Behind Closed Doors

September 22, 2017

The CDA community answered the call, and we have raised almost $10,000 for Hurricane Irma relief in Cuba! We are incredibly moved by your generosity. CDA’s Irma Relief drive continues through midnight tonight; donate here to provide emergency items such as water, food, shelter, and hygiene kits, as well as longer-term recovery supplies.

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Many of us followed the publicly-traded barbs of this week. President Trump addressed the UN General Assembly Tuesday, stating, “The United States has stood against the corrupt and destabilizing regime in Cuba,” and declared, “We will not lift sanctions on the Cuban government until it makes fundamental reforms.”

That same day, Cuba retorted, rejecting “tying any improvement in bilateral relations to the introduction of changes in the Cuban constitutional order,” as well as “the political manipulation of the human rights issue as a pretext to justify US policies.”

However, while public statements paint a picture of discord, in private, our bilateral relationship is starting to resemble something normal.

Behind closed doors

The U.S.-Cuba Law Enforcement Dialogue met last week to discuss, among other things, the mysterious sonic incidents affecting U.S. and Canadian diplomats. The FBI has reportedly traveled to the island three times, invited and welcomed by Cuban authorities, and by all accounts, Cuba has given them an unprecedented level of access.

In fact, the Associated Press reported this week that Raúl Castro personally summoned the top U.S. diplomat to discuss this matter, that he was “baffled” and “concerned,” and that he showed far more desire to cooperate on the issue than expected.

The Law Enforcement Dialogue also discussed important functions such as cooperation on terrorism, cybercrime, and drug trafficking.

On Monday, U.S. and Cuban diplomats met in Washington for the sixth Bilateral Commission, the mechanism designated with the task of advancing normalization. The significance of this meeting at this time cannot be overstated. Despite publicly aired unrest, we continue to work together. We continue to advance cooperation on often understated issues such as environmental protection, public health, and combating trafficking in persons and narcotics.

One last thing—we took note last Friday when five Senators, led by the architect of President Trump’s new Cuba policy, Marco Rubio, penned a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asking him to close the U.S. Embassy in Havana and expel all Cuban diplomats in the U.S. Our friend Bill LeoGrande said it best: “Closing the U.S. embassy makes no sense. It would punish Cuba for actions whose perpetrator remains unidentified, and it would seriously damage U.S. interests.”

There’s a lot we do not know about the sonic incidents. But we do know diplomacy matters, and an open dialogue is essential to the U.S.’ ability to safeguard its affairs at home and abroad.

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-Cuba Relations

U.S., Cuba hold Bilateral Commission talks

Representatives from the U.S. and Cuban governments met in Washington this week for the sixth Bilateral Commission meeting, the first such meeting since President Donald Trump took office, the Miami Herald reports. The Commission, which was formed to advance normalization after the U.S. and Cuba formally reinstated relations in 2015, last met in December in Havana.

According to a State Department press release, the Commission discussed “the incidents affecting diplomatic personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Havana … human rights, [and] implementation of the Migration Accords.” A statement from Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX) said the Cuban delegation addressed President Trump’s “confrontational rhetoric and the political manipulation of the human rights issue as a pretext to justify US policies,” as well as his comments at the United Nations General Assembly that the U.S. “will not lift sanctions on the Cuban government until it makes fundamental reforms.”

MINREX also reiterated Havana’s “will to maintain a respectful dialogue with its US counterpart” and continue cooperation on existing bilateral agreements in areas including law enforcement, environmental protection, and health.

John Creamer, the U.S. State Department’s deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, and Josefina Vidal, director general for U.S. affairs at MINREX, led their respective countries’ delegations.

Cuba reiterates concern over sonic incidents; Secretary Tillerson hints at embassy closure

In its statement this week on the sixth U.S.-Cuba Bilateral Commission, Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Relations (MINREX) reiterated its position that the country’s government had no involvement in the perplexing sonic incidents that have affected diplomats in Havana, writing, “Cuba strictly observes its obligations to protect foreign diplomats in its soil.” MINREX also reiterated its desire to cooperate with U.S. authorities to resolve the issue.

Last week, the Associated Press reported that Cuba’s President Raúl Castro, after being informed about the incidents, summoned then-U.S. chargé d’affaires Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis to insist that Cuba had no involvement and offer for the FBI to investigate the incidents—an unprecedented level of openness to U.S. intelligence. Last Tuesday, CBS News reported that the number of U.S. diplomats and family members affected has risen to 21. CNN has reported that the incidents affected five Canadian diplomats, and according to the AP, France “has tested embassy staff for potential sonic-induced injuries.”

Separately, on Sunday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told CBS that closing the U.S. Embassy in Havana is “under review,” two days after five Republican Senators wrote to Mr. Tillerson urging him to close the facility and declare all accredited Cuban diplomats in the U.S. persona non grata, as Reuters reported at the time. Mr. Tillerson did not clarify the timeline for such a decision.

U.S., Cuba hold third Law Enforcement Dialogue

U.S. and Cuban representatives met in Washington last Friday for their third Law Enforcement Dialogue, the first such meeting under the Trump administration. The Dialogue, which was first held in November 2015 to promote cooperation on issues including counternarcotics, human smuggling, and counterterrorism, had last occurred in May 2016 in Havana.

According to a State Department press release, the delegation discussed the incidents affecting diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, as well as the return of fugitives from justice. Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX) reported the meeting also addressed issues including terrorism, cybercrime, and the illicit trafficking of drugs and people.

In January, the U.S. and Cuba signed a Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation in law enforcement. In June, officials from Cuba’s Interior Ministry told CNN and Reuters that the cessation of high-level talks on law enforcement could lead to increases in narcotics and human trafficking.

Editor’s note: Per President Trump’s National Security Memorandum on Cuba policy, relevant agencies began the process of drafting new regulations July 16. You can find the Cuba Central Team’s comprehensive overview of what we do and don’t know about the President’s Cuba policy at this link.

In Cuba

Cuba continues Irma recovery

Relief efforts are underway in Cuba to address the devastation left behind by Hurricane Irma, which made landfall earlier this month as the strongest storm to hit Cuba in over 85 years, leaving 10 dead. On Sunday, Cuba’s government announced that it would subsidize construction materials for Irma-related housing repairs, as the Miami Herald reports.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy, which suffered severe flood damage, will limit consular services, including suspending nonemergency services for U.S. citizens and delaying visa-related appointments. The State Department released an updated travel warning this week advising U.S. citizens to “carefully consider the risks of travel to Cuba while Hurricane Irma recovery efforts are underway,” and to avoid north-central Cuba altogether.

Nonetheless, the country is on the road to recovery. Havana’s José Martí International Airport reopened last week, and power and water services have been mostly restored across the country. On Wednesday, Sherritt International stated it had resumed nickel mining and oil drilling operations, after halting both to repair “minimal damage” to facilities, and that it did not expect any impact to material production for the year. Meanwhile, according to Cuba’s National Institute for Hydraulic Resources, the rainfall from Irma raised water levels in Cuba’s drought-stricken reservoirs from 40 to 64 percent full nationwide, CubaDebate reports.

Aid efforts on the island continue. Earlier this week, Reuters reported that the UN World Food Programme would provide $5.7 million in food aid to over 700,000 Cubans in areas most affected by the storm.

On Tuesday, Cuba’s Civil Defense Staff issued an “early alert” for the eastern provinces of Guantánamo and Holguín regarding Hurricane Maria. While Maria is not expected to make landfall in Cuba, the alert warns of likely high winds and flooding stemming from contact with the storm’s outer edges.

Cuba postpones municipal elections after Irma

Cuba’s Council of State announced this week that elections to select municipal assembly delegates, originally slated for October 22, will be delayed until November 26, Reuters reports.

According to Granma, the change will be effected so Cubans can “concentrate their efforts on recovering damages” from Hurricane Irma. A second round of voting, originally scheduled for October 29, will be held December 3 as necessary.

President Castro has stated that he will step down at the culmination of the current election cycle, scheduled for February 2018. A description of Cuba’s electoral process can be found here.

What We’re Reading

Expanding agricultural trade between the US and Cuba would benefit both countries, Rick Crawford, The Hill

Representative Rick Crawford (AR-1) advocates for increased agricultural trade as a way to promote Cuba’s private business class and create jobs in rural America.

Our Men And Women In Havana, William LeoGrande, Huffington Post

William LeoGrande, Professor of Government at American University, explains why “closing the U.S. embassy in Havana would be a self-inflicted wound.”

After Irma, Cubans Are Ready to Get Back to Business, Collin Laverty, Americas Quarterly

Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel, encourages U.S. travelers to head to Cuba, writing, “Visiting with your hearts, minds and wallets is what helps cities rebuild and aids the local economy.”

Support CDA: Click here to support CDA’s work bringing you the Cuba Central News Brief each week and promoting a U.S. policy toward Cuba based on engagement and recognition of Cuba’s sovereignty.

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Special Report: Cuba Recovers After Irma

September 11, 2017

Hurricane Irma slammed into Cuba over the weekend, leaving 10 dead and causing destruction and flooding across the island. Irma, which made landfall in the country’s northeastern provinces as a Category 5 storm, was the strongest storm to hit Cuba in 85 years, according to Reuters.

Damages

The hurricane wrought havoc in Cuba’s keys, badly damaging most structures and all but destroying the international Jardines del Rey airport in Cayo Coco. Cuba’s President Raúl Castro released a statement Monday, saying, “Given the immensity of [Irma’s] size, practically no region has escaped its effects.”

Though Havana avoided a direct hit, the capital city saw extensive flooding, with 36-foot waves rising well over the Malecón (seawall) and seawater reaching one-third of a mile inland, according to Reuters and the Associated Press. The U.S. Embassy in Havana, which is located along the Malecón, saw structural damage to its fence and severe flooding inside the building.

According to CubaDebate, 7 of the 10 reported deaths across Cuba occurred in Havana, mostly due to falling structures and live electrical cables lying in the city’s flooded streets. Much of the island remains without power or cell service.

Cuba had evacuated over 1 million people, including over 8,000 tourists, prior to the storm’s arrival.

Economic impacts

Irma has brought consequences for a number of Cuba’s principle economic sectors, including the sugar and tourism industries.

According to Granma, 300,000 hectares of sugarcane crops and 40 percent of sugar refineries in Cuba suffered some degree of damage from the storm. Cuba harvested 436,000 hectares of sugarcane in 2015, the last year for which data was available.

Meanwhile, the extensive damage to the Cuban Keys has left many of the country’s most popular resorts uninhabitable. President Castro stated that damages “will be recovered before the start of the high season” for tourism.

Response

In his statement, President Castro said, “It is not time to mourn, but rather to rebuild what the winds of Hurricane Irma tried to destroy.” Countries including Ecuador, Bolivia, and Russia have stated their intention to deliver aid to the island.

Prior to the storm reaching Cuba, the country sent nearly 800 doctors to affected Caribbean islands, according to Granma.

Donate to relief efforts in Cuba: PBS NewsHour has consolidated a list of charities working on Hurricane Irma relief efforts.

Groups working in Cuba include OXFAM, UNICEF, and Caritas.

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Cuba and Our Good Name

September 8, 2017

Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Government and Public Policy at the College of William and Mary, is this week’s guest contributor to the Cuba Central News Brief. He served as Secretary of State Colin Powell’s Chief of Staff from 2002 to 2005, and as Associate Director of the State Department’s Policy Planning staff from 2001 to 2002, during which time he focused on East Asia and the Pacific, political-military, and legislative affairs. Prior to working in the State Department, Col. Wilkerson served in the U.S. Army for 31 years.

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“Who steals my purse steals trash … But he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him and makes me poor indeed.” – Shakespeare’s Othello

Immediate attention today is turned to whether or not the Government of Cuba caused intentional harm to U.S. and Canadian diplomats through a series of sonic incidents in Havana. Frankly, it looks more like spyware gone bad than an intentional effort to do harm. Damage is done, nonetheless, as the U.S. has reciprocated with the expulsion of two Cuban diplomats from Washington.

Long-term concern, however, relates to President Trump. In short, what exactly is Trump’s Cuba policy today? Are his administration’s incremental reversals of previous U.S.-Cuba policy all we shall see, or will there be more, and more substantial, reversals of what was beginning to look like a warming relationship?

Even the small steps backward—and most certainly more substantial ones—are detrimental to U.S. national security, and while many aspects of that negative impact are readily discernible—from cooperation in managing drug trafficking to the environment—the most dangerous aspect, as with the U.S. practice of torture from 2002–2006, goes largely unreported.

Simply stated, the reputation of America is as powerful a component of its standing in the world—perhaps more so—than its vast array of tanks, warplanes, and warships. For the billion people in the Western Hemisphere, and increasingly for the six billion others in the rest of the world, the U.S.’ Cuba policy is another nail in the coffin of the American empire. Of late, nations around the world have been hammering in such nails with alarming frequency and vehemence.

From the now utterly nonsensical embargo on Cuba—essentially an abuse of the use of sanctions bordering on an act of war—to the unseemly and unconstitutional restrictions on travel to the island by U.S. citizens, U.S.-Cuba policy would be the laughing stock of the world if it were not so indicative of America’s present policies—and thus a serious matter indeed. What a worsening of this policy would do is add immeasurable weight to a now swiftly-coalescing world opinion that America is no longer worthy of global leadership.

A dramatic historical moment in 1956, during the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower, sums up brilliantly what reputational power is all about. The moment is described eloquently by Eisenhower biographer Jean Edward Smith. The occasion was President Eisenhower’s having compelled Great Britain, France and Israel to reverse their combined invasion of Suez:

“Never in the postwar era was American prestige higher than in the aftermath of Suez. Small nations could scarcely believe the United States would support Egypt, a Third World country, in a fight against two of America’s oldest allies, or that it would come to the aid of a Muslim state resisting Israeli aggression. ‘Never has there been such a tremendous acclaim for the President’s policy,’ Henry Cabot Lodge reported from the United Nations. ‘It has been absolutely spectacular.’”

Eisenhower understood what reputational power meant in the world. He knew it outweighed all the panoply of war of which, ironically enough, he was arguably one of the foremost practitioners.

Today, with America’s reputation in tatters all over the globe, in the wake of Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, torture, walls on the Mexican border, and strategic missteps from Berlin to Beijing, the very last thing Washington needs is another policy disaster. To reverse the opening to Cuba would be a serious blow to U.S. security in the Western Hemisphere and add another blow to that security, already in serious jeopardy, elsewhere in the world.

That is the last thing the nation needs; it would make us poor indeed.

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