On Inauguration Day, just after we craned our necks to trace the flight taking former President Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama out of town, this tweet caught our eye.
It read “This is what you see from the #Cuba seat at the opening ceremony at the Capitol,” and auto-played a video shot by Cuba’s Ambassador to the United States, José Ramón Cabañas, with a slow pan from the flag-bedecked U.S. Capitol to the crowd below.
A bit later, our phones stirred again with this message from the Ambassador, “#Cuba invited for the first time in many years to an Inaugural Ceremony at Capitol Hill #US.”
Thinking back to the Obamas aboard the Marine Corps helicopter, it was nice to see a core accomplishment of his Cuba policy alive and well after the transfer of power. Restoring diplomatic relations put Cuba’s ambassador back into the diplomatic corps, and foreign diplomats attend ceremonies like the Inauguration.
Of course, Ambassador Cabañas was there, with his smartphone.
Today, we were expecting to swallow a cascade of bitter pills, and as we prepared for publication, we were prepared for the bad news we expect to come.
After all, the President and the Vice-President both pledged during the fall campaign to spend Day One undoing the executive orders on which nearly all of President Obama’s Cuba policy initiatives were based.
However, this week the Trump transition exhibited confusion about the definition of “Day One.”
First, Mr. Trump told the Times of London “…[D]ay one – which I will consider to be Monday as opposed to Friday or Saturday. Right? I mean my day one is gonna be Monday because I don’t want to be signing and get it mixed up with lots of celebration.”
Next, Reuters reported he was preparing to sign executive actions on Inauguration Day to “roll back outgoing President Obama’s policies.”
Then, incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer told CNN that then-President-elect Trump was “still working through which ones he wants to deal with tomorrow (Inauguration Day) versus Monday or Tuesday.”
The debate over when Day One started could’ve come right out of the movie Inherit the Wind, where the protagonists argue over how to calculate the length of Creation since the Sun wasn’t invented until day four.
So far, no big announcements. This afternoon, when we visited the White House online, all we could only see was a six-paragraph definition of what an “America First Foreign Policy” might entail. Even though the White House hasn’t posted any press releases about Cuba – let’s not be confused. The dismantling of the Obama Cuba policy has already begun.
It took place last week and this week in hearing rooms on Capitol Hill:
- When Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson testified that Cuba has yet to be held accountable for its record on human rights, and told Senators he would review whether Cuba should have been removed from the U.S. list of State Sponsors of Terrorism;
- When Governor Nikki Haley, Ambassador-designate to the United Nations, told Senators she’d use U.S. funding of the UN as leverage against Cuba’s and China’s participation on the Human Rights Council; and,
- When General James Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee there should be “no” military-to-military engagement with Cuba. And when the Committee posed the question, “Do you think it would be beneficial to U.S. Security Interests to seek to cooperate in areas of overlap?” The General, whose nomination to be Secretary of Defense was confirmed today by the Senate, replied “Significant differences between the U.S. and Cuba would have to be addressed before I could recommend that the Department of Defense explore security cooperation with its Cuban counterparts.”
Do we expect further action on Cuba, later today or soon? We do.
Our friend Chris Sabatini, editor of LatinAmericaGoesGlobal.org, did a first-rate job identifying and profiling top members of the Trump Latin America Transition Team. You can read about them here. These folks, with ample backgrounds as anti-communists who oppose the Castro government, didn’t land at U.S. agencies for window dressing. We will be hearing from them in due course, and we expect their labors to vindicate the President’s promises to march normalization backward.
We just don’t know how far or how fast.
In the meanwhile, however, if General Mattis is interested in ironing out the differences he sees between the U.S. and Cuba, Ambassador Cabañas is pretty easy to reach.
Mr. Secretary, you can find him on Twitter.
This week, in Cuba news…
After reestablishing relations, bilateral diplomacy produced 22 agreements before Obama Administration ended
This week, representatives from the U.S. and Cuba signed memoranda of understanding on law enforcement, maritime and air search and rescue efforts, plant and animal health, as well as an accord setting maritime territorial boundaries in the Gulf of Mexico, which is subject to U.S. Senate approval.
Since December 17th, 2014, when Presidents Obama and Castro announced their decision to restore bilateral diplomatic relations, a total of 22 such agreements were reached between Cuba and the United States before the Obama administration’s term in office came to an end on Friday, January 20th.
Signed January 16th, the memorandum of understanding on law enforcement lays the groundwork for further bilateral dialogue, cooperation, and technical exchanges on counter-narcotics, money laundering and fraud, human smuggling, and counterterrorism efforts. Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, Chargé D’Affaires for the U.S. Embassy in Havana and Vice Admiral Julio César Gandarilla, Cuba’s Minister of the Interior, signed the agreement in Havana; Ben Rhodes, President Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor, a key figure in the secret negotiations leading to the December 17th 2014 breakthrough, was also present.
On January 17th, the U.S. and Cuba signed a cooperation accord for air and maritime search and rescue in the Florida Straits, Reuters reports. As OnCuba Magazine notes, the search-and-rescue accord strengthens the bilateral Operational Procedure for Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue, in place since 2013.
Later that day, diplomats from Mexico, Cuba, and the U.S. signed a treaty determining the maritime boundary between the three countries, Reuters reports. As we reported last summer, representatives from the U.S., Cuba, and Mexico held technical meetings in July to move toward delineating the boundaries of the oil- and gas-rich Eastern Gap, also referred to as the “Doughnut Hole,” in the Gulf of Mexico. The U.S. and Mexico already had an agreement regarding this area. International law grants countries control over resources in oceans within 200 nautical miles of their shores, but because the Eastern Gap affects territory of all three nations and has no obvious boundaries, it is up to the countries to determine the boundaries and claims to resources. As the Washington Post notes, the treaty will not take effect until the U.S. Senate approves it. On January 8th, the U.S. and Cuba signed an agreement pledging cooperation on oil spill cleanup and prevention in shared waters.
Finally, on January 19, the U.S. and Cuba signed their 22nd agreement since reestablishing relations, a plant and animal health accord between Cuba’s Ministry of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, according to a statement from Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This agreement builds on the initial memorandum of understanding signed last March between the USDA and its Cuban counterpart.
Former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, nominee for Secretary of Agriculture, has history of supporting Cuba trade
Former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, President Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Agriculture, has favored increased trade with Cuba, and traveled to Cuba on a trade mission with Georgia business and agriculture leaders in 2010 while he was still in office. As Politico notes, Mr. Perdue’s pro-engagement stance on Cuba differs from the position that President Trump took toward the conclusion of his campaign. On January 13, Rep. Rick Crawford (AR-1) reintroduced a bill that would allow the U.S. to extend credit to Cuba for purchases of agricultural goods. Mr. Perdue’s confirmation hearing has not yet been set.
Premier Automotive Export Ltd., the U.S. subsidiary of the Cayman Islands-based car company Cayman Automotive, is expected to begin shipping U.S.-built cars to Cuba this month, making it the first to receive a U.S. Department of Commerce license to do so, reports the Cayman Compass. The first shipment of Nissan Leaf electric cars will go to the Embassy of Guyana in Havana. John Felder, head of the company, told the Cayman Compass that he is working with the New Jersey-based company Advanced Solar Products to set up 50 charging locations in Havana for electric cars.
Department of Homeland Security to allow Cuban medical professionals to complete in-process migration proceedings
Separately, the Miami Herald reports that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced January 19 that Cuban doctors who had begun proceedings under the Cuban Medical Professional Parole program prior to its repeal at 5:00 p.m. January 12 may complete the process of immigrating to the U.S. According to the Miami Herald, the move affects “hundreds of doctors in third countries” who were in the process of applying for parole to the U.S.
The Spanish hotel chain Iberostar and the Cuban state enterprise AT Comercial have received permission from Cuba’s government to form a joint venture, Logística Hotelera del Caribe, which will operate out of the Mariel Special Development Zone, importing and distributing goods for the hotel industry, reports Cuba Standard. Iberostar, which runs 11 hotels on the island, controls 70 percent of the joint venture; according to Cuba Standard, the joint venture will also export hotel-industry goods produced in Cuba throughout the Caribbean.
Top diplomatic negotiator in Cuba warns Trump: ‘aggression doesn’t work,’ Helen Yaffe and Jonathan Watts, The Guardian
In an interview with The Guardian, Josefina Vidal, Director General of the U.S. Department of Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, offered the new U.S. president advice for continuing to advance U.S.-Cuba relations: “Aggression, pressure, conditions, impositions do not work with Cuba. This is not the way to attempt to have even a minimally civilized relationship with Cuba.” Ms. Vidal also highlighted U.S.-Cuba collaborations that have had broader effects beyond the two countries, such as working together to combat Ebola in Africa and drug trafficking and illnesses like Zika in the Western Hemisphere.
Academics race to save rare colonial documents in Cuba, Chris Gillette, Associated Press
Scholars from the U.S. are working with the Cuban Catholic Church to digitize and preserve a trove of nearly 2 million colonial-era documents on the island, many of which have been stored in churches for centuries and hold new information on the slave trade and early U.S.-Cuba relations. Since 2005, David Lefevor, professor of history at the University of Texas at Arlington, and his brother Matthew Lefevor, professor of geography at the University of Alabama, have preserved and digitized millions of documents in Cuba; they told the AP that looser U.S. travel restrictions have facilitated their work over the last year.