CubaBrief: White House press secretary announces criteria for review of Trump Cuba Policy. CFC discusses re-designation of Cuba as a state terror sponsor

On January 28, 2021 White House press secretary Jen Psaki responded to a question on Cuba policy at a news briefing stating: “Our Cuba policy is governed by two principles. First, support for democracy and human rights – that will be at the core of our efforts. Second is Americans, especially Cuban Americans, are the best ambassadors for freedom in Cuba. So we’ll review the Trump administration policies.” This is an opportunity to examine what is working and what is not working on the Cuba policy front.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki responds to question on Cuba policy

White House press secretary Jen Psaki responds to question on Cuba policy

Former CFC Chairman and current board member Ambassador Everett Ellis Briggs discussed on the January 18th edition of “The Newsmakers” in the segment “Trump’s Foreign Policy Farewell” on TRT World, focusing on Cuba’s redesignation as a state terror sponsor and raised the important question of “why was Cuba delisted [from the list of state terror sponsors] by the Obama Administration in the first place?”

This decision by the outgoing Administration was not a last minute decision. Mark P. Sullivan of the Congressional Research Service reported that in May 2020 Cuba was not certified as cooperating with U.S. antiterrorism efforts and briefly outlined some of the reasons cited for redesignating Cuba a terror sponsor.

“In May 2020, the Secretary of State (pursuant to Section 40A of the Arms Export Control Act) added Cuba to the annual list of countries certified as not cooperating fully with U.S. antiterrorism efforts, the first time since 2015. On January 11, 2021, the Secretary designated the Cuban government a state sponsor of international terrorism (the previous such designation was rescinded in 2015). He cited Cuba’s harboring of several U.S. fugitives since the 1970s and of 10 leaders of Colombia’s National Liberation Army (a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization)…”

John Suarez, the executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba, cited by Local10 News said the Obama administration had high hopes when there was a shift toward normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba, but the policy had negative effects. “The Obama administration hoped to see political and economic reforms instituted by the regime,” Suarez said. “Instead, repression and human rights violations increased, as recognized by Obama’s own former Secretary of State John Kerry.”

Hoped for economic reforms, delayed under the Obama Administration, were advanced out of necessity during the Trump Administration. Havana had expected that U.S. taxpayers would join the long list of creditors waiting to get paid back delaying needed changes.

This is not a new story. In 2002 former Center for a Free Cuba Executive Director Frank Calzon, offered an assessment of U.S. economic sanctions, “say what you will about the U.S. embargo, but one of its best-kept secrets is that it has saved U.S. taxpayers millions. Because of the embargo, American banks aren’t among the consortium of creditors (among them Spanish, French, Canadian banks) known as ”The Paris Club.” A consortium that has been waiting for years to be paid what’s owed.” Taxpayers of creditor countries end up picking up the tab.

Mr. Calzon gave a conservative assessment when he observed that U.S. taxpayers had saved millions in bailouts. In reality, the economic embargo has saved American taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars over the years. Consider that the above mentioned Paris Club in 2015 forgave $8.5 billion of the $11.1 billion debt that the Castro regime owed. And Havana, even before COVID-19, was failing to meet its remaining obligations on its debts.

Reuters, January 28, 2021

Biden administration to review Trump policy on Cuba: White House

By Reuters Staff

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Biden administration will review U.S. policy on Cuba, the White House said on Thursday, after former President Donald Trump rolled back a historic Obama-era detente with Havana.

“Our Cuba policy is governed by two principles. First, support for democracy and human rights – that will be at the core of our efforts. Second is Americans, especially Cuban Americans, are the best ambassadors for freedom in Cuba. So we’ll review the Trump administration policies,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a news briefing.

Trump, a Republican, clamped down on Cuba after taking office in 2017, tightening restrictions on U.S. travel and remittances to Cuba, and imposing sanctions on shipments of Venezuelan oil to the island.

The policy was popular among the large Cuban-American population in South Florida, helping Trump win the state in November though he lost the election to Democrat Biden, who was former President Barack Obama’s vice president.

Nine days before Trump left office, his administration announced on Jan. 11 it was returning Cuba to the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, a move that could complicate Biden’s efforts to revive improved relations with the Communist-run nation.

Reporting by Nandita Bose and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Franklin Paul and Grant McCool

Reuters, January 27, 2021

Analysis: Cuba needs deeper economic reform, creditors say

By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba must devalue and deregulate further after taking initial steps this year to restructure its ailing state-run economy and presumably pay off long overdue debt, according to western creditors, business partners and analysts.

Cuba devalued the peso this month from its decades-old official rate of par with the greenback to 24 pesos to the dollar. A dollar substitute called the convertible peso, fixed at the latter rate, was scrapped, as were various sectoral exchange rates between the two.

In addition, the government announced a gradual reduction in subsidies to state companies, utilities and basic goods. In an effort to cushion the impact on the population, it imposed price controls combined with an average fivefold increase in state wages and pensions.

The changes were born of necessity. The Communist-run country is all but bankrupt. It failed last year to pay restructured debt and is finding it difficult to obtain credit.

Battered by the implosion of ally Venezuela, tighter U.S. sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic, the government says the measures could not be postponed. Cuba’s economy shrank by an estimated 11% last year versus 2019.

Six Cuba-based western diplomats and businessmen, whose governments and companies are owed money and who declined to be named, applauded the moves but said the government needed to go further.

A European diplomat, whose country is waiting for payment to the Paris Club of wealthy creditor nations, said the peso needed to be devalued to between 40 and 50 to the dollar, the current informal market rate. However, he feared authorities would balk at the possible political consequences.

“I think they are going to postpone further devaluation for a long while,” he said, pointing to popular complaints over higher utility and other prices in January that led the government to keep some subsidies destined for elimination and lower electricity and some other set prices.

Cuban authorities did not respond to a request for comment.


While many capitalist countries facing a similar balance of payments and budget crisis might turn to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), U.S. sanctions prohibit Cuba’s membership in the multilateral lender.

In return for budgetary financing, the IMF often advocates devaluation and cuts in subsidies to improve economic competitiveness. But without the wage increases, price controls and other policies simultaneously going into effect in Cuba to cushion the blow.

Cuba’s budget deficit is set to almost triple to 18% – 20% of the gross domestic product this year. The deficit is financed by state owned banks.

Cuba last reported its foreign debt at $18.3 billion in 2017.

Moody’s rates the Cuban credit risk at Caa2, one of its highest.


Another diplomat and an investor said confusion and a half-baked approach in the roll out of the more than 1,000 pages of regulations was worrisome, giving as an example how company assets were valued.

“At first, they were insisting company assets, both state and joint venture, remain valued at the old 1-1 exchange rate,” the diplomat said, even though resolution 337 of the ministry of finance and prices establishing accounting rules for the devaluation excluded joint ventures from the rule.

“The problem appears to have been solved but it showed incompetence at certain levels of the politicized bureaucracy,” he said.

A European investor commented that the government said a major reason for the single exchange rate was to make state company accounts more transparent even as they were granted more autonomy.

“Apparently keeping the old rate is to tamp down inflation in the short term but it will result in assets being way undervalued to an equivalent of a few cents on the dollar compared with costs, income and profits at the 24-peso rate, once more muddying the books,” he said.

Paul Hare, a former British ambassador to the island who lectures at Boston University’s Pardee School of Global Studies, said authorities must deregulate small business and foreign investment to foster growth and absorb labor, a view shared by many reform minded Cuban economists.

“Will they open up key sectors such as agriculture, energy or communications to foreign investment or allow small businesses to engage in manufacturing, exports and build more than mini enterprises?” he asked.

The Cuban government has said it intends to.

But the Cuba-based diplomats and businessmen were skeptical.

“They keep on repeating that this is their goal. But are they seriously doing it? Not so far,” one of the diplomats said.

Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Angus MacSwan

The New York Times, January 25, 2021

Dissidents First: A Foreign Policy Doctrine for the Biden Administration

A dissident is to a dictatorship what a bald fact is to an edifice of lies, the revelation of which causes the whole thing to crumble.

By Bret Stephens

Opinion Columnist

Thirty years from now, what will historians consider the most consequential event of January 2021 — the storming of the U.S. Capitol by an insurrectionist mob, or Aleksei Navalny’s heroic return to Moscow, followed by his immediate arrest?

In a broad sense, the two events are about the same thing: the future of freedom. In one version of the future, the assault on the Capitol marks the point at which the forces of illiberalism, mob violence and disinformation, much of it stoked and financed by the Russian government, reached critical mass in the West. In another version, the assault will be remembered as a historical anomaly when compared with the recovery of freedom in places where it once seemed lost — not just Russia but also China, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela.

How can Joe Biden move history toward the second version? By pursuing a foreign policy that puts dissidents first.

A common view of dissidents is that they are a humanitarian problem, but one that gets in the way of more important issues. Hillary Clinton gave voice to this view when, on her way to Beijing as secretary of state in 2009, she insisted that human rights questions “can’t interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis.” This isn’t cynicism, but rather a version of the utilitarian idea that doing the greatest good for the greatest number always takes precedence over the immediate interests of a handful of people.

But that’s wrong, and not just philosophically. Dissidents matter to the U.S. strategically. The dictatorships that most threaten the free world are too powerful to be brought down militarily. Nor are they likely to moderate their behavior thanks to economic prosperity or reformers working within the system. Anyone in doubt on this score need only look at China’s recent trajectory as an ever richer and ever more repressive regime.

What can bring dictatorships down is a credible domestic opposition that galvanizes public indignation through acts of exposure, mockery and heroic defiance. That defiance highlights the hypocrisies of the regime while demonstrating the possibilities of challenging it.

International pressure alone was not sufficient to bring down the apartheid government in South Africa. It took Nelson Mandela. Economic decay alone was not sufficient to bring down the Communist regimes in Poland and Czechoslovakia. It took Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel. The Soviet Union might be standing today had it not been for Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Andrei Sakharov and Natan Sharansky.

What is happening to Navalny is of a piece with that history. After barely surviving a brazen assassination attempt in August, Navalny duped one of his alleged would-be killers and extracted an unwitting confession. He followed up with an investigative video on the lavish lifestyle of Russian President Vladimir Putin, complete with a billion-dollar palace on the Black Sea, that’s been viewed north of 70 million times.

That Putin felt compelled to publicly deny owning the palace — while facing nationwide protests over Navalny’s arrest — is a reminder of how much more he has to fear from one man with courage than from any other form of pressure. A dissident is to a dictatorship what a bald fact is to an edifice of lies, the revelation of which causes the whole thing to crumble.

What’s true of Navalny in Russia is true of Jimmy Lai and Joshua Wong in Hong Kong. It’s true of Ilham Tohti and Xu Zhiyong in mainland China. It’s true of Nasrin Sotoudeh and Alireza Alinejad in Iran. It’s true of José Daniel Ferrer in Cuba and Leopoldo López of Venezuela. Those, among many others, are names that should mean something to any reader of The Times who cares about the recovery of freedom in the world.

These should also be names that President Biden, his secretary of state nominee, Antony Blinken, and his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, should make inextricable parts of American statecraft. Should China want U.S. tariffs eased? Negotiable — but not while Lai faces trial and Tohti is in prison. Would Russia like to see U.S. sanctions eased on Kremlin-favored oligarchs like Oleg Deripaska? Conceivable — but not while Navalny is under arrest and has to fear for his life. Would Iran like to resume nuclear negotiations? Then let Sotoudeh, Alinejad and every other political case in Evin Prison go.

In that connection, it beggars belief that the White House is reportedly considering former diplomat Robert Malley as a special envoy for Iran. Malley is widely seen as one of Tehran’s premier apologists in Washington; in November 2019 he went so far as to suggest that massive public protests in Iran justified Tehran’s paranoia about an Israeli-Saudi-U.S. plot. A Malley appointment would signal that, on the things that matter most, Biden’s foreign policy will be coldly transactional.

It needn’t be that way. A dissidents-first foreign policy would immediately revive America’s moral leadership after its squandering under Trump. It would force our adversaries to choose between their material interests and their habits of repression. And it would provide a margin of safety and maneuver for the dissidents we’d one day like to see in power. As foreign policy doctrines go, it’s more than decent. It’s smart.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email:

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Bret L. Stephens has been an Opinion columnist with The Times since April 2017. He won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary at The Wall Street Journal in 2013 and was previously editor in chief of The Jerusalem Post. Facebook

Local, January 11, 2021

Pompeo re-designates Cuba as state sponsor of terrorism

In this Nov. 6 photo, Cuba's foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez, left, meets with his Iran counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, in Havana, Cuba. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

In this Nov. 6 photo, Cuba’s foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez, left, meets with his Iran counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, in Havana, Cuba. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

By Hatzel Vela, Reporter

Andrea Torres, Digital Reporter/Producer

MIAMI – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Monday that the U.S has re-designated Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism” — rejoining countries like Iran, Syria, and North Korea. This comes months after adding Cuba to the list of countries that do not help the U.S. with counter-terrorism programs.

Former President Barack Obama’s administration had removed Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. Its reinstatement had been a longtime goal of President Donald Trump who rolled back Obama’s policy on travel and business.

“The Cuban government has fed, housed, and provided medical care for murderers, bombmakers, and hijackers, while many Cubans go hungry, homeless, and without basic medicine,” Pompeo said in a statement referring to Colombia’s Marxist guerrillas and U.S. fugitives.

The U.S. State Department released the announcement just after Pompeo spoke about the threat of the Chinese Communist Party’s aim at “hegemonic dominance” during an event by Voice of America, a broadcaster funded by the U.S. Congress.

Pompeo criticized Cuba’s relations with Venezuela, also an ally of Iran, China, and Russia. Trump re-imposed sanctions on Iran after withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal in 2018.

“The Cuban intelligence and security apparatus has infiltrated Venezuela’s security and military forces,” Pompeo said, adding Cuba helps Venezuela to allow “terrorist organizations to operate.”


Minutes after the announcement, Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez released a statement on Twitter.

“We condemn the US announced hypocritical and cynical designation of #Cuba as a State sponsoring terrorism,” Rodriguez wrote. “The US political opportunism is recognized by those who are honestly concerned about the scourge of terrorism and its victims.”


María José Espinosa, the deputy director of The Center for Democracy in the Americas, has advocated for engagement with Cubans on the island.

“The designation further complicates academic research and travel, commerce, and bilateral relations between the U.S. and Cuba, which will serve to close off options for the incoming administration and bring harm to the Cuban people,” Espinosa said.

John Suarez, the executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba, disagrees. He said the Obama administration had high hopes when there was a shift toward normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba, but the policy had negative effects.

“The Obama administration hoped to see political and economic reforms instituted by the regime,” Suarez said. “Instead, repression and human rights violations increased, as recognized by Obama’s own former Secretary of State John Kerry.”

John Kavulich, the president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, said the designation could prompt banks to decide that they want nothing to do with Cuba. Whether companies believe it is political or not, legal teams will likely advise them to tread softly with Cuba. That’s the goal of the Trump administration, to make individuals and companies say Cuba is just not worth the effort, Kavulich said.

“You’re going to have issues relating to finance,” Kavulich said, adding that “if the insurance companies increase their rate, the airlines may pass that along.”

Kavulich believes adding Cuba to the list will hamstring President-elect Joe Biden’s administration as they will be forced to go through a checklist to justify removing Cuba from the list and that could take months.

Also, there are ten members of Congress who are of Cuban descent and they will likely make it harder for Biden to change the designation.


As Democrats take over the Senate, Sen. Bob Menendez, of New Jersey, will chair the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee. A week ago, on CNN, Menendez pointed to his long career fighting the Castro regime and their human rights abuses.

“The state’s sponsor of terrorism designation has to be done on facts. If the facts substantiate that Cuba should be returned, then certainly I would support that,” Menendez told CNN’s Jim Acosta.

Rep. Gregory Meeks, the new chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the designation will not help Cubans.

“This designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism with less than a week to go in his presidency and after he incited a domestic terror attack on the U.S. Capital … that’s hypocrisy,” Meeks told The Associated Press.

In Florida, Cuban-American Republicans Rep.-elect Maria Elvira Salazar and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart also said they support Pompeo’s decision. Salazar said the brutal Castro dictatorship has been terrorizing the people of Cuba for decades and propping up the murderous dictators.

“The previous administration should never have delisted the Cuban regime in 2015, particularly at a time when the regime’s intelligence services are assisting international terrorist organizations and assisting in the brutal suppression of the Venezuelan people,” Diaz-Balart said.

Republican Sen. Rick Scott applauded the announcement. He released a statement saying, “Cuba continues to oppress its people and those across Latin America by supporting narco-states run by dictators” like Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua.

Pompeo leaves office on Jan. 20, the day of Biden’s inauguration.