Cuba and U.S. Debate Cuba’s Treatment of José Daniel Ferrer

On March 11, the U.S. State Department released its latest annual report on human rights around the world. A previous post discussed some of the details of that criticism while another post looked at the limited positive comments in that report. Now we examine the report’s criticism of Cuba’s treatment of José Daniel Ferrer after a review of what previous posts have set forth on that subject followed by a review of more recent events.

Previous Posts’ Discussion of Ferrer[1]

As the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), which has criticized the Cuban government for a long time, Ferrer has had many conflicts with the Cuban government. The most recent started on October 1, 2019, with his arrest and detention for allegedly kidnapping and beating a fellow Cuban (Sergio Garcia) and with an October 17th rejection of Ferrer’s plea for a writ of habeas corpus.

On October 18, 2019, the State Department publicly condemned this arrest and detention as part of an escalating “wave of repression against freedoms of speech, expression, and religion” and demanded his immediate release from detention.

On November 20, 2019, an editorial in Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, alleged that Ferrer was in detention because he was “a salaried agent of the United States, with a long history of provocative actions, disruption of public order, and violations of the law” and that the U.S. Embassy in Havana and Chargé d’ Affaires Mara Tekach had been “the fundamental . . . [instrument  for the] orientation, and financing of . . . Ferrer’s conduct, clearly interfering in Cuba’s internal affairs, openly inciting violence, promoting the disruption of order and contempt for the law by this citizen. . . .”[2]

That same day, UNPACU said this editorial was “a complete manipulation of the judicial process against” Ferrer by asserting “two fundamental lies, first, it locates the process of searching for freedom and universal rights of the Cuban people under the authorship of the United States Government, and, second, it states that . . .Ferrer is a salaried agent of the service of United States, with a violent trajectory.” [3]Instead, UNPACU stated the following:

  • The “demonstrations of popular discontent against the Cuban regime, which we can see daily thanks to the internet’s social networks, are a direct consequence of 60 years of communist government of the single party that deprives them of fundamental rights and freedoms to Cuban citizens. What translates into a permanent state of material and spiritual crisis, which from time to time reaches critical levels like the current one. It is worth asking the Cuban regime if the two 2.5 million citizens that they recognized who did not agree with the new constitution [and voted against it in the referendum], were also cared for, guided and financed by the United States Embassy in Cuba. The Chargé d’Affaires of the United States Embassy, ​​Mara Teckach.”
  • “Our organization receives help without imposition from various foreign institutions that promote values ​​such as democracy, freedom, the rule of law and the division between the powers of the State, without which it is impossible for a Government to guarantee and respect human rights. With the help we receive, we do not buy weapons, bombs, or terrorism. With that help we buy printers and sheets to print thousands of copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and distribute them among the population.”
  • “With regard to the slander against José Daniel Ferrer, we can say that in his case and in that of the Patriotic Union of Cuba there is no record of activism during these years of activism against any member of the repressive bodies of the Cuban State.”
  • “During this time [60 days of unjust imprisonment of Ferrer and three of his colleagues] we have published several testimonies of people who demonstrate the pressure exerted by members of the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) against activists and neighbors of the community of Mármol, where the main headquarters of UNPACU is located, to raise false charges against him. We have even alerted the use by the State Security of agents that we have expelled from our ranks for being at their service, to make false accusations.”
  • “Other evidence of the political police maneuvers in the case is that the wife of the alleged accuser declared through a phone call that we made public, that her husband suffered a traffic accident and that the police were pressing him very insistently to who said that the injuries contracted in the accident had been caused by . . . [Ferrer].. Also, the sister of Roilán Zárraga Ferrer, one of the activists detained with José Daniel, publicly stated that his brother communicated to him on a recent visit to the Center for Criminal Instruction in Santiago de Cuba, where he is being held, that they are pressuring him to sign a false statement against José Daniel.”
  • “Among the serious violations that occurred in this case, the conditions of confinement of the detainees are of great concern, as well as the torture, cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment to which . . .Ferrer is being subjected, as confirmed by his wife on a recent visit to the Aguadores prison in Santiago de Cuba, after 34 days of being kept missing.”

The U.S. State Department on November 22 vehemently denied the Cuban government’s charges and said “these baseless accusations . . . [were] an attempt to distract the international community from its abysmal treatment of the Cuban people, especially the ongoing arbitrary detention of  . . Ferrer.”

Cuba, however, on November 26, returned to this attack on the U.S. and Ferrer in an open letter from Cuba’s Ambassador to the EU to the latter’s Parliament asserting that the U.S. and its diplomatic mission in Cuba have been “guiding, instigating and financing the violent and destabilizing behavior of Ferrer” while intending “to fabricate the image of [him as] a persecuted and mistreated” political dissident. The Cuban Ambassador also denied allegations of subsequent Cuban jail mistreatment of Ferrer as “lies . . . deliberately conceived and guided by the United States Government and its Embassy in Havana.”

The next day (November 27) on Cuban national television the Cuban government alleged that Ferrer that year had received $50,000 form the U.S. Government via the Miami-based Cuban-American National Foundation and showed a video of him banging his head against a metal table.

These Cuban allegations, however, did not persuade the EU Parliament, which on November 28 adopted a resolution condemning Ferrer’s arbitrary detention and torture and demanding his immediate release.

On January 30, 2020, Ferrer’s wife and children were permitted to visit him in prison, when he appeared to be very thin and told his wife that he had not been receiving any medical attention. In addition, the prison did not allow him to eat food and take medicines brought by his wife.

On February 24, Secretary Pompeo sent an open letter to Cuba Foreign Minister Bruno Edwardo Rodriguez Parrilla demanding the immediate release of Ferrer. This letter stated the following:

  • “Cuban human rights defender Jose Daniel Ferrer has endured more than 100 days of unjust imprisonment and repeatedly has been dragged, chained, beaten, and burned at the hands of the regime, which you represent.  The United States government joins a chorus of international voices demanding Ferrer’s immediate release.  The European Parliament, the United Nations, the Organization of American States, Amnesty International, and journalists and human rights organizations from countries across the globe have condemned your regime’s treatment of Ferrer and other human rights defenders like him.”
  • “This is not the first time your regime has targeted Ferrer.  He was imprisoned from 2003 until 2011 for advocating for democracy and respect for human rights in Cuba.”
  • “The current spurious charges against Ferrer follow a familiar pattern of harassment, violence, and arbitrary arrests against Cubans who seek only to advocate for democracy and the political and economic freedoms that would enable the Cuban people to create prosperity in Cuba.  It cannot be a crime to criticize policies that have set Cuba’s development tumbling backwards for the past 61 years.”
  • “The United States will never forget the brave Cubans who put their lives on the line for the sake of a free Cuba.  Until there is democracy and respect for human rights in Cuba and all political prisoners are freed, the United States will continue to hold the regime accountable for its abuses.  For the sake of the Cuban people and for the betterment of your nation, we urge you to free Jose Daniel Ferrer immediately.”
  • On February 26, 2020, Ferrer was put on trial in Santiago de Cuba for the alleged crimes of injury, deprivation of liberty to third parties and attack. According to the Cuban Prisoners Defenders (CPD), the court did not permit any of the witnesses at this 12-hour trial to utter the words “opponents, dissidents, political police, State Security, headquarters, UNPACU, regime, dictatorship, dictators and illegal.”

Secretary Pompeo’s Comments About the New U.S. Human Rights Report                 and Ferrer[4]

The Secretary’s comments upon the release of the report included the following:  “The name Jose Daniel Ferrer appears 17 times in this report.  He’s one of thousands of political prisoners who, over the years, have been dragged, chained, and beaten at the hands of the [Cuban] regime. Tomorrow (March 12) he will be sentenced by a Cuban court.” (Emphasis added.)

The New Report’s Discussion of Ferrer[5]

The Executive Summary of the report on Cuba stated the following:

  • “On February 24, the country adopted a new constitution in a coerced referendum marred by violent government repression against those that opposed the proposed constitution. On February 12, for example, 200 police and security agents raided the homes of leaders of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) [which is headed by José Daniel Ferrer] for openly campaigning against the draft constitution, detaining and reportedly beating UNPACU members. Other opponents reported that the government had blocked their email and texts to keep them from disseminating opposition campaign materials. Article 5 of the constitution enshrines one-party rule by the CCP, disallowing for additional political expression outside of that structure. Although the new constitution adds explicit protections of freedom and human rights, including habeas corpus, authorities did not respect them, nor did the courts enforce them.” (Emphases added.)

In addition, the report had the following references to the persecution of José Daniel Ferrer:

  • Authorities “detained UNPACU leader Jose Daniel Ferrer several times during the year. He was often held for several days at a time incommunicado or without being charged in court. Although uniformed security officials were present for his arrest, authorities denied having him in their custody (see also sections 1.d. and 2.d.). On October 1, police detained him for almost six weeks before allowing his family to see him and did not announce charges against him until November 15, 45 days after his disappearance. In the interim, authorities rejected writs of habeas corpus filed by his wife. As of December, Jose Daniel Ferrer remained in custody.” (Section 1.B) (Emphases added.)
  • “When authorities did allow Nelva Ismarays Ortega Tamayo, the wife of Jose Daniel Ferrer . . ., to visit him in prison, she found him emaciated with signs of repeated physical torture. He was reportedly unable to lift his arms and recounted daily psychological trauma inflicted at the instruction of his jailers.” (Section 1.C) (Emphasis added.)
  • “On August 27, authorities detained UNPACU leader Jose Daniel Ferrer in connection with a fabricated murder case from 2018. He was previously detained in August 2018 in Santiago de Cuba for 12 days and charged with attempted murder following a car accident in which he hit and injured an official in Palmarito del Cauto. There were reports the official intentionally jumped in front of the vehicle Ferrer was driving, resulting in minor injuries to the official. Despite reported coercion of witnesses, police could not obtain corroborating evidence against Ferrer, and the prosecution was forced eventually to release him. Police, however, continued to use the case as justification for detaining him.” (Emphases added.) Prison officials refused to consider pleas from Ferrer’s wife to consider his failing health or accept medicine she brought to the prison for him, and they banned her from further visits to the facility. On November 15, the government provided her a copy of the charges filed against Ferrer on October 7. As of December 3, Ferrer still had not received access to a lawyer, and a trial date had not been set. (Section 1.D) (Emphases added.)
  • “In connection with a planned march on September 8, several UNPACU activists were arbitrarily detained on September 7. On September 8, immediately after leaving his house with several supporters, Ferrer and other supporters were arrested (see section 2.b. for more information). On October 1, he was arrested again, this time on different charges that he was involved in a physical assault of an UNPACU member. The charges were likely fabricated, due to testimony from multiple individuals that the alleged victim left UNPACU headquarters unharmed and testimony from the alleged victim’s wife that the injuries were sustained in a motorcycle accident. A separate activist said she was threatened with prison if she did not sign a false statement implicating Ferrer in the alleged crime. (Section 1.D) (Emphases added.)
  • Ferrer was held incommunicado for 72 hours before authorities acknowledged he was in custody, and they denied his wife access to him. Several days later, she was finally allowed access to him and received permission to send him a change of clothes, but not medication to tend to his chronic medical condition. On October 18, after not seeing him for more than two weeks, she filed a writ of habeas corpus stating Ferrer’s family did not know his whereabouts or if he was still alive, and that they had not been informed of charges filed against him or been given the opportunity to provide a lawyer to represent him. The court ruled against the petition, claiming that charges were brought on October 3 and formally filed October 7, without stating his location or the charges against him.” (Section 1.D) (Emphases added.)
  • “On October 25, still without access to her husband for herself or her lawyers, and still without knowing the public charges, Ferrer’s wife and his three minor children demonstrated against her husband’s mistreatment in a public park in Santiago de Cuba; security officials arrested all individuals. On November 7, she was allowed a five-minute supervised visit with him–the first proof she had received in more than one month that Ferrer was still alive. He described extremely punishing treatment he received at the hands of his jailers, who chained him hand and feet, offered him only spoiled food and foul water, and held him with a known violent criminal who said he was offered privileges in exchange for beating Ferrer (which he did regularly).” (Section 1.D) (Emphases added.)
  • “Prison officials refused to consider pleas from Ferrer’s wife to consider his failing health or accept medicine she brought to the prison for him, and they banned her from further visits to the facility. On November 15, the government provided her a copy of the charges filed against Ferrer on October 7. As of December 3, Ferrer still had not received access to a lawyer, and a trial date had not been set.” (Section 1.D.) (Emphases added.)
  • On “September 6-7, the internet access of several UNPACU members was suspended ahead of a planned march, and on October 3, the government suspended the internet access of UNPACU national committee member Katherine Mojena Hernandez after she repeatedly tweeted about a government crackdown on the group. (Section 2.D) (Emphases added.)

Subsequent Developments[6]

Although, as Secretary Pompeo stated, Ferrer’s sentencing was scheduled for March 12, it did not happen, but was postponed to March 14. This delay prompted UNPACU to release the following statement on social media:

  • “The sentence against José Daniel Ferrer will not be issued by an impartial Court, but by the Cuban regime, which probably already has his sentence from the moment of his unjust arrest more than five months ago.”
  • “If there were in Cuba a system with guarantees for its citizens, both José Daniel Ferrer and the other three activists would have been acquitted on the day of the manipulated trial of which they were victims, because with evidence it was shown that all the accusations were part of an orchestrated theater by the political police. “
  • “The UNPACU dismisses the sentence that will be delivered, because it is the product of a perverse dictatorship that for fear and hatred represses and imprisons those who courageously oppose them peacefully, such as José Daniel Ferrer García.”

On March 14, there was still no sentencing. Thus, on March 17,  Ferrer’s teenage son went to the court to demand an explanation for the delay in the sentencing, but was told that the court would not receive anyone. Now it is March 19, and there still is no announcement of the sentencing, which, whenever it comes, will be the subject of a future post.

Conclusion

Given the hostile rhetoric and actions of the Trump Administration against Cuba, it seems exceedingly unlikely that the two parties could peaceably negotiate an end to this dispute over the charges against Ferrer. If there were some country or person who had the trust of both sides, perhaps that country or person could act as a mediator to try to resolve the conflict. Or the two countries could arbitrate this (along with many other) disputes before the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague in the Netherlands.[7] Otherwise, this dispute just adds to the stack of such disputes.

An independent U.S. source (Cuba Money Project) quotes the previously mentioned UNPACU acknowledgement of receiving support from “various foreign institutions that promote values such as democracy, freedom, the rule of law and the separation of powers of state, without which it is impossible for a government to guarantee and respect human rights.” The Project then states that the Cuban American National Foundation on a 2016 U.S. federal tax form reported that it gave $99,431 to UNPACU.

In addition, this Project recently reported the following two other U.S.-financed efforts to promote democracy in Cuba:

  • First, the U.S. government-financed National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in 2019 managed Cuba projects worth $5,411,535.50 for organizations other than UNPACU and another $565,964.50 going to undisclosed organizations.[8]
  • Second, the U.S. Embassy in Havana has announced plans to award grants to Cuban NGOs, institutions and individuals to strengthen Cuba’s independent civil society’s “professional ties” with the U.S. Although there was no announcement of the total amount of such grants or the number of such grants, it did say that they would be at least $10,000 each.[9]

These U.S. programs that were uncovered by the Cuba Money Project provide support for the previously mentioned allegations of Granma’s November 2019 editorial. While the purpose of these U.S. programs sounds good to the ears of U.S. citizens, it is easy to understand why that is not so for the Cuban government.

Ideally the two governments should discuss, negotiate and agree on the details of any such programs. We were headed in that direction during the last 25 months of the Obama Administration.

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[1] Among the many posts about Ferrer, see these posts in dwkcommentaries.com: Secretary Pompeo Demands Release of Cuban Dissident  (Feb. 27, 2020)(and previous posts and comments cited in footnote 2); José Daniel Ferrer Tried for Common Crime in Cuba (Feb. 28, 2020).

[2] Cuba Accuses U.S. of Using Ferrer Case To Try to Discredit Cuba, dwkcommentareis.com (Nov. 21, 2019).

[3] Response of the Patriotic Union of Cuba to the article in the Granma newspaper about José Daniel Ferrer, unpacu.org/en (Nov. 20, 2019).

[4] State Dep’t, Secretary Michael R. Pompeo on the Release of the 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (Mar. 11, 2020); Jakes, Critics Hear Political Tone as Pompeo Calls Out Diplomatic Rivals Over Human Rights, N.Y. Times (Mar. 11, 2020).

[5] State Dep’t, 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Cuba (Mar. 11, 2020).

[6] The regime postpones the sentence against José Daniel Ferrer, Diario de Cuba (Mar. 12, 2020); The authorities still do not reveal the sentence against José Daniel Ferrer, Diario de Cuba (Mar. 17, 2020).

[7] See Proposed Resolution of U.S.-Cuba Issues, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 31, 2019).

[8] Eaton, Dissident’s arrest triggers debate over funding, Cuba Money Project (Dec. 7, 2019); Eaton, NED kept secret more than a half million dollars in Cuba projects, Cuba Money Project (Jan. 2, 2020). The Cuba Money Project was started and is operated by Tracey Eaton, a U.S. journalist and former Havana bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News; it aims to report stories about U.S. government programs and projects related to Cuba.

[9] Eaton, Public diplomacy or interference?, Cuba Money Project (Feb. 1, 2020); U.S. Embassy in Cuba, Education & Culture: Annual Program Statement. (undated).

 

How Does Jesus See Love?

This was the question addressed in Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen’s November 10, 2019, sermon at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church and in his reflections on his gathering four days earlier with  15 other U.S. and Cuban clergy and lay leaders on a rooftop in Havana.[1]

As previously noted in this blog, Westminster has had partnerships with the Presbyterian-Reformed Church of Cuba for nearly 19 years,[2] and the purpose of the recent gathering in Havana was to meet with the leaders of the Seminario de Evangelico de Teologia (SET) and learn about their vision for establishing a facility in Havana to supplement the offerings at its main facilities in the city of Matanzas on the north coast of the island east of Havana.[3]

According to Rev. Hart-Andersen, “It’s an exciting time for the church in Cuba, full of possibility. There’s a great awakening of spiritual hunger on the island as it emerges from decades of atheism and isolation. With its unique circumstances, Cuba offers the Church a living laboratory for spreading the faith.”

“Younger Cubans have virtually no experience of Christianity. They were raised in a system that rejected religion. As a result, for our Presbyterian sisters and brothers and other Christians on the island, it’s if they were starting the church all over.”

“Differing versions of the faith are rushing in to try to fill the void. Some cling to a traditional, conservative Roman Catholicism. Others mix African-traditions with Christianity. Some proclaim an imported, privatized, prosperity gospel designed to meet individual need. And others – including our Seminary partners – pursue a gospel that seeks justice and works to transform individuals and systems.”

“We have our own competing versions of Christianity . . . [in the U.S.] There’s little consensus among us in our land about what it means to be faithful. In our country today, religion is as divided as politics – and sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between the two.”

“Whether in Cuba or . . . [the U.S.], those seeking to live as God’s people are struggling with how to do that in our time. The old ways are not working; we need a refresher course in following Jesus. What do we do?”

The response to this question for us [in the U.S.] and for the church in Cuba comes from Jesus when He answered  the question, “What is the greatest commandment?” Jesus’ answer: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”[4]

How does Jesus see love? It has more than one dimension, and it moves in multiple directions. It starts with each individual human being, created in the image of God, each one of us a living expression of the love of God – and then moves outward, in visible ways to those near us and into our communities, and in invisible ways, to God who joins us in loving the world. It’s a trinity of love: God, neighbor, self. In choosing to follow Jesus, you and I wrestle with finding the right balance among the three – and oftentimes we find ourselves tilting in the direction of self. And we get into trouble when we do that.”

These thoughts occurred to Rev. Hart-Andersen as he and the others on a Havana rooftop sang this hymn:

“Open our eyes, Lord. Help us to see your face.

Open our eyes, Lord. Help us to see.

Open our ears, Lord. Help us to hear your voice.

Open our ears, Lord. Help us to hear.”

Said Rev. Hart-Andersen, “We looked out at the city [of Havana]  and saw its many-hued people, beginning to meet the challenges of another day in a difficult time and place. Help us to see.” We heard “the sounds of children and babies crying and car horns honking, laughter and shouts rose from the streets below to accompany our song. Help us to hear.”

“Our rooftop singing [of this song] placed the worship of God right where worship should be: in the midst of the world. We were no longer hidden and quiet behind walls. It was love of God meets love of neighbor.”

“The practice of Christianity requires a context as close to the real world as possible, and that was the real world. Love needs someone to love. A “neighbor” is not theoretical. We can’t love by staying inside these walls [of our church in Minneapolis or Havana]. . . . Loving our neighbor requires that we encounter our neighbor.”

From the Havana rooftop, “we looked into a city teeming with life, yet impoverished materially and spiritually. And as we looked, we caught a glimpse of the makings of the Beloved Community—people working together, hoping for a better future, refusing to be overwhelmed by their circumstance, wanting to be loved by one another.”

“That’s how Jesus sees love—as a community of people reconciled to God and reconciled to one another, eager to worship and ready to serve.” (Emphasis in original.)

 State Department’s Contrary Opinion of Cuban Religious Freedom[5]

This sermon also implicitly contradicts the U.S. State Department’s December 20th addition of Cuba to the Department’s  Special Watch List of countries engaging in or tolerating “severe violations of religious freedom” while not meeting all of the criteria for the worse status of Countries of Particular Concern.

The Department did not provide any purported factual basis for this action regarding Cuba even though only six  months earlier, on June 21, 2019,  the Department’s latest annual report on this subject for every country in the world had harsh, and unjustified, criticism of Cuba, but did not designate the island as a member of the “Special Watch List” or as a “Country of Particular Concern.’ [6]

Conclusion

Jesus’ reminder that we all are commanded to love God with all our heart, soul and mind and our neighbor as ourself should remind us that each of us and everyone else (and every country) often fail to meet these obligations and, therefore, need forgiveness. We need to be humble.

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[1] Westminster Presbyterian Church, Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen, Sermon: How Does Jesus See Love? (Nov. 10, 2019).

[2]  As its website says, SET is an ecumenical seminary that “was founded on October 1, 1946,” and that now “is governed by a Board of Directors, with representative, legislative, consultative and executive functions; composed of ten members of the Cuban founding Churches: Episcopal Church of Cuba (4), Presbyterian-Reformed in Cuba (4); and by a representative of the Fraternity of Baptist Churches of Cuba (1) and of the Los Amigos Church “Quakers” (1).” SET works “in the academic, ecumenical, ethical, moral and spiritual formation of those who feel called by God to exercise the ordained ministry, and other ministries in the Church, as well as in the training of the faithful who wish to serve in the work of the Lord through the broadest universal ministry of International believers, through regular and special courses, in permanent residence or through meetings, among others. We are also engaged in the development of an ethical, theological and biblical culture and, for this purpose, we are open to people who do not intend to enter the Christian ministry in any of its forms.”

[3] Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church’s Connections with Cuba, dwkcommentareis.com (Jan.13, 2015); Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church Celebrates U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation, (Jan. 4, 2015) dwkcommentaries. com (Jan. 4, 2015).

[4] Matthew 22: 34-40Mark 12: 28-31Luke 10: 25-28. This answer from Jesus quoted from the Hebrew Bible that would have been well known to the individuals asking this question: Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18.

[5]  State Dep’t, Press Statement: United States Takes Action Against Violators of Religious Freedom (Dec. 20, 2019).

[6] See State Dep’t, 2018 Report on International Religious Freedom (June 21, 2019); U.S. State Department Unfairly Criticizes Cuban Religious Freedom, dwkcommentaries.com (July 18, 2019); U.S. State Department’s Positive Assessment of Cuban Religious Freedom,  dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 19, 2017).

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. Imposes New Sanctions on Cuba and Denounces Cuba’s Detention of Dissident   

On October 18, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) imposed new sanctions against Cuba while the State Department denounced Cuba’s detention of dissident Jose Daniel Ferrer.

New Sanctions[1]

The BIS revoked “existing licenses for aircraft leases to Cuban state-owned airlines, and will deny future applications for aircraft leases.” This was based upon the Department’s assertion that  “the Cuban regime is resorting to transporting tourists on leased aircraft subject to BIS jurisdiction.”

Additionally, “BIS is expanding Cuba sanctions to include more foreign goods containing U.S. content, and is imposing additional restrictions on exports to the Cuban regime.” According to a regulation set for October 21 publication, the Export Administration Regulations will be amended so that goods with as little as 10% U.S. content will be subject to U.S. jurisdiction and, thus, require a license from the U.S. Department of Commerce for export or reexport to Cuba. Previously, the policy only applied to goods with 25% or greater U.S. content. In addition, the amendment will, prohibit certain donations to the Cuban government and communist party  and clarify the scope of telecommunications items that the Cuban government may receive without a license.

This action, says the Department, “supports the Administration’s earlier decision to hold the Cuban regime accountable for repressing its own people as well as continuing to provide support to the illegitimate Maduro regime which has terrorized the Venezuelan population and wantonly destroyed the once-prosperous economy relied on by millions.”

The Department’s Secretary, Wilbur Ross, said, “This action . . . sends another clear message to the Cuban regime – that they must immediately cease their destructive behavior at home and abroad. The Trump Administration will continue to act against the Cuban regime for its misdeeds, while continuing to support the Cuban people and their aspirations for freedom and prosperity.”

Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel in a tweet said these new sanctions were “an expression of impotence, moral degradation and imperial contempt. It is an inhuman, cruel, unjust and genocidal act that we strongly reject. We will not give up. and we will give sovereign answer.”

A similar tweet came from Cuba Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez: these are “additional acts of economic blockade, representative of a moral bankruptcy policy, internationally isolated and promoted by a corrupt government. The Cuban people will continue to give due and sovereign response.”

Denouncing Cuban Detention of Dissident[2]

The Cuban dissident who has been detained is Jose Daniel Ferrer, the founder of  the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU).

According to the State Department, “On October 1, “Castro regime officials detained Mr. Ferrer and several other human rights defenders in Santiago de Cuba.  Mr. Ferrer reportedly has still not been informed of any charges against him, and has been denied access to a lawyer and to medical care.  Mr. Ferrer’s family has not been permitted contact with him since October 4.”  In addition, other “UNPACU activists Roilan Zarraga Ferrer, José Pupo Chaveco, and Fernando González Vailant also remain in custody.”

“Ferrer’s case is one more example of the Castro regime’s continuous and flagrant violation of human rights, which has recently escalated into a wave of repression against freedoms of speech, expression, and religion.  The United States will not allow these abuses against the Cuban people to go unnoticed or unanswered.  We will continue to increase sanctions and trade restrictions to diminish the resources available to the Cuban regime, which uses its income to suppress its own citizens and to prop up other regimes with shameful human rights records, including the former Maduro regime in Venezuela.”

Therefore, the U.S. “strongly condemns the Cuban regime’s unconscionable detainment of . . . [Senor] Ferrer, founder of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU).  We call on the Castro regime to immediately disclose Mr. Ferrer’s location and condition, to treat him humanely, and to release him from detention without condition.”

Similar protests of this detention have been registered by UNPACU, Cuba’s Legal Information Center (CUBALEX), Cuban Prisoners Defenders, Freedom House and Amnesty International.

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[1] Commerce Dep’t, U.S. Department of Commerce Further Tightens Cuba Sanctions (Oct. 18, 2019); Reuters, U.S. Hits Cuba With New Sanctions Over Human Rights, Venezuela, N.Y. Times (Oct. 18, 2019); Assoc. Press, U.S. slaps new sanctions on Cuba over human rights, Venezuela, Wash. Post (Oct. 18, 2019);Center for Democracy in Americas,  U.S. restricts additional exports and re-exports to Cuba, U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 10/18/2019.

[2] State Dep’t, Detention of Cuban Human Rights Defender José Daniel Ferrer (Oct. 18, 2019); The arrest of José Daniel Ferrer is ‘a mechanism of repression against all civil society,’ Diario de Cuba (Oct. 17, 2019); Cuban Prisoners Defenders denounces the Cuban regime in Geneva for the case of José Ferrer, Diario de Cuba (Oct. 17, 2019).

 

U.S. Orders Cuba To Remove 15 Cuban Diplomats

On October 3, the U.S. Secretary of State issued a Statement about the ordered departure of 15 Cuban diplomats from the U.S. This post will review that Statement and U.S. State Department press conferences regarding that decision. Subsequent posts will review reactions by the Cuban Government and by others.

The Statement[1]

The Statement announced that the Department had just informed the Cuban Government that the Department “was ordering the departure of 15 of [Cuba’s] . . . officials from its Embassy in Washington, D.C.” because of “Cuba’s failure to take appropriate steps to protect our diplomats in accordance with its obligations under the Vienna Convention [on Diplomatic Relations]. This order will ensure equity in our respective diplomatic operations.”

The Statement then noted that on September 29 the Department had announced the voluntary withdrawal of diplomatic personnel and their families from the U.S. Embassy in Havana as a result of concerns about the still unresolved problem of medical “incidents” or “attacks” on those diplomats and their families

The Statement concluded, “We continue to maintain diplomatic relations with Cuba, and will continue to cooperate with Cuba as we pursue the investigation into these attacks.”

Department’s Press Briefings[2]

There were two Department briefings on October 3 that concerned U.S.-Cuba relations. The first was a pre-announcement briefing exclusively about the Statement when an unnamed State Department official added the following additional details:

  • The Cuban ambassador in Washington was informed of the expulsions in a 9 a.m. phone call.
  • The expelled embassy personnel were identified by the Department and must be out of the U.S. within seven days. By then, the American embassy in Havana will have completed its own drawdown.
  • The Cuban government need to give a clear assurance that the attacks would not continue before the personnel in either embassy could return.”
  • All of this was done even though these “officials emphasized that they are not accusing the Cuban government of complicity in the attacks.”
  • “We are not assigning culpability. The expulsions aim to “underscore to the Cubans that they must take more actions to protect our people on the ground.”

That same afternoon Heather Nauert, the Department’s Spokesperson, held another press briefing that opened with a reiteration that the decision to expel Cuban diplomats did “not signal a change of policy or determination of responsibility for the attacks on U.S. Government personnel in Cuba. Investigations into those attacks are still ongoing [in cooperation with Cuban authorities].” She also added, “We recognize that at this time there is a need to keep a post open there with a skeleton crew handling emergency type issues down there. Frankly, . . . our State Department personnel want to serve in countries all around the world. We have many of them who are serving in very dangerous capacities, and they don’t get enough credit for doing this incredible, amazing work on behalf of U.S. citizens.”

There also was more information about the 21 Americans who have medical problems caused by an unknown device in Havana: 17 were government employees and four were spouses (three of whom worked at the embassy). Another person was added to this list, making it 22.

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, On the Expulsion of Cuban Officials from the United States (Oct. 3, 2017).

[2] U.S. State Dep’t, Background Briefing: State Department Official on Cuba (Oct. 3, 2017); U.S. State Dep’t, Press Briefing (Oct. 3, 2017); Harris & Davis, U.S. Expels 15 Cuban Diplomats From Embassy in Washington, N.Y. Times (Oct. 3, 2017); Reuters, U.S. to Expel Nearly Two-thirds of Cuban Embassy Staff, N.Y. Times (Oct. 2, 2017); Assoc. Press, Ties Threatened: US to Tell Cuba to Remove Most Diplomats, N.Y. Times  (Oct. 3, 2017).

 

 

 

An Exciting Introduction to Morocco 

Last month my wife and I went on a wonderful two-week tour of Morocco with Overseas Adventure Travel. Here is the OAT map for the tour:

We were impressed by the country’s fascinating history and people, its beautiful architecture, cities and rugged Atlas Mountains, the immensity of the rolling Sahara Desert along its southern border and its current construction boom.

While there we also learned of Morocco’s recent re-establishment of its diplomatic relations with Cuba, a country about which I have written a lot, and of Morocco’s membership in the African Union, both related to Morocco’s lingering conflict over the Western Sahara, which was the subject of a recent U.N. Security Council resolution, all of which were discussed in recent posts.[1]

Also fascinating was the country’s religious profile. Its population of 33.7 million is 99% Sunni Muslim with 1% Shia Muslims, Christians, Jews and Bahias. In every town the mosques’ minarets were the instantaneously recognizable tallest structures.[2]

Our OAT tour guide told us that the current king, Mohammad VI, has been leading efforts to ensure that Muslims in Morocco are not encouraged to join extremists groups like ISIS or Al Qaeda. All imams have to complete an education course at the capitol at Rabat that is organized and administered by the government’s ministry of religious affairs (The Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs of the Kingdom of Morocco) and that excludes the extremist ideologies promoted by ISIS and Al Qaeda.

We also were told that neither the government nor the Muslim leaders discriminate against Christians or Jews, and we visited a synagogue in Fez. On the other hand, we were told, the Christians and Jews are forbidden from preaching or proselytizing or evangelizing in public.

Previously I had learned that the five “pillars” of Islam are (1) shahada, declaring as a matter of faith and trust that there is only one God (Allah) and that Mohammad is God’s messenger; (2) salat, saying the Islamic prayer five times a day; (3) zakat, giving to the poor and needy; (4) slym, fasting during the month of Ramadan; and (5) haji, making a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca at least once in a lifetime.

Although in Morocco I only experienced hearing the call to prayer over a minaret’s loudspeaker, I came to see these pillars of faith as similar to various practices of Christian spirituality, as ways of reinforcing a believer’s connections with God (Allah), and as ways that help believers live in accordance with the will of God (Allah). These pillars and practices, in my opinion, also rest on the belief that no one is perfect, that all find it too easy to stray from the path of faithfulness and that all need reminders of God or Allah’s way.

I felt fortunate that my Minneapolis church (Westminster Presbyterian) has warm relations with a local mosque and that we have hosted at least two worship services including its leaders. [3]

After returning to the U.S., I conducted research and discovered more about the previously mentioned government ministry; Morocco’s positive relations with international anti-terrorism groups; the important Declaration of Marrakesh promoting respect for religious minorities in Muslim countries; the most current U.S. State Department’s assessment of Morocco’s religious freedom; and the nature of current U.S.-Morocco relations. These topics will be explored in subsequent posts.

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[1] Cuba and Morocco Re-Establish Diplomatic Relations, dwkcommentaries.com (May 7, 2017); U.N. Security Council Orders More Negotiations About the Western Sahara Conflict, dwkcommentaries.com (May 9, 2017).

[2] CIA World Factbook, Morocco.

[3] Interfaith Worship Service at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 2, 2015); A Christian-Muslim Conversation About Forgiveness, dwkcommentaries.com (May 15, 2017).