The Sixth Day of Pope Francis’ Mission to the American People

Sunday, September 27, the sixth and final day of Pope Francis’ mission to the American people was another busy day in Philadelphia.

He started with meeting a small group of the Church’s sexual abuse victims. He then went to St. Charles Borromeo Seminary’s St. Martin’s Chapel, where he met with Catholic bishops attending the World Meeting of Families. Francis then visited the city’s Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility to meet with 100 inmates – a quarter female – as well as family members and prison staff. An unscheduled stop was made at St. Joseph’s University.

That afternoon the Pope returned to the World Meeting of Families to celebrate mass for over a million people. His mission to the American people concluded at the city’s International Airport where he met with organizers and volunteers from the World Meeting before his plane departed for Rome around 7:30 p.m. (EST). On the plane he held a press conference.

Meeting with Abuse Victims[1]

The day began with meeting a small group of abuse victims and their family members. Francis told them, “ Words cannot fully express my sorrow for the abuse you suffered. You are precious children of God who should always expect our protection, our care and our love. I am profoundly sorry that your innocence was violated by those whom you trusted. In some cases the trust was betrayed by members of your own family, in other cases by priests who carry a sacred responsibility for the care of soul. In all circumstances, the betrayal was a terrible violation of human dignity.”

“For those who were abused by a member of the clergy, I am deeply sorry for the times when you or your family spoke out, to report the abuse, but you were not heard or believed. Please know that the Holy Father hears you and believes you. I deeply regret that some bishops failed in their responsibility to protect children. It is very disturbing to know that in some cases bishops even were abusers. I pledge to you that we will follow the path of truth wherever it may lead. Clergy and bishops will be held accountable when they abuse or fail to protect children.”

“We are gathered here in Philadelphia to celebrate God’s gift of family life. Within our family of faith and our human families, the sins and crimes of sexual abuse of children must no longer be held in secret and in shame. As we anticipate the Jubilee Year of Mercy, your presence, so generously given despite the anger and pain you have experienced, reveals the merciful heart of Christ. Your stories of survival, each unique and compelling, are powerful signs of the hope that comes from the Lord’s promise to be with us always.”

“It is good to know that you have brought family members and friends with you today. I am grateful for their compassionate support and pray that many people of the Church will respond to the call to accompany those who have suffered abuse. May the Door of Mercy be opened wide in our dioceses, our parishes, our homes and our hearts, to receive those who were abused and to seek the path to forgiveness by trusting in the Lord. We promise to support your continued healing and to always be vigilant to protect the children of today and tomorrow.”

“When the disciples who walked with Jesus on the road to Emmaus recognized that He was the Risen Lord, they asked Jesus to stay with them. Like those disciples, I humbly beg you and all survivors of abuse to stay with us, to stay with the Church, and that together, as pilgrims on the journey of faith, we might find our way to the Father.”

Afterwards Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said this meeting included victims of abuse by relatives or educators in order to show that the church is taking a “larger perspective” on the problem of sexual abuse. He added that the Pope had waited to make these remarks until Sunday, when he was scheduled to address an international group of bishops, because “we know the problem is a universal problem, in the universal church, and also in society.”

Meeting with Bishops Attending World Meeting on Families[2]

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At St. Martin’s Chapel at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Francis met with bishops and seminarians who were attending the World Meeting on Families as shown in the photograph to the right.

Before his prepared remarks, the Pope offered these words: “I carry in my heart the stories, the suffering and the pain of the minors that have been sexually abused by priests. I’m overwhelmed by the shame that people who were in charge of caring for those young ones raped them and caused them great damages. I regret this profoundly. God cries! The crimes and sins of the sexual abuse to minors can’t be kept a secret anymore. I commit to the zealous oversight of the Church to protect minors, and I promise that everyone responsible will be held accountable. You, they, the survivors of abuse have become real heralds of hope and ministers of mercy. Humbly we owe each one of them and their families our gratitude for their immense courage for making the light of Christ shine over the evil of minor sexual abuse. I say this because I have just met by a group of people who where abused when they were children, that are helped and accompanied here in Philadelphia, with especial care from Monsignor Chaput.”

The Pope then continued with the following prepared remarks.

“For the Church, the family is not first and foremost a cause for concern, but rather the joyous confirmation of God’s blessing upon the masterpiece of creation. Every day, all over the world, the Church can rejoice in the Lord’s gift of so many families who, even amid difficult trials, remain faithful to their promises and keep the faith!”

“I would say that the foremost pastoral challenge of our changing times is to move decisively towards recognizing this gift. For all the obstacles we see before us, gratitude and appreciation should prevail over concerns and complaints. The family is the fundamental locus of the covenant between the Church and God’s creation. Without the family, not even the Church would exist. Nor could she be what she is called to be, namely ‘a sign and instrument of communion with God and of the unity of the entire human race’ (Lumen Gentium, 1).”

“Needless to say, our understanding, shaped by the interplay of ecclesial faith and the conjugal experience of sacramental grace, must not lead us to disregard the unprecedented changes taking place in contemporary society, with their social, cultural – and now juridical – effects on family bonds. These changes affect all of us, believers and non-believers alike. Christians are not ‘immune’ to the changes of their times. This concrete world, with all its many problems and possibilities, is where we must live, believe and proclaim.”

“Until recently, we lived in a social context where the similarities between the civil institution of marriage and the Christian sacrament [of marriage] were considerable and shared. The two were interrelated and mutually supportive. This is no longer the case.”

After talking about the abandonment of local stores and their bonds with neighbors, the Pope said, “our culture has become more and more competitive. Business is no longer conducted on the basis of trust; others can no longer be trusted. There are no longer close personal relationships. Today’s culture seems to encourage people not to bond with anything or anyone, not to trust. The most important thing nowadays seems to be follow the latest trend or activity. This is even true of religion. Today consumerism determines what is important. Consuming relationships, consuming friendships, consuming religions, consuming, consuming… Whatever the cost or consequences. A consumption that does not favor bonding, a consumption which has little to do with human relationships. Social bonds are a mere ‘means’ for the satisfaction of ‘my needs.’ The important thing is no longer our neighbor, with his or her familiar face, story and personality.”

“The result is a culture which discards everything that is no longer ‘useful’ or ‘satisfying’ for the tastes of the consumer. We have turned our society into a huge multicultural showcase tied only to the tastes of certain ‘consumers,’ while so many others only ‘eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table’ (Mt 15:27).”

“This causes great harm. I would say that at the root of so many contemporary situations is a kind of impoverishment born of a widespread and radical sense of loneliness. Running after the latest fad, accumulating ‘friends’ on one of the social networks, we get caught up in what contemporary society has to offer. [The result:] Loneliness with fear of commitment in a limitless effort to feel recognized.”

“Should we blame our young people for having grown up in this kind of society? Should we condemn them for living in this kind of a world? Should they hear their pastors saying that ‘it was all better back then,’ ‘the world is falling apart and if things go on this way, who knows where we will end up?’ No, I do not think that this is the way. As shepherds following in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd, we are asked to seek out, to accompany, to lift up, to bind up the wounds of our time. To look at things realistically, with the eyes of one who feels called to action, to pastoral conversion. The world today demands this conversion on our part. ‘It is vitally important for the Church today to go forth and preach the Gospel to all: to all places, on all occasions, without hesitation, reluctance or fear. The joy of the Gospel is for all people: no one can be excluded’ (Evangelii Gaudium, 23).”

“We would be mistaken, however, to see this ‘culture’ of the present world as mere indifference towards marriage and the family, as pure and simple selfishness. Are today’s young people hopelessly timid, weak, inconsistent? We must not fall into this trap.”

“Many young people, in the context of this culture of discouragement, have yielded to a form of unconscious acquiescence. They are paralyzed when they encounter the beautiful, noble and truly necessary challenges which faith sets before them. Many put off marriage while waiting for ideal conditions, when everything can be perfect. Meanwhile, life goes on, without really being lived to the full. For knowledge of life’s true pleasures only comes as the fruit of a long-term, generous investment of our intelligence, enthusiasm and passion.”

“As pastors, we bishops are called to collect our energies and to rebuild enthusiasm for making families correspond ever more fully to the blessing of God which they are! We need to invest our energies not so much in rehearsing the problems of the world around us and the merits of Christianity, but in extending a sincere invitation to young people to be brave and to opt for marriage and the family. Here too, we need a bit of holy parrhesia [candor]!”

“A Christianity which ‘does’ little in practice, while incessantly ‘explaining’ its teachings, is dangerously unbalanced. I would even say that it is stuck in a vicious circle. A pastor must show that the ‘Gospel of the family’ is truly ‘good news’ in a world where self-concern seems to reign supreme! We are not speaking about some romantic dream: the perseverance that is called for in having a family and raising it transforms the world and human history.”

“A pastor serenely yet passionately proclaims the word of God. He encourages believers to aim high. He will enable his brothers and sisters to hear and experience God’s promise, which can expand their experience of motherhood and fatherhood within the horizon of a new ‘familiarity’ with God (Mk 3:31-35).”

“A pastor watches over the dreams, the lives and the growth of his flock. This ‘watchfulness’ is not the result of talking, but of shepherding. Only one capable of standing ‘in the midst of’ the flock can be watchful, not someone who is afraid of questions, contact, accompaniment. A pastor keeps watch first and foremost with prayer, supporting the faith of his people and instilling confidence in the Lord, in his presence. A pastor remains vigilant by helping people to lift their gaze at times of discouragement, frustration and failure. We might well ask whether in our pastoral ministry we are ready to ‘waste’ time with families. Whether we are ready to be present to them, sharing their difficulties and joys.”

“Naturally, experiencing the spirit of this joyful familiarity with God, and spreading its powerful evangelical fruitfulness, has to be the primary feature of our lifestyle as bishops: a lifestyle of prayer and preaching the Gospel (Acts 6:4). By our own humble Christian apprenticeship in the familial virtues of God’s people, we will become more and more like fathers and mothers (as did Saint Paul: cf. 1 Th 2:7,11), and less like people who have simply learned to live without a family.”

“Our ideal is not to live without love! A good pastor renounces the love of a family precisely in order to focus all his energies, and the grace of his particular vocation, on the evangelical blessing of the love of men and women who carry forward God’s plan of creation, beginning with those who are lost, abandoned, wounded, broken, downtrodden and deprived of their dignity. This total surrender to God’s agape is certainly not a vocation lacking in tenderness and affection! We need but look to Jesus to understand this (cf. Mt 19:12).”

“The mission of a good pastor, in the style of God – and only God can authorize this, not our own presumption! – imitates in every way and for all people the Son’s love for the Father. This is reflected in the tenderness with which a pastor devotes himself to the loving care of the men and women of our human family.”

“For the eyes of faith, this is a most valuable sign. Our ministry needs to deepen the covenant between the Church and the family. Otherwise it becomes arid, and the human family will grow irremediably distant, by our own fault, from God’s joyful good news.”

“If we prove capable of the demanding task of reflecting God’s love, cultivating infinite patience and serenity as we strive to sow its seeds in the frequently crooked furrows in which we are called to plant, then even a Samaritan woman with five ‘non-husbands’ will discover that she is capable of giving witness.”

“And for every rich young man who with sadness feels that he has to calmly keep considering the matter, an older publican will come down from the tree and give fourfold to the poor, to whom, before that moment, he had never even given a thought.”

“May God grant us this gift of a renewed closeness between the family and the Church. The family is our ally, our window to the world, and the evidence of an irrevocable blessing of God destined for all the children who in every age are born into this difficult yet beautiful creation which God has asked us to serve!”

Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility[3]

Francis went to the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, which holds almost 3,000 individuals, the vast majority of whom have not been convicted of the charges against them and are still awaiting trial. He met with roughly 100 men and women detainees, who presented him a hand-carved chair, for which he thanked them.

Francis said to them, “Thank you for receiving me and giving me the opportunity to be here with you and to share this time in your lives. It is a difficult time, one full of struggles. I know it is a painful time not only for you, but also for your families and for all of society. Any society, any family, which cannot share or take seriously the pain of its children, and views that pain as something normal or to be expected, is a society ‘condemned’ to remain a hostage to itself, prey to the very things which cause that pain. I am here as a pastor, but above all as a brother, to share your situation and to make it my own. I have come so that we can pray together and offer our God everything that causes us pain, but also everything that gives us hope, so that we can receive from him the power of the resurrection.”

“I think of the Gospel scene where Jesus washes the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper. This was something his disciples found hard to accept. Even Peter refused, and told him: ‘You will never wash my feet’ (Jn 13:8).”

“In those days, it was the custom to wash someone’s feet when they came to your home. That was how they welcomed people. The roads were not paved, they were covered with dust, and little stones would get stuck in your sandals. Everyone walked those roads, which left their feet dusty, bruised or cut from those stones. That is why we see Jesus washing feet, our feet, the feet of his disciples, then and now.”

“Life is a journey, along different roads, different paths, which leave their mark on us.”

“We know in faith that Jesus seeks us out. He wants to heal our wounds, to soothe our feet which hurt from traveling alone, to wash each of us clean of the dust from our journey. He doesn’t ask us where we have been, he doesn’t question us what about we have done. Rather, he tells us: ‘Unless I wash your feet, you have no share with me’ (Jn 13:8). Unless I wash your feet, I will not be able to give you the life which the Father always dreamed of, the life for which he created you. Jesus comes to meet us, so that he can restore our dignity as children of God. He wants to help us to set out again, to resume our journey, to recover our hope, to restore our faith and trust. He wants us to keep walking along the paths of life, to realize that we have a mission, and that confinement is not the same thing as exclusion.”

“Life means ‘getting our feet dirty’ from the dust-filled roads of life and history. All of us need to be cleansed, to be washed. All of us are being sought out by the Teacher, who wants to help us resume our journey. The Lord goes in search of us; to all of us he stretches out a helping hand. It is painful when we see prison systems which are not concerned to care for wounds, to soothe pain, to offer new possibilities. It is painful when we see people who think that only others need to be cleansed, purified, and do not recognize that their weariness, pain and wounds are also the weariness, pain and wounds of society. The Lord tells us this clearly with a sign: he washes our feet so we can come back to the table. The table from which he wishes no one to be excluded. The table which is spread for all and to which all of us are invited.”

“This time in your life can only have one purpose: to give you a hand in getting back on the right road, to give you a hand to help you rejoin society. All of us are part of that effort, all of us are invited to encourage, help and enable your rehabilitation. A rehabilitation which everyone seeks and desires: inmates and their families, correctional authorities, social and educational programs. A rehabilitation which benefits and elevates the morale of the entire community.”

“Jesus invites us to share in his lot, his way of living and acting. He teaches us to see the world through his eyes. Eyes which are not scandalized by the dust picked up along the way, but want to cleanse, heal and restore. He asks us to create new opportunities: for inmates, for their families, for correctional authorities, and for society as a whole. I encourage you to have this attitude with one another and with all those who in any way are part of this institution. May you make possible new opportunities, new journeys, new paths.”

“All of us have something we need to be cleansed of, or purified from. May the knowledge of that fact inspire us to live in solidarity, to support one another and seek the best for others.”

“Let us look to Jesus, who washes our feet. He is ‘the way, and the truth, and the life.’ He comes to save us from the lie that says no one can change. He helps us to journey along the paths of life and fulfillment. May the power of his love and his resurrection always be a path leading you to new life.”

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After the speech, Francis walked along the rows of inmates sitting in chairs, shaking hands, chatting, laying his hand on their foreheads and hugging a few. Here is a photograph to the right showing some of those interactions.

St. Joseph’s University[4]

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Francis, a member of the Jesuit religious order, made an unscheduled stop at St. Joseph’s University, a Jesuit school. There he blessed a new statue dedicated to ties between Catholics and Jews as shown in the photograph to the left.

 

Mass at the World Meeting of Families[5]

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Sunday’s Mass, marking the end of the World Meeting of Families, took place on Eakins Oval in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with nearly a million people on the facing Benjamin Franklin Parkway, which was studded with jumbotron screens. Here is a photograph to the right of the Pope at this mass.

In his homily Francis said the following:

“Today the word of God surprises us with powerful and thought-provoking images. Images which challenge us, but also stir our enthusiasm. In the first reading, Joshua tells Moses that two members of the people are prophesying, speaking God’s word, without a mandate. In the Gospel, John tells Jesus that the disciples had stopped someone from casting out evil spirits in the name of Jesus.”

“Here is the surprise: Moses and Jesus both rebuke those closest to them for being so narrow! Would that all could be prophets of God’s word! Would that everyone could work miracles in the Lord’s name!”

“Jesus encountered hostility from people who did not accept what he said and did. For them, his openness to the honest and sincere faith of many men and women who were not part of God’s chosen people seemed intolerable. The disciples, for their part, acted in good faith. But the temptation to be scandalized by the freedom of God, who sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous alike (Mt 5:45), bypassing bureaucracy, officialdom and inner circles, threatens the authenticity of faith. Hence it must be vigorously rejected.”

“Once we realize this, we can understand why Jesus’ words about causing ‘scandal’ are so harsh. For Jesus, the truly ‘intolerable’ scandal consists in everything that breaks down and destroys our trust in the working of the Spirit!”

“Our Father will not be outdone in generosity and he continues to scatter seeds.”

“He scatters the seeds of his presence in our world, for ‘love consists in this, not that we have loved God but that he loved us’ first (1 Jn 4:10). That love gives us a profound certainty: we are sought by God; he waits for us. It is this confidence which makes disciples encourage, support and nurture the good things happening all around them. God wants all his children to take part in the feast of the Gospel. Jesus says, ‘Do not hold back anything that is good, instead help it to grow!’”

“To raise doubts about the working of the Spirit, to give the impression that it cannot take place in those who are not ‘part of our group,’ who are not ‘like us,’ is a dangerous temptation. Not only does it block conversion to the faith; it is a perversion of faith! Faith opens a ‘window’ to the presence and working of the Spirit. It shows us that, like happiness, holiness is always tied to little gestures. ‘Whoever gives you a cup of water in my name will not go unrewarded,’ says Jesus (cf. Mk 9:41).”

“These little gestures are those we learn at home, in the family; they get lost amid all the other things we do, yet they do make each day different. They are the quiet things done by mothers and grandmothers, by fathers and grandfathers, by children. They are little signs of tenderness, affection and compassion. Like the warm supper we look forward to at night, the early lunch awaiting someone who gets up early to go to work.”

“Homely gestures. Like a blessing before we go to bed, or a hug after we return from a hard day’s work. Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home. Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love. That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches. They are the right place for faith to become life, and life to become faith.”

“Jesus tells us not to hold back these little miracles. Instead, he wants us to encourage them, to spread them. He asks us to go through life, our everyday life, encouraging all these little signs of love as signs of his own living and active presence in our world.”

“So we might ask ourselves: How are we trying to live this way in our homes, in our societies? What kind of world do we want to leave to our children (cf. Laudato Si’, 160)? We cannot answer these questions alone, by ourselves. It is the Spirit who challenges us to respond as part of the great human family.”

“Our common house can no longer tolerate sterile divisions. The urgent challenge of protecting our home includes the effort to bring the entire human family together in the pursuit of a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change (cf. ibid., 13). May our children find in us models and incentives to communion! May our children find in us men and women capable of joining others in bringing to full flower all the good seeds which the Father has sown!”

“Pointedly, yet affectionately, Jesus tells us: ‘If you, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’ (Lk 11:13). How much wisdom there is in these few words! It is true that, as far as goodness and purity of heart are concerned, we human beings don’t have much to show! But Jesus knows that, where children are concerned, we are capable of boundless generosity. So he reassures us: if only we have faith, the Father will give us his Spirit.”

“We Christians, the Lord’s disciples, ask the families of the world to help us! How many of us are here at this celebration! This is itself something prophetic, a kind of miracle in today’s world. The world is tired of creating new division and new disasters. Wouldn’t it be great if all of us where prophets. If all of us would be open ot the miracles of love for the good of all families.”

“I leave you with this question, for each one of you to respond to. In my home, do we yell, or do we speak with love and tenderness? This is a good way to recognize our love.”

“Would that we could all be prophets! Would that all of us could be open to miracles of love for the sake of all the families of the world, and thus overcome the scandal of a narrow, petty love, closed in on itself, impatient of other. And how beautiful it would be if everywhere, even beyond our borders, we could appreciate and encourage this prophecy and this miracle! We renew our faith in the word of the Lord which invites faithful families to this openness. It invites all those who want to share the prophecy of the covenant of man and woman, which generates life and reveals God!”

“Anyone who wants to bring into this world a family which teaches children to be excited by every gesture aimed at overcoming evil – a family which shows that the Spirit is alive and at work – will encounter our gratitude and our appreciation. Whatever the family, people, region, or religion to which they belong! May God grant to all of us, as the Lord’s disciples, the grace to be worthy of this purity of heart which is not scandalized by the Gospel!”

Return Flight to Rome[6]

Before he boarded his plane to return to Rome, Francis met with the organizers, volunteers and benefactors of the World Meeting of Families to thank them for all their work. At approximately 7:30 p.m. (EST) the Pope’s plane left Philadelphia for Rome.

On the plane the Pope held a press conference. He again strongly condemned priests who molested children as “sacrilegious” and publicly acknowledged that bishops had covered up abuse cases. “When a priest abuses, it is very grave because the vocation of the priest is to make that boy, that girl grow toward the love of God. For this reason, the church is strong on this and one must not cover these things up. Those who covered this up are guilty. Even some bishops who covered this up.”

Francis commended the sisters in the U.S., who “have done marvels in the field of education, in the field of health. The people of the United States love the sisters. . . . They are great, they are great, great, great women. . . .”

He defended his recent changes to Roman Catholic rules on marriage annulments, saying the changes had improved the system, but had not transformed it into an administrative “Catholic divorce.”

Francis described the deep roots of the migrant crisis while dismissing border barriers, like the one being constructed in Hungary, as pointless. He recognized that Europe was facing a difficult situation but promoted dialogue as a solution, not walls.

Francis expressed hope that a tentative peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, would be realized by the March [2016] deadline. He said he had spoken twice to President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia while Vatican diplomats had also been involved. “I was very happy, and I felt like I was part of it,” he said.

When asked about government employees who refused to discharge their duties as an act of religious conscience, including refusing to grant marriage licenses to gay couples, Francis did not offer specifics but described conscientious objection as “a human right.”

This last issue re-emerged after the Pope’s return to the Vatican when it became known that on the third day of his American mission (September 24), the Pope met at the Vatican Embassy in Washington with several individuals, including Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who was jailed for contempt of court for refusing to grant wedding licenses to same-sex couples because of her religious beliefs. According to her lawyer, the Pope gave her and her husband two rosaries, embraced her and told her to “stay strong.” The Vatican spokesman, Federico Lombardi, however, subsequently stated,“The pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs. Davis, and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects.”  The Vatican spokesman added that the only “real audience” given by the Pope in the U.S. was to one of his former students, who is a gay man, and his male partner.[7]

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[1] Pope Francis’ Remarks to Victims of Sexual Abuse, N.Y. Times (Sept. 27, 2015); Goodstein & Wakin, Pope Francis Ends Visit With Mass After Meeting Bishops and Inmates, N.Y. Times (Sept. 27, 2015).

[2] Goodstein, After Criticism, Pope Francis Confronts Priestly Sexual Abuse, N.Y. Times (Sept. 27, 2015); Read Pope Francis’ Speech to Bishops, NBC4 (Sept. 27, 2015) (video + text).

[3] Reilly, Pope Francis Tells Inmates That Society Can’t Ignore Their Pain, HuffPost (Sept. 27, 2015); Pope Francis’ Speech to Curran-Fromhold Correction Facility Inmates (Sept. 27, 2015).

[4] Pontiff Makes Historic Visit to Philadelphia’s Jesuit University (Sept. 27, 2015).

[5] Pope Francis’ Homily at the World Meeting of Families Closing Mass (Sept. 27, 2015).

[6] Pope’s Visit with organizers, volunteers and benefactors of the World Meeting of Families (Sept. 27, 2015); Yardley, Pope Francis, on Flight Home, Strongly Condemns Child Sexual Abuse, (N.Y. Times (Sept. 28, 2015); Murphy, Pope expands warnings on sex abuse scandals after return to Rome, Wash. Post (Sept. 28, 2015); Pope Francis: “I’m not a star, but the servant of servants of God,” Vatican Radio (Sept. 28, 2015).

[7] Goodstein & Yardley, Pope Francis, the Kentucky Clerk and Culture Wars Revisited, N.Y. Times (Sept. 30, 2015); Yardley & Goodstein, Before Pope Francis Met Kim Davis, He Met With Gay Ex-Student, N.Y. Times (Oct. 2, 2015). There also has been speculation about whether the papal nuncio to the U.S. was responsible on his own for inviting Ms. Davis without adequately briefing the Pope about her case. (Horowitz, Archbishop at Center of Mystery of Papal Meeting with Kim Davis, N.Y. Times (Oct. 3, 2015).

 

Cuba Meets with European Union and Russian Ministers

This week Cuban leaders have held meetings in Havana with the foreign ministers of the European Union and Russia.

European Union-Cuba

A previous post examined the recent history of Cuba’s relations with the European Union (EU), including their negotiations on improving relations in 2014 and earlier this month. Another set of such negotiations or meetings took place in Havana on March 23-24 with the EU’s [1]

The most recent meetings were with the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini.

EU +Castro

She met with Cuban President Raúl Castro and Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla. Also present were Stefano Manservisi, Mogherini’s chief of staff; Herman Portocarero, EU Ambassador to Cuba; and Rogelio Sierra Diaz, Cuba’s Minister and Deputy Foreign Minister. (To the left is a photograph of Mogherini and Castro.)

In addition, Magherini met with the President of the National Assembly of Popular Power, Esteban Lazo Hernández; Vice President of the Council of Ministers and Minister of Economy and Planning, Marino Murillo Jorge; and Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, Rodrigo Malmierca.

Afterwards Magherini said that although the pace of progress in the EU-Cuba talks on improving their relations was “slow,” it was gaining “political momentum” and that the two parties had “decided to speed up the rhythm of our negotiations, hopefully to manage to finalize the framework of our dialogue and agreement by the end of this year.” She also referred to the signing of a program between the island and the EU in the amount of 50 million euros until 2020, which will be used in commercial areas and especially in agriculture and complimented Cuba for its essential role in regional processes such as the Colombia-FARC peace negotiations taking place in Havana.

A Cuban newspaper reported the President Castro observed that “in a friendly atmosphere,” the two of them “exchanged ideas about the links between the EU and Cuba .They agreed on the importance of developing relationships of mutual respect, based on the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter. Also, they discussed issues of common interest of the international agenda.”

Bruno Rodriguez reiterated Cuba’s “willingness to work to advance these links and . . . constructive engagement with the negotiations for an agreement on political dialogue and bilateral cooperation that is underway.” He also noted Cuba’s appreciation for the votes of EU members in support of Cuba’s resolution against the U.S. blockade (embargo) at last Fall’s U.N. General Assembly meeting.

Magherini and Bruno Rodriguez will see each other at the Summit of the Americas on April 10-11 in Panama, to which both Cuba and the EU are invited for the first time before the two of them meet in Brussels on April 22. In addition, Cuban officials will attend a summit of European and Latin American leaders scheduled for June in Brussels.

Russia-Cuba [2]

 

Serguei-Lavrov-y-Raúl-Castro1

On March 24, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met in Havana with Cuban President Raúl Castro. Also present were Mikhail L. Kamynin, Russian Ambassador to Cuba; Alexander V. Schetinin, the Director of Latin America at Russia’s Foreign Ministry; Cuban Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla; and Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister, Rogelio Sierra Díaz. (Above is a photograph of Larov and Castro.)

The participants discussed the excellent state of their relations and ratified the willingness to work together in the effective implementation of the bilateral economic agenda and deepen exchanges in areas of common interest. Castro thanked Russia’s support for ending the U.S. economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba and reiterated his country’s opposition to the unilateral sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its NATO allies against Russia.

Larov said, “Normalization between the United States and Cuba makes us happy. We salute this rapprochement,” and “we call for the lifting of the (U.S.) trade and financial blockade of Cuba as soon as possible.”

Earlier Larov met separately with Foreign Minister Rodriguez and with Ricardo Cabrisas, Vice President of Cuba’s Council of Ministers. They discussed bilateral cooperation and the interest of Russian companies in investing in Cuba’s development.

CubaRussia-0a5c9

Simultaneously a Russian ship of the class generally used for intelligence gathering was in the Havana Harbor as shown in the photograph to the left by Desmond Boylan/Associated Press.

 Conclusion

These meeting emphasize that Cuba’s redefining its relationships with the U.S. is not the only bilateral issue facing Cuba and that the U.S. is in competition with the EU and Russia for improving economic relations.

culPanama Canalbra-cutAnother factor influencing all of these discussions is Cuba’s construction of a deep-sea port at Mariel to accommodate larger ships going through an expanded Panama Canal, which announced this week that the expansion should be completed next year. (To the right is a photograph of one portion of the expanded canal.)

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[1] This section of the post is based upon the following sources: Reuters, EU, Cuba to Speed Up Talks, Seek Deal by End of 2015, N.Y. Times (Mar. 24, 2015); Raúl received the High Representative of the European Union, CubaDebate (Mar. 24, 2015); Raúl received the High Representative of the European Union, Granma (Mar. 24, 2015); Forte, Visit of European High Representative promotes relations with Cuba, Granma (Mar. 24, 2015); Abellán, EU foreign affairs chief steps up talks for new Cuba cooperation policy, El Pais (Mar. 24, 2015).

[2] This section of the post is based upon the following source Assoc. Press, Russian FM Visits Cuba, Calls for End of US Trade Embargo, Wash. Post (Mar. 24, 2015); Reuters, Russian Foreign Minister Praises New U.S.-Cuba Relations, N.Y. Times (Mar. 24, 2015); Raul held meeting with the Foreign Minister of Russia, CubaDebate (Mar. 24, 2015); Raul meets with Russian Foreign Minister, Granma (Mar. 25, 2015).

 

 

Mogherini–

 

https://dwkcommentaries.com/2015/03/10/european-union-and-cubas-negotiations-over-human-rights-and-other-issues/

 

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Takes Actions Regarding Cuba

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The just-concluded General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) approved two resolutions regarding Cuba.

 End Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism”

 By a vote of 481 to 63, the General Assembly adopted resolution 11-03: “Petition the President of the United States and the U.S. Department of State to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism as soon as possible.” [1] The stated rationale for the resolution included the following:

  • “[T]here is no evidence that Cuba has provided [logistical and financial or political support to groups that carry out terrorist attacks on civilians] in recent decades or is currently providing it.”
  • “To the contrary, Cuba has made international commitments to combat terrorism, has ratified all twelve international counterterrorism conventions, and has offered to sign a bilateral agreement with the United States on counterterrorism.”
  • “In an immediate response to the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., by Islamist militants belonging to Al Qaeda, Cuba expressed solidarity with the U.S, condemning the attacks and offering Cuban airports for the emergency diversion of airplanes from U.S. airports.”
  • “Cuba is a sponsor of the peace talks between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People’s Army (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia—Ejército del Pueblo or FARC) guerrillas and the Columbian government and is playing a constructive mediating in these talks in an effort to bring an end to one of the regions’ longest-standing conflicts and has been lauded by the Columbian government for its assistance.”
  • “Cuba collaborates with the U.S. in counter-drug traffic efforts, interdicting narcotic shipments in the Caribbean and has been publicly thanked by the United States government for this cooperation.”
  • “Under these circumstances, keeping Cuba on the list of state sponsors of terrorism weakens the credibility of the entire list. . . . Removing Cuba from the list would send a positive signal to all Latin American governments and would enhance the image of the U.S. in this hemisphere and around the world.”

End Restrictions on U.S. Citizens Traveling to Cuba

By a hand vote the General Assembly approved resolution 11-05: “Petition the President of the United States, the U.S. Department of State, and the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to remove all of the restrictions on travel by U.S. citizens to Cuba, which it is legally possible for them to do, and to openly and vigorously advocate to Congress the repeal of all laws restricting the constitutional right of U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba.” The resolution also stated: “Petition the majority and minority leaders of the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives to work to repeal all of the laws restricting travel to that nation.”

The rationale for this resolution included the following: “[M]illions of U. S. citizens are unable to visit Cuba because of restrictions still in place that limit travel to that nation. Speaking to the Organization of American States in 2013, U. S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, stated that ‘our people are actually our best ambassadors.’ . . . Increased travel by U. S. citizens will help support thousands of . . . [new] Cuban entrepreneurs and will enable them to purchase food and clothing and provide for their other basic needs.”

 Consultation of U.S. and Cuban Presbyterian Churches

 The General Assembly also considered Resolution 11-06 calling for developing a process for consultation between the U.S. and Cuban Presbyterian churches. By a hand vote, it was referred back to the appropriate church committee to find the necessary funding for such a process in light of the U.S. church’s “commitment to deepening our relationship [with Cuba] by careful analysis of the ongoing complex situation in Cuba.”

Conclusion

The biennial General Assembly is the national governing body of the Presbyterian church (U.S.A.) that brings together commissioners and advisory delegates from all 172 presbyteries in the U.S., as well as other delegates and observers from around the world.

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[1] This blog repeatedly has called for ending the designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism.” Here is the latest such post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

State Department’s Rationale

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

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

Rebuttal of State Department’s Rationale

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

U.S. Admissions of the Weakness of Its Designation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But let us go further.

Cuba As an Alleged Safe Haven for Terrorists

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

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

            a. ETA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            b. FARC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            c. U.S. fugitives

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

State Department’s Rationale

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

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

Rebuttal of State Department’s Rationale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But let us go further.

1. Cuba As an Alleged Safe Haven for Terrorists 

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

                a. ETA

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

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

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

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

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

                b. FARC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                c. U.S. fugitives

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

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

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

2. Cuba’s Alleged Financial System Deficiencies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion 

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

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

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


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

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

Positive Developments for Improved U.S.-Cuba Relations

Two recent developments implicitly have endorsed my strong suggestion for the U.S. to rescind its designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” and to seek reconciliation with Cuba.

Colombia-FARC Negotiations

President Juan Manuel Santos

Over the last week the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, has announced that this October his government will enter into new negotiations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) seeking to end their long civil war.

Santos said that holding such talks is well worth the risk of failure because an end to the conflict would not only would end bloodletting, but also bring a “peace dividend” of up to 2% additional economic growth a year to the country’s economy.

The initial negotiations will take place in Norway and then move to Havana, Cuba. The President said that support for such negotiations by Venezuela and Cuba has been crucial in helping the two sides to reach agreement on conducting the negotiations.

Cuba’s role in this positive development for Colombia and the whole western hemisphere shows the absurdity of the U.S. designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” on the ground, in part, that some members of the FARC have been living in Cuba.

Former President Carter Calls for Improved U.S.- Cuba Relations

Jimmy Carter

 

On September 6th, former President Jimmy Carter said the next U.S. president should act forcefully to improve relations with Cuba. He also called for Cuba to be removed from the U.S. State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.

 

 

Letter to President Obama Regarding Cuba

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

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

1. U.S. Embargo of Cuba

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

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

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

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

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

The U.S. should rescind this designation.

3. U.S. Denigration of Cuban Religious Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

4.  U.S. Negotiations with Cuba

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

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

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

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


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