Romney Memo on Obama's Foreign Policy "Failures"

Saturday, September 8, 2012
Governor Mitt Romney has released a memo highlighting what it considers to be President Obama's top 10 foreign policy failures.

See the full memo here.

Among them:

Failure #8: Emboldening The Castros, Chávez & Their Cohorts In Latin America

President Obama has diminished respect for the United States in Latin America and the Caribbean. He has put strain on relationships with friendly nations while appeasing or downplaying the threat from those leaders who oppose our interests.

Delay In Approving Trade Agreements. President Obama waited three years before submitting to Congress trade agreements with our partners Colombia and Panama—agreements signed by the previous administration—for fear of angering the union bosses to whom he owes political loyalty. President Obama has not sought to reach any new trade agreements in the region, despite there being strong trading potential and natural connections between Latin America and the Latino business community in the United States.

Appeasement Of The Castro Regime. While he dragged his feet on trade agreements with our friends, President Obama moved quickly to relax travel and remittance restrictions on Cuba mere months into his term while demanding nothing in return that would offer the Cuban people their long-denied freedom. The Cuban regime responded that same year by jailing American citizen and USAID contractor Alan Gross, who remains imprisoned to this day. The Castros continue to oppress their own people and imprison pro-democracy dissidents.

Failing To Recognize The Threat Posed By Hugo Chávez. President Obama stated, “But overall my sense is that what Mr. Chávez has done over the last several years has not had a serious national security impact on us.” This statement underplayed the strategic threat posed by Chávez and goes a long way in explaining the President’s failure to stand resolutely for democracy and economic opportunity in Latin America. Chávez is leading a virulently anti-American “Bolivarian” movement across Latin America that seeks to undermine institutions of democratic governance. The Bolivarian movement threatens U.S. allies such as Colombia, has interfered with regional cooperation on key issues such as illicit drugs and counter-terrorism, has provided safe haven for drug traffickers, has encouraged regional terrorist organizations, and has invited Iran and foreign terrorist organizations like Hezbollah into the region.

That Pesky Totalitarianism

Shocking news.

Castro's insistence on absolute control -- not to mention decades of truancy and no rule of law -- has become an impediment for foreign investment and economic growth.

This is also a good reminder for those who argue that increased foreign trade would somehow benefit the Cuban people.

That's not possible, for the Cuban people are strictly prohibited from engaging in any foreign trade. It's within the exclusive purview of the Castro regime.

In Reuters:

Cuba struggles with foreign investment, growth

Cuba's failure to encourage more foreign investment is crippling its economic performance and putting its goal of sustainable growth in danger unless changes are made, local experts and diplomats said this week.

The communist island is in the midst of market-oriented reforms to its Soviet-style system that supposedly will make the island more investor friendly, but potential investors say the Cubans have not yet put out much of a welcoming mat [...]

Cuba's investment reform plan announced last year spoke positively of foreign investment, promised a review of the cumbersome approval process and stated that special economic zones, joint venture golf courses, marinas and new manufacturing projects were planned.

But there have been more promises than changes and many obstacles to foreign investment remain, diplomats said.

A number of countries and their companies, from China, Russia and Brazil to Singapore and various European Union members, have expressed interest in investing in Cuba despite the U.S. trade embargo against the island, but to no avail.

They said the government is demanding a majority interest in all joint ventures and is dragging its heels or obfuscating in negotiations.

It is a complaint shared by many others, who said the Cubans were insisting on 51 percent ownership of new ventures, which companies do not want because they effectively lose control.

Another diplomat from a European country said even signed agreements languish because of the difficulty of finalizing details, whether it be due to lack of government clarity or changes it wants to make.

Must-Watch: #Cryfreedom Cuba

Christian Solidarity Worldwide has begun a new campaign that seeks to tell the truth about the life of Christians and religious persecution in Cuba.

Click here to learn more about the campaign.

And watch the video below featuring the harrowing story of Christian pro-democracy activist Cari Caballero.

Religious Persecution Persists in Cuba

By Teo Babun, Jr., in The Miami Herald:

Five nuns from Our Lady of the Good Shepherd’s congregation returned to Cuba on Aug. 28 with a small statue they had taken 50 years ago when they left after Cuba’s communist revolution. As recognition of the Cuban government’s “advances” toward freedom of religion, the Episcopal Conference of Cuba noted that the religious act was “another sign of the improved relations between the church and the government.”

Interestingly, this past summer, during remarks on the State Department’s annual report on International Religious Freedom, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “Freedom of religion is not just about religion.” For Cubans, in particular, this is very true.

In Cuba, every aspect of life is controlled by the state. Freedoms in general — and specifically freedom of religion — are not fully available, and persecution of those who publicly profess a creed exists today. Freedom of religion is a right that every human being should be allowed to enjoy without restriction of any government or political entity.

Religion in Cuba must be presented in the context of its recent history, in a spirit of truth and justice, putting aside our personal interests or agendas — with no other objective except the truth.

When we talk about Cubans and religion, we must begin with what the people in Cuba have experienced and are experiencing today.

From the 1960s until 1990, discrimination against Christians slowed the growth of churches. Christians suffered under Cuban communism. In the early years some pastors and priests were placed in “re-education camps” a type of “concentration camp” where they were forced to perform manual labor in agriculture in order to survive — and where many met their death. These so-called camps were part of a rehabilitation program known as “military units to help agricultural production” or “UMAP” by its Cuban acronym.

Christians and their families could not receive a good education or good jobs. This pushed religious people to the lowest levels of society. Even by the mid-1980s, Cuba’s government declared Christians could still not hold jobs where they would influence other people, especially children. This means no Christian teachers, social workers, counselors, etc. The result of these restrictions was that very few people wanted to be associated with Christianity as it would lead to the loss of job or status, as well as other discrimination.

One of the hardest realities of this strategy is that children are shamed by their teachers and others to disown religious symbols and renounce religious practices.

In his last newsletter published only a few weeks before his death, Oswaldo Payá, a Catholic, wrote that it is “shameful that a child must feel fear in her school because she attended a church service.”

Religious leaders endure persecution and at times undergo threats from government officials. Some face difficult decisions when their lives and their families’ lives are threatened. Due to fear, they comply with restrictions or requests to cease certain religious activity, such as outdoor concerts or baptism events.

Specific sectors of society, like the police and members of the military and their families, are still discouraged from participating in religious services. Lawyers, government workers and journalists are often effectively barred, usually under threat of losing their jobs.

Although officially the government does not favor any one church or religion, it appears to be more tolerant of those churches that maintain close relations with the state, such as those that belong to the “government friendly” Cuban Council of Churches.

It rewards them with special benefits (such as permits for outdoor services and youth camps). This exclusive favoritism is the cause for division with other religious institutions in the country.

The absence of religious freedom creates a climate of fear and lack of trust, which weakens civil society and creates greater distance between the citizens and those who govern them. And therefore makes it more difficult to achieve any type of common national agenda.

Cubans should be free to promote the understanding of religious freedom embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and other international covenants to their fellow citizens.

Article 18 of the declaration states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

The Cuban government has it wrong. These are human rights which provide dignity. It is the inherent patrimony of all human beings and a right of all Cubans. This is not something “allowed” or “gifted” by any country. Instead, it is the responsibility of governments’ to protect.

In Cuba, the church should be free to define the mission it believes it has received. Christians, Catholics and other believers must be free to practice their faith in whatever manner they believe necessary. Unfortunately this is not the case.

Kudos to Senator Rubio and OFAC

Friday, September 7, 2012
Kudos to U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) for his leadership in denouncing the violations of U.S. law by travel providers hosting tourism junkets to Cuba under the guise of "people-to-people" programs.

And to Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) for defending the integrity of U.S. law, which prohibits tourism travel to Cuba.

It's fascinating to now watch some of these travel providers whining that their licenses aren't being renewed, when for the last year they have been touting their tourism junkets, e.g. baseball games, rum museums, cigar factories, beach visits and dance parties.

Perhaps they should have thought about that beforehand.

In The LA Times:

Less than two years after President Obama set off a boom in Cuban travel by relaxing restrictions on “people-to-people” educational trips, Obama’s Treasury Department has again tightened restrictions, forcing cancellations and delays that have put dozens of educational group trips in limbo.

Though Treasury officials have said little about reasons for the move, it follows complaints by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) about “rampant abuses” in the program, which is intended to foster “meaningful interaction between travelers and inviduals in Cuba.”

The slowdown apparently began May 10, when the U.S. Treasury Department stiffened the requirements for the renewable one-year licenses that allow educational tour operators into Cuba. Jeff Braunger, program manager for the Treasury Department’s Cuba Travel Licensing, said in an e-mail that the application process was tightened “because of reports we received” about licensed trips failing to meet government standards.

There (Carter) Goes Again

Is former U.S. President Jimmy Carter suggesting that Cuban-Americans should be silenced and disenfranchised?

That's not very democratic.

Cuban-Americans do not need to apologize to anyone for expressing their views and exercising their democratic rights in the state of Florida.

From AP:

Former President Jimmy Carter says anti-Castro leaders in Florida have a major and exaggerated influence on the presidential election in that battleground state.

Cuba and North Korea Expand Military Ties

In Havana Times:

Cuban Military Officers Visiting North Korea

A high-level Cuban military delegation arrived in Pyongyang yesterday on an official visit to the Democratic Popular Republic of Korea, reports the Prensa Latina news agency.

The delegation from the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba, headed by its vice minister General Joaquin Quinta Sola, engaged in talks with representatives of the Popular Army of Korea, led by the Deputy Minister Yun Tong Hyon.

Not the Intent of the Cuban Adjustment Act

Thursday, September 6, 2012
Last month, it was reported that the daughter of one of Castro's senior officials, Marino Munillo, who is in charge of Raul's so-called "reforms", had defected to the U.S.

Murillo's daughter, Glenda, crossed the Texas border from Mexico and made her way to Tampa, where she is now residing with an aunt.

Upon crossing the border, Glenda surely asked for asylum and the protections granted to Cuban nationals under the Cuban Refugee Adjustment Act (CRAA).

That's what the CRAA is intended to do -- and must continue to do -- for those seeking freedom.

However, as news spread, Glenda's aunt clarified that she fled "for personal reasons, not political reasons" -- more specifically, to be with her boyfriend in Tampa.

Perhaps Glenda's aunt has other reasons for making this statement, such as protecting Marino Murillo, who reportedly cried when he heard the news.

After all, Castro has no qualms disappearing his "Vice-Presidents" -- just ask Carlos Lage.

But if it was "for love" that Glenda is now in Tampa -- would that be a fair application of the CRAA?

How many Mexicans, Colombians, Venezuelans and other nationalities are patiently awaiting to be reunited with their loved ones in the U.S.?

Yet, Glenda was able to jump the line, as she was presumed -- thanks to the CRAA -- to be a refugee, fleeing for political purposes.

That is not consistent with the original intent of the CRAA.

We must steadfastly continue to protect those who flee persecution, but it's time to close the loophole for those who abuse its generosity.

The "Reform" Storyline

Apparently, Kim has acquired the same PR and lobbying strategy as Gaddafi, Assad and Raul Castro.

Sell bogus "reform" to the foreign media (to distract), while repression increases at home (to consolidate power).

In The Washington Post:

In authoritarian North Korea, hints of reform

Under new leader Kim Jong Eun, North Korea in recent months has shifted its rhetoric to emphasize the economy rather than the military and is introducing small-scale agricultural reforms with tantalizing elements of capitalism, according to diplomats and defector groups with informants in the North.

The changes, which allow farmers to keep more of their crops and sell surpluses in the private market, are in the experimental stage and are easily reversible, analysts caution. But even skeptical North Korea watchers say that Kim’s emerging policies and style — and his frank acknowledgment of the country’s economic problems — hint at an economic opening similar to China’s in the late 1970s.

That Son-of-a-Castro

Wednesday, September 5, 2012
If you can stomach it, here's an excerpt from The Atlantic's look at the privileged (and hypocritical) life of the Castro elite:

Splendor Amid Poverty: Gallery Nights With Cuba's Gilded Elite

A photographer's inside look at the secret lives of Havana's super-rich, just down the street from its many poor, are a reminder that this supposed communist paradise is anything but equal.

On a recent, dark Havana night, the breeze blew the ocean spray over a crumbling sea wall along the city's seaward road as New York photographer Michael Dweck took a seat across a dockside table from Alex Castro, one of Fidel's sons. Alex is balding and solid; in Dweck's photos, part of a larger project to document Cuba's upper crust, the young, hulking Castro sits with his chin in his hands.

Dweck had arrived at the restaurant, a small open air patio with bare lightbulbs hung from buoys, after several wrong turns through the blackened streets of a western suburb. It was a private sort of place, the kind with no signs and several bolts on the front door, popular with "the family," as the Castros are called around here.

"My father," Alex told Dweck in an interview, "is an artist with words. Very good words." He himself is not so verbose. Dweck hunched a little nervously as Alex flipped through a book of Dweck's photos that captured Alex's friends and family in various intimate arrangements. "It's the first time he's seen these," Dweck told me. Waitresses brought out rounds of seared tuna, sushi, and ceviche between bottles of chilled white wine. Alex cruised through the pages, lingering on the shot of his brother's ex-girlfriend posing semi-nude, flipping past the interview quoting him saying that in Cuba, "everyone can better themselves, even without financial resources."

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for a conversation with U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) on foreign policy in the Republican and Democratic National Conventions.

And Tomasz Pisula, Chairman of Poland's Freedom and Democracy Foundation, will discuss Eastern Europe, Russia, Belarus and Governor Mitt Romney's trip last month.

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).

Doing Odebrecht's Bidding in Havana

Last week, Fernando Pimentel, Brazil's Minister of Development, Industry and Foreign Trade, traveled to Havana to meet with Cuban dictator Raul Castro and to visit the Mariel port expansion project undertaken by Brazilian construction company Odebrecht.

The $950 million expansion of the Port of Mariel is known as Raul Castro's key commercial endeavor -- courtesy of Brazil's ruling "Workers' Party" and Odebrecht.

(This is the same Odebrecht that insists upon receiving millions in Florida taxpayer funds, against the democratic will of Floridians.)

According to Brazil's Ambassador to Cuba, Jose Felicio, the Mariel project seeks to undermine U.S. policy and provide economic support to the Castro regime.

"Latin America has a unanimous position as relates to the 'blockade' and the way to reduce its effect is to provide economic and financial support," Felicio told EFE.

Odebrecht's Cuba project also seeks to provide the Castro regime with its first major commercial port, whereby Brazilian companies can relocate to Cuba, exploit the dictatorship's cheap slave-labor, and then export their products.

So much for the "Workers' Party".

On the DNC Floor

Tuesday, September 4, 2012
The image below was captured on the floor of the Democratic National Committee's (DNC) convention tonight.

An activist with a sign seeking to unconditionally ease sanctions towards the Castro dictatorship.

Sadly, it wasn't a sign demanding freedom for the Cuban people, for Castro's American hostage Alan Gross, or for the 538 pro-democracy activists arrested last month alone.

No, it was to allow American travelers to subsidize the Castro dictatorship's tourism monopoly.

The good news is that many at the DNC strongly disagree.

Colombia's Gamble

A great editorial from The Financial Times:

Colombia’s gamble

Peace talks between the Colombian government and Latin America’s oldest insurgency, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc, are on. With a bit of luck and a lot of statecraft, they may even succeed where two promising peace efforts, in 1984 and 1999-2002, proved to be false dawns. For Colombians, this could be the best news in their history.

Not so long ago, Colombia was an almost failed state that had never really known peace. It had been so convulsed by endemic violence, in a civil war at the end of the 19th century and the even bloodier mid-20th century cataclysm known simply as La Violencia, that its survival as a nation was moot. The government’s writ barely reached beyond the city boundaries of Bogotá into a country parcelled up between narcotics barons, paramilitary enforcers and leftwing insurgents typified by the Farc, which has waged war for nearly half a century.

Through an energetic, if controversial and US-backed counter-offensive against the rebels, the state has regained control of much of the country, opening up territory to an oil and mining boom. The Farc have been decimated, by the loss of five leaders since 2008 and a stream of desertions.

The Farc are an ideologically bankrupt anachronism, kept alive by drugs money, kidnapping and cattle-rustling, and helped by the sanctuary offered in the Venezuela of Hugo Chávez, and windy pep talks from the Cuba of the Castros.

But President Juan Manuel Santos is taking a gamble. The last time the rebels agreed to talk, they used the 40,000 square kilometres demilitarised by the government to regroup and rearm. Mr Santos has vowed not to repeat the mistake.

These talks have been preceded by gestures from both sides. The Farc have freed their last captives, some of after more than a decade; and the president has already started the land reform the rebels have always said they wanted. Both Venezuela and Cuba appear to be co-operating with Colombia, as well as standing as guarantors for the Farc.

Yet ending this long war will be very difficult. Unless a ceasefire is agreed and takes hold, violence will remain available as a tactic to exert pressure on the talks. Even more difficult will be reabsorbing rebels who have existed outside the state for three generations, whose only profession is insurgency and the racketeering to finance it. Mr Santos does not just need to make peace, but to find a way to welcome back a lost tribe.

538 Political Arrests in August

According to Cuban independent journalists (CIHPRESS), the Castro regime has conducted over 538 documented political arrests in the month of August 2012.

That brings its 2012 total to 3,636, which means it's en route to shatter its 2011 year-long total of 3,835 political arrests.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

DNC Platform on Cuba

Monday, September 3, 2012
Here's the Democratic National Committee (DNC) platform on Cuba:

Under President Obama, we have undertaken the most significant efforts in decades to engage the Cuban people. We have focused on the importance of family ties between Cuban-Americans and their relatives still living under oppression. Because of the steps the President has taken, it is now possible for Cuban-Americans to visit and support their families in Cuba, and to send remittances that reduce the Cuban people's dependence on the Cuban state.

We have taken additional steps to bolster Cuban civil society, expanding purposeful exchanges that bolster independent religious groups on the island and enhancing the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people. Going forward we will continue to support the Cuban people's desire to freely determine their own future.

For comparative purposes, you can click here for the GOP platform on Cuba.

Travelers "Shocked" by Castro's New Tax

From AP:

Shock, confusion at Havana airport as sharp hike in customs fees takes effect

A steep hike in customs duties has taken effect in Cuba, catching some air travelers unaware and leaving others irate at the new fees.

Nelida Diaz is a Cuban-American who often travels back to the island to see family. She says she was shocked when officials charged her $588 at customs.

Travelers are allowed to bring in 66 pounds (30 kilograms) of miscellaneous goods without being charged. Everything after that gets taxed at $4.55 a pound ($10 per kilogram).

Propaganda Tours to Cuba

In The Miami Herald:

Eight days in Cuba

I have just returned from Havana on what was billed by the tour operator as a licensed cultural exchange.

As a Miami resident of many years, a gringo with a United States passport and no relatives in Cuba, I jumped at the opportunity to visit the controversial island nation to see and hear first-hand what it was all about.

I wanted to be able to read The Herald and speak with my Cuban-American friends with my own direct perspective. I left for Cuba with a completely open mind. I returned from Cuba having been bombarded by pro-Castro propaganda, revisionist history, exaggerations, insults and some outright lies for eight days convinced that the Cuban government and its minions were, in fact, enemies of the United States with a particular hatred for Miami and its people.

Worse. Nothing will ever change. The sweet folks of Cuba are denied Internet access for fact checking the official and only newspaper, Granma. Educated Cubans, the 40-something middle class, have been completely indoctrinated to the Castros’ hard line and will rule Cuba 30 years from now exactly the way it is currently tyrannized.

Happily, as I pointed out to a young Cuban diplomat who lectured us on our evil ways, “In the current global scheme of things, Cuba is unimportant. Do your thing.”

Cuba offers excellent cigars, passable rum and very little else. Sadly, some of my fellow travelers without my perspective bought into the propaganda. Me? With what I have seen, heard and learned during eight days in Havana, I will vote to sustain our embargo, which the Cuban spokesmen hate with a passion, forever.

Mark Shyman, Miami Beach

Obama Should Require Reciprocity for "Cultural Exchanges"

By Angel Castillo Jr. in Florida Voices:

Obama's “Cultural Exchanges” With Cuba Remain One-Way Propaganda Street

When he is wearing his customary sleeveless T-shirts, it is easy to spot Yoandys Lores. He’s the one sporting fashionable sunglasses, a Che Guevara-style black beret and a large portrait of a young Fidel Castro tattooed on his upper left arm.

Lores, whose stage name is “Baby Lores,” is a 28-year-old cigar-smoking, Cuban reggaeton singer whose music unabashedly extols the glories of the Castro regime.

Now, thanks to President Obama’s one-way cultural exchange policy, Lore has obtained a permit to perform in this country, starting in Miami. Lores is going to perform at Little Havana’s Ache Supper Club in September. Tickets are $40 for general admission and $50 for the VIP section. His “Tour USA 2012” also includes dates in Tampa and New York City, among other cities.

In his recent song “Creo” (“I believe”) Lores declared himself a militant who supports Fidel Castro’s revolution. He calls compatriots who disagree with him “imbeciles” and sings to them mockingly: “If you don’t like it here, then leave and go over there, but don’t try to return later on.”

In an interview, Lores, who has previously toured in Europe, said he had Fidel Castro’s tattoo etched on his arm because he was tired of foreign journalists asking him if he supported the regime. “I wanted to send a message.”

His visit to Miami, the heart of the anti-Castro Cuban exile community, is another iteration of a long-running campaign by the Castro brothers to rub their propaganda in the noses of political adversaries. Last year another Castro-docile musical group, “Los Van Van,” also played at Club Ache.

To be allowed to travel abroad and earn hard currency, Cuban artists like Lores must be loyal to the dictatorship. They act as promoters for the idea that the United States and Cuba should become friends again – without Cuba having to make any changes toward democracy or respect human rights on the island.

Meanwhile, on Cuba’s radio and television stations, anti-Castro Cuban performers of worldwide fame -- like Gloria Estefan, Willy Chirino and Paquito D’Rivera -- remain banned. Neither are they allowed to perform in Cuba.

Personally, I could not care less if Raul Castro, Cuba’s current top comandante, comes to Club Ache to do a striptease and sing “Guantanamera.” I believe the free market in a democratic society, and the laws of supply and demand, should govern. Those who want to give their Yankee dollars to Cuban performers aligned with the Castro dictatorship should be free to do so.

I won’t be among them. Not just because I despise Castro’s propaganda stooges, but because I find Lore’s singing and lyrics mediocre, and no match for his contemporary, Miami’s Cuban-American rap and pop sensation Pitbull.

However, if President Obama had any intellectual and moral integrity, he would require these “cultural exchanges” become a two-way street. No other performer from Cuba should be allowed to come to the United States until Cuban performers who live in this country, and who have broken with the communist regime, are allowed to perform in Cuba.

Angel Castillo, Jr., a former reporter and editor for the New York Times and The Miami Herald.

The Sad Truth "From Havana"

Sunday, September 2, 2012
An excerpt by Cuban blogger Ivan Garcia in "Desde La Habana" ("From Havana"):

Castro is only interested in the money that comes from emigres. That they come to Cuba and spend lots of money. That they bring more dollars each time. But he wants them at arms length. Forget about business in strategic sectors. It's better to keep milking them by taxing their trips and the packages they send to the island. The Castro brothers have no desire to treat emigres fairly.

When the exile community learns how to use its economic might as a weapon, it will force the government to change its antiquated discourse and anachronistic laws. In the meantime, he only needs them to keep filling the piggy bank.

Read the whole thing (in Spanish) here.