Reactions to Reopening of U.S. and Cuba Embassies and Other Issues Regarding U.S.-Cuba Normalization

As discussed in an earlier post, on the morning of July 20, 2015, Cuba officially opened its Embassy in Washington, D.C., and the United States did likewise in Havana although the ceremonial opening of the latter will be on August 14 when Secretary of State John Kerry goes to Havana to preside over that event. Another post, that afternoon’s joint press conference at the U.S. Department of State by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez; yet another post, recent comments about Cuba by the White House Press Secretary.

Now we look at the reactions to the significant issues raised by these events: (1) restoration of diplomatic relations; (2) future changes in Cuba; (3) future changes in Cuban human rights; (4) ending the U.S. embargo (or blockade) of Cuba; (5) altering or terminating Cuba’s lease of Guantanamo Bay to the U.S.; (6) ending U.S. Radio and TV Marti; (7) ending USAID and other covert U.S. “democracy” programs in Cuba; (8) Cuba’s returning U.S. fugitives; and (9) nominating and confirming the appointment of an U.S. ambassador to Cuba.

1. Restoration of U.S.-Cuba Diplomatic Relations?

There has been substantial U.S. approval of the restoration of diplomatic relations.

According to the Center for Democracy in the Americas (CDA), for instance, 12 public opinion polls conducted and released since January 1 show that “public support for the Cuba opening is strong, growing, and pervasive. Support for the new policy is bipartisan. It is significantly high among segments of voters — such as Hispanics — that candidates running for office increasingly care about. Most of all, the latest research shows that public support is rising. For example, support for ending the embargo was measured in July by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs at 67%, and earlier this year by Gallup at 59% and by the Associated Press at 60%.”[1]

Moreover, CDA sees “evidence that public support for America’s new Cuba policy is exerting its force on policymakers in the U.S. Congress.” It points to last week’s action of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s approving amendments eliminating House measures that would impede normalization in various ways[2] and to Republican legislators—Senator Dean Heller (NV) and Representative Bradley Byrne (AL)–who recently joined the ranks of supporters of normalization.

Despite the vigorous opposition to normalization repeatedly expressed by Cuban-Americans in Congress—Senators Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) and Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ) and Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Rep., FL) and Mario Diaz-Balart (Rep., FL) [3]—there has been little organized opposition to normalization in the Cuban-American community, especially in Florida.[4]

This assessment has been confirmed by prominent Cubans in the U.S. and on the island. Pedro Freyre, a Cuban-born Miami lawyer with a national law firm representing several U.S. and foreign clients seeking to do business in Cuba and a former hardliner himself, said, “It’s over and done in Miami. It died with a whimper.” Indeed, he added that President Obama’s new policy was now widely accepted by South Florida’s 1.5 million Cuban exiles. Similar views were expressed in the Miami Herald by Mike Fernandez, a healthcare millionaire and Bush supporter, who said, “Cuban-Americans everywhere, but especially the diaspora in South Florida, have been awakening to the reality that Cuba’s isolation was and is not a sustainable strategy. It’s time to accept change. Let us not heed those relatively few voices who would go on continuing to trap our minds in hatred.” Carlos Alzugaray Treto, a former Cuban diplomat who is close to President Raúl Castro and his brother Fidel, put it best. He said, “The genie is out of the bottle. And once it’s out, you’re not going to be able to put it back in.”

Senator Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN), who is the author of a bipartisan bill to lift the embargo, said this must be done for the U.S. to avoid losing investment opportunities that will come with loosening of travel restrictions to the island. She said, “Once millions of American tourists are going, they will need places to stay and they will need food to eat. … So when they come, they are going to be starting to sleep in Spanish hotels and eat German foods because those countries will be able to supply what they need in the tourism industry, not to mention the computers and Wi-Fi and everything else.”[5]

James Williams, the President of Engage Cuba, a major bipartisan group promoting this normalization, issued a statement on the reopening of embassies. He said, “we begin a new chapter of engagement between our two countries. American diplomats will now be much better equipped to engage with the Cuban people and civil society. They will be in a stronger position to elevate issues of concern, like human rights, as well as expanding on areas of cooperation with Cuba.” He pointed out that the “vast majority of the American people, and 97% of the Cuban people support opening relations. We applaud both governments for taking this important step to move forward beyond the Cold War policies of the past and call on Congress to play a constructive role at this historic moment of transition.”[6]

John Dinges, Associate Professor at Columbia University’s School of Journalism and an expert on U.S.-Cuba relations, said for the U.S. “the new relationship with Cuba removed a stumbling block in relations with the entire region, where the US attitude [was] considered irrational and stupid.”[7]

However, others argue that this change is misguided and erroneous. For example, Edward Gonzalez, professor emeritus of political science at U.C.L.A., stated that “in the face of potentially destabilizing change and high expectations at home, Cuban officials are tightening state controls in the short term.” Moreover, “given the regime’s totalitarian proclivity and apparatus, the state’s repression of dissidents and civil society, and its control over the lion’s share of the island’s economy, it is likely to continue into the distant future.” Therefore, he continues, the new U.S. engagement with Cuba “makes the [U.S.] complicit in propping up the regime both economically and politically, while leaving Cuban society even more isolated and defenseless vis-à-vis the all-powerful, coercive state.”[8]

Moreover, Senator Marco Rubio and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, currently two of the many contenders for the Republican nomination for president in 2016, have said that if elected president in 2016, they would rescind the diplomatic relations. And Senator Tom Cotton (Rep., AK) has pledged to “work to maintain and increase sanctions on the regime, block the confirmation of a new ambassador, demand the extradition of U.S. fugitives from justice, and hold the Castro regime accountable.”[9]

Secretary of State John Kerry in his July 20 interviews,[10] responded to these threats to rescind the relations with Cuba. Kerry said that whoever is elected president in 2016, including Marco Rubio, will have “the ability to make a decision [on whether or not to rescind the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba]. Congress, obviously, has an ability to have an impact on that.” [11] But I think it would be a terrible mistake [to rescind such diplomatic relations]. The vast majority of the American people believe this is a very good thing to do. It doesn’t make sense. I mean, we had diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. We had diplomatic relations with then-called Red China. We have to have relationships with countries to do business. And American citizens get hurt when we don’t do that.” Moreover, Kerry added, “I believe . . . President [Obama] has taken an irreversible step. I do not believe a next president, Republican or Democrat, will change it.”

Kerry continued, “Given the fact there are so many Cuban Americans, people who have family in Cuba, to not have a relationship where we can advocate for people, advocate for human rights, advocate for fairness, for elections, for democracy, for travel, for engagement, and all these things that make a difference in the quality of life of Cubans would be a terrible, terrible mistake. So I think, as time goes on, people will see the benefits that come from this policy.”

2. Future Changes in Cuba?

As Foreign Minister Rodriguez’s July 20 statement and Secretary Kerry’s statements made clear and as both governments previously had recognized, the opening of the embassies did not mean the process of normalization had been completed. Indeed, it has just started.

Secretary Kerry, in his interviews, observed, There are “key issues in the normalization process, and . . . [Minster Rodriguez and I] both said today that it will be long and complex. . . . [T]he measure of progress and success is really going to come from what happens in the next months as we go through this early diplomatic rekindling of a relationship. My suspicion is that there’s a possibility it could move faster than people think, simply because I think the Cuban people want it. And as we are there doing diplomacy, more present, able to engage, we actually can work at these kinds of issues more effectively than we’ve been able to for the last 50, 60 years.”

Kerry added that if Cuba is “willing to embrace it, we can bring them a tremendous leap in their economy. We could bring a better standard of living to their people. We can bring technology. We can bring various modern instruments of education, of health delivery, of communications. And I believe that over time things will change . . . at a pace that will be acceptable and, frankly, helpful to Cuba.” Kerry also said, the U.S. wants to see “a true, deep engagement [by Cuba], a willingness to work through these issues. There’s so much that we can cooperate on right now. We want to cooperate on law enforcement, . . . the environment, . . . our visas, . . . health, education, the rights of people, . . . hemispheric issues and interests like the war in Colombia or the relationship with Venezuela.”

Although not in direct response to the reopening of the embassies, Cuba’s President Raúl Castro in his July 15 speech to Cuba’s legislature (the National Assembly of People’s Power)[12] asserted, “We will continue the process of transformations in Cuban society at our own pace, which we have sovereignly chosen, with the majority support of the people, in the interest of constructing a prosperous and sustainable socialism, the essential guarantee of our independence.” (Emphases added.) He reiterated this theme near the end of his speech with these words: “Changing everything which must be changed is the sovereign and exclusive domain of Cubans. The Revolutionary Government is willing to advance in the normalization of relations, convinced that both countries can cooperate and coexist in a civilized manner, to our mutual benefit, beyond the differences we have and will have, thus contributing to peace, security, stability, development and equity in our continent and the world.” (Emphases added.)

A New York Times editorial said, “The full normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba will take years and will be an arduous process. Issues that will be hard to resolve include the disposition of American property the Cuban government seized in the 1960s, and the fate of the United States Navy base in Guantánamo Bay, which the Cuban government considers an illegally occupied territory.”[13]

Professor Dinges offered a similar assessment of the future. He said, “’normal’ relations are not compatible with the [U.S.] travel ban, with [the U.S.] economic embargo, with a recent history of semi-clandestine operations by the [USAID] to promote economic and social discontent. I hope to see in the near future gestures of friendship and rapprochement. For the [U.S.], it is important to dismantle the Guantanamo prison, and the minimization of military forces at the base. On behalf of Cuba, a gesture of detente toward the Miami Cubans would not cost anything and could have huge benefits. . . . There is distrust, there is a long history of [U.S.] aggression [against Cuba]. . . . [He believes future] “changes will be economically, technically, diplomatically. It would be illusory to expect radical changes in political structures in Cuba. Equally unrealistic to think that the US will stop talking about democracy and human rights.”

3. Future Changes in Cuban Human Rights?

Probably the leading U.S. desire for future changes in Cuba is with respect to human rights. For example, in one of his July 20 interviews, Kerry said Cuba does not “want [domestic] interference, but they know we’re not going to stop raising human rights issues. We made that very clear. . . . [W]e’re not giving up the DNA of the [U.S.], which is a deep commitment to human rights, to the values of democracy, freedom of speech, and so forth. So those . . . will be on the agenda. But on the other hand, the great step forward here is that neither of us . . . [is] taking one of our issues of contention and making it a showstopper. We want to engage, and when you get to that point, that’s what begins to break down the barriers.”

Kerry also told Andrea Mitchell, “There’s been a little bit of give . . . [by Cuba] with respect to some agreement on human rights. And I think that over time the elections discussion and the more pointed human rights issues are going to be very much part of the discussion. They are in every country where we have an embassy and an ambassador. We are fearless in our determination to walk in and talk to the authorities and give them a shared our sense of the problems that exist.”

According to the non-governmental Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, there were 2,822 politically related detentions in the first six months of 2015, less than half the 5,904 registered in the same period last year. Many of those detained this year, however, report being treated more roughly, however.[14]

The previous source also reports, “more than 20 U.S. lawmakers have come to Cuba since February without meeting with opposition groups that once were an obligatory stop for congressional delegations.” This was apparently due to “Cuban officials . . . [having] made clear that if Congress members meet with dissidents, they will not get access to high-ranking officials such as First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, the man expected to be the next president of Cuba” and to U.S. assessment that “talking with Cuban leaders is clearly the most promising way to promote reform on the island.”

On the issue of Cuban human rights, I submit that there is an enormous cognitive dissonance in the minds of U.S. opponents of normalization. Here are the reasons for that conclusion:

  • First, any objective student of history has to conclude that the U.S., especially since the start of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, has committed and threatened serious acts of hostility towards Cuba, including the embargo, the 1961 U.S.-supported invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs, the 1962 threatened bombing of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the embargo of the island and CIA attempts to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro. Moreover, U.S. hostility toward Cuba started at least in 1898 when it intervened in Cuba’s war of independence from Spain. Indeed, Foreign Minister Rodriguez’ July 20 speech referred to the late 19th century warning by José Marti of the U.S. “excessive craving for domination [over Cuba].”
  • Second, Cuba, therefore, has good reason to be fearful of the much larger and more powerful U.S. and as a result to take steps to protect itself against such perceived threats by restricting dissent. What would you do if you were in the Cubans’ shoes? It, therefore, will take time for Cuba to develop a sense of trust of the U.S. and as a result modify its restrictions on free speech and assembly.
  • Third, the self-proclaimed advocates of Cuban human rights like Rubio and Jeb Bush do not appear to be aware of the first two points. In addition, they apparently do not appreciate that their very hostility towards Cuba and normalization, purportedly on the ground of promoting Cuban human rights, instead contributes to Cuban skepticism about the good intentions of the U.S. and to the prolonging of Cuba’s restrictions on free speech and other civil liberties.

4. Ending the U.S. Embargo of Cuba?

Ending the embargo or blockade, of course, is a key demand by Cuba, and President Obama has asked the Congress to do just that. As discussed in previous posts, various bills to end the embargo have been introduced in this Session of the Congress, and supporters of normalization or reconciliation of the two countries, like this blogger, urge the Congress to approve such bills as soon as possible.

Such congressional action is in the U.S. national interest because the embargo has failed for over 50 years to produce positive change in Cuba, the embargo clearly has harmed or damaged the island’s economy, and Cuba has insisted on its removal as a key requirement for full normalization of relations.

In addition, there are at least two additional reasons for ending the embargo that this blogger has not seen mentioned in all the public discussion of this issue.

  • First, last October at the U.N. General Assembly Cuba alleged that the damage to Cuba from the embargo or blockade totaled $1.1 trillion, and the longer the embargo remains in effect that number will only increase. For a U.S. business this would require at least a footnote to its balance sheet identifying this as a contingent liability and explaining whatever reasons the business has for challenging the claim or the alleged amount of the claim. The rational action for such a business would be to terminate the conduct allegedly causing the damage, especially when it is not producing some benefit to the business.
  • Second, because of the U.S.-Cuba rapprochement of last December, other countries, especially the European Union and its members, are accelerating their efforts to obtain beneficial trade arrangements with Cuba. In short, the longer the U.S. waits to end the embargo, the further behind the U.S. will be with respect to competitors from around the world seeking to do business with Cuba.

Wake up, Congress!

5. Altering or Terminating the Cuba-U.S. Lease of Guantanamo Bay?

As previously noted, Foreign Minister Rodriguez at the July 20 reopening of the Cuban Embassy and at the subsequent joint press conference with Secretary Kerry reiterated Cuba’s request or desire to have its lease of Guantanamo Bay to the U.S. terminated and the territory returned to Cuba. Although the Foreign Minister did not set forth any alleged legal basis for this claim, he did mention that the 1906 lease occurred during a period of U.S. military occupation of the island that “led to the usurpation of [this] piece of Cuban territory”and thereby suggested that the lease was unfairly or coercively obtained.

Interestingly Rodriguez did not mention a previous legal theory advanced by the Fidel Castro regime: that the lease purportedly runs in perpetuity and, therefore, is illegal under Cuban law. Nor did Rodriguez mention another theory for ending the lease: the U.S. operation of a prison/detention facility at Guantanamo that allegedly is not permitted by the lease and, therefore, the U.S. has breached the lease.[15]

At that same joint press conference, Secretary Kerry immediately rejected U.S. willingness to return Guantanamo to Cuba. However, there were caveats in his comment: he said, At this time, there is no discussion and no intention on our part at this moment to alter the existing lease“ and “I can’t tell you what the future will bring but for the moment that is not part of the discussion on our side.” (Emphasis added.) This was reiterated, with similar qualifications, on July 22 by National Security Advisor Susan Rice at a White House press conference.[16] She said, “We’ve been clear that we’re not, at this stage, at all interested in changing the nature of our understanding and arrangements on Guantanamo.  And they may choose to raise it, but we’ve been equally clear that, for us, that’s not in the offing at the present.” (Emphasis added.) Do these caveats indicate an U.S. willingness in the future to discuss altering or even terminating the lease? I could understand a lease amendment increasing the amount of the rent and perhaps making administrative changes, but would be surprised if the U.S. would be willing to discuss termination of the lease and returning Guantanamo to Cuba.[17]

Although Cuba has not mentioned the U.S. operation of a detention facility at Guantanamo and the alleged U.S. torture of some of the detainees as a reason for Cuba’s desire to have the territory returned, it should be noted that President Obama has been trying to close that facility since the start of his first term.

On July 22, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest confirmed “that the administration is, in fact, in the final stages of drafting a plan to safely and responsibly close the prison at Guantanamo Bay and to present that plan to Congress. That has been something that our national security officials have been working on for quite some time, primarily because it is a priority of the President.  He believes it’s in our clear national security interest for us to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.” Earnest also said the President has decided to veto a defense spending bill now being negotiated in Congress if it includes provisions that would make it harder to close the prison.[18]

A few more details about the plan to close the detention facility were offered on July 25 by Lisa Monaco, one of Obama’s top national security aides, who said that such a plan was nearing completion. It will call for the U.S. to step up the transfers of 52 detainees cleared for resettlement in other countries and for the transfer to U.S. “Supermax” or military prisons for trials or continued military detention of at least some of the other 64 detainees still at Guantanamo who are deemed too dangerous to release. Efforts will be made to reduce the size of the latter group through “periodic review boards” that have been used to clear others for transfer.[19]

6. Ending U.S. Radio and TV Marti?

Another Cuban request is for the U.S. to stop its radio and TV broadcasts aimed at Cuba (Radio and TV Marti), again mentioned on July 20 by Minister Rodriguez. On July 22 National Security Advisor Rice stated, apparently in response to this request, the U.S. ”will continue to say and do what we think is appropriate to advance our interests in human rights and democracy in Cuba. . . . we’re not going to change just because the Cuban government may wish that we did.”

7. Ending USAID and Other Covert U.S. “Democracy” Programs in Cuba?

Prior posts have discussed recent “discreet” or covert programs in Cuba operated by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) through private contractors purportedly to promote democracy in Cuba and the latter’s objections to same. Rodriguez in his July 20 speech did not specifically mention such programs, but did so indirectly by objecting to the U.S. seeking “obsolete and unjust goals” (i.e., regime change) by “a mere change in the methods.”

These prior posts have expressed this blogger’s objections to such USAID programs. The New York Times has done the same.

8. Cuba Returning U.S. Fugitives?

Although not specifically mentioned last week by Secretary Kerry or Minister Rodriguez, the issue of Cuba’s returning U.S. fugitives remains a top priority for many in Congress and in the U.S. generally. On July 24 Representative Jerry McNerney (Dem., CA) raised the issue with respect to Charles Hill, who is the sole surviving member of a group who hijacked an airliner in 1971; Hill and two others were fleeing charges relating to the killing of a New Mexico state trooper. McNerney, who was on that hijacked airliner, wants Hill to be returned to the U.S.[20]

9. Nominating and Confirming U.S. Ambassador to Cuba?

With respect to congressional threats to not provide funds for the U.S. embassy in Cuba and to not confirm an ambassador to that country, Kerry observed, “it always matters when Congress is sort of stepping in the way of something being able to . . . be fully effected. . . . [W]hy are they going to do that? Are they going to do that because the [old] policy [purportedly] has been so successful? Are they going to do that because they can show so much change that’s taken place in the last 60 years that this is a crazy path? . . . [It] just doesn’t make sense to prevent our diplomats from carrying the message . . . [of human rights and democracy]. To not be able to meet with more people in Cuba to know what is going on is a huge cutoff of opportunity. So I just think it’s cutting off your nose to spite your face and it’s a shame.”

Kerry also said, “Well, it depends on whom, obviously, the next president is, and we don’t know that now. So you can’t bet on it that way. You have to do what you think is right. You have to do what’s appropriate and make the difference. Nobody can guard against every eventuality of the future. But I believe the President has taken an irreversible step. I do not believe a next president, Republican or Democrat, will change it.”

Conclusion

The time has come for all U.S. citizens to support full normalization of our relations with Cuba!

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[1] Center for Democracy in Americas, Flag Poles to Public Opinion Polls—Is Congress (Finally) Getting the Message (July 24, 2015)

[2] The Senate Committee on July 23 voted, 18 to 12, to lift the “decades-long ban on travel to Cuba . . . . to block enforcement of a law prohibiting banks and other U.S. businesses from financing sales of U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba. . . . [and] to lift restrictions on vessels that have shipped goods to Cuba from returning to the U.S. until six months have passed.” A journalist asserted, “The panel’s votes reflect growing sentiment, even among some GOP conservatives, to ease the five-decade-plus Cuba trade embargo and travel restrictions to the island, which have failed to move the Castro regime toward democracy.” (Assoc. Press, GOP-Controlled Senate Panel Votes to Life Cuba Travel Ban, N.Y. Times (July 24, 2015); Davis, Senate Panel Takes Small Step Toward Easing Travel Restrictions with Cuba, N.Y. Times (July 23, 2015); Shabad, GOP-led Senate panel votes to lift travel ban to Cuba, The Hill (July 23, 2015).) This move in the Senate Appropriations Committee is part of a Democratic Senators’ strategy of attacking House riders in appropriation bills that imperil U.S.-Cuba reconciliation. (Shabad, Dems show their hand in budget poker, The Hill (July 26, 2015),)

[3] Menendez, Menendez Statement on Cuban Embassy Opening (July 20, 2015;    Ros-Lehtinen, Opening of Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C. Harms Our National Security, Says Ros-Lehtinen (July 20, 2015); Diaz-Balart, Embassy in Washington, D.C. Will Represent the Castros, Not the Cuban People (July 20, 2015).

[4] Reuters, Cuban-American Resistance to Diplomatic Thaw Proves Tepid, N.Y.Times (July 21, 2015); Assoc. Press, Poll: Majority of Americans Favor Diplomatic Ties With Cuba, N.Y. Times (July 21, 2015); Reuters Video, Cubans enthusiastic about reopening of U.S. embassy in Havana, N.Y. Times (July 21, 2015).

[5] Klobuchar, News Release: Klobuchar: Opening of Cuban Embassy Marks Next Chapter in Relationship (July 20, 2015).

[6] Engage Cuba, Statement from Engage Cuba on Official Opening of U.S. and Cuba Embassies (July 20, 2015).

[7] Elizalde, John Dinges on Cuba-US relations: ‘I’m optimistic,’ CubaDebate (July 23, 2015)

[8] Gonzalez, Letter to Editor: Effects of Our Cuba Policy, N.Y. Times (July 24, 2015)

[9] Carney, GOPer doubles down on pledge to block Obama on Cuba, The Hill (July 20, 2015).

[10] Dep’t of State, [John Kerry] Interview with Steve Inskeep of National Public Radio (July 20, 2015); Dep’t of State, [John Kerry] Interview with Andrea Mitchell of NBC News (July 20, 2015).

[11] This blogger disagrees with Kerry’s saying Congress had a role in deciding to recognize a foreign government; such a congressional role appears to be unconstitutional in light of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that the president has the exclusive constitutional authority to recognize foreign governments.

[12] Speech presented by Army General Raúl Castro Ruz: ‘We will continue the process of transformations in Cuban society at our own pace, CubaDebate (July 15, 2015.

[13] Editorial, Formal Restoration of Diplomatic Ties with Cuba Is Just a Beginning, N.Y. Times (July 20, 2015).  The Washington Post, on the other hand, continued its opposition to normalization with Cuba with an editorial that focused on the human rights problems in Cuba and urging our diplomats to concentrate on those issues. (Editorial, U.S. diplomats in Cuba would do well to focus on human rights, Wash. Post (July 20, 2015).) As Secretary Kerry emphasized in his remarks, the U.S. continues to concentrate on those issues.

[14] Assoc. Press, Cuban Dissidents Feel Sidelined as Focuses on State Ties, N.Y. Times (July 23, 2015).

[15] A prior post suggested that Cuba’s best argument for terminating the lease was the U.S. operation of the prison/detention facility. However, Dr. Michael Strauss, an expert on this lease, asserts that at least in 2002 Cuba offered to facilitate U.S. transportation of detainees to Guantanamo; such conduct should weaken, if not demolish, such an argument for Cuba. (Strauss, Cuba and State Responsibility for Human Rights at Guantanamo Bay, 37 So. Ill. Univ. L.J. 533, 546 (2013).)

[16] White House, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 7/22/15.

[17] A prior post discussed these issues about the Guantanamo lease and recommended that the parties submit any unresolved disputes about the lease to the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague in the Netherlands.

[18] Assoc. Press, White House Finishing Up Latest Plan for Closing Guantanamo, N.Y. Times (July 22, 2015) Guantanamo, N.Y. Times (July 22, 2015).

[19] Reuters, Some Guantanamo Inmates Would Go to U.S. Under New Plan: Obama Aide, N.Y. Times (July 26, 2015)

[20] Hattem, House Dem demands fugitives in Cuba be returned to the U.S., The Hill (July 24, 2015). A prior post explored the issues regarding extradition under a U.S.-Cuba treaty on the subject and recommended submitting any unresolved disputes about extradition to the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague.

U.S. House Committee Proposes To Impose Major Impediments to U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation

The U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee is in the process of considering a proposed appropriations bill for the U.S. Department of State that would impose monetary restrictions on the U.S. government’s implementation of the Obama Administration’s rapprochement with Cuba.[1]

This intent was mentioned in a June 2nd press release by the House Appropriations Committee regarding its draft FY 2016 appropriations bill for State and Foreign Operations for consideration tomorrow by its State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee.

In addition to funding the State Department and foreign assistance, said the press release, the bill includes a prohibition on using funds for an U.S. embassy or other diplomatic facility in Cuba beyond what was in existence prior to the December 17, 2014, announcement of rapprochement by President Obama. The bill also would restrict funds to facilitate the opening of a Cuban embassy in the U.S., increase democracy assistance and international broadcasting to Cuba and provide direction to the Secretary of State on denying visas to members of the Cuban military and Communist party.

The bill would maintain a requirement that the State Department must notify Congress if it commits to providing assistance to foreign governments that accept Guantanamo Bay detainees and add a requirement for regular reporting to Congress of any negotiations for future detainee transfers.

Representative Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House Majority Leader, said at a news conference, “I think we have been very clear with our challenges with what’s gone on in Cuba, from human rights, from what’s happened there, and we have a difference of opinion with the administration and we have a right to express it.”

Now we wait to see whether this Subcommittee and then the full Committee and the House as a whole pass the bill with these restrictions. The fact that the Republican Majority Leader in the House supports these restrictions does not bode well for defeating these restrictions in the House. Then it will be up to the Senate to delete these restrictions and prevail in conference with the House on such a difference.

U.S. citizens who support normalization and reconciliation with Cuba should press their Senators and Representatives to oppose these provisions of the appropriations bill.

Of course, President Obama could veto any bill with such restrictions after passage by both chambers of Congress. But then the State Department would be left without any appropriated funds to carry out its many functions.

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[1] This post is based upon the following: House App. Comm., Draft Bill Making appropriations for the Department of State, foreign operations, and related programs for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2016, and for other purposes (June 2, 2015); House App. Comm, Press Release: Appropriations Committee Releases Fiscal Year 2016 State and Foreign Operations bill, (June 2, 2015); Reuters, U.S. House Panel Seeks to Ban Funding for U.S. Embassy in Cuba, N.Y. Times (June 2, 2015),

 

Assessment of the Status of U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation

Three recent articles in Cuba’s state-controlled media offer the Cuban government’s assessment of the current status of U.S. reconciliation. The lead article was Cuban journalists’ interview of Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s lead diplomat for the negotiations with the U.S. This post will summarize these three articles [1] and then offer an evaluation of Cuba’s assessment.

Current Status of Negotiations

Several days after the failure of the countries to reach an agreement about re-establishing diplomatic relations, Vidal remained optimistic. In the five months since the December 17th announcement of rapprochement and the mutual release of certain prisoners, she thought there had been progress in the process of normalization of relations. The removal of Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism was to happen by the end of May, as it in fact did on May 29th, and Cuba’s Interests Section in Washington, D.C. has obtained a U.S. banking relation that was necessary for the effective operation of the Section and of a future Cuban embassy. [2]

In addition, for about the last two years, she added, the countries have been discussing and progressing on “technical” matters, including collaboration on infectious diseases, narcotics trafficking, immigration (including the U.S. “wet foot/dry foot” policy under its Cuban Adjustment Act) and their respective enforcement of their own domestic laws with visitors from the other country.

Moreover, said Vidal, the Cuba-U.S. interactions “are respectful, they are professional. We are treating each other as equals, on a foundation of respect and total reciprocity.”

Also supportive of reconciliation of the two countries have been visits to Cuba by U.S. federal and state government officials and U.S. business groups. [3]

 Re-establishment of Diplomatic Relations

Although the parties had not reached agreement on the details of re-establishing diplomatic relations at their negotiations in Washington, D.C. on May 21-22, Vidal suggested that progress had been made on these details, which conceivably could be resolved through direct communications without another negotiating session.

The remaining issues, she said, focused on the future “conduct of diplomats” and “the functioning of a diplomatic mission,” all under the U.N. Charter and the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which both parties recognize as establishing or confirming the international law on the subjects. More specifically, Vidal said, “We must talk about the number of people, what kind of staff” the embassies will have or “what type of rank these officials [are] going to have” and “what privileges and immunities.” [4]

These comments by Vidal (and by Jacobson in the footnote) suggest that the provisions of the Vienna Convention provide flexibility and thus room for negotiation on the details of the functioning of the two countries’ embassies and diplomats. Indeed, that assumption is confirmed by the following relevant provisions of the Convention:

  1. Under Article 7, “the sending State may freely appoint the members of the staff of the mission. In the case of military, naval or air attachés, the receiving State may require their names to be submitted beforehand, for its approval.” However, Article 11 provides “the receiving State may require that the size of a mission be kept within limits considered by it to be reasonable and normal, having regard to circumstances and conditions in the receiving State and to the needs of the particular mission” and also “may equally, within similar bounds and on a non-discriminatory basis, refuse to accept officials of a particular category.”
  1. With respect to diplomatic personnel’s travel and conduct, Article 26 states, “Subject to its laws and regulations concerning zones entry into which is prohibited or regulated for reasons of national security, the receiving State shall ensure to all members of the mission freedom of movement and travel in its territory.” However, Article 41 provides, “Without prejudice to their privileges and immunities, it is the duty of all persons enjoying such privileges and immunities to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State. They also have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that State.” In addition, Article 41 states, “The premises of the mission must not be used in any manner incompatible with the functions of the mission as laid down in the present Convention or by other rules of general international law or by any special agreements in force between the sending and the receiving State.”

Vidal’s concern about the “conduct of diplomats” and “the functioning of a diplomatic mission” was an allusion to Cuba’s objection to certain recent covert or secret or “discreet” programs by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) allegedly to promote democracy and human rights in Cuba and to public seminars for Cuban journalists at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana that will be discussed below.

 Future Issues for Discussion and Resolution

According to the Vidal interview, Cuba has presented to the U.S. the following “preliminary list” of other issues that need to be discussed and resolved for full normalization of relations: (a) the U.S. “lifting of the blockade [embargo];” (b) “the return of the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base;” (c) “an end to illegal broadcasts by Radio and Televisión Marti;” (d) an “end to [U.S.] programs which were originally conceived to promote regime change” in Cuba and which for fiscal year 2016 have requests for funding of $20 million, especially in light of President Obama’s statement at the recent Summit of the Americas that the purpose of U.S. policy regarding Cuba was not regime change; [5] (e) “compensation for our country and our people for the damages caused by U.S. policy [primarily the embargo or blockade] over 50 years; ” and (f) restitution of Cuba’s frozen funds in the U.S.

The U.S., on the other hand, say the Cubans, has identified at least one issue for discussion in the second phase of negotiations: “compensation for the properties [of U.S. nationals] which were nationalized in Cuba at the beginning of the Revolution.” [6]

Moreover, Vidal said, the parties have not yet discussed how these issues would be discussed or resolved: “if a mechanism [such as commissions or groups] will be created;” or whether the issues would be discussed as a whole or separately.

According to the Gomez article in Granma, “the greatest challenge facing Cuba and the United States is establishing a relationship of civilized co-existence based on respect for their profound differences.”

 Conclusion

The Obama Administration and this blogger concur in the need for the U.S. to end the embargo (or “blockade” in Cuba’s view), which requires action by the U.S. Congress. Prior posts have discussed pending bills in the Senate and House of Representatives to do just that and urged U.S. citizens to press both chambers to pass such bills. Another post recommended submitting Cuba’s claim for money damages ($1.2 trillion as of last October) from the embargo/blockade to the Permanent Court of Arbitration where the U.S. can mount counter-evidence and arguments.

With respect to Guantanamo Bay, as discussed in a prior post, Cuba’s continually saying that the U.S. is “illegally” occupying the territory does not make it so and I do not think the U.S. would ever agree to such a legal conclusion. If Cuba continues to assert that contention, as I expect that it will, then the parties should submit the dispute for resolution by the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

The New York Times editorial board and this blogger agree with Cuba’s contention that the U.S. improperly has mounted covert, secret or “discreet” and ill conceived USAID programs to promote regime change in Cuba and that the U.S. should cease any and all such programs. Instead, it should propose joint-programs to the Cuban government for enhancement of Cuban human rights and democracy, and if and only if the Cubans agree, then the programs could proceed. (These issues were discussed in posts of 4/4/14, 4/9, 4/9, 8/12, 8/13 and 8/14).

The U.S. claims for money damages for compensation for Cuba’s expropriation of property owned by U.S. nationals and interests will obviously be discussed, as stated above, and in the likely event that the parties will not agree to the amount of such compensation, that too should be submitted to the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

In this process of working on the many issues that have accumulated over the last 50-plus years, both sides must recognize, as I think they do, the need to build mutual trust during the initial stages of diplomatic relations and, if all goes well, to the possible future relaxation of any restrictions. It does not help the process for bystanders, like Senators Marco Rubio and Bob Menendez, to loft scathing and premature criticisms of the process and to attempt to create new legislative roadblocks and impediments to that process.

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[1] This post is based upon the following: Josefina Vidal discusses recent talks in Washington, Granma (May 26, 2015); Gómez, Seven key points, Granma (May 25, 2015); Cańedo, Cuba-United States after 17D [December 17], Cubadebate (May 25, 2015).

[2] Immediately after the May 21-22 negotiations in Washington, D.C., Assistant Secretary of State Roberta S. Jacobson, the U.S.’ lead diplomat, shared Vidal’s optimism. Jacobson said, “This round of talks was highly productive. . . . We have made significant progress in the last five months and are much closer to reestablishing relations and reopening embassies. . . . [W]e have gotten much closer than we were each time we talk. . . . I remain optimistic that we will conclude, but we still have a few things that need to be ironed out and we’re going to do that as quickly as possible.” On the other hand, according to Jacobson, “I’m also a realist about 54 years that we have to overcome.”

[3] These visits have included congressional trips in January, February (Senate and House), and May, and a visit by a major business delegation in March.

[4] Assistant Secretary Jacobson in her comments after the latest round of negotiations concurred that the Vienna Convention established the parameters for the functioning of the countries’ embassies and conceded that “there [is] a range of ways in which our embassies operate around the world in different countries. We expect that in Cuba, our embassy will operate within that range and so it won’t be unique. It won’t be anything that doesn’t exist elsewhere in the world. There are various circumstances in which embassies operate in somewhat restrictive environments. . . .[W]e have confidence that . . . our embassy will be able to function so that our officers can do their jobs as we expect them to do worldwide, but in highly varying locations around the world. So I have every expectation that it will fall within the range of other places where we operate.”

[5] Cuba correctly points out that USAID, on the one hand, proclaims on its public website that its Cuba programs “Provide humanitarian assistance (basic foodstuff, vitamins and personal hygiene supplies) to political prisoners and their families; Promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as support for independent civil society by strengthening leadership skills and providing opportunities for community organizing; and Facilitate information flow to, from and within the island” and that through four named private “partners” it has spent and will spend a total of $14.2 million for these programs for the three fiscal years ending 9/30/15 and an additional $20 million in Fiscal Year 2016.  USAID, on the other hand, has carried out these programs unilaterally, without the prior knowledge or consent, of the Cuban government. In addition, the U.S. Department of State at its Interests Section in Havana has hosted seminars for journalists and a Public Information Center with a lending library and Internet-enabled computers available to Cubans and others. Assistant Secretary Jacobson said at the May 22nd press conference, “[W]e have continued to request funds from Congress for various activities in support of the Cuban people [and] that those programs have changed over time since they began in 1996” and they might be changed in the future.

[6] A prior post discussed the issue of Cuba’s compensating U.S. owners of property expropriated in the Cuban Revolution. Moreover, the U.S. already has identified at least the following additional issues for further discussion and negotiation: extradition of persons for crimes in their home country (2/24/15 post) and Cuban human rights and democracy (posts of 3/27, 3/28, 3/29, 3/30 and 4/1), and such discussions already have been commenced.