U.S. and Cuba Continue To Hold Dialogues on Common Issues

On July 10 and 11, 2018, the U.S. and Cuba in Washington D.C. continued to hold bilateral meetings. On July 10, the subject was law enforcement. On the 11th, migration. As was true for other such meetings, each country released statements about the meetings. Here is a summary of those statements.

Law Enforcement Dialogue[1]

U.S. Statement

According to the U.S. State Department, the two countries  “addressed topics of bilateral interest on national security matters, including fugitives and the [U.S.] return [to Cuba] of Cuban nationals with [U.S.] final orders of removal.” They also “reviewed recent progress in the law enforcement relationship, such as new bilateral cooperation that resulted in the [U.S.] conviction of a Cuban national who murdered an American citizen and who had fled prosecution in the [U.S.], as well as areas where there is more work to be done, such as trafficking in persons.”

The U.S. also said there was discussion about “the health attacks against diplomatic personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, including two recent cases. The U.S. delegation reminded the Cubans of their responsibility to protect U.S. diplomats from harm.”[2]

Cuban Statement

The Cuban Foreign Ministry’s statement had these words about the medical issues of certain U.S. diplomats in Cuba: “The Cuban delegation urged the U.S. government to desist from the continued political manipulation of the alleged health incidents that became a pretext to adopt new unilateral measures that affect the operation of the respective embassies, particularly, the rendering of consular services depended upon by hundreds of thousands of people.”

“The investigations carried out by specialized agencies and experts from Cuba and the United States for more than one year confirmed that there is no credible evidence or hypothesis or science-based conclusions that justify the actions taken by the U.S. government against Cuba to the detriment of bilateral relations. Last June 5, U.S. Secretary of State himself affirmed that ‘the precise nature of the injuries suffered by the affected personnel, and whether a common cause exists for all cases, has not yet been established.’”

Nevertheless, the Cuban delegation “reiterated its unchanged commitment to cooperate with the U.S. authorities to clarify this situation. Ensuring the health and security of Cubans and foreign citizens is and will be a priority of the Cuban government. “

In addition, the Cuban statement said, “The purpose of these exchanges is to coordinate the bilateral cooperation in the field of law enforcement and to advance in the combat against the different crimes that threaten the security of the two countries such as terrorism, illicit drug trafficking, trafficking in persons, cybercrimes, among others.”

Cuba added, “While reviewing the exchanges on the different areas of security, the Cuban side made reference to the concrete results of this bilateral cooperation, which has contributed to prevent crimes and prosecute offenders. The Cuban delegation also made emphasis on the information and requests for cooperation [while still waiting for a U.S. response] to further advance in the implementation of this mechanism.”

“Both sides agreed to continue with this dialogue and to keep holding the technical meetings between the law enforcement agencies from both countries to bring bilateral cooperation to fruition.”

Migration Dialogue[3]

U.S. Statement

“The delegations discussed the significant reduction in irregular migration from Cuba to the [U.S.] since the implementation of the [January 12, 2017 Joint Declaration]. Apprehensions of Cuban migrants at U.S. ports of entry decreased by 88 percent from fiscal year 2017 to 2018. The [U.S.] again raised the need for increased Cuban cooperation in the [U.S.] return of Cubans with final orders of removal from the [U.S.]”[4]

The [U.S.] also reiterated that until it is safe to fully staff our Embassy, we are able to adjudicate only official and emergency visas in Havana.”

“A strong migration policy is vital to the [U.S.’] national security. The Migration Talks, which began in 1995, provide a forum for the [U.S.] and Cuba to review and coordinate efforts to ensure safe, legal, and orderly migration between Cuba and the [U.S.].”

Cuban Statement

Both “parties acknowledged the benefits of the Joint Declaration of January 12, 2017, in particular the elimination of the policy of “Dry feet-wet feet” and the “Parole Program for Cuban Medical Professionals,” in the decrease of irregular emigration.”

“They also agreed on the usefulness of the exchange between [U.S.] Coast Guard Troops and the [Cuban] Coastguard Service held in January 2018, and the technical meeting on trafficking in persons and immigration fraud carried out in December 2017.”

In addition, “compliance with bilateral agreements was reviewed, in order to guarantee a regular, safe and orderly migration; discourage irregular migration, and prevent and confront associated illicit acts. Cuba demonstrated that it rigorously fulfills its obligations, and reiterated its willingness to maintain and expand bilateral cooperation in this area.”

“The Cuban delegation urged the government of the [U.S.] to fully comply with its commitments to issue visas for migrants, in accordance with the Migration Agreements. . . . [The U.S.] decision to suspend visa processing services at its embassy in Havana directly affects migratory relations and family ties, damaging institutional exchanges and travel between the two countries.”

The Cubans also “expressed concern about the [U.S.’] Cuban Adjustment Act, which, together with other US regulations, encourages the irregular emigration of Cubans and exposes them to becoming victims of illegal traffickers and gangs associated with organized crime.”

Conclusion

Despite the Trump Administration’s continued hostile rhetoric and actions regarding Cuba, it is reassuring that the two countries are continuing to have respectful dialogue on many common issues and reaching agreement on some of these problems. May it continue!

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

[1]  U.S. State Dep’t, United States and Cuba Hold Fourth Law Enforcement Dialogue in Washington, DC (July 10, 2018); Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuba and the United States hold fourth meeting on law enforcement dialogue, Minrex (July 11, 2018); Washington once again reminds Havana of its responsibility in the protection of its diplomats, Diario de Cuba (July 11, 2018). The most recent prior meeting was in September 2017. (U.S. State Dep’t, United States and Cuba Hold Third Law Enforcement Dialogue in Washington, D.C. (Sept. 15, 2017).) This blog has commented on prior bilateral meetings. E.g., Cuba and U.S. Continue To Hold Bilateral Meetings on Various Issues (Jan. 18, 2018).

[2]  On July 11, 2018, the issue of the medical problems of the U.S. diplomats cane up at a House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. Kenneth Merten, Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, testified, “We don’t know who is responsible and we don’t know what is responsible for this. . . . We have taken this … very seriously, both in the Cuba context and the China context which is, frankly, still very much evolving.” At the hearing, Reps. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) — the Foreign Affairs Committee chairman and ranking member, respectively — said they planned to meet with Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan on Wednesday afternoon and would discuss the health incidents with him.”  (Reuters, State Department Still Investigating Diplomats’ Illnesses in Cuba, China, N.Y. Times (July 11, 2018); Greenwood, State Dept: No answers in sonic attacks in Cuba, China, The Hill (July 11, 2018).) Prior posts about these medical problems are listed in the “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2017-18” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries.com—Topical: CUBA.

[3] U.S. State Dep’t, U.S. and Cuba Hold Biannual Migration Talks in Washington, DC (July 11, 2018); Cuba Foreign Ministry, Migratory Round Held between Cuba and the United States (July 11, 2018); Celebrated Migratory round between Cuba and the United States, Cubadebate (July 11, 2018). Two days before the latest migration meeting, a Cuba Foreign Ministry official in an  interview asserted that Cuba  has “rigorously” complied with its migration agreements with the U.S. despite the U.S. creation of “obstacles to the fulfillment of its obligations.” (Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuba strictly complies with migration agreements with the US, MINREX (July 9, 2018).)

[4] The January 2017 Joint Declaration eliminated the U.S. policy of admitting into the U.S. Cubans who arrived on land with “dry feet” and the U.S. Program for Parole for Cuban Medical Personnel. See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: U.S. Ends Special Immigration Benefits for Cubans (Jan. 13, 2017); Additional Reactions to End of Special Immigration Benefits for Cubans (Jan. 14, 2017); Other Current Developments Regarding Cuban Migrants to U.S. (Jan. 15, 2017).

 

U.S. and Cuba Hold Biannual Migration Talks 

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

Migration Discussions[1]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

[3] Cuban Adjustment Act, Wikipedia.

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

[5] See n.4.

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

 

Other Signs of Cuban Regime’s Distress Over Economy

The recent Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba displayed the difficulties Cuban leaders are having in developing a mixed economy with private enterprise (the non-state sector) competing against the dominant state business enterprises. As prior posts have reported, Cuban leaders at the Congress admitted that the state-owned entities were having difficulty in such competition and the non-state sector was increasing its share of the Cuban economy while the leaders simultaneously railed against President Obama’s effective advocacy of free enterprise to the Cuban people.[1]

Now we see two other signs of the Cuban regime’s near panic over this situation.

Firing of Professor Omar Everleny Perez

First, it is now being revealed that on April 8 (three weeks after Obama’s visit to Cuba), the University of Havana fired Professor Omar Everleny Perez, one of the country’s best-known academics, an expert in developing economies who served as a consultant for Castro’s government when it launched a series of market-oriented economic reforms in 2011. He has made many well-known trips to universities and conferences in the U.S. and frequently received foreign visitors researching the Cuban economy, but was fired for allegedly having unauthorized conversations with foreign institutions and informing “North American representatives” about the internal procedures of the university.[2]

Perez said he believed Cuban authorities were seeking to make an example of him not because of the allegations in the letter, but because of his critical writings about the slow pace of economic reforms. Armando Chaguaceda, a Cuban political scientist based at the University of Guanajuato in Mexico, shared that view. He said, “His call to speed up the reforms and make them coherent may have served to frighten some of the forces of immobility in the bureaucracy. It’s a terrible message to economists that will affect the government’s own capacity to hear feedback about its reforms.”

Perez is not the only Cuban academic to be sanctioned by the authorities in recent years. Political scientist Esteban Morales was expelled from the Communist Party in 2010 for two years for denouncing corruption. Sociologist Roberto Zurbano lost his job at a state cultural center after discussing racism in Cuba in an editorial published in the New York Times. In 2013, musician Roberto Carcasses was temporarily barred from cultural institutions after criticizing the government during a concert, and director Juan Carlos Cremata was prevented last year from putting on a production of Eugene Ionesco’s “Exit the King,” a play about a once-powerful dying leader.

Cubans Fleeing the Country

The second sign of Cuban leaders’ distress is the increasing number of Cubans leaving the island.

As discussed in other posts, many Cubans have been leaving Cuba and seeking to get through the U.S. through Central America. Inspired in part by a fear that the U.S. would be eliminating its special immigration benefits for Cubans, their departures also show fear that their dire economic situation in Cuba would not significantly improve in the near future.[3]

The arrival of Cubans by land with “dry feet” in the U.S. is documented in a report by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Since October 2014 it has processed nearly 75,000 Cubans who arrived at ports of entry, many of them in Laredo, Texas.

The phenomenon of Cubans leaving the island is seen too by Cubans trying to make the dangerous sea crossing to Florida. U.S. Homeland Security Department documents show the highest number of such attempted crossings in the past eight years.[4]

During the 2015 fiscal year ending September 30, 2015, more than 4,400 Cubans set out for the U.S. by sea, a 20 percent increase over the previous fiscal year, according to Coast Guard figures. Of these the U.S. Coast Guard interdicted 2,927, which was up 42.2% over fiscal 2014 and 115.7% over fiscal 2013. Between October 2015 and this March, more than 4,300 people have tried to make the dangerous trip.

The U.S. Coast Guard has had to step up its presence in the Florida Straits to deal with more people on overcrowded, makeshift rafts or barely seaworthy boats. Would-be immigrants caught at sea are returned to Cuba, so the rush has made people more desperate, with some actually wounding themselves with knives or guns in the hopes they will be taken to a hospital in the U.S. instead of sent back. Others try to flee rescuers and refuse life jackets.

Conclusion

These developments show this outside observer from the U.S. that Cuba needs to step up the pace of economic reform and that the U.S. needs to end its embargo as soon as possible.

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

[1] Here are blog posts about President Obama’s trip to Cuba and the recent congress of the Communist Party of Cuba: President Obama’s Eloquent Speech to the Cuban People (Mar. 25, 2016)(includes full text of speech); Reactions to President Obama’s Speech to the Cuban People (Mar. 26, 2016); Fidel Castro Challenges President Obama’s Call To Forget the Past (Mar. 28, 2016); Other Reactions to Fidel Castro’s Commentary on President Obama’s Trip (Mar. 31, 2016); Raúl Castro Discusses Cuba-U.S. Relations in Report to Seventh Congress of Communist Party of Cuba (April 18, 2016);Raúl Castro Discusses Scio-Economic Issues in Report to Seventh Congress of Communist Party of Cuba (April 19, 2016); Conclusion of Seventh Congress of Communist Party of Cuba (April 20, 2016.

 

[2] Assoc. Press, Renowned Pro-Reform Cuban Economist Fired As Chill Sets In, N.Y. Times (April 21, 2016).

[3] Here are a few of the posts regarding Cuban migrants in Central America and by sea: Resolution of Problem of Cuban Migrants Stranded in Costa Rica (Dec. 30, 2015); Cuban Migration Developments (Jan. 21, 2016); Another Cuban Migrant Problem in Central America (April 17, 2016).

[4] Assoc. Press, Cubans Fleeing in High Numbers Despite New Diplomatic Ties, N.Y. Times (April 20, 2016); Neal, 137 Cubans repatriated by Coast Guard, Miami Herald (April 20, 2016); U.S. Coast Guard, Alien Migrant Interdiction (as of Jan. 19, 2016).

Cuban Migration Developments  

In recent weeks there have been significant developments regarding Cubans leaving, and returning to, the island and possible changes to U.S. laws regarding Cubans coming to the U.S.

Cuban Migrants in Central America

  1. “Test Plan” for Transit of Cuban Migrants to U.S.

As reported in prior posts, about 8,000 Cuban migrants have been stranded in Costa Rica on their journeys to the U.S., but last December Mexico and certain Central American governments agreed on a “test plan” to transport the migrants via air and bus from Costa Rica through El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico to the U.S. border.[1]

On January 12 the initial group of 180 of these migrants started this journey, and on the next morning they had arrived in Ciudad Hidalgo on the Honduras-Mexico border, where they were granted 20-day transit visas. They were then put on their own to get to the Mexico-U.S. border. The first of them reached the Mexico-U.S. border at Laredo, Texas on the evening of January 14. And on January 18 a group of 30 arrived in Florida (Tampa, Sarasota, Fort Myers and Miami).[2]

In anticipation of the arrival of many of these Cubans in the Miami, Florida area, the mayors of Miami-Dade County in Florida have asked the federal government for funds to assist in welcoming many of those Cubans who are expected to come to their county.[3]

  1. Evaluation of “Test Plan[4]
Guatemala Meeting
Guatemala Meeting

On January 20 Guatemala hosted a meeting with representatives of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Belize and members of the International Organization for Migration to review the operation of the “test plan.” During the meeting an analysis of the operation was performed and each country presented their experience in the management of migration and visa issues as well as logistics and security. They concluded that the process was successful and that the passage of the Cuban migrants was made in a legal, orderly, safe and transparent manner. They also agreed to collaborate better and improve coordination needed for future transfers and to meet again on February 15 to review further progress.

  1. Future Transit of Cuban Migrants to the U.S.

The representatives at the January 20 meeting also concluded to resume the transit of Cubans in Costa Rica on February 4 with two weekly flights (February 9, 11, 16, 18, 23 and 25) from Costa Rica to El Salvador followed by their busing to the Honduras-Mexico border and thence on their own to the Mexico-U.S. border. Priority will be given to households with pregnant women or children, with earlier dates of entry into Costa Rica, the numbers on their Costa Rica visas and the financial resources to pay for the transit. In addition, Costa Rican officials will visit Cubans remaining in shelters to renew their visas.

Each Cuban will pay $555 for the charter flight, the bus and food arranged by a travel agency. Once in Mexico, the Cubans will receive a 20-day transit visa to make it on their own to the U.S. border. U.S. and Mexican officials hope is to hatch a similar plan for the 3,000 Cubans stranded in Panama.

 Cuban Migrants By Sea

On May 2, 1995, in response to a large increase in Cubans who were attempting to make the dangerous crossing of the Caribbean Sea to get to Florida, the U.S. and Cuba entered into an agreement whereby the two countries “reaffirm their common interest in preventing unsafe departures from Cuba. Effective immediately, Cuban migrants intercepted at sea by the [U.S.] and attempting to enter the [U.S.] will be taken to Cuba.”[5]

Since then, the U.S. has done just that. Such an agreement and practice, it was believed, would discourage other Cubans from attempting such dangerous journeys. This then became known as the “wet feet” part of the U.S. disjunctive dry feet/wet feet policy. Here are the statistics on such interdictions:[6]

Fiscal Year

(Oct.1-Sept. 30)

Number of

Interdictions

1995    525
1996    411
1997    421
1998    903
1999 1,619
2000 1,000
2001    777
2002 666
2003 1,555
2004 1,225
2005 2,712
2006 2,810
2007 2,868
2008 2,216
2009    799
2010    422
2011    985
2012 1,275
2013 1,357
2014 2,111
2015 2,924

So far in Fiscal 2016 (10/01/15-01/14/16), the U.S. Coast Guard estimates that 1,942 Cubans have been interdicted at sea or have attempted to land in the U.S. or have actually landed by sea. For the first half of January 2016 alone, a total of 396 Cuban migrants have been picked up in the waters between Florida and Cuba and returned to Cuba. The increases in Fiscal 2015 and so far in Fiscal 2016 are believed to have been caused by the December 2014 announcement of normalization between the two countries and Cubans’ concern that the U.S. might end its special immigration benefits for Cubans.[7]

In addition, the U.S. Coast Guard reports that more of the Cubans who have been interdicted and put on Coast Guard vessels are jumping overboard, trying to poison themselves or making self-inflicted wounds in attempts to be taken to U.S. shore. As a result the Guard has added security personnel on the vessels.

A Guard official recently said, “Immigration policies have not changed, and we urge people not to take to the ocean in unseaworthy vessels. It is illegal and extremely dangerous.”

Some Cubans Returning to Cuba[8]

Nick Miroff of the Washington Post reports there is a “growing number of Cubans who have opted to move back to the island in recent years as the Castro government eases its rigid immigration rules. The returnees are a smaller, quieter counter-current to the surge of Cubans leaving, and their arrival suggests a more dynamic future when their compatriots may come and go with greater ease, helping to rebuild Cuba with earnings from abroad.”

Indeed, Miroff says, these returnees or “repatriates are not coming back for socialism. They are coming back as capitalists. . . . [or as] trailblazing entrepreneurs. Prompted by President Raúl Castro’s limited opening to small business and his 2011 move allowing Cubans to buy and sell real estate, the repatriates are using money saved abroad to acquire property and open private restaurants, guesthouses, spas and retail shops.”

In 2012, Cuban immigration officials said they were processing about 1,000 repatriation applications each year. “The numbers appear to have increased since then, at least judging from anecdotal evidence and the proliferation of new small businesses in Havana run by returnees.”

“Many of the repatriates . . . are returning from Europe and Latin America. Cubans in the [U.S.] may be more reluctant to return to the island because of their relatively high incomes . . . [in the U.S. and because U.S.] economic sanctions also make it essentially illegal for any U.S. resident to go to Cuba and run a business. And the ability to buy property remains mostly restricted to Cubans who live on the island.”

Possible Changes in U.S. Immigration Laws Regarding Cubans

 As noted in previous posts, Cuba and now Central American countries have been vigorous opponents of the U.S. policy of allowing Cubans who arrive on land to come into the U.S. without visas, and the U.S. Administration repeatedly has said it has no intentions of changing that policy.

In the meantime, the only congressional bill to end the special treatment for Cubans arriving by land at the U.S. border that was offered by Representative Paul Gosar (Rep., AZ)—Ending Special National Origin-Based Immigration Programs for Cubans Act of 2015 (H.R.3818)– has gained little support beyond its nine cosponsors.[9]

Under another law, Cubans who have arrived in the U.S. by land are automatically eligible for federal public assistance under the Refugee Resettlement Program. On January 12, 2016, Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, introduced a bill to end these automatic federal benefits.[10]

The bill, The Cuban Immigrant Work Opportunity Act of 2016 (S.2441), which has no cosponsors and which was referred to the Senate Finance Committee, would terminate the automatic eligibility for federal public assistance for Cuban nationals under the Refugee Resettlement Program, while maintaining it for those that have been persecuted that are in need of resettlement assistance.

Rubio said, ““It is outrageous whenever the American people’s generosity is exploited. It is particularly outrageous when individuals who claim to be fleeing repression in Cuba are welcomed and allowed to ‎collect federal assistance based on their plight, only to return often to the very place they claimed to be fleeing. The weaknesses in our current law not only allow the flow of American tax dollars into the Castro regime’s coffers, it also undermines the legitimate cause of those Cubans who are truly fleeing repression and political persecution.”

Rubio’s rationale for this bill would also justify the U.S.’ ending its previously mentioned “dry feet” immigration policy.

Yet another special U.S. immigration program for Cubans—the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program—is under consideration for cancellation by the Obama Administration.[11]

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

[1] Cubans in Central America Provide Cuba with an Opportunity to Reiterate Its Objections to U.S. Immigration Policies (Nov. 20, 2015); Update on Cuban Migrants in Central America (Nov. 27, 2015); Status of Cuban Migrants in Central America Still Unresolved (Dec. 11, 2015); Resolution of Problem of Cuban Migrants Stranded in Costa Rica (Dec. 30, 2015).

[2] Date set for the departure of first group of Cuban migrants from Costa Rica, Granma (Jan. 8, 2016); Robles, Cubans, Fearing Loss of Favored Status in U.S., Rush to Make an Arduous Journey, N.Y. Times (Jan. 9, 2016); Reuters, First Group of Stranded Cuban Migrants Leave Costa Rica, N.Y. Times (Jan. 13, 2016); Assoc. Press, Cubans Begin Pilot Transfer From Costa Rica to Mexico, N.Y. Times (Jan. 13, 2016); Assoc. Press, Stranded Cuban Migrants Brought by Air, Bus to Mexico, N.Y. Times (Jan. 13, 2016); Reuters, Mexico to Grant Transit Visas to Cuban Migrants, N.Y. Times (Jan. 13, 2016); Perez & Cordoba, Stranded Cuban migrants brought by air, bus to Mexico, Wash. Post (Jan. 13, 2016); First group of Cuban migrants arrive in Mexico, Granma (Jan. 13, 2016); Assoc. Press, Stranded Cuban Migrants Make Plans to Cross Mexico, N.Y. Times (Jan. 14, 2015); Assoc. Press, First of 8,000 Stranded Cuban Migrants Cross Into US, N.Y. Times (Jan. 15, 2016); Barbero, The first Cubans stranded in Central America come to Miami, El Pais (Jan. 19, 2016).

[3] Barbero, Miami seeks help from Obama before the arrival of Cubans, El Pais (Jan. 7, 2016),

[4]  Prensa Latina,Guatemala: Cuban Migrant Issue to be Tackled in regional Meeting, Esacambray (Jan. 20, 2016); Costa Rice Foreign Ministry, Next trip to Cuban migrants will be on February 4 (Jan. 20, 2016); Central American governments agreed to Cubans plan, Granma (Jan. 21, 2016).

[5] U.S.-Cuba Joint Statement on Migration, May 2, 1995, Dispatch Magazine.

[6] Focus on Cuba: Current Issues and Developments at 41 (2008); U.S. Coast Guard, Alien Migrant Interdiction (May 31, 2015)

[7] Clary, Number of Cubans intercepted at sea rises to highest level in two decades, SunSentinel (Nov. 4, 2015); Flechas, U.S. Coast Guard repatriates 169 Cuban migrants, Miami Herald (Jan. 14, 2016)  Rohrer, Post-Thaw, Cuban refugees surge in Florida, Orlando Sentinel (Jan. 19, 2016); Assoc. Press, Coast Guard: Migrants Fleeing Cuba Increasingly Violent, N.Y. Times (Jan. 20, 2016).

[8] Miroff, Amid a historic wave of emigration, some Cubans are returning home, Wash. Post (Jan. 1, 2015).

[9] Gosar, Press Release: Gosar Introduces Bill to End Wet Foot/Dry foot Policy & Stop Cuban Amnesty (Oct. 23, 2015)

[10] Rubio, Rubio Introduces Legislation To End Rampant Abuse of Cuban Refugee Resettlement Benefits (Jan. 12, 2016); Reuters, Republican Rubio Authors Senate Bill to Curb Cuban Immigration Benefits, N.Y. Times (Jan. 12, 2016)  A companion bill (H.R.4247) was introduced in December 2015 in the House by Representative Carlos Curbelo, a fellow Cuban-American Republican from Florida. It has 12 cosponsors and was referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

[11] U.S. Ending Its Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program? (Jan. 8, 2016).

U.S. Announces Concrete Improvements in Relations with Cuba

Today, September 18, the United States announced new regulations to improve U.S. trade and travel with Cuba. Additional positive changes also are expected over the next several months.[1]

New Trade and Travel Regulations

The U.S. Departments of the Treasury and Commerce on Friday announced new regulations, to be effective on September 21 upon their publication in the Federal Register, that will ease restrictions on U.S. companies seeking to do business in Cuba and on U.S. citizens traveling to the island.

The new rules target travel, telecommunications, Internet-based services, business operations, banking and remittances. They also will allow U.S. companies to establish a presence in Cuba with offices, stores, warehouses and Cuban employees.

Although the new rules do not change who can travel to Cuba, the rules do ease movement of authorized travelers there by licensing transportation providers. They also lift the cap on remittances and allow U.S. travelers to open and maintain bank accounts there.

The new regulations also increase educational opportunities by allowing Internet-based courses and further expand humanitarian efforts by allowing disaster relief.

Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said, “Today’s announcement underscores the Administration’s commitment to promote constructive change for the Cuban people.  These regulatory changes build on the revisions implemented earlier this year and will further ease sanctions related to travel, telecommunications and internet-based services, business operations in Cuba, and remittances.  A stronger, more open U.S.-Cuba relationship has the potential to create economic opportunities for both Americans and Cubans alike.  By further easing these sanctions, the United States is helping to support the Cuban people in their effort to achieve the political and economic freedom necessary to build a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba.”

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker added, “The regulations published today are designed to support the emerging Cuban private sector and bring us one step closer to achieving President Obama’s historic policy goals.  These actions build upon previous Commerce regulatory changes, and will ease travel restrictions, enhance the safety of Americans visiting the country, and promote more business opportunities between U.S. and Cuban companies.  In addition to expanding our commercial engagement with the Cuban people, these additional adjustments have the potential to stimulate long overdue economic reform across the country.”

According to the president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, the two departments have “gone farther at one time than most anyone expected. Not only are companies able to establish a physical presence in Cuba and hire Cuban workers, but . . . [the new rules] are also extending loans and lease payment terms for authorized products.

Other Future Changes

The U.S. and Cuba will open regular postal mail service. Initially it will be a “pilot program” allowing Cubans and Americans to send mail directly to one another using the Miami and Havana airports.

The two countries soon should finalize an agreement on resuming direct, commercial airline routes although the first flights will not happen until next year.

Progress before year-end is expected on counter-narcotics cooperation that will expand Coast Guard interdiction efforts to include the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency partnering with its Cuban counterpart; joint environmental work involving the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and setting up maritime passenger routes.

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

[1] U.S. Dep’t of Treasury, Treasury and Commerce Announce Further Amendments to the Cuba Sanctions Regulations (Sept. 18, 2015); Davis, Restrictions on Cuba Travel and Business Lifted by U.S., N.Y. Times (Sept. 18, 2015); Reuters, U.S. Moves to Open Up Business With Cuba, Ease Embargo, N.Y. Times (Sept. 18, 2015); Davis, U.S. to Announce Loosening of Business and Travel Restrictions on Cuba, N.Y. Times (Sept. 17, 2015); Assoc. Press, US, Cuba to Resume Mail Service This Year; Other Steps Near, N.Y. Times (Sept. 17, 2015).

Cuba’s Reactions to U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation

Determining the overall reactions of Cubans to the December 17th announcement of their country’s embarking on a path of reconciliation with the U.S. is difficult for anyone, much less a non-Cuban living in Minnesota. Nevertheless, I will attempt to do so based upon generally available information filtered through my having been to Cuba on three church mission trips over the past 12 years, my listening to others from my church who have been on other such trips, my talking with Cubans on the island and in the U.S. and following carefully the news on this subject during these years. My analysis also endeavors to put myself in the shoes of Cubans in this historical moment.

This analysis focuses first on the actions of the leaders of the Cuban government and  then on the reactions of the Cuban people.

The Cuban Government

First, the Cuban government over 18 months conducted secret negotiations with the U.S. government to achieve the breakthrough on December 17th when President Raûl Castro announced this important development to the Cuban people.

At that time Castro said, “We need to learn to live together in a civilized way, with our differences,” He also exulted in the release of the three Cuban agents from U.S. prison, saying it was  a cause of “enormous joy for their families and all of our people.” He praised President Obama with these words””This decision by President Obama deserves respect and recognition by our people.”

Subsequently President Raûl Castro has made other statements reiterating his government’s commitment to the process of reconciliation while also emphasizing some of the difficulties in achieving complete normalization.

  • In his December 20th speech to Cuba’s National Assembly, President Castro said, “The Cuban people are grateful [for Mr. Obama’s decision] to remove the obstacles to our relations.” He also stated, “”In the same way that we have never demanded that the United States change its political system, we will demand respect for ours.”
  • At the January 28th CELAC conference in Costa Rica, President Castro stated, “The reestablishment of diplomatic relations is the beginning of a process of . . . normalization of  bilateral relations, but this will not be possible as long as the [U.S. embargo or] blockade exists, or as long as the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base is not returned, or radio and television broadcasts which violate international norms continue, or just compensation is not provided our people for the human and economic damage that they have suffered.” In essence, he said, “Cuba and the United States must learn the art of civilized co-existence, based on respect for the differences which exist between both governments and cooperation on issues of common interest. . . . [In doing so Cuba will not ] renounce its ideals of independence and social justice, or abandon a single one of our principles, nor cede a millimeter in the defense of our national sovereignty.” Raul Castro continued, “If these problems are not resolved, this diplomatic rapprochement between Cuba and the United States makes no sense.”

Raúl’s brother, Fidel Castro, belatedly voiced his guarded approval. On January 27th, Fidel said,“I do not trust the politics of the United States, nor have I exchanged a word with them, but this is not, in any way, a rejection of a peaceful solution to conflicts. Any peaceful or negotiated solution to the problems between the United States and the peoples or any people of Latin America that doesn’t imply force or the use of force should be treated in accordance with international norms and principles. We will always defend cooperation and friendship with all the people of the world, including with our political adversaries.” His brother, Fidel said, had “taken the relevant steps in line with the prerogatives and authorities awarded to him by the National Assembly and the Cuban Communist Party.”

Moreover, the Cuban government has fulfilled its obligations under the accord with the U.S. to release from its jails and prisons Alan Gross, a U.S. spy and 53 Cuban dissidents.

In addition, Cuba hosted a visit of a delegation of U.S. Senators and Representatives led by Senator Leahy and the January 21-22 diplomatic conference in Havana to discuss additional steps of normalization. Although no significant agreements were reached on specific issues, both governments spoke of the spirit of respect and cooperation that was present in those sessions. The diplomatic conference was discussed in posts before and after the sessions.

The day before this conference, a senior official from Cuba’s foreign ministry told reporters that it was “unfair” to keep Cuba on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism and that Cuba “cannot conceive of re-establishing diplomatic relations” while Cuba remains on that list.”

After the conference, Cuba’s top diplomat for U.S. affairs, Josefina Vidal, said, “One can’t think that in order to improve and normalize relations with the U.S., Cuba has to give up the principles it believes in. Changes in Cuba aren’t negotiable.” She also objected to allowing U.S. diplomats on the island to have liberty to go anywhere until they conducted themselves with total respect for Cuban laws. The last point was in response to the U.S. insistence that its diplomats in Havana have the unrestricted ability to travel within the country and to meet with whomever it wants, including Cuban dissidents. Vidal re-emphasized this position in an extensive February 2nd interview in Granma, Cuba’s only newspaper. 

The Cuban People [2]

As there are no national public opinion polls in Cuba, assessing such opinion relies on a melange of sources.

Immediately after the December 17th announcement of the detente, Granma reported that the Cuban people were “overjoyed to the two great events of the day, year and century: the return to the country of three Cuban heroes who were previously incarcerated in U.S. prisons, and the announcement of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the U.S.”

The day after the announcement a Western journalist reported that “many Cubans expressed hope . . .  that it will mean greater access to jobs and the creature comforts taken for granted elsewhere, and lift a struggling socialist economy where staples like meat, cooking oil and toilet paper are often hard to come by. That yearning, however, was tempered with anxiety. Some fear a cultural onslaught, or that crime and drugs, both rare in Cuba, will become common along with visitors from the United States. There is also concern that the country will become just another Caribbean destination.”

Another western journalist, William Neuman, this last Christmas made a 17-hour car trip around the island and observed that in his “conversations with Cubans about the lifting of parts of the American embargo and the re-establishment of diplomatic relations, what they talked about most was that they hoped it would breathe life into the economy and eventually lead to a better standard of living.”

In early January an Associated Press journalist interviewed 10 of the 53 Cuban dissidents who were released from jail or prison by the Cuban government as part of the December 17th announcement, and eight of them “expressed confidence the decrease in tensions with the U.S. will improve life in Cuba and make their activism easier. Only one had a negative view of the deal.”

More recently, on January 23rd in Havana U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson hosted a meeting in Havana of certain Cuban dissidents, as discussed in a prior post. Some of those in attendance were opposed to the detente while others supported it. (The Cuban government was very unhappy over this meeting.)

On February 3rd a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing about the detente. Four of the witnesses were the following Cuban dissidents. 

  • Berta Soler, President of Cuban Ladies in White, testified about the continued arrests and harassment of dissidents by the Cuban government.
  • Mrs. Miriam Levia, a human rights advocate and independent journalist, testified, “While many dissidents and opponents support the new approach of the American Administration in the relations with the Cuban government, others do not. Nevertheless, the objective is the same: defense of human rights, democratic values, and friendship and assistance to the Cuban people. Likewise in the opposition and dissidence, we all seek the wellbeing and progress of the Cuban people and our country.” She added, “Reestablishing relations will grant a better environment for the American diplomats in Cuba, their contacts with the Cuban population and the civil society, and their ability to access a direct channel to the national officials, among other issues. Normalizing the 56 years long estrangement will take a long time. But there is now a unique opportunity to assist the Cuban people and it must not be wasted. . . .The American policy towards the Cuban government has disserved it for 56 years, so it must be changed. The embargo must be lifted for the benefit of our peoples and nations.”
  • Manuel Cuesta Morúa, representing the Progressive Arc and Coordinator of New Country, testified, “Do not believe that the change in U.S. policy will bring us freedom, which would be the best outcome. The freedom of Cuba is exclusively a matter for Cubans. But believe me, that new policy will give us better options for us to obtain it by ourselves.”
  • Rosa Maria Paya, a member of Christian Liberation Movement and Daughter of Slain Dissident Oswaldo Paya Sardińas, testified,  ““Your government must move forward and extend a hand to the people and government of Cuba, but with the request that the hands of Cuban citizens not be tied. Otherwise, the opening will only be for the Cuban government, and will be another episode of an international spectacle full of hypocrisy. A spectacle that reinforces oppression, and plunges the Cuban people deeper into the lie and total defenselessness, seriously damaging the desire of Cubans for the inevitable changes to be achieved peacefully. The pursuit of friendship between the United States of America and Cuba is inseparable from the pursuit of liberty. We want to be free and be friends.” God bless and protect our peoples.”

This January David Adams of Reuters reported that “most Cubans firmly oppose U.S. policies and the long economic embargo . . .  but admire U.S. culture. Many have relatives living in the United States, Cuban teenagers listen more to rap and hip hop than to home-grown son and salsa, and baseball is the country’s most popular sport.”  Adams cites three examples:

  • Miguel Barnet, a poet and anthropologist and a member of Cuba’s powerful Council of State,  “fondly recalls his teenage years in the 1950s, attending one of Havana’s elite private schools, singing in the Episcopal church choir and performing in American musicals.‘I love North American culture, I was shaped by it.’”
  • The official historian of Havana, Eusebio Leal, added, “We never burned an American flag in Cuba. We Cubans don’t have our hands soaked in American blood. There is no anti-American hatred here.”
  • Camilo Martinez, the operator of a small Havana bed and breakfast, said, “Everyone wants to see what the future will bring. They can taste the consumer benefits in the future. No one can stop this. Everyone wants to work with people in the United States, we all have friends and relatives there …. Everyone can see the future: McDonald’s, Home Depot, Walmart.”

A first-time visitor to Cuba reported in January  that If you ask [Cubans] about politics, the response often starts with a deep breath or shrug. Cubans are mostly interested in economic improvement, one invariably hears, and an intangible ‘normal’ in their lives.”

Another measure of the Cuban people’s desperate economic conditions and their reactions to the detente was a post-December 17th surge in the number of U.S. Coast Guard interdictions of Cubans attempting to reach the U.S. illegally in rafts. They apparently were motivated in part by fear that the detente would mean an end to the U.S. “wet foot/dry foot” immigration policy allowing Cubans who reached U.S. soil to remain in the country.

Conclusion

The Cuban government clearly has concluded that an accord with the U.S. was in Cuba’s national interest. It potentially reduces, if not eliminates, a feared hostile U.S. intervention. It should lead to increased U.S. investment in Cuba and increased U.S. tourism, all benefiting the Cuban economy and the economic lives of many of its citizens. Such positive impacts will be enhanced by the anticipated abolition of the U.S. embargo or blockade of the island. These considerations for Cuba presumably were enhanced by the increasing economic troubles, if not possible  implosion, of Venezuela, which has been a major Cuban benefactor.

On the other hand, the Cuban government has recognized, as has the U.S., that there are many difficult problems that have accumulated over the last 50-plus years that must be addressed, but will not be easy to resolve.

I concur in the observations of the previously mentioned journalists that most Cubans have warm feelings toward the American people and culture and are hopeful that the accord will result in improvements in their daily lives.

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

[1] Reuters, Cuba’s Castro Hails New Era of Living Together with U.S., N.Y. Times (Dec. 18, 2014); Cave, Raúl Castro Thanks U.S., but Reaffirms Communist Rule in Cuba, N.Y. Times (Dec. 20, 2014);  Reuters, Cuba Says U.S.Must Respect Its Communist System, N.Y. Times (Dec. 20, 2014); Assoc. Press, Cuba Digs in Heels on Concessions as Part of Better US Ties, N.Y. Times (Jan. 25, 2015); Burnett, Fidel Castro Shares Views on Warming of Relations, N.Y. Times (Jan. 27, 2015); President Raúl Castro speaks to third CELAC Summit in Costa Rica, Granma (Jan. 29, 2015); Assoc. Press, Raul Castro: US Must Return Guantanamo for Normal Relations, N.Y. Times (Jan. 28, 2015); Reuters, Raul Castro Warns U.S. Against Meddling in Cuba’s Affairs, N.Y. Times (Jan. 28, 2015), Escobar, The blockade has not ended, Granma (Feb. 2, 2015) (extensive interview of Josefina Vidal); Reuters, Cuba Sounds Warning Ahead of Next Round of U.S. Talks, N.Y. Times (Feb. 3, 2015); Reuters, Exclusive–U.S. Pressing Cuba to Restore Diplomatic Ties before April: Officials, N.Y.Times (Feb. 6, 2015).

[2] Assoc. Press, Hope and Some Fear in Cuba Amid Thaw with US, N.Y. Times (Dec. 18, 2014); Hernandez, Cuba overjoyed, Granma (Dec. 18, 2014); Assoc. Press, Coast Guard Reports Surge in Cubans Trying to Reach Florida, N.Y. Times (Jan. 5, 2015); Neuman, Cuban Road Trip: Reporter’s Notebook, N. Y. Times (Jan. 7, 2015); Assoc. Press, Freed Cuban Dissidents Praise Detente, Pledge Push for Change, N.Y. Times (Jan. 13, 2015); Adams, Cubans Look Fondly to U.S. as Talks to Resume Relations Start, N.Y. Times (Jan.21, 2015); Assoc. Press, For First-Time Visitor, Havana Is Charming-And Complicated, N.Y. Times (Jan. 24, 2015); DeYoung, As normalization talks begin, Cubans begin anticipating challenges to come, Wash. Post (Jan. 24, 2015); Miroff, Fear of immigration policy change triggers new wave of Cuban migrants, Wash. Post (Jan. 27, 2015); U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Hearing: Understanding the Impact of U.S. Policy changes on Human Rights and Democracy in Cuba (Feb. 3, 2015).