a ban on US investment in Cuba, except in the area of telecommunications.
  • The Cuban state sector, where more than 75% of the labor force is employed, remains deprived of selling its products to the U.S. with the sole exception of pharmaceuticals and biotechnology.Also, Cuban imports of goods produced in the U.S. that the state-owned enterprise can make are very restricted.
  • Although several months ago the US approved the use of the U.S. Dollar by Cuba in its international transactions, it has not yet been possible to make deposits in cash or payments to third parties in that currency, due to international banks’ fears of fines by the U.S.
  • The U.S. has not yet ended Radio and TV Marti programs aimed at Cuba.

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[1] Mazzei & Torres, Muted White House celebration marks Obama Cuba anniversary, Miami Herald (Dec. 17, 2016).

[2] Lemmongello, Trump thanks Florida at Orlando rally, Orlando Sentinel (Dec. 116, 2016).

[3] Cuba-US: After two years, much remains to be done, CubaDebate (Dec. 17, 2016); Gomez, The keys of December 17, Granma (Dec. 16, 2016).

 

Cuba’s Economic Ties with Venezuela Are Fraying

The Wall Street Journal reports that the economic ties between Cuba and Venezuela are fraying in the midst of the latter’s economic meltdown with triple-digit inflation and the country’s largest currency note (100 bolivars) worth just around 2 U.S. cents on the black market, not even enough to buy a piece of hard candy at a street kiosk.[1]

This development is a major cause of Cuba’s current economic troubles as discussed in another post this day.

The primary precipitating cause of the fraying ties between the two countries is Venezuela’s declining oil output and thus declining oil shipments to Cuba. Daily shipments of 115,000 barrels of subsidized Venezuelan oil in 2008, says the Journal, “have dropped to about 55,000 a day this year, forcing Cuba this November “to buy oil on the open market for the first time in 12 years.”

In the earlier prosperous years Venezuela restarted and expanded an oil refinery in Cienfuegos, Cuba, making it the city’s largest employer. “Now the refinery sits idle. The last Venezuelan oil tanker docked here in August, according to oil traders. The shutdown has already sharply raised the cost of living for many residents, who had relied on cheap gasoline smuggled out of the refinery to alleviate hardship.”

Venezuela’s economic crisis also has forced it to reduce its payments to Cuba for the latter’s doctors serving in the former, resulting in the return of thousands of the doctors to Cuba. At its peak, 65,000 Cuban medical staff worked in Venezuela, but at the end of this May there only were 38,300, which was 4,000 fewer than three years ago.

Cuba’s exports of services, mostly such medical missions to Venezuela and elsewhere, fell 15% to $470 million last year from 2013, according to government statistics.

In addition, “Cuba’s flagship airline, Cubana de Aviación, stopped regular flights to Caracas earlier this year. Charters from Caracas to Havana have scaled back too as demand slumped.”

On the surface the two countries continue to pledge solidarity with each other. After Fidel Castro died last month, Venezuela’s government declared three days of national mourning, and its President Nicolás Maduro and a large delegation of high officials spent several days in Cuba to pay respects. He sat to the right of Raúl Castro, Cuba’s president and the elder Mr. Castro’s successor, at the memorial ceremony in Havana, fighting back tears before his turn came to speak to the crowds. Maduro then told the crowd, “Raúl, count on Venezuela. We will carry on the path of victory, the path of Fidel.”

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[1] Kurmanaev, Cuba and Venezuela’s Ties of Solidarity Fray, W.S.J. (Dec. 13, 2016); Assoc. Press, Venezuela Unveils 6 New Bills Amid Galloping Inflation, N.Y. Times (Dec. 7, 2016).