Hellfire Missile Affair: Why Obama's Cuba Policy Can't Be Trusted

Sunday, February 14, 2016
For eighteen months (beginning in July 2013), the Obama Administration held secret talks with Cuba's dictatorship in Toronto, Ottawa and Rome, to negotiate the release of an American hostage.

The talks were led by two White House officials, in order to avoid Congressional oversight, while the Cuban delegation was led by Col. Alejandro Castro, Raul's son and key figure in the Ministry of the Interior's (MININT) repressive apparatus.

These talks culminated in a deal announced on December 17th, 2014, whereby the Castro regime agreed to release its American hostage in exchange for three Cuban spies convicted in U.S. courts, including one serving two life sentences for the murder conspiracy of three Americans, the restoration of diplomatic ties and the unilateral easing of trade and travel sanctions.

Unbeknownst to the American people at the time was that the Castro regime had taken another "hostage" (of sorts) amid the talks (on June 2014) -- a stolen Hellfire missile with sensitive U.S. military technology.

Despite this, the Obama Administration proceeded with its deal, opening Embassies and easing sanctions.

Nearly two years later, "quiet diplomacy" (or "willful ignorance") by the Obama Administration had failed to retrieve the stolen Hellfire.

It wasn't until last month (January 2016), when The Wall Street Journal revealed news of the stolen Hellfire and its national security implications, that the Obama Administration was publicly shamed into action -- and the Castro regime into finally returning it last week.

But with nearly two years to exploit the Hellfire and share its sensitive technology with other U.S. foes, including Russia and North Korea, the damage has already been done.

Similarly, last week, the Obama Administration welcomed one of Castro's most nefarious henchmen, Col. Mario Mendez Mayedo, to the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) headquarters in Miami, Florida.

The visit was held under a cloak of secrecy until it was revealed by The Miami Herald.

After being scooped (and Col. Mendez was back in Cuba), the State Department finally recognized the visit and stated that it was to discuss "human trafficking" activities.

Col. Mendez is the MININT official in charge of surveillance, tracking the movement and whereabouts of all Cubans (issuing state-of-the-art national ID cards) and foreign tourists who visit the island.

Days later, it's clear that the visit was actually to coordinate the oversight and control of Cubans, Cuban-Americans and U.S. travelers to the island as part of the upcoming commercial flight agreement.

Throughout the last year, we've consistently seen the Obama Administration's rhetoric about "empowering" the Cuban people being supplanted by the reality of "empowering" Castro regime officials (politically) and their state monopolies (economically).

Such secrecy further strains any credibility in Obama's policy.

NPR's Weekend in Washington Debate: Claver-Carone vs. LeoGrande on Cuba Policy

Wednesday, February 10, 2016
A few months ago, NPR's famous Weekend in Washington event featured a Cuba debate between CHC Editor Mauricio Claver-Carone and American University Professor William LeoGrande.

It was entitled "The U.S. and Cuba: Changing Policy, Changing Relations."

Click below (or here) to watch the substantive exchange:

Bipartisan Lawmakers Question Obama's Decision to Give Stolen Trademark to Cuba

Ros-Lehtinen and Wasserman Schultz Lead Bipartisan Letter To Secretaries Kerry and Lew Asking Why OFAC Granted Havana Club Trademark License To Castro Regime-Owned Cubaexport

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and nearly two dozen other Members on both sides of the aisle sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Secretary of State John Kerry standing up for American intellectual property rights and asking why the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has departed from its previous positions and granted a license for the Havana Club trademark to Castro-regime owned Cubaexport.

Statement by Ros-Lehtinen: “I’m pleased to lead this bipartisan letter to voice my opposition to the decision of State and Treasury to allow Cubaexport, an entity owned by the Castro regime, to renew an expired trademark registration for Havana Club rum in contravention of U.S. law. Let me be clear: this original family’s factories and trademarks were confiscated by the Castro regime and the U.S. government should not take any action which would embolden any foreign entity that could confiscate U.S. trademarks and intellectual property. This politically motivated decision could unfortunately serve as a negative precedent regarding the expropriation of U.S. based intellectual property by foreign governments.”

Statement by Wasserman Schultz: “I’ve been firmly committed to protecting the intellectual property rights of American companies, and I was pleased to join this letter with Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and many of my Florida colleagues. We must ensure American companies’ trademarks are protected against confiscation by any foreign government. I’ve cosponsored legislation in the past two congresses to work on this issue, and I’ve worked on intellectual property matters extensively in my role as Ranking Member on the Legislative Branch Appropriations subcommittee.”

To view the letter click here

Members of Congress joining Ros-Lehtinen and Wasserman Schultz in signing the bipartisan letter were: Ed Royce (R-CA), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Jeff Duncan (R-SC), Albio Sires (D-NJ), Darrell Issa (R-CA), Lois Frankel (D-FL), Bill Posey (R-FL), Alan Grayson (D-FL), Ted Yoho (R-FL), Frederica Wilson (D-FL), Ander Crenshaw (R-FL), Patrick Murphy (D-FL), Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Pedro Pierluisi (D-PR), Ron DeSantis (R-FL), Corrine Brown (D-FL), Peter Roskam (R-IL), Jeff Miller (R-FL), and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN).

Q&A: Will New U.S. Rule Changes Benefit the People of Cuba?

From The Inter-American Dialogue's Latin America Advisor:

FEATURED Q&A

Will New U.S. Rule Changes Benefit the People of Cuba?

Q. The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama announced Jan. 26 that it was removing many restrictions on U.S. financing of exports to Cuba, allowing U.S. banks to directly finance the exportation of any product other than agricultural commodities, among other changes. How important are the latest Cuba policy revisions for U.S. companies wanting to do business with the island? How will the changes in rules affect Cuba’s economy and citizens? What do the revised rules mean for Cuba’s state enterprises, which supporters of the U.S. economic embargo fear will be used to prop up the Castro regime and enrich governing elites? What other changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba are likely to take place before Obama leaves office next year?

A. Otto Reich, president of Otto Reich Associates LLC and former assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs under President George W. Bush:

“The latest Obama administration Cuba revisions, like other administration foreign policy initiatives, are vain attempts at self-fulfi lling prophesies, intended to give the impression of progress. They mean nothing to U.S. companies as long as they are expected to do business with a dictatorship controlled for 57 years by one family, the Castros, and a military regime run by an active-duty army general (84-year-old Raúl), the last dictator left in the Americas. Cuba’s government has no respect for contract sanctity and proves it by continuing to confiscate foreign businesses whenever the ruling family sees one it wants for itself. The country has no newspaper, radio or television station, school, university, labor union, trade or civic association, or any other institution of civil society that is not under the control and censorship of the Communist Party of Cuba, the only political party recognized by the country’s laws. The government also requires foreign companies to contract its workers exclusively through a state agency that receives the worker’s salary in foreign currency but pays Cuban workers an artificial, government-set wage that amounts to 5 cents of each dollar that the foreign employer has paid the government, a practice that has been described as ‘virtual slavery.’ Cuba also forces foreign investors into joint ventures controlled by the Castro family and does not allow collective bargaining, freedom of association, press or speech; and has put in place a succession of the family enterprise, also known as Cuba, to the children of Fidel and Raúl Castro. For those reasons, it is not just ‘supporters of the U.S. economic embargo’ who fear that Obama policies will be ‘used to prop up the Castro regime and enrich governing elites’. Anyone who knows Cuba knows that the regime exists for one purpose: self-perpetuation in power. This is why the overwhelming majority of Cuban dissidents condemn the Obama administration’s policy as having strengthened the regime’s hand, rather than ‘empowering the Cuban people,’ as President Obama eloquently but emptily repeats, as if wishing will make it so.”

A. Frank Calzon, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba:

“It is hard to disagree with Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.): The ‘action by the administration is a contravention of the law—the will of Congress, and the people who elected us, and a betrayal to those brave Cubans who have raised their voices in support of freedom, only to be silenced by a regime we are now helping.’ Since the president’s announcement on Dec. 17, 2014, there has been a reduction of more than 50 percent in U.S. agricultural cash purchases. The reduction in Havana’s purchases was designed to blackmail corporate interests to prod the administration to burden the American taxpayers if Havana fails to pay. The president’s disregard for the law establishes a most dangerous precedent. While many focus on Obama’s economic underwriting of the Cuban regime, Raúl Castro continues to hold a U.S. Hellfire missile, a strategic matter the administration has swept under the rug. Havana also continues to hold hundreds of millions of stolen Medicare and Medicaid funds which are deposited in Cuba’s National Bank. The administration and American agricultural interests pretend that the nature of Raúl Castro’s regime is not important. When an American investor ends up in a Cuban jail on trumped up charges without due process, as it happened to Alan Gross, he might spend years in prison, lose his teeth and be abused. President Obama’s response, if any, will be to pay ransom once again, while the Cuban people are ignored and the regime is strengthened.”

DNI Director: Cuba Remains a Top Counterintelligence Threat

Excerpt from today's testimony in the Senate Armed Services Committee by General James R. Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, on the 2016 Worldwide Threat Assessment:

"Moving to counterintelligence, the threat from foreign intelligence entities, both state and nonstate, is persistent, complex, and evolving. Targeting and collection of US political, military, economic, and technical information by foreign intelligence services continues unabated. Russia and China pose the greatest threat, followed by Iran and Cuba on a lesser scale. As well, the threat from insiders taking advantage of their access to collect and remove sensitive national security information will remain a persistent challenge for us."

Yet, despite this ominous warning, Cuban intelligence officials are invited by the Obama Administration to discuss human trafficking "cooperation" in the Miami headquarters of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (click here).

Meanwhile, a Cuban spy, expelled from the United States as persona non grata in 2002, led the Cuban delegation to a regional security forum hosted by the U.S. Southern Command (click here).

And that's in the last two weeks alone.

Must-Read Letter From Cuba: Four Questions for President Obama

Via Translating Cuba:

Four Questions For You, President Obama

Mr. President, I am a young Cuban woman who lives in Cuba and I do not want to leave. Exile hurts and I lack the courage to miss my homeland. I want to stay in Cuba and the reality of my people leaves me with many questions. I think it is up to Cubans alone – all of us without exception – to resolve our problems; peaceful change toward democracy is ours and is in us. I dream of a sovereign people, with self-determination because we have a voice, rights and freedom. I dream of an independent, democratic and sovereign Cuba, where there is a genuine rule of law and democracy, the indispensable foundations for Cubans to be able to achieve prosperity and well-being.

You have said you want to help Cubans to improve our quality of life, which leads me to ask you some questions:

  • What has improved in Cubans’ quality of life since 17 December 2014?
  • You have called Raul Castro ‘president’; does this mean you consider him your counterpart?
  • Can a dictatorship turn itself into a democracy?
  • Do you believe that the dignity of the human person, as well as his or her well-being and quality of life starts with rights?
Thank you for your time.

Yuslier L. Saavedra
La Salud, Mayabeque Province
Cuba

Cuba: Church Demolished and Hundreds Arrested

From Christian Solidarity Worldwide:

Church Demolished and Hundreds Arrested

Emanuel Church, a large church in eastern Cuba affiliated to the Apostolic Movement, an unregistered Protestant denomination, was demolished by the authorities on 5 February while hundreds of church members were detained.

The property of Reverend Alain Toledano in Santiago de Cuba was surrounded by officials including members of the police, state security and the military at approximately 5am on 5 February. They detained his wife, Marilín Alayo Correa, before demolishing both Emanuel Church and the pastoral home.

The destruction of the church follows similar demolitions of two Apostolic Movement churches in Camaguey and Las Tunas provinces on 8 January.

Over the course of 5 February approximately 200 leaders and members of Emanuel Church were also detained. A group of around 40 were held in a local school while others were taken to police stations across the region to stop them from protesting the demolition. Church leaders reported that many were beaten while they were being detained. The government has repeatedly refused to register the Apostolic Movement denomination.

Reverend Toledano was in the United States attending a religious event at the time of the government action against the church. He told Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) that he believes the Cuban government intentionally carried out the eviction and demolition when he was out of the country. He expressed concern at the impact on his daughters, ages 11 and 12, who he said were screaming as they witnessed their mother being detained, adding that this is the second time they have experienced the destruction of their home and church. In 2007, the Cuban government carried out a significant operation to destroy the church, also located in the Abel Santamaria neighborhood of Santiago, which at the time had around 700 members.

Church leaders told CSW that the church and family home were totally destroyed. In addition, the government confiscated goods belonging to the church including pews, chairs, audio equipment a piano and other musical instruments. Over 1,000 blocks of cement were also confiscated, despite the fact that the Toledano family has documents showing that they were legally purchased.

The property is privately owned by Reverend Toledano and the government had approved the construction of and renovation work on the buildings. However, Reverend Toledano notified CSW of numerous threats of church eviction and closure that he received throughout 2015. These included threats by three men claiming to be government officials on 13 October 2015. In response to the threats, the church organised a ‘sleep in’ on 13 November 2015 with members staying on the property 24 hours a day. However, these efforts were met with an eviction order issued by government Planning and Housing officials two weeks later.

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “We are extremely disturbed to learn of this latest church demolition by the Cuban authorities, in a similar manner to the destruction of the two Apostolic Movement churches on 8 January. We are also extremely concerned for the family of Reverend Toledano and his wife Marilín, who saw their home razed as part of this destruction. This series of demolitions since the New Year indicates a worrying escalation in terms of violations of freedom of religion or belief in Cuba. Again, we urge the international community to raise the demolition of these three churches, the mass detentions of pastors and church members, as well as the threats against others with the Cuban government as a matter of urgency. We continue to call on the EU and the US to make freedom of religion or belief a central component of its dialogues with Cuba and to insist on improvement in this area.”

Obama "Empowers" Castro Henchman on Human Trafficking

Tuesday, February 9, 2016
Under a veil of secrecy, the Obama Administration acknowledged that it recently held "technical meetings" with the Cuban regime on human trafficking.

The meetings took place from February 1-4 in Miami, Florida.

Yet, the State Department didn't acknowledge the meetings until February 5 -- and perhaps wouldn't have done so if The Miami Herald hadn't been tipped off and revealed it.

Perhaps the secrecy was partly due to the unsavory characters being flown in for the meetings -- let alone their content.

The Cuban regime was represented by a nefarious henchman from Castro's Ministry of the Interior (MININT) -- Colonel Mario Mendez Mayedo.

The MININT is the organ of Castro's domestic state security and secret police apparatus. It's responsible for vigilance, espionage and political repression. It's akin to the Soviet KGB or East German Stasi.

Specifically, Col. Mendez Mayedo is the head of the MININT's Identification, Immigration and Foreigners department.

In this role, he is responsible for the national identity-card that keeps track of all Cubans, their whereabouts, networks and activities. He is also responsible for tracking the movement of all foreigners who visit Cuba.

(Isn't it curious how just two days before Obama's announcement on December 17th, 2014, the MININT announced a new system for Cubans who run "casa particulares" that immediately reports and identifies foreigners staying in their homes?)

The MININT spares no expense for the latest technology to monitor all Cubans, particularly their political activities. They also keep a watchful tab on every foreigner who visits the island. (Yes, even those who ingenuously believe they are not being watched.)

Col. Mendez Mayedo is also frequent traveler to Venezuela, where he oversaw the implementation of the passport and national-identity card system of the Chavez-Maduro regime for its domestic intelligence service (SEBIN).

Adding irony to insult is the fact that the Obama Administration would welcome this henchman to discuss "cooperation" in human trafficking.

Not only is the Castro regime one of the world's worst perpetrators of state-sponsored human trafficking, but the Obama Administration remains under Congressional scrutiny after a Reuters investigation last year revealed that human-rights experts at the State Department concluded that trafficking conditions had not improved and Cuba did not deserve to be upgraded from a bottom Tier 3 ranking to Tier 2.

The reports indicated that senior Obama Administration officials pushed without legal merit and prevailed in upgrading Cuba -- as another concession to the Castro regime. This is one of the reasons why U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson's nomination for Ambassador to Mexico remains stalled in the U.S. Senate.

Finally, let's put this in perspective vis-à-vis President Obama's rhetoric that his policy aims to "support the Cuban people."

What message in being sent to the Cuban people, when the henchman responsible for tracking all of their movements and activities is now working in conjunction with the Obama Administration?

What message is being sent to Cuban-Americans who travel back to the island under the MININT's watchful eye?

What message is being sent to Cubans who run "casa particulares" and are required to immediately report to the MININT the names and passport information of every American who booked a room through Airbnb?

(Of course, those staying at Cuba's military-owned hotels are easily monitored.)

Not a good one -- by any stretch of the imagination.

It simply continues the Obama Administration's trend of talking about "empowering" the Cuban people, while truly "empowering" the Castro regime.