Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Announcement of Changes in US Policy Toward Cuba and the Caribbean Region: Remarks of US Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo; Speech of John Bolton (anuncia nuevas sanciones para Venezuela, Cuba y Nicaragua) 17 April 2019

In an earlier post I discussed the anticipated announcement by American officials of a new set of sanctions against Cuba and other Caribbean states (here). I suggested that these must be understood as part of a broader and more comprehensive pivot towards Latin America (generally) and the Caribbean (specifically). It no longer makes sense to speak of a policy toward Cuba; the US has managed to begin to develop a coordinated policy on a regional basis.   

On 17 April, additional elements of this new policy were announced in speeches and remarks by US Secretary of State Pompeo and John Bolton, the 27th National Security Advisor of the United States.  What follows are (1) videos of Mr Pompeo and Mr Bolton remarks; (2) the text of the Remarks of Secretary Pompeo; (3) the State Department notice of additional sanctions against Nicaragua;  (4) and some reporting that summarizes the actions taken by the US government; and (5) video of Mr. Pompeo's remarks about US Latin American policy delivered in Chile.  Technical provisions and official pronouncements follow when available.  

A few points may be helpful in reading through the materials; (1) the references to the Monroe doctrine were not accidental, but they were directed as much against our European allies as it was against our competitors (Chine, Russia) and enemies (Iran) as identified in the National Security Strategy; (2) there is an expected reaction from our European allies, which is I suspect meant to be encouraged especially if lodged before the WTO; (3) any WTO action would further a related strategy of the Trump administration to contribute to the shrinking of the authority and reach of these multilateral institutions;  (4) the Trump Administration increasingly views certain forms of Latin American regionalism as imperialist is forma and function, the current round of sanctions is an indirect push against ALBA (Alianza Biolivariana) and its socialist regional trade and integration objectives; (5) the Trump Administration has, like the Chinese, Cubans and Iranians, embraced the primacy of the ideological component of their engagement in the region; the anti-communist discursive tropes are not decoration;  (6) there is a strong element of internal communication to these policies and the speeches that announced them; the administration is looking as intently at the 2020 US elections as it is to the integrity of the region and the protection of the integrity of a like minded group of states on the US's Southern flank; and (7) the Global Magnitsky framework is becoming the centerpiece of the projection of American values and power in its relation with adversaries; (8) economic sanctions are increasingly focused on global financial flows; but expect reaction in the form of crytocurriencies (the Venezuelan regime of Maduro was too clumsy to attempt it with any sort of success, but the future has yet to be written); and (9) litigation in the private sector will appear to provide a sideways pressure on vulnerable European allies; it represents an acknowledgement of the power of private markets and private commercial as an instrument of policy; the Europeans will likely be the first to feel the effects.  

Ironically enough, the most comprehensive description of the changes to a coherent US policy in the Caribbean (and the response to Russian and Chinese projections of power in that region), the luncheon speech delivered 17 April 2019 by John Bolton at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables Florida with members of the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association to mark the 58th anniversary of the botched U.S.-backed invasion (deliberately chosen to underline the reset to US-Cuba relations form the US side and likely to be taken as a provocation on the Cuban side) is as yet unavailable in English.  The only video of the speech that I have been able t find to date was, again irony, one posted by a Nicaraguan news outlet with a Spanish voice over. The link follows: 

Bolton anuncia nuevas sanciones para Venezuela, Cuba y Nicaragua URL (solo en Español;  Spanish Language Translation Only)

As I mentioned in a prior post these movements are part of a broader vision of a coherent US policy toward Latin America in general, and the Caribbean region more specifically. A sense of that policy (broadly focused on Latin America and more specifically focused on its regions) could be gleaned from Secretary Pompeo's 12 April 2019 remarks on U.S.-Latin American policy, in Santiago, Chile.  More importantly, this new pivot to Latin America is undertaken in the shadow of the challenge posed by emerging Chinese relations.

URL (English language)

Washington, DC
April 17, 2019

SECRETARY POMPEO: Good morning, everyone. Welcome. I’m here to announce an important decision regarding the United States policy towards Cuba.

In 1996, Congress passed the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, also known as Libertad. Until Title III of that act, United States citizens who had their property confiscated by the Castro regime were given the right to file suit against those who traffic in such properties.

But those citizens’ opportunities for justice have been put out of reach for more than two decades. For now more than 22 years, every president, every secretary of state has suspended Title III in the hope that doing so would put more pressure on the Cuban regime to transition to democracy.

But just as we did in regard to moving our embassy to Jerusalem, the true capital of Israel, or designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for what it is, a terrorist organization, the Trump administration recognizes reality. We see clearly that the regime’s repression of its own people and its unrepentant exportation of tyranny in the region has only gotten worse because dictators perceive appeasement as weakness, not strength.

President Obama’s administration’s game of footsy with the Castros’ junta did not deter the regime from continuing to harass and oppress the heroic Ladies in White, a group of women dedicated to peacefully protesting the regime’s human rights abuses.

More broadly, the regime continues to deprive its own people of the fundamental freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association. Indeed, according to NGO reports, Cuban thugs made more than 2,800 arbitrary arrests in 2018 alone. In the run-up to the country’s recent sham constitutional referendum, one that enshrined the Communist Party as the only legal political party in Cuba, the regime harassed, beat, and detained leaders and – opposition leaders and activists. Three hundred and ten people were arbitrarily detained according to the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

Cuba’s behavior in the Western Hemisphere undermines the security and stability of countries throughout the region, which directly threatens United States national security interests. The Cuban regime has for years exported its tactics of intimidation, repression, and violence. They’ve exported this to Venezuela in direct support of the former Maduro regime. Cuban military intelligence and state security services today keep Maduro in power.

Sadly, Cuba’s most prominent export these days is not cigars or rum; it’s oppression. Detente with the regime has failed. Cozying up to Cuban dictators will always be a black mark on this great nation’s long record of defending human rights.

For these reasons, I’m announcing that the Trump administration will no longer suspend Title III. Effective May 2nd, the right thing to bring – the right to bring an action under Title III of the Libertad Act will be implemented in full. I have already informed Congress of my decision.

Implementing Title III in full means a chance at justice for Cuban Americans who have long sought relief for Fidel Castro and his lackeys seizing property without compensation. For the first time, claimants will be able to bring lawsuits against persons trafficking in property that was confiscated by the Cuban regime. Any person or company doing business in Cuba should heed this announcement.

In addition to being newly vulnerable to lawsuits, they could be abetting the Cuban regime’s abuses of its own people. Those doing business in Cuba should fully investigate whether they are connected to property stolen in service of a failed communist experiment. I encourage our friends and allies alike to likewise follow our lead and stand with the Cuban people.

As I said throughout my trip to South America this last week, the Trump administration is committed to helping grow the wave of democracy, good governments, and openness, which is steadily building throughout the entire Western Hemisphere. On my trip last week, I saw these positive changes firsthand, and told our friends and allies that we’re with them. We’re on the side of what’s right and what is just.

Today we are holding the Cuban Government accountable for seizing American assets. We are helping those whom the regime has robbed get compensation for their rightful property. And we’re advancing human rights and democracy on behalf of the Cuban people.

Now I will turn it over to Western Hemisphere Assistant Secretary Kim Breier to take some of your questions this morning. Thank you all.



Media Note
Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
April 17, 2019

Today, the United States has affirmed its commitment to use all economic and diplomatic tools to promote accountability for the Ortega regime and to support the Nicaraguan people in their quest for freedom.

The United States has sanctioned Laureano Ortega and Banco Corporativo SA (Bancorp), pursuant to Executive Order 13851, which President Trump signed November 27, 2018. Because of this action, their U.S. assets are frozen and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from transactions with Laureano Ortega and Bancorp.

Laureano Ortega, son of President Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo, is a key enabler of the Ortega regime’s corruption. On the regime’s behalf, he has sought international financial support and foreign investment. In doing so, he has placed the interests of his family and his personal fortune ahead of the interests of the Nicaraguan people by engaging in corrupt business deals. Bancorp has served as the personal slush fund for the Ortega family and the instrument for corrupt deals with Nicolas Maduro and his former regime in Venezuela.

We urge the Ortega regime to restore democratic order in Nicaragua and heed the calls of Nicaraguans clamoring for early free, fair, and transparent elections. The regime must also abide by the commitments it has already made, including under the Inter-American Democratic Charter. We call on Nicaragua to unconditionally and fully release arbitrarily detained persons and protect the fundamental human rights of its citizens. We will continue to promote accountability for those who have demonstrated a blatant disregard for human rights and fomented violence in support of the Ortega regime.


Trump's Cuba hawks try to squeeze Havana over Venezuela role
Zachary Fagenson, Matt Spetalnick, Lesley Wroughton

MIAMI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration on Wednesday imposed new sanctions and other punitive measures on Cuba and Venezuela, seeking to ratchet up U.S. pressure on Havana to end its support for Venezuela’s socialist president, Nicolas Maduro.

Speaking to a Cuban exile group in Miami, U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said the United States was targeting Cuba’s military and intelligence services, including a military-owned airline, for additional sanctions and was tightening travel and trade restrictions against the island.

Bolton’s speech followed the State Department’s announcement on Wednesday that it was lifting a long-standing ban against U.S. citizens filing lawsuits against foreign companies that use properties seized by Cuba’s Communist government since Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution.

President Donald Trump’s decision, which the State Department said could unleash hundreds of thousands of legal claims worth tens of billions of dollars, drew swift criticism from European and Canadian allies, whose companies have significant interests in Cuba.

The Cuban government, which could be hindered in attracting new foreign investment, denounced it as “an attack on international law.”

Taking aim at Venezuela, Bolton said the United States was also imposing sanctions on the country’s central bank to prohibit access to dollars by an institution he described as crucial to keeping Maduro in power. Bolton also announced new sanctions on Nicaragua.

While accusing Cuba of propping up Maduro with thousands of security force members in the country, Bolton also warned “all external actors, including Russia,” against deploying military assets to support the Venezuelan leader.

“The United States will consider such provocative actions a threat to international peace and security in the region,” Bolton said, noting that Moscow recently sent in military flights carrying 35 tons of cargo and a hundred personnel.

However, Cuba appears unlikely to be budged by demands to dump Maduro, a longtime ally of Havana, and Maduro has also shown little sign of losing the loyalty of his military despite tough oil-related U.S. sanctions on the OPEC nation.

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel responded defiantly. “No one will rip the (fatherland) away from us, neither by seduction nor by force,” he said on Twitter. “We Cubans do not surrender.”

FILE PHOTO: A supporter of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro holding a copy of the Venezuelan constitution and flags of Venezuela and Cuba, takes part in a gathering in support of his government outside the Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela January 26, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/File Photo


Amid Venezuela’s political and economic crisis, opposition leader Juan Guaido invoked the constitution in January to assume the interim presidency. The United States and most Western countries have backed Guaido as head of state. Maduro, backed by Cuba, Russia and China, has denounced Guaido as a U.S. puppet.

Bolton, a longtime Cuba hardliner, was frequently interrupted by applause in his address to veterans of the U.S.-backed Bay of Pigs invasion on the 58th anniversary of the failed operation to overthrow Castro. His speech was a sequel to one late last year branding Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua a “troika of tyranny.”

Bolton’s announcements included further measures to roll back parts of the historic opening to Cuba, an old Cold War foe, under his predecessor, Barack Obama.

The Obama administration’s approach, he said, “provided the Cuban regime with the necessary political cover to expand its malign influence.”

Among the Cuba measures announced by Bolton was reinstatement of limits on U.S. citizens sending remittances to Cuba at $1,000 per person per quarter. Remittances have surged since Obama started easing restrictions, becoming an important part of the economy and fuelling growth of the private sector.

“Restricting remittances that can be sent to Cubans will directly hurt the Cuban people,” said Ben Rhodes, a former Obama adviser who negotiated the 2014 diplomatic breakthrough with Havana. “This is a shameful and mean-spirited policy.”

Bolton said the United States would also further restrict “non-family” travel to Cuba and cited military-owned Cuban airline Aerogaviota among five entities being added to the U.S. sanctions blacklist.

The Trump administration has previously sought to curtail Venezuela’s subsidized oil shipments to Cuba.

Also on Wednesday, Bolton announced sanctions on Nicaragua’s Bancorp, which he called a “slush fund,” and on Laureano Ortega, a son of President Daniel Ortega for what he described as “vast corruption.”

Trump’s toughened stance on Cuba as well as Venezuela and Nicaragua has gone down well among Cuban Americans in south Florida, an important voting bloc in a political swing state as he looks toward his re-election campaign in 2020.

Trump has added Cuba hawks to top posts. Bolton brought in Mauricio Claver-Carone, known as staunchly anti-Castro and an outspoken critic of Obama’s rapprochement with Havana, as his top Latin America adviser.

Cuba's President Miguel Diaz-Canel (L) shakes hands with Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro during the 16th Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America-Peoples Trade Agreement (ALBA-TCP) Summit in Havana, Cuba, December 14, 2018. Ernesto Mastrascusa/Pool via REUTERS

However, the risk, some former U.S. officials say, is that Trump’s team will overdo the targeting of Cuba in their anti-Maduro campaign and alienate some European and Latin American allies who have good relations with Havana but are also needed by Washington to maintain pressure on Venezuela.

Over the objections of key allies, Trump decided to allow a law that has been suspended since its creation in 1996 to be fully activated, permitting Cuban-Americans and other U.S. citizens to sue companies doing business in Cuba over property seized in decades past by the Cuban government.

Until now, Title III of the Helms-Burton Act had been fully waived by every president over the past 23 years.

Among the foreign companies heavily invested in Cuba are Canadian mining firm Sherritt International Corp and Spain’s Melia Hotels International SA. U.S. companies, including airlines and cruise companies, have forged business deals in Cuba since the easing of restrictions under Obama.

It was unclear, however, how such property claims, some of which involve complex legal matters, will fare in U.S. courts.

The European Union said it will “consider all options at its disposal to protect its legitimate interests.”

Chrystia Freeland, minister of foreign affairs for Canada, which has coordinated with Washington on Venezuela, said: “Canada is deeply disappointed with today’s (U.S.) announcement.”

Kim Breier, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, said a U.S. government commission has certified nearly 6,000 claims for property confiscated in Cuba with a current value of about $8 billion and that there could be up to 200,000 uncertified claims worth tens of billions of dollars if pursued.
Reporting by Zachary Fagenson in Miami and Matt Spetalnick and Lesley Wroughton in Washington; Additional reporting by Makini Brice, David Alexander and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Sarah Marsh and Marc Frank in Havana; Philip Blenkinsop and Jan Strupczewski in Brussels; Julie Gordon in Ottawa; writing by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Mary Milliken and Lisa Shumaker


U.S. restricts travel, remittances to Cuba as part of a new policy under Trump

By Nora Gámez Torres
April 17, 2019 01:00 PM, Updated 1 hour 1 minute ago 

The Trump administration is tightening restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba, reversing the engagement policies of the Obama era while increasing pressure on the island’s government in response to its support of the Nicolás Maduro regime in Venezuela.

The changes were announced during a speech by National Security Advisor John Bolton at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables Wednesday afternoon.

“In no uncertain terms, the Obama administration’s policies toward Cuba have enabled the Cuban colonization of Venezuela today,” National Security Advisor John Bolton said Wednesday during a speech at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables. The changes were designed to reverse “the disastrous Obama-era policies, and finally end the glamorization of socialism and communism,” he added.

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.

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Travel by Cuban Americans to reunite with relatives on the island will remain unchanged and the new limits on remittances will be “generous … because we don’t want to hurt the families,” said a senior administration official who asked to remain anonymous in order to explain the reasons behind the changes. Former President George W. Bush was broadly criticized in 2004 when he restricted those visits to three per year and imposed tight limits on remittances.

Bolton said remittances will be limited to $1,000 per person every three months, compared to the unlimited remittances allowed by the Obama administration “under the assumption that capital inflows would benefit the Cuban people. Yet, the situation for Cubans has in fact worsened.”

The U.S. Treasury Department also will suspend Obama-era authorizations that allowed Cuban companies and banks to perform “U-turn” transactions in third countries that passed indirectly through the U.S. banking system. Bolton said that allowed the Cuban government to evade U.S. sanctions and obtain access to hard currencies.

In addition, the State Department will add five companies to its list of restricted entities, including Aerogaviota, an airline controlled by Gaviota, a group of tourism-relative companies controlled by the Cuban armed Forces. Those measures are in addition to the full implementation of the Helms-Burton law, which will allow lawsuits in federal courts seeking compensation for properties confiscated by the Cuban government after 1959. The step was formally announced by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday morning and scheduled to take effect on May 2.

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Bolton also noted the recent sanctions against 44 tankers and six companies involved in delivering Venezuelan oil to Cuba, designed to impact the subsidies that Maduro provides to Havana. And he accused the Cuban government of training Maduro’s repressive forces and inspiring the establishment of colectivos and other pro-government paramilitary groups in Venezuela.

Aside from reversing some of the changes put in place by the Obama administration, the new Trump policies on Cuba were designed to signal to the Cuban government that “its support for Maduro will cost it,” said the senior administration official who asked for anonymity. “And we will continue with the sanctions. Our policy has two pillars: Constancy and consistency.”

Bolton also announced new sanctions against the Venezuelan and Nicaraguan governments, which alongside Cuba make up what he’s called “the troika of tyranny.”

The Treasury Department will sanction the Central Bank of Venezuela, which has helped the Maduro regime to sell gold for hard currencies, and the Corporative Bank of Nicaragua, used by Daniel Ortega as his “slush fund.” It will also impose sanctions on his son, Laureano, and wife and Vice President Rosario Murillo, accused by U.S. officials of corruption in a Nicaraguan investment company.

“These steps against the Central Bank of Venezuela should be a strong warning to all foreign actors, including Russia, against deploying military units in Venezuela to shore up the Maduro regime,” Bolton said.

The presidential adviser announced the policy changes during a speech that wove together several threads, starting with a contrast between Trump and Obama policies that was warmly welcome by an audience of Cuban exiles who felt betrayed by the engagement policies of the previous White House.

“To justify its policy of normalizing relations with Cuba, President Obama said Cuba quote ‘poses no genuine threat.’ Tell that to the American diplomats who were attacked in Havana. Tell that to the terrorized people of Venezuela. The reality is that the Obama government sought to normalize relations with a tyrannical dictatorship,” Bolton said. He reminded his audience that Trump met with opposition activists like the Ladies in White and called the late Fidel Castro “a brutal dictator.”

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But the message of the Trump administration, as it prepares for the 2020 presidential election, was direct:

“Let me be clear: The Trump administration will NEVER, EVER abandon you,” Bolton said. “We will need your help in the days ahead. We must all reject the forces of communism and socialism in this Hemisphere—and in this country.”

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