U.S. Reduces Permissible Remittances to Cuba       

On September 6, the U.S. Treasury Department announced that effective October 9, one Cuban-American may remit no more than $1,000 per one family member on the island, per-quarter.[1]

In addition, the new rules forbid remittances to “close family members of prohibited Cuban officials and members of the Cuban Communist Party.” Also prohibited are remittances by non-family members.

On the other hand, the new rules will authorize remittances to certain individuals and independent non-governmental organizations in Cuba “to support the operation of economic activity in the non-state sector by self-employed individuals, in light of . . . [U.S.] policy to encourage the growth of the Cuban private sector independent of government control.”

Treasury’s new rules will also ban “banking institutions subject to U.S. jurisdiction . . . [from processing] certain funds transfers originating and terminating outside the United States, commonly known as “U-turn” transactions.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said, “We are taking additional steps to financially isolate the Cuban regime.  The United States holds the Cuban regime accountable for its oppression of the Cuban people and support of other dictatorships throughout the region, such as the illegitimate Maduro regime. . . Through these regulatory amendments, Treasury is denying Cuba access to hard currency, and we are curbing the Cuban government’s bad behavior while continuing to support the long-suffering people of Cuba.”

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[1] U.S. Treasury Dep’t, Treasury Issues Changes to Strengthen Cuba Sanctions Rules (Sept. 6, 2019; Assoc. Press, US Limits Amounts of Money That Americans Can Send to Cuba, N.Y. Times (sept. 6, 2019).

 

 

 

Cuba’s Suffering from Continued U.S. Hostility  

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

U.S. Actions and Policies Against Cuba

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cuba Introduces Price Controls[6]

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

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

These price controls are especially difficult for the private sector.

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

U.S. Reactions to New U.S. Anti-Cuba Policies 

U.S. objections to the new U.S. policies regarding Cuba (and Venezuela and Nicaragua) have been registered by a Bloomberg News editorial; by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; by Representative Eliot Engel, the Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and other representatives and by groups and individuals outside the government. They will be discussed first.[1]

Then we will look at support for the policies from three Cuban-American legislators (Sen. Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), Sen. Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ) and Rep.Mario Diaz-Balart (Rep., FL); from Sen. Rick Scott (Rep., FL); and from Walter Russell Mead of the Wall Street Journal.

Given the legitimate current U.S.  preoccupation with the Mueller Report and its implications, there have been no editorials (to date) on these Cuba policy changes in other leading newspapers (New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal) or by the sponsors of the pending Senate bill to end the U.S. embargo of Cuba (Senators Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN), Patrick Leahy (Dem., VT) and Mike Enzi (Rep., WY)) or by the Chair of the House ‘s Cuba Working Group Steering Committee (Tom Emmer (Rep., MN).

Critics of the New Policies[2]

  1. The Bloomberg Editorial.

Although it was worthy for the U.S. to seek to persuade Cuba to stop helping Venezuela’s Maduro, Bloomberg says the new policies are “the wrong way to get results.”

In fact, says Bloomberg, the new U.S. policies and actions will “inflict real damage on Cuba,” and  “that’s unlikely to make the country’s rulers budge. Instead, opening the [U.S.] floodgates for litigation against Canadian and European companies doing business in Cuba will fracture the international front against Maduro — not to mention swamping U.S. courts with troublesome lawsuits.” In fact, such litigation is “more an attack on America’s friends than on Cuba or Venezuela.”

Moreover, according to Bloomberg, “Aside from dividing what could have been a U.S.-led coalition [against Venezuela’s Maduro], the new escalation will play into the hands of aging hardliners, encouraging Cuba to seek help from Russia and China, and weaken potent internal forces for change.”

  1. Engage Cuba

Engage Cuba, the leading bipartisan coalition of businesses and others who support U.S.-Cuba normalization, issued the following critical comments:

(Statement by James Williams, President of Engage Cuba)

  • “President Trump is doing this for one reason, and one reason only: to appease fringe hardliners in South Florida ahead of the 2020 election. The only way to get property claimants what they deserve is through diplomatic negotiations, which President Trump just threw off the table. . . This lets the Cuban government off the hook and shifts the burden to American, European and Canadian companies. American companies and our closest allies will now be paying instead of the Cuban government.”
  • “The hypocrisy of the Trump administration cozying up to the most brutal dictatorships in the world in Saudi Arabia, Russia and North Korea, but claiming to care about democracy and human rights in Cuba, is like living in a parallel universe. President Trump himself tried for years to open up a Trump Hotel and golf resort in Cuba.”
  • “U.S. travel and remittances are the lifeblood of the private sector entrepreneurs in Cuba. These restrictions are a cruel betrayal and a knife in the back of Cuban civil society and the prospects for a growing independent private sector in Cuba. The Cuban people are already struggling under tremendous difficulties, and these actions only make it worse. We need a policy that focuses on empowering the Cuban people and advancing American interests, not continuing a 60-year failed policy that only serves fringe domestic politics in South Florida.”

(Property Claim Lawsuits)

  • “The Trump administration has chosen to break precedent with every administration since President Clinton by failing to waive Titles III and IV of the the LIBERTAD Act, commonly referred to as the Helms-Burton Act after its sponsors. When Title III takes effect on May 2, American companies and foreign firms will be subject to lawsuits in U.S. courts over the use of properties that were nationalized by the Cuban government following the 1959 revolution. Title IV will also take effect, requiring the denial of U.S. visas for anyone “trafficking” in confiscated Cuban properties, as well as their relatives.”
  • “In opposition to international law, Title III affords claimant rights to Cuban Americans who were Cuban citizens at the time their property was confiscated. Currently, there are 5,913 certified claims of seized American property in Cuba, but the State Department has estimated there could be a flood of up to 200,000 claims with the full activation of Title III.”
  • “Due to Title III’s potential to jeopardize U.S. trade interests, every U.S. administration since the law’s enactment in 1996 has suspended its implementation, typically for a period of six months. Today’s announcement marks the first time Title III has been fully activated and U.S. firms will be subject to lawsuits.”
  • “Companies from the biggest U.S. trade partners, including the European Union, Canada, and Mexico, will also be subject to property claim lawsuits under Title III, though most countries will protect their companies from having to pay damages to U.S. property claimants. The EU and Canada have threatened retaliation in the World Trade Organization.”
  • “Meanwhile, U.S. adversaries like Russia and China are unlikely to comply with Title III lawsuits and will instead align themselves with Cuba against this extraterritorial U.S. policy. By maintaining a trade embargo, the U.S. has already left a vacuum in Cuba for adversarial influence. As Cuba continues to be isolated by the Trump administration, it will increasingly turn to Russia and China, who offer them favorable credit terms and invest in high-profile projects.”

(New Restrictions on Remittances,Travel, and Financial Transactions)

  • “Bolton also announced there will be new limits on non-family travel to Cuba and U.S. remittances to the island, a heavy blow to Cuba’s nascent private sector (roughly one-third of the workforce) which greatly depends on remittances and U.S. travelers to keep their small businesses alive. Remittances will now be capped at $1,000 per quarter, a dramatic departure from the $4 billion that flowed to the Cuban people after the Obama administration lifted all limits on remittances in 2015.”
  • “Five Cuban government-run businesses will be added to the list of entities with which direct financial transactions are barred. New Department of Treasury regulations will prohibit U.S. banks from processing “U-Turn transactions,” Cuba-related funds transfers from a bank outside the U.S. that pass through U.S. financial institutions before being transferred to banks abroad where neither the originator nor the beneficiary is a U.S. national.”
  1. U.S. Chamber of Commerce

“Six decades of trying to isolate Cuba has failed to bring change to the island, and today’s move only doubles down on this strategy. The U.S. Chamber’s support for a new approach to Cuba is founded in our profound conviction that more engagement with the Cuban people — on the basis of free enterprise and free markets — is essential to democratic change and improvements in the Cuban people’s lives.”

“We strongly support U.S. government efforts to protect the property rights of U.S. citizens abroad, but full implementation of Title III is unlikely to achieve those aims and is instead more likely to result in a protracted legal and diplomatic morass that ensnares U.S. courts, companies and partners. . . . Furthermore, it is difficult to see how this action squares with the administration’s earlier commitment to hold harmless U.S. companies legally authorized and previously encouraged to do business in Cuba.”

“Many American companies will now be subjected to countersuits in Europe, Canada, Latin America, and elsewhere. Today’s announcement threatens to disrupt our trade ties to these countries, which are among our closest allies and best customers. Instead, we should be working with them to make the case for democratic change in Cuba.”

  1. Center for Democracy in the Americas

Another U.S. group that supports U.S.-Cuba normalization, the Center for Democracy in the Americas, said through its executive director (and former Obama National Security Advisor) Emily Mendrala, “Capping remittances is mean-spirited, and can only be understood as the U.S. government’s attempt to create economic hardship among the Cuban people. Ambassador Bolton’s speech conflated Cuba with Venezuela, and he announced a policy approach that does the same. The two countries are different, living through very different moments, and to exploit events in Venezuela to settle Cold War scores with Cuba is a distraction from real needs in Venezuela.”

  1. Cuba Educational Travel

Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel, added other critical comments. First, “the measures on remittances and travel threaten the economic survival of Cuban families and the viability of thousands of independent small businesses allowed to operate since 2010 under reforms implemented by former President Raúl Castro.” Second, “The only winners here are a handful of members of Congress and those stuck in the past that support them. The losers are millions of Cubans on and off the island and the overwhelming majority of Americans that support engagement with Cuba.”

  1. Current and Former Federal Government Officials

Representative Eliot Engel (Dem., NY), the Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, stated, ““President Trump’s rejection of over two decades of bipartisan consensus on a key piece of U.S. policy toward Cuba will further isolate the United States from our Latin American and European allies and diminish our ability to promote democracy in Cuba and Venezuela. Sadly, this decision will do nothing to resolve U.S. property claims in Cuba—an important goal toward which we must continue to strive.”

Similar statements were issued by Representatives Kathy Castor (Dem., FL), James McGovern (Dem., MA), Barbara Lee (Dem., CA) and Donna Shalala (Dem., FL).

Benjamin Rhodes, a former Obama adviser who helped negotiate the December 2014 U.S.-Cuba normalization agreement, said, “Restricting remittances that can be sent to Cubans will directly hurt the Cuban people. This is a shameful and mean-spirited policy.”

Mark Feierstein, a former National Security Council’s Director for the Western Hemisphere, tweeted: “As Bolton delivers speech in Miami today on Cuba, it’s useful to keep in mind that according to public opinion polls, most Cuban-Americans approve the measures taken by the Obama Administration to support the Cuban people. The [National Security Council]. . . is out of step with majority opinion in Miami.” In another tweet  he stated, “What we’re leading the Cuban people toward is a darker day, where there will be less economic opportunity.”

  1. Other Americans

Tim Fernholz, who covers space, the economy and geopolitics for Quartz, has addressed the new policies’ adverse effects on the emrging Cuban private sector. He says, “The Trump administration is setting out to crush free markets in Cuba.” These policies “will damage Cuba’s nascent private sector far more than a ruling regime that has out-lasted six decades of US embargo. Trump is pulling the rug out from Cuba’s cuentrapropistas—literally, self-employed—eliminating their sources of capital and revenue and reducing their influence during the all-important transition to a post-Castro Cuban government. . . . US policy toward Cuba, meanwhile, is defined by a near-theological belief that isolating the Cuban people will lead them to abandon national self-determination.”

Supporters of the New Policies[3]

The two Cuban-American Senators and one of the Cuban-American U.S. Representatives, as expected, endorsed at least some of the new U.S. policies. So did Senator Rick Scott. So did Walter Russell Mead, who is the James Clarke Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs and the Humanities at Bard College, a Distinguished Fellow in American Strategy and Statesmanship at the Hudson Institute, and The Wall Street Journal’s Global View columnist.

Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) said, “”By no longer suspending Title III of the Freedom Act, the Trump administration is the sixth of impunity by the Castro regime. The United States is opening the door to justice and enabling victims of the Cuban dictatorship to rightfully sue their perpetrators. Today, as we commemorate the value of the fallen heroes in the Bay of Pigs invasion, history is once again being written. ”

Senator Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ) offered a similar statement: “By fully implementing Title III of the LIBERTAD Act, the United States is rightly providing U.S. citizens with the means to hold the Cuban regime accountable through the U.S. justice system.”

Representative Mario Diaz-Balart (Rep., FL) issued a lengthier statement, which is extracted below:

  • “At long last, victims of confiscated properties will finally have the chance to pursue claims to recoup losses suffered at the hands of the Castro regime.”
  • “President Trump and his administration have demonstrated remarkable solidarity with the Cuban people and the regime’s other victims in tightening sanctions by prohibiting financial transactions with the Cuban military.
  • “Cutting off resources and investment to the regime in Cuba will benefit both U.S. national security interests and regional security interests for neighbors in our hemisphere.”

Senator Scott stated, “Americans can finally sue for property stolen by the Cuban regime. We must continue to do everything we can to cut off the money supply to the Castro Regime, which continues to prop up dangerous dictators like Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua.”

Walter Russell Mead. He starts with the proposition that Venezuela presents the key challenge of Latin America. “Left to accelerate, the breakdown of governance and civilized life in Venezuela can only create more refugees, enrich arms smugglers and drug cartels, allow forces like Hezbollah to insinuate themselves more deeply in the region. On the other hand, a return to some kind of stability under a pro-business government would initiate an economic recovery that would help the people of Venezuela and their neighbors alike, and deprive the terror cartels of much of their arms and funding. Crucially, if Venezuelan oil production recovers, it would help stabilize world energy markets and significantly increase American leverage with both Russia and Iran.”

“The continued collapse of Venezuela’s economy means the Cuban regime is also facing disaster. From the Trump administration’s point of view, this is a historic opportunity. If Cuba . . . abandons socialism on Mr. Trump’s watch, the president’s prestige at home and abroad would soar.”

Therefore, says Mead, the Trump Administration hopes for “historic victories in Cuba and Venezuela.” That plus  “the fear of a costly defeat have combined to persuade the Trump administration to adopt some of the most far-reaching economic sanctions ever imposed.” In short, no previous U.S. president “has been willing to impose sanctions that alienate powerful allies to this degree over Caribbean policy. That Washington is pressing ahead suggests how high a priority Venezuela has become for the administration.”

Conclusion

There are so many reasons to oppose the new U.S. policies towards Cuba, as this blogger does. Just refer to the above section regarding such opposition and to the similar discussion in the previous posts cited in footnote 1.

As always, this blog invites reasoned comments, pro or con, or corrections from all readers of this post.

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[1] Prior posts have discussed (a) the April 17 announcement of the U.S. allowance of litigation over alleged trafficking in American-owned Cuba property that was expropriated by the Cuban government, circa 1959-60; (b) National Security Advisor John Bolton’s April 17 announcement of additional Cuba sanctions; (c) Cuban reactions to these changes; and (d) European and other countries’ reactions to these changes. These changes take effect in the midst of Cuba’s current dire economic situation, which was the subject of another post.

[2] Editorial, Cuba Is a Problem That Trump Is Making Worse, Bloomberg (April 22, 2019); Press Release, Engage Cuba Statement on New Cuba Sanctions (April 17, 2019); Engage Cuba, Memorandum: New Sanctions on Cuba Announced April 17, 2019 (April 2019); U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Statement on Cuba and Title III of the LIBERTAD Act (April 17, 2019); Center for Democracy in the Americas, CDA STATEMENT:Cuba Sanctions announcement (April 17, 2019); Cuba Educational Travel, CET Statement on President Trump’s Cuba Policy Changes (April 17, 2019); Engel on Implementation of Article III of the Helms-Burton Act (April  17, 2019); U.S. Rep. Castor: The Trump Administration’s Announcement of New, Hardline Restrictions on Cuba Brings Pain to Families, Hurts Growing Cuban Private Sector (April 17, 2019); McGovern Statement on Trump Administration;’s Reckless Policy Change Toward Cuba (April 17, 2019); Congresswoman Barbara Lee Slams President Trump’s Backwards Policy Towards Cuba (April 17, 2019); Caputo, Trump crackdown on “3 stooges of socialism’ has 2020 thrust, Politico (April 17, 2019) (Rep. Shalala quotation); Reuters, Trump’s Cuba Hawks Try to Squeeze Havana Over Venezuela Role, N.Y Times  (April 18, 2019) (Rhodes quotation); Feierstein Twitter Account; Fernholz, Cuba’s entrepreneurs are under attack by Donald Trump, Quartz  (April 22, 2019).

[3] Press Release, Rubio Commends Trump Administration’s Move to Hold Cuba Accountable (April 17, 2019); Press Release, Rubio Highlights Importance of Trump Administration’s Commitment to Democracy in Latin America (April 17, 2019); Press Release, Menendez Statement on Announcement to Let Cuban Americans File Suit over Property Confiscated by Cuban Regime (April 17, 2019); Diaz-Balart: Trump Administration’s Full Implementation of Title III Is a Monumental Decision   (April 17, 2019); Press Release, Sen. Rick Scott Applauds President Trump For Fully Implementing Title III of the Libertad Act (April 17, 2019); Mead, Trump Takes Aim at Caracas and Havana, W.S.J. (April 22, 2019).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cuban Entrepreneurs Issue Policy Recommendations to Trump Administration  

On July 18, a group of eight Cuban entrepreneurs held a press conference in Washington, D.C. to announce that they had written to the U.S. Secretaries of State, Treasury and Commerce saying that they were “encouraged to read in President Trump’s June 16 National Security Memorandum on Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba that the President wishes to encourage the growth of the Cuban private sector.” Therefore, these entrepreneurs asked the Trump Administration to consider and adopt recommendations regarding U.S. travel to the island, U.S. remittances to Cubans, U.S. banking services for such Cuban enterprises and continued U.S.-Cuba discussions and negotiations.[1]

U.S. Travel to Cuba

The group first asserted: “U.S. travel to Cuba directly benefits private entrepreneurs. The vast majority of U.S. individual travelers (vs. groups) frequent private restaurants and lodging. Fewer travelers will have a direct negative impact on businesses in the hospitality sector as well an indirect negative impact on both forward and backward linkage enterprises.” Therefore, the group recommended the following:

  • “Restore the ability of individuals to engage in self-directed People-to-People educational travel.”
  • “Issue guidance to clarify that individuals who support the Cuban private sector by using private lodging or restaurants are eligible, by general license, for individual travel under the Support for the Cuban People category by virtue of supporting civil society.”
  • “Clearly define new regulations so as not to deter would-be travelers; produce informational materials for public.”

U.S. Remittances to Cubans

Again the group started with a factual background: “Remittances are essential to Cuba’s private sector, providing the financing to begin, and the working capital to sustain, businesses. Remittances also provide Cuban consumers with the ability to patronize private businesses. A U.S. policy of not restricting remittances is therefore critical to the health of the private sector.” The following were the recommendations:

  • “The Department of Commerce should adopt a favorable disposition to approving those exports to Cuba likely to benefit Cuban private sector individuals and/or companies
  • “Allow maximum remittance flows to increase liquidity for private sector and Cuban families; exempt remittance from the prohibition on payments to ‘prohibited officials’ of the Cuban government.”

Banking

The following was the factual background: “Many Cuban entrepreneurs purchase goods and services in the [U.S.] to help run their businesses. Cubans are legally permitted to open bank accounts in the U.S., but there are restrictions on the allowable transactions, and limited and uncertain account services, impairing businesses in both countries.” Therefore, these were the recommendations:

  • “Expand the allowable transactions for Cubans holding bank accounts in the U.S. to include business-related transactions including the acquisition of goods for business use.”
  • “Do not close, and allow access to, U.S. bank accounts held by Cubans when the Cuban individual is not present in the U.S.”
  • “Make public statements clarifying the intent of the Administration to allow Cubans to open bank accounts in the U.S. (limiting risk for banks).”

Bilateral Dialogue and Cooperation

 “Most Cuban entrepreneurs view improved relations between the U.S. and Cuba as a net positive for their businesses, and many developed their business model on this premise.” Therefore, the following recommendations were made:

  • “Continue bilateral engagement on issues of mutual interest to build respect and confidence.”
  • “Continue outreach to U.S. banks and businesses to clarify regulations so allowable engagement continues and expands.”
  • “Engage directly with the Cuban private sector; [Cuban sector] leaders have written two letters to the Administration (one to the President-elect, another to Ivanka Trump Kushner) with no response.”

Conclusion

This letter and its recommendations are wholeheartedly endorsed by this blogger. Cuba’s private sector is a positive development for the Cubans directly involved in that sector, all other Cubans and the U.S., and President Trump’s June 16 announcement already is having negative effects on that sector and needs to be reversed.[2]

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[1] Letter, Acosta, et al. to Secretaries Tillerson, Ross and Minuchin (July 18, 2017); Policy Recommendations [to Trump Administration]: Support to Cuba’s Private Sector (July 18, 2017).

[2] Here is another report of those negative effects: Zanona, In Cuba, Trump’s policy shift casts dark shadow, The Hill (July 19, 2017).

President Trump’s New Policy on Cuba Could Substantially Reduce U.S. Remittances to Relatives in Cuba         

President Donald Trump’s June 6 National Security Presidential Memorandum on Cuba, upon implementation, could deprive over a million Cuban families of access to remittances from their relatives abroad. This was the conclusion of William M. LeoGrande, Professor of Government, and Marguerite Rose Jiménez, Adjunct Professorial Lecturer, both at American University, in their article in Huffpost.[1]

This Presidential Memorandum that was referenced in an earlier post “redefines ‘prohibited officials of the Government of Cuba’ expansively, potentially including almost a quarter of Cuba’s entire labor force. Cubans who are ‘prohibited’ are not allowed to receive payments from U.S. persons, and that includes remittances.”

“The [current] regulatory definition of prohibited officials was very narrow, limited to members of the Council of Ministers and flag officers of the Revolutionary Armed Forces. The new definition proposed [in the Presidential Memorandum] . . . includes hundreds of senior officials in every government agency, thousands of ordinary Cubans who volunteer as leaders of their local Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, and—most importantly― every employee of the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (MINFAR) and Ministry of the Interior (MININT).”

This change is contrary to Trump’s stated policy of empowering the Cuban people by directing U.S. funds to them, rather than to the Cuban government. Remittances are the very best way to do that because the dollars go directly to family on the island, at a rate of about $3 billion annually.

Moreover, those remittances often are used as capital by Cubans to start and augment their private businesses and thereby improve the standard of living of their owners and employees and enhance the emerging private sector as a counterweight to the state-owned businesses. In addition, this proposed change could adversely affect Cuban-Americans if they are providing capital to their Cuban relatives on condition that the latter share profits with those in the U.S.

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[1] LeoGrande & Jiménez, Trump Policy Could Cut Remittances To A Million Cuban Families, HuffPost (June 20, 2017).

 

 

 

Secretary of State-Nominee Rex Tillerson Addresses U.S. Policies Regarding Cuba     

Rex Tillerson
Rex Tillerson

In his opening statement at the January 11 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on his nomination, Secretary of State Nominee Rex Tillerson made the following comments about U.S. policies regarding Cuba:[1]

  • “And we must adhere to standards of accountability. Our recent engagement with the government of Cuba was not accompanied by any significant concessions on human rights. We have not held them accountable for their conduct. Their leaders received much, while their people received little. That serves neither the interest of Cubans or Americans.”

Later in response to questions by Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), a Cuban-American and a noted opponent of normalization, Tillerson said he would advise the president to veto any legislation codifying President Obama’s thaw with Cuba, at least until the Trump administration can conduct its own review of that policy. In addition, Tillerson said the current U.S. normalization policy has not benefited most Cubans.

Tillerson specifically added that he would also advise Trump to veto any measures to lift the Cuban embargo, and “examine carefully the criteria” under which Cuba was taken off the list of state sponsors of terrorism, to determine “whether or not that de-listing was appropriate.”

Tillerson did not commit to indefinitely maintaining the above positions, instead deferring to the results of the new administration’s forthcoming review to determine its long-term Cuba policy.

Tillerson underscored that the United States “cannot ignore the law” and must comply with measures such as the Helms-Burton Act, which codified the embargo in 1996, and stated that economic restrictions must remain in force until the Cuban government complies with certain conditions, among them that the Castro family leaves power. Any modification of that legal basis on the policy toward Cuba “should be done by Congress,” according to Tillerson, who committed to strictly enforcing the law.[2]

The obvious follow-up question that I believe was not asked is whether one of the objectives of the promised review of U.S. policies regarding the island will be recommending changes to relevant statutes.

Responding to a question by Senator Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ), a Cuban-American opposed to normalization, Tillerson said that advancing human rights and democracy in Cuba and returning to justice U.S. fugitives like Joanne Chesimard, convicted of aiding and abetting the murder of a New Jersey State Trooper, would be a condition of any further engagement with Cuba.

Conclusion

This hearing was bad news and good news for advocates of normalization like this blogger.

The good news is Tillerson’s prediction that the new administration will conduct a review of existing U.S. policies regarding Cuba before making any changes in them.As previoulsy stated, this review should include recommendations to Congress for changes in existing statutes on the subject.

The bad news is the series of suggestions that many of the normalization policies will be cancelled.

Although I agree that so far Cuba has not made significant concessions on human rights, I disagree with the implicit conclusion from this statement: the U.S. needs to demand Cuban concessions on human rights as a condition for the U.S. making any further economic “concessions” to the island. This is the policy that was followed for over 50 years before December 17, 2014, without the desired result.

I also disagree with his prospective recommendation of a veto of any legislation ending the U.S. embargo of Cuba. In addition, I reject his implication that the U.S. May 2015 rescission of its designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism” was not justified. As explained in earlier posts, the embargo is unjustified and counterproductive for the U.S. while  previous “terrorism” designations were ridiculous and unjustified and the rescission was fully consistent with the law and the facts and was implicitly endorsed by Congress’ failure to approve a joint resolution countermanding the rescission. [3]

Finally I disagree with Tillerson’s testimony that the Cuban “people have received little” from U.S.-Cuba engagement or normalization. As previously stated in various posts, the increased remittances from families and friends in the U.S. to others in Cuba, all made possible by the Obama Administration’s loosening of U.S. restrictions, have been a major source of funding for the expansion of family-owned businesses on the island. That expansion has helped to reduce the portion of the Cuban economy controlled by state-owned enterprises and has increased the income and well being of Cuban entrepreneurs and their employees, who are and will be a significant force for further modification of the Cuban economic and political system.[4]

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[1] Secretary of State Designate Rex Tillerson: Senate Confirmation Hearing Opening Statement (Jan. 11, 2017); Rex Tillerson Confirmation Hearing: Live Coverage, W.S.J. (Jan. 11, 2017); U.S. Senate For. Rel. Comm., Nomination Hearing for Secretary of State Nominee Rex Tillerson (Jan. 11, 2017) (video); Demirjian, Tillerson says Trump is prepping to review Obama’s Cuba policy, Wash, Post (Jan. 11, 2017); Menendez, Secretary of State Nom Rex Tillerson gives commitment to justice during Senate confirmation hearing (Jan. 11, 2017); Kasperowicz, Tillerson would recommend veto of bill ending Cuba embargo, Wash. Examiner (Jan. 11, 2017).

[2] Of greater interest to most of the media about this hearing was Rubio’s challenging questions to Tillerson about whether he favored sanctions against Russia and whether he thought Putin was a war criminal. (E.g., Sanger & Flegenheimer, In Rocky Hearing, Rex Tillerson Tries to Separate From Trump, N.Y. Times (Jan, 11, 2017).)  Were such questions about Russia merely a Rubio ploy to solidify Tillerson’s opposition to Cuba normalization?

[3] See posts listed in the “U.S. Embargo of Cuba” and “Cuba State Sponsor of Terrorism?” sections of List of posts to dwkcommentaries–Topical: CUBA.

[4] See posts listed in the “Cuban Economy” section of List of posts to dwkcommentaries–Topical: CUBA.

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.