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.

 

President Obama’s Major Speech at the Summit of the Americas

On April 10 and 11, Cuba for the first time was welcomed to the Summit of the Americas. Presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama exchanged handshakes and friendly greetings, and their speeches promised commitment to the process of reconciliation. Other leaders of the Americas celebrated this demonstration of reconciliation.

President Obama made several speeches and remarks at the Summit. This post will discuss his April 11th speech to the Summit’s plenary meeting; subsequent posts will cover his other remarks and those of President Castro.

 President Obama’s Speech

Obama

“When I came to my first Summit of the Americas six years ago, I promised to begin 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.  I pledged to build a new era of cooperation between our countries, as equal partners, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.  And I said that this new approach would be sustained throughout my presidency; it has, including during this past year.  I’ve met that commitment.”

“We come together at a historic time.  As has already been noted, the changes that I announced to U.S. policy toward Cuba mark the beginning of a new relationship between the people of the United States and the people of Cuba.  It will mean, as we’re already seeing, more Americans traveling to Cuba, more cultural exchanges, more commerce, more potential investment.  But most of all, it will mean more opportunity and resources for the Cuban people.  And we hope to be able to help on humanitarian projects, and provide more access to telecommunications and the Internet, and the free flow of information.”

“We continue to make progress towards fulfilling our shared commitments to formally reestablish diplomatic relations, and I have called on Congress to begin working to lift the embargo that’s been in place for decades.  The point is, the [U.S.] will not be imprisoned by the past.  We’re looking to the future and to policies that improve the lives of the Cuban people and advance the interests of cooperation in the hemisphere.”

“This shift in U.S. policy represents a turning point for our entire region.  The fact that President Castro and I are both sitting here today marks a historic occasion.  This is the first time in more than half a century that all the nations of the Americas are meeting to address our future together.  I think it’s no secret — and President Castro, I’m sure, would agree — that there will continue to be significant differences between our two countries.  We will continue to speak out on behalf of universal values that we think are important.  I’m sure President Castro will continue to speak out on the issues he thinks are important.”

“But I firmly believe that if we can continue to move forward and seize this momentum in pursuit of mutual interests, then better relations between the [U.S.] and Cuba will create new opportunities for cooperation across our region — for the security and prosperity and health and dignity of all our people.”

“Now, alongside our shift toward Cuba, the [U.S.] has deepened our engagement in the Americas across the board.  Since I took office, we’ve boosted U.S. exports and also U.S. imports from the rest of the hemisphere by over 50 percent.  And that supports millions of jobs in all of our countries.  I’ve proposed $1 billion to help the people of Central America strengthen governance, and improve security and help to spark more economic growth and, most importantly, provide new pathways for young people who too often see their only prospects an underground economy that too often leads to violence.”

“We’re partnering with countries across the region to develop clean, more affordable and reliable energy that helps nations to combat the urgent threat of climate change, as [Brazil’s] President Rousseff already noted.  Our 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative is working to bring 100,000 students from Latin America to the [U.S.] and 100,000 students from the [U.S.] to Latin America.  The new initiatives that I announced in Jamaica will help empower a new generation of young people across the Americas with the skills and job training that they need to compete in the global economy.”

“During the course of my meetings with CARICOM [Caribbean Community], as well as my meetings with SICA [System for Integration of Central America] as well as the discussions that I’ve had with many of you bilaterally, there have been additional ideas that we’re very interested in — finding ways in which we can expand access to the Internet and broadband; how we can structure private-public partnerships to rebuild infrastructure across the region; and to expand our commercial ties in a broad-based and inclusive way.  Because I am firmly of the belief that we will only succeed if everybody benefits from the economic growth, not just a few at the top.”

“At home, I’ve taken executive actions to fix as much of our broken immigration system as I can, which includes trying to help people come out of the shadows so that they can live and work in a country that they call home.  And that includes hundreds of thousands of young people we call DREAMers, who have already received temporary relief.  And I’m remaining committed to working with our Congress on comprehensive immigration reform.”

“So the bottom line is this:  The [U.S.] is focused on the future.  We’re not caught up in ideology — at least I’m not.  I’m interested in progress and I’m interested in results.  I’m not interested in theoretic arguments; I’m interested in actually delivering for people.  We are more deeply engaged across the region than we have been in decades.  And those of you have interacted with me know that if you bring an issue to my attention, I will do my best to try to address it.  I will not always be able to fix it right away, but I will do my best.”

“I believe the relationship between the [U.S.] and the Americas is as good as it has ever been.  I’m here today to work with you to build on this progress.  Let me just mention a few areas in which I think we can make more progress.”

“First, we will continue to uphold the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which states that “the peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy.”  I believe our governments, together, have an obligation to uphold the universal freedoms and rights of all our citizens.  I want to again commend [Panama’s] President Varela and Panama for making civil society groups from across the region formal partners in this summit for the first time.  I believe the voices of our citizens must be heard.  And I believe going forward, civil society should be a permanent part of these summits.”

“Second, we have to focus on reigniting economic growth that can fuel progress further in those communities that have not been reached.  And that means making the Americas more competitive.  We still have work to do to harmonize regulations; encourage good governance and transparency that attracts investment; invest in infrastructure; address some of the challenges that we have with respect to energy.  The cost of energy in many communities — in many countries, particularly in Central American and the Caribbean, are so high that it presents a great challenge to economic development, and we think that we can help particularly around clean energy issues.”

“We have to confront the injustice of economic inequality and poverty.  I think that collectively we are starting to identify what programs work and which programs do not work.  And we should put more money in those things that do work, and stop doing those things that don’t.  We don’t have money to waste because of too many young people out there with enormous needs.  I think President Varela is right to focus particularly on education and skills building.  And this is an agenda which we should all tackle collectively.”

“Third, we have to keep investing in the clean energy that creates jobs and combats climate change.  The [U.S.] is today leading this global effort, along with many of you.  And I should point out that America’s carbon pollution is near its lowest level in almost two decades.  Across the Americas, I think we have the opportunity to expand our clean energy partnerships and increase our investments in renewables.”

“And finally, we have to stand firm for the security of our citizens.  We must continue to join with our partners across the region, especially in Central America, but also in the Caribbean, to promote an approach, a holistic approach that applies rule of law, respects human rights, but also tackles the narco-traffickers that devastate so many communities.  This is a shared responsibility.  And I’ve said before that the [U.S.] has a responsibility to reduce the demand for drugs and to reduce the flow of weapons south, even as we partner with you to go after the networks that can cause so much violence.”

“So, a new relationship with Cuba.  More trade and economic partnerships that reduce poverty and create opportunity, particularly focusing on education.  Increased people-to-people exchanges.  More investment in our young people.  Clean energy that combats climate change.  Security cooperation to protect our citizens and our communities.  That’s the new chapter of engagement that the [U.S.] is pursuing across the Americas.”

“I want to make one last comment addressing some of the points that [Ecuador’s] President Correa raised and I’m sure will be raised by a few others during this discussion.  I always enjoy the history lessons that I receive when I’m here.  I’m a student of history, so I tend to actually be familiar with many of these episodes that have been mentioned.  I am the first one to acknowledge that America’s application of concern around human rights has not always been consistent.  And I’m certainly mindful that there are dark chapters in our own history in which we have not observed the principles and ideals upon which the country was founded.”

“Just a few weeks ago, I was in Selma, Alabama celebrating the 50th anniversary of a march across a bridge that resulted in horrific violence.  And the reason I was there, and the reason it was a celebration, is because it was a triumph of human spirit in which ordinary people without resort to violence were able to overcome systematic segregation.  Their voices were heard, and our country changed.”

“America never makes a claim about being perfect.  We do make a claim about being open to change.  So I would just say that we can, I suppose, spend a lot of time talking about past grievances, and I suppose that it’s possible to use the [U.S.] as a handy excuse every so often for political problems that may be occurring domestically.  But that’s not going to bring progress.  That’s not going to solve the problems of children who can’t read, who don’t have enough to eat.  It’s not going to make our countries more productive or more competitive in a global economy.”

“So I just want to make very clear that when we speak out on something like human rights, it’s not because we think we are perfect, but it is because we think the ideal of not jailing people if they disagree with you is the right ideal.”

“Perhaps President Correa has more confidence than I do in distinguishing between bad press and good press.  There are a whole bunch of press that I think is bad, mainly because it criticizes me, but they continue to speak out in the [U.S.] because I don’t have confidence in a system in which one person is making that determination.  I think that if we believe in democracy it means that everybody has the chance to speak out and offer their opinions, and stand up for what they believe is right, and express their conscience, and pray as they would, and organize and assemble as they believe is appropriate — as long as they’re not operating violently.”

“So we will continue to speak out on those issues not because we’re interested in meddling, but because we know from our own history.  It’s precisely because we’re imperfect that we believe it’s appropriate for us to stand up.  When Dr. King was in jail, people outside the United States spoke up on his behalf.  And I would be betraying our history if I did not do the same.”

“The Cold War has been over for a long time.  And I’m not interested in having battles that, frankly, started before I was born.  What I am interested in is solving problems, working with you.  That’s what the [U.S.] is interested in doing.  That’s why we’ve invested so much in our bilateral relationships, and that’s why I will continue to invest in creating the kind of spirit of equal partnership and mutual interest and mutual respect upon which I believe progress can advance.”

 

 

 

Seventh Summit of the Americas Is Underway in Panama

Summit logoThe Seventh Summit of the Americas will take place in Panama City, Panama on April 10 and 11. Such Summits are institutionalized gatherings of heads of state and government of the member states of the Western Hemisphere where leaders discuss common policy issues, affirm shared values and commit to concerted actions at the national and regional level to address continuing and new challenges faced by countries in the Americas. [1]

In the meantime, preliminary Summit events are underway while planning for the meetings of heads of state and government are nearly complete.

This post will review the plans for this Summit by the organizers and then discuss Summit developments involving the U.S., Cuba and Venezuela. [2]

 The Summit Organizers’ Plan

The Summit’s central theme is “Prosperity with Equity: The Challenge of Cooperation in the Americas” with several sub-themes, including education, health, energy, environment, migration, security, citizen participation and democratic governance. These issues will be discussed by 35 heads of state and government. In addition to these officials, the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, will attend.

The priority of the organizers in Panama is to work on a comprehensive document titled “Mandates for Action”, which will contain agreements from all countries involved on topics related to health, education, security, migration, environment, energy, democratic governance and citizen participation.

The Summit’s main events will take place in the ATLAPA Convention Center in central Panama City as shown in the photograph below.

PanamaCtr

The Summit also will host the four following forums:

  • Civil Society Forum will seek to promote governments’ consultation and coordination, dialogue and exchange with civil society. It also will offer input and recommendations for the consideration of the participating States.
  • The Youth Forum will provide young entrepreneurs an opportunity to offer their recommendations to the participating States.
  • The Business Forum will explore the trade and investment opportunities and public-private sector cooperation.
  • The University Presidents’ Forum will focus on academic mobility, the role of innovation and technology in enhancing research skills and college education for the region; and the importance of scholarly research on entrepreneurship and sustainable economic development.

 U.S. Plans for the Summit

 A prior post reviewed some of the U.S preparations for the Summit. In addition, the U.S. Department of State asserts that this Summit “is an historic opportunity to deepen partnerships, collaborate on shared challenges, and make tangible commitments to securing a brighter future for all of the people of the Americas. . . . The [U.S.] is working closely with partners throughout the Americas to ensure the 2015 Summit upholds our common commitment to inclusive economic development, democracy, and human rights, while providing robust engagement among government leaders, civil society groups, and regional business communities.”

The U.S. especially has been calling for the participation of Cuban civil society in the Summit. Indeed, in his December 17th announcement of the rapprochement with Cuba, President Obama said, “we are prepared to have Cuba join the other nations of the hemisphere at the Summit. . . . But we will insist that civil society join us so that citizens, not just leaders, are shaping our future.”

Interestingly I have not seen any news or information about the U.S. inviting U.S. civil society, youth, business or university presidents to participate in the Summit.

The U.S. was hoping that by the time of the Summit, the U.S. and Cuba would have re-established normal diplomatic relations and that this would be an occasion for the two countries to enjoy receiving congratulations from the other countries in the Americas.

The resumption of normal relations, however, has not yet happened, and now there are many countries demonstrably upset over President Obama’s executive order of March 9th imposing sanctions on seven Venezuelans. This week at Venezuela’s invitation, a senior Department of State official went to Venezuela to meet with the country’s foreign minister.

The Washington Post this week published an editorial criticizing the U.S. opening to Cuba. It said there have been no benefits to the U.S. to date while Cuba has gained. President Castro will attend the Summit. Soon the U.S. probably will rescind its designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” in disregard of Cuba’s alleged “continued support for Colombia’s terrorist groups, its illegal arms trading with North Korea and the sanctuary it provides American criminal JoAnne Chesimard.” In addition, says the editorial, Cuba is joining Venezuela in unjustifiably attacking the U.S. over President Obama’s executive order imposing sanctions on seven Venezuelans.

Cuba’s Plans for the Summit

According to the Cuban press, the country has been preparing for full participation in the Summit. The Cuban Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, Rodrigo Malmierca, emphasized that over 100 representatives of Cuban civil society, including youth, academics, intellectuals, entrepreneurs and coop leaders would be going to the Summit. They will show the possibilities that Cuba provides for the development of international economic relations from the adoption of Law 118 Foreign Investment and Development Special Zone Mariel (ZEDM).

On Tuesday pro-government representatives of Cuban civil society in Panama issued a statement denouncing the presence at the Summit of other Cubans who allegedly were “mercenaries paid by the historic enemies of our nation,” i.e., the U.S. Such Cubans, the pro-government representatives said, “make up a tiny ‘opposition’ manufactured from abroad, lacking any legitimacy or decorum. Several of its members are publicly linked to recognized terrorists who have caused infinite pain to the Cuban people.”

The statement asserted, “It is offensive that such people, who have made betraying the homeland a well-paid profession and shamefully usurp the name of the country that they slander and offend day after day, are participating in these forums. For the dignified and sovereign Cuba that has withstood more than five decades of blockade and harassment, for the overwhelming majority of Cubans, for us, we who have come to Panama with modesty and a spirit of cooperation to share experiences of our social development, it is unacceptable that there are people of such low moral character here.”

The next day, Wednesday, during one of the forums, about 100 supporters of Cuba’s government heckled Cuban dissidents by calling them “imperialist” and “mercenaries” Organizers appealed for calm during the hour-long frenzied scene. The pro-government groups joined by pro-government groups from Venezuela angrily marched out, saying they wouldn’t attend the proceedings in the presence of individuals they accuse of trying to destabilize Cuba’s government.

From Havana, Cuban Vice-President (and reputed future president) Miguel Diaz-Canel, stated, “Nobody could think that in a process of re-establishing relations, which we’re trying to move forward on with the [U.S.], Cuban support for Venezuela could be made conditional. If they attack Venezuela, they’re attacking Cuba. And Cuba will always be on Venezuela’s side above all things.”

A Cuban online newspaper, CubaDebate, has a journalist in Panama to provide minute-by-minute tweets about the Summit.

Venezuela’s Plans for the Summit

Venezuela plans to make a major effort to obtain the Summit’s condemnation of President Obama’s executive order imposing sanctions on seven Venezuelans. For example, President Maduro will bring a petition against the executive order that has been signed by over nine million of his people. A Caracas pollster said, “Maduro is taking advantage of Obama’s order. It’s an extreme campaign that distracts from the internal problems of the country. You just want your people in the street, proselytizing and campaigning.”

In addition, Maduro’s political allies are sending 825 activists to the Summit to protest Obama and support Maduro.”There will be marches, caravans and anti-imperialist stands,” said Rafael Uzcategui, secretary general of the ruling Fatherland for All, who said that Nicaragua, a close ally of Chavez, will send a delegation with a similar purpose.

Others plan to focus on Venezuela’s alleged human rights violations. In recent weeks many countries and human rights organizations have criticized Venezuela’s imprisonment of political dissidents. This includes the U.N., the European Parliament, the governments of the U.S., Spain, Canada and Colombia and the Socialist International, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, among others.

Now 21 Latin American presidents have issued a statement to denounce the “democratic alteration” of Venezuela and to advocate for the release of prisoners and the restoration of political autonomy. Their proposed Declaration of Panama asks the Summit of the Americas to seek a solution to the Venezuelan crisis “that respects the constitutional principles and international standards.” The signers of this statement include Colombians Andres Pastrana, Alvaro Uribe and Belisario Betancur; Costa Ricans Laura Chinchilla, Rafael Calderon, Miguel Angel Rodriguez and Luis Alberto Monge; Chilean Sebastián Piñera ; and Spain’s José María Aznar.

In addition, this week 28 human rights organizations across the continent (including: Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Transparency International and the International Commission of Jurists) issued a statement requiring cessation of “harassment against human rights defenders of human rights ” and called on the governments participating in the Summit of the Americas” to demand the government of Nicolas Maduro to ensure that the defenders and human rights defenders can carry out their work without fear of reprisal.”

A group of Venezuelan human rights organizations will be going to Panama to present their complaints about human rights in their country. President Maduro’s response is to call them “CIA stooges.”

Conclusion

New York Times editorial has urged U.S. and Cuban government officials at the Summit to “not ignore” the Cuban civil society representatives, “but rather work to amplify their voices. They have struggled for years to be heard in their own country, where those critical of the Communist system have faced repression.” The Times also notes that some Cubans “who cannot afford a trip to Panama or are restricted from traveling have pledged to hold a parallel meeting in Cuba. . . . Increasingly, the [Cuban] government will have to reckon with the fact that many of the dissidents’ aspirations are shared by most Cubans.”

Now we will have to see what actually happens at the rest of the Summit.

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[1] Prior Summits were held in Miami, Florida, USA (I, 1994); Santiago, Chile (II, 1998); Quebec City, Canada (III, 2001); Mar del Plata, Argentina (IV, 2005); Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago (V, 2009); and Cartagena, Colombia (VI 2012). This process also held a Summit on Sustainable Development in Santa Cruz, Bolivia in 1996 and a Special Summit in Monterey, Mexico in 2004.

[2] In addition to information from the Summit’s website, this post is based upon the following: Vyas, Venezuela’s Maduro Takes Petition Against U.S. Sanctions to Summit of the Americas, W.S.J. (April 8, 2015); Sanchez, Senior U.S. official in Venezuela for meetings with Maduro, Wash. Post (April 8, 2015); Goodman & Rodriguez, Cuban dissidents heckled at Americas Summit, Wash. Post (April 8, 2015); Statement by the Cuban delegation to the parallel forums of the Summit of the Americas, Granma (April 7, 2015); Gómez, Given the presence of mercenaries, Cuban delegation abandons Civil Society Forum, Granma (April 8, 2015); Editorial, Mr. Obama’s opportunity in Panama, Wash. Post (April 7, 2015); Neuman, In a Surprise, a Top Kerry Adviser Visits Venezuela, N.Y. Times (April 8, 2015); Reuters, Defying U.S., Cuba Stands by Venezuela on Eve of Regional Summit, N.Y. Times (April 8, 2015); Meza, US seeks to open a channel for dialogue with the government of Maduro, El Pais (April 9, 2015).

 

 

 

 

U.S. Clarifies Positions on Cuba and Venezuela in Preparation for Summit of the Americas

This coming Friday, April 10, President Obama, Secretary of State Kerry and other U.S. officials will be in Panama for the Seventh Summit of the Americas. In preparation for this major meeting, President Obama and other officials have been clarifying U.S. positions about Cuba and Venezuela. The New York Times also chimed in with an editorial about U.S. and Cuba.[1]

Cuba

During a April 4th interview with New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, President Obama said, “engagement,” combined with meeting core strategic needs, could serve American interests vis-à-vis [Cuba as well as Iran and Burma] . . . far better than endless sanctions and isolation. He added that America, with its overwhelming power, needs to have the self-confidence to take some calculated risks to open important new possibilities. “

“You take a country like Cuba. For us to test the possibility that engagement leads to a better outcome for the Cuban people, there aren’t that many risks for us. It’s a tiny little country. It’s not one that threatens our core security interests, and so [there’s no reason not] to test the proposition. And if it turns out that it doesn’t lead to better outcomes, we can adjust our policies.”

The President made other comments about Cuba this week in an interview by National Public Radio. He said, “As soon as I get a recommendation [from the State Department on rescinding the designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism”], I’ll be in a position to act on it.” The President added, “The criteria is [sic] very straightforward. Is this particular country considered a state sponsor of terrorism — not, do we agree with them on everything, not whether they engage in repressive or authoritarian activities in their own country. I think there’s a real opportunity here, and we are going to continue to make – move forward on it. Our hope is to be in a position where we can open an embassy there, that we can start having more regular contacts and consultations around a whole host of issues, some of which we have interests in common.”

Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser in the White House and a principal U.S. negotiator of the agreement with Cuba to engage in reconciliation, said this week that the terrorism review is likely in the final stages. “It made no sense that the [U.S.] consistently essentially made the decision to isolate ourselves from the rest of the Americas because we were clinging to a policy that wasn’t working. We would anticipate that this [rescission of the terrorism designation] does help begin to remove a significant impediment to having a more constructive engagement in the hemisphere, because we demonstrated an openness to engage all the countries in the Americas, to include Cuba.”

These remarks have prompted a lot of speculation that just before or at the Summit, the State Department will announce that it has finished its review of its designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” and concluded that it should be rescinded and that the President has decided to do just that.

Venezuela

Mr. Rhodes also tried to dampen Latin American outcries against the President’s March 9th executive order imposing sanctions against seven Venezuelans and stating that “[T]he situation in Venezuela . . . constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States, and [the President] hereby declare a national emergency to deal with that threat.”[2]

According to Mr. Rhodes this week, the wording of the executive order “is completely pro forma.  This is a language that we use in executive orders around the world.  So the [U.S.] does not believe that Venezuela poses some threat to our national security. We . . . just have a framework for how we formalize these executive orders.” Moreover, the executive order was not “aimed at targeting the Venezuelan government broadly or bringing about some type of dramatic change in terms of the government of Venezuela.  It was focused on a number of individuals who had been determined to be associated with human rights violations.  And we have executive orders like this around the world, and they’re a tool that allows us to have consequences associated with our support for universal values.” [3]

New York Times Editorial

An April 7th editorial in the New York Times recognizes the obvious: the change is unfolding slowly. “Untangling the web of sanctions the [U.S.] imposes on Cuba will take years because many are codified into law. The Cuban government, while publicly welcoming a rapprochement, seems intent on moving cautiously at a pivotal moment when its historically tight grip on Cuban society will inevitably be tested.”

Nevertheless, the Times argues, “it has already reset Cubans’ expectations about their future and their nation’s role in a global economy.” And “it has made it increasingly hard for [Cuba’s] leaders to blame their economic problems and isolation on the [U.S.].”

Moreover, the Times points out, “some early concrete steps are promising. Obama administration officials and business executives have met in recent weeks with Cuban officials to explore how American companies can help upgrade the nation’s telecommunications infrastructure and provide cheaper and more available Internet service. Executives from Google, whose platforms and services are widely desired in Cuba, visited the island in mid-March to make headway in the company’s goal of establishing its presence there.

In addition, “Airbnb, the company based in San Francisco that allows people to list their homes online for short-term rentals, announced last week that it had broken into the Cuban market, unveiling 1,000 listings there. That debut in Cuba could boost the small, but growing private sector in a nation where people have only recently been allowed to earn a living outside state employment.”

The new U.S. policy of engagement is gaining the increased support of Cuban-Americans. A “poll conducted last month by Bendixen & Amandi International found that 51 percent of Cuban-Americans agreed with the decision to start normalizing relations with Cuba, an increase from 44 percent in a survey in December.”

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[1] This post is based upon the following sources: Friedman, Iran and the Obama Doctrine, N.Y. Times (April 5, 2015); Nat’l Pub. Radio, Transcript: President Obama’s Full NPR Interview On Iran Nuclear Deal (April 7, 2015); White House, On-the-Record Conference Call on the P{resident’s Trip to Jamaica and Panama (April 7, 2015); Reuters, Obama Says Would Move Fast to Take Cuba Off Terrorism Sponsor List, N.Y. Times (April 7, 2015); Reuters, U.S. Closing In on Recommendation to Remove Cuba From State Terrorism List, N.Y. Times (April 7, 2015); Davis, Latin American Trip Will Test Obama’s Push for Ties with Cuba, N.Y. Times (April 8, 2015); Neuman, White House Seeks to Soothe Relations with Venezuela, N.Y. Times (April 7, 2015); Editorial, Cuban Expectations in a New Era, N.Y. Times (April 7, 2015).

[2] The President’s executive order and the reactions in Latin America were subjects of posts on March 16, 18, 19 and 20.

[3] Mr. Rhodes’ dismissal of the preamble to the executive order, in my opinion, is undoubtedly correct as a matter of U.S. national security and is helpful in trying to calm Latin American nerves, But Rhodes’ comment raises a troubling question. I assume the preamble is based upon a federal statute allowing certain sanctions to be imposed in certain circumstances threatening national security. If that is the law and if, in fact, Venezuela does not impose a threat to national security, then is the executive order illegal under U.S. law?

 

Cuba Meets with European Union and Russian Ministers

This week Cuban leaders have held meetings in Havana with the foreign ministers of the European Union and Russia.

European Union-Cuba

A previous post examined the recent history of Cuba’s relations with the European Union (EU), including their negotiations on improving relations in 2014 and earlier this month. Another set of such negotiations or meetings took place in Havana on March 23-24 with the EU’s [1]

The most recent meetings were with the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini.

EU +Castro

She met with Cuban President Raúl Castro and Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla. Also present were Stefano Manservisi, Mogherini’s chief of staff; Herman Portocarero, EU Ambassador to Cuba; and Rogelio Sierra Diaz, Cuba’s Minister and Deputy Foreign Minister. (To the left is a photograph of Mogherini and Castro.)

In addition, Magherini met with the President of the National Assembly of Popular Power, Esteban Lazo Hernández; Vice President of the Council of Ministers and Minister of Economy and Planning, Marino Murillo Jorge; and Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, Rodrigo Malmierca.

Afterwards Magherini said that although the pace of progress in the EU-Cuba talks on improving their relations was “slow,” it was gaining “political momentum” and that the two parties had “decided to speed up the rhythm of our negotiations, hopefully to manage to finalize the framework of our dialogue and agreement by the end of this year.” She also referred to the signing of a program between the island and the EU in the amount of 50 million euros until 2020, which will be used in commercial areas and especially in agriculture and complimented Cuba for its essential role in regional processes such as the Colombia-FARC peace negotiations taking place in Havana.

A Cuban newspaper reported the President Castro observed that “in a friendly atmosphere,” the two of them “exchanged ideas about the links between the EU and Cuba .They agreed on the importance of developing relationships of mutual respect, based on the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter. Also, they discussed issues of common interest of the international agenda.”

Bruno Rodriguez reiterated Cuba’s “willingness to work to advance these links and . . . constructive engagement with the negotiations for an agreement on political dialogue and bilateral cooperation that is underway.” He also noted Cuba’s appreciation for the votes of EU members in support of Cuba’s resolution against the U.S. blockade (embargo) at last Fall’s U.N. General Assembly meeting.

Magherini and Bruno Rodriguez will see each other at the Summit of the Americas on April 10-11 in Panama, to which both Cuba and the EU are invited for the first time before the two of them meet in Brussels on April 22. In addition, Cuban officials will attend a summit of European and Latin American leaders scheduled for June in Brussels.

Russia-Cuba [2]

 

Serguei-Lavrov-y-Raúl-Castro1

On March 24, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met in Havana with Cuban President Raúl Castro. Also present were Mikhail L. Kamynin, Russian Ambassador to Cuba; Alexander V. Schetinin, the Director of Latin America at Russia’s Foreign Ministry; Cuban Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla; and Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister, Rogelio Sierra Díaz. (Above is a photograph of Larov and Castro.)

The participants discussed the excellent state of their relations and ratified the willingness to work together in the effective implementation of the bilateral economic agenda and deepen exchanges in areas of common interest. Castro thanked Russia’s support for ending the U.S. economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba and reiterated his country’s opposition to the unilateral sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its NATO allies against Russia.

Larov said, “Normalization between the United States and Cuba makes us happy. We salute this rapprochement,” and “we call for the lifting of the (U.S.) trade and financial blockade of Cuba as soon as possible.”

Earlier Larov met separately with Foreign Minister Rodriguez and with Ricardo Cabrisas, Vice President of Cuba’s Council of Ministers. They discussed bilateral cooperation and the interest of Russian companies in investing in Cuba’s development.

CubaRussia-0a5c9

Simultaneously a Russian ship of the class generally used for intelligence gathering was in the Havana Harbor as shown in the photograph to the left by Desmond Boylan/Associated Press.

 Conclusion

These meeting emphasize that Cuba’s redefining its relationships with the U.S. is not the only bilateral issue facing Cuba and that the U.S. is in competition with the EU and Russia for improving economic relations.

culPanama Canalbra-cutAnother factor influencing all of these discussions is Cuba’s construction of a deep-sea port at Mariel to accommodate larger ships going through an expanded Panama Canal, which announced this week that the expansion should be completed next year. (To the right is a photograph of one portion of the expanded canal.)

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[1] This section of the post is based upon the following sources: Reuters, EU, Cuba to Speed Up Talks, Seek Deal by End of 2015, N.Y. Times (Mar. 24, 2015); Raúl received the High Representative of the European Union, CubaDebate (Mar. 24, 2015); Raúl received the High Representative of the European Union, Granma (Mar. 24, 2015); Forte, Visit of European High Representative promotes relations with Cuba, Granma (Mar. 24, 2015); Abellán, EU foreign affairs chief steps up talks for new Cuba cooperation policy, El Pais (Mar. 24, 2015).

[2] This section of the post is based upon the following source Assoc. Press, Russian FM Visits Cuba, Calls for End of US Trade Embargo, Wash. Post (Mar. 24, 2015); Reuters, Russian Foreign Minister Praises New U.S.-Cuba Relations, N.Y. Times (Mar. 24, 2015); Raul held meeting with the Foreign Minister of Russia, CubaDebate (Mar. 24, 2015); Raul meets with Russian Foreign Minister, Granma (Mar. 25, 2015).

 

 

Mogherini–

 

https://dwkcommentaries.com/2015/03/10/european-union-and-cubas-negotiations-over-human-rights-and-other-issues/

 

ALBA Emergency Meeting’s Action Regarding President Obama’s Executive Order Imposing Sanctions on Seven Venezuelans

As discussed in a prior post, Venezuela has been organizing Latin American opposition to President Obama’s March 9th executive order imposing sanctions on seven Venezuelans. The latest venue for such opposition was the March 17th ALBA emergency meeting in Caracas, Venezuela.

This post will discuss that ALBA resolution and Cuban President Rául Castro’s passionate speech at the meeting against the U.S. and the executive order. We will conclude with some observations.

ALBA’s Resolution Regarding the U.S. Executive Order [1]

After speeches and discussion, ALBA adopted a resolution that:

  • Demanded “the U.S. government and its president, [to] repeal Executive Order adopted on March 9, 2015, against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, which constitutes a threat to their sovereignty and interference in the internal affairs of this sister nation.”
  • Expressed “their strong support for the process of dialogue for the restoration of relations between Cuba and the [U.S.], urging President Obama to adopt with determination the measures within their executive powers to amend the implementation of the economic, commercial and financial [embargo or blockade], and to stop the illegal occupation of the territory occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base.”
  • Urged “Panama, as host of the VII Summit of the Americas to ensure through a transparent process the widest, legitimate and representative participation in the Forum of Civil Society, popular movements and country NGOs that advocate for nuclear disarmament, environmentalists, against neoliberalism, the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy region, university and secondary students, farmers, unions, indigenous communities, organizations that oppose the contamination of shale, advocates for the rights of immigrants, denouncing torture, extrajudicial killings, police brutality, racist practices, claiming for women equal pay for equal work, which require compensation for damage to the transnational companies.”

President Rául Castro’s Speech [2]

President Rául Castro
President Rául Castro

“ALBA brings us together today to reaffirm our firmest support for the Bolivarian people and government in the face of the latest interventionist measures and threats from the U.S. government against Venezuela.” (In the photograph to the left Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla is seated behind President Castro at the ALBA meeting.)

“The facts demonstrate that history cannot be ignored. The relations between the United States and Latin America and the Caribbean have been marked by the “Monroe Doctrine” and the objective of exercising domination and hegemony over our nations.”

“Simon Bolívar had anticipated that the [U.S.] ‘seems destined by Providence to plague America with misery in the name of Liberty,’ and [Jose] Martí fell in combat before concluding the letter in which he explained the “duty of preventing the [U.S.] from spreading throughout the Antilles as Cuba gains its independence, and from overpowering with that additional strength our lands of America.’”

“Later came the military interventions, the coup d’états, the maneuvers to overthrow nationalist or progressive governments, the backing of bloody military dictatorships, the undercover operations, the support for terrorism and subversion, as well as the appropriation and plundering of our resources to perpetuate dependence and underdevelopment.”

Cuba’s “triumphant audacity to carry out a socialist revolution just 90 miles from the [U.S.] has meant immense sacrifices, suffering, loss of life and material deprivation for the Cuban people, subject to . . . every kind of hostility, including the support and organization of armed bands in the mountains from . . . [late]1959, the Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961 and the formalization of the blockade in 1962, all with the stated intention of defeating the Revolution and changing the political, economic and social order we freely chose and subsequently confirmed in a constitutional referendum.”

“The result has been a resounding failure [for the U.S.], the harming of our people and the complete isolation of the [U.S.] . . . , as recently recognized by President Barack Obama on announcing a new policy [on December 17, 2014] and resolving to open another chapter. However, his government spokespeople insist on clarifying that the objectives persist and only the methods change.”

“The triumph of the Bolivarian Revolution was an extraordinary milestone in the history of Venezuela and the whole region, which had begun to awaken from the long neoliberal slumber. An era of change commenced in the continent and other nations decided to embark on the path towards full independence and integration and again take up the flags of our national heroes.”

“ALBA, UNASUR [and] CELAC were created, which united, in their diversity, previous groupings and initiatives of genuine Latin Americanist and Caribbean calling, founded on principles of solidarity, cooperation, social justice and defense of sovereignty.”

“PetroCaribe was an extraordinary, generous and humanistic contribution of President Hugo Chávez Frías. Now [the U.S.] wants to destroy PetroCaribe, to threaten its member states, to submit them to the oil multinationals and separate them from Venezuela. They do not realize that our peoples have decided, irrevocably, to continue our unstoppable advance and fight for a multipolar and just world, where those who were historically excluded have a voice, hope and dignity.”

“U.S. imperialism has attempted, without success, practically all possible formulas to destabilize and subvert the Bolivarian Chavista revolution, to recover its control of the largest oil reserves on the planet, and to deliver a blow to the integrationist, emancipation process underway in Our America.”

“The arbitrary, aggressive, unjustified executive order issued by the [U.S.] President regarding the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela’s government, describing it as a threat to its national security, shows that the [U.S.] is able to sacrifice the peace and the direction of hemispheric and regional relations, for reasons of domination and domestic politics.”

“The idea is untenable that a country like Venezuela — which has shown so much solidarity, never invaded or harmed any other, and contributes in a significant and altruistic manner to the energy security and economic stability of a considerable number of nations of the continent — could represent a threat to the security of the greatest super-power in history.”

“We support the honorable, valiant, constructive position taken by President Nicolás Maduro, who, despite the seriousness of this threat, has extended his hand to the [U.S.] President to initiate a dialogue based on international law and mutual respect, which could lead to the unconditional revocation of President Obama’s executive order and the normalization of relations. ALBA and CELAC should join in this proposal.”

“Today Venezuela is not alone, nor is our region the one it was 20 years ago. We will not tolerate the violation of sovereignty or allow peace in the region to be broken with impunity.”

“Threats to the peace and stability of Venezuela represent threats to regional stability and peace, as well.”

“The peace, which Venezuela today demands and which we all need, [is] a “peace with justice, with equality; the peace on our feet, not on our knees; peace with dignity and development,” as Maduro said. It is the peace to which we committed ourselves in the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace, adopted by the II CELAC Summit in Havana.”

Cuba’s “position under these circumstances remains unchanged. I reiterate the firm solidarity of the Cuban Revolution with the Bolivarian Revolution, with constitutional President Nicolás Maduro and with the civic-military union which he heads. I reiterate our absolute loyalty to the memory of Comandante Hugo Chávez Frías, the Cuban Revolution’s best friend.”

“We reaffirm once again, “The Cuban collaborators present in [our] sister country [Venezuela], will continue to fulfill their duties under any circumstances whatsoever, to the benefit of the fraternal, noble, generous people of Venezuela.”

“The [U.S.] must understand once and for all that it is impossible to seduce or buy Cuba, or intimidate Venezuela. Our unity is indestructible.”

“Nor will we concede one iota in the defense of sovereignty and independence, or tolerate any type of interference or conditions on our internal affairs.”

“Nor will we cease to defend just causes in Our America and the world, nor will we ever abandon our brothers in the struggle. We have come to close ranks with Venezuela and ALBA, and reaffirm that principles are not negotiable.”

“To defend these convictions, we will attend the 7th Summit of the Americas. We will present our positions with firmness, clarity and respect. We will reject with determination any attempt to isolate or threaten Venezuela, and demand a definitive end to the blockade of Cuba. Cuban civil society will be the voice of those without a voice, and we will expose the mercenaries who will appear there [posing] as Cuba’s civil society.”

“We must call upon all peoples and governments of Our America to mobilize and remain alert in the defense of Venezuela. Solidarity is the foundation of unity and regional integration.”

Conclusion

As mentioned in a prior post, I have not been a close observer of events in Venezuela and U.S. relations with that country and thus have no grounds for siding with Venezuela’s version of those events and relations or with the U.S. version. Therefore, I will try to set out these different versions in future posts [3] and invite respectful comments agreeing or disagreeing with these conflicting versions and hopefully containing citations to sources.

As an advocate for U.S.-Cuba reconciliation, I am troubled by the prospect that what I have called the “squabble” over President Obama’s March 9th executive order will adversely affect or derail that reconciliation, a concern heightened by the previously mentioned speech by President Castro.

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[1] Declaration of the Special Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America-Trade Treaty (ALBA-TCP), Granma (Mar. 17, 2015); Hernández, Cuba and Alba in solidarity with Venezuela, Granma (Mar. 18, 2015).

[2] Rául Castro, We must call upon all the peoples and governments of Our America to mobilize and be alert in defense of Venezuela, Granma (Mar. 18, 2015). The day before this speech the President’s brother, Fidel Castro, in a long letter to Venezuelan President Maduro condemned “the outrageous policy of the United States government toward Venezuela and Alba.” Fidel concluded by saying, “Whatever U.S. imperialism may do, it will never be able to count on them [the Bolivarian National Armed Forces] to do what they did for so many years. Today Venezuela can count on the best-equipped soldiers and officers in Latin America. When you [Maduro] met with officers recently, it was evident that they were ready to give their last drop of blood for the homeland.” (Fidel sends message to President Nicolás Maduro, Granma (Mar. 17, 2015).)

[3] Venezuela’s version of events was set forth in this post and in “Venezuela’s Open Letter to People of the United States.”  Both sides’ versions were discussed in “U.S. and Cuba Squabble Over U.S. Sanctions Against Certain Venezuelans” (Mar. 16, 2015),

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. and Cuba Squabble Over U.S. Sanctions Against Certain Venezuelans

The U.S. and Cuba (and indeed most of the rest of Latin America) are in a squabble over recent sanctions imposed against certain Venezuelans by an executive order issued by President Obama. After reviewing immediate events leading up to the imposition of sanctions, this post will discuss the executive order and the reactions thereto from Venezuela, Cuba and the rest of Latin America.

Events Leading Up to the Imposition of Sanctions [1]

In February 2014 there were opposition protests calling for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s resignation that sparked violence killing 43 people. In February of 2015 protesters and security forces clashed sporadically around that anniversary, while a shrinking economy and chronic product shortages have sent Maduro’s popularity tumbling.

In early February 2015, Antonio Ledezma, who is an opposition leader and the Mayor of Caracas, and two other opposition leaders signed a published open letter to President Maduro calling for a “national agreement for a transition.”

On February 10, the government announced a new three-tier currency scheme that amounted to a de facto devaluation of almost 70 percent, spurring outrage among opposition critics. This was a response to tumbling oil prices that have left the country struggling to meet its budget needs amid bulging foreign debt payments.

On February 19, the Venezuelan government announced that Ledezma had been arrested in order to halt an alleged U.S.-backed coup plot. The next day the government said that Ledezma had been indicted on charges of conspiracy against the Venezuelan government and plotting an American-backed coup. His attorney will be asking a judge to dismiss conspiracy charges against him, calling accusations that he participated in a plot to overthrow Venezuela’s socialist government “totally unfounded.”

Also on the 19th Maduro called for the Venezuelan people to defend national peace and be prepared “to deal with any scenario that may occur in Venezuela as a result of U.S. imperial aggression against our country.” That same day the Venezuelan Supreme Tribunal of Justice issued a statement reminding the U.S. that it had no jurisdiction to apply its laws outside its territory against the sovereignty and institutions of democracy in Venezuela. [2]

On February 20th the White House’s Press Secretary, Josh Earnest, responded to these charges. He said: “The United States is not promoting unrest in Venezuela, nor are we attempting to undermine Venezuela’s economy or its government.  In fact, the United States remains Venezuela’s largest trading partner.  The Venezuelan government should stop trying to distract attention from the country’s economic and political problems, and focus on finding real solutions through democratic dialogue among the people of Venezuela.  The Venezuelan government should respect the human rights of its citizens and stop trying to intimidate its political opponents.”

According to the Press Secretary, the U.S. continues “to call on the Venezuelan government to release political prisoners, including dozens of students; opposition leader; and Mayors Daniel Ceballos and Antonio Ledezma.” The U.S. “Treasury Department and the State Department are obviously closely monitoring this situation and are considering tools that may be available that could better steer the Venezuelan government in the direction that they believe they should be headed.  That obviously means that we’re continuing to engage other countries in the region in talking about operating in coordinated fashion as we deal with the situation there.”

The same day a Department of State spokesperson stated: The Venezuelan accusations “are false and baseless. And our view continues to be that political transitions must be democratic, constitutional, peaceful, and legal. We do not support a political transition in Venezuela by non-constitutional means. We’re not promoting unrest in Venezuela, nor are we attempting to undermine Venezuela’s economy or its government. And this is a continued effort . . . of the Venezuelan Government to try to distract attention from the country’s economic and political problems and focus and try to distract and make these false accusations.”

In addition, the State Department official stated the U.S. had reports that the Venezuelan intelligence service had detained the Caracas metropolitan mayor and searched his office [and] . . . that military intelligence officials plan to move opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez from his prison cell and transfer him to an unknown location. We are deeply concerned by what appears to be the Venezuelan Government’s efforts to escalate intimidation of its political opponents by rounding up these prominent leaders of the opposition. Venezuela’s problems cannot be solved by criminalizing dissent.”

President Obama’s Executive Order [3]

 On March 9th President Obama issued an executive order that blocked any U.S. assets of seven named Venezuelans and others who might be named by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, that barred these individuals from entering the U.S. and that prohibited U.S. persons from doing business with them.

These individuals were determined by the U.S. to be “responsible for the erosion of human rights guarantees, persecution of political opponents, curtailment of press freedoms, use of violence and human rights violations and abuses in response to antigovernment protests, and arbitrary arrest and detention of antigovernment protesters, as well as significant corruption.”

The executive order was not directed at the people or economy of Venezuela.

The disputes over this executive order, however, are not over these provisions, but instead to its preamble, which states:

  • [T]he situation in Venezuela, including the Government of Venezuela’s erosion of human rights guarantees, persecution of political opponents, curtailment of press freedoms, use of violence and human rights violations and abuses in response to antigovernment protests, and arbitrary arrest and detention of antigovernment protestors, as well as the exacerbating presence of significant public corruption, constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States, and [the President] hereby declare a national emergency to deal with that threat.” (Emphasis added.)

 Venezuela’s Response to the Executive Order [4]

On March 10 President Maduro requested the Venezuelan legislature to enact an Anti-Imperialist Enabling Law granting him power to enact laws by his decree for the rest of this year in order to “defend the peace, sovereignty and full development of Venezuela in the face of threats from the United States empire.” Maduro said “no one in the world could believe the assertion [that Venezuela posed a national security threat to the U.S.] since the Venezuelan people are known as ‘peaceful, democratic, humanist and have a foreign policy directed toward understanding and peace . . . leaders in the struggle for integration and unity.’”

On March 14, upon Maduro’s order, Venezuela conducted a military exercise to counter an alleged U.S. threat by deploying Venezuelan soldiers and partisans across the country to march, man shoulder-fired missiles and defend an oil refinery from a simulated attack. Venezuela’s navy also performed exercises in the Caribbean Sea.

On Sunday (March 15) Venezuela’s legislature granted the requested presidential decree powers, which Maduro says are necessary to defend the country from the U.S. and which his opponents say are to justify repression and distract Venezuelans from economic problems, including acute shortages. Indeed, the country is suffering the highest inflation in the Americas, long lines for food and medicine, and shortages of many basic products.

President Maduro immediately responded to the legislature’s action. He insisted that Venezuela was ready to talk, “one on one, face to face, with respect, without arrogance or hubris” with the U.S. The first item on the agenda for such a meeting, he said, would be the immediate rescission of President Obama’s executive order.

 Cuba’s Response to the Executive Order [5]

Since Venezuela is a major ally of Cuba and the supplier of oil to Cuba, it is not surprising that the Cuban press recently has been full of Cuba’s support of Venezuela, both before and after the issuance of the executive order. Here are some of those expressions of support:

  • On March 5, Granma, Cuba’s official newspaper, issued a laudatory article about Venezuela’s former President, Hugo Chávez. It said he was “remembered . . . for his charisma, his arousing speech, his sincerity, his constant anguish to deliver for his people. Those who knew him say he often felt as though he were plowing the sea with that desire, so characteristic of him, to remain loyal to the people.” Now, “two years after his departure, . . . Chávez will be awakened together with Bolívar, to continue guiding Venezuela and Latin America.”
  • On March 6, Cuban First Vice President of the Councils of State and Ministers (and the presumptive successor to Raúl Castro as President of Cuba), Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, was in Caracas to participate in the commemoration of the second anniversary of death of Chávez, and Díaz-Canel declared that Cuba always will be a true friend of the Bolivarian Revolution.
  • On March 9, immediately after the issuance of the executive order, the Cuban government reiterated “its unconditional support and that of our people for the Bolivarian Revolution, the legitimate government of President Nicolás Maduro Moros and the heroic sister nation of Venezuela.” The Cuban government stated, “Nobody has the right to intervene in the internal affairs of a sovereign State or to declare it, without grounds, a threat to its national security.” Venezuela does not have the resources or officials to threaten the United States, and the executive order “reaffirms . . . the interventionist nature of U.S. foreign policy.”
  • On March 10, Fidel Castro in a letter to President Maduro said, “I congratulate you on your brilliant and courageous speech against the brutal plans of the U.S. government. Your words go down in history as proof that humanity can and must know the truth.”
  • On March 13 Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla said that any attack on Venezuela was also an attack on Cuba and that the U.S. “has provoked serious damage to the environment in the hemisphere on the eve of the Summit of the Americas.” He added, “I hope that the U.S. government understands that it can’t handle Cuba with a carrot and Venezuela with a garrote.”
  • On March 15 thousands of Cubans attended a concert in support of Venezuela at the University of Havana. One of the Cuban Five and a Hero of the Republic of Cuba, René González, addressed the crowd, saying, “We all had in mind the warning of Che that imperialism cannot be trusted,” and that warning was confirmed by the March 9th executive order.

Other Latin American Countries’ Reactions [6]

On March 14, at Venezuela’s request, the 12-nation Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) reaffirmed “their commitment to the full observance of international law, the Peaceful Settlement of Disputes and the principle of nonintervention” and reiterated their “call for governments to refrain from applying unilateral coercive measures that violate international law.” It, therefore, called on the U.S. “to evaluate and implement alternatives for dialogue with the government of Venezuela, under the principles of respect for sovereignty and self-determination of peoples.’ As a result, it requested “the repeal of that Executive Order.”

On March 17 the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas (ALBA), at the request of Venezuela, will meet in Caracas to declare solidarity with Venezuela in its disputes with the U.S.

Conclusion

Although I am not a close follower of events in Venezuela, I do know that the recent huge declines in world oil prices have devastated its economy, that it is suffering horrendous inflation forcing it to devalue its currency, that there are shortages of all sorts of consumer products and that its government has imprisoned dissidents, including the Mayor of Caracas.

I also believe that the U.S. government must have had good cause to impose sanctions on the seven individuals named in the executive order.

Therefore, the protests of Venezuela, Cuba and the other Latin American nations, in my opinion, are not justified. The U.S. hopes for a cordial Summit of the Americas next month in Panama to celebrate a U.S.-Cuba reconciliation, however, appear to have been scuttled.

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[1] Pons & Ellsworth, Update 3-Venezuela announces new currency system, large devaluation seen, Bloomberg (Feb. 10, 2015); Reuters, Venezuela Arrests Opposition Mayor Accused of Coup Plot, N.Y. Times (Feb. 19, 2015);  White House, Press Briefing by Press Secretary, Josh Earnest, 2/20/15 (Feb. 20, 2015); U.S. Dep’t State, Daily Press Briefing (Feb. 20, 2015); Assoc. Press, Lawyer: Jailed Caracas Mayor to Fight Conspiracy Charges, N. Y. Times (Feb. 21, 2015); Gupta, Venezuela Mayor Is Accused of U.S.-Backed Coup Plot, N.Y. Times (Feb. 21, 2015),

[2] Cuba’s official newspaper, Granma, parrotted the Venezuelan government’s version of events. (E.g.Venezuela faces a stroke of continued fate, Granma (Feb. 20, 2015); Statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cuba, Granma (Feb. 20, 2015).)

[3] White House, Executive Order—Blocking Property and Suspending Entry of Certain Persons Contributing to the Situation in Venezuela (Mar. 9, 2015); White House, Fact Sheet: Venezuela Executive Order (Mar. 9, 2015); White House, Letter [to Speaker of U.S. House of Representatives]—Declaration of a National Emergency with respect to Venezuela (Mar. 9, 2015); White House, Statement by the Press Secretary on Venezuela (Mar. 9, 2015);DeYoung & Miroff, White House steps up sanctions against Venezuelans, Wash. Post (Mar. 9, 2015). The executive order was issued under (a) the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and (b) the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014. In section 2 of that latter statute, Congress found, among other things, that the Central Bank of Venezuela and the National Statistical Institute of Venezuela had determined that the annual inflation rate in Venezuela in 2013 was 56.30, the highest level of inflation in the Western Hemisphere and the third highest level in the world; that Venezuela’s currency controls have become the most problematic factor for doing business in the country; and that HumanRights Watch has reported the government intimidates,censors and prosecutes its critics.

[4] Editorial, In Venezuela, Punishing Scapegoats, N.Y. Times (Mar. 5, 2015); Toro & Kronicks, Venezuela’s Currency Circus, N.Y. Times (Mar. 6, 2015); Miroff & DeYoung, New U.S. sanctions lost in Venezuelan translation, Wash. Post (Mar. 11, 2015); Reuters, Mind Your Manners, Venezuela Tells U.S. Official, Jacobson, N.Y. times (Mar. 11, 2015); Neuman, Obama Hands Venezuelan Leader a Cause to Stir Support, N. Y. Times (Mar. 11, 2015); Editorial, A Failing Relationship with Venezuela, N. Y. Times (Mar. 12, 2015); Assoc. Press, Venezuela Conducts Military Exercises, Claims US Threat, N.Y. Times (Mar. 14, 2015); Reuters, Venezuela Stages Military Exercises to Counter U.S. ‘Threat,’ N.Y. Times (Mar. 15, 2015); Buitrago & Cawthorne, Elected officials grant Venezuela leader broad powers, Wash. Post (Mar. 15, 2015).

[5] Statement from the Revolutionary Government of the Republic of Cuba, Granma (Mar. 10, 2015); Letter from Fidel to Maduro, Granma (Mar. 10, 2015); Pasiero, Venezuela is sacred and to be respected, Granma (Mar. 10, 2015); Pasiero, Cuba reiterates its unconditional support of Venezuela, Granma (Mar. 6, 2015); Chávez, forever present, Granma (Mar. 5, 2015); Pasiero, Mature relationships requires respect for the United States, Granma (Mar. 16, 2015); Venezuela Are All, Granma (Mar. 16, 2015); Prada & Rodriguez, Voices for solidarity with Venezuela, Granma (Mar. 16, 2015).

[6] UNASUR, Press Union of South American Nations Executive Decree of The Government of the Unites States of Venezuela (Mar. 14, 2015); Assoc. Press, South American Bloc Demands US Revoke Venezuela Order, N.Y. Times (Mar. 14, 2015). UNASUR members are Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela. ALBA members are Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Grenada, Nicaragua, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and Grenadines and Venezuela.

 

 

U.S. and Cuba Hold Productive Second Round of Negotiations

On February 27th the United States and Cuba held a productive second round of negotiations at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. [1] (Below is a photograph of the U.S. delegation on the left; the Cuban, on the right.)

28CUBA1-articleLarge

At the conclusion of the session, “diplomats of both countries spoke positively about fulfilling the promise made by Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro in December to restore embassies in each other’s capitals.

  • Roberta Jacobson, the State Department’s senior envoy to Latin America, said, “We made meaningful progress“ and the negotiations were “open, honest and sometimes challenging, but always respectful.” She also said she thought the embassies could be opened before the Summit of the Americas.
  • Her Cuban counterpart, Josefina Vidal, indicated she received assurances that the U.S. would move on two of the biggest hurdles remaining: Cuba’s inclusion on the U.S. state sponsor of terrorism blacklist and its inability to conduct normal banking operations in the U.S. She expressed confidence of progress on both priorities “within the following weeks.” Vidal also said that “the Cuban delegation is presenting a proposal for the establishment of a bilateral dialogue on human rights.”

The diplomats also said there would be subsequent discussions about various issues, including (i) civil aviation; (ii) trafficking; (iii) telecommunications; (iv) increasing Cuba’s Internet connectivity; (v) immigration fraud prevention; (vi) regulatory changes that modify the implementation of the blockade; (vii) protection of marine protected areas; and (viii) human rights.

The post-session press release by the Cuban delegation stated they “reiterated the importance of . . . the exclusion of Cuba from the list of ‘state sponsors of international terrorism,’ the provision of financial services to the Cuba Interests Section in Washington services and the need to ensure compliance with the principles of international law and the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations, [especially] compliance with the rules relating to the functions of diplomatic missions, the behavior of their staff, to respect national laws and nonintervention in the internal affairs of States.”

Later Vidal made it clear that “Cuba is willing to restore diplomatic relations with the U.S. as soon as the Obama administration declares its intent to take the country off a list of state sponsors of terrorism.” Vidal said that if Cuba got word the Obama administration was recommending the removal from the terrorism list, diplomatic ties could go forward without a prior resolution of the banking issue.” [2]

Vidal further commented that the issue of extraditing people between Cuba and the U.S. had been discussed many times in the past, that the two countries had signed a treaty on the topic in 1906 which has a clause such that it would not apply in cases involving political activities. “Therefore, Cuba has legitimately given political asylum to a small group of U.S. citizens, because we have reason to believe that they deserve this and that is how far we’ve gone. And when one grants political asylum, then you cannot get into these types of discussions.” She added that after the Cuban Revolution of 1959 the U.S. had not honored the treaty when Cuba asked the U.S. to extradite “members of the Cuban dictatorship who were responsible for terrible crimes.” [3]

Before the session, there was optimism, but considerable uncertainty, about the likelihood of a positive outcome as indicted by the press reports before the session.

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[1] The first round of negotiations was held in Havana on January 22-23 as discussed in a prior post.  This post on the second round is based upon the following: U.S. Dep’t of State, Background Briefing on Talks to Re-establish Diplomatic Relations with Cuba (Feb. 25, 2015); Reuters, Cuba Says Fast Track to Restoring Ties, ‘Depends on U.S.,’ N.Y. Times (Feb. 25, 2015); Miroff & DeYoung, Cuba says terrorism list, banking issues are blocking better ties with U.S., Wash. Post (Feb. 25, 2015);  Sosa, Cuba going to second round of talks with US constructively, Granma (Feb. 25, 2015); Derevit, Cuba comes with proposals and expects answers at the meeting in Washington, CUBADEBATE (Feb. 25, 2015); Assoc. Press, U.S., Cuba Cite Progress on restoring diplomatic ties, Wash. Post (Feb. 27, 2015); Reuters, U.S., Cuba Say Progress Made in Talks, No Date for Diplomatic Ties, N.Y. Times (Feb. 27, 2015); Gómez, Cuba and the U.S. hold talks in respectful climate, Granma (Feb. 27, 2015); Schwartz, U.S., Cuba Meet for Second Round of Diplomatic Talks, W.S.J. (Feb. 27, 2015); Press Release of the Cuba Delegation on restoration of diplomatic relations with the US, Granma (Feb. 27, 2015); Adams & Mohammed, U.S., Cuba say progress made in talks, no date for diplomatic ties, Reuters (Feb. 27, 2015); Archibold, Cuba’s Spot on US Terrorism List Gums Up Restoration of Relations, N.Y. Times (Feb. 28, 2015); Reuters, Cuba Signals Readiness to Fast-Track U.S. Diplomatic Ties, N.Y. Times (Mar. 2, 2015); Gómez, Closer to restoring relations, Granma (Mar. 4, 2015).

[2] A prior post discussed the U.S. legal and political issues regarding its rescission of the terrorism designation making it impossible for the U.S. to make the rescission before the April 10-11 Summit of the Americas in Panama, and Cuba’s acceptance of a U.S. intent to rescind before establishment of diplomatic relations recognizes that U.S. reality.

[3] The U.S.-Cuba extradition treaty of 1906 and its modification in 1926 were discussed in a prior post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recent News about U.S. Government’s Actions Regarding Cuba

On February 13th the U.S. Department of State announced that a new regulation will allow certain goods and services produced by independent Cuban entrepreneurs to be imported into the U.S. Cuba’s nascent private sector includes self-employed individuals, private small businesses, and private cooperatives that are independent of Cuba’s state sector. [1]

However, many goods were excluded from the liberalization, including food and agricultural products, alcohol, minerals, chemicals, textiles, machinery, vehicles, arms and ammunition.

Exports of all services are permitted. Some observers believe this may be more significant. This, for example, could allow Cuban graphic designers, computer programmers, market researchers or party planners to acquire U.S. clients.

On the diplomatic front, the U.S. reportedly is pressing Cuba to agree to restoration of normal diplomatic relations before the Summit of the Americas in Panama in April. This blogger, however, thinks that is unlikely given the inconclusive results of the initial negotiations in Havana in January and the lack of any announcement of a second round of talks that supposedly were going to happen in Washington this month.

More importantly Cuba has made statements suggesting that normal relations could not be commenced until the U.S. agrees its diplomats would not have private meetings with Cuban dissidents and rescinds its designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism.” Based on publicly available information, neither of these will happen before April. In addition, President Raúl Castro has suggested that such relations could only happen after the U.S. ends the embargo, pays compensation to Cuba for its alleged damages from the embargo and returns Guantanamo Bay to Cuba. Clearly these will not happen before April, if ever.

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[1] This account of the new regulations is based upon a Department of State document and reports from Reuters and Associated Press.

Additional Details About White House’s Announcement of U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation

White House
White House

On December 17, 2014, President Barack Obama in a nationally televised speech announced the historic agreement with Cuba to restore diplomatic relations as one part of a reconciliation with Cuba. That same day the White House website had (a) “FACT SHEET: Charting a New Course in Cuba;” (b) “Background Conference Call on Policy Changes in Cuba and Release of Alan Gross;” and (c) “Readout of the Vice President’s Calls to the Presidents of Colombia and Mexico on the Administration’s Cuba Policy Changes.”

After reviewing these documents, the post will conclude with observations on some of the points raised in these documents.

“FACT SHEET: Charting a New Course in Cuba”

The introduction to the FACT SHEET, among other things, said, “It is clear that decades of U.S. isolation of Cuba have failed to accomplish our enduring objective of promoting the emergence of a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba. . . . It does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse.  We know from hard-learned experience that it is better to encourage and support reform than to impose policies that will render a country a failed state.  With our actions today, we are calling on Cuba to unleash the potential of 11 million Cubans by ending unnecessary restrictions on their political, social, and economic activities.” (Emphasis added.)

The FACT SHEET then provided the following “Key Components of the Updated Policy Approach:”

“Establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba-

  • The President has instructed the Secretary of State to immediately initiate discussions with Cuba on the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba, which were severed in January 1961.
  • In the coming months, we will re-establish an embassy in Havana and carry out high-level exchanges and visits between our two governments as part of the normalization process.  As an initial step, the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs will lead the U.S. Delegation to the next round of U.S.-Cuba Migration Talks in January 2015, in Havana.
  • U.S. engagement will be critical when appropriate and will include continued strong support for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba and other measures aimed at fostering improved conditions for the Cuban people. (Emphasis added.)
  • The United States will work with Cuba on matters of mutual concern and that advance U.S. national interests, such as migration, counternarcotics, environmental protection, and trafficking in persons, among other issues.” (Emphasis added.)

“Adjusting regulations to more effectively empower the Cuban people-

  • The changes announced today will soon be implemented via amendments to regulations of the Departments of the Treasury and Commerce.   Our new policy changes will further enhance our goal of empowering the Cuban population.
  • Our travel and remittance policies are helping Cubans by providing alternative sources of information and opportunities for self-employment and private property ownership, and by strengthening independent civil society. 
  • These measures will further increase people-to-people contact; further support civil society in Cuba; and further enhance the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people.  Persons must comply with all provisions of the revised regulations; violations of the terms and conditions are enforceable under U.S. law.”

“Facilitating an expansion of travel under general licenses for the 12 existing categories of travel to Cuba authorized by law-

  • General licenses will be made available for all authorized travelers in the following existing categories: (1) family visits; (2) official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; (3) journalistic activity; (4) professional research and professional meetings; (5) educational activities; (6) religious activities; (7) public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; (8) support for the Cuban people; (9) humanitarian projects; (10) activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; (11) exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and (12) certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines. 
  • Travelers in the 12 categories of travel to Cuba authorized by law will be able to make arrangements through any service provider that complies with the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) regulations governing travel services to Cuba, and general licenses will authorize provision of such services. 
  • The policy changes make it easier for Americans to provide business training for private Cuban businesses and small farmers and provide other support for the growth of Cuba’s nascent private sector.  Additional options for promoting the growth of entrepreneurship and the private sector in Cuba will be explored.”

Facilitating remittances to Cuba by U.S. persons

  • Remittance levels will be raised from $500 to $2,000 per quarter for general donative remittances to Cuban nationals (except to certain officials of the government or the Communist party); and donative remittances for humanitarian projects, support for the Cuban people, and support for the development of private businesses in Cuba will no longer require a specific license.
  • Remittance forwarders will no longer require a specific license.”

“Authorizing expanded commercial sales/exports from the United States of certain goods and services-

  • The expansion will seek to empower the nascent Cuban private sector.  Items that will be authorized for export include certain building materials for private residential construction, goods for use by private sector Cuban entrepreneurs, and agricultural equipment for small farmers.  This change will make it easier for Cuban citizens to have access to certain lower-priced goods to improve their living standards and gain greater economic independence from the state.”

“Authorizing American citizens to import additional goods from Cuba-

  • Licensed U.S. travelers to Cuba will be authorized to import $400 worth of goods from Cuba, of which no more than $100 can consist of tobacco products and alcohol combined.”

Facilitating authorized transactions between the United States and Cuba-

  • U.S. institutions will be permitted to open correspondent accounts at Cuban financial institutions to facilitate the processing of authorized transactions.
  • The regulatory definition of the statutory term “cash in advance” will be revised to specify that it means “cash before transfer of title”; this will provide more efficient financing of authorized trade with Cuba.
  • U.S. credit and debit cards will be permitted for use by travelers to Cuba.
  • These measures will improve the speed, efficiency, and oversight of authorized payments between the United States and Cuba.”

“Initiating new efforts to increase Cubans’ access to communications and their ability to communicate freely-

  • Cuba has an internet penetration of about five percent—one of the lowest rates in the world.  The cost of telecommunications in Cuba is exorbitantly high, while the services offered are extremely limited.
  • The commercial export of certain items that will contribute to the ability of the Cuban people to communicate with people in the United States and the rest of the world will be authorized.  This will include the commercial sale of certain consumer communications devices, related software, applications, hardware, and services, and items for the establishment and update of communications-related systems.
  •  Telecommunications providers will be allowed to establish the necessary mechanisms, including infrastructure, in Cuba to provide commercial telecommunications and internet services, which will improve telecommunications between the United States and Cuba.”

“Updating the application of Cuba sanctions in third countries-

  • U.S.-owned or -controlled entities in third countries will be generally licensed to provide services to, and engage in financial transactions with, Cuban individuals in third countries.  In addition, general licenses will unblock the accounts at U.S. banks of Cuban nationals who have relocated outside of Cuba; permit U.S. persons to participate in third-country professional meetings and conferences related to Cuba; and, allow foreign vessels to enter the United States after engaging in certain humanitarian trade with Cuba, among other measures.”

“Pursuing discussions with the Cuban and Mexican governments to discuss our unresolved maritime boundary in the Gulf of Mexico-

  • Previous agreements between the United States and Cuba delimit the maritime space between the two countries within 200 nautical miles from shore.  The United States, Cuba, and Mexico have extended continental shelf in an area within the Gulf of Mexico where the three countries have not yet delimited any boundaries.
  • The United States is prepared to invite the governments of Cuba and Mexico to discuss shared maritime boundaries in the Gulf of Mexico”

“Initiating a review of Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism-

  • The President has instructed the Secretary of State to immediately launch such a review, and provide a report to the President within six months regarding Cuba’s support for international terrorism.  Cuba was placed on the list in 1982.”[1]

“Addressing Cuba’s participation in the 2015 Summit of the Americas in Panama-

  • President Obama will participate in the Summit of the Americas in Panama.  Human rights and democracy will be key Summit themes.  Cuban civil society must be allowed to participate along with civil society from other countries participating in the Summit, consistent with the region’s commitments under the Inter-American Democratic Charter.  The United States welcomes a constructive dialogue among Summit governments on the Summit’s principles.” (Emphasis added.)

“Unwavering Commitment to Democracy, Human Rights, and Civil Society

A critical focus of our increased engagement will include continued strong support by the United States for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba.  The promotion of democracy supports universal human rights by empowering civil society and a person’s right to speak freely, peacefully assemble, and associate, and by supporting the ability of people to freely determine their future.   Our efforts are aimed at promoting the independence of the Cuban people so they do not need to rely on the Cuban state. (Emphasis added.)

The U.S. Congress funds democracy programming in Cuba to provide humanitarian assistance, promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, and support the free flow of information in places where it is restricted and censored.  The Administration will continue to implement U.S. programs aimed at promoting positive change in Cuba, and we will encourage reforms in our high level engagement with Cuban officials. (Emphasis added.)

The United States encourages all nations and organizations engaged in diplomatic dialogue with the Cuban government to take every opportunity both publicly and privately to support increased respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cuba. 

Ultimately, it will be the Cuban people who drive economic and political reforms.  That is why President Obama took steps to increase the flow of resources and information to ordinary Cuban citizens in 2009, 2011, and today.  The Cuban people deserve the support of the United States and of an entire region that has committed to promote and defend democracy through the Inter-American Democratic Charter.”

Background Conference Call 

On December 17 two hours before President Obama’s speech to the nation, the White House conducted an hour-long “background” conference call with journalists and seven unnamed senior administration officials regarding these matters.

Among other things, one of the officials said the U.S. expects that “we’ll continue to have strong differences, particularly on issues related to democracy and human rights.  The [U.S.] will continue to promote our values.  We will continue to support civil society in Cuba.  We’ll continue our democracy programming.” In President Obama’s December 16th telephone call with President Raúl Castro, Obama “made clear his intent . . . to continue our advocacy for human rights in Cuba.”

A State Department official stated the U.S. would not reduce its “emphasis on human rights, on democracy, on the importance of civil society. . . . In fact, our emphasis on human rights will be just as strong and we believe more effective under this policy.  We will engage directly with the Cuban government on human rights.”

For example, the State Department official stated a U.S. diplomat in Havana “will be meeting with members of Cuban society and dissidents later today to walk them through the President’s initiatives of today, and to emphasize to them, as well, that their efforts on behalf of democracy and human rights in Cuba not only won’t be forgotten in these initiatives, but will, in fact, take center stage.”

In response to a question as to whether there were discussions with Cuba about “USAID programs that have been pretty controversial in Cuba,” an administration official said U.S. “democracy programming . . . did factor into the discussions [with Cuba].  The Cubans do not like our democracy programming.  They consistently protest those initiatives. . . . [The U.S., however,] made clear that we’re going to continue our support for civil society for the advancement of our values in Cuba.  [This] . . . was an issue of difference that we will continue to have with Cuba, and we fully expect them to raise those issues just as we will raise issues with the Cubans about democracy and human rights.  However, we’re going to do that through a normal relationship.  We’re going to do that through our embassy in Havana.  We’re going to do that through contacts between our various agencies.”[2]

Vice President Biden’s Telephone Calls with Presidents of Colombia and Mexico

The White House reported that Vice President Joe Biden made telephone calls about the new initiatives with Cuba  to President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia and to President Enrique Pena Nieto of Mexico. After outlining the agreement, Biden told each of them that President Obama intended to attend the Summit of the Americas in Panama next April “as long as Cuban civil society is allowed to participate and human rights and democracy are on the agenda.” In the call to President Nieto, Biden said that the U.S. would initiate discussions with Cuba and Mexico about the unresolved maritime boundary of the Gulf of Mexico.

Conclusion

I concur in most of the FACT SHEET’s assertions about democracy and human rights that suggest that the U.S. will engage and work with the Cuban government to improve the Cuban people’s political, social and economic rights and that the U.S. no longer will seek to impose such rights or values on the Cuban people through covert or “discreet” programs. These statements are the following:

  • (i)  “It does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse.  We know from hard-learned experience that it is better to encourage and support reform than to impose policies that will render a country a failed state.  With our actions today, we are calling on Cuba to unleash the potential of 11 million Cubans by ending unnecessary restrictions on their political, social, and economic activities.”
  • (ii)  “U.S. engagement will be critical when appropriate and will include continued strong support for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba and other measures aimed at fostering improved conditions for the Cuban people.”
  • (iii) “A critical focus of our increased engagement will include continued strong support by the United States for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba.  The promotion of democracy supports universal human rights by empowering civil society and a person’s right to speak freely, peacefully assemble, and associate, and by supporting the ability of people to freely determine their future.   Our efforts are aimed at promoting the independence of the Cuban people so they do not need to rely on the Cuban state.”
  • (iv) The U.S. “will encourage [such] reforms in our high level engagement with Cuban officials.”

Other statements in the FACT SHEET, however, seems to undercut this benign interpretation: (i) “The U.S. Congress funds democracy programming in Cuba to provide humanitarian assistance, promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, and support the free flow of information in places where it is restricted and censored.  The Administration will continue to implement U.S. programs aimed at promoting positive change in Cuba. . . .” (ii) “The U.S. Congress funds democracy programming in Cuba to provide humanitarian assistance, promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, and support the free flow of information in places where it is restricted and censored.  The Administration will continue to implement U.S. programs aimed at promoting positive change in Cuba.” [3]

According to the FACT SHEET, “President Obama will participate in the Summit of the Americas in Panama.  Human rights and democracy will be key Summit themes.  Cuban civil society must be allowed to participate along with civil society from other countries participating in the Summit.” The account of the Vice President’s telephone calls, however, seems to add that President Obama intends to attend the Summit of the Americas in Panama next April “as long as Cuban civil society is allowed to participate and human rights and democracy are on the agenda.” I was surprised and disappointed to read that there was a precondition to Obama’s attending the summit: Cuba’s allowing members of its civil society to attend and participate in the Summit. While it may be a good idea to have civil society representatives from all countries, including Cuba, attend and participate, I think it unwise for the U.S. to provide Cuba with a veto on Obama’s attendance if it does not have such representatives there. I hope that this interpretation of the Vice President’s remarks is unfounded.

I am unaware of the details of the dispute about the maritime boundaries of the Gulf of Mexico, but assume that it relates to oil or other resources under the Caribbean.

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[1] Prior posts discussed the legal and political issues of rescinding the designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” and the U.S.’ previous concessions that Cuba has provided assurances that it will not commit future acts of terrorism.

[2] On December 20th Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew co-authored an article in the Miami Herald. It said the U.S. would have “continued strong support for improved human-rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba” and would “continue to implement programs to promote positive change in Cuba.”

[3] The previous democracy/human rights programs of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Department of State will be part of a subsequent post about the recent controversy about Cuba’s cancellation of n “open-microphone” event and arrests of its organizers.