Since its first days in office, the Trump administration has openly talked about going to war with Venezuela for its oil and ousting Venezuela President, Nicolas Maduro. To this end, the Trump administration has employed a variety of destabilising tactics and actions against Venezuela, including imposing severe economic sanctions, endorsing and providing support to Venezuela National Assembly President, Juan Guiado, who has asserted that he, not Maduro, who was democratically elected, is the President of Venezuela, and attempting to launch a so-called “humanitarian intervention” from the boarders of Colombia into Venezuela.
Falsely blaming Cuba for the “humanitarian crisis” in Venezuela, the Trump administration in recent weeks has also retched up the US’s regime change efforts against the existing government in Cuba. In particular, the Trump administration has for the first time since the enactment of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act (also known as the Helms-Burton Act) opted not to suspend Title III of Helms-Burton, changed the B2 visa policies for Cuban citizens and threaten to impose sanctions on countries that facilitate the shipment of oil from Venezuela to Cuba. In effect, the United States actions, in heightening its destabilising efforts against Venezuela and Cuba, are tantamount to a declaration of war against Venezuela and Cuba and their peoples in violation of international law and the constitution and laws of the United States.
Truthfully speaking, the US efforts to effectuate regime change in Venezuela are not new as they date back to the reign of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. The Trump administration, however, has not just continued these efforts, but significantly escalated them. In particular, Trump and other members of his administration have openly talked about going to war with Venezuela for its oil and ousting Maduro. The US has no legal basis for attacking Venezuela as international law forbids the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state. There are two generally acceptable exceptions to the United Nations Charter’s mandate: self-defence and authorisation by the UN Security Council; neither of which have been met with respect to Venezuela. In addition, an unprovoked US attack on Venezuela would also violate Article 1, Section 8 of the US Constitution, which provides in pertinent part that “The Congress shall have the Power …To declare war…” and the War Powers Act. See 50 USC 154 et seq.
Indeed, in response to the Trump administration’s war-mongering threats against Venezuela, Representative David Cicilline (D -RI) on 6 February 2019 introduced a resolution in the House – H.R. 1004, titled “Prohibiting Unauthorised Military Act in Venezuela Act.” H.R. 1004 provides in pertinent part that: “None of the funds authorised to be appropriated or otherwise made available to the Department of Defence or to any other Federal department or agency may be used to introduce the Armed Forces of the United States into hostilities with respect to Venezuela, except pursuant to –(1) a declaration of war; (2) a specific statutory authorisation described in subsection (b); or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions or the Armed Forces.” Subsection (b) states that, “A specific authorisation described in this subsection is an authorisation that – (1) meets the requirements of the War Powers Resolution… (2) is enacted after the date of the enactment of this Act.” H.R. 1004 is supported by several members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) – Yvette Clarke, Barbara Lee, Eleanor H. Norton, and Llhan Omar. We urge the members of the CBC who have not yet signed on to H.R. 1004 to do so and to encourage other members of the House of Representatives to do so as well.
Further, the Trump administration has resorted to a variety of destabilising tactics and actions against Venezuela in the hope of fostering a coup in the country. These tactics and actions, as previously mentioned, include the imposition of the severe economic sanctions on Venezuela that have reportedly cost Venezuela over 30 billion dollars; endorsing, advising and otherwise supporting Guido’s claim to the presidency, and attempted to launch an “humanitarian intervention” from the boarder of Colombia that was opposed by the Red Cross and others.
Maduro, not Guido, is the legitimate president of Venezuela. In the last election in Venezuela, in 2018, Maduro won over 60 percent of the vote. In addition, Maduro is recognised by 141 countries, among them most African and Caribbean nations, while Guido is recognised by 48 countries. The Trump administration, in light of the widespread, direct and indirect attempts to prevent or suppress African-Americans especially and other people of colour from voting and the alleged interference in the election by foreign countries and entities favouring Trump, is hardly in the position to criticise electoral outcomes of any foreign nation, including Venezuela. See e.g., Carol Anderson, One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying Our Democracy (Bloomsburg Publishing 2018). We urge the members of the CBC to speak out against the Trump administration’s support of Guido, and to support Maduro.
Virtually since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in January 1959, the United has unsuccessfully sought through a variety of covert and overt means to overthrow the Cuban government. Most infamously the US attempted to assassinate former Cuban President Fidel Castro over 500 times. Many of these failed assassination attempts were detailed in the Church’s Committee’s November 1975 interim report on Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders. See US Congress. Senate. Select Committee to Study Government Operations with Respect to Intelligence Agencies Activities. Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders, Interim Report, 94th Congress, 1st Session, 1975 at pages 71 to 179.
Overtly, the US most criminally, has imposed and strengthened an economic blockade, first imposed nearly 60 years ago during the Eisenhower administration. Notwithstanding steadily growing opposition to the blockade internationally and domestically, Congress continued to pass, and presidents signed into law and took other actions to stiffen the blockade, in the hope of starving the Cuban people into rebellion. During the most recent vote in the United Nations General Assembly, in 2018, on a resolution condemning the blockade, 189 of the 193 of the members of that body voted in favour of the resolution. Two countries, the United States and Israel, voted against the resolution; two countries, Moldova and the Ukraine did not vote.
In 1992, for example, in the midst of the Periodo especial or Special Period in Cuba caused by the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Cuba’s then leading trade partner, Congress passed and then President Clinton signed into law the Cuban Democracy Act (CDA). The CDA, among other things, authorises the president to impose sanctions on any country that provides assistance to Cuba, prohibits vessels that enter a Cuban port from loading or unloading any freight in US ports for 180 days following the departure from Cuba, and most controversially because of its extraterritorial nature prohibits foreign subsidiaries of US countries from doing business with Cuba. See e.g., Kam B. Wong, The Cuban Democracy Act of 1992: The Exterritorial Scope of Section 1706 (a),14 U. P. J. Int’l Bus Law 651 (1994).
In 1996, Congress passed, and then President William Clinton signed into law the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, also known as the Helms-Burton Act. Helms-Burton was widely condemned internationally, including even by US allies because of its limits on the ability of other sovereign nations to trade with Cuba. For example, Helms-Burton was vehemently condemned by both Canada and Mexico, and both countries enacted legislation aimed at blocking or limiting the enforceability of Helms-Burton judgments.See Anthony M. Solis, The Long Arm of U.S. Law: The Helms-Burton Act, 19 Loy. L Int’l and Comp. L. Rev. 709(1997) at pages 726-732.
Title III of Helms-Burton provides US nationals who owned property in Cuba at the time of the Cuban Revolution with a private cause of action to sue in federal district courts any person or entity that knowingly “traffics” or uses property lawfully nationalised by Cuba decades ago. Simply put, Cuba’s nationalisation of these properties was legal because it was carried out in conformity with international and Cuban laws and many of the owners of the nationalised properties had abandoned it while fleeing to the US. Helms-Burton empowers the president to suspend Title III in six- month periods. As previously mentioned, every president since the enactment of Helms-Burton, mindful of the tensions its activation would cause with other nations, including US allies, has suspended its operation twice a year. See e.g., Peter McKenna, Opinion: Trump,Cuba and Helms-Burton Revisited, The Guardian, 31 January 2019.
The Trump’s administration decisions to partially activate Title III harkens back to the days of the now discredited Monroe Doctrine as it constitutes unlawful interference and meddling into the internal affairs of a sovereign nation in violation of well settled international laws and principles and should be loudly condemned by the members of the CBC. In addition, this decision will result in the burdening of federal courts with essentially frivolous lawsuits because their judgments will be unenforceable. This is so, first, because the US, to our knowledge, is not a signatory to any international agreement on the reciprocal recognition and enforcement of court judgments. Because the US has not signed such an international instrument, any judgments resulting from Helms-Burton lawsuits will be difficult, if not impossible, to enforce on the basis of comity, particularly in countries with friendly relations with Cuba.
Moreover, as previously noted, in response to Helms-Burton several foreign countries or entities specifically enacted legislation or adopted regulations that render judgements arising under the Helms-Burton Act unenforceable. For example, the European Union Council Regulation No. 2271/96 provides in pertinent part that any “judgment of a court or tribunal . . .[or] of an administrative authority . . .giving effect, directly or indirectly, to the [Helms-Burton Act] or to actions based thereon or resulting there from, shall [not] be recognised or be enforceable in any manner.” See Article 4, EC Regulation 2271/96.
The CBC should also condemn the Trump’s administration cancellation of five-year B2 visas for citizens that allowed for multiple entries for up to three months. As a result of this abrupt change in US policy, which was effective two days after it was announced, Cuban citizens can now only obtain visas for one trip to the United States for a three-month period. In support of this change in policy, the State Department has claimed that the change in policy was taken for reasons of reciprocity because Cuba only issues US citizens single-entry tourist visas allowing a stay of up to three months. Nothing could be further from the truth because the US embassy in Havana is operating with a skeleton crew and last year shut down most of its councillor services, thus compelling Cubans seeking US visas to not only pay US$160 for a US visa, but also pay for travel to and hotels in a third country, often to see their visa application denied. By contrast, Cuban visa application are a mere formality as airlines and travel agencies are authorised to hand out visas to anyone that requests them and pays US$50, as part as part of their purchase of an airline ticket or travel package.
Thousands of Cuban citizens have come to the US on B2 visas to visit their families, shop and engage in cultural or academic exchanges. There are no reasons for them not to continue to do so. In short, the US’s change in its B2 policies with respect to Cuban citizens is unwarranted, mean and cruel. The CBC should speak against the change in B2 visa policy for Cuban citizens.
In conclusion, we ask that the members of CBC do the following:
1) Raise your voices in unity with organisations and activists opposing the Trump administration’s efforts to topple the existing Venezuelan government led by President Maduro by unlawfully, illegally and militarily intervening in Venezuela and to halt its destabilising tactics and actions.
2) Raise your voices in unity with the organisations and activists working to end the now nearly 60 years old Cuban embargo and to normalise relations with Cuba.
3) Hold town hall meetings to discuss the issues raised in this letter with your constituents,
4) Send a CBC fact-finding delegation to both Venezuela and Cuba to look into the issues raised in this letter.
We look forward to hearing from you. Our contact information is below. Thank you in advance for your consideration and response to this letter.
Joan P. Gibbs, Esq., 441A Classon Avenue, Brooklyn, New York 11238
Rosemari Mealy, JD, Ph.D., 9 Revere Place, Brooklyn, NY 11213