U.S. Department of State
For Immediate Release September 23, 2020
SPECIAL BRIEFING VIA TELEPHONE
September 23, 2020
The Miami Hub
Moderator: Greetings to everyone from the U.S. Department of State. I would like to welcome our participants who have dialed in from the United States and across the region. This is an on-the-record conference call with Carrie Filipetti, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. DAS Filipetti will discuss U.S. policy on Cuba. She will give opening remarks and then answer questions from participating journalists.
And with that, I’ll turn it over to DAS Filipetti for your opening remarks. Please go ahead, ma’am.
DAS Filipetti: Thank you so much, Cassidy. And thank you to everyone for joining us for this special briefing.
Today the U.S. Government has taken very significant action on its policy to support the Cuban people by denying income to the Cuban regime, and it’s been channeling that spending towards the Cuban people, where it belongs. The action we took is that the State Department is releasing our new Cuba Prohibited Accommodation, or CPA, list. You can find that list on the State Department’s website and in the Federal Register in the coming days.
Now, this list includes 433 properties at the current time, all of which have some affiliation with the Cuban regime or regime insiders. It builds upon the Cuba restricted list, which includes multiple properties specifically affiliated with the Cuban security, military, or intelligence services. Now the Cuban Prohibited Accommodations List builds on this by adding additional properties with affiliations with other parts of the Cuban regime. If new properties open, existing properties are renamed, or if we identify properties not named on this initial publication of the list, we will publish updates in the Federal Register and on the website.
To coincide with this important new document, OFAC has also released new regulations that prohibit travelers subject to U.S. jurisdiction from lodging, paying for lodging, or making reservations for lodging at properties on this new CPA list. Ands currently, the Treasury Department today took action to prohibit the importation of Cuban rum and tobacco to the United States, and to further restrict lawful travel to Cuba by prohibiting travel to Cuba for professional meetings and conferences as well as for certain competitions, performances, and other events.
The U.S. policy, as you know, is laid out in NSPM-5, and that document notes in part the restricting sources of income that disproportionately benefit the Cuban regime. As we all know, the Cuban regime and military dominate Cuba’s hospitality, rum, and tobacco industries. This fact is rooted in the Castro regime’s theft of billions of dollars of private property decades ago, and the regime’s continued stranglehold over these industries funds its continued repressive policies. The regime uses the income from its hotels, from rum and cigar industries to fund its repressive security apparatus and military, which beats, tortures, and imprisons Cubans and funds the regime’s interference in Venezuela to prop up the illegitimate Maduro regime, essentially treating Venezuela as Cuba’s colony.
We want people who are considering travel to Cuba or who are considering purchasing products from the island to be aware that their money is funding repression while going to a rich regime insider who doesn’t believe the Cuban people should have a say in their country. Fortunately, there is an alternative. As many of you know, independent entrepreneurs, or cuentapropistas, run private, small-scale B&Bs called casas particulares out of their homes. The regime’s arbitrary and capricious policies prevent these hardworking Cuban entrepreneurs from reaching their true potential in creating jobs and caring for their families. These are the same – these are some of the ordinary Cubans that this administration’s policy seeks to lift up while we simultaneously deny resources to the regime.
Today’s regulatory changes will ensure that U.S. travelers support casas particulares and not regime-run resort hotels, and will also ensure that American consumers do not inadvertently undermine the well-being and democratic aspirations of the Cuban people by consuming regime rum or tobacco or traveling for purposes that benefit the Cuban regime.
And now I would be very happy to take any of your questions.
Moderator: Thank you very much. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call. For those asking questions, please state your name and affiliation, and limit yourself to one question related to the topic of today’s briefing, which is U.S. policy on Cuba. Our first question will go to Nora Gamez with The Miami Herald. Nora, please go ahead.
Question: Hi. Thank you so much for doing this, Carrie. I have one question. Is there any casa particular included in the list? For example, if they are linked to a military official or a government official?
DAS Filipetti: Sure, Nora. That is a fantastic question. Actually, some casas particulares have been included on this list. None of the legitimately independent casas particulares have been included in the CPA list, but some, as you point out, are owned or controlled by the Cuban government. And so we have used a variety of resources to identify whether or not these casas particulares are independent, and if they are not, they have been included on the list.
Question: Thank you.
Moderator: Thank you. For our next question we’ll take one we received in advance, from Dean Luis from Diario de Cuba. And his question is: “What actions do you think the U.S. Government should take with respect to the Cuban Government after the UN report that denounced crimes against humanity committed by the Maduro regime in Venezuela became known? This, taking into account that Cuba is a close ally and has a high responsibility for these crimes.”
DAS Filipetti: Well, it’s a fantastic question, and Dean’s point is a great one, which is that we know two things. We know that nothing happens in Venezuela without the explicit consent of the Maduro regime and its senior ministers. Right? That was something that the fact-finding mission uncovered. We separately know that nothing that the Maduro regime does is done without the explicit consent and approval and sometimes direction of the Cuban regime. So when we get the report that the Maduro regime is responsible for crimes against humanity, it follows that, frankly, the Cuban regime is also responsible for those same crimes against humanity.
We’re going to spend the remainder of this year highlighting the fact-finding mission’s report, making sure that we work with allies, try to see the mandate of the fact-finding mission continue through another two years, and really ensure that we are fighting for the people of Venezuela and the people of Cuba in their fight for democracy in their country.
Moderator: Thank you. Our next question will go to Matt Spetalnick with Reuters. Matt, your line is open. Please go ahead.
Question: Thank you very much. I guess the question that comes very quickly to mind is: Why now? The timing is so close to the November 3rd election. I mean, can this be taken in any way as a kind of way of reaching out to the Cuban American voters in Florida, a very important state?
DAS Filipetti: Matt, thanks for the question. So this has been something that has been in process for quite some time. I have been in this position for about two years and it really started quite early on in that process. All of these things require a number of different approvals, working closely to make sure that we’re not adding any entities on this list that would be independent or wouldn’t be considered controlled by the Cuban regime. So the timing was simply that we were able to get all of this done in working closely with OFAC, coordinating with the NSC and so on.
So there is no nexus to any domestic issue; it just happened to be when we were able to finalize all this important work.
Moderator: Thank you. The next question will go to Beatriz Pascual with EFE.
Question: Hi. Thank you very much. I just wanted to ask – you mentioned, Ms. Filipetti, at the beginning, the number of properties that are affected by this. I think you mentioned 433, but I wanted to make sure about that number. And also I was wondering if you had had any contact with the Spanish Government as far as some hotels in the island in partnership with the Cuban Government, if there have been any contacts with the Spanish Government. Thank you.
DAS Filipetti: Thanks, Beatriz. So yes, the number is correct: 433 hotels and resorts are part of this new CPA. And of course, we are always coordinating with the Spanish Government. We did not inform partners of this particular change. It deals with individuals from U.S. jurisdictions, obviously. We will, of course, follow up with all of our international partners, including those that have hotel chains. But as we’ve said numerous times to those partners, it’s very important that we not prioritize commercial interests over moral principles and moral values. And as we’ve seen time and time again, these hotels are often used in order to enrich the Cuban military, to enrich the Cuban intelligence services, and of course, to enrich regime insiders all at the expense of the Cuban people.
And so we’re hoping that because we are encouraging people to stay at casas particulares, the clear intent of improving the conditions on the island, improving the access of the Cuban people to legitimate sources of income despite the regime’s attempts to prohibit that, will be very well received by our international partners, including by Spain.
Moderator: Thank you. The next question will go to Patrick Oppmann from CNN. Patrick, your line is open. Please go ahead.
Question: Hi there. Thank you. I was wondering what you thought the practical impacts of this will be in the short term, because as you’re no doubt aware, there are no Americans visiting Cuba right now because of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s been that way for months or so, tourism of any kind, all commercial air travel has been suspended between the U.S. and Cuba. So what’s this really going to change?
DAS Filipetti: Sure, Patrick. Well, of course, our priority is making sure that every announcement that we make has a tangible impact. And while you’re correct that tourism has decreased significantly to essentially nothing to Cuba because of the pandemic, this is a new policy that will continue even past the pandemic. And it’s important to note that this administration has focused on hitting the regime’s main sources of income. Obviously, tourism is among the top three sources of income for the regime, and so we’re hoping this will have two effects.
Number one, we’re hoping that this will help deny the regime income from people going to these hotels, obviously once tourism starts picking back up internationally and once people again start traveling to Cuba. The second thing that we hope it does is really encourage people to stay at casas particulares. These are wonderful bed and breakfasts that are run by the Cuban people that often people don’t think about when they’re going to Cuba for one of the categories of lawful travel. And so we are hoping that Americans will continue – that Americans who are going to Cuba will continue to spend their dollars to support the Cuban people, which is by staying in these casas particulares. So those are the two objectives that we’re hoping for over the long term.
Moderator: Thank you. Our next question will go to Tom O’Connor with Newsweek Magazine. Tom, your line is open. Please go ahead.
Question: Hi. Thank you very, very much for having this. My question is: With a lot of talk recently that the United Nations is worried about the U.S. taking unilateral actions on the world stage, is there any fear that this could be seen as one of those unilateral moves that does not enjoy international support? Thank you very much.
DAS Filipetti: Thanks, Tom. Well, I think, again, the intention behind this is very clear, which is that while we are denying Americans and those under U.S. jurisdictions from going to hotels that are controlled by the regime, we are encouraging those who are engaged in lawful travel to support the Cuban people. We are encouraging them to stay in casas particulares. And again, this a clear way where the Cuban people can benefit from those who are going to the island for legitimate purposes. And so I think that there will be a lot of interest and support in this. It shows that we are focused on not just one aspect of NSPM-5, which is of course to deny resources to the Cuban regime, but also on that second aspect that is laid out so clearly, which is enabling the Cuban people to once again thrive in their own lives. And so this is one step, one necessary step, to getting the Cuban people closer to that objective.
Moderator: Thank you. The next question will go to Gabriela Perozo from VPI TV. Gabi, go ahead. Your line is open.
Gabriela Perozo, you’re up next. I’m not sure if you might be on mute.
Question: Hello? I’m here. Can you hear me?
Moderator: Yes, we can. Please go ahead with your question.
Question: Can you hear me?
DAS Filipetti: Yes. Can you hear us?
Question: Okay. I’m sorry. Is there any way that United States can stop Maduro from sending gasoline to Cuba? And I have another question. Is it a coincidence that Vice President Pence contacted President Guaido, and before that, the Secretary of State has traveled to Brazil and Colombia? Could a joint regional plan take place against Cuban and Venezuela dictatorships? Thank you.
DAS Filipetti: Thanks, Gabriela. So on your first question about ways that we can try to stop the Maduro team from shipping gasoline to Cuba, this is something that is already considered illegal. Also, under Venezuela law, the National Assembly of Venezuela, which was legitimately elected – it remains the only legitimately democratic institution in Venezuela – passed a law that indicated that oil, gasoline, et cetera, could not be shipped from Venezuela to Cuba. So this is being done not only in defiance of some international policies including the United States sanctions against PDVSA, but it is also very clearly against the sovereign law of Venezuela itself. So we have been working with the Guaido government on trying to stop this.
We also have been very clearly highlighting the fact that Venezuela is also in a gasoline crisis at this moment. All of the gasoline that is shipped to Cuba is gasoline that the people of Venezuela themselves need. So it shows once again that the Maduro regime is more interested in paying off its puppet masters, which are the Cuban regime, than it is in addressing some of the problems systemic inside Venezuela. So it’s a very critical issue, and we’re going to continue to focus on ensuring that we stop this illegal trade.
When it comes to your second question about the recent visit by the Secretary of State to the region as well as the Vice President’s conversation with President Guaido, this is a reflection of the continued United States support for the interim president, what he’s going through with leading the National Assembly and the opposition through what is clearly a sham so-called election for December 6th. They are working incredibly hard to fight the dictatorship.
We want to continue to show our support to them as well as to show our support to the region to understand and appreciate the concerns that are being faced by Venezuela’s neighbors, including Guyana, including Brazil, and others – to understand exactly how they’ve been affected by the Maduro regime’s economic mismanagement, by the 5 million-plus Venezuelan refugees that have fled because of the Maduro regime, so that we can better serve them as partners and as allies going forward.
Moderator: Thank you. Our next question will go to Carla Angola with EVTV Miami. Carla, please go ahead.
Question: Thank you so much and good afternoon. Thank you, Mrs. Filipetti. Carla Angola, EVTV in Miami. My question is related to this report from UN. Maduro has just been exposed to the Human Rights Council a few minutes ago as a human rights violator, crimes that are ongoing and that continue to be committed now as we speak. Beyond their recommendations, how arrest warrants, for example, are executed in practice that may arise from different countries? What can be done now so that those responsible for these crimes is stopped, their atrocities, and pay for what they have done? Thank you much.
DAS Filipetti: Thank you, Carla. It’s great to hear from you. Obviously, as mentioned earlier, this fact-finding mission report is incredibly groundbreaking. It shows, from an independent institution respected by the international community like the UN, is itself highlighting that there are crimes against humanity happening in Venezuela. And not only crimes against humanity on an ad hoc basis, but they are happening systematically. They are happening with the consent and in fact directed by the Maduro regime, its top ministers and Nicolas Maduro himself.
I think this is incredibly important. It does a number of things. First and foremost, there have been many countries that have highlighted the importance of sovereignty, and they use this to hide behind the fact that they don’t want to get involved in Venezuela. I think seeing exactly what the Maduro regime is doing to its own people, constituting crimes against humanity, is something that will get many of these countries that don’t want to overly influence another country but do care deeply about human rights to get more involved and more aggressive on this issue.
I also think, secondly, it highlights the importance of continuing the mandate of the fact-finding mission. Of course the United States is not on the Human Rights Council for obvious reasons, well-known reasons, and reasons that are simply reinforced by the fact that Cuba is again seeking a spot on the Human Rights Council and probably stands to be elected. We are very interested in the Human Rights Council passing yet another mandate for the fact-finding mission so it can get further details and more information that can be used to ensure that there is accountability.
Third, specifically to your accountability question, what the fact-finding mission does is it highlights specific individuals who are involved in specific crimes. Now, this is information that is incredibly important both to the United States but also to our European partners, many of whom need open source information in order to pursue specific economic sanctions against individuals. And in this case, I think there’s a lot of fodder in the fact-finding mission that will help our international allies consider additional pressure options. And we’re working closely with them on that as well.
As you also know, there is already put forward by a number of regional allies a case in the International Criminal Court. This is something that the United States has not been involved in. Again, we have specific policies on the International Criminal Court and concerns about the court itself. But it is interesting to note that it’s our understanding that this fact-finding mission report will likely also be finding its way to the ICC from some of these partner countries that have already put forward a case.
So I think accountability is especially important, and those are a few of the options, a few of the ideas that we’re working on to try to turn what is a report into real action.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Unfortunately, that’s all the time we have for questions today. I want to thank DAS Filipetti for joining us and thank all of our callers for participating. If you have any questions about today’s call, you may contact the Miami Media Hub at MiamiHub@state.gov. Thank you and have a good day.