Members of U.S. Congress Send Letter to President of Cameroon

After the December 6, 2019 U.N. Security Council discussion about Cameroon, as summarized in a prior post, U.S. Representative Karen Bass (Dem., CA and Chair of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations) organized a bipartisan group of eight of her House colleagues to join her December 16 letter to Cameroon President Paul Biya “to express deep concern over the ongoing insecurity and violence in the predominantly Anglophone Northwest and Southwest Regions of Cameroon.”[1]

Text of the Letter

“As members of the U.S. Congress, we are writing to express our deep concern over the ongoing insecurity and violence in the predominantly Anglophone Northwest and Southwest Regions of Cameroon. Conflict between your security forces and non-state armed groups has led to an ever increasing number of casualties and of internally displaced persons and refugees, and has kept hundreds of thousands of children out of school for going on a third year in a row. These factors are having devastating social, political, and economic impacts on the regions, on the country itself, and more broadly in Central and West Africa. The situation is not getting better, as your government asserts: it is getting worse. According to the United Nations, as of November 2019, more than 2,000 people have died, as many as 71 0,000 people have been internally displaced, and 44,000 refugees have fled to neighboring Nigeria due to the ongoing conflict in the Northwest and Southwest. Roughly 2.6 million people in these areas are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, and more than 855,000 children, the majority of whom are internally displaced, do not have access to education. Ongoing insecurity and violence in the Northwest and Southwest have had a ruinous effect on the economy as documented by Cameroon’s leading employers’ confederation, the Groupement Inter-Patronal dii Cameroun. GICAM noted that Ghost Towns effectively shut down economic activity for 30.6 percent of the time in the past two and a half years and that the situation is getting worse. The conflict has severely hurt the timber, agro-industry, cocoa, energy, telecommunications, tourism, and transport sectors.”

“Given the failure of various internal initiatives to halt the crisis and bring peace to these regions of Cameroon, the government of Cameroon should demonstrate political will by engaging in the Swiss-led facilitation process, which could lead to future negotiations between the Cameroonian government and the opposition in the Northwest and Southwest, as well as the diaspora. [2] A process of inclusive negotiation and institutional reforms would lead to greater power-sharing and decision-making, facilitate peace, and save Cameroonian lives. Children, particularly in rural areas of the Northwest and Southwest, need to resume their education, but that is not going to happen until there is a resolution of the conflict. We know you value education: the conflict in the Northwest and Southwest, if left unchecked, could very well lead to a generation of unskilled and underdeveloped people who are prone to unemployment, and prone to violent extremism and criminality. A peaceful and inclusive resolution of the crisis would strengthen bilateral ties and lead to greater trade and investment between our two countries.”

“Military action cannot solve this conflict. We understand that non-state armed groups are responsible for horrific acts of violence and we condemn those acts in the strongest terms. But a broad spectrum of international and domestic experts disagree with the Cameroonian government’s assertion that non-state armed groups are responsible for most of the violence: on the contrary, there is consistent and convincing evidence from a variety of unbiased and independent sources that Cameroonian security forces are responsible for the majority of killings of unarmed Cameroonian citizens and destruction of property including the burning of homes. There is evidence of soldiers dragging wounded people out of hospitals and their lifeless bodies found abandoned later. Soldiers have raped women, either for opportunistic or punitive reasons.“Promises for national dialogue have been made by the government, and some positive gestures have been carried out including the release of 333 lower level Anglophone prisoners and 225 political prisoners including Cameroon Renaissance Movement leader Maurice Kamto. There is evidence that government officials at the sub-Divisional Officer level deliberately misused their positions to prevent opposition candidates from registering and the government has blocked attempts of opposition parties to organize and hold rallies on spurious security grounds while allowing the ruling party to celebrate openly and lavishly the anniversary of your rule. Some opposition parties have voiced skepticism that the government and the national elections body ELECAM will be able to conduct February 9 municipal and legislative assembly elections in the Northwest and Southwest.”

“If there is not a durable ceasefire in the Northwest and Southwest, February elections, let alone plans for bilingualism, decentralization, DDR, reconstruction, and resumption of education are unlikely to succeed. A process of inclusive negotiations and a genuine commitment to establish peace is a necessary condition for all of the good suggestions from the national dialogue to move forward.”

“Many of us in Congress are currently assessing U.S. policy toward Cameroon. As you know, the United States recently terminated the designation of Cameroon as a beneficiary sub-Saharan African country under the African Growth and Opportunity Act because the Government of Cameroon engages in gross violations of internationally recognized human rights. This follows the U.S. decision in February of this year to scale back military assistance to Cameroon, also because of human rights violations. Further considerations regarding U.S.-Cameroonian relations will depend on your commitment to engage in sincere dialogue. Only sincere dialogue can lead to an end to the violence and insecurity in the Northwest and Southwest, allowing people to return and rebuild their homes, children to return to school, and economic activity to resume safely. Your lasting legacy as President of the Republic of Cameroon also depends on this commitment.”

Now will President Biya respond to this letter and what will he say?

This bipartisan letter echoed July 1 comments by Representative Bass in the capital of Cameroon after leading a seven-member congressional visit when she said the government and rebels should respect human rights, end all violence, and begin talks on the separatist conflict. “We especially want to see a peaceful dialogue, a peaceful resolution without conditions.  We want to see all sides come to the table.”[3]

Thereafter the U.S. House adopted her resolution on human rights in that country.[4]

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[1] Press Release, Bass, Members of Congress, Express Concern Regarding Insecurity and Violence to President Biya (Dec. 13, 2019); Letter From US Congress, House of Representatives Drown Special Status, Cameroon News Agency (Dec. 16,  2019). The other signers of the letter were Democrats David N. Cicilline (IL), Ron Kind (WI), James P, McGovern (MA) and Ilhan Omar (MN) and Republicans F. James Sensenbrenner (Ranking Member of the Subcommittee), Christopher H. Smith (PA), Tim Walberg (MI) and Ron Wright (TX).

[2] See Switzerland Mediation of Cameroon’s Anglophone Crisis, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 19, 2019). The Conclusion of this post referred to a December 18 report that Switzerland had abandoned this mediation, but this blogger has not found any other reference to this alleged abandonment of mediation.

[3] Kindzeka, US Congress Delegation Calls for Talks with Rebels in Cameroon, voa news (July 2, 2019)

[4]  H.Res.358, Calling on the Government of Cameroon and armed groups to respect the human rights of all Cameroonian citizens, to end all violence, and to pursue a broad-based dialogue without preconditions to resolve the conflict in the Northwest and Southwest regions (introduced, 05/07/19; agreed to without objection, 07/23/19).

 

 

 

 

U.S. Secretary of State Speaks to the Cuban People

On August 14, 2015, the U.S. formally opened its Embassy in Havana, Cuba with the raising of the American flag and a program featuring remarks by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that were telecast and broadcast live throughout the island.[1] Thus, his message, in one sense, was directed to the Cuban people, and the words in bold in the following remarks were especially addressed to them.

John Kerry @ U.S. Embassy in Havana
John Kerry @ U.S. Embassy in Havana
Secretary & U.S. Flag at Havana Embassy
Kerry & U.S. Flag at Havana Embassy

Kerry’s Remarks

Kerry started by recognizing that “this is truly a memorable occasion – a day for pushing aside old barriers and exploring new possibilities” and that Presidents Obama and Castro had made “a courageous decision to stop being the prisoners of history and to focus on the opportunities of today and tomorrow.”

The U.S. needs to recognize that “U.S. policy is not the anvil on which Cuba’s future will be forged. Decades of good intentions aside, the policies of the past have not led to a democratic transition in Cuba. It would be equally unrealistic to expect normalizing relations to have, in a short term, a transformational impact. After all, Cuba’s future is for Cubans to shape. Responsibility for the nature and quality of governance and accountability rests, as it should, not with any outside entity; but solely within the citizens of this country.”

“But the leaders in Havana – and the Cuban people – should also know that the United States will always remain a champion of democratic principles and reforms. . . .[We] will continue to urge the Cuban Government to fulfill its obligations under the UN and inter-American human rights covenants – obligations shared by the United States and every other country in the Americas.”

“And indeed, we remain convinced the people of Cuba would be best served by genuine democracy, where people are free to choose their leaders, express their ideas, practice their faith; where the commitment to economic and social justice is realized more fully; where institutions are answerable to those they serve; and where civil society is independent and allowed to flourish.”

We “believe it’s helpful for the people of our nations to learn more about each other, to meet each other. That is why we are encouraged that travel from the United States to Cuba has already increased by 35 percent since January and is continuing to go up. We are encouraged that more and more U.S. companies are exploring commercial ventures here that would create opportunities for Cuba’s own rising number of entrepreneurs, and we are encouraged that U.S. firms are interested in helping Cuba expand its telecommunications and internet links, and that the government here recently pledged to create dozens of new and more affordable Wi-Fi hotspots.”

“The restoration of diplomatic ties will also make it easier for our governments to engage. After all, we are neighbors, and neighbors will always have much to discuss in such areas as civil aviation, migration policy, disaster preparedness, protecting marine environment, global climate change, and other tougher and more complicated issues. Having normal relations makes it easier for us to talk, and talk can deepen understanding even when we know full well we will not see eye to eye on everything.”

“We are all aware that . . . the overall U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba remains in place and can only be lifted by congressional action – a step that we strongly favor. For now, the President has taken steps to ease restrictions on remittances, on exports and imports to help Cuban private entrepreneurs, on telecommunications, on family travel, but we want to go further. The goal of all of these changes is to help Cubans connect to the world and to improve their lives. And just as we are doing our part, we urge the Cuban Government to make it less difficult for their citizens to start businesses, to engage in trade, access information online. The embargo has always been something of a two-way street – both sides need to remove restrictions that have been holding Cubans back.”

Kerry also thanked “leaders throughout the Americas who have long urged the United States and Cuba to restore normal ties [and] the Holy Father Pope Francis and the Vatican for supporting the start of a new chapter in relations between our countries.”

He then paid “tribute to the people of Cuba and to the Cuban American community in the United States. Jose Marti once said that ‘everything that divides men…is a sin against humanity.’ Clearly, the events of the past – the harsh words, the provocative and retaliatory actions, the human tragedies – all have been a source of deep division that has diminished our common humanity. There have been too many days of sacrifice and sorrow; too many decades of suspicion and fear. That is why I am heartened by the many on both sides of the Straits who . . . have endorsed this search for a better path.”

“We have begun to move down that path without any illusions about how difficult it may be. But we are each confident in our intentions, confident in the contacts that we have made, and pleased with the friendships that we have begun to forge. And we are certain that the time is now to reach out to one another, as two peoples who are no longer enemies or rivals, but neighbors – time to unfurl our flags, raise them up, and let the world know that we wish each other well.”

Conclusion

In attendance at the ceremony were Embassy staff, including Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the charge d’affaires; other U.S. federal government officials, including Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roberta Jacobson, who led the U.S. delegation in recent negotiations with Cuba; other countries’ diplomats; U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (Dem., VT), Barbara Boxer (Dem., CA), Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN) and Jeff Flake (Rep., AZ); [2] U.S. Representatives Karen Bass (Dem., CA), Steve Cohen (Dem., TN), Barbara Lee (Dem., CA) and Jim McGovern (Dem., MA); [3] and James Williams, President of Engage Cuba, and Zane Kerby, President & CEO of American Society of Travel Agents.

Also in attendance was a Cuban delegation, including Josafina Vidal, who led the Cuban team in those negotiations; and Dr. José Ramón Cabañas Rodriguez, the new Cuban Ambassador to the U.S. [4]

Another highlight of the ceremony was the beautiful reading of a beautiful poem, “Matters of the Sea” or “Cosas del Mar,” by the Cuban-American poet, Richard Blanco. Afterwards Kerry walked around old Havana, met privately with Cuban Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, participated in a joint press conference with Rodriguez and met with Cuban dissidents at the official Havana residence of the U.S. charge d’affaires These other events of the day will be discussed in subsequent posts.

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[1] Gordon, Kerry Strikes Delicate Balance in Havana Trip for Embassy Flag-Raising, N.Y. Times (Aug. 14, 2015); Assoc. Press, A Festive Flag-Raising, Then Tough Talk on U.S.-Cuba Relations, N.Y. Times (Aug. 15, 2015);  DeYoung, In historic Cuba visit, Kerry presides over raising of U.S. flag over embassy in Havana, Wash. Post (Aug.14, 2015); Granma, Official reopening ceremony will take place today, Granma (Aug. 14, 2015); Parazza, Bécquer & Gomez, The challenge of building a future without forgetting the past, Granma (Aug. 15, 2015). A video of the ceremony also has been archived.

[2] Separate press releases celebrating the formal opening of the U.S. Embassy were issued by Senators Leahy, Boxer, Klobuchar and Flake. Back in the U.S. Senator Marco Rubio denounced the opening of the Embassy.

[3] Representatives Cohen, Lee and McGovern issued press releases welcoming the reopening of the Embassy in Havana.

[4]  Dr.Cabañas visited Minnesota last October and was mentioned in a prior post.