Mariela Confident Obama Would Normalize Relations

Saturday, June 2, 2012
In Politico:

Mariela Castro hopes Cuban-U.S. relations can normalize in Obama second term

Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban head of state Raul Castro, said that she hoped Cuban-U.S. relations could normalize if President Obama wins a second term.

In a forthcoming interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour shared with POLITCO, Castro was asked about the possibilities for political reconciliation between the two Cold War adversaries in a possible Obama second term.

"I believe that Obama is a fair man and Obama needs greater support to be able to take this decision. If Obama counted on the full support of the American people, then we can normalize the relationships; we can have better relations than what we had under President Carter," Castro said.

Obama relaxed some of the rules governing travel and remittances to Cuba in 2009 but the sanctions regime put into place after Castro's 1959 Communist takeover has largely kept American visitors and businesses off the island.

Castro also told Amanpour that she supports a second Obama term, given the field.

"As a citizen of the world, I would like him to win," Castro said. "Seeing the candidates, I prefer Obama."

Life in Prison

May all dictators suffer the same fate.

In Bloomberg:

Mubarak Sentenced To Life In Prison For Protester Deaths

Ousted President Hosni Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison for failing to stop the killing of protesters during last year’s uprising, a verdict that triggered unrest two weeks before Egypt’s divisive presidential runoff.

Also sentenced yesterday to life for complicity in the deaths was Mubarak’s long-time security chief, Habib El-Adli. Both men plan to appeal. The deposed president and his two sons were acquitted of corruption charges, while six senior police officials who had been charged were also cleared of wrongdoing in a case billed by state media as the “trial of the century.”

Ubicate, Fabiola

Friday, June 1, 2012
The Miami Herald's Fabiola Santiago is a fine columnist.

However, her critique in today's newspaper on U.S. Rep. David Rivera's (R-FL) effort to restore the original intent of the Cuban Refugee Adjustment Act (CRAA) is a disrespectful exercise in empty rhetoric -- void of fact and analysis.

Santiago's simplistic rant against the Congressman's bill is that -- regardless of the stream of abuses and disparities in the current interpretation of the CRAA -- we should all "get a grip" and deal with it.

Plus, she says it's bad timing for there's too much "anti-immigrant" sentiment out there.

So Santiago tells the Congressman, "ubicate, compadre."

The irony is that Cubans have been subject to endless criticism for being the only nationality in the world to have this special privilege.

As a result, we've even been absurdly accused of being insensitive and anti-immigrant ourselves -- just ask Senator Rubio.

Despite the criticism, we correctly continue to legally and conceptually justify this special privilege by the fact that Cuba remains the only dictatorship in the Western Hemisphere -- and a particularly brutal one at that.

Yet, in contrast, Venezuelans fleeing from Chavez's regime or Colombians threatened by narco-terrorists have to overcome a steep burden of proof to demonstrate persecution and then wait numerous years (sometimes 5-10 years) to simply become permanent residents.

Moreover, if they return to their home countries throughout this time, they lose their asylum status -- pursuant to U.S. refugee law, which in turn is based on international law, the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

Is it fair to them that Cubans can adjust as presumed refugees and then be subject to a different set of rules, if they decide 366 nights later to no longer be refugees?

Should those Cubans who adjust under the Cuban Refugee Adjustment Act (the original name is such for a reason), but who obviously do not fear persecution upon their return, be allowed to receive privileges that persecuted Venezuelans or endangered Colombians do not?

What about immigrants from Mexico or El Salvador? They have to spend years waiting for a coveted spot within the quota system to be able to migrate to the U.S. and then travel back-and-forth to their home countries.

Is it fair to them that those Cubans who adjust as presumed refugees, but who obviously do not fear persecution upon their return, can jump the line and then travel back-and-forth like non-refugees?

It's a simple question of protecting refugees, while ensuring fairness and parity among immigrants.

So how can that be perceived as "anti-immigrant"?

Finally, since when does "family reunification" mean reunifying in Castro's Cuba?

Family reunification means reunifying in freedom, in the United States -- thus, the purpose of the special visa. Otherwise, the families wouldn't have separated in the first place.

The Bush Administration even put in place a process to prioritize family reunification visas, most of which adjust under CRAA.

This has rightfully continued under the Obama Administration, so it's disingenuous to play the family separation card.

Bottom line: These are important issues, which merit respectful debate and consideration -- not anecdotes and slogans.

To learn about the Cuban Refugee Adjustment Act, click here.

Castro's New Tax on Cuban-Americans

Penultimos Dias has posted a notice from Cuban Customs announcing the re-establishment on tariffs for food imports.

According to Castro's 1976 Constitution, only the regime is permitted to engage in foreign trade (import and export).

Thus, it will obviously not be taxing itself.

The only group this affects are Cuban-Americans who travel to Cuba with food items, whether destined for family members, as commercial "mules" or for licensed paladares.

Cuban-Americans have effectively become Castro's easy pickins.

Castro Supports Assad's Atrocities

From Sky News:

The UN Human Rights Council has denounced the Syrian regime for the massacre in the central town of Houla and ordered international investigators to collect evidence for possible future criminal charges.

A majority of members in the 47-country body voted in favour of a resolution that 'condemns in the strongest possible terms such an outrageous use of force against the civilian population', which 'may amount to crimes against humanity'.

Only China, Cuba and Russia voted against the text.

Castro's Lobbyists

By Guillermo I. Martínez in Sun Sentinel:

Latest pro-Castro campaign gets assist from people in U.S.

Journalists generally do not believe in coincidences. We prefer to connect the dots and see the pattern that emerges.

In the case of Cuba's new found hemispheric diplomacy, the pattern is obvious even to those not used to dig behind the news. The Cuban Government has launched a multi-pronged campaign to seek improved relations with President Barack Obama's administration, with the goal that while rapprochement may not be possible in an election year, it aims to make it real if the president is re-elected.

The campaign is composed of high-level Cuban government officials traveling to the United States for international forums — backed by the Cuban Catholic hierarchy — and includes the support of some very powerful Cuban-American entrepreneurs.

In the last six to eight weeks:

Cardinal Jaime Ortega went to Harvard University, where he criticized the U.S. embargo, said Cubans who had occupied a church in Havana were delinquents or crazies and revealed that in a private conversation years earlier the late Miami Auxiliary Archbishop Agustín Román had urged him not to speak about reconciliation in Miami.

Mariela Castro, the daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro, attended a conference in San Francisco There, Castro said U.S. foreign policy toward Cuba was being held hostage by the "Cuban mafia" in Miami and said that, if she had a vote in the U.S. elections, she would vote for President Obama.

Eusebio Leal, who with millions of dollars provided by international organizations has tried to refurbish and rebuild parts of colonial Havana, traveled to Washington, D.C., where he spoke at three events — at the National Trust for Historic Preservation at the prestigious Brookings Institution and at the Council of Foreign Relations.

A Cuban scientist received the Pew Fellowship for Marine Conservation. The New York-based Environmental Defense Fund gave Fabian Pina Amargos $150,000 to study the goliath grouper, a species of fish in decline. This is the first award given by the EDF for research in Cuba.

Attending Leal's conference in Washington were, among others, Florida sugar magnate Alfonso Fanjul and Paul Cejas, former President Bill Clinton's Ambassador to Belgium and a prominent member of the Democratic Party.

Prior to his attendance at the conference in Washington, Alfi Fanjul was part of a Brookings Institution trip to Havana to verify if, indeed, Raúl Castro was going ahead with all of the economic reforms he has promised. Also on that rip was Ted Piccone, senior fellow and deputy director for foreign Policy at Brookings, and once a former adviser to the National Security Council, the U.S. State Department, and the Pentagon.

If Piccone had any suggestions on how Cuba could help improve relations with the United States, they were not made public. His only statement to the media was a recommendation that the United States "pay more attention to the national and international economic policies of the island" and "not to politicize or interpose itself in the process of Cuba's readmission (into the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank)."

Another of the wealthy exiles traveling to Cuba frequently is Carlos Saladrigas, who spoke at the Felix Varela center in Havana. Saladrigas said that while it was impossible to seek a political opening in an election year, all the efforts were aimed at seeking closer relations between the two countries if Obama is re-elected.

One thing ties all these people and organizations. All of them want the United States to change its policy towards Cuba unilaterally. None has asked anything of the Cuban government.

None of them — the priests and millionaires, Cuban government officials and former U.S. officials, Cubans who live of the island or those who do so in exile — talked about the surge in political detentions in Cuba. According to Amnesty International, detentions in Cuba doubled in 2011, more than at any other time in decades.

None of them asked that Cuba allow its citizens to travel abroad, much less allow them to dissent from government policies in Cuba.

In essence, all of them, in one way or another have become lobbyists for the Cuban government — albeit they do so gratuitously.
So, don't see these events as separate dots. They are part of a clear pattern to influence U.S. policy so that it favors the island's communist regime.

Testimony on Cuban Refugee Adjustment Act

From today's hearing in the U.S. House of Representative's Judiciary Committee:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

My name is Mauricio Claver-Carone and I am the Executive Director of Cuba Democracy Advocates, a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to the promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Cuba.

It is truly a privilege to be here with all of you today to testify in support of H.R. 2831, a bill to modify the requirements in the Cuban Refugee Adjustment Act ("CRAA") under which a Cuban national can qualify for and maintain status as a permanent resident.

The Cuban Refugee Adjustment Act of 1966 gives Cuban nationals -- once they reach the United States and stay for a year -- a right to become legal, permanent residents. Cubans are the only nationality to which the U.S. Congress has awarded this special privilege.

The legislative history of the CRAA holds that immigrants from Cuba are refugees under international law, hence its original name.

Under the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees of 1951, a refugee is a person who "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country."

Undoubtedly, Cubans remain persecuted for their political opinions by the Castro dictatorship, which remains as brutal as ever. Thus, it is not yet time to repeal the CRAA.

According to the U.S. Department of State’s most recent human rights report, the Castro regime's violations include:

"[...] abridgement of the right of citizens to change their government; government threats, intimidation, mobs, harassment, and detentions to prevent citizens from assembling peacefully; and a significant increase in the number of short-term detentions, which in December rose to the highest monthly number in 30 years.

[...] beatings, harsh prison conditions, and selective prosecution and denial of fair trial. Authorities interfered with privacy and engaged in pervasive monitoring of private communications. The government also placed severe limitations on freedom of speech and press, restricted freedom of movement, and limited freedom of religion. The government refused to recognize independent human rights groups or permit them to function legally. In addition, the government continued to place severe restrictions on worker rights, including the right to form independent unions."

Moreover, it recognizes that:

"Most human rights abuses were official acts committed at the direction of the government, and consequently the perpetrators enjoyed impunity for their actions."

In 2011, Cuban independent journalists (CIHPress) documented over 3,835 political arrests by the Castro regime -- more than a 150% increase from 2010.

And these are only political arrests that are known and fully documented. Countless others are presumed, for Cubans can be preemptively picked up at any time, upon the whim of the authorities, and charged under Article 72 of the Cuban Criminal Code, referred to as a “dangerous state,” which provides:

"Dangerous state is considered to be the special proclivity one finds in a person to commit crimes, demonstrated by the conduct observed in manifest contradiction with the norms of socialist morality."

As a result, Cubans should undoubtedly continue to be paroled into the United States (“U.S.”) as refugees fleeing persecution from the sole remaining dictatorship of the Western Hemisphere.

However, some things have changed since the CRAA was originally enacted.

In 1994, as rising political pressure and economic woes threatened the regime’s post-Soviet existence, Fidel and Raul Castro resorted to their old tactic of creating a migration crisis (i.e. Mariel boatlift of 1980), but with a new twist. Thus, they began allowing Cubans to take to the sea in makeshift rafts.

From this crisis, the Castro regime extracted a migration accord ("1994 Accord") from the Clinton Administration, which allocated a minimum of 20,000 yearly visas to residents of Cuba -- regardless of their political status vis-à-vis the dictatorship.

Since the 20,000 minimum visas per year could not be met through the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) preference system, the Clinton Administration decided to use the CRAA as its legal authority to allow this new category of Cubans to come to the U.S. and become legal, permanent residents. It even created a “visa lottery” program to randomly select -- once again, regardless of political rationale -- who receives a visa -- in clear violation of the CRAA’s original intent.

Pursuant to the 1994 Accord, nearly half a million Cubans have entered the U.S. and become legal, permanent residents under the CRAA. Although no longer a pre-requisite, most have nonetheless had a political rationale for fleeing the island -- others have not.

Yet, both are equally afforded the benefits of the CRAA. Not only regarding their migratory status, but also the generous means-tested public assistance programs afforded to refugees and to which they qualify thanks to the CRAA. These include Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Such public assistance is meant to help Cuban refugees settle in the U.S. However, many non-refugee Cubans currently use these benefits, which can average more than $1,000 per month, to immediately travel back to the island, where the average income is $20 per month, and comfortably reside there for months at a time on the taxpayer’s dime.

The time has come to legally ensure that only Cubans who come to the U.S. as refugees are afforded the special privileges provided under the CRAA -- and thus, restore the law’s original intent.

This does not mean that Cubans who are not refugees should be denied entry into the U.S. It simply means that they should be subject to the same set of immigration rules as Mexicans, Canadians, Filipinos or any other nationalities patiently waiting to do so.

Thus, H.R. 2831 would bring non-refugee parity.

Otherwise, this current backdoor loophole risks altogether ending the needed special protections the CRAA originally intended for those persecuted by the Castro regime -- further endangering lives, while granting a calculated victory to the island's cruel dictatorship.

The Castro regime has manipulated the 1994 Accord to create a system of travel back-and-forth to the island for tens of thousands of non-refugee Cubans, who nonetheless adjusted their status under CRAA. Meanwhile, it continues to deny the right of return to those who have fled for political reasons -- keeping their names on an infamous “black list.” This travel network carries minimum political risk for the regime, as it fully controls access to the island, while delivering huge financial benefits for its totalitarian economy -- thanks to the constant stream of desperately needed hard currency it creates. It has also facilitated the Castro regime’s ability to establish and repatriate funds from lucrative criminal enterprises, including billionaire Medicare fraud schemes.

These incongruences are further exacerbated by the fact that the U.S. government outsources the first-tier screening of Cubans chosen to be paroled into the U.S. under the CRAA to the Castro regime. That’s right; the U.S. Interests Section in Havana hires Castro regime personnel to interview Cubans seeking visas. Thus, adding insult to injury, current U.S. policy allows the persecutors to choose who will be afforded the privilege of the CRAA.

The result is a process whereby thousands of Cuban non-refugees are being admitted to the U.S. under CRAA, while many who are genuinely persecuted for their political views are being denied entry. Such is the case of a former senior level Cuban military official, Maximo Omar Ruiz Matoses, who spent 17 years as a political prisoner of the Castro regime for dissenting within its ranks, yet was recently denied asylum by the U.S. This flips the entire purpose of the CRAA on its head.

The fairest and easiest way to legally classify those Cubans who have a legitimate political rationale for seeking refuge in the U.S. versus those who do not is by identifying those who quickly turn-around and travel back to the island.

Identifying those who travel back in order to determine a political rationale for CRAA purposes is not a new rubric. It is how U.S. law distinguishes legitimate versus fraudulent refugee claims for every other nationality in the world.

Under Section 208.8(b) of Title 8 of the Code of Federal Regulations, an asylum applicant who leaves the U.S. pursuant to advance parole and returns to the country of claimed persecution is presumed to have abandoned his or her asylum application. Such an individual’s underlying asylum status may be terminated even if the individual has already become a lawful permanent resident.

Therefore, in order to rightfully restore the original intent of the CRAA, Congress should adopt H.R. 2831, which would make it consistent with Section 208.8(b) as applied to Iranians, Syrians, Sudanese and other source-nations of refugees, whose asylum status may be terminated if they choose to return to their country of feared persecution, until they become U.S. citizens.

Thus, H.R. 2831 would bring refugee parity as well.

It is the most reasonable way to ensure the CRAA continues to protect Cuban refugees who are fleeing the Castro regime’s persecution, without providing a financial lifeline and an additional control mechanism to their persecutors.

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my testimony. Again, I truly appreciate the invitation and the opportunity to speak before you and the committee. I will be pleased to respond to any questions.

How Castro Scams Africa

Thursday, May 31, 2012
The following article appeared in The Financial Times a few weeks ago, but went largely unnoticed.

It shows how the Castro regime uses its political contacts in Africa to sell governments expensive biotech products, at the cost of more effective and inexpensive solutions for the people.

It's big business for Castro.

In The Financial Times:

Cubans court controversy in malaria battle

Half a century after Cuba despatched military advisers to Africa to spread communism during the cold war, it is sending less ideological specialists to attack a very different foe.

Dozens of salesmen and technical experts from the Havana-based company Labiofam have made inroads across the continent with a product to fight malaria, capitalising on high-level diplomatic connections forged during the early years of African independence. But health specialists have voiced concerns about the cost and effectiveness of the technology the Cubans are selling.

More than 600,000 people a year die in Africa from malaria, according to World Health Organisation estimates, and donors spend about $1.6bn globally on efforts to combat the disease.

Most international support credited with the recent decline in malaria in Africa has been channelled to providing bednets, diagnostics and drugs. The Cubans are instead pushing bacterial larvicides, which destroy the eggs laid by mosquitoes in stagnant water, preventing their reproduction and spread.

“We think larvicides can become a strategic intervention in the fight against malaria,” says Hafez Adam Taher, a representative of Labiofam in Ghana, who says the west African government has agreed to pay Labiofam $74m over two years for a single larviciding programme. “No single thing can do it. If you want to tackle malaria seriously, you have to go to the roots.”

The WHO is more cautious. It is finalising guidance that concludes larvicides have only a “specific and limited” role to play, where there are sites for mosquito larvae that are “few, fixed and findable” – something that is rarely the case in Africa.

Robert Newman, head of the agency’s malaria programme, cautions over the risks of draining scarce resources for tackling the disease. “Our effort is to provide guidelines on the tools that are most appropriate,” he says. “We need to maximise the use of resources, financial and human.” The Ghanaian ministry of health declined to comment.

Scientists fear larviciding is expensive, requiring the use of many specialists and local volunteers who could be better deployed elsewhere. It has to be repeated regularly, and often proves ineffective because it is difficult comprehensively to identify and destroy mosquito eggs. Insecticide-treated bednets can last longer, both killing mosquitoes and protecting people from the bites of those that survive.

Cuba’s actions come as China – through drug donations and support for health centres – has sought to match Western funding in Africa for malaria.

Cuba stresses the public health rather than business side of its work, with the state-controlled company declaring on its website: “The projects of the Labiofam Entrepreneurial Group are not implemented as commercial operations, but as integrated two-year-long projects within existing health programs.”

Yet it is in discussions about contracts in several other countries. Larviciding programmes are under way in Nigeria and the Ivory Coast as well as Ghana. Labiofam also plans to build a factory in Tanzania.

To the frustration of local African malaria specialists, the Cubans have frequently bypassed the technical experts and their demands for detailed data proving the impact of larvicides.

“They go straight to the heads of state, playing the diplomatic connection,” says one African official, who declined to be named.

Mr Hafez says Labiofam has stepped up efforts in recent months to work with other experts dealing with malaria. At a time of growing pressure on donors, suspicion remains.

Stephen O’Brien, the UK minister for international development, says: “I’m concerned there is a marketing campaign for larviciding uncoupled from the science, and we find ourselves going down a route where people think they are dealing with a significant new tool when [it has] only a modest place.”

White House Clueless on Castro Visa

Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Literally, clueless.

Click below to watch a video excerpt from today's Daily Press Briefing with White House spokesman Jay Carney:

Unveiling Castro's Secrecy

Just imagine the day that Castro's secret police files are opened up.

As an aside, note how Castro uses prison labor to make trinkets for tourists as well.

In The Miami Herald:

Some of Cuba’s secrets are not so secret

Once-secret phone lists and other sensitive leaked information have been linked to a contract IKEA had with Cuban prison factories.

How can the Cuban government, all but obsessive about its need for secrecy, protect the privacy of the cellphone used by one of Fidel Castro’s best-known sons?

And how can it prevent embarrassing leaks when it needs to send a camera crew into Havana prisons to shoot a film promoting the high quality of its prison labor?

Both those questions may have been answered after a German newspaper reported earlier this month that furniture giant IKEA had contracted for Cuban prison labor to make thousands of sofas and tables in 1987.

The report lifted part of the veil of secrecy that the communist government has long cast over information from economic data to the details of the emergency surgery that led Castro to pass power to brother Raúl in 2006.

Cuba’s side of the IKEA deal was identified as EMIAT, an import-export firm owned by the Interior Ministry, in charge of national security. MININT runs two of Cuba’s key spy agencies, the Directorates of Intelligence and Counterintelligence.

EMIAT also is the owner of record of the cellphone number used by Fidel Castro’s son, Antonio Castro Soto del Valle, in 2009, according to a once-secret list of more than 70,000 telephone numbers for important government officials and offices.

The list shows 1,543 numbers assigned to EMIAT. It does not list Antonio Castro’s name, but does include his cell number and the notation: “Client Classification: Especial Services Defense.”

Miami blogger Luis Dominguez obtained the number when he passed himself off as a Colombian woman on the Internet and flirted for eight months with Castro, a physician well known for his involvements with Cuba’s baseball teams.

The cell numbers for two of Fidel Castro’s less well-known sons were also on the list, but without the secrecy. Alejandro Castro Soto del Valle was listed under his own name, and Alex was listed as “Alex Castro Soto del Valle MININT.”

The list of sensitive numbers was briefly published, accidentally or on purpose, on the Web pages of Cuba’s state-run telephone monopoly, ETECSA, a few years back. Dominguez and others made copies before it was removed.

A man who answered Antonio Castro’s cell number Thursday said “He’s no longer here” and hung up. There’s been no indication that Castro had any business dealings with EMIAT or IKEA. El Nuevo Herald calls to EMIAT offices in Havana seeking comment were cut off when the caller identified himself.

“The Cuban government tries to hide all the information, but in the age of the Internet it can’t do that well at all,” said Dominguez, whose Web page, Secretos de Cuba, publishes the private telephone numbers and addresses of government officials.

An Internet report on the IKEA deal for Cuban prison labor also led a defector from the film section of MININT’s Counterintelligence Directorate (DCI) now living in Florida to contact El Nuevo Herald last week.

His DCI bosses ordered him to shoot a 10-minute film showing the high quality of the manufacturing shops at the Combinado del Este prison for men and Manto Negro prison for women, both in Havana, in 1986 or 1987, the defector said in an interview.

A DCI camera crew was put on the job because it could be trusted to keep quiet about what it saw or heard in the prisons, he added. Cuba does not allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit its estimated 200 prisons.

“If they had sent in a regular government film crew, the word would have been all over Cuba the next day,” said the man, who provided evidence of his MININT work but asked to remain anonymous for personal reasons.

The defector said his crew — two cameramen and one person who handled lighting — shot for several days as male prisoners made furniture, like stools with designs burned into the leather, and women inmates sewed jeans and made tourist-type handicrafts.

Prison factories throughout the island are run by Provari, a firm also owned by MININT that makes everything from clay and cement building blocks to playpens and insecticides, El Nuevo reported earlier this month.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for an exclusive interview with former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez.

Secretary Gutierrez will discuss his tenure as Chairman and CEO of Kellogg's, the Colombia free trade agreement, the European economic crisis, China's trade practices, U.S. immigration reform, Cuba policy and much more.

"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).

Third Cuban-American Senator in the Making

Congratulations to Ted Cruz!

From The Ft. Worth Star-Telegram:

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and former state Solicitor General Ted Cruz appeared Tuesday night to be headed to a runoff election, extending the fierce, multimillion-dollar Republican race for Texas' first open U.S. Senate seat in a decade.

With 55 percent of precincts reporting, Dewhurst held 46 percent of the vote to Cruz's 32 percent to lead a slate of GOP challengers that also included former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and former ESPN commentator Craig James.

Religious Freedom Violations Increase in Cuba

Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Cuban Religious Leaders Urge International Response to Religious Freedom Violations

A delegation of Cuban church leaders has called on the US government to add Cuba to its Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) list as one of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom. The delegation, hosted by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), last week briefed members of Congress and US government officials in Washington DC on the sharp rise in religious freedom violations in Cuba.

Former prisoner of conscience and denominational leader Reverend Carlos Lamelas, and his wife Uramis Frómeta, were among the church leaders who briefed the Congressional International Religious Freedom Caucus and Commissioners from the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCRIF). The group shared personal experiences of state-sponsored human rights violations and also gave an overview of how the Cuban government attempts to control and manipulate religious groups.

In a written declaration, Reverend Lamelas said, “My case is far from being an isolated case and it is even less so the worst of the repression suffered by Christian ministries in Cuba. The difference perhaps was that I was blessed to have had my case made public in the international media. For this reason, it is my responsibility to speak out about the repressive and unscrupulous manipulations of this decaying regime. In this declaration, I urge whoever can do so, to judge the Castro government as violators of the most basic human rights. They extend their arms, like an octopus, to repress not only Cuban civil society but also all believers, including church hierarchies, which on occasion work in complicity with them.”

Since 1 January 2012 CSW has recorded over 40 separate incidents of religious freedom violations in Cuba compared with 28 in all of 2011. Religious freedom violations range from preventing people from attending church services to the seizure of church land, and official harassment, beatings and imprisonment of church leaders. Some cases involve large groups of people.

CSW’s Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston said, “While religious freedom has always been limited in Cuba, the spike in religious freedom violations this year is deeply troubling. The figures are not exhaustive but show a clear trend, confirmed by the members of this week’s delegation, which is at odds with the claim of Raul Castro that his government respects religious freedom. We echo Reverend Lamelas’ call to the international community to recognise the Cuban government’s systematic and escalating violations of corporate and individual religious freedom and urge the US to place Cuba on its CPC list.”

Click here to read the full report.

Repsol Leaves Cuba

From AP:

Spanish oil firm Repsol said Tuesday it will stop looking for oil in Cuba after hitting a dry well drilled at a cost of more than $100 million, a blow to the island nation desperate to find its own energy sources amid deep economic hardship.

Speaking to investors and reporters about the firm's plans over the next four years, Repsol Chairman Antonio Brufau said the company "won't do another" well in Cuba.

"The well we drilled turned out dry and it's almost certain that we won't do any more activity there," Brufau added.

No More Lies About Cuba Oil

Monday, May 28, 2012
The AP ran an article over the weekend, which reveals how the intense Cuba oil campaign of the last few years has simply been a ploy to pressure the U.S. to lift sanctions.

The fact remains -- as we've been stating for years -- that U.S. sanctions remain the biggest impediment for the Castro regime to ever become a petro-dictatorship.

Read the following article carefully (with our observations in parenthesis):

It was supposed to be Cuba's economic savior: vast untapped reserves of black gold buried deep under the rocky ocean floor.

But the first attempt in nearly a decade to find Cuba's hoped-for undersea oil bonanza has come up dry, and the island's leaders and their partners must regroup and hope they have better luck - quickly.

Experts say it is not unusual that a 3-mile (4.8-kilometer) deep exploratory well drilled at a cost of more than $100 million by Spanish oil giant Repsol was a bust. Four out of five such wells find nothing in the high-stakes oil game, and petroleum companies are built to handle the losses.

But Cuba has more at stake, and only a few more spins left of the roulette wheel. The enormous Scarabeo-9 platform being used in the hunt is the only one in the world that can drill in Cuban waters without incurring sanctions under the U.S. economic embargo, and it is under contract for only one to four more exploratory wells before it heads off to Brazil.

"If oil is not found now I think it would be another five to 10 years before somebody else comes back and drills again," said Jorge Pinon, the former president of Amoco Oil Latin America and a leading expert on Cuba's energy prospects. "Not because there is no oil, but because the pain and tribulations that people have to go through to drill in Cuba are not worth it when there are better and easier options in places like Angola, Brazil or the U.S. Gulf of Mexico."

(CHC: Chalk one up for sanctions.)

A delay would be catastrophic for Cuba, where 80-year-old President Raul Castro is desperately trying to pull the economy out of the doldrums through limited free-market reforms, and has been forced to cut many of the subsidies islanders have come to expect in return for salaries of just $20 a month.

It could also leave the Communist-governed island more dependent on Venezuela, where President Hugo Chavez is ailing with cancer. Chavez provides Cuba with $3 billion worth of heavily subsidized oil every year, a deal that might evaporate if he dies or fails to win re-election in October.

(CHC: Chavez's billionaire oil subsidies to Castro have left Venezuela's national oil company, PDVSA, on the verge of collapse, so he needs an out.)

An oil find, on the other hand, would potentially improve Cuba's long-bitter relations with the United States, some analysts suggest. They say the U.S. oil industry could lobby Congress to loosen the embargo so it could get in on Cuba's oil game. At the very least, coordination between the Cold War enemies would be necessary to prepare for any spill that could coat beaches in the U.S. and Cuba with black goo.

(CHC: There you have it.)

The Cuban government has not commented on Repsol's announcement May 18 that the first well came up dry, and declined to make any oil officials or experts available to be interviewed for this article.

(CHC: Note how it is the Castro regime that makes "experts" available to the media.)

Next in line for using the drilling rig in Cuban waters is Malaysia's Petronas, which holds the rights to explore an area in the Florida Straits known as the Northbelt Thrust, about 110 miles (180 kilometers) southwest of Repsol's drill site. Wee Yiaw Hin, Petronas' executive vice president of exploration and production, told The Associated Press that drilling has begun and he expects results by the end of July.

(CHC: It is not a coincidence that Petronas is now going through the same dog-and-pony show as Repsol, as they were both "coincidentally" granted billions worth of Venezuelan oil concessions by Chavez in 2010 -- around the same time they signed commitments to drill off Cuba's shores. Remember, Chavez needs an out quickly. Can you say blackmail?)

After that, two industry experts said, Repsol is under contract to drill a second well, though it could get out of the deal by paying a penalty to Saipem, the Italian company that owns the rig. Kristian Rix, a spokesman for Repsol in Madrid, said a decision on whether to sink another well was still being evaluated.

(CHC: Not going to happen. Repsol already announced that it is pulling out of Cuba altogether.)

Venezuela's PDVSA and Sonangol of Angola have options to drill next, but are under no obligation if they don't like their odds. While both countries are strong allies of Cuba, at $100 million a well, the decision to drill will likely be based solely on economics.

(CHC: Key phrase here is no legal "obligation.")

Even if oil is found, the Scarabeo-9 is under contract to power up its eight enormous thrusters and sail to Brazil after that, with no date set for its return to Cuba. The bottleneck highlights the difficulties Cuba faces, and why it could be well into the 2020s before the island sees any oil windfall.

(CHC: Say bye-bye Scarabeo.)

"Assuming they're successful in finding oil, to bring the oil to market will take years of development efforts," said Victor Shum, an energy analyst with consulting firm Purvin & Gertz in Singapore.

Once an exploratory well finds oil, companies generally drill between 10 and 20 additional wells nearby to get a sense of the reservoir's size. The process can take several years even under normal circumstances, and circumstances are not normal in Cuba.

The Scarabeo-9 was built in Asia with less than 10 percent U.S.-made parts to avoid violating Washington's embargo, making it the only rig in the world that meets the requirement. That means no other rig could be used in Cuba without risking U.S. sanction, and the additional wells would have to be drilled by the rig one at a time, with each taking about 100 days to complete. At about three wells a year, it could take up to six years for this second phase - assuming the rig is available.

After gauging a reservoir's size, an oil company then must assess whether the economics of a field make it a prime spot for exploitation, or whether to concentrate resources elsewhere.

If exploitation does go forward, complicated equipment is required to pull oil from such depths. Several industry experts said the only country that produces the necessary apparatus is the United States, although Brazil and other countries are working to catch up. Unless they do, the oil could not be removed unless the U.S. embargo was lifted or altered.

(CHC: There you have it. Even if oil is ever found, it cannot be extracted unless sanctions are lifted. Thus, this is all a big lobbying bet.)

"A lot of folks are looking at the energy sector in Cuba because they are looking at a Cuba of five years from now, or 10 years from now," said Pinon. "So a lot of people are betting that either the embargo is going to be lifted, or the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba is going to improve in some way."

(CHC: Like we said.)

Still, the benefits of hitting a gusher would be enormous for Cuba, and the impact could be felt long before any oil was pumped.

Because of the embargo, Cuba is shut off from borrowing from international lending institutions, and the island's own poor record of repayment has left most other creditors leery. Cuba, for instance, owes the Paris Club of creditor nations nearly $30 billion.

An oil find could change the game, with Cuba using future oil riches as collateral to secure new financing, economists say. They point to China and Brazil as potential sources of new funding, but say neither is likely to put money into the island without reasonable confidence they will get their investment back.

Lee Hunt, the recently retired president of the Houston-based International Association of Drilling Contractors, said the stakes are enormous for Cuba that one of the wells hits oil before the Scarabeo-9 leaves. Hunt has worked to bring U.S. and Cuban industry and environmental groups together.

"If the only rig you can work with is gone, it's like somebody took your shovel away," Hunt said. "You are not going to dig any holes without a shovel, even if you know the treasure is down there."

(CHC: Isn't this the same guy on the D.C. lobbying circuit pretending he's only concerned about the potential environmental impact if a spill were to happen? Sounds like he has a bigger stake than that.)

Iran's VP Visits Cuba Again

Just as Iran's regime once again defies the international community with its nuclear ambitions, its Vice President Ali Saeedlu visits Havana to hold "official talks."

The Castro regime has been a leader in defense of Iran's nuclear ambition. The visit comes only five months after a trip to the island by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad himself.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for a conversation with Dong Xiang, Executive Director of New Tang Dynasty TV (NTDTV) in Washington D.C. NTDTV is the largest Chinese-language television network outside of China.

Dong Xiang, a survivor of the Tienanmen Square massacre of 1989, will discuss human rights in China, its economic muscle and the Falun Gong.

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).

We Honor Their Memories

Video of Imprisoned Lady in White

Last week, independent journalist Dania Virgen Garcia managed to record and sneak out a clandestine video of Lady in White and current political prisoner Niurka Luque Alvarez.

She has been held without trial at the infamous “Manto Negro” Prison of Havana since March 16th.

In the video, Luque Alvarez denounces the abuse she's endured from her jailers and the medical complications she's suffering.

She concluded by asking the international community to intercede for her, for all Cuban political prisoners and "freedom for the Cuban people."

Here's the video:

Obama Forgot to Read the Castro Memo

Sunday, May 27, 2012
Great piece by The Miami Herald's Marc Caputo:

Obama forgot to read the Castro memo

Of the simple rules in Florida elections, few stand out like this one: Don’t look wobbly over Castro — especially in an election year.

President Barack Obama’s administration didn’t seem to get the memo.

The administration granted the niece of Fidel Castro a visa to speak at a gay-rights summit in California last week. Mariela Castro repaid the kindness by engaging in the same type of Orwellian and hypocritical doubletalk as her uncle and father, Cuban President Raul Castro.

Then she made sure to bang in the final public-relations coffin nail.

"I would vote for President Obama," she said, according to Agence France-Presse. "I think he’s sincere and speaks from the heart."

Count that de facto endorsement of Obama as an independent expenditure for his challenger, Mitt Romney. The Republican’s campaign made sure to denounce the Castro clan at every turn.

AFP noted that Castro’s trip has been denounced by "opposition Republicans." But it utterly failed to mention that Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Broward congresswoman, and Florida Sen. Bill Nelson (the only statewide elected Democrat) also opposed the granting of her visa.

Nelson specifically raised the issue of a wrongfully jailed American in Cuba.

"Allowing Raul’s daughter to come to the U.S. when the regime still holds Alan Gross makes no sense," Nelson said.

Privately, some of Obama’s biggest Florida supporters agree. They just can’t fathom this. It’s not as if Castro is some wayward child. She’s a face and mouthpiece of the dictatorship.

Obama’s defenders are quick to counter with two points: 1) During President George W. Bush’s term, Castro was allowed to travel three times to the United States and 2) Cuban-hardliners who opposed the visa opposed Obama anyway. So it was a wash.


The president doesn’t need more bad headlines. Despite the unemployment rate shrinking, the pool of the unemployed remains staggeringly high. His attacks on Romney’s business background backfired when a campaign surrogate dissed the criticisms. And then Nelson and his DNC chair split with him over Cuba.

Cluelessness over Cuba can be bipartisan, though.

President Bush’s administration allowed Castro in 2001 and 2002. But she wasn’t as much a face of the regime then. It wasn’t a presidential election year. And there were precious few blogs and no Twitter to stoke the opposition.

Earlier this month, Gov. Rick Scott came to Miami, signed a Cuba crackdown bill favored by the exile community and then undermined it by calling the bill unenforceable. Then he flip-flopped as Cuban-American Republican politicians beat him up on radio.

If Scott were on the ballot this November, his move would cost him dearly. Cuban voters are overwhelmingly Republican, favoring GOP candidates by 15-17 percentage points depending on the presidential election, according to a September 2011 study “The Political Incorporation of Cuban Americans: Why Won’t Little Havana Turn Blue?”

Co-authored by University of Miami political science professor Casey Klofstad, the groundbreaking study showed that the Cuban community’s vote remains largely Republican despite the influx of so-called “economic refugees,” many of whom came during and after the 1980 Mariel boatlift and tend to lean left.

But they don’t really vote in the same high proportions as the right-leaning pre-Mariel voters. Still, as popular sentiment continued to shift against Republicans in 2008, more Cuban voters started to identify more with the Democratic Party.

The study showed the pre-Mariel voters are more attuned to the Cuban embargo and Cuba-travel restrictions — support for which has plummeted in the Cuban community overall between 1991 and 2008. In the community, strengthening the embargo has more support (45 percent) than continuing the travel ban (34 percent), according to Florida International University polls.

Mariela Castro decried the embargo and travel restrictions.

“It’s not fair,” she said, “you can’t allow a small group of delinquents to continue to manipulate and make it difficult for the U.S. and Cuba to have a relationship."

Apparently, Castro has a short memory. Her uncle Fidel expelled a number of homosexuals — labeled as “undesirables” by the Cuban regime — during the 980 Mariel boatlift. He also rounded up gays during the AIDS crisis and had them sequestered in sanitariums.

Oh, the irony. His niece, a sexologist, now comes to the United States and lectures for an end to “our patriarchal and homophobic culture.”

“We will establish relationships on the basis of social justice and social equality,” she said. “It seems like a Utopia, but we can change it."


Too bad the one talking about change last week was Mariela Castro and not Obama.

National Meaning of Florida's New Law

By Thomas J. Spulak in King & Spalding's Washington Insight:

State of Florida Bans Companies That Do Business with Cuba from Government Contracts

In an interesting mix of economics, politics, and foreign policy, Republican Governor Rick Scott recently signed into law a bill that prohibits the State of Florida from entering into contracts with companies that do business with Cuba or Syria. The law is in large part directed at the Brazilian engineering and construction company Odebrecht, which has state contracts throughout Florida, but also does business in Cuba. The legislation is an example of the continuing political power of South Florida’s Cuban American community. Although many have anticipated its waning power more than fifty years since the Cuban Diaspora brought on by Fidel Castro’s assumption of power, this action should be seen as a sign that the Cuban community is still a potent political force.

Hispanics are the fastest growing group in the State of Florida but within that group, Cuban Americans are less than a majority. Nevertheless they are united, active, and effective in achieving political goals. Florida’s Marco Rubio hails from this community, and could be beneficiary of the group’s political strength if he is chosen as Mitt Romney’s running mate. Other state and local governments have attempted to address foreign policy issues through contracting bans. Courts have generally struck down such enactments as being preempted to the Federal government by the U.S. Constitution. (See Crosby v. National Foreign Trade Council, 530 U.S. 363, (2000), involving a Massachusetts ban on the awarding of state contracts to companies that did business with Burma.) A recent case in Florida, however, involving a law that prohibited State-funded universities from paying for travel to Cuba, was upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, Faculty Senate of Fla. Int'l Univ. v. Winn, 616 F.3d 1206 (11th Cir. Fla. 2010). It was that decision that emboldened the Florida legislature to enact the ban against companies that do business in Cuba and Syria.

While it will take some time for this matter to be resolved in the Courts, the real message of this law may be the strength of this community to help decide a close election for the Presidency in the State of Florida and, given its large number of electoral votes, the nation as a whole.

Punishment, Lies and Denial

From The Miami Herald's Editorial Board:

Lies, damned lies and Cuban ‘diplomacy’

OUR OPINION: U.N. body’s questions put Cuba in the dock

Even by the standards of Cuban diplomacy — a web of deceit and cover for espionage — the performance of the Castro representive before the Geneva-based Convention on Torture last week has been a mind-lowing exercise in hypocrisy and Orwellian double-talk.

• To the committee’s questions about penalties against dissent, Cuban representative Rafael Pino Becquer, deputy attorney general, said no one declared “socially dangerous” by law has been sanctioned: “Rather, they were influenced by education programs and thus re-educated.” File that under punishment by another name.

• How about Cubans detained without notice and held incommunicado? According to the Convention’s own report of the session, Pino said incommunicado detention does not exist, and that “detention upon arrest may not exceed 24 hours and that every detainee had access to a doctor.” Deny, deny, deny.

• Asked about harassment of human rights defenders and independent journalists, Cuba’s representatives simply declared that they “were not genuine human rights defenders.” An outright lie.

And so it went. The entire Cuban reply to the questions posed by members of the U.N.-affiliated body consisted of a series of clumsy evasions and pants-on-fire whoppers. (“The intelligence services did not [i.e., do not] detain people.” Or this one: “Any person who suffered damage or prejudice caused by State officials acting within their official function could claim reparation and compensation by law.”) The trick there is “by law” — not by practice. The reality of Cuba is that the law on any given day is whatever the Castro brothers ordain.

To listen to Cuban officials, the island is a virtual civil liberties utopia, with habeas corpus enshrined in law and rigorously enforced (as if), and their prisons model venues of rehabilitation: “Cuba had a progressive approach to detention.”

If the latter is true, why does Cuba forbid the International Red Cross to visit the island’s prisons? Why has Manfred Nowak, the U.N.’s expert on torture, repeatedly been denied access to those prisons, despite a supposed “invitation” from Cuba back in 2009?

Maybe it’s because conditions in those prisons are so horribly wretched, as a video smuggled out of the prison and posted on The Miami Herald website makes plain, that Mr. Nowak would be nauseated if Cuba allowed him to conduct a genuine inspection.

The Convention on Torture’s questions will lead to a report on Cuba which, we hope, pulls no punches. Meanwhile, anyone interested in the real Cuba can visit non-government websites online such as the Cuba Archive Project, or read a letter signed by over 100 former inmates with a total of 3,551 years in Cuban jails who can attest to prison conditions.

No matter what the Convention ultimately finds, of course, it’s not likely to alter Cuba’s behavior, but at least it will be put on notice that the regime is not fooling anyone.

The last report issued by the panel on Cuba, published in December of 2005, contained a host of recommendations that Cuba ignored. They included investigating complaints of abuse, public inspection of prisons, an independent judiciary and allowing independent NGOs to monitor the protection of human rights.

We won’t hold our breath, but for the moment, at least, it’s refreshing to see a U.N. agency sending a signal that Cuba is a routine violator of human rights, instead of cozying up to the Castro dictatorship as too many U.N. agencies have done for decades.