Beschloss Discusses “Presidents of War” at Westminster Town Hall Forum

On November 13, only one week after the U.S. mid-term election, Michael Beschloss appeared before an overflow crowd at Minneapolis’ Westminster Town Hall Forum to discuss his  recent book, Presidents of War: 1807 to Modern Times.[1] Below are photographs of Beschloss and the Westminster Sanctuary before the arrival of the crowd.

 

 

 

 

The Presidents of War

He made the following brief comments about the eight presidents of war who are covered in his book.

President James Madison and the War of 1812. This was the first and the most unpopular war in U.S. history, climaxed by the British burning of the White House and Madison’s  escaping to Virginia in August 1814. (The book covers this in the Prologue and Chapters Two and Three.)

President James Polk and the Mexican-American War (1846 1848). This war was started by the U.S. on the U.S.false assertion that Mexico had ambushed and killed an American soldier in the new state of Texas. The U.S. won the war and acquired more than 500,000 square miles of Mexican territory extending  west of the Rio Grande River to the Pacific Ocean.(This is covered in Chapters Four and Five.)

President Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War (1860-1865). Lincoln was the best president of war. Initially he was not a crusader and instead an enforcer of the  constitutional ban on secession, which was not a popular message. Later with the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address he made it a moral crusade against slavery and the people began to follow Lincoln. (This is covered in Chapters Six and Seven.)

President William McKinley and the Spanish-American War, 1898.  This was another war started on a false assertion: Spain had blown up the USS Maine in the Havana Harbor, when in fact it was caused by an exploding boiler in the ship. This war resulted in the U.S.’ acquiring the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam from Spain and de facto control of Cuba. (This is covered in Chapters Eight and Nine of the book.)[2]

President Woodrow Wilson and World War I, 1917-1918. In his re-election campaign of 1916, Wilson’s slogan was “He kept us out of war,” but in April 2017 he had Congress declare war after German attacks on U.S. ships. In his well-meaning campaign for the League of Nations, Wilson made a lot of mistakes. (This is covered in Chapters Ten and Eleven.)

President Franklin D. Roosevelt and World War II, 1941-1945. Before the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, FDR gave very few speeches about the war in Europe, and there was strong U.S. public opinion against entering the war on the belief that World War I had been a mistake. Immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, however, the Congress declared war against Japan, the last time the U.S. declared war under the Constitution. FDR learned from the war with the exception of treatment of Japanese-Americans.  (this is covered in Chapters Twelve and Thirteen.)

President Truman and  the Korean War (Conflict), 1950-1953.  According to Beschloss, Truman had read and written some history and had said one “could not be president without knowing history” and “every leader must be a reader.”(This is covered in Chapters Fourteen and Fifteen.)

President Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam War, 1963-1969. This is another war started on a false U.S. assertion: the Vietnamese had attacked a U.S. ship in the Gulf of Tonkin, which lead to a congressional resolution supporting military action. The White House audio tapes of LBJ’s conversations revealed important information: (a) Senator Richard Russell urged LBJ to get out of the war; (b) Secretary of Defense McNamara urged LBJ to get involved, thereby disproving McNamara’s later denials of same; (c) LBJ came to believe that this was a war the U.S. could not win and could not lose; and (d) LBJ rejected the advice of General Westmoreland to use nuclear weapons in the war.  (This was discussed in Chapters Sixteen and Seventeen of the book.)

Commonalities of the Presidents of War

Beschloss identified two common characterizes of these presidents.

First, they all became more religious during their wars. Lincoln before the Civil War was a sceptic or agnostic, but during the war regularly read the Bible and talked about wars being “oceans of blood” that prompted his  seeking biblical guidance for sending young men to their death. Lyndon Johnson before the war was not a regular church-goer, but during the war, his daughter Lucy Baines Johnson Turpin, who had become a Roman Catholic, regularly and confidentially took LBJ to mass , and Lady Bird Johnson was heard to say he might convert to Catholicism.

Second, they all were married to strong women who gave good advice. In 1942 FDR  was considering internment of Japanese-Americans, and Eleanor warned him strongly not to do so. The subsequent internment caused a major rupture in their marriage.

In response to a question about whether any of the war presidents had military experience, he did not state the obvious: they had not except for Truman in World War I. Instead, he said that President Eisenhower, who is not covered in the book even though he presided over the end of the Korean War, had the “perfect” military experience resulting from his military education and training and command responsibility during World War Ii that provided him with the knowledge of the ends and means, the costs and the unpredictability of war.[3]

 The President of Peace

In response to a question, Beschloss identified only one president of peace:. President Thomas Jefferson in 1807 resisted public pressure to go to war with Great Britain over an attack by its ship (The Leopard) against a U.S. frigate (The Chesapeake) in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Virginia that killed three U.S. sailors and wounded eight others. (This is discussed in Chapter One of the book.)

 Advice to U.S. Citizens

All presidents need wisdom, courage and judgment. They need to be moral leaders.

Citizens, Senators and representatives need to evaluate and criticize presidents on important issues, especially those of war and peace.

In his book’s Epilogue, Beschloss says “the framers of the Constitution had dreamt that war would be a last resort under the political system they had invented. Unlike in Great Britain and other monarchies and dictatorships of old, it would be declared by Congress, not the chief of State.” Yet “the notion of presidential war took hold step by step.” We as citizens need to insist on obeying the Constitution and requiring congressional declarations of war.

Beschloss Biography

Beschloss is an award-winning author of nine books on presidential history. He is the presidential historian for NBC News and a contributor to PBS NewsHour. A graduate of Williams College and Harvard Business School, he has served as a historian for the Smithsonian Institution, as a Senior Associate Member at St. Antony’s College, Oxford, and as a Senior Fellow of the Annenberg Foundation. His books on the presidency include, among others, The Crisis Years: Kennedy and Khrushchev, 1960-1963; The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Hitler’s Germany; and Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America, 1789-1989. His latest book, Presidents of War, was published in October. He is the recipient of the Harry S. Truman Public Service Award, the New York State Archives Award, and the Rutgers University Living History Award. He is a trustee of the White House Historical Association and the National Archives Foundation and a former trustee of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.

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[1] Westminster Town Hall Forum, Michael Beschloss, Presidents of War: 1807 to Modern Times (Nov. 13, 2018) (the website also includes a livestream of the lecture and Q & A); Black, ‘Presidents of War’: Historian Michael Beschloss on leaders who’ve taken U.S. into battle, MinnPost (Nov. 14, 2018); Barnes & Noble, Presidents of War (2018).

[2] Before 1898, the U.S. had a desire to own or control Cuba that was promoted by by U.S. slaveholders desiring support of Cuban slaveholders, and after U.S. entry in 1898 into the Second Cuban War of Independence (what we call the Spanish-American War) and the U.S. defeat of the Spanish, the U.S. made Cuba a de facto protectorate that lasted until 1934. Since the 1959 overthrow of Batista by the Cuban Revolution, of course, the two countries have had a contentious relationship, including the U.S. Bay of Pigs invasion of  1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 that nearly erupted into war. (See posts listed in the “ U.S.-Cuba History, 1989-2010” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[3] Another U.S. president with wartime experience, including injuries, was John F. Kennedy, who during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 helped to steer the U.S. out of a possible nuclear war with the USSR over its missiles in Cuba. (See posts listed in the “ U.S.-Cuba History, 1989-2010” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

President Trump’s Message to the Cuban People 

On May 20, the anniversary of Cuba’s 1902 declaration of independence from the U.S. after what we in the U.S. call the Spanish-American War, U.S. President Donald Trump issued the following message to the Cuban people:[1]

  • “The twentieth of May marks the celebration of Cuban independence won by patriots who wished for individual freedom and the right of self-determination, both of which have been tragically snuffed out by a tired Communist regime.  Regardless, the brave people of Cuba continue to work—under continued oppression and extraordinarily difficult circumstances—to provide for their families and to restore human and civil rights.  The names of great Cuban leaders who fought for independence, such as José Martí and Antonio Maceo, echo through history alongside names like Washington and Jefferson.  The legacy of these leaders continues to inspire and encourage all peoples to remain committed to the fight for democracy and the restoration of political, economic, and religious freedoms.”
  • “The resilience of the Cuban people and the contributions of the Cuban-American community demand our respect.  We are grateful for the many contributions in the world of literature, the arts, music, cuisine, and entrepreneurship that these communities have given us.”
  • “To the people of Cuba who yearn for true freedom, and to the Cuban-Americans who reside in the United States, Melania and I send our warmest wishes.  On this special day, we remember the Cuban patriots who lit a flame of freedom that will never be fully extinguished as long as men and women can dream of a better tomorrow.  Let us recommit ourselves to a better, freer future for the Cuban people.”

This Trump statement requires several comments.

First, under the first Cuban Constitution of 1902, the U.S. retained the right to intervene in Cuban affairs and to supervise its finances and foreign relations. Under the Platt Amendment, the U.S. leased the Guantánamo Bay naval base from Cuba. As a result, Cuba does not celebrate May 20. Indeed, for the U.S. to do so is an insult to Cuba.

Second, since 1959, Cubans celebrate their independence on July 26, the anniversary of the 1953 attack by Cuban rebels led by Fidel Castro on the Moncada Barracks,  a military barracks in Santiago de Cuba, named after the General Guillermón Moncada, a hero of the Cuban War of Independence.. This armed attack is widely accepted as the beginning of the Cuban Revolution.

Indeed, a prior post told the story of the speech on July 26, 1991, in Matanzas Cuba by South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, who was inspired by Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution.

Third, the extent of political freedoms in Cuba today is a matter of debate with Trump expressing his Administration’s  very negative views on the subject.

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[1] White House, Presidential Message on Cuban Independence Day (May 20, 2018); Trump calls for a ‘better and freer future’ for Cubans, Diario de Cuba (May 20, 2018). Trump issued a similar statement on May 20, 2017. (White House, Statement from President Donald J. Trump on Cuban Independence Day (May 20, 2017).)

 

Cuba Calling Alleged Sonic Attacks on U.S. Diplomats “The Maine Sonic”

An intensive article in CubaDebate reviews the details of Cuba’s investigation of the alleged “sonic attacks” on U.S. diplomats in Havana and concludes that there is no credible evidence of such attacks.[1] The article asserts the following as preliminary conclusions of the Cuban investigation:

  • There “is NO evidence to indicate the occurrence of the alleged acoustic attacks;”
  • “It has not been possible to establish investigative hypotheses about the origin of these events, which by their nature are eminently sensory and do not leave traces or traces, an aspect supported by the representatives of the specialized agencies of the [U.S.] that traveled to Cuba.”
  • “Nor have possible authors or persons with motivation, intention or means to execute this type of actions been identified. In the work carried out by the team of Cuban researchers and in the information provided by US officials, the incidence of people or suspicious media in the places of occurrence or in its surroundings has not been established.”
  • “The medical team and Cuban scientists, after the expert technical analysis of the sound samples given by the[U.S.], certified the impossibility of these causing the health affectations described by the diplomats.”
  • “No evidence has been obtained of the existence in the country of any equipment that emits sound, such as the one described by the[U.S.]. No intentions, plans or the introduction to the national territory of these equipment through the air or maritime border have been detected.”

Now some in Cuba, including the authors of this article, are calling the alleged sonic attacks the “Maine Sonico.” This is an obvious reference to the U.S. claiming the 1898 explosion and sinking of the U.S. battleship S.S. Maine in Havana Harbor was caused by the Spanish and as a result the U.S. entered Cuba’s war of independence against Spain and after defeating the Spanish obtained a de facto protectorate over Cuba whereas a 1976 investigation by U.S. naval investigators determined the explosion was caused by spontaneous combustion in the battleship that ignited its ammunition stocks and caused the sinking of the ship.[2]

Conclusion

This characterization of the alleged sonic attacks is an explosive claim itself. It essentially and implicitly asserts that the U.S. allegations of sonic claims are fraudulent in their entirety and are being used by the Trump Administrationas a fraudulent excuse to reverse President Obama’s efforts to normalize relations between the two countries and to enable U.S. investigators, with Cuban consent, to go to the island and fraudulently investigate other issues.

Another possible explanation of the U.S. claims is that there were actual medical problems for some U.S. diplomats in Cuba that were caused by a secret and malfunctioning U.S. device and that the U.S. does not want to reveal the existence of this secret device.

Both of these theories need further investigation in the U.S. to determine if either or both are valid. The repeated State Department assertions that the U.S. investigations to date have not identified a cause or perpetrator of the alleged attacks is at best surprising and indirectly supports looking for other theories to explain the alleged attacks.

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[1] Falcón, Reinaldo & Martinez, Incongruences of the acoustic attack: Why is not the Maine Sonico against Cuba credible? (+ Video), CubaDebate (Oct. 30, 2017),

[2] The Maine explodes, This Day in History: February 15 [1898].

 

Rumors of Upcoming Trump Administration Rollback of U.S. Normalization of Relations with Cuba

As reported in prior posts, the Trump Administration presumably has been conducting an overall review of U.S. policies regarding Cuba.[1] Although the completion of that review has not been publicly announced, there are rumors that in mid-June the Administration will be announcing a rollback of at least some of the various normalization measures announced by the Obama Administration starting on December 17, 2014.

Rumored Reversals

Even though U.S.’ Cuba policies have not had much public attention in these days of focus on revelations of Trump campaign connections with Russia, the pro-U.S.-embargo lobby apparently has used support for the Administration’s non-Cuba legislation (e.g., health care) to extract promises from Trump on rolling back the present policies. High on the list of rumored roll backs are limiting people-to-people U.S. travel to technical categories and stopping any U.S. trade or licenses that would be associated with “military” entities of the Cuban government.

This rumored reversal is happening even though all federal administration agencies support further negotiations with Cuba for better relations, especially in the areas of illegal immigration, national security, human trafficking, environment, trade, commerce, healthcare. These agencies influence have been hampered because there is no one in charge of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the State Department.

These unfortunate changes were hinted in President Trump’s statement on the May 20th so-called Cuban Independence Day when he said:[2]

  • “Americans and Cubans share allegiance to the principles of self-governance, dignity, and freedom. Today, we remember patriots like José Martí, who devoted himself to making Cuba an economically competitive and politically autonomous nation. He reminds us that cruel despotism cannot extinguish the flame of freedom in the hearts of Cubans, and that unjust persecution cannot tamper Cubans’ dreams for their children to live free from oppression. The Cuban people deserve a government that peacefully upholds democratic values, economic liberties, religious freedoms, and human rights, and my Administration is committed to achieving that vision.” (Emphasis added.)

Trump’s statement, not unexpectedly, was not well received in Cuba. Later the same day an “Official Note” was read on Cuban state television describing Trump’s message as “controversial” and “ridiculous,” especially on May 20, which Cuba sees as the date in 1902 when Cuba became a “Yankee neo-colony” or de facto U.S. protectorate after its status as a Spanish colony ended. More specifically May 20, 1902, was the date the Platt Amendment was added to the Cuban Constitution and 11 days after the signing of the Treaty of Paris by the U.S. and Spain ending the so-called Spanish-American War.[3] Cuba’s true Independence Day is January 1, 1959, the date the Cuban Revolution took over the government of the island.[4]

Resistance to Reversals

There, however, is resistance to any such rumored reversals.

First, the Trump Administration itself recently submitted its proposed Fiscal 2018 budget for the State Department that does not include any funds for the so-called Cuba “democracy promotion” programs by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).[5] In a letter accompanying this budget request, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the request “acknowledges that U.S. diplomacy engagement and aid programs must be more efficient and more effective, and that advancing our national security, our economic interests, and our values will remain our primary mission.” These undercover or covert USAID programs, in this blogger’s opinion, are unjustified and counterproductive and should have been cancelled a long time ago.[6]

Second, another voice for resistance within the Trump Administration is U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, who is a Trump appointee. On May 17 he appeared before the House Agriculture Committee. In response to a question by Representative Rick Crawford (Rep., AR) about his bill, Cuba Agricultural Exports Act (H.R.525), that would eliminate the U.S. requirement for Cuban cash payments upfront to purchase U.S. agricultural exports, Perdue said, “I think that’s something I would be supportive of if folks around the world need private credit to buy our products, and I’m all for that. [7]

Third, a May 24 letter to President Trump advocated the maintenance of the current U.S. policies regarding U.S. travel to Cuba. It came from a group of over 40 U.S. travel service providers that offer legal, authorized travel to Cuba. It asserted that the recent increase of such travel “has had a significant impact on our businesses by increasing our revenue and allowing us to hire more American employees. Additionally, it has helped the Cuban private sector, and fostered strong relationships between Americans and Cuban religious organizations and humanitarian programs.” The impact on Cuba’s private sector was emphasized: “Many U.S. travelers visiting Cuba stay in privately run B&Bs, dine at private restaurants, hire independent taxis and purchase goods and services from entrepreneurs. They are greatly supporting the growth of the Cuban private sector.”[8]

Fourth, another force for resistance to any such roll back is Cuban Ambassador to the U.S., José Ramón Cabañas, who along with other Cuban diplomats has been traveling to many parts of the U.S. and conveying Cuba’s best wishes for better relations with the U.S. and how such relations will benefit many Americans. I well remember the visit he and his wife made to Minneapolis in 2014 before he had the title of Ambassador and his low-key, pleasant and intelligent discussion of the many issues facing our two countries.  More recently he has been to Harvard University and Montana State University and visiting mayors, governors, legislators and ordinary Americans in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Montana, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Louisiana, the Washington suburbs and Florida. At the University of Louisville, the Ambassador said, “We are ready and open to work with the Trump administration, and we believe that we can build a future of cooperation with the United States in many subjects, although we recognize that there are many areas in which we will not agree.”[9]

Conclusion

Now is the time for all U.S. supporters of normalization to engage in public advocacy of these policies and to urge their U.S. Senators and Representatives to oppose any rollback of normalization.

We also need to express our support of those who have introduced bills in this Session of Congress to end the embargo and to expand Americans’ freedom to travel to Cuba:

  • Senator Heidi Heitkamp (Dem., ND), Agricultural Export Expansion Act of 2017 (S.275);
  • Senator Jerry Moran (Rep., KS), Cuba Trade Act of 2017 (S.472)(end the embargo);
  • Representative Mark Sanford (Rep., SC), Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2017 (H.R.351);
  • Representative Tom Emmer (Rep., MN), Cuba Trade Act of 2017 (H.R.442)(end the embargo);[10]
  • Representative Kevin Cramer (Rep., ND), Cuba DATA Act (H.R.498);
  • Representative Rick Crawford (Rep., AR), Cuba Agricultural Exports Act (H.R.525); and
  • Representative Jose Serrano, (Dem., NY), Promoting American Agricultural and Medical Exports to Cuba Act of 2017 (H.R.572), Baseball Diplomacy Act (H.R.573), Cuba Reconciliation Act (H.R.574).

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[1] The Future of U.S.-Cuba Normalization Under the Trump Administration, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 22, 2016); More Reasons To Believe There Is a Dim Future for U.S.-Cuba Normalization, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 2, 2017); Three Experts Anticipate Little Change in U.S. Policies Regarding Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 10, 2017); Washington Post Endorses Continued Normalization with Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 11, 2017); Secretary of State Nominee Rex Tillerson Addresses U.S. Policies Regarding Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 12, 2017); Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State Nominee, Provides Written Responses Regarding Cuba to Senate Foreign Relations Committee, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan 23, 2017); Lobbying the Incoming Trump Administration To Continue Normalization with Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 18, 2017); Cuban Entrepreneurs Express Frustration and Confidence, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 28, 2017); Uncertainty Over Future Cuba Policies of Trump Administration, dwkcommentaries.com   (Apr. 5, 2017).

[2] White House, Statement from President Donald J. Trump on Cuban Independence Day (May 20, 2017).

[3] The U.S. 1898 entry into Cuba’s Second War of Independence and establishment of the de facto protectorate lasting until 1934 was reviewed in a prior post.

[4] Torres, Havana lashes out against Trump’s Mary 20 message to the Cuban people, Miami Herald (May 22, 2017); Sánchez, There is no future without the past, Granma (May 23, 2017).

[5] Whitefield, No USAID funds for Cuba in Trump budget proposal, Miami Herald (May 24, 2017); Schwartz, Trump Administration Proposes 32% Cut to State Department Budget, W.S.J. (May 23, 2017); Secretary Tillerson, Letter Regarding State Department’s Budget Request (Fiscal 2018) (May 23, 2017).

[6] See posts listed in “U.S. Democracy Promotion in Cuba” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[7] USDA Secretary Perdue Supports Bill to Expand Ag Exports to Cuba, Engage Cuba (May 18, 2017);

[8] Over 40 Leading U.S. Travel Companies and Associations Urge President Trump Not to Roll Back U.S. Travel to Cuba, Engage Cuba (May 24, 2017).

[9] Whitefield, Cubans become the road warriors of D.C. diplomatic corps, Miami Herald (May 22, 2017).

[10] Representatives Emmer and Castor Introduce Bill To End Embargo of Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 12, 2017).

 

Resolution of Issues Regarding Cuba-U.S. Lease of Guantanamo Bay

Since the December 17, 2014, announcement of rapprochement, Cuba has voiced at least three demands or issues regarding its lease of Guantanamo Bay to the U.S. The most serious one is ending the lease and returning this territory to complete Cuban control. The second is the U.S.’ paying for use of the territory since the Cuban Revolution’s takeover of the island in 1959. The third is Cuba’s objection to the U.S.’ establishing and maintaining a prison for detainees after 9/11 and to the U.S.’ alleged mistreatment and torture of those detainees.

Understanding these issues requires an examination of (a) the Cuban war for independence, 1895-1898, and the Spanish-American War of 1898; (b) the terms of seven documents relating to the lease, all of which predate the Cuban Revolution; and (c) the position of the Revolutionary government toward these documents and the lease. [1] In conclusion, this post will discuss methods for resolving these issues.

Before all of that, here are maps and photographs of Guantanamo Bay.

Guant map1

guantanamo.bay

 

 

 

 

Gitmo look west

_245513_us_base_guantanamo300

 

 

 

The Cuban War for Independence and the Spanish-American War [2]

In 1895 Cubans started a revolt or war of independence from Spain, which responded with ferocity, launching its “reconcentrado” campaign that herded 300,000 Cubans into re-concentration camps. Spain’s tactics infuriated many Americans, who began to raise money and even fight on the side of the Cuban nationalists while American businesses with economic interests on the island were worried about the safety of their investments. U.S. President William McKinley wanted an end to the Cuban-Spanish conflict, but demanded that Spain act responsibly and humanely and that any settlement be acceptable to Cuban nationals.

In November 1897, an amicable resolution appeared possible when the Spanish granted the Cubans limited autonomy and closed the re-concentration camps. But after pro-Spanish demonstrators rioted in Havana in January 1898 to protest Spain’s more conciliatory policies, McKinley ordered the U.S. battleship Maine to Havana to protect American citizens and property and to demonstrate that the U.S. still valued Spain’s friendship.

With the Maine safely moored in Spanish waters, the Spanish-American relationship was jolted by the publication in a New York newspaper of a letter by the Spanish minister to the U.S. describing McKinley as “weak and a bidder for the admirations of the crowd” and revealing that the Spanish were not negotiating in good faith with the U.S. Americans saw the letter as an attack on both McKinley’s and the nation’s honor. The American public’s anger only intensified following an explosion on the Maine and its sinking on February 15, 1898, in Havana Harbor, killing 266 crew members. The Navy, on March 21, reported that an external explosion, presumably from a Spanish mine, had destroyed the ship.

With diplomatic initiatives exhausted and the American public wanting an end to the Cuban crisis, McKinley, in mid-April 1898, asked Congress for authority to intervene in Cuba, which it granted. Spain soon broke relations with the U.S., and the U.S. blockaded Cuba’s ports. On April 23, Spain declared war on the U.S. Two days later the U.S. did likewise with the Teller amendment committing the U.S. to the independence of Cuba once the war had ended, disclaiming “any disposition or intention to exercise sovereignty, jurisdiction or control over said island, except for the pacification thereof.”

What became known as the Spanish-American War lasted only a little over three months with U.S. victories in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines ending in a cease fire on August 12, 1898. Under the Paris Peace Treaty of December 10, 1898, the U.S. obtained Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippine Islands while Spain renounced its claim to Cuba, which remained under U.S. military occupation until 1902.

Thereafter, Cuba would be a de facto U.S. protectorate until 1934.

The Lease of Guantanamo Bay

The first five of the seven documents relating to the Guantanamo lease were created during the period that Cuba was a de facto protectorate of the U.S.

  1. Act of Congress (March 2, 1901). On this date, President McKinley signed an Act of Congress that included what was called “the Platt Amendment,” which authorized the U.S. President “to leave the government and control of the island of Cuba to its people so soon as a government shall have been established in said island under a constitution which, either as a part thereof or in an ordinance appended thereto, shall define the future relations of the United States with Cuba, [and shall include the following: provisions]:
  • “I. That the government of Cuba shall never enter into any treaty or other compact with any foreign power or powers which will impair or tend to impair the independence of Cuba, nor in any manner authorize or permit any foreign power or powers to obtain by colonization or for military or naval purposes or otherwise, lodgement in or control over any portion of said island.”
  • “III. That the government of Cuba consents that the [U.S.] may exercise the right to intervene for the preservation of Cuban independence, the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty, and for discharging the obligations with respect to Cuba imposed by the treaty of Paris on the [U.S.], now to be assumed and undertaken by the government of Cuba.”
  • “”VII. That to enable the [U.S.] to maintain the independence of Cuba, and to protect the people thereof, as well as for its own defense, the government of Cuba will sell or lease to the [U.S.] lands necessary for coaling or naval stations at certain specified points to be agreed upon with the President of the United States.”
  1. Constitution of Cuba (May 20, 1902). On this date, the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba was promulgated, and Article VII of its Appendix provided: “To enable the [U.S.] to maintain the independence of Cuba, and to protect the people thereof, as well as for its own defense, the Cuban Government will sell or lease to the [U.S.] the lands necessary for coaling or naval stations, at certain specified points, to be agreed upon with the President of the United States.”
  1. U.S.-Cuba Agreement (February 23, 1903). Pursuant to the just mentioned Cuban constitutional provision, on February 23, 1903, the U.S. and Cuba entered into the “Agreement . . . for the Lease of Lands for Coaling and Naval stations.” Its Article I stated that Cuba “hereby leases to the United States, for the time required for the purposes of coaling and naval stations, the following described areas of land and water [Guantanamo Bay and Bahia Honda] [3] situated in the Island of Cuba”

This Agreement’s Article II stated, “The grant of the foregoing Article shall include the right to use and occupy the waters adjacent to said areas of land and water, and to improve and deepen the entrances thereto and the anchorages therein, and generally to do any and all things necessary to fit the premises for use as coaling or naval stations only, and for no other purpose.” (Emphasis added.)

This Agreement concluded in Article III, whereby the U.S. “recognizes the continuance of the ultimate sovereignty of the Republic of Cuba over the above described areas of land and water, on the other hand the Republic of Cuba consents that during the period of the occupation by the [U.S.] of said areas under the terms of this agreement the [U.S.] shall exercise complete jurisdiction and control over and within said areas.”

Unlike most leases, this agreement did not set forth a set period of time for the lease or the compensation or rent to be paid.

  1. Treaty between the United States of America and Cuba (May 22, 1903). This treaty in Article I states, “The Government of Cuba shall never enter into any treaty or other compact with any foreign power or powers which will impair or tend to impair the independence of Cuba, nor in any manner authorize or permit any foreign power or powers to obtain by colonization or for military or naval purposes, or otherwise, lodgment in or control over any portion of said island.”

Article III provides, “The Government of Cuba consents that the United States may exercise the right to intervene for the preservation of Cuban independence, the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty, and for discharging the obligations with respect to Cuba imposed by the Treaty of Paris on the United States, now to be assumed and undertaken by the Government of Cuba.”

Article VII adds, “To enable the United States to maintain the independence of Cuba, and to protect the people thereof, as well as for its own defense, the Government of Cuba will sell or lease to the United States lands necessary for coaling or naval stations, at certain specified points, to be agreed upon with the President of the United States.”

  1. Lease of Certain Areas of Land and Water for Naval or Coaling Stations in Guantanamo and Bahia Honda (July 2, 1903). This instrument details additional terms of the lease in seven articles. Its Article I specified the compensation that the U.S. would pay to Cuba for the leased territories: “the annual sum of two thousand dollars, in gold coin of the United States, as long as the former shall occupy and use said areas of land by virtue of said agreement.” Under Article II, the U.S. agreed “that no person, partnership, or corporation shall be permitted to establish or maintain a commercial, industrial or other enterprise within said areas.”

There still was no set period of time for the lease of the territory.

On November 12, 1903, Guantánamo Bay Outer Harbor passed into U.S. hands “without any formality” and was “effected in a quiet manner.”

  1. Treaty between United States of America and Cuba (May 29, 1934)By 1934 there had been changes in the overall relationship between the two countries. The U.S., pursuing President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “good neighbor” policy, proposed to nullify the previously mentioned May 22, 1903, U.S.-Cuba Treaty. Cuba had become increasingly upset with the earlier treaty’s Platt Amendment granting the U.S. the right to intervene in Cuba, and Cuba welcomed the idea of nullifying the 1903 treaty. Negotiations to that end proceeded quickly; and a new Cuban-American Treaty of Relations was signed on May 29, 1934, and after rapid ratifications by both states it entered into force on June 9, 1934. This effectively ended the U.S. de facto protectorate of Cuba.

The 1934 treaty in Article II also stated: “All the acts effected in Cuba by the [U.S.] during its military occupation of the island, up to May 20,1902, the date on which the Republic of Cuba was established, have been ratified and held as valid; and all the rights legally acquired by virtue of those acts shall be maintained and protected.”

Article III added the following language with respect to the naval station at Guantánamo Bay: “The supplementary agreement in regard to naval or coaling station signed between the two Governments on July 2, 1903, also shall continue in effect in the same form and on the same conditions with respect to the naval station at Guantánamo. So long as the United States of America shall not abandon the said naval station of Guantánamo or the two Governments shall not agree to a modification of its present limits, the station shall continue to have the territory it now has, with the limits that it has on the date of the signature of the present Treaty.”

The implication of Article III is that the U.S. at any time can walk away from the lease at Guantánamo (abandon the base), but the Cubans can never revoke the lease.

  1. Change in Amount of Rent (1938). Although the source document has not been located, secondary sources say the annual rent for Guantanamo was changed in 1938 to $4,085 (U.S. Dollars), which was the 1938 equivalent of $2,000 in U.S. gold coins. That term has never been changed. Indeed, the U.S. documents transmitting the annual rent checks in that amount for 2011, 2012 and 2013 merely refer to the July 2, 1903, Lease while stating the amount of $4,085 was “computed in the manner of which the government of Cuba has been advised in connection with previous rental payments.” [4]

Cuba’s Revolutionary Government’s Positions Regarding the Lease

Soon after the Cuban Revolution took over the government in January 1959, it started calling for the U.S. to get out of Guantanamo. Over time Cuba set out four different, and sometimes contradictory, legal arguments for invalidating the lease. Even though some international law experts thought Cuba had a good argument for such invalidation: rebus sic stantibus (fundamental change of circumstances), [5] Cuba never instituted legal proceedings to that end. In addition, while the U.S.S.R. still existed and was a major Cuban ally, the Soviets argued that the lease was an “unequal treaty,” but that legal theory was not embraced by the U.S. and most Western nations.

In addition, Cuba has refused to cash the annual U.S. checks for $4,085 made out to the “Treasurer General of the Republic” (a position that ceased to exist after the Revolution). One such check, however, was cashed in the early days of the Revolution, Cuba says, due to confusion. (Many years ago during a televised interview, Fidel Castro opened a desk drawer in his office to show the collection of uncashed checks.)

At least by 2004, Cuba accepted the lease as valid while asserting that control over Guantanamo “will eventually revert to Cuba because of the nature of the arrangement, ad defined by its domestic law, which prohibits perpetual leases. For example, in 2004, Cuba’s Foreign Ministry stated the arrangement “does not grant a perpetual right but a temporary one over that part of our territory, by which, in due course, as a just right of our people, the illegally occupied territory of Guantanamo should be returned by peaceful means to Cuba.” In short, said Cuba, the lease is valid, but U.S. occupation of the territory is illegal. This argument is ridiculous, in the opinion of this blogger, a retired U.S. lawyer.

There have been at least two U.S. responses to these Cuban arguments of invalidity of the lease. First, under the international legal principle of pacta sunt servanda (the contract is the law between the parties), the lease remained a valid agreement between the two states and Cuba has a legal obligation to adhere to agreements previously entered into despite a change in governments. [6] Second, the revolutionary government’s acceptance of at least one of the annual rent checks was an admission of the lease’s validity or a waiver of Cuba’s objections thereto.

Conclusion

As a retired U.S. lawyer, without doing any legal research, I see potential issues of lease invalidity due to (a) possible undue influence or coercion by the U.S. in establishing the terms of the original lease in 1903 and the modifications in 1934 and 1938; [7] and (b) the U.S. use of Guantanamo possibly exceeding the uses permitted by the lease. Any such claim, however, would be potentially subject, at least in a domestic legal dispute, to the affirmative defenses of waiver, estoppel, ratification, laches and statute of limitations. [8]

The argument for invalidity based on the U.S. use of Guantanamo has been rejected by Professor Strauss. He notes that the lease permits the use of Guantanamo as a “naval station,” which is a term created by the U.S. to allow its Navy to determine the range of activities that could occur at such a “station” and which has been used for fewer functions than a full naval base and more recently as a full naval base. As a result, says Strauss, the limitation on use is “largely meaningless in a practical sense.”

In any event, if Cuba now were to assert a right to terminate the lease, over U.S. objection, then I suggest that such a claim should be submitted to a panel of three arbitrators at the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague under its existing Arbitration Rules. Presumably the U.S. in addition to resisting the claim would have a contingent counterclaim (in the event of an arbitration award of termination) for reimbursement for the value of U.S. improvements to the territory.

Such an arbitration proceeding should also include any Cuban claim for compensation for the U.S. use of Guantanamo for 66 years (1960-2015). If, however, such a claims is only for the $4,085 annual rent established in 1938 for a total of $269,610 (without interest), then the claim should be resolved quickly by the U.S. paying the amount of the claim. If, however, the claim is for a higher amount based upon some theory to void the $4,085 figure and instead use a larger amount of alleged fair market value, then presumably such a claim would be contested by the U.S. and a proper claim for arbitration.

Of course, at any time the two parties could negotiate a new lease of Guantanamo, presumably for a specific term of years, with a right of renewal, at a higher and annually adjustable rent. Such a new lease could also impose limits on U.S. use of the territory such as prohibition of the operation of a prison or detention facility.

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[1] An excellent overall discussion of the U.S. lease of Guantanamo is contained in Strauss, Cuba and State Responsibility for Human Rights at Guantanamo, 37 So. Ill. Univ. L.J. 533, 533-36 (2013).  See also Notes on Guantanamo Bay; Wikipedia, Guantanamo Bay Navy Base.

[2] This brief summary of the two wars is based on American President: William McKinley: Foreign Affairs, Miller Center, Univ. Virginia.

[3] Bahia Honda was never used by the U.S. and reverted to Cuban control.

[4] Boadle, Castro: Cuba not cashing US Guantanamo rent checks, Reuters (Aug. 17, 2007); Shiffer, Annual rent for Girmo Naval Base: $4,085, payable to Cuba, StarTribune (Oct. 10, 2014) (contains U.S. transmittal advices for rental checks for 2011, 2012 and 2013).

[5] The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties that entered into force on January 20, 1980, sets forth “the codification and progressive development of the law of treaties,” which are “international agreement[s] concluded between States in written form and governed by international law.” (Preamble & Art. 2(1)(a).) Its Article 62 recognizes a “fundamental change of circumstances” as a ground for “terminating or withdrawing from” a treaty and defines the conditions for such a ground. Cuba is a party to the treaty, and although the U.S. is not, the State Department has said that this Convention “is already generally recognized as the authoritative guide to current treaty law and practice.” (David Weissbrodt, Fionnuala Ni Aolain, Joan Fitzpatrick, Frank Newman, International Human Rights: Law, Policy, and Process at 127-28 (4th ed. LexisNexis 2009).)

[6] The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties notes that “the principles of free consent and of good faith and pacta sunt servanda are universally recognized” and its Article 26 under the heading “Pacta sunt servanda” states, “Every treaty in force is binding upon the parties to it and must be performed by them in good faith.”

[7] The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties in Article 52 provides, “A treaty is void if its conclusion has been procured by the threat or use of force in violation of the principles of international law embodied in the Charter of the United Nations.”

[8] The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties provides in Article 45 that a “State may no longer invoke [breach by the other party or fundamental change of circumstances] if, after becoming aware of the facts: (a) it shall have expressly agreed that the treaty is valid or remains in force or continues in operation . . .; or (b) it must by reason of its conduct be considered as having acquiesced in the validity of the treaty or its maintenance in force or in operation . . . .”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Issues of Cuban Human Rights To Be Discussed by Cuba and United States (Part III)    

On March 26 Cuba announced that the U.S. and Cuba will commence negotiations regarding human rights on March 31 in Washington, D.C.; this was covered in a prior post.

Other earlier posts covered the recent speech on this subject by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla and the U.N. Human Rights Council’s most recent Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Cuba. Now we look at the latest U.S. State Department report on Cuban human rights (the one issued in 2014 for 2013).

Preliminarily it must be noted that this U.S. report is rather stale and it is surprising that a similar report for 2014 has not yet been released. The report for 2013 was released on February 27, 2014, and the overall report was discussed in a March 4, 2014 post and its chapter on Cuba in another March 2014 post.

In addition, a post on March 10, 2014, reviewed the implications of that report for U.S. policy regarding Cuba. This blogger saw the report’s indicating Cuba’s glass of human rights was at least half full. Or as Rev. Raúl Suárez, a Baptist pastor and head of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center in Havana, more eloquently put it in his February 2014 briefing for the U.S. Congress: “Cuba has many problems but Cuba isn’t hell . . . . We have many good things that have been achieved [but] . . . Cuba is not the Kingdom of God.” Suárez added, “God . . . wants us [Cubans and Americans] to live like brothers and sisters.” As a result, this blogger urged reconciliation of the two countries and mentioned many of the actions to that end that started on December 17, 2014.

In any event, here is another summary of the U.S. report on Cuba for 2013. It contains many criticisms of Cuban human rights, but it also has positive comments.

Negative comments.

“Cuba is an authoritarian state led by Raul Castro, who is president of the council of state and council of ministers, Communist Party (CP) first secretary, and commander in chief of security forces. The constitution recognizes the CP as the only legal party and “the superior leading force of society and of the state.” A CP candidacy commission preapproved all candidates for the February uncontested National Assembly elections, which were neither free nor fair. The national leadership that included members of the military maintained effective control over the security forces, which committed human rights abuses against civil rights activists and other citizens alike.”

“The principal human rights abuses were abridgement of the right of citizens to change the government and the use of government threats, extrajudicial physical violence, intimidation, mobs, harassment, and detentions to prevent free expression and peaceful assembly.”

“The following additional abuses continued: harsh prison conditions, arbitrary arrest, selective prosecution, and denial of fair trial. Authorities interfered with privacy, engaging in pervasive monitoring of private communications. The government did not respect freedom of speech and press, severely restricted internet access and maintained a monopoly on media outlets, circumscribed academic freedom, and maintained significant restrictions on the ability of religious groups to meet and worship. The government refused to recognize independent human rights groups or permit them to function legally. In addition, the government continued to prevent workers from forming independent unions and otherwise exercising their labor rights.”

“Most human rights abuses were official acts committed at the direction of the government. Impunity for the perpetrators remained widespread.”

“There were credible reports that members of the security forces intimidated and sometimes physically assaulted human rights and prodemocracy advocates, dissidents, and other detainees and prisoners both during detention and while imprisoned, and they did so with impunity. Some detainees and prisoners endured physical abuse, sometimes by other inmates with the acquiescence of guards, or long periods in isolation cells.”

“Arbitrary arrest and short-term detention continued to be a common method for the government to control independent public expression and political activity. Under the criminal procedure code, police have wide discretion to stop and question citizens, request their identification, and carry out arrests and searches. The law provides that police officials provide suspects with a signed ‘act of detention,’ noting the basis, date, and location of any detention in a police facility, and a registry of personal items seized during a police search. Police officials routinely conducted extrajudicial detentions, however, often accompanied by beatings. Arbitrary stops and searches were most common in urban areas and at government-controlled checkpoints located at the entrances to provinces and municipalities. Searches and seizures of property by police officials without providing any record or legal justification were also common practice.”

“Police and security officials continued to use short-term and sometimes violent detentions to prevent independent political activity or free assembly. Such detentions generally lasted from several hours to several days. An independent domestic monitoring group, the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and Reconciliation (CCDHRN), counted 4,540 short-term detentions through October, compared with 6,602 in 2012. Long-term imprisonment of peaceful opponents, while rare, did not cease entirely. During the year authorities charged, tried, and sentenced several members of the Santiago-based opposition group Union Patriotica de Cuba (UNPACU) to prison for months or years as punishment for their political activity.”

“In addition, the law allows up to a four-year detention of individuals before they commit an actual crime, with a subjective determination of ‘potential dangerousness,’ defined as the ‘special proclivity of a person to commit crimes, demonstrated by conduct in manifest contradiction of socialist norms.’ Mostly used as a tool to control “antisocial” behaviors such as substance abuse or prostitution, authorities also used it to silence peaceful political opponents. Authorities convicted Ivan Fernandez Depestre of dangerousness and sentenced him to three years’ imprisonment for participating in a peaceful public demonstration. While there was no definitive estimate of the number of persons serving sentences for ‘potential dangerousness,’ the CCDHRN estimated that more than 3,000 citizens were held on the charge.”

“The Ministry of Interior exercises control over police, internal security forces, and the prison system. The ministry’s National Revolutionary Police is the country’s primary law enforcement organization and was moderately effective in investigating common crimes. Specialized units of the ministry’s state security branch are responsible for monitoring, infiltrating, and suppressing independent political activity. The police support state security agents by carrying out house searches, arresting persons of interest to the ministry, and providing interrogation facilities.”

“Members of the security forces acted with impunity in committing numerous, serious civil rights and human rights abuses.”

“Many state-orchestrated ‘acts of repudiation’ directed against the domestic opposition group Damas de Blanco (‘Ladies in White‘) were organized to prevent them from meeting or marching peacefully. On July 14, state security agents and affiliated groups assaulted members of the group when they left a church in Matanzas after celebrating Catholic mass, fracturing the wrist of Sonia Alvarez Campillo and breaking the ribs of her husband, Felix Navarro Rodriguez.”

Positive Comments.

The U.S. conceded that the Cuban constitution “prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, disability or social status” and that Cuban law prohibits “ abusive treatment of detainees and prisoners,” “rape, including spousal rape” (and enforces that law); and “threats and violence, including those associated with domestic violence.” Cuban law, says the U.S., also “provides penalties for sexual harassment;” accords “men and women equal rights and responsibilities regarding marriage, divorce, raising children, maintaining the home and pursuing a career;” provides “equal pay for equal work;” grants “persons with disabilities the right to equal employment opportunities and equal pay for equal work;” and prohibits “unlawful imprisonment, coercion, and extortion” although it “does not appear explicitly to prohibit forced labor.”

The U.S. report further states in 2013 that the government had centers “providing family counseling service” and “treatment for child sexual abuse victims;” that the government “actively promoted racial integration and inclusiveness;” that the government or its agents had not committed any reported arbitrary or unlawful killings or politically motivated disappearances; that there were no reported anti-Semitic acts; that there was “no societal pattern of child abuse,” no known “patterns of abuse of [children with disabilities] in educational or mental health facilities” and no discrimination officially reported or permitted based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care.”

Conclusion

It is fair to conclude that many of what the U.S. saw as negative aspects of Cuban human rights in 2013 will be raised in its forthcoming talks on the subject with Cuba.

The U.S. should approach this subject with humility and remember the U.S. immense superiority in economies and military might and the long-standing U.S. actions of hostility towards Cuba, including the following:

  • the U.S. usurpation of Cuba’s war for independence from Spain in the late 19th Century (what we in the U.S. call the “Spanish-American War“);
  • the U.S.’ making Cuba a de facto protectorate in the early 20th Century;
  • the U.S. support for the invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs in 1961;
  • the U.S. threats of military action against Cuba during the pressured Cuban missile crisis of 1962;
  • the CIA’s hatching several plots to assassinate Fidel Castro when he was Cuba’s President;
  • the U.S. conduct of an embargo of Cuba over the last 50-plus years;
  • the U.S. Government’s Commission on Assistance for a Free Cuba setting forth what amounted to a U.S. blueprint for taking over Cuba; and
  • the more recent U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) covert or “discreet” programs to promote dissent, if not regime change, on the island.

This history and the vastly superior U.S. economic and military power provide Cuba with many legitimate reasons to be afraid of the U.S. It, therefore, is understandable why Cuba has harshly treated what we call “dissidents” and what Cuba fears are or could be supporters of a U.S. takeover. And we in the U.S. should know from our own history since 9/11 that societies and governments tend to clamp down on civil liberties when they fear outside interference or attacks.

 

 

U.S. Policy Implications of State Department’s Report on Cuban Human Rights

A prior post reviewed the U.S. State Department’s just-released 2013 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices while another post discussed its chapter on Cuba. Now we look at the implications of that report for U.S. policies regarding Cuba.

Some people assert that the negative aspects of Cuban human rights justify continuing U.S. hostility toward the island. They see the Cuban glass of human rights at least half empty. Notable among them is U.S. Representative Mario Díaz-Balart, a Cuban-American and a Republican Congressman from Miami, who remains a stalwart powerful defender of the embargo and other anti-Cuba policies of the U.S.

Others, including this blogger, reach the opposite conclusion based, in part, on the belief that the Cuban glass of human rights is half full.

Rev. Raul Suarez
Rev. Raul Suarez

As Rev. Raúl Suárez put it at the February 27th briefing for the U.S. Congress, “Cuba has many problems but Cuba isn’t hell . . . . We have many good things that have been achieved [but] . . . Cuba is not the Kingdom of God.” Suárez added, “God . . . wants us [Cubans and Americans] to live like brothers and sisters.”[1]

Indeed, the humility expressed by Rev. Suárez should lead the U.S. to the same conclusion. As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said last month on release of the Human Rights Reports, “from our own nation’s journey, we know that [human rights] is a work in progress. Slavery was written into our Constitution before it was written out. And we know that the struggle for equal rights, for women, for others – for LGBT community and others – is an ongoing struggle.” Secretary Kerry admitted that we  “know that we’re not perfect. We don’t speak with any arrogance whatsoever, but with a concern for the human condition.”

In evaluating Cuba’s mixed human rights record and deciding on U.S. policies regarding that country, that same humility should cause we in the U.S. to remember the U.S. immense superiority in economies and military might and the long-standing U.S. actions of hostility towards Cuba, including the following:

  • the U.S. usurpation of Cuba’s war for independence from Spain in the late 19th Century (what we in the U.S. call the “Spanish-American War“);
  • the U.S.’ making Cuba a de facto U.S. protectorate in the early 20th Century;
  • the U.S. support for the invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs in 1961;
  • the U.S. threats of military action against Cuba during the pressured Cuban missile crisis of 1962;
  • the CIA’s hatching several plots to assassinate Fidel Castro when he was Cuba’s President;
  • the U.S. conduct of an embargo of Cuba over the last 50-plus years; and
  •  the U.S. Government’s Commission on Assistance for a Free Cuba setting forth what amounted to a U.S. blueprint for taking over Cuba.

This history provides Cuba with many legitimate reasons to be afraid of the U.S. It, therefore, is understandable why Cuba has harshly treated what we call “dissidents” and what Cuba fears are or could be supporters of a U.S. takeover.

And we in the U.S. should know from our own history since 9/11 that societies and governments tend to clamp down on civil liberties when they fear outside interference or attacks.

Cuba’s regrettable lapses on human rights, though perhaps understandable in context, should not be a reason for continued U.S. hostility toward the island.

Therefore, as a prior post argued, improving Cuban human rights should be one of many items on an agenda for a comprehensive, mutually respectful negotiation between the two countries. The objectives of such a negotiation, in my opinion, should be restoration of full diplomatic relations; ending the U.S. embargo against Cuba;[2] terminating the unjustified U.S. designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism;” [3] terminating the one-sided U.S. lease of Guantanamo Bay; and compensating owners for expropriation of property on the island as part of the Cuban Revolution.[4]

Such a negotiation, in my opinion, is in the interest of the U.S. Cuba poses no threat to the U.S. Our businesses and farmers would benefit economically from open relations with Cuba. Normalizing our relations with the island would be seen by most people in the world, especially Latin America, as a sign that the U.S. is a mature, rational country.

These thoughts were echoed by the Cuban religious leaders who held a U.S. congressional briefing on February 27th. Joined by the President and CEO of Church World Service, [5] they reaffirmed their long-held opposition to the U.S. embargo of Cuba.

They also called “for the U.S. government to end the ban that prevents U.S. citizens from visiting Cuba and seeing the island for themselves; to take Cuba off the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism . . . ; and for the American government to open up trade and commerce in ways that support the small enterprises, cooperatives, and non-profits that are emerging on the island. Finally, the U.S. and Cuban governments ought to open a high level dialogue between our countries to normalize relations and discuss differences in ways that honor and respect the dignity of both nations.”

Before the commencement of such complicated negotiations, the U.S. President should commute the sentences of three of the Cuban Five to the 15-plus years they already have spent in U.S. jails and prisons and let them return to their home country. Similarly Cuba should commute the sentence of U.S. citizen Alan Gross to the time he already has spent in Cuban prison and allow him to return to the U.S.

Given the long period of hostility between the two countries and the apparent lack of movement toward negotiations, I believe that the assistance of a neutral third-party mediator would be helpful to both countries. Such a mediator, in my opinion, should be someone who is bilingual in English and Spanish with experience as an international mediator, who is in fact and perceived to be neutral and who has the time (and staff?) to make a major commitment to this process.

Such a mediator indeed could and should step forward and invite representatives of both countries to participate in mediated negotiations, rather than wait on them to agree on such a process.

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[1] Suárez is a Baptist pastor and the founder and director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center in Havana. When I visited the Center in 2007, Rev. Suárez told our group that he had founded the Center because he thought King’s philosophy of non-violence and social justice was relevant to Cuba, especially to Afro-Cubans. He also said that in 1984 he and other religious leaders met with then President Fidel Castro to protest the government’s endorsement of atheism (or scientific materialism) as limiting the space for churches, and after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, Cuba abandoned that endorsement and provided more space for churches to participate in issues facing the island.

[2] Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter also call for ending the U.S. embargo. So too does world opinion as evidenced by the U.N. General Assembly’s passing resolutions condemning the embargo for the last 22 years. The last such resolution in October 2013 was passed 188 to 2 with only the U.S. and Israel voting against it.  A prior post to this blog also has argued for ending the embargo and summarized the 2011 General Assembly resolution against the embargo.

[3] This blog has reviewed the State Department’s asserted rationale for the “State Sponsor of Terrorism” designation and called it ridiculous for 2010, 2011 and 2012 and absurd for 2013. This blog also noted Cuba’s adoption of legislation against money laundering and terrorism financing and thereby negating one of the purported reasons for the designation.

[4] In a letter to President Obama that was reproduced in this blog, I called for the U.S. to terminate the Guantanamo Bay lease and for Cuba to compensate property owners for expropriating their property. A comprehensive review of this lease is found in Michael J. Strauss’ The Leasing of Guantanamo Bay.

[5] Church World Service was founded in 1946 with this mission: “Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, comfort the aged, shelter the homeless.” It now has 37 Protestant member communions all over the world.