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.”
https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/trump-administration-announces-new-measures-against-cuba/2019/04/17/cfc2bc96-6132-11e9-9ff2-abc984dc9eec_story.html?utm_term=.09ca50680018&wpisrc=nl_daily202&wpmm=1

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.

https://news.yahoo.com/us-forges-ahead-allow-cuba-lawsuits-defying-eu-150520348.html 

 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   
https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article229341009.html
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.  
https://miami.cbslocal.com/2019/04/17/u-s-lifts-ban-lawsuits-properties-seized-castros-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  

https://cubapeopletopeople.blogspot.com/2019/04/frd-posts-on-bolton.html


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

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 .



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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.


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CUBA STUDY GROUP STATEMENT ON NEW CUBA SANCTIONS

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
ricardo.herrero@cubastudygroup.org


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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. 


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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.


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


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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.”
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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

www.marazultours.com
**************

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.


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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."

Contact:
Collin Laverty
CET President
collin@cubaeducationaltravel.com

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Venezuela Post 8

I am not an anti-imperialist.  I am an anti-hegemonist.  Regardless of their political or economic system, large countries assume they know better than smaller neighbors what is in their self-interest.  Russia with its near-abroad:  Ukraine, Crimea, Georgia.  China in the South China Sea:  Viet Nam, Philippines.  England with its forcefully United Kingdom: Ireland, Ulster, Scotland.  The US with Cuba, Central America, Venezuela.

That is how I make sense of the hopelessly one-sided coverage by cable TV, wire services, NPR, the New York Times and the Washington Post.

The Wall Street Journal remains the only publication that laid out two months ago what was going on before it happened: 
"The goal, the administration’s thinking goes, is to sever ties that bind Venezuela to Cuba and sink regimes in both countries.
The emerging U.S. assertiveness stems from the desire of the White House to reverse a partial rapprochement with Havana by the Obama administration through the easing of sanctions and the island’s opening to U.S. investment."
Wall Street Journal, 'Trump Sees Maduro Move As First Shot in Wider Battle.', 1/30/19             Full article here https://cubapeopletopeople.blogspot.com/2019/02/cuba-goal-in-us-conflict-with-venezuela.html
John Bolton took off the disguise of democratic principle when pressed by Jake Tapper to explain the difference between US policy on Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, citing the Monroe Doctrine.

Remarkably today Fareed Zakaria goaded President Trump to defend his red line on Venezuela,  wondering whether, "this will be the moment when Trump ends his appeasement of Russia".  He explicitly justified that by the Monroe Doctrine.   He also welcomed Elliot Abrams making no reference to his role in the contra wars and hia conviction for lieing to Congress.   https://www.cnn.com/videos/tv/2019/03/29/exp-gps-0331-fareeds-take.cnn

Zakaria seems to have forgotten that Secretary of State John Kerry officially retired the Doctrine during the Obama Administration.

My comments to his twitter account:

Replying to 
Disappointing you side with Bolton and Abrams over Kerry at OAS: "The era of the Monroe Doctrine is over."  Or do you share your Russian guest's sphere of influence idea: Venezuela for us, Ukraine for them.   Do you honestly believe sanctions and war help Venezuelan people?
  ----
"We did not think that this would happen quickly," US representative to Venezuela Elliott Abrams says, of the campaign to oust President Nicolas Maduro
Another lie from Abrams.  The Pompeo-Bolton strategy assumed the army would abandon Maduro because of diplomatic isolation then aid border confrontation then Pence meeting threat of invasion.  UN negotiations not US hegemonism through Guaido only path to peaceful solution.


For the record this is what Kerry said on November 18, 2013 at the Organization of American States:
In the early days of our republic, the United States made a choice about its relationship with Latin America. President James Monroe, who was also a former Secretary of State, declared that the United States would unilaterally, and as a matter of fact, act as the protector of the region. The doctrine that bears his name asserted our authority to step in and oppose the influence of European powers in Latin America. And throughout our nation’s history, successive presidents have reinforced that doctrine and made a similar choice.
Today, however, we have made a different choice. The era of the Monroe Doctrine is over. (Applause.) The relationship – that’s worth applauding. That’s not a bad thing. (Applause.) The relationship that we seek and that we have worked hard to foster is not about a United States declaration about how and when it will intervene in the affairs of other American states. It’s about all of our countries viewing one another as equals, sharing responsibilities, cooperating on security issues, and adhering not to doctrine, but to the decisions that we make as partners to advance the values and the interests that we share.
https://2009-2017.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2013/11/217680.htm

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Venezuela Post 7: Secretary Pompeo Withdraws All Diplomats


Road to War?

Two documents issued on March 11 raise greater concern about prospects for war in Venezuela.  Secretary Pompeo's view that having diplomatic staff in Caracas is a constraint suggests getting them out of the way of military attack by the US or its allies.   Were the game limited to political, economic and diplomatic pressure, we would want them there. 
Secretary Pompeo@SecPompeo
The U.S. will withdraw all remaining personnel from @usembassyve this week. This decision reflects the deteriorating situation in #Venezuela as well as the conclusion that the presence of U.S. diplomatic staff at the embassy has become a constraint on U.S. policy.
8:50 PM - 11 Mar 2019
I noted this reply to  the Secretary's tweet:

George Dienemann  @gdienemann

 @SecPompeo @usembassyve

I remember being at the Panama Airport doing a stopover in Mexico on December 15th of ' 89 and witnessed the evacuation of the staff of the U.S. Embassy in Panama. 4 days later, Panama was invaded and rescued from the Noriega dictatorship.
My tweets to the Secretary
Replying to @SecPompeo @usembassyve You will regret for the rest of your life if Bolton, Claver Carone and Abrams lead you down the rabbit hole of war in Venezuela. A political solution is possible if it is comprehensive, i.e. includes end of Cuba embargo.
Replying to @SecPompeo @usembassyve  A less comprehensive political solution is also possible working with the International Contact Group, Mexico and Cuba to bring about UN supervised elections organized by existing Administration of Maduro and Guaido as President of National Assembly.
Replying to @SecPompeo @usembassyve   Humanitarian crisis can be addressed by admission of depoliticized humanitarian aid through ICRC, UNICEF, etc. and restoration of international economic resources to existing administration.

Cuban Government Statement on Cyber Attacks on Venezuelan Power System, Role of Cubans in Venezuela, and Danger of Military Intervention
Cuba issued a strong statement condemning "the terrorist sabotage against the power supply system"confirming its large medical and educational presence in Venezuela and denying any military role.  The government also warned:
This is an escalation of a non-conventional war led by the US government against that sister nation, which is taking place after the failed provocation  orchestrated on February 23 with the intention of carrying by force an alleged humanitarian aid into Venezuela, thus challenging the legitimate authorities of that country and violating International Law and the principles and norms of the United Nations Charter, with the purpose of causing widespread death and violence as a pretext for a "humanitarian intervention."

The experience of Cuba's own history and the history of other countries in the region show that these actions are a prelude of violent acts of a larger scope, as was the case of the armed invasion through Bay of Pigs in 1961.  The international community has accumulated sufficient evidence to be on the alert.
The usurper and self-proclaimed "president" made in the US has publicly said that, when the time comes, he would invoke Article 187 of the Constitution to authorize the use of foreign military missions in the country; and has repeated exactly the same phrase used by his American mentors: "All options are on the table."
He just needs to receive an order from Washington, since it is known that, during his tour around South America, he already asked certain governments to support a military intervention in his country.
http://www.minrex.gob.cu/es/cuba-condemns-terrorist-sabotage-against-power-supply-system-venezuela

A More Cautious Interpretation

Sam Vinograd who worked in the Obama Administration is currently a CNN national security analyst and a senior adviser to Biden and Obama.  She posted on twitter a less dramatic reading of the withdrawal of US embassy personnel:

1. The safety and security of US personnel at diplomatic posts overseas relies, in part, on host country guarantees for their safety. 
2. Maduro has escalated potential threats to our personnel by blaming us for launching a coup against him and for the blackout - he uses any excuse to round up people he doesn't like and this could have extended to US diplomats / his lies could have incited violence against us
3. The US intel community regularly monitors threats to US personnel and in a tense security situation like the one in VZ today, the IC would likely have been sharing daily threat assessments with @SecPompeo and @AmbJohnBolton and possibly @POTUS
 4. Maintaining a diplomatic presence in Caracas was prob based on a cost/ benefit analysis including are our diplomats able to do their jobs; will we lose out on too much info/ access if we draw down; are the threats manageable and more. 
At least part of the explanation may be that the Venezuelan government terminated discussions over interest sections and ordered all US diplomats to leave.    https://twitter.com/jaarreaza/status/1105452853563404289

The position of the US had been that the Maduro government  could not order our diplomats to leave because it was not the government, and the symbolic Guaido regime that we recognize wanted us to stay.  Thus it was a little awkward to acknowledge that we were withdrawing because we had been told to do so by a non-existing government.

Nevertheless, we are still left with Secretary Pompeo's statement that "the presence of U.S. diplomatic staff at the embassy has become a constraint on U.S. policy". 

Was that a warning intended to signal US citizens living in Venezuela who would be at risk during military conflict and have no consular services?  Or was it more psychological warfare (like the derecognition and border aid confrontation) based on the questionable ideological premise that the Venezuelan military could be frightened into abandoning its government?  Are the Cubans reading the signals correctly or overreacting based on their ideological assumptions about US intentions?

Senator Murphy gave a very good interview on the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC Monday night.  He and Ben Rhodes seem to be the most visible challengers of the slide to war.  The only down side was that Rachel's lead-in greatly understated the role of the US in creating and pushing the Guaido option.  https://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow/watch/us-withdraws-embassy-personnel-from-venezuela-as-crisis-worsens-1456982595848

Monday, March 11, 2019

My Sixth Post on the Venezuela Crisis

Unpublished Letter to the New York Times

To the Editor,

The goal of the Hunger Games editorial are correct, a negotiated solution that leads to free and fair UN supervised elections in Venezuela.


However, elections can not be premised on a change of regime.   Well intentioned Americans can not wish away the reality that Juan Guaido owes his political existence to a strategy designed by hard liners in Washington to overturn the governments of Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba, part of explicit restoration of the Monroe Doctrine.   He will never be accepted as an interim ruler without US military intervention, an unacceptable option as the editorial argues.


Only with the help of the Contact Group, Mexico and Cuba, can the Maduro government and Venezuela's military be persuaded how new elections will avoid a national catastrophe while respecting sovereignty.   They need to accept voluntarily that the head of a relegitimized National Assembly must be an equal partner with the President of the functioning government in their structure and conduct.


In such a context depoliticized humanitarian aid can enter the country through established international agencies.  More significant for improving conditions of life, US economic sanctions must end and control of national resources be restored to the operating administration.


Such elections will enable parties of Chavistas and the opposition to compete openly and likely lead to new coalitions and leadership chosen by Venezuelans without foreign interference.


If the Times respects self determination, it must expect that the "sizable portion" of the people that "still harbor an attachment to the Bolivarian Socialist claptrap of ...Hugo Chavez" will play an important role.


John McAuliff
March 5, 2019

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Facts please:

1)  What was the comparative size of the pro Maduro and pro Guaido rallies today [Saturday] ?

2)  Can you provide a list of the purported 50 countries that have recognized Guaido as Interim President?

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/how-nicolas-maduro-has-been-able-to-cling-to-power/2019/03/08/896cf3aa-41bc-11e9-85ad-779ef05fd9d8_story.html?utm_term=.1529289e6c36



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My Comment to FAIR


Bernie Sanders handled well the questions from Wolf Blitzer.

There are serious problems with the history and conduct of the Maduro government, but a replacement forced into power by foreign countries mobilized by the US is not the solution.

Serious negotiations need to be undertaken by the International Contact Group, supplemented by Mexico and Cuba so both the government and the opposition have trust in the process.

The one-sided news coverage by the NY Times has been complemented by two pro-intervention editorials (excluding military force).    This paragraph from the more recent is most revealing of ideological assumptions and goals:

"And a dictator who has already destroyed his country — and has the support of Russia and China — is not one who gives a fig for the suffering of his people, a sizable portion of whom still harbor an attachment to the 'Bolivarian socialist' claptrap of his predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chávez."

New elections are required to determine how large that "sizable portion" is, but they cannot be conducted by a foreign imposed regime.  

The Times denies reality when it advises:  "It must be clear that Mr. Guaidó should be installed as interim leader only to allow for new, fair elections. Any suggestion that Mr. Guaidó was acting on behalf of Washington would undermine that message."

Guaido's deep ties to the Trump Administration are already well established.  They do not disqualify the National Assembly from playing an equal role in the conduct of elections but do foreclose its pre-eminence.

https://fair.org/home/venezuela-baiting-how-media-keep-anti-imperialist-dissent-in-check/comment-page-1/#comment-3163636


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Pro and Con on Position of WOLA


The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) is one of the most highly regarded progressive voices among the think tanks and advocacy groups that specialize in the region.  They have been strong allies on the effort to bring rationality to US relations with Cuba.  WOLA has been critical of the Maduro government and somewhat sympathetic to the opposition that wants to oust it.  WOLA is strongly against direct US intervention and supports negotiation by the International Contact Group.

A criticism of WOLA's position by a group of 124 scholars has been published by Consortium News. "An Open Letter to the Washington Office on Latin America about Its Stance on US Effort to Overthrow Venezuelan Government"  https://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/03/05/open-letter-washington-office-latin-america-about-its-stance-us-effort-overthrow

WOLA has respondedA Peaceful, Democratic Solution to Venezuela’s Crisis Requires Fact-based Analysis and Advocacy"   https://www.wola.org/2019/03/peaceful-democratic-solution-venezuelas-crisis-requires-fact-based-analysis-advocacy/

My personal comment to a WOLA colleague about their response:

This language troubles me most:
But what is undeniable is that Venezuela’s legislative branch now holds more democratic legitimacy than does Maduro. We think that the head of the National Assembly assuming the interim presidency, with the clear goal of achieving fresh elections for a new president, seems like the most logical interpretation. But to actually determine what the Constitution says would require a legal opinion that we are not in position to provide.
That is waffling.  Forcing by diplomatic and economic pressure the transfer of power from an existing government to its political opposition is regime change.  The evaluation of "democratic legitimacy" is not up to other countries to decide.  (I might wish such a judgement were directed to the US when many in the world have concluded that a minority president gained power with the help of foreign intervention.)

It is one thing to insist on restoration of normal power to the National Assembly and to argue that its president should be part of the conduct of elections.  It is quite another to say that the Assembly's current rotating president should replace the national executive.

It is significantly better than military intervention but the goal is the same.

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AS/COA

The Americas Society/Council of the Americas in New York has also been an important contributor to the process of US normalization with Cuba.   

Accordingly I was surprised by the full embrace of US intervention and its ambitious goals  by Eric Farnsworth, Vice President in Washington of the Council of the Americas in testimony to a Congressional subcommittee chaired by Marco Rubio https://www.as-coa.org/articles/congressional-testimony-us-venezuela-relations-and-path-democratic-transition?utm_source=El+Chasqui&utm_campaign=04ea837006-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_03_08_04_49&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_cd943d262e-04ea837006-24529509

Eric strongly favored a substantial and long term US political and economic role in Venezuela and gave no consideration to the likelihood that there could be a Chile style bloodbath or prolonged resistance to a US imposed leadership.  At the end he seems to anticipate a military coup (which I suspect would be as much against the US and Guaido as against Maduro).

It would be helpful to know what he bases this on:

"Its intelligence and security services and other state functions are strongly influenced if not directed by thousands of Cuban personnel embedded in state organs. Outside intervention has already occurred and continues to occur in support of the Maduro regime."
This is a State Department and opposition talking point but is part of an ideological self delusion about Chavista support.  That mistake has led to three failed strategies to bring about a military rebellion:  diplomatic pressure, aid penetration of the border and threats of direct military intervention. 

Scoring political points against Havana might appeal to Sen. Rubio, John Bolton, et. al. but the only way to avoid a tragic civil war and prolonged resistance to a US client regime is a political solution that involves the International Contact Group, Mexico and Cuba creating an inclusive path to UN supervised elections for President, governors and the National Assembly. 

One has to begin with the assumption that for all of its problems, there is still a significant popular base for Chavismo with authentic nationalist resistance to a solution made in Washington. Their sense of legitimacy, as well as the opposition's, has to be incorporated if there is to be peace rather than war and/or violent repression.  



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Who burned the trucks?

The New York Times exposes as false the constantly repeated accusation that during the confrontation on the border aid trucks were set on fire by pro-Maduro forces.   Video shows the fault lies with Guaido's militants who were throwing Molotov cocktails.  https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/10/world/americas/venezuela-aid-fire-video.html

My comment on line:

This story is refreshingly balanced. Most Times coverage of Venezuela has been extremely one sided, reminiscent of its reports that helped to create the atmosphere for the invasion of Iraq. The Maduro Administration has been a disaster both because of its own actions and because of US economic pressures. Venezuela's last election was flawed, as were elections in Honduras, Brazil, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and China. John Bolton told Jake Tapper that the Monroe Doctrine is the justification for inconsistency, despite its official burial by the Obama Administration. The Wall Street Journal has done a far better job than the Times at reporting the Trump Administration's strategy for regime change in Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba. Disproving a propaganda theme is helpful, but you need to go deeper in policy terms and to give your readers sympathetic insight about Venezuelans who support Chavismo as well as those who oppose it. Recognizing reality is essential for a political solution negotiated by the International Contact Group, Mexico and Cuba that is acceptable to both both sides of the conflict. Presumably that will involve UN supervised elections for President, governors and the National Assembly. At the same time, depoliticized humanitarian aid should be allowed and international economic resources should be restored to the functioning administration. Otherwise the ideological blinders of Administration neo-cons will produce armed conflict and national tragedy.

John McAuliff

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A German Professor with a Surprising Perspective

Sputnik is a Russian news service very close to the government.  It ran this interview with Heinz Dieterich, a German professor teaching in Mexico.  Dieterich was a close adviser to Chavez but broke with him.  His perspective obviously comes from the left but he is very critical of both Maduro and Guaido.  The question is why Sputnik gave his ideas so much attention.

When the people rebelled then he [Maduro] became more repressive and in the end it became a normal bourgeois dictatorship with a democratic facade, nothing more. So he is a usurper of a historical project which was democratic and progressive and he really underdeveloped it to the point where now there is no way to save him. And the people who try to maintain him in power really are trying to move a dead horse. There's no way to save him.

Sputnik: It's very interesting what you're saying in terms of this extreme loyalty that his lieutenants are showing him. Just referring back to Hugo Chavez he himself was a very popular leader and he enjoyed somewhat massive support from the military. What can be said about the army's support for Maduro? I've just eluded to it and you have as well, it's absolutely essential for his continuance, how long is it going to remain, how crucial is the army's support in this situation?

Heinz Dieterich: Very good question. I've discussed many times with Hugo Chavez very early in his presidency that it was absolutely necessary to form a Latin American integrated military command to defend against the Monroe Doctrine and US imperialism and he understood that, and he after a couple of years managed to convince Lula (Brazil) and Kirchner in Argentina that this should be done. And internally he modernised the armed forces with the help of a very capable general. So the Army and the Air Force, in fact, became a very strong modern force which had to be reckoned with.

In part that was due to advanced Russian military technology like the Sukhoi Su-30 fighter planes, Kalashnikovs and anti-aircraft missiles and so on. So again, Maduro inherited a very capable, a very powerful in the hardware and the software camp, powerful army. Now he really destroyed it, the same way he destroyed the economy and that's very easy to see.
He had, for example, about 1,500 generals in the army which was 4 to 5 times more than the functional need you have for generals, and the army has a very low plateau now of troops, it maybe less than 80,000, and combat morale is low because when they were with Chavez they had a mission and they were willing to die for Chavez and fight for the country, but how are they going to die for Maduro? That will not work.

So what's the situation today? The situation is that according to my analysis the verticality, the hierarchy which is decisive in an army body is crumbling and it's just a matter of time until the generals which support the government of Maduro until they will be alone. So I think there is increasing isolation of Maduro politically, internationally and nationally and the army, of course, is not isolated from that process. I think it's a matter of weeks until they will have to kick out Maduro because the only way to save the process in the country from US domination is without Maduro.

Sputnik: You've said that the opposition leader Mr Guaido was an employee of the empire, how likely is it that Venezuela's military will allow him to call the shots? From what you've said in your last answer it's only a matter of time then?

Heinz Dieterich: Latin America, since it formed its political independence in 1825 has always been seen by the US as a backyard, a neocolonial backyard that was expressed in the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, which interestingly enough John Bolton has now revived. When asked on TV why they were attacking Venezuela so ferociously and not Saudi Arabia which has no democracy at all he said, "Well this is our backyard, this is our hemisphere and the Monroe Doctrine and Kennedy and Reagan used and we will use it to put order in our the backyard".

So there is now only one option for Guaido, everybody knows that he is what the Romans called proconsuls or what we call neocolonial administrators of imperialist backyards, and he lost the battle of February 23 this year when he said he would open the border by force for US aid which was a plan by the USA, of course, because it was a repetition of what they did with the Berlin wall in Germany. So the plan by Guaido was to open the borders by force and that would be the end of Maduro and he was defeated, it didn't work.

https://sputniknews.com/analysis/201903051072961217-venezuela-maduro-crisis


Please read prior and subsequent posts.