U.S. Reactions to Trump Reversals of Some U.S.-Cuba Normalization Policies                                                                   

On June 16, as noted in a prior post, President Donald Trump announced a reversal of some aspects of the Cuba normalization policies that had been instituted by his predecessor, President Barack Obama.

Now we look at U.S. reactions to this change of policy. Subsequent posts will examine Cuban reactions and conclude with this blogger’s opinions on the subject.

 Overall Assessment of Changes[1]

As many sources have pointed out, the announced changes do not affect most of the important elements of Obama’s normalization policies. The U.S. will continue to maintain diplomatic relations with Cuba and operate the U.S. Embassy in Havana (while Cuba continues to operate its Embassy in Washington). U.S. airlines and cruise ships will continue service to the island. Cuban-Americans can still send money (remittances) to relatives and travel to the island without restriction. U.S. farmers can continue selling their crops to the Cuban government (with restrictions against credit for sales). There was no change to next year’s budget for the State Department that eliminated the undercover or covert “democracy promotion” programs in Cuba by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The U.S. will continue to reject the so-called “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which once let most Cuban migrants stay if they made it to U.S. soil “with dry feet,” but was terminated late last year by President Obama; Trump’s speech endorsed this termination as designed to protect Cubans who were exposed to dangerous journeys by land to the U.S. Various bilateral arrangements facilitating cooperation on multiple issues were not mentioned and, therefore, are not directly affected by this announcement. Nor did the announcement say that the U.S. would reinstate its designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism.”

The prohibition of U.S. businesses having interactions with Cuban businesses owned or controlled by the Cuban government or military presents more of a problem because such entities are involved in all sectors of the economy. According to Cuban economists, the government conglomerate (GAESA) boasts dozens of companies that control anywhere from 40 percent to 60 percent of the Caribbean island’s foreign exchange earnings.

U.S. Businesses Reactions[2]

Many U.S. businesses opposed the changes. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers, typically supportive of GOP presidents, predicted the changes would limit prospects for “positive change on the island.” Others with similar views include ENGAGECuba, the U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba, National Farmers Union and the National Foreign Trade Council.

These business opponents were supported by non-business groups, including the Center for Democracy in the Americas, the Latin America Working Group, the Washington Office of Latin America, Church World Service and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

The changes will have negative impacts on U.S. jobs and income. The increase in U.S. trips to Cuba has helped the U.S. hospitality industry with Delta Airlines, American Airlines, JetBlue and others flying to at least six Cuban cities daily and Carnival cruise lines taking American citizens to port in Havana. All told, the group Engage Cuba estimates that restricting the rights of United States citizens to travel and invest in Cuba would cost the American economy $6.6 billion and affect 12,295 American jobs.

U.S. hotel businesses also expressed concern about the potential impact of the change on the island’s hotels.  The Gran Hotel Manzana, for example is managed by a Swiss company (Kempinski Hotels) but owned by Gaviota, a Cuban military-run company. An U.S. company, Marriott International, through its subsidiary Starwood runs the Four Points by Sheraton hotel in the Havana suburb of Miramar. Would they be off-limits for American travelers or would they fall under a vaguely promised grandfather clause for existing deals? Or would the change force American travelers to Cuban hotels run by civilian tour organizations, including Gran Caribe and Cubanacan? There is even speculation that the change economically benefited Mr. Trump by neutralizing rival hotel companies’ ability to gain an early advantage over the Trump hotels, which previously had expressed interest in developing hotels on the island.

Congressional Reactions[3]

Many members of Congress, Republican and Democrat, have expressed opposition to the changes.

Representative Tom Emmer (Rep., MN), who’s been one of Trump’s most enthusiastic backers on Capitol Hill while also being the author of a bill to end the embargo (H.R.442—Cuba Trade Act of 2017), said Trump’s new Cuba policy “will hurt the United States economically, making it harder for our nation’s farmers to access new markets and cutting the knees out from under our travel and manufacturing industries.” Emmer also said the new policy will not keep the American homeland safe and could threaten new bilateral agreements with Havana to combat human trafficking, illicit drugs and cyber crimes.

Representative Rick Crawford, (Rep., AR), the author of a bill to promote U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba (H.R.525—Cuba Agricultural Exports Act), said Trump’s shift is more than just a missed opportunity for rural America, which would benefit from greater access to Cuba’s agricultural import market. He said Trump’s policy may put U.S. national security at risk as strategic competitors move to fill the vacuum the uncoupling could create. “Further U.S. disengagement opens up opportunities for countries like Iran, Russia, North Korea and China to gain influence on an island 90 miles off our coast,” Crawford said.

Senator Jeff Flake, (Rep., AZ), a frequent critic of Trump and the author with 54 cosponsors of a bill to facilitate Americans travel to Cuba (S.127 Freedom for Americans to Travel to Cuba Act), stated that any policy change “that diminishes the ability of Americans to travel freely to Cuba is not in the best interests of the United States or the Cuban people.” Therefore, Flake called for the Senate’s GOP leadership to allow a vote on this bill. Flake also warned that returning to a “get tough” policy hurts everyday Cubans whose livelihoods are increasingly rooted in travel and tourism.

Senator Jerry Moran (Rep., KS), the author of a bill to end the embargo (S.472—Cuba Trade Act of 2017), said that “putting America first means exporting what we produce to countries across the globe.” He said he remains focused on finding ways to “increase trade with Cuba rather than cut off relationships that have the potential to create new jobs, bring in revenue and boost our national economy.”

Senator John Boozman (Rep., AR) said Trump’s policy moves the U.S. backward.” It would be more effective to continue an open line of communication and working relationship with a government in need of democratic assistance, instead of shutting them out,” Boozman said under the latter approach, “we not only trade goods, but ideas.”

Senator Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN), the author of a bill to end the embargo (S.1286– Freedom to Export to Cuba Act of 2017), said the new policy was “a setback in U.S. – Cuba relations at a time when 73 percent of Americans want more engagement with Cuba, not less. These changes will disadvantage our businesses and undermine American tourism, which will also hurt the Cuban people. Earlier today I joined Minnesota officials and business leaders who are traveling to Cuba next week to send the message that America wants to continue doing business in Cuba. We need to build on the bipartisan momentum we have created by restoring relations with Cuba, not make it harder for Americans to travel and do business there.”

The five-day Minnesota trip referenced by Senator Klobuchar is being led by its Lieutenant Governor, Tina Smith, accompanied by various state government officials and leaders of agricultural groups. Their objectives are to build relationships with Cuba and promote Minnesota agricultural exports to the island.

In Cuba Lt. Gov. Smith said, “There is no denying the actions Trump took . . . [on June 16] are a real setback. But the important thing to me is that there is bipartisan support at the federal level for normalizing and modernizing our relationship.” In the meantime, she said she was glad to carry the message that there was still plenty of support for continuing to normalize relations. Minnesota’s government and businesses will continue to engage with Cuba in the areas they can, like agricultural trade. Cuba invited the Minnesota delegation to a trade show later in the year while Minnesota invited Cuban officials to visit.

Other Americans’ Reactions[4]

Many other Americans have expressed their opposition to the changes.

One is Rena Kraut, a substitute member of the Minnesota Orchestra, which visited Cuba in 2015.[5] She talked about the importance of encouraging Americans to visit Cuba and the “ability [of artists] to move the conversation to places corporations and politicians cannot or will not go, and to smooth the way for political change years before the document signings and handshakes.” Inspired by the Orchestra’s trip, she has founded Cayo, a non-profit that is organizing a youth orchestra for American and Cuban young people “to broaden horizons, provide youth with the highest level of artistic training, and shed light on that which can bring our neighboring countries together.”

Published letters to the Editor of the New York Times were generally critical of the change. Luis Suarez-Villa, professor emeritus at the School of Social Ecology at the University of California, Irvine, said, “American policy toward Cuba has been hijacked by a clique of Cuban-American politicians who have sold their support in Congress to President Trump.” Suarez-Villa also berated the “punishing, 55-year-old embargo perpetrated by the world’s most powerful nation — accompanied by innumerable acts of economic sabotage, espionage, attempted assassination and military aggression.” Stephen Gillespie of San Francisco, California wrote, “Mr. Trump seems to hate oppressive regimes that convert private property into public goods for the benefit of the people, but he loves oppressive regimes that convert public goods into private property for the benefit of a few rich friends.”

Miriam Pensack, an editorial assistant at The Intercept and a former researcher at Columbia University’s Center for Science and Society, wrote, “Carried out under the unlikely banner, for Trump, of human rights and democracy, the shift is instead more likely to re-impose hardships on ordinary Cubans — the very same people Trump, Rubio, and Diaz-Balart claim to champion.”

William LeoGrande, who teaches government at American University and co-authored the book Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana, observed, “When Americans go down there, a lot of them stay in private homes, they eat in private restaurants, they take private taxis, and they pay private tour guides that guide them around the city. That’s money directly into the hands of ordinary Cubans.” He added, ““It’s hard to believe that human rights are really anything more than just an excuse. This is really more a matter of political horse trading than it is a matter of foreign policy.”

A contrary view in the New York Times’ collection of letters came from Medford, New York’s Eugene Dunn, who stated, “Kudos to President Trump for demanding that Cuba finally turn over a parade of criminals who have sought sanctuary on the Communist island for decades. Finally we have a titanium-spined president who isn’t afraid to use America’s military and economic might as leverage over these tin-pot dictators who under previous administrations made us the laughingstock of the world.”

The Cuban-Americans at the president’s event in Little Havana are enthusiastic supporters of the new policy as are many other Republican voters in the U.S.

Editorialists’ Reactions[6]

 The New York Times’ editorial condemned the Trump Administration’s approach. The Times said it was “the latest chapter in a spiteful political crusade to overturn crucial elements of his predecessor’s legacy” and was likely to cause “Cuban-American relations . . . to revert to a more adversarial Cold War footing, undermining Washington’s standing in Latin America.” Moreover, Trump’s stated concern for Cuban human rights was especially galling from a “president [who] has been so disdainful of these rights . . . [and who has] embraced so lovingly authoritarians who abuse their people, like Vladimir Putin of Russia and the Saudi royal family.”

The editorial from the Los Angeles Times was similar. It stated that the new policy was “based on a disingenuous argument. The putative reason for the change is that Cuba still violates the human rights of its own people, including jailing dissidents and independent journalists. But hasn’t the Trump administration been moving the U.S. away from its focus on human rights around the world?” Instead, said the Los Angeles newspaper, “What’s really happening is that Trump has let the anti-Castro sect in Congress take the wheel on this issue, no doubt for cynical political reasons. Remember that Trump broke with his Republican rivals during the campaign and supported Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba. Then he flipped and disparaged the policy as a bad deal, and pledged to undo it unless Cuba met fresh demands on human rights, including the ‘freeing of political prisoners.’”

An editorial from the Washington Post, however, gave the change a weak endorsement. It said, it was “little more than a policy tweak” and “a little more impatience about democracy [in Cuba with the Trump policy] isn’t such a bad thing.”

Although the Wall Street Journal has not offered an editorial on this change, its columnist on Latin American issues and a critic of normalization, Mary Anastasia O’Grady, welcomed Trump’s changes to U.S. policy regarding Cuba even though it was only “an important symbolic change . . . [whose] effects are likely to be minimal.” Instead she argues that Cuba needs a “high-profile truth project” to take “ an honest look at the historical record that acknowledges the regime’s many crimes against humanity.” She refers to the Cuba Archive Truth and Memory Project that has documented 934 executions mostly in the Escambray” Mountains, circa 1959-1964, in addition to 607 executions of political prisoners, most of whom are believed to have been captured in the Escambray. This Project is the work of the Free Society Project, Inc., a Washington, D.C. non-profit organization with a board of Cuban-Americans.

Minnesota’s leading newspaper, the StarTribune, opined that Trump was “unraveling years of work to build ties with a strategically placed neighbor. Instead, he’s choosing a misguided return to strict embargos on travel and trade that failed to achieve U.S. aims for more than half a century.” The editorial endorsed the efforts to promote Cuba normalization by Minnesota’s U.S. Senator, Amy Klobuchar (Dem.) and Representative Tom Emmer (Rep.) while commenting that Cuba “holds a strategic allure” for other nations “that could threaten American security.”

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[1] Assoc. Press, AP FACT CHECK: Not Much New in Trump’s Cuba Policy, N.Y. Times (June 17, 2017); Assoc. Press, Trump Rolls Back Some, Not All, Changes in US-Cuba Relations, N.Y. Times (June 17, 2017).

[2] Burnett, Travel Industry Scrambles After New Cuba Restrictions, N.Y. Times (June 16, 2017); Reuters, Cuban Military’s Tentacles Reach Deep Into Economy, N.Y. Times (June 15, 2017); Harwell & O’Connell, With shift on Cuba, Trump could undercut his company’s hotel-industry rivals, Wash. Post (June 15, 2017); Sabatini, Trump’s Imminent Cuba Problem, N.Y. Times (June 15, 2017).

 

[3] Assoc. Press, Republicans Divided as Trump Reverses Some Obama Cuba Policy, N.Y. Times (June 17, 2017); Press Release: Emmer: President’s Misguided Cuba Directive Undercuts Human Rights & Threatens National Security (June 16, 2017); Press Release: Crawford Opposes Cuba Policy Shift (June 16, 2017); Press Release: Flake Statement on Renewed Restrictions on U.S. Travel to Cuba (June 16, 2017); Press Release: Sen. Moran Statement on Administration’s Cuba Policy (June 16, 2017); Boozman, Statement on President Trump’s Cuba Policy (June 16, 2017); Press Release: Klobuchar Statement on Changes to Cuba Policy (June 16, 2017); Golden, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith to lead Minnesota trade trip to Cuba, StarTribune (June 16, 2017); Assoc. Press, Minnesota lieutenant governor visits Cuba, StarTribune (June 20, 2017); Reuters, Minnesota Will Still Engage With Cuba Despite Trump Setback, N.Y. Times (June 22, 2017)

[4] Kraut, Trump Is Wrong to Pull Back from Cuba, N.Y. Times (June 16, 2017); Letters to Editor, Trump’s reversal of U.S. Policy on Cuba, N.Y. Times (June 19, 2017); Pensack, Trump To Reverse Obama Openings to Cuba Under the False Flag of Human Rights, The Intercept (June 16, 2017).

[5] Previous posts about the Minnesota Orchestra’s trip to Cuba are listed in the “Cuba & Minnesota” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[6] Editorial, A Cynical Reversal on Cuba, N.Y. Times (June 16, 2017); Editorial, Trump just reopened the Cold War with Cuba. His excuse is disingenuous, L.A. Times (June 16, 2017); Editorial, Don’t get too worked up over Trump’s Cuba shift, It’s just a policy tweak, Wash. Post (June 17, 2017); Editorial, Trump’s Cuba retreat hurts U.S. and Minnesota, StarTribune (June 19, 2017); O’Grady, Cubans Need a Truth Commission, W.S.J. (June 18, 2017).

Another U.S. Event Promoting U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation

On February 10, 2016, another U.S. event was held to promote U.S.-Cuba reconciliation. This one at Washington, D.C.’s National Press Club was hosted by the U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba, whose launch a year ago was covered in a previous post. [1]

Now we look at an overview of its recent Annual Celebration Event followed by a re-posting of “Bipartisan Support for Ending the Embargo at a USACC Event” (Mar. 1, 2016) by Kaly Moot of the Latin American Working Group (LAWG), which reported on the event. 

Overview of the Event

The Coalition’s past and upcoming years were reviewed by its Chair, Devry Boughner Vorwerk, from member Cargill Incorporated of Minnesota, and its Vice Chair, Paul Johnson. Other members added comments in a discussion moderated by Anne Murray of Cargill; they were Kurt Shultz (U.S. Grains Council), Shawna Morris (National Milk Producers Federation), Chris Rosander (Sun-maid) and Ben Noble (USA Rice).

The Keynote  Address was provided by Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. Members of Congress also made comments; they were U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (Dem.,MN) and Heidi Heitkamp (Dem., ND) and U.S. Representatives Cal Emmer, (Rep., MN.), Rick Crawford (Rep., AK), Ted Poe (Rep., TX), Rodney Davis (Rep., IL), Cheri Bustos (Dem., IL) and Jim McGovern (Dem., MA). [2]

State perspectives were provided by Todd Haymore (Virginia Secretary of Agriculture), Richard Fordyce (Missouri Commissioner of Agriculture) and Sid Miller (Texas Agriculture Commissioner). This discussion was moderated by Mark Albertson of member Illinois Soybean Association.

The Cuban Ambassador to the U.S., Josê Ramón Cabańas, offered the views of his government in a discussion that was moderated by Phil Peters of the Lexington Institute.

LAWG’s Coverage of the Event

In a time when bipartisanship in Washington seems harder and harder to come by, it might seem surprising to hear that Democrats from Massachusetts, Minnesota and North Dakota shared not only a stage but also a message with Republicans from Texas and Arkansas.

But that is exactly what happened at an Annual Celebration Event hosted by the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba (USACC), a coalition of U.S.-based agricultural organizations and companies committed to normalizing trade relations between the United States and Cuba. The wide range of speakers at their one-year anniversary event included industry experts, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, the Cuban Ambassador to the United States, and both Democratic and Republican members of the House and Senate.

Although the speakers represented very diverse perspectives, each one managed to agree on one key point: that the United States’ embargo on Cuba –which represents more than five decades of failed policy–must be lifted. Cuba’s ambassador to the United States, José Ramón Cabañas, stressed the fact that Cuba cannot consider completely normalizing relations with the United States while the “bloqueo,” or economic sanctions, remain in place.

Cabañas called trade the “flesh and blood” of a normal relationship between countries and pointed out the fact that only one U.S. bank is authorized to do business with Cuba. However, Cabañas did praise the progress that has been made in the last year, especially with regard to what he called the most important accomplishment: the establishment of respectful dialogue between the U.S. and Cuban governments.

Other speakers offered a variety of reasons why the United States would benefit from full relations with Cuba and an end to the embargo, including increased agricultural trade, possibilities for free trade, advancement of national security interests, and the promotion of human rights.  

Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA) pointed out the rarity and power of the bipartisan effort, joking that it’s not often that he and Republican colleagues agree so closely on an issue. McGovern argued that a majority of American citizens and members of Congress, including Republicans, would like to see the end of the embargo. However, according to McGovern, efforts have been halted by a small but vocal minority of hard liners who promote the continuation of Cold War policies.

Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), a self-proclaimed incrementalist, called for doing what is immediately possible in this political environment, such as a bill that would permit private banks or individuals to use their own money to invest in trade with Cuba.

Many argued that the embargo had failed at removing Cuban leaders Fidel and Raúl Castro from power, and had instead impeded the United States from promoting human rights on the island through the tools of trade, engagement, and economic development.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, highlighted the wide variety of opportunities for trade and the mutual benefits for both countries, arguing that the embargo is unnecessary in this day and age, when normal trade relations could help improve diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana.

U.S. industry experts, particularly those in the U.S. agriculture sector, similarly argued that the restrictions imposed by the embargo currently prevent them from competing in the Cuban market where they say their businesses have many natural advantages, including proximity to the island and quality of goods. According to industry representatives, opening trade between the United States and Cuba could lead to mutual benefits for U.S. companies and the Cuban people, as well as the potential to share information and learn from Cuba research.

In order to advance trade between the United States and Cuba, Representative Rick Crawford (R-AR) promoted the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act (HR 3687), a bipartisan bill he introduced in the House to repeal restrictions on export financing and give producers access to Department of Agriculture marketing programs that help the United States compete in foreign markets. Congressman Crawford argued that the embargo has outlived its usefulness, punishing not the Cuban government but rather America’s agricultural producers (and other manufacturers) and the Cuban citizens.

While the speakers each presented different rationales for removing the embargo, as well as different strategies for doing so, all agreed that the embargo ought to be lifted.

Conclusion

I applaud the Coalition for its bipartisan, continuous efforts to seek an end to the U.S. embargo of Cuba and a fuller reconciliation of the two countries.

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[1] Other posts discussed the March 2015 visit to Cuba by a Coalition delegation and its June 2015 letter to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee reiterating the group’s opposition “to any effort to restrict trade and travel with the nation of Cuba—including possible amendments to appropriations bills or the State Department reauthorization bill.” Any such restriction “would be detrimental to the U.S. agricultural industry and the future of U.S.-Cuba relations.”

[2] Previous posts discussed bills to end the embargo that have been authored by Senator Klobuchar and Representative Emmer. A more recent post reviewed the current status of these and other bills to end the embargo.

Conference on “Prospects for United States Cuba Normalization, Commerce and Investment”

On February 18, 2016, the Cuba Consortium hosted its first annual Washington Conference: “Prospects for United-States Cuba Normalization, Commerce and Investment.” [1]

The speakers at the Conference included Penny Pritzker, U.S. Secretary of Commerce; Rodrigo Malmierca, Cuban Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment; Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture; Benjamin Rhodes, Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting; and Andrea Gacki, Assistant Director, Compliance and Enforcement, Office of Foreign Asset Control, U.S. Department of Treasury. Here is a summary of their remarks.

Secretary Pritzker

Secretary Pritzker
Secretary Pritzker

In her speech, Pritzker said that she and the U.S. delegation on their visit to Cuba last October learned more about how the Cuban economy works, including the rules and regulations that govern the import, export, and distribution of goods across the island. This information helped to guide the most recent (January 2016) U.S. regulatory changes regarding Cuba.

Those new U.S. regulations created a general policy of approval of exports for purposes such as: disaster preparedness and relief, education, agricultural production, artistic endeavors, food processing, public transportation, Cuban civil society, enhanced communications on the island, and civil aviation safety.

Those new regulations also provided that the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security will now review on a case-by-case basis proposed exports from U.S. companies to Cuban state-owned enterprises and government entities to determine if the export will meet the needs of the Cuban people. We had learned in our visit that in Cuba – as in many of our other trading partners around the world – it is necessary to work with state-owned enterprises in order to support the local private sector.

The corresponding new regulations from the U.S. Department of the Treasury permit financing for most authorized exports and travel authorizations.

In sum, whether environmental goods, telecommunications equipment, or products that private sector entrepreneurs need, the U.S. government’s regulatory changes permit a wide variety of trade and commercial activities.

However, if the U.S. is to truly maximize the benefits of our regulatory changes for the Cuban people, the Cuban government needs to make it easier for Cuban citizens to start their own businesses, purchase goods through wholesale markets, engage in external trade, secure credit, and access information online. These steps include making Cuban economic and business regulations publicly available; providing clear public guidance on the relevant government units and officials that are empowered to make decisions on potential transactions; and authorizing Cuban imports of U.S. products that are now allowed by U.S. regulations.

The bilateral civil aviation agreement signed on February 16 is an example of what we have accomplished together.

“The U.S. embargo continues to be a roadblock to increasing engagement between our countries. As President Obama reaffirmed during his State of the Union address, our Administration strongly supports lifting the embargo, and we will continue to call on Congress to repeal it immediately.”

Minister Malmierca

Minister Malmierca
Minister Malmierca

Malmierca asserted that President Obama has the legal authority to adopt additional regulations that would permit Cuba to use the U.S. Dollar in international financial transactions, authorize Cuban exports to the U.S. and allow U.S. companies to invest in other Cuban sectors besides telecommunications.

The U.S. regulatory changes to date are positive, but they are not enough. For example, he said, since the December 2014 joint U.S.-Cuba announcement of normalization, six financial institutions have been fined nearly two billion dollars for trading with Cuba. These fines and the ban on the use of the U.S. Dollar have had serious negative effects on Cuba.

The previous day (February 17), Malmierca led a Cuban delegation at a meeting with Secretary Pritzker and other officials of the U.S. Department of Commerce. [2] On that occasion he made many of the same points just mentioned. He also pointed out that Cuba does not apply any coercive measures against U.S. companies or businesspeople and, in fact, welcomes them to do business on the island.

At that prior meeting in response to a question by Secretary Pritzker, Malmierca said that the next meeting of the Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba will seek to define the priority economic sectors for long-term development. “The most complex issue is that Cuba wants all these changes to be implemented without affecting the population; we do not want to apply shock measures or measures that may have a negative effect.”

This upcoming Congress will address the role of the market in the Cuban economy and the role of foreign investment in its economic development. This will seek to further consolidate changes adopted by Cuba before December 17, 2014, which are irreversible. “All the measures we are adopting, and which were sovereignly chosen long before December 17, 2014, . . . will also contribute to making the decisions we are making together more feasible,” he concluded.

Secretary Vilsack

Secretary Vilsack
Secretary Vilsack

Secretary Vilsack also criticized the U.S. embargo (blockade), noting that it restricts opportunities for trade between Cuba and the U.S. One area of such negative impact was the U.S. helping Cuba’s organic and urban farming practices.

The U.S. Agriculture Department is looking to identify business opportunities through a fund to which several U.S. agricultural companies voluntarily contribute. This fund, however, cannot use federal resources to explore business opportunities with the island, as is common practice, thus obstructing U.S. companies’ access to the Cuban market.

Although a U.S. law in 2000 authorized sales of agricultural products to Cuba, it required Cuba to pay in cash in advance, which has had a severe negative impact on such U.S. exports.

Associate Director Gacki

Associate Director Gacki
Associate Director Gacki

Gacki was unable to identify the specific law which prohibits Cuba’s use of the U.S. Dollar in international transactions, but said the Treasury Department currently was investigating whether there were other executive measures President Obama could adopt to reduce the adverse impacts on Cuba of restrictions on its use of the U.S. Dollar.

Assistant to the President Rhodes

Assistant to President Rhodes
Assistant to President Rhodes

Rhodes confirmed that Obama still has broad executive powers to make further and more substantial modifications to the U.S. embargo (blockade) policy.

Rhodes said that while the embargo policy may have had relevance in the past, the island is changing as are opinions of some Cuban-Americans. In addition, the increased numbers of Americans visiting Cuba are seeing why the embargo should be ended.

The Obama Administration, he added, is reviewing other potential regulatory changes that could be made within the existing legal framework.Thus, he believed it is possible to do more before the end of this administration to generate the necessary momentum to definitively end the embargo.

Conference Background

The Cuba Consortium is an assembly of companies, non-profit organizations, investors, academics, and entrepreneurs organized to track and examine the normalization process in both countries and to inform and prepare its members for opportunities to engage Cuba. They are complemented by foreign policy, political, economic, international development, legal, and cultural experts who have specialized knowledge of the diplomacy, politics, and economics of the normalization process.

The Consortium’s Advisory Board is co-chaired by Senators Nancy Kassebaum Baker and Tom Daschle and includes Dr. Michael Adams, Lon Augustenborg, Richard Blum, Sheila Burke, Tomas Diaz de la Rubia, Senator Byron Dorgan, Rodney Ferguson, Senator Bill Frist, Dr. Helene Gayle, Maurice Greenberg, Senator Bob Kerrey, Linda Klein, Fred Malek, Janet Napolitano, Thomas Ross, Senator Olympia Snowe, The Honorable Ellen Tauscher, Bill Weldon, and Rob Wilder.

The Consortium was organized by the Howard Baker Forum, which was founded by former Senator Howard Baker to provide a platform for examining specific, immediate, critical issues affecting the nation’s progress at home and its relations abroad under a philosophy of reasoned consensus, founded upon an agreed set of facts.

Conclusion

The Consortium and its conference join the U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba and Engage Cuba as important bipartisan U.S. efforts to promote U.S.-Cuba reconciliation. I applaud all of their efforts.

On the same day of this conference, the White House announced that President Obama and Michelle Obama will be visiting Cuba on March 21 and 22. The White House Press Secretary said, “In Cuba, the President will work to build on the progress we have made toward normalization of relations with Cuba – advancing commercial and people-to-people ties that can improve the well-being of the Cuban people, and expressing our support for human rights. In addition to holding a bilateral meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro, President Obama will engage with members of civil society, entrepreneurs and Cubans from different walks of life.”

The previously mentioned Benjamin Rhodes also issued a similar statement that also reviewed the various steps towards normalization since December 17, 2014.

Before President Obama’s trip, I anticipate and hope that the U.S. will announce additional steps in the process of normalization, including:

  • issue new regulations allowing or expanding Cuba’s ability to use the U.S. Dollar in international transactions, authorize Cuban exports to the U.S. and allow U.S. companies to invest in other Cuban sectors besides telecommunications;
  • announce the ending of special U.S. immigration benefits for Cubans, including the policy of allowing entry without visas into the U.S. of Cubans arriving by land (the dry feet policy); and
  • announce further steps in the process of resolving U.S. claims against Cuba for expropriation of property owned by U.S. persons without compensation.

In addition, it is hoped that before President Obama’s trip Cuba will make Cuban economic and business regulations publicly available; provide clear public guidance on the relevant government units and officials that are empowered to make decisions on potential transactions; and authorize Cuban imports of U.S. products that are now allowed by U.S. regulations. In addition, some improvement in Cuban human rights would be helpful, an objective apparently to be pursued in Havana next week by Secretary of State John Kerry. ==========================================

[1] Gomez, Rapprochement moving forward, Granma (Feb. 22, 2016). Amazingly a 2/23/16 Google search of “Cuba Consortium” did not reveal any U.S. media coverage of this Conference. Secretary Pritzker’s speech was on the website of the U.S. Treasury Department.

[2] Gomez, Malmierca: Obama has support to continue dismantling the blockade, Granma (Feb. 18, 2016).

 

 

 

 

Bipartisan Bill To End Embargo of Cuba Introduced in House of Representatives           

Rep. Tom Emmer
Rep. Tom Emmer

On July 28 Representatives Tom Emmer (Rep., MN) and Kathy Castor (Dem., FL) introduced the Cuba Trade Act of 2015 (H.R.3238) to end the U.S. embargo of Cuba. The bill is cosponsored by Republican Representatives Ralph Abraham (LA), Justin Amash (MI), Charles Boustany, Jr. (LA), Reid Ribble (WI) and Mark Sanford (SC).[1]

According to Emmer, “Today marks a new and exciting chapter for the U.S. – Cuba relationship. The American people overwhelmingly support lifting the Cuba embargo. Along with the Cuban people, Americans are ready for a fresh start and new opportunities for increasing trade, advancing the cause of human rights and ushering in direly needed reforms. This legislation will improve our position within the region, giving the U.S. a seat at the table and increased leverage as we support political transformations beginning to occur in Cuba. The time has come for a change in our policy towards Cuba, and I am ready to work with my colleagues in Congress on policies that are beneficial to both the American and Cuban people.”

Rep. Kathy Castor
Rep. Kathy Castor

Co-author Castor had a similar message. She said, “The United States and Cuba have taken historic actions this year to set our countries on a more productive path forward for citizens of both nations and turn the page on the outdated 50 year policy of isolation. This [bill is an] important step forward will advance human rights and lift the fortunes of families and entrepreneurs on both sides of the Florida straits. Lifting the embargo and reestablishing historic trade ties with Cuba will be a boost to our port and local small businesses in Tampa Bay.” Her press release added that her district is “home to a large Cuban-American population with historic ties that date back to the 1800s.”[2]

This bill is a companion to the Senate’s bill by the same name (S.1543) that was introduced by Kansas’ Republican Senator Jerry Moran and Maine’s Independent Senator Angus King,,[3] and both bills would fully lift the trade embargo with Cuba by granting the U.S. private sector the freedom to trade with Cuba, while protecting taxpayer interest from any risk associated with such trade.

To protect U.S. taxpayers, the bills have three features. First, they would allow all private persons, entities or organizations to spend private funds for Cuba trade promotion and market development without the use of any taxpayer dollars. Second, commodity check-off programs, which are producer funded, would be allowed to be used. Third, private credit from private institutions could be extended to Cuba, without risk to U.S. taxpayers.

The House already had three bills to end the embargo, all offered by Democratic Representatives: (i) H.R. 403: Free Trade with Cuba Act (Rep. Charles Rangel (NY) with 29 Democratic cosponsors as of July 27); (ii) H.R.274: United States-Cuba Normalization Act of 2015 (Rep. Bobby Rush (IL) with no cosponsors as of July 27); and (iii) H.R.735: Cuba Reconciliation Act (Rep. Jose Serrano (NY) with 12 Democratic cosponsors as of July 27).[4]

All of these previous House bills were assigned to the following seven House committees: Agriculture; Energy and Commerce; Financial Services; Foreign Affairs; Judiciary; Oversight and Government Reform; and Ways and Means. Presumably the bill just introduced by Representatives Emmer and Castor will be similarly assigned. As of July 27, none of these committees had taken any action on the earlier bills.

Given control of the House is in the hands of the Republican Party, maybe the just-introduced bill by Republican Tom Emmer will have a more receptive consideration by these committees.

Representative Emmer in the first six months of his first term in the House serves on the Agriculture and Foreign Affairs committees and already has voiced interest in normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations as indicated by the following:

  1. His website‘s page on “Foreign Affairs”states, “Regions such as Latin America, Africa and Asia present us with emerging opportunities to increase trade and diplomatic relations.”
  2. Early this year Emmer made his first trip to Cuba with a congressional delegation and said the trip had convinced him that the Cuban people are ready to do business with America. “Before the trip, you can be academic about [the issue],” he said. “Once you see the people, it’s not about leadership as much as it’s about people. They’re hungry for the next step, hungry for access to the marketplace.”[5]
  3. In early February Emmer let it be known that if certain conditions were met, he could support lifting the embargo even though he thinks President Obama could have been more open about his initial talks with Cuban officials. “By all accounts the Cuban people are worse off today than when [the embargo] started. So clearly that’s not working,” he said. “And I’m supportive of engaging in diplomacy, starting to re-engage in diplomatic relations with Cuba, to begin that process to hopefully someday getting to normalize that relationship. But it’s two separate things. One, it’s diplomacy, and down the road is normalization.”[6]
  4. In late May Emmer made his second trip to the island, again with another congressional delegation, this one led by Representative Mark Sanford (Rep., SC). Afterwards Emmer said, “The experience for me, is to learn it, to understand it, and see how it fits with Minnesota’s economy.” He also learned “the Cuban people, they love Americans.” [7]
  5. After the July 1 announcement that the two countries would reopen embassies on July 20, Emmer stated he sees “a real opportunity for a positive, open trading partnership between these two countries. The potential benefits for Minnesota exporters are immense, and what is good for Minnesota is good for our country.”[8]

Upon introducing his bill to end the embargo, Emmer stated that he decided to do so after his second trip to Cuba. “I understand there’s a lot of pain on both sides of this issue that goes back many decades, something that a kid from Minnesota is not going to necessarily be able to understand. But I believe this is in the best interests of the Cuban people. This isn’t about the Cuban government — it’s about people on the street looking for more opportunity and to improve their quality of life.”[9]

Conclusion

Now the Minnesota congressional delegation is almost unanimous in supporting U.S.-Cuba normalization and ending the U.S. embargo of the island.

Our two Democratic U.S. Senators (Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken), our five Democratic Representatives (Keith Ellison, Rick Nolan, Betty McCollum, Collin Peterson and Tim Walz) and now our Republican Representative Emmer are on record as authors or cosponsors of bills to end the embargo.

In addition, our Republican Representative Erik Paulsen has made statements that at least do not indicate opposition to these measures. He said in early February, “We should be looking at opportunities to open up trade between the United States and Cuba so we can export more American goods and services. However, the President should have engaged Congress before making concessions to the Cuban government.” And after the announcement of the reopening of embassies, he observed, “A new [U.S.] embassy needs to focus on boosting open markets so the Cuban people can access more American goods and services.” Paulsen’s district, by the way, includes the headquarters of Cargill, the leader of the U.S. Coalition for Cuba, which is a strong advocate for ending the embargo and for normalization.[10]

The lone exception to this Minnesota consensus appears to be our other Congressman, Republican John Kline. In early February he stated he was “not confident the Administration will follow through on its promises to hold the Castro dictatorship regime accountable, and I’m concerned about revisiting relations with Cuba until all Cubans enjoy a free democracy.” After the announcement of the reopening of embassies, his spokesman said, “While congressman Kline supports new opportunities for American businesses and has a strong record of supporting trade and efforts to grow jobs in America, he wants all Cubans to enjoy a free democracy but is not confident this administration will follow through on its promises to hold the Castro dictatorship regime accountable,” [11]

As a Minnesota advocate for U.S.-Cuba reconciliation, I am proud that our congressional delegation is so supportive of ending the embargo and for normalization. I entreat Representatives Paulsen and Kline to join their colleagues in this endeavor.

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[1] Press Release, Emmer, Castor Introduce Legislation to Lift Cuba Embargo (July 28, 2015)   Emmer’s website contains endorsements from the Minnesota Farm Bureau, National foreign Trade Council, National Farmers Union, Minnesota Farmers Union, U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba, National Turkey Federation, Greater Tampa Area Chamber of Commerce, Council of the Americas, Arkansas Rice Growers Association, Engage Cuba, Cuba Now, Washington Office of Latin America and CoBank.(See also Sherry, Rep. Tom Emmer leads Republican effort to lift Cuba embargo, StarTribune (July 28, 2015)(Democratic Representative Betty McCollum today indicatated her support for Emmer’s bill).)

[2] Castor, Press Release: U.S. Reps. Castor and Republican colleagues file bill today to end Cuba embargo (July 28, 2015)

[3] As reported in a prior post, the Moran-King bill (S.1543) was introduced on June 10 with Senator John Boozman (Rep., AK) as cosponsor and was referred to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. That committee also has the earlier bill to end the embargo– S.491: Freedom to Export to Cuba Act of 2015—introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN). As of July 27 that bill had 21 bipartisan cosponsors, but that committee had taken no action on either bill.

[4] These bills were discussed in a prior post, which was updated in another post.

[5] Brodey, Why is Minnesota’s congressional delegation so focused on Cuba? MINNPOST (June 22, 2015).

[6] Henry, Emmer on Cuba embargo: ’Clearly that’s not working,’ MINNPOST (Feb. 6, 2015).

[7] Demczyk, Emmer Details Cuba Visit, KNSI Radio (June 1, 2015), This trip was discussed in a prior post.

[8] Spencer, Embassy reopening could help efforts to end Cuban trade embargo, StarTribune (July 1, 2015).

[9] Gomez, Emmer files bill to end U.S. embargo of Cuba, SC Times (July 28, 2015).

[10] Spencer (n. 8).

[11] Henry (n. 6); Spencer (n. 8).

New Senate Bill To End U.S. Embargo of Cuba

Senator Jerry Moran
Senator Jerry Moran
Senator Angus King
Senator Angus King

On June 10, 2015, Senator Jerry Moran (Rep., KS) introduced S.1543 Cuba Trade Act of 2015 to end the U.S. embargo of Cuba. With Senator Angus King (Ind., ME) as the cosponsor, the bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, which has not taken any action on S.491, the bill to end the embargo that was introduced in February by Senator Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN) that was discussed in a prior post.

More specifically, S.1543 repeals restrictions on trade with Cuba under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996; and the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000.

In addition, S.1543 has provisions whereby the federal government may not obligate or expend any funds to promote trade with or develop markets in Cuba, except for certain commodity promotion programs. These were important provisions. Moran’s office called them “taxpayer protection provisions” that observers see as ways to win over reluctant Republicans support for ending the embargo.

Senator Moran’s press release [1] said the bill “would grant the private sector the freedom to export U.S. goods and services to Cuba while protecting U.S. taxpayers from any risk or exposure associated with such trade.” Cuba, Senator Moran stated, was “a natural market for our nation’s farmers and ranchers. By lifting the embargo and opening up the market for U.S. agricultural commodities, we will not only boost the U.S. economy but also help bring about reforms in the repressive Cuban government. I am hopeful that increasing the standard of living among Cuban citizens will enable them to make greater demands on their own government to increase individual and political rights.”[2]

Senator King added, “For far too long, the Cuban people and American businesses have suffered at the hands of an antiquated trade embargo. . . . The Cuba Trade Act would finally end our outdated embargo policy and establish a new economic relationship with Cuba that will support increased trade for American businesses and help the Cuban economy and its people to flourish.”

Moran’s press release also observed, “Nearly 150 U.S. organizations have voiced their strong support for commonsense reforms related to U.S.-Cuba relations including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Foreign Trade Council, the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba, the National Association of Wheat Growers and the National Farmers Union.”

I hope that having a Republican author of a bill to end the embargo and this bill’s taxpayer protection provisions will enhance the chances of this Republican-controlled Senate endorsing the ending of the embargo. And then enhance the chances of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives doing the same.

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[1] Senator King issued a similar press release.

[2] In early January Senator Moran spoke in favor of ending the embargo at the early January 2015 launching of the United States Agricultural Coalition for Cuba that favors ending the embargo.

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Holds Hearing About Cuba

On May 20th the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing, “U.S.-Cuban Relations—The Way Forward.”[1]

 Chairman Corker’s Opening Statement

Senator Bob Corker
Senator Bob Corker

The Committee Chair, Bob Corker (Rep., TN) opened by stating that the hearing would focus “on the strategy behind the President’s significant shift in U.S. policy towards Cuba.” Even though this shift “has been welcomed in Latin America and the Caribbean . . . significant differences of opinion exist in the [U.S.] over the extent to which this change in policy will advance U.S. interests and improve circumstances for the Cuban people.”

Therefore, according to Corker, the strategic issue was “how our nation can best engage strategically with the region and beyond to help Cuba rejoin the mainstream of the Americas and offer its citizens the same rights and freedoms enjoyed by citizens of other countries in the region.”

Ranking Member Cardin’s Opening Statement

Senator Ben Cardin
Senator Ben Cardin

The Ranking Member of the Committee, Senator Ben Cardin (Dem., MD), stated, “The President’s action [on December 17th] brought with it a new opportunity to forge a bilateral relationship that will strengthen our efforts to advance and defend U.S. national interests, and will allow our government and our citizens to expand support for the Cuban people. Today’s hearing provides an important opportunity to review the advances achieved under the Administration’s new Cuba policy and to understand the strategy for moving forward.  Without a doubt, this is a complicated process and it will take time to achieve the progress we want to see.”

“[W]e all stand together in our aspirations to see the Cuban people have the opportunity to build a society where human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected, where democratic values and political pluralism are tolerated, and where individuals can work unobstructed to improve their living conditions. We also share concerns about critical issues, such as the Cuban government’s ongoing abuse of human rights and the presence of American fugitives in Cuba, especially those wanted for the murder of U.S. law enforcement officers.”

“But, the central question is: how can we best advance these aspirations while also addressing these concerns? It goes without saying that our previous policy did not achieve the progress that we wanted to see, and so a new approach is needed.”

“President Obama has laid out a new path based on the belief that principled engagement will bring more results. I think that this is the right path for the following reasons:

“First, for far too long, the Cuban government has used U.S. policy as an excuse to justify its shortcomings and the hardships the Cuban people face.  The Cuban government also has exploited U.S. policy for diplomatic gains, focusing international debate about what the U.S. should do, rather than about what Cuba needs to do to better provide for its citizens.”

“Second, despite differences we may have with a government, our foreign policy should always endeavor to support that country’s people to the greatest degree possible.  Our disagreements with the Cuban government are well known and many.  But, over time, we have allowed those disagreements to get in the way of developing a strategy that utilizes all of our resources to empower the people of Cuba.”

“I have no doubt that the dynamism of American society will make a positive contribution to empowering the Cuban people and provide them with the information they need to build the future of their country.”

“Third, the Administration’s new Cuba policy will provide the U.S., and especially our diplomats, with new tools to engage directly with the Cuban government to have principled and frank discussions about the issues we disagree about and how we might work together better on issues of common interest.”

Testimony of Assistant Secretary of State Jacobson

Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson
Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson

Roberta Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, testified, “[W]e have begun to see the Administration’s new approach to Cuba providing space for other nations in the hemisphere and around the world to focus on promoting respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cuba and elsewhere in the region. This was illustrated at the Summit of the Americas in Panama last April. Engagement by the President and the Secretary at the Summit re-invigorated our momentum on a variety of issues.”

“Our new approach has drawn greater attention to the potential for greater political and economic freedom for the Cuban people and the gap between Cuba and other countries in the Hemisphere. More Americans are travelling to Cuba, getting past the rhetoric, meeting Cubans, and building shared understanding between our people. We have seen practical cooperation in our official dialogues with Cuba on issues in our national interest like maritime and aviation safety, telecommunications, and environmental cooperation.

“Our future discussions on law enforcement cooperation, coupled with the ongoing migration talks, will expand the avenues available to seek the return of American fugitives from justice as well as the return of Cubans residing illegally in the United States. The same is true for future talks on human rights and settling American claims for expropriated properties. Most importantly, the President’s new approach makes clear that the United States can no longer be blamed as an obstacle to progress on things like access to information and connecting Cubans to the world.”

Nevertheless, “significant differences remain between our two governments. We continue to raise our concerns regarding democracy, human rights, and freedom of expression. And we will seek to engage with all Cubans to gain their perspectives on the best way forward for the country.”

“Our policy towards Cuba is based on a clear-eyed strategy that empowers the Cuban people to determine their own future by creating new economic opportunities and increasing their contact with the outside world. That is why we made it easier for Cuban-Americans to travel and send remittances to their families in Cuba, and opened new pathways for academic, religious, and people-to-people exchanges. These changes create powerful new connections between our two countries and help the nascent private sector in Cuba, which is already an agent of positive change on the island. The steps we have implemented build on this foundation by increasing authorized travel, authorized commerce, and the flow of information to, from, and within Cuba.”

“Our new approach emphasizes targeted forms of commerce that offer economic opportunity to independent Cuban entrepreneurs or, like expanded communications, benefit all Cubans. Comprehensive changes in our economic relationship will require Congressional action to lift the embargo. The President has urged Congress to begin that effort. In the meantime, we are using available policy tools to promote a prosperous, democratic, and stable Cuba.”

“In a short period of time, we have already started to see U.S. enterprises seizing the new opportunities. The regulatory changes we announced are intended to increase the financial and material resources available to the Cuban people and the emerging Cuban private sector. They also enable U.S. companies to offer expanded telecommunications and internet services in ways that could help Cuban civil society members advance their aspirations and collectively become more prosperous.”

“Regarding the Administration’s decision to rescind Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, as President Obama said, ‘throughout this process, our emphasis has been on the facts.’ . . . We will continue to have differences with the Cuban government, but our concerns over a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions do not relate to any of the criteria relevant to that designation.”

“While progress has been made in our efforts to reestablish diplomatic relations, there is more to do to ensure a future U.S. Embassy will be able to function more like other diplomatic missions elsewhere in the world and foreign diplomatic missions in Cuba. Even today, under challenging circumstances, our diplomats do their very best to represent the interests and values of the United States, just as we do in hundreds of places around the world. Our engagement with the broadest range of Cubans will expand once we establish diplomatic relations with Cuba.”

Testimony of State Department Counselor Shannon

Counselor Thomas A. Shannon, Jr.
Counselor Thomas A. Shannon, Jr.

State Department Counselor Thomas A. Shannon, Jr. testified, “My purpose today is to address the regional context in which . . . [the U.S. Cuba] policy is unfolding, and to lay out some of the strategic dimensions of our diplomacy.”

“The decision to engage with Cuba and seek normalization of our bilateral relationship attempts to create a new terrain on which to pursue a future that meets our interests and corresponds to our values. Our commitment to democracy and human rights, and our desire and hope that the Cuban people will know the benefits of liberty and become the sovereigns of their own destiny, is no less for our action.”

“The President has been clear about the commitment in our Cuba policy to our enduring and fundamental principles of self-government and individual liberty. However, he has also been clear about our inability to effect significant change in Cuba acting alone across so many decades. Instead, he determined that our efforts would be more effective if we could position Cuba squarely within an inter-American system that recognizes democracy as a right that belongs to all the peoples of our Hemisphere, believes that democracy is essential to the political, economic, and social development of our peoples, and has the juridical instruments, treaties, and agreements to give shape, form, and weight to these commitments. It was our determination that this kind of environment would be the most propitious to support the only legitimate agent of peaceful and enduring political change in Cuba: the Cuban people.”

“The Americas, and specifically Latin America, has anticipated many of the events that are shaping our world. It is a region that has moved largely from authoritarian to democratic government, from closed to open economies, from exclusive to inclusive societies, from autarkical development to regional integration, and from isolation to globalization.”

“Latin America is the first developing region of the world to commit itself explicitly to democratic governance through the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the first to build a democratic model of development, and the first to establish regional structures to promote and protect human rights.”

“While creating a broad base of shared political values, Latin America has also constructed shared economic understandings and a commitment by many of the most successful countries in the Hemisphere to market economies and free trade. In the process, it has built sub-regional integration and political dialogue through organizations like the Common Market of the South, the Andean Community, the Union of South American Nations, and the Central American Integration System, all the while preserving larger hemispheric institutions, such as the Organization of American States and the Summit of the Americas process, that connect Latin America to the Caribbean and North America.”

“As Latin America advances into the 21st century, it is undergoing a second generation of change. Politically, it has consolidated democratic government and is strengthening democratic states and societies. This has opened up political institutions to new voices and actors, deepening the representativeness of many Latin American governments and challenging traditional elites and interests. In some countries, weak democratic institutions have not been able to contain the social energy unlocked by democratization, leading to populism and political polarization as groups struggle for control of the state. As troubling as this phenomenon can be, it does not define the democratization of the region but instead presents a challenge for the region to show how it can address such incidents through the organizations and institutional mechanisms it has created.”

“Economically, Latin America is building innovative integration mechanisms such as the Pacific Alliance, and reaching into Asia and North America to find new and important economic partners. We have FTAs with 12 countries in the Hemisphere, and the continued globalization of Latin America is driven not only by the regions abundant commodities, especially food and energy, but also by growing middle classes that have created attractive markets for manufactured goods and services.”

“The profound changes unleashed in Latin America show clearly that democracy and markets can deliver economic development and address longstanding social inequities such as poverty, inequality, and social exclusion. In effect, Latin America has used democracy and markets to launch peaceful social revolutions that are transforming many countries in important and long-lasting ways. Our ability to promote profound and dramatic change in Latin America is an example of what the United States can accomplish through diplomacy and engagement.”

“If we accomplished such a profound transformation in our Hemisphere through engagement, why not try the same approach with Cuba? And better yet, why not try it in partnership with countries and institutions that are now prepared to work with us because of the President’s new policy?”

“Cuba today finds itself part of a dynamic, vibrant region where transformative change has been the watchword for several decades. And it finds itself in a region where the momentum of that change will continue to reshape political, economic, and social landscapes. In such an environment, the Cuban people will find many models and partners from which to learn and choose. We should be one of those models and partners.”

Questioning Assistant Secretary Jacobson and Counselor Shannon

Of the 11 Committee members in attendance, six made comments and asked questions supportive of U.S.-Cuba reconciliation: Ben Cardin (Dem., MD), Barbara Boxer (Dem., CA), Tom Udall (Dem., NM), Tim Kaine (Dem., VA), Edward Markey (Dem., MA) and Jeff Flake (Rep., AZ).

With Chairman Corker being judiciously noncommittal in his comments, the other four in attendance were hostile to the reconciliation: Bob Menendez (Dem., NJ), Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), Ron Johnson (Rep., WI) and David Perdue (Rep., GA).

In response to Senator Corker’s opening question about whether to date the U.S. had obtained any changes in Cuba policies, Jacobson implicitly said none by emphasizing that the U.S. actions to increase the ability of U.S. nationals to travel to Cuba and to send remittances to Cubans were assisting the latters’ ability to form businesses and over time to be agents for change. The same was true, she said, of new U.S. policies to encourage U.S. businesses to export telecommunications equipment to the island. Shannon added that the new U.S. policies helped the U.S. with other countries in Latin America, especially within the Organization of the American States (OAS) and the Summit of the Americas.

Jacobson also mentioned the OAS and the United Nations as well as continued U.S. annual reports about human rights as means the U.S. would use to assess whether Cuba makes improvements in human rights. She also reiterated her point about U.S. travel and investment in Cuba as instruments for aiding such improvements, all in response to a question from Senator Rubio.

Rubio also pressed Jacobson to concede that the U.S. and Cuba had different notions of human rights. She did so with respect to free speech, peaceful assembly and elections, but she did not point out the U.S.-Cuba agreement on many theoretical issues of human rights as discussed in a prior post.

Another major Rubio argument was increased American travel to Cuba merely benefited the Cuban government and military, which owned, in whole or in part, hotels and car rental companies. The amount of such travel to Cuban bed and breakfasts in private homes was insignificant and, in any event, such private establishments had to pay big fees to the government for such businesses. Moreover, Rubio continued, many of these hotels and other properties had been owned by Americans and others and stolen by the Cuban government. Therefore, Rubio said, the U.S. should not be promoting such increased travel.

Senator Boxer responded to this argument by pointing out that the U.S. permits travel to Viet Nam, China and Russia where hotels and other businesses are owned by the state. She also pointed out that direct interactions between U.S. and Cuban citizens should encourage the latter to want more rights. In addition, Boxer said, the rapprochement was improving cooperation regarding Cuba for the U.S. from Europe and others in this Hemisphere. An example was Panama’s reaction to Cuban efforts to suppress free speech at the recent Summit of the Americas in that country.

However, I was surprised that no one responded to Rubio’s argument about hotels that had been stolen by the Cuban government. Indeed, there are substantial damage claims against the Cuban government for its uncompensated expropriation of property, and this is one of the claims the U.S. now is asserting against Cuba, and a prior post argued for submitting these and other damage claims by both countries to an international arbitration.

Senator Johnson focused on provisions of the Libertad Act (a/k/a the Helms-Burton Act) imposing preconditions on U.S. relaxing sanctions against Cuba, presumably as a predicate for an argument that President Obama’s easing of certain sanctions was unauthorized and, therefore, illegal. Jacobson pointed out, however, that other laws had exceptions to sanctions and provided authority to the President to do what he has done. Moreover, she said, the Administration had asked Congress to enact legislation repealing the U.S. embargo of the island, including the Libertad Act.

Senator Menendez, a Cuban-American and a vigorous opponent of the reconciliation, barely concealed his anger over the change in U.S. policies. Since December 17th, he argued, there has been no improvement in Cuban human rights, and in fact there has been a deterioration on this subject.

Senator Perdue reiterated Menendez’ argument about human rights and asserted that Cuba was still a state supporter of terrorism. It allegedly was helping Islamist terrorists, had shipped arms to North Korea that were intercepted in Panama and had another ship with explosives that on February 28, 2015, was intercepted by Colombia. Counselor Shannon pointed out that this Colombian government action was an example of the increased cooperation the U.S. now is obtaining from others in Latin America as a result of the new U.S. policies about Cuba.

Senator Kaine stated that there are roughly 600 bilateral relations in the Western Hemisphere and that the only one without normal diplomatic relations is U.S.-Cuba. In addition, there are no inter-state wars in the Hemisphere and the only civil war is in Colombia, which is the subject of peace negotiations now being held in, and aided by, Cuba. Counselor Shannon concurred, saying this was a remarkable achievement for the Hemisphere going along with its economic and democratic improvements.

 Conclusion

This hearing, in my opinion, did not really provide any new information about the issues or the positions of the participants, which probably why it was not covered in U.S. news media.[2]

The hearing and the lack of news coverage underscored the importance of U.S. citizens who support the reconciliation efforts to convey their opinions to their Senators and Representatives and of the formation and actions of groups like the U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba and Engage Cuba Coalition.

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[1] This post is based upon a video of the hearing and on the embedded citations to the opening statements of Senators Corker and Cardin, the testimony of Assistant Secretary Jacobson and Counselor Shannon and to some of the comments by Senators Rubio, Menendez and Perdue.

[2] This brief article is the only one found in a Google search: Gomez, Senators question wisdom of Obama’s Cuba policy, USA Today (May 20, 2015),

Another U.S. Coalition for U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation

Engage Cuba, another U.S. coalition supporting U.S.-Cuba reconciliation, is to be officially launched on June 15th.[1]

This new nonprofit advocacy group will lobby Congress to repeal the ban against doing business in or traveling to the island nation. Its goal is to create an “umbrella organization”, bringing together people from different sectors, which have different approaches and perspectives, but agree upon this reconciliation. One of its financial backers is the National Foreign Trade Council, which represents major corporations and lobbies for expansion of U.S. international trade and which has its own broader coalition (USA*Engage) against U.S. unilateral trade sanctions, including those against Cuba.

The president of Engage Cuba, James Williams, has said, “There is a broad consensus emerging from business, agriculture, policy experts, and civil society generally that Congress must end antiquated trade and travel restrictions on Americans that stand in the way of more meaningful engagement with the Cuban people.” Moreover, he has said, the Republican Party now controlling both houses of Congress has no reason to oppose this change, not even out of principle: “Republicans believe in the power of the free market and in speaking out in support of America’s values anywhere and everywhere.”

An example of such Republican support was a January 2015 joint letter to President Obama from seven prominent Republican Senators (Jeff Flake (AZ), Rand Paul (KY), Jerry Moran (KS), Pat Roberts (KS), Mike Enzi (WY), John Boozman (AR) and Susan Collins (ME). They said, “With the significance of your recent announcements related to Cuba, we look forward to Congress turning its attention toward modernizing U.S.-Cuba policy to the benefit of U.S. citizens and the Cuban people alike. Congress must play an integral role in reforming our policy toward Cuba.”

Engage Cuba’s participants include several prominent Republicans. A top advisor is Steven Law, former Deputy Secretary of Labor in the George W. Bush Administration and current president of the American Crossroads super PAC, which backs Republican candidates and causes. Kristen Chadwick, former Special Assistant to President George W. Bush for Legislative Affairs, will manage much of the lobbying in the House of Representatives. Billy Piper, a former top aide to Sen. Mitch McConnell, will manage the Senate lobbying.

The group also has the involvement of Democratic supporters. Luke Albee worked as an aide to Senator Patrick Leahy (Dem., VT), a strong supporter of the policy change towards Cuba. Luis Miranda, the former White House director of Hispanic media and an aide to President Obama, helped conceive of the group.

An earlier coalition with a similar purpose is the United States Agricultural Coalition for Cuba that was launched in January of this year and that in early March organized a large delegation’s visit to Cuba.

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[1] This post is based upon the following: Tau, Top GOP, Democratic Consultants to Push Congress to End Cuba Embargo, W.S.J. (April 16, 2015); Ortiz, Engage Cuba Advocates Normal U.S.-Cuba Relations, OnCuba (April 27, 2015); Gomez, A coalition against the blockade in the corner of the white house, Granma (May 20, 2015) (Google translation). The group’s website does not yet have any substantive content.