CubaBrief: Better way for Biden to support democracy in Cuba, beyond Obama and Trump approaches. Blitz decrees & subsidizing Castro’s military not the way to go.

The Castro regime has the same henchman in power today that came down from the Sierra Maestra with Fidel Castro in 1959. Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother, was handed power in 2006 when his brother became ill, and remains today the maximum authority as head of the Communist Party. He is surrounded by the old men that constructed the police state in Cuba, and in the 1980s rejected Glasnost and Perestroika, correctly predicting that liberalization would endanger their Stalinist rule. Military officers “contaminated” by those ideas were sidelined, or as in the case of  General Arnaldo Ochoa, subjected to a show trial and shot by firing squad in 1989.

This first generation has maintained power, and like their counterparts in the Soviet Union, the Peoples Republic of China, North  Korea and Vietnam have not ceded power but demonstrated a willingness to carry out the most brutal actions to perpetuate their rule, and expand their influence beyond their borders. This is the Castro regime’s power elite and the inner circle have accumulated experience dealing with U.S. Administrations beginning with Eisenhower. They are not to be underestimated.

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It is naive to believe that tourism, and McDonald’s will change Cuba with the existing regime in Havana. Three prior Administrations sought to normalize relations and the three efforts ended in tears. A contributing factor to President Jimmy Carter not obtaining a second term in 1980 was the Mariel Boatlift where Fidel Castro personally selected the most violent murderers and rapists to seed the exodus that had embarrassed him, and sparked a crime wave that cost Mr. Carter at the polls. President Bill Clinton’s initial attempts at engagement in the early 1990s culminated in the February 24, 1996 Brothers to the Rescue shoot down where three U.S. citizens and one U.S. resident were killed in an act of state terrorism. Finally, President Barack Obama beginning in 2009 offered to extend a hand in friendship to Havana while initially distancing himself from Cuban dissidents. This led to an American citizen being held hostage from December 2009 to December 2014, and traded for Cuban spies that had played a role in the 1996 shoot-down.

Shot down in an act of state terrorism on February 24, 1996

Shot down in an act of state terrorism on February 24, 1996

In addition to this, Cubans on the island suffered with arbitrary detentions skyrocketing between 2009 and 2016. Cuban dissidents were the victims of machete attacks, with the May 2015 attack on Sirley Avila Leon one of the worst examples where she lost a hand and the use of her legs. Cuban opposition leaders Laura Inés Pollán Toledo in 2011 and Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas in 2012 died under suspicious circumstances while in the custody of the secret police. Killed alongside him was Harold Cepero Escalante, a youth leader in Oswaldo’s Christian Liberation Movement.

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Beginning in November 2016, on President Obama’s watch, scores of U.S. diplomats began suffering neurological injuries, and the Cuban government failed in its duty to protect them on their territory.

Finally on January 2, 2017, Raúl Castro presided over a military parade in which Cuban soldiers chanted: “Obama! Obama! With what fervor we’d like to confront your clumsiness, give you a cleansing with rebels and mortar, and make you a hat out of bullets to the head.”

Why would anyone call this a success or want to return to such a policy?

On February 3, 2015, Rosa María Payá, in testimony before a subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued an indictment on the indifference of the US government and the international community to the Cuban people:

On 22 July 2012, Cuban State Security detained the car in which my father, Oswaldo Payá, and my friend Harold Cepero, along with two young European politicians, were traveling. All of them survived, but my father disappeared for hours only to reappear dead, in the hospital in which Harold would die without medical attention. The Cuban government wouldn’t have dared to carry out its death threats against my father if the U.S. government and the democratic world had been showing solidarity. If you turn your face, impunity rages. While you slept, the regime was conceiving their cleansing of the pro-democracy leaders to come. While you sleep, a second generation of dictators is planning with impunity their next crimes.

In Rosa María’s OpEd published today in The Washington Post she explains a better way for Biden to support democracy in Cuba, and it is one that does not confuse the Cuban people with the dictatorship that oppresses them. 

Worse, the consequences of confusing the two has meant subsidizing  the Cuban military that not only oppresses Cubans, but has been torturing Venezuelans to prop up Nicolas Maduro, as John Suarez pointed out in a letter to the editor published in The Miami Herald today. 

Finally, Daniel I. Pedreira, a PhD candidate in political science at Florida International University and a member of the Latin American Studies Association, examined in an OpEd published in Diario de Cuba on January 21, 2021 what would it mean for relations to truly “normalize” between the two countries. Daniel warns that this would require the Biden administration and Congress “to study the pros and cons of any policy towards Cuba.” Considering past normalization attempts, and a dictatorship determined to behave like an outlaw, and the challenge to formulate an effective approach becomes evident, and should not be rushed.

The Washington Post, February 18, 2021

Global Opinions

Opinion: There’s a better way for Biden to support democracy in Cuba, beyond the Obama and Trump approaches

Tourists ride in classic American convertibles past the U.S. Embassy, right, in Havana on Jan. 12, 2017. (Ramon Espinosa/AP)

Tourists ride in classic American convertibles past the U.S. Embassy, right, in Havana on Jan. 12, 2017. (Ramon Espinosa/AP)

Opinion by Rosa María Payá

Feb. 18, 2021 at 2:16 p.m. EST

Rosa María Payá is executive director of the Foundation for Panamerican Democracy.

In the past two months, there have been more than 250 protests in the streets of Cuba. Although the Cuban regime tries to deny it, the Cuban people are demanding democratic change. Now President Biden has a great opportunity to help them achieve that change at last.

The Cuban regime deprives citizens of fundamental freedoms, including the right to redress grievances, or even to receive international humanitarian aid. When tons of aid were sent last year, donated by Cubans in the United States directly to the Cuban people and civil society for immediate distribution in the middle of the covid-19 crisis, the aid was stolen by the regime. Cuban authorities persecute the most vulnerable and impose restrictions on entrepreneurs. Control over the population is maintained by increasing repression. Nevertheless, more and more Cubans are expressing their need — and desire — for freedom.

As the Cuban government and its allies press the Biden administration to make unilateral concessions that would benefit only the dictatorship, it’s important to highlight that these calls do not represent the best interests of our people. Some are seeking to impose a false choice between the policies of the Obama and the Trump administrations. Biden should instead listen directly to the Cuban people who live on the island, as well as to those forced into exile in the United States. There is a third way that builds on the learned experiences of previous administrations and would serve both nations.

The United States must stand for the Cuban people’s right to democracy and to enjoy free, fair and multiparty elections. The Biden administration must recognize the members of the opposition and civil society in Cuba and in the diaspora as valid interlocutors. Biden and Congress should make no unilateral concessions, but rather ask Cuba to make irreversible steps toward the recognition of fundamental human rights. These steps should include: the unconditional release of all political prisoners; the end of repression; and respect in law and in practice for freedom of expression, association — including independent political parties — public assembly and economic freedom.

Biden could also promote humanitarian aid from the American people that would directly help Cuban citizens and civil society, preventing any kind of intervention by or benefits to the regime and its military leadership, which nowadays keeps the profits and all the hard currency on the island. The Biden administration should hold accountable all Cuban authorities involved in serious human rights abuses. The president should impose individual political, financial and diplomatic sanctions and consider utilizing the Global Magnitsky Act.

My father, Oswaldo Payá, was a leader of the Cuban opposition and an important voice in the international community. His life was taken by agents of the Cuban regime in 2012. In response to this attack, then-Sen. John Kerry called for “an impartial, third-party investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Oswaldo Payá.” The Cuban authorities have refused to do so, thus demonstrating again the impunity of the regime. Our hemisphere has paid a high price for affording decades of impunity for the Cuban dictatorship.

The regime remains committed to destabilizing democracy in Latin America, with serious consequences for U.S. national security. In Venezuela, Cuba continues to prop up the regime of Nicolás Maduro, with devastating repercussions for the Venezuelan people, who — like Cubans — continue to flee repression and economic crisis. Democratic regime change in Cuba is essential for peace and stability in the Western Hemisphere and also the way to prevent the dictatorship from generating another mass exodus.

Biden should consider denouncing the regime’s illicit activities, including the exploitative use of the “medical brigades,” and seek to prosecute in courts those individuals linked to criminal and terrorist activities. He should ask other nations in our hemisphere to take similar steps. He should also promote the participation of Cuban independent civil society groups in the Summit of the Americas to be held in the United States, and veto the participation of the Cuban regime until it complies with the articles of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

All Cubans dream of a country without today’s ideological intolerance, political apartheid and economic exclusion. Many Cubans are working to make that dream come true through initiatives such as Cuba Decidea comprehensive effort to empower Cuban citizens and pressure the regime so that it finally submits to the will of the people and accepts a binding plebiscite with strict democratic preconditions giving way to change. Our efforts seek to promote a nonpartisan approach to Cuba policy.

Years ago, my father declared that the best outcome between the United States and Cuba would be to “proclaim goodwill between our two people: we want freedom, and friendship.”

President Biden can do what previous presidents did not and accomplish both goals.

The Miami Herald, February 18, 2021

Biden must minimize overtures to Cuba

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Kudos to Kevin G. Hall and Nora Gámez Torres for their well-researched Feb. 12th article, “Brother of powerful Cuban general moves like a phantom in embargo-evading offshore world.”

It exposed the links between Guillermo Faustino Rodríguez López-Calleja who controls the Luxembourg registered Mid Atlantic company and his brother Gen. Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja who runs Cuba’s military-industrial conglomerate, Grupo de Administracion Empresarial S.A., (GAESA), that reportedly controls 60 percent of Cuba’s economy.

Monies generated by Mid-Atlantic and GAESA go to the repressive elements of the Castro regime that finance mistreatment of Cubans, and funds Castro’s military and intelligence personnel propping up Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela

The Prague-based CASLA Institute in its 2021 report “Venezuela: Crimes Against Humanity, Systematic Repression and Torture, Responsibility of the Cuban regime” presented testimonies they obtained in 2020 from Venezuelan civilian and military witnesses who were tortured by Cuban officers. A rape was also reported. 

Greater military control of the Cuban economy occurred during the warming of relations between the United States and Cuba, between January 2009 and January 2017.

The Obama Administration’s 2014 opening to Havana resulted in Castro’s military exponentially expanding “its economic empire under detente” seizing control of economic sectors previously controlled by civilian elements.

Resuming détente with Havana will provide more resources to commit atrocities to spread Cuba’s communist ideology. 

John Suarez
Executive Director
Center for a Free Cuba
Falls Church, VA

Diario de Cuba, January 21, 2021

Blitz decree diplomacy will not restore U.S.-Cuba relations

By Daniel I. Pedreira

President of the United States, Joe Biden. VOZ POPULI

President of the United States, Joe Biden. VOZ POPULI

As President Joe Biden’s inauguration approached, Americans eagerly awaited the beginning of a new era as the COVID-19 pandemic’s death toll reached over 400,000 and the recent attack on the U.S. Capitol highlighted the threat of domestic terrorism. Yet, as these monumental debates took place, Massachusetts Congressman James P. McGovern, Chairman of the Rules Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, spent time drafting a three-page letter to the incoming president on a less-pressing topic: restoring U.S.-Cuba relations.

In his letter, dated January 15th  and published on his Congressional website on January 19th, McGovern specifically urges now-President Biden “to act early, quickly and comprehensively to repair the great harm that has been done to U.S.-Cuban relations, to the Cuban and American people, and to U.S. international relations with our European and Latin American allies over the past four years.”

In the following three pages, Chairman McGovern eagerly tries to make the case for the new Administration to take specific actions regarding Cuba, including removing Cuba from the States Sponsors of Terrorism List, restoring the waiver on Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, restoring a fully functioning U.S. embassy and consular services in Cuba headed by an ambassador, and opening travel, interchanges, and commerce between the American and Cuban people.

None of what Chairman McGovern promotes in his letter is new. Essentially, he proposes returning to the Obama administration’s status quo ante. In 2014, President Obama carried out a process for establishing relations with Cuba, in which he acted “early, quickly and comprehensively.” Unfortunately, he also acted unilaterally. President Obama’s actions were carried out by executive order, bypassing Congressional debates, votes, or other actions that may have threatened a reestablishment of U.S.-Cuba relations.

Chairman McGovern’s urge for “early, quick, and comprehensive” action is also an old and tired concept proposed by scholars William M. Leogrande and Peter Kornbluh in their 2014 book, “Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana.” The book’s overt bias favoring the Cuban dictatorship overshadows the authors’ recommendations for reestablishing bilateral relations.

One of the most alarming recommendations in Chairman McGovern’s letter is to “decouple U.S.-Cuban relations from U.S. policy towards Venezuela and from Florida domestic politics.” In the same paragraph, he contradicts himself by writing about “the political work required to strengthen and rebuild a base of Democratic support within an array of immigrant communities in Florida…requires dedicated and long-term investments by the Democratic Party, not the State Department.”

In that one paragraph, Chairman McGovern’s support for “repairing relations between the United States and Cuba” demonstrates its ultimate, partisan goal: turn Florida blue. One cannot help but wonder if Chairman McGovern made sure to have his letter, with a section that is overtly partisan with campaign overtones, vetted by the House Ethics Committee before printing it on Congressional letterhead and posting it on his Congressional website. 

Chairman McGovern tells President Biden that he has “always argued that normal relations between Cuba and the United States is the right thing to do for the American people, as well as the Cuban people.” I agree. Normal relations are preferable for U.S.-Cuba relations. Who would ever want “abnormal relations”? Our countries share historic and cultural ties that have been strengthened by Cuban exiles who, through several decades, have lived and thrived in America as an integral part of its diverse fabric. I am sure that their descendants, born in the U.S. and raised honoring their Cuban roots, also want normal relations. But the inherently oppressive nature of the Cuban dictatorship makes the concept of “normal relations” currently impossible.

For relations to truly “normalize” between both countries, Cuba must demonstrate a real willingness to make political, economic, and social strides towards significant change. Political parties must be legalized, repression against dissidents must cease, freedom of speech, expression, religion, and assembly must be respected and fostered, economic liberalization must take place, and social conditions for all Cubans must improve. For its part, the Biden administration and Congress (not the political parties or campaigns) should collaborate to study the pros and cons of any policy towards Cuba. Failure to do so will spell disaster for the prospects of U.S.-Cuba relations.

Daniel I. Pedreira is a PhD candidate in political science at Florida International University and a member of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA).

Original article in Spanish