Tag Archives: Joe BIden

Center for Democracy in the Americas’ STATEMENT: CDA URGES THE BIDEN-HARRIS ADMINISTRATION TO TAKE ACTIONABLE STEPS TO REMOVE SANCTIONS WHICH IMPEDE ITS OWN POLICY OBJECTIVES

Center for Democracy in the Americas, Washington D. C., August 3, 2021

ORIGINAL ARTICLE

WASHINGTON – In response to the ongoing situation in Cuba that began with protests on July 11 throughout the island, and the subsequent announcements made by the Biden-Harris administration, Jorge Quintana, executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, released the following statement:

“In the wake of the July 11 protests in Cuba and following six months of inaction on the Cuba policy front, the Biden-Harris administration has finally signaled its intention to engage with the issue. However, while recent statements from the Administration convey support for the Cuban people, current policy is not only incompatible with those sentiments, but counterproductive to them. If the Administration truly wishes to support the Cuban people, it will need to first take concrete actions to remove sanctions that serve to stymie this support. The Biden-Harris administration should stop serving as a roadblock and start serving as a conduit. I urge the Administration to take immediate action toward implementing policies of engagement that benefit the Cuban people. Engaging with a community that continues to suffer the effects of a strenuous diplomatic relationship should be a priority of the United States.
 
Human rights are universal, and the Cuban people deserve to speak freely without fear of retribution and to have a voice in their future. This will happen when Cuba’s government listens to the voices of its people and respects their right to peacefully protest. Protesters throughout Cuba were met with violent confrontation from Cuba’s security forces while calling for an improved COVID-19 response, and relief from food, medicine, electricity and good shortages. Some also called for changes to the island’s economy and for political change. Cuba’s government responded to the demonstrations by preventing internet access to many websites and social media platforms, and with the arrest, detention, and/or disappearance of reportedly more than 700 protesters, activists, and independent journalists thus far. Protesters should not be punished for exercising their rights as set forth in Cuba’s updated 2019 constitution, which include the right to due process in legal proceedings and the right to freedom of assembly. For those protesters who engaged in violence or the destruction of property, prosecutions must be open, transparent, and with guarantees of due process. Cuba’s government has an opportunity, at this critical moment, to steer away from its response of repression and to convene and listen to groups of civil society actors in good faith, actualize the economic changes that have been promised, and respond to the concerns of the Cuban people with openness.
 
While the protesters’ calls were directed at internal grievances and not directly at U.S. sanctions or the U.S. embargo, the U.S. can help facilitate this internal change through lifting sanctions and removing the embargo. Once again, I call on the Biden-Harris administration to prioritize the humanitarian situation in Cuba by suspending regulations that inhibit the flow of humanitarian aid. Specifically, I call on the Administration to remove the specific licenses required to send medical supplies to Cuba, lift restrictions on the percentage of U.S.-made material used in foreign produced medical supplies, remove end-use verification for humanitarian imports, lift restrictions and caps on family and donative remittances, lift restrictions on banking, and remove travel restrictions that prevent this robust and dynamic form of diplomacy from taking place and prevent the Cuban people from receiving necessary humanitarian supplies.
 
The Biden-Harris administration should restore remittance channels, thereby allowing Cuban-Americans to exercise their right to send, or not send, remittances, which help support Cuba’s private sector and offer much-needed start-up capital from relatives abroad. The Administration should not, however, view remittances as an end-all-be-all to financial support. Many protesters on July 11 were Afro-Cuban, who tend to have less family abroad and less access to remittances. The Administration’s newly announced Remittance Working Group will expedite a review of how to send remittances directly to the Cuban people, bypassing Cuba’s government. As it considers this, it should take into account that Cuba’s government no longer captures the amount of revenue from remittances as it has in the past. Since July 2020, Cuba no longer taxes dollar remittances or requires Cubans to convert dollars to local currency, and has significantly decreased hard currency store markups. Much of the government’s revenue from remittances captured from hard currency store sales is channeled to food, fuel, and goods imports. The Remittance Working Group is rightfully operating under a deadline. The Group should be judged on its ability to answer operational issues that serve the goals of supporting small and medium sized enterprises, improving the standard of living of Cuban families, and respecting the rights of Cuban-Americans to support their families.
 
The Administration has expressed interest in exploring ways to support free and effective internet access in Cuba. Images, videos, and accounts of the July 11 protests shared by Cubans on social media were largely made possible by increased internet availability on the island and the introduction of 3G and 4G which occurred over the past few years. Nearly half of the island’s population has a cell phone and 2.5 million have 3G or 4G access. However, internet outages following the protests, allegedly initiated by Cuba’s government, have sparked concern. The Biden-Harris administration does not need to start at square one. The Administration should re-examine the 2019 Cuba Internet Task Force recommendations, including facilitating the export of telecommunications equipment and infrastructure, promoting technological literacy and digital safety education, promoting exchange programs, and empowering local, organic, network growth. Though the telecommunications environment has changed, many of the challenges and opportunities remain the same. It is important that Cuban citizens themselves have both access to and autonomy over their internet. Efforts to weaponize the internet, to use it for the spread of disinformation, or to censor it by any government should not be tolerated.
 
Additionally, the Administration should expedite its review of restaffing the U.S. Embassy in Havana and reinstating consular services, including visa processing and the Cuban Family Reunification Program. Regardless of future actions on the part of Cuba’s government, a fully staffed embassy will allow the U.S. to provide critical support to Cuban civil society, monitor the situation on the ground, initiate a human rights dialogue with Cuba’s government, and advocate against arbitrary detentions.
 
The policy of hostility and isolation is not improving democracy or human rights on the island; rather, it is politicizing a humanitarian crisis and distracting from dynamic and actionable solutions. In order to remedy the inherent disconnect between supportive messaging and punitive policy in the Administration’s response to the current crisis in Cuba, the Biden-Harris administration must change the role that U.S. policies and sanctions have in contributing to the crisis by pursuing a policy of engagement. Engagement is the best way to alleviate the hardships faced by the Cuban people, advance U.S. interests, offer an opportunity for dialogue and cooperation on a wide range of issues, from human rights to national security, and to allow the necessary conditions for Cubans to determine their own future.
 
Pursuing a policy of engagement and removing the current counterproductive policies that only serve to compound hardships faced by Cubans, would allow President Biden to stand with the Cuban people while continuing to condemn any repression of human rights in Cuba. It’s time for the U.S. to support the Cuban people in both spirit and in practice.

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

CUBA STUDY GROUP STATEMENT ON THE JULY 30 MEETING BETWEEN PRESIDENT BIDEN AND CUBAN AMERICAN LEADERS

Contact: Ricardo Herrero
Phone: 202-709-8191

August 2, 2021

WASHINGTON D.C. — On July 30th, the Executive Director of the Cuba Study Group, Ricardo Herrero, was among eleven Cuban American leaders invited to meet with President Biden to discuss his administration’s response to the situation in Cuba in the wake of the historic July 11th protests.

We thank the President for his time, for the opportunity to share our views, and for his administration’s commitment to the Cuban people by addressing the island’s ongoing crisis through a “whole-of-government approach.” We encourage his administration to continue to respond to recent events with a sense of urgency and look forward to the prompt reopening of remittance flows, the expansion of internet access and the restaffing of the U.S. Embassy in Havana.

We also commend the Biden administration for levying targeted sanctions on those responsible for the repression of peaceful protesters on, and since, July 11th. Targeted sanctions against Cuban government officials send a strong message that their human rights abuses will not be tolerated, even if their practical effect is blunted by the blanket sanctions of the U.S. embargo that already make it unlikely that Cuban officials have significant assets in the United States.

Yet, as the Biden administration seeks to hold the Cuban government accountable, we can and must do more to empower the Cuban people. In fact, we maintain that strengthening the Cuban people, more so than punishing their government, is the key to meaningful change in Cuba.

This is why we ask the Biden administration to empower the American and Cuban American private and NGO sectors to be the driving force in extending support to the Cuban people at this precarious juncture. Not only is it often more efficient to enable private actors to lead the way, but it also undermines the Cuban government’s Cold War-era narrative that their struggle is against the U.S. government, when the truth is that their present-day struggle is with their own people, both at home and abroad.

Covid-related assistance from the United States can help save lives and stem a pandemic that has overwhelmed the Cuban healthcare system. To that end, we ask the Biden administration to lift all restrictions and licensing requirements on donations of food, medicine, and medical supplies to Cuba, thus enabling churches and other NGOs to quickly mobilize.

Secure internet access is indeed crucial to providing Cubans with the unfettered flow of information they deserve and the tools to mobilize for peaceful change. However, there are immediate, practical steps the U.S. government can take to improve the quality of internet access on the island. These include allowing U.S.-based firms to provide cloud-based services like online payment processing and subscription-based platforms in Cuba. Not only are they powerful tools for private sector and civil society development; they also can help get money—including remittances—directly into the hands of the Cuban people.

Finally, open travel remains the best way for Cuban Americans and Americans to serve as ambassadors of our values and provide direct assistance to the Cuban people. Thus, we ask the Biden administration to reinstate travel to all airport destinations in Cuban provinces as Covid-19 restrictions allow.

Ultimately, the best way to “stand with the Cuban people” is for Americans and Cuban Americans to be present on the ground in Cuba. We look forward to an ongoing, fruitful dialogue with the Biden administration in which we intend to continue pressing this case.
 ###

The Cuba Study Group is a non-profit, non-partisan organization, comprised of business and professional individuals with a deeply rooted love for Cuba and the Cuban people. We aim to put our collective experience in leadership skills, problem solving, and wealth creation at the service of the Cuban people. We aim to facilitate change, help empower individuals and promote civil society development.
 
Our mission is to help facilitate peaceful change in Cuba leading to a free and open society, respect for human rights and the rule of law, a productive, market-based economy and the reunification of the Cuban nation.


Posted in Blog | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

BIDEN STALLS ON REINSTATING CUBAN REMITTANCES FOR NO GOOD REASON

Excuses for why the US can’t lift Trump restrictions on the cash Americans send their families there are outdated and inaccurate.

July 21, 2021

William LeoGrande

Unprecedented political protests in Cuba on July 11 have forced the issue of Cuba policy to the top of President Biden’s agenda after it languished for months on the backburner. On July 19, the administration announced that it was forming a Working Group on Remittances to explore ways to enable Cuban Americans to help their families on the island. 

However, as a senior official told The Hill, “The administration is focused on only allowing such transfers if we can guarantee that all of the money flows directly into the hands of the Cuban people instead of allowing a portion of the proceeds to be siphoned off into regime coffers.” That echoes what President Biden himself said a few days earlier when he expressed his reluctance to lift President Trump’s sanctions on remittances for fear “the regime would confiscate those remittances or big chunks.”   

Sen. Bob Menendez, an outspoken critic of restoring remittances, has been in direct contact with the White House urging the president not to lift Trump’s sanctions. In a Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing on May 19, Menendez claimed that the Cuban government was “taking 20 percent of remittances to Cuban families, then converting the balance of the remittance to Cuban pesos that are worth a fraction of what Americans send to their families, that can only be used at state-owned stores.” 

That is an inaccurate, outdated account of how the flow of remittances works, who benefits, and how the Cuban government uses the dollars that flow into the country. Before July 2020, the Cuban government did capture the lion’s share of remittances. In 2004, it began charging a 10 percent tax on US dollars coming into Cuba in the form of cash. Cuban officials justified this as necessary to cover the cost of circumventing the U.S. embargo to use dollars in the international financial system. The tax did not apply to wire transfers of dollars, or to other convertibles currencies, so Cuban Americans could avoid it entirely by using these other options. 

From 2004 to 2020, dollars were not legal tender in Cuba, so Cubans had to exchange dollars for Cuban convertible pesos, or CUC, to spend them, an exchange for which the government charged a three-percent fee. A Cuban could then use CUC to buy certain imported goods, mostly durable consumer goods that were only available for purchase in convertible pesos. The mark-ups were notoriously high—upwards of 200 percent.

Adding up all the fees and markups, it was fair to say that the Cuban government was extracting more than half the real value from dollar remittances. But that changed in July 2020.

The Cuban economy was in recession amid the pandemic, and the government was short of foreign exchange currency to import basic necessities. To create more of an incentive for Cuban Americans to send remittances, the government abolished the 10 ten-percent tax on dollars entirely. Today, Cubans can deposit remittances in a debit card account and can use the card in stores that sell goods priced in dollars. There is no 10 percent tax, no requirement that dollars be exchanged for Cuban pesos, and no exchange fee. 

For now, Cubans who have dollars in cash and want to exchange them for pesos cannot do it officially. The banks are not taking cash dollar deposits because the government has trouble spending U.S. currency abroad due to Washington’s unilateral financial sanctions. But Cubans can exchange their dollars for pesos on the street at almost triple the official exchange rate.

Markups in the hard currency stores, especially for basic consumer staples, are much reduced from what they were in the CUC stores. This is the result of market forces, not the government’s benevolence. Before the pandemic, entrepreneurs travelled abroad to buy consumer goods, bringing them back to Cuba and selling them privately at prices below the CUC prices in state stores. An estimated 25 million dollars per month in foreign exchange currency was leaving the country through these private channels. The competition forced the government to reduce prices in the state stores to win back market share. 

As a result of the July 2020 policy changes, the only profit the Cuban government currently makes on remittances wired to Cuba is this markup on goods sold in the hard currency stores.

What does the government do with the money? The dollars it takes in flow right back out to finance imports. First, the government has to import goods to restock the shelves in the hard currency stores. The profit from the stores finances general imports, about a third of which are food and other consumer goods, and another third are fuel. (Cuba imports 70 percent of its food and 59 percent of its fuel.) 

Fifty-six percent of Cuban families received remittances before Trump’s sanctions; the rest depend on social assistance or their ration cards to buy food and other staples at low prices subsidized by the state, a 30 billion peso annual expense for the government (worth about  1.25 billion dollars at the official exchange rate of 24:1). A high-end estimate of the remittances going to Cuba before Trump closed the spigot was 3.5 billion dollars, so whatever profit the government is earning in the hard currency stores is certainly less than what it spends to import the basic goods it provides at subsidized prices to Cubans who don’t receive help from family abroad.

In short, the Cuban government is not gaining windfall profits from remittances. There is no way to prevent the Cuban government from receiving those dollars when Cuban recipients spend them, so if that’s the condition the Biden administration envisions, then nothing will change. But if the goal is simply to assure that the government is not extracting value in excess of normal business expenses, then that condition is already being met. 

President Biden says he “stands with the Cuban people.” Immediately reopening the channel for Cuban Americans to send remittances to their families is the single most important thing he can do to prove it. 

Pro-government counter-protesters in Cienfuegos

Posted in Blog | Tagged , | Leave a comment

THE MASK SLIPS: THE CAUSES OF CUBA’S UPRISING LIE AT HOME

Joe Biden should scrap Donald Trump’s policies and lift the embargo

The Economist, July 15th 2021

Original Article: THE CAUSES OF CUBA’S UPRISING

Thousands of protesters thronged the streets on July 11th. Some stoned the police and looted posh shops. Such outbursts are unprecedented in Cuba since the communists secured their hold on power in the 1960s. “Freedom!” and “Down with the dictatorship!” they chanted, and “Patria y Vida!” (Fatherland and Life), quoting an underground reggaeton song that mocks Fidel Castro’s tired slogan of “Fatherland or Death”.

All this poses an extraordinary challenge to the dull bureaucrats who rule Cuba, after the death of Fidel and the retirement of his younger brother, Raúl, earlier this year. The regime has responded with repression. “Revolutionaries, to the streets,” urged Miguel Díaz-Canel, the president who this year took the helm of the Communist Party, unleashing troops, police and loyalist mobs wielding baseball bats. At least one person was killed. Scores have been detained and the government has sporadically cut access to the internet.

Repression may work in Cuba, as it has elsewhere. But something there has snapped. The tacit contract that kept social peace for six decades is broken. Many Cubans used to put up with a police state because it guaranteed their basic needs, and those with initiative found a way to leave. Now Cubans are fed up. When Mr Díaz-Canel blames the protests on “American imperialism”, all he shows is how out of touch he is. The protesters are young, mainly black and dismiss the Castros’ revolution of 1959 against an American-backed tyrant as ancient history.

They have plenty to complain about. The pandemic has shut off foreign tourism, aggravating the economy’s lack of hard currency. Raúl Castro launched economic reforms, but they were timid and slow, permitting only minuscule private businesses. It was left to Mr Díaz-Canel to take the most momentous step, by ordering a big devaluation in January. Without measures to allow more private investment and growth, that has merely triggered inflation. As its sanctions-hit oil industry collapses, Venezuela, Cuba’s chief foreign patron over the past 15 years, has curbed its cut-price oil shipments, prompting power cuts during the heat of summer. Chronic shortages of food and medicine have become acute. Despite Cuba’s prowess at public health and its development of its own vaccine, the government has failed to contain the pandemic. The sick are dying, abandoned at home or on hospital floors.

Two other factors explain the outburst. One is the change of leadership. The Castros commanded respect even among the many Cubans who abhorred them. Mr Díaz-Canel, without a shred of charisma, does not. And the internet and social media, allowed only in the past few years, have broken the regime’s monopoly of information, connecting younger Cubans to each other and the world. They have empowered a cultural protest movement of artists and musicians. Its message, in the unanswerable lyrics of “Patria y Vida”, is “Your time’s up, the silence is broken…we’re not scared, the deception is over.”

Mr Díaz-Canel faces a choice: to turn Cuba into Belarus with sunshine, or to assuage discontent by allowing more private enterprise and greater cultural freedom. That could weaken the army and the Communist Party, but it would eventually salvage some of the revolution’s original social gains.

Curiously, many Republicans in the United States echo Mr Díaz-Canel’s description of America’s role in the protests. President Donald Trump tightened the economic embargo against Cuba, barring American tourists, curbing remittances and slapping sanctions on state firms, largely reversing Barack Obama’s opening to the island. Like Cuba’s president, Republicans argue that the unrest proves the embargo is working at last.

Not so. True, the embargo has made life harder for the Cuban government. But its restrictions mainly hurt Americans. The regime can still buy American food and medicine and trade with the world. The causes of Cuba’s social explosion lie at home.

Open the windows

Joe Biden should draw the obvious conclusion. So far he has left Mr Trump’s Cuba policy intact, so as not to annoy hawkish Cuban-Americans. Instead he should return to Mr Obama’s approach. The big threat to a closed regime is engagement with the world, especially the United States. Mr Biden should lift the embargo and deprive the regime of an excuse for its own failures. 

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

BIDEN ORDERS REVIEW OF REMITTANCES TO CUBA

By Kevin Liptak and Paul LeBlanc,

CNN, July 19, 2021

Washington (CNN)President Joe Biden has directed his administration to examine remittances to Cuba in the wake of protests on the island to determine ways for those residing in the US to send money to the country, a senior administration official told CNN.

“At President Biden’s direction, the United States is actively pursuing measures that will both support the Cuban people and hold the Cuban regime accountable,” the official said.

The “Remittance Working Group” will work to “identify the most effective way to get remittances directly into the hands of the Cuban people,” the official said.

Biden had said last week he believed that under the current circumstances, remittances — the practice of Americans transferring money to their Cuban relatives — would end up in the hands of the regime. But since then he’s faced pressure to show solidarity with protesters.

Cuba’s government controls the financial sector on the island and all communications. Getting around the government to send money or improve internet access is a challenge other US administrations have tried and failed to overcome.

But the issue has taken on increased urgency in recent days alongside the largest protests on the island in decades. Thousands of Cubans took to the streets across the nation this month to protest chronic shortages of basic goods, curbs on civil liberties and the government’s handling of a worsening coronavirus outbreak, marking the most significant unrest in decades.

The State Department also is reviewing its plans to bolster staffing at the US Embassy in Havana “to facilitate diplomatic, consular and civil society engagement, and an appropriate security posture,” the official said.

The White House is exploring whether to sanction “Cuban officials responsible for violence, repression and human rights violations against peaceful protesters in Cuba,” the official said. The US will “intensify diplomatic engagement with regional and international partners to support the aspirations of the Cuban people.”

Last week, Biden said he was looking into the potential for restoring internet access to Cuba. The official said Monday that the US would “work closely with the private sector and the US Congress to identify viable options to make the internet more accessible to the Cuban people.”

Since Biden’s arrival in office, Cuba policies have remained in review.

Under the Obama administration, Cuba oversaw the reopening of embassies and relaxing of many restrictions long in place since the embargo. But the Trump administration enacted some of the toughest economic measures against Cuba in decades, reinstated travel restrictions and — before leaving office — named Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism.

Posted in Blog | Tagged , | Leave a comment

HOW BIDEN SHOULD RESPOND TO THE CRISIS IN CUBA

Those pushing for regime change should be careful what they wish for.

July 15, 2021


William LeoGrande

The greatest threat to U.S. national interests in Cuba is the possibility, however slim, that U.S. policy there will succeed.

Sixty-two years ago this month, the Eisenhower administration concluded that Fidel Castro’s revolutionary regime was incompatible with the national interests of the United States. Washington has been actively trying to destabilize it ever since. Even during the two-year hiatus from 2014 to 2016 when President Obama began normalizing relations, the U.S. government spent millions of dollars on “democracy promotion” programs to bolster the Cuban opposition.

But fostering misery and chaos in Cuba in pursuit of regime change is not cost-free for Washington. Although the Cuban government is not on the verge of collapse, the economic situation on the island is desperate — as bad it has been since the deep depression of the “Special Period” in the 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The recent anti-government demonstrations in Havana and a dozen other cities, some of which involved violence and looting, are a reminder that many Cubans are deeply discontented with the economic and political status quo. The possibility of further social unrest is real.

In Washington, the protests have given new life to the pipedream that the Cuban regime is on its last legs, prompting calls from various quarters for the Biden administration to administer the coup de grâce. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) called on Biden to “challenge” the Cuban regime by appealing to the Cuban military to overthrow it. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) warned of a “horrific bloodbath” unless Biden toughens his policy toward the island.

The last time the Cuban economy was in such bad shape, regime collapse seemed imminent. An August 1993, a CIA National Intelligence Estimate predicted “a better than even chance that Fidel Castro’s government will fall within the next few years.” But this was no cause for celebration, as the intelligence report explained: “If Cuban authorities lose control, massive, panicky illegal emigration toward the United States will occur,” it warned. “There would also be pressure for US or international military intervention, especially if a large number of exiles became involved on the island.”

The CIA’s dire warning led Rick Nuccio to sound the alarm in a memo to his boss, Assistant Secretary of State Alec Watson. “The fundamental security threat facing the United States in Cuba is a societal crisis that leads to widespread violence. Such a development is the most likely to produce either significant outflows of refugees, or active involvement of U.S. forces and/or Cuban Americans in Cuba.” Another of Watson’s advisers, Phil Peters, tried to jolt the administration into action, writing, “Given the situation on the island, I would argue that policy continuity, or even marginal change, is not the low-risk option. It’s positively scary.”

Nuccio and Peters had different ideas about what ought to be done; Nuccio wanted to focus on building Cuban civil society to promote a peaceful transition to democracy, whereas Peters favored relaxing some sanctions and engaging with the Cuban government. Other State Department officials argued for turning up the heat to accelerate regime collapse.

President Bill Clinton, however, was more focused on politics in Miami than on developments in Havana, so months went by without any coordinated U.S. policy response to the deepening crisis on the island. By the summer of 1994, it was too late. A riot on the Havana waterfront, not unlike some of the demonstrations last weekend, was followed by the “rafters” migration crisis.

Echoes of these dangers can be heard today. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez has called for U.S. intervention in response to the protests on the island, while Cuban American demonstrators blocked the Palmetto Expressway demanding an end to the Cuban regime. (They were not arrested, despite violating Gov. DeSantis’ new anti-riot law). Social media spread proposals to open a “humanitarian corridor” into Cuba, even though the Cuban government is already accepting humanitarian assistance. At sea, the U.S. Coast Guard is intercepting a growing number of Cubans trying to reach the United States in small boats and rafts.

Another cost of the sanctions President Trump imposed on Cuba — sanctions Biden has left in place — is a deterioration in counter-narcotics cooperation. Until 1998, Cuban air space and territorial waters were a blind spot that traffickers could exploit to evade the U.S. Coast Guard. But a Clinton era agreement establishing cooperation was so effective that traffickers shifted to routes through Mexico.

For the past decade the U.S. Southern Command, in its annual Posture Statement, has cited transnational crime, especially drug trafficking, as one of the top threats to U.S. security in the Hemisphere. Yet the Trump administration halted consultations between the Coast Guard and Cuban Border Guards, and U.S. sanctions have left the Cubans without the fuel they need to patrol their coasts.

The steps President Biden could take to reduce the danger of worse social unrest in Cuba and to safeguard U.S. security interests would not require any radical new initiatives. The United States and Cuba already have bilateral cooperation agreements on law enforcement, narcotics interdiction, and migration. Biden simply has to reactivate them and hold up Washington’s end of the bargain, especially the U.S. obligation to give Cubans a minimum of 20,000 immigrant visas annually so Cubans have a safe, legal way to emigrate rather than risking their lives at sea.

Cuban Americans have been able to send remittances to family on the island ever since Jimmy Carter was in the White House — until Donald Trump cut them off as one of his final acts in office. President Biden could restore the ability to send remittances with a stroke of the pen, sending urgently needed relief to millions of Cuban families.

The rapid spread of COVID in Cuba is a natural disaster worse than the hurricanes that periodically ravage the island. Previous U.S. presidents, including George W. Bush, who could not be accused of being soft on Cuban communism, have offered Cuba humanitarian aid in the face of such disasters — aid channeled both through non-governmental organizations and to the government directly.

There is no reason President Biden’s pledge to combat COVID globally should exclude Cuba. “This is about our responsibility,” he said in June, “our humanitarian obligation to save as many lives as we can — and our responsibility to our values.” Four U.S. Catholic bishops recently called upon international governments to provide Cuba with the medical supplies they need to cope with COVID, calling it “a moral imperative.” Private humanitarian relief efforts to have been heroic but inadequate. Rather than spending millions to subvert the Cuban government, USAID should be spending the money to help vaccinate the Cuban people.

President Obama made the point succinctly on December 17, 2014 when he announced his decision to shift from a policy of regime change to one of engagement: “It does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse,” he argued. “Even if that worked – and it hasn’t for 50 years – we know from hard-earned experience that countries are more likely to enjoy lasting transformation if their people are not subjected to chaos.”

Posted in Blog | Tagged , | Leave a comment

CUBA STUDY GROUP

July 2021

The Cuba Study Group: A non-profit, non-partisan organization comprised of business and community leaders of Cuban descent who share a common interest and vision of a free Cuba. Washington DC

We call on the #Biden administration to restore support for the Cuban people by prioritizing policies that focus on reinstating travel, reauthorizing remittances, re-opening consular services in #Havana, collaborating on COVID-19 solutions, and supporting #Cuba‘s private sector.

Posted in Blog | Tagged , | Leave a comment

HUMAN RIGHTS WON’T HAPPEN IN A VACUUM IN CUBA

Normalizing relations with the island would go a long way towards promoting one of the president’s “core pillars” of US foreign policy.

June 17, 2021

Original Article: in RESPONSIBLE STATECRAFT

William LeoGrande

(Washington Post, December 18, 2014)

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki made headlines on March 9, when she said that Cuba was “not currently among President Biden’s top priorities.” The second half of her answer got less attention, though it was equally significant: “…but we are committed to making human rights a core pillar of our U.S. policy.” Shortly thereafter, a senior official reaffirmed her comment, saying that the president would “make human rights a fundamental pillar of his foreign policy,” not just in Cuba but across the Americas. 

This is no surprise. Biden has been an advocate for human rights throughout his political career, and this position on Cuba echoes what he said during the campaign. But human rights policies don’t happen in a vacuum; they are one component of a broader bilateral relationship and their effectiveness depends upon that context. 

Biden acknowledged as much when he criticized President Trump for imposing tougher economic sanctions against Cuba, arguing they had “inflicted harm on the Cuban people and done nothing to advance democracy and human rights.” That was also the central argument President Barack Obama advanced for his 2014 policy of normalizing relations with Havana—that sixty years of trying to promote democracy through coercive diplomacy simply had not worked.

Cuban leaders have always rejected foreign demands that they reform their politics. To them, such demands are an infringement on Cuba’s sovereignty. When U.S.-Cuban relations deteriorate and Washington tightens the embargo, the Cuban government reacts like most governments under attack by foreign enemies. A siege mentality takes hold and internal dissent is regarded as akin to treason — a reaction exacerbated by Washington’s material support for some dissidents, which puts all dissidents under suspicion of being Fifth Columnists. 

But the history of Havana’s relations with both the United States and the European Union also shows that when relations are warming, Cuban leaders have acted unilaterally to improve human rights in order to reinforce the positive momentum. President Jimmy Carter put human rights at the center of his foreign policy, and, when he opened a dialogue with Havana, Fidel Castro released more than 2,000 political prisoners, many jailed since the early 1960s. Castro’s negotiator told U.S. officials the gesture was explicitly a response to Carter’s concern about human rights and his willingness to improve relations.

In President Bill Clinton’s second term, he took steps to reduce tensions by relaxing the embargo on travel and on cultural, educational, and scientific exchanges. In Cuba, the government’s repression of dissidents eased noticeably, prompting the senior U.S. diplomat in Havana, Vicki Huddleston, to describe it as a “Cuban Spring” — an opening that closed again when President George W. Bush returned to a policy of hostility.

When President Raúl Castro was trying to negotiate a new economic cooperation agreement with the European Union in 2010, he responded positively to requests from Cardinal Jaime Ortega of the Cuban Catholic Church and Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos to release 52 political prisoners jailed since 2003 for allegedly collaborating with the Bush administration’s regime change policy.

As part of Castro’s agreement with President Obama to begin normalizing relations, Castro released 53 prisoners that were of interest to the United States because of their anti-regime political activity. He also kept a promise to accelerate the expansion of Internet access on the island, which fostered the emergence of independent blogs and news services that increased the Cuban public’s access to information unfiltered by state media. Cuban private businesses flourished during this period, something the Obama administration regarded as an important vehicle for expanding economic freedom on the island and freeing Cubans from dependence on a state salary.

The lesson for the Biden administration as it conducts its review of Cuba policy is two-fold. First, not only does heightened coercion not produce human rights gains in Cuba, it makes the situation worse. Second, a policy of engagement that improves bilateral relations overall creates an atmosphere in which human rights progress is more likely — not guaranteed, but more likely. 

By no means does engagement mean abandoning the U.S. commitment to human rights. Administration officials can and should continue to emphasize the centrality of human rights to the president’s overall foreign policy, underscoring that engagement will advance faster and farther if the human rights situation on the island improves. 

A policy of engagement will enable Washington to resume the bilateral dialogue with Havana on human rights that President Obama began and President Trump abandoned. It will also make it possible for the United States to coordinate with our European allies, who have an ongoing consultation with Cuba on human rights issues under the terms of the Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement the European Union signed with Cuba in 2016. 

No one should expect these conversations to be easy, but they provide a forum in which the United States can directly raise issues of concern, ranging from prison conditions, the harassment of dissidents, and the demonization of independent media, to the conditions under which Cuban medical personnel serve abroad and the discriminatory treatment of Cuban Americans visiting the island.  

In 1975, the United States, the Soviet Union, and the countries of Europe signed the Helsinki Accords aimed at reducing Cold War tensions. Critics argued that the agreement rewarded the Soviet Union because it recognized the political status quo in Europe. But the accord’s real significance turned out to be the human rights provisions. Though unenforceable, they created an ongoing opportunity for human rights discussion and debate among the signatories, and they legitimized the demands of human rights advocates inside individual countries. In short, détente created the conditions that made human rights progress possible. That’s a precedent the Biden administration should keep in mind as it formulates a new policy toward Cuba.

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

HOW BIDEN’S INACTION IS AGGRAVATING CUBA’S FOOD CRISIS

If President Biden wants to support human rights in Cuba and empower the Cuban people, he can start by alleviating the food crisis by ending Trump’s prohibition on remittances and restoring the right of U.S. residents to travel.

By William M. LeoGrande May 27, 2021

Original Article,  in Common Dreams,

While President Joe Biden dithers about when or whether to keep his campaign promise to roll back Donald Trump’s economic sanctions on Cuba, people on the island are going hungry. Cuba imports 70 percent of its food and its foreign exchange earnings have plummeted due to the cut-off of remittances by Trump and the closure of the tourism industry by COVID-19. Increases in world market prices for food have aggravated an already precarious situation, producing severe shortages and a looming humanitarian crisis. 

Hunger has been a weapon in Washington’s arsenal against Cuba ever since Dwight D. Eisenhower sat in the White House. In January 1960, Ike suggested blockading the island, arguing, “If they (the Cuban people) are hungry, they will throw Castro out.” In April 1960, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Lester D. Mallory proposed, “Every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba…to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”

Even though the United States no longer prohibits the sale of food to Cuba, by intensifying economic sanctions, Washington impedes Cuba’s ability to earn enough money to buy adequate food supplies from anywhere.

President John F. Kennedy imposed the most comprehensive economic embargo that the United States has ever imposed on any country, including prohibitions on both food and medicine sales. The core of that embargo has remained in place ever since.

From 1975 to 1992, Cuba could buy goods from the subsidiaries of U.S. companies in third countries. Ninety percent of the $700 million in goods Cuba bought annually was food and medicine. President George H. W. Bush, with presidential candidate Bill Clinton’s support, signed the 1992 Cuban Democracy Act, cutting off those sales just as the Cuban economy collapsed due to the loss of Soviet aid. Cubans went hungry then, too. “Food shortages and distribution problems have caused malnutrition and disease,” the CIA reported in August 1993.

The Trump administration’s campaign of “maximum pressure” was designed to block Cuba’s sources of foreign exchange earnings by limiting U.S. travel, remittances, and Cuba’s earnings from the export of medical services. The goal, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told European diplomats, was to “starve” the island to bring down the regime. So far, President Biden has left all these sanctions in place.

Even though the United States no longer prohibits the sale of food to Cuba, by intensifying economic sanctions, Washington impedes Cuba’s ability to earn enough money to buy adequate food supplies from anywhere. Moreover, by exacerbating food shortages, forcing Cubans to stand in line for hours in the midst of the pandemic, U.S. policy also impedes Cuba’s ability to control the spread of COVID.

The international community regards using food as an instrument of coercion to be a violation of international humanitarian law. In 2018, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to approve Resolution 2417, which condemns the deliberate deprivation of food “in conflict situations” as a threat to international peace and security. Resolution 2417 focuses on armed conflicts, but the underlying principle is no less applicable to conflicts in which one country has the ability to impose food insecurity on another, even without the use of armed force.

The international community has also made clear what it thinks of the U.S. embargo. Since 1992, the United Nations General Assembly has annually voted overwhelmingly for a resolution calling on the United States to lift the embargo because of its “adverse effects…on the Cuban people.” In 2019, the vote was 187 in favor, three against (the United States, Israel, and Brazil). 

The Biden administration has yet to complete its review of Cuba policy, but officials, when asked, never fail to say that it will center on democracy, human rights, and “empowering the Cuban people.” In his confirmation hearing, Brian Nichols, Biden’s nominee to be Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, declared, “We should be focusing our efforts on what is best for the Cuban people.”

No long, drawn out policy review is needed to recognize that there is a food crisis in Cuba due in part to U.S. policies, and that helping alleviate it is a moral obligation—an extension of the responsibility to protect.

On Cuban Independence Day, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken addressed the Cuban people directly, assuring them, “We recognize the challenges many of you face in your daily lives,” and pledged, “We will support those improving the lives of families and workers.”

Fine sentiments, but their sincerity is belied by the Trump-era sanctions that the Biden administration has done nothing to change, sanctions that make the daily lives of Cuban families harder. Having enough to eat is a basic human right, too, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt affirmed when he included “Freedom from Want” among his “Four Freedoms.” Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the United States signed, includes adequate food as a right.

If President Biden wants to support human rights in Cuba and empower the Cuban people, he can start by alleviating the food crisis by ending Trump’s prohibition on remittances and restoring the right of U.S. residents to travel. Remittances put money directly into the pockets of Cuban families. Restoring the right to travel will help Cuba’s ailing private sector recover post-COVID. The resulting inflow of foreign exchange currency will enable the government to import more food, especially for marginalized populations—single mothers, the elderly, and the poor—who have no direct access to hard currency.

There is no excuse for delay. No long, drawn out policy review is needed to recognize that there is a food crisis in Cuba due in part to U.S. policies, and that helping alleviate it is a moral obligation—an extension of the responsibility to protect. Moreover, these are actions Biden promised he would take during the presidential campaign. Every day he delays is another day that Cubans go hungry.

William M. LeoGrande is Professor of Government at American University in Washington, DC, and co-author with Peter Kornbluh of Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana (University of North Carolina Press, 2015).

Posted in Blog | Tagged , | Leave a comment

ON ANNIVERSARY OF OBAMA VISIT, CUBANS FRET OVER WHETHER BIDEN WILL RESUME DETENTE

Reuters, March 19, 20213:11 By Reuters Staff

Original Article

HAVANA (Reuters) – Five years after former U.S. President Barack Obama’s historic visit to Havana, many Cubans hope Joe Biden will also pursue detente but fret he will not do so as energetically after recent White House announcements.

Obama visited Havana in March 2016, the first trip by a U.S. president to Cuba in 88 years. It was the culmination of a diplomatic opening towards the Communist-run country, seeking to put an end to years of Cold War-era hostility.

His successor Donald Trump unraveled that detente and tightened the crippling U.S. trade embargo on Cuba, arguing that he would force democratic change.

Biden, who was vice president under Obama, vowed during his campaign to reverse Trump’s policy shifts that “have inflicted harm on the Cuban people and done nothing to advance democracy and human rights.”

But the White House said earlier this month a broader Cuba policy shift was not currently among Biden’s top priorities, even if it was “carefully reviewing policy decisions made in the prior administration, including the decision to designate Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism.”

“I am very concerned that Biden will not continue in the same vein as Obama and will allow himself to be influenced by the politics of Cubans in Miami,” said retired Cuban economist Ileana Yarza.

Trump may have lost last year’s election but he did win the swing state of Florida, in part due to a Republican campaign to paint Biden as in hock to the radical left, a charge that hit home with the state’s large Cuban-American population.

The Cuban economy is now suffering its worst crisis since the fall of former benefactor the Soviet Union, partly due to a slew of new U.S. sanctions under Trump which ended cruises to Havana, limited flights, reduced remittances and dampened foreign investment.

Families separated by the Florida Straits are more divided than ever after he reduced the Havana embassy to skeletal staffing, following a series of unexplained illnesses among diplomats. Consular services for Cubans have been moved to third countries.

Sarah Batista, who runs a souvenir crafts shop in Old Havana, said private entrepreneurs like her had especially benefited from the detente and ensuing tourism boom.  “With Trump, please! Everything has been declining, you know? And now with the pandemic it is even more so,” she said.  “Hopefully, with this other president (Biden), we can have the same luck and the same opportunity that we had with Obama.”

The U.S. sanctions have hurt a state-run economy already smarting from its own inefficiencies and a decline in aid from ally Venezuela.   Proponents of the sanctions say it is these and the resulting economic squeeze that have forced Cuba to pick up market-style reforms once again lately. Critics underscore the cost to a population dealing with shortages of basic goods like food and medicine.

Analysts say it is still early days and Biden has many more pressing foreign policy issues after four years of the turbulent Trump presidency. But for Cubans, every extra day counts.

“In fact, already, the policies aren’t the same because there are no new sanctions,” said Carlos Alzugaray, a former Cuban diplomat.  “But everything that the previous (Trump) administration did that stands in the way of a return to the path of normalization has not begun to be reversed.”

Black flags outside the US Embassy in Havana, placed there by the Cuban Government, 1990s
Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment