CubaBrief: Letters on root causes for mass migrations out of Cuba and Venezuela. Why Sherlock homes would have recognized Nicaragua as the dog that didn’t bark.

The dog didn’t bark.” – Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of Silver Blaze

Back on June 4, 2023, The Hill published my OpEd “Why Cubans leave” and apparently it was not read, or did not make a convincing argument on Capitol Hill.

On May 10, 2023 a group of House Democrats led by Representative Veronica Escobar sent a letter to President Biden asking him to end sanctions on Cuba and Venezuela. They claim that sanctions are a root cause for the “unprecedented number of undocumented immigrants and asylum-seekers” entering the United States, but left out of this argument is the ongoing case of Nicaragua under the Sandinista regime of Daniel Ortega.

Nicaragua has a population of 6.8 million. Over the course of Fiscal Year 2022 the number of Nicaraguans encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border was 163,876. This was a dramatic increase fromFY 2021 (50,722) and an exponential increase from FY 2020 (only 3,164).

During the same period of time according to the Center for Global Affairs & Strategic Studies (GASS) at the School de Derecho-International, Universidad de Navarra:

Trade between the United States and Nicaragua reached a record $8.304 billion in 2022, an increase of 21.97% over the previous year, which also saw a significant jump after the trade moderation of the pandemic 2020. In those two years, while political Washington has sought ways to force President Ortega to retrace the path of authoritarianism, trade between the two countries grew by 67.15%, according to U.S. Census figures. 

If what this group says in their letter were true, then Nicaragua (with CAFTA, a preferential trade arrangement with the U.S.) would not have had 163,876 Nicaraguans flee to the US in FY2022 from a country with a much smaller population than Cuba’s 11 million. What has been happening at the same time as trade has boomed between the United States and Nicaragua? A brutal crackdown on human rights defenders, civil society, and the political opposition.

Ortega has increasingly suppressed political dissent, violently cracking down on 2018 mass protests that followed government reductions to social security benefits (killing more than 300 and injuring thousands), shutting down hundreds of nongovernmental organizations, and holding more than 200 political prisoners, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The end result of this repression is seen in the existing regime in Cuba. The Cuban dictatorship does not recognize a right to conscience when it comes in conflict with the tenets of Marxism-Leninism. Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported on May 9, 2023 that “a Baptist student in Cuba has been threatened with expulsion from his university because of his refusal to sign an oath promising to defend socialism and Marxist-Leninism.” Senator Robert Menendez in a letter addressed to these members on May 11, 2023 highlighted that it was both the repression and destruction of national economies corruption and incompetence.

“The truth is that Cubans and Venezuelans are leaving their homeland because of one simple fact: they are suffering under the yoke of brutal dictatorships that violently repress their citizens and that have destroyed their countries’ economies through widespread mismanagement and graft,” Chairman Menendez wrote. “These actions, not U.S. sanctions policies, are responsible for the ongoing exodus of Venezuelan and Cuban refugees and migrants. Removing U.S. sanctions on Cuba and Venezuela will only betray our democratic values and further empower criminal dictators. Such an approach would do nothing to resolve the underlying factors driving these crises, nor address the broader hemispheric challenges that are leading to unprecedented levels of migration, including another criminal dictatorship in Nicaragua, a failed state in Haiti, worsening criminal activity in Mexico and Central America, and enduring economic challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Like their Cuban, and Venezuelan counterparts it is the dictatorship that drives the exodus both through repression and economic inefficiencies outlined above by Senator Menendez, but also through weaponizing migration to draw concessions from the United States.

Another factor driving the exodus is hopelessness that arises due to a lack of solidarity from abroad, as Mary O’Grady outlines in her May 14, 2023 column “How Americans Betray the Cuban People“, but could have titled it “How Western Democracies Betray the Cuban People” to include Canadians, and Europeans who have gone into business with the Castro dictatorship at the expense of the Cuban people. O’Grady in her piece describes how U.S. officials cave in to Havana’s demands even if it means endangering American lives.

Meantime the Biden administration continues to legitimize the criminal government. Cuba is on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. But earlier this year, under the guise of the U.S. International Port Security Program, the administration scheduled a tour of Wilmington, N.C., port facilities for Cuba’s Interior, Transportation and Foreign Relations ministries. The Miami Herald’s Nora Gámez Torres reported that congressional Republicans objected to the tour but that a downsized version went forward, “due to concerns” on the part of the Department of Homeland Security “that suspending the entire visit could trigger retaliation from Cuban authorities,” according to congressional sources. With the freest, strongest country in the world cowed by Havana mobsters, and media forever making excuses for the repression, the long-suffering Cubans still face an uphill climb.

Cubans see these policies, and conclude change is impossible in the country, and for them it is a signal to leave. Better to try life as an undocumented alien in the United States than as another victim of Castroism.

The Wall Street Journal, May 14, 2023

Opinion

The Americas

How Americans Betray the Cuban People

Brave protesters take to the streets again. They lack solidarity from abroad.

By Mary Anastasia O’Grady

When hundreds of peaceful protesters went to the streets of the Cuban town of Caimanera on May 6, the regime sent black-beret soldiers to beat and arrest them—and their family members. The scene was reminiscent of the July 11, 2021, islandwide uprising that ended in a merciless crackdown by the dictatorship.

But here’s the twist: Caimanera sits next to the U.S. military base at Guantanamo. Reuters hilariously calls it a “fishing village”—in a country where it’s illegal for most people to own a boat—but it’s more accurately described as Havana’s front line of national defense. There’s a heavy presence of Cuban armed forces in the area and the town has a good number of retired Cuban military. Writing about the protests last week, Cuban journalist Yoani Sánchez called Caimanera “one of the most guarded towns in Cuba.”

This implies a population sympathetic to the police state—or, at a minimum, fearful enough to avoid antigovernment outbursts. The protest happened anyway.

The dictatorship moved quickly to contain a repeat of what happened two summers ago, now commonly referred to in Cuba as J11. Its rapid deployment of jackboots was combined with an immediate shutdown of the internet across the island to stop the spread of the news.

[ Full article ]

https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-americans-betray-the-cuban-people-caimaera-cuba-protest-dictatorship-9fa3ee85


Senate Foreign Relations Committee, May 11, 2023

May 11, 2023

SFRC Chairman Menendez Blasts Calls for Reversal of Cuba, Venezuela Sanctions

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today sent a letter to various colleagues in the House of Representatives vehemently opposing their calls for the Biden administration to reverse sanctions policies on Cuba and Venezuela. While sharing their concerns regarding the need to dramatically expand efforts to address factors forcing vulnerable populations to flee their homelands, Chairman Menendez rejected his colleagues’ assessment that U.S. sanctions policies are the leading contributors to this crisis, and called for a comprehensive approach to manage migration and refugee flows in the Western Hemisphere.

“The truth is that Cubans and Venezuelans are leaving their homeland because of one simple fact: they are suffering under the yoke of brutal dictatorships that violently repress their citizens and that have destroyed their countries’ economies through widespread mismanagement and graft,” Chairman Menendez wrote. “These actions, not U.S. sanctions policies, are responsible for the ongoing exodus of Venezuelan and Cuban refugees and migrants. Removing U.S. sanctions on Cuba and Venezuela will only betray our democratic values and further empower criminal dictators. Such an approach would do nothing to resolve the underlying factors driving these crises, nor address the broader hemispheric challenges that are leading to unprecedented levels of migration, including another criminal dictatorship in Nicaragua, a failed state in Haiti, worsening criminal activity in Mexico and Central America, and enduring economic challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In calling for a more robust response to secure U.S. borders by managing migration and refugees in the Americas, Chairman Menendez highlighted his recently published Menendez Plan in which he calls for the United States to take additional steps to bolster humanitarian assistance, expand lawful migration pathways for migrant and refugee populations, and dedicate additional financial resources towards programs to help migrants integrate into communities hosting them across the Americas.

“If we want to get serious about addressing these urgent challenges, we cannot rely on misguided calls for the unilateral lifting of U.S. sanctions on Cuba and Venezuela,” Chairman Menendez added. “Despite our disagreement… I know we share a commitment to addressing our migration and refugee challenges in a humane manner and I look forward to continue working with you in finding common ground to engage the Biden administration in support of these efforts.”

Find copies of the Chairman’s letter HERE and below.

I am writing in response to your recent letter to President Biden urging him to reverse U.S. sanctions policies on Cuba and Venezuela in response to the dire migration and refugee crisis we face in our hemisphere. I fully share your concern about the unprecedented levels of vulnerable populations arriving at our borders, including but not limited to Cubans and Venezuelans, and agree with the need to dramatically expand efforts to address the factors forcing refugees and migrants to flee their homeland. However, I vehemently disagree with your assessment that U.S. sanctions policies towards Cuba and Venezuela are a leading contributor to this crisis. The truth is that Cubans and Venezuelans are leaving their homeland because of one simple fact: they are suffering under the yoke of brutal dictatorships that violently repress their citizens and that have destroyed their countries’ economies through widespread mismanagement and graft.

For decades, the Cuban and Venezuelan regimes have systematically curtailed the fundamental freedoms and basic human rights of their populations, fueling widespread discontent. As the State Department notes in its annual Human Rights Report, the Cuban regime prohibits human rights groups from functioning legally and regularly harasses, intimidates, and assaults human rights and prodemocracy advocates and their families, including detaining thousands of political prisoners. In recent years, Cuba’s Diaz Canel regime has gone to extensive lengths to further repress free expression on the island, jailing hundreds of peaceful protesters during nationwide demonstrations in July 2021, including dozens of minors. Most of these protestors remain in prison on arbitrary sentences today. Similarly, since at least 2014, Venezuela’s Maduro regime has repeatedly and violently repressed peaceful protests, persecuted democratic activists, and perpetrated thousands of extrajudicial killings. Because of these actions, the Maduro regime has been found to have committed crimes against humanity by the United Nations Fact Finding Mission and is the focus of an ongoing investigation by the International Criminal Court. 

Deepening levels of political repression in Cuba and Venezuela have also been accompanied by the chronic mismanagement of the countries’ economies, exacerbating the humanitarian conditions facing the Cuban and Venezuelan people. In Cuba, the Diaz Canel regime continues to prohibit any semblance of a market economy and has expanded the Cuban military’s control over numerous economic sectors. Rather than provide a living wage for the Cuban people or provide real opportunities for independent Cuban entrepreneurs, the Diaz Canel regime remains committed to a state-run labor system that artificially depresses wages, affords promotions based on political loyalties, and prohibits foreign companies in Cuba from directly hiring or paying their employees. Meanwhile, in Venezuela over the last decade, the Maduro regime’s widespread mismanagement of the economy has fueled numerous waves of hyperinflation and driven monthly salaries to $10. Moreover, regime officials have stolen tens of billions of dollars from the Venezuelan people, absconding with funds needed for social programs and economic development in the country.

These actions, not U.S. sanctions policies, are responsible for the ongoing exodus of Venezuelan and Cuban refugees and migrants. Removing U.S. sanctions on Cuba and Venezuela will only betray our democratic values and further empower criminal dictators. Such an approach would do nothing to resolve the underlying factors driving these crises, nor address the broader hemispheric challenges that are leading to unprecedented levels of migration, including another criminal dictatorship in Nicaragua, a failed state in Haiti, worsening criminal activity in Mexico and Central America, and enduring economic challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

If we want to get serious about addressing these urgent challenges, we cannot rely on misguided calls for the unilateral lifting of U.S. sanctions on Cuba and Venezuela, but must pursue a comprehensive approach to migration and refugee flows. As I recently called for in my plan to “Secure Our Borders by Managing Migration in the Americas,” the United States must take additional steps to bolster humanitarian assistance, expand lawful migration pathways for migrant and refugee populations, and dedicate additional financial resources towards programs to help migrants integrate into communities hosting them across the Americas. Despite our disagreement on U.S. policy towards Cuba and Venezuela, I know we share a commitment to addressing our migration and refugee challenges in a humane manner and I look forward to continue working with you in finding common ground to engage the Biden administration in support of these efforts.

Sincerely,

https://www.foreign.senate.gov/press/dem/release/sfrc-chairman-menendez-blasts-calls-for-reversal-of-cuba-venezuela-sanctions


Christian Solidarity Worldwide, May 9, 2023

University student threatened with expulsion

9 May 2023

A Baptist student in Cuba has been threatened with expulsion from his university because of his refusal to sign an oath promising to defend socialism and Marxist-Leninism.

On 3 May, the student, who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, was taken to a room by a professor where he was ordered to sign the document. When the student explained that he could not do so because he believes the oath to be in conflict with his Christian faith, the professor warned him that it was ‘not negotiable’ and that he would face severe consequences for failing to sign.

The student is the son of a pastor affiliated with a registered denomination with more than a century long presence on the island. Last year, while performing the obligatory military service required of young men in Cuba, the student refused to obey orders to dress in civilian clothes and join Rapid Response Brigade paramilitary units attacking peaceful demonstrators on the streets. Although he completed his term of obligatory military service, he is now being pressured at university to join the Territorial Militia Troops (Milicias de Tropas Territoriales), which signing the oath would allow him to do.

Although freedom of conscience is mentioned in Articles 19 and 54 of the Cuban Constitution, the right is qualified in that it cannot be invoked ‘with the purpose of evading compliance with the law.’ Additionally, Article 272 of the Criminal Code which came into force late last year makes it a crime to fail to ‘defend the Homeland’ because of one’s religious beliefs.

Over the past year, CSW has noted an increase in documented freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) cases involving freedom of conscience. The majority involve young men who are reluctant to present themselves for obligatory military service due to fears that they will be ordered to carry out actions that conflict with their religious beliefs. In many such cases, entire families have fled the country in order to avoid this, joining the largest wave of emigration Cuba has seen since the 1959 revolution.

CSW’s Head of Advocacy Anna Lee Stangl said: ‘Many human rights organisations, including CSW, have expressed concern about the wording around freedom of conscience and freedom of religion or belief in the 2019 Constitution and the 2022 Criminal Code. The limitations placed on both rights, which are often linked, are so broad as to essentially negate their guarantees. This student represents thousands of young people across the island who are under pressure to comply with government orders that are in conflict with their deeply held religious beliefs. We call on the Cuban authorities to ensure that young people, including students who are attempting to remain true to their deeply held beliefs in a peaceful way, are allowed to do so without punishment and to amend the constitution and the criminal code to strengthen and enshrine both fundamental rights in harmony with international law.’

Notes to Editors:

  1. Article 54 of the 2019 Constitution states that ‘The State recognizes, respects and guarantees people freedom of thought, conscience and expression’. However, in the same paragraph it establishes that ‘Conscientious objection cannot be invoked with the purpose of evading compliance with the law or preventing another from complying with it or exercising their rights.’

  2. Article 272 of the new Criminal Code, which has been in force since 1 December 2022, establishes that ‘Whoever, abusing the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of one’s preferred religion, puts their religious beliefs or the religion the practice in opposition to the objectives of the education [system], or the obligation to work, defend the Homeland, revere its symbols or any others established by the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba [will be] punished with deprivation of liberty for a period of six months to a year…’

https://www.cswusa.org/2023/05/09/press/5995/article.htm?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=usa&utm_content=ap_q1j3rn6yb0

From the archives

The Hill, January 4, 2023

Why Cubans leave

by John Suarez, Opinion Contributor – 01/04/23 11:00 AM ET

More than 227,000 Cubans fled Cuba last year. The U.S. Coast Guard reported that 22 migrants died during fiscal 2022. On Dec. 21, Associated Press reporters said that families of Cubans who fled the country during the current exodus had compiled a list of 135 missing relatives.

Havana does not keep track of how many of its citizens are missing. Nor does the Cuban government allow independent actors in Cuba to track the numbers.

Francisco Chaviano González, a former mathematics teacher and political prisoner, attempted to compile a list of Cubans who went missing while trying to flee Cuba. Cuban officials threatened him with arrest and a 15-year prison sentence if he continued to count the number of missing Cubans.

Cuba has experienced a mass exodus over the last six decades, with more than 2.7 million Cubans moving to the U.S. Tens of thousands of Cubans perished while attempting to flee the Castro dictatorship. Some Cuban migrants who attempted to flee were massacred by agents of the Cuban dictatorship.

Between 1959 and December 1991, over 940,000 Cubans fled the Castro regime and entered the United States while Havana received massive subsidies from the Soviet Union. Cuban leader Fidel Castro repeatedly ridiculed the ineffectiveness of the U.S. trade embargo, but changed his tune in 1992 after the USSR collapsed on Christmas Day 1991.

The U.S. embargo on the Cuban government is not the cause of this mass exodus. Cuba’s communist dictatorship is.

In 1993, the Clinton administration in an official note charged that Cuban marine patrols repeatedly tossed grenades, strafed fleeing swimmers with automatic weapons fire and recovered bodies with gaff hooks, within sight of U.S. personnel at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. 

On July 13, 1994, a group of Cuban migrants attempted to flee aboard the “13 de Marzo” tugboat. State Security forces and four Transportation Ministry boats attacked the tugboat seven miles off the coast of Cuba, sinking it. Thirty-seven Cubans were killed, including 11 children.

1995 study by two academics reported that “a total of as many as 100,000 balseros may have died in crossing” the Florida Straits.

The most recent massacre was reported on Oct. 28, 2022. A Cuban Coast Guard ship deliberately collided with and sank a boat near Bahia Honda in Cuba’s Artemisa province. On the ship bound for the U.S., seven Cubans were killed, including a two-year-old girl.

Several other factors are contributing to the ongoing exodus. Some of these also led to the nationwide protests that began on July 11, 2021, and still impact Cuba today.

Havana’s decision not to obtain foreign vaccines for Cubans in order to claim that Cuba was the first country in the world to vaccinate their entire population with homegrown vaccines caused many deaths, and public outrage.

Havana used the pretext of the pandemic to tighten monopoly control over the distribution of assistance with no transparency, and refused to allow farmers markets on the island, increasing scarcity. Now Cubans with hard currency, and who were well off, cannot easily find food and other necessities.

This, combined with the lack of freedom, led to last year’s mass protests across Cuba, but the regime’s response is also contributing to the exodus.

When the protests erupted, President Miguel Diaz-Canel declared in a nationally televised broadcast: “The order to fight has been given — into the street, revolutionaries!” and “They will have to pass over our dead bodies If they want to confront the revolution, and we are willing to do anything.”

Police and paramilitaries shot Cuban protesters. They fatally shot Cuban artist Diubis Laurencio Tejeda in the back. Some witnesses who documented his killing were arrested and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Over a thousand Cubans were jailed for taking part in or recording images of the 11J protests, and the trials continue.

In response to the protests, Havana passed a new penal code in May 2022, which went into effect on Dec 1. Amnesty International referred to it as “a chilling prospect for 2023.” According to the human rights organization, the new code expands the death penalty to 23 crimes and punishes freedom of expression with long prison sentences.

These factors heightened Cubans’ desire to flee, but they do not explain the magnitude of the current exodus.

This exodus benefits the communist dictatorship financially and politically. Nicaragua is a client state of Havana, and it is coordinating with Cuba to weaponize migration to gain concessions from the U.S.

Managua lifted visa requirements for Cubans visiting Nicaragua on Nov. 22, 2021. This new route for Cuban migrants to the United States has exacerbated the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The mass exodus of disgruntled Cubans has strengthened the dictatorship’s grip on the island. Meanwhile, travel agencies affiliated with the communist regime are selling $4,000 plane tickets to Managua, thereby enriching regime oligarchs. In comparison, a slightly longer flight from Miami to Managua costs less than $400.

The Biden administration must demonstrate its support for Cuban democracy, not the dictatorship’s fabricated stability, which amounts to thinly veiled blackmail.

Three steps would be a good start: fully funding Marti Noticias (an international radio and television service funded by the U.S. government that broadcasts in Cuba) so that it can communicate directly with Cubans; applying Magnitsky sanctions on Diaz-Canel for the murderous violence he has inflicted on Cubans; and demanding Havana lift its internal blockade.

Only with these and other changes will the Cuban mass exodus begin to abate.

John Suarez is executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba and a human rights activist.

https://thehill.com/opinion/international/3798177-why-cubans-leave/