Examination of the Actions of EchoCuba (a U.S. Nonprofit)

The Evangelical Christian Humanitarian Outreach for Cuba (ECHO Cuba), a U.S. nonprofit organization, has emerged as one that calls for close examination by U.S. citizens interested in U.S.-Cuba normalization and reconciliation. EchoCuba is active in Cuba, including successful public opposition to a provision of the then proposed new Cuban constitution and commenting on other controversial Cuban issues. It has received significant financial support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Finally EchoCuba has been used by the State Department as one of only two primary sources for the department’s most recent (and critical) annual report on Cuban religious freedom. These activities have not yet received the serious attention that they deserve. This blog post endeavors to start that examination.

ECHOCuba’s Background [1]

The organization was founded in 1994 by Cuban-American Teo Babún. Soon thereafter it was denounced in the Cuban TV news series “Razones de Cuba” for promoting subversion on the island, with funding from the U.S. government, by publishing counterrevolutionary blogs and printed propaganda and by hosting public events.

Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, has reported that Senor Babún and his family before the triumph of the Revolution “owned the second largest sugarmill in the eastern part of [Cuba]; the Diamante construction company; a cement factory; the Sevilla estate; and the Santiago de Cuba ship line.” After 1959, however, he and his family left the island for Miami, where he made connections with the “annexionist” mafia [Cuban exiles], supported the U.S.-organized mercenary invasion of Play Girón [Bay of Pigs in 1961] and a subsequent terrorist attack on the coastal town of Boca de Samá in 1971.

A noted Cuban intellectual and historian, Nestor Garcia Iturbe, added that Senor Babún is (or was) the executive director of Americas Humanitarian Relief Logistics Team, Inc. (ART) , which says that it “provides aid to hurting people in the Americas” and “disaster response assistance throughout the Americas” as well as partnering with the U.S. Navy’s Southern Command and with “USAID and UN/OCHA through the U.N. Humanitarian System.” Indeed, Garcia says this organization also is a recipient of USAID fund. Another organization created by Babún was the Claims Register Assistance to aid persons who wanted to file claims in the 1960s with the U.S. Department of Justice for their Cuban properties that had been expropriated by the Fidel Castro regime.

The current website for EchoCuba states that its mission is “to equip and strengthen the independent evangelical churches of Cuba through theological education and leadership training of their existing and future pastors. . . . Since the early 1990s, . . . [it] has existed to advocate faith and freedoms in Cuba through a vast network of mostly . . . Protestant and Roman Catholic churches who have promoted Christian education, humanitarian aid, and small business initiatives.”

EchoCuba says in 2002 it “cooperated with different foundations and organizations  in distributing humanitarian assistance and training manuals on carrying out social and human services, such as caring for the elderly, disabled, and malnourished children. It also has aided in reaching out to the most marginalized pockets of Cuba’s populations, including the families of those persecuted by the communist regime for their beliefs and ideals.”

“Today [date not specified] we embark on a new chapter . . . [to focus on] the development of effective Christian leadership to promote Biblical truth while transforming communities. . . [and empowering] the in We collaborate with local leaders, seminaries and communities in the island to bring the Gospel to the masses.”

Yet another of its activities is “faith-based advocacy.” It correctly notes that Cuba was an “atheist state” and that during that period Christians suffered. It also claims that freedom of religion today on the island is “not fully available, and persecution of those who publicly profess a creed exists today.” [This statement is true for the period 1959-1992], but misleading on the years since then.]

EchoCuba also participates in the First Frontier Cuba Network, which “serves as a convening platform, which stewards and directs the investment of North American resources, time, energy and manpower wisely to directly respond to the continuing needs of the Cuban Church. [This Network] has been created to provide consultation and leadership to catalyze the right kind of change in Cuba, without harm, confusion, and fragmentation; and to be the voice of Cuban missiology that guides ministry action towards long-term and productive change for the Kingdom of God.”

The final activity listed on its website is “fighting Biblical poverty.” It claims in the last two decades, “Christianity has grown in Cuba in an unprecedented rate. With a population of 11 million, and only 10%-20% of that population being active Christians, the demand for Bibles is unlike any other point in history. For most Christians in Cuba, they feel isolated from the world. The government and its last of freedom restrict the ability of Christians to access the outside world through literature, internet, television even the distribution of Christian material including the Sword of God [the Bible]. In Cuba there are no places to buy or print Bibles on the island. However God always opens doors. Recently, easing of tensions between the United States and Cuba [with President Obama’s December 2014 opening to Cuba] after fifty years offers an unprecedented opportunity for the Church to receive bibles from international organizations like EchoCuba. Now, you can help Cubans discover the life and love of Jesus found in God’s Word. EchoCuba has vowed to bring the Gospel any way it can to God’s faithful servants in Cuba.”

The website also claims that “Churches in Cuba are not legally allowed to be constructed, [thereby forcing] God’s people . . . to operate through house churches, which hold no legal recognition from the government. Cuba has over 25,000 house churches on the island. The average house church holds an average of 20 to 40 members, on average only 5-10 bibles are available for the entire congregation. We believe that by providing Church leaders and seminarians with Bible and Scripture resources, even more people will experience the transformative power of God’s love for all of us. Our 2015 goal is to provide 5,000 bibles to Churches in Cuba.”

EchoCuba also is a member, since November 2007, of EFCA, which “provides accreditation to leading Christian nonprofit organizations that faithfully demonstrate compliance with established standards for financial accountability.”

EchoCuba’s Financial Support by USAID [2]

Although it is not mentioned on EchoCuba’s website, USAID, for fiscal 2009-2017, paid $2,302,464 to EchoCuba. Of this total, $1,033,582 was “for a three-year program entitled ‘Empowering Civil Society by Strengthening Economic Independence.’” Another $1,179,066 was for the Cuba Humanitarian Support Network, which was “aimed at providing “humanitarian aid to Cuba’s vulnerable religious leaders” and creating a “humanitarian network for the sustainable delivery of essential food and health supplies to marginalized Cubans and their family members.” In addition, EchoCuba to date has received at least $1,003,674 from USAID during the Trump presidency.

ECHOCuba’s Recent Activities in Cuba [3]

In late 2018, some Cuban evangelical churches, encouraged by EchoCuba and other U.S. conservative evangelical churches and organizations, registered strong objections to a provision of the proposed new Cuban Constitution that would have legalized same-sex marriage. According to Andrew Chestnut, Professor of Religious Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, ““Both the moral and financial support of U.S. Evangelical denominations and agencies has been crucial to backing Cuban Evangelicals in their campaign to oppose gay marriage on the island.”

In response, in December 2018, the Cuban government withdrew that provision before the new constitution was approved in a national referendum.

This year, Cuban evangelical churches and groups, with the support of similar groups in the U.S., objected to Cuba’s version of a gay pride parade in May, resulting in its cancelation by the organizers of the event.

In July 2019, EchoCuba was involved in the creation of the Evangelical Alliance of Cuban Churches  as separate from the longstanding Cuban Council of Churches (CIC) on the ground that the latter did not represent their beliefs, including opposition to same-sex marriage. According to Elaine Saralegui Caraballo, a lesbian pastor and founder of a Cuban division of the Metropolitan Community Church, said, “The creation of this Alliance fosters a space of unity, from which the whole economic, spiritual, religious, and political force of the Christian fundamentalist churches will be deployed” and that the Alliance’s goal was to promote “Christian supremacy” with the guidance of the U.S. far right, in a similar manner as has occurred in other Latin American countries.”

EchoCuba as Source for State Department on Cuban Religious Freedom [4]

The latest State Department’s report on international religious freedom that was released in June 2019 contained many adverse allegations about that freedom in Cuba with only two principal stated sources, one of which was EchoCuba (without any disclosure about its funding by USAID).

That report contained the following statements about the evangelical or apostolic churches:

  • “There are approximately 4,000 followers of 50 Apostolic churches (an unregistered loosely affiliated network of Protestant churches, also known as the Apostolic Movement) and a separate New Apostolic Church associated with the New Apostolic Church International.  According to some Christian leaders, there is a marked growth of evangelical Protestant groups in the country.”
  • “According to EchoCuba, the ORA [Communist Party’s’ Office of Religious Affairs] approved some registration applications, but it took as many as two to three years from the date of the application.  Other applications received no response or were denied without explanation, while some groups continued to wait for up to 25 years for a response.  EchoCuba said Apostolic churches repeatedly had their attempts to register denied, forcing these churches to operate without legal status.”
  • “In October leaders of Apostolic churches including Bernardo de Quesada, Alain Toledanos, and Marco Antonio Perdomo, issued an official statement on behalf of non-registered groups, which they said are ‘in practice discriminated against,’ urging the government to establish a new statute formally defining and granting the right to, and laying out procedures for, legal registration of religious organizations by the MOJ [Ministry of Justice].  The ORA and the MOJ did not announce any progress on revising the law on associations, announced in August 2017.”
  • “In March the New Apostolic Church, not affiliated with the many loosely affiliated Apostolic churches, registered with the MOJ.”
  • “According to EchoCuba, the government continued to apply its system of rewarding churches that were obedient and sympathetic to “revolutionary values and ideals” and penalizing those that were not.  Similarly, the government continued to reward religious leaders who were cooperative with the government and threatened revocation of those rights for noncooperative religious leaders.  EchoCuba reported that, in exchange for their cooperation with the government, CCC members continued to receive benefits other non-member churches did not always receive, including building permits, international donations of clothing and medicine, and exit visas for pastors to travel abroad.  EchoCuba said individual churches and denominations or religious groups also experienced different levels of consideration by the government depending on the leadership of those groups and their relationship with the government.”
  • “According to EchoCuba, the government continued to single out religious groups critical of the government, such as the unregistered Apostolic Movement, for particularly severe persecution, destroying their churches, confiscating properties, and banning travel of their pastors.  In contrast, the government allowed The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also unregistered, to operate with little intervention because the Church continued to maintain a close relationship with the government and did not question the country’s laws.  Some religious leaders said the government continued to grant permits to buy properties for use as house churches, including in some cases when the titleholder to the property did not plan to live there.  Other religious groups said securing permission for the purchase or construction of new buildings remained difficult, if not impossible.”
  • “According to EchoCuba, government agencies regularly refused to recognize a change in residence for pastors and other church leaders assigned to a new church or parish.  A decree continued to place restrictions on internal movement and migration, making it difficult, if not impossible, for pastors and their families to register their new place of residence if they transferred to a church that lost its pastor due to death or retirement.  To engage with even the smallest of bureaucratic details, pastors refused the right to reregister needed to travel to wherever they were officially registered and submit the paperwork there.  Legal restrictions on travel within the country also limited itinerant ministry, a central component of some religious groups.  According to EchoCuba, the application of the decree to religious groups was likely part of the general pattern of government efforts to control their activities.  Some religious leaders said the decree was also used to block church leaders from travelling within the country to attend special events or meetings.  Church leaders associated with the Apostolic churches regularly reported they were prevented, sometimes through short-term detention, from travelling to attend church events or carry out ministry work.”

As pointed out in a prior post, this State Department report made only the following reference to the Cuban Council of Churches (CIC): ““Embassy officials met with the head of the Council of Cuban Churches, a government-registered organization with close ties to the government composed mostly of Protestant groups and associated with the World Council of Churches, to discuss its operations and programs.” (Exec. Summary.)

Criticism of U.S. Report on Cuban Religious Freedom [5]

This report’s ever so brief reference to the CIC, in this blogger’s judgment, is a major flaw in the U.S. report as the CIC was founded in 1941 and describes itself as “an ecumenical fellowship of churches and other Cuban Christian institutions, which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior, in accordance with the Scriptures and seek to realize their common vocation for the Glory of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The CIC promotes spaces for encounter, celebration, reflection, formation and joint actions of the churches and other Christian institutions, for the service to our people, as a visible expression of the ecumenism to which we are called by God in Jesus Christ.” Today the CIC’s membership includes 28 denominations, 10 fraternal associations and 14 ecumenical movements and centers.

Relevant here is CIC’s statement (on or about July 17, 2019) in response to the announced intent to create the previously mentioned Evangelical Alliance if Cuban Churches. “We want to reiterate to our people and their churches that the . . . [CIC], as it affirms in its Constitution, works under its motto ‘United to Serve‘ which states:

  • ‘We are a fellowship of churches, ecumenical movements and other Christian institutions that confess the Lord Jesus Christ as Son of God and Savior, according to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, and seek to realize their common vocation, the glory of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’
  • ‘Our mission is to provide spaces for meeting, celebration, reflection and formation of churches, ecumenical movements and other Christian institutions, as a visible expression of the unity to which God calls us in Jesus Christ, in the service of our people.’
  • ‘Encouraging the study, consultation and different areas of service in accordance with its purposes and functions; the cooperation of Christians in order to strengthen fraternal relations; enrich Christian life and witness; develop a sense of social responsibility and encourage participation in tasks of common interest for the evangelizing mission of the Church.’
  • ‘The Council, without authority over its members to determine issues of doctrine, government or worship, could be a mediating instance, provided that peace and goodness of the Body of Christ is sought, based on the best testimony to the world: the unity of the believers.’

Therefore, the CIC statement continued, “It is not for the [CIC], to rule on doctrinal issues that have been put on the public stage, nor to represent on this or any other issue, before the Cuban people and its authorities, the churches and organizations , members or not.” It then added the following:

  • “In Cuba all denominations enjoy religious freedom and are equal before the law, therefore each church or religious organization establishes the relations it deems with the authorities, and gives testimony before them and the Cuban people as understood from their understanding of the Faith.” (Emphasis added.)
  • “The Council of Churches, in adherence to the values ​​that its Constitution proclaims and in its vocation of service, has carried out mediating efforts since its foundation. And it has done so by sovereign decision of its members, from its governing bodies, without supplanting it, any rights of others.”
  • “On the contrary, in most cases, these efforts have benefited not only the churches and member organizations of the CIC, and in some, all the religious denominations and their practitioners on the island. Suffice it to mention the import and distribution of Bibles, and in the early 90s, their decisive contribution in the cessation of all forms of religious discrimination in Cuba.”
  • “God calls for unity in Christ our Lord, to serve and bear witness to the Gospel. Since its foundation 78 years ago, the . . . [CIC] has shown its fidelity to this call. Our fidelity is only to Jesus Christ, our Lord. There is no other Lord, neither here in our beloved Homeland, nor outside it, to which we MUST serve and adore.”
  • “The . . . [CIC] reaffirms its commitment to continue working for the unity of the churches. Serving the people and the nation, seeking together and together the paths of peace, faith and hope, the dignity of the people and the care of Creation, that help us to build and live the signs of the Kingdom of God: equality and love for all and all in the midst of our beloved country.”

Personal Testimony [6]

As a member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, which for the last 17 years has had a partnership with a sister church in Cuba, I have been on three mission trips to the island to visit our partner and other churches and the office of the CIC. I also have welcomed Cuban visitors to our church in Minneapolis, have discussed other members’ trips to the island, have read widely about many aspects of Cuban-U.S. history and have written many blog posts criticizing hostile U.S. policies and actions against Cuba and encouraging reconciliation and normalization of relations. As a result I now have many Cuban-Presbyterian friends and can testify that these churches and members as well as the CIC enjoy many aspects of religious freedom and embrace a warm and loving Christian faith.

Therefore, it is totally illegitimate for the State Department virtually to ignore the faith and work of these churches and members and of the CIC. It also is illegitimate for the Department and others in the U.S. government implicitly to assume that some U.S. notions of religious freedom should apply to Cuba without considering the vast differences in economic circumstances. This especially is true with respect to building new church buildings. Like the U.S., construction permits are needed in Cuba for new buildings, religious and otherwise. That does not make such construction illegal, as is claimed in the previously mentioned State Department report. Moreover, the granting of such permits in Cuba is inhibited by limitations on the island’s financial resources.

Although I did not visit Cuba during the period of its close relationship with the Soviet Union, until 1992, it is true that Christians and other religious people were discriminated against. However, Cuba did not assassinate or disappear religious opponents of the regime as was done by the right-wing government of El Salvador in the 1980’s. On one of my trips to our partner church on the island, one of the members told me that she had not been brave enough to have been a Christian during those prior years. Another member told me that he had been in seminary with the pastor of our partner, but he had left the Cuban church in order to become a public school teacher. Now that he was retired, he again freely could attend church.

After the 1989 collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba adopted a more conciliatory position towards religion and lessened its promotion of atheism. In November 1991 the Communist Party began to allow believers into its ranks, and in July 1992, the constitution was amended to remove the definition of Cuba as being a state based on Marxism–Leninism, and article 42 was added, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of religious belief. Another important change after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the increased acceptance of religion in Cuba, several Protestant pastors became members of the National Assembly, two of whom I have met: Rev. Sergio Arce, a Presbyterian-Reformed pastor, and Rev. Raúl Suarez, a Baptist pastor.[ii]

In 2004 the first Greek Orthodox Cathedral opened in Havana; shortly thereafter I visited the island and saw flags welcoming Greek Orthodox Archbishop Bartholomew to the city while my Presbyterian delegation delivered an icon to the new Cathedral from a Minneapolis’ Greek Orthodox Church. Four years later, in 2008, the first Russian Orthodox Church was opened in Havana during an official ceremony attended by then President Raúl Castro. Three Popes have visited the island: Pope John Paul II (1998), Pope Benedict XVI (2012) and Pope Francis (2015).[iii]

Nevertheless, it must be noted that upon the recent appointment of Monsignor Juan de la Caridad as the new Roman Catholic Archbishop of Havana, the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba lamented that the Catholic Church on the island does not have schools, universities, newspapers, radio stations or welfare centers while less than 3% of the population attends Sunday Mass even though at least half confess being of that faith.[iv]

The recent State Department report on Cuban religious freedom also blindly accepts assertions by EchoCuba and Christian Solidarity Worldwide about alleged Cuban discrimination and persecution of various evangelical churches, especially when at least EchoCuba receives USAID funds. The U.S. government should not forget or ignore that the State Department and USAID over the years have helped finance so-called U.S. “democracy promotion” efforts on the island that in reality were efforts at “regime change.” As a result, it is reasonable for Cuba to exercise close surveillance of the activities of such organizations.

Conclusion [7]

As someone who strives to follow Jesus as a member of a Presbyterian Church, I am glad to see the U.S. emphasizing the importance of religious freedom around the world. However, given the upcoming 2020 U.S. presidential election and the support for Trump in the last election by many U.S. evangelical leaders and groups, one has to wonder whether current U.S. hostility towards Cuba and the Trump Administration programs like the new U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights and the first two of promised annual Ministerials on International Religious Freedom are really designed to solidify that U.S. domestic political support for the re-election of Donald Trump.

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[1] EchoCuba; Castro Morales, Who is Teo Babún and why is he going after Cuba? Granma (Feb. 21, 2019); Sanchez, The ‘charity’ made in Miami and the strange faith of ECHOCuba, The Insomniac Pupil (April 18, 2011).

[2] Eaton, God, USAID and Cuba, Cuba Money Project (Nov. 20, 2018); Eaton, Cuba spending under Trump, Cuba Money Project (June 17, 2019); Eaton, Lawmakers want $20 million for Cuba projects in 2020, Cuba Money Project (June 21, 2019;); AmericasReliefTeam, Cuban Humanitarian Support Network. The Cuba Money Project is a U.S. “journalism initiative aimed at reporting stories about U.S. government programs and projects related to Cuba” that is operated by Tracey Eaton, a journalist and former Havana bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News.

[3] Bodenheimer, How American Evangelicals Helped Stop Same-Sex Marriage in Cuba, VICE (April 20, 2019)

[4] State Dep’t, 2018 Report on International Religious Freedom: Cuba (June 21, 2019); State Department’s Latest Report on International Religious Freedom, dwkcommentaries.com (June 25, 2019); U.S. State Department Unfairly Criticizes Cuban Religious Freedom, dwkcommenaries.com (July 18, 2019).

[5] Background on the Cuban Council of Churches; World Council of Churches, Cuban Council of Churches; Joint Statement of the Cuban Council of Churches and the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (Apr. 25, 2019); Larkman, Cuba contingent hopes to further partnership between U.S., Cuban churches (Nov. 13, 2017); Reformed Presbyterian Church in Cuba, Wikipedia

[6] E.g., Praise God for Leading U.S. and Cuba to Reconciliation, dwkcommentareis.com (Dec. 22, 2014); The Cuban Revolution and Religion, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 30, 2011); posts listed in the “Pope Francis Visits to Cuba & U.S., 2015” section of List of Post to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA; Bishops lament that the Catholic church lacks a ‘massive social presence in Cuba,’ Diario de Cuba (Sept. 3, 2019).

[7] See posts  to dwkcommentaries about the Commission on Unalienable Rights; U.S. State Department’s First Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom, dwkcommentries.com  (July 7, 2019); U.S. State Department’s Second Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom , dwkcommentaries.com(July 21, 2019); Realpolitik Analysis of U.S. Ministerial To Advance Religious Liberty and U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights (July 23, 2019).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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[1] Castro Morales, Who is Teo Babún and why is he going after Cuba?, Granma (Feb. 21, 2019); Sanchez, The ‘charity’ made in Miami and the strange faith of ECHOCuba, The Insomniac Pupil (April 18, 2011); EchoCuba, About US; ECFA, ECHOCuba.

[2] Eaton, God, USAID and Cuba, Cuba Money Project (Nov. 20, 2018); Eaton, Cuba spending under Trump, Cuba Money Project (June 17, 2019); Eaton, Lawmakers want $20 million for Cuba projects in 2020, Cuba Money Project (June 21, 2019); AmericasReliefTeam, Cuban Humanitarian Support Network. The Cuba Money Project is a U.S. “journalism initiative aimed at reporting stories about U.S. government programs and projects related to Cuba” that is operated by Tracey Eaton, a journalist and former Havana bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News.

[3] Bodenheimer, How American Evangelicals Helped Stop Same-Sex Marriage in Cuba, VICE (April 20, 2019).

 

 

 

 

U.S. Unjustified Campaign To Discredit Cuba’s Foreign Medical Mission Program 

Over the last several years, the U.S. has been waging a campaign seeking to discredit Cuba’s foreign medical mission program. This campaign includes the State Department’s annual reports on human trafficking that have alleged Cuba has been engaged in illegal forced labor of some of its medical professionals in these programs. Another part was the recent decision to deny U.S. visas to Cuban officials directing the medical mission program.[1] The most recent measure has been the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID’s) soliciting bids to conduct research and analysis of evidence regarding the forced labor allegation. Some Congressmen also have suggested reactivation of a U.S. program providing U.S. parole visas for such medical professionals to be admitted to the U.S.[2] Unsurprisingly Cuba denies these allegations and condemns these U.S. programs. (Emphases added.)

Here we will look at key parts of this trafficking in persons report, the recent USAID solicitation of bids for research and analysis, Cuba’s response to that solicitation and a demonstration why the U.S. allegations are specious.

U.S. 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report [3]

The most recent such report, which was issued on June 20, 2019, said the following, in part:

  • In November 2018, Cuban healthcare workers filed a class action in the U.S. District Court Southern District of Florida under the Trafficking Victims Protection and the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization Acts alleging the Cuban government profited from the export of healthcare professionals; the case remains pending.[4] In Brazil, the Cuban government collected revenue for each professional’s services and paid the worker a fraction of the revenue depositing a large percentage of the worker’s wages in an account in Cuba only accessible upon completion of the mission and return to Cuba. . . . Some participants in foreign medical missions as well as other sources allege Cuban officials force or coerce participation in the program; the government has stated the postings are voluntary, and some participants also have stated the postings are voluntary and well-paid compared to jobs within Cuba. Observers report the government does not inform participants of the terms of their contracts, making them more vulnerable to forced labor. The Cuban government acknowledges that it withholds passports of overseas medical personnel in Venezuela; the government provided identification cards to such personnel. Some Cuban medical personnel claim they work long hours without rest and face substandard working and living conditions in some countries, including a lack of hygienic conditions and privacy. Observers note Cuban authorities coerced some participants to remain in the program, including by withholding their passports, restricting their movement, using “minders” to conduct surveillance of participants outside of work, threatening to revoke their medical licenses, retaliate against their family members in Cuba if participants leave the program, or impose criminal penalties, exile, and family separation if participants do not return to Cuba as directed by government supervisors.” (Emphases added.)

USAID’s Solicitation of Research Bids [5]

On August 12, 2019, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced that it was offering up to $3 million to organizations that would “investigate, collect, and analyze information related to human rights violations – including forced labor – of Cuban medical personnel exported overseas.”

USAID purported to justify this effort by alleging, “The Cuban regime exploits its medical professionals, teachers and other workers, using them to buy international financial and political support and keep its struggling economy afloat, while pocketing the majority of these workers’ salaries and subjecting them to poor living conditions, constant surveillance, and threatening those who wish to leave their mission. At the same time, Cubans on the island struggle to find adequate healthcare and other basic services while the regime touts the false narrative that it has the best medical care in the world.” (Emphasis added.)

In addition, USAID said, “the information collected should also document the effects of these practices on Cubans on the island. The data collected would be used for advocacy within Cuba, in Latin America and with regional and international bodies, such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in an effort to pressure the Cuban regime to improve the living conditions of doctors and other workers, and promote greater respect for labor and other basic human rights for all Cuban citizens.”

Cuba’s Response[6]

In an August 30 Declaration, the Cuba Foreign Ministry “energetically denounces and condemns the recent aggression of the government of the United States against Cuba via a USAID program designed to fund actions and information searches to discredit and sabotage the international cooperation being provided by Cuba in the health area in dozens of countries for the benefit of millions of persons.  This is an endeavor added to the crude pressures exercised against a number of governments in order to obstruct Cuban cooperation and to the earlier efforts for the same purpose such as the special ‘parole’ program designed to steal human resources trained in Cuba.”

“The heart of this immoral calumny consists of alleging, with no factual foundations whatsoever, that Cuba is involved in the traffic of persons or in the practice of slavery, and wishing to degrade the meritorious work that hundreds of thousands of Cuban health professionals and technicians are voluntarily undertaking, and have been undertaking, throughout history, in a number of countries, especially in the Third World.”

This is “an affront to the bilateral and intergovernmental cooperation programs, all lawfully set up between the Cuban Government and the governments of dozens of countries, which have been consistent with the [U.N.] guidelines referring to South–South cooperation and which have responded to the health requirements that those same governments have defined in a sovereign manner.”

“This is an attack against the efforts in solidarity which have received the acknowledgement of the international community and the specific praise from the most senior officials of the United Nations, the World Health Organization and the Pan-American Health Organization.”

“These lies reveal the low morality of the [U.S.] government and its politicians who devoted themselves to the business of aggression against Cuba.  The campaign has millions of dollars of funds and the complicity of a number of the mass media giants and, particularly, of unscrupulous reporters who have sacrificed their so-called impartiality and objectivity in the service of the political interests of the [U.S.] government.”

“For decades . . . in those nations having more unfavorable economic conditions, that cooperation has been provided, and is being provided, as a gesture of solidarity; its expenses are covered by Cuba practically in their entirety. Likewise, and following the [U.N.] conceptions on cooperation between developing countries, this is being offered in various nations on the basis of complementarity and partial compensation for services rendered.”

Cuba has provided “self-sacrificing and humanist professionals ready and willing to work of their own free will in the most difficult of conditions, and of the ideas of health coverage that years of successful experience has permitted us to build up.”

“The Cuban technicians and professionals participating in those programs do so in an absolutely free and voluntary manner.  While serving their missions, they continue to be paid their entire Cuban salaries and they also receive stipends from the destination countries, along with other forms of compensation.”

“In cases where Cuba receives compensation for the cooperation being provided, those . . . [countries] distinguish themselves by contributing a highly valued, fair and totally lawful amount for the funding, sustainability and development of the massive and free health system that is accessible to each and every Cuban, as well as for the cooperation programs that are carried into many parts of the world.”

“Access to health is a human right.  The United States is committing a crime when it wishes to deny that or to obstruct it for political reasons or as aggression.”

This Cuban criticism was echoed in an August 31 tweet by President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who said, “The carelessness, the lie, the perversity of the empire crumble before the moral height accumulated by the dignified history of the Cuban missions in health.”

The Specious U.S. Allegation of Illegal Forced Labor [7]

The contention that Cuban medical personnel in Cuba’s foreign medical mission program are engaged in illegal forced labor is meritless for at least the following reasons:

  • Medical education in Cuba is free and requiring medical graduates to pay the country back by such participation seems entirely appropriate and may indeed be a contractual or quasi-contractual obligation.
  • International medical aid has been a significant part of the Cuban people’s tradition of international solidarity, and some Cuban medical personnel have said that such service had a major positive impact on their lives and medical careers.
  • The relevant standard for evaluating the allegationthat Cuba’s international medical mission program violates international law is the International Labor Organization’s Forced Labour Convention, 1930.
  • That multilateral Convention or treaty provides that “for the purposes of this Convention, the term forced or compulsory labour shall not include . . . any work or service which forms part of the normal civic obligations of the citizens of a fully self-governing country.” (Art. 2(2)(b).) (Emphasis added.)
  • Although it is true that the Cuban government receives direct payment from other countries for the foreign medical mission program and that the Cuban government retains some of those payments before paying the Cuban medical professionals, it also is true that such payments to those professionals exceed what they would have earned for similar services in Cuba. In addition, some of the payments to the Cuban professionals are deposited in Cuban accounts only accessible upon their completion of service and return to Cuba. But such practices do not constitute proof of forced labor.
  • While it also is true that some Cuban medical professionals who have participated or are now participating in the foreign medical mission program allege that they were coerced into doing so, the report indicates that the Cuban government and other participants deny that allegation and that there has been no independent adjudication of that allegation. (Emphases added.)
  • Also relevant to this allegation is Cuban medical professionals’ undoubted awareness of the significantly higher compensation they potentially could obtain if they were able to relocate in the U.S. or certain other countries.
  • A detailed study by Indiana State University’s Emeritus Professor of International Politics and Latin America, Dr. H. Michael Erisman, has rejected this accusation of forced labor.

The latest report on Cuba also fails to mention that the U.S. and Cuba apparently had friendly bilateral discussions about other human trafficking issues during the Obama Administration (2015 through January 17, 2017) and the Trump Administration (2017-2018).

The hypocrisy of the State Department’s repeated assertion of this claim of forced labor without recognizing the ILO’s Forced Labour Convention is shown by Secretary of State Pompeo’s congratulating the ILO on its centennial anniversary only one day after the release of the 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report. The Secretary said:

  • “The dignitaries that convened in Paris in 1919 to end the Great War knew that any lasting peace needed to be rooted in the protection of individual rights, including the rights of workers and employers to associate freely and bargain collectively. “
  • The United States proudly hosted the first International Labor Conference in 1919 and the “war-time conference that enshrined the ILO’s enduring founding principles and aims in the Declaration of Philadelphia. As strong supporters of the ILO and its mission, we reflect on the important role played by Americans to create and sustain this organization, including David Morse, who served as ILO Director-General for 22 years, and under whose leadership the ILO won the Nobel Peace Prize.”
  • “As the ILO enters its second century pursuing objectives critical to economic prosperity and security around the world, the United States recommits itself to advancing the rights of workers globally.

Another rebuttal of the U.S. allegations about the medical mission program recently was provided by a U.S. citizen, Dr. Graham Sowa, who has a Cuban medical degree and who now is a resident in internal medicine in a Florida hospital. He did not participate in the Cuban medical mission program, but his Cuban friends who are now physicians have done so and who totally reject this allegation. Sowa said, ““Cuba says they want to provide humanity with medical care. It is their commitment toward international solidarity.”

Conclusion

No matter how many times the U.S. alleges that Cuba’s foreign medical mission program engages in illegal forced labor does not make it so. The U.S. has not even publicly submitted an attempted legal justification for these allegations.  The U.S. is wasting money on this specious claim.

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

 

[1]  New U.S. Government Hostility Towards Cuba’s Medical Mission Program, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 14, 2019)

[2] Senators Rubio and Menendez Call for Restoring U.S. Parole Program for Cuban Doctors, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 11, 2019). See also posts listed n the “Cuban Medical Personnel & U.S.” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[3] State Department Unjustly Downgrades Cuba in Annual Report on Human Trafficking, dwkcommentaries.com (June 22, 2019).

[4]  Pais, Health Organization Accused of Trafficking Doctors to Brazil, Courthouse News Service (Dec. 3, 2018)  The class action complaint, which was filed November 30, 2018, alleges that the Pan American Health Organization collected over $75 million since 2013 by enabling and managing the illegal trafficking of Cuban medical professionals in violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Nothing of substance has happened so far in this case. The last docket entry was on July 2, 2019, for an order setting a hearing on July 18, 2019, for Pan American Health’s objections to and appeal from a magistrate judge’s order denying its motion to transfer the case to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. (Civil Docket, Rodriguez v. Pan American Health Org., Case #: 1:18-cv-24995-DPG (Aug. 30, 2019).

[5] Eaton, USAID plans to spend up to $3 million to investigate Cuban doctors, Cuba Solidarity Campaign (Aug. 12, 2019).

[6] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Statement: The Government of the United States Is Earmarking Millions of Dollars To Obstruct Cuban Medical Cooperation (Aug. 30, 2019); The regime blames the US for complaints about the exploitation of Cuban doctors, Diario de Cuba (Aug. 29, 2019); Diaz-Canel described the ‘attacks’ and the ‘attacks by the US on the slae of medical services, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 1, 2019).

[7] State Department Unjustly Downgrades Cuba in Annual Report on Human Trafficking, dwkcommentaries.com (June 22, 2019); Guzzo, Are Cuban physicians human trafficking victims? No way, says Brandon doctor with Havana degree, Tampa Bay Times (Aug. 29, 2019).

 

 

Washington Post Criticizes Commission on Unalienable Rights

An August 23, editorial in the Washington Post criticized the recently established U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights.[1] It thereby joins this blog and many other voices in finding this Commission unnecessary and misguided.

According to the Post, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has lamented so called “ad hoc rights” and “the proliferation of rights claims” and called for a return to fundamentals or “unalienable rights.” Yet to date the Secretary has not “spelled out what he means” or offered “a single concrete example of what rights he wants to curtail.” This has prompted many human rights advocates to complain that the true purpose of the Commission is to exclude women’s reproductive rights or LGBT rights.

President Trump, however, “does not adhere to principle on human rights.” Instead, these two leaders “have singled out abuses when it suits their purpose” while turning “a blind eye toward the unsavory activities of regimes they favor.”

Therefore, “rather than. . . [tweaking] definitions [of human rights], Mr. Pompeo should start honestly speaking the truth about the world’s most frequent and serious rights violators.” [2]

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[1]  Editorial, Why redefine U.S. policy on human rights?, Wash. Post (Aug. 23, 2019).

[2] A recent article about  Pompeo reports that as an unsuccessful Kansas businessman he had the financial backing of the Koch brothers; that this Koch support continued while Pompeo was a Congressman and fierce critic of President Obama’s foreign policy; that Pompeo in 2016 was determined to stop Trump from getting the GOP’s presidential nomination, but at the party’s National Convention that year had switched to supporting Trump; that Trump’s November 16, 2016, interview of Pompeo was the first time they had met; that Pompeo as director of the CIA held daily briefings with Trump and waged what a former White House official described as a “concerted campaign” to replace Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State; that the State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights, banning the gay-pride flag at U.S. diplomatic posts and scepticism about climate change are parts of “Pompeo’s own ideological agenda;” and that Pompeo is approaching the Secretary’s job “like a future Presidential candidate.” (Glasser, The Secretary of Trump, The New Yorker (Aug. 26, 2019).)

 

U.S.-Cuba Conflict Over Cuban Journalist

Roberto Jesús Quiñones, a contributor to the independent Cuban news website CubaNet, has a history of harassment by Cuban authorities. He is barred from leaving the country and has been detained several times. [1]

Most Recent Cuban Charges Against Journalist

The most recent Cuban persecution of Quiñones started on April 18, 2019, when police agents forcefully took him off of a bus, brought him to a police station, and interrogated him, with an officer telling him “we are taking note of your articles.”

Three days later (April 21) he was arrested outside of the Guantánamo Municipal Tribunal, where he was covering the trial of two Cuban evangelical pastors facing charges for homeschooling their children. While the police took him to the police station, he was beaten, injuring his mouth, tongue, and right thumb and causing an inflammation in his right ear.

When he was released from jail five days later, Cuban authorities initiated a new proceeding against him, alleging that his conduct during his detention constituted “resistance” and “disobedience,” for which they imposed a fine, which he refused to pay.

This refusal to pay the fine lead to a trial in a municipal court and to its August 7th  sentencing Quiñones, to one year in a labor camp on charges of “resistance” and “disobedience.” His appeal to another court for a new trial was denied on August 19.

After the most recent detention of Quiñones, the Committee to Protect Journalist’s Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick said, “The ongoing pattern of detentions of independent journalists like Roberto Jesús Quiñones shows that recent political reforms have not improved the situation for the press. If President Miguel Díaz-Canel wants to show the world that his government is committed to positive change in Cuba, authorities should immediately free Quiñones without charge and stop harassing journalists.”

The one-year sentence also drew this rebuke from the Committee’s Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney in New York. “The fact that Roberto Quiñones is sentenced to prison for failing to pay a fine, while the police agents who beat and detained him for days receive no punishment, is outrageous. If authorities in Cuba want to convey an image of progress and openness to the international community, mistreating, jailing, and fining a journalist sends the wrong message.”

Secretary Pompeo’s Reaction

All of this prompted U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo on August 21 to issue a statement condemning the journalist’s prosecution and calling “upon the Cuban regime to immediately release Mr. Quinones and to cease their abuse and mistreatment.” Pompeo also said his “detention and trial were marked by the flagrant disregard for legal norms that are typical of the Cuban regime.  Cuban authorities did not inform Quinones of the charges against him until minutes before the trial, and did not permit him legal representation in the courtroom.  The regime’s prosecutors did not permit Quinones to present evidence of his injuries at the hands of the police who arrested him. Adding cruelty to injustice, regime officials have refused to allow Quinones to visit his ailing father.”

Pompeo concluded with these words. “Sadly, this is just one more example of the Cuban regime’s ongoing violation of human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression and to fair trial guarantees.  We will continue to use targeted sanctions and trade restrictions to cut off resources from the Cuban regime, which uses its income to repress its own people, and to prop up the Maduro regime in Venezuela.”

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[1] Comm. to Protect Journalists, Cuban police detain and beat journalist Roberto Jesús Quiñones in Guantánamo (April 24, 2019); The regime sanctions independent journalist Roberto Jeśus Quiñones Haces to one year in jail, Diario de Cuba (Aug. 7, 2019); Comm. to Protect Journalists, Cuba sentences journalist Roberto Jesús Quiñones to one-year prison term (Aug. 8, 2019); The journalist Roberto Jesús Quiñones asks to have a new trial, Diario de Cuba (Aug. 12, 2019); The regime refuses to hold a new trial against Roberto Jesús Quiñones, Diario de Cuba (Aug. 19, 2019); U.S. State Dep’t, Press Statement: On the Prosecution of Cuban Journalist Roberto Quinones (Aug. 21, 2019); Assoc. Press, US Urges Cuba to Drop Criminal Charges Against Journalist, N.Y. Times (Aug. 21, 2019).

 

 

 

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.

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

[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).

New U.S. Government Hostility Towards Cuba’s Medical Mission Program

On July 28, 2019, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo announced that the U.S. would no longer issue visas to Cuban officials who were directing that country’s medical mission program.[1] Here is the text of that announcement:

  • “The Cuban government engages in exploitative and coercive labor practices while it earns money on the backs of its citizens through its overseas medical missions program.  To address this labor abuse, the Department has imposed visa restrictions on certain Cuban officials and other individuals responsible for these coercive labor practices under the Immigration and Nationality Act Section 212(a)(3)(C).  These practices include working long hours, housing in unsafe areas, and compelling Cuban medical professionals to advance the regime’s political agenda.  Such visa restrictions could include immediate family members of these individuals.”

Response to U.S. Action

Previous posts have discussed Cuba’s foreign medical mission program and the invalidity of U.S. allegations that the program engages in illegal forced labor.[2] Here the main reasons for that invalidity:

First, “Internationalist medical aid has been a longstanding part of the Cuban people’s tradition of solidarity, since the beginning of the Revolution. As early as 1960 a brigade was sent to Chile following an earthquake there, and to Algeria in 1963, to support the new country recently liberated from colonialism.” At least four Cuban doctors who have participated in such missions have recorded how they treasure the positive impact of those experiences on their professional and personal lives.[3]

Second, the accusation of forced labor for such participants has been rejected in a detailed study by Indiana State University’s Emeritus Professor of International Politics and Latin America, Dr. H. Michael Erisman.  He says, although there may be “some cases where . . . [Cuban medical professionals] are pressured into accepting overseas assignments, . . . most evidence indicates that the overwhelming majority are motivated by philosophical and/or pragmatic considerations. In the first instance, one needs to understand that the Cuban medical profession . . . is permeated by norms which stress self-sacrifice and service to the community, both at home and abroad. At the core of this ethos is the principle, which is firmly entrenched in the curriculum of the island’s medical schools and reinforced throughout one’s career, that health care should not be seen as a business driven by a profit motive, but rather as a human right that medical personnel have an unconditional duty to protect. Such convictions often underlie participation in the medical aid brigades. There are, however, also some pragmatic factors that can come into play. Overseas service could . . . help to further one’s professional aspirations and for some assignments the total remuneration involved is more generous than what is available back in Cuba. . . . [T]hese are the considerations which apply to the vast majority of people” in such programs, not involuntary servitude.[4]

 Third, relevant to this issue is the fact that medical education in Cuba (at the Latin American School of Medicine) is free. As a result requiring medical graduates to pay the country back by such participation seems entirely appropriate and may indeed be a contractual or quasi-contractual obligation. The recent $67 monthly salary for Cuban physicians in Cuba compared with the $24 or $27 monthly income of other Cubans is a result of Cuba’s adoption of a “pyramid” compensation system whereby highly trained workers like physicians earn more than lower-skilled workers like busboys. This system, however, is being undermined by lower-skilled workers like gas-station attendants and waiters earning additional income from stealing and illegally selling gasoline and from earning tips in hard currency at restaurants and hotels serving foreign tourists. Indeed, Raúl Castro in his speech at the April 2016 Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba called this the “inverted pyramid” problem that had to be solved.[5]

 Fourth, international law does not support this allegation.

Most pertinent is the Forced Labour Convention, 1930, which Cuba and 177 other state members of the International Labour Organization have ratified (as of 2016). The U.S., however, has not so ratified, yet another reason why the U.S. charge is inapt.

This treaty’s  Article 2(1) preliminarily defines  “forced or compulsory labour” as “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily,” But there are five exceptions to this definition set forth in the treaty’s Article 2(2). One such exception, in subsection (b), states  ”the term forced or compulsory labour shall not include . . .  any work or service which forms part of the normal civic obligations of the citizens of a fully self-governing country.” (Emphases added.)[5]

Cuba clearly is a “fully self-governing country” and the participants in the foreign medical missions are Cuban “citizens,” and as previously stated, such participation is regarded as “part of the normal civic obligations” of such citizens with the appropriate medical qualifications. Thus, under the most relevant statement of international law, Cuba has not engaged in illegal forced labor with respect to the foreign medical missions.

Fifth, there has not been any fair adjudicative process that has determined that such illegal coercion exists.

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, Press Statement: Visa Actions Against Cuban Officials (July 28, 2019); NBC News-Miami, US Restricts Visas for Cubans Involved in Overseas Medicine (July 28, 2019).

[2]  See U.S. State Department Unjustly Continues to Allege That Cuba’s Foreign Medical Missions Engage in Forced Labor (Aug. 17, 2017) See also the list of posts in the “Cuban Medical Personnel & U.S”  in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Cuba.

[3] Ledn, Cuban doctors share their experiences in internationalist missions,Granma (Nov. 26, 2015).

[4] Erisman, Brain Drain Politics: the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Programme, Int’l J. Cuban Studies  269, 286-87 (2012).

[5] This and other parts of the definition of “forced or compulsory labour” were reaffirmed in Article 1(3) of the Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention, 1930.

 

U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights Is Denounced by Large Group of Human Rights Organizations and Activists

On July 23, the U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights was denounced in a letter from 179 organizations representing a broad range of American and international civil society along with 251 former senior government officials, faith-based leaders, scholars, educators and advocates.[1]

The Letter

The letter began by expressing their “deep concern” with the Commission and by objecting to its “stated purpose, which we find harmful to the global effort to protect the rights of all people and a waste of resources; the Commission’s make-up, which lacks ideological diversity and appears to reflect a clear interest in limiting human rights, including the rights of women and LGBTQI; and the process by which the Commission came into being and is being administered, which has sidelined human rights experts in the State Department’s own Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.”

These concerns, the letter said, were inconsistent with the Secretary’s own affirmance “of the importance of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights . . . . [and by his saying] the language of human rights has become the common vernacular for discussions of human freedom and dignity all around the world, and these are truly great achievements.” Indeed, the letter commented, “the story of the international human rights movement is one of the deepened recognition and protective reach of rights based on the painstaking work of social movements, scholars, and diplomats, through international agreements and law.”

“Given this history, we view with great misgiving . . .[the Commission] aimed expressly at circumscribing rights through an artificial sorting of those that are ‘unalienable’ and those to be now deemed ‘ad hoc.’ These terms simply have no place in human rights discourse. It is a fundamental tenet of human rights that all rights are universal and equal. Governments cannot take or discard them as they choose. Like other governments, the U.S. government is bound to certain obligations codified in widely ratified international treaties. . . . [The Commission] is a waste of time and energy better spent on actual human rights issues. More ominously, the reference to ‘ad hoc’ rights resembles language used by autocratic and dictatorial governments, which frequently speak in terms of a hierarchy of rights.”

The letter’s signatories also are “dismayed by the well-documented views of a significant majority of the Commission’s 10 members. . . . Almost all of . . . [its] members have focused their professional lives and scholarship on questions of religious freedom, and some have sought to elevate it above other fundamental rights. . . . No Commissioner focuses nearly as exclusively on any other issue of pressing concern. . . .”

“Moreover, the commission’s chair and members are overwhelmingly clergy or scholars known for extreme positions opposing LGBTQI and reproductive rights, and some have taken public stances in support of indefensible human rights violations. . . .”

Therefore, this letter urged the Secretary “to immediately disband this body, and to focus your personal attention on the significant challenges facing the protection of human rights globally.”

Comments by Letter’s Organizer

Upon the release of this letter, its organizer, Rob Berschinski, the Senior Vice President, Policy of Human Rights First, stated:

  • “There’s a reason that Secretary Pompeo purposefully avoided engaging the State Department’s human rights experts in establishing the Commission on Unalienable Rights and selecting its members. There is no world in which the Commission benefits the cause of human rights, though in all likelihood it will provide ample fodder for bigotry. Given the views of the majority of the commissioners, the Commission should be seen for what it is: an attempt to rationalize a caste system of rights to exclude LGBTQ people and those in need of family planning.”
  • “For decades, dictators have spoken about ‘clarifying’ and ‘prioritizing’ certain rights in order to justify their actions. In order to defend this highly misguided effort, the Secretary of State is adopting similar rhetoric. His aims may be different, but the effect will be the same on marginalized people. If Secretary Pompeo really wanted to support human rights, he’d have a hard talk with President Trump and stop defending autocrats from Saudi Arabia to Hungary. Instead, he’s wasting staff time and taxpayer dollars in an attempt to generate intellectual cover for his ideologically regressive agenda.”

Conclusion

This blog shares many of the concerns in this letter as set forth in many previous posts about this Commission.

However, this letter’s allegations about the opinions and positions of some of the Commission’s members are not documented and, therefore, cannot be accepted at face value. In addition, the letter’s call for an immediate disbanding of this body is totally unrealistic.

Nevertheless, given the large number of prominent human rights organizations and individuals who are signatories to this letter, it is an important development on a serious, important issue involving the U.S. Therefore, it is shocking that research has not disclosed any discussions of this letter by prominent U.S. news media.

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[1] Letter, human rights first to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo (July 23, 2019); Human Rights First Press Release, Diverse Coalition Calls for Disbanding State Department Commission on Unalienable Human Rights (July 23, 2019); Lederman & Lee, human rights groups lead chorus of alarm over new Trump administration commission, NBC News (July 23, 2019); Budryk, Democrats, advocacy groups urge Pompeo to abolish new ‘unalienable rights’ commission, The Hill (July 24, 2019).