CubaBrief: Existing U.S. Cuba policy achieving positive economic reforms while sanctioning Castro’s military economic conglomerate.

The Trump Administration’s Cuba policy has led to positive economic reforms by Havana that previous Administrations had sought through engagement with the Cuban dictatorship.

During the Obama Administration sanctions were repeatedly loosened on Havana beginning in 2009 and the results were opposite to what the Cuba experts predicted. Trade between the two countries collapsed in 2015 to $185.7 million from a peak of $711.5 million in 2008, the last year of the Bush Administration. Furthermore, during President Barack Obama’s détente with Cuba, the Cuban military’s role in the tourist economy expanded and further centralized economic control.

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Raul Castro engaged in economic liberalization beginning in 2008 due to need, arising in part from the pressure of U.S. sanctions. The detente with Havana that began in 2009 and the normalization of relations in 2015 lessened the pressure, and increased international credits for the dictatorship. This coincided with economic reforms being reversed and the expansion of the military into what had previously been civilian sectors of the economy.

Cuban author Nestor Carbonell in his January 31, 2021 article “CUBA CAUGHT IN THE CROSSFIRE AGAIN” found that “from 2015 to 2016, many in Washington thought that the impressive flow of American visitors to the island marked a new beginning in US-Cuba relations, which could achieve the three main objectives listed by Obama’s chief negotiator, Ben Rhodes, in his published memoir. Sadly, they turned out to be three illusions quashed by the Castro regime, as shown here:”

–“Expand the nascent private sector”—It was frozen, not expanded. New government licenses for microbusinesses, including the popular and rapidly growing in-home restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts, were abruptly suspended in 2017 for nearly one year. When reinstated, new restrictions were imposed.

–“Allow foreign businesses to hire Cubans directly”— Investors still have to partner with state enterprises (mainly the military) and cannot hire or fire employees or pay them, except through a government agency which collects the hard currency and pays the workers a fraction in local currency.

–“Show more restraint in its treatment of protestors”—Repression actually increased, significantly. Detentions and poundings of peaceful dissidents peaked in 2016, with nearly 10,000 documented cases. Women and minors were not spared. Today, emboldened by the prospects of a new US rapprochement, the Castro regime has intensified human rights violations–this time attacking artists and young activists seeking freedom of expression (San Isidro Movement).

These negative trends were turned around early on in the Trump Administration that instituted a Cuba policy that reversed the Obama opening and sanctioned trading with companies controlled by the Cuban military. Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who advised President Trump on Cuba policy, told El Nuevo Herald in April 2017, “it is not in the national interest of the United States for us to be doing business with the Cuban military.”

Al Jazeera’s Andy Gallacher, reporting from Miami on June 17, 2017 said that “essentially, Trump is looking to stop funding for the Cuban government, the Castros and the military, while encouraging young entrepreneurs to make their own way.” Over the next three years the Trump Administration tightened sanctions on the Castro regime, and specifically the Cuban military.

In spite of this, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, trade between the United States and Cuba during the Trump Administration was higher than it had been following the December 17, 2014 announcements by President Obama and General Raul Castro that relations would be normalized. Furthermore, despite COVID-19 limitations imports from Cuba rose during the last two years of the Trump Administration. The charts are available here: https://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/balance/c2390.html

Both the Chamber of Commerce and the AG lobby are pushing to make credits available to Havana. This is a bad idea for taxpayers and for advocates of reform in Cuba.

The United States since 2000 permitted sales to Cuba, but has not provided credits to Havana and maintained a cash in advance trade arrangement for the purchase of agricultural and pharmaceutical products. This has protected U.S. taxpayers from having to subsidize the Cuban dictatorship when it defaults on its financial obligations. Their European, Latin American and Asian counterparts cannot say the same to their respective taxpayers.

Under this cash in advance agreement American companies sold over $6.3 billion to the Castro regime and got paid. Despite billions in debt forgiveness on its restructured debt less than five years ago by the Paris Club, the Cuban dictatorship in 2019 again defaulted on its loan payments, reported Reuters on February 11, 2020 before the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was felt.

Havana is taking advantage of this present crisis. Reuters reported on October 30, 2020 that “wealthy nations grouped together in the Paris Club of creditors have waived Cuba’s annual payment for restructured debt but plan to impose a penalty.” The wire service failed to provide a broader context when reporting “this year marks the first time Cuba has missed the entire payment due by Oct. 31 since the restructuring agreement was signed in 2015, though it fell short of full payment last year as well.” Although accurate, it leaves out the prior decades that the Castro regime played the role of a dead beat whether or not economic conditions were good or ill for Havana.

The Trump Cuba policy showed positive results when Reuters reported on July 29, 2020 in the article “Cuba Loosens Straitjacket on Private Sector to Stimulate Economy” that “Communist-run Cuba is loosening restrictions on small businesses as it seeks to stimulate a state-dominated economy hammered by the implosion of ally Venezuela, U.S. sanctions and the pandemic.”

Seven months later, along with additional sanctions on military-economic conglomerates such as GAESA found Havana opening its doors to “most small business initiatives.” Labor Minister Marta Elena Feito Cabrera addressing the Council of Ministers meeting announced that they would “expand the field [allowing small private businesses operating in] from 127 activities to more than 2,000,” reported Reuters on February 6, 2021. This opening is done out of necessity for the regime to generate greater economic activity. However, if other countries provided more credits, and loans to Havana than the reforms would be undone, because their communist ideology views a growing private sector as a threat.

On the human rights front, Alenis Olivera of the Florida Political Review reported that Congresswoman Maria Elvira Salazar introduced the bill “The Fighting Oppression until the Reign of Castro Ends”, [the FORCE Act], that would require the communist country to release political prisoners and commit to fair, democratic elections–a complete shift from Castro’s current protocol–if the president wants to delist Cuba once again.”

The current approach to Cuba is good policy on several fronts: it protects U.S. taxpayers, generates positive economic reforms from Havana, and is popular with Cuban American voters in South Florida. Why is there pushback on the current policy? There are three main reasons: Not good for the dictatorship and their agents of influence, economic interests would like to make more money with the regime in Havana by having American taxpayers picking up the tab like their European counterparts, and the desire to undo all the policies of the Trump Administration.

Reuters, February 6, 2021

Cuba opens door to most small business initiatives

FILE PHOTO: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Havana

FILE PHOTO: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Havana

By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) – In a major reform of the state-dominated economy, the Cuban government will allow small private businesses to operate in most fields, eliminating its limited list of activities, state-run media reported on Saturday.

The measure, coming as the Caribbean island seeks to recover from an economic slump, will expand the field from 127 activities to more than 2,000, Labor Minister Marta Elena Feito Cabrera was quoted as saying. She spoke at a council of ministers meeting that approved the policy.

She said there would be 124 exceptions, but the media reports provided no details.

Reform-minded Cuban economists have long called for the role of small business to be expanded to help jump-start the economy and to create jobs.

The economy has stagnated for years and contracted by 11% last year, due to a combination of the coronavirus pandemic that devastated tourism and tough U.S. sanctions. Cubans have been dealing with a scarcity of basic goods and endless lines to obtain them.

The crisis has forced a series of long promised but stalled reforms, from devaluation of the peso and reorganization of the monetary system to some deregulation of state businesses and foreign investment.

“The self-employed are not going to have it easy in this new beginning due to the complex environment in which they will operate, with few dollars and inputs in the economy,” said Pavel Vidal, a former Cuban central bank economist who teaches at Colombia’s Pontificia Universidad Javeriana Cali.

“But with the ingenuity of the Cuban and the sophistication of the parallel market, they will be able to take off little by little,” he added.

President Miguel Diaz-Canel said last year the country faced an international and local crisis and would implement a series of reforms to increase exports, cut imports and stimulate domestic demand.

He said the measures would include “the improvement of the non-state sector, with immediate priority in the expansion of self-employment and removal of obstacles.”

The non-state sector – not including agriculture with its hundreds of thousands of small farms, thousands of cooperative and day laborers – is composed mainly of small private businesses and cooperatives; their employees, artisans, taxi drivers and tradesmen.

The labor minister said there were more than 600,000 people in the sector, some 13% of the labor force. They are all designated as self-employed and an estimated 40% depend mainly on the tourism industry or work in public transportation.

Over the last six months the government has also moved to grant small businesses access to wholesale markets and to import and export, though only through state companies.

(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Frances Kerry and Andrea Ricci)

https://news.yahoo.com/cuba-opens-door-most-small-141913306.html

Florida Political Review, February 7, 2021

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The FORCE Act and What It Means for U.S.-Cuban Relations

By Alenis Olivera

In 2014, former President Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro started a process to normalize relations between Cuba and the U.S. Later in 2015, the Obama administration removed Cuba from the U.S. State Sponsors of Terrorism list. Obama was the first president in years who tried to re-establish diplomatic relations with the communist country.

Now in 2021, just as President Joe Biden is entering office, Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar (R-Fla.) brought forth important legislation that directly affects the country’s Cuban American population. The Fighting Oppression until the Reign of Castro Ends, or the FORCE Act, seems like a step back to pre-Obama relations with Cuba.

The FORCE Act would reinstate Cuba on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list.

Salazar’s bill, if it becomes law, would require the communist country to release political prisoners and commit to fair, democratic elections–a complete shift from Castro’s current protocol–if the president wants to delist Cuba once again.

The Cuban government “continues to jail, starve, murder and systematically oppress the people of Cuba,” says Salazar as she announces that she is “proud to introduce the FORCE Act.” Her main goal is to hold the communist government accountable for their inhumane treatment of fugitives and Cuban citizens in general.

With a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, it may be difficult to pass a bill that essentially reverses former President Obama’s efforts to maintain civil relations with Cuba. The Senate, on the other hand, is almost split down the middle with 48 Democrats, 50 Republicans, and 2 Independents, making it hard to predict whether Salazar’s bill would pass through the Senate or not.

Despite the uncertainty of Salazar’s bill passing in Congress, several Republicans are already on board. Among them are Alex Mooney (WV) and Nicole Malliotakis (NY), both of whom are Cuban Americans.

Rep. Díaz-Balart stated, “It is imperative that Cuba remain on the SST list for its support of foreign terrorist organization(s) such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the National Liberation Army…and propping up the oppressive, anti-American dictatorship in Venezuela.”

Member of Florida’s House Delegation Carlos Gimenez, another co-sponsor of Salazar’s bill, claims that “Cuba’s fluctuating status as a state sponsor of terrorist weakens our grip of enforcement of the LIBERTAD Act and undercuts our diplomatic efforts to transition Cuba into a freer and more open country.”

These Republican members of Congress and Obama’s administration seem to have one thing in common: both would agree that Cuba’s government is anti-American and anti-democratic. They both want to move Cuba away from the oppressive communist regime.

The difference is how they wish to go about achieving this goal. Last September, Biden stated that he would try to “reverse the failed Trump policies as they inflicted harm on Cubans and their families.”

Though Biden wants to return diplomatic relations with Cuba to Obama-era policies, Republicans in Congress like Salazar wish to hold the country accountable for their actions, and the beginning of this is a bill like the FORCE Act.

Featured image: Maria Elvira Salazar being sworn into Congress. Unmodified image by the United States House of Representatives used under a Creative Commons license. (https://bit.ly/3tvhDLb)

Check out other recent articles from the Florida Political Review here.

http://www.floridapoliticalreview.com/the-force-act-and-what-it-means-for-u-s-cuban-relations/

Néstor T. Carbonell Blog,  January 31, 2021

CUBA CAUGHT IN THE CROSSFIRE AGAIN

By Néstor T. Carbonell

Author Néstor T. Carbonell Blog

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The return of Cuba to the US list of State Sponsors of Terrorism under the Trump administration is bound to trigger intense congressional debates. But they should not be partisan, political scrimmages, but rather serious foreign policy-cum-national security discussions.

The Biden administration is reportedly planning to restore parts of the Obama’s deal with the Castro regime, which removed Cuba from the terrorist list, restored diplomatic relations, and unilaterally eased US restrictions on travel, remittances, trade, banking and investments. It behooves us, therefore, to analyze the results or consequences of that largely one-sided détente, which mostly benefited and emboldened the Cuban rulers with few quid pro quos.

From 2015 to 2016, many in Washington thought that the impressive flow of American visitors to the island marked a new beginning in US-Cuba relations, which could achieve the three main objectives listed by Obama’s chief negotiator, Ben Rhodes, in his published memoir. Sadly, they turned out to be three illusions quashed by the Castro regime, as shown here:

–“Expand the nascent private sector”—It was frozen, not expanded. New government licenses for microbusinesses, including the popular and rapidly growing in-home restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts, were abruptly suspended in 2017 for nearly one year. When reinstated, new restrictions were imposed.

–“Allow foreign businesses to hire Cubans directly”— Investors still have to partner with state enterprises (mainly the military) and cannot hire or fire employees or pay them, except through a government agency which collects the hard currency and pays the workers a fraction in local currency.

–“Show more restraint in its treatment of protestors”—Repression actually increased, significantly. Detentions and poundings of peaceful dissidents peaked in 2016, with nearly 10,000 documented cases. Women and minors were not spared. Today, emboldened by the prospects of a new US rapprochement, the Castro regime has intensified human rights violations–this time attacking artists and young activists seeking freedom of expression (San Isidro Movement).

When Cuba was removed from the terrorist list in May 2015, the Castro regime’s acts of international terrorism and aggression were implicitly condoned or disregarded. Among them: the 1996 shoot-down over international waters of two unarmed aircraft of Brothers to the Rescue, which killed three US citizens and one US resident, as well as the 2013 smuggling of 240 metric tons of heavy weapons, in collusion with the terrorist state of North Korea, which  flagrantly violated UN sanctions.

Hoping to turn the page, Obama advised Congress that “Cuba has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.” Despite that assurance, the Castro regime continued harboring more than 70 US fugitives. They include several convicted murderers who appear on the FBI Most Wanted List, like the notorious killer of a police officer, Joanne Chesimard (Assata Shakur), and the master bomb-maker, Guillermo Morales, responsible for setting off several blasts, leaving 4 dead and more than 50 injured. 

Cuba also continues to serve as a sanctuary and operational base for international terrorists, including 10 leaders of Colombia’s National Liberation Army—a designated foreign terrorist organization that has claimed responsibility for a 2019 bombing in Bogotá that killed 22 people and injured more than 87.

In late 2016, still under Obama’s presidency, an ominous development started to unfold in Cuba and continued through 2017. Several dozen US diplomats and intelligence officers stationed on the island suffered a mysterious, debilitating brain illness. This so-called Havana Syndrome was marked by severe headaches, nausea, dizziness, hearing and memory loss, requiring extensive treatment in the US and, in some cases, permanent retirement. Canadian officials who resided in Cuba experienced similar symptoms and had to be evacuated.

After four years of investigations, experts engaged by the State Department indicated in December 2020 that the most probable cause of the affliction was “radiofrequency energy”—a type of radiation that was likely spurred by high-intensity microwave beams. Strong evidence point to “malicious, directed, and pulsed attacks.” The experts did not have access to classified intelligence information, but in their view the suspected perpetrator seems to be Russia, which has significantly researched and applied pulsed radiofrequency technology.

One thing is certain: these multiple targeted attacks, carried out over more than one year in a police state such as Cuba, could not have taken place without the knowledge and collusion of the Castro regime. It’s time to disclose the CIA findings about these attacks against American officials, which have severely affected their lives and sharply diminished our diplomatic and intelligence effectiveness in Cuba, and to hold the perpetrator and the accomplice accountable.

Russia’s strategic involvement in Cuba should not come as a surprise. In February 2014, Moscow’s spy ship Victor Leonov docked in Cuba just before Russia invaded Crimea. And in January 2015, the same vessel docked in Havana on the eve of a sensitive US-Cuba negotiation. It has since returned to the island several times.

In September 2015, another Russian ship, Yantar, equipped with two self-propelled submersible craft, cruised off the East coast of the US on its way to Cuba. According to Pentagon sources, the ship targeted a major undersea cable near the American naval base of Guantanamo, which carries global internet communications. And in November 2018, Moscow reportedly gave green light to the long-planned installation in Cuba of a Russian Global Satellite Navigation System (GLENS) for both commercial and military use. 

Russia is not alone in strategic pursuits on the island. For years, China has been using Cuba’s spy base in Bejucal, near Havana, to intercept electronic communications from the US. Moreover, in June 2018, The Diplomat magazine revealed that adjacent to that base a new signals intelligence installation was recently built with a huge steerable parabolic antenna and its spherical enclosure (radome), apparently to boost cyberwarfare capabilities, including missile tracking and possibly disruption of satellite communications. No comments yet from the Pentagon.

The current Havana-Moscow axis is not limited to Cuba. It encompasses Venezuela, where Cuba and Russia, in unison, have been propping up the Maduro dictatorship—Russia with armaments, officers and mercenaries, and Cuba with thousands of spies, repression agents and military personnel. The Secretary General of the OAS likened the massive deployment of Cuban forces in Venezuela to “an occupation army.”

US intelligence agencies have gathered evidence of the direct involvement of those forces in a Venezuelan paramilitary operation designed to spread terror with trained militias known as “colectivos”. They are also a key factor in Maduro’s Special Forces (FAES), responsible for tortures and extrajudicial killings of thousands of political and military opponents, which were denounced in 2019 and 2020 by the UN Human Rights Commission as crimes against humanity.

In addition, the governments of Ecuador, Chile, Bolivia and Colombia have shared intelligence with the US, showing how Cuban agents, sometimes posing as doctors, aided and abetted the riots and vandalism that shook those countries in 2019.

These menacing developments, which have been largely highlighted, not by conspiracy theorists, but by the current and previous Heads of US Southern Command, Admirals Faller and Tidd, should not be underestimated. The Biden administration would do well to maintain current US sanctions against the Castro regime, including the re-designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism—unless it stops repressing peaceful dissidents and supporting international terrorism, withdraws its spies and military personnel from Venezuela, and pursues a meaningful and sustainable democratic opening in Cuba. 

Also essential and urgent: a comprehensive US strategy for Latin America. That strategy should seek to counter the subversive penetration of the region by Russia, China, Iran and Hezbollah in collusion with Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, strengthen our alliances under the OAS, spur economic growth and safeguard our national defense.

Historians know that the Castro regime has hoodwinked a long line of US Presidents intent on improving relations with the island nation. Let’s hope a Biden presidency doesn’t join the queue.

https://nestortcarbonell.wordpress.com/2021/01/31/cuba-caught-in-the-crossfire-again-2/