CubaBrief: Castro regime asks for another delay in paying creditors. Reflection on EU – Cuba relations by Lithuanian MP. Cuban diplomat says US-Cuba relations at new low

Cuba is in trouble, and some Europeans believe that a policy that subsidizes the dictatorship will help Cubans. The Castro regime will once again delay its debt payments to the Paris Club, this time using the pretext of the pandemic, but they also did not meet their obligations last year. Lithuanian member of parliament Audronius Azubalis has written an important piece on whether or not Lithuania should ratify or reject the EU-Cuba cooperation agreement that is a must read, and calls for those involved in the debate to reflect on recent European history and the wisdom of collaborating with Havana. This is taking place at a time when the United States is holding Havana responsible for shoring up the Maduro dictatorship in Venezuela, and trafficking in doctors.

European governments and European taxpayers should reconsider, as many are left holding the bag again, what policies will help Cubans become self sufficient and repay their debts?

Both Russia and Cuba, prior to their communist revolutions, were net exporters of agricultural products. Under communism both became net importers of food and could not feed themselves.

The Soviet Union suffered terrible famines that cost tens of millions of lives in the 1920s1930s, and 1940s due to efforts to install communist centralized planning in agriculture, and turned it into the greatest importer of grain and livestock no longer able to feed their people.  Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the privatization of its agriculture, Russia once again became an agricultural powerhouse.

Prior to the Castro regime, “Cuba’s foreign trade, the overall value of Cuban exports to the United States surpassed her imports throughout the 1950s. Cuba’s exports amounted to $780.4 million while her imports only reached $277.4 million,” reported Professor José Alvarez of the University of Florida‘s Department of Food and Resource Economics in a research publication.

According to the Cuban Studies Institute between 1952-1958 there was “a successful nationalistic trend aimed to reach agricultural self-sufficiency to supply the people’s market demand for food.” Despite the efforts to violently overthrow the Batista regime in the 1950s, “the Cuban food supply grew steadily to provide a highly productive system that in daily calories consumption, ranked Cuba third in Latin America.

All of this came crashing down when the Castro regime seized and collectivized properties at the start of the revolution, and the rationing of food began in 1962 and has continued over the next 60 years with 80% of Cuba’s food now imported. This included the years when Cuba was heavily subsidized by the Soviet Union, and was part of the East Bloc, and also during the peak years (2011 – 2014) when it received massive amounts of assistance from Venezuela’s Chavez regime.

The secret that communists seek to maintain hidden is that the result of “decades of strict government control left the island dependent on food imports and farmers unable to earn a decent living.”

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Since 2000 one of the main suppliers of Cuba’s food supply is the United States, and the chicken that Cubans are lining up for today across the country comes from the United States. Meanwhile, the Castro regime has reduced the internal production of pork by 7,000 tons in the first quarter of 2020. The top Cuban diplomat in the United States claims that U.S. – Cuba relations are at a new low, yet trade between the two countries in 2019 totaled $284.3 million dollars which was higher than the trade figures in each of the last two years of the Obama Administration.  The low point in trade between Cuba and the United States was in 2015 when it dropped down to $185.7 million dollars, and the following year U.S. diplomats stationed in Havana began to suffer brain injuries. One could argue that was a low point in relations between the two countries, but a high point for the dictatorship getting everything it wanted, including sitting by while U.S. diplomats were harmed.

The Castro regime blames U.S. economic sanctions on the lack of food in Cuba, but in Russia the imposition of sanctions by both the United States and the European Union, in 2014 following the invasion of Ukraine, coincided with an increase in food production in Russia.

However over the past two months over 20,000 Cubans have called for an end to the internal blockade imposed by the Castro regime in a petition that asks it to “suspend the high custom fees to facilitate a Cuban-to-Cuban humanitarian bridge that would permit the importation of large amounts of food and medicines, as well as farm equipment, production equipment for small businesses, transport and cargo vehicles, seeds, fertilizer, clothes, shoes and food of all types.”

The paradox is that the United States economic sanctions on the Castro dictatorship are pressuring for the regime to bring an end to this internal blockade, along with democratic reforms. Lifting the U.S. embargo would remove that pressure, while aid from the European Union would also discourage the Cuban government from lifting the internal blockade: freeing Cubans to farm the land on their own terms, and like their Russian comrades, once again produce enough to feed their own people and have a surplus to become net exporters of food.

If Europeans want to help then they need to call on the Castro regime to end the internal blockade, maintained due to communist orthodoxy, and allow Cuban farmers to regain their autonomy: decide what crops to plant, to sell freely and directly to Cubans, and have the dictatorship get out of the way of feeding the Cuban people.

Agence France Presse, May 20, 2020

Cuba seeks delay in debt repayment to 2022: diplomats

By Katell Abiven, AFP

Cuban men wearing face masks transport food on their carts in the town of Bahia Honda (AFP Photo/Yamil LAGE)

Cuban men wearing face masks transport food on their carts in the town of Bahia Honda (AFP Photo/Yamil LAGE)

Havana (AFP) – Cuba has asked the Paris Club of major creditors for a delay in repaying its debt until 2022, citing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on its economy, diplomatic sources told AFP on Wednesday.

In a letter sent to 14 Paris Club countries to whom Cuba owes money including Britain, Canada, France and Japan, Deputy Prime Minister Ricardo Cabrisas proposed “a moratorium for 2019, 2020 and 2021 and a return to paying in 2022,” a diplomatic source revealed.

Two other diplomats subsequently confirmed the information. All sources spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the matter.

Havana missed more than $30 million in reimbursements in 2019.

In February, it committed to settling that debt by May, but the virus crisis has now put paid to those plans.

According to one source, the letter stipulates that Cuba would reassess its economic situation in 2021 to see if it could resume repayments.

The agreement with the Paris Club is crucial for Cuba, which has been subjected to punishing US sanctions since 1962.

After an easing of tensions under Barack Obama, sanctions have been ramped up under the administration of US President Donald Trump.

In 2015, Havana renegotiated its debt with 14 Paris Club countries, wiping out $8.5 billion from an $11 billion debt, with the repayments restructured gradually until 2033.

Cuba, which has suffered from food and fuel shortages, also benefited from several other creditors writing off debt: $6 billion by China in 2011, $500 million by Mexico in 2013 and $35 billion by Russia in 2014.

Havana is increasingly reliant on the European Union, which has become its main investor with almost $3.5 billion in trade in 2018.

However, lockdown measures enforced to combat the pandemic have badly affected Cuba’s main sources of income, such as tourism and remittances sent from Cubans abroad.

Tourism brought in $3.3 billion in 2018 but there has not been a single new visitor since March 24, putting a third of privately run businesses, and the 200,000 people they employ, at risk.

Tourist numbers had already dropped by 9.3 percent in 2019 due to new restrictions on American visitors.

The year-on year fall reached 16.5 percent in January and February — and that was before Cuba closed its borders.

– ‘Humanitarian crisis’ –

Remittances accounted for $3.5 billion in 2017, according to an estimate by economist Carlos Mesa-Lago.

“If the economic damage in Florida (where many Cuban immigrants live) is significant, then (remittances) will fall and that will impact people’s lives,” said the Inter-American Dialogue think tank, warning of “a humanitarian crisis.”

Another major source of income that has been hit is Cuba’s export of health care workers, which brought in $6.3 billion in 2018.

That has been cut by the return of 9,000 workers from countries with whom Cuba has strained diplomatic relations.

“It’s time to work on our reserves,” said Economy Minister Alejandro Gil, because “we must save everything we can.”

The island nation, which imports 80 percent of goods, “reduced by 75 percent its first quarter imports” because of a lack of cash flow, said economist Omar Everleny Perez.

Cuba is desperate to avoid a default, like it suffered in 1986.

It is hoping for clemency, given that the Group of 20 largest economies put in place a one-year freeze on debt repayments for the world’s poorest countries, including 40 in Africa.

The World Bank and International Monetary Fund have vowed to help vulnerable countries, but Cuba is a member of neither organization.

The UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean has said it expects Cuba’s GDP to fall by 3.7 percent in 2020, but many experts predict a greater contraction.

https://news.yahoo.com/cuba-seeks-delay-debt-repayment-2022-diplomats-185725534.html

Associated Press , May 21, 2020

Cuba’s top diplomat for US relations says ties at new low

By Christopher Gillette and Andrea Rodriguez

Cuba's Director-General of U.S. Affairs Carlos Fernandez de Cossio makes a statement to reporters, in Havana, Cuba.

Cuba’s Director-General of U.S. Affairs Carlos Fernandez de Cossio makes a statement to reporters, in Havana, Cuba.

HAVANA (AP) — Cuba’s top diplomat in charge of relations with the United States said Thursday relations have sunk to a new low, and potentially could sink even lower with the appointment of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio as acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Carlos Fernandez de Cossio decried the absence of any diplomatic outreach after an attack on the Cuban Embassy in Washington D.C. last April 30, and rejected a U.S. government letter that characterized Cuba as being “uncooperative” in the fight against terrorism.

“The current U.S. government, the State Department, the Secretary of State have made it very clear that they have no interest whatsoever to improve the relationship with Cuba,” he said.

The charges made by the U.S. were sparked by Cuba allegedly harboring several fugitives wanted by American justice, and for providing a safe haven to leaders of a Colombian guerrilla group.

Fernandez de Cossio says that in the case of the leadership of the leftist National Liberation Army, or ELN, Cuba is bound by international guarantees, including a promise to the Colombian government, to provide a safe haven to the guerrilla’s while peace talks proceed.

The diplomat says there is little communication between the Cuban government and the Trump Administration on any level, and that the prospect for any discussions are remote.

The Cuban diplomat appeared to hold out hope for change with an upcoming U.S. presidential election, saying a Democratic win could provide a platform for improving bilateral relations.

“Whatever Americans decide has an impact in the rest of the world, and that includes Cuba. Today, one can say that the difference between the positions of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party regarding Cuba is larger than ever before,” he said.

https://www.chron.com/news/article/Cuba-s-top-diplomat-for-US-relations-says-ties-15286544.php

The Lithuania Tribune, May 15, 2020

Why Lithuania should not ratify the EU-Cuba cooperation agreement?

By Audronius Azubalis

Audronius Ažubalis DELFI / Šarūnas Mažeika

Audronius Ažubalis DELFI / Šarūnas Mažeika

We discussed this issue with the like-minded earlier, even before the pandemic, which seems to have frozen all other political topics for a while.  However, the problem still remains unsolved and, therefore, today, in the light of the history of Lithuania’s civil resistance, it is particularly important to bring back the situation of human rights and freedoms in Cuba, whose people have been struck by the pandemic even harder than democratic societies, MP and a former Minister of foreign affairs, Audronius Ažubalis writes. 

At the moment, only the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania, unlike the leadership at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is opposing the ratification of the EU-Cuba Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement, which would open up new ways of survival for the Cuban dictatorship. After the US-based Cuban human rights activists, who sought to explain the practical consequences of this agreement, visited Lithuania in late February, a part of the public remained convinced that this issue was underpinned by loud moral arguments only, referring to the period of our own struggle for freedom.

This is partly due to the lack of information, in the public space, on how the US, our security ally, views this issue. The US decision to renew sanctions reveals why it is naive, in this context, to believe the claims of some EU Member States that dialogue with the communists is the only alternative in the current situation. 

This can be illustrated by the practical actions of the Cuban government when in the face of the current pandemic, according to the information from the Cuban authorities, more than 800 health professionals are now seconded abroad to combat it. In turn, the Trump’s administration continues its policy of tightening the sanctions and unequivocally calls on other countries in the world to refrain from hiring Cuban medical workers, who are victims of the 21st-century human trafficking, claiming that ‘the government of Cuba keeps most of the salary its doctors and nurses earn while serving in its international medical missions while exposing them to egregious labour conditions.’ The US Department of State displays a similar official position that ‘host countries seeking Cuba’s help for COVID-19 should scrutinize agreements and end labour abuses.’ 

Perhaps those who do not closely follow US foreign policy still believe that the US continues with the policy of former President Barack Obama, which marked the warming of the US-Cuba relations. However, the warm bilateral relations deteriorated significantly after Trump’s arrival at the White House. The current US government has renounced Obama’s unproductive policy of appeasement and imposed new sanctions against Cuba, including new travel and remittance restrictions, a cruise ban, and the closure of consular services in Havana.

The US policy vis-a-vis Cuba has been consistently tightened. US President Trump announced, in June last year, that the US banned American cruise ships from stopping in Cuba, causing Havana to reduce its tourism targets for 2019. The harsh US rhetoric in October was accompanied by even tougher sanctions, namely extending restrictions on exports of foreign goods containing American-made components to Cuba and further restrictions on Cuba’s tourism sector, which is the country’s main source of foreign income. This was a response to the support by the Cuban special services and military instructors to the criminal regime of Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro. 

In his third State of the Union Address, in early February this year, Trump clearly expressed his support to the hopes of Cubans, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans to restore democracy. ‘As we restore American leadership throughout the world, we are once again standing up for freedom in our hemisphere. That is why my administration reversed the failing policies of the previous administration on Cuba,’ said Trump. 

Meanwhile, the outcomes of the EU policy towards dialogue can be well illustrated by the following wording. Having regard to its previous resolutions on Cuba[1], in its newest Resolution of 28 November 2019 on Cuba, the case of José Daniel Ferrer[2], the European Parliament merely expresses its regret that, despite the EU-Cuba Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement, signed in December 2016 and provisionally applied as of 1 November 2017, the situation of democracy and human rights has not improved, as arbitrary detentions, torture, and ill-treatment, as well as regular persecution, harassment of and attacks against peaceful dissidents, independent journalists, human rights defenders, and political opposition continues. The Resolution deeply regrets the fact that the Cuban authorities refused to allow Parliament, its delegations, and some political groups to visit Cuba despite Parliament granting its consent to the PDCA. This position is highly typical for today’s EU foreign policy, which is utterly incapable.

Thus, the US administration strives to restore democracy in Latin America in a way different from that of the EU. Before deciding which way will prove more appropriate in the long run, we should bear in mind that the EU-Cuba Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement provides that ‘the Parties agree to make available the appropriate resources, including financial means, insofar as their respective resources and regulations allow, in order to fulfil the cooperation objectives set out in this Agreement.’

This means that all European financial players and agencies for cooperation and development can in principle, provide funds to support this cooperation agreement. Immediately after the ratification of the agreement by all EU Member States, the Cuban regime could receive billions of euros of credit, as well as benefit from modern technologies, trade and exchange of goods and assets, all of which would help the dictatorship to survive. 

On the moral side, human trafficking and exploitation of forced labour, as defined in international law, are among the main sources of income for the Cuban regime. The letter of November 2019 from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery to the Cuban government,[3] signed by Maria Grazia Giammarinaro and Urmila Bhoola, expresses concern over the forced labour practised by the Cuban regime, while also uncovering the functioning of Cuba’s entire system of trafficking in its citizens. Initially people receive free education, but then doctors and other professionals spend on average three years working at the so-called foreign medical missions (e.g. Mais Medicos) in different countries. 

Where the government of the host country pays directly to Cuban employees, the latter are obliged to pass on to their government between 75 % and 90 % of their monthly salary. Nevertheless, they have to accept this as a significant improvement in their financial situation because on the island, doctors usually earn less than USD 100 per month. Unfortunately, this vicious circle is difficult to break, since Article 135(1) of the Cuban Criminal Code states that an official, in this case, a doctor, who refuses to go on a mission or refuses to return to Cuba after its completion, is subject to imprisonment for a term of three to eight years. According to the forced labour indicators developed by the International Labour Organization, it seems that the current working conditions described in the letter are equivalent to forced labour. In contrast, forced labour is a contemporary form of slavery. 

The case brought against the Mais Medicos programme run in Brazil has reached the US Federal Court. Recordings of conversations between high-ranking Cuban officials and the administrations of Brazilian leftist presidents Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Roussef slipped into the public domain in 2012, revealing discussions on the ways of circumventing Brazilian legislation and US federal law by making use of the Pan American Health Organization, a UN regional body, as an illegal intermediary to implement the above-mentioned scheme of trade in medical staff.

The scope and scale of the presence of the Cuban regime in Latin America are also proved by the support of Venezuela’s Maduro regime. The open secret is that the proceeds from illegal trade, mainly drug trafficking, related money laundering, and human trafficking enable the Maduro regime and its puppets to hold the citizens in their iron grip.

However, when evaluating the practical consequences of the EU-Cuba cooperation agreement for the EU and, therefore, Lithuania, it is important to recall an agreement between the US, Mexico and Canada signed in 2018[4]. Article 23.1(b) of this agreement expressly prohibits any forced labour and provides for the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour. 

Therefore, any state willing to engage in trade with the US would find it extremely problematic to hire Cuban medical personnel under the conditions that have been proven and confirmed as forced labour and slave-like treatment during the previous missions within the Cuban Medical Internationalism or to maintain commercial relations with the Cuban regime that applies this practice. Thus, the Cuban regime violates not only international law and US law but also the EU legal system and each international law regulation on combating trafficking in human beings and money laundering.

The Democrats and the Republicans have submitted to the US Congress the resolutions condemning this practice. One of the resolutions was co-authored by Republican Senator Marco Rubio, Democrat Senator Bob Menéndez, and Republican Senator Rick Scott[5].

The concern of our main security allies in the US about our decision in relation to the EU-Cuba agreement is also evidenced by the letter from the above-mentioned senators to Lithuania’s Ambassador in the US. Their letter underlines the joint fight of our countries for human rights and democratic values and calls for opposing any agreement that would ‘provide economic assistance to the brutal communist regime in Cuba’.

The Lithuanian Parliament is urged to reject this agreement and stand in solidarity with the Cuban people. This comes in addition to the letter from US Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo to Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis with the explicit request for non-ratification of this agreement. Therefore, it is pointless self-deception for anyone to believe that this issue is far away from Lithuania and of no consequence for our relations with the US. 

I suggest, however, that Lithuania should refrain from merely taking the position of rejecting the agreement and abandoning efforts to improve the situation in Cuba. I just want to show that the form of dialogue taken by the EU fails to produce actual results. On the contrary, the situation is only getting worse. Lithuania’s position should become an opportunity for the EU to draw up a road map for concluding the EU-Cuba cooperation agreement. The road map should very clearly detail, in periods of months or years, the commitments of the Cuban government in the area of democracy and human rights, while EU financial-economic and technological support would be contingent on the successful implementation of the measures envisaged by the road map.

[1] In particular those of 17 November 2004 on Cuba, of 2 February 2006 on the EU’s policy towards the Cuban Government, of 21 June 2007 on Cuba, of 11 March 2010 on prisoners of conscience in Cuba, of 5 July 2017 on the draft Council decision on the conclusion, on behalf of the European Union, of the Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement (PDCA) between the European Union and its Member States, of the one part, and the Republic of Cuba, of the other part and of 15 November 2018.

[2] European Parliament resolution on Cuba, the case of José Daniel Ferrer, 2019

https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/RC-9-2019-0200_EN.html [accessed on 12/5/2020]

 [3]Mandatos de la Relatora Especial sobre las formas contemporáneas de la esclavitud, incluidas sus causas y consecuencias; y de la Relatora Especial sobre la trata de personas, especialmente mujeres y niños,2019,<https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=24868&fbclid=IwAR0ljO8BySuUSedby22RKAPZQ4DGkjVt_U9iLEmzJaPBlYJn8WgA70qqha8> [accessed on 12/5/2020].

[4] Office of the United States trade representative, “Agreement between the United States of America, the United Mexican States, and Canada 12/13/19 Text”, 2019 <https://ustr.gov/trade-agreements/free-trade-agreements/united-states-mexico-canada-agreement/agreement-between> [accessed on 12/5/2020]

[5] Congress.gov, “S.Res.14 – A resolution affirming that the Government of Cuba’s foreign medical missions constitute human trafficking”, 2019 <https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-resolution/14/text> [accessed on 12/5/2020]

https://www.15min.lt/en/article/opinion/in-commemoration-of-civil-resistance-day-why-lithuania-should-not-ratify-the-eu-cuba-cooperation-agreement-530-1321080 

https://lithuaniatribune.com/eu-cuba-cooperation-agreement-and-lithuania/