Must-Read: Buyer's Remorse on Obama's Cuba Policy

Friday, July 1, 2016
Well-intentioned supporters of Obama's policy -- including poet laureate Richard Blanco -- are realizing that it has little to do with helping the Cuban people and everything to do with unconditionally embracing Castro's regime.

By Fabiola Santiago in The Miami Herald:

American hotel deal with Cuba just helps the oppressors

Mr. President, what’s wrong with this picture?

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide opens the first U.S.-operated hotel in Cuba in more than five decades. But it’s not a joint enterprise between an American firm and a Cuban entrepreneur, the kind that is supposed to benefit from a newly open and friendly U.S.-Cuba policy. The American hospitality giant is in business with the Cuban military, which owns the hotel.

Four Points Sheraton Havana brought to you, American traveler, by the people who repress Cubans.

If the intention of rapprochement is to create opportunities for ordinary Cubans to earn a living independently of their one-party, my-way-or-the-highway system of governance, this venture fails to pass the test.

We’re only shifting from the Castro brothers and family personally enriching themselves through totalitarian rule to the repressive military now doing exactly the same thing. Members of the military and their heirs already own the best paladares in Cuba, like the one where President Obama and his family dined. Now in this deal, they’re also the sole business partners of a top American hospitality travel company.

What I see is Americans trying to make a buck in cahoots with a repressive regime. Same old USA ambition, questionable ethics and double talk. As for engagement, this falls in the same realm as cruise-ship sailings and the imaginary theory that if enough Americans disembark at selected and controlled points and follow a highly structured agenda somehow Cuba is going to magically change for the better.

The State Department explains the Treasury Department approval of the Starwood deal as a need. Americans traveling to Cuba are complaining about the poor quality of government-run hotels. To keep them coming, allegedly to engage with ordinary Cubans, you’ve got to give them at least that Sheraton quality room and service they expect. Wait... aren’t they rushing in droves to visit the Communist Disneyland next door before it’s “spoiled” by Starbucks and McDonald’s?

The policy should be to let American travelers soak in all the Cuban reality, not shelter them from it.

Forgive me for being so blunt, but I — and scores of other Cuban-Americans who have supported the president’s policy of engagement with the goal of improving the lives of the Cuban people — could not care less how comfortable Americans feel when they travel to Cuba. If American need for comfort continues to oppress the underpaid Cuban worker, if American need for comfort keeps the repressive Cuban government as the Cubans’ one and only employer, if your dollars only extend the dictatorship, please sleep on the beach.

Or better yet, stay in a Cuban home.

“It’s getting harder and harder for me to support the initiatives in Cuba,” Cuban-American poet Richard Blanco says about the Starwood deal. “Are they blind? How will [the goal of bringing prosperity to the Cuban people] be realized if basically they are doing what others foreign investors have done, namely, strike a deal with the government that leaves the ordinary Cubans in the same situation? How is this any better, simply because it’s the U.S.?”

This from the poet full of hope who praised the new day of thawed relations at the ceremonial opening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana.

Yes, we’ve heard enough travel stories from Americans who learned nothing and only added Castroist propaganda to their views. We’ve dealt with enough indignities like Carnival’s willingness to impose Cuba’s repressive laws and discriminate against a class of Americans to be the first to get that cruising contract. We’ve learned about the Cuban government wholesaling visas, then turning away travelers at the airport they don’t find to their liking, no refunds.

And no, naming Shaquille O’Neal “Sports Envoy to Cuba” doesn’t help ordinary Cubans make a living independent of their government and their so-called centrally planned economy.

More celebrity circus, nada by way of change.

The Cuban government continues to violate the same international human rights standards that it has cynically pledged to uphold in the presence of world leaders and forums like the United Nations.

The Ladies in White continue to be violently and routinely assaulted by the Castro regime’s goons, sometimes in plain view of visitors. They don’t even hide the abuse anymore. Last Sunday, the repressive forces arrested dozens of these peaceful women to keep them from attending Mass, and broke into their home headquarters and tried to steal their belongings.

Mr. President, what’s wrong with this picture?

Plenty. So far, the only entities on the winning side of U.S. engagement are the Cuban government, its allies and the select Americans who’ve been chosen to make a buck on Cubans’ backs just as Spaniards and Italians did when they flocked to the island’s “opening” to foreign investment in the 1990s. The people in charge are the same who turned the Habana Hilton in 1959 into their triumphant rebel headquarters and nationalized the tourism industry, making it theirs to profit from.

At what point does the outrage over the lack of basic human rights in Cuba reach a level high enough for the Obama administration to step back and re-assess a booming business relationship that has moved forward with unusual haste and without legitimate reform and opportunity for the Cuban people.

Mr. President, your administration’s generosity and openness toward the unchanging Cuban regime seems to be bottomless.

Time to slow down and take stock before handing over more and more dollars directly into the coffers of those in charge of repression.

WaPo: Oscar Biscet, a Cuban Doctor Who Remains Defiant

Thursday, June 30, 2016
By Michael Gerson in The Washington Post:

Óscar Biscet, a Cuban doctor who remains defiant

When awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush in 2007, Óscar Elías Biscet had a scheduling conflict, being in a Cuban prison. At the White House ceremony, Bush called him a “dangerous man . . . in the same way that Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi were dangerous.” It was not until three years later in a dark cell that another prisoner told him what the citation read that day had said.

Recently, unexpectedly, Biscet was allowed by the Cuban regime to travel to the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas and finally receive the award from Bush’s hands. Biscet explained this as part of the regime’s effort to create “the impression of change.” That impression was dimmed a bit by the humiliating searches he was subjected to at the airport upon his departure. Knowing that the police would rummage through his suitcase, Biscet left a surprise: a Cuban flag covering his belongings.

That is the kind of in-your-face defiance displayed by many dissidents. Biscet is offended to the core that the country he loves is occupied by squalid autocrats who have run it into the ground. Political heroism is often expressed by the simple inability to stomach the next indignity. For this attitude, Biscet has spent 12 of his 54 years in Cuban jails.

His first offense was exposing deception at the heart of Cuban health care, the regime’s main source of revolutionary pride. In the early 1990s, Biscet (an internist and medical teacher) began documenting “the mix between politics and medicine” that kept child mortality rates in Cuba so low. The government pressured hospitals and doctors to pressure women with problem pregnancies to abort, in order to post better statistics. “If they know a baby may have congenital malformations,” Biscet told me, “they are killed before birth, unless parents show very strong objections.” He explained: “It is all about appearances.”

The largest question since President Obama’s opening to the Cuban government: Are we seeing changes that are more than appearances? There is little doubt that the regime is increasingly isolated, with its ally Venezuela in socialism-induced chaos and a more hostile government coming in Brazil. The Castro government seems interested in freeing up some economic space for small and medium-size businesses (though not for professionals such as doctors and lawyers). But jobs in tourism are awarded to regime favorites and cronies, including former members of the military. According to a recent report by Oxford Analytica, the infusion of cash into limited regions and economic sectors is encouraging greater inequality and social tension. The government has responded by lowering the price of food and children’s clothing.

There is no indication that the regime is opening social or political space. To the contrary, the Communist Party is overcompensating in its revolutionary zeal, including an old-fashioned diatribe by Fidel Castro against Obama and American imperialism.

Americans naturally view these events through the lens of their own interests and weigh the costs and benefits. Obama’s visit to Cuba in March was viewed by many (and by him) as a diplomatic breakthrough. Dissidents see things differently. “For us,” said Biscet’s wife, Elsa Morejon, “the faces of the Castros on posters are like the faces of Hitler and Stalin. To see the president of a democratic government embrace these people was . . . discouraging.”

People born into free societies have a difficult time imagining totalitarianism. In Cuba, the party ultimately controls every job. Biscet once took work at a steel factory. When his political history was discovered, he was fired. At the beginning of the regime, there were mass confiscations and killings. Then large-scale incarceration and forced exile for many Cuban patriots. Now, Morejon said, there are also “policemen in the mind.” Everyone feels watched. “That fear is what now controls the population,” Biscet said. “And it is a justified fear.”

Obama often talks about dictators and terrorists being on “the wrong side of history.” This can be a source of confidence, or a form of abdication. When progress is seen as the result of a ticking clock or impersonal forces, it acts as a release from responsibility. History is generally moved in the right direction by individuals willing to sacrifice their lives and liberty for the liberty of others. Standing up for “dangerous” men and women is not a distraction from diplomacy. It is one of the great comparative advantages of U.S. foreign policy. We benefit from the advance of the democratic values that gave our nation birth — a birth attended by men very much like Óscar Elías Biscet.

Why Obama Wouldn't Meet With Cuba's Dr. Biscet

Some have questioned why President Obama wouldn't meet with Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, a U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, during his visit to the United States.

This piece by The Dallas Morning News' editor, Leona Allen, indirectly explains it.

Just note how shallow and pathetic it sounds to try to defend a policy of unscrupulous business and unconditional engagement with the Castro dictatorship in the presence of a Cuban human rights icon.

Simply put, Obama would have no moral standing.

By Leona Allen in The Dallas Morning News:

Cuban human rights advocate's visit highlights delicate Cuba-U.S. relations

It's not every day that a Presidential Medal of Freedom winner makes his way to The Dallas Morning News editorial board.

Cuban human rights activist Oscar Biscet  sat down with the board recently and passionately discussed his continued fight for freedom and democracy for his people.  It was the Havana physician's  first trip to the United States from Cuba, where he was imprisoned from 2002 until 2011 for speaking out against his Communist government -- and where an uncertain future awaits his expected return in August.

When President George W. Bush recognized his efforts in 2007 with the Medal of Freedom, he did so in absentia because Biscet was in prison. In Dallas, Bush was able to meet Biscet, now 54, for the first time last week and presented the medal in person at the Bush Institute, where it will remain on display.

Biscet said, through a translator, that the fight has been worth it.

He spoke of beatings, killings and espionage at the hands of Cuba's dictatorship that sound like something out of a James Bond movie -- except he described it as everyday life in his country.  And he voiced his hope that one day Cubans would be free of government oppression.

"I can forgive what they did to me." Biscet said. "I cannot forgive what they did to the Cuban people."

 He called President Obama's restoring of diplomatic and limited trade ties with Cuba after 50 years a "political mistake" as long as the Cuban government outlaws free speech and fails to adopt democratic principles.

Of course some -- including this newspaper -- believe opening up trade with Cuba, just 90 miles from the U.S., and creating a free-market system could be just the antidote for the heavy-handed system of the Castro regime. Thousands of American tourists with money to spend and U.S. products flooding Cuba can be transformative and open up a world Cubans have never seen.

And there are some estimates that Texas could see $43 billion in total economic impact from increased exports and other trade with Cuba. Gov. Greg Abbott led a Texas trade mission to Cuba in December.

Still, not many would dispute that Cuba has a long way to go on improving human rights. No one wants to see people treated the way Biscet says he's been treated just for speaking up for what they believe is right.

Here's hoping his time in the U.S. garners more support for affording more freedoms for everyday Cubans. And that the fact he's such a high-profile advocate for human rights protects him and his family from harm upon his return home.

Lifting Cuba Sanctions Betrays Alabama's Values

By J. Pepper Bryars in AL.com:

Lifting embargo on Cuba would betray Alabama's values

Some of our state's leaders recently claimed in an AL.com opinion piece that trading with the Castro brothers would be a "win-win-win" for Alabama, the United States, and even Cuba.

Truth is, it'd be a shame, shame, shame for us to profit from the continued captivity of that island nation's long-enslaved people.

Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson, one of the article's four co-authors, believes our nation's embargo on Cuba is an "isolationist policy" that is "infringing on Alabamians' right to choose with whom they can and can't do business with."

Normally, the mayor would have a point. Free markets are a tenet of conservatism, but there's nothing free about trading with a criminal government that enslaves its people, especially if that trade only enriches the slaveholders.

Make no mistake, any dollars flowing in-or-out of Cuba must first flow through the hands of Fidel and Raul Castro. That's how they've managed to become shadow billionaires while keeping a tight lid on their communist pressure cooker for more than 55 years.

Another of the article's co-authors, State Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, would have us believe that the embargo has "negatively impacted the Cuban people."

Typical. Blame America for another nation's self-inflicted wounds. Still, normally she might have a point. Free trade usually rewards hard-working people, but trading with the hard-working Cuban people's slave masters would create the most negative impact of all.

For those who think my use of that word -- "slave" -- is too harsh, or perhaps hyperbole, I ask you: what is a slave, then?

The people of Cuba are told how, when, and where to work, yet they do not own the fruits of their labor. They are also told what to read, what to listen to, what to watch, how to pray – if at all – and even how to think. They are not allowed to leave ... ever ... and if they try, they're hunted down, captured, and hauled back to be punished and set to work again, often in even more miserable conditions than those they fled. In response to these facts, the apologists explain how wonderfully the Castro brothers treat their subjects, and how well they're fed and cared for.

That's slavery, ladies and gentlemen. There's no other word for it.

Still, Mobile's port, our agricultural exports, and our proximity to Cuba could mean big money for some. Our state legislature even passed a unanimous resolution calling for an end to the embargo, a move that places them in agreement with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

John McMillan, the state's commissioner for agriculture and industry, also co-authored the piece. He sees potential exports to Cuba in poultry, soybeans, wheat, feed and feed grains, and even the automobiles that are manufactured in Alabama.

Maybe ... but after so many of our state's once numerous industries have relocated because of cheap labor overseas, shouldn't we be suspicious of opening trade agreements with someone who rules an island full of slaves?

But it's not all business. The article's fourth co-author, State Sen. Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills, reminds us that Alabamians are "missing out" on Cuba's tourism industry. Never mind all of Alabama's own sandy beaches, or those elsewhere in the Caribbean that aren't surrounded by patrol boats ready to sink the make-shift rafts of those fleeing its shores.

But the tourist issue does call to mind one of the original reasons for the embargo ... as though having a communist hell 90-miles from The Land of the Free wasn't enough.

If you travel to Cuba, the hotel you'll check into is stolen property. The Castro's confiscated it from its rightful owners without cause or compensation. The taxi that you'll ride around town in – one of those classics from the 1950s – was also stolen by the Castro's, again without cause or compensation. After you're dropped off near the beach to have dinner, the restaurant where you'll dine is, again, stolen property. Its owners were never given a dime after it became official state property.

Nearly everything in Cuba was stolen from someone, and for those who simply covet those precious Cuban cigars, know this: the tobacco was chopped and the leaves were rolled ... by the hands of slaves.

Would you do business with a thief or a slaveholder?

Of course not, and neither should the State of Alabama.

From California: Thinking about a vacation in Cuba? Don't.

By Daisy B. Peñaloza in The Bakersfield Californian:

Thinking about a vacation in Cuba? Don't

Tourism only fuels the [Castro] regime's repressive machinery.”

— Sirley Ávila León

A U.S. tourist, returning from Cuba on an educational excursion, urged readers to “GO! Go for the history, old cars, art, music, beaches, marine life, beauty and people. Mostly, go for what you’ll feel in your heart.” Similar enthusiasm was expressed by visitors to Nazi Germany. In the foreboding years prior to World War II, foreign dignitaries, entrepreneurs, celebrities and tourists hobnobbed with Hitler and Nazi leaders.

Guests of the Third Reich, such as Charles Lindbergh and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, may or may not have been privy to Hitler’s draconian laws and violent persecution of Jews. Nonetheless, knowledge of ongoing atrocities against Germany’s Jews, and other perceived enemies of the Reich, was widely reported in U.S. newspapers of the 1930s. The substantive coverage of Hitler’s abuses did not dissuade pleasure-seekers and unscrupulous corporations from flocking to the Nazi state lending it legitimacy and revenue. Likewise, modern-day travelers to Cuba disregard the heightened repression, arrests and murder of defenseless Cubans, foreign nationals and journalists, and are willingly seduced by an illusion astutely crafted by Castro propagandists.

President Obama’s normalization speech, on Dec. 17, 2014, was premised on the false belief that the Cold War had ended and that an injection of tourism and commerce dollars would empower the Cuban people. In the case of China and Vietnam, rather than ameliorate egregious human rights abuses, U.S. financial resources further entrenched despotic rule in both authoritarian nations. Strikingly, decades of global trade and tourism with Cuba has not produced authentic reforms inducing greater individual liberties and legal protections.

Possessing cell phones that are censored, and operating small businesses whose licenses can be revoked, assets confiscated, and vendors jailed at the whim of Cuban authorities, does not constitute freedom. Entrepreneurs with connections to regime officials operate the “private” restaurants and lodgings, which are also subject to high taxes, extortion and surveillance.

The advertised “Potemkin village” tour is designed to fool foreign visitors. Tourists are shown the very best resorts, restaurants, hospitals and schools that the average, impoverished Cuban cannot access due to an enforced system of economic apartheid. The cultural education imparted during these tours are tinged with inaccurate Marxist interpretations of Cuba’s history fomenting misconceptions.

Visitors are taken to Havana’s notorious La Cabaña fortress, but the tour guides make no mention of the thousands of innocent Cubans executed within its walls and hastily thrown into mass graves.

In Cuba, the entire tourism industry is run by the military through GAESA, one of Castro’s monopolies. After Castro pockets the majority of the profits, the Cubans subcontracted by foreign companies receive a scant percentage in Cuban pesos. The Cuban military uses tourism money to finance domestic repression, global terrorism, drug-trafficking, weapons-smuggling and other illicit activities. The coveted bank credit and tourism dollars ensures the perpetuity of the Castro dictatorship.

On January 29, 2015, a top Cuba scholar, Jaime Suchlicki, wrote: “… an infusion of American tourist dollars will provide the regime with a further disincentive to adopt deeper economic reforms.” As predicted, during the Communist Party Congress in April, the Castro brothers reaffirmed their loyalty to revolutionary communist ideals and declared illegal the accrual of property and wealth; effectively putting a stop to future “reform.” The fact that, at least, 43,000 desperate Cubans abandoned the island in 2015, and thousands more continue to emigrate since January of 2016, indicates that many Cubans consider Obama’s Cuba policy an unethical partnership with the oppressive dictatorship, which presents no optimism for political or economic improvement.

Obama’s rapprochement has not empowered Cuban society. Every dollar that tourists spend in Cuba exclusively strengthens and enriches the billionaire Castro family and literally hurts the Cuban people. Worse yet, as in Nazi Germany, tourists unwittingly become tools of the regime. Communism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union was toppled, not by tourism and commerce, but by economic ruin, a globally sustained dissident movement and persistent sanctions.

A humanitarian or religious visit, whereby the seeds of free expression are scattered and left to germinate, is the type of visit that will make a true and lasting difference in the lives of Cubans.

Carlos Beruff's Cuban 'Cuento' (Fairy-Tale)

Wednesday, June 29, 2016
Florida primary voters can't trust Carlos Beruff.

Just months ago, Beruff agreed with President Obama that the rights of the Cuban people should be relegated to business interests.

Here's what he said in favor of Obama's embrace of the Castro dictatorship:

"If human rights are the only reason we're not doing business with Cuba, then we're doing business with a lot of countries we shouldn't be doing business with."

In other words, two wrongs make a right -- and never mind that it's your own brethren.

Of course, now that he's running for the U.S. Senate, Beruff claims to have had a sudden change of heart.

We'd like to believe him. But it gets worse.

Just a few years ago, Beruff traveled to Cuba with a policy group led by Castro apologist, Al Fox, Jr. -- the so-called Alliance for a Responsible Cuba Policy.

We don't use the term "Castro apologist" lightly.

Fox is a Tampa-based lobbyist with a long history of representing the most despicable regimes. He served as a D.C.-lobbyist for the apartheid regime in South Africa in the 1980s.

Since the late 1990s, Fox has been an outspoken defender of the Cuban dictatorship. He has personally met with Fidel Castro nearly a dozen times, and refers to Cuban exiles as "Batistites" and "losers".

Fox is so fringe that he even criticized Obama's speech in Havana for not being lenient enough with the Castros:

"I agree with some of Fidel's comments. That was not the moment for Obama to chastise the Cuban government."

Yet this is who Beruff traveled with to Cuba, where he was wined-and-dined by Castro regime officials.

Once again, Beruff now claims he was unaware of the purpose of the trip.

How can someone who wants to be a U.S. Senator pay a policy group to take a trip to Cuba and purport not to be aware of their policies?

That would make Beruff unfit for office.

Or simply not forthright.

Image below: Beruff meeting with Castro regime officials in Havana, along with Al Fox (far left).

Major Law Firms Agree: Stonegate Bank's (Cuba) Credit Card Breaks the Law

This week, The Miami Herald has a story about how the Obama Administration is potentially breaking the law regarding the use of credit cards in Cuba (Stonegate Bank) and business ventures with the Cuban military (Starwood Hotels).

Note how two of Washington, D.C.'s biggest and most respected law firms agree that Stonegate Bank's use of credit cards are subject to Section 103 of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act.

Thus, as we have previously detailed -- such credit card transaction are blatantly illegal.

From The Miami Herald:

U.S. policy for credit cards in Cuba too lenient, critics say

U.S. residents who travel to Cuba will be able to use a MasterCard issued by Florida-based Stonegate, the bank announced this month. But what happens if they use the card in a hotel owned by the Cuban military or a property seized by the Cuban government from U.S. owners in the 1960s?

Mauricio Claver-Carone, executive director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, said Section 103 “has no exceptions as written.” The Obama administration, he added, has been “stretching” embargo rules to introduce new “exceptions” that derive from previous exceptions but are “inconsistent” with other parts of the law.

Claver-Carone, who follows Cuba policy closely on his blog, Capitol Hill Cubans, said the license issued to Starwood is “inconsistent” with the policy of “empowering the Cuban people” because it would benefit the military, not private business people.

In the case of Stonegate, he said, the U.S. Treasury Department should require the bank to set up a system to certify that transactions with its credit card will not involve confiscated U.S. properties [...]

Legal studies generated by both sides of the policy debate over Cuba have reached different conclusions, but all agree that Section 103 would take precedence.

The law firm of Steptoe & Johnson LLP concluded in January of 2015 that the new rules allowing the use of debit and credit cards “were inconsistent with the prohibitions in the U.S. law related to indirect financing of confiscated properties in Cuba.”

A report commissioned by the Cuba Study Group from the law firm Hogan Lovells in 2011 on executive branch powers concluded the president could allow U.S. banks to offer Cuba financing for transactions linked to the provision of authorized services. “Any such authorizations, however, would be subject to the prohibitions set forth in Section 103” and other laws “on the provisions for transactions involving property confiscated by the Cuban government.”

Obama's Lie, Starwood's Ignominy

Since December 2014, President Obama has repeatedly said the purpose of his new policy was to "empower the Cuban people" and "promote their independence from the Cuban authorities."

That is a lie.

This week, the agreement between the U.S.-based hotel company, Starwood, and the Cuban military's tourism entity, Gaviota, was consummated.

Under the deal, Starwood will manage the Hotel Quinta Avenida in Havana for the Cuban military.

First and foremost, this arrangement is clearly inconsistent with U.S. law -- it's illegal and should be challenged as such.

Moreover, it proves Obama has not been forthcoming.

Allowing U.S. companies to partner directly with the most repressive security apparatus in the Western Hemisphere neither "empowers the Cuban people," nor "promotes their independence from the Cuban authorities."

It's simply repulsive.

Obama claims his Cuba policy shows the "Cold War is over" -- yet his policy harkens back to the darkest days of the Cold War, when the United States partnered with repressive regimes throughout the hemisphere.

There is no place for such immoral arrangements in the 21st century.

Adding insult to injury, the head of public relations for Starwood called the hotel -- "a symbol of brotherhood and collaboration."

With the Cuban military, that is.

The Obama Administration is bringing shame to the American flag by allowing it placed side-by-side with the flag of the Cuban-military's cash-cow, Gaviota.

It is making the United States directly complicit with the repression of the Cuban people.