Questions for Kerry in Cuba: Whom Will He Meet? What Will He Say?
By Elliott Abrams of The Council on Foreign Relations:
John Kerry, George Shultz, and the Kerry Visit to Cuba
Secretary of State Kerry will visit Cuba soon–on August 14.
Since the opening of diplomatic relations and of the Cuban embassy in Washington, what’s been going on in Cuba?
More repression. There were 630 political arrests in June, according to the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights. Jorge Ramirez Calderon, one of the political prisoners released as part of President Obama’s rapprochement with the Castro regime, was notified this week that he is facing a 4-year sentence for “public disorder.” His crime was joining a demonstration for human rights in March. So, while Kerry was celebrating the opening of Castro’s embassy in Washington, the Cuban regime was cracking down harder on the Cuban people.
This raises two important questions about that Kerry visit to Cuba. What will he say while in Cuba about human rights, and whom will he meet?
As to the speeches, these are critical. Will he call for freeing all political prisoners, for freedom of speech and press? Will he say the Cuban people must govern themselves through free, multi-party elections? Or will he be silent about the brutal repression Cubans face every day?
And will he meet with Cuban dissidents, or only with regime officials? The flag will be raised at the U.S. Embassy on September 14, and the Cuban foreign minister will be there. Will the Ladies in White, whose peaceful protests have for years kept the cause of freedom alive, be invited? Ironically, because so many leading Cuban dissidents are barred from leaving the island, they will be there and could come to the Embassy. What wonderful show of American support for freedom it would be for them to be invited.
What’s the worst thing that could happen? That the foreign minister or all Cuban officials would avoid the ceremony? That would be just fine, because our Embassy in Cuba should above all reach out to the Cuban people, not the regime. Let it be clear that we view the regime as a relic of the past; let the regime’s officials choose not to come if they cannot be in the same hall or on the same lawn as those who peacefully struggle for freedom in Cuba.
Is this impossible? Not at all; Secretary of State Shultz did something like this in Moscow in 1987. Here’s the New York Times account:
“Sixty Soviet Jews who have been denied their most passionate dream, emigration, joined Monday night to celebrate a festival recalling the liberation centuries ago from a hostile land. For the Passover meal, they had ritual matzoh to eat, kosher wine to drink–and George Shultz as their guest. The secretary of state, in an unprecedented demonstration of solidarity with Soviet Jews, joined the ‘refuseniks’ in an emotional observance of the Passover ceremony, known as a seder. Between day-and-night arms-control talks, Shultz used the break to demand that the Kremlin honor human rights. After spending several moments with each of the Soviet Jews at the seder, Shultz said: ‘You are on our minds. You are in our hearts. We think about you, we pray for you, we are with you.'”
Think of the impact if Kerry were to meet with dissidents in Havana and say to them what his great predecessor said to dissidents in Moscow in 1987: “You are on our minds. You are in our hearts. We think about you, we pray for you, we are with you.” And that was in the capital of a superpower, not that of a tiny and bankrupt Cuba.
The ball is in Kerry’s court. Will he live up to the Shultz record and model, or cave to Castro regime pressure to stay away from dissidents and from the subject of human rights?
Many Cuba-bound Canadian travellers say they want no part of visiting a resort that is the focus of a Global News investigation. As Sean O’Shea reports, travellers say they don’t want to become ill like so many who just returned from the resort.
TORONTO — Canadians with confirmed bookings to a Cuban resort where it’s believed norovirus made travellers sick say their tour operator hasn’t allowed them to switch to another resort or wanted to charge them.
“No, I don’t want to go there, I don’t want to be exposed to that … everyone’s health is at risk; that’s not fair,” said Kayla Halloran, a third-year Ryerson nursing student with a ticket to visit the resort with a friend later this month.
After seeing a Global News story on problems at the Memories Paraiso Azul Resort in Cayo Santa Maria Cuba, she contacted tour operator Sunwing Vacations to ask to be switched to another resort.
“They said I could change my resort to somewhere else but I have to pay a change fee plus a cancellation fee,” Halloran said.
“Why should I have to pay that?”
Global News received a cascade of complaints from Canadian travellers who returned from the resort.
They said they had experienced diarrhea and vomiting during most or all of their vacations.
Some reported seeing feces wash up on the hotel beach, finding feces beside the swimming pool, and experiencing dirty washrooms with toilets that didn’t work.
Other travellers told Global News they visited the same property in April and that it was without fresh water for two days.
During that time, Canadians visiting said they had no access to clean linens or water to flush toilets; they said staff at the hotel had no means to wash dishes or sanitize food service areas.
But despite the problems, they said the tour operator continued to send travellers to the resort.
WATCH: Canadians who traveled to what they thought was a luxury beach resort in Cuba say they got seriously ill. As Sean O’Shea reports, many tell Global News that tour operator Sunwing Vacations kept sending vacationers in spite of reports of sickness.
Obama Denies Cuban-American Victims Justice, Then Slaps Them in the Face
On December 17th, in exchange for American hostage Alan Gross, the Obama Administration released three Cuban spies imprisoned in the United States for various crimes, including a conspiracy to kill Americans.
Their victims were four young Americans, the pilots of the Brothers to the Rescue planes disintegrated in international waters by Cuban MIGs, who were murdered by the Castro regime with the help of (at least one of) these Cuban spies.
With the unmerited release of these convicted spies, their families were denied any justice.
And, as seen in this exchange with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, the families weren’t even notified.
Even worse — they were lied to.
Now, adding further insult to injury, the Obama Administration is green-lighting trips to celebrate with these Cuban spies, who have American blood on their hands.
Travel to Cuba is a new fad, helped by the changes the Obama administration has made in U.S. policy. It’s easy now for almost any group to go there, under the guise of some educational program or purpose.
But travel to Cuba has long been a practice for American leftists, who have seen the Castro regime not as a brutal oppressor of human rights but as a beacon of light in the Hemisphere. No democracy, free expression, freedom of the press, free trade unions? Who cares, after all? The thrill of visiting the communist island has been too much to resist.
Still, there was usually a pretense that the visitors were not there to celebrate the regime. But not in the coming visit organized by The Nation, the old leftist magazine. Its September trip includes many of the staples, according to The Nation’s invitation letters. The trip will feature:
“…museum tours with eminent art and cultural historians; seminars and lectures featuring renowned Cuban economists, government officials, community activists, physicians, and urban planners; exclusive concerts with popular jazz artists, troubadours, and folk musicians; performances by students of Cuba’s internationally acclaimed ballet institutes; visits to artist’s colonies and studios; guided tours of Old Havana, the Latin American Medical School, and the University of Havana; and visits to many other inspiring locales and events.”
No surprises there. But actually I left out a key clause in that paragraph. The trip will also include:
“…a meeting and discussion with the Cuban Five, the intelligence agents considered national heroes after spending many years imprisoned in US jails.”
This is pretty remarkable. The Nation describes the tour as “a particularly inspiring and extraordinary time to experience the people, politics, culture, and history of Cuba in a way few ever have before.” In a way few Americans ever have before? Now, that’s true enough: how many American get to meet with and celebrate people who spied against our country and were convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage and conspiracy to commit murder? How many Americans want to? Due to their actions four Americans died, in a Brothers to the Rescue plane shot down in international airspace. But the frisson of meeting people who actually—the Cuban government has admitted this—were intelligence agents and were convicted of spying on the United States is so wonderful that it is worth the $5,550 per person fees for the tour.
The Nation says the trip is organized “under The Nation’s license issued by the US Office of Foreign Assets Control to promote people-to-people contact.” Perhaps it fits, although I didn’t think the new federal regulations actually included people-to-spies contacts. In any event, let’s applaud the folks at The Nation. No nonsense about going to the beach, and no dissimulation about who they want to see. The visitors will meet no former political prisoners, no members of the Ladies in White opposition activists, no opposition journalists, no one trying to organize a free trade union. Just the regime’s mouthpieces…and the spies.
The Department of State finally released its 2014 Annual Human Rights Report. No doubt the delay was to allow extra time for the magic of talks to bear fruit, as the report cited both Iran and Cuba as serial human rights violators. How inconvenient, but as Secretary Kerry states in the embarrassing press release, the report is offered with “humility”.
“My advice to any leader who is upset by these findings [in the reports] is really to examine them, to look at the practices of their country, and to recognize that the way to alter what the world thinks … is to alter what is happening in those countries,” said Kerry. “That is the advice that we also give to ourselves. … We couldn’t help but have humility when we have seen what we have seen in the last year in terms of racial discord and unrest. So we approach this with great self-awareness.”
He said that when it comes to Iran and Cuba, the United States’ engagement is not the same thing as endorsement. He also said the purpose of the nuclear talks is to deal with the nuclear issue and not to deal with the human rights issue, which is a separate concern, a point the State Department has had to reiterate to reporters numerous times.
If the peace talks are about the FARC, and the FARC, according to the Colombian defense minister says the weapons found are for FARC, and FARC is supposedly negotiating a peace deal in Cuba, what are they doing smuggling 100 tons of gunpowder and other weapons….
Cubanet.org, Ernesto Perez Chang, Havana, 16 June 2015 — To judge by the avalanche of television programs that in recent weeks have been dedicated to so-called “domestic tourism,” in Cuba all families have adequate income to become a major market for the island’s hotel groups and resorts.
Several Round Tables with the participation of ministers, vice-ministers, and company heads, all tied to the tourism sector, plus extensive reports on the Cuban Television National News detail the offers for this summer, present promotional campaigns in hotels and shopping centers and exhort the “Cuban family” to make reservations as soon as possible due to high demand.
The propagandistic marathon gives the sense that the economies within our homes are booming and that this country, replete with multitudes living below the poverty line, only exists in “enemy propaganda.”
As anyone can find out if he wants to, within those same tourist centers “open to everyone,” it is difficult to find guests from our own backyard. Nevertheless, at the doors of the hotels one can collect statements from people who not even in their dreams are permitted the fantasy of “vacationing” on equal terms with foreigners.
Although many may seem to be indigent or to owe their poverty to a slight entrepreneurial spirit, talking with any of those vendors and hustlers who abound in the streets of Cuba can reveal to us that it is those same men and women, workers and professionals, who once believed in that perennial “sacrifice for the future” demanded by those same government officials who today, when speaking of vacations and complete availability in the midst of the daily miseries, inoculate them with a sense of personal failure.
Manolo, a street vendor with whom we spoke on a corner of Paseo del Prado tells us: “I worked my whole life, I was at the sugar harvest when needed, I was in all the mobilizations and I was in the vanguard for many years, and I have nothing. (…) My pension does not cover my needs, like almost everyone. How am I going to plan a vacation? Only one time, in 1983, could I go to a house on the beach in Guanabo, a week, and now I don’t even remember why it was. Vacations are for the rich, and in this country almost everyone is poor, so I don’t know what they’re talking about on television. Well, there they say anything. My son tells me that if I want to consume everything they talk about on the television, I have to put a basket underneath it, because they only exist on the news.”
Manolo’s experience is similar to that of thousands, maybe millions, of Cubans. Collecting testimony about the matter is not hard, and this makes it much more dramatic.
German, another old retiree who sells plastic bags in the streets of Old Havana, could give the impression that he wasted his time when young and that he did not exert himself to achieve greater welfare in his old age; however, like any decent Cuban he believed in work as the only source of prosperity and currently he feels cheated. Vacation in one of the tourist facilities promoted as a vacation destination by the government itself is a true luxury: “What do I do then? It is better not to even think of those things. (…) I never pay attention to what they say on television. They have their country and we, ours,” German tells me.
In cahoots with the journalists who lend themselves to hiding the true reality in a country where the word “vacation” has become empty of all meaning, government officials have the audacity to speak of “affordable prices,” of “overbooking” and “high demand” in a scenario where the entire year’s salary from an honest professional’s job is not high enough to even provide the enjoyment of one day in hotel in Cayo Coco or Varadero, two of the destinations that, according to the official press and the highest tourism authorities in Cuba, “are among the most in demand by the domestic tourist for the coming months of July and August, a time when Cubans comprise 45 percent of those vacationing.” The statistics from MINTUR, contrasted with Cubans’ hard day-to-day reality, are offensive.
Yes, another post about the lack of human rights in Cuba, not that anyone outside the Cuban community seems to care. Long ago, it was decided by the trend setters, the MSM, Hollywood, and the useful idiots of the world, that a cigar smoking mass-murdering psychopath and his band of thugs guilty of mass-murder, narco and human trafficking, and international terrorism are the ultimate in rebel hip coolness. How long will the love affair last? Probably until the vultures win the day and Cuba looks pretty much like any other third world hell hole tourist destination with boring retail chains selling trinkets in tourist areas isolated from the repressed poverty stricken locals. Just as it was in Apartheid South Africa, and is in Cuba today, except that with normalization the anti-American forbidden fruit thrill will be gone. Where’s the fun in that?
Cuba’s democratic opposition ‘has never been less protected’
cuba foranothercubalogoindexThe U.S. engagement with Cuba has produced no discernible political liberalization on the part of the Communist authorities, says a leading global civil society group.
There appears to be no let up in official censorship and repression of active citizens in authoritarian states like Cuba, China, Iran, North Korea, and Vietnam, according to Mandeep Tiwana, Head of Policy and Research at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance.
“Freedom of assembly is virtually non-existent in such contexts, and activists are often forced to engage online. But when they do so, they are demonized as being agents of Western security agencies,” he notes.
Cuba remains among the world’s top ten most censored countries, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
CUBA EXPRESSIONThe CPJ rankings indicate that the normalizing of US-Cuba relations cannot “mask the fact that Cuba will continue to be a one-party Communist state,” notes dissident writer Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo.
Cuba’s democratic opposition “has never been more fragile and less protected than today, despite the impressive number of dissidents and the heroism they display,” writes analyst Carlos Alberto Montaner.
Rum, Risk and Ruin: 13 Reasons Why You Still Shouldn’t Do Business in Cuba
By Santiago A. Cueto
The removal of Cuba from the U.S. state sponsors of terrorism list this week sparked a groundswell of excitement among U.S. entrepreneurs, lawyers, and investors looking to profit from the “enormous opportunities” on the island.
As part of the Florida Bar’s first-ever delegation to Havana, Cuba last week, I got the chance to see these “opportunities” for myself.
Indeed, Cuba does have lots of things to “offer”.
But they’re not what you’d expect.
The things I found most abundant in Cuba where rum, risk and ruin.
First, the rum.
Whether it’s meant to dull the senses of the locals to the island’s stark dystopian scene or to enhance the experience of the throngs of daily visitors, the abundance of rum is enough to fill Havana Bay twenty times over.
So there’s that.
Then there’s risk.
I’m not talking about the “getting mugged on a street corner” kind of risk– I always felt safe walking in Havana.
I’m talking about the “getting mugged by the Castro regime” kind of risk.
It’s all the same.
As one Florida banker put it “Capital doesn’t like to go where there’s risk….it’s not going to Iran, it’s not going to Iraq and it probably won’t go to Cuba for a while because of the risk.”
Finally, there’s the ruin.
Structural, economic and social.
All manifested in dilapidated buildings, crumbling mansions and 60 year-old Franken-cars.
I’m talking epic decay.
To this point, many sections of Havana are in such a state of deterioration that my taxi driver refused to go down some streets because there was a real danger that a building would collapse on top of us.
This is particularly true after it rains.
In short, Havana is a Sherwin-Williams’ salesman’s dream.
Imagine an entire city that’s not had a fresh coat of paint in 60 years.
With the paint company’s stock (SHW) down 5.05% to $282.21 today there’s real opportunity in Havana for Sherwin-Williams.
But it will need to wait another 20 years.
That’s how long I it will take before I’d advise anyone to do business in Cuba in the most optimistic of circumstances.
Just look at China.
I’m still wary of doing business there.
And its been 40 years since Nixon and Mao Zedong embarked on their normalization initiative.
13 Reasons You Still Shouldn’t Do Business in Cuba.
The below list is by no means exhaustive. I’ll be elaborating on each of them in the next few weeks.
Embargo will not be lifted for foreseeable future.
No Rule of Law.
Lacks of Independent judiciary.
Abysmal Human Rights Record
Outstanding Property Claims.
No Recognition of Property Rights.
Lack of Infrastructure.
No Skilled Work force.
No Major Industries.
Lack of Natural Resources.
No consumer class.
Mass Migration of Youth
Majority Elderly population.
To be sure, catching opportunities in Cuba is not unlike the experience of Santiago in Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.
In the story, Santiago struggles for days to catch a giant marlin off the coast of Havana. When he finally catches the giant fish, it is quickly devoured by sharks.
For all his efforts, an exhausted Santiago is left with only a skeletal carcass to take back to his village.
One need only replace the sharks with the Castro regime to see how the current story’s going to end.
Excellent article from our friend Jason Poblete (@JasonPoblete on Twitter) at DC Dispatches:
Cuba Smiles, All the Way to the Bank
The President has demonstrated since December 17, 2014 that he is willing, even if it means ignoring the law, to press forward on the U.S.-Cuba question. Congress has been, mostly, missing in action. While the House moved appropriations product this month, most of it, in the unlikely event that it survives in conference, goes into effect in next year. Nothing has been done to stop the administration this year.
If Congressional had moved swiftly in early January to respond to the President’s December 17 proposed policy shift, it could have mounted a successful effort to keep Cuba on the state sponsors of terror list, where it belongs. Yet once that domino fell, without even a credible response, it gave the administration the green light it needed to proceed on several fronts to deconstruct U.S.-Cuba relations as well as the law and regulations that underpin it.
Thanks to US policy, before December 17, 2014 Communist Party hardliners were whistling past the graveyard. Now it has much-needed life support.
Meanwhile the Cuban Communist Party has been very busy racking up successes. In six months, with the assistance of the Obama administration and its legions of K Street lawyers and lobbyists, Cuba (1) was removed from the state sponsors of terrorism list; (2) opened a much-needed U.S. bank account; (3) eased U.S. sanctions in ways not seen since the late 1970s; and, most importantly for Cuban Communist Party leaders, (4) is well on its way to securing diplomatic recognition or, as Raul Castro likes to say, respect, from a long-time political foe.
And yesterday, as expected, Moody’s issued a press release stating that Cuba’s removal from the state sponsors of terror list was “credit positive” and, somewhat inexplicably, rates Cuba Caa2 with a stable outlook. Cuba has also reportedly reached an agreement with the Paris Club on its sovereign debt. The regime is just getting started and when the money and new financing begins to flow (a regional lender has already promised it may lend money), it will virtually guarantee a neo-Communist thugocracy for a few more years. This will make it much more difficult for Cuban resistance leaders to make a difference on the ground and it will afford fugitives from U.S. law, including terrorists, safe haven.
The new U.S.-Cuba reality has afforded the Cuban Communist Party breathing room in Cuba and around the world, especially in the Western Hemisphere. With the state sponsor of terror Scarlett Letter removed, Communist Party leaders have wasted no time making the most of its new found fortune. It was its green light it needed for the neo-communists to consolidate power, scramble to secure investors and financing, crack down on Cuban civil society, and violate human rights with impunity in ways not seen in Cuba in decades. The Russian and Chinese governments also see many new opportunities for mischief in the largest island of the Caribbean.
Contrary to what Cuba’s legions of beltway supporters argue, the mainstay of U.S.-Cuba policy is, as is stated in the law, remains and should be peaceful transition. The sanctions have been extremely effective even if they’ve been enforced half-heartedly by both Republican and Democratic administrations. We have a statutory roadmap in place, with clear benchmarks for Cuba that the President and the Congress are ignoring and, in some cases, using new regulations and attempting to pass new laws that will weaken the existing framework.
What is truly perverse about the last six months is how U.S. interests and values have been forgotten or ignored by the President and the Congress. Americans are owed billions of dollars by the Cuban regime for unlawfully confiscated properties, debt obligations, and recent judgments against Cuban officials for human rights abuses and, yes, murder and torture of Americans. With respect to human rights abuses, we are no longer engaging in the ‘support for the Cuban people’ as the law intended it to be.
Policymakers should put the brakes on the one-sided rapprochement and focus on putting U.S. interests ahead of sound bite politics. And U.S. companies that are allowed to do business in Cuba, should also pitch in by setting new standards of engagement– a voluntary Code of Conduct — that are consistent with U.S. better guarantee worker rights and defend property rights.