Video: Cuba Solidarity Day Event

Saturday, May 19, 2012
Click below to watch this week's Cuba Solidarity Day event at The Heritage Foundation, featuring House Western Hemisphere Subcommittee Chairman Connie Mack (R-FL), former Cuban political prisoner (of the Black Spring's "75") Normando Hernandez, messages from the island from pro-democracy leaders Jose Daniel Ferrer, Berta Soler and Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez," and much more.

Castros Lock Up Their Former Benefactors

For years, some of these foreign businessmen (below) served as the Castro brother's biggest benefactors.

Then, one day, the Castros no longer found them useful, arrested them and confiscated their investments.

Also, the last paragraph is a good reminder of how trickle down doesn't work in Cuba -- nor will Castro ever let it.

From The Economist:

Come and see my villa

The regime has taken to locking up businessmen

LAST year Coral Capital, one of the biggest private investors in Cuba, released a glossy brochure for a property development. “Live in Havana,” said the blurb. “You know you want to.” It was anticipating a new law that, for the first time since the revolution, would allow foreigners to buy property, in this case around a couple of golf courses which the company was intending to develop. Now Coral Capital’s top two bosses, both British citizens, are under arrest, caught up in an investigation that has in equal measure bemused and alarmed foreigners doing business in Cuba.

Since last summer dozens of senior Cuban managers, in industries from nickel to cigars, have been arrested, along with some established foreign businessmen. They include two Canadian executives who managed trading companies. Another target was Max Marambio, a Chilean former guerrilla and friend of Fidel Castro, who made a fortune after setting up a fruit-juice company that was one of Cuba’s first joint enterprises. He was convicted in absentia.

Coral Capital says it has invested around $75m in Cuba, notably in doing up the Saratoga, Havana’s most luxurious hotel. Its chief operating officer, Stephen Purvis, was arrested as he was about to take his children to school. Though assured that he will not face serious charges, he has reason to be worried. His boss, Amado Fahkre, was picked up last October and is still being held (he has not been formally accused of any crime). Both men have been questioned at Villa Marista, the notorious counter-intelligence headquarters of the Ministry of Interior. Cuban intelligence officials boast that, eventually, everyone “sings” after a stay at the villa.

These arrests have not been mentioned in the state media. But they appear to form part of an inquiry into illegal payments to Cuban citizens. Officially, almost all Cubans, including the managers of businesses which turn over many millions of dollars, are paid a state salary of around $20 a month. Under-the-table payments are commonplace. “We are somewhat in the dark here,” says a European businessman based in Havana. “If I pay my manager an extra $100 a month, as I feel I should. Is that a crime against national security?” It seems so.

Romney Remarks for Cuban Independence Day

Friday, May 18, 2012
Remarks by Gov. Romney for Cuban Independence Day

Boston, MA – Mitt Romney today made the following remarks on Cuban Independence Day, which is celebrated this coming Sunday, May 20th:

Today, I join with the Cuban people—on the island, here in America, and elsewhere in the world—in honoring the independence that was so dearly won by brave Cubans over a century ago. The struggle for Cuban independence was based on the principles of liberty, and won through the courage and sacrifice that the yearning for freedom inspires.

Today is a recognition of freedom’s triumph, but it’s also a sobering reminder that over 50 years of Cuba’s history have been lost to the tyranny of the Castro regime.

Since Castro took power, the Cuban people have been denied basic human freedoms. No freedom of religion, no freedom of the press, no political freedom. And the regime uses brutality and violence to suppress these freedoms and impose its will.

In recent years and months, we have seen the deaths of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Juan Wilfredo Soto, Wilman Villar and Laura Pollan at the hands of the dictatorship. We have witnessed the continued incarceration of peaceful pro-democracy activists and the unlawful imprisonment of Alan Gross.

These injustices make painfully clear that the Castros’ grip on power remains as tight as ever. The regime touts so-called “reforms,” but the facts point to continued oppression. The Cuban people still live in constant fear of a brutal totalitarian regime that has demonstrated time and again its utter disregard for basic human dignity.

The fight for a free Cuba has gone on for far too long.

Too many dreams have been shattered, too many lives have been ruined, and too many families have been separated by the tyranny of the Castro regime.

Too many Independence Day celebrations have passed with that regime still clinging to power.

And too many political leaders—on both sides of the aisle—have lauded the dream of a free Cuba on this day over the years, only to falter in realizing that dream once in office.

In recent years, we have seen the United States back away from pressuring the Castro regime, under the misguided view that placating them with an open hand would yield progress. That naiveté has invited only more cruelty and oppression in return.

Today, we join Cubans around the world in celebrating independence and remembering the brave men and women who gave their lives in the fight for freedom. And to those who continue the fight, I offer not only words of support, but the promise of action.

If I am elected President, the Castro regime will have no reason to doubt our unwavering commitment to your cause. The regime will feel the full weight of American resolve.

The international community will know that the future of Cuba is within the leadership of the Cuban pro-democracy movement, represented in men and women like Jose Daniel Ferrer, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez “Antunez,” Sara Marta Fonseca, and Berta Soler.

And, together, we will hasten the day when the regime will come to an end.

"Like bones to the human body, the axle to the wheel, the wing to the bird, and the air to the wing, so is liberty the essence of life." These were the words of Jose Marti at the time of Cuba’s fight for independence.

Those words rang true for Cuba a century ago. Soon, they will ring true once again.

Repsol Comes Out Dry

It has been confirmed that Spanish oil company Repsol's exploratory drilling off Cuba's shores has not found any commercially viable quantities of oil.

This is the second time Repsol comes out dry off Cuba's shores -- the first in 2004.

As we've long stated, the intense two-year lobbying effort for the U.S. to ease sanctions and unconditionally engage the Castro regime has been (once again) unmasked for what it always was -- a ploy.

House Approves DoD State-Sponsors Amendment

House Approves Amendment to Prohibit Dept of Defense from Contracting with Businesses That Do Business with State Sponsors of Terrorism

Companies that do business with terrorist nations dealt major blow

Washington, D.C. - The House of Representatives approved an amendment presented by Congressman David Rivera (FL-25) to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 by a voice vote on Thursday night.

In a major blow to companies that do business with terrorist nations, the Rivera amendment prohibits the Department of Defense from contracting goods or services from any person or business that does business with a U.S.-designated State Sponsor of Terrorism. The amendment stops the flow of taxpayer dollars to business entities that do business with terrorist states and closes the loophole that allows foreign companies like Repsol to partner with State Sponsors of Terrorism while simultaneously profiting from American taxpayers through their subsidiaries.

Repsol has over $300 million in contracts with the Department of Defense while also partnering with the Cuban dictatorship in oil exploration efforts.

Currently, the Department of State designates Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria as State Sponsors of Terrorism.

"Many Americans would be outraged to know that there are foreign businesses conducting business with terrorist nations, while at the same time engaging in contract and procurement activity with the Department of Defense. I believe most Americans would agree this is not only a threat to American security, but also a threat to American jobs because these foreign businesses are taking job opportunities from American businesses that could be contracting with the Pentagon," Congressman Rivera stated.

"This amendment would prohibit businesses that engage in business activity with terrorist nations -- those nations that have been officially designated as sponsor of terrorism by our own government -- from contracting and procurement opportunities with the Department of Defense."

"This is an issue of protecting not only American security, but protecting American jobs," Congressman Rivera concluded.

Passage of this amendment further confirms and reiterates congressional intent concerning the prohibition of public tax dollars going to business entities that do business with terrorist states.

Romney Camp on Visa for Dictator's Daughter

Romney Policy Director Lanhee Chen has issued the following statement:

The Obama administration’s decision to grant a visa to Mariela Castro, daughter of the Cuban dictator Raul Castro, is a slap in the face to all those brave individuals in Cuba who are enduring relentless persecution for fighting for the universal rights we Americans hold dear. Unfortunately, this decision is part of a larger pattern. For even as the Castro brothers have tightened repression on the island over the past three years, the Obama administration has softened its approach. The United States should be standing up for freedom, not coddling the privileged children of Communist dictators.”

State Defies President Obama's Visa Policy

Thursday, May 17, 2012
This is a fascinating exchange during today's State Department Daily Press Briefing.

Note two things:

1. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland justifies not denying Cuban dictator Raul Castro's daughter visa saying:

"We have to follow U.S. law, and if we are going to deny visas, we have to do so under one of the stipulations in the visa law."


U.S. law (specifically Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act) provides full authority for the State Department to deny visas to Cuban regime and Communist Party officials, hence Presidential Proclamation 5377.

2. Then, Nuland absurdly states:

"We don’t link visa policy in cases like this to our larger political and economic and human rights relationship with countries."


The President of the United States, Barack Obama, gave a speech less than a year ago linking visas to human rights.

Is State now defying the President's own policy?

Finally, kudos to the educated reporter that states the obvious at the end:

QUESTION: I know you’ve addressed this before, but now that some of the organizations are confirming that Raul Castro’s daughter is coming, can you say anything about issuing a visa?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to speak to visa issuance, but I would refer you to some of the public comments that she herself has made.

QUESTION: Hold on. No, no, no. Yeah, on this. So now that she’s spoken about it, you’re still not going to say whether you granted her a visa? We’ll just have to assume that when she shows up in San Francisco and starts speaking that she didn’t come in illegally?

MS. NULAND: I think that’ll be a fair assumption to make.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, so then you basically just confirmed that she has gotten a visa.

MS. NULAND: Again, she’s spoken about her travel plans.

QUESTION: Okay. Now, there are members of Congress who are quite irate about this, and they say that they’re outraged and appalled that the Secretary would allow not just Ms. Castro – or – I don’t remember her full name – not just her but also this Cuban Communist Party architect who’s in New York currently and another Cuban who is at least tangentially related to the government, that these people that the Secretary would approve are allowed visas for these people to be approved. Can you talk at all about what is the process you go through in determining whether someone meets the criteria that’s in the law that says that you can deny visas to members of the Cuban Communist Party, government employees, that kind of thing?

MS. NULAND: Well, first let me say that we operate in all cases in issuing visas under the Immigration and Naturalization Act, under the laws of the United States. There is no blanket restriction on the issuing of visas to Cuban citizens. In all cases, visas are issued for legitimate travel purposes in the United States, including coming for conferences, courses of study, et cetera. I can’t speak to either of these specific cases except to say that anybody who is visaed into the United States is visaed in accordance with U.S. law.

QUESTION: Okay. One of the other points that the people on the Hill – that lawmakers are making is that it’s a travesty – I think it’s their words – that these visas would be approved while Alan Gross is still incarcerated.

MS. NULAND: Again, we visa people under the Immigration and Naturalization Act, the law of the land. We don’t link visa policy in cases like this to our larger political and economic and human rights relationship with countries. It is based in U.S. law.

QUESTION: Can I ask why not? I mean, if you want to make a point to the Cubans about this one particular case, wouldn’t it make sense to say until our guy, who has been – who you say has been – done nothing wrong and has been unjustly imprisoned --

MS. NULAND: Again, these are --

QUESTION: -- that until he is released that we’re not going to grant any visas? I mean, why not do that?

MS. NULAND: Again, U.S. visas are issued on – under laws that are passed by the U.S. Congress.

QUESTION: I understand, but the law doesn’t say --

MS. NULAND: So it is again --

QUESTION: -- that you have to grant the visa.

MS. NULAND: It is again within the purview of the Congress if it wants to change the laws under which we operate.

QUESTION: But is it not within the purview of the State Department to deny a visa for whatever reason it wants to?

MS. NULAND: No. We have to --

QUESTION: No, it’s not?

MS. NULAND: We have to operate within U.S. law.

QUESTION: So you have to give visas to Cuban Government officials to come to the States?

MS. NULAND: We have to follow U.S. law, and if we are going to deny visas, we have to do so under one of the stipulations in the visa law.

Time for Freedom and Solidarity for Cuba

Please RSVP for tomorrow's (May 18th) event at The Heritage Foundation here.

Time for a Freedom and Solidarity Agenda for Cuba

By Ray Walser, Ph.D.

May 20 marks 110 years of Cuba’s independence from Spanish rule and America’s temporary occupation of the island. It also marks more than 53 years since Cuban revolutionaries—led by Fidel Castro (1927– ) and his brother Raul (1930– )—toppled the Batista regime and installed a one-party, Communist dictatorship on the island. The revolutionary generation of the Castro brothers is on the verge of extinction. A difficult period of succession or transition looms. Failure to stand with the advocates of genuine economic and political change in Cuba and to press for a policy of true transition and genuine democracy could condemn yet another generation of Cubans to lives without freedom, opportunity, or hope.

Designing a Succession Scenario

The object of the Cuban regime under Raul Castro is to engineer a succession capable of carrying Cuba’s revolutionary model forward into the post-Castro era. The succession model will reserve political power and central control of the economy for the dictatorship and its supporters while reducing the scope of the state’s role in the economy. The regime calculates that it will be able to survive future economic tests by allowing a closely regulated private sector comprised of small-scale farmers, service providers, and the self-employed. There are currently 181 carefully prescribed categories, none of which involves larger enterprises, information technology, or professional services.

The Castro regime also looks to foreign investment, concessional loans, remittances from the U.S. (now estimated to be as much as $500 million annually), and future oil revenues to help it survive. The future of the subsidy provided by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, estimated to be as large as $9 billion to $10 billion annually, is rated uncertain, given Chavez’s current battle with cancer. The regime has also hinted that emigration to the U.S. and other countries may also be another tool for alleviating pressure because of Cuba’s persistent economic crisis. It also hopes the Obama Administration will further loosen trade and travel restrictions to shore up the system.

While Raul Castro’s economic reform measures appear substantial in comparison with the failed policies of the past, their potential for ensuring a smooth succession are dubious. Core problems that negatively impacted Cuba’s economic performance for decades remain. The persistent enemies of future Cuban prosperity are: a complete lack of economic freedom; an inefficient, antiquated command economy; a parasitic, rent-seeking, military-dominated bureaucracy; massive corruption; and the lack of an independent judiciary, rule of law, or sanctity of contract.

No Political Reform

On the political front, there are no signs of a democratic transition or any liberalization. In January 2012, Raul defended Cuba’s one-party dictatorship, saying, “Giving up the principle of one party would simply amount to allowing the party or parties of imperialism on national soil.” Marino Murillo, a vice president and key economic figure, did not parse words. In March 2012, during the Pope’s visit, with many optimistically envisioning a changing polity, Murillo stated, “In Cuba there will not be political reform.”

The regime’s unwillingness to make political liberalizations is most evident in the severe repression that faces all members of the opposition. During the first four months of 2012, there have been 1,915 politically motivated arrests. Most bothersome to the U.S. government is the arrest of Alan Gross, the USAID subcontractor arrested in December of 2010 for providing communication equipment to Jewish groups. The Cuban government clings to power through its iron fist and is ultimately petrified of Cubans exchanging information with the outside world.

A Policy of Solidarity with the Cuban People

The fundamentals of U.S. policy toward Cuba must continue to aim to restore the Cuban people economic, political, and human rights that empower them to determine the island’s future destiny. Economic and political freedoms cannot be divorced. In short, U.S. policy must look to transition, rather than succession and permanence, for Cuba’s persistently totalitarian model. U.S. policy should therefore:

Pursue a policy that offers no accommodation and no appeasement of a dictatorial regime in Cuba. The Obama Administration must uphold the right of the Cuban people to democracy and refrain from measures that enrich the Castro regime and its loyalists without empowering the citizens of Cuba to take charge of their country.

Back genuine economic transformation. The less continuity Cuba has with the Communist system, the greater the likelihood of robust economic, social, political, and cultural development. Economic and political freedom must move forward together.

Continue to challenge Cuba’s information blockade. Explore creative strategies and technologies aimed at ending censorship and informational controls in Cuba.

Establish clear and consistent yardsticks for democratic change, to include:

Independent political parties. The Cuban Communist Party monopolizes all government positions, judicial offices, and public services. While a small number of non-Party members have been permitted to serve in the National Assembly, the Communist Party must approve their candidacies. Independent political parties like the Cuban Social Democratic Party are considered illegal, as well as all other political associations and coalitions. Opposition members are harassed and persecuted.

Free and fair elections. While Cuba technically holds periodic local and parliamentary elections, the elections are shams, because only Communist Party members are allowed to run, along with a small handful of approved independent candidates. Opposition candidates are not permitted on ballots, nor are citizens afforded the opportunity to contest. The political system must open to provide for the legal existence of opposition parties and permit free and fair elections administered by an independent electoral body and open to international and domestic observation.

Freedom of information and expression. In Cuba, the government keeps strict control of all forms of media and communications, including radio, television, newspapers, and the Internet. Independent information that threatens the regime is considered contraband and deemed illegal to produce or receive. Equally, the Cuban government regularly arrests, detains, and harasses independent, peaceful activists, such as the Ladies in White, who seek to express their discontent with the regime. The Cuban government treats independent journalists and human rights activists with notable harshness. While the Castros have permitted a small amount of expression via online blogs, the vast majority (roughly 95 percent) of Cubans neither see that commentary nor create it themselves: Internet penetration in Cuba is estimated to only be between 3 percent and 5 percent, and the hourly cost for a connection often exceeds the average Cuban’s monthly salary.

Freedom of association. In March of this year, more than one thousand Cubans reported cases in which state security and police prevented or disrupted civil society meetings, using house arrests, short-term detentions, and checkpoints around planned meeting sites. The government continues to regularly employ organized mobs to humiliate activists and interfere with peaceful assembly. Private enterprises in Cuba are strictly limited by law, and the single trade union system persists with neither genuine collective bargaining nor the important right to strike.

Respect for human rights. The Cuban constitution makes dissent a crime. Through the “Dangerousness Law,” the regime can arrest and imprison people who have not committed a crime, but who are suspected of planning to commit a political crime in the future. It is through this law that most political prisoners and dissidents are sent to jail. Not only do all existing political prisoners and dissidents need to be released, but the Dangerousness Law needs to be abolished. International organizations such as Amnesty International and the Red Cross should be allowed to regularly observe human rights conditions, and other global organizations should be allowed to test Cuba’s rule-of-law standards against international standards.

Bringing Cuba into Prosperity

As the U.S. grapples with the persistent challenge of setting a course for the future in its relations with Cuba, it should pursue policies that will assist and welcome a free, democratic, and prosperous Cuba into the ranks of market-friendly, democratic Western Hemisphere states.

Ray Walser, PhD, is Senior Policy Analyst for Latin America in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation. Tania Mastrapa and Vanessa Lopez assisted in the preparation of this report.

Rubio on Visa for Castro's Daughter

Click to watch:

Chairman Mack on Cuba's Global Intel Reach

By House Western Hemisphere Subcommittee Chairman Connie Mack (R-FL) in the Republican Study Committee's National Security Working Group:

Cuba, a Small Island with a Global Reach

Cuba’s ongoing relationship with terrorist groups, espionage and other acts of information warfare represent a serious national security threat to the United States and the region. The real threat in this case comes from a lack of public information, and therefore an insufficient degree of attention, focused on countering Cuba’s perilous global network.

The U.S. State Department’s latest Country Reports on Terrorism reported that Cuba continues to have ties to active terrorist organizations. Experts on various methods of irregular warfare have identified the Cuban regime as a trafficker of U.S. intelligence with illegal groups that utilize terrorist methods and with State Sponsors of Terrorism. The sharing of intelligence by Cuban spies has reportedly degraded U.S. counterterrorism efforts in the Middle East and elsewhere. According to the FBI, Cuban spies like Ana Montes have been “leaking classified U.S. military information.” Cuba also shares information and collaborates with countries that are established cyber warfare threats. A threat assessment published in 2000 by the U.S. Navy’s Strategic Planning Guidance, stated that, “Russia, China, India, and Cuba have acknowledged policies of preparing for information warfare.” Experts have also warned that that China “has a listening post of some importance in cooperation with Cubans” and has supported Cuba in “the development and use of sophisticated radar, early-detection, and anti-aircraft systems.”

According to Scott W. Carmichael, a former counterintelligence investigator for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), “the Cuban Intelligence Service has penetrated the United States government” and is sharing classified information with U.S. adversaries like China, Russia, Iran, and Venezuela. The Cuban regime’s pervasive, global intelligence network, collection methods, and their willingness to share critical U.S. military and policy information to U.S. adversaries harms U.S. interests, military personnel, and the national security of the United States. This Thursday, May 17, I will be holding a hearing entitled, “Cuba’s Global Network of Terrorism, Intelligence, and Warfare” in Rayburn 2172 at 3:00pm, to shed light onto Cuba’s alarming activities and global capabilities.

How Hasty Was State in Granting Castro Visa?

This quote says everything you need to know about the State Department's irresponsible decision to grant a visa to the daughter of Cuban dictator Raul Castro.

From AFP:

"Yes, they granted it (the visa) and pretty quickly," said the spokesman for the National Center for Sexual Education, which Mariela Castro (Raul's daughter) heads.

According to Spain's El Pais newspaper, Castro's two security thugs have also gotten U.S. visas to accompany her during the visit.

They were exempted by the State Department as well.

So while decent pro-American visitors throughout the world have to go through pain-stacking measures to enter the U.S., senior officials from one of the cruelest family dictatorships in the world are quickly welcomed with open arms.

Message to the world: It pays off to defend repression.

Hearing Today: Cuba, Terrorism and Intelligence

U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs

Cuba’s Global Network of Terrorism, Intelligence, and Warfare

You are respectfully requested to attend the following open hearing of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere to be held in Room 2172 of the Rayburn House Office Building.

DATE: Thursday, May 17, 2012
TIME: 3:00 PM
LOCATION: Room 2172 of the Rayburn House Office Building


Mr. Christopher Simmons
Founding Editor
Cuba Confidential
(Retired Defense Intelligence Agency Supervisory Counterintelligence Officer)

The Honorable Michelle Van Cleave
National Security Concepts, Inc.
(Former National Counterintelligence Executive under President George W. Bush)

State Violates Agreement on Regime Visas

Wednesday, May 16, 2012
State Department’s Apparent Open Door Policy For Senior Cuban Regime Officials & Activists ‘Dangerous’, Says Ros-Lehtinen

Concerned Department is Seeking to Hide Such Travel from Congress

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, released the following statement today on the Department of State’s role in facilitating potential travel to the United States by Raul Castro’s daughter, Mariela Castro, and the State Department’s refusal to honor a long standing agreement with Ros-Lehtinen and the Committee on Foreign Affairs concerning travel of Cuban regime officials.

“I am greatly concerned by reports that the State Department has granted a visa to dictator Raul Castro’s daughter, Mariela Castro, to attend an event in the United States next week. Mariela Castro is a communist regime sympathizer who has labeled Cuban dissidents as ‘parasites.’ Reports that Eusebio Leal, tasked by the regime to expand tourism to the island under the guise of serving as historian of Havana, is also being granted a visa to travel to the U.S. also raises alarm. If confirmed, Castro’s and Leal’s travel would be the most recent in a disturbing pattern that is developing where the doors of the U.S. are opened to officials and activists of this state-sponsor of terrorism.

Why the State Department would issue a visa to Mariela Castro or Eusebio Leal to come to the U.S. and spew the Castro propaganda is beyond comprehension. Not only has the Castro dictatorship trampled on the human rights of its people, Cuba is a State Sponsor of Terrorism with an active and well-documented espionage network operating in and against the U.S. Granting travel and access to the U.S. by high-level regime officials is dangerous and counterproductive to our foreign policy and national security interests.

And now, we are faced with the possibility that State may seek to thwart Congressional oversight over decisions regarding travel by Cuban regime officials. It is my hope the Department will continue to honor a long-standing agreement with me on behalf of the House Foreign Affairs Committee requiring notification of State actions concerning travel by Cuban regime officials. This agreement established in 1997 was adopted in lieu of a legislative mandate I had included in funding legislation and was honored by successive Administrations.

I urge the Department of State to reject these visa requests by regime operatives Mariela Castro and Eusebio Leal and abide by its commitments to cooperate with our Foreign Affairs Committee as we seek to exercise due diligence and oversight.”

Menendez on Visa for Dictator's Daughter

Menendez Statement on Decision to Issue a Visa for Daughter of Cuban Dictator Raul Castro

Washington – U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) today issued the following statement regarding a decision to issue a visa to the daughter of Cuban dictator Raul Castro, Mariela Castro Espin:

“I am disappointed by the decision to issue a visa to Mariela Castro Epsin, the daughter of Cuban dictator Raul Castro. Ms. Castro is a vociferous advocate of the regime and opponent of democracy, who has defended the regime’s brutal repression of democracy activists. Neither the United States Government nor the Latin American Studies Association should be in the business of providing a totalitarian regime, like the one in Cuba, with a platform from which to espouse its twisted rhetoric. Moreover, while an American is being held hostage in a Cuban prison I believe that issuance of a visa to Ms. Castro sends the wrong message to the regime and to Cuba’s struggling opposition movement. Lastly, she is a prominent member of Cuba’s Communist party and I don’t believe that the authority exists to provide Ms. Castro with a visa pursuant to Presidential Proclamation 5377, which prohibits providing non-immigrant visas to Cuban nationals that are officers or employees of the Government or the Communist Party of Cuba.”

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for an exclusive interview with former U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab, who originally negotiated the Colombia-Panama Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which went into effect yesterday.

Then, Stephen Johnson of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) will discuss the upcoming elections in Mexico and the challenges it faces. Johnson formerly served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Western Hemisphere.

"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).

State Dishonest About Dictator's Daughter

During yesterday's Daily Press Briefing, the State Department was asked about a potential U.S. visa for the Cuban dictator's daughter, Mariela Castro.

QUESTION: Did the U.S. grant a visa to Mariela Castro Espin, daughter of Raul Castro? Were certain laws waived that prevent officials of the Cuban Government from receiving visas?

ANSWER: We do not discuss specific details of individual visa cases; visa records are confidential under U.S. law. The rules and procedures for adjudicating visa applications are established under U.S. law and Department regulations. Each visa request is reviewed on a case-by-case basis. There is no blanket ban on issuing visas to Cuban Government officials.


According to the State Department's own Bureau of Consular Affairs, among the Presidential Proclamations "which currently affect the issuance of U.S. visas are" Presidential Proclamation 5377, which states:

Section 1. Entry of the following classes of Cuban nationals as nonimmigrants is hereby suspended: (a) officers or employees of the Government of Cuba or the Communist Party of Cuba holding diplomatic or official passports; and (b) individuals who, notwithstanding the type of passport that they hold, are considered by the Secretary of State or his designee to be officers or employees of the Government of Cuba or the Communist Party of Cuba.

Sec. 2. The suspension of entry as nonimmigrants set forth in Section 1 shall not apply to officers or employees of the Government of Cuba or the Communist Party of Cuba: (a) entering for the exclusive purpose of conducting official business at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington; at the Cuban Mission to the United Nations in New York; or at the United Nations in New York when, in the judgment of the Secretary of State or his designee, entry for such purpose is required by the United Nations Headquarters Agreement; (b) in the case of experts on a mission of the United Nations and in the case of individuals coming to the United States on official United Nations business as representatives of nongovernmental organizations when, in the judgment of the Secretary of State or his designee, entry for such purpose is required by the United Nations Headquarters Agreement; or (c) in such other cases or categories of cases as may be designated from time to time by the Secretary of State or his designee.

Thus, for the Cuban dictator's daughter and prominent Communist Party member, Mariela Castro, to be given a U.S. visa to deliver policy speeches in New York and San Francisco, the Secretary of State must provide an exemption under Section 2(c).

But it is hard to imagine why the State Department would favor one of the most vocal defenders of the Castro family dictatorship, who has justified its repressive policies and refers to peaceful pro-democracy activists as "despicable parasites."

Lessons From South African Sanctions

Tuesday, May 15, 2012
From Notes From the Cuban Exile Quarter:

Despite these differences there is much that Cubans can learn from the South African experience, the following are some highlights summarized below:

- [T]he effort by the Anti-Apartheid movement to target the South African regime began with a call in May of 1960 for both a consumer boycott of South African goods and US government sanctions against South Africa. This effort would not gather a mass following until the 1980s. Until then actions against apartheid tended to be small scale and isolated.

- The first large large anti-apartheid demonstration was called by the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) on March 19, 1965 to protest Chase Manhattan Bank loans to South Africa. The event brought together a total of 400 demonstrators from different organizations who marched for five hours outside the bank headquarters in Manhattan; 49 demonstrators were arrested after staging a sit-in.

- In the second half of the 1960s through the early 1970s support for the Anti-Apartheid movement grew inside the World Council of Churches (WCC) and through the growing radicalization of US activists. The World Council of Churches gave grants of financial assistance to the liberation movements in South Africa.

- All of these efforts failed to reach a critical mass that would impact national opinion and official policy until the mid 1980s. Nevertheless, the strategic vision laid out in these years set the framework for the anti-apartheid movement in later decades.

- Despite the African National Congress's decision to abandon nonviolence, in the early 1970s the greatest expansions by the Anti-Apartheid movement were thanks to nonviolent actions and crackdowns by the Apartheid regime on nonviolent activists. Black trade unions organized labor strikes in Durban in 1973 and the massive regime crackdown drew huge international attention and reaction. The 1977 murder of Steven Biko while in police detention exposed the brutal nature of the Apartheid regime. Books, songs, and movies would be made about his life and death. The murder of Biko led to the extension of an arms embargo against South Africa.

- Another interesting observation is that people of good will had differences of opinion over the effectiveness of economic sanctions in South Africa. For example, UN ambassador Andrew Young, a civil rights pioneer and "liberal" in the Carter Administration argued against sanctions claiming that economic ties could be used to erode the apartheid system. This was a position also argued by the South African apartheid regime and business interests.

Think Tank vs. Being "In the Tank"

Leading up to Cuban Independence Day (May 20th), two Washington, D.C. think tanks are hosting Cuba-related events.

On May 18th, The Heritage Foundation will host "An Act of Solidarity with the People of Cuba: The Struggle for Freedom Continues," which will feature testimonies from pro-democracy leaders on-and-off the island and comparative perspectives with Eastern Europe.

Meanwhile, that same day, the Brookings Institution will host, "Balancing Preservation and Transformation in Cuba: A Conversation with Eusebio Leal" -- a tourism promotion gathering with the Castro regime's official historian.

According to Brooking's description of the event:

"Cuba is undergoing a gradual economic and social transformation that potentially carries great importance for the island nation, as well as for its relationships with the United States and the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean."

That's right, Brookings only likes to discuss so-called intra-regime "social and economic transformation" because the concepts of democracy, civil and political rights -- you know, the bedrocks of human freedom -- are apparently too risqué for them.

Or because the Castro regime might deny their next visiting "delegation" visas and the red carpet treatment upon arrival.

Cuban Intelligence Poses a Threat to U.S.

In yesterday's "From Washington al Mundo," the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) former senior analyst for Latin America, Brian Latell, explains why Cuban intelligence poses a threat to the U.S.

Click here to listen.

IKEA's Dirty Little Secret

Monday, May 14, 2012
By Gay City News columnist Kelly Cogswell in The Huffington Post:

I love IKEA. Their stuff is cheap. It looks good. They were among the first to use same-sex couples in their advertising. In 2002 the Swedish company ran a print ad in the Netherlands that showed two men kissing while their daughter perched atop a pair of tables, the copy declaring, "My daddies are also a set."

So I was mortified to learn that in the 1970s and '80s they used slave labor. That's what it's called when you use the cut-rate work of political prisoners who get locked up in their cells every night and can't exactly negotiate a raise or even a coffee break.

The news that IKEA used East German forced labor was reported as early as July 2011 in a German television documentary aired on WDR, a regional public broadcasting station. They explained that during the '70s IKEA worked hand-in-glove with the East German government, capitalizing on the cheap labor source. The factory that produced their top-selling Klippan sofa was right next to a prison in Waldheim.

At the time IKEA issued a statement saying they'd determined that the charges were unfounded, and the story seemed to disappear. Last week, though, it came back with a vengeance when SVT, a Swedish public broadcasting station, aired its own damning report.

So far IKEA has offered a contradictory response. Spokeswoman Jeanette Skjelmose said IKEA was doing their own investigation, interviewing former employees and requesting documents from the STASI files: "So far there are no indications that we would have asked that prisoners be used in manufacturing or known about it... What we're looking into now is whether it could have happened anyway, without our knowledge."

On the other hand, another spokesperson, Ylva Magnusson, told the German DPA news agency that IKEA would certainly be open to compensating former forced laborers if the facts are properly established. It seemed like a feeble attempt to buy their way out of the scandal while still pretending innocence, so that the squeaky clean, progressive image of the world's largest furniture retailer wouldn't suffer.

But on May 3, after some digging in old East German records, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published a report that the Swedish company used Cuban prisoners, too. And Miami's Nuevo Herald reported that the 1987 deal, in which Cuba would produce 45,000 tables and 4,000 sofa parts for IKEA, was part of a larger agreement between companies controlled by East Germany's and Cuba's secret police that included antiques, cigars, and Cuban weapons. As proof, El Nuevo Herald published the signed agreement found in STASI files.

The only funny thing is that you get what you pay for, at least in Cuba. The Cuban-made furniture was apparently so badly made that it couldn't be used, and that part of the deal was later canceled.

A lot of the documents were discovered in the STASI archives by researcher Jorge L. García Vásquez, a Cuban who has lived in Germany since the 1980s, and who was himself interrogated by the STASI in 1987. You can find many of the actual documents in his blog, STASI-MININT Connection. While most of the documents concern general East Germany-Cuban agreements, some specifically mention IKEA, including a deal for furniture components that was for 12 million German marks.

It's getting more and more indefensible for the family-owned IKEA to claim innocence. According to an article in The Local, the 2011 documentary apparently included an interview with a former prison chief explaining that prison labor was a standard part of furniture production in East Germany.

WDR also cited STASI documents that claimed that IKEA's multi-millionaire founder Ingvar Kamprad, a public-relations disaster all by himself, thought cooperating with the communist authorities was "completely in the interests of society."

The only question for me is whether or not IKEA will get off scot-free, and if Cuban prisoners will ever get the reparations promised to German forced laborers. The same Cuban government is still in power and is still auctioning off Cuban slave labor to the cheapest bidders. Nobody seems to care.

Especially in Europe. I was in Paris in November 2009, when the entire continent was marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Commentators lamented that North Korea was still hanging on as one of the last Communist police states, but I don't remember a word about Cuba.

It was like the island was in some kind of tropical and moral limbo. In fact, forced labor is only part of the problem of political prisoners in Cuba. They are held in conditions so bad that several have gone on hunger strikes. Orlando Zapata Tamayo died in February of 2010 shortly after the celebrations in Europe, and Wilmar Villar in 2012.

Free Alan Gross

From The San Francisco Chronicle's Editorial Board:

After spending two years and five months in Cuban detention on dubious charges of subversion, American Alan Gross recently told CNN that he feels like a "hostage." The U.S. State Department agrees.

Gross, 63, was arrested in 2009, while he was working as a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development on a project designed to link Cuba's Jewish community to the Internet. For the crime of transporting laptops and other telecommunications equipment into Havana, a Cuban court found Gross guilty of "acts against the independence or territorial integrity" and sentenced him to 15 years.

While the Castro government asserts that conditions are not poor, Gross has lost 100 pounds while being held in a military hospital. His 90-year-old mother suffers from lung cancer and cannot travel. Gross has pleaded for Havana at least to allow him to see his mother one last time. He even has offered to return to Cuba afterward.

The Cuban government sent CNN's Wolf Blitzer a letter offering to hold a dialogue to find a humanitarian solution "on a reciprocal basis." The State Department takes the gesture as yet another attempt by the regime to swap its release of Gross in exchange for Washington's release of five Cuban intelligence agents found guilty of trying to infiltrate U.S. military institutions in 2001.

On the plus side, the Castro regime deserves credit for allowing Gross to use his weekly phone call to contact CNN and make his case. On the down side, the news coverage serves to remind the world of the repressive policies of President Raul Castro.

Every country has a right to uphold on its sovereignty. Havana certainly had a right to sanction Gross for misusing a tourist visa to transport laptops and other devices. Even still, Cuba's use of Gross as a pawn - for the crime of trying to put Cubans onto the Internet - shows how truly vulnerable Castro's hold on Cuba must be.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for a conversation with former Washington Post reporter Blaine Harden about his new book, "Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West," the gripping story of the only man known to have successfully escaped from one of North Korea's brutal prison camps.

Also, former CIA officer Brian Latell will discuss his new book, "Castro's Secrets: The CIA and Cuba's Intelligence Machine," with fascinating revelations regarding the threat of Cuban intelligence services and Castro's previous knowledge of President Kennedy's assassination.

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).

Did State Grant Visa to Dictator's Daughter?

Sunday, May 13, 2012
It appears that the State Department may have granted a visa to Cuban dictator Raul Castro's daughter, Mariela, to deliver a policy speech at the end of the month at the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) conference in San Francisco, CA.

In doing so, the State Department would be making an exemption for the dictator's daughter from Presidential Proclamation 5377, which denies visas to Cuban nationals affiliated with that country's totalitarian regime.

Moreover, it throws a bucket of cold water on President Obama's Presidential Proclamation 8697 of August 2011, which supposedly sought to "close the gap" in granting visas to foreign nationals affiliated with human rights violators -- and singling-out "prolonged arbitrary detentions" as a main violation.

Raul Castro is the among the world's top offenders of "prolonged arbitrary detentions," averaging hundreds per month, including that of an American development worker, Alan P. Gross.

Meanwhile, Raul's daughter, Mariela, is his main apologist.

Thus, it's not like she's a relative with no ties to the "family business" (of totalitarianism).

So why grant her a visa (worse yet, an exemption) to deliver a policy speech, of all things?

Is there no accountability?

On This Mother's Day

Please remember two courageous Ladies in White, Sonia Garro and Niurka Luque, who were unjustly arrested by the Castro regime in March and remain prisoners of conscience.

Censorship Prevails at Havana Art Festival

According to Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez, the joke circulating about this week's Biennial art festival in Havana is:

"Esta no es la oncena Bienal de arte, sino una obscena bienal de la censura."

("This is not the eleventh art Biennial, but an obscence Biennial of censorship.")

It rhymes in Spanish.

Sadly, this has given no pause to New York City chefs cooking up a storm (of particular insult to Cubans struggling for food), or to Cuban-American art collector Ella Fontanals-Cisneros from obediently participating, at the Havana festival.

And what about Cuban artists who want to freely express themselves?

They're not allowed to participate.

And those that have the courage to set up parallel exhibits, like artist Luis Trapaga, are arrested, threatened and interrogated.

It's interesting to note that two Cuban-Americans, Guillermo Portieles and Nelson Arenas, who attended Trapaga's parallel exhibit were told by Castro's police to leave immediately or face "drastic consequences: never to be allowed to enter Cuba again."

They too obeyed.

"As to the evil which results from a censorship, it is impossible to measure it, for it is impossible to tell where it ends."

-- Jeremy Bentham, English philosopher (1748-1832)