ALBA Emergency Meeting’s Action Regarding President Obama’s Executive Order Imposing Sanctions on Seven Venezuelans

As discussed in a prior post, Venezuela has been organizing Latin American opposition to President Obama’s March 9th executive order imposing sanctions on seven Venezuelans. The latest venue for such opposition was the March 17th ALBA emergency meeting in Caracas, Venezuela.

This post will discuss that ALBA resolution and Cuban President Rául Castro’s passionate speech at the meeting against the U.S. and the executive order. We will conclude with some observations.

ALBA’s Resolution Regarding the U.S. Executive Order [1]

After speeches and discussion, ALBA adopted a resolution that:

  • Demanded “the U.S. government and its president, [to] repeal Executive Order adopted on March 9, 2015, against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, which constitutes a threat to their sovereignty and interference in the internal affairs of this sister nation.”
  • Expressed “their strong support for the process of dialogue for the restoration of relations between Cuba and the [U.S.], urging President Obama to adopt with determination the measures within their executive powers to amend the implementation of the economic, commercial and financial [embargo or blockade], and to stop the illegal occupation of the territory occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base.”
  • Urged “Panama, as host of the VII Summit of the Americas to ensure through a transparent process the widest, legitimate and representative participation in the Forum of Civil Society, popular movements and country NGOs that advocate for nuclear disarmament, environmentalists, against neoliberalism, the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy region, university and secondary students, farmers, unions, indigenous communities, organizations that oppose the contamination of shale, advocates for the rights of immigrants, denouncing torture, extrajudicial killings, police brutality, racist practices, claiming for women equal pay for equal work, which require compensation for damage to the transnational companies.”

President Rául Castro’s Speech [2]

President Rául Castro
President Rául Castro

“ALBA brings us together today to reaffirm our firmest support for the Bolivarian people and government in the face of the latest interventionist measures and threats from the U.S. government against Venezuela.” (In the photograph to the left Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla is seated behind President Castro at the ALBA meeting.)

“The facts demonstrate that history cannot be ignored. The relations between the United States and Latin America and the Caribbean have been marked by the “Monroe Doctrine” and the objective of exercising domination and hegemony over our nations.”

“Simon Bolívar had anticipated that the [U.S.] ‘seems destined by Providence to plague America with misery in the name of Liberty,’ and [Jose] Martí fell in combat before concluding the letter in which he explained the “duty of preventing the [U.S.] from spreading throughout the Antilles as Cuba gains its independence, and from overpowering with that additional strength our lands of America.’”

“Later came the military interventions, the coup d’états, the maneuvers to overthrow nationalist or progressive governments, the backing of bloody military dictatorships, the undercover operations, the support for terrorism and subversion, as well as the appropriation and plundering of our resources to perpetuate dependence and underdevelopment.”

Cuba’s “triumphant audacity to carry out a socialist revolution just 90 miles from the [U.S.] has meant immense sacrifices, suffering, loss of life and material deprivation for the Cuban people, subject to . . . every kind of hostility, including the support and organization of armed bands in the mountains from . . . [late]1959, the Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961 and the formalization of the blockade in 1962, all with the stated intention of defeating the Revolution and changing the political, economic and social order we freely chose and subsequently confirmed in a constitutional referendum.”

“The result has been a resounding failure [for the U.S.], the harming of our people and the complete isolation of the [U.S.] . . . , as recently recognized by President Barack Obama on announcing a new policy [on December 17, 2014] and resolving to open another chapter. However, his government spokespeople insist on clarifying that the objectives persist and only the methods change.”

“The triumph of the Bolivarian Revolution was an extraordinary milestone in the history of Venezuela and the whole region, which had begun to awaken from the long neoliberal slumber. An era of change commenced in the continent and other nations decided to embark on the path towards full independence and integration and again take up the flags of our national heroes.”

“ALBA, UNASUR [and] CELAC were created, which united, in their diversity, previous groupings and initiatives of genuine Latin Americanist and Caribbean calling, founded on principles of solidarity, cooperation, social justice and defense of sovereignty.”

“PetroCaribe was an extraordinary, generous and humanistic contribution of President Hugo Chávez Frías. Now [the U.S.] wants to destroy PetroCaribe, to threaten its member states, to submit them to the oil multinationals and separate them from Venezuela. They do not realize that our peoples have decided, irrevocably, to continue our unstoppable advance and fight for a multipolar and just world, where those who were historically excluded have a voice, hope and dignity.”

“U.S. imperialism has attempted, without success, practically all possible formulas to destabilize and subvert the Bolivarian Chavista revolution, to recover its control of the largest oil reserves on the planet, and to deliver a blow to the integrationist, emancipation process underway in Our America.”

“The arbitrary, aggressive, unjustified executive order issued by the [U.S.] President regarding the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela’s government, describing it as a threat to its national security, shows that the [U.S.] is able to sacrifice the peace and the direction of hemispheric and regional relations, for reasons of domination and domestic politics.”

“The idea is untenable that a country like Venezuela — which has shown so much solidarity, never invaded or harmed any other, and contributes in a significant and altruistic manner to the energy security and economic stability of a considerable number of nations of the continent — could represent a threat to the security of the greatest super-power in history.”

“We support the honorable, valiant, constructive position taken by President Nicolás Maduro, who, despite the seriousness of this threat, has extended his hand to the [U.S.] President to initiate a dialogue based on international law and mutual respect, which could lead to the unconditional revocation of President Obama’s executive order and the normalization of relations. ALBA and CELAC should join in this proposal.”

“Today Venezuela is not alone, nor is our region the one it was 20 years ago. We will not tolerate the violation of sovereignty or allow peace in the region to be broken with impunity.”

“Threats to the peace and stability of Venezuela represent threats to regional stability and peace, as well.”

“The peace, which Venezuela today demands and which we all need, [is] a “peace with justice, with equality; the peace on our feet, not on our knees; peace with dignity and development,” as Maduro said. It is the peace to which we committed ourselves in the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace, adopted by the II CELAC Summit in Havana.”

Cuba’s “position under these circumstances remains unchanged. I reiterate the firm solidarity of the Cuban Revolution with the Bolivarian Revolution, with constitutional President Nicolás Maduro and with the civic-military union which he heads. I reiterate our absolute loyalty to the memory of Comandante Hugo Chávez Frías, the Cuban Revolution’s best friend.”

“We reaffirm once again, “The Cuban collaborators present in [our] sister country [Venezuela], will continue to fulfill their duties under any circumstances whatsoever, to the benefit of the fraternal, noble, generous people of Venezuela.”

“The [U.S.] must understand once and for all that it is impossible to seduce or buy Cuba, or intimidate Venezuela. Our unity is indestructible.”

“Nor will we concede one iota in the defense of sovereignty and independence, or tolerate any type of interference or conditions on our internal affairs.”

“Nor will we cease to defend just causes in Our America and the world, nor will we ever abandon our brothers in the struggle. We have come to close ranks with Venezuela and ALBA, and reaffirm that principles are not negotiable.”

“To defend these convictions, we will attend the 7th Summit of the Americas. We will present our positions with firmness, clarity and respect. We will reject with determination any attempt to isolate or threaten Venezuela, and demand a definitive end to the blockade of Cuba. Cuban civil society will be the voice of those without a voice, and we will expose the mercenaries who will appear there [posing] as Cuba’s civil society.”

“We must call upon all peoples and governments of Our America to mobilize and remain alert in the defense of Venezuela. Solidarity is the foundation of unity and regional integration.”

Conclusion

As mentioned in a prior post, I have not been a close observer of events in Venezuela and U.S. relations with that country and thus have no grounds for siding with Venezuela’s version of those events and relations or with the U.S. version. Therefore, I will try to set out these different versions in future posts [3] and invite respectful comments agreeing or disagreeing with these conflicting versions and hopefully containing citations to sources.

As an advocate for U.S.-Cuba reconciliation, I am troubled by the prospect that what I have called the “squabble” over President Obama’s March 9th executive order will adversely affect or derail that reconciliation, a concern heightened by the previously mentioned speech by President Castro.

========================================================

[1] Declaration of the Special Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America-Trade Treaty (ALBA-TCP), Granma (Mar. 17, 2015); Hernández, Cuba and Alba in solidarity with Venezuela, Granma (Mar. 18, 2015).

[2] Rául Castro, We must call upon all the peoples and governments of Our America to mobilize and be alert in defense of Venezuela, Granma (Mar. 18, 2015). The day before this speech the President’s brother, Fidel Castro, in a long letter to Venezuelan President Maduro condemned “the outrageous policy of the United States government toward Venezuela and Alba.” Fidel concluded by saying, “Whatever U.S. imperialism may do, it will never be able to count on them [the Bolivarian National Armed Forces] to do what they did for so many years. Today Venezuela can count on the best-equipped soldiers and officers in Latin America. When you [Maduro] met with officers recently, it was evident that they were ready to give their last drop of blood for the homeland.” (Fidel sends message to President Nicolás Maduro, Granma (Mar. 17, 2015).)

[3] Venezuela’s version of events was set forth in this post and in “Venezuela’s Open Letter to People of the United States.”  Both sides’ versions were discussed in “U.S. and Cuba Squabble Over U.S. Sanctions Against Certain Venezuelans” (Mar. 16, 2015),

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Venezuela’s Open Letter to the People of the United States

On March 17 the Government of Venezuela placed a full-page advertisement in the New York Times under the headline: “Letter to the People of the United States: “Venezuela Is Not a Threat” from its Ministry of Foreign Affairs. [1]

Because of the ad’s importance in the ongoing issues involving the United States, Venezuela and Cuba and because ads are not included in the online New York Times, this post sets forth the complete contents of the ad without comment.

Letter to the People of the United States: “Venezuela Is Not a Threat

Freedom and Independence. More than two centuries ago, our fathers founded a Republic on the basis that all persons are free and equal under the law. Our nation made the greatest sacrifices to guarantee South American people their right to choose their rulers and to enforce their own laws today. The historical legacy of our father, Simón Bolívar, is always remembered. Bolívar was a great man who gave his life so we would inherit a nation of justice and equality.”

We believe in Peace, National Sovereignty and International Law. We are a peaceful people. In two centuries of independence, we have never attacked another nation. Our people live in a region of peace, free of weapons of mass destruction, and in freedom to practice all religions. We uphold respect for international law and the sovereignty of all people of the world.”

“We are an Open Society. We are a working people, we care for our families, and we have freedom of religion. Immigrants from around the world , live among us, whose diversity is respected. We have freedom of the press and we are enthusiastic users of social media.”

We are friends of the American people: The histories of our people have been connected since the beginning of our struggles for freedom. Francisco de Miranda, a Venezuelan hero, fought with the American people during their independence fight. We share the idea that freedom and independence are fundamental elements for the development of our nations.”

“The relations between our peoples have always been peaceful and respectful. Historically, we have shared business relations in strategic areas. Venezuela has always been a responsible and trustful energy provider for the American people. Since 2005, Venezuela has provided ‘heating oil’ through subsidies for low-income communities in the United States, thanks to our company, CITGO. This contribution has helped tens of thousands of American citizens survive in harsh conditions, giving them relief, and necessary support in times of need, evidencing how solidarity can create powerful alliances across borders.”

Incredibly, the U.S. government has declared our country a threat to its national security and foreign policy. In a disproportionate action, the government of Obama has issued a ‘National Emergency’ declaring Venezuela as a threat to its national security (Executive Order, 09-15-2015). This unilateral and aggressive measure taken by the United States Government against our country is not only unfounded and in violation of basic principles of sovereignty and self-determination under international law, but also has been unanimously rejected by all 33 nations of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the twelve member states of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). In a statement made on March 14, 2015, UNASUR reiterated its firm rejection of these coercive measures that do not contribute to the peace, stability and democracy in our region and called on President Obama to revoke his Executive Order against Venezuela.”

We reject unilateralism and intervention. President Obama, without any authority to interfere in our internal affairs, unilaterally issues a set of sanctions against Venezuelan officials with potentially far-reaching implications, interfering in our constitutional order and our justice system.”

We advocate for a multipolar world. We believe that our world must be based on the rules of international law, without interference in the internal affairs of other countries. We are convinced that the relationship of respect between all nations is the only path for strengthening peace and coexistence, as well as for assuring a more just world.”

We honor our freedoms and uphold our rights. Never before in the history of our nations, has a president of the United States attempted to govern Venezuelans by decree. It is a tyrannical and imperial order and it pushes us back into the darkest days of the relationship between the United States and Latin America and the Caribbean.

“In the name of our long-term friendship we alert our American brothers and sisters, lovers of justice and freedom, of the illegal aggression committed by your government on your behalf. We will not allow our friendship with the people of the United States to be affected by this senseless and groundless decision by President Obama.”

We demand: 1. The U.S. Government immediately cease hostile actions against Venezuelan people and democracy. 2. President Obama abolish the Executive Order that declares Venezuela a threat to U.S. national security, as it has been requested by the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). 3. The U.S. government retract its libelous and defamatory statements and actions against the honorable Venezuelan officials who have just obeyed our laws and our constitution.”

Our sovereignty is sacred. The principles of the founding fathers of the United States of America are followed today with the same dignity by the people of Simón Bolívar. In the name of our mutual love for national independence we want the government of President Obama to think about and rectify this dangerous precedent.”

“We are convinced that the defense of our freedom is a right we shall never give up because the future of humanity lies also in our country. As Simón Bolívar said: ‘The freedom of the New World is the hope of the universe’.”

“’Venezuela is not a threat, but a hope,’ ‘Independence or nothing’– Simón Bolívar

============================================

[1] Advertisement, Letter to the People of the United States: Venezuela Is Not a Threat, N.Y. Times at A7 (Mar. 17, 2015); Assoc. Press, Venezuela Runs Ad In New York Times Accusing US of Hostility, N.Y. Times (Mar. 17, 2015); Venezuela NYT publishes open letter denying that threat to US, el Nuevo Herald (Mar. 17, 2015).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. and Cuba Hold Unproductive Extension of Second Round of Talks

On March 16, the U.S. and Cuba met in Havana for further discussions, mostly on re-establishing diplomatic relations and re-opening embassies. The focus was to be on so-called “nuts-and-bolts issues of limits on the number of diplomats and their travel in the host country. [1]

Although the U.S. expected the talks might continue for several days, they lasted only one day. The next day (March 17), the Cuban government released a statement: “At the end of the meeting, which took place in a professional climate, the two delegations agreed to maintain communication in the future as part of this process.” The U.S. had a similar statement: “The discussion was positive and constructive and was held in an atmosphere of mutual respect.”

Neither side said whether they had resolved any of the obstacles to reopening embassies.

There was concern before this week’s session that the recent U.S.-Cuba disagreement over U.S. sanctions against certain Venezuelans, as discussed in a prior post, might adversely affect the talks, but there was no overt indication, one way or the other, whether that was a factor in the apparently unproductive one-day session. Julia Sweig, an expert on U.S. relations with Cuba and Venezuela, said there was no sign that the increasingly strained U.S. relationship with Venezuela was affecting the warming of relations with Cuba.

On the other hand, there are other indications that the Venezuela situation may have been at least one of the reasons for the short and apparently unproductive U.S.-Cuba negotiations this week.

Yesterday Cuban President Raúl Castro was in Venezuela for an emergency meeting of the ALBA group that was called to discuss and react to President Obama’s executive order imposing sanctions against seven Venezuelans. In a speech at the meeting, Castro used some his strongest anti-American language in months, thrashing Mr. Obama over the sanctions and any suggestion that détente would lead to political change on the island. For example, Castro said, ““The United States should understand once and for all that it is impossible to seduce or buy Cuba nor intimidate Venezuela. Our unity is indestructible.”

In any event, the Venezuelan campaign against the sanctions threatens to put the damper on a celebration of U.S.-Cuba rapprochement at the Summit of the Americas in Panama on April 10-11.

================================

[1] The sources for this post are the following: Office of Spokesperson, Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson Travels to Havana, U.S. Dep’t State (Mar. 13, 2015); Schwartz, Cuba, U.S. to Resume Talks to Restore Diplomatic Ties, W.S.J. (Mar. 13, 2015); DeYoung, U.S., Cuba set for third round of talks aimed at agreement to open embassies, Wash. Post (Mar. 13, 2015); Statement by the Director of Bilateral Issues US Department Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Granma (Mar. 13, 2015); Reuters, Cuba, U.S. Renew Talks on Restoring Diplomatic ties, N.Y. Times (Mar. 16, 2015); Reuters, Latest U.S.-Cuba Talks on Diplomatic Ties Ends After One Day, N.Y. Times (Mar. 17, 2015); Assoc. Press, Cuba, US Say Third Round of Diplomatic Negotiations Ends, N.Y. Times (Mar. 17, 2015); Serra, Meeting between officials of Cuba and the United States, Granma (Mar. 17, 2015); Archibold, U.S.-Cuba Talks on Restoring Diplomatic Ties End Abruptly, N.Y. Times (Mar. 17, 2015).

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. and Cuba Squabble Over U.S. Sanctions Against Certain Venezuelans

The U.S. and Cuba (and indeed most of the rest of Latin America) are in a squabble over recent sanctions imposed against certain Venezuelans by an executive order issued by President Obama. After reviewing immediate events leading up to the imposition of sanctions, this post will discuss the executive order and the reactions thereto from Venezuela, Cuba and the rest of Latin America.

Events Leading Up to the Imposition of Sanctions [1]

In February 2014 there were opposition protests calling for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s resignation that sparked violence killing 43 people. In February of 2015 protesters and security forces clashed sporadically around that anniversary, while a shrinking economy and chronic product shortages have sent Maduro’s popularity tumbling.

In early February 2015, Antonio Ledezma, who is an opposition leader and the Mayor of Caracas, and two other opposition leaders signed a published open letter to President Maduro calling for a “national agreement for a transition.”

On February 10, the government announced a new three-tier currency scheme that amounted to a de facto devaluation of almost 70 percent, spurring outrage among opposition critics. This was a response to tumbling oil prices that have left the country struggling to meet its budget needs amid bulging foreign debt payments.

On February 19, the Venezuelan government announced that Ledezma had been arrested in order to halt an alleged U.S.-backed coup plot. The next day the government said that Ledezma had been indicted on charges of conspiracy against the Venezuelan government and plotting an American-backed coup. His attorney will be asking a judge to dismiss conspiracy charges against him, calling accusations that he participated in a plot to overthrow Venezuela’s socialist government “totally unfounded.”

Also on the 19th Maduro called for the Venezuelan people to defend national peace and be prepared “to deal with any scenario that may occur in Venezuela as a result of U.S. imperial aggression against our country.” That same day the Venezuelan Supreme Tribunal of Justice issued a statement reminding the U.S. that it had no jurisdiction to apply its laws outside its territory against the sovereignty and institutions of democracy in Venezuela. [2]

On February 20th the White House’s Press Secretary, Josh Earnest, responded to these charges. He said: “The United States is not promoting unrest in Venezuela, nor are we attempting to undermine Venezuela’s economy or its government.  In fact, the United States remains Venezuela’s largest trading partner.  The Venezuelan government should stop trying to distract attention from the country’s economic and political problems, and focus on finding real solutions through democratic dialogue among the people of Venezuela.  The Venezuelan government should respect the human rights of its citizens and stop trying to intimidate its political opponents.”

According to the Press Secretary, the U.S. continues “to call on the Venezuelan government to release political prisoners, including dozens of students; opposition leader; and Mayors Daniel Ceballos and Antonio Ledezma.” The U.S. “Treasury Department and the State Department are obviously closely monitoring this situation and are considering tools that may be available that could better steer the Venezuelan government in the direction that they believe they should be headed.  That obviously means that we’re continuing to engage other countries in the region in talking about operating in coordinated fashion as we deal with the situation there.”

The same day a Department of State spokesperson stated: The Venezuelan accusations “are false and baseless. And our view continues to be that political transitions must be democratic, constitutional, peaceful, and legal. We do not support a political transition in Venezuela by non-constitutional means. We’re not promoting unrest in Venezuela, nor are we attempting to undermine Venezuela’s economy or its government. And this is a continued effort . . . of the Venezuelan Government to try to distract attention from the country’s economic and political problems and focus and try to distract and make these false accusations.”

In addition, the State Department official stated the U.S. had reports that the Venezuelan intelligence service had detained the Caracas metropolitan mayor and searched his office [and] . . . that military intelligence officials plan to move opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez from his prison cell and transfer him to an unknown location. We are deeply concerned by what appears to be the Venezuelan Government’s efforts to escalate intimidation of its political opponents by rounding up these prominent leaders of the opposition. Venezuela’s problems cannot be solved by criminalizing dissent.”

President Obama’s Executive Order [3]

 On March 9th President Obama issued an executive order that blocked any U.S. assets of seven named Venezuelans and others who might be named by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, that barred these individuals from entering the U.S. and that prohibited U.S. persons from doing business with them.

These individuals were determined by the U.S. to be “responsible for the erosion of human rights guarantees, persecution of political opponents, curtailment of press freedoms, use of violence and human rights violations and abuses in response to antigovernment protests, and arbitrary arrest and detention of antigovernment protesters, as well as significant corruption.”

The executive order was not directed at the people or economy of Venezuela.

The disputes over this executive order, however, are not over these provisions, but instead to its preamble, which states:

  • [T]he situation in Venezuela, including the Government of Venezuela’s erosion of human rights guarantees, persecution of political opponents, curtailment of press freedoms, use of violence and human rights violations and abuses in response to antigovernment protests, and arbitrary arrest and detention of antigovernment protestors, as well as the exacerbating presence of significant public corruption, constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States, and [the President] hereby declare a national emergency to deal with that threat.” (Emphasis added.)

 Venezuela’s Response to the Executive Order [4]

On March 10 President Maduro requested the Venezuelan legislature to enact an Anti-Imperialist Enabling Law granting him power to enact laws by his decree for the rest of this year in order to “defend the peace, sovereignty and full development of Venezuela in the face of threats from the United States empire.” Maduro said “no one in the world could believe the assertion [that Venezuela posed a national security threat to the U.S.] since the Venezuelan people are known as ‘peaceful, democratic, humanist and have a foreign policy directed toward understanding and peace . . . leaders in the struggle for integration and unity.’”

On March 14, upon Maduro’s order, Venezuela conducted a military exercise to counter an alleged U.S. threat by deploying Venezuelan soldiers and partisans across the country to march, man shoulder-fired missiles and defend an oil refinery from a simulated attack. Venezuela’s navy also performed exercises in the Caribbean Sea.

On Sunday (March 15) Venezuela’s legislature granted the requested presidential decree powers, which Maduro says are necessary to defend the country from the U.S. and which his opponents say are to justify repression and distract Venezuelans from economic problems, including acute shortages. Indeed, the country is suffering the highest inflation in the Americas, long lines for food and medicine, and shortages of many basic products.

President Maduro immediately responded to the legislature’s action. He insisted that Venezuela was ready to talk, “one on one, face to face, with respect, without arrogance or hubris” with the U.S. The first item on the agenda for such a meeting, he said, would be the immediate rescission of President Obama’s executive order.

 Cuba’s Response to the Executive Order [5]

Since Venezuela is a major ally of Cuba and the supplier of oil to Cuba, it is not surprising that the Cuban press recently has been full of Cuba’s support of Venezuela, both before and after the issuance of the executive order. Here are some of those expressions of support:

  • On March 5, Granma, Cuba’s official newspaper, issued a laudatory article about Venezuela’s former President, Hugo Chávez. It said he was “remembered . . . for his charisma, his arousing speech, his sincerity, his constant anguish to deliver for his people. Those who knew him say he often felt as though he were plowing the sea with that desire, so characteristic of him, to remain loyal to the people.” Now, “two years after his departure, . . . Chávez will be awakened together with Bolívar, to continue guiding Venezuela and Latin America.”
  • On March 6, Cuban First Vice President of the Councils of State and Ministers (and the presumptive successor to Raúl Castro as President of Cuba), Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, was in Caracas to participate in the commemoration of the second anniversary of death of Chávez, and Díaz-Canel declared that Cuba always will be a true friend of the Bolivarian Revolution.
  • On March 9, immediately after the issuance of the executive order, the Cuban government reiterated “its unconditional support and that of our people for the Bolivarian Revolution, the legitimate government of President Nicolás Maduro Moros and the heroic sister nation of Venezuela.” The Cuban government stated, “Nobody has the right to intervene in the internal affairs of a sovereign State or to declare it, without grounds, a threat to its national security.” Venezuela does not have the resources or officials to threaten the United States, and the executive order “reaffirms . . . the interventionist nature of U.S. foreign policy.”
  • On March 10, Fidel Castro in a letter to President Maduro said, “I congratulate you on your brilliant and courageous speech against the brutal plans of the U.S. government. Your words go down in history as proof that humanity can and must know the truth.”
  • On March 13 Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla said that any attack on Venezuela was also an attack on Cuba and that the U.S. “has provoked serious damage to the environment in the hemisphere on the eve of the Summit of the Americas.” He added, “I hope that the U.S. government understands that it can’t handle Cuba with a carrot and Venezuela with a garrote.”
  • On March 15 thousands of Cubans attended a concert in support of Venezuela at the University of Havana. One of the Cuban Five and a Hero of the Republic of Cuba, René González, addressed the crowd, saying, “We all had in mind the warning of Che that imperialism cannot be trusted,” and that warning was confirmed by the March 9th executive order.

Other Latin American Countries’ Reactions [6]

On March 14, at Venezuela’s request, the 12-nation Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) reaffirmed “their commitment to the full observance of international law, the Peaceful Settlement of Disputes and the principle of nonintervention” and reiterated their “call for governments to refrain from applying unilateral coercive measures that violate international law.” It, therefore, called on the U.S. “to evaluate and implement alternatives for dialogue with the government of Venezuela, under the principles of respect for sovereignty and self-determination of peoples.’ As a result, it requested “the repeal of that Executive Order.”

On March 17 the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas (ALBA), at the request of Venezuela, will meet in Caracas to declare solidarity with Venezuela in its disputes with the U.S.

Conclusion

Although I am not a close follower of events in Venezuela, I do know that the recent huge declines in world oil prices have devastated its economy, that it is suffering horrendous inflation forcing it to devalue its currency, that there are shortages of all sorts of consumer products and that its government has imprisoned dissidents, including the Mayor of Caracas.

I also believe that the U.S. government must have had good cause to impose sanctions on the seven individuals named in the executive order.

Therefore, the protests of Venezuela, Cuba and the other Latin American nations, in my opinion, are not justified. The U.S. hopes for a cordial Summit of the Americas next month in Panama to celebrate a U.S.-Cuba reconciliation, however, appear to have been scuttled.

=================================================

[1] Pons & Ellsworth, Update 3-Venezuela announces new currency system, large devaluation seen, Bloomberg (Feb. 10, 2015); Reuters, Venezuela Arrests Opposition Mayor Accused of Coup Plot, N.Y. Times (Feb. 19, 2015);  White House, Press Briefing by Press Secretary, Josh Earnest, 2/20/15 (Feb. 20, 2015); U.S. Dep’t State, Daily Press Briefing (Feb. 20, 2015); Assoc. Press, Lawyer: Jailed Caracas Mayor to Fight Conspiracy Charges, N. Y. Times (Feb. 21, 2015); Gupta, Venezuela Mayor Is Accused of U.S.-Backed Coup Plot, N.Y. Times (Feb. 21, 2015),

[2] Cuba’s official newspaper, Granma, parrotted the Venezuelan government’s version of events. (E.g.Venezuela faces a stroke of continued fate, Granma (Feb. 20, 2015); Statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cuba, Granma (Feb. 20, 2015).)

[3] White House, Executive Order—Blocking Property and Suspending Entry of Certain Persons Contributing to the Situation in Venezuela (Mar. 9, 2015); White House, Fact Sheet: Venezuela Executive Order (Mar. 9, 2015); White House, Letter [to Speaker of U.S. House of Representatives]—Declaration of a National Emergency with respect to Venezuela (Mar. 9, 2015); White House, Statement by the Press Secretary on Venezuela (Mar. 9, 2015);DeYoung & Miroff, White House steps up sanctions against Venezuelans, Wash. Post (Mar. 9, 2015). The executive order was issued under (a) the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and (b) the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014. In section 2 of that latter statute, Congress found, among other things, that the Central Bank of Venezuela and the National Statistical Institute of Venezuela had determined that the annual inflation rate in Venezuela in 2013 was 56.30, the highest level of inflation in the Western Hemisphere and the third highest level in the world; that Venezuela’s currency controls have become the most problematic factor for doing business in the country; and that HumanRights Watch has reported the government intimidates,censors and prosecutes its critics.

[4] Editorial, In Venezuela, Punishing Scapegoats, N.Y. Times (Mar. 5, 2015); Toro & Kronicks, Venezuela’s Currency Circus, N.Y. Times (Mar. 6, 2015); Miroff & DeYoung, New U.S. sanctions lost in Venezuelan translation, Wash. Post (Mar. 11, 2015); Reuters, Mind Your Manners, Venezuela Tells U.S. Official, Jacobson, N.Y. times (Mar. 11, 2015); Neuman, Obama Hands Venezuelan Leader a Cause to Stir Support, N. Y. Times (Mar. 11, 2015); Editorial, A Failing Relationship with Venezuela, N. Y. Times (Mar. 12, 2015); Assoc. Press, Venezuela Conducts Military Exercises, Claims US Threat, N.Y. Times (Mar. 14, 2015); Reuters, Venezuela Stages Military Exercises to Counter U.S. ‘Threat,’ N.Y. Times (Mar. 15, 2015); Buitrago & Cawthorne, Elected officials grant Venezuela leader broad powers, Wash. Post (Mar. 15, 2015).

[5] Statement from the Revolutionary Government of the Republic of Cuba, Granma (Mar. 10, 2015); Letter from Fidel to Maduro, Granma (Mar. 10, 2015); Pasiero, Venezuela is sacred and to be respected, Granma (Mar. 10, 2015); Pasiero, Cuba reiterates its unconditional support of Venezuela, Granma (Mar. 6, 2015); Chávez, forever present, Granma (Mar. 5, 2015); Pasiero, Mature relationships requires respect for the United States, Granma (Mar. 16, 2015); Venezuela Are All, Granma (Mar. 16, 2015); Prada & Rodriguez, Voices for solidarity with Venezuela, Granma (Mar. 16, 2015).

[6] UNASUR, Press Union of South American Nations Executive Decree of The Government of the Unites States of Venezuela (Mar. 14, 2015); Assoc. Press, South American Bloc Demands US Revoke Venezuela Order, N.Y. Times (Mar. 14, 2015). UNASUR members are Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela. ALBA members are Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Grenada, Nicaragua, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and Grenadines and Venezuela.

 

 

International Reaction to U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation

The overwhelming international response to the December 17th announcement of U.S.-Cuba reconciliation has been very positive, especially in Latin America. Future posts will examine the responses in Cuba and the U.S.

Latin American Reactions [1]

Virtually all Latin American countries had been increasingly frustrated with the 50 years of estrangement and hostility between the U.S. and Cuba. According to a historian of the region, Enrique Krauze, “Cuba has been the epicenter of anti-Americanism in modern Latin America” and the Cuban Revolution of 1959 “opened a new cycle of anti-Americanism.” 

Now, Krauze continues, the U.S. has renounced its “imperial destiny and recovers much of the moral legitimacy needed to uphold the democratic ideals that led to its foundation (and also of the countries of Latin America).”

The President of Brazil congratulated Raul Castro, Obama and Pope Francis. Similar comments were made by the leaders of Mexico, Peru, Colombia and Nicaragua.

Jose Miguel Insulza, Secretary General of the Organization of American States, the regional forum where Cuba’s seat has been empty since 1962, said Obama’s decision removed a major irritant in Washington’s relations with Latin America. “This ends the attempt to isolate Cuba for so long. Cuba is undertaking a process of economic reforms that will, I hope, lead to political reforms.”.

These reactions were emphasized by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, Roberta Jacobson, who said, ““Our previous Cuba policy was clearly an irritant and a drag on our policy in the region,”  adding that it had caused friction even with countries friendly to Washington. She said that countries “with whom we have significant differences are going to be, let’s say, thrown off their stride by a move like this.”“It removes an excuse for blaming the United States for things,” she added.

The Wall Street Journal reported the day after the announcement of the detente that government officials, diplomats and scholars believe this change has “the potential to redraw political and economic alliances across the hemisphere,” especially with countries like Argentina, Ecuador and others. It will be most difficult for Venezuela, which has held “a long-held animosity toward El Imperio–the empire.”

But the President of Venezuela immediately called the detente a “victory for Fidel and the Cuban people” while also acknowledging President Obama’s “courage” in “perhaps the most important step of his presidency.”

On January 26th the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) [2] applauded the agreement’s making possible Cuba’s attending the Summit of the Americas in Panama this coming April.

European Reactions [3]

On the day after the historic announcement, the European Union released a statement hailing it as a “historic turning point.” It continued, “Today another Wall has started to fall. These moves represent a victory of dialogue over confrontation.”

The leading newspaper of Spain, El Pais, editorialized, “Today, when freedom seems to be calling for an end to the doors of Cuba, Spain must accompany Cubans in their new journey: supporting their political, economic and social modernization, with clarity, consistency and realism; aware of the limits of his diplomatic skills-but place value on the european-dimension and also aware that resetting relations with Cuba, the United States restored its relations with Latin America.”

Positive comments of the change came from leaders of Germany, Italy, France and Spain.

Other International Reactions [4]

Canada, we recall, hosted some of the secret U.S.-Cuba negotiations that resulted in the December 17th announcement of the start of the process of their reconciliation. Afterwards Canada’s Foreign Minister, John Baird, said, “”I agree with this policy. I don’t think previous U.S. policy has been effective. If you flood Cuba with American values, American people, and American investment, it will help transform the country.”

U.N. Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, said at a press conference on December 17th, “I have been informed in advance by the US Government.  This news is very positive.  I’d like to thank President Barack Obama of the United States and President Raul Castro for taking this very important step towards normalizing relations.  As much of the membership of the United Nations has repeatedly emphasized through General Assembly resolutions during the last many, many years, it is time that Cuba and the United States normalize their bilateral relations.  In that regard, I heartily welcome today’s development.  I sincerely hope these measures, this announcement will help to expand further the exchanges between the two peoples who have been separated quite a long time.  The United Nations stands ready to help both countries to cultivate their good neighbourly relations.”

Conclusion

I would appreciate comments identifying other international reactions.

As was anticipated in the December 17th announcements by presidents Obama and Castro and as we already have seen, the path to lasting reconciliation is not easy for either country. There are many unresolved issues for the two countries over the last 50-plus years.

These words of congratulations from around the world will have to justified by the further negotiations of the two countries. If they fail to resolve these issues, the international reaction will be severe, and if other countries and international organizations believe the U.S. was primarily responsible for such failure, then there could be even worse anti-Americanism unleashed.

=========================================================

[1] Rebussio, Maduro: It is a victory for Fidel and the Cuban people, El Pais (Dec. 17, 2014); Mezzi, Venezuela is left alone, El Pais (Dec. 17, 2014); Anderson, Mynaya & Vyas, Detente Scrambles Political Calculus in Latin America, W.S.J. (Dec. 18, 2014); Assoc. Press, AP Analysis: U.S. Was at Odds With World Over Cuba Policy, N.Y. Times (Dec. 18,2014); Romero & Neuman, Cuba Thaw Lets Rest of Latin America Warm to Washington, N.Y. Times (Dec. 18, 2014); Assoc. Press, Latin America Cheers U.S.-Cuba Rapprochement, N.Y. Times (Dec. 18,2014);  Krauze, End of Anti-Americanism?, N.Y. Times (Jan. 7, 2015); ECLAC applauds presence of Cuba in Summit of the Americas, Granma (Jan. 26, 2015)

[2] ECLAC was established by the U.N. in 1948 to contribute to the economic development of the region and to promote its social development. Its 44 members include 11 from Asia (Japan and Republic of Korea), Europe (France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and United Kingdom) and North America (Canada and U.S.) with historical, economic and cultural ties to the region. In addition, 13 non-independent Caribbean territories are associate members. 

[3] Rebussio, Maduro: It is a victory for Fidel and the Cuban people, El Pais (Dec. 17, 2014); Reuters, “Another Wall Falls:’ Europe Hails U.S.-Cuba Breakthrough, N.Y. Times (Dec. 18, 2014); Editorial, With Cuba, El Pais (Dec. 21, 2014).

[4] Goldberg, Canada’s Foreign Minister:U.S. Influence Will Make Cuba Better, Atlantic (Dec. 21, 2014), Reuters, U.N.‘s Ban Hails Obama for ‘Courageous’ Cuba Move, N.Y. Times (Dec. 20, 2014); U.N., Press Conference by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at United Nations Headquarters (Dec. 17, 2014).

President Obama’s Strategic Timing of Announcement of U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation

With God’s leading or nudging the U.S. and Cuba to reconciliation, the timing of the announcement of that historic change on December 17th was due to more prosaic factors from the U.S. perspective.

Pressures for an announcement as soon as possible were several. The health of U.S. citizen, Alan Gross, was reportedly declining in a Cuban prison, and President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry legitimately believed that reconciliation would be destroyed if he died in that prison. As we now know, the U.S. and Cuba had been engaged in secret negotiations for 18 months, and delaying the announcement ran the risk of a leak of the existence of the negotiations that would upset, if not destroy, the reconciliation. Less immediate was the upcoming Summit of the Americas in April 2015 with the U.S. needing to have a position on host country Panama’s invitation to Cuba to attend the Summit.

In addition, U.S. domestic political considerations pointed towards a December announcement before the Republican-controlled 114th Congress opened in early January and as soon as possible (the next day) after the adjournment of the 113th so that there would be no resulting interference with the completion of the many items of unfinished business of the current Congress. December also is the traditional time for exercise of presidential clemency (pardons and commutation of sentences), the latter of which was used for the release of the remaining three of the Cuban Five on December 17th.

All of these considerations suggest why the President on December 16th (the day before the announcement about Cuba) quietly signed the $1.1 trillion appropriation bill even though it contained a repeal of an important provision of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act regulating financial institutions that Senator Elizabeth Warren passionately resisted.  The President did not want a lack of funding to interfere with or torpedo the reconciliation.

Within a week of the announcement we learned that the U.S. GDP for the third quarter had increased 5.0%, the strongest quarterly performance in a decade, and the U.S. stock market reacted with a record close on December 23 with the Dow Jones Industrial Average at 18024.17, registering its 36th record close this year. Unemployment is below 6.0%. The FY 2014 deficit is below its 40-year average. The Affordable Care Act has reduced uninsured Americans by 25%, and overall health-care spending has slowed significantly. The U.S. Dollar is stronger against other world currencies. The federal government’s bailouts of banks and the auto industry that rescued the economy from a total collapse at the start of the Obama presidency were closed out with a net profit to the taxpayers of $15.4 billion. Low world oil prices help the American consumer and weaken regimes hostile to the U.S., especially Russia, Iran and Venezuela. An amazing economic performance! (Packer, A Pretty Good Year for Government, New Yorker (Dec. 23, 2014); Higgins, Oil’s Swift Fall Raises Fortunes of U.S. Abroad, N.Y. Times (Dec. 25, 2014).)

President Obama, using the “fourth quarter” analogy of his favorite sport of basketball, obviously has concluded that he would be engaged in a vigorous “fourth quarter” (the last two years of his eight years in office) to do as much as possible of what he believes to be in the national interest of our country. Indeed, at the first Cabinet meeting after the huge Republican victories in this year’s midterm election, Obama gave every Cabinet member a white card that said, “We are entering the fourth quarter, and really important things happen in the fourth quarter.” Timothy Egan, a New York Times’ columnist, says Obama has “been liberated by defeat” and “in finally learning how to use the tools of his office, Obama unbound is a president primed to make his mark.” He is “marching ahead of politicians fighting yesterday’s wars,” who are forced “to defend old-century policies, and rely on an aging base to do it.” Moreover, Obama now “has Pope Francis as a diplomatic co-conspirator,” leaving Republican opponents of Cuban reconciliation to try to lecture “the most popular man on the planet.”  (Osnos, In the Land of the Possible, New Yorker (Dec. 22 & 29, 2014); Eagan, Obama Unbound, N.Y. Times (Dec. 20, 2014).)

Finally the merits of reconciliation and these reflections on the timing of the announcement resurrect my personal support of the President. Given the Administration’s problems with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and other administrative issues, I was beginning to think that Obama’s lack of prior administrative experience was a reason why he would not be the great President I expected him to be. Now, however, his achieving reconciliation with Cuba is a masterful demonstration of his intellectual, administrative and political skills.

Congratulations, Mr. President!

Praise God for Leading U.S. and Cuba to Reconciliation

God acting through people of Christian faith has been leading the U.S. and Cuba to reconciliation and promises to be with the people of both countries as they confront the many issues and challenges in achieving full reconciliation.

Roman Catholic Church

Principal agents for God have been and are the Roman Catholic Church and Pope Francis.The Vatican’s role predated Pope Francis. Two of his predecessors, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, visited Cuba in 1998 and 2012 respectively, and the church remains hugely influential among Cubans. The Obama administration first sought to enlist the Vatican’s support when Pope Benedict XVI was in office. It worked even more actively with the Vatican after Pope Francis came to the Vatican in 2013. The pope’s new secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, an Italian, had served as papal nuncio in Venezuela and was well versed in Latin America politics. Mr. Kerry was also in contact with the Cardinal, meeting him at the Vatican in June of this year and again a week ago.

Most significantly, as has been widely reported, Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church acted as a mediator to help the parties.[1]

This was verified in the Vatican’s Secretary of State’s December 17th statement, in which the Pope “wishes to express his warm congratulations for the historic decision taken by the Governments of the United States of America and Cuba to establish diplomatic relations, with the aim of overcoming, in the interest of the citizens of both countries, the difficulties which have marked their recent history.” The statement also provided the following details:

  • “In recent months, Pope Francis wrote letters to the President of the Republic of Cuba, His Excellency Mr Raúl Castro, and the President of the United States, The Honorable Barack H. Obama, and invited them to resolve humanitarian questions of common interest, including the situation of certain prisoners, in order to initiate a new phase in relations between the two Parties.”
  • “The Holy See received Delegations of the two countries in the Vatican last October and provided its good offices to facilitate a constructive dialogue on delicate matters, resulting in solutions acceptable to both Parties.”
  • “The Holy See will continue to assure its support for initiatives which both nations will undertake to strengthen their bilateral relations and promote the wellbeing of their respective citizens.”

President Obama in his December 17th televised speech announcing this important initiative acknowledged that “His Holiness Pope Francis” had supported these measures and thanked the Pope, “whose moral example shows us the importance of pursuing the world as it should be, rather than simply settling for the world as it is.” In particular, the President said, “His Holiness Pope Francis issued a personal appeal to me and to Cuban President Raul Castro urging us to resolve Alan [Gross]’s case and to address Cuba’s interest in the release of three Cuban agents who have been jailed in the United States for over 15 years.”

Similarly Cuban President Raúl Castro in his televised remarks to the Cuban people said, “I wish to thank and acknowledge the support of the Vatican, most particularly the support of Pope Francisco, in the efforts for improving relations between Cuba and the United States.”

Subsequent reports and research reveals some of the details of the Pope Francis’ involvement.[2]

Obama & Pope
Obama & Pope

On March 27, 2014, the Vatican reported that President Obama “was received in audience by His Holiness Pope Francis, after which Obama met with His Eminence Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State, and Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Secretary for Relations with States. During the cordial meetings, views were exchanged on some current international themes and it was hoped that, in areas of conflict, there would be respect for humanitarian and international law and a negotiated solution between the parties involved.” Presumably this was U.S.-Cuba relations.

Immediately after the Audience, at a joint news conference with Matteo Renzi, the prime minister of Italy, President Obama made comments that in retrospect might have alluded to conversations about Cuba. The President said the Pope and he “had a wide-ranging discussion.“[W]e spent a lot of time talking about the challenges of conflict and how elusive peace is around the world. . . . [W]e also touched on regions like Latin America, where there’s been tremendous progress in many countries, but there’s been less progress in others. . . . [T]he theme that stitched our conversation together was a belief that in politics and in life the quality of empathy, the ability to stand in somebody else’s shoes and to care for someone even if they don’t look like you or talk like you or share your philosophy — that that’s critical.  It’s the lack of empathy that makes it very easy for us to plunge into wars.  It’s the lack of empathy that allows us to ignore the homeless on the streets.  And obviously central to my Christian faith is a belief in treating others as I’d have them treat me.  And . . . [what has] created so much love and excitement for His Holiness has been that he seems to live this, and shows that joy continuously.” The President added, “ I was extremely moved by his insights about the importance of us all having a moral perspective on world problems and not simply thinking in terms of our own narrow self-interests.”

More recently a U.S. administration official said that at the Audience, President Obama spoke about Cuba with Pope Francis, who was “aware” that Obama was considering a change in the policy against Cuba and reached out to the President. Indeed, according to this official, Cuba was the at the center of the discussion.

Soon after the March Audience, Pope Francis sent the two presidents letters, appealing to both to keep pushing for an agreement. In June the Pope sent another letter to the two men calling on them to resolve the case of Alan Gross and the cases of the three Cubans who have been imprisoned here in the United States and also encouraging the United States and Cuba to pursue a closer relationship. . . . The letter from Pope Francis “gave us greater impetus and momentum for us to move forward. ” This appeal from the Pope was ‘very rare’ and unprecedented.

The Vatican then hosted the US and Cuban delegations in October when the parties were able to review the commitments that they to make on December 17th.” The Pope, U.S. officials said, acted as a “guarantor” that both sides would live up to the terms of a deal reached in secret.

According to a New York Times articleCardinal Jaime Ortega, the archbishop of Havana, also happened to be in Rome on October 3 and met with Francis, according to Vatican records, raising the possibility that he, too, attended the secret October meeting that is credited with sealing the diplomatic deal.’Ortega has always pushed for a gradual reform of the regime, for opening up, but at the same time he has been a trustworthy partner for the government — and with the full support of John Paul II, Benedict and Francis,’ said Marco Politi, an author and veteran Vatican analyst.”

An article by Juan Arias in El Pais, Spain’s leading newspaper, said Pope Francis “is only and always in favor of dialogue and peace, promote respect for all. Rescue the true dignity of the human being who is the subject of respect, travel partner, defender of life, rather than exploited, a commodity at the mercy of all who pay for it. In the world, managing the common good and the fight against injustice will inevitably present policy questions.” .

In the same vein, a Vatican spokesman said, in a December 18th interview with a Fox News interview, the Vatican has a culture of encounter the says it is better to be talking, rather than not talking, with another individual or country in the Vatican tradition of confidential diplomacy. Such a practice does not solve everything, but it opens up relations.

Another overall evaluation of Pope Francis’s diplomacy from the New York Times starts with his comments on December 18th to a new corps of diplomats to the Vatican, ” The work of an ambassador lies in small steps, small things, but they always end up making peace, bringing closer the hearts of people, sowing brotherhood among people. This is your job, but with little things, tiny things.” On the other hand, Francis has a “vision of diplomatic boldness, a willingness to take risks and insert the Vatican into diplomatic disputes, especially where it can act as an independent broker.”

Francis Campbell, a former British ambassador to the Holy See, adds that Francis had embraced the bully pulpit provided by the papacy. “The papacy is one of the world’s great opinion formers. Whether people agree with it or disagree with it, it has a huge voice.”

Another change under Francis is “appointing diplomats to key posts elsewhere, most notably his second-in-command, Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, an Italian cardinal who has led delicate Vatican negotiations with Vietnam and served as apostolic nuncio, or ambassador, in Venezuela.” Moreover, Francis and Cardinal Parolin are seen as working in tandem — the charismatic pope and the methodical diplomat. . . .  Paolo Rodari, a Vatican expert at La Repubblica, an Italian newspaper, added that Francis had quickly built a rapport with world leaders. ‘He establishes relationships very easily.”

Additional insight into Pope Francis’ mediation of this situation is prompted by the Associated Press’ rediscovery of his 1998 booklet, “Dialogues between John Paul II and Fidel Castro,” written while the Pope was still Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Soon to be named archbishop of Buenos Aires, he attended Pope John Paul II’s visit to Cuba.“In the booklet, Bergoglio harshly criticized socialism — and by extension Castro’s atheist revolution — for denying individuals their ‘transcendent dignity’ and putting them solely at the service of the state. At the same time, he denounced the U.S. embargo and economic isolation of Cuba that impoverished the island. ‘The Cuban people must overcome this isolation’. . . . [T]he first chapter titled ‘The value of dialogue’ . . . [says] that dialogue was the only way to end Cuba’s isolation and its hostility to the Catholic Church while promoting democracy.

This booklet was referenced by Austen Ivereigh in his new biography of Francis “The Great Reformer.” Ivereigh said Bergoglio “demonstrated an ‘incredibly evenhanded’ approach to the Cuban problem while outlining a future for the island that may well be more realistic now that the thaw has begun.” Pope Francis “sees Cuba’s future as being a democratic government rooted in the Christian, humanist values of the Cuban pueblo. It’s a kind of nationalist Catholic understanding of politics, neither left nor right, neither communism nor unadulterated market capitalism.”

Everyone in the world should be grateful that we have Pope Francis as a servant of God.

Presbyterian Church

As a member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, which has had a partnership with a sister church in Cuba, I join in the declaration by my brothers and sisters of LA IGLESIA PRESBITERIANA-REFORMADA EN CUBA (the Presbyterian-Reformed Church of Cuba) regarding the historic launching of this path of reconciliation that was signed by Dr. Reinerio Arce Valentin, the Moderator and my personal friend; Rev. Daniel Izquierdo Hernández, Secretary-General; Rev. Francisco Marrero Gutiérrez, Council President; and Rev. Antonio (Tony) Aja, D. Min. They said:

  • “Today we witnessed the televised speeches by the Presidents of Cuba and the United States in which both rulers recognized the need to put an end to the hostility of more than half a century and to re-establish Diplomatic relations between our two countries, which hopefully will lead to the normalization of relations. It was also gratifying to hear the news of the release of Mr. Alan Gross and others imprisoned in Cuba, as well as the release of the three Cuban prisoners in the U.S. American, which allows family reunification.”
  • Our church “gives thanks to God and celebrates with joy these agreements. For decades we have been encouraged with the exchange of visits between Cuban and American churches. We are in deep gratitude to the evangelical ideal to seek peace and justice, and we raised Our Voice against the severe measures, both economic and commercial, that have been imposed by American policy on our peoples.“
  • “In the same way we have received such support from our sister church, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and from resolutions and talks official with leaders of the U.S. Congress and representatives of the U.S. government.”
  • “We acknowledge the efforts of the Vatican, in the person of Pope Francis, as well as the government of Canada in the achievement of these agreements. We hope that we are closer to an era of peace between our nations, it is precisely on the eve of the celebration of the Christmas which reminds us of the divine purpose of peace and Goodwill in our land.
  • “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.” (Luke 2:14. NRSV).

The Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) [PCUSA], Gradye Parsons, made a similar statement. He said, “we welcome the historic steps taken by President Obama on normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba.” The PCUSA ‘has been working for more than 30 years to help ease the hardships caused by the United States’ economic embargo on Cuba and to end the embargo itself.” We also have “emphasized [with the U.S. government] the humanitarian reasons for the release of Alan Gross and the three Cuban prisoners.” This set of decisions “also takes us closer to a day when our two peoples will have no impediments to full and flourishing relations. We rejoice along with the Cuban Council of Churches and the Presbyterian Church of Cuba for the good news that will further the cause of peace and human rights around the world.”

Another statement was issued by Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, Director of PCUSA’s Office of Public Witness. He said, “The release of Alan Gross and the three Cuban prisoners is an example of how nations can find common ground.  When there is a will to live as true neighbors as Jesus Christ has taught us, we find a way towards justice and reconciliation.” The statement also noted that this Office “has organized religious delegations from Cuba, led a coalition of denominations and faith-based organizations calling for a change in policy towards Cuba, and organized meetings with members of congress and the administration urging an opening of relations between the two countries.”

I also believe that Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church has played a small role in these historic decisions. Our connections with Cuba, our members’ visits to the island, our Cuban brothers and sisters visiting us, our prayer partnerships with members of the Matanzas church, our installing four potable water systems in Cuban churches and our learning more about Cuba and its relations with our country have inspired many of us to urge our Government to change its policies toward the island.

Our potable water projects are part of the “Living Waters for the World” ministry of the PCUSA’s Synod of Living Waters for the States of Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama. To date they have trained people from churches, primarily Presbyterian, all over the U.S. who have installed over 660 such systems in 25 other countries. Cuba has received 21 of the systems, four by my church.

The importance of such systems for the Cuban people and churches was noticed by a New York Times reporter on a visit to the 137,000-population city of Cardenas on the north coast of the island about 90 miles east of Havana. He says, “Many of the churches in Cardenas have become a moral and economic counterweight [to communism] . . . to help people survive, with food, water, and exercise classes, and by guiding their souls away from a focus on material things.” (Cave, Crucible of Cuban Zeal Redefines Revolutionary, N.Y. Times (Dec. 20, 2014).)

As an example, he cites El Fuerte Presbyterian Church which occupies a “religious campus” that used to house Escuela La Progressiva, a famous pre-revolutionary school. This church has become a “hub of activity for the community largely because of a sophisticated water filtration system carried into Cuba and installed in 2012 by members of St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church in New Orleans.”

Other Religious Organizations

I know that other churches and synagogues in Minnesota and all around the U.S. have connections with Cuba and am confident that they too have had similar transformative experiences with our Cuban brothers and sisters. Others without overt religious motivation also have been God’s agents for these changes; here I think specifically of the support groups for the Cuban Five and for ending the U.S. embargo.

As the Bible says, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Corinth. 12:4-7)(NRSV)

We lift all of them up in our prayers of gratitude.

=============================================

[1] An August 2012 post included my public letter to President Obama suggesting, among other things,“Perhaps such negotiations would be assisted by having the two countries agree to the appointment of a respected international mediator/conciliator to supervise the negotiations.”

[2] The President’s Audience and press conference about this and other topics were discussed in a prior post.