Bad Business for Burma (and Cuba)

Saturday, April 9, 2011
The message below also applies to Spain's Repsol and other Western companies looking to partner-up with Castro's oil monopoly, Cupet.

By Matthew M. Smith in The New York Times:

The Burmese pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi recently urged Western nations to maintain economic sanctions against Myanmar, where the world's longest-running military dictatorship is tightening its repressive ways: Over 2,000 prisoners of conscience languish behind bars in squalid conditions, while arbitrary arrests and detentions, extrajudicial killings, torture and other abuses continue to be widespread and systematic, particularly in ethnic areas.

Nevertheless, Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi's message is not without controversy. It comes just weeks before the European Union will revisit its hotly debated sanctions policy, and a few disquieted Western policymakers, corporate executives and think tanks are advocating for economic engagement with the reclusive generals and their cronies. Sanctions policy is not only antiquated, ineffective, and hurtful to the Burmese people, they argue, it also gives the upper hand to China, which is sending companies to Burma with abandon, especially for big-ticket energy projects tapping natural gas reserves.

Beijing has at least 16 oil and gas companies invested in 21 onshore and offshore projects in Burma, far more than any other country. Until now, there's been very little information available about these projects, the largest of which are dual gas and oil pipelines under construction from western Burma to the Chinese border, led by the state-controlled China National Petroleum Corporation and Korea's Daewoo International.

Passing rugged mountains, dense jungles, arid plains, important rivers and a number of contested territories and population densities in Burma, the 500-mile-long pipelines will enable Beijing to bypass the vulnerable Strait of Malacca and supply gas and oil directly to landlocked Yunnan Province.

Leaked documents and clandestine interviews with affected populations along the project route in Burma confirm that the Burmese military is responsible for guarding the pipelines and related infrastructure, and for committing serious human rights violations in connection to the projects.

The most common violation so far is land confiscation and forced or coerced evictions. Families have been stripped of their means of subsistence — their land — with little or no compensation, making them instantly more vulnerable to the trappings of poverty and abuse in the militarized state.

"I don't have enough rice for my family," said one farmer who lost the land his family cultivated for generations. "I worry for my family."

Violent abuses are also happening. "They blindfolded me and put me in a car," an Arakanese man reported, referring to Burma's Military Intelligence, "I'm not sure where they drove." This man was tortured brutally for four days in a windowless room before standing trial on trumped-up charges with no defense lawyer.

Not that legal representation would have mattered. In proceedings that he says lasted five minutes, a Burmese judge sentenced him to six months in the notorious Insein Prison, where he survived appalling conditions before going into hiding. His crime: leading two community-level training sessions to raise awareness about the pipelines.

Unsurprisingly, in a multitude of interviews, not one villager expressed support for the pipelines.

Perhaps of greatest concern for Burma's development is that the projects will generate billions of dollars annually through gas sales, taxes, fees, royalties and production bonuses. If the past is any judge, those revenues will accrue to the military rulers and serve to widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots. Burma already ranks as the world's second most corrupt country, beating only Somalia, according to Transparency International, which publishes a widely cited corruption perception index.

Barring targeted action from the international community, revenues from these pipelines will likely remain outside the national budget and tucked away in offshore bank accounts held in trust for the military rulers and their closed network of political and economic elite. Despite billions of dollars in export gas sales already coming in, new schools and hospitals are few and far between in resource-rich Burma, but luxury homes and expensive cars for the ruling elite and their families abound.

As sanctions policies are revisited, Western oil and mining companies shouldn't assume they have the answers for Burma's development or that they can do better than China. No matter how well intentioned a company may be, no matter how responsible, constructing new energy projects in Burma's contested ethnic territories with the backing of the Burmese Army is bound to be violent, and enormous revenue flows into military coffers will do more to perpetuate authoritarianism than to promote positive change, regardless of where those revenues come from.

Barring meaningful political changes, new energy projects in today's Burma are simply not good business — for China, the West, or the people of Burma, regardless of any sanctions policy.

Matthew F. Smith is a senior consultant with EarthRights International, which represented Burmese plaintiffs in Doe v. Unocal Corporation

Spain's "Silent Mariel" is Officially Over

According to The Miami Herald:

Cuba's release of political prisoners has ended at 115, the Spanish government said Friday, drawing strong objections from human rights activists in Havana that at least 50 remain in the island's prisons.

Spain's "silent Mariel" of political prisoners and opposition activists (as pro-democracy leader Guillermo Farinas labeled it) is officially over.

The result: 103 political prisoners banished to Spain, while only 12 were conditionally released (under "extra-penal" licenses) on the island.

So what happens to the remaining 50+ well-known (and identified) political prisoners?

How about those unknown? After all, the Castro regime prohibits the International Committee of the Red Cross and the U.N.'s Special Rapporteur on Torture from entering the island.

How about the countless others imprisoned for "common crimes" (with a political context), such as "illegal exit," "social dangerousness" and "illegal association"

How about about those arrested last year, this year and in the future?

Let's not forget that the Castro regime has a long history of releasing (and banishing) political prisoners in times of crisis -- only to (once again) fill up its jails soon thereafter.

At the end of the day, nothing has changed in Cuba that would legally or institutionally protect pro-democracy advocates, civil society activists or any other Cuban from peacefully opposing (or even criticizing) the dictatorship of Fidel and Raul Castro.

That's the tragic bottom line.

A Lesson in Totalitarianism, Pt. 2

Friday, April 8, 2011
As we previously posted, the Cuba Study Group's Carlos Saladrigas gave the following quote to the AP yesterday:

"As long as the Cuban economy was a totalitarian economy, the argument for an embargo was that you are hurting the Cuban state. As the Cuban economy becomes directed toward the private economy... then it begs the question as to whether the embargo is really hurting the government or the people."

Just this morning, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton released the State Department's 2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.

The very first sentence of the Report's Cuba section reads:

"Cuba, with a population of approximately 11.4 million, is a totalitarian state led by Raul Castro, who held the positions of chief of state, president of the council of state and council of ministers, and commander in chief of the Revolutionary Armed Forces."

Thus, it begs the question (again) of Mr. Saladrigas -- if lifting sanctions helps Cuba's totalitarian state, then why are you proposing to do just that?

From the State Department

The State Department has just released its 2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. 

Here's a summary of its Cuba section:

Cuba, with a population of approximately 11.4 million, is a totalitarian state led by Raul Castro, who held the positions of chief of state, president of the council of state and council of ministers, and commander in chief of the Revolutionary Armed Forces. The constitution recognizes the Communist Party (CP) as the only legal party and "the superior leading force of society and of the state." Fidel Castro, who formally relinquished power to his brother in 2008, remained the First Secretary of the CP. The 2008 legislative elections were neither free nor fair; a CP candidacy commission preapproved all candidates, resulting in the CP candidates and their allies winning 98.7 percent of the vote and 607 of 614 seats in the National Assembly. Security forces reported to civilian authorities.

The government denied citizens the right to change their government. In addition, the following human rights abuses were reported: harassment, beatings, and threats against political opponents by government-organized mobs and state security officials acting with impunity; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, including selective denial of medical care; arbitrary detention of human rights advocates and members of independent organizations; and selective prosecution and denial of fair trial. Authorities interfered with privacy and engaged in pervasive monitoring of private communications. The government also placed severe limitations on freedom of speech and press, constrained the right of peaceful assembly and association, restricted freedom of movement, and limited freedom of religion. The government refused to recognize independent human rights groups or permit them to function legally. In addition, the government continued to place severe restrictions on worker rights, including the right to form independent unions.

The government released more than 40 political prisoners, including many notable human rights activists arrested in 2003. Although most of these were released on the condition they leave the country, during the reporting period the government allowed one to remain in the country. The releases, mediated by the Cuban Catholic Church, came in the wake of street protests and severe international criticism following the death from hunger-strike of political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo. During conversations with the church, the government indicated that it planned to release all political prisoners in the near future.

Clinton Unveils HumanRights.gov

Excerpts from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's remarks today:

As part of our mission to update statecraft for the 21st century, today I'm also pleased to announce the launch of our new website, humanrights.gov. This site will offer one-stop shopping for information about global human rights from across the United States Government. It will pull together reports, statements, and current updates from around the world. It will be searchable and it will be safe. You won't need to register to use it. We hope this will make it easier for citizens, scholars, NGOs, and international organizations to find the information they need to hold governments accountable [...]

Beyond a widespread crackdown on civil society activists, we saw a second trend in 2010 – countries violating the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly, and association by curtailing internet freedom. More than 40 governments now restrict the internet through various means. Some censored websites for political reasons. And in a number of countries, democracy and human rights activists and independent bloggers found their emails hacked or their computers infected with spyware that reported back on their every keystroke. Digital activists have been tortured so they would reveal their passwords and implicate their colleagues. In Burma and in Cuba, government policies preempted online dissent by keeping most ordinary people from accessing the internet at all.

Lobbying for the China-Vietnam Model

Yesterday, the Council of the Americas, the Cuba Study Group and ACCION International released a report entitled, "Supporting Small Business in Cuba: Recommendations for Private and Public Sector Leaders."

(Never mind that there's no private sector in Cuba, but that's the subject of another post.)

Their joint press release can be viewed here.

In it, you'll note that the words freedom, democracy or human rights are nowhere to be found. Why?

Because the report lobbies for a China-Vietnam model for Cuba -- and as we all know, there is no place for freedom, democracy and human rights in China-Vietnam.


In other words, they're fine with Cuba being ruled by a brutal dictatorship, so long as the people are granted some menial economic opportunities.

Is that what we should strive for in this Western Hemisphere, which is bound by the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and where 34 of 35 countries live under representative democracies?

Shouldn't we be lobbying for the same freedoms -- nothing more nor less -- that every other country in this Western Hemisphere enjoys?

Plus, how is the China-Vietnam model working?

Here's the main news story from from China this week. According to BBC:

The Chinese authorities are taking every measure to ensure what they call "social harmony", even if it means arresting high-profile artist Ai Weiwei and sparking international condemnation.

It is a political calculation and in the world's second largest economy, politics still come first.

Officials have now confirmed that Ai Weiwei is under investigation for "suspected economic crimes", four days after he was detained at Beijing airport.

And in Vietnam, according to Democracy Digest:

Two prominent Vietnamese dissidents were arrested outside a Hanoi court yesterday, along with up to 29 Catholic activists, during "one of the Communist nation's most politically charged cases in years."

Not so great, huh?

Of course, these types of business-friendly dictatorships are convenient to foreign corporations, opportunists and the regime's economic elites, who cut deals while not having to worry about transparency or any "inconvenient" freedoms, e.g., to criticize, organize or lodge complaints.

"Money often costs too much."

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson, American poet, 1803-1882

A Lesson in Totalitarianism

Thursday, April 7, 2011
Here's a fascinating quote from the AP story, "Experts, business leaders seek to help Cuban entrepreneurs":

"As long as the Cuban economy was a totalitarian economy, the argument for an embargo was that you are hurting the Cuban state. As the Cuban economy becomes directed toward the private economy... then it begs the question as to whether the embargo is really hurting the government or the people," said Carlos Saladrigas, co-chairman of the Cuba Study Group.

Obviously, Mr. Saladrigas has absolutely no idea what totalitarianism means.

You'd think one of the "experts" (according to the title of the story) would know better -- but apparently not.

So let's give them a hand.

Here's the definition of totalitarianism:

1. centralized control by an autocratic authority
2. the political concept that the citizen should be totally subject to an absolute state authority


Not even the most ingenious observer can argue that Cuba is not a totalitarian state.

To be precise, Mr. Saladrigas uses the term "totalitarian economy" -- but a totalitarian state without a totalitarian economy is an oxymoron.

Plus, Raul Castro himself, in his "guidelines" for the upcoming VI Communist Party Congress, stated that Cubans cannot own any business -- that's called totalitarianism any which way you spin it.

Thus, it begs the question -- as Mr. Saladrigas himself poses -- if lifting sanctions helps Cuba's totalitarian state, then why are you seeking to do precisely that?

In My Humble Opinion, Pt. 28

From the AP:

A coalition of U.S. business leaders and economic experts on Thursday advocated new efforts to spur private enterprise in Cuba and help its residents.

The Washington-based Cuba Study group and several nonprofits laid out a proposal including websites to match independent Cuban businesses with donors, and programs to allow people in the U.S. to take out loans on behalf of relatives on the island. It also favors allowing limited imports from independent workers and cooperatives in Cuba [...]

"The overall premise of the report is that there is a private sector," said Mauricio Claver-Carone, head of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC. "There is no private sector because Cubans can't own anything. Everything is leased by the government."

He also questioned the groups' goal of helping Cuba become more like China or Vietnam, which he labeled "economic-light dictatorships."

Farinas, Journalists and Labor Activists Arrested

While the Spanish government congratulates itself for the forced exiled of another 37 Cuban political prisoners this week -- something akin to when former U.S. President Jimmy Carter helped Castro forcibly exile over 3,000 (not a typo) political prisoners in 1978 (apparently to make room for new ones) -- the Castro regime continues to arrest pro-democracy activists.

Yesterday, it (once again) arrested pro-democracy leader Guillermo Farinas, recipient of the European Union's 2010 Sakharov Prize for Human Rights, along with several independent journalists from the Cubanacan Press Agency.

It also arrested members of the Federation of Independent National Workers (CONIC), including Alexis Gómez, Emilio Jerez Oliver, Ernesto Herrera Biel and Justo Javier Sánchez Izquierdo, who were trying to stage a protest outside the headquarters of the regime's Cuban Workers Conference (CTC) -- the only labor union permitted in Cuba.

More "reform" you can't believe in. 

Col. Wilkerson Owes Cuban-Americans an Apology

Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Col. Lawrence Wilkerson surely had a distinguished military and political career, which culminated with his service as Chief of Staff to then-U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Since his retirement from government, Col. Wilkerson has dedicated a great deal of time to lobbying for the U.S. to unconditionally normalize relations with the Castro regime in Cuba.

While we strongly disagree with his views, we respect his service and freedom to do so.

However, Col. Wilkerson seems to have forgotten that respect is a core Army value, as well as basic good manners.

According to the U.S. Army:

"In the Soldier's Code, we pledge to 'treat others with dignity and respect while expecting others to do the same.' Respect is what allows us to appreciate the best in other people."

In his latest column (and others before it), Col. Wilkerson dishonors this value.

While lobbying for U.S. companies to become minority partners in the Castro brothers' pursuit for offshore drilling, he sadly resorts to the following disrespectful personal attack:

"That the largest economy in the world is not involved [in oil drilling with Castro], moreover that it is doing all it can to hinder the 'consortium of the willing' through its draconian embargo on Cuba—and clearly failing to do so—defies the human imagination and begs for laments of ignorance, stupidity, and craven surrender to the tiny special interest group—the hardcore Cuban-American lobby—that has long since outlived any benefit to the United States it might have once offered. In fact, that special interest group today constitutes a clear and present danger to the real security interests of the United States."

From a policy perspective, we're fascinated by Col. Wilkerson's obsession with helping the Castro brothers become petro-dictators.

Plus, if U.S. sanctions have "failed" at preventing off-shore drilling in Cuba -- then why hasn't there been any off-shore drilling since Castro began this siren song over a decade ago?

Remember when Vice President Cheney warned that the Chinese were drilling for oil off Cuba's coasts?

Well, that never happened. Why? Thanks to the embargo.

So we can respectfully agree to disagree on policy, sir.

However, your personal attacks on Cuban-Americans are slanderous and unacceptable.

It's utterly shameful for you to impugn hard-working, law-abiding, U.S. citizens, who are every bit as patriotic as you may be.

As you are surely aware, Cuban-Americans have lost just as much blood -- or perhaps proportionally more -- than most other communities represented in the Armed Services of this great nation. 

Thus, they deserve respect.

Furthermore, you have absolutely no idea what it feels like to live under the yoke of a dictatorship and see your family and friends beaten, tortured, imprisoned and executed.  (Your multiple trips hosted by the Castro regime are far from the Cuban reality.)

Whether you like it or not, this experience leads Cuban-Americans to overwhelmingly elect Congressional leaders that support maintaining sanctions on Cuba's repressive regime.  They do so within the open, transparent and representative process that this great democracy offers them, which is no more or less than what they want for their homeland.

You may not like the views we lobby, but we do so under the same freedom that you lobby for yours.

To label us a "clear and present danger" is not only slanderous, but scandalous -- particularly when in the same breath you advocate to normalize relations with (and make billions of petro-dollars for) the most brutal anti-American dictatorship the Western Hemisphere has ever seen.

It's even more appalling considering that you are also an active defender of the so-called "Cuban Five" -- five Cuban nationals convicted by U.S. federal courts (with no Cuban-American jurors) for espionage and conspiracy to commit murder.

Thus, you lobby for anti-American criminals, while simultaneously attacking law-abiding citizens. 

All because you disagree with their policy views (the most fundamental of freedoms) -- an absolutism worthy of tyrants, not of American values.

Col. Wilkerson owes Cuban-Americans an apology.

Canada's Shameful Collusion With Castro

An excellent observation by Nelson Taylor Sol in The Epoch Times:

Canada has consistently been a major facilitator of the Cuban regime's survival ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union. When it comes to liquidity contribution via trade, investment, and tourism, Canada leads the world by providing the cash that the Castro family desperately needs to stay in power. This occurs regardless of which party has the most seats in Parliament.

The apparent secret bond between Canada and the regime, which is common knowledge among human rights activists in Cuba, has also damaged Canada's reputation internationally. A Toronto Star article published on December 17, 2010, states: "Canada is one of several countries that has stopped pressuring Cuba on human rights to gain business favours from Havana, according to confidential U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks."

With critical events unfolding sooner rather than later, perhaps it is about time to realize that turning our backs on the people of Cuba and failing to openly denounce the ongoing human tragedy in that country will eventually backfire. Canadians should question the risks of dealing with the worst tyranny ever to take hold on the western hemisphere for two reasons: First, its practicality if the explosive socio-economic context is considered, and second, the long-term moral consequences of propping up a criminal regime in the heart of the Americas.

Stop Being Useful Idiots

What do Bashar al-Assad, Saif Gaddafi and Raul Castro all have in common?

(We'd add Gamal Mubarak to the list also, but that family dictatorship is now history).

They're repressive tyrants who some (tragically) insist on labeling as supposed "reformers." 

Yet, year after year, they give absolutely no indication of respecting any human or political rights whatsoever.

That leads to our Quote of the Week:

"Assad is not a reformer.  Anyone who thinks so is at best fooling themselves, and at worst, serving as a useful idiot to a murderous dictator and a proud sponsor of terrorism."

-- Rep. Gary Ackerman of New York, the top Democrat on the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, Wall Street Journal, April 5th, 2010

In My Humble Opinion, Pt. 27

Tuesday, April 5, 2011
From The Miami Herald story, "Former President Carter's Cuba report draws fire":

Mauricio Claver-Carone, head of the anti-Castro U.S.-Cuba Democracy political action committee, noted that Carter's report devoted just one oddly-worded paragraph to his meeting with independent bloggers and dissidents recently freed after nearly eight years in prison.

The dissidents, Carter wrote, "complained about their difficulty in getting renewed ID cards and drivers' licenses" and insisted that other dissidents who accepted exile in Spain as a condition of their release be permitted to return to Cuba.

Dissidents Oswaldo Payá and Angel Moya told reporters last week that they had told Carter they wanted free elections and human and civil rights.

Claver-Carone also noted that Carter's version of the 1996 shoot-down of two Brothers to the Rescue airplanes by Cuban warplanes, killing four South Florida residents, was factually wrong. He mentions one plane and insinuates that it was flying over Havana. The two planes shot down never violated Cuban airspace, according to a U.N. investigation.

"It's Cuba's version of the events,'' he added.

Congratulations, Madam Chair

There are few greater advocates of human rights, freedom and democracy than U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.

We commend President Obama on his outstanding choice for Democratic National Committee ("DNC") Chair.

From the AP:

Obama picks Florida congresswoman to head DNC

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a congresswoman from South Florida and a key White House defender, was chosen by President Barack Obama on Tuesday to become chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.

See also Naked Politics, "Cuba Hardliners Laud Debbie Wasserman-Schultz's Appointment."

Kerry (Hypocritically) Advocates Regime Change

During a Senate Foreign Relations hearing last week, Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) asked:

"What diplomatic and economic tools can we use to pressure Khadafy to relinquish his illegitimate grip on power?"

Thus Kerry believes Khadafy's 40-year dictatorship is illegitimate.

So he surely believes Castro's 52-year dictatorship is also illegitimate. Right?

Kerry goes on to advocate:

"By supporting the Libyan opposition, we give them a fighting chance to oust a dictator with a history of terrorism and the blood of Americans on his hands [...] And we encourage a new generation of Arabs to pursue dignity and democracy and we create the opportunity for a new relationship with the people of the greater Middle East. These are worthy goals and by accomplishing them we advance our values and protect our interests."

So he surely also wants to support the Cuban opposition and pursue "dignity and democracy" for the Cuban people. Right?

After all, these are worthy goals that advance our values and protect our hemispheric interests (where 34 out of 35 countries are democratic). Right?

Not for Kerry.


For the Cuban people, Kerry simply hopes they'll "achieve greater freedom and prosperity in the future."

Not the "dignity and democracy " that he argues the U.S. should fight for in Libya. But just "greater freedom" -- which either falsely implies that Cubans currently have some sort of freedom or if none, then any small step will do.

And for the Cuban opposition, Kerry believes $20 million throughout the entire year is simply too much money.

Yet $100 million for the first day alone of Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya is absolutely fine.

What a hypocrite.

Menendez Challenges Kerry's Delay of Pro-Democracy Funds

Monday, April 4, 2011
Senator Menendez Supports Funds to Promote Democracy in Cuba

Menendez: "Democrats in Cuba are deserving of the same support and solidarity that we provided to dissidents in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union and that we continue to send to peaceful activists in the Middle East, Asia and Africa."

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) today defended the $20 million in funds dedicated to promoting a peaceful transition to democracy in Cuba by supporting civil society, independent journalists, and human rights activists. Last week, Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed his intent to withhold Congressional support for the only democracy assistance program for Cuba. Sen. Menendez released the following statement:

"The Obama Administration stepped up to the plate last week, endorsing funding for the only international democracy assistance program for Cubans seeking peaceful democratic change after more than 50 years of dictatorship.  The democracy programs, implemented by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, recognize that change in Cuba must come from the island and that the impediment to change is the oppression and tyranny visited on the Cuban people daily by the Castro regime. The democracy program supports Cubans who seek peaceful democratic change, despite tremendous personal risk.

Additionally, to suggest that the wrongful imprisonment of American contractor Alan Gross was provoked by U.S. assistance programs is essentially an endorsement of heavy-handed tactics by other oppressive regimes against American democracy advocates and grantees receiving U.S. democracy assistance. It also undermines the tradition of support and solidarity that our nation has provided to those seeking the same liberties and freedoms that we enjoy in the United States.

Democrats in Cuba are deserving of the same support and solidarity that we provided to dissidents in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union and that we continue to send to peaceful activists in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

I respect Chairman Kerry's right to disagree about U.S. policy toward Cuba, but firmly believe that we should be able to unite around a shared goal of supporting human rights activists, democracy activists, independent journalists and economists, and others struggling to create peaceful change in their country
."

Just last week, the regime arrested at least 19 democracy activists, including Liranza Romero, President of the Cuban Youth for Democracy Movement and Boris Rodríguez Jiménez when they attempted to stand peacefully in front of the Capitol with signs reading "Freedom without Forced Exile for Cuba's Political Prisoners" and "The Streets belong to the Cuban People."

What Castro Wants for His American Hostage

Renowned Cuban author and columnist Carlos Alberto Montaner notes what the Castro brothers seek through their arbitrary incarceration of American development worker Alan Gross:

What does Raúl Castro want in exchange for his hostage? Basically, his objectives are two: that the White House eliminate travel restrictions on Americans so the annual number of tourists who visit the island — about two million — doubles or triples swiftly; and that Washington permanently interrupt the economic aid and distribution of electronic equipment to the Cuban opposition. In any case, that aid remains detained today by legal obstacles raised by Democratic Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Chairman Kerry's irresponsible delay of U.S. aid to the Cuban opposition -- which was passed by both chambers of Congress in FY 2010 -- sends a dangerous message to rogue regimes that hostage-taking is an acceptable means to extract concessions.

Let's not forget that the Castro regime has a long history of hostage-taking. It dates back to 1958, when the Castro brothers first kidnapped over 10 American civilians and dozens of U.S. Navy personnel in Cuba.

Thereafter, the Western Hemisphere's insurgent and narco-terrorist groups (e.g. Colombia's FARC and ELN) also (non-coincidentally) adopted hostage-taking as a strategy -- for they were trained in these tactics by their Cuban mentors.

Kerry Opposes Pro-Democracy Efforts

Sunday, April 3, 2011
Commentary Magazine questions Senator Kerry's counter-intuitive opposition to U.S. pro-democracy efforts in Cuba:

Kerry: Pro-Democracy Efforts Do More Harm than Good

Sen. John Kerry announced on Friday that he would seek to delay additional funding to the USAID democracy-promotion program in Cuba, because he believes that it has been doing more harm than good.

Kerry asks for a review of the program before funding is continued. Fair enough. But then the senator goes on to blame the pro-democracy program for the arrest of U.S. contractor Alan Gross in 2009: "There is no evidence... that the 'democracy promotion' programs, which have cost the U.S. taxpayer more than $150 million so far, are helping the Cuban people," he said in a press statement. "Nor have they achieved much more than provoking the Cuban government to arrest a U.S. government contractor who was distributing satellite communication sets to Cuban contacts."

Why would Kerry hold a democracy-promotion program responsible for Gross's arrest instead of Cuba's Communist government? First of all, Cuba hardly needs an excuse for that sort of crackdown. And second, Cuba's action spotlights the need for such a program in the first place. You'd think the arrest would be an argument for more funding, not less.

Carter Lobbies for Castro's Spies

By Mary Anastasia O'Grady in the Wall Street Journal:

Jimmy Carter Lobbies for Cuban Spies

Why lend legitimacy to the Castro brothers?

They say that Cuba is a place where time stands still and it certainly seemed that way last week when Jimmy Carter arrived in Havana to fraternize with the Castros. The image of the 86-year-old American ex-president wearing a wide smile as he disembarked from a jet to meet with the regime bigwigs was déjà vu all over again.

For more than three and a half decades the world's most famous peanut farmer has toiled to get the island's repressive military dictatorship more respect from the U.S. This trip was no different. Agence France Press reported that it was undertaken at "Havana's invitation" and "aimed at improving U.S.-Cuba relations." Fidel praised Mr. Carter as "brave and serious."

It is obvious why the dictatorship sought out Mr. Carter. The list of individuals—no fair counting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong Il or Chris Dodd—who are willing to lend legitimacy to one of the 20th century's most disastrous revolutionary experiments is shrinking fast. The former president is, as they say, useful.

We may never know why Mr. Carter agreed to be used. But we do know how he was used: On Wednesday, before he left Havana he went on Cuban television to argue for the release of the five Cuban spies known as "the wasp network," who are now serving time in U.S. prisons.

This is a new low for Mr. Carter—and not only because it demonstrates complete disregard for the American criminal justice system.

The dangers that Cuban agents operating inside the U.S. present to Americans are well established. Treating their crimes lightly will only increase the nation's exposure to serious risk.

Initially, hopes were high that Mr. Carter would be able to win the release of Alan Gross, a U.S. Agency for International Development contractor who was taken hostage by Cuba in December 2009. The 61-year-old American had apparently brought hardware to members of the island's tiny Jewish community so that they could access the Internet. He has been sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Yet once Mr. Carter was on the ground in Havana, he announced that he was not there "to take [Mr. Gross] out of the country." He did visit him and recommended that he be set free. That could still happen. Mr. Gross is in frail health and back home in Maryland both his mother and his daughter are fighting cancer. Rumors abound that he will be given a humanitarian pardon.

Cuba no doubt will spin an early release of Mr. Gross as evidence of its goodwill toward the world. But for now it's hoping to get more than international kudos. One objective seems to be the exchange of its American prisoner for the "wasps."

Gerardo Hernández, René González, Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino and Fernando González Llort were all arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Sept. 12, 1998. Five others in the network were arrested the same day but accepted plea bargains in exchange for acting as witnesses for the prosecution.

The FBI had collected plenty of its own evidence. It had used the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and court warrants to investigate the group over a period of three years. Mr. Hernández, who is serving two life sentences, was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder in the Cuban Air Force downing of two civilian aircraft flown by Cuban exiles from Florida in 1996. Four Americans died. The prosecution also showed that the "wasps" had sought to infiltrate U.S. military installations and to discover unprotected points along the Florida coast where arms and explosives could be brought into the country.

Because Cuba is so poor, its American advocates like to say that it presents no threat to U.S. national security. But this ignores Cuban espionage. In 2002 Defense Intelligence Agency analyst Ana Belen Montes, the highest ranking U.S. intelligence operative ever to be charged with spying for Cuba, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Her arrest, 10 days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was rushed because she had the potential to pass sensitive information about the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan to enemy agents.

Americans still don't know how much damage Walter Kendall Myers, an analyst working in intelligence and research at the State Department, and his wife, Gwendolyn Myers, also an employee at State, inflicted on the U.S. over the 30 years that they spied for Cuba. The couple was recruited by the Cuban Mission to the United Nations in New York, a notorious hothouse of Cuban espionage.

Mr. Carter should stick to doing personal favors for his "personal friend"—those were his words for Fidel while in Havana, according to Europa Press. When a six-hour meeting with the old tyrant is followed by a Carter announcement expressing doubts about the trial that led to the conviction of spies and a promise to speak with President Obama about a pardon for them, its hard to see him as anything but a shill for Cuba's military dictatorship.

Why the Castros Love Carter

UPDATE: The Carter Center has just released its official report on the former President's trip to Cuba. Please note the cursory mention (if it can even be called that) of his last-minute visit with dissidents and former political prisoners. It's as if they didn't even exist -- which is exactly what Carter (channeling Castro) would like you to believe.

In 2002, pursuant to former U.S. President Jimmy Carter's first trip to Cuba, Fidel Castro infamously lauded that:

"I'd say that he was the best [U.S.] president of all those I've known."

As Carter departed Havana last Wednesday, General Raul Castro repeated a similar line:

"He has been the best U.S. President."

So why are the Castros so infatuated with Carter?

Because during his presidency, the Castros were able to play Carter like a fiddle. And after his presidency, it has been more of the same.

As you may recall, during his time in office (1977-1981), Carter essentially normalized relations with the Castro regime. He set up Interests Sections in D.C. and Havana, allowed unfettered tourist travel and even permitted trade through third-country subsidiaries. (A good reminder for those that criticize the embargo in holistic terms).

Easing sanctions was actually an anomaly for Carter, as he was one of the most sanctions-prone Presidents in U.S. history.

The problem was that Carter mostly applied sanctions based on his ideological bias -- dictatorships of the right got sanctioned, while those of the left were embraced.

And what did Castro do with Carter's embrace?

He used it as a green-light to embark on military adventures throughout Africa and Central America, which cost thousands of lives and countless suffering.

But that's not all. When Castro's regime was plagued with domestic unrest -- Carter was there to extend an escape valve, which would become known as the Mariel boat lift.

As if that weren't enough -- since Carter was so kind to relieve the regime's domestic pressures, Castro also took the opportunity to infiltrate his criminals and narco-traffickers amongst the majority of decent Cubans that were simply searching for freedom.

Yet, Carter still believes Fidel to be his "old friend."

So now, as the Castro brothers face the gravest economic, political and social crisis of their rule, they invite their favorite U.S. President back to the island.

And after three days of loading up on talking points from the Castro brothers (with a brief recess at the very end to talk with a group of dissidents -- who were curiously urged to be discrete by Carter's aides beforehand), he proceeded to regurgitate all of Castro's talking points.

For those impressed that Carter met with dissidents at the very end of his visit -- consider that he did so at the last minute, only for an hour and right before he delivered remarks on Cuban state TV.

In other words, he checked a box while knowing exactly what he was going to say from two full days of "briefings" with the Castro brothers and their minions.

He didn't even have time to "ponder" on the dissident's views.

Of course, one can't help feel disappointed by his failure to call for the freedom of the Cuban people or to challenge the brutal oppressors to respect the universal human rights he claims to champion.

But no one should have been surprised.