Additional Information About U.S. Reactions to the U.S.-Cuba Restoration of Diplomatic Relations

Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, published an article regarding U.S. reactions to the restoration of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba.[1]

It reported positive reactions from Democratic Senators Patrick Leahy, Chris Murphy, and Ben Cardin and from Republican Senator Jeff Flake and Republican Representative Bradley Byrne.

Others expressing support were Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State and current candidate for president in 2016, and Wayne Smith, a former head of the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba.

Opposition, Granma reported, came from Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz; Republican Representatives John Boehner and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen; and Republican presidential candidate, Jeb Bush.

The article also included a reference to a public opinion survey taken May 27-June 17, 2015, by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs that showed that “Americans favor lifting the trade embargo on Cuba and believe the proposed changes in U.S.-Cuba relations will have mutual benefits.” More specifically, the survey demonstrated the following:

  • “Two in three Americans (67 percent) support the United States ending the trade embargo with Cuba.”
  • “Support for ending the embargo is bipartisan, with majorities of Democrats (79 percent), Republicans (59 percent) and Independents (63 percent) all in favor of lifting the ban on U.S. trade with Cuba.”
  • “A majority of Americans are very or somewhat confident that the proposed changes in U.S.-Cuba relations will have benefits for both countries. Majorities of Americans say the changes will help the Cuban economy (70 percent), help U.S. businesses (62 percent), improve living standards in Cuba (60 percent), improve the image of the United States in the world (57 percent), improve human rights in Cuba (54 percent) and improve political freedoms in Cuba (53 percent).”
  • “Majorities of all partisan groups are very or somewhat confident that the proposed changes in U.S.-Cuba relations will help the Cuban economy (78 percent of Democrats, 65 percent of Republicans, 70 percent of Independents).”
  • “Otherwise, Democrats and Independents are more confident than Republicans in the benefits. Majorities of both Democrats and Independents are confident that the changes will help U.S. businesses (75 percent of Democrats, 61 percent of Independents) and improve Cuban standards of living (71 percent of Democrats, 59 percent of Independents), while Republicans are divided (50 percent each). Democrats are also more confident than Republicans that the proposed changes in U.S.-Cuba relations will improve the image of the United States in the world (74 percent of Democrats, 45 percent of Republicans, 52 percent of Independents), improve human rights in Cuba (68 percent of Democrats, 38 percent of Republicans, 55 percent of Independents) and improve political freedoms in Cuba (65 percent of Democrats, 39 percent of Republicans, 53 percent of Independents).”

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[1] Positive reaction to reestablishment of diplomatic relations dominates within the U.S., Granma (July 2, 2015); Chicago Council on Global Affairs, As U.S., Cuba Make Embassy Announcements, Chicago Council Survey Shows Americans Support Ending Cuba Trade Embargo (July 1, 2015).

 

White House Press Secretary and Senate Majority Leader Offer Conflicting Comments About U.S.-Cuba Relations

Josh Earnest
Josh Earnest

On the afternoon of July 1, 2015, Josh Earnest, White House Press Secretary, held a press gaggle (an informal on-the-record briefing) en route to Nashville, Tennessee that involved many comments about U.S.-Cuba relations. The next day the U.S. Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, addressed the same subject with conflicting comments. [1]

White House Press Secretary

1. Congressional Repeal of the Embargo Against Cuba

With respect to prospects for congressional repeal of the U.S. embargo of Cuba, Earnest said, “I haven’t done any whip counts, but I do think that there is, at minimum, strong . . . bipartisan support in the [U.S.] Congress for lifting the embargo on Cuba.  This is a policy that the President is encouraging Congress to pursue, and I think it’s worth noting how misplaced the opposition to doing so is.”

“We actually see, based on publicly available data about the preferences and views of the Cuban people, that the overwhelming majority of them strongly support normalizing relations with the [U.S.] and deepening their engagement with the [U.S.]  And that takes a variety of forms.  That’s everything from establishing an embassy there, which we’ve obviously taken steps to do, but it involves expanded commerce between our two countries; it involves more Americans traveling to Cuba; and it involves Cubans having more access to information.”

“This is something that the Cuban people are hungry for.  And so all of those who claim to have the interests of the Cuban people at heart should be strongly supportive of a policy that the President has implemented that we know that the Cuban people overwhelmingly support.”

2.Conditions for U.S. Diplomats Travel in Cuba

After deferring to the State Department for details on the agreed-upon conditions for U.S. diplomats traveling in Cuba, Earnest did say, “We believe that sufficient progress was made in resolving some of those concerns to move forward with the opening of the [U.S.] embassy in Cuba.”

3. Response to Critics of Restoring Diplomatic Relations

With respect to critics of the restoration of diplomatic relations, Earnest said Senator Robert Menendez’s was wrong when he stated “that democracy and human rights take a backseat to a legacy initiative. . . .  The fact is the President has been very clear since mid-December when this was originally announced about what the goal of this policy change actually is.”

“For more than 50 years, the U.S. policy toward Cuba was an effort to isolate Cuba in the hopes that that isolation would bring about better protections for human rights, for basic personal liberties related to freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech.  But yet, we saw very little change over the last [50-plus] years.  And the President believed it was time for us to consider a new approach, and to try a new strategy for bringing about the kind of change that we would like to see in Cuba.”

“[T]hose who are concerned about ensuring that the rights and preferences of the Cuban people are protected and even advanced should be strongly supportive of the President’s policy, because the Cuban people are strongly supportive of the President’s policy. . . .  Every available shred of evidence indicates that the overwhelming majority of the Cuban people actually do support this policy change and that the vast majority of the Cuban people actually do believe that it will allow their ambitions to be realized, and that by having greater engagement with the American people, having greater access to the U.S. government, having greater access to publicly available information — this is what the Cuban people believe is in their best interest.”

“The President believes that this also happens to be a policy that has important benefits for the [U.S.].  There are important economic opportunities for U.S. businesses on the island nation of Cuba.  We have seen that the change in our policy toward Cuba has strengthened our relations with other countries in the Western Hemisphere.  For a long time, we saw that the U.S. policy of isolation toward Cuba was actually an impediment to our ability to build strong relations with other nations in the Western Hemisphere, and we’ve actually seen that by removing that impediment, we’ve been able to deepen our ties with other countries in the Western Hemisphere and, as a consequence, actually increase international attention on the failures of the Cuban government to protect the basic human rights of the Cuban people.”

“The President believes strongly that this approach is clearly within the best interest of the United States, but also in the best interest of the Cuban people in allowing them to achieve their ambition of having a country that is integrated, that is free, where they can freely express their political views.”

4. Appointment of U.S. Ambassador to Cuba

“We haven’t laid out a timeline yet for when an announcement of an ambassadorial nomination would be made.  But obviously that would be another step in normalizing our relations with Cuba, would be to appoint an ambassador to lead the U.S. Embassy in Havana…. I’m confident that will be a venue for robust debate about how the policy changes that the President announced back in December aren’t just clearly in the best interests of the American people, they’re clearly in the best interests of the Cuban people, as well.”

“For obvious reasons, it would be our strong preference that once an ambassador has been nominated, for that individual to be treated fairly by the [U.S.] Senate and confirmed in bipartisan fashion so that they can represent the interests of the United States on the island nation of Cuba.”

Senate Majority Leader

Senator Mitch McConnell
Senator Mitch McConnell

On July 2, U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell (Rep., KY), the Senate Majority Leader, gave a speech to a local chamber of commerce in his home state of Kentucky in which he made negative comments about President Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba and promised Senate resistance to that policy.

He called Cuba “a thuggish regime” that is “a haven for criminals” fleeing prosecution in the United States. “I’m having a hard time figuring out what we got out of this, you know? You would think that the normalization of relations with Cuba would be accompanied by some modification of their behavior. I don’t see any evidence at all that they are going to change their behavior. So I doubt if we’ll confirm an ambassador, they probably don’t need one.”

Moreover, McConnell noted that many of the restrictions placed on Cuba would require congressional legislation, “and we’re going to resist that.”

His negative views were echoed by some of his fellow Republican Senators, especially Cuban-Americans Marco Rubio (FL) and Ted Cruz (Tex.), by John Boehner (Rep., OH), the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and by Republican presidential candidates, especially Jeb Bush.

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[1] This post is based upon White House, Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Josh Earnest en route Nashville, TN, 7/1/15; Fran, Top Republican doubts Senate will confirm ambassador to Cuba, Wash. Post (July 2, 2015); Carney, Cruz: Cuba embassy a ‘slap in the face’ to Israel, The Hill (July 1, 2015).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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