This year two bipartisan congressional bills have been filed to reverse two U.S. policies regarding Cuba. The most recent one would improve U.S. travel to the island while the other would abolish the U.S. embargo of Cuba.
On July 23, 2019, H.R. 3960 (Freedom for Americans To Travel to Cuba) was introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman James McGovern (Dem., MA) and referred to the House Committee on Foreign Relations and the next day to its Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs. It had 15 Democratic cosponsors–Kathy Castor (FL), Barbara Lee (CA), Jose Serrano (NY), Donald Beyer (VA), Jarred Huffman ( (CA), Raul Grijalva (AZ), Peter Welch (VT), Karen Bass (CA), Eleanor Norton (D.C.), Ro Khanna (CA), Maxine Waters (CA), Janice Schakowsky (Il), James Ranking (MD), Eliot Engel (NY) and Donald Payne (NJ). They were joined by five Republicans so-sponsors–Tom Emmer (MN), Rick Crawford (AR), Darin LaHood (IL), Guy Reschenthaler (PA) and Denver Riggleman (VA).
Representative McGovern said, “Every single American should have the freedom to travel as they see fit. Yet the travel ban deliberately punishes the American people – our very best ambassadors – and prevents them from engaging directly with the Cuban people. It is a Cold-War relic that serves only to isolate the United States from our allies and partners in the region, while strengthening the control of ideological hardliners in both countries. It’s time for us to listen to the majority of Americans, Cuban-Americans, and Cubans who do not support the travel ban, and get rid of it once and for all.”
On July 29, Senator Patrick Leahy (Dem., VT) and 46 cosponsors (40 Democrats, 4 Republicans and 2 Independents) introduced a companion bill in the Senate “so Americans can travel to Cuba in the same way that they can travel to every other country in the world except North Korea. . . . It is indefensible that the federal government restricts American citizens and legal residents from traveling to a tiny country 90 miles away that poses no threat to us. At a time when U.S. airlines are flying to Cuba, does anyone here honestly think that preventing Americans from traveling there is an appropriate role of the federal government? Why only Cuba? Why not Venezuela? Or Russia? Or Iran, or anywhere else? It is a vindictive, discriminatory, self-defeating vestige of a time long passed.”
In February of this year U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN) with co-sponsors Patrick Leahy (Dem., VT) and Michael Enzi (Rep., WY) introduced the Freedom To Export to Cuba Act of 2019 (S.428). Subsequent co-sponsors are Senators Tina Smith (Dem., MN) and Elizabeth Warren (Dem., MA). The bill was referred to the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.
Given the split party-control of the two houses of Congress, not much is expected for any progress on these bills in this Session of Congress.
On July 23, 2019, a group of 22 Senators told Secretary of State Pompeo of their “deep concern” over the new U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights. 
The Senators said they “vehemently disagree” with the Secretary’s assertion that there was “confusion” over what human rights are. “The 1948 UN declaration of Human Rights begins by declaring that the recognition of the equal and inalienable rights ‘of all members of the human family is the foundation of the freedom, justice and peace.’ Moreover, widely ratified international treaties codify ‘inalienable’ rights.”
The letter continued, “it seems the administration is reluctant—or even hostile—to protected established internationally recognized definitions of human rights, particularly those requiring it to uphold protections for reproductive rights and the rights of marginalized communities, including LGBT persons. The [Secretary’s] assertion that decades of well-defined agreement on human rights has sown confusion over what rights are is simply an Orwellian twist to defend the indefensible.” In short, the Commission is “absurd, particularly from an administration that has taken a wrecking ball to America’s global leadership on protecting human rights across the world” by supporting “despotic governments abroad,” by “ignoring the devastating abuses and rights of children and families on our border” and by President Trump’s fawning “ over current abusers of human rights such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The senators also were concerned that the Commission’s membership was not fairly balanced, in accordance with federal law (41 C.F.R. Section 102-3.30). “The Commission’s chair and members are overwhelmingly clergy or scholars known to support discriminatory policies toward LGBT persons, hold views hostile to women’s rights and reproductive freedom, and/or support positions at odds with U.S. treaty obligations.”
Finally the letter protested the Secretary’s failure to consult or obtain input from the Department’s career human rights experts.
This letter to Pompeo was organized by Senator Bob Menendez (NJ), the Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The letter was signed by the following Democratic presidential candidates: Kamala Harris (CA), Michael Bennet (CO), Elizabeth Warren (MA), Amy Klobuchar (MN), Cory Booker (NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) and Bernie Sanders (IN, VT). Other Democratic Senator signatories were Tammy Baldwin (WI), Richard Blumenthal (CT), Benjamin L. Cardin (MD), Christopher Coons (DE), Tammy Duckworth (IL), Patrick Leahy (VT), Edward J. Markey (MA), Jeffrey A. Merkley (OR), Patty Murray (WA ), Jack Reed (RI), Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Tina Smith (MN), Chris Van Hollen (MD), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) and Ben Wyden (OR).
This blog, which is sceptical about the true purpose of this Commission, has published many posts about this Commission.
On November 1, 2017, the United Nations General Assembly again overwhelmingly adopted a resolution condemning the U.S. embargo (blockade) of Cuba. The vote this year was 191 to 2 (the negative votes by the U.S. and Israel), as shown in the following photograph of the Assembly’s scoreboard.
The debate on the resolution was preceded by (a) Cuba’s 47-page report, dated June 2017, on the previous U.N. General Assembly Resolution on the subject and which alleges that Cuba has sustained damages from the embargo totaling $130.2 billion (at current prices); (b) the July 26, 2017, Report of the U.N. Secretary-General containing statements in support of this year’s resolution from 32 U.N. organs and agencies and from 160 U.N. member states and 2 observers, but nothing from the U.S. and Israel, which prior to 2016 opposed similar resolutions and which abstained in 2016; (c) Cuba’s report on its achievements despite the embargo (blockade); and (d) Cuba’s report on the embargo’s impact on the country’s development.
The actual resolution, “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba” (A/RES/72/42) had two principal operative paragraphs.
It reiterated “its call upon all States to refrain from promulgating and applying laws and measures [like the U.S. embargo against Cuba] . . . in conformity with their obligations under the Charter of the United Nations and international law, which, inter alia, reaffirm the freedom of trade and navigation.” (¶ 2). It also urged “States that have and continue to apply such laws and measures to take the steps necessary to repeal or invalidate them as soon as possible in accordance with their legal regime.” (¶ 3).
The resolution’s preamble reaffirmed “the sovereign equality of States, non-intervention and non-interference in their internal affairs and freedom of international trade and navigation, which are also enshrined in many international legal instruments” and recited the previous General Assembly resolutions against the embargo. It then recalled “the measures adopted by the Executive of the United States [President Obama] in 2015 and 2016 to modify several aspects of the application of the embargo, which contrast with the measures announced on 16 June 2017 [by President Trump] to reinforce its implementation.”
The resolution was presented by Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla. Here is the U.N.’s summary of his remarks:
The U.S. “new policy on Cuba was intended to take relations back to a past of confrontation. Two thirds of the [U.S.] population, including Cuban immigrants living in the[U.S.], were in favor of lifting the blockade. Action to the contrary meant that the [U.S.] Government was acting in an undemocratic fashion. He recalled that on 16 June, President Trump announced a series of measures intended to tighten the blockade in a hostile speech before an audience made up of staunch followers of the Batista regime, annexationists and terrorists.”
There was “total isolation of the [U.S.] in this room” and “without any evidence, it was using as a pretext the ailments affecting some diplomats in Havana and adopting new political measures against Cuba which further tightened the blockade. President Trump does not have the least moral authority to question Cuba. He is heading a Government of millionaires destined to implement savage measures against lower‑income families, poor people, minorities and immigrants. The [U.S.] had its own set of issues to deal with, including the country’s lack of guarantees in education and health, the assassination of African‑Americans by law enforcement and the brutal measures threatening the children of illegal aliens who grew up in the [U.S.]”
“Recalling the military interventions carried out by the [U.S.] against Cuba, he said that 60 years of domination had been ended by the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959. When Cuban President Raúl Castro Ruz and then United States President Barack Obama made their hopeful announcement in December 2014, Mr. Obama described the blockade against Cuba as an obsolete policy which had failed to meet its goals. However, the embargo was never recognized for what it was: a massive violation of the human rights of Cubans and an act of genocide. Citing Cuban figures, he said between April 2016 and April 2017, losses caused by the blockade to the Cuban economy had been estimated at over $4 billion. There is not a Cuban family or social service that has not suffered the deprivations resulting from the blockade.”
The statements of the U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley “were disrespectful,” and the U.S. “does not have the slightest moral authority to criticize Cuba.” The U.S. Ambassador “is lying.” Now the U.S. is using “as ailments affecting some diplomats in Havana without any evidence” in order to adopt “new political measures against Cuba which further tightened the blockade.”
During the debate, at least 38 other countries expressed their support of the resolution.
U.S. Opposition to the Resolution
In voting against the resolution, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, stated the following:
“For over 55 years, the Cuban regime has used this debate in the [U.N.] General Assembly as a shiny object to distract the world’s attention from the destruction it has inflicted on its own people and on others in the Western Hemisphere.”
“Even during the Cuban missile crisis, when the Castro dictatorship allowed the Soviet Union to secretly install nuclear missiles in Cuba, the Cuban regime and its Soviet allies claimed that the real threat to peace wasn’t the missiles aimed at America. The real threat, they said, was the [U.S.’] discovery of these missiles. At the time, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson, identified the Cuban regime’s habit of pointing fingers anywhere but at itself. He said, ‘This is the first time…I have ever heard it said that the crime is not the burglar but the discovery of the burglar – and that the threat is not the clandestine missiles in Cuba but their discovery and the limited measures taken to quarantine further infection.’”
“Today, the crime is the Cuban government’s continued repression of its people and failure to meet even the minimum requirements of a free and just society. Our response has been to stand with the Cuban people and their right to determine their own future. For this, each year, this Assembly’s time is wasted considering this resolution. And the [U.S.] is subjected to all manner of ridiculous claims – anything to deflect attention from the regime that is actually responsible for the suffering of the Cuban people. But the [U.S.] will not be distracted. We will not lose sight of what stands between the Cuban people and the free and democratic future that is their right.”
“For that reason, and for the 25th time in 26 years, the United States will vote against this resolution.”
“One year ago, the United States abstained when voting on the same resolution. The reason given was that the continuation of the embargo was not isolating Cuba but was in fact isolating the [U.S.] It is true that we had been left nearly alone in opposition to this annual resolution. No doubt there will be some here who do not understand how we can take such opposite positions, separated by just 12 months. They will wonder how we could passively accept this resolution last year and energetically oppose it this year.”
“To those who are confused as to where the [U.S.] stands, let me be clear: as is their right under our constitution, the American people have spoken. They have chosen a new president, and he has chosen a new ambassador to the [U.N.]”
“As long as the Cuban people continue to be deprived of their human rights and fundamental freedoms – as long as the proceeds from trade with Cuba go to prop up the dictatorial regime responsible for denying those rights – the [U.S.] does not fear isolation in this chamber or anywhere else. Our principles are not up for a vote. They are enshrined in our Constitution. They also happen to be enshrined in the Charter of the[U.N.]. As long as we are members of the [U.N.], we will stand for respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms that the Member States of this body have pledged to protect, even if we have to stand alone.”
“The resolution before us aims to end the [U.S.’] ‘economic, commercial, and financial embargo’ against Cuba. But let’s be honest about what we really see going on here. This assembly does not have the power to end the U.S. embargo. It is based in U.S. law, which only the [U.S.] Congress can change. No, what the General Assembly is doing today – what it does every year at this time – is political theatre.”
“The Cuban regime is sending the warped message to the world that the sad state of its economy, the oppression of its people, and the export of its destructive ideology is not its fault.”
“In the spirit of sending messages, I would like to direct the rest of my comments towards the Cuban people. The American people strongly support your dreams to live in a country where you can speak freely, where you can have uncensored access to the internet, where you can provide for your families, and where you can determine your leadership. We know that many of you have been made hopeful by the opening of diplomatic relations between the [U.S.] and Cuba. That status is not changing. Our friendship and good will toward the Cuban people remain as strong as ever.”
“What you probably don’t know is that your government responded to this gesture of good will, not by joining in the spirit in which it was offered, but by expanding its politically motivated detentions, harassment, and violence against those who advocate for political and economic freedom in Cuba. What you cannot know because your government won’t let you know is that there were credible reports of almost 10,000 politically motivated detentions in Cuba in 2016 alone. That’s a massive increase in detentions over recent years. We had hoped our outreach to your government would be met with greater freedom for you.”
“Your government silences its critics. It disrupts peaceful assemblies. It censors independent journalists and rigs the economy so the government alone profits.”
“Your government has exported its bankrupt, destructive ideology to Venezuela. It has taught the Maduro regime how to silence journalists, crack down on the political opposition, and impoverish its people. Now, millions of Venezuelans join you in being denied their basic rights.”
“As we speak here today, your government is busy choosing the successor to the Castro dictatorship. It is attempting to fool you into believing you have a voice by holding local and regional so-called elections. But the process you are engaged in is not freedom. The results were determined before the first vote was cast.”
“When the [U.S.] abstained on this resolution last year, its decision was explained by saying, ‘We recognize that the future of the island lies in the hands of the Cuban people.’ There is a casual cruelty to that remark for which I am profoundly sorry. Regrettably, as of today, the future of Cuba is not in your hands. It remains in the hands of your dictators.”
“The [U.S.] opposes this resolution today in continued solidarity with the Cuban people and in the hope that they will one day be free to choose their own destiny.”
“We might stand alone today. But when the day of freedom comes for the Cuban people – and it will come – we will rejoice with them as only a free people can.”
The U.S. opposition was no surprise in light of the prior consistent Trump Administration’s statements supporting the embargo and the preceding request to do so from U.S. Senator Marco Rubio.
The day before the U.N. vote, 10 Democratic Senators wrote to President Trump urging the U.S. to abstain on the vote. The “failed embargo,” they said, has been repeatedly and publicly condemned by the international community as ineffective and harmful to the people of Cuba. The longer we maintain this outdated Cold War policy the more our international and regional credibility suffers.” Moreover, “the overwhelming majority of Americana, including Cuban-Americans, and Cubans, including Cuban entrepreneurs and many dissidents, [plus international human rights organizations] oppose the embargo and favor engagement by the [U.S.] with Cuba. These Senators were Patrick Leahy (VT), Amy Klobuchar (MN), Chris Van Hollen (MD), Sherrod Brown (OH), Elizabeth Warren (MA), Jeff Merkley (OR), Jack Reed (RI), Edward Markey (MA), Al Franken (MN) and Sheldon Whitehouse (RI).
The President of Engage Cuba, a U.S. national coalition of private companies, organizations and state and local leaders working to lift the embargo, said, “”Ambassador Haley’s comments highlight the Trump administration’s misguided approach toward Cuba. If the administration spoke to real Cubans, they would know that fears for the future are rooted in what a rollback of engagement means for their businesses, communities and families. The Trump administration seems determined to stand alone in the world, supporting an archaic policy has failed for the last 55 years. And the biggest losers are the people of Cuba.”
As an U.S. citizen-advocate for ending the embargo as soon as possible, I am not pleased with the U.S. opposition to this resolution and to the very hostile tone of Ambassador Haley’s remarks. I obviously regret the U.S. abandonment of last year’s abstention by the U.S. on the prior resolution.
Moreover, too many in the U.S. believe the Cuban damages claim from the embargo is just a crazy Cuban dream, but I disagree. Given the amount of the claim, Cuba will not someday tell the U.S. to forget it, nor will the U.S. write a check for Cuba in that amount. A prior post, therefore, suggested that the two countries agree to submit this claim and any other damage claims by both countries for resolution by an independent international arbitration panel such as those provided by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague in the Netherlands.