Cuba’s Suffering from Continued U.S. Hostility  

After the Obama Administration had taken steps to improve U.S. relations with Cuba, the Trump Administration has gone in the opposite direction, as discussed in many earlier posts.[1]

U.S. Actions and Policies Against Cuba

These negative actions and policies include the following: continuation of U.S. embargo of Cuba; elimination of one of the “general licenses” for U.S. nationals to travel to Cuba; cancelation of right of U.S. cruise ships to make stops on the island; reducing amount of money U.S. nationals legally may remit to relatives and friends in Cuba; allowing litigation in U.S. federal courts over alleged trafficking in U.S.-owned property on the island under the Halms-Burton Act; additions to the U.S. “Cuba Restricted List” of entities and sub entities with which U.S. nationals may not transact business; U.S. negative reports on Cuban human rights, religious freedom and human trafficking; unilateral U.S. report about increasing Cuban Internet access; U.S. consideration of re-designating Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism and of re-instituting U.S. parole for Cuban medical professionals; additional U.S. sanctions against Cuba for its alleged support of Venezuela.[2]

While there are recent bilateral bills in Congress to end the embargo and enhance U.S. nationals’ rights to travel to Cuba, they have not received, and are unlikely to receive, any consideration in the current Senate and perhaps the House of Representatives.[3]

Negative Impact on Cuba of U.S. Actions and Policies[4]

The negative impact, especially of the recent U.S. limiting the ability of Americans to travel to the island, has especially harmed Cuba’s emerging private sector. For example, a website and app used to make reservations, rate restaurants, and pay for meals at most restaurants throughout Cuba (AlaMesa) had to reduce its staff from 20 to 12 in response to a 30 to 40% decline in reservations.

But “Cuba’s economic woes go beyond U.S. policy. The island, with one of the world’s last communist governments, has been caught in a perfect storm. Its economy has been stagnant for years, averaging only about 1 percent annual growth. Its centrally-planned economy imports over two-thirds of its food. Its ally, Venezuela, has been in political and economic turmoil, causing an overall decline in oil shipments from the South American country. The island’s medical exchange program, a major source of revenue, also took a blow. Last November, Cuba recalled 8,517 medical professionals from Brazil in response to President Jair Bolsonaro’s tough stance against Cuba.”

The U.S. allowance of litigation over alleged trafficking in Cuba property owned by Americans is seen as discouraging foreign investment today.

Recently “there have been shortages in basic goods such as eggs, cooking oil and chicken.”

Cuban Government’s Response to Rough Economic Conditions[5]

At the July 13 closing  session of the National Assembly, President Diaz-Canel reported that a series of emergency measures announced that month aimed to stimulate domestic production and he hoped for slight growth this year. “Even in the eye of the hurricane of adversity that the enemy conceived to suffocate us, the Cuban economy can grow slightly, thanks to the fact that we have the potential to resist and continue advancing in our development.” He added that the economy grew 2.2% in 2018, compared with an earlier estimate of 1.2%, and that stronger base would make it harder to reach this year’s goal of 1.5% growth.

The President also said there will be price controls and policies aimed at stimulating local production to meet increased consumer demand without sparking inflation.

The next week of July 15, Cuba experienced power outages and fuel shortages that prompted citizen concern about the possible emergence of a “Special Period II” of harsh economic shortages. Cuba Energy Commissioner Raul Garcia sought to reassure citizens that the power outages were due to breakdowns in power plants, not oil shortages, and that those outages would be fixed by the end of the week.

These measures came at a time when falling Cuban imports have caused scattered shortages of food, hygiene and other products across the country. Diaz-Canel admitted the country was suffering from a liquidity crisis and bureaucracy and was short on fuel. He called on officials and the public to join together in the national emergency and each do their part to move the country forward. “Putting aside vanities and selfishness, practicing honesty, industriousness and decency, we will also be contributing to GDP,” he said.

On August 2, the Cuban government for the first time published details of its foreign exchange earnings from services such as telecommunications, hotels, health and education assistance, in an apparent concession to creditors. The biggest export earner in 2018 was health services at $6.4 billion, followed by “support services” at $1.3 billion while hotel and related services garnered $970 million, followed by telecommunications at $722 million and transportation and support services, which includes everything from airlines to docking fees, at around $600 million. Total exports were $18.6 billion in 2013 and $14.5 billion last year, down from $18.6 billion in 2013. Imports fell from $15.6 billion to $12.6 billion.

All of these developments have resulted in an increase in the country’s foreign debt from $11.9 billion in 2013 to $18.2 billion in 2016, an increase of almost 53% percent.

Cuba Introduces Price Controls[6]

In early July  President Miguel Diaz-Canel announced that the government had adopted a series of emergency measures to fight economic stagnation and dwindling foreign currency earnings that began in 2015 as the economy of key ally Venezuela imploded, and that have been aggravated by a series of new U.S. sanctions. The measures included increased wages and pensions for more than 2 million state employees, amounting to more than 8 billion pesos annually, or close to 13 percent of this year’s budget. The President also said there will be price controls and policies aimed at stimulating local production to meet increased consumer demand without sparking inflation.

The other shoe dropped on July 30, when the President announced a ban on all retail and wholesale price increases except for products imported and distributed by the state where already-set profit margins cannot be increased. In recent weeks, regional authorities have slapped price controls on taxi fares, beverages and haircuts, among other items. The price controls differ from province to province.

These price controls are especially difficult for the private sector.

For example, on August 15, retail prices in Havana were set for some basic foods such as beans, pork, lemons, bananas, onions and cabbage. The retail price of pork, a staple of the Cuban diet, was set at 45 pesos a pound, although market sellers said it previously went for some 65 pesos a pound. And farmers still charge 28 pesos a pound for pork. Another example is lemons, which used to sell for 30 pesos a pound,  now has a new maximum price of 10 to 15 pesos, which is the same price that farmers charge for the lemons.

On August 12, Cuba  Minister of Finance and Prices, Meisi Bolaños, stated, “We are going to be rigorous with those who try, by means of devices, to evade and violate the new measures approved to avoid the increase in prices. . . . We cannot allow that measures like these that the country approves to boost the  economy and generate greater capacity to buy in the population to be spoiled by a few unscrupulous that cause Cubans to lose confidence in state control.” The Minister also denied that the purpose of the measures is “to stop the development of non-state forms.”

Economists assert that such price controls are ineffective. Andrew Zimbalist, a Cuba expert at U.S.’s Smith College, said, “Such measures are usually okay for short periods of time, but if they stay in place they begin to create serious distortions in the economy.” A similar opinion was expressed by Pavel Vidal, a former Cuban central bank economist who teaches at Colombia’s Universidad Javeriana Cali. He said, “The more they control prices in formal markets, the more inflation and instability there will be in informal markets and the less incentive the productive sector has.”

Experts also have criticized Cuba’s verbose regulations of the private sector that were introduced at the end of 2018. They concluded that these “regulations approved by the Council of Ministers were written in reverse: excessive documents (29) and processes that represent obstacles in the application process for licenses, cracking down on violations, excessive inspections, the definition of twenty-two oversight agencies for the private sector (with specific departments to deal with them), the new requirement of a bank account with two months’ worth of taxes as credit in this account, needing to pay payroll taxes from the very first employee, etc.”

Conclusion

 Obviously Cuba is in a very perilous situation that the U.S. has helped to create. All who support normalization of the two countries relations need to voice their opinions to their senators and representatives and to Trump Administration officials.

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[1] See List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[2] E.g., Sabatinni, Trump Doubles Down on Failed Cuba Policy, N.Y. Times (July 24, 2019); U.S. Updates Cuba Restricted List (July 26, 2019); U.S. State Dep’t, State Department Updates the Cuba Restricted List (July 26, 2019); U.S. State Dep’t, List of Restricted Entities and Subentities Associated With Cuba as of July 26, 2019 (July 26, 2019); New U.S. Government Hostility Towards Cuba’s Medical Mission Program, dwkcommentareis.com (Aug. 14, 2019); “U.S. (Trump) and Cuba, 2016-2017,”  “U.S. (Trump) and Cuba (2018),” “U.S. (Trump) and Cuba, 2019,” “U.S. Parole Program for Cuban Medical Professionals, 2019,” “Cuba, Venezuela and U.S., 2019,”  “Cuba Restricted List, 2019,”  “ Helms-Burton Act Title III Authorization, 2019” and U.S. Embargo of Cuba, 2019” sections  in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Cuba.

[3] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: New Bill To End U.S. Embargo of Cuba (Feb. 9, 2019); Senator Leahy’s Senate Floor Speech To End Embargo of Cuba (Feb. 18, 2019); Congressional Bipartisan Bills for Reversal of U.S. Policies Regarding Cuba (Aug. 13, 2019).

[4] Sesin, In Cuba, entrepreneurs see a steep decline with Trump policies, NBC News (July 6, 2019); Cuba Says Fuel Shortage, Blackouts Are Temporary, Being Fixed, Reuters (July 19, 2019); Frank, Cuba hopes for slight growth as Trump pummels Caribbean island, Reuters (July 13, 2019).

[5]  Kuritzkes, The End of Cuba’s Entrepreneurship Boom, Foreign Policy (July 15, 2019); The decline in tourism from the United States to Cuba already feels strongly on island, France23 (July 18, 2019);Taylor, Cubans Talk About Impact of Trump Administration Travel Policy Changes, Travel Pulse (July 22, 2019); Myers, A Visit To Cuba Reveals Economic Pain of Trump’s Travel Ban, Travel Weekly (July 29, 2019); Eaton, Cuba Trying to Attract Tourists and Investors Even as U.S. Clamps Down, Tampa Bay Times (July 30, 2019); Reuters, Cuba Reveals Health, Hotel, Other Service Earnings, N.Y. Times (Aug. 2, 2019); Whitefield, Cuba Feels the Pinch of the Trump administration’s travel restrictions, L.A. Times (Aug. 11, 2019); Torres, Cuba’s foreign debt is on the rise despite big profits from medical services abroad, Miami Herald (Aug. 12, 2019);Myers, Taking the pulse of demand for Cuba travel, Travel Weekly (Aug. 13, 2019); The Cuban economy is increasingly indebted, official figures reveal, Diario de Cuba (Aug. 15, 2019).

[6] The Government of Havana sets maximum prices for sale of products, Cubadebate (July 28, 2019); Frank, Cuba, battling economic crisis, imposes sweeping price controls, Reuters (July 30, 2019); Vela, Cuba’s Price Control Is Short-Term Fix To Production Problems, Economist Says, ABC10 News  (July 30, 2019); Fuentes Puebla & Romeo Matos, Price control, a necessary complement to the salary increase in the budgeted sector, Cubadebate (Aug. 1, 2019); The Cuban Government warns that it will be relentless in the face of ‘artifice’ to avoid its price cap, Diario de Cuba (Aug. 13, 2019); Reuters, Cuban Government Imposes Price Controls as It Seeks to Keep Lid on Inflation, N.Y. Times (Aug. 15, 2019); Fernandez, It’s a Long and Winding Road for Cuba’s Private Sector, Havana Times (Aug. 15, 2019).

 

 

Congressional Bipartisan Bills for Reversal of U.S. Policies Regarding Cuba 

This year two bipartisan congressional bills have been filed to reverse two U.S. policies regarding Cuba. The most recent one would improve U.S. travel to the island while the other would abolish the U.S. embargo of Cuba.

Improve U.S. Travel to Cuba[1]

 On July 23, 2019, H.R. 3960 (Freedom for Americans To Travel to Cuba) was introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman James McGovern (Dem., MA) and referred to the House Committee on Foreign Relations and the next day to its Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs. It had 15 Democratic cosponsors–Kathy Castor (FL), Barbara Lee (CA), Jose Serrano (NY), Donald Beyer (VA), Jarred Huffman ( (CA), Raul Grijalva (AZ), Peter Welch (VT), Karen Bass (CA), Eleanor Norton (D.C.), Ro Khanna (CA), Maxine Waters (CA), Janice Schakowsky (Il), James Ranking (MD), Eliot Engel (NY) and Donald Payne (NJ). They were joined by five Republicans so-sponsors–Tom Emmer (MN), Rick Crawford (AR), Darin LaHood (IL), Guy Reschenthaler (PA) and Denver Riggleman (VA).

 Representative McGovern said, “Every single American should have the freedom to travel as they see fit. Yet the travel ban deliberately punishes the American people – our very best ambassadors – and prevents them from engaging directly with the Cuban people. It is a Cold-War relic that serves only to isolate the United States from our allies and partners in the region, while strengthening the control of ideological hardliners in both countries.  It’s time for us to listen to the majority of Americans, Cuban-Americans, and Cubans who do not support the travel ban, and get rid of it once and for all.”

On July 29, Senator Patrick Leahy (Dem., VT) and 46 cosponsors (40 Democrats, 4 Republicans and 2 Independents) introduced a companion bill in the Senate “so Americans can travel to Cuba in the same way that they can travel to every other country in the world except North Korea. . . .  It is indefensible that the federal government restricts American citizens and legal residents from traveling to a tiny country 90 miles away that poses no threat to us.  At a time when U.S. airlines are flying to Cuba, does anyone here honestly think that preventing Americans from traveling there is an appropriate role of the federal government?  Why only Cuba?  Why not Venezuela?  Or Russia?  Or Iran, or anywhere else?  It is a vindictive, discriminatory, self-defeating vestige of a time long passed.”

End U.S. Embargo of Cuba[2]

In February of this year U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN) with co-sponsors Patrick Leahy (Dem., VT) and Michael Enzi (Rep., WY) introduced the Freedom To Export to Cuba Act of 2019 (S.428). Subsequent co-sponsors are Senators Tina Smith (Dem., MN) and Elizabeth Warren (Dem., MA). The bill was referred to the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.

Conclusion

Given the split party-control of the two houses of Congress, not much is expected for any progress on these bills in this Session of Congress.

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[1] H.R, 3960, Freedom for Americans To Travel to Cuba Act of 2019; Rep. McGovern, McGovern Introduces Bipartisan Legislation to End Cuba Travel Ban (July 25, 2019); S.2303, Freedom for Americans to Travel to Cuba Act of 2019; Sen. Leahy, Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy On the Freedom of Americans to Travel to Cuba Act of 2019 (July 29, 2019); Center for Democracy in Americas, CDA Applauds Reintroduction of the Freedom for Americans to Travel to Cuba Act of 2019 (July 25, 2019).

[2]  S.428—Freedom to Export to Cuba Act of 2019 (Feb. 7, 2019); New Bill To End U.S. Embargo, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 9, 2019); Senator Leahy’s Senate Floor Speech To End Embargo of Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 18, 2019).

 

U.S. Cuba Internet Task Force’s Final Report

On June 16, 2019, the U.S. Cuba Internet Task Force released its Final Report.[1] It identified what it saw as the following four key challenges to Cuban access to the Internet along with recommendations for expanding such access and the unregulated flow of information on the island.

The Final Report

“I. LIMITED INFRASTRUCTURE, HIGH PRICES, LOW SPEED, AND GOVERNMENT-REGULATED ACCESS”

“Cuba’s Internet penetration rates and speed lag behind regional averages, and access is extremely restricted due to limited infrastructure, high prices, low speed, and Cuban-government regulated access points.”

“Recommendations”

Construction of a new submarine cable: Support efforts to enable construction of new submarine cables, as appropriate.”

Support organic network growth: Some entrepreneurial Cubans have built local-area networks to connect devices at home and in their neighborhoods. These local networks have the potential to support economic growth in the emerging private sector. Increased exportation of U.S. networking tools to private consumers in Cuba could support the organic growth of local networks.” (Emphasis added.)

 U.S. exchange programs: Promote [U.S.] exchange programs that permit Cuban students and faculty, who specialize in technology and computer science, to learn from top U.S. scholars and practitioners about network developments and technology.” (Emphasis added.)

“II. HIGHLY AUTHORITARIAN GOVERNMENT, CENSORSHIP, AND SURVEILLANCE”

“Cuba’s one-party communist state severely restricts freedoms of the press, assembly, speech, and association, and initiatives to promote Internet freedom and increase Internet access on the island are viewed with suspicion.”

“The Cuban government has tightened surveillance and persecution of Cubans who acquire their own satellite Internet stations or create their own networks to expand Internet service with imported technology. Surveillance of ICT [Information and Technology firms] in Cuba is widespread, and dissident bloggers are subject to punishments ranging from fines to confiscation of equipment and detentions. Anonymity and encryption technologies are strictly prohibited, and web access points, such as Wi-Fi hotspots, cybercafés, and access centers are closely monitored. There are concerns that as Cuba acquires sophisticated technologies and increases Internet access, its surveillance and censorship tactics could potentially improve.”

“Recommendations”

Digital safety educationAll Cubans would benefit from educational initiatives that inform them how to keep their online activity and data secure. Support for educational and public awareness campaigns that introduce basic concepts on digital safety could help Cubans more effectively protect themselves from security threats online.”

 “Support Cubans’ unfettered access to the InternetSupport for initiatives that promote the free flow of information to, from, and within the island could make online media and private communication more readily available to the Cuban people amid government censorship of specific content.”

“III. UNLEASH THE POWER OF THE INTERNET: DIGITAL LITERACY”

“According to a June 2018 survey conducted by Freedom House, 80 percent of the 1,700 Cubans surveyed said they use the Internet mostly to communicate with friends and relatives and for entertainment. Very few said they used the Internet to exchange views on social and political issues, read about news and other developments, consume educational content, or to learn about topics of general interest (e.g. health, law, etc.). Increasing digital literacy in Cuba could transform the Internet in Cuba from a simple communication tool to a means through which Cubans can express social, economic, and political beliefs. Given the highly authoritarian political context, it is difficult to separate Internet freedom in Cuba from the broader quest for freedom of expression and human rights. Full access to free and unregulated information online will occur only if the Cuban government relaxes its tightly controlled grip on society and communications.”

“Recommendations”

ICT literacy: Collaborative educational initiatives hosted by academic institutions, foreign governments, and multilateral bodies could help expand ICT literacy in Cuba. The focus of such programs should be on using the Internet for education, civic engagement, community building, economic activity, and the free exchange of opinions.”

 Promote freedom of expressionSupport for independent stakeholders could help advance rights for all Cubans. That support could include the development of projects that train Internet users to produce compelling online content that encourages diverse perspectives on society, politics, and culture.” (Emphasis added.)

“IV. U.S. MARKET ENTRY”

“China dominates Cuba’s telecommunication sector and provides a challenge to U.S. firms looking to enter the sector. . . . [China] is able to offer robust financing packages to support its exports to Cubasomething the U.S. government is prohibited from doing and which presents a major obstacle for U.S. companies wishing to invest in ICT [information and technology firms] in Cuba.” (Emphasis added.)

U.S. companies informed the subcommittees they are often deterred from entering the market due to uncertainty caused by frequent changes to U.S. regulations concerning Cuba. Other [U.S.] companies have chosen not to offer key products and services, citing reasons ranging from regulatory ambiguity to banks’ reluctance to process payments originating in Cuba due to the U.S. embargo.” (Emphasis added.)

“Recommendations”

“Facilitate exports and servicesConsider expediting the review of National Security controlled encryption items, provided such treatment would be consistent with U.S. foreign policy and national security interests. In addition, review banking and financial regulations related to Cuba to ensure that Cubans can access paid applications and cloud-based technology.” (Emphasis added.)

Engage with U.S. private sectorThe U.S. Government could continue discussions with the U.S. private sector to clarify current regulations and seek feedback on how the regulations affect their ability to invest in ICT in Cuba.” (Emphasis added.)

Cuban Government’s Criticism of the Task Force

To date I have not found any Cuban comments about,  including criticism, of this Final Report. Therefore, here are previous criticisms upon the creation of the Task Force in January 2018.[2]

On January 31, 2018,  the Cuban Foreign Ministry sent a note protesting the U.S. recent creation of the Cuba Internet Task Force. It expressed Cuba’s “strong protest for the pretension of the US government to violate flagrant Cuban sovereignty, with respect to national competence to regulate the flow of information and the use of mass media, while rejecting the attempt to manipulate the Internet to carry out illegal programs for political purposes and subversion, as part of their actions aimed at altering or changing the constitutional order of the Republic of Cuba.”

This Task force has “the stated objective of promoting in Cuba the ‘free and unregulated flow of information.’ According to the announcement, this task force will ‘examine the technological challenges and opportunities to expand Internet access and independent media’ in Cuba.

Cuba again demands that the Government of the United States cease its subversive, interfering and illegal actions against Cuba, which undermine Cuban constitutional stability and order, and urges it to respect Cuban sovereignty, International Law and the purposes of and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

The “Cuban Foreign Ministry reiterates the determination of the Government of Cuba not to tolerate any type of subversive activity or interference in its internal affairs and, as a sovereign country, to continue defending itself and denouncing the interfering nature of this type of action.”

“Cuba will continue to regulate the flow of information as is its sovereign right and as is practice in all countries, including the United States. Cuba will also continue advancing in the computerization of its society, as part of the development of the country and in terms of the social justice objectives that characterize its Revolution.”

Other Cuban Criticism of the Task Force

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 ‘free 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.’”

Gomez also said, “Although the State Department tries to camouflage its . . . [Task Force] as a philanthropic project to improve access to the network of networks in . . .  [Cuba], the list of participants in . . . [its] first meeting . . . betrays its true intentions.”

  • One participant, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, “is the umbrella of Radio and TV Martí, two relics of the Cold War designed to issue enemy propaganda and carry out psychological operations against Cuba. Millions of dollars of American taxpayers have been wasted in the failed projects of this organization, [which has been] subjected to several audits for corruption scandals and embezzlement.”
  • Another participant, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), ”is the public arm of the CIA and financier of subversive projects against Cuba such as ZunZuneo and Commotion, whose disclosure by the press was a shame for the US authorities due to its ineffectiveness and violation of international laws.”

Gomez and co-author Iramsy Peraza Forte added that “the U.S. has been using communications technologies to attack Cuba ever since the age of shortwave radios and the emergence of television.” Indeed, “From psychological warfare propagated by the mass media to unconventional warfare, which has been adapted to the internet age, Cuba has been a test site for U.S. schemes designed to overthrow governments which do not respond to its interests.”

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.

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.”

The day before the Task force’s inaugural meeting, Reuters reported from Havana that there are now “a handful of web-based news outlets in recent years in Cuba in the wake of the expansion of internet and broader social and economic freedoms. . . .These new outlets have been tolerated as long as they are not ‘counter-revolutionary’ and “have been chipping away at a half-century state monopoly, offering independent reporting and winning prestigious journalism prizes.”

Moreover, several representatives of these independent media, according to Reuters, have expressed opposition to the Task Force.

U.S. Criticism of This Task Force

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 expert Ted Henken at Baruch College in New York, said, “”The solution proposed by the Trump administration is perhaps even worse than the disease. It will likely empower not the independent media or citizens but only the Cuban government to more easily justify the unjustifiable – more control and repression of independent media and unmediated access to information.”

Alan Gross, the previously mentioned U.S. citizen who was arrested, convicted and imprisoned in Cuba for illegally bringing communications equipment to the island, has objected to the Task Force.  “My first response was ‘Are you kidding me?’ We are supposed to learn from our mistakes. I learned the hard way that it’s illegal to distribute anything in Cuba that’s funded in full or part by the U.S. government. Until the government of Cuba wants the kind of assistance United States is capable of providing, the United States shouldn’t be doing stuff there.”

Conclusion

The Task Force, from its creation to its Final Report, is based upon the false and illegal premise that the U.S. unilaterally may and should decide what Internet services Cuba or any other country should have and then take unilateral steps to provide those services and equipment. Instead the U.S. should politely ask Cuba or any other country whether there was any way the U.S. could assist in improving their Internet service.

In addition, the Cubans correctly point out that the U.S. through USAID and other means previously has attempted to change Cuban policies about free access to information with the U.S. intent of changing Cuba policies and even its political and economic system. Cuba has a right to be sceptical and hostile to any recommendations by this Task Force.

The Final Report also makes clear that a significant motivation of the Task Force was to improve U.S. private firms’ access to the Cuban market for Internet products and services, which is a legitimate U.S. interest. The Final Report also correctly, but somewhat surprisingly, points out that the U.S. embargo and changing policies about Cuba make that access more difficult. Therefore, the Task Force should have gone further and called for the end to the U.S. embargo of the island and other acts of hostility towards Cuba.

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[1] State Dep’t, Cuba Internet Task Force: Final Report (June 16, 2019).

[2] See these posts to dwkcommentaries: State Department Creates Cuba Internet Task Force and Suspends Enforcement of Statutory Liability for Trafficking in Certain Cuban Expropriated Property (Jan. 25, 2018); Cuba Protests U.S.’ Cuba Internet Task Force (Feb. 1, 2018); U.S.’ Cuba Internet Task Force Holds Inaugural Meeting (Feb. 8, 2018); Objections to the U.S.’ Cuba Internet Task Force (Feb. 9, 2018).

 

Cuba Facing Shortages of Basic Foodstuffs and Other Products

In recent weeks Cuban shop shelves increasingly have been empty with scarcity of basic products such as eggs, flour and chicken, causing massive, hours-long queues for them whenever they come into stock.[1]

On May 10, in response, the Cuban government announced that  it is launching widespread rationing of chicken, eggs, rice, beans and other basic products. Every Cuban receives a ration book that allows them to buy small quantities of these basic goods each month for payment equivalent to a few U.S. cents.

Cuba imports 60 to 70 percent of its food because of poor domestic output. Now such imports economically are more difficult due to a reduction in aid from its key ally Venezuela, lower Cuban exports and tightening of the U.S. embargo. Another reason for the current shortages is Cuban hoarding because of fear of products disappearing and speculators hoping to re-sell goods at higher prices in the black market.

Cuba’s Commerce Minister Betsy Díaz Velázquez said that the aim of these measures is “achieving equity in the distribution of some products” and was not rationing.

She also said that in March Cuba produced 900,000 fewer eggs than the 5.7 million needed daily to satisfy national demand. That deficit shrank to 600,000 by mid-April, she said. The production of pork, the most-consumed meat in Cuba and a normally affordable staple of most people’s diets, is hundreds of tons below target.

A Cuban small business owner said, “What the country needs to do is produce. Sufficient merchandise is what will lead to shorter lines.”

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[1] Reuters, Cuba to Ration More Products Due to Economic Crisis, U.S. Sanctions, N.Y. Times (May 10, 2019); Asssoc. Press, Cuba launches widespread rationing in face of crisis, Wash. Post (May 10, 2019); Measures for the purpose of fair distribution in the domestic market, Granma (May 10, 2019).

 

 

U.S. and Cuban Churches Denounce U.S. Embargo and Recent Additional U.S. Actions Against Cuba

On April 26 the National Council of  the Churches of Christ in the USA and the Cuban Council of Churches issued the following Joint Statement. [1]

“Today, Friday, April 26, the fifth day after Easter Sunday, we come together once again as two Christian ecumenical councils to affirm our faith and love in Jesus Christ. Like the disciples walking to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), we desire to walk together with the resurrected Christ and share with him the bread that he has blessed with us and for us.”

“Our Councils have prayed, walked and worked together for many years. We have done so not only to witness to all the blessings we have received from God as a fruit of our unity in love, faith, and hope, but also to testify to the power of the Holy Spirit in all times of challenge to our dream of bringing our peoples and nations together. We have stood for peace when many cried for war. We have taken a stand for family unity when others tried to divide our families.”

“Since 1968, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA has called for normal diplomatic relations with Cuba, for the removal of the economic blockade [embargo] imposed on Cuba, and for removal of travel restrictions.”

“Today, after our two nations began to make significant progress toward normalized relations, we are facing a critical moment that threatens to erase the gains already made.  We, therefore, reaffirm our solidarity in Christ and stand together to:

  • Work together to end the blockade — rejected by the vast majority of United Nations member countries — which has an extraterritorial effect, and for normal relations between our people and nations;
  • Express our opposition to the Trump Administration’s addition of new restrictions on travel between Cuba and the United States;
  • Express our opposition to the decision by the Trump Administration to no longer maintain the suspension of Title III of the Helms-Burton legislation, an action that will further hinder the quality of life of the Cuban people and will create enormous and unnecessary legal problems worldwide;
  • Express our opposition to the limitation and restriction of family remittances from the United States to Cuba;
  • Advocate for the reopening and normalization of consular services between the two countries, on a humanitarian basis, since it will facilitate the access to visas and the normalization of relations among families and between our peoples.”

“Finally, these recent actions by the Trump Administration will hinder us as we pursue together God’s mission and will be another obstacle to develop further our relations, partnerships, and the spiritual growth of the churches in the United States and Cuba. We, therefore, call on the churches in our countries along with all our partner ecumenical bodies, faith-based organizations, and all people of good will in our region and around the world to join us in our advocacy, solidarity, and action for a better present and future for our two countries, churches and people.”

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ,
and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is,
in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself,
not counting their trespasses against them, and
entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” 

– Corinthians 5:18-19 NRSV”

The National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, which was formally organized in 1950,  has 38 member communions with 45 million people in over 100,000 congregations.

The Cuban Council of Churches (CIC), which was founded in 1941, is the leading institution of the ecumenical movement in Cuba, with 52 churches and Christian institutions as members, including Protestants, Reformists, Evangelists, Pentecostals, Episcopalians, and Orthodox; in addition to other ecumenical institutions and associate members.

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[1] National Council of Churches, Joint Statement: Facing a Critical Moment (April 26, 2019); Council of Churches of Christ of the United States and the Council of Churches of Cuba pronounce themselves against the blockade, Granma (April 28, 2019).

 

New Bill To End U.S. Embargo of Cuba

On February 7, U.S.Senator Amy Klobuchar (Dem.,MN) introduced a bill in the Senate to end the U.S. embargo (blockade) of Cuba: S.428: A bill to lift the trade embargo on Cuba.

The bill has two initial cosponsors: Patrick Leahy (Dem., VT) and Michael Enzi (Rep., WY) and was referred to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.

In a press release Senator Klobuchar said the bill “would eliminate the legal barriers to Americans doing business in Cuba and pave the way for new economic opportunities for American businesses and farmers by boosting U.S. exports and allow Cubans greater access to American goods. The legislation repeals key provisions of previous laws that block Americans from doing business in Cuba, but does not repeal portions of law that address human rights or property claims against the Cuban government.”

Senator Klobuchar added, “Instead of looking to the future, U.S.-Cuba policy has been defined for far too long by conflicts of the past. Cuba is an island of 11 million people, just 90 miles from our border—lifting the trade embargo will open the door to a huge export market, create jobs here at home, and support both the American and Cuban economies. Our bipartisan legislation will finally turn the page on the failed policy of isolation and build on the progress we have made to open up engagement with Cuba by ending the embargo once and for all.”

Cosponsor Senator Enzi stated,“History has shown that the embargo with Cuba has not been very effective. This bipartisan legislation would benefit the people in America and in Cuba. It would provide new opportunities for American businesses, farmers and ranchers. We need to open dialogue and the exchange of ideas and commerce that would help move Cuba forward. It is time to work toward positive change.” 

The other cosponsor, Senator Leahy commented, “Decades after the end of the Cold War we continue to impose punitive sanctions against Cuba, a tiny island neighbor that poses no threat to us. After more than half a century, the embargo has achieved none of its objectives.  President Obama took a courageous and pragmatic step in opening diplomatic relations with Cuba, but President Trump has reinstated the failed isolationist policy of the past.  It is up to Congress to end the embargo, which is used by the Cuban government to justify its repressive policies, and by foreign companies to avoid competing with U.S. businesses that are shut out of the Cuban market.  Lifting the embargo will put more food on the plates of the Cuban people, allow them to access quality U.S. products, and encourage reforms in Cuba’s economy, all while benefiting American companies.  I commend Senator Klobuchar for her steadfast leadership on this issue.”

Cuba relies on agriculture imports to feed the 11 million people who live on Cuba and the 3.5 million tourists who visit each year. This represents a $2 billion opportunity for American farmers annually. The Freedom to Export to Cuba Act repeals the current legal restrictions against doing business with Cuba, including the original 1961 authorization for establishing the trade embargo; subsequent laws that required enforcement of the embargo; and other restrictive statutes that prohibit transactions between U.S.-owned or controlled firms and Cuba, and limitations on direct shipping between U.S. and Cuban ports.

The legislation has been endorsed by Engage Cuba, the Washington Office on Latin America, the Latin America Working Group, and Cargill.

This blogger over the last eight years repeatedly has called for ending the embargo and presses the Senate and House to pass this or a similar bill and for the President to sign same.

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Klobuchar Press Release: Klobuchar-Enzi-Leahy Introduce Major Legislation To Lift Cuba Trade Embargo (Feb. 8, 2019); Enzi Press Release: Bipartisan coalition in Senate introduce legislation to lift Cuba trade embargo (Feb. 8, 2019); Leahy Press Release: Klobuchar, Enzi, Leahy Introduce Major Legislation to Lift Cuba trade embargo (Feb. 8, 2019). 

Proposed Resolution of U.S.-Cuba Issues

The 60 years of U.S. hostility towards Cuba (with the two-year respite (2014-2016) under President Obama) have left many important unresolved issues.[1] Here is at least a partial list of those issues:

  1. U.S. ending embargo (blockade) of Cuba?
  2. U.S. response to Cuba’s claims for alleged damages from embargo & other acts?
  3. U.S. closing its detention facility at Guantanamo Bay?
  4. U.S. paying Cuba for use of Guantanamo Bay, 1960— ?
  5. U.S. returning Guantanamo Bay to Cuba or entering into new lease of territory?
  6. Cuba paying U.S. persons for expropriated property, 1959-60?
  7. U.S. ending unilateral “democracy promotion” activities in Cuba?
  8. Mutual extradition of the other’s criminal suspects & convicts?
  9. Cuba improving human rights?
  10. U.S. & Cuba resolving responsibility for medical problems of U.S. diplomats in Cuba, 2016-??
  11. U.S. ending or modifying U.S. ban on transactions with certain Cuban entities on the State Department’s “Cuba Restricted List”?
  12. U.S. possible restoration of parole for Cuban medical professionals?
  13. U.S. possible allowance of lawsuits for expropriated Cuban property?
  14. U.S. possible re-designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism” due to Cuban military aid to Venezuela?
  15. U.S. possible adoption of other U.S. hostile acts against Cuba proposed by President Trump, National Security Advisor Bolton, Secretary of State Pompeo, Senator Rubio, et al.?

Many of these issues were discussed in the meetings of the two countries in 2015-17 although the substance of the discussions have not been publicly disclosed.

If I were President with a supportive Congress,  I would work for the following comprehensive bilateral resolution:of these issues:

  • U.S. ends embargo (blockade) of Cuba;
  • U.S. ends unilateral “democracy promotion” efforts in Cuba;
  • U.S. closes detention facility at Guantanamo Bay;
  • U.S. pays Cuba for its use of Guantanamo Bay, 1960 to date;
  • U.S. and Cuba enter into new lease of Guantanamo Bay at fair market value rental;
  • U.S. pays Cuba for alleged damages caused by U.S. embargo (blockade);
  • Cuba agrees to pay fair market value, with interest, to U.S. owners of expropriated property (potentially with funds provided by U.S. paying Cuba for past use of Guantanamo Bay; for future use of Guantanamo Bay under new lease; and for alleged damages caused by U.S. embargo (blockade));
  • U.S. abolishes Title III of Helms-Burton Act allowing U.S. owners of expropriated property to sue persons trafficking in property owned by U.S. persons that were expropriated by Cuba (1959-60);
  • U.S. agrees not to reintroduce parole for Cuban professional medical personnel;
  • U.S. agrees not to re-designate Cuba as “state sponsor of terrorism;”
  • U.S. and Cuba enter into new agreement on mutual extraditions;
  • U.S. and Cuba agree on bilateral ways to improve Cuban human rights and Internet access; and
  • U.S. and Cuba resolve issues regarding medical problems of US diplomats in Cuba (2016-??).

The proposal to have the U.S. use some or all of its payments to Cuba for Guantanamo usage and alleged Cuban damages from the embargo for the U.S. to pay for the U.S. claims for Cuba’s expropriations  is based on the painful realization that Cuba does not have the resources to pay for any significant portion of these U.S. claims.

Cuba repeatedly has asserted that the U.S. use of Guantanamo Bay is an illegal occupation and the property should be returned to Cuba. Because of the  U.S. argument to legally have occupied the territory under the 1903 lease and because of U.S. current national security concerns, however, the U.S. would not and should not agree to this Cuban proposal, especially since Cuba is developing closer relationships with Russia and China, which potentially could occupy Guantanamo to enhance their threats to the U.S.

Failure to reach agreement on any of these issues may well result in narrowing the issues, and any unresolved issues should be submitted to a binding international arbitration at the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague in the Netherlands. Based on this blogger’s experience as a corporate litigator in U.S. courts, I note that many cases like the one proposed for arbitration of the Cuban and U.S. claims frequently are settled before they go to trial.

One example of narrowing the issues is Cuba’s recognition with other countries that it has an international legal obligation to pay for expropriated property, which is the major premise of the U.S. claims for expropriated property. That would leave important, subsidiary issues: are the claimants valid owners of the Cuban properties; what were the fair market values of the properties at the time of expropriation; and what is a fair rate of interest on the claims?

I invite anyone with other ideas for a comprehensive bilateral resolution of outstanding issues or objections to my proposed resolution to share them in reasoned comments to this post.

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[1] These issues are discussed in many posts listed in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.