Congressional Proposal for Extradition of U.S. Fugitives in Cuba 

On December 13 U.S. Representative Peter King (Rep., NY) and eight cosponsors filed a proposed House resolution calling for the extradition of U.S. citizens in Cuba who are fugitives from the U.S. That proposal will be summarized and analyzed below.

Contents of the Proposed Resolution[1]

The preamble of the proposed resolution, which was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, recited that  “more than 70 fugitives from the United States, charged with offenses ranging from hijacking to kidnapping to drug offenses to murder, are believed to be receiving safe harbor in Cuba,” including William Morales and Joanne Chesimard. It also mentioned that the U.S. and Cuba have a bilateral extradition treaty from 1905 and 1926 and that “it is imperative that Cuba abide by its extradition treaty with the United States and immediately extradite or render to the United States those legally indicted or convicted of serious criminal offenses in the United States.”

Therefore, the proposed resolution called for the following:

  • “the immediate extradition or rendering to the United States of convicted felon William Morales and all other fugitives from justice who are receiving safe harbor in Cuba in order to escape prosecution or confinement for criminal offenses committed in the United States;”
  • the U.S. urging “the international community to continue to press for the immediate extradition or rendering of all fugitives from justice that are receiving safe harbor in Cuba;” and
  • “the Secretary of State and the Attorney General to continue to press for the immediate extradition or rendering of all fugitives from United States justice so that they may be tried and, if convicted, serve out their sentences.”

Analysis of the Proposed Resolution

The resolution may make for good publicity for these representatives, but it is a waste of time because the terms of the U.S.-Cuba extradition treaty bar such extraditions, because the U.S. repeatedly has called for Cuba to make these extraditions and because Cuba repeatedly has denied such requests under the very terms of the extradition treaties recited in this resolution.

  1. The Legalities of Extradition[2]

First, extradition is the legal process “by which one country (the requesting country) may seek from another country (the requested country) the surrender of a person who is wanted for prosecution, or to serve a sentence following conviction, for a criminal offense.

In the U.S., international extradition is treaty-based, meaning that the U.S. must have an extradition treaty with the requested country in order for the latter to consider the request for extradition. U.S. extradition practice is based almost entirely on individually negotiated bilateral treaties, which the U.S. brings into force following Senate advice and consent to ratification. The U.S. is currently a party to 109 such treaties. While most of these treaties currently in force have been negotiated in the last 30-40 years, many of the treaties still in force are quite old, in some cases dating back to the 19th Century.

For many reasons, however, not every request for extradition results in a fugitive being delivered to the requesting country. Sometimes the requesting state doesn’t know where a fugitive is located and makes multiple contingency requests for provisional arrest and extradition. In other cases, fugitives learn they are being sought and flee or go into hiding. Even following a fugitive’s arrest, court proceedings and appeals can last a very long time and can be delayed by fugitives’ exercising all possible rights to challenge extradition.

In addition, most such treaties provide specific bases on which extraditions can be delayed or denied. The obligation to extradite under a bilateral extradition treaty is not absolute and protections are included in the treaty to accommodate both U.S. and foreign interests. While the exact terms of such treaties result from country-specific negotiations and thus vary somewhat among the treaties, there are the following typical types of qualifications on the obligation to extradite:

  • An almost universal treaty exception, known in international extradition law as the “non bis in idem” doctrine, is similar to the double jeopardy doctrine under U.S. domestic law. It provides that extradition will be denied when the person has already been either acquitted or convicted for the same offense in the country from which extradition is requested, or, in some instances, in a third country.
  • A similarly widely adopted exception is where the crime at issue is a “political offense” (a term which can cover treason, sedition or other crime against the state without the elements of any ordinary crime, or which under U.S. law can cover ordinary crimes committed incidental to or in furtherance of a violent political uprising such as a war, revolution or rebellion, especially when such crimes do not target civilian victims) or a “military offense” (a crime subject to military law that is not criminalized under normal penal law).
  • U.S. treaties also typically provide that extradition may be denied if the request is found to be politically motivated. Some of our treaties provide that extradition may be denied if the request was made for the primary purpose of prosecuting or punishing the person sought on account of race, religion, nationality or political opinion.
  • Perhaps the highest profile exceptions to the obligation to extradite are bars or limitations in some countries on the extradition of their own nationals.   The U.S., however, makes no distinction between extraditing its own nationals and those of other countries and advocates that all countries adopt the U.S. policy due to the ease of flight and the increasingly transnational nature of crime.
  • Some U.S. treaties provide that if the offense for which surrender is sought is punishable by death under the laws in the country requesting extradition but not in the country holding the fugitive, extradition may be refused unless the requesting country provides assurances that the death penalty will not be imposed or, if imposed, will not be carried out. Sometimes these provisions are included in the treaty at the insistence of our treaty partner, because many countries in Europe and elsewhere oppose the death penalty. Sometimes the U.S. insists on such provisions in order to retain sufficient flexibility to ensure that the U.S. is not obliged to surrender persons for execution for relatively less serious crimes.

Older U.S. treaties that were negotiated before the late 1970’s contained a list of offenses that would be covered. In newer U.S. treaties, however, this list approach has been replaced by the concept of “dual criminality,” usually providing that offenses covered by the treaty include all those made punishable under the laws of both parties by imprisonment or other form of detention for more than one year, or by a more severe penalty (such as capital punishment). Such a formulation obviates the need to renegotiate the treaty to provide coverage for new offenses, strikingly exemplified by the currently evolving area of cyber-crime. Indeed, to avoid having the dual criminality analysis applied too narrowly, most treaties provide further guidance, including that an offense is extraditable whether or not the laws in the two countries place the offense within the same category or describe it by the same terminology. A major goal in the U.S. current ambitious treaty-negotiating program is to negotiate new, modern treaties that eliminate the “list” approach in favor of dual criminality treaties.

U.S.-Cuba Extradition Treaties[3]

The issues posed by the new proposed House resolution are governed by the “Treaty between the United States and Cuba for the mutual extradition of fugitives from justice,” which entered into force on March 2, 1905. Under this treaty, as amended, each country shall grant extradition of persons covered by Article I for crimes covered by Article II, as amended and expanded by Articles I and II of the Additional Extradition Treaty between the parties, which entered into force on June 18, 1926 (44 Stat. 2392; TS 737).

The persons covered by Article I are “persons who, having been charged as principals, accomplices or accessories with or convicted of any crimes or offenses specified in the following article, and committed within the jurisdiction of one of the high contracting parties, shall seek an asylum or be found within the territories of the other: Provided that this shall only be done upon such evidence of criminality as, according to the laws of the place where the fugitive or person so charged shall be found, would justify his or her apprehension and commitment for trial if the crime or offense had been there committed.”   However, under Article V of the treaty, “Neither of the contracting parties shall be bound to deliver up its own citizens under the stipulations of this Treaty.”

The long list of crimes covered by Article II, as amended, includes the following: (1) “Murder, comprehending the offenses expressed in the Penal Code of Cuba as assassination, parricide, infanticide and poisoning; manslaughter, when voluntary; the attempt to commit any of these crimes.” (2) “Arson.” and (3) “Robbery, defined to be the act of feloniously and forcibly taking from the person of another money, goods, documents, or other property, by violence or putting him in fear; burglary; housebreaking and shopbreaking.”

Under Article VI of the original treaty, however, the requested country is not obligated to extradite someone when the offense is of “a political character.” The exact language of this provision states, “A fugitive criminal shall not be surrendered if the offense in respect of which his surrender is demanded be of a political character, or if it is proved that the requisition for his surrender has, in fact, been made with a view to try or punish him for an offense of a political character.” (Emphasis added.)

The only limitation on this exception is in Article VI itself, which states, “An attempt against the life of the head of a foreign government or against that of any member of his family when such attempt comprises the act either of murder, assassination, or poisoning, shall not be considered a political offense or an act connected with such an offense.” (Emphasis added.)

Moreover, Article VI states, “If any question shall arise as to whether a case comes within the provisions of this article [VI], the decision of the authorities of the government on which the demand for surrender is made, or which may have granted the extradition shall be final. (emphasis added.) [3]

To have a better understanding of this treaty, it would be useful to see all documents regarding (a) the negotiation of the treaty in 1904-1905 and its amendment in 1926; and  (c) previous U.S. and Cuban requests for extradition.

U.S. Fugitives In Cuba

According to U.S. Department of State annual reports purportedly justifying the previous designations of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism,” there have been or still 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. Pursuant to a 2005 Cuban government statement, however, these U.S. reports also say no additional U.S. fugitives have been permitted on the island and in a few instances Cuba has extradited such fugitives to the U.S.

However, a U.S. newspaper recently asserted, “The U.S. has no idea how many fugitives Cuba’s harboring,” And on January 23, 2015, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) and two other Republican Senators (David Vitter (LA) and Ted Cruz (TX)) asked the F.B.I. to submit a complete list of such fugitives with copies of their U.S. indictments, but a FBI response to this request has not been located.

In any event, one of the most notable U.S. fugitives still on the island is JoAnne Chesimard (a/k/a Assata Shakur), a political radical and former member of the Black Panther Party and the militant Black Liberation Army, who in 1979 broke out of a New Jersey state prison where she was serving a life sentence for assault, armed robbery and aiding and abetting the murder of a New Jersey state trooper. After hiding in the New York area, she fled to Cuba in 1984, where she was granted political asylum that same year and has lived ever since. According to her U.S. attorney, she “has maintained from the time she was arrested that she was a victim of a counter intelligence program by the FBI and that she was stopped on the New Jersey turnpike as result of her being targeted by FBI.” In May 2013 the FBI added her name to its “Most Wanted” list.

Cuba, however, before the December 2014 rapprochement had rejected U.S. requests for her extradition on the ground that Cuba had determined she was being sought on “political” grounds and, therefore, had decided to grant her asylum. In addition, there are also some indications that Chesimard/Shakur has been granted Cuban citizenship, which would provide Cuba with another reason under the treaty to deny a U.S. request for her extradition. It would be useful to know the details of all prior U.S. requests for her extradition.

After the announcement of  rapprochement, the two countries have discussed various extradition issues, including at least some of the U.S. nationals in Cuba who are mentioned in the new proposed resolution in the House of Representatives, including Chesimard/Shakur.[4]

However, after a bilateral negotiation session in Washington, D.C. in February 2015 Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s lead diplomat for these negotiations, said the issue of extraditing people between Cuba and the U.S. had been discussed many times in the past and that the two countries had signed a treaty on the topic in 1906 which has a clause such that it would not apply in cases involving political activities. “Therefore, Cuba has legitimately given political asylum to a small group of U.S. citizens, because we have reason to believe that they deserve this and that is how far we’ve gone. And when one grants political asylum, then you cannot get into these types of discussions.” She added that after the Cuban Revolution of 1959 the U.S. had not honored the treaty when Cuba asked the U.S. to extradite “members of the Cuban dictatorship who were responsible for terrible crimes.”

In June 2016, the two countries held another negotiating session in Havana focused on counterterrorism cooperation Afterwards the State Department merely stated that the U.S. “continues to seek the return by Cuba of fugitives from US justice” and that the Department “brings out the cases of fugitives to the Cuban Government to be settled and will continue to do so at every appropriate opportunity.”

Conclusion

As a result, the new proposed Resolution does not deserve to be adopted, and if adopted, it will not have any practical effect.

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[1]  H.Res. 664, Calling for the immediate extradition or rendering to the United States of convicted felons William Morales, Joanne Chesimard, and all other fugitives from justice who are receiving safe harbor in Cuba in order to escape prosecution or confinement for criminal offenses committed in the United States (115th Cong. (Dec. 13, 2017). The co-sponsors are Representatives Leonard Lance (Rep., NJ), Bill Pascrell (Dem., NJ), Frank LoBiondo (Rep., NJ), Ron De Santis (Rep., FL), Albio Sires (Dem., NJ), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Rep., FL), Mario Diaz-Balart (Rep., FL) and Carlos Curbelo (Rep., FL).

[2] Extradition Has Become a Hot Topic for the United States, dwkcommentaries.com (July 26, 2016).

[3]  Issues Regarding Cuba and U.S. Extradition of the Other’s Fugitives, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 24, 2015).

[4] Criticism of U.S.-Cuba Law Enforcement Agreement, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 21, 2017).

 

Additional Reactions to End of U.S. Immigration Benefits for Cubans

There have been extensive White House comments as well as others’ reactions to the January 12 end of special U.S. immigration benefits for Cubans–“dry foot/wet foot” and the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program—that was discussed in a prior post. Now we look at additional White House comments and the extensive reactions—positive and negative—regarding this change.

White House Comments[1]

There were two additional sets of White House comments about the change. On the early evening of January 12 and hours after the announcement of the change, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson, an unidentified senior DHS official and Benjamin Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor, conducted a lengthy conference call with the press on the subject. At the next day’s press briefing White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest made comments on the subject. Here is a summary of new points that were made at these events.

Press Conference Call

Johnson: “Going forward, if a Cuban migrants arrives here illegally, the Cuban government has agreed to accept that person back . . . if . . . the time [between] a Cuban migrant leaves Cuba . . . and the time that we commence a deportation proceeding against the individual is less than four years.”

The “reason for the four-year period is . . . a law in Cuba (enacted in response to the [U.S.] Cuban Adjustment Act) that essentially says that if a person has left Cuba, after two years they are considered to have effectively migrated from Cuba.  In the course of our negotiations, the Cuban government agreed [to change that period from two to four years].” In addition, Cuba has agreed to accept other Cubans “on a case-by-case basis.”

“Ultimately, we seek to get to a place fully consistent with the international law under which the Cubans will agree to accept everyone back who is ordered deported by our country.”

“This is the ending of a policy that was put in place 20 years ago.  This is not the enactment of a policy that can be repealed by a subsequent administration. So I wouldn’t characterize it as creating a policy that could be repealed [by the Trump administration].”

Rhodes: “What we’ve seen in recent years is a continued uptick in Cuban migrants coming to the [U.S.].  We attribute that to a variety of factors — one, that Cuba has liberalized its own exit policies with respect to Cubans leaving the country; two, the change in our policy — the normalization of relations that began on December 17, 2014 — I think created an expectation in Cuba that this change might take place and therefore people were motivated to migrate.  Also, though, the increase in resources available to the Cuban people, particularly through our remittance policies, also made it more possible for Cubans to travel.”

“There has been a steady increase to some 40,000 Cubans granted parole in fiscal year 2015; 54,000 roughly in fiscal year 2016.  And what we had also seen is a growing number of Cubans who had begun a journey to try to reach the United States who were in a variety of Central American countries . . . creating both humanitarian challenges and strains within those countries as large numbers of Cubans were essentially stuck there and then facing a very difficult and dangerous — journey to our southern border in some cases.”

“Ultimately . . . we’d like to see people be able to increase their economic prospects within Cuba.  That is why we have taken steps to open up a greater commercial and people-to-people relationship, and have encouraged the Cuban government to pursue economic reforms.  That, ultimately, is the best way to ensure opportunity for the Cuban people going forward.”

“The Cuban Adjustment Act is the legislative architecture around these policies.  That provides preferences including adjusted status, green card status, and certain benefits to Cubans who are paroled into the country. . . . We do believe it would be the appropriate step for Congress to repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act.”

“We did not want to speculate publicly about the likelihood of this change for fear of inviting even greater migration flows.”

“On the congressional point, while we did not have regular updates on what were very sensitive negotiations, we have over the course of the last year or so, frankly, heard from members of Congress, from both parties, who were expressing increasing concern about the migration flows.  In fact, in some cases, we were being urged to do something about it.  And we’ve also heard increasing interest and even pieces of legislation being introduced that seek to amend or repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act, whether it’s the benefits provided under the Cuban Adjustment Act or the act itself.  So this is an issue that we’ve discussed with members of Congress from both parties, and around this announcement of course we’re doing many notifications to those interested members. . . . It was clear to us that Congress was taking a greater interest in this issue, given the uptick in migration flows and the strain that was placing on certain communities.”

“[E]arly in the post-revolution history, it was very clear that the overwhelming number of Cubans who came to the [U.S.] and ended up doing incredible things here in the [U.S.] absolutely had to leave for political purposes, or very much were leaving for political purposes.  I think increasingly over time, the balance has tilted towards people leaving for more traditional reasons in terms of seeking economic opportunity and, frankly, having not just the benefits of “wet foot, dry foot” and the adjusted status, but also literal benefits under the Cuban Adjustment Act.  That’s not to say that they’re not still people who have political cause to leave Cuba.  And as we do with any other country, political asylum continues to be an option for those individuals.  But we have seen the balance shift to more similar reasons in terms of people pursuing economic opportunity.”

“[U]ltimately the best future for Cuba is one that is determined by the Cuban people, both in terms of their economic livelihoods and in terms of their political future. . . . [It is] important that Cuba continue to have a young, dynamic population that are clearly serving as agents of change and becoming entrepreneurs, and being more connected to the rest of the world. . . . [We] believe that this change is in service of creating more incentive for there to be the economic reforms that need to be pursued on the island in terms of opening up more space for the private sector, allowing foreign firms to hire Cubans, so that they can be responsive to the economic aspirations of their people. So in the long run, the best way for Cubans to have this opportunity is for them to be able to pursue it at home through an economy that has continued to pursue market-based reforms.”

We “believe very strongly, in this administration, of course, that our Cuba opening is the best way to incentivize that economic reform; that as more Americans travel, as more Americans do business, as there are greater commercial ties, that ultimately is going to create more opportunity for people in Cuba, as well as creating opportunities for Americans.  And so that’s very much the approach we’d like to see continued going forward, and ultimately the one that has the best opportunity to deliver results to the Cuban people.”

The “Cubans will be treated like everybody else.  People from anywhere can issue a claim of asylum; that does happen frequently. There’s not going to be a separate queue for Cubans.  So just like any other migrant who reaches our border, they have certain claims that they can pursue, but they’ll be treated as other individuals from other countries are.”

Press Briefing

At the January 13 press briefing, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest made the following extensive comments about the change:

“This policy change was codified in an executive agreement between the U.S. government and the government in Cuba.  As even some of the incoming administration’s nominees have noted, there’s a tradition of subsequent Presidents observing and adhering to the executive agreements that were put in place by the previous President unless, of course, a specific decision is made to change the policy.”

“President-elect Trump . . . on January 20th . . . [will] be able to exercise all of the executive authority that are invested in the presidency at his discretion.  We believe that there is a strong case to be made about normalizing relations between our two countries, and this is just the latest step in that process to ensure that we are treating Cuban migrants the same way that we treat migrants from other countries.”

The “response to this announcement . . . is indicative of how public opinion is changing on these issues, including in the Cuban-American community.” There is “a growing majority of Americans who agree about the direction that the President [Obaama] has moved the relationship between the [U.S.] and Cuba.”

“[T]he migrants from Cuba will be treated in the same way that migrants from other countries are, which is to say legitimate claims for refugee status or for asylum will be subject to due process, which means that their claims will be evaluated.  And if they have legitimate claims for asylum, then that will be granted. But that will be adjudicated through the regular process . . . that migrants from other countries go through as well.”

“There was . . . a successful effort to brief the incoming administration shortly before this policy change was made public.”

It “takes time to negotiate these kinds of executive agreements, particularly with a country like Cuba that does not have a long history of negotiating these kinds of agreements with the United States.  For more than 50 years, the United States pursued a policy of diplomatic isolation with Cuba.  And so it’s only over the course of the last year or so that we’ve had the kind of diplomatic opening that will allow us to have these kinds of conversations.  So, negotiating these kinds of executive agreements takes time, but as soon as this agreement was completed, we announced it right away.”

Mr. Trump “certainly seems to be motivated by financial interests in some pretty important ways; he has over his professional career.  So I think he’ll find . . . [the economic argument for normalization] persuasive, particularly when you consider that there were reports that his company was negotiating with Cuba for exactly those kinds of agreements.  So he obviously recognizes the economic opportunity that’s there.  There’s more than a hundred flights every day between the [U.S.] and Cuba.  That’s cancelling a lot of flights if he wants to roll back this policy.  And I can’t imagine that the U.S. airline industry is going to be particularly pleased by that kind of development.”

“There are thousands of Americans that have an opportunity to travel to Cuba, and they’ve had an opportunity to enjoy their time there, learn a little bit more about the country, enhance ties between our two countries, and they’ve been able to return to the United States with all of the cigars and rum that they could pack into their suitcase if they choose to.  I don’t think those Americans are going to be particularly pleased to see that policy rolled back.”

For “more than 50 years, there was a policy of diplomatic isolation in place that had no material impact in improving the human rights situation in Cuba.  If anything, it got worse.  This policy has been in place for about a year.  And is there more that we would like to see the Cuban government do with regard to protecting human rights?  We absolutely would.  But our view is that the ability of the United States to advocate for those kinds of improvements is enhanced when we deepen the ties between our two countries.  When there are more Americans that are traveling to Cuba, when there is more communication going back and forth between Cuba and the United States, when there are more Cuban Americans that have an opportunity to visit family and send money to family in Cuba, all that is going to promote freedom.  That’s going to promote our values.”

“There has not been nearly as much an improvement in human rights in Cuba as we would like to see.  But the [normalization] policy has been in place for a little over [two years].”

We also have removed “an impediment to our relationship with countries throughout Latin America that have important relationships with Cuba.  For most of the last 50 years, those countries in Latin America didn’t apply that much pressure to Cuba about their human rights situation, and [instead] were focused on the [U.S.] and our failed policy of trying to isolate them.  Now that that impediment has been removed, it’s not just the [U.S.] that’s encouraging the Cuban government to improve their human rights situation, but you’ve got countries throughout the Western Hemisphere that are making the same argument.  So all we have done is to increase pressure on the Cuban government to improve the human rights situation there, and, at the same time, the American people have enjoyed a number of material benefits, including monetary benefits, that I do think will be persuasive to the incoming President as he determines what policy he believes is best with regard to the [U.S.] and Cuba.”

Positive Reactions[2]

 A New York Times editorial applauded the ending of this policy, which was “misguided for several reasons. It encouraged Cubans to embark on perilous, and often deadly, journeys on rafts across the Florida straits and across borders in South and Central America. It exacerbated Cuba’s brain drain, particularly after 2006 when Washington created a pathway for medical professionals abroad to defect by applying for visas at American embassies. And it unjustifiably gave Cubans preferential treatment while Haitians and Central Americans who were fleeing far more desperate circumstances were deported.”

This policy, says the Times, “has served as an escape valve, giving a way out to tens of thousands of Cubans who were frustrated by the island’s authoritarian government. Young Cubans have grown up regarding immigration to the [U.S.] as an option that has become a core part of the Cuban psyche.”

Now, the Times continues, there probably will be “pent-up dissatisfaction [that may] embolden more Cubans to press for economic changes and political freedoms as the era of rule by Raúl Castro draws to an end [in early 2018]. This would be hard and risky in a police state that stifles dissent by rewarding loyalists, punishing critics and sowing division among groups agitating for change. Eliécer Ávila, a prominent opposition leader, said, ““In the long run, I feel this will be beneficial by putting pressure on us to take responsibility for our homeland. The fundamental problem here is not the laws of other countries but the reality we live with.”

The Times concluded,  “should be clear to . . . [President-elect Trump’s] team that rolling back the recent progress would be foolish.”

A Washington Post editorial reached the same conclusion as the Times while emphasizing that the “dry foot/wet foot” policy “not only induced discontented Cubans to make a dangerous journey, but also relieved pressure on the regime to meet their legitimate demands at home. In recent years, the policy has also led to various scams, such as Medicare fraud perpetrated by Cubans who quickly settled in South Florida and then returned to the island with ill-gotten money.”

The incoming Trump administration was urged by the Washington Post “to treat [Cuban asylum] claims with the generosity they deserve while noting that the U.S. continuing “to set aside 20,000 immigrant visas per year to Cubans [was] an unusually high number properly reflective of Cuba’s unusually repressive system.”

Jon Anderson in the New Yorker points out that the change “should also help curtail a gruesome people-trafficking network that, over the past two years, has bled tens of thousands of Cubans of what little money they have in order to make it to the United States. Many of the migrants have sold their homes to obtain the cash to pay the traffickers who smuggle them through different countries before they reach the United States. One of the networks funnels people through a Mafia-controlled section of Colombia on an arduous and dangerous trek, sometimes lasting as much as three weeks, through the Darién jungle into Panama. Numerous Cubans, as well as other nationalities, have been robbed, raped, and killed along the way. In Mexico, an unavoidable part of any overland journey to the U.S. border from the south, Cubans fall prey to traffickers linked to the violent drug gangs there, at times with corrupt police involvement.”

Representative Albio Sires (Dem., NJ), a Cuban-American, said that “in recent years [some Cubans] used [the dry foot/wet foot policy] to reap economic rewards by sending money back to the island or even going back themselves to visit. While I am sympathetic to the plight of all the Cuban people, this program was designed for those asylees and refugees that were forced to flee. Money sent back to the island has no choice but to pass through the hands of the regime that for years has been using this program to fill their coffers.” He, however, questioned the timing of this change with an incoming president who has made many “hateful and disparaging remarks about refugees, minorities and immigrants.”

Negative Reactions[3]

Cuban-American representatives in Congress registered their typical negative reactions to U.S. normalization with Cuba: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Rep., FL); Carlos Curbello (Rep., FL); and Mario Diaz-Balart. Representative Curbello, however, admitted that the old wet-foot/dry-foot policy had been “grossly abused and exploited by many Cuban nationals, while also inadvertently bolstering the Cuban regime. A change to this policy was inevitable. I remain firmly committed to supporting the victims of persecution in Cuba while ending all abuses of America’s generosity.”

 A negative opinion also was registered by Carlos Eire, a Cuban-American who arrived in the early 1960’s as a “Peter Pan” kid and who now is an author and the T.L. Riggs Professor of History and Religious Studies at Yale University.He argues that many Cubans saw the December 17, 2014 announcement of rapprochement . . . [as] new support from the [U.S. that] could prolong the life of the Castro regime indefinitely and allow it to rule despotically; and . . . [as a sign] how Cubans would no longer continue to be viewed by the [U.S.] as an oppressed people.” The January 12 termination of ‘dry foot/wet foot’ “has completed . . . [Obama’s] utter betrayal of the Cuban people — a legacy move set in motion two years ago [and] has burdened Trump with a no-win situation with the potential to seriously tarnish or weaken his presidency right from the start.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on January 12 released a statement from the Chair of its Migration Committee, Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Texas. Expressing disappointment over the “sudden policy change,” he said, “While we have welcomed normalizing relations with Cuba, the violation of basic human rights remains a reality for some Cubans and the Wet Foot/Dry Foot policy helped to afford them a way to seek refuge in the United States.”

The Bishop added, “Cuban Americans have been one of the most successful immigrant groups in U.S. history. The protections afforded them were a model of humane treatment.” This change “will make it more difficult for vulnerable populations in Cuba, such as asylum seekers, children, and trafficking victims, to seek protection. . . . My brother Bishops and I pledge to work with the outgoing and incoming administrations to ensure humane treatment for vulnerable populations, from Cuba and elsewhere, seeking refuge in the United States.”

The Cuban Observatory on Human Rights (OCDH), criticizing the change, said thatmany Cubans do not want or can not live in their own country” and that Cuba has not guaranteed “there will be no reprimand or violations of the human rights of” the Cubans the U.S. returns to the island.

Ramón Saúl Sánchez, leader of the Miami-based Democracy Movement, believes the change “will not stop the Cubans leaving the island, because in Cuba ‘there is a tyranny’ that will create more deaths (of rafters) in the Florida Straits.”

Jose Basulto, founder of Brothers to the Rescue: “Freedom is going to have to be sought now inside Cuba.” It is “sad” that Cubans have always bet on escaping from Cuba rather than fighting for freedom within their country.

Conclusion

This blogger remains persuaded that the “dry foot/wet foot policy is not justified, at least in recent years. Now many, if not most, Cubans wanting to come to the U.S. are motivated by an entirely understandable desire to improve their financial circumstances. That same desire exists in many people from many countries throughout the world. There is no special reason why Cubans should be preferred over all these other people.

As Secretary Johnson, Deputy National Security Advisor Rhodes and Press Secretary Earnest emphasized, if the Cubans are fleeing Cuban persecution for their political opinions, then they may and should submit an application, under U.S. and international law, for political asylum.

The U.S. parole program for Cuban medical personnel is also unjustified. Cuban students receive their medical education without any tuition. As a result, it is only reasonable to require such students, after receiving their medical degrees, to “give back” by serving on a Cuban foreign medical mission for which they are paid more than they would have earned in Cuba. Yes, the Cuban government is paid more for their services on such missions by foreign governments than the medical personnel are paid by the Cuban government, but that also is reasonable and appropriate. The contention that such service is illegal forced labor or semi-slavery is absurd.[4]

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[1] White House, On-the-Record Press Call [by Jeh Johnson and Benjamin Rhodes] on Cuba Policy Announcement (Jan. 12, 2017); White House, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 1/13/17.

[2] Editorial, Ending a Misguided Cuban Migration Policy, N.Y. Times (Jan. 13, 2017); Editorial, Obama’s latest step on Cuba actually seems necessary and proper, Wash. Post (Jan. 13, 2017); Anderson, Obama’s Last Big Cuba Move, New Yorker (Jan. 13, 2017); Congressman Sires Statement on the Administration’s Decision to End “Wet Foot, Dry Foot” (Jan. 12, 2017).

[3] Ros-Lehtinen Statement on Latest Obama Concession to Castro Regime: Elimination of Wet Foot/Dry Foot and Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program (Jan. 12, 2017); Diaz-Balart, Have You No Shame, President Obama? (Jan. 12, 2017); Curbelo Comments on DHS Announcement Regarding End of Wet-Foot Dry-Foot Policy (Jan. 12, 2917); Eire, Wet foot, dry foot, wrong foot, Wash. Post (Jan. 13, 2017); USCCB Migration Chairman Expresses Disappointment over Abrupt End of “Wet Foot/Dry Foot Policy—Policy Has Long Benefited Cuban Migrants and Refugees (Jan. 12, 2017); OCDH Position on the Elimination of the Policy of “Dry Feet/Wet Feet (Jan. 13, 2017);Reactions: Obama’s policies have been ‘a betrayal of Cubans,’ says Mario Díaz-Balart, Diario de Cuba (Jan. 13, 2017).

[4] See posts listed in the “Cuban Medical Personnel & U.S.” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries.com—Topical (CUBA).

Cuba’s Possession of U.S. Missile Threatens To Disrupt U.S.-Cuba Normalization

On January 7, 2016, it became publicly known through a Wall Street Journal article that since sometime in 2014 Cuba has had possession of an inert U.S. missile that was erroneously shipped to Cuba from Europe.[1] This post will discuss what is now known about this missile in Cuba and the reactions to this news.

Diversion of U.S. Missile to Cuba

Hellfire missile
Hellfire missile

The object is a dummy U.S. Hellfire missile without any explosives that is a laser-guided, air-to-surface weapon that weighs about 100 pounds and that can be deployed from an attack helicopter or an unmanned drone.

Its manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, in early 2014, with U.S. State Department authorization, shipped the missile from Orlando, Florida to Spain for a NATO training exercise for later return to the U.S. After the completion of the training exercise, it was packaged in Rota, Spain and sent on another freight-forwarder’s truck to Madrid, where it was sent by plane to Frankfurt, Germany. There it was supposed to have been shipped to Lockheed in Florida. Instead for unknown reasons it was shipped from Frankfurt to Paris on an Air France flight, and from Paris to Havana on another Air France flight. Upon its arrival in Cuba, a Cuban official noticed the labeling on the crate and seized it.

Around June 2014 Lockheed, after realizing the missile was missing and likely was in Cuba, notified the U.S. State Department. Thereafter the U.S. has been pressing the Cuban government for information about the missile and for Cuba to return it to the U.S., but Cuba has not responded.

During the summer of 2014, of course, the U.S. and Cuba were engaged in the final steps leading up to the December 17, 2014, announcement that the two countries were embarked upon normalization of relations. Since then, they have been taking various steps toward normalization.

The reason for the shipment to Cuba is unknown. Was it a stupid mistake by a freight forwarder or several of such companies? That I find difficult to believe. That seems to leave it being an intentional criminal or espionage act.

The U.S. is concerned that Cuba has or could give access to the missile to learn about its technology to Russia, China or North Korea. But an article by someone who apparently is technically sophisticated in such matters discounts such dire consequences because “there’s good reason to suspect that China and other large cyber powers might already have blueprints and more, thanks to the still-vague scope of several highly successful military cyber attacks;” because “the US sells thousands upon thousands of working Hellfires to ‘close military ‘allies’ like Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey;” and because “the fall of Iraq’s Mosul to forces from ISIS . . . led to about $700 million worth of working Hellfire missiles falling into the hands of terrorists.”[2]

 Criticism of the Obama Administration[3]

Unsurprisingly this news has prompted severe criticism of the Administration.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), a Republican presidential candidate, voiced his criticism in a letter to Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roberta Jacobson. Rubio opened with the seemingly incontrovertible statement, “Preventing the proliferation of sensitive U.S. technology is one of the most important duties carried out by the State Department.” Because Jacobson has been so deeply involved with normalization negotiations with Cuba, she was asked these questions:

  • “When was the State Department informed that a U.S. Hellfire missile had been sent to Cuba?
  • When were you personally first informed of this matter and by whom?
  • What has been done to obtain the missile’s return by the Cuban government?
  • What specific entity of the Cuban government is currently in possession of the missile?
  • Please provide a list of the specific occasions on which you or other U.S. Government officials have raised this issue with the Castro regime.
  • Why was the return of the missile not obtained as a result of the negotiations that led to President Obama’s December 17, 2014 announced change in U.S. policy toward Cuba?
  • Why was the return of the missile not a condition of removal of Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list?
  • Why was the return of the missile not a condition of establishment of embassies in Havana and Washington?
  • What members of Congress did you inform of this issue during your briefings and testimony regarding U.S. policy toward Cuba over the last 18 months?
  • Does the State Department know if the Cuban government shared the missile or its design with any foreign governments?”

The Rubio letter concluded, “Sensitive U.S. technology falling into the hands of such a regime [as Cuba’s] has significant implications for U.S. national security.  The fact that the administration, including you, have apparently tried to withhold this information from the congressional debate and public discussion over U.S.-Cuba policy is disgraceful.”

Also on Friday, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush tweeted: “Whether it’s Iran holding U.S. citizens hostage or Cuba holding a U.S. missile hostage, Obama always caves. I won’t.’’

Four other lawmakers critical of the Obama position toward Cuba also criticized the handling of the missile case. In a joint statement, Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R., Fla.), Mario Diaz Balart (R., Fla.), Carlos Curbelo (R., Fla.) and Albio Sires (D., N.J.) said:

  • “Regardless of how Cuba came into possession of a U.S. Hellfire missile – which must be investigated – it is unconscionable that the Obama administration knew the Castros were in possession of this sensitive U.S. military technology since June 2014 and still moved forward with its policy to open up travel, trade, investment and diplomatic relations with the regime.”
  • “The fact that the Castro regime was able to acquire a U.S. Hellfire missile could be indicative of the lengths it is willing to go to undermine our national security and harm our interests. Congress must provide oversight to determine how the U.S. export control system failed to prevent this gross violation from occurring, and if Cuba’s espionage apparatus played a role in this Hellfire acquisition.”
  • “The Cuban regime rebuffed the President’s efforts to secure the return of the Hellfire missile even as the negotiations were ongoing, and yet the regime still got everything it could have wanted. It is no wonder that the Castro brothers feel ever more emboldened to continue on with the repression of the Cuban people, with intimidation and unlawful arrests at an alarmingly high rate.”
  • “This is a very serious breach and we are deeply concerned that the Castros have already shared the sensitive technology with the likes of Russia, North Korea or China. . . . We urge the Administration to start holding the Cuban regime accountable for its continued transgressions not only against its own people, but its continued disregard for international norms.”

Senator Ron Johnson (Rep., WI), the Chair of the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, sent a letter to the heads of the Pentagon and the State Department, asking for an explanation “why the U.S. military would forgo complete control, care, and custody of such cargo when transporting it abroad.’’ Mr. Johnson also asked the administration for details of any other lost shipments of sensitive technology over the past five years.

Administration’s Response to Criticism[4]

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on January 8 that the administration takes the issue very seriously. “The Department of Defense and the State Department are, again, I think for obvious reasons, quite interested in getting to the bottom of exactly what happened.’’

The same day the U.S. State Department spokesman, John Kirby, said, “I am restricted under federal law and regulations from commenting on specific defense trade licensing cases and compliance matters. What I can say is that under the Arms Export Control Act the State Department licenses both permanent and temporary exports by U.S. companies of regulated defense articles. U.S. companies are responsible for documenting their proposed shipping logistics in the application of their export license as well as reporting any shipping deviations to the department as appropriate.”

Conclusion

Although I have been, and still am, a strong advocate for U.S.-Cuba reconciliation, I am very troubled by the news of this missile ending up in Cuban hands and of its diversion in mid-2014 apparently not affecting U.S. negotiation of normalization. Final assessment has to await Assistant Secretary Jacobson’s responses to Senator Rubio’s questions and other news about this situation. I pray that it does not disrupt or sabotage further progress towards normalization.

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[1] Barrett & Lubold, Missing U.S. Missile Shows Up in Cuba, W.S.J. (Jan. 7, 2016); Reuters, Inert U.S. Hellfire Missile Wrongly Shipped to Cuba in 2014:WSJ, N.Y. Times (Jan. 7, 2016); Assoc. Press, Dummy Hellfire Missile Mistakenly Shipped to Cuba, N.Y. Times (Jan. 8, 2016); Ayuso, The mystery of the US missile ended in Cuba, El Pais (Jan. 9, 2016).

[2] Templeton, It probably won’t matter Cuba got a dummy Hellfire missile—and that’s terrifying, ExtremeTech (Jan. 9, 2016).

[3] Barrett & Lubold, Republicans Criticize Obama Administration Over Missile Sent to Cuba, W.S.J. (Jan. 8, 2015); Missile that turned up in Cuba ignites backlash, Miami Herald (Jan. 8, 2016); Rubio, Rubio Demands Answers From Administration On U.S. Missile in Cuba’s Possession (Jan. 8, 2016); Ros-Lehtinen, Ros-Lehtinen, Diaz-Balart, Curbelo and Sires Make Joint Statement Regarding Unaccounted U.S. Hellfire Missile Acquired by the Castro Regime (Jan. 8, 2016)

[4] U.S. Dep’t of State, Daily Press Briefing (Jan. 8, 2016).