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.

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[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.

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[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).

 

 

 

 

Signs of Possible Increased U.S. Hostility Towards Cuba

A recent post discussed challenges about Cuba facing the Trump Administration this April: President Trump’s attendance at the Summit of the Americas in Peru and the U.S. reaction to Cuba’s election of the new President of the Council of State.

Recent developments have added to the apprehension that these and other events may be occasions for more U.S. hostility towards Cuba.

Future U.S. Actions Regarding the Summit of the Americas[1]

In a letter last week to the Secretary of the Organization of American States (OAS), Rick Scott, Florida Governor and rumored U.S. Senate candidate this year, called for the exclusion of Cuba at the upcoming Summit. This request was due to the “oppression and misery” that the Cuban people have suffered for more than 60 years. “For six decades, the sovereignty of the Cuban people has been taken hostage by a brutal dictatorship that has imprisoned, tortured and murdered innocent people to preserve their regime.”

Another reason for such exclusion, according to Scott, was the recent electoral process on the island as a “fraudulent effort to carry out the so-called elections as the dictatorship moves towards a dynastic succession.” In short, “Obama’s policy is a tragedy for the Cuban people, and a top priority for America’s next President to reverse.”

The Governor’s request was reiterated by the Cuban Resistance Assembly and anticipated this last February by Freedom House’s Director Carlos Ponce when he said that Castro’s attendance at the 2015 Summit in Panama was “a great spectacle that did not represent an advance in democracy and human rights on the island.” In fact, it included the regime sending “violent groups to threaten  and persecute the Cuban leaders of civil society who participated.”

Future U.S. Reaction to Election of New President of Cuba

In addition to Governor Scott’s criticism of this year’s Cuban electoral process, the previous post about challenges to the Trump Administration mentioned that on March 9 Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) and five Florida Republican U.S. Representatives sent a letter to President Trump urging him to “denounce Castro’s successor as illegitimate in the absence of free, fair, and multiparty elections, and call upon the international community to support the right of the Cuban people to decide their future.”

On March 14, Congressman Curbelo added this statement for his reasons for such criticism: “It’s  clear the Cuban people are ready for a new beginning. Now more than ever they need the support and solidarity of the American people, the American government and its diplomats, and all freedom loving people throughout the world. Given the absence of free, fair, multiparty elections this past weekend, I continue to urge President Trump to declare Raul Castro’s successor as illegitimate.”[2]

New Officials in Trump Administration

 President Trump has nominated or appointed two officials who have a history of hostility towards Cuba–Mike Pompeo and John Bolton– while another appointee, Carlos Trujillo, may hold such views.

Secretary of State Nominee Mike Pompeo[3]

President Trump has nominated Mike Pompeo, the current Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), as the next Secretary of State, a position that requires confirmation by the U.S. Senate.

In 2015, when Pompeo was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, he co-sponsored a bill, the Cuban Military Transparency Act, to prevent any U.S. financial transaction with companies managed by the Cuban military that did not become law, but was implemented last year by a President Trump executive order.

In June 2017 Pompeo and Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) met at CIA headquarters with several members of the Brigade 2506, which is a CIA-sponsored group of Cuban exiles formed in 1960 to attempt the military overthrow of the Cuban government headed by Fidel Castro and which in 1961 carried out the abortive Bay of Pigs Invasion landings.

John Bolton, National Security ‘Advisor[4]

On March 23 President Trump appointed as his National Security Advisor, John Bolton, who over many years consistently has been hostile to U.S.-Cuba normalization. Here are examples of his views on this subject:

  • As Under Secretary of State for Arms Control, Bolton in 2002 accused Cuba of developing biological weapons in collaboration with U.S. adversaries and said Cuba remained a “terrorist” threat to the U.S. Bolton’s disputed claims were shown to be baseless in the 2004 National Intelligence Estimate, which found that while Cuba had the technical capability to produce biological agents, there was no evidence of any biological weapons development.
  • Bolton criticized the rapprochement between Cuba and the U.S. in December 2014, calling the decision to pursue normalized relations “an unmitigated defeat for the United States.”
  • In July 2015, just after the U.S. decided to resume full diplomatic relations with Cuba, he published an article saying that this decision “untethered our foreign policy from any discernible American interests.”  In short, Bolton said, “Obama’s policy is a tragedy for the Cuban people, and a top priority for America’s next President to reverse.”

Unsurprisingly Senator Marco Rubio applauded the appointment of Bolton as “an excellent choice.”

Cuba immediately responded in Granma, saying  Bolton  had “a very dark past in relation to Cuba” with strong ties to “the ultra-right of Cuban origin in Florida.” This appointment “comes in the midst of a new campaign against Cuba in which pretexts and evidence have been used without scientific evidence to justify unilateral measures that affect hundreds of thousands of people on both sides of the [Caribbean] and hinder the exchange on issues of mutual interest.”

New U.S. Ambassador to OAS[5]

Last week the U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination of Carlos Trujillo as the new U.S. Ambassador to OAS. I have not discovered Trujillo’s views about U.S. policy towards Cuba and the OAS relationship with the island, but given his background and support by Senator Rubio, I suspect that he too is hostile towards the Cuban government.

Conference at Florida International University[6]

Recently Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., participated in a conference at the Florida International University in Miami that was organized by Senator Rubio and some of his Republican colleagues in the House of Representatives.One of the topics of the meeting was how to improve democracy in Cuba and Venezuela. Before the meeting, Representative Mario Diaz-Balart said, “The Castro regime continues its decades-long oppression of the Cuban people, while providing illicit support to other sham regimes in the region, including those in Venezuela and Nicaragua.  By promoting democracy, civil society and human rights in our hemisphere, we promote stability and prosperity among our neighbors, and strengthen friendships with allies.”

New U.S. Federal Government Budget[7]

The budget approved by the United States Congress last week, which will allow government financing until mid-2018, includes $ 20 million for promotion of democracy in Cuba, scholarships to promote leadership among young Cubans and improving Cuba’s access to the internet. Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, says these are funds to “promote a supposed regime change in Cuba.”

On the other hand, Congress did not adopt a proposed amendment to the budget that would have restricted funding for the U.S. Embassy in Havana to pre-Obama Administration levels. This congressional rejection was applauded by Engage Cuba, a U.S. coalition of private companies and organizations working to end the travel and trade embargo on Cuba. It said, “By eliminating this senseless budget provision, Congress has averted a foreign relations debacle that would have upended progress on law enforcement cooperation, migration, and commercial ties. We commend the bipartisan majority of lawmakers that fought to preserve our diplomatic engagement with Cuba. Slashing embassy funding would hurt Cuban Americans and the Cuban people, and turn back the clock to a discredited counter-productive Cold War policy that failed for over 55 years.”

Conclusion

Although not surprising, these developments are unfortunate for those of us who advocate for increased normalization between the two countries. We must continue to be vigilant in resisting any and all Trump Administration hostility towards Cuba.

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[1] Rick Scott asks the OAS to exclude Raúl Castro from the Summit of the Americas, Diario de Cuba (Mar. 24, 2018).

[2] Press Release, Curbelo: Following Another Empty Voting Exercise on the Island, the Cuban People Need Support and Solidarity (Mar. 14, 2018).

[3] Falćon, Foreign Policy of the United States: the extremists circle closes, CubaDebate (Mar. 26, 2018); CIA, The Bay of Pigs Invasion; Brigade 2506, Wikipedia.

[4] Bolton, Obama’s outrageous Cuba capitulations, N.Y. Daily News (July 13, 2015); Center for Democracy in Americas, Cuba Central News Brief: 3/23/18; The regime complains of a possible worsening of relations with Washington after the appointment of Bolton, Diario de Cuba (Mar. 24, 2018).

[5] The Senate confirms Carlos Trujillo as US ambassador to the OAS, Diario de Cuba (Mar. 23, 2018); Press Release, Rubio Welcomes Confirmation of Carlos Trujillo to Serve as U.S. Ambassador to OAS (Mar. 23, 2018).

[6] Press Release, Diaz-Balart, South Florida Members of Congress Host Ambassador Haley for Latin American State of Affairs Discussion (Mar. 2, 2018).

[7] Washington releases funds for subversion in Cuba and border wall in Mexico, Granma (Mar. 25, 2018); Press Release, Engage Cuba Applauds Defeat of Budget Provision to Slash Funding for U.S. Embassy in Havana (Mar. 23, 2018).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Senator Rubio Takes Credit for More Hostile U.S. Policies Regarding Cuba 

On December 22, Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) released a “summary of his 2017 accomplishments.”[1]

Second on this list was “Shaping U.S. Policy Toward Cuba.” It stated, “Rubio worked closely with President Trump and his Administration to develop a new U.S. policy toward Cuba that rolls back the Obama Administration’s one-sided concessions to the Castro regime, and instead works to economically and politically empower private Cuban citizens and entrepreneurs.”

The hyperlinked article for Rubio’s working closely with President Trump was written in Politico by Marc Caputo, formerly of the Miami Herald.[2] It asserts that on May 5 Rubio along with his fellow Miami Republican and Cuban-American, Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, met at the White House with President Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, then White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Advisor Jared Kushner. Rubio and Diaz-Balart warned the President not to rely upon career service people in the State and Treasury Departments because they did not favor abandoning President Obama’s policy of normalization with the island. Instead, it was suggested, the President himself and his close advisors should develop the new policy themselves.

Trump immediately accepted the suggestion and McMaster volunteered to implement the decision to change U.S. policy towards Cuba, which was announced in the President’s speech in Miami on June 16  and formalized in the National Security Presidential Memorandum on Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba, which he signed immediately after the speech.[3]

This blogger already has expressed his opposition to this reversal of U.S. policy and rhetoric regarding Cuba and suggested instead on overturning the new ban on individual person-to-person travel and emphasizing the ban’s adverse impact on Cuba’s emerging entrepreneurs while continuing to advocate for implementation of other normalization measures.[4]

Although Rubio is a Cuban-American, he has never lived there or even visited the island. Thus, he is subject to legitimate criticism for having a distorted view of what U.S. policy should be. Addressing this glaring gap in his knowledge, a group of Cuban businesswomen have invited him to visit Cuba to learn about Cuba, the island’s emerging private sector and the adverse impact on those new businesses from the U.S. policies advocated by the Senator and President Trump. The Senator, however, has not accepted the invitation or even acknowledged this graceful gesture by the women.[5]

The Senator also could learn from Living Waters for the World, a project of the Synod of Living Waters of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) that has installed nearly 900 clean water systems in 25 countries, including nearly 50 in Cuba. A recent U.S. volunteer group visited 10 such clean water sites in Cuba and said there was a sense of God whispering, “Pay attention, I have something important to show you—our inherent connectedness. Clearly, God does extraordinary things when we reach beyond our boundaries to know, be with, and pay attention to our brothers and sisters in Christ.”[6]

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[1] Press Release: Rubio Highlights 2017 Accomplishments (Dec. 22, 2017).

[2] Caputo, Inside Marco Rubio’s campaign to shape Trump’s Cuba crackdown, Politico (June 15, 2017).

[3] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: President Trump Announces Reversal of Some Cuba Normalization Policies (June 19, 2017); U.S. Reactions to Trump Reversal of Some U.S.-Cuba Normalization Policies (June 21, 2017); Cuban Reactions to Trump Reversal of Some U.S.-Cuba Normalization Policies (June 22, 2107).

[4] This Blogger’s Reactions to Trump Reversal of Some U.S.-Cuba Normalization Policies, dwkcommentaries.com (June 23, 2017).

[5]  Reuters, Cuban businesswomen seek Rubio meeting as U.S. policy bites (Nov. 17, 2017).

[6] Zehnder, Changing Subjectivity, Waters of Life (Nov.-Dec. 2017).