Statement on Establishing Diplomatic Relations With Cuba's Regime

Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Tomorrow, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will announce the establishment of diplomatic relations with the only government in the Western Hemisphere not elected by its citizens.

That -- in itself -- encapsulates why this is a bad policy.

The announcement comes on the same week that the Castro regime violently arrested over 226 peaceful Cuban dissidents.

That makes the timing particularly distasteful.

According to U.S. law ("LIBERTAD Act"), diplomatic recognition should only be considered "when the President determines that a there exists a democratically elected government in Cuba."

It also states that, "the satisfactory resolution of property claims by a Cuban Government recognized by the United States remains an essential condition for the full resumption of economic and diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba."

That makes the announcement in contravention of U.S. law.

Finally, as a condition for the establishment of diplomatic relations, the Castro regime has demanded restrictions on U.S. diplomat's movement; the inspection of diplomatic pouches for the Mission; an end to the execution of democracy programs (i.e. the training of independent journalists); and the continuance of a state security cordon to intimidate Cubans from approaching the Mission.

That would be in contravention of the Vienna Convention -- and unprecedented in the Western Hemisphere.

Congress should closely probe these very concerning issues, withhold funding for the operation of an Embassy and block the confirmation of any Ambassador, until it receives satisfactory responses from the Obama Administration.

The Hill: House Bill Bans Trade With Cuban Military

From The Hill:

GOP bill bans trade with Cuban military

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee has introduced legislation that would prevent the Cuban military from reaping benefits due to normalized U.S. relations.

The bill authored by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the Intelligence panel chairman, would prohibit Americans from entering financial transactions with the Cuban military or the Cuban Ministry of the Interior, which controls the national police force.

"Despite the Obama administration’s attempts at reconciliation, the Castro regime continues to oppress the Cuban people and to shelter members of the Cuban military responsible for shooting down U.S. civilian aircraft in the Florida Straits. This bill will ensure that the government entities responsible for these acts – the Cuban military and the Interior Ministry – will not reap the rewards of increased trade with the United States," Nunes said in a statement.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) emphasized that the legislation only targets Cuban entities that have committed acts of brutality against civilians.

"I look forward to the day when we can pursue completely free trade and travel between the U.S. and Cuba, but current circumstances require us to move cautiously, as this legislation does," Thornberry said.

The bill is similar to language tucked into the 2016 appropriations bill for the Departments of Justice and Commerce that passed the House earlier this month. Those provisions would prohibit funds for exports to members of the Cuban military and their families.

So far, Nunes's legislation has 32 cosponsors, including Florida Republican Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo, all of whom are of Cuban descent. Only one Democrat, Albio Sires of New Jersey, has endorsed the measure.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a Cuban American and 2016 presidential contender, has introduced a similar bill in the Senate.

Cuban Dissidents Report Over 220 Arrests

Courtesy of Hablemos Press (via Translating Cuba):

Cuban Police Arrest More Than 220 Dissidents, According To Activists

The Cuban National Police, the Department of State Security, and other members of the Interior Ministry arrested at least 226 Cuban activists and dissidents this past Sunday, June28th, 2015.

Police operations were carried out in various provinces of the country to keep activists and opposition members from attending Mass.

Among those arrested in Havana were Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White Movement, Antonio G. Rodiles, director of Estado de SATS; José Díaz, of Opponents for a New Republic Movement; photographer Claudio Fuentes; and several of the former political prisoners who were released in January 2015.

In Havana, the arrests of various members of the Ladies in White and others of the opposition took place as these individuals were departing their residences early in the morning, and they remained surrounded by police officers throughout the day.

Besides Soler, Ladies in White executive committee members María Cristina Labrada Barona and Lismeri Quintana Ávila were among these detainees, along with eight other women.

Another 39 arrests of women activists took place in the area around Santa Rita Church, after the women completed their customary march along 5th Avenue in the Miramar district of Playa municipality, and gathered in Gandhi Park (adjacent to the church) to review the week’s activities. In addition, approximately another 41 activists and opponents -- men who accompany the Ladies on their march -- were arrested in the capital.

Dozens of Interior Ministry agents blocked the streets around St. Rita Church to arrest the Ladies and other dissidents, according to the activists.

The Lady in White Aidé Gallardo Salazar was struck and dragged by female officers. “They hit me on the head and face, and they tried to asphyxiate me,” Gallardo averred.

Other arrests of Ladies in White occurred in these provinces: Holguín (4); Bayamo-Granma (2); and Aguada de Pasajero in Cienfuegos (9). In the last province, additionally, “17 men who accompanied the Ladies were arrested,” according to activist and former political prisoner Iván Hernández Carrillo.

The independent reporter Agustín López Canino also was arrested upon exiting his home in the El Globo district, located on the outskirts of Havana.

“I will continue going there to St. Rita for as long as they’ll let me,” said López Canino when interviewed. “What I do is take down the facts and forward them to various media.”

He adds that, “The repression against the opposition movement has increased extraordinarily within the last six months and cannot be allowed to go on without attention focused on it.

The former political prisoners Ramón Alejandro Muñoz, Eugenio Hernández Hernández, Ángel Figueredo Castellón, Mario Alberto Hernández, and Rolando Reyes Rabanal were also arrested in Havana.

The Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), headquartered in Santiago de Cuba, reported the arrests of 103 of its members when they attempted to travel to the village of El Cobre to attend Mass.

The agents used violence to detain the opponents, who were transported to police stations and military bases, according to activist sources.

Ladies in White affirm that, “The regime wants to destroy the opposition, but we are prepared to give our lives for the freedom of the political prisoners,” stated Ibón Lemos y Mayelín Peña.

Soler attests that the repression increased 11 Sundays ago, ever since the Ladies in White initiated a new campaign to demand the release of political prisoners, among them: the writer Ángel Santiesteban Prats, the artist Danilo Maldonado Machado (“El Sexto”); and the dissidents Santiago Roberto Montes de Oca, René Rouco Machín, Osvaldo Rodríguez Acosta, Yosvani Melchor Rodríguez, Rolando Joaquín Guerra Pérez, Eugenio Ariel Arzuaga Peña, Yoelkis Rosabal -- in total, more than 50 individuals.

The reports received at Hablemos Press included figures totaling 226 opponents arrested across the island on Sunday, although the actual number may be greater.

Catholic Priest Expels Cuba's Ladies in White From Mass

Monday, June 29, 2015
From Breitbart:

Cuba: Catholic Church Bans Relatives of Political Prisoners from Mass

A Catholic church in the central Cuban city of Cienfuegos has banned female relatives of political prisoners from attending mass unless they no longer wear white, a color associated with political imprisonment in the nation. The slight to families of the abused follows the bewildering remark from Archbishop of Havana Jaime Ortega that Cuba no longer has prisoners of conscience.

Eight members of the Ladies in White activist group have attended Sunday Catholic Mass wearing white for years, sitting in the pews in silence unless participating in the Mass. No reports have surfaced of the women themselves–mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters of prisoners of conscience–disturbing the Mass. Nonetheless, a priest in Cienfuegos expelled them from his service, ordering them never to wear white again in his church if they wish to attend services.

The priest, identified as “Father Tarciso,” told Diario de Cuba that the women were “disrespectful,” stating, “I had told them that the way things are could not continue to be... I cannot allow our community to be further fractured,” he argued. He accused them of taking photographs inside the church, which the ladies deny. Miladis Espino Díaz, a representative of the Ladies in White, noted that they were expelled from the church and, upon walking out, could hear the priest apologize to those in attendance for not having done it sooner.

“We do not only go to church because we are Ladies in White,” Espino Díaz told the newspaper, “but because we believe in God. We sing, we pray, we participate, we do nothing wrong.”

Following their removal from the church, the women testified to being the victim of a number of offensive acts, including a man “exposing himself and urinating in front of them,” “obscene gestures using fingers,” and “being called prostitutes.”

Offenses to the Ladies in White are common as they attempt to attend Mass; in a particularly gruesome instance last year, one woman was tarred for wearing white to the service.

Two male supporters of the group, Emilio García Moreira and Alexander Veliz García, began a hunger strike Thursday to support the return of the women to Mass.

Castro Sticks Thumb in Senators' Eyes, Arrests Over 160 Dissidents

While another delegation of U.S. Senators was being charmed by Castro regime officials, over 160 dissidents were being violently arrested by their hosts.

(Update: Independent journalists from Hablemos Press have documented over 226 arrests this weekend.)

The delegation, led by U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), along with U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Dean Heller (R-NV), visited Havana and Santiago over the weekend.

In Havana, over 50 members of The Ladies in White, and a dozen accompanying activists, were arrested.

The Ladies in White is a pro-democracy group composed of the wives, sisters, daughters, mothers and other relatives of Cuban political prisoners.

They were taken to a military prison in Tarara.

Meanwhile, in Santiago de Cuba, 103 activists of the dissident group, the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU), were arrested.

In another incident, former political prisoner Yojaine Arce Sarmiento's motorbike was rammed by a jeep belonging to a Communist Party official. Arce had been prohibited from riding the motorbike for having painted the word "CAMBIO" ("CHANGE") on it.

In what has become a constant trend since the Obama-Castro deal, the visiting delegation of U.S. Senators did not meet with any Cuban democracy leaders -- for that would upset their hosts.

And a trip to Cuba would be incomplete for Senator Leahy without staying at his favorite establishment, the luxury Hotel Saratoga -- a property that has been twice-confiscated by the Castro regime.

Is this the "positive change" in Cuba that Senator Leahy claims is taking place?

Obama's new policy towards has taken solidarity with Cuba's courageous democrats to a tragic and unprecedented low level.

That's hardly positive. It's shameful.

Focus on Freedom for the Cuban People

By U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC), Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, in The Miami Herald:

Let’s liberate Cuban citizens, not enrich Castro brothers

For far too long, the citizens of Cuba have known only suffering under an oppressive Castro regime. As a firm believer in the power of liberty and an open society, I feel strongly that any decision to shift U.S. policy toward Cuba must focus on liberating Cuban citizens, not enriching the Castro brothers.

Cubans have gained absolutely nothing from the Obama administration’s secret negotiations to “normalize” relations with the Castros. Rather, the decision to reestablish diplomatic relations will benefit Fidel and Raúl Castro, who are responsible for the oppression.

Over the past 50 years, the conditions of the Cuban people haven’t improved despite U.S. efforts. Because of Castro’s brutal seizing of power and the shameless stealing of American property, the United States chose to impose sanctions in order to urge the establishment of democracy, allowance of freedom, and justice for people whose property was taken. The Castros have simply refused. The Obama administration’s decision to loosen economic restrictions and reestablish relations only rewards that obstinate behavior and has allowed Castro to drive the agenda.

The regime has asked for the return of the U.S. naval station at Guantánamo Bay, which would equip Havana with a broad array of security options, including leasing the area to a third party state such as Russia or China, which would endanger our own national security. Similarly, allowing them access to U.S. banks could create money-laundering nightmares.

Perhaps most insulting, Havana has demanded so-called “just compensation” for the “economic damage” inflicted by U.S. sanctions. The Cuban regime deprived U.S. and Cuban citizens of billions of dollars in property and still denies those citizens any form of justice, including compensation.

In a Congressional hearing I chaired earlier this month on the future of property rights in Cuba, we heard from witnesses who shared stories of how their property was stolen by the Castro regime, and the plight of churches whose properties had been confiscated and then have had to pay rent for buildings they own. Inexplicably, Castro confidently asks for compensation without even hinting at a solution to the claims issue. In yet another show of weakness, the State Department has failed to prioritize the claims issue in the current talks involving possible embassies, thereby allowing the Cuban regime to effectively evade the matter indefinitely.

These changes being negotiated by the Obama administration only stand to benefit Castro. Each of the demands stands as a threat to the already perilous position of freedom in Cuba. Should we fail to make demands of our own, we will see no substantive, lasting change for the Cuban people.

Despite Engagement, Human Rights Abuses Persist (and Worsen) in Cuba

From the U.S. Department of State's recently-released report on Cuba's human rights practices:

Cuba is an authoritarian state led by Raul Castro, who is president of the council of state and council of ministers, Communist Party (CP) first secretary, and commander in chief of security forces. The constitution recognizes the CP as the only legal party and “the superior leading force of society and of the state.” A CP candidacy commission pre-approved all candidates for the February 2013 uncontested National Assembly elections, which were neither free nor fair. The national leadership, including members of the military, maintained effective control over the security forces.

The principal human rights abuses included those involving the abridgement of the ability of citizens to change the government and the use of government threats, extrajudicial physical assault, intimidation, violent government-organized counter-protests against peaceful dissent, and harassment and detentions to prevent free expression and peaceful assembly.

The following additional abuses continued: short-term, arbitrary unlawful detentions and arrests, harsh prison conditions, selective prosecution, denial of fair trial, and travel restrictions. Authorities interfered with privacy, engaging in pervasive monitoring of private communications. The government did not respect freedom of speech and press, restricted internet access, maintained a monopoly on media outlets, circumscribed academic freedom, and maintained some restrictions on the ability of religious groups to meet and worship. The government refused to recognize independent human rights groups or permit them to function legally. In addition the government continued to prevent workers from forming independent unions and otherwise exercising their labor rights.

Most human rights abuses were committed by officials at the direction of the government. Impunity for the perpetrators remained widespread.

Top Intelligence-Defense Lawmakers Introduce Cuban Military Transparency Act

Friday, June 26, 2015
Top Defense Lawmakers Introduce Cuban Military Transparency Act

Bill prevents Cuban military and Interior Ministry from benefiting from new trade

Congressman Devin Nunes (CA-22), Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, introduced a bill in the House of Representatives today that would ban Americans from engaging in any financial transactions with the Cuban military or the Cuban Ministry of the Interior, or with any entity controlled by the military or the Ministry.

Supported by 32 original cosponsors, the Cuban Military Transparency Act will ensure that the Cuban people, and not the Castro regime’s repressive security apparatus, benefit from any increased trade resulting from the Obama administration’s policy to normalize U.S.-Cuban relations. Chairman Nunes and original cosponsors Mac Thornberry, Chairman of the House Armed Forces Committee, and Rodney Frelinghuysen, Chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, issued the following statements:

Chairman Nunes: "Despite the Obama administration’s attempts at reconciliation, the Castro regime continues to oppress the Cuban people and to shelter members of the Cuban military responsible for shooting down U.S. civilian aircraft in the Florida Straits. This bill will ensure that the government entities responsible for these acts – the Cuban military and the Interior Ministry – will not reap the rewards of increased trade with the United States."

Chairman Thornberry: "I believe that most Cubans are good people who yearn for freedom and opportunity, but we must ensure that any expansion of trade with or travel to Cuba does not strengthen the brutal Castro regime. I look forward to the day when we can pursue completely free trade and travel between the U.S. and Cuba, but current circumstances require us to move cautiously, as this legislation does."

Chairman Frelinghuysen: "While the Obama Administration appears to be handing the Castro regime everything it wants without placing serious demands on the Castro government, it is absolutely unthinkable that the White House would act to benefit the Cuban military which has violated numerous U.N. resolutions and provided aid and comfort to all sorts of malevolent groups in our own hemisphere."