The U.S. State Department on October 17 delivered its report on the just-concluded 54th session of the U.N. Human Rights Council. Here are the highlights of that report:
“Establishing an investigative mandate in Sudan . . . [The U.S.] was a member of the core group that established an international fact-finding mission to investigate human rights violations and abuses in Sudan. . . as reports of atrocities and other abuses continue, such as conflict-related sexual violence, ethnically motivated killings, and burning of villages in Darfur and elsewhere.”
Renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Russian Federation . . . [The U.S. co-sponsored this renewal as] Moscow’s campaign has worsened life for Russia’s citizens and made it dangerous for civil society organizations, media, and other independent voices to provide information or express dissent. Russia continues to hold hundreds of political prisoners, including many sentenced for their criticism of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. Impunity for human rights abuses in the North Caucasus region, including enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings, also remains an urgent concern.”
“Renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Afghanistan . . . [The U.S. co-sponsored this renewal] as the Taliban continues to target women and girls, government critics, former officials, and human rights activists through detentions, physical abuse, intimidation, and killings.”
“Advancing Gender Equality. . .[as the U.S.] reaffirmed its support for eliminating discriminatory laws and practices against women and girls in all their diversity, advanced the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, and underscored the importance of the right of everyone to education. We co-sponsored and helped defend resolutions that advance gender equality, including Preventing Maternal Mortality and Morbidity and Girls Education. The United States helped defeat a slate of hostile amendments seeking to weaken inclusive gender language from these and other resolutions.”
“Supporting Racial Equity and Justice . . . [the U.S.] demonstrated its deep commitment to addressing the challenges of systemic racism both at home and abroad, . . .[by joining] consensus on the renewal of the Mandate of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, [and by co-sponsoring] the resolution entitled Human Rights and Indigenous Peoples, which laid the foundation for enhancing the participation of Indigenous Peoples in the work of the Council.”
“Other Priorities: . . .[The U.S.] co-sponsored resolutions to continue reporting on Burundi and provide assistance to Somalia in the field of human rights . . . [and by joining] consensus on resolutions providing human rights assistance in Cambodia, Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Central African Republic; [and by co-sponsoring] thematic resolutions on such topics including enforced or involuntary disappearances; centrality of care and support from a human rights perspective; the promotion of truth, justice, reparation, and guarantees of non-reoccurrence; the human rights of older persons; the World Programme for Human Rights Education; and the International Year of the Family.”
“Joint Statements: . . . [The U.S. led joint statements on [a] the heightened risks associated with surveillance technologies, including commercial spyware, and the importance of safeguards and responsible practices in the development and use of these tools to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms and [b] safeguarding the human rights of women and girls across the Americas.”. . .[In addition, the U.S.] joined joint statements on Syria, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, Ethiopia, the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, President Nelson Mandela’s Commitment to the UDHR and VDPA, sexism in sport, antisemitism in sport, rights of intersex persons, the rights of LGBTQI+ persons, reprisals, social reintegration of prisoners, and enhancing access to assistive technologies for older persons, and vaccination, immunization, and the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health.”
“Side Events: [The U.S. co-sponsored events] … on combatting antisemitism, … the Holocaust, and on human rights in Russia, Yemen, and Ukraine.”
On September 30, the U.S. State Department announced that President Trump had reduced the U.S. quota for admission of refugees to 15,000 for Fiscal Year 2021 (October 1, 2020-September 30, 2021) that would be documented in a subsequent presidential determination.
That Presidential Determination confirming the 15,000 limitation was issued on October 28 in the form of a memorandum to the Secretary of State. It also announced allocations “among refugees of special humanitarian concern to the United States.” Here are those allocations:
Refugees who: have been persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of religion; or are within a category of aliens established under subsections (b) and (c) of section 599D of Title V, Public Law 101-167, as amended (the Lautenberg and Specter Amendments). [(i) “aliens who are or were nationals and residents of the Soviet Union and who share common characteristics that identify them as targets of persecution in the Soviet Union on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion,” including “nationals and residents of the Soviet Union and who are Jews or Evangelical Christians ” and (ii) “aliens who are or were nationals and residents of Vietnam, Laos, or Cambodia and who share common characteristics that identify them as targets of persecution in such respective foreign state on such an account.
Refugees who are within a category of aliens listed in section 1243(a) of the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act of 2007, Title XII, Div. A, Public Law 110-181, as amended: “[1) Iraqis who were or are employed by the United States Government, in Iraq;(2) Iraqis who establish to the satisfaction of the Secretary of State that they are or were employed in Iraq by–(A) a media or nongovernmental organization headquartered in the United States; or (B) an organization or entity closely associated with the United States mission in Iraq that has received United States Government funding through an official and documented contract, award, grant, or cooperative agreement; and 3) spouses, children, and parents whether or not accompanying or following to join, and sons, daughters, and siblings of aliens described in paragraph (1), paragraph (2), or section 1244(b)(1); and(4) Iraqis who are members of a religious or minority community, have been identified by the Secretary of State, or the designee of the Secretary, as a persecuted group, and have close family members . . . in the United States.”
Refugees who are nationals or habitual residents of El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras.
Other refugees in the following groups: those referred to the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) by a United States Embassy in any location; those who will be admitted through a Form I-730 following-to-join petition or who gain access to the USRAP for family reunification through the P-3 process; those currently located in Australia, Nauru, or Papua New Guinea who gain access to the USRAP pursuant to an arrangement between the United States and Australia; those who are nationals or habitual residents of Hong Kong, Venezuela, or Cuba; and those in the USRAP who were in “Ready for Departure” status as of September 30, 2019.
In addition, the President authorized the Secretary of State, subject to certain conditions, “to transfer unused admissions from a particular allocation above to one or more other allocations, if there is a need for greater admissions for the allocation to which the admissions will be transferred.”
The President, subject to certain conditions, also authorized the Secretary of State to consider “the following persons . . ., if otherwise qualified, . . . [as] refugees for the purpose of admission to the United States within their countries of nationality or habitual residence: a. persons in Cuba; b. persons in Eurasia and the Baltics; c. persons in Iraq; d. persons in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador; and e. in exceptional circumstances, persons identified by a United States Embassy in any location.”
The President specified “that persons from certain high-risk areas of terrorist presence or control, including Somalia, Syria, and Yemen, shall not be admitted as refugees, except those refugees of special humanitarian concern: (1) who have been persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of religion; (2) were referred to the USRAP by a United States Embassy in any location; or (3) who will be admitted through a Form I-730 following-to-join petition or who gain access to the USRAP for family reunification through the P‑3 process. The threat to United States national security and public safety posed by the admission of refugees from high-risk areas of terrorist presence or control is significant and cannot be fully mitigated at this time.”
Another specification by the President was “ for FY 2021, newly admitted refugees should be placed, to the maximum extent possible, in States and localities that have clearly expressed their willingness to receive refugees under the Department of State’s Reception and Placement Program. Such cooperation ensures that refugees are resettled in communities that are eager and equipped to support their successful integration into American society and the labor force.”
Finally the President determined “hat assistance to or on behalf of persons applying for admission to the United States as part of the overseas refugee admissions program will contribute to the foreign policy interests of the United States, and I accordingly designate such persons for this purpose.”
The principal objection to this presidential action is the overall limitation of resettled refugees to 15,000 in one year. The identification of the refugees in the above categories and their allocated numbers presumably are justified.
On May 12, 13 and 14, the U.S. State Department made three negative statements about Cuba. First, it listed Cuba and four other countries for “not cooperating fully” with U.S. counterterrorism efforts in 2019. Second, the U.S. identified Cuba and four other countries for allegedly creating, disseminating and amplifying disinformation and propaganda in the Western Hemisphere. Third, an anonymous source said the U.S. was considering re-designating Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism by the end of the year.
These U.S. statements along with reactions thereto are discussed below.
Cuba’s Alleged Noncooperation Over Counterterrorism
According to the Department on May 12, there were two points of alleged non-cooperation.
Cuba’s Refusal To Extradite Colombian Guerrilla Leaders to Colombia
The first related to Cuba’s refusal to extradite to Colombia 10 leaders of the Colombian rebel group—the ELN (the National Liberation Army)—who are living in Cuba after the group claimed responsibility for the January 2019 bombing of a Bogota police academy that killed 22 people and injured more than 60 others. The State Department said, “As the United States maintains an enduring security partnership with Colombia and shares with Colombia the important counterterrorism objective of combating organizations like the ELN, Cuba’s refusal to productively engage with the Colombian government demonstrates that it is not cooperating with U.S. work to support Colombia’s efforts to secure a just and lasting peace, security, and opportunity for its people.”
Yes, it is true that there was such a bombing in Bogota, that the ELN claimed responsibility for same, that certain ELN leaders are living in Cuba and that Cuba has declined to extradite them to Colombia. There indeed is reason for Colombia to be outraged. But the U.S. citing this as an objectionable refusal to cooperate with the U.S. is inappropriate and objectionable.
Since 2005, Cuba has been acting intermittingly as a mediator of the conflict between these two parties. These peace talks, however, have been inconclusive. The first round started in 2005 and ended in August 2007, when the ELN said there were “two different conceptions of peace and methods to get to it.” The next year (2008) then Colombian President Alvaro Uribe invited an ELN representative to the Colombian Presidential Palace for new talks, but the ELN did not accept the invitation.
In 2012, the ELN tried and failed to negotiate a position for itself at a peace conference in Cuba between the government of former [Colombian] President Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
Five years later, in 2017, the ELN and the Colombian government formally entered peace negotiations in Cuba. In October 2017, those talks resulted in the Colombian government’s accepting the ELN’s offer of a ceasefire, the first between the two.”
“The ceasefire between the ELN and the Colombian government encountered difficulties in early 2019 with new Colombian President Duque’s demanding the ELN to stop kidnapping and to release hostages as a condition for the continuation of the peace talks, which the ELN refused. This lead to the ELN attack in January 2019 on the police academy and the Colombian government’s suspending the peace talks indefinitely. As of June 2019, President Duque has called for the arrest and extradition of the ELN leadership present at the Havana peace talks.”
On March 29, 2020, ELN announced a unilateral 30-day ceasefire starting April 1 as a “humanitarian gesture” during the coronavirus pandemic and stated its williness to reviving suspended peace negotiations. The Colombian government immediately responded by announcing that two former ELN commanders would serve as “peace promoters” (gestores de paz). On April 27, 2020, however, ELN announced that effective May 1 it would resume its guerrilla war because of a lack of response by the conservative government of President Duque, who allegedly lacked “the will” to resume stalled peace talks in Havana.
Under these circumstances Cuba invoked the protocols for the peace talks stipulating that, upon a breakdown of negotiations, Cuba would facilitate the return of ELN members to safe havens in Colombia. However, because Colombia’s government expressed the intent to arrest ELN members upon their return to the country, rather than allow their returns to safe havens, Cuba refused extradition.
ELN predictably denounced this U.S. action. The ELN emphasized that these protocols are guaranteed by Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Norway and Venezuela and that Colombia is violating them by insisting upon Cuba’s extradition of ELN leaders to that country. The FARC also backed this position by withdrawing from a meeting of Colombia’s Commission for Follow-up, Promotion and Verification of the Implementation of the Agreements of Peace.
Cuba’s trying to assist peaceful resolution of these disputes is an important contribution to overall peace in the region and takes precedence over the U.S. demanding that Cuba do what the U.S. wants it to do. Moreover, as the Washington Office on Latin America stated, this U.S. action “sends the message that if a state agrees to host peace talks, and doesn’t violate its word, that state could still face severe consequences for its contribution to global peace and security. In Colombia, as reprehensible as the ELN’s actions were, this sends a perverse message to any group that might decide to enter into a future peace process with the government.”
Instead, in this blogger’s opinion, the U.S, should press both the Colombian government and the ELN to resume peace negotiations in Cuba with the latter’s assistance.
Cuba’s Refusal To Return U.S. Fugitives to the U.S.
The second ground cited by the U.S. for non-cooperation is Cuba’s harboring “several U.S. fugitives from justice wanted on charges of political violence, many of whom have resided in Cuba for decades. For example, the Cuban regime has refused to return Joanne Chesimard, who was convicted of executing New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster in 1973. The Cuban Government provides housing, food ration books, and medical care for these individuals.”
Yes, it is true that several U.S. fugitives have resided on the island for a long period of time, and Cuba has declined U.S. requests for their return. The most significant has been Ms. Chesimard, who was convicted in New Jersey state court of aiding and abetting the murder of that State Trooper; she was in the car with men who had guns and killed the trooper, but she did not pull the trigger.
She escaped from a New Jersey prison in 1979 and fled to Cuba, which granted her political asylum, and under U.S.-Cuba extradition treaties of 1905 and 1926, each country is not obligated to extradite someone when the offense is of “a political character.”
Moreover, Cuba has cooperated with the U.S. on this issue by discussing the issue in bilateral talks with the U.S. during President Obama’s efforts to normalize relations with the island, by not admitting any other U.S. fugitives to the island and by extraditing some such fugitives to the U.S.
On May 13, additional statements against Cuba were made in the context of the perceived threat to the U.S. from disinformation and propaganda in Latin America. The State Department’s briefing on this subject was conducted by Michael G. Kozak, Acting Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, and Lea Gabrielle, Special Envoy and Coordinator of the State Department’s Global Engagement Center.
According to Kozak, Cuba (along with Russia, China, Iran, the former Maduro regime in Venezuela, and other malign actors) play a role in the creation, dissemination, and amplification of disinformation and propaganda around the region with the purpose of undermining the efforts of the competent authorities in the region to address the [pandemic] crisis appropriately.”
Most of the specific comments were directed at Russia, China and Venezuela. The only ones specially about Cuba were in the concluding remarks by the Special Envoy, who said:
Cuba has “capitalized on COVID-19 to try to amplify its longstanding propaganda campaigns around its medical missions, routinely amplifying reports of Cuban doctors assisting in the fight against COVID-19 in countries around the world.And we certainly encourage Cuba to allow its doctors to provide their assistance freely instead of withholding their salaries, confiscating their passports, and forcing them into destitute living and working conditions, but what we’re seeing is the Cuban propaganda machine have a global reach through social media. So we’ve identified, for example, more than four dozen Twitter accounts that are key components of that global network, including accounts in Venezuela alongside other countries in the region, even as far as Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. And these accounts have worked together to try to obscure the well-documented exploitation inherent to the Cuban medical program.”
The Special Envoy’s comments implicitly admit that Cuba’s medical missions to combat the coronavirus pandemic have been favorably (and legitimately) received around the world, which annoys the U.S. She then repeats the U.S. canard that Cuba illegally treats its medical professionals on these missions. As discussed in prior posts, there has been no credible showing by the U.S. that Cuba has been and is engaging in illegal forced labor of these medical professionals.
U.S. Possible Re-Designating Cuba as State Sponsor of Terrorism
On May 14, an anonymous State Department source told Reuters that by the end of this year the U.S. might re-designate Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism,” which was lifted in 2015 during the Obama Administration’s normalization of relations between the two countries.
This anonymous source said there was a “convincing case” for such re-designation because of Cuba’s continued backing of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and its providing refuge for ELN leaders. If that re-designation happens, it would carry the risk of further U.S. sanctions against Cuba.
This threat is ill founded. The U.S. in May 2015 officially rescinded its designation of Cuba as such a Sponsor for well founded reasons.
A Miami-based Cuba-exile group supporting closer ties with Cuba, Cuba Study Group, said, “We always knew this administration planned to return Cuba to the to the SSOT. Now starts the slow election-year rollout for maximum theatrical effect. Just for you, Miami.”
All of these U.S. statements about Cuba are unjustified. They all are premised on the dominant U.S. saying “my way, or the highway.” Instead, the U.S. should encourage both the Colombian government and ELN to resume peace negotiations with the assistance of Cuba. In addition, the U.S. should propose the resumption of respectful discussions with Cuba over the many issues that have accumulated over the last 60 years, including the ending of the U.S. embargo of the island.
 The State Department’s Global Engagement Center, which was created by a President Obama Executive Order on March 14, 2016, has a mission “to direct, lead, synchronize, integrate, and coordinate efforts of the Federal Government to recognize, understand, expose, and counter foreign state and non-state propaganda and disinformation efforts aimed at undermining or influencing the policies, security, or stability of the United States, its allies, and partner nations.”
On October 2, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo delivered a speech in Rome at the Holy See’s Symposium on Working with Faith-Based Organizations. He also met with Pope Francis and with two Vatican officials.
After mentioning some of the main points of last week’s session on religious freedom at the U.N. that was organized by the U.S., the Secretary recalled, “Then-Pope – now Saint – John Paul II and President Ronald Reagan combined the moral authority of the Holy See with the prosperity and example of the United States, the freest nation on earth, to fight the evil empire [the Soviet Union]. Through patience and unity of purpose, they prevailed. Their words and deeds helped save – helped leave the Soviet leviathan on that ash heap of history.”
“More than 80 percent of mankind [now] lives in places where religious freedom is threatened or entirely denied. Approximately 71 million people around the world are displaced as refugees. Roughly 25 million people are caught in human trafficking situations.”
“And it’s no coincidence that it has happened as unfree societies have proliferated. Because when the state rules absolutely, God becomes an absolute threat to authority. That’s why Cuba cancelled National Catholic Youth Day back in August.”(Emphasis added.) He also had negative words about violations of religious freedom in China, Syria, Iran and Burma.
“We must recognize the roots of religious repression. Authoritarian regimes and autocrats will never accept a power higher than their own. And that causes all sorts of assaults on human dignity.
On “the issues most fundamental, on the issues of human dignity and religious freedom, these issues that transcend everyday politics, on the enduring struggle of the individual’s right to believe and worship, we [the Holy See and the U.S.] must – and I know we will – march together.”
The Secretary then discussed the Second U.S. Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, the U.S.-led gathering on religious freedom at the U.N. last week and the U.S.-initiated Religious Freedom Alliance.
The State Department’s initial statement merely said that Secretary Pompeo had “a private audience with His Holiness Pope Francis.” A subsequent statement adced this summary: “The Pope and the Secretary “reaffirmed the United States and Holy See commitment to advancing religious freedom around the world, and in particular, protecting Christian communities in the Middle East. The Secretary and Pope Francis also discussed the continued efforts of the United States and the Holy See to promote democracy and human rights globally.”
The Vatican, on the other hand, merely confirmed the meeting’s having taken place, but offered no details. The Associated Press added, “There was no indication that Pompeo, an evangelical Christian, sought any type of spiritual solace from Pope Francis during their meeting.”
Pompeo along with the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, Callista Gingrich (wife of Newt Gingrich, former Republican Congressman), also met with the Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Secretary for Relations with States Archbishop Paul Gallagher. According to the State Department, “Secretary Pompeo thanked Cardinal Parolin and Archbishop Gallagher for the Vatican’s efforts to provide humanitarian assistance and end the suffering of the Venezuelan people. They also discussed the importance of preventing trafficking in persons and advancing international religious freedom. On the Middle East, the Secretary noted U.S. efforts to support Christian minorities, and emphasized the importance of continued calls from the United States and the Vatican to end the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria.”
Once again, the Secretary had lofty words about religious freedom, an honorable cause. But it mainly was a political promotion for things that the current administration is doing. without any mention of working with faith-based organizations, which was the apparent theme of the Holy See’s Symposium. There was no humbly walking with God as Micah 6:8 reminds us: “What does the Lord require of youbut to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8 (NRSV)(emphasis added).)
And the Secretary could not let this speech occur without an unnecessary and misleading negative word about Cuba. Yes, the Office of Religious Affairs of the Cuban Communist Party did not allow most public celebrations this year of National Catholic Youth Day, except they were permitted in the city of Santiago de Cuba at the eastern end of the island and such celebrations also took place in the premises of the church’s eleven dioceses. Moreover, the cancelation of the other celebrations could have been prompted by Cuba’s current energy shortages, a substanal cause of which is the U.S. sanctions against Venezuela’s shipping oil to the island. 
According to journalists at the Washington Post, President Donald Trump is questioning his Administration’s recent aggressive strategy about Venezuela and about his National Security Advisor, John Bolton, one of the main advocates of such a strategy. 
As discussed in an earlier post, last week’s failure of an attempt to takeover the Venezuelan government by Juan Guaidó has prompted Trump to complain about having been misled about how easy it would be for such an attempt. Moreover, these journalists say, Trump’s “dissatisfaction has crystallized around . . . Bolton and . . .i [his] interventionist stance at odds with . . . [Trump’s] view that the United States should stay out of foreign quagmires.”
An unnamed U.S. official who is familiar with U.S.-Venezuela policy says “Trump [privately] has expressed concern that Bolton has boxed him into a corner and gone beyond where he is comfortable.” Nevertheless, two senior administration officials said Bolton’s job was “safe.”
Various current and former officials and outside advisers have said that the failure of last week’s takeover attempt has “effectively shelved serious discussion of a heavy U.S. military response.” One sign of this development was Vice President’s recent speech, as discussed in a prior post, announcing new U.S. measures regarding Venezuela that did not include any use or threat of military force other than the frequent comment that “all options are on the table.”
Trump has himself to blame too. His “approach to foreign intervention is largely ad hoc and idiosyncratic — driven less by ideology than by his hunger for foreign policy victories and confidence in his own deal-making skills.” This “lack of ideological coherence has played to the advantage of “ Bolton and Secretary Pompeo.
Another expert, Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said, ““There is a fundamental conflict between the administration’s desire for regime change and what it is willing to do to bring it about. That is the contradiction of Mr. Trump’s foreign policy.”
John D. Feeley, a former U.S. ambassador and Univision political analyst, said that military intervention in Venezuela is unlikely because it “runs counter to Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection narrative. At a time when you’re pulling people back from Syria, back from Iraq, back from Afghanistan, how do you say we’re going to commit 50-, 100-, 150,000 of our blood and treasure to a country where you can’t tell the bad guys from the good guys?”
This news of Trump’s questioning the wisdom of advice from John Bolton is a welcome surprise. As noted in a prior post, this blogger and others more deeply involved in analyzing national security issues seriously question the wisdom of Bolton’s long-held belief in the use of U.S. military force.
Now is the time for Bolton to leave the government!
On April 25, 2018, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released its annual report on the subject for 28 countries in the world. Of these the Commission concluded that Cuba and 11 other countries had engaged in or tolerated religious freedom violations during 2017 that were serious and “systematic, or ongoing, or egregious.”
According to this report, “religious freedom conditions in Cuba remained poor” with the following Key Findings:
“The Cuban government engaged in harassment campaigns that included detentions and repeated interrogations targeting religious leaders and activists who advocate for religious freedom.”
“Officials threatened to confiscate numerous churches and interrogated religious leaders countrywide about the legal status of their religious properties.”
“The government continues to interfere in religious groups’ internal affairs and actively limits, controls, and monitors their religious practice, access to information, and communications through a restrictive system of laws and policies, surveillance, and harassment.”
“While the Cuban constitution guarantees freedom of religion or belief, this protection is limited by other constitutional and legal provisions. At the end of the reporting period, 55 religious communities were registered; only registered religious communities are legally permitted to receive foreign visitors, import religious materials, meet in approved houses of worship, and apply to travel abroad for religious purposes.”
“The Cuban Communist Party Office of Religious Affairs (ORA) answers only to the Party and so it has broad, largely unchecked power to control religious activity, including approving some religious ceremonies other than worship services, repair or construction of houses of worship, and importation of religious materials.”
“Authorities prevent human rights and pro-democracy activists from participating in religious activities, sometimes using force. Almost every Sunday in 2017, the government prevented members of Ladies in White from attending Mass.”
“In a positive development, officials verbally promised the Assemblies of God that the government would not confiscate 1,400 of their churches as it threatened to do in 2015 and 2016.”
Commission’s Recommendations About Cuba to U.S. Government
The Commission also made the following recommendations about Cuba to the U.S. Government:
“Publicly denounce violations of religious freedom and related human rights in Cuba.”
“Press the Cuban government to:
“Stop harassment of religious leaders;
End the practice of violently preventing democracy and human rights activists from attending religious services;
End destruction of, threats to destroy, and threats to expropriate houses of worship;
Lift restrictions on religious communities buying property, building or repairing houses of worship, holding religious processions, importing religious materials, and admitting religious leaders;
Allow unregistered religious groups to operate freely and legally, and repeal government policies that restrict religious services in homes or other personal property;
Allow registered and unregistered religious groups to conduct religious education;
Cease interference with religious activities and religious communities’ internal affairs; and
Hold accountable police and other security personnel for actions that violate the human rights of religious practitioners, including the religious freedom of political prisoners.”
“Increase opportunities for Cuban religious leaders from both registered and unregistered religious communities to travel to, exchange aid and materials with, and interact with coreligionists in the United States.”
“Apply the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, Executive Order 13818, or other relevant targeted tools, to deny U.S. visas to and block the U.S. assets of specific officials and agencies identified as responsible for violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief, including considering responsible officials from the ORA for such measures.”
“Use appropriated funds to advance internet freedom and widespread access to mass media, and protect Cuban activists by supporting the development and accessibility of new technologies and programs to counter censorship and to facilitate the free flow of information in and out of Cuba, as informed by the findings and recommendations of the Cuba Internet Task Force created pursuant to the National Security Presidential Memorandum, ‘Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba.’”
“Encourage international partners, including key Latin American and European countries and regional blocs, to ensure violations of freedom of religion or belief and related human rights are part of all formal and informal multilateral or bilateral discussions with Cuba.”
On May 29, the State Department will release its annual report on religious freedom in every other. country in the world. Thereafter we will examine its comments on Cuba and then analyze and evaluate the two reports’ discussion of Cuba.
 U.S. Comm’n Intl Religious Freedom, USCIRF Releases 2018 Annual Report, Recommends 16 Countries be Designated “Countries of Particular Concern,” (April 25, 2018). The other 11 countries in this category (Tier 2) were Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Egypt India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia and Turkey. The Commission also recommended that the State Department designate the following 16 countries as “Countries of Particular Concern” (countries whose government engage in or tolerates particularly severe (or systematic, ongoing, and egregious) religious freedom violations: Burma, Central African Republic, China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. The Commission is an unusual quasi-governmental body. See U.S. Commission on International Freedom: Structure and Composition, dwkcommentaries.com (May 29, 2013).
On April 20 the U.S. State Department released its 2017 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. Acting Secretary of State John J. Sullivan wrote the Preface to the Reports and made remarks upon their release while a Special Briefing on the Reports was conducted by Ambassador Michael G. Kozak, the head of the Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.
These three introductions to the Reports will be discussed below, and a future post will review the report on Cuba.
“We are a nation founded on the belief that every person is endowed with inalienable rights. Promoting and defending these rights is central to who we are as a country.”
“The 2017 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices . . . document the status of human rights and worker rights in nearly 200 countries and territories. These reports are required by U.S. law and are used by a variety of actors, including the U.S. Congress, the Executive branch, and the Judicial branch as a factual resource for decision-making in matters ranging from assistance to asylum.”
“The 2017 U.S. National Security Strategy recognizes that corrupt and weak governance threatens global stability and U.S. interests. Some governments are unable to maintain security and meet the basic needs of their people, while others are simply unwilling. States that restrict freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly; that allow and commit violence against members of religious, ethnic, and other minority groups; or that undermine the fundamental dignity of persons are morally reprehensible and undermine our interests. The Governments of China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea, for example, violate the human rights of those within their borders on a daily basis and are forces of instability as a result.”
“Our foreign policy reflects who we are and promotes freedom as a matter of principle and interest. We seek to lead other nations by example in promoting just and effective governance based on the rule of law and respect for human rights. The United States will continue to support those around the world struggling for human dignity and liberty.”
The Acting Secretary noted that this was the 42nd year of such reports, which “are a natural outgrowth of our values as Americans. The founding documents of our country speak to unalienable rights, fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law – revolutionary concepts at the time of our founding that are now woven into the fabric of America and its interests both at home and abroad.”
“Promoting human rights and the idea that every person has inherent dignity is a core element of this administration’s foreign policy. It also strengthens U.S. national security by fostering greater peace, stability, and prosperity around the world. The Human Rights Reports are the most comprehensive and factual accounting of the global state of human rights. They help our government and others formulate policies and encourage both friends and foes to respect the dignity of all individuals without discrimination.”
“This year, we have sharpened the focus of the report to be more responsive to statutory reporting requirements and more focused on government action or inaction with regard to the promotion and protection of human rights. For example, each executive summary includes a paragraph to note the most egregious abuses that occurred in a particular country, including those against women, LGBTI persons, persons with disabilities, indigenous persons, and members of religious minorities.”
Sullivan then had comments about some countries “with the most egregious human rights records:” Syria, Burma, North Korea (DPRK), China, Iran, Turkey, Venezuela and Russia. He concluded by noted three countries with improvements: Uzbekistan, Liberia and Mexico.
Responding to a journalist’s question whether the U.S. issuance of this report could be regarded as hypocrisy because of U.S. human rights problems, the Ambassador said that this would be an unfounded charge. The report criticizes some country’s revoking licenses of media that criticize the government and even killing journalists; the U.S. does not do that. He also said the U.S. has laws to protect foreigners from being returned to countries where they are likely to face illegal persecution.
Nozak rejected the notion that the report was weakened by President Trump’s calling the U.S. press an enemy of the people and suggesting changing U.S. libel laws to protect politicians like him from unfounded reporting. In contrast he said independent journalists in Cuba “are routinely slapped around, they also get called names, “
This year’s report omitted a special section on women’s reproductive rights because it is not a term derived from an international treaty or from the U.S. statute requiring these annual reports; the latter refers to coerced family planning, coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization. In addition, the new U.S. report has a hyperlink to a WHO report on the subject.
Kozak rejected the notion that this report was undercut by President Trump’s meetings with leaders of countries with poor human rights records.
The U.S. as a matter of policy supports NGOs around the world that are working to improve human rights.
For North Korea, the U.S. is concerned about the nuclear issue and about human rights. The report “pretty starkly [discusses] the kinds of abuses, and over the last year or two, we’ve supported . . . a commission of inquiry on North Korea, we support NGOs that are working on North Korea and exposing the human rights abuses that occur in the camps there and so on. But some of the stories that are contained in the report are just overwhelming. There’s one about 11 people who were arrested for supposedly making a pornographic film and they were executed by shooting anti-artillery weapons at them, and then they brought out tanks and ran over the bodies, and this is supposed to be a civilized country.”
The Preface to the report calls China, Russia, Iran and North Korea as “forces of instability.” This is not a defined term, but refers to situations where internal actions generate international problems like refugee flows and humanitarian crises.
A prior post discussed President Trump’s hostility towards Cuba as providing greater opportunities for Russia’s enhancing its relationship with Cuba. Now American University Professor William LeoGrande, a noted scholar about Cuba, placed the recent expansion of Cuba-Russia economic deals in a broader perspective.
He says their rapprochement began in 2000 “when Putin “succeeded Boris Yeltsin as Russian president and began rebuilding Russia’s global influence by repairing relations with traditional allies.” The first step was “Putin’s 2000 trip to Havana, which resulted in expanded trade deals. . . . That was followed by Raul Castro’s 2009 visit to Moscow during which the two governments signed 33 cooperative agreements, including $354 million in credits and aid for Havana.“
Five years later, observes LeoGrande, “in July 2014, Putin visited the island again and agreed to forgive 90 percent of Cuba’s $32 billion in Soviet-era debt, with the remainder to be retired through debt-equity swaps linked to Russian investments. By the time Raul Castro returned to Moscow in 2015, Russia had signed agreements to invest in airport construction, the development of the Mariel port and metallurgy and oil exploration, and had also agreed to lend Cuba 1.2 billion euros—about $1.36 billion at the time—to develop thermal energy plants.”
In another pre-Trump deal, “in September 2016, Russia announced a new package of commercial agreements in which it will finance $4 billion in development projects focusing on energy and infrastructure, and Cuba will begin exporting pharmaceuticals to Russia.”
Beyond these expanded economic ties, LeoGrande emphasizes, “As Putin tries to restore Russia’s status as a global power, Cuba is an attractive partner right at the doorstep of the [U.S.]. A Russian presence in Cuba is a reminder to Washington that Moscow will respond in kind to the expansion of U.S. influence into Russia’s ‘near abroad’ in places like Ukraine. For Cuba, a closer relationship with Moscow serves as a counterweight to Washington’s renewed hostility under President Donald Trump.”
“Both Havana and Moscow refer to their relationship as a ‘strategic partnership’ that has diplomatic and military components. Diplomatically, Cuba supports Moscow’s positions on Ukraine, Syria and NATO expansion. Militarily, Russia is refurbishing and replacing Cuba’s aging Soviet-era armaments. Russian naval vessels visit Cuban ports, and Russia reportedly wants to establish a new military base on the island.”
The major obstacle to a more robust Cuba-Russia relationship is Cuba’s persistent lack of funds due to few goods for export and its dependence on tourism, remittances and export of medical services to try to make up the difference.
LeoGrande’s comments re-emphasize for this blogger the utter stupidity from the standpoint of U.S. national security and economic interests of the Trump Administration’s hostile rhetoric and actions regarding Cuba. The same lesson should also be evident from the European Union’s strengthening ties with Cuba symbolized by the visit to the island starting today by the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, that will be discussed in a future post.
On January 23 the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by a straight party-line vote, 11 to 10, approved the nomination of Rex Tillerson to be Secretary of State.  On February 1 the full Senate did the same, 56 to 43, which was the largest negative vote for confirmation for this position in the Senate’s history. 
Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Senator Bob Corker (Rep., TN), the Chair of the Committee, said the following:=
“I personally have no doubt that Rex Tillerson is well-qualified. He’s managed the world’s eighth largest company by revenue with over 75,000 employees. Diplomacy has been a critical component of his positions in the past, and he has shown himself to be an exceptionally able and successful negotiator who has maintained deep relationships around the world.”
“The other absolute standard we apply to each of these nominees who come before us is to ensure they have no conflicts of interest related to their position.”
“The non-partisan director of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) recently stated that Mr. Tillerson is making ‘a clean break’ from Exxon and is free of these conflicts. He has even gone so far to say that Mr. Tillerson’s ethics agreement ‘serves as a sterling model for what we would like to see from other nominees. He clearly recognizes that public service sometimes comes at a cost.’”
“I believe inquiries into Mr. Tillerson’s nomination have been fair and exhaustive. His hearing lasted over eight hours, and he’s responded to over 1,000 questions for the record. I’m proud of the bipartisan process, which is in keeping of the tradition of this committee that we pursued this, regarding his nomination, and I think that while our opinions and votes today may differ, that the process has been very sound.”
Senator Benjamin Cardin (Dem., RI), voting against confirming this nomination, said the following:
“I believe Mr. Tillerson’s demonstrated business orientation and his responses to questions during the confirmation hearing could compromise his ability as Secretary of State to forcefully promote the values and ideals that have defined our country and our leading role in the world for more than 200 years. I will therefore not be supporting his nomination with my vote in Committee or on the Senate floor.”
“The United States plays a unique and exceptional role in world affairs. Our values are our interests, as I said at Mr. Tillerson’s hearing. And our leadership in supporting democracy, universal human rights, unencumbered civil society, and unabridged press and religious freedoms is indispensable if these ideas and ideals are to be real and tangible in the world.”
“Mr. Tillerson equivocated on these self-evident truths under direct questioning, repeatedly prioritizing narrow business interests ahead of these core national security interests. The power of the Secretary of State to call out wrong, to name and shame, and to fight each day on behalf of the American people and freedom-seeking people the world over is an enduring symbol to the oppressed and the vulnerable that the United States has their back.”
“Mr. Tillerson was unwilling to characterize Russia and Syria’s atrocities as war crimes, or Philippine President Duterte’s extrajudicial killings as gross human rights violations. And he was not willing to dismiss with unqualified clarity a registry for any ethnic or religious group of Americans.”
“I also believe Mr. Tillerson misled the Committee regarding his knowledge of ExxonMobil’s [well documented] lobbying on U.S. sanctions [against “some of the worst human rights abusers in the world such as Sudan, Syria, and Iran”]. Additionally, ExxonMobil’s stance on U.S. sanctions against Russia for their illegal invasion and annexation of Crimea, Ukraine in 2014 was well known at the time . . . . This is why it is particularly concerning that Mr. Tillerson indicated during questioning that he was not willing to recuse himself from matters relevant to ExxonMobil for the entire duration of his term.”
“While I was pleased that Mr. Tillerson said that he would support the laws I have written to hold accountable human rights abusers globally and in Russia specifically, and that America should have a seat at the table when discussing climate change with the international community, merely being willing to uphold the law or being willing to participate in global diplomacy are simply the necessary prerequisites for the job, not sufficient cause for confirmation.”
“On Russia more broadly, I am concerned as to whether Mr. Tillerson would counsel President Trump to keep current sanctions in place. . . . He showed little interest in advancing the new Russia sanctions legislation I’ve introduced with Senator McCain and colleagues on both sides of the aisle. Russia attacked us through cyber warfare and has committed even greater atrocities in Ukraine, Syria, and Eastern Europe. They must be held accountable and our bipartisan legislation is an important tool to do so.”
“Strangely, he was quick to caution about easing sanctions on Cuba because it would benefit a repressive regime, but seemed indifferent to doing business with Russia knowing that that business helped finance their ongoing violations of international norms.”
“Finally, America deserves a Secretary of State who will take advantage of every smart power tool in America’s diplomatic arsenal before recommending the use of force. I was therefore disturbed when Mr. Tillerson signaled during the hearing he would have recommended using force sooner when asked about real-world scenarios. The Secretary of State must be the consistent voice in any Administration that ensures the President has exhausted all diplomatic efforts before we put our brave men and women in uniform in harm’s way.”
Senate Debate and Vote
During the debate, supporters stressed Tillerson’s qualifications and the importance of confirming the president’s choice or this important position.
The affirmative vote of 56 was recorded by all 52 Republican senators plus three Democrats (Heitkamp (ND), Manchin (WV) and Warner (VA)) and Independent King (ME).
The negative vote of 43 was registered by the other 42 Democrat senators and Independent Sanders (VT).
In the meantime, there have been at least four major developments linked to the future role of the State Department and its new Secretary.
First, a White House post, “America First Foreign Policy,” has no specific references to Cuba. But it does have this helpful general statement: In “pursuing a foreign policy based on American interests, we will embrace diplomacy. The world must know that we do not go abroad in search of enemies, that we are always happy when old enemies become friends, and when old friends become allies.”
Second, the White House has informed at least 13 career Foreign Service officers in charge of the State Department’s bureaus responsible for policy, security and other matters that they will not be retained in those positions. A Department spokesman said, “These positions are political appointments, and require the president to nominate and the Senate to confirm them in these roles. They are not career appointments, but of limited term.” However, as Nicholas Burns, former under secretary of state for political affairs during the George W. Bush administration and a longtime diplomat, said, “Normally the outgoing person would stay in the job until his or her successor is confirmed. What you don’t want to have is a vacuum without senior leadership.”
Third, the Trump Administration on January 27 issued an executive order banning admission into the U.S. of all refugees worldwide and all immigrants from seven states with majority-Muslim populations while simultaneously welcoming Christian immigrants from those same countries. This immediately prompted lawsuits in federal courts across the country with a federal court in Seattle on February 3 issuing a temporary restraining order against implementation of the executive order and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit the next morning denying the Government’s motion to stay the lower court’s order.
Fourth, in another immediate reaction to that executive order, over 900 State Department diplomats prepared and submitted a dissent cable objecting to that same executive order because of its impact on “green card holders, visa holders, visa seekers, the young, the old, and the sick.” 
On the periphery perhaps of the above turmoil is whether the Trump Administration will abandon or alter the Obama Administration’s pursuit of normalisation of relations with Cuba. As noted in a prior post, the Administration recently stated it has commenced an overall review of U.S. policies regarding Cuba, which in the abstract sounds like a reasonable thing to do. Previous statements by President Trump and Mr. Tillerson, however, suggest that a significant retreat is on its way, a development that would be very troubling to this blogger and other supporters of normalisation.
 Harris, Rex Tillerson Is Confirmed as Secretary of State Amid Record Opposition, N.Y. Times (Feb. 1, 2017); Assoc Press, Senate Confirms Tillerson To Be Secretary of State, Wash. Post (Feb. 1, 2017); Assoc. Press, Senate roll vote for Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State, Wash. Post (Feb., 1, 2017).
 E.g., Full Executive Order Text: Trump’s Action Limiting Refugees Into the U.S., N.Y. Times (Jan. 27, 2017); Ländler, Appeals Court Rejects Request to Immediately Restore Travel Ban, N.Y. Times (Feb. 4, 2017).
 Reuters, Trump’s Early Moves Spark Alarm, Resistance, N.Y. Times (Feb. 1, 2017); Biddle, New Memo from State Department Dissent Chanel Describes Anguish of Spurned Refugees, The Intercept (Jan. 31, 2017).
 These posts to dwkcommentaries.com have discussed preliminary indicators for the future of U.S.-Cuba relations: The Future of U.S.-Cuba Normalization Under the Trump Administration (Dec. 22, 2016); Secretary of State Nominee Rex Tillerson Addresses U.S. Policies Regarding Cuba (Jan. 12, 2017); Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State Nominee, Provides Written Responses Regarding Cuba to Senate Foreign Relations Committee (Jan. 23, 2017).
On October 26, the United Nations General Assembly voted, 191 to 0 (with two abstentions), to adopt a resolution proposed by Cuba to condemn the United States embargo of Cuba. For the first time in the 25-year history of the annual vote on such resolutions, the U.S, rather than opposing the text, cast an abstention, prompting Israel to do likewise.
This post will examine the resolution’s text, its presentation by Cuba, its support by other countries and the arguments for abstention offered by the U.S. and Israel. This post will then conclude with a brief discussion of reaction to the abstention in the U.S. Prior posts discussed the similar General Assembly resolutions against the embargo that were adopted in 2011, 2014 and 2015.
It reiterated “its call upon all States to refrain from promulgating and applying laws and measures [like the U.S. embargo against Cuba] . . . in conformity with their obligations under the Charter of the United Nations and international law, which, inter alia, reaffirm the freedom of trade and navigation (¶ 2). It also urged “States that have and continue to apply such laws and measures to take the steps necessary to repeal or invalidate them as soon as possible in accordance with their legal regime (¶ 3).
The resolution’s preamble reaffirmed “the sovereign equality of States, non-intervention and non-interference in their internal affairs and freedom of international trade and navigation, which are also enshrined in many international legal instruments” and recited the previous General Assembly resolutions against the embargo. It then welcomed “the progress in the relations between the Governments of Cuba and the [U.S.] and, in that context, the visit of the President of the [U.S.], Barack Obama, to Cuba in March 2016” while also recognizing “the reiterated will of the President of the [U.S.] to work for the elimination of the economic, commercial and financial embargo against Cuba” and “the steps taken by the [U.S.] Administration towards modifying some aspects of the implementation of the embargo, which, although positive, are still limited in scope.”
Cuba’s Presentation of the Resolution
Speaking last in the debate, Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, presented arguments for adopting the resolution. Here are extracts of that speech:
“[T]here has been progress [between Cuba and the U.S. since December 2014] in the dialogue and cooperation on issues of common interest and a dozen agreements were signed [and] reciprocal benefits reported. Now just announced the vote of the US abstention on this draft resolution.”
“The [U.S.] president and other top officials have described [the embargo/blockade] as obsolete, useless to advance American’s interests, meaningless, unworkable, being a burden for [U.S.] citizens, . . . [harming] the Cuban people and [causing]. . . isolation to the [U.S.] and [have] called [for the embargo/blockade] to be lifted.”
“We recognize that executive measures [to reduce the scope of the embargo] adopted by the government of the [U.S.] are positive steps, but [have] very limited effect and scope. However, most of the executive regulations and laws establishing the blockade remain in force and are applied rigorously to this minute by U.S. government agencies.”
“Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress has not approved any of the 20 amendments or legislative initiatives, with bipartisan support, . . . [for] eliminating some restrictions of the blockade or even all of this policy. [Moreover,] there have been more than 50 legislative initiatives that threaten to reinforce key aspects of the blockade, preventing the President [from] approving new executive or implementing measures already adopted.”
“It cannot be underestimated in any way the powerful political and ethical message that [action by this Assembly] . . . sends to the peoples of the world. The truth always [finds] its way. Ends of justice prevail. The abstention vote announced surely is a positive step in the future of improved relations between the[U.S.] and Cuba. I appreciate the words and the efforts of Ambassador Samantha Power.”
“[There] are incalculable human damages caused by the blockade. [There is no] Cuban family or industry in the country that does not suffer its effects on health, education, food, services, prices of goods, wages and pensions.” For example, the “imposition of discriminatory and onerous conditions attached to the deterrent effects of the blockade restrict food purchases and the acquisition in the U.S. market for drugs, reagents, spare parts for medical equipment and instruments and others.”
“The [embargo/] blockade also [adversely] affects the interests of American citizens themselves, who could benefit from various services in Cuba, including health [services].”
“The [embargo/] blockade remains a massive, flagrant and systematic violation of human rights of all Cubans and qualifies as an act of genocide under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948. It is an obstacle to cooperation [in] international humanitarian areas.”
“The blockade is the main obstacle to economic and social development of our people. It constitutes a flagrant violation to international law, the United Nations Charter and the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace. Its extraterritorial application adds further to its violation of international law nature of magnitude.”
“Other causes, in addition to [the blockade/embargo] . . . , determine our economic difficulties: the unjust international economic order; the global crisis; the historical distortions and structural weaknesses caused by underdevelopment; high dependence on energy and food imports; the effects of climate change and natural disasters; and also . . . our own mistakes.”
“Between April 2015 and March 2016, the direct economic damage to Cuba by the blockade amounted to $4.68 billion at current prices, calculated rigorously and prudently and conservatively. The damages accumulated over nearly six decades reach the figure of $753 billion, taking into account depreciation of gold. At current prices, [that is] equivalent to just over $125 billion.”
“On 16 April 2016 President Raul Castro Ruz said, ‘We are willing to develop a respectful dialogue and build a new relationship with the [U.S.], as that has never existed between the two countries, because we are convinced that this alone . . . [will provide] mutual benefits.’ And last September 17, he said ‘I reaffirm the will to sustain relations of civilized coexistence with the [U.S.], but Cuba will not give up one of its principles, or make concessions inherent in its sovereignty and independence.’”
“The government of the [U.S.] first proposed the annexation of Cuba and, failing that, to exercise their domination over it. The triumph of the Cuban Revolution . . . [prompted the U.S. adoption of the embargo whose purpose] was ‘to cause disappointment and discouragement through economic dissatisfaction and hardship … to deny Cuba money and supplies, in order to reduce nominal and real wages, with the aim of causing hunger, desperation and overthrow of government. ‘”
“The [new U.S.] Presidential Policy Directive [states] that the Government of the [U.S.] recognizes ‘the sovereignty and self-determination of Cuba’ and [the right of] the Cuban people to make their own decisions about their future.’” It also states “the U.S. will not seek a ‘change of regime in Cuba.’”
But the Directive also says “’the [U.S.] will support the emerging civil society in Cuba and encourage partners and non-governmental actors to join us in advocating in favor of reforms. While the United States remain committed to supporting democratic activists, [we] also [will] participate with community leaders, bloggers, activists and other leaders on social issues that can contribute to the internal dialogue in Cuba on civic participation.’ The Directive goes on to say: “The [U.S.] will maintain our democracy programs and broadcasting, while we will protect our interests and values, such as Guantanamo Naval Base … The government of the United States has no intention of modifying the existing lease agreement and other related provisions.’”
The Directive also asserts that Cuba “remains indebted to the [U.S.] regarding bilateral debts before the Cuban Revolution.”
The U.S. needs to “recognize that change is a sovereign matter for Cubans alone and that Cuba is a truly independent country. It gained its independence by itself and has known and will know how to defend [its] greatest sacrifices and risks. We are proud of our history and our culture that are the most precious treasure. We never forget the past because it is the way never to return to it. And we decided our path to the future and we know that is long and difficult, but we will not deviate from it by ingenuity, by siren songs, or by mistake. No force in the world can force us to it. We will strive to build a sovereign, independent, socialist, democratic, prosperous and sustainable nation. We will not return to capitalism.”
During the debate the following 40 countries expressed their support of the resolution:
Latin America: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic (for Commonwealth of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC)), Ecuador, El Salvador, Jamaica (for Caribbean Community (CARICOM)), Mexico, Nicaragua, Saint Vincent and Grenadines, Uruguay and Venezuela (for Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)).
Africa: Algeria, Angola, Libya, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger (for African States), South Africa, Sudan and Tonga.
Middle East: Egypt, Kuwait (for Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC)) and Syria.
Asia: Belarus, China, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea [North Korea], India, Indonesia, Iran, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, Russian Federation, Singapore (for Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)), Thailand (for Group of 77 and China) and Viet Nam.
The U.S. Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Samantha Power, announced the U.S. abstention before the debate and voting on the resolution. Here are extracts of her speech about that vote.
“For more than 50 years, the [U.S.] had a policy aimed at isolating the government of Cuba. For roughly half of those years, U.N. Member States have voted overwhelmingly for a General Assembly resolution that condemns the U.S. embargo and calls for it to be ended. The [U.S.] has always voted against this resolution. Today the [U.S.] will abstain.”
“In December 2014, President Obama made clear his opposition to the embargo and called on our Congress to take action to lift it. Yet while the Obama Administration agrees that the U.S. embargo on Cuba should be lifted, . . . we don’t support the shift for the reason stated in this resolution. All actions of the [U.S.] with regard to Cuba have been and are fully in conformity with the U.N. Charter and international law, including applicable trade law and the customary law of the sea. We categorically reject the statements in the resolution that suggest otherwise.”
“But [today’s] resolution . . . is a perfect example of why the U.S. policy of isolation toward Cuba was not working – or worse, how it was actually undermining the very goals it set out to achieve. Instead of isolating Cuba, . . . our policy isolated the [U.S.], including right here at the [U.N.].”
“Under President Obama, we have adopted a new approach: rather than try to close off Cuba from the rest of the world, we want the world of opportunities and ideas open to the people of Cuba. After 50-plus years of pursuing the path of isolation, we have chosen to take the path of engagement. Because, as President Obama said in Havana, we recognize that the future of the island lies in the hands of the Cuban people.”
“Abstaining on this resolution does not mean that the [U.S.] agrees with all of the policies and practices of the Cuban government. We do not. We are profoundly concerned by the serious human rights violations that the Cuban government continues to commit with impunity against its own people – including arbitrarily detaining those who criticize the government; threatening, intimidating, and, at times, physically assaulting citizens who take part in peaceful marches and meetings; and severely restricting the access that people on the island have to outside information.”
“We [,however,] recognize the areas in which the Cuban government has made significant progress in advancing the welfare of its people, from significantly reducing its child mortality rate, to ensuring that girls have the same access to primary and secondary school as boys.”
“But none of this should mean that we stay silent when the rights of Cuban people are violated, as Member States here at the [U.N.] have too often done. That is why the [U.S.] raised these concerns directly with the Cuban government during our [recent] historic dialogue on human rights . . ., which shows that, while our governments continue to disagree on fundamental questions of human rights, we have found a way to discuss these issues in a respectful and reciprocal manner. We urge other Member States to speak up about these issues as well.”
“As President Obama made clear when he traveled to Havana, we believe that the Cuban people – like all people – are entitled to basic human rights, such as the right to speak their minds without fear, and the right to assemble, organize, and protest peacefully. Not because these reflect a U.S.-centric conception of rights, but rather because they are universal human rights – enshrined in the U.N. Charter and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – which all of our 193 Member States are supposed to respect and defend. Rights that are essential for the dignity of men, women, and children regardless of where they live or what kind of government they have.”
The U.S. concedes that it “has work to do in fulfilling these rights for our own citizens. And we know that at times in our history, U.S. leaders and citizens used the pretext of promoting democracy and human rights in the region to justify actions that have left a deep legacy of mistrust. We recognize that our history, in which there is so much that makes us proud, also gives us ample reason to be humble.”
“The [U.S.] believes that there is a great deal we can do together with Cuba to tackle global challenges. That includes here at the [U.N.], where the decades-long enmity between our nations has at best been a distraction – and at worst, an obstacle – to carrying out some of the most important work of this institution and helping the world’s most vulnerable people.”
Engage Cuba, a U.S. national coalition of private companies, organizations and state and local leaders working to lift the embargo, said, “Year after year, the international community has condemned our failed unilateral sanctions that have caused great economic hardship for the people of Cuba and continue to put American businesses at a competitive disadvantage. The fact that the Administration and Israel abstained from voting for the first time ever demonstrates the growing recognition that the U.S. embargo on Cuba is a failed, obsolete policy that has no place in today’s international affairs.”
Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), on the other hand, blasted the abstention, saying the Obama administration had failed to honor and defend U.S. laws in an international forum. Similar negative reactions were registered by Senators Ted Cruz (Rep., FL) and Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ), Republican Representatives from Florida, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, and the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC.
As an U.S. citizen-advocate for ending the embargo as soon as possible, I am pleased with the U.S. abstention and agree with Ambassador Power that this vote does not mean the U.S. agrees with the resolution’s stated reasons.
Moreover, too many in the U.S. believe the Cuban damages claim from the embargo is just a crazy Cuban dream, but I disagree. Given the amount of the claim, Cuba will not someday tell the U.S. to forget it. A prior post, therefore, suggested that the two countries agree to submit this and any other damage claims by both countries for resolution by an independent international arbitration panel such as those provided by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague in the Netherlands.