Update on Status of Extradition of Defendants in Spain’s Criminal Case Regarding the 1989 Salvadoran Murders of the Jesuit Priests 

Previous posts have reported that the National Court of Spain in 2008 commenced a criminal investigation of the 1989 murder of six Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador. In May 2011 the Spanish court issued the equivalent of an indictment of 20 former Salvadoran military officials for their alleged involvement in those murders.[1]

One of these defendants had died; one had been living in the U.S.; two have been cooperating with the Spanish investigation; and the whereabouts of three are unknown. The other 13 are believed to be living in El Salvador.

Ever since May 2011 Spanish authorities have been seeking extradition of 13 of these men from El Salvador and one from the United States. But extradition has not happened yet. Here is an update on the status of those efforts.

 Developments in El Salvador

In December 2011 Spain requested extradition of 13 of them who were then believed to be in El Salvador. In May 2012, however, the Supreme Court of El Salvador denied extradition of the 13 on the ground that the country’s constitution prohibited extradition of its citizens.

In August 2015, in an unrelated case, the Constitutional Chamber of the Salvadoran Supreme Court ruled that, according to a treaty on international cooperation in criminal matters to which El Salvador is a party, an INTERPOL red notice requires both the identification of the location of the defendants and their arrest and detention pending an additional filing, such as an extradition request. This decision appeared to be in direct conflict with the just mentioned Court’s May 2012 ruling against extradition in the Spanish case.[2]

In response to the August 2015 ruling, the Salvadoran Human Rights Ombudsman, David Morales, on November 16, 2015, petitioned the country’s Supreme Court to review its 2012 decisions refusing to arrest and order the extradition of 13 former military officials who were subjects of the INTERPOL arrest warrants.[3]

The Ombusman also issued a resolution asking Spanish authorities to re-issue the arrest warrants for extradition purposes in this case. This request was endorsed in the Spanish case by the U.S.-based Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) and the Spanish Association for Human Rights (APDHE).

On January 4, 2016, the Spanish court’s Judge Velasco honored that plea by requesting INTERPOL to re-issue the international arrest warrants for all the Jesuit Massacre case defendants who reside in El Salvador for their extradition to Spain to face the charges.

On January 6, the Salvadoran government said it will cooperate in the execution of those warrants and the extradition of former Salvadoran military officials and soldiers, but that the country’s Supreme Court would make the final decision.

In February 2016 Salvadoran authorities arrested and detained four of the former Salvadoran military officials who are sought for this Spanish criminal case. The four were former colonel Guillermo Alfredo Benavides Moreno; former sergeants Ramiro Ávalos Vargas and Tomás Zárpate Castillo; and former corporal Ángel Pérez Vásquez. The Salvadoran National Civilian Police (PNC) force said that it would “continue the search and capture of the rest of the wanted persons and will inform the public in the opportune moment.” To date, however, no additional arrests have been reported.

On July 14, 2016, the full Supreme Court of El Salvador was scheduled to release its decision on the latest request to issue extradition warrants in this case. The day before, however, the Constitutional Chamber of the Court decided that the country’s Amnesty Law was unconstitutional, which was discussed in a prior post. As a result, the full Supreme Court stayed further proceedings about the extradition warrants.

On August 16, 2016, the Supreme Court unanimously, 15-0, decided that former colonel Guillermo Alfredo Benavides Moreno could not be extradited.[4] The court, 11-4, also ordered that Benavides be detained in a Salvadoran prison in accordance with his conviction and imposition of a 30-year sentence by a Salvadoran court before passage of the amnesty law; after the passage of that law Benavides was released from prison. As a result, extradition was barred by a provision of the El Salvador-Spain extradition treaty that says extradition can be denied “if the person whose extradition is requested “has been tried and finally acquitted or convicted [of the same crime].”

The Supreme Court, however, has not yet ruled on the request to extradite the other three men– former sergeants Ramiro Ávalos Vargas and Tomás Zárpate Castillo; and former corporal Ángel Pérez Vásquez. They also were tried by a Salvadoran court for illegal homicide, which is an essential element of the crime now being pursued in Spain, but these three men were acquitted in a Salvadoran trial with many alleged irregularities. Strict application of the rationale of the above Supreme Court decision and the cited provision of the extradition treaty and the underlying notion of no double jeopardy suggest that they too should not be subject to extradition, but the irregularities in their trial are impediments to that analysis.[5] We now await the Salvadoran Supreme Court’s ruling on these three men.

Developments in United States

As explained in a prior post, a Magistrate Judge in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina on February 5, 2016, upheld the requested extradition of Orlando Montano Morales to Spain in this case. https://dwkcommentaries.com/2016/02/06/resumption-of-spanish-criminal-case-over-1989-salvadoran-murder-of-jesuit-priests/

On April 1, 2016, Montano filed in that court an Application for a Writ of Habeas Corpus, which is the only way for him to appeal or challenge that decision.[6]

On April 26, the U.S. moved to dismiss that habeas application. Its brief argued that the certification of extraditability would not be overturned if there was any evidence warranting the finding that there was a reasonable ground to believe that the individual was guilty of the crime in the foreign country and that there was such evidence in this case. On June 10 the U.S. submitted its reply to the petitioner’s opposition to the dismissal motion; it argued that the response raised no issues needing further rebuttal.[7]

Montano Morales, however, was not finished. On July 21, he submitted another brief arguing that there was insufficient evidence to support the certification order’s probable cause conclusion. He also asserted that the court should consider certain declassified U.S. government cables with respect to the probable cause conclusion. On August 10, the U.S. again rejected Montano’s arguments, emphasizing that the habeas review was “limited to ascertaining ‘whether there was any evidence warranting the finding that there was reasonable ground to believe the accused guilty of the asserted crimes’” and that there was such evidence.[8] (Emphasis added.)

The matter is now submitted for decision by U.S. District Judge Terrance W. Boyle.

According to Patty Blum, senior legal adviser with the Center for Justice and Accountability, which filed the original complaint in the Jesuit case with the Spanish court in 2008 and which supported the request for extradition of Montano, the habeas corpus application is unlikely to “get much traction substantively” as the order granting extradition already rejected the core arguments of the new petition and the Magistrate Judge “did a thorough job of reviewing the record and giving a reasoned, detailed opinion.”[9]

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[1] Prior posts covered the marvelous ministries of these Jesuit priests and their university (University of Central America or UCA); the circumstances of their horrible murders; the Salvadoran military’s attempted cover-up of their involvement in these crimes; the flawed Salvadoran criminal prosecution of a few of the military personnel so involved and their absolution by a Salvadoran amnesty law; the investigation and report on these crimes by the Truth Commission for El Salvador; other legal proceedings regarding these crimes; the Spanish criminal case over these crimes; El Salvador’s 2012 denial of Spain’s request for extradition of most of the suspects in the case; and the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Jesuit martyrs in November 2014. These posts are identified in reverse chronological order of posting in a computer-generated list.  They also are identified in logical sequence in “The Jesuit Priests” section of my manually prepared List of Posts to dwkcommentaires—Topical: El Salvador. There also is extensive discussion of the Spanish case in the website of the Center for Justice and Accountability, the U.S.-based human rights organization that is involved in that case.

[2] Spanish Judge Re-Issues Request for the Arrest of Military Officials, CJA (Dec. 2015); Dalton, Spain calls for arrest of 18 soldiers accused of killing priests in El Salvador, El Pais (Dec. 23, 2015); Reuters, El Salvador will cooperate in arrest of 17 former soldiers accused of killing priests, Guardian (Jan. 6, 2015); Labrador, Spain orders again capture Jesuit Salvadoran military case, El Faro (Jan. 5, 2016).

[3] Human Rights Ombudsman asks extradition slaughter of Jesuits, El Mundo (Nov. 16, 2015).

[4] Labrador, Arauza & Zabiań, Court refuses to extradite Colonel Benavides, but agrees to send him to prison, El Faro (Aug. 17, 2016); Melendez, Supreme Court Decides Not To Extradite Jesuit Case, LaPrensa Grafica (Aug. 17, 2016); Reuters, El Salvador Court Denies Extradition of former Colonel to Spain, N.Y. Times (Aug. 17, 2016).

[5] The Salvadoran trial was covered in a prior post as was the release of Colonel Benavides under the Amnesty Law.

[6] Application for a Writ of Habeas Corpus Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 2241, et seq, Montano Morales v. Elks, No. 5:16-HC-2066-BO (April 1, 2016).

[7] Memorandum in Support of Motion To Dismiss Application for Writ of Habeas Corpus, Montano Morales v. Elks, No. 5:16-HC-2066-BO (April 26, 2016); Response in Opposition to Federal Respondents’ Motion To Dismiss Application for Writ of Habeas Corpus, and Request for Hearing, Montano Morales v. Elks, No. 5:16-HC-2066-BO (May 18, 2016); United States’ Reply to Petitioner’s Response in Opposition Regarding Motion To Dismiss Application for Writ of Habeas Corpus, Montano Morales v. Elks, No. 5:16-HC-2066-BO (June 10, 2016).

[8] Supplemental Filing To Support Petition for Write of Habeas Corpus and Request for Hearing, Montano Morales v. Elks, No. 5:16-HC-2066-BO (July 21, 2016); Government’s Response to Supplemental Filing To Support Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, Montano Morales v. Elks, No. 5:16-HC-2066-BO (Aug. 10, 2016).

[9] Cooper & Hodges, Extradition appeal among setbacks in Jesuit massacre, Nat’l Cath. Rep. (April 13, 2016); Assoc. Press, Ex-Salvadoran colonel fights extradition in Jesuit killings (Apr. 1, 2016).

Extradition Has Become a Hot Topic for the United States

Extradition is the legal process “by which one country (the requesting country) may seek from another country (the requested country) the surrender of a person who is wanted for prosecution, or to serve a sentence following conviction, for a criminal offense.  In the U.S., international extradition is treaty based, meaning that the U.S. must have an extradition treaty with the requesting country in order to consider the request for extradition.”[1]

That process is now a hot topic in the U.S. Most recently Turkey is pressing the U.S. to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric living in Pennsylvania, to Turkey to face charges of being involved in the attempted coup in that country. Another pending request, this from Spain, seeks the U.S. extradition of Inocente Orlando Montano Morales, a former Salvadoran military officer living in the U.S., to face criminal charges involving the 1989 murders of Jesuit priests in El Salvador. Extradition also is one of the many unresolved issues in the process of normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations: will Cuba extradite certain U.S. fugitives and will the U.S. do likewise for certain Cuban fugitives.[2]

Therefore, a better understanding of international extradition is necessary to follow these developments. Such a primer can be found in a 2001 U.S. State Department report to Congress and a recent U.S. government brief in the previously mentioned Spanish case for extradition of the former Salvadoran military officer from the U.S.[3] Assuming those sources are fair summaries of the process, this post omits citations to statutes and cases other than  to note that extradition is the subject of 18 U.S. Code, Chapter 209.

U.S. Extradition Treaties

U.S. extradition practice is based almost entirely on individually negotiated bilateral treaties, which the U.S. brings into force following Senate advice and consent to ratification. The U.S. is currently a party to 109 such treaties.[4] While most of these treaties currently in force have been negotiated in the last 30-40 years, many of the treaties still in force are quite old, in some cases dating back to the 19th Century.

For many reasons, however, not every request for extradition results in a fugitive being delivered to the requesting country. Sometimes the requesting state doesn’t know where a fugitive is located and makes multiple contingency requests for provisional arrest and extradition. In other cases, fugitives learn they are being sought and flee or go into hiding. Even following a fugitive’s arrest, court proceedings and appeals can last a very long time and can be delayed by fugitives’ exercising all possible rights to challenge extradition.

In addition, most such treaties provide specific bases on which extraditions can be delayed or denied. The obligation to extradite under a bilateral extradition treaty is not absolute and protections are included in the treaty to accommodate both U.S. and foreign interests. While the exact terms of such treaties result from country-specific negotiations and thus vary somewhat among the treaties, there are the following typical types of qualifications on the obligation to extradite:

  • An almost universal treaty exception, known in international extradition law as the “non bis in idem” doctrine, is similar to the double jeopardy doctrine under U.S. domestic law. It provides that extradition will be denied when the person has already been either acquitted or convicted for the same offense in the country from which extradition is requested, or, in some instances, in a third country.
  • A similarly widely adopted exception is that extradition is not required where the crime at issue is a “political offense” (a term which can cover treason, sedition or other crime against the state without the elements of any ordinary crime, or which under U.S. law can cover ordinary crimes committed incidental to or in furtherance of a violent political uprising such as a war, revolution or rebellion, especially when such crimes do not target civilian victims) or a “military offense” (a crime subject to military law that is not criminalized under normal penal law).
  • U.S. treaties also typically provide that extradition may be denied if the request is found to be politically motivated. Some of our treaties provide that extradition may be denied if the request was made for the primary purpose of prosecuting or punishing the person sought on account of race, religion, nationality or political opinion.
  • Perhaps the highest profile exceptions to the obligation to extradite are bars or limitations in some countries on the extradition of their own nationals.   The U.S., however, makes no distinction between extraditing its own nationals and those of other countries and advocates that all countries adopt the U.S. policy due to the ease of flight and the increasingly transnational nature of crime.
  • Some U.S. treaties provide that if the offense for which surrender is sought is punishable by death under the laws in the country requesting extradition but not in the country holding the fugitive, extradition may be refused unless the requesting country provides assurances that the death penalty will not be imposed or, if imposed, will not be carried out. Sometimes these provisions are included in the treaty at the insistence of our treaty partner, because many countries in Europe and elsewhere oppose the death penalty. Sometimes the U.S. insists on such provisions in order to retain sufficient flexibility to ensure that the U.S. is not obliged to surrender persons for execution for relatively less serious crimes.

Older U.S. treaties that were negotiated before the late 1970’s contained a list of offenses that would be covered. In newer U.S. treaties this list approach has been replaced by the concept of “dual criminality,” usually providing that offenses covered by the treaty include all those made punishable under the laws of both parties by imprisonment or other form of detention for more than one year, or by a more severe penalty (such as capital punishment). Such a formulation obviates the need to renegotiate the treaty to provide coverage for new offenses, strikingly exemplified by the currently evolving area of cyber-crime. Indeed, to avoid having the dual criminality analysis applied too narrowly, most treaties provide further guidance, including that an offense is extraditable whether or not the laws in the two countries place the offense within the same category or describe it by the same terminology. A major goal in the U.S. current ambitious treaty-negotiating program is to negotiate new, modern treaties that eliminate the “list” approach in favor of dual criminality treaties.

Other limitations on the obligation to extradite, which vary to some extent from treaty to treaty, would relate to requests for extradition for extraterritorial offenses where the two countries’ laws differ on the reach of jurisdiction over such crimes. In such cases, the U.S. seeks the greatest possible flexibility in our treaties to permit extradition for offenses that have taken place in whole or in part outside the territory of the requesting party.

U.S. Practice Regarding Foreign Government Requests for Extradition

The U.S. practice regarding foreign government requests for extradition involves the Department of State, the Department of Justice, a U.S. attorney, a U.S. district court and the Secretary of State.

  1. U.S. Department of State

The extradition process in the U.S. starts when the Department of State receives a request for extradition from a foreign country. That Department initially determines whether the request is governed by a treaty between the U.S. and that country, and if there is such a treaty and the request conforms to the treaty, that Department will prepare a declaration authenticating the request and send it to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs.

  1. U.S. Department of Justice[5]

The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs examines the foreign country’s request to determine if it contains all of the necessary information. If it does, the request is sent to the U.S. Attorney for the district where the subject of the request is located. Thereafter the Office’s attorneys will assist, as needed, the U.S. Attorney.

  1. U.S. Attorney

The U.S. Attorney then prepares and files a complaint with the local U.S. district court seeking a warrant for the individual’s arrest and certification that he or she may be extradited. The U.S. Attorney also files briefs and appears at any hearings in the district court in the case.

  1. U.S. District Court

The complaint, of course, is served upon the subject of the proceeding, who has a right to be represented by counsel and to contest the complaint.

The court then conducts a hearing to determine if there is probable cause that the subject has violated one or more of the criminal laws of the country seeking extradition. This is not a criminal trial, but like a preliminary hearing in a criminal case to determine if the evidence is sufficient to sustain the charge under the treaty’s provisions.

At such a hearing, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Criminal Procedure and Evidence do not apply. Thus, the evidence may consist of hearsay and unsworn statements, and the judicial officer does not weigh conflicting evidence and make factual determinations. Instead the officer only decides whether there is competent evidence to support the belief that the individual has committed the charged offense under the other country’s laws.

At this hearing, the individual has no right to submit a defense to the charges or evidence that merely contradicts the other country’s proof or poses conflicts of credibility.

If the court finds after the hearing that (a) there is a criminal charge pending in the other country against the individual; (b) the offense underlying the charge is encompassed by the relevant treaty; (c) the individual is the person sought by the foreign government; (d) the evidence supports a finding that the crime for which the individual is sought was committed; (e) the evidence supports a finding that the individual committed the crime; and (f) the treaty has no other basis for denying extradition; then the court issues a certification that the individual is subject to extradition.

Such a certification may be challenged only by the individual’s filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus to the same district court.[6]

If there is no petition or it is denied, the court sends the certification to the Secretary of State.

  1. U.S. Secretary of State[7]

Under U.S. statutes, the Secretary of State is the U.S. official responsible for determining whether to surrender a fugitive to a requesting state. In making this decision, the Secretary may consider issues properly raised before the extradition court or a habeas court as well as any humanitarian or other considerations for or against surrender, including whether surrender may violate the United States’ obligations under the Convention Against Torture. The Secretary also will consider any written materials submitted by the fugitive, his or her counsel, or other interested parties.

If the Secretary decides to extradite, the Secretary issues and serves a warrant for the extradition, and the individual is extradited to the other country.

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, Report on International Extradition Submitted to the Congress Pursuant to Section 211 of the Admiral James W. Nance and Meg Donovan Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 2000 and 2001 (Public Law 106-113) (2001); U.S. Justice Dep’t, Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Extradition;Memorandum in Support of Motion To Dismiss Application for Habeas Corpus at 2, Montano Morales v. Elks, No. 5-16-HC-2066-BO (E.D.N.C. April 26, 2016).

[2] Future posts will examine the requests from Spain and Turkey while an earlier post reviewed a district court’s issuance of the certification for extradition to Spain of the former Salvadoran military officer: Resumption of Spanish Criminal Case Over 1989 Salvadoran Murder of Jesuit Priests?, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 6, 2016). Another post reviewed U.S. and Cuban extradition issues: Issues Regarding Cuba and U.S. Extradition of the Other’s Fugitives, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 24, 2015).

[3] See n.1.

[4] The U.S. currently has bilateral extradition treaties with 109 countries.

[5] Justice Dep’t, Office of International Affairs.

[6] A prior post erroneously stated that such a certification was subject to an ordinary appeal to the relevant U.S. court of appeals.

[7] State Dep’t, Extradition.

El Salvador’s Supreme Court Invalidates Salvadoran Amnesty Law

On July 13, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of El Salvador decided, 4 to 1, that the country’s amnesty law of 1993 was unconstitutional. This post will examine that decision and a subsequent post will discuss the impact of that decision on the pending criminal case in Spain regarding the 1989 murders of the Jesuit priests in El Salvador.

 The Court’s Decision.[1]

The Chamber held that the country’s amnesty law of 1993 was unconstitutional because it was “contrary to the access to justice” and the “protection of fundamental rights” as impeding the state from fulfilling its obligation to investigate, try and punish grave violations of those rights. Indeed, the court said the government has an obligation to “investigate, identify and sanction the material and intellectual authors of human rights crimes and grave war crimes” in its civil war and to provide reparations to victims.[2] The court also suggested that prosecutors begin with about 30 cases highlighted by a U.N. Truth Commission in March 1993.[3] The cases include massacres, assassinations and kidnappings by combatants from both the armed forces and the guerrilla army called the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). One of the most prominent was the 1989 murders of the Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her daughter.

The court’s announcement of its decision stated that the 1992 Peace Accords ending the civil war had contained no provision for an amnesty; that the country’s National Assembly had no power to grant an amnesty to persons who had committed crimes against humanity or war crimes constituting grave violations of human rights and that its constitution and international law of human rights required the conclusion of invalidity.

The court also stated that the crimes against humanity during the civil war were not individual and isolated acts, but the result of guidelines and orders issued by organized apparatuses of power with hierarchies of command.  This implies criminal responsibility of the direct actors, those who gave the orders for the crimes and those commanders who failed to countermand the orders and thereby failed to exercise control over the hierarchies.

Much to the surprise of this blogger as a retired U.S. attorney, one of the Chamber’s four judges in this very case, Florentine Menendez, made a public statement about the decision. He said, “We’re not raising hatred or reopening wounds,” but rather emphasizing “the strength of the constitution and the right to life and justice” for the victims. The decision rescues “the jurisprudence of the Inter-American system of human rights protection to heal the wounds of the past and finally close the page and get a national reconciliation.”

Positive Reactions to the Decision.[4]

The next day the decision was celebrated at a ceremony in San Salvador’s Cuscatlan Park, the site of a 275-foot granite wall etched with the names of 30,000 civilians killed in the country’s civil war and the locations of nearly 200 massacres committed between 1970 and 1991. Below are photographs of David Morales,El Salvador’s human rights ombudsman, who made remarks that day, and of part of the granite wall.

David Morales
David Morales
Cucatlan Park
Cucatlan Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

At this celebration, David Morales said, “If prosecutors and judges are willing to comply with the ruling, it will generate for the first time in El Salvador the first glimmers of reconciliation.” He added that many Latin American countries have already abolished their amnesty laws and begun to prosecute crimes dating to the civil wars and military dictatorships of the late 20th century.

Benjamin Cuellar, former director of the human rights institute at the University of Central America (UCA) and one of the petitioners in the lawsuit, said, “This is the first step that will take El Salvador to true reconciliation; so that the institutions work and bring to justice those who commit crimes, regardless of who they are.”

UCA, the home of the murdered Jesuit priests, stated, “The majority of the victims are more noble than the victimizers.   They do not want vengeance, they want the injustice to be recognized.   And the State is obliged to honor them.  It is time to put the victims in the center.   The new phase that is opened for the country is positive, it means an advance for democracy and justice, and constitutes a late but just recognition for those who had been disrespected in their memory and in their pain.”

The Center for Justice and Accountability, which has been involved in various Salvadoran human rights cases, including the Spanish case regarding the murder of the Jesuit priests, said, “Today’s decision marks a moment many of us have hoped for, for a long time, as we struggled by the victims’ side. The victims have been demanding justice since the peace was signed and the brave truth commission report was published. The amnesty law passed only seven days after was a betrayal to the victims’ hopes and the whole peace process. With it, justice was excluded forever. Today’s decision brings back hope for investigation and prosecution both inside and outside the country.”

A group of independent United Nations human rights experts declared: “This historic decision for the country brings hope to victims and confidence in the legal system…. More than twenty years after the end of the conflict, this decision will restore the fundamental rights of victims to justice and full reparations.”

Amnesty International praised the decision: “Today is an historic day for human rights in El Salvador. By turning its back on a law that has done nothing but let criminals get away with serious human rights violations for decades, the country is finally dealing with its tragic past.”

Another voice of support for the decision came in a New York Times editorial calling it “ a remarkable ruling that opens the door for relatives of victims of war crimes to hold torturers and killers accountable.” “However,” the editorial continued, “there appears to be little political will in El Salvador to revisit a painful chapter of its history in courtrooms. Politicians across the political spectrum have questioned the viability of war crimes tribunals at a time when the country’s judicial institutions are overwhelmed by endemic gang violence.”  Nevertheless, the Times suggested that El Salvador should create “a prosecution unit and gives it the tools and independence to pursue the most emblematic cases of the conflict” like the El Mozote Massacre,” which has been discussed in prior posts.

Negative Reactions to the Decision.

The lack of political will referenced in the Times editorial can be seen in the country’s President, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, a member of the FLMN, asserted that his government had always been committed to the restoration of the victims of the war and to building a culture committed to human rights.   However, he said the court’s decision did not meet “the real problems of the country and far from solving the daily problems of Salvadorans, worsens them.  Judgments of the Constitutional Chamber ignore or fail to measure the effects on our living together in society, and do not contribute to strengthening institutionality.”

Another FLMN leader had a similar reaction. The former president of the National Assembly, Siegfried Reyes, said the decision was “surprising and seeks to weaken and hit the governance and hit the security plans that the government is implementing effectively.”

The country’s Minister of Defense, David Munguia Payés, asserted that the decision was a “political error” and would be a setback to the process of pacification which had occurred since the end of the civil war.”  He openly worried that the ruling would turn into a “witch hunt.”

Mauricio Ernesto Vargas, a retired general who represented the armed forces in the peace negotiations, said the court’s ruling could intensify political polarization in a country with no shortage of problems: a gang-violence epidemic, a migration crisis, crop failures and economic stagnation.

 The country’s Attorney General, Douglas Melendez, had a more nuanced view. He said, “We respect from the institutional point of view this ruling. We will do what we have to do, we will fulfill our constitutional responsibilities.”

The conservative political party ARENA (founded by a leader of the death squads in the 1970s and 1980s, and in control of the government when atrocities like the massacre of the Jesuits occurred and the authors of the amnesty law) published an official statement urging respect for the court’s decisions, but also noting that the decisions would present challenges for the process of reconciliation and the strengthening of democracy and institutions.

Now we will have to see whether this decision leads to any Salvadoran investigations and prosecutions for the serious human rights crimes of its civil war and to a resumption of Spain’s criminal case regarding the 1989 murders of the Jesuit priests. (The latter subject will be covered in a subsequent post.)

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[1] El Salvador Supreme Court (Constitutional Chamber), Press Release (July 13, 2016), http://static.ow.ly/docs/20.%20Comunicado%2013-VII-2016%20Ley%20de%20amnist%C3%ADa_50Yr.pdf; Post war 1993 amnesty law declared unconstitutional, Tim’s El Salvador Blog (July 13, 2016), http://luterano.blogspot.com/2016/07/post-war-1993-amnesty-law-declared.html; Malkin & Palumbo, Salvadoran Court Overturns Wartime Amnesty, Paving Way for Prosecutions, N.Y. Times (July 14, 2016); Maslin, El Salvador strikes down amnesty for crimes during its civil war, Wash. Post (July 14, 2016), https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/el-salvador-strikes-down-amnesty-for-crimes-during-its-civil-war/2016/07/14/5eeef2ec-49bf-11e6-8dac-0c6e4accc5b1_story.html.

[2] Prior posts have discussed the Amnesty Law: International Criminal Justice: El Salvador’s General Amnesty Law and Its Impact on the Jesuits Case, dwkcommentaries.com (June 11, 2011),  https://dwkcommentaries.com/2011/06/11/international-criminal-justice-el-salvadors-general-amnesty-law-and-its-impact-on-the-jesuits-caseEl Salvador’s Current Controversy Over Its General Amnesty Law and Supreme Court, dwkcommentaries.com (June 16, 2011), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2011/06/16/el-salvadors-current-controversy-over-its-general-amnesty-law-and-supreme-court; The El Mozote Massacre: The Truth Commission for El Salvador and the Subsequent General Amnesty Law and Dismissal of the Criminal Case, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 13, 2012), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2012/12/13/the-el-mozote-massacre-the-truth-commission-for-el-salvador-and-the-subsequent-salvadoran-general-amnesty-law-and-dismissal-of-criminal-case. It should be noted, however, that U.S. federal courts have held that the General Amnesty Law is limited to Salvadoran judicial proceedings and thus does not bar U.S. civil lawsuits for money damages against Salvadoran defendants. (El Salvador’s General Amnesty Law in U.S. Federal Courts, dwkcommentaries.com (June 14, 2011), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2011/06/14/el-salvadors-general-amnesty-law-in-u-s-federal-court-cases.

[3] Prior posts have discussed the Truth Commission: International Criminal Justice: The Jesuits Case in the Truth Commission for El Salvador, dwkcommentaries.com (June 9, 2011), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2011/06/09/international-criminal-justice-the-jesuits-case-in-the-truth-commission-for-el-salvador; The Salvadoran Truth Commission’s Investigation of the 1980 Murders of the Four Churchwomen, dwkcommentaries (Dec. 19, 2011), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2011/12/19/the-salvadoran-truth-commissions-investigation-of-the-murders-of-the-four-american-churchwomen; The El Mozote Massacre: The Truth Commission for El Salvador and the Subsequent General Amnesty Law and Dismissal of the Criminal Case, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 13, 2012), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2012/12/13/the-el-mozote-massacre-the-truth-commission-for-el-salvador-and-the-subsequent-salvadoran-general-amnesty-law-and-dismissal-of-criminal-case.

[4] Thanks for Tim’s El Salvador Blog (http://luterano.blog spot.com) for much of the information on the reactions to the Chamber’s decision.  David Morales: The sentence “is a tool of greater scope to demand justice, DiarioCoLatino (July 14, 2016) http://www.diariocolatino.com/david-morales-la-sentencia-es-una-herramienta-de-mayores-alcances-para-exigir-justicia; Dalton, Declared unconstitutional the amnesty in El Salvador, El Pais (July 14, 2016) http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2016/07/15/america/1468541983_506876.html.

 

 

 

 

Resumption of Spanish Criminal Case Over 1989 Salvadoran Murder of Jesuit Priests?                      

As discussed in a prior posts, Spain’s National Court in 2008 commenced a criminal investigation of the 1989 murder of six Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador. In May 2011 the Spanish court issued the equivalent of an indictment of 20 former Salvadoran military officials for their alleged involvement in those murders.[1]

In December 2011 Spain requested extradition of 13 of them who were in El Salvador and two who were believed to be in the U.S. (Two of the others could not be located, another two were in the process of cooperating with the Spanish judge in the case and another had died.) In May 2012, however, the Supreme Court of El Salvador denied extradition of the 13 on the ground that the country’s constitution prohibited extradition of its citizens while one of those was in the U.S. in U.S. custody on criminal charges (Inocente Orlando Montano Morales). As a result, it appeared that the Spanish case had been road-blocked

Now there are signs in the U.S., Spain and El Salvador that the case will be resumed.

U.S. Court Approves Extradition of a Salvadoran Suspect to Spain

On April 8, 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a complaint for U.S. extradition of Montano to Spain. A hearing on that complaint was held on August 19, 2015, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Kimberly Swank, U.S. District Court (Eastern District, North Carolina).[2]

On February 5, 2016, the Magistrate Judge issued her decision upholding the requested extradition. She agreed with the Spanish evidence that showed that Mr. Montano was present at a meeting of the military high command that ordered the murders, which were carried out by an elite Salvadoran unit trained by the U.S. military. “A government official who acts in collaboration with others outside the scope of his lawful authority,” she wrote, “may reasonably be considered a member of an armed gang under the Spanish terrorist murder statute.”[3]

The key conclusions of the decision were: (a) “There is currently in force an extradition treaty between the United States and Spain;” (b) Montano “was charged in Spain with extraditable offenses under the terms of the extradition treaty between the United States and Spain, namely the terrorist murder of five Jesuit priests of Spanish origin and nationality;” and (c) “Probable cause exists to believe [Montano] committed the charged offenses of terrorist murder.”

Therefore, the Magistrate Judge concluded that Montano was subject to extradition and certified this finding to the U.S. Secretary of State as required by 18 U.S.C. § 3184.

The Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA), which has supported the extradition of Montano, said that this decision was “thorough, erudite and sweeping in scope [and] turns on a central legal ruling: As a government official, Montano collaborated with others to carry out the murders, acting beyond the scope of his official authority.  As such, Montano can be considered a terrorist. This finding is a vindication of the years of struggle of the Salvadoran people against a repressive military which tried to turn reality on its head by calling anyone who defied it – including the Jesuits priests – terrorists. It is gratifying that a US court has recognized the true reality and named its leaders, Montano one of the most powerful, what they were – terrorists.”  CJA added: “The Assistant U.S. Attorney was persuasive in all aspects of his arguments, ably representing the interests of Spain in the U.S. judicial process.”

Carlos Martín Baró, the plaintiff in CJA’s Jesuits Massacre Case in Spain and brother of Father Ignacio Martín Baró, S.J., one of the murdered priests, said: “My brother had a broad desire to help people. When he encountered the poverty and inequality of El Salvador, he realized the problem was deeper, and he dedicated his entire life to helping the people of that country.  The fact that the Colonel Montano may face trial in Spain won’t heal the pain but is a victory for all people who seek justice.”

Under the previously mentioned U.S. federal statute (18 U.S.C. § 3184) the Secretary of State “shall issue his warrant for the commitment of the person so charged to the proper jail, there to remain until such surrender shall be made.” This statute on its face does not appear to grant the Secretary the discretion to deny the request for extradition. Moreover, since the U.S. Department of Justice brought the prosecution of Montano for immigration fraud and then for his extradition, it appears exceedingly unlikely that Secretary of State John Kerry would not provide the necessary warrant for extradition.

Now we wait to see if Montano exercises his right under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73 (c) and Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a) to appeal this decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit within 30 days “after entry of the judgment or order being appealed from,” which presumably is February 5.

 Spain and El Salvador’s Apparent Cooperation on Extradition of Other Suspects

 In August 2015, in an unrelated case, the Constitutional Chamber of the Salvadoran Supreme Court ruled that, according to a treaty on international cooperation in criminal matters to which El Salvador is a party, an INTERPOL red notice requires both the identification of the location of the defendants and their arrest and detention pending an additional filing, such as an extradition request. This decision appears in direct conflict with the Court’s May 2012 ruling against extradition in the Spanish case over the Jesuit murders.[4]

In response to this recent ruling, on November 16, 2015, the Salvadoran Human Rights Ombudsman, David Morales, petitioned the country’s Supreme Court to review its 2012 decisions refusing to arrest and order the extradition of 11 former military officials who were subjects of the INTERPOL arrest warrants,[5]

The Ombudsman also issued a resolution asking Spanish authorities to re-issue the arrest warrants, for extradition purposes in the Jesuits Massacre Case. This request was endorsed in the Spanish case by CJA and the Spanish Association for Human Rights (APDHE).

On January 4, 2006, the Spanish court’s Judge Velasco honored that plea by requesting INTERPOL to re-issue the international arrest warrants for all the Jesuit Massacre case defendants who reside in El Salvador for their extradition to Spain to face the charges.

On January 6, the Salvadoran government said it will cooperate in the execution of those warrants and the extradition of 17 former Salvadoran military officials and soldiers (one of whom is the previously mentioned Montano in the U.S.), but that the country’s Supreme Court would make the final decision.

On the other hand, a former Salvadoran Defense Minister, Humberto Corado, who was not involved in the killings, has requested support for those subject to the INTERPOL arrest warrants from the ARENA political party because their party members were the government officials in charge at the time of the killings and issued orders that the military carried out. He also argued that the country’s amnesty law should prevent the Spanish case from proceeding further,[6]

On February 5 and 6, 2016, Salvadoran police detained four of the 17 former military officials. The police also are looking for the other 12 (excluding Montano). This is despite some earlier police reluctance to do so. These arrests and searches are seen as a first step towards extradition. These actions were endorsed on February 6 by President Salvador Sanchez Ceren, who stressed that the country was “committed to comply with international standards” and that there were INTERRPOL red notices calling for arrest. He also urged those subject to arrest to comply for decision on extradition to be made by the Supreme Court.[7]

Conclusion

There now appears to be some hope that those accused of complicity in the murder of the Jesuits will face criminal charges in Spain. The main obstacle now is the Salvadoran Supreme Court, which will have to decide whether the new arrest warrants and request for extradition will be honored.

======================================================

[1] Prior posts that were tagged “Jesuits” covered the marvelous ministries of these Jesuit priests and their university (University of Central America or UCA); the circumstances of their horrible murders; the Salvadoran military’s attempted cover-up of their involvement in these crimes; the flawed Salvadoran criminal prosecution of a few of the military personnel so involved and their absolution by a Salvadoran amnesty law; the investigation and report on these crimes by the Truth Commission for El Salvador; other legal proceedings regarding these crimes; the Spanish criminal case over these crimes; El Salvador’s 2012 denial of Spain’s request for extradition of most of the suspects in the case; and the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Jesuit martyrs in November 2014.

[2] Prior posts that were tagged “Montano” discuss the U.S. prosecution, conviction and imprisonment of Montano for U.S. immigration fraud and the proceedings for his extradition to Spain. See also CJA, U.S. Extradition of Montano; Drew, Unusual extradition fight plays out over priests’ slayings, Yahoo News (Aug. 18, 2015); Hodge, Former colonel faces extradition for charges of plotting Jesuits’ slayings, Nat’l Catholic Reporter (Aug. 24, 2015).

[3] Certification of Extraditability & Order of Commitment, In re Request By Spain for the Extradition of Inocente Orlando Montano Morales (No. 2:15-MJ-1021-KS, U.S. Dist. Ct., E. D. N.C., N. Div. Feb. 5, 2016); CJA Press Release, Judge Grants Extradition of Salvadoran Colonel Accused in Jesuit Massacre (Feb. 5, 2015); Malkin, U.S. Judge Approves Extradition of Former Salvadoran Colonel, N.Y. Times (Feb. 5, 2016).

[4] CJA, Spanish Judge Re-Issues Request for the Arrest of Military Officials, CJA (Dec. 2015); Dalton, Spain calls for arrest of 18 soldiers accused of killing priests in El Salvador, El Pais (Dec. 23, 2015); Reuters, El Salvador will cooperate in arrest of 17 former soldiers accused of killing priests, Guardian (Jan. 6, 2015); Labrador, Spain orders again capture Jesuit Salvadoran military case, elfaro (Jan. 5, 2016).

[5] Human Rights Ombudsman asks extradition slaughter of Jesuits, El Mundo (Nov. 16, 2015).

[6] Serrano, They asked military support of ARENA and right before the event of murdered Jesuits, LaPagina (Jan. 6, 2016).

[7] President recommends involved in Jesuit case to be delivered, Diario CoLatino (Feb. 6, 2016); Labrador, Captured soldiers accused in the Jesuit case, Elfaro (Feb. 5, 2016); PNC Accused Military Capture Jesuit Case, DiarioLatino (Feb. 5, 2015); Labrador, Police are still resisting capture by military Jesuit Case, Elfaro (Jan. 25, 2016).

Cuba’s Possession of U.S. Missile Threatens To Disrupt U.S.-Cuba Normalization

On January 7, 2016, it became publicly known through a Wall Street Journal article that since sometime in 2014 Cuba has had possession of an inert U.S. missile that was erroneously shipped to Cuba from Europe.[1] This post will discuss what is now known about this missile in Cuba and the reactions to this news.

Diversion of U.S. Missile to Cuba

Hellfire missile
Hellfire missile

The object is a dummy U.S. Hellfire missile without any explosives that is a laser-guided, air-to-surface weapon that weighs about 100 pounds and that can be deployed from an attack helicopter or an unmanned drone.

Its manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, in early 2014, with U.S. State Department authorization, shipped the missile from Orlando, Florida to Spain for a NATO training exercise for later return to the U.S. After the completion of the training exercise, it was packaged in Rota, Spain and sent on another freight-forwarder’s truck to Madrid, where it was sent by plane to Frankfurt, Germany. There it was supposed to have been shipped to Lockheed in Florida. Instead for unknown reasons it was shipped from Frankfurt to Paris on an Air France flight, and from Paris to Havana on another Air France flight. Upon its arrival in Cuba, a Cuban official noticed the labeling on the crate and seized it.

Around June 2014 Lockheed, after realizing the missile was missing and likely was in Cuba, notified the U.S. State Department. Thereafter the U.S. has been pressing the Cuban government for information about the missile and for Cuba to return it to the U.S., but Cuba has not responded.

During the summer of 2014, of course, the U.S. and Cuba were engaged in the final steps leading up to the December 17, 2014, announcement that the two countries were embarked upon normalization of relations. Since then, they have been taking various steps toward normalization.

The reason for the shipment to Cuba is unknown. Was it a stupid mistake by a freight forwarder or several of such companies? That I find difficult to believe. That seems to leave it being an intentional criminal or espionage act.

The U.S. is concerned that Cuba has or could give access to the missile to learn about its technology to Russia, China or North Korea. But an article by someone who apparently is technically sophisticated in such matters discounts such dire consequences because “there’s good reason to suspect that China and other large cyber powers might already have blueprints and more, thanks to the still-vague scope of several highly successful military cyber attacks;” because “the US sells thousands upon thousands of working Hellfires to ‘close military ‘allies’ like Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey;” and because “the fall of Iraq’s Mosul to forces from ISIS . . . led to about $700 million worth of working Hellfire missiles falling into the hands of terrorists.”[2]

 Criticism of the Obama Administration[3]

Unsurprisingly this news has prompted severe criticism of the Administration.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), a Republican presidential candidate, voiced his criticism in a letter to Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roberta Jacobson. Rubio opened with the seemingly incontrovertible statement, “Preventing the proliferation of sensitive U.S. technology is one of the most important duties carried out by the State Department.” Because Jacobson has been so deeply involved with normalization negotiations with Cuba, she was asked these questions:

  • “When was the State Department informed that a U.S. Hellfire missile had been sent to Cuba?
  • When were you personally first informed of this matter and by whom?
  • What has been done to obtain the missile’s return by the Cuban government?
  • What specific entity of the Cuban government is currently in possession of the missile?
  • Please provide a list of the specific occasions on which you or other U.S. Government officials have raised this issue with the Castro regime.
  • Why was the return of the missile not obtained as a result of the negotiations that led to President Obama’s December 17, 2014 announced change in U.S. policy toward Cuba?
  • Why was the return of the missile not a condition of removal of Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list?
  • Why was the return of the missile not a condition of establishment of embassies in Havana and Washington?
  • What members of Congress did you inform of this issue during your briefings and testimony regarding U.S. policy toward Cuba over the last 18 months?
  • Does the State Department know if the Cuban government shared the missile or its design with any foreign governments?”

The Rubio letter concluded, “Sensitive U.S. technology falling into the hands of such a regime [as Cuba’s] has significant implications for U.S. national security.  The fact that the administration, including you, have apparently tried to withhold this information from the congressional debate and public discussion over U.S.-Cuba policy is disgraceful.”

Also on Friday, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush tweeted: “Whether it’s Iran holding U.S. citizens hostage or Cuba holding a U.S. missile hostage, Obama always caves. I won’t.’’

Four other lawmakers critical of the Obama position toward Cuba also criticized the handling of the missile case. In a joint statement, Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R., Fla.), Mario Diaz Balart (R., Fla.), Carlos Curbelo (R., Fla.) and Albio Sires (D., N.J.) said:

  • “Regardless of how Cuba came into possession of a U.S. Hellfire missile – which must be investigated – it is unconscionable that the Obama administration knew the Castros were in possession of this sensitive U.S. military technology since June 2014 and still moved forward with its policy to open up travel, trade, investment and diplomatic relations with the regime.”
  • “The fact that the Castro regime was able to acquire a U.S. Hellfire missile could be indicative of the lengths it is willing to go to undermine our national security and harm our interests. Congress must provide oversight to determine how the U.S. export control system failed to prevent this gross violation from occurring, and if Cuba’s espionage apparatus played a role in this Hellfire acquisition.”
  • “The Cuban regime rebuffed the President’s efforts to secure the return of the Hellfire missile even as the negotiations were ongoing, and yet the regime still got everything it could have wanted. It is no wonder that the Castro brothers feel ever more emboldened to continue on with the repression of the Cuban people, with intimidation and unlawful arrests at an alarmingly high rate.”
  • “This is a very serious breach and we are deeply concerned that the Castros have already shared the sensitive technology with the likes of Russia, North Korea or China. . . . We urge the Administration to start holding the Cuban regime accountable for its continued transgressions not only against its own people, but its continued disregard for international norms.”

Senator Ron Johnson (Rep., WI), the Chair of the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, sent a letter to the heads of the Pentagon and the State Department, asking for an explanation “why the U.S. military would forgo complete control, care, and custody of such cargo when transporting it abroad.’’ Mr. Johnson also asked the administration for details of any other lost shipments of sensitive technology over the past five years.

Administration’s Response to Criticism[4]

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on January 8 that the administration takes the issue very seriously. “The Department of Defense and the State Department are, again, I think for obvious reasons, quite interested in getting to the bottom of exactly what happened.’’

The same day the U.S. State Department spokesman, John Kirby, said, “I am restricted under federal law and regulations from commenting on specific defense trade licensing cases and compliance matters. What I can say is that under the Arms Export Control Act the State Department licenses both permanent and temporary exports by U.S. companies of regulated defense articles. U.S. companies are responsible for documenting their proposed shipping logistics in the application of their export license as well as reporting any shipping deviations to the department as appropriate.”

Conclusion

Although I have been, and still am, a strong advocate for U.S.-Cuba reconciliation, I am very troubled by the news of this missile ending up in Cuban hands and of its diversion in mid-2014 apparently not affecting U.S. negotiation of normalization. Final assessment has to await Assistant Secretary Jacobson’s responses to Senator Rubio’s questions and other news about this situation. I pray that it does not disrupt or sabotage further progress towards normalization.

=========================================

[1] Barrett & Lubold, Missing U.S. Missile Shows Up in Cuba, W.S.J. (Jan. 7, 2016); Reuters, Inert U.S. Hellfire Missile Wrongly Shipped to Cuba in 2014:WSJ, N.Y. Times (Jan. 7, 2016); Assoc. Press, Dummy Hellfire Missile Mistakenly Shipped to Cuba, N.Y. Times (Jan. 8, 2016); Ayuso, The mystery of the US missile ended in Cuba, El Pais (Jan. 9, 2016).

[2] Templeton, It probably won’t matter Cuba got a dummy Hellfire missile—and that’s terrifying, ExtremeTech (Jan. 9, 2016).

[3] Barrett & Lubold, Republicans Criticize Obama Administration Over Missile Sent to Cuba, W.S.J. (Jan. 8, 2015); Missile that turned up in Cuba ignites backlash, Miami Herald (Jan. 8, 2016); Rubio, Rubio Demands Answers From Administration On U.S. Missile in Cuba’s Possession (Jan. 8, 2016); Ros-Lehtinen, Ros-Lehtinen, Diaz-Balart, Curbelo and Sires Make Joint Statement Regarding Unaccounted U.S. Hellfire Missile Acquired by the Castro Regime (Jan. 8, 2016)

[4] U.S. Dep’t of State, Daily Press Briefing (Jan. 8, 2016).

 

 

Resolving U.S. and Cuba Damage Claims

On December 8, the U.S. and Cuba held discussions in Havana about the two countries’ damage claims: (1) U.S. claims to recover damages for U.S. property interests that were expropriated by the Cuban government at the start of the Cuban Revolution in 1959.; (2) U.S. courts’ money judgments against Cuba; (3) Cuba’s claims for alleged damages resulting from the U.S. embargo of Cuba; and (4) Cuba’s alleged damage claims for Cubans personal injuries and deaths from U.S. hostile actions.

This post will briefly examine those claims, the recent U.S.-Cuba discussions on the subject and an analysis of the issues by Washington, D.C.’s Brookings Institution.

Summary of the Claims

  1. Cuba’s Expropriation of U.S. Property[1]

Some 5,913 U.S. corporations and individuals have $1.9 billion worth of claims (without interest) for factories, farms, homes and other assets that were nationalized in Cuba after Fidel Castro’s rebels came to power in 1959. These claims have been registered and validated by the U.S. Justice Department’s Foreign Claims Settlement Commission. They are now worth roughly $8 billion when including 6.0 percent annual interest. These claims (without interest) have been categorized by the Brookings Institution’s report discussed below:

Claimants Claims Amount ($USD)
Corporate 899 1,677,280,771
Individual 5,014 229,199,112
TOTAL 5,913 1,906,479,883

 

Nevertheless, the Brookings’ report identifies these potential issues with respect to the claims validated by the U.S. Commission: (1) Whether to recognize the Commission rulings as a legitimate procedure in which cuba did not participate; (2) Whether to accept or challenge its valuations of lost properties; (3)  Whether Cuba should recognize accumulated interest as awarded by the Commission on its certified claims or whether to negotiate an alternative benchmark interest rate or other formula for partial payments.

2. U.S. Court Judgments Against Cuba[2]

In U.S. courts various plaintiffs have sued the Cuban Government, which did not appear in the cases. As a result the courts entered default judgments against Cuba, now totaling $2 billion.

3. U.S. Embargo of Cuba[3]

In a 2015 report to the United Nations General Assembly, Cuba asserted that the accumulated economic damages from the U.S. economic sanctions had reached $121 billion. The annual report offers some estimates on sectoral damages but does not discuss methodology. An earlier 1992 Cuban statement detailed these estimated cumulative losses among others:: (a) $3.8 billion for losses in the tourist industry; (b) $400 million for losses in the nickel industry; (c) $375 million for the higher costs of freighters; (d) $200 million for the purchase of sugarcane crop equipment to substitute for U.S.-manufactured equipment; and (e) $120 million for the substitution of electric industry equipment

4. Cubans Killed or Injured by Alleged U.S. Hostilities[4]

The Cuban government claims that U.S. “acts of terrorism against Cuba have caused 3,478 deaths and 2,099 disabling injuries.” Examples of such alleged acts include (a) U.S.-supported hostilities in Cuba resulting in 549 deaths between 1959-1965; (b) the Bay of Pigs invasion resulting in 176 deaths and over 300 wounded of whom 50 were left incapacitated; (c) the explosion of the French vessel La Coubre on March 4, 1960 in Havana Harbor, resulting in 101 deaths including some French sailors; (d) the terrorist bombing of Cuban Airlines Flight 455 in 1976 killing all 73 persons on board including 57 Cubans; (e) the September 11, 1980 assassination of Cuban diplomat Félix García Rodriguez in New York City; (f) Numerous aggressions from the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo resulting in the deaths of Cuban citizens; and (g) suspicions that the U.S. employed biological warfare to spread fatal dengue fever in Cuba.

Recent U.S.-Cuba Discussions[5]

Immediately before the December 8 discussions, a U.S. State Department spokesperson said the U.S. expected this to be “a first step in what we expect to be a long and complex process, but the United States views the resolution of outstanding claims as a top priority for normalization.”

Afterwards a U.S official said that reaching a settlement of these claims was “a top priority” for the U.S. and that these talks were “fruitful” and would continue in 2016. This official also said that the U.S. had provided information on the additional $2 billion in judgments awarded to plaintiffs who had sued the Cuban government in U.S. courts, proceedings that ­Havana does not recognize.

Other than the above sketchy summary, very little has publicly emerged about the specifics of the talks. It sounds as if the discussions were akin to the pretrial discovery process in U.S. civil lawsuits when parties learn about each other’s evidence and arguments.

A Cuba legal expert, Pedro Freyre, said, “It’s the first time the two countries are going back to look at this history and try to sort out a system for fixing it.” The Cubans, he added, were “very tough, very clever” in such negotiations.

Brookings Institution’s Analysis[6]

Richard Feinberg
Richard Feinberg

On the same day as the U.S.-Cuba discussions (December 8), the Brookings Institution released a cogent report on the subject by Richard Feinberg, a nonresident senior fellow in Brookings’ Latin American Initiative. [7]

Introducing the report at a press conference, Feinberg said, “The convening of these talks in Havana [is] a major milestone in the process of gradual full normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba, especially important with regard to commercial relations. Property ownership and claims are at the strategic heart of the Cuban revolution, dating from the early 1960s and also a major cause, perhaps the major cause, of the conflict between the United States and the Cuban revolution. The seizure of U.S. properties was the proximate cause of the imposition of U.S. economic sanctions back in the early 1960s.” These talks are of “strategic importance in the bilateral relationship.”

Feinberg also emphasized that both the U.S. and Cuba “agree on the principle of compensation” for expropriation of property.” Indeed, he said, to do so is in Cuba’s national interest. It “wants to demonstrate [that] it is not a rogue nation . . . [that] it is a nation of laws” and it “wants to remove major irritants to its international diplomacy and commercial relations” and “to attract international investment.”

Another point made by Feinberg was Cuba was not so poor that it could not pay any compensation, especially if the payments were spread out over time, as seems likely.

In addition to setting forth information about the above claims, the report examined the following ways of resolving these claims.

  1. The Grand Bargain

The Report asserts that “a much more promising alternative approach” is “to take advantage of the very size and complexity of the conflicting claims and to make their resolution the centerpiece of a grand bargain that would resolve some of the other remaining points of tension between the two nations, and embrace an ambitious, forward-looking development strategy for Cuba.”

In such a grand bargain, “the settlement of U.S. claims could be wrapped in a package of economic opportunities for Cuba. Importantly, the United States could further relax its economic sanctions (amending or repealing Helms-Burton), providing more trade and investment opportunities – and the capacity for Cuba to earn the foreign exchange needed to service debt obligations. In turn, Cuba will have to accelerate and deepen its economic reforms, to offer a more attractive business environment for investors and exporters. Politically, the Cuban government could present a significant softening of the U.S. embargo as a victory, offsetting any concessions made in the claims negotiations. A comprehensive package might also be more attractive to the U.S. Congress; formal Congressional consent would enhance the measures’ legitimacy and durability and help to close off any court challenges, should some claimants be unsatisfied with the final settlement.”

“The [U.S.] strategic goals in a massive claims resolution process must be political: to heal the deep wounds of past conflicts, to lay foundations for peaceful coexistence and the non-violent resolution of disputes, to avoid jeopardizing fiscal balances and crippling debt burdens, to build investor confidence and international reputation, and to help render the Cuban economy more open and competitive. . . . In the interests of both Cuba and the United States, the twentieth-century trauma of massive property seizures should be transformed into a twenty-first century economic development opportunity.”

“Wrapping a claims settlement within a more sweeping diplomatic package could have large advantages. A robust accord could help overcome long-simmering bilateral animosities and reconcile the fractured Cuban family. Potentially embarrassing ‘concessions’ by either party could be masked by larger victories on more weighty or emotive issues. What to some might appear the unseemly materialism or inequity of property claims would be subsumed within a higher-toned humanitarian achievement. Having turned the page on a half-century long era of conflict, Cuban society could begin in earnest on a new path toward social peace and shared prosperity. The claims settlement, which would bolster investor confidence, could also be linked to a reformed economic development model for Cuba actively supported by the international community.”

2. Lump-Sum Settlement

Separate resolution of the damage claims could be done in a lump-sum settlement, whereby “the two governments negotiate a total amount of financial compensation that is transferred in a lump-sum or global indemnity to the plaintiff government which in turn assumes the responsibility to distribute the transferred monies among its national claimants.” Such a settlement would provide “greater efficiency in coping with large numbers of claims; enhanced consistency in the administration and adjudication of claims; promoting fairness among claimants in setting criteria for evaluating claims and distributing awards; and upholding professionalism and integrity in the national claims commission.” In addition, sometimes lump-sum arrangements “allow the two governments to address other matters, such as broader investment and trade relations.”

3. Two-Tier Resolution

Another way for separate resolution of the U.S. expropriation damage claims is what Brookings calls a two-tier solution, “whereby corporate claimants can choose either to seek creative bargains, or join individual claimants in a lump-sum settlement.”

The 5,014 individual claims validated by the U.S. Commission total about $229 million (without interest). Of these, only 39 amount to over $1 million each while only four were valued at over $5 million. A lump-sum cash settlement of these claims could be shared share equitably by all or with caps on those over a certain figure, such as $ 1 million.

The 899 corporate claims are heavily concentrated: the top 10 corporate claims are valued at nearly $1 billion while the top 50 at $1.5 billion. “The corporate claimants could be given the opportunity to be included in a lump-sum settlement—albeit possibly facing an equity hair-cut to limit the burden on Cuba and to ensure a minimum payment to the smaller claimants—or to ‘opt out’ of the general settlement and instead seek alternative remedies” in Cuba, such as a voucher for new investment; a right to operate a new business; a final project authorization for a new venture; a preferred acquisition right for a venture; Cuba sovereign bonds; and restoration of properties.

Conclusion

Although I hope that the Brookings’s “grand bargain” or more limited negotiated solution is reached, a Miami Herald article emphasizes the difficulties in reaching any settlement. First, some of the claims that were validated by the U.S. Foreign Claims Settlement Commission could be stricken from the list that the U.S. may negotiate if the claims have not always been owned by a U.S. citizen or business. Second, the U.S. government is not authorized to negotiate the previously mentioned U.S. courts’ default judgments against Cuba. As a result, U.S. attorneys for the plaintiffs in those cases could seek to seize any assets in the U.S. of the Cuban government such as a Cuban plane or ship to satisfy the outstanding judgments. Third, Cuba also has to fear that any payment of U.S. claimants for expropriated property will invite demands for similar payments by Cuban exiles around the world and by Spanish claimants after some Spanish courts have ruled that Spain’s 1986 settlement of such claims with Cuba is not binding on at least some Spanish claimants. Fourth, the time to complete such a settlement at the end of the Obama Administration is rapidly shrinking, and a new administration in January 2017 may not be as willing to do such a deal.[8]

I, therefore, reiterate the solution proposed in a prior post: an agreement by the two countries to submit all of their damage claims against each other for resolution to the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague in the Netherlands under its Arbitration Rules 2012 before a panel of three or five arbitrators.[9]

My experience as a lawyer who handled business disputes in U.S. courts and in international arbitrations leads me to believe that arbitration is the appropriate way to resolve these claims by the two governments. The International Court of Arbitration was established in the late 19thcentury to resolve disputes between governments. It would be a third-party, neutral administrator of the proceedings and the arbitrators who would be selected would also be neutral. Finally it has an existing set of arbitration rules and procedures. Moreover, in the arbitration process, both sides would gain a better understanding of the opponent’s evidence and argument that could lead to a settlement before the arbitrators would be asked to render an award.

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[1] Brookings, Reconciling U.S. Property Claims in Cuba: Transforming Trauma into Opportunity (Dec. 2015); Resolution of U.S. and Cuba’s Damage Claims (April 6, 2015).

[2] Id.

[3] Id.; U.N. General Assembly Again Condemns U.S. Embargo of Cuba (Oct. 30, 2014).

[4] Brookings, Reconciling U.S. Property Claims in Cuba: Transforming Trauma into Opportunity (Dec. 2015).

[5] Robles, Cuba and U.S. to Discuss Settling Claims on Property, N.Y. times (Dec. 4, 2015); U.S. State Dep’t, Daily Press Briefing (Dec. 7, 2015); U.S. State Dep’t, Press Release: United States and Cuba Hold Claims Talks in Havana (Dec. 7, 2015); Reuters, U.S., Cuba to Negotiate Billions in Claims Against Each Other, N.Y. Times (Dec. 7, 2015); Assoc. Press, Cuba, US Begins Talks on Confiscated Property, Damages,, N.Y. Times (Dec. 8, 2015); Miroff, In major breakthrough, Cuba and U.S. discuss $1.9 billion in property claims, Wash. Post (Dec. 8, 2015); Schwartz, U.S., Cuba Hold First Talks on Rival Claims, W.S.J. (Dec. 8, 2015); Briefing on compensation held between the governments of Cuba and the United States, Granma (Dec. 9, 2015).

[6] Brookings, Reconciling U.S. Property Claims in Cuba: Transforming Trauma into Opportunity (Dec. 8, 2015); Feinberg, Reconciling U.S. Property Claims in Cuba (Dec. 2015); Brookings Institution, Cuba Media Roundtable (Dec. 8, 2015).

[7] Brookings is a non-governmental organization that “brings together more than 300 leading experts in government and academia from all over the world who provide the highest quality research, policy recommendations and analysis on a full range of public policy issues.” Feinberg is a professor of international political economy in the School of Global Policy and Strategy (formerly the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies) at the University of California, San Diego. Previously, Feinberg served as special assistant to President Clinton for National Security Affairs and senior director of the National Security Council’s Office of Inter-American Affairs; his other government positions include positions on the policy planning staff of the U.S. Department of State and in the Office of International Affairs in the U.S. Treasury Department.

[8] Torres & Garvin, Claim game: U.S., Cuba try to hash out differences over property, Miami Herald (Dec. 12, 2015).

[9] Resolution of U.S. and Cuba’s Damage Claims (April 15, 2015).

Cuban Realities Adversely Affecting Normalization with the U.S.

Underlying Cuba’s desire for normalization with the U.S. and its ability to achieve this goal are two realities that do not receive the attention they deserve. First, Cuba has a rapidly aging and declining population. Second, Cuba has very little cash to purchase goods and services in international markets. Both of these adversely affect Cuba’s desire and ability to achieve normalization.

Aging and Declining Cuban Population

Cuba already has the oldest population in all of Latin America. Experts predict that 50 years from now, its population will have fallen by a third and more than 40 percent of the country will be older than 60.[1]

This is a demographic crisis with both economic and political consequences. The aging population will require a vast health care system, the likes of which the state cannot afford. And without a viable work force, the cycle of flight and wariness about Cuba’s future is even harder to break, despite the country’s halting steps to open itself up to the outside world.

“We are all so excited about the trade and travel that we have overlooked the demographics problem,” said Hazel Denton, a former World Bank economist who has studied Cuban demographics. “This is a significant issue.”

Young people are fleeing the island in big numbers, fearful that normalization of relations with the U.S. will lead to the end of a policy that allows Cubans who make it to the U.S. to become naturalized U.S. citizens.

Over the past two years, an estimated 100,000 Cubans have streamed into the U.S., legally and illegally. Most of them fly to another country in Latin America and then make treacherous journeys by land to the U.S. border with Mexico. Thousands of others obtain family reunification visas and travel directly to the U.S. Those without money or helpful relatives flee Cuba on rafts.

The surge began in 2013 after the Cuban government eliminated the need for exit permits, and got bigger after Washington and Havana announced plans in late 2014 to end 50 years of hostility and re-establish relations.

For the fiscal year that just ended on September 30, nearly 4,500 Cubans reached U.S. soil in rafts, were caught at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard or were otherwise thwarted while trying to flee.

The younger people remaining on the island are reluctant to have children, citing the strain of raising an infant in a country where the average state salary is just $20 a month. Scant job opportunities, a shortage of available goods and a dearth of sufficient housing have encouraged younger Cubans to wait to start a family, sometimes indefinitely. In addition, abortion is legal, free, without stigma and commonly practiced. Cuba’s reported birth rate is one of the lowest in the world while its abortion rate is one of the highest.

One possible response to this demographic challenge is for the Cuban government to encourage the vast Cuban expatriate population to come home. But such an effort, in my opinion, would have to be backed by realistic opportunities to thrive and succeed economically, and this does not appear likely in the near future at least.

Another facet of Cuba’s aging population is the dying of those who fought with Fidel and Ché in the Revolution of 1959. In short, “the revolution and its heroes are fading.” According to a journalist, “many younger Cubans feel the weight of the revolution as a challenge to their future rather than as its foundation.” They “have little patience for revolutionary rhetoric, and they are frustrated by the dearth of economic opportunity in the country, despite the diplomatic thaw with Washington. They want to see change in their lives, and revolutionary talk sounds to many like a distraction from their struggles.”[2]

Cuba’s Financial Problems

Cuba is now finding it difficult to purchase goods and services from foreign suppliers. It has little cash to do so. This is resulting from low prices for nickel, which is one of its main exports; the economic crisis in Venezuela, which is one of Cuba’s major allies; and a Cuban drought. These adverse factors apparently are not offset by increased foreign tourism on the island after the U.S.-Cuba rapprochement. State companies are being forced to cut imports and to seek more liberal payment terms from foreign suppliers.[3]

The financial arrangements with Venezuela are complicated. First, Cuba receives oil on favorable terms and refines and resells some of it in a joint venture with its socialist ally, but prices for refined products are down in tandem with crude prices. Second, Cuba sends medical professionals to Venezuela, but experts believe the amount paid to Cuba for their services is tied to oil prices, meaning Venezuela would pay less to Cuba when such prices are down.

Another sign of these economic challenges is Cuba’s recent agreement with Spain to restructure Cuba’s short-term debts. Spain forgave Cuba for its defaulted interest and principal; restructured the residual principal payments for a period of ten years; and granted a three-year grace period for repayment of principal. The total principal of this debt was 201.5 million Euros.[4]

Earlier other countries also wrote off significant Cuban indebtedness: Russia, $32 billion in July 2014; Mexico, $487 million in December 2013; Japan, $1.4 billion in 2012; and China, $6 billion (restructuring) in 2010. Cuba’s debt problem with Japan, however, was not resolved after the 2012 agreement when Cuba failed to make payments thereunder, and this year the two countries are trying to resolve the debt issue as they seek to expand trade.[5]

Conclusion

These two realities, in my opinion, help to explain why normalization is not producing immediate expansion of business between the U.S. and Cuba.[6] Yes, the U.S. embargo, which is still in place, adversely affects Cuba’s foreign trade and should be ended by the U.S. as soon as possible. But ending the embargo does not directly affect these two realities that are major impediments to such trade.

Once again I invite comments of supplementation or correction, especially on Cuba’s foreign indebtedness.

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[1] Ahmed, An Abundance of Love but a Lack of Babies, N.Y. Times (Oct. 27, 2015); Assoc. Press, Historic Surge in Cuban Emigration Divides Families, N.Y. Times (Nov. 6, 2015); Dominguez, What You Might Not Know About the Cuban Economy, Harv. Bus. Rev. (Aug. 15, 2015); CIA World Factbook: Cuba.

[2] Ahmed, Cuban Revolutionaries Hope Their Legacy Won’t Fade Away, N.Y. times (Nov. 7, 2015).

[3] Reuters, ‘There is no money:’ cash-strapped Cuba is forced to cut vital imports, Guardian (Oct. 16, 2015); Three million tourist arrivals: A target in sight, Granma (Nov. 11, 2015) (three million tourists by second week of November, more than 90 days earlier than 2014); Cruise ship tourism expanding in Cuba, Granma (Nov. 9, 2015) (20,000 cruise ship visitors to Cuba so far this year).

[4] Spain agreed with Cuba to refinance short-term debt of the island, El Pais (Nov. 3, 2015)  This agreement may have resulted from a June 2015 Cuban agreement with the Paris Club of 16 wealthy nations, including Spain, that fixed Cuba’s total indebtedness to them at $15 billion (13.7 billion Euros) and that was seen as an important step towards renegotiating those debts. (Reuters, Cuba and Paris Club members agree on debt total of $15bln (June 8, 2015)

[5] Russia writes off 90% of Cuba’s debt ahead of Putin’s ‘big tour’ to Latin America, RT (July 12, 2014); Russia writes off $32bn Cuban debt in show of brotherly love, Guardian (July 10, 2014); Cuba; Mexico: 70% of Debt Forgiven, Global Legal Monitor (Nov. 8, 2013); Russia, Japan and others want to do business in Cuba, Internet in Cuba (May 4, 2015); Forte, Cuba and Japan expanding economic and trade ties, Granma (Nov. 9, 2015); Reuters, China restructures Cuban debt, backs reform (Dec. 23, 2010).

[6] E.g., Reuters, U.S. Companies Drawn to Cuba, Unsure if Profits Will Follow, N.Y. Times (Nov. 6, 2015).