Criticism of Venezuela’s Response to President Obama’s Executive Order

An op-ed in El Pais, Spain’s leading newspaper, by Peace Zárate, an expert in public international law, criticizes Venezuela’s response to President Obama’s March 9th executive order. [1]

According to the author, the Venezuelan and UNASUR reactions to the executive order prompt four questions and answers.

First, are the reactions proportional to the executive order? “No” is his answer. He reasons, “No doubt that Caracas has the sovereign right to feel offended by the actions taken by the U.S. government. However, these [U.S.] actions are not “the most aggressive, . . . nefarious, unfair, and . . . [unprecedented measures] against Venezuela” as described by [Venezuelan President] Maduro. The measures have not been taken against the country as a whole, nor against all its citizens, nor against its economy, trade and bilateral investments, but only [against] seven officials individually responsible for severe and massive human rights violations. . . . These seven individuals are prohibited from entering U.S. territory and prevented from making transactions relating to assets located in the [U.S.].”

Second, are these sanctions illegal? “No,” again is his answer. He says, “The justification given by the Obama administration was respect for human rights and safeguarding democratic institutions within the framework of international law. These rules are contained in both treaties to which Venezuela and the [U.S.] are signatories, and in customary international law. Serious violations of human rights are not ‘internal affairs.’ They are the exception to the principle of non-intervention. And in the case of Venezuela, these violations have been established by the U.N. and [the] most respected international non-governmental human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.” Moreover, the “U.S. sanctions [against] seven Venezuelan officials are: a minor gesture and [permissible].”

Third, was the U.S. entitled to impose these sanctions? “Yes,” is his answer even though the U.S. does not have a perfect record on human rights and even though “countries generally tend to avoid taking [their] own actions when human rights are violated in another state. . . .But this reluctance does not mean [a] State cannot adopt sanctions. . . .  And to do that, international law does not [require a state to have an unblemished record] (no state has that).”

Fourth, “what effect will [the sanctions] have for the individual rights of the citizens of Venezuela, where repression leads [to] a growing account of death and torture [as it] is governed by decree?” That question is unanswered even as “the practical effects for the seven Venezuelan officials affected by the sanctions are minimal” and “the impasse between Washington and Caracas eventually [will] be solved.”

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[1] The reactions of Venezuela, UNASUR and ALBA were described in prior posts: U.S. and Cuba Squabble Over U.S. Sanctions Against Certain Venezuelans (Mar. 16, 2015); Venezuela’s Open Letter to the People of the United States (Mar. 18, 2015); and ALBA Emergency Meeting’s Action Regarding President Obama’s Executive Order Imposing Sanctions on Seven Venezuelans (Mar. 19, 2015).

ALBA Emergency Meeting’s Action Regarding President Obama’s Executive Order Imposing Sanctions on Seven Venezuelans

As discussed in a prior post, Venezuela has been organizing Latin American opposition to President Obama’s March 9th executive order imposing sanctions on seven Venezuelans. The latest venue for such opposition was the March 17th ALBA emergency meeting in Caracas, Venezuela.

This post will discuss that ALBA resolution and Cuban President Rául Castro’s passionate speech at the meeting against the U.S. and the executive order. We will conclude with some observations.

ALBA’s Resolution Regarding the U.S. Executive Order [1]

After speeches and discussion, ALBA adopted a resolution that:

  • Demanded “the U.S. government and its president, [to] repeal Executive Order adopted on March 9, 2015, against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, which constitutes a threat to their sovereignty and interference in the internal affairs of this sister nation.”
  • Expressed “their strong support for the process of dialogue for the restoration of relations between Cuba and the [U.S.], urging President Obama to adopt with determination the measures within their executive powers to amend the implementation of the economic, commercial and financial [embargo or blockade], and to stop the illegal occupation of the territory occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base.”
  • Urged “Panama, as host of the VII Summit of the Americas to ensure through a transparent process the widest, legitimate and representative participation in the Forum of Civil Society, popular movements and country NGOs that advocate for nuclear disarmament, environmentalists, against neoliberalism, the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy region, university and secondary students, farmers, unions, indigenous communities, organizations that oppose the contamination of shale, advocates for the rights of immigrants, denouncing torture, extrajudicial killings, police brutality, racist practices, claiming for women equal pay for equal work, which require compensation for damage to the transnational companies.”

President Rául Castro’s Speech [2]

President Rául Castro
President Rául Castro

“ALBA brings us together today to reaffirm our firmest support for the Bolivarian people and government in the face of the latest interventionist measures and threats from the U.S. government against Venezuela.” (In the photograph to the left Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla is seated behind President Castro at the ALBA meeting.)

“The facts demonstrate that history cannot be ignored. The relations between the United States and Latin America and the Caribbean have been marked by the “Monroe Doctrine” and the objective of exercising domination and hegemony over our nations.”

“Simon Bolívar had anticipated that the [U.S.] ‘seems destined by Providence to plague America with misery in the name of Liberty,’ and [Jose] Martí fell in combat before concluding the letter in which he explained the “duty of preventing the [U.S.] from spreading throughout the Antilles as Cuba gains its independence, and from overpowering with that additional strength our lands of America.’”

“Later came the military interventions, the coup d’états, the maneuvers to overthrow nationalist or progressive governments, the backing of bloody military dictatorships, the undercover operations, the support for terrorism and subversion, as well as the appropriation and plundering of our resources to perpetuate dependence and underdevelopment.”

Cuba’s “triumphant audacity to carry out a socialist revolution just 90 miles from the [U.S.] has meant immense sacrifices, suffering, loss of life and material deprivation for the Cuban people, subject to . . . every kind of hostility, including the support and organization of armed bands in the mountains from . . . [late]1959, the Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961 and the formalization of the blockade in 1962, all with the stated intention of defeating the Revolution and changing the political, economic and social order we freely chose and subsequently confirmed in a constitutional referendum.”

“The result has been a resounding failure [for the U.S.], the harming of our people and the complete isolation of the [U.S.] . . . , as recently recognized by President Barack Obama on announcing a new policy [on December 17, 2014] and resolving to open another chapter. However, his government spokespeople insist on clarifying that the objectives persist and only the methods change.”

“The triumph of the Bolivarian Revolution was an extraordinary milestone in the history of Venezuela and the whole region, which had begun to awaken from the long neoliberal slumber. An era of change commenced in the continent and other nations decided to embark on the path towards full independence and integration and again take up the flags of our national heroes.”

“ALBA, UNASUR [and] CELAC were created, which united, in their diversity, previous groupings and initiatives of genuine Latin Americanist and Caribbean calling, founded on principles of solidarity, cooperation, social justice and defense of sovereignty.”

“PetroCaribe was an extraordinary, generous and humanistic contribution of President Hugo Chávez Frías. Now [the U.S.] wants to destroy PetroCaribe, to threaten its member states, to submit them to the oil multinationals and separate them from Venezuela. They do not realize that our peoples have decided, irrevocably, to continue our unstoppable advance and fight for a multipolar and just world, where those who were historically excluded have a voice, hope and dignity.”

“U.S. imperialism has attempted, without success, practically all possible formulas to destabilize and subvert the Bolivarian Chavista revolution, to recover its control of the largest oil reserves on the planet, and to deliver a blow to the integrationist, emancipation process underway in Our America.”

“The arbitrary, aggressive, unjustified executive order issued by the [U.S.] President regarding the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela’s government, describing it as a threat to its national security, shows that the [U.S.] is able to sacrifice the peace and the direction of hemispheric and regional relations, for reasons of domination and domestic politics.”

“The idea is untenable that a country like Venezuela — which has shown so much solidarity, never invaded or harmed any other, and contributes in a significant and altruistic manner to the energy security and economic stability of a considerable number of nations of the continent — could represent a threat to the security of the greatest super-power in history.”

“We support the honorable, valiant, constructive position taken by President Nicolás Maduro, who, despite the seriousness of this threat, has extended his hand to the [U.S.] President to initiate a dialogue based on international law and mutual respect, which could lead to the unconditional revocation of President Obama’s executive order and the normalization of relations. ALBA and CELAC should join in this proposal.”

“Today Venezuela is not alone, nor is our region the one it was 20 years ago. We will not tolerate the violation of sovereignty or allow peace in the region to be broken with impunity.”

“Threats to the peace and stability of Venezuela represent threats to regional stability and peace, as well.”

“The peace, which Venezuela today demands and which we all need, [is] a “peace with justice, with equality; the peace on our feet, not on our knees; peace with dignity and development,” as Maduro said. It is the peace to which we committed ourselves in the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace, adopted by the II CELAC Summit in Havana.”

Cuba’s “position under these circumstances remains unchanged. I reiterate the firm solidarity of the Cuban Revolution with the Bolivarian Revolution, with constitutional President Nicolás Maduro and with the civic-military union which he heads. I reiterate our absolute loyalty to the memory of Comandante Hugo Chávez Frías, the Cuban Revolution’s best friend.”

“We reaffirm once again, “The Cuban collaborators present in [our] sister country [Venezuela], will continue to fulfill their duties under any circumstances whatsoever, to the benefit of the fraternal, noble, generous people of Venezuela.”

“The [U.S.] must understand once and for all that it is impossible to seduce or buy Cuba, or intimidate Venezuela. Our unity is indestructible.”

“Nor will we concede one iota in the defense of sovereignty and independence, or tolerate any type of interference or conditions on our internal affairs.”

“Nor will we cease to defend just causes in Our America and the world, nor will we ever abandon our brothers in the struggle. We have come to close ranks with Venezuela and ALBA, and reaffirm that principles are not negotiable.”

“To defend these convictions, we will attend the 7th Summit of the Americas. We will present our positions with firmness, clarity and respect. We will reject with determination any attempt to isolate or threaten Venezuela, and demand a definitive end to the blockade of Cuba. Cuban civil society will be the voice of those without a voice, and we will expose the mercenaries who will appear there [posing] as Cuba’s civil society.”

“We must call upon all peoples and governments of Our America to mobilize and remain alert in the defense of Venezuela. Solidarity is the foundation of unity and regional integration.”

Conclusion

As mentioned in a prior post, I have not been a close observer of events in Venezuela and U.S. relations with that country and thus have no grounds for siding with Venezuela’s version of those events and relations or with the U.S. version. Therefore, I will try to set out these different versions in future posts [3] and invite respectful comments agreeing or disagreeing with these conflicting versions and hopefully containing citations to sources.

As an advocate for U.S.-Cuba reconciliation, I am troubled by the prospect that what I have called the “squabble” over President Obama’s March 9th executive order will adversely affect or derail that reconciliation, a concern heightened by the previously mentioned speech by President Castro.

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[1] Declaration of the Special Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America-Trade Treaty (ALBA-TCP), Granma (Mar. 17, 2015); Hernández, Cuba and Alba in solidarity with Venezuela, Granma (Mar. 18, 2015).

[2] Rául Castro, We must call upon all the peoples and governments of Our America to mobilize and be alert in defense of Venezuela, Granma (Mar. 18, 2015). The day before this speech the President’s brother, Fidel Castro, in a long letter to Venezuelan President Maduro condemned “the outrageous policy of the United States government toward Venezuela and Alba.” Fidel concluded by saying, “Whatever U.S. imperialism may do, it will never be able to count on them [the Bolivarian National Armed Forces] to do what they did for so many years. Today Venezuela can count on the best-equipped soldiers and officers in Latin America. When you [Maduro] met with officers recently, it was evident that they were ready to give their last drop of blood for the homeland.” (Fidel sends message to President Nicolás Maduro, Granma (Mar. 17, 2015).)

[3] Venezuela’s version of events was set forth in this post and in “Venezuela’s Open Letter to People of the United States.”  Both sides’ versions were discussed in “U.S. and Cuba Squabble Over U.S. Sanctions Against Certain Venezuelans” (Mar. 16, 2015),

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Obama’s Negative Reaction to Netanyahu’s Planned Speech to U.S. Congress Validates Cuba’s Negative Reaction to U.S. Meeting with Cuban Dissidents in Cuba

At the invitation of John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning to give a speech to the U.S. Congress regarding sanctions on Iran. Apparently this plan was suggested by Ron Dermer, Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S., who once worked for a Republican pollster in Florida and who is a confident of Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire GOP donor. [1]

This was done without the prior knowledge and approval of the Obama Administration which under the U.S. Constitution is in charge of foreign affairs. In response the White House Press Secretary, Josh Earnest, said that the planned speech was “a departure from protocol [as] such invitations are usually made leader to leader” and that Obama would not meet with Netanyahu while he was in the U.S.

An unnamed U.S. official was more outspoken. He or she said this “is not the way people act. It is unprecedented. It is barbaric behaviour. It is so impolite it is disgraceful.” Richard Cohen, a columnist for the Washington Post, said it showed Netanyahu’s contempt for Obama and threatened U.S. bipartisan understanding and support for Israel. Cohen sarcastically said he would not be surprised to see Netanyahu as a delegate at the Republican Party’s 2016 national convention.

U.S. criticism is also directed at Ambassador Dermer. A senior Obama administration official said the Ambassador had “repeatedly placed Mr. Netanyahu’s political fortunes above the relationship between Israel and the U.S.”

Netanyahu is in the midst of an election campaign in Israel and undoubtedly saw the speech as bolstering his status as an international statesman. But instead it has prompted severe criticism in his country. His former ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, who is running for the country’s parliament, called on Netanyahu to cancel the speech, and Amos Yadlin, a former Israeli military intelligence chief, denounced the plan as “irresponsible.” An Israeli professor specializing in Israeli-American relations, said, “It’s a huge miscalculation. People are now questioning [Netanyahu’s] judgment.”

The controversy also apparently is bolstering support for Obama’s Iran policies from at least the Democrats in Congress

Finally the forceful criticism of the planned Netanyahu speech shows the validity of a prior post’s description of the Cuban government’s unhappiness with the recent meeting in Havana with Cuban dissidents  by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson and with the USAID covert or “discreet” programs on the island purportedly to promote democracy and human rights.

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[1] This post is based upon Zogby, Boehner, Netanyahu outsmarted themselves, Chicago Trib. (Jan. 26, 2015); Cohen, Netanyahu’s Contempt for President Obama, Wash. Post (Jan. 26, 2015); Bernstein, Is Netanyahu’s address to Congress unconstitutional?, Wash. Post (Jan. 26, 2015); Rudoren, Israeli Opposition Takes Aim at Netanyahu Over Planned Speech to Congress, N.Y. Times (Jan. 27, 2015); Peters, G.O.P.’s Invitation to Netanyahu Is Aiding Obama’s Cause on Iran, N.Y. Times (Jan. 29, 2015); Davis, White House’s Dismay Over Netanyahu’s Visit Extends to Ambassador, N.Y. Times (Jan. 29, 2015); Hulse & Peters, Netanyahu Is Talking to Leading Democrats to Little Effect So Far, N.Y. Times (Jan. 30, 2015); Robinson, Boehner’s Invitation to Netanyahu backfires on them both, Wash. Post (Jan. 29, 2015); Kagan, Five reasons Netanyahu should not address Congress, Wash. Post (Jan. 29, 2015).

Additional Details About White House’s Announcement of U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation

White House
White House

On December 17, 2014, President Barack Obama in a nationally televised speech announced the historic agreement with Cuba to restore diplomatic relations as one part of a reconciliation with Cuba. That same day the White House website had (a) “FACT SHEET: Charting a New Course in Cuba;” (b) “Background Conference Call on Policy Changes in Cuba and Release of Alan Gross;” and (c) “Readout of the Vice President’s Calls to the Presidents of Colombia and Mexico on the Administration’s Cuba Policy Changes.”

After reviewing these documents, the post will conclude with observations on some of the points raised in these documents.

“FACT SHEET: Charting a New Course in Cuba”

The introduction to the FACT SHEET, among other things, said, “It is clear that decades of U.S. isolation of Cuba have failed to accomplish our enduring objective of promoting the emergence of a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba. . . . It does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse.  We know from hard-learned experience that it is better to encourage and support reform than to impose policies that will render a country a failed state.  With our actions today, we are calling on Cuba to unleash the potential of 11 million Cubans by ending unnecessary restrictions on their political, social, and economic activities.” (Emphasis added.)

The FACT SHEET then provided the following “Key Components of the Updated Policy Approach:”

“Establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba-

  • The President has instructed the Secretary of State to immediately initiate discussions with Cuba on the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba, which were severed in January 1961.
  • In the coming months, we will re-establish an embassy in Havana and carry out high-level exchanges and visits between our two governments as part of the normalization process.  As an initial step, the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs will lead the U.S. Delegation to the next round of U.S.-Cuba Migration Talks in January 2015, in Havana.
  • U.S. engagement will be critical when appropriate and will include continued strong support for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba and other measures aimed at fostering improved conditions for the Cuban people. (Emphasis added.)
  • The United States will work with Cuba on matters of mutual concern and that advance U.S. national interests, such as migration, counternarcotics, environmental protection, and trafficking in persons, among other issues.” (Emphasis added.)

“Adjusting regulations to more effectively empower the Cuban people-

  • The changes announced today will soon be implemented via amendments to regulations of the Departments of the Treasury and Commerce.   Our new policy changes will further enhance our goal of empowering the Cuban population.
  • Our travel and remittance policies are helping Cubans by providing alternative sources of information and opportunities for self-employment and private property ownership, and by strengthening independent civil society. 
  • These measures will further increase people-to-people contact; further support civil society in Cuba; and further enhance the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people.  Persons must comply with all provisions of the revised regulations; violations of the terms and conditions are enforceable under U.S. law.”

“Facilitating an expansion of travel under general licenses for the 12 existing categories of travel to Cuba authorized by law-

  • General licenses will be made available for all authorized travelers in the following existing categories: (1) family visits; (2) official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; (3) journalistic activity; (4) professional research and professional meetings; (5) educational activities; (6) religious activities; (7) public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; (8) support for the Cuban people; (9) humanitarian projects; (10) activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; (11) exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and (12) certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines. 
  • Travelers in the 12 categories of travel to Cuba authorized by law will be able to make arrangements through any service provider that complies with the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) regulations governing travel services to Cuba, and general licenses will authorize provision of such services. 
  • The policy changes make it easier for Americans to provide business training for private Cuban businesses and small farmers and provide other support for the growth of Cuba’s nascent private sector.  Additional options for promoting the growth of entrepreneurship and the private sector in Cuba will be explored.”

Facilitating remittances to Cuba by U.S. persons

  • Remittance levels will be raised from $500 to $2,000 per quarter for general donative remittances to Cuban nationals (except to certain officials of the government or the Communist party); and donative remittances for humanitarian projects, support for the Cuban people, and support for the development of private businesses in Cuba will no longer require a specific license.
  • Remittance forwarders will no longer require a specific license.”

“Authorizing expanded commercial sales/exports from the United States of certain goods and services-

  • The expansion will seek to empower the nascent Cuban private sector.  Items that will be authorized for export include certain building materials for private residential construction, goods for use by private sector Cuban entrepreneurs, and agricultural equipment for small farmers.  This change will make it easier for Cuban citizens to have access to certain lower-priced goods to improve their living standards and gain greater economic independence from the state.”

“Authorizing American citizens to import additional goods from Cuba-

  • Licensed U.S. travelers to Cuba will be authorized to import $400 worth of goods from Cuba, of which no more than $100 can consist of tobacco products and alcohol combined.”

Facilitating authorized transactions between the United States and Cuba-

  • U.S. institutions will be permitted to open correspondent accounts at Cuban financial institutions to facilitate the processing of authorized transactions.
  • The regulatory definition of the statutory term “cash in advance” will be revised to specify that it means “cash before transfer of title”; this will provide more efficient financing of authorized trade with Cuba.
  • U.S. credit and debit cards will be permitted for use by travelers to Cuba.
  • These measures will improve the speed, efficiency, and oversight of authorized payments between the United States and Cuba.”

“Initiating new efforts to increase Cubans’ access to communications and their ability to communicate freely-

  • Cuba has an internet penetration of about five percent—one of the lowest rates in the world.  The cost of telecommunications in Cuba is exorbitantly high, while the services offered are extremely limited.
  • The commercial export of certain items that will contribute to the ability of the Cuban people to communicate with people in the United States and the rest of the world will be authorized.  This will include the commercial sale of certain consumer communications devices, related software, applications, hardware, and services, and items for the establishment and update of communications-related systems.
  •  Telecommunications providers will be allowed to establish the necessary mechanisms, including infrastructure, in Cuba to provide commercial telecommunications and internet services, which will improve telecommunications between the United States and Cuba.”

“Updating the application of Cuba sanctions in third countries-

  • U.S.-owned or -controlled entities in third countries will be generally licensed to provide services to, and engage in financial transactions with, Cuban individuals in third countries.  In addition, general licenses will unblock the accounts at U.S. banks of Cuban nationals who have relocated outside of Cuba; permit U.S. persons to participate in third-country professional meetings and conferences related to Cuba; and, allow foreign vessels to enter the United States after engaging in certain humanitarian trade with Cuba, among other measures.”

“Pursuing discussions with the Cuban and Mexican governments to discuss our unresolved maritime boundary in the Gulf of Mexico-

  • Previous agreements between the United States and Cuba delimit the maritime space between the two countries within 200 nautical miles from shore.  The United States, Cuba, and Mexico have extended continental shelf in an area within the Gulf of Mexico where the three countries have not yet delimited any boundaries.
  • The United States is prepared to invite the governments of Cuba and Mexico to discuss shared maritime boundaries in the Gulf of Mexico”

“Initiating a review of Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism-

  • The President has instructed the Secretary of State to immediately launch such a review, and provide a report to the President within six months regarding Cuba’s support for international terrorism.  Cuba was placed on the list in 1982.”[1]

“Addressing Cuba’s participation in the 2015 Summit of the Americas in Panama-

  • President Obama will participate in the Summit of the Americas in Panama.  Human rights and democracy will be key Summit themes.  Cuban civil society must be allowed to participate along with civil society from other countries participating in the Summit, consistent with the region’s commitments under the Inter-American Democratic Charter.  The United States welcomes a constructive dialogue among Summit governments on the Summit’s principles.” (Emphasis added.)

“Unwavering Commitment to Democracy, Human Rights, and Civil Society

A critical focus of our increased engagement will include continued strong support by the United States for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba.  The promotion of democracy supports universal human rights by empowering civil society and a person’s right to speak freely, peacefully assemble, and associate, and by supporting the ability of people to freely determine their future.   Our efforts are aimed at promoting the independence of the Cuban people so they do not need to rely on the Cuban state. (Emphasis added.)

The U.S. Congress funds democracy programming in Cuba to provide humanitarian assistance, promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, and support the free flow of information in places where it is restricted and censored.  The Administration will continue to implement U.S. programs aimed at promoting positive change in Cuba, and we will encourage reforms in our high level engagement with Cuban officials. (Emphasis added.)

The United States encourages all nations and organizations engaged in diplomatic dialogue with the Cuban government to take every opportunity both publicly and privately to support increased respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cuba. 

Ultimately, it will be the Cuban people who drive economic and political reforms.  That is why President Obama took steps to increase the flow of resources and information to ordinary Cuban citizens in 2009, 2011, and today.  The Cuban people deserve the support of the United States and of an entire region that has committed to promote and defend democracy through the Inter-American Democratic Charter.”

Background Conference Call 

On December 17 two hours before President Obama’s speech to the nation, the White House conducted an hour-long “background” conference call with journalists and seven unnamed senior administration officials regarding these matters.

Among other things, one of the officials said the U.S. expects that “we’ll continue to have strong differences, particularly on issues related to democracy and human rights.  The [U.S.] will continue to promote our values.  We will continue to support civil society in Cuba.  We’ll continue our democracy programming.” In President Obama’s December 16th telephone call with President Raúl Castro, Obama “made clear his intent . . . to continue our advocacy for human rights in Cuba.”

A State Department official stated the U.S. would not reduce its “emphasis on human rights, on democracy, on the importance of civil society. . . . In fact, our emphasis on human rights will be just as strong and we believe more effective under this policy.  We will engage directly with the Cuban government on human rights.”

For example, the State Department official stated a U.S. diplomat in Havana “will be meeting with members of Cuban society and dissidents later today to walk them through the President’s initiatives of today, and to emphasize to them, as well, that their efforts on behalf of democracy and human rights in Cuba not only won’t be forgotten in these initiatives, but will, in fact, take center stage.”

In response to a question as to whether there were discussions with Cuba about “USAID programs that have been pretty controversial in Cuba,” an administration official said U.S. “democracy programming . . . did factor into the discussions [with Cuba].  The Cubans do not like our democracy programming.  They consistently protest those initiatives. . . . [The U.S., however,] made clear that we’re going to continue our support for civil society for the advancement of our values in Cuba.  [This] . . . was an issue of difference that we will continue to have with Cuba, and we fully expect them to raise those issues just as we will raise issues with the Cubans about democracy and human rights.  However, we’re going to do that through a normal relationship.  We’re going to do that through our embassy in Havana.  We’re going to do that through contacts between our various agencies.”[2]

Vice President Biden’s Telephone Calls with Presidents of Colombia and Mexico

The White House reported that Vice President Joe Biden made telephone calls about the new initiatives with Cuba  to President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia and to President Enrique Pena Nieto of Mexico. After outlining the agreement, Biden told each of them that President Obama intended to attend the Summit of the Americas in Panama next April “as long as Cuban civil society is allowed to participate and human rights and democracy are on the agenda.” In the call to President Nieto, Biden said that the U.S. would initiate discussions with Cuba and Mexico about the unresolved maritime boundary of the Gulf of Mexico.

Conclusion

I concur in most of the FACT SHEET’s assertions about democracy and human rights that suggest that the U.S. will engage and work with the Cuban government to improve the Cuban people’s political, social and economic rights and that the U.S. no longer will seek to impose such rights or values on the Cuban people through covert or “discreet” programs. These statements are the following:

  • (i)  “It does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse.  We know from hard-learned experience that it is better to encourage and support reform than to impose policies that will render a country a failed state.  With our actions today, we are calling on Cuba to unleash the potential of 11 million Cubans by ending unnecessary restrictions on their political, social, and economic activities.”
  • (ii)  “U.S. engagement will be critical when appropriate and will include continued strong support for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba and other measures aimed at fostering improved conditions for the Cuban people.”
  • (iii) “A critical focus of our increased engagement will include continued strong support by the United States for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba.  The promotion of democracy supports universal human rights by empowering civil society and a person’s right to speak freely, peacefully assemble, and associate, and by supporting the ability of people to freely determine their future.   Our efforts are aimed at promoting the independence of the Cuban people so they do not need to rely on the Cuban state.”
  • (iv) The U.S. “will encourage [such] reforms in our high level engagement with Cuban officials.”

Other statements in the FACT SHEET, however, seems to undercut this benign interpretation: (i) “The U.S. Congress funds democracy programming in Cuba to provide humanitarian assistance, promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, and support the free flow of information in places where it is restricted and censored.  The Administration will continue to implement U.S. programs aimed at promoting positive change in Cuba. . . .” (ii) “The U.S. Congress funds democracy programming in Cuba to provide humanitarian assistance, promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, and support the free flow of information in places where it is restricted and censored.  The Administration will continue to implement U.S. programs aimed at promoting positive change in Cuba.” [3]

According to the FACT SHEET, “President Obama will participate in the Summit of the Americas in Panama.  Human rights and democracy will be key Summit themes.  Cuban civil society must be allowed to participate along with civil society from other countries participating in the Summit.” The account of the Vice President’s telephone calls, however, seems to add that President Obama intends to attend the Summit of the Americas in Panama next April “as long as Cuban civil society is allowed to participate and human rights and democracy are on the agenda.” I was surprised and disappointed to read that there was a precondition to Obama’s attending the summit: Cuba’s allowing members of its civil society to attend and participate in the Summit. While it may be a good idea to have civil society representatives from all countries, including Cuba, attend and participate, I think it unwise for the U.S. to provide Cuba with a veto on Obama’s attendance if it does not have such representatives there. I hope that this interpretation of the Vice President’s remarks is unfounded.

I am unaware of the details of the dispute about the maritime boundaries of the Gulf of Mexico, but assume that it relates to oil or other resources under the Caribbean.

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[1] Prior posts discussed the legal and political issues of rescinding the designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” and the U.S.’ previous concessions that Cuba has provided assurances that it will not commit future acts of terrorism.

[2] On December 20th Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew co-authored an article in the Miami Herald. It said the U.S. would have “continued strong support for improved human-rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba” and would “continue to implement programs to promote positive change in Cuba.”

[3] The previous democracy/human rights programs of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Department of State will be part of a subsequent post about the recent controversy about Cuba’s cancellation of n “open-microphone” event and arrests of its organizers.