Former Cuban Judge Criticizes Cuban Legal System   

On January 13,  Edel González Jiménez, a former high-ranking Cuban judge who left the island in 2018 and now lives in Peru, told a press conference in Madrid, Spain about the many problems in Cuba’s legal system. Other details were added by Javier Larrondo, the president of Prisoners Defenders and a longtime anti- Castro activist.[1]

González Jiménez’s Comments

Based upon recently released Cuban government secret documents, González said the Cuban government is holding thousands of inmates on dubious charges and has the highest incarceration rate in the world. These records show that Cuba’s prison system holds more than 90,000 prisoners. (Previously the Cuban government had only publicly released the figure once, in 2012, when it claimed that 57,000 people were jailed.)

“What is important is what is behind those numbers,” Mr. González said. “People are in prison for stealing flour, because they are pizza makers and the government has set up a system where the only way to get flour is by buying in the black market from someone who stole it from the state.”

González said that Cuba’s judiciary was often controlled by state security forces that can manufacture cases against political opponents. “What happens, for example, when an issue has a political nature? Well then there is fear [by the judges of losing their jobs]. And that fear . . .can have a negative impact on justice” by “judges, fearful of losing their jobs, go along with evidence that is often flagrantly concocted.”

In ordinary criminal cases, however, judges are independent and free of government influence. González added, “I never received, in 17 years, any interference from either the [Communist Party of Cuba] or the Government.”

“The repression that I am seeing against some of my people is not what I want for my people. I have a lot of fear about the future. Every day Cubans face more fear. I don’t want blood on the streets of Cuba, I don’t want these imprisonments.”

González Jiménez also said that the majority of the Cuban people “unconditionally had accepted the system implemented by Havana more than 60 years ago.” Therefore, “the only thing we are asking for is that in the field of human rights, whether through mercy, it is understood that we have to work on the issue and that we have to take steps forward.” Indeed, “there are countless government officials who have a high sensitivity, who know that these human rights issues are hitting them and are delegitimizing even the country’s own image.” Such officials, however, are held back by their “own internal fear.”

González also raised a proposal for “national internal inclusive dialogue” between the State, opponents, dissidents and social sectors for the regulation of fundamental rights in the Cuban legal system.

Still, Mr. González insisted that there was time for Cuba to resolve its problems internally, and he warned against any outside interference. “We will not allow anybody to impose anything, that should be clear to all countries. Cubans can manage this alone without any kind of interference,” he said. This process “must be “sovereign, free and transparent.”

Mr. González also cautioned against coming to the conclusion that the high number of prisoners in Cuba was proof of a failed society and judiciary. Other countries, he said, had fewer prisoners, but that reflected a high level of “impunity” and failure to prosecute common and violent crime, while Cuba instead “maintains social order.”

Javier Larrondo’s Comments

Another participant in the press conference was Javier Larrondo, who runs an organization called Prisoners Defenders in Madrid, and who publicly announced his call for the Cuban government to respect civil rights.

“This [press conference] is an important blow to the regime,” Mr. Larrondo said.

Mr. Larrondo released Cuban court documents showing that dozens of men received sentences between two and four years in prison for offenses falling broadly under the category of “antisocial” — a phrase that can be applied to people who are unemployed, who do not belong to civic organizations associated with the state, who behave disorderly and harass tourists, and who associate with similarly “antisocial” people. In case after case, the description of the crime is identical, said Larrondo, suggesting that the police cut and pasted the language in the investigative report.

Cuban Prisoners Defenders and Civil Right Defenders reported that more than 90,000 people were in prison on the Island , where about 99% of the citizens tried are found guilty. In addition, Larrondo and Erik Jennische, director for Latin America of Civil Rights Defenders, said that in Cuba there are 37,458 people “in other situations of judicial and police control,” which gives a total of 127,458 convicted. That  is an imposing number of people who, as their “first criminal sanction, are being deprived of liberty, something of extreme rigor, and really unusual in most criminal systems” and who are less likely go obtain early release.

This analysis of the data showed that Cuba is “the first country for (number of) persons deprived of liberty in the world”, taking into account its population of 11 million inhabitants. The Island would be ahead of the U.S., El Salvador and Turkmenistan, whose data has been published by the World Prison Institute for Crime and Justice Policy Research.

In the files of prisoners obtained and published by the organizations (with the identity of the condemned hidden) elements are repeated such as lack of labor ties with the so-called mass organizations (controlled by the regime), being “prone to crime” for associating with “similar people,” practicing the “siege of tourism” and altering public order, as arguments to condemn citizens to sentences of up to three years in prison for an alleged “danger index. “This formula, known as “pre-criminal social danger,” frequently has been applied to opponents and other critical citizens of the Government to remove them from the streets.

This accusatory procedure “is frequently used for its speed and efficiency against dissidents, entrepreneurs and any type of person who is considered an urgent danger to the regime, which entails not only preventive detention, but very summary processes that prevent the proper exercise of the defense.”

The previously mentioned documents, according to the New York Times, showed that approximately 92 percent of those accused in the more than 32,000 cases that go to trial in Cuba every year are found guilty. Nearly 4,000 people every year are accused of being “antisocial” or “dangerous,” terms the Cuban government uses to jail people who pose a risk to the status quo, without having a committed a crime.

Conclusion

Last year, Mr. González’s former boss, Rubén Remigio Ferro, president of the Cuban Supreme Court, told the state newspaper, Granma that although the administration of justice on the island is improving, “deficiencies” still exist, such as trial delays, misguided decisions and a lack of professionalism. More recently President Miguel Díaz-Canel told judges while inaugurating the new judicial calendar that the courts must “remain a system that is distinguished first and foremost by its ethics, its transparency and the honest behavior of its members.”

From this blogger’s U.S. perspective, González’s career as a judge and his professed support for the Cuban Revolution should give these criticisms greater weight for Cuban officials. On the other hand, it was surprising there was no mention of at least a partial explanation of Cuban prosecution of individuals for “antisocial” behavior. Cuba knows that the much more powerful U.S. has a long history of hostility towards Cuba and has recruited some Cubans to engage in activities critical of the Cuban regime. Therefore, it arguably could be a matter of self-defense for the regime to arrest at least some of these individuals.

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[1] Robles, Ex-Judge Reveals Secrets of How Cuba Suppresses Dissent, N.Y. times (Jan. 13,   2020); 8,400 Cubans Serve Time for “Pre-Criminal Social Dangerousness,” Civil Rights Defenders (Jan. 13, 2020); In Cuba ‘the fear’ of judges threatens justice, says a lawyer, Diario de Cuba (Jan. 14, 2020); Cuba’s police state exposed:’an important blow to the regime,’ Democracy Digest (Jan. 14, 2020);  González: “Many high-ranking officials of the Cuban government are hurt by repression against dissent,” Archyde (Jan. 13, 2020). González also gave an extensive interview to ABC International, but the English translation is difficult to follow. (Gavińa, Edel González: “Many high-ranking officials of the Cuban government are hurt by repression against dissent,” ABC International (Jan. 14, 2020).)

 

 

 President Trump Proclaims His “Success” on Cuba  

On December 31 President Trump released a lengthy recital of his administration’s alleged successes over its first three years and as an obvious prelude to his re-election campaign.[1]

In that recital President Trump said the following about Cuba:

“President Trump has promoted democracy throughout the Western Hemisphere and imposed heavy sanctions on the regimes in Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua.”

“The President reversed the previous Administration’s disastrous Cuba policy.”

“President Trump has enacted a new policy aimed at stopping any revenues from reaching the Cuban military or intelligence services, imposed stricter travel restrictions, and reaffirmed the focus ensuring the Cuban regime does not profit from U.S. dollars.”

“Earlier this year, the Trump Administration put a cap on remittances to Cuba.”

“President Trump is enabling Americans to file lawsuits against persons and entities that traffic in property confiscated by the Cuban regime, the first time that these kind of claims have been available for Americans under the Helms-Burton Act.”

Conclusion

These statements are correct if one ignores the self-congratulatory evaluation of the administration’s actions. For those like this blogger, they are deplorable actions.[2]

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[1] White House, President Donald J. Trump Has Delivered Record Breaking Results For The American People In His First Three Years in Office (Dec. 31, 2019).

[2] See List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Cuba.

 

State Department’s New “Bilateral Relations Fact Sheet: U.S. Relations with Cameroon”       

On December 20, the U.S. State Department released its new “Bilateral Relations Fact Sheet: U.S. Relations with Cameroon.”[1]  Here is the text of that document.

“The United States established diplomatic relations with Cameroon in 1960, following the independence of the French-administered part of the country. Cameroon has had just two presidents since independence. U.S. relations with Cameroon are positive, although from time to time they have been affected by concerns over human rights abuses, in particular in the Anglophone Northwest and Southwest Regions, and the pace of political and economic liberalization. Cameroon plays a key role in regional stability and remains our strongest regional partner in countering terrorism in the Lake Chad Region. The United States and Cameroon are closely engaged on issues that address democracy and governance, health, regional security, humanitarian assistance, and environmental protection.” (Emphasis added.)

“U.S. Assistance to Cameroon”

“The U.S. government has implemented the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief in Cameroon since 2012 and works across five U.S. government agencies to support Cameroonian national HIV and TB programs.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Agency for International Development supports Cameroonian government efforts to combat HIV, malaria, and other public health threats.  In collaboration with the Ministry of Health, CDC and USAID strengthens Cameroon’s health sector by building laboratory, surveillance, emergency management and workforce capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to disease outbreaks.  USAID’s humanitarian programs support conflict-affected populations by addressing food insecurity and malnutrition, providing health services, supporting agricultural production, and improving livelihoods through support to meet the basic needs of vulnerable households Peace Corps works in six regions to improve community health, education, and agriculture.”

“The Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy in Cameroon organizes cultural, educational, and informational exchanges.  It maintains a library and helps foster the development of Cameroon’s independent press. Through several State Department and USAID regional funds, the Embassy provides funds for biodiversity protection, refugees, democratization, human rights, countering violent extremism, and education.  The Department of Defense conducts bilateral and multilateral security cooperation activities in coordination with the Cameroonian government.  U.S. security assistance strengthens Cameroon’s ability to contain Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa, ensure maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea, contribute to regional stability, strengthen military justice, and protect human rights.” (Emphases added.)

Bilateral Economic Relations”

“The U.S. and Cameroon signed a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) in 1986 that came into force in 1989. Cameroon is currently the United States’ 128th largest goods trading partner with $412 million in total (two way) goods trade during 2018.  U.S. goods exports to Cameroon totaled $193 million; goods imports totaled $219 million.”

 “Cameroon’s Membership in International Organizations”

“Cameroon and the United States belong to many of the same international organizations, including the United Nations, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and World Trade Organization.”

“Bilateral Representation”

“The U.S. Ambassador to Cameroon is Peter H. Barlerin; other principal embassy officials are listed in the Department’s Key Officers List.”

“Cameroon maintains an embassy in the United States at 3400 International Drive, NW, Washington, DC 20008. (tel. 202-265-8790).”

“More information about Cameroon is available from the Department of State and other sources, some of which are listed here:”

CIA World Factbook Cameroon Page
U.S. Embassy
USAID Cameroon Page
History of U.S. Relations With Cameroon
Office of the U.S. Trade Representative Country Page
U.S. Census Bureau Foreign Trade Statistics
Export.gov International Offices Page
Travel Information

Conclusion

In light of developments this year, as discussed in prior posts to this blog, this document’s bland references to human rights are surprising as is the failure to mention the October 2019 U.S. suspension of Cameroon’s participation in a preferential African trade program because of Cameroon’s human rights violations.

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[1] State Dep’t, Bilateral Relations Fact Sheet: U.S. Relations with Cameroon (Dec. 20, 2019). This is a pro forma document prepared by the Department for every country in the world.

 

U.N. Security Council Discusses Cameroon’s Anglophone Crisis   

On December 6, 2019, the U.N. Security Council held a meeting about the countries of Central Africa, including Cameroon. Here is an account of the U.N. Secretary-General’s report preceding that meeting and the discussion at that meeting insofar as they related to Cameroon.

Secretary-General’s Report (11/29/19)[1]

The Secretary-General stated, ”In the North-West and SouthWest Regions, violence continued to affect 1.3 million people, including over 700,000 people who were uprooted from their homes. Armed fighting and insecurity in the two regions continued to be the principal impediment to the provision of assistance and a barrier for those in need to reach areas where they could receive aid. Attacks on health infrastructure and personnel, schools, teachers, parents and children persisted. More than 855,000 children – almost 9 out of 10 – have been out of school for three years in the two regions. As of November 2019, 90 percent of public primary schools and 77 percent of public secondary schools remained closed or non-operational.”

A U.N. team recently “found that serious human rights violations and abuses, Cameroonattributed to both government security forces and armed separatists, were occurring across the two regions. [The team] received allegations of unlawful killing, rape and gang rape, torture and other forms of ill-treatment, abduction for ransom, infringement of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, forced displacement, destruction of property and attacks on schools and medical facilities, as well as arbitrary detention. There was concern regarding impunity.”

 Comments at the Security Council Meeting (12/06/19) [2]

Francois Louncény Fall, the Head of the U.N. Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA) and the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for that subregion, opened the meeting by presenting the previously mentioned Secretary-General’s report.[3]

According to the summary of his remarks, he said that although Cameroon’s National Dialogue (September 30-October 4) had been productive, “the level of violence continues to threaten Cameroonian lives, . . .  citing reports of human rights violations and abuses attributable to all sides.  Humanitarian workers have also been targeted. . . . More than 700,000 people have been displaced by the conflict and thousands have been reported killed or injured, . . .  [He called] upon international partners to support national efforts to address humanitarian needs.  In the wake of the national dialogue, some of its recommendations have been implemented, including the release of some prisoners, but the swift implementation of all recommendations will be a significant step towards resolving the crisis” and contributing “significantly towards resolving the political and humanitarian crisis enveloping that country’s North‑West and South‑West regions.”  He also said that there needed to be “further discourse among all stakeholders in order to quell underlying tensions among marginalized communities.  The elections announced for 2020 will be a crucial test of democracy and the determination of national stakeholders to achieve genuine stability and socioeconomic development for all Cameroonians, he continued, urging all sides to step up their efforts to protect and promote human rights and to tackle impunity.”[4]

The Special Representative added that although Cameroon President Biya has announced legislative and municipal elections for next February, the leader of a major opposition party had declared that it would not participate in the election because of no suitable conditions for voting in the Anglophone region (the north-West and South-West Regions) while other opposition parties had reservations about the election. For this election to be successful test of democracy, there must be “genuine stability and socioeconomic development for all Cameroonians.” Therefore, “all actors on the ground [must] step up their efforts to protect and promote human rights and to tackle impunity.”

Most of the Council members, according to the summary, had very little comment about Cameroon or merely welcomed the national dialogue and urged the parties to the conflict to resolve differences through compromise. This was true for Equatorial Guinea, Dominican Republic, Russian Federation, Kuwait, Peru, Indonesia and China.

European members of the Council, however, were slightly more pointed in their remarks about Cameroon:

  • The United Kingdom representative expressed “concern over the strife in Cameroon” and said “all parties must do more to ensure humanitarian access.  He called for an end to human rights abuses, for the investigation of all incidents and for the implementation of all recommendations of the national dialogue, including those on strengthening bilingualism and engaging diaspora groups.  ‘Words need to be matched by actions,’ to prevent the situation from deteriorating, he emphasized, underlining the imperative need for the international community to support further peacebuilding efforts in Cameroon.”
  • The representative for Belgium expressed “concern over the strife in Cameroon” and said “all parties must do more to ensure humanitarian access.  He called for an end to human rights abuses, for the investigation of all incidents and for the implementation of all recommendations of the national dialogue, including those on strengthening bilingualism and engaging diaspora groups.  ‘Words need to be matched by actions,’ to prevent the situation from deteriorating, he emphasized, underlining the imperative need for the international community to support further peacebuilding efforts in Cameroon.”
  • Poland’s representative “welcomed Cameroon’s holding of a national dialogue but expressed concern over continued human rights violations in that country.  All incidents should be investigated and perpetrators held accountable.”
  • The German representative said “the deteriorating situation in Cameroon” suggested the Security council should “consider how UNOCA can contribute resolving the conflict, which has a negative impact on the entire Central Africa region.”

The most critical remarks came from U.S. Ambassador Cherith Norman Chalet. While he  expressed gratitude for  the Secretary-General’s “work in Cameroon to facilitate a peaceful resolution to the crisis in the Anglophone Northwest and Southwest Regions,” he stated the U.S.has  increasing concern over the “rapidly worsening humanitarian and human rights situations in Cameroon. Credible reports detail persistent human-rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary and unlawful detention, and torture, all conducted with impunity.”

This, the U.S. said, has become “a humanitarian situation requiring immediate attention. Parties to the conflict limit humanitarian access, and a worsening security situation has reportedly left as much as 65 percent of the Northwest and Southwest Regions of Cameroon out of bounds to aid workers.”

Therefore, U.S. Ambassador Chalet urged, first, that the U.N.’s Regional Office for Central Africa and “our partners to take a more assertive role in resolving Cameroon’s conflict and to continue to urge both the Government of Cameroon and separatist groups to enter into open-ended dialogue without pre-conditions, [thereby] relinquishing their focus on a military solution.” Second, the “Swiss-led mediation process between the Government of Cameroon and the separatists” should go forward immediately.[5]

These critical comments by the U.S. Ambassador echoed the words and actions of the U.S. after President Biya’s speech and national dialogue when the U.S. did not applaud the speech and on October 31, 2019, suspended Cameroon’s participation in a beneficial African trade program because “the Government of Cameroon currently engages in gross violations of internationally recognized human rights., [including] extrajudicial killings, arbitrary and unlawful detention, and torture.” [6]

Conclusion

Significantly there was no Security Council resolution regarding Cameroon at this meeting, meaning there was no additional U.N. pressure for ending the persecution of the Anglophone Cameroonians.

It also should be noted that although all of these cited documents are in the public domain, there was no discussion of them in the principal U.S. media for coverage of international affairs, the New York Times and the Washington Post.

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[1] U.N. Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General: the situation in Central Africa and the activities of the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa (Nov. 29, 2019) [Cameroon, paras. 5-7, 23, 27, 29-32, 41, 74].

[2] U.N. Security Council, Building upon Momentum from National Dialogue Can Help Cameroon Resolve Political, Humanitarian Crisis, Special Representative Tells Security Council (Dec. 6, 2019); U.S. Mission to U.N., Remarks on UNSC Briefing on UNOCA (UN Regional Office for Central Africa) (Dec. 6. 2019).

[3] According to a U.N. website, Monsieur Fall is a native of Guinea and between 2012 and 2016 served as its Minister for Foreign Affairs after serving as its Prime Minister and as Secretary-General to the Presidency.  He also held a number of Guinean ambassadorial positions, including Permanent Representative to the United Nations and representative at the Security Council. For the U.N. he was the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Somalia, 2005-2007 and in the Central African Republic from 2007 to 2008 and as the Vice-Chairman of the Commission for the Monitoring and Evaluation of the South Sudan Peace Agreement, January to October 2016. Since November 2016 he has been the Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of UNOCA.  Mr. Fall holds a master’s degree in international law from Conakry University in Guinea.

[4] On September 10, 2019, Cameroon President Paul Biya in a speech recognized that the country’s crisis initially was triggered by the need to preserve the Anglo-Sacon judicial and educational systems in the Anglophone regions and that the government had taken steps to meet those needs, including the establishment of the Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multi-culturalism and a decentralization process. However, a secessionist movement have fomented violence requiring the government to respond with force. Now the country will conduct a major national dialogue to find ways to address the many problems in the country. The President will offer pardon to those who voluntarily lay down their arms. This speech elicited positive reactions from the U.N. and the African Union, but skepticism from some of the country’s opposition parties. (See Potential Breakthrough in Cameroon’s Civil War?, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 27, 2019).)

[5] See Switzerland Mediation of Cameroon’s Anglophone Crisis, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 19, 2019). The Conclusion of this post referred to a December 18 report that Switzerland had abandoned this mediation, but this blogger has not found any other reference to this alleged abandonment of mediation.

[6]  U.S. Reactions to Recent Developments in Cameroon, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 28, 2019).

 

Dwindling Hope in Cuba    

Five years ago, on December 17, 2014, U.S. President Obama and Cuba President Raúl Castro simultaneously announced that their two countries had embarked on a process of normalization and reconciliation that continued through the rest of Obama’s presidency that ended on January 20, 2017. [1] President Trump, however, has halted that process and in fact has adopted many hostile policies regarding the island.

On the fifth anniversary of the Obama/Castro announcement, journalists from the Associated Press walked through Havana to ask Cubans how they felt about the current conditions on the island. Overall, the journalists said, “it feels almost as if that historic moment never happened.. . . Now, the two years of detente under Obama feel like a temporary break in a long history of tension and struggle that has no end in sight.”[2]

“The Cuban economy is stagnant, with tourism numbers flat and aid from Venezuela far below its historic peak as Cuba’s oil-rich chief ally fights through its own long crisis.”[3]

Antoin Ugartez, a 42-year-old father of three who rents a three-wheeled covered scooter known as a Cocotaxi from a state-run agency, said the post-Trump decline in tourism had hit him hard. Detente, he said, “was a great step forward for Cuban society. Things developed and you started to see different perspectives, a different vision of economic improvement for your family, the conditions you live in.” Now, he said, “I barely make enough to put food on the table.”

On December 16, 2019 (the day before the fifth anniversary), Cuba’s Foreign Ministry’s General Director for U.S. Affairs, Fernández de Cossio, said, “There are powerful people today in the U.S. government that want to increasingly apply hostile measures and sever our bilateral relationship. If that were to be the case, we are ready to face that reality, but it is not what the people of Cuba want and not what the government of Cuba is seeking.”[4]

In an apparent response to this Cuban comment, an anonymous State Department official said, “”While there are no plans to break off diplomatic ties at this time, one thing that has clearly reached a low point is the Castro regime’s abuses of its own people. In addition, the regime is spreading its totalitarian repression to other countries in the region.”

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[1] U.S. and Cuba Embark on Reconciliation, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec.  21, 2014).

[2] Assoc. Press, 5 Years After Detent With US, Cubans Say Hope Has Dwindled, N.Y. times (Dec. 17, 2019).

[3]  On December 12, 2019, the Cuban government announced that foreign visitors for the year were only slightly more than four million versus predictions of more than five million. Taxi drivers, classic car tours, private bed and breakfasts, restaurants and other private businesses dependent on foreign visitors have been especially suffering with this lower number. (Assoc. Press, Cuba Tourists Barely Pass 4 Million, in Disappointing Result, N.Y. Times (Dec. 12, 2019).)

[4]  Reuters, Cuba Says It Is Prepared if U.S. Chooses to Sever Diplomatic Ties, N.Y. Times (Dec. 16, 2019).

 

Another Theory for Cause of Medical Problems of U.S. Diplomats in Cuba

Robert Bartholomew, an U.S. expert in neurodegenerative diseases at U.C.L.A., and Robert W. Baloh, a sociologist at New Zealand’s Botany College, contend that the medical problems suffered by some U.S. diplomats in Cuba are “more akin to shell shock,” a “signature feature of which was concussion-like symptoms.” They add, “A characteristic feature of combat syndromes over the past century is the appearance of an array of neurological complaints from an overstimulated nervous system that are commonly misdiagnosed as concussions and brain damage.” [1]

The various explanations of these medical problems have been discussed in other posts to this blog.[2]

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[1] Cockburn, Havana Syndrome: ‘Emotional Trauma and fear’ most likely cause of illness among US diplomats in Cuba, not mysterious sonic weapons, Independent (Nov. 1, 2019); Bartholomew & Baloh, Challenging the diagnosis of ‘Havana Syndrome’ as a novel clinical entity,  J. Royal Soc’y of Medicine (Oct. 31, 2019)

[2] See the posts to dwkcommentaries.com listed in the “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2017-18” and “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2019” sections of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

 

 

U.S. Reactions to Recent Developments in Cameroon

Over the last several years, Cameroon, a country of 15.7 million people on the west coast of Africa, has been engaged in armed conflict between its central government, which is controlled by the population’s 2/3 majority of Francophones (French-speaking people), and the minority Anglophones (English-speaking people).[1]

As covered in a prior post, in a September 10 speech Cameroon President Paul Biya called for a National Dialogue about the conflict between the country’s Anglophones and Francophones. Here we will examine U.S. actions and statements about Cameroon this year, before and after that speech.

State Department Statements About Cameroon [2]

Surprisingly for this blogger, the State Department has not issued any statement, pro or con, on the Biya speech or the National Dialogue. Instead, the Department, before and after the speech, has issued negative comments about the country other than the brief congratulations on its National Day on May 20 while also noting that the U.S. “supports the people of Cameroon, and remains committed to working with Cameroonians to strengthen democracy, governance, human rights, and rule of law.”

On February 6, 2019, the U.S. suspended certain military aid to Cameroon because of alleged human rights abuses by the country’s security forces. The Department said, “The reason for this action was concern over alleged human rights abuses by the country’s security forces. We do not take these measures lightly, but we will not shirk from reducing assistance further if evolving conditions require it. We emphasize that it is in Cameroon’s interest to show greater transparency in investigating credible allegations of gross violations of human rights security forces, particularly in the Northwest, Southwest, and Far North Regions.”

On April 9, 2019, Cameroon was included in a general Department Media Note about Updates to Safety and Security Messaging for U.S. Travelers, which stated that its public Travel Advisories for Cameroon and some other countries had “added a new risk indicator [K] to our public Travel Advisories in order to communicate more clearly to U.S. citizens the risks of kidnapping and hostage taking by criminal and terrorist actors around the world.”

On July 9, 2019, the Department publicly designated Cameroon’s Inspector General of the Cameroonian Gendarmerie, Colonel Jean Claude Ango Ango, due U.S. to his involvement in significant corruption related to wildlife trafficking. Pursuant to a federal statute, the Colonel and his wife were ineligible for entry into the U.S.

And on October 31, President Trump announced that effective January 1, the U.S. would suspend Cameroon’s participation in a U.S. preferential trade program because “the Government of Cameroon currently engages in gross violations of internationally recognized human rights. . . . Despite intensive engagement between the United States and the Government of Cameroon, Cameroon has failed to address concerns regarding persistent human rights violations being committed by Cameroonian security forces.  These violations include extrajudicial killings, arbitrary and unlawful detention, and torture.”

An individual, perhaps with Cameroonian connections (Joel Ademisoye), registered objections to this U.S. suspension of that country’s eligibility for certain trade benefits. He said, “interestingly and unfortunately, President Trump has weaponized and turned the [African Growth and Opportunity Act] AGOA into an economic instrument to intervene, ameliorate and solve a political crisis in Cameroon.” This is “an inappropriate way to address a volatile political issue that centers on historic, cultural and linguistic fault lines in Cameroon. Preventing Cameroon access to the U.S. market would have significant negative effects on the powerless and poor in Cameroon.” Instead, he opines, “Mr. Trump should restrict the supply of military weapons to and ban assistance for police training to the Biya administration because of its effective employment of the country’s security forces to oppress, subjugate and kill the Anglophone people in Cameroon and deny them their human rights.”

 U.S. Embassy in Cameroon [3]

On October 1, the U.S. Embassy issued its only statement regarding the National Dialogue, which was mentioned in President Biya’s speech. It was made to clarify the role of the U.S. in Cameroon’s National Dialogue by saying the U.S. “is a neutral observer of the process and, while we have offered to play a role in identifying an eventual solution, we would need to be asked by both sides before taking on this role. The United States remains a committed partner and friend of Cameroon.  Our desire is for all Cameroonians to live in peace.  The Embassy urges all involved in the conflict in the Anglophone Northwest and Southwest to abjure further violence and enter into an open-ended dialogue.”

The Embassy also has made the following comments on some of the continued unrest in the country.

  • On October 5, the Embassy welcomed Cameroon’s “decision to drop charges against Maurice Kamto and other members and supporters of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement (MRC) arrested following election protests earlier this year.  Their release from prison today is a constructive step toward relieving political tensions and affirming the government’s commitment to respect for fundamental freedoms.  We hope further measures will be taken in the wake of the recently concluded National Dialogue, leading to the restoration of peace in the Northwest and Southwest Regions.”
  • On October 11, the Embassy condemned “the horrific late September aggravated assault, murder, and beheading of a female prison official and mother of three in the Northwest Region of Cameroon.  We extend our deepest condolences to her surviving family. We urge the authorities to undertake a thorough and balanced investigation of this and other atrocities and bring the perpetrators to a fair and transparent trial.”“More violence is not the answer.  We call on both sides to the conflict in the Northwest and Southwest to abjure further violence and to enter into an open-ended dialogue without pre-conditions.”
  • On November 12, it was a “Demonstration Alert” about “the potential for demonstrations and unrest related to a reported ban on motorcycle taxis in certain areas within Yaoundé.  There is currently a heightened law enforcement presence at roundabouts and other intersections throughout the city.”
  • On November 20, it was a “Security Alert,” which stated, “S. citizens in the North and Far North Regions of Cameroon should take all necessary precaution to prevent attacks, kidnappings, or other associated actions by terrorist groups seeking to retaliate for the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.   The Embassy reminds U.S. citizens that our April 9, 2019, Travel Advisory for Cameroon advises no travel to these regions due to the threat of crime, kidnapping, and terrorism.”

In addition, the U.S. Embassy has made the following recent positive comments about the country that say or suggest the U.S. was still supporting the Cameroon government.[5]

  • On September 26, the Embassy published U.S. remarks congratulating Cameroon on “the many successes of the PREDICT 2 project, funded by the United States government.  This project is just one of the many ways that the United States is partnering every day with Cameroon for a healthy, prosperous, and peaceful future for the people of this country.”
  • On October 17, the U.S. Ambassador presented self-help and refugee awards to seven Cameroonians. He emphasized that the U.S. “is a committed partner to all Cameroonians who are striving to improve the governance, prosperity, peace, and health of their fellow citizens. . . . We know that it is Cameroonians who will bring sustainable solutions to the critical problems of their country.”
  • On October 18, the U.S. Ambassador awarded “over 42 million FCFA to seven Cameroonian organizations working for the development, health, and prosperity of their communities” as “an example of the [U.S.] commitment to its partnership with Cameroon.”
  • On October 20, the U.S. Ambassador to Cameroon gave a speech in Yaoundé (the country’s capitol) congratulating Cameroon and certain other African countries for progress in fighting the disease of meningitis.
  • On October 24, the Embassy welcomed the “voluntary return” of groups of refugees to the neighboring country of the Central African Republic (CAR) and congratulated the “governments of Cameroon and [CAR and ] UN High Commissioner of Refugees “for their cooperation and goodwill.” The U.S. “is the largest donor of humanitarian assistance in Cameroon, having contributed over $87 million since 2018 to humanitarian actors to provide food, water, shelter, and other services benefitting refugees and other vulnerable populations.  We encourage other countries to contribute more to the urgent needs of refugees and vulnerable populations in Cameroon in a way that supports progress toward stability, good governance, and self-reliance. We recognize the hospitality of the government of the Republic of Cameroon and of the Cameroonian people in continuing to host more than 400,000 refugees from neighboring countries.  Protecting the rights of refugees and ensuring they have access to jobs and education for their children is fundamental.”
  • On October 30, the Embassy congratulated Cameroon on the first international certification of a blood bank in the country.
  • On October 31, the U.S. Embassy in Cameroon released a statement expressing deep sadness over “the loss of life, destruction of homes, and displacement of people due to floods and landslides in the neighborhood of Gouache near the West Region’s capital city of Bafoussam.  We convey our deepest condolences to the families of those who have died or been injured and to the Government of Cameroon.  The United States expresses its solidarity with the people of the West region and stands ready to work with the regional and national authorities as they respond to the humanitarian needs resulting from this natural disaster.”
  • On November 1, the U.S. Embassy released a statement about the previously mentioned U.S. decision to terminate certain trade benefits for the country as of January 1, 2020. But its headline was “U.S. Commitment to Cameroon Remains Strong Despite Change in AGOA Status.” The statement itself said the U.S. remains “committed to working with Cameroon to [meet the criteria for that trade status]. In 2018, Cameroon exported roughly $220 million in goods and services to the United States; $63 million was exported under AGOA, over 90 percent of which was crude petroleum.  The United States is a committed partner and friend of Cameroon, and we will continue to pursue robust and diverse commercial ties, working with other tools at our disposal toward realizing the enormous potential of this relationship for our mutual prosperity and economic growth.”

Conclusion

The difference in the messaging of the State Department and the Embassy is striking. While it is easy to understand the Embassy’s desire to maintain good relations with the country, this blogger finds it unusual that this messaging was not repeated or endorsed by the Department.

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[1] See generally List of Posts to dwkcommentareis—Topical: CAMEROON.

[2] State Dep’t, Cameroon’s National Days National Day (May 20, 2019); U.S. Announces Suspension of Military Aid to Cameroon, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 7, 2019); U.S. Announces Suspension of Military Aid to Cameroon, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 7, 2019); State Dep’t, U.S. Department of State Announces Updates to Safety and Security Messaging for U.S. Travelers (April 9, 2019); State Dep’t, Public Designation, Due to Involvement in Significant Corruption, of the Republic of Cameroon’s Jean Claude Ango Ango (July 9, 2019); White House, Message to the Congress (Oct. 31, 2019); Paquette, Trump ends trade benefits for Cameroon over ‘persistent human rights violations,’ Wash. Post (Nov. 1, 2019; Letter to Editor from Joel Ademisoye,  Wash. Post (Nov. 6, 2019).

[3] U.S. Embassy, PRESS RELEASE: Clarification of U.S. role In Cameroon’s National Dialogue (Oct. 3, 2019); U.S. Embassy, The Charge d’Affairs’ Speech during the Closeout Ceremony of the USAID Predict Project (Sept. 26, 2019); U.S. Embassy, U.S. Embassy, Media Publishers Called to be Good Managers (Oct. 3, 2019); U.S. Embassy, Ambassador PeterBarlerin’s Remarks at the 2018 Ambassador’s Special Self-Help and Julia Taft Refugee Fund Small Grant Presentation Ceremony (Oct. 17, 2019); U.S. Embassy, PRESS RELEASE: Ambassador Awards Grants to Help Local Communities (Oct. 18, 2019);U.S. Embassy, Speech by U.S. Ambassador Peter Henry Barlerin On the occasion of the 16th Annual Meeting on Surveillance, Preparedness and Response to Meningitis (Oct. 23, 2019); U.S. Embassy, PRESS RELEASE: United States Welcomes Voluntary Return of Central African Refugees (Oct.24, 2019); U.S. Embassy, PRESS RELEASE: United States Congratulates Cameroon for Certification of Blood Bank (Oct. 30, 2019); U.S. Embassy, PRESS RELEASE: United States Condolences to Those Affected by Landslide in West Region (Oct. 31, 2019); U.S. Embassy, PRESS RELEASE: U.S. Commitment to Cameroon Remains Strong Despite Change in AGOA Status (Nov. 1, 2019).