As previously reported in this blog, last year on October 1 Cuban activist José Daniel Ferrer was arbitrarily arrested and detained without charges and subjected to cruel treatment in jail despite protests from the U.S. the European Union and human rights groups. This year, on February 22, he finally was tried for the alleged crimes of injury and deprivation of liberty to third parties and attack, and on April 3 the court pronounced him guilty of assault and kidnapping and sentenced him to four and a half years in prison, but simultaneously released him to house arrest on condition he refrain from any political activities.
On May 21, 2020, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee adopted a resolution calling for Cuba to immediately and unconditionally release Ferrer.
The resolution was offered by Senators Bob Menendez (Dem., NJ), Dick ‘Durbin (Dem., IL), Ben Cardin (Dem., MD), Tim Kaine (Dem., VA), Marco Rubio (Rep. FL), Ted Cruz (Rep., TX) and Susan Collins (Rep., ME). Here are some of their comments about the resolution:
Senator Menendez said he was proud of the resolution, which also “condemns the continued oppressive tactics of the Cuban regime. “
Senator Rubio added, “”For a long time, the members of UNPACU have been the target of aggressions by the Cuban regime,” while stressing that Ferrer was arbitrarily detained for “eight months with unsubstantiated allegations and currently remains under house arrest by the dictatorship of Castro and Díaz-Canel.”
Senator Durbin: “While the world is facing a global pandemic, the Cuban government continues to harass and imprison its own people, whose only crime is to want a more open nation.”
Senator Collins: “José Daniel Ferrer is a committed and open defender of democracy who has repeatedly risked his freedom and his life to promote the freedom of his fellow citizens. Our bipartisan resolution expresses the solidarity of the Senate with Mr. Ferrer’s valiant fight for democratic principles, condemns the unjust actions of the Cuban authorities and calls for his immediate and unconditional release. “
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
At a May 17 New York City gala dinner, the Cato Institute awarded its $250,000 Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty to Cuba’s Ladies in White. This award, the political reaction to the award, Cato’s other positions on Cuba and Cato’s background raise interesting issues as discussed below.
The Institute’s announcement of this prize said the following:
“The Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco) have a simple message: The political prisoners of Cuba are our sons, our brothers, and our husbands. They must not be forgotten.”
“Every Sunday, the Ladies in White gather, or attempt to gather, for Mass at Saint Rita de Casia Church in Havana, followed by a procession down Fifth Avenue. They wear white to symbolize the peaceful nature of their protest, and each wears a photograph of a loved one who is in prison. For this the authorities have constantly harassed them and organized mob violence against them.”
“The movement began on March 18, 2003, when journalist Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez was arrested in his home in Havana and sentenced to 20 years in prison for criticizing the regime of Fidel Castro. His case drew worldwide attention, with Amnesty International calling him a prisoner of conscience and demanding his release. Around 75 others were arrested at the same time, in an incident that has been called the Black Spring. All have since left prison, though not unconditionally, with the majority having had to leave Cuba. Since that time, sporadic arrests of journalists, lawyers, and other intellectuals have continued in Cuba, belying the myth that with normalized relations, Cuba’s human rights record would improve. If anything, it has deteriorated.”
“Two weeks after Maseda was arrested, his wife Laura Pollán Toledo brought together a group of wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters of the imprisoned to pray for their loved ones. They have continued to gather each Sunday, and the movement has since spread to other churches throughout Cuba. Although they are not a political party and do not have an overtly political program, they seek freedom of expression for all and the release of prisoners of conscience in Cuba. In recognition of their courage, the Ladies in White were the 2005 recipients of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, awarded by the European Parliament. The Cuban government prohibited them from attending the award ceremony in Strasbourg, France.”
“In 2015 Berta Soler, one of the leaders of the group, told the U.S. Senate, “Our aspirations are legitimate…. Our demands are quite concrete: freedom for political prisoners, recognition of civil society, the elimination of all criminal dispositions that penalize freedom of expression and association and the right of the Cuban people to choose their future through free, multiparty elections. We believe these demands are just and valid. Even more importantly, for us they represent the most concrete exercise of politics, a step in the direction of democratic coexistence. Cuba will change when the laws that enable and protect the criminal behavior of the forces of repression and corrupt elements that sustain the regime change.”
“As the first step, the Ladies in White demand the release of all political prisoners. The outlook for many of the prisoners is grim; prison conditions are deplorable, visits are rare, and even their mail is intercepted by the authorities. And the Ladies themselves have faced increasing police harassment and arrest in recent years, as the Cuban government tries to hide-but not correct-its habit of quashing dissent. Laura Pollán died in 2011 under gravely suspicious circumstances. But the movement she founded continues: The Ladies in White will meet, pray, and bear witness every Sunday until Cuba’s political prisoners are freed.”
The keynote speaker at the gala dinner was Brazilian Judge, Sergio Moro, who become a household name in his country thanks to Operation Car Wash, the massive scandal in which he has sent some of Brazil’s most powerful politicians and business elite to jail for corruption.
Just before Cato’s dinner, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley met with representatives of Cuba’s Ladies in White at the U.N. and with a photo tweeted, “Congratulations to the Ladies in White for your Milton Friedman award for advancing liberty. The US stands behind you in your fight against the Cuban government for the rights of its people.” Here is that photo of Ambassador Haley with members of the group.
The prior day four U.S. Senators– Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), Bill Nelson (Dem., FL), Bob Menendez (Dem., NJ) and Ted Cruz (Rep., TX)– introduced a resolution congratulating the Ladies in White on receiving the prestigious award, expressing solidarity with the democratic aspirations of the Cuban people and calling on the Cuban regime to allow members of Las Damas de Blanco to travel freely both domestically and internationally. The press release continued, “the dissident group, which routinely faces brutal beatings and imprisonment from the Cuban regime, peacefully gathers and marches in white clothes every Sunday in Havana carrying a picture of their loved ones in one hand and a white gladiolus in the other.”
Subsequent Incidents Involving the Ladies in White
On Sunday, May 20, the Ladies in White who were on the street were arrested and soon thereafter released except for Marieta Martinez. And the next Tuesday, May 22, their leader, Berta Soler, was arrested outside the group’s Havana headquarters. Another member, Cecilia Guerra, was also arrested outside the headquarters and immediately released. In addition, two others, Maria Carolina Labrada and Deysi Artiless, were arrested at their homes.
Cato Institute’s Handbook for Policymakers, 8th Edition (2017), surprisingly for this reader, recommended repeal of two key statutes authorizing the embargo– the Helms-Burton Law of 1996 and the Torricelli Act of 1992–and ending “all remaining sanctions that prevent U.S. companies from trading and investing in Cuba.” This, it said, would leave the Cold War in the past, and eliminate unintended consequences of a flawed policy. In short, it said, “U.S. policy toward Cuba should focus on national security interests, not on transforming Cuban society or micromanaging the affairs of a transitional government.”
These positions were reiterated in a June 2017 article by a Cato senior fellow, just after President Trump in his Miami speech announced cutbacks in policies for U.S. travel to the island. The article asserted, “The presidential campaign is over. President Trump should do what is best for both the American and Cuban people, and end economic restrictions on the island. Freedom eventually will come to Cuba. Flooding the island with foreign people and money would make that day arrive sooner.”
The Cato Institute describes itself as “a public policy research organization — a think tank — dedicated to the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peace. Its scholars and analysts conduct independent, nonpartisan research on a wide range of policy issues. It accepts no government funding. Instead, it receives approximately 80 percent of its funding through tax-deductible contributions from individuals, foundations, corporations, and the sale of books and publications.”
Founded in 1974 in Wichita, Kansas as the Charles Koch Foundation by Charles Koch, who is one of the wealthiest persons in the world and who with his brother David runs Koch Industries that supports many so-called conservative causes. In 1976 the Foundation moved to Washington, D.C. and adopted its current name in recognition of Cato’s Letters, a series of essays published in 18th- century England that presented a vision of society free from excessive government power. Cato says “those essays inspired the architects of the American Revolution. And the simple, timeless principles of that revolution — individual liberty, limited government, and free markets — turn out to be even more powerful in today’s world of global markets and unprecedented access to information than Jefferson or Madison could have imagined. Social and economic freedom is not just the best policy for a free people, it is the indispensable framework for the future.”
The current 19 members of Cato’s Board are the following:
John A. Allison, Former President & CEO, Cato Institute; Retired Chairman & CEO, BB&T (the 10th-largest U.S. financial services holding company);
Carl Barney, Chairman, Center for Excellence in Higher Education, a Scientologist and very wealthy operator of for-profit colleges;
Baron Bond, Executive Vice President, The Foundation Group LLC, a real estate management, investment, and development company whose biography appears on the website for the Atlas Society named after Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged;”
Rebecca Dunn, Trustee, DUNN Foundation, which says it “believes that liberty and opportunity should be enjoyed by the people of this Nation, envisions a world where the use of force by coercive public or private institutions no longer threatens our freedoms and celebrates entrepreneurial innovations that further these purposes;”
Robert Gelfond, wealthy CEO and Founder, Macro Quantitative Strategies (MQS);
Peter N. Goettler, President & CEO, Cato Institute, former officer of Barclays Capital and on board of Atlas Network and advocate of libertarian organizations in several foreign countries;
David C. Humphreys, President & CEO, TAMKO Building Products, Inc. and a “massive” Republican donor;
James M. Kilts, wealthy Partner, Centerview Capital Holdings, an investment banking firm, and former CEO, The Gillette Company;
James M. Lapeyre, Jr., President, Laitram, LLC, a diversified global manufacturer and officer of The Atlas Society;
Jeffrey S. Yass, Managing Director, Susquehanna International Group, LLP, a global trading and technology firm;
Fred Young, Former Owner, Young Radiator Company, and major supporter of conservative groups and candidates.
The members of the International Selection Committee for the 2018 Prize were Leszek Balcerowicz, Former Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Poland; Janice Rogers Brown, Former Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit; Vicente Fox. Former President, Mexico; Sloane Frost, Chairwoman, Board of Directors, Students for Liberty; Peter N. Goettler, President and CEO, Cato Institute; Herman Mashaba. Executive Mayor, Johannesburg, South Africa; Harvey Silverglate, Co-founder, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education; Donald G. Smith, President, Donald Smith & Company Inc.; and Linda Whetstone, Chair, Atlas Network.
The preceding account of the history of the Ladies in White tells an impressive story of alleged Cuban suppression of dissent, free speech and assembly and freedom of religion. The Cuban government, however, disagrees and is believed to assert that these women are not religious activists and dissenters, but trouble-makers for hire by the CIA or U.S. Agency for International Development or private groups in the U.S.
Which account is true? We need to hear more from the Cubans and U.S. journalists or private investigators who have investigated the activities of the Ladies in White.
The creation of the Cato Institute (f/k/a Charles Koch Foundation) by Charles Koch and the changing of its name perhaps to conceal or minimize its Koch origins raise questions about its objectivity and fairness.
Cato’s 19-member Board has 17 white, very successful and wealthy men and two white women who apparently are married to very successful and wealthy white men. This too raises questions about the board’s objectivity and fairness.