Fidel Castro must be laughing in his grave for the
damage that the two Cuban-American Senators, Rubio and Cruz, have helped to
inflict on the United States.
In the words of Senator McConnell
“The people who stormed
this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instruction of their
president. And their having that belief was a foreseeable consequence of the
growing crescendo of false statements, conspiracy theories, and reckless
hyperbole which the defeated president kept shouting into the largest megaphone
on planet Earth. The issue is not only the president’s intemperate language on
January 6 … It was also the entire manufactured atmosphere of looming
catastrophe, the increasingly wild myths about a reverse landslide election
that was somehow being stolen by some secret coup by our now-president.” (M. McConnell, 13, Feb. 2021
This was in effect the Majority case for the
impeachment of Donald Trump. (But just before this, McConnell had voted to acquit
former President Trump. His argument was
basically that Trump was no longer president – though as we all know he had
made it impossible for the Senate to take Trump to trial while he was still President. Unbelievable duplicity and hypocrisy.)
After being nastily abused by Trump and after criticizing
Trump sharply during the 2016 election, both Marco Rubio Ted Cruz sucked up to
Trump. They supported him and his behaviour at virtually all times on almost
all issues. They were and are cowardly sycophants of the ex. president. They were
his enablers and co-conspirators before and after the 2020 election. Their
failure to fulfill their oaths of office and defend democracy in the United States
The names of Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, along with 41
other Republican senators, will live in infamy. Fidel Castro in his grave would be pleased as
would his current inheritors.
Washington D.C., February 10,
2021 – The Trump administration’s response to the
mysterious health episodes experienced by intelligence and diplomatic personnel
in Havana, Cuba, in late 2016 and 2017 was plagued by mismanagement, poor
leadership, lack of coordination, and a failure to follow established
procedures, according to a formerly secret internal State Department review
posted today by the National Security Archive. “The Department of State’s
response to these incidents was characterized by a lack of senior leadership,
ineffective communications, and systemic disorganization,” states the executive
summary of the report, compiled by an internal Accountability Review Board
(ARB) after a four-month investigation in 2018. “No senior official was ever
designated as having overall responsibility,” the report noted in a thinly
veiled indictment of then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s role, “which
resulted in many of the other issues this report presents.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s
last-minute ploys to poison the well of foreign relations with China, Iran and
Cuba will force President Joe Biden to make repairing foreign policy a
priority. China and Iran are intrinsically more important than Cuba, which
poses no real threat to the United States. Nevertheless, there are good reasons
for the president to move quickly to re-engage with Cuba as he promised during
Cuba is a
high-profile foreign policy issue because it played such an out-sized role as a
focal point of Cold War tensions between the United States and the Soviet
Union. President Obama’s 2014 opening attracted global attention and praise as
a historic achievement akin to President Richard Nixon’s opening to China.
Quick action to re-engage with Cuba will send the message that Biden intends to
have an active foreign policy, re-engaging with both allies and adversaries and
rebuilding U.S. stature in the world.
the humanitarian situation on the island justifies early action. The Trump
administration has caused real hardship by blocking travel and the flow of
remittances to Cuban families. If the new administration delays in fulfilling
Biden’s campaign promise to reverse those sanctions, it will prolong the
suffering of Cuban families unnecessarily.
is also the best way to support human rights. Although Cuban leaders have never
been willing to make concessions about internal affairs in order to mollify
Washington, human rights conditions in Cuba have been linked to
U.S.-Cuban relations historically. When relations have improved, the human
rights situation has improved as well; when relations have deteriorated, Cuban
leaders’ heightened sense of threat has led to crackdowns on dissent. The best
way to exert a positive influence on human rights in Cuba is to re-engage with
the Cuban government while, at the same time, continuing to express our basic
commitment to democracy and human rights.
crisis in Venezuela poses another humanitarian challenge. The hardship endured
by Venezuelans and the migration pressure on neighboring countries demands
Trump’s failed policy of regime change has made matters worse, underscoring the
reality that the only path back to democracy in Venezuela is through a
negotiated political settlement. Given Cuba’s support for Nicolas Maduro’s government,
Cuban cooperation will be necessary to achieve a Venezuelan settlement, just as
it was necessary for ending the conflict in southern Africa in the 1980s. By
re-engaging with Cuba sooner rather than later, the Biden administration can
begin to create the conditions for progress in Venezuela.
speaking, the upcoming Ninth Summit of the Americas, scheduled for late 2021
and hosted by the United States, is a decision-forcing event that will compel
the new administration to formulate its policy toward Latin America, including
Cuba. The summit will also provide an opportunity for President Biden to meet
Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel — a meeting that would be more productive if
the new administration has already taken steps to repair the damage done to
relations by Trump.
the United States may not have as much at stake in relations with Cuba as it
does elsewhere, the bilateral relationship offer a wide variety of
opportunities for cooperation because Cuba is a near-neighbor. During President
Obama’s last two years in office, the United States and Cuba signed 22
bilateral agreements on issue of mutual interests ranging from
counter-narcotics to environmental protection.
contemporary foreign policy issues are transnational and can only be addressed
through cooperation with our neighbors. On most of those issues, U.S. and Cuban
interests coincide; significant progress can be made if Washington returns to a
policy of engagement. For the Biden administration, delaying means delaying opportunities
to advance U.S. interests.
the foreign policy challenges that Biden faces, re-engaging with Cuba is among
the easiest. The basic principles of re-engagement can be laid out quickly
because they were well-defined in then-President Obama’s Oct. 14, 2016 policy directive.
sanction Trump imposed on Cuba was imposed unilaterally by executive authority,
so they all can reversed the same way. Most could be retracted in a single
package simply by returning the regulations that govern the U.S. embargo to
their status on Jan. 20, 2017. A few of Trump’s actions will take longer to
repair — removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism and
re-staffing the U.S. embassy in Havana. But much can be done in the meantime.
Since Biden’s election, Cuban leaders have expressed their interest in a better relationship based on cooperation and mutual respect. Washington should not wait for Havana to take the initiative. Trump broke off engagement with Cuba, so Biden should take the first steps to restore it — the sooner the better.
In 11th hour move, U.S. State Secretary Pompeo returns Cuba to State Sponsors of Terrorism List
As anticipated for months, “the State
Department designated Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism on [January 11] in
a last-minute foreign policy stroke that will complicate the incoming Biden
administration’s plans to restore friendlier relations with Havana. In
a statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cited Cuba’s hosting of 10
Colombian rebel leaders, along with a handful of American fugitives wanted
for crimes committed in the 1970s, and Cuba’s support for the authoritarian
leader of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro. Mr. Pompeo said the action sent the
message that ‘the Castro regime must end its support for international
terrorism and subversion of U.S. justice.’ The action, announced with
just days remaining in the Trump administration, reverses a step taken in
2015 after President Barack Obama restored diplomatic relations with Cuba,
calling its decades of political and economic isolation a relic of the Cold
War.” (The New York Times, January 11, 2020)
“The inclusion of Cuba on the blacklist alongside North Korea, Syria and
Iran is the culmination of the ‘maximum pressure’ campaign launched by the
Trump administration to punish the Cuban government for its support of
Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro and to dismantle the engagement policies
of former President Barack Obama.” (Miami Herald, January 11, 2021)
“[The] reaction in Havana was swift and vociferous. The Cuban government
accused Washington of hypocrisy, and called the label an act of ‘political
opportunism’ by President Trump to obstruct relations between Cuba and the
incoming administration of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. Beyond
indignation, though, Cubans are ready to move on, a sentiment underlined by
their president, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, who tweeted on Tuesday that
the American decision had been made in ‘the death throes of a failed and
corrupt administration.’” (The New York Times, January 12, 2021)
Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs: “If a country risks being
placed on a terrorism list as a result of facilitating peace efforts, it
could set a negative precedent for international peace efforts.”: ‘The
Trump administration’s decision to include Cuba on the State Sponsors of
Terrorism List is regrettable. Placing Cuba on the list will make it
difficult to normalise relations between the US and Cuba, and will impede
efforts to promote positive change and development in Cuba,’ said
[Norway’s] Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Søreide. ‘We note that
one of the reasons given for placing Cuba on the list is that the
negotiating delegation from the Colombian guerrilla movement National
Liberation Army (ELN) has remained in Cuba after peace negotiations between
the ELN and the Colombian Government broke down in January 2019. Cuba has
been Norway’s partner in the Colombian peace process. It is unreasonable
that the outgoing US administration holds the Cuban government responsible
for the delegation not being able to leave Cuba. If a country risks being placed
on a terrorism list as a result of facilitating peace efforts, it could set
a negative precedent for international peace efforts,’ said Ms Eriksen
Søreide.” [Norway Ministry of Foreign Affairs Press Release,
January 13, 2021)
OUR TAKE: “There is no compelling, factual basis to merit the
designation. Instead it appears to be another shameless, last-ditch effort
to hamstring the foreign policy of the incoming Biden administration and
set the stage for the next election in Florida, all at the expense of the
Cuban people and relations between our countries…It can take months for
the incoming Biden administration to reverse this measure, as the State
Department must first order a review of the designation and then submit a
report to the U.S. Congress justifying a decision to rescind at least 45
days before the rescission would take effect. We call on the Biden
administration to order an apolitical review of this designation
immediately upon taking office, and reverse all executive orders imposed by
the Trump administration that have pointlessly inflicted immeasurable harm
to the Cuban people over the past four years.” Read the Cuba Study Group’s
full statement here.
“The designation could also limit the range of exports from the U.S. to
Cuba, including software and technology and other items for the support of
the Cuban people, said Ric Herrero, executive director of the Cuba Study
Group. In addition, it triggers a Florida state law prohibiting state
universities from using state funds for travel or research activities in
blacklisted countries.” (Miami Herald, January 11, 2021)
“Contrary to what Trump and his advisers declare, not only the business
network ‘controlled by the military’ will suffer the effects: ‘One of
the new restrictions resulting from this designation is related to the export
of software and technology from the United States to Cuba even its private
sector, which largely prefers American over Chinese. This is no way to
support tech entrepreneurs (or our national security),’ tweeted the
executive director of the Cuba Study Group, Ricardo Herrero.” (El Toque, January 12, 2021)
“While [the designation] can be reversed, it could nonetheless spell
further economic trouble for the island, which is already suffering its
worst economic contraction since the fall of the Soviet Union. ‘Transactions
with the Republic of Cuba would have an increase in scrutiny, resulting in
fewer governments and companies wanting to engage with it,’ said John
Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, a New
York-based nonpartisan organization. Although the measure does not entail
more economic sanctions, the announcement may further reduce foreign
investment on the island, as most companies prefer to avoid possible fines
or the legal costs of doing business in blacklisted countries. Kavulich
said insurance companies could either suspend coverage of transactions and
operations of ships and aircraft going to Cuba, or increase prices.” (Miami Herald, January 11, 2021)
Days later, the Trump administration also sanctioned Cuba’s
Ministry of the Interior (MININT) and its minister General Álvarez Casas: “The
Trump administration sanctioned Cuba’s interior minister and the agency
overseeing the island’s state security apparatus Friday in a final push to
punish the island’s government before leaving office. The U.S. Treasury
Department accused Brigadier General Lázaro Alberto Álvarez Casas of
‘serious human rights abuses’ in making the designation. Also sanctioned is
the Ministry of the Interior, which oversees the prison system, police and
state security agency…The Treasury Department sanction freezes any U.S.
assets. The list includes individuals and companies sanctioned for drug
trafficking, terrorism, human rights violations, and other crimes.
Companies or individuals under U.S. jurisdiction cannot engage in
transactions with those blacklisted. The U.S.
government…castigated the Cuban minister under the Global Magnitsky Human
Rights Accountability Act, which carries similar implications.Pompeo
accused Álvarez Casas of being ‘an accomplice in harassing and monitoring
journalists, dissidents, activists, and members of civil society groups,
including more recently members of the San Isidro Movement.’…The new
sanctions could hamper future cooperation between U.S. federal agencies and
MININT, which also includes a Cuban Coast Guard branch. In 2016, during a
brief thaw in relations under then-President Barack Obama, a MININT
delegation visited U.S. military installations in Key West.” (Miami Herald, January 15, 2021)
Biden transition team has “taken note of these last
minute maneuvers”: “An official with Biden’s transition team
said the incoming administration has ‘taken note of these last minute
maneuvers…The transition team is reviewing each one, and the incoming
administration will render a verdict based exclusively on one criterion:
the national interest,’ said the official, speaking on condition of
anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss internal deliberations
on the matter. The incoming president is widely expected to restore at
least some of Obama’s opening with Cuba. While it can be reversed, it could
nonetheless spell further economic trouble for the island, which is already
suffering its worst economic contraction since the fall of the Soviet
Union.” (Miami Herald, January 11, 2021
For the Cuban people, January
20th can’t come soon enough
“Though Mr. Trump’s company had been
looking into investing in Cuba shortly before he took office, as president
he has hit the Communist-ruled island with the harshest sanctions in more
than a half-century. American cruise ships were
prohibited from docking on the island, remittances from the United States
were banned and tankers carrying oil from Venezuela were prevented from
arriving with their cargo. ‘The only thing left is diplomatic relations,’
[Ted Henken of Baruch College] said. ‘We still do officially have diplomatic
relations with Cuba, even though they are on ice in actual practice.’ These
efforts by the Trump administration to reverse the Obama initiatives have
set back the development of the private sector in Cuba and short-circuited
efforts by American businesses that had tried to build relations based on
the Obama détente, he said.” (The New York Times, January 12, 2021)
“Mr. Trump’s hard-line approach to the Cuban leadership has led to an
array of restrictions on tourism, visas, remittances, investments and
commerce, which have worsened an already poor economy. The pandemic has
compounded the problems, in large part by bringing tourism, a major source
of foreign currency, to a grinding halt. Facing profound shortages of
necessities like medicine and food, Cubans have been forced to stand in
lines for hours in the hope of getting their hands on the meager stocks that
exist. Supplies have gotten so thin that the government made it illegal for
people to buy rice beyond their government-restricted monthly allotments.
“Amid this hardship, many in Cuba are hoping that Mr. Biden will shift
American policy in ways that might ease the economic duress. The
president-elect has said little publicly about his policy goals for Cuba,
though during the campaign he attacked Mr. Trump’s approach to Havana,
saying, ‘Cuba is no closer to freedom and democracy today than it was four
years ago.’ And Mr. Biden’s advisers have allowed that a normalization of
relations with Cuba — essentially a return to the Obama-era détente — was
the best strategy for effecting positive change.” (The New York Times, January 12, 2021)
“For the Cuban government and its people, the change in American
presidential administrations can’t come soon enough...Mr. Díaz-Canel
has been mostly silent, at least publicly, on the potential for a thaw
after Mr. Biden takes office. But on Nov. 8, he acknowledged Mr. Biden’s
victory with a suggestion of hope, writing on Twitter: ‘We recognize that
the US people have chosen a new direction in the presidential elections. We
believe in the possibility of having a constructive bilateral relation
while respecting our differences.’” (The New York Times, January 12, 2021)
States Agriculture Coalition for Cuba Encourages Biden Administration to
Improve U.S. / Cuba Agriculture Relations
The United States Agriculture Coalition for Cuba
(USACC) today wrote to President-Elect Biden to urge a return to policies of
engagement toward Cuba, for the sake of the U.S. national interest, to boost
U.S. food exports to Cuba, and to support the development of beneficial relations
between our countries’ agricultural sectors.
The text of the letter follows:
Dear Mr. President-Elect: The undersigned members of
the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba congratulate you on your election
victory and wish you every success in office.
We would like to offer our views on U.S. relations
with our neighbors in Cuba.
We share your view that six decades of economic
sanctions against Cuba have been ineffectual. Our sanctions hurt the Cuban
people, limit American influence in Cuba, and antagonize friends and allies,
while doing nothing to advance any U.S. interest.
A turn to policies of engagement will serve our
national interest and benefit U.S. agriculture, which has long practiced many
forms of engagement on a global scale. Freed of restrictions, we expect that
ties between our agricultural sectors will produce important economic and
humanitarian benefits and contribute to better relations between our peoples
and governments. American strength in agricultural exports has been built over
the years on the principle that all markets matter.
Cuba is an opportunity for U.S. farmers and ranchers:
it imports $2 billion in food each year, less than ten percent from the United
States. U.S. exports of potatoes, wheat, animal feed, dairy, poultry, rice, and
other products stand to grow significantly.
U.S. farmers, businesses, private organizations, NGOs,
and universities can work with Cuban counterparts on the challenges of
increasing productivity, adapting to climate change, and building sound
With Cuba now allowing its private sector to import
and export, and also inviting foreign investment in private farm cooperatives,
the opportunities for Americans to assist in the growth of that private sector
We offer these recommendations.
First, we urge you to resume efforts to normalize
relations. We hope you make clear that neither our principles nor our interests
are served by harming the Cuban economy and increasing hardship for the eleven
million neighbors who live in it. We urge you to inform Congress that your
Administration would welcome legislation to end the embargo entirely, should
Congress choose to act.
Second, we urge early action to restore the Cuban
Asset Control Regulations to those in place January 20, 2017 and to suspend
Title III of the Helms-Burton Act of 1996. These regulatory steps are important
to U.S. agriculture, to business generally, and to any Americans seeking to
make a positive difference. Recent experience shows that U.S. travelers propel
growth across Cuba’s private sector, benefiting many thousands of Cuban
Third, we urge you to support legislation to put U.S.
exporters on an equal footing with our competitors by allowing us to negotiate
trade terms including private financial credit.
Fourth, we urge resuming full operation of our Embassy
in Havana as health considerations permit. The lack of consular and other
operations impedes travel, business, and effective diplomacy. A full Embassy
staff, which we hope will include U.S. Department of Agriculture personnel, can
support continued work on the 2016 agriculture memoranda of understanding,
especially in plant and animal health, and to create conditions for two-way
trade, including Cuban exports. American agriculture supports a Cuba policy
based on our broad national interests, enabling citizens and business across
our country to engage freely.
We are confident that such a course will have strong
bipartisan support, and we urge you to take it.
We appreciate your consideration of our views.
USA Rice Federation
National Corn Growers Association
American Soybean Association
US Grains Council
U.S. Wheat Associates
National Sorghum Producers
National Potato Council
National Association of Wheat
National Onion Association
National Turkey Federation
US Dry Bean Council
Kansas Isbell Farms-England,
Arkansas American Feed Industry
Michigan Agri-Business Association
Minnesota Department of Agriculture
Virginia Department of Agriculture &
Trump has reclassified Cuba
as a “state sponsor of terrorism” in a last-minute move that could complicate
efforts by Joe Biden’s incoming administration to re-engage with Havana.
controversial step was announced by secretary of state Mike Pompeo on
Monday, at the start of Trump’s final full-week in office, and places Cuba
alongside Iran, North Korea and Syria.
justified the move – which reverses Barack
Obama’s 2015 decision to remove Cuba from the list after more than three
decades – by accusing Havana of “repeatedly providing support for acts of
international terrorism in granting safe harbour to terrorists”.
partly a reference to the former Black Panther Assata Shakur who
was jailed in the US for the 1973 killing of a police officer and later
escaped to Cuba where she was granted asylum by its then leader Fidel Castro.
It is also based on Cuba’s refusal to extradite a group of guerrillas from
Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) for alleged involvement in a 2019
bomb attack in Bogotá.
also alleged Cuba was engaging “in a range of malign behaviour across the
region”, highlighting its support for Venezuela’s authoritarian leader Nicolás
Maduro who Trump has unsuccessfully tried to overthrow.
But most observers
and many US allies are unimpressed by Trump administration claims that Cuba is
guilty of sponsoring terrorism.
are trumped up charges,” said Christopher Sabatini, a senior fellow for Latin
America at Chatham House. “Terrorism as an international definition is
committing acts of violence against unarmed civilians intended to frighten the
population. Cuba doesn’t do that. Yes, it represses its own people – but so
does Saudi Arabia.”
said he saw Trump’s move as “a parting gift to hardliners” in Florida and a
deliberate attempt to make life difficult for his successor, who takes office
on 20 January. The same rationale lay behind the
recent decision to lift restrictions on contacts between US officials and
their Taiwanese counterparts, a move that angered Beijing and will be awkward
for Biden to reverse without appearing soft on China.
like when departing armies leave scattered mines in a field,” Sabatini added.
“They are planting these political mines for the Biden administration that will
be very difficult to be rolled back and to lock in, at least temporarily, their
reacted angrily to what its foreign minister, Bruno Rodríguez, called a
“hypocritical and cynical” move. “The US political opportunism is recognized by
those who are honestly concerned about the scourge of terrorism and its
victims,” Rodríguez tweeted.
Herrero, head of the a US-based non-partisan association called Cuba Study
Group, said there was “no factual basis” for Trump’s decision.
a malicious, last-ditch effort to handicap Biden’s foreign policy, and reward
Maga supporters in Florida for sticking with Trump even after he incited
terrorist attacks against the US Congress,” Herrero tweeted.
sanctions will include major restrictions that will bar most travel from the US
to Cuba and transfer of money between the two countries, a significant source
of income for Cubans who have relatives in the United States.
Cuba from the blacklist in 2015 had been one of Obama’s main foreign policy
achievements as he sought better relations with the communist island, an effort
endorsed by Biden as his vice-president. Ties had been essentially frozen after
Fidel Castro took power in 1959 while Cuba had been on the terror list since
1982 because of its support for guerrilla groups.
Iran, Trump has sought to reverse many of Obama’s decisions involving Cuba. He
has taken a tough line on Havana and rolled back many of the sanctions that the
Obama administration had eased or lifted after the restoration of full
diplomatic relations in 2015. Since Trump took office ties have been
increasingly strained, with his administration also suggesting Cuba may have
been behind or allowed alleged attacks that left dozens of US diplomats in
Havana with brain injuries starting in late 2016.
expected to work to improve ties, although immigration and Venezuela’s
economic, political and humanitarian crises are believed to be higher up his
to get back to the policies that were in place at the end of Obama’s term. He
believes that closer connections in trade and personal connections between the
two countries are more likely to lead to political opening and freedoms, as
well as giving the US leverage on other issues, including Venezuela,” Sabatini
said. “This is going to be much more complicated now.”
article last year Biden’s recently appointed chief adviser on Latin
America, Juan S Gonzalez, said
Trump’s policies on Cuba and Venezuela were based on political self-interest
and had failed the people of those countries “by every metric”.
engagement is not a gift to a repressive regime. It is a subversive act to
advance the cause of human rights and empower the Cuban people as protagonists
of their own future,” Gonzalez wrote in the Americas Quarterly
magazine last July.
Joe Biden’s team plans to bring the U.S. closer to normalized relations with
Cuba, reversing many of the sanctions and regulations imposed during the Trump
administration, according to people familiar with the matter.
strategy includes reducing restrictions on travel, investment and remittances
for the island nation that are perceived to disproportionately hurt Americans
and ordinary Cubans, said the people, who requested anonymity because the new
administration is still coming together. Other measures that target Cuba for
human rights abuses would remain in place, the people said.
prospect of a détente between Washington and Havana rekindles memories of the
thaw that Biden helped champion during the Obama administration, when the two
nations restored diplomatic ties that had been broken for decades following
Fidel Castro’s rise to power.
president-elect is returning to an even messier scene: the Cuban economy is suffering
its worst crisis since the collapse of the Soviet
Union amid fallout from Covid-19 and U.S. sanctions. At the same time, Cuban
intelligence officers have helped prop up Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela,
allowing his regime to consolidate its grip on power in defiance of demands for
free and fair elections.
packed domestic agenda, it’s unclear how quickly Biden will move on
implementing his Cuba policy. Even if some changes happen early, the ongoing
Covid-19 lockdown could delay the benefits of any measures that allow for
greater travel to the island. It’s also unclear whether Biden will increase
staffing at the U.S. embassy in Havana. The Trump administration pared back
diplomatic operations after strange illnesses, including brain trauma,
afflicted some U.S. diplomats and their families.
said in October that the U.S. needed a new Cuba policy, though his team has
been firm in condemning efforts by Havana to silence dissidents, including a
recent raid on a house full of activists and artists.
The president-elect has also denounced Venezuela’s Maduro as a dictator. Just as the Trump administration connected Cuba and Venezuela policy, using sanctions as a tool intended to spur political change, Biden’s team may try to leverage a rapprochement in exchange for the Cubans reducing their presence in Venezuela and supporting a diplomatic resolution to the crisis there, according to the people.
complicating factor is Florida. While Biden’s advisers have criticized Trump’s
Latin American policies for being heavily influenced by electoral politics, particularly the goal of
winning the Sunshine State, they still face a sobering reality: The Democratic
Party must defend a narrow House majority in 2022. Any policies that are
perceived as easing pressure on Cuba and Venezuela without getting significant
concessions from their left-wing governments could risk backlash at the polls.
For their part, investors are showing an early vote of confidence in Biden’s potential Cuba policy. The $43 million Herzfeld Caribbean Basin Fund, which is geared toward Cuba and the Caribbean, has surged since the U.S. election.
WASHINGTON- The Washington Office on Latin
America and the Center for Democracy in the Americas
December 17, 2020
Today the Washington Office on Latin America
(WOLA) and the Center for Democracy in the Americas (CDA) are
releasing “The United States and Cuba: A New Policy of Engagement,”
a roadmap for how the Biden-Harris administration can implement a policy of
engagement toward Cuba. Six years after President Barack Obama’s December 17,
2014 announcement that he would begin normalizing relations with Cuba, we
continue to emphasize the importance of engagement to advance the interests of
the U.S. and of the Cuban people. Engagement accomplished more in two years
than the policy of hostility achieved in sixty, and is a more effective strategy
to advance the cause of human rights, political liberty, and economic reform.
Engagement will facilitate family ties, cultural exchange, and commercial
relations, expanding the market for U.S. businesses, raising the standard of
living for the Cuban people, and encouraging economic reform on the island. A
new policy of engagement entails relatively little political risk and has the
potential to mobilize a wide variety of constituencies in support. Our report
expands on why Cuba should be a priority, why a variety of bipartisan
stakeholders including the business community, Congress, and Cuban Americans
support policies of engagement. The roadmap lays out a series of sequenced
recommendations in three sections “Repairing the Damage: The First Nine Months,”
“Taking the Initiative: The Second Year,” and “Finishing the Job: A Legislative
Agenda” detailing how the Biden-Harris administration can move quickly to
implement much-needed change in U.S.-Cuba policy.
One lesson from the Obama years is that a policy based exclusively on executive action is notenduring. As we have witnessed, a new administration can quickly dismantle it. If we hope to persuade the Cuban government that a constructive relationship with the United States is possible and will flourish to the extent that Cuba moves toward a more open political and economic system, Cuban authorities must be convinced that U.S. policy is durable. That will require legislative action to remove some of the constraints on engagement that Congress has enacted over the years, first and foremost the embargo. Ending the embargo is Cuba’s highest priority in its relationship with the United States; so long as the embargo remains in place, progress toward a more normal relationship will be limited.
of which party ultimately holds the majority in the U.S. Senate, the
administration should publicly express support for legislation to end the
embargo, and work with the bipartisan Cuba Working Group in the House and champions
for engagement in the Senate to cultivate congressional leadership on
actions that could gain some Republican support are repeal of the Cuba-related
sections in the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000
(TSRA) that limit travel and agricultural sales.
• Repeal the
prohibition on travel to Cuba that is not expressly licensed in the CACR.
• Repeal the
limits on the use of credits for financing U.S. agricultural sales to Cuba.
additional measures would facilitate commercial ties:
• Repeal Section 211, a special interest
provision of U.S. law that invalidates certain Cuban trademarks in the United
States and threatens reciprocal protection for U.S. brands.
• Approve an amendment that,
notwithstanding any other provision of law, authorizes the United States to
provide Cuba with foreign assistance for the purpose of developing sustainable energy sources and implementing
its 100 year plan to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
embargo is a central obstacle to the normalization of relations with Cuba, as
President Obama recognized when he called on Congress to repeal it. For
Congress to repeal the embargo it would have to amend a number of different
statutes in addition to the TSRA.33 The most important:
• Repeal the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992,
or at least the sections that limit the freedom of U.S. subsidiaries in third
countries to do business with Cuba, and that prevent vessels engaged in
commerce with Cuba from entering U.S. ports for 180 days.
• Repeal the Cuban Liberty and Democratic
Solidarity Act of 1996, or at least the sections that inscribe the embargo into
law, prohibit U.S. support for Cuban participation in IFIs, and impose extraterritorial
sanctions on other countries (Titles III and IV).
• Repeal the section of the Foreign
Assistance Act of 1961 that authorizes the president to unilaterally impose a
trade embargo on Cuba.
the embargo is no longer mandated by law, the President can lift it simply by
not renewing the emergency authorities under the Trading with The Enemy Act. If
economic sanctions against Cuba are called for in the future, they can be
imposed under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA).
legal scholars argue that the President has the authority to end the embargo by
executive order. Because the embargo regulations codified by the LIBERTAD Act
include the President’s licensing authority without any limitation, there is a
legal argument that the licensing power extends to ending the embargo
entirely.34 The principal rationale for such a step would be President Clinton’s
contention, in his signing statement, that certain passages of the law,
including codification, constitute unconstitutional infringements on the
President’s authority to conduct foreign policy.35
33 For an effort to compile a complete list of the amendments required, H.R. 403 (Mr. Rangel) 114th Congress 1st
Session, January 16, 2015.
34 Robert L. Muse, “The President Has the Constitutional Power to Unilaterally Terminate the Embargo on Cuba,” Global Americans, October 8, 2020, ttps://theglobalamericans.org/2020/10/the-president-has-the-constitutional-power-to-unilaterally-terminate-the-embargo-on-cuba/. For concurring opinions, see Kevin J. Fandl, “Adios Embargo: The Case for Executive Termination of the U.S. Embargo on Cuba,” 54 Am. Bus. L.J. 293; and Pete Jeydel, “How Much of the Cuba Embargo Could the President Unilaterally Lift?” Steptoe International Compliance Blog, October 21, 2016, https://www.steptoeinternationalcomplianceblog.com/2016/10/how-much-of-the-cuba-embargo-could-the-president-unilaterally-lift/.35 William J. Clinton, “Statement on Signing the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996,” March 12, 1996. The American Presidency Project, ttps://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/222515. For the constitutionality of the LIBRTAD Act, see Joaquin Roy, “Lawyers Meet the Law: Critical U.S Voices of Helms-Burton,” Yearbook of International Law, 6, 39 (1997/1998)
Following his surprising victory in 2016, Donald Trump claimed he got 80 percent of the Cuban-American vote in South Florida.
He was exaggerating.
But 2020 was a different story.
Years of courting voters with tough policies toward Cuba and Venezuela, a strong pre-pandemic economy, an unmatched Republican ground game in Miami-Dade and a targeted messaging instilling fear about socialism coming to America helped the president rally Cuban-American voters, part of the reason he carried Florida.
Although Trump lost the election, his inroads into the Cuban-American community in South Florida suggests trouble ahead for the Democratic Party.
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Politics & Policy in the Sunshine State
Definite numbers for 2020 are still in dispute, but estimates reflect the Democratic Party’s poor performance among Cuban Americans, and among Hispanics in general, in Florida.
While Trump won more Cuban-American votes in 2016 than Hillary Clinton in Miami-Dade County, his margin was somewhere between 54 and 57 percent, below Mitt Romney’s 60 percent share in 2012.
Separate analyses of tallies in more than 30 Cuban-majority precincts in Hialeah, Westchester and the suburbs of southwest Miami-Dade by Republican and Democratic strategists suggest that four years later, Trump made double-digit gains, getting as much as 69 percent of the Cuban-American vote. Giancarlo Sopo, a Trump campaign staffer, and Carlos Odio, director of the Democratic research firm EquisLabs, independently concluded that President-elect Joe Biden’s percentage of the Cuban-American vote in Miami-Dade was in the low 30s.
But this might not be the whole picture, said Eduardo Gamarra, a professor and pollster at Florida International University. While Trump undeniably improved his numbers in heavily Cuban areas like Hialeah and Westchester, Gamarra has found less enthusiasm in more wealthy enclaves like Coral Gables and Key Biscayne.
“If you’re going to analyze the Cuban vote, you need to account for the vote in the entire county,” he said. He cited several exit polls and others done close to the election of people who had already voted, including one poll he was involved in, showing that Trump got around 55 percent of the Cuban-American vote.
Fernand Amandi, a long-term Democratic political strategist who runs the firm Bendixen & Amandi International, believes Biden’s share of the Cuban-American vote in Miami-Dade might be about 38 percent, and a bit higher statewide, about 41 percent, according to exit polls and surveys his firm conducted.
But Sopo and Odio disagree with these estimates because many polls proved to be off during this election cycle. If Trump had won only a 55 percent share of the Cuban American vote in Miami-Dade, that number would not reflect the enthusiasm shown by pro-Trump Cuban-American voters nor help explain his overall winning margins in the state, where he got around 371,000 votes more than Biden.
Regardless of the final number, all agree the Biden campaign was not up to the challenge.
“It’s still a poor result,” Amandi said, calling the Biden campaign at times “invisible” in Miami-Dade County. The COVID-19 pandemic had much to do with it, Odio added, since the campaign did not knock on doors till weeks before the election and decided to limit in-person events, and was unable to match Trump’s energetic rallies.
But Trump never really stopped campaigning in Florida. For years now, the Democrats have not been able to match the strong presence of the Republican Party in the community, which has given many Cuban Americans “an identity,” Florida International University professor Guillermo Grenier wrote in a two-part analysis of the Cuban vote. He is the director of the FIU poll that every two years surveys the opinions of Cuban-American voters residing in Miami-Dade.
“The fundamental problem is that the Democrats took their foot off the accelerator from engaging with the Cuban community,” said Amandi, who was part of the team that helped Barack Obama win the support of Cuban and other Hispanic voters in the county. “Meanwhile, the Trump campaign never stopped in its efforts to win the Cuban vote for four years.”
While Cuban Americans have been a reliable Republican voting bloc, supporting the traditional themes of low taxes, small government and family values, there was “a perfect storm” of things particular to this election that ended up helping Republicans, Odio said.
He cites a prosperous economy, the strongman aspect of Trump’s character that apparently appealed to some Cubans and other Hispanics, and the election to Congress of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, which further fueled the narrative about the Democratic Party steering to the left. Acts of vandalism amid protests over police brutality and slogans like “Defund the police” were also exploited by the Trump campaign and Trump’s surrogates to instill fear of a progressive left that would dictate Biden’s agenda.
HIALEAH FELL HARD FOR TRUMP
The Democrats also learned the hard way that “demography is not destiny,” as the American political scientist Ruy Teixeira wrote in his influential essay warning that changes in the electorate do not always favor the Democrats.
For many years, Democrats assumed that as older Cuban exiles were being replaced by new Cuban arrivals and younger voters, Cuban Americans would become less Republican. The 2020 presidential election was a surprise: The FIU 2020 poll found that many Cuban immigrants coming after 2010 had been registering Republican and becoming strong Trump supporters.
“We ran an innovative grassroots and advertising effort that directly engaged newer Cuban arrivals — who had been largely ignored by both parties — as well as young U.S.-born Cuban Americans in ways that were culturally relevant to them and different than how you’d engage my abuelos’ generation,” said Sopo, a Miami native who was one of the architects of the messaging targeting Hispanics in Florida.
The campaign ran a Spanish video ad featuring popular Cuban actress Susana Pérez, who is better known among Cubans who came to U.S. after 1980. Another radio ad with fictional characters “Marita y Yesenia” mimics the speaking style and slang used by recent arrivals.
Most observers agree that there is no single issue that could explain why most Cuban Americans mobilized so forcefully this year to support the president.
Take Hialeah, a working-class city with the most Obamacare enrollees in the nation and where many recently arrived Cubans live. The Trump administration asked the courts to strike down the entire Affordable Care Act. Yet, the Democratic Party was unable to exploit this to its advantage, and Trump grew his share of the vote by 18 points in the city, compared to 2016, beating Biden 67% to 32.5%, according to Sopo’s analysis.
There have been several attempts to explain why Cuban Americans in Hialeah would vote for a candidate whose policies could affect their healthcare or have already limited their ability to travel to the island or reunite with family members.
Gamarra believes that working-class Cuban Americans do not behave that differently from non-college-educated white voters, a core group in Trump’s base. And Odio argues that many might be attracted to the image of the successful businessman, who is politically incorrect and stands against Washington’s establishment and the media.
Trump’s nationalist populism also seems to have resonated with many Cuban Americans.
The chorus of a viral song by the Cuban musical group Tres de La Habana that later became part a Trump campaign ad says, “If you feel proud to be Cuban and American, raise your hands!”
But beyond issues of cultural identity and nationalist rhetoric, a lot of the burden for Biden doing poorly among Cuban Americans is on the decisions taken by the Democratic Party and the Biden campaign, most analysts agreed.
Gamarra said besides “being late,” the Biden campaign made other mistakes, like deciding it was not worth investing much in improving their numbers with Cuban Americans and taking for granted that other Hispanic groups, like Colombians, would vote Democratic.
The Biden campaign acknowledged it didn’t need to win the support of a majority of Cuban Americans to win Florida but was hoping to match Clinton’s numbers or compensate for those votes somewhere else, for example, with non-Cuban Hispanics. That didn’t happen either.
“We built a new conservative coalition in South Florida consisting of Cubans, Colombians, Puerto Ricans and other Latinos in Miami-Dade County,” Sopo wrote in a memo obtained by the Miami Herald. ‘This netted approximately 255,657 additional votes for President Trump in Miami-Dade in 2020, which accounted for around 69% of his 371,686-vote victory over Joe Biden in Florida.”
“The biggest mistake was when it was decided that the accusations about socialism and communism were not going to be rebuked because they were considered absurd,” Amandi said.
The Trump campaign made a concerted effort to misleadingly portray Biden as a socialist, posting manipulated images of him embracing Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro and claiming he was “the candidate of Castro-Chavismo” in one of its most viewed ads in South Florida. Such accusations found fertile soil in Miami Cuban media and were amplified on local Miami radio, TV stations, and by social media influencers who had welcomed Trump’s tough talk on Cuba and Venezuela.
Shortly after Trump’s victory in 2016, Cuban exile groups who felt left out from the policy-making process during the Obama administration became more vocal in their criticism of what they saw as Obama’s failed engagement policies with Cuba and concessions made to the Cuban government.
Increased government repression on the island, the Cuban leadership’s unwavering support of Maduro in Venezuela, and Cuba’s reluctance to implement reforms to rescue a rapidly deteriorating economy all reinforced perceptions about the failures of engagement. With its eyes on Florida 2020, Trump vowed in Miami to reverse “the prior administration’s terrible and misguided deal with the Castro regime,” and made Cuba and Venezuela the center of its Latin American policy.
The picture is nuanced: While most Cuban Americans approve of President Trump’s sanctions campaign against the Cuban government, they also support many of Obama’s policies, such as maintaining diplomatic relations or travel to the island, as shown by the FIU 2020 poll. Pro-engagement advocates still contend that Obama’s policies did not hurt the Democratic Party. But others believe that misses a crucial point.
“The weaponization of U.S. policy towards Cuba was the entry point to help cement the idea that the Democratic Party is the party of socialists,” Amandi said.
Then there was the 2020 media environment, with voters watching or reading partisan media, living in information bubbles, and plenty of misinformation circulating among the Hispanic communities, making it difficult for the Democratic campaign messaging to make it through. By the time the campaign started responding to the socialism accusations, it was too late.
Just weeks before the election, Mike Bloomberg financed a round of TV ads featuring members of the Bay of Pigs Brigade and Cuban exile writer Carlos Alberto Montaner pushing back on the accusations that Biden and running mate Kamala Harris were socialists. Internal polling data suggest the ads were able to move the needle in favor of Biden. But the effort came too late to have a larger impact on the race.
However, analysts believe that, with the right strategy, the Democratic Party could again reach the historic support Obama obtained among Cuban Americans in 2012. In that election he won 53 percent of Cuban Americans who cast a ballot on Election Day, and an overall 48 percent of the Cuban-American vote in the state, according to a poll by Bendixen & Amandi.
“It would be a mistake for both parties to believe that these numbers are permanent,” Amandi said.