Minnesota Orchestra ‘s “Celebrating Mandela at 100” Concert

As noted in a prior post, the Minnesota Orchestra in the summer of 2018 is producing a multifaceted celebration of the life of Nelson Mandela. It started with a July 20 concert entitled “Celebrating Mandela at 100” at its home, Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, which will be discussed in this post.[1] Below are photographs of the Hall’s exterior and interior.

 

 

 

 

The Concert’s First Half

The concert opened with African rhythms pounded on Djembe drums at the front of the stage by a dozen drummers (10 men, a young boy and a young girl) from the Heart and Soul Drum Academy, St. Paul, Minnesota. They accompanied six girls dancing down the aisles followed by 25 Mandela Washington Fellows[2] carrying the South African and other African flags to the stage to join the U.S. and Minnesota flags. The audience then stood for the Orchestra’s playing the two countries’ national anthems.

“Ruri” (Truly) by South African composer Michael Mosoeu Moerane (1902-1980) was performed by the Orchestra and a Mass Choir of 150 singers[3] to celebrate nature as evidence of divine benevolence.

Insingizi, a Zimbabwean male trio, then sang a selection of African songs.

Throughout the concert a large screen over the Orchestra and Mass Choir displayed English translations of the African lyrics to the vocal numbers and video clips of remembrances of Mandela by prominent people, including former U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale and broadcaster Tom Brokaw. A live remembrance was provided by Anant Singh, South Africa’s pre-eminent film producer, who discussed his creation and production of the film, “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” which was based on the autobiography of the same title.

The first half of the concert was closed with the Orchestra’s playing the Finale from Igor Stravinsky’s “The Firebird.”

 The Concert’s Second Half

The Orchestra and Mass Choir again joined forces, this time to perform “Akhala Amaqhude Amabil”  by South African composer James Stephen Mzilikazi Khumalo (b. 1932), who also is a retired professor of African languages and linguistics at a university in Johannesburg. This piece combined two Zulu folk songs featuring the call of the Zulu cock-crow (“Kikilikigi”) that served as the communal morning wake-up calls for people with no time-pieces of any kind. The choir obviously enjoyed singing this amusing piece although the big screen’s English translation of the birds’ call as “cock a doodle doo” was a bit off-putting.

The Orchestra, Mass Choir and audience were blessed with the attendance of Mandela’s eldest daughter, Makaziwe Mandela, who holds a doctorate in anthropology from the University of Massachusetts and now is Chairman of the House of Mandela, a business she started with her daughter, Tukwini, who accompanied her to this concert. Makaziwe described the struggles Mandela and his family made in fighting to end apartheid and added, “Music became a weapon against apartheid” with songs telling her father’s story and educating young people about the struggle. Indeed, music offered him a vision of “a world in harmony, a world governed by empathy and compassion and love” and listening to Handel’s “Messiah” and Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 5” brought tears to his eyes. She also confessed, “I never thought five years after my father has passed away he would be celebrated thousands of miles away in Minnesota.”

The Orchestra and Mass Choir returned to perform “Bawa Thixo Somandla” (Father God Omnipotent) by South African composer, Archibald Arnold Mxolisi Matyila (1938-1985). Composed around 1973, it became a protest song in the 1980’s against the South African government and apartheid.

Next in the program was a video clip by Yo Yo Ma with his words about Mandela and ending with his playing of the Largo movement of  Dvorák’s New World Symphony (Symphony No. 9 in E minor). As Ma was finishing his playing, the Orchestra seamlessly commenced its playing of the movement.

The concert then ended with two more pieces by the Orchestra and Mass Choir.

“More Abundantly” by Sonya Whitmore, an African-American gospel songwriter (arranged by Ricky Dillard, an African-American gospel singer) is now a traditional Gospel song based on the New Testament’s John 10:10: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (NRSV).

The final piece on the concert was “Usilenthela Uxolo (Nelson Mandela).” This is a song derived from a popular hit song by South African jazz legend Stompie Mavi that was adapted for choir by Imilonji KaNtu Choral Society with new text to celebrate Mandela’s release from prison in 1990. Thereafter it has remained popular as an ongoing tribute to Mandela. Its performance at this concert in Minneapolis was a joyous, full-throated rendition by the swaying Mass Choir.

Conclusion

This was a thrilling concert. The African rhythms and lyrics were all new to me as were the lyrics. It made me proud that the Minnesota Orchestra was exploring music that was totally new to them while honoring Mandela, a remarkable, inspiring human being. Now they go to South Africa for five concerts to further explore that country’s music and to meet and practice with its young musicians.

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[1] Minnesota Orchestra, Program;: Sommerfest 2018 at 22-24, 39-41; Ross, Minnesota Orchestra previews South African tour: ‘Music became a weapon against apartheid,’  StarTribune at B1, B6 (July 22, 2018).

[2] The Mandela Washington Fellows are emerging and accomplished Sub-Saharan African leaders who are sponsored by the U.S. State Department and currently studying at the University of Minnesota.

[3] The Mass Choir was composed of members of the Minnesota Chorale, the Better Together Choir from the Minnesota State Baptist Convention Choir and the Bethlehem Baptist Church Choir; the Shiloh Temple International Ministries Choir of Minneapolis; 29:11, a vocal ensemble from Cape Flats in Cape Town, South Africa; and Insingizi, a vocal trio from Zimbabwe.

 

State Department Officials Visit Cuba To Discuss Diplomats’ Health Incidents          

On July 24 three senior U.S. State Department officials visited Cuba and met with the staff at the U.S. Embassy in Havana. They were the Interim Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Francisco Palmieri; the Assistant Deputy Secretary of Administration, William Todd,; and the Undersecretary of Diplomatic Security, Michael Evanoff.[1]

They also met with the Director General of the United States of the Cuban Foreign Ministry, Carlos Fernández de Cossío.

Afterwards, Sr. Cossio said the U.S. is “manipulating this issue politically and irresponsibly. The State Department has behaved with a lack of transparency and cooperation, despite the insistent claims of Cuba to seek a response in a cooperative and comprehensive manner, given the reports that the State Department says it has received from its diplomats, but for which it has not shown the slightest evidence.”

Julia Mason, spokeswoman for the State Department, said, “The trip provided an opportunity for our senior officials to gain a deeper insight into the challenges posed by these attacks and their impact on US operations in the field.”

CBS News reports that a spokesperson for Senator Bob Corker (Rep., TN), the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has said that the State Department Accountability Review Board has “recently completed” a report on the case, as the committee awaits a briefing on it.

“There should be additional hearings in Congress about this,” says Daniel Runde, senior vice president at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. Worried about future attacks on U.S. diplomats, Rude says, “This needs to stop. This is outrageous. I think it is a significant danger.”

Cuba repeatedly has denied any responsibility and has said the U.S. has manipulated the “alleged health incidents” for political purposes. [2]

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[1] Goméz, Officials of the State Department in Cuba to discuss alleged incidents with the health of their diplomats, Cubadebate (July 24, 2018); Surprise visit of senior US officials to Havana for the ‘health incidents, Diario de Cuba (July 25, 2018); Dorsey, Top State officials visit Cuba, probe new health “attacks,” CBS News (July 24, 2018).

[2] Previous posts about the health incidents of U.S. diplomats in Cuba and more recently in China are listed in the “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2017-18″section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries–Topical: CUBA.

Cameroon: Conflict with U.S. Ambassador and  Reported Extrajudical Executions 

Cameroon has emerged again in international news coverage over conflict with the U.S. Ambassador and reported extrajudicial executions of two women, a child and a baby in the northern part of the country.

Conflict with U.S. Ambassador

This coming October 7 Cameroon will hold its presidential election, and the only viable candidate is the 85- year-old  Paul Biya, who has been President for the last 36 years.[1] Recently Cameroon has accused the U.S. Ambassador Peter Henry Barlerin, a career diplomat, of improper meddling in this upcoming election.

The problem arose on May 17,  when the U.S. Ambassador, released a press statement about his meeting that day with President Biya. The last point of that statement asserted that “the President and I discussed upcoming elections.  ‎I suggested to the President that he should be thinking about his legacy and how he wants to be remembered in the history books to be read by generations to come, and proposed that George Washington and Nelson Mandela‎ were excellent models.”[2] Each of them, of course, left their countries presidencies after only one term.

This comment by the  Ambassador’s “caused an uproar among officials in Cameroon and in the local media, which accused him of trying to influence a foreign election. Mr. Barlerin even received death threats.[3]

Five days after the Ambassador’s comments, May 22, Cameroon’s Minister of External Relations, H.E. Mbella Mbella, summoned the Ambassador to the Ministry and told him that the Cameroonian government strongly disapproved of his statement as flouting all diplomatic practice, civility and the law. Discussions between an ambassador and a head of state, according to the Minister, are privileged and confidential. The Minister also said that the Cameroonian people had fairly elected and re-elected Mr. Biya as their president, that Cameroon would not tolerate any foreign interference or meddling in its elections and that the Ambassador’s allegations regarding conduct of Cameroon’s defense and security forces were unfounded.[4]

Late last month, the Ambassador’s “photo was plastered across the covers of at least three local newspapers, which accused him of paying nearly $5 million to opposition candidates in the presidential race.” The U.S. Embassy released a statement calling this story  “entirely false.”

This diplomatic spat occurs while the country is going through a violent conflict between the majority of the population who speak French (the Francophones) and the minority who speak English (the Anglophones).[5]

Reported Extrajudicial Executions[6]

The country also has been battling Boko Haram extremists in its northern region. The latest in this conflict was a July 12 Amnesty International (AI) report of a grainy video on social media showing two women — one with a baby on her back and another holding hands with a young child — walking across a dirt patch. Armed men walk behind them, and one yells in French “You are B.H. [Boko Haram], you are going to die.” The men blindfold them and force them to kneel. Then they raise their rifles and shoot them.

According to AI , its experts have “gathered credible evidence that it was Cameroonian soldiers depicted in a video carrying out the horrific extrajudicial executions of two women and two young children.” The human rights group says the video was probably shot in Cameroon’s far north region, where Cameroonian forces have been fighting to push back Boko Haram extremists over the past several years. The Cameroonian government said it would investigate, while expressing skepticism about this analysis of the video.

On July 16, the U.S. State Department stated it was “gravely concerned” over this incident and called on “the Government of Cameroon to investigate thoroughly and transparently the events depicted in the video, make its findings public, and if Cameroonian military personnel were involved in this atrocity, hold them accountable.” This was necessary because “all countries, including Cameroon, must uphold their international and national commitments and obligations to protect the human rights of their residents and promote accountability.‎”

 

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[1] In a July 13, tweet, Biya announced that he was running for re-election. He said, “”I am willing to respond positively to your overwhelming calls. I will stand as Your Candidate in the upcoming presidential election.” (Reuters, Cameroon’s Veteran President Makes bid for Seventh Term, N.Y. Times (July 13, 2018).)

[2] U.S. Embassy in Cameroon, Ambassador Barlerin’s Statement to the Press (May 17, 2018).

[3] Searcey & Essomba, In Troubled Cameroon, U.S. Envoy Is Accused of Election Meddling, N.Y. Times (July 12, 2018).

[4] Mbella Mbella, Cameroon: Accusations By U.S. Ambassador—Government Expresses Strong Disapproval, allAfrica (May 22, 2018).

[5] See List of Posts in dwkcommentaries—Topical: CAMEROON.

[6] Amnesty Int’l, Cameroon: Credible evidence that Army personnel responsible for shocking extrajudicial executions caught on video (July 12, 2018);  O’Grady, Video appears to show Cameroonian soldiers executing women and children, Amnesty says, Wash. Post (July 14, 2018); U.S. State Dep’t, Press Statement: Video of Executions in Cameroon (July 16, 2018)

 

Cuba Remains on “Tier 2—Watch List” in U.S. State Department’s Annual Trafficking in Persons Report   

On June 28 the U.S. State Department released its Trafficking in Persons Report (June 2018), [1] pursuant to a U.S. federal statute (The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, as amended), requiring annual reports on human trafficking in every country of the world. After looking at the background for this report, we will examine its report on Cuba.

Background

This statute defines “severe forms of trafficking in persons” as “sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age; or  the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.” (Report at 5.)

This statute also defines the “minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in persons” as follows:

  • “(1) The government of the country should prohibit severe forms of trafficking in persons and punish acts of such trafficking. (2) For the knowing commission of any act of sex trafficking involving force, fraud, coercion, or in which the victim of sex trafficking is a child incapable of giving meaningful consent, or of trafficking which includes rape or kidnapping or which causes a death, the government of the country should prescribe punishment commensurate with that for grave crimes, such as forcible sexual assault. (3) For the knowing commission of any act of a severe form of trafficking in persons, the government of the country should prescribe punishment that is sufficiently stringent to deter and that adequately reflects the heinous nature of the offense. (4) The government of the country should make serious and sustained efforts to eliminate severe forms of trafficking in persons.” (Report at 44.)

The statute then goes on with great details on 12 Indicia of “Serious and Sustained Efforts” as used in the last of these four minimum standards. (Report at 44-45.)

The report placed the countries in the world into the following five tiers or categories (Report at 54):

Tier Definition Number of Countries
1 “The governments of countries that fully meet the TVPA’s minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.”   39
2 “The governments of countries that do not fully meet the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.”   81
2-Watch

List

“The government of countries that do not fully meet the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards, and for which: a) the absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing; b) there is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year, including increased investigations, prosecution, and convictions of trafficking crimes, increased assistance to victims, and decreasing evidence of complicity in severe forms of trafficking by government officials; or c) the determination that a country is making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with minimum standards was based on commitments by the country to take additional steps over the next year.”  43
Tier 3 “The governments of countries that do not fully meet the TVPA’s minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so” 23
Special Cases   4
TOTAL   190

Report on Cuba

Cuba remained on Tier 2 Watch List for the fourth consecutive year after four years in Tier 3.[2] Its introductory paragraph stated the following:

 “The Government of Cuba does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated significant efforts by prosecuting and convicting more traffickers, including a trafficker that subjected a boy to forced begging; creating a directorate to provide specialized attention to child victims of crime and violence, including trafficking; and publishing its national anti-trafficking plan for 2017-2020. However, the government did not demonstrate increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period. The government did not criminalize most forms of forced labor, or sex trafficking of children ages 16 and 17, and did not report providing specialized services to identified victims. The government lacked procedures to proactively identify forced labor victims and detained potential sex trafficking victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking. Because the government has devoted sufficient resources to a written plan, that, if implemented, would constitute significant efforts to meet the minimum standards, Cuba was granted a waiver per the Trafficking Victims Protection Act from an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3.” (Report at 156 (emphasis added.)[3]

The Report also provided the following “RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CUBA”

“Draft and enact a comprehensive anti-trafficking law that prohibits and sufficiently punishes all forms of human trafficking, including forced labor, sex trafficking of children ages 16 and 17, and the full range of trafficking ‘acts’ (recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring, or receiving persons); vigorously investigate and prosecute both sex trafficking and forced labor offenses; implement formal policies and procedures on the identification of all trafficking victims and their referral to appropriate services, and train officials, including first responders, in their use; adopt policies and programs that provide trafficking-specific, specialized assistance for male and female trafficking victims, including measures to ensure identified sex and labor trafficking victims are not punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to sex trafficking or forced labor; establish a permanent inter-ministerial anti-trafficking committee and implement the 2017-2020 national anti-trafficking action plan in partnership with international organizations; implement policies to prohibit force, fraud, or coercion by foreign labor recruiters and state-owned or controlled enterprises in recruiting and retaining employees; educate workers about trafficking indicators and where to report trafficking-related violations; and provide specialized training on trafficking indicators for hotline staff and interpretation for non-Spanish speakers.” (Report at 158.)

The Report’s conclusion on Cuba under the heading “Trafficking Profile” states as follows:

“As reported over the past five years, Cuba is a source, transit, and destination country for adults and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Sex trafficking and sex tourism, including child victims, occur within Cuba. Traffickers subject Cuban citizens to sex trafficking and forced labor in South America, the Caribbean, and the United States. Traffickers subject foreign nationals from Africa and Asia to sex trafficking and forced labor in Cuba to pay off travel debts. The government is the primary employer in the Cuban economy, including in foreign medical and other overseas missions that employ more than 84,000 workers in more than 67 countries, including Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela. These medical missions constitute a significant source of Cuban government income. Some participants in foreign medical missions as well as other sources allege that Cuban officials force or coerce participation in the program; the government has stated the postings are voluntary, and some participants also have stated the postings are voluntary and well-paid compared to jobs within Cuba. The Cuban government acknowledges that it withholds passports of overseas medical personnel in Venezuela; the government provided ID cards to such personnel in place of passports. There are also claims about substandard working and living conditions in some countries. Observers noted Cuban authorities coerced some participants to remain in the program, including by allegedly withholding their passports, restricting their movement, using “minders” to monitor participants outside of work, threatening to revoke their medical licenses, retaliate against their family members in Cuba if participants leave the program, or impose exile if participants didn’t return to Cuba as directed by government supervisors. The government uses some high school students in rural areas to harvest crops and does not pay them for their work but claims this work is not coerced.” (Report at 158 (emphasis added.)

The portion of this Profile about Cuba’s foreign medical missions’ alleged use of forced labor is highlighted because, as discussed below, this blogger believes such allegation is erroneous.

Conclusion

There are at least two major objections to this report on Cuba.

First, there is no mention of  the bilateral U.S.-Cuba discussions about human trafficking that have occurred since the December 17, 2014, announcement of U.S.-Cuba rapprochement. Unfortunately the brief official announcements of such discussions do not provide details of the substance of the discussions.[4] But such discussions may bear light on the U.S. report about Cuba.

Second, there also is no merit to the Report’s allegation that Cuba’s employment of Cuban medical personnel in foreign missions is  illegal forced labor. Details are provided in a prior post, but here is a summary for that conclusion:

  • There is conflicting evidence on the coercion issue and there has been no adjudication of that issue.
  • International medical aid has been a significant part of the Cuban people’s tradition of solidarity, and some Cuban medical personnel have said that such service had a major positive impact on their lives and medical careers.
  • A detailed study by Indiana State University’s Emeritus Professor of International Politics and Latin America, Dr. H. Michael Erisman, rejects the accusation of forced labor.
  • Medical education in Cuba is free and requiring medical graduates to pay the country back by such participation seems entirely appropriate and may indeed be a contractual or quasi-contractual obligation.
  • Having Cuban medical personnel participate in foreign medical mission does not violate the relevant international legal standard (the Forced Labour Convention, 1930) because it expressly excludes “any work or service which forms part of the normal civic obligation of the citizens of a fully self-governing country.”

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, Trafficking in Persons Report: June 2018.  At the State Department’s Launch Ceremony public comments were made by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Kari Johnstone, the acting director for the Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons plus 10 TIP Heroes from around the world. Earlier there was a background briefing for journalists. (See U.S. State Dep’t, Remarks at the 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report Launch Ceremony (June 28, 2018) ; U.S. State Dep’t, Senior State Department Official on the 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report (June 28, 2018).

[2] Some of the prior reports about trafficking in Cuba are discussed in the following posts to dwkcommentariess.com: U.S. Upgrades Cuba in State Department’s Annual Report on Human Trafficking (Aug. 7, 2015); Comment: Cuba’s International Medical Mission Doctors’ Reflections (Nov. 30, 2015); U.S. State Department’s 2015 Human Trafficking Report’s Objectivity About Cuba Is Still Unresolved (Nov. 16, 2015); U.S. Reasserts Upgrade of Cuba in Annual Human Trafficking Report (July 2, 2016); U.S. Senate Hearing on 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report (July 20, 2016); Cuba’s Unchanged Status in U.S. State Department’s Annual Report on Human Trafficking (Aug. 13, 2017).

[3] The Report provides greater details on Cuba’s Prosecution, Protection and Prevention. (Report at 156-58.)

[4]  See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com about such mentions of bilateral discussions about human trafficking: This Week’s U.S.-Cuba Meetings in Havana (Jan. 18, 2015); U.S.-Cuba Bilateral Commission Sets Agenda for Future Discussions of Remaining Issues (Sept. 12, 2015); Results of Second Meeting of U.S.-Cuba Bilateral Commission (Nov. 11, 2015); United States-Cuba Bilateral Commission Meets To  Review Normalization Status (May 18, 2016); U.S. and Cuba Hold Another Meeting of the Bilateral Commission (Sept. 30, 2016); U.S. and Cuba Continue To Implement Normalization of Relations (Jan. 17, 2017); U.S. and Cuba Hold Biannual Migration Talks (Dec. 12, 2017); U.S. and Cuba Hold Discussions About Human Trafficking and Migration Fraud (Dec. 15, 2017); U.S. and Cuba Continue To Confer Over Common Concerns (Feb. 2, 2018).

 

 

U.S. Asks Cuba To Release Two “Prisoners of Conscience” 

On June 26, the U.S. asked Cuba to release two men whom Amnesty International has called “prisoners of conscience.”[1]

According to the U.S. State Department, Dr. Eduardo Cardet Concepción “is serving a three-year sentence for allegedly criticizing former Cuban leader Fidel Castro. In May, Cuban authorities told his family they would not be allowed to visit him in jail for six months as punishment for his family’s efforts to raise awareness of his case internationally.”

The other man, Dr. Ariel Ruiz Urquiola, last month was “sentenced to a year in prison for allegedly disrespecting government authority. Cuban government officials have harassed Dr. Ruiz Urquiola for years for speaking out on environmental issues. We are deeply troubled by reports that he is currently on a hunger strike and in a critical medical condition.”

These two men “are just two examples of how the Cuban government continues to silence the peaceful opposition of its own citizens.” Therefore, the U.S. calls “on the Government of Cuba to release all political prisoners immediately and to stop its arbitrary detention of Cuban activists and independent thinkers who criticize their government through peaceful means. We also call on the Cuban government to cease reprisals against the family members of these activists.”

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, Press Statement: Release of Political Prisoners (June 26, 2018); Reuters, United States Urges Cuba to Release Two ‘Prisoners of Conscience,’ N.Y. Times (June 26, 2018); Amnesty Int’l, Cuba: Environmental Activist Imprisoned: Dr. Ariel Ruiz Urquiola (June 12, 2018); Amnesty Int’l, Cuba: Demand Release of Human Rights Defender: Dr. Eduardo Cardet Concepción (Jan. 31, 2017); Amnesty Int’l, Cuba:Further Information: Defender sentenced after criticizing Castro: Dr. Eduardo Cardet Concepción (Mar. 27, 2017); Amnesty Int’l, Cuba: Further Information: Human Rights Defender’s Sentence Upheld: Dr. Eduardo Cardet Concepción (May 25, 2017); Amnesty Int’l, Cuba: Further Information: Prisoner of Conscience Attacked in Prison: Dr. Eduardo Cardet Concepción (Jan. 22, 2018); Amnesty Int’l, Cuba: Family of Prisoner of Conscience Denied Visits (June 7, 2018).

U.S. Programs Purportedly Supporting Democracy and Human Rights in Cuba

The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee has just approved a bill for Fiscal 2019 (2018-2019) that includes funding for purported democracy promotion in Cuba, which will be discussed after looking at the latest U.S. Department of State’s annual report on such programs for May 2016-May 2017.

Programs for 2016-2017[a]

Democratic Institutions and Civil Society

“U.S. support enables local organizations to further their countries’ own democratic development, as well as in areas such as disaster relief, social services, and capacity building opportunities. U.S. support also enables civil society organizations to drive innovations and develop new ideas and approaches to solve social, economic, and political problems. Additionally, through support from the U.S. government, civil society actors develop their capacity to advocate to leaders to promote human rights and foster democratic institutions. [13]”

“These programs strengthen the ability of civil society organizations to influence governments on behalf of citizens, increase accountability, advocate for political reform, and promote tolerance. Our assistance supports organizations that work on issues such as freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, religious freedom, advancing the status of women and girls, democratic governance and political participation, the prevention of human trafficking and gender-based violence (GBV), rule of law, and protection of local independent media. [14]”

Elections and the Political Process

“The United States conducts and supports programming to promote and protect independent media coverage of elections, improve political party organization and elections legislation, and implement legislation to provide access to official information and protect freedom of peaceful assembly, including within the context of elections and political processes. [19]”

“The United States supports free and independent media reporting to increase understanding of election processes. [21]”

Labor rights, Economic Opportunity, and Inclusive Growth

The United States works with the International Labor Organization, the International Finance Corporation, other international organizations, and a range of civil society partners to support worker rights and well-regulated labor markets. [23]”

Independent Media, Press Freedom, and Internet Freedom

The U.S. works “to address [Gender-Based Violence] GBV that occurs online. U.S. projects further the professionalization of women in journalism, coverage of gender issues, and women’s voices in the media. In closed societies, U.S.-supported broadcast programming provides the public with alternative sources of news. We support access to an open and secure internet as well as training programs that increase citizen access to information,[31] including through U.S.-funded resource centers.[32]

Some of these programs for Cuba are carried out by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) directly or more frequently through private-compnay contractors. As of July 31, 2017, USAID stated the following about Cuba:[b]

  • “USAID provides on-going humanitarian assistance to political prisoners and their families, and politically marginalized individuals to alleviate the hardships suffered because of their political beliefs or efforts to exercise their fundamental freedoms. Since the program’s inception, USAID has provided nutritional food items, vitamins, over-the-counter medicines, and toiletries to thousands of Cuban families, providing an invaluable lifeline to improve their physical and psychological well-being.”
  • “USAID supports broad-based development activities by providing technical and material assistance to organize, train, and energize small groups of people within their communities. These efforts empower Cuban citizens to work together in an independent manner and reduce their dependence on the state. USAID also provides trainings on documenting human rights abuses according to international standards and raises awareness of such abuses within Cuba and around the world.”
  • “USAID has provided basic news and information about issues relevant to Cubans from inside Cuba and around the world. USAID programs have disseminated books, magazines, newspapers, and pamphlets to broad segments of the population. USAID also helped train hundreds of journalists over the last decade whose work has appeared in major international news outlets.”
  • “USAID programs reflect the principles enshrined in the United Nations Convention on Human Rights(link is external)and Inter-American Democratic Charter(link is external), such as freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion.”

“USAID’s FY2015 budget for our programs in Cuba is $6.25 million.

Programs for 2018-2019[c]

For Fiscal 2018-2019, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee has just approved the FY2019 State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs  Appropriations Bill.

It included the following funding specially designated for Cuba: democracy programs and civil society, $15 million and Office of Cuba Broadcasting, $29 million. Other approved general spending under the heading “Democracy Funding/Promotion” conceivably could relate, in part, to Cuba: National Endowment for Democracy, $170 million; internet freedom programs, $13.8 million, and “rapid response funding to surge internet freedom programs in closed societies if political events in-country merit it, $2.5 million.”

Conclusion

Having U.S. programs to promote democracy in other countries sounds like a great idea, and maybe some of them are if they are bilateral programs with the consent and approval of the other countries.

But such past programs for Cuba have not been done with the consent and approval of the Cuban government. As a result, such programs have produced the opposite result: Cuban suspicion and resistance to individuals and groups that argue for increased democracy on the island.

Therefore, U.S. friends of Cuba should try to find out more about these future programs and support those, if any, that are for bilateral cooperation and oppose those, if any, that do not involve cooperation with Cuban authorities.

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[a] U.S. State Dep’t,  2016-17 Advancing Freedom and Democracy Report The programs for Cuba are identified by correlating the mentions of Cuba in footnotes with the text of the report.

[b] USAID, About Cuba.

[c]  U.S. Senate Appropriations Comm., FY2019 State & Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill Cleared by Senate Committee (June 21, 2018); Sen. Rubio, Rubio Secures Key funding to Promote Human Rights, Democracy, and Development Assistance Around the World (June 21, 2018).

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).