Recent U.S.-Cuba Developments 

Here are updates on several U.S.-Cuba issues.

U.S.-Cuba Bilateral Commission Meeting[1]

On June 14 in Washington, D.C., the U.S. and Cuba held their seventh meeting of the  Bilateral Commission that was started by the Obama Administration and Cuba.

Afterwards the State Department said the two parties “reviewed . . . areas for engagement that advance the interests of the [U.S.] and the Cuban people including combatting trafficking in persons; facilitating safe civil aviation; law enforcement cooperation; agricultural cooperation; maritime safety and search and rescue cooperation; resolution of certified claims;[2] advancing understanding of environmental challenges; and protecting the national security and public health and safety of the [U.S.]”

The State Department also said, “The [U.S.] reiterated the urgent need to identify the source of the attacks on U.S. diplomats and to ensure they cease. We also reiterated that until it is sufficiently safe to fully staff our Embassy, we will not be able to provide regular visa services in Havana. We expressed our continued concerns about the arbitrary detention of independent journalists and human rights defenders. The [U.S.] acknowledged progress in repatriating Cubans with final orders of removal from the [U.S.], but emphasized Cuba needs to accept greater numbers of returnees.” The U.S. also voiced concern about the “arbitrary detention of independent journalists and human rights defenders” in Cuba.

“Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, the top Cuban official at [this meeting], told The Associated Press that his delegation had “challenged the U.S. on the use of the word ‘attack.’ “There is no evidence of a weapon, there is no evidence of a source, nobody can point to motivation and yet they continue to use the word ‘attack.’ We see it as politically motivated.’” He also noted that neither American nor Cuban experts had been able to determine what caused the symptoms. He renewed concerns that the Trump administration is using the incidents as an excuse to roll back U.S.-Cuba rapprochement started under the Obama administration.

This objection to the U.S. verbiage for this problem was reiterated in a statement by the Cuba Foreign Ministry. “The Cuban delegation urged the government of the [U.S.] to desist from the continued political manipulation of the alleged health cases, which became the pretext to adopt new unilateral measures that affect the performance of the respective embassies, in particular, the rendering of consular services depended upon by hundreds of thousands of persons.” Cuba also raised its objection to the U.S. “travel warning” for Cuba, saying it “hinders the scientific, academic, cultural, religious and entrepreneurial exchanges, as well as the visits by Americans to a country that is internationally recognized as safe and healthy.”

The Cuba Foreign Ministry statement added, “The Cuban delegation rebuffed the regress in the bilateral relationship imposed by the government of the [U.S.] and called attention on the negative consequences thereof for both peoples, the Cuban emigration and the international and regional environment. The Cuban delegation reiterated that the economic, commercial and financial blockade continues to be the main obstacle to any perspective of improvement in the bilateral relationship and denounced its intensification with the adoption, in particular, of additional financial measures of aggressive extraterritorial nature.” Another Cuban objection was registered to what it said were U.S. actions, which were “intended interference in the internal affairs of Cuba, with the open manipulation of the human rights issue, which is flagrantly, massively and systematically violated with the implementation of the blockade.”

The Cuban Foreign Ministry, on the other hand, acknowledged “that it has been demonstrated that it is possible to cooperate and live in a civilized manner, by respecting differences and promoting that which benefits both countries and peoples. It expressed Cuba’s willingness to continue the bilateral dialogue and to work on issues of common interest through the active implementation, based on concrete proposals, of the bilateral agreements subscribed as those on environmental protection, law enforcement, health, agriculture, hydrography and geodesy, among others.”

Finally the State Department announced that the parties had “agreed to hold the next rounds of the biannual Migration Talks and the Law Enforcement Dialogue this summer.”

Another source mentioned that since Trump took office, the two countries have met around two dozen times on topics such as migration, public health, combating illicit drugs, environmental protection, law enforcement, agriculture, people smuggling and migration fraud, fugitives from justice, cyber-security, anti-money laundering, human trafficking, maritime safety, civil aviation and human rights.

Overall Evaluation of U.S.-Cuba Relations Under Trump[3]

Mimi Whitefield, who closely follows Cuban developments for the Miami Herald, notes that U.S.-Cuba relations appear to be stalled since President Trump gave his speech in Miami announcing retreats on U.S. engagement with Cuba.

However, she points out, the Havana-based “Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation documented 5,155 such cases last year, compared to 8,616 and 9,940 during the last two years of the Obama administration.” And in May 2018 they fell to 128, the lowest monthly total in three years, which may have been affected by “factors that affected Cubans’ activism: Poor weather conditions kept many people indoors, Cubans were preoccupied and took more time trying to find food and other staples, transportation was difficult, and the deaths of 112 people in a May 18 airline crash left the nation shell-shocked.”

Whitefield also states that the U.S. List of Restricted Entities and Subentities Associated With Cuba as of November 9, 2017, with which U.S. persons are not to have any dealings, has not been updated and does not even include all the hotels run by Cuba’s military conglomerate, and Americans still have the option of staying at hotel chains operated by the Cuban Ministry of Tourism.

U.S. visitors to the island declined 56.6% in the first quarter of 2018 versus the prior year, with enormous adverse impact on Cuba’s emerging private sector. “Cuban entrepreneurs complain that the confusing U.S. travel policy has hurt them disproportionally because individual travelers tend to stay with them rather than at state-owned hotels. Business, some say, is down 30 to 40 percent because U.S. travel in general is down.”

On the other hand, says John McAuliffe, executive director of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, which promotes engagement between Cuba and the U.S., “there is one form of travel to Cuba that is booming and that is cruises, and most of the revenue from the cruise industry goes to the state. With cruise terminal fees, buses, tours, and cruise passengers eating at mostly state restaurants, it’s channeling more money to official circles.”

Expansion of Bipartisan State Councils Supporting  Engagement with Cuba[4]

 On June 12, Engage Cuba, a bipartisan coalition promoting U.S. engagement with Cuba, announced that there are now 18 states with bipartisan state councils supporting these efforts. The latest is Pennsylvania, which like the others will seek to build statewide support for pro-engagement policies and ending U.S. trade and travel restrictions on Cuba.

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, United States and Cuba Hold Seventh Bilateral Commission Meeting (June 14, 2018); Cuba Foreign Ministry, Seventh Meeting of the Cuba-United States Bilateral Commission held in Washington, D.C, (June 14, 2018); Assoc. Press, US Renews Call for Cuba to Probe Cause of Health ‘Attack,’ N.Y.Times (June 14, 2018); The US urges the Government of Cuba to identify the origin of attacks on diplomats, Diario de Cuba (June 14, 2018).

[2] The “certified claims” probably refers to claims against Cuba by U.S. nationals for their claims for compensation for Cuba’s expropriation of their property on the island in 1959-1960 that were certified by the U.S. Department of Justice. See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Resolution of U.S. and Cuba’s Damage Claims (April 6, 2015); Resolving U.S. and Cuba Damage Claims (Dec. 13, 2015).

[3]  Whitefield, Has President Trump’s year-old Cuba policy helped the Cuban people? Miami Herald (June 14, 2018).

[4]   Engage Cuba, Pennsylvania Leaders Launch Engage Cuba State Council (June 12, 2018).

 

U.S. and Cuba’s Efforts To Continue Normalization

With the impending arrival of the Trump Administration and twitterings that it might derail efforts at normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations, the Obama Administration, its U.S. allies and Cuba are continuing their efforts at that normalization. Let us examine these efforts by the latest U.S.-Cuba Bilateral Commission meeting, U.S. Senators and Representatives, Cuban entrepreneurs and a U.S. business coalition (Engage Cuba).

Latest Bilateral Commission Meeting[1]

On December 7 in Havana the U.S. and Cuba held another Bilateral Commission meeting to review the achievements of the Bilateral Commission since diplomatic relations were re-established in July 2015. It has prioritized and sequenced a number of bilateral initiatives. The U.S. and Cuba have established dialogues on law enforcement, claims, human rights, and economic and regulatory issues, and have continued biannual Migration Talks. The Bilateral Commission has provided a framework to address trafficking in persons and the return of fugitives, as well as to schedule technical exchanges on law enforcement and environmental issues.

In the last 18 months, the U.S. and Cuba have concluded 11 non-binding agreements, including Memoranda of Understanding on health, cancer research, agriculture, environmental cooperation, hydrography, marine protected areas, counter-narcotics, federal air marshals, civil aviation, and direct transportation of mail. In the coming weeks, the U.S. and Cuba expect to sign additional agreements formalizing cooperation on law enforcement, conservation, seismology, meteorology, search and rescue, and oil-spill response protocols.

The U.S. and Cuba have coordinated a number of high-level visits, including that of President Obama in March 2016, seven cabinet-level officials, and Dr. Jill Biden. U.S. governors from New York, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, Virginia, Missouri, and West Virginia have led trade delegations to Cuba since April 2015. More than 80 Members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, have visited Cuba in the last two years, many for the first time.

Purposeful travel by Americans to Cuba increased by approximately 75 percent from 2014 to 2015. Ten U.S. airlines now provide scheduled service between U.S. and Cuban cities, and Carnival cruises are docking in several Cuban cities, further connecting the U.S. and Cuban people.

Under the Bilateral Commission, the United States and Cuba expanded educational and cultural exchanges. The number of Cubans studying in the United States increased 63 percent in academic year 2015-16. More than 2,000 U.S. students visited Cuba as part of their academic program in academic year 2014-15. The U.S. welcomed the first Cuban Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow to the U.S.

Four U.S. cellular providers offer roaming service in Cuba, further connecting Cuba and the U.S.

The delegations agreed the Bilateral Commission has provided a framework for discussion of a wide range of issues. Where U.S. and Cuban interests align, including on counter-narcotics, health, and environmental issues, the U.S. and Cuba have made important strides for the benefit of both peoples. Where the two countries have disagreements, including on human rights, the U.S. and Cuba have articulated those differences in a clear, productive, and respectful manner. The dialogues and working groups that fall under the Bilateral Commission framework have allowed the U.S. and Cuba to establish working relationships with counterparts, which are essential to continued bilateral cooperation, advancement of U.S. interests, and progress toward normalization.

The Cuban delegation insisted that the U.S. blockade (embargo) has prevented significant results in economic and trade relations and that this measure must be ended before the two countries could have normal relations. Other conditions for normalization for Cuba are the U.S. returning to Cuba the territory allegedly illegally occupied by the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo and the U.S. elimination of other political interventions harmful to Cuban sovereignty.

The U.S. looks forward to hosting the next Bilateral Commission Meeting in Washington, DC at the earliest opportunity.

Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Mari Carmen Aponte led the U.S. delegation. Other members were U.S. Charge d’Affaires in Havana, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, and Deputy Assistant Secretary John Creamer. Josefina Vidal, the Foreign Ministry’s Director General for U.S. Affairs, led the Cuban delegation.

At a subsequent press conference Josefina Vidal said Cuba hopes “the new U.S. government takes into account the results we have achieved… that are backed by the majority of the Cuban population (and) U.S. citizens.”

U.S. Senators and Representatives[2]

On December 7 Minnesota’s U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (Dem.) and Representative Tom Emmer (Rep.) and four Cuban women entrepreneurs held a press conference on Capitol Hill to urge President-elect Donald Trump to keep Obama administration initiatives relaxing trade and travel restrictions for Americans wanting to travel to and work with Cuba and to end the U.S. embargo of the island.

Klobuchar said, “For far too long, U.S.-Cuba policy has been defined by the conflicts of the past instead of the realities of today and the possibilities for the future. I’ve spoken with business owners in Cuba and in Minnesota who look forward to the new economic opportunities that would come with lifting the embargo. We need to turn the page on the failed policy of isolation and build on the progress we have made to open up engagement with Cuba by ending the embargo once and for all.”

Emmer added, “Over the past two years there have been important changes on the island just 90 miles off our coast. The private-sector economy in Cuba continues to grow and today, we heard from four incredible young women who have excelled as entrepreneurs and are eager for the ability to grow, expand and continue their success. I look forward to working with President-elect Trump and the 115th Congress to make their success a reality and provide new opportunities for both Cubans and Americans alike.”

One of the Cuban women, Marla Recio Carbajal, founder and president of Havana Reverie, an upscale event and wedding planning company that caters primarily to U.S. travelers and companies, said Havana businesses are bustling, thanks in part to the relaxation on restrictions and that her business was doing well because of American interest in the country.

Separately Emmer as the Chair of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Cuba Working Group [3] and 16 Republican and Democratic members of that Group recently sent a letter to President-elect Trump urging the new administration’s support for the restoration of U.S. engagement with Cuba.  The letter stated the following:

  • “Americans support the easing of commercial restrictions in Cuba because it will result in increased jobs, economic growth and productivity gains for the United States economy.  In fact, the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) released a report earlier this year that found if U.S. restrictions on Cuba were lifted, U.S. exports of selected agricultural and manufactured goods could increase to a total of roughly $2.2 billion, up from a mere $180 million in 2015.  Policies that improve commercial relations could potentially create thousands of jobs here in the United States and open valuable new markets for our exports. The restrictions the U.S. government imposes on American business activity in Cuba have not only stymied America’s economic potential, they have provided the repressive Cuban regime with an excuse on which to place blame for their own economic woes.  Additionally, there is little credible evidence that sanctions have improved the human rights situation in Cuba, a top priority of the CWG.”
  • “The recent death of Fidel Castro represents a dawn of a new era in Cuban leadership and America must use this opportunity to help chart a new course for Cuba’s future.  We believe America’s greatest ambassadors – the American people and the U.S. private sector – will always be the most effective conduit for the spread of American influence. Continued engagement by our citizens and businesses will help to empower the Cuban people, facilitate economic reforms, and promote the expansion of civil and religious liberties.”
  • “{I]mproving our relationship with Cuba would also align the U.S. government with the will of the American people and improve our standing with our regional allies.  Recent polling from the Pew Research Center show that 73 percent of voters supported renewed diplomatic relations and 72 percent support ending the embargo. In addition, a recent poll out of Florida International University showed that 63 percent of Cuban-Americans in Miami want to see the embargo lifted.  Global support for the normalization of our relations also remains overwhelming, particularly among some of our most important economic and security partners in Latin America.”

As mentioned in other posts, Klobuchar and Emmer are the authors of bills in the current session of Congress to end the embargo. Klobuchar’s is the Freedom to Export to Cuba Act, which currently has 25 Senate cosponsors. Emmer’s is the Cuba Trade Act.[4]

Cuban Entrepreneurs and Engage Cuba[5]

On December 7 Engage Cuba, a national advocacy organization dedicated to dismantling the U.S. embargo on Cuba, released a letter to President-elect Trump from 83 Cuban entrepreneurs that said they “have experienced a great deal of change over the last several years. Changes by our government allow for increased private sector activity and we’ve seen significant growth in small businesses in our country. Over a half of million people now work in the private sector, earning considerably more money than state jobs and offering more autonomy in business decisions. We’re hopeful that our government will make additional changes to the legal framework and market conditions in the future.”

Moreover, the Cuban entrepreneurs said U.S. government reforms “to allow for increased travel, telecom services and banking have helped substantially as we attempt to grow our businesses. . . . Increased interaction and business dealings with U.S. travelers and U.S. companies [have] had important economic benefits, the exchanges of ideas and knowledge, and offered much hope for the future. . . . Additional measures to increase travel, trade and investment, including working with the U.S. Congress to lift the embargo, will benefit our companies, the Cuban people and U.S. national interests. We look forward to taking advantage of any openings that your administration makes to the Cuban private sector and the Cuban economy as a whole.”

That same day, the President of Engage Cuba, James Williams, said he remains hopeful that Trump, a businessman, will not reverse the work already done. “There is no business in the world that would continue a strategy that has failed for 55 years. We see no reason why he would do the same with the U.S. government,” he said. “We’re hopeful that he will continue to build on the progress of the last two years that has helped U.S. businesses and created positive changes for the Cuban people.”

Conclusion

Thanks to Senator Klobuchar, Representative Emmer, the House of Representatives Cuba Working Group, Cuban entrepreneurs and Engage Cuba for continuing their efforts at U.S.-Cuba normalization and urging the future Trump Administration to do the same.

All U.S. citizens who believe that this normalization should continue should thank the above people for their efforts and urge other elected officials to join the fight.

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 [1] State Dept, Daily Press Briefing (Dec. 6, 2016); Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuba and the United States will hold the fifth Bilateral Commission Meeting (Dec. 6, 2016); Cuba Foreign Ministry, Press Release of the Cuban Delegation to the Fifth Meeting of the Cuba-U.S. Bilateral Commission. Havana, December 7, 2016; Peraza, Cuba reaffirms willingness to continue working to improve relations with the United States, Granma (Dec. 7, 2016); State Dep’t, Press Release: United States and Cuba Hold Fifth Bilateral Commission Meeting in Havana, Cuba (Dec. 7, 2016); Reuters, Cuba Wants to Sign Accords With US Before Obama Exit: Officials (Dec. 8, 2016).

[2] Sherry, Klobuchar, Emmer urge Trump to keep Obama’s Cuba policies, StarTribune (Dec. 8, 2016); Emmer, Klobuchar, Emmer and Bipartisan Congressional Coalition Highlight the Need for Congress to Lift the Trade Embargo with Cuba (Dec. 7, 2016); Emmer, Bipartisan Cuba Working Group Encourages President-elect Trump to Continue U.S. Engagement Efforts with Cuba (Dec. 8, 2016).

[3] The U.S. House of Representatives’ Cuba Working Group was established to promote increased trade, travel and investment in Cuba, open new markets, create jobs in both countries, promote human rights and improve the security posture of the United States. Two other Minnesota members of the Group signed the above letter: Representatives Betty McCollum and Rick Nolan.

[4] Klobuchar and Emmer’s bills were discussed in earlier posts.

[5] Engage Cuba, Cuban Entrepreneurs Announce Letter to President-elect Donald Trump (Dec. 7, 2016).

United States-Cuba Bilateral Commission Meets To Review Normalization Status                                                                                                

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

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

Director General Vidal’s Press Conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

U.S. Embassy Statement

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Cuban Ambassador to U.S. Presents Credentials to President Obama

On September 17 Cuba’s new Ambassador to the U.S., Jose Ramon Cabanas Rodriguez, presented his credentials to President Obama.[1]

Obama & Cabanas @ White House
Obama & Cabanas @ White House

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Afterwards, Cabanas said he would be continuing to spread the truth about Cuba, promote new relationships and explain all remaining obstacles to normal relations between the two countries. “In particular we are going to work intensely to realize the decisions of the first meeting of the Bilateral Commission held last week in Havana.”

As discussed in a previous post, that meeting of the Bilateral Commission established an agenda in three tracks, with the first encompassing issues where there is significant agreement and the possibility of short-term progress. These include re-establishing regularly scheduled flights, environmental protection, natural disaster response, health and combatting drug trafficking. A second track includes more difficult topics such as human rights, human trafficking, climate change and epidemics. The third includes complex, longer-term issues like the return of the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, U.S. damage claims over properties nationalized in Cuba after the 1959 revolution and Cuba’s damage claims for more than $300 billion in alleged economic damages from the U.S. embargo and for what it says are other acts of aggression.

Last October Cabanas, then the Chief of Mission of the Cuban Interests Section, was in Minneapolis at the invitation of the Minnesota International Center. I had the pleasure of having a delightful Cuban lunch with him, his wife and others at one of the city’s Cuban restaurants, Victor’s 1959 Café, where he wrote his name on the wall. Afterwards, Cabanas, his wife and others came to my church, Westminster Presbyterian Church, to talk about our Cuban partnerships and various issues between our two countries. Our main partnership is with a church in the city of Matanzas, and when most of the Americans in the room indicated they had been in that city, Cabanas said it was the “home town” for both him and his wife.

We at Westminster and Minneapolis wish the Ambassador success in his diplomatic endeavors in our country.

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[1] Davis, First Cuban Envoy to U.S. Since 1961 Presents Credentials at the White House, N.Y. Times (Sept. 17, 2015); Reuters, Cuba Has First Ambassador to U.S. in Half a Century, N.Y. Times (Sept. 17, 2015); Gomez, Cuba already has US Ambassador, Granma (Sept. 17, 2015).

 

U.S.-Cuba Bilateral Commission Sets Agenda for Future Discussions of Remaining Issues

 

On September 11, in Havana, the U.S.-Cuba Bilateral Commission held its first meeting. It decided on an agenda for the future discussions and hoped-for resolution of remaining issues regarding normalization of relations. The commission agreed to meet again in November in Washington, D.C. to review progress in these areas and to chart areas of cooperation for 2016.[1]

The agenda has been divided into three tracks, with the first encompassing issues where there is significant agreement and the possibility of short-term progress. These include re-establishing regularly scheduled flights, environmental protection, natural disaster response, health and combatting drug trafficking. A second track includes more difficult topics such as human rights, human trafficking, climate change and epidemics. The third includes complex, longer-term issues like the return of the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, U.S. damage claims over properties nationalized in Cuba after the 1959 revolution and Cuba’s damage claims for more than $300 billion in alleged economic damages from the U.S. embargo and for what it says are other acts of aggression.

Cuba reiterated its opposition to the comprehensive U.S. economic embargo, the U.S. occupation of Guantanamo and anti-communist radio and television broadcasts beamed into Cuba, but did not seek to place them on the agenda because they were measures unilaterally imposed by the United States.

Both sides agreed the discussions were full and frank, extensive, and conducted in a courteous and respectful manner.

Cuba’s delegation was led by Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, the Foreign Ministry’s director general for the United States, The U.S.’ by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South America and Cuba, Edward Alex Lee, accompanied by the Director of the Secretary’s Policy Planning Staff, David McKean; and Charge d’affaires ad interim Jeffery DeLaurentis. Below to the left is a photograph of the Cuban delegation; below to the right is a photograph of the U.S. delegation.

Cuban delegation
Cuban delegation
U.S. delegation
U.S. delegation

 

 

 

 

 

Vidal indicated that the both sides saw the start of the process as opening at least the possibility of an Obama visit to Cuba, saying that it is natural for countries with normal relations to receive visits from each other’s leaders.

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[1] This post is based upon the following: Cuba-U.S. Bilateral Commission to hold first meeting, Granma (Sept. 9, 2015); U.S. State Dep’t, Daily Press Briefing (Sept. 10, 2015); Reuters, U.S., Cuba Set Agenda on Improving Relations, N.Y. Times (Sept. 11, 2015); Assoc. Press, Cuba, US Launch Normalization Process, N.Y. Times (Sept. 11, 2015); U.S. State Dep’t, Daily Press Briefing (Sept. 11, 2015); Press Release of the Cuban delegation to the first meeting of the Cuba-US Bilateral Commission, (+ Photos), Granma (Sept. 11, 2015).