U.S. and Cuba Hold Biannual Migration Talks 

Despite the significant recent cooling of relations, the U.S. and Cuba held their biannual discussion of migration issues, this time at the State Department in Washington, D.C. on December 11.

Migration Discussions[1]

According to the Department, the two countries “discussed the significant reduction in irregular migration from Cuba to the [U.S.] since the implementation of the January 2017 Joint Statement [during the last days of the Obama Administration [2]]. Apprehensions of Cuban migrants at U.S. ports of entry decreased by 64 percent from fiscal year 2016 to 2017, and maritime interdictions of Cuban migrants decreased by 71 percent. The [U.S.] confirmed it met its annual commitment in fiscal year 2017 to facilitate legal migration by issuing a minimum of 20,000 documents under the Migration Accords to Cubans to immigrate to the [U.S.] The U.S. delegation also raised the need for increased Cuban cooperation in the return of Cubans with final orders of removal from the [U.S.]”

The Department added, “A strong migration policy is vital to the [U.S.] national security. The Migration Talks, which began in 1995, provide a forum for the [U.S.] and Cuba to review and coordinate efforts to ensure safe, legal, and orderly migration between Cuba and the [U.S.]. The talks were last held in April 2017 [in the Trump Administration].”

The Cuban statement provided greater details on the substance of these discussions. It said “Cuba urged the [U.S.] to fulfill its obligation to issue no less than 20,000 travel documents annually to Cuban citizens to emigrate to that country. “Cuba also questioned the “validity of the U.S. Cuban Adjustment Act, which continues to be a stimulus to irregular migration and whose repeal will be essential to achieve normal migratory relations between the two countries.”[3] Another impediment to cooperation on migration, said Cuba, was the U.S. cancellation of “trips of official delegations from the [U.S.] to Cuba, which has led to the postponement of previously scheduled exchanges of mutual interest, which , if maintained,  could deepen the effects on exchanges in this and other areas.”

The Cuban statement also said that Cuba  had “expressed its deepest concern about the negative consequences that [U.S.] unilateral, unfounded and politically motivated decisions [in September and October 2017] have on immigration relations between both countries.”[4]

Furthermore, Cuba “warned . . .about the negative impact of the suspension of the granting of visas in the [U.S.] Consulate in Havana [due to the U.S. reduced staffing], which, by paralyzing the procedures of Cuban citizens to visit or emigrate to that country, seriously hampers family relations and exchanges of all kinds between both peoples.” Cuba reiterated its objection to the U.S.”arbitrary expulsion of a significant group of officials from [Cuba’s] Embassy in Washington, which has significantly affected the functioning of the diplomatic mission, . . . [especially] the services it provides to Cubans residing in the[U.S.]. . . . and] to American citizens who are interested in traveling to our country.”[5]

On a more positive note, Cuba observed that both side recognized “the positive impact of the Joint Declaration signed on January 12, 2017 [during the last days of the Obama Administration] and, specifically, the elimination of the “dry feet-wet feet” policy and the “Parole Program for Cuban Medical Professionals” in the decrease of irregular emigration from Cuba to the [U.S.]”[6]

In addition, both countries” agreed on the usefulness of the exchange between Coast Guard Troops and the Coast Guard Service held in July [2017]and the technical meeting on human trafficking and immigration fraud carried out in September [2017] which will continue on December 12. Cuba reaffirmed its willingness to give continuity to the rounds of conversations on migration issues.”

Conclusion

As an advocate for normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations, it is good to know that the two countries still manage to hold respectful meetings to discuss issues of mutual concern even though they do not agree on all such issues and even though this blog disapproves of the Trump Administration’s recent changes to U.S. regulations on travel to Cuba and trade with Cuba.

This blog was also pleased to read the U.S. implicit positive endorsement of the Obama Administration’s January 12, 2017, Joint Declaration with Cuba about the latter’s migration to the U.S.

On the other hand, this blog disagrees with the U.S. reduction of the staffing of its Embassy in Havana and the expulsion of Cuban diplomats from its Embassy in Washington and supports Cuba’s complaint about the negative consequences of those decisions.

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

[1] U.S. State Dep’t, United States and Cuba Hold Biannual Migration Talks in Washington, D.C. (Dec. 11, 2017); Washington’s unilateral actions hamper relations with Cuba, Granma (Dec. 11, 2017)

[2] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: U.S. Ends Special Immigration Benefit for Cubans and Meets with Cubans To Discuss Claims (Jan. 13, 2017); Additional Reactions to End of U.S. Immigration Benefits to Cubans (Jan. 14, 2017); Reuters, Cuba Tells U.S. Suspension of Visas Is Hurting Families, N.Y. Times (Dec. 12, 2017).

[3] Cuban Adjustment Act, Wikipedia.

[4]  See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: A New Travel Warning for Americans Traveling to Cuba (Sept. 19, 2017); Medical “Incidents” Affecting U.S. Diplomats in Cuba Prompt U.S. To Reduce Staff at Havana Embassy and Urge Americans Not to Travel to Cuba (Sept. 30, 2017); U.S. Orders Cuba To Remove 15 Cuban Diplomats (Oct. 4, 2017); U.S. Embassy in Cuba Issues “Hotel Restrictions” Security Message (Oct. 7, 2017).

[5] See n.4.

[6] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: U.S. Ends Special Immigration Benefit for Cubans and Meets with Cubans To Discuss Claims (Jan. 13, 2017); Additional Reactions to End of U.S. Immigration Benefits to Cubans (Jan. 14, 2017).

 

Is Cuba-North Korea Cooperation Good or Bad for U.S.? 

On November 22-24 North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho was in Havana to meet with Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and President Raúl Castro. Was this a positive or negative development for  the U.S., which has simultaneous strained relationships with both countries?[1]

Background

Since 1960, soon after the Cuban Revolution assumed control of the island’s government, Cuba and North Korea have had close diplomatic relations. It started with a 1960 visit to North Korea by Che Guevara, who praised the North Korean regime as a model for Cuba to follow.

In 1986 Fidel Castro visited North Korea and met with the country’s founder, Kim Il-sung, and his son and successor, Kim Jong-il (the grandfather and father, respectively, of the current North Korean leader).

In July 2013, a North Korea-flagged vessel was seized by Panamanian authorities carrying suspected missile-system components hidden under 10,000 tons of sugar bags upon its return from Cuba. Cuba claimed the weapons were going to North Korea for repairs and were to be sent back. However, the next year a United Nations panel of experts concluded that the shipment had violated sanctions placed on North Korea, although Cuban entities were not sanctioned in the aftermath despite protests from the U.S.

In 2015, Cuba’s First Vice President and foreseeable successor to Raúl Castro, Miguel Díaz-Canel , was received by Kim Jong-un in the North Korean capital.

In December 2016, a North Korean delegation to the funeral of Cuban leader Fidel Castro emphasized that the two nations should develop their relations “in all spheres” — a comment that was echoed by Raúl Castro, according to state media reports at the time.

This year the Kim regime has been strengthening its ties with Cuba with a view to breaking its diplomatic isolation, before the tightening of sanctions imposed by the international community. In January, Cuban Vice President  Salvador Valdés Mesa  received the number three of the North Korean regime, Choe Ryong-hae. In May the North Korean trade union leader Ju Yong-gil visited  Havana as part of a meeting of the World Federation of Trade Unions and reportedly returned with a message of solidarity from President Raúl Castro.

The Ho-Rodriguez Meeting

Ho’s first meeting in Cuba was with Foreign Minister Rodriguez and below is a photograph of the two men at that meeting. 

Afterwards Cuba’s Foreign Ministry stated that the two officials  had “reviewed the satisfactory status and positive evolution of bilateral relations, which [are] based on the traditional bonds of friendship established by the historical leaders Fidel Castro Ruz and Kim Il Sung and the links that exist between both peoples, parties and governments.” They also asserted their “respect for peoples’ sovereignty, independence and free determination, territorial integrity, the abstention or threat of the use of force, the peaceful settlement of disputes and non-interference in the internal affairs of States.”

They then “strongly rejected the unilateral and arbitrary lists and designations established by the US government which serve as a basis for the implementation of coercive measures which are contrary to international law.” In addition, they “expressed their concern over the escalation of tensions and the increased military activity in the [Korean Peninsula].”

The Ho-Castro Meeting

After the two officials’ meeting, the official note of the meeting released on Cuban official television stated, “In the fraternal meeting both parties noted the historic bonds of friendship that exist between the two nations and discussed international issues of common interest.”

Implications for the U.S.

On November 23 Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raised the possibility that the North Korea-Cuba relationship was a positive development for the U.S. and the world. He said that last year he had discussed with Castro the possibility of working together to defuse global tensions with North Korea. “Can we pass along messages through surprising conduits?” Implicitly answering “yes” to his rhetorical question, Trudeau said. “These are the kinds of things where Canada can, I think, play a role that the United States has chosen not to play, this past year.”

Canada had an interest in seeking such solutions, not just because of regional security but also because the flight path of possible North Korean missiles would pass over its territory, Trudeau said.

An unnamed Asian diplomat had a similar thought: “We often ask the Cubans if they can talk to [the U.S. about North Korea].”

A more negative assessment was offered by an anonymous U.S. State Department official who said that the U.S. had made clear it wanted a peaceful resolution to the North Korean nuclear issue, but North Korea’s “belligerent and provocative behavior demonstrates it has no interest in working toward a peaceful solution.” Also skeptical was Anthony Ruggiero, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former U.S. Treasury Department official, who said,  “A key element of the Trump administration’s sanctions effort is isolating North Korea. The U.S. should warn Cuba about the dangers of a relationship with North Korea.”

Conclusion

Although this blog desperately hopes for a de-escalation of tensions between the U.S. and North Korea and the avoidance of a nuclear war, I doubt that Cuba or Canada via Cuba can make a significant contribution to that objective.

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

[1] Reuters, Castro Meets North Korean Minister Amid Hope Cuba Can Defuse Tensions, N.Y. Times (Nov. 24, 2017); The North Korean chancellor brings to Raúl Castro a ‘verbal message’ from Kim Jong-un, Diario de Cuba (Nov. 24, 2017); MacDonald, North Korea relations could be cooled using Cuba, Trudeau says, Global News (Nov. 23, 2017); Reuters, Cuba, North Korea Reject ‘Unilateral and Arbitrary U.S. Demands, N.Y. Times (Nov. 23, 2017); Cuba Foreign Ministry, The Cuban Foreign Minister met with his counterpart from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (Nov. 22, 2017); Gomez, Bruno Rodriguez receives Foreign Minister of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Granma (Nov. 22, 2017); Reuters, North Korean Foreign Minister Heads to Cuba, N.Y. Times (Nov. 20, 2017); Taylor, Amid growing isolation, North Korea falls back on close ties with Cuba, Wash. Post (Nov. 17, 2017).

 

 

Cuba’s Many Problems Prompt Speculation Galore  

Cuba’s facing many problems: the collapse of its ally and benefactor, Venezuela; recovering from the damage caused by Hurricane Irma; increased hostility from the Trump Administration; Cuba’s government’s fear of an expanding private sector of the economy; declining visitors from the U.S.; a declining national economy; the imminent political transition next February and the regime’s blocking 175 independent candidates from the upcoming election of municipal councils.

A Miami Herald article gathers experts’ speculation over whether Raúl Castro will in fact relinquish the presidency next February; whether the presumed new president, Miguel Diaz-Canel, will be capable of handling all of these problems; whether hardliners in the regime have been or will be empowered. Read it to get the full flavor of these and other speculations.[1]

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

[1] Whitefield & Gámez, Raúl Castro: Will he stay in power in Cuba or retire? Miami Herald (Nov. 21, 2017).

Trump’s New Regulations Adversely Affect Cuban Entrepreneurs

The new travel regulations and anti-Cuba rhetoric of President Trump already are hurting ordinary Cubans, especially those who have become entrepreneurs and who employ 600,000 of the island’s 11 million people.  The “self-employed” sector, a euphemism used by the Cuban government to avoid the words “private” or “entrepreneur,” already is encumbered by Cuban regulations that leave little room for development.[1]

Now an “association of Cuban businesswomen has asked to meet with Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), a Cuban-American who has never been to the island and who is believed to be a major influencer on the Trump Administration’s Cuba policies. These women want to explain ” the impact on the country’s nascent private sector of rolling back a detente in U.S. relations.” They say, “The current situation has us very worried and we would like to share our personal histories and perspective from Cuba.”

One of these women, Niuris Higueras, the owner of the Atelier restaurant in Havana, said her  “business is down 60 percent from a year ago.” Another woman, Julia de la Rosa, who runs a 10-room bed and breakfast, said rentals were down 20 percent in October and she expected a further decline as new U.S. regulations on individual travel kick in this month.

The Trump Administration’s evident hostility toward Cuba also has caused U.S. businesses to reduce their interest in trying to create and build business in Cuba. At this year’s Cuba trade fair only 13 U.S. companies had booths compared with 33 last year. Another cause of this reduction is growing awareness of the difficulty of doing business in Cuba.[2]

Former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, the Cuban-born head of the U.S.-Cuba Business Council, said, “This is a huge step backwards. We had made so much progress.”

U.S. airlines with licenses for flights to Cuba also are seeing the reduction in U.S. demand for visiting Cuba. As a result, five airlines have cancelled all flights to the island while others have reduced the number of their flights.[3]

A caveat to this negative reaction is the opinion of some that the new regulations on business dealings “produce brighter lines that may make it easier for companies to identify who exactly they can do business with when trying to operate on the island.”

One who expressed this view is Peter Harrell, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security who previously served as a deputy assistant secretary for counter-threat finance and sanctions in the U.S. State Department, said that the new regulations “made trade easier with the country’s private sector.” A significant point in this regard was the State Department’s FAQ document stating that “entities not on its restricted list, even if they’re subsidiaries of those on the list, are [not] restricted until they themselves appear on the blacklist.”[4]

Another caveat is “the new regulations limiting “disruption to pre-existing commercial activities, ensuring that U.S. companies can continue to do business with Cuba’s nascent private sector.” Examples of such preexisting deals are Deere & Co. and Caterpillar Inc.’s arrangements for distribution of their products on the island.[5]

Myron Brilliant, the head of international affairs at the U.S. chamber of Commerce, urged the administration “to continue to keep business in mind and avoid further steps to restrict the economic relationship between the U.S. and Cuba.”

Nevertheless, the U.S. regime of Cuba sanctions presents risks to U.S. companies. The latest example is the November 17 announcement by the U.S. Treasury of an OFAC settlement with American Express Co. for $204,000 for its 50%-owned Belgian credit-card issuer’s corporate customers’ 1,818 transactions in Cuba between 2009 and 2014.[6]

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

[1] Reuters, Cuban Businesswomen Seek Rubio Meeting as U.S. Policies Bite, N.Y. Times (Nov. 17, 2017). The above topics and others are the subjects of earlier posts listed in the “Cuban Economy” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[2] Reuters, Blooming U.S. Business Interest in Cuba Wilts Under Trump, N.Y. Times (Nov. 10, 2017).

[3] Reuters, Alaska Airline Discontinues Los Angeles-Havana Daily Flight, N.Y. Times (Nov. 14, 2017); Assoc. Press, Alaska Airlines to Halt Flights to Cuba, N.Y. Times (Nov. 14, 2017).

[4] Rubenfeld, New U.S. Cuba Regulations May Make Compliance There Easier, W.S.J. (Nov. 9, 2017).

[5] Schwartz & Radnofsky, New Trump Rules Pare Back Obama’s Opening to Cuba, W.S.J. (Nov. 8, 2017).

[6] Rubenfeld, American Express Unit Fined Over Cuba Sanctions Violations, W.S>J. (Nov. 17, 2017).

Other Reactions to U.S. Ordering Removal of 15 Cuban Diplomats   

On October 3, the U.S. ordered the removal of 15 Cuban diplomats from the U.S. as discussed in a prior post while other posts looked at recent developments on these issues and on Cuba’s reaction to that U.S. decision and order. This post will discuss reactions from others.

Opposition to Expulsion of Cuban Diplomats[1]

The harshest criticism of this decision along with others recently taken by the Trump Administration has been leveled by Harold Trinkunas, the deputy director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Richard Feinberg, professor at the School of Global Policy and Strategy at the University of California San Diego and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.They say the following:

  • “This White House and its pro-embargo allies in Congress have opportunistically seized on these mysterious illnesses affecting U.S. diplomats to overturn the pro-normalization policies of a previous administration, using bureaucratic obstruction and reckless language when they cannot make the case for policy change on the merits alone.”
  • By taking these precipitous actions, Trinkunas and Feinberg argue, “this White House is doing exactly what our adversaries in the region seek to provoke. Overt U.S. hostility [towards Cuba] empowers anti-American hardliners in the Cuban regime opposed to stronger bilateral relations between the two countries. In addition, [the announced American travel restrictions and warning hurts] the privately-operated [and progressive] segments of the Cuban tourism sector, and . . . [thereby weakens] the emerging Cuban middle class.”
  • Furthermore, they say, “a breakdown in U.S.-Cuban relations allows Russia, China, Iran and Venezuela to deepen their influence in Cuba and the broader Caribbean Basin. By pushing Cuba away, the U.S. is pushing it towards other actors whose interests are not aligned with our own.
  • “Our partners in Latin America welcomed the change in U.S. policy towards Cuba in 2014 as a sign that the Cold War had finally ended in the Western Hemisphere. The [Trump] administration’s retreat from the opening towards Cuba alarms our friends in the Americas and calls into question the enduring value of U.S. commitments . . . . This pattern of reckless animus towards diplomacy comes at a cost to the international reputation of the U.S. with no apparent gain for our interests abroad.”
  • “U.S. hostility [also] risks damaging the coming transition to a new Cuban government after President Raul Castro steps down in early 2018 by strengthening the hand of anti-American hardliners who oppose further economic opening on the island.”
  • “It damages Cuban-Americans and their families by impeding travel and the flow of funding associated with their visits, and those of other American visitors, which have allowed the Cuban private sector to gain traction. It also damages U.S. relations with our partners in the region, who have long criticized what they see as senseless hostility between the U.S. and Cuba. And finally, the Trump administration’s approach serves to widen the door to U.S. geopolitical adversaries, such as Russia and Venezuela, to advance their interests in Cuba and in the region.”
  • “Many of our professional diplomats, both those stationed in Havana and those at the State Department, oppose the dramatic downsizing of the U.S. and Cuban missions. While all are concerned for the safety of U.S. personnel, the health incidents seem to be in sharp decline. The U.S. diplomats in Havana are proud of the gains in advancing U.S. interests in Cuba, and they wish to continue to protect and promote them.”

EngageCuba, the leading bipartisan coalition promoting U.S.-Cuba normalization and reconciliation, said, “”The diplomats and their families suffering from unexplained health issues deserve answers. If the U.S. government is serious about solving this mystery, they shouldn’t make it more difficult to cooperate with the Cuban government during this critical time of the investigation. This decision appears to be purely political, driven by the desire of a handful of individuals in Congress to halt progress between our two countries. Expelling Cuban diplomats will not solve this mystery; it will not improve the safety of U.S. personnel, but it will make it harder for hundreds of thousands of Cuban-Americans to visit their families on the island. We hope that the driving forces behind this decision are comfortable with their Cuban-American constituents being unable to visit their loved ones.”

This EngageCuba statement followed the one it issued about the reduction of staffing of the U.S. Embassy in Havana. It said, “”The safety and security of all diplomatic personnel in Cuba, and anywhere in the world, is the first priority of our country. Whoever is behind these serious and inexcusable attacks on American diplomats must be apprehended and brought to justice. We must be careful that our response does not play into the hands of the perpetrators of these attacks, who are clearly seeking to disrupt the process of normalizing relations between our two countries. This could set a dangerous precedent that could be used by our enemies around the world.

EngageCUBA continued, “It is puzzling that the Trump Administration would use this delicate time in the investigation to advise Americans against traveling to Cuba, given the fact that none of these attacks have been directed at American travelers. We are also concerned for the Cuban people, who will be impacted by this decision. Halting the visa process in Cuba and discouraging Americans from traveling to Cuba will divide families and harm Cuba’s burgeoning private sector, civil society groups and efforts to improve human rights on the island.”

In conclusion, said EngageCUBA, “the U.S. and Cuba must redouble efforts to solve this mystery as quickly as possible in order to keep our embassy personnel safe and continue to move forward with strengthening relations between our two countries.”

A New York Times’ editorial similarly observed, “until there is concrete evidence about the source of the attacks, the Trump administration is wrong to expel Cuban diplomats from Washington. . . . Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s explanation that Cuba should be punished for failing to protect American diplomats presumes that Cuba was at least aware of the attacks, which the [U.S.] has neither demonstrated nor claimed. “Furthermore, “Until something more is known, punishing Havana serves only to further undermine the sensible opening to Cuba begun under Barack Obama. President Trump has made no secret of his disdain for the détente — in June his government ordered restrictions on contacts with Cuba that have slowed the flow of visitors to the island, and last week the State Department warned Americans not to travel there, though there is no evidence that tourists are in danger. The sonic attacks on Americans are too serious to be used for cynical political ends.”

Geoff Thale, director of programs at the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights advocacy group, said: “The United States is using the confusion and uncertainty surrounding these events as justification to take a big step backwards in U.S.-Cuban relations. This doesn’t serve our national interests, or our diplomacy, and it most certainly doesn’t do anything to help advance human rights or a more open political climate in Cuba. This is an unfortunate decision that ought to be reversed.”

Tom Emmer (Rep., MN), the Chair of the Congressional Cuba Working Group, stated, “The Administration’s decision last week to withdraw all non-essential personnel from our embassy in Havana was concerning but understandable to ensure the safety of our foreign service staff on the island. Unfortunately, yesterday’s actions do not seem to advance our efforts of identifying a cause or culprit behind these ‘sonic attacks.’ Instead of sending us back down a path of isolation, we must foster open lines of communication as we continue the investigation to determine who must be held responsible for these attacks on Americans. We cannot lose sight of the fact that an improved and sustained relationship with Cuba brings us one step closer to ensuring the stability and security of the entire Western Hemisphere.”

Senator Ben Cardin (Dem., MD), the Ranking Member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, more guardedly said, “Although . . . [the] decision to expel Cuban diplomats brings parity between U.S. and Cuban embassy personnel levels, I am concerned that it may also stoke diplomatic tensions and complicate our ability to conduct a thorough investigation of these attacks. The U.S. should not take actions that could undermine our bilateral relations with Cuba and U.S. policies aimed at advancing our strategic national interests in the hemisphere.”

Although the most recent Cuba Travel Warning from the State Department strongly discouraged Americans from traveling to Cuba, “several cruise lines operating ships in and around Cuba have released statements pushing back on the warning, noting that no tourists have been harmed in these incidents.” Moreover, “several cruise companies had already announced significant expansion of their Cuba operations before the warning was issued.”

Approval of Expulsion of Cuban Diplomats[2]

This latest U.S. announcement is what was recommended by a Wall Street Journal editorial and by U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, who immediately tweeted that this was “the right decision.” His subsequent press release Rubio stated, “I commend the US State Department for expelling a number of Cuban operatives from the US. No one should be fooled by the Castro regime’s claim it knows nothing about how these harmful attacks are occurring or who perpetrated them. I have called on the State Department to conduct an independent investigation and submit a comprehensive report to Congress. . . . All nations have an obligation to ensure the protection of diplomatic representatives in their countries. Cuba is failing miserably and proving how misguided and dangerous the Obama Administration’s decisions were.”[7]  He added, ““At this time, the U.S. embassy in Havana should be downgraded to an interests section and we should be prepared to consider additional measures against the Castro regime if these attacks continue.”

This news should also be welcomed by the Washington Post, whose recent editorial continued this newspaper’s hard line about U.S.-Cuba relations by refusing to believe Cuba’s denial of knowledge about the cause and perpetrator of the “attacks” on U.S. diplomats in Havana. It asserts “recent events suggest that the unpleasant reality of Fidel Castro’s dictatorship remains in place” and that “For decades, the Cuban state security apparatus has kept a watchful eye on everything that moves on the island, and informants lurk on every block. It begs disbelief that Cuba does not know what is going on. Unfortunately, this kind of deception and denial is all too familiar behavior.” Therefore, if “Cuba sincerely wants better relations with the United States, it could start by revealing who did this, and hold them to account.”[8]

This suspicion of Cuban involvement in the attacks received some corroboration by the Associated Press, which reports that six unnamed sources say that “many of the first reported cases [of attacks] involved intelligence workers posted to the U.S. embassy.” Moreover, of “the 21 confirmed cases, American spies suffered some of the most acute damage, including brain injury and hearing loss that has not healed.” U.S. investigators, according to the AP, have identified “three ‘zones,’ or geographic clusters of attacks, [which] cover the homes where U.S. diplomats live and several hotels where attacks occurred, including the historic Hotel Capri.” Both the State Department and the CIA declined to comment to the AP. This report undoubtedly will fuel efforts to overturn normalization of relations between the two countries.[9]

Conclusion

I agree with Trinkunas and Feinberg, the recent decisions about Cuba by the Trump Administration do exactly what our adversaries in the region seek to provoke: empower anti-American hardliners in the Cuban regime opposed to stronger bilateral relations between the two countries; damage Cuba’s upcoming transition to a new government after Raúl Castro leaves the presidency early next year; and hurt and weaken the privately-operated and progressive segments of the Cuban tourism sector. In addition, those decisions weaken U.S. relations with most other governments in Latin America while damaging many Cuban and Cuban-American families seeking to maintain and increase their ties. Those decisions also allow Russia, China, Iran and Venezuela, all of which are hostile to the U.S., to deepen their influence in Cuba and the broader Caribbean Basin.

I must also note my surprise that at the two recent State Department press briefings no journalist followed up on the previously mentioned Associated Press report that the initial U.S. diplomats who reported medical problems were U.S. intelligence agents to ask whether that report was valid and other related questions.

All who support the continuation of U.S.-Cuba normalization and reconciliation should oppose these moves by the Trump Administration.

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

[1] Trinkunas & Feinberg, Reckless hostility toward Cuba damages America’s interests, The Hill (Oct. 5, 2017);  EngageCuba, Statement on U.S. Expulsion of Cuban Diplomats in Washington (Oct. 3, 2017); Engage Cuba, Statement on U.S. Cuts to Havana Embassy & Travel Alert (Sept. 29, 2017); Editorial, Cuba and the Mystery of the Sonic Weapon, N.Y. Times (Oct. 5, 2017) (this editorial also noted that the reported medical problems “are real and serious” and that “Cuba’s repressive government must be the prime suspect”); WOLA, U.S. Plan to Expel Two-thirds of Cuban Embassy Needlessly Sets Back U.S.-Cuba Relations (Oct. 3, 2017); Emmer Statement on Administration’s Decision to Remove Cuban Diplomats from Washington, D.C. (Oct. 4, 2017); Cardin Questions Expulsion of Cuban Diplomats amidst Attacks on U.S. Personnel in Cuba (Oct. 3, 2017); Morello, U.S. will expel 15 Cuban diplomats, escalating tensions over mystery illnesses, Wash. Post (Oct. 3, 2017); Gomez, U.S. orders 15 Cuban diplomats to leave; Cuba blames Washington for deteriorating relations, Miami Herald (Oct. 3, 2017); Glusac, Despite Travel Warning, Cruises to Cuba Continue, N.Y. Times (Oct. 5, 2017).

[2] Rubio Press Release, Rubio commends State Department’s Expulsion of Cuban Operatives (Oct. 3, 2017); Editorial, Cuba plays dumb in attacks on American diplomats, Wash. Post (Sept. 30, 2017); Assoc. Press, APNewsBreak: Attacks in Havana Hit US Spy Network in Cuba, N.Y. Times (Oct. 2, 2017).

 

No Mention of Cuba in U.S. State Department’s Latest Report on Terrorism

On July 19, 2017, the U.S. State Department released its Country Reports on Terrorism 2016. One of its chapters lists these three countries as “state sponsors of terrorism:” Iran, Sudan and Syria. Other chapters discuss the terrorism records of most countries in the world.[1]

This Reports document, however, made no mention of Cuba or statement as to the reasons for this omission.[2] This was in sharp contrast to previous reports for the years 1981-2013, that listed Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism” (i.e., the government of a country that has “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism”) and the removal of Cuba from that category for 2014 and 2015.

At the press briefing on the latest Reports, a journalist asked whether Secretary of State Tillerson himself had made the decision not to put Cuba back on the list of state sponsors since at his Senate confirmation hearing he had testified that he “wanted to examine the criteria under which Cuba was removed from the list” in 2015 for the year 2014.[3]

The State Department official responded: “Cuba was removed, and there is no requirement within the report for an individual chapter on every single country around the world. We produce chapters in the Country Reports based upon material, frankly, to include in the report. So it was assessed that there was not sufficient information there to provide a report this year on Cuba, but it was removed from the state sponsor list previously.”

Conclusion

The non-inclusion of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism” in this latest report, in this blogger’s opinion, is the proper conclusion and perhaps is a sign that the Trump Administration’s rhetoric about Cuba is louder and stronger than its bite. Let us hope.

Moreover, the statement that the State Department did not have sufficient information about Cuban counterterrorism efforts to include Cuba in the latest report is disingenuous. From December 2014 through January 19, 2017 (the last full day of the Obama Administration), the U.S. and Cuba held discussions about their respective counterterrorism efforts, and on January 16, 2017 the two countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Law Enforcement that provided for cooperation on various matters, including “the fight against terrorism.” These discussions, although not a matter of public information, must have provided the U.S. with significant information about Cuba’s counterterrorism efforts.[4]]

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

[1] U.S. State Dep’t, Country Reports on Terrorism 2016 (July 19, 2017); U.S. State Dep’t, Press Release: State Department Releases Country Reports on Terrorism 2016 (July 19, 2017); U.S. State Dep’t, Press Briefing: Acting Coordinator for Counterterrorism Justin Siberell on the Release of Country Reports on Terrorism 2016 (July 19, 2017).

[2] Welsh, State Department drops Cuba entirely from annual detail of terrorist activity, McClatchy (July 19, 2017).

[3] Previous State Department reports about Cuba and terrorism have been discussed in posts to this blog. See posts listed in the “Cuba: State Sponsor of Terrorism?” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Cuba.

[4]  See these posts to dwkcommentaries: United States and Cuba Hold Second Law Enforcement Dialogue (May 19, 2016); U.S. and Cuba Discuss Counterterrorism Cooperation (June 10, 2016); President Obama Issues Presidential Policy Directive—United States-Cuba Normalization (Oct. 14, 2016); U.S. and Cuba Continue to Implement Normalization of Relations (Jan. 17, 2017).

 

 

U.S. Continues To Suspend Part of Its Embargo of Cuba 

On July 14 U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon notified appropriate Congressional committees that the Trump Administration would suspend Title III of the Helms-Burton Act (a/k/a the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act) for a six-month period beyond August 1. The law requires Congressional notification at least 15 days before a suspension is to begin.[1]

Title III allows former owners of commercial property expropriated by Cuba to sue foreign companies and the Cuban government for using or “trafficking” in those confiscated holdings.

But ever since the enactment of the Helms-Burton Act, every president has routinely suspended Title III at six-month intervals. Such suspensions have been prompted by U.S. fear of alienating important U.S. trading partners such as Canada, Mexico, and EU countries from the filing of a potential tidal wave of lawsuits in U.S. federal courts brought by persons whose Cuban properties had been expropriated against companies from those U.S. trading partners that use Cuban tourism properties, mining operations, or seaports.[2]

This suspension by the Trump Administration is the first action on Cuba since President Trump announced his new direction on U.S.-Cuba relations during a June 16 speech in Miami. It is the latest sign that President Trump is not fully reversing President Barack Obama’s opening of relations with Cuba.[3]

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

[1] U.S. State Dep’t, U.S. Determination of Six-Month Suspension Under Title III of LIBERTAD (July 14, 2017); Whitefield, Trump to suspend lawsuit provision of Helms-Burton in August, Miami Herald (July 17, 2017); Assoc. Press, Trump Administration Again Suspends a Part of Cuba Embargo, N.Y. Times (July 14, 2017).

[2] After the December 17, 2014, announcement by President Obama and Castro that the two countries were embarking on a path of normalization, they have engaged in discussions or negotiations about obtaining Cuban payment of U.S. persons’ claims for expropriation, now believed, with interest, to total at least $ 8 billion. Although Cuba has recognized that it has an international legal obligation to pay such claims and has paid expropriation claims from other countries and although Cuba has an economic and political interest in paying these U.S. claims, Cuba does not have the cash to do so and instead has asserted claims against the U.S. for alleged damage from the U.S. embargo and other acts. See these posts to this blog: Resolution of U.S. and Cuba’s Damage Claims (April 4, 2015); Resolving U.S. and Cuba’s Damage Claims (Dec. 13, 2015); U.S. and Cuba Discuss Their Claims Against Each Other (July 30, 2016).

 

[3] President Trump Announces Reversal of Some U.S.-Cuba Normalization Policies, dwkcommentaries.com (June 19, 2017).