President Obama Issues Presidential Policy Directive—United States-Cuba Normalization        

On October 14, U.S. President Barack Obama issued a “Presidential Policy Directive on U.S.-Cuba Normalization,” which is a document that promulgates presidential decisions on national security matters.[1] This post will set forth the entire Directive, and a subsequent post will comment on various aspects of the Directive.

This Directive: (1) describes the U.S. vision for normalization with Cuba and how our policy aligns with U.S. national security interests; (2) assesses progress toward normalization; (3) describes the current and foreseen strategic landscape; (4) describes priority objectives for normalization; and (5) directs actions required to implement this PPD.

“Vision for U.S.-Cuba Normalization”

 President Obama’s “vision for U.S.-Cuba normalization reflects [his] Administration’s support for broad-based economic growth, stability, increased people-to-people ties, and respect for human rights and democratic values in the region. In the long-term, the United States seeks the following end-states:”

“1. Enhanced security of the United States and U.S. citizens at home and abroad. We seek to ensure U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba are safe and secure and the [U.S.] is protected from: those seeking to exploit increased connectivity for illicit ends, irregular migration, and natural or man-made hazards. Our policy advances bilateral cooperation in areas of mutual interest, including diplomatic, agricultural, public health, and environmental matters, as well as disaster preparedness and response, law enforcement, migration, and other security and defense topics. Our policy also supports increased cooperation with Cuba on regional initiatives on behalf of these interests.”

“2. A prosperous, stable Cuba that offers economic opportunities to its people. Increased travel and economic interconnectedness supports improved livelihoods for the Cuban people, deeper economic engagement between our two countries, as well as the development of a private sector that provides greater economic opportunities for the Cuban people. Efforts by the Cuban authorities to liberalize economic policy would aid these goals and further enable broader engagement with different sectors of the Cuban economy. United States policy helps U.S. businesses gain access to Cuban markets and encourages the sustainable growth of the Cuban economy. The U.S. private sector, scientific and medical researchers, agriculture industry, foundations, and other groups have new avenues for collaboration that can provide opportunities for Cuban entrepreneurs, scientists, farmers, and other professionals. At the same time, increased access to the internet is boosting Cubans’ connectivity to the wider world and expanding the ability of the Cuban people, especially youth, to exchange information and ideas. The [U.S.] is prepared to support Cuban government policies that promote social equality and independent economic activity.”

“3. Increased respect for individual rights in Cuba. Even as we pursue normalization, we recognize we will continue to have differences with the Cuban government. We will continue to speak out in support of human rights, including the rights to freedoms of expression, religion, association, and peaceful assembly as we do around the world. Our policy is designed to support Cubans’ ability to exercise their universal human rights and fundamental freedoms, with the expectation that greater commerce will give a broader segment of the Cuban people the information and resources they need to achieve a prosperous and sustainable future. In pursuit of these objectives, we are not seeking to impose regime change on Cuba; we are, instead, promoting values that we support around the world while respecting that it is up to the Cuban people to make their own choices about their future.”

“4. Integration of Cuba into international and regional systems. We seek Cuban government participation in regional and international fora, including but not limited to, those related to the Organization of American States (OAS) and Summit of the Americas to advance mutually held member objectives. We believe that a Cuba that subscribes to the purposes and standards of such fora will benefit, over time, from bringing its domestic economic and political practices in line with international norms and globally accepted standards. Our policy strengthens the U.S. position in international systems by removing an irritant from our relationships with our allies and partners and gaining support for a rules-based order.”

“Progress Toward U.S.-Cuba Normalization”

“Since the [U.S.] announced on December 17, 2014, that it would chart a new course with Cuba, we have re-established diplomatic relations and have made progress toward the normalization of our bilateral relationship. We opened our respective embassies, six U.S. cabinet secretaries visited Havana, four Cuban ministers visited the United States, and I became the first sitting U.S. President to visit Cuba since 1928. We established a Bilateral Commission to prioritize areas of engagement, and we concluded non-binding arrangements on environmental protection, marine sanctuaries, public health and biomedical research, agriculture, counternarcotics, trade and travel security, civil aviation, direct transportation of mail, and hydrography. We launched dialogues or discussions on law enforcement cooperation, regulatory issues, economic issues, claims, and internet and telecommunications policy.”

“Given Cuba’s proximity to the United States, increased engagement by U.S. citizens, companies, and the nongovernmental sector holds extraordinary promise for supporting our national interests. Bearing in mind the limits imposed by the Cuban Liberty and Democratic (LIBERTAD) Solidarity Act of 1996 (“Libertad Act”) and other relevant statutes, the Departments of the Treasury and Commerce implemented six packages of regulatory amendments to the Cuba sanctions program, easing restrictions on travel, trade, and financial transactions. [U.S.] individuals, firms, and nongovernmental organizations are availing themselves of these regulatory changes to visit Cuba, and authorized travel to Cuba increased by more than 75 percent from 2014 to 2015. Future U.S. citizen travel will be supported by scheduled air service, which began in August 2016, and the first U.S. cruise liner visited Cuban ports in May 2016. We also commenced direct transportation of mail between our two countries, and U.S. telecommunications firms established direct voice and roaming agreements with Cuba. For its part, the Cuban government has continued to pursue incremental economic reforms and launched more than 100 public Wi-Fi hotspots across the island.”

“These developments lay the foundation for long-term engagement with Cuba that advances U.S. interests. But we have a great deal more to do to build on that foundation based on a realistic assessment of the strategic landscape surrounding normalization.”

“Strategic Landscape”

“Cuba is experiencing several transitions in areas such as leadership, the economy, technological development, civil society, and regional and global integration. Cuba’s leaders recognize the need to transition to the next generation, but they prioritize gradual, incremental changes to ensure stability.”

“Cuba has important economic potential rooted in the dynamism of its people, as well as a sustained commitment in areas like education and health care. Yet the Cuban government faces significant economic challenges, including eliminating its dual-exchange-rate system, making its state-run enterprises more efficient and transparent, developing a financial system that provides expanded services to individuals and the private sector, and reducing its reliance on foreign subsidies. Cuba remains highly dependent on food and energy imports, yet must cope with limited sources of hard currency to pay for import needs. Significant emigration of working-age Cubans further exacerbates Cuba’s demographic problem of a rapidly aging population.”

“A series of statutes limits U.S. economic engagement with Cuba, precluding a complete lifting of restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba, prohibiting United States Government export assistance and the provision of U.S. credit for Cuban purchases of agricultural commodities, and requiring that the embargo not be suspended or terminated unless the President determines that a transition or democratically elected government has come to power in Cuba.”

“Due to Cuba’s legal, political, and regulatory constraints, its economy is not generating adequate foreign exchange to purchase U.S. exports that could flow from the easing of the embargo. Even if the U.S. Congress were to lift the embargo, Cubans would not realize their potential without continued economic reform in Cuba. Cuban government regulations and opaque procurement practices hamper transactions with U.S. companies that would be permitted under U.S. law.”

“Normalization efforts have raised Cubans’ expectations for greater economic opportunities. With an estimated 1 in 4 working Cubans engaged in entrepreneurship, a dynamic, independent private sector is emerging. Expansion of the private sector has increased resources for individual Cubans and created nascent openings for Cuban entrepreneurs to engage with U.S. firms and nongovernmental organizations. We take note of the Cuban government’s limited, but meaningful steps to expand legal protections and opportunities for small- and medium-sized businesses, which, if expanded and sustained, will improve the investment climate.”

“Cuba is not a member of international financial institutions (IFIs), such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank, which could provide expertise and potentially finance economic reforms and viable investment projects.”

“Although Cuba has reached agreement with several creditor nations on bilateral debt relief through restructuring and forgiveness, it remains in default to the United States Government on pre-Cuban revolution bilateral debts and does not participate in international capital markets. Cuba and the United States are both members of the World Trade Organization (WTO); however, neither country applies the agreement to the other because of the U.S. embargo toward Cuba.”

“Rapprochement has enabled us to increase our engagement with Cuba on regional issues such as the Colombia peace process and healthcare in Haiti, and has undermined an historic rallying point for regimes critical of the [U.S.]. Although Cuba has expressed no interest in participating in the OAS, it did attend the Summit of the Americas in 2015. We also welcome engagement between Cuba and other U.S. allies from around the world, including our European and Asian treaty allies. At the same time, we recognize that Cuba and the [U.S.] will continue to have differences on many regional and global issues.”

“U.S. engagement with the Cuban government will also be constrained by Cuba’s continued repression of civil and political liberties. We anticipate the Cuban government will continue to object to U.S. migration policies and operations, democracy programs, Radio and TV Marti, the U.S. presence at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, and the embargo. The [U.S.] Government has no intention to alter the existing lease treaty and other arrangements related to the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, which enables the [U.S.] to enhance and preserve regional security.”

“In this strategic environment, the policies and actions the [U.S.] pursues to advance our vision for U.S.-Cuba normalization will significantly shape the future of bilateral and regional relations, as well as our shared security and prosperity.”

“U.S. Objectives for the Medium-Term U.S.-Cuba Relationship”

“To advance the four end-state goals associated with our strategic vision for U.S.-Cuba normalization, the [U.S.] will move concurrently on the following six priority objectives:

1. Government-to-Government Interaction

“We will continue high-level and technical engagement in areas of mutual interest, including agriculture, the economy and small businesses, transportation, science and technology, environment, climate, health, law enforcement, migration, national security, disaster preparedness and response, and counterterrorism. Through the Bilateral Commission, we will identify and prioritize areas of collaboration and engagement that advance our end-state goals. Stronger diplomatic ties will enable constructive engagement on bilateral differences, including our democracy and broadcasting programs, while protecting our interests and assets, such as the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station. We will utilize engagement to urge Cuba to make demonstrable progress on human rights and religious freedom. As the [U.S.] and Cuban governments build trust through more frequent engagement, we will increasingly conduct working-level interactions between Cuban ministries and U.S. agencies and departments that lessen the need for high-level conversations on routine matters. Given the lack of diplomatic relations over the past several decades, we will seek broad engagement across the Cuban government, including ministries and local officials. When appropriate and legally available, we will engage with Cuba to normalize trade relations fully.”

“2. Engagement and Connectivity

“The [U.S.] will continue to encourage people-to-people linkages through government and privately sponsored exchanges, including those involving educational, cultural, business, science, environment, technology, and sports. As permitted by law, we will continue to support the development of scheduled and chartered air service and maritime links, including ferries. An ongoing partnership with the Cuban-American community is of particular importance given Cuban-Americans’ strong family and socio-cultural ties, as well as their natural role as citizen-ambassadors. We will facilitate opportunities for Cuban-Americans to rebuild and create new bonds with family to support reconciliation. To facilitate Cuba’s goal of increasing its internet access from 5 percent to 50 percent of the population by 2020, we will seek the establishment of a bilateral working group to expand internet connectivity. We will seek opportunities that enable U.S. foundations and universities to establish linkages with Cuba.”

3. Expanded Commerce

“The [U.S.] Government will seek to expand opportunities for U.S. companies to engage with Cuba. The embargo is outdated and should be lifted. My Administration has repeatedly called upon the Congress to lift the embargo, and we will continue to work toward that goal. While the embargo remains in place, our role will be to pursue policies that enable authorized U.S. private sector engagement with Cuba’s emerging private sector and with state-owned enterprises that provide goods and services to the Cuban people. Law enforcement cooperation will ensure that authorized commerce and authorized travelers move rapidly between the [U.S.] and Cuba. Although we recognize the priority given to state-owned enterprises in the Cuban model, we seek to encourage reforms that align these entities with international norms, especially transparency.”

“[U.S.] regulatory changes have created space for the Cuban government to introduce comparable changes. In tandem with the Department of the Treasury’s regulatory change to expand Cuba’s access to the U.S. financial system and U.S. dollar transit accounts, the Cuban government announced in early 2016 plans to eliminate the 10 percent penalty on U.S. dollar conversion transactions, subject to improved access to the international banking system. We will sustain private and public efforts to explain our regulatory changes to U.S. firms and banks, Cuban entrepreneurs, and the Cuban government.”

4. Economic Reform

“While the Cuban government pursues its economic goals based on its national priorities, we will utilize our expanded cooperation to support further economic reforms by the Cuban government. Recent exchanges among financial service institutions and regulators have provided greater mutual understanding of our respective financial systems and economic priorities. We will undertake government-to-government dialogues to discuss options for macro- and microeconomic reform, with the goal of connecting the changes in U.S. policy with Cuban reforms in a manner that creates opportunity for U.S. firms and the Cuban people.”

“If and when the Congress lifts the embargo, my Administration will engage with the Congress and stakeholders on preparatory commercial and economic exchanges and dialogues. My Administration would then similarly engage the Congress on the substance and timing of a new bilateral commercial agreement to address remaining statutory trade requirements.”

5. Respect for Universal Human Rights, Fundamental Freedoms, and Democratic Values

We will not pursue regime change in Cuba. We will continue to make clear that the [U.S.] cannot impose a different model on Cuba because the future of Cuba is up to the Cuban people. We seek greater Cuban government respect for universal human rights and fundamental freedoms for every individual. Progress in this area will have a positive impact on the other objectives. We will encourage the Cuban government to respect human rights; support Cuba’s emerging, broad-based civil society; and encourage partners and nongovernmental actors to join us in advocating for reforms. While remaining committed to supporting democratic activists as we do around the world, we will also engage community leaders, bloggers, activists, and other social issue leaders who can contribute to Cuba’s internal dialogue on civic participation. We will continue to pursue engagements with civil society through the U.S. Embassy in Havana and during official [U.S.] Government visits to Cuba. We will seek to institutionalize a regular human rights dialogue with the Cuban government to advance progress on human rights. We will pursue democracy programming that is transparent and consistent with programming in other similarly situated societies around the world. We will utilize our increased ability to engage regional partners, both bilaterally and through regional bodies, to encourage respect for human rights in Cuba. We will consult with nongovernmental actors such as the Catholic Church and other religious institutions. Finally, we will work with the European Union and likeminded international organizations and countries to encourage the Cuban government to respect universal values.”

6. Cuban Integration into International and Regional Systems

“We will expand dialogue with Cuba in the organizations in which it already holds membership, such as the WTO and the World Customs Organization (WCO), and we will encourage Cuba to move toward rules-based engagement, subject to statutory requirements. We will encourage Cuba to bring its legal framework, particularly its commercial law, in line with international standards. We will encourage Cuba to meet WCO standards for supply chain security. To the extent permitted by and consistent with applicable law, we will facilitate integration into international bodies, including through the use of technical assistance programs. We will pursue cooperation with Cuba on regional and global issues (e.g., combating the Ebola outbreak and the Colombia peace process). Ending the embargo and satisfying other statutory requirements relating to trade will allow the [U.S.] to normalize trade relations with Cuba.”

“Policy Implementation”

1. Roles and Responsibilities

“To facilitate the effective implementation of this directive, departments and agencies will have the following roles and responsibilities, consistent with the relevant legal authorities and limits:”

The National Security Council (NSC) staff will provide ongoing policy coordination and oversight of the implementation of this PPD and the overall Cuba strategy as necessary.”

The Department of State will continue to be responsible for formulation of U.S. policy toward and coordination of relations with Cuba. This includes supporting the operations of Embassy Havana and ensuring it has adequate resources and staffing. Other responsibilities include the issuance of nonimmigrant and immigrant visas, refugee processing, promotion of educational and cultural exchanges, coordination of democracy programs, and political and economic reporting. State will continue to lead the U.S.-Cuba Bilateral Commission and coordinate a number of dialogues, such as the Law Enforcement Dialogue, annual migration talks, and meetings to resolve outstanding claims.”

“State will continue to co-lead efforts with the U.S. Agency for International Development to ensure democracy programming is transparent and consistent with programming in other similarly situated societies. State will coordinate efforts to advance science and technology cooperation with Cuba. State will support telecommunications and internet access growth in Cuba and provide foreign policy guidance to the Departments of Commerce and the Treasury on certain exports, financial transactions, and other license applications.”

The U.S. Mission to the United Nations (USUN), in coordination with State, will oversee multilateral issues involving Cuba at the [U.N.]. USUN will identify areas of possible collaboration with Cuba that could help foster a more collaborative relationship between the [U.S.] and Cuba at the [U.N.[. The USUN will also participate in discussions regarding the annual Cuban embargo resolution at the [U.N.], as our bilateral relationship continues to develop in a positive trajectory.”

The Department of the Treasury is responsible for implementation of the economic embargo restrictions and licensing policies. The Treasury will continue its outreach to help the public, businesses, and financial institutions understand the regulatory changes. The Treasury will continue to review and respond to public questions and feedback on regulations and public guidance that could be further clarified and to discuss with State any novel license requests that the Treasury receives from the public to determine whether such requests are consistent with the regulatory changes and existing law. The Treasury will make use of available channels for bilateral dialogue to understand Cuba’s economic and financial system and encourage reforms and will continue to engage in dialogue with the Cuban government about our regulatory changes.”

The Department of Commerce will continue to support the development of the Cuban private sector, entrepreneurship, commercial law development, and intellectual property rights as well as environmental protection and storm prediction. If statutory restrictions are lifted, Commerce will promote increased trade with Cuba by providing export assistance to U.S. companies. In the meantime, Commerce will continue a robust outreach effort to ensure that U.S. companies understand that U.S. regulatory changes provide new opportunities to obtain licenses or use license exceptions to increase authorized exports to Cuba, including to Cuban state-owned enterprises that provide goods and services to meet the needs of the Cuban people. Additionally, Commerce will continue to engage in dialogue with the Cuban government about our regulatory changes, as well as the need for simplification of the Cuban import process, transparency in Cuban business regulations, and other steps that will lead to full realization of the benefits of our regulatory changes.”

The Department of Defense (DOD) will continue to take steps to expand the defense relationship with Cuba where it will advance U.S. interests, with an initial focus on humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and counternarcotics in the Caribbean. The DOD will support Cuba’s inclusion in the inter-American defense system and regional security and defense conferences, which will give Cuba a stake in hemispheric stability. The DOD will continue to make contingency preparations and support the capacity of the Department of Homeland Security and State to address mass migration and maritime migration issues pursuant to Executive Orders 12807 and 13276 and consistent with other applicable interagency guidance and strategy.”

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will engage, together with the Department of Justice, with the Cuban government to combat terrorism and transnational organized crime. In support of U.S. security and foreign policy objectives, DHS will develop protocols for investigative cooperation with Cuba in coordination with other departments and agencies. The DHS will strengthen the security and efficiency of cross-border supply chains and travel systems in support of people-to-people engagement and authorized U.S. trade with the Cuban private sector. The DHS will safeguard the integrity of the U.S. immigration system, to include the facilitation of lawful immigration and ensure protection of refugees. The Secretary of Homeland Security, the United States Government lead for a maritime migration or mass migration, with support from the Secretaries of State and Defense, will address a maritime migration or mass migration pursuant to Executive Orders 12807 and 13276 and consistent with applicable interagency guidance and strategy.”

The Department of Justice (DOJ) will engage, together with DHS, with the Cuban government to combat terrorism and transnational organized crime. The DOJ will work with Cuba to expand security and law enforcement cooperation, increase information sharing, and share best practices with Cuban counterparts. This work will build upon, and strengthen, current law enforcement cooperation with Cuba under the umbrella of the U.S.-Cuba Law Enforcement Dialogue and its various working groups, which focus on counterterrorism, counternarcotics, cybercrime, human trafficking, and other areas of criminal activity.”

The Small Business Administration (SBA) will continue to engage with the Cuban government, entrepreneurs, small businesses, and cooperative enterprises. The SBA will support exchanges with the Cuban government in areas of mutual interest, particularly on formalization of small businesses and to spur the growth of new enterprises.”

The Office of the United States Trade Representative will provide trade policy coordination in international fora and, consistent with statutory requirements and restrictions, prepare for negotiations to normalize and expand U.S.-Cuba trade.”

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) will work to increase U.S. food and agricultural exports to Cuba by building market opportunities, improving the competitive position of U.S. agriculture, and building Cuba’s food security and agricultural capacity, while protecting plant, animal, and human health. USDA will work with the Government of Cuba to advance cooperation outlined in the U.S.-Cuba agricultural memorandum of understanding signed in March 2016. The USDA will build the U.S.-Cuba trade and development relationship to the extent permitted by and consistent with applicable law.”

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in accordance with the June 2016 memorandum of understanding between HHS and the Ministry of Public Health of the Republic of Cuba, will collaborate with Cuban counterparts in the areas of public health, research, and biomedical sciences, including collaboration to confront the Zika virus, dengue, chikungunya, and other arboviruses. The HHS will promote joint work, such as development of vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics; partner with Cuba to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease outbreaks; collaborate in the field of cancer control, treatment programs, and joint research; and exchange best practices related to access to healthcare.”

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) will coordinate with departments and agencies the [U.S.] Government’s response to unplanned environmental occurrences, such as natural or manmade disasters. The USAID will co-lead efforts with State to ensure that democracy programming is transparent and consistent with programming in other similarly situated societies.”

The Department of Transportation (DOT) will continue to develop air and surface transportation links between the [U.S.] and Cuba in support of transportation providers, authorized travelers, and commerce, while providing required regulatory and safety oversight of transportation providers and systems.”

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) will support broader [U.S.] Government efforts to normalize relations with Cuba, with Intelligence Community elements working to find opportunities for engagement on areas of common interest through which we could exchange information on mutual threats with Cuban counterparts.”

The Department of the Interior (DOI) will continue cooperation with Cuba on marine protected areas and continue to engage Cuban counterparts to finalize arrangements on wildlife conservation, terrestrial national protected areas, and seismic records.”

2. Congressional Outreach

Strong support in the Congress for U.S.-Cuba normalization would contribute to the speed and success of the aforementioned goals, particularly with respect to the embargo and adequate embassy staffing. We will seek to build support in the Congress to lift the embargo and other statutory constraints to enable expanded travel and commerce with Cuba and accelerate normalization. We will regularly engage with Members of Congress and staff on challenges and opportunities in Cuba, advocate for [U.S.] Government policies and sufficient staff and resources to implement the aforementioned goals and policy priorities, and encourage and facilitate congressional travel to the region.”

3. Monitoring and Oversight

“The Interagency Policy Committee (IPC), or its future equivalent, will have primary responsibility for coordinating and overseeing the implementation of this policy. The NSC staff will convene regular IPC and Deputies Committee meetings as necessary to monitor implementation and resolve obstacles to progress. The following departments and agencies will designate senior individuals responsible for managing policy implementation in their agency: State, the Treasury, Commerce, DOD (Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff), DHS, DOJ, USDA, HHS, DOT, USUN, the Office of the United States Trade Representative, USAID, SBA, and DNI.”

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[1] White House, Presidential Policy Directive—United States-Cuba Normalization (Oct. 14, 2016).

Joint Press Conference of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Cuba Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez  

On the morning of July 20, 2015, Cuba officially opened its Embassy in Washington, D.C., and the United States did likewise in Havana although the ceremonial opening of the latter will be on August 14 when Secretary of State John Kerry goes to Havana to preside that event. A prior post discussed the ceremonial opening of the Cuban Embassy. This post covers that afternoon’s joint press conference at the U.S. Department of State by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.[1] Subsequent posts will review comments about U.S.-Cuba relations offered by the White House Press Secretary at a July 20 press conference and the reactions to these events.

Bruno Rodriguez & John Kerry @ U.S. State Department
Bruno Rodriguez & John Kerry @ U.S. State Department

Secretary Kerry’s Opening Statement

The conference was opened by Kerry, saying it was “an historic day; a day for removing barriers.” This day was welcomed by the U.S. as a “new beginning in its relationship with the people and the Government of Cuba. We are determined to live as good neighbors on the basis of mutual respect, and we want all of our citizens – in the U.S. and in Cuba – to look into the future with hope. Therefore we celebrate this day . . . because today we begin to repair what was damaged and to open what has been closed for many years.”

His prior discussion with Minister Rodriguez, Kerry said, “touched on a wide range of issues of mutual concern including cooperation on law enforcement, counter-narcotics, telecommunications, the internet, environmental issues, human rights, including trafficking in persons. And of course, we also discussed the opening of our embassies.”

This milestone, however, Kerry added, “does not signify an end to differences that still separate our governments, but it does reflect the reality that the Cold War ended long ago, and that the interests of both countries are better served by engagement than by estrangement, and that we have begun a process of full normalization that is sure to take time but will also benefit people in both Cuba and the United States.” Indeed, “the process of fully normalizing relations between the United States and Cuba will go on. It may be long and complex. But along the way, we are sure to encounter a bump here and there and moments even of frustration. Patience will be required. But that is all the more reason to get started now on this journey, this long overdue journey.”

Foreign Minister Rodriguez’s Opening Statement

Rodriguez opened in English by saying he had “a constructive and respectful meeting with [the] Secretary . . . [and] an exchange on the issues discussed by Presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama during their historical encounter at the Summit of the Americas in Panama, the current status of the bilateral relations, and the progress achieved since the announcements of December 17th, 2014, including Cuba’s removal from the list of state sponsors of terrorism and the expansion of official exchanges on issues of common interest, and the re-establishment of diplomatic relations and the reopening of embassies.”

The Cuban people and government recognize “President Obama for his determination to work for the lifting of the blockade, for urging Congress to eliminate it, and for his willingness to adopt executive measures that modify the implementation of some aspects of this policy. Their scope is still limited, but these are steps taken in the right direction.”

Cuba also “emphasized that, in the meantime, the President of the [U.S.] can continue using his executive powers to make a significant contribution to the dismantling of the blockade, not to pursue changes in Cuba, something that falls under our exclusive sovereignty, but to attend to the interests of U.S. citizens.”

Rodriguez also “emphasized that the total lifting of the blockade, the return of the illegally occupied territory of Guantanamo, as well as the full respect for the Cuban sovereignty and the compensation to our people for human and economic damages are crucial to be able to move towards the normalization of relations.”

“We both ratified our interest in normalizing bilateral relations, knowing that this will be a long and complex process, which will require the willingness of both countries. There are profound differences between Cuba and the [U.S.] with regard to our views about the exercise of human rights by all persons all over the world, and also issues related to international law, which will inevitably persist. But we strongly believe that we can both cooperate and coexist in a civilized way, based on the respect for these differences and the development of a constructive dialogue oriented to the wellbeing of our countries and peoples, and this continent, and the entire world.”

He also “expressed to the Secretary of State that he will be welcome in Cuba on the occasion of the ceremony to reopen the U.S. embassy in Havana [on August 14].”

Rodriguez then essentially repeated these comments in his native Spanish language. He also “reiterated our invitation to all U.S. citizens to exercise their right to travel to Cuba, as they do to the rest of the world, and to the companies of that country to take advantage on an equal footing of the opportunities offered by Cuba.”

Question and Answer Session

The press then asked the following questions, and the two officials provided these answers.

  1. QUESTION: The first question had the following three parts: (a) What was the U.S. position with respect to Rodriguez’ statement that only the lifting of the trade embargo and the return of Guantanamo Bay would lend meaning to today’s historic events and that Cuba did not want any U.S. interference in its domestic policies? (b) What changes in Cuban human rights would the U.S. be pursing? (c) What changes would Cuba be willing to make at the request of the U.S. before the lifting of the embargo and return of Guantanamo?

SECRETARY KERRY: “[T[here are things that Cuba would like to see happen; there are things the United States would like to see happen.” But that does not mean that these things will happen.

“With respect to the embargo, President Obama . . . has called on Congress to lift the embargo.” The Administration hopes “that the embargo at the appropriate time will in fact be lifted and that a great deal more foundation can be built for this relationship.”

At this time, there is no discussion and no intention on our part at this moment to alter the existing [Guantanamo Bay] lease treaty or other arrangements with respect to the naval station, but we understand that Cuba has strong feelings about it. I can’t tell you what the future will bring but for the moment that is not part of the discussion on our side.”

The U.S., on the other hand, has “expressed and we will always express – because it’s part of the United States foreign policy; it’s part of our DNA as a country – and that is our view of human rights and our thoughts about it. We have shared good thoughts on that. We’ve had good exchanges. And as you know, part of this arrangement that took place involved an exchange of people as well as the release of some people. And our hope is that as time goes on, we’ll continue to develop that.”

What we did talk about today was how to further the relationship most effectively, and perhaps through the creation of a bilateral committee that might work together to continue to put focus on these issues.”

FOREIGN MINISTER RODRIGUEZ: “In recent times, the U.S. Government has recognized that the blockade against Cuba is a wrong policy, causing isolation and bringing about humanitarian damages and privations or deprivations to our people, and has committed to engage Congress in a debate with the purpose of lifting the blockade. . . . [T]he President of the U.S. [also] has adopted some executive measures which are still limited in scope but which are oriented in the right direction.”

In exchanges with Secretary Kerry we “have not spoken about conditions but rather about the need to move on through the dialogue on the basis of sovereign equality and mutual respect and create a civilized behavior, despite the profound differences that exist between both governments, to better attend to the interests of our respective peoples.”

“[I]t is very important that today a [Cuban] embassy was reopened in Washington and that diplomatic instruments could be created ensuring full mutual recognition, which is a practical contribution to the development of bilateral dialogue. . . . [For] Cuba, the normalization of relations presupposes the solution of a series of pending problems, [including] “the ceasing of the blockade against Cuba, the return of the territory of Guantanamo, and the full respect for the sovereignty of our country.” We also confirmed “that there are conditions . . . [for expanding] the dialogue . . . with the purpose of expanding mutually beneficial cooperation between our . . . countries and, of course, taking into account the fact that the situation between the U.S. and Cuba is asymmetric because our . . . country has not implemented any discriminatory policy against American citizens or enterprises. Cuba does not implement any unilateral coercive economic measure against the U.S. Cuba does not occupy any piece of U.S. territory. Precisely through the dialogue, we are supposed to create the proper conditions to move on towards the normalization of relations.”

  1. QUESTION: This was a three-part question: (a) What are the advantages [for Cuba’s having an embassy in the U.S,] taking into consideration that the blockade is still in place? (b) What are the advantages for the U.S.’ having an embassy in Havana? (c) Will the U.S. in the future respect the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic Relations?

FOREIGN MINISTER RODRIGUEZ: “The fact that diplomatic relations have been re-established and that embassies have been reopened in both capitals shows first and foremost the mutual willingness to move on towards the improvement of the relations between our both countries. Second, new instruments are [being] created to further deepen this dialogue. . . . Third, . . . the basis for the normal functioning of these diplomatic missions would be the purposes and principles enshrined in the U.N. Charter: the principles of international law and the regulations containing the Vienna Conventions on diplomatic and consular relations. Therefore, we have reached agreements in these areas, and I can say that Cuba would absolutely respect those provisions. Cuban diplomats will strictly abide by those rules, and we will create in Cuba every necessary condition for the normal functioning of the new U.S. Embassy in our country.”

SECRETARY KERRY: Part “of the negotiations leading up to the opening of the embassies was . . . coming to agreement with respect to all of the diplomatic functions. . . . [That led to an] “agreement which is in accord with the Vienna Conventions and meets both of our countries’ understandings of what is needed and what is appropriate at this moment in time. It could be subject to change later in the future, obviously, but for the moment we are satisfied and we are living within the structure of the Vienna Convention.”

  1. QUESTION: A three-part question: (a) In “your discussions today, did you establish any sort of road map for talks going forward? (b) If so, what are your priorities? (c) As a result, do you envision a political opening in Cuba on issues such as greater freedom of speech and assembly, and also the legalization of opposition parties?”

FOREIGN MINISER RODRIGUEZ: We will “welcome Secretary Kerry in the next few weeks in Havana to continue our talks, to establish the appropriate mechanisms to expand the dialogue in areas related to bilateral cooperation oriented to the common benefit, and to retake our talks about the substantial aspects of the bilateral relations I have mentioned before, which will determine this process towards the normalization of relations.”

The “political opening in Cuba happened in the year 1959. . . . We Cubans feel very happy with way in which we manage our internal affairs. We feel optimistic when it comes to the solution of our difficulties and we are very zealous of our sovereignty, so we will maintain in permanent consultations with our people to change everything that needs to be changed based on the sovereign and exclusive willingness of Cubans.”

  1. QUESTION: A four-part question: (a) Is “this new era of relations with Cuba [based on a] recognition that the U.S. policies of isolating countries in Latin America that differ from . . . [U.S.] political views don’t work?” (b) “Do the recent trips to Caracas of Mr. Thomas Shannon [of the U.S. State Department] . . . [constitute a] beginning of trying to rebuild the relationship with Venezuela?” (c) Is it possible [for Cuba] to have relations with the U.S. when the U.S. is giving every signal that it is not willing to lift the blockade or the embargo as it is called here and cannot withdraw from Guantanamo?” (d) Has the U.S. after failing to change Cuba from the outside “now implemented a creative way to try to change Cuba from the inside?”

FOREIGN MINISTER RODRIGUEZ: The “fact that diplomatic relations are being established and that we are reopening both embassies is a show of the mutual willingness to move on towards the normalization of bilateral relations.” [Last] December President Obama recognized that the U.S. policy against Cuba had been wrong, causing damages and hardships to the Cuban people, and causing isolation to the U.S.”

The “re-establishment of diplomatic relations and the opening of embassies are appreciated by my country as a signal of progress towards a civilized relationship, despite the differences, and it would lend some meaning only if the blockade is lifted, if we are able to solve the pending problems for more than one century, and if we are able create a new type of relationship between the U.S. and Cuba different from what has existed all along the history.”

Cuba feels “that [President Obama’s] recognition of the need to lift the blockade against Cuba, that during the talks that we have had, including this morning’s talks, we have perceived respect for Cuba’s independence to the full determination of our people, [that the two countries] have talked, on the basis of absolute equal sovereignty despite differences shows that the dialogue is fruitful and that the U.S. and Cuba, by a mandate of the American people and the Cuban people, are in the condition to move on towards a future of relations different from the one accumulated throughout our history, responding precisely to the best interests of our citizens.”

“There is an international order. International law is recognized as the civilized behavior to be adopted by states. There are universally accepted principles, and these have been the ones who have allowed us to reach this date and the ones that . . . will reorient our behavior in our relations in the future.”

SECRETARY KERRY: With respect to Cuba, “passions ran deep . . . to this day in the [U.S.]. There are many Cuban-Americans who have contributed in so many ways to life in our country, some of whom are still opposed to a change, some of whom believe it is time to change.”

“When I served in the [U.S.] Senate, there were many of us who believed over a period of time that our policy of isolating [Cuba] was simply not working; we were isolating ourselves in many ways. And we felt that after all those years it was time to try something else. President Obama is doing that now. And it is clear that we have chosen a new path, a different path. Already, people tell me who have visited Cuba that they feel a sense of excitement, a sense of possibility. And I am convinced that as we work through these issues we are going to find a better path forward that speaks to the needs of both peoples, both countries.”

With respect to Venezuela, Counselor of the State Department, Ambassador Tom Shannon has had several conversations with the Venezuelans. We had a very productive conversation prior to the Summit of the Americas in Panama. The [U.S.] has said many times we would like to have a normal relationship with Venezuela and have reached out in an effort to try to change the dialogue, change the dynamics. There are differences that we have with President Maduro and his government, and we raise those differences and we talk about them.”

“Just today, Foreign Minister Rodriguez and I talked specifically about Venezuela and our hopes that we can find a better way forward, because all of the region will benefit if no country is being made a scapegoat for problems within a country, and in fact, all countries are working on solving those problems.”

“We hope that our diplomatic relations with Cuba can encourage not only greater dialogue with Venezuela but perhaps even efforts to try to help Colombia to end its more than 50-years war and perhaps even other initiatives.”

“It’s clear that Cuba has significant progress to make in all of those areas.  What’s also clear is that the previous [U.S.] . . . [did not] really make much progress [on these issues].  The President believed that a change was necessary.  And we’re hopeful that in the coming years we’ll start to see the kind of respect for basic human rights on the island of Cuba that the U.S.] has long advocated.”

[Moreover, an] overwhelming percentage of the Cuban people are supportive and optimistic about this change in policy because of a chance that is has to improve their prospects on the island nation of Cuba.”

“So the President is looking forward to these kinds of changes taking effect [so] that the Cuban people and the Cuban government start to enjoy the benefits and see the results from greater engagement with the [U.S.]”

“In the days after this agreement was announced back in December, a substantial number of individuals who had previously been held by the Cuban government for their political views were released.  And that’s an indication that the Cuban government is trying to at least change their reputation when it comes to these issues.“

“But we have got a long list of concerns.” In addition, “for a long time the U.S. policy of trying to isolate Cuba became a source of irritation in the relationship between the [U.S.] and other countries in the Western Hemisphere.  And by removing that source of irritation, the [U.S.] can now focus attention of . . . other countries in the Western Hemisphere on the Cuban government’s rather sordid human rights record.”

“And again, that is part of the strategy for seeking to engage the Cuban people more effectively, and bring about the kind of change that we would like to see inside of Cuba.”

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[1] U.S. Dep’t of State, Press Availability with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez (July 20, 2015). A video and audio recording of the press conference is available on C-Span.

 

Assessment of the Status of U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation

Three recent articles in Cuba’s state-controlled media offer the Cuban government’s assessment of the current status of U.S. reconciliation. The lead article was Cuban journalists’ interview of Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s lead diplomat for the negotiations with the U.S. This post will summarize these three articles [1] and then offer an evaluation of Cuba’s assessment.

Current Status of Negotiations

Several days after the failure of the countries to reach an agreement about re-establishing diplomatic relations, Vidal remained optimistic. In the five months since the December 17th announcement of rapprochement and the mutual release of certain prisoners, she thought there had been progress in the process of normalization of relations. The removal of Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism was to happen by the end of May, as it in fact did on May 29th, and Cuba’s Interests Section in Washington, D.C. has obtained a U.S. banking relation that was necessary for the effective operation of the Section and of a future Cuban embassy. [2]

In addition, for about the last two years, she added, the countries have been discussing and progressing on “technical” matters, including collaboration on infectious diseases, narcotics trafficking, immigration (including the U.S. “wet foot/dry foot” policy under its Cuban Adjustment Act) and their respective enforcement of their own domestic laws with visitors from the other country.

Moreover, said Vidal, the Cuba-U.S. interactions “are respectful, they are professional. We are treating each other as equals, on a foundation of respect and total reciprocity.”

Also supportive of reconciliation of the two countries have been visits to Cuba by U.S. federal and state government officials and U.S. business groups. [3]

 Re-establishment of Diplomatic Relations

Although the parties had not reached agreement on the details of re-establishing diplomatic relations at their negotiations in Washington, D.C. on May 21-22, Vidal suggested that progress had been made on these details, which conceivably could be resolved through direct communications without another negotiating session.

The remaining issues, she said, focused on the future “conduct of diplomats” and “the functioning of a diplomatic mission,” all under the U.N. Charter and the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which both parties recognize as establishing or confirming the international law on the subjects. More specifically, Vidal said, “We must talk about the number of people, what kind of staff” the embassies will have or “what type of rank these officials [are] going to have” and “what privileges and immunities.” [4]

These comments by Vidal (and by Jacobson in the footnote) suggest that the provisions of the Vienna Convention provide flexibility and thus room for negotiation on the details of the functioning of the two countries’ embassies and diplomats. Indeed, that assumption is confirmed by the following relevant provisions of the Convention:

  1. Under Article 7, “the sending State may freely appoint the members of the staff of the mission. In the case of military, naval or air attachés, the receiving State may require their names to be submitted beforehand, for its approval.” However, Article 11 provides “the receiving State may require that the size of a mission be kept within limits considered by it to be reasonable and normal, having regard to circumstances and conditions in the receiving State and to the needs of the particular mission” and also “may equally, within similar bounds and on a non-discriminatory basis, refuse to accept officials of a particular category.”
  1. With respect to diplomatic personnel’s travel and conduct, Article 26 states, “Subject to its laws and regulations concerning zones entry into which is prohibited or regulated for reasons of national security, the receiving State shall ensure to all members of the mission freedom of movement and travel in its territory.” However, Article 41 provides, “Without prejudice to their privileges and immunities, it is the duty of all persons enjoying such privileges and immunities to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State. They also have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that State.” In addition, Article 41 states, “The premises of the mission must not be used in any manner incompatible with the functions of the mission as laid down in the present Convention or by other rules of general international law or by any special agreements in force between the sending and the receiving State.”

Vidal’s concern about the “conduct of diplomats” and “the functioning of a diplomatic mission” was an allusion to Cuba’s objection to certain recent covert or secret or “discreet” programs by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) allegedly to promote democracy and human rights in Cuba and to public seminars for Cuban journalists at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana that will be discussed below.

 Future Issues for Discussion and Resolution

According to the Vidal interview, Cuba has presented to the U.S. the following “preliminary list” of other issues that need to be discussed and resolved for full normalization of relations: (a) the U.S. “lifting of the blockade [embargo];” (b) “the return of the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base;” (c) “an end to illegal broadcasts by Radio and Televisión Marti;” (d) an “end to [U.S.] programs which were originally conceived to promote regime change” in Cuba and which for fiscal year 2016 have requests for funding of $20 million, especially in light of President Obama’s statement at the recent Summit of the Americas that the purpose of U.S. policy regarding Cuba was not regime change; [5] (e) “compensation for our country and our people for the damages caused by U.S. policy [primarily the embargo or blockade] over 50 years; ” and (f) restitution of Cuba’s frozen funds in the U.S.

The U.S., on the other hand, say the Cubans, has identified at least one issue for discussion in the second phase of negotiations: “compensation for the properties [of U.S. nationals] which were nationalized in Cuba at the beginning of the Revolution.” [6]

Moreover, Vidal said, the parties have not yet discussed how these issues would be discussed or resolved: “if a mechanism [such as commissions or groups] will be created;” or whether the issues would be discussed as a whole or separately.

According to the Gomez article in Granma, “the greatest challenge facing Cuba and the United States is establishing a relationship of civilized co-existence based on respect for their profound differences.”

 Conclusion

The Obama Administration and this blogger concur in the need for the U.S. to end the embargo (or “blockade” in Cuba’s view), which requires action by the U.S. Congress. Prior posts have discussed pending bills in the Senate and House of Representatives to do just that and urged U.S. citizens to press both chambers to pass such bills. Another post recommended submitting Cuba’s claim for money damages ($1.2 trillion as of last October) from the embargo/blockade to the Permanent Court of Arbitration where the U.S. can mount counter-evidence and arguments.

With respect to Guantanamo Bay, as discussed in a prior post, Cuba’s continually saying that the U.S. is “illegally” occupying the territory does not make it so and I do not think the U.S. would ever agree to such a legal conclusion. If Cuba continues to assert that contention, as I expect that it will, then the parties should submit the dispute for resolution by the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

The New York Times editorial board and this blogger agree with Cuba’s contention that the U.S. improperly has mounted covert, secret or “discreet” and ill conceived USAID programs to promote regime change in Cuba and that the U.S. should cease any and all such programs. Instead, it should propose joint-programs to the Cuban government for enhancement of Cuban human rights and democracy, and if and only if the Cubans agree, then the programs could proceed. (These issues were discussed in posts of 4/4/14, 4/9, 4/9, 8/12, 8/13 and 8/14).

The U.S. claims for money damages for compensation for Cuba’s expropriation of property owned by U.S. nationals and interests will obviously be discussed, as stated above, and in the likely event that the parties will not agree to the amount of such compensation, that too should be submitted to the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

In this process of working on the many issues that have accumulated over the last 50-plus years, both sides must recognize, as I think they do, the need to build mutual trust during the initial stages of diplomatic relations and, if all goes well, to the possible future relaxation of any restrictions. It does not help the process for bystanders, like Senators Marco Rubio and Bob Menendez, to loft scathing and premature criticisms of the process and to attempt to create new legislative roadblocks and impediments to that process.

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[1] This post is based upon the following: Josefina Vidal discusses recent talks in Washington, Granma (May 26, 2015); Gómez, Seven key points, Granma (May 25, 2015); Cańedo, Cuba-United States after 17D [December 17], Cubadebate (May 25, 2015).

[2] Immediately after the May 21-22 negotiations in Washington, D.C., Assistant Secretary of State Roberta S. Jacobson, the U.S.’ lead diplomat, shared Vidal’s optimism. Jacobson said, “This round of talks was highly productive. . . . We have made significant progress in the last five months and are much closer to reestablishing relations and reopening embassies. . . . [W]e have gotten much closer than we were each time we talk. . . . I remain optimistic that we will conclude, but we still have a few things that need to be ironed out and we’re going to do that as quickly as possible.” On the other hand, according to Jacobson, “I’m also a realist about 54 years that we have to overcome.”

[3] These visits have included congressional trips in January, February (Senate and House), and May, and a visit by a major business delegation in March.

[4] Assistant Secretary Jacobson in her comments after the latest round of negotiations concurred that the Vienna Convention established the parameters for the functioning of the countries’ embassies and conceded that “there [is] a range of ways in which our embassies operate around the world in different countries. We expect that in Cuba, our embassy will operate within that range and so it won’t be unique. It won’t be anything that doesn’t exist elsewhere in the world. There are various circumstances in which embassies operate in somewhat restrictive environments. . . .[W]e have confidence that . . . our embassy will be able to function so that our officers can do their jobs as we expect them to do worldwide, but in highly varying locations around the world. So I have every expectation that it will fall within the range of other places where we operate.”

[5] Cuba correctly points out that USAID, on the one hand, proclaims on its public website that its Cuba programs “Provide humanitarian assistance (basic foodstuff, vitamins and personal hygiene supplies) to political prisoners and their families; Promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as support for independent civil society by strengthening leadership skills and providing opportunities for community organizing; and Facilitate information flow to, from and within the island” and that through four named private “partners” it has spent and will spend a total of $14.2 million for these programs for the three fiscal years ending 9/30/15 and an additional $20 million in Fiscal Year 2016.  USAID, on the other hand, has carried out these programs unilaterally, without the prior knowledge or consent, of the Cuban government. In addition, the U.S. Department of State at its Interests Section in Havana has hosted seminars for journalists and a Public Information Center with a lending library and Internet-enabled computers available to Cubans and others. Assistant Secretary Jacobson said at the May 22nd press conference, “[W]e have continued to request funds from Congress for various activities in support of the Cuban people [and] that those programs have changed over time since they began in 1996” and they might be changed in the future.

[6] A prior post discussed the issue of Cuba’s compensating U.S. owners of property expropriated in the Cuban Revolution. Moreover, the U.S. already has identified at least the following additional issues for further discussion and negotiation: extradition of persons for crimes in their home country (2/24/15 post) and Cuban human rights and democracy (posts of 3/27, 3/28, 3/29, 3/30 and 4/1), and such discussions already have been commenced.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Holds Hearing About Cuba

On May 20th the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing, “U.S.-Cuban Relations—The Way Forward.”[1]

 Chairman Corker’s Opening Statement

Senator Bob Corker
Senator Bob Corker

The Committee Chair, Bob Corker (Rep., TN) opened by stating that the hearing would focus “on the strategy behind the President’s significant shift in U.S. policy towards Cuba.” Even though this shift “has been welcomed in Latin America and the Caribbean . . . significant differences of opinion exist in the [U.S.] over the extent to which this change in policy will advance U.S. interests and improve circumstances for the Cuban people.”

Therefore, according to Corker, the strategic issue was “how our nation can best engage strategically with the region and beyond to help Cuba rejoin the mainstream of the Americas and offer its citizens the same rights and freedoms enjoyed by citizens of other countries in the region.”

Ranking Member Cardin’s Opening Statement

Senator Ben Cardin
Senator Ben Cardin

The Ranking Member of the Committee, Senator Ben Cardin (Dem., MD), stated, “The President’s action [on December 17th] brought with it a new opportunity to forge a bilateral relationship that will strengthen our efforts to advance and defend U.S. national interests, and will allow our government and our citizens to expand support for the Cuban people. Today’s hearing provides an important opportunity to review the advances achieved under the Administration’s new Cuba policy and to understand the strategy for moving forward.  Without a doubt, this is a complicated process and it will take time to achieve the progress we want to see.”

“[W]e all stand together in our aspirations to see the Cuban people have the opportunity to build a society where human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected, where democratic values and political pluralism are tolerated, and where individuals can work unobstructed to improve their living conditions. We also share concerns about critical issues, such as the Cuban government’s ongoing abuse of human rights and the presence of American fugitives in Cuba, especially those wanted for the murder of U.S. law enforcement officers.”

“But, the central question is: how can we best advance these aspirations while also addressing these concerns? It goes without saying that our previous policy did not achieve the progress that we wanted to see, and so a new approach is needed.”

“President Obama has laid out a new path based on the belief that principled engagement will bring more results. I think that this is the right path for the following reasons:

“First, for far too long, the Cuban government has used U.S. policy as an excuse to justify its shortcomings and the hardships the Cuban people face.  The Cuban government also has exploited U.S. policy for diplomatic gains, focusing international debate about what the U.S. should do, rather than about what Cuba needs to do to better provide for its citizens.”

“Second, despite differences we may have with a government, our foreign policy should always endeavor to support that country’s people to the greatest degree possible.  Our disagreements with the Cuban government are well known and many.  But, over time, we have allowed those disagreements to get in the way of developing a strategy that utilizes all of our resources to empower the people of Cuba.”

“I have no doubt that the dynamism of American society will make a positive contribution to empowering the Cuban people and provide them with the information they need to build the future of their country.”

“Third, the Administration’s new Cuba policy will provide the U.S., and especially our diplomats, with new tools to engage directly with the Cuban government to have principled and frank discussions about the issues we disagree about and how we might work together better on issues of common interest.”

Testimony of Assistant Secretary of State Jacobson

Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson
Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson

Roberta Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, testified, “[W]e have begun to see the Administration’s new approach to Cuba providing space for other nations in the hemisphere and around the world to focus on promoting respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cuba and elsewhere in the region. This was illustrated at the Summit of the Americas in Panama last April. Engagement by the President and the Secretary at the Summit re-invigorated our momentum on a variety of issues.”

“Our new approach has drawn greater attention to the potential for greater political and economic freedom for the Cuban people and the gap between Cuba and other countries in the Hemisphere. More Americans are travelling to Cuba, getting past the rhetoric, meeting Cubans, and building shared understanding between our people. We have seen practical cooperation in our official dialogues with Cuba on issues in our national interest like maritime and aviation safety, telecommunications, and environmental cooperation.

“Our future discussions on law enforcement cooperation, coupled with the ongoing migration talks, will expand the avenues available to seek the return of American fugitives from justice as well as the return of Cubans residing illegally in the United States. The same is true for future talks on human rights and settling American claims for expropriated properties. Most importantly, the President’s new approach makes clear that the United States can no longer be blamed as an obstacle to progress on things like access to information and connecting Cubans to the world.”

Nevertheless, “significant differences remain between our two governments. We continue to raise our concerns regarding democracy, human rights, and freedom of expression. And we will seek to engage with all Cubans to gain their perspectives on the best way forward for the country.”

“Our policy towards Cuba is based on a clear-eyed strategy that empowers the Cuban people to determine their own future by creating new economic opportunities and increasing their contact with the outside world. That is why we made it easier for Cuban-Americans to travel and send remittances to their families in Cuba, and opened new pathways for academic, religious, and people-to-people exchanges. These changes create powerful new connections between our two countries and help the nascent private sector in Cuba, which is already an agent of positive change on the island. The steps we have implemented build on this foundation by increasing authorized travel, authorized commerce, and the flow of information to, from, and within Cuba.”

“Our new approach emphasizes targeted forms of commerce that offer economic opportunity to independent Cuban entrepreneurs or, like expanded communications, benefit all Cubans. Comprehensive changes in our economic relationship will require Congressional action to lift the embargo. The President has urged Congress to begin that effort. In the meantime, we are using available policy tools to promote a prosperous, democratic, and stable Cuba.”

“In a short period of time, we have already started to see U.S. enterprises seizing the new opportunities. The regulatory changes we announced are intended to increase the financial and material resources available to the Cuban people and the emerging Cuban private sector. They also enable U.S. companies to offer expanded telecommunications and internet services in ways that could help Cuban civil society members advance their aspirations and collectively become more prosperous.”

“Regarding the Administration’s decision to rescind Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, as President Obama said, ‘throughout this process, our emphasis has been on the facts.’ . . . We will continue to have differences with the Cuban government, but our concerns over a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions do not relate to any of the criteria relevant to that designation.”

“While progress has been made in our efforts to reestablish diplomatic relations, there is more to do to ensure a future U.S. Embassy will be able to function more like other diplomatic missions elsewhere in the world and foreign diplomatic missions in Cuba. Even today, under challenging circumstances, our diplomats do their very best to represent the interests and values of the United States, just as we do in hundreds of places around the world. Our engagement with the broadest range of Cubans will expand once we establish diplomatic relations with Cuba.”

Testimony of State Department Counselor Shannon

Counselor Thomas A. Shannon, Jr.
Counselor Thomas A. Shannon, Jr.

State Department Counselor Thomas A. Shannon, Jr. testified, “My purpose today is to address the regional context in which . . . [the U.S. Cuba] policy is unfolding, and to lay out some of the strategic dimensions of our diplomacy.”

“The decision to engage with Cuba and seek normalization of our bilateral relationship attempts to create a new terrain on which to pursue a future that meets our interests and corresponds to our values. Our commitment to democracy and human rights, and our desire and hope that the Cuban people will know the benefits of liberty and become the sovereigns of their own destiny, is no less for our action.”

“The President has been clear about the commitment in our Cuba policy to our enduring and fundamental principles of self-government and individual liberty. However, he has also been clear about our inability to effect significant change in Cuba acting alone across so many decades. Instead, he determined that our efforts would be more effective if we could position Cuba squarely within an inter-American system that recognizes democracy as a right that belongs to all the peoples of our Hemisphere, believes that democracy is essential to the political, economic, and social development of our peoples, and has the juridical instruments, treaties, and agreements to give shape, form, and weight to these commitments. It was our determination that this kind of environment would be the most propitious to support the only legitimate agent of peaceful and enduring political change in Cuba: the Cuban people.”

“The Americas, and specifically Latin America, has anticipated many of the events that are shaping our world. It is a region that has moved largely from authoritarian to democratic government, from closed to open economies, from exclusive to inclusive societies, from autarkical development to regional integration, and from isolation to globalization.”

“Latin America is the first developing region of the world to commit itself explicitly to democratic governance through the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the first to build a democratic model of development, and the first to establish regional structures to promote and protect human rights.”

“While creating a broad base of shared political values, Latin America has also constructed shared economic understandings and a commitment by many of the most successful countries in the Hemisphere to market economies and free trade. In the process, it has built sub-regional integration and political dialogue through organizations like the Common Market of the South, the Andean Community, the Union of South American Nations, and the Central American Integration System, all the while preserving larger hemispheric institutions, such as the Organization of American States and the Summit of the Americas process, that connect Latin America to the Caribbean and North America.”

“As Latin America advances into the 21st century, it is undergoing a second generation of change. Politically, it has consolidated democratic government and is strengthening democratic states and societies. This has opened up political institutions to new voices and actors, deepening the representativeness of many Latin American governments and challenging traditional elites and interests. In some countries, weak democratic institutions have not been able to contain the social energy unlocked by democratization, leading to populism and political polarization as groups struggle for control of the state. As troubling as this phenomenon can be, it does not define the democratization of the region but instead presents a challenge for the region to show how it can address such incidents through the organizations and institutional mechanisms it has created.”

“Economically, Latin America is building innovative integration mechanisms such as the Pacific Alliance, and reaching into Asia and North America to find new and important economic partners. We have FTAs with 12 countries in the Hemisphere, and the continued globalization of Latin America is driven not only by the regions abundant commodities, especially food and energy, but also by growing middle classes that have created attractive markets for manufactured goods and services.”

“The profound changes unleashed in Latin America show clearly that democracy and markets can deliver economic development and address longstanding social inequities such as poverty, inequality, and social exclusion. In effect, Latin America has used democracy and markets to launch peaceful social revolutions that are transforming many countries in important and long-lasting ways. Our ability to promote profound and dramatic change in Latin America is an example of what the United States can accomplish through diplomacy and engagement.”

“If we accomplished such a profound transformation in our Hemisphere through engagement, why not try the same approach with Cuba? And better yet, why not try it in partnership with countries and institutions that are now prepared to work with us because of the President’s new policy?”

“Cuba today finds itself part of a dynamic, vibrant region where transformative change has been the watchword for several decades. And it finds itself in a region where the momentum of that change will continue to reshape political, economic, and social landscapes. In such an environment, the Cuban people will find many models and partners from which to learn and choose. We should be one of those models and partners.”

Questioning Assistant Secretary Jacobson and Counselor Shannon

Of the 11 Committee members in attendance, six made comments and asked questions supportive of U.S.-Cuba reconciliation: Ben Cardin (Dem., MD), Barbara Boxer (Dem., CA), Tom Udall (Dem., NM), Tim Kaine (Dem., VA), Edward Markey (Dem., MA) and Jeff Flake (Rep., AZ).

With Chairman Corker being judiciously noncommittal in his comments, the other four in attendance were hostile to the reconciliation: Bob Menendez (Dem., NJ), Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), Ron Johnson (Rep., WI) and David Perdue (Rep., GA).

In response to Senator Corker’s opening question about whether to date the U.S. had obtained any changes in Cuba policies, Jacobson implicitly said none by emphasizing that the U.S. actions to increase the ability of U.S. nationals to travel to Cuba and to send remittances to Cubans were assisting the latters’ ability to form businesses and over time to be agents for change. The same was true, she said, of new U.S. policies to encourage U.S. businesses to export telecommunications equipment to the island. Shannon added that the new U.S. policies helped the U.S. with other countries in Latin America, especially within the Organization of the American States (OAS) and the Summit of the Americas.

Jacobson also mentioned the OAS and the United Nations as well as continued U.S. annual reports about human rights as means the U.S. would use to assess whether Cuba makes improvements in human rights. She also reiterated her point about U.S. travel and investment in Cuba as instruments for aiding such improvements, all in response to a question from Senator Rubio.

Rubio also pressed Jacobson to concede that the U.S. and Cuba had different notions of human rights. She did so with respect to free speech, peaceful assembly and elections, but she did not point out the U.S.-Cuba agreement on many theoretical issues of human rights as discussed in a prior post.

Another major Rubio argument was increased American travel to Cuba merely benefited the Cuban government and military, which owned, in whole or in part, hotels and car rental companies. The amount of such travel to Cuban bed and breakfasts in private homes was insignificant and, in any event, such private establishments had to pay big fees to the government for such businesses. Moreover, Rubio continued, many of these hotels and other properties had been owned by Americans and others and stolen by the Cuban government. Therefore, Rubio said, the U.S. should not be promoting such increased travel.

Senator Boxer responded to this argument by pointing out that the U.S. permits travel to Viet Nam, China and Russia where hotels and other businesses are owned by the state. She also pointed out that direct interactions between U.S. and Cuban citizens should encourage the latter to want more rights. In addition, Boxer said, the rapprochement was improving cooperation regarding Cuba for the U.S. from Europe and others in this Hemisphere. An example was Panama’s reaction to Cuban efforts to suppress free speech at the recent Summit of the Americas in that country.

However, I was surprised that no one responded to Rubio’s argument about hotels that had been stolen by the Cuban government. Indeed, there are substantial damage claims against the Cuban government for its uncompensated expropriation of property, and this is one of the claims the U.S. now is asserting against Cuba, and a prior post argued for submitting these and other damage claims by both countries to an international arbitration.

Senator Johnson focused on provisions of the Libertad Act (a/k/a the Helms-Burton Act) imposing preconditions on U.S. relaxing sanctions against Cuba, presumably as a predicate for an argument that President Obama’s easing of certain sanctions was unauthorized and, therefore, illegal. Jacobson pointed out, however, that other laws had exceptions to sanctions and provided authority to the President to do what he has done. Moreover, she said, the Administration had asked Congress to enact legislation repealing the U.S. embargo of the island, including the Libertad Act.

Senator Menendez, a Cuban-American and a vigorous opponent of the reconciliation, barely concealed his anger over the change in U.S. policies. Since December 17th, he argued, there has been no improvement in Cuban human rights, and in fact there has been a deterioration on this subject.

Senator Perdue reiterated Menendez’ argument about human rights and asserted that Cuba was still a state supporter of terrorism. It allegedly was helping Islamist terrorists, had shipped arms to North Korea that were intercepted in Panama and had another ship with explosives that on February 28, 2015, was intercepted by Colombia. Counselor Shannon pointed out that this Colombian government action was an example of the increased cooperation the U.S. now is obtaining from others in Latin America as a result of the new U.S. policies about Cuba.

Senator Kaine stated that there are roughly 600 bilateral relations in the Western Hemisphere and that the only one without normal diplomatic relations is U.S.-Cuba. In addition, there are no inter-state wars in the Hemisphere and the only civil war is in Colombia, which is the subject of peace negotiations now being held in, and aided by, Cuba. Counselor Shannon concurred, saying this was a remarkable achievement for the Hemisphere going along with its economic and democratic improvements.

 Conclusion

This hearing, in my opinion, did not really provide any new information about the issues or the positions of the participants, which probably why it was not covered in U.S. news media.[2]

The hearing and the lack of news coverage underscored the importance of U.S. citizens who support the reconciliation efforts to convey their opinions to their Senators and Representatives and of the formation and actions of groups like the U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba and Engage Cuba Coalition.

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[1] This post is based upon a video of the hearing and on the embedded citations to the opening statements of Senators Corker and Cardin, the testimony of Assistant Secretary Jacobson and Counselor Shannon and to some of the comments by Senators Rubio, Menendez and Perdue.

[2] This brief article is the only one found in a Google search: Gomez, Senators question wisdom of Obama’s Cuba policy, USA Today (May 20, 2015),

The Council of the Americas and the Americas Society: Other Supporters of U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation

The Council of the Americas (COA) [1] and the Americas Society (AS) [2] previously announced their support of the December 17th announcement of the U.S.-Cuba rapprochement and of the more recent presidential rescission of the U.S. designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism.”

On April 21st COA and AS held their 45th annual Washington Conference at the U.S. Department of State. The theme this year was “Integration & Innovation: The Americas Agenda.” One of its speakers was U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Secretary Kerry quoted President Obama’s speech at the recent Summit of the Americas: the U.S. is engaged in “a new chapter of engagement in this region. I believed that our nations had to break free from the old arguments, the old grievances that had too often trapped us in the past, that we had a shared responsibility to look to the future and to think and act in fresh ways. [There is] . . . a new era of cooperation between our countries, as equal partners, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.” This commitment was being met, Kerry said, –“and not solely because of our new policy towards Cuba.”

Therefore, stated Kerry, “what we need is . . . a common agenda for the shared progress, a blueprint for the next steps that will help to ensure the democratic and economic promise in the region is actually fulfilled. That is why the [U.S.] is engaged throughout the Americas on priorities that our partner governments and its citizens themselves have identified as important. These priorities fall into three broad categories. They include the building blocks of shared prosperity – education, innovation, trade, investment. They include energy and environmental security. And they include reconciliation and strengthening democratic and inter-American institutions across the board.”

Kerry specifically addressed Cuba. He said, “In December, President Obama made the courageous decision to update our Cuba policy, which was doing far more to isolate [U.S.] from our friends in the hemisphere than it was to isolate Havana. In Panama, the President and I met for hours with our Cuban counterparts, the first such formal meetings since the 1950s. And we’re committed to moving forward on the path to normalized relations. This new course is based not on a leap of faith, but on a conviction that the best way to promote U.S. interests and values while also helping to bring greater freedom and opportunity to the Cuban people is exactly what we are doing.”

Kerry also said the “same principle applies to Venezuela. In Panama, President Obama spoke briefly with President Maduro, and a week earlier, State Department Counselor Tom Shannon was in Caracas at the invitation of the government. It is no secret that relations between our two countries have been severely strained in recent years. But I began my tenure as Secretary with a long conversation with the then-foreign minister of Venezuela in an effort to promote a more productive relationship, and the [U.S.] remains open to further addressing our differences and attempting to find areas of common ground.”

Another speaker at the Conference was New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who said he is opposed to the new U.S. rapprochement with Cuba, describing the Castro government as a ”dictatorial family regime that denies freedoms to their people and is a sponsor of terrorism.” He spoke of the Cuban government’s asylum of Assata Shakur, who was convicted of murdering a New Jersey state trooper in 1973. Stating that he is not opposed on principle to welcoming Cuba back into the “family of civilized nations, there is still a ways to go for that to happen.”

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[1] The COA says it is, “the premier international business organization whose members share a common commitment to economic and social development, open markets, the rule of law, and democracy throughout the Western Hemisphere. The Council’s membership consists of leading international companies representing a broad spectrum of sectors, including banking and finance, consulting services, consumer products, energy and mining, manufacturing, media, technology, and transportation.”

[2] The COA is affiliated with the AS, which describes itself as “the premier forum dedicated to education, debate, and dialogue in the Americas. Its mission is to foster an understanding of the contemporary political, social, and economic issues confronting Latin America, the Caribbean, and Canada, and to increase public awareness and appreciation of the diverse cultural heritage of the Americas and the importance of the inter-American relationship.” The COA and AS have a Cuba Working Group, which includes “corporate leaders from the worlds of banking, financial services, energy, telecommunications, hospitality, pharmaceuticals, and law. Working group meetings look at the steps companies can take under current U.S. restrictions to pre-position themselves for future investment. This effort has produced a series of papers on regulations and laws affecting U.S. business activity under the U.S. embargo and in Cuba.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other Remarks by President Obama at the Seventh Summit of the Americas

On April 10-11, U.S. President Barack Obama attended the Seventh Summit of the Americas in Panama. In addition to the previously reported speech at the plenary session and his comments before and after his private meeting with President Raul Castro, Obama made the following remarks on April 10 that will be summarized in this post: (1) Speech at the CEO Summit; (2) Responses to Questions at the CEO Summit; and (3) Remarks to the Civil Society Forum.

 Obama’s Speech at the CEO Summit

“When I came into office, in 2009, obviously we were all facing an enormous economic challenge globally.  Since that time, both exports from the United States to Latin America and imports from Latin America to the United States have gone up over 50 percent.  And it’s an indication not only of the recovery that was initiated — in part by important policies that were taken and steps that were taken in each of the countries in coordination through mechanisms like the G20 — but also the continuing integration that’s going to be taking place in this hemisphere as part of a global process of integration.”

“[S]ome trends . . . are inevitable. . . . [G]lobal commerce, because of technology, because of logistics, it is erasing the boundaries by which we think about businesses not just for large companies, but also for small and medium-sized companies as well.”

“[T]echnology is going to continue to be disruptive.  I’m glad that my friend, Mark Zuckerberg, is here.  Obviously what he’s done with Facebook has been transformative.  But what’s important to recognize is, is that it’s not just companies like Apple and Google and Facebook that are being transformed by technology.  Traditional industries are being changed as well.  Small businesses are being changed as well.  How we buy, sell, market, all that is shifting.  And that’s not going to go away.”

“And what that means is, is that going forward, for the hemisphere to continue to experience the growth that’s necessary, I think there are a couple of principles that we just have to follow.”

“The first is, our people have to be the best trained in the world.  We have to not only educate our children, but we have to give our people the capacity to continue to learn throughout their lives — because the economy is changing and workers have to adapt.  It’s going to be very rare where somebody works at one place for 30 years with just one skill.  So the investments that all of us have to make in education, not just through primary or secondary schools, but if young people are not going to universities, they can still at least get technical training and advanced degrees.”

“And this is where technology can be our friend.  We initiated something called “100,000 Strong” to improve the exchanges between students in Latin America and the [U.S.].  And part of what we’re doing is starting to figure out how can we use technology to reach more young people, not just the folks who are at the top of the economic pyramid, but reach down and access remote areas where suddenly a young person in a small village, if they are linked through the Internet, have access to the entire world.  And companies I think can play an important role because public-private partnerships will make these kinds of investments more effective.”

“Point number two —We have a lot of infrastructure we need to build in the [U.S.] and obviously there’s a lot of infrastructure that needs to be built throughout the region.  The more we can coordinate and work together on infrastructure, the better off we’re going to be. . . .”

“Number three, the issue of broad-based economic development.  [There are] areas . . . that are isolated, that are not part of that growth process — all of us have to deal with that. And that includes [the U.S.]. Because one of the challenges that we’re all facing, when you look at global growth patterns, is that even when economies are growing, the gaps between rich and poor oftentimes are accelerating, and not only is that not good for social stability, not only is that not good for opportunity, it’s not good for business.  Because the truth of the matter is, is that when you have a growing middle class and an aspirational poor that are able to access their way into the middle class, then those become the consumers that drive the marketplace much more so than folks at the very top.”

“[A]t a certain point, if only folks at the top are doing well, and we’re not focused on broad-based growth, then growth starts to stall.  And so taking the steps to train, to educate, to give access to opportunity, to make sure that infrastructure is reaching everyplace and not just some places — that becomes a very high priority.”

“And the last point I’ll make is the issue of governance. . . [V]iolence . . . is still a problem in portions of the hemisphere.  And a lot of it has to do with lack of opportunity. But part of it also has to do with the difficulties of establishing strong security if we also are not combining that with transparency, with government accountability, with a criminal justice system and a judicial system that is perceived as fair and legitimate. . . ”

“And again, this is an area where we have to work regionally as opposed to separately. . . . But issues of personal security, reducing corruption, governance — those are economic agendas.  Those are not simply security agendas.”

Obama’s Responses to Questions at CEO Summit

“One of the advantages that we may have today that we didn’t have, let’s say, 15 or 20 or 30 years ago is I think it used to be viewed as either you have a government-status economic model, or you have a complete free market, and everything was very ideological sometimes in this region in discussing how economic development went forward.”

“[B]y virtue of wisdom and some things that didn’t work and some things that did, everybody . . . throughout the hemisphere, I think has a very practical solution — or a practical orientation.  Maybe not everybody, but almost everybody. . . .   And so the question then becomes, what’s the appropriate role for government, what’s the appropriate role for the private sector, and how do we fill gaps to get results.”

“I believe that the free market is the greatest wealth generator and innovator and is a recipe for success for countries.  And I think it’s very important for us to initiate reforms that can free up the entrepreneurship and the talents of our people.  But I also think that there are going to be market failures.  There are times where the market isn’t meeting a social need that is necessary in order for businesses to thrive and societies to thrive. Where is it that both businesses and government can work together to address a gap or a market failure?”

“One area is in education.  I think that we have to make a public investment through good schools, paying our teachers, training them properly, building infrastructure for schools.  But one of the things that we’ve learned in the [U.S.], for example, is that we have an outstanding community college system. . . . But for too long . . . these community colleges weren’t talking to businesses to ask, what should we be training people for and how should we train them.  And by soliciting input from business, suddenly the training programs in these community colleges became much more effective and were much more likely to lead to jobs in the future.  That’s the kind of collaboration that’s I think very important.”

“The same is true with respect to connectivity. . . . [T]he Internet wouldn’t have been created without government investment.  It didn’t just kind of spring to life on its own.  But now in every country we recognize there’s an infrastructure that has to be built. We also have to be working together with the private sector to make sure that it’s built in a way that anticipates how rapidly things are changing because there may be circumstances here where people can entirely leap-frog old technologies and go straight to new technologies.”

“[O]ne of the questions . . . all of us as leaders, and regionally, should be asking is, to what extent are we making joint investments that aren’t protecting the old models, but rather are opening up new models that may be more efficient and reach more people.”

The third point is . . . technology and globalization are disruptive.  And usually somebody is doing well with the status quo and they don’t want change, and so sometimes breaking down regulations is painful politically.  That’s a very sensitive thing and a very difficult thing.

“[O]ur strategy has to be to recognize that there are going to be some regulatory barriers, and we have to work in concert to try to break some of those down and harmonize regulations across countries and across, in some cases, industries.  But in some cases, we may need new regulations to adapt to new times. . . . ”

“[E]ven as we end old regulations that no longer make sense, or are inhibiting innovation and growth and investment, in some cases we may need new regulatory approaches to, for example, limit and reduce carbon.  And we should do it in an efficient way so that we’re harnessing the ingenuity of the private sector — we set a bar, we set a price and we say, you tell us how you are you going to reduce carbon. . . .”

“And that approach to regulation — thinking what regulations work today in a practical way to meet our goals, and how do we do it in a way that is the least bureaucratic and the least disruptive, but recognizing that there are still goals that have to be met. . . .”

The U.S. “is very committed to working with all the countries that are participating in this summit.  We are consulting intensively on a bilateral basis, but we’re also very interested in working on a regional level. . . .”

It “does require some joint investment and recognizing that we have to think beyond our borders in order to do the right thing for our people.  It is good for the [U.S.] for some young person in Honduras to have access to the Internet, have access to education, and have access to opportunity.  It’s good for the [U.S.] if Brazil is growing at a rapid pace.  It’s good for the [U.S.] if Panama continues to thrive, or Mexico is continuing to succeed.”

Obama’s Civil Society Forum Speech

“I am proud to be with you at this first-ever official gathering of civil society leaders at the Summit of the Americas. And I’m pleased to have Cuba represented with us at this summit for the very first time.”

“We’re here for a very simple reason.  We believe that strong, successful countries require strong and vibrant civil societies.  We know that throughout our history, human progress has been propelled not just by famous leaders, not just by states, but by ordinary men and women who believe that change is possible; by citizens who are willing to stand up against incredible odds and great danger not only to protect their own rights, but to extend rights to others.”

“I had a chance to reflect on this last month when I was in the small town of Selma, Alabama where, 50 years ago, African-Americans marched in peaceful, nonviolent protest — not to ask for special treatment but to be treated equally, in accordance with the founding documents of our Declaration of Independence, our Bill of Rights.  They were part of a civil rights movement that had endured violence and repression for decades, and would endure it again that day, as many of the marchers were beaten.”

“But they kept marching.  And despite the beatings of that day, they came back, and more returned.  And the conscience of a nation was stirred.  Their efforts bent, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, the arc of the moral universe towards justice.  And it was their vision for a more fair and just and inclusive and generous society that ultimately triumphed.  And the only reason I stand here today as the President of the United States is because those ordinary people — maids, and janitors, and schoolteachers — were willing to endure hardship on my behalf.”

“And that’s why I believe so strongly in the work that you do.  It’s the dreamers — no matter how humble or poor or seemingly powerless — that are able to change the course of human events.  We saw it in South Africa, where citizens stood up to the scourge of apartheid.  We saw it in Europe, where Poles marched in Solidarity to help bring down the Iron Curtain.  In Argentina, where mothers of the disappeared spoke out against the Dirty War.  It’s the story of my country, where citizens worked to abolish slavery, and establish women’s rights and workers’ rights, and rights for gays and lesbians.”

“It’s not to say that my country is perfect — we are not.  And that’s the point.  We always have to have citizens who are willing to question and push our government, and identify injustice.  We have to wrestle with our own challenges — from issues of race to policing to inequality.  But what makes me most proud about the extraordinary example of the [U.S.] is not that we’re perfect, but that we struggle with it, and we have this open space in which society can continually try to make us a more perfect union.”

“We’ve stood up, at great cost, for freedom and human dignity, not just in our own country, but elsewhere.  I’m proud of that.  And we embrace our ability to become better through our democracy.  And that requires more than just the work of government.  It demands the hard and frustrating, sometimes, but absolutely vital work of ordinary citizens coming together to make common cause.”

“So civil society is the conscience of our countries.  It’s the catalyst of change.  It’s why strong nations don’t fear active citizens.  Strong nations embrace and support and empower active citizens.  And by the way, it’s not as if active citizens are always right — they’re not.  Sometimes people start yelling at me or arguing at me, and I think, you don’t know what you’re talking about.  But sometimes they do.  And the question is not whether they’re always right; the question is, do you have a society in which that conversation, that debate can be tested and ideas are tested in the marketplace.”

“And because of the efforts of civil society, now, by and large, there’s a consensus in the Americas on democracy and human rights, and social development and social inclusiveness.  I recognize there’s strong differences about the role of civil society, but I believe we can all benefit from open and tolerant and inclusive dialogue.  And we should reject violence or intimidation that’s aimed at silencing people’s voices.”

“The freedom to be heard is a principle that the Americas at large is committed to.  And that doesn’t mean, as I said, that we’re going to agree on every issue.  But we should address those issue candidly and honestly and civilly, and welcome the voices of all of our people into the debates that shape the future of the hemisphere.”

“As the United States begins a new chapter in our relationship with Cuba, we hope it will create an environment that improves the lives of the Cuban people -– not because it’s imposed by us, the [U.S.], but through the talent and ingenuity and aspirations, and the conversation among Cubans from all walks of life so they can decide what the best course is for their prosperity.”

As we move toward the process of normalization, we’ll have our differences, government to government, with Cuba on many issues — just as we differ at times with other nations within the Americas; just as we differ with our closest allies.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  But I’m here to say that when we do speak out, we’re going to do so because the [U.S.] does believe, and will always stand for, a certain set of universal values.  And when we do partner with civil society, it’s because we believe our relationship should be with governments and with the peoples that they represent.”

“It’s also because we believe that your work is more important than ever.  Here in the Americas, inequality still locks too many people out of our economies.  Discrimination still locks too many out of our societies.  Around the world, there are still too many places where laws are passed to stifle civil society, where governments cut off funding for groups that they don’t agree with.  Where entrepreneurs are crushed under corruption.  Where activists and journalists are locked up on trumped-up charges because they dare to be critical of their governments.  Where the way you look, or how you pray, or who you love can get you imprisoned or killed.”

“And whether it’s crackdowns on free expression in Russia or China, or restrictions on freedom of association and assembly in Egypt, or prison camps run by the North Korean regime — human rights and fundamental freedoms are still at risk around the world.  And when that happens, we believe we have a moral obligation to speak out.”

“We also know that our support for civil society is not just about what we’re against, but also what we’re for.  Because we’ve noticed that governments that are more responsive and effective are typically governments where the people are free to assemble, and speak their minds, and petition their leaders, and hold us accountable.”

“We know that our economies attract more trade and investment when citizens are free to start a new business without paying a bribe.   We know that our societies are more likely to succeed when all our people — regardless of color, or class, or creed, or sexual orientation, or gender — are free to live and pray and love as they choose.  That’s what we believe.”

“And, increasingly, civil society is a source of ideas — about everything from promoting transparency and free expression, to reversing inequality and rescuing our environment.  And that’s why, as part of our Stand with Civil Society Initiative, we’ve joined with people around the world to push back on those who deny your right to be heard.  I’ve made it a mission of our government not only to protect civil society groups, but to partner with you and empower you with the knowledge and the technology and the resources to put your ideas into action.  And the U.S. supports the efforts to establish a permanent, meaningful role for civil societies in future Summits of the Americas.”

“[W]hen the [U.S.] sees space closing for civil society, we will work to open it.  When efforts are made to wall you off from the world, we’ll try to connect you with each other.  When you are silenced, we’ll try to speak out alongside you.  And when you’re suppressed, we want to help strengthen you.  As you work for change, the [U.S.] will stand up alongside you every step of the way.  We are respectful of the difference among our countries.  The days in which our agenda in this hemisphere so often presumed that the [U.S.] could meddle with impunity, those days are past.”

“[W]e do have to be very clear that when we speak out on behalf of somebody who’s been imprisoned for no other reason than because they spoke truth to power, when we are helping an organization that is trying to empower a minority group inside a country to get more access to resources, we’re not doing that because it serves our own interests; we’re doing it because we think it’s the right thing to do.”

“I hope that all the other countries at the Summit of the Americas will join us in seeing that it’s important.  Because sometimes, as difficult as it is, it’s important for us to be able to speak honestly and candidly on behalf of people who are vulnerable and people who are powerless, people who are voiceless.  I know, because there was a time in our own country where there were groups that were voiceless and powerless.  And . . . world opinion helped to change those circumstances.  We have a debt to pay, because the voices of ordinary people have made us better.  That’s a debt that I want to make sure we repay in this hemisphere and around the world.”

Conclusion

These comments show that President Obama’s interest at the Summit of the Americas was not only fostering the further normalization of the United States’ relations with Cuba. Indeed, he has set forth a broad vision of improved hemispheric relations that acknowledges past errors and emphasizes the need for the U.S. and other countries of the Americas to focus on current and future problems and opportunities. Thank you, Mr. President!

 

 

 

 

 

Presidents Obama and Castro’s Meeting at the Summit of the Americas

Raul Castro & Barack Obama
Raul Castro & Barack Obama

On April 11th U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuba’s President Raul Castro had a private meeting at the Seventh Summit of the Americas in Panama after each of them had given their major speeches. Here are their public statements immediately before that meeting  as well as Obama’s subsequent press conference on these issues. [1]

 President Barack Obama’s Pre-Meeting Comments

“This is obviously a historic meeting. The history between the United States and Cuba is obviously complicated, and over the years a lot of mistrust has developed. But during the course of the last several months, there have been contacts between the U.S. and the Cuban government. And in December, as a consequence of some of the groundwork that had been laid, both myself and President Castro announced a significant change in policy and the relationship between our two governments.”

“[A]fter 50 years of policy that had not changed on the part of the [U.S.], it was my belief that it was time to try something new, that it was important for us to engage more directly with the Cuban government and the Cuban people. And as a consequence, I think we are now in a position to move on a path towards the future, and leave behind some of the circumstances of the past that have made it so difficult, I think, for our countries to communicate.”

“Already we’ve seen majorities of the American people and the Cuban people respond positively to this change. And I truly believe that as more exchanges take place, more commerce and interactions resume between the [U.S.] and Cuba, that the deep connections between the Cuban people and the American people will reflect itself in a more positive and constructive relationship between our governments.”

“Now, obviously there are still going to be deep and significant differences between our two governments. We will continue to try to lift up concerns around democracy and human rights. And as you heard from President Castro’s passionate speech this morning, they will lift up concerns about U.S. policy as well.” [2]

“But I think what we have both concluded is that we can disagree with the spirit of respect and civility, and that over time it is possible for us to turn the page and develop a new relationship in our two countries.”

“And some of our immediate tasks include normalizing diplomatic relations and ultimately opening an embassy in Havana, and Cuba being able to open an embassy in Washington, D.C. so that our diplomats are able to interact on a more regular basis.”

“So I want to thank President Castro for the spirit of openness and courtesy that he has shown during our interactions. And I think if we can build on this spirit of mutual respect and candidness, that over time we will see not just a transformation in the relationship between our two countries, but a positive impact throughout the hemisphere and the world.”

“And President Castro earlier today spoke about the significant hardships that the people of Cuba have undergone over many decades. I can say with all sincerity that the essence of my policy is to do whatever I can to make sure that the people of Cuba are able to prosper and live in freedom and security, and enjoy a connection with the world where their incredible talents and ingenuity and hard work can thrive.”

 President Raul Castro’s Pre-Meeting Comments (English translation)

“Mr. President, friends from the press, we have been making long speeches and listening to many long speeches too, so I do not want to abuse the time of President Obama or your time.”

“I think that what President Obama has just said, it’s practically the same as we feel about the topics, including human rights, freedom of the press. We have said on previous occasions to some American friends that we are willing to discuss every issue between the [U.S.] and Cuba. We are willing to discuss about those issues that I have mentioned and about many others, as these — both in Cuba but also in the [U.S.].”

“I think that everything can be on the table. I think that we can do it, as President Obama has just said, with respect for the ideas of the other. We could be persuaded of some things; of others, we might not be persuaded. But when I say that I agree with everything that the President has just said, I include that we have agreed to disagree. No one should entertain illusions. It is true that we have many differences. Our countries have a long and complicated history, but we are willing to make progress in the way the President has described.”

“We can develop a friendship between our two peoples. We shall continue advancing in the meetings which are taking place in order to re-establish relations between our countries. We shall open our embassies. We shall visit each other, having exchanges, people to people. And all that matters is what those neighbors can do; we are close neighbors, and there are many things that we can have.”

“So we are willing to discuss everything, but we need to be patient — very patient. Some things we will agree on; others we will disagree. The pace of life at the present moment in the world, it’s very fast. We might disagree on something today on which we could agree tomorrow. And we hope that our closest assistants –some of them are here with us today — we hope that they will follow the instructions of both Presidents.”

President Obama’s Post-Meeting Press Conference

Immediately after his meeting with President Castro, Obama held a press conference with the following additional remarks about Cuba.

“In keeping with the Inter-American Democratic Charter, we continue to stand up strongly for democracy and human rights.  This was the first Summit of the Americas to include a formal role for civil society.  As I said at yesterday’s forum, the [U.S.] will continue to deepen our support for civil society groups across the Americas and around the world.  I’m pleased that there was widespread agreement among the nations here that civil society groups have a permanent role in future summits.  And the [U.S.] will support this work through the new innovation center we’re creating to empower civil society groups across Latin America.”

“How to promote greater opportunity for the Cuban people was also a major focus of my meeting with President Castro, the first between leaders of our two nations in more than half a century.  I told President Castro in private what I’ve have said in public — that our governments will continue to have differences and the [U.S.] will continue to stand firmly for universal values and human rights.  At the same time, we agreed that we can continue to take steps forward that advance our mutual interests. We’ll continue to work toward reestablishing diplomatic relations, reopening embassies in Havana and Washington, and encouraging greater contacts and commerce and exchanges between our citizens.”

“I’m optimistic that we’ll continue to make progress and that this can indeed be a turning point — not just between the [U.S.] and Cuba, but for greater cooperation among countries across the region.”

“[W]ith respect to Cuba, there is majority support of our policy in the [U.S.], and there’s overwhelming support for our policy in Cuba.  I think people recognize that if you keep on doing something for 50 years and it doesn’t work, you should try something new.”

“And so the American people don’t need to be persuaded that this is, in fact, the right thing to do.  I recognize that there are still concerns and questions that Congress may have; we’ve got concerns and questions about specific activities that are taking place in Cuba, and human rights and reform.  And there were two members of the Cuban civil society that were in attendance at the meeting that I had yesterday who expressed much of what they have to go through on a day-to-day basis.  They were supportive of our policy of engagement with Cuba. And so I don’t think that it’s so much we have to persuade anybody.”

“The issue of the State Sponsor of Terrorism list — as you know, the State Department has provided a recommendation; it’s gone through our interagency process.  I’ll be honest with you, I have been on the road, and I want to make sure that I have a chance to read it, study it, before we announce publicly what the policy outcome is going to be.” [2]

“But in terms of the overall direction of Cuba policy, I think there is a strong majority both in the United States and in Cuba that says our ability to engage, to open up commerce and travel and people-to-people exchanges is ultimately going to be good for the Cuban people.”

“It was a candid and fruitful conversation between me and Raul Castro.  I can tell you that, in the conversations I’ve had so far with him — two on the phone and, most recently, face-to-face — that we are able to speak honestly about our differences and our concerns in ways that I think offer the possibility of moving the relationship between our two countries in a different and better direction.”

“We have very different views of how society should be organized.  And I was very direct with him that we are not going to stop talking about issues like democracy and human rights and freedom of assembly and freedom of the press — not because we think we are perfect and that every country has to mimic us exactly, but because there are a set of universal principles for which we stand.”

“And one of the goals of my administration is to have some consistency in speaking out on behalf of those who oftentimes don’t have a voice.  And I think during his speech in the plenary session, he was pretty clear about areas of U.S. policy he doesn’t like, and I suspect he’s going to continue to speak out on those.”

“What’s been clear from this entire summit, though, is the unanimity with which, regardless of their ideological predispositions, the leaders of Latin America think this is the right thing to do.  Because what they see is the possibility of a more constructive dialogue that ultimately benefits the Cuban people, and removes what too often has been a distraction or an excuse from the hemisphere acting on important challenges that we face.”

“So I am cautiously optimistic that over the coming months and coming years that the process that we’ve initiated, first announced in December, reaffirmed here at the Summit of the Americas, will lead to a different future for the Cuban people and a different relationship between the United States and Cuba.

“On Cuba, we are not in the business of regime change. We are in the business of making sure the Cuban people have freedom and the ability to participate and shape their own destiny and their own lives, and supporting civil society.”

“And there’s going to be an evolution, regardless of what we do, inside of Cuba.  Partly it’s going to be generational.  If you listened to President Castro’s comments earlier this morning, a lot of the points he made referenced actions that took place before I was born, and part of my message here is the Cold War is over.  There’s still a whole lot of challenges that we face and a lot of issues around the world, and we’re still going to have serious issues with Cuba on not just the Cuban government’s approach to its own people, but also regional issues and concerns.  There are going to be areas where we cooperate as well.  Cuban doctors deployed during the Ebola crisis made a difference; Cuban activity in Haiti in the wake of the earthquake made a difference.  And so there may be areas of collaboration as well.”

“What I said to President Castro is the same thing that I’ve said to leaders throughout the region.  We have a point of view and we won’t be shy about expressing it.  But I’m confident that the way to lift up the values that we care about is through persuasion.  And that’s going to be the primary approach that we take on a whole host of these issues — primarily because they don’t implicate our national security in a direct way.”

“And I think that we have to be very clear if Cuba is not a threat to the United States.  That doesn’t mean we don’t have differences with it.  But on the list of threats that I’m concerned about, I think it’s fair to say that between ISIL and Iran getting a nuclear weapon, and activities in Yemen and Libya, and Boko Haram, Russian aggression in Ukraine and the impact on our allies there — I could go down a pretty long list — climate change — so I think our approach has to be one of trying to work with the region and other countries, and be very clear about what we believe and what we stand for, and what we think works and what doesn’t.”

“And so often, when we insert ourselves in ways that go beyond persuasion, it’s counterproductive.  It backfires.  That’s been part of our history — which is why countries keep on trying to use us as an excuse for their own governance failures.  Let’s take away the excuse.  And let’s be clear that we’re prepared to partner and engage with everybody to try to lift up opportunity and prosperity and security for people in the region.”

I “did not get into the [minute] details [about rescinding the State Sponsor of Terrorism with President Castro.] As I said before, the State Sponsor of Terrorism recommendation will be coming to me.  I will read it; I’ll review it.  There’s a process whereby if, in fact, I accept those recommendations, Congress has an opportunity to review it, as well, and it will be there for people to see.”

“I think that the concerns around the embassy are going to be mostly on the Cuban side.  They haven’t dealt with an American embassy in Cuba in quite some time.  And changing in this way is, I’m sure, an unsettling process.  We’re accustomed to this.  We . . . “are familiar with how that gets done in a way that’s consistent with improving diplomatic relations over the long term.  This is probably a more profound shift for them than it is for us.”

“But we stand ready to move forward.  We’re confident that it can lead to an improved dialogue.  And our bottom line at the end is, is that it can lead to an improved set of prospects for the Cuban people.”

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[1] In addition to the hyperlinked text of these remarks, this post is based upon the following: Lederman & Kuhnhenn, In historic face to face, Obama and Castro vow to turn the page, Wash. Post (April 11, 2015), DeYoung & Miroff, Obama and Castro hold historic meeting, agree to foster a ‘new relationship,’ Wash. Post (April 11, 2015).  Future posts will cover other aspects of the Summit of the Americas. Prior posts set forth substantial extracts of Obama’s and Castro’s major speeches at the Summit.

[2] As discussed in a prior post, President Obama on April 14th rescinded the designation of Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, to be effective in 45 days.