FPI Bulletin: Suggested Questions for SFRC Hearing on Cuba

May 19, 2015

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing tomorrow morning on the way forward in U.S.-Cuba relations.  Roberta Jacobson, the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, and Thomas Shannon, the Counselor of the State Department, will testify.

The Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) is closely monitoring the latest developments in U.S.-Cuba relations, and believes that the following questions will be useful for lawmakers and their staff as they prepare for this important hearing.

Cuba’s Human Rights Record

On Sunday, April 26, nearly 100 members and supporters of the human rights group Ladies in White were arrested and suffered abuse at the hands of the Cuban police.  Between February and March of this year, Cuba has increased the number of politically motivated arrests by 70%. There have reportedly been 15,000 political arrests since the administration began secret negotiations with the Castro regime in June 2013, and 2,500 since the President’s December speech on U.S.-Cuban relations.

  • Can you detail in what ways, if any, the United States has expressed its disapproval of these actions to Cuban officials?
  • Would you agree that the administration’s outreach to the Castro regime has thus far had no effect on Havana’s harassment and imprisonment of dissidents?

In February 2015, Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee that U.S. policy prior to December 17, 2014 “had become such an irritant” with Latin America states and our European allies that we are now enabled “to work more effectively with them in bringing about that support [for democracy and human rights] in Cuba.” 

  • Can you detail what actions the Obama administration has taken to rally Latin American states and our European allies to press Cuba for democratic change and respect for human rights?
  • In light of Havana’s ongoing harassment and detainment of dissidents and activists, would you agree that these efforts have been ineffective?

Havana’s Harboring of Terrorists and Fugitives

The most-recent State Department Country Report on Terrorism noted that “The Cuban government continued to harbor fugitives wanted in the United States. The Cuban government also provided support such as housing, food ration books, and medical care for these individuals.” 

  • In total, how many fugitives does Cuba continue to harbor, and for how long have these individuals been harbored by Havana?  How many of these can be described as violent terrorists? What, specifically, are these fugitives wanted for?
  • Why did the Obama administration not insist that these individuals be returned to U.S. custody as a pre-requisite for removing Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list?
  • These fugitives include members of FARC , the terrorist organization that has been battling the Colombian government for the past 50 years.  Can you likewise describe Cuba’s past and present support for FARC?  How many FARC members does Cuba currently shelter?

The Spanish government requested in March that the United States use the removal of Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terrorism list to help secure the return of two leaders of the Basque ETA terrorist  group to Madrid.

  • Can you confirm for this committee that these ETA leaders remain in Cuba?  How many more members of the ETA are being sheltered by the Castro regime?

Under the Anti-Terrorism and Arms Export Amendments Act of 1989, a country can only be removed from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list if “there has been a fundamental change in the leadership and policies of the government of the country concerned; that government is not supporting acts of international terrorism; and that government has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.”

  • In light of Havana’s continued harboring of fugitives and terrorists, can you say that there has there been a “fundamental change in the leadership and policies” of the Castro regime?
  • The State Department’s review of Cuba’s status as a state sponsor of terrorism focused narrowly only the question of whether or not the Castro regime is “not supporting acts of international terrorism.”  Can you please explain how Cuba’s current sheltering of these fugitives and terrorists does not constitute support for terrorism?

Cuban Support for the Venezuelan Government

The Guardian reported last year that Cuban officials are training and improving many elements of the Venezuelan government, including the intelligence services. 

  • Can you detail for this committee the breadth, depth, and duration of Cuba’s cooperation with the Chavez and Maduro governments? How valuable has Havana’s assistance been for Caracas?

Cuban officials have reportedly been involved in the Venezuelan government’s recent crackdown of pro-democracy demonstrators.  This repression, as you know, prompted the Obama administration to issue sanctions against current and former Venezuelan officials, citing the “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States” these actions posed.

  • Can you detail how many Cuban agents have previously worked with and are currently working with Venezuela to suppress domestic opposition and bolster their security services?
  • Why did the Obama administration not insist that Cuba cease its support for the Venezuelan regime’s anti-opposition activities as a pre-requisite for its removal from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list?
  • In light of Havana’s support of the Venezuelan crackdown, can you say that there has there been a “fundamental change in the leadership and policies” of the Castro regime, pursuant to U.S. law?

The Washington-based Center for a Secure Free Society reports that a Cuban state owned-enterprise provided Venezuela advanced technology that it used to provide 173 individuals from the Middle East with identification cards that are extremely difficult to trace.

  • Can you confirm the Center’s findings?
  • What risk do these 173 people pose to regional and international security? 
  • Can you explain what Cuba’s objective is in providing such sensitive technology to Venezuela?

Cuba’s International Arms Deals

In July 2013, Panamanian authorities stopped the vessel Chong Chon Gang, which was carrying arms and equipment to North Korea that violated multiple U.N. Security Council Resolutions.  As a March 2014 U.N. report noted, the equipment included: “six trailers associated with surface-to-air missile systems and 25 shipping containers loaded with two disassembled MiG-21 aircraft, 15 engines for MiG-21 aircraft, components for surface-to-air missile systems, ammunition and miscellaneous arms-related materiel.”  The report added “This constituted the largest amount of arms and related materiel interdicted to or from [North] Korea since the adoption of resolution 1718” in 2006.

  • Can you detail for this committee Cuba’s association with North Korea, and Havana’s history of arms sales with Pyongyang?
  • For what purpose did Cuba purchase this equipment, in light of the absence of any threat to the country in the Americas?
  • Does the Obama administration believe that Cuba will not purchase any more of such arms and equipment from North Korea or any other willing seller?

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The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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