On July 12, the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing about the recently released State Department’s 2016 Human Trafficking Report. After opening statements by the Committee’s Chair, Senator Bob Corker (Rep., TN), and its Ranking Member, Senator Ben Cardin (Dem., MD), the only witness was Ambassador Susan Coppedge.
“The integrity of last year’s report was called into question because of controversy over how the Tier Rankings were made regarding certain countries.”
“This report and Tier Rankings are an improvement, and we thank you for your leadership in that regard and the way inter-departmentally people worked with each other. The decisions behind certain upgrades, such as Cyprus and the Philippines, and downgrades, such as Uzbekistan, Burma, and Luxembourg, are more balanced and strategic.”
“In the past, back and forth deliberations between the TIP office and the regional bureaus have been the rule. While less pronounced this year, that pattern still shows in how certain countries, such as India, Mexico and Malaysia, are ranked.”
“Each year, the TIP report makes recommendations for progress and turns these into tailored actions for our embassies. Rigorously applied TIP action plans should inform the tough calls on the Tier Rankings.”
“We encourage you to give a fair assessment of countries efforts to address trafficking this year, and we also hope you are candid with us in describing the challenges that still exist in certain countries.”
“This year’s report focuses especially on preventing modern slavery. This is important and needs to be part of substantially increasing international efforts to end modern slavery, which this committee unanimously supports and hopefully will come to fruition very quickly.”
“Trafficking in persons is one of the great moral challenges of our time. It destroys people and corrodes communities. It distorts labor markets and undermines stability and the rule of law. Trafficking is fueled by greed, violence, and corruption. According to the International Labor Organization, there are at least 21 million victims of modern slavery in the world. Forced labor alone generates more than $150 billion in profits annually, making it one of the largest income sources for international criminals, second only to drug trafficking.”
Last year, we expressed significant concerns about the neutrality of the 2015 TIP report – primary among them, the decision to upgrade Cuba and Malaysia, from the Tier 3 designation to Tier 2 Watch List.” (Emphasis added.)
“After reviewing the 2016 TIP report, I believe it is a mixed bag. We saw some aggressive evaluations in the 2016 report; yet, we still see remnants of the exact problems we had last year — pending bilateral concerns impacting the quality of the report. Again despite little progress from Malaysia and Cuba, the State Department decided to keep both on Tier 2 Watch List this year after they were upgraded from Tier 3 in 2015. This was unnecessary and unwarranted. By contrast, for example, Uzbekistan was upgraded last year to the Tier 2 Watch List. But, as a result of continued government compelled forced labor by adults in the cotton harvest and aggressive harassment and detention of independent monitors, Uzbekistan was appropriately downgraded this year to Tier 3.”(Emphasis added.)
During the hearing Cardin later said that last year Cuba and Malaysia should not have been upgraded from Tier III to Tier II Watch List and should not have remained on that Watch List this year.
In her prepared testimony, Ambassador Coppedge stated, “Of the countries analyzed in the 2016 Report, 36 were placed on Tier 1, 78 on Tier 2, 44 on Tier 2 Watch List, and 27 on Tier 3. In all, there were 27 downgrades and 20 upgrades. No matter which tier a country is placed on, every nation can and should do more to combat human trafficking, which is why the Report offers recommendations for improvements for every country, even Tier 1 countries like the United States.”
In response to questions, the Ambassador described the process of ranking the countries, which involved collaboration among the people in U.S. embassies around the world and the TIP office at the State Department and arriving at consensus for such rankings for almost all countries. For the few instances of no consensus, the Secretary of State is presented optional rankings, and he or she chooses one of those options. She also testified that for the 2016 report there were no instances in which the Secretary rejected the consensus opinion and that there was only “a handful” of instances without a consensus view.
When Senator Menendez suggested possibly amending the governing statute to make the minimum standards stricter, the Ambassador disagreed. She said that the current statutory flexibility was desirable because of the number of issues and countries that were involved.
Most of the senatorial comments and questions focused on India and Malaysia with brief mention of Mauritania. In addition, the Ambassador summarized the reasons for this year’s downgrades of Burma, Haiti and Luxembourg.
Cuba was touched on by Senators Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ) and Marco Rubio (Rep., FL). The Ambassador said she went to Cuba this past January and pressed officials about whether medical personnel on foreign missions were permitted to hold their own passports. She also noted, as stated in the report, that Cuba does not recognize forced labor as a problem, has no laws against that activity and no prosecutions or convictions in that area. Thus, on that issue it does not meet the U.S. statute’s “minimum standards.” Cuba, however, is making progress regarding sex trafficking, including law enforcement training, prosecutions and protection.
There also were cryptic comments about the Committee’s hearing regarding the prior year’s report and to a vigorous, closed hearing with last year’s witness, Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. Senator Corker said in his opinion certain aspects of the 2015 report were driven by political considerations, rather than the TIP statute.
Immediately after the hearing Chairman Corker issued a press release. It said that he had “noted improvements over last year’s report but argued for continued progress to strengthen the integrity of the Tier Rankings that will help support global efforts to fight human trafficking and end modern slavery.“ Corker “noted that more should be done to ensure recommendations from the TIP office about a country’s progress in combating trafficking are not overruled by political appointees within the State Department based upon other diplomatic considerations.”
Prior posts have reviewed the TIP’s reports assessments of Cuba’s record regarding human trafficking in 2015 and 2016 and mounted a vigorous and, in this blogger’s opinion, effective rebuttals of the contentions that Cuba was engaged in illegal forced labor with respect to its medical personnel on foreign missions.
As those prior posts indicate, these foreign medical missions spring from a Cuban objective of being in solidarity with people in need around the world while also building a community of international allies for the island and in more recent years being a major source of revenue for the Cuban government’s exports of services.
According to Granma, the newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, the country’s foreign medical missions started in 1960 when a Cuban medical brigade treated the victims of an earthquake in Chile, followed by the sending of another group in 1963, to provide health care in Algeria, then recently liberated from French colonial rule.
Through May 31, 2016, a total of 325,000 Cuban health personnel have provided medical services in 158 countries. There are currently 55,000 Cubans working in 67 countries, including more than 25,000 doctors. The Granma article provides a list of all the 158 countries with the number of Cuban medical personnel who have worked there.
This year’s hearing did not examine those criticisms of the reports’ contention that Cuba was engaged in illegal forced labor on its foreign medical missions. Instead, the apparent assumption of all the senators at the hearings seemed to be that Cuba was so engaged. Nothing, however, was said at this hearing to criticize or invalidate this blogger’s contention that there is no such illegal forced labor by Cuba.
 Senator Rubio’s subsequent press release contained a transcript of his interchange with Ambassador Coppedge. (Rubio, Press Release: Rubio Presses State Department On 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report (July 12, 2016).) Senator Menendez in his press release “criticized the apparent politicization of the U.S. Department of State’s annual [TIP] Report, noting that Cuba, Malaysia and other nations continue to enjoy favorable status despite failures to meet minimum legal standards prescribed by Congress.” Menendez also announced his intent to introduce a bill to change the process for preparing the TIP report. (Menendez: TIP Report Can’t Be a ‘Shell Game’ (July 12, 2016).)
 The Senate Committee’s closed hearing in 2015 with Deputy Secretary Blinken was touched on in a prior post.
On June 30, 2016, the U.S. Department of State released its 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report, which is “the U.S. Government’s principal diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments on human trafficking” and “ the world’s most comprehensive resource of governmental anti-human trafficking efforts.”
For this Report, “severe forms of trafficking in persons” is defined in the U.S. Trafficking in Persons Victims Act (TVPA) as:
“sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age; or
“the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.”
In this Report, the Department placed 188 countries (including the United States) into the following four tiers plus “Special Cases” (Libya, Somalia and Yemen) based on the extent of their governments’ efforts to comply with the “minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking” found in Section 108 of the TVPA:
TIER 2  “countries whose governments do not fully meet the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to meet those standards.”
TIER 2 WATCH LIST  “countries whose governments do not fully meet the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to meet those standards AND: a) The absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing; b) There is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year, including increased investigations, prosecution, and convictions of trafficking crimes; increased assistance to victims; and decreasing evidence of complicity in severe forms of trafficking by government and convictions of trafficking crimes; or c) The determination that a country is making significant efforts to meet the minimum standards was based on commitments by the country to take additional future steps over the next year.”
TIER 3  “countries whose governments do not fully meet the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.”
Susan Coppedge, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, made remarks at the ceremony. She said the Report was the U.S.’ “principal diagnostic tool to assess government efforts across what we call the three Ps: prosecution, protection and empowerment of victims, and preventing future trafficking crimes.” She also said there had been 27 downgrades in this Report compared with the prior report and 20 upgrades. In addition, she responded to journalists’ questions, but none was asked about Cuba.
The Report’s Assessment of Cuba’s Record on Human Trafficking 
In the 2016 Report Cuba was again placed in the Tier 2 Watch List with the following explanation.
“Cuba is a source and destination country for adults and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Child sex trafficking and child sex tourism occur within Cuba. Cuban authorities report people from ages 13 to 20 are most vulnerable to human trafficking in the country. Traffickers also subject Cuban citizens to sex trafficking and forced labor in South America and the Caribbean. The government indirectly acknowledged the presence of foreign national trafficking victims in Cuba. The government is the primary employer in the Cuban economy, including in foreign medical missions that employ more than 84,000 workers and constitute a significant source of Cuban government revenue. Some participants in foreign medical missions and other sources allege Cuban officials force or coerce participation in the program; however, the Cuban government and some participants say the program is voluntary and well paid compared to jobs within Cuba. The government uses some high school students in rural areas to harvest crops and does not pay them for their work but claims this work is not coerced.”
“The Government of Cuba does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Despite these measures, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing antitrafficking efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore Cuba is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for the second consecutive year. The government reported continued efforts to address sex trafficking, including the prosecution and conviction of 18 sex traffickers in 2014 (the most recent available data) and the provision of services to 13 victims in those cases. The government publicly released a written report on its anti-trafficking efforts in October 2015. Multiple ministries engaged in anti-trafficking efforts, including the Ministries of Justice, Information Science and Communication, Interior, Foreign Affairs, Education, Tourism, Labor and Social Security, Culture and Health, and the attorney general’s office. The penal code does not criminalize all forms of human trafficking, although the government reported its submission of some trafficking-related penal code amendments to the National Assembly for review during the reporting period. The Cuban government was more transparent in providing details of anti trafficking efforts and the government’s overseas medical missions program. However, the government did not prohibit forced labor, report efforts to prevent forced labor, or recognize forced labor as a possible issue affecting its nationals in medical missions abroad. The government provided funding for child protection centers and guidance centers for women and families, which serve all crime victims, including trafficking victims. These centers had the ability to screen cases, make referrals to law enforcement, assist with arranging cooperation with law enforcement up to prosecution, and provide victim services.”
“RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CUBA”
“Draft and enact a comprehensive anti-trafficking law that prohibits and sufficiently punishes all forms of human trafficking, including forced labor, sex trafficking of children ages 16 and 17, and the full range of trafficking “acts” (recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring, or receiving persons); vigorously investigate and prosecute both sex trafficking and forced labor offenses; provide specialized training for managers in state-owned or controlled enterprises in identifying and protecting victims of forced labor; implement policies to prohibit force, fraud, or coercion in recruiting and retaining employees in such enterprises; train those responsible for enforcing the labor code to screen for trafficking indicators and educate workers about trafficking indicators and where to report trafficking-related violations; draft and adopt a comprehensive written national anti-trafficking action plan and dedicate resources to implement it in partnership with international organizations; provide specialized victim identification and referral training for first responders; establish formal policies and procedures to guide officials in the identification of all trafficking victims and their referral to appropriate services; adopt policies that provide trafficking-specific, specialized assistance for male and female trafficking victims, including measures to ensure identified sex and labor trafficking victims are not punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to sex trafficking or forced labor; and schedule a visit and cooperate with the UN special rapporteur on trafficking in persons.”
“PROSECUTION: The government sustained law enforcement efforts by prosecuting and convicting sex traffickers, but took no action to address forced labor. The penal code does not criminalize all forms of trafficking, in particular forced labor and sex trafficking of children ages 16 and 17. The government did not report any labor trafficking investigations, prosecutions, or convictions. In January 2016, the government reported it was in the process of amending the code, including submitting amendments to the National Assembly to raise the age of consent; it is unclear whether the government will make additional amendments to improve the legal framework to address trafficking. Cuba prohibits some forms of trafficking through several penal code provisions, including: article 302 (procuring and trafficking in persons); article 310.1 (corruption of minors younger than 16 for sexual purposes); article 312.1 (corruption of minors younger than 16 for begging); and article 316.1 (sale and trafficking of a child younger than 16). The penal code’s definition of sex trafficking conflates sex trafficking with prostitution and pimping. The law criminalizes inducement to or benefiting from prostitution, but treats force, coercion, and abuse of power or vulnerability as aggravating factors rather than an integral part of the crime. Legal provisions addressing “corruption of minors” criminalize many forms of child sex trafficking but define a child as an individual younger than 16 years of age; below the age set in international trafficking law, which is 18 years of age. Forced prostitution is illegal irrespective of the victim’s age, and the government has reportedly prosecuted individuals benefiting from child sex trafficking. Provisions for adult and child sex trafficking do not explicitly criminalize the acts of recruitment, transport, and receipt of persons for these purposes. In December 2013, the government amended article 346.1 of the criminal code to mandate sentences of five to 12 years’ imprisonment for various crimes, including for laundering funds obtained from trafficking in persons. Labor code article 116 prohibits entities from directly establishing labor relations with adolescents younger than age 17, even if adolescents may be authorized to join the work force.”
“In 2015, the government publicly presented official data on 147 prosecutions and convictions of sex traffickers during calendar year 2014, the most recent data available. Authorities reported 13 prosecutions and 18 convictions of sex traffickers, compared with 13 prosecutions and convictions in 2013. At least nine convictions in 2014 involved suspects accused of subjecting children to trafficking within Cuba, including the facilitation of child sex tourism in Cuba. The average sentence was seven years’ imprisonment. The government also identified a group of Cubans abroad recruiting and transporting women with false promises of employment and fraudulent work contracts in order to subject the victims to debt bondage and forced prostitution. The government has not sought extradition in this case, and therefore no prosecutions or convictions of suspected traffickers in Cuba have resulted. Students at the Ministry of Interior Academy and police assigned to tourist centers reportedly received specific anti-trafficking training and victim assistance. The government demonstrated its willingness to cooperate with other governments on investigations of possible traffickers. The government arranges for high school students in rural areas to harvest crops and allegedly forces or coerces participation in medical missions, but it denies such claims. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking in 2014.”
“PROTECTION: The government sustained efforts to protect sex trafficking victims, but did not make efforts to identify or protect victims of forced labor. Authorities identified 11 child sex trafficking victims and four adult sex trafficking victims in 2014; it did not identify any labor trafficking victims or male sex trafficking victims. Identified sex trafficking victims received government assistance; detailed information on assistance provided to the 15 identified victims was unavailable. Other government-organized NGOs, like the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), the Prevention and Social Assistance Commission, and the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution contributed by identifying victims of trafficking to state authorities and providing victim services. Independent members of civil society expressed concern about the government’s anti-trafficking efforts and limited information on the scope of sex trafficking and forced labor in Cuba given sparse independent monitoring by NGOs and international organizations. The government reportedly developed procedures to proactively identify sex trafficking victims, whereby first responders work with social workers to identify potential cases and refer them to law enforcement.”
“The government did not report having procedures to proactively identify victims of forced labor. Some participants in foreign medical missions and other sources allege Cuban officials force or coerce participation in the program; however, the government and other participants have stated the postings are voluntary. In support of their applications to receive immigration benefits from the United States, some Cubans working in missions abroad have stated Cuban authorities withheld their passports and restricted their movements. At the same time, some participants who left medical missions abroad have been able to obtain new passports from their embassies in neighboring countries. There have also been reports that Cuban authorities coerced participants to remain in the program by allegedly threatening to revoke their medical licenses or retaliate against their family members if participants leave the program. Reports of substandard working and living conditions and the presence of “minders” to monitor medical professionals outside of work also continued. Last year, Cuba reinstituted restrictions on travel for specialized doctors and some medical personnel, requiring them to obtain an exit permit from their superiors before leaving the island. On September 9, 2015, the government agreed to reinstitute medical personnel that left their positions while abroad. As of April 1, 2016, the Cuban authorities claimed that 274 medical professionals returned to Cuba and were rehired at the same salary and level of responsibility.”
“The FMC received funding from international organizations and operated centers for women and families nationwide to assist individuals harmed by violence, including victims of sex trafficking. These centers provided services such as psychological treatment, health care, skills training, and assistance in finding employment. The government reportedly developed a referral process to transfer trafficking victims to law enforcement custody, secure evidence for prosecutions, and provide victim services and follow-on care. Neither the government nor the government-organized NGOs operated shelters or provided services specifically for male trafficking victims. Police encouraged child sex trafficking victims younger than age 16 to assist in prosecutions of traffickers by gathering children’s testimony through psychologist-led videotaped interviewing, usually removing the need for children to appear in court. There were no reports of the government punishing sex trafficking victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking. The government indirectly acknowledged the existence of some foreign trafficking victims in Cuba.”
“PREVENTION: The government sustained prevention efforts to combat sex trafficking; however, authorities did not make efforts to prevent or address the demand for forced labor. The attorney general’s office continued to operate a 24-hour telephone line for individuals needing legal assistance, including sex trafficking victims, and received calls related to potential trafficking cases in 2015 that led to investigations. State media continued to produce newspaper articles and television and radio programs to raise public awareness about sex trafficking. Authorities maintained an office within the Ministry of Tourism charged with monitoring Cuba’s image as a tourism destination, combating sex tourism, and addressing the demand for commercial sex acts. The Cuban government cooperated with foreign law enforcement in investigating foreign citizens suspected of sexual crimes against children, including child sex trafficking. Under Cuban law, authorities may deny entry to suspected sex tourists and expel known sex offenders, but reported no related convictions in 2014. The government did not report whether it provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel. The government publicly released a written report on its anti-trafficking efforts in October 2015. In March 2015, authorities invited the UN special rapporteur on trafficking in persons to visit, but the visit had not been scheduled by the end of the reporting period. The government did not report specialized training for labor inspectors to screen for indicators of potential forced labor.”
Reactions to the Report
Senator Bob Corker (Rep., TN), the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, attended the State Department’s ceremony for launching the Report and afterwards stated, “ the committee will closely study the report to determine the integrity of the findings. . . . In order for the TIP report to be an effective tool for holding governments accountable, all judgments must be based on measurable progress on anti-trafficking efforts. Following what were clear flaws in last year’s TIP process, the committee will carefully examine the 2016 report and conduct public hearings [this July] to determine the integrity of the findings. Senator Ben Cardin, (Dem., MD), the committee’s Ranking Member, also issued a statement approving of the Report’s upgrading Thailand from Tier 3 to Tier 2 Watch List and the downgrading of Uzbekistan from Tier 2 Watch List to Tier 3. He also expressed continuing concern about Malaysia. Neither of them said anything about Cuba.”
Two other members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senators Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ), and Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), also issued statements. Menendez criticized the rankings for Malaysia, Cuba and unnamed other countries that “do not match the facts on the ground” and stated his expectation that “Congress . . . [will] be aggressive in its oversight and thoroughly investigate the methodology used to justify this year’s rankings. Further, I am convinced that new legislation to reform the ranking process is the only way to restore credibility to this broken system and I plan on introducing a bill to do just that.” Rubio asserted that last year’s upgrade of Cuba to Tier 2 Watch List, and by implication its maintenance of that position in this Report, “was not justified by the facts on the ground.” He also criticized China’s maintenance on the Tier 2 Watch List and Thailand’s upgrading to that List.
The comments of Senators Corker, Menendez and Rubio allude to the Senate committee’s criticism of the prior report’s upgrading of Cuba and Malaysia from Tier 3 to Tier 2 Watch List and to the Administration’s alleged political reasons for doing so, all of which was discussed in a prior post.
At the State Department’s recent ceremony to announce the release of the 2016 Report U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry anticipatorily tried to rebut similar criticisms against this Report. He said, “The tier rankings . . . reflect our department’s best assessment of a government’s efforts to eliminate human trafficking. They don’t take into account political and other factors. As I say, they’re based on . . . [established] criteria. And in addition to the rankings, the report outlines our specific concerns as well as the ways we can improve our efforts. This is not meant to be a dunning report; it is meant to be a demarcation, an encouragement process, a process of evaluation and work towards changing rankings.”
We all will have to see what happens at the forthcoming February hearing to assess these criticisms.
In the meantime, we can, in my opinion, effectively rebut this Report’s half-hearted contention that Cuban medical professionals are engaged in forced labor when they work on the government’s foreign medical missions. Here are the bases for that conclusion:
First, the Report admits that there is conflicting information and allegations on the foreign medical mission work. Coercion is alleged by “some participants” and unnamed “other sources.” On the other hand, the Report admits, the Cuban government denies these allegations, and instead the Government and “some participants” assert the postings are “voluntary and well paid compared to jobs within Cuba.” The Report also concedes there is conflicting information on whether other means, including withholding Cuban passports, are used to coerce or force participants to remain in the program.
Second, there apparently has not been any fair adjudicative process to determine which of these conflicting sets of information is valid.
Third, the accusation of forced labor for such participants has been rejected in a study by Indiana State University’s Emeritus Professor of International Politics and Latin America, Dr. H. Michael Erisman. He says, although there may be “some cases where . . . [Cuban medical professionals] are pressured into accepting overseas assignments, . . . most evidence indicates that the overwhelming majority are motivated by philosophical and/or pragmatic considerations. In the first instance, one needs to understand that the Cuban medical profession . . . is permeated by norms which stress self-sacrifice and service to the community, both at home and abroad. At the core of this ethos is the principle, which is firmly entrenched in the curriculum of the island’s medical schools and reinforced throughout one’s career, that health care should not be seen as a business driven by a profit motive, but rather as a human right that medical personnel have an unconditional duty to protect. Such convictions often underlie participation in the medical aid brigades. There are, however, also some pragmatic factors that can come into play. Overseas service could . . . help to further one’s professional aspirations and for some assignments the total remuneration involved is more generous than what is available back in Cuba. . . . [T]hese are the considerations which apply to the vast majority of people” in such programs, not involuntary servitude.
Fourth, According to Granma, Cuba’s Communist Party’s newspaper, “Internationalist medical aid has been a longstanding part of the Cuban people’s tradition of solidarity, since the beginning of the Revolution. As early as 1960 a brigade was sent to Chile following an earthquake there, and to Algeria in 1963, to support the new country recently liberated from colonialism.” The Granma article included the reflection of four Cuban doctors who have participated in such missions and who treasure the positive impact of those experiences on their professional and personal lives.
Fifth, this Report does not cite to the relevant legal definition of “forced labor” to assess this claim. Most pertinent is Article 2(2) of the Forced Labour Convention, 1930, which states, in part, ”the term forced or compulsory labour shall not include . . . any work or service which forms part of the normal civic obligations of the citizens of a fully self-governing country.” (Emphasis added.)
Moreover, as a previous post noted, a respected international journalist, Alma Guillermoprieto, recently reported that Cuban medical doctors serving on the island now earn $67 per month, but $500 per month when serving on a foreign medical mission.
The $67 monthly salary for Cuban physicians in Cuba compared with the $24 or $27 monthly income of other Cubans is a result of Cuba’s adoption of a “pyramid” compensation system whereby highly trained workers like physicians earn more than lower-skilled workers like busboys. This system, however, is being undermined by lower-skilled workers like gas-station attendants and waiters earning additional income from stealing and illegally selling gasoline and from earning tips in hard currency at restaurants and hotels serving foreign tourists. Indeed, Raúl Castro in his speech at the April 2016 Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba called this the “inverted pyramid” problem that had to be solved.
Finally all of this discussion about Cuba’s foreign medical mission program is precipitated by the U.S. Cuban Medical Personnel Parole Program that allows such personnel to apply for parole into the U.S. For reasons previously provided, this program is unjustified and should be ended as soon as possible.
On July 27 the U.S. Department of State released its 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report, which is “the U.S. Government’s principal diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments on human trafficking” and “ the world’s most comprehensive resource of governmental anti-human trafficking efforts.”
In this Report, the Department placed 187 countries into one of the following four tiers based on the extent of their governments’ efforts to comply with the “minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking” found in Section 108 of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act:
“TIER 1 [Thirty-one] countries whose governments fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s (TVPA) minimum standards.
TIER 2 [Eighty-nine] countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.
TIER 2 WATCH LIST [Forty-four] countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards AND: a) The absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing; b) There is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year; or c) The determination that a country is making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with minimum standards was based on commitments by the country to take additional future steps over the next year.
TIER 3 [Twenty-three] countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.”
At the Department’s release of this Report, Secretary of State John Kerry made comments. In part, he said, “the purpose of this document is not to scold and it’s not to name and shame. It is to enlighten and to energize, and most importantly, to empower people. . . . [We] want to bring to the public’s attention the full nature and scope of a $150 billion illicit trafficking industry. . . . We want to provide evidence and facts that will help people who are already striving to achieve reforms to alleviate suffering and to hold people accountable. We want to provide a strong incentive for governments at every level to do all that they can to prosecute trafficking and to shield at-risk populations.”
Additional comments and responses to journalists’ questions were provided at the launch of this Report by Sarah Sewell, Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights. She pointed out that “in this year’s report, some 18 countries moved up in the tier rankings, some 18 countries moved down in the tier rankings” and quoted the above statutory definitions of the different rankings.
The Report’s Assessment of Cuba’s Record on Human Trafficking
In the 2015 Report Cuba was placed in the Tier 2 Watch List, which was an upgrade from the prior year’s report that had Cuba in Tier 3. The new Report states that although “information on the scope of sex trafficking and forced labor in Cuba is limited, [c]hild sex trafficking and child sex tourism occur within Cuba. Cuban authorities report people from ages 13 to 20 are most vulnerable to human trafficking in Cuba. Traffickers also subject Cuban citizens to forced prostitution in South America and the Caribbean. . . . “
As a result, the Report concludes, “The Government of Cuba does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. For the second consecutive year, the government reported efforts to address sex trafficking, including the prosecution and conviction of 13 sex traffickers in 2013 and the provision of services to victims in those cases. The Cuban government reported at the beginning of 2015 that the Ministry of Labor and Social Security assumed the lead role in a committee responsible for combating gender and sexual violence, including sex trafficking. The penal code does not criminalize all forms of human trafficking, though the government reported continuing efforts to amend its criminal code, including bringing it into conformity with the requirements of the 2000 UN TIP Protocol, to which it acceded in July 2013. . . .”
In addition, the Report states the Cuban “government did not report any trafficking-specific shelters, but offered services to trafficking victims through centers for women and families harmed by violence. The Federation of Cuban Women, a government affiliated non-governmental organization, provided some outreach and education about human trafficking within the context of violence against women, but did not specifically address it as a crime involving sex trafficking and forced labor or affecting men and boys.”
The Report’s forced labor allegation is focused on Cuba’s “foreign medical missions, which employ more than 51,000 workers in over 67 countries and constitute a significant source of Cuban government income. Some participants in foreign medical missions as well as other sources allege that Cuban officials force or coerce participation in the program; [but] the Cuban government denies these allegations. Some Cubans participating in these work missions have stated the postings are voluntary and well paid compared to jobs within Cuba. There have also been claims that Cuban authorities coerced participants to remain in the program, including by allegedly withholding their passports, restricting their movement, or threatening to revoke their medical licenses or retaliate against their family members in Cuba if participants leave the program. There are also claims about substandard working and living conditions and the existence of ‘minders’ to monitor victims outside of work. Some medical professionals participating in the missions are in possession of their passports when they apply for and obtain special United States visa and immigration benefits, indicating passport retention is not a consistent practice across all work missions.”
Consistent with its denial that its foreign medical missions involve forced labor, the Cuban government “did not recognize forced labor as a problem within Cuba and did not report efforts to prevent forced labor.”
The Report goes on to make the following recommendations for Cuba: (1) “draft and pass a comprehensive anti-trafficking law that prohibits all forms of human trafficking, including an offense of forced labor;” (2) “vigorously investigate and prosecute sex trafficking and forced labor offenses;” (3) “schedule a visit and engage in robust discussions with the UN special rapporteur on trafficking in persons on all forms of human trafficking;” (4) “provide specialized training for managers in state owned or controlled enterprises in identifying and protecting victims of forced labor and implement policies to verify the absence of coercion in such enterprises;” (5) “train those responsible for enforcing the labor code to screen for trafficking indicators and educate workers about trafficking indicators and where to report trafficking-related violations;” (6) “strengthen efforts, in partnership with international organizations, to provide specialized victim identification and referral training for first responders; (7) establish formal policies and procedures to guide officials in the identification of all trafficking victims and their referral to appropriate services;” (8) “expand upon the Ministry of Labor and Social Security’s anti-trafficking responsibilities to include all forms of trafficking and male as well as female victims, and develop an action plan to address sex trafficking and forced labor for males and females;” and (9) “adopt policies that provide trafficking-specific, specialized assistance for male and female trafficking victims, including measures to ensure identified sex and labor trafficking victims are not punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to sex trafficking or forced labor.”
Under Secretary Sewell, elaborating on this assessment of Cuba in response to a journalist’s question, said, “Cuba was upgraded to the Tier 2 Watch List because of the progress that the government’s made in addressing and prosecuting sex trafficking, as well as the commitments that the Cuban Government has made to become compliant with the minimum standards. As noted in other cases, a Tier 2 Watch List ranking does not mean that a country is free from problems or free from human trafficking.”
According to Sewell, the Cuban “government reported significant efforts to address sex trafficking, including the conviction of sex traffickers, the provision of services to sex trafficking victims, and continued efforts of the ministry of tourism to address sex tourism and the demand for commercial sex. We also recognize the commitments the government has made to reform its laws to become compliant with the UN Palermo Protocol, which is a significant step, as well as the Cuban Government’s willingness to welcome the UN special rapporteur to the island.”
Nevertheless, Sewell continued, the U.S. has “a number of concerns such as the failure to recognize forced labor as a problem or to act to combat it. And so this will be very much a topic in our dialogue with Cuban officials as we work over the next year to try to help Cuba make more concrete progress in the realm of human trafficking.”
Reactions to the Report’s Assessment of Cuba
News media immediately highlighted the Report’s upgrades of Malaysia and Cuba, and a New York Times editorial was most critical of the assessment of Malaysia. Some U.S. Senators and Representatives launched criticism of those assessments in particular. Prominent with respect to Cuba, as expected, was Senator Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ), who said that by upgrading Malaysia and Cuba the administration had “elevated politics over the most basic principles of human rights” and vowed to do all he could “from hearings to legislation to investigations” to challenge the moves.” Representative Chris Smith (Rep., NJ) was upset by the same upgrades as well as relatively lenient ratings for Vietnam and China and stated the report had “careened off into a new direction where the facts regarding each government’s actions in the fight against human trafficking are given almost no weight when put up against the president’s political agenda.” Similar criticism came from Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL). 
A Reuters investigation concluded that the State Department’s office responsible for the TIP reports was overruled by senior Department officials on 14 of the 18 upgrades, including Malaysia, Cuba, China, India, Uzbekistan and Mexico. The final decision on disputed rankings this year, said Reuters, was made in meetings attended by some of the State Department’s most senior diplomats, including Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman and Kerry’s Chief of Staff, Jonathan Finer.
On July 29 the Chairman (Bob Corker (Rep., TN)) and the Ranking Member (Ben Cardin (Dem., MD)) of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a joint letter asked Secretary of State John Kerry for a briefing on the Report in order “to better understand” the basis for its upgrade of several countries, including Malaysia and Cuba. They added, “We recognize that U.S. policy and engagement on trafficking does not exist in a vacuum, and we appreciate the many varied and nuanced trade-offs that are necessary between competing policy issues. We also believe that it is critical that the impartial reliability of the TIP Report be safeguarded and maintained if it is to have utility on this critical issue in the future.” 
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing
On August 6 that Committee held a hearing on this subject with Under Secretary Sewell as its sole witness.
She testified that in “most cases, this assessment process [of different countries’ record on human trafficking] clearly places governments into one of the tiers; in other cases, further discussion among senior Department officials is required to clarify information and assess the totality of government efforts. This ultimately leads to the Secretary of State’s designation of Tier rankings for each country and approval of the TIP Report. Tier rankings do not assess the severity of human trafficking in a given country, but rather that government’s efforts in addressing human trafficking problems over the current reporting period compared to its own efforts in the prior year. Determinations about the direction and quality of that progress in a given country are guided by complex criteria outlined in the TVPA and described on pages 45 through 50 of the TIP Report.”
More specifically for the six countries, including Cuba, that moved up to Tier 2 Watch List this year, Sewell testified, “the Department closely evaluated the efforts those governments had made during the reporting period as well as the commitments they made for next year. Our posts are working with host governments to encourage them to implement the recommendations outlined in this year’s Report, and the TIP Office is finalizing assistance programming strategy to help make those recommendations a reality. I am receiving reports from the field on the frank and focused dialogues Embassy personnel are having with host government officials on how to overcome the challenges they face to better combat this crime and protect their citizens.”
With only Chairman Corker, Ranking Member Cardin and Senator Menendez in attendance, most of the questions focused on the upgrade of Malaysia. Corker, for example, said, “The administration’s policies toward those countries trumped any real regard for humans being trafficked.” The Department, he continued, “threw the trafficking phase under the bus to ensure that . . . [the Administration was] successful with [the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that included Malaysia].”  Menendez added a few comments and questions about the Cuba upgrade.
Sewell declined to answer questions about internal Department discussions about these upgrades and instead repeatedly emphasized that the statutory framework for tier rankings created a complex set of factors to be analyzed and that a Tier 2 Watch List ranking did not indicate a country had a great record on trafficking.
At the conclusion of the hearing, Chair Corker said it had been the “most heartless, lacking of substance” presentation and that he and the two other Senators in attendance had the strong impression that inappropriate political considerations had influenced some or all of the tier upgrades. As a result, the Committee would be asking for the Department to produce records about its internal consideration of the tier rankings. Senator Cardin also said he was interested in exploring whether Congress should amend the relevant statutes in light of what a further hearing might disclose.
After the hearing, a State Department spokesman said that the Department was waiting for the committee to submit a formal request, “but speaking generally, of course we try to be responsive to Congress.”
I agree that the annual T.I.P. reports are important tools in combatting trafficking in persons and that these reports should be free of political influence. On the other hand, I believe that the relevant statutes appropriately create a complex set of factors that require analysis in reaching conclusions about placing countries in the different tiers and that it is appropriate for senior Department officials to be involved in that process.
With respect to Cuba, for at least the following reasons I disagree with the Report’s assertion that Cuban medical personnel’s participation in foreign medical missions is illegal forced labor:
First, the Report admits that “information on the scope of . . . forced labor in Cuba is limited.”
Second, the Report admits that there is conflicting information and allegations on the foreign medical mission work. Coercion is alleged by “some participants” and “other sources.” On the other hand, the Cuban government denies these allegations, and other participants “have stated the postings are voluntary and well paid compared to jobs within Cuba.” The Report also concedes there is conflicting information on whether other means, including withholding Cuban passports, are used to coerce or force participants to remain in the program.
Third, there apparently has not been any fair adjudicative process to determine which of these conflicting sets of information is valid.
Fourth, the accusation of forced labor for such participants has been rejected in a study by Indiana State University’s Emeritus Professor of International Politics and Latin America, Dr. H. Michael Erisman. He says, although there may be “some cases where . . . [Cuban medical professionals] are pressured into accepting overseas assignments, . . . most evidence indicates that the overwhelming majority are motivated by philosophical and/or pragmatic considerations. In the first instance, one needs to understand that the Cuban medical profession . . . is permeated by norms which stress self-sacrifice and service to the community, both at home and abroad. At the core of this ethos is the principle, which is firmly entrenched in the curriculum of the island’s medical schools and reinforced throughout one’s career, that health care should not be seen as a business driven by a profit motive, but rather as a human right that medical personnel have an unconditional duty to protect. Such convictions often underlie participation in the medical aid brigades. There are, however, also some pragmatic factors that can come into play. Overseas service could . . . help to further one’s professional aspirations and for some assignments the total remuneration involved is more generous than what is available back in Cuba. . . . [T]hese are the considerations which apply to the vast majority of people” in such programs, not involuntary servitude.
Fifth, the Report does not cite to the relevant legal definition of “forced labor” to assess this claim. Most pertinent is Article 2(2) of the Forced Labour Convention, 1930, which states, in part, ”the term forced or compulsory labour shall notinclude . . . any work or service which forms part of the normal civic obligations of the citizens of a fully self-governing country.” (Emphasis added.)  Cuba is a “fully self-governing country” and the participants in the foreign medical missions are Cuban “citizens,” and as Professor Erisman states, such participation is regarded as “part of the normal civic obligations” of such citizens with the appropriate medical qualifications.
Sixth, relevant to this issue, but not mentioned in the Report, is the fact that medical education in Cuba (at the Latin American School of Medicine) is free. As a result requiring medical graduates to pay the country back by such participation seems entirely appropriate and may indeed be a contractual or quasi-contractual obligation. Indeed, as Professor Erisman reports, Cuban medical professionals, especially doctors, may apply to leave Cuba after they have obtained their free medical education and thereafter provided three to five years of service in the country.
We now await the Committee’s formal request for Department documents, the production of such documents and additional hearings on the subject. In the meantime, as always, I welcome comments of correction or amplification.
 Secretary of State Kerry, who was in Malaysia on the day of the hearing, categorically denied that politics had played any role in the ranking of Malaysia. “I personally signed off on it. And I had zero conversation with anybody in the administration about the Trans-Pacific Partnership relative to this decision — zero. The reason I made this decision was based on the recommendation of my team, because Malaysia has passed additional legislation in 2014, they’ve consulted with civil society, they drafted amendments to Malaysia’s anti-trafficking law in order to allow the country’s flawed victim protection regime to change.” (Assoc. Press, Kerry: Malaysia Trafficking Upgrade Not Due to Trade Talks, N.Y. Times (Aug. 6, 2015); Reuters, Kerry Says ‘Zero Communication’ on Trade Pact and Malaysian Trafficking Record, N.Y. Times (Aug. 6, 2015).
 The text of the U.S. statutes regarding trafficking in persons is set forth on a State Department web page and the Report contains a summary of “forced labor” without any mention of the exceptions to the definition discussed below.
Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, published an article regarding U.S. reactions to the restoration of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba.
It reported positive reactions from Democratic Senators Patrick Leahy, Chris Murphy, and Ben Cardin and from Republican Senator Jeff Flake and Republican Representative Bradley Byrne.
Others expressing support were Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State and current candidate for president in 2016, and Wayne Smith, a former head of the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba.
Opposition, Granma reported, came from Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz; Republican Representatives John Boehner and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen; and Republican presidential candidate, Jeb Bush.
The article also included a reference to a public opinion survey taken May 27-June 17, 2015, by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs that showed that “Americans favor lifting the trade embargo on Cuba and believe the proposed changes in U.S.-Cuba relations will have mutual benefits.” More specifically, the survey demonstrated the following:
“Two in three Americans (67 percent) support the United States ending the trade embargo with Cuba.”
“Support for ending the embargo is bipartisan, with majorities of Democrats (79 percent), Republicans (59 percent) and Independents (63 percent) all in favor of lifting the ban on U.S. trade with Cuba.”
“A majority of Americans are very or somewhat confident that the proposed changes in U.S.-Cuba relations will have benefits for both countries. Majorities of Americans say the changes will help the Cuban economy (70 percent), help U.S. businesses (62 percent), improve living standards in Cuba (60 percent), improve the image of the United States in the world (57 percent), improve human rights in Cuba (54 percent) and improve political freedoms in Cuba (53 percent).”
“Majorities of all partisan groups are very or somewhat confident that the proposed changes in U.S.-Cuba relations will help the Cuban economy (78 percent of Democrats, 65 percent of Republicans, 70 percent of Independents).”
“Otherwise, Democrats and Independents are more confident than Republicans in the benefits. Majorities of both Democrats and Independents are confident that the changes will help U.S. businesses (75 percent of Democrats, 61 percent of Independents) and improve Cuban standards of living (71 percent of Democrats, 59 percent of Independents), while Republicans are divided (50 percent each). Democrats are also more confident than Republicans that the proposed changes in U.S.-Cuba relations will improve the image of the United States in the world (74 percent of Democrats, 45 percent of Republicans, 52 percent of Independents), improve human rights in Cuba (68 percent of Democrats, 38 percent of Republicans, 55 percent of Independents) and improve political freedoms in Cuba (65 percent of Democrats, 39 percent of Republicans, 53 percent of Independents).”
On June 25 three U.S. Senators arrived in Cuba: Senators Patrick Leahy (Dem., VT) and Ben Cardin (Dem., MD), who have been there before, and Senator Dean Heller (Rep., NV). There has been no recent development that seems to have prompted this trip, which prompts the question: why this trip at this time?
The U.S. Interests Section in Havana said they were there to focus “on continued progress towards normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba.”
Upon arrival in Havana, Senator Leahy said, “I’m glad to see things are changing between our countries, and the more they change, the faster they change, the better for both countries.”
They met with (i) Miguel Diaz-Canel, Cuba’s First Vice President and heir-apparent to Raul Castro, (ii) Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, Director General of the U.S. Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and (iii) other Foreign Ministry officials. They discussed relations between Cuba and the United States and the debate currently taking place in the U.S. Congress on the elimination of restrictions on travel and trade with Cuba and the lifting of the U.S. embargo (blockade).They also met with religious leaders, ambassadors and others in Havana and the eastern city of Santiago.
At a press conference in Havana on June 27, Senator Leahy asserted, “The embargo has been an error of American policy.” He also said, “I’ve been here three times since the announcements of December 17, and “I see a new, very positive change in Cuba.”
Leahy added, “Obviously we still have differences, but I look forward to the United States being able to have a real embassy here. We hope that [the opening of embassies] can be very soon. Some in Congress oppose the opening, but I like to think that they are minority. We must open a full embassy. We have a magnificent ambassador here and the staff and appropriate facilities. I like to think that the U.S. is a great country, and our embassies should reflect that.”
Senator Cardin said the delegation made clear to Cuban officials that the path to normalization must include dealing with thorny issues where the U.S. and Cuba have serious disagreements, such as human rights. “For normal relations to move down a productive path, it’s critically important for Cuba to recognize that it is out of step today with international human rights issues.”
The only Republican in the group, Senator Heller on his first visit to Cuba, said, “When the president is right, I support Obama, and he is right in the case of Cuba. Heller acknowledged that there is still much resistance to change in Congress. One way to overcome this resistance, he said, was for Americans to travel to Cuba to talk to people and see the reality with their own eyes. “That will change minds and hearts as has happened to me.” Heller, by the way, is a member of the Senate Committee on Finance; its Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee; its Committee on Veterans’ Affairs; its Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee; and the Senate Special Committee on Aging.
A number of Cuba initiatives are pending in the Senate, including a bill to remove the travel ban on Americans and a more ambitions bill to rescind the decades-old U.S. economic embargo, but these proposals are opposed by the Republican leadership in control of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The three senators in Havana thought there were better prospects for progress on Cuba legislation in their chamber. Senator Heller observed, “I think the Senate can move the House, but the Senate’s going to have to act first.”
The reasons for this Republican resistance to reconciliation were captured by Héctor E. Schamis, Adjunct Associate Professor at Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown University, who said:
The Republican Party, “the former pragmatic party of big business, is increasingly a party of ideology and short-term electioneering.Their incentives are to protect their districts–socially homogeneous, culturally and ideologically dogmatic and uniform– attributes that rise to the surface in such varied topics as immigration, gay marriage … or the Cuban transition. Its social base is the pure and simple anti-communism, which is also old. It is a reading of the world backward, not forward. Ignore the demographic change in the Cuban-American community, where the younger they are, the more they support the strategy of Obama. The Republican Party does not know that for these young people, Castro and Napoleon belong to the same place: the history books.”
At the start of this post, I said there has been no recent development that seems to have prompted this trip. That is true and reveals, in my opinion, the reason for this trip at this time. By now many in the U.S. at least were expecting that the two countries would have announced that they were re-establishing diplomatic relations and thus converting their interests sections into embassies. Keys for that anticipated announcement in June were the May 29, 2015, U.S. rescission of its designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism;” the Cuban Interests Section establishing a banking relationship with a bank in Florida; and a reported agreement regarding conditions for U.S. diplomats’ travel in Cuba.
Thus, in my opinion, the reason for this trip at this time was for Senator Leahy to attempt to determine whether there was some unknown reason from the Cubans for the lack of such an announcement and to press them to conclude the agreement for re-establishing diplomatic relations. Leahy also in the private discussions with the Cuban Foreign Ministry officials may have talked about political reasons from the U.S. perspective to have an announced re-establishment of diplomatic relations as soon as possible. After all, in his public comments in Havana, Leahy stressed the desire for a prompt opening of embassies and the need for the U.S. to open a full embassy.
Let us hope that in the next few days or weeks there will be an announcement of the resumption of diplomatic relations.
The Committee Chair, Bob Corker (Rep., TN) opened by stating that the hearing would focus “on the strategy behind the President’s significant shift in U.S. policy towards Cuba.” Even though this shift “has been welcomed in Latin America and the Caribbean . . . significant differences of opinion exist in the [U.S.] over the extent to which this change in policy will advance U.S. interests and improve circumstances for the Cuban people.”
Therefore, according to Corker, the strategic issue was “how our nation can best engage strategically with the region and beyond to help Cuba rejoin the mainstream of the Americas and offer its citizens the same rights and freedoms enjoyed by citizens of other countries in the region.”
The Ranking Member of the Committee, Senator Ben Cardin (Dem., MD), stated, “The President’s action [on December 17th] brought with it a new opportunity to forge a bilateral relationship that will strengthen our efforts to advance and defend U.S. national interests, and will allow our government and our citizens to expand support for the Cuban people. Today’s hearing provides an important opportunity to review the advances achieved under the Administration’s new Cuba policy and to understand the strategy for moving forward. Without a doubt, this is a complicated process and it will take time to achieve the progress we want to see.”
“[W]e all stand together in our aspirations to see the Cuban people have the opportunity to build a society where human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected, where democratic values and political pluralism are tolerated, and where individuals can work unobstructed to improve their living conditions. We also share concerns about critical issues, such as the Cuban government’s ongoing abuse of human rights and the presence of American fugitives in Cuba, especially those wanted for the murder of U.S. law enforcement officers.”
“But, the central question is: how can we best advance these aspirations while also addressing these concerns? It goes without saying that our previous policy did not achieve the progress that we wanted to see, and so a new approach is needed.”
“President Obama has laid out a new path based on the belief that principled engagement will bring more results. I think that this is the right path for the following reasons:
“First, for far too long, the Cuban government has used U.S. policy as an excuse to justify its shortcomings and the hardships the Cuban people face. The Cuban government also has exploited U.S. policy for diplomatic gains, focusing international debate about what the U.S. should do, rather than about what Cuba needs to do to better provide for its citizens.”
“Second, despite differences we may have with a government, our foreign policy should always endeavor to support that country’s people to the greatest degree possible. Our disagreements with the Cuban government are well known and many. But, over time, we have allowed those disagreements to get in the way of developing a strategy that utilizes all of our resources to empower the people of Cuba.”
“I have no doubt that the dynamism of American society will make a positive contribution to empowering the Cuban people and provide them with the information they need to build the future of their country.”
“Third, the Administration’s new Cuba policy will provide the U.S., and especially our diplomats, with new tools to engage directly with the Cuban government to have principled and frank discussions about the issues we disagree about and how we might work together better on issues of common interest.”
Roberta Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, testified, “[W]e have begun to see the Administration’s new approach to Cuba providing space for other nations in the hemisphere and around the world to focus on promoting respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cuba and elsewhere in the region. This was illustrated at the Summit of the Americas in Panama last April. Engagement by the President and the Secretary at the Summit re-invigorated our momentum on a variety of issues.”
“Our new approach has drawn greater attention to the potential for greater political and economic freedom for the Cuban people and the gap between Cuba and other countries in the Hemisphere. More Americans are travelling to Cuba, getting past the rhetoric, meeting Cubans, and building shared understanding between our people. We have seen practical cooperation in our official dialogues with Cuba on issues in our national interest like maritime and aviation safety, telecommunications, and environmental cooperation.
“Our future discussions on law enforcement cooperation, coupled with the ongoing migration talks, will expand the avenues available to seek the return of American fugitives from justice as well as the return of Cubans residing illegally in the United States. The same is true for future talks on human rights and settling American claims for expropriated properties. Most importantly, the President’s new approach makes clear that the United States can no longer be blamed as an obstacle to progress on things like access to information and connecting Cubans to the world.”
Nevertheless, “significant differences remain between our two governments. We continue to raise our concerns regarding democracy, human rights, and freedom of expression. And we will seek to engage with all Cubans to gain their perspectives on the best way forward for the country.”
“Our policy towards Cuba is based on a clear-eyed strategy that empowers the Cuban people to determine their own future by creating new economic opportunities and increasing their contact with the outside world. That is why we made it easier for Cuban-Americans to travel and send remittances to their families in Cuba, and opened new pathways for academic, religious, and people-to-people exchanges. These changes create powerful new connections between our two countries and help the nascent private sector in Cuba, which is already an agent of positive change on the island. The steps we have implemented build on this foundation by increasing authorized travel, authorized commerce, and the flow of information to, from, and within Cuba.”
“Our new approach emphasizes targeted forms of commerce that offer economic opportunity to independent Cuban entrepreneurs or, like expanded communications, benefit all Cubans. Comprehensive changes in our economic relationship will require Congressional action to lift the embargo. The President has urged Congress to begin that effort. In the meantime, we are using available policy tools to promote a prosperous, democratic, and stable Cuba.”
“In a short period of time, we have already started to see U.S. enterprises seizing the new opportunities. The regulatory changes we announced are intended to increase the financial and material resources available to the Cuban people and the emerging Cuban private sector. They also enable U.S. companies to offer expanded telecommunications and internet services in ways that could help Cuban civil society members advance their aspirations and collectively become more prosperous.”
“Regarding the Administration’s decision to rescind Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, as President Obama said, ‘throughout this process, our emphasis has been on the facts.’ . . . We will continue to have differences with the Cuban government, but our concerns over a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions do not relate to any of the criteria relevant to that designation.”
“While progress has been made in our efforts to reestablish diplomatic relations, there is more to do to ensure a future U.S. Embassy will be able to function more like other diplomatic missions elsewhere in the world and foreign diplomatic missions in Cuba. Even today, under challenging circumstances, our diplomats do their very best to represent the interests and values of the United States, just as we do in hundreds of places around the world. Our engagement with the broadest range of Cubans will expand once we establish diplomatic relations with Cuba.”
State Department Counselor Thomas A. Shannon, Jr. testified, “My purpose today is to address the regional context in which . . . [the U.S. Cuba] policy is unfolding, and to lay out some of the strategic dimensions of our diplomacy.”
“The decision to engage with Cuba and seek normalization of our bilateral relationship attempts to create a new terrain on which to pursue a future that meets our interests and corresponds to our values. Our commitment to democracy and human rights, and our desire and hope that the Cuban people will know the benefits of liberty and become the sovereigns of their own destiny, is no less for our action.”
“The President has been clear about the commitment in our Cuba policy to our enduring and fundamental principles of self-government and individual liberty. However, he has also been clear about our inability to effect significant change in Cuba acting alone across so many decades. Instead, he determined that our efforts would be more effective if we could position Cuba squarely within an inter-American system that recognizes democracy as a right that belongs to all the peoples of our Hemisphere, believes that democracy is essential to the political, economic, and social development of our peoples, and has the juridical instruments, treaties, and agreements to give shape, form, and weight to these commitments. It was our determination that this kind of environment would be the most propitious to support the only legitimate agent of peaceful and enduring political change in Cuba: the Cuban people.”
“The Americas, and specifically Latin America, has anticipated many of the events that are shaping our world. It is a region that has moved largely from authoritarian to democratic government, from closed to open economies, from exclusive to inclusive societies, from autarkical development to regional integration, and from isolation to globalization.”
“Latin America is the first developing region of the world to commit itself explicitly to democratic governance through the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the first to build a democratic model of development, and the first to establish regional structures to promote and protect human rights.”
“While creating a broad base of shared political values, Latin America has also constructed shared economic understandings and a commitment by many of the most successful countries in the Hemisphere to market economies and free trade. In the process, it has built sub-regional integration and political dialogue through organizations like the Common Market of the South, the Andean Community, the Union of South American Nations, and the Central American Integration System, all the while preserving larger hemispheric institutions, such as the Organization of American States and the Summit of the Americas process, that connect Latin America to the Caribbean and North America.”
“As Latin America advances into the 21st century, it is undergoing a second generation of change. Politically, it has consolidated democratic government and is strengthening democratic states and societies. This has opened up political institutions to new voices and actors, deepening the representativeness of many Latin American governments and challenging traditional elites and interests. In some countries, weak democratic institutions have not been able to contain the social energy unlocked by democratization, leading to populism and political polarization as groups struggle for control of the state. As troubling as this phenomenon can be, it does not define the democratization of the region but instead presents a challenge for the region to show how it can address such incidents through the organizations and institutional mechanisms it has created.”
“Economically, Latin America is building innovative integration mechanisms such as the Pacific Alliance, and reaching into Asia and North America to find new and important economic partners. We have FTAs with 12 countries in the Hemisphere, and the continued globalization of Latin America is driven not only by the regions abundant commodities, especially food and energy, but also by growing middle classes that have created attractive markets for manufactured goods and services.”
“The profound changes unleashed in Latin America show clearly that democracy and markets can deliver economic development and address longstanding social inequities such as poverty, inequality, and social exclusion. In effect, Latin America has used democracy and markets to launch peaceful social revolutions that are transforming many countries in important and long-lasting ways. Our ability to promote profound and dramatic change in Latin America is an example of what the United States can accomplish through diplomacy and engagement.”
“If we accomplished such a profound transformation in our Hemisphere through engagement, why not try the same approach with Cuba? And better yet, why not try it in partnership with countries and institutions that are now prepared to work with us because of the President’s new policy?”
“Cuba today finds itself part of a dynamic, vibrant region where transformative change has been the watchword for several decades. And it finds itself in a region where the momentum of that change will continue to reshape political, economic, and social landscapes. In such an environment, the Cuban people will find many models and partners from which to learn and choose. We should be one of those models and partners.”
Questioning Assistant Secretary Jacobson and Counselor Shannon
Of the 11 Committee members in attendance, six made comments and asked questions supportive of U.S.-Cuba reconciliation: Ben Cardin (Dem., MD), Barbara Boxer (Dem., CA), Tom Udall (Dem., NM), Tim Kaine (Dem., VA), Edward Markey (Dem., MA) and Jeff Flake (Rep., AZ).
With Chairman Corker being judiciously noncommittal in his comments, the other four in attendance were hostile to the reconciliation: Bob Menendez (Dem., NJ), Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), Ron Johnson (Rep., WI) and David Perdue (Rep., GA).
In response to Senator Corker’s opening question about whether to date the U.S. had obtained any changes in Cuba policies, Jacobson implicitly said none by emphasizing that the U.S. actions to increase the ability of U.S. nationals to travel to Cuba and to send remittances to Cubans were assisting the latters’ ability to form businesses and over time to be agents for change. The same was true, she said, of new U.S. policies to encourage U.S. businesses to export telecommunications equipment to the island. Shannon added that the new U.S. policies helped the U.S. with other countries in Latin America, especially within the Organization of the American States (OAS) and the Summit of the Americas.
Jacobson also mentioned the OAS and the United Nations as well as continued U.S. annual reports about human rights as means the U.S. would use to assess whether Cuba makes improvements in human rights. She also reiterated her point about U.S. travel and investment in Cuba as instruments for aiding such improvements, all in response to a question from Senator Rubio.
Rubio also pressed Jacobson to concede that the U.S. and Cuba had different notions of human rights. She did so with respect to free speech, peaceful assembly and elections, but she did not point out the U.S.-Cuba agreement on many theoretical issues of human rights as discussed in a prior post.
Another major Rubio argument was increased American travel to Cuba merely benefited the Cuban government and military, which owned, in whole or in part, hotels and car rental companies. The amount of such travel to Cuban bed and breakfasts in private homes was insignificant and, in any event, such private establishments had to pay big fees to the government for such businesses. Moreover, Rubio continued, many of these hotels and other properties had been owned by Americans and others and stolen by the Cuban government. Therefore, Rubio said, the U.S. should not be promoting such increased travel.
Senator Boxer responded to this argument by pointing out that the U.S. permits travel to Viet Nam, China and Russia where hotels and other businesses are owned by the state. She also pointed out that direct interactions between U.S. and Cuban citizens should encourage the latter to want more rights. In addition, Boxer said, the rapprochement was improving cooperation regarding Cuba for the U.S. from Europe and others in this Hemisphere. An example was Panama’s reaction to Cuban efforts to suppress free speech at the recent Summit of the Americas in that country.
However, I was surprised that no one responded to Rubio’s argument about hotels that had been stolen by the Cuban government. Indeed, there are substantial damage claims against the Cuban government for its uncompensated expropriation of property, and this is one of the claims the U.S. now is asserting against Cuba, and a prior post argued for submitting these and other damage claims by both countries to an international arbitration.
Senator Johnson focused on provisions of the Libertad Act (a/k/a the Helms-Burton Act) imposing preconditions on U.S. relaxing sanctions against Cuba, presumably as a predicate for an argument that President Obama’s easing of certain sanctions was unauthorized and, therefore, illegal. Jacobson pointed out, however, that other laws had exceptions to sanctions and provided authority to the President to do what he has done. Moreover, she said, the Administration had asked Congress to enact legislation repealing the U.S. embargo of the island, including the Libertad Act.
Senator Menendez, a Cuban-American and a vigorous opponent of the reconciliation, barely concealed his anger over the change in U.S. policies. Since December 17th, he argued, there has been no improvement in Cuban human rights, and in fact there has been a deterioration on this subject.
Senator Perdue reiterated Menendez’ argument about human rights and asserted that Cuba was still a state supporter of terrorism. It allegedly was helping Islamist terrorists, had shipped arms to North Korea that were intercepted in Panama and had another ship with explosives that on February 28, 2015, was intercepted by Colombia. Counselor Shannon pointed out that this Colombian government action was an example of the increased cooperation the U.S. now is obtaining from others in Latin America as a result of the new U.S. policies about Cuba.
Senator Kaine stated that there are roughly 600 bilateral relations in the Western Hemisphere and that the only one without normal diplomatic relations is U.S.-Cuba. In addition, there are no inter-state wars in the Hemisphere and the only civil war is in Colombia, which is the subject of peace negotiations now being held in, and aided by, Cuba. Counselor Shannon concurred, saying this was a remarkable achievement for the Hemisphere going along with its economic and democratic improvements.
This hearing, in my opinion, did not really provide any new information about the issues or the positions of the participants, which probably why it was not covered in U.S. news media.
The hearing and the lack of news coverage underscored the importance of U.S. citizens who support the reconciliation efforts to convey their opinions to their Senators and Representatives and of the formation and actions of groups like the U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba and Engage Cuba Coalition.
 This post is based upon a video of the hearing and on the embedded citations to the opening statements of Senators Corker and Cardin, the testimony of Assistant Secretary Jacobson and Counselor Shannon and to some of the comments by Senators Rubio, Menendez and Perdue.