U.S. Reduces Permissible Remittances to Cuba       

On September 6, the U.S. Treasury Department announced that effective October 9, one Cuban-American may remit no more than $1,000 per one family member on the island, per-quarter.[1]

In addition, the new rules forbid remittances to “close family members of prohibited Cuban officials and members of the Cuban Communist Party.” Also prohibited are remittances by non-family members.

On the other hand, the new rules will authorize remittances to certain individuals and independent non-governmental organizations in Cuba “to support the operation of economic activity in the non-state sector by self-employed individuals, in light of . . . [U.S.] policy to encourage the growth of the Cuban private sector independent of government control.”

Treasury’s new rules will also ban “banking institutions subject to U.S. jurisdiction . . . [from processing] certain funds transfers originating and terminating outside the United States, commonly known as “U-turn” transactions.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said, “We are taking additional steps to financially isolate the Cuban regime.  The United States holds the Cuban regime accountable for its oppression of the Cuban people and support of other dictatorships throughout the region, such as the illegitimate Maduro regime. . . Through these regulatory amendments, Treasury is denying Cuba access to hard currency, and we are curbing the Cuban government’s bad behavior while continuing to support the long-suffering people of Cuba.”

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[1] U.S. Treasury Dep’t, Treasury Issues Changes to Strengthen Cuba Sanctions Rules (Sept. 6, 2019; Assoc. Press, US Limits Amounts of Money That Americans Can Send to Cuba, N.Y. Times (sept. 6, 2019).

 

 

 

New Yorker Report on Medical Problems of U.S. Diplomats in Cuba

The November 19, 2018, issue of The New Yorker has a lengthy article about the medical problems experienced by some U.S. diplomats in Cuba starting in late 2016 (and after the U.S. presidential election). [1]

The conclusion, however, is the same as previously reported: some U.S. personnel did suffer injury and the U.S. Government has publicly stated it does not know the cause or perpetrator of these injuries.[2]

But the article does provide greater details about many of the victims having been CIA agents and about the U.S.-Cuba interactions over these incidents.

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[1] Entous & Anderson, Havana Syndrome, New Yorker at 34  (Nov. 19, 2018).

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

Cuba Protests U.S.’ Cuba Internet Task Force

On January 31 the Cuban Foreign Ministry sent a note protesting the U.S. recent creation of the Cuba Internet Task Force.[1]

The note “expresses its strong protest for the pretension of the US government to violate flagrant Cuban sovereignty, with respect to national competence to regulate the flow of information and the use of mass media, while rejecting the attempt to manipulate the Internet to carry out illegal programs for political purposes and subversion, as part of their actions aimed at altering or changing the constitutional order of the Republic of Cuba.” 

This Task force hasthe stated objective of promoting in Cuba the ‘free and unregulated flow of information/’ According to the announcement, this task force will ‘examine the technological challenges and opportunities to expand Internet access and independent media’ in Cuba.

Cuba again demands that the Government of the United States cease its subversive, interfering and illegal actions against Cuba, which undermine Cuban constitutional stability and order, and urges it to respect Cuban sovereignty, International Law and the purposes of and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

The “Cuban Foreign Ministry reiterates the determination of the Government of Cuba not to tolerate any type of subversive activity or interference in its internal affairs and, as a sovereign country, to continue defending itself and denouncing the interfering nature of this type of action.”

“Cuba will continue to regulate the flow of information as is its sovereign right and as is practice in all countries, including the United States. Cuba will also continue advancing in the computerization of its society, as part of the development of the country and in terms of the social justice objectives that characterize its Revolution.”

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[1] Note from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cuba (Jan. 31, 2018); The regime sends a protest note to Washington for its plan to expand the internet in Cuba, Diario de Cuba (Feb. 1, 2018).

 

Open Letter to U.S. Congress About U.S. Freedom To Travel to Cuba

To: Senator Flake: As an U.S. and Minnesota citizen, I thank you for sponsoring legislation to grant U.S. citizens freedom to travel to Cuba (S.127 Freedom for Americans to Travel to Cuba Act). I also thank and copy my Minnesota Senators, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, for joining 52 other senators in co-sponsoring this bill.

To: Representative Mark Sanford: I thank you for sponsoring a similar bill in the House (H.R.351—Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2017). I also thank and copy the three Minnesota representatives (Tom Emmer, Erik Paulsen and Rick Nolan) who have joined 21 other representatives in cosponsoring the bill. By copies of this open letter, I urge the other Minnesota representatives (Timothy Walz, Jason Lewis, Betty McCollum, Keith Ellison and Collin Peterson) to join the ranks of cosponsors.

Now is the time to push these bills forward for votes in the two chambers before the Trump Administration comes forward with proposed regulations to implement the President’s intention to eliminate individual person-to-person travel to the island. (A copy of this open letter is also being sent to President Trump.)

In addition to the arguments already advanced for supporting these bills, I submit that the new Trump policy is internally inconsistent for the following reasons:

  • The ban on individual person-to-person travel, by all accounts, will reduce the overall amount of U.S. travel to the island and thereby have substantial negative effects on Cuba’s emerging private sector, which has improved the living standards of many Cubans and is a force for change in Cuba and for friendlier relations with the U.S. Remember that President Trump favors measures to improve the lives of ordinary Cubans.
  • Forcing Americans who want to have a person-to-person experience in Cuba to do so only with established tour groups will mean “large tour groups [that] are too big for smaller bed-and-breakfast rentals, and their [Cuban] government-appointed guides tend to ply the well-trodden routes that bypass the new galleries, restaurants and night spots opened by enterprising Cubans and others.” This is a direct negative effect on Cubans’ standard of living, which President Trump does not want.
  • According to Andrea Gallina, an Italian entrepreneur who last year opened a high-end boutique hotel, Paseo 206, with his Cuban spouse, “If independent American travel is cut off, you won’t only hurt the bed-and-breakfasts. It’s also the construction crews, the private tour guides, the taxi drivers, the restaurants and the artists selling handicrafts.” Again, the Cubans now engaged in these private enterprises will be substantially disadvantaged.
  • The larger groups will by necessity have to stay in hotels, most of which are state-owned, rather than individually owned b&bs, and travel in tour buses (again, state-owned), rather than individually owned taxis. The large-group U.S. visitors also probably will be provided with government-provided guides rather than private guides used by people traveling by themselves or in small groups. All of these consequences are contrary to the President’s intent to stop or limit U.S. persons from doing business with enterprises owned or controlled by the Cuban military or security services.
  • The ban on individual person-to-person travel will increase the cost for Americans’ traveling to the island and thereby reduce the amount of such travel. As a result, the U.S. will lose the impact on Cubans of ordinary Americans, who often are the best ambassadors for the U.S., its government, people and values.

====================================================For more details, see This Blogger’s Reactions to Trump Reversal of Some U.S.-Cuba Normalization Policies (June 23, 2017).

Disagreement About the Positive Impacts of Immigration      

A disagreement about the positive impacts of immigration and diversity has emerged between Robert Putnam, the distinguished Peter and Isabel Malkin Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University, and Mark Krikorian, the Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies. [1]

The disagreement started with a Wall Street Journal article by Krikorian that was the subject of a prior post although that post did not emphasize one of the article’s points that has given rise to this disagreement. Krikorian argued that immigration will overwhelm American culture by stating the following:

  • “[H]igh levels of immigration actually exacerbate the bowling-alone tendencies in the wider society, overloading it with ethnic diversity than it cannot handle. It is not that diversity causes increased hostility between groups, as one might expect. Rather, it causes people to disappear into their shells like turtles.”

As support for this assertion, Krikorian cited Putnam’s article—E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century (The 2006 Johan Skytte Prize Lecture), Wiley Online Library (June 15, 2007).

In addition, Krikorian as additional support for his argument quoted the following from the Putnam article: “Inhabitants of diverse communities tend to withdraw from collective life, to distrust their neighbors, regardless of the color of their skin, to withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less, to agitate for social reform more but to have less faith that they can actually make a difference, and to huddle unhappily in front of the television.”

Another quotation from Professor Putnam is also found in the Krikorian article: immigration has made Los Angeles into ‘”among the most ethnically diverse human habitations in history’ and had the lowest level of social trust among all the communities that his team studied.”

Professor Putnam, however, has taken exception to this use of his article,[2] which, he correctly says, provided “empirical evidence for [the following] three major points:

“1. Increased immigration and diversity are not only inevitable, but over the long run they are also desirable. Ethnic diversity is, on balance, an important social asset, as the history of the U.S. demonstrates.”

“2. In the short to medium run, however, immigration and ethnic diversity challenge social solidarity and inhibit social capital.”

“3. In the medium to long run, on the other hand, successful immigrant societies like the U.S. create new forms of social solidarity and dampen the negative effects of diversity by constructing new, more encompassing identities.”

According to Putnam, Krikorian “cherry-picks the middle point but entirely ignores the first and last because they are inconvenient for his policy recommendations. . . . In my 2007 article, I specifically warned against this danger: ‘It would be unfortunate if a politically correct progressivism were to deny the reality of the challenge to social solidarity posed by diversity. It would be equally unfortunate if an ahistorical and ethnocentric conservatism were to deny that addressing that challenge is both feasible and desirable.’ Mr. Krikorian’s tendentious use of my research illustrates precisely how our civic culture, which he claims to value, is being undermined in today’s public dialogue.”

Professor Putnam’s article also concludes with this statement: “One great achievement of human civilization is our ability to redraw more inclusive lines of social identity. The motto on the Great Seal of the United States (and on our dollar bill) and the title of this essay –e pluribus unum– reflects precisely that objective – namely to create a novel ‘one’ out of a diverse ‘many’.”

Conclusion

As an advocate for U.S. immigration, I naturally side with Professor Putnam on this debate. Several other thoughts come to mind. If God created human beings as clones, what a boring world this would be. The social world is always changing. As was said many years ago by the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who was famous for his insistence on ever-present change as being the fundamental essence of the universe: “No man ever steps in the same river twice.” On the other hand, I also believe there is wisdom in skepticism of grand theories and in favoring incremental, as opposed to revolutionary, change.

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[1] Professor Putnam also is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the British Academy; past president of the American Political Science Association; recipient of the Skytte Prize, the most prestigious global award in political science; and recipient of the National Humanities Medal, the nation’s highest honor for contributions to the humanities.

[2] Putnam, Letter to Wall Street Journal, W.S.J. (Mar. 31, 2017),

 

Trump and Rubio Share “Similar Views” on Cuba

At President Trump’s rambling press conference on February 16 he said that over dinner the previous night he and Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) “had a very good discussion about Cuba because we have very similar views on Cuba.” Trump added that “Cuba has been very good to me, in the elections. . ., the Cuban people, Americans.” (Torres, Trump: Rubio and I have ‘very similar views on Cuba,’ Miami Herald Feb. 16, 2017).)

No details were provided on which views were similar, but Rubio’s opposition to former President Obama’s normalisation of U.S. relations with Cuba is well known, and during last year’s presidential campaign Trump voiced similar thoughts. (See posts listed in ¨ U.S. and Cuba in the Trump Administration, 2017¨section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries.com–Topical: CUBA.)

As  an advocate of such normalization, this is disturbing, but unfortunately not surprising, news.

 

Ecuador Continues To Restrict Freedom of the Press

On June 14, 2013, Ecuador’s national legislature adopted the Organic Law on Communications with the following provisions that threaten freedom of the press:

  • Prohibition of “media lynching,” which is defined as “a concerted effort, coordinated by several media or carried out by just one, to destroy a person’s honor or prestige.”
  • Establishment of “everyone’s right that information of public interest received through the media should be verified, balanced, contextualized and opportune” without defining those terms.
  • Establishment of media’s responsibility to accept and promote obedience to the Constitution, the laws and the legitimate decisions of public authorities.
  • Creation of the office of Superintendent of Information and Communication with the power to regulate the news media, investigate possible violations and impose potentially large fines.
  • Creation of the Council for Media Regulation and Development headed by a representative of the President with the power to exact a public apology (and impose fines for repeat offenses) when media fail to accord someone the right to a correction or the right of reply.
  • Retention of the system of “cadenas,” or official messages which all over-the-air TV and radio stations have to broadcast that the President and the National Assembly speaker may use whenever they think it necessary and that other public office holders may use for five minutes per week.

Another provision on the surface may appear to be non-controversial: a requirement for allocation of broadcast frequencies (state, 34%; private, 33%; and community, 33%). Currently an estimated 60% are privately owned. Therefore, this requirement is seen as a means of the government’s closing privately owned media, presumably those critical of the government.

Other provisions of the new law are more benign. It prohibits any form of censorship by government officials or civil servants, guarantees the right of journalists to protect their sources and to maintain professional confidentiality.[1]

Ecuadorian legislators opposing the Communications Law
Ecuadorian legislators opposing the Communications Law

This new law was strenuously challenged by the Ecuadorian legislators opposing the law, who said it will allow the government to control media through loosely defined regulations. (To the right is a photo of the objecting legislators with signs and masks over their mouths.)

Over 50 Colombian newspapers published a joint editorial condemning the law. Some Ecuadorian newspapers     (Hoy and El Commercio) had similar criticisms. Human Rights Watch said the law “is yet another effort by President Correa to go after the independent media. The provisions for censorship and criminal prosecutions of journalists are clear attempts to silence criticism.” The law also was criticized by the Inter-American Press Association, Reporters Without Borders and the Committee To Protect Journalists.

The law was defended by its author who is a member of President Correa’s political party and who said it will “protect freedom of speech with a focus on everybody’s rights, not just for a group of privileged.” Another member of that party who is the president of the legislature predicted that the law would promote more balanced news coverage.

In his TV and radio speech to the country on June 15th President Correa said that law was a precedent that other Latin American countries would follow. Critics of the law, he said, were members of the “gallada” or club that opposes any regulation of the media.

This is not the first effort by Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa to restrict the media. Such prior attempts have been protested by the previously mentioned NGO’s, the U.S. Department of State in its annual human rights reports and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

The Commission’s criticisms have caused Ecuador to launch a full-scale attack on the Commission that was not successful this last past March, but that Ecuador promises to keep pursuing.


[1] This summary of the new law is based upon articles in an Ecuadorian newspaper (Hoy), the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and a commentary by Reporters Without Borders. As always, I invite others to provide comments to correct any errors of mine and to express other opinions about the new law.