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

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

 Chairman Corker’s Opening Statement

Senator Bob Corker
Senator Bob Corker

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

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

Ranking Member Cardin’s Opening Statement

Senator Ben Cardin
Senator Ben Cardin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Testimony of Assistant Secretary of State Jacobson

Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson
Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Testimony of State Department Counselor Shannon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questioning Assistant Secretary Jacobson and Counselor Shannon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 Obama’s Speech at the CEO Summit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obama’s Responses to Questions at CEO Summit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obama’s Civil Society Forum Speech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

Raul Castro & Barack Obama
Raul Castro & Barack Obama

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

 President Barack Obama’s Pre-Meeting Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

President Obama’s Post-Meeting Press Conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

========================================

[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?