U.S. National Security Advisor Announces New U.S. Hostility Towards Cuba

On November 1, immediately after the U.N. General Assembly’s overwhelming condemnation of the U.S. embargo (blockade) of Cuba that was discussed in a prior post, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton in a speech at Miami Dade College’s Freedom Tower announced new sanctions against Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. The same day in an interview by the Miami Herald, Bolton made other assertions about the U.S. and Cuba.

Bolton’s Speech[1]

Bolton opened by saying the U.S. was “confronted once again with the destructive forces of oppression, socialism, and totalitarianism” and “the perils of poisonous ideologies left unchecked, and the dangers of domination and suppression.”

Now this administration “will no longer appease dictators and despots near our shores,. . . [and] will not reward firing squads, torturers, and murderers.” Instead the U.S. “will champion the independence and liberty of our neighbors . . . [and] will stand with the freedom fighters” against the “Troika of Tyranny in this Hemisphere—Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua.”

“This Troika of Tyranny, this triangle of terror stretching from Havana to Caracas to Managua, is the cause of immense human suffering, the impetus of enormous regional instability, and the genesis of a sordid cradle of communism in the Western Hemisphere.” The “Cuban, Venezuelan, and Nicaraguan people suffer in misery because socialism has been implemented effectively. “

Bolton’s harshest rhetoric was reserved for the regime in Havana, which he accused of silencing “dissidents and suppressing every kind of freedom know to man.” There, “a brutal dictatorship under the façade of a new figurehead continues to frustrate democratic aspirations, and jail and torture opponents.”

“In Cuba, we continue to stand firmly with the Cuban people, and we share their aspirations for real, democratic change. Members of this administration will never take a picture in front of an image of Che Guevara, as Barack Obama did.. . . [The] National Revolutionary Police force [is] the agent of oppression of the Cuban people. This oppression of dissidents and suppressing every kind of freedom known to man is what typifies the regime in Havana.”

“Under this administration, there will no longer be secret channels of communication between Cuba and the United States.” (this suggests the elimination of various bilateral meetings on various subjects in Havana and Washington that were started in the Obama Administration and so far continued by the Trump Administration.[2])

“The [U.S.] will not prop up a military monopoly that abuses the citizens of Cuba.” The current U.S. “policy includes concrete actions to prevent American dollars from reaching the Cuban military, security, and intelligence services. . . .[We] have been tightening sanctions against the Cuban military and intelligence services, including their holding companies, and closing loopholes in our sanctions resolutions. In this respect, I believe that within days the administration will add over two dozen additional entities owned or controlled by the Cuban military and intelligence services to the restricted list of entities with which financial transactions by U.S. persons are prohibited. And I believe even more will come as well. The Cuban military and intelligence agencies must not profit from the United States, its people, its travelers, or its businesses.” (Nearly 200 agencies, companies and hotels already on the list.[3])

“In response to the vicious attacks on Embassy Havana, we have also scaled back our embassy personnel in Cuba. This President will not allow our diplomats to be targeted with impunity. And we will not excuse those who harm our highest representatives abroad by falsely invoking videos, or concocting some other absurd pretext for their suffering.”

“We will only engage with a Cuban government that is willing to undertake necessary and tangible reforms—a government that respects the interests of the Cuban people.”

Bolton even may have hinted at U.S. efforts to topple the governments in these three countries when he said, “We are an impatient people too and it’s time to see the people of those three countries have free governments.”

Bolton’s Interview[4]

In an interview the same day by the Miami Herald, Bolton again addressed the subject of U.S. diplomats who have suffered medical problems that surfaced while they were stationed in Cuba. “I think it’s very important that somebody must be held accountable for what happened to our diplomats. It’s a fundamental principle of how America operates in the world, that Americans abroad do not get harmed with impunity,”

“There is no conceivable theory [whether] it was accidental or somehow caused by some equipment malfunction” that absolves Cuba, Bolton said. “We are continuing to be concerned for the safety of our personnel. We are not satisfied with the performance of the government of Cuba respecting their security, so we are going to take a very careful look at that and make some decisions.”

Bolton also said the Administration was “seriously” considering new measures against the Cuban government, including allowing Cuban exiles whose properties were confiscated by the Castro government to file lawsuits in U.S. courts against foreign companies currently using those properties. (A provision of the Helms-Burton law that allows such lawsuits has been regularly suspended every six months by both Republican and Democratic presidents. Failure to suspend it again would allow the lawsuits to be filed.[5])

Other measures under consideration include insisting that Cuban workers on U.S. companies’ projects on the island be hired directly so that the workers  get to keep all of the wages paid by the companies, rather than have the Cuban government skim significant portions of those wages.

The U.S., said Bolton, opposes any increase of Russian involvement in Cuba and that hopefully the next time President Trump meets Putin that message will be communicated.

Reactions to Bolton’s comments[6]

Cuba immediately condemned Bolton’s harsh comments about the island., saying that the new sanctions were a futile attempt to change Cuban policies and would only further isolate the U.S. internationally.

“We energetically reject these measures which will impact the economy and country’s development on top of the impact of the economic blockade,” the Director of U.S. affairs at the Foreign Ministry, Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, said at a Havana press conference. “They will fail. They will not break the will of Cubans.”

In particular, the Cuban official attacked the possibility of the U.S.’ allowing  U.S. citizens whose property was seized by the Cuban government to sue foreign companies that have invested in the properties on the island. Fernandez de Cossio said such a measure would be unprecedented and violate international law, further isolating the U.S. “There is no possibility whatsoever for people who abandoned Cuba and abandoned property in Cuba to come back and claim them,” he said.

However, Cuba reiterated its openness “to having a frank, professional, open and respectful dialogue with the U.S. Cuba is open to discussing any topic, if it’s based in respect.”

Conclusion

Given Bolton’s long record of hostility towards Cuba, this speech and interview are not surprising. Yet as the Vox article stated, they sound “like a renewal of America’s Cold War stance toward Latin America, [when] US spent decades opposing, and in some cases fighting, communist forces. From Nicaragua to Guatemala to Chile, [and when] the US used its power to squash many left-leaning movements in the region mostly because of its opposition to the Soviet Union.”

Needless to say, John Bolton’s service as National Security Advisor, in this blogger’s opinion, is an unmitigated disaster on many levels, including these recent comments about U.S. policies regarding Cuba and other countries in Latin America. Yes, there are U.S.-Cuba disagreements, but the proper way to address, and hopefully resolve, them is through the ongoing, respectful bilateral meetings.

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[1] White House, Remarks by National Security Advisor Ambassador John R. Bolton on the Administration’s Policies in Latin America (Nov. 2, 2018); Ward, John Bolton just gave an “Axis of Evil” speech about Latin America, Vox (Nov. 1, 2018); Assoc. Press, US vows tough approach to Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba, Wash. Post (Nov. 1, 2018); U.S. National Security Advisor talks Venezuela, Russia and Cuba relations, and the alleged attacks on U.S. personnel in Cuba, Miami Herald (Nov. 1, 2018); Rogin, Bolton promises to confront Latin America’s ‘Troika of Tyranny,’ Wash. Post (Nov. 1, 2018); Gaouette, Bolton praises Brazil’s far-right leader, slams Latin America’s ‘troika of tyranny,’ CNN (Nov. 1, 2018); Rodriguez, Bolton praises Brazil’s Bolsonaro as a ‘like-minded’ partner, Politico (Nov. 1, 2018); Wemer, John Bolton Takes Latin American “Troika of Tyranny” to Task, Atlantic Council (Nov. 1, 2018); McBride, Trump Administration Tightens Sanctions Against Cuba, Venezuela, W.S.J. (Nov. 1, 2018).

[2] See these posts to dwkcommentaries: U.S. and Cuba’s Efforts To Continue Normalization (December 9, 2016); Recent U.S.-Cuba Developments (June 15, 2018); U.S. and Cuba Continue To Hold Dialogues on Common Issues (July 12, 2018).

[3] U.S. State Dep’t, List of Restricted Entities and Subentities Associated with Cuba as of November 9, 2017).

[4] Gámez Torres, Bolton: Somebody must be held accountable in Cuba attacks, Miami Herald (Nov. 1, 2018).

[5]   E.g., State Department Creates Cuba Internet Task Force and Suspends Enforcement of Statutory Liability for Trafficking in Certain Cuban Expropriated Property , dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 25, 2018).

[6]  Assoc. Press, Cuba Condemn[s] US’s Latest Tough Talk About the Island, N.Y. Times (Nov. 2, 2018); Reuters, Cuba Lashes Out at Trump Administration Over New Sanctions, N.Y. Times (Nov. 2, 2018).

 

 

 

Yet Another U.N. General Assembly Resolution Condemns U.S. Embargo (Blockade) of Cuba 

On November 1, 2018, the United Nations General Assembly again overwhelmingly adopted a resolution condemning the U.S. embargo (blockade) of Cuba. The vote this year was 189 to 2 (the two negative votes were registered by the U.S. and Israel while Moldova and Ukraine did not vote).[1]

Also on November 1, the General Assembly overwhelmingly rejected all of eight amendments that were proposed by the U.S. with only Israel and Ukraine (plus the Marshall Islands on one of them) joining the U.S. in their support while 113 voted against them with 65 abstaining. . However, some delegations said they were not opposed to the content of the amendments, but voted against them because the resolution on the embargo was not their appropriate venue.

Cuba’s Report on Prior U.N. Resolution[2].

The debate on the resolution was preceded by  Cuba’s report, dated June 2018, that was called for by the previous U.N. General Assembly resolution on the subject.

The report commenced by saying, “The economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the government of the United States of America against Cuba for almost six decades is the most unfair, severe and extended system of unilateral sanctions ever applied against any country. From April of 2017 until March of 2018, the period with which this report deals, the blockade policy has intensified and it continues to be applied with all rigor.” (P. 48)

This report then alleged, “In the period considered by this report, the blockade has caused losses to Cuba for around $ 4.3 billion” and the “accumulated harm because of the blockade being applied for almost six decades reaches the figure of . . .  . $134.5 billion” (at today’s prices). (Pp. 48-49)

The Actual Resolution[3]

The actual resolution, “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba” (A/RES/73/8) had two principal operative paragraphs.

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 recalled “the measures adopted by the Executive of the United States [President Obama] in 2015 and 2016 to modify several aspects of the application of the embargo, which contrast with the measures announced on 16 June 2017 [by President Trump] to reinforce its implementation.”

The U.S. Proposed Amendments.[4]

Prior to the Session, the U.S. proposed the following eight amendments to the Cuban resolution:

  • The first called for the Cuban government to “grant its citizens internationally recognized civil, political and economic rights and freedoms, including freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and free access to information.”
  • The second manifested “serious concern that in Cuba the serious lack of access to information and freedom of expression, the total absence of judicial independence, and arbitrary arrest and detention, are undermining collective efforts to implement Goal 16 of Sustainable Development.”
  • The third expressed “concern that in Cuba the absence of women in the most powerful decision-making bodies . . . seriously undermines the collective efforts to implement Goal 5 of Sustainable Development.”
  • The fourth asserted concern over a Cuban “trade union monopoly . . ., the prohibition of the right to strike and restrictions on collective bargaining and agreements . . . [which] seriously undermine collective efforts to implement Goal 8 Sustainable Development.”
  • The fifth urged Cuba to “create and maintain, in law and in practice, a safe and propitious environment in which an independent, diverse and pluralist civil society can operate without undue obstacles and insecurity.”
  • The sixth urged Cuba “to put an end to the widespread and serious restrictions, . . . on the right to freedom of expression, opinion, association and peaceful assembly . . . .”
  • The seventh urged Cuba to “free arbitrarily detained persons for the legitimate exercise of their human rights, consider rescinding unduly harsh sentences for exercising such fundamental freedoms . . . .”
  • The eighth called for Cuba “to initiate an integral process of accountability in response to all cases of serious human rights violations. . . .”

The above mentions of  Sustainable Development Goals are references to the Sustainable Development Goals and 2030 Agenda that were adopted by U.N. Member States in September 2015.

On October 30, the Cuba Foreign Minister said the U.S. amendments “are aimed at “creating a pretext to tighten the blockade, and attempt to present the illusion that there is international support for the policy. . . . The U.S. delegation to the UN seeks to disturb, consume time, create confusion and hinder the adoption of the resolution calling for the end of the blockade against Cuba.

The Foreign Minister  added that these amendments “manipulate the issue of human rights and the Sustainable Development Goals.” But Cuba is “confident that the amendments will be rejected, and that the resolution will receive overwhelming majority support, as has happened in the past.”

 The Debate on the Resolution and Amendments[5]

According to an U.N. Press Release, on the morning of October 31, representatives of many countries “overwhelmingly called on the [U.S.]to end its economic,commercial and financial embargo against Cuba . . . amid demands for the cessation of unilateral coercive measures.” They said,”the nearly six‑decades‑long blockade imposed on the Caribbean island by Washington impedes its right to development and its ability to participate fully in the global economy.  They stressed that the [U.S.] must heed the Assembly’s repeated calls to lift its restrictive policies.”

Some speakers added “concern over recent policy shifts in Washington that are undoing progress made in 2015 and 2016 to normalize bilateral ties with Cuba.  The current [U.S.] Administration is pursuing efforts to strengthen the blockade, they warned.”

The Associated Press added that 135 countries spoke in favor of Cuba’s resolution and against the U.S. embargo and its proposed amendments.

The debate continued the next day and, according to another U.N. press release, Cuba’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Bruno Rodríguez said “the human damage caused by the United States‑led blockade against his country qualifies as an ‘act of genocide’ and creates obstacles for cultural, academic and scientific engagement throughout the island.”

He said the quantifiable damages caused by “the blockade amount to $933.678 billion and that over the past year losses in Cuba add up to $4.3 billion.  Still, Cuba has managed to achieve economic progress and offer extensive international cooperation.  ‘The blockade continues to be the main obstacle to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals,’ . . . [and] violates the right of Cubans to self‑determination.  ‘It is an act of oppression and an act of war.’”

“Mr. Rodríguez said there is a ‘ferocious intensification’ of the extraterritorial implementation of the blockade, particularly the persecution of Cuba’s financial transactions.  The embargo goes against the [U.N.] Charter and international law.”

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said that the resolution “does not help a single Cuban family”and was “one more time that countries ‘feel like they can poke the United States in the eye’ . . . [while] the sorry state of liberty and human rights in Cuba is not lost on anyone.”

“She went on to say that the [U.N.]does not have the ability or the authority to end the [U.S.] embargo on Cuba.  It does, however, have the power to send a moral message to Cuba’s regime [and]  that the [U.S.’] proposed amendments are ‘your words’ . . .[i.e.] the words expressed by delegations on Cuba’s oppression and lack of freedoms.”

“Throughout the morning, speakers regretted that after 27 years of near‑unanimous support for the yearly resolution in the General Assembly, there is still no indication that Washington, D.C. will lift the embargo.”

Reactions to the Resolution [6]

After the passage of the resolution and rejection of the U.S. amendments,  Ambassador Haley said to the General Assembly, “I’m always taken aback when I hear applause in this chamber in moments like this, because there are no winners here today. There are only losers.The [U.N.] has lost. It has rejected the opportunity to speak on behalf of human rights. The UN Charter commits every country here to the promotion of peace, security, and human rights. And that Charter was betrayed today.”

“Once again, we were reminded why so many people believe that faith in the [U.N.] is often misplaced. The countries that profess to believe in human rights have lost, too. They have earned a justified measure of doubt that they will act to defend their beliefs. And most of all, the Cuban people have lost. They’ve been left, once again, to the brutal whims of the Castro dictatorship. They have been abandoned by the United Nations and by most of the world’s governments.”

“But the Cuban people are not alone today. The [U.S.] stands with them. The people of Cuba are our neighbors and our friends, and they are fellow children of God. The American people will stand with them until they are restored the rights that God has given us all. Rights that no government can legitimately deny its people.”

“While today’s votes were not admirable, they were highly illuminating. And that light contributes to the cause of truth, which is the essential basis of freedom and human rights”.

The previous day (October 31), the U.S. Embassy in Cuba accused the Cuban regime of using the embargo as a justification for its failed economic model and demanded that it stop blocking the development and progress of Cubans, It also said that in 2017 the U.S. exported food, agricultural products, medicines, medical devices, fertilizers, parts of civil aircraft, telecommunications equipment and other products to Cuba and that Cuba was free to trade with any other country.”

Conclusion

As an U.S. citizen-advocate for ending the embargo as soon as possible, I am not pleased with the U.S. opposition to this resolution and to the very hostile tone of Ambassador Haley’s remarks.[7]

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, nor will the U.S. write a check for Cuba in that amount. A prior post, therefore, suggested that the two countries agree to submit this claim 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.

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[1] U.N. Press Release, Amid Demands for Ending Unilateral Coercive Measures, Speakers in General Assembly Urge United States to Repeal Embargo Against Cuba (Oct. 31, 2018); Assoc. Press, The Latest: UN General Assembly Condemns US Embargo of Cuba, N.Y. Times (Nov. 1, 2018); U.N. Press Release, General Assembly Adopts Annual Resolution Calling for End to Embargo on Cuba, Soundly Rejects Amendments by United States (Nov. 1, 2018); Assoc. Press, The Latest: UN General Assembly Condemns US Embargo of Cuba, N.Y. Times (Nov. 1, 2018); Reuters, U.N. Urges End to U.S. Embargo on Cuba, U.S. Raised Rights Concerns, N.Y. Times (Nov. 1, 2018); Whitefield, U.S. highlights Cuba’s problematic human rights record but U.N. still supports lifting embargo, Miami Herald (Nov. 1, 2018).

[2] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Report by Cuba on resolution 72/4 of the United Nations General Assembly  (June 2018).

[3] U.N. Gen. Assembly, A/RES/73/8, Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba (Nov. 1, 2018).

[4] The eight US amendments to the resolution on the embargo that the UN will vote, Diario de Cuba (Oct. 26, 2018); Bruno Rodriguez: “We are certain the amendments will be rejected,” Granma (Oct. 30, 3018). The Foreign Minister made essentially the same points at another press conference on October 24. (Cuban Foreign Minister denounces U.S. maneuver to undermine international support for an end to the blockade, Granma (Oct. 25, 2018).

[5] U.N. Press Release, Amid Demands for Ending Unilateral Coercive Measures, Speakers in General Assembly Urge United States to Repeal Embargo Against Cuba (Oct. 31, 2018); Assoc. Press, Cuba Gets Support Before the UN Votes on Embargo, US Amendments, Wash. Post (Nov. 1, 2018); Cuba is not alone: Nations of the world highlight the absurdity of the U.S. blockade  against Cuba in the UN, Granma (Oct. 31, 2018).

[6] U.S. Mission to U.N., Remarks at a UN General Assembly Meeting on Cuba (Nov. 1, 2018); USA: The Government of Cuba ‘uses the embargo as an excuse for its failed economic model, Diario de Cuba (Nov. 1, 2018).

[7]  See posts listed in the “U.S. Embargo of Cuba” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries–Topical: CUBA.

Cameroon Elected As  Member of U.N. Human Rights Council

As has been discussed in many posts, for the last several years the government of Cameroon has been engaged in armed conflict with the minority of Cameroonians whose principal European language is English (the Anglophones). In the course of that conflict, the government allegedly has committed many human rights violations.[1]

This record and the objections against these acts were voiced by many other governments during Cameroon’s recent Universal Periodic Review by the U.N. Human Rights Council, which is the body within the U.N. system made up of 47 States responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe. These Council members are elected by the majority of members of the U.N. General Assembly through direct and secret ballot. The General Assembly [purportedly] takes into account the candidate States’ contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights, as well as their voluntary pledges and commitments in this regard. (Emphasis added.)

Despite Cameroon’s dismal human rights record, on October 12, 2018, the U.N. General Assembly elected Cameroon to be a member of the Council for a three-year term beginning January 1, 2019.[2]

Amnesty International  Human Rights Watch and other rights groups objected to the election of Cameroon and certain other countries. “Elevating states with records of gross human rights violations and abuses is a tremendous setback,” said Amnesty International USA’s advocacy director, Daniel Balson. “It puts them on the world stage, and moreover, it empowers them to fundamentally undermine notions of human rights that are accepted internationally.[3]

In this context, Human Rights Watch raised “serious concerns about human rights in . . . Cameroon, . . . . [where] government security forces and armed separatists have committed grave abuses against residents of the country’s Anglophone region. The region has been rocked by protests and violent clashes rooted in longstanding political grievances of the Anglophone minority. While the government has taken some positive steps in recent months, including signing the Safe Schools Declaration, violence and abuses in the Anglophone region continue.”

The Council elections of Cameroon and four other African states (Burkina Faso, Eritrea, Somalia and Togo) are partially attributable to the Council’s allocation of 13 of the 47 seats to African states; and to three of the African members having terms ending on December 31, 2018 and being ineligible for re-election after having served two consecutive terms (Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia and Kenya). The other African members are Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia.[4]

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[1] See Cameroonian President Biya Wins Re-Election by a Landslide, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 26, 2018); Continued Violence in Cameroon, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 4, 2018). See also posts listed in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CAMEROON.

[2] U.N., General Assembly Elects 18 Member States to Human rights Council, Allowing Vote by 3 Member States in Article 19 Exemption over Financial Dues (Oct. 12, 2018).

[3] Assoc. Press, US, Rights Groups Say UN Rights Council Vote Lets Abusers In, N.Y. Times (Oct. 12, 2018); Human Rights Watch, UN: Philippines, Eritrea Don’t Belong on Rights Council (Oct. 11, 2018).

[4] U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Membership of the Human Rights Council; U.N., General Assembly Elects 18 Member States to Human Rights Council, Allowing Vote by 3 Member States in Article 19 Exemption over Financial Dues (Oct. 12, 2018).

 

Increasing U.S.-Cuba Tensions

As discussed in a prior post, on October 16 Cuban diplomats staged a protest at a U.N.meeting of a U.S. initiative regarding Cuban political prisoners, which the post called “raucous . . . undiplomatic and rude and should be condemned.” This protest has provoked new tensions in U.S.-Cuba relations.

On October 23, U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo Held a press conference at the State Department. His prepared remarks included the following: “Last week, a delegation of Cuban diplomats threw a childish temper tantrum at a UN-sponsored gathering at the UN. It was a meeting highlighting the Cuban regime’s intolerance of political opposition and the plight of political prisoners. In response, I have written a letter to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres requesting to know what measures the UN will take to respond to these actions and make sure that they do not happen again.”[1]

Immediately afterwards Secretary Pompeo met with the U.N. Secretary-General. According to the State Department, one of the points raised at this meeting by Pompeo was condemnation of “the outrageous and disruptive behavior of the Cuban and Bolivian missions to the U.N. . . . exhibited during a U.S.-hosted event on Cuban political prisoners on October 16.”[2]

Previously, on October 19, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, sent a letter to the Secretary-General demanding a U.N. investigation of the Cuban and Bolivian disruption of the U.S. initiative about Cuban political prisoners. She said that these  actions Had “caused significant damages to [U.N.] . . .  property” and that these two governments  should be required to pay for such damages. In addition in an early morning tweet on October 23, Haley said the U.S. “will not allow its contributions to the UN to go toward repairing damage done deliberately and willfully by other delegations.”[3]

On October 24, Cuba Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez at  a press conference in Havana said that “the “repeated pronouncements of the government of the [U.S.] against Cuba have no other objective than to create a climate of greater bilateral tension” to divert attention from the upcoming U.N. General Assembly vote on October 31 on  Cuba’s annual resolution condemning the U.S. embargo (blockade) of Cuba.[4]

Rodriguez also criticized the U.S. newly-proposed eight amendments to the resolution about the embargo, one of which alleged Cuban discrimination against women and their lack of access to public office. Others criticized Cuba’s human rights and alleged failure to comply with the U.N’s sustainable development agenda. According to Rodriguez, such proposed amendments were part of “a maneuver for propaganda purposes” that sought to “try to change the spirit of the resolution.”

More generally Rodriguez stated, “The reiterated pronouncements of the US Government against Cuba have no other objective than to lead to a climate of greater bilateral tension. We regret that the US government advances in a confrontational course against our country. Our response will be the firmness of principles, the intransigence in the defense of national sovereignty, as in these 60 years of revolution.”

Conclusion

This increased tension is unfortunate and unnecessary. As this blog repeatedly has argued, the U.S. embargo (blockade) of Cuba should have ended a long time ago. New U.S. attempts to justify this unilateral U.S. action are flawed and unpersuasive. Meanwhile the Cuban protest at the recent U.N. meeting, while undiplomatic and rude and deserving of censure, is trivial in the overall relations between the U.S. and Cuba

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[1]  U..S. State Dep’t, Remarks to the Press [by Secretary Pompeo] (Oct. 23, 2018).

[2] U.S. State Dep’t, Secretary Pompeo’s Meeting with UN Secretary-General Guterres (Oct. 24, 2018).

[3] U.S. demands Cuban diplomats protagonists of the scandal at the UN, Diario de Cuba (Oct. 20, 2018); US Mission to the UN., Tweet (Oct. 23, 2018).

[4] Whitefield, Pompeo lambasts Cuba’s ‘childish temper tantrum’ at the U.N.; Cuba lashes back, Miami Herald (Oct. 24, 2018); Reuters, Cuba Says United States Pursues ‘Path of Confrontation,’ N.Y. Times (Oct. 24, 2018); Havana says Washington ‘tries to change the spirit’ of its resolution against the embargo, Diario de Cuba (Oct. 25, 2018); Cuba Foreign Ministry, Bruno Rodriguez: The US amendments, if they were not a politically serious event, would provoke laughter, Cubadebate (Oct. 25, 2018).

 

 

 

U.S. at U.N. Condemns Cuba’s Imprisonment of Political Opponents 

On October 12 the State Department announced that on October 16 the U.S. will commence a campaign “Jailed for What?” about the continuing plight of Cuba’s political prisoners. This will take place in the U.N. Economic and Social Council and will be led by Ambassador Kelley E. Currie, U.S. Representative to the Council and will also involve  Ambassador Michael Kozak of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor; Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) Luis Almagro; Carlos Quesada, Executive Director of the Institute of Race and Equality; former Cuban political prisoner Alejandro Gonzalez Raga; and others.[1]

The Department’s release stated, “The estimated 130 political prisoners held by the Cuban government are an explicit sign of the repressive nature of the regime and represent a blatant affront to the fundamental freedoms that the [U.S.] and many other democratic governments support. Holding the Cuban regime responsible for its human rights violations and supporting the Cuban people’s aspirations to live in freedom are key components of President Trump’s National Security Presidential Memorandum of 2017.”

Cuban Protest

When the Council met on the 16th to consider this U.S. initiative, about 20 Cuban diplomats and supporters staged a noisy protest. [2] They shouted, chanted “Cuba si, bloqueo no [Cuba yes, blockade no]” in protest against a decades-old U.S. trade embargo that will be the subject of an October 31 resolution in the U.N.. General Assembly. They also banged their hands on desks to drown out the U.S. presentation.

U.S. Presentation

Nevertheless, U.S. Ambassador Currie and others, including OAS Secretary-General Almagro, persisted. The Ambassador’s prepared remarks were the following:[3]

  • “A few weeks ago, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel came here to the United Nations and painted a rosy picture of his country as a paragon of solidarity, democracy, and human rights. But to the more than five thousand Cubans who were arbitrarily detained for political reasons in 2017, this is a sick joke.
  • More and more, Cuban repression relies on raids of activists’ homes and offices, short-term detentions, and public denunciations known as ‘repudio.’
  • At the same time, reputable NGOs report that well over 100 Cubans currently languish in jails or under house arrest as political prisoners. The Cuban government tried, convicted, and sentenced many on arbitrary charges like ‘contempt’ of Cuban authorities or ‘pre-criminal social dangerousness’ – bogus legal constructs meant to deny human beings of their most basic rights to free thought and expression.
  • In the case of independent journalist Yoennis de Jesus Guerra Garcia, it was the specious charge of illegally slaughtering livestock, which police found after he ran several press accounts critical of local authorities.
  • However, their real transgression was to protest, criticize the regime, question the irrevocable character of socialism in Cuba, or exercise their freedom of expression, as guaranteed by the Cuban constitution.
  • Cuba’s political prisoners are an explicit sign of the repressive nature of the regime and represent a blatant affront to the fundamental freedoms that the [U.S.]and many other democratic governments support, and that are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The urgency of this injustice is exemplified by the grave state of health of Cuban democratic activist Tomas Nunez Magdariaga, who spent 62 days on a hunger strike in protest of his unjust imprisonment. We welcome his long overdue release and return home.[4]
  • President Trump is taking action to hold the Cuban regime responsible for its human rights violations and supporting the Cuban people’s aspirations to live in freedom.
  • Today, we come to the [U.N.] to remind the world that today, in Cuba, there are political prisoners. They come from all over Cuba, these men and women – activists, lawyers, workers, from different faiths and walks of life.
  • They are united in their quest to speak out for a better, freer, more democratic Cuba for themselves and their children. And their imprisonment is not only a violation of the fundamental freedoms all of us cherish, but it is also a human tragedy.
  • We are grateful for the participation today of OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, who has championed the cause of democracy and human rights throughout the Americas, including for Cuba’s political prisoners.
  • We welcome Carlos Quesada, a civil society activist whose organization works side by side with activists in Cuba and other Latin American nations to enhance their ability to promote and protect the human rights of marginalized and vulnerable people.
  • We are especially honored to have with us today Alejandro Gonzalez Raga, a Cuban journalist and former political prisoner, who will tell us his firsthand experience of the horrors of the Cuban prison and justice system.
  • And we will hear from Miriam Cardet, whose brother, Eduardo, is currently serving a three-year sentence in a Cuban jail. Eduardo is a leader in the Christian Liberation Movement who criticized Fidel Castro in November 2016. Several days later, he was arrested. Though witnesses at the scene say authorities beat him during his arrest, it is Cardet who was sentenced for assault
  • The ‘Jailed for What’ campaign will draw attention to the cases of specific political prisoners.
  • We urge our partners to join with us in calling on the Government of Cuba to release all political prisoners.
  • Many Member States in the [U.N.] call themselves friends of Cuba. The [U.S.] is proud to call ourselves friends of the Cuban people.”

Afterwards Currie said, “I have never in my life seen diplomats behave the way that the Cuban delegation did today. It was really shocking and disturbing. You can understand very well why people feel afraid to speak their minds … with this kind of government, this kind of thuggish behavior. It has no place here in the United Nations.” She added that the U.S. would raise objections to this protest with the proper U.N. authorities.

Cuban U.N. Ambassador Anayansi Rodríguez Camejo protested to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres ahead of the event, and on Tuesday she described the event as a “political comedy. Cuba is proud of its human rights record, which denies any manipulation against it. On the contrary, the U.S. lacks the morals to give lessons, much less in this matter.”

Cuba’s Formal Opposition to the U.S. Initiative

Meanwhile in Havana the Cuba foreign Ministry released the following lengthy statement against the U.S. campaign:[5]

  • “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cuba rejects in the strongest manner the defamatory campaign against Cuba on human rights, launched on October 16, by the [U.S.] government at the headquarters of the [U.N.]
  • As already warned, this action is part of the sequence of declarations against our country made in recent weeks by high-level officials of the United States government, which show growing hostility towards Cuba and the Cuban Revolution.
  • It is striking that it takes place only two weeks before the vote by the UN General Assembly on the draft resolution entitled ‘Need to end the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States government against Cuba.’
  • This type of action pursues the objective of making pretexts to maintain and intensify the blockade,which constitutes a massive, flagrant and systematic violation of the human rights of Cuban women and men.
  • The government of the United States has no moral authority whatsoever to criticize Cuba.Instead of worrying about the alleged ‘political prisoners”’who, they claim, would exist in Cuba, they should do so for the violations of human rights that take place in their own territory. In our country there are no political prisoners since the triumph of the Revolution in 1959.
  • A country whose electoral system is corrupt by nature and has a government of millionaires,destined to apply savage measures against low-income families, the poor, minorities and immigrants cannot speak of human rights and democracy . A country in which, in electoral campaigns and political processes, there are no ethical limits, hate, division, selfishness, slander, racism, xenophobia and lies are promoted. In which money and corporate interests are what define who will be elected.
  • In the [U.S.], the right to vote is denied to hundreds of thousands of Americans because they are poor. In nine states, those who have legal bills or judicial fines to pay cannot vote. In Alabama, more than 100,000 people with debts were removed from the voters lists in 2017. The information media are the preserve of corporate elites. An extremely small group of corporations controls the content that the public consumes, while any version or discrepant opinion is annulled or marginalized.
  • It is a shame that in the richest country in the world about 40 million people live in poverty, 18.5 million in extreme poverty and 5.3 million in conditions of absolute poverty. The life of the ‘homeless’ is miserable. In 2016, 553 742 people spent their nights outdoors in the [U.S.].
  • The design and application of policies has been hijacked by the so-called ‘special interests,’ that is, corporate money. The lack of education, health and social security guarantees, restrictions on unionization and terrible gender discrimination are everyday practices.
  • American women are clearly discriminated against in the workplace and continue to receive lower wages than men for doing the same jobs. The poverty, health and safety problems of children are worrisome. People with disabilities suffer violent abuse. Sexual harassment and widespread rapes motivate multiple complaints and protests. The murders of LGTBI people increased during 2017, in a context of continued discrimination against this group in state and federal legislation.
  • In the [U.S.], the average wealth of white families is seven times higher than the average wealth of black families. More than one in four black households had a net worth of zero or negative. The unemployment rate of blacks is almost double that of whites.
  • The government of the [U.S.] should answer for the 987 people who died during 2017 at the hands of law enforcement agents using firearms. According to these data, African-American people, who make up 13% of the population, accounted for almost 23% of the victims.
  • There is systematic racial discrimination in the application of the law and in judicial bodies. Black male offenders were sentenced, on average, to sentences that were 19.1% longer, than those offenders who were in similar situations.
  • Hate crimes based on race reached a record in recent years and only in 2016, a total of 6,121 hate crimes occurred in the [U.S.].
  • Violent crimes have been increasing. The government of that country, at the service of the arms lobby, does not exercise effective control over them, which caused a continuous increase in homicides, even among adolescents.
  • The [U.S.] should put an end to the separation of migrant families, and to the imprisonment of hundreds of children, even in cages, separating them from their parents. While the United States turns its back on the human rights mechanisms of the [U.N.], Cuba maintains a high level of activity and cooperation, which has earned it respect in the relevant organs of the Organization and among the member states.
  • The [U.S.], which was the promoter and support of the bloody military dictatorships in our region, with the complicity of the OAS, has declared the validity and applicability of the Monroe Doctrine as an instrument of foreign policy, in total disregard of the Proclamation of America. America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace.
  • In the Cuban archipelago, the only prisoners who are deprived of their rights and dignity, tortured and confined for long periods, without legal basis, courts of justice or due process, are the ones maintained by the [U.S.] government in the detention center. arbitrary and tortures in the Guantánamo Naval Base that illegally occupies part of our territory.
  • In the Monday session of the Commission of Socio-Humanitarian Affairs of the General Assembly of the [U.N.], the Permanent Representative of Cuba, Ambassador Anayansi Rodríguez Camejo, presented the denunciation of this provocation that received the express repudiation of 11 countries. The Ambassador of the [U.S.] to the ECOSOC, was left without arguments and in absolute isolation.
  • The Coordination Bureau of the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries, summoned in an emergency, met with the presence of 91 delegations, of which 17 intervened expressly in opposition to the slanderous maneuver.
  • The Permanent Missions of Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela were there in solidarity with Cuba. As was seen in the television images, the Member States and the other guests, almost without exception, declined to participate in the farce on Tuesday, which was attended by ‘representatives’ of alleged ‘non-governmental’ organizations. . . .
  • Fulfilling scrupulously the requirements published by the Department of State, 22 representatives of 9 US non-governmental organizations that advocate the end of the blockade and the normalization of relations with Cuba were registered to participate. Curiously, all but one were prevented from attending by the undemocratic hosts. Other guests were expelled from the room.
  • The journalists, who ended up being the majority of those present, showed faces of fun or resignation, in the case of those intended to please the owners or publishers of the profitable disinformation industry.
  • It is of special concern that the anti-Cuban “event” was allowed to take place in the great headquarters of the [U.N.] Organization and that it was held on World Food Day, precisely by the State that votes against the The right to food” Resolution of the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly.
  • To do so, the rules governing the use of [U.N.] rooms and services have been violated, which make it clear that ‘only events that are consistent with the purposes and principles of the [U.N.] and are justified by their relevance to the work of the Organization.’The Department of State of the [U.S.] intends again to use the facilities of the [U.N.] as its private preserve. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs denounces that an action of this nature cannot be considered in accordance with the purposes and principles of the Organization, nor relevant to its work, when it is specifically directed against the independence and self-determination of a Member State, and in the framework of a campaign of hostility and threats against Cuba, repudiated by the international community.
  • The Ministry of Foreign Affairs respectfully requests from the General Secretariat of the [U.N.] a rigorous and urgent investigation of what happened, of whose result it informs the General Assembly in a timely and appropriate manner so that appropriate measures can be taken to prevent these aggressive acts against sovereign States. “ (Emphases in original.)

Conclusion

The raucous Cuban protest at the U.S. event was undiplomatic and rude and should be condemned. The lengthy formal statement from the Cuba Foreign Ministry also tested the limits of diplomatic norms, but it could have been submitted at the event without the spectacle of the Cuban protest.

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

[1] State Dep’t, U.S. Mission to the United Nations and the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor To Launch Campaign on Cuba’s Political Prisoners at the United Nations (Oct. 12, 2018); Assoc. Press, US: Cuba’s Political Prisoners Are ‘Affront’ to Democracy, N.Y. Times (Oct. 15, 2018).

 [2] Reuters, At U.N., Cuban Diplomats Shout Drown U.S. Event on Political Prisoners, N.Y. Times (Oct. 16, 2018); Assoc. Press, Cuban Diplomats Disrupt UN Meeting Called by US on Prisoners, N.Y. Times (Oct. 16, 2018).

[3] U.S. Mission to the U.N.,  Remarks at a U.S. Event Launching the “Jailed for What?” Campaign Highlighting Cuba’s Political Prisoners (Oct. 16, 2018)

[4] On October 15,  Tomás Núñez Magdariaga was released from a Cuba prison after his 62 days on hunger strike. He asserted that he had been tortured five times in prison. (Released  Tomás Núñez Magdariaga after 62 days on hunger strike, Diario de Cuba (Oct. 16, 2018.)

[5] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuban Foreign Ministry rejects defamatory campaign to justify the blockade, CubaDebate (Oct. 16, 2018).

Small Chance of Liberalized U.S. Rules for Agricultural Exports to Cuba  

The U.S.-China trade war initiated by the Trump Administration has had a significant negative impact on U.S. agricultural exports to that country. In response, some U.S. senators and representatives have been pressing for relaxation of U.S. restrictions on such exports to Cuba. These advocates include Senators Heidi Heitkamp (Dem., ND), Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN) and Tine Smith (Dem., MN)  and Representatives Collin Peterson (Dem., MN) and Tom Emmer, (Rep., MN). [1]

In addition, a bipartisan group of over 60 agricultural associations, businesses and elected officials from 17 states have urged the two congressional agriculture committees to include in the pending farm bills a provision to remove restrictions on private financing of U.S. agricultural exports to the island. [2]

This week Cuba President Miguel Diaz-Canel in New York City for a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly met separately with a bipartisan and bicameral group of Members of the U.S. Congress, including Sen. Ron Wyden (Dem., OR), Rep. Karen Bass (Dem., CA), Rep. Kathy Castor (Dem., FL), Rep. Robin Kelly (Dem., IL) Rep. Gregory Meeks (Dem., NY) and Rep. Roger Marshall (Rep., KA). Rep. Marshall told AG NET that the U.S. “can and should be Cuba’s number one supplier of commodities like sorghum, soy, wheat, and corn.”

But legislation to expand such exports by allowing credit sales to Cuba did not make it into the pending farm bills in both houses of the Congress, and most observers and participants think chances are nil of such a provision being added. And Senator Heitkamp’s provision in the Senate bill to allow the U.S. Department of Agriculture to use federal funds to develop the Cuban market could easily be cut from the bill in a conference committee.

The reason has more to do with politics than economics, according to Ted Piccone, a specialist in Latin American issues at the Brookings Institution. “It basically comes down to domestic politics in Florida,” Piccone said.

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

[1] Spencer, Little appetite for effort to bolster ag trade with Cuba, StarTribune (Sept. 21, 2018).

[2] Engage Cuba, Agriculture Groups Support Farm Bill Cuba Provision that Would Save $690 Million (Sept. 5, 2018).

U.N. Official’s Report About  U.S. Poverty Is Criticized by U.S. 

On June 22, Philip G. Alston, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights,[1] presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland his final report criticizing certain U.S. poverty policies. It immediately was condemned by U.S.  Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley with a  prompt retort by Mr. Alston. We will examine these developments and then analyze this controversy.

Special Rapporteur’s Report on U.S.[2]

In his oral summary of the report, the Special Rapporteur made the following overall findings:

  • “[T]he combination of extreme inequality and extreme poverty generally create ideal conditions for small elites to trample on the human rights of minorities, and sometimes even of majorities. The [U.S.] has the highest income inequality in the Western world, and this can only be made worse by the massive new tax cuts overwhelmingly benefiting the wealthy. At the other end of the spectrum, 40 million Americans live in poverty and 18.5 millions of those live in extreme poverty.  In addition, vast numbers of middle class Americans are perched on the edge, with 40% of the adult population saying they would be unable to cover an unexpected $400 expense.”
  • “In response, the Trump administration has pursued a welfare policy that consists primarily of (i) steadily diminishing the number of Americans with health insurance (‘Obamacare’); (ii) stigmatizing those receiving government benefits by arguing that most of them could and should work, despite evidence to the contrary; and (iii) adding ever more restrictive conditions to social safety net protections such as food stamps, Medicaid, housing subsidies, and cash transfers, each of which will push millions off existing benefits.”
  • “My report demonstrates that growing inequality, and widespread poverty which afflicts almost one child out of every five, has deeply negative implications for the enjoyment of civil and political rights by many millions of Americans. I document the ways in which democracy is being undermined, the poor and homeless are being criminalized for being poor, and the criminal justice system is being privatized in ways that work well for the rich but that seriously disadvantage the poor.  Underlying all of these developments is persistent and chronic racial bias.  That bias also helps to explain the abysmal situation in which the people of Puerto Rico find themselves.  It is the poorest non-state in the Union, without a vote in Congress, at the mercy of an unelected and omnipotent oversight board, and suffering from record poverty levels in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.”
  • In many cities and counties, “state and county taxes are capped; public budgets are slashed; governments are left without essential resources; they instruct their police departments to impose and collect more fines to fund the general budget; these fines fall overwhelmingly upon the poor; the victims cannot pay the fines and so additional penalties and fees accumulate; most scrimp and pay but some default and are imprisoned; when they are in prison their economic and family situations collapse; and when they emerge from prison they are even less unemployable because they have a conviction.”

Based upon these finding, the Special Rapporteur made these recommendations for the U.S.: (1) “acknowledge that America’s proudest achievement –a vibrant democracy – is in peril unless steps are taken to restore the fabric from which it was crafted, including the adage that ‘all are created equal.’” (2) “Stop irrationally demonizing taxation and begin exploring how reasonable taxes can dramatically increase the social well-being of Americans and the country’s economic competitiveness.” (3) Provide “universal healthcare [that] . . . would rescue millions from misery, save money on emergency care, increase employment, and generate a healthier and more productive workforce.”

Ambassador Haley’s Criticism of the Report[3]

 On June 21 (the day before the official release of the report), Ambassador Haley in a letter to U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (Ind., VT), said. “ I am deeply disappointed that the Special Rapporteur used his platform to make misleading and politically motivated statements about American domestic policy issues. Regrettably, his report is an all too common example of the misplaced priorities and poor use of funds proven to be rampant throughout the UN system. The report categorically misstated the progress the [U.S.] has made in addressing poverty and purposely used misleading facts and figures in its biased reporting.”

“It is patently ridiculous for the [U.N.] to examine poverty in America. In our country, the President, Members of Congress, Governors, Mayors, and City Council members actively engage on poverty issues every day. Compare that to the many countries around the world, whose governments knowingly abuse human rights and cause pain and suffering.”

“Rather than using his voice to shine a light on those vulnerable populations [in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo], and so many others, the Special Rapporteur wasted the UN’s time and resources, deflecting attention from the world’ s worst human rights abusers and focusing instead on the wealthiest and freest country in the world.”

U.S. Mission to Geneva’s Criticism[4]

“The right to property, the right to pursue one’s own livelihood, and the right of free association are core economic and social rights by any reasonable definition, and have been core rights of the United States since its founding. The world knows that the U.S. economy is the largest, the most influential, and the most innovative on the planet.”

“Indeed, the U.S. is entering a new era of economic growth and prosperity.  Strong gross domestic product growth and increasing investment have already created 3.4 million new jobs, brought 900,000 workers off the sidelines since the President took office, and lowered unemployment to its lowest point in nearly 50 years.  The administration is fighting for American jobs and American workers, and standing strong with those that are standing strong for a more prosperous American economy. Sadly, Mr. Alston’s report does not give due credit to current policies enacted by this administration to spur economic growth and the prosperity it brings for all Americans.”

“We note that U.S. federal, state, and local governments guarantee emergency health care, a right to equal access to education, pursue policies that promote access to food, and support the need to promote, protect, and respect human rights in carrying out housing policies.  For example, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and other federal agencies support communities that establish centralized or coordinated assessment systems, emphasizing that coordinated entry processes to ensure all people experiencing a housing crisis in a community have fair and equal access and are connected to available housing and related assistance based on their strengths and needs.  Across the nation, local homelessness provider organizations under a consortium called “Continuums of Care” support persons in emergency shelters and transitional housing programs as well as those living unsheltered on the streets through grants providing critically needed support to local programs on the front lines of serving individuals and families experiencing homelessness.  In January of this year, the ‘Continuums of Care’ provided a record $2 billion to support more than 7,300 local homeless assistance programs across the nation.  There is also robust funding for programs such as Emergency Shelter Grants and other programs like Community Development Block Grants that can be used to assist homeless.  This U.S. administration stands shoulder-to-shoulder with our partners to support real housing solutions for those who may otherwise be living in our shelters or on our streets.”

“Furthermore, the [U.S.] has robust legal protections to prohibit discrimination in the enjoyment of rights that are provided by domestic law.  For example, in the area of housing, HUD actively monitors and enforces laws prohibiting discrimination.  In 2016, HUD, along with its state and local partners, investigated more than 8,300 housing discrimination complaints and obtained over $25.2 million in compensation; through its Fair Housing Assistance Program, HUD paid state and local government partners more than $24.6 million to support local enforcement activities and outreach activities.  That same year, HUD also awarded through its Fair Housing Initiatives Program $38 million in grants to 155 organizations for private enforcement to prevent or eliminate discriminatory housing practices and for educational initiatives to inform individuals of their rights and responsibilities.”

“It is regrettable that the Special Rapporteur, while acknowledging that the political status of Puerto Rico is beyond his mandate, nevertheless chose to opine on the matte. Puerto Rico is a self-governing territory of the United States that achieved self-determination in 1952. In successive referenda, the residents of Puerto Rico have made the democratic choice to maintain the island’s current status or to pursue statehood, with a very small fraction opting for independence. Like the states of our federal system, the vast majority of Puerto Rico’s affairs are governed by a popularly elected governor and legislature, and disputes are settled by Puerto Rico’s independent judiciary.  It is baseless to argue, as the Special Rapporteur does, that Puerto Rico “is no longer a self-governing territory” when in fact its residents enjoy and exercise extensive democratic rights.  Furthermore, the U.S. administration is awarding over $18 billion in disaster recovery and mitigation funds to Puerto Rico, through HUD’s Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery Program.”

“Accusations that the [U.S.] shows ‘contempt and hatred’ for the poor, including accusations of a criminal justice system designed to keep low income persons in poverty while generating public revenue, are inaccurate, inflammatory, and irresponsible.  The U.S. funds large public assistance programs designed to help low-income Americans, including $565.5 billion for Medicaid, $63 billion for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, and $42.5 billion for housing assistance programs.  In fact, more than $1 trillion dollars in means-tested benefits are provided to the poor annually by federal and state governments.  Based on some measures of consumption, poverty is down by 77 percent since 1980.  Recent studies using the Consumer Expenditure Survey suggest that only 175 of 222,170 surveyed American households reported spending less than an extreme poverty threshold figure of $4.00 a day, which implies that there are only approximately 250,000 persons in “extreme poverty” circumstances, rather than the exaggerated figure cited by the Special Rapporteur.  Regardless, any number of Americans with this severe level of economic difficulties should not be ignored, and a stronger focus of the Special Rapporteur on the problems and remedies for this population would have been welcome.”

Special Rapporteur’s Response[5]

“The suggestion that this Council should only consist of rights-respecting States was made long ago by the US and others, but abandoned because there are no workable criteria to determine who should qualify under such a test, and because a body composed only of self-appointed good guys would not only be tiny but would be talking unproductively among themselves.  Human rights promotion requires robust engagement, not behaving like the kid who takes his football and goes home.”

“Ambassador Haley complained that the Council has done nothing about countries like Venezuela.  In fact I and several other special rapporteurs reported earlier this year that ‘vast numbers of Venezuelans are starving, deprived of essential medicines, and trying to survive in a situation that is spiraling downwards with no end in sight.’  We warned of ‘an unfolding tragedy of immense proportions.’”

Moreover, “this Council has published many report detailing the situations in [Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo].” And “when [the U.S.,] one of the world’s wealthiest countries, does very little about the fact that 40 millions of its citizens live in poverty, it is entirely appropriate for the reasons to be scrutinized.”

“If this Council stands for anything, it is the principle of accountability – the preparedness of States to respond in constructive and meaningful ways to allegations that they have not honored their human rights commitments. The United States position, expressed by Ambassador Haley, [erroneously] seems to be that this Council should do far more to hold certain states to account, but that it should exempt the [U.S.] and its key allies from such accountability.”

“Ambassador Haley called my report ‘misleading and politically motivated.’ She didn’t spell out what was misleading but other stories from the same media outlet emphasized two issues.”

“The first is that my report uses official data from 2016, before President Trump came to office.  That is true, for the simple reason that there will be no Census Bureau data on the Trump era until September this year.  But these data provide the best available official baseline, and my report then factors in the effects of the combination of massive tax cuts for the wealthy and systematic slashing of benefits for the less well-off.”

“The second criticism . . . is that the US ‘economy continues to roar to life under President Trump.’ Indeed, the US economy is currently booming, but the question is who is benefiting. Last week’s official statistics show that hourly wages for workers in “production and nonsupervisory” positions, who make up 80% of the private workforce, actually fell in 2017.  Expanding employment has created many jobs with no security, no health care, and often with below-subsistence wages.  The benefits of economic growth are going overwhelmingly to the wealthy. Average pre-tax national income per adult in the US has stagnated at $16,000 since 1980 for the bottom 50% of the income distribution, while it has really boomed for the top 1%, a trajectory that has been quite different from that in most European countries. Even the IMF has warned that in the US “prospects for upward mobility are waning, and economic gains are increasingly accruing to those that are already wealthy”. In other words, the American dream of mobility, is turning into the American illusion, in which the rich get ever richer, and the middle classes don’t move.”

U.S. Withdrawal from U.N. Human Rights Council[6]

 As reported in a prior post, on June 19, the U.S. announced its withdrawal from the Human Rights Council, and on June 22, a spokesman for Ambassador Haley said that the Alston report had nothing to do with that decision. However, when Alston arrived in the U.S. last year, as noted above, he recently said, “A senior official said . . .my report could be a factor in whether the U.S. decided or not to stay in the council. I think I was being sent a message.”

Conclusion

There are many reasons why Ambassador Haley’s criticism of this report is unwarranted. Here are some.

First, the U.S. in June 2017 apparently joined other Council members in approving the resolution extending the mandate for the Special Rapporteur to, among other things, “(a) Further examine the relationship between the enjoyment of human rights and extreme poverty; [and] (b) Identify alternative approaches to the removal of all obstacles, including institutional ones, at the regional, national and international, public, corporate and societal levels, to the full enjoyment of human rights for all people living in extreme poverty.” That resolution also called “upon all Governments to cooperate with and assist the independent expert in his or her task, to supply all necessary information requested by him or her and to give serious consideration to responding favorably to the requests of the independent expert to visit their countries, to enable him or her to fulfil his or her mandate effectively.”[7]

Second, the U.S. invited the Special Rapporteur to visit the U.S., initially by the Obama Administration and then by the Trump Administration on June 8, 2017, at a Human Rights Council meeting.

Third, on November 29, 2017, a Human Rights Council Press Release announced that the Special Rapporteur would be visiting the U.S. in December 2017 with a detailed itinerary “to examine government efforts to eradicate poverty in the country, and how they relate to US obligations under international human rights law.” Mr. Alston said, “Some might ask why a UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights would visit a country as rich as the United States. But despite great wealth in the US, there also exists great poverty and inequality.”[8]

Fourth, on December 15, 2017, at the conclusion of his visit to the U.S., the Special Rapporteur released a statement on his visit with the following comments that later turned out to be a preview of the final report the following June:[9]

  • The U.S. is harnessing “neither its wealth nor its power nor its technology . . . to address the situation in which 40 million people continue to live in poverty.
  • He provided some details on both the negative and positive things he had witnessed as well as statistical comparisons of the U.S. with other countries. “American exceptionalism was a constant theme in my conversations.  But instead of realizing its founders’ admirable commitments, today’s United States has proved itself to be exceptional in far more problematic ways that are shockingly at odds with its immense wealth and its founding commitment to human rights.  As a result, contrasts between private wealth and public squalor abound.”
  • The then “proposed tax reform package stakes out America’s bid to become the most unequal society in the world, and will greatly increase the already high levels of wealth and income inequality between the richest 1% and the poorest 50% of Americans.  The dramatic cuts in welfare, foreshadowed by the President and Speaker Ryan, and already beginning to be implemented by the administration, will essentially shred crucial dimensions of a safety net that is already full of holes.”
  • The “indispensable ingredients for a set of policies designed to eliminate poverty. . . include: democratic decision-making, full employment policies, social protection for the vulnerable, a fair and effective justice system, gender and racial equality and respect for human dignity, responsible fiscal policies, and environmental justice. Currently, the United States falls far short on each of these issues” while providing further details.

Fifth, the Special Rapporteur, as of June 2018, has visited or plans to visit or has made comments about other wealthy countries (United Kingdom, and Japan), developing countries (China and Brazil)  and poorer countries (Ghana and Venezuela). [10]

Sixth, the Special Rapporteur correctly observes that human rights obligations are imposed on every country, regardless of its wealth.

Finally, recall that Ambassador Haley first criticized human rights groups for their failure to support U.S. efforts to reform the Human Rights Council as a contributing cause for the U.S. withdrawal from the Council.

The short response to the Ambassador is Shakespeare’s line in Hamlet, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

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

[1] Alston is an Australian citizen and John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law, New York University and Director of NYU Center for Human Rights and Global Justice. Here is the website for the Special Rapporteur.

[2] U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Oral Statement by Mr. Philip Alston Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights (June 22, 2018); Assoc. Press, UN Expert Slams US on Poverty, Quitting Global Rights Body, N.Y. Times (June 22, 2018).

[3]  Haley, Letter to Sen. Sanders (June 21, 2018); Stein, Nikki Haley: ‘It is patently ridiculous for the United Nations to examine poverty in the United States, Wash. Post (June 22, 2018).

[4] U.S. Mission to Geneva, Country Concerned Statement in Response to SR Alston’s report on the United States (June 22, 2018).

[5] U.N. Hum. Rts. Council,  Oral Statement by Mr. Philip Alston Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights (June 22, 2018).

[6] Stein, ‘I think I was being sent a message’: U.S. warned U.N. official about report on poverty in America, Wash. Post (June 22, 2018).

[7]  U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, HRC/RES/35/19 Human rights and extreme poverty (June 22, 2017); U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, HRC/RES/8/11, Human rights and extreme poverty (June 18, 2008).

[8] U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Press release, UN expert on extreme poverty and human rights  to visit USA, one of the wealthiest countries in the world (Nov. 29, 2017).

[9] U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Press Release, Statement on Visit to the USA, by Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights* (Dec. 15, 2017); U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Special Rapporteur, Press Conference, Washington, D.C. (Dec. 15, 2017).

[10] U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Press Release, Venezuela: Dire living conditions worsening by the day, UN human rights experts warn (Feb. 9, 2018); U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Press Release, China: UN experts concerned about health of jailed rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong (Mar. 23, 2018); U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Press Release, Brazil: UN experts alarmed by killing of Rio human rights defender who decried military intervention (Mar. 26, 2018); U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Press Release, Japan: Benefit cuts threaten social protection of the poor, UN rights experts warn (May 24, 2018); U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Press Release, Ghana’s main economic initiatives will do little to reduce poverty, warns UN expert (June 20, 2018).