Senator Leahy’s Senate Floor Speech To End Embargo of Cuba

As mentioned in a prior post, on February 7, Senator Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN) introduced the Freedom To Export to Cuba Act (S.428) with cosponsors Patrick Leahy (Dem., VT) and Michael Enzi (Rep., WY)./

On February 15, Senator Leahy delivered a lengthy and persuasive speech on the Senate floor supporting this bill and ending the embargo. Here is the text of that speech.

After commending Senator Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN) for introducing this bill and urging other Senators to support the bill,, Senator Leahy said, “This bill is about ending the anachronistic prohibitions in U.S. law that for decades have limited U.S. engagement with Cuba, including preventing American companies from exporting their products to Cuba.  The fact that legislation to do so is even necessary is illustrative of the absurdity of the situation in which we find ourselves.  Companies from Europe, Russia, China, Mexico, and every other country can sell their products to Cuba, which is just 90 miles from our coast, but American manufacturers and retailers are largely shut out of the Cuban market. . . . This bill would enable American companies to compete, which every believer in a free market should support.”

“It is also important for Senators to know that punitive actions by the Trump Administration last year to further restrict the right of Americans to travel to Cuba have had devastating consequences for Cuba’s fledgling private sector – the very people the White House and supporters of the restrictions profess to want to help.  The fact that they have said nothing about the harm they are causing Cuba’s struggling entrepreneurs demonstrates that they care more about continuing their failed policy of sanctions, regardless of who they hurt, than about helping the Cuban people or about protecting the right of Americans to travel freely.” 

“The latest ill-conceived attempt by the White House to punish Cuba would permit Title III of the Helms-Burton Act to go into effect.  This would allow, among others, individuals who were Cuban citizens when their property in Cuba was expropriated half a century ago to sue in U.S. courts any Cuban, foreign, and even American company whose business in Cuba today uses that property.  That could be an airport, port, warehouse, hotel, restaurant, you name it.  Virtually every American and foreign company investing in Cuba would suddenly be liable for treble damages.”

“The purpose, as the law’s authors made clear when it was enacted 23 years ago, is to harm Cuba’s economy by making it completely inhospitable for foreign investment.”

“As my friend in the House, Representative Jim McGovern (Dem., MA), has pointed out –

  • ‘It’s no mystery why Presidents Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Trump blocked Title III from going into effect every six months for the past 23 years.’
  • ‘It is hypocritical – it penalizes companies for doing what American companies do all over the world.’
  • It is contrary to international law, which recognizes the right of expropriation and requires compensation.’
  • ‘It is an extraterritorial sanction that guarantees a response from our trading partners, like Canada, Spain and the EU, including complaints at the World Trade Organization.’
  • ‘And if you care about agriculture, be warned: It will open a new front in the trade war, with all the repercussions that can bring.’
  • ‘It will allow Cuba to claim victim status and rally international support.’
  • ‘It will clog our courts with lawsuits.’
  • ‘It will make it impossible to negotiate compensation for U.S. claims in Cuba, and, in the end, hurt the very Americans who seek compensation for the property they lost.’
  • ‘It will divide us from friends and allies who are now working for a peaceful solution in Venezuela.’
  • ‘And it will guarantee that new investment in Cuba will come from the Russians, Chinese and others who are hostile to the United States, and whose state-owned companies can’t be sued in U.S. courts.’

“I agree with my friend in the other body [Rep. McGovern].  What the White House is considering would trigger an avalanche of unintended consequences that would bring U.S. commerce with Cuba to a halt, harm relations with our allies in this hemisphere and beyond, and make resolving property claims more difficult.  I ask unanimous consent that a piece by William LeoGrande on Title III of the Helms-Burton Act published in the February 13, 2019 issue of OnCubaNews be printed in the Record following my remarks.” [This article will be published in a separate post to this blog.]

Like “many issues, Members of Congress have strong feelings pro and con about U.S. relations with Cuba.  It is no secret that, after more than half a century of a policy of isolation that has achieved none of its objectives and primarily hurt the Cuban people, I, like Senators Klobuchar and Enzi and many others in this body, favor closer relations.”

“Conversely, there are those in Congress and the Trump Administration who believe strongly that we should ratchet up the pressure on the Cuban government in an attempt to achieve those elusive goals.”

“I have often spoken publicly about the lack of political freedom and civil liberties in Cuba.  But I also think it is important to try to be objective:  to criticize when called for and to acknowledge positive changes when they occur.”

“I recognize that those who favor maintaining the failed economic embargo have a longstanding, visceral antagonism and resentment toward the Cuban government.  While they rarely, if ever, mention the corrupt and brutal Batista regime that enjoyed unqualified U.S. support until it was overthrown in 1959, they have legitimate reasons to criticize the mistreatment of the Cuban people by the current government and its support for the corrupt and repressive Maduro regime in Venezuela.”

“But they too should acknowledge that threatening and bullying Cuba has not worked.  In fact it has made the situation worse, and provided an excuse for the Cuban government to blame its own failures on us.  They should also acknowledge positive changes in Cuba, but they never do.  Not ever.  It is almost as if they are psychologically, ideologically, or emotionally incapable of saying one positive thing about the Cuban government, no matter what positive things it does.”   

“Perhaps they are afraid that if they did, they would alienate their donors in the Cuban-American community.  Of course, we know that Cuban-Americans are divided about the U.S. embargo.  Some are hardcore believers in the embargo, and they always will be.  But at least as many – and increasing numbers – oppose the embargo, especially those who were born after the Cuban revolution.” 

“I wonder what the pro-embargo isolationists would say if the Cuban government were to stop harassing and abusing dissidents who favor a more democratic system.  Would those who oppose the embargo say anything positive?” 

“What if the Cuban government decided to embrace a free market economy and let private businesses flourish?  Would those who oppose the embargo say anything positive?”

“I doubt it.  I doubt it because no matter what positive reforms occur in Cuba, they will continue to defend the embargo until Cuba is a full-fledged democracy and those who currently hold power either die or are voted out of office.” 

“We all want Cuba to become a democracy, where civil and political rights are respected, and the sooner the better.  But those same defenders of the embargo support billions of dollars in U.S. aid – and weapons sales – to countries that are led by authoritarian, brutal, and corrupt dictatorships and monarchies, some of which have held power for decades or generations.”    

“How do the pro-embargo diehards reconcile that?  They don’t and they can’t.”

“The fact is, Cuba is changing.  Not nearly as fast as we and the Cuban people would like, but it is changing in ways that few would have predicted not very long ago.”

“Last year, Raul Castro’s hand-picked successor, Miguel Diaz-Canel, became President and he promised a government more accessible and responsive to the people’s needs.  How he delivers on that promise remains to be seen.”   

“Since 2010, after the Cuban government recognized that the Internet is essential if Cuba wants to be part of the modern world, Internet access has exploded.  The government has opened hundreds of public Wi-Fi hot spots and cyber cafes in the past five years, and home Internet access became legal and available in 2017.  Today, almost half of the Cuban people have personal cell phones that were illegal just a decade ago.”

“As others have pointed out, these changes have encouraged new forms of communication, networking and organizing via social media.”

“But change does not come easily in Cuba, as it does not in many countries.  Last July, the government announced onerous new regulations on the private sector, covering a wide range of issues:  food safety, labor contracts, procurement, taxation, limits on the size of private businesses.  The new rules were an attempt by hardliners to crack down on the private sector, which was criticized for black marketeering.”

“But private entrepreneurs resisted, and they challenged the regulations as contradictory to the government’s own plans that recognizes the private sector as important to economic growth and employment. They appealed to government officials and spoke publicly about the harm the new rules would have on their businesses.”

“When the final regulations were issued, several that had caused the most resentment were dropped.  According to the Minister of Labor and Social Security, the decision to revise the rules was due to ‘the opinion and experiences of those directly involved.’”

“The government also retreated on a new law – Decree 349 – requiring artists, musicians and performers to register with the state and pay a large commission on their earnings from private engagements, and it banned work with objectionable content and empowered inspectors to shut down any offensive exhibition or performance.  Clearly, an attempt to further limit free expression.”

“Since the 1980s, Cuban artists have had more freedom to be critical of the government than other social sectors, and so it was not surprising that Decree 349 ignited widespread protests.  After social media was used to mobilize opposition within the Cuban arts community and among artists abroad, the government agreed not to enforce the law until implementing regulations are drafted in consultation with the arts community.”

“According to one observer, ‘during [the latter half of last year], nearly 8.9 million Cubans debated the draft of a new constitution in their workplaces, neighborhoods and schools.  Communist Party members were told not to argue with even the most radical proposals for amendments, and the ensuing debates were freewheeling, often lasting past their scheduled time.  Among the main topics: whether the president and state governors should be directly elected by voters; whether the concentration of wealth and property should be allowed; whether term limits and age limits for leaders were a good idea; and whether the Communist Party should be subordinated to the constitution and hence the law.”  Not long ago it would have been unthinkable to openly debate these issues, especially as part of a constitutional reform process.”

“One article that attracted intense debate recognized same-sex marriage, and was promoted by Raul Castro’s daughter, a long-time activist for LGBTQ rights. The proposal sparked strong opposition from evangelical churches supported by the Catholic Church.  Gay rights advocates countered with campaigns of their own.  The chance of a significant ‘no’ vote on the entire constitutional reform led the government to drop the provision from the final draft of the constitution with a pledge to consider it later.”

“This surge in mobilization by well-organized constituencies utilizing social media to resist government policy, from burdensome private sector regulations to gay marriage, is unprecedented in Cuba.  The government’s willingness to not only tolerate these organized challenges but to change policies in response to them, is significant. “   

“As has been noted, none of these issues dealt with the rigid structure of the Cuban system.  Cuba remains a one party state, in which those who challenge the system are treated as criminals.  But the precedent of organized interest groups mounting successful campaigns to challenge and change government policy is now established, which is positive.” 

“None of the longstanding critics of the Cuban government in the U.S. Congress or the Cuban-American community [has] acknowledged any of this, nor are they likely too.  For them, anything less than a wholesale change of government in Cuba is unworthy of mention, even though they apply a very different standard – a double standard – to other authoritarian governments.  In fact, they would ridicule anyone who regards such changes as positive or worthy of recognition.”

“As we know from our own experience, political reform is difficult.  Our own Electoral College, an anachronism designed to protect a slave-holding minority, remains in effect more than two centuries later.  Five times, in the world’s oldest democracy, it has prevented the winner of the most popular votes from being elected president.”  

“The Cuban people want to live better and they want a lot less government control over their lives.  Armed with cell phones and the Internet they are going to make increasing demands of their government.  This is happening at a time when Venezuela’s economy is collapsing and the survival of the Maduro regime, Cuba’s closest ally in the hemisphere, is in question.  Not surprisingly, the Cuban government is trying to limit the pace of change and to secure other benefactors.  It is turning increasingly to Russia, Algeria, Iran and other countries that welcome the chance to challenge U.S. influence in this hemisphere.” 

“This is a time for the United States to be actively and visibly engaged in Cuba, for Americans to be traveling to Cuba, for expanding educational, cultural, and professional exchanges between the U.S. and Cuba, and for American companies to be competing in Cuba.  It is not a time to return to a failed policy of threats and ultimatums, driven by domestic politics rather than by what is in our national interests.”

“That is why I am cosponsoring the Freedom to Export to Cuba Act.  And it is why I intend to support other bipartisan legislation to replace our failed Cuba policy with one that serves America’s interests, not the interests of a shrinking minority, and not the interests of Russia and other countries that are reaping the economic benefits of our self-defeating policy of isolation.”

Reaction

I concur in the rationale and conclusion of this speech: end the U.S. embargo of Cuba.

While I believe there is valid documentation of the Senator’s assertion that Cuba has limits on free speech and assembly, he views this in isolation from Cuba’s situation. Cuba is a small country facing the vastly larger and more powerful  U.S., which for many years has had various hostile policies and actions against Cuba, including secret and undercover so-called “democracy promotion” programs on the island. In that context, it should be easy to understand why Cuba is concerned about dissidents and free speech and assembly.  Accordingly reliable U.S. assertions about the abolition of so called “democracy promotion” programs on the island should be a precondition to improving Cuban freedoms of speech and assembly.

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Senator Leahy,  Statement of Senator Leahy On the Freedom To Export to Cuba Act (Feb. 15, 2019). 

New Bill To End U.S. Embargo of Cuba

On February 7, U.S.Senator Amy Klobuchar (Dem.,MN) introduced a bill in the Senate to end the U.S. embargo (blockade) of Cuba: S.428: A bill to lift the trade embargo on Cuba.

The bill has two initial cosponsors: Patrick Leahy (Dem., VT) and Michael Enzi (Rep., WY) and was referred to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.

In a press release Senator Klobuchar said the bill “would eliminate the legal barriers to Americans doing business in Cuba and pave the way for new economic opportunities for American businesses and farmers by boosting U.S. exports and allow Cubans greater access to American goods. The legislation repeals key provisions of previous laws that block Americans from doing business in Cuba, but does not repeal portions of law that address human rights or property claims against the Cuban government.”

Senator Klobuchar added, “Instead of looking to the future, U.S.-Cuba policy has been defined for far too long by conflicts of the past. Cuba is an island of 11 million people, just 90 miles from our border—lifting the trade embargo will open the door to a huge export market, create jobs here at home, and support both the American and Cuban economies. Our bipartisan legislation will finally turn the page on the failed policy of isolation and build on the progress we have made to open up engagement with Cuba by ending the embargo once and for all.”

Cosponsor Senator Enzi stated,“History has shown that the embargo with Cuba has not been very effective. This bipartisan legislation would benefit the people in America and in Cuba. It would provide new opportunities for American businesses, farmers and ranchers. We need to open dialogue and the exchange of ideas and commerce that would help move Cuba forward. It is time to work toward positive change.” 

The other cosponsor, Senator Leahy commented, “Decades after the end of the Cold War we continue to impose punitive sanctions against Cuba, a tiny island neighbor that poses no threat to us. After more than half a century, the embargo has achieved none of its objectives.  President Obama took a courageous and pragmatic step in opening diplomatic relations with Cuba, but President Trump has reinstated the failed isolationist policy of the past.  It is up to Congress to end the embargo, which is used by the Cuban government to justify its repressive policies, and by foreign companies to avoid competing with U.S. businesses that are shut out of the Cuban market.  Lifting the embargo will put more food on the plates of the Cuban people, allow them to access quality U.S. products, and encourage reforms in Cuba’s economy, all while benefiting American companies.  I commend Senator Klobuchar for her steadfast leadership on this issue.”

Cuba relies on agriculture imports to feed the 11 million people who live on Cuba and the 3.5 million tourists who visit each year. This represents a $2 billion opportunity for American farmers annually. The Freedom to Export to Cuba Act repeals the current legal restrictions against doing business with Cuba, including the original 1961 authorization for establishing the trade embargo; subsequent laws that required enforcement of the embargo; and other restrictive statutes that prohibit transactions between U.S.-owned or controlled firms and Cuba, and limitations on direct shipping between U.S. and Cuban ports.

The legislation has been endorsed by Engage Cuba, the Washington Office on Latin America, the Latin America Working Group, and Cargill.

This blogger over the last eight years repeatedly has called for ending the embargo and presses the Senate and House to pass this or a similar bill and for the President to sign same.

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Klobuchar Press Release: Klobuchar-Enzi-Leahy Introduce Major Legislation To Lift Cuba Trade Embargo (Feb. 8, 2019); Enzi Press Release: Bipartisan coalition in Senate introduce legislation to lift Cuba trade embargo (Feb. 8, 2019); Leahy Press Release: Klobuchar, Enzi, Leahy Introduce Major Legislation to Lift Cuba trade embargo (Feb. 8, 2019). 

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.

Congressional Delegation Visits Cuba

A delegation of six U.S. senators and representatives, all Democrats, visited Cuba from February 17 through 21. They were Senators Patrick Leahy (VT),  Gary Peters (MI) and Ron Wyden (OR) plus Representatives Jim McGovern (MA), Kathy Castor (FL) and Susan Davis (CA). [1]

Leahy, the leader of the group, announced that the purpose of the trip was “to meet with U.S. and Cuban officials, officials of other governments, and Cubans in the emerging private sector to discuss: the presidential transition in Cuba; U.S. and Cuban investigations of health incidents involving U.S. government personnel in Cuba; cooperation on maritime security, search-and-rescue, narcotics and human trafficking, and migration issues; the impact of the withdrawal of U.S. Embassy and Cuban Embassy personnel and of revised Treasury Department regulations on U.S.-Cuban relations; and opportunities for public health, law enforcement, scientific, environmental, commercial, educational, cultural, and other engagement with Cubans.”

Meeting at Cuba’s Foreign Ministry

On February 20 they met with the Director General of the United States of the Cuban Foreign Ministry, Cárlos Fernández de Cossío.

They discussed, among other topics, the medical problems of certain U.S. diplomats that occurred in Cuba. Cossío emphasized that  there was no evidence of attacks on the diplomats and Cuba’s difficulties of carrying out a rigorous investigation.

Meeting with President Raúl Castro

On February 20 the delegation also met with President Raúl Castro, who was joined by Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and Director General Cossio. Below is the official photograph of the meeting. The Cuban release about this event merely stated, “During the meeting they exchanged about matters of interest to both countries.”

Other Activities

The delegation met with Cuban entrepreneurs who said Trump’s Cuba policy was hurting their businesses. Surprisingly there have been no reports that there was discussion of last year’s actions by the Cuban government to curtail the growth of the private sector or its new proposed regulations to impose even more onerous restrictions on that sector that apparently were leaked to the public the day after the delegation left the island as discussed in a prior post

An objective of the delegation was not met. They wanted to meet with Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel, Castro’s presumed successor, but he was not available.

Press Conference

At the conclusion of their trip, on February 21, the delegation held a press conference at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, and below is a photography of the delegation at this event.

According to Diario de Cuba, Senator Leahy said, “The embargo does not make sense and the reversal of the policies negotiated by Barack Obama and Raúl Castro does not help the US or Cuba.” In fact, he said, President Trump’s retreat from engagement with Cuba was “erroneous” and “stupid.”

Leahy also addressed the medical problems of some U.S. diplomats who had been stationed in Cuba. He said, “If we have to find out if something happened, it is a big mistake to close our embassy or to pretend that the Cubans close theirs. How are you going to get visas? How to maintain medical cooperation? What about the students? Of the projects in agriculture? There are many projects that are paralyzed.” 

Moreover, according to Leahy, the Cuban government has been cooperating in trying to ascertain the cause of these medical problems  and he believes the island’s authorities do not have the slightest intention to harm U.S. citizens who visit Havana. Indeed, not a single one of his colleagues had any fears about traveling to Cuba as they believe the island to be a safe place, and have even travelled here with their spouses, and in Leahy’s case, with his 13 year-old granddaughter.

Leahy added that there are many American diplomats who want to work in Cuba despite the symptoms that Washington previously said affected 24 U.S. government officials and spouses. As a result, Leahy urged the State Department on Wednesday to restore embassy staff in Havana as soon as possible.

Leahy also stated, “”Whoever is [the new] president in Cuba will make a mistake if he thinks we should maintain tensions between our countries, which is easy to say, but we have to go back to the dialogue we had between Obama and Castro.”

Representative McGovern, again as reported by Diario de Cuba, offered that protection of U.S. diplomats is “paramount,” but it was an “error” by the Trump Administration to cut the Embassy’s staff and to expel Cuban diplomats in Washington. Moreover, “US policy toward Cuba has been guided by paranoia and suspicion,” which he described as “stupid” because it has not yielded any fruit in more than fifty years of hostility. “Cuba is changing, it will soon elect a new president and it will have a generational change of leadership. Unfortunately, at that historic moment for Cuba, the involvement of the United States will be limited.”

Senator Wyden added that the delegation had stressed the importance for Cuba to unify its two currencies and “Cuba officials repeatedly said that this was the year to get it done.” Representative Castor subsequently added that the delegation asked the Cuban government to eliminate the 13 percent exchange tax on the U.S. dollar with respect to the CUC, the local convertible currency. The Cuban officials responded by saying “they would like to do that, but they have said that in the past,” said Castor.

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[1] Press Release, Leahy To Lead Congressional Delegation To Cuba (Feb. 16, 2018); Delegation of the United States Congress Visits Cuba, CubaDebate (Feb. 18, 2018); Senator Leahy visits the MINREX headquarters in Havana, Martí (Feb. 20, 2018); Raúl received a delegation from United States Congress, Granma (Feb. 21, 2018); US congressmen criticize Trump’s turn toward politics as “erroneous and stupid,” Diario de Cuba (Feb. 21, 2018); US congressional delegation reaffirms need to improve relations with Cuba, Granma (Feb. 21, 2018); US Congressmen insist on the need to improve ties with Cuba, CubaDebate (Feb. 21, 2018); Assoc. Press, US Lawmakers Say It’s Time to Restore Staff at Cuba Embassy, N.Y. Times (Feb. 21, 2018); Marsh, Cuba tells U.S. delegation monetary unification on cards this year, Reuters (Feb. 21, 2018); Torres, Cuba shares plans for single currency and more during a visit by U.S. lawmakers, Miami Herald (Feb. 21, 2018). 

 

Reactions to New U.S. Regulations About U.S. Travel to Cuba and Transactions with Cuban Entities  

On November 8, the Trump Administration announced new regulations regarding U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba and Americans transactions with certain Cuban entities, all as discussed in yesterday’s blog post. Here are initial reactions to that announcement in the U.S. and in Cuba.

 U.S. Reactions[1]

Engage Cuba, a major coalition supporting U,S,-Cuba normalization, released a lengthy statement criticizing the new regulations. It said they “create a more convoluted, confusing and counterproductive approach to Cuba policy. This ‘Keystone Cops’ Cuba policy hurts those it claims to help and helps those it claims to hurt.” In addition, this action has “fumbled our Cuba policy right into the hands of Vladimir Putin. While the Cuban people and U.S. businesses lose out, reverting back to our policy of isolation is a gift to the Kremlin. Russia is quickly expanding its foothold in Cuba, looking to regain its once diminished sphere of influence in our backyard. Abandoning Cuba and allowing Russia to fill a leadership vacuum is undoubtedly a threat to our national security.

Moreover, according to Engage Cuba, “These new regulations are a kick in the gut to Cuban entrepreneurs who are struggling to support their families. Americans are significantly contributing to the growth of Cuba’s private sector. Today’s announcement will only make it harder for Americans to travel to Cuba and support the growing private sector.”

Senator Patrick Leahy (Dem., VT), a leading advocate for normalization, said the new regulations “are reminiscent of the Cold War and what one would expect of a paranoid totalitarian government, not a democracy like ours. [They are] onerous and petty restrictions on what private American citizens can do in Cuba — an impoverished neighbor that poses not the slightest threat to the United States. Far from promoting human rights in Cuba, these new regulations will hurt fledgling entrepreneurs and the rest of the Cuban people by discouraging Americans from traveling there.”

Senator Diane Feinstein (Dem., CA) tweeted that “isolating the Cuban people did not serve US interests before and certainly will not now.”

Representative Mark Sanford (Rep., SC), who is the author of a pending bill for freedom to travel to Cuba, said the new regulations were “outdated and an unfair limitation of American freedom.”

Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), a major force for harsh U.S. measures about Cuba, had a luke-warm reaction to the new U.S. regulations. He criticized the State Department for failure to include on the Cuba Restricted List “several entities and sub-entities that are controlled by or act on behalf of the Cuban military, intelligence or security services They Gran Caribe Hotel Group and Cubanacan,” which are owned by the tourism ministry, not the military.

Rubio asserted that “individuals within the bureaucracy who support the former administration’s Cuba policy continue to undermine President Trump.” Similar views were expressed by Representatives Mario Diaz-Balart (Rep., FL) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Rep., FL)

Cuba Reactions[2]

Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s top diplomat in the 2015-16 bilateral negotiations, said the new rules were a “serious reversal” in ties between the two countries. She believed the new regulations were unjustified and a great political nuance. They adversely will affect U.S. businessmen, who will lose interesting business opportunities existing on the island today, as opposed to their competition. At the same time, they will harm the Cuban economy, both the state and the private sector.

The U.S. category travel for ‘Support for the Cuban People,’ she said,’ does not “hide its subversive background, such as the one that encourages travelers to carry out activities to justify the U.S. legality of their visits to Cuba. These activities include maintaining contacts with the Cuban people, supporting what the U.S. defines as civil society and promoting their independence from the Cuban State.” She also said the U.S.’ Cuba Restricted List is an “arbitrary list that is made up of “a diversity of Cuban entities supposedly linked, in an unfounded manner, to the defense and national security sector.”

Conclusion

 This blogger sides with the critics of the new regulations.

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[1] Engage Cuba Statement on New Cuba Sanctions (Nov. 8, 2017); Leahy, BREAKING: Leahy REAX To New Treasury Dept. Regs. Restricting Travel & Transactions By American Citizens In Cuba (Nov. 8, 2017); Rubio Statement on New Regulations to Implement the President’s Policy to Empower the Cuban People (Nov. 8, 2017); Rubio: ‘Bureaucrats’ to blame for softening Trump Cuba policy,’ Miami Herald (Nov. 8, 2017); Diaz-Balart: Regulations Are First Step Towards Implementing POTUS’ Cuba Policy (Nov. 8, 2017); Ros-Lehtinen Responds To Announcement of New Cuba Regulations (Nov. 8, 2017).

[2] Assoc. Press, The Latest: Cuba Says New Trump Rules Mark Reversal for Ties, N.Y. Times (Nov. 8, 2017); Gomez, Washington deepens retreat of relations with Cuba (+ Video), Granma (Nov. 9, 2017); Measures restrict rights of the Americans and will damage the Cuban economy: Josefina Vida (+ Video), CubaDebate (Nov. 8, 2017).

 

Cuba Foreign Minister Accuses U.S. of “Lying” About Diplomats in Havana

On November 2 Cuba’s  Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez accused the U.S. of “lying” about medical problems of U.S. diplomats who were serving at the U.S. Embassy in Havana.[1]

He said, “I can affirm categorically that whoever affirms that there have been attacks, deliberate acts or specific incidents as a cause of these health damages, deliberately lies. These health damages are being used as a pretext of a political nature, with political objectives, to eliminate the progress made and damage the bilateral relationship” between the two countries.

Rodriguez added, “It is high time for the United States to tell the truth or otherwise present evidence. The Cuban government has no responsibility whatsoever for these incidents.”

These comments were made at a press conference at Washington, D.C.’s National Press Club, as shown in the above photograph. He also essentially repeated some of the comments from his November 1 speech at the U.N. General Assembly in favor of the resolution condemning the U.S. embargo of the island. He referred to the recent U.S. reduction of staffing at that Embassy, the expulsion of Cuban diplomats from Washington and the travel warning against Americans traveling to the island. Such actions, he said, were accompanied by repeated disrespectful and offensive pronouncements towards his country by President Trump, “who takes up the hostile rhetoric of the periods of greatest confrontation.”

The same day Rodriguez met with 12 U.S. senators and representatives on Capitol Hill. Although not identifeid in the U.S. or Cuban media, photographs of the meeting show Senators Patrick Leahy (Dem., Vt), Jeff Flake (Rep., AZ) and Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN), all advocates of U.S.-Cuba normalization.[2]

Now we await the U.S. response to this accusation.

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[1] Bruno Rodriguez: There is no evidence of a sonic attack on US diplomats, CubaDebate (Oct. 3, 2017) (transcript of press conference); Bruno Rodriguez: Relations between Cuba and the US have fallen significantly due to the measures adopted by Trump, CubaDebate (Nov. 2, 2017); Havana says that Washington ‘lies’ about ‘acoustic attacks,’ Diario de Cuba (Nov. 2, 2017); Lugo (Assoc. Press), Cuba official accuses US of lying about sonic attacks, Wash. Post (Nov. 2, 2017); DeYoung, U.S. claims of health attacks on diplomats ‘deliberate lies,’ Cuban official says, Wash. Post (Nov. 2, 2017).

[2] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuban Foreign Minister meets with US Members of Congress (Nov. 3, 2017); Cuban Foreign Minister meets with U.S. legislators, Granma (Nov. 3, 2017).

Another U.N. General Assembly Resolution Condemns U.S. Embargo (Blockade) of Cuba                                                                                                       

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.[1]

Preparation for Debating the Resolution[2]

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[3]

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.”

Cuba’s Presentation of the Resolution[4]

 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.”

 Other Countries’ Statements of Support[5]

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:[6]

  • “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.[7]

Reactions to the Resolution [8]

 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.”

Conclusion

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.

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[1] U.N. Press Release, As General Assembly Adopts Annual Resolution Urging End to United States Embargo on Cuba, Delegates Voice Concern About Possible Reversal of Previous Policy (Nov. 1, 2017) [hereafter “U.N. Press Release”]; U.N., UN General Assembly again calls for lifting US embargo against Cuba (Nov. 1, 2017); Minute by Minute: The world against the Blockade, CubaDebate (Nov. 1, 2017); Reuters, U.S. Votes Against U.N. Resolution Calling for End to Cuba Embargo, N.Y. times (Nov. 1, 2017). A prior post covered the similar resolution passed in 2016 by the General Assembly, 191-0 (with abstentions by the U.S. and Israel).

[2]  Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuba vs. Bloqueo: Cuba’s Report on Resolution 71/5 of the United Nations General Assembly entitled “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States of America against Cuba” (June 2017); U.N. Sec. Gen Report, Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba (July 29, 2017); Cuban report on development. Cuba’s Foreign Ministry’s website has a special section on the embargo (Cuba vs. Bloqueo), which includes a scorecard of the General Assembly votes on resolutions against the embargo (blockade), 1982-2016.

[3] U.N. Gen. Assembly, Resolution A/72/L.2 (Oct. 2017).

[4] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuba denounces in UN force and intensification of the US blockade (Nov. 1, 2017); U.N. Press Release.

[5] U.N. Press Release.

[6] Ambassador Haley, Remarks at a UN General Assembly Meeting on Cuba, U.S. Mission to U.N. (Nov. 1, 2017). Essentially the same message was delivered the same day by the U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the U.N., Ambassador Michele J. Sison. (Sison, Explanation of Vote at a UN General Assembly Meeting on the Cuba Embargo,U.S. Mission to the U.N. (Nov. 1, 2017).

[7] E.g., White House, Remarks by President Trump at the 2017 Values Voter Summit (Oct. 13, 2017); Rubio, Letter to President Trump (Oct. 19, 2017). Unsurprisingly the State Department on October 31 announced that the U.S. would oppose the resolution. (U.S. State Dep’t, Department Press Briefing-October 31, 2017.)

[8] Letter, Senators Leahy et al to President Trump (Oct. 31, 2017); Engage Cuba, Statement on U.S. Vote Against U.N. Resolution Condemning the Cuban Embargo (Nov. 1, 2017).