Sunday, December 24, 2017

The dog that didn't bark: Obama, Trump and the Cuban Adjustment Act

The devil is in the details, and in the dictatorship in Cuba.

Mariel Boatlift crisis
Florida Keys News reported on December 22, 2017 that "[f]or the second time in three months, Cuban migrants made landfall in the Florida Keys this week." The news report then credits the reduction in the number of refugees to the Obama administration repealing "a decades-old policy treating those fleeing the communist nation as refugees." This blog also documented Cubans trying to reach the United States in May of 2017.

The credit is misplaced. Historically the number of Cubans making landfall in the United States decline under Republican administrations. The Obama Administration claimed to have opened a "new chapter" on Cuba, but in reality it was a reboot of the worst aspects of the Carter and Clinton Administration's Cuba policies that created humanitarian tragedies during both presidencies with Mariel (1980) and the Rafter Crisis (1994 - 1995).

Dictator Fidel Castro and President Jimmy Carter
First Time
The Carter Administration was the first to try normalize relations with the Cuban dictatorship, and both sides opened Interest Sections in their respective capitals between 1977 and 1981. Then from 1981 to 1982, the Castro regime executed approximately 80 prisoners, which was a marked escalation when compared to 1976. Furthermore, during the Carter presidency, Fidel Castro took steps that resulted in the violent deaths of US citizensDuring the Mariel crisis of 1980, when over 125,000 Cubans sought to flee the island, the Cuban dictator sought to save face by selectively releasing approximately 12,000 violent criminals or individuals who were mentally ill into the exodus. This first attempt at normalizing relations saw a worsening human rights situation and migration crisis.

President Bill Clinton with Dictator Raul Castro
Second Time
The Clinton Administration in 1994 initiated regular contacts between the U.S. and Cuban military that included joint military exercises at the Guantanamo Naval base. Despite this improvement of relations the 1990s saw some brutal massacres of Cubans that are rightly remembered such as the July 13, 1994 "13 de Marzo" tugboat massacre and the February 24, 1996 Brothers to the Rescue shoot down. The shoot down involved two planes blown to bits over international airspace by Cuban MiGs killing three American citizens and a Cuban resident who were engaged in the search and rescue of Cuban rafters 

The worsening human rights situation was a contributing factor in the August 1994 rafter crisis in which 35,000 Cubans fled the country. Experts have identified that this was a migration crisis engineered by the Castro regime. The Cuban dictatorship did this because it successfully reasoned that it could coerce the Clinton Administration to the negotiating table to obtain concessions which indeed it did and prolonged the life of the dictatorship for another twenty years.

Dictator Raul Castro with President Barack Obama
Third time 
The Obama Administration beginning in 2009 loosened sanctions on the Castro regime. By December 17, 2014 the Obama administration had freed all five members of the WASP spy network, including Gerardo Hernandez -- who had been serving two life sentences, one of them for conspiracy to murder four members of Brothers to the Rescue, murdered during the previous attempt at normalizing relations during the Clinton Administration. They de-linked the pursuit of full diplomatic relations from the rise in human rights violations in Cuba and in the region by Cuban state security.

The Obama administration doubled down on concessions ignoring the Castro regime's continued sponsorship of terrorism and smuggling of weapons to sanctioned countries in order to take Cuba off the list of state sponsors of terrorism. President Obama is following through on his pledge made at the State of the Union to work for the lifting of economic sanctions on the dictatorship. On his watch human rights worsened with an escalation in arbitrary detentions, violence against activists and prominent opposition leaders, such as Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, who would have been critical for a democratic transition killed in what appear to have been state security operations. 
The Obama administration gutted the Cuban Adjustment Act on January 12, 2017 but it was restricted before in 1994 by the Clinton Administration.  This did not reduce the number of Cubans arriving in the United States then but it did change their composition.

1994 Cuban rafter crisis
How the Clinton Administration undermined the Cuban Adjustment Act in 1994 
The first effort to gut the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act  was initiated by President Bill Clinton who on August 19, 1994 stopped bringing Cuban refugees picked up on the high seas to the United States and took them to improvised camps on the U.S. Guantanamo Naval Base. This was followed on May 2, 1995 with a further break in past practice when his Attorney General Janet Reno announced: "Effective immediately, Cuban migrants intercepted at sea, attempting to enter the United States or who enter Guantanamo illegally will be taken to Cuba." Never before had U.S. ships returned Cuban refugees to communist Cuba.  

This re-interpretation of the Cuban Adjustment Act in 1995 was done without consulting Congress, without changing the law and was the result of joint agreements between the United States and the Castro regime made public in a joint statement supposedly "to regularize further their migration relationship." This is how the highly irregular Wet Foot Dry Foot policy came into effect. With the Wet Foot Dry Foot the U.S. Coast Guard began to return fleeing Cubans to their captors. 

How the Lottery benefits the Castro regime
But that was not all. As they say the devil was in the details. The agreement with the Castro dictatorship opened up a lottery for Cuban nationals between 18 and 55 years of age in which according to a 2009 report authored by Ruth Ellen Wasem, a specialist in immigration policy at the Congressional Research Service titled "Cuban Migration to the United States: Policy and Trends" they must answer "yes" to "two of the following three questions. Have you completed secondary school or a higher level of education? Do you have at least three years of work experience? Do you have any relatives residing in the United States?" If they win the lottery they must have a medical examination and are "given parole status with a visa that is good for six months." According to the above mentioned report by the Congressional Research Service: "Over the years, there have been reports of barriers the potential Cuban parolees face, such as exorbitantly priced medical exams, exit visa fees, and repercussions for family members who remain in Cuba."

Not stated is that the Castro regime could turn this lottery into a reward mechanism for Cubans loyal to the dictatorship while blocking those who are politically persecuted by the regime. Up to 20,000 Cubans a year can be granted visas through this lottery that has been in place since 1995.

The dog that didn't bark
The Cuban Adjustment Act, in effect from 1966, to address a previous migration crisis did not generate a constant exodus of Cubans. Under the Nixon, Reagan and Bush 41 and Bush 43 presidencies there was not a single Cuban migration crisis. This leads to the question if it is not the Cuban Adjustment Act what other factor could explain the reason for these different migration waves? Under Carter, Clinton and Obama there were overarching efforts to normalize relations, even at the expense of US national interests. Two possibilities that are not mutually exclusive emerge: 1) Cubans believe that the free world will no longer be in solidarity with their desire to be free and in despair they flee. and 2) The Castro regime believes that it can use migration as a weapon to extract concessions from a White House that they perceive as weak and vulnerable. The Obama administration remained silent as U.S. diplomats in Havana suffered brain damage in what appear to have been attacks and continued making concessions.

President Trump meeting with the Cuban diaspora in Miami
This is apparently not the case with the current Administration that immediately complained about the harm being done to U.S. diplomats in February 2017. Furthermore the Trump administration did not seek to whitewash the Castro regime's terrible human rights record. Finally, President Trump's stance on controlling the border and restricting immigration sent a message to the Castro regime that this was not business as usual. This may have more to do with the drop in Cubans arriving on the U.S. shoreline than the Cuban Adjustment Act.

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