Another Way of Looking at the US embargo on Cuba
By Henry G. Delforn*
HAVANA TIMES – That’s right, you are not Cuban even if you were born there… you may think you’re Cuban, but the fact is that if you live in the United States you are not of Cuban nationality, not because Cuban law strips your nationality, but stripped by rule of US law codified in the Cuban Assets Control Regulations of the Cuban embargo.
This is what the late Ricardo Alarcon was actually trying to tell the late Jorge Mas Canosa in the 1996 debate between the godfather of the modern era Cuban embargo in Miami and the president of the Cuban National Assembly in La Habana. Alarcon unsuccessfully tried to raise the debate issue of the US embargo law that had stripped Mas Canosa’s Cuban nationality.
While at the time the Sun Sentinel newspaper made this particular issue of not being Cuban their key reporting issue  of the entire 54-minute debate and accurately reported the “…he’s not Cuban” statement despite Mas Canosa being born in Santiago de Cuba on 21 September 1939, the South Florida newspaper tragically failed to go into why he was not Cuban and why Alarcon had raised the issue in the first place. Let’s now say why.
Jorge Mas Canosa passed away one year after the 1996-debate in 1997 with a net worth of over $100 million. He was a 1960 exile businessman who founded the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), an anti-Castro faction lobby. The man was highly driven, accomplished, and controversial to say the least. The facts speak for themselves in a Google search. Most importantly, Mas Canosa influenced US policy toward Cuba. Congressman Torricelli credited Mas Canosa with aiding him in the design of the 1994 Cuban Democracy Act and the ‘Helms’-Burton Act, the modern era Cuban embargo. So it’s assumed, to put it mildly, that Jorge Mas Canosa was familiar, if not intimately familiar, with the laws governing the embargo against Cuba. That’s the assumption. But was he?
I’m of the opinion that, yes, he was intimately familiar with embargo laws. And say so only because if he was not familiar with embargo laws then Alarcon’s accusation of not being Cuban would have been rebutted in the form of questioning Alarcon about his legal reference. But he did not, he knew, he accepted the legality of stripping Cubans of their nationality by embargo law. Mas Canosa did not defend the attack with rule of law, laws he was intimately familiar with, instead Mas Canosa defended the Alarcon’s attack with Cubanidad, Cubaneo, and Cubanía.
In an interview with the LA Times, Mas Canosa was asked if he had assimilated into US culture to which he responded: “I have never assimilated. I never intended to. I am a Cuban first. I live here only as an extension of Cuba. I live a Cuban life here. My friends, my social activities, they are all Cuban”.
It is only when a US resident returns to live in Cuba that the US recognizes your illegally stripped Cuban nationality. If anything, Jorge Mas Canosa was a Cuban patriot. I can only imagine the profound sorrow of a Cuban patriot having to live in a foreign country that strips the very being of your soul. In this respect, one would assume he lived an US life of quiet desperation (Thoreau) but in an incarnation of exactly the opposite with all things Cuban.
In November 1997 CNN reported that the 58-year-old Jorge Mas Canosa had died of complications from lung cancer in Miami, but I don’t think so, I think he died of a broken heart, a broken Cuban heart unrecognized as such by US embargo laws established to “bring about hunger and desperation”, per US State Dept. in April 1960, in the country that formed his identity and the country he so dearly loved. Jorge Mas Canosa was emotionally defeated by the very laws he helped draft, there’s no greater irony for this man. I believe he died because of this torment.
Stripping a person of Cuban nationality is an act of national origin discrimination requiring a strict-scrutiny judicial review with compelling govt interest in the US court system. It is contrary to Article 15 part 2 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights that states, “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality” . There are abundant precedents in US case law on citizenship, not to be confused with nationality.
How did it start? Cubans residing in the US were first stripped of their Cuban nationality under president Kennedy and later expanded to apply extraterritorially to all Cubans residing outside Cuba under Obama. The US federal codes that strip Cuban nationality are authorized by the near-obsolete 1917 Trading With the Enemy Act. TWEA no longer strips nationality of any other national-origin group; it’s only applied to Cubans. Not North Koreans, not Iranians, only Cubans. IEEPA has ‘replaced’ the racist TWEA for all other nationalities.
How is nationality actually stripped? It is done by wordy code that circularly references a definition with a general license. This general license is perpetual and mandatory for all Cubans, hence unconstitutional, and is part of the licensing scheme in 31 CFR Part 515 of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations . Specifically, the definition of an unblocked national in § 515.307 and unblocked Cuban nationals in § 515.505. In essence, what these two intertwined sections say is that Cubans in the US are persons no longer nationals of Cuba – by definition! Basically, you are not Cuban because we say so. That was Alarcon’s point .
(*) Guest author Henry G. Delforn is an investor (Cuban-born US citizen who enjoys his independent political affiliation liberties).