CubaBrief: Exploring Martin Luther King Jr.’s rhetoric. Biden, sanctions and Cuba policy.

January 18, 2021 is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a federal holiday signed into law in 1983, and first celebrated in 1986. The University of Pittsburgh’s Pittwire publication on Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday on January 15th published an article “Exploring the Rhetoric of Martin Luther King Jr.” interviewing PhD student and Seminar in Composition instructor Lissette Escariz Ferrá. “And for [Lissette], King’s words feel personal. A Cuban immigrant who came to the U.S. speaking only Spanish, Escariz says she remembers reading the letter as a teenager,” reported Pittwire.

“King is a master of rhetoric,” says third-year literature PhD student and Seminar in Composition instructor Lissette Escariz Ferrá. “I teach the letter as one of the main texts for my rhetoric unit because it is so rich.” Escariz has included King’s letter in her syllabus every semester for the past several years as a model of impactful rhetoric—defined simply as the art of persuasive language.

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“She explains to her students that King’s composition demonstrates the foundational principles of rhetoric—ethos, an appeal to authority and credibility; logos, an appeal to reason; pathos, an appeal to emotion; and Kairos, the timeliness of an argument.”

Today is a good day to revisit this American text, Letter from a Birmingham Jail and the strength of the late Baptist minister’s rhetoric and the power and continued relevance of nonviolent action to effect positive change. Within the options for non-violent action by states is the ability to economically sanction bad actors.

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On January 15, 2021 the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated the Cuban Ministry of Interior and the Minister of Interior, Lazaro Alberto Álvarez Casas, for serious human rights abuse, pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13818, which builds upon and implements the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and targets perpetrators of serious human rights abuse and corruption around the world.”

The Hill reported that “Friday’s sanctions officially label Cuba’s ministry department as “being a foreign person who is responsible for or complicit in, or having directly or indirectly engaged in, serious human rights abuse,” with Álvarez Casas labeled “a foreign person who is the leader or official,” of the department that engaged in such abuse. The Friday sanctions prohibit any transactions between the U.S. or U.S. actors and the Cuban actors that have been sanctioned, according to the Treasury.”

Financial Times reported on January 18, 2021 that the Biden Administration renewing detente with the Castro regime will be difficult because Havana refuses to engage in reciprocity. “Further complicating matters is the unresolved issue of sickness among US and Canadian diplomats in Havana in 2016-17, leading to reductions in staff and the US closing most consular services. A US government report found the most likely cause was directed microwave radiation.”

Pittwire, January 15, 2021

Exploring the Rhetoric of Martin Luther King Jr.

Why does the “Letter from Birmingham Jail” still speak to us today? Third-year PhD student and composition instructor Lissette Escariz Ferrá helps her students understand. (Courtesy of Lissette Escariz Ferrá)

Why does the “Letter from Birmingham Jail” still speak to us today? Third-year PhD student and composition instructor Lissette Escariz Ferrá helps her students understand. (Courtesy of Lissette Escariz Ferrá)

Many turns of phrase in Martin Luther King Jr.’s renowned 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail” are familiar to Americans today:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

One has not only a legal, but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.

The letter, written while King was in solitary confinement after being arrested for demonstrating against segregation in Alabama, is addressed to a handful of clergymen who had themselves written a letter to the local newspaper decrying his actions. “We are convinced that these demonstrations are unwise and untimely,” they wrote. Their letter ends with a refrain that’s also familiar today: “We appeal to both our white and Negro citizenry to observe the principles of law and order and common sense.”

But what makes King’s letter—and not the clergymen’s—so memorable, regardless of a reader’s race or background?

“King is a master of rhetoric,” says third-year literature PhD student and Seminar in Composition instructor Lissette Escariz Ferrá. “I teach the letter as one of the main texts for my rhetoric unit because it is so rich.” Escariz has included King’s letter in her syllabus every semester for the past several years as a model of impactful rhetoric—defined simply as the art of persuasive language.

“Every time I teach King’s letter, my students spark a conversation about how the inequalities King and his supporters were fighting against are still undeniably present today,” says Escariz. In part, that’s due to the way King writes.

She explains to her students that King’s composition demonstrates the foundational principles of rhetoric—ethos, an appeal to authority and credibility; logos, an appeal to reason; pathos, an appeal to emotion; and Kairos, the timeliness of an argument.

And for her, King’s words feel personal. A Cuban immigrant who came to the U.S. speaking only Spanish, Escariz says she remembers reading the letter as a teenager.

“As an ethnic minority in the U.S., I have experienced xenophobia. When I lived in Cuba, the U.S. was a model of equality and opportunity to many from the outside,” she says. “Therefore I had this idea that laws in the U.S. were always good, especially when I was a young high school freshman. But when I read the letter, and particularly the part where King says that if you feel a law is unjust you have to stand up against it, I began to realize that equality isn’t extended to everyone. His words are very powerful.”

In her course, Escariz helps students connect that power to their own lives and to the urgency of the letter itself. “Something King does to refute the clergymen who call him an extremist is remind them that Jesus Christ was an extremist for love. He makes that connection to show that a figure they worship was once extremely controversial, just like they are making King look. When I read those lines it reminds me of what King represents to so many. He is a figure whose movement is grounded in equality and love. For me, almost everything goes back to these principles, with all the complications they include.”

After reading and discussing the letter, Escariz asks her students to select and examine a few examples of the rhetorical moves King makes. “Even though they all write about the letter, their analyses look different because there are so many complex examples to choose from,” says Escariz, who studies Caribbean and Latin American literature using a post-colonialist lens.

Their analysis is part of a cumulative plan building toward an end-of-semester research paper.

“The rhetoric section is designed to help them identify biases and also to understand how factual evidence is presented in the sources they compile for their final project,” she says.

“I haven’t stopped teaching the letter because the stakes, particularly for the African American community, are so high. It’s crucial for me as an instructor to teach texts that speak to the world outside my classroom.”

https://www.pittwire.pitt.edu/news/exploring-rhetoric-martin-luther-king-jr

Financial Times, January 18, 2021

Biden rapprochement with Cuba faces difficult hurdles

Havana’s reluctance to make concessions and US electoral politics complicate detente

Cuba’s citizens, currently mired in the worst economic crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union, are pinning their hopes on US president-elect Joe Biden

By Marc Frank in Havana and Michael Stott in London

Battered by their worst economic crisis in decades, ordinary Cubans are hoping that US president-elect Joe Biden will bring them better times, remembering his role in Barack Obama’s administration which eased sanctions and restored full diplomatic relations. But last week move’s by the outgoing Trump administration to designate Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism has thrown another obstacle along what already promised to be a long and difficult path towards rapprochement.

Mike Pompeo, in his final few days as US secretary of state, accused Havana of aiding murderers, bombmakers and hijackers when announcing the designation, triggering a furious reaction from Cuba. The other countries labelled by the US as state sponsors of terrorism are Syria, North Korea and Iran. The US decision was the result of an inter-agency process and typically takes several months, meaning it cannot be swiftly reversed.

Other hurdles to better relations include unhelpful domestic politics in both countries, Cuba’s solid backing for Nicolás Maduro’s regime in Venezuela and a continuing row over the sickness of US diplomats stationed in Havana.

“It will be difficult for even a more modest Biden-led detente to advance meaningfully without greater reciprocity from Cuba,” Nicholas Watson of consultancy Teneo wrote in a note to clients.

Cuba’s long-suffering citizens, currently mired in their worst economic crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union, are nonetheless pinning their hopes on Mr Biden. Speaking from her modest home in a small town in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra mountains of eastern Cuba, Kety Pulgar, 45, said Mr Biden would “do things Trump did not want to do”.

“Everyone is waiting to see how things develop, but we think they’ll be positive because of his links to Obama,” she told the Financial Times.

“The people look favourably, not unfavourably on him.” Rolando Matos, who runs a burger restaurant in Havana, said small businesses such as his enjoyed a boom during Mr Obama’s presidency as US tourists began visiting Cuba. This ended when Mr Trump blocked travel to the island.

“Undoubtedly, having a Democratic president and follower of Obama will be very favourable for Cuba and businesses are hoping to recover,” Mr Matos said.

Such optimism may be premature. In the first months of the Biden administration, incremental steps to improve relations are more likely than a major thaw, say experts.

Joe Garcia, a former Democratic congressman from Miami who recently made an exploratory trip to the island, said of the Cuban government: “They think happy days are here again. I tried to disabuse them of the idea that it all goes back now to Obama 2.0.”

Mr Garcia said he expected the Biden administration to first focus on scrapping limits imposed by the Trump administration of $1,000 per quarter on remittances, dismantling a few travel restrictions and lifting a ban on US flights to Cuban airports outside Havana.

John Kavulich, president of the US-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, said resolving the crisis in Venezuela was far more important to Mr Biden. “As for adding unfettered visits to help the Cuban tourism industry . . . why would Biden choose to remove that leverage?” Officials in Mr Biden’s transition team declined to comment on Cuba policies, saying they could only speak after the January 20 presidential inauguration.

The Havana government has so far been cautious. Miguel Díaz-Canel, Cuban president, did not congratulate Mr Biden or mention his name in public after the US election.

Cuba is in the throes of a delicate political transition to a younger generation, with Raúl Castro, the former president who leads the Communist party, due to step down in April. In his year-end address to the nation, Mr Diaz-Canel said it was possible to build a “respectful and lasting relationship” with the US but added: “What we are not willing to negotiate and what we will not give in one iota is the revolution, socialism and our sovereignty.”

Carlos Alzugaray, a retired Cuban diplomat, said Havana was ready to return to the detente blown up by Mr Trump but added: “They expect reason to prevail on the other side.”

This, US experts say, is a problem: Cuban officials see their country as a victim of unfair measures and do not believe they need to take steps themselves to improve relations. Further complicating matters is the unresolved issue of sickness among US and Canadian diplomats in Havana in 2016-17, leading to reductions in staff and the US closing most consular services.

A US government report found the most likely cause was directed microwave radiation.

But perhaps the biggest obstacle is US electoral politics. Mr Trump’s hard line against Cuba and Venezuela proved popular among Latino voters in Florida, helping the Republicans win the state by a bigger margin than in 2016. Influential Florida Republican Marco Rubio, one of three Cuban-Americans in the US Senate, has already warned against relaxing US sanctions on Cuba, citing a recent crackdown by Havana on dissidents.

“We can already see how the Cuban regime responds when it thinks relief may be on the way,” Mr Rubio wrote in the Miami Herald last month. “More innocent Cubans will pay the price if we return to a one-sided Cuba policy — and throw a lifeline to Raúl Castro’s dictatorial regime.”

https://www.ft.com/content/90cbafee-d4d9-462b-9f24-de50b6e3a30a

The Hill, January 15, 2021

Treasury imposes additional sanctions on Cuba over allegations of ‘serious human rights abuse’

By Celine Castronuovo

The Treasury Department on Friday announced sanctions on Cuba’s Ministry of Interior and its director due to allegations of “serious human rights abuse,” the latest in a string of hard-line actions aimed at the Caribbean nation in the final days of the Trump administration.

The Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced in a press release that it was sanctioning Cuba’s interior ministry, along with its minister, Lazaro Alberto Álvarez Casas, in pursuance of President Trump’s December 2017 executive order targeting “perpetrators of serious human rights abuse and corruption around the world.” 

In a news release, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said, “The Cuban regime has a long history of human rights abuse.” 

“The United States will continue to use all the tools at its disposal to address the dire human rights situation in Cuba and elsewhere around the world,” he said.

The Treasury argues in its release that Cuba’s interior ministry held Cuban dissident Jose Daniel Ferrer in September 2019, when he was allegedly “beaten, tortured, and held in isolation,” and “received no medical attention while in prison.”

Álvarez Casas served as the vice minister of the interior department until November 2020, when he was promoted to minister of the interior. 

Friday’s sanctions officially label Cuba’s ministry department as “being a foreign person who is responsible for or complicit in, or having directly or indirectly engaged in, serious human rights abuse,” with Álvarez Casas labeled “a foreign person who is the leader or official,” of the department that engaged in such abuse. 

The Friday sanctions prohibit any transactions between the U.S. or U.S. actors and the Cuban actors that have been sanctioned, according to the Treasury. 

The move by the treasury comes just days after the State Department officially relisted Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism,” reversing a decision made by the Obama administration in 2015 as part of an effort to improve relations with the country.

“The Trump Administration has been focused from the start on denying the Castro regime the resources it uses to oppress its people at home, and countering its malign interference in Venezuela and the rest of the Western Hemisphere,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement Monday, referring to Raúl Castro. “With this action, we will once again hold Cuba’s government accountable and send a clear message: the Castro regime must end its support for international terrorism and subversion of U.S. justice.”

The terrorism list designation subjects Havana to new sanctions, including restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance and bans on defense exports and sales.

Experts have said that the move to redesignate Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, grouping it with other countries like Syria, Iran and North Korea, will likely complicate efforts by President-elect Joe Biden to reimplement Obama-era policies upon taking office next week. 

Biden’s policy is likely to be further complicated by Trump’s heavy support among Cuban American voters, coming just two months after Biden lost to Trump in the state of Florida, which has a large Latino population and where Republicans have sought to paint Democrats as socialists.

https://thehill.com/policy/international/534460-treasury-imposes-additional-cuba-sanctions-over-allegations-of-serious

Treasury Sanctions the Cuban Ministry of the Interior and Its Leader for Serious Human Rights Abuse

January 15, 2021

Washington – Today, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated the Cuban Ministry of Interior and the Minister of Interior, Lazaro Alberto Álvarez Casas, for serious human rights abuse, pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13818, which builds upon and implements the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and targets perpetrators of serious human rights abuse and corruption around the world.

“The Cuban regime has a long history of human rights abuse,” said Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin. “The United States will continue to use all the tools at its disposal to address the dire human rights situation in Cuba and elsewhere around the world.”

The Cuban Ministry of Interior (MININT) is responsible for Cuba’s internal security, to include controlling Cuba’s police, internal security forces, and the country’s prison system. Specialized units of MININT’s state security branch are responsible for monitoring political activity, and Cuba’s police support these security units by arresting persons of interest to MININT.

In September 2019, Cuban dissident Jose Daniel Ferrer was held in a MININT-controlled prison in Cuba, where he reported being beaten, tortured, and held in isolation. Additionally, Ferrer received no medical attention while in prison. Lazaro Alberto Álvarez Casas (Álvarez Casas) served as the vice minister of MININT until November 25, 2020, when he was promoted to the position of Minister of the Interior.

MININT is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13818 for being a foreign person who is responsible for or complicit in, or having directly or indirectly engaged in, serious human rights abuse. Álvarez Casas is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13818 for being a foreign person who is the leader or official of MININT, an entity that has engaged in, or whose members have engaged in, serious human rights abuse relating to his tenure. 

SANCTIONS IMPLICATIONS

All property and interests in property of these persons that are blocked pursuant to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, 31 C.F.R. part 515 (CACR), continue to be blocked. The CACR prohibits persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction from dealing in property in which Cuba or a Cuban national has an interest, unless authorized or exempt. Additionally, pursuant to the Global Magnitsky Sanctions Regulations, 31 C.F.R. part 583, all property and interests in property of the persons above that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons are blocked, and all transactions by U.S. persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of designated or otherwise blocked persons are prohibited unless authorized by a general or specific license issued by OFAC, or otherwise exempt. These prohibitions include the making of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of any blocked person or the receipt of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services from any such person.

View more information on the persons designated today.

SPECIALLY DESIGNATED NATIONALS LIST UPDATE

The following individuals have been added to OFAC’s SDN List: 
 
ALVAREZ CASAS, Lazaro Alberto, Cuba; DOB 1963; Gender Male (individual) [GLOMAG]. 

MINISTRY OF INTERIOR (a.k.a. MINISTERIO DEL INTERIOR; a.k.a. “MININT”), Aranguren and Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, Havana, Cuba; Organization Established Date Jun 1961 [GLOMAG].

https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/sm1237