Bipartisan Bill To End Embargo of Cuba Introduced in House of Representatives           

Rep. Tom Emmer
Rep. Tom Emmer

On July 28 Representatives Tom Emmer (Rep., MN) and Kathy Castor (Dem., FL) introduced the Cuba Trade Act of 2015 (H.R.3238) to end the U.S. embargo of Cuba. The bill is cosponsored by Republican Representatives Ralph Abraham (LA), Justin Amash (MI), Charles Boustany, Jr. (LA), Reid Ribble (WI) and Mark Sanford (SC).[1]

According to Emmer, “Today marks a new and exciting chapter for the U.S. – Cuba relationship. The American people overwhelmingly support lifting the Cuba embargo. Along with the Cuban people, Americans are ready for a fresh start and new opportunities for increasing trade, advancing the cause of human rights and ushering in direly needed reforms. This legislation will improve our position within the region, giving the U.S. a seat at the table and increased leverage as we support political transformations beginning to occur in Cuba. The time has come for a change in our policy towards Cuba, and I am ready to work with my colleagues in Congress on policies that are beneficial to both the American and Cuban people.”

Rep. Kathy Castor
Rep. Kathy Castor

Co-author Castor had a similar message. She said, “The United States and Cuba have taken historic actions this year to set our countries on a more productive path forward for citizens of both nations and turn the page on the outdated 50 year policy of isolation. This [bill is an] important step forward will advance human rights and lift the fortunes of families and entrepreneurs on both sides of the Florida straits. Lifting the embargo and reestablishing historic trade ties with Cuba will be a boost to our port and local small businesses in Tampa Bay.” Her press release added that her district is “home to a large Cuban-American population with historic ties that date back to the 1800s.”[2]

This bill is a companion to the Senate’s bill by the same name (S.1543) that was introduced by Kansas’ Republican Senator Jerry Moran and Maine’s Independent Senator Angus King,,[3] and both bills would fully lift the trade embargo with Cuba by granting the U.S. private sector the freedom to trade with Cuba, while protecting taxpayer interest from any risk associated with such trade.

To protect U.S. taxpayers, the bills have three features. First, they would allow all private persons, entities or organizations to spend private funds for Cuba trade promotion and market development without the use of any taxpayer dollars. Second, commodity check-off programs, which are producer funded, would be allowed to be used. Third, private credit from private institutions could be extended to Cuba, without risk to U.S. taxpayers.

The House already had three bills to end the embargo, all offered by Democratic Representatives: (i) H.R. 403: Free Trade with Cuba Act (Rep. Charles Rangel (NY) with 29 Democratic cosponsors as of July 27); (ii) H.R.274: United States-Cuba Normalization Act of 2015 (Rep. Bobby Rush (IL) with no cosponsors as of July 27); and (iii) H.R.735: Cuba Reconciliation Act (Rep. Jose Serrano (NY) with 12 Democratic cosponsors as of July 27).[4]

All of these previous House bills were assigned to the following seven House committees: Agriculture; Energy and Commerce; Financial Services; Foreign Affairs; Judiciary; Oversight and Government Reform; and Ways and Means. Presumably the bill just introduced by Representatives Emmer and Castor will be similarly assigned. As of July 27, none of these committees had taken any action on the earlier bills.

Given control of the House is in the hands of the Republican Party, maybe the just-introduced bill by Republican Tom Emmer will have a more receptive consideration by these committees.

Representative Emmer in the first six months of his first term in the House serves on the Agriculture and Foreign Affairs committees and already has voiced interest in normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations as indicated by the following:

  1. His website‘s page on “Foreign Affairs”states, “Regions such as Latin America, Africa and Asia present us with emerging opportunities to increase trade and diplomatic relations.”
  2. Early this year Emmer made his first trip to Cuba with a congressional delegation and said the trip had convinced him that the Cuban people are ready to do business with America. “Before the trip, you can be academic about [the issue],” he said. “Once you see the people, it’s not about leadership as much as it’s about people. They’re hungry for the next step, hungry for access to the marketplace.”[5]
  3. In early February Emmer let it be known that if certain conditions were met, he could support lifting the embargo even though he thinks President Obama could have been more open about his initial talks with Cuban officials. “By all accounts the Cuban people are worse off today than when [the embargo] started. So clearly that’s not working,” he said. “And I’m supportive of engaging in diplomacy, starting to re-engage in diplomatic relations with Cuba, to begin that process to hopefully someday getting to normalize that relationship. But it’s two separate things. One, it’s diplomacy, and down the road is normalization.”[6]
  4. In late May Emmer made his second trip to the island, again with another congressional delegation, this one led by Representative Mark Sanford (Rep., SC). Afterwards Emmer said, “The experience for me, is to learn it, to understand it, and see how it fits with Minnesota’s economy.” He also learned “the Cuban people, they love Americans.” [7]
  5. After the July 1 announcement that the two countries would reopen embassies on July 20, Emmer stated he sees “a real opportunity for a positive, open trading partnership between these two countries. The potential benefits for Minnesota exporters are immense, and what is good for Minnesota is good for our country.”[8]

Upon introducing his bill to end the embargo, Emmer stated that he decided to do so after his second trip to Cuba. “I understand there’s a lot of pain on both sides of this issue that goes back many decades, something that a kid from Minnesota is not going to necessarily be able to understand. But I believe this is in the best interests of the Cuban people. This isn’t about the Cuban government — it’s about people on the street looking for more opportunity and to improve their quality of life.”[9]

Conclusion

Now the Minnesota congressional delegation is almost unanimous in supporting U.S.-Cuba normalization and ending the U.S. embargo of the island.

Our two Democratic U.S. Senators (Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken), our five Democratic Representatives (Keith Ellison, Rick Nolan, Betty McCollum, Collin Peterson and Tim Walz) and now our Republican Representative Emmer are on record as authors or cosponsors of bills to end the embargo.

In addition, our Republican Representative Erik Paulsen has made statements that at least do not indicate opposition to these measures. He said in early February, “We should be looking at opportunities to open up trade between the United States and Cuba so we can export more American goods and services. However, the President should have engaged Congress before making concessions to the Cuban government.” And after the announcement of the reopening of embassies, he observed, “A new [U.S.] embassy needs to focus on boosting open markets so the Cuban people can access more American goods and services.” Paulsen’s district, by the way, includes the headquarters of Cargill, the leader of the U.S. Coalition for Cuba, which is a strong advocate for ending the embargo and for normalization.[10]

The lone exception to this Minnesota consensus appears to be our other Congressman, Republican John Kline. In early February he stated he was “not confident the Administration will follow through on its promises to hold the Castro dictatorship regime accountable, and I’m concerned about revisiting relations with Cuba until all Cubans enjoy a free democracy.” After the announcement of the reopening of embassies, his spokesman said, “While congressman Kline supports new opportunities for American businesses and has a strong record of supporting trade and efforts to grow jobs in America, he wants all Cubans to enjoy a free democracy but is not confident this administration will follow through on its promises to hold the Castro dictatorship regime accountable,” [11]

As a Minnesota advocate for U.S.-Cuba reconciliation, I am proud that our congressional delegation is so supportive of ending the embargo and for normalization. I entreat Representatives Paulsen and Kline to join their colleagues in this endeavor.

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[1] Press Release, Emmer, Castor Introduce Legislation to Lift Cuba Embargo (July 28, 2015)   Emmer’s website contains endorsements from the Minnesota Farm Bureau, National foreign Trade Council, National Farmers Union, Minnesota Farmers Union, U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba, National Turkey Federation, Greater Tampa Area Chamber of Commerce, Council of the Americas, Arkansas Rice Growers Association, Engage Cuba, Cuba Now, Washington Office of Latin America and CoBank.(See also Sherry, Rep. Tom Emmer leads Republican effort to lift Cuba embargo, StarTribune (July 28, 2015)(Democratic Representative Betty McCollum today indicatated her support for Emmer’s bill).)

[2] Castor, Press Release: U.S. Reps. Castor and Republican colleagues file bill today to end Cuba embargo (July 28, 2015)

[3] As reported in a prior post, the Moran-King bill (S.1543) was introduced on June 10 with Senator John Boozman (Rep., AK) as cosponsor and was referred to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. That committee also has the earlier bill to end the embargo– S.491: Freedom to Export to Cuba Act of 2015—introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN). As of July 27 that bill had 21 bipartisan cosponsors, but that committee had taken no action on either bill.

[4] These bills were discussed in a prior post, which was updated in another post.

[5] Brodey, Why is Minnesota’s congressional delegation so focused on Cuba? MINNPOST (June 22, 2015).

[6] Henry, Emmer on Cuba embargo: ’Clearly that’s not working,’ MINNPOST (Feb. 6, 2015).

[7] Demczyk, Emmer Details Cuba Visit, KNSI Radio (June 1, 2015), This trip was discussed in a prior post.

[8] Spencer, Embassy reopening could help efforts to end Cuban trade embargo, StarTribune (July 1, 2015).

[9] Gomez, Emmer files bill to end U.S. embargo of Cuba, SC Times (July 28, 2015).

[10] Spencer (n. 8).

[11] Henry (n. 6); Spencer (n. 8).

Cuba Announces Agreement To Restore Diplomatic Relations with the United States

On July 1, 2015, the U.S. and Cuba announced an agreement to restore diplomatic relations. This post will discuss Cuba’s announcement and reactions.[1] A prior post did the same for the U.S. announcement and reactions.

The Cuban government’s announcement of the resumption of diplomatic relations stated the following:

  • “The President of the Councils of State and Ministers of the Republic of Cuba, Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, and the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, exchanged letters through which they confirmed the decision to reestablish diplomatic relations between the two countries and open permanent diplomatic missions in their respective capitals, from July 20, 2015.”
  • “By formalizing this step, Cuba and the United States ratified the intention to develop respectful and cooperative relations between both peoples and governments, based on the purposes and principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations and International Law, in particular the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations.”
  • “The Government of Cuba has decided to reestablish diplomatic relations with the United States in full exercise of its sovereignty, invariably committed to the ideals of independence and social justice, and in solidarity with the just causes of the world, and reaffirming each of the principles for which our people have shed their blood and ran all risks, led by the historic leader of the Revolution Fidel Castro Ruz.”
  • “With the reestablishment of diplomatic relations and the opening of embassies, the first phase concludes of what will be a long and complex process towards the normalization of bilateral ties, as part of which a set of issues will have to be resolved arising from past policies, still in force, which affect the Cuban people and nation.”
  • “There can be no normal relations between Cuba and the United States as long as the economic, commercial and financial blockade that continues to be rigorously applied, causing damages and scarcities for the Cuban people, is maintained. It is the main obstacle to the development of our economy, constitutes a violation of International Law and affects the interests of all countries, including those of the United States.”
  • “To achieve normalization it will also be indispensable that the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base is returned, that radio and television transmissions to Cuba that are in violation of international norms and harmful to our sovereignty cease, that programs aimed at promoting subversion and internal destabilization are eliminated, and that the Cuban people are compensated for the human and economic damages caused by the policies of the United States.”
  • “In recalling the outstanding issues to be resolved between the two countries, the Cuban Government recognizes the decisions adopted thus far by President Obama, to exclude Cuba from the list of state sponsors of international terrorism, to urge the U.S. Congress to lift the blockade and to begin to take steps to modify the application of aspects of this policy in exercise of his executive powers.”
  • “As part of the process towards the normalization of relations, in turn, the foundations of ties that have not existed between our countries in all their history will need to be constructed, in particular, since the military intervention of the United States 117 years ago, in the independence war that Cuba fought for nearly three decades against Spanish colonialism.”
  • “These relations must be founded on absolute respect for our independence and sovereignty; the inalienable right of every State to choose its political, economic, social and cultural system, without interference in any form; and sovereign equality and reciprocity, which constitute inalienable principles of International Law.”
  • “The Government of Cuba reiterates its willingness to maintain a respectful dialogue with the Government of the United States and develop relations of civilized coexistence, based on respect for the differences between the two governments and cooperation on issues of mutual benefit.”
  • “Cuba will continue immersed in the process of updating its economic and social model, to build a prosperous and sustainable socialism, advance the development of the country and consolidate the achievements of the Revolution.”
Ramón Cabañas & Anthony Blinken
Ramón Cabañas & Anthony Blinken

That same day (July 1) Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez, the Head of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, delivered to Interim Secretary of State Anthony Blinken at the U.S. State Department a letter from Raúl Castro to President Obama, confirming that “the Republic of Cuba has decided to reestablish diplomatic relations with the United States of America and open permanent diplomatic missions in our respective countries, on July 20, 2015.” That letter went on to say the following:

  • “Cuba makes this decision, motivated by the mutual intention to develop relations of respect and cooperation between both peoples and governments.”
  • “Cuba likewise draws inspiration from the principles and objectives established in the United Nations Charter and international law, namely, sovereign equality; the settlement of disputes by peaceful means; abstention from acts or threat of aggression or the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any States, non-intervention in matters within the domestic jurisdiction of any State, the promotion of friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principles of equal rights and that of the people’s right to self-determination, and cooperation in solving international problems and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.”
  • “The above stated principles are in accordance with the spirit and norms established in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of April 18, 1961 and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of April 24, 1963, to which both the Republic of Cuba and the United States of America are parties, and will govern diplomatic and consular relations between the Republic of Cuba and the United States of America.”

Cuba also confirmed that on July 1 Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the Head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, had delivered to the Cuban Foreign Ministry a July 1 letter from President Obama to President Castro that was quoted in the prior post about the U.S. announcement of restoration of diplomatic relations.

Cuban Reaction

According to a U.S. reporter for the New York Times, Cubans in the streets of Havana welcomed the news about the resumption of diplomatic relations.

Roberto, a parking attendant who minds cars near the U.S. Interests Section on the Malecon, said, ““This will benefit the country. Maybe, I don’t know, it will eventually benefit me.”

Regina Coyula, a blogger who for several years worked for Cuban state security, commented, “People realize that the Americans aren’t going to solve their problems, and nor is the government” of Cuba. The reaction to the December 17th announcement of rapprochement was “like a firework display. Everyone watched them. Everyone thought they were beautiful. And then they went back to their lives.”

Coyula added that with American money being spent in private restaurants and homes and on car services, those Cubans who are doing well will do even better. “The difference between those Cubas is only going to grow.”

“We’ve been waiting all our lives for this, and it’s very welcome,” said Carmen Álvarez, 76, who was walking with friends near the Interests Section. “We’re waiting with our arms and our minds wide open.”

Yosvany Coca Montes de Oca, 38, who began listing his one-bedroom apartment in Havana with Airbnb, the online house-sharing service, in April, said, “Things are going really well.” He used to get four or five Americans staying at his house every month. For the past two months, he has had more than 15 and has been showered with reservations. But Mr. Coca acknowledged that he was part of a privileged economic circle that was feeling the immediate benefit of new American interest in Cuba. Many Cubans, he said, felt little change. “For ordinary people, it doesn’t have a direct impact. People are mainly concerned with getting by day to day.”

More generally, the U.S. reporter concluded,“The euphoria that prompted Cubans to toot their horns and wave flags [on December 17th] . . . has given way to a tempered hope that an influx of Americans, and the eventual end of the trade embargo, will help pry open the economy and the political system.”

Similar positive comments from people on the street in Havana were captured by Granma, the official newspaper of Cuba’s Communist Party.

Other Reactions

Cuba’s Granma newspaper reported positive reactions to the restoration of diplomatic relations from China, Brazil, the European Union and the United Nations.

Conclusion

The Cuban announcement reiterated some of the issues that Cuba has raised before and after the December 17th announcement of rapprochement and that have been addressed in prior posts to this blog.

Foremost for Cuba is ending the U.S. embargo or blockade of Cuba. President Obama agrees that this should happen and again yesterday called on Congress to adopt legislation doing just that. Senators Amy Klobuchar, Jerry Moran and Angus King have introduced bills to that end, and in the House Charles Rangel, Bobby Rush and Jose Serano have authored similar bills. Now the relevant congressional committees need to hold hearings and report the bills to the floors of the respective chambers for voting them up or down.[2]

Related to ending the embargo or blockage is Cuba’s repeated allegation that it is illegal under international law and has damaged Cuba, allegedly $1.1 trillion as of last October. It is exceedingly unlikely that the U.S. will agree with these assertions and pay Cuba that sum of money. Therefore, this blogger has suggested that this Cuban claim, along with others by Cuba and the U.S., be submitted for resolution to the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague in the Netherlands.[3]

The other significant issue for Cuba is ending the alleged U.S. illegal occupation of Guantanamo Bay and returning that territory to Cuba. Again it is exceedingly unlikely that the U.S. will agree with that allegation and demand. Remember that the Cuban government in 1906 leased that territory to the U.S. for use as a “coaling station” or “naval station” and that there are many problems with Cuba’s assertion that it has the right to terminate the lease. Therefore, this blogger has suggested that this Cuban claim and others relating to Guantanamo, including unpaid rent for the last 50-plus years, also be submitted for resolution to the Permanent Court of Arbitration.[4]

Cuba’s complaint about U.S. radio and television transmissions to Cuba (Radio and TV Marti), in this blogger’s opinion, is secondary. Again I see no U.S. acceptance of this complaint, and thus it too should be submitted to the Permanent Court of Arbitration.[5]

The other secondary Cuban complaint concerns the U.S. “programs aimed at promoting subversion and internal destabilization.” This refers to the covert, secret or “discreet” programs of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), such as its social media program, the HIV workshop program and the hip-hop artist campaign. These programs, in this blogger’s opinion, are a stupid waste of U.S. taxpayers’ funds and should be terminated by the U.S. Any U.S. programs to promote democracy in Cuba should be joint ventures with the Cuban government.[6]

Now the more difficult work comes for the two countries’ diplomats to meet, discuss and negotiate to attempt to resolve or at least narrow these and many other issues. We wish them courage, persistence and humility in their work.

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[1] Statement by the Revolutionary Government, Granma (July 1, 2015); Letter from Cuban President Raúl Castro to Barack Obama (July 1, 2015); Interim Minister of Foreign Relations receives letter from U.S. President to Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, Granma (July 1, 2015); Cuba and the U.S. confirm reestablishment of diplomatic relations, Granma (July 1, 2015); Burnett, Cubans Greet Latest Step in U.S. Thaw With Hope Tempered by Reality,N.Y. Times (July 1, 2015).

[2] Prior posts have discussed bills to end the embargo in the U.S. House of Representatives and similar bills by Senators Klobuchar and Moran and King.

[3] A prior post concerned the October 2014 U.N. General Assembly’s overwhelming approval of a resolution condemning the embargo and Cuba’s allegation of $1.1 trillion of damages. Arbitration of Cuba’s alleged damages claim was suggested in another post.

[4] A post examined the 1906 lease of Guantanamo Bay; another, whether Cuba had a right to terminate the lease and another. arbitration of unresolved issues about the lease.

[5] One post looked at the status of Radio and TV Marti.

[6] Prior posts have covered USAID’s social media program; the U.S. Senate’s comments on that program; USAID’s HIV workshop program and reactions thereto by the U.S. government and by others; the New York Times’ criticism of the programs; criticism of the programs by the Latin American Working Group; and this bloggers’ open letter to President Obama complaining about the programs.

U.S. Radio and Television Broadcasts to Cuba at Crossroads

In 1983 the Cuban American National Foundation, a once-monolithic lobbying group of Cuban exiles, helped persuade the Reagan administration to establish Radio Martí, which started broadcasting from Miami to Cuba in 1985, and TV Martí began in 1990. [1]

For most of its 30 years, the Martí services have been known for their anti-Castro, one- dimensional slant and advocacy. As a result, the Cuban regime has been very hostile to these services. It has made them illegal and often blocks their reception on the island.

The Martís, with a budget of $27 million, also have U.S. critics, including former American diplomats in Cuba. These critics “have considered them taxpayer-funded relics controlled by Cuban exiles that too often slide into propaganda, which has damaged their credibility.” In addition, “reports by congressional staff members and federal agencies, like the Inspector General for the State Department, have delivered stinging assessments” of Martí; the most recent such report came last summer accusing the Martís of ‘a lack of balance, fairness and objectivity,’ of cronyism, malfeasance and, most recently, low employee morale.”

More recently Martí has “focused on diversifying coverage of Cuba and ramping up a Martí website. [This includes] bringing more Cubans into the conversation through video, articles, texts, blogs and social media. “ This includes an expansion of a “cadre of journalists in Cuba who file videos and articles, with their names made public at great risk. Some of those interviewed by the reporters are also identified, a sign of diminishing fear.” In addition, Cubans now “can post their own blogs and news items through features like “Reporta Cuba,” which often spreads news of detentions.” “And a separate social network created by the Martís, Piramideo, allows Cubans to use cellphones or email accounts to gain access to a site that circumvents government restrictions. From there, they can send messages to hundreds of Cubans in Cuba about nearly anything.”

Another goal at Martí “was to lift journalistic standards, [especially attempting] to offer more diverse views of Cuban life and [U.S.] foreign policy. Reporters now call the Cuban government to get its response for certain stories.”

Now Martí presents “snippets of life on the island, like examples of the recently unleashed zeal for private enterprise. So one of the hosts, as part of an effort to bolster Cuba’s fledgling independent businesses, recently promoted “Hilda in Havana,” who is offering desserts and decorations for events and restaurants. Next up was a listing from a Havana man peddling his churro cart.” Other topics are housing problems in Cuba, the latest small-business ventures (public bathrooms in private homes, 25 cents for a quick stop, 50 cents for longer visits), dissident detentions, how to find the rare Wi-Fi hot spots.”

In addition to their live broadcasts, every month, Martí distributes nearly 15,000 DVDs of its programming in Cuba and circulated through flash drives. The goal of all of these efforts is to provide news and information about Cuba to Cubans without Cuban censorship.

In the last few years, Martí has been challenged by increased competition. “Cubans now use flash drives that are loaded with television shows and movies from satellite dishes and sold on the black market.”

With the December 17, 2014, announcement of the U.S. and Cuba intent to pursue normal diplomatic relations, the future of the Martí ventures is under re-examination.

“While Obama administration officials support the Martís, they are eager to cut the Office of Cuba Broadcasting loose from the federal mantle. In its budget for next year, the administration proposed consolidating the Office of Cuba Broadcasting and Voice of America’s Spanish-language programs, turning them into a nonprofit. The organization would be funded by federal grants, with federal oversight, but would not be part of the government. [This is the way that] Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which gained prominence during the Soviet era and served as the model for the Martís, has long operated this way.”

In January, Cuba’s President Raúl Castro called for an end to the Martís as a condition for normalizing relations with the United States, but this proposal has not been mentioned in the limited publicly available information about the negotiations between the two countries.

There is a bill in Congress to terminate the two broadcasting services: H.R.570, Stop Wasting Money on Cuba Broadcasting Act. It was offered by Minnesota’s Democratic Representative, Betty McCollum. As of March 25, there had been no action on the bill in the House of Representatives although it has gained four Democratic cosponsors—Barbara Lee (CA), Raul Grijalva (AZ), Richard Nolan (MN) and Jose Serrano (NY).

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[1] This post is based upon Alvarez, Radio and TV Martí, U.S. Broadcasters for Cuba, Face New Obstacles, N.Y. Times (Mar. 24, 2015),