Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Affair of the Sonic Weapons Attack: Collateral Effects and Costs on Cuban Efforts to Rejoin the International Financial Community

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2017 Vatican Museum Episodes of the Passion Tournai 14th cent)

If the Affair of the Sonic Weapons Attack  has a defining element, it is the way in which it may substantially affect Cuba's efforts to rejoin the global economic and finance communities it turned its back on in the early 1960s. That will be a costly bill to pay for the Cuban inability to maintain sufficient control within its Republic to quickly investigate and find culpable parties in the Sonic Weapons Attack Affair. Marc Frank, in current reporting ("Cash-strapped Cuba makes debt payment to major western creditors: diplomats") notes the strains that are already evident in Cuba's efforts to retain some semblance of stability in its financial relations with the Paris Club.  And then there are the Vulture Funds waiting in the wings and holding billions in unpaid sovereign debt. 

At this point it might make good sense for the Cubans to discover the culprit (and from th emost cynical perspective any plausible culprit will do) in order to assuage the Americans and reduce the pressure on Cuban economic foreign policy objectives. But it is unlikely that the Cuban state will contemplate that action. First there is the matter of honor.  Then there is the calculus that nothing will appease the Americans (not implausible) and that the Americans may overplay their hand in this instance. Moreover the Cuban state apparatus is fractured among those who view this as an opportunity to derail engagement with the Americans and those who view that engagement as useful to economic policy. In any case, the debt burden will quickly prove unbearable for an Island Republic in desperate need of hard currency and struggling with natural and demographic disasters. For the Cuban Communist Party it is the moment of truth--can it keep to its ancient (and now to some extent reactionary) Stalinist orthodoxy, or must it make a choice between American (or Latin American) conventional governance (with its dangers for a small Latin American state), or might it finally consider the path opened by the evolution of Marxist Leninist state organization provide by China?  Were I in Cuba now I might urge its leaders to start carefully reading the documents produced in the 19th Chinese Communist Party Congress.  In this new era, those states that prefer fidelity to Marxist Leninist normative objectives and Leninist state organization would do well to consider the need to change with the times. 

In the meantime, the burdens of the Paris Club agreement int he face of mounting pressure to continue to borrow to maintain political stability moves Cuba closer to desperate times.  And the Americans, of course, may well use the opportunity to continue to promote regime change.  That cocktail can only make matters worse for the Cuban people.  IN the meantime, it is the cascading effects of the Sonic Weapons Attack Affair  that is complicating the calculus of officials in Havana.  And that complication is much more perilous for the Cubans than for the Americans.  The U.S: is used to episodic periods of intense focus on Cuba and then long periods of neglect--Cuba is a marginal element in the American calculus of power, unless it irritates domestic politics or threatens geopolitical strategies. But the Cubans understand this, and since the disappearance of their last patron in the late 1980s, they have deliberately sought to leverage the American weak spot precisely by irritating the Americans in ways that might prove useful to Cuban internal economic needs and external political strategies.  It is unclear if the rules of the game are changing.  The Sonic Weapons Attack Affair will clarify that in time. And the answer may lie with the Paris Club, rather than with Havana, or the Russians, or the Chinese. And it is Cuba's sovereign debt rather than its ideological journey that may well play a much larger role in charting  its future.

These interlinked issues become more potent as the U.S. uses it social media power to broaden its attack on the Cuban tourist sector:  Josh Lederman, "US tourist fears he was hit in Cuba, years before diplomats," The Washington Post 19 Oct. 2017 ("With no answers about the weapon, culprit or motive, the U.S. and Cuba have been unable to prevent the attacks from becoming a runaway crisis. As the United States warns its citizens to stay away from Cuba, there are signs that spring breakers, adventure-seekers and retirees already are reconsidering trips to the island. After years of cautious progress, U.S.-Cuban relations are now at risk of collapsing entirely.").

Marc Frank's reporting follows.

新时代中国特色社会主义思想 (Socialism With Chinese Characteristics in the New Era): Briefing on Party Self Supervision Reform

Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in the NewEra--新时代中国特色社会主义思想--that is the central theme of the Report delivered by Xi Jinpin during the 19th Chinese Communist Party Congress in Beijing. This Report will prove especially important for the development of key concepts of Chinese Communist Party principles and the forward organization of the state apparatus and the principles under which policy decisions will be made.

Resources: the official site of the Congress Press Centre-- (Chinese) (English)
The site for the Conference on (Chinese).

Over the next week or so I will be posting about portions of the Report and then providing some reflections.  We are organizing a Rountable on the 19th CCP Congress as well for the the first week of November.

This post includes some of the key provisions of the Report. The Briefing of Xi’s Report to the 19th CPC National Congress focused on supervision systems (Miaoqiang Dai translating) includes the key provisions for Communist Party supervision, that is for the development of new mechanisms for Communist Party discipline in the New Era.  There is much here to unpack. The ENGLISH and Chinese versions follow.


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Rising Stakes in the Affair of the Sonic Weapons Attack--Cuba's Food Insecurity Added to the Mix; Is there an Ethics to the Political Use of Hunger?

Like a stone thrown in a pond, the Affair of the Sonic Weapons Attack will complicate a number of collateral initiatives of both the United States and Cuba. That, after all, is the nature of Affairs of this sort--to disrupt a trend pointing to a particular direction and to use the resulting instability to reshape policy and undermine opponents. Thus there is always both a policy and personal element to these political thrusts for which events serve as opportunity (see, e.g., here).

 (Pix credit HERE)
For Cuba, the collateral issue is now food security made worse by the serendipity of the hurricanes this summer. But the problem has been compounded by the stubbornness of the old Stalinist nomenklatura to resist replaying over and over again the errors of Soviet agricultural policies starting with the horrors of the Kulak affair. Those errors, of course, are inevitable in this case--like a Greek tragic hero the product of a basic (ideological) character trait that cannot be avoided, even when the full consequences of the result are well understood.

As Marc Frank reports (Cuban food output stagnates, may decline in 2017; Reuters17 Oct. 2017), Cuban food production continues to stagnate and Cuba spends what for it is an enormous amount of its income to feed its people. This is a self inflicted wound--made all the greater by the unwillingness of the Cuban state to reduce its control of wholesale markets, the inefficiencies of the "informal" sector and the resulting transaction costs of the  corruption necessary to run a system around official constraints. Under normal circumstances these inefficiencies and costs would be bearable (and have been for a long time), defining a stable state for Cuban agricultural sectors.  But the Affair of the Sonic Weapons Attack adds a new element.  It promises to thwart rising expectations for food security and reduce the public cost of food provision (which would permit greater allocation of resources to other sectors identified for development--particularly pharma, infrastructure, and tourism). And the expected changes to U.S. export policies may well make the situation worse.

On the one hand, that is Cuba's calculated risk, which should have been well known to its security analysts as they weighed the costs and advantages of staking a particular position in the Affair of the Sonic Weapons Attack.  Perhaps Cuban officials guessed that the Russians, Latin American states or the Chinese will provide the subsidies necessary to ride out this phase of U.S. Cuban relations. Or perhaps they miscalculated. But one ought to stop and ask the question often raised ion the context of boycotts and other non-combat tactics applied in the course of international "conversations" among states:  to what extent ought populations to be used as a weapon in international relations.   All states enjoy condemning the practice even as they eagerly embrace its tactics.  Perhaps it is inevitable--the modern version of ancient siege practice for a modern age.  And thus the most interesting insight--the way that the international community has not so much eliminated warfare as it has transposed and legalized the methods of warfare in new forms.  In place of siege warfare there is boycott and embargo; in place of direct violence by organized armies there are advanced techniques of warfare; etc. Our ethics have substantially constrained the use of old fashioned warfare; we might again consider its role in modern forms of conflict. But perhaps we might also consider the morality of a state advancing its international relations objectives on the stomachs of its own people.  Though that might be thought of as politics, it speaks to ethics and morals as well, an ethics and morals that invites judgment, both within and without the state. Yet at the same time, an ethics and morals that might do well to better reflect the sensibilities and practices of this new era.

Marc Frank's reporting follows.   

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Recording of Seminar: "Governance Compliance in Business and Human Rights Across Global Production Chains" Given at the University of Manchester Alliance Business School 12 October 2017

I has been my great good fortune to be a Simon and Hallsworth Visiting Professor at the University of Manchester, Alliance Business School. In that capacity I recently gave a seminar entitled: "Governance Compliance in Business and Human Rights Across Global Production Chains." It was given as part of the Alliance Manchester Business School's marvelous Business and Human Rights Catalyst Initiative, led by Professor Ken McPhail, Alliance MBS' Director of Research, and coordinated by Dr Lara Bianchi. Great thanks to both for making this possible.  Special thanks to the commentators of the seminar presentation, Dr. John Haskell, and Dr. Karen Buckley whose incisive comments have provided much food for thought and windows on new avenues of research.  

We were fortunate to be able to record the Seminar (apologies no video). The recording of the Seminar can be accessed HERE.

The Concept Note for the Seminar follows along with the PowerPoints. The presentation was based on a recent publication, Larry Catá Backer, "Governance Polycentrism or Regulated Self-Regulation—Rule Systems for Human Rights Impacts of Economic Activity Where National, Private and International Regimes Collide," in Contested Collisions: Interdisciplinary Inquiries into Norm Fragmentation in World Society 198-225 (Kerstin Blome, Hannah Franzki, Andreas Fischer-Lescano, Nora Markard and Stefan Oeter, eds., Cambridge University Press, 2016), which may be accessed here

The Affair of the Sonic Weapons Attacks: A Conflict of Narrative in the Public "Litigation" Phase of the Dispute

(Pix ©Larry Catá Backer 2017)

Now that the United States and Cuba have staked out their (well rehearsed and often deployed routine) positions, the two states have begun the "litigation" phase of their state-to-state conflict in the courts of public opinion. The objectives are fairly simple--to sway Western public opinion (and thus to manage pressure in the liberal Western democratic traditions of the rules of play, and to stoke the usual fears in the Cuban population-the fear of invasion, the fear of subversion, and the fear of the old imperial power seeking some sort of new neo-colonialist relationship with the people (that is the state). For the Cubans there is an added benefit. The Affair of the Sonic Weapons Attack, if played correctly, will serve Cuba's regional interests by stoking similar fears n regional states and working to enhance their position in the Caribbean and Central America. It might also produce benefits in the context of their efforts to retain influence in the complex politics fo Venezuela, including the complex politics of negotiating a regime transition.

During the litigation phase both parties begin a process of strategic disclosures and assertions based on evidence that they produce to suit the development of their "case." To advance Cuba's "case", the state apparatus and its allies abroad have been doing two things. First they have asserted that they had nothing to do with the attacks (e.g., here, and  here), then that the entire affair has been made up (e.g. here) and the product of mass hysteria (e.g., here). More potently, they have managed to have leaked to the Western press a slew of stories that seem to implicate U.S. spy and spy networks as the cause of the entire affair (here, and here).

Now the United States has started the presentation of evidence for its "case." Desmond Boyland, the the Associated Press reported that "The Associated Press has obtained a recording of what some U.S. Embassy workers heard in Havana, part of the series of unnerving incidents later deemed to be deliberate attacks." Josh Lederman and Michael Weissenstein, "What Americans heard in Cuba attacks," The Morning Journal (12 Oct. 2017). The object is clear--to start to make the case, first for the reality of the attack (to counter the initial Cuban assertions) and the seriousness of the injuries. The sound evidence may well serve as the first round of that sort of evidence leaked in strategic stages. Later disclosures may well be used to point to the source of the attack.

The narrative lines are becoming clearer then.  The Cubans suggest a narrate grounded in implausibility, or in their own victimization, or in conspiracy theory (e.g., U.S. spy platy gone bad).  These play well to their allies and their regional political aspirations.  The United States is also deploying an ideological narrative grounded in the "rogue state" trope, in which Cuba is playing with or is being played by its crew of friends in the international community, all of whom are to some extent are seeking to undermine the U.S. The U.S. is also playing the "CSI" narrative--it will tell its story through the language of science and scientific deduction; it will let the "facts speak. " "Stay tuned. We await more thrust and counterthrust as the United States and Cuba drill down into the facts of the dispute. Portions of the Josh Lederman and Michael Weissenstein reporting follows.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Remarks for the Manchester International Law Centre (MILC) Speaker Series on 9 October 2017: "The Financial Sector Responsibility for Human Rights Conduct of Borrowers Lessons from the Extractives Sector"

I was honored to participate as a speaker for the Manchester International Law Centre (MILC) Speaker Series on 9 October 2017. I delivered remarks on "The Financial Sector Responsibility for Human Rights Conduct of Borrowers: Lessons from the Extractives Sector." The remarks were delivered at the University of Manchester Law School. Great thanks to John Haskell for his "above and beyond the call of duty" efforts in putting this together, to the gracious hospitality of Toby Seddon (Head of School), and the faculty and students at the Law School.  The great questions of  Jean d’Aspremont, Chris Thornhill, and Mary Vogel plus a  marvelous group of graduate students made for a stimulating evening of intellectual engagement.

To access the remarks (via the MILC Youtube Channel) please click on the picture below, or HERE.

More on the Manchester International Law Centre follows.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

October 2017 Newsletter From John Knox, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment--Call For Comments "Draft Guidelines on Human Rights and the Environment"

John H. Knox, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment (former Independent Expert on Human Rights and the Environment) and Henry C. Lauerman Professor of International Law has been advancing his mandate. (See HEREHERE, HERE, and HERE, HERE, HEREHEREHERE, HERE, Here, and HERE).

Professor Knox has just released his October 2017 newsletter on the progress of the mandate, which includes links to a number of important statements and activities. A section of special note: Professor Kox has produced a Draft Guidelines on Human Rights and the Environment for which he is soliciting views (available here in English, French, Spanish). It draws on his work over the arc of his mandate and its object is to summarize the basic human rights obligations of States on environmental matters, as they have been clarified by human rights bodies. The final version of the Guidelines will be presented to the Human Rights Council in March 2018, as part of Professor Knox's final set of reports.

The post includes the 11 October 2017 Newsletter of the Special Rapporteaur (with links) along with the "Draft Guidelines" in English, Francais and Español.

The Affair of the Sonic Weapons Attack: Cuba Feels the Bite and Bites Back

(File Picture: Cuba's First Vice-President Miguel Diaz-Canel (C) leaves the National Assembly after the inauguration ceremony of Ecuador's President Lenin Moreno (not pictured) in Quito, Ecuador May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo
The bite of the American actions taken in the wake (or under cover) of the Sonic Weapons Attack Affair are beginning to be felt within higher levels of the political elite in Cuba. And there are signs that senior government officials are starting to worry. The signs are the usual ones that would be expected within the dystopia that describes the landscape of U.S. Cuban relations: the Cubans have signaled that they will bite back.

The Cubans have good cause to worry. The American actions are targeted to maximize effect--the focus is on the tourist sector which is the crown jewel in Cuba's economic plan to expand the private sector, bring in much needed hard currency, and shift income from salary only to a salary plus tip driven economy. Collateral personal pain is produced by increasing the transaction costs of travel to and from Cuba--especially for Cubans. This later tactic produces a dilemma for Cuba: reciprocating only further drives up revenue streams from U.S. tourists who are already being warned away from Cuba by the U.S. State Department. At the same time the U.S. has been pinching at the weak underbelly of Cuban foreign policy--seeing to undermine and replace the current regime in Venezuela (as the U.S: has been trying to do since ta least the turn of this century, so far unsuccessfully). The new version of the Embargo rules have yet to be unveiled. They will likely institutionalize the pain (for Cuba and U.S. business interests interested in doing deals there).

To bite back, the Cubans pull the few levers they can. The most potentially potent level is the refusal to serve as a conduit for change (a role they played well in settling the Colombian civil war recently before U.S.-Cuban relations soured). Beyond that, there is increasingly little the Cuban state can do to counter the American actions, other than to find or produce a plausible culprit that satisfies the Americans. And at this point even that may be a tall order, because it seems the Americans, in traditional style, are intent on overplaying their hand. Instead, and for the moment, the Cubans are going on a "denial" campaign that plays well to their fans (and is a necessary element in the internal factional politics at a time of slow transition) but may be altogether ineffective in advancing its foreign objectives--to bring back U.S. (tourist) money and monied interests and to keep the U.S. state apparatus off its back.  That may be too tall an order for the moment. . Recent reporting from Cuba provides a window on these actions and their motivations. Portions of Marc Frank, "Likely successor to Cuba's Castro rejects U.S. demands for change," (Reuters, 8 Oct. 2017), follows.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

在社会信用和大数据管理下,权力关系的变迁: 评人民日报《不能让算法决定内容》CHINESE LANGUAGE VERSION of LC Backer Reflections on "Do Not Rely on Algorithm to Decide""

在社会信用和大数据管理下,权力关系的变迁: 评人民日报《不能让算法决定内容》

由于缺乏官方英文版,本篇评论是基于人民日报《不能让算法决定内容》中文的翻译,因此不免存在可能的错误。英文翻译请参见Flora Sapio 发表的文章

Sunday, October 08, 2017

“All roads to remedy”: Reflections on 2017 Report of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises (A/72/162)

The Working Group for Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises traditionally presents a report to the UN General Assembly a few weeks before organizing its Forum on Business and Human Rights.  Often that report sketches the themes and approaches that serve to shape the UN Forum, and the points of emphasis that the Working Group would see elaborated.  This year is no different.

The 2017 Report of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises (A/72/162) (the 2017 WG Report) lays out the thinking and approaches of the Working Group to the issue of Remedies under the UN Guiding principles of Business and Human Rights.  This is a perennially visible issue, and one with respect to which the Working Group has yet to achieve anything that approaches coherent and effective approaches. But that is to be expected in a context n which the remedial pillar of the UNGP itself creates hurdles.

The Summary of the 2017 WG Report provides

In the report, the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises unpacks the concept of access to effective remedies under the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework. It clarifies the interrelationship between the right to effective remedy, access to effective remedy, access to justice and corporate accountability. It examines the issue of effective remedies from the perspective of rights holders and proposes that remedial mechanisms should be responsive to the diverse experiences and expectations of rights holders. Affected rights holders should be able to claim what may be termed a “bouquet of remedies” without fear of victimization.

The Working Group also outlines what may be termed as an “all roads to remedy” approach to realizing effective remedies, which implies that access to effective remedy is taken as a lens to guide all steps taken by States and businesses and that remedies for business-related human rights abuses are located in diverse settings. The report ends with specific recommendations to States, business enterprises, civil society organizations and human rights defenders.
The 2017 Report provides a valuable guide to the thinking of the institutional human rights establishment to remedial mechanisms within and beyond the UN Guiding Principles.  That is both its greatest strength and the source of its weakness.

 This post provides my reflections on this Report.The Reflections may be downloaded HERE.