Tag Archives: US-Cuba Relations

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.”

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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.

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CUBA: SERVE THE PEOPLE; Cuba Is Facing its Worst Shortage of Food since the 1990s

Government bungling and a shortage of dollars are to blame

The Economist, July 3, 2021

Original Article: Cuba’s Food Crisis

“CUBANS HAVE always been resourceful,” says Ana, the owner of a private farm-to-table restaurant near Havana. “But now we need to be magicians and acrobats.” The communist island is facing its worst shortage of food since the 1990s. Finding ingredients was never easy in a place which imports around 70% of its food. Over the past year it has become nearly impossible. When grocery shops are empty, as is so often the case, Ana tries the internet or the black market, only to find that prices are prohibitively high. Farmers no longer want to sell produce to her, she says, as they need to eat it themselves.

“CUBANS HAVE always been resourceful,” says Ana, the owner of a private farm-to-table restaurant near Havana. “But now we need to be magicians and acrobats.” The communist island is facing its worst shortage of food since the 1990s. Finding ingredients was never easy in a place which imports around 70% of its food. Over the past year it has become nearly impossible. When grocery shops are empty, as is so often the case, Ana tries the internet or the black market, only to find that prices are prohibitively high. Farmers no longer want to sell produce to her, she says, as they need to eat it themselves.

The government blames the shortage of food mostly on sanctions imposed by the United States—sanctions which, on June 24th, the UN General Assembly voted to condemn, as it has done nearly every year since 1992. But since 2001 the sanctions have exempted food. Indeed, the United States is the largest exporter of food to Cuba, though last year those imports were at their lowest level since 2002.

Some external factors have affected the food supply. The jump in global food prices, which in the year to May surged by 40%, the largest increase in a decade, has made imports more expensive. But the main problem is the government’s lack of hard currency. Tourism, normally 10% of GDP, has atrophied because of the pandemic: whereas 4.2m people visited in 2019, just over 1m did last year, nearly all in the first three months of the year. Remittances have also suffered. Before covid-19, commercial airlines would operate as many as ten flights a day between Miami and Havana, all packed with cash-toting mulas. But now only a handful of flights go to Havana each week. In addition, this year’s harvest of sugar—one of Cuba’s main exports—was the worst in more than a century, as a result of drought (the dollar shortage also sapped supplies of fertiliser and petrol).

The government is trying desperately to eke out dollars and skimp on imported goods. Cubans can no longer buy greenbacks from state-operated exchanges at the airport. State-owned bakeries are replacing a fifth of the imported wheat flour they use in bread with substitutes made from home-grown corn, pumpkin or yucca, much to the dismay of consumers, who have complained that bread now tastes like soggy corn. The sale of biscuits has been limited in certain cities to cut back even more on imports of flour.

Since February, in a desperate attempt to collect hard currency, the government has required that foreigners pay for their seven-day mandatory stay in a state-owned quarantine hotel in dollars (since June, this has even applied to some Cubans). To earn more from its diaspora, the state also operates e-commerce sites through which Cubans abroad can pay in dollars or euros for food and gifts to be delivered to people on the island.

Indeed many Cubans abroad are trying to help their family members stave off hunger by sending their own care packages. But even these have become harder and more costly to post. Goods from the United States that once took two weeks to deliver can now take up to four months to arrive, as shortages of fuel and trucks in Cuba make the final leg of the delivery trickier.

Bungled policy responses have made things worse. On June 10th the Cuban central bank announced that, from June 21st, Cubans would not be able to deposit dollars into their bank accounts for an undisclosed amount of time. This is despite the fact that, in order to buy goods in state-owned shops, Cubans need to have a prepaid card loaded with dollars. They will now have to exchange their dollars for euros or other currencies, which involves a fee. Emilio Morales, the head of the Havana Consulting Group in Miami, thinks this was a way to scare people into depositing more before the deadline.

Rather than stabilise the economy, the policy is likely to do the reverse. Some exchange houses in Miami soon ran out of euros. Cuban banks were overwhelmed by queues of panicking people trying to deposit the dollars they needed to buy groceries. “Cuba has 11m hostages and is expecting Cuban exiles to pay their ransom,” says Mr Morales. Ricardo Cabrisas, the deputy prime minister, was recently in Paris negotiating another extension on the roughly $3.5bn of loans owed to foreign governments—the island has been in arrears since 2019. An ultimatum from creditors may help explain the government’s desire to hoover up greenbacks.

Despite making some attempts to liberalise the economy, the government is bafflingly poor at boosting agricultural production or wooing foreign investors. Firms producing food in Cuba earn only pesos, which have little value internationally, but must buy almost all their inputs abroad in a foreign currency. The government requires farmers to sell their harvest to the state at uncompetitive prices and imposes draconian rules on livestock management. Up until last month it was illegal to slaughter a cow before it had reached an advanced age, as determined by the state. Now farmers may kill them either to sell the meat or to eat it themselves. But before they do so, they must jump through a series of hoops, including certifying that the cow has produced at least 520 litres of milk a year. They are also not allowed to let their herd shrink overall, and so can only slaughter one cow for every three calves they add to it—a tall order in the long run, mathematically. As it is, Cuba is having trouble maintaining its existing cattle herd: last year, in the province of Las Tunas alone, more than 7,000 cows died from dehydration. Farmers have to complete paperwork and wait a week for approval, too. “The process of applying to eat a cow is enough to make you lose your appetite,” says a farmer in Bahía Honda.

Rural transportion
Zafra of 2016-20127

Cubans are no strangers to difficult times. Eliecer Jiménez Almeida, a Cuban filmmaker in Miami, was a child during the “special period” of hardship after the fall of the Soviet Union, and remembers how his grandmother sold her gold teeth in exchange for soap, just so that he and his siblings could take a bath. For him and for many Cubans, the question is not how many more of the same indignities their people can endure, but how much longer.

Discontent was slightly less likely when Fidel Castro was in power. He had charisma and mystique that neither his brother and successor, Raúl, nor Cuba’s current president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, can replicate. What is more, the Cuban diaspora is larger and wealthier and the internet has shown Cubans that many of their economic difficulties are created by their leaders, not the United States. The best way to stave off popular discontent would be to implement more and bigger economic reforms, at a faster pace, starting with farms and small businesses. It is a measure of Cubans’ disillusionment that the old revolutionary cry of “Hasta la victoria siempre” (On to victory, always) has largely been supplanted by the longsuffering “¿Hasta cuándo?” (How much longer?) ■

Fidel, cutting cane during the Zafra of 1970
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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.

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YEA OR NAY ON THE EMBARGO. WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON?

What does a recent survey tell us?

by Guillermo J. Grenier

OnCuba News,  May 28, 2021

Original Article C

The French philosophe and essayist Michel Montaigne often used the phrase “What do I know?” to express the subjective limits of knowledge. What can any individual really know about the world? About others who inhabit it? I pose this question to myself often. It’s part of the job description for being a critical sociologist. I scratch my head in puzzlement each time that I gather data to analyze my compatriots in South Florida. What do I really know about Cuban Americans? Many will jump to answer, “You know nothing. You are clueless,” and they might be right. But you would think that after nearly thirty years of writing about and studying Cubans in the United States I would know something about what makes our “moral community” tick.  But when faced with the question Que sais-je?, which translates into a very Cuban, “Qué sé yo?” I have to admit that many of the moving parts of the community remain a riddle wrapped in an enigma inside a pastelito. 

Take, for example, the resurgence of pro-embargo sentiments among South Florida Cuban American. It’s a grim turn even if not totally surprising given the Jarabe de Trump that many have savored in recent years. 

What is driving this macabre enthusiasm to endorse an archaic, cold war policy designed in 1962 to isolate Cuba and bring about regime change because, as stated in Kennedy’s infamous Proclamation 3447, the country is “incompatible with the principles and objectives of the Inter-American system; and, in light of the subversive offensive of Sino-Soviet Communism with which the Government of Cuba is publicly aligned?” Seriously? There is still support for a policy designed to “protect” the Americas from the threat of “Sino-Soviet Communism?” Directed at Cuba? Does this policy remain a vital element in the foreign policy of the United States? The world has changed so much but we seem to have changed so little.

Maybe there is more behind this seeming callous attitude of “que se jodan” exhibited by my fellow denizen of the Cuban diaspora than sheer opportunism. After all, we are not all YouTube mavens making a nice living peddling fear and disinformation. Most of us care about our friends and relatives on the island. About half of us send money when we can afford it and sending food via Katapulk is becoming a thing. Many on the island depend on us, if not for survival, for support, especially during this horrific pandemic period. 

Maybe championing the embargo, in the minds of those who do, is part of a larger plan. Maybe supporters see in the embargo a part of a broader strategy to improve the lives of Cubans throughout the island. Qué sé yo?

I want to understand why so many of us insist on supporting a foreign policy implemented to punish and isolate when we know that change in this globalized world is brought about by contact and negotiation. Why do people support the embargo? Why do they support lifting the embargo? 

With the help of the colleagues at OnCuba News, I floated a questionnaire on their platform and various social media streams (FB, Twitter) to try to understand why Cuban Americans either support or oppose the nearly sixty-year-old sanction. This is not a scientific sample, but the 361 responses (as of May 19) allow us to create broad categories to describe the types of reasons shaping opinions. 

Continue Reading

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Conclusion

To be honest, I harbor no illusions that the Cuban American vox populi will raise in an exilic chorus supporting the end to the embargo. I see no sign that we are willing, as a community to come to terms with our Big Lie. To recognize that the embargo, as a policy to motivate change in Cuba, has been a resounding failure and has not met the expectations of its supporters. It is a zombie policy which should have been killed by years of evidence verifying its failure but stays alive, eating the brains of Cuban Americans. Supporting the embargo is evidence that our community has been successfully recruited to brutalize the Cuban people by assisting the U.S. in its feeble attempt to project American power. I worry about the history we are helping to shape.

The only hope that I hold for seeing the lifting of the embargo in my lifetime is for the U.S. government to act in its best interest. In this unique case, the best interests of the United States are aligned with the best interests of Cuba, its people and government. 

Accepting this might not be easy for those who have developed an identity based on opposition to the Cuban government, but it is the reality we face. Let’s give in to a moment of clarity. We cannot, with any credibility, demand changes in others when we, as a community, remain so unwilling, or unable, to change. 

But, I could be wrong. What do I know?

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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).

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WILL JOE BIDEN CONTINUE AMERICA’S DELUSIONAL CUBA POLICY?

An effective Cuba policy requires a realist mindset that recognizes, once and for all, Washington’s inability to impose its will on Cuba.

by William M. LeoGrande

The National Interest, May 21, 2021.

Original Article

As President Joe Biden considers what to do about Cuba, he should resist the seductive delusion embraced by so many of his predecessors that just a little more U.S. pressure will bend Cuba’s communist regime to Washington’s will. Sixty years of history is evidence to the contrary.

This delusion has a long pedigree. As relations deteriorated in 1960, U.S. Ambassador Philip Bonsal made a pitch for one last attempt at reconciliation. The terse reply from his boss, Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Mann: “Our best bet is to wait for a successor regime.”

Washington has been waiting ever since. For decades, successive U.S. presidents have convinced themselves that Cuba is on the brink of collapse and tougher sanctions can push it over. Dwight Eisenhower thought that cutting off U.S. imports of Cuban sugar would roll back the revolution before the end of his term in office. John F. Kennedy thought the Bay of Pigs and the CIA’s secret war would do the trick. Lyndon Johnson hoped to strangle the Castro regime by recruiting Latin America and most of Europe to join the U.S. embargo. Richard Nixon turned a blind eye to terrorist attacks by Cuban exile groups, and Ronald Reagan ratcheted up economic sanctions and put Cuba on the terrorism list—all to no avail.

Despite repeated failures, Washington officials keep convincing themselves that the policy of pressure will work if we just keep at it. When the Soviet Union disintegrated, they were certain that Cuba would be the next communist domino. In August 1993, the CIA concluded, “There is a better than even chance that Fidel Castro’s government will fall within the next few years.” The obvious implication: there was no point in seeking reconciliation with an adversary about to collapse.

When the Cuban regime survived that depression, the rationale shifted: Fidel Castro was the linchpin holding the system together; when he died, the regime would die with him. In 2006, Fidel fell ill and transferred power to his brother Raúl Castro, leading Thomas Shannon, assistant secretary of state in George W. Bush’s administration, to predict the regime’s imminent end. “Authoritarian regimes are like helicopters. There are single fail point mechanisms,” he explained. “When an authoritarian leader disappears from an authoritarian regime, the authoritarian regime flounders…. That’s what we’re seeing at this moment.”

But the transition from Fidel to Raúl went smoothly, necessitating the invention of yet another rationale for U.S. policy—Venezuela. Cuba was supposedly so dependent on cheap oil from Venezuela that when the inept regime of Nicolás Maduro collapsed (as it surely would under U.S. pressure), the loss of oil would cripple the Cuban economy and bring down the regime. Yet despite a fifty percent decline in oil shipments over the past decade, the Cuban regime is still standing.

Barack Obama was the only president to say out loud what everyone else in the world has known for years—the policy of hostility is an emperor with no clothes. In announcing his new policy of engagement on December 17, 2014, Obama called the old policy, “an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests.”

Supporters of U.S. sanctions are never at a loss for creativity, however. They denounced Obama’s policy for failing to bring democracy to Cuba in the two years before President Donald Trump repudiated it, while celebrating the resumption of sanctions that have failed for sixty years. Their rationale: Cuba is (again) on the brink of collapse. Supposedly, the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the retirement of Raúl Castro (who turned out to be a much more effective leader than U.S. pundits predicted) are the one-two punch that will finally knock out communism in Cuba. If the past is any guide, the odds on this are not good.

President Joe Biden supported Obama’s opening to Cuba and promised during the 2020 campaign to resume engagement. But early signals from administration officials indicate that an internal debate is underway between those who favor returning to Obama’s policy, and those who would continue the policy of pressure, leaving many of Trump’s sanctions in place. There may be domestic political gains to be had by maintaining the status quo, but no one should pretend it will produce anything positive as foreign policy. Meanwhile, the Cuban people are the ones suffering its effects, not the Cuban government.

An effective Cuba policy requires a realist mindset that recognizes, once and for all, Washington’s inability to impose its will on Cuba. Policymakers need to give up the illusion that sanctions will produce victory, and get about the hard work of engaging with a regime that we may not like, but that is not going away any time soon.

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).

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USAID IN CUBA: CODE NAMES AND COUNTER SURVEILLANCE

TRACEY EATON | MAY 10, 2021

Original Article: USAID in Cuba

For decades now, the U.S. government has carried out democracy projects aimed at undermining Cuba’s socialist government. One deal that has always intrigued me was the $15.5 million, three-year contract awarded to Creative Associates International in October 2008. The fact that Creative Associates ran the program from a secret base in Costa Rica added to the allure.
In 2014, the Associated Press scooped everyone with revelations that Creative Associates had set up a secret Cuban Twitter. USAID protested the story. Still, the AP report triggered a flurry of interest and an Office of Inspector General investigation soon followed.
But ZunZuneo was only the tip of the iceberg, making up $1.7 million of the $5.3 million in projects that Creative Associates funded. A review of 22 Creative Associates reports from 2008 to 2012 provides fresh insight into the NGO’s sprawling program and illustrates its dogged efforts to recruit young people and members of Cuba’s counterculture.
“Travelers” and “consultants” from at least 10 different countries in the Americas and Europe took part in the program. Projects and people were identified by code. USAID sent in supplies using via diplomatic mail service, coordinating closely with the embassy staff.
Download the Creative Associates documents here. Some of the details I found interesting are below:

Continue Reading:  USAID in Cuba

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New Publication, CUBAN INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AT 60

Reflections on Global Connections

Edited by Mervyn J. Bain and Chris Walker – Contributions by Mervyn J. Bain; Jeffrey DeLaurentis; H. Michael Erisman; Liliana Fernández Mollinedo; Adrian Hearn; Rafael Hernández; John M. Kirk; Peter Kornbluh; William LeoGrande; Robert L. Muse; Isaac Saney; Paolo Spadoni; Josefina Vidal and Chris Walker

Cuban International Relations at 60 brings together the perspectives of leading experts and the personal accounts of two ambassadors to examine Cuba’s global engagement and foreign policy since January 1959 by focusing on the island’s key international relationships and issues. Thisbook’s first section focuseson Havana’s complex relationship with Washington and its second section concentrates on Cuba’s other key relationships with consideration also being given to Cuba’s external trade and investment sectors and the possibility of the island becoming a future petro-power. Throughout this study due attention is given to the role of history and Cuban nationalism in the formation of the island’s unique foreign policy. This book’s examination and reflection on Cuba as an actor on the international arena for the 60 years of the revolutionary period highlights the multifaceted and complex reasons for the island’s global engagement. It concludes that Cuba’s global presence since January 1959 has been remarkable for a Caribbean island, is unparalleled, and is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Scholars of international relations, Latin American studies, and political science n will find this book particularly interesting.

Lexington Books

Pages: 306 • Trim: 6 x 9

978-1-7936-3018-6 • Hardback • May 2021 • $110.00 • (£85.00)

978-1-7936-3019-3 • eBook • May 2021 • $45.00 • (£35.00) (coming soon)

Table of Contents

Introduction: Reflections on Cuba’s Global Connections (1959-2019)

Mervyn J. Bain and Chris Walker.

Part I: Cuban – U.S. Relations

Chapter 1 The Process of Rapprochement Between Cuba and the United States: Lessons Learnt. Remarks at the “The Cuban Revolution at 60” conference. Dalhousie University, Halifax, October 31, 2019.  Josefina Vidal

Chapter 2 US-Cuban Relations: Personal Reflections. Remarks by Ambassador (ret.) Jeffrey DeLaurentis. Saturday, November 2, 2019  Jeffrey DeLaurentis

Chapter 3 Coercive Diplomacy or Constructive Engagement: Sixty Years of US Policy Toward Cuba.  William LeoGrande

Chapter 4 The President has the Constitutional Power to Terminate the Embargo.  Robert L. Muse

Chapter 5 [Re]Searching for the ‘Havana Syndrome’.  Peter Kornbluh

Chapter 6 From Eisenhower to Trump: A Historical Summary of the US-Cuba Conflict (1959-2020).  Liliana Fernández Mollinedo

Part II: Cuba on the Global Stage

Chapter 7 Cuba is Africa, Africa is Cuba.  Isaac Saney

Chapter 8 Cuba-Canada Relations: Challenges and Prospects.  John Kirk

Chapter 9 Cuba-China Relations and the Construction of Socialism.  Adrian H. Hearn and Rafael Hernández

Chapter 10 Cuba-European Union Relations. A Complex and Multifaceted Relationship.  Liliana Fernández Mollinedo and Mervyn J. Bain

Chapter 11 Havana and Moscow; Now, the Future and the Shadow of the Past.  Mervyn J. Bain

Chapter 12 Havana and Caracas: Counter-Hegemonic Cooperation and the Battle for Sovereignty. Chris Walker

Chapter 13 Cuba’s Struggling External Sector: Internal Challenges and Outside Factors.  Paolo Spadoni

Chapter 14 Cuba as a Petropower? Foreign Relations Implications. H. Michael Erisman

Conclusions: Reflections on Cuba’s Global Connections.  Mervyn J. Bain and Chris Walker

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CUBA’S ECONOMIC WOES MAY FUEL AMERICA’S NEXT MIGRANT CRISIS

April 16, 2021

Author: William M. LeoGrande, Professor of Government, American University School of Public Affairs and senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights advocacy group.

Original Article: Cuba’s Economic Woes May Fuel America’s Next Migrant Crisis

Not all of the migrants hoping to claim asylum in the United States are fleeing Central America’s violence-torn “Northern Triangle” of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, contrary to popular perception.

Of the 71,021 asylum-seekers waiting in Mexico for their applications to be processed in the U.S. as of late February, 16% were Cuban, according to federal immigration data.

That makes Cubans the third-largest group of migrants, just ahead of Salvadorans, and after Guatemalans and Hondurans.

Why Cubans flee

The Cubans at America’s doorstep are mostly economic refugees. But since Cubans no longer have preferential status over other immigrants – as they did until former President Barack Obama stopped automatically admitting Cubans who made it to the U.S. – claiming asylum is now virtually their only hope of winning entry. G

Cubans who can afford it fly to South America or hire smugglers to take them to Mexico in “fast boats” before trekking north to the U.S. border. Those who can’t afford to pay smugglers try to cross the Florida Straits on rafts or small boats called “balsas” – a dangerous 90-mile ocean passage.

So far this year, the U.S. Coast Guard has picked up 180 Cuban “balseros” at sea trying to reach the U.S. The number is modest – but it’s already more than three times the Coast Guard rescues of Cubans made last year. Cubans intercepted at sea are returned to Cuba under the terms of a 1995 migration agreement.

The current uptick recalls the gradual increase in rafters rescued at sea in the spring of 1994, numbers that rose exponentially that summer, culminating in the “balsero” migration crisis.

Triggered by the collapse of the Soviet Union – communist Cuba’s main international partner at the time – the 1994 exodus saw 35,000 Cubans arrive in the U.S. in two months.

It was the United States’ third Cuban migration crisis. In 1965, some 5,000 Cubans embarked from the port of Camarioca in small boats, landing in south Florida. In 1980, the Mariel boat crisis brought 125,000 Cuban migrants to the U.S. in the so-called “freedom flotilla.”

These migration waves came when the Cuban economy was in crisis and standards of living were falling. All three occurred when Cubans had few avenues for legal migration. With legal routes foreclosed, pressure to leave built over time as the economy deteriorated, finally exploding in a mass exodus of desperate people.

After studying U.S.-Cuban relations for four decades, I believe the conditions that led to these migration crises are building once again.

Economy in free fall

Hit by the dual shocks of renewed U.S. economic sanctions during the Trump administration and the COVID-19 pandemic, the Cuban economy shrank 11% in 2020.

Former President Donald Trump cut off two major sources of Cuba’s foreign exchange revenue: people-to-people educational travel from the U.S., worth roughly US$500 million annually, according to my analysis of data from the Cuban National Office of Statistics, and $3.5 billion annually in cash remittances.

The pandemic hammered Cuba’s tourist industry, which suffered a 75% decline – a loss of roughly $2.5 billion.

These external shocks hit an economy already weakened by the decline in cheap oil from crisis-stricken Venezuela due to falling production there, forcing Cuba to spend more of its scarce foreign exchange currency on fuel. Since Cuba imports most of its food, the island nation has experienced a food crisis.

The result is the worst economic downturn since the 1990s.

Pent-up Cuban demand to emigrate

The 1994 Cuban migration crisis ended when former President Bill Clinton signed an accord with Cuba providing for safe and legal migration. The U.S. committed to providing at least 20,000 immigrant visas to Cubans annually to avoid future crises by creating a release valve.

President Trump replaced President Obama’s policy of normalizing U.S.-Cuban relations with one of “maximum pressure” aimed at collapsing the Cuban regime.

He downsized the U.S. embassy in Havana in 2017, allegedly in response to injuries to U.S. personnel serving there. And he suspended the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program, which provided upwards of 20,000 immigrant visas annually to Cubans with close relatives in the U.S.

These measures drastically reduced the number of immigrant visas given, closing the safety valve Clinton negotiated in 1994. In 2020, just over 3,000 Cubans immigrants were admitted to the U.S.

Today, some 100,000 Cubans who have applied for the reunification program are still waiting in limbo for the program to resume.

A policy problem

The migration crisis brewing in Cuba has been largely overlooked while the Biden administration focuses on managing the rush of Central American asylum-seekers and caring for unaccompanied minors at the U.S.-Mexico border.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki recently said that Cuba policy is currently under review, but that it’s “not a top priority.”

U.S. officials could head off the migration crisis brewing in Cuba by making the changes to U.S.-Cuba relations Biden promised during his 2020 presidential campaign.

Restaffing the U.S. embassy in Havana would make it possible to resume compliance with Clinton’s 1994 migration agreement to grant at least 20,000 immigrant visas annually. That would give Cubans a safe and legal way to come to the U.S. and discourage them from risking their lives on the open seas or with human traffickers.

Lifting Trump’s economic sanctions would curtail the need to emigrate by reducing Cuba’s economic hardship, in part by enabling Cuban Americans to send money directly to their families there.

And reversing Trump’s restrictions on travel to the island would help revitalize the private Cuban restaurants and bed and breakfasts that rely on U.S. visitors.

All these measures would put money directly into the hands of the Cuban people, giving them hope for a better future in Cuba.

Balseros arranging Departure, Playas e Este, 1994
Playas del Este, 1994. Did this one make it?
Launching the balsa (rAFT)
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