Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders Involvement in Cuba’s War of Independence from Spain

A recent article about the 1898 U.S. intervention in Cuba’s war of independence from Spain, asserts that at the time Americans “flocked to the cause of ‘Cuba Libre,’ especially once fighting broke out on the island in 1895. The plight of the Cubans was particularly affecting: Over the next three years, hundreds of thousands of civilians died, many in Spanish concentration camps, the existence of which spurred hundreds of Americans to join illegal filibuster missions to aid the rebels.”[1]

One of the supporters of this cause was Theodore Roosevelt, who as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1897 said, “A rich nation which is slothful, timid or unwieldy is an easy prey for any people which still retains those most valuable of all qualities, the soldierly virtues.”

When President William McKinley declared war against Spain in April 1898, “he was moved above all by this humanitarian impulse.. . . [The] primary driver was the widely held belief that Spain was destroying Cuba. ‘A country nearly as large as England, with all the material conditions of opulent civilization, has been made a charnel house,” said John James Ingalls, a Kansas politician. The Spanish-American War was a ‘popular’ conflict in the literal sense.

Because there were practically no military-trained men ready to fight, “McKinley authorized three volunteer cavalry regiments (800 to 1,000 soldiers), to be drawn from the ranks of men whose skills and life experiences made them predisposed to martial pursuits: cowboys, policemen, even college athletes.”

“The most famous of the three, and the only one sent to Cuba, was the First United States Volunteer Cavalry — which reporters soon nicknamed the Rough Riders. Thanks to the renown of Roosevelt, who left the Department of the Navy to become its lieutenant colonel, the regiment was overwhelmed with applicants.”

“Above all, the Rough Riders became instant celebrities because they embodied the public’s newfound, idealistic militarism. ‘Whether Fifth Avenue millionaires or Western cowboys, they fought together and died together in Cuba for the great American principles of liberty, equality and humanity,’ an editorialist for The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote, “The Rough Riders landed in Cuba on June 22, 1898; by August, Spain was suing for peace.” In the subsequent peace treaty the U.S. acquired Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines and (until 1934) a de facto protectorate of Cuba. [2]

The author, Clay Risen, claims that this “war, however brief, was in fact a defining moment in America’s emergence as a global power. It captured the imagination of millions and changed how everyday citizens saw their place in the world. No longer content to merely inspire freedom for the world’s oppressed, . . . [many U.S. citizens] decided they had a personal obligation to bring freedom to them.”

“Underlying [this and other 20th century U.S. wars] is the same broadly held, deeply committed missionary zeal that drove . . . the Rough Riders to war. Until Americans learn to balance their commitment to global justice with an awareness of the limits to military prowess, the country will continue to make these mistakes.”

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[1]Risen, The Rough Riders’ Guide to World Domination, N.Y. Times (June 2, 2019). This article is based upon the author’s forthcoming book on the Rough Riders: Risen, The Crowded Hour: Theodore Roosevelt, the Rough Riders, and Dawn of the American Century. (Simon & Schuster, 2019); Millard, Book Review: Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders, N.Y. Times Book Review (June 4, 2019.

[2]  See U.S. Entry Into Cuban War of Independence and Establishment of Protectorate of Cuba, 1898-1934, dwkcommentaries.com (April 23, 2017). According to historian Michael Beschloss, this U.S. intervention was started on the false premise that Spain had exploded the USS Maine in the Havana Harbor. (See Beschloss Discusses “Presidents of War” at Westminster Town Hall Forum, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 15, 2018).)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cuba’s Alleged Expatriation of Dissidents

On June 19, in Madrid, the Spanish-based Cuban Prisoners Defenders released a report documenting the Cuban government’s forcing dissidents to go into exile in an attempt to weaken its political opposition .[1]

The report names 35 activists, independent journalists and artists who were expelled over the past two years. If they did not leave, the report asserts that Cuban security threatened them with prison or bodily harm and harassed their families. In addition, this month there are at least 42 additional dissidents who were being pressured to leave the island.

This report will be submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.

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[1] Reuters, Cuba Forces Dissidents Into Exile, Advocacy Group Says, N.Y. Times (June 19, 2019); ‘Forced Expatriations’: new denunciation against Cuban regime before the UN, Diario de Cuba (June 19, 2019); Cuban Prisoners Defenders, FACEBOOK.

 

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Vice President Mike Pence Addresses Disruption and Transformation in the Americas

On May 7, U.S. Department of State co-hosted the 49th Annual Washington Conference on the Americas, which is designed to provide an  opportunity to hear from the most senior-level officials and engage with over 250 business and policy leaders, members of the diplomatic community, and media representatives from throughout the hemisphere. The theme of this year’s Conference was “disruption and transformation in the Americas.”

Vice President Pence’s Speech

At this Conference U.S. Vice President Mike Pence presented the Trump Administration position on these issues.[1] His focus was Venezuela,which he said was “the single greatest source of disruption.”  After reviewing that country’s significant events of the last year, Mr. Pence outlined the following new U.S. actions regarding Venezuela:

  • [At] “the President’s direction, the United States Navy will deploy the USNS Comfort to the Caribbean, Central America, and South America this June. The Comfort will embark on a 5-month humanitarian mission to address the Venezuelan crisis.  The United States military and medical personnel, working alongside their counterparts across the region, will be there to provide medical assistance to communities in need and help relieve countries overwhelmed by the influx of the suffering people of Venezuela.” (However, before it can be deployed from its homeport of Norfolk, Virginia, a staff of doctors, nurses and other medical staff has to be assembled.)
  • The U.S. has “ positioned more than 500 metric tons of food and humanitarian supplies on the Venezuelan border, ready for immediate distribution.  The American people have provided nearly $260 million in aid to support displaced Venezuelans and the host nations that support them so generously.”
  • “If the Supreme Court of Venezuela does not return to its constitutional mandate to uphold the rule of law, the [U.S.] will hold all 25 of its magistrates accountable for their actions.”
  • The U.S. “has sanctioned more than 150 government officials and state-owned businesses loyal to the dictator.”
  • But “these sanctions need not be permanent.” The U.S. “will consider sanctions relief for all those who step forward, stand up for the constitution, and support the rule of law — like General Manuel Cristopher Figuera, the former chief of the Venezuelan intelligence service, who just last week broke ranks with the Maduro regime and rallied to the support of the Venezuelan constitution and the National Assembly.  In recognition of his recent actions in support of democracy and the rule of law, . . .[the U.S.] is removing all sanctions on General Manuel Cristopher Figuera effective immediately.”
  • The U.S. “will help the fledgling Venezuelan democracy regain its footing.  We’ll build a brighter future after Maduro is gone — creating jobs, fighting poverty, and expanding opportunity.”
  • The U.S. “will continue to exert all diplomatic and economic pressure to bring about a peaceful transition of democracy in Venezuela.  But to those who continue to oppress the good people of Venezuela, know this: All options are on the table.

Conclusion

There are at least two items of good news in Vice President Pence’s remarks. First, he did not say anything about any current U.S. plan to use any military force with respect to Venezuela. Second, the hospital ship to be deployed should be helpful to ordinary Venezuelans who have been deprived of adequate medical care.

The USNS Comfort (in the above photograph) is a non-commissioned hospital ship owned by the U.S. Navy and operationally crewed by civilians from the Military Sealift Command, consisting primarily of naval officers from the Navy’s Medical Corps, Dental Corps, Medical Service Corps, Nurse Corps and Chaplain Corps, and naval enlisted personnel from the Hospital Corpsman rating and various administrative and technical support ratings When fully staffed it can provide the following services: general surgery, ophthalmologic surgery, dermatology, medical evaluation and treatment, preventive medicine, dental screenings and treatment, optometry screenings, eyewear distribution and public health. In accordance with the Geneva conventions it and its crew do not carry any offensive weapons.[2]

Without referencing Pence’s speech, Spain’s acting foreign minister, Josep Borrell, on May 8 said that Venezuela needs “a peaceful, negotiated and democratic solution” to its problems and that Spain and other European countries “will continue to reject any pressure that borders on military intervention” in Venezuela.”  The U.S. repeated assertion that “all options are on the table” is like “a western cowboy” who is threatening to draw his gun.[3]

Again without specifically discussing the Pence speech, U.S. commentators offer another perspective. They say that Trump “has yet to articulate a coherent theory for when the United States should push for such change and when it should avoid it.” Instead, they say, “Trump’s approach to foreign intervention is largely ad hoc and idiosyncratic — driven less by ideology than by his hunger for foreign policy victories and confidence in his own deal-making skills.”[4]

This “lack of ideological coherence has played to the advantage of Secretary Pompeo and the national security adviser, John R. Bolton, two hawkish officials with strong interventionist tendencies,” who have used hawkish rhetoric regarding Venezuela, Cuba and Iran, for example. “Critics say the disconnect between Mr. Trump and his advisers is confusing the nation’s allies and heightening the risk of a military conflict.” [5]

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[1] White House, Remarks by Vice President Pence at the Washington Conference on the Americas (May 7, 2019); Reuters, U.S. Lifts Sanctions on Venezuelan General Who Broke With Maduro, N.Y. Times (May 7, 2019); Assoc. Press, US to Send Hospital Ship to Help With Venezuelan Refugees, N.Y. Times (May 7, 2019).

[2] Southcom, Hospital Ship USNS Comfort in Latin America; Enduring Promise Medical Assistance MissionUSNS Comfort (T-AH-20), Wikipedia.

[3] Assoc. Press, The Latest: Spain Official: US Like a ‘Cowboy’ on Venezuela, N.Y. Times (May 8, 2019).

[4] Landler, With Mix of threats and Blandishments, Trump Bandies Policy of Regime Change, N.Y. Times (May 8, 2019).

[5] See n. 4 supra. See also U.S. Reactions to Failure of Juan Guiadó’s Attempt To Takeover Venezuelan Government, dwkcommentaries.com (May 6, 2019).

 

European and Other Countries’ Reactions to New U.S. Anti-Cuban Policies

Strong objections to the  new U.S. policies regarding Cuba have been registered by Europe and Canada, both major investors in, and having significant business with, Cuba. Russia also objects for more strategic reasons.

Europe and Canada[1]

The EU is the largest foreign investor in Cuba and the latter’s top export market. In December 2016, the EU and Cuba concluded a new framework for boosting economic and trade links that were encouraged by the Obama administration’s efforts to reset relations with Havana. Some European companies, including Spanish hotel chain Meliá Hotels International SA, recently have announced fresh investments there.

Immediately after the U.S. announcement of the activation of Title IIII of the Helms-Burton Act, the EU  by its High Representative/Vice President Federica Mogherini and its Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström) issued this joint statement: “In the light of the United States Administration’s decision to not renew the waiver related to Title III of the 1996 Helms-Burton (LIBERTAD) Act, the European Union reiterates its strong opposition to the extraterritorial application of unilateral Cuba-related measures that are contrary to international law. This decision is also a breach of the United States’ commitments undertaken in the EU-US agreements of 1997 and 1998, which have been respected by both sides without interruption since then. In those agreements, the US committed to waive Title III of the Helms-Burton Act and the EU, inter alia, suspended its case in the World Trade Organization against the US.”

This EU statement added, “The EU will consider all options at its disposal to protect its legitimate interests, including in relation to its WTO rights and through the use of the EU Blocking Statute. [This EU Statute] prohibits the enforcement of US courts judgements relating to Title III of the Helms-Burton Act within the EU, and allows EU companies sued in the US to recover any damage through legal proceedings against US claimants before EU courts.

Canada, whose companies are other major investors in, and conductors of business with, Cuba, also issued an immediate rejection of this U.S. change of policy. Its Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chrystia Freeland, stated, “Canada is deeply disappointed with today’s announcement. We will be reviewing all options in response to this U.S. decision.” She added the following:

  • “Since the U.S. announced in January it would review Title III, the Government of Canada has been regularly engaged with the U.S. government to raise our concerns about the possible negative consequences for Canadians—concerns that are long-standing and well known to our U.S. partners.”
  • “I have met with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to register those concerns. Canadian and U.S. officials have had detailed discussions on the Helms-Burton Act and Canada’s Foreign Extraterritorial Measures Act. I have also discussed this issue with the EU.”
  • Finally, “I have been in contact with Canadian businesses to reaffirm we will fully defend the interests of Canadians conducting legitimate trade and investment with Cuba.”

According to EU Ambassador to the U.S., Alberto Navarro, there is “enormous worry” by European businesses.  “There are business people who’ve been . . .[in Cuba] 20, 30 years, who’ve made bets on investing their financial resources in Cuba to stimulate commerce, tourism, international exchange, and many of them tell me that they haven’t lived through a similar situation.” He also said, “”any country can adopt whatever legislation it wants, and apply the law within its own country, we can criticize whether we like it or not. What that country cannot do is impose its legislation on others. We are the front line of defense in Cuba, and obviously have legitimate interests in Cuba and we want to defend them and protect our citizens and our investors.”

The EU and Canada also issued a joint statement that said the U.S. decision would have “an important impact on legitimate EU and Canadian economic operators in Cuba” and that they would seek to use the WTO dispute-resolution framework to protect their companies. This U.S. decision was “regrettable” and an “extraterritorial application of unilateral Cuba-related measures contrary to international law.” It “can only lead to an unnecessary spiral of legal actions.”

The EU and Canada already have so-called blocking statutes against some U.S. sanctions on Cuba, which bans the enforcement of U.S. court judgments against EU and Canadian firms and allows counterclaims to be filed against U.S. firms bringing legal action. However, these blocking statute have rarely been used.

A former Canadian ambassador to Cuba, Mark Entwistle, got it right when he opined that the origins of these new U.S. policies “lie partly in the historic dynamics of American presidential politics and partly in an obsession in some circles about a mythical existential threat posed by the developing Caribbean island nation.”

Moreover, according to Entwistle, the activation of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act “seeks to impose American domestic law on other countries” or attempts “to off-load responsibility to third parties and internationalize what is and should be a bilateral issue between the United States and Cuba.” This is extraterritoriality that “ violates basic sovereignty,”  supposedly highly valued by Trump. This recent Trump decision, however, fits with his scepticism of, if not outright hostility towards,  rules-based multilateral systems.

These sentiments were echoed by EU member, France, whose Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said Europe would respond to any sanctions by the U.S. on investments in Cuba. “If the American administration decided to also impose a regime of sanctions on investments in Cuba, in contravention of what has been decided for several years now by our American allies, we would react. Europe would also react and is ready to also impose sanctions at our end.”

In Spain, another EU member which has large investments in hotels and other tourism-related ventures on the island, a senior government official said its government  promised that it will ‘absolutely support’ Spanish companies established on the island in the face of the U.S. new policies and that it understands that “the EU will support, together with Spain, those companies that have their commercial activities, legitimate and well organized in Cuba and in other countries.”

Another EU member, Portugal, joined the choir by saying that it “regrets the US decision to authorize the filing of legal actions in its territory [under] . . .Title III of the Helms Burton Law against certain foreign companies operating in Cuba, ” This U.S. decision “reinforces the commercial tension between the [EU] . . .and the United States.”

The United Kingdom’s Foreign Office joined in these objections. It stated, “The extraterritorial application of … sanctions, which we consider to be illegal under international law, threaten to harm UK and EU companies doing legitimate business in Cuba by exposing them to liability in U.S. courts. We will work alongside the EU to protect the interests of our companies.”

Also critical was Ivan Briscoe, the Latin American director for the International Crisis Group, an independent Belgium-based organization “working to prevent wars and shape policies that will build a more peaceful world” and to sound “the alarm to prevent deadly conflict.” He said, John Bolton’s “honoring one of U.S.’ greatest military fiascos from 60 years back [the Bay of Pigs invasion] suggests U.S. policy to Latin America owes more now to a perverse Cold War nostalgia than practical benefits for people of the region.”

Mexico added its objections to the new U.S. measures. It said that it “lamented” the U.S. decision that the government will work to protect Mexican companies that have business interests in Cuba.

Russia[2]

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov considers the new U.S. sanctions against Cuba and Venezuela to be illegal and it plans to do everything to support its allies in these two countries. “Venezuela and Cuba are our allies and strategic partners. We join the voices of those who condemn US impositions on Latin America or any other region of the world.”

A spokeswoman of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zajárova, added that Moscow “is against any unilateral sanction.”

Conclusion

This blog supports the objections from the EU and its members, including the United Kingdom (still a member), Canada and Mexico. Also deserving special commendation is Ivan Brisco’s rejecting John Bolton’s statement:“honoring one of U.S.’ greatest military fiascos from 60 years back [the Bay of Pigs invasion as suggesting that] U.S. policy to Latin America owes more now to a perverse Cold War nostalgia than practical benefits for people of the region.”

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[1] EU, Joint Statement by High Representative/Vice President Federica Mogherini and Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström on the decision of the United States to further activate Title III of the Helms-Burton (Libertad) Act (April 17, 2019) (his EU Joint Statement was issued shortly after the EU’s Press Release, EU, Latin America and Caribbean: Partnering for prosperity, democracy, resilience and global governance (April 17, 2019)); Assoc. Press, EU Ambassador: Trump Cuba Policy Worries European Companies. N.Y. Times (April 24, 2019); Global Affairs Canada, Government of Canada will defend interests of Canadians doing business in Cuba  (April 17, 2019); Entwistle, The Trump Administration’s new Cuba restrictions are harmful and belligerent, Toronto Globe & Mail (April 19, 2019); Anchfield, Canada pushes back against U.S. move to allow lawsuits against foreign firms in Cuba, Toronto Globe & Mail (April 27, 3029); Norman & McBride, EU, Canada Vow to Fight New U.S. Sanctions on Cuba,  W.S.J. (April 17, 2019); The European Union could prohibit the application of Judgments of US courts against their companies, Diario de Cuba (April 17, 2019); Reuters, Europe Would Respond to Any U.S. Sanctions on Investments in Cuba: French Minister, N.Y. Times (April 18, 2019); Madrid promises to ‘defend” the interests of Spanish companies in Cuba, Diario de Cuba (April 17, 2019); Parra, Spain wants EU to challenge US policy in Cuba, Wash. Post (April 17, 2019); Portugal: Application of Helms-Burton reinforces commercial tension between the European Union and the US, Cubadabate (April 20, 2019); Reuters, UK Condemns U.S. Application of Cuba Sanctions to Foreign Companies, N.Y. Times (April 18, 2019); Reactions: Canada and Mexico promise to protect their companies in Cuba,  Diario de Cuba (April 18, 2019); Reuters, Trump’s Cuba Hawks Try to Squeeze Havana Over Venezuela Role, N.Y. Times (April 18, 2019); Gómez, What antidotes are there against Helms-Burton?, Cubadebate (April 25, 2019) (details about these laws against Helms-Burton Act: 1996 EU Statute of Blockade, the 1996 Canadian Foreign Extraterritorial Measures Act, the 1996 Mexico Law on Protection of Trade and Investment of Foreign Standards that Contravene International Law and the 1996 Cuba Law of Reaffirmation of Cuban Dignity and Sovereignty (Law 80)).

[2] Reuters, Russia Says It Will Help Venezuela, Cuba to Weather U.S. Sanctions: RIA, N.Y. Times (April 18, 2019); Assoc. Press, Putin Envoy in Caracas Rejects US Revival of Monroe Doctrine, N.Y. Times (April 18, 2019).

 

Another Two Week Suspension of Title III of the Helms Burton Act

On April 3, the U.S. Department of State stated, “Today, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo announced his decision to continue for two weeks, from April 18 through May 1, 2019, the current suspension with an exception of the right to bring an action under Title III of the 1996 Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act. The current suspension expires April 17.” The statement also noted that the  Suspension does not apply to: the “right to bring an action against a Cuban entity or sub-entity identified by name on the State Department’s List of Restricted Entities and Sub-entities Associated with Cuba (known as the Cuba Restricted List), as may be updated from time to time.“ [1]

The Department’s statement added, “The Department continues to examine human rights conditions in Cuba, including ongoing repression of the rights of the Cuban people to free speech, free expression and free assembly. The Department is also monitoring Cuba’s continued military, security, and intelligence support to Nicolas Maduro, who is responsible for repression, violence, and a man-made humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.” Therefore, “We encourage any person doing business in Cuba to reconsider whether they are trafficking in confiscated property and abetting the Cuban dictatorship.”

Comments at U.S. Reception Honoring NATO

Perhaps this U.S. statement was made at this time because the U.S. was hosting a celebration of NATO’s 70th anniversary with representatives of other NATO members, many of whom object to the prospect of U.S. litigation against foreign firms for using Cuban property formerly owned by U.S. nationals. [2]

One prominent spokesman of such objections was Spain’s Foreign Minister Joseph Borrell, who said his country “has told the U.S. administration that Spain is concerned about Washington’s potential decision to allow U.S. citizens to sue foreign firms doing business in Cuba.” The Spanish message included “its firm rejection, as a matter of principle, to the extraterritorial application of national sanction laws, considering it contrary to international law,” This was the Foreign Minister’s message on April 1 to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and on April 3 to U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton.[3]

Canadian Foreign Minister Cryslia Freeland also met with Secretary Pompeo on this occasion and told him that “the Government of Canada will defend the interests of Canadians conducting legitimate trade and investment with Cuba, if the United States enforces Title III of the Helms-Burton Act.” [4]

 Cuba’s Reactions [5]

After the announcement of the new two-week suspension, Cuba Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez issued the following two tweets:

  • The first said (per Google Translate), “I reject the announcement of . . . [Secretary Pompeo] about #HelmsBurton law, an aberration that should never have existed. [It] violates International Law, damages all #Cuba, each family. 191 countries claim to be eliminated in its entirety. US aggression against #Venezuela must cease without further pretexts.” ·
  • The second (again per Google Translate) said the following: “The Helms-Burton Act is not applicable in #Cuba or against Cubans or foreigners. It’s “Monroeist” [Monroe Doctrine] domination purpose arouses the overwhelming rejection of the international community. The new measures are isolating the #US even more. They will fail to achieve their goals.”

Cuba’s President, Miguel Díaz=Canel, also tweeted on this development. He said (per Google Translate): “We reject the #EEUU announcement on #HelmsBurton law. They persist in the threats, with arrogance they pose a genocidal law that violates International Law, condemns #Cuba and Cuban families. 191 countries demand [in U.N. General Assembly] that it be eliminated in its entirety. #SomosCuba”

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[1] State Dep’t, Secretary Pompeo Extends for Two Weeks Title III Suspension with an Exception (LIBERTAD Act) (April 3, 2019).

[2] State Dep’t, Remarks at the Reception to Celebrate NATO’s 70th Anniversary (April 3, 2019); State Dep’t, Briefing on the Upcoming NATO Ministerial (April 2, 2019).

[3] Reuters, Spain Rejects Possible U.S. Lawsuits Against Foreign Firms in Cuba, N.Y. Times (April 3, 2019); Guimōn,  The US repeals and prolongs the suspension of a law that would toughen the embargo on Cuba, El Paīs (April 3, 2019).

[4] Gomez,  Canada will defend its investments in Cuba if the United States applies title III of Helms-Burton, CubaDebate (April 4, 2019); Readout of Foreign Affairs Minister’s meeting with U.S. Secretary of State, Global Affairs Canada (April 4, 2019).

[5] Havana rejects the new partial suspension of the Helms-Burton, DiariodeCuba (April 4, 2019).

 

 

Economist Critiques Cuban Economy

Carmelo Mesa-Lago, a professor emeritus of economics and Latin American studies at the University of Pittsburgh and the author of 45 books on Cuba, recently delivered his critique of the Cuban economy in the New York Times.[1]

He opens with the assertion, “For the past 60 years, Cuba has been unable to finance its imports with its own exports and generate appropriate, sustainable growth without substantial aid and subsidies from a foreign nation. This is the longstanding legacy of Cuba’s socialist economy.” These foreign nations were Spain in the colonial era, the U.S. (circa 1903 -1958), the Soviet Union (circa 1959-1988) and Venezuela (21st century). Yet “despite the staggering foreign aid subsidies it has received, [Cuba’s] . . . economic performance has been dismal.”

“In the past seven years, growth has been a third of the officially set figure needed for adequate and sustainable growth, while investment has been one third of the required rate. Industrial, mining and sugar production are well below 1989 levels, and the production of 11 out of 13 key agricultural and fishing products has declined. Cuba is now facing its worst economic crisis since the 1990s.”

According to Mesa-Lago, “Cuba’s woes are a result of the inefficient economic model of centralized planning, state enterprises and agricultural collectivization its leaders have pursued despite the failure of these models worldwide. In his decade in power, President Raúl Castro tried to face his brother Fidel’s legacy of economic disaster head on by enacting a series of market-oriented economic structural reforms. He also opened the door to foreign investment, but so far, the amount materialized has been one-fifth of the goal set by the leadership for sustainable development.”

Although Cuba has adopted some reforms to allow some private enterprise, Mesa-Lago says Cuba needs “to accelerate and deepen reforms. China and Vietnam’s market socialism model under Communist Party rule could provide a way forward.”

If such reforms are carried out and foreign investors are allowed to hire and pay a full salary directly to their employees, he concludes, “there will be a significant improvement in the economy and the government can undertake the desperately needed monetary unification that will attract more investment and eliminate the economic distortions that plague the economy.”

As noted in a recent post to this blog, the Cuban economy also faces the challenges of an aging, declining population with the latter being caused, in part, by the limited opportunities for economic success, especially for younger Cubans. [2]

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[1] Mesa-Lago, Cuba Can Move From Foreign Economic Dependence, N.Y. Times (Mar. 28, 2019).

[2] See also posts listed in the “Cuban Economy” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

 

U.S. Authorizes U.S. Litigation Against Entities on Cuba Restricted List

On January 16, 2019, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo extended for 45 days the right to bring certain lawsuits in U.S. federal courts  by Americans who owned property in Cuba that was confiscated by its government. The stated reasons for this 45-day extension, instead of the long-standing practice of granting six-month extensions was to “permit us to conduct a careful review of the right to bring action under Title III [of the Helms-Burton or LIBERTAD Act] in light of the national interests of the United States and efforts to expedite a transition to democracy in Cuba and include factors such as the Cuban regime’s brutal oppression of human rights and fundamental freedoms and its indefensible support for increasingly authoritarian and corrupt regimes in Venezuela and Nicaragua.”  [1]

Secretary Pompeo’s New Statement [2]

On March 3, Secretary Pompeo issued another statement on this subject with two parts.

The first part granted “an additional suspension for 30 days through April 17, 2019, of the right to bring an action under Title III [of this federal statute as] necessary to the national interests of the United States and will expedite a transition to democracy in Cuba.” with the below exception. Beginning March 19, suspension shall not apply to:

The second part of this statement, however, contained an exception to this further suspension. Beginning March 19, this suspension will not apply to the “right to bring an action against a Cuban entity or sub-entity identified by name on the State Department’s List of Restricted Entities and Sub-entities Associated with Cuba (known as the Cuba Restricted List), as may be updated from time to time.” This exception protects, for now any foreign firm from such U.S. litigation.

The Cuba Restricted List [3]

This statement explained that the “Cuba Restricted List identifies entities and sub-entities under the control of Cuban military, intelligence, or security services. These security services are directly responsible for the repression of the Cuban people. We encourage any person doing business in Cuba to reconsider whether they are trafficking in confiscated property and abetting the Cuban dictatorship.”

The first such Restricted List was promulgated by the State Department in November 2017,, with a list of 180 entities and subentities that the Department had determined were owned or controlled by “the large military-run corporations that dominate the Cuban economy. These include GAESA and CIMEX, the holding companies that control most retail business on the island; Gaviota, the largest tourism company; and Habaguanex, the firm that runs Old Havana.

This list was amplified on November 14,  2018, with the addition of 26 subentities. According to the State Department, “direct financial transactions [by U.S. nationals] with these entities are generally prohibited because they would disproportionately benefit those entities or personnel at the expense of the Cuban people or private enterprise in Cuba.”

Cuba’s Reaction  [4]

Also on March 4 the Cuba’s foreign Ministry issued the following lengthy rejection of this U.S. move:

  • “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejects in the strongest terms the new escalation in the US aggressive behavior against Cuba.”
  • “Since its entry into force in 1996, the Helms-Burton Act has sought to universalize the economic blockade through brutal and illegal pressures exerted by the United States against third countries, their governments and companies.  It is intended to suffocate the Cuban economy and generate or increase shortages among the population with the purpose of imposing in Cuba a government that serves the interests of the US.”
  • “Given the illegitimate character of the goals they pursue, which are contrary to International Law, the Helms-Burton Act and the blockade arouse universal rejection, which has been reiterated for almost three decades at the most important regional and international fora.  The most recent example of that was the United Nations General Assembly meeting held on November 1, [2018] when said policy was rejected through 10 consecutive votes, thus leaving the US in complete isolation.”
  • “Title II of the Helms-Burton Act states that the overthrowing of the revolutionary government, the subsequent tutelage by a US intervenor and the ultimate establishment of a counterrevolutionary government subordinated to Washington would unequivocally pursue the return or compensation to former owners for all the properties they or their descendants might claim, regardless of whether or not they were US citizens at the moment when nationalizations took place or the fact that they abandoned them. During all that period, the economic blockade would continue to be fully implemented.”
  • “Consequently, Cubans would be forced to return, reimburse or pay to US claimants for the house where they live, the area on which their communities are built, the arable land  where they farm  their products, the school where their children are educated, the hospital or polyclinic where  they receive medical assistance, the place where their workplace is located or where they have a private business, and also for subsidized services such as electricity, water, and communications enjoyed by the population.”
  • “This is an aspiration that can only be conceived by the minds of those who identify Cuba s a colonial possession.  According to the Helms-Burton Act, the economic blockade would be lifted only when that ambition is fulfilled.”
  • “This law relies on two fundamental lies: the notion that nationalizations carried out soon after the triumph of the Revolutionary were illegitimate or inappropriate and that Cuba is a threat to the US national security.”
  • “Cuban nationalizations were carried out in accordance with the law, strictly abiding by the Constitution and in conformity with International Law. All nationalizations included processes of fair and appropriate compensation, something that the US government refused to consider.  Cuba reached and honored global compensation agreements with other nations which are today investing in Cuba, such as Spain, Switzerland, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany and France.”
  • The real threat against regional peace and security are the irresponsible declarations and actions of the US government as well as the destabilizing plans against Latin America and the Caribbean aimed at pursuing the stated purpose of imposing the Monroe Doctrine.”
  • [Cuba’s] Reaffirmation of   Cuban Dignity and Sovereignty Act of December 24, 1996, states that the Helms-Burton Act is illegal, inapplicable and has no legal value or effect whatsoever. It considers null and void any claim under that law by any natural or juridical person.”
  • “According to that [Cuban] law, claims for compensation for nationalized properties could be part of a process of negotiation on the based on equality, mutual respect between the governments of Cuba and the United States, and be “reviewed together with the indemnifications the Cuban State and people are entitled to as a result of the damages caused by the blockade and   aggressions of every sort, of which the US government is responsible”. It also makes it clear that those who resort to procedures or mechanisms under the Helms-Burton Act to the detriment of others shall be excluded from possible future negotiations.”
  • “The Cuban Government reiterates to all economic partners and foreign companies operating in Cuba that full guarantees will be granted to foreign investments and joint projects. Article 28 of the Cuban Constitution, which was ratified by an overwhelming majority on February 24, 2019, also recognizes those guarantees, which are also included in [Cuban] Law No. 118 on Foreign Investments of March 29, 2014.”
  • “Today’s [U.S.] decision imposes additional obstacles to our economic development and progress goals, but the United States will keep on failing to achieve its main purpose of submitting by force the sovereign will of Cubans and our determination to build socialism. The majority feelings of the peoples of Cuba and the United States in favor of improving relations and establishing a civilized and respectful coexistence shall prevail.”

Other Reactions

John Bolton, U.S. National Security Advisor commented the same day in the following tweet: “Cuba’s role in usurping democracy and fomenting repression in Venezuela is clear. That’s why the U.S. will continue to tighten financial restrictions on Cuba’s military and intel services. The region’s democracies should condemn the Cuba regime.”

Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) had a similar tweet: “Today expect the United States to take the first in a series of steps to hold the regime in #Cuba accountable for its 60 years of crimes & illegality which includes its support for the murderous #MaduroCrimeFamily. Justice is coming. And more to come.”

Rubio also joined with U.S. Senator Rick Scott (Rep., FL) and U.S. Representative Mario Diaz-Balart (Rep., FL) in issuing the following lengthier statement supporting this Trump Administration move. [5]

Senator Rubio made the initial comments of the Press Release,“‘President Trump is sending a strong message that the United States will not sit idly by while the Cuban regime continues to support the Maduro crime family at the expense of the Venezuelan people,’ Rubio said. ‘For 60 years, the Cuban regime has forced millions into exile, destabilized neighboring countries, given safe harbor to fugitives from justice and to international terrorists, and made millions trafficking in stolen property. By beginning the process of implementing Title III of the Helms-Burton Libertad Act, the United States is holding the Cuban regime accountable for its crimes, including its support for the murderous Maduro crime family. Justice is coming — and it is just getting started.’”

Senator Scott added, “The Administration’s plan to fully and immediately implement Title III and IV of the Libertad Act signals to the international community that the United States is serious about its commitment to freedom and democracy in Cuba. Allowing American citizens to sue for stolen property in Cuba and denying foreign nationals involved in trafficking stolen property entry into the United States is a huge step toward cutting off the money supply to the Castro Regime. It is clear that where we see instability, chaos and violence in Latin America, we also see the fingerprints of the Castro regime and their money – and this action by the administration is an important step in stabilizing the entire region. President Trump’s strong action on the Libertad Act will further hold the Cuban regime accountable. I urge him to continue with the planned implementation this month so we can help begin a new day of freedom and democracy for Cuba and its people.”

Representative Diaz-Balart stated, “Today, the Trump Administration took another important step toward righting some of the wrongs perpetrated by a dictatorship that brutally oppresses its people and opposes U.S. interests at every opportunity. Shamefully, for nearly twenty-two years since the LIBERTAD Act’s enactment, unscrupulous businesses have ignored this important provision in U.S. law and have chosen to partner with tyrants. This is just the first action of many regarding the Administration’s actions on Title III. Justice for the victims of the Castro regime’s confiscations is long overdue. Years of consecutive extensions may have lulled some into a false sense of impunity. Yet now companies which willingly entangle themselves in partnerships with the anti-American, illegitimate, and oppressive regime in Cuba are on notice that they will be held responsible for their part in callously benefiting from the extensive losses suffered by victims of the regime. I will continue to work with the Administration, Senator Rubio, and my congressional colleagues to ensure the United States continues to pressure the Castro regime and move forward with the full implementation of Title III.”

 Conclusion

This U.S. announcement may have only symbolic significance.

First, according to the Associated Press, “virtually none of the businesses [on the State Department’s Cuba Restricted List has] . . . any links to the U.S. legal or financial systems, meaning the ability to sue [in the U.S.] is unlikely to have any effect on the Cuban economy or foreign businesses that work with the socialist government.” In lawyer’s language, any lawsuit in a U.S. court against an entity on the Cuba Restricted List should be subject to a very strong objection for lack of personal jurisdiction over the Cuban entity, meaning any such case very likely would be dismissed at the commencement of the case. [6]

Second, another potential defense to a U.S. lawsuit might be sovereign immunity.

Third, it would be insane for any U.S. claimant to sue any of the Cuban entities in a Cuban court, which would throw out any such case and perhaps impose some penalty on the claimant for bringing such a case.

Fourth, if any of the Cuban entities are present in other countries of the world, a lawsuit there by a U.S. claimant presumably would not be subject to a lack of personal jurisdiction defense, but other defenses might be available plus other countries’ possible hostility to the overall purposes of the Helms-Burton Act and U.S. policies towards Cuba.

Finally Cuba correctly observes that it recognizes that it has an international legal obligation to compensate foreign owners of expropriated property and that it has settled many (all?) such claims by non-U.S. persons. Moreover, under the U.S.-Cuba rapprochement in 2015-16 the two counties had discussions about the U.S. claims although the details have not been publicly released. A major impediment to such a negotiated settlement is Cuba’s lack of financial resources for such payments. Therefore, this blogger has suggested in another post that the only realistic result is for the two countries to reach an overall settlement, including Cuba’s claims against the U..S., which would have the net effect of the U.S. government’s paying the U.S. claims for expropriated property,   =================================

[1] Update on Trump Administration’s Threat To Allow U.S. Litigation Over Cuba’s Expropriated Property, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 30, 2019).

[2] State Dep’t, Secretary Enacts 30-Day Suspension of Title III (LIBERTAD Act) With an Exception (Mar. 3, 2019); Reuters, Foreign Partners Excluded From U.S. Lawsuits Against Cuban Firms: Official, N.Y. times (Mar. 4, 2019). 

[3] New Restrictions on U.S. Travel to Cuba and Transactions with Certain Cuban Entities, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 8, 2017);More Cuban Businesses Forbidden to U.S. Visitors, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 16, 2018).

[4] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Declaration of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Cuba Strongly Rejects New Aggressive Escalation by the United States (Mar. 4, 2019).

[5] Press Release: Rubio, Scott, & Diaz-Balart Commend Trump Administration’s Decision to Hold the Communist Cuban Regime Accountable for Crimes (Mar. 4, 2019).

[6] Assoc. Press, Trump Symbolically Tightens Embargo on Cuba, N.Y. Times (Mar. 4, 2019). See The Personal Jurisdiction Requirement for Civil Lawsuits in U.S. Courts, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 8, 2011).