Absurdity of the Week

Saturday, May 12, 2012
How can dictator Raul Castro supposedly back gay rights, when he doesn't back the fundamental human and civil rights of any Cuban?

Isn't one a pre-requisite of the other?

(And of course, forget about all of the Cuban gays sent to forced labor camps throughout the years by the Castros).

Moreover, see the picture below from today's regime-sanctioned gay march in Havana (remember independent gay marches are illegal and repressed), led by the dictator's daughter Mariela Castro.

What exactly does the "Cuban Five" have to do with gay rights?


From AFP:

Cuba's Raul Castro backs gay rights: daughter

Cuban President Raul Castro backs greater gay rights and ending discrimination against homosexuals, his daughter Mariela, a famed sexologist, said Saturday during a colorful gay rights march in Havana.

21st Century Slavery

Meanwhile, there are still those with the audacity to argue that the world's unconditional political and economic engagement with China represents some sort of democratizing force.

Please take the time to watch.

H/T Penultimos Dias

Learn More About Odebrecht

Friday, May 11, 2012
Learn more about how Miami-Dade County's largest contractor, Odebrecht, works against American interest throughout the hemisphere.

An excerpt from "Silver Spoon Socialists Flex Muscles In Brazil" by Brazilian journalist Eric Ehrmann in The Huffington Post:

Brazil's most strategically significant near-government conglomerate seems to live above the law. Unscathed by the scandals is Odebrecht, Brazil's global engineering and contruction firm on par with Bechtel and Fluor runs major operations in Argentina, Bolivia, Cuba, Venezuela, and the United States. With its own portfolio of World Cup construction projects the company wields as much influence in shaping the Brazilian political landscape as Koch Industries does in the United States.

What makes the Odebrecht strategy similar to the Koch Brothers, whose brand of American-style economic libertarianism has been buzzed up by WikiLeaks icon Julian Assange and the Swedish Pirate Party that hosted him on their servers, is that their strong investment in political action actually helps incite the anti-American blowback that is gaining traction in Latin America. Meanwhile, slick green building projects appeal to the silver spoon socialists and environmental NGOs and help take the edge off of their assisting quasi-Democratic regimes in Latin America and in Africa, including Angola and other oil rich Portuguese-speaking nations that are of interest to the Pentagon's growing Africa Command.

Odebrecht was a major contributor to the successful Dilma presidential campaign that was managed and fund bundled by wealthy former Trotskyite Dr. Antonio Palocci. A popular physician and mayor of a left leaning college town, Palocci took his red star over to the Workers Party, where he served as finance minister during Lula's Odebrecht-friendly presidential tenure before resigning to avoid prosecution in an influence peddling scandal. Dilma's relationship with Odebrecht goes back to the days when she was Lula's influential minister for mines and energy.

Odebrecht builds logistics and energy security infrastructure that help keep Brasilia's allies the Castro regime, Hugo Chavez and coca farmer Ivo Morales and their socialist international world view in power. Calling Lula "our boss" Odebrecht provided former president Lula with an all expenses paid trip to Castro's Cuba in support of the big sugar ethanol refining project they are building there. Dilma was hobnobbing with the Castros in Cuba in February adding lustre to the big Odebrecht projects when bloody police union strikes broke out in Bahia state, and its governor, Jacques Wagner, was there too.

OFAC Updates "People-to-People" Requirements

The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Office Control (OFAC) has updated the requirements for people-to-people travel to Cuba.

According to the new requirements, each license applicant will need to certify that "the predominant portion of the activities to be engaged in by individuals traveling" will not be meetings with Castro regime officials.

This might seems like common sense, but many of the trips to date have featured meetings with Castro regime officials -- a reminder of how skewed the Administration's regulations are.

Moreover, any meetings with Castro regime officials will need to "specify how each such meeting advances purposeful travel under the people-to-people program by enhancing contact with the Cuban people and/or supporting civil society in Cuba, and/or how it promotes independence from Cuban authorities."

That should be interesting.

Finally, OFAC tightened its enforcement language for people-to-people trips by warning:

"The exchanges must also advance purposeful travel by enhancing contact with the Cuban people and/or supporting civil society in Cuba, and/or the exchanges must promote independence from Cuban authorities. OFAC does not authorize transactions related to activities that are primarily tourist-oriented, including self-directed educational activities that are intended only for personal enrichment, as noted in paragraph (c) of section 515.565 of the Regulations. Licensees that fail to meet the requirements of their licenses may have their licenses revoked or be issued a civil penalty, which can range up to $65,000 per violation."

However, OFAC still can't explain why "people-to-people" applicants only need to submit a sample itinerary, while those seeking to travel under "support for the Cuban people" (to actually help democracy and human rights activists) need to present a full-time itinerary.

Shouldn't the latter take precedent?

From the State Department

From today's Daily Press Briefing with State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland:

QUESTION: Yesterday, a Cuban official gave an interview to CNN. Josefina Vidal is her name. She said that they’ve conveyed some kind of offer to the U.S. Government on the release of Alan Gross. Is there any possibility at all of negotiation on that front?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think if you go back to an interview that Secretary Clinton gave to CNN earlier in the week from New Delhi, she was very clear on this subject. There is no equivalence between these situations. On the one hand, you have convicted spies in the United States, and on the other hand, you have an assistance worker who should never have been locked up in the first place. So we are not contemplating any release of the Cuban Five, and we are not contemplating any trade. The continuing imprisonment of Alan Gross is deplorable, it is wrong, and it’s an affront to human decency. And the Cuban Government needs to do the right thing.

QUESTION: So – okay.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: So you are confirming that this offer was related to the Cuban Five, because she didn’t confirm it in the --

MS. NULAND: The Cuban Government has regularly tried to link these things, and we regularly reject the linkage.

QUESTION: Well – but I mean, why is it okay – I mean, and several officials have discussed that in those discussions with the Taliban on trading five Taliban prisoners, and Bowe Bergdahl was involved, possibly involved in the trade – why is it okay to talk about trading with the Taliban but not with the Cubans for a U.S. person that’s been in jail and is in poor health?

MS. NULAND: There’s no equivalency in these situations, and the Cuban Government knows that. This is a matter of a sitting government having locked up a human – an assistance worker on no basis whatsoever. And one ought to be able to work with an established government to deal with an American citizen in an appropriate manner, and we have so far failed to do that with this government.

QUESTION: All right. But you say that he did not break Cuban law?

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to speak to what – one way or the other.

QUESTION: Well, I mean --

MS. NULAND: I mean, our view is he did nothing wrong.

QUESTION: Well, then why is it – well --

MS. NULAND: He did nothing wrong, and we don’t – we think that his --

QUESTION: His activities – the Cubans say that his activities violated Cuban law. Now whether you agree or disagree with what the Cuban law says, that’s an entirely different story.


QUESTION: However, he – what he was doing, they say, broke their law. Now --

MS. NULAND: Well, we categorically reject --

QUESTION: That – alas – so why is this – okay, but you categorically reject that he broke their law?

MS. NULAND: We categorically reject the charges against him, and the fact that he’s been locked up.

QUESTION: Okay. But you said this is an affront to human decency.

MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Why? Because he’s sick? Because – why is it an affront to human decency?

MS. NULAND: Because they locked him up with no cause. They are refusing even basic humanitarian consideration for him. Let me just give you one comparison that we do consider of note in this case.

Even with the Cuban Five, all right, we had one of them, Rene Gonzalez, who had served 15 years for spying. He was on parole in the United States. He asked to be able to go back to Cuba to visit a sick relative. We granted him the ability to go back to Cuba. He did that and he came back. That was a humanitarian gesture; again, a completely different situation. But the Cuban Government can’t even grant that kind of humanity in a totally (inaudible) situation to begin with, so hence the language.

QUESTION: On that --


QUESTION: -- yesterday, the Cuban officials said that he can’t travel to the United States to see his mother because he’s at the start of his sentence. What do you say to that?

MS. NULAND: Look, we just reject the whole business, any equivalency and any sort of position by the Cuban Government that this is anything but completely unjust.

Cuba, Oil & Embargo, Pt. Lost Count

With Hugo Chavez's health (and oil subsidies) fading quickly, Argentina's untimely confiscation of Repsol-YPF (supported by Castro) and no news on the exploration front, the Castro regime's allies at the Center for International Policy (CIP) quickly put together a conference yesterday to regurgitate the same story-line about Cuba, oil and the embargo.

Thus, it gathered William Reilly (along with his conflict of interests), the Environmental Defense Fund (along with its hypocrisy) and the usual cast of characters to prod the news cycle.

And the media, of course, ran the same stories it has been running for a decade -- one of them even described the Center for International Policy (CIP) as a group "that advocates for foreign policy based on human rights."

(A prize to anyone who can find one human rights criticism of Castro by CIP and the head of its Cuba program, Wayne Smith).

So instead of posting one of today's stories on Cuba, oil and the embargo -- here's one from 2004.

After all, it's the same thing.

From Reuters:

Exploratory Oil Drilling Done Off Cuba

Drilling of an exploratory well in Cuba's virgin Gulf of Mexico waters that could make the Communist nation an oil exporter and undermine the U.S. embargo has been completed, a senior official said.

Work on the well by Spain's Repsol YPF began in June and captured the attention of the industry and governments due to its potential economic and political consequences.

"The drilling has ended and the Spanish company is assessing the results. We don't know if there is good quality oil yet. We expect to be informed in two weeks," the Cuban official, who spoke on the condition he was not identified, said on Saturday evening.

The oil industry is watching closely the first ever well sunk in Cuba's 43,000-square-mile exclusive economic zone in the Gulf, which may hold large quantities of medium-grade crude.

A commercially viable find could transform the cash-strapped island from oil importer to petroleum exporting nation, adding pressure on the United States to lift its four-decades-old trade embargo against President Fidel Castro's government.

The senior Cuban official said Repsol was analyzing samples to determine their quality and whether commercial production would be feasible.

Repsol believes up to 1.6 billion barrels of oil may be located where the drill bit went down 18 miles off the northwest coast of Cuba in waters one mile deep.


Experts said if the results were positive Repsol would take at least four years to develop production. But they believe U.S. trade sanctions could be a problem since much of the equipment needed to extract oil at such a depth is American.

Cuba's exclusive economic zone runs along the north coast and down past the western tip of Cuba. It was parceled into 59 blocks for foreign exploration in 1999.

Repsol took the rights in 2000 to the six blocks closest to shore and Cuba's oil-producing northwest coast. Sherritt International, a Canadian mining and energy company, recently opted for four adjoining blocks.

Industry sources said companies from China, Britain, Brazil, Venezuela and elsewhere were considering exploration, but waiting for the Repsol results and the U.S. reaction.

The president of Brazil's state oil company Petrobras was expected in Cuba at the weekend to discuss exploration and the creation of a lubricants joint-venture, but his visit was postponed at Cuba's request, Demarco Jorge Epifanio, Petrobras coordinator of Cuba projects, said.

Cuba has desperately searched for oil with foreign partners since the Soviet Union's demise deprived it of 255,000 barrels per day on preferential terms.

There have been some minor discoveries along the northwest coast's traditional oil belt, which produces an extremely heavy crude burned in the modified boilers of power plants and factories on the island.

Cuba's oil and gas production has increased from less than 20,000 barrels per day a decade ago to the equivalent of 75,000 barrels, half the country's current consumption.

The Silence of Remittance Recipients

Thursday, May 10, 2012
A must-read by Cuban blogger Ivan Garcia in Desde La Habana (From Havana):

From 2000 to date, remittances to Cuba have tripled. That's not only good news for poor relatives on the island. It is also good news for the government. In pursuit of hard currency, the regime in Havana exploits all variables. From a 13% "revolutionary tax" against the dollar, to opening new hard currency stores, kiosks and cafeterias, to even offering tourist packages in 4 and 5 star hotels to Cubans on the island [...]

Even though receiving dollars or euros give 40% of Cubans certain economic independence (they don't have to rely on social assistance or scarce state subsidies), such a privileged situation has not translated into a critical attitude towards the government -- whether through joining a dissident group or some sort of popular assembly -- in order to demand the urgent political changes that Cuba needs.

Fear always remains hidden in a corner. And while almost all who receive remittances are tired of the government's inefficiencies, bureaucracy and corruption, they prefer to remain indifferent and quiet.

The future aspiration of the ample sector of people who live better in Cuba thanks to the dollars sent through "mules" or Western Union, or through the euros sent through bank transfers, is to reunite with their families in the United States or Europe.

Meanwhile, they pass the time watching channels from Florida through an "antenna" (satellite connection, illegal), watching Brazilian soap operas on national television, drinking vodka with orange juice and playing dominoes with neighborhood friends. For mental hygiene, they don't read the official media.

Until they are out of "fulas" ("dollars"). Then, they call or email their relatives in Hialeah. "Please send me one hundred dollars." But they remain silent regarding the government's abuses.

FWAM Interview With Andy Garcia

Click here to listen to yesterday's interview on Cristina Radio's "From Washington al Mundo" (FWAM) with Academy-award nominated actor Andy Garcia on his new movie "For Greater Glory" ("Cristiada"), Cuba and much more.

The Administration's View

From a speech this week by Asst. Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Roberta Jacobson:

Let me add a point about Cuba. We have a positive policy, one that seeks to support Cubans’ rights to freely determine their own future. The Administration has done a great deal to ease travel restrictions and increase the flow of information for ordinary Cubans. And we will be the first to cheer as a democratically chosen government in Cuba resumes its full participation in the inter-American system. But you all know that we aren’t there yet. This region has a long consensus that participation hinges on adherence to democratic norms and principles. Personally, I found it disappointing at times that some countries whose democratic transitions have been so central to their own national success, and who are stalwart in their support for rights and democracy on the global stage, wavered in this case.

We have a general concern about an erosion of full respect for freedom of expression in this hemisphere. During the remarkable transitions from dictatorship to democracy which took place over the last 40 years, our region’s free press has played essential roles. From La Prensa’s principled defiance of abuses from the right and the left in Nicaragua to the courageous journalists of El Espectador who exposed links between narcotics traffickers and politicians in Colombia, to today’s valiant bloggers and journalists in Mexico, journalists in this region have been protagonists of democracy. We’ve also developed institutions unique in the world to protect and defend freedom of expression.

Given this distinguished record, it is particularly painful to see steps backward, whether by governments or nongovernmental actors. Dissent is not criminal behavior, opposition to the government is not criminal behavior, and free speech is not criminal behavior. To the contrary, free speech is one of the pillars of our democracies. There is an organic link between openness in the public square and electoral process and the durability and sustainability of economic prosperity. Standing up for and working hard for a level playing field in that public square, in the judicial arena, and in political processes is something that directly benefits the vast majority of U.S. and other companies that are good corporate citizens and play by the rules. And democratic principles remain critically relevant to the hemisphere, its challenges, and future success.

Castro's Slave Labor Goes Beyond Ikea

While it took the Stasi files to reveal Ikea's use of Cuban political prisoners as cheap labor, it isn't the only case.

As Penultimos Dias has documented, in 1994, Spain's ABC newspaper also reported on the Castro regime offering Spanish companies women's prison labor for the manufacture of kitchenware.

All of these operations were under the command of General Santiago Borges of Castro's infamous Ministry of the Interior.

The front company then headed by General Borges is called PROVARI, which remains operational.

In 2010, Cuban democracy activists sought to denounce PROVARI's use of slave labor to the International Labor Organization.

It's way overdue for the world to pay attention.

More Revelations From Stasi Files

Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Sadly, these types of questionable business deals are constantly taking place between foreign companies and the Castro regime.

Excerpts from The Miami Herald:

STASI records show Cuba deal included IKEA furniture, antiques, rum and guns

The controversial contract to use Cuban prison labor to build IKEA furniture was part of a broader deal between firms run by the Cuban and East German security services that also involved Cuban antiques, cigars and guns, according to a researcher in Berlin.

Documents on the deal, found in the archives of East Germany’s notorious STASI security agency, also refer to Cuban prison labor and indicate that former Cuban leader Fidel Castro personally approved the overall deal, said researcher Jorge Luis García [...]

One document Garcia found in the archives show the East German firms involved in the deal were Delta GmbH and Art and Antiquities, known as KuA, both controlled by the Interior Ministry, in charge of domestic security. The STASI, which monitored and repressed domestic dissent, was a much feared part of the ministry.

But the companies were officially branches of the government’s foreign trading agency, Kommerzielle Koordinierung. The agency was led by the notorious wheeler-dealer Alexander Schalck-Golodkowski, a STASI officer who defected in 1989.

The document shows that the Havana side of the deal was EMIAT, and described the company as owned by Cuba’s Interior Ministry, or MININT. Like its East German counterpart, MININT is in charge of domestic security and runs Cuba’s prisons as well as the General Directory of State Security, which monitors and cracks down on dissidents [...]

The same document reported that Cuban Foreign Commerce Minister Ricardo Cabrisas had met with the East German visitors and told them “This cooperation has been authorized by Compañero Fidel Castro.”

García added that the document also reported that EMIAT “supplies the guest houses of the government and the Central Committee” of the Cuban Communist Party. “It is also a commercial branch of the MININT” [...]

The memorandum of understanding was signed by three representatives of Delta and KuA as well as EMIAT chief Lt. Col. Enrique Sanchez, the first secretary at the Cuban embassy to East Germany and Gen. Santiago Borges. García said other STASI documents show Borges ran MININT logistics.

García said another document in the STASI archives, reporting on the East Germans’ trip to Cuba, showed Havana authorities were so happy that they made KuA president Axel Hilpert an honorary MININT colonel and upgraded his flight home to first class.

After he returned to East Berlin, Hilpert brokered the sale of 2,200 U.S.-made Colt pistols in Cuban stockpiles — apparently left over from pre-Castro days — to a Los Angeles weapons dealer, according to the document quoted by García.

Hilpert, a long-time STASI agent code-named “Monika,” became wealthy after the collapse of East Germany, telling reporters that he had made profitable contacts with Western business people during his years at Kommerzielle Koordinierung.

He was investigated in the 1990s in a case involving forged Cuban mail stamps, and the mishandling of some funds during the final days of East Germany, and is now jailed while under investigation on other complaints.

Leading Dissident Re-Arrested

From Latin American Herald Tribune:

Prominent Cuban Dissident Back in Custody

The opposition Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation denounced the fact that dissident Jose Daniel Ferrer, who spent eight years in prison as one of the “Group of 75,” was arrested on Wednesday in Havana.

The spokesman for the commission, Elizardo Sanchez, told Efe that Ferrer was arrested Wednesday morning in the capital in an operation he called a “virtual kidnapping.”

Sanchez said that the arrest occurred when Ferrer was going to the Czech Embassy in Havana to “access the Internet” and it was witnessed, from a distance of about 20 meters (yards), by another dissident who was accompanying him.

Sanchez said that Ferrer had been in Havana for several days and on Tuesday he had had a meeting with diplomats representing European Union countries.

Quote of the Week

"Whomever accepts the rules of the oppressor in order to maintain good relations with the regime becomes an accomplice of its oppression and exclusion."

-- Oswaldo Paya, leader of Cuba's opposition Christian Liberation Movement, in support of the Spanish Foreign Minister's decision not to visit Cuba unless it can meet with dissidents, 5/8/12

Remembering Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia

Yesterday, marked the one-year anniversary of the death of Cuban pro-democracy activist Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia.

After receiving numerous threats for his peaceful dissent, Soto Garcia died as a result of a brutal beating by Castro's secret police.

Out thoughts and prayers are with his wife and family.

He will not be forgotten.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Due to a satellite glitch, this show was unable to air last week, so:

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for an exclusive interview with Academy-Award nominated actor Andy Garcia. He'll discuss his new film, "For Greater Glory" ("Cristiada"), an epic chronicle of Mexico's Cristeros War (1926-1929), and much more.

Then, the Council of the America's Eric Farnsworth will discuss the increasing economic and political role of China in Latin America.

And the Global Stategy Project's Marco Vicenzino will join us from London with an update on the situation in Syria.

"From Washington al Mundo" is broadcast live on Sirius-XM's Cristina Radio (Channel 146) from 4-5 p.m. (EST) and rebroadcast on Friday from 4-5 p.m. (EST).

Cuban & Syrian Democracy Activists Unite

Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Today, representatives of the Syrian National Council and the Cuban Assembly for Resistance gathered to sign a joint declaration in support of efforts to end the brutal Assad and Castro regimes:


We, Cubans and Syrians, in resistance against the tyrannies which deprive us of our God-given, inalienable rights, proclaim:

That human rights and dignity are universal and intrinsic to the human condition, and that all humans are created equal in obeisance to same;

That in defense of these rights, the Cuban Resistance and the Syrian Revolution agree to unify our struggles in order to accelerate the hour of liberation;


The Cuban Resistance recognizes the Syrian Revolution as a legitimate expression of the highest aims and ideals of the Syrian people;

The Syrian Revolution recognizes the Agreement for Democracy as a legitimate expression of the highest aims and ideals of the Cuban people;

The Cuban Resistance joins those nations which have recognized the Syrian Revolution as a legitimate representative of the Syrian people;

The Syrian Revolution adopts the Vilnius Resolution of the Parliamentary Forum of the Community of Democracies in recognizing the Cuban Resistance as a legitimate representative of the Cuban people;

Therefore, with said moral authority, the Cuban Resistance and Syrian Revolution jointly agree:

To unify all of our political, diplomatic, logistic and humanitarian efforts in pursuit of the liberation of Cuba and Syria; hence constituting a United Front for Freedom and Democracy;

Therefore, the Cuban Resistance and the Syrian Revolution jointly declare:

The people want the overthrow of the dictatorial regimes of Assad and Castro.

Secretary Clinton on Alan Gross & Cuban Five

From a CNN interview today with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

QUESTION: I want to ask you about Alan Gross. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer did an interview with him. He, of course, is the American who has been held in Cuba. And he – Blitzer, Mr. Blitzer, got an answer from the ambassador, the Cuban ambassador, at the Interests Section saying, look, we have the Cuban Five who are being held in just as if not worse circumstances than Mr. Gross, but we are willing to solve this on a reciprocal basis.

What would have to be done in order to free Alan Gross?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first of all, Mr. Gross should not even be incarcerated in Cuba. Mr. Gross was not a spy. Mr. Gross was not an intelligence agent. Mr. Gross worked for a development group that was helping Cubans, principally in their small Jewish community in Cuba, to have access to the internet. And Mr. Gross, in our view, is being held without justification and has been detained already far too long. So there should be a decision by the Cuban Government to release him, and we would like to see that happen as soon as possible.

Now, we are well aware that the Cuban Government wants to see the release of their intelligence agents, five Cuban spies who were lawfully arrested, tried, and convicted for espionage. One has already served his sentence in prison. He’s continuing to finish out his parole. Another will be up for parole – all within the regular order of our system, a system that provides due process, rule of law protections. It does not have a record of arbitrary arrests or detentions like the Cuban Government does.

I am deeply distressed and unhappy for the Gross family. I’ve met with Judy Gross. People in the State Department stay in close touch with her and with her family. They have been incredibly brave in the face of this injustice. But the Cuban Government has released political prisoners, which is something we’d like to see them do with Mr. Gross.

Speaker Boehner's Hemispheric Concerns

From Speaker of the House John Boehner's speech today at the Council of the Americas:

Free-market capitalism and representative democracy go hand in hand, and they have worked hand in hand to lift nations out of chaos and into competitiveness.

I returned from Latin America convinced that our objective should be to make the entire Western Hemisphere a free enterprise zone – free markets, free trade, and free people.

I had a vision of neighbor countries, each with a distinct identity and unique national character, but with a shared, ironclad commitment to freedom and democracy.

It’s an attainable vision, but challenges exist. I believe there are three major threats.

The first such threat is Iran, which has made little attempt to disguise its global ambitions, or its interest in gaining a foothold in Latin America that can serve as a base of support for those ambitions.

The same week our delegation was visiting Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico, another foreign leader was conducting a Latin America mission as well.

That leader was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

It was telling that his itinerary included none of the nations we visited, including Brazil – which, to President Rousseff’s great credit, has spurned Iran’s recent advances.

Instead Brazil has opted to pursue a path that demonstrates it seeks a responsible leadership role on the global stage – a role that corresponds with its considerable economic potential and role in the region.

Indeed, while I and the members of our delegation were visiting three of Latin America’s most vibrant democracies, Ahmadinejad was being hosted by nations such as Venezuela and Cuba, whose governments have been linked to state-sponsored terrorism and have isolated themselves internationally.

His trip underscored the designs Iran has for expanding its influence in Latin America, and its eagerness to forge bonds with governments in the Western Hemisphere that have demonstrated a lesser interest in freedom and democracy.

While the influence of Iran and other rogue nations represents the external threat to the prosperity of the Americas, there also continues to be a threat from within.

This is the second challenge I want to identify: the ongoing threat posed by international drug cartels, anti-democratic insurgents, and trans-national criminal organizations that have long sought to destabilize Latin America and its democratic nations’ economies.

There has been unmistakable progress made in the fight against such lawlessness in Latin America. I witnessed it first-hand this winter.

In Colombia and Mexico, I saw the aggressive, state-of-the-art methods being employed by national police forces in those nations, often using U.S.-built or supplied technology.

Support for U.S. engagement in these vital efforts has traditionally been bipartisan, starting with Plan Colombia, implemented under President Bill Clinton and Speaker Denny Hastert, and the Merida Initiative set in motion by President George W. Bush.

For more than a decade, a major focus of the United States has been to partner with countries whose governments struggle to maintain legitimate state authority over significant portions of their territory.

When our neighbors have faced these situations, we’ve worked with them to develop, adjust, fund and execute the strategies needed to stem the tide.

These initiatives have been largely successful. But the threat remains.

We know, from years of hard experience, how insurgents, criminal gangs, and terrorist organizations operate when they’re left to their own devices.

They form transactional relationships to leverage resources, and create networks for their own survival – carving out zones that allow freedom of movement and operation outside the government’s control.

We know such organizations can still spread rapidly in Latin America if left unchecked, partly because of the region’s unique characteristics.

The geographical proximity and close cultural connections among the countries, the uneven strengths of the central governments, and other factors lend themselves to a 'spillover effect' in Latin America when such bad actors are given an opening to exploit.

We have to continue to deny them such an opening.

We have an unavoidable responsibility to anticipate this threat and to understand the potential for it to grow as a regional problem in Latin America – one that threatens the smaller countries in the region in particular.

That leads me to the third and most serious challenge, which is the one we don’t talk about: the question mark that exists in many of the region’s capitals regarding the future of the U.S. commitment.

There are voices in both American political parties calling for the United States to adopt a new posture of isolation and reduce our level of engagement in Latin America, arguing for a halt in aid to nations such as Colombia and Mexico.

The head of the AFL-CIO has called on President Obama to shelve the Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

And the Obama Administration itself, even as it has touted the benefits of free trade with Colombia, has spoken of 'turning the page' from Plan Colombia.

The threat of U.S. disengagement is the most serious of the three threats I have identified because if it occurs, the other two threats will multiply exponentially.

This in turn will wipe out economic opportunities -- not just for the United States, but for all the nations of our hemisphere.

The vision I have described – a community of nations, committed to free people and free markets – will be in peril.

The best defense against an expansion of Iranian influence in Latin America – and against the destructive aspirations of international criminals in the region – is for the United States to double down on a policy of direct engagement.

The economic potential of Latin America will never be reached if the forces of lawlessness in the region sense that the United States is no longer engaged and committed to their eradication.

Castro Sends Message to "Self-Employed"

Last week, the Castro regime raided a major Havana market (Carlos III) and arrested over 60 self-employed Cubans that had set up shop there.

Apparently, those arrested weren't as self-employed as they thought.

They were selling nails, faucets, light bulbs and other minor home fixtures.

As crowds gathered to protest the arrest of the self-employed Cubans, a state security official accused them of being thieves.

But the message was really another -- that all Cubans work for the whim of the regime (self-employed or not).

Pentagon Recycles Data by Cuban Spy

It begs the question -- has the Pentagon conducted a thorough threat-assessment pursuant to the arrest of Cuban spy Ana Belen Montes in 2001?

How about the State Department after the arrest of Cuban spy Kendall Myers in 2009?

In Cuba Confidential:

Ghost of Convicted Spy Still Haunts Pentagon

Fourteen years ago today, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) published an unclassified assessment titled “The Cuban Threat to U.S. National Security.” In it, Ana Belen Montes, the primary author of the assessment, minimized Havana’s strategic abilities. Less than three and a half years later, Montes was arrested for espionage – the highest ranking Cuban spy ever imprisoned by the US government.

The unclassified DIA document concluded “Cuba has a limited ability to engage in some military and intelligence activities which could pose a danger…” In reality, Montes added the passing reference to Castro’s intelligence service only at the insistence of this author, with whom she coordinated her assessment. Her original draft omitted Cuba’s intelligence services. Montes’ very soft-line position attracted a lot of negative attention within DIA and at the Pentagon. In fact, before forwarding the assessment to Congress, Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen took the extraordinary step of adding a transmittal letter highlighting his concerns regarding Cuban intelligence, Havana’s dismal human rights record, and nuclear and biological issues.

Amazingly, almost a decade after the conviction of this spy, the Pentagon press release regarding her infamous claim remains on-line. Thankfully, someone in the Public Affairs office took down two documents attached to the press release. So why didn’t the Pentagon finish the job and remove the press announcement as well? Researchers can find all three documents elsewhere on the Internet, as well as at the National Archives. The fact that this material remains on line at the Pentagon – without context – is offensive and embarrassing.

Castro’s Desperate Warning

By Amb. Roger Noriega in The Miami Herald:

When an imperious bully like Fidel Castro starts to fear, his instinct is to try to sow fear among his enemies. Today, with his student and benefactor, Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez, dying of cancer, what the Cuban dictator fears most is that his bankrupt regime in Havana is about to lose billions in critical aid and oil.

So, in an April 27 essay entitled, What Obama Knows, Castro conjures a “river of blood” in Venezuela if the Chavista movement is forced from power by the “oligarchy” or “overthrown” by the United States.

It would come as a surprise to President Obama that he is advocating the overthrow of the Chávez government. The passive policy of the U.S. government is to maintain commercial relations with that country and to wish the Venezuelan people well. What has Castro so alarmed is the intensified effort of U.S. law enforcement — primarily the Drug Enforcement Administration and Department of the Treasury — to hold officials of the Chávez regime accountable for their complicity with drug trafficking and terrorism.

It is extraordinary, to say the least, that targeting drug kingpins in Venezuela is perceived as aggression against the government in Caracas. But that is an indictment of the senior leadership of the Chavista regime, hardly the fault of U.S. policy.

Castro’s desperate warning comes in the wake of news that a former Chavista supreme court justice, Eladio Aponte Aponte, has sought refuge in the United States and is cooperating with the DEA. Indeed, the Chavista leadership is in a panic because they know that Aponte Aponte is just the first of many defectors who will help U.S. prosecutors expose an international criminal conspiracy implicating Chávez and his most trusted operatives.

For example, potential U.S. indictments will likely torpedo a succession led by military loyalists Diosdado Cabello, Gen. Henry Rangel Silva and Gen. Cliver Alcala, whom Chávez had named to crucial posts in the National Assembly, ruling party and military, in spite of their notorious ties to drug trafficking.

For obvious reasons, a man as corrupt and paranoid as Fidel Castro is something of an expert on the U.S. judicial system. So, he knows that an indictment of Hugo Chávez is out of the question, because of his status as a head of state. Moreover, any federal prosecutor considering the indictment of a senior official of the Venezuelan government must obtain the prior approval of the Justice Department in Washington, DC. Castro, who 60 years ago was known for a wicked curveball, is throwing at Obama’s head: Call off your prosecutors, or deal with a bloody mess in the streets of Caracas.

No doubt, the wily dictator is hoping for an abundance of caution from President Obama in an election year. However, the idea that the White House would ask beleaguered Attorney General Eric Holder to intervene to save drug traffickers in Caracas is Castro-crazy.

My guess is that such U.S. indictments will come. So will the defectors. So will the preemptive squelching of witnesses. And so will the gangland-style assassinations, as the criminals who are running Venezuela today try to cover their tracks and evade justice.

Castro’s second warning is directed at the “oligarchs” of the opposition who intend to challenge Chavismo at the polls in October, when Chávez’s successor is supposed to be chosen. Chávez’s Cuban godfather is sending a not-so-subtle warning that democratic opponents will be branded as collaborators, as the U.S. justice system begins to chip away at the corrupt foundations of the regime. If that is the case, then Chavista civilians — like Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro, Vice President Elias Jaua, Governor Adan Chávez, former Minister of Defense José Vicente Rangel — are similarly complicit in the crimes of the narco-generals who finance and defend their political movement. As the crimes of the military leadership are exposed, the civilian Chavistas will have no more credibility than the piano player in a bordello.

Perhaps Chávez’s henchmen are counting on the thousands of Cuban triggermen and Venezuelan militia members, who are armed to the teeth with Russian weapons. So, if there is bloodshed in Venezuela, let there be no mistake who is doing the shooting.

However, if such wanton violence is to be contained, it will require an unusual bit of resourcefulness by the civilian opposition and an unprecedented measure of courage by the majority of Venezuelan soldiers who would prefer to honor their constitution than murder innocents at the behest of criminals.

Only someone of Fidel Castro’s ilk would consider bloody repression in the service of drug traffickers a noble undertaking. His demented hope is that such a terrible threat will prevent Latin American leaders, whom he knows so well, and President Obama, whom he knows so little, from doing the right thing as a narco-state is unmasked in Caracas.

Roger F. Noriega was ambassador to the Organization of American States from 2001-03 and assistant secretary of state from 2003-05.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Sunday, May 6, 2012
Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for a conversation on the important work of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) with two its Board Members, Pat Griffin and Peter Madigan, respectively.

Griffin and Madigan are among Washington's most brilliant political minds. Griffin served in the White House as President Clinton's Special Assistant for Legislative Affairs, while Madigan served in the Treasury and State Departments under the Reagan and Bush I Administrations as legislative adviser to Secretary James Baker.

And also, an update on Mexico's upcoming Presidential elections with Rodrigo Ivan Cortes, a legislator from the ruling Partido Accion Nacional (PAN) and head of its foreign affairs commission.

Listen to "From Washington al Mundo" live today on Sirus-XM's Cristina Radio (Channel 146) from 4-5 p.m. (EST) and rebroadcast on Tuesday from 3-4 p.m. (EST).

Carlos Garcia Was Right, Dominguez Is Wrong

Radio and TV Marti's Carlos Garcia recently wrote an editorial criticizing Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega and his cozy relationship with the Castro dictatorship.

It has since been taken down.

We're not sure why. After all, this opinion is shared by most Cuban dissidents, exiles and even some Vatican officials.

However, a Washington Post journalist decided to challenge the editorial and it seems Garcia has sadly backed down.

(Garcia has since told the Miami Herald, which at least gave him an opportunity to directly comment, that it was taken down to create room for fresher content).

The journalist, Bill Booth, even described Ortega as someone "who has been negotiating with the communist government to expand religious and political freedom."

Really? How about citing just one initiative he's undertaken for political freedom?

He's definitely sought to create more space for the Cuban Catholic Church to function, but he's arguably done so at a cost for the freedom of others.

But there's plenty of available material for anyone to form their own opinion of Cardinal Ortega, starting with his unholy attacks against Cuban dissidents during his recent speech at Harvard University.

With whom we take greatest exception is with Harvard University Professor Jorge Dominguez -- the same Professor Dominguez who had no problem delivering a speech in Damascus hosted by the Assad regime amidst a genocide -- who stated:

Who freed the political prisoners in Cuba? Not the European Union. Not the U.S. government. And not Radio and TV Marti. It was Ortega who convinced Raul Castro to let them out.”

You're wrong, Professor.

It was the death of Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo, pursuant to an 86-day hunger strike; the courage and resilience of the Ladies in White, who were beaten and dragged through the streets of Havana; the near death of Cuban pro-democracy leader Guillermo Farinas, pursuant to a 140-day hunger strike; and the ensuing international pressure, that earned the release of the 75 Cuban political prisoners of the Black Spring.

It was earned through their blood, sweat, tears, pain and suffering.

Cardinal Ortega even admitted that his "sudden intervention" at the time was motivated by his desire to preserve stability and cleanse Castro's image abroad.

In other words, to serve as an "escape valve" for Castro.

Paying Dividends to the Dictatorship

An article in Ann Arbor about a recent University of Michigan alumni association trip to Cuba contains the very telling picture below.

It's fascinating how these "people-to-people" trips -- all pre-approved by the Castro regime -- don't include visits with pro-democracy activists or independent civil society leaders.

However, they all include a trip to the Casa de Cambio -- Castro's currency exchange bureau -- to pay dividends to the dictatorship.

Something the Obama Administration just doesn't seem to care about.

More Than Caution Needed With Cuba

If The Washington Post's Editorial Board correctly urges caution in lifting sanctions towards Burma (despite limited political reforms), then there should be no lifting of sanctions towards Cuba whatsoever, where there have been absolutely no political reforms.

From The Washington Post:

Gold rush to Burma

AS U.N. SECRETARY General Ban Ki-moon was urging the world last week to expand investment into Burma, the Irrawaddy, a Burmese magazine-in-exile, was publishing a story about 7,800 acres of Burmese farmland being confiscated by the government to make way for copper mining.

“Farmers also said that they were only given a small amount of compensation for their property as, according to company officials and local authorities, their lands are actually owned by the state and the confiscation was carried out by presidential order,” the Irrawaddy reported. Companies mining in the area are Chinese, Canadian and Burmese state-owned.

Maybe the farmers of Salingyi Township, Sagaing Division, aren’t on the top-10 list of Mr. Ban’s concerns. But as Europe, Japan, Korea and, to a more cautious degree, the United States lift restrictions on doing business with Burma (also known as Myanmar), the reported dispossession is worth a moment’s attention.

Burma, run by one of the most brutal and repressive military regimes, has long been one of the world’s most isolated economies as well. But President Thein Sein has initiated some political reforms and released some political prisoners. Last week Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace laureate and longtime political prisoner, was sworn in as a member of parliament , an emblem of the swift political change taking place and a harbinger — it is hoped — of more to come.

Last month, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won 43 of 44 parliamentary seats it contested in a by-election. The vote proved that she remains the indisputable spokeswoman for Burma’s people. But it didn’t shift much power from the generals and retired generals who rule Burma. The NLD controls only 7 percent of parliamentary seats. The regime’s control of media remains among the world’s 10 most stifling, as the Committee to Protect Journalists reported last week (“its vast censorship structure remains in place”). Hundreds of political prisoners remain in jail. And — as the farmers of Salingyi no doubt understand — there is no rule of law and no independent judiciary.

In light of all this, the question of how quickly to relax sanctions is tricky. Too slowly, and the generals will see no benefit to democratization. Too quickly, and outside nations will lose leverage to promote further democratization. The Europeans, in voting to suspend rather than lift sanctions, acknowledged the need for balance, but Burma’s reforms may prove more reversible than Europe’s suspension, once its companies are on the ground.

In the unseemly rush for minerals and other natural-resource contracts, developed-nation companies and their governments are giving the impression that a 7 percent solution is good enough. The people of Burma deserve better.

Lady in White Charged With "Disobedience"

Yaquelín García Jaens, a member of the Ladies in White, has been charged with "disobedience" by the Castro regime and now faces a lengthy prison sentence.

Her crime: "Disobeying" the orders of the Cuban dictatorship not to march with the Ladies in White.

Her husband, Ariel Eugenio Arzuaga Peña, director of the Truth and Light Human Rights Center, is currently serving a six year sentence for his pro-democracy activism.

More "reform" you can't believe in.