On Cuba, the Republican Party Platform Repudiates Obama and Trump

Earlier this week in Cleveland, State Senator Eric Brakey of Maine tried to make some changes to his party’s foreign policy platform. Leigh Ann Caldwell of NBC News says Brakey thought the Cuba plank was isolationist.

That seemed odd, since Donald Trump’s position on President Obama’s opening with Cuba – it’s “fine, but I think we should make a much better deal” – seemed reasonably pro-engagement, and normally a national party platform tracks the positions of the party’s nominee.

Not this year, apparently. Although as of this writing, the platform hasn’t been made public, an early draft did make it into our hands. It turns out brave Senator Brakey didn’t make any headway. The language in this document is a lot closer to the Platt Amendment than to the Donald’s negotiating position.

Although the platform is still subject to change, this is apparently what the party intends to say about how it would run U.S. policy toward Cuba after President Obama leaves office:

“We want to welcome the people of Cuba back into our hemispheric family – after their corrupt rulers are forced from power and brought to account for their crimes against humanity. We stand with the Women in White [sic] and all the victims of the loathsome regime that clings to power in Havana. We do not say this lightly: They have been betrayed by those who are currently in control of U.S. foreign policy. The current Administration’s ‘opening to Cuba’ was a shameful accommodation to the demands of its tyrants. It will only strengthen their military dictatorship.

“We call on the Congress to uphold current U.S. law which sets conditions for the lifting of sanctions on the island: legalization of political parties, an independent media and free and fair internationally-supervised elections. We call for a dedicated platform for the transmission of Radio and TV Martí and for the promotion of internet access and circumvention technology as tools to strength(en) Cuba’s pro-democracy movement. We support the work of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba and affirm the principles of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, recognizing the rights of Cubans fleeing Communism.”

This is your father’s foreign policy, like traveling in time with Peabody and Sherman in the “way back machine.” The Cuba plank endorses President Johnson’s immigration policy, recommits to President Reagan’s listener-free Radio and TV Martí, asserts the primacy of Helms-Burton, breathes life into the Bush-era regime-change commission, and seeks the promotion of “circumvention technology,” which sounds suspiciously like what got Alan Gross in all sorts of trouble ending with a lengthy stay in prison.

Strangely, the platform says nothing about the rights of Cuban Americans to visit their families in Cuba without restrictions; nothing about the people-to-people travel rights of every other American; nothing about Starwood Hotel, Airbnb, or the wireless carriers who allow U.S. travelers roam with their cellphones in Cuba; nothing about the good people working to protect our nation’s interests in the U.S. Embassy in Havana. Could a platform this backward-looking mean to leave those accomplishments in place? We’re left to guess not.

Either way, this amounts to a return to the status quo ante, to the Cold War days when our two governments didn’t speak, when Latin America was utterly united against the U.S. position, and when Cubans were burdened by a climate of fear and hostility they do not want to see again.

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-Cuba Relations

Oxfam urges U.S. to end embargo on struggling Cuba, Sarah Marsh, Reuters

Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International, told Reuters that the global aid and development agency is “calling for a lifting of [the U.S.] embargo and normalizing relations sooner rather than later.” In light of Cuba’s worsening economic situation, Ms. Byanyima stated that Cuba’s government should continue updating its economic model, and that “Cuba needs to engage with the global economy and the embargo cuts them out.” Oxfam’s Cuba office is working on several projects in eastern Cuba pertaining to drought relief, farming productivity, and empowering women living in rural areas. Ms. Byanyima visited the island to investigate ways for Oxfam to adjust its work there to accommodate the economic troubles Cuba is facing, and told Reuters, “We can’t keep doing what we always did when their problems multiply.

Cuba, U.S. hold 3rd round of regulatory talks amid thaw, Associated Press

Representatives from the U.S. Departments of State, Commerce, and the Treasury joined Cuban counterparts in Havana for the third round of regulatory dialogues on July 12 and 13; the U.S. and Cuba also held their biannual migration talks on July 14.

Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment said in a statement that the regulatory talks focused on the embargo and limitations on bilateral commerce and investment that remain despite the regulatory changes the Obama administration has already made. The Central Bank of Cuba participated in the discussions as well, providing insight regarding Cuba’s laws governing international commercial and financial relations.

Convening to discuss the U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords, John Creamer, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, and Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s Foreign Minister for North American Affairs, led their respective delegations in talks on maritime and overland migration and means to ensure safe and legal migration of Cubans to the U.S., including cooperation between health and coastal security officials. According to a State Department press release, the next round of migration talks will take place in Washington, D.C. later this year.

Anti-normalization measures added to House spending bill; Representatives seek to block Cuba flights

Before Congress left Washington for its 7-week summer recess, legislation was adopted by the House Appropriations Committee that imposes funding restrictions on the State Department with the goal of reversing President Obama’s Cuba policy reforms.

The House Appropriations Committee passed the funding bill for the State Department with several anti-normalization provisions. It includes measures to cut funds and place stringent restrictions on the U.S. Embassy in Havana, prohibiting it from hiring more staff to accommodate its increased activity, except for health- and security-related personnel. If the provisions were signed into law, the bill would hobble the embassy’s ability to process properly visas requested by Cubans seeking to visit the U.S., and strain its capacity to deal with the huge increase in U.S. travelers to the island.

The bill seeks $30 million in spending for so-called “democracy promotion” (regime change) programs on the island and includes a provision preventing changes to the structure of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, which produces the much-criticized and little-heard Radio and TV Martí programs.

The Foreign Operations spending bill, like the Financial Services appropriations bill (with its restrictions on education travel that passed the full House last week), is unlikely to become law. Instead, after its summer break, as Washington insiders predict, Congress likely begin negotiating a stopgap measure to fund the government and set up negotiations on an omnibus spending package, instead of voting on individual appropriations bills.

Separately, Reps. John Katko (NY-24) and Richard Hudson (NC-8) introduced a bill seeking to stop all regularly scheduled U.S. commercial flights to Cuba, scheduled to begin in September, until the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) certifies that Cuba’s airports are in compliance with U.S. security standards. The measure, however, would not affect the existing charter flights which travel back and forth from Cuba to the U.S. every day from many of the same airports.

Responding to questions about TSA’s plans to address airport security concerns in Cuba, TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger told USA Today, “Before we allow a flight to come here directly from Cuba, we will ensure that they do in fact meet all the requirements we put in place at last points of departure.”

American Museum of Natural History and Cuba Agree to Deepen Collaboration, Jennifer Smith, Wall Street Journal

An historic collaboration is underway, so much so that José Ramón Cabañas, Cuba’s ambassador to the U.S., tweeted about it.

This week, Ana Luz Porzecanski, head of the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History, and Esther Pérez Lorenzo, Director of the National Museum of Natural History of Cuba, signed a memorandum of understanding in Havana along with the Cuban Environmental Agency to collaborate on research, exhibitions, and education. The partnership will begin in November when the American Museum of Natural History premiers a bilingual exhibition titled “¡Cuba!” featuring animal and plant specimens and showcasing the nation’s culture and history. Continuing a long history of U.S.-Cuba collaboration in scientific research, including nearly 30 field projects in Cuba over the last 120 years, biologists from both museums will work together to study flora and fauna in the Caribbean.

Lift the Cuba Embargo, Representative Tom Emmer (MN-6) and Representative Kathy Castor (FL-14), Americas Quarterly

In a letter offering advice on Cuba policy to the next U.S. administration, Reps. Emmer and Castor reflect on their trip with the delegation that joined President Obama’s trip to Cuba in March and discuss the importance of carrying forward the Obama administration’s progress in relations with the island. Reps. Emmer and Castor praise the strides toward normalization that the U.S. has already made, but point out that “This progress… is not reflected in our U.S. trade embargo and antiquated travel ban.”

Another cruise line, Oceania, could start Cuba voyages within months, Gene Sloan, USA Today

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, the parent company of Oceania Cruises, announced that it has received tentative approval to operate cruises starting before the end of the year, pending approval from Cuba’s government. According to Frank Del Rio, CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, one Oceania cruise ship would begin service to Cuba by the end of 2016 and a second, larger ship would begin in early 2017. Oceania plans to offer cruises around Cuba, and will also look to add Havana as a port of call on other Western Caribbean and Panama Canal itineraries.

If approved, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings will join the growing list of cruise operators authorized to bring U.S. travelers to the island. In May, Carnival Corporation sent the first U.S. cruise ship to Cuba since 1978. Recently, French luxury cruise line Ponant and Grand Circle Travel, which provides travel to AARP members, received authorization and plan to begin service to Cuba next year.

In Cuba

Venezuela’s crisis hurting island economy; Cuba shuffles economic cabinet, Associated Press

In remarks before the National Assembly Friday, Cuba’s President Raúl Castro said Cuba’s immediate economic challenges stemmed from outside forces – the reduction in oil imports from Venezuela, the region-wide economic downturn, falling prices of Cuba’s export products, and the financial and commercial restrictions imposed by the embargo – and described belt-tightening measures to address them.

Less than a week later, economy minister Marino Murillo was replaced by Ricardo Cabrisas Ruiz, Vice President of Cuba’s Council of Ministers. An official state announcement in CubaDebate explained that Mr. Murillo, who will lead a special commission overseeing economic reforms, and continue in his capacity as Vice President of the Council of Ministers, will “concentrate his efforts on the tasks linked to the update of the Cuban economic and social model.”

Officials recently announced that Cuba’s economy had grown by just 1 percent in the first half of this year, compared to the 2 percent growth that President Castro projected at last December’s National Assembly session. Cuba’s economy grew by 4 percent in 2015.

President Castro stated that Cuba must limit all “non-essential expenses, promote a culture of saving and of efficiently taking advantage of available resources,” while also investing in the export sector, “fortifying infrastructure” and ensuring that the island has sustainable sources of electricity. He affirmed that the government is committed to continuing to provide social services to the population. President Castro emphasized that economic reforms would continue according to plan and at a deliberate pace. “When facing difficulties and threats, there is no room for improvisation or defeatism,” he said.

Confronting these obstacles, President Castro said, “Rumors and forecasts of an imminent collapse of our economy with a return to the most intense phase of the Special Period … have started to appear.” However, he stated, while Cuba’s economic difficulties will likely persist, “we are in better conditions than we were [in the 1990s] to face them.”

The New York Times reported on Cubans’ fears of a return to the hardships of the “Special Period” of economic upheaval in the 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union. During that time, Cubans experienced daily electricity blackouts, and severe food and energy shortages.

Marino Murillo, prior to his shift in responsibilities, told the National Assembly that the island must reduce its electricity consumption by 6 percent for the remaining months of 2016. Last week at a meeting of the National Assembly’s economic commission, Mr. Murillo confirmed reports that energy rationing measures are now in effect for some state firms and joint ventures through the end of the year. The government will not impose energy consumption rationing on the tourism or nickel sectors, according to Reuters. Cuba’s power consumption increased by 4.8 percent in 2015, with the hospitality sector consuming the most due to increased tourism on the island.

During the plenary session, the assembly officially adopted the draft agreement on the Guidelines for Economic and Social Policy produced by the Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba in April, outlining the Party’s economic plan for the next five years.

Other ministerial appointments include Loidi José R. Sabol, who has been promoted to Minister of Higher Education from his post as First Deputy Minister of Higher Education, and, as Granma reported, Abel Prieto has been reappointed as Minister of Culture, a position he previously held for nearly 15 years.

Cuban-Venezuelan oil refinery at Cienfuegos to be partially shut – PDVSA, Sarah Marsh, Reuters

Luis Morillo, the general manager of the Cuba division of Venezuela’s state-owned oil and natural gas company (PDVSA), told Reuters that Cuba’s Cienfuegos oil refinery will be partially closed, with certain plants temporarily shutting down for 120 days for maintenance checks to address technical issues, while the entire refinery will continue to operate at minimum output, as it is currently. A joint venture between Cuba and Venezuela, the refinery is now producing 50,000 barrels per day, which is 15,000 bpd lower than its maximum capacity. Mr. Morillo said that PDVSA officials intend to fix the technical problems and stated that the temporary cutbacks in the refinery’s production “will not affect in any way the ordinary life of Cuban society.”

Study: Cubans don’t make much, but it’s more than state salaries indicate, Mimi Whitefield, Miami Herald

Rose Marketing, which in 2015 became one of the first international marketing companies to operate in Cuba, conducted a survey this spring that revealed that Cubans earn considerably more than the official average monthly salary. According to Cuba’s National Office of Statistics, wages in Cuba averaged just 687 pesos, or about $25, in 2015. The newest survey, which draws its responses from over a thousand Cubans in the island’s major cities, indicates that about 70 percent of Cubans earn the equivalent of $50 per month or more. The consulting firm noted that “these income figures are relatively low in contrast to other nations and the average Cuban still struggles to make ends meet,” but that these numbers are promising.

Another source of income for Cuban citizens is remittances received from friends and family living in the U.S. With recent loosening of travel and economic restrictions, the Miami-based Havana Consulting Group estimates that remittances sent to the island reached a record $3.35 billion last year.

Cuba opens first bulk goods store, but wholesale remains elusive, Andrea Rodríguez, Associated Press

CIMEX, Cuba’s import-export corporation, opened a store in Havana called Zona+ to sell goods in bulk to private businesses. The new store was established to test out the concept of selling goods in bulk, and the government plans to open similar stores in other parts of the city. Reuters speculates that Zona+ could eventually become a wholesale market, and reported that not all of the prices at Zona+ are marked down yet, as that the store is experimenting with staggered discount levels corresponding with the amount of money a customer spends in a single trip to the store.

Cuba’s government announced in April that it would open some of its state-run wholesale vendors to a limited number of cooperatives and private-business owners; the measure has yet to extend to the entire non-state sector.

Private businesses owners in Cuba, who have to supply their restaurants and stores with products from often insufficiently stocked retail markets, told reporters they are hopeful that this new store will help meet the growing demand for goods, and that it will ultimately prompt the addition of wholesale markets to their buying options. Naidi Carrazana, who runs a small cafeteria, told the AP, “I hope this is like a seed for a wholesale market where we entrepreneurs can buy at a different price.”

Cuba’s Foreign Relations

Mitsubishi Corp scouting Cuba for infrastructure projects, Sarah Marsh, Reuters

Mitsuyuki Takada, Senior Vice President of Mitsubishi Corp. Global Strategy, told Reuters at the opening of Mitsubishi’s Havana office that the Japanese trading house, which oversees Mitsubishi Motor Company, is seeking opportunities for investment in the Mariel Economic Development Zone. Mitsubishi Corp. is looking to expand its trade relations with Cuba, largely because of its strategic location near the U.S. and the Panama Canal. Japan’s government has expressed interest in financing infrastructure projects led by Mitsubishi Corp in Cuba. Miguel Díaz-Canel, Cuba’s First Vice President, visited Japan in June and met with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to discuss strengthening bilateral economic relations.

Cuba and Italy Regularize Bilateral Debt, ACN

On July 12, Ricardo Cabrisas Ruiz, Vice President of Cuba’s Council of Ministers, and the country’s new Economy Minister, met with Mario Giro, Italy’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, in Havana to discuss the implementation process for the multilateral agreement signed between Cuba and the Ad-Hoc Group of the Paris Club, and to set a schedule for Cuba to repay its sovereign debts to Italy. The repayment plan involves the Paris Club writing off the $8.5 billion of interest accumulated on Cuba’s $11 billion debt, and Cuba is to pay back $2.6 billion over the next 18 years. Prensa Latina reported that Rogelio Sierra, Cuba’s Deputy Foreign Minister, met with Mr. Giro to assess the state of Cuba-Italy relations, and to strengthen bilateral ties.

Dispatches: Dozens of Cubans expelled from Ecuador, José Miguel Vivanco, Human Rights Watch

Ecuador’s Ministry of the Interior announced that immigration authorities sent a total of 75 Cuban migrants have been sent back to Cuba between July 9 and July 11 and that 22 Cubans have been released and authorized to remain in Ecuador. The deportations were carried out after Ecuador’s National Police detained 149 Cubans who were camped near Mexico’s Embassy in Quito holding protests because they have been unable to obtain special humanitarian visas that would allow them to travel to the U.S. border. Judges conducted a series of hearings to evaluate the status of the Cuban migrants, which included some asylum seekers. Human rights activists are concerned that Ecuador violated international law, and argue that it had the obligation to respect the appeals for asylum and right to a fair trial.

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