Guantanamo Bay: The World’s Most Expensive Prison   

According to the New York Times, the U.S. total cost last year of operating the detention facility or prison at Guántanamo Bay, Cuba exceeded $540 million. This consists of the costs of holding the prisoners — including the men accused of plotting the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — paying for the troops who guard them, running the war court and doing related construction.” This does not include classified expenses, presumably a continued CIA presence in Guantanamo.[1]

With only 40 prisoners now housed there, that means each of them costs the U.S. Government at least $13 million per year.

The U.S. “military assigns around 1,800 troops to the detention center, or 45 for each prisoner. The troops work out of three prison buildings, two top-secret headquarters, at least three clinics and two compounds where prisoners consult their lawyers. Some also stand guard across the base at Camp Justice, the site of the war court and parole board hearing room.”

“The 40 prisoners, all men, get halal food, access to satellite news and sports channels, workout equipment and PlayStations. Those who behave — and that has been the majority for years — get communal meals and can pray in groups, and some can attend art and horticulture classes.”

“The prison’s staff members have their own chapel and cinema, housing, two dining rooms and a team of mental health care workers, who offer comfort dogs.”

In 2013 the Defense Department issued an annual report that said the annual cost of operation Guantanamo Bay was $454.1 million. Moreover, that report “put the total cost of building and operating the prison since 2002 at $5.2 billion through 2014, a figure that now appears to have risen to past $7 billion.”

Conclusion

This blog has published many posts regarding the legal basis for the U.S. use of this part of Cuba (a 1903 lease for use as a “coaling or naval station only, and for no other purpose”), the annual rent paid by the U.S., but not accepted by Cuba ($ 4,085), and the pros and cons of Cuba’s repeated assertion that the U.S. presence in Guantánamo is illegal.

Now the exorbitant U.S. cost of operating these facilities presents another reason why the U.S. should close these facilities and work out an agreement for return of this territory to Cuba, including a ban on Cuba’s letting Russia or another nation occupy and use the facilities.

On September 18 President Donald Trump, in response to a journalist’s question about the expense of operating Guantánamo, said, “I think it’s crazy. It costs a fortune to operate, and I think it’s crazy.” However, he did not say he would consider closing the Guantanamo facility. Instead, he said , “We’re looking at a lot of things.”[2]

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[1] Rosenberg, The Cost of Running Guantánamo Bay: $13 Million Per Prisoner, N.Y. Times (Sept. 17, 2019).

[2] Baker, Trump Says ‘It’s Crazy’ to Spend $13 Million Per Inmate at Guantánamo, N.Y.Times  (Sept. 19, 2019).

 

Cuba Struggling with Energy Shortages     

On September 11, after several days of marked cutbacks on public transportation, Cuba President Miguel Diaz-Canel warned on national television that Cuba was facing an immediate energy crisis due to lack of diesel fuel. As a result, he said, “There may be problems with the distribution of products that depend on diesel-fueled transport, in public transport and in energy generation, which we’re trying to take measures to avoid.”[1]

 The Cuban Government’s Initial Comments on the Shortages

In those September 11 remarks, the President recognized problems with the supply of fuels that have caused the congestion of the bus stops, but insisted that it is a “short-term” situation and called the Cubans, tired of going through moments of this type, to see it as ” a workout.” “We have a strategy to win. Beauty is in the challenging situations … what happens is convenient.”

He also called for “sharing the promotion of savings as a practice of life and altruism as an attitude to the lack of fuel.” Likewise, to “confront with rigor and firmness manifestations of crime associated with the diversion of resources, and to the possible opportunistic attitude with which certain people may behave in the middle of this situation (…) raising prices, monopolizing products or speculating.”

There was no new “special period,” Diaz-Canel said, even though “there may be tense situations in the distribution of some products and the provision of services to the population in the coming days.” Now, however, “we have strengths that didn’t exist [in the 1990s] and that draws a qualitatively different scenario.” However, according to Diario de Cuba, the following “new strengths” are distrusted by the Cuban people: the “economic and social development strategy” of the [Communist Party of Cuba],” the “conceptualization of the economic and social model,” the “basis for the elaboration of the economic and social plan to 2030 and to keep moving forward” and the new Constitution.

This shortage will continue until the expected September 14 arrival of a tanker with diesel fuel and then another shipment at the end of the month. Contracts for October shipments are being negotiated.

A related problem was the negative impact on Cuban imports of food.

The government officials blamed the U.S. for this shortage. The U.S., they said, persists in “trying to prevent the arrival of fuel to Cuba” and applying “unilateral measures to limit our contracts with shipping companies that deliver resources to Cuba.” Some of these shipping companies have ceased to provide this service.

The government officials  also pointed out that Cuba produces about 40 percent of its demand for petroleum that is uses to operate its thermoelectric plants.

Díaz-Canel concluded his address with these words, “These are times of Fatherland or Death.”

Only the preceding day (September 10) Diaz-Canel held a public meeting to discuss the status of projects to construct and maintain the country’s roads. He said the government intended to spend more than 174  million pesos on such projects by 2020. Such efforts this year had been adversely affected by lack of fuel and cement and limited financial resources.

The Cuban Government’s Other Comments on the Shortages[2]

 On September 12, President Diaz-Canel again appeared on television to comment on the shortage. He said, with a laugh, “”Now we have to go tighter.” After the prior announcement of the shortage, he has “received revolutionary feelings, support, understanding . . . [that] is more than a fuel supertanker can contribute.” People express “concerns,” but few “dissatisfactions.” There is “enthusiasm,” especially “among young people,” with the call for “austerity” and “solidarity.”

The next day, Friday, “Cubans queued for hours for public transport on Friday at peak times in Havana, sweating in the heavy heat, while queues at gas stations snaked several blocks long, as a fuel shortage that the government blames on U.S. sanctions began to bite.” In addition, government inspectors “flagged down workers with state cars or trucks to get them to pick others up.” An ordinary 55-year-old Cuban, Alexei  Perez Recio, said, “The transport situation is getting ugly, even if the state says it is only temporary” as he was fixing up his bicycle he had not used since the Special Period. “I have to have (my bike) ready.”

Reactions[3]

 An editorial in Diario de Cuba, which is a website from Madrid, Spain, complained about the Cuban government’s again blaming the U.S. embargo for the island’s ills, not “the lack of foresight of the Cuban Government, nor its profound inefficiency or the failed system it defends.”

The Government’s solution, according to this editorial, was to reprogram trains, ask the people to squeeze together on the buses and seek solidarity from the citizens.

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[1] Diaz-Canel evaluates the progress of economic programs in Cuba, Cubadebate (Sept. 10, 2019); Assoc. Press, Cuba’s President Warns That Energy Cutbacks Are Looming, N.Y. Times (Sept, 11, 2019); Cuban President announces measures to deal with conjunctural fuel shortage, Granma (Sept. 12, 2019); Havanans support government measures to face energy situation, Cubadebate (Sept. 12, 2019); ‘We have to endure, it’s a few days’: Diaz-Canel minimizes the fuel crisis in Cuba, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 12, 2019); Cubans warned of imminent severe fuel crisis due to US sanctions, BBC News (Sept. 12, 2019).

[2] ‘We have to endure, it’s a few days’: Diaz-Canel minimizes the fuel crisis in Cuba, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 12, 2019); Gamez Torres, Cuban leader blames Trump for oil shortages, announces more austerity measures, Miami Herald (Sept. 12, 2019); Diaz-Canel: ‘Now we have to go tighter, ’Diario de Cuba (Sept. 13, 2019); Reuters, Cuba’s Acute Fuel Shortage Begins to Bite, N.Y. Times (Sept. 13, 2019).

[3] Editorial: What the Round Table explained about the ‘conjuncture’ in Cuba, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 13, 2019).

 

Cuba and European Union Draw Closer Together 

On September 9 in Havana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, pledged the EU’s help for development of Cuba’s economy.[1]

At a joint press conference with Cuba Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez, Mogherini said, “The EU is Cuba’s top commercial partner and investor, and we have tripled cooperation in the last two years.” She also said the EU would continue to offer financial support for Cuba’s economic reforms that would encourage foreign investment on the island.

She noted that  the two countries already held bilateral talks on topics such as sustainable development and human rights within the framework of the 2017 Political Dialogue and Cooperation pact. She said, “We have also continued the dialogue on the situation in the region and cooperation, on Venezuela in particular.”

There also was discussion of the U.S. intensification of its embargo (blockade) against Cuba, and its extraterritorial effects.

Earlier Mogherini, met with Cuba President Miguel Diaz-Canel. She was accompanied by the EU Ambassador to Cuba, Alberto Navarro; the Chief of Staff of the EU’s High Representative, Stefano Grassi; and the director for the Americas, Edita Hrda. Diaz-Canel was accompanied by Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla; its General Director of Bilateral Affairs of the Foreign Ministry, Emilio Lozada García; and the Cuban Ambassador to the European Union, Norma Goicochea Estenoz.

Last week the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPAC) and CubaDecide called for national protests on Sunday (September 8) against the conference with the EU, and on Sunday Cuban officials arrested more than 100 people who were planning to hold such a protest to demand a stronger EU stance on Cuba violations of human rights. Another Cuban group, the Christian Democratic Party of Cuba (PDC-Cuba), called on the EU to denounce Cuba’s violations of human rights and democratic freedoms. In addition, almost 400 activists sent a letter to Sweden’s Minister of Foreign Affairs commending its criticisms of Cuba’s human rights abuses.

After Mogherini’s visit to Cuba, two Cuban opposition groups– Independent Trade Union Association of Cuba (ASIC) and the International Group for Corporate Social Responsibility in Cuba (GIRSCC)—leveled denunciations of Mogherini’s statements on the island. They said, “It is outrageous to see this commissioner throwing flattery at the Castro dictatorship – one of the bloodiest and most repressive in the world, which for 60 years has violated, cruelly and systematically, the most elementary and precious rights of its population – at a time when that suffocates with renewed commitment to Cuban democratic dissent.”

Moreover, the two groups said, “We still do not understand, otherwise, how the commissioner, in her repeated trips to Cuba, has never approached the organized political expressions of the democratic opposition, not even a single opponent victim of oppressive actions of the dictatorship.”

These two groups recalled that “coinciding with their arrival in Cuba, State Security forces violently broke into the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), in Santiago de Cuba, arresting 22 of its militants and confiscating all documentary material and solidarity that was in that center.” Moreover, they said that this year “the actions of harassment, trials and arbitrary detentions against independent trade union activists and their families have become even more cruel and systematic, with the aim of suppressing ASIC and arresting its main leaders.”

Conclusion

The increased EU-Cuba economic collaboration is one of the consequences of the U.S. continuing embargo (blockade) of the island and the various Trump Administration’s policies and actions hostile to Cuba. In short, these U.S. policies and actions are also hostile to U.S. economic interests.

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[1] Acosta, Marsh & Osterman, EU stresses support for Cuba even as U.S. hikes sanctions, Reuters (Sept. 9, 2019); Diaz-Canel received Federica Mogherini, Cubadebate (Sept. 9, 2019); Federica Mogherini: the Government of Cuba ‘is a key partner for us,’ Diario de Cuba (Sept. 9, 2019); Bruno Rodríguez and Mogherini tie loose ends before the Cuba-European Union Council, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 9, 2019); Cuban organizations call on the EU to denounce the omission of Havana’s commitments, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 9, 2019); The EU must demand from Havana the same conduct as the rest of its member states: OCDH, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 9, 2019); More than 30 activists released, ‘some of them very beaten,’ denounces UNPACU, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 9, 2019);Brussels offers Havana more financing to accompany the ‘update’ of its economy, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 10, 2019); Second Cuba- European Union Joint Council held in Havana, Granma (Sept. 11, 2019); Organizations consider Mogherini’s ‘outrageous’ statements in Cuba, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 12, 2019).

 

 

Examination of the Actions of EchoCuba (a U.S. Nonprofit)

The Evangelical Christian Humanitarian Outreach for Cuba (ECHO Cuba), a U.S. nonprofit organization, has emerged as one that calls for close examination by U.S. citizens interested in U.S.-Cuba normalization and reconciliation. EchoCuba is active in Cuba, including successful public opposition to a provision of the then proposed new Cuban constitution and commenting on other controversial Cuban issues. It has received significant financial support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Finally EchoCuba has been used by the State Department as one of only two primary sources for the department’s most recent (and critical) annual report on Cuban religious freedom. These activities have not yet received the serious attention that they deserve. This blog post endeavors to start that examination.

ECHOCuba’s Background [1]

The organization was founded in 1994 by Cuban-American Teo Babún. Soon thereafter it was denounced in the Cuban TV news series “Razones de Cuba” for promoting subversion on the island, with funding from the U.S. government, by publishing counterrevolutionary blogs and printed propaganda and by hosting public events.

Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, has reported that Senor Babún and his family before the triumph of the Revolution “owned the second largest sugarmill in the eastern part of [Cuba]; the Diamante construction company; a cement factory; the Sevilla estate; and the Santiago de Cuba ship line.” After 1959, however, he and his family left the island for Miami, where he made connections with the “annexionist” mafia [Cuban exiles], supported the U.S.-organized mercenary invasion of Play Girón [Bay of Pigs in 1961] and a subsequent terrorist attack on the coastal town of Boca de Samá in 1971.

A noted Cuban intellectual and historian, Nestor Garcia Iturbe, added that Senor Babún is (or was) the executive director of Americas Humanitarian Relief Logistics Team, Inc. (ART) , which says that it “provides aid to hurting people in the Americas” and “disaster response assistance throughout the Americas” as well as partnering with the U.S. Navy’s Southern Command and with “USAID and UN/OCHA through the U.N. Humanitarian System.” Indeed, Garcia says this organization also is a recipient of USAID fund. Another organization created by Babún was the Claims Register Assistance to aid persons who wanted to file claims in the 1960s with the U.S. Department of Justice for their Cuban properties that had been expropriated by the Fidel Castro regime.

The current website for EchoCuba states that its mission is “to equip and strengthen the independent evangelical churches of Cuba through theological education and leadership training of their existing and future pastors. . . . Since the early 1990s, . . . [it] has existed to advocate faith and freedoms in Cuba through a vast network of mostly . . . Protestant and Roman Catholic churches who have promoted Christian education, humanitarian aid, and small business initiatives.”

EchoCuba says in 2002 it “cooperated with different foundations and organizations  in distributing humanitarian assistance and training manuals on carrying out social and human services, such as caring for the elderly, disabled, and malnourished children. It also has aided in reaching out to the most marginalized pockets of Cuba’s populations, including the families of those persecuted by the communist regime for their beliefs and ideals.”

“Today [date not specified] we embark on a new chapter . . . [to focus on] the development of effective Christian leadership to promote Biblical truth while transforming communities. . . [and empowering] the in We collaborate with local leaders, seminaries and communities in the island to bring the Gospel to the masses.”

Yet another of its activities is “faith-based advocacy.” It correctly notes that Cuba was an “atheist state” and that during that period Christians suffered. It also claims that freedom of religion today on the island is “not fully available, and persecution of those who publicly profess a creed exists today.” [This statement is true for the period 1959-1992], but misleading on the years since then.]

EchoCuba also participates in the First Frontier Cuba Network, which “serves as a convening platform, which stewards and directs the investment of North American resources, time, energy and manpower wisely to directly respond to the continuing needs of the Cuban Church. [This Network] has been created to provide consultation and leadership to catalyze the right kind of change in Cuba, without harm, confusion, and fragmentation; and to be the voice of Cuban missiology that guides ministry action towards long-term and productive change for the Kingdom of God.”

The final activity listed on its website is “fighting Biblical poverty.” It claims in the last two decades, “Christianity has grown in Cuba in an unprecedented rate. With a population of 11 million, and only 10%-20% of that population being active Christians, the demand for Bibles is unlike any other point in history. For most Christians in Cuba, they feel isolated from the world. The government and its last of freedom restrict the ability of Christians to access the outside world through literature, internet, television even the distribution of Christian material including the Sword of God [the Bible]. In Cuba there are no places to buy or print Bibles on the island. However God always opens doors. Recently, easing of tensions between the United States and Cuba [with President Obama’s December 2014 opening to Cuba] after fifty years offers an unprecedented opportunity for the Church to receive bibles from international organizations like EchoCuba. Now, you can help Cubans discover the life and love of Jesus found in God’s Word. EchoCuba has vowed to bring the Gospel any way it can to God’s faithful servants in Cuba.”

The website also claims that “Churches in Cuba are not legally allowed to be constructed, [thereby forcing] God’s people . . . to operate through house churches, which hold no legal recognition from the government. Cuba has over 25,000 house churches on the island. The average house church holds an average of 20 to 40 members, on average only 5-10 bibles are available for the entire congregation. We believe that by providing Church leaders and seminarians with Bible and Scripture resources, even more people will experience the transformative power of God’s love for all of us. Our 2015 goal is to provide 5,000 bibles to Churches in Cuba.”

EchoCuba also is a member, since November 2007, of EFCA, which “provides accreditation to leading Christian nonprofit organizations that faithfully demonstrate compliance with established standards for financial accountability.”

EchoCuba’s Financial Support by USAID [2]

Although it is not mentioned on EchoCuba’s website, USAID, for fiscal 2009-2017, paid $2,302,464 to EchoCuba. Of this total, $1,033,582 was “for a three-year program entitled ‘Empowering Civil Society by Strengthening Economic Independence.’” Another $1,179,066 was for the Cuba Humanitarian Support Network, which was “aimed at providing “humanitarian aid to Cuba’s vulnerable religious leaders” and creating a “humanitarian network for the sustainable delivery of essential food and health supplies to marginalized Cubans and their family members.” In addition, EchoCuba to date has received at least $1,003,674 from USAID during the Trump presidency.

ECHOCuba’s Recent Activities in Cuba [3]

In late 2018, some Cuban evangelical churches, encouraged by EchoCuba and other U.S. conservative evangelical churches and organizations, registered strong objections to a provision of the proposed new Cuban Constitution that would have legalized same-sex marriage. According to Andrew Chestnut, Professor of Religious Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, ““Both the moral and financial support of U.S. Evangelical denominations and agencies has been crucial to backing Cuban Evangelicals in their campaign to oppose gay marriage on the island.”

In response, in December 2018, the Cuban government withdrew that provision before the new constitution was approved in a national referendum.

This year, Cuban evangelical churches and groups, with the support of similar groups in the U.S., objected to Cuba’s version of a gay pride parade in May, resulting in its cancelation by the organizers of the event.

In July 2019, EchoCuba was involved in the creation of the Evangelical Alliance of Cuban Churches  as separate from the longstanding Cuban Council of Churches (CIC) on the ground that the latter did not represent their beliefs, including opposition to same-sex marriage. According to Elaine Saralegui Caraballo, a lesbian pastor and founder of a Cuban division of the Metropolitan Community Church, said, “The creation of this Alliance fosters a space of unity, from which the whole economic, spiritual, religious, and political force of the Christian fundamentalist churches will be deployed” and that the Alliance’s goal was to promote “Christian supremacy” with the guidance of the U.S. far right, in a similar manner as has occurred in other Latin American countries.”

EchoCuba as Source for State Department on Cuban Religious Freedom [4]

The latest State Department’s report on international religious freedom that was released in June 2019 contained many adverse allegations about that freedom in Cuba with only two principal stated sources, one of which was EchoCuba (without any disclosure about its funding by USAID).

That report contained the following statements about the evangelical or apostolic churches:

  • “There are approximately 4,000 followers of 50 Apostolic churches (an unregistered loosely affiliated network of Protestant churches, also known as the Apostolic Movement) and a separate New Apostolic Church associated with the New Apostolic Church International.  According to some Christian leaders, there is a marked growth of evangelical Protestant groups in the country.”
  • “According to EchoCuba, the ORA [Communist Party’s’ Office of Religious Affairs] approved some registration applications, but it took as many as two to three years from the date of the application.  Other applications received no response or were denied without explanation, while some groups continued to wait for up to 25 years for a response.  EchoCuba said Apostolic churches repeatedly had their attempts to register denied, forcing these churches to operate without legal status.”
  • “In October leaders of Apostolic churches including Bernardo de Quesada, Alain Toledanos, and Marco Antonio Perdomo, issued an official statement on behalf of non-registered groups, which they said are ‘in practice discriminated against,’ urging the government to establish a new statute formally defining and granting the right to, and laying out procedures for, legal registration of religious organizations by the MOJ [Ministry of Justice].  The ORA and the MOJ did not announce any progress on revising the law on associations, announced in August 2017.”
  • “In March the New Apostolic Church, not affiliated with the many loosely affiliated Apostolic churches, registered with the MOJ.”
  • “According to EchoCuba, the government continued to apply its system of rewarding churches that were obedient and sympathetic to “revolutionary values and ideals” and penalizing those that were not.  Similarly, the government continued to reward religious leaders who were cooperative with the government and threatened revocation of those rights for noncooperative religious leaders.  EchoCuba reported that, in exchange for their cooperation with the government, CCC members continued to receive benefits other non-member churches did not always receive, including building permits, international donations of clothing and medicine, and exit visas for pastors to travel abroad.  EchoCuba said individual churches and denominations or religious groups also experienced different levels of consideration by the government depending on the leadership of those groups and their relationship with the government.”
  • “According to EchoCuba, the government continued to single out religious groups critical of the government, such as the unregistered Apostolic Movement, for particularly severe persecution, destroying their churches, confiscating properties, and banning travel of their pastors.  In contrast, the government allowed The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also unregistered, to operate with little intervention because the Church continued to maintain a close relationship with the government and did not question the country’s laws.  Some religious leaders said the government continued to grant permits to buy properties for use as house churches, including in some cases when the titleholder to the property did not plan to live there.  Other religious groups said securing permission for the purchase or construction of new buildings remained difficult, if not impossible.”
  • “According to EchoCuba, government agencies regularly refused to recognize a change in residence for pastors and other church leaders assigned to a new church or parish.  A decree continued to place restrictions on internal movement and migration, making it difficult, if not impossible, for pastors and their families to register their new place of residence if they transferred to a church that lost its pastor due to death or retirement.  To engage with even the smallest of bureaucratic details, pastors refused the right to reregister needed to travel to wherever they were officially registered and submit the paperwork there.  Legal restrictions on travel within the country also limited itinerant ministry, a central component of some religious groups.  According to EchoCuba, the application of the decree to religious groups was likely part of the general pattern of government efforts to control their activities.  Some religious leaders said the decree was also used to block church leaders from travelling within the country to attend special events or meetings.  Church leaders associated with the Apostolic churches regularly reported they were prevented, sometimes through short-term detention, from travelling to attend church events or carry out ministry work.”

As pointed out in a prior post, this State Department report made only the following reference to the Cuban Council of Churches (CIC): ““Embassy officials met with the head of the Council of Cuban Churches, a government-registered organization with close ties to the government composed mostly of Protestant groups and associated with the World Council of Churches, to discuss its operations and programs.” (Exec. Summary.)

Criticism of U.S. Report on Cuban Religious Freedom [5]

This report’s ever so brief reference to the CIC, in this blogger’s judgment, is a major flaw in the U.S. report as the CIC was founded in 1941 and describes itself as “an ecumenical fellowship of churches and other Cuban Christian institutions, which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior, in accordance with the Scriptures and seek to realize their common vocation for the Glory of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The CIC promotes spaces for encounter, celebration, reflection, formation and joint actions of the churches and other Christian institutions, for the service to our people, as a visible expression of the ecumenism to which we are called by God in Jesus Christ.” Today the CIC’s membership includes 28 denominations, 10 fraternal associations and 14 ecumenical movements and centers.

Relevant here is CIC’s statement (on or about July 17, 2019) in response to the announced intent to create the previously mentioned Evangelical Alliance if Cuban Churches. “We want to reiterate to our people and their churches that the . . . [CIC], as it affirms in its Constitution, works under its motto ‘United to Serve‘ which states:

  • ‘We are a fellowship of churches, ecumenical movements and other Christian institutions that confess the Lord Jesus Christ as Son of God and Savior, according to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, and seek to realize their common vocation, the glory of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’
  • ‘Our mission is to provide spaces for meeting, celebration, reflection and formation of churches, ecumenical movements and other Christian institutions, as a visible expression of the unity to which God calls us in Jesus Christ, in the service of our people.’
  • ‘Encouraging the study, consultation and different areas of service in accordance with its purposes and functions; the cooperation of Christians in order to strengthen fraternal relations; enrich Christian life and witness; develop a sense of social responsibility and encourage participation in tasks of common interest for the evangelizing mission of the Church.’
  • ‘The Council, without authority over its members to determine issues of doctrine, government or worship, could be a mediating instance, provided that peace and goodness of the Body of Christ is sought, based on the best testimony to the world: the unity of the believers.’

Therefore, the CIC statement continued, “It is not for the [CIC], to rule on doctrinal issues that have been put on the public stage, nor to represent on this or any other issue, before the Cuban people and its authorities, the churches and organizations , members or not.” It then added the following:

  • “In Cuba all denominations enjoy religious freedom and are equal before the law, therefore each church or religious organization establishes the relations it deems with the authorities, and gives testimony before them and the Cuban people as understood from their understanding of the Faith.” (Emphasis added.)
  • “The Council of Churches, in adherence to the values ​​that its Constitution proclaims and in its vocation of service, has carried out mediating efforts since its foundation. And it has done so by sovereign decision of its members, from its governing bodies, without supplanting it, any rights of others.”
  • “On the contrary, in most cases, these efforts have benefited not only the churches and member organizations of the CIC, and in some, all the religious denominations and their practitioners on the island. Suffice it to mention the import and distribution of Bibles, and in the early 90s, their decisive contribution in the cessation of all forms of religious discrimination in Cuba.”
  • “God calls for unity in Christ our Lord, to serve and bear witness to the Gospel. Since its foundation 78 years ago, the . . . [CIC] has shown its fidelity to this call. Our fidelity is only to Jesus Christ, our Lord. There is no other Lord, neither here in our beloved Homeland, nor outside it, to which we MUST serve and adore.”
  • “The . . . [CIC] reaffirms its commitment to continue working for the unity of the churches. Serving the people and the nation, seeking together and together the paths of peace, faith and hope, the dignity of the people and the care of Creation, that help us to build and live the signs of the Kingdom of God: equality and love for all and all in the midst of our beloved country.”

Personal Testimony [6]

As a member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, which for the last 17 years has had a partnership with a sister church in Cuba, I have been on three mission trips to the island to visit our partner and other churches and the office of the CIC. I also have welcomed Cuban visitors to our church in Minneapolis, have discussed other members’ trips to the island, have read widely about many aspects of Cuban-U.S. history and have written many blog posts criticizing hostile U.S. policies and actions against Cuba and encouraging reconciliation and normalization of relations. As a result I now have many Cuban-Presbyterian friends and can testify that these churches and members as well as the CIC enjoy many aspects of religious freedom and embrace a warm and loving Christian faith.

Therefore, it is totally illegitimate for the State Department virtually to ignore the faith and work of these churches and members and of the CIC. It also is illegitimate for the Department and others in the U.S. government implicitly to assume that some U.S. notions of religious freedom should apply to Cuba without considering the vast differences in economic circumstances. This especially is true with respect to building new church buildings. Like the U.S., construction permits are needed in Cuba for new buildings, religious and otherwise. That does not make such construction illegal, as is claimed in the previously mentioned State Department report. Moreover, the granting of such permits in Cuba is inhibited by limitations on the island’s financial resources.

Although I did not visit Cuba during the period of its close relationship with the Soviet Union, until 1992, it is true that Christians and other religious people were discriminated against. However, Cuba did not assassinate or disappear religious opponents of the regime as was done by the right-wing government of El Salvador in the 1980’s. On one of my trips to our partner church on the island, one of the members told me that she had not been brave enough to have been a Christian during those prior years. Another member told me that he had been in seminary with the pastor of our partner, but he had left the Cuban church in order to become a public school teacher. Now that he was retired, he again freely could attend church.

After the 1989 collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba adopted a more conciliatory position towards religion and lessened its promotion of atheism. In November 1991 the Communist Party began to allow believers into its ranks, and in July 1992, the constitution was amended to remove the definition of Cuba as being a state based on Marxism–Leninism, and article 42 was added, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of religious belief. Another important change after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the increased acceptance of religion in Cuba, several Protestant pastors became members of the National Assembly, two of whom I have met: Rev. Sergio Arce, a Presbyterian-Reformed pastor, and Rev. Raúl Suarez, a Baptist pastor.[ii]

In 2004 the first Greek Orthodox Cathedral opened in Havana; shortly thereafter I visited the island and saw flags welcoming Greek Orthodox Archbishop Bartholomew to the city while my Presbyterian delegation delivered an icon to the new Cathedral from a Minneapolis’ Greek Orthodox Church. Four years later, in 2008, the first Russian Orthodox Church was opened in Havana during an official ceremony attended by then President Raúl Castro. Three Popes have visited the island: Pope John Paul II (1998), Pope Benedict XVI (2012) and Pope Francis (2015).[iii]

Nevertheless, it must be noted that upon the recent appointment of Monsignor Juan de la Caridad as the new Roman Catholic Archbishop of Havana, the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba lamented that the Catholic Church on the island does not have schools, universities, newspapers, radio stations or welfare centers while less than 3% of the population attends Sunday Mass even though at least half confess being of that faith.[iv]

The recent State Department report on Cuban religious freedom also blindly accepts assertions by EchoCuba and Christian Solidarity Worldwide about alleged Cuban discrimination and persecution of various evangelical churches, especially when at least EchoCuba receives USAID funds. The U.S. government should not forget or ignore that the State Department and USAID over the years have helped finance so-called U.S. “democracy promotion” efforts on the island that in reality were efforts at “regime change.” As a result, it is reasonable for Cuba to exercise close surveillance of the activities of such organizations.

Conclusion [7]

As someone who strives to follow Jesus as a member of a Presbyterian Church, I am glad to see the U.S. emphasizing the importance of religious freedom around the world. However, given the upcoming 2020 U.S. presidential election and the support for Trump in the last election by many U.S. evangelical leaders and groups, one has to wonder whether current U.S. hostility towards Cuba and the Trump Administration programs like the new U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights and the first two of promised annual Ministerials on International Religious Freedom are really designed to solidify that U.S. domestic political support for the re-election of Donald Trump.

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[1] EchoCuba; Castro Morales, Who is Teo Babún and why is he going after Cuba? Granma (Feb. 21, 2019); Sanchez, The ‘charity’ made in Miami and the strange faith of ECHOCuba, The Insomniac Pupil (April 18, 2011).

[2] Eaton, God, USAID and Cuba, Cuba Money Project (Nov. 20, 2018); Eaton, Cuba spending under Trump, Cuba Money Project (June 17, 2019); Eaton, Lawmakers want $20 million for Cuba projects in 2020, Cuba Money Project (June 21, 2019;); AmericasReliefTeam, Cuban Humanitarian Support Network. The Cuba Money Project is a U.S. “journalism initiative aimed at reporting stories about U.S. government programs and projects related to Cuba” that is operated by Tracey Eaton, a journalist and former Havana bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News.

[3] Bodenheimer, How American Evangelicals Helped Stop Same-Sex Marriage in Cuba, VICE (April 20, 2019)

[4] State Dep’t, 2018 Report on International Religious Freedom: Cuba (June 21, 2019); State Department’s Latest Report on International Religious Freedom, dwkcommentaries.com (June 25, 2019); U.S. State Department Unfairly Criticizes Cuban Religious Freedom, dwkcommenaries.com (July 18, 2019).

[5] Background on the Cuban Council of Churches; World Council of Churches, Cuban Council of Churches; Joint Statement of the Cuban Council of Churches and the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (Apr. 25, 2019); Larkman, Cuba contingent hopes to further partnership between U.S., Cuban churches (Nov. 13, 2017); Reformed Presbyterian Church in Cuba, Wikipedia

[6] E.g., Praise God for Leading U.S. and Cuba to Reconciliation, dwkcommentareis.com (Dec. 22, 2014); The Cuban Revolution and Religion, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 30, 2011); posts listed in the “Pope Francis Visits to Cuba & U.S., 2015” section of List of Post to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA; Bishops lament that the Catholic church lacks a ‘massive social presence in Cuba,’ Diario de Cuba (Sept. 3, 2019).

[7] See posts  to dwkcommentaries about the Commission on Unalienable Rights; U.S. State Department’s First Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom, dwkcommentries.com  (July 7, 2019); U.S. State Department’s Second Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom , dwkcommentaries.com(July 21, 2019); Realpolitik Analysis of U.S. Ministerial To Advance Religious Liberty and U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights (July 23, 2019).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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[1] Castro Morales, Who is Teo Babún and why is he going after Cuba?, Granma (Feb. 21, 2019); Sanchez, The ‘charity’ made in Miami and the strange faith of ECHOCuba, The Insomniac Pupil (April 18, 2011); EchoCuba, About US; ECFA, ECHOCuba.

[2] Eaton, God, USAID and Cuba, Cuba Money Project (Nov. 20, 2018); Eaton, Cuba spending under Trump, Cuba Money Project (June 17, 2019); Eaton, Lawmakers want $20 million for Cuba projects in 2020, Cuba Money Project (June 21, 2019); AmericasReliefTeam, Cuban Humanitarian Support Network. The Cuba Money Project is a U.S. “journalism initiative aimed at reporting stories about U.S. government programs and projects related to Cuba” that is operated by Tracey Eaton, a journalist and former Havana bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News.

[3] Bodenheimer, How American Evangelicals Helped Stop Same-Sex Marriage in Cuba, VICE (April 20, 2019).

 

 

 

 

U.S. Unjustified Campaign To Discredit Cuba’s Foreign Medical Mission Program 

Over the last several years, the U.S. has been waging a campaign seeking to discredit Cuba’s foreign medical mission program. This campaign includes the State Department’s annual reports on human trafficking that have alleged Cuba has been engaged in illegal forced labor of some of its medical professionals in these programs. Another part was the recent decision to deny U.S. visas to Cuban officials directing the medical mission program.[1] The most recent measure has been the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID’s) soliciting bids to conduct research and analysis of evidence regarding the forced labor allegation. Some Congressmen also have suggested reactivation of a U.S. program providing U.S. parole visas for such medical professionals to be admitted to the U.S.[2] Unsurprisingly Cuba denies these allegations and condemns these U.S. programs. (Emphases added.)

Here we will look at key parts of this trafficking in persons report, the recent USAID solicitation of bids for research and analysis, Cuba’s response to that solicitation and a demonstration why the U.S. allegations are specious.

U.S. 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report [3]

The most recent such report, which was issued on June 20, 2019, said the following, in part:

  • In November 2018, Cuban healthcare workers filed a class action in the U.S. District Court Southern District of Florida under the Trafficking Victims Protection and the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization Acts alleging the Cuban government profited from the export of healthcare professionals; the case remains pending.[4] In Brazil, the Cuban government collected revenue for each professional’s services and paid the worker a fraction of the revenue depositing a large percentage of the worker’s wages in an account in Cuba only accessible upon completion of the mission and return to Cuba. . . . Some participants in foreign medical missions as well as other sources allege Cuban officials force or coerce participation in the program; the government has stated the postings are voluntary, and some participants also have stated the postings are voluntary and well-paid compared to jobs within Cuba. Observers report the government does not inform participants of the terms of their contracts, making them more vulnerable to forced labor. The Cuban government acknowledges that it withholds passports of overseas medical personnel in Venezuela; the government provided identification cards to such personnel. Some Cuban medical personnel claim they work long hours without rest and face substandard working and living conditions in some countries, including a lack of hygienic conditions and privacy. Observers note Cuban authorities coerced some participants to remain in the program, including by withholding their passports, restricting their movement, using “minders” to conduct surveillance of participants outside of work, threatening to revoke their medical licenses, retaliate against their family members in Cuba if participants leave the program, or impose criminal penalties, exile, and family separation if participants do not return to Cuba as directed by government supervisors.” (Emphases added.)

USAID’s Solicitation of Research Bids [5]

On August 12, 2019, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced that it was offering up to $3 million to organizations that would “investigate, collect, and analyze information related to human rights violations – including forced labor – of Cuban medical personnel exported overseas.”

USAID purported to justify this effort by alleging, “The Cuban regime exploits its medical professionals, teachers and other workers, using them to buy international financial and political support and keep its struggling economy afloat, while pocketing the majority of these workers’ salaries and subjecting them to poor living conditions, constant surveillance, and threatening those who wish to leave their mission. At the same time, Cubans on the island struggle to find adequate healthcare and other basic services while the regime touts the false narrative that it has the best medical care in the world.” (Emphasis added.)

In addition, USAID said, “the information collected should also document the effects of these practices on Cubans on the island. The data collected would be used for advocacy within Cuba, in Latin America and with regional and international bodies, such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in an effort to pressure the Cuban regime to improve the living conditions of doctors and other workers, and promote greater respect for labor and other basic human rights for all Cuban citizens.”

Cuba’s Response[6]

In an August 30 Declaration, the Cuba Foreign Ministry “energetically denounces and condemns the recent aggression of the government of the United States against Cuba via a USAID program designed to fund actions and information searches to discredit and sabotage the international cooperation being provided by Cuba in the health area in dozens of countries for the benefit of millions of persons.  This is an endeavor added to the crude pressures exercised against a number of governments in order to obstruct Cuban cooperation and to the earlier efforts for the same purpose such as the special ‘parole’ program designed to steal human resources trained in Cuba.”

“The heart of this immoral calumny consists of alleging, with no factual foundations whatsoever, that Cuba is involved in the traffic of persons or in the practice of slavery, and wishing to degrade the meritorious work that hundreds of thousands of Cuban health professionals and technicians are voluntarily undertaking, and have been undertaking, throughout history, in a number of countries, especially in the Third World.”

This is “an affront to the bilateral and intergovernmental cooperation programs, all lawfully set up between the Cuban Government and the governments of dozens of countries, which have been consistent with the [U.N.] guidelines referring to South–South cooperation and which have responded to the health requirements that those same governments have defined in a sovereign manner.”

“This is an attack against the efforts in solidarity which have received the acknowledgement of the international community and the specific praise from the most senior officials of the United Nations, the World Health Organization and the Pan-American Health Organization.”

“These lies reveal the low morality of the [U.S.] government and its politicians who devoted themselves to the business of aggression against Cuba.  The campaign has millions of dollars of funds and the complicity of a number of the mass media giants and, particularly, of unscrupulous reporters who have sacrificed their so-called impartiality and objectivity in the service of the political interests of the [U.S.] government.”

“For decades . . . in those nations having more unfavorable economic conditions, that cooperation has been provided, and is being provided, as a gesture of solidarity; its expenses are covered by Cuba practically in their entirety. Likewise, and following the [U.N.] conceptions on cooperation between developing countries, this is being offered in various nations on the basis of complementarity and partial compensation for services rendered.”

Cuba has provided “self-sacrificing and humanist professionals ready and willing to work of their own free will in the most difficult of conditions, and of the ideas of health coverage that years of successful experience has permitted us to build up.”

“The Cuban technicians and professionals participating in those programs do so in an absolutely free and voluntary manner.  While serving their missions, they continue to be paid their entire Cuban salaries and they also receive stipends from the destination countries, along with other forms of compensation.”

“In cases where Cuba receives compensation for the cooperation being provided, those . . . [countries] distinguish themselves by contributing a highly valued, fair and totally lawful amount for the funding, sustainability and development of the massive and free health system that is accessible to each and every Cuban, as well as for the cooperation programs that are carried into many parts of the world.”

“Access to health is a human right.  The United States is committing a crime when it wishes to deny that or to obstruct it for political reasons or as aggression.”

This Cuban criticism was echoed in an August 31 tweet by President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who said, “The carelessness, the lie, the perversity of the empire crumble before the moral height accumulated by the dignified history of the Cuban missions in health.”

The Specious U.S. Allegation of Illegal Forced Labor [7]

The contention that Cuban medical personnel in Cuba’s foreign medical mission program are engaged in illegal forced labor is meritless for at least the following reasons:

  • Medical education in Cuba is free and requiring medical graduates to pay the country back by such participation seems entirely appropriate and may indeed be a contractual or quasi-contractual obligation.
  • International medical aid has been a significant part of the Cuban people’s tradition of international solidarity, and some Cuban medical personnel have said that such service had a major positive impact on their lives and medical careers.
  • The relevant standard for evaluating the allegationthat Cuba’s international medical mission program violates international law is the International Labor Organization’s Forced Labour Convention, 1930.
  • That multilateral Convention or treaty provides that “for the purposes of this Convention, the term forced or compulsory labour shall not include . . . any work or service which forms part of the normal civic obligations of the citizens of a fully self-governing country.” (Art. 2(2)(b).) (Emphasis added.)
  • Although it is true that the Cuban government receives direct payment from other countries for the foreign medical mission program and that the Cuban government retains some of those payments before paying the Cuban medical professionals, it also is true that such payments to those professionals exceed what they would have earned for similar services in Cuba. In addition, some of the payments to the Cuban professionals are deposited in Cuban accounts only accessible upon their completion of service and return to Cuba. But such practices do not constitute proof of forced labor.
  • While it also is true that some Cuban medical professionals who have participated or are now participating in the foreign medical mission program allege that they were coerced into doing so, the report indicates that the Cuban government and other participants deny that allegation and that there has been no independent adjudication of that allegation. (Emphases added.)
  • Also relevant to this allegation is Cuban medical professionals’ undoubted awareness of the significantly higher compensation they potentially could obtain if they were able to relocate in the U.S. or certain other countries.
  • A detailed study by Indiana State University’s Emeritus Professor of International Politics and Latin America, Dr. H. Michael Erisman, has rejected this accusation of forced labor.

The latest report on Cuba also fails to mention that the U.S. and Cuba apparently had friendly bilateral discussions about other human trafficking issues during the Obama Administration (2015 through January 17, 2017) and the Trump Administration (2017-2018).

The hypocrisy of the State Department’s repeated assertion of this claim of forced labor without recognizing the ILO’s Forced Labour Convention is shown by Secretary of State Pompeo’s congratulating the ILO on its centennial anniversary only one day after the release of the 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report. The Secretary said:

  • “The dignitaries that convened in Paris in 1919 to end the Great War knew that any lasting peace needed to be rooted in the protection of individual rights, including the rights of workers and employers to associate freely and bargain collectively. “
  • The United States proudly hosted the first International Labor Conference in 1919 and the “war-time conference that enshrined the ILO’s enduring founding principles and aims in the Declaration of Philadelphia. As strong supporters of the ILO and its mission, we reflect on the important role played by Americans to create and sustain this organization, including David Morse, who served as ILO Director-General for 22 years, and under whose leadership the ILO won the Nobel Peace Prize.”
  • “As the ILO enters its second century pursuing objectives critical to economic prosperity and security around the world, the United States recommits itself to advancing the rights of workers globally.

Another rebuttal of the U.S. allegations about the medical mission program recently was provided by a U.S. citizen, Dr. Graham Sowa, who has a Cuban medical degree and who now is a resident in internal medicine in a Florida hospital. He did not participate in the Cuban medical mission program, but his Cuban friends who are now physicians have done so and who totally reject this allegation. Sowa said, ““Cuba says they want to provide humanity with medical care. It is their commitment toward international solidarity.”

Conclusion

No matter how many times the U.S. alleges that Cuba’s foreign medical mission program engages in illegal forced labor does not make it so. The U.S. has not even publicly submitted an attempted legal justification for these allegations.  The U.S. is wasting money on this specious claim.

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[1]  New U.S. Government Hostility Towards Cuba’s Medical Mission Program, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 14, 2019)

[2] Senators Rubio and Menendez Call for Restoring U.S. Parole Program for Cuban Doctors, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 11, 2019). See also posts listed n the “Cuban Medical Personnel & U.S.” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[3] State Department Unjustly Downgrades Cuba in Annual Report on Human Trafficking, dwkcommentaries.com (June 22, 2019).

[4]  Pais, Health Organization Accused of Trafficking Doctors to Brazil, Courthouse News Service (Dec. 3, 2018)  The class action complaint, which was filed November 30, 2018, alleges that the Pan American Health Organization collected over $75 million since 2013 by enabling and managing the illegal trafficking of Cuban medical professionals in violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Nothing of substance has happened so far in this case. The last docket entry was on July 2, 2019, for an order setting a hearing on July 18, 2019, for Pan American Health’s objections to and appeal from a magistrate judge’s order denying its motion to transfer the case to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. (Civil Docket, Rodriguez v. Pan American Health Org., Case #: 1:18-cv-24995-DPG (Aug. 30, 2019).

[5] Eaton, USAID plans to spend up to $3 million to investigate Cuban doctors, Cuba Solidarity Campaign (Aug. 12, 2019).

[6] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Statement: The Government of the United States Is Earmarking Millions of Dollars To Obstruct Cuban Medical Cooperation (Aug. 30, 2019); The regime blames the US for complaints about the exploitation of Cuban doctors, Diario de Cuba (Aug. 29, 2019); Diaz-Canel described the ‘attacks’ and the ‘attacks by the US on the slae of medical services, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 1, 2019).

[7] State Department Unjustly Downgrades Cuba in Annual Report on Human Trafficking, dwkcommentaries.com (June 22, 2019); Guzzo, Are Cuban physicians human trafficking victims? No way, says Brandon doctor with Havana degree, Tampa Bay Times (Aug. 29, 2019).

 

 

Rural Minnesota Endeavoring To Attract Younger People  

As noted in prior posts, many rural parts of the U.S., including Minnesota, have aging and declining populations that present many problems for the regions.[1] But there are hopeful signs that this trend may be reversing.

“The Blandin Foundation (Grand Rapids, MN) has found evidence of growing interest in small-town Minnesota: A study earlier this year showed more rural Minnesotans are staying put, with fewer considering moving to an urban area. Yet more urban residents — those in the Twin Cities, Duluth, Mankato, Moorhead, Rochester and St. Cloud — are considering moving to rural areas. The top reason they cited? Quality of life.”

This conclusion is supported by a University of Minnesota Extension rural sociologist, Ben Winchester, who said, “Rural Minnesota towns aren’t just experiencing a ‘brain drain’ of people in their 20s but also a ‘brain gain’ of people 30 to 49 years old. The next five, 10 years are going to be a big wave of change across rural Minnesota as we welcome a new generation. It’s good news for our small towns.”[2]

Now some rural towns in Minnesota are responding to those problems by developing programs to attract younger people to move and establish their homes. These newcomers are “all members of a growing migration of people in their 30s and 40s moving to rural Minnesota—a movement that foundations, nonprofits and local entities are hoping to boost even further with new strategies to recruit  and retain newcomers.”[3]

Here is an account of at least some of those programs.

Fergus Falls, Minnesota[4]

Fergus Falls is a town in and the county seat of Otter Tail County in the west central part of the state. The town’s estimated population in 2017 was 13,138, while the County’s was 58,812. The town was incorporated in the late 1870s and is situated along the dividing line between the former great deciduous forest of the Northwest Territories to the east and the great plains to the west, in a region of gentle hills, where the recent geological history is dominated by the recession of the glaciers from the last great Ice Age, with numerous lakes and small rivers.

In the mid-19th century the town and area’s initial settlers were Norwegian immigrants and Union soldiers returning from the Civil War, many of whom became farmers (wheat and corn in the western plains and dairy and hogs in the eastern hills and forests). In the 1950s Interstate Highway 94 was built along the western edge of the town, enhancing the mobility of the town’s residents with many young people leaving town to attend college and not returning.

Now the West Central Initiative Foundation in Fergus Falls is touting Otter Tail County as the place to live and supporting several ways to draw more young professionals to fill job openings and have children to fill classrooms. The Foundation’s CEO, Anna Wasescha, said. “We want to be sure our region of Minnesota is vibrant and sustainable.”

This Foundation began a marketing campaign called “Live Wide Open in 2016 to share stories about why residents are moving from the Twin Cities or other states. . . [It] holds ‘welcome home’ events for natives, hoping to persuade them to return, and also helped fund a nonprofit, the Glenwood Lakes Area Welcome Center, to expand a welcoming program and start a newcomer group.” The Otter Tail County helps these efforts with a  “rural rebound initiative coordinator,” who “tracks data and creates videos and social media posts promoting the county’s 24 communities to show millennials and Gen X-ers there’s a vibrant, affordable life with job openings — and no congested commute.” The county’s coordinator, Erik Osberg, said, “Rural isn’t dying; it’s changing, and it’s changing for the better.”

Osberg also helps organize a “grab-a-bite program” in Fergus Falls, pairing residents with newcomers to help make a friend and learn about the community, and puts on a concert on a frozen lake in the winter to showcase the county to Fargo and Twin Cities visitors. “If we’re going to win the recruiting battle … we need to be the most welcoming community in the state.”

One newcomer couple four years ago moved from the Twin Cities to Fergus Falls when they had their first child. The mother said they wanted smaller school class sizes and a quality of life like the one she had growing up in rural North Dakota; plus, her husband can work remotely for a Minnetonka, Minnesota software company. The mother now works as the  County’s community development director, tracking the ‘rural rebound’ through the county’s growing population and increasing kindergarten class sizes. “It’s amazing how many people we meet with similar stories.”

Another newcomer and mother, Ruth Rosengren, helped launch Fergus Falls’ first co-working space this summer while working remotely for a California-based web development company. “I hope more people see … Fergus Falls as a viable place to live without giving up a job you want,” she said.

Willmar, Minnesota[5]

In the southwestern part of the state, Willmar historically was a largely white, Lutheran, Scandinavian town. Now, however, with a population of 19,610 (2010 Census), t is very diverse with its high school having students from 30 other countries speaking at least four foreign languages. In response the high school has two foreign-language cultural liaisons to work with the students and teachers, and local businesses have created an entrepreneurship program for all the students and a Community Integration Center.

Mankato, Minnesota

In Mankato, a small city of approximately 43,000 in the south-central part of the state, local “businesses found that young professionals without  a social connection left within two years.” So the local chamber of commerce “announced a new program matching a resident with a newcomer.”

Last year Mankato’s local newspaper published an editorial, saying, “Here, in the south-central area of the state, we have seen . . . reliance on a diverse workforce both in small cities and in the regional center of Mankato. Meat plants in St. James, Madelia, Butterfield and Windom [smaller cities in southwestern Minnesota] depend heavily on minority workers. Mankato manufacturing plants also hire immigrant workers and a number of immigrants have become small-business owners.”

The editorial ended with these comments: “Population projections predict that as baby boomers retire, enough workers won’t be available to fill the vacant jobs in Minnesota. Our newest segments of population are going to be key to keeping our businesses going. And a continuing tradition of strong public education in Minnesota, with the financial support it deserves, should help train those workers of today and tomorrow.”

Worthington, Minnesota

Katy Kouba and her husband recently moved to Worthington, Minnesota in the southwest corner of the state in order to raise their three kids in a smaller community after living on both U.S. coasts. She said, “It was a leap of faith, “ but we “wanted the life-style that rural Minnesota had to offer. I love the connection in a small town.”  She now works as the community concierge helping other new residents be integrated into the town’s life.

As recounted in a prior post, Worthington’s population has surged from less than 10,000 in 1990 to 13,000 today with a median age of under 36 and foreign immigrants constituting roughly one-third of the population and owning more than 25% of the town’s businesses.[6]

Other Programs

 Escapees from Chicago to Ely, Minnesota near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and Canada were Tony Moskowitz and his family. “I feel like I am on permanent vacation,” he said while running his business from his home.

Ely is also part of northern Minnesota’s Iron Range, where in 2015 a group of young adults started the nonprofits ReGen to “help retain young professional by organizing social events like snowtubing and game night while fundraising to revamp towns.

 The Northwest Minnesota Foundation of Bemidji in the northwestern part of the state, is making grants to cities for amenities that attract families — from trails to maps of attractions.”

In Winona in the southeastern part of the state, Project FINE “has a monthly event for neighbors to get to know one another.”

Conclusion

According to The Wall Street Journal, young professionals moving from large metropolitan areas to smaller cities and towns is happening across the U.S. Such workers are “fueling a renaissance in U.S. cities that lie outside the major job hubs. People who do their jobs from home, freelance or constantly travel for work are migrating away from expensive urban centers such as Los Angeles and San Francisco toward cheaper cities including Boise; Denver; Austin, Texas; and Portland, Ore.” This has meant that the smaller cities and towns are starting to see fast-rising home prices and traffic congestion.[7]

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[1] See, e.g., More Warnings of the Problems Facing U.S. Aging, Declining Population  (Aug. 14, 2019).

[2] Univ. MN Extension, A rural brain gain migration.

[3] Smith, Small cities seeing ‘rural rebound,’ Star Tribune (Sept. 1, 2019).

[4] Fergus Falls, Minnesota, Wikipedia; Fergus Falls Chamber of Commerce; Otter Tail County, Minnesota, Wikipedia.

[5] Additional Support for U.S. Needing More Immigrants, dwkcommentaries.com (May 18, 2019); Willmar, Minnesota, Wikipedia.

[6]  Outstate Minnesota City Aided by Immigrants, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 5, 2018).

[7]  Eisen, Workers Are Fleeing Big Cities for Smaller Ones—and Taking Their Jobs With Them.,W.S.J. (Sept. 7, 2019).

Japan Shows Why U.S. Needs More Immigrants   

This blog consistently has argued for the U.S. needing more immigrants.[1] This argument is strengthened by looking at the problems being experienced by Japan with practically no immigration, as recounted by Francisco Toro, a Venezuelan political commentator with Japanese relatives. [2]

“Japan’s population is shrinking, with far-reaching consequences that seep into every corner of life here. . . . As the country ages and older people die with no one to replace them, neighborhoods across Japan are also slowly dying.”

Just one sign of this is the existence of “abandoned houses like the one blighting my in-laws’ street. . . .Such houses have “fallen badly into disrepair. None of the heirs seems interested in [them]: The taxes are too high, and there isn’t really a market for this kind of house anyway.]”

“As many as 8 million houses in Japan are vacant, and the trend is only deepening. Rural villages are disappearing, and more and more Japanese towns and suburbs have become ‘dying communities’ where children are a rare sight; authorities barely manage to find the care workers needed to look after legions of retirees.”

“A solid [Japanese] political consensus has rejected mass immigration here for as long as anyone can remember, leaving this one of the most homogeneous countries on earth. You can think of Japan as a kind of Trumpian paradise: an ethnically defined national community with few foreigners. And no future.” (Emphasis added.)

Japan has a “demographic collapse that has left the country a pale shadow of the economic powerhouse that made Americans paranoid a generation ago. A chronic dearth of new workers has left economic growth lagging for a generation, turning “japanification” into economic shorthand for decline. All that — plus the ossified 1950s gender roles that simply never went away here — has turned Japan into one of the least attractive places for women to have children. Low birth rates only compound the demographic death spiral.”

“The [Japanese] government has begun making more work permits available to foreign workers, but makes little effort to help them integrate. Visa rules force most foreign workers to apply for extensions frequently and prevent them from bringing their families. By all accounts, discrimination in housing is rife, as well as perfectly legal. The foreign workers who do come can’t fail to hear the message: Come, work, but don’t think you’re welcome to stay.”

In short, “economic imperatives and cultural consensus are at war in Japan . . . . It’s no longer possible for the country to continue to pretend it can get by without migrants. But it’s politically impossible to truly welcome them, either. The result is that more and more jobs simply stay vacant, not just in industry and agriculture but also in the kinds of elder-care jobs this aging country most desperately needs to fill.”

For the U.S., Japan is “a bright red warning sign of demographic meltdown, and an indictment of a society that has chosen homogeneity over progress. . . . [H]omogeneity leads to decline, while diversity offers at least a chance of ongoing vitality and prosperity.”

Japan also may have a positive message for the U.S.  After reviewing the many problems in U.S. “assisted-living” facilities, the author says, “Perhaps the United States can learn from Japan, which is a few decades ahead of us in grappling with how to care for its rapidly aging population. Japan created a national long-term-care insurance system that is mandatory. It is partly funded by the government but also by payroll taxes and additional insurance premiums charged to people age 40 and older. It is a family-based, community-based system, where the most popular services are heavily subsidized home help and adult day care. Japanese families still use nursing homes and assisted living facilities, but the emphasis is on supporting the elder population at home.” [3]

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[1] See, for example, these 2019 posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Another Report About U.S. Need for More Immigrants (Aug. 25, 2019); More Warnings of the Problems Facing U.S. Aging, Declining Population (Aug. 14, 2019); Additional Support for U.S. Needing More Immigrants (May 18, 2019); Trump Erroneously Says U.S. Is “Full,” (April 9, 2019); U.S. Construction Industry Needs More Immigrants (April 3, 2019); Businesses Need More Immigrants (Mar. 24, 2019);“America’s Farms Need Immigrants” (Mar. 22, 2019).

[2]  Toro, Japan is a Trumpian paradise of low immigration rates. It’s also a dying country, Wash. Post (Aug. 29, 2019).

[3]  Anand, How Not to Grow Old in America, N.Y. Times (Aug. 29, 2019).