Fifty seven years after a ‘robolution’ that allegedly was made for them, poor Cuban keep dying when their homes fall on top of them.
Across the country, thousands of Americans are storing fading documents that represent a piece of Cuba taken from them by Fidel Castro in the 1960s. They could be worth billions.
For U.S. companies such as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Colgate-Palmolive and Texaco, those papers list properties nationalized by the bearded Cuban’s revolutionaries after they took control of the island. For movie studios such as Universal and 20th Century Fox, they detail hundreds of confiscated film reels.
In many cases, the documents have been passed down to children and charities. They meticulously itemize homes, ranches, farms, vehicles, cattle and horses seized by the government. A Holocaust memorial library in New York City preserves a document listing paintings by Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet and Renoir that were taken from the Havana apartment of its founder, author Olga Lengyel.
In Miami Beach, a woman has stored away the stock certificates that certify her father’s partial ownership in a manganese mine in eastern Cuba. “I didn’t suspect anything would happen with this in my lifetime,” said Holly Wallack, 69, whose father held a 30% stake in the Cuban mine. “I thought maybe it was something for my children.”
That way of thinking quickly changed after President Obama’s surprise announcement in December that the United States would re-establish diplomatic relations with its longtime foe. Now that both countries have reopened embassies in Washington and Havana, the chance of reclaiming their property, or getting some kind of compensation, is finally possible.
Shortly after Castro’s takeover, the U.S. Justice Department established a Foreign Claims Settlement Commission for American citizens and companies whose properties were confiscated. The commission approved 5,913 claims worth $1.9 billion, roughly $7 billion today. The U.S. State Department says it has approached the Cuban government to begin those talks.
Since the Obama administration’s December announcement that it was charging ahead with plans to re-establish ties with communist Cuba, trade with the island nation has taken a peculiar turn: It’s decreased — by a lot.
That is significant for Texas, which has for years ranked among the top 10 U.S. states trading with Cuba under provisions of the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000, which allows companies to sell certain goods for profit despite a general trade and travel embargo.
Through June, the United States collectively shipped about $83 million in goods to Cuba, and is on pace for exporting about $166 million for the calendar year. That’s well short of the $291 million in goods shipped in 2014, and well below the $348.7 million shipped in 2013.
That trend holds true for Texas; the Houston port has seen only 33 metric tons of goods leave its docks bound for Cuba through March of this year, according to the New York-based U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. That’s compared with 60 tons in 2014, 295 tons in 2013 and a whopping 93,000 tons in 2012.
Some goods shipped from Texas aren’t grown or processed here. But their passage through Texas is still lucrative. According to figures from Texas A&M University’s Center for North American Studies, about 91 cents in additional business activity was created for every dollar worth of goods exported in 2008.
Discerning reasons for the dip, and forecasting what happens next as the countries continue mending their relationship after more than 50 years of tension, isn’t easy, experts argue. If Cuba continues to trade and garner support from foreign governments, specifically Venezuela, engaging the U.S. might be less of a priority.
“As long as Cuba can depend on Venezuela for much of its oil imports and foreign exchange, it’s going to move cautiously,” said John S. Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. “Even though it has decreased its support to Cuba, it hasn’t stopped. How its relationship with Venezuela goes will determine in great measure how quickly it re-engages with the United States.”
Kavulich added that Cuba won’t transform into a hotbed of capitalism where U.S. goods are as common. At least not immediately.
“There is a tremendous amount — it’s breathtaking — the amount of aspirational rhetoric chasing very little reality,” he said. “You’re not going to be able to go to Hertz and rent an RV and drive down to Santiago de Cuba. It’s a process, it’s not an action.”
How things progress has more to do with Cuba’s response to overtures from the White House than the other way around.
“If the U.S. changes, then Cuba is going to do more, but the U.S. has been changing and Cuba hasn’t done any more, so I think there is a disconnect,” Kavulich said.
Prof. Sherri L. Porcelain
Even before the scheduled opening of the US Embassy on July 20, 2015, there were advertisements, blog posts, tweets, and news feeds welcoming U.S. residents to Cuba for cultural, religious or educational opportunities. Cuba remains a popular destination for Canadian and Western European tourists with its rich cultural arts, gracious hosts and Caribbean beaches. However, a growing interest in U.S. approved trips must consider Cuba’s lack of safe potable water, sanitation and sewage issues along with housing challenges. This is important because while it is unreported, cholera transmission exists within Cuba.
Cuba’s lack of transparency in health outbreak reporting is in question again. Laboratory confirmed cases continue to be shared with the international community about tourists returning to Canada, Latin America, and European countries after taking home more than sun and fun from a Cuban vacation. Cuba consistently asserts that the cholera outbreak of 2012 was quickly controlled within the country.
Where is the United States government on this issue today?
While a U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cholera watch in Cuba has recently been removed from their website, (1) there is still evidence that cholera is transmitted there. CDC travel notices consists of three levels:
A “watch” level 1 informs travelers to use usual precautions, an “alert” level 2 calls for enhanced precautions and a “warning” level 3 advises travelers to avoid nonessential travel to an area where the risk is high. These travel notices are important because the CDC notification system is widely used by travelers as well as clinicians for up-to-date international travel information.
Since 2013 there have been cases of confirmed cholera after visits to Cuba. (2) In January 2015 the Canadian International Health Regulation reported a case of a returning traveler, (3) as well as Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) on their Epidemiologic Update Report (4) documented this as the only case of cholera in Cuba for 2015. This assumes only travelers and no locals have been infected. It is more likely that the Cuban government does not share this information with the international community, and is only compelled to cooperate after scientific proof is disseminated.
In June 2015 the United Kingdom reported a traveler who participated in an all-inclusive resort stay in Varadero and spent two days in Havana before getting sick and returned home with cholera. According to the International Society for Infectious Disease, through their Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases (ProMed- mail) posting on July 3, 2015, the patient indicated other family members were well. However, “several other people staying in his hotel (not necessarily in the same tour group) had reported severe gastroenteritis symptoms with a similar period of onset,” suggesting this may not be the only case. Pro-Med seeks to share this information and advise others of the confirmed cholera in Cuba and for health professionals to consider such a diagnosis with travelers returning with diarrhea. (5)
The question is not whether cholera is a risk to locals and visitors. Rather, the issue is why has the CDC removed the notification from its website when outside country evidence continues to show cholera exists within Cuba.
Are we left to speculate that the promotion of diplomatic relations- in an attempt to not question Cuba’s position on reporting disease outbreaks as required by World Health Organization International Health Regulations- is more important than the prevention and promotion of health security? Let’s not play politics with what we know is a best practice in prevention. Give people access to reliable information so they are well informed of their potential risks. Only then can good decisions be made to prevent cholera-or for that matter dengue, chikungunya or possibly zika virus (new mosquito born virus to reach the Caribbean) when traveling to Cuba.
1) Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Travel Notices- Cholera in Cuba,” http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices/watch/cholera-cuba, accessed July 14, 2015.
2) M Mascarello, M L Deianam C Maurel, C Lucarelli , I Luzzi R Luzzati, “Cholera with Severe Renal Failure in An Italian Tourist Returning from Cuba,” Eurosurveillance, July 2013. Volume 18, Issue 35, August 29, 2013. http://www.eurosurveillance.org/ViewArticle.aspx?ArticleId=20572.
3) Public Health Agency for Canada, Travel Health Notice: Cholera in Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Mexico, updated March 20, 2015 http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/tmp-pmv/notices-avis/notices-avis-eng.php?id=111.
4) PAHO Epidemiologic Update. “Cholera in The Americas,” June 24, 2015 http://www.paho.org/hq/index.php?option=com_docman&task=doc_view&Itemid=270&gid=30752&lang=en
5) ProMed- Mail. “Cholera, Diarrhea and dysentery update (24): Americas,” Archive Number: 20150703.3480336July 3, 2015 http://www.promedmail.org.
*Sherri L. Porcelain teaches global health in world affairs at the University of Miami where she is also a Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies.
Garry Kasparov The Daily Beast
Dangerous and short-sighted U.S. diplomacy has empowered no one except state sponsors of terrorism and fascistic regimes.
There has never been a better time in history to be an enemy of the United States of America. While America’s traditional allies in Europe and the Middle East express confusion and frustration, Obama’s White House delivers compliments and concessions to some of the most brutal dictatorships in the world. In the span of a single week, the U.S. has restored diplomatic relations with Cuba, pressured Ukraine to accept Vladimir Putin’s butchering of its eastern region, and brokered a deal to liberate Iran from sanctions.
These actions would represent a tremendous series of diplomatic triumphs if they improved human rights in these repressed nations, saved lives in conflict regions, or improved global security. That is, in fact, what the White House says these deals will do, despite copious evidence to the contrary. These negotiations represent willful ignorance of the fundamental nature of the regimes in question, especially those of Iran and Russia. Cuba is a political hotspot in the U.S. and remains a potent symbol of totalitarianism, but despite its regional meddling, especially in Venezuela, it isn’t on the scale of the global threats represented by Iran’s terrorism and nuclear ambitions and Putin’s nuclear-backed expansionism. Regardless of the wishes of the Iranian and Russian people, their leaders have no interest in peace, although they are very interested in never-ending peace negotiations that provide them with cover as they continue to spread violence and hatred.
The vocabulary of negotiation is a pleasant and comforting one, especially to a war-weary America. It’s difficult to argue against civilized concepts like diplomacy and engagement, and the Obama administration and the pundits who support it have made good use of this rhetorical advantage. In contrast, deterrence and isolation are harsh, negative themes that evoke the dark time of the Cold War and its constant shadow of nuclear confrontation. No one would like less a return to those days than me or anyone else born and raised behind the Iron Curtain. The question is how best to avoid such a return.
The favorite straw man of the “peacemongers” is that the only alternative to appeasement is war, which makes no sense when there is already an escalating war in progress. The alternative to diplomacy isn’t war when it prolongs or worsens existing conflicts and gives the real warmongers a free hand. Deterrence is the alternative to appeasement. Isolation is the alternative to years of engagement that has only fueled more aggression.
U.S. Sen. Bob Menéndez, Democrat from New Jersey: “Upgrades for Malaysia and Cuba are a clear politicization of the report, and a stamp of approval for countries who have failed to take the basic actions to merit this upgrade. In Cuba, adults and children are subjected to sex trafficking and the government continues perpetrating abusive practices of forced labor, coercing tens of thousands of its own doctors and medical professionals to serve abroad under conditions that violate international norms.” Menéndez said the upgrade “challenges common sense” and he pledged to use “all of the tools at my disposal -– from hearings to legislation to investigations –- to challenge these upgrades.”
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican and also chairwoman of a House Committee on Foreign Affairs subcommittee: “It has become clear that the White House’s willingness to bend over backward to appease the ruthless dictators in Cuba knows no bounds.”
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida and a presidential candidate, said in a statement, “I find it difficult to believe that Cuba has been elevated this year from Tier 3 to Tier 2 Watch List solely based on the Cuban regime’s record.”
A bill to eliminate the 55-year-old U.S. embargo on Cuba will be introduced Tuesday by an unlikely member of Congress: a Republican in the House of Representatives.
Rep. Tom Emmer, who narrowly lost the Minnesota governor’s race in 2010 before winning a House seat in 2014, is scheduled to file the “Cuba Trade Act of 2015″ that removes the long-standing restrictions on American businesses from trading with Cuba and American citizens from travelling there. Emmer said he decided to pursue a full repeal of the embargo after a trip to Cuba in June, when he met with Cuban government officials and everyday citizens.
“I understand there’s a lot of pain on both sides of this issue that goes back many decades, something that a kid from Minnesota is not going to necessarily be able to understand,” Emmer said. “But I believe this is in the best interests of the Cuban people. This isn’t about the Cuban government — it’s about people on the street looking for more opportunity and to improve their quality of life.”
Ever since President Obama announced in December that he would reestablish diplomatic relations with the one-time Cold War foe, Congress has responded by trying to tweak the embargo, which is established in U.S. law and can only be changed by an act of Congress. Democrats in the Senate, with some Republican support, have been trying to ease trade and travel to the island. Republicans in the House have fought back, proposing a series of additional restrictions to bolster the embargo.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has been clear that his chamber will not address the embargo until he sees significant changes in Cuba. Under current law, the embargo cannot be removed until several changes take place in Cuba, including a transition to a democratic government and improvements in the country’s human rights record. Since none of that has happened, Boehner said in May that his chamber would not reexamine the embargo until “the Cuban people enjoy freedom, and not one second sooner.”
Emmer saw firsthand what a challenge he’s facing as he briefed Republican leadership and Cuban-American members of the House about his bill over the past week. “I didn’t expect everybody to be thrilled,” he said with a laugh.
But Steven Law, senior adviser to Engage Cuba, a group pushing for normalized relations with Cuba, said most of that reaction was simply political instinct in the face of another example of Obama using his executive powers to fundamentally alter U.S. policy.
“A lot of Republicans started out with the reflexive view that if Obama was behind it, there’s something wrong with it,” said Law. “But I think that’s changing.”
Law is no liberal — he is the president and CEO of the American Crossroads super PAC that supports Republican candidates and previously worked in the administration of President George W. Bush. He said the Cuba question can eventually cut across party lines with help from traditionally-conservative groups pushing for more access to Cuba, from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to libertarians.
“A lot of these members are hearing from constituents that it’s a new day and we need a new policy to respond to those changes,” he said.
Groups plan to use the August congressional recess to push that argument. Marc Hanson, senior associate for Cuba at the Washington Office on Latin America, said they plan to rally support for Emmer’s bill through various August events.
“What’s going to ultimately happen is this will start the conversation within the Republican caucus,” Hanson said.
That conversation will be a short one, according to Mauricio Claver-Carone, executive director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, which has opposed Obama’s opening with Cuba. Claver-Carone pointed to recent votes conducted on the House floor on amendments to appropriations bills that created tighter sanctions against Cuba. In one case, Republicans won with a 120-vote majority.
“If anyone is trying to imply that somehow, within a couple of months, 61 members of the House of Representatives are going to flip, I think they have an unpleasant surprise coming,” he said.
The U.S. continues to lose credibility under President Obama. His willingness to agree to anything the Cuban dictators ask for, while they continue to violate all human rights is sickening.
It is sad to watch how the president of the world’s most powerful nation, is following orders from a criminal dictatorship in Cuba.
‘Negotiating’ with Obama and John Kerry is becoming the most popular pastime among America’s enemies. They can get anything they want at the ‘negotiating’ table.
Read an article in today’s The Guardian:
US human trafficking report under fire as Cuba and Malaysia are upgraded
US State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report removes Cuba and Malaysia from worst tier of offenders, sparking criticism over ‘political’ decisions
The United States is facing criticism after it removed Cuba and Malaysia from the US State Department’s list of the countries categorically failing to respond to widespread human trafficking.
Both countries have been upgraded from tier 3 in the 2015 Trafficking in Persons report, the worst ranking given by State Department’s annual overview of the actions taken by countries across the world to tackle modern slavery and trafficking.
Anti-trafficking groups have expressed concern at the “transparent” political motivations of this year’s rankings, which they claim call the integrity and impartiality of the report into question.
“We are very surprised by this year’s report, which seems to be making blatantly political decisions that we consider will have a really detrimental impact on both the integrity of the report and progress in the global fight to end modern slavery,” says Melysa Sperber, director of the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (Atest).
“The TiP report can be a really valuable tool in holding governments to account and can have a tangibly positive influence in changing things on the ground and there is a real import in maintaining its credibility.”
The report, which has been published since 2001, is the principal diplomatic tool with which the US engages foreign governments on human trafficking. Under US law, those countries on tier 3 could trigger non-trade related sanctions, leading to restrictions on US foreign assistance and access to global financial institutions such as the World Bank.
After 12 years on tier 3, Cuba’s sudden upgrade to the tier 2 watch list comes fast on the heels of the re-opening of the US embassy in Havana and the re-establishment of diplomatic relations after a half-century of estrangement.
Last year’s TiP report contained criticism of Cuba’s trafficking record, including allegations of child prostitution and forced labour by the Cuban government.
In an interview following the leaking of the proposed upgrade last week, Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he saw the move as politically motivated.
“You have to earn your way up the ladder, not just have political expediency be the reason that you get moved from tier 3,” he said.
After watching how President Obama ‘negotiated’ with the Cuban dictatorship, Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro and Colombia’s terrorist group FARC, want to be next in ‘negotiating’ with the American president before he leaves office.
They see this as a unique opportunity to deal with an American president who gives everything away, while asking for nothing in return.
Read this Editorial in The Washington Post:
Tricky negotiations in the wake of the Cuba thaw
As the Obama administration has pursued normalization with Cuba, it has been drawn into lower-profile but thorny dialogues with two of Havana’s long-standing clients: the Venezuelan government of Nicolás Maduro and Colombia’s Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC). The diplomacy has reinforced President Obama’s doctrine of engagement with U.S. adversaries; the Maduro government has repeatedly claimed that the United States is plotting its overthrow, while the FARC has been designated a terrorist organization by the State Department. As in the case of Cuba, however, the results of the dialogues so far have been meager.
In both instances, U.S. officials say, the initiative did not originate in Washington. Mr. Maduro, facing an economic catastrophe, reached out to what he usually calls “the imperium,” while Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, a close U.S. ally, asked that an American envoy join his government’s ongoing peace talks with the FARC. The administration responded by naming a veteran former diplomat, Bernard Aronson, to attend the Colombian negotiations, which are held being in Havana. Mr. Aronson and a senior State Department counselor, Thomas Shannon, separately visited Caracas to meet Mr. Maduro. Last month, Mr. Shannon went a step further, sitting down with Venezuela’s national assembly president, Diosdado Cabello, even though he is the target of a U.S. criminal investigation into drug trafficking by senior Venezuelan officials.
Such contacts can be useful, if they do not lead to one-sided and unwarranted U.S. concessions — the result, in our view, of the administration’s diplomacy with Cuba. The administration’s aims with respect to the FARC and the Maduro regime are the right ones: to push the militants in Colombia to accept the steps needed to complete a peace deal that has been under negotiation for two-and-a-half years, and to induce Caracas to release political prisoners and hold fair elections to its national assembly later this year.
After Mr. Shannon’s meeting with Mr. Cabello, the Maduro government announced a date for elections and released a couple of prisoners — enough for jailed opposition leader Leopoldo López to end a hunger strike that had endangered his life. But the regime still holds Mr. López and scores of other prisoners and has not accepted the international monitoring needed to ensure a fair vote. It appears to hope its half-measures will induce Mr. Obama to name a new ambassador to Venezuela and lift sanctions recently imposed on senior officials.
Mr. Santos’s negotiations with the FARC, meanwhile, have gone backward. The insurgents broke a unilateral cease-fire in April and have since carried out a host of attacks that have infuriated Colombians; 9 out of 10 say in polls that FARC leaders should be tried for their crimes. This month it announced a new cease-fire, Yet, rather than agree on a plan for transitional justice, the main sticking point in the talks, the FARC is demanding that the United States release a top leader serving a sentence in a U.S. prison. Mr. Obama’s agreement to free Cuban spies held in the United States probably encouraged that bid.
Therein lies the problem: With one eye on Havana, the FARC and the Maduro regime appear to regard the Obama administration as a potential source of easy favors. Unless they are disabused, U.S. diplomacy is unlikely to do much good.