U.N. General Assembly Again Condemns U.S. Embargo of Cuba

On November 6 and 7, 2019, the U.N. General Assembly debated and adopted Cuba’s annual resolution condemning the U.S. embargo (blockade) of Cuba, 187 to 3 (U.S., Brazil, Israel) with two abstentions (Columbia and Ukraine).[1]

Secretary-General’s Report [2]

Prior to the debate, the U.N. Secretary-General submitted a 167-page Report containing replies from 158 Governments, 33  U.N. organs and agencies and 1 observer.

Cuba’s 36-page Reply, dated July 16, 2019, covering the period April 2018 to March 2019, had the following sections: I. Continuity and tightening of the embargo policy. II. The embargo violates the rights of the Cuban people. III, Impact on the external sector of the Cuban economy. IV. The embargo violates international law. Extraterritorial application. V. Universal rejection of the embargo. Conclusions.

The Resolution [3]

The operative portions of the Resolution stated the following:

  • “2. Reiterates its call upon all States to refrain from promulgating and applying laws and measures of the kind referred to in the preamble to the present resolution, in conformity with their obligations under the Charter of the United Nations and international law, which, inter alia, reaffirm the freedom of trade and navigation;”
  • “3. Once again urges States that have and continue to apply such laws and measures to take the steps necessary to repeal or invalidate them as soon as possible in accordance with their legal regime.”

 The Debate Over the Resolution[4]

“Through the terms of the text, the Assembly reiterated its call upon all States to refrain from promulgating and applying laws and measures of the kind referred to in the text’s preamble, in conformity with their obligations under international law and the Charter of the United Nations, which reaffirm the freedom of trade and navigation.  The Assembly also urged States that have and continue to apply such laws and measures to take the steps necessary to repeal or invalidate them as soon as possible in accordance with their legal regime.”

Cuba’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bruno Eduardo Rodríguez Parrilla, said that in the last few months, President Donald Trump’s Administration has begun escalating its aggression against Cuba through non‑conventional measures to prevent the arrival of fuel shipments to the island country through sanctions and threats against vessels as well as shipping and insurance companies.”

The Cuba Foreign Minister added that in April “the United States announced it would allow lawsuits to be filed before United States courts against Cuban and foreign entities under Title III of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996 (Helms‑Burton Act). The blockade has caused incalculable humanitarian damages and qualifies as an act of genocide under 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.”

“For almost six decades, Cuba has been victim to the most unjust, severe and longest‑lasting system of sanctions ever applied against any country,” Mr. Rodriquez said, noting that the accumulated damages as a result of the blockade amount to more than $138.8 billion at current value.”

“The persecution of Cuba’s banking relations with the rest of the world continues,” Rodriguez said. “Remittances sent to Cuban citizens have been further restricted and the granting of visas further reduced.  The United States Government is set on sabotaging Cuba’s international cooperation in healthcare as well.  Cubans have no access to Government or private credit and are required to pay in cash for merchandise upon its arrival in port.”

Also speaking in favor of the Cuba resolution were representatives of 40 U.N. members.

Opposition, or course, came from the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Kelly Craft, who said that the U.S. has a sovereign right to choose which countries with which to trade.  ‘So it is worrying that the international community, in the name of protecting sovereignty, continues to challenge this right,” she said.  “The Assembly continues to entertain the claim, made explicitly and implicitly during the last 24 hours, that the Cuban regime has no other choice than to abuse its own people in response to the embargo.”

Ambassador Craft added, “the Cuban Government has arbitrarily arrested more than 50,000 human rights activists, journalists and others since 2010, she said.  That Government also deprives people of their right to free choice of employment, as well as freedom of opinion and expression.  In Cuba, all political parties besides the Communist Party are outlawed, political activists are silenced, and the country’s media is entirely controlled by the State.  All of these are choices that are not forced upon them by the United States embargo.  The country is also an active contributor to regional instability, collaborating with the former Maduro regime in Venezuela.”

Conclusion [5]

As an U.S. citizen-advocate for ending the embargo as soon as possible, I am not pleased with the U.S. opposition to this resolution.

Moreover, too many in the U.S. believe the Cuban damages claim from the embargo is just a crazy Cuban dream, but I disagree. Given the amount of the claim, Cuba will not someday tell the U.S. to forget it, nor will the U.S. write a check for Cuba in that amount. A prior post, therefore, suggested that the two countries agree to submit this claim and any other damage claims by both countries for resolution by an independent international arbitration panel such as those provided by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague in the Netherlands. As a retired attorney who litigated cases involving large alleged damages, I know that attorneys representing the U.S. with the aid of expert accounting witnesses would mount challenging cross-examination of Cuba witnesses and present direct evidence to prove any errors in Cuba’s calculations and assumptions.

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[1] Reuters, Exclusive: Brazil Likely to Vote With U.S. Against Cuba at U.N. Over Embargo (Nov. 6, 2019); U.N., Speakers in General Assembly Urge United States to Repeal Embargo Against Cuba, Criticizing Trump Administration for Intensifying Restrictions over Last Year (Nov, 6, 2019); LIVE: Cuba presents proposed UN resolution condemning U.S. blockade (I), Granma (Nov. 6, 2019); Minute by Minute: UN vote against the US blockade of Cuba, Cubadebate (Nov. 7, 2019); U.N., General Assembly Adopts Annual Resolution Calling on United States to End Embargo against Cuba, Brazil Rejects Text for First Time (Nov. 7, 2019Assoc. Press, UN Votes Overwhelmingly to Condemn US Embargo of Cuba, N.Y. Times (Nov. 7, 2019); LIVE: 187 votes in favor of Cuba leave the United States looking bad before the world, Granma (Nov. 7, 2019); U.N., General Assembly Adopts Annual Resolution Calling on United States to End Embargo against Cuba, Brazil Rejects Text for First Time (Nov. 7, 2019); Assoc. Press, UN Votes Overwhelmingly to Condemn US Embargo of Cuba, N.Y. Times (Nov. 7, 2019); Victory against the UN blockade, triumph of good over evil, Cubadebate (Nov. 8, 2019).

[2]  U.N. General Assembly, Report of the Secretary-General: Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba (Aug. 19, 2019). There were no statements from the U.S., Brazil, Israel and Ukraine while Colombia stated that “in accordance with the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, [it] reiterates that it has neither promulgated nor applied any unilateral laws or measures against Cuba, in keeping with its policy of respect for international law and its commitment to the principles of political independence, self-determination of peoples and non-interference in the internal affairs of other nations. Consequently, Colombia promotes the independent development of the internal policies of every nation and believes that any measure that undermines economic and commercial development and the well-being of the population should cease.”

[3] U.N. General Assembly, Draft Resolution: Necessity of ending the ecdonomic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba (Oct. 8, 2019).

[4] Bruno Rodriguez: ‘There is no Cuban family that does not suffer the consequences of the blockade (+ Video), Cubadebate (Nov. 7, 20MINREX, Rodriguez  Speech at U.N. (Nov. 6, 2019); U.S. Mission to U.N., Remarks at a U.N. General Assembly Meeting on the Cuba Embargo Resolution (Nov. 7, 2019); U.S. Mission to U.N., Remarks at a U.N. General Assembly Press Stakeout Following Vote on the Cuba Embargo Resolution (Nov. 7, 2019).

[5] This blog has commented on previous Cuba embargo resolutions at the U.N. General Assembly, proposed U.S. legislation to end the embargo and related subjects. See the posts listed in the “U.S. Embargo of Cuba” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

 

Cuba Struggling with Energy Shortages     

On September 11, after several days of marked cutbacks on public transportation, Cuba President Miguel Diaz-Canel warned on national television that Cuba was facing an immediate energy crisis due to lack of diesel fuel. As a result, he said, “There may be problems with the distribution of products that depend on diesel-fueled transport, in public transport and in energy generation, which we’re trying to take measures to avoid.”[1]

 The Cuban Government’s Initial Comments on the Shortages

In those September 11 remarks, the President recognized problems with the supply of fuels that have caused the congestion of the bus stops, but insisted that it is a “short-term” situation and called the Cubans, tired of going through moments of this type, to see it as ” a workout.” “We have a strategy to win. Beauty is in the challenging situations … what happens is convenient.”

He also called for “sharing the promotion of savings as a practice of life and altruism as an attitude to the lack of fuel.” Likewise, to “confront with rigor and firmness manifestations of crime associated with the diversion of resources, and to the possible opportunistic attitude with which certain people may behave in the middle of this situation (…) raising prices, monopolizing products or speculating.”

There was no new “special period,” Diaz-Canel said, even though “there may be tense situations in the distribution of some products and the provision of services to the population in the coming days.” Now, however, “we have strengths that didn’t exist [in the 1990s] and that draws a qualitatively different scenario.” However, according to Diario de Cuba, the following “new strengths” are distrusted by the Cuban people: the “economic and social development strategy” of the [Communist Party of Cuba],” the “conceptualization of the economic and social model,” the “basis for the elaboration of the economic and social plan to 2030 and to keep moving forward” and the new Constitution.

This shortage will continue until the expected September 14 arrival of a tanker with diesel fuel and then another shipment at the end of the month. Contracts for October shipments are being negotiated.

A related problem was the negative impact on Cuban imports of food.

The government officials blamed the U.S. for this shortage. The U.S., they said, persists in “trying to prevent the arrival of fuel to Cuba” and applying “unilateral measures to limit our contracts with shipping companies that deliver resources to Cuba.” Some of these shipping companies have ceased to provide this service.

The government officials  also pointed out that Cuba produces about 40 percent of its demand for petroleum that is uses to operate its thermoelectric plants.

Díaz-Canel concluded his address with these words, “These are times of Fatherland or Death.”

Only the preceding day (September 10) Diaz-Canel held a public meeting to discuss the status of projects to construct and maintain the country’s roads. He said the government intended to spend more than 174  million pesos on such projects by 2020. Such efforts this year had been adversely affected by lack of fuel and cement and limited financial resources.

The Cuban Government’s Other Comments on the Shortages[2]

 On September 12, President Diaz-Canel again appeared on television to comment on the shortage. He said, with a laugh, “”Now we have to go tighter.” After the prior announcement of the shortage, he has “received revolutionary feelings, support, understanding . . . [that] is more than a fuel supertanker can contribute.” People express “concerns,” but few “dissatisfactions.” There is “enthusiasm,” especially “among young people,” with the call for “austerity” and “solidarity.”

The next day, Friday, “Cubans queued for hours for public transport on Friday at peak times in Havana, sweating in the heavy heat, while queues at gas stations snaked several blocks long, as a fuel shortage that the government blames on U.S. sanctions began to bite.” In addition, government inspectors “flagged down workers with state cars or trucks to get them to pick others up.” An ordinary 55-year-old Cuban, Alexei  Perez Recio, said, “The transport situation is getting ugly, even if the state says it is only temporary” as he was fixing up his bicycle he had not used since the Special Period. “I have to have (my bike) ready.”

Reactions[3]

 An editorial in Diario de Cuba, which is a website from Madrid, Spain, complained about the Cuban government’s again blaming the U.S. embargo for the island’s ills, not “the lack of foresight of the Cuban Government, nor its profound inefficiency or the failed system it defends.”

The Government’s solution, according to this editorial, was to reprogram trains, ask the people to squeeze together on the buses and seek solidarity from the citizens.

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[1] Diaz-Canel evaluates the progress of economic programs in Cuba, Cubadebate (Sept. 10, 2019); Assoc. Press, Cuba’s President Warns That Energy Cutbacks Are Looming, N.Y. Times (Sept, 11, 2019); Cuban President announces measures to deal with conjunctural fuel shortage, Granma (Sept. 12, 2019); Havanans support government measures to face energy situation, Cubadebate (Sept. 12, 2019); ‘We have to endure, it’s a few days’: Diaz-Canel minimizes the fuel crisis in Cuba, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 12, 2019); Cubans warned of imminent severe fuel crisis due to US sanctions, BBC News (Sept. 12, 2019).

[2] ‘We have to endure, it’s a few days’: Diaz-Canel minimizes the fuel crisis in Cuba, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 12, 2019); Gamez Torres, Cuban leader blames Trump for oil shortages, announces more austerity measures, Miami Herald (Sept. 12, 2019); Diaz-Canel: ‘Now we have to go tighter, ’Diario de Cuba (Sept. 13, 2019); Reuters, Cuba’s Acute Fuel Shortage Begins to Bite, N.Y. Times (Sept. 13, 2019).

[3] Editorial: What the Round Table explained about the ‘conjuncture’ in Cuba, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 13, 2019).

 

Mexican Historian’s Disavowal of Support for Fidel Castro

Enrique Krauze, a Mexican public intellectual, historian, author, producer and publisher, has written at least two fascinating essays about U.S.-Cuba relations.

U.S. Cuba at the Start of Obama’s Opening to Cuba [1]

Less than a month after the December 17, 2014, joint announcement of the U.S.-Cuba decision to seek better relations, [2] Krauze wrote that “Cuba has been the epicenter of anti-Americanism in modern Latin America. As a political ideology it was born during the Spanish-American War of 1898 [3]  [and] reached its height with the victory of the Cuban Revolution in 1959.” Between those two years, “with some exceptions, the political, diplomatic and military balance sheet of the United States in Latin America was nothing short of disastrous.” In response, “the region . . . [had] a surge of nationalism.“

The success of the Cuban Revolution “opened a new cycle of intense anti-Americanism. . . . The rage thus engendered was the most effective weapon of survival for the repressive and dictatorial Cuban regime.” But the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the rise of democratic governments in some Latin American countries resulted in the [orphaning] of Latin American Marxists. “Only the great obstacle of the American boycott of Cuba has remained an outmoded and divisive force.”

“In [Obama’s] re-establishing relations with Cuba, the United States renounced its ‘imperial destiny’ and recovers much of the moral legitimacy needed to uphold the democratic values that led to its foundation (and also of the countries of Latin America). Obama’s action is meant for the good of all the Americas, including the United States. And freedom of expression in Cuba is an absolute necessity for its success. No people or country is an island unto itself. The Castro dynasty has kept Cuba as such for 56 years.”

Moreover, “acclaim for the [new] agreement is widespread in Latin America. By his historic announcement on Dec. 17, Obama has begun to dismantle one of the most deeply rooted ideological passions of the southern continent” and may have “begun the final decline” of Anti-Americanism in Latin America.

Krauze’s Disavowal of Fidel Castro [4]

According to Krauze, the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 “inspired political awareness in almost all the [Mexican] writers, activists and intellectuals of my generation [including Krauze himself]. Our university professors, contemporaries of Castro, saw in him the definitive vindication of [José Marti’s] ‘Our America’ against the other, arrogant and imperialist, America. The literary supplements and magazines we read — by Julio Cortázar, Mario Vargas Llosa, Gabriel García Márquez, Carlos Fuentes — celebrated the Revolution not only for its economic and social achievements, but also for the cultural renaissance it ushered in.”

Krauze’s enthusiasm for Fidel Castro turned to disappointment in 1968-69 when Cuba supported the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia while Mexican tanks were combatting student movements in Mexico. Yet it still was difficult in Mexico to criticize Cuba.

In 1980 Krauze had his “final break with Fidel Castro” when “hundreds of people stormed the Peruvian embassy in Havana, seeking asylum” and “more than 100,000 Cubans left the port of Mariel for the United States, revealing a fracture in Castro’s utopia.”

In July 2009 Krauze visited Cuba “and was captivated by its natural beauty and the ingenuity and warmth of its people” and discovered in books that before the Revolution, “Cuba had a rich and diversified economy. In 1957, Cuba had around 6,000,000 heads of cattle, well above the world’s per capita average. . . . [In short] Cuba was already one of the most advanced countries in Latin America in 1959.”

But in 2009, “cows are so scarce that killing one carries a multiyear prison sentence. Not too long ago, in order to eat beef legally, farmers ‘accidentally’ sacrificed them by tying them to train tracks.”

At his trial in 1953, “Fidel famously declared, ‘History will absolve me.’ That’s no longer a sure thing. An awareness of freedom awakens sooner or later when faced with the obvious excesses of authoritarian rulers. If history examines his regretful legacy through that lens, it may not absolve him.”

With few exceptions, “Latin American historians and intellectuals . . . have refused to see the historical failure of the Cuban Revolution and the oppressive and impoverishing domination of their patriarch. But the parlous situation in Venezuela — with Cuba as a crutch — is undeniable, and the Cuban reality will be increasingly hard to bear. This has been Lenin’s decade. Perhaps the next one will belong to [Cuban patriot José] Martí.”

President Obama’s opening to Cuba in December 2014 inspired hopes that this would come to pass. “Unfortunately, the current president of the United States, Donald Trump, has marred any possibility of conciliation, which has further isolated Cuba and so perpetuated Castroism.”

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[1] Krauze, End of Anti-Americanism?, N.Y. Times (Jan. 7, 2015).

[2] U.S. and Cuba Embark on Reconciliation, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 21, 2014).

[3] U.S. Intervention in Cuba’s War of Independence from Spain, 1898, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 26, 2019); U.S. De Facto Protectorate of Cuba, 1898-1934, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 27, 2019).

[4] Krauze, My Sixty Years of Disappointment with Fidel Castro, N.Y. Times (Aug. 21, 2019

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).