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    Normalizing Relations With Cuba -The Unfinished Agenda

    Normalizing Relations With Cuba: The Unfinished Agenda
    BY WILLIAM M. LEOGRANDE 1/30/15 AT 4:48 PM

    On January 22, U.S. and Cuban diplomats concluded the first round of
    talks to implement President Barack Obama’s and President Raúl Castro’s
    decision to normalize bilateral relations. A second round of talks is
    scheduled for February.

    Much of the first round was devoted to the mechanics of re-establishing
    full diplomatic relations and setting out the long agenda of other
    issues the two sides want to discuss.

    A number these are issues of mutual interest on which the United States
    and Cuba have already built some level of cooperation over the
    years—migration, counter-narcotics, counterterrorism, law enforcement,
    Coast Guard search and rescue, disaster preparedness and environmental
    protection, to name the most prominent.

    But on many other issues, Cuba and the United States have sharply
    different views and interests. As the two sides embark on what promises
    to be a long series of meetings to carry the normalization process
    forward, the guide below offers a capsule sketch of the issues in
    conflict that will comprise the toughest part of the negotiating agenda.

    The list is lop-sided, mostly involving programs and policies that are
    vestiges of the old U.S. policy of hostility. For its part, Cuba doesn’t
    have any sanctions against the United States that it can offer as quid
    pro quos. There are, however, a number of things that Washington will be
    seeking from Havana.

    Normalizing Diplomatic Relations

    Presidents Obama and Castro have already agreed on this, and only an
    exchange of diplomatic notes is required to formalize it. Obama’s
    nominee to be ambassador to Havana will need Senate confirmation, however.

    Marco Rubio, R-Florida, has sworn to block the nominee and will probably
    have the support of Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, another member of the
    Foreign Relations Committee.

    But even if Rubio and Menendez keep the nomination bottled up, they
    can’t prevent Obama from re-establishing full diplomatic relations with
    Cuba. Article II of the Constitution vests that power exclusively with
    the president. For their part, Cuban diplomats have said that normal
    diplomatic relations are incompatible with Cuba’s inclusion on the list
    of state sponsors of terrorism, so even the reestablishment of
    diplomatic relations is not yet a done deal.

    The Terrorism List

    Obama has ordered Secretary of State John Kerry to review Cuba’s
    inclusion on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.
    He will almost certainly conclude that Cuba should be removed, since
    there is no reasonable basis for its designation.

    But removing a country from the list requires notification of Congress,
    which will give Republican critics another opportunity to blast Obama’s
    policy. Nevertheless, they won’t have the votes to block Cuba’s removal,
    since they would need to override a presidential veto.

    Removal of Cuba from the list is important symbolically, but it won’t
    have much practical effect. All the sanctions applied to countries on
    the list are already included in the Cuban embargo. The financial
    sanctions that have made it so difficult for Havana to conduct business
    abroad will not end with removal from the list.

    The Embargo

    Obama punched a number of holes in the embargo, but the core of it
    remains intact. U.S. companies cannot invest in Cuba, nor do business
    with state enterprises except to sell food or medicine. Cuban businesses
    cannot sell anything to the United States.

    Obama relaxed regulations governing educational travel, but tourist
    travel is still banned. To lift the embargo in its entirety will require
    legislative changes to the Cuban Democracy Act (CDA), which prohibits
    sales of goods to Cuba by the subsidiaries of U.S. corporations abroad;
    the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act (Helms-Burton), which
    wrote the embargo into law; and the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export
    Enhancement Act, which bans tourist travel.

    With Republicans in control of Congress, the embargo is not likely to go
    away any time soon.

    Property Claims

    The U.S. Foreign Claims Settlement Commission ratified 5,911 property
    claims by U.S. corporations and citizens for $1.85 billion in losses
    suffered when Cuba nationalized all U.S. property on the island. With
    accumulated interest, the total claims stand at over $7 billion today.

    In addition, Cuban exiles who became naturalized U.S. citizens are
    eligible for compensation for lost property under the Helms-Burton law.
    The State Department estimates there could be as many as 200,000 such
    claims, totaling “tens of billions of dollars.”

    Cuba acknowledges the legitimacy of U.S. claims, but rejects
    compensation for Cubans who fled the island. Moreover, Cuba has asserted
    counter-claims of $181 billion for the damage done by the U.S. embargo
    and the CIA’s secret war in the 1960s.

    Cuba does not have the resources to pay even a fraction of U.S. claims,
    let alone Cuban-American claims, and Washington would never agree to
    Cuba’s enormous counter-claim. A compromise could conceivably be built
    around debt-equity swaps or giving claimants preferential terms for
    future investments.

    Cuban Membership in International Financial Institutions

    The Helms Burton law requires the United States to vote against Cuban
    membership in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.
    To become a member of the World Bank, a country must first join the IMF,
    which requires approval by a supermajority of 85 percent of the vote by
    existing members.

    Since the United States holds 17 percent of the voting stock, U.S.
    opposition effectively bars Cuba from both the IMF and the Bank.
    Although Cuba has not applied for membership, the economic restructuring
    underway would benefit significantly from IMF and Bank financial
    support. Resolving this issue will require amending or repealing

    U.S. Democracy Promotion Programs

    The United States continues to spend between $15 million and $20 million
    annually on covert democracy promotion programs designed to strengthen
    Cuban civil society and promote opposition. Cuba reportedly sought an
    end to these programs during the secret negotiations, but Washington

    These programs could be refocused to promote more authentic cultural and
    educational exchanges that operate openly. Such a reform was
    contemplated shortly after Alan Gross was arrested in 2009, but the
    White House backed down in the face of congressional opposition.

    The latest request for proposals from the Department of State suggests
    that the programs’ confrontational approach has not changed. That could
    threaten progress toward normalization. “Our U.S. counterparts should
    not plan on developing relations with Cuban society as if there were no
    sovereign government in Cuba,” Raúl Castro warned in a speech after the
    talks concluded.

    The Cuban Medical Professionals Parole Program

    This program, designed during George W. Bush’s presidency, offers Cuban
    health workers serving abroad on humanitarian missions a fast track to
    U.S. residency if they defect. Each year, more than a thousand Cubans
    take advantage of it.

    Cuba asked the United States to end the program to facilitate
    cooperation rebuilding Haiti’s health care system after the 2010
    earthquake. Washington refused and cooperation fizzled. More recently,
    Washington and Havana have been cooperating on the fight against Ebola,
    but the Medical Professionals Parole Program remains an obstacle to
    sustained U.S.-Cuban cooperation in the field of public health.

    It doesn’t make sense for Washington to praise Cuba’s humanitarian
    health programs on the one hand while trying to subvert them on the
    other. Cuban diplomats raised this issue in the January talks, but as of
    now, Washington has no plans to review the program.

    TV and Radio Martí

    The United States government still spends millions of dollars annually
    broadcasting TV and Radio Martí to Cuba, even though the television
    signal is effectively jammed and the radio has a diminishing audience.
    Cuba objects to the broadcasts as a violation of international law.

    A recent report by the State Department Inspector General found serious
    management deficiencies and low employee morale at the stations. The
    programs continue to be funded more as pork barrel legislation than as
    effective instruments of foreign policy. Years ago, Cuba offered to
    carry PBS and CNN news broadcasts on its domestic television if TV and
    Radio Martí were halted. Could a similar deal be struck now?

    The Cuban Adjustment Act

    This 1966 law allows Cuban immigrants who are in the United States for a
    year to “adjust” their status to that of legal permanent residents—a
    privilege no other immigrant group enjoys. Since the 1990s, the Attorney
    General has routinely paroled into the United States any Cuban who
    reaches U.S. territory, making them eligible for residence under the act.

    The Cuban government has long complained that this encourages illegal
    departures from the island and human trafficking. The Attorney General
    has the authority under the law to refuse to parole illegal Cuban
    immigrants into the country, thereby denying them the benefits of the
    Cuban Adjustment Act, but no president thus far has been willing to
    change existing policy because the status quo enjoys broad support among
    Cuban Americans.

    The Obama administration does not intend to change the law or its
    interpretation for fear of touching off a migration crisis.

    Cuban Trademarks

    A number of famous Cuban trademarks, including Havana Club rum and
    Cohiba cigars, have been appropriated by U.S. companies after a 1998 law
    prohibited Cuba from renewing its trademark rights. Cuba has sought to
    safeguard its trademarks in the courts, without success.

    As U.S.-Cuban trade expands, U.S. brands will want protection in the
    Cuban market, an issue which has been largely moot until now. If there
    is to be a cease-fire in the trademark war, it will have to be mutual.

    Cuban Visitors to the United States

    Since Cuba abolished the “tarjeta blanca” exit permit required to travel
    abroad, Cuban visitors to the United States have jumped by almost 100
    percent to 33,000 in the past year. But Cuban scholars coming to attend
    professional meetings in the United States still run afoul of a 1985
    presidential proclamation issued by Ronald Reagan that bars visas for
    employees of the Cuban government or Communist Party. George W. Bush
    invoked this proclamation to deny all Cuban academic visits as a matter
    of policy.

    The Obama administration has been more lenient, but it still denies
    visas to prominent Cuban academics for no obvious reason, even though
    the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA) prohibits denials on
    political grounds. Obama could solve this problem by simply withdrawing
    the Reagan-era proclamation.

    There are ample grounds in section 212(a) of the INA for denying visas
    to applicants who may pose an actual threat to U.S. security because of
    involvement in terrorism, crime, or intelligence activities.

    Guantánamo Bay Naval Station

    Established by the United States in 1903 following the Spanish-American
    War, the base at Guantánamo has long been a thorn in the side of Cuban
    nationalists. Cuba claims it as sovereign territory and wants the United
    States out. Washington insists on the validity of a 1934 treaty leasing
    the base to the United States in perpetuity.

    Since the 1990s, U.S. military forces on the base and the local Cuban
    military have had a cooperative working relationship that Raúl Castro
    once described as a model for relations between the two governments.
    Disposition of the base is low on the agenda of both governments, and
    nothing is likely to change until Obama is able to close the detention


    The Obama administration has said that it will seek the extradition of
    some 70 U.S. fugitives currently living in Cuba, including high profile
    political exiles like Joanne Chesimard, a.k.a. Assata Shakur, who was
    convicted of murdering a New Jersey state trooper.

    Cuba has been willing to return common criminals who have sought shelter
    on the island, but it has consistently refused to return anyone granted
    political asylum. The Foreign Ministry reiterated that position shortly
    after the two presidents announced the normalization of diplomatic

    Moreover, Cuba has a long list of Cuban Americans guilty of violent
    attacks on the island who Washington refuses to extradite, foremost
    among them Luis Posada Carriles, mastermind of a series of hotel
    bombings in Havana in the 1990s and the bombing of a Cuban civilian
    airliner in 1976.

    Law enforcement cooperation in pursuit of common criminals is likely to
    improve, but on the issue of returning fugitives who have been given
    political asylum, neither side is likely to give any ground.

    Human Rights and Democracy

    In his speech to the nation, Obama promised to continue the U.S.
    commitment to democracy and human rights in Cuba. Speaking to the
    National Assembly, Castro noted that Cuba had “profound differences”
    with the United States on these issues but was nevertheless willing to
    discuss them.

    Havana continues to regard questions of democracy and human rights as
    internal matters and sees foreign demands as infringements on its
    national sovereignty. Nevertheless, Castro was willing to negotiate the
    release of 53 political prisoners, expanded Internet access and
    cooperation with the International Red Cross and UN as part of his
    agreement with Obama.

    Although there may be some glacial progress from conversations around
    democracy and human rights, for the most part, the two sides will
    continue to disagree.

    The unfinished agenda of issues in conflict is long and daunting,
    requiring tough negotiations, not only between Washington and Havana,
    but between the White House and Capitol Hill. Many of these issues will
    linger unresolved beyond the two years remaining in Obama’s presidency.

    But by changing the frame of U.S. policy from one of hostility and
    regime change to one of engagement and coexistence, Obama has already
    made more progress than all ten of his predecessors.

    William M. LeoGrande is professor of Government at American University
    and coauthor with Peter Kornbluh of the recent book, Back Channel to
    Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana
    (University of North Carolina Press, 2014).

    Source: Normalizing Relations With Cuba: The Unfinished Agenda –