Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Venezuela Post 9 Stratfor and International Crisis Group

Perspective of Stratfor  conservative analysts

January 25 2019 22:52:50 GMT

Trouble Awaits Any Military Intervention in Venezuela 

there are several reasons why an external military intervention in Venezuela would be no cakewalk. For one thing, even if sizable portions of the armed forces might balk at turning their weapons on fellow citizens, an invasion could galvanize them to circle their wagons against an external aggressor. And in contrast to Libya's military on the eve of the 2011 intervention that ultimately toppled Moammar Gadhafi, Venezuela's armed forces are much better equipped and enjoy much more advantageous terrain. What's more, Venezuela could receive increased external support from allies such as Russia, which could further complicate plans for an intervention.

Any external military action against Venezuela would, in all likelihood, involve a significant air campaign whose first and foremost goal would be to gain air supremacy over the skies. The only country equipped to conduct such a campaign is the United States. Colombia and Brazil — two regional heavyweights that are staunchly opposed to the Maduro government — lack the aircraft necessary to neutralize the Venezuelan Air Force and its air defenses independently. And even if Venezuelan pilots lack the skills of their Brazilian and Colombian counterparts, they boast an advantage thanks to their superior combat aircraft, especially the Russian-made Su-30MK2. Brazil, for example, will only begin to address this technological imbalance this year, when the country acquires its first batch of Swedish JAS 39E Gripen fighters. 

A military intervention could quickly snowball into one of the largest worldwide military operations since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

A U.S. air campaign would undoubtedly decimate the Venezuelan air force, but it would require a considerable effort to also suppress and destroy the country's surface-to-air missile batteries on the ground. This would be a complicated endeavor, particularly as Venezuelan air defense units, unlike Gadhafi's forces, would benefit from the mobility of their systems and the abundance of dense urban and jungle terrain. Furthermore, the Venezuelan army as a whole is very large — even before adding in various paramilitary formations — and relatively well-equipped with light and heavy weapons. With such forces also able to benefit from the same dense urban and jungle terrain, it would require an extended air campaign to grind them down if they were to continue active resistance. 

Logistical Nightmares

Unless an intervention triggered a mass uprising that quickly toppled the government, any effort to accelerate the campaign with a ground invasion would face its share of problems as well. Given Venezuela's sheer size and population, an intervening country or countries would require a sizable military force. Such an army would then need to confront the problem of choosing a route into Venezuela. A direct intervention by sea is inherently risky because amphibious operations are one of the most complicated and dangerous military maneuvers. Overland invasion routes from Colombia or Brazil also face difficult terrain, complicated logistics and extended supply lines that would be vulnerable to guerrilla attack. In effect, a military intervention could quickly snowball into one of the largest worldwide military operations since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. 

All of these constraints highlight how a military intervention in Venezuela is not comparable to previous interventions in the region, such as Grenada (1983), Haiti (1994-1995) or Panama (1989-1990). Nor is it particularly similar to the 2011 intervention in Libya. Venezuela's size, population, terrain, and weaponry ensure that a long military campaign would be almost inevitable if the initial action doesn't quickly topple Maduro's government or trigger a collapse in the armed forces. And even if an attacking force were successful, the leaders of a military intervention would be faced with a very messy aftermath in which they would have to suddenly shift from offensive operations to propping up the new government and support its efforts to rebuild a broken economy and food distribution system — to say nothing about the prospect of dealing with possible attacks from disenfranchised Chavista forces in a protracted insurgency. And then there are other pressing issues, such as forced migration, the effect of conflict on the energy market or the potential proliferation of weapons and violence. Simply put, overthrowing Maduro through external intervention is unlikely to provide a shortcut to resolving Venezuela's myriad problems.



International Crisis Group

“Honoring one of U.S.’ greatest military fiascos from 60 years back suggests U.S. policy to Latin America owes more now to a perverse Cold War nostalgia than practical benefits for people of the region,” said Ivan Briscoe, the Latin American director for the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank.

Will Pressure Bring Down Venezuela’s Government?

“We are not prepared for a long regime of sanctions”, states one very prominent chavista’s chief of staff. “I think we overestimate our power to resist and underestimate the capacity of gringo sanctions to pressure us”.

A Worried Inner Circle

The circle closest to Maduro – estimated by Elliott Abrams, U.S. special representative for Venezuela, to number ten to twenty people – is not, as critics often suggest, unaware of the scale of the country’s hastening disaster. By giving its consent to the Red Cross to begin distributing humanitarian aid in Venezuela, the government in effect acknowledged the reality of public destitution. Other global humanitarian bodies report direct approaches from the government to begin relief operations. ...

But the government portrays this extreme deprivation as part of a war of attrition, with each new adversity giving a pretext for government leaders or powerful chavista factions to crack down on the opposition with yet more venom.

The inner circle is also conscious that refusing to yield to any opposition demand – with the exception of accepting humanitarian relief – and shunning the gestures that could help initiate serious negotiations could bring catastrophe. A senior chavista identifies three scenarios in which the government could find itself obliged to talk: mass public disorder, akin to the 1989 Caracazo riots that followed a hike in fuel prices, led to hundreds of deaths and helped pave the way for the rise of Chávez; rifts between the civilian and military wings of government; and foreign military intervention....

But several sources close to government note that, even in these extreme cases, civilian leaders may not back down from unbending resistance. The armed forces, led by Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino López, may well need to persuade them to do so. ...

Some pragmatists in the opposition are displeased that the Trump administration’s unstinting backing for Guaidó has often taken the form of vows to roll back socialism in the Americas or restore the Monroe Doctrine. Yet others do not mind such rhetorical flourishes: Washington, in the words of one top Guaidó ally, is the “bad cop” offering protection for the smiling “good cop” who will eventually prevail.

Not all members of the opposition, however, think it wise for Guaidó to be associated with the sanctions that are deepening Venezuelans’ hardship and triggering sporadic mayhem. ...

figures from both government and opposition in private call for restraint and compromise. International efforts to push for a negotiated solution or to create the conditions under which peace talks could take place, above all the EU-backed International Contact Group, are intensifying. Formulas for unblocking the stalemate between the two sides are proliferating, while secret channels for talks are burrowing underneath the lines. Leading chavistas now speak candidly of the conditions under which they would accept new elections and a possible period in opposition. “Well, at least we had 20 years in power”, says one, stoically, “and the oligarchy had nearly 200”. Leading opposition figures court heresy by accepting that Maduro could stay in office until these new elections are held, possibly by presiding over a government of technocrats.

But these initiatives may fail to yield more than soothing chatter unless they resolve the fundamental differences that the pressure campaign is, if anything, deepening rather than mitigating. Even for pragmatists in the opposition, no negotiation is possible without a clear show of good faith from the government, given the failures of previous rounds of talks. To them, good faith means a landmark concession: a commitment that the government will accept losing power, restoration of the National Assembly’s authority or sweeping reform of the discredited National Electoral Council as a first step toward early elections....

In the government’s eyes, meanwhile, the economic suffocation that should in theory be encouraging them to consider negotiations instead prompts them to believe that the opposition and Washington desire not the restoration of democracy, but, in the words of one recent minister, the “political annihilation of chavismo”. Whereas the opposition demands a token of government sincerity to begin peace talks, the chavistas insist on guarantees of fair treatment at the end of the process. They wish to ensure that their movement will be respected as a political force, that they will not be prosecuted or exposed to a witch hunt, and that the new government will respect their social policies. They insist that they should be entitled to take part in new elections if these occur, and keep power if they are victorious. And they are adamant that no guarantee or pledge to respect their demands can be trusted so long as the U.S. maintains support for Guaidó´s “parallel government” and imposes sanctions that will not be lifted barring the chavistas’ total surrender....

Picking Up the Pieces After Venezuela’s Quashed Uprising

 A failed uprising by Venezuelan National Assembly Chair Juan Guaidó has emboldened President Nicolás Maduro and deepened the country's political deadlock. However difficult, outside actors should continue to press the two sides to form a transitional cabinet, stabilise Venezuela’s economy and hold elections.

...Left to their own devices, in other words, the two sides are unlikely to reach a workable agreement. The onus is on external actors who, regrettably, have been as divided as Venezuelans themselves.  Countries close to Guaidó, those supportive of Maduro and those in between should seize this moment to put aside any maximalist position and nudge their respective allies to compromise. That will require the U.S. and its Latin American partners to rule out any suggestion of military intervention and abandon the demand that Maduro immediately resign. It will require Russia, China and Cuba to accept the need for Maduro to initiate a process leading to credible and internationally-monitored presidential elections.  It will require all stakeholders to push for the following:
  • Formation of a transitional cabinet including representatives of both chavismo and the opposition, focused on economic stabilisation, humanitarian assistance, internal security and institutional reform; ideally, neither Maduro nor Guaidó would hold the presidency during this period, though agreement on this point ought not to be a precondition for negotiations to commence; 
  • Guarantees to the military in the form of a clear framework for their future role;
  • Presidential elections under a reformed electoral commission and international monitoring.
The EU-led International Contact Group could help jump-start this process through its own quiet diplomacy....


Tweet from President Trump on April 30

If Cuban Troops and Militia do not immediately CEASE military and other operations for the purpose of causing death and destruction to the Constitution of Venezuela, a full and complete embargo, together with highest-level sanctions, will be placed on the island of Cuba. Hopefully, all Cuban soldiers will promptly and peacefully return to their island!”
Subsequently he retweeted a video in which John Bolton claimed that Venezuela's Defense Minister, the chief judge of the Supreme Court and the commander of the Presidential Guard had told Juan Guido that they would transfer power from Maduro to him.  https://twitter.com/i/status/1123346471477219333

Secretary of State Pompeo tweeted that Maduro was prepared to flee to Cuba Tuesday morning until the Russians told him not to.


An Internal Opening?

Amid the unrest, Maduro’s military commanders went on state television to proclaim their loyalty. But in a possible sign that Maduro’s inner circle could be fracturing, the head of Venezuela’s intelligence agency wrote an open letter breaking ranks.
Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera said he had always been loyal to Maduro but it was now time to “rebuild the country.” He said corruption has become so rampant that “many high-ranking public servants practice it like a sport.”
“The hour has arrived for us to look for other ways of doing politics,” Figuera wrote.
Still, like past attempts to oust Maduro, the opposition seemed outmaneuvered Tuesday. The hoped for split in the military didn’t emerge and a plane that the United States claimed was standing by to ferry Maduro into exile never took off.

Brazil will not cooperate with military intervention

Presidential spokesman General Otavio Rego Barros told reporters Brazil had completely ruled out intervening militarily in Venezuela and was not planning to allow any other country to use its territory for any potential intervention in its neighbor.


Venezuela’s opposition put together a serious plan. For now, it appears to have failed.

....Throughout the day, however, there were mixed messages about what role, if any, the U.S. military would play in Washington’s future efforts to resolve the Venezuelan crisis.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that a peaceful resolution was still desired but that “military action is possible. If that’s what’s required, that’s what the United States will do,” he told Fox Business Network. 

Asked if the U.S. military would be used to protect Guaidó, White House national security adviser John Bolton told MSNBC that President Trump “has been clear and concise on this point: All options are open. We want a peaceful transfer of power. But we are not going to see Guaidó mistreated by this regime.”

Top Pentagon officials emphasized nonmilitary options and said they had not been given orders to pre-position troops or prepare for conflict. “We’re obviously watching the situation very closely in Venezuela. The president’s made it clear that all options are on the table,” Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in congressional testimony. “To date, most of our actions have been diplomatic and economic.”

Trump has shown little willingness to plunge into Venezuela, according to current and former aides, although he has already imposed sanctions on Cuba — which the administration has accused of controlling the Venezuelan military — and threatened more. Russia, the White House said in a statement late Wednesday, “must leave” Venezuela “and renounce their support of the Maduro regime.”
The president has occasionally mused to others that Bolton wants to get him into wars. Two advisers who have discussed Venezuela with him said Trump often brings up Florida politics, and his golf club in Doral, when talking about the subject. Both said Trump was unlikely to authorize any sort of long-term military action there.

At the same time, however, aides said he has given Bolton wide purview over Venezuela.
As he has pushed for a more aggressive policy, Bolton has angered some within and outside the White House. Even before Tuesday’s events, his staff clashed with Gen. Paul Selva, Dunford’s vice chairman, during a meeting to address the ongoing Venezuelan crisis, according to several officials with knowledge of the exchange.

The soft-spoken Air Force general was giving an update last week on the Pentagon’s view and making the case against a risky escalation by the United States when Bolton aides, including Mauricio Claver-Carone, Western Hemisphere director at the National Security Council, repeatedly interrupted and asked for military options, according to the officials.

Selva, irritated at the interruptions and confrontational style rather than the substance of any disagreement, slammed his hand down on the table, his ring hitting the wood with a sharp crack. Bolton deputy Charles Kupperman, who was chairing the meeting, adjourned the session earlier than planned, said the officials, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

A senior administration official said Bolton’s staff was dissatisfied with Selva, who they felt had not presented sufficient military options for Venezuela as expected. Selva, according to people familiar with the interaction, believed the confrontational style of Bolton’s staff was out of line.

In a Wednesday interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt, Bolton praised a different military leader, Adm. Craig Faller, head of U.S. Southern Command, for showing “the kind of attitude we need.”
Faller, Bolton said, had responded to the Venezuelan threat by preparing his forces and saying that “we’re on the balls of our feet and ready to go.” The comment by the general came in an interview last month with Foreign Policy.

Asked at a Wednesday hearing whether the U.S. military should play any role in the overthrow of the Maduro government, however, Faller emphasized the diplomatic track.

“Our leadership has been clear: This has to be, should be, primarily a democratic transition,” Faller said. “We are in total support of the diplomacy, and we stand ready to support that effort.”
While the Pentagon has developed military options for Trump, it has urged caution in internal discussions regarding the use of force.

One worry is that any decision to mount a unilateral U.S. military intervention would jeopardize a consensus among regional partners and allies that Guaidó will need if he manages to wrest control from Maduro. Maduro has called Guaidó a U.S. “puppet,” and Venezuelans and other Latin Americans are broadly skeptical of American military intervention.

At the same time, military planners traditionally worry about operations that may be limited in intent but can quickly spiral out of control....

Thursday, April 18, 2019

FRD Posts on Bolton

FRD Post of 4/18/19

Can anyone provide further updates and interpretation about the meaning and implementation of John Bolton's speech yesterday?

Karen DeYoung wrote in the Washington Post

"Bolton said that Cuban Americans would be limited to sending $1,000 every three months to relatives on the island, reversing the Obama-era removal of restrictions on remittances, but he provided no details on what he said were new limits on U.S. citizens’ travel there. A Treasury Department official said regulations would be issued “in the coming months.”

That suggests we have time to continue with our current plans for organizing travel and to build opposition.  While nothing can be guaranteed, in previous instances of policy change during the Trump Administration, the Treasury Department has honored the validity of existing contracts and commitments.

Can we speculate from the fact that Secretary of State Pompeo said nothing about remittances and travel that this is a Bolton / Claver-Carone initiative that may not be fully supported by the State Department or even Treasury / OFAC , the agencies that will bear the substantial burden of recreating a restrictive system.  The language of Bolton, "the Department of the Treasury will implement further regulatory changes to restrict non-family travel to Cuba, or in other words, 'veiled tourism'" was persistent attack language on people to people travel by Claver-Carone as a former lobbyist for the hardest liners.  I suspect other categories of purposeful travel and the general license system will be part of the bureaucratic battle to come.

Because I am sending out a newsletter tomorrow morning, I am creating a simple petition.  It is the least effective way of marshalling opinion but provides a way to respond and mobilize opposition.

Please suggest any changes in this draft which will make it more useful to you.  I have mixed feelings about including Title III because I assume that will be more of a diplomatic battleground.  Do we think the issue has any resonance with Cuba travelers and Congress?

As Americans who have traveled to Cuba for people to people, academic and professional exchanges and other purposeful reasons, we call upon our Representatives and Senators to resist the initiative from extremists in the National Security Council to return to a failed policy of US government restrictions on remittances and travel.

Our experience in Cuba increased our knowledge of that country's culture, history and life today and provided opportunities for us to inform Cubans about the US.   Whether we traveled independently, in tour groups or on a cruise, we contributed to improving the economic well being of Cubans.  Our presence also fostered mutual understanding and encouraged a positive natural evolution of bilateral relations and domestic reform.  

We ask President Trump, consistent with his personal engagement in the leisure industry and anti-intervention values, to overrule NSC staff.  Candidates challenging his reelection must make clear their opposition to this regressive policy and their views on ending all travel and agricultural restrictions and on repeal of the Helms-Burton embargo law.
Dr. William LeoGrande of American University writes about the radical policy change, in particular the Title III issue herehttps://theconversation.com/trump-declares-economic-war-on-cuba-115672

More on Title III from AFP

But the European Union and Canada, whose vigorous protests helped block the Helms-Burton Act from coming into force two decades ago, swiftly condemned the move.

"The EU and Canada consider the extraterritorial application of unilateral Cuba-related measures contrary to international law," the EU's foreign affairs supremo Federica Mogherini and Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said in a joint statement with Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland.

In a letter to Pompeo ahead of the announcement that was seen by AFP, Mogherini and Malmstrom warned that the European Union "will be obliged to use all means at its disposal" and warned of action at the World Trade Organization.....

Representative Eliot Engel, the Democrat who heads the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called the decision on Cuba property lawsuits a "self-inflicted wound" that would isolate the United States just as it was working with allies on Venezuela.


 A personal note:  I will be in Washington April 25-26 and in Havana for the Feria Internacional de Turismo May 6 - 11, if you are interested in meeting.

FRD Post of 4/17/19

The Miami Herald is running a story about John Bolton's speech on April 17 in Miami that says
Travel to Cuba will now be limited to family visits, restricting those deemed as "veiled tourism," said a high-ranking official who spoke on condition of anonymity. 

That could signal the end of cruises, which started to operate during the Obama years because of an expansion of the categories of travel allowed.

The re-tightened restrictions also could impact air travel because of a reduction of passengers. U.S. laws currently allows only 12 categories of travel, among them educational visits, to promote people-to-people contacts and for professional and research work.

Travel by Cuban Americans to reunite with relatives on the island will remain unchanged   
Bolton is reported as having said during his speech:
 We are also announcing that the Department of the Treasury will implement further regulatory changes to restrict non-family travel to Cuba, or in other words, "veiled tourism." These new measures will help steer American dollars away from the Cuban regime, or its military and security services, who control the tourism industry in Cuba.  

The White House has released similar language:

Notably Secretary of State Pompeo earlier in the day only spoke of ending suspension of Title III, a dumb enough but expected move.  He mentioned not a word about travel.  Does this suggest State has a different perspective than the NSC?

If further reporting confirms a complete roll back of travel, what shall we do about it?  Can Congressional, business and agricultural allies be encouraged to push back to block or minimize regulatory changes?

This story is likely to get lost in the furor over tomorrow's release of the Mueller report and then the Easter and Passover holidays.

Obviously OFAC has to issue new restrictions to turn hard line rhetoric into reality.  While it is possible new rules were already prepared, experience suggests there will be several weeks or more before things change legally.

Have enough people become accustomed to relative freedom to visit Cuba that active resistance is likely?  Will that include broad scale non-compliance?

Responses from Emily Mandrela and Collin Laverty follow.  We will post releases and any other public comments  below.   Please send whatever you put out to director@ffrd.org, or enter text directly into the comments section of this page. 

      --John McAuliff

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Responses to Bolton Restrictions of Travel

FRD's own Posts can be read here or at  



Royal Caribbean Cruises

May 1, 2019

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. chairman Richard Fain told investors that the effect of an announced change in the U.S. policy toward Cuba was hard to determine.
In a teleconference call on first-quarter earnings, Fain commented on two Cuba-related questions.
As far as the possible travel policy changes announced in a speech by national security advisor John Bolton in Miami on April 17, Fain said, "At this point, we don't know if there will be changes, what those changes will be or to what extent they would impact us."
Fain pointed out that only 3% of RCCL itineraries currently go to Cuba. 
Bolton's comments led some to believe that travel to Cuba will be further restricted, possibly including cruises, but until amendments to the rules are published by the U.S. Treasury, the travel rules remain as is.
Fain also commented on the administration's changed stance towards enforcement of the Helms-Burton law regarding pre-Castro era ownership of property in Cuba. Fain said the change is likely to prompt litigation with companies that do business in Cuba. "We believe we have solid defenses and are not expecting to change our itineraries as a result," he said.  


Cuba Is a Problem That Trump Is Making Worse
The administration’s new sanctions are likely to backfire.

April 22, 2019

President Trump and his officials have taken steps lately to make things harder for Cuba, aiming to persuade its government to stop helping Venezuela’s embattled tyrant, Nicolas Maduro. That’s a worthy goal, and Cuba’s material support for Maduro is certainly objectionable, but this is the wrong way to get results.
The administration just announced that U.S. citizens will be able to sue foreigners for transactions involving property that Cuba’s government confiscated after the 1959 revolution. This legal recourse was made available by the Helms-Burton Act in 1996 — but was then frozen, for good reasons, by successive administrations. Tougher restrictions on travel and remittances will also come into force. These new moves follow previous bans on commerce with businesses owned by the Cuban military and security services; restrictions on individual travel to Cuba; a veto of Major League Baseball’s deal with Cuban authorities to hire Cuban players without obliging them to defect; and the shrinking of the embassy in Havana to a skeleton staff.

This economic and diplomatic assault will, as intended, inflict real damage on Cuba — but if history is any guide, that’s unlikely to make the country’s rulers budge. Instead, opening the floodgates for litigation against Canadian and European companies doing business in Cuba will fracture the international front against Maduro — not to mention swamping U.S. courts with troublesome lawsuits. Since 1964, the U.S. Foreign Claims Settlement Commission has certified nearly 6,000 claims valued (with interest) at $8 billion. The State Department apparently thinks there could be as many as 200,000 still-uncertified claims.
A full resumption of normal ties between the U.S. and Cuba should indeed require the victims of expropriation to be compensated. A process that could have yielded this result was underway thanks to the warming of relations under President Obama, including the restoring of diplomatic ties in 2015. The Trump administration’s plan is much less promising.
Canada and the European Union — the biggest foreign investor in Cuba — have said they are “determined to work together to protect the interests of our companies” at the World Trade Organization and through counter-claims against any U.S. lawsuits. There’s already disagreement about how much pressure to apply to Maduro, and the litigation initiative — more an attack on America’s friends than on Cuba or Venezuela — will widen that rift.
The Trump administration came into office betting that Cuba’s government would buckle under pressure, but Havana has withstood much worse than this: the U.S. embargo, for one, and the devastating economic contractionfrom 1989 to 1994 thanks to the collapse of Cuba’s Soviet patron. Aside from dividing what could have been a U.S.-led coalition, the new escalation will play into the hands of aging hardliners, encourage Cuba to seek help from Russia and China, and weaken potent internal forces for change.

The previous rapprochement between the U.S. and Cuba wasn’t fruitless: It encouraged some economic reforms and greater cooperation in counter-narcotics, environmental protection and other areas. Granted, it didn’t end the regime’s repression or its support for other tyrannies, notably North Korea and Venezuela. But the Trump’s administration’s new course is unlikely to fare as well.

Engagement is no panacea. Targeted sanctions have their place. But Cuba should be confronted with the broadest possible front of critics and opponents. The Trump administration has just made that harder.

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg Opinion’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net .


Open Letter to Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo and United States State Department Officials regarding the new sanctions on Cuba
April 22, 2019
The Honorable Michael R. Pompeo
The Secretary of State
Dear Mr. Secreatry of State,
The undersigned, Cuban-Americans, Cubans, Americans and citizens of the world, express our most radical rejection of the new sanctions imposed by the Trump administration on the people of Cuba, announced last April 17, 2019.
We oppose the limitation on remittances to Cuban families. In addition to exacerbating existing levels of precariousness, such a regulation is one of acute political ineffectiveness even for the purposes of the policy of peaceful transition to democracy enshrined in law by the United States Congress, as it undermines the channels of economic and political empowerment and autonomy available to the nascent entrepreneurial sector of Cuban civil society.
We oppose the activation of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, suspended by the three previous administrations given its extraterritorial ramifications and illegal nature under international law. If enforced, this law will not only provoke more division within the Cuban-American community but also greater isolation of the United States throughout the international community. We support the position of the World Trade Organization, the United Nations, Canada, Mexico, China and member countries of the European Union, which have called on the current administration to suspend the law and to lift the embargo against Cuba. We urge the United States government to explore alternative compensation options proposed by negotiators from both countries.
We oppose the limitation of travel of Americans to Cuba, which infringes on their freedom to travel as recognized by Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Furthermore, diplomacy and people-to-people exchanges have proven to be the most powerful tools for deescalating long-term conflicts between both nations. There is no better ambassador of the United States than the American traveler himself.
We urge you to reconsider your position on these topics and to act on the benefit of both countries.



April 22, 2019

WASHINGTON D.C. � The Cuba Study Group believes the new restrrictions on travel and remittances announced by the United States against Cuba last week are unwise and counterproductive. They will severely hurt the Cuban people and all sectors of civil society on the island, including dissidents and the growing private sector. While the declared intent of the measures is to improve prospects for democracy, they are likely to have the very opposite effect.

Some believe the Cuban government’s support for the Venezuelan government merits these sanctions. But they hark back to the same isolationist approach that has proven ineffective for six decades. Ultimately, changes in Cuba must come from within the island. Civil society is an indispensable catalyst to any such change, and independent actors of all kinds in Cuban society benefit directly from the access to information and resources provided by engagement with the United States.

Specifically, these new measures will weaken the Cuban people �� disproportionately compared to their limited impact on the Cuban government � in the following ways:
  • Remittance restrictions will hurt families and independent civil society actors in Cuba, such as dissidents, journalists, religious groups, academics, and others.
  • Remittance restrictions will be particularly damaging to capital formation in the private sector, as they will disrupt much of its supply chain and will all but ruin many self-employed Cubans. This sector is already struggling from the recent elimination of multi-entry visas that allowed Cubans to travel to the United States to secure much-needed resources for their homes, businesses and projects.
  • Travel restrictions will further isolate the Cuban people from the United States and will prevent U.S. travelers, the best ambassadors of American values, from direct engagement with ordinary Cubans.
  • Reduced U.S. travel will also have a negative impact on private sector businesses that directly cater to these visitors.
We are also concerned about the activation of Titles III and IV of the Helms-Burton Act, which breaks a 23-year bipartisan consensus to waive these provisions. We deeply respect those who lost properties during the Cuban Revolution and fully support their right to seek and find legal restitution for their losses. However, the full enforcement of Titles III and IV will likely frustrate that goal for most claimants. U.S. allies with businesses in Cuba have already enacted laws to protect their companies from actions derived from Helms-Burton, or have threatened suit in retaliation. Also, because they are provisions of a regime change law, the full enactment of Titles III and IV all but close the door on the prospect of bilateral claims negotiations with the Cuban government.

In the aggregate, these measures stand to further isolate the United States and weaken the potential for international cooperation on its policy toward Cuba and Venezuela. This is particularly worrisome at a time when Russia and China are expanding their influence in the region.

While we disagree with this approach, we understand and share some of the emotions driving support for it among many in the Cuban-American community. In the four years since the United States and Cuba normalized diplomatic relations, the government in Havana has done too little to foster a more inclusive environment for the diaspora to integrate itself into Cuban society. The slow pace of internal reform and tighter controls on the private sector have also bred frustration, galvanizing those who support the failed U.S. policy strategies of old.

The Cuban government must understand that taming these impulses requires creating legal frameworks for Cubans abroad and at home to more actively contribute to the island’s future. The Cuban diaspora today is filled with individuals who support friends, family, and businesses on the island. But Cuban policies continue to restrict such partnerships, leaving many opportunities untapped. Cuban civil society actors, in turn, routinely make proposals that go unheard, while domestic entrepreneurs have ambitions that, under current regulatory limitations, remain impossible to fulfill.

There is much that Cubans on the island and around the world can give, whether via investing in private and mixed enterprises, transferring knowledge across industries, volunteering time and resources for humanitarian projects, or voting in national elections. The longer Cuban officials take to formalize and welcome such changes, the longer the island’s future will remain at the mercy of American political forces beyond anyone’s control.

The Cuba Study Group is a non-profit, non-partisan organization, comprised of business and professional individuals with a deeply rooted love for Cuba and the Cuban people. We aim to put our collective experience in leadership skills, problem solving, and wealth creation at the service of the Cuban people. We aim to facilitate change, help empower individuals and promote civil society development.

Our mission is to help facilitate peaceful change in Cuba leading to a free and open society, respect for human rights and the rule of law, a productive, market-based economy and the reunification of the Cuban nation.

Contact: Ricardo Herrero
Phone: 202-709-8191


April 17, 2019

Engage Cuba Statement on New Cuba Sanctions

“President Trump is doing this for one reason, and one reason only: to appease fringe hardliners in South Florida ahead of the 2020 election. The only way to get property claimants what they deserve is through diplomatic negotiations, which President Trump just threw off the table,” said James Williams, President of Engage Cuba. “This lets the Cuban government off the hook and shifts the burden to American, European and Canadian companies. American companies and our closest allies will now be paying instead of the Cuban government.”
“The hypocrisy of the Trump administration cozying up to the most brutal dictatorships in the world in Saudi Arabia, Russia and North Korea, but claiming to care about democracy and human rights in Cuba, is like living in a parallel universe. President Trump himself 
tried for years to open up a Trump Hotel and golf resort in Cuba.”

“U.S. travel and remittances are the lifeblood of the private sector entrepreneurs in Cuba. These restrictions are a cruel betrayal and a knife in the back of Cuban civil society and the prospects for a growing independent private sector in Cuba. The Cuban people are already struggling under tremendous difficulties, and these actions only make it worse. We need a policy that focuses on empowering the Cuban people and advancing American interests, not continuing a 60-year failed policy that only serves fringe domestic politics in South Florida.”

Full statement: https://www.engagecuba.org/press-releases/2019/4/17/engage-cuba-statement-on-new-cuba-sanctions


Holbrook Travel

Talking Points
Cuba Policy & Regulation Change Announcements
April 17, 2019

·         On April 17th, the Trump administration announced policy changes primarily remittances, allowing US entities to take legal action against foreign investors in Cuba, as well as other more technical changes.

·         Reports by the Miami Herald and other papers are stating that the Administration also intends to limit travel to Cuba to family visits, “thereby restricting so called veiled tourism”.   However, the sources quoted regarding this policy are anonymous and there is no clear indication what is meant by “restricting tourism”.  

·         At this moment, Holbrook does not have any clear information regarding the 12 categories of licensed travel to Cuba including Educational travel for students, People to People, and Support for the Cuban people, and other categories. 

·         Travel to Cuba is managed from the Dept of Treasury / the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).  OFAC regulation changes are usually published months after announcements are made.  And the last Trump administration changes to the OFAC regulations governing travel to Cuba allowed any planned trips to continue in order not to have undue economic burdens such as cancellations fees, etc..  

·         Past regulations changes (Nov 2017) were reported as being big changes in regulation, when in fact, the changes were subtle.  For example, for people to people travel the new regulations modified  “self-directed” visits by moving them to the category "Support for the Cuban People" and requiring use of a bed and breakfast rather than a state owned hotel.  People to people through guided group tours like Holbrooke organizes were unchanged. 

·         We do not feel that any booked groups or proposals under discussion should be altered at this time.  We need to wait and see how this unfolds.   Nor should this inhibit future plans for travel under the 12 categories since there is no risk associated with planning and yet having a contingency. 

·         Holbrook will remain in contact with CREST (the Center for Responsible Travel) and other travel industry groups involved in Cuba to learn what we can as quickly as possible and share that information with you. 

·         Holbrook will also be contacting representatives and organizing with industry groups to register our opposition to this change on the basis of our strong belief that engagement with Cuba and the Cuban people is the right path for our countries.  We believe US citizens should be allowed to travel freely to Cuba as we do globally.

·         We are concerned for our colleagues and friends in Cuba; we know the importance of the tourism income for the country and its people.  The cherished guides, drivers, operations staff, naturalists, artists, scientists, conservation staff, casa particular and paladar owners, many more could be directly impacted by this during what is already a difficult time. 


RESPECT:  Responsible & Ethical Cuba Travel: An Association of U.S. Travelers to Cuba

April 19, 2019

RESPECT Statement on New Trump Cuba Policy

National Security Advisor John Bolton’s statement on new policy guidelines for Cuba is a continuum of historical efforts to maintain the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 and disrupt and undermine an independent country. The campaign against Cuba dates back to the Cuban Revolution of 1959 and has continued fairly unabated with a United States blockade in place despite the condemnation of this blockade by the overwhelming majority of countries in the United Nations General Assembly, as well as the majority of the American people.

Beginning in 2012 and culminating with the meeting of Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro in December of 2014, the United States and Cuba made positive steps towards normalizing diplomatic relations, respecting the territorial integrity of each country and allowing more freedom to travel for citizens of both the United States and Cuba.

Since the election in 2016, the Trump Administration has been unraveling and reversing this tremendous progress by employing a new policy of scare tactics and misinformation campaigns.

These new efforts to strengthen the illegal Helms-Burton Act and limit family remittances are mired in the Cold War thinking and policy that are violations of the civil and human rights of American and Cuban citizens. The use of the anniversary of the failed and notorious Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961 for the delivery of these regulations clearly defines a policy towards Cuba that is lost in the Cold War of more than 60 years ago. It is a further irony that the Administration chose to announce this new policy on the same week that the report has been partially released outlining the efforts of a foreign country to meddle and to violate in the sovereignty of the United States. 

The RESPECT founding charter of 2016 dedicates non-profit entities, travel agents, tour operators and other travel service providers to promoting ethical and socially responsible travel to Cuba. We understand that our relations with Cuba are framed in developing mutual understanding and learning through first hand experiences. We are committed to the right of all US citizens and residents to travel to Cuba and we strongly advocate for the lifting of all US governmental travel restrictions to the island.


Cruise Lines Have Yet to Alter or Cancel Any Cruises to Cuba


From New York Times

Emilio Morales, who studies the Cuban economy closely for his firm, the Havana Consulting Group, said the cutback in remittances to Cuba would have virtually no effect, because the average monthly remittance to Cuba is $200 to $220.

Limiting nonfamily travel, however, will seriously hurt the tourism sector on the island, he said.

“The Obama era is over,” he said. “It’s all over.”

Still, the details of the travel restriction were not clear. There are up to a dozen categories of such travel, and the administration did not say whether they would be prohibited.

“I have spent the day on the telephone with current and former State and executive branch officials and industry and policy experts, and nobody knows what the actual restrictions are,” said Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel, which organizes cultural and university trips to Cuba.

From Conde Nast Travel
At the time of writing, there was nothing about the policy change on the Department of the Treasury’s website, and no new travel warnings, advisories, or notes on Cuba’s page on the State Department website.

I’ve got a trip coming up. Do I need to cancel?

No. Reach out to your tour company with any questions, and expect your trip to go ahead as scheduled—for the time being.
"For now, travelers should stay calm and keep an eye out for more news about what the actual changes will be," says Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel. "Yesterday’s announcement was very general and did not include any details about what changes will be implemented and what the process and timeline will be. This appears to be part of the administration’s overall Cuba strategy of causing fear and confusion amongst would-be travelers, traders, and investors. Until the Treasury Department issues new regulations in writing, it’s business as usual."
Tom Popper, president of insightCuba, which has navigated U.S.-Cuba travel restrictions during four U.S. presidencies, agrees. “[For] travelers wanting to book travel to Cuba or those already scheduled for travel, the announcement provides no change,” he says. "People continue to book trips at insightCuba and numerous other companies, and all existing trips remain as scheduled. As always, travelers should be aware that the U.S. travel regulations have been in place since 1963. This is despite President Obama’s loosening of the restrictions in 2015. What this means is travelers should be aware of the 12 categories of permissible travel to Cuba and understand their options.”

April 18, 2019

Yesterday, the Trump administration announced increased hostilities towards Cuba, including the strengthening of the inhumane and illegal Helms-Burton Act (concerning property that was nationalized after the revolution, as well as all lawsuits surrounding that) and the limitation on remittances. The European Union and Canada have already expressed their opposition to this policy, which, for the last 23 years, had been waived by both democratic and republican administrations.

As of now, there has not been an official change to the regulations on travel to Cuba. While implied by Bolton and certainly by most news sources, the concrete changes have not yet been issued. As reported, Bolton said that non-family travel would be further 'restricted,' but he did not say prohibited, and he did not announce specific changes to any of the current categories. They also indicated that they would be adding to the restricted entities list, but the only entity mentioned was Aerogaviota.

It is not certain when the official regulations will be issued by OFAC (possibly May 2nd), but as always, we need to be careful about speculation and wait until the final regulations are out before coming to any conclusions. We are in constant contact with our attorneys and will keep you up to date, as always.

We condemn these newest attacks on both Cuba and on the freedom to travel of the American people. This hostile policy does not reflect the overwhelming sentiments of the people of this country and go to extreme and illogical lengths to hurt the people of Cuba.  In the face of these current scare tactics and hostilities, Marazul Tours remains committed to continuing to provide the bridge between the people of our two countries.

Kendra Guild / Mayra Alonso
Marazul Tours


After the announcements, Emily Mendrala, the executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, released a statement saying the Trump administration is "doubling down on isolation and, in so doing, causing great pain to the people of Cuba" and U.S. businesses.


CET Statement on President Trump's Cuba Policy Changes

MIAMI, FL -- Today the Trump Administration announced new measures to restrict travel to and trade with Cuba in an effort to reinforce a policy that has failed miserably for 60 years to accomplish anything positive in Cuba. He also took a shot at Cuban families putting limits on the amount of money Cuban-Americans can send to support their Cuban family members. A businessman that has explored opportunities to invest in Cuba and sent his company representatives to open channels to start businesses, the President is surrounded by advisors stuck in the past and overcome by ideology and misguided intentions.
“It is sad to see the Cuban and American people suffer because the President has outsourced his policy to South Florida lawmakers,” said Collin Laverty, President of Cuba Educational Travel. “These changes will set back US interests on the island for years and harm US businesses, US travelers and millions of families living on the island.”
National Security Advisor John Bolton announced that the US will limit non-family travel, place limits on remittances to $1000 per quarter, end U-turn transactions and fully implement Title III. Changes made by the Obama Administration helped the growing private sector on the island, led to improvements in connectivity in Cuba and brought families together through travel, an upgraded remittance policy and a focus on reconciliation. The new changes will have the opposite effect, slowing down growth of entrepreneurs, complicating business deals and taking money out of the pockets of Cubans and Americans doing business there.

“It is a sad day for Cuba and a sad day for America. The only winners here are a handful of members of Congress and those stuck in the past that support them,” added Laverty. “The losers are millions of Cubans on and off the island and the overwhelming majority of Americans that support engagement with Cuba. The hypocrisy and counterproductive nature of the approach is disturbing.”

"Travel to Cuba and engaging culturally and economically remains the best way to support the Cuban people -- it's time for the US to get out of the way to allow the Cuban people to determine their own future."

Collin Laverty
CET President