This week, the News Blast is bursting with developments in Cuba and U.S. policy.
We imagine you want to get to it, so we’ll keep our introductory remarks – harrumph – relatively brief.
Earlier this week, we came across a well-worn speech delivered by President John F. Kennedy at the University of Washington in 1961. This address came about a half-year after the Bay of Pigs invasion, nearly a full year before the Cuban Missile Crisis.
You can listen to the entire speech here and reach your own conclusions. When we read his address, these two paragraphs nearly jumped off the page, and seemed to be written with a pen that could have described the world we see today.
We must face problems which do not lend themselves to easy or quick or permanent solutions. And we must face the fact that the United States is neither omnipotent nor omniscient – that we are only six percent of the world’s population – that we cannot impose our will upon the other ninety-four percent of mankind – that we cannot right every wrong or reverse each adversity – and that therefore there cannot be an American solution to every world problem.
These burdens and frustrations are accepted by most Americans with maturity and understanding. They may long for the days when war meant charging up San Juan Hill -or when our isolation was guarded by two oceans-or when the atomic bomb was ours alone – or when much of the industrialized world depended upon our resources and our aid. But they now know that those days are gone – and that gone with them are the old policies and the old complacencies. And they know, too, that we must make the best of our new problems and our new opportunities, whatever the risk and the cost.
Though Kennedy was an architect of the Cold War, there is evidence – as Peter Kornbluh and others have reported – that he saw the futility of trying to impose our will on Cuba in his day. One might predict his astonishment that we are still trying to impose our will on Cuba in our day as well.
Our national fixation on Cuba did not begin with Fidel Castro or the Revolution in 1959. It has been a part of this country’s historical arc, indeed an imperative of the U.S. national interest, since 1803. That is the argument – offered with a precise mind and graceful hand – by Louis A. Pérez, renowned scholar at the University of North Carolina, in his forthcoming article, “Cuba as an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.”
Lou has offered us the opportunity to publish his study of how Cuba has coursed through our foreign policy and the veins of our national character for the better part of three centuries. It reminds us of how we got here; how we arrived at the point when sanctions have lasted longer than our refusal to recognize the Soviet Union or China, years longer than it took us to reconcile with Vietnam, so long that Cuba has been under U.S. sanctions for almost half of its national existence as an independent republic.
This and more is captured in Lou’s piece, including the sadness in his description of why a failed policy has remained so long in place; “its continuance has no other purpose than to serve as a justification for its longevity.”
Much of what we do – what motivates our work, our trips to Cuba, our research, our passionate advocacy for reforming the policy, and especially the news blast we send you every week – is about living in the world John Kennedy foresaw in 1961, and finding new ways for Cuba and the U.S. to reach past this history and build a new relationship based on dignity and respect.
In the coming weeks, we will notify you in a separate blast about how you can download Lou’s piece absolutely free of charge.
In the meanwhile, we ask you this.
If you share our love of history and our belief in engagement; if you read the blast, support our work, and plan to download the article by Lou Pérez, why not give something back?
This news blast is a project of the Center for Democracy in the Americas (CDA) – a non-profit, non-governmental organization based in DC. We take no government money, of course, but instead depend on the generosity of readers like you.
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The Team at Cuba Central expresses our sadness at the passing of Roxy Smith, the beloved wife of Wayne Smith, a venerable leader of the effort to change U.S. policy toward Cuba. The family obituary vividly describes her as “a force of nature,” an apt description that might even understate the case. Like her husband, Roxy was a member of our nation’s foreign service when the Cold War was red hot. Their careers and service abroad were book-ended by assignments in Havana at the U.S. embassy (1958-1961) and again at the U.S. Interests Section (1979-1982). In between, they carried the flag at postings in Brazil, Russia, and Argentina. We admired her independent spirit and also the strong and deep partnership she formed with our friend Wayne, to whom we offer our condolences and abrazos.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, and responded to questions on Cuba, reports Progreso Weekly. Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart asked Sec. Kerry,”What specific consequences will the Cuban regime have to deal with… because of Alan Gross’ continued arrest…?” Secretary Kerry responded that in the last few months he has had several meetings “on the Alan Gross issue,” including a meeting with the Gross family “a couple of weeks ago.” He continued, saying:
“[W]e are very focused on a couple of possibilities on how we might try to approach that. We really want to get him back because obviously we don’t think he’s that well, and he’s wrongly in prison as far as we’re concerned, obviously. So, it’s a major priority for us, and the White House likewise. The White House has been very involved, we’re working together in initiatives to try to do this. We hit a stone wall in a couple, but we’re continuing to try to do that. And I have a couple of ideas that I hope will work.
So, we’ll see what happens. Cuba continues to confound, and there are continued problems there. The Obama administration is prepared to try to have a different policy, but we haven’t seen the indicators that merit that at this point in time. There are some things we’re doing that we think help, in terms of the remittances, the family visits, the other kinds of cultural exchanges, and so forth, but at the moment, you are correct. There are serious problems about how the people are treated there and what the nature of that regime is.”
Alan Gross, a former USAID subcontractor, was arrested in Cuba in 2009 for attempting to set up satellite communications networks on the island, as part of the USAID “regime change” program, and was convicted of threatening the sovereignty of the Cuban state. He is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence.
Investigative journalist Tracey Eaton has written extensively about Gross’ case and USAID programs on the island, producing both blog posts and two videos – “Diplomacy Derailed” and “Failure Compounded” available here – during his collaboration with the Center for Democracy in the Americas.
The U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has launched an investigation into two French banks, Société Générale and Crédit Agricole, for transactions allegedly in violation of U.S. sanctions against Cuba, reports the Wall Street Journal.
According to an unnamed source, “The US is investigating foreign banks for potential issues related to money laundering and violations of US embargoes and sanctions on countries like Cuba, Iran and Sudan,” reports International Business Times. The source also said that the Justice Department, the New York State Department of Financial Services, and the Manhattan District Attorney’s office are involved in the investigation. Société Générale has reportedly designated €700m for potential litigation. Laetitia Maruel, a spokeswoman for Société Générale, confirmed that the bank has been in discussions with OFAC, as did Crédit Agricole in its annual report, reports Reuters.
Last month, the Banque Nationale de Paris (BNP Paribas) closed its Havana branch in the wake of OFAC’s ongoing investigation into transactions in alleged violation of U.S. sanctions against Cuba. The bank announced last month that it designated $1.1 billion of its annual profits to pay anticipated OFAC fines for transactions in violation of U.S. sanctions against Cuba and other countries on the State Department’s State Sponsors of Terrorism list.
Ana Sol Alliegro, a political consultant associated with former Florida Rep. David Rivera, was arrested last week in Nicaragua and extradited to the U.S. On Monday, she pled not guilty to four counts of campaign finance violations, reports the Associated Press.
Alliegro was indicted on charges that she funneled over $80,000 to the 2012 campaign of Justin Lamar Sternad who was running for the Democratic Party’s Congressional nomination to face Rivera. Alliegro and Rivera are under investigation for having broken campaign finance laws, and supporting Sternad in an effort to weaken the campaign of Joe García. He eventually went on to beat Rivera in the general election, and now serves in Congress representing Florida’s 26th district.
The U.S. and Cuba’s boxing teams will compete in the quarterfinals of the World Series of Boxing IV on March 28 in Miami, and April 4 in Havana, reports state news agency ACN. The match between the USA Knockouts and the Cuba Domadores will feature several current World and Olympic champions, reports Pro-BoxingFans.com. According to Inside The Games, it will be the first time Cuba’s national boxing team has competed in the U.S. since the 1999 World Championships.
The U.S. Collegiate National baseball team will travel to Cuba July 23-27 to play a friendship series against Cuba’s team in Havana, reports MartíNoticias. The first friendship series between the teams happened in 1987. In 2012, the Cuban team won three out of the five games. The U.S. team won all five games in 2013. The series has taken place both in the U.S. and Cuba.
U.S. sanctions, once again, have been used to send a message to Cuban diplomats: Stop Shopping.
After last week’s report that an El Salvador branch of PriceSmart, a U.S. company, had cancelled the memberships of employees who work for Cuba’s Embassy in El Salvador in order to comply with U.S. sanctions against Cuba, Cubadebate reports that the same thing has now occurred in the Dominican Republic. In response to this, Cuba’s Embassy in the Dominican Republic issued a communique, condemning the action and expressing concern with the “extraterritorial application of U.S. laws against Cuba in Dominican territory.”
Similar measures taken against Cuba in the Dominican Republic in the past include the 2011 halting of Shell oil in providing fuel to Cuba’s Cubana de Aviación airline and the 2013 suspension of banking services by Scotiabank to embassy personnel, including legal residents of the country, according to a statement quoted in DiarioDigital.
On Sunday morning, an aftershock from a January 5.1 magnitude earthquake was felt in Cuba as well as the Florida Keys, reports the Miami Herald. This aftershock came in the form of a 4.7 magnitude quake, which struck at around 17 miles north of Corralillo, Cuba. The quake on Sunday was the fourth aftershock of the January quake, and no damage has been reported.
CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS
The United Nations Security Council has published the report it received by its Panel of Experts on North Korea’s arms trade activities, reports Reuters. The report finds that North Korea has used complicated, “tiered circumvention” techniques to evade sanctions and continue its “nuclear, ballistic missile and other weapons of mass destruction programmes,” and that it is active “in the refurbishment of arms produced in the former Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s, such as jet fighters [and] surface-to-air missile systems.”
In July of 2013, a North Korean vessel called the Chong Chon Gang was seized by Panama en route from Cuba to North Korea, and a shipment of fighter jets and missile parts was found underneath several tons of sugar. The discovery of the weapons prompted an investigation by a UN Security Council panel as to whether the shipment was in violation of UN sanctions against North Korea. A UN Security Council Committee took up the case just over two weeks ago.
The report by the UN Panel of Experts on North Korea states:
“The Panel concluded in its incident report submitted to the Committee that both the shipment and the transaction between Cuba and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea were sanctions violations.”
The report further finds that the shipment knowingly circumvented international sanctions. The report’s recommendations include that Member States be reminded that “the embargo on all arms and related materiel encompasses services or assistance related to the provision, manufacture, maintenance or use of arms or materiel,” and that member states report all past instances of inspections of cargo “to, from, or brokered by” the DPRK.
According to the report, Cuba’s government made the case that the weapons were being sent to North Korea for “maintenance,” that Cuba maintained ownership of the items being shipped, and that no “supply, sale, or transfer” of weapons to the DPRK took place. The report states:
“Cuba explained to the Panel that it has close military ties with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Both have historically relied on Soviet-era weaponry to equip their armed forces, and the [DPRK] has maintained maintenance and repair facilities and factories for many of these older-generation weapons systems, leading Cuba to seek the assistance of a traditional ally with a capability to repair such equipment.”
But the report goes on to say:
“The Panel is unconvinced by Cuba’s rationale to distinguish “maintenance” and “repair.” Both are services or assistance related to the provision, manufacture, maintenance and use of arms and related materiel that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea shall not provide under paragraph 8 (c) of resolution 1718 (2006) and paragraph 9 of resolution 1874 (2009). Similarly, introducing an alternative interpretation of ownership relating to transfer, would permit the loan or lease of arms and related materiel, thereby crippling the arms-related and weapons of mass destruction-related embargoes imposed by the resolutions.”
In response to the report, the U.S. Department of State said the United States would “pursue appropriate action,” and that, “We do not view this as a bilateral issue between the United States and Cuba. This is about a potential violation of U.N. Security Council sanctions on North Korea,” reports the Miami Herald.
Cuba is sending 4,000 new doctors to Brazil to join the 7,400 already there in the Mais Médicos program administered by the Brazilian government, reports Café Fuerte and Havana Times. Brazil is tripling the number of Cuban participants at a cost of $632 million to support its initiative to improve healthcare for Brazil’s underprivileged and rural citizens. While doctors from Brazil and other nations also participate in the program, Cuban doctors represent the majority at 78%.
Cuba’s First Vice President Miguel Díaz Canel traveled to Chile this week to attend the inauguration of newly re-elected Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, reports CubaDebate. While in Chile, Díaz Canel also laid wreaths at the mausoleums of former Chilean President Salvador Allende and of Communist leader Gladys Marin.
Bolivia’s President Evo Morales stated this Wednesday that Cuban experts are helping Bolivia to study the medicinal benefits of coca leaves for eventual pharmaceutical production, reports the Associated Press and Prensa Latina. President Morales stated,
“With our Cuban brothers we have made a lot of progress toward the industrialization of coca, not as a foodstuff, but rather for medicine….We hope in the coming years to start industrializing. The medical industry is run by monopolies that we want to break, not only through the industrialization of coca, but other products as well.”
ETECSA, the state-owned communications company, will begin offering home ADSL Internet service on September 15, according to one ETECSA official, reports Telecompaper and Diario de Cuba. ETECSA has not yet released any announcement regarding this new service. According to the article, local network access will be offered at a speed of 2Mbps and international network access at 4 Mbps. According to a document reportedly authored by Ibis Díaz Silva, commercial manager at the Office of Small and Medium Users at ETECSA, that rate packages will include 20 hours of Internet use for 10CUC, 50 hours for 15 CUC, 100 hours for 30CUC, 180 hours 50CUC, 220 hours 60CUC, and a night access package for 90 hours of access between 8pm and 7am for 20CUC. These prices are extremely high for most Cubans; however, compared to other available options, home access may be the least expensive option. Cuba’s government cyber cafés charge $4CUC per hour for international Internet access, and hotels have service available to the public for prices ranging from 10-15CUC per hour, reports Terra.
Last week, ETECSA launched mobile phone e-mail service for Cubans with an @nauta.cu email account at a rate of 1CUC per megabyte. Email addresses with the domain may be requested at ETECSA Internet access points across the island. Around 1,900 of ETECSA’s two-million customers have accessed their e-mail using this feature since it was launched, reports TeleGeography.
At the end of February, works of art from Cuba’s National Gallery of Fine Arts were found to be stolen after some pieces went to auction in Miami. UNESCO has just released a list of the 70 missing works valued at approximately $1.5 million dollars, report CNN and Havana Times. The theft was reported by Ramón Cernuda, an art dealer in Miami, after he noticed signs of theft on the pieces. The works, mostly dated from 1897-1927, were in storage at Havana’s National Museum of Fine Arts at the time of theft, and there was no sign of forced entry into the facility. The pieces were cut from their frames, and the frames were replaced, all of which delayed the discovery of the crime. U.S. and Cuban authorities are working jointly to investigate the crime.
The Association of Caribbean Nations announced that Cuba will host a conference on efforts to protect the Caribbean Sea later this year in the province of Santiago de Cuba, reports Prensa Latina. The agenda includes discussions on maritime traffic, pollution, and eco-system damage.
This announcement comes some weeks after the U.S., Cuba, Jamaica, the Bahamas, and Mexico signed the Multi-Lateral Technical Operating Procedure to agree on response procedures for potential future oil spills, as we reported in January. Cuba’s government has plans to resume offshore oil drilling in 2015.
Espacio Laical, the magazine of the Havana Archdiocese,hosted a conference on “Religious faith, national institutions, and social models” in Havana, reports Inter Press Service and AFP. Cuba’s economic reform process was one of the main topics discussed at the conference, which was attended by Cuban and international academics and professionals. Attendees included economists Pavel Vidal and Mauricio Miranda, both Cubans currently residing in Colombia. One Cuban academic attendee noted, “more and more, the image of Cuba is one of a country in transition.”
President Raúl Castro spoke at the site of the Mariel Port construction project this past weekend, and called for increased efforts toward the project’s completion, reports AFP. “I congratulate all of you, those who are managing and carrying out this work, for all that has been accomplished up until now, but more must be done, and done better,” he said while touring the port, reports Granma. The port was inaugurated early this year together with Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff. Brazil’s Social Development Bank extended a credit of $682 million of Cuba’s total planned investment of $957 million for the project.
Melba Hernández, one of two women who participated in the first battle of Cuba’s revolution in 1953, has passed away in Havana at the age of 92, reports the Washington Post. Hernández, then a young attorney, supported the revolutionary forces during the failed July 26, 1953 attack on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba. She was arrested but later freed along with Haydee Santamaría, the other woman who participated, months before their male collaborators.
Together, they worked to organize support rallies for the release of those still jailed. They were also the key distributors of Fidel Castro’s writings while he was in prison, as well as his “History Will Absolve Me” speech. The announcement of her death in Granma said that she would be cremated and her remains placed in a cemetery together with the remains of others who participated in the Moncada attack.
Around the Region
Salvadoran Presidential Election: ARENA Claims Fraud, FMLN Promises an Inclusive Government, Linda Garrett, Center for Democracy in the Americas
CDA’s Senior Analyst on El Salvador Linda Garrett gives an update on what has occurred in recent days since El Salvador’s presidential election runoff. The country’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal has declared FMLN candidate Salvador Sánchez Cerén the winner of the March 9 election by a slim margin, however legal challenges by the traditional right wing ARENA party still must be addressed. She writes:
“Salvador Sánchez Cerén and Óscar Ortiz will be inaugurated on June 1st but the FMLN will not have the broad mandate anticipated to advance its agenda. The right can either boycott and disrupt or cooperate toward consensus on the big fiscal, economic and security issues facing the country. The posture of ARENA during the term of the Funes/FMLN government has been to boycott, but it has been a political and economic boycott; the Venezuelan-style protests could portend a more contentious period ahead.”
Violence continues in Venezuela; OAS issues declaration of solidarity with Venezuela; President Bachelet supports Venezuela; Vice President Biden, U.S. Senate, Secretary Kerry and State Department speak out; Menendez and Rubio introduce sanctions bill
In Venezuela, five more people died this week in the wake of ongoing unrest, reports Reuters. Rival rallies renewed the violence, in part after the National Guard blocked an opposition rally from marching to the state ombudsman’s office. It is unclear who is responsible for these deaths as both opposition and government supporters have blamed the other and faced casualties. The victims included a middle-aged man, a student, an army captain, an opposition student leader and the first foreign fatality – a Chilean woman.
The Pan-American Post reports that Venezuelan officials filed charges on Monday against two opposition mayors, Gerardo Blyde in Baruta and David Smolansky in El Hatillo, for failure to clear opposition roadblocks, or guarimbas, in their municipalities.
In remarks during an interview published in a Chilean newspaper on Sunday, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden called the situation in Venezuela “alarming,” and accused Venezuela’s government of using “armed vigilantes” against peaceful protestors and “concocting totally false and outlandish conspiracy theories about the United States,” reports the Associated Press. Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro responded to the statements, claiming the U.S. wants revenge for the declaration of solidarity issued by the Organization of American States (OAS) on Friday evening. In the declaration, the OAS gave its “appreciation, full support, and encouragement for the initiatives and the efforts of the democratically-elected Government of Venezuela.”
Although 29 member states voted in favor of the declaration, the United States objected, citing the prioritization of non-intervention over the guarantee of human rights and free speech as a contradiction of the OAS charter. Canada and Panama were the only states that joined the U.S. in objecting. The Associated Press reports that, according to an anonymous senior U.S. administration official, Vice President Biden has discussed possible mediation for the ongoing situation in Venezuela by third parties, while attending the swearing-in ceremony of Chile’s President, Michelle Bachelet.
In Chile on Wednesday, foreign ministers from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) gathered to discuss the political and social situation in Venezuela. The foreign ministers said they support “dialogue between the government and all political forces and players,” and plan to send a ministerial commission to Venezuela to oversee this dialogue and help establish peace. Venezuela’s Foreign Minister, Elías Jaua, expressed Venezuela’s satisfaction with UNASUR’s support and decision. The resolution is available here in Portuguese and English.
Also on Wednesday, the U.S. Senate agreed to a simple resolution deploring violence and the repression of peaceful demonstrators in Venezuela. It was sponsored by Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and was passed without amendment. Co-sponsors of the resolution included Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Timothy Kaine (D-VA) and John McCain (R-AZ).
During his testimony to a House subcommittee on the federal budget on Wednesday, Secretary Kerry echoed Vice President Biden’s denials of U.S. involvement in Venezuela while responding to a question from Representative Mario Díaz-Balart:
“We urge President Maduro to use the powers of his Presidency to bring peace and justice and tranquility and opportunity to the people of his country and we have not engaged in any of these kinds of activities that he has on occasion alleged. And we believe it’s time for the OAS, the regional partners, other international organizations to assume a greater role, frankly, in urging the Venezuelan government to refrain from demonizing opponents, to allow for peaceful protest and to move towards meaningful dialogue with the opposition. That’s the only way the issues are going to be resolved, not with increased violence.”
The following day, at a hearing of the House Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry added:
“We are engaged now with trying to find a way to get the Maduro government to engage with their citizens, to treat them respectfully, to end this terror campaign against his own people and to begin to hopefully respect human rights and the appropriate way of treating his people.”
The State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor on Thursday called for an end to violence and an investigation into the violent acts that have taken place over past weeks. It warns of the endangerment of human rights, and presses for the mediation by third parties that Vice President Biden foreshadowed.
That same day, Senators Robert Menendez (NJ), Bill Nelson (FL) and Marco Rubio (FL) introduced the “Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014,” reports the Associated Press, which would require President Obama to impose sanctions on Venezuelan officials. In addition, the language authorizes $15 million for fiscal year 2015 to:
“1) defend human rights, 2) build the capacity of democratic civil society, 3) support independent media outlets and unrestricted access to the internet, 4) improve government transparency and accountability, 5) assist civil society activists, journalists, and protesters that have been targeted for their activity.”
Meanwhile, 46 academic experts wrote an open letter to Sec. Kerry, urging the U.S. government to “stand by democratic institutions and the rule of law,” and noting that while Latin American countries “have expressed concern about the opposition’s destabilization tactics, the U.S. State Department has made statements that will only encourage the most radical, violent sectors of the opposition….” CDA’s Dan Hellinger was among them.
Vidal: THE CUC will vanish ‘quite swiftly’, Milena Recio, Progreso Weekly
Milena Recio of Progreso Weekly interviews economist Pavel Alejandro Vidal about Resolution No. 19, approved last week by Cuba’s Ministry of Finances and Prices. This Resolution deals with the financial measures for the future unification of Cuba’s two currencies, the Cuban peso (CUP) and the convertible peso (CUC).
Viva la revolución: Cuban farmers re-gain control over land, Alexa van Sickle, The Guardian
This article by Alexa van Sickle covers changes in food security policy in Cuba. Cuba’s government, with help from international partners such as Canada and the UN, is initiating new policies and programs to address the issue of food security, including decreeing in November 2013 that food production in selected districts will be experimentally privatized in the hopes of becoming national policy by 2015. On a related note, Inter-Press Service also has a feature (in Spanish) on the results of a pilot project for more efficient milk distribution on the island, available here.
Exiles in America Soften Stance on Cuba Ties, Jacquellena Carrero, NBC News
Political views on the Cuban embargo are becoming more nuanced, writes NBC News. While supporters of the embargo cite political arrests as a reason to maintain sanctions, others note generational shifts and Cuban-American travel to the island are showing the embargo is no longer effective or necessary.
Cuba like you’ve never seen, Fox News
Fox News features a slideshow of photographs from daily Cuban life, from Revolution Square to tobacco farms, taken by Jim Kane of Culture Xplorers.