New York Times Urges Normalization of U.S.- Cuba Relations

In an October 12th editorial the New York Times says, “For the first time in more than 50 years, shifting politics in the United States and changing policies in Cuba make it politically feasible to re-establish formal diplomatic relations and dismantle the senseless embargo.” Indeed, in the Times’ opinion, these changes in U.S. policy should be accompanied by ending the U.S. designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism.”[1]

 Editorial’s Commentary on Cuba’s Current Conditions

The Times points out that Cuba has “taken significant steps to liberalize and diversify the island’s tightly controlled economy.” This includes “allowing citizens to take private-sector jobs and own property.” encouraging foreign investment, constructing a major deep-sea port in Mariel with Brazilian capital and negotiating a cooperation agreement with the European Union. Although the pace of reform may seem slow and inconsistent, these are significant changes.

On the other hand, the Times asserts that the Cuban “government still harasses and detains dissidents . . . [and has not explained] the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of political activist Oswaldo Payá.” This is outweighed, however, by the Cuban government’s in recent years having “released political prisoners” and showing “slightly more tolerance for criticism of the [government’s leadership” while loosening travel restrictions “enabling prominent dissidents to travel abroad.”[1a]

Editorial’s Recommendations for U.S. Policy

End Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism.” The Times recommends that the U.S. “should remove Cuba from State Department’s list of nations that sponsor terrorist organizations . . . .   Cuba was put on the list in 1982 for backing terrorist groups in Latin America, which it no longer does. . . . [and Cuba now] is playing a constructive role in the conflict in Colombia by hosting peace talks between the government and guerrilla leaders.” [2]

End the Embargo. Just 16 days before the U.N. General Assembly is expected again to overwhelmingly approve Cuba’s resolution to condemn the embargo, the Times says the U.S should end its embargo of Cuba as it has become “clear to many American policy makers that the embargo was an utter failure.” In addition, now a slight majority of Cuban-Americans in Florida oppose the embargo.

“Fully ending the embargo will require Congress’s approval,” which may be difficult to obtain in this time of a dysfunctional Congress, but the Administration could “lift caps on remittances, allow Americans to finance private Cuban businesses and expand opportunities for travel to the island.”

Ending the embargo, according to the Times, “could also help American companies that are interested in developing the island’s telecommunications network but remain wary of the legal and political risks. Failing to engage with Cuba now will likely cede this market to competitors. The presidents of China and Russia traveled to Cuba in separate visits in July, and both leaders pledged to expand ties.”

In addition, ending the embargo would eliminate Cuba’s using the embargo as an excuse for the Cuban government’s shortcomings.[3]

Restoration of Diplomatic Relations. Says the Times, “Restoring diplomatic ties, which the White House can do without congressional approval, would allow the United States to expand and deepen cooperation in areas where the two nations already manage to work collaboratively — like managing migration flows, maritime patrolling and oil rig safety.[4] It would better position Washington to press the Cubans on democratic reforms, and could stem a new wave of migration to the United States driven by hopelessness.”

Closer ties could also bring a breakthrough on the case of an American development contractor, Alan Gross, who has been unjustly imprisoned by Cuba for nearly five years.[5] More broadly, it would create opportunities to empower ordinary Cubans, gradually eroding the government’s ability to control their lives.

In the opinion of the Times, Restoring relations would improve U.S. “relationships with governments in Latin America, and resolve an irritant that has stymied initiatives in the hemisphere.” The most current example of that irritant is “Latin American governments . . . [insisting] that Cuba, the Caribbean’s most populous island and one of the most educated societies in the hemisphere, be invited” to next year’s Summit of the Americas in Panama over U.S. opposition.

Moreover, “The [Cuban] government has said it would welcome renewed diplomatic relations with the United States and would not set preconditions” while a significant majority of Cuban-Americans favor restoring diplomatic ties, mirroring the views of other Americans.

Reactions to the Editorial 

I concur in all of the Times’ recommendations, but believe it understates the economic reasons for these changes in U.S. policy. Here is a fuller exposition of those economic reasons.

This month Dr. José Ramón Cabañas Rodriguez, the Chief of Mission, Cuban Interests Section, said that the U.S. was running the risk of becoming economically irrelevant to Cuba. Many foreign countries, especially China, and foreign companies are developing good commercial relationships with Cuba and its new private businesses with ordinary commercial terms, unlike the U.S. sales of food and agricultural products under an exemption to the U.S. Helms-Burton Law that requires Cuba to pay in advance and in cash for such products. This U.S. practice is not a good way to encourage future business. Moreover, the new Mariel port and its adjacent business park is attracting interest from companies all over the world, and if all the space in that park is committed to these foreign companies, there will be nothing left for U.S. companies.

The geographical setting of the new Mariel port is strategic in terms of trade, industry and services in Latin America and the Caribbean. On the northern cost of Cuba only 45 km west of Havana, it is located along the route of the main maritime transport flows in the western hemisphere. As the largest industrial port in the Caribbean, it will be equipped with state-of-the-art technology to handle cargo from the larger container ships that will begin to arrive when the expansion of the Panama Canal is completed in December 2015. Those larger ships can carry up to 12,500 containers, triple the capacity of the current ships, and the port’s warehouse capacity is 822,000 containers. Here are some photos of the development of this port.

Mariel PortMariel3

The Mariel project includes highways connecting the port with the rest of the country, a railway network, and communication infrastructure. In the adjacent special zone, currently under construction, there will be productive, trade, agricultural, port, logistical, training, recreational, tourist, real estate, and technological development and innovation activities in installations that include merchandise distribution centers and industrial parks.

The special zone is divided into eight sectors, to be developed in stages. The first involves telecommunications and a modern technology park where pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms will operate. Other sectors include renewable energies, agriculture and food, chemical, construction materials, logistics and rental equipment. For the last four sectors Cuba is currently studying the approval of 23 projects from Europe, Asia and the Americas.

The May 2014 visit to Cuba by a delegation from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce evidences U.S. businesses’ cognizance of these economic and commercial realities. The delegation’s head and the Chamber’s president, Thomas Donohue,  said in a speech in Havana, “For years, the US Chamber of Commerce has demanded that our government eliminate the commercial embargo on Cuba. It’s time for a new approach.” At the conclusion of the trip he said the delegation and Cuban officials had “talked about steps forward that might be taken by both countries” to improve U.S.-‪Cuba relations and that their meetings with President Raul Castro had been “positive.” In addition, the Chamber in congressional testimony has called for an end to the embargo and has supported proposed legislation to end the ban on U.S. citizens traveling to the island and easing restrictions on U.S. exports of farm and medical products.

Another sign of U.S. companies’ interest in Cuba is the visit to the island this past June by Google executives. They said they discussed increasing Cubans access to the Internet and Cuba’s need for improving its Internet technology.

These U.S. economic concerns were highlighted in February 2014 by U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, who earlier had led a visit with four other Senators to Cuba. Leahy said, “Trade with Latin America is the fastest growing part of our international commerce.  Rather than isolate Cuba with outdated policies, we have isolated ourselves.  Our Latin, European and Canadian friends engage with Cuba all that time.  Meanwhile, U.S. companies are prohibited from any economic activity on the island.” Therefore, the Senator said, “It is time – past time – to modernize our policies and the frozen-in-time embargo on Americans’ travel and trade with Cuba that have accomplished nothing but to give the Cuban regime a scapegoat for the failures of the Cuban economy.  Change will come to Cuba, but our policies have delayed and impeded change.  It is time to elevate the voice of a crucial stakeholder:  the American people. Thanks to this [recent public opinion] poll, they are silent no longer. It is time to recognize that U.S. policy toward Cuba has been unsuccessful in achieving any of its objectives.”

Given the limited space for an individual editorial, the New York Times editorial does not discuss any of the other many issues that need to be addressed by the two countries in order to establish truly normal relations. Nor does it discuss how this normalization process can happen or be facilitated.

In contrast, this blog repeatedly has suggested both counties need a neutral third-party with the resources and commitment to act as mediator and has called for such a third-party to step forward to offer such services, rather than waiting for the U.S. or Cuba to make such a proposal unilaterally or for the two countries to agree to such a mediation. [6]

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[1] Interestingly the online version of the editorial is titled “End the U.S. Embargo on Cuba” with a linked Spanish translation while the print version is titled “The Moment to Restore Ties to Cuba.”

[1a] This month Dr. José Ramón Cabañas Rodriguez, the Chief of Mission, Cuban Interests Section, emphasized that Cuba now has term limits on every governmental office, including president: two terms of five years each for a total limit of 10 years, and Raul Castro has announced that this applies to him and thus ends his term as president in 2018. Dr. Cabañas also emphasized that many younger people are taking over many governmental positions and that there has been a decentralization of power to municipalities.

[2] This blog has provided detailed criticism of the ridiculous, absurd, stupid and cowardly rationales provided by the U.S. for such designations in 2010, 2011, 2012 (with supplement), 2013 and 2014.

[3] This blog has provided criticisms of the embargo.

[4] This month Dr. José Ramón Cabañas Rodriguez also said that the U.S. and Cuba in recent years have had bilateral discussions regarding migration, drug trafficking, search and rescue in the Florida straits, stopping oil spills in the Caribbean, airline security measures, scientific exchanges and restoration of direct telephone and mail services. In addition, the U.S. has invited or permitted an invitation to Cuba to attend a Clean Oil Conference in San Antonio, Texas in December 2014.

[5] Although it certainly is debatable whether Mr. Gross was unjustly convicted in Cuban courts for violating Cuban law, I agree that it is in the U.S. national interest to have him released and returned to the U.S. Cuba, however, has argued that the three of the “Cuban Five” still in U.S. prisons should also be released and allowed to return to their homes. At a minimum, I believe that negotiations between the two countries could and should lead to at least a one-for-one exchange with the U.S. President commuting the sentence of one of the three Cubans to time served.

[6] This blog has called for normalization of Cuba-U.S. relations and has criticized the U.S. for insisting on preconditions for holding any talks with Cuba to improve relations. Another blog post was a public letter to President Obama recommending reconciliation with Cuba. In addition, this year a group of 50 prominent Americans issued a public letter to the President urging him to take executive action to expand U.S. involvement with Cuba. Another blog post criticized recent opposition to pursuing such reconciliation.

Continued Bad News about U.S. Policies Regarding Cuba

Bad news about U.S. policies regarding Cuba continues to accumulate. The U.S. refuses to budge from outdated hostility towards the island nation when the U.S., in my opinion, should be pursuing reconciliation with Cuba. One glimmer of hope for rationality on this subject was provided by William M. LeoGrande and Peter Kornbluh in The Nation magazine.

Bad News

First, on September 5, 2014, President Obama issued a terse memorandum to the U.S. Secretary of State to extend for another year or through September 14, 2015, the application of the U.S. Trading with the Enemy Act to Cuba for another year. This statute, which was enacted during World War I in 1917, gives the President authority to prohibit, limit or regulate trade with hostile countries in times of war. It is a statutory foundation on which the entire range of U.S. sanctions toward Cuba rests. In a statement for the Secretaries of State and of the Treasury, Obama labeled the move “in the national interests of the United States” without any explanation.

On September 8th  Cuba denounced this decision. Cuba said the main goal of the embargo or blockade is to cause “harm and suffering” to the Cuban people” despite the embargo’s having been denounced by the U.N. General Assembly on 22 consecutive occasions since 1992.

Second, as anticipated Cuba has announced that on October 28th it will offer at the U.N. General Assembly a new resolution on the need to end the U.S. blockade against Cuba. A Cuban report in support of the resolution stresses the blockade has been described as a genocidal policy by the international community since it prevents the island from acquiring medicines, reagents, spare pieces for medical equipment and other inputs, forcing it to trade with distant markets, thus increasing the costs. The Cuban report also alleges that the embargo/blockade has caused $116.8 billion of damages to the island’s economy.

Once again, this resolution is expected to be overwhelming approved by the General Assembly.

Third, there was good news that Latin American leaders are insisting that Cuban representatives be present at the next Summit of the Americas in Panama in April 2015. Last month the Panamanian Foreign Minister visited Havana to issue such an invitation personally to Cuban President Raúl Castro. Such an invitation is supported by other Latin American countries. As Uruguay’s Foreign Minister, Luis Almago, recently said, “The Latin American countries without exception formulated in the last Summit held in Cartagena that Cuba should be part of the 2015 Summit. Panamá has welcomed this desire and I believe that the invitation sent to Cuba is good news for the inter-American family.”

The U.S., however, is opposed to Cuban attendance. A State Department representative recently made the following rather innocuous comment on the subject:

  • “Panama is the host country for the summit, and as the host country they will make the decisions on invitations to that summit.  I think the invitations in a formal sense have not yet been made. . . [We] have said from the start that we look forward to a summit that can include a democratic Cuba at the table.  We also have said that the summit process, ever since Quebec in 2001, has made a commitment to democracy, and we think that’s an important part of the summit process.  But the decision about invitations is not ours to make, and obviously there’s been no invitations formally issued to the United States and other countries.  And so there is no acceptance or rejection yet called for or made.”

More vigorous opposition was expressed by U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, a Cuban-American and the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In a letter to the Panamanian President, Menendez expressed “dismay” over Panama’s intended invitation. According to Menendez, “Cuba’s participation would undermine the spirit and authority of the Summit of the Americas as a space to reaffirm the principles enshrined on the Charter of the United Nations, the Charter of the Organization of American States, and the Inter-American Democratic Charter, as well as commitments made at past Summits.”

After railing against Cuba as “the hemisphere’s most enduring dictatorship,” Menendez concluded his letter by saying such an invitation “sends the wrong message about the consolidation of democracy in the Americas, will dramatically weaken the democratic credentials of the premier meeting of heads of state in the hemisphere, and ultimately will undermine the validity of the Summits’ declarations.” This proclamation was coupled with perhaps an implied threat of adverse consequences for Panama from the U.S. should Panama proceed with the invitation; Menendez said, “I remain committed to strengthening the partnership between the U.S. and Panama.”[1]

Fourth, Alan Gross, a U.S. citizen, remains in poor health in a Cuban prison after his conviction for violating Cuban laws. In my opinion, it clearly is in the interest of both Cuba and the U.S.to have him released from that prison and returned to the U.S. before he dies and thereby creates another obstacle to improving relations between the two countries. Cuba, however, by all reports is trying to negotiate an exchange of Gross for at one or more of the three remaining “Cuban Five” in U.S. prison.

Frank Calzon, the Executive Director of the Center for a Free Cuba, however, has issued what, in my opinion, is a counterproductive suggestion. He says, “There . . . comes a time when something more [than negotiating through diplomatic channels] is needed. That time is now in Cuba. Only when U.S. government raises the stakes — the political and economic risks facing Cuba — will Alan Gross be allowed to come home, and only then will Havana have to think twice before taking another hostage.

Fifth, in 1976 then U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in the Gerald Ford Administration was in charge of a top-secret group of senior officials that developed plans to conduct, after the 1976 presidential election, air strikes on Cuban ports and military installations and to send Marine battalions to the United States Navy base at Guantánamo Bay to “clobber” the Cubans. The plan also included proposals for a military blockade of Cuba’s shores. Fortunately with Jimmy Carter’s victory in the 1976 election, this plan never was implemented,

Kissinger instigated this planning because he personally was infuriated that Fidel Castro in late 1975 had sent Cuban troops to newly independent Angola to help in its repelling attacks from South Africa and right-wing guerrillas and thereby ignored Kissinger’s behind-the-scenes effort to improve U.S. relations with Cuba.

These revelations are in documents, now available online, that recently were declassified by the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library.

Glimmer of Hope

BackChannel book

William M. LeoGrande (Professor of Government at American University’s School of Public Affairs) and Peter Kornbluh (Director of the National Security Archive’s Cuba and Chile Documentation Projects) have published a new book, Backchannel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana, which I want to read. [2] This book forms the basis for their recent article in The Nation magazine, Six Lessons for Obama on How to Improve Relations with Cuba. Here are those lessons.

  • Even at moments of intense hostility, there have always been reasons and opportunities for dialogue.
  • Cuban leaders instinctively resist making concessions to US demands, but they are willing to take steps responsive to US concerns so long as those steps come at Havana’s initiative.
  • Cuban leaders have had a hard time distinguishing between U.S. gestures and concessions.
  • An incremental approach to normalizing relations has not worked. It is slow and easily disrupted by other events. “Incremental steps do not fundamentally change the relations and, therefore are easily reversed.” Every incremental step gives U.S. opponents of reconciliation the opportunity to obstruct the process. Instead, the “alternative is a bold stroke that fundamentally changes the relationship (even if it doesn’t resolve every issue) and leaves opponents facing a fait accompli. Nixon’s trip to China is the paradigmatic example.”
  • Domestic politics is always an issue on both sides.
  • Cuba wants to be treated as an equal, with respect for its national sovereignty.

 Conclusion

Although I do not have the depth of knowledge of LeoGrande and Kornbluh I endorse their lessons as should be evident from this blog’s many posts on the subject of U.S.-Cuba relations.

Perhaps the bold stroke they mention as the way towards improved relations could be made by a third party—another country or an international organization or a nongovernmental organization—stepping forward with a public announcement of a desire and commitment to serve as a mediator to resolve the many issues between the two countries and inviting them to send representatives at a set time and place to discuss the procedures for such a mediation. Such an initiative, in my judgment, to have any chance of success would have to be by an entity that was neutral, that was respected by both sides and the world at large, that had the resources to be engaged in such a process for a long time and that would not be discouraged by any initial negative responses by either country. This blog made such a suggestion in 2011 and 2012.

Such a mediation would remove the desire of at least the U.S. to avoid taking the first step toward normalization. It also, in my opinion, would be in the national interest of both countries.

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[1] A rebuttal to the Menendez letter was issued by the Center for Democracy in the Americas.

[2] LeoGrande and Kornbluh have been interviewed about the book.

Tom Hayden: Will U.S.-Cuba Normalization Fail Again?

[This is a re-posting of an August 15, 2014, article in The Democracy Journal by Tom Hayden, political activist for social justice, author and Director of the Peace and Justice Resource Center. Article licensing information appears on tomhayden.com (http://tomhayden.com/), which granted permission for this re-posting. Many similar posts have been published on https://dwkcommentaries.com/tag/cuba/.%5D

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On May 12, President Obama held a confidential conversation in the White House with Uruguay’s president, Jose Mujica, the former Tupamaro guerrilla leader. The meeting was a fateful one. Did they discuss Uruguay’s becoming the first Marijuana Republic? Perhaps. Did they discuss the US-Cuba diplomatic impasse of 55 years? Most certainly, because three weeks later at an Organization of American States (OAS) meeting in Uruguay the delegates reaffirmed a decision to officially invite Cuba to a summit in Panama next May.

The Obama administration will have to accept Cuba’s recognition by the OAS this spring or sit sheepishly in isolation. Fifty years ago, the OAS voted 15-4 to terminate all diplomatic relations and trade with revolutionary Cuba. Uruguay was one of the four dissenters in those days, when the revolutionary Mujica was underground, and has not changed its position over time. One doesn’t need gray hairs to observe that the US policy towards Cuba is obsolete and counter-productive. Ten years ago, then state Senator Barack Obama called for diplomatic recognition. Hillary Clinton recently revealed her support for recognizing Cuba as secretary of state. Recent polls, even in Florida, show majorities in favor of normalization. Inner circles in both countries are trying to explore a rapprochement, wary of pitfalls and domestic critics.

The most important recent change in US policy is the lifting of the travel ban on Cuban-Americans visiting the island. As many as 500,000 travel back and forth every year, visiting family, sharing dialogue, spending millions in remittances. On the Cuba side, all agree that Raul Castro has opened significant space for private investment and entrepreneurs once condemned as counter-revolutionary. Businesslike bilateral talks are underway about issues of mutual interest, from currency exchanges to potential oil spills.

The biggest obstacle, from the Cuban view, is a persistent US program of covert “democracy promotion” – or, regime change – aimed at subverting the Cuban government by funding dissident networks in Cuba. “Stupid, stupid, stupid!”, is how US Sen. Patrick Leahy recently described the leaked revelations about a secret social media “Cuban twitter” program called ZunZuneo, after a Cuban hummingbird. One among fifty years of subversion projects, ZunZuneo was launched in 2009 after Obama spoke of building a new relationship. Its sponsor was the US Agency for International Development [AID], even after an AID contractor, Alan Gross, was arrested in Cuba for distributing communications equipment in violation of Cuban law.

Gross, now serving a 15 year sentence, is at the center of the heightened tensions now threatening normalization. Gross, 65, is widely reportedly in poor health and threatening to take his own life if he’s not released by next year. Should that occur, according to one top US official, it would end any hope of Cuba winning the return of one of its agents, Gerardo Hernandez, one of the Cuban Five who were captured in DATE while surveilling anti-Castro Cubans flying into Cuban airspace to drop propaganda materials. When two exile pilots were shot down by the Cubans after warnings conveyed directly to the US government, the Five were imprisoned on conspiracy and espionage charges. Two have served their time in federal prisons and returned to Cuba. Two others will finish their terms shortly, leaving Gerardo Hernandez facing a double life sentence.

Prisoner swaps have occurred before, for example in 1978-79 when President Jimmy Carter and Fidel Castro orchestrated the release of Puerto Rican nationalists who were imprisoned for shooting up the US House of Representatives in 1954. Although the releases were described as unrelated, the Puerto Ricans were pardoned and returned to their island while separately the US received a group of its agents held in Cuban prisons.

It would be logical therefore to swap Gross for Gerardo Hernandez, even if arranged separately, but nothing seems logical about the US-Cuban deadlock. According to interviews with participants, such a staged swap finally was being considered a few weeks ago – until the fiasco of the Obama administration’s trade of five Taliban officials for the return of the American POW, Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl. Republicans, some Democrats and the mainstream media complained that the five-for-one deal favored the Taliban, and then the issue became inflamed by hazy reports that Bergdahl had abandoned his Afghan base and was perhaps “anti-war.”

The Obama team was flat-footed in their response, failing to notify even their top Congressional allies. That  failure violated a legal requirement that Congress be informed thirty days before any such deal, an obstacle that most likely would have killed the swap. But Democratic leaders were furious at not even being informed of the move.

That’s why Alan Gross remains behind bars in Cuba with no deal for his release remotely possible. With the Gross matter unresolved, the entire process of normalization could go off track.

Many in Washington view the Cubans as too stubborn in the Gross case. But the Cubans have been burned by unfulfilled promises and miscommunications many times over the decades, and leaving Gerardo Hernandez behind is unacceptable to them – just as Obama argued that leaving Pfc. Bergdahl behind was out of the question.

The Cuban dilemma is that if anything should happen to Gross they will never see Gerardo back and a rapprochement could slip away. It may sound shocking to many Americans, but the death of Alan Gross in a Cuban prison would serve the interests of some in the anti-Castro Cuban lobby that is deeply threatened by the prospects of normalization. The death of Gross would serve the narrative that Castro’s Cuba operates a heartless gulag, ignoring the many proven examples of Cuban exile terrorism directed from Miami against Cuban civilians, like the 73 Cubans killed in an airline bombing in 1976. Cuban exiles have been a perfect examples of the “cancer on the presidency”, the metaphor once used by Nixon aide John Dean. They were the lead conspirators in the 1972 Watergate break-in, and the 1976 assassinations of Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier and his American assistant Ronnie Moffett, on embassy row in Washington DC. Their violent attacks on Cuba from a Miami enclave are too numerous to document.

Cuba will make its own decision for its own reasons in the Gross case, and may have to make it soon. Since the Obama administration fears any appearance of a quid pro quo in the wake of the Bergdahl fiasco, should Cuba expect nothing in exchange for the release of Gross as a humanitarian gesture? That might depend on the initiative of the many in the US Congress who recognize that it’s long past time for a better relationship with Cuba. They could, for example, communicate private guarantees of White House action. They could try deleting the $20 million in federal funds for “democracy programs” in the wake of the ZunZuneo scandal. They could send a letter to Obama requesting Cuba’s removal from the list of four countries designated as “terrorist” states, which hampers Cuba’s access to financial capital. They could urge the president to lift the ban on Americans traveling to Cuba or spending US dollars there, thus undermining the current embargo. If they can’t do anything in response to a release of Gross, they could watch the prospect of normalization drift away.

Another recent crisis may shadow the US-Cuban process, revealing the complications of the impasse.. A long-planned improvement of relations between Russia, Cuba and Latin America is underway just at the moment when clouds of the Cold War are darkening the horizon over the Ukraine. Russia’s Vladimir Putin has just forgiven ninety percent of Cuba’s $30 billion debt owed to Russia for three decades, fueling the anti-communist suspicions of the Cuban Right. The arrangement is helpful to Cuba’s economy, long embargoed by the US, and adds a new counterweight against the US pressures on Cuba. If initial reports that Russia re-establishing a spy base on the island, that might chill the relationship further. Cuba, of course, has a sovereign right to accept a Russian base, especially as US regime change programs continue.

Whatever the spillover from the Bergdahl affair and the growing Russian-American conflict, however, nothing can stop the clock ticking towards 2015 when Obama has to decide whether to join the Organization of American States in restoring Cuba to equal membership. If that’s what the president’s confidential White House meeting with Uruguay’s Mujica in May was all about, the process of normalization may yet survive the remaining obstacles to resolution after five long decades.

U.S. Stupidity and Cowardice in Continuing to Designate Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism”

On April 30, 2014, the U.S. Department of State issued its annual report on terrorism in the world: Country Reports on Terrorism 2013. A prior post reviewed the report as a whole.

We now examine this report’s designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” [“SST”], i.e., as a country that has “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism.” This post’s analysis is also informed by the U.S.’s similar designations of Cuba in the annual reports on terrorism for 1996 through 2012. Earlier posts analyzed and criticized the reports about Cuba for 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

State Department’s Rationale

The following is the complete asserted justification for the Department’s designation of Cuba for 2013:

  • “Cuba was designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1982.
  • Cuba has long provided safe haven to members of Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).  Reports continued to indicate that Cuba’s ties to ETA have become more distant, and that about eight of the two dozen ETA members in Cuba were relocated with the cooperation of the Spanish government.  Throughout 2013, the Government of Cuba supported and hosted negotiations between the FARC and the Government of Colombia aimed at brokering a peace agreement between the two.  The Government of Cuba has facilitated the travel of FARC representatives to Cuba to participate in these negotiations, in coordination with representatives of the Governments of Colombia, Venezuela, and Norway, as well as the Red Cross.
  • There was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups.
  •  The Cuban government continued to harbor fugitives wanted in the United States.  The Cuban government also provided support such as housing, food ration books, and medical care for these individuals.”

Rebuttal of State Department’s Rationale

On its face alone, this alleged justification proves the exact opposite: Cuba is not a state sponsor of terrorism. Nevertheless, a detailed rebuttal follows.

U.S. Admissions of the Weakness of Its Designation

First, the report itself admits, “There was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups.” This is consistent with past U.S. admissions that there was no evidence that Cuba had sponsored specific acts of terrorism (1996, 1997) and that there “was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups” (2011, 2012, 2013). Similar admissions were made in the U.S. reports for 2005, 2008, 2009 and 2010.

Second, earlier U.S. reports admitted that “Cuba no longer supports armed struggle in Latin America and other parts of the world” (1996, 1997, 1998, 2008, 2009) and that in 2001(after 9/11) Cuba “signed all 12 UN counterterrorism conventions as well as the Ibero-American declaration on terrorism” (2001, 2002, 2003).

Third, the latest report’s Western Hemisphere Overview says the FARC  “committed the majority of terrorist attacks in the . , . Hemisphere in 2013.” There is no mention of Cuba in this overview. The same was said in the report for 2012.

Fourth, there is no mention of Cuba in the latest report’s “Strategic Assessment” that puts all of its discussion into a worldwide context.

Fifth, the latest report makes no allegations against Cuba regarding money laundering and terrorist financing, which was one of the purported bases for the SST designation for 2012. Thus, the U.S. apparently has recognized the weakness of such charges were evident to all, as discussed in this blogger’s post about the prior report and a related post about Cuba’s adoption of regulations on these financial topics.

All of this rebuttal so far is based only on what the State Department has said about this designation since 1996.

In addition, the Cuban government has taken the following actions that strengthen the rebuttal of the designation and that, to my knowledge, the U.S. has not disputed:

  • Cuba publicly has stated that Its “territory has never been and never will be utilized to harbor terrorists of any origin, nor for the organization, financing or perpetration of acts of terrorism against any country in the world, including the [U.S.]. . . . The Cuban government unequivocally rejects and condemns any act of terrorism, anywhere, under any circumstances and whatever the alleged motivation might be.”
  • In 2002, the government of Cuba proposed to the U.S. adoption of a bilateral agreement to confront terrorism, an offer which it reiterated in 2012, without having received any response from the U.S.
  • Cuban President Raul Castro on July 26, 2012 (the 59th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution) reiterated his country’s willingness to engage in negotiations with the U.S. as equals. He said no topic was off limits, including U.S. concerns about democracy, freedom of the press and human rights in Cuba so as long as the U.S. was prepared to hear Cuba’s own complaints. In response the U.S. repeated its prior position: before there could be meaningful talks, Cuba had to institute democratic reforms, respect human rights and release Alan Gross, an American detained in Cuba.

But let us go further.

Cuba As an Alleged Safe Haven for Terrorists

The only remaining asserted basis for the “SST” designation is Cuba’s alleged providing safe haven to individuals with two U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations—ETA (an armed Basque nationalist and separatist group in Spain) and FARC (an armed Colombian rebel group)—and to certain fugitives from U.S. criminal proceedings.

Analysis shows that these charges do not support the SST designation.

            a. ETA

Prior U.S. reports say there were only 20 to 24 ETA members in Cuba, and the latest report says “Cuba’s ties to ETA have become more distant, and . . . about eight of the two dozen ETA members in Cuba were relocated with the cooperation of the Spanish government.” Thus, there are only 12 to 16 ETA members remaining in Cuba, and by now they must be older people who have not participated in any terrorist activities in Spain for many years. They are “side-line sitters.”

Moreover, the 2011 and 2012 U.S. reports state that Cuba is “trying to distance itself” from the ETA members on the island and was not providing certain services to them.

Earlier U.S. reports also reflect the limited nature of the charges regarding ETA. Of the 20 to 24 members previously on the island, the U.S. said, some may be in Cuba in connection with peace negotiations with Spain (2009). In May 2003, the U.s. reported, Cuba publicly asserted that the “presence of ETA members in Cuba arose from a request for assistance by Spain and Panama and that the issue is a bilateral matter between Cuba and Spain” (2003). In March 2010, a U.S. report stated, Cuba had “allowed Spanish Police to travel to Cuba to confirm the presence of suspected ETA members” (2010).

Moreover, in March 2011 the Spanish Ambassador to Cuba told former U.S. President Jimmy Carter that Spain was “not concerned about the presence of members of . . . ETA . . . in Cuba.” Indeed, the Spanish Ambassador maintained that this enhances his country’s ability to deal more effectively with ETA. In fact, the Ambassador added, some ETA members are there at the request of the Spanish government.

At least the last three U.S. reports say that Cuba is providing “safe haven” to the ETA members, but their separate chapters on the legitimate international problem of terrorist safe havens have no mention whatsoever of Cuba.

It also should be noted that there has been some movement towards an understanding to resolve the ETA challenges to the Spanish government. In September 2011 an international verification commission was established to help broker such a resolution, and the next month ETA announced a unilateral cease-fire. More recently, February 2014, that commission announced its corroboration of a partial disablement of ETA weapons. The Spanish government, on the other hand, publicly has refused to negotiate and instead has insisted that ETA admit defeat and surrender unconditionally. In addition, the government still enforces a criminal law against publicly glorifying terrorists or their actions  with April 28th arrests of 21 Spaniards for praising terrorist groups such as ETA and radical Islamists, for encouraging further attacks, and for making fun of victims on social networking sites.

In the meantime, Spain as a member of the European Union is participating in negotiations between the EU and Cuba to establish a Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement without any mention of ETA members being on the island. Recently the parties completed the first round of those negotiations with an understanding that the final agreement will have these four components: political dialogue and governance; cooperation and sectoral policies; the economy and trade; and management of the bilateral relationship. The subject of human rights will remain an issue in the chapter on the Political dialogue and governance.

In summary, I submit, any objective analysis shows that Cuba’s limited connection with a small number of ETA members is no legitimate reason for the U.S. SST designation.

            b. FARC

Most of the reasons for the speciousness of the charges regarding ETA also apply to the charges regarding the Colombian group, FARC.

In addition, the 2008 U.S. report said in July of that year “former Cuban President Fidel Castro called on the FARC to release the hostages they were holding without preconditions. He has also condemned the FARC’s mistreatment of captives and of their abduction of civilian politicians who had no role in the armed conflict.”

There is no indication in the State Department’s reports of the number of FARC members allegedly in Cuba, but for 2009 the U.S. reported that some may be on the island in connection with peace negotiations with Colombia (2009 report).

Moreover, in March 2011 the Colombian Ambassador to Cuba told former U.S. President Jimmy Carter that Colombia was “not concerned about the presence of members of FARC . . . in Cuba.” Indeed, the Ambassador maintained that this enhances their ability to deal more effectively with FARC.

Cuba’s limited connections with the FARC resulted in a September 2012 statement by Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Relations about the then recently-announced peace talks between Colombia’s government and the FARC. It stated that Cuba “has a historical commitment to peace in Colombia and efforts to put an end to [her] . . . political, social and military conflicts.” To that end, the Cuban Government “has made constructive efforts to . . . search for a negotiated solution, always responding to a request from the parties involved and without the slightest influence in their respective positions.” The statement continued. For over a year, at the express request of the Government of Colombia and the FARC, “the Cuban government supported the . . . exploratory talks leading to a peace process,” and as a “guarantor” Cuba participated in these talks. “The Cuban government will continue to . . . [provide its] good offices in favor of this effort, to the extent that the Government of Colombia and the FARC . . . so request.” The Government of Colombia publicly stated its gratitude for Cuban facilitation of such negotiations.

As a result, the last two U.S. reports admit that Cuba has “supported and hosted negotiations between the FARC and the Government of Colombia aimed at brokering a peace agreement between the two sides.” In addition, Colombia’s president has said that support for such negotiations by Cuba and Venezuela has been crucial in helping the two sides to reach agreement on conducting the negotiations.

In May 2013, the two sides announced an agreement to distribute land to small farmers and undertake development projects that would improve rural education and infrastructure that will not take effect until a final peace agreement is reached.

In short, Cuban involvement with some FARC members is not a legitimate basis for the U.S. designation of Cuba as a SST .

            c. U.S. fugitives

There apparently were or are over 70 individuals living in Cuba who are fugitives from criminal charges in U.S. relating to violent acts in the 1970’s purportedly committed to advance political causes, but, as the U.S. has admitted, since at least 2005 Cuba has not admitted any additional U.S. fugitives. In addition, the U.S. also had admitted that in a few instances Cuba has extradited such fugitives to the U.S. (2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009).

One of the U.S. fugitives, William Potts, this year voluntarily returned to the U.S. after serving a 15-year Cuban sentence for the 1984 hijacking of a Piedmont Airlines passenger plane with 56 people aboard in the U.S. and forcing it to go to Cuba. On May 1, 2014, Potts appeared in a U.S. federal court and pled guilty to kidnapping (with a possible life sentence); under a plea agreement, the government dropped an air piracy charge (with a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years). Potts is asking the court to give him credit for the 15 years he already served in a Cuba prison on the same charge. Sentencing is scheduled for July 11th.

None of the other U.S. fugitives apparently is affiliated with any U.S.-designated terrorist organizations. The issue of whether or not they will be extradited to the U.S. is an appropriate issue for bilateral negotiations between the two countries.

In any event, the presence in Cuba of some fugitives from U.S. criminal charges is not a legitimate basis for the U.S. designating Cuba as a SST.

Conclusion

The U.S. designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” is absurd. This conclusion is shared, in less colorful language, at least by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, former President Jimmy Carter, the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, the Center for Democracy in the Americas, the Center for International Policy, the Latin American Working Group, The Atlantic Magazine’s noted national correspondent (Jeffrey Goldberg) and a retired U.S. Army Brigadier General (John Adams).

Not surprisingly the Cuban government comes to the same conclusion. In response to the latest designation, it stated,” Cuba’s Foreign Ministry “energetically rejects the manipulation of a matter as sensitive as international terrorism by turning it into an instrument of policy against Cuba and it demands that our country be definitively excluded from this spurious, unilateral and arbitrary list.” Last year, it said “the only reason Cuba is kept on this list is . . . an attempt to justify the U.S. blockade of our country, as well as the adoption of new measures to limit our financial and commercial transactions, to strangle the Cuban economy and impose a regime which responds to U.S. interests.”

The U.S. itself also has damned the designation by faint praise. In a press briefing about the most recent terrorism report, a journalist pointed out some of the weaknesses of the stated rationale and asked when the U.S. would cancel the designation. The State Department spokesperson refused to speak directly about the purported rationale for the Cuban SST designation. Instead the spokesperson said, “there’s not a routine process by which you re-evaluate the state sponsors. . . . [and the annual terrorism reports just list those on the SST list. It is not]as if every year we look at those and re-evaluate them in some way based on the report.” [1] She added she knew of no plans to remove the SST designation for Cuba.

Whatever legitimate issues are raised by these U.S. reports, I submit, they are appropriate subjects, among many, for the bilateral negotiations that a prior post recommended should occur between the U.S. and Cuba to the end of reconciliation and restoration of normal relations.

In the meantime, this SST designation is ridiculous, absurd, stupid. It can only continue, in this outsider’s opinion, because of the Administration’s political cowardice in facing resistance to an elimination of this designation, especially from influential Cuban-Americans in Congress, especially Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,[2] and Republican Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.[3]

All U.S. citizens should protest this SST designation to President Obama, Secretary of State Kerry, Senator Menendez (and your own Senators), Representative Ros-Lehtinen (and your own Representative).

——————————————–

[1] The State Department also posted this statement on its website. “While there are no statutory triggers for review of a State Sponsor of Terrorism designation, the State Department can review such designations at its discretion. With respect to criteria for rescission, there are two possible pathways to rescission of a State Sponsor of Terrorism designation, in accordance with the relevant statutory criteria. The first path requires the President to submit a report to Congress, before the proposed rescission would take effect, certifying that: (1) there has been a fundamental change in the leadership and policies of the government of the country concerned; (2) the government is not supporting acts of international terrorism; and (3) the government has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.The second path requires the President to submit a report to Congress, at least 45 days before the proposed rescission would take effect, justifying the rescission and certifying that: (1) the government concerned has not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding six month period, and (2) the government concerned has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.

[2] In April 2014, Senator Menendez made a speech on the Senate floor endorsed Cuba’s SST designation while castigating Cuba on all sorts of issues.

[3] Responding to the latest designation, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R., Fla.), said Cuba “continues to pose a national security threat to the United States.” She added that recently “the Castro regime has been responsible for training the ‘colectivos’ in Venezuela that violate human rights and murder innocent civilians and Cuba was caught trying to ship military equipment to North Korea in violation of many United Nations Security Council resolutions [and the] tyranny in Havana is also guilty of harboring terrorists, providing safe haven for American fugitives, and building a sophisticated spy network that seeks to undermine our national security interests at every turn.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. State Department’s Latest Report on Cuban Human Rights

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The U.S. State Department’s just-released 2013 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices’ chapter on Cuba needs analysis.[1]

The Report’s Negative Comments about Cuban Human Rights

The Executive Summary of its chapter on Cuba has a strongly negative tone. It states the following:

  • “Cuba is an authoritarian state led by Raul Castro, who is president of the council of state and council of ministers, Communist Party (CP) first secretary, and commander in chief of security forces. The constitution recognizes the CP as the only legal party and ‘the superior leading force of society and of the state.’ A CP candidacy commission preapproved all candidates for the February uncontested National Assembly elections, which were neither free nor fair. The national leadership that included members of the military maintained effective control over the security forces, which committed human rights abuses against civil rights activists and other citizens alike.
  • In January the government largely dropped travel restrictions that prevented citizens from leaving the island, but these reforms were not universally applied, and authorities denied passport requests for certain opposition figures or harassed them upon their return to the country.
  • The principal human rights abuses were abridgement of the right of citizens to change the government and the use of government threats, extrajudicial physical violence, intimidation, mobs, harassment, and detentions to prevent free expression and peaceful assembly.
  • The following additional abuses continued: harsh prison conditions, arbitrary arrest, selective prosecution, and denial of fair trial. [2] Authorities interfered with privacy, engaging in pervasive monitoring of private communications. The government did not respect freedom of speech and press, severely restricted internet access and maintained a monopoly on media outlets, circumscribed academic freedom, and maintained significant restrictions on the ability of religious groups to meet and worship. The government refused to recognize independent human rights groups or permit them to function legally. In addition, the government continued to prevent workers from forming independent unions and otherwise exercising their labor rights.
  • Most human rights abuses were official acts committed at the direction of the government. Impunity for the perpetrators remained widespread.”

The Report’s Positive Comments about Cuban Human Rights

This Executive Summary paints a bleak picture of Cuban human rights, and I have no doubt that many of these points are legitimate. But I still believe that it overstates the negatives.

Indeed, the Executive Summary failed to acknowledge that the Report itself stated there were “no reports that the [Cuban] government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings . . . [or] politically motivated disappearances.”

In addition, the Report itself stated in Cuba that there was “no societal pattern of child abuse;” that the government operated family counseling centers; that the government “continued to carry out media campaigns” against domestic violence; that the government “actively promoted racial integration and inclusiveness;” that a government resolution “accords persons with disabilities the right to equal employment opportunities and equal pay for equal work;” and that there was no “discrimination officially reported or permitted based on sexual orientation” accentuated by President Castro’s daughter’s promotion of LGBT rights.

With respect to Cuba’s prisoners and pretrial detainees, the Report conceded that they “had access to visitors;” that many “were able to communicate information about their living conditions through telephone calls to human rights observers and reports to family members;” that they “could practice limited religious observance;” and that “the Catholic Church and the Cuban Council of Churches reported access to prisoners during the year, with services offered in prisons and detention centers in most if not all provinces.”

On Cuban religious freedom more generally, the Report merely incorporated by reference the section on Cuba in the Department’s most recent International Religious Freedom Report that this blog previously criticized as understating the extent of religious freedom on the island.[3]

Moreover, the new overall Human Rights Report admits that “religious groups reported greater latitude to express their opinions during sermons and at religious gatherings than in the past;” that “[r]eligious leaders in some cases criticized the government, its policies, and even the country’s leadership without reprisals;” that the “Catholic Church operated a cultural center in Havana that hosted debates featuring participants voicing different opinions about the country’s future, at which well-known dissidents were allowed to participate;” and that the “Catholic Church published two periodicals that sometimes included criticism of official social and economic policies . . . [and] a pastoral letter advocating for political and economic reforms and greater rights for citizens.”

The new overall Report also says that the “Catholic Church received permission to broadcast Christmas and Easter messages on state-run television stations . . . [while] the Council of Churches, the government-recognized Protestant umbrella organization, was authorized to host a monthly 20-minute radio broadcast;” that religious “groups reported the ability to gather in large numbers without registering or facing sanctions;” and that “[r]ecognized churches, [and] the Roman Catholic humanitarian organization Caritas . . . were . . . legally permitted to function outside the formal structure of the state, the [Communist Party], and government-organized organizations.” In addition, there were “no reports of anti-Semitic acts.”

Finally the Report concedes that the Cuban constitution and other laws prohibit abusive treatment of detainees and prisoners and provide alternative sentencing for nonviolent offenders and juveniles as well as rights to seek redress for improper prison conditions and treatment. Cuban law, the Report said, also specifies reasonable procedures for investigations and prosecutions of alleged crimes.

Conclusion

Cuba’s regrettable lapses on human rights, though perhaps understandable in context, should not be a reason for continued U.S. hostility toward the island. A subsequent post will examine what this blogger sees as the implications of this report for U.S. policies regarding Cuba.


[1] A prior post reviewed the Department’s overall summary of global human rights in 2013.

[2] The most recent annual report (May 2013) from Amnesty International makes similar allegations about Cuba as did Human Rights Watch’s April 2013 submission to the U.N. Human Rights Council regarding its Universal Periodic Review of Cuba.

[3] This blog criticized the prior reports on Cuban religious freedom by the State Department and by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. In addition, another post reviewed positive comments on religious freedom from religious leaders with direct experience on the island. Similar points were made on February 27th, 2014, by six Cuban Protestant Christian leaders at a congressional briefing hosted by U.S. Senator Jeff Flake (Republican of Arizona) and Representative Jim McGovern (Democrat of Massachusetts). In response, a strong supporter of current U.S. policies regarding Cuba launched an unwarranted ad hominem attack on these leaders.

 

U.S.’ Absurd Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism”

On May 30, 2013, the U.S. Department of State issued its annual report on terrorism in the world: Country Reports on Terrorism 2012. A prior post reviewed the report as a whole

We now examine this report’s designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism,” i.e., as a country that has “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism.” This post’s analysis is also informed by the U.S.’s similar designation of Cuba in the annual reports on terrorism for 1996 through 2011.[1] Earlier posts analyzed and criticized the reports for 2009, 2010 and 2011.

State Department’s Rationale

The following is the complete asserted justification for the Department’s designation of Cuba for 2012:

  • “Cuba was designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1982. Reports in 2012 suggested that the Cuban government was trying to distance itself from Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) members living on the island by employing tactics such as not providing services including travel documents to some of them. The Government of Cuba continued to provide safe haven to approximately two dozen ETA members.
  • In past years, some members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were allowed safe haven in Cuba and safe passage through Cuba. In November, the Government of Cuba began hosting peace talks between the FARC and Government of Colombia.
  • There was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups.
  • The Cuban government continued to harbor fugitives wanted in the United States. The Cuban government also provided support such as housing, food ration books, and medical care for these individuals.
  • The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has identified Cuba as having strategic anti-money laundering/combating the financing of terrorism deficiencies. In 2012, Cuba became a member of the Financial Action Task Force of South America against Money Laundering, a FATF-style regional body. With this action, Cuba has committed to adopting and implementing the FATF Recommendations.”

Rebuttal of State Department’s Rationale

On its face this alleged justification proves the exact opposite: Cuba is not a state sponsor of terrorism.

Indeed, this and earlier U.S. reports admit that “Cuba no longer supports armed struggle in Latin America and other parts of the world” (1996, 1997, 1998, 2008, 2009), that there was no evidence that Cuba had sponsored specific acts of terrorism (1996, 1997) and that there “was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups” (2011, 2012). Similar admissions were made in the U.S. reports for 2005, 2008, 2009 and 2010. Some also reported that in 2001(after 9/11) Cuba “signed all 12 UN counterterrorism conventions as well as the Ibero-American declaration on terrorism” (2001, 2002, 2003).

I also note that the latest report in its Western Hemisphere Overview says that in “2012, the majority of terrorist attacks within the . , . Hemisphere were committed by the . . . [FARC]. The threat of a transnational terrorist attack remained low for most countries in the Western Hemisphere.” There is no mention of Cuba in this overview.

Nor is there any mention of Cuba in the latest report’s “Strategic Assessment” that puts all of its discussion into a worldwide context.

All of this rebuttal so far is based only on what the State Department has said about this designation since 1996.

In addition, the Cuban government has taken the following actions that strengthen the rebuttal of the designation and that, to my knowledge, the U.S. has not disputed:

  • First, Cuba publicly has stated that Its “territory has never been and never will be utilized to harbor terrorists of any origin, nor for the organization, financing or perpetration of acts of terrorism against any country in the world, including the [U.S.]. . . .  The Cuban government unequivocally rejects and condemns any act of terrorism, anywhere, under any circumstances and whatever the alleged motivation might be.”
  • Second, in 2002, the government of Cuba proposed to the U.S. the adoption of a bilateral agreement to confront terrorism, an offer which it reiterated in 2012, without having received any response from the U.S.
  • Third, Cuban President Raul Castro on July 26, 2012 (the 59th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution) reiterated his country’s willingness to engage in negotiations with the U.S. as equals. He said no topic was off limits, including U.S. concerns about democracy, freedom of the press and human rights in Cuba so as long as the U.S. was prepared to hear Cuba’s own complaints. In response the U.S. repeated its prior position: before there could be meaningful talks, Cuba had to institute democratic reforms, respect human rights and release Alan Gross, an American detained in Cuba.

But let us go further.

1. Cuba As an Alleged Safe Haven for Terrorists 

The first stated basis for designating Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” is its allegedly providing safe havens to individuals associated with two U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations–ETA and the FARC–and to certain fugitives from U.S. criminal proceedings.

                a. ETA

There are only 20 to 24 ETA members in Cuba, and by now they must be older people who have not participated in any terrorist activities in Spain for many years. They are “side-line sitters.”

Moreover, the 2011 and 2012 reports state that Cuba is “trying to distance itself” from the ETA members on the island and is not providing certain services to them.

Earlier U.S. reports also reflect the limited nature of this charge. Of the 20 to 24 members, some may be there in connection with peace negotiations with Spain (2009). In May 2003, Cuba publicly asserted that the “presence of ETA members in Cuba arose from a request for assistance by Spain and Panama and that the issue is a bilateral matter between Cuba and Spain” (2003). In March 2010 Cuba “allowed Spanish Police to travel to Cuba to confirm the presence of suspected ETA members” (2010).

Moreover, in March 2011 the Spanish Ambassador to Cuba told former U.S. President Jimmy Carter that Spain was “not concerned about the presence of members of . . .  ETA . . . in Cuba.” Indeed, the Ambassador maintained that this enhances his country’s ability to deal more effectively with ETA.  In fact, the Ambassador added, some ETA members are there at the request of the Spanish government.

The last two U.S. reports say that Cuba is providing “safe haven” to the ETA members, but their separate chapters on the legitimate international problem of terrorist safe havens have  no mention whatsoever of Cuba.

                b. FARC

Most of the reasons for the speciousness of the charges regarding ETA also apply to the charges regarding the Colombian group, FARC.

In addition, the 2008 report said in July of that year “former Cuban President Fidel Castro called on the FARC to release the hostages they were holding without preconditions. He has also condemned the FARC’s mistreatment of captives and of their abduction of civilian politicians who had no role in the armed conflict.”

There is no indication in the State Department’s reports of the number of FARC members allegedly in Cuba, but some may be there in connection with peace negotiations with Colombia (2009 report).

Moreover, in March 2011 the Colombian Ambassador to Cuba told former U.S. President Jimmy Carter that Colombia was “not concerned about the presence of members of FARC . . . in Cuba.” Indeed, the Ambassador maintained that this enhances their ability to deal more effectively with FARC.

The Cuban connection for Colombia and the FARC resulted in a September 2012 statement by Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Relations about the then recently-announced peace talks between Colombia’s government and the FARC. It stated that Cuba “has a historical commitment to peace in Colombia and efforts to put an end to [her] . . . political, social and military conflicts.” To that end, the Cuban Government “has made constructive efforts to . . . search for a negotiated solution, always responding to a request from the parties involved and without the slightest influence in their respective positions.” The statement continued. For over a year, at the express request of the Government of Colombia and the FARC, “the Cuban government supported the . . . exploratory talks leading to a peace process,” and as a “guarantor” Cuba participated in these talks. “The Cuban government will continue to . . . [provide its] good offices in favor of this effort, to the extent that the Government of Colombia and the FARC . . . so request.”

As a result, as the latest State Department report admits, in November 2012 Cuba has been hosting peace negotiations in Havana between the Colombian government and the FARC seeking to end their long civil war. Colombia’s president said that support for such negotiations by Cuba and Venezuela has been crucial in helping the two sides to reach agreement on conducting the negotiations.

Late last month (May 2013), the two sides announced an agreement to distribute land to small farmers and undertake development projects that would improve rural education and infrastructure that will not take effect until a final peace agreement is reached.

                c. U.S. fugitives

There apparently were or are over 70 individuals living in Cuba who are fugitives from criminal charges in U.S. relating to violent acts in the 1970’s purportedly committed to advance political causes, but pursuant to a 2005 Cuban government statement, no additional U.S. fugitives have been permitted on the island. In a few instances Cuba has extradited such fugitives to the U.S. (2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009).

One of the U.S. fugitives, William Potts, recently has asked to return and face trial in the U.S. In 1984, he  hijacked a Piedmont Airlines passenger plane with 56 people aboard in the U.S. and forced it to go to Cuba. There as a Black Panther and self-styled revolutionary, he dreamed of receiving military training in Cuba that he could use against the U.S. government. This did not happen. Instead he was tried and convicted in Cuba and served a  13.5 years in a Cuban prison plus 1.5 years of supervised release for the hijacking.

None of these fugitives apparently is affiliated with U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations. The issue of whether or not they will be extradited to the U.S. is an appropriate issue for bilateral negotiations between the two countries. But, in my opinion, it is not a legitimate basis for designating Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism.”

2. Cuba’s Alleged Financial System Deficiencies

The other asserted ground in the latest U.S. report for the designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” was new for 2011 and is reiterated (in modified form) for 2012. It is Cuba’s having been identified by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) [2] as “having strategic AML/CFT [Anti-Money Laundering/Combating the Financing of Terrorism] deficiencies.”

Last year’s U.S. criticism of Cuba on this issue went on to say, “Despite sustained and consistent overtures, Cuba has refused to substantively engage directly with the FATF.  It has not committed to FATF standards and it is not a member of a FATF-style regional body.”

In 2012, however, Cuba joined such a regional body (the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering in South America (GAFISUD)), and  FATF recently said Cuba has “developed an action plan with the FATF” with “written high-level political commitment to address the identified deficiencies.”

The State Department’s recent report comes close to admitting this significant change in 2012. In short, the U.S. admits that Cuba is addressing its alleged financial system deficiencies.

Moreover, as of February 2013, Cuba is not on the FATF’s list of “bad guys” (my phrase).  The two at the bottom of that list are Iran and North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), for which FATF calls for all states to apply counter-measures. The other 13 on this list are ones that have strategic AML/CFT deficiencies, but have not made sufficient progress in addressing the deficiencies or have not committed to an action plan developed with the FATF to address the deficiencies: Ecuador, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Kenya, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sao Tome and Principe, Syria, Tanzania, Turkey, Vietnam and Yemen.

But all of these facts about Cuba’s financial system, in my opinion, do not support designating Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism.” If it were, then 13 countries on the “bad guy” list should be added to the U.S. list of “State Sponsors of Terrorism.” (Of the 15 countries on the “bad guy” list, only Iran and Syria are now U.S.-designated “State Sponsors of Terrorism.”)

Moreover, as noted above, the U.S. terrorism reports have indicated there was no evidence of Cuban financing of terrorism in the covered years. In addition, some of the reports reference Cuban laws permitting the tracking, blocking, or seizing terrorist assets (Cuba’s Law 93 Against Acts of Terrorism and Instruction 19 of the Superintendent of the Cuban Central Bank) (2005, 2006, 2007, 2008). In addition, in its response to last year’s U.S. report, Cuba has asserted that it “regularly provides precise, truthful information to the appropriate United Nations bodies charged with addressing these issues and others related to confronting terrorism.”

The whole FATF issue raised in the U.S. terrorism report, in my opinion, is a “red herring.”

Conclusion 

In summary, the U.S. designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” is absurd. This conclusion is shared, in less colorful language, at least by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, the Center for Democracy in the Americas, the Center for International Policy, the Latin American Working Group, former President Jimmy CarterThe Atlantic magazine’s  noted national correspondent (Jeffrey Goldberg) and a retired U.S. Army Brigadier General (John Adams).

Not surprisingly the Cuban government comes to the same conclusion. It said last year, “the only reason Cuba is kept on this list is exposed as an attempt to justify the U.S. blockade of our country, as well as the adoption of new measures to limit our financial and commercial transactions, to strangle the Cuban economy and impose a regime which responds to U.S. interests.”

Whatever legitimate issues are raised by these U.S. reports, I submit, they are appropriate subjects, among many, for the bilateral negotiations that a prior post recommended should occur between the U.S. and Cuba to the end of reconciliation and restoration of normal relations.


[1] Cuba has been so designated since March 1982.The U.S. terrorism reports for 1996 through 2012 are those that are accessible on the U.S. State Department’s website. I would appreciate detailed comments from anyone with knowledge about the reports for 1982-1995 although they are less relevant due to the passage of time.

[2] FATF “is an inter-governmental body established in 1989 by the Ministers of its Member jurisdictions. [Its] . . . objectives . . .  are to set standards and promote effective implementation of legal, regulatory and operational measures for combating money laundering, terrorist financing and other related threats to the integrity of the international financial system. The FATF is therefore a ‘policy-making body’ which works to generate the necessary political will to bring about national legislative and regulatory reforms in these areas.” In other words, it apparently is a voluntary international organization, not one established by a multilateral treaty. FATF currently has 34 member jurisdictions (or only about 18% of the U.N. member states) plus 2 regional organizations (the European Council and the Gulf Co-Operation Council) representing most major financial centers in all parts of the globe. Starting in 1990,”FATF has developed a series of Recommendations that [it claims] are now recognised as the international standard for combating of money laundering and the financing of terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”

Letter to President Obama Regarding Cuba

On August 13, 2012, I sent the following letter regarding Cuba to U.S. President Barack Obama.[1]

Many of the United States’ policies regarding Cuba are not in our national interest and should be changed. I write specifically about (1) the U.S. embargo of Cuba, (2) the U.S. designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism,” (3) the U.S. denigration of religious freedom on the island and (4) our refusal to enter into negotiations with Cuba on the broad range of issues that have accumulated since the Cuban Revolution of 1959 without Cuba’s satisfying various U.S. preconditions.

1. U.S. Embargo of Cuba

The U.S. embargo of Cuba, in my opinion, is an out-of-date relic of the days of U.S. hostility toward, and fear of, the Cuban Revolution. Today Cuba poses no serious threat to the U.S. Cuba’s regrettable human rights violations are understandable and could be more successfully addressed in bilateral negotiations. Normalizing relations, including rescinding the embargo, would be in the economic interest of the U.S. by creating export and investment opportunities for U.S. businesses. Moreover, ending the embargo would be in the overall interests of the U.S., especially with respect to our relations with other countries in the Western Hemisphere. This is examined more fully in my blog posts: “The U.S. Should Pursue Reconciliation with Cuba,” (May 21, 2001); and “U.N. General Assembly Again Condemns  U.S. Embargo of Cuba,” (Oct. 25, 2011),

The U.S. should end its embargo of Cuba.

2. U.S. Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism”

The U.S. State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2011 (July 31, 2012), assert two grounds for designating Cuba as a “State Sponsor:” (a) its being an alleged safe haven for certain ETA and FARC terrorists and U.S. fugitives; and (b) its alleged financial system deficiencies relating to money laundering and financing of terrorism.

Neither ground withstands serious analysis as shown by my blog posts: “Yet Another Ridiculous U.S. Designation of Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism,” (Aug. 7, 2012) and “Additional Thoughts on the Ridiculous U.S. Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism,” (Aug. 9, 2012).

The U.S. should rescind this designation.

3. U.S. Denigration of Cuban Religious Freedom

The U.S. State Department’s 2011 Report on International Religious Freedom (July 30, 2012), had many positive things to say about the status of this important freedom in Cuba in 2011 that is confirmed by my personal experience with the subject. The report also has certain negative comments on the subject with which I do not disagree.

The resulting question, I believe, is “Is the glass half empty or half full?” I believe it is more than half full of this important freedom. The U.S. needs to remember that Cuban society and history is very different from the U.S. and humbly recognize that those differences do not mean that its religious freedom is fundamentally flawed.

My real complaint here is with the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s unrealistic overstatement of the negative aspects of Cuban religious freedom and its continued placement of Cuba on its Watch List.

My views on this subject are fully explained in my blog posts, “Cuban Religious Freedom According to the Latest U.S. Report on International Religious Freedom,” (Aug. 3, 2012) and “The Cuban Revolution and Religion,” (Dec. 30, 2011).

The U.S. should cease denigrating Cuban religious freedom and instead explore through respectful bilateral negotiations whether there are ways for the U.S. to assist Cuba in further expansion of such freedom on the island.

4.  U.S. Negotiations with Cuba

In addition to the issues discussed in this letter, there are many others that need discussion, negotiation and resolution. They include Cuban compensation for expropriated property in the Cuban Revolution, enhancement of human rights on the island, emigration and immigration between the two countries, the status of Cuba’s lease of Guantanamo Bay to the U.S., the continued U.S. imprisonment of four of the so called “Cuban Five,” Cuba’s continued imprisonment of Alan Gross, the status of U.S. fugitives in Cuba, exploration and drilling for oil in the Caribbean Sea between the two counties, Cuba’s re-entry into the Organization of American States and re-establishment of full diplomatic relations.

Perhaps such negotiations would be assisted by having the two countries agree to the appointment of a respected international mediator/conciliator to supervise the negotiations.

Cuba repeatedly has said that it is willing to engage in respectful negotiations with the U.S. on all issues. Most recently on July 26th (Revolution Day marking the 59th anniversary of the Cuban uprising against former President Batista), Cuban President Raul Castro in a public speech reiterated his country’s willingness to engage in negotiations with the U.S. as equals. He said no topic was off limits, including U.S. concerns about democracy, freedom of the press and human rights in Cuba so as long as the U.S. was prepared to hear Cuba’s own complaints. (Assoc. Press, Cuban president Raúl Castro willing to hold no-limits talks with America, Guardian (July 26, 2012); Assoc. Press, Cuba–An Impromptu Invitation, N.Y. Times (July 27, 2012).)

The U.S. should accept Cuba’s offer to engage in broad-scale negotiations over all issues between the two countries.


[1] Copies of the letter were sent to Hillary Rodham Clinton, United States Secretary of State; David Benjamin, United States Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator for Counterterrorism; Suzan Johnson Cook, United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom; Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, Chair, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom; John F. Kerry, United States Senator and Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Amy Klobuchar, United States Senator from Minnesota; Al Franken United States Senator from Minnesota; and Keith Ellison, United States Representative from Minneapolis, Minnesota.