U.S. State Department’s Second Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom

On July 16-18, 2019, the U.S. State Department hosted its Second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. The opening event was held at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. to emphasize the “importance of promoting religious freedom and protecting religious minorities.” The closing event, also in Washington, D.C. was at the National Museum of African American History and Culture and co-hosted by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.[1]

First Day Activities[2]

After welcoming remarks by Secretary Pompeo and Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, the participants discussed the opportunities and challenges for promoting and defending religious freedom globally. Through a series of plenary sessions, they discussed the necessary building blocks and emerging trends in advancing religious freedom, as well as how religious freedom, international development, and humanitarian aid can work together to advance mutual interests.

Second Day Activities[3]

 There were three separate discussions led by topical experts, civil society actors, religious leaders, academics and working-level government officials on topics such as best practices for religious freedom advocacy; limitations in forming, registering and recognizing religious communities; challenges facing religious minorities; combatting the rise of anti-Semitism and anti-Islamic behavior; countering violent extremism; religious freedom and national security; religious freedom and economic development; cultural heritage protection for religious sites; religious minorities and humanitarian crises; international development aid and religious freedom; and mobilizing faith leaders around peace and development goals.

At the end of the second day, the White House held a brief reception for some of the Ministerial attendees. One was Cuban Pastor Mario Felix Lieonart, who said, “Pastor, Ramón Rigal, and his wife are imprisoned in Cuba.  Please pray for them and help the people in Cuba. Two other Cuban pastors who were invited for the Ministerial “are not here because the government in Cuba would not give them permission to come. They are Moisés de Prada, president of the Assemblies of God, and Álida León, president of the new Evangelical League of Cuba, which said, “The intention to attend [the Ministerial] was made public, it was a proof of transparency and truth, we have nothing institutionally to hide.” Lieonart added, I am here because I am a refugee in United States.  Thank you for your hospitality for me.” In response to a question from President Trump, Rev. Lieonart said, “Raúl Castro is continuing in power because he is the First Secretary of the Communist Party.  And the new President is not really Cuba’s leader. Castro is the real leader.”

Third Day Activities[4]

Senior government and international organization representatives focused on: identifying global challenges to religious freedom; developing innovative responses to persecution on the basis of religion; and sharing new commitments to protect religious freedom for all. Survivors or close relatives of those who suffered persecution due to their religion or beliefs shared their stories. Government delegations were encouraged to announce new actions and commitments they will take to protect and promote freedom of religion or belief.

There also were the Keynote Address by Secretary Pompeo, an Address by Vice President Mike Pence and Closing Comments by Ambassador Brownback. The highlights of those speeches follow.

Secretary Pompeo’s Keynote Address

The attendance aat this Ministerial “proves that religious freedom matters to literally billions of people all around the world. Look around you. Religious freedom isn’t just a Christian concern, a Jewish concern, a Muslim concern, a Buddhist concern, a Hindu concern, or a humanist concern. It’s all of our concern; it is everyone’s concern.”

“Here in the United States, our Declaration of Independence clearly states that certain rights are unalienable. There are liberties to which all of mankind, in all places, at all times are entitled. Religious freedom is one of them. Our Constitution puts it in the very first amendment.”

“Thomas Jefferson, our first Secretary of State, [helped author the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom,“ which states, ‘Almighty God hath created the mind free… No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry, or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief.’”

“The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms religious freedom or belief as a universal right.”

“Today, we come together to turn our convictions into action. And there’s not a moment to lose. A shocking 83 percent of the world’s population live in nations where religious freedom is either threatened or denied entirely.”

Perhaps you’ve heard the recent news of the Cuban evangelical leaders who registered for this very event to come here to Washington but were not permitted to come. . . . [T]he Cuban government prevented them from . . . [coming] to express their religious freedom. Such is the thuggish, intolerant nature of the current regime in Havana.” (Emphasis added.)

The Secretary then commented about violations of religious freedom in Iran, Burma and China.

“{L]ookl at what we’ve accomplished as a result of last year’s ministerial.”

“The State Department has established an International Religious Freedom Fund – a multi-donor fund that provides rapid assistance to victims of persecution all throughout the world. It’s already serving good, and its purpose around the world is expanding. . . . We encourage more countries to step up to the plate and donate and contribute to this important cause that can do so much good all around the world.”

Here are other examples. The “United Arab Emirates they hosted the first regional conference in February on promoting religious tolerance in their curricula. . . .  {T]he nations of the Organization of American States unanimously put forth their first ever statement, introduced by the United States, affirming religious freedom in our hemisphere. Along with the United Kingdom, the United States co-sponsored a groundbreaking conference this past November on meeting the needs of vulnerable religious minorities in conflict zones. And several governments have created special ambassadors specifically charged with advancing religious freedom in their country and around the world.”

The State Department “recently commissioned a group called the Commission on Unalienable Rights to generate a serious debate about human rights that extends across party lines and across national borders. The commission’s purpose is very simple. We’re not out to discover new principles but to ground our discussion of human rights in America’s founding principles, and religious freedom is certainly amongst them.”

“In 2019, the State Department introduced mandatory training on international religious freedom for every one of our Foreign Service Officers. We’ve, so far, trained nearly 12,000 employees on how to identify religious discrimination and persecution and how to work closely with faith leaders all across the world. It is incredibly important that our diplomats be our ambassadors for this first freedom.”

“We should all consistently speak out about abuses of religious freedom. It’s the least that we can do. Today, we have nine statements of concern on countries and issues all teed up. I would ask each of you to sign them in solidarity.”

“Albania, Colombia, Morocco, and the Vatican will host regional conferences in the near future.”

“Thanks to Poland’s efforts, the UN General Assembly has named August 22nd as a special day to remember the victims of religious persecution. Please commemorate it in your home countries too. And we should all keep making the case at the United Nations and in other bodies that religious freedom should be a priority for that institution.”

“But governments alone can’t properly tackle this problem. Our countries need to support civil society groups.”

“I’m very proud to announce today a new effort that’s intended to help us in our goals across the board. We will create the International Religious Freedom Alliance. We hope that this new vehicle – the first every international body devoted to this specific topic – will build on efforts to date and bring likeminded countries together to confront challenges of international religious freedom. . . . it will defend the unalienable rights for all human beings to believe – or not to believe – whatever it is they choose.”

“You all came here because you understand that it is our responsibility to help them. We’re all in this fight together. You can be sure that the United States will be out front defending the God-given, unalienable right of all human beings to worship as they choose.”

Vice President Pence’s Remarks

“Since the earliest days of our nation, America has stood for religious freedom.  Our first settlers left their homes and all they knew for the chance to, as they said, “Begin the world [all] over again.”  They carved protections for religious liberty into the founding charters of our nation and our very earliest laws.  And after our independence was won, the crafters of America’s Constitution enshrined religious liberty as the first of our American freedoms.”

“Our Declaration of Independence proclaims that our precious liberties are not the gift of government, but rather they’re the unalienable rights endowed by our Creator.  Americans believe that people should live by the dictates of their conscience, not the diktats of government.”

“Free minds build free markets.  And wherever religious liberty is allowed to take root, it is prosperity and peace that ultimately flourish as well.”

“And as we tell even our closest allies, those who reject religious freedom are more likely to breed radicalism and resentment; that it can sow those seeds of violence and it can too often cross borders. And those who deny religious freedom to their own people often have few qualms denying those rights to others.”

“The list of religious freedom violators is long; their oppressions span the globe.” It includes Burma, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Iran, Burma, China, North Korea, Eritrea, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, China and North Korea.”

“While religious freedom is always in danger in authoritarian regimes, threats to religious minorities, sadly, are not confined to autocracies or dictatorships.  The truth is, they can and do arise in free societies, as well, not from government persecution, but from prejudice. This is the evil of Anti-Semitism.”

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[1] State Dep’t, Secretary Pompeo Convenes Second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom (June 25, 2019); State Dep’t, Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom Convenes Opening and Closing Events (July 12, 2019). The first Ministerial in July 2018 was discussed in a prior post.

[2] State Dep’t, Day 1: 2019 Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom (July 16, 2019).

[3] State Dept, Day 2: Track 1: 2019 Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom (July 17, 2019); State Dept, Day 2: Track 2: 2019 Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom (July 17, 2019); State Dept, Day 2: Track 3: 2019 Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom (July 17, 2019); The White House, Remarks by President Trump in Meeting with Survivors of Religious Persecution (July 17, 2019); Cuban Pastor Denounces Cuban Violations of Religious Freedoms to President Donald Trump, Diario de Cuba (July 19, 2019); The regime prevents two of Cuba’s leading evangelical leaders from leaving the country, Diario de Cuba (July 14, 2019); We have nothing to hide’: the Evangelical League of Cuba, Diario de Cuba (July 19, 2019).

[4] State Dep’t, Day 3: 2019 Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom (July 18, 2019); State Dep’t, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo Keynote Address at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom (July 18, 2019); The White House, Remarks by Vice President Pence at the 2nd Annual Religious Freedom Ministerial (July 18, 2019). The prior day the Secretary made a similar speech for the presentation of international religious freedom awards. (State Dep’t, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo at the Reception for the Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom and Presentation of the International Religious Freedom Awards (July 17, 2019).

 

 

 

Cuban Reactions to New U.S. Anti-Cuba Measures

Naturally the Cuban government and its officials condemned the new U.S. measures. Other Cubans voiced various opinions on this subject.

Cuban Government[1]

“Today, the 17th of April, we celebrate another anniversary of the start of the military aggression at the Bay of Pigs (Playa Girón) in 1961. The decisive response of the Cuban people in defense of the Revolution and socialism resulted in the first military defeat of imperialism in the Americas, in just 72 hours. Oddly enough, it is the date chosen by the current government of the United States to announce the adoption of new aggressive measures against Cuba and to reinforce the application of the Monroe Doctrine.”

“The Revolutionary Government rejects in the most energetic of terms the decision to permit hereinafter that action is taken in US courts against Cuban and foreign entities outside the jurisdiction of the United States, and that of intensifying the impediments for entry into the United States of the executives of companies that legally invest in Cuba and their relatives in properties that were nationalized.  These are actions envisaged in the Helms-Burton Act that were rejected a long time ago by the international community, that the Cuban nation has repudiated from the time when they were enacted and applied in 1996, and whose fundamental aim is to impose colonial protection over our country. Cuba also repudiates the decision to return to limiting the remittances which Cuban residents in the US send to their families and next of kin, to restrict even further travel by American citizens to Cuba and to apply additional financial penalties.”

“It energetically rejects the references that in Cuba attacks have been produced against American diplomats. They would like to justify their actions, as usual, using lies and blackmail. On last 10 April, General of the Army Raúl Castro declared: ‘Cuba is blamed for all evils, using lies in the worst style of Hitlerian propaganda.’To cover up and justify the evident failure of the sinister coup d’ét maneuver of designating, from Washington, a usurper “president” for Venezuela, the government of the United States resorts to slander.”

“It accuses Cuba of being responsible for the soundness and steadfastness shown by the Bolivarian and Chavista government, the people of that country and the civilian-military union which defends the sovereignty of their nation. It brazenly lies when it declares that Cuba keeps thousands of troops and security forces in Venezuela, influencing and determining what is happening in that sister country.”

“It has the cynicism of blaming Cuba for the economic and social situation besetting Venezuela after years of brutal economic penalties, conceived and applied by the United States and a number of allies, precisely to economically suffocate the population and to cause its suffering. Washington has gone to the extremes of pressuring the governments of third countries to attempt to persuade Cuba to withdraw this presumed and unlikely military and security support and even for it to stop providing backing and solidarity to Venezuela. The current US government is known, in its own country and internationally, for its unscrupulous tendency of using lies as a resort in domestic and foreign policy matters.   This is a habit coinciding with the old practices of imperialism.”

“Still fresh in our minds are the images of President George W. Bush, with the support of the current National Security Advisor John Bolton, lying shamelessly about the supposed weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, a fallacious argument that served as an excuse to invade that country in the Middle East.”

“History also records the blowing up of the battleship “Maine” in Havana and the self-provoked incident in the Gulf of Tonkin, episodes that served as excuses to unleash wars of pillage in Cuba and Vietnam. We should not forget that the United States used fake Cuban insignia painted on the planes that carried out the bombing runs as a prelude to the aggression at the Bay of Pigs, in order to cover up the fact that they were really American planes”

“It must remain clear that US slander rests upon complete and deliberate lies. Its intelligence services possess more than enough proof, surely more than any other State, to know that Cuba has no troops nor does it participate in any operations of a military or security nature in Venezuela, even though it is a sovereign right of two independent countries to decide how they shall cooperate in the sector of defense, something that does not correspond to the United States to question. That accuser keeps over 250,000 soldiers on 800 military bases abroad, some of these in the American hemisphere.”

“Their government also knows that, as Cuba has publicly and repeatedly declared, the nearly 20,000 Cuban collaborators, over 60 % of them women, are in that Latin American nation to fulfill the same tasks that approximately another 11,000 Cuban professionals are fulfilling in 83 nations:   contributing to provide basic social services, fundamentally in the area of health, a fact that is acknowledged by the international community. It must remain absolutely clear that steadfast solidarity with the sister Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is Cuba’s right as a sovereign State and it is also a right that forms part of the tradition and essential principles of the foreign policy of the Cuban Revolution.”

“No threats of reprisals against Cuba, no ultimatum or blackmail by the current US government is going to divert the internationalist conduct of the Cuban nation, despite the devastating human and economic damages caused our people by the genocidal blockade.”

“It behooves us to remember that Mafioso threats and ultimatums were already being used in the past when Cuba’s internationalist efforts were supporting the liberation movements in Africa while the US was backing the scurrilous regime of apartheid. They would have liked Cuba to renounce its commitments of solidarity with the peoples of Africa in exchange for promises of pardon, as if the Revolution had anything whatsoever that needed to be pardoned by imperialism.”

“At that time, Cuba rejected blackmail, as it rejects it today, with utmost disdain.”

“Last April 10th, General of the Army Raúl Castro recalled: ‘In 60 years of facing aggression and threats, we Cubans have demonstrated the iron-clad will to resist and overcome the most difficult of circumstances. Despite its immense power, imperialism does not have the capacity to crush the dignity of a united people, who are proud of their history, and of the freedom they have attained by the strength of so much sacrifice.’”

“The Government of Cuba calls on all members of the international community and on the citizens of the United States to stop the irrational escalation and the policy of hostility and aggression of the government of Donald Trump. With complete justification, year after year the Member States of the United Nations have called practically unanimously for the end to this economic war.  The peoples and governments of our region must see to it that, for the benefit of all, the principles of the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace prevail.”

“Last April 13th, the President of the Councils of State and Ministers Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez declared: ‘Cuba continues to trust in its strength, its dignity and also in the strength and dignity of other independent and sovereign nations.  But it also continues to believe in the American people, in the Land of Lincoln, that they should be ashamed of those who act on the fringes of universal law on behalf of the entire American nation.’ Once again, Cuba repudiates the lies and threats, and reiterates that its sovereignty, independence and commitment to the cause of the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean are not negotiable.”

“Two days away from commemorating the 58th anniversary of the Playa Girón Victory, a historical point in national geography where the mercenary forces sent by imperialism tasted the dust of defeat, the Cuban Revolution reiterates its firm determination to face up to and prevail over the escalated aggression of the United States.”

Cuban Government Officials[2]

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel responded defiantly with these tweets: ‘Cubans do not surrender, nor do we accept laws about our destinies that are outside the Constitution. In Cuba we Cubans will not change the attitude towards those who hold the sword against us.’ He added,  ‘No one will rip the (Fatherland) away from us, neither by seduction nor by force, We Cubans do not surrender.’’”

In another tweet, Diaz-Canel said,  ‘Title III is not worse than the I and II, which are in the portfolio of actions against all the people of Cuba, Cubans do not give up.”

Also initially responding with tweets was Cuba Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez. He “called it an attack on international law, Cuban sovereignty and countries that would do business with the island: Aggressive escalation by US against Cuba will fail. Like at Giron, we will be victorious.’”

On state television, Rodriguez said, ‘”We will always be willing to have a dialogue based on absolute respect, but if the U.S. government has chosen a confrontational path we will not hesitate to defend the gains of the revolution at any cost.’” According to Rodríguez, ‘These decisions of Washington are an aggressive escalation of the US against Cuba that ‘will fail.’”

In another tweet, he also repudiated the ‘aggressive discourse, calumnies and measures to intensify the blockade announced by the US National Security Adviser [Bolton that] constitute a new aggression against the people of Cuba, the American people, Cuban emigration and sovereign states.’”

.”’But now there are nefarious interests in the government of that country, an increasingly monopoly, more McCarthyist policy against Our America and against our people, based on true slander.’”

“’We, of course, will not give up one bit of our principles. We will continue our solidarity support to the sister Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and we will follow the course that our people, now in a free and universal referendum, has confirmed towards an increasingly just, advanced, increasingly inclusive Cuban socialism and the foreign policy of the Revolution Cubans will continue to be the same, as the Constitution confirms. Our principles are unchangeable and invariable.’”

  Other Cubans[3]

The most cogent opinion on these issues was provided by Rafael Rojas, who is one of Cuba’s most distinguished historians with many publications and the holder of university positions around the world. He wrote the following 10 objections to what he calls “the Bolton Doctrine” in Madrid’s El Pais.

  • “1. In the conflict between the United States, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, the symbolic dimension weighs heavily. From Washington, Havana, Caracas, Managua and, of course, Miami, these differences are assumed as inertias or continuations of the Cold War. But in most of the world this is not the case: the conflict between communism and anti-communism is marginal on the planetary level. To have announced the new policy in Miami, on the anniversary of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961, is to persist in that local, archaic entanglement that favors Manichaeism and the binary visions of contemporary politics.”
  • “ The announcement of the new measures from Miami, by Bolton, reinforces a double and harmful subordination: that of the policy towards Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba to the sphere of the “national security” of the United States and that of the Washington agenda for those countries to the electoral cycles in the state of Florida.”
  • “ The sanctions against the three regimes adopt a totally unilateral sense at a time when various global institutions and diplomatic initiatives (OAS, UN, Lima Group, International Contact Group of the European Union, Prosur, Uruguayan and Mexican chanceries) try to arrange multilateral actions to face the Venezuelan and Nicaraguan crisis.”
  • “ During the last two decades, the US Department of State has maintained a differentiated policy for Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua. It is evident that these regimes act coordinated in a permanent strategy of promoting authoritarian alternatives to democracy in the hemisphere, but, at the same time, the differences between the three political systems, the peculiarities of their respective relations with civil society and society are indisputable [as are] the opposition and nuances of its international commitments and Government priorities.”
  • “The definition of these regimes as “troika of tyrannies” is not only a theoretical simplification, that almost the whole of Latin America and the European Union, plus the UN, China and India, Africa and the Middle East do not share, but an incentive to the deployment of a greater diplomatic and military collaboration of those governments among themselves and with their allies in the world, especially Russia and Iran.”
  • “The application of Titles III and IV of the Helms-Burton Act, passed in 1996, had been postponed by all the governments of the United States until now: the second by Bill Clinton, the two by George W. Bush and the two of Barack Obama [and the two??? by Trump]. The reason was always a mixture of recognition of the global unpopularity of the embargo against Cuba and the complications that could arise in relations with Europe, Canada, Latin America and Asia, in case of demands to companies from those regions that operated in Cuba with confiscated properties. The thousands of cases of Cuban-American citizens that will be presented before the US justice system, in addition to being complicated and burdensome, will generate costs at the international level, as already observed with the European Union’s appeal to the World Trade Organization (WTO).”
  • “Restrictions on American tourist trips and remittances from Cuban-Americans from the United States will not only affect the income of Miguel Diaz Canel’s government: they will also damage the small market sphere that attempts to articulate within the island. The new policy towards Cuba returns to the old paradox of the republican right to promote capitalism, closing the external ways by which capitalism can reproduce itself.”
  • “The sanctions against the Central Bank of Venezuela continue the punitive strategy undertaken so far by the Trump administration against the financial networks of the Government of Nicolás Maduro. Who announces that measure in Miami is the same one that recently proposed the sending of 5,000 soldiers to the border between Colombia and Venezuela and the same government that already openly complains about the inability of its ally, President Ivan Duque [Colombia’s current president], to reduce drug trafficking.”
  • “ The measures against the Government of Daniel Ortega also try to affect the sources of income of the Sandinista State, through the freezing of funds from the Corporate Bank of Nicaragua and the official investment and export agency, ProNicaragua, headed by the son of the presidential couple, Laureano Ortega Murillo. So far, this type of personalized sanctions has not yielded results in Cuba or Venezuela, in terms of promoting greater economic and political openness. Daniel Ortega, a leader so discredited by the Latin American left, gains prestige with the Bolton doctrine.”
  • “ The purpose of the unilateral US offensive against Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua is not, apparently, a flexibilization but a breakdown of those regimes. But for that to happen, unlikely scenarios would have to occur: a military uprising in Venezuela, a coup in Nicaragua or a popular uprising in Cuba. In a possible conjuncture of simultaneous economic asphyxia in the three countries should not rule out a greater cohesion against the external enemy, despite the greater or lesser wear and tear of their respective leaders. Not even the collapse of one of those regimes would necessarily mean the collapse of the other two.”

Another article critical of the new U.S. measures in tones similar to those  expressed by the Cuban government and its officials appears in Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba.

On the other hand, some Cubans disagreed with the Cuban government’s lengthy and vitriolic attacks on the new U.S. measures. These articles were an editorial in Diario de Cuba and one of its articles by Elias Amor; this Internet periodical is published in Madrid, Spain and says that “the  views expressed are not those of any government, nor of any corporate entity other than K&M Productions, LLC, of Boston, Massachusetts.”

A surprising opinion on the new U.S. policies was voiced by Antonio Rodiles, a member of the Cuban opposition, when saying he supported the new U.S. restrictions. “”Pressure is needed. In what other way will it be possible to stop a regime like this? I do not see another Possibility.”

Conclusion[4]

 The lengthy declaration by the Cuban Government was to be expected. Criticism of the official position of the Cuban Government on these issues from  Dario de Cuba was also to be expected as it always publishing such pieces and makes one wonder whether it secretly is funded by the U.S. government.

Most persuasive are the 10 reasons advanced by respected historian Rafael Rojas. I agree that the speech by John Bolton seems erroneously anchored in the views of the Cold War, which has been over for some time; that the new measures seem derived from U.S. political concerns about the state of Florida in national politics; that the new measures totally ignore multilateral efforts to solve the many issues in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua; that the new U.S. measures encourage these three countries to seek help from Russia and Iran; that the previous U.S. waiver of enforcement of provisions of the Hale-Burton Act were based on realistic assessments that the related U.S. embargo of Cuba was rejected by virtually every country in the world whereas enforcement of those provisions of the Act would generate costs at the international level, including tension with U.S. allies; that the restriction of U.S. remittances and travel to Cuba will harm emerging Cuban free enterprise; and that the true purpose of these new U.S. measures does not appear to encourage actions consistent with U.S. interests, but instead to cause a breakdown of their regimes.

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[1] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Declaration of the Revolutionary Government of Cuba: The Cuban revolution reiterates its firm determination to face the escalation in aggression by the United States (April 18, 2019).

[2] Solomon, Reichmann & Lee (AP), Trump Cracks Down on Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, Wash. Post (April 17, 2019); DeYoung, Trump administration announces new measures against Cuba, Wash. Post (April 17, 2019); Reuters, Trump’s Cuba Hawks Try to Squeeze Havana Over Venezuela Role, N.Y. Times ( April 17, 2019).

[3] Rojas, Ten Objections to the Bolton doctrine, El Pais (April 18, 2019); Capote, Let’s talk Cuban about the Helms-Burton, Granma (April 17, 2019); Editorial, The Helms-Burton Act and the responsibility of the Cuban regime, Diario de Cuba (April 18, 2019); Amor, Will the Cubans be impoverished by the Helms-Burton Law?, Diario de Cuba (April 20, 2019).

[4] As always corrections and opinions about this post are welcome. Are there any other significant Cuban statements on these new U.S. measures? If so, add them in comments to this post.

Cuba’s Current Dire Economic Situation 

In the midst of the flurry of recent commentary about the new U.S. policies regarding  Cuba, including this blog’s current exploration of the many facets of those policies, it is easy to ignore or forget Cuba’s very difficult current economic situation, which only will be made worse by these U.S. policies. Here is some information about that economy.[1]

According to the Associated Press, “After two decades of relative stability fueled by cheap Venezuelan oil, shortages of food and medicine have once again become a serious daily problem for millions of Cubans. A plunge in aid from Venezuela, the end of a medical services deal with Brazil and poor performances in sectors including nickel mining, sugar and tourism have left the communist state $1.5 billion in debt to the vendors that supply products ranging from frozen chicken to equipment for grinding grain into flour, according to former Economy Minister José Luis Rodríguez.”

“That economy is afflicted by deep inefficiency and corruption. Many state employees demand bribes to provide services to the public. Others spend only a few hours a day at their jobs, spending the rest of their time doing informal private work or selling supplies stolen from their office, warehouse or factory. Despite a highly educated and generally well-qualified workforce, Cuba’s industrial sector is dilapidated after decades of under-investment. The country produces little of value on the global market besides rum, tobacco and the professionals who earn billions for the government working as doctors, teachers or engineers in friendly third countries.”

“The agricultural sector is in shambles, requiring the country to import most of its food. Economy Minister Alejandro Gil said Saturday that Cuba would spend $5 billion on food and petroleum products this year.”

“Over the last 20 years, many of those billions came from Venezuela’s socialist government, which has deep ties to Cuba’s and sent nearly 100,000 barrels of oil daily for years. With Venezuela’s economic collapse, that has roughly halved, along with deep cutbacks in the economic relationship across the board. And the news has been bad in virtually every other sector of the Cuban economy. Nickel production has dropped from 72,530 metric tons in 2011 to 50,000 last year, according to Rodríguez, the former economics minister. The sugar harvest dropped nearly 44%, to a million tons. The number of tourists grew only 1%, with many coming on cruise ships, a relatively unprofitable type of visitor. Overall GDP growth has been stuck at 1% for the last three years.”

“Meanwhile, under agreements Castro struck to rehabilitate Cuba’s creditworthiness, the country is paying $2 billion in debt service to creditors such as Russia, Japan and the Paris Club.”

“Stores no longer routinely stock eggs, flour, chicken, cooking oil, rice, powdered milk and ground turkey, among other products. These basics disappear for days or weeks. Hours-long lines appear within minutes of trucks showing up with new supplies. Shelves are empty again within hours.”

“No one is starving in Cuba, but the shortages are so severe that ordinary Cubans and the country’s leaders are openly referring to the ‘special period,”’the years of economic devastation and deep suffering that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba’s Cold War patron.”

“‘It’s not about returning to the harshest phase of the special period of the ’90s,’ Communist Party head Raul Castro said last week. ‘But we always have to be ready for the worst.’”

“Two days later, President Miguel Díaz-Canel said cutbacks were necessary because: ‘This harsh moment demands we set clearly defined priorities in order to not return to the worst moments of the special period.’’”

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[1] Assoc. Press, Shortages Hit Cuba, Raising Fears of New Economic Crisis, N.Y. Times (April 18, 2019).

 

 

Washington Post Criticizes New Cuban Constitution

On March 1, a Washington Post editorial criticized the new Cuban constitution.[1]

First, the editorial expressed surprise over the “share of eligible voters who cast “no” ballots or stayed home.”   Indeed, the total number of registered voters who voted “No” or stayed home or who submitted spoiled ballots was 1,853,545 or 21.4% of the electorate while 78.6% voted “YES.” [2]

In contrast, the Post continued,  the last constitutional vote in 1976, when Castro had established a totalitarian state, 99.02 percent voted yes.” This change, argued the Post, constituted ‘unmistakable signs that hundreds of thousands of people have lost their fear of the authorities and lost their patience with a decaying economic and political system.”

Second, the new constitution “is the handiwork of the authoritarian clique that stumbles on after Castro’s death. The key decisions were made by a commission appointed by former president Raúl Castro, who still leads the Communist Party, and has amendments by the rubber-stamp parliament.”

Third, the “new constitution does not allow any oxygen into the closed political system, saying the [Communist Party]  is the “superior driving force of the society and the State.” Indeed, Article 5 states, “The Communist Party of Cuba, unique, Marxist, Fidelist, Marxist and Leninist, organized vanguard of the Cuban nation, based on its democratic character and the permanent bonding with the people, is the superior political force leader of the society and of the State.” 

Fourth, “[g]enuine political competition — the essence of democracy — was absent. The state-run news media ignored those who would advocate a “no” vote, and in the final day, nervous about the outcome, the authorities blacked out the digital newspaper 14ymedio, run by the dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez, who had openly called for a “no” vote on social media. José Daniel Ferrer García, a tough-minded activist and regime opponent, was detained after sitting in a park in Santiago de Cuba with a hand-lettered sign that proclaimed, ‘No.’” [3]

Fifth, “The new constitution is hardly earth-shattering. It recognizes private property for a “complementary role in the economy,” but continues to enshrine a “socialist economic system based on ownership by all people of the fundamental means of production as the primary form of property as well as the planned direction of the economy.” For most Cubans, this reality is a dystopia reminiscent of the Soviet Union, with shortages of eggs, butter and other basics.”

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[1] Editorial, Cubans are losing their patience—and their fear, Wash. Post (Mar. 1, 2019).

[2] See Cuban Citizens Approve New Constitution, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 26, 2019)/  This total of 21.4% may be overstated as some qualified voters may not have voted even though they supported the constitution or spoiled their ballots for innocent reasons.

[3] See Cuba Arrests Opponents of Proposed New Constitution, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 14, 2019); posts listed in “Cuban Bloggers” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries.com—Topical; CUBA

Another U.S.-Cuba Dispute Over Human Rights

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

Secretary Pompeo’s Letter[1]

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

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

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

 Cuban Responses[4]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Russia Is Identified as Suspect of Harming U.S. Diplomats in Cuba 

On September 11, 2018, NBC News exclusively reported that U.S.intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia is “the main suspect” for causing the medical problems of the 26 U.S. diplomats stationed in Cuba. In addition, NBC reports that “the victims [also] include multiple CIA officers, at least one member of the U.S. military, and representatives of other agencies.”[1]

This conclusion is reported to be “is backed up by evidence from communications intercepts, known in the spy world as signals intelligence.” This prompted the U.S. investigation to turn to “the Air Force and its directed energy research program at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, where the military has giant lasers and advanced laboratories to test high-power electromagnetic weapons, including microwaves. . .  Although the U.S. believes sophisticated microwaves or another type of electromagnetic weapon were likely used on the U.S. government workers, they are also exploring the possibility that one or more additional technologies were also used, possibly in conjunction with microwaves.”

NBC News further reports that although “the U.S. believes sophisticated microwaves or another type of electromagnetic weapon were likely used on the U.S. government workers, they are also exploring the possibility that one or more additional technologies were also used, possibly in conjunction with microwaves, officials and others involved in the government’s investigation say.”

On August 14, “the U.S. convened officials from the Energy Department, the National Institute of Health, the State Department and the Canadian government at the Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore, California, according to State Department medical officials. U.S. experts attending a neurotrauma conference in Toronto were linked in by videoconference as [University of Pennsylvania] physicians presented their most recent technical findings. But the summit ended with no new medical revelations”

“The strong U.S. suspicion that Russia is behind the incidents means that Cuba’s government is no longer considered the likely culprit. Still, officials did not rule out the possibility that the Cuban intelligence services may have offered the Russians some level of cooperation or tacit consent.”

Nevertheless, NBC News said the evidence “is not yet conclusive enough, however, for the U.S. to formally assign blame to Moscow.”

Indeed, on September 11, Heather Nauert, the State Department’s spokesperson, in response to a journalist’s question, said the following: [2]

  • “We have seen . . . a firestorm of reports out there today assigning blame to the Russian Government according to some unnamed U.S. Government officials. I would caution you all to be very skeptical of those officials’ statements right now. As you should be aware, the investigation continues into what has caused. . . – what we have called health attacks on our State Department employees who have been working in Cuba. There is no known cause, no known individual or group believed to be responsible at this time. We are looking into it. Our position has not changed. The investigation is ongoing. We have not assigned any blame and we continue to look into this, so I want to be very clear about this.”

Relevant to the NBC News report is the increase of Cuba-Russia cooperation on various matters in recent years. A noted U.S. expert on Cuba, Professor William LeoGrande, provided the following summary of the recent Cuba-Russia rapprochement:[3]

  • In 2000 “when Putin “succeeded Boris Yeltsin as Russian president,” Putin  “began rebuilding Russia’s global influence by repairing relations with traditional allies.” The first step was “Putin’s 2000 trip to Havana, which resulted in expanded trade deals. . . .”
  • “Raul Castro in 2009 visited Moscow during which the two governments signed 33 cooperative agreements, including $354 million in credits and aid for Havana.“
  • In July 2014, Putin visited the island again and agreed to forgive 90 percent of Cuba’s $32 billion in Soviet-era debt, with the remainder to be retired through debt-equity swaps linked to Russian investments.
  • When Raul Castro returned to Moscow in 2015, Russia had signed agreements to invest in airport construction, the development of the Mariel port and metallurgy and oil exploration, and had also agreed to lend Cuba 1.2 billion euros—about $1.36 billion at the time—to develop thermal energy plants.”
  • In September 2016, Russia announced a new package of commercial agreements in which it will finance $4 billion in development projects focusing on energy and infrastructure, and Cuba will begin exporting pharmaceuticals to Russia.

According to LeoGrande, “Both Havana and Moscow refer to their relationship as a ‘strategic partnership’ that has diplomatic and military components. Diplomatically, Cuba supports Moscow’s positions on Ukraine, Syria and NATO expansion. Militarily, Russia is refurbishing and replacing Cuba’s aging Soviet-era armaments. Russian naval vessels visit Cuban ports, and Russia reportedly wants to establish a new military base on the island.”

Conclusion

Interestingly as of the early morning of September 12, this blogger has not found any published reactions to the NBC News report from Russian or Cuban governments. Nor has there been other reporting or comments from U.S. officials or U.S. or international news organizations.

Be on the outlook for reactions to the NBC News report.

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[1] NBC News, U.S. Officials suspect Russia in mystery ‘attacks’ on diplomats in Cuba, China (Sept. 11, 2018); Reuters, Russia the Main Suspect in U.S. Diplomats’ Illness in Cuba: NBC, N.Y. Times (sept, 11, 2018).

[2] U.S. State Dep’t, Department Press Briefing—September 11, 2018.

[3] Professor LeoGrande ‘s Comments on the Strengthening Cuba-Russian Relationship, dwkcommentaries (Jan. 3, 2018). See also Trump’s Hostility Towards Cuba Provides Opportunities for Russia, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 19, 2017).

New Cuba Constitution Draft Recognizes Right to Private Property

Since Cuba’s election of a new president this past April, an official commission has been drafting a new constitution for the island nation. Recently, the commission presented the draft to the 7th Plenum of the Central Committee of the Party and the Council of State, in which each of its precepts was “deeply analyzed.” On July 21-23 the draft will be presented for approval to Cuba’s national assembly (the National Assembly of the People’s Power), and later this year to the people in a national referendum.[1]

On July 14, an official website of the Communist Party of  Cuba, published a summary of the current draft of the new constitution that said it recognized both a free market and private property. More specifically, it said the draft “ratifies constitutionally the importance of foreign investment for the economic development of the country, with due guarantees. Regarding private property on the land, a special regime is maintained, with limitations on its transmission and the preferential right of the State to its acquisition through its fair price.”

On the other hand, this summary reaffirmed that state enterprise and central planning are the pillars of the economy and that the Communist Party would remain as the dominant political force.

Cuba expert Luis Carlos Battista at the Washington-based Center for Democracy in the Americas cautioned that the acknowledgement of private property did not mean the government wanted to give private enterprise a greater role. Last week, he noted, the government published a set of regulations tightening control on the self-employed and hiking possible fines to include property confiscation.[2]

Other changes in the draft are the creation of the position of prime minister as the head of government, making the president the head of the national assembly with a limit of two consecutive five-year terms and creating a new presumption of innocence in the criminal justice system. It will maintain religious freedom.

In addition, the draft expressly calls for “the promotion of respect for international law and multipolarity among States; the repudiation of all forms of terrorism, particularly State terrorism; the rejection of the proliferation and use of nuclear weapons, of mass extermination or others with similar effects; the protection and conservation of the environment and the fight against climate change, as well as defends the democratization of cyberspace and condemns its use for subversive and destabilizing purposes of sovereign nations.”

The proposed new constitution, according to Cubadebate, was made necessary by “the experience of the years of the revolution [since 1959], the new directions drawn from the implementation of the guidelines for Economic and Social Policy approved by the Sixth Party Congress [in 2011], the objectives emanating from the First National Conference [of the Party in 2012], as well as the decisions adopted in the Seventh Party Congress [in 2016].”[3]

The commission is headed by Raúl Castro while one of its members is the new president, Miguel Diaz-Canel.

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[1]  Know the main aspects of the Draft of the new Constitution, Cubadebate (July 14, 2018); Reuters, Communist-Run Cuba to Recognize Private Property in New Constitution, N. Y. Times (July 14, 2018); Assoc. Press, Cuba to Reshape Government With New Constitution, N.Y. Times (July 14, 2018).

[2]  See these posts and comments on dwkcommentaries.com: Cuba announces New Regulations for Private Business (July 10, 2018); More Details on New Cuban Regulations on Private Business (July 11, 2018);  Comment: Yet More Details on New Cuban Regulations on Private Business, (July 13, 2018).

[3] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Raúl Castro Discusses Cuba-U.S. Relations in Report to Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (April 18, 2016); Raúl Castro Discusses Scio-Economic Issues in Report to Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (April 19, 2016); Conclusion of Seventh Congress of Communist Party of Cuba (April 20, 2016).