Rumors of Upcoming Trump Administration Rollback of U.S. Normalization of Relations with Cuba

As reported in prior posts, the Trump Administration presumably has been conducting an overall review of U.S. policies regarding Cuba.[1] Although the completion of that review has not been publicly announced, there are rumors that in mid-June the Administration will be announcing a rollback of at least some of the various normalization measures announced by the Obama Administration starting on December 17, 2014.

Rumored Reversals

Even though U.S.’ Cuba policies have not had much public attention in these days of focus on revelations of Trump campaign connections with Russia, the pro-U.S.-embargo lobby apparently has used support for the Administration’s non-Cuba legislation (e.g., health care) to extract promises from Trump on rolling back the present policies. High on the list of rumored roll backs are limiting people-to-people U.S. travel to technical categories and stopping any U.S. trade or licenses that would be associated with “military” entities of the Cuban government.

This rumored reversal is happening even though all federal administration agencies support further negotiations with Cuba for better relations, especially in the areas of illegal immigration, national security, human trafficking, environment, trade, commerce, healthcare. These agencies influence have been hampered because there is no one in charge of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the State Department.

These unfortunate changes were hinted in President Trump’s statement on the May 20th so-called Cuban Independence Day when he said:[2]

  • “Americans and Cubans share allegiance to the principles of self-governance, dignity, and freedom. Today, we remember patriots like José Martí, who devoted himself to making Cuba an economically competitive and politically autonomous nation. He reminds us that cruel despotism cannot extinguish the flame of freedom in the hearts of Cubans, and that unjust persecution cannot tamper Cubans’ dreams for their children to live free from oppression. The Cuban people deserve a government that peacefully upholds democratic values, economic liberties, religious freedoms, and human rights, and my Administration is committed to achieving that vision.” (Emphasis added.)

Trump’s statement, not unexpectedly, was not well received in Cuba. Later the same day an “Official Note” was read on Cuban state television describing Trump’s message as “controversial” and “ridiculous,” especially on May 20, which Cuba sees as the date in 1902 when Cuba became a “Yankee neo-colony” or de facto U.S. protectorate after its status as a Spanish colony ended. More specifically May 20, 1902, was the date the Platt Amendment was added to the Cuban Constitution and 11 days after the signing of the Treaty of Paris by the U.S. and Spain ending the so-called Spanish-American War.[3] Cuba’s true Independence Day is January 1, 1959, the date the Cuban Revolution took over the government of the island.[4]

Resistance to Reversals

There, however, is resistance to any such rumored reversals.

First, the Trump Administration itself recently submitted its proposed Fiscal 2018 budget for the State Department that does not include any funds for the so-called Cuba “democracy promotion” programs by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).[5] In a letter accompanying this budget request, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the request “acknowledges that U.S. diplomacy engagement and aid programs must be more efficient and more effective, and that advancing our national security, our economic interests, and our values will remain our primary mission.” These undercover or covert USAID programs, in this blogger’s opinion, are unjustified and counterproductive and should have been cancelled a long time ago.[6]

Second, another voice for resistance within the Trump Administration is U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, who is a Trump appointee. On May 17 he appeared before the House Agriculture Committee. In response to a question by Representative Rick Crawford (Rep., AR) about his bill, Cuba Agricultural Exports Act (H.R.525), that would eliminate the U.S. requirement for Cuban cash payments upfront to purchase U.S. agricultural exports, Perdue said, “I think that’s something I would be supportive of if folks around the world need private credit to buy our products, and I’m all for that. [7]

Third, a May 24 letter to President Trump advocated the maintenance of the current U.S. policies regarding U.S. travel to Cuba. It came from a group of over 40 U.S. travel service providers that offer legal, authorized travel to Cuba. It asserted that the recent increase of such travel “has had a significant impact on our businesses by increasing our revenue and allowing us to hire more American employees. Additionally, it has helped the Cuban private sector, and fostered strong relationships between Americans and Cuban religious organizations and humanitarian programs.” The impact on Cuba’s private sector was emphasized: “Many U.S. travelers visiting Cuba stay in privately run B&Bs, dine at private restaurants, hire independent taxis and purchase goods and services from entrepreneurs. They are greatly supporting the growth of the Cuban private sector.”[8]

Fourth, another force for resistance to any such roll back is Cuban Ambassador to the U.S., José Ramón Cabañas, who along with other Cuban diplomats has been traveling to many parts of the U.S. and conveying Cuba’s best wishes for better relations with the U.S. and how such relations will benefit many Americans. I well remember the visit he and his wife made to Minneapolis in 2014 before he had the title of Ambassador and his low-key, pleasant and intelligent discussion of the many issues facing our two countries.  More recently he has been to Harvard University and Montana State University and visiting mayors, governors, legislators and ordinary Americans in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Montana, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Louisiana, the Washington suburbs and Florida. At the University of Louisville, the Ambassador said, “We are ready and open to work with the Trump administration, and we believe that we can build a future of cooperation with the United States in many subjects, although we recognize that there are many areas in which we will not agree.”[9]

Conclusion

Now is the time for all U.S. supporters of normalization to engage in public advocacy of these policies and to urge their U.S. Senators and Representatives to oppose any rollback of normalization.

We also need to express our support of those who have introduced bills in this Session of Congress to end the embargo and to expand Americans’ freedom to travel to Cuba:

  • Senator Heidi Heitkamp (Dem., ND), Agricultural Export Expansion Act of 2017 (S.275);
  • Senator Jerry Moran (Rep., KS), Cuba Trade Act of 2017 (S.472)(end the embargo);
  • Representative Mark Sanford (Rep., SC), Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2017 (H.R.351);
  • Representative Tom Emmer (Rep., MN), Cuba Trade Act of 2017 (H.R.442)(end the embargo);[10]
  • Representative Kevin Cramer (Rep., ND), Cuba DATA Act (H.R.498);
  • Representative Rick Crawford (Rep., AR), Cuba Agricultural Exports Act (H.R.525); and
  • Representative Jose Serrano, (Dem., NY), Promoting American Agricultural and Medical Exports to Cuba Act of 2017 (H.R.572), Baseball Diplomacy Act (H.R.573), Cuba Reconciliation Act (H.R.574).

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[1] The Future of U.S.-Cuba Normalization Under the Trump Administration, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 22, 2016); More Reasons To Believe There Is a Dim Future for U.S.-Cuba Normalization, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 2, 2017); Three Experts Anticipate Little Change in U.S. Policies Regarding Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 10, 2017); Washington Post Endorses Continued Normalization with Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 11, 2017); Secretary of State Nominee Rex Tillerson Addresses U.S. Policies Regarding Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 12, 2017); Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State Nominee, Provides Written Responses Regarding Cuba to Senate Foreign Relations Committee, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan 23, 2017); Lobbying the Incoming Trump Administration To Continue Normalization with Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 18, 2017); Cuban Entrepreneurs Express Frustration and Confidence, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 28, 2017); Uncertainty Over Future Cuba Policies of Trump Administration, dwkcommentaries.com   (Apr. 5, 2017).

[2] White House, Statement from President Donald J. Trump on Cuban Independence Day (May 20, 2017).

[3] The U.S. 1898 entry into Cuba’s Second War of Independence and establishment of the de facto protectorate lasting until 1934 was reviewed in a prior post.

[4] Torres, Havana lashes out against Trump’s Mary 20 message to the Cuban people, Miami Herald (May 22, 2017); Sánchez, There is no future without the past, Granma (May 23, 2017).

[5] Whitefield, No USAID funds for Cuba in Trump budget proposal, Miami Herald (May 24, 2017); Schwartz, Trump Administration Proposes 32% Cut to State Department Budget, W.S.J. (May 23, 2017); Secretary Tillerson, Letter Regarding State Department’s Budget Request (Fiscal 2018) (May 23, 2017).

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

[7] USDA Secretary Perdue Supports Bill to Expand Ag Exports to Cuba, Engage Cuba (May 18, 2017);

[8] Over 40 Leading U.S. Travel Companies and Associations Urge President Trump Not to Roll Back U.S. Travel to Cuba, Engage Cuba (May 24, 2017).

[9] Whitefield, Cubans become the road warriors of D.C. diplomatic corps, Miami Herald (May 22, 2017).

[10] Representatives Emmer and Castor Introduce Bill To End Embargo of Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 12, 2017).

 

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).

Recommended Obama Administrative Actions To Promote U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation         

On August 29, a U.S. coalition made important recommendations for the Obama Administration to promote further U.S.-Cuba reconciliation by taking administrative actions that did not need congressional authorization.[1] Here is a summary of these recommendations:

  1. Facilitate Greater Financial Engagement and Expand Commercial Transactions.”

These recommendations included (a) authorizing, “by general license, or a general policy of approval, participation by U.S. investors in business arrangements in Cuba, including with state-owned firms, cooperatives, or private sector firms, when the goods or services produced benefit the Cuban people;” and (b) authorizing “by a general policy of approval, the import and sale in the United States of Cuban agricultural products made by the private and cooperative sectors, including transactions that pass through Cuban state export agencies.”

  1. Expand Health-Related Engagement.”

These recommendations included (a) eliminating “barriers which deny U.S. citizens access to clinically proven Cuban-developed drugs; (b) authorizing “U.S. pharmaceutical and medical equipment companies to include Cuban hospitals and health centers in their clinical trials;” and (c) authorizing “U.S. entities (universities, research centers, and private firms) by general license to collaborate in medical and health-related research and development projects in Cuba, including commercial projects.”

  1. Strengthen Security Cooperation where there are U.S. Interests at Stake.”

These recommendations included (a) deepening and extending “counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics cooperation;” and (b) building “gradually on military–to-military contacts.”

  1. Eliminate or Suspend Programs that Fail to . . . Promote Democratic Opening.”

These recommendations were (a) suspending or redirecting “the ‘democracy promotion’ programs now funded through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL), and USAID, while conducting a review of existing programs to ensure they are consistent with the President’s policies of normalization of relations with Cuba;” and (b) ensuring that “any program or policy that is carried out under this rubric should be conducted openly, transparently, and with the goal of expanding contacts between the people of the US and Cuba without interfering in Cuba’s internal affairs.”

Amen! This blog repeatedly has called for just such action. (See posts listed in “U.S. Democracy Promotion in Cuba” in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Cuba.)

  1. Normalize Migration.”

These recommendations were (a) increasing “the number of visas [the U.S.] issues for Cubans to obtain legal residence;” (b) ending “preferential treatment for Cuban migrants arriving at U.S. borders;” and (c) ending “the Cuban Medical Professionals Parole Program, which offers incentives to Cuban doctors working abroad to leave their country and immigrate to the [U.S.].”

Amen again! This blog repeatedly has called for just such action. (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.)

Conclusion

The coalition’s letter also supported Congress’ enacting measures to end the U.S. embargo of Cuba; to give U.S. farmers better access to the Cuban market, by permitting private financing for U.S. agricultural sales; to provide full staffing for the U.S. Embassy in Havana to protect American citizens and provide visas to qualified Cuban applicants; to better manage irregular migration from Cuba; and to take steps to level the playing field for U.S. businesses interested in the Cuban market, relative to foreign competitors.

The coalition consisted of Geoff Thale (Program Director, Washington Office on Latin America); Ted Piccone (Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution); William LeoGrande (Professor, American University); Fulton Armstrong (Senior Faculty Fellow, American University); Alana Tummino (Senior Director of Policy, Americas Society/Council of the Americas); Sarah Stephens (Executive Director, Center for Democracy in the Americas); Mavis Anderson (Senior Associate, Latin America Working Group); Tomas Bilbao (Managing Director, Avila Strategies); Mario Bronfman (Private consultant); and James Williams (President, Engage Cuba).

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[1] Letter, Coalition to President Obama (Aug. 29, 2016). This blogger assumes that the coalition independently researched and concluded that the Obama Administration has the legal authority to take such administrative actions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

United States-Cuba Bilateral Commission Meets To Review Normalization Status                                                                                                

On May 16, in Havana the U.S.-Cuba Bilateral Commission held its third meeting to review the status of the countries’ efforts to normalize relations. The U.S. delegation was headed by Ambassador Kristie Kenney, currently serving as Counselor of the Department of State, who was assisted by John S. Creamer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, U.S. Department of State; and by U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, Chargé d’Affaires, U.S. Embassy, Havana, Cuba. The Cuban delegation’s head was Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, the Director General of the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Department of the United States.[1]

Before the meeting the U.S. State Department said it “will provide an opportunity to review progress on a number of shared priorities since the last Bilateral Commission meeting in November 2015, including progress made during the President’s historic trip to Cuba in March. The United States and Cuba expect to plan continued engagements on environmental protection, agriculture, law enforcement, health, migration, civil aviation, direct mail, maritime and port security, educational and cultural exchanges, telecommunications, trafficking in persons, regulatory issues, human rights, and claims for the remainder of 2016.”

Director General Vidal’s Press Conference

images

At a press conference after the meeting, Director General Vidal said the meeting had been “productive” and conducted in a “professional climate of mutual respect.” (A photograph of Vidal at the press conference is on the left.) The parties agreed to hold the fourth meeting of the Bilateral Commission in September 2016 in Washington, D.C.

Vidal also said she had told the U.S. delegation that Cuba reiterates its “appreciation for the positive results from President Obama’s visit to Cuba” that had been mentioned by President Raúl Castro during Obama’s visit. Indeed, she said, Cuba believes this visit is “a further step in the process towards improving relations” between the two countries and “can serve as an impetus to further advance this process.”[2]

Vidal acknowledged that there has been an increase in official visits as well as technical meetings on topics of common interest resulting in nine bilateral agreements to expand beneficial cooperation.[3]

According to Vidal, both delegations agreed on steps that will improve relations, including conducting high-level visits and technical exchanges on environmental, hydrography, and implementation and enforcement of the law, including fighting trafficking in drugs and people, and immigration fraud. The two countries also are getting ready to conclude new agreements to cooperate in areas such as health, agriculture, meteorology, seismology, terrestrial protected areas, response to oil-spill pollution, fighting drug trafficking and search and rescue, among others. They also are ready to start a dialogue on intellectual property and continue those relating to climate change and regulations in force in the two countries in the economic and trade area.

However, Vidal said, progress has not been as fast in the economic area because “the blockade [embargo] remains in force” despite the positive measures taken by President Obama to loosen U.S. restrictions. There still are significant U.S. restrictions on U.S. exports to Cuba and imports from Cuba. In addition, U.S. investments in Cuba are not allowed except in telecommunications, and there are no normal banking relations between the two countries. Therefore, Cuba stressed again the priority of the “lifting the economic, commercial and financial blockade [embargo].”

More specifically Vidal said Cuba had told the U.S. representative that in the last six months two American companies and one French company had been fined by the U.S. for maintaining links with Cuba while Cuba has had problems with 13 international banks’ closing accounts, denying money transfers or suspending all operations with Cuba. In addition, six service providers have ceased providing services to Cuban embassies and consulates in third countries (Turkey, Austria, Namibia and Canada).

In addition, the Cuban delegation, said Vidal, had reaffirmed the need for the U.S. to return to Cuba the territory [allegedly] illegally occupied by the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo. It “is the only case of a military base in the world that is based in a territory leased in perpetuity, which is an anomaly from the point of view of international law.[4] There is no similar example in the world and is the only instance of a military base in a foreign country against the will of the government and people of that country.

Vidal also mentioned the following U.S. policies and actions that needed to be changed:

  • the U.S. preferential migration policies for Cuban citizens, expressed in the existence of the policy of dry feet/wet feet;
  • the U.S. Cuban Adjustment Act regarding those immigration policies;
  • the U.S. program of parole for Cuban health professionals;
  • the special U.S. radio and television broadcasts designed especially for Cuba (Radio and TV Marti); and
  • U.S. programs designed to bring about changes in the economic, political and social system of Cuba.[5]

These U.S. policies, according to Vidal, underscored “a huge contradiction” for the U.S. On the one hand, President Obama said in his speech in Cuba that the U.S. has neither the intention nor the ability to bring about change in Cuba and that in any case it was up to the people of Cuba to make their own decisions. On the other hand, the U.S. has programs with huge budgets ($20 million dollars every year) aimed at bringing about such change. If indeed there is neither the intention nor the ability to bring about change in Cuba, then there is no reason to have such programs.

Normalization, said Vidal, also needs to have protection of rights to trademarks and patents because there are Cuban companies owning well-known marks, which for reasons of the blockade and other reasons have been taken away from the Cubans.

Before the meeting, another Cuban Foreign Ministry official said that the parties previously had discussed, but not negotiated, with respect to Cuba’s claim for damages with respect to the U.S. embargo and the U.S. claims for compensation for property expropriated by the Cuban government. At the meeting itself, according to a Cuban statement, the Cubans had delivered a list of its most recent alleged damages from the blockade (embargo).

U.S. Embassy Statement

The U.S. Embassy in Havana after this Bilateral Commission meeting issued a shorter, but similar, statement about the “respectful and productive” discussions. “Both governments recognized significant steps made toward greater cooperation in environmental protection, civil aviation, direct mail, maritime and port security, health, agriculture, educational and cultural exchanges, and regulatory issues. The parties also discussed dialogues on human rights and claims, and the [U.S.] looks forward to holding these meetings in the near future.”

Conclusion

Since the actual meeting was conducted in secret, it is difficult to assess what was actually accomplished except through officials’ subsequent public comments.

On May 17, the two countries conducted their second Law Enforcement Dialogue, which will be discussed in a subsequent post.

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[1] U.S. Department of State, United States and Cuba to Hold Third Bilateral Commission Meeting in Havana, Cuba (May 12, 2016); Gomez, MINREX: relations between Cuba and the United States would advance more nonblocking, Granma (May 12, 2016); Reuters, Cuba and U.S. Officials to Meet Next Week to Deepen Detente, N.Y. Times (May 12, 2016); Francisco & Elizalde, Cuba-US Bilateral commission: a productive meeting, Josefina Vidal  (+ Photos and Video), CubaDebate (May 16, 2016); Assoc. Press, Top Cuba Diplomat: Obama Trip Positive, Created Momentum, N.Y. Times (May 16, 2016); Reuters, Cuba and United States Draw Up Roadmap for Talks to Deepen Détente, N.Y. Times (May 16, 2016); Gomez, Cuba and the United States defines ambitious agenda for the coming months, Granma (May 16, 2016); U.S. Embassy, Havana, Cuba, Third Bilateral Commission Meeting in Havana (May 16, 2016); Press release issued by the Cuban delegation to the Third Meeting of the Cuba-U.S. Bilateral Commission, Granma (May 17, 2016); Cuba and U.S. set ambitious agenda for coming months, CubaDebate (May 17, 2016).

[2] Vidal’s positive comment about Obama’s visit is in sharp contrast to the negative comments about the visit from Vidal’s superior, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez at the recent Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba. (See Conclusion of Seventh Congress of Communist Party of Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (April 20, 2016).)

[3] Beforehand an official of Cuba’s Foreign Ministry said that since the December 2014 announcement of détente the parties had signed nine agreements covering the environment, email, navigation safety, agriculture and travel. In addition, the Telecommunications Company of Cuba (ETECSA) had signed agreements with three U.S. companies for cellular roaming in Cuba; a U.S. company (Starwood) had an agreement to manage several Cuban hotels; and the Carnival cruise lines had made a maiden voyage to the island.

[4] The U.S., however, contends that the lease is not in perpetuity, but for so long as the U.S. uses it as a “naval station.” This is one of the potential issues to be resolved in an international arbitration as suggested in a previous post. (Does Cuba Have a Right To Terminate the U.S. Lease of Guantanamo Bay? dwkcommentaries.com (April 26, 2015).)

[5] Prior posts have concurred in the Cuban requests for ending all of these U.S. programs and policies. See Topical List of Posts—Cuba.

U.S. Covert or “Discreet” Democracy Promotion Programs in Cuba

Previous posts have discussed misguided covert or “discreet” U.S. democracy promotion programs in Cuba through the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).[1] This is still happening as revealed in a recent hearing before a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.[2]

On April 26, the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere heard testimony regarding this and other issues from Tom Malinowski, Assistant Secretary of State, Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Bureau; Francisco Palmieri, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs; and Elizabeth Hogan, Acting Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean, USAID.

Highlights of Hearing

Thomas Malinowski [3]

Malinowski’s prepared direct testimony was focused on how the Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Bureau (DRL) “works to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms in closed societies . . . through the Human Rights and Democracy Fund (HRDF) . . . [which] has grown from $8 million in FY 1998 to $88.5 million in FY 2016.” This past year there were almost 350 such grants “totaling almost $500 million that benefit civil society and activists around the world in their struggle for freedom and dignity.” (Emphasis added.)

With respect to Cuba, he testified, the Bureau was “committed to supporting the people of Cuba as they seek the basic freedoms that their government denies. . . . Consistent with . . . [President Obama’s messages to the Cuban people on his recent visit] DRL programs in Cuba respond to the needs and wishes of the Cuban people, by promoting human rights, facilitating the flow of uncensored information, and strengthening independent civil society. Cuban government restrictions on civil and political rights increase the degree of difficulty of program implementation. But despite these challenges, DRL has been able to sustain consistent support to Cuban civil society for the past 10 years, and we will continue to do so with your support. As the President has made clear our new approach to Cuba is not based on the premise that the human rights situation there has improved; rather it is based on the belief that we will be better able to support the demands of the Cuban people if we keep the focus on the Cuban government’s policies rather than allowing the regime to blame American policies for its problems.” (Emphasis added.)

Francisco Palmieri [4]

Palmieri’s prepared direct testimony was devoted to supporting the Department’s “Fiscal Year 2017 foreign assistance request for the Western Hemisphere” of $1.7 billion. This includes “democracy assistance for Cuba and Venezuela, where the United States will continue to provide assistance to advance universal human rights and support vibrant civil society. The request for Cuba continues direct support for civil society. Promotion of democratic principles and human rights remains at the core of U.S. assistance to Cuba.” (Emphasis added.)

Elizabeth Hogan [5]

Hogan testified that USAID is “committed to supporting human rights everywhere we work, including in Cuba and other closing spaces where citizens are arbitrarily detained, threatened, harassed, and beaten for peacefully exercising their fundamental rights.” (Emphasis added.)

Indeed, the USAID website has a page (Last updated April 1, 2016) describing its work in Cuba. It states, “USAID focuses on increasing the ability of Cubans to participate in civic affairs and improve human rights conditions on the island. By reaching out to the dissident community and beyond and engaging citizens to enhance local leadership skills, strengthen organizational capacity, facilitate outreach strategies, and support greater access to information and communication, the USAID program contributes to the development of independent civil society groups that can ultimately make significant contributions at the local and national levels.” [6]

More specifically, the USAID website says it (a) “provides on-going humanitarian support to political prisoners and their families;” (b) “supports independent civic, social, and development activities by providing technical and material assistance to organize, train, and energize small groups of people within their communities . . . to work together in a manner independent from the state;” and (c) “disseminate[s] books, magazines, newspapers, and pamphlets to broad segments of the population but with an increasing emphasis on promoting the use of social media . . . [with distribution of] laptops to facilitate the sharing of information from USB drives, CDs, and DVDs. “ (Emphasis added.)

To these ends,, the Congress ““appropriated $55 million for Cuba programs between fiscal years 2009-2011; USAID managed nearly $31 million of this amount, while the Department of State managed the remainder. Also, $20 million has been appropriated for fiscal year 2012.”

USAID Inspector General’s Report on Its Cuba Programs

In December 2015 USAID’s Inspector General issued a report criticizing the agency’s programs in Cuba for inadequate monitoring, conflicts of interest and questions of legal responsibility for those involved; and the lack of a policy to protect sensitive work from subversion by Cuban intelligence officials. (Emphasis added.) The 89-page report contained 16 recommendations to improve accountability and prevent conflicts of interest. In response a USAID spokesperson said the agency already had completed several recommendations from the report with the remaining to be finished by July 2016. The spokesperson also noted that the report concluded that its Cuba programs were “consistent with U.S. legislation and designed to support activities ‘that expand the reach and impact of independent civil society in Cuba. [7]

Conclusion

Although the stated goals of the U.S. programs to support democracy in Cuba are laudable, the programs, in my opinion, are not because they are covert or “discreet” as the U.S. bureaucrats like to say because the State Department and USAID are statutorily prohibited from conducting “covert” activities. Yet simultaneously there is general discussion of the programs in the U.S. public record. In short, such programs are antithetical to the promotion of democracy.

Moreover, such programs understandably prompt Cuban authorities to investigate and monitor supposed dissident activities in Cuba, especially given the history of U.S. hostility towards the island and the vastly superior military and economic power of the U.S. Indeed, these U.S. activities prompt the question of whether they are the actual or perceived reasons for Cuba’s reported persecution of dissidents and whether one of the reasons for the U.S. programs is to provoke those very Cuban responses and the subsequent U.S. criticisms, as covered in a recent post.

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[1] U.S. Secret Cuba Social Media Program Raises Questions About the Validity of Criticism of Cuba by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (April 4, 2014); U.S. Senate Hearing Discusses USAID’s Social Media Program for Cuba (April 9, 2014); What Is Wrong with the White House’s Plan for Democracy in Cuba? (April 9, 2014); Yet Another USAID Effort To Promote Regime Change in Cuba (Aug. 12, 2014); Another USAID Effort To Promote Regime Change in Cuba: U.S. Government’s Reactions (Aug. 13, 2014); Another USAID Effort To Promote Regime Change in Cuba: Other Reactions (Aug. 14, 2014); New York Times Criticizes USAID’s Efforts To Promote Regime Change in Cuba (Nov. 10, 2014); Email to President Obama Objecting to Covert or “Discreet” U.S. Government Programs Purportedly Promoting Democracy and Human Rights in Cuba (Jan. 7, 2015); Reforming U.S. “Democracy Promotion” Programs in Cuba (Nov. 6, 2015).

[2] U.S. Senate, Foreign Relations Comm., Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women’s Issues, Review of Resources, Priorities and Programs in the FY 2017 State Department Budget Request (April 26, 2016)  I have not been able to find the actual budget request, which would be interesting to peruse.

[3] Testimony of Assistant Secretary Tom Malinowski (April 26, 2016).

[4] Testimony of Francisco Palmieri, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State (April 26, 2016). Palmieri also testified that the U.S. was not going to change its “dry feet” policy for admission of Cubans into the U.S.

[5] Prepared Testimony of Elizabeth Hogan (April 26, 2016).

[6] USAID, Cuba—Our Work.

[7] USAID Inspector General Report (Dec. 2015) ( (no longer available online); Assoc. Press, Watchdog: Secret US ‘Cuban Twitter’ Programs Problematic, N.Y. Times (Dec. 23, 2015) (no longer available online); Statement by USAID Spokesman Ben Edwards (Dec. 23, 2015).

 

 

Raúl Castro’s Declaration Regarding the First Anniversary of U.S.-Cuba Rapprochement 

 

On December 18, Raúl Castro, the President of Cuba’s Council of Ministers and Army General, issued on state television a Declaration regarding the first anniversary of U.S.-Cuba rapprochement.[1]

After briefly reviewing the year’s accomplishments that were “achieved through a professional and respectful dialogue based on equality and reciprocity,” Castro berated the failure to make “any progress in the solution of those issues which are essential for Cuba to be able to have normal relations with the United States.” Those issues were the following:

  • First, of course, was the failure of the U.S. to end the embargo. Indeed, he asserted, the embargo or blockade, constitutes “persecution of Cuba’s legitimate financial transactions as well as the extraterritorial impact of the blockade, which causes damages and hardships to our people and is the main obstacle to the development of the Cuban economy, have been tightened.”
  • Second was the U.S.’ continued statement it “has no intention to change the status of” the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.
  • Third was the U.S. continued implementation of “programs that are harmful to Cuba’s sovereignty, such as the projects aimed at bringing about changes in our political, economic and social order and the illegal radio and television broadcasts, for which they continue to allocate millions of dollars in funds.”
  • Fourth was the U.S. “preferential migration policy . . . [for] Cuban citizens, which is evidenced by the enforcement of the wet foot/dry foot policy, the Medical Professional Parole Program and the Cuban Adjustment Act, which encourage an illegal, unsafe, disorderly and irregular migration, foment human smuggling and other related crimes and create problems to other countries.”

Nevertheless, Castro continued, “The Government of Cuba is fully willing to continue advancing in the construction of a kind of relation with the United States that is different from the one that has existed throughout its prior history, that is based on mutual respect for sovereignty and independence, that is beneficial to both countries and peoples and that is nurtured by the historical, cultural and family links that have existed between Cubans and Americans.”

In addition, he said, “Cuba, in fully exercising its sovereignty and with the majority support of its people, will continue to be engaged in the process of transformations to update its economic and social model, in the interest of moving forward in the development of the country, improving the wellbeing of the people and consolidating the achievements attained by the Socialist Revolution.”

Conclusion

Although Castro has a different tone on the failure of the U.S. to terminate certain policies, his Declaration agrees substantially with the other comments about the first anniversary that were discussed in yesterday’s post. It is good to know that he vows to continue with the slow process of normalization and with transforming the Cuban economy.

Except for Cuba’s desire to terminate its lease of Guantanamo Bay to the U.S., I agree with the Declaration’s calls for the U.S. to end the embargo, the so-called democracy promotion programs of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Radio and TV Marti broadcasts to Cuba and the preferential immigration policies for Cubans.

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[1] Raúl Castro Ruz, Statement by the President of the Councils of State and Ministers Army General Raúl Castro, Granma (Dec. 18, 2015); Reuters, Cuba’s Castro Says U.S. Can Do More to Normalize Relations, N.Y. Times (Dec. 18, 2015);Assoc. Press, Raul Castro Urges US to End Broadcasts Aimed at Cuba, N.Y. Times (Dec. 18, 2015)

 

 

Results of Second Meeting of U.S.-Cuba Bilateral Commission

On November 10 the U.S.-Cuba Bilateral Commission held its second meeting, this time in Washington, D.C.[1]

Before addressing specific topics of possible agreement, the Cuban delegation reiterated its insistence “on the necessity to lift the [U.S. embargo] blockade as a top priority, for it continues to affect the Cuban people as well as Cuba’s operations and relations with third countries, given its extraterritorial scope, and hinders the development of normal economic and commercial relations with the United States. Likewise, the Cuban delegation reiterated that the elimination of this policy is essential for the normalization of relations, in addition to the solution of other pending problems that are harmful to the sovereignty of Cuba, such as the [alleged] illegal occupation of a portion of Cuban territory by the Guantánamo Naval Base, and the continuation of the illegal radio and television broadcasts from the United States to Cuba and the programs intended to destabilize and subvert Cuba’s constitutional order.”

After the meeting, Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s head of North American affairs, told reporters that agreements on flights, environmental protection, direct postal service and the fight against drug trafficking are very likely by the end of the year.

Granma, the Cuban newspaper, also reported that the Commission agreed to continue exchanges on human rights, maritime and port security, application and enforcement of law, climate change, migration, human trafficking and health (including confronting pandemics and infectious diseases).

The U.S. Department of State issued a similar report about this meeting. It said the meeting “provided an opportunity to review progress on shared priorities, including regulatory issues, telecommunications, claims, environmental protection, human trafficking, human rights, migration, and law enforcement,” The statement added that the meeting “took place in a respectful, cooperative, and productive environment.”

A Cuban diplomat said after the meeting that despite these areas of progress, commercial transactions between the two countries were impeded by U.S. restrictions on use of the U.S. Dollar in such transactions. Examples of this problem were the recent cancellations of several U.S. charter flights to Cuba because of the airlines difficulties in getting advance payments to Cuba for landing fees and mandatory health insurance for travelers. An observer thought this was due to U.S. banks’ fear of being subjected to large fines for illegal transfers and of uncertainties about the implementation of new U.S. regulations. [2]

The first Commission meeting was held in Havana this past September as discussed in a prior post. The next meeting will be next February in Havana.

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, United States and Cuba Hold Second Bilateral Commission Meeting in Washington, D.C. (Nov. 10, 2015); Cuban Foreign Ministry, Press release issued by the Cuban delegation to the second meeting of the Cuba-US Bilateral Commission, Washington, November 10, 2015 (Nov. 10, 2015); Assoc. Press, Cuba: Agreements on flights to US Likely in Coming Months, N.Y. Times (Nov. 10, 2015); Reuters, Pact for U.S.-Cuba Flights Seen by Year-End: Cuban Official, N.Y. Times (Nov. 10, 2015); Gomez, Cuba and the United States come to concrete agreements, Granma (Nov. 10, 2015).

[2] Whitefield, Banking woes ground some charter flights to Cuba, Miami Herald (Nov. 8, 2015).