State Department Creates Cuba Internet Task  Force and Suspends Enforcement of Statutory Liability for Trafficking in Certain Cuban Expropriated Property 

This week the U.S. State Department has taken two actions regarding Cuba: (1) creation of the Cuba Internet Task Force and (2) granting another six-month extension of the right of U.S. persons to sue traffickers in U.S. property that was expropriated by the Cuban government.

U.S.’ Cuba Internet Task Force.

On January 23, the U.S. Department of State issued a terse announcement that it “is convening a Cuba Internet Task Force composed of U.S. government and non-governmental representatives to promote the free and unregulated flow of information in Cuba. The task force will examine the technological challenges and opportunities for expanding internet access and independent media in Cuba.” The announcement also stated that the first public meeting of the Task force would be on February 7.[1]

This action was pursuant to President Trump’s June 16, 2017’s National Security Presidential Memorandum on Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba that he dramatically signed at a public meeting in the Little Havana district of Miami, Florida. The purpose of that document was to announce various policies “to promote a stable, prosperous, and free country for the Cuban people. . . . [to] channel funds toward the Cuban people and away from a regime that has failed to meet the most basic requirements of a free and just society [and to condemn abuses by the Cuban regime]. . . . [The] Administration will continue to evaluate its policies so as to improve human rights, encourage the rule of law, foster free markets and free enterprise, and promote democracy in Cuba.” (Section 1)[2]

More specifically Section 2 (d) of that Presidential Memorandum stated that the U.S. was to “Amplify efforts to support the Cuban people through the expansion of internet services, free press, free enterprise, free association, and lawful travel.”

The creation of the Task Force was criticized by Michael Bustamante, an assistant professor of Latin American history at Florida International University. He said, “By casting the issue of internet access in an explicitly political frame, it will only create greater obstacles for those U.S. telecom companies that have made inroads toward partnerships with the Cuban side. Measures like these strengthen the hand of those in Cuba for whom the prospect (and reality) of external meddling justifies maximum caution with respect to internal reform.”

Cuba immediately registered strong objections to the creation of this Task Force with good reason.[3]

Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, said, “In the past phrases like promoting “’freedom of speech’ and ‘expanding access to the internet in Cuba’ have been used by Washington as a pretext for schemes to destabilize the country using new technologies.”

One of Granma’s journalists, Sergio Gómez, declared, “If the administration of President Donald Trump intends to use new technologies to impose changes in the internal order of Cuba, he chose very old roads that have already demonstrated their ineffectiveness, without mentioning the obvious fact that they violate the laws of the affected country. even those of the United States.” Moreover, the “terrain chosen for the new aggression, Internet, clearly demonstrates what the true objectives of Washington are when it demands ‘ree access’  to the network in the countries that oppose it, while in its territory it maintains a tracking system and accumulation of data about what citizens do on the web.”

Gómez also asserted that the U.S. “shows a clear pattern of the use of social networks and the internet with objectives geopolitical and domination. All part of a doctrine of unconventional war designed to destabilize nations without the direct use of military forces, which has taken root after the failures in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

In another article, Gómez added details about Cuba’s expanded Internet access apparently to reject the implicit premise of the U.S. announcement that Cuba was continuing to suffer from lack of such access. Gomez said, “Cuba, by sovereign decision and to the extent of its economic possibilities, is increasing the access of its citizens to the network of networks. According to information provided by specialist Rosa Miriam Alizada, ‘2017 will be remembered as the boom in the expansion of access to the network in our country, with 40% of Cubans connected to the Internet, 37% more than in 2010, and for the naturalization of the internet connection in urban spaces from one end of the island to the other.’”

Another Cuban journalist with a Doctorate in Political Science from the University of Havana, Randy Alfonso Falcón, reported this was not the first time the U.S. had attempted to use the Internet regarding Cuba. On February 14, 2006, then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice created the Global Internet Freedom Task Force for “maximizing freedom of expression and free flow of information and ideas, especially in Cuba, Iran and China. The author also asserts that this general strategy was continued in the Obama administration.

Therefore, Falcón believes, “In the face of US action In the Cuban digital public space, our response cannot be merely defensive. We must look forward with a scientifically based vision that mobilizes responses and alternatives from Cuba to the extraordinary ideological and cultural confrontation that arises. Take by assault, from the knowledge, the tools of the new colonizers, build ours and endow them with symbols and emancipating essences.”

Suspension of Right To Sue Over Trafficking in Expropriated Property[4]

On January 24, the day after the creation of the Task Force, the State Department announced that once again it was suspending for six months the right to bring a legal action under Title III of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996 (a/k/a the Helms-Burton Law).

That Title III in section 302 states, “any person that . . . traffics in property which was confiscated by the Cuban Government on or after January 1, 1959, shall be liable to any United States national who owns the claim to such property for money damages.”

Since its adoption in 1996, however, Title III has been suspended for consecutive six-month periods by orders of Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and now Donald Trump. These suspensions have been made to avoid risking the alienation of U.S. setting legal precedents that contradict other principles of U.S. or international law and opening the door to a potential flood of claims.

John Kavulich, president of the United States-Cuba Economic and Trade Council, said last year that this clause could be “used as a surgical tool to pressure” governments and foreign companies to encourage the Government of Cuba to resolve the 5,913 certified claims that there is in the United States ,” for a total amount of $1.9 billion (with interest).

As previous posts have explained, Cuba recognizes its obligation under international law to pay reasonable compensation for expropriation of property owned by foreigners and in fact has done so for claimants from other countries. Thus, Cuba has conceded the major premise of any I.S. claim for damages for expropriation. In addition, this blog has suggested that the dispute over compensation for expropriation of property owned by Americans be submitted for resolution by an international arbitration tribunal. Presumably the only issue that might be disputed is the value of the property at the time of the expropriation and the amount of interest thereon.[5]

Conclusion

U.S. citizens who support U.S.-Cuba normalization now must see who is appointed to the Cuba Internet Task Force and what it proposes to do. For this blogger, the Task force is based on the erroneous premise that the U.S. may and should unilaterally decide what Internet facilities and access another country should have and unilaterally provide such facilities and technology.  Instead, the U.S. should seek to negotiate bilateral agreements with other countries to cooperate on such issues.

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, Creation of the Cuba Internet Task Force (Jan. 23, 2018); Reuters, State Department creates Cuba Internet Task Force (Jan.23, 2018); Torres, Trump administration wants to expand internet access in Cuba, Miami Herald (Ja. 23, 2018).

[2] President Trump Announces Reversal of Some U.S.-Cuba Normalization Policies, dwkcommentaries.com (June 19, 2017).   Surprisingly this Presidential Memorandum is no longer available on the White House website.

[3] Washington creates Internet Task Force to promote subversion in Cuba, Granma (Jan. 24, 2018); Gomez, The United States takes up failed policies towards Cuba, Granma (Jan. 23, 2018); Gomez, United States creates a new Task Force on the Internet for subversion in Cuba, Granma (Jan. 24, 2018).  See also posts cited in the “U.S. Democracy Promotion in Cuba” section of List of Posts to the List of Posts to dwkcommentaries.com—Topical: CUBA.

[4]  U.S. State Dep’t, United States Determination of Six Months’ Suspension Under Title III of Libertad (Jan. 24, 2018); Provision that allows Cuban Americans to sue for confiscated property in Cuba is suspended, Miami Herald (Jan. 24, 2018); Trump suspends for another six months the clause of the Helms Burton that allows expropriation lawsuits, Diario de Cuba (Jan. 24, 2018); Falcón, The US strategy for Cuba in the digital public space, CubaDebate (Jan, 24, 208).

[5]  See Resolution of U.S. and Cuba’s Damage Claims, dwkcommentaries.com (April 6, 2015); Resolving U.S. and Cuba Damage Claims, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 13, 2015).

 

 

U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba Sends Delegation to the Island

On March 1-4, the United States Agricultural Coalition for Cuba sent a delegation of 90-plus agricultural leaders to Cuba to meet with Cuban officials and farmers. [1]

Devry Boughner Vorwerk
Devry Boughner Vorwerk

In announcing the visit, the Coalition’s Chair, Devry Boughner Vorwerk of Minnesota-headquartered Cargill Incorporated, said it would be a “learning journey” to expand knowledge of Cuban agriculture. It will include meetings with Cuban business and government leaders, as well as interaction with Cuban farmers and agricultural cooperatives. The idea is to expand understanding of the Cuban agricultural economy. During the trip she said, “”The message we hope will get back to Washington is that we are a unifying voice that would like to see Congress act in 2015 and end the embargo.”

She also expressed a desire for a bilateral agricultural trading relationship with the U.S. importing such things as Cuban snuff, rum, cigars, coffee, sugar, seafood (lobster and shrimp) and encouraged a Cuban delegation of officials and farmers to visit the U.S. to explore those opportunities. Indeed, some believe that Cuba’s warm winter climate could enable Cuba to export tomatoes and other vegetables all across the eastern U.S. during the cold-weather months, along with its traditional crops.

On Monday the U.S. delegation met with Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez; Agriculture Minister, Julian González; Azcuba Business Group; the National Association of Small Farmers; and directors of other companies and agricultural cooperatives.

The next day the Americans visited farms and agricultural businesses in four provinces near Havana, including the El Trigal wholesale market, on the outskirts of the capital; the 30 de Noviembre Sugar Mill (Artemisa); the Heroes de Yaguajay Fruit and Vegetable Cooperative (Alquizar), and the tobacco cooperatives of Consolacion del Sur and Los Palacios (Pinar del Rio).

Significant U.S.-Cuba trade growth appears likely to come fastest in agriculture, the sector of the Cuban economy that has the deepest ties to the U.S. and that has been undergoing market-oriented reforms longer than any other on the island. After years of declining sales, the U.S. and mostly Republican states sold nearly $300 million of food to the island last year, primarily frozen chicken and soybean products, under a long-standing humanitarian exception to the U.S. embargo.

Such U.S. exports, however, have been hampered by U.S. sanctions limiting sales to a cash-only and barring U.S. banks from financing the sales. American trade officials and farmers are dreaming of dominating a food import market that could grow to $3 billion in coming years if Cuba’s economy improves.

The delegation included two former U.S. Secretaries of Agriculture (Democrat Mike Espy and Republican John Block); the marketing and development director for the Virginia Department of Agriculture; Missouri’s agriculture director and the spouse of its Governor, Jay Nixon, who was unable to go. Another member was Thomas Marten, an Illinois soybean farmer and the Zanesville Township GOP Committeeman. He observed, “As a Republican, I believe in trade for the betterment of all people. Prohibiting it is something that hurts us all.”

Afterwards, a Cuban researcher at the Center for Hemispheric Studies, University of Havana, Luis René Fernández, said that open trade with the U.S. is a matter of justice. Care, however, must be taken that the changes are not chaotic or overwhelmed by the U.S. interests.

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[1] A previous post described the January 8, 2015, launch of the Coalition. This post about their visit to the island is based upon the following sources: Thomas, Ag Coalition to lead trade trip to Cuba in March, Farm Futures (Feb. 20, 2015); Reuters, U.S. Agricultural Delegation Visits Cuba, Protests Embargo, N.Y. Times (Mar. 2, 2015); Cuba Hosts Delegation of 96 US Farm Sector Businesspeople, Havana Times (Mar. 2, 2015); Sosa, US farmers promote lifting the blockade on Cuba, Granma (Mar. 3, 2015); Miroff, Why Midwestern farmers want to break the Cuban embargo, Wash. Post (Mar. 3, 2015); U.S. agribusinessmen visiting Cuba call for end to embargo, FoxNewsLatino (Mar. 3, 2015); US Agriculture Organization Looks for Business Opportunities in Cuba, Escambray (Mar. 3, 2015); Weissenstein, Cuba looks north to US farmers for help with food crisis, Assoc. Press (Mar. 4, 2015); Sosa & Gomez, The fertile field for trade between US and Cuba, Granma (Mar. 5, 2015).

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Observations on Cuba’s Reactions to U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation

A prior post discussed the reactions to U.S.-Cuba reconciliation by Cuba’s government and its people. Here are additional observations on these topics.

As noted in that prior post, Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s deputy foreign minister in charge of North America, gave an extensive interview on the U.S.-Cuba negotiations to a Granma journalist, and more recently Granma published the official English translation of the interview. Vidal reveals a great knowledge of the intricacies of U.S. law on the embargo and “wet foot/dry foot” immigration practices.

She also rebutted the contention by some U.S. critics of the rapprochement that the U.S. failed to obtain a “quid pro quo” for its concessions. She said, “Relations between Cuba and the United States have historically been asymmetrical. Therefore, the notion of quid pro quo cannot automatically be applied, taking into consideration that there are many more things to dismantle on the U.S. side than on the Cuban side. Cuba does not have sanctions against U.S. companies or citizens; nor do we hold occupied territory in the United States;  we don’t have programs financed by Cuba intent upon influencing the situation within the United States or promoting changes in the internal order of the United States; we don’t have radio or television broadcasts, specially conceived in Cuba and directed toward the U.S.”

Moreover, she said, “questions of an internal nature for Cuba or questions directed toward promoting changes in our internal order will never be put on the table during this process of negotiation.”

Meanwhile, President Raúl Castro on February 13th received Army General Sergei Shoigu Kuzhuguetovich, Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation. During the meeting, Granma reported, they discussed the historical ties between the two nations and ratified the willingness to continue strengthening the bonds of cooperation.

In January a el Nuevo Herald journalist from Miami visited  the island and concluded, “many Cubans, including laborers who have started up their own small businesses,  employees of state enterprises and retirees were hopeful that the new approach in relations between the U.S. and Cuba would result in greater prosperity for the average citizen after 56 years under the control of Castro.”

Cuban boy in Havana
Cuban boy in Havana

The journalist also saw Cuban children with T-shirts emblazoned with the face of President Obama and  Cuban women and men wearing shirts or pants with “American flag.”

This February, a BBC journalist talked with some of the young people at the annual March of the Torches at the University of Havana to commemorate Cuba’s revered poet and independence hero, Jose Marti. They welcomed the announcement of a thaw with Washington. “In the past, the two countries have had their problems, not between the people but our governments,” said 18-year-old Daimara. “But now we can improve relations with the US and the whole world.” Her friend, Sandra, added, “It was about time! It’s a step forward, a step towards better ties with everyone.”

Cuban Government Meets with Religious Leaders

Díaz-Canel Bermúdez
Díaz-Canel Bermúdez

Granma, Cuba’s state-owned newspaper, and the Cuban News Agency have reported that Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, the First Vice President of the Cuban Councils of State and Ministers and a member of the Cuban Communist Party’s Central Committee (Political Bureau),[1] recently met with Cuban evangelical and protestant leaders from the Cuban Council of Churches. [2] The meeting’s purpose was to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the first meeting between Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro and leaders of the Council and to discuss current challenges facing the organization.

After the first meeting in 1984, considered to be milestone in relations between the church and State, a practice developed of holding periodic meetings between all religions and the leadership of the country to promote work and dialogue.

The Recent Meeting

Rev. Joel Ortega Dopico
Rev. Joel               Ortega Dopico

Rev. Joel Ortega Dopico, the President of the Cuban Council of Churches and a pastor of the Presbyterian-Reformed Church of Cuba, highlighted the importance of sustaining the churches’ relations with the government and of the role the Council has played, at crucial moments, for the Revolution, such as the Council’s “staunch opposition to the U.S. blockade against the Cuban economy, fighting for the return of Elián [Gonzalez to Cuba from the U.S.] and the release of our five anti-terrorist brothers from the unjust incarceration they have been subjected to in the U.S.”

Rev. Raúl Suárez
Rev. Raúl Suárez

 

Rev. Raúl Suárez, the pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Havana, recalled Fidel’s comments at the first of these meetings in 1984 about the need for mutual understanding between Cuban religious organizations and State institutions and Cuban society.

Rev. Pablo Odén Marichal
Rev. Pablo Odén Marichal

Rev. Pablo Odén Ma­ri­chal, Executive Secretary of the Cuban Council of Churches and Vice-President of the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Matanzas, Cuba, stated that “protestant churches have been a means of cultural penetration in Cuban society” and given this reality he urged for “a greater strengthening of the ethical and behavioral work of the faith toward the community of believers and society, based on human and patriotic values.”

Marichal emphasized greater participation of the inter-faith movement and churches in the search for solutions to problems facing Cuban society, such as an aging population. He stated, “We must revive Fidel’s idea of a strategic alliance between revolutionary Christians and Marxists, for which permanent dialogue is necessary.”

Díaz-Canel, the government Minister, commented on the importance of transmitting this historic occasion to the current generation in order to strengthen dialogue and unity among Cubans. He described the meeting as an encounter of faith, friendship and memories. He said, “It is touching to remember all those moments – lack of understanding at times which was later overcome through respectful dialogue.”

He also expressed the desire to address concerns about Cuba’s social and economic order, as well as challenges being faced in the struggle to strengthen and promote social values “in order to prevent the establishment of a base of neocolonial and neoliberal capitalist reconstruction. This is the struggle we must assume, strip away all the pseudo culture, all the banality and selfishness and individualism,” he concluded.

The First Meeting in 1984

Martin Luther King, Jr. Center, Havana
Martin Luther King, Jr. Center, Havana

In 2007 I heard directly from Rev. Raúl Suárez  about the circumstances surrounding the first meeting between Cuba’s Revolutionary government and the Cuban churches. This happened when I was with a group of Westminster Presbyterian Church members from Minneapolis that visited Havana’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Center, which is affiliated with the adjacent Baptist Church, where Rev. Suárez was the pastor.

Suárez told us that in 1984 he learned that Jesse Jackson, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for President that year, was coming to Cuba. Jackson said that Fidel Castro had invited him to discuss the status of 22 U.S. citizens then being held by the Cuban Government. Jackson said that he also wanted an invitation from a Cuban church so that he could participate in a religious service in Cuba. Jackson asked Suárez, then Executive Secretary of the Cuban Council of Churches and Director of International Relations of the Cuban Baptist Church, if that would be possible. Jackson also gave Suárez a letter to provide to Castro on this issue.

Suárez  then contacted Fidel, who responded that it would not be a problem even though atheism was the established “religion” in the Cuban constitution at the time.

Jackson made his trip to Cuba in June 1984 and gave a speech to 4,000 students at the University of Havana with Castro in attendance. Afterwards the two of them and their aides walked a few blocks to the nearby Methodist Church where Jackson would be preaching. As they neared the church, Suárez heard a Castro aide say to Fidel, “Take off your hat, you are close to a church.” Fidel took off his hat. Suárez was surprised by this comment and Fidel’s response. Suárez told Fidel that the people in the Plaza de Revolution (supporters of the Revolution) and the people in the church were one and welcomed Fidel to the church. Fidel said, do not ask me to preach.

There were 700 to 800 people in the church that day, including 35 church leaders and the Roman Catholic Archbishop (in 2007, a Cardinal). When Castro entered the church, the choir extemporaneously cried, “Fidel, Fidel, Fidel.” Castro did make a short speech from the pulpit with a cross behind him. (Another Cuban pastor who was present told me that Castro obviously felt uncomfortable with the Bible on the lectern and awkwardly put his hands behind his back.) Castro praised Dr. King and Jackson and said there was a need for more exchanges between the churches and the government.

Later that same day Suárez was invited to a dinner with Fidel and Jackson. This was the first time he had ever shaken Fidel’s hand, and Fidel asked him to come to the airport the next day to say goodbye to Jackson.

Soon thereafter Suárez asked for a meeting of religious leaders with Fidel and submitted to Fidel a document of concern about the official policy of atheism’s limiting the space for religion.

This resulted in a four-hour meeting between Fidel and about 14 Protestant leaders and the College of the Roman Catholic Bishops. Fidel expressed surprise at the Protestants, saying that when he was a boy in Jesuit schools, Roman Catholics disparaged Protestants. At the end of the meeting Castro made a covenant with these leaders: the churches will made an effort to understand “us” while Fidel and the Cuban Communist Party will make an effort to understand the churches. This agreement, said Fidel, should be easier for the churches than for the Party.

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[1] Díaz-Canel often is seen as a potential successor to Raúl Castro as President of Cuba.

[2] The Council was founded in 1941 as “a fellowship of churches, ecumenical groups, and other ecumenical organizations which confess Jesus Christ as Son of God and Savior, according to the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, and seek to respond to their common calling, to the glory of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” It gives “unity to the Christian Churches of Cuba” to facilitate cooperation with other churches around the world. Its purposes include encouraging “dialogue between different movements and institutions as a means for churches to expand their ecumenical vocation of service, thus deepening their responsibilities towards society and all of God’s creation. [The Council] also promotes study, dialogue, and cooperation among Christians to increase Christian witness and enhance life in Cuba.” Its membership now includes 22 churches, 12 ecumenical groups and centers, 3 observers and 7 fraternal associates.