Congressmen Reiterate Call for Re-Designation of Cuba as “State Sponsor of Terrorism”

On July 10, 2019, two Republican Congressmen from Florida=–Mario Diaz-Balart and Francis Rooney– asked Secretary of State Pompeo to re-designate Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism.”[1]

Their letter said the following:

  • “We strongly commend you and President Trump and his administration for imposing tough sanctions on the brutal regime in Cuba, and for the unprecedented decision to allow lawsuits to proceed against traffickers in confiscated properties,” said Diaz-Balart. “With these key changes, there remains a major mistake of the previous administration to rectify: returning Cuba to the state sponsors of terrorism list. The Cuban regime smuggled weapons to North Korea, harbors fugitives including a convicted murderer on the FBI’s ‘Top Ten Most Wanted Terrorist’ list, and planted thousands of operatives in Venezuela. I look forward to working with the Trump administration to continue its commendable policy of applying pressure to oppressive, anti-American dictatorships. Classifying Cuba as a terrorist state is an important next step in that robust policy.”
  • “Four years ago, President Obama removed Cuba from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism,” said  Rooney. “Despite this decision, Cuba has continued to support known terrorist organizations and corrupt dictators such as the regime of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela and has continued to harbor known terrorists sought by American law enforcement.  Accordingly, I support the Administration’s firm stance toward our communist island neighbor and urge Secretary Pompeo and President Trump to redesignate Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.”
  • “The State Department defines State Sponsors of Terrorism as ‘Countries determined by the Secretary of State to have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism are designated pursuant to three laws: section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act, section 40 of the Arms Export Control Act, and section 620A of the Foreign Assistance Act.’”
  • “Taken together, the four main categories of sanctions resulting from designation under these authorities include restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance; a ban on defense exports and sales; certain controls over exports of dual use items; and miscellaneous financial and other restrictions,” the State Department adds. “Designation under the above-referenced authorities also implicates other sanctions laws that penalize persons and countries engaging in certain trade with state sponsors.”

Congressman Rooney separately stated, “Four years ago, president Obama removed Cuba from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. Despite this decision, Cuba has continued to support known terrorist organizations and corrupt dictators such as the regime of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, and has continued to harbor known terrorists sought by American law enforcement.  Accordingly, I support the Administration’s firm stance toward our communist island neighbor and urge Secretary Pompeo and President Trump to redesignate Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.”

Congressman Diaz-Balart added, “I commend President Trump and his administration for imposing tough sanctions on the brutal regime in Cuba, and for the unprecedented decision to allow lawsuits to proceed against traffickers in confiscated properties. With these key changes, there remains a major mistake of the previous administration to rectify: returning Cuba to the state sponsors of terrorism list. The Cuban regime smuggled weapons to North Korea, harbors fugitives including a convicted murderer on the FBI’s “Top Ten Most Wanted Terrorist” list, and planted thousands of operatives in Venezuela. I look forward to working with the Trump administration to continue its commendable policy of applying pressure to oppressive, anti-American dictatorships. Classifying Cuba as a terrorist state is an important next step in that robust policy.”

Congressman Rooney serves as the Ranking Member on the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

This proposed re-designation is a bad idea and should not be adopted.[2]

As of August 21, that re-designation has not happened. Nor have there been any further comments on the subject from these two Congressmen or from Secretary Pompeo or the State Department.

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[1] Derby, Return Cuba to ‘State Sponsors of Terrorism’ List, Urge Florida Congressmen, Sunshine State News (Julyu 11, 2019); Press Release, Diaz-Balart, Rooney Urge Secretary Pompeo to Reclassify Cuba as State Sponsor of Terrorism (July 10, 2019); Press Release, Reps. Rooney and Diaz-Balart Urge Secretary Pompeo to Re-classify Cuba as State Sponsor of Terrorism (July 10, 2019).

[2] See the posts through 06/20/15 listed in the “Cuba: State Sponsor of Terrorism?’ section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries: Topical: CUBA;  See also these posts: U.S. and Cuba Discuss Counterterrorism Cooperation (June 10, 2016); No Mention of Cuba in U.S. State Department’s Latest Report on Terrorism (July 20, 2017); U.S. Considering Re-Designating Cuba as “State Sponsor of Terrorism,” (Jan. 26, 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).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. Authorizes U.S. Litigation Against Entities on Cuba Restricted List

On January 16, 2019, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo extended for 45 days the right to bring certain lawsuits in U.S. federal courts  by Americans who owned property in Cuba that was confiscated by its government. The stated reasons for this 45-day extension, instead of the long-standing practice of granting six-month extensions was to “permit us to conduct a careful review of the right to bring action under Title III [of the Helms-Burton or LIBERTAD Act] in light of the national interests of the United States and efforts to expedite a transition to democracy in Cuba and include factors such as the Cuban regime’s brutal oppression of human rights and fundamental freedoms and its indefensible support for increasingly authoritarian and corrupt regimes in Venezuela and Nicaragua.”  [1]

Secretary Pompeo’s New Statement [2]

On March 3, Secretary Pompeo issued another statement on this subject with two parts.

The first part granted “an additional suspension for 30 days through April 17, 2019, of the right to bring an action under Title III [of this federal statute as] necessary to the national interests of the United States and will expedite a transition to democracy in Cuba.” with the below exception. Beginning March 19, suspension shall not apply to:

The second part of this statement, however, contained an exception to this further suspension. Beginning March 19, this suspension will not apply to the “right to bring an action against a Cuban entity or sub-entity identified by name on the State Department’s List of Restricted Entities and Sub-entities Associated with Cuba (known as the Cuba Restricted List), as may be updated from time to time.” This exception protects, for now any foreign firm from such U.S. litigation.

The Cuba Restricted List [3]

This statement explained that the “Cuba Restricted List identifies entities and sub-entities under the control of Cuban military, intelligence, or security services. These security services are directly responsible for the repression of the Cuban people. We encourage any person doing business in Cuba to reconsider whether they are trafficking in confiscated property and abetting the Cuban dictatorship.”

The first such Restricted List was promulgated by the State Department in November 2017,, with a list of 180 entities and subentities that the Department had determined were owned or controlled by “the large military-run corporations that dominate the Cuban economy. These include GAESA and CIMEX, the holding companies that control most retail business on the island; Gaviota, the largest tourism company; and Habaguanex, the firm that runs Old Havana.

This list was amplified on November 14,  2018, with the addition of 26 subentities. According to the State Department, “direct financial transactions [by U.S. nationals] with these entities are generally prohibited because they would disproportionately benefit those entities or personnel at the expense of the Cuban people or private enterprise in Cuba.”

Cuba’s Reaction  [4]

Also on March 4 the Cuba’s foreign Ministry issued the following lengthy rejection of this U.S. move:

  • “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejects in the strongest terms the new escalation in the US aggressive behavior against Cuba.”
  • “Since its entry into force in 1996, the Helms-Burton Act has sought to universalize the economic blockade through brutal and illegal pressures exerted by the United States against third countries, their governments and companies.  It is intended to suffocate the Cuban economy and generate or increase shortages among the population with the purpose of imposing in Cuba a government that serves the interests of the US.”
  • “Given the illegitimate character of the goals they pursue, which are contrary to International Law, the Helms-Burton Act and the blockade arouse universal rejection, which has been reiterated for almost three decades at the most important regional and international fora.  The most recent example of that was the United Nations General Assembly meeting held on November 1, [2018] when said policy was rejected through 10 consecutive votes, thus leaving the US in complete isolation.”
  • “Title II of the Helms-Burton Act states that the overthrowing of the revolutionary government, the subsequent tutelage by a US intervenor and the ultimate establishment of a counterrevolutionary government subordinated to Washington would unequivocally pursue the return or compensation to former owners for all the properties they or their descendants might claim, regardless of whether or not they were US citizens at the moment when nationalizations took place or the fact that they abandoned them. During all that period, the economic blockade would continue to be fully implemented.”
  • “Consequently, Cubans would be forced to return, reimburse or pay to US claimants for the house where they live, the area on which their communities are built, the arable land  where they farm  their products, the school where their children are educated, the hospital or polyclinic where  they receive medical assistance, the place where their workplace is located or where they have a private business, and also for subsidized services such as electricity, water, and communications enjoyed by the population.”
  • “This is an aspiration that can only be conceived by the minds of those who identify Cuba s a colonial possession.  According to the Helms-Burton Act, the economic blockade would be lifted only when that ambition is fulfilled.”
  • “This law relies on two fundamental lies: the notion that nationalizations carried out soon after the triumph of the Revolutionary were illegitimate or inappropriate and that Cuba is a threat to the US national security.”
  • “Cuban nationalizations were carried out in accordance with the law, strictly abiding by the Constitution and in conformity with International Law. All nationalizations included processes of fair and appropriate compensation, something that the US government refused to consider.  Cuba reached and honored global compensation agreements with other nations which are today investing in Cuba, such as Spain, Switzerland, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany and France.”
  • The real threat against regional peace and security are the irresponsible declarations and actions of the US government as well as the destabilizing plans against Latin America and the Caribbean aimed at pursuing the stated purpose of imposing the Monroe Doctrine.”
  • [Cuba’s] Reaffirmation of   Cuban Dignity and Sovereignty Act of December 24, 1996, states that the Helms-Burton Act is illegal, inapplicable and has no legal value or effect whatsoever. It considers null and void any claim under that law by any natural or juridical person.”
  • “According to that [Cuban] law, claims for compensation for nationalized properties could be part of a process of negotiation on the based on equality, mutual respect between the governments of Cuba and the United States, and be “reviewed together with the indemnifications the Cuban State and people are entitled to as a result of the damages caused by the blockade and   aggressions of every sort, of which the US government is responsible”. It also makes it clear that those who resort to procedures or mechanisms under the Helms-Burton Act to the detriment of others shall be excluded from possible future negotiations.”
  • “The Cuban Government reiterates to all economic partners and foreign companies operating in Cuba that full guarantees will be granted to foreign investments and joint projects. Article 28 of the Cuban Constitution, which was ratified by an overwhelming majority on February 24, 2019, also recognizes those guarantees, which are also included in [Cuban] Law No. 118 on Foreign Investments of March 29, 2014.”
  • “Today’s [U.S.] decision imposes additional obstacles to our economic development and progress goals, but the United States will keep on failing to achieve its main purpose of submitting by force the sovereign will of Cubans and our determination to build socialism. The majority feelings of the peoples of Cuba and the United States in favor of improving relations and establishing a civilized and respectful coexistence shall prevail.”

Other Reactions

John Bolton, U.S. National Security Advisor commented the same day in the following tweet: “Cuba’s role in usurping democracy and fomenting repression in Venezuela is clear. That’s why the U.S. will continue to tighten financial restrictions on Cuba’s military and intel services. The region’s democracies should condemn the Cuba regime.”

Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) had a similar tweet: “Today expect the United States to take the first in a series of steps to hold the regime in #Cuba accountable for its 60 years of crimes & illegality which includes its support for the murderous #MaduroCrimeFamily. Justice is coming. And more to come.”

Rubio also joined with U.S. Senator Rick Scott (Rep., FL) and U.S. Representative Mario Diaz-Balart (Rep., FL) in issuing the following lengthier statement supporting this Trump Administration move. [5]

Senator Rubio made the initial comments of the Press Release,“‘President Trump is sending a strong message that the United States will not sit idly by while the Cuban regime continues to support the Maduro crime family at the expense of the Venezuelan people,’ Rubio said. ‘For 60 years, the Cuban regime has forced millions into exile, destabilized neighboring countries, given safe harbor to fugitives from justice and to international terrorists, and made millions trafficking in stolen property. By beginning the process of implementing Title III of the Helms-Burton Libertad Act, the United States is holding the Cuban regime accountable for its crimes, including its support for the murderous Maduro crime family. Justice is coming — and it is just getting started.’”

Senator Scott added, “The Administration’s plan to fully and immediately implement Title III and IV of the Libertad Act signals to the international community that the United States is serious about its commitment to freedom and democracy in Cuba. Allowing American citizens to sue for stolen property in Cuba and denying foreign nationals involved in trafficking stolen property entry into the United States is a huge step toward cutting off the money supply to the Castro Regime. It is clear that where we see instability, chaos and violence in Latin America, we also see the fingerprints of the Castro regime and their money – and this action by the administration is an important step in stabilizing the entire region. President Trump’s strong action on the Libertad Act will further hold the Cuban regime accountable. I urge him to continue with the planned implementation this month so we can help begin a new day of freedom and democracy for Cuba and its people.”

Representative Diaz-Balart stated, “Today, the Trump Administration took another important step toward righting some of the wrongs perpetrated by a dictatorship that brutally oppresses its people and opposes U.S. interests at every opportunity. Shamefully, for nearly twenty-two years since the LIBERTAD Act’s enactment, unscrupulous businesses have ignored this important provision in U.S. law and have chosen to partner with tyrants. This is just the first action of many regarding the Administration’s actions on Title III. Justice for the victims of the Castro regime’s confiscations is long overdue. Years of consecutive extensions may have lulled some into a false sense of impunity. Yet now companies which willingly entangle themselves in partnerships with the anti-American, illegitimate, and oppressive regime in Cuba are on notice that they will be held responsible for their part in callously benefiting from the extensive losses suffered by victims of the regime. I will continue to work with the Administration, Senator Rubio, and my congressional colleagues to ensure the United States continues to pressure the Castro regime and move forward with the full implementation of Title III.”

 Conclusion

This U.S. announcement may have only symbolic significance.

First, according to the Associated Press, “virtually none of the businesses [on the State Department’s Cuba Restricted List has] . . . any links to the U.S. legal or financial systems, meaning the ability to sue [in the U.S.] is unlikely to have any effect on the Cuban economy or foreign businesses that work with the socialist government.” In lawyer’s language, any lawsuit in a U.S. court against an entity on the Cuba Restricted List should be subject to a very strong objection for lack of personal jurisdiction over the Cuban entity, meaning any such case very likely would be dismissed at the commencement of the case. [6]

Second, another potential defense to a U.S. lawsuit might be sovereign immunity.

Third, it would be insane for any U.S. claimant to sue any of the Cuban entities in a Cuban court, which would throw out any such case and perhaps impose some penalty on the claimant for bringing such a case.

Fourth, if any of the Cuban entities are present in other countries of the world, a lawsuit there by a U.S. claimant presumably would not be subject to a lack of personal jurisdiction defense, but other defenses might be available plus other countries’ possible hostility to the overall purposes of the Helms-Burton Act and U.S. policies towards Cuba.

Finally Cuba correctly observes that it recognizes that it has an international legal obligation to compensate foreign owners of expropriated property and that it has settled many (all?) such claims by non-U.S. persons. Moreover, under the U.S.-Cuba rapprochement in 2015-16 the two counties had discussions about the U.S. claims although the details have not been publicly released. A major impediment to such a negotiated settlement is Cuba’s lack of financial resources for such payments. Therefore, this blogger has suggested in another post that the only realistic result is for the two countries to reach an overall settlement, including Cuba’s claims against the U..S., which would have the net effect of the U.S. government’s paying the U.S. claims for expropriated property,   =================================

[1] Update on Trump Administration’s Threat To Allow U.S. Litigation Over Cuba’s Expropriated Property, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 30, 2019).

[2] State Dep’t, Secretary Enacts 30-Day Suspension of Title III (LIBERTAD Act) With an Exception (Mar. 3, 2019); Reuters, Foreign Partners Excluded From U.S. Lawsuits Against Cuban Firms: Official, N.Y. times (Mar. 4, 2019). 

[3] New Restrictions on U.S. Travel to Cuba and Transactions with Certain Cuban Entities, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 8, 2017);More Cuban Businesses Forbidden to U.S. Visitors, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 16, 2018).

[4] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Declaration of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Cuba Strongly Rejects New Aggressive Escalation by the United States (Mar. 4, 2019).

[5] Press Release: Rubio, Scott, & Diaz-Balart Commend Trump Administration’s Decision to Hold the Communist Cuban Regime Accountable for Crimes (Mar. 4, 2019).

[6] Assoc. Press, Trump Symbolically Tightens Embargo on Cuba, N.Y. Times (Mar. 4, 2019). See The Personal Jurisdiction Requirement for Civil Lawsuits in U.S. Courts, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 8, 2011).

Wall Street Journal: U.S. Asserting New Plan To Re-Shape Latin America

The Wall Street Journal reports, as recent posts to this blog have indicated, the U.S. has embarked on a new campaign or plan to try to re-shape Latin American politics and governments.[1]

According to the Journal, “The Trump administration’s attempt to force out the president of Venezuela [Maduro] marked the opening of a new strategy to exert greater U.S. influence over Latin America, according to administration officials. In sight isn’t just Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, but also Cuba, an antagonist that has dominated American attention in the region for more than 50 years.” This new strategy also aims at  “recent inroads [in the region] made by Russia, China and Iran.”

“The Trump administration is stocked with officials who have long believed Cuba to be the more serious national-security threat.” These officials include Cuba-Americans Mauricio Claver-Carone, a National Security Council official, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) and U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (Rep., FL). “They cite Cuba’s intelligence operations in the U.S., and its efforts to spread anti-American views in other Latin American countries. The goal, the administration’s thinking goes, is to sever ties that bind Venezuela to Cuba and sink regimes in both countries.”

Third on the target list of these U.S. officials is Nicaragua. “The State Department repeatedly warned of the country’s shift toward autocratic rule, government repression and violence. Nicaraguans are joining the flow of migrants toward the U.S. border with Mexico,” John Bolton, National Security Advisor, said. He added, “The United States looks forward to watching each corner of the [Troika of Tyranny] fall: in Havana, in Caracas, in Managua,” the capital of Nicaragua.

Conclusion

The Journal’s report confirms what was obvious from recent posts to this blog. These are unfortunate and wrong-headed developments.

==================================

[1] Donati, Salama & Talley, U.S. Push to Oust Venezuela’s Maduro Marks first Shot in Plan to Reshape Latin America, W.S.J. (Jan. 30, 2019).

President Trump Considering Another Hostile Action Against Cuba 

On January 16, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo extended for 45 days the right to bring certain lawsuits in U.S. federal courts  by Americans who owned property in Cuba that was confiscated by its government. [1]

The Announcement

The State Department stated that this 45-day extension, instead of the usual six-month extension, “will permit us to conduct a careful review of the right to bring action under Title III [of the Helms-Burton or LIBERTAD Act] in light of the national interests of the United States and efforts to expedite a transition to democracy in Cuba and include factors such as the Cuban regime’s brutal oppression of human rights and fundamental freedoms and its indefensible support for increasingly authoritarian and corrupt regimes in Venezuela and Nicaragua.”

This announcement added, “We call upon the international community to strengthen efforts to hold the Cuban government accountable for 60 years of repression of its people. We encourage any person doing business in Cuba to reconsider whether they are trafficking in confiscated property and abetting this dictatorship.”

This right to sue was created by Title III of the Helms-Burton Act of 1996. It would permit lawsuits against persons who profit from property in Cuba that was expropriated from Americans. For example, there could be hundreds of lawsuits against corporations around the world, such as  Spanish companies that run Cuban hotels as well as Chinese and Turkish firms renovating Cuban ports. Exempt from this provision of  the Act  are U.S. companies involved in U.S. legal travel to Cuba such as AirBnB, airlines and cruise companies. But the exact meaning of this exemption could be tested in litigation, for example, over U.S. and foreign airlines landing at Havana’s Jose Marti Airport, which is built on land expropriated from a family now living in Miami.

Every  U.S. president since the enactment of the Helms-Burton Act, starting with Bill Clinton and including Trump in 2017 and 2018, has suspended Title III, for six months each time, because of its potential to alienate U.S. allies and complicate any future American detente with Cuba. Moreover, not suspending title III would create a huge obstacle to new foreign investment in Cuba.[2]

The most recent extension of only 45 days and the stated reason for this extension raise the real possibility that the Trump Administration will grant no additional suspensions or waivers of Title III and thereby permit such lawsuits.

Reactions to This Announcement[3]

This announcement predictably was applauded by Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL). He said in a tweet that it “is a strong indication of what comes next. If you are trafficking in stolen property in #Cuba, now would be a good time to get out.” A similar opinion was expressed by Representative Mario Diaz-Balart (Rep., FL).

Three U.S. experts on Cuba, however, criticized this possible change. Professor William LeoGrande of American University said, “It would cause an enormous legal mess, anger U.S. allies in Europe and Latin America, and probably result in a World Trade Organization case against the U.S.” He added that the State Department previously had estimated that allowing Title III to go into effect could result in 200,000 or more lawsuits being filed. Another expert, Phil Peters, said, “If they take this decision they will be moving from a policy of limiting U.S. engagement with Cuba to a policy of very actively trying to disrupt the Cuban economy.” The third, Michael Bustamante, assistant professor of history at Florida International University, stated, “Legitimate property claims need to be resolved, but in the context of a bilateral negotiation. Those backing the enforcement of Title III seem most intent on sowing havoc rather than achieving a positive good.”

Cuban authorities naturally had negative reactions to this proposed change. President Miguel Diaz-Canel said on Twitter that “we vigorously reject this new provocation, meddling, threatening and bullying, in violation of international law.”

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez described the announcement as “political blackmail and irresponsible hostility aimed at hardening the blockade on Cuba. The government of President Donald Trump threatens to take a new step that would reinforce, in a dangerous way, the blockade against Cuba, would flagrantly violate International Law and directly attack the sovereignty and interests of third countries. It . . . [is] a hostile act of extreme arrogance and irresponsibility [issued in] the disrespectful and slanderous language of the State Department’s public message.”

Conclusion

This U.S. announcement follows shortly after U.S. Senators Robert Menendez and Rubio called for another hostile U.S. action against Cuba—the re-establishment of the U.S. parole policy for Cuban medical professionals, which was criticized in a recent post.[4]

Both of these proposed U.S. actions may well have been promoted or provoked by National Security Advisor John Bolton, who has long-held hostile opinions about Cuba and more recently has called Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua “the Troika of Tyranny.” Moreover, on November 1 in Miami, Bolton said the Administration was “seriously” considering new measures against the Cuban government, including allowing Cuban exiles whose properties were confiscated by the Castro government to file lawsuits in U.S. courts against foreign companies currently using those properties.[5]

Both of these proposed hostile actions by the U.S., in this blogger’s opinion, are ill-advised as unnecessarily creating additional conflicts with a close neighbor, with whom the U.S. should be fostering better relations as was done by President Obama after December 17, 2014.

===========================================

 

[1] U.S. State Dep’t, Secretary’s Determination of 45-Day Suspension Under Title III of LIBERTAD Act (Jan. 16, 2019); Reuters, U.S. Considering  Allowing Lawsuits Over Cuba-Confiscated Properties, N.Y. Times (Jan. 16, 2019); Assoc. Press, Trump Weighs Dramatic Tightening of US Embargo on Cuba, N.Y. Times (Jan. 17, 2019).

[2] U.S..State Dep’t, United States Determination of Six Months Suspension under Title III of LIBERTAD Act (July 14, 2017); Lederman, Trump administration again suspends a part of Cuba embargo, Fox News (July 14, 2017); Whitefield, Trump to suspend lawsuit provision of Helms-Burton Act in August, Miami Herald (July 17, 2017); U.S. Continues To Suspend Part of Its Embargo of Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (July 20, 2017); U.S. State Dep’t, United States Determination of Six Months Suspension under Title III of LIBERTAD Act (Jan. 24, 2018); State Department Creates Cuba Internet Task Force and Suspends Enforcement of Statutory Liability for Trafficking in Certain Cuban Expropriated Property, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 25, 2018); U.S. State Dep’t, Secretary’s Determination of Six Months Suspension under Title III of LIBERTAD Act (June 28, 2018); Whitefield, Trump administration extends ban on lawsuits over confiscated property in Cuba, Miami Herald (June 28, 2018).

[3] Fn. 1; Guzzo, U.S. might allow lawsuits over U.S. properties nationalized in Cuba, Tampa Bay Times (Jan. 17, 2019); Cuba Foreign Minister Rodriguez, Cuba strongly rejects the threat of activation of Article III of the Helms Burton Act, Granma (Jan. 17, 2019).

[4] Senators Menendez and Rubio Call for Restoring U.S. Parole Program for Cuban Doctors, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 11, 2019).

[5] U.S. National Security Advisor Announces New U.S. Hostility Towards Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 3, 2018).

Miami-Area Cuban-Americans Press for U.S. Indictment of Raúl Castro

As discussed in an earlier post, on May 22, 2018. two Cuban-American politicians—U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) and U.S. Representative Mario Diaz-Balart (Rep., FL)–asked President Trump to have the U.S. Department of Justice investigate whether the U.S. could and should indict Raul Castro, Cuba’s former President, for the deaths of four Americans in Cuba’s 1996 shooting down close to Cuban air space of  two U.S. private planes engaged in the private mission of Brothers To The Rescue (“BTTR”).

Now, according to the Miami Herald, some Cuban exile groups and their political allies have begun to intensify a campaign for such an indictment. Such groups include Inspire American Foundation, the Assembly of Cuban Resistance (Asamblea de la Resistencia Cubana) and Directorio Democrático Cubano[1]

 Congressional Hearing on Possible Indictment[2]

One step in this direction was a June 20 hearing on “Holding Cuba Leaders Accountable” by the House Oversight Committee’s National Security Subcommittee, which is chaired by Representative Ron DeSantis (Rep., FL), who has been endorsed by President Trump for the Republican nomination for Florida governor and who has made free Cuba one of his major campaign causes.

Four of the witnesses were supportive of such an indictment:  Roger F. Noriega, a Visiting Fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute; Jason L. Poblete, a private-practice attorney in Alexandria, Virginia; and two relatives of two of the Americans killed in the 1996 plane crash (Ms. Ana Alejandre Ciereszko and Miriam de la Peńa). Disagreeing with this position was the other witness, William LeoGrande, an American University professor and a student of U.S.-Cuba relations.

After the hearing, Representative DeSantis said he supported such an indictment.[3]

Noriega Testimony[4]

Although Noriega did not directly endorse an indictment of Raúl Castro, he laid out what he thought were facts that would be a predicate for such an indictment: Fidel Castro admitted that he and Raúl orchestrated the attack on the two U.S. private planes and that Raúl personally ordered the attack.

Poblete Testimony[5]

 Attorney Poblete urged the Departments of Justice and State “to move swiftly by indicting Raúl Castro” for the shooting down of the BTTR planes in 1996. His other recommendations: (a) “declassify all records that can be declassified related to the [BTTR] Shoot down;” (b) indict “other international outlaws who have harmed American citizens;” (c) “create an Inter-Agency Task Force to track Down international outlaws in the Americas;” (d) “seek International cooperation to hold Cuban criminals accountable;” (e) “known violators of fundamental rights must not be allowed access to the [U.S.];” (f) “conduct and publish a bottom-up review of Obama and Bush Administration Cuba policy:” (g) consider establishing a Special International Criminal Tribunal for Cuba and the Americas for “atrocity crimes and other gross violations of human rights:” and (h) “take all reasonable steps to ensure the safety of American citizens posted at the U.S. Embassy in Havana” and “cooperate with defense teams representing victims.”

 LeoGrande Testimony[6]

 “With regard to seeking criminal indictments against Cuban officials for human rights abuses, even if there were legal grounds for securing such indictments, the accused could not be brought to trial because Cuban law prohibits the extradition of Cuban nationals. In 1982, four Cuban officials were indicted in Florida for narcotics trafficking, and the only effect of those indictments was to delay the establishment of counter-narcotic cooperation between the [U.S.] and Cuba until the late 1990s. In 2003, the two Cuban pilots responsible for shooting down the [BTTR]  planes were indicted in Florida, along with their commanding general, on a variety of charges, including murder. That case had not progressed either.”

“Pursuing human rights indictments today might be symbolically satisfying to some, but it would only serve to poison the atmosphere of bilateral relations and impede existing law enforcement cooperation, which has been improving. That would endanger our ability to secure the extradition of U.S. nationals who commit crimes here and then flee to Cuba, and our ability to pursue the prosecution in Cuba of Cuban nationals for crimes committed in the United States. These are areas in which there has been significant progress since 2014, progress that has continued despite the Trump administration’s decision to back away from the normalization of relations.”

“Cuba today is going through a process of change, both in its leadership and in its economy. The old generation that founded the regime is leaving the political stage—most are already gone. At the same time, Cuba is trying to move from the old Soviet-style economic system to some version of market socialism like Vietnam and China. Economic reform is providing Cubans greater economic freedom and, if it succeeds, it could raise their standard of living significantly. U.S. policy ought to facilitate that change, not impede it. Ultimately the people of Cuba will determine their nation’s future and decide issues of accountability. If the United States wants to have a positive influence on these developing changes, it has to be engaged, not sitting on the sidelines.”

“Whether your principal concern is human rights, or compensation for nationalized U.S. property, or the return of U.S. fugitives, or Cuba’s support for the failing regime in Venezuela, there is no chance of making progress on any of those issues with a policy of hostility that relies exclusively on sanctions—especially when no other country in the world observes those sanctions. The historical record is clear that sanctions only work when they are multilateral. Moreover, our current economic sanctions targeting the whole Cuban economy, rather than specific individuals, harms the living standards of ordinary Cubans. That is why the last three Popes, including John Paul II, who was no friend of communism, opposed the embargo.”

“Moreover, as we back away from engagement with Cuba, China and Russia are rushing in to fill the vacuum.”

After the hearing, LeoGrande said he had been contacted by a Democratic staff member to testify and was told his testimony should center on the value of engagement with Cuba. “I didn’t realize the sole purpose of the subcommittee hearing was to launch a campaign to indict Raúl Castro,” he said. “The hearing was political theater.”[7]

Conclusion

Nothing happened at this congressional hearing to change this blogger’s assessment of the issue of whether the U.S. should indict Raúl Castro for his alleged involvement in the 1996 crash of two private U.S. planes.[8] The U.S. should not do so for the following reasons:

  1. The BTTR was not “a humanitarian organization,” at least with respect to the private planes it had flown to Cuba.
  2. The BTTR did not “operate rescue missions to search for Cubans who fled the island by sea.”
  3. Instead the BTTR, at least from 1994 through early 1996, operated to harass the government of Cuba by dropping anti-Castro leaflets over Cuba itself.
  4. On February 24, 1996, the Cuban Air Force was provoked by the BTTR flights that day and previously.
  5. Prior to July 24, 1996, the Cuban Government repeatedly sought the assistance of the U.S. Government to stop the BTTR flights to Cuba.
  6. The U.S. Government, however, did not adequately attempt to stop BTTF flights to Cuba.
  7. Yes, the U.S. in 2003 indicted the head of the Cuban Air Force and the two Cuban pilots of the jet fighter planes that shot down the two private planes flown by BTTR pilots on February 24, 1996, but nothing has happened in that case because the Cuban defendants have not been in the U.S.
  8. Yes, the U.S. in 1998 indicted the Cuban Five for various crimes, even though they were not personally involved in the shooting down of the two BTTR planes on February 24, 1996, and they were convicted and sentenced to U.S. prison for long periods of time. By December 2014, two of them had completed their sentences, been released from U.S. prisons and returned to Cuba, and on December 17, 2014, the remaining three’s sentences were commuted to time served (16 years including pretrial detention) by President Obama and they also were released from U.S. prison and returned to Cuba while Cuba simultaneously released U.S. citizen Alan Gross and another man who had spied for the U.S. from a Cuban prison and returned them to the U.S.
  9. The release of the remaining three of the Cuban Five on December 17, 2014, was part of the praiseworthy overall U.S.-Cuba agreement to embark on the path of normalization of relations. It was not, as the Rubio/Diaz-Balart letter states, part of the shameful “appeasement policy.”[8]
  10. There never has been any contention that Raúl Castro was involved in any way in the downing of the two BTTR planes in February 1996. Instead Rubio and Diaz-Balart allege that at the time Raúl was Minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces and thus presumably in overall charge of everything involving the Cuban Air Force.
  11. now nearly 87 years old and no longer Cuba’s President, Raúl Castro is still Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba and has retired to Santiago de Cuba at the eastern end of the island. Presumably he will not be coming to the U.S. in the future, especially if he were to be indicted as Rubio and Diaz-Balart suggest.

In short, the suggestion that Castro be indicted is a cheap, unfounded political trick only designed to continue to stroke the egos of the Cuban-Americans in Florida who cannot forget and forgive the past. The U.S. should not waste time and money on such a wild-goose chase.

======================================

[1]  Whitefield, Campaign intensifies to indict Raúl Castro for deadly 1996 shoot-down of exile planes, Miami Herald (June 27, 2018).

[2]   House Comm. on Oversight & Government Reform, Subcommittee on National Security, Hearing: Holding Cuban Leaders Accountable (June 20, 2018).

[3] After the hearing. Representative DeSantis announced that he supported an indictment of Raúl Castro. (Crabtree, DeSantis joins call for Trump to indict Raul Castro, FoxNews (June 25, 2018).

[4] Noriega, Time  to Confront Cuba’s International Crime Spree  (June 20, 2018)   In the George W. Bush Administration, Noriega was Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs and then Ambassador to the Organization of American States.

[5] Poblete, Prepared Remarks for House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security (June 20, 2018).

[6] LeoGrande, Testimony Before the Subcomm. on National Security, Comm. on Oversight and Government Reform (June 20, 2018).

[7]  Whitefield, Campaign intensifies to indict Raúl Castro for deadly 1996 shoot-down of exile planes, Miami Herald (June 27, 2018).

[8] Should U.S. Indict Raúl Castro for 1996 Downing of Cuban-American Planes?, dwkcommentaries.com (May 27, 2018).

 

Should U.S. Indict Raúl Castro for 1996 Downing of Cuban-American Planes?

In 1996 in the midst of U.S. private aircraft flights near and over Cuba by Cuban-Americans opposed to the Cuban Revolution, two such planes were shot down by Cuban military planes, and three U.S. citizens and one U..S. resident were killed in the crash.

Now , on May 22, 2018, two Cuban-American politicians—U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) and U.S. Representative Mario Diaz-Balart (Rep., FL)—have asked President Trump to have the U.S. Department of Justice investigate whether the U.S. could and should indict Raul Castro, Cuba’s former President, for the deaths of the four Americans.

After looking at this request, we will examine what happened in 1966 and in two U.S. criminal cases about this incident. We conclude with an evaluation of the merits of this request

Rubio and Diaz-Balart’s Letter to President Trump[1]

The letter urged the President “to direct the Department of Justice to review whether Raúl Castro should be indicted for the illegal and heinous act of shooting down in international waters two American civilian aircraft flown by Brothers to the Rescue [“BTTR”] on February 24, 1996.”

BTTR, according to Rubio and Diaz-Balart,, was “a humanitarian organization that operated rescue missions to search for Cubans who fled the island by sea.The journey from Cuba is treacherous, and many have perished in the attempt.”

This letter continued, “On February 24, 1996, the Cuban Air Force—unprovoked and without warning—shot-down two unarmed Brothers to the Rescue [“BTTR”] planes in international waters, murdering three American citizens, Carlos Costa, Armando Alejandre, Jr., and Mario de la Peña, as well as one United States legal permanent resident, Pablo Morales.”

Thereafter, the letter says, “a U.S. federal court [in Miami] indicted the head of the Cuban Air Force, General Rubén Martínez Puente, and the two MiG pilots, Lorenzo Alberto Pérez-Pérez and Francisco Pérez-Pérez, on charges of murder.”

The letter also says, “a member of the WASP spy ring ultimately was convicted for conspiracy to commit murder for his role in planning the shoot-down, and was sentenced to life in federal prison.  Shamefully, the previous administration, as part of its appeasement policy, commuted his sentence and let him return to a hero’s welcome in Cuba.  However, the Cuban operative ultimately responsible, then-Minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces Raúl Castro, was never indicted.”

The letter concludes, “Taking these bold actions would demonstrate to our adversaries that they cannot act with impunity against Americans, and that human rights abusers and criminals will be held accountable for their crimes.  Most importantly, it would send a signal to the Cuban people that the United States will not permit their oppressors to operate without consequences.”

Cuba’s Downing of Two U.S. Civilian Planes[2]

According to the trial evidence in one of the criminal cases mentioned by Rubio and Diaz-Balart, BTTR, an anti-Castro Cuban exile group in Miami, repeatedly and knowingly had violated Cuban airspace since 1994 with the following details:

  • In 1994 a BTTR flight flew near the Cuban coast with a television reporter who filmed Cuban military fighter jets circling, but not firing at the BTTR plane.
  • Later in 1994, another BTTR plane flew over Cuba near Guantanamo Bay and dropped BTTR bumper stickers, and again Cuba did not fire at the plane.
  • In 1995 BTTR announced that it would commit civil disobedience in Cuban waters, and in response the U.S. State Department issued a public warning that no one should violate Cuban waters and airspace. Nevertheless BTTR proceeded to send a boat into Cuban waters and a plane flew over Havana for 13 minutes dropping anti-Castro leaflets and religious medals. Again the Cuban military did not attack the BTTR plane.
  • Immediately afterwards the Cuban Government complained to the U.S. FAA and requested action to prevent violations of Cuban sovereignty and stated, “Any craft proceeding from the exterior that invades by force our sovereign waters could be sunk and any aircraft downed.” In response the U.S. State Department reiterated its warning that U.S. planes should not violate Cuban airspace and quoted the Cuban warning.
  • Nevertheless in January 1996 BTTR flew twice to Cuba and presumably over international waters dropped anti-Castro leaflets that landed in Havana. Again Cuba requested the U.S. to stop these flights.

On February 24, 1996, three light-civilian U.S. planes that were operated by BTTR flew from Miami to Havana. All three at one time were in international airspace close to Cuba’s territorial waters. One of them clearly flew into Cuban airspace, but was not shot down. The other two civilian planes were shot down by Cuban MIG fighters, killing three Cuban-American citizens and one non-U.S. citizen. Cuba defended its actions by contending that the planes were shot down within the territorial limits of Cuba whereas the U.S alleged that the downings had occurred over international airspace. According to one of the courts in the Cuban Five case, these two planes did not enter Cuban airspace and were shot down in international airspace, 4.8 and 9.5 miles (land miles or nautical miles?] from Cuban airspace.

The concept of national and international airspace is complicated. National airspace is the area or portion of the atmosphere above a country’s territory that is controlled by that country and above a country’s territorial waters, which generally is considered to be 12 nautical miles [or about 13.8 land miles] out from the coastline of the nation. All other airspace is known as ‘international airspace.’

In any event, the two planes that were shot down were at least very close to Cuban airspace after a history of such planes entering Cuban airspace and dropping leaflets and medals and potentially dropping bombs.

Cuban Spy Network in U.S.[3]

In September 1998 five Cuban men (“The Cuban Five”) were arrested in Miami and indicted for conspiracy to commit murder (of the four men killed on February 24, 1996); conspiracy to commit espionage; conspiracy to commit crimes against the U.S.; use of false identity and documentation; and being unregistered agents of a foreign government.

The Cuban Five, however,  were not directly involved in any of the above BTTR incidents. They did not shoot down the private planes on February 24, 1996. They were not in any of the Cuban MIG fighter jets that were involved in that incident.

Instead, according to one of the court opinions in their criminal case, they were in the U.S. as agents of the Cuban Directorate of Intelligence and members of its Wasp Network that was organized for espionage in southern Florida. The Network was to gather and report information regarding operations of U.S. military facilities, U.S. political and law enforcement agencies and U.S. nongovernmental organizations supporting regime change in Cuba, including BTTR. To that end, the Five attempted to penetrate the Miami facility of the U.S. Military’s Southern Command while one of the Five obtained employment at the Key West U.S. Naval Air Station and reported information about the Station to the Cuban Government. Their mission also was to stop flights to Cuba by BTRR.

In November 2000, the trial of the Cuban Five started in federal court in Miami and ended in June 2001 with a jury verdict of the Cuban Five’s being guilty on all counts. As none of the Cuban Five had been directly involved in shooting down the airplane in 1996, the key legal issue on the conspiracy to commit murder charge was the U.S. legal principle of conspiracy. Under U.S. law (U.S.C. sec. 1117), “If two or more persons conspire to [murder], and one or more of such persons do any overt act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each shall be punished by imprisonment for any term of years or for life.” In simple terms, the overt act of shooting down the plane is attributed or imputed to all members of the conspiracy even though some were not directly involved in that act.

In December 2001 (three months after 9/11), the Miami federal court sentenced the Cuban Five to lengthy sentences. In later 2009, after extensive appellate proceedings, the district court reduced the sentence of Guerrero from life to 262 months, of Labanino from life to 30 years and of Gonzalez from 19 years to 18 years.

Two of the Cuban Five  subsequently completed their sentences and were returned to Cuba in 2013 and 2014. On December 17, 2014, as part of the U.S.-Cuba agreement to pursue normalization of relations,  President Obama commuted the sentences of the other three Cubans to time served and released and returned them to Cuba. They are Antonio Guerrero, 56, a U.S. citizen; Ramón Labañino, 51; and Gerardo Hernández, 49.

Criminal Case Against General Martinez Puente and the Cuban Pilots[4]

On August 21, 2003, Cuban General Rueben Martinez Puente, the head in 1996 of the Revolutionary Air Force of the Republic of Cuba, and the two Cuban jet-fighter pilots who shot down the two planes operated by BTTR (Lorenzo Alberto Perez-Perez and Francisco Perez-Perez) were indicted by a federal grand jury in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in Miami for conspiracy to kill the U.S. nationals in the February 1996 crash, four counts of murder and two counts of destruction of aircraft.

The three defendants in this case were and are Cuban citizens and apparently were in Cuba at the time of the indictment and have remained there. Thus, on Nov. 10, 2003, the district court entered an order transferring them to its Fugitive File “until such time as the defendants are apprehended.” That is the last entry in this case’s file.

Conclusion

For this blogger, the foregoing objective review of the evidence relating to the letter from Senator Rubio and Representative Diaz-Balart yields the following conclusions:

  1. The BTTR was not “a humanitarian organization,” at least with respect to the private planes it had flown to Cuba.
  2. The BTTR apparently did not “operate rescue missions to search for Cubans who fled the island by sea.”
  3. Instead the BTTR, at least from 1994 through early 1996, operated to harass the government of Cuba by dropping anti-Castro leaflets over Cuba itself.
  4. On February 24, 1996, the Cuban Air Force was provoked by the BTTR flights that day and previously.
  5. Prior to July 24, 1996, the Cuban Government repeatedly sought the assistance of the U.S. Government to stop the BTTR flights to Cuba.
  6. The U.S. Government, however, did not adequately attempt to stop BTTF flights to Cuba.
  7. Yes, the U.S. in 2003 indicted the head of the Cuban Air Force and the two Cuban pilots of the jet fighter planes that shot down the two private planes flown by BTTR pilots on February 24, 1996, but nothing has happened in that case because the Cuban defendants have not been in the U.S.
  8. Yes, the U.S. in 1998 indicted the Cuban Five for various crimes, even though they were not personally involved in the shooting down of the two BTTR planes on February 24, 1996, and they were convicted and sentenced to U.S. prison for long periods of time. By December 2014, two of them had completed their sentences, been released from U.S. prisons and returned to Cuba, and on December 17, 2014, the remaining three’s sentences were commuted to time served (16 years including pretrial detention) by President Obama and they also were released from U.S. prison and returned to Cuba while Cuba simultaneously released U.S. citizen Alan Gross and another man who had spied for the U.S. from a Cuban prison and returned them to the U.S.
  9. The release of the remaining three of the Cuban Five on December 17, 2014, was part of the praiseworthy overall U.S.-Cuba agreement to embark on the path of normalization of relations. It was not, as the Rubio/Diaz-Balart letter states, part of the shameful “appeasement policy.”[5]
  10. There never has been any contention that Raúl Castro was involved in any way in the downing of the two BTTR planes in February 1996. Instead Rubio and Diaz-Balart allege that at the time Raúl was Minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces and thus presumably in overall charge of everything involving the Cuban Air Force.
  11. now nearly 87 years old and no longer Cuba’s President, Raúl Castro is still Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba and has retired to Santiago de Cuba at the eastern end of the island. Presumably he will not be coming to the U.S. in the future, especially if he were to be indicted as Rubio and Diaz-Balart suggest.[6]

In short, the suggestion that Castro be indicted is a cheap, unfounded political trick only designed to continue to stroke the egos of the Cuban-Americans in Florida who cannot forget and forgive the past. The U.S. should not waste time and money on such a wild-goose chase.

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[1]  Press Release, Rubio, Diaz-Balart Call for DOJ to Consider Indicting Raúl Castro for Murder of American Citizens (May 22, 2018); Torres, Rubio, Diaz-Balart want investigation of Raúl Castro in 1996 shoot-down of exile plane, Miami Herald (May 22, 2018).

[2] The BTTR flights and the February 1996 crashes, as established by trial evidence, are covered in  U.S. Imprisonment of “The Cuban Five” and Their Releases from U.S. Prison, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 31, 2014).

[3] The extensive U.S. litigation in the criminal case against the Cuban Five is reviewed in U.S. Imprisonment of “The Cuban Five” and Their Releases from U.S. Prison, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 31, 2014); U.S. and Cuba Embark on Reconciliation, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 21, 2014).

[4] Indictment, U.S. v. Martinez Puente, No. 03-20685 CR-Seitz (S.D. FL Aug, 22, 2003) Notice to Transfer to Fugitive Status, U.S. v. Martinez Puente, No. 03-20685 CR-Seitz (S.D. FL Nov. 10,, 2003); Criminal Docket, U.S. v. Martinez Puente, No. 03-20685 CR-Seitz (S.D. FL ) [searched on May 26, 2018].

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

[6] The retirement of Raúl Castro: a luxurious estate in Santiago de Cuba, CiberCuba (May 2018).