U.S. Reactions to the Death of Fidel Castro

The November 25th death of Fidel Castro has prompted comments from President-Elect Donald Trump and his aides, the Obama Administration, U.S. Senators and Representatives, U.S. editorial boards and columnists and U.S. business interests and others. All of this has fueled speculation about the future Trump Administration’s policies regarding Cuba. These topics will be explored in this post along with this blogger’s observations.

President-Elect Trump and His Aides[1]

On Saturday morning after Castro’s death the previous night, Donald Trump tweeted, “Fidel Castro is dead!” Later that same day he issued this statement:”Though the tragedies, deaths and pain caused by Fidel Castro cannot be erased, our administration will do all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty. While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve.”

Vice President-Elect Mike Pence on Saturday voiced a similar reaction in a tweet: “The tyrant Castro is dead. New hope dawns. We will stand with the oppressed Cuban people for a free and democratic Cuba. Viva Cuba Libre!”

On November 28, Trump issued another tweet on the subject. He said, “If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal.”

These comments were corroborated by Trump’s top aides.

On Sunday, November 27, two of the aides said that Trump would demand the release of political prisoners held in Cuba and push the government to allow more religious and economic freedoms. Reince Priebus, the incoming White House chief of staff, said the president-elect “absolutely” would reverse Mr. Obama’s policies if he didn’t get what he wanted from Cuba. “We’re not going to have a unilateral deal coming from Cuba back to the [U.S.] without some changes in their government. Repression, open markets, freedom of religion, political prisoners—these things need to change in order to have open and free relationships, and that’s what president-elect Trump believes, and that’s where he’s going to head.” Similar comments were made the same day by Trump’s spokeswoman, Kellyanne Conway.

On Monday, November 28, Trump spokesman Jason Miller gave this more nuanced statement to reporters: “Clearly, Cuba is a very complex topic, and the president-elect is aware of the nuances and complexities regarding the challenges that the island and the Cuban people face. This has been an important issue, and it will continue to be one. Our priorities are the release of political prisoners, return of fugitives from American law, and also political and religious freedoms for all Cubans living in oppression.”

The Obama Administration[2]

President Barack Obama’s statement extended the U.S. “hand of friendship to the Cuban people” and stated that “history will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him.” According to the President, Cubans “will recall the past and also look to the future. As they do, the Cuban people must know that they have a friend and partner” in America.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a similar positive statement. He extended “our condolences to the Cuban people today as they mourn the passing of Fidel Castro. Over more than half a century, he played an outsized role in their lives, and he influenced the direction of regional, even global affairs. As our two countries continue to move forward on the process of normalization — restoring the economic, diplomatic and cultural ties severed by a troubled past — we do so in a spirit of friendship and with an earnest desire not to ignore history but to write a new and better future for our two peoples.”

On November 28 White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest responded to several questions about Cuba and Castro’s death. Here are a few of those responses:

  • For the U.S., “I wouldn’t expect any impact [of Castro’s death] on the kind of progress that we’re committed to making on our end to begin to normalize relations with Cuba.”
  • “[W]e have seen . . . greater freedom for American citizens to visit Cuba, to send money to family members in Cuba, to engage in business and seek business opportunities in Cuba.  It also enhanced the ability of the [U.S.] government to maintain an embassy in Cuba where U.S. officials can more effectively not just engage with government officials in Cuba but also those activists in civil society that are fighting for greater freedoms. . . . They also facilitate the kind of people-to-people ties that we believe will be more effective in bringing freedom and opportunity to the Cuban people, something that they have long sought and been denied by the Cuban government.  And after five decades of not seeing any results, the President believed it was time to see something different. . . . [We] clearly haven’t seen all the results that we would like to see, but we’re pleased with the progress.”
  • Castro “obviously is a towering figure who had a profound impact on the history of not just his country but the Western Hemisphere.  There certainly is no whitewashing the kinds of activities that he ordered and that his government presided over that go against the very values that . . . our country has long defended.”
  • “[T]here is no doubt that we would like to see the Cuban government do more [on human rights], but this policy has not even been in place for two years.  But we certainly have enjoyed more benefits than was enjoyed under the previous policy that was in place for more than 50 years and didn’t bring about the kinds of benefits or the kinds of progress that we would like to see.”
  • “[T]hose Cuban citizens that do work in industries, like cab drivers or working in restaurants, even Airbnb owners, are benefitting from the enhanced economic activity between Cuban citizens and American citizens who are visiting Cuba.  They are paid at a higher rate, and they’re enjoying more economic activity than they otherwise would because of this policy to normalize relations with Cuba. . . . [T]here is a growing entrepreneurial sector inside of Cuba that is benefitting from greater engagement with the United States.  That’s a good thing, and that is a benefit that is enjoyed by the Cuban people directly.”
  • “[T]here certainly is no denying the kind of violence that occurred in Cuba under the watch of the Castro regime.  There has been no effort to whitewash the history, either the history between the United States and Cuba or the history of what transpired in Cuba while Mr. Castro was leading the country.”
  • “That’s why upwards of 90 percent of the Cuban people actually support this policy and they welcome the greater engagement with the United States.  They welcome the increased remittances that are provided Cuban-Americans to family members in Cuba.  They welcome the increase in travel by American citizens to Cuba.  There’s a lot to offer.  And the Cuban people certainly benefit from that kind of greater engagement.  And that’s why the President has pursued this policy.”
  • The U.S. “relationship with countries throughout the Western Hemisphere, particularly in Latin America, is as strong as it’s been in generations. And all of that would be undone by the reinstitution of a policy that has failed after having been in place for more than five decades.”

The next day, November 28, Press Secretary Ernest announced that the U.S. will not send a formal delegation to Cuba to attend the Castro funeral but instead will dispatch a top White House aide and a principal Cuba-normalization negotiator, Benjamin J. Rhodes, to be joined by , the top U.S. diplomat in Cuba.

U.S. Senators and Representatives[3]

Senator Bob Corker (Rep., TN), the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, stated, Under Fidel Castro’s brutal and oppressive dictatorship, the Cuban people have suffered politically and economically for decades, and it is my hope that his passing might turn the page toward a better way of life for the many who have dreamed of a better future for their country. Subsequently after meeting with Mr. Trump about a possible appointment as Secretary of State, Corker said Mr. Trump’s “instincts on foreign policy are obviously very, very good.”

The Ranking Member of that committee, Senator Ben Cardin (Dem., MD), said, “The news of Fidel Castro’s death brings with it an opportunity to close the deep divisions that have been suffered by Cuban society and by Cuban Americans in the U.S.  For Castro’s purported goals of social and economic development to be attained, it is now time for a half-century of authoritarian rule to give way to the restoration of democracy and the reform of a system the has denied Cuba’s citizens their basic human rights and individuals freedoms. As the United States awaits a new Administration, we must continue our partnership with the Cuban people as they seek to build a more hopeful future for their country.”

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a Cuban-American and Republican presidential candidate this year, said in a statement: “Sadly, Fidel Castro’s death does not mean freedom for the Cuban people or justice for the democratic activists, religious leaders, and political opponents he and his brother have jailed and persecuted. The dictator has died, but the dictatorship has not…The future of Cuba ultimately remains in the hands of the Cuban people, and now more than ever Congress and the new administration must stand with them against their brutal rulers and support their struggle for freedom and basic human rights.” Senator Bob Menendez (Dem., N.J.), a Cuban-American who has opposed Mr. Obama’s policy, issued a similar statement.

Senator Jeff Flake (Rep., AZ), who has supported normalization and is the lead author of a Senate bill to end the embargo, merely said, “Fidel Castro’s death follows more than a half century of brutal repression and misery. The Cuban people deserve better in the years ahead.”

Minnesota’s Senator Amy Klobuchar (Dem.), the author of a Senate bill to end the U.S. embargo of the island, said the following: “Passing my bill with Republican Senator Jeff Flake to lift the trade embargo with Cuba would create jobs and increase exports for American farmers and businesses, and it could create unprecedented opportunity for the Cuban people. For far too long, U.S.-Cuba policy has been defined by the conflicts of the past instead of the realities of today and the possibilities for the future. The Cuban and American people are ahead of their governments in terms of wanting to see change. We need to seize this opportunity and lift the trade embargo.”

Minnesota’s other Senator, Al Franken (Dem.) said that, in the wake of Castro’s death, he hopes the Obama administration’s work to repair relations with the island nation is upheld by a new administration. “Over the past few years, we’ve made important strides to open up diplomatic relations with Cuba, and now I urge the country’s leadership to put a strong focus on improving human rights and democracy.”

On the House side, one of Minnesota’s Republican representative and an author of a bill to end the embargo, Tom Emmer, said that Congress should seize the opportunity to “assist in the transition to a democracy and market economy” in Cuba and denounced “isolation and exclusion.” He added, “The passing of Fidel Castro is yet another reminder that a new day is dawning in Cuba. As the remaining vestiges of the Cold War continue to fade, the United States has a chance to help usher in a new Cuba; a Cuba where every citizen has the rights, freedom and opportunity they deserve.”

The statement from the Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan (Rep., WI), stated, “Now that Fidel Castro is dead, the cruelty and oppression of his regime should die with him. Sadly, much work remains to secure the freedom of the Cuban people, and the United States must be fully committed to that work. Today let us reflect on the memory and sacrifices of all those who have suffered under the Castros.”

U.S. Editorial Boards and Columnists[4]

The New York Times’ editorial opposed any retreat from normalization. It said such a move would be “extremely shortsighted.” The new process of normalization, it says, “has helped establish conditions for ordinary Cubans to have greater autonomy in a society long run as a police state. It has also enabled Cuban-Americans to play a larger role in shaping the nation’s future, primarily by providing capital for the island’s nascent private sector. While the Cuban government and the Obama White House continue to have profound disagreements on issues such as human rights, the two governments have established a robust bilateral agenda that includes cooperation on environmental policy, maritime issues, migration, organized crime and responses to pandemics. These hard-won diplomatic achievements have benefited both sides.”

 If, on the other hand, said the Times, the normalization process is abandoned, U.S.-Cuba “cooperation is likely to wane. That would only embolden hard-liners in the Cuban regime who are leery of mending ties with the United States and are committed to maintaining Cuba as a repressive socialist bulwark. In Mr. Trump, they may find the ideal foil to stoke nationalism among Cubans who are fiercely protective of their nation’s sovereignty and right to self-determination.”

The editorial from the Washington Post, while criticizing some aspects of President Obama’s opening to Cuba, stated U.S. policy should “align itself with the hopes of ordinary Cubans and the legitimate demands of the island’s pro-democracy movements. That does not necessarily mean reversing the renewal of diplomatic relations and relaxed restrictions on the movement of people and goods; most Cubans still want that. But it should mean that official exchanges with the regime, and any concessions that benefit it, should be tied to tangible reforms that benefit the public: greater Internet access, expansion of space for private business and tolerance of critical speech and assembly by such groups as the Ladies in White.”

Conservative columnists and commentators welcomed Fidel’s death. George Will hoped, if not reasonably expected, “to have seen the last of charismatic totalitarians worshiped by political pilgrims from open societies. Experience suggests there will always be tyranny tourists in flight from what they consider the boring banality of bourgeois society and eager for the excitement of sojourns in ‘progressive’ despotisms that they are free to admire and then leave. Carlos Eire, a Cuban exile, author and the T.L. Riggs Professor of History and Religious Studies at Yale University, suggested a 13-point negative epitaph for Fidel’s tomb. The first point was: ”He turned Cuba into a colony of the Soviet Union and nearly caused a nuclear holocaust.” The last point was this: “He never apologized for any of his crimes and never stood trial for them.”

Another Washington Post columnist, Kathleen Parker, agreed that Fidel was a terrible dictator, but argued that Mr. Trump “should understand that Fidel Castro loved the embargo more than anyone because, as ever, he could blame the [U.S.] for his failures. For Trump to fall into this same trap [by keeping the embargo] would be a postmortem gift to Castro and breathe new life into a cruel legacy — the dictator’s final triumph over the [U.S.] and the several American presidents who could never quite bury him.”

U.S. Business Interests and Others[5]

Important interests that typically are regarded as important by Republicans are arguing against any retreats from the Obama Administration’s pursuit of normalization of Cuba relations

First, many U.S. companies are now deeply invested in Cuba under the current administration’s policy. These companies include major airlines, hotel operators and technology providers, while big U.S. phone carriers have signed roaming agreements on the island. “I think the American business community would be strongly opposed to rolling back President Obama’s changes, and strongly in favor of continuing the path toward normalization of economic and diplomatic relations,” said Jake Colvin, vice president of the National Foreign Trade Council.

Second, the U.S. farming industry is strongly supportive of normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations. For example, Kevin Paap, president of the Minnesota Farm Bureau, does not want the next administration to take any steps that would put U.S. farmers at a further disadvantage in the Cuban market. “Every other country in the world has diplomatic and trade relations with Cuba, and what we don’t want to do is lose that market share to the European Union, Brazil, Argentina.” Mr. Paap added that U.S. market share in Cuba has decreased in recent years as other countries are able to provide better financing.

But agricultural producers across the country, from rice producers in Louisiana to Northwest apple farmers to Kansas wheat growers have pushed for more, including lifting a ban prohibiting Cuba from buying American agricultural goods with U.S. credit.

Cuba’s wheat consumption is about 50 million barrels a year, said Daniel Heady, director of governmental affairs at the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers. Although not a huge market, “it’s right off the coast and it would be extremely easy for us to deliver our product.” “It is something that Kansas farmers are extremely interested in,” Heady said. “In a world of extremely depressed commodity prices, especially wheat, 50 million bushels looks extremely good right now.”

Republican governors from Texas, Arkansas and elsewhere have led trade delegations to Cuba, along with their state farm bureaus and chambers of commerce.

A U.S. journalist with extensive experience with Cuba, Nick Miroff, echoed these thoughts. He said, “A return to more hostile [U.S.-Cuba] relations . . . could also bring a new crackdown in Cuba and further slow the pace of Raúl Castro’s modest liberalization  measures at a time of stalling economic growth. Hard-liners in Cuba’s Communist Party would gladly take the country back to a simpler time, when the antagonism of the United States — not the failure of government policies — was to blame for the island’s problems, and the threat of attack, real or imagined, was used to justify authoritarian political control.’

Moreover, according to a Wall Street Journal report, any U.S. abandonment of normalization with Cuba “could drive a new wedge between Washington and Latin America . . . not only by leftist allies of Cuba like Venezuela and Bolivia but also by conservative governments in Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Colombia. It would also likely complicate regional cooperation on a range of issues, from immigration to security and anti-drug efforts.”

In Miami, many of the island’s exiles and their children and grandchildren took to the streets, banging pots and pans, waving American and Cuban flags, and celebrating in Spanish: “He’s dead! He’s dead!”

Meanwhile in faraway Minnesota, even though it has relatively few Cuban exiles, celebrated its Cuban connections. They range from festivals and restaurants in the Twin Cities that preserve and highlight Cuban culture. Its politicians in Washington, D.C. have been leaders in efforts to lift the trade embargo on Cuba, citing the potential for economic and political advancements and job growth. Christian communities in Minnesota also value their religious and moral obligations to Cubans. Cuba’s expanded Mariel Port could carry Minnesota-made goods. Other Minnesota-based companies, including Sun Country Airlines, Radisson Hotels and Cargill, could benefit from lifting the embargo.

Last year the Minnesota Orchestra took a historic trip to Cuba as the first U.S. orchestra to perform there since Obama began negotiations in 2014. Next June, some Orchestra members will perform in Cuba again along with Minnesota Youth Symphonies. They also will be joined by Cuban-American jazz musician, Ignacio “Nachito” Herrera, and his wife, who works as an attorney. Herrera grew up during the Cuban Revolution and credits Castro’s leadership for the career opportunities he and his wife have achieved. Indeed, Herrera met Castro in the 1980s while being recognized in a Classic World Piano competition. Castro was humble, Herrera said, and deeply curious about his accomplishments.

Concluding Observations

This blog consistently has applauded the U.S. pursuing normalization with Cuba. The death of Fidel Castro does not change that opinion and advocacy. Fundamentally I agree with President Obama that the 50-plus years of U.S. hostility towards Cuba has not worked—it has not persuaded or forced Cuba to change its ways and it has interfered with our having friendly relations with countries throughout the world, especially in Latin America.[6]

Indeed, the countries of the Western Hemisphere in their Summits of the Americas have made it clear to fellow member the U.S. that they would no longer reluctantly acquiesce in the U.S. desire to exclude Cuba from such Summits, and at the last such gathering in 2015, after the announcement of U.S.-Cuba normalization they praised both countries for this move.[7]

The broader world disapproval of the U.S. hostility towards Cuba is shown by the annual overwhelming approvals of resolutions condemning the U.S. embargo of the island by the U.N. General Assembly. Nor should the U.S. continue to ignore its very large contingent liability to Cuba for its alleged damages from the embargo. (The U.S., of course, disputes this contingent liability, but prudence for any nation or entity facing such a large contingent liability dictates cutting off that risk by stopping the behavior that allegedly triggers the risk.)[8]

Opponents of normalization usually point to Cuban deficiencies on human rights and democracy. But such opposition fails to recognize or admit that the U.S. does not have a perfect record on these issues, including this year’s U.S. election and efforts at voter suppression and the U.S. indirect election of the president and vice president via the Electoral College. Moreover, such opponents also fail to recognize or admit that at least some Cuban limits on dissent and demonstrations undoubtedly are triggered by their fear or suspicion that the U.S. via its so-called covert or undercover “democracy promotion” programs in Cuba is financing or otherwise supporting these efforts at regime change on the island. Finally as part of the efforts at normalization the U.S. and Cuba have been having respectful dialogues about human rights issues.[9]

Another issue sometimes raised by opponents of normalization is Cuba’s failure to provide financial compensation to U.S. persons for Cuba’s expropriation of their property in the early years of the Revolution. But such criticism fails to recognize that Cuba has paid compensation to persons from other countries for such expropriation, that it is in Cuba’s interest to do the same for U.S. persons, that the two countries have been respectfully discussing this issue as well, and there is no reason to expect that this issue cannot be resolved peacefully.[10]

Opponents of normalization also seem to believe or assume that only the U.S. and Cuba are involved in these issues. That, however, is not true. Perhaps precipitated by the December 2014 announcement that Cuba and the U.S. had agreed to seek normalization and reconciliation, other countries, especially the members of the European Union, have been accelerating their efforts to resolve differences with Cuba so that the U.S. will not beat them to gain competitive advantages with the island. China also is another competitor.[11]

Finally Cuba’s current major ally, Venezuela, obviously is near collapse and being forced to reduce its support of Cuba, thereby threatening Cuba’s stability and viability. The U.S. does not want to see Cuba become a failed state 90 miles away from the U.S. Such a situation is even more dire today according to Tom Friedman’s new book, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations. He asserts at page 270 that it “may even be more difficult [for inhabitants of a failed state to reconstitute itself] in the age of accelerations. The lifelong learning opportunities you need to provide to your population, the infrastructure you need to take advantage of the global flows [of information], and the pace of innovation you need to maintain a growing economy have all become harder to achieve. . . . Catching up is going to be very, very difficult.”

For the U.S., once again, to act like an arrogant bully towards Cuba will not achieve any good result. All U.S. citizens interested in Cuba’s welfare and having good relations with the U.S. need to resist any efforts by the new Administration to undo the progress of the last two years.

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[1] Assoc. Press, Trump Slams Recount Push as ‘a Scam,’ Says Election Is Over, N.Y. Times (Nov. 26, 2016); Reuters, Trump Says He Will do All He Can to Help Cuban People, N.Y. Times (Nov. 26, 2016); Assoc. Press, Vice-President-Elect Pence Says ‘New Hope Dawns’ for Cuba, N.Y. Times (Nov. 26, 2016); Assoc. Press, Trump Aides Say Cuban Government Will Have to Change, N.Y. Times (Nov. 27, 2016); Flaherty, Trump aides say Cuban government will have to change, StarTrib. (Nov. 27, 2016); Schwartz & Lee, Death of Fidel Castro May Pressure Donald Trump on Cuba Promises, W.S.J. (Nov. 27, 2016); Mazzei, Trump pledges to ‘terminate’ opening to Cuba absent ‘better deal,’ Miami Herald (Nov. 28, 2016); Cave, Ahmed & Davis, Donald Trump’s Threat to Close Door Reopens Old Wounds in Cuba, N.Y. Times (Nov. 28, 2016).

[2]   White House, Statement by the President on the Passing of Fidel Castro (Nov. 26, 2016); U.S. State Dep’t, Secretary Kerry: The Passing of Fidel Castro (Nov. 26, 2016); White House, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 11/28/16; White House, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 11/29/16; Harris, Obama to Send Aide to Fidel Castro’s Funeral, N.Y. Times (Nov. 29, 2016).

[3] Sen. For. Rel. Comm., Corker Statement on the Death of Fidel Castro (Nov. 26, 2016); Griffiths, Corker praises Trump as State Department speculation continues, Politico (Nov. 29, 2016; Sen. For. Rel. Comm, Cardin Statement on the Death of Fidel Castro (Nov. 26, 2016); Rubio, Rubio: History Will Remember Fidel Castro as an Evil, Murderous Dictator (Nov. 26, 2016); Menendez, Senator Menendez on Death of Fidel Castro (Nov. 26, 2016); Flake, Flake Statement on the Death of Fidel Castro (Nov. 26, 2016); Ryan, Statement on the Death of Fidel Castro (Nov. 26, 2016);The latest: US House Leader Urges Remembering Castro Cruelty, N.Y. Times (Nov. 26, 2016); Klobuchar, Klobuchar Statement on Passing of Fidel Castro (Nov. 26, 2016); Emmer, Emmer Statement on Death of Fidel Castro (Nov. 26, 2016).

[4] Editorial, Threatening Cuba Will Backfire, N.Y. Times (Nov. 29, 2016); Editorial,Editorial, Fidel Castro’s terrible legacy, Wash. Post (Nov. 26, 2016); Fidel Castro’s demise can’t guarantee freedom for the people of Cuba, Wash. Post (Nov. 28, 2016); Will, Fidel Castro and dead utopianism, Wash. Post (Nov. 26, 2016); Eire, Farewell to Cuba’s brutal Big Brother, Wash. Post (Nov. 26, 2016); Parker, Don’t give Fidel Castro the last laugh, Wash. Post (Nov. 29, 2016). Eire is the author of Learning To Die in Miami: Confessions of A Refugee Boy (2010) and Waiting for Snow in Havana (2003).

[5] DeYoung, Trump’s threat to terminate opening to Cuba may draw opposition from business, Republican states, Wash. Post (Nov. 29, 2016); Miroff, Cuba faces renewed tensions with U.S., but without Fidel Castro, its field marshal, Wash. Post (Nov. 28, 2016); Dube & Johnson, Donald Trump’s Line on Cuba Unsettles Latin America, W.S.J. (Nov. 28, 2016); Klobuchar, Minnesota Artists, Leaders Reflect on Castro’s Legacy (Nov. 26, 2016);  Miroff & Booth, In wake of Castro’s death, his legacy is debated, Wash. Post (Nov. 28, 2016).

[6] See List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[7] Previous posts have discussed the Seventh Summit of the Americas in April 2015. https://dwkcommentaries.com/?s=Summit+of+the+Americas.

[8] Previous posts have discussed the U.N. General Assembly resolutions on the embargo in 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2016 and the suggested international arbitration to resolve the disputes about Cuba’s damage claims resulting from the embargo. (See posts listed in “U.S. Embargo of Cuba” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[9] See posts listed in “U.S. Democracy Promotion in Cuba,” “U.S. & Cuba Normalization, 2014-2015” and “U.S. & Cuba Normalization, 2015-2016” sections of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[10] See posts listed in “U.S. & Cuba Damage Claims” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[11] See list of posts in “Cuba & Other Countries” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

Answers to Cuba’s Questions About the U.S. Presidential Policy Directive on U.S.-Cuba Normalization 

Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, poses 10 questions about the recent U.S. Presidential Policy Directive—United States-Cuba Normalization.[1]

Here are those questions with my answers.

  1. (a) Will the U.S. ever recognize that the embargo/blockade has been an illegal and unjust policy of aggression that has caused Cuba economic damages and incalculable human losses? 

Answer: No. As Ambassador Samantha Power stated at the U.N. on October 26, the U.S. believes that the embargo has been legal. As mentioned in an earlier post, I have suggested that the dispute over this issue could be and should be resolved by an independent panel of international arbitrators, such as those provided by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague in the Netherlands.

  1. (b) Is the U.S. willing to compensate the Cuban people for damages and losses [allegedly] caused by the embargo/blockade?

Answer: No. The major premise for the Cuban damages claim is the contention that the embargo/blockade is illegal. The U.S. does not accept this contention. Nor, I assume, does the U.S. accept the Cuban calculation of such alleged damages. The amount of any alleged damages undoubtedly would be challenged by the U.S. in the international arbitration proceedings previously mentioned. After all, even Cuba admitted in presenting its most recent resolution against the embargo at the U.N. General Assembly that there are many other reasons for Cuba’s poor economic record, including its own mistakes.

2. [Will the U.S. end its occupation of Guantanamo Bay?]

Answer. No. The Directive clearly states that the U.S. believes that its lease of Guantanamo Bay from Cuba is legal and that the U.S. will not voluntarily return the territory to Cuba. Cuba, on the other hand, persistently asserts that the U.S. use of the territory is illegal. As a previous post suggests, this dispute should be submitted to an international arbitration panel similar to the one previously mentioned. In such a proceeding both parties would submit evidence and legal arguments, and the arbitration panel would render a decision. At any time the parties could settle this dispute by negotiating a new lease at a much higher annual rental.

  1. Should the U.S. terminate its so-called “Democracy Assistance” programs?

Answer. Yes, as this blog has consistently argued, these programs are counterproductive and illogical.[2] One cannot promote democracy with anti-democratic and undercover programs. But the U.S. continues to do so, and I will continue to object to them and call for their abolition.

  1. What does the Directive mean when it says that “democracy assistance” programs will be more “transparent” and “consistent with programming in other similarly situated societies around the world?”

Answer. I do not know what is meant by “transparent,” unless it means the U.S. Government publicly solicits applicants to conduct such programs. But such programs are not “transparent” when conducted secretly or undercover as such programs have done so in Cuba.

  1. Should the U.S. end its Radio and TV Marti?

Answer. Yes. This blog previously has called for the ending of such programs as antithetical to promoting democracy and human rights in Cuba. Now there is less need for such programs given the increasing availability of the Internet with its overwhelming information in Cuba. As the Directive states, “increased access to the internet is boosting Cubans’ connectivity to the wider world and expanding the ability of the Cuban people, especially youth, to exchange information and ideas.”

  1. What is the point of applying [U.S.] measures only benefiting a small part of the population, [the 24% currently in the] private sector?

Answer. The U.S. clearly believes that private enterprise and the private sector will enhance Cuban prosperity and that this sector needs and deserves external assistance. And President and First Secretary Raúl Castro said essentially the same thing at last April’s Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba.

7. Why [does the U.S.] maintain the restriction on creating joint ventures [with Cubans] for the development and marketing of these products, [I.e., medicines and vaccines]?

Answer. As the Directive states, the U.S. “will promote joint work [with Cuba], such as development of vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics; partner with Cuba to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease outbreaks; collaborate in the field of cancer control, treatment programs, and joint research; and exchange best practices related to access to healthcare.” This blogger does not know if there are restrictions against joint ventures in this area, but he clearly favors elimination of the U.S. embargo and other restrictions on U.S.-Cuba business and trade.

  1. Does [the U.S.] acknowledge that Cuba’s socio-economic model, based on the public control over the fundamental means of production, guarantees achievements in two spheres strategic for the nation’s future, [i.e., medical care and education]?

Answer. Yes, as the Directive states, the U.S. recognizes, “Cuba has important economic potential rooted in the dynamism of its people, as well as a sustained commitment in areas like education and health care.” In addition, President Obama in his March 2016 speech in Havana said, “Cuba has an extraordinary resource — a system of education which values every boy and every girl” and “no one should deny the service that thousands of Cuban doctors have delivered for the poor and suffering.”

  1. Why are U.S. companies still prohibited from investing in Cuba, with the exception of the telecommunications sector, approved by Obama in 2015?

Answer. This blogger does not know, but he clearly favors elimination of the U.S. embargo and other restrictions on U.S.-Cuba business and trade.

  1. Is President Barack Obama willing to continue using his executive prerogatives to make the policy change toward Cuba irreversible?

Answer. This blogger does not know the answer to this question, but to the extent President Obama has executive authority to enact additional liberalizations of restrictions on business and trade with Cuba in his remaining weeks in office, I hope he will do so.

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[1] Ten key questions, Granma (Oct. 27, 2016).  The Presidential Policy Directive is replicated in a previous post.

[2] See posts listed in “U.S. Democracy Promotion in Cuba” in List of posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

Reactions to New Presidential Policy Directive on U.S.-Cuba Normalization

As replicated in a prior post, on October 14, President Barack Obama issued a Presidential Policy Directive on U.S.-Cuba Normalization.

This Directive, to my knowledge, has no special U.S. legal status and instead is a roadmap for the next administration on the multiple ways the complex U.S. government is implementing such normalization. President Obama in a statement about the Directive said, “This Directive takes a comprehensive and whole-of-government approach to promote engagement with the Cuban government and people, and make our opening to Cuba irreversible. . . . [It] consolidates and builds upon the changes we’ve already made, promotes transparency by being clear about our policy and intentions, and encourages further engagement between our countries and our people.”[1]

Here are comments on some of the key unresolved issues in that process.

  1. Ending the U.S. Embargo of Cuba

 Cuba repeatedly has called for ending the U.S. embargo, and on October 27 it will present its annual resolution condemning the embargo (blockade) to the U.N. General Assembly, which undoubtedly again will overwhelmingly approve the resolution.

The Presidential Directive correctly notes that the Obama Administration repeatedly has asked Congress to end the embargo and states that the U.S. Mission to the United Nations “will participate in discussions regarding the annual Cuban embargo resolution at the [U.N.], as our bilateral relationship continues to develop in a positive trajectory.”[2]

  1. Expanding U.S.-Cuba Trade

The Directive correctly includes a “prosperous and stable Cuba” and expanded U.S.-Cuba trade as parts of its vision for normalization, and the Directive correctly reported that the Obama Administration has adopted regulations relaxing some of the restrictions on U.S. trade with Cuba.[3]

In addition, President Obama’s statement about the Directive noted that on the same day, “The Departments of Treasury and Commerce issued further regulatory changes . . . to continue to facilitate more interaction between the Cuban and American people, including through travel and commercial opportunities, and more access to information.”[4]

According to the two departments’ press release, these new changes will enable “more scientific collaboration, grants and scholarships, people-to-people contact, and private sector growth.” More specifically, the changes “are intended to expand opportunities for scientific collaboration by authorizing certain transactions related to Cuban-origin pharmaceuticals and joint medical research; improve living conditions for Cubans by expanding existing authorizations for grants and humanitarian-related services; increase people-to-people contact in Cuba by facilitating authorized travel and commerce; facilitate safe travel between the United States and Cuba by authorizing civil aviation safety-related services; and bolster trade and commercial opportunities by expanding and streamlining authorizations relating to trade and commerce.”[5]

There is also “a new authorization that will allow persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction to provide services to Cuba or Cuban nationals related to developing, repairing, maintaining, and enhancing certain Cuban infrastructure in order to directly benefit the Cuban people.” Other new rules permit certain foreign ships carrying certain cargo to travel directly to U.S. ports after docking in Cuba, the export of U.S. pesticides or tractors to Cuba without advance payment in cash and U.S. businesses to enter into binding contracts with Cubans that are contingent on the lifting of the U.S. embargo.

  1. U.S. Promotion of Economic Change in Cuba

The Directive states the U.S. “will not pursue regime change in Cuba. We will continue to make clear that the [U.S.] cannot impose a different model on Cuba because the future of Cuba is up to the Cuban people.”

Nevertheless the Directive recognizes as does the Communist Party of Cuba (CPC) that “Due to Cuba’s legal, political, and regulatory constraints, its economy is not generating adequate foreign exchange to purchase U.S. exports that could flow from the easing of the embargo.” Helping to meet this economic problem, both the U.S. and the CPC also recognize, “With an estimated 1 in 4 working Cubans engaged in entrepreneurship, a dynamic, independent private sector is emerging. Expansion of the private sector has increased resources for individual Cubans and created nascent openings for Cuban entrepreneurs to engage with U.S. firms and nongovernmental organizations. We take note of the Cuban government’s limited, but meaningful steps to expand legal protections and opportunities for small- and medium-sized businesses, which, if expanded and sustained, will improve the investment climate.” While the Cuban government pursues its economic goals based on its national priorities, we will utilize our expanded cooperation to support further economic reforms by the Cuban government.”[6]

The Directive makes clear that the U.S. seeks and promotes Cuban economic reform that includes “the development of a private sector that provides greater economic opportunities for the Cuban people.”

  1. U.S. Promotion of Human Rights in Cuba

According to the Directive, Cuba continues with “repression of civil and political liberties.” As a result, the U.S. “will utilize engagement to urge Cuba to make demonstrable progress on human rights and religious freedom” and “continue to speak out in support of human rights, including the rights to freedoms of expression, religion, association, and peaceful assembly as we do around the world. Our policy is designed to support Cubans’ ability to exercise their universal human rights and fundamental freedoms. . . . In pursuit of these objectives, we are not seeking to impose regime change on Cuba; we are, instead, promoting values that we support around the world while respecting that it is up to the Cuban people to make their own choices about their future.”

  1. U,S. Democracy Promotion Programs in Cuba

The U.S. through private contractors with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. State Department and other U.S. government agencies surreptitiously has been conducting what the U.S. calls “democracy promotion” programs in Cuba. Cuba rightfully and consistently has objected to such programs.[7]

Nevertheless, the Directive asserts the U.S. “will not pursue regime change in Cuba. We will continue to make clear that the [U.S.] cannot impose a different model on Cuba because the future of Cuba is up to the Cuban people.”

“While remaining committed to supporting democratic activists as we do around the world, we will also engage community leaders, bloggers, activists, and other social issue leaders who can contribute to Cuba’s internal dialogue on civic participation. We will continue to pursue engagements with civil society through the U.S. Embassy in Havana and during official [U.S.] Government visits to Cuba.”

“We will pursue democracy programming that is transparent and consistent with programming in other similarly situated societies around the world.” (Emphasis added.) The State Department will continue to be responsible for “coordination of democracy programs” and “will continue to co-lead efforts with the U.S. Agency for International Development to ensure democracy programming is transparent and consistent with programming in other similarly situated societies. (Emphasis added.)

The Directive correctly anticipates that “the Cuban government will continue to object to U.S. democracy programs, [and] Radio and TV Marti.” This blog has consistently agreed with the Cubans on this issue because the so-called democracy programs are carried out surreptitiously by the U.S. How can they be promoting democracy if they are undercover? If indeed the U.S. wants to do so transparently, then they should only be done with the knowledge and consent of the Cuban government.

Is the statement that such programs in Cuba are to be “consistent with programming in other similarly situated societies” supposed to be the purported justification for conducting such programs in Cuba secretly from its government?

  1. U.S. Special Immigration Rules for Cubans

Cuba repeatedly has called for the U.S. to end its special immigration benefits to Cubans: (a) the U.S. dry feet/wet feet policy that allows any Cubans who arrive on land at a U.S. point of entry to be admitted into the U.S.; and (b) the U.S. Cuban Medical Professional Parole Policy that allows such Cubans to gain entry to the U.S. as parolees from other countries. Therefore, the Directive correctly anticipates “the Cuban government will continue to object to U.S. migration policies and operations.”

This blog has concurred with Cuba’s objections to these policies.[8]

The Directive correctly recognizes that “significant emigration of working-age Cubans further exacerbates Cuba’s demographic problem of a rapidly aging population.” Yet the Directive fails to discuss either the specific U.S. immigration rules for Cubans themselves or their being one of the causes of this societal and economic problem for the island. This, in my opinion, is a major failing of the Directive.

Instead, the Directive merely states that the DHS “will safeguard the integrity of the U.S. immigration system, to include the facilitation of lawful immigration and ensure protection of refugees. The Secretary of Homeland Security (the United States Government lead for a maritime migration or mass migration) with support from the Secretaries of State and Defense, will address a maritime migration or mass migration pursuant to Executive Orders 12807 and 13276 and consistent with applicable interagency guidance and strategy.”

  1. U.S. Lease of Guantanamo Bay from Cuba

Cuba repeatedly has alleged that the U.S. use of Guantanamo Bay for a naval base is “illegal” and that the U.S. should return this territory to Cuba while the U.S. consistently has rejected such allegations and demands. The Directive maintains this U.S. position; it states, “The [U.S.] Government has no intention to alter the existing lease treaty and other arrangements related to the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, which enables the [U.S.] to enhance and preserve regional security.”

This blog has analyzed this dispute, rejected Cuba’s unsupported allegation that the U.S. use of this territory is illegal and suggested that the dispute over Guantanamo be submitted to an international arbitration panel for resolution. A better solution, as this blog also has recommended, would be a renegotiation of the lease with a much larger annual rent to be paid by the U.S. Such a change, in my opinion, would provide Cuba with much-needed foreign exchange to pay its foreign obligations, including the undoubted obligation to pay U.S. nationals for expropriation of property at the start of the Cuban Revolution in the early 1960’s. Returning the territory to Cuba, while it would probably provide an emotional boost to its pride, would which not add to its economy. In the background is the larger geopolitical threat to the U.S. if Russia (or China) and Cuba agree to the installation of Russian (or Chinese) military bases on the island.[9]

  1. Other Issues

Although the Directive is stated to be “comprehensive,” it does not mention at least the following serious unresolved issues that have arisen in the two countries’ discussions since December 17, 2014:

  • Cuba’s claims for over $ 300 billion of alleged damages resulting from the embargo and certain other U.S. actions;
  • Cuba’s claim against U.S.for unpaid rent for Guantanamo Bay, 1960 to date;
  • The U.S. claims for nearly $8 billion (including interest) for property owned by U.S. nationals that was expropriated by the Cuban government in the early days of the Cuban Revolution in the early 1960’s;
  • Mutual return of fugitives from the other’s criminal justice system.[10]

Conclusion

There are many reasons why a supporter of U.S.-Cuba normalization like this blogger should be happy over this Directive. It provides a roadmap for the complex U.S. governmental pursuit of normalization that should be helpful to a new U.S. president who wants to continue that pursuit. Moreover, many of the specifics are laudable, in this blogger’s opinion.

However, the Directive has failed to announce cessation of secretive “democracy promotion” programs for Cuba and special immigration benefits for Cubans, as urged by this blogger and others. In addition, as just noted, the Directive fails to cover some of the serious, unresolved issues between the two countries. All of these points, in this blogger’s opinions, are serious deficiencies.

Cuba immediately responded to this Directive.[11] Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s Foreign Ministry’s Director General of the United States, said the Directive “is a significant step in the process towards lifting the blockade and to the improvement of relations between the two countries. We consider it important that the Directive recognizes the independence, sovereignty and self-determination of Cuba, which should continue to be essential in relations between the two countries.” On the other hand, she noted, the Directive “does not hide the [U.S.] purpose of promoting changes in the economic, political and social system of Cuba.”

Yes, as President Obama recently said to the author of an article in The New Yorker, the President and many Americans, including this blogger, believe that changes in Cuban human rights and economy would be beneficial to the Cubans and the hemisphere. So long as the U.S. seeks these objectives above-board and with the knowledge and consent of the Cuban government, both governments and peoples should be pleased.

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 [1] White House, Statement by the President on the Presidential Policy Directive on Cuba (Oct. 14, 2016); Davis, Obama, Cementing New Ties With Cuba, Lifts Limits on Cigars and Rum, N.Y. Times (Oct. 14, 2016).

[2] This blog also repeatedly has pleaded with Congress to end the embargo. (See posts listed in “U.S. Embargo of Cuba” in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA).

[3] This blog has applauded these relaxations of restrictions. (See posts listed in “U.S. & Cuba Normalization, 2014-2015,” and “U.S. & Cuba Normalization, 2015-2016” in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA).

[4] Reuters, Obama Eases Restrictions on Cuba, Lifts Limits on Rum and Cigars, N.Y. times (Oct. 14, 2016); Schwartz, U.S. Takes Additional Steps to Ease Restrictions on Trade, Ties with Cuba, W.S.J. (Oct. 14, 2016); Whitefield, Obama moves to make Cuba policies ‘irreversible,’ InCubaToday (Oct. 14, 2016).

[5] U.S. Treasury Dep’t, Treasury and Commerce Announce Further Amendments to Cuba Sanctions Regulations (Oct. 14, 2016).

[6] Raúl Castro as First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba at its April 2016 Congress bluntly laid out Cuba’s economic problems, including state-owned enterprises’ inefficiencies, and the need to facilitate the growth and prosperity of private-owned businesses. (See Raúl Castro Discusses Socio-Economic Issues in Report to Seventh Congress of Communist Party of Cuba (April 19, 2016).) See also, e.g., Other Signs of Cuban Regime’s Distress Over Economy (April 21, 2016); Cuban Press Offers Positive Articles About the Island’s Private Enterprise Sector (June 1, 2016).

[7] This blog repeatedly has objected to these “democracy promotion” programs and called for any such programs to be conducted with the cooperation of Cuban authorities. (See posts listed in “U.S. Democracy Promotion in Cuba” in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.)

[8] See posts listed in “Cuban Medical Personnel & U.S.” and “Cuban Migration to U.S., 2015-2016” in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA).

[9] This blog has discussed various issues relating to Guantanamo Bay. (See posts listed in “U.S. & Cuba Damage Claims” in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA).

[10] These issues have been discussed in posts listed in “U.S. & Cuba Damage Claims” and “U.S. Embargo of Cuba” in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA  and in and in Issues Regarding Cuba and U.S. Extradition of the Other’s Fugitives (Feb. 24, 2015).

[11] Ellizalde, Obama presidential directive is a significant step: Josefina Vidal, CubaDebate (Oct. 14, 2016).

Cuba’s Foreign Minister Advocates Cuban Interests at the U.N.

Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez
Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez

On September 22, Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parilla, addressed the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly.[1] The next day he repeated some of the themes of this speech while talking at a meeting at the U.N. of the G77 + China, the intergovernmental organization of 134 U.N.-member developing countries that promotes their collective economic interests, their joint negotiating capacity on such issues and South-South cooperation for development.[2]

 Foreign Minister’s Speech to the U.N. General Assembly

“The statistics could not be more eloquent. 80% of the world population owns only 6% of the wealth, while the richest 1%, enjoys half the heritage of the planet. No less than 795 million people suffer from chronic hunger. 18,000 children die daily because of poverty. More than 660 million use non-potable water and 780 million adults and 103 million young people are illiterate.”

“The huge nuclear and conventional arsenals and annual military spending of 1.7 billion million dollars, belie those who claim that there are no resources to eliminate poverty and underdevelopment.”

“The waves of refugees into Europe, caused by underdevelopment and NATO interventions, show the cruelty, the oppressive nature, inefficiency and unsustainability of the current international order . . . .”

“2015 was also the worst in terms of climate change, with increasing global temperatures, melting of polar ice, the ocean levels and volume growth emission of greenhouse gases. . . . While it is expected that the industrialized countries will make progress in fulfilling the obligations assumed with the ambiguous Paris Agreement, only tangible data on financing and technology transfer to developing countries may justify hopes of survival of the human species.”

“Peace and development are the raison d’être of the [U.N.] For the human species, it is imperative and urgent . . . to create a culture of peace and justice as the basis of a new international order. . . . For peaceful coexistence among States, it is essential to respect the [U.N.] Charter and international law.”

“The UN must [combat] unilateralism and . . . be thoroughly reformed in order to democratize it and bring it closer to the problems, needs and aspirations of peoples in order to make it capable of [moving] the international system towards peace, sustainable development and respect for all human rights for all. The reform of the Security Council, both in its composition and its working methods, is a task that can no longer be postponed. Strengthening the General Assembly and rescuing [its] functions that have been usurped by the Security Council should guide the search for a more democratic and efficient organization.”

Rodrigues also supported the rights of the people of Palestine, the Sahara, the Syrian Arab Republic, Russia (and against NATO), Venezuela, Colombia (and their agreement to end the conflict with the FARQ), Brazil (and against “the parliamentary coup d’eta against President Rousseff”) and Puerto Rico.

He praised Cuban medical personnel who are “working in [61 countries in] all continents . . . for the life and health of humans” and criticized the U.S. Parole Program for Cuban Medical Personnel that seeks to interfere with such beneficial medical programs.

On the other hand, he recognized that “just over a year has passed since the restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States and the reopening of embassies.” Since then “there has been some progress in our bilateral ties, especially in diplomatic affairs, dialogue and cooperation on issues of common interest, as reflected in the high-level visits, including the visit of President Barack Obama, and the dozen agreements signed on issues that can bring benefits to both countries and throughout the hemisphere.

However, “the reality is that the [U.S. embargo] blockade remains in force, continues to cause serious damage and hardship to the Cuban people and continues to hamper the functioning of the economy and its relations with other countries. Executive measures adopted by the [U.S.}, although positive, are insufficient.” Therefore, the Cuban government “will present [this October] to the Assembly the draft resolution entitled ‘Necessity of Ending the Economic, Commercial and Financial Tax by the United States of America against Cuba.’”

In the meantime, “the Cuban government [will continue to develop] a respectful dialogue with the [U.S.] Government, knowing that remains a long way to go to move towards normalization, which means building an entirely new bilateral relations [model].” For this to be possible some day, it will be imperative that the blockade [be] . . . lifted” and that the territory [allegedly] illegally occupied by the Naval Base of the United States in Guantanamo” be returned to Cuba.

“The Cuban people continues [to be engaged in updating [its] economic and social model . . . in order to build an independent, sovereign, socialist, prosperous and sustainable nation.”

 Foreign Minister’s Speech at Meeting of G-77+ China

Rodriguez emphasized what he called “the historical debt owed to the nations of the South by the industrialized countries that built their wealth from centuries of colonialism, slavery and plundering of natural resources. This debt needs to be settled by [the industrialized countries] paying [the nations of the South] with financial flows and technology transfers.”

“The external [financial] debt [of the South] must be abolished because it already has been paid many times.”

The Cuban Foreign Minister of Cuba also advocated a direct and active participation of the South in global decisions.

He reiterated Cuba’s allegations against the U.S. economic, commercial and financial embargo (blockade) despite the recent rapprochement between the two governments. More will be heard on this subject when Cuba this October presents its annual resolution against the embargo to the General Assembly

Conclusion

There really was nothing new in these remarks, but it is heartening to hear again that Cuba continues to pursue normalization with the U.S. and to updating its economic and social model in order to build a more prosperous society.

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[1] Rodriguez, The UN must be defended [against] unilateralism and at the same time, it must be deeply reformed to democratize, Granma (Sept. 22, 2016); At UN, Cuba cites progress in US relations, but with embargo still in force, ‘there is a long way ahead,” UN News Centre (Sept. 22, 2016).

[2] Our country wants to settle historical debt to the South, Granma (Sept. 23, 2016).

U.S. State Department Announces Free the Press Campaign

On April 26, the U.S. Department of State announced the launching of its fifth annual Free the Press Campaign “to highlight emblematic cases of reporters from around the world who are imprisoned, harassed, and otherwise targeted for doing their jobs, just by reporting the news.” This is a prelude to World Press Freedom Day on May 3.[1]

This year the Department “will highlight journalists and media outlets that we have identified in previous years that were censored, attacked, threatened, imprisoned, or otherwise oppressed because of their reporting whose situations have not yet improved. And we’re going to spotlight these various cases in three ways: one, by raising them from behind the podium at the top of each daily press briefing; two, by spotlighting them on http://www.humanrights.gov and social media; and then third, by using the hashtag #freethepress to spread the word and message on Twitter.”

The “campaign’s goal is straightforward. It’s to call the world’s attention to the plight of these reporters and to call on governments to protect and promote the right to promote – to – let me do that again – call on governments to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression.”

The first case thus highlighted is “Jose Antonio Torres, who’s a journalist for Granma, the official communist daily newspaper in Cuba. And he was arrested in February of 2011, after Granma published his report on the mismanagement of a public works project in Santiago de Cuba, and subsequently [he was] sentenced to 14 years in prison for allegedly spying.”

“This is the kind of reporting that promotes transparency and makes government accountable to its people. We take this opportunity to call on the Government of Cuba to release him. You can learn more about this case and others involved in Free the Press on our website, again, www.humanrights.gov.”

The subject of this State Department announcement, Senor Torres, apparently published in Granma a 5,000-word article on the mismanagement of an aqueduct project. Afterwards President Raúl Castro reportedly wrote that “this is the spirit that should characterize the (Communist) Party press: transparent, critical and self-critical.” Four months later, Torres published another critical report, this about the installation of fiber-optic cable between Cuba and Venezuela. Torres noted that the Vice President Ramiro Valdės was responsible for the supervision of both projects.

On February 8, 2011, Torres was arrested and detained and put through intense interrogations. In June 2012, he was convicted of espionage and sentenced to 14 years imprisonment for the crime of espionage. Torres, however, has continued to maintain his innocence, called his imprisonment a “mistake,” and expressed confidence that the government would eventually realize its mistake. Torres reportedly has said that he “trusts in the revolution’s justice, and…does not want any relations with counter-revolutionaries.” [2]

World Press Freedom Day is a project of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) headquartered in Paris, France. It “celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom; to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.” The Day also is “a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom” and to “media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics.This special day was first proclaimed by the U.N. General Assembly in 1993.[3]

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, Daily Press Briefing (April 26, 2016).

[2] Josė Antonio Torres (Cuban Journalist), Wikipedia.

[3] UNESCO, World Press Freedom Day 2016.

Resolving U.S. and Cuba Damage Claims

On December 8, the U.S. and Cuba held discussions in Havana about the two countries’ damage claims: (1) U.S. claims to recover damages for U.S. property interests that were expropriated by the Cuban government at the start of the Cuban Revolution in 1959.; (2) U.S. courts’ money judgments against Cuba; (3) Cuba’s claims for alleged damages resulting from the U.S. embargo of Cuba; and (4) Cuba’s alleged damage claims for Cubans personal injuries and deaths from U.S. hostile actions.

This post will briefly examine those claims, the recent U.S.-Cuba discussions on the subject and an analysis of the issues by Washington, D.C.’s Brookings Institution.

Summary of the Claims

  1. Cuba’s Expropriation of U.S. Property[1]

Some 5,913 U.S. corporations and individuals have $1.9 billion worth of claims (without interest) for factories, farms, homes and other assets that were nationalized in Cuba after Fidel Castro’s rebels came to power in 1959. These claims have been registered and validated by the U.S. Justice Department’s Foreign Claims Settlement Commission. They are now worth roughly $8 billion when including 6.0 percent annual interest. These claims (without interest) have been categorized by the Brookings Institution’s report discussed below:

Claimants Claims Amount ($USD)
Corporate 899 1,677,280,771
Individual 5,014 229,199,112
TOTAL 5,913 1,906,479,883

 

Nevertheless, the Brookings’ report identifies these potential issues with respect to the claims validated by the U.S. Commission: (1) Whether to recognize the Commission rulings as a legitimate procedure in which cuba did not participate; (2) Whether to accept or challenge its valuations of lost properties; (3)  Whether Cuba should recognize accumulated interest as awarded by the Commission on its certified claims or whether to negotiate an alternative benchmark interest rate or other formula for partial payments.

2. U.S. Court Judgments Against Cuba[2]

In U.S. courts various plaintiffs have sued the Cuban Government, which did not appear in the cases. As a result the courts entered default judgments against Cuba, now totaling $2 billion.

3. U.S. Embargo of Cuba[3]

In a 2015 report to the United Nations General Assembly, Cuba asserted that the accumulated economic damages from the U.S. economic sanctions had reached $121 billion. The annual report offers some estimates on sectoral damages but does not discuss methodology. An earlier 1992 Cuban statement detailed these estimated cumulative losses among others:: (a) $3.8 billion for losses in the tourist industry; (b) $400 million for losses in the nickel industry; (c) $375 million for the higher costs of freighters; (d) $200 million for the purchase of sugarcane crop equipment to substitute for U.S.-manufactured equipment; and (e) $120 million for the substitution of electric industry equipment

4. Cubans Killed or Injured by Alleged U.S. Hostilities[4]

The Cuban government claims that U.S. “acts of terrorism against Cuba have caused 3,478 deaths and 2,099 disabling injuries.” Examples of such alleged acts include (a) U.S.-supported hostilities in Cuba resulting in 549 deaths between 1959-1965; (b) the Bay of Pigs invasion resulting in 176 deaths and over 300 wounded of whom 50 were left incapacitated; (c) the explosion of the French vessel La Coubre on March 4, 1960 in Havana Harbor, resulting in 101 deaths including some French sailors; (d) the terrorist bombing of Cuban Airlines Flight 455 in 1976 killing all 73 persons on board including 57 Cubans; (e) the September 11, 1980 assassination of Cuban diplomat Félix García Rodriguez in New York City; (f) Numerous aggressions from the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo resulting in the deaths of Cuban citizens; and (g) suspicions that the U.S. employed biological warfare to spread fatal dengue fever in Cuba.

Recent U.S.-Cuba Discussions[5]

Immediately before the December 8 discussions, a U.S. State Department spokesperson said the U.S. expected this to be “a first step in what we expect to be a long and complex process, but the United States views the resolution of outstanding claims as a top priority for normalization.”

Afterwards a U.S official said that reaching a settlement of these claims was “a top priority” for the U.S. and that these talks were “fruitful” and would continue in 2016. This official also said that the U.S. had provided information on the additional $2 billion in judgments awarded to plaintiffs who had sued the Cuban government in U.S. courts, proceedings that ­Havana does not recognize.

Other than the above sketchy summary, very little has publicly emerged about the specifics of the talks. It sounds as if the discussions were akin to the pretrial discovery process in U.S. civil lawsuits when parties learn about each other’s evidence and arguments.

A Cuba legal expert, Pedro Freyre, said, “It’s the first time the two countries are going back to look at this history and try to sort out a system for fixing it.” The Cubans, he added, were “very tough, very clever” in such negotiations.

Brookings Institution’s Analysis[6]

Richard Feinberg
Richard Feinberg

On the same day as the U.S.-Cuba discussions (December 8), the Brookings Institution released a cogent report on the subject by Richard Feinberg, a nonresident senior fellow in Brookings’ Latin American Initiative. [7]

Introducing the report at a press conference, Feinberg said, “The convening of these talks in Havana [is] a major milestone in the process of gradual full normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba, especially important with regard to commercial relations. Property ownership and claims are at the strategic heart of the Cuban revolution, dating from the early 1960s and also a major cause, perhaps the major cause, of the conflict between the United States and the Cuban revolution. The seizure of U.S. properties was the proximate cause of the imposition of U.S. economic sanctions back in the early 1960s.” These talks are of “strategic importance in the bilateral relationship.”

Feinberg also emphasized that both the U.S. and Cuba “agree on the principle of compensation” for expropriation of property.” Indeed, he said, to do so is in Cuba’s national interest. It “wants to demonstrate [that] it is not a rogue nation . . . [that] it is a nation of laws” and it “wants to remove major irritants to its international diplomacy and commercial relations” and “to attract international investment.”

Another point made by Feinberg was Cuba was not so poor that it could not pay any compensation, especially if the payments were spread out over time, as seems likely.

In addition to setting forth information about the above claims, the report examined the following ways of resolving these claims.

  1. The Grand Bargain

The Report asserts that “a much more promising alternative approach” is “to take advantage of the very size and complexity of the conflicting claims and to make their resolution the centerpiece of a grand bargain that would resolve some of the other remaining points of tension between the two nations, and embrace an ambitious, forward-looking development strategy for Cuba.”

In such a grand bargain, “the settlement of U.S. claims could be wrapped in a package of economic opportunities for Cuba. Importantly, the United States could further relax its economic sanctions (amending or repealing Helms-Burton), providing more trade and investment opportunities – and the capacity for Cuba to earn the foreign exchange needed to service debt obligations. In turn, Cuba will have to accelerate and deepen its economic reforms, to offer a more attractive business environment for investors and exporters. Politically, the Cuban government could present a significant softening of the U.S. embargo as a victory, offsetting any concessions made in the claims negotiations. A comprehensive package might also be more attractive to the U.S. Congress; formal Congressional consent would enhance the measures’ legitimacy and durability and help to close off any court challenges, should some claimants be unsatisfied with the final settlement.”

“The [U.S.] strategic goals in a massive claims resolution process must be political: to heal the deep wounds of past conflicts, to lay foundations for peaceful coexistence and the non-violent resolution of disputes, to avoid jeopardizing fiscal balances and crippling debt burdens, to build investor confidence and international reputation, and to help render the Cuban economy more open and competitive. . . . In the interests of both Cuba and the United States, the twentieth-century trauma of massive property seizures should be transformed into a twenty-first century economic development opportunity.”

“Wrapping a claims settlement within a more sweeping diplomatic package could have large advantages. A robust accord could help overcome long-simmering bilateral animosities and reconcile the fractured Cuban family. Potentially embarrassing ‘concessions’ by either party could be masked by larger victories on more weighty or emotive issues. What to some might appear the unseemly materialism or inequity of property claims would be subsumed within a higher-toned humanitarian achievement. Having turned the page on a half-century long era of conflict, Cuban society could begin in earnest on a new path toward social peace and shared prosperity. The claims settlement, which would bolster investor confidence, could also be linked to a reformed economic development model for Cuba actively supported by the international community.”

2. Lump-Sum Settlement

Separate resolution of the damage claims could be done in a lump-sum settlement, whereby “the two governments negotiate a total amount of financial compensation that is transferred in a lump-sum or global indemnity to the plaintiff government which in turn assumes the responsibility to distribute the transferred monies among its national claimants.” Such a settlement would provide “greater efficiency in coping with large numbers of claims; enhanced consistency in the administration and adjudication of claims; promoting fairness among claimants in setting criteria for evaluating claims and distributing awards; and upholding professionalism and integrity in the national claims commission.” In addition, sometimes lump-sum arrangements “allow the two governments to address other matters, such as broader investment and trade relations.”

3. Two-Tier Resolution

Another way for separate resolution of the U.S. expropriation damage claims is what Brookings calls a two-tier solution, “whereby corporate claimants can choose either to seek creative bargains, or join individual claimants in a lump-sum settlement.”

The 5,014 individual claims validated by the U.S. Commission total about $229 million (without interest). Of these, only 39 amount to over $1 million each while only four were valued at over $5 million. A lump-sum cash settlement of these claims could be shared share equitably by all or with caps on those over a certain figure, such as $ 1 million.

The 899 corporate claims are heavily concentrated: the top 10 corporate claims are valued at nearly $1 billion while the top 50 at $1.5 billion. “The corporate claimants could be given the opportunity to be included in a lump-sum settlement—albeit possibly facing an equity hair-cut to limit the burden on Cuba and to ensure a minimum payment to the smaller claimants—or to ‘opt out’ of the general settlement and instead seek alternative remedies” in Cuba, such as a voucher for new investment; a right to operate a new business; a final project authorization for a new venture; a preferred acquisition right for a venture; Cuba sovereign bonds; and restoration of properties.

Conclusion

Although I hope that the Brookings’s “grand bargain” or more limited negotiated solution is reached, a Miami Herald article emphasizes the difficulties in reaching any settlement. First, some of the claims that were validated by the U.S. Foreign Claims Settlement Commission could be stricken from the list that the U.S. may negotiate if the claims have not always been owned by a U.S. citizen or business. Second, the U.S. government is not authorized to negotiate the previously mentioned U.S. courts’ default judgments against Cuba. As a result, U.S. attorneys for the plaintiffs in those cases could seek to seize any assets in the U.S. of the Cuban government such as a Cuban plane or ship to satisfy the outstanding judgments. Third, Cuba also has to fear that any payment of U.S. claimants for expropriated property will invite demands for similar payments by Cuban exiles around the world and by Spanish claimants after some Spanish courts have ruled that Spain’s 1986 settlement of such claims with Cuba is not binding on at least some Spanish claimants. Fourth, the time to complete such a settlement at the end of the Obama Administration is rapidly shrinking, and a new administration in January 2017 may not be as willing to do such a deal.[8]

I, therefore, reiterate the solution proposed in a prior post: an agreement by the two countries to submit all of their damage claims against each other for resolution to the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague in the Netherlands under its Arbitration Rules 2012 before a panel of three or five arbitrators.[9]

My experience as a lawyer who handled business disputes in U.S. courts and in international arbitrations leads me to believe that arbitration is the appropriate way to resolve these claims by the two governments. The International Court of Arbitration was established in the late 19thcentury to resolve disputes between governments. It would be a third-party, neutral administrator of the proceedings and the arbitrators who would be selected would also be neutral. Finally it has an existing set of arbitration rules and procedures. Moreover, in the arbitration process, both sides would gain a better understanding of the opponent’s evidence and argument that could lead to a settlement before the arbitrators would be asked to render an award.

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[1] Brookings, Reconciling U.S. Property Claims in Cuba: Transforming Trauma into Opportunity (Dec. 2015); Resolution of U.S. and Cuba’s Damage Claims (April 6, 2015).

[2] Id.

[3] Id.; U.N. General Assembly Again Condemns U.S. Embargo of Cuba (Oct. 30, 2014).

[4] Brookings, Reconciling U.S. Property Claims in Cuba: Transforming Trauma into Opportunity (Dec. 2015).

[5] Robles, Cuba and U.S. to Discuss Settling Claims on Property, N.Y. times (Dec. 4, 2015); U.S. State Dep’t, Daily Press Briefing (Dec. 7, 2015); U.S. State Dep’t, Press Release: United States and Cuba Hold Claims Talks in Havana (Dec. 7, 2015); Reuters, U.S., Cuba to Negotiate Billions in Claims Against Each Other, N.Y. Times (Dec. 7, 2015); Assoc. Press, Cuba, US Begins Talks on Confiscated Property, Damages,, N.Y. Times (Dec. 8, 2015); Miroff, In major breakthrough, Cuba and U.S. discuss $1.9 billion in property claims, Wash. Post (Dec. 8, 2015); Schwartz, U.S., Cuba Hold First Talks on Rival Claims, W.S.J. (Dec. 8, 2015); Briefing on compensation held between the governments of Cuba and the United States, Granma (Dec. 9, 2015).

[6] Brookings, Reconciling U.S. Property Claims in Cuba: Transforming Trauma into Opportunity (Dec. 8, 2015); Feinberg, Reconciling U.S. Property Claims in Cuba (Dec. 2015); Brookings Institution, Cuba Media Roundtable (Dec. 8, 2015).

[7] Brookings is a non-governmental organization that “brings together more than 300 leading experts in government and academia from all over the world who provide the highest quality research, policy recommendations and analysis on a full range of public policy issues.” Feinberg is a professor of international political economy in the School of Global Policy and Strategy (formerly the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies) at the University of California, San Diego. Previously, Feinberg served as special assistant to President Clinton for National Security Affairs and senior director of the National Security Council’s Office of Inter-American Affairs; his other government positions include positions on the policy planning staff of the U.S. Department of State and in the Office of International Affairs in the U.S. Treasury Department.

[8] Torres & Garvin, Claim game: U.S., Cuba try to hash out differences over property, Miami Herald (Dec. 12, 2015).

[9] Resolution of U.S. and Cuba’s Damage Claims (April 15, 2015).

Cuba’s Foreign Minister’s Comments on U.S. Embargo and Pope’s Upcoming Visit to Cuba  

At a September 16 press conference, Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez, commented on the U.S. embargo of Cuba and the upcoming visit to the island of Pope Francis.[1]

Bruno Rodriguez
Bruno Rodriguez

U.S. Embargo of Cuba

The Foreign Minister announced that Cuba’s resolution against the embargo would be offered at the U.N. General Assembly on October 27. It will have the same text as the resolutions adopted by the Assembly for the last 20 years with new paragraphs discussing the restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and U.S. President Obama’s asking Congress to end the embargo, but the embargo’s remaining in effect.

Rodriguez asserted that the economic damage caused to the Cuban people by the embargo or blockade against Cuba, now totaled $755,833,000. In addition, there has been alleged damages to different sectors of the Cuban economy of $192,121,000 for a total of $947,954,000.[2]

Pope’s Visit to Cuba

The Foreign Minister also said that the Cuban people will welcome the Pope with respect, appreciation and hospitality. “The Pope’s visit with the massive participation of believers and unbelievers will be a momentous event for our people, our culture and the Cuban nation.” This visit will be covered in real time and with social networks in order to reach directly and quickly the most people possible.

Rodriguez expressed the Cuban government’s appreciation and gratitude to Pope Francisco for his support in the mediated process between the governments of the U.S. and Cuba.

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[1] Francisco, Bruno Rodriguez: blockade of Cuba is an absurd, illegal and morally unsustainable policy (+ photos, video and graphics), CubaDebate (Sept. 16, 2015).

 

[2] As discussed in a prior post, on October 28, 2014, the U.N. General Assembly approved a resolution condemning the embargo (blockade), 188 to 2. At that time Foreign Minister Rodriguez alleged the damages were $1.1 trillion. Whether and how that number can be reconciled with the new number of nearly $948 million is not explained.