U.S. Reactions to the New President of Cuba

A prior post reported the April 19 election of Miguel Díaz-Canel as the new President of Cuba. U.S. reactions to that election  have been unanimous: at least initially there probably will be no major changes in Cuba’s international and domestic policies, and many also say there was not a democratic transition of power. Here is a sampling of these U.S. reactions.

U.S. Reactions

Soon after Raúl Castro in his April 19 speech referred to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s leaving the Summit of the Americas, Pence tweeted the U.S. will not rest until Cuba “has free & fair elections, political prisoners are released & the people of Cuba are finally free! #CubaLibre.”[1]

On April 18 a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council told an independent Cuban news outlet, “The United States has no expectation that the Cuban people will see greater liberties under Castro’s hand-picked successor. We will continue to show solidarity with the Cuban people in their petition for freedom and prosperity, so we are not expected to change our policy of directing funds to the Cuban people and away from Cuba’s military, security and intelligence services.”[2]

The previous day the spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, Heather Nauert, said, “As we watch what’s taken place at the Cuba national assembly, we certainly see that that’s not a democratic transition. So when we see that something is not a democratic transition, that’s of great concern to us. We would like citizens to be able to have a say in their political outcomes, and this certainly does not seem like regular folks will have a say. . . . They basically don’t have a real or meaningful choice because it’s not a democratic process. We hope that Cuba’s new president will listen to the Cuban people. We’re not sure that that’s going to happen. We would like a more free and democratic Cuba. We will be watching but aren’t overly optimistic, because this isn’t a democratic process.”[3]

A New York Times editorial stated, “Rául Castro, who handpicked this loyal apparatchik as his successor, remains at the helm of the Communist Party and the armed forces; his son runs the intelligence services; his ex-son-in-law runs the military’s vast business interests. In his first speech, Mr. Díaz-Canel vowed there would be no “capitalist restoration” and concluded with a slogan that has not roused the masses for some time now: “Socialism or death! We will triumph!”[4]

The Times’ editorial also stated, “President “Trump should join with Cuba’s other neighbors to encourage the new Cuban leader to expand the private economy, release political prisoners, increase access to the internet, decentralize power and in other critically needed ways finally break his country out of the Castro cocoon.”

After noting his concurrence in not expecting major changes in Cuba, Christopher Sabatini, a lecturer at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and executive director of Global Americans, urges changes in U.S. policies regarding the island. He says, “While it is not in America’s interest to promote investment to prop up an anachronistic, repressive regime, it is also not in its interest to stand by while a neighbor’s fragile economy crumbles under the weight of its failed policies. In the worst of cases, an economic implosion would produce social unrest and waves of migrants to American shores.” To that end, he suggests, “Multilateral banks like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, at Washington’s urging, could be given special allowances to offer economic assistance to the next Cuban government while providing international cover for American-led efforts. Any aid should come with a strong message from Washington and the banks that the Cuban government must refrain from repression in response to protests.” Sabatini also recommends that the U.S. restore the full staffing of the U.S. Embassy in Havana.[5]

Engage Cuba, a U.S. coalition of businesses and others that supports U.S.-Cuba normalization, issued two statements about this change.[6]

The first one said this “is a historic and potentially transformative change. The new Cuban president will face an internal political struggle between continuity and reform. I hope that they choose reform and openness, including greater support for the private sector and access to the internet.” It added, “The [U.S.] must also seize this historic moment. After 60 years of a failed embargo, it is time to recognize that with this Cuban transition comes opportunity. We must show leadership and constructively engage. If President Trump is willing to meet with the hostile leader of North Korea, surely we can talk with Cuba. If the U.S. abandons Cuba and fails to lead, we can be sure our adversaries in China and Russia will fill the void, and the losers will be the Cuban people.”

The second press release from Engage Cuba stated the following:

  • “U.S. policy . . . [should] encourage the change we’d like to see. For almost 60 years we have pursued an embargo policy that has failed. With new generational leadership in Cuba, we now have an opportunity to reimagine our policy for the 21st century. We know that continuing the embargo will not work, so let us not double down on 60 years of failure. President Trump and Congress should seize this moment, support the Cuban private sector, let American businesses compete, and look to the future with a modern policy of constructive engagement. After all, the American and Cuban people overwhelmingly support engagement and improved relations. Washington politicians should listen to them for a change.”
  • “Diaz-Canel inherits the challenges of Castro’s Cuba, particularly on the economic front. In the interest of institutional continuity, reforms under Diaz-Canel are expected to be gradual. But market distortions caused by the country’s multiple exchange rates, slow GDP growth, and declining exports will test the new president’s ability to balance badly needed reform with preserving Cuba’s brand of socialism.”
  • “The transition comes at a time of historically low diplomatic engagement between the U.S. and Cuba. The health incidents affecting U.S. diplomats remain an unsolved mystery,which the State Department has used as a rationale for slashing U.S. embassy staff in Havana. Diplomatic personnel have been reduced to 40 percent capacity (12 officers), with no consular services for Cubans seeking U.S. travel or immigrant visas.”
  • “In this transitional period, the fragile U.S.-Cuba relationship poses national security risks for the U.S. Both Russia and China have ramped up exports and investment in Cuba and expressed interest in increasing military and intelligence presence in the region. Further U.S. withdrawal from Cuba could jeopardize the dozens of agreements and joint security initiatives between the two nations.”

The leading long-time U.S. opponent of normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations, Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), stated, “The sham ‘elections’ in Cuba were nothing more than a predetermined charade by the Castro regime. With Raul Castro stepping down today, and his appointed crony Miguel Diaz-Canel taking his place, Cuba will continue to be imprisoned under the rule of an oppressive single-party political system. The Cuban dictatorship portrays this election as a step towards change, yet we know that Diaz-Canel and the regime will remain an enemy of democracy, human rights and the impartial rule of law. If Castro really wanted democratic change for Cuba, he would allow the Cuban people to determine their fate through free, fair, and multi-party elections. “[7]

Cuban Reactions Through U.S. Eyes

 According to a U.S. journalist in Havana, no Cubans seemed to have been watching and listening to the televised April 19 speeches by Díaz-Canel and Raúl Castro. “Instead, a collective sense of apathy seemed to permeate Havana, a feeling that appeared to have been fostered, at least to some degree, by the government itself.” This was coupled with “a sense of hopelessness.”[8]

Conclusion

As apparent from many previous posts, this blog consistently has called for U.S.-Cuba normalization, rescinding the U.S. embargo (blockade) of Cuba, restoring the full staffing of our Havana Embassy and of Cuba’s embassy in Washington, D.C., rescinding the recent U.S. warning about U.S. citizens traveling to the island, ceasing U.S. efforts that seek to change Cuba’s regime, continuing the bilateral meetings that address issues of common concern and engaging in efforts to resolve other long-pending issues (U.S. claims for Cuban compensation for expropriation of property owned by American interests, Cuban claims for damages from the embargo and other actions and disputes about Cuba’s lease of Guantanamo Bay to the U.S.).

Such changes in U.S. policies would do a lot to encourage changes in Cuba’s policies and improve the lot of the Cuban people.

It must also be said that U.S. does not have standing to criticize  Cuba’s not having a national popular election to choose its president. How can anyone forget that the U.S. still uses an antiquated indirect way (the Electoral College) to choose its president and vice president while some state voting laws have been designed to discourage voting by African-Americans.

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[1] Assoc. Press, The Latest: Pence tweets response to Cuba’s Raul Castro, Wash. Post (April 19, 2018).

[2] The White House rules out changes in its policy towards Cuba, Diario de Cuba (April 19, 2018).

[3] U.S. State Dep’t, Department Press Briefing-April 17, 2018.

[4] Editorial, A New Cuba After the Castros? Not Quite, N.Y. Times (April 20, 2018).

[5] Sabatini, We Shouldn’t Ignore Cuba, N.Y. Times (April 17, 2018). 

[6] Press Release, Engage Cuba Statement on Selection of New Cuban President (April 19, 2018); Press Release, Engage Cuba Statement on Cuba’s Presidential Transition (April 19, 2018).

[7] Press Release, Rubio Statement on Sham Cuban “Elections,” (April 18, 2018).

[8] Ahmed, Cubans Doubt a Change at the Top Will Bring Change at the Bottom, N.Y. Times (April 21, 2018).

U.S. and Cuba Hold Biannual Migration Talks 

Despite the significant recent cooling of relations, the U.S. and Cuba held their biannual discussion of migration issues, this time at the State Department in Washington, D.C. on December 11.

Migration Discussions[1]

According to the Department, the two countries “discussed the significant reduction in irregular migration from Cuba to the [U.S.] since the implementation of the January 2017 Joint Statement [during the last days of the Obama Administration [2]]. Apprehensions of Cuban migrants at U.S. ports of entry decreased by 64 percent from fiscal year 2016 to 2017, and maritime interdictions of Cuban migrants decreased by 71 percent. The [U.S.] confirmed it met its annual commitment in fiscal year 2017 to facilitate legal migration by issuing a minimum of 20,000 documents under the Migration Accords to Cubans to immigrate to the [U.S.] The U.S. delegation also raised the need for increased Cuban cooperation in the return of Cubans with final orders of removal from the [U.S.]”

The Department added, “A strong migration policy is vital to the [U.S.] national security. The Migration Talks, which began in 1995, provide a forum for the [U.S.] and Cuba to review and coordinate efforts to ensure safe, legal, and orderly migration between Cuba and the [U.S.]. The talks were last held in April 2017 [in the Trump Administration].”

The Cuban statement provided greater details on the substance of these discussions. It said “Cuba urged the [U.S.] to fulfill its obligation to issue no less than 20,000 travel documents annually to Cuban citizens to emigrate to that country. “Cuba also questioned the “validity of the U.S. Cuban Adjustment Act, which continues to be a stimulus to irregular migration and whose repeal will be essential to achieve normal migratory relations between the two countries.”[3] Another impediment to cooperation on migration, said Cuba, was the U.S. cancellation of “trips of official delegations from the [U.S.] to Cuba, which has led to the postponement of previously scheduled exchanges of mutual interest, which , if maintained,  could deepen the effects on exchanges in this and other areas.”

The Cuban statement also said that Cuba  had “expressed its deepest concern about the negative consequences that [U.S.] unilateral, unfounded and politically motivated decisions [in September and October 2017] have on immigration relations between both countries.”[4]

Furthermore, Cuba “warned . . .about the negative impact of the suspension of the granting of visas in the [U.S.] Consulate in Havana [due to the U.S. reduced staffing], which, by paralyzing the procedures of Cuban citizens to visit or emigrate to that country, seriously hampers family relations and exchanges of all kinds between both peoples.” Cuba reiterated its objection to the U.S.”arbitrary expulsion of a significant group of officials from [Cuba’s] Embassy in Washington, which has significantly affected the functioning of the diplomatic mission, . . . [especially] the services it provides to Cubans residing in the[U.S.]. . . . and] to American citizens who are interested in traveling to our country.”[5]

On a more positive note, Cuba observed that both side recognized “the positive impact of the Joint Declaration signed on January 12, 2017 [during the last days of the Obama Administration] and, specifically, the elimination of the “dry feet-wet feet” policy and the “Parole Program for Cuban Medical Professionals” in the decrease of irregular emigration from Cuba to the [U.S.]”[6]

In addition, both countries” agreed on the usefulness of the exchange between Coast Guard Troops and the Coast Guard Service held in July [2017]and the technical meeting on human trafficking and immigration fraud carried out in September [2017] which will continue on December 12. Cuba reaffirmed its willingness to give continuity to the rounds of conversations on migration issues.”

Conclusion

As an advocate for normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations, it is good to know that the two countries still manage to hold respectful meetings to discuss issues of mutual concern even though they do not agree on all such issues and even though this blog disapproves of the Trump Administration’s recent changes to U.S. regulations on travel to Cuba and trade with Cuba.

This blog was also pleased to read the U.S. implicit positive endorsement of the Obama Administration’s January 12, 2017, Joint Declaration with Cuba about the latter’s migration to the U.S.

On the other hand, this blog disagrees with the U.S. reduction of the staffing of its Embassy in Havana and the expulsion of Cuban diplomats from its Embassy in Washington and supports Cuba’s complaint about the negative consequences of those decisions.

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, United States and Cuba Hold Biannual Migration Talks in Washington, D.C. (Dec. 11, 2017); Washington’s unilateral actions hamper relations with Cuba, Granma (Dec. 11, 2017)

[2] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: U.S. Ends Special Immigration Benefit for Cubans and Meets with Cubans To Discuss Claims (Jan. 13, 2017); Additional Reactions to End of U.S. Immigration Benefits to Cubans (Jan. 14, 2017); Reuters, Cuba Tells U.S. Suspension of Visas Is Hurting Families, N.Y. Times (Dec. 12, 2017).

[3] Cuban Adjustment Act, Wikipedia.

[4]  See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: A New Travel Warning for Americans Traveling to Cuba (Sept. 19, 2017); Medical “Incidents” Affecting U.S. Diplomats in Cuba Prompt U.S. To Reduce Staff at Havana Embassy and Urge Americans Not to Travel to Cuba (Sept. 30, 2017); U.S. Orders Cuba To Remove 15 Cuban Diplomats (Oct. 4, 2017); U.S. Embassy in Cuba Issues “Hotel Restrictions” Security Message (Oct. 7, 2017).

[5] See n.4.

[6] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: U.S. Ends Special Immigration Benefit for Cubans and Meets with Cubans To Discuss Claims (Jan. 13, 2017); Additional Reactions to End of U.S. Immigration Benefits to Cubans (Jan. 14, 2017).