U.S. State Department Reiterates Criticism of Cuba’s Human Rights

On March 11, the U.S. State Department released its latest annual report on human rights around the world and repeated its criticisms of Cuba on this subject.

Secretary Pompeo’s Introduction of the Report[1]

The Secretary used these words to announce the release of the report:  “As our founding documents remind us, nothing is more fundamental to our national identity than our belief in the rights and dignity of every single human being.  It’s in our Declaration of Independence.”  With the U.S. Declaration of Independence of 1776 as its foundation, “The State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights is exploring the deep roots of America’s foundational belief in these ideals, and I look forward to receiving the commission’s work sometime around the Fourth of July of this year, a fitting time.” (Emphasis added.)

The Secretary then shifted to highlighting the report’s discussion of “human rights abuses . . . that are happening in China, Iran, Venezuela, and in Cuba.” His comments on Cuba focused entirely on the situation of Cuban dissident José Daniel Ferrer, which will be covered in a subsequent post.

The Executive Summary of the Report on Cuba[2]

 “Cuba is an authoritarian state led by Miguel Diaz-Canel, president of the republic, with former president Raul Castro serving as the first secretary of the Cuban Communist Party (CCP). Despite ratifying a new constitution on February 24, Cuba remains a one-party system in which the constitution states the CCP is the only legal political party and the highest political entity of the state.”

“The Ministry of Interior exercises control over the police, internal security forces, and the prison system. The ministry’s National Revolutionary Police is the primary law enforcement organization. Specialized units of the ministry’s state security branch are responsible for monitoring, infiltrating, and suppressing independent political activity. The national leadership, including members of the military, maintained effective control over the security forces.”

“Significant human rights issues included: reports of abuse of political dissidents, detainees, and prisoners by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrests and detentions; significant problems with the independence of the judiciary; political prisoners; and arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy. The government severely restricted freedom of the press, used criminal libel laws against persons critical of leadership, and engaged in censorship and site blocking. There were limitations on academic and cultural freedom; restrictions on the right of peaceful assembly; denial of freedom of association, including refusal to recognize independent associations; restrictions on internal and external freedom of movement and severe restrictions of religious freedom. Political participation was restricted to members of the ruling party, and elections were not free and fair. There was official corruption, trafficking in persons, outlawing of independent trade unions, and compulsory labor.”

“On February 24, the country adopted a new constitution in a coerced referendum marred by violent government repression against those that opposed the proposed constitution. On February 12, for example, 200 police and security agents raided the homes of leaders of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) [which is headed by José Daniel Ferrer] for openly campaigning against the draft constitution, detaining and reportedly beating UNPACU members. Other opponents reported that the government had blocked their email and texts to keep them from disseminating opposition campaign materials. Article 5 of the constitution enshrines one-party rule by the CCP, disallowing for additional political expression outside of that structure. Although the new constitution adds explicit protections of freedom and human rights, including habeas corpus, authorities did not respect them, nor did the courts enforce them.”

“Government officials, at the direction of their superiors, committed most human rights abuses and failed to investigate or prosecute those who committed the abuses. Impunity for the perpetrators remained widespread.”

Some Negative Details of the Report

Disappearance (Section 1.B): “There were confirmed reports of long-term disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. There were multiple reports of detained activists whose whereabouts were unknown for days or weeks because the government did not register these detentions; many detentions occurred in unregistered sites.”

Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Section 1.C):

  • “There were reports that members of the security forces intimidated and physically assaulted human rights and prodemocracy advocates, political dissidents, and other detainees and prisoners during detention and imprisonment, and that they did so with impunity. Some detainees and prisoners also endured physical abuse by prison officials or by other inmates with the acquiescence of guards.”
  • “There were reports police assaulted detainees or were complicit in public harassment of and physical assaults on peaceful demonstrators.”
  • “State security officials frequently deployed to countries such as Venezuela and Nicaragua, where they trained and supported other organizations in their use of repressive tactics and human rights abuses, and sometimes participated in them directly.”
  • “Prison conditions continued to be harsh and life threatening. Prisons were overcrowded, and facilities, sanitation, and medical care were deficient. There were reports that prison officials assaulted prisoners.”
  • “The government subjected prisoners who criticized the government or engaged in hunger strikes and other forms of protest to extended solitary confinement, assaults, restrictions on family visits, and denial of medical care.”
  • “The government did not permit monitoring of prison conditions by independent international or domestic human rights groups and did not permit access to detainees by international humanitarian organizations.”

Arbitrary Arrest or Detention (Section 1.D):

  • “Arbitrary arrests and short-term detentions increased, becoming a routine government method for controlling independent public expression and political activity.”
  • Authorities “routinely ignored” the requirement to “furnish suspects a signed ‘report of detention,’ noting the basis, date, and location of any detention in a police facility and a registry of personal items seized during a police search.”
  • “Police used laws against public disorder, contempt, lack of respect, aggression, and failure to pay minimal or arbitrary fines as ways to detain, threaten, and arrest civil society activists. Police officials routinely conducted short-term detentions, at times assaulting detainees.”
  • “The law allows for ‘preventive detention’ for up to four years of individuals not charged with an actual crime, based on a subjective determination of “precriminal dangerousness,” which is defined as the ‘special proclivity of a person to commit crimes, demonstrated by conduct in manifest contradiction of socialist norms,’ which is sometimes used “to silence peaceful political opponents.”
  • “There were reports that defendants met with their attorneys for the first time only minutes before their trials and were not informed of the basis for their arrest within the required 168-hour period;” that bail “typically [was] not granted to those arrested for political activities;” that “police and security forces at times relied on aggressive and physically abusive tactics, threats, and harassment during questioning;” that “authorities may detain a person without charge indefinitely;” that officials often detain “suspects longer than the legally mandated period without informing them of the nature of the arrest, allowing them to contact family members, or affording them legal counsel;” that the “government [often] held detainees for months or years in investigative detention, in both political and nonpolitical cases.”

Denial of Fair Public Trial (Section 1.E):

  • “[P]olitically motivated trials were at times held in secret, with authorities citing exceptions for crimes involving ‘state security’ or ‘extraordinary circumstances.’”
  • “[C]ourts regularly failed to protect or observe these [due process] rights. The law presumes defendants to be innocent until proven guilty, but authorities often ignored this, placing the burden on defendants to prove innocence.”
  • “Criteria for admitting evidence were arbitrary and discriminatory.” In cases involving “‘crimes against the security of the state,’ defense attorneys were not allowed access until charges were filed.”
  • For charges of ‘precriminal dangerousness,’ “the state must show only that the defendant has “proclivity” for crime, so an actual criminal act need not have occurred.”
  • “The government continued to hold political prisoners and detainees but denied it did so and refused access to its prisons and detention centers by international humanitarian organizations and the United Nations.”
  • There are “political prisoners,’ but details are difficult to obtain.
  • “No courts allowed claimants to bring lawsuits seeking remedies for human rights violations.”

Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence (Section 1.E): 

  • “Reportedly government officials routinely and systematically monitored correspondence and communications between citizens, tracked their movements, and entered homes without legal authority and with impunity.”
  • “Covert techniques to obtain information . . . . included information gathering by undercover officers, voice recording, location monitoring, filming, communications intercepts, and surreptitious access to computer systems.”
  • “The Ministry of Interior employed a system of informants and neighborhood committees, known as “Committees for the Defense of the Revolution,” to monitor government opponents and report on their activities.”

Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press” (Section 2.A):

  • “Laws banning criticism of government leaders and distribution of antigovernment propaganda carry penalties ranging from three months to 15 years in prison.”
  • “The government did not tolerate public criticism of government officials or programs and limited public debate of issues considered politically sensitive.”
  • “[S]ome religious groups reported increased restrictions to express their opinions during sermons and at religious gatherings.”
  • “The government directly owned all print and broadcast media outlets and all widely available sources of information.”
  • “The government harassed and threatened any independent citizen journalists who reported on human rights violations in the country.”
  • “The law prohibits distribution of printed materials considered ‘counterrevolutionary’ or critical of the government.”
  • “The government used a combination of website blocking, pressure on website operators, arrests, intimidation, imprisonment, and extralegal surveillance to censor information critical to the regime and to silence its critics.”
  • “The government restricted academic freedom and controlled the curricula at all schools and universities, emphasizing the importance of reinforcing ‘revolutionary ideology’ and ‘discipline.’”

Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association (Section 2.B):

  • The constitutional “limited right of assembly . . . is subject to the requirement that it may not be ‘exercised against the existence and objectives of the socialist state.’ The law requires citizens to request authorization for organized meetings of three or more persons.”
  • “Independent activists, as well as political parties other than the CCP, faced greater obstacles, and state security forces often suppressed attempts to assemble, even for gatherings in private dwellings and in small numbers. The government refused to allow independent demonstrators or public meetings by human rights groups or any others critical of any government activity.”
  • “The government, using undercover police and Ministry of Interior agents, organized “acts of repudiation” in the form of mobs organized to assault and disperse those who assembled peacefully.”
  • “The government routinely denied citizens freedom of association and did not recognize independent associations. The law proscribes any political organization not officially recognized. A number of independent organizations, including opposition political parties and professional associations, operated as NGOs without legal recognition, and police sometimes raided their meetings.”
  • “The government routinely denied citizens freedom of association and did not recognize independent associations. The law proscribes any political organization not officially recognized. A number of independent organizations, including opposition political parties and professional associations, operated as NGOs without legal recognition, and police sometimes raided their meetings.”

Freedom of Movement (Section 2.D):

  • “There continued to be restrictions on freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, and migration with the right of return.”
  • “The government also barred citizens and persons of Cuban descent living abroad from entering the country, apparently on grounds that they were critical of the government or for having “abandoned” postings abroad.”

Protection of Refugees (Section 2.F): “Cuba is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention [Treaty].”

Freedom to Participate in the Political Process (Section 3):

  • “[C]itizens do not have the ability to form political parties or choose their government through the right to vote in free and fair elections or run as candidates from political parties other than the CCP. The government forcefully and consistently retaliated against those who sought peaceful political change.”
  • “The new constitution includes many sections that restrict citizens’ ability to participate fully in political processes by deeming the CCP as the state’s only legal political party and the ‘superior driving force of the society and the state.’”

Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government (Section 4): The government did not effectively enforce the law against corruption.

Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights (Section 5):

  • “The government subjected domestic human rights advocates to intimidation, harassment, periodic short-term detention, and long-term imprisonment on questionable charges.”
  • “The government refused to recognize or meet with any unauthorized NGOs that monitored or promoted human rights.”
  • “The government continued to deny international human rights organizations, including the United Nations, its affiliated organizations, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, access to prisoners and detainees.”

Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons (Section 6):

  • “The government specifically targeted activists organizing a campaign called Women United for Our Rights that asked the state to update data on crimes against women, train officials to handle crimes against women, and define gender-based violence in the law.”
  • “A large number of persons with disabilities who depended on the state for their basic needs struggled to survive due to lack of resources and inattention.”
  • “Afro-Cubans often suffered racial discrimination, and some were subject to racial epithets while undergoing beatings at the hands of security agents in response to political activity. Afro-Cubans also reported employment discrimination, particularly in positions of prominence within the tourism industry, media, and government.”
  • Although Cuba has “a history of state-sanctioned events in support of the LGBTI community,” several “unrecognized NGOs that promote LGBTI human rights faced government harassment, not for their promotion of such topics, but for their independence from official government institutions.”

Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining (Section 7.A): “The government continued to prevent the formation of independent trade unions in all sectors. use politically motivated and discriminatory dismissals against those who criticized the government’s economic or political model.”

Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor (Section 7.B): “Many citizens were employed by state-run entities contracted by foreign entities inside the country and abroad to provide labor, often highly skilled labor such as doctors or engineers. These employees received a small fraction of the salaries paid to the state-run company, often less than 10 percent. For example, in the “Mais Medicos” program run in cooperation with the Pan-American Health Organization in Brazil, of $1.3 billion the Brazilian government paid for the services of Cuban doctors, less than 1 percent–only $125 million–was paid to the doctors who provided the services. The rest went into the Cuban government’s coffers. Doctors in the program complained of being overworked and not earning enough to support their families. Former participants described coercion, nonpayment of wages, withholding of their passports, and restriction on their movement, which the government denied. Similar practices occurred in the tourism sector.”

Comments

The U.S.’ repeated allegation that Cuban medical personnel on foreign missions are engaged in illegal forced labor does not make it so. Moreover, there is a strong legal argument against that allegation.[3]

There may well be legitimate Cuban arguments against the other allegations mentioned above, which Cuba would need to assert and prove.

More importantly, the U.S. allegations ignore the long history of U.S. overt and covert hostile actions against the much smaller and militarily weaker island nation, and hence Cuba’s well-founded need to be suspicious of its domestic critics and to take some actions against those critics. This, however, does not provide Cuba with legitimate excuses for all of those actions.

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[1] State Dep’t, Secretary Michael R. Pompeo on the Release of the 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (Mar. 11, 2020); Jakes, Critics Hear Political Tone as Pompeo Calls Out Diplomatic Rivals Over Human Rights, N.Y. Times (Mar. 11, 2020).

[2] State Dep’t, 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Cuba (Mar. 11, 2020).

[3] See, e.g.,  these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: U.S. Unjustified Campaign To Discredit Cuba’s Foreign Medical Mission Program (Sept. 4, 2019); U.S. Litigation Over Cuba Medical Mission Program (Feb. 12, 2020); Cuba Response to U,S, Campaign Against Cuba’s Medical Missions (Feb. 13, 2020).

 

U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights Responds to Criticisms

On September 15, 2019, Dr. Peter Berkowitz, the Executive Director of the State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights, published responses to criticisms that have been leveled against the Commission.[1] Here are those responses followed by this blogger’s reactions to same.                                    

Dr. Berkowtiz’s Responses to Criticisms

“The announcement of the . . . [Commission’s} existence and mandate immediately triggered a barrage of skepticism, indignation, and anger. The misunderstandings that the criticisms embody underscore the urgency of the commission’s work.”

Characterization of the Criticisms

“The very idea of human rights has come under fire from the left and the right for its supposedly sham universality. Hard-core progressives contend that human rights are nothing more than a vehicle for advancing Western imperialism and colonialism. Single-minded conservatives maintain that the essential function of human rights is to erode national sovereignty and promulgate progressive political goals around the world.”

“More measured and compelling objections focus on the excesses to which the human rights project has been exposed. The proliferation of rights claims has obscured the distinction between fundamental rights that are universally applicable and partisan preferences that are properly left to diplomacy and political give-and-take. International institutions charged with monitoring and safeguarding human rights sometimes include in their membership countries that flagrantly violate human rights and which wield international law as a weapon to undermine them. The growth of international institutions, courts, and NGOs dedicated to human rights has created a cadre of bureaucrats, judges, scholars, and activists. Many of these experts and advocates are dedicated to the cause of human rights and serve with distinction, but all face the temptation — typical of any professional community — of succumbing to special interests and self-serving agendas. And an overemphasis on universal rights can distract from other essentials of political life, including the discharge of responsibilities, the cultivation of virtues, and the caring for community.”

U.S. Role in Evaluating These Criticisms

“It’s especially important for the United States to respond thoughtfully to the confusion and controversy swirling around human rights because of our country’s founding convictions. The Declaration of Independence affirms “certain unalienable Rights” — these include “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” — that inhere in all human beings. The Constitution establishes the institutional framework that enables Americans to secure these fundamental rights through democratic self-government.” (Emphasis added.)

Moreover, as a driving force behind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in December 1948 — the United States reaffirmed the nation’s founding conviction that all human beings deserve the rights and liberties secured by its Constitution. At the same time, the Constitution leaves to the American people and their elected representatives the discretion to determine the role in the country’s foreign policy played by the universal rights that Americans and non-Americans share.” (Emphasis added.)

Evaluation of Criticisms

Yet an array of scholars, pundits, former political officials, and organizations are up in arms about the commission. Their critiques are illuminating, though not entirely as they intended.”

First, critics charge that the Trump administration’s record advancing human rights renders it unfit to establish a commission to provide advice on human rights. Set aside that the administration has engaged Kim Jong-un in pursuit of peaceful dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear program; imposed tough sanctions on Vladimir Putin’s belligerent Russia; supported a democratic transition in Venezuela; opposed Iran’s quest to impose a brutal hegemony throughout the Middle East; and convened in Bahrain an international forum attended by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, among others, to discuss the economic reconstruction of the West Bank and Gaza and peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Isn’t the State Department’s determination to improve understanding of the connections between America’s founding principles and the administration’s foreign policy a sign of the enduring significance it attaches to human rights?”

Second, critics detect a sinister ambition in Secretary Pompeo’s “distinction between unalienable rights and ad hoc rights granted by governments.” They worry that authoritarian countries around the world will conclude that the guiding purpose of the Commission on Unalienable Rights is to redefine human rights narrowly. But the American constitutional tradition turns on the difference between universal rights that are essential and unchanging and the contingent rights created by the consent of the governed that serve as a means to protecting citizens’ fundamental freedoms, and which are bound to vary from country to country.” (Emphasis added.)

Third, critics express dismay that the commission was charged with examining the reasoning by which claims about human rights are assessed, because they believe that the debate about the foundations and the meaning of human rights has all but ended. It has been asserted, for example, that codification of human rights by widely ratified international treaties (in many cases, though, not ratified by the United States) renders the commission’s work superfluous. This contention illustrates problems that gave rise to the panel. Contrary to the critics’ belief, a right does not become inalienable simply because an international treaty says so. And the refusal of the United States to ratify many such treaties demonstrates the persistence of questions about what counts as a human right and about the status of such rights in international law.” (Emphasis added.)

Fourth, critics have warned that the commission intends to strip members of various groups and communities of their rights. In fact, the commission proceeds from the premise that all persons — regardless of faith, nationality, race, class, and gender — share essential rights grounded in our common humanity.” (Emphasis added.)

Fifth, critics accuse the commission of lacking intellectual and political diversity. In fact, the political diversity and variety of intellectual perspectives represented compares quite favorably with the uniform political and intellectual outlook that informs so many of those who have condemned the commission.

“In one respect, the quick-out-of-the-gate criticisms of the State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights have been highly constructive. By throwing into sharp relief the passion and perplexity that surround the discussion of human rights, the critics themselves unwittingly make the case for sober and deliberate reflection about the roots of human rights in the American constitutional tradition, and their reach in the conduct of America’s foreign affairs. That is precisely the task that Secretary Pompeo has directed the Commission on Unalienable Right to undertake, and which its members have proudly embraced.” (Emphasis added.)

This Blogger’s Reactions

Some of the highlighted portions of Berkowitz’s comments correctly observe that some of the criticisms expressed concern that the Commission was designed to reduce the scope of international human rights in accord with the political views of the Trump Administration, but Berkowitz fails to acknowledge statements by Secretary Pompeo that prompted these criticisms.

Berkowitz also acknowledges, as he should, that the U.S. “Constitution establishes the institutional framework that enables Americans to secure these fundamental rights through democratic self-government.” But he fails to note that the U.S. Declaration of Independence itself states, ““to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” immediately following its proclamation, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” (Emphasis added.)

In other words, the U.S. Declaration itself implicitly recognizes that it does not secure the rights it proclaims because it does not create binding legal obligations. Instead the Declaration contemplates that the not yet established U.S. government subsequently will enact statutes that protect the unalienable rights, only three of which are specifically mentioned in the Declaration while alluding to a larger category of unalienable rights. These subsequent statutes are not “ad hoc” and lesser rights as Secretary Pompeo likes to say. [2]

Similarly the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) from 1948, which the Commission, in other contexts, properly mentions in the same breath as the U.S. Declaration of Independence, does not create any binding legal obligations. Instead, the UDHR says, “every individual and every organ of society , keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive . . . by progressive measures, national and international, to secure [these rights and freedoms] universal and effective recognition and observance.” In other words, the UDHR itself contemplated that there should be additional measures, including national legislation and international treaties, to secure the rights and freedoms articulated in the UDHR. Again, these are not “ad hoc” and lesser rights.(Emphasis added.)

In addition, the Commission’s Chair Mary Ann Glendon, the author of a leading book about the creation of the UDHR, has said that one of the principles of the UDHR’s framers was “flexible universalism.” The UDHR framers “understood that there would always be different ways of applying human rights to different social and political contexts, and that each country’s circumstances would affect how it would fulfill its requirements.” For example, . . . [UDHR’s] Article 22 provides: ‘Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international cooperation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.’ (Emphasis added.) Another example is Article 14, which states, ‘Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution,’ but is silent on how that right should be protected. [3]

“Flexible universalism” also exists in human rights treaties that allow for their ratification by nation states with reservations for at least some of the treaty’s provisions. And, of course, a state may chose not to ratify a treaty and thereby not be bound by any of its provisions. Moreover, there are mechanisms for other states and international agencies to address these reservations and non-ratifications. For example, in the U.H. Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review process, the Council and other states may, and do, make recommendations for states to withdraw reservations or ratify certain treaties. But these are only recommendations.[4]

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[1] Berkowitz, Criticisms Illustrate Need for State Dept. Human Rights Panel (Sept. 15, 2019). Dr. Berkowitz also serves this year on the Department’s Policy Planning Staff while on leave as Ted and Dianne Taube Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He is the author of books and articles about constitutional government, conservatism, liberalism and progressivism, liberal education and Israel and the Middle East. He holds degrees from Swarthmore College (B.A.), Hebrew University of Jerusalem (M.A.), and Yale University (PhD and JD). (Com’n Unalienable Rights, Member Bios.) 

[2] E.g., Another Speech About Unalienable Rights by Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, dwkcommentareies.com (Sept. 7, 2019); Criticism of the U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights, dwkcommentaries.com (July 20, 2019).

[3] Human Rights Commentaries by Mary Ann Glendon, Chair of the Commission on Unalienable Rights, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 2, 2019). 

[4] E.g., U.N.’s Human Rights Council’s Final Consideration of Cameroon’s Universal Periodic Review, dwkcommentaries/com (Sept. 20, 2018); U.S. Ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, dwkcommentareis.com. (Feb. 5, 2013) (U.S. ratification had five reservations, understandings, four declarations and a proviso).

U.S. State Department’s Recent Actions on U.S. Policies Regarding Cuba

In two press interviews on January 23, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo addressed questions about Cuba.  Earlier in the month an unnamed “Senior Department Official” also had comments about Cuba and two days later the Administration announced new sanctions. Here is a summary of those developments.

Pompeo’s Interview by El Nuevo Herald/Miami Herald [1]

A reporter for el Nuevo  Herald and the Miami Herald asked, “Is the U.S. considering further sanctions against the Cuban Government?  And if so, how can you assure that those measures won’t hurt Cuban families already affected by some restrictions on visa and air traveling?”

Pompeo responded, “It’s always something that we consider very carefully.  We love the Cuban people.  We wish them enormous success.  Indeed, we expend a lot of energy and time to try and help them have that success.  At the same time, the policies of the previous administration were putting lots of money in the pockets of the regime.  The very leaders, the very dictators, the very communists that have repressed the Cuban people for so many decades now were being bolstered and supported by some of the commercial activity that’s taking place.”

“So our mission set has been to do our best not to harm the Cuban people – indeed, just the opposite of that: to create space where there’ll be an opportunity for democracy and freedom and the economy inside of Cuba to flourish while not lining the pockets of the corrupt leadership there.”

Pompeo Interview by WIOD-AM Miami[2]

The radio host, Jimmy Cafalo, asked, “How . . .[do American values] apply to our part of the world here in south Florida, when we are concerned about Venezuela or concerned about Cuba?”

Secretary Pompeo answered, “So President Trump’s been very realistic about how our foreign policy ought to be conducted.  He’s not about nation-building; he’s about protecting the American people.  When we stare at this problem set . . .with these communist regimes in Cuba, in Nicaragua, in Venezuela, America has always been committed to trying to help those people establish democracies to stamp out communism.  We continue that effort.  It’s good for the region, it’s good for the people of those countries, and it’s important to the citizens of south Florida and people all across the United States.”

Another question from Senor Cafalo, “Do you believe we should move closer to Cuba?  I mean, it seems it’s a vacillating element.  With the previous administration, we were moving much closer, and people with families there were going over and back and forth and trading a lot of things.  And now that seems to have just all but shut down.  What’s your take on Cuba?”

The Secretary’s response: “President Trump doesn’t want to see trade taking place with Cuba that is benefiting the regime, benefiting these oppressive communist dictators who are treating their own people so horribly, so terribly.  So our mission set has been to do all that we can to support the people of Cuba, while making sure that money, dollars, trade, all the things that prop up this military, this junta, this set of dictators that have done so much harm to the people of Cuba – you know them so well, they live – so many live in this region.  Our mission set has been to create the conditions where the Cuban people can have the opportunity to throw off the yoke of communism.”

Previous “Senior Department Official” Statement[3]

On January 8, an unnamed “Senior State Department Official” at a Special Briefing at the Department on “2019 Successes in the Western Hemisphere Region,” said the following about Cuba:

  • “The United States will cut off Cuba’s remaining sources of revenue in response to its intervention in Venezuela. We’ve already eliminated visits to Cuba via passenger and recreational vehicles. We suspended U.S. air carriers’ authority to operate scheduled air service between the U.S. and all Cuban airports other than Havana. This will further restrict the Cuban regime from using resources to support its repression of the people of Cuba. Countries in the region have also taken action regarding the Cuban Government’s program which traffics thousands of Cuban doctors around the world in order to enrich the regime. Brazil insisted on paying the doctors directly at a fair wage. The Cuban regime in response withdrew the doctors from Brazil. Doctors have also now left Ecuador and Bolivia.”

In response to a journalist’s question about whether the U.S. was planning to close the U.S. Embassy in Havana and to cease all diplomatic relations with Cuba, the Official said the following, ”[As] long as the Cubans keep doing what they’re doing, especially in Venezuela – I mean, we’ve had problems with what they do in Cuba forever, but they’re . . . intervening in another country now. We’ve been pretty clear with them that the pressure on them is going to continue to rise. And we haven’t ruled in or out any specific [actions] I [previously] mentioned some of the measures we’ve already taken; there will be more.”

U.S. Additional Restrictions on U.S. Air Travel to Cuba[4]

Only two days after the Senior Official’s Special Briefing, Secretary Pompeo issued a Press Statement announcing that at his request, “the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) suspended until further notice all public charter flights between the United States and Cuban destinations other than Havana’s José Martí International Airport.  Nine Cuban airports currently receiving U.S. public charter flights will be affected.  Public charter flight operators will have a 60-day wind-down period to discontinue all affected flights.  Also, at my request, DOT will impose an appropriate cap on the number of permitted public charter flights to José Martí International Airport.  DOT will issue an order in the near future proposing procedures for implementing the cap.”

U.S. Embassy in Havana said, “Today’s action will prevent the Cuban regime from benefiVenezuelating from expanded charter service in the wake of the October 25, 2019, action suspending scheduled commercial air service to Cuba’s airports other than Havana.  Today’s action will further restrict the Cuban regime’s ability to obtain revenue, which it uses to finance its ongoing repression of the Cuban people and its unconscionable support for dictator Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.  In suspending public charter flights to these nine Cuban airports, the United States further impedes the Cuban regime from gaining access to hard currency from U.S. travelers.”

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and other Cuban officials blasted the move, calling it a violation of human rights that would hinder family reunification. As put by his colleague, the foreign ministry’s General Director for U.S. Affairs Carlos Fernandez de Cossio tweeted, this new measure by the U.S. would punish Cubans “on both sides of the Florida Strait.” It also validated the previous prediction by Cuba President Miguel Diaz-Canel, when he said there “is a turn of the screw every seven days to suffocate our economy.” And Cuba’s Ambassador in Washington, D.C. said the new limitation was imposed to “limit the amount of people that see CUBAN reality by themselves.”

A U.S. voice also criticized this move. Engage Cuba, a nonprofit coalition of private companies and organizations advocating for the end of the U.S. embargo, stated in a tweet, “Just tragic. This is heartbreakingly cruel. Cuban families now cannot travel to see their loved ones.”

Conclusion

All of this is “old news” of the Trump Administration’s repeated desires to increase sanctions against Cuba supposedly to induce Cuba to change many of its policies. Needless to say, that premise is unfounded. Instead, these U.S. measures make life harder for Cubans on the island as well as Cuban-Americans with relatives back home on the island. These U.S. measures also harm the emerging private sector on the island, which presumably should be encouraged by a Republican administration. (In contrast, the Obama Administration from December 2014 until its last days in January 2017, engaged in respectful discussions and negotiations over many issues that had accumulated over the prior 50-plus years and sought to encourage the Cuban private sector. That is the legitimate way to seek to resolve these matters.) [5]

Of special note is the U.S. campaign against Cuba’s foreign medical mission program. Recently Cuba filed a statement with the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland that asserted the program was “committed to the principles of altruism, humanism, and international solidarity, which have guided it for more than 55 years” and that allegations that doctors are forced to participate are “absolutely false. It’s unacceptable to mix Cuba’s medical collaboration with the horrid crime of human trafficking, modern slavery or forced labor.” [6]

It also should be mentioned that this blog repeatedly has denounced the specious rationale for the Trump Administration’s hostility towards Cuba’s foreign medical mission program, especially the allegation that it is engaged in illegal forced labor.[7]  However, recent allegations that some of the individuals on these missions were not health professionals, but instead were engaged in political activities, and that some Cuban doctors were forced to create false patient records are more troublesome. Cuba denies these allegations, but no independent investigation and analysis of these claims has been found by this blogger. [8]

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[1] State Dep’t, Secretary Michael R. Pompeo With Nora Gomez Torres of El Nuevo Herald and Miami Herald (Jan. 23, 2020).

[2] State Dep’t, Secretary Michael R. Pompeo With Jimmy Cefalo of South Florida’s First News, WIOD-AM Miami (Jan. 23, 2020).

[3] State Dep’t, Senior State Department Official On State Department 2019 Successes in the Western Hemisphere Region (Jan. 8, 2020).

[4] State Dep’t, United States Further Restricts Air Travel to Cuba (Jan. 10, 2020); Reuters, U.S. Seeks to Squeeze Cuba by Further Curbing Flights to Island, N.Y. Times (Jan. 10, 2020); Finnegan, U.S. further restricts air travel to Cuba to increase pressure, abcNews (Jan. 10, 2020).

[5] See posts listed in the sections on “U.S. (Obama) & Cuba Relations (Normalization)” for 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 in the List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[6] Krygien, The U.S. is pushing Latin American allies to send their Cuban doctors packing—and some have, Wash. Post (Jan. 21, 2020).

[7] Here are just two of the posts criticizing the Trump Administration’s campaign against Cuba’s medical mission program:U.S. Unjustified Campaign Against Cuba’s Foreign Medical Mission Program (Sept. 4, 2019); More U.S. Actions Against Cuba (Sept. 30, 2019).

[8] E.g., 80% of what Bolivia paid to Havana for doctors was going to ‘finance castrocomunismo,’ Diario de Cuba (Jan. 22, 2020); Gamez Torres, Bolivia severs relations with Cuba over dispute about controversial medical program, Miami Herlad (Jan. 24, 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.

 

Another U.S. Designation of  Cubans Ineligible To Enter U.S.   

On January 2, 2020, the U.S. Department of State designated  Leopoldo Cintra Frias and his two children ineligible to enter the U.S.[1]

He is the Minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba (MINFAR) and according to the State Department. “bears responsibility for Cuba’s actions to prop up the former Maduro regime in Venezuela.  Alongside Maduro’s military and intelligence officers, MINFAR has been involved in gross human rights human rights

violations and abuses in Venezuela, including torturing or subjecting Venezuelans to cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment for their anti-Maduro stances.  Dismantling Venezuela’s democracy by terrifying Venezuelans into submission is the goal of MINFAR and the Cuban regime.”

This U.S. action claims to be based on the FY 2019 Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, when “the Secretary of State has credible information that foreign government officials have been involved in significant corruption or a gross violation of human rights.”

This U.S. action probably is merely words since this blogger suspects that it is highly unlikely that Senor Cinta Frias or his children want to come to the U.S.

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[1] State Dep’t, Press Statement: Public Designation of Leopoldo Cintra Frias Due to Involvement in Gross Violations of Human Rights (Jan. 2, 2020).

 

Secretary Pompeo Reiterates U.S. Hostility Towards Cuba

On or about November 16, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo reiterated U.S. hostility towards Cuba in an interview by Carlos Alberto Montaner, an exiled Cuban author now living in Spain. Here are the key points of that interview. [1]

“Cuba is a foreign policy priority for the Trump Administration. The President’s National Security Memorandum of June 2017, which established our policy to support the Cuban people, while holding the Cuban regime accountable both for its human rights abuses in the country and for its destabilizing interference in other parts of the region, . . . was only the beginning. Since then, we have imposed more sanctions on the Cuban regime, including the elimination of an authorization for ‘fraternization’ group trips, the impediment of US passenger and recreational vessels, such as cruise ships, yachts and private planes, to travel to Cuba, and finish the scheduled American air transport service to all Cuban airports except Havana.”

“We take these measures because the Cuban people do not benefit greatly from such exchanges, the regime does. All these actions are designed to prevent US dollars from filling the pockets of the Cuban military, the same people who repress the Cuban people in the country, support Maduro in Venezuela and are aligned with Putin in Russia.”

“Cuba’s interference in Venezuela and other countries in the region is totally unacceptable. Particularly appalling is the participation of the Cuban military and intelligence services that support the despot Maduro, in exchange for shipments of Venezuelan oil. This oil belongs to the Venezuelan people, who are suffering greatly under the economic, political and humanitarian crisis that created Maduro’s corruption and mismanagement.”

“Maduro’s use of oil to pay for the intrusion and abuse of Cuba is a large-scale robbery and is illegal under Venezuelan law.”

“We continue to look for new ways to limit this illegal exchange. The United States is currently focusing on the tools of diplomacy and sanctions to generate pressure in order to achieve a democratic transition in Venezuela. We have made more than 200 designations related to Venezuela since 2017, under the Law on the Designation of Foreign Drug Trafficking Chiefs (Kingpin Act) and several presidential orders. These actions prevent Maduro’s illegitimate regime from using the US financial system for its corrupt and socially destructive economic practices, and impose a cost on the regime for its illicit practices, human rights violations and corruption.”

“The Cuban regime has made it clear that it not only supports, but is responsible for the power abuses of the Maduro regime. The United States remains determined to actively support a peaceful transition to democracy, freedom and the rule of law in Venezuela. President Trump has said that all options are on the table in Venezuela, including the military option, but in the State Department we are currently focused on deploying all our diplomatic and economic options to support the interim president Guaidó and the National Assembly in a peaceful restoration of democracy, freedom and the rule of law.”

“Certainly, the Cuban presence can be felt throughout the region. Ecuador recently expressed concern that Cubans were interfering in its sovereign territory, and we have seen how the Cuban regime has historically interfered in Nicaragua, Bolivia and Venezuela.”

Conclusion

Cuba, like every country in the world including the U.S., is legitimately subject to criticism on some of its actions and policies. But Cuba does not deserve this unceasing criticism from the U.S. Secretary of State.

Moreover, the Secretary fails to acknowledge that hostile policies and rhetoric by the much more powerful U.S. have forced Cuba to take certain actions to protect itself, like its increasing connections with Russia. The Secretary, who claims to be a Christian, should remember, and act in accordance with, these words from the Gospel of Matthew (7: 1-5 (NRSV):

  • “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.  Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s.”

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[1] Montaner, Pompeo: Washington seeks ‘new ways to limit illegal exchange’ between the regimes of Cuba and Venezuela, Diario de Cuba (Nov. 16, 2019).

 

 

U.S. Denies Visas to Cuban Officials       

On November 14 Carlos Fernández de Cossío, the general director for the United States of the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that the U.S. has been delaying or denying visas for Cuban diplomats to join the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C. This, he said, has resulted in damages to the functioning of that Embassy and may lead to Cuba doing the same thing with respect to U.S. diplomats for its Embassy in Havana. [1]

In addition, on November 16, the U.S. denied visas to the Cuban Interior Minister, Julio Cesar Gandarilla Bermejo, and his two children. The State Department stated, this was “due to his involvement, by command responsibility, in gross violations of human rights in Venezuela” and to “Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior . . Cuban Interior Minister. [being] responsible for arbitrarily arresting and detaining thousands of Cuban citizens and unlawfully incarcerating more than 100 political prisoners in Cuba.  Ministry officials have overseen the torture of political dissidents, detainees, and prisoners, as well as the murder of some of these individuals by police and security forces.  Gandarilla Bermejo is complicit in arbitrarily or unlawfully surveilling these groups, whether they be citizens or visitors.” [2]

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[1] Fernández de Cossío: U.S. denies visas to Cuban diplomats and forces Cuba to “reciprocate,” Oncuba News (Nov. 14, 2019).

[2] State Dep’t, Public Designation of Julio Cesar Gandarilla Bermejo under Section 7031(c ) of the FY 2019 Department of State, Foreign Operations List (Nov. 16, 2019); Reuters, U.S. Slaps Travel Sanctions on Second Senior Cuban Official, N.Y. Times (Nov. 16, 2019); US bans entry to Cuban Interior Minister and his children, Diario de Cuba (Nov. 17, 2019).