Washington Post: Cuba Should Not be Rewarded for Its Repression

Monday, October 20, 2014
From The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

Cuba should not be rewarded for denying freedom to its people

The other day, Fidel Castro wrote an opinion column for Cuba’s state-run newspaper, Granma, as he has done periodically from retirement. He lavished praise on an editorial in the New York Times that called for an end to the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba. But Mr. Castro had one complaint: The Times mentioned the harassment of dissidents and the still-unexplained death of a leading exponent of democracy, Oswaldo Payá, and a younger activist, Harold Cepero, in a car wreck two years ago.

The assertion that Cuba’s authoritarian government had yet to explain the deaths was “slanderous and [a] cheap accusation,” Mr. Castro sputtered.

So why has Cuba done nothing to dispel the fog of suspicion that still lingers over the deaths? If the charge is slanderous, then it is long past time for Mr. Castro to order a thorough investigation of what happened on an isolated Cuban road on July 22, 2012. So far, there has been only a crude attempt at cover-up and denial.

We know something about what happened, thanks to the eyewitness account of Ángel Carromero, the young Spanish politician who was at the wheel of the rental car that was carrying Mr. Payá and Mr. Cepero to a meeting with supporters. Mr. Carromero, who visited Washington last week, told us the car was being shadowed by Cuban state security from the moment it left Havana. He said his conversations with Mr. Payá as they traveled were mostly about the Varela Project, Mr. Payá’s courageous 2002 petition drive seeking to guarantee democracy in Cuba. Many of Mr. Payá’s supporters in the project were later arrested and imprisoned.

After the wreck, Mr. Carromero was pressured by the Cuban authorities to describe it as an accident caused by his reckless speeding. But he reiterated to us last week that what really happened is that the rental car was rammed from behind by a vehicle bearing state license plates. Mr. Carromero showed us photographs of the damaged car, damage that seemed inconsistent with a wreck caused by speeding. But the precise details of what happened are unknown and need to be cleared up by a credible investigation. Mr. Payá’s family has sought one for two years, without success. When the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States sent a query to Cuba about the case, they got no answer. Nothing.

The U.S. embargo has been substantially relaxed in recent years to allow hundreds of millions of dollars of food and medicine exports, in addition to consumer goods supplied to Cubans by relatives in this country. The question is whether a further relaxation is merited. The regime’s persecution of dissidents is unceasing; it continues to imprison American Alan Gross on false charges. While Cuba has toyed with economic liberalization and lifted travel restrictions for some, we see no sign that the Castro brothers are loosening their grip. Fully lifting the embargo now would reward and ratify their intransigence.

A concession such as ending the trade embargo should not be exchanged for nothing. It should be made when Cuba grants genuine freedom to its people, the goal cherished by Mr. Payá.

Is Cuba Sending Unqualified Health Workers to West Africa?

The Cuban dictatorship is willing to sacrifice anything -- or anyone -- for the sake of propaganda.

This appears to be the case of the health workers it has sent to West Africa to work on the Ebola virus.

The details that have been filtering out of Cuba regarding the terms and conditions that the Castro regime has given to these health workers are very concerning.

For example, the Cuban health workers have been compelled to agree that if they contract the Ebola virus, they will not be repatriated to the island.

Moreover, they have been warned of a 90% chance of no return.

As such, there has been a life insurance policy taken out for these health workers with the World Health Organization (WHO).

Surely the families are the beneficiaries of the policies, right?

Nope -- the Cuban state is.

(It remains unclear whether the WHO is further paying the Castro regime for these health workers.)

Those fortunate enough to return have been "promised" nearly $10,000 per month -- to be deposited in a Cuban state bank account during their absence -- as well as a house and car.

This would set them up extremely handsomely -- for life -- in Cuba.

Of course, whether the Castro regime intends to actually fulfill this "promise" is another question. Just ask the veterans of Cuba's African wars.

Castro knows that Cubans are desperate enough to accept these terms. After all, there's at least a chance for survival if you contract Ebola, while there's no chance for survival if you're caught by sharks in the Florida Straits.

But it seems that the Castro regime is not counting on their return.

Adding to this concern is the fact that the Cuban health workers sent to West Africa appear to be poorly trained (at best) or utterly unqualified (at worst).

As the Wall Street Journal reported last week:

An Australian World Health Organization official responsible for training them on Ebola care watched in concern as the Cubans swapped hand-clasps, pats on backs and other potentially hazardous displays of physical affection. Public-health officials warn Ebola can spread on contact, with the virus carried in bodily fluids like sweat.

“They’re a very cuddly people,” said Katrina Roper, a technical officer with the U.N. agency. “Tomorrow will be me explaining why they have to stop shaking hands and sharing things.”

Such irresponsibility may only exacerbate the problem.

But hey -- sacrifice anything, or anyone, for propaganda.

Meanwhile, in another simplistic, haphazard and obviously ill-informed editorial today, The New York Times tells us this approach should be "lauded and emulated."

Full Disclosure on Columbia's Cuba Conference

There's a story today in El Nuevo Herald about this weekend's conference at Columbia University's School of Journalism entitled, "Covering Cuba in the Era of Change."

The event was (supposedly) "designed to deepen journalists' reporting on a wide range of issues involving Cuba and Cuban-American relations at a critical moment of transition."

It featured a "who's who" of the most vocal opponents of U.S. policy towards Cuba.

However, not one U.S.-based proponent of Cuba policy was invited.

Moreover, not a single foreign journalist who has been honest -- and even written books -- about their "self-censorship" in Cuba was invited.

So much for "objectivity" in journalism.

To the organizer's dismay, the only participants (out of dozens) who were not adverse to U.S. policy were three Cuban dissidents. In other words, those closest to Cuba's reality.

One of these, Cuban blogger and democracy activist Miriam Celaya, wrote her take on the event in 14ymedio -- click here (in Spanish).

It's a must-read.

Celaya notes -- in clear dismay -- how this event could have easily been produced by Cuba's "officialdom."

Sadly, she's not too far off.

Unfortunately, El Nuevo Herald failed to disclose in its story who funded Columbia University's conference.

According to its organizers, it was financed "by a generous grant from The Atlantic Philanthropies, with supplemental funding from the Ford Foundation."

For those unaware, The Atlantic Philanthropies has been one of the main financial arms for propagating Castro's "medical propaganda" abroad.

Since 2002, it has contributed nearly $17 million to the Oakland-based, Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba (MEDICC), headed by Castro apologist (and former "Venceremos Brigade" member) Gail Reed.

Reed has been married to renowned Cuban intelligence official, Julian Torres Rizo, who had been Castro's Ambassador to Grenada in the early 80s. (See the image below).

"I feel a very strong identification with the Cuban revolution," Reed has said.

Meanwhile, the Ford Foundation has infamously become Mariela Castro's (daughter of Cuban dictator Raul Castro) booking agent in recent years, financing her travels and presentations throughout the world.

That's quite a conference they produced.

Falling Oil Prices Pressure Venezuela (Cuba)

From The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

Falling oil prices put pressure on Russia, Iran and Venezuela

The silver lining in the recent financial market turbulence has been the continued decline in the price of oil, which is down about 25 percent since June. In addition to creating a windfall for U.S. consumers — one analysis reckoned the savings could amount to $600 per household — the drop, if sustained, will place considerable pressure on three problematic petrostates: Russia, Iran and Venezuela. The aggressively anti-American foreign policies pursued by all three countries in recent years have been financed in large part by soaring oil revenue.

Though separated by culture and continent, the regimes of Vladi­mir Putin, Ali Khamenei and Nicolás Maduro have in common autocratic government and ambitions to dominate their regions. More than half of their state budgets come from petroleum exports, and their spending plans depend on high prices: $100 a barrel in the case of Russia, $120 for Venezuela and $140 for Iran, according to the Economist. Last week, benchmark Brent crude was selling for just $85 a barrel, while Venezuela’s heavy oil dropped below $80, according to the VenEconomía Web site.

The falling prices could compound the effect on Iran and Russia of international sanctions. Iran, which lost some 45 percent of its oil revenue in the past two years, has been able to increase its exports and return to economic growth under an interim agreement on its nuclear program. That advance could be nullified by the drop in prices, which in turn could increase the pressure on the regime to strike a long-term nuclear agreement with a U.S.-led coalition by a late-November deadline.

Mr. Putin has embarked on an expensive military ad­ven­ture in Ukraine, but his finance minister warned this month that the country can no longer afford an ambitious 10-year defense spending plan — not to mention promised social spending. As the Kremlin well knows, a drop in oil prices during the early 1980s helped bring about the collapse of the Soviet Union. While he has yet to give up his ambitions in Ukraine, the Russian ruler may soon have to cope with a domestic economic recession and the unrest it could provoke.

Venezuela’s government is celebrating its election on Thursday to the U.N. Security Council — a position it secured thanks in part to its long-standing policy of buying the support of Caribbean and Central American countries with heavily subsidized oil. Venezuela also props up the Cuban economy with energy deliveries estimated to be worth $10 billion annually. The oil price drop may be most painful in Caracas, where the government is already failing to deliver hard currency to drug importers and international airlines. The cost for insuring Venezuelan debt has recently soared amid speculation about a default. If one is to be avoided, Mr. Maduro may have to adopt painful domestic measures, including a major currency devaluation and cuts in gasoline and electricity subsidies. That will make it hard to maintain the unpopular largesse for Cuba, Nicaragua and other clients.

The willingness and ability of Russia, Iran and Venezuela to challenge the United States and the post-Cold War order has steadily risen along with oil prices since the turn of the century. If, as seems possible, the recent decline is sustained over several years, the geopolitical dividends for the United States may be even greater than those reaped by consumers.

Must-Read: Raul Castro's Desperate Offensive

Saturday, October 18, 2014
Excerpt by Cuban author and intellectual, Carlos Alberto Montaner, in Diario de Cuba:

Raul Castro fears that Venezuela's subsidies will dry out in the short-term. He sees it coming. The price of oil is falling and the chaos generated by the absolute inefficiency of "chavismo" has Venezuela about to close the spigot. The Cubans selected Maduro, but he has turned out to be an absolute disaster. It's a question of survival. Two drowning people can't mutually save themselves.

Thus, the offensive. Raul needs, desperately, to be saved from the burning ship. What exactly does he need? A deluge of American tourists to flood his hotels with their fresh dollars. Today, they can't travel to Cuba. The law prohibits it. He also wants credits to import U.S. products. They sell him food and medicine, but he has to pay cash-in-advance and lacks dollars.

Raul Castro is not willing to change the system, nor tolerate freedoms, but he thinks he can change Obama and eliminate the restrictions imposed or maintained by eleven U.S. Presidents.

His hypothesis is that he'll succeed in doing so after the November elections, in the last two years of the Obama Administration. To achieve this goal, he has his entire intelligence services diligently working, along with a few exiles who subscribe to the strange and illogical rationale that the way to end Castro's tyranny is by endowing it with resources.

The main obstacle -- Havana believes -- is Democrat Senator Bob Menendez, Chairman of the important Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Therefore, Cuba's intelligence services concocted an operation to try to destroy him by creating a smear campaign that he had relations with underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic. This was discovered to be a repugnant lie.

The tentacles of Castro's lobby are extensive. They reach Congress, the media, and the academic and cultural worlds. They infiltrated the Pentagon. The person who used to evaluate Havana's activities for The White House was senior intelligence analyst, Ana Belen Montes, a Cuban spy, captured in 2001 and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Since 1985 she had been spying for the Castros.

Scott W. Carmichel, the U.S. counter-intelligence agent who discovered her, believes there are many more spies placed and seduced by Cuba in various sectors of the U.S. government and civil society. He's probably right. And they are all working tirelessly to obtain Raul Castro's current objective.

Lobbying for Sanctioned Countries

Haven't "experts" assured us that Mugabe really wants sanctions to remain in place, so that he could use them as an excuse for his failings?

That's clearly not the case.

One day, we'll surely learn a lot more about the Castro dictatorship's lobbyists and its Congressional allies.

From Roll Call:

Zimbabwe Lobbying Case Yields Another Conviction

A Chicago man who bragged to Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe in 2008 about his close ties to then President-Elect Barack Obama was convicted Friday of violating federal law as he lobbied for relief of sanctions against the African nation.

The $3.4 million conspiracy scheme involved coordinating meetings between Mugabe and members of Congress in Africa and New York, attempting to set up Zimbabwean officials with visas to speak to an issues forum in Washington, D.C., sponsored by a House lawmaker from California, plus other political consulting on Mugabe’s behalf.

C. Gregory Turner is the second man convicted in a case that was reported to the FBI by the Obama transition team, one month after the November 2008 election. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois said the office could not comment when asked about further investigation into the matter, which has been tied to current and former members of Congress.

A federal jury found Turner, 72, guilty of violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act for his involvement in the lobbying scheme, and acquitted him of two other charges. Co-defendent Prince Asiel Ben Israel, 73, of Chicago, was sentenced in August to seven months in prison after pleading guilty to violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

The bizarre case unearthed an FBI informant’s claim that Illinois Democrat Roland Burris – potentially a key witness for the prosecution – was involved in a shakedown scheme during his time in the Senate. Burris was never called to the stand after defense attorneys questioned his credibility. He has not been charged with any wrongdoing related to the claim.

Reps. Danny K. Davis and Bobby L. Rush, were identified by Chicago media last year as two targets of the scheme, given they were the only Illinois Democrats to have sponsored a failed 2010 resolution for review of sanctions against Zimbabwe. According to FBI testimony unsealed in federal court, “U.S. Representative A” and “U.S. Representative B” were linked to Turner’s communications with Zimbabwean officials.

The affidavit alleged U.S. Representative A sent a letter on official congressional letterhead to Mugabe in August 2009 requesting a meeting, then followed up in an October letter to Mugabe thanking him for “the most positive and productive meeting in New York” and confirming the best dates to travel to Zimbabwe for a follow-up. Meanwhile, U.S. Representative B’s travel itinerary for an official U.S. congressional delegation to Africa in August 2009 was shared with Zimbabwe officials.

Cuba and North Korea Expand Commercial Ties

Probably more "sugar deals".

From China's state media:

Cuba, DPRK sign agreements to expand trade ties

Cuba and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) signed agreements Friday designed to expand bilateral trade ties, state daily Granma reported.

The two documents on commercial exchange and commercial payments were signed during a meeting between Cuban Foreign Trade and Investment Minister Rodrigo Malmierca and the new ambassador of Pyongyang in Havana, Pak Chang Yul.

The two officials also "agreed to a protocol on the general conditions for the delivery of goods between the two ministries," the daily said.

Malmierca highlighted the traditional ties of friendship that exist between Cuba and the Asian country, and called for continued cooperation for mutual benefit.

Pak Chang Yul, in turn, said the new agreements "will contribute to the diversification of Cuba's trade exchange," according to the daily.

Quote of the Day: Will Congress Lift the Cuban Embargo?

Friday, October 17, 2014
[T]he chance that Congress will take any action to end the Cuban embargo is about the same as the chance that Castro will shave his beard and join the cast of Dancing with the Stars, and the opinion of the [New York] Times editorial board is unlikely to change these odds.
-- Clif Burns, Washington, D.C. attorney, in "New York Times Futilely Calls for End to Cuba Embargo", Export Law Blog, 10/16/14