New Yorker Report on Medical Problems of U.S. Diplomats in Cuba

The November 19, 2018, issue of The New Yorker has a lengthy article about the medical problems experienced by some U.S. diplomats in Cuba starting in late 2016 (and after the U.S. presidential election). [1]

The conclusion, however, is the same as previously reported: some U.S. personnel did suffer injury and the U.S. Government has publicly stated it does not know the cause or perpetrator of these injuries.[2]

But the article does provide greater details about many of the victims having been CIA agents and about the U.S.-Cuba interactions over these incidents.

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[1] Entous & Anderson, Havana Syndrome, New Yorker at 34  (Nov. 19, 2018).

[2] See posts listed in the “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2017-18” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

Forces Promoting U.S. Hostility Towards Cuba

A prior post reported U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton’s saying the Trump Administration was considering allowing Cuban-Americans to sue companies and others who now control real estate on the island that was seized from them by the Cuban government.

According to the Miami Herald, other major forces behind this proposal are Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) and other South Florida lawmakers.[1]

Rubio, who is seen as one of the president’s principal advisers on Western Hemisphere issues, has pushed the proposal with the White House, the National Security Council and the State Department and is also pressing for the administration to expand the list of Cuban companies that can be sanctioned, which is another measure that Advisor Bolton mentioned in Miami on November 2.

Senator Rubio himself documented these actions in a November 1 press release. It said, “I applaud the Trump Administration for once again supporting the freedom-loving people of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. No administration has taken stronger measures to defend democracy and target tyranny in Latin America than this one, As the Cuban regime continues to export its communist agenda throughout Latin America, the United States and our allies must keep prioritizing freedom and human rights in the Western Hemisphere. Today’s speech by Ambassador Bolton on the ‘Troika of Tyranny’ should make it clear to everyone that the Administration is not done yet.”[2]

This press release also included Senator Rubio’s 2018 actions supporting the people of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Another Administration advocate of increased hostile actions against Cuba is Mauricio Claver-Carone,the new National Security Council’s Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs. He is a  Cuban-American attorney who was the executive director of the U.S. Cuba Democracy PAC (one of the most active pro-embargo groups in Washington) and Capitol Hill Cubans blog,[3]

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[1] Ordońez & Gámez Torres, White House considers allowing Cuban Americans to sue for island properties left behind, Miami Herald (Oct. 31, 2018).

[2] Senator Rubio, English & Spanish: Rubio Commends the Trump Administration’s Commitment to Human Rights and Democracy in Latin America (Nov. 1, 2018).

[3] Mauricio Claver-Carone, the new Latino on Trump’s team, Al Dia (Sept. 19, 2018).

U.S. Protests Cuban Detention of Democratic Activist   

On October 4, the U.S. State Department issued a protest of the Cuban government’s detention of Tómas Nuńez Magdariaga, a democratic activist.[1]

The U.S. said that he “had been on a hunger strike for more than 50 days in protest against his wrongful imprisonment,” that “his health is in a critical state, and that the authorities have denied his family the opportunity to see him.”

The statement added that Nuńez was  “a member of Cuba’s largest opposition group, the Patriotic Union of Cuba, on false charges and convicted him in a sham trial, during which they denied him the opportunity to present witnesses in his favor.”

As a result, the U.S. condemned these practices “in the strongest terms, and calls on the Cuban government to release Mr. Nunez, whose life hangs in the balance, and all political prisoners in Cuba.”

Similar protests were made by the Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Senator Marco Rubio and  the non-governmental Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation. The Commission added that there were at least 224 arbitrary short-term detentions for political reasons. [2]

Apparently a critical prosecution witness against Nunez was Aldo Rosales Montoya. However, Rosales recently submitted an affidavit to the court that his trial testimony was false and done on instructions from Cuba’s State Security. As a result, Rosales has been accused of perjury.[3]

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, The Wrongful Detention of Tomas Nunez Magdariaga in Cuba (Oct. 4, 2018).

[2] The Secretary General of the OAS reiterates the demand for freedom for Nuńez Magdariaga, Diario de Cuba (Oct. 1, 20180;

 

 

The Human Rights Commission denounces the ‘disturbing situation of Tomás Nuńez Magdariaga, Diario de Cuba (Oct. 3, 2018).

 

[3] The accuser of Nuńez Magdariaga reiterates before the Prosecutor’s Office that he committed perjury, Diario de Cuba (Oct. 5, 2018)

Senate Passes Bill To Expand Agricultural Exports to Cuba  

On June 28, the U.S. Senate passed, 86-11, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 (H.R.2) that relates, in part,  to U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba.[1]

After an amendment introduced by Senators Heitkamp (Dem., ND) and Boozman (Rep., AR) to allow for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to conduct foreign market development programs in Cuba passed the Senate Agriculture Committee by unanimous consent on June 13, Senator Rubio (Rep., FL) expressed his opposition to the provision and a willingness to delay consideration of the full bill.[2]

Rubio first introduced an amendment on June 26 to deny export promotion until Cuba holds “free and fair elections for a new government,” but by June 27,  he had changed his approach. Speaking on the Senate floor, he said, “I am not going to object to the ability of American farmers to market our products to a market… But while you are there… you can promote it, but you just can’t spend any of these taxpayer dollars at any of the facilities or businesses controlled or owned by the Cuban military.”

Ultimately, after negotiation between Senators Rubio, Menendez (Dem., NJ) and Cruz (Rep., TX), on one side, and Senators Flake (Rep., AZ), Heitkamp, and Boozman on the other, the bill passed the Senate with the USDA export promotion provision intact, and a modifying provision that states financial transactions must adhere to restrictions set out in current regulations, including a prohibition on “transactions with entities owned, controlled, or operated by or on behalf of military intelligence or security services of Cuba.” Most U.S. entities are already barred from engaging in transactions with the businesses on this list.[3]

The bill on June 21 had passed the House, 213-211. The Senate and House versions will now go to a conference committee to try to iron out the differences.[4]

Obviously Rubio’s efforts to impose his anti-Cuba positions on everything failed this time although he publicly will never admit to such a defeat. Instead he proclaims his qualification to promotion of trade with Cuba as a victory.

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[1] Carney, Senate passes mammoth farm bill, The Hill (June 28, 2018).

[2] Ctr. Democracy in Americas, Cuba Central News Brief: 06/29/2018.

[3] Rubio Supports Farm Bill with Important Provisions for Florida Citrus and Agriculture (June 28, 2018).

[4] Library of Congress: Thomas, H.R.2-Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 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).

 

U.S. Programs Purportedly Supporting Democracy and Human Rights in Cuba

The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee has just approved a bill for Fiscal 2019 (2018-2019) that includes funding for purported democracy promotion in Cuba, which will be discussed after looking at the latest U.S. Department of State’s annual report on such programs for May 2016-May 2017.

Programs for 2016-2017[a]

Democratic Institutions and Civil Society

“U.S. support enables local organizations to further their countries’ own democratic development, as well as in areas such as disaster relief, social services, and capacity building opportunities. U.S. support also enables civil society organizations to drive innovations and develop new ideas and approaches to solve social, economic, and political problems. Additionally, through support from the U.S. government, civil society actors develop their capacity to advocate to leaders to promote human rights and foster democratic institutions. [13]”

“These programs strengthen the ability of civil society organizations to influence governments on behalf of citizens, increase accountability, advocate for political reform, and promote tolerance. Our assistance supports organizations that work on issues such as freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, religious freedom, advancing the status of women and girls, democratic governance and political participation, the prevention of human trafficking and gender-based violence (GBV), rule of law, and protection of local independent media. [14]”

Elections and the Political Process

“The United States conducts and supports programming to promote and protect independent media coverage of elections, improve political party organization and elections legislation, and implement legislation to provide access to official information and protect freedom of peaceful assembly, including within the context of elections and political processes. [19]”

“The United States supports free and independent media reporting to increase understanding of election processes. [21]”

Labor rights, Economic Opportunity, and Inclusive Growth

The United States works with the International Labor Organization, the International Finance Corporation, other international organizations, and a range of civil society partners to support worker rights and well-regulated labor markets. [23]”

Independent Media, Press Freedom, and Internet Freedom

The U.S. works “to address [Gender-Based Violence] GBV that occurs online. U.S. projects further the professionalization of women in journalism, coverage of gender issues, and women’s voices in the media. In closed societies, U.S.-supported broadcast programming provides the public with alternative sources of news. We support access to an open and secure internet as well as training programs that increase citizen access to information,[31] including through U.S.-funded resource centers.[32]

Some of these programs for Cuba are carried out by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) directly or more frequently through private-compnay contractors. As of July 31, 2017, USAID stated the following about Cuba:[b]

  • “USAID provides on-going humanitarian assistance to political prisoners and their families, and politically marginalized individuals to alleviate the hardships suffered because of their political beliefs or efforts to exercise their fundamental freedoms. Since the program’s inception, USAID has provided nutritional food items, vitamins, over-the-counter medicines, and toiletries to thousands of Cuban families, providing an invaluable lifeline to improve their physical and psychological well-being.”
  • “USAID supports broad-based development activities by providing technical and material assistance to organize, train, and energize small groups of people within their communities. These efforts empower Cuban citizens to work together in an independent manner and reduce their dependence on the state. USAID also provides trainings on documenting human rights abuses according to international standards and raises awareness of such abuses within Cuba and around the world.”
  • “USAID has provided basic news and information about issues relevant to Cubans from inside Cuba and around the world. USAID programs have disseminated books, magazines, newspapers, and pamphlets to broad segments of the population. USAID also helped train hundreds of journalists over the last decade whose work has appeared in major international news outlets.”
  • “USAID programs reflect the principles enshrined in the United Nations Convention on Human Rights(link is external)and Inter-American Democratic Charter(link is external), such as freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion.”

“USAID’s FY2015 budget for our programs in Cuba is $6.25 million.

Programs for 2018-2019[c]

For Fiscal 2018-2019, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee has just approved the FY2019 State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs  Appropriations Bill.

It included the following funding specially designated for Cuba: democracy programs and civil society, $15 million and Office of Cuba Broadcasting, $29 million. Other approved general spending under the heading “Democracy Funding/Promotion” conceivably could relate, in part, to Cuba: National Endowment for Democracy, $170 million; internet freedom programs, $13.8 million, and “rapid response funding to surge internet freedom programs in closed societies if political events in-country merit it, $2.5 million.”

Conclusion

Having U.S. programs to promote democracy in other countries sounds like a great idea, and maybe some of them are if they are bilateral programs with the consent and approval of the other countries.

But such past programs for Cuba have not been done with the consent and approval of the Cuban government. As a result, such programs have produced the opposite result: Cuban suspicion and resistance to individuals and groups that argue for increased democracy on the island.

Therefore, U.S. friends of Cuba should try to find out more about these future programs and support those, if any, that are for bilateral cooperation and oppose those, if any, that do not involve cooperation with Cuban authorities.

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[a] U.S. State Dep’t,  2016-17 Advancing Freedom and Democracy Report The programs for Cuba are identified by correlating the mentions of Cuba in footnotes with the text of the report.

[b] USAID, About Cuba.

[c]  U.S. Senate Appropriations Comm., FY2019 State & Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill Cleared by Senate Committee (June 21, 2018); Sen. Rubio, Rubio Secures Key funding to Promote Human Rights, Democracy, and Development Assistance Around the World (June 21, 2018).

More Unkind Words About Cuba from Vice President Mike Pence

On Monday night (June 4), U.S. Vice President Mike Pence hosted a reception at the White House for delegates to the OAS General Assembly, which met June 4 and 5 with most attention on the U.S.-led effort to suspend Venezuela’s OAS membership.[1]

Most of Pence’s remarks at the reception, therefore, concerned Venezuela. But he managed to interject these unkind words about Cuba: “In Cuba, the Castro name has begun to fade, but under a handpicked successor, their legacy endures and the oppressive police state they established is ever-present.  Under President Donald Trump, America will always stand for Que Viva Cuba Libre.”[2]

Conclusion

Those of us who support normalization and reconciliation with Cuba need to be vigilant in monitoring and combatting the anti-Cuba policies and rhetoric from the Trump Administration and its allies like Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL).

This blogger leaves to others the challenge of doing the same with respect to Venezuela.[3]

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[1] White House, Remarks by Vice President Pence at Organization of American States Reception (June 4, 2018).

[2] Such rhetoric from Pence is not unique, just this year, as discussed in earlier posts: U.S.-Cuba Skirmishes at the Summit of the Americas (April 17, 2018); U.S. Reactions to the New President of Cuba (April 23, 2018); More Hostile Comments About Cuba from U.S. Vice President Pence and U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States (May 9, 2018).

[3] A prior post mentioned Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s anti-Cuba rhetoric at the first day of the OAS General Assembly on June 4 while also discussing the Assembly’s consideration of the Venezuela issue. (U.S. Statement About Cuba at Organization of American States’ General Assembly (June 4, 2018).)