Must-Read: Medicare Fraud’s Men in Havana

Saturday, June 23, 2012
By Myriam Marquez in The Miami Herald:

Medicare fraud’s men in Havana

If the feds’ case sticks, Oscar L. Sanchez will be convicted as a cash-for-Cuba financier of fraudsters, “a capitalist for Cuban banks,” as prosecutors wrote in a court motion, accusing the 46-year-old South Florida man of conspiracy to commit money laundering for a group that funneled $63 million of stolen Medicare payments to Havana banks. You think the Cuban government was in on it?

For the skeptics, I have two words: Robert Vesco.


The fugitive American financier was accused of securities fraud in the 1970s and after trying to buy his own island from the country of Antigua, popped up in Havana in 1982, protected by the communist regime from extradition to the United States. Alas, the commie honeymoon didn’t last once Vesco’s millions seemed to run out. Cuba arrested him in 1996 for “fraud and illicit economic activity... acts prejudicial to the economic plans and contracts of the state.” He didn’t last long in prison, dying of lung cancer a few months later.

Sanchez’s acts, federal prosecutors say, have been prejudicial to U.S. taxpayers, by about $31 million, which is the amount the federal government says it tracked from 2005 to 2009 through a complicated web of foreign shell companies Sanchez created using his check-cashing business to funnel the Medicare payments from the United States to Canada, Trinidad and eventually Cuba. The money in at least two accounts deposited in the Trinidad bank in Havana came with instructions to be wired into the Cuban banking system.

Still, prosecutors say there’s no direct evidence linking the Cuban regime and the Castro brothers to the plot.

Well, no kidding. After 53 years of elaborate schemes, murder and mayhem from Angola to Venezuela, Fidel and Raúl have gotten pretty good at it. But the bottom line really isn’t that complicated if the doubters care to seek the truth. Nothing happens in Cuba without the consent of the Castros. Certainly nothing having to do with money, and certainly not millions of dollars in deposits in Cuban government-controlled banks. Was the Cuban government taking a cut?

You betcha. And that’s no conspiracy theory. It’s simple mathematics -- and history.


More than one high-level defector has testified before Congress and gone on Spanish-language TV over the years to detail fraud schemes and spying operations, all in an effort to keep the revolution going, with American money, no less.

Just last week, as the Cuban government was reported by The Associated Press to “bristle” at any hint that it would be involved in a Medicare fraud scheme, Cuba’s Foreign Ministry had another “bristling” episode -- this time bristling against the Dutch. ING Bank NV announced earlier this month that it would pay $619 million to end a case against it involving billions of dollars secretly moved through American banks on behalf of “Cuban and Iranian concerns in violation of U.S. sanctions.”

In 2004 a Swiss bank got slapped with a $100 million fine for buying and selling more U.S. dollars from Cuba than the regime could have earned from its sputtering economic affairs.

Sanchez’s is the first case that makes a direct link between Medicare fraud and Cuba benefiting from it. But the benefits have always been apparent.

In 2008, The Miami Herald’s “Medicare Racket” investigation by reporter Jay Weaver found that at least half of South Florida’s Medicare fugitives were believed to be back in Cuba, sipping mojitos. About 60 Cuban scammers, many of them arriving in Miami in the 1990s, collectively billed more than a billion dollars from taxpayers through medical storefronts with phantom patients. As federal investigators started to get close to the action, about two dozen of those scammers took off to Cuba.

Does anyone believe that the regime had no clue these millionaires had moved back or that the government isn’t getting its share? Does anyone wonder how many of these guys work for Cuba’s state security?

While Sanchez was a target of this latest ongoing investigation, prosecutors say dozens of crooked Medicare providers — who offered HIV and medical equipment services — were in on the laundering scheme. “The defendants’ money laundering operation was faster, more efficient, and financially benefitted everyone involved, including [Sanchez], who charged a fee for his services,” prosecutors wrote.

Sanchez pleaded not guilty on Friday. U.S. Magistrate Jonathan Goodman was wise to deny bail to such a flight risk. Fool us once, shame on you. Fool us 61 times, and counting, shame on us.

Lawmakers Worry Medicare Billions Going to Castro

You can read the letter here.

From The Washington Examiner:

WATCHDOGS: Lawmakers worry Medicare billions going to Castro, Cuba

Two U.S. senators and a representative worry that billions of tax dollars could be going to Cuba and other foreign countries via criminal schemes designed to defraud Medicare and Medicaid.

The schemes often involve the use of “nominees,” individuals who are paid to be fronts for the actual owners of corporate entities being used in the fraudulent operation. By concealing the identities of true owners, the approach invites its use to funnel tax dollars out of the country.

In a letter made public yesterday to Marilyn Tavenner, acting administrator of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid, senators Orrin Hatch, R-UT, and Tom Coburn, R-OK, were joined by Rep. Peter Roskam, R-IL, said they fear billions of tax dollars are being lost annually as a result.

“Clearly, the program vulnerabilities that facilitate billions of dollars to be stolen from the Medicare program each year also allow for some of that money to be funneled to foreign countries,” the three congressmen said.

“While the fraud itself is unacceptable, the loss of American dollars to foreign countries because of flaws in our system is totally unacceptable. The American people deserve the peace of mind to know that federal officials are doing everything they can to safeguard taxpayers’ dollars and the Medicare program.”

“Thus far, it does not appear that CMS has addressed the concept of nominee owners, false storefronts, and shell companies in any of its enrollment regulations or its Provider Screening statement of work,” they said.

Earlier this week, federal officials in Miami charged Oscar Sanchez in connection with a criminal operation that resulted in an estimated $31 million going to Cuban banks.

“Prosecutors say Oscar Sanchez, 46, was a key leader in a group that funneled $31 million in Medicare dollars into banks in Havana — the first such case that directly traces money fleeced from the beleaguered program into the Cuban banking system,” the Miami Herald reported Monday.

“Most of the money moved through an intricate web of foreign shell companies before ending up in Cuba, to avoid being detected in the United States, said investigators,” the Herald said [...]

Federal officials arrested Miguel Cabello last week when he attempted to re-enter the country through Champlain, New York.

Cabello fled the country to Cuba in July 2008 after being indicted on health care fraud charges. “Cabello submitted approximately $2.1 million in fraudulent Medicare claims on behalf of south-Florida-based OB Pharmacy, Inc., and he received approximately $1.3 million in Medicare payments,” according to the HHS IG.

“Before Cabello’s involvement, OB Pharmacy, a durable medical equipment company that specialized in aerosol medications, submitted $151,572 in Medicare claims and was paid approximately $58,653.

“Around April 2008, Cabello became vice-president of OB Pharmacy. Investigators have concluded that OB Pharmacy submitted claims to Medicare for services that were not rendered, including approximately 10 claims for deceased beneficiaries.

“Investigators interviewed physicians who stated that they did not know the OB Pharmacy patients in question nor did they prescribe the medication purportedly provided to them.”

In their letter to Tavenner, Hatch, Coburn and Roskam cited a University of Miami report that quoted a former Cuban intelligence officer saying there are “strong indications” that the Castro government aids Medicare fraud, especially in South Florida, and provides safe harbor for individuals involved in those efforts.

“If confirmed, this indicates that Medicare program dollars are not only funding international criminal syndicates, but may be helping prop up the Castro government,” the congressmen said.

Back in April, Hatch and Coburn were joined in another letter to Tavenner by representatives Charles Boustenay, R-LA, and Wally Herger, R-CA, on the nominees issue, and expressed concern then that the problem was not being addressed.

The HHS IG “has expressed concerns regarding the use of nominee owners and recommended that CMS take aggressive action to identify them,” they wrote. “Thus far, it does not appear that CMS has addressed the concept of nominee owners, false storefronts, and shell companies …”

For Castro, Chávez's Wealth is Vital

Friday, June 22, 2012
Excerpt from The Wall Street Journal:

For Cuba, Chávez's Health Is a Vital Statistic

For more than a year, Venezuelans have fretted over how they will fare as their charismatic president, Hugo Chávez, faces dual battles of cancer and a fall election. But Mr. Chávez's fate may pose an even greater cause of concern in another country—Venezuela's Communist ally, Cuba.

In more than a decade of friendship between Mr. Chávez and Cuba's rulers, Venezuela has sent cash and oil subsidies worth billions of dollars a year. Those handouts could come under threat without Mr. Chávez in power to back them—showing how the flip side of Venezuelan largesse is a deep potential Cuban vulnerability.

In 2010, Venezuela accounted for at least 40% of Cuba's overall trade in goods, up from 27% the year before. That figure was more than the trade levels of the next five countries combined.

Overall, Venezuelan assistance and trade with Cuba accounted for up to 22% of Cuba's annual economic output in 2010, according to Carmelo Mesa-Lago, a professor emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh and an economist who is writing a book about the Cuban economy.

The extreme situation has drawn comparisons to Cuba's relationship with the Soviet Union, which underwrote the Cuban economy for decades until its sudden collapse in 1989. What followed was what Cubans call the "Special Period" of the 1990s, during which the Cuban economy contracted 35% in three years, leading to rationing of food and electricity.

Cuba is on more solid footing than it was then. But it still faces the U.S. economic embargo, and economists say the ending of Venezuelan largess would be a massive blow.

"This could be a disaster," Mr. Mesa-Lago said. "If this help stops, industry is paralyzed, transportation is paralyzed—and you'll see the effects in everything from electricity to sugar mills."

Mr. Chávez has long called Fidel Castro, Cuba's retired dictator, a father figure and mentor. For 12 years, the Venezuelan president has propped up the ailing island's economy with generous subsidies. They include roughly 105,000 cut-rate barrels of oil a day—about half of Cuba's energy needs for petroleum, economists believe—and cash payments for a stream of Cuban doctors, sports trainers and teachers who work in Venezuela.

Under the arrangement, Venezuela pays the Cuban government $135,000 a year for each doctor it sends over, 27 times the salary of the average Venezuelan public doctor, Mr. Mesa-Lago estimates. Cuba gets similar payments for sending teachers and sports trainers.

The oil arrangement is also unusual: Not only does Venezuela sell the oil to Cuba at what is believed to be submarket prices, it also extends Cuba 25-year loans at 1% interest—well below the rate of inflation—that Havana uses to foot about half of the bill.

Venezuela is also supporting Cuba through investment. From 2000 to 2011, Venezuela signed deals for 370 investment projects in Cuba for an estimated $11 billion. They included $1.4 billion to renovate an idle refinery in the coastal town of Cienfuegos. The plant, from 1991, used defunct Soviet-era technology and had never operated.

Last year, Venezuela installed an 820-mile fiber-optic cable meant to bring high-speed Internet to Cuba. It still hasn't been put into use.

Paraguayan President Ousted by Congress

Kudos to former President Lugo for his civility in stepping down.

From BBC:

Paraguay President Fernando Lugo impeached by congress

Paraguay's Senate has voted to impeach left-wing President Fernando Lugo, forcing him to step down.

Both houses of Congress had voted on Thursday to begin impeachment proceedings over his handling of clashes between farmers and police last week in which at least 17 people died.

Mr Lugo likened the move to a coup by the right wing-controlled parliament, but said he would accept the decision.

Vice-President Federico Franco has already been sworn in as president.

He will serve the remainder of Mr Lugo's five-year term, which ends in August 2013.

After previously trying to get the Supreme Court to stop the impeachment vote, the fallen president said he accepted "what the law has stated, even though the law was twisted".

Cuban Dissident Given Two-Year Sentence

Cuban pro-democracy activist Bismark Mustelier Galán has been given a two-year prison sentence by the Castro regime for "resistance."

Mustelier Galán is a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Union Patriotica de Cuba, UNPACU), based in eastern Cuba and headed by former political prisoner (of the Black Spring's "75") Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia.

He is the fourth member of UNPACU sentenced in recent months.

The others are

- Dany López de Moya, sentenced to one-year for "disobedience"
- Omar Naranjo Borges, sentenced to four-years for "dangerousness"
- Yordanis Gómez Mejías, sentenced to two-and-a-half years for "drawing anti-Castro posters"

Hatch/Coburn/Roskam Letter on Cuba Medicare Fraud

Thursday, June 21, 2012
Hatch/Coburn/Roskam Letter on Cuba Medicare Fraud

Following this week's federal crackdown on a money laundering operation that stole millions of dollars from the Medicare program and moved it to Cuban banks, a trio of Senate Finance and House Ways and Means Committee members have demanded the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) provide an update on the agency's policy to safeguard the Medicare program from waste, fraud and abuse.

In the letter, Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Committee member Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) along with House Ways and Means Committee member Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) requested a full briefing from CMS Acting Administrator, Marilyn Tavenner about what is being done to prevent the funneling of American dollars to foreign countries, like Cuba.

The lawmakers wrote, "Clearly, the program vulnerabilities that facilitate billions of dollars to be stolen from the Medicare program each year also allow for some of that money to be funneled to foreign countries. While the fraud itself is unacceptable, the loss of American dollars to foreign countries because of flaws in our system is totally unacceptable. The American people deserve the peace of mind to know that federal officials are doing everything they can to safeguard taxpayers' dollars and the Medicare program."

The U.S. Senate Finance and House Ways and Means Committees have jurisdiction over the Medicare program. The letter was sent to CMS Acting Administrator Tavenner this evening.

Read the letter here:


6.21.12 Cuba Medicare Fraud letter -

Rangel Said What?

In a press release on H.R. 5986, bipartisan legislation to -- among other things -- renew Presidential authority to apply import sanctions against Burma, Castro's long-time friend U.S. Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) said:

"Burma sanctions have helped promote change and progress, which I am hopeful will continue.”

Wade Bogg(les) the Mind

According to the Tampa Tribune, baseball Hall of Famer Wade Boggs is traveling to Cuba, on a trip "that will include a lot of sightseeing and visits to local parks where kids gather to play baseball."

Isn't that nice?

Boggs emphasized that, "this has zero, zero, absolutely, positively zero to do with anything politically."

No really, zero, zero, absolutely, positively zero -- until the next paragraph in the article,
which explains:

"[T]he trip was organized by Al Fox, who founded the Alliance For Responsible Cuba Policy. He is an outspoken advocate of normalizing relations between the United States and the island nation [...]

Fox said that while Boggs has no political interests, he hopes the publicity from the trip will 'generate discussion about how insane our policy is toward Cuba.'

'In our opinion, it is in our national interest to remove the embargo against Cuba,' Fox said.
"

No really, absolutely, positively, no politics.

FIU Law Professor Defies Logic (History)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012
There is a general consensus among Cuba observers and U.S. law enforcement officials that it's impossible for anyone to stash $31 million in Medicare fraud funds in a Cuban bank without the Castro regime's knowledge, acquiescence or complicity.

The reason is simple: Cuba is ruled by a totalitarian regime, where the authorities maintain absolute control over all complex transactions.

Just ask the 600 foreign suppliers that have had over $1 billion in Cuban accounts frozen by the Castro regime since 2008.

The exception to this logic is FIU Law Professor Jose Gabilondo.

In a Miami Herald story today, "Gabilondo said he doubts the Cuban government would risk its recent thaw in frozen diplomatic relations by being involved with such a massive scheme."

Seriously?

Mr. Gabilondo, meet Mr. Alan Gross.

He is an elderly American hostage, of the Jewish faith, in failing health, who the Castro regime has been holding in a military prison for the last two-and-a-half years.

That would certainly chill relations, don't you think?

But it hasn't stopped Castro.


Nor has the unilateral "thaw" (by the U.S.) stopped Castro from increasing political arrests and repression to 30-year highs, or from serving as an international mouthpiece for a nuclear Iran and the genocidal Assad regime.

Gabilondo's doubt is reminiscent to that of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who still hasn't figured out why Castro's answer to all of his "goodwill" was arming guerrillas in three continents and unleashing the Mariel boat-lift.

However, he is not completely alone.

Echoing Gabilondo's skepticism today was Castro regime official, Johana Tablada, who sent the following statement to the AP:

"Foreign commercial banks that maintain accounts in Cuban banks are obliged to operate in strict compliance with international and Cuban rules and must guarantee the reliability of their transactions and the correct use of their accounts."

Nice talking point, but according to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the global standard setting body for anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT):

"Cuba has not committed to the AML/CFT international standards, nor has it constructively directly engaged with the FATF. At the same time, Cuba attended a GAFISUD plenary as a guest and prepared an informal document on its AML/CFT regime. The FATF has identified Cuba as having strategic AML/CFT deficiencies that pose a risk to the international financial system."

Chavez Fuels Assad's Repression

Excerpt by Amb. Otto Reich in Newsmax:

[W]e have evidence that Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez has been sending millions of gallons of diesel fuel to his good friend al-Assad, whom he calls a “humanist” and a “brother.” Venezuelan state-owned ships have been transporting hundreds of thousands of barrels of diesel fuel to the ruthless Syrian Army. Assad’s killers move around the country assassinating civilians in vehicles fueled by Chavez.

At this very moment the Venezuelan oil carrier “Negra Hipolita” is being loaded in Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela, with more than 9 million gallons of ultra-low sulphur diesel bound for Syria’s port of Banias.

Soon this fuel will move the tanks and artillery that will pulverize innocent beings, adding to the 12,000 already cold-bloodedly exterminated by Assad “the Humanist.”

Chavez uses his own vessels because no self-respecting international shipping firm will transport fuel to Assad’s killing machine. There is another advantage, however: since he controls the entire voyage, from dock to dock, Chavez may be sending Assad military materiel hidden in the ships.

Just this month Chavez boasted that Venezuela is manufacturing thousands of the latest model of the iconic Russian AK-47 assault rifle, the AK-103.

Where are those weapons going?

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for a conversation on the G-20, Europe and the current economic crisis with Bruce Stokes, director of the Pew Research Center's Global Economic Attitudes Project and senior transatlantic fellow for economics at the German Marshall Fund.

Also, author Julian Schvindlerman will discuss this the elections in Egypt and the latest events in Syria. He is the author of "Roma y Jerusalem: la política vaticana hacia el estado judío" (Debate: 2010) and "Tierras por Paz, Tierras por Guerra" (Ensayos del Sud: 2002).

TIME UPDATE: You can now listen to "From Washington al Mundo" seven-days a week on Sirius-XM's Cristina Radio (Channel 146) from 4-5 p.m. (EST) and again at midnight (EST).

Castro's Too Repressive for Al Jazeera

The Al Jazeera television network has closed its Havana bureau.

According to Diario de Cuba, the network has grown tired of dealing with the Castro regime, which constantly sought to disrupt its reporting.

Earlier this year, Al Jazeera's Havana correspondent Moutaz Al Qaissia was chastised and threatened by the Cuban authorities pursuant to a story about dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez.

Things must be pretty bad in Havana when even Al Jazeera can't tolerate the censorship and repression of the Castro regime, as it's used to dealing with unsavory tyrants.

Also, makes you wonder just how much the remaining news bureaus in Havana are willing to put up with or acquiesce to.

Cuba Remains Major Human Trafficking Violator

Tuesday, June 19, 2012
The State Department has just released its 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report.

Once again, Cuba received the lowest ranking (Tier 3), as a country that does not comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.

Here's the Report's Cuba summary:

CUBA (Tier 3)

Cuba is a source country for adults and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Prostitution of children reportedly occurs in Cuba, and the country’s laws do not appear to penalize prostitution of children between the ages of 16 and 18. There have been past instances of Cuban citizens forced into prostitution abroad. There have also been allegations of coerced labor, particularly with Cuban work missions abroad. Some Cubans working abroad have stated that postings are voluntary and well paid; however, others have claimed that their passports have been withheld by Cuban authorities and movement restricted. The scope of trafficking involving Cuban citizens is particularly difficult to gauge due to the closed nature of the government and sparse non-governmental or independent reporting.

The Government of Cuba does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. Although media sources reported the government prosecuted and convicted three sex traffickers in 2011, the government did not respond to requests for information on such sex trafficking and forced labor prosecutions or on trafficking-specific victim protection and prevention efforts that occurred during the reporting period.

Castro "Pinkwashes" Crimes Against Gays

By James Kirchick in The New York Daily News:

Hiding Cuba’s crimes behind gay rights lies

Mariela Castro Espin’s offensive ‘pinkwashing’

On December 7, 1990, Cuban poet and novelist Reinaldo Arenas ended his life. Forced into exile because of his political dissidence, and dying slowly of AIDS, he could no longer withstand the physical and mental torment of the disease. His brief suicide note, expressing contentment for a life well lived, nonetheless conveyed a sense of burning rage. “Persons near me are in no way responsible for my decision,” wrote Arenas, whose life Julian Schnabel portrayed elegiacally in his adaptation of Arenas’ memoir “Before Night Falls.”

“There is only one person I hold accountable: Fidel Castro.”

Like countless other gay Cubans, many of whom were executed or rounded up into concentration camps and worked to death in the name of Socialist revolution, Arenas was persecuted for his sexuality. So one can only imagine how he would react to the recent spectacle at the New York Public Library, in which a roomful of gay activists warmly welcomed a high-ranking representative from that despicable regime.

On May 29, Mariela Castro Espin, the niece of Cuba’s former President Fidel Castro and the daughter of its present leader, Raul, delivered a talk at an event organized by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Back in Cuba, Castro (who is heterosexual) heads something called the National Center for Sex Education and is a prominent supporter of gay marriage. Asked about the regime’s interment of HIV-positive people, Castro “seemed to talk around the issue,” according to Gay City News. Nonetheless, she received a standing ovation.

In isolation, Castro’s support for gays is laudable. But her campaign for gay rights, such as it is, must be seen within the context of the repression that the Castro regime has inflicted upon the Cuban people for five decades.

The Castro brothers are wise enough to read international political currents; revolutionary machismo isn’t in vogue like it was in the 1960s. They know that a sure way to warm the hearts of progressives is to pledge support for some nebulous concept of “gay rights.” Never mind Cuban gays — like all citizens of Cuba save high-ranking members of the Communist Party — do not enjoy basic liberties like freedom of speech or religion. They cannot join an independent labor union or vote. When it comes to gay life in Cuba, “Not much has changed since Reinaldo Arenas’ time.”

That assessment doesn’t come from “terrorist groups based in Miami” or the “mediocre yellow press,” as Castro recently described her critics in a radio interview. It comes from In These Times, a left-wing American magazine that publishes the likes of Noam Chomsky. Three years ago, it ran a special feature on Cuba, including an in-depth report about homosexuality.

Government harassment of gays is routine, the magazine reported, and while gays may no longer be herded into concentration camps and worked to death, they are still arrested by police simply for their sexual orientation. “Gays are routinely picked up en masse on the streets, beaten, jailed indefinitely,” Herb Sosa of the Miami-based, Hispanic LGBT organization Unity Coalition told In These Times.

In a November 2010 vote at the United Nations, Cuba was the only Latin American country to support the removal of “sexual orientation” from a list, alongside religion, ethnicity and race, of prejudicial motives for murder. When the clause was reinserted after an international outcry and the measure returned for a vote, Cuba abstained.

Asked whether her father supports gay marriage, Castro told Amy Goodman of the “Democracy Now!” radio/TV program that, “He is convinced that it is necessary, that it is part of the project of full justice the Cuban Revolution proposes.” One then wonders what is stopping this man, who has absolute power, from simply decreeing the right of gays to marry, as he has decreed the arbitrary imprisonment and executions of fellow Cubans.

In truth, Castro’s talk of gay rights is just a pretext for her broader defense of the Castro family's dictatorship. In the speeches and interviews she gave last month, no sooner did she mouth a few words about “tolerance” and “progress” for gays before launching into a diatribe condemning President Obama as “represent(ing) an imperialist government and policy” and extolling the virtues of the Cuban Revolution.

In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Castro dispensed quickly with the sweet talk about respecting gay people and got right to the real purpose of her visit: demanding that the United States release five Cuban spies arrested in 1998 in exchange for Alan Gross, an American social worker who has been jailed by the Castro regime for the past three years on trumped-up charges of espionage. (Gross was working as a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development, bringing computers to the island’s tiny Jewish community.)

“He has been treated with respect and dignity the way we always treat prisoners in Cuba,” Castro told Amanpour, something that might come as news to the Red Cross, to which the Cuban government has refused access.

Here we have a genuine case of “pinkwashing,” a term that some gay activists have applied to Israel, alleging, as one of them did recently in The New York Times, that the Jewish state employs a “deliberate strategy to conceal the continuing violations of Palestinians’ human rights behind an image of modernity signified by Israeli gay life.”

Mouthing a few nice things to say about gay people — while the regime she represents and defends continues to oppress them — Castro whitewashes the reality of Cuba, the only country in the Western Hemisphere to be ranked “Not Free” by the international human rights watchdog Freedom House.

“Cuba will be free. I already am.” These were the last written words of Reinaldo Arenas. As for Cuban gays, they will be free when Cuba itself is free, and that day will arrive only when Mariela Castro Espin and her miserable family no longer rule the island as their personal fiefdom.

Kirchick is a fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Environmentalists Should Thank Embargo

ONGC Videsh Ltd, the overseas arm of India's state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC), is looking to sell a 50 percent stake in its Cuban offshore blocks.

"OVL is looking for a partner for blocks N-34 and N-35. The firm believes exploration is a high risk and extremely cost intensive business due to the US embargo on Cuba. It wants to share this risk with a foreign company," a source privy to the development said.

Meanwhile, the Sun-Sentinel's Editorial Board, which just a few months ago was irresponsibly advocating for the unconditional lifting of all sanctions and empowering U.S. oil companies to turn Castro into a petro-dictator, now expresses "Relief Over Cuba Oil Bust":

"South Florida can sigh in relief — to a certain extent anyway.

Repsol, the Spanish energy conglomerate, announced last month that it would quit its oil exploration efforts off Cuba's northern coast — just 60 miles or so from Florida's southern coastline. However, a Malaysian company has said it's interested in drilling an exploratory well to the west of where Repsol was looking, so it's not all good news.

Nonetheless, Repsol's retreat raises doubts — and positive ones, for us anyway — about the prospects for developing an oil field in the Florida Straits. An oil field that, in the event of a spill like the one in the Gulf of Mexico two years ago, could put Florida's ecologically vital and economically critical marine environment at risk.
"

Harassment of U.S. Diplomats Increases

Monday, June 18, 2012
Meanhwile, Castro's diplomats roam freely through the halls of the U.S. Congress.

In The Miami Herald:

U.S. officials say American diplomats in Havana face more harassment

There are increasing reports of incidents against U.S. diplomats as the Cuban government cracks down on dissidents

Cuban government agents have stepped up their verbal harassment of U.S. diplomats in Havana in the past year, shouting epithets at them from moving cars and publishing photos of their vehicles, U.S. government officials say.

“They’ve done this for quite some time, but over the last year or so they seem to have gotten nastier,” said one of the officials. “We have asked them to stop, and they have not.”

The increased badgering appears linked to Cuban President Raúl Castro’s ongoing crackdown on government critics, the officials said. About 4,115 short-term arrests of dissidents were reported in 2011, compared to 1,765 the previous year.

With some U.S. diplomats in Havana specifically assigned to monitor opposition activities, said one official, “when the security forces go after dissidents, (the U.S. diplomats) are usually in the neighborhood and catch the flak too.”

A senior State Department official told El Nuevo Herald that the U.S. government is “concerned about the continued harassment and vilification of our diplomatic mission staff in Havana, who are simply performing their normal diplomatic duties.

“We have reminded the Cuban government on a number of occasions that under the Vienna Conventions, this kind of treatment of diplomatic personnel is not acceptable,” added the official, who asked to remain anonymous because of department policies.

Because Cuba and the United States don’t have normal diplomatic relations, they each maintain an Interests Section in each other’s capital to handle consular affairs and other matters.

Stolen Medicare Funds in Castro's Banks

As we've been warning for years.

In The Miami Herald:

Feds in Miami: Millions stolen from Medicare wound up in Cuban banking system

In a first, federal prosecutors have charged a Miami man with engaging in a massive money laundering scheme that moved millions stolen from the federal Medicare program into Cuban banks.

In an unprecedented case, federal prosecutors have charged a Miami man with engaging in a massive money laundering scheme that moved millions stolen from the federal Medicare program into Cuban banks.

Prosecutors in Miami say Oscar Sanchez, 46, was a key leader in a group that funneled more than $31 million in Medicare dollars into banks in Havana — the first such case that directly traces money fleeced from the beleaguered program into the Cuban banking system.

Prosecutors are asking a judge on Monday to deny a bond to Sanchez, who was indicted last week by a grand jury in Miami on charges of conspiring to commit money laundering.

“Oscar Sanchez was a financier for fraudsters and a capitalist for the Cuban banks,” Assistant U.S. Attorney H. Ron Davidson wrote in a court motion seeking to keep Sanchez in custody pending trial, due to the likelihood he would try to flee.

“The location of millions of dollars is unknown, and a vast fortune is likely sitting in a Communist country that will not extradite Oscar Sanchez, a Cuban national, back to the United States to face criminal charges," Davidson wrote.

Sanchez made 78 overseas trips in the past 10 years, the motion states.

Prosecutors say Sanchez was among a group of international money launderers who set up an intricate system to move money fleeced from fraudulent HIV treatment and medical equipment billings, first through banks in Canada and Trinidad and eventually Cuba.

Typically, Medicare fraudsters operated medical clinics that submitted millions in bogus claims for infusion therapy to treat patients with HIV and AIDS. But the infusion treatments, administered intravenously, were neither prescribed by doctors nor provided to patients.

As part of the Sanchez case, prosecutors are asking the court to seize seven homes he owned in Miami-Dade, Lee and Collier counties as well as two vehicles.

The case is the first alleging a direct money connection between the explosive Medicare fraud in South Florida, and Cuba, a well-known hiding place for dozens of fugitives who have fled after ripping off the federal program.

As Medicare crime spreads across South Florida, accused scammers are escaping in droves to Cuba and other Latin American countries to avoid prosecution — with more than 150 fugitives now wanted for stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from the U.S. healthcare program, according to the FBI and court records.

Most of the fugitives were born in Cuba, immigrated to South Florida after 1990 and can easily live under the radar in Latin America with hundreds of thousands or millions in taxpayer dollars fleeced from Medicare.

Even if fugitives can be located in Cuba, there’s no way to get them back because of the political realities at play.

Because so many of the Medicare defendants are Cuban, rumors have swirled for years that the Castro government has purposely trained and deployed immigrants to take over Medicare-licensed clinics in South Florida, and then harbored them after they returned home. But federal agents and prosecutors, while privately speculating about an official Cuba connection, have had a hard time linking Fidel and Raul Castro’s regime to the rampant healthcare fraud on this side of the Florida Straits.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for a conversation on the Southern Cone with Uruguayan Senator and former Foreign Minister Sergio Abreu.

Also, Dr. Guillermo Lousteau of the Inter-American Institute for Democracy will discuss efforts to restructure the OAS's Inter-American Human Rights Commission.

And Dr. Lee Edwards of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation will talk about the 5th Anniversary of this Washington, D.C. memorial and its new online Global Museum on Communism.

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).

Quote of the Week

"Yesterday, they trampled all over me, they mistreated me and left me stranded in the countryside far from my house. Whatever I tell you is only a small part of what we're suffering. A police woman twisted my arm and threw me in a car. Today I can barely walk."

-- Blanca Hernandez Moya, a 75-year old member of the Ladies in White, on this weekend's repression against peaceful pro-democracy activists, 6/17/12.

H/T Former Cuban political prisoner Ivan Hernandez's Twitter

The "People-to-People" Bubble

Sunday, June 17, 2012
A USA Today article about the Obama Administration's "people-to-people" travel category aptly reveals:

"No matter where we go, we're in a bubble.

Since the Cuban government frowns on U.S. operators booking the growing ranks of privately owned restaurants known as paladares, we generally wind up at government-owned places with less-than-memorable cuisine (albeit an always-included cocktail). Even at two notable exceptions — Cafe del Orient, with tuxedoed waiters and a prime location in Old Havana, and a roast chicken restaurant called El Aljibe — we're served a set menu and surrounded by other tourists.
"

That's right, U.S. "people-to-people" travelers aren't even allowed to dine at the island's "independent paladares" by their Castro regime hosts.

So just how do these trips benefit the Cuban people or help them achieve independence from the regime (as the Obama Administration claims)?

These trips are totally counter-productive.


Meanwhile, the Summit Daily describes a recent Witness for Peace "people-to-people" trip, complete with a Varadero beach party:

"No trip to a Caribbean island would be complete without exploring its beaches. One of the most beautiful and popular beaches can be found in the charming resort town of Varadero.

Nobody woke up in our room, when some of us late-night partiers returned after an evening of literally dancing in the street at one of Varadero's well known live music nightclubs, Calle 62, which that night featured a red-hot all women band.
"

Kudos to Moran and Durbin (Not a Typo)

In The Hill:

Cuba trade proponents in Senate pressure Castro over jailing of US citizen

Two Senate advocates for increased trade with Cuba have backed off their efforts in light of the detention of a U.S. citizen by the Fidel Castro regime.

Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) had been leading a congressional push to “reset” relations with Cuba and increase trade and travel ties, but have halted that advocacy over the Alan Gross case.

Gross, 63, was given a 15-year prison sentence for alleged spying and is reportedly frail. The State Department has called repeatedly for Cuba to release him.

“I have tried to change the trading relationship with Cuba. I am taking a hiatus from that effort. I am no longer willing to do that,” Moran said.

“I hope that this will put pressure on Cuba to release him,” he said.

Moran and Durbin had faced opposition from Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla), who has thwarted changes to Cuba policy since becoming chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in 2011. Despite the lack of action in the House, Moran and Durbin persisted last year in trying to increase agricultural exports to Cuba.

U.S. companies have been permitted to ship food and medicine to Cuba since 2000, but Treasury Department regulations have inhibited trade by making the payments for those goods more complicated.

Moran last year inserted an amendment into a draft 2012 Financial Services Appropriations bill that would have allowed Cuban buyers to make direct cash payments to U.S. financial institutions in order to ease agricultural trade. Farm lobbyists supported the language.

The Kansas senator also supported language that would end a restriction that forces buyers to pay for goods before they leave U.S. ports, rather than when receiving the goods.

Both provisions were stripped out of the final 2012 omnibus appropriations package that was enacted into law, however.

Moran this week said he is no longer pushing for the trade changes, and aides said neither provision is in the bill that passed out of the Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

Durbin, the spending “cardinal” in charge of the Treasury budget, said that he supports Moran’s decision despite being an advocate of using trade to open up closed societies.

Durbin said he’s “always voted with [Moran] to expand trade,” but a visit with Gross in prison this spring convinced him that more needs to be done to free him.