Cuba Announces Agreement To Restore Diplomatic Relations with the United States

On July 1, 2015, the U.S. and Cuba announced an agreement to restore diplomatic relations. This post will discuss Cuba’s announcement and reactions.[1] A prior post did the same for the U.S. announcement and reactions.

The Cuban government’s announcement of the resumption of diplomatic relations stated the following:

  • “The President of the Councils of State and Ministers of the Republic of Cuba, Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, and the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, exchanged letters through which they confirmed the decision to reestablish diplomatic relations between the two countries and open permanent diplomatic missions in their respective capitals, from July 20, 2015.”
  • “By formalizing this step, Cuba and the United States ratified the intention to develop respectful and cooperative relations between both peoples and governments, based on the purposes and principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations and International Law, in particular the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations.”
  • “The Government of Cuba has decided to reestablish diplomatic relations with the United States in full exercise of its sovereignty, invariably committed to the ideals of independence and social justice, and in solidarity with the just causes of the world, and reaffirming each of the principles for which our people have shed their blood and ran all risks, led by the historic leader of the Revolution Fidel Castro Ruz.”
  • “With the reestablishment of diplomatic relations and the opening of embassies, the first phase concludes of what will be a long and complex process towards the normalization of bilateral ties, as part of which a set of issues will have to be resolved arising from past policies, still in force, which affect the Cuban people and nation.”
  • “There can be no normal relations between Cuba and the United States as long as the economic, commercial and financial blockade that continues to be rigorously applied, causing damages and scarcities for the Cuban people, is maintained. It is the main obstacle to the development of our economy, constitutes a violation of International Law and affects the interests of all countries, including those of the United States.”
  • “To achieve normalization it will also be indispensable that the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base is returned, that radio and television transmissions to Cuba that are in violation of international norms and harmful to our sovereignty cease, that programs aimed at promoting subversion and internal destabilization are eliminated, and that the Cuban people are compensated for the human and economic damages caused by the policies of the United States.”
  • “In recalling the outstanding issues to be resolved between the two countries, the Cuban Government recognizes the decisions adopted thus far by President Obama, to exclude Cuba from the list of state sponsors of international terrorism, to urge the U.S. Congress to lift the blockade and to begin to take steps to modify the application of aspects of this policy in exercise of his executive powers.”
  • “As part of the process towards the normalization of relations, in turn, the foundations of ties that have not existed between our countries in all their history will need to be constructed, in particular, since the military intervention of the United States 117 years ago, in the independence war that Cuba fought for nearly three decades against Spanish colonialism.”
  • “These relations must be founded on absolute respect for our independence and sovereignty; the inalienable right of every State to choose its political, economic, social and cultural system, without interference in any form; and sovereign equality and reciprocity, which constitute inalienable principles of International Law.”
  • “The Government of Cuba reiterates its willingness to maintain a respectful dialogue with the Government of the United States and develop relations of civilized coexistence, based on respect for the differences between the two governments and cooperation on issues of mutual benefit.”
  • “Cuba will continue immersed in the process of updating its economic and social model, to build a prosperous and sustainable socialism, advance the development of the country and consolidate the achievements of the Revolution.”
Ramón Cabañas & Anthony Blinken
Ramón Cabañas & Anthony Blinken

That same day (July 1) Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez, the Head of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, delivered to Interim Secretary of State Anthony Blinken at the U.S. State Department a letter from Raúl Castro to President Obama, confirming that “the Republic of Cuba has decided to reestablish diplomatic relations with the United States of America and open permanent diplomatic missions in our respective countries, on July 20, 2015.” That letter went on to say the following:

  • “Cuba makes this decision, motivated by the mutual intention to develop relations of respect and cooperation between both peoples and governments.”
  • “Cuba likewise draws inspiration from the principles and objectives established in the United Nations Charter and international law, namely, sovereign equality; the settlement of disputes by peaceful means; abstention from acts or threat of aggression or the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any States, non-intervention in matters within the domestic jurisdiction of any State, the promotion of friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principles of equal rights and that of the people’s right to self-determination, and cooperation in solving international problems and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.”
  • “The above stated principles are in accordance with the spirit and norms established in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of April 18, 1961 and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of April 24, 1963, to which both the Republic of Cuba and the United States of America are parties, and will govern diplomatic and consular relations between the Republic of Cuba and the United States of America.”

Cuba also confirmed that on July 1 Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the Head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, had delivered to the Cuban Foreign Ministry a July 1 letter from President Obama to President Castro that was quoted in the prior post about the U.S. announcement of restoration of diplomatic relations.

Cuban Reaction

According to a U.S. reporter for the New York Times, Cubans in the streets of Havana welcomed the news about the resumption of diplomatic relations.

Roberto, a parking attendant who minds cars near the U.S. Interests Section on the Malecon, said, ““This will benefit the country. Maybe, I don’t know, it will eventually benefit me.”

Regina Coyula, a blogger who for several years worked for Cuban state security, commented, “People realize that the Americans aren’t going to solve their problems, and nor is the government” of Cuba. The reaction to the December 17th announcement of rapprochement was “like a firework display. Everyone watched them. Everyone thought they were beautiful. And then they went back to their lives.”

Coyula added that with American money being spent in private restaurants and homes and on car services, those Cubans who are doing well will do even better. “The difference between those Cubas is only going to grow.”

“We’ve been waiting all our lives for this, and it’s very welcome,” said Carmen Álvarez, 76, who was walking with friends near the Interests Section. “We’re waiting with our arms and our minds wide open.”

Yosvany Coca Montes de Oca, 38, who began listing his one-bedroom apartment in Havana with Airbnb, the online house-sharing service, in April, said, “Things are going really well.” He used to get four or five Americans staying at his house every month. For the past two months, he has had more than 15 and has been showered with reservations. But Mr. Coca acknowledged that he was part of a privileged economic circle that was feeling the immediate benefit of new American interest in Cuba. Many Cubans, he said, felt little change. “For ordinary people, it doesn’t have a direct impact. People are mainly concerned with getting by day to day.”

More generally, the U.S. reporter concluded,“The euphoria that prompted Cubans to toot their horns and wave flags [on December 17th] . . . has given way to a tempered hope that an influx of Americans, and the eventual end of the trade embargo, will help pry open the economy and the political system.”

Similar positive comments from people on the street in Havana were captured by Granma, the official newspaper of Cuba’s Communist Party.

Other Reactions

Cuba’s Granma newspaper reported positive reactions to the restoration of diplomatic relations from China, Brazil, the European Union and the United Nations.

Conclusion

The Cuban announcement reiterated some of the issues that Cuba has raised before and after the December 17th announcement of rapprochement and that have been addressed in prior posts to this blog.

Foremost for Cuba is ending the U.S. embargo or blockade of Cuba. President Obama agrees that this should happen and again yesterday called on Congress to adopt legislation doing just that. Senators Amy Klobuchar, Jerry Moran and Angus King have introduced bills to that end, and in the House Charles Rangel, Bobby Rush and Jose Serano have authored similar bills. Now the relevant congressional committees need to hold hearings and report the bills to the floors of the respective chambers for voting them up or down.[2]

Related to ending the embargo or blockage is Cuba’s repeated allegation that it is illegal under international law and has damaged Cuba, allegedly $1.1 trillion as of last October. It is exceedingly unlikely that the U.S. will agree with these assertions and pay Cuba that sum of money. Therefore, this blogger has suggested that this Cuban claim, along with others by Cuba and the U.S., be submitted for resolution to the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague in the Netherlands.[3]

The other significant issue for Cuba is ending the alleged U.S. illegal occupation of Guantanamo Bay and returning that territory to Cuba. Again it is exceedingly unlikely that the U.S. will agree with that allegation and demand. Remember that the Cuban government in 1906 leased that territory to the U.S. for use as a “coaling station” or “naval station” and that there are many problems with Cuba’s assertion that it has the right to terminate the lease. Therefore, this blogger has suggested that this Cuban claim and others relating to Guantanamo, including unpaid rent for the last 50-plus years, also be submitted for resolution to the Permanent Court of Arbitration.[4]

Cuba’s complaint about U.S. radio and television transmissions to Cuba (Radio and TV Marti), in this blogger’s opinion, is secondary. Again I see no U.S. acceptance of this complaint, and thus it too should be submitted to the Permanent Court of Arbitration.[5]

The other secondary Cuban complaint concerns the U.S. “programs aimed at promoting subversion and internal destabilization.” This refers to the covert, secret or “discreet” programs of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), such as its social media program, the HIV workshop program and the hip-hop artist campaign. These programs, in this blogger’s opinion, are a stupid waste of U.S. taxpayers’ funds and should be terminated by the U.S. Any U.S. programs to promote democracy in Cuba should be joint ventures with the Cuban government.[6]

Now the more difficult work comes for the two countries’ diplomats to meet, discuss and negotiate to attempt to resolve or at least narrow these and many other issues. We wish them courage, persistence and humility in their work.

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[1] Statement by the Revolutionary Government, Granma (July 1, 2015); Letter from Cuban President Raúl Castro to Barack Obama (July 1, 2015); Interim Minister of Foreign Relations receives letter from U.S. President to Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, Granma (July 1, 2015); Cuba and the U.S. confirm reestablishment of diplomatic relations, Granma (July 1, 2015); Burnett, Cubans Greet Latest Step in U.S. Thaw With Hope Tempered by Reality,N.Y. Times (July 1, 2015).

[2] Prior posts have discussed bills to end the embargo in the U.S. House of Representatives and similar bills by Senators Klobuchar and Moran and King.

[3] A prior post concerned the October 2014 U.N. General Assembly’s overwhelming approval of a resolution condemning the embargo and Cuba’s allegation of $1.1 trillion of damages. Arbitration of Cuba’s alleged damages claim was suggested in another post.

[4] A post examined the 1906 lease of Guantanamo Bay; another, whether Cuba had a right to terminate the lease and another. arbitration of unresolved issues about the lease.

[5] One post looked at the status of Radio and TV Marti.

[6] Prior posts have covered USAID’s social media program; the U.S. Senate’s comments on that program; USAID’s HIV workshop program and reactions thereto by the U.S. government and by others; the New York Times’ criticism of the programs; criticism of the programs by the Latin American Working Group; and this bloggers’ open letter to President Obama complaining about the programs.

Why Did Senator Patrick Leahy and Two Other Senators Make A Trip to Cuba Last Week?

On June 25 three U.S. Senators arrived in Cuba: Senators Patrick Leahy (Dem., VT) and Ben Cardin (Dem., MD), who have been there before, and Senator Dean Heller (Rep., NV). There has been no recent development that seems to have prompted this trip, which prompts the question: why this trip at this time?[1]

The U.S. Interests Section in Havana said they were there to focus “on continued progress towards normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba.”

Upon arrival in Havana, Senator Leahy said, “I’m glad to see things are changing between our countries, and the more they change, the faster they change, the better for both countries.”

They met with (i) Miguel Diaz-Canel, Cuba’s First Vice President and heir-apparent to Raul Castro, (ii) Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, Director General of the U.S. Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and (iii) other Foreign Ministry officials. They discussed relations between Cuba and the United States and the debate currently taking place in the U.S. Congress on the elimination of restrictions on travel and trade with Cuba and the lifting of the U.S. embargo (blockade).They also met with religious leaders, ambassadors and others in Havana and the eastern city of Santiago.

Senators Heller, Leahy & Cardin
Senators Heller, Leahy & Cardin in Havana

At a press conference in Havana on June 27, Senator Leahy asserted, “The embargo has been an error of American policy.” He also said, “I’ve been here three times since the announcements of December 17, and “I see a new, very positive change in Cuba.”

 

Leahy added, “Obviously we still have differences, but I look forward to the United States being able to have a real embassy here. We hope that [the opening of embassies] can be very soon. Some in Congress oppose the opening, but I like to think that they are minority. We must open a full embassy. ​​We have a magnificent ambassador here and the staff and appropriate facilities. I like to think that the U.S. is a great country, and our embassies should reflect that.”

Senator Cardin said the delegation made clear to Cuban officials that the path to normalization must include dealing with thorny issues where the U.S. and Cuba have serious disagreements, such as human rights. “For normal relations to move down a productive path, it’s critically important for Cuba to recognize that it is out of step today with international human rights issues.”

The only Republican in the group, Senator Heller on his first visit to Cuba, said, “When the president is right, I support Obama, and he is right in the case of Cuba. Heller acknowledged that there is still much resistance to change in Congress. One way to overcome this resistance, he said, was for Americans to travel to Cuba to talk to people and see the reality with their own eyes. “That will change minds and hearts as has happened to me.” Heller, by the way, is a member of the Senate Committee on Finance; its Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee; its Committee on Veterans’ Affairs; its Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee; and the Senate Special Committee on Aging.

A number of Cuba initiatives are pending in the Senate, including a bill to remove the travel ban on Americans and a more ambitions bill to rescind the decades-old U.S. economic embargo, but these proposals are opposed by the Republican leadership in control of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The three senators in Havana thought there were better prospects for progress on Cuba legislation in their chamber. Senator Heller observed, “I think the Senate can move the House, but the Senate’s going to have to act first.”

The reasons for this Republican resistance to reconciliation were captured by Héctor E. Schamis, Adjunct Associate Professor at Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown University, who said:

  • The Republican Party, “the former pragmatic party of big business, is increasingly a party of ideology and short-term electioneering.Their incentives are to protect their districts–socially homogeneous, culturally and ideologically dogmatic and uniform– attributes that rise to the surface in such varied topics as immigration, gay marriage … or the Cuban transition. Its social base is the pure and simple anti-communism, which is also old. It is a reading of the world backward, not forward. Ignore the demographic change in the Cuban-American community, where the younger they are, the more they support the strategy of Obama. The Republican Party does not know that for these young people, Castro and Napoleon belong to the same place: the history books.”

Conclusion

At the start of this post, I said there has been no recent development that seems to have prompted this trip. That is true and reveals, in my opinion, the reason for this trip at this time. By now many in the U.S. at least were expecting that the two countries would have announced that they were re-establishing diplomatic relations and thus converting their interests sections into embassies. Keys for that anticipated announcement in June were the May 29, 2015, U.S. rescission of its designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism;” the Cuban Interests Section establishing a banking relationship with a bank in Florida; and a reported agreement regarding conditions for U.S. diplomats’ travel in Cuba.

Thus, in my opinion, the reason for this trip at this time was for Senator Leahy to attempt to determine whether there was some unknown reason from the Cubans for the lack of such an announcement and to press them to conclude the agreement for re-establishing diplomatic relations. Leahy also in the private discussions with the Cuban Foreign Ministry officials may have talked about political reasons from the U.S. perspective to have an announced re-establishment of diplomatic relations as soon as possible. After all, in his public comments in Havana, Leahy stressed the desire for a prompt opening of embassies and the need for the U.S. to open a full embassy.

Let us hope that in the next few days or weeks there will be an announcement of the resumption of diplomatic relations.

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[1] This post is based upon the following: Assoc. Press, Leahy Heads US Senate Delegation to Cuba Ahead of Embassies, N.Y. Times (June 26, 2015); Diaz-Canel received US Senators, Granma (June 26, 2015); Miguel Diaz-Canel meets with US Senator Patrick Leahy, Marti (June 26, 2015); Senator Leahy in Havana: The blockade has been an error of US policy, CubaDebate (June 27, 2015); Gomez, Normalization is the right way, say US senators in Havana, Granma (June 27, 2015); Assoc. Press, US Sen. Leahy Sees ‘Positive Change,’ Work to Do in Cuba, N.Y. Times (June 27, 2015); Reuters, U.S. Senators Visit Cuba, Hope Congress Will Ease Restrictions, N.Y. Times (June 27, 2015); Schamis, Obama’s Cuba and its discontents, El Pais (June 28, 2015).

 

 

 

More Details on Remaining Issues for Re-establishment of U.S.-Cuba Diplomatic Relations 

Two of the remaining issues for re-establishment of U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relations, as briefly mentioned in a prior post, are (1) the U.S. offering of journalism courses to Cubans at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana and (2) U.S. democracy-promotion programs in Cuba. Here are additional details about these issues.

 U.S. Journalism Courses

According to an Associated Press article,[1] the free courses cover the ABCs of journalism: how to craft a news story, write a headline and check sources. Taught via video link by professors from the International Media Center at Florida International University, there is no obvious attempt to politicize the material. John Caulfield, a retired diplomat who was in charge of the Interests Section in 2011-14, said the journalism program stays clear of politics. “It’s a very open, transparent program. What we were doing was not ideologically driven except for the fact I guess that part of our ideology is that people should have a right to free expression.”

Cuban attendees confirm the lack of an U.S. agenda for criticizing the Cuban government. One said, “”If the conversation even got close to political, the professor would say, ‘Stop, stop, stop,'”

Cuba has complained in the past about the courses. In 2013, the Cuban Foreign Ministry delivered a diplomatic note of protest, which was followed by a critical story in the official newspaper Granma. There also have been reports of Cuban attendees being roughed up, detained and having equipment stolen by security agents.

More recently President Raúl Castro mentioned the journalism courses as an obstacle to re-establishment of diplomatic relations. He said, ““What most concerns me is that they [people at the U.S. Interests Section] continue doing illegal things. For example, graduating independent journalists.”

The U.S. Department of State, however, has said, “The United States continuously works to promote free expression around the world through bilateral engagement, public diplomacy programming, and multilateral diplomacy,” the State Department said. “This includes support to independent journalists around the world, particularly in closed countries where freedom of the press is lacking or independent journalists are under threat.”

State Department and USAID Democracy Programs

The State Department website states that in the Western Hemisphere the Bureau of Democracy, Human rights and Labor “currently supports over 33 democracy, human rights, and labor programs. . . . Current funding for such programs in [the Western Hemisphere] exceeds $35 million. Program topics include forensic assistance, combating violence against women and children, increasing civic participation of indigenous groups, and supporting free press.”

The latest information about such programs in Cuba on the Department’s website says, the Bureau “has a robust Cuba program that focuses on democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”  Another Department web page states, “U.S. programs in Cuba include humanitarian support to political prisoners and their families, human rights and democracy promotion, and facilitating the free flow of information to, from and within the island.”

All such democracy programs of the Department would be appropriated nearly $2.265 billion for FY 2016 in Section 7032 (pp. 110-12) of the House Appropriations Committee’s pending appropriations bill for the Department. The programs, as defined in subsection (c ), are not subject to the prior approval by any foreign government, under subsection (e).[2]

Presidential Press Secretary, Josh Earnest, at the June 1st White House press briefing, was asked whether the U.S. would continue in Cuba the democracy-promotion programs of the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

After referring specific questions about those programs to those two government agencies, the Press Secretary said, “[T]he U.S. government will continue to invest in efforts to strengthen the engagement between our two countries, between our two governments, and even between the citizens of our two countries.” The new U.S. approach to Cuba, he added, will “give the Cuban people greater exposure to the kind of values and lifestyle that we so deeply value in this country; and that by promoting that kind of engagement, we can actually place additional pressure on the Cuban government to do a better job of living up to the values and the protection of basic universal human rights that we hold so dear in this country.”

Therefore, said the Press Secretary, the U.S. “is going to go and promote our values around the world . . . [as] something that we’ve been engaged in for quite some time in a variety of countries.  And we’re certainly going to continue to do that in a place like Cuba that so frequently tramples those kinds of values.”

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[1] Assoc. Press, US Journalism Courses Rile Cuba Amid Effort to Heal Rift, N.Y. Times (June 3, 2015).

[2] House App. Comm., Draft Bill Making appropriations for the Department of State, foreign operations, and related programs for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2016, and for other purposes (June 2, 2015)

 

 

Assessment of the Status of U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation

Three recent articles in Cuba’s state-controlled media offer the Cuban government’s assessment of the current status of U.S. reconciliation. The lead article was Cuban journalists’ interview of Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s lead diplomat for the negotiations with the U.S. This post will summarize these three articles [1] and then offer an evaluation of Cuba’s assessment.

Current Status of Negotiations

Several days after the failure of the countries to reach an agreement about re-establishing diplomatic relations, Vidal remained optimistic. In the five months since the December 17th announcement of rapprochement and the mutual release of certain prisoners, she thought there had been progress in the process of normalization of relations. The removal of Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism was to happen by the end of May, as it in fact did on May 29th, and Cuba’s Interests Section in Washington, D.C. has obtained a U.S. banking relation that was necessary for the effective operation of the Section and of a future Cuban embassy. [2]

In addition, for about the last two years, she added, the countries have been discussing and progressing on “technical” matters, including collaboration on infectious diseases, narcotics trafficking, immigration (including the U.S. “wet foot/dry foot” policy under its Cuban Adjustment Act) and their respective enforcement of their own domestic laws with visitors from the other country.

Moreover, said Vidal, the Cuba-U.S. interactions “are respectful, they are professional. We are treating each other as equals, on a foundation of respect and total reciprocity.”

Also supportive of reconciliation of the two countries have been visits to Cuba by U.S. federal and state government officials and U.S. business groups. [3]

 Re-establishment of Diplomatic Relations

Although the parties had not reached agreement on the details of re-establishing diplomatic relations at their negotiations in Washington, D.C. on May 21-22, Vidal suggested that progress had been made on these details, which conceivably could be resolved through direct communications without another negotiating session.

The remaining issues, she said, focused on the future “conduct of diplomats” and “the functioning of a diplomatic mission,” all under the U.N. Charter and the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which both parties recognize as establishing or confirming the international law on the subjects. More specifically, Vidal said, “We must talk about the number of people, what kind of staff” the embassies will have or “what type of rank these officials [are] going to have” and “what privileges and immunities.” [4]

These comments by Vidal (and by Jacobson in the footnote) suggest that the provisions of the Vienna Convention provide flexibility and thus room for negotiation on the details of the functioning of the two countries’ embassies and diplomats. Indeed, that assumption is confirmed by the following relevant provisions of the Convention:

  1. Under Article 7, “the sending State may freely appoint the members of the staff of the mission. In the case of military, naval or air attachés, the receiving State may require their names to be submitted beforehand, for its approval.” However, Article 11 provides “the receiving State may require that the size of a mission be kept within limits considered by it to be reasonable and normal, having regard to circumstances and conditions in the receiving State and to the needs of the particular mission” and also “may equally, within similar bounds and on a non-discriminatory basis, refuse to accept officials of a particular category.”
  1. With respect to diplomatic personnel’s travel and conduct, Article 26 states, “Subject to its laws and regulations concerning zones entry into which is prohibited or regulated for reasons of national security, the receiving State shall ensure to all members of the mission freedom of movement and travel in its territory.” However, Article 41 provides, “Without prejudice to their privileges and immunities, it is the duty of all persons enjoying such privileges and immunities to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State. They also have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that State.” In addition, Article 41 states, “The premises of the mission must not be used in any manner incompatible with the functions of the mission as laid down in the present Convention or by other rules of general international law or by any special agreements in force between the sending and the receiving State.”

Vidal’s concern about the “conduct of diplomats” and “the functioning of a diplomatic mission” was an allusion to Cuba’s objection to certain recent covert or secret or “discreet” programs by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) allegedly to promote democracy and human rights in Cuba and to public seminars for Cuban journalists at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana that will be discussed below.

 Future Issues for Discussion and Resolution

According to the Vidal interview, Cuba has presented to the U.S. the following “preliminary list” of other issues that need to be discussed and resolved for full normalization of relations: (a) the U.S. “lifting of the blockade [embargo];” (b) “the return of the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base;” (c) “an end to illegal broadcasts by Radio and Televisión Marti;” (d) an “end to [U.S.] programs which were originally conceived to promote regime change” in Cuba and which for fiscal year 2016 have requests for funding of $20 million, especially in light of President Obama’s statement at the recent Summit of the Americas that the purpose of U.S. policy regarding Cuba was not regime change; [5] (e) “compensation for our country and our people for the damages caused by U.S. policy [primarily the embargo or blockade] over 50 years; ” and (f) restitution of Cuba’s frozen funds in the U.S.

The U.S., on the other hand, say the Cubans, has identified at least one issue for discussion in the second phase of negotiations: “compensation for the properties [of U.S. nationals] which were nationalized in Cuba at the beginning of the Revolution.” [6]

Moreover, Vidal said, the parties have not yet discussed how these issues would be discussed or resolved: “if a mechanism [such as commissions or groups] will be created;” or whether the issues would be discussed as a whole or separately.

According to the Gomez article in Granma, “the greatest challenge facing Cuba and the United States is establishing a relationship of civilized co-existence based on respect for their profound differences.”

 Conclusion

The Obama Administration and this blogger concur in the need for the U.S. to end the embargo (or “blockade” in Cuba’s view), which requires action by the U.S. Congress. Prior posts have discussed pending bills in the Senate and House of Representatives to do just that and urged U.S. citizens to press both chambers to pass such bills. Another post recommended submitting Cuba’s claim for money damages ($1.2 trillion as of last October) from the embargo/blockade to the Permanent Court of Arbitration where the U.S. can mount counter-evidence and arguments.

With respect to Guantanamo Bay, as discussed in a prior post, Cuba’s continually saying that the U.S. is “illegally” occupying the territory does not make it so and I do not think the U.S. would ever agree to such a legal conclusion. If Cuba continues to assert that contention, as I expect that it will, then the parties should submit the dispute for resolution by the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

The New York Times editorial board and this blogger agree with Cuba’s contention that the U.S. improperly has mounted covert, secret or “discreet” and ill conceived USAID programs to promote regime change in Cuba and that the U.S. should cease any and all such programs. Instead, it should propose joint-programs to the Cuban government for enhancement of Cuban human rights and democracy, and if and only if the Cubans agree, then the programs could proceed. (These issues were discussed in posts of 4/4/14, 4/9, 4/9, 8/12, 8/13 and 8/14).

The U.S. claims for money damages for compensation for Cuba’s expropriation of property owned by U.S. nationals and interests will obviously be discussed, as stated above, and in the likely event that the parties will not agree to the amount of such compensation, that too should be submitted to the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

In this process of working on the many issues that have accumulated over the last 50-plus years, both sides must recognize, as I think they do, the need to build mutual trust during the initial stages of diplomatic relations and, if all goes well, to the possible future relaxation of any restrictions. It does not help the process for bystanders, like Senators Marco Rubio and Bob Menendez, to loft scathing and premature criticisms of the process and to attempt to create new legislative roadblocks and impediments to that process.

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[1] This post is based upon the following: Josefina Vidal discusses recent talks in Washington, Granma (May 26, 2015); Gómez, Seven key points, Granma (May 25, 2015); Cańedo, Cuba-United States after 17D [December 17], Cubadebate (May 25, 2015).

[2] Immediately after the May 21-22 negotiations in Washington, D.C., Assistant Secretary of State Roberta S. Jacobson, the U.S.’ lead diplomat, shared Vidal’s optimism. Jacobson said, “This round of talks was highly productive. . . . We have made significant progress in the last five months and are much closer to reestablishing relations and reopening embassies. . . . [W]e have gotten much closer than we were each time we talk. . . . I remain optimistic that we will conclude, but we still have a few things that need to be ironed out and we’re going to do that as quickly as possible.” On the other hand, according to Jacobson, “I’m also a realist about 54 years that we have to overcome.”

[3] These visits have included congressional trips in January, February (Senate and House), and May, and a visit by a major business delegation in March.

[4] Assistant Secretary Jacobson in her comments after the latest round of negotiations concurred that the Vienna Convention established the parameters for the functioning of the countries’ embassies and conceded that “there [is] a range of ways in which our embassies operate around the world in different countries. We expect that in Cuba, our embassy will operate within that range and so it won’t be unique. It won’t be anything that doesn’t exist elsewhere in the world. There are various circumstances in which embassies operate in somewhat restrictive environments. . . .[W]e have confidence that . . . our embassy will be able to function so that our officers can do their jobs as we expect them to do worldwide, but in highly varying locations around the world. So I have every expectation that it will fall within the range of other places where we operate.”

[5] Cuba correctly points out that USAID, on the one hand, proclaims on its public website that its Cuba programs “Provide humanitarian assistance (basic foodstuff, vitamins and personal hygiene supplies) to political prisoners and their families; Promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as support for independent civil society by strengthening leadership skills and providing opportunities for community organizing; and Facilitate information flow to, from and within the island” and that through four named private “partners” it has spent and will spend a total of $14.2 million for these programs for the three fiscal years ending 9/30/15 and an additional $20 million in Fiscal Year 2016.  USAID, on the other hand, has carried out these programs unilaterally, without the prior knowledge or consent, of the Cuban government. In addition, the U.S. Department of State at its Interests Section in Havana has hosted seminars for journalists and a Public Information Center with a lending library and Internet-enabled computers available to Cubans and others. Assistant Secretary Jacobson said at the May 22nd press conference, “[W]e have continued to request funds from Congress for various activities in support of the Cuban people [and] that those programs have changed over time since they began in 1996” and they might be changed in the future.

[6] A prior post discussed the issue of Cuba’s compensating U.S. owners of property expropriated in the Cuban Revolution. Moreover, the U.S. already has identified at least the following additional issues for further discussion and negotiation: extradition of persons for crimes in their home country (2/24/15 post) and Cuban human rights and democracy (posts of 3/27, 3/28, 3/29, 3/30 and 4/1), and such discussions already have been commenced.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Imminent U.S.-Cuba Restoration of Normal Diplomatic Relations?

May 29th is the date for the official U.S. rescission of its designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism.” This was covered in a prior post.

In anticipation of that rescission, Cuba’s President, Raúl Castro on May 12th said to journalists, “This sort of unjust accusation [sponsor of terrorism] is about to be lifted, and we’ll be able to name ambassadors.” [1]

Later that same day the U.S. State Department said, “an exchange of ambassadors would be a logical step . . . only once we re-establish diplomatic relations. We do not have a fixed time for that. We are still in negotiations . . . with Cuban authorities about re-establishing diplomatic relations.”

The latter statement confirms there are still unresolved issues for such normalization.

The main one appears to be whether or not U.S. diplomats in Cuba would be free to travel wherever and whenever they wanted and Cuba’s complaints that U.S. diplomats having meetings with Cuban dissidents amounted to meddling in Cuba’s internal affairs in violation of international treaties on diplomatic relations.

Indeed, yesterday President Castro stated he had told President Obama that such diplomatic encounters remained Cuba’s chief concern about establishing normal relations, particularly programs at the American Interests Section in Havana to assist independent journalists. In Castro’s own words (English translation), “I told . . . President Obama . . . that . . . I was most worried about . . . they continue to do illegal things. For example, graduating independent journalists. [The U.S. gives Cuban journalists] . . . I don’t know how many classes, on screen, in teleconferences from the United States. I don’t know if they give them a diploma and of course they give them their corresponding monthly payment.”

The U.S. Interests Section does offer free classes in journalism, English and information technology, but students are not paid by the U.S.

Another unresolved issue for establishment of normal diplomatic relations is the U.S. insistence that it must be allowed to bring secure shipping containers into the country, in accordance with global diplomatic protocols.

Castro in his remarks to journalists yesterday also mentioned that the U.S. embargo or blockade “must be removed” [2] and the Guantanamo Naval Base, which was leased after the U.S. had taken over Cuba in the early 20th century, “should be returned to Cuba.” [3] Neither of these will happen immediately, and the latter may never happen.

Cuban negotiators are due to arrive in Washington as soon as this week for a fourth round of talks. Presumably at least some of these issues will be at the top of the agenda.

Conclusion

Jeffrey DeLaurentis
Jeffrey DeLaurentis

Once the U.S. and Cuba resolve these issues, each country first would change the names on their respective buildings from “interests section” to “embassy.” And the U.S. presumably would change the title of Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the current “Head of Mission” of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana to “Charge d’Affaires” or “Acting Ambassador.” (He already has the title of “Ambassador” from the previous Senate confirmation of his appointment as Alternate Representative for Special Political Affairs at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.)

President Obama at some point would appoint someone to be the U.S. Ambassador to Cuba, but under Article II, Section 2(2) of the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. Senate, by a simple majority vote, has to give its “advice and consent” to such an appointment. Such a vote would be taken after hearings and consideration of the appointment by the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, currently chaired by Senator Bob Corker (Rep., TN). Two members of the Committee, both Cuban-Americans, Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) and Bob Menendez (Dem., NJ), are ardent foes of U.S.-Cuba reconciliation and are potential problems for such confirmation. And Rubio is the Chair of the Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women’s Issues, which might consider the nomination before the full Committee does so.

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[1] This post is based upon the following: Archibold, Cuba Ready to Exchange Diplomats, Raúl Castro Says, N.Y. Times (May 12, 2015); Trotta, Cuba’s Castro concerned over “illegal” activity at U.S. mission, Reuters (May 12, 2015); Assoc. Press, US and Cuba Ambassadors To Be Named Soon, N.Y. Times (May 12, 2015); Miroff, Cuba ready to name U.S. ambassador, Castro says, Wash. Post (May 12, 2015); Hernández, French President culminated successful visit to Cuba, Granma (May 21, 2015) (Google translation); Raúl: The process of updating the Cuban economic model “goes well, our pace” (+ video), Cubadebate (May 12, 2015) (Google translation); U.S. State Dep’t, Daily Press Briefing (May 12, 2015).

[2] Prior posts discussed bills to end the embargo in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate that were introduced in this Session of Congress. According to the Library of Congress, as of May 12th there had been no committee action on any of these bills.

[3] An earlier post reviewed issues relating to Guantanamo Bay while another post looked at whether Cuba had a legal right to terminate its lease of the Guantanamo territory..

 

 

 

 

 

Nancy Pelosi and Other House Democrats Visit Cuba

A delegation of Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives led by Nancy Pelosi, the Minority Leader of the House, visited the island, February 17-19. They went “to build upon the announcement of U.S. normalization of relations and other initiatives announced by President Obama” and “to advance the U.S.-Cuba relationship and build on the work done by many in the Congress over the years, especially with respect to agriculture and trade.” [1]

The eight members of the delegation were David Cicilline (RI), member of the House foreign Affairs and Judiciary Committees; Rosa DeLauro (CT), the senior Democrat on the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee and Co-chair of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee;  Eliot Engel (NY), the senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee; Anna Eshoo (CA), Ranking Member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications Technology; Steve Israel (NY), Chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee; Jim McGovern (MA), member of the House Agriculture Committee and Co-Chair of the congressional Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission; Collin Peterson (MN), the senior Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee; and Nydia Velazquez (NY), the senior Democrat on the House Small Business Committee. [2]

After their arrival in Cuba, they first went to the U.S. Interests Section’s building on Havana’s Malecon. There they met with the Chief of Mission, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, and his team. “We are proud of them and the U.S. Marines serving us there,” Pelosi said. 

cuba-nancy-pelosi-bruno-rodriguezOn February 18th the delegation had a three and one-half hour meeting with Cuban Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez. and Josefina VIdal, the Foreign Ministry’s leader of the current negotiations with the U.S. (Left is a photograph of Pelosi and Rodriguez.) According to a Cuban website, they “discussed issues related to the current context of ties between the two countries, including restoring diplomatic relations, opening embassies and the debate in Congress on lifting the blockade [embargo] against Cuba.” Afterwards, Pelosi said, ““We discussed areas of interest to the United States and Cuba, and our delegation listened to their concerns, including the embargo, bank and credit financing,” Pelosi said. “We underscored our commitment to human rights in Cuba and agreed to build upon the historic opportunity before us to make progress in our relationship.”

Pelosi+Diaz

On the 19th Pelosi and the delegation met with Miguel Diaz-Canel, Cuba’s First Vice President and presumptive next Cuban president. (Right is a photograph of Pelosi and Diaz-Canel.) They talked about Cuba’s market-style economic reforms, bilateral relations and prospects of the U.S. Congress lifting the country’s 53-year-old trade embargo of Cuba. Afterwards Pelosi told reporters, “There is strong bipartisan support to lift the embargo in the Congress, however it’s not universal and it certainly does not appear to be shared by those in power who have the ability to bring a bill to the floor.”

The delegation also met with leaders of Cuba’s legislature (National Assembly), including its vice president, Ana María Mari Machado. According to Pelosi, “During the meeting, we exchanged views about the actions taken by President Obama and President Raúl Castro. We agreed to continue our interparliamentary dialogue on areas of agreement and disagreement.”

U.S. House of Representatives Democratic leader Pelosi, Archbishop of Havana Cardinal Ortega and members of a delegation of congressional Democrats pose for a photograph in Havana

Other meetings were held with Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega (left is a photograph of the Cardinal and the delegation); American students at the Latin American School of Medicine; young entrepreneurs of the island’s emerging private sector; and representatives of civil society, but not with Cuban dissidents.

At a press conference on their last day on the island, Pelosi said, “We’re very positively impressed by what we heard here about our future prospects and the relationship.” Representative Engel noted they had raised the topic of human because “We’re very concerned with human rights and dissident rights. I’d like to see more changes from the Cuban side.”  Representative McGovern concurred with this comment: “The best way to promote human rights is to accelerate this new process to establish formal embassies in Havana and Washington.” The delegation also said they also spoken with Cuban officials about U.S. food sales to the island, internet technology and the island’s emerging small-business sector.

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[1] This post is based upon the following: Press Release, Pelosi Leads Congressional Delegation to Cuba (Feb. 17, 2015); Reuters, Pelosi Traveling with Lawmakers to Cuba, N.Y. Times (Feb. 17, 2015); Fram, Pelosi Leads House Democrats Visiting Cuba, Assoc. Press (Feb. 17, 2015); Press Release, Pelosi Statement on Historic Delegation’s Meetings in Havana (Feb. 18, 2015); Miller, Nancy Pelosi visits Havana, meets with top Castro regime officials, Wash. Times (Feb. 19, 2015); Oleaga, US, Cuba Relations Update: Representative Nancy Pelosi Leads congressional Delegation to Cuba, Hopes to Advance Renewed Relations, Latin Post (Feb. 19, 2015); Cuba FM Meets with Nancy Pelosi, Havana Times (Feb. 19, 2015); Cuban FM meets U.S. lawmakers on normalization of ties, Xinhua (Feb. 19, 2015); Trotta, U.S. congressional delegation meets Cuba’s heir apparent, Reuters (Feb. 19, 2015); Miroff, In Havana, Pelosi delegation promotes Obama’s Cuba thaw, Wash. Post (Feb. 19, 2015); Agence France-Presse, US-Cuba talks tackle human rights, reopening embassies (Feb. 19, 2015);Torres, Pelosi and other Democrats meet with Cuban officials in Havana, Miami Herald (Feb. 19, 2015); Miguel Diaz-Canel received the leader of the Democratic Party in the House of Representatives of the US, Granma (Feb. 19, 2015); Nancy Pelosi: The lock [embargo] is a “measure unsuccessfully,” CubaDebate (Feb. 19, 2015)(English translation by Google Translate); Press Release, Pelosi Statement on Historic Congressional Delegation’s Final Day of Meetings in Cuba (Feb. 20, 2015).

[2] Representative Peterson is a cosponsor of H.R.403 (Free Trade with Cuba Act) while Representatives DeLauro, McGovern and Velazquez are cosponsors of H.R.664 (Export Freedom to Cuba Act of 2015).

This Week’s U.S.-Cuba Meetings in Havana

The U.S. and Cuba are holding two sets of meetings in Havana this week. One involves U.S. Senators and Representatives. The other is a conference of diplomats of the two counties.

Meetings of U.S. Legislators

U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (Dem., VT) [1] has organized a trip to Havana, January 17-19, with Democratic colleagues from the Senate–Richard Durbin (IL) [2], Debbie Stabenow (MI) [3] and Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) [4]—and the House of Representatives, Chris Van Hollen (MD) [5] and Peter Welch (VT). [6]

This trip is designed to seek clarity from Cubans on what they envision normalization to look like, to develop a sense of what Cuba and the U.S. are prepared to do to make a constructive relationship possible, to impress upon Cuban leaders the importance of concrete results and positive momentum and to convey a sense of Americans’ expectations and congressional perceptions.

They intend to meet with Cuban government officials, Roman Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino, representatives of Cuba’s civil society, personnel at the U.S. Interests Section and ambassadors to Cuba from Mexico, Spain, Norway and Colombia.

Diplomatic Meeting

 Diplomats of the two countries will hold talks in Havana’s Convention Palace on January 21 and 22, 2015.

  1. Migration Issues

Under the countries’ Migration Accords of 1995, they have migration talks every six months, and this will be the focus of the first day’s session. They will assess progress under this Accord and other agreements and actions taken by both parties to tackle illegal migration and trafficking in migrants. The head of the U.S. delegation will be Alex Lee, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South America and Cuba. The Cuban delegation will be led by the Director General of the North American Division of Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, Josefina Vidal Ferreiro.

Alex Smith
Alex Smith
Josefina Vidal
Josefina Vidal
Roberta Jacobson
Roberta Jacobson

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Restoration of Diplomatic Relations

The January 22 session will be devoted to the process of restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries, including opening of embassies. The head of the U.S. delegation will be Roberta Jacobson, the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, while Josefina Vidal Ferreiro again will be in charge of the Cuban delegation.

Jacobson has said that this “process of restoring diplomatic relations is relatively straightforward from a legal perspective, but the parties have to agree on the process for such restoration. This can be done via an exchange of letters or of notes; it does not require a formal treaty or agreement. The U.S. also will need to terminate its 53-year agreement with the Swiss Government as our protecting power [in Cuba], and the same for the Cubans [in the U.S.]; that will be done as soon as possible, whereupon the U.S. would post a new sign “Embassy of the United States of America” on the building currently housing its mission.[7] A list of all of the U.S. diplomatic officers would be declared directly to the Cuban Government.

U.S. Interests Section
U.S. Interests Section

What the current U.S. Interests Section does, and what the Embassy will do, Jacobson said, “is critically important for Americans and Cubans alike. It includes providing uncensored internet access for many people who visit those internet terminals and processing requests for visas for thousands of Cubans every year (nonimmigrant visas for many thousands and immigrant visas for 20,000 Cubans a year). U.S. diplomats also check on whether people who are returned to Cuba under our migration accords are harassed by the Cuban government.

Having led the migration talks in 2011, when Jacobson was the principal deputy assistant secretary, she said human rights are always part of the migration-talks agenda and will be again. One issue is whether Cuba is harassing people who apply for refugee status at our Interests Section. Another issue is how people are treated when they return to Cuba after they’ve attempted to leave. We often will talk about freedom to leave Cuba; that is different since Cuba now permits most of its citizens to leave without exit visas.

Conclusion

I expect and pray that these meetings will advance the further reconciliation of the two countries. We await the reported results of the meetings.

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[1] On December 17, 2014 Senator Leahy was on the U.S. plane that went to Cuba to bring Alan Gross home. Afterwards, the Senator said, “By taking further steps to change a policy that is a relic of the Cold War, that has achieved none of its goals, and that has isolated the United States, President [Obama] has wisely charted a new course that serves our national interests in this hemisphere and the world.  Our policies, frozen in time, have disserved the nation and have failed utterly and abysmally in achieving their original goals.” On January 8, 2015, Senator Leahy and seven other senators offered a Senate resolution commending Pope Francis for his leadership in helping to secure the release of Alan Gross and for working with the governments of the [U.S.] and Cuba to achieve a more positive relationship.

[2] On December 17, 2014, Senator Durbin also was on the U.S. plant that went to Cuba to bring Alan Gross home. His subsequent statement expressed support for President Obama’s moves towards reconciliation with Cuba. Senator Durbin was a co-sponsor of the previously mentioned Senate resolution commending Pope Francis.

[3] On December 17th Senator Stabenow announced her support of President Obama’s changes of policies regarding Cuba.

[4] On December 17th Senator Whitehouse issued a statement applauding the changes in U.S. policies regarding Cuba.

[5] On December 17th Congressman Van Hollen also was on the U.S. plane bringing Alan Gross home and gave thanks for his release and for the “vision of a new day in the relationship between the [U.S.] and Cuba.”

[6] Representative Welch on December 17th applauded President Obama’s “bold leadership” and the “new era of openness and cooperation” with Cuba.

[7] The U.S. building, which was completed in 1953, was designed in the Modernist-Brutalist style by the architectural firm of Harrison & Abramovitz, which also designed the United Nations headquarters building in New York City. The former is a long, six-story concrete and glass building located directly on the Malecon overlooking the Bay of Havana. The building was not used by U.S. personnel between 1961 and 1977. U.S. diplomats returned to Havana in 1977, and the building was transformed into the United States Interests Section in Havana. Renovations were subsequently completed on the complex in 1997.