Tag Archives: John kerry

Where has John Kerry been for the last month?

John Kerry

One month after Carnival Cruises announced their apartheid cruises to Cuba, John Kerry now says that Carnival should not discriminate against Cuban-Americans.
 Didn’t he know all along that Cuba’s illegal law was going to prevent Cuban-Americans from going on cruises to Cuba?
 Why wait until now to finally say something?
 Was it because of all the protests of the last few days?

The Miami Herald

Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday condemned Cuba’s policy of discriminating against Cuban-born Americans who want to travel to the island by sea, and criticized Carnival Corp. for enforcing that rule.

“The United States government will never support, never condone discrimination. And the Cuban government should not have the right to enforce on us a policy of discrimination against people who have the right to travel,” Kerry said during an interview with the Miami Herald and CNN en Español in Miami.

“American citizens, Cuban-Americans, have a right to travel, and we should not be in a situation where the Cuban government is forcing its discrimination policy on us. So we call on the government of Cuba to change that policy and to recognize that if they want full relations and normal relationship with the United States, they have to live by international laws, not exclusively by Cuban laws.”

Kerry cancels trip to Cuba amid haggling on human rights

John Kerry

Los Angeles Times

Secretary of State John F. Kerry has canceled a trip to Cuba two weeks before President Obama visits the communist-ruled nation as diplomats haggle over which Cuban dissidents the president will be allowed to meet.

The back and forth over human rights is another sign of how prickly U.S.-Cuba relations remain despite the restoration of diplomatic ties, and the easing of many travel and trade restrictions, over the last year.

It also highlights a potential problem for Obama’s planned overnight visit on March 21, the first by a sitting president in nearly 90 years, to the former Cold War adversary.

Despite the U.S. push toward normalization of relations, the government in Havana has done little to ease its limits on free expression or to improve treatment of human rights activists and political dissidents.

President Raul Castro has supported opening the Cuban economy to incorporate free-market elements, including private enterprise and private ownership of homes and cars, for the first time since the 1959 revolution that brought the communists to power.

But he has insisted that the political system and the “socialist nature of the revolution” will not change. His Foreign Ministry official for U.S. affairs, Josefina Vidal, has described the U.S. focus on human rights as hypocritical.

Despite that resistance, Obama, in his announcement last month of his two-day trip, said he aims to engage with the Cuban people. Previously, he had said he would not go unless Cuba allowed significant progress on human rights.

“We determine who we meet with in different countries,” Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security advisor, said Feb. 18. “And we’ve certainly indicated to the Cubans that this is something the president will be doing on this trip, as he does on other trips.”

Kerry, who flew to Havana in August to reopen the U.S. Embassy, had planned to return this week to lay the groundwork for Obama’s visit. But that trip was canceled, officials said Thursday, when arrangements could not be finalized.

Kerry “is still interested in visiting in the near future, and we are working with our Cuban counterparts and our embassy to determine the best time frame,” said John Kirby, the State Department spokesman.

Other officials said the new U.S. Embassy, which remains a bare-bones operation, was overwhelmed trying to arrange back-to-back visits by Kerry and Obama.

When U.S. diplomats began negotiations for Obama’s visit, they said any attempt to block him from meeting dissidents would be a deal breaker, according to a White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivities.

But political dissidents in Cuba are a varied bunch.

Some are so bitterly anti-Castro, they disapprove of Obama’s rapprochement and might refuse an invitation. Others, known worldwide, are despised by the Cuban government.

Cuba now holds several dozen political prisoners in its jails, according to Cuban activists, down from several hundred a few years ago. But the government still harasses dissidents by detaining them for brief periods.

In January, 1,414 political dissidents were detained, the second highest number in years, according to Elizardo Sanchez, head of the opposition Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation. He said 56 of the detainees were beaten.

The cost of repression “is incalculable,” he said in a recent report, noting the stigma and lost employment resulting from even brief arrests.

Perhaps of most concern to the Obama administration is the rearrest of five people who were released as part of the surprise announcement Dec. 17, 2014, that Cuba and the U.S. were restoring diplomatic ties after more than half a century.

“It is hard to speak of progress when they make these rearrests,” a senior State Department official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to provide details of private negotiations. “We have to keep pushing them on this.”

Republican presidential candidates and other critics, including some Democrats, have denounced the White House decision to visit Cuba, saying it rewards a still-repressive, undeserving regime.

Obama’s supporters view his trip as a critical step toward normalization and bringing Cuba’s economy into the 21st century after five decades of enforced isolation.

“Do the Cuban people deserve this visit? The answer is overwhelmingly yes,” said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, an umbrella organization of groups that seek the lifting of all trade and travel restrictions.

Christopher Sabatini, adjunct professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, suggested that Obama find ways to make direct contact with ordinary Cubans, much as Pope Francis did with unscheduled stops during his recent visit to the country.

“The mere fact of a president going to a country isn’t a Good Housekeeping seal of approval of a government’s behavior,” Sabatini wrote on the website he edits, LatinAmericaGoesGlobal.org.

But if done right, he added, it can “send a strong signal of solidarity with local citizens, rather than an endorsement” of the government.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen goes toe-to-toe with John Kerry on Cuba

John Kerry

McClatchy DC
Questions administration’s commitment to human rights

Criticizes State Department’s 25-percent cut in pro-democracy spending

Secretary Kerry says administration in a better position than ever

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen challenged the Obama administration’s commitment to human rights in Cuba on Thursday, pressing Secretary of State John Kerry on the administration’s plans to cut spending next year on democracy and human rights on the island by 25 percent.

The State Department has requested $15 million, down from $20 million this year, to pay for assistance to victims of political repression and their families and to strengthen independent Cuban civil society.

“Are human rights a priority for this administration?” Ros-Lehtinen asked.

Kerry’s response: “Of course, they are.”

The four-minute confrontation at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the State Department’s budget was the latest confrontation between members of Congress and the administration over Cuba policy. Both Ros-Lehtinen and her fellow Miami Republican, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, have called the warming relations with Cuba shameful, while Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas, both Republican presidential contenders, have accused Obama of making too many concessions to the communist government.

Kerry defended the administration, saying the improvement in relations allows the U.S. to have more diplomats in Cuba and creates opportunities to work in areas of mutual interest.

“In fact,” Kerry said, “we believe we have actually created more opportunities for intervention, more opportunities to make progress. One in four people in Cuba are beginning to work for private enterprise.”

Ros-Lehtinen says that assessment is naive. She cited Cuba’s harsh treatment of dissidents since the announcement in December 2014 of the new relationship, with the reported arrests of more than 8,000 people, many of whom expressed points of view that contrast those of the Cuban government.

Citing the 20th anniversary Wednesday of the downing of two Brothers to the Rescue aircraft by a Cuban jet fighter, Ros-Lehtinen also pressed Kerry for a commitment that the administration would seek the extradition of the government officials responsible for the shoot-down, which killed four Miami-based anti-Castro activists.

Kerry did not respond directly, but reiterated that more groups, including non-government agencies, are traveling to Cuba and working directly with the Cuban people more than ever in the past half-century.

“We believe we have a greater chance of changing Cuba than anything that has happened in the last 50 years,” Kerry said. “It didn’t work for 50 years. Nothing changed. Now it is changing.”

Kerry in Cuba: More Interested in Cigars Than Dissidents


Secretary of State Kerry traveled to Havana to raise the flag at the U.S. Embassy there last week. As has been noted here in this blog and in many news articles and columns, no dissidents or human rights activists were invited to the ceremony.
It’s fair to ask if that sends any kind of signal to the regime. The fear would be that it expresses a lack of interest in, or at least a refusal to give much priority to, how the Castro regime treats those struggling peacefully for democracy and human rights in Cuba.
How might we judge the answer? Here’s how:
Less than 48 hours after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shunned Cuban dissidents from the U.S. Embassy in Havana, over 200 dissidents have been arrested.
In Havana, 60 members of The Ladies in White, the renowned pro-democracy group composed of the wives, mothers and daughters of Cuban political prisoners, were arrested — along with nearly 20 other activists. Among those arrested were Berta Soler, leader of The Ladies in White; Antonio Rodiles, of Estado de Sats; and Jorge Luis Garcia Perez “Antunez” of the National Resistance Front.
Some of The Ladies in White, such as Yaqueline Boni, were brutally beaten in custody. Others severely beaten include Ciro Alexis Casanova, Jose Diaz Silva and Mario Alberto Hernandez.
Those facts come from a report by Capitol Hill Cubans. The only real defense of Kerry might be that the regime arrests and beats people all the time anyway, so it’s impossible to say this would not have happened even if some of these people had been invited to the flag-raising at the new U.S. Embassy.
Some defense. Experience with communist and other dictatorships has long been that American support for and interaction with dissidents helps them and protects them. Naming them individually does as well, in their common view.
In his 1975 Nobel lecture, accepting the Peace Prize, Andrei Sakharov ended his speech by naming–one by one–about one hundred political prisoners. His wife Elena Bonner, who actually read that speech for Sakharov because he was forbidden from leaving the Soviet Union, later said “the listing of names brought joy to the prisoners of conscience, and to their relatives. More important, it somewhat protected them from the camp administration.”
So Kerry missed his chance, and his actions in Havana arguably worsened the situation of dissidents there by suggesting a lack of interest in them and their plight.

Continue reading Kerry in Cuba: More Interested in Cigars Than Dissidents

All talk and no action – Oppenheimer: Kerry failed to act on human rights in Cuba

John Kerry

Secretary of State John Kerry deserves applause for saying that human rights will be a top priority in the newly normalized U.S. ties with Cuba, but his decision not to invite Cuban dissidents to the flag-raising ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Havana flew in the face of his promise.

When I interviewed Kerry last week shortly before his trip, the first by a U.S. Secretary of State to Cuba in 70 years, he said that “human rights obviously is at the top of our agenda, in terms of the first things that we will be focused on in our direct engagement with the Cuban government.”
He even told me that he plans to discuss with Cuba a “sort of roadmap” to full normalization that ultimately will involve the lifting of the U.S. embargo, and Cuban steps, such as allowing Cubans “to engage in a democratic process, to elect people.” To his credit, he reiterated these themes in Havana, where he stated that “the people of Cuba would be best served by a genuine democracy, where people are free to choose their leaders.”
All of that sounded great. But then, during his trip to Havana, Kerry did not invite Cuban dissidents to attend, alongside Cuban officials, the flag-raising ceremony at the U.S. Embassy, which was the highlight of his 10-hour trip to the island. Instead, some peaceful government opponents were invited among hundreds of guests to a separate event later that day at the residence of the U.S. charge d’affairs in Cuba.
When I asked Kerry in our interview why he would not include dissidents among his guests at the U.S. Embassy, he downplayed the significance of that decision. “Rather than have people sitting in a chair, at a ceremony that is fundamentally government to government, with very limited space, I will meet with them…and exchange views” separately, Kerry told me.

Continue reading All talk and no action – Oppenheimer: Kerry failed to act on human rights in Cuba

The Wall Street Journal: Cuba No Libre


The U.S. outreach has changed little about life on the island.
‘Cuba’s future is for Cubans to shape,” declared Secretary of State John Kerry in Havana on Friday as he reopened the U.S. Embassy after 54 years. If only this were true. The reality is that Cuba’s future is still reserved for the Castro brothers and their political comrades to shape, and that hasn’t changed a whit since President Obama decided to recognize the Cuban regime in December.
“Having normal relations makes it easier for us to talk—and talk can deepen understanding even when we know full well that we will not always see eye-to-eye on everything,” Mr. Kerry said. This sums up the Obama vision of foreign policy, in which talk typically turns out to be its own reward.
Certainly there isn’t much to show so far for the U.S. outreach to Cuba. The U.S. has supplied the government run by Fidel and Raúl Castro and the military with much-wanted new global legitimacy. The U.S. has also eased travel restrictions to the island, and American business interests and the Obama Administration are lobbying Congress to end the U.S. trade embargo.
What hasn’t changed is life for average Cubans who aren’t connected to the ruling elite. They are still paid in relatively worthless pesos even when they work for foreign businesses that give the government hard currency for their labor. They can still be arrested if they use the Internet to hear independent news about the world or Cuba. And they will be arrested if they protest against the government. Only last Sunday the government detained for four and half hours 90 Cubans who protested against Mr. Kerry’s visit for emboldening the regime’s crackdown on dissent.
“The leaders in Havana and the Cuban people should also know that the United States will remain a champion of democratic principles and reforms,” Mr. Kerry said, and we’d like to think this is true too.
But the U.S. failed to invite Yoani Sanchez, an important Cuban blogger unloved by the regime, to the Embassy event. Also kept away from the Embassy were some of the Spanish-speaking media with large audiences in Miami that are not all enamored of the President’s Cuban outreach. But all the big U.S. media networks were on hand to record the historic day. They might learn more if they stayed to travel around the island, but the government restricts where foreign media can go.
The new Embassy replaces a U.S. “interests section,” which was a place where Cubans could go to get some support and occasionally protection. What a shame it would be if, in the name of opening Cubans to the outside world, the U.S. Embassy becomes a place where dissidents fear to tread because America doesn’t want to jeopardize better relations with the Castros.

The Wall Street Journal

The Washington Post: The U.S. outrageously snubs Cuban dissidents

statue of liberty


En Español: “Indignante” exclusión de disidentes de izamiento de la bandera de EEUU

The American flag is a powerful symbol of the country’s long and noble struggle to defend the values of freedom and democracy. When Secretary of State John F. Kerry raises it over the U.S. embassy in Cuba on Friday, the ceremony will mark an end to a half-century of hostility between the two nations. President Obama has gambled that establishing normal relations with Cuba — commerce, information, culture and “soft power” — is the best way to change the isolated island, still in the grip of the Castro brothers and their sclerotic revolution.
What’s unfortunate about the scenario planned for Havana is that Mr. Kerry has decided to omit the very people in Cuba who embody the values that the American flag represents: human dignity, the wisdom of the individual above the state and free access to basic rights of expression in speech, assembly and thought. These people — the dissidents in Cuba who have fought tirelessly for democracy and human rights, and who continue to suffer regular beatings and arrests — will not be witnesses to the flag-raising. They were not invited.
The official U.S. explanation for excluding the dissidents is that the flag-raising ceremony is a government-to-government affair. This is lame. Inviting the dissidents would be a demonstration to Raúl and Fidel Castro of what the flag stands for: people freely choosing their leaders, a pluralism of views and a public engaging in the institutions and traditions of a healthy civil society. Not inviting them is a sorry tip of the hat to what the Castros so vividly stand for: diktat, statism, control and rule by fear.
It would not have been hard to find witnesses to this turning point who have been muzzled and physically injured in their quest to be heard: dissidents Jorge Luis García Pérez and Antonio Rodiles, the blogger Yoani Sánchez, members of the Ladies in White, to name just a few. Mr. Kerry offers to meet with some of them separately, out of public view. It is insulting and acquiesces in the Castros’ desire that the dissidents be hidden away.
In a sense, the “government-to-government” excuse exemplifies what has been wrong in Mr. Obama’s outreach from the start. Engagement could help spark change in Cuba; most Cuban democrats agree. But it won’t happen automatically: Just look at China, with its capitalism and wealth blended with increasingly repressive rule.
Mr. Obama could have designed an engagement policy that made room for human rights and its courageous advocates, as he once promised them he would do. Instead, he’s bestowed all legitimacy on a government that can claim none in its own right — that rules through force, and not the consent of the governed. Maybe Mr. Kerry can at least leave an empty chair at the ceremony to symbolize the people, and the values, that will be kept outside the fence.

The Washington Post

Cuban Dissidents Reject Kerry’s Insulting Second-Fiddle Offer


Via Capitol Hill Cubans

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told media outlets yesterday that the reason why Cuban dissidents aren’t invited to the flag-raising ceremony at the new U.S. Embassy in Havana is because there isn’t enough space.
What a pathetic — and untrue — excuse.
The courtyard of the U.S. Embassy in Havana is easily four to five times the size of the Cuban Embassy’s in Washington, D.C.
Yet, the latter invited over 500 guests to its flag-raising ceremony, including their lobbyists, apologists and a Code Pink delegation to party outside.
The real reason why Kerry is not inviting Cuban dissidents to the flag-raising event is because the Castro regime doesn’t want them there — and the Obama Administration has shamefully acquiesced.
In other words, the Obama Administration is (once again) lowering our standards to raise the flag.
Instead, Kerry has offered to meet Cuban dissidents “in a closet” of the Ambassador’s residence afterwards.
This morning, Berta Soler of The Ladies in White and Antonio Rodiles of Estado de Sats, who have been leading the courageous Sunday demonstrations against the Castro regime (in the face of rising violence and repression), rejected Kerry’s insulting second-fiddle offer.
The image of the flag-raising ceremony at the Embassy will be of the U.S. standing side-by-side with the oppressors of the Cuban people.
It will forever be captioned — “No dissent is allowed.”