Breathtaking: Obama's Direct Gift to Cuban Regime Officials

Friday, October 21, 2016
This week, the Federal Register published the Obama Administration's latest regulatory changes.

Buried in the rule -- ignored by the press releases and overlooked by the media -- was (perhaps) Obama's greatest betrayal of the Cuban people.

Towards the end, there's a section that reads:

"Definition of prohibited officials of the Government of Cuba and prohibited members of the Cuban Communist Party. OFAC is amending sections 515.337 and 515.338 to narrow the definitions in these sections."

In summary, the Obama Administration has just opened the the door for the overwhelming majority of Castro regime officials to take advantage of the sanctions relief that was purportedly aimed to "support the Cuban people" -- and more specifically, for Cuba's independent "entrepreneurs."

It now permits members of the Castro's Council of State; its puppet legislature; its political prosecutors; local and provincial regime officials; ministry officials; secret police officials (DSE); intelligence officials (DGI); neighborhood repressors (CDR); media and cultural censors (UNEAC); and prison wardens and abusers to enjoy unlimited remittances, gift parcels, U-turn banking transactions, communications devices and to even employ U.S.-based Internet-related services that further their repressive activities.

Note the dramatic change in definitions.

Old Definition:

§515.337 Prohibited officials of the Government of Cuba.

For purposes of this part, the term prohibited officials of the Government of Cuba means Ministers and Vice-ministers, members of the Council of State and the Council of Ministers; members and employees of the National Assembly of People's Power; members of any provincial assembly; local sector chiefs of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution; Director Generals and sub-Director Generals and higher of all Cuban ministries and state agencies; employees of the Ministry of the Interior (MININT); employees of the Ministry of Defense (MINFAR); secretaries and first secretaries of the Confederation of Labor of Cuba (CTC) and its component unions; chief editors, editors, and deputy editors of Cuban state-run media organizations and programs, including newspapers, television, and radio; and members and employees of the Supreme Court (Tribuno Supremo Nacional).

New Definition:

§515.337 Prohibited officials of the Government of Cuba.

For purposes of this part, the term prohibited officials of the Government of Cuba means members of the Council of Ministers and flag officers of the Revolutionary Armed Forces.

[81 FR 71374, Oct. 17, 2016]

Old Definition:

§515.338 Prohibited members of the Cuban Communist Party.

For purposes of this part, the term prohibited members of the Cuban Communist Party means members of the Politburo, the Central Committee, Department Heads of the Central Committee, employees of the Central Committee, and secretaries and first secretaries of the provincial Party central committees.

New Definition:

§515.338 Prohibited members of the Cuban Communist Party.

For purposes of this part, the term prohibited members of the Cuban Communist Party means members of the Politburo.

[81 FR 71374, Oct. 17, 2016]

Whether it's pallets of cash for Iran's mullahs or gifts for Cuba's dictatorship, let's dispel this notion that the Obama Administration cares about human rights or the well-being of those captive nation's people.

This is about Obama kowtowing to the world's most brutal regimes -- at whatever cost -- with the hopes of creating a political "legacy."

Exhibit A: How Obama's Cuba Flights Jeopardize U.S. Security

Thursday, October 20, 2016
For months, U.S. lawmakers have expressed serious concerns over the Obama Administration's haste in restoring commercial flights to Cuba, despite the serious security risks they pose.

These security risks are explained here and here.

To distract from these risks, the Transportation Security Administration ("TSA") has misled Congress, while bipartisan delegations from the House Homeland Security and Transportation Committees have been denied visas by the Cuban regime to independently investigate.

As a result, the Cuban Airport Security Act of 2016 was introduced in the House and Senate, and recently marked-up by the House Homeland Security Committee.

This week, we have Exhibit A about why U.S. lawmakers and the American public are right to be concerned.

On October 15th, an Eastern Airlines charter flight at the gate in Havana Airport witnessed how Cuban Customs officials were rummaging and stealing merchandise from luggage being boarded onto a plane in the neighboring gate.

Passengers on the Eastern flight, which was preparing to depart from Havana to Miami, captured cell phone footage of these illicit activities. (Click here to watch -- courtesy of Diario de Cuba.)

The Eastern pilots denounced these illicit activities to the Havana Airport authorities.

But clearly, the Havana Airport authorities were part of the conspiracy. Rather than take corrective actions, they threatened the Eastern pilots who denounced the illicit activities, grounded the plane, sought to confiscate the cell phones with the evidence and tried to force the passengers to disembark.

The passengers feared they would be arrested by the Cuban authorities. However, the Eastern pilots told the passengers to remain on the plane, where they were protected by U.S. law.

Thanks to the wisdom of these Eastern pilots, the Cuban authorities eventually relented and after a 3-hour standoff allowed the plane to depart for Miami.

One of the main concerns posed by U.S. lawmakers is precisely that there are no independent airline or U.S. security personnel and Cuba's airports. Everyone is an employee and subordinate of Castro's regime. In other words, the Obama Administration is outsourcing U.S. flight security to the Castro regime.

This week's events show how such utter lack of transparency and collusion clearly threaten U.S. security.

As Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin wisely wrote this month: "The security situation at Cuban airports is an open invitation for any bad actor who wishes to do harm to the United States to try to board a flight to the United States with whatever dangerous contraband they can carry. If that’s the price of Obama securing his Cuba legacy, it’s not worth it."

Add to this concern, corrupt Cuban Customs and airport officials that can do so.

It's time Obama placed the security interests of the United States over his Cuba "legacy."

WaPo Editorial: Obama to Castro Regime -- 'Do Whatever You Want'

Wednesday, October 19, 2016
From The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

Obama to the Castro regime: Do whatever you want

On Friday, President Obama unveiled a Presidential Decision Directive trumpeting further overtures to the Cuban government designed to make the thaw he announced on Dec. 17, 2014, “irreversible.” That would imply “regardless of results” — which so far have been paltry, at least in terms of freedom and prosperity for Cuba’s long-suffering people. Indeed, Cubans are “worse off now than how they imagined their future” when normalization began, opposition journalist Yoani Sanchez noted recently.

The Castro regime has arrested almost as many peaceful opponents so far this year (8,505) as it did in all of 2015 (8,616), according to the nongovernmental Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation. The ranks of the repressed include dissident lawyer Julio Alfredo Ferrer Tamayo, who was thrown in prison Sept. 23. His law firm was also ransacked and documents were taken. Havana’s municipal government has just banned new licenses for private restaurants and instructed existing ones that it will start enforcing onerous taxes and regulations more tightly. It was, Reuters reported, “a new sign that Cuba’s Communist-run government is hesitant to further open up to private business in a country where it still controls most economic activity,” following similar retrenchment in agriculture and transportation last year.

The economy is stagnating due to the Castro regime’s perennial mismanagement and cutbacks in aid from Cuba’s chaotic patron, Venezuela. In July, Cuba’s economy minister warned that fuel consumption would have to be cut by nearly a third in the rest of the year, along with restrictions in state investments and imports. Cuba’s cash crunch helps explain why sales of U.S. goods (those permitted under long-standing humanitarian exceptions to the embargo) are running well below what they were before the thaw. Some 89,000 Cubans have fled to the United States since the policy began.

Havana’s response to Mr. Obama’s latest olive branch was to demand more concessions. Mr. Obama’s directive “does not hide the purpose of promoting changes in the political, economic and social order,” top diplomat Josefina Vidal asserted. Shortly thereafter, Ms. Vidal led a large nationally televised rally at Havana University to protest the “genocidal” embargo, part of a broad anti-U.S. propaganda campaign timed to coincide with Mr. Obama’s announcement.

An optimistic view of these developments would be that the administration’s strategy is working: Frightened by the prospect of freer business activity, and ideologically challenged in the absence of a Yanqui enemy, Cuba’s leaders must clamp down on the former and invent the latter — and round up the usual dissident suspects. That may be true; but recent events also show the tension between the president’s twin goals of doing business with the Cuban government as a legitimate equal and relieving the misery of the Cuban people, which is caused by their government. Even on the ideological defensive, the Cuban regime retains the capacity to resist change and to punish citizens who seek to bring it about.

We have never opposed a thaw in relations, only Mr. Obama’s decision — contrary to his earlier promise — to exclude from the process all those Cubans who have been bravely fighting for increased freedom. Now Mr. Obama is giving the regime a green light: No amount of repression can derail his policy. That is a strange and unfortunate message.

MH: Obama's Cuba Policy More Cigar Smoke Than Legacy

By Fabiola Santiago in The Miami Herald:

Obama: We’ll smoke your stogies & drink your rum! But Raúl Castro just represses more

I’d say that Raúl Castro is still shaking in his military boots over President Barack Obama’s historic speech in Havana — one of the finest moments of his presidency and a jubilant one for the free world. But the octogenarian comandante these days wears the shiny loafers and tailored suits of modern diplomacy.

Still, he’s the same ruthless despot — and it’s looking like there’s nothing the charismatic Obama can do to bring Castro down from the bunker mentality, no matter how generous the U.S. president wields his presidential pen to issue directives, as he did Friday.

One of these was truly Third World-inspired: Obama lifted restrictions on how many Cuban stogies and how much Cuban rum American travelers can bring into the country from Cuba or other countries. Effective immediately, because this is apparently really important stuff, Americans can bring as much as you can carry for personal consumption and gifting.

It’s hard to wrap one’s mind around the fact that the same American president who delivered in Havana a most eloquent, unprecedented speech on behalf of democracy — winning respect for his human rights-driven policies inside and outside the island — is now turning to… a cigar and rum strategy to win over Castro.

Hey, Raúl, lighten up. We’ll smoke your stogies & drink your rum!

Repression of dissidents — beatings, detentions, surveillance — continues on the rise, in some cases right in front of American tourists and international media. And so, once more, I must ask: Is Raúl Castro becoming the new Fulgencio Batista? Is the U.S. government again giving America’s favorite dictator oxygen to survive in exchange for Americans popping in for some business and vice a la 1950s?

Something to think about, especially since not even the prospect of rampant consumption of Romeo y Julieta and Cohiba cigars nudges the Cuban government even a little in the right direction. On the contrary, this Castro, a so-called “reformer,” swiftly responded to Obama’s new round of favors by clamping down on the Cubans most excited about the American presence — the alleged new class of entrepreneurs.

Castro’s answer to Obama’s easing of trade and travel was to suspend new licenses for private eateries, the paladares that American travelers have found so charming. He also announced that there would be greater scrutiny of those already operating, like the one where Obama and his family dined. Owners have been summoned to meetings and warned that any violations of the Cuban government’s strict conditions for operating the businesses wouldn’t be tolerated. Cuban law, for example, forces these fledgling restaurateurs to buy supplies in state-owned stores that sell at higher prices. Even stricter controls are coming, they were warned.

But this is not the 1950s — and Castro may soon find out how quickly Cuba can lose all it has gained in almost two years of rapprochement policy.

For one, the hyped daily commercial flights to cities all over Cuba are leaving Miami half empty. One airline is so desperate to fill seats that it’s planning to film a soppy, first-ever multigenerational Cuban-American family reunion for a commercial.

Just about every American traveler to Cuba I’ve interviewed has delivered a version of this statement while lavishly praising the Cuban people’s warmth and the beauty of the landscape: “The repression is so palpable.”

Bummer. Turns out American travelers don’t care any more for dictatorships than they do for bad hotel rooms.

As for Cuban Americans, once the Cuban government defiantly warned in the middle of the stampede back to the homeland — and the U.S. Embassy confirmed — that they’re not recognized as U.S. citizens and are subject to the same oppressive treatment as their Cuban counterparts, the nostalgic desire for a spin around the old town evaporated.

Bummer. Turns out photos of old cars and romanticized architectural dilapidation — and oh, yes, all those American flags — have an expiration date as bait.

So here come rum and cigars — and the most outrageous of olive branches: President Obama saying in his Presidential Policy Directive that with this unilateral lifting of restrictions, the United States is “not seeking a regime change.”

Is he saying that those basic freedoms he spoke about in Havana — among them, the right of people who’ve endured dictatorship for almost 58 years to choose political leaders — is off the table as a goal?

We sorely need clarification.

House Speaker Paul Ryan wasted no time capitalizing on Obama’s bad, risky move. Hillary Clinton is ahead in the polls, but Florida isn’t exactly in the bag for her.

“The past two years of normalizing relations have only emboldened the regime at the expense of the Cuban people,” Ryan said Tuesday in a statement. And many other Cuban Americans like me who’ve supported the president’s rapprochement policy found themselves strangely in agreement with the Wisconsin Republican.

President Obama may be full of good intentions. But he came to the complex Cuba issue late in his presidency — and his haste to make part of his legacy delivering, if not exactly democracy, then prosperity to the Cuban people could backfire. He may soon enough learn what every other American president who preceded him came to know first-hand: The Castro dictatorship is an unmovable feast of repression. Neither détente, nor perhaps rapprochement, seems to change that reality.

President Obama can — at least — claim he walked the high, principled road in Havana.

Although right now, it looks like there’s more cigar smoke than legacy — and no good rum for a Cuba libre.

ISIS Recruit Boasted of Training in Cuban Military

From El Paso Times:

2 suspected ISIS recruits heading to El Paso arrested

Two Wisconsin men were arrested earlier this month as they were on their way to El Paso where they allegedly planned to cross into Mexico to acquire travel documents to travel overseas to join the Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS, federal court documents say.

Jason Michael Ludke, 35, and Yosvany Padilla-Conde, 30, were arrested Oct. 5 near San Angelo, Texas, on charges of attempting to provide support to the Islamic State, according to the documents.

The FBI was alerted to Ludke and Padilla-Conde after an undercover agent posing as an IS recruiter received a friend request from Ludke back in September through a “social media platform,” according to court documents.

The documents state that Ludke, who had converted to Islam and was known as Abuz Sayyaf or Muhammad Nassir, told the undercover agent in chat conversations of his intentions to travel to Syria and Iraq. Ludke allegedly wanted to travel first to Mexico, where he has family, to purchase traveling documents.

According to court records, Ludke allegedly expressed his support for Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, head of ISIS, and had pledged allegiance to him in a video sent to the agent. Ludke also said that Padilla-Conde, as he referred as “his brother,” was interested in joining him.

Padilla-Conde also sent an email and video to the agent pledging allegiance to Al-Bahdadi and introduced himself as Saadiq Ibn Abbas or Abu Zaid, the documents said.

On Oct. 5, Ludke told the undercover agent in an email that he was travelling in Texas and was on his way to El Paso.

Ludke stated that his brother-in-law, a Palestinian Muslim, advised that he go to El Paso, where he and Padilla-Conde intended to sell their vehicle before crossing into Mexico, court documents say.

In that same conversation, Ludke allegedly said he was to meet a woman in Texas who he intended to marry and live in Syria. He also stated that Padilla-Conde had received firearms training from his time in the military in Cuba and was a benefit to “the brothers.” Court documents do not say if Padilla-Conde is Cuban.

Speaker Ryan: I Fully Intend to Maintain Embargo on Cuba

Tuesday, October 18, 2016
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) issued the following statement on the Obama administration’s unilateral move to lift trade restrictions on Cuba, which took effect yesterday:

The Castros continue to jail pro-democracy activists at a rate of hundreds per month, yet it is full steam ahead for the Obama administration’s efforts to appease this oppressive regime. President Obama’s latest move will only help finance the Castros’ grip on power and jeopardize the intellectual property rights of American businesses. As the past two years of normalizing relations have only emboldened the regime at the expense of the Cuban people, I fully intend to maintain our embargo on Cuba.

As Predicted, Obama's Policy Stifles 'Reforms' in Cuba

We have long argued how unilaterally lifting sanctions would stifle any real reforms in Cuba, for the Castro regime would solely focus on strengthening its state monopolies and the repression required to suppress change.

Six years ago, as a result of the imminent economic collapse of Venezuela, the Castro regime loosened some restrictions over Cuba's 'self-employed' entrepreneurs, which led to a rapid increase in their ranks.

However, this all came to an end on December 17th, 2014, as the Obama Administration lavished the Castro dictatorship with a series of unilateral concessions, in the form of sanctions relief.

Since then, the number of Cuba's 'self-employed' entrepreneurs has decreased and -- as reported today -- a crackdown on their activities has intensified.

If the Obama Administration truly sought to help these Cuban entrepreneurs -- as it constantly purports -- it needs to understand that the Castro regime never undertakes reforms out of desire (or good-will), but only out of necessity.

(Of course, this commitment seems doubtful, particularly in light of Obama's latest round of regulatory changes, which solely benefit Castro's state monopolies.)

As a matter of fact, in April 2014 -- several months before Obama announced his new policy -- we posed the question and predicted the unfortunate result.

Excerpt by Mauricio Claver-Carone in The Huffington Post (from April 2nd, 2014):

"Can lifting U.S. trade and investment sanctions benefit Cuba’s 'self-employment' (cuentapropistas) sector?

The short answer is: Not really.

Cuba’s military and intelligence services control and run the conglomerates of Cuba. The 'self-employment' sector represents a very small part of the island’s economy and it is important, in the debate over sanctions, to understand its nature and limits. During economic crises, the Castro regime typically authorizes a host of services that Cubans can be licensed to provide, keeping at least a portion of what they may be paid. The world’s news media refers to these jobs as 'private enterprise,' which implies 'private ownership.' Yet Cuba’s 'self-employed' licensees have no ownership rights whatsoever - be it to their artistic or 'intellectual' outputs, commodity they produce, or personal service they offer. Licensees have no legal entity (hence business) to transfer, sell or leverage. They don’t even own the equipment essential to their self-employment. More to the point, licensees have no right to engage in foreign trade, seek or receive foreign investments. Effectually licensees continue to work for the state — and when the state decides such jobs are no longer needed, licensees are shut down without recourse [...]

Based on the lessons of history, those who still believe 'self-employment' licenses are 'a step in the right direction' toward capitalism, actually have all the more reason to support U.S. sanctions. Self-employment was a temporary reaction to loss of Soviet subsidies, and with the remnants of the Chavez regime in Venezuela now imploding, Cuba will likely continue allowing it. Yet the historic lesson is clear: The Castro regime only responds when it is economically pressed. Once the Cuban economy stabilizes or begins to 'bounce back,' the Castro government reverses itself to freeze or revoke self-employment licenses. Lift U.S. sanctions and Cuba’s government will solely focus on strengthening its state conglomerates and the repression required to suppress change. Thus, U.S. sanctions are the best friends that 'cuentapropistas' now have."

IBD Editorial: Despite Obama's 'Normalization,' Cuba As Repressive As Ever

From Investor's Business Daily's Editorial Board:

Despite Obama's 'Normalization,' The Castros' Cuba Is As Repressive As Ever

It's now been almost two years since President Obama began easing relations with Cuba to make "the lives of ordinary Cubans a little bit easier, more free, more prosperous." How's that working out? No so well, it seems.

Responding to the extraordinary changes then taking place, the left-wing British Guardian in December 2014 predicted, "The easing of U.S. restrictions on Cuba will provide a telling case study in one of the longest running debates in foreign policy: whether sanctions or engagement represent the best way to change authoritarian regimes."

They were right. And so far, this "case study" doesn't show Obama's "engagement" works any better than sanctions. Far from it.

After the "normalization" of relations agreed to by Obama and Cuban associate dictator Raul Castro, the Cuban government made 8,616 politically motivated arrests in 2015 and 7,418 more in just the first half of this year, according to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights. Meanwhile, Cuban government violations of religious freedoms surged from just 220 in 2014 to 2,300 in 2015, says Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a religious rights group.

"There is no such thing as dictator-down economics," said Ana Quintana, a policy analyst who focuses on Latin America and the Western Hemisphere at the Heritage Foundation. "There is no evidence this will help the Cuban people. It will help the Cuban government and the Communist Party elite."

The fond hope of many that, once the Castros are gone, communism will simply melt away, seems to be foolish.

Just look what has happened in Venezuela following the death of socialist strongman Hugo Chavez. His successor, the pathologically inept Nicolas Maduro, has doubled down on Chavez's socialist mistakes. He has set Venezuela onto a path of economic and social collapse with more Castro-like policies of government control — of everything from the oil industry to food supply, along with a crackdown on all freedoms.

The inevitable outcome has been widespread hunger, rapid economic decline, collapsing incomes, soaring murder and street crime, surging infant mortality rates, the destruction of the middle class, even reports of cannibalism as food shortages leave government-run store shelves empty and inflation makes even everyday goods prohibitively expensive for all but the socialist elite.

It's a human rights nightmare. And it has nothing to do with U.S. sanctions.

The idea that U.S. sanctions destroyed Cuba's economy is a long-cherished myth pushed aggressively by the left-leaning U.S. media and their Democratic Party friends.

Yes, the U.S. imposed sanctions for over 50 years. But Cuba was free to trade with other nations, and did so, including Canada, Japan, Europe and, of course, the former nations of the Soviet Union. Tourists from all over the world traveled there for a cheap beach vacation, quaffing drinks, eating food and sleeping in rooms that were forbidden to Cuban citizens.

Cuba remains an island prison of slave-citizens, and no amount of U.S. trade will change that. After all, every moneymaking industry in Cuba is owned by the government. So more trade only bolsters the despised Castro regime. The only thing that will change things for the better in Cuba is the ouster of the communist regime that is responsible for impoverishing a nation that was once the second-wealthiest in Latin America.

OK, you say, but why should this matter? After all, Obama has called his latest policy shifts, announced just last week, "irreversible."

Well, we would direct you to a recent survey showing that just 37% of millennials have a "very unfavorable" view of communism, according to the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation's first "Annual Report on U.S. Attitudes Toward Socialism," released Monday. That compares to 57% of all Americans having a "very unfavorable" view of communism.

Moreover, just 42% of millennials have a favorable view of capitalism. Nearly half of those aged 16 to 20 said they would vote for a socialist, and 21% said they'd vote for a communist.

This is a shocking indicator of the failure of civics education in our nation's schools. Socialism and communism have always failed wherever they've been tried — always. Yet this message hasn't gotten through to America's youth, who know nothing of the mass murders, gulags and deprivation of basic human rights that mark all Marxist-inspired regimes.

That Americans who live in the most prosperous country in the history of the Earth — a capitalist prosperity that derives from individual freedom, free markets and respect for private property — could think otherwise is alarming, and should be a wake-up call.