U.S. Current Assessment of Cuban Human Rights

As discussed in a prior post, on April 20, the U.S. State Department released its annual report on the status of human rights in nearly 200 countries around the world. Here is the Executive  Summary of its report on human rights in Cuba in 2017.

Executive Summary

“Cuba is an authoritarian state led by Raul Castro, who is president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers, Communist Party (CP) first secretary, and commander in chief of security forces. The constitution recognizes the CP as the only legal party and the leading force of society and of the state. The government postponed October municipal elections due to recovery efforts related to Hurricane Irma but conducted them in November, although they were neither free nor fair. A CP candidacy commission prescreened all candidates, and the government actively worked to block non-CP approved candidates.”

“The national leadership, including members of the military, maintained effective control over the security forces.”

“The most significant human rights issues included torture of perceived political opponents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; politically motivated, sometimes violent, detentions and arrests; a complete absence of judicial independence; arbitrary arrest and detention that was politically motivated and sometimes violent; trial processes that effectively put the burden on the defendant to prove innocence; and political prisoners.”

“ There was arbitrary interference with privacy, including search-and-seizure operations in homes and monitoring and censoring private communications.”

“Freedom of expression was limited to expression that ‘conforms to the goals of socialist society’ with strict censorship punishing even distribution of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There were bans on importation of informational materials; strict control of all forms of media; restrictions on the internet, including severely limiting availability and site blocking; restrictions on academic freedom, including punishment for any deviation from the government line; criminalization of criticism of government leaders; and severe limitations on academic and cultural freedom, including on library access.”

“There were restrictions on rights of assembly to those that the government deemed to be “’against the existence and objectives of the socialist state;’ criminalization of gatherings of three or more not authorized by the government, and use of government-organized acts of repudiation in the form of mobs organized to assault and disperse those who assembled peacefully; denial of freedom of association, including refusal to recognize independent associations; restrictions on internal and external freedom of movement; restriction of participation in the political process to those approved by the government; official corruption; outlawing of independent trade unions; compulsory labor; and trafficking in persons.”

“Government officials, at the direction of their superiors, committed most human rights abuses. Impunity for the perpetrators remained widespread.”

Conclusion

I believe that a lot of what this Report says about Cuba is true. But it reflects a common failure of Americans to recognize and appreciate Cuba’s situation. As a relatively poor, small nation, Cuba has faced over the last 59 years a vastly larger, wealthier, stronger United States which has overtly and secretly attempted to impose or encourage regime change on the island. Under those circumstances, it should be easy for Americans to understand why Cuba has sought to control opposition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

New U.S. Annual Report on Human Rights Around the World

On April 20 the U.S. State Department released its 2017 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.  Acting Secretary of State John J. Sullivan wrote the Preface to the Reports and made remarks upon their release while a Special Briefing on the Reports was conducted by Ambassador Michael G. Kozak, the head of the Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

These three introductions to the Reports will be discussed below, and a future post will review the report on Cuba.

Preface by Acting Secretary of State Sullivan[1]

“We are a nation founded on the belief that every person is endowed with inalienable rights. Promoting and defending these rights is central to who we are as a country.”

“The 2017 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices . . . document the status of human rights and worker rights in nearly 200 countries and territories. These reports are required by U.S. law and are used by a variety of actors, including the U.S. Congress, the Executive branch, and the Judicial branch as a factual resource for decision-making in matters ranging from assistance to asylum.”

“The 2017 U.S. National Security Strategy recognizes that corrupt and weak governance threatens global stability and U.S. interests. Some governments are unable to maintain security and meet the basic needs of their people, while others are simply unwilling. States that restrict freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly; that allow and commit violence against members of religious, ethnic, and other minority groups; or that undermine the fundamental dignity of persons are morally reprehensible and undermine our interests. The Governments of China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea, for example, violate the human rights of those within their borders on a daily basis and are forces of instability as a result.”

“Our foreign policy reflects who we are and promotes freedom as a matter of principle and interest. We seek to lead other nations by example in promoting just and effective governance based on the rule of law and respect for human rights. The United States will continue to support those around the world struggling for human dignity and liberty.”

Remarks by Acting Secretary of State  Sullivan[2]

The Acting Secretary noted that this was the 42nd year of such reports, which “are a natural outgrowth of our values as Americans. The founding documents of our country speak to unalienable rights, fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law – revolutionary concepts at the time of our founding that are now woven into the fabric of America and its interests both at home and abroad.”

“Promoting human rights and the idea that every person has inherent dignity is a core element of this administration’s foreign policy. It also strengthens U.S. national security by fostering greater peace, stability, and prosperity around the world. The Human Rights Reports are the most comprehensive and factual accounting of the global state of human rights. They help our government and others formulate policies and encourage both friends and foes to respect the dignity of all individuals without discrimination.”

“This year, we have sharpened the focus of the report to be more responsive to statutory reporting requirements and more focused on government action or inaction with regard to the promotion and protection of human rights. For example, each executive summary includes a paragraph to note the most egregious abuses that occurred in a particular country, including those against women, LGBTI persons, persons with disabilities, indigenous persons, and members of religious minorities.”

Sullivan then had comments about some countries “with the most egregious human rights records:” Syria, Burma, North Korea (DPRK), China, Iran, Turkey, Venezuela and Russia. He concluded by noted three countries with improvements: Uzbekistan, Liberia and Mexico.

Briefing by Ambassador Kozak[3]

Responding to a journalist’s question whether the U.S. issuance of this report could be regarded as hypocrisy because of U.S. human rights problems, the Ambassador said that this would be an unfounded charge. The report criticizes some country’s revoking licenses of media that criticize the government and even killing journalists; the U.S. does not do that. He also said the U.S. has laws to protect foreigners from being returned to countries where they are likely to face illegal persecution.

Nozak rejected the notion that the report was weakened by President Trump’s calling the U.S. press an enemy of the people and suggesting changing U.S. libel laws to protect politicians like him from unfounded reporting. In contrast he said independent journalists in Cuba “are routinely slapped around, they also get called names, “

This year’s report omitted a special section on women’s reproductive rights because it is not a term derived from an international treaty or from the U.S. statute requiring these annual reports; the latter refers to coerced family planning, coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization. In addition, the new U.S. report has a hyperlink to a WHO report on the subject.

Kozak rejected the notion that this report was undercut by President Trump’s meetings with leaders of countries with poor human rights records.

The U.S. as a matter of policy supports NGOs around the world  that are working to improve human rights.

For  North Korea, the U.S. is concerned about the nuclear issue and about human rights. The report “pretty starkly [discusses] the kinds of abuses, and over the last year or two, we’ve supported . . . a commission of inquiry on North Korea, we support NGOs that are working on North Korea and exposing the human rights abuses that occur in the camps there and so on. But some of the stories that are contained in the report are just overwhelming. There’s one about 11 people who were arrested for supposedly making a pornographic film and they were executed by shooting anti-artillery weapons at them, and then they brought out tanks and ran over the bodies, and this is supposed to be a civilized country.”

The Preface to the report calls China, Russia, Iran and North Korea as “forces of instability.”  This is not a defined term, but refers to situations where internal actions generate international problems like refugee flows and humanitarian crises.

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, Preface to Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2017 (April 20, 2018).

[2] U.S. State Dep’t, Remarks on the Release of the 2017 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (April 20, 2018).

[3] U.S. State Dep’t, Briefing on the Release of the 2017 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (April 20, 2018).

U.S. and Cuba Continue To Cooperate on Agriculture 

Quietly the U.S. and Cuba are continuing to hold bilateral meetings on various topics. Recently, for example, the meetings have covered cybersecurity, drug trafficking, terrorism, irregular immigration and money laundering.[1]

The latest, on April 10 and 11,  in Washington, D.C. was on the subject of agriculture.[2]

This meeting provided the opportunity to review the state of the implementation of the countries’ Framework Memorandum of Understanding on Agriculture and the Memorandum of Understanding on Animal and Plant Health. In particularly, both parties reviewed the compliance with the activities previously agreed upon, and analyzed the new actions proposed and other initiatives to give continuance to the technical exchanges.

This bilateral cooperation benefits both Cuban and U.S. farmers and helps promote the sustainability and development of agriculture, which are related to organic agriculture, soil management, water conservation, the prevention and treatment of plant pests and animal diseases, as well as to the actions for organic certification and seeds, among others.

The Cuban delegation was led by Moraima Céspedes Morales, Director for International Affairs at the Ministry of Agriculture, and composed of other officials of the ministries of Agriculture and Foreign Affairs. The U.S. delegation was led by John P. Passino, Director for Western Hemisphere at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and composed of other officials of that agency and of the Department of State.

The meeting was held in an ambiance of respect and professionalism. Both delegations shared the view to underscore the importance of maintaining the bilateral cooperation in these topics.

Conclusion

It is refreshing to know that the U.S. and Cuba are continuing to hold meetings on various subjects of mutual interest despite all the hostile rhetoric from the U.S.

At the same time it is disappointing that there was no mention of this latest meeting on the websites of the U.S. Departments of State or Agriculture or in the U.S. major news media.

However, on April 5, U.S. Senator John Boozman (Rep., AR) addressed the subject of U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba in a short article that stated the following: “United States’ producers are unable to fully tap into the Cuban market because federal law prohibits private financing for agricultural trade with Cuba. This misguided policy creates a major roadblock to trade. That’s why Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and I introduced the Agriculture Export Expansion Act to lift the ban on private banks and companies offering credit for agricultural exports to Cuba. It’s a small step that would help level the playing field for farmers and exporters, while simultaneously exposing Cubans to American ideals, values and products. A true win-win for American farmers and the Cuban people.”[3]

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[1]  This blog has commented on these bilateral meetings. E.g., Cuba and U.S. Continue To Hold Bilateral Meetings on Various Issues (Jan. 18, 2018).

[2]  Cuba Foreign Ministry, Representatives from Cuba and the United States talk about cooperation in agriculture (April 11, 2018); Cuba Embassy in U.S., Representatives from Cuba and the United States talk about cooperation in agriculture (April 11, 2018); Cuba and the United States exchange on cooperation in agriculture, Granma (April 12, 2018); Washington and Havana talk about agriculture in a new technical meeting, Diario de Cuba (April 12, 2018).

[3] Boozman, Time to expand U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba, WashingtonDC100 (April 5, 2018).

Developments  in U.S.-Cuba Diplomatic Relations

As previously reported, beginning in late 2016 and continuing through August 2017, 24 U.S. diplomats stationed in Cuba have suffered various medical problems, which apparently were in connection with unusual sounds (sometimes referred to as “sonic attacks”). In response the U.S. in September  2017 reduced the staffing at its embassy in Havana and the State Department ordered non-essential embassy personnel and the families of all staff to leave Havana, arguing the U.S. could not protect them from unexplained illnesses. In addition, the U.S. expelled some of the Cuban diplomats from Washington, D.C. and imposed an advisory for U.S. citizens to reconsider plans to travel to Cuba because of the problems of some of its diplomats in Havana.[1]

In recent days there there have been significant developments on these issues.

Continued Reduced U.S. Staffing in Havana [2]

On March 2, the U.S. State Department announced that effective March 5, “a new permanent staffing plan will take effect. The embassy will continue to operate with the minimum personnel necessary to perform core diplomatic and consular functions, similar to the level of emergency staffing maintained during ordered departure. The embassy will operate as an unaccompanied post, defined as a post at which no family members are permitted to reside.”

The announcement also admitted that after over 15 months of investigation the U.S. still does “not have definitive answers on the source or cause of the attacks, and an investigation into the attacks is ongoing. The health, safety, and well-being of U.S. government personnel and family members . . . were a key factor in the decision to reduce the number of personnel assigned to Havana.”

Continued U.S. Travel Advisory for Cuba

Also on March 2 the State Department reissued its Travel Advisory for Cuba for U.S. citizens to “Reconsider travel to Cuba due to  attacks targeting U.S. Embassy Havana employees resulting in the drawdown of embassy staff.” It also stated the following:

  • “Numerous U.S. Embassy Havana employees appear to have been targeted in specific attacks.  Many of these employees have suffered injuries.  Affected individuals have exhibited a range of physical symptoms including ear complaints and hearing loss, dizziness, headaches, fatigue, cognitive issues, visual problems, and difficulty sleeping.” 
  • “Because our personnel’s safety is at risk, and we are unable to identify the source, we believe U.S. citizens may also be at risk.  Attacks have occurred in U.S. diplomatic residences (including a long-term apartment at the Atlantic)  and at Hotel Nacional and Hotel Capri in Havana.”
  • “The U.S. Embassy in Havana is operating with reduced staffing and, as result, has limited ability to assist U.S. citizens, particularly outside Havana.”  
  • “Family members cannot accompany U.S. government employees who work in Cuba.”
  • Specific suggestions were made for those U.S. citizens who nevertheless decide to travel to Cuba, including the following: “Avoid Hotel Nacional and Hotel Capri. Know where to seek medical care in Cuba. Consult with a medical professional prior to traveling if you have personal health concerns or upon return if you believe you have suffered symptoms similar to those listed above. Visit our website for Travel to High-Risk Areas. Review the Crime and Safety Report for Cuba.”

The Crime and Safety Report for Cuba was not issued by the State Department, but by the federal Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC). It states the State Department “ HAS ASSESSED HAVANA AS BEING A MEDIUM-THREAT LOCATION FOR CRIME DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS,” i..e., “non-violent crimes against tourists; . . . . roads are often dangerous due to lack of road maintenance.” A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS. HAVANA AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.”

U.S. Reactions to These U.S. Decisions [4]

“We have lost the strategic opportunity to pull Cuba into our sphere of interest,” said Vicki Huddleston, a former head of the U.S. interests section in Havana. “Cuba always needs to have benefactor … now the next benefactor will likely be Russia or China.”

With the reduced staffing, the U.S. is unable to maintain close ties with civil society and the opposition in Cuba. 

In addition to the previously noted inability of the Havana embassy to provide normal services to U.S. citizens on the island, it is unable to provide visa services to Cubans wanting to visit the U.S.

The six Democratic senators and representatives who visited Cuba last month, as discussed in an earlier post, already had expressed their opposition to the reduced staffing of the U.S. Embassy in Havana and the travel advisory for the island.

One of them, Representative Kathy Castor of Tampa, Florida, followed up with a February 28 letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. She stressed her concern about the “detrimental impact [of reduced staffing] on families, [and] educational, religious and cultural exchanges” between the two countries. With the upcoming anticipated change in Cuba’s presidency the U.S. “should be there promoting economic and human rights reforms and continued cooperative dialogue.”

Representative Castor’s letter also called for reversal of the “overarching travel warning” for Cuba and the restrictions on person-to-person travel to the island. “There is nothing in recent history to show that Cuba is unsafe for American visitors and travel restrictions serve no purpose.” In fact, these restrictions already are adversely affecting the emerging private sector on the island, which should be a force for change on the island and improved relations with the U.S.

Representative Barbara Lee (Dem.,  CA) had similar thoughts: “The decision of the State Department affects years of progress toward the normalization of relations with Cuba. Our diplomats should be allowed to do their job and return to their posts in Cuba.”

James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a U.S. coalition promoting U.S.-Cuba normalization, said, “”It is deeply disappointing that [the U.S. has chosen] . . . not to return U.S. diplomats to their assigned posts in Havana. This decision will be applauded in Moscow and Beijing, as both countries are poised to take advantage of Cuba’s historic transition of power while the United States remains on the sidelines. . . . As Washington continues to distance itself from Havana, U.S. adversaries have exerted greater influence. In a time of political uncertainty for Cuba, safeguarding U.S. national security interests remains more critical than ever. Last year, over a dozen retired U.S. military flag officers urged U.S. National Security Adviser General H.R. McMaster to continue to normalize relations with Cuba in order to strengthen regional stability in the Western Hemisphere.” 

Similar thoughts come from Cuba Educational Travel, which “organizes educational exchange programs and people-to-people travel for U.S. citizens and residents to Cuba” and believes “our two countries have much to learn from each other and meaningful exchanges that foster dialogue can be highly beneficial to strengthening the artistic, environmental, medical, scientific, and social science communities in the U.S. and Cuba. Most importantly, increased travel and people-to-people contact will strengthen ties between ordinary Americans and Cubans.”

Cuban Reactions to These U.S. Decisions [5]

Carlos Fernández de Cossío, the US General Director of the Cuban Foreign Ministry, said the continued low staffing of the U.S. Embassy is in response to U.S. “political motivations and has no relationship whatsoever with the security of its officials.” He also criticized the U.S. for continuing to use the word “attack,” when “it knows perfectly well that no attack or deliberate act occurred in Cuba against its diplomats.”

Sergio Gómez, a journalist with Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, provided the following comprehensive list of reasons why the U.S. should restore the full staffing of its Havana Embassy:

  1. There are millions of affected people, including Cubans on the island who intend to travel to the U.S. to visit a family member, attend an event or re-settle in the U.S. and, therefore, need the assistance of the U.S. Embassy.
  2. Requiring Cubans to go to the U.S. Embassy in Colombia imposes extra burdens  on Cubans and on that country.
  3. It makes it impossible for the U.S. to fulfill its commitment to issue 20,000 immigrant visas per year to Cubans.
  4. It impedes collaboration of scientists, scholars and athletes of the two countries.
  5. The U.S. expulsion of 17 Cuban diplomats from the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C. adversely affects its ability to assist  Cubans and Americans.
  6. There is no evidence of Cuban “attacks” on U.S. personnel.
  7. There is no evidence of Cuban causing the medical problems of U.S. personnel.
  8. Cuba has fully cooperated in investigating these medical problems, including welcoming the U.S. to do such investigations on the island.
  9. Cuba has an impeccable record of protecting foreign diplomats on the island.
  10. Cuba is a safe, stable and healthy country as evidenced by its welcoming 4 million foreign visitors last year, including 620,000 from the U.S.

Conclusion

The criticisms of these U.S. decisions from the U.S. and from Cuba are well founded. Restore full staffing of the Havana Embassy! Rescind the Travel Advisory for Cuba!

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[1] See posts listed in the “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2016-2018” section in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA

[2] U.S. State Dep’t, End of Ordered Departure at U.S. Embassy Havana (Mar. 2, 2018); Assoc. Press, Cuba ‘Health Attacks’ a Puzzle; Embassy Cuts Permanent, N.Y. Times (Mar. 2, 2018);Reuters, Drastic Staff Cuts at U.S. Embassy in Cuba Now Permanent, N.Y. Times (Mar. 2, 2018). 

[3] U.S. State Dep’t, Cuba Travel Advisory (Mar. 2, 2018); OSAC, Cuba 2017 Crime & Safety Report (Mar. 10, 2017). 

[4] Congressional Delegation Visits Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 24, 2018); Representative Castor, Letter to Secretary Tillerson (Feb. 28, 2018)l Engage Cuba Statement on Permanent Staff Reduction at U.S. Embassy in Havana (Mar. 2, 2018). 

[5] Gomez, Washington keeps cutting its Embassy in Cuba, Granma (Mar. 2, 2018); Gómez, Ten reasons why the United States should normalize its Embassy in. Havana, Granma (Mar. 2, 2018).

U.S. and Cuba Continue To Confer Over Common Concerns 

Despite various Trump Administration’s hostile actions regarding Cuba, the two countries continue to confer over common concerns. Three such conferences occurred this week in Washington, D.C..[1]

Conference on Money Laundering [2]

On February 12, 2018, the two countries met in Washington, D.C. to discuss combatting the crime of money laundering. This exchange, which falls within the context of the law enforcement dialogue between both countries, provided both parties with the opportunity to discuss this crime at a regional level, the main experiences gained in combatting this crime and the next steps that would be taken to advance the bilateral collaboration on this matter. 

The Cuban representatives underscored the necessity to increase the two countries’  cooperation and both parties shared the view that determined action is required against these acts and against those who commit them and the consensus was that impunity cannot be permitted.

The Cuban delegation also stated that for the comprehensive analysis of these issues, Cuba favors the exchange in different forums, mainly of the U.N. system. In addition, the Cuban government actively collaborates with the Financial Action Task Force of Latin America (GAFILAT), a regional inter-governmental organization to prevent and combat money laundering, terrorist financing and the funding of the proliferation of mass-destruction weapons. In its Mutual Evaluation Reports, GAFILAT acknowledges that the general risk for money laundering and terrorist financing in Cuba is low, highlights the inter-institutional coordination and cooperation existing at all levels in the country to combat these crimes and the updated legal framework Cuba has for this purpose.

The Cuban delegation was composed of representatives of the Ministry of the Interior, Banco Central de Cuba, the Office of the Attorney General of the Republic and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The U.S. delegation was composed of officials of the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, State, Health and Human Services and Treasury.

This was the second such meeting and took place in a respectful and professional ambience. Both parties agreed to continue with these technical exchanges in the future and to coordinate actions that may contribute to the effective combat against this crime.

Conference on Human Trafficking [3]

On February 13, 2018, at the U.S. State Department the parties met to give updates on the advances made, experiences gained and the challenges faced in the prevention of, and combat against, trafficking in persons and protection of victims.

Cuba emphasized its ratification of the zero-tolerance national policy against human trafficking, adoption of a National Plan of Action for 2017-2020 to Prevent and Combat Trafficking in Persons and to Protect the Victims thereof, the establishment of  a Commission to implement the multidisciplinary actions contained in said Plan, and the results of the visit to Cuba by Ms. María Grazia Giammarinaro, U.N. Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially in women and children.

Cuba also mentioned its establishment of a Family Protection Division and the operation of a Unique Telephone Line of the Attorney General’s Office; its specialized training seminars for prosecutors, judges and law enforcement officers, the workshops and training courses for educators, and the celebration of the World Day against Trafficking in Persons. In addition, Cuba stresses the preventive nature of its National Health System and the important role played by the Cuban medical doctors in the early detection and attention of potential victims of human trafficking, both in Cuba and in other countries where our nation provides medical cooperation.

In 2016, 21 cases were prosecuted in Cuba for crimes with typical features of trafficking in persons, through the typified crimes of “Corruption of Minors” and “Procurement and Trafficking in Persons”. In this same period, Cuba maintained international collaboration for the investigation and solution of cases transcending the national territory.

Cuba also asserted that the low incidence of trafficking in persons in Cuba is associated with its social and public safety achievements, equal opportunities and policies and programs aimed at empowering women, providing free access to health services, education, culture and sports, which reduces the country’s vulnerability and strengthens its capacity to increase international cooperation in this field, as a State Party to the legal instruments signed on this and other related matters.

This was the fifth such bilateral meeting on this subject since December 2014, the last occurring in January 2017, and both parties ratified the usefulness of the exchange, which took place in a professional and respectful ambiance, and agreed to continue holding these exchanges in the future.

Conference on Technical Issues About Human Trafficking [4]

On February 14, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security hosted a technical exchange on trafficking in persons, one of the eight working-level exchanges under the U.S.-Cuba Law Enforcement Dialogue. Participants discussed best practices on investigations and prosecutions, human trafficking trends in the region, and potential areas of coordination to fight the scourge of trafficking, which threatens national security and public health and safety in both countries.

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[1] Other posts to dwkcommentaries have discussed other U.S.-Cuba bilateral meetings in the Trump Administration: U.S. and Cuba Hold Discussions About Human Trafficking and Migration Fraud (Dec. 10, 2017); U.S. and Cuba Hold Bilateral Migration Talks (Dec. 12, 2017); Cuba and U.S. Continue To Hold Bilateral Meetings on Various Issues (Jan. 18, 2018).

[2] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuba and the United States hold exchange on the cooperation to prevent and combat money laundry (Feb. 13, 2018). 

[3] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Delegations from Cuba and the United States Hold Exchange on Trafficking in Persons (Feb. 13, 2018); U.S. State Dep’t, United States and Cuba Meet to Combat Trafficking in Persons (Feb.14, 2018).

[4]  U.S. State Dep’t, United States and Cuba Meet to Combat Trafficking in Persons (Feb.14, 2018); Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuba and the USA carry out technical exchanges on trafficking in persons and child sexual abuse (Feb. 14, 2018).

Perplexing Status of U.S. Travel to Cuba 

Three recent news reports have muddied the waters about U.S. visitors to Cuba .

First, last year was a record year for tourism in Cuba with 4.7 million visitors pumping more than $3 billion into the country’s struggling economy. Travelers from the U.S. rose to 619,000, which is more than six times the pre-Obama level.[1]

However, as a result of Hurricane Irma’s hitting the island last September and the Trump Administration’s hostility towards Cuba, including travel restrictions, U.S. visitors to Cuba dropped 30% last month according to Jose Manuel Bisbe York, the president of the Cuban state travel agency. Visitors from other countries also have decreased, but not as much as the U.S. This happened event though Cuba has fixed its tourism facilities over the last several months.[2]

Second, to  counter this recent drop in U.S. visitors to the island, on January 29, a score of US companies linked to the tourism sector met  in Havana to proclaim  that Cuba is a safe destination to which U.S.  citizens can still travel legally. The meeting was organized by InsightCuba, a pioneer in organizing and promoting trips to the island.[3]

An executive of American Airlines, which operates nine daily flights to Cuba, said, at the gathering, “We see many opportunities in Cuba, especially on the Havana-Miami route,” and “we have requested permission for 17 additional flights.” The president of the Association of Tour Operators of the United States, Terry Dale, added, “The message is that Cuba is open to business, safe, wonderful and legal for travelers from the United States” Another U.S. businessman said, “The reality is that Americans can continue to travel to Cuba almost as they did before the new regulations.”

Third, also on January 29 the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemispheric Affairs told the Nuevo Herald of Miami that 19 U.S. citizens who had visited Cuba after September 2017 had reported medical symptoms similar to those of some U.S. diplomats who had been stationed there. [4]

The Department’s  spokeswoman did not say whether US citizens reported hearing strange noises – as did some of the 24 diplomatic victims so far confirmed – nor whether they would have stayed at the Nacional or Capri hotels in Havana that previously had been identified as sites of some of the “attacks.” .Nor did it clarify whether U.S. doctors and investigators could have determined whether these travelers would have suffered the same kind of attack as diplomats. It encouraged “those who are concerned to seek medical attention.” For reasons of “privacy”, the Department will not disclose where the alleged attacks occurred or their symptoms or even what cities they had visited.

Conclusion

As explained in a prior post, the U.S. still has 12 general license categories that permit U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba. Thus, it is legal for U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba. In addition, the latest revision of the State Department’s travel advisory system does not advise citizens not to travel to Cuba; rather, it suggests that citizens reconsider plans to travel to the island (Category 3 of the new advisory system) and only tells them to avoid Havana’s Hotel Nacional and Hotel Capri, where some of the alleged “attacks” on diplomats occurred.

The apparent inability of the U.S. Government after 14 months of investigations here and in Cuba to identify the cause or culprit of the so-called “attacks” on U.S. diplomats and now apparently some ordinary U.S. citizens is at best “perplexing” as State Department officials recently testified at a Senate Subcommittee hearing.[5]

We all need to continue to pay close attention to ongoing developments on these issues.

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[1] Rodriguez, Tourism booming in Cuba despite tougher new Trump policy, Wash. Post (Jan. 19, 2018).

[2] Reuters, Cuba Tourism Slides in Wake of Hurricane Irma, Trump, N.Y. Times (Jan. 29, 2018)

[3]  Tourism companies in the United States say Cuba is a safe destination, CubaDebate (Jan. 29, 2018).

[4]  Torres, 19 visiting Americans  report symptoms of attacks in Cuba, Neuvo Herald (Jan. 29, 2018); Valencia, U.S. citizens in Cuba Suffered Similar Symptoms Experienced by Diplomats in Havana, State Department Says, Newsweek (Jan. 29, 2018); Nineteen tourists from the US have reported symptoms of attacks in Cuba, Diario de Cuba (Jan. 30, 2018).

[5] See posts listed in the “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2017”     section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries–Topical: CUBA.

 

State Department Creates Cuba Internet Task  Force and Suspends Enforcement of Statutory Liability for Trafficking in Certain Cuban Expropriated Property 

This week the U.S. State Department has taken two actions regarding Cuba: (1) creation of the Cuba Internet Task Force and (2) granting another six-month extension of the right of U.S. persons to sue traffickers in U.S. property that was expropriated by the Cuban government.

U.S.’ Cuba Internet Task Force.

On January 23, the U.S. Department of State issued a terse announcement that it “is convening a Cuba Internet Task Force composed of U.S. government and non-governmental representatives to promote the free and unregulated flow of information in Cuba. The task force will examine the technological challenges and opportunities for expanding internet access and independent media in Cuba.” The announcement also stated that the first public meeting of the Task force would be on February 7.[1]

This action was pursuant to President Trump’s June 16, 2017’s National Security Presidential Memorandum on Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba that he dramatically signed at a public meeting in the Little Havana district of Miami, Florida. The purpose of that document was to announce various policies “to promote a stable, prosperous, and free country for the Cuban people. . . . [to] channel funds toward the Cuban people and away from a regime that has failed to meet the most basic requirements of a free and just society [and to condemn abuses by the Cuban regime]. . . . [The] Administration will continue to evaluate its policies so as to improve human rights, encourage the rule of law, foster free markets and free enterprise, and promote democracy in Cuba.” (Section 1)[2]

More specifically Section 2 (d) of that Presidential Memorandum stated that the U.S. was to “Amplify efforts to support the Cuban people through the expansion of internet services, free press, free enterprise, free association, and lawful travel.”

The creation of the Task Force was criticized by Michael Bustamante, an assistant professor of Latin American history at Florida International University. He said, “By casting the issue of internet access in an explicitly political frame, it will only create greater obstacles for those U.S. telecom companies that have made inroads toward partnerships with the Cuban side. Measures like these strengthen the hand of those in Cuba for whom the prospect (and reality) of external meddling justifies maximum caution with respect to internal reform.”

Cuba immediately registered strong objections to the creation of this Task Force with good reason.[3]

Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, said, “In the past phrases like promoting “’freedom of speech’ and ‘expanding access to the internet in Cuba’ have been used by Washington as a pretext for schemes to destabilize the country using new technologies.”

One of Granma’s journalists, Sergio Gómez, declared, “If the administration of President Donald Trump intends to use new technologies to impose changes in the internal order of Cuba, he chose very old roads that have already demonstrated their ineffectiveness, without mentioning the obvious fact that they violate the laws of the affected country. even those of the United States.” Moreover, the “terrain chosen for the new aggression, Internet, clearly demonstrates what the true objectives of Washington are when it demands ‘ree access’  to the network in the countries that oppose it, while in its territory it maintains a tracking system and accumulation of data about what citizens do on the web.”

Gómez also asserted that the U.S. “shows a clear pattern of the use of social networks and the internet with objectives geopolitical and domination. All part of a doctrine of unconventional war designed to destabilize nations without the direct use of military forces, which has taken root after the failures in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

In another article, Gómez added details about Cuba’s expanded Internet access apparently to reject the implicit premise of the U.S. announcement that Cuba was continuing to suffer from lack of such access. Gomez said, “Cuba, by sovereign decision and to the extent of its economic possibilities, is increasing the access of its citizens to the network of networks. According to information provided by specialist Rosa Miriam Alizada, ‘2017 will be remembered as the boom in the expansion of access to the network in our country, with 40% of Cubans connected to the Internet, 37% more than in 2010, and for the naturalization of the internet connection in urban spaces from one end of the island to the other.’”

Another Cuban journalist with a Doctorate in Political Science from the University of Havana, Randy Alfonso Falcón, reported this was not the first time the U.S. had attempted to use the Internet regarding Cuba. On February 14, 2006, then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice created the Global Internet Freedom Task Force for “maximizing freedom of expression and free flow of information and ideas, especially in Cuba, Iran and China. The author also asserts that this general strategy was continued in the Obama administration.

Therefore, Falcón believes, “In the face of US action In the Cuban digital public space, our response cannot be merely defensive. We must look forward with a scientifically based vision that mobilizes responses and alternatives from Cuba to the extraordinary ideological and cultural confrontation that arises. Take by assault, from the knowledge, the tools of the new colonizers, build ours and endow them with symbols and emancipating essences.”

Suspension of Right To Sue Over Trafficking in Expropriated Property[4]

On January 24, the day after the creation of the Task Force, the State Department announced that once again it was suspending for six months the right to bring a legal action under Title III of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996 (a/k/a the Helms-Burton Law).

That Title III in section 302 states, “any person that . . . traffics in property which was confiscated by the Cuban Government on or after January 1, 1959, shall be liable to any United States national who owns the claim to such property for money damages.”

Since its adoption in 1996, however, Title III has been suspended for consecutive six-month periods by orders of Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and now Donald Trump. These suspensions have been made to avoid risking the alienation of U.S. setting legal precedents that contradict other principles of U.S. or international law and opening the door to a potential flood of claims.

John Kavulich, president of the United States-Cuba Economic and Trade Council, said last year that this clause could be “used as a surgical tool to pressure” governments and foreign companies to encourage the Government of Cuba to resolve the 5,913 certified claims that there is in the United States ,” for a total amount of $1.9 billion (with interest).

As previous posts have explained, Cuba recognizes its obligation under international law to pay reasonable compensation for expropriation of property owned by foreigners and in fact has done so for claimants from other countries. Thus, Cuba has conceded the major premise of any I.S. claim for damages for expropriation. In addition, this blog has suggested that the dispute over compensation for expropriation of property owned by Americans be submitted for resolution by an international arbitration tribunal. Presumably the only issue that might be disputed is the value of the property at the time of the expropriation and the amount of interest thereon.[5]

Conclusion

U.S. citizens who support U.S.-Cuba normalization now must see who is appointed to the Cuba Internet Task Force and what it proposes to do. For this blogger, the Task force is based on the erroneous premise that the U.S. may and should unilaterally decide what Internet facilities and access another country should have and unilaterally provide such facilities and technology.  Instead, the U.S. should seek to negotiate bilateral agreements with other countries to cooperate on such issues.

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, Creation of the Cuba Internet Task Force (Jan. 23, 2018); Reuters, State Department creates Cuba Internet Task Force (Jan.23, 2018); Torres, Trump administration wants to expand internet access in Cuba, Miami Herald (Ja. 23, 2018).

[2] President Trump Announces Reversal of Some U.S.-Cuba Normalization Policies, dwkcommentaries.com (June 19, 2017).   Surprisingly this Presidential Memorandum is no longer available on the White House website.

[3] Washington creates Internet Task Force to promote subversion in Cuba, Granma (Jan. 24, 2018); Gomez, The United States takes up failed policies towards Cuba, Granma (Jan. 23, 2018); Gomez, United States creates a new Task Force on the Internet for subversion in Cuba, Granma (Jan. 24, 2018).  See also posts cited in the “U.S. Democracy Promotion in Cuba” section of List of Posts to the List of Posts to dwkcommentaries.com—Topical: CUBA.

[4]  U.S. State Dep’t, United States Determination of Six Months’ Suspension Under Title III of Libertad (Jan. 24, 2018); Provision that allows Cuban Americans to sue for confiscated property in Cuba is suspended, Miami Herald (Jan. 24, 2018); Trump suspends for another six months the clause of the Helms Burton that allows expropriation lawsuits, Diario de Cuba (Jan. 24, 2018); Falcón, The US strategy for Cuba in the digital public space, CubaDebate (Jan, 24, 208).

[5]  See Resolution of U.S. and Cuba’s Damage Claims, dwkcommentaries.com (April 6, 2015); Resolving U.S. and Cuba Damage Claims, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 13, 2015).