Injured U.S. and Canadian Diplomats in Cuba: New Developments

There have been several recent developments regarding the U.S. and Canadian diplomats who have suffered injuries while serving in Cuba.

First, the two counties’ diplomats have sued their respective governments.

The Canadian lawsuit in Toronto on February 6 alleges that the Canadian government was slow to respond to complaints about these injuries and has failed to provide sufficient medical care.The suit seeks (CAN)$ 28 million [(US)$ 21]  in damages on behalf of 14 diplomats, spouses and their children.

The U.S. lawsuit, which was commenced on February 7 by some of the affected U.S. diplomats, is a Freedom of Information Request to obtain documents related to the State Department’s Accountability Review Board’s investigation of the situation.

Second, the State Department has commissioned the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to conduct a new study to understand “the possible causes of these cases and approaches for future incidents, whether of an apparent acoustic nature or a different environmental or clinical presentation.” This investigation will look at “health monitoring, medical interventions, risk assessment and exposure mitigation for overseas locations that may present a higher risk of adverse health effects.”

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Bilfsky, Canadian Diplomats Sue Their Government Over Mysterious Disease, N.Y. Times (Feb. 7, 2019); Assoc. Press, Canadian Diplomats File suit Over Injuries Suffered in Cuba, N.Y. Times (Feb. 7, 2019); Atkinson, State Dept. asks scientists to study mysterious illness scare in Cuba, Axios (Feb. 5, 2019); Center for Democracy in the Americas, State Department asks scientists to study mysterious illness scare in Cuba: U.S. personnel file suit, U.S.-Cuba News Brief (Feb. 8, 2019). 

U.S. Announces Suspension of Military Aid to Cameroon

On February 6 the U.S. State Department announced that the U.S. was suspending some military aid to the West African country of Cameroon. The U.S. had terminated a C-130 aircraft training program; halted deliveries of four defender boats, nine armored vehicles and an upgrade of a Cessna aircraft for Cameroon’s rapid intervention battalion; and withdrawn its offer for Cameroon to be part of the State Partnership Program. “For the time being, other programs will continue,” a State Department official said.

The reason for this action was concern over alleged human rights abuses by the country’s security forces. The State Department said, ‘We do not take these measures lightly, but we will not shirk from reducing assistance further if evolving conditions require it. We emphasize that it is in Cameroon’s interest to show greater transparency in investigating credible allegations of gross violations of human rights security forces, particularly in the Northwest, Southwest, and Far North Regions.”

The U.S. decision comes after videos circulated online last year showing Cameroonian security forces shooting and killing civilians, including women with small children strapped to their backs. The videos were documented by Amnesty International and global media outlets.

The top U.S. diplomat for Africa, Tibor Nagy, said in December that he feared the separatist crisis could get “much, much” worse and warned against a “brutal response” to extremism, saying it could lead to radicalization. Cameroon also faces a deadly threat from fighters with the Boko Haram extremist group based in neighboring Nigeria.

The United Nations has said some 430,000 people in Cameroon’s Southwest and Northwest regions have fled the fighting between security forces and English-speaking separatists who seek independence from the largely French-speaking country.

Reactions

There was no immediate comment from Cameroon’s government on the U.S. action. In recent months, however, it has ordered investigations into some of the alleged abuses and some people have been arrested.

The U.S. Ambassador to Cameroon, Rene Emmanuel Barlerin, on February 7 said,”We are not going to stop security cooperation with Cameroon. We have our differences, Cameroon is a sovereign country and the United States is a sovereign country,” after meeting with Cameroon’s government. The Ambassador added, “Relations between Cameroon and the United States are excellent and longstanding and we aim to continue that relationship.”

Also on February 7, at a U.S.  Senate Committee on Armed Services hearing, Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, commander of U.S. Africa Command, said Cameroon has “been a good partner with us counterterrorism-wise, but you can’t neglect the fact that . . . there are alleged atrocities.” The General also testified that last October, before Cameroon’s widely contested presidential elections, he and the U.S. ambassador to the country had “a very direct conversation” with its President Paul Biya about investigations into alleged atrocities and “appropriate battlefield behavior. We were very emphatic with President Biya that the behavior of his troops, the lack of transparency could have a significant impact on our ability to work with them.” 

Commander Candice Tresch, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon, noted, “the U.S. government does not provide assistance to security force units or individuals where we have credible information that the unit committed a gross violation of human rights.We have informed the Cameroonian government that lack of progress and clarity about actions undertaken by the government in response to credible information of gross violations of human rights could result in a broader suspension of U.S. assistance.”

France, which administered what has become the Francophone region of Cameroon under a mandate from the League of Nations after World War I until the early 1950’s, said it would not follow the U.S. suspension of military aid to the country’s government. A French Foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said, ”France is bound by a defense partnership agreement that it conducts according to the international standards. In accordance with international humanitarian law and the law of armed conflict, this cooperation is also intended to help Cameroon’s defense and security forces combat terrorism, especially against Boko Haram in the north of the country, while protecting the people. This cooperation continues.”

This French position may be influenced by its significant business interests in its former colony and by its reliance on Cameroon to fight against Islamist militants. France, therefore, has been careful not to overly criticize the government’s handling of the crisis. It has urged the Cameroonian government to engage in dialogue to stop an escalation in violence.

Amnesty International (AI) supported the U.S. decision and urged the U.S. to suspend all security assistance “until the Cameroonian government can show it has not been utilized to commit serious violations of international law and persons responsible have been held accountable.” AI also AI also called on the Trump administration to press other donors to review their assistance to Cameroon and insist on reforms.

Conclusion

As demonstrated by several earlier posts, this blogger fully supports the U.S. decision and urges other countries and international organizations, including the United Nations and the African Union, to take actions supporting increased pressures on the Cameroon government to stop its harassment, persecution and killings of Anglophones in its country.

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Assoc. Press, US Cuts Military aid to Cameroon Over Human Rights Concerns, N.Y. Times (Feb. 6, 2019); Reuters, U.S. Halts Some Cameroon Military Assistance Over Human Rights: Official, N.Y. Times (Feb. 6, 2019); Reuters, France Says to Continue Military Cooperation with Cameroon, N.Y. Times (Feb. 7, 2019); Moki, US ambassador says Cameroon relations good despite aid cut, Wash. Post (Feb. 6, 2019);  O’Grady, U.S. cuts some military assistance to Cameroon, citing allegations of human rights violations, Wash. Post (Feb. 7, 2019). 

U.S. Considering Re-Designating Cuba as “State Sponsor of Terrorism” 

According to the Miami Herald, the U.S. is considering re-designating Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” if Cuba’s government and military continue to support Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela. A senior U.S. official said,  ”What Cubans are doing in Venezuela is unacceptable,. And the United States is evaluating options to address that behavior.” [1]

This unnamed official added, ““The Cubans are executing a strategy to keep the military from second-guessing their support to Maduro. The only thing that is preventing the generals from supporting President Juan Guaidó is the surveillance Cubans are doing. What is keeping [Nicolas] Maduro going is Cuba’s logistical support.”

Another potential reason for such a re-designation is Cuba’s refusal so far to extradite Colombian leaders of the guerilla group ELN — in Havana for currently suspended peace negotiations —for suspected involvement in. last week’s fatal car bombing in Bogota. The Cuban government, however, condemned the attack, but said it would follow the protocols agreed at the start of peace negotiations in 2017. These provide security guarantees for guerrilla commanders to return to Colombia or Venezuela within 15 days of an end to talks and bar military offensives for 72 hours. [2]

Reactions

This possible re-designation predictably was endorsed by Senator Marco Rubio. He said, “Maduro had ‘bought’ the loyalty of the largely corrupt generals. They are also loyal, by the way, because the Cubans are spying on them. The Cuban intelligence agencies quickly pick up on any of these military officers that are being disloyal or expressing doubts and those guys are arrested. There has been a massive purge of Venezuelan military officers over the last two years … And it wasn’t because of corruption … It was because the Cubans caught them and reported them.”

According to William LeoGrande, a Cuba expert and American University professor, “Putting Cuba back on the list of state sponsors of international terrorism would not have a major practical impact on Cuba because almost all the financial sanctions that such a designation entails are already in place under the broader Cuban embargo. However, Cuba would take it as a great insult, and it would certainly have an extremely negative effect on state-to-state cooperation on issues of mutual interest.”

LeoGrande added, ““The Cuban government certainly recognizes that Maduro’s situation is dire and the worst outcome for Cuba would be complete regime collapse through civil violence or external military intervention. Regime collapse would probably mean an immediate end to Venezuelan oil shipments to Cuba — a blow to [Cuba’s] already fragile economy. Cuba would be willing to help find a negotiated political solution to the Venezuelan crisis . . . but only if both Maduro and the opposition are willing to seek such a solution. At the moment, neither side seems willing to accept any compromise. As a result, the Cubans are essentially stuck with Maduro, even as the chances for his survival diminish.”

Another U.S. expert on Cuba, Ted Henken, a professor at Baruch College, said, “Returning Cuba to the list could be disastrous for the Cuban economy because it would scare away desperately needed foreign investments, already very small.”

Background

The State Department summarizes the statutory requirements for “state sponsor of terrorism” as a state that has been “determined [by the Secretary of State] to have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism.” [3]

The Cuban government was on the list of countries that sponsor terrorism from 1982 until 2015, when the Obama administration ruled the island was no longer supporting terrorist organizations. More specifically, the State Department in April 2015 stated its recommendation to President Obama for rescission “reflects the Department’s assessment that Cuba meets the criteria established by Congress for rescission . . . . whether Cuba provided any support for international terrorism during the previous six months, and whether Cuba has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.” This conclusion was based, in part, upon “corroborative assurances received from the Government of Cuba. [4]

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[1] Gamez Torres, U.S. considers putting Cuba on terror list over island’s support of Maduro, Miami Herald (Jan. 25, 2019).

[2[ Reuters, Cuba Urges Colombia, ELN Rebels to Follow Peace Talks Protocol, N.Y. times (Jan. 26, 2019).

[3] State Dep’t, State Sponsor of Terrorism. The three statues are section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act, section 40 of the Arms Export Control Act, and section 620A of the Foreign Assistance Act.

[4] President Obama Rescinds U.S. Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism,” dwkcommentaries.com (April 15, 2015). See also other posts listed in the “Cuba: State Sponsor of Terrorism?” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical (CUBA).

President Trump Considering Another Hostile Action Against Cuba 

On January 16, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo extended for 45 days the right to bring certain lawsuits in U.S. federal courts  by Americans who owned property in Cuba that was confiscated by its government. [1]

The Announcement

The State Department stated that this 45-day extension, instead of the usual six-month extension, “will permit us to conduct a careful review of the right to bring action under Title III [of the Helms-Burton or LIBERTAD Act] in light of the national interests of the United States and efforts to expedite a transition to democracy in Cuba and include factors such as the Cuban regime’s brutal oppression of human rights and fundamental freedoms and its indefensible support for increasingly authoritarian and corrupt regimes in Venezuela and Nicaragua.”

This announcement added, “We call upon the international community to strengthen efforts to hold the Cuban government accountable for 60 years of repression of its people. We encourage any person doing business in Cuba to reconsider whether they are trafficking in confiscated property and abetting this dictatorship.”

This right to sue was created by Title III of the Helms-Burton Act of 1996. It would permit lawsuits against persons who profit from property in Cuba that was expropriated from Americans. For example, there could be hundreds of lawsuits against corporations around the world, such as  Spanish companies that run Cuban hotels as well as Chinese and Turkish firms renovating Cuban ports. Exempt from this provision of  the Act  are U.S. companies involved in U.S. legal travel to Cuba such as AirBnB, airlines and cruise companies. But the exact meaning of this exemption could be tested in litigation, for example, over U.S. and foreign airlines landing at Havana’s Jose Marti Airport, which is built on land expropriated from a family now living in Miami.

Every  U.S. president since the enactment of the Helms-Burton Act, starting with Bill Clinton and including Trump in 2017 and 2018, has suspended Title III, for six months each time, because of its potential to alienate U.S. allies and complicate any future American detente with Cuba. Moreover, not suspending title III would create a huge obstacle to new foreign investment in Cuba.[2]

The most recent extension of only 45 days and the stated reason for this extension raise the real possibility that the Trump Administration will grant no additional suspensions or waivers of Title III and thereby permit such lawsuits.

Reactions to This Announcement[3]

This announcement predictably was applauded by Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL). He said in a tweet that it “is a strong indication of what comes next. If you are trafficking in stolen property in #Cuba, now would be a good time to get out.” A similar opinion was expressed by Representative Mario Diaz-Balart (Rep., FL).

Three U.S. experts on Cuba, however, criticized this possible change. Professor William LeoGrande of American University said, “It would cause an enormous legal mess, anger U.S. allies in Europe and Latin America, and probably result in a World Trade Organization case against the U.S.” He added that the State Department previously had estimated that allowing Title III to go into effect could result in 200,000 or more lawsuits being filed. Another expert, Phil Peters, said, “If they take this decision they will be moving from a policy of limiting U.S. engagement with Cuba to a policy of very actively trying to disrupt the Cuban economy.” The third, Michael Bustamante, assistant professor of history at Florida International University, stated, “Legitimate property claims need to be resolved, but in the context of a bilateral negotiation. Those backing the enforcement of Title III seem most intent on sowing havoc rather than achieving a positive good.”

Cuban authorities naturally had negative reactions to this proposed change. President Miguel Diaz-Canel said on Twitter that “we vigorously reject this new provocation, meddling, threatening and bullying, in violation of international law.”

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez described the announcement as “political blackmail and irresponsible hostility aimed at hardening the blockade on Cuba. The government of President Donald Trump threatens to take a new step that would reinforce, in a dangerous way, the blockade against Cuba, would flagrantly violate International Law and directly attack the sovereignty and interests of third countries. It . . . [is] a hostile act of extreme arrogance and irresponsibility [issued in] the disrespectful and slanderous language of the State Department’s public message.”

Conclusion

This U.S. announcement follows shortly after U.S. Senators Robert Menendez and Rubio called for another hostile U.S. action against Cuba—the re-establishment of the U.S. parole policy for Cuban medical professionals, which was criticized in a recent post.[4]

Both of these proposed U.S. actions may well have been promoted or provoked by National Security Advisor John Bolton, who has long-held hostile opinions about Cuba and more recently has called Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua “the Troika of Tyranny.” Moreover, on November 1 in Miami, Bolton said the Administration was “seriously” considering new measures against the Cuban government, including allowing Cuban exiles whose properties were confiscated by the Castro government to file lawsuits in U.S. courts against foreign companies currently using those properties.[5]

Both of these proposed hostile actions by the U.S., in this blogger’s opinion, are ill-advised as unnecessarily creating additional conflicts with a close neighbor, with whom the U.S. should be fostering better relations as was done by President Obama after December 17, 2014.

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, Secretary’s Determination of 45-Day Suspension Under Title III of LIBERTAD Act (Jan. 16, 2019); Reuters, U.S. Considering  Allowing Lawsuits Over Cuba-Confiscated Properties, N.Y. Times (Jan. 16, 2019); Assoc. Press, Trump Weighs Dramatic Tightening of US Embargo on Cuba, N.Y. Times (Jan. 17, 2019).

[2] U.S..State Dep’t, United States Determination of Six Months Suspension under Title III of LIBERTAD Act (July 14, 2017); Lederman, Trump administration again suspends a part of Cuba embargo, Fox News (July 14, 2017); Whitefield, Trump to suspend lawsuit provision of Helms-Burton Act in August, Miami Herald (July 17, 2017); U.S. Continues To Suspend Part of Its Embargo of Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (July 20, 2017); U.S. State Dep’t, United States Determination of Six Months Suspension under Title III of LIBERTAD Act (Jan. 24, 2018); State Department Creates Cuba Internet Task Force and Suspends Enforcement of Statutory Liability for Trafficking in Certain Cuban Expropriated Property, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 25, 2018); U.S. State Dep’t, Secretary’s Determination of Six Months Suspension under Title III of LIBERTAD Act (June 28, 2018); Whitefield, Trump administration extends ban on lawsuits over confiscated property in Cuba, Miami Herald (June 28, 2018).

[3] Fn. 1; Guzzo, U.S. might allow lawsuits over U.S. properties nationalized in Cuba, Tampa Bay Times (Jan. 17, 2019); Cuba Foreign Minister Rodriguez, Cuba strongly rejects the threat of activation of Article III of the Helms Burton Act, Granma (Jan. 17, 2019).

[4] Senators Menendez and Rubio Call for Restoring U.S. Parole Program for Cuban Doctors, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 11, 2019).

[5] U.S. National Security Advisor Announces New U.S. Hostility Towards Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 3, 2018).

Senators Menendez and Rubio Call for Restoring U.S. Parole Program for Cuban Doctors

On January 9,  Cuba-American U.S. Senators Bob Menendez (Dem., NJ) and Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) offered S.Res. 14—Affirming that the Government of Cuba’s foreign medical missions constitute human trafficking.[1]

This proposed resolution, however, is based upon a false premise as will be shown in the final section of this post. First, we will examine this new resolution itself and the two Senators statements in support of the resolution and then the basics of the Cuban medical mission program and the former U.S. immigration parole program for Cuban medical professionals engaged in that program.

The Cuban Medical Mission Program[2]

According to a 2011 article in the Wall Street Journal, since Cuba since 1973 has been sending medical ‘brigades’ to foreign countries, “helping it to win friends abroad, to back ‘revolutionary’ regimes in places like Ethiopia, Angola and Nicaragua, and perhaps most importantly, to earn hard currency. [The] Communist Party newspaper Granma reported in June [2010] that Cuba had 37,041 doctors and other health workers in 77 countries. Estimates of what Cuba earns from its medical teams—revenue that Cuba’s central bank counts as ‘exports of services’—vary widely, running to as much as $8 billion a year.”

Again, according to the same Wall Street Journal article, Cuban doctors often desire such overseas assignments because they provide opportunities to earn significantly more money than at home. “When serving overseas, they get their Cuban salaries [of $25 per month], plus a $50-per-month stipend—both paid to their dependents while they’re abroad. . . . In addition, they themselves receive overseas salaries—from $150 to $1,000 a month, depending on the mission.” Many on-the-side also engage in private fee-for-service medical practice, including abortions. As a result, many of the Cubans are able to save substantial portions of their overseas income, which they often use to purchase items they could not have bought in Cuba like television sets and computers. Other desirable purchases are less expensive U.S. products that they can sell at a profit when they return to Cuba.

In more recent years, many of the Cuban medical missionaries have gone to Venezuela and Brazil, the latter of which late last year terminated the program and most of the Cubans returned to the island, while some remained in Brazil.

The U.S. State Department in its annual reports on human trafficking has alleged that Cuba’s use of Cuban medical personnel in its foreign medical mission program constitutes illegal forced labor.[3] This allegation will be rebutted in the last section of this post.

The Former U.S. Immigration Parole Program fo Cuban Medical Professionals[4]

On August 11, 2006, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in conjunction with the Department of State, announced a program] that . . . would allow “Cuban medical personnel conscripted to study or work in a third country under the direction of the Cuban government to enter the United States.”

Under the program “Cuban Medical Professionals” (i.e., health-care providers such as doctors, nurses, paramedics, physical therapists, lab technicians and sports trainers) are eligible if they meet the following criteria: (1) Cuban nationality or citizenship, (2) medical professional currently conscripted to study or work in a third country under the direction of the Government of Cuba, and (3) not otherwise ineligible for entry into the U.S. Spouses and/or minor children are also eligible for such parole.

The program “was the brainchild of Cuban-born Emilio González,” a former U.S. Army colonel, the director of the U.S. Citizen & Immigration Services from 2006 to 2008 and a “staunchly anti-Castro exile.” “He has characterized Cuba’s policy of sending doctors and other health workers abroad as ‘state-sponsored human trafficking.’” The Cuban doctors, he says, work directly for health authorities in other countries and have no say in their assignments.

On January 12, 2017, in the final days of his president, President Obama terminated this program. The announcement said that the U.S. “and Cuba are working together to combat diseases that endanger the health and lives of our people. By providing preferential treatment to Cuban medical personnel, the medical parole program contradicts those efforts, and risks harming the Cuban people.  Cuban medical personnel will now be eligible to apply for asylum at U.S. embassies and consulates around the world, consistent with the procedures for all foreign nationals.”

The Cuban government applauding the end of this program, said it “was part of the arsenal to deprive the country of doctors, nurses and other professionals of the sector, . . . and an attack against Cuba’s humanitarian and solidarity medical missions in Third World countries that need it so much. This policy prompted Cuban health personnel working in third countries to abandon their missions and emigrate to the [U.S.], becoming a reprehensible practice that damaged Cuba’s international medical cooperation programs.”

The termination of this program was welcomed by Senators Patrick Leahy (Dem., VT) and representative Kathy Castor (Dem., FL), but criticized by Senators Rubio and Menendez with Rubio expressly calling for the then new Trump Administration to restore the program.

The Proposed New Resolution[5]

After multiple Whereas clauses, the proposed Resolution would declare that it is the sense of the Senate that:

  • “The Government of Cuba subjected Cuban  doctors and medical professional participating in the Mais Medicos program to state-sponsored human trafficking;
  • Cuban doctors participating in the MaisMedicos program should have been permitted to work under the same conditions as all other foreign 9 doctors participating in the program;
  • the Government of Cuba should compensate  Cuban doctors that participated in the Mais Medicos programs for the full amount of wages that were garnished by the Government of Cuba;
  • Foreign governments that sign agreements with the Government of Cuba or the for-profit Cuban Medical Services Trading Corporation (CMS) or other companies affiliated with the Government of Cuba to procure the services of Cuban professionals  directly assume risks related to participation in forced labor arrangements;
  • The Pan American Health Organization must immediately provide greater transparency about its participation in the Mais Medicos program and its agreement with the Government of Cuba and the for-profit Cuban Medical Services Trading Corporation (CMS);
  • The United States Department of State must downgrade Cuba to Tier 3 in its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, given new evidence on Cuba’s foreign medical missions and the Government of Cuba’s longstanding failure to criminalize most forms of forced labor; and
  • the Department of State must re-establish the Cuban Medical Professionals Parole (CMPP) program.”

The Senators’ ‘Press Releases for the New Resolution[6]

The two Senators issued essentially identical press releases. Here is what Senator Menendez’s stated.

Senator Menendez condemned “ the Cuban regime for a program that sends tens of thousands of Cuban medical professionals to foreign countries to work under conditions that qualify as human trafficking.” In addition, he stated.“For 60 years, the Cuban regime has been finding new ways to exploit its people. Recent information from Brazil shows how the Cuban government profits from its state-sponsored foreign medical missions, which they sell as medical diplomacy but look a lot more like indentured servitude. This bipartisan resolution sheds additional light on the Cuban regime’s role in human trafficking, and is another call for greater accountability from Cuban officials, their overseas partners, and the international community.”

The press release also quoted Senator Rubio. ““It is outrageous, though not surprising, that the Cuban dictatorship continues to manipulate and traffic physicians in order to enrich itself. This form of forced labor should not go unnoticed by the international community. We must stand against the regime’s modern-day slavery scheme and support the doctors seeking justice after serving in these so-called international medical missions.”

Finally the press release stated that the “introduction comes after an investigative report by the Diario de Cuba recently revealed the indentured servitude of Cuban medical professionals described in Brazilian diplomatic cables detailing the terms of the Government of Cuba’s medical missions to Brazil. In 2016 alone, it is estimated that the Castro regime earned more than $8,000,000,000 from exporting the services of Cuban professionals, of which foreign medical missions represent the majority of the income.”

Analysis of the Merits of the Resolution[7]

The resolution is without merit and should be rejected. Why? Because the Cuban medical mission program is not illegal forced labor.

The U.S. parole program for Cuban medical personnel was and is also unjustified. Cuban students receive their medical education without any tuition. As a result, it is only reasonable to require such students, after receiving their medical degrees, to “give back” by serving on a Cuban foreign medical mission for which they are paid more than they would have earned in Cuba. Yes, the Cuban government is paid more for their services on such missions by foreign governments than the medical personnel are paid by the Cuban government, but that also is reasonable and appropriate. The contention that such service is illegal forced labor or semi-slavery is absurd.

  • First, the State Department reports admit that there is conflicting information and allegations on the foreign medical mission work. Coercion is alleged by “some participants” and unnamed “other sources.” On the other hand, the reports admit that the Cuban government denies these allegations, and instead the Government and “some participants” assert the postings are “voluntary and well paid compared to jobs within Cuba.” The reports also concede there is conflicting information on whether other means, including withholding Cuban passports, are used to coerce or force participants to remain in the program.
  • Second, there apparently has not been any fair adjudicative process to determine which of these conflicting sets of information is valid.
  • Third, the accusation of forced labor for such participants has been rejected in a study by Indiana State University’s Emeritus Professor of International Politics and Latin America, Dr. H. Michael Erisman. He says, although there may be “some cases where . . . [Cuban medical professionals] are pressured into accepting overseas assignments, . . . most evidence indicates that the overwhelming majority are motivated by philosophical and/or pragmatic considerations. In the first instance, one needs to understand that the Cuban medical profession . . . is permeated by norms which stress self-sacrifice and service to the community, both at home and abroad. At the core of this ethos is the principle, which is firmly entrenched in the curriculum of the island’s medical schools and reinforced throughout one’s career, that health care should not be seen as a business driven by a profit motive, but rather as a human right that medical personnel have an unconditional duty to protect. Such convictions often underlie participation in the medical aid brigades. There are, however, also some pragmatic factors that can come into play. Overseas service could . . . help to further one’s professional aspirations and for some assignments the total remuneration involved is more generous than what is available back in Cuba. . . . [T]hese are the considerations which apply to the vast majority of people” in such programs, not involuntary servitude.
  • Fourth, According to Granma, Cuba’s Communist Party’s newspaper, “Internationalist medical aid has been a longstanding part of the Cuban people’s tradition of solidarity, since the beginning of the Revolution. As early as 1960 a brigade was sent to Chile following an earthquake there, and to Algeria in 1963, to support the new country recently liberated from colonialism.” The Granma article included the reflection of four Cuban doctors who have participated in such missions and who treasure the positive impact of those experiences on their professional and personal lives.
  • Fifth, this reports do not cite to the relevant legal definition of “forced labor” to assess this claim. Most pertinent is Article 2(2) of the Forced Labour Convention, 1930, which states, in part, ”the term forced or compulsory labour shall not include . . .  any work or service which forms part of the normal civic obligations of the citizens of a fully self-governing country.” (Emphasis added.)

Moreover, as a previous post noted, a respected international journalist, Alma Guillermoprieto, recently reported that Cuban medical doctors serving on the island now earn $67 per month, but $500 per month when serving on a foreign medical mission.

The $67 monthly salary for Cuban physicians in Cuba compared with the $24 or $27 monthly income of other Cubans is a result of Cuba’s adoption of a “pyramid” compensation system whereby highly trained workers like physicians earn more than lower-skilled workers like busboys. This system, however, is being undermined by lower-skilled workers like gas-station attendants and waiters earning additional income from stealing and illegally selling gasoline and from earning tips in hard currency at restaurants and hotels serving foreign tourists. Indeed, Raúl Castro in his speech at the April 2016 Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba called this the “inverted pyramid” problem that had to be solved.

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[1] Resolution by Bob Menéndez and Marco Rubio asks to restore the US refugee program for Cuban doctors, DiariodeCuba Cuba (Jan. 10, 2019); Menéndez: the Cuban regime and its foreign partners ‘must be held accountable’ for the exploitation of doctors, DiariodeCuba (Jan. 10, 2019). 

[2]  See New York Times Calls for End of Special Immigration Relief for Cuban Medical Personnel, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 22, 2014). 

[3] See these posts to dwkcommentaries: U.S. Upgrades Cuba in State Department’s Annual Report on Human Trafficking (Aug. 7, 2015); U.S. Reasserts Upgrade of Cuba in Annual Report on Human Trafficking (July 2, 2016); Cuba’s Unchanged Status in U.S. State Department’s Annual Report on Human Trafficking (Aug. 15, 2017).

[4] Ibid;  U.S. Ends Special Immigration Benefits for Cubans, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 13, 2017). 

[5] S. Res. 14- a resolution  affirming that the Government of Cuba’s foreign medical missions constitute human trafficking. (Jan. 9, 2019); Sen. Menendez, Press Release: Senators Menendez, Rubio Introduce Senate Resolution Condemning Castro Regime’s Forced Labor of Cuban Doctors (Jan. 10, 2019);CubanSen. Rubio, Press Release: Rubio, Menendez Introduces [sic] Resolution Condemning Castro Regime’s forced Labor of Cuban Doctors (Jan. 10, 2019).

[6] Ibid.

[7] See posts listed in the “Cuban Medical Personnel & U.S.” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries.com—Topical (CUBA).

More Cuban Businesses Forbidden to U.S. Visitors

On November 14, the U.S. State Department announced that it was “adding 26 subentities to the Cuba Restricted List, including 16 hotels owned by the Cuban military [intelligence and security services or personnel]. The Department is also updating the names of five already listed subentities to ensure they remain current. . . .  Direct financial transactions [by U.S. nationals] with these entities and subentities are generally prohibited because they would disproportionately benefit those services or personnel at the expense of the Cuban people or private enterprise in Cuba.” [1]

The 26 new names range from the new five-star Iberostar Grand Packard and Paseo del Prado hotels in Old Havana to modest shopping centers in beachside resorts far from the capital. They join the list of 179 other Cuban entities on the Cuban Restricted List that the State Department first issued on November 8, 2017.[2]

This change was predicted in a speech earlier this month by National Security Advisor John Bolton.[3]

However, it must be remembered that U.S. travel to Cuba is still legal under 12 general licenses that are published by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. [4]

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, State Department Updates the Cuba Restricted List (Nov. 14, 2018); U.S. State Dep’t, List of Restricted Entities and Subentiies Associated with Cuba as of November 15, 2018 (Nov. 15, 2018); Assoc. Press, US Adds New Sanctions on Cuba Tourist Attractions, N.Y. Times (Nov. 14, 2018); Sánchez, History repeats itself: new US measures UU against Cuban entities, Granma (Nov. 15, 2018).

[2] See these posts to dwkcommentaries: New Restrictions on U.S. Travel to Cuba and Transactions with Certain Cuban Entities (Nov.8, 2017); Reactions to New U.S. Regulations About U.S. Travel to Cuba and Transactions with Cuban Entitties (Nov. 9, 2017); Additional Reactions to New U.S. Regulations Regarding Cuba (Nov. 11, 2017); Trump’s New Regulations Adversely Affect Cuban Entrepreneurs (Nov. 18, 2017).

[3] See U.S. National Security Advisor Announces New U.S. Hostility Towards Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 3, 2018).

[4] See posts to dwkcommentaries listed in footnote 2. See also U.S. Treasury Dep’t, Office of Foreign Assets Control, Frequently Asked Questions Related to Cuba (Nov. 8, 2017).

Forces Promoting U.S. Hostility Towards Cuba

A prior post reported U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton’s saying the Trump Administration was considering allowing Cuban-Americans to sue companies and others who now control real estate on the island that was seized from them by the Cuban government.

According to the Miami Herald, other major forces behind this proposal are Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) and other South Florida lawmakers.[1]

Rubio, who is seen as one of the president’s principal advisers on Western Hemisphere issues, has pushed the proposal with the White House, the National Security Council and the State Department and is also pressing for the administration to expand the list of Cuban companies that can be sanctioned, which is another measure that Advisor Bolton mentioned in Miami on November 2.

Senator Rubio himself documented these actions in a November 1 press release. It said, “I applaud the Trump Administration for once again supporting the freedom-loving people of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. No administration has taken stronger measures to defend democracy and target tyranny in Latin America than this one, As the Cuban regime continues to export its communist agenda throughout Latin America, the United States and our allies must keep prioritizing freedom and human rights in the Western Hemisphere. Today’s speech by Ambassador Bolton on the ‘Troika of Tyranny’ should make it clear to everyone that the Administration is not done yet.”[2]

This press release also included Senator Rubio’s 2018 actions supporting the people of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Another Administration advocate of increased hostile actions against Cuba is Mauricio Claver-Carone,the new National Security Council’s Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs. He is a  Cuban-American attorney who was the executive director of the U.S. Cuba Democracy PAC (one of the most active pro-embargo groups in Washington) and Capitol Hill Cubans blog,[3]

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[1] Ordońez & Gámez Torres, White House considers allowing Cuban Americans to sue for island properties left behind, Miami Herald (Oct. 31, 2018).

[2] Senator Rubio, English & Spanish: Rubio Commends the Trump Administration’s Commitment to Human Rights and Democracy in Latin America (Nov. 1, 2018).

[3] Mauricio Claver-Carone, the new Latino on Trump’s team, Al Dia (Sept. 19, 2018).