CubaBrief: Canada’s hollow rebuke of Cuba’s crackdown. Ending Dictatorships in Latin America by 2023. Court calls cruise lines to account.

Sarah Teich, Rosa Mara Payá, and Michael Lima published an OpEd yesterday in the Toronto Star calling on the Canadian government to take concrete action.

In an OpEd in the Toronto Star published on January 2, 2022, Sarah Teich, an international human rights lawyer and senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute; Rosa Mara Payá, a human rights defender and founder of the Cuba Decide citizen initiative; and Michael Lima, a human rights defender and founder of Democratic Spaces, called out the Canadian government for being all talk and no action when it comes to an official response to Cuba’s crackdown.

The failure of the world’s democracies to hold the Castro dictatorship accountable, as well as to break the pattern of impunity practiced by individual Cuban oppressors, has had negative and long-lasting consequences in Latin America. They have also increased Havana’s negative impact on millions of people.

Carlos Sánchez Berzain in El American makes the case for “ending Dictatorships in Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua.”

At the end of the Cold War in 1991, the Americas had only one dictatorship: Cuba.

Most experts expected the Castro regime to fall on its own, but 30 years later, the dictatorship has exported its model to three other Latin American countries, causing a political and humanitarian crisis.

Cuba’s allies in Moscow, Beijing, Pyongyang, and Tehran have also expanded their reach across the region, posing a threat to the region’s remaining democracies.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s warning in his April 16, 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” has been demonstrated by the failure to prioritize human rights when determining foreign policy toward the Castro regime.

Worse, during Obama’s Cuba opening, companies in the US were “trafficking in stolen property” of Cubans who had lost everything in Cuba’s communist revolution, while also discriminating against Cuban Americans as an ethnic group, denying them service.

This was done to appease the Castro dictatorship.

Engagement with Havana did not make Cuba more democratic, but it did jeopardize civil liberties in the US.

Fortunately, in 2016, a lawsuit held these companies accountable for their discrimination, and the courts are now holding the cruise lines accountable for trafficking in stolen property.

Citizens must not be passive and must exercise their rights by challenging policies that systematically violate them.

Toronto Star, January 2, 2023

Talk is cheap, jail is real — Canada’s hollow rebuke of Cuba’s crackdown

Despite denunciations and statements in support of the Cuban people, the Canadian government has offered no meaningful action.

By Sarah Teich
Rosa Maria Payá
Michael Lima


Mon., Jan. 2, 2023

When hundreds of thousands of Cubans took to the streets in July 2021 in a peaceful protest seeking personal and political rights, the regime responded with a violent crackdown on its own population.

Cuba’s militarized autocracy made so many arrests in the aftermath of the protests that, today, the country still has over 1,000 political prisoners in its jails — that’s more than Venezuela and Nicaragua combined.

Human Rights Watch found Cuban officials systematically used “arbitrary detention, ill-treatment of detainees, and abuse-ridden criminal prosecutions,” as well as routine use of “brutal abuses” in detention, including sexual and gender-based violence.

The extreme use of arbitrary detention led the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances to initiate urgent action for 187 cases in Cuba under the Convention on Enforced Disappearances.

Here in Canada, while officials condemned the crackdown, there has been little other than words.

At the time Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was “deeply concerned by the violent crackdown on protests by the Cuban regime” and said “Cubans have the right to express themselves and to have their voices heard.” Canada’s Global Affairs Department tweeted that “Canada condemns [Cuba’s] harsh sentencing following the July 2021 protests” and that “[we] stand with the people of Cuba in their aspiration for democracy.”

Despite these denunciations and statements in support of the Cuban people, the Canadian government has offered no meaningful action. In fact, less than a week after the protests, then Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau met with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. In voicing Canada’s concerns about human rights cruelties in different countries across the world, he failed to even mention Cuba.

The United States, meanwhile, used its Magnitsky Act to impose targeted sanctions on Cuban officials and entities responsible for gross violations of human rights in the aftermath of the July 2021 protests.

Canada has an important voice in international forums, and effective human rights tools at our disposal, however, we are simply not using them. To give its policy some actual effectiveness, Canada needs to follow the policy recommendations of human rights organizations and impose targeted sanctions on perpetrators in Cuba, in a concerted alliance with the U.S.

Canada, which maintains diplomatic relations with Cuba and has traditionally not supported sweeping U.S. measures against the socialist state, essentially sees its Cuba policy as something of a counterweight to Washington’s rigid, far-reaching embargo. However, there is a clear and logical way that Ottawa can avoid broad-based sanctions, which target a country as a whole, but support the more precise tool of targeted sanctions that are levied against specific human rights violators and kleptocrats.

Ottawa would certainly not be forsaking its past principles by endorsing targeted sanctions against individual rights violators and international criminals. Canada already levels such targeted measures on individuals and entities for human rights violations, including Russia, China, Iran, and Venezuela.

Besides being consistent, deploying a similar strategy in Cuba is also warranted.

Cuba is a staunch supporter of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; it collaborates with China on telecommunications and supports the Chinese Communist Party in international organizations; it has taken financial support from Iran, with Iran leveraging its Cuban relationship on at least one occasion to engage in cyber warfare against the U.S.

Yet Cuban officials continue to enjoy impunity for their crimes domestically. As Cuba deepens its alliances with other authoritarian regimes, it is crucial that Canada close the inconsistency gap of its foreign policy and take meaningful action to address the human rights crisis in Cuba and the threat that Cuban officials pose around the world.

Sarah Teich is an international human rights lawyer and a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. Rosa María Payá is a human rights defender and founder of the Cuba Decide citizen initiative. Michael Lima is a human rights defender and founder of Democratic Spaces.

El American, January 2, 2023

Ending Dictatorships in Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua by 2023

by Carlos Sánchez Berzain

01.02.23 Opinion, Politics

Leer en Español

2023 has arrived and in the Americas, Cuba’s dictatorship is 64 years old, Venezuela’s is 24 years old, Bolivia’s is 17 years old and Nicaragua’s is 16 years old. All of them are narco-states, under the leadership of Cuba, repeating its state terrorism system, with political prisoners and exiles, misery, institutionalized violation of human rights and impunity. They are a threat to all countries in the region where they expand as 21st-century socialism with ill-gotten money, coups d’état, electoral fraud, terrorism, forced migrations, and drug trafficking. Ending dictatorships must be the fundamental objective of democracy in 2023.

The Castro-Chavez dictatorships must end, as demanded by the people who are fighting for freedom through civil resistance. Putting an end to the dictatorships in Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Nicaragua is not only possible, necessary, and urgent, but it is also an obligation of the states, governments, and democratic leaders of the world in compliance with the Charter of the UN, the Charter of the OAS, the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights or Pact of San José, the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime or Palermo Convention, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and more.

This internal control exercised by dictatorships in order to hold power indefinitely can be summarized as follows:

  1. “State terrorism”, which consists of “the commission of crimes by the government to create fear in the population so that it assumes behaviors that would not be possible otherwise;”

  2. The creation and support of collaborationist groups that benefit economically to simulate opposition, giving rise to the “functional opposition” that simulates democracy and makes the “electoral dictatorship”;

  3. A narrative that falsifies reality presenting organized crime as a political project of “anti-imperialist” struggle;

  4. Unlimited enrichment of regime members through the management of the “narco-state,” corruption and crimes;

  5. Guaranteed “impunity” provided by the above four elements.

State terrorism is implemented with the total control of the powers of the State that continue to nominally exist, but are manipulated at will. The so-called legislature makes “infamous laws” that violate human rights instead of protecting them, dictates amnesties for impunity and criminalizes fundamental rights. The so-called judiciary is the main means of repression and persecution, with falsification of accusations, violation of the principles of “impartial judge”, “due process”, “presumption of innocence”, “legal equality” and more; castrochavismo calls executioners judges and processes the lynching of innocents.

The functional opposition is the one that seeks to give legitimacy and legality to the dictatorships of transnational organized crime of 21st-century socialism. They are individuals and/or groups that assume the identity of social movements or political parties to falsify reality. The opposition is a basic element of democracy as a “factor of control and limitation of the governments in power and alternative of being a government”, that is why the functional opposition is false opposition because it is part of the dictatorial narrative, of the guarantee of impunity and that it will never take power because of the “electoral dictatorship” in which the people vote but do not elect.

The anti-imperialist discourse continues to work in a surprising way despite the fact that the dictatorships’ hierarchs, their relatives and beneficiaries enjoy the economic results of their crimes against humanity in the United States, as evidenced by the case of the daughter of the dictator Hugo Chávez, the relatives of the Castro dictators, the relatives and associates of the dictatorships of Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua.

These internal elements also apply in the international arena. Fear, economic interests, lucrative private businesses under the shadow of public power, relations of impunity, financing of electoral campaigns, effects of the transnationalization of organized crime and its influence on democratic systems, parliaments, NGOs, international organizations and governments, are the main international pillars of dictatorial support.

The world’s democratic leaders can no longer fail to fulfill their “international legal obligations” to:

  1. expose Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua’s dictatorships as a transnational organized crime system and the greatest threat to international peace and security;

  2. support civil resistance by applying the current laws that prevent treating as subjects of international law or representatives and the holders of power, operators of “transnational crime” who today cloak themselves in “sovereign immunity”;

  3. establish collective disqualifying sanctions;

  4. prosecute and capture organized crime dictators by applying the Palermo Convention and executing existing arrest warrants.

This article is part of an agreement between El American and the Interamerican Institute for Democracy.

CBS Miami, December 31, 2022

Florida-based cruise lines ordered to pay $400 million for use of Cuba port

By CBS Miami

MIAMI – Miami U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom on Friday ruled that four Florida-based cruise lines must pay more than $400 million in damages for use of Cuba port.

The damages will need to be paid to the American company that had the concession to some of the port piers in Havana that had been unlawfully expropriated by Fidel Castro in 1960, according to CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald.  

The Miami newspaper said it’s the first ruling under a law that punishes ‘”trafficking in stolen property” in Cuba.

Back in March, Judge Bloom ruled that several cruise companies, with ties to South Florida, traveled to Cuba taking part in “prohibited tourism” by carrying passengers to the island nation and profiting from the use of the port facilities in Havana.

According to court documents, Carnival, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, and MSC SA earned at least $1 billion in doing so, according to The Miami Herald.

Judge Bloom sided with Havana Docks, a company that held a concession to operate the Port of Havana. She ruled that by using the terminal, or one of its piers, the cruise lines “committed trafficking acts.”

The company filed lawsuits against the four cruise lines for their use of the Port of Havana between 2015 and 2019, when cruise travel to Cuba was authorized.

The ruling is expected to be appealed by the cruise lines.

Reuters, December 30, 2022

U.S. judge orders Norwegian Cruise Line to pay $110 million for use of Cuba port

By Brian Ellsworth

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings cruise ship Marina arrives at the Havana bay

MIAMI (Reuters) – Norwegian Cruise Line must pay $110 million in damages for use of a port that Cuba’s government confiscated in 1960, a U.S. judge ruled on Friday, a milestone for Cuban-Americans seeking compensation for Cold-War era asset seizures.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom in Miami follows her March ruling that the use of the Havana Cruise Port Terminal constituted trafficking in confiscated property owned by the plaintiff, Delaware-registered Havana Docks Corp.

“Judgment is entered in favor of Plaintiff Havana Docks Corporation and against Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, Ltd,” reads the decision.

“Plaintiff is awarded $109,848,747.87 in damages,” it says, adding that Norwegian should also pay an additional $3 million in legal fees and costs.

Norwegian Cruise Line did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel has harshly criticized the Helms-Burton Act, describing it as an extra-territorial violation of international law.

Havana Docks had also sued cruise lines Carnival, Royal Caribbean and MSC under the Helms-Burton Act, which allows U.S. nationals to sue over use of property seized in Cuba after 1959.

The ruling could fuel more lawsuits by Cuban exiles pursuing claims, which according to one estimate are worth $2 billion, over asset seizures under late Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

It may also serve as a reminder to multinational firms of the complications that can come with doing business in Cuba.

U.S. cruise ships in 2016 began traveling to Cuba for the first time in decades following a detente negotiated by former President Barack Obama that eased some provisions of a U.S. embargo in place since the Cold War.

But the Trump administration in 2019 ordered a halt to all such cruises amid efforts to pressure Cuba over its support for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, an ideological adversary of Washington.

The Trump administration also allowed U.S. citizens to sue third parties for using property seized by Cuban authorities, a provision of the Helms-Burton Act that had been waived by every previous president since the law’s 1996 passage.

Havana Docks says Cuba, which has been subject to a decades-old U.S. trade embargo, never compensated it for the takeover of the property.

It sued the four cruise lines in 2019 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Bloom in March held that the companies were liable for damages under the Helms-Burton Act, also known as the Libertad Act.

According to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, a non-profit that provides information on relations between the two countries, the 5,913 certified claims for property seized in Cuba represent nearly $2 billion in liability.

Forty-four lawsuits have been filed under Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, the organization says.

“For those current plaintiffs of Cuban descent, (the decision) will give them a moment of satisfaction,” said John Kavulich, the group’s president. “It’ll give them a moment to say ‘You can run but you can’t hide,'” said Kavulich.

(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth in Miami; editing by Diane Craft)


Four Cruise Lines Ordered To Pay Nearly $450 Million For Using Cuba Port

By AFP – Agence France Presse

December 31, 2022

Four cruise lines have been sentenced by a US judge to pay a total of nearly $450 million for having used a Havana port nationalized by the Cuban government in 1960.

The ruling Friday by a federal judge in Florida requires the Carnival, MSC SA, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian lines to pay $109 million each, plus court costs, to Havana Docks, an American company that held the concession to use that facility.

Havana Docks was deprived of its right to use the port following the Communist revolution on the Caribbean island.

The court found that the defendants, all of which made port stops in Havana, had “derived significant amounts of revenue — in the hundreds of millions of dollars each — from their wrongful trafficking activities, and to plaintiff’s detriment,” Judge Beth Bloom wrote.

The United States has imposed an economic embargo on the island since 1962.

President Barack Obama eased its terms in 2016, allowing cruise lines to make stopovers in Cuba, but his successor, Republican Donald Trump, reversed that decision.

The current ruling is based not on the embargo, however, but on a provision in a 1996 law, the Helms-Burton Act, that had remained inactive until now.

At the time, the US Congress wanted to discourage investment in Cuba by allowing any American whose assets had been expropriated by the Castro government to sue those who profited from its use.

But successive American presidents had suspended application of the measure until Trump decided in 2019 to let it take effect.

A flurry of legal actions followed, and the case involving the cruise lines — all of which are registered in other countries but have important presences in Florida — has been the first to come to a head.

In March, Judge Bloom had found the four cruise lines guilty of “trafficking” and engaging in “prohibited tourism.”

On Friday, she announced their penalty.

“Based upon the statute’s primarily deterrent goal and the offenses at issue, an award of slightly over $100 million per defendant is certainly reasonable,” she wrote.

The cruise lines had argued that the Obama administration had authorized their travel to Cuba and that they fell under a “lawful travel” exception, but Bloom rejected that.

Her decision is subject to appeal, but it could have serious repercussions for the already crisis-hit Cuban economy, giving second thoughts to potential investors.


From the archives

Jim Walker’s Cruise Law News

Carnival’s Cruise to Cuba Discriminates Against Cuban-Americans

By Jim Walker on April 7, 2016

Posted in Passenger Rights

I couldn’t believe what I was reading in the Miami Herald article “Carnival Cruise to Cuba Discriminates Against a Class of Americans”  Carnival’s new Fathom “impact” brand, scheduled to be the first U.S.- based cruise line to cruise to Cuba in over 50 years (on May 1st), is refusing to permit Cuban-born Americans on the cruise.

Written by Fabiola Santiago, the article quotes Cuban American Maria de los Angela Torres, who came to the U.S. as a Pedro Pan child in the early 1960’s, after she tried to book a cruise to Cuba. Everything was proceeding smoothly in booking her cruise until the Fathom agent learned that she was born in Cuba. The agent then told her that “Current Cuban law prohibits Cuban-born individuals from entering Cuba via ship or other sea vessel, regardless of U.S. citizenship status. For that reason, at the present time, Fathom cannot accommodate Cuban-born individuals.” 

The Herald analogized the discrimination to a cruise line refusing to take American Jews to Israel or African Americans to Africa. 

Two years ago, the Tunisian government prohibited Israeli passengers from disembarking from the Norwegian Jade during a stop at the Tunis (La Goulette) cruise port. Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) told the Israeli citizens that they were not welcome by the Tunisian government and had to stay aboard the cruise ship.

NCL quickly decided to boycott Tunis and issued the following statement: 

“We want to send a strong message to Tunisia and ports around the world that we will not tolerate such random acts of discrimination against our guests. We are outraged by this act and the fact that we were not notified in advance of this practice. We apologize sincerely to our guests who were affected and want them to know that we have taken the appropriate action in response.”

Carnival, on the other hand, is acting in “cahoots” with Cuba, as the Herald points out. It’s pathetic and disgraceful on Carnival’s part. Carnival acquiesced to the discriminatory policies of the totalitarian Castro regime as a quid pro quo to be the first cruise line to do business in Cuba. When faced with an important principle, Carnival sold out for profits. 

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April 8 2016 Update: Breitbart asks whether Carnival has violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act in an article titled Cuban-Americans Banned from Carnival Cruises Trips to Cuba. Title II of the act prohibits American “places of public accommodation” from discriminating on the basis of “race, color, religion, or national origin.” Place of birth, naturally, would fall under “national origin.” In federal caselaw, the U.S. Supreme Court held that foreign flagged cruise ships were subject to federal statutes which prohibited discrimination against U.S. citizens.   

April 10 2016 Update:  A look at Carnival’s “social impact” brand, Fathom Travel, which I published last summer – The “Fathom” Ruse Revealed: Carnival Really Wants to be Friends with Cuba.

April 11, 2016 Update:  The U.K.’s Telepgraph newspaper comments on the ban of Cuban-Americans on the Adonia to Cuba: Cuban Americans banned from first cruise to Cuba in decades.    

Photo credit: Fathom’s Adonia