United States Government’s Reactions to U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation

After looking at international and Cuban reactions to the December 17th announcement of U.S.-Cuba reconciliation, we now examine the reactions by the U.S. Government’s Executive Branch and Congress. A subsequent post will look at the reactions of the American people.

I. Executive Branch.

Led by President Barack Obama, the Executive Branch engaged in 18 months of secret negotiations with Cuba that resulted in the December 17th announcement of an accord between the two countries involving immediate release of certain prisoners, promised liberalization of U.S. regulations regarding U.S. exports to the island and U.S. citizens travel to Cuba, promised U.S. review of its designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” and further negotiations for reestablishment of normal diplomatic relations and for resolution of a long list of issues or disputes.

The U.S. Department of State immediately commenced review of the “terrorism’ designation and the Treasury and Commerce Departments in January announced the new and more liberal regulations regarding exports and travel.

The U.S., represented by Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, participated in the first round of further negotiations with Cuba in Havana in January, and the second round will be this month in Washington, D.C.

In addition, as we will see in the discussion of reactions in the U.S. House of Representatives, bills have been introduced to end the U.S. embargo of the island.

In short, the U.S. is doing everything it can to further the progress toward normalization of relations and reconciliation of the two countries.

II. U.S. Congress

The following analysis of the positions of senators and representatives on reconciliation obviously is incomplete since I was not able to conduct exhaustive research on all 100 senators and all 435 representatives. I also used my judgment to assign pending bills as favoring or opposing reconciliation and assumed, absent specific information to the contrary, that being a sponsor or cosponsor of a bill in one category would preclude that individual’s voting for some or all of the bills in the other category. Moreover, the named individual legislators may change their minds if and when any of these measures reach the chambers’ floors for votes. I earnestly entreat readers to provide comments with other information to correct or supplement this analysis.

A. U.S. Senate

Of the 100 Senators, 25 so far appear to support reconciliation while 27 do not. The other 48 Senators apparently have not yet taken positions on this major issue.

1. Favoring reconciliation

As of February 10, I was surprised to discover that the Senate does not have a bill to abolish the U.S. embargo of Cuba. Minnesota’s Senator Amy Klobuchar clearly has stated her intent to offer and support such a bill, but has not done so to date because she believes that the Senate first should vote on confirmation of an ambassador to Cuba, who has not yet been nominated by the President. Moreover, Cuba’s President Castro has made noises that abolishing the embargo should come before restoration of normal diplomatic relations. As a result, Klobuchar’s legislative strategy may have to be revised.

In any event, as of February 10, the Senate had only two measures on its agenda that are at least tangentially favorable to the recent U.S.-Cuba accord.

The first is S.299 (Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2015) offered by Senator Jeff Flake (Rep., AZ) with 13 cosponsors [1]  It was referred to the Foreign Relations Committee.

The other is a proposed resolution (S.RES.26: Commending Pope Francis for his leadership in helping to secure the release of Alan Gross and for working with the Governments of the United States and Cuba to achieve a more positive relationship). It was offered by Senator Richard Durbin (Dem., IL) with 10 cosponsors, four of whom were not cosponsors of S.299 [2]  The proposed resolution was referred to the Foreign Relations Committee.

In addition to these 18 senators, the following seven (for a total of 25) can also be regarded as supporters of reconciliation based upon statements on their official websites or other comments or actions mentioned in the press: Tammy Baldwin (Dem., WI), Chris Coons (Dem., DE), Al Franken (Dem., MN), Chris Murphy (Dem., CT), Rand Paul (Rep., KY), Pat Roberts (Rep., KS) and Harry Reid (Dem., NV).

Thus, at least 25 Senators are on record apparently supporting reconciliation with Cuba

2. Opposing reconciliation

As of February 10, the Senate had on its agenda one substantive bill relating to Cuba that can be seen as indirectly opposed to reconciliation.

S.165 (Detaining Terrorists To Protect America Act of 2015) would extend and enhance prohibitions and limitations with respect to the transfer or release of individuals detained at the U.S. Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.This bill was referred to the Armed Services Committee. It was offered by Senator Kelly Ayotte (Rep., NH) with 26 Republican cosponsors [3] One of the cosponsors, however, is Senator Jerry Moran, who was a cosponsor of S.299 and who spoke in favor of ending the embargo at the launch of the United States Agricultural Coalition for Cuba. Thus, I believe that only 25 of these cosponsors can be counted in the anti-reconciliation camp.

At least one other Senator belongs in this camp. Senator Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ), who is a Cuban-American, is vehemently opposed to reconciliation as are the other two Cuban-American Senators–Ted Cruz (Rep., TX) and Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), both of  whom are cosponsors of S.165.

Thus, at least 27 Senators are on record apparently opposing reconciliation.

B. U.S. House of Representatives

There are at least 43 representatives favoring reconciliation while 52 do not. That leaves the other 340 representatives not accounted for.

1. Favoring reconciliation

As of February 10, the House had eight pending bills favorable to reconciliation with Cuba.

The following three seek to end the U.S. embargo of Cuba.

  • The leading one seems to be H.R.403 (Free Trade with Cuba Act) that was introduced by Representative Charles Rangel (Dem., NY) with 27 Democratic cosponsors [4] It has been referred for consideration to the House Foreign Affairs and six other committees.[5] The bill would end the embargo, and its  section 2 would have Congress find that “Cuba is no longer a threat to the [U.S.] or Western Hemisphere;” the U.S. ” is using economic, cultural, academic, and scientific engagement to support its policy of promoting democratic and human rights reforms [in other Communist regimes];” and the U.S. “can best support democratic change in Cuba by promoting trade and commerce, travel, communications, and cultural, academic, and scientific exchanges.”
  • The other two similar bills to end the embargo are H.R.274 (United States-Cuba Normalization Act, 2015) by Rep. Bobby Rush (Dem., IL) without any cosponsors, and H.R.735 (To lift the trade embargo on Cuba, and for other purposes) by Rep. Jose Serrano (Dem., NY) with Rep. Rangel as a cosponsor, both of whom are on the record as supporters of of H.R.403. These bills too were referred to the same seven committees for consideration.

 Rep. Rangel on February 2nd also introduced H.R.635 (Promoting American Agricultural and Medical Exports to Cuba Act of 2015) to facilitate the export of U.S. agricultural products to Cuba, to remove impediments to the export to Cuba of medical devices and medicines, to allow travel to Cuba by U.S. legal residents, to establish an agricultural export promotion program with respect to Cuba. With 25 of the same Democratic cosponsors, the bill was referred to the Foreign Affairs and four other committees.

There are two bills to expand U.S. residents ability to travel to Cuba. Rep. Rangel on February 2nd introduced H.R.634 (Export Freedom to Cuba Act of 2015) with 25 of the same Democratic cosponsors of H.R.403 plus John Garamendi (Dem., CA) and Mark Pocan (Dem., WI). It has provisions for freedom to travel to Cuba for U.S. citizens and legal residents.It was referred to the Foreign Affairs Committee. A similar bill to expand U.S. citizens travel to Cuba (H.R.664: Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2015) was offered on February 2nd by Rep. Mark Sanford (Rep., SC) with 12 cosponsors.[6] It also was referred to the Foreign Affairs Committee.

A more limited travel bill was introduced by Representative Jose Serrano (Dem., NY). It is H.R.738: To waive certain prohibitions with respect to nationals of Cuba coming to the United States to play organized professional baseball. Its sole cosponsor is Representative Rangel and was referred to the Foreign Affairs Committee.

On January 27th Minnesota’s Representative Betty McCollum introduced H.R.570 (Stop Wasting Taxpayer Money on Cuba Broadcasting Act) to stop Radio Marti and Television Marti broadcasts to Cuba. McCollum was a cosponsor of H.R.403 while HR. 570 has no cosponsors. It was referred to the Foreign Affairs and Judiciary Committees.

I am proud to say that all five Democratic Representatives from Minnesota by offering or cosponsoring bills appear to be in favor of this reconciliation. In addition, two of Minnesota’s three Republican Representatives have made statements indicating at least receptivity to favoring the reconciliation, and this analysis counts them as undecided. [7]

Our newest Representative Tom Emmer said, “By all accounts the Cuban people are worse off today than when [the embargo] started. So clearly that’s not working. And I’m supportive of engaging in diplomacy, starting to re-engage in diplomatic relations with Cuba, to begin that process to hopefully someday getting to normalize that relationship. But it’s two separate things. One, it’s diplomacy, and down the road is normalization.” In addition, as a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Emmer focused on three issues in questioning Administration witnesses: reparations for Cubans who have been persecuted by the Castro regime, payments for U.S. interests that lost property to the regime and safe harbor of U.S. fugitives within Cuba. Emmer also said or suggested if certain conditions are met he could support ending the embargo.

Another Minnesota Republican Representative, Rep. Erik Paulsen, said, “We should be looking at opportunities to open up trade between the United States and Cuba so we can export more American goods and services. However, the President should have engaged Congress before making concessions to the Cuban government.” (Id.) It may also be significant that his district includes the headquarters of Cargill Incorporated, the leader of the United States Agricultural Coalition for Cuba

Thus, there are at least 40 Representatives who appear to be in favor of this reconciliation with differing levels of commitment.

2. Opposing reconciliation

There are two pending bills, both relating to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba that can be seen as opposing reconciliation, as of February 10.

The first is H.R.654 (Naval Station Guantanamo Bay Protection Act). It was introduced by David Jolly (Rep., FL)  with 36 Republican cosponsors, none of whom is from Minnesota. [8] It was referred to the Foreign Affairs Committee.

The other bill (H.R.401: Detaining Terrorists to Protect America Act of 2015) which would prohibit the release or transfer of certain Guantanamo Bay detainees and the construction or modification of any other facility to house such detainees. It was offered by Representative Jackie Walkorski (Rep., IN) with 29 Republican cosponsors, of whom 17 were not cosponsors of H.R.654. [9] It was referred to the Armed Services Committee.

Accordingly there are at least 54 Representatives on the record against reconciliation. Three of them are Cuban-Americans (Carlos Curbello, Mario Diaz–Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen) with the latter two being the most vocal in their persistent criticism of reconciliation. Another Cuban-American Representative (Albio Sires (Dem., NJ)) has not been an author or cosponsor of any of these bills, but his website includes a rejection of the President’s decisions to seek reconciliation with Cuba. [10]

III. Conclusion

As a supporter of reconciliation, I am anxious that this year both houses of Congress abolish the embargo and support other measures to promote that reconciliation. Therefore, I urge all supporters to say thank you to those legislators who already are on our side, to identify the “undecided” legislators and seek to persuade them to become supporters and to inform our fellow citizens of the important issues in this controversy and to seek to persuade them to be supporters.

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[1] The 13 cosponsors of S.299 are the following: John Boozman (Rep., AR), Barbara Boxer (Dem, CA), Thomas Carper (Dem., DE), Susan Collins (Rep., ME), Richard Durbin (Dem., IL) ), Michael Enzi (Rep., WY), Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN), Patrick Leahy (Dem., VT), Jerry Moran (Rep., KS), Jack Reed (Dem., RI), Debbie Stabenow (Dem., MI), Tom Udall (Dem., NM) and Sheldon Whitehouse (Dem., RI). Senator Moran also spoke in favor of ending the embargo at the launch of the United States Agricultural Coalition for Cuba.

[2] The four cosponsors of S.RES.26 who were not cosponsors of S.299 are the following: Sherrod Brown (Dem., OH), Benjamin Cardin (Dem., MD), Tim Kaine (Dem., VA) and Barbara Mikulski (Dem., MD). 

[3] The 26 Republican cosponsors of S.165 are the following: John Barrasso (WY), Roy Blunt (MO), John Boozman (AR), Richard Burr (NC). John Cornyn (TX), Tom Cotton (AR), Ted Cruz (TX), Joni Ernst (IA), Deb Fischer (NE), Lindsey Graham (SC), Orrin Hatch (UT), James Inhofe (OK), Johnny Isakson (GA), Ron Johnson (WI), Mark Kirk (IL), James Lankford (OK), Mike Lee ((UT), John McCain (AZ), Jerry Moran (KS), Pat Roberts (KS), Mike Rounds (SD), Jeff Sessions (AL), Dan Sullivan (AK), Thom Tillis (NC), Pat Toomey (PA) and Roger Wicker (MS).

[4] The 27 Democratic Representative cosponsors of H.R.403 are Karen Bass (CA), William Clay (Mo), Steve Cohen (TN), John Conyers, Jr. (MI), Keith Ellison (MN), Sam Farr (CA), Chaka Fattah (PA), Raul Griaiva (AZ), Jared Huffman (CA), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX), Eddie Johnson (TX), Henry Johnson (GA), Barbara Lee (CA), Betty McCollum (MN), Jim McDermott (WA), Gregory Meeks (NY), Gwen Moore (WI), Rick Nolan (MN), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Collin Peterson (MN), Jared Polis (CO), Janice Schakowsky (IL), Bennie Thompson (MS), Tim Walz (MN) and Maxine Waters (CA).

[5] A prior post listed the members of the seven House committees that have jurisdiction over different portions of the three bills to end the embargo.

[6] The 12 cosponsors of H.R.664 are Kathy Astor (Rep., FL), Jason Chaffetz (Rep., UT), Kevin Cramer (Rep., ND), Rosa DeLauro (Rep., CT), Sam Farr (Dem., CA), Barbara Lee (Dem., CA), Thomas Massie (Rep., KY), James McGovern (Dem., MA), Charles Rangel (Dem., NY), Chris Van Hollen, (Rep., MD), Nydia Velazquez (Dem., NY) and Peter Welch (Dem, VT).) Of this group, eight were not sponsors or cosponsors of H.R.403 (Chaffetz, Cramer, DeLauro, Massie, McGovern, Van Hollen, Velazquez and Welch). Cramer also announced his support for ending the embargo at the launch of the U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba.

[7] Henry, Emmer on Cuba embargo: ‘Clearly that’s not working, MINNPOST (Feb. 6, 2015). The third Minnesota Republican Representative, John Kline, appeared to be less receptive to ending the embargo. He said he’s “not confident the Administration will follow through on its promises to hold the Castro dictatorship regime accountable, and I’m concerned about revisiting relations with Cuba until all Cubans enjoy a free democracy.”

[8] The 36 Republican cosponsors of H.R.654 are Gus Bilirakis (FL), Michael Burgess (TX), Bradley Byrne (AL), Jason Chaffetz (UT), Mike Coffman (CO), Carlos Curbello (FL), Rodney Davis (IL), Ron DeSantis (FL), Mario Diaz-Balert (FL), Bill Flores (TX), Trent Franks (AZ), Louie Gohmert (TX), Trey Gowdy (TN), Andy Harris (MD), Richard Hudson (NC), Duncan Hunter (CA), Darrell Issa (CA), Bill Johnson (OH), Jeff Miller (FL), Alexander Mooney (WV), Richard Nugent (FL), Gary Palmer (AL), Robert Pittenger (NC), Bill Posey (FL), Reid Ribble (WI), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL), Keith Rothfus (PA), Matt Salmon (AZ), Austin Scott (GA), Marlin Stutzman (IN), Jackie Walorski (IN), Randy Weber (TX), Roger Williams (TX), Joe Wilson (SC), Ted Yoho (FL) and Ryan Zinke (MT). Diaz-Balert and Ros-Lehtinen are Cuban-Americans who have been and are most vocal in their criticism of reconciliation. Rodney Davis, however, spoke in favor of ending the embargo at the launch of the United States Agricultural Coalition for Cuba and should not be viewed as completely hostile to reconciliation.

[9] The 29 Republican cosponsors of H.R.401 are Andy Barr (KY), Susan Brooks (IN), Bradley Byrne (AL), Mike Coffman (CO), Paul Cook (CA), Ander Crenshaw (FL), Trent Franks (AZ), Andy Harris (MD), Jaime Herrera Beutier (WA), Duncan Hunter (CA), Darrell Issa (CA). Sam Johnson (TX), Doug Lamborn (CO), Robert Latta (OH), Luke Messer (IN), Mick Mulvaney (IN), Richard Nugent (FL), Steven Pearce (NM), Robert Pittenger (NC), Ted Poe (TX), Mike Pompeo (KS), Todd Rokita (IN), Aaron Schock (IL), Austin Scott (GA), Christopher Smith (NJ), Brad Wenstrup (OH), Joe Wilson (SC), Robert Wittman (VA) and Ryan Zinke (MT). Of these cosponsors, 16 (Barr, Brooks, Herrera, Sam Johnson, Lamborn, Latta, Messer, Mulvaney, Pearce, Poe, Pompeo, Rokita, Schock, Smith, Wenstrup and Wittman) were not cosponsors of H.R.654.

[10] Hook, Exile Haunts Cuba-American Lawmakers, W.S.J. (Dec. 20-21, 2014).

U.S. Easing Restrictions on Travel and Exports to Cuba

Effective January 16th the U.S. is easing restrictions on Americans’ travel and exports to Cuba.[1]

Under the new regulations, Americans will now be allowed to travel to Cuba for any of the following specific reasons without first obtaining a special license from the U.S. government:

  • family visits;
  • official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations;
  • journalistic activity;
  • professional research and professional meetings;
  • educational activities;
  • religious activities;
  • public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions;
  • support for the Cuban people;
  • humanitarian projects;
  • activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and
  • certain authorized export transactions.

Airlines and travel agents will be allowed to provide service to Cuba without a specific license.

Travelers will be permitted to use credit cards and spend money while in the country and bring back up to $400 in souvenirs, including up to $100 in alcohol or tobacco. In addition, Americans will be allowed to send more money to Cubans, up to $2,000 every three months instead of the $500 currently permitted.

The new regulations will also make it easier for U.S. telecommunications providers and financial institutions to do business with Cuba.

Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew, whose department oversees sanctions policy, said in a statement, “These changes will have a direct impact in further engaging and empowering the Cuban people, promoting positive change for Cuba’s citizens. The amended regulations also will facilitate authorized business for U.S. exporters and enhance communications and commerce between Cuba and the United States.  To the extent legally possible, the President has made clear that we want U.S. policy to ease the burdens on the Cuban citizens we seek to help.”

“Cuba has real potential for economic growth and by increasing travel, commerce, communications, and private business development between the United States and Cuba, the United States can help the Cuban people determine their own future.”

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker issued a similar statement with respect to changed regulations from her department. She said, “our regulations will change export policy and authorize the flow of certain goods and services to Cuba without a license, to spur private sector activity and encourage entrepreneurship in Cuba. These are smart changes in America’s outdated policy that will help the Cuban people realize an improved standard of living, greater economic independence, and increased prosperity.”

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[1] This post is based on U.S. Dep’t of Treasury, FACT SHEET: Treasury and Commerce Announce Regulatory Amendments to the Cuba Sanctions (Jan. 15, 2015); U.S. Dep’t of Treasury, Statement of Secretary Lew on Amendments to the Cuban Asset Control Regulations (Jan. 15, 2015); U.S. Dep’t of Commerce, Statement from U.S. Commerce Secretary Pritzker on New Commerce Department Regulations Changing U.S. Export Policy on Cuba (Jan. 15, 2015); Baker, U.S. Easing Decades-Old Restrictions on Travel to Cuba, N.Y. Times (Jan. 15, 2015).

 

Additional Details About White House’s Announcement of U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation

White House
White House

On December 17, 2014, President Barack Obama in a nationally televised speech announced the historic agreement with Cuba to restore diplomatic relations as one part of a reconciliation with Cuba. That same day the White House website had (a) “FACT SHEET: Charting a New Course in Cuba;” (b) “Background Conference Call on Policy Changes in Cuba and Release of Alan Gross;” and (c) “Readout of the Vice President’s Calls to the Presidents of Colombia and Mexico on the Administration’s Cuba Policy Changes.”

After reviewing these documents, the post will conclude with observations on some of the points raised in these documents.

“FACT SHEET: Charting a New Course in Cuba”

The introduction to the FACT SHEET, among other things, said, “It is clear that decades of U.S. isolation of Cuba have failed to accomplish our enduring objective of promoting the emergence of a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba. . . . It does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse.  We know from hard-learned experience that it is better to encourage and support reform than to impose policies that will render a country a failed state.  With our actions today, we are calling on Cuba to unleash the potential of 11 million Cubans by ending unnecessary restrictions on their political, social, and economic activities.” (Emphasis added.)

The FACT SHEET then provided the following “Key Components of the Updated Policy Approach:”

“Establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba-

  • The President has instructed the Secretary of State to immediately initiate discussions with Cuba on the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba, which were severed in January 1961.
  • In the coming months, we will re-establish an embassy in Havana and carry out high-level exchanges and visits between our two governments as part of the normalization process.  As an initial step, the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs will lead the U.S. Delegation to the next round of U.S.-Cuba Migration Talks in January 2015, in Havana.
  • U.S. engagement will be critical when appropriate and will include continued strong support for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba and other measures aimed at fostering improved conditions for the Cuban people. (Emphasis added.)
  • The United States will work with Cuba on matters of mutual concern and that advance U.S. national interests, such as migration, counternarcotics, environmental protection, and trafficking in persons, among other issues.” (Emphasis added.)

“Adjusting regulations to more effectively empower the Cuban people-

  • The changes announced today will soon be implemented via amendments to regulations of the Departments of the Treasury and Commerce.   Our new policy changes will further enhance our goal of empowering the Cuban population.
  • Our travel and remittance policies are helping Cubans by providing alternative sources of information and opportunities for self-employment and private property ownership, and by strengthening independent civil society. 
  • These measures will further increase people-to-people contact; further support civil society in Cuba; and further enhance the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people.  Persons must comply with all provisions of the revised regulations; violations of the terms and conditions are enforceable under U.S. law.”

“Facilitating an expansion of travel under general licenses for the 12 existing categories of travel to Cuba authorized by law-

  • General licenses will be made available for all authorized travelers in the following existing categories: (1) family visits; (2) official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; (3) journalistic activity; (4) professional research and professional meetings; (5) educational activities; (6) religious activities; (7) public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; (8) support for the Cuban people; (9) humanitarian projects; (10) activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; (11) exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and (12) certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines. 
  • Travelers in the 12 categories of travel to Cuba authorized by law will be able to make arrangements through any service provider that complies with the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) regulations governing travel services to Cuba, and general licenses will authorize provision of such services. 
  • The policy changes make it easier for Americans to provide business training for private Cuban businesses and small farmers and provide other support for the growth of Cuba’s nascent private sector.  Additional options for promoting the growth of entrepreneurship and the private sector in Cuba will be explored.”

Facilitating remittances to Cuba by U.S. persons

  • Remittance levels will be raised from $500 to $2,000 per quarter for general donative remittances to Cuban nationals (except to certain officials of the government or the Communist party); and donative remittances for humanitarian projects, support for the Cuban people, and support for the development of private businesses in Cuba will no longer require a specific license.
  • Remittance forwarders will no longer require a specific license.”

“Authorizing expanded commercial sales/exports from the United States of certain goods and services-

  • The expansion will seek to empower the nascent Cuban private sector.  Items that will be authorized for export include certain building materials for private residential construction, goods for use by private sector Cuban entrepreneurs, and agricultural equipment for small farmers.  This change will make it easier for Cuban citizens to have access to certain lower-priced goods to improve their living standards and gain greater economic independence from the state.”

“Authorizing American citizens to import additional goods from Cuba-

  • Licensed U.S. travelers to Cuba will be authorized to import $400 worth of goods from Cuba, of which no more than $100 can consist of tobacco products and alcohol combined.”

Facilitating authorized transactions between the United States and Cuba-

  • U.S. institutions will be permitted to open correspondent accounts at Cuban financial institutions to facilitate the processing of authorized transactions.
  • The regulatory definition of the statutory term “cash in advance” will be revised to specify that it means “cash before transfer of title”; this will provide more efficient financing of authorized trade with Cuba.
  • U.S. credit and debit cards will be permitted for use by travelers to Cuba.
  • These measures will improve the speed, efficiency, and oversight of authorized payments between the United States and Cuba.”

“Initiating new efforts to increase Cubans’ access to communications and their ability to communicate freely-

  • Cuba has an internet penetration of about five percent—one of the lowest rates in the world.  The cost of telecommunications in Cuba is exorbitantly high, while the services offered are extremely limited.
  • The commercial export of certain items that will contribute to the ability of the Cuban people to communicate with people in the United States and the rest of the world will be authorized.  This will include the commercial sale of certain consumer communications devices, related software, applications, hardware, and services, and items for the establishment and update of communications-related systems.
  •  Telecommunications providers will be allowed to establish the necessary mechanisms, including infrastructure, in Cuba to provide commercial telecommunications and internet services, which will improve telecommunications between the United States and Cuba.”

“Updating the application of Cuba sanctions in third countries-

  • U.S.-owned or -controlled entities in third countries will be generally licensed to provide services to, and engage in financial transactions with, Cuban individuals in third countries.  In addition, general licenses will unblock the accounts at U.S. banks of Cuban nationals who have relocated outside of Cuba; permit U.S. persons to participate in third-country professional meetings and conferences related to Cuba; and, allow foreign vessels to enter the United States after engaging in certain humanitarian trade with Cuba, among other measures.”

“Pursuing discussions with the Cuban and Mexican governments to discuss our unresolved maritime boundary in the Gulf of Mexico-

  • Previous agreements between the United States and Cuba delimit the maritime space between the two countries within 200 nautical miles from shore.  The United States, Cuba, and Mexico have extended continental shelf in an area within the Gulf of Mexico where the three countries have not yet delimited any boundaries.
  • The United States is prepared to invite the governments of Cuba and Mexico to discuss shared maritime boundaries in the Gulf of Mexico”

“Initiating a review of Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism-

  • The President has instructed the Secretary of State to immediately launch such a review, and provide a report to the President within six months regarding Cuba’s support for international terrorism.  Cuba was placed on the list in 1982.”[1]

“Addressing Cuba’s participation in the 2015 Summit of the Americas in Panama-

  • President Obama will participate in the Summit of the Americas in Panama.  Human rights and democracy will be key Summit themes.  Cuban civil society must be allowed to participate along with civil society from other countries participating in the Summit, consistent with the region’s commitments under the Inter-American Democratic Charter.  The United States welcomes a constructive dialogue among Summit governments on the Summit’s principles.” (Emphasis added.)

“Unwavering Commitment to Democracy, Human Rights, and Civil Society

A critical focus of our increased engagement will include continued strong support by the United States for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba.  The promotion of democracy supports universal human rights by empowering civil society and a person’s right to speak freely, peacefully assemble, and associate, and by supporting the ability of people to freely determine their future.   Our efforts are aimed at promoting the independence of the Cuban people so they do not need to rely on the Cuban state. (Emphasis added.)

The U.S. Congress funds democracy programming in Cuba to provide humanitarian assistance, promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, and support the free flow of information in places where it is restricted and censored.  The Administration will continue to implement U.S. programs aimed at promoting positive change in Cuba, and we will encourage reforms in our high level engagement with Cuban officials. (Emphasis added.)

The United States encourages all nations and organizations engaged in diplomatic dialogue with the Cuban government to take every opportunity both publicly and privately to support increased respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cuba. 

Ultimately, it will be the Cuban people who drive economic and political reforms.  That is why President Obama took steps to increase the flow of resources and information to ordinary Cuban citizens in 2009, 2011, and today.  The Cuban people deserve the support of the United States and of an entire region that has committed to promote and defend democracy through the Inter-American Democratic Charter.”

Background Conference Call 

On December 17 two hours before President Obama’s speech to the nation, the White House conducted an hour-long “background” conference call with journalists and seven unnamed senior administration officials regarding these matters.

Among other things, one of the officials said the U.S. expects that “we’ll continue to have strong differences, particularly on issues related to democracy and human rights.  The [U.S.] will continue to promote our values.  We will continue to support civil society in Cuba.  We’ll continue our democracy programming.” In President Obama’s December 16th telephone call with President Raúl Castro, Obama “made clear his intent . . . to continue our advocacy for human rights in Cuba.”

A State Department official stated the U.S. would not reduce its “emphasis on human rights, on democracy, on the importance of civil society. . . . In fact, our emphasis on human rights will be just as strong and we believe more effective under this policy.  We will engage directly with the Cuban government on human rights.”

For example, the State Department official stated a U.S. diplomat in Havana “will be meeting with members of Cuban society and dissidents later today to walk them through the President’s initiatives of today, and to emphasize to them, as well, that their efforts on behalf of democracy and human rights in Cuba not only won’t be forgotten in these initiatives, but will, in fact, take center stage.”

In response to a question as to whether there were discussions with Cuba about “USAID programs that have been pretty controversial in Cuba,” an administration official said U.S. “democracy programming . . . did factor into the discussions [with Cuba].  The Cubans do not like our democracy programming.  They consistently protest those initiatives. . . . [The U.S., however,] made clear that we’re going to continue our support for civil society for the advancement of our values in Cuba.  [This] . . . was an issue of difference that we will continue to have with Cuba, and we fully expect them to raise those issues just as we will raise issues with the Cubans about democracy and human rights.  However, we’re going to do that through a normal relationship.  We’re going to do that through our embassy in Havana.  We’re going to do that through contacts between our various agencies.”[2]

Vice President Biden’s Telephone Calls with Presidents of Colombia and Mexico

The White House reported that Vice President Joe Biden made telephone calls about the new initiatives with Cuba  to President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia and to President Enrique Pena Nieto of Mexico. After outlining the agreement, Biden told each of them that President Obama intended to attend the Summit of the Americas in Panama next April “as long as Cuban civil society is allowed to participate and human rights and democracy are on the agenda.” In the call to President Nieto, Biden said that the U.S. would initiate discussions with Cuba and Mexico about the unresolved maritime boundary of the Gulf of Mexico.

Conclusion

I concur in most of the FACT SHEET’s assertions about democracy and human rights that suggest that the U.S. will engage and work with the Cuban government to improve the Cuban people’s political, social and economic rights and that the U.S. no longer will seek to impose such rights or values on the Cuban people through covert or “discreet” programs. These statements are the following:

  • (i)  “It does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse.  We know from hard-learned experience that it is better to encourage and support reform than to impose policies that will render a country a failed state.  With our actions today, we are calling on Cuba to unleash the potential of 11 million Cubans by ending unnecessary restrictions on their political, social, and economic activities.”
  • (ii)  “U.S. engagement will be critical when appropriate and will include continued strong support for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba and other measures aimed at fostering improved conditions for the Cuban people.”
  • (iii) “A critical focus of our increased engagement will include continued strong support by the United States for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba.  The promotion of democracy supports universal human rights by empowering civil society and a person’s right to speak freely, peacefully assemble, and associate, and by supporting the ability of people to freely determine their future.   Our efforts are aimed at promoting the independence of the Cuban people so they do not need to rely on the Cuban state.”
  • (iv) The U.S. “will encourage [such] reforms in our high level engagement with Cuban officials.”

Other statements in the FACT SHEET, however, seems to undercut this benign interpretation: (i) “The U.S. Congress funds democracy programming in Cuba to provide humanitarian assistance, promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, and support the free flow of information in places where it is restricted and censored.  The Administration will continue to implement U.S. programs aimed at promoting positive change in Cuba. . . .” (ii) “The U.S. Congress funds democracy programming in Cuba to provide humanitarian assistance, promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, and support the free flow of information in places where it is restricted and censored.  The Administration will continue to implement U.S. programs aimed at promoting positive change in Cuba.” [3]

According to the FACT SHEET, “President Obama will participate in the Summit of the Americas in Panama.  Human rights and democracy will be key Summit themes.  Cuban civil society must be allowed to participate along with civil society from other countries participating in the Summit.” The account of the Vice President’s telephone calls, however, seems to add that President Obama intends to attend the Summit of the Americas in Panama next April “as long as Cuban civil society is allowed to participate and human rights and democracy are on the agenda.” I was surprised and disappointed to read that there was a precondition to Obama’s attending the summit: Cuba’s allowing members of its civil society to attend and participate in the Summit. While it may be a good idea to have civil society representatives from all countries, including Cuba, attend and participate, I think it unwise for the U.S. to provide Cuba with a veto on Obama’s attendance if it does not have such representatives there. I hope that this interpretation of the Vice President’s remarks is unfounded.

I am unaware of the details of the dispute about the maritime boundaries of the Gulf of Mexico, but assume that it relates to oil or other resources under the Caribbean.

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[1] Prior posts discussed the legal and political issues of rescinding the designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” and the U.S.’ previous concessions that Cuba has provided assurances that it will not commit future acts of terrorism.

[2] On December 20th Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew co-authored an article in the Miami Herald. It said the U.S. would have “continued strong support for improved human-rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba” and would “continue to implement programs to promote positive change in Cuba.”

[3] The previous democracy/human rights programs of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Department of State will be part of a subsequent post about the recent controversy about Cuba’s cancellation of n “open-microphone” event and arrests of its organizers.