Sonia and Beyonce: Two Black Women in Cuba

Saturday, April 6, 2013
By Alberto de la Cruz of Babalu Blog:

This is a tale of two black women in Cuba: One a victim of apartheid in Cuba, the other a beneficiary of apartheid in Cuba.

The first is Sonia Garro, born and raised in Cuba. She is currently residing in a Castro prison for the crime of demanding respect for human rights and the freedom to express her views. After being violently arrested, she and her husband (who is also black) have been held for more than a year by the Castro dictatorship without charges and without a trial. The world for the most part does not know who she is and there has been little to no outcry for the injustice she is suffering.

The second black woman is Beyonce Carter, an American music superstar born and raised in the United States. She is currently vacationing in Cuba with her husband, music mogul Jay-Z, as VIP guests of the apartheid dictatorship of the Castro family. She is enjoying the luxuries offered in Cuba only to foreigners, which is staffed by the slaves owned by the Cuban regime, the majority of which are Afro Cubans. The world has been enthralled by the stories and pictures coming out of Cuba of her and her husband strolling the streets of Havana accompanied by bodyguards and handlers from the Castro dictatorship. For the most part, there has been little to no outcry over their incredibly insensitive and idiotic decision to vacation in Cuba and provide support and publicity for a racist regime that would have imprisoned her and her outspoken husband if they had the misfortune of being born in Cuba.

Now imagine how a black Cuban woman like Sonia Garro must feel after hearing that a prominent and influential black American woman has visited her country and instead of advocating for and demanding her release and the end of the apartheid system in Cuba, she is instead partying with regime officials and enjoying amenities not only built and maintained by enslaved blacks in Cuba, but denied to them as well.

Letter to OFAC on Beyonce and Jay-Z's Trip

Congress of the United States
Washington, DC 20515

April 5, 2013

The Honorable Adam J. Szubin
Director
Office of Foreign Assets Control
Department of Treasury
1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20220

Dear Director Szubin:

We write to express concern and to request information regarding the highly publicized trip by U.S. musicians Beyoncé Knowles-Carter (Beyoncé) and Shawn Carter (Jay-Z) to Cuba. We would like to respectfully request, within all applicable rules and guidelines, information regarding the type of license that Beyoncé and Jay-Z received, for what purpose, and who approved such travel.

As you know, U.S. law expressly prohibits the licensing of financial transactions for “tourist activities” in Cuba (Section 910(b)(1) of the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act).  If these individuals were given people-to-people licenses, we would like to bring to your attention the Cuba Travel Advisory issued by OFAC on July 25, 2011 which states, “OFAC only licenses People-to-People Groups that certify that all participants will have a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that will result in meaningful interaction between the travelers and individuals in Cuba.” These restrictions are in place because the Cuban dictatorship is one of four U.S.-designated state sponsors of terrorism with one of the world’s most egregious human rights records.  Cuba’s tourism industry is wholly state-controlled; therefore, U.S. dollars spent on Cuban tourism directly fund the machinery of oppression that brutally represses the Cuban people.

Despite the clear prohibition against tourism in Cuba, numerous press reports described the couple’s trip as tourism, and the Castro regime touted it as such in its propaganda. We represent a community of many who have been deeply and personally harmed by the Castro regime’s atrocities, including former political prisoners and the families of murdered innocents.  The restrictions on tourism travel are common-sense measures meant to prevent U.S. dollars from supporting a murderous regime that opposes U.S. security interests at every turn and which ruthlessly suppresses the most basic liberties of speech, assembly, and belief.  We support the Cuban people by refusing to sustain their jailers.

Thank you very much for your assistance in this important matter and look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
Member of Congress

Mario Diaz-Balart
Member of Congress

TMZ: Jay and Bey's "Ignorant and Insensitive" Cuban Vacay

From TMZ:

Jay-Z and Beyonce: Blasted for 'Ignorant and Insulting' Cuban Vacation

Jay-Z and Beyonce are clueless about the tortures happening in Cuba, and it's insulting they chose to visit the communist country for a celebration ... so says a Cuban rights lobbyist.

Mauricio Claver-Carone, the D.C. director for the US-Cuba Democracy PAC -- a group committed to fighting for democracy in Cuba -- tells TMZ the A-listers should've educated themselves about what's really going on there before taking photo ops.

Jay and Bey were photographed Thursday in Havana -- reportedly to celebrate their 5th wedding anniversary -- but have since come under fire from some Cuban-American groups.

US citizens are still technically banned from traveling to the island purely for tourism ... and are supposed to obtain a travel license from the US government.

Mauricio says he's disappointed the superstars chose to vacay in Cuba because, "There are women getting beaten on a daily basis, women who are being jailed for no reason ... people are fighting for their freedom. It’s extremely insensitive."

We reached out to Beyonce and Jay-Z for comment. So far ... nada back.

TMZ Interview on Beyonce and Jay-Z in Cuba

Cuba's Venezuelan Pawn

By Mary Anastasia OGrady in The Wall Street Journal:

Cuba's Venezuelan Pawn

Venezuela's military government will hold what it refers to as a presidential "election" on April 14, and one of the candidates on the ballot will be Hugo Chávez's handpicked successor, Nicólas Maduro. The 50-year-old union leader-cum-politician was named Venezuela's acting president after it was announced on March 5 that Chávez had died. In all likelihood, Mr. Maduro will win the election, using the dubious methods perfected by Chávez and with whatever help Havana feels it necessary to provide.

Having started out in bus-driver training, Mr. Maduro is being presented to the world as almost an accidental president. But as the Cuban-born writer Carlos Alberto Montaner explained in a column in Miami's El Nuevo Herald last week, Mr. Maduro's rise to power in Venezuela is anything but coincidental. Cuba has long had its eye on Venezuela's oil, and Mr. Maduro seems to have been in training to help with that goal for decades.

Venezuela has a constitution but doesn't use it much. Chávez's "inauguration" as president for a new term in January, despite his failure to appear at the swearing-in ceremony, is but one example. Mr. Maduro's appointment last month as interim president is another. According to the constitution, that job should have gone to the president of the national assembly, Diosdado Cabello.

Mr. Cabello didn't get the nod most probably because Cuba did not approve. The tropical communist island is an economic wreck after 54 years of Castro leadership and only survives thanks to oil subsidies from Venezuela. In exchange Cuba controls all the levers of state security and intelligence that help chavismo keep a lid on dissent. That means that Cuba has both the means and the motive to ensure that someone sympathetic to the needs of the Cuban elite follows Chávez.

Mr. Cabello could not be trusted. He is known as a nationalist and, having come from the military, he maintains close ties to the men in uniform. Many of them are whispered to resent the enormous influence that Cuba has in running their country and the largess that Venezuela gives to Havana while so many Venezuelans are living in dire poverty. Allowing Mr. Cabello to sit in the presidential chair, no matter how "temporarily" was likely considered too risky by the Castro brothers.

Mr. Maduro, on the other hand, is a known quantity in Havana, according to Mr. Montaner. Indeed, as it turns out, Cuba seems to have been grooming him for just such a post for many years. Mr. Montaner based his reporting on the testimony of an alleged former Cuban agent who says that Mr. Maduro attended Cuba's special school for political leadership, Escuela Ñico López, in the 1980s. "Judging from this information," Mr. Montaner writes, Mr. Maduro is "an old collaborator of Castro intelligence. Because of that, Raúl Castro convinced Hugo Chávez that he was his natural heir." All that's left now is the formality.

The Propaganda Value of Beyonce's Cuba Trip

Friday, April 5, 2013
The Castro dictatorship is overjoyed by the trip to Havana of American pop and hip-hop stars Beyonce and Jay-Z.

Castro's state media was the first to post pictures of the trip and to tip off foreign news bureaus on the island about the star's presence and whereabouts.

Why?

Because the foreign media has been focusing too much on critical Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez and pro-democracy leaders Rosa Maria Paya and Berta Soler.

Thus, the Castro's needed a distraction.

But don't take our word for it.

From Reuters:

Media focused on dissident instead of Beyonce, Cuban official laments

The media is too fixated on Cuba's best-known dissident, blogger Yoani Sanchez, who is on an 80-day multination tour, and has not focused enough on important news in Cuba like the visit of pop star Beyonce, a Cuban official said on Thursday.

Jose Cabanas, the top Cuban diplomat based in the United States, said Sanchez was garnering much more media coverage than necessary after she was granted a passport and set off in February on a journey to more than a dozen countries.

"Too much attention has been devoted to this lady, taking a lot of attention from the most important ... news that has been happening these days in regards to Cuba," Cabanas said in response to a question at the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based think tank.

"Including the presence of Beyonce, the singer, who is today in Havana, enjoying a lot of attention from the public, but it's not covered by the media - incredible."


Must-Watch: What Beyonce and Kathy Castor Will Not See in Cuba

Thursday, April 4, 2013
While American pop star Beyonce and U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) wine and dine in Havana, here's what their Cuban hosts are doing to peaceful women that dare protest in the streets.

Note their concern -- and consequentially, their tremendous courage -- as they know exactly the violent reaction they're going to face.

Ironically, the women repressed in this video are members of the Rosa Parks Civil Rights Movement.

Click below to watch:

Will Beyonce and Jay-Z Intervene for Imprisoned Cuban Rapper?

American pop and hip-hop stars Beyonce and Jay-Z are currently visiting Havana with an entourage.

The Castro regime has already seized on the trip's propaganda value and posted pictures of the couple's tour of Old Havana.

Cuban state media has reported that the stars are in Cuba as "tourists."  We hope that is not the case, as no American should be above the law.

However, while in Cuba, will Beyonce and Jay-Z intervene for Ángel Yunier Remón Arzuaga, an independent rapper best known as “El Critico de Arte” from the hip-hop duo “Los Hijos Que Nadie Quiso” (‘The Unwanted Children’), who has been imprisoned since March 21st for his lyrics critical of the Castro regime?

Or for Sonia Garro, an Afro-Cuban member of the Ladies in White pro-democracy movement, who has been in prison since March 18th of last year?

Or provide medical care for Yris Tamara Aguilera, head of the Rosa Park's Civil Rights Movement, who is being denied access to treatment pursuant to a brutal beating and concussion at the hand of Castro regime officials?

Or will they just wine and dine at the Castro regime's hotels, restaurants and nightclubs (escorted by "culture officials"), fulfilling a propaganda dream for Cuba's brutal dictatorship?

Tweet(s) of the Day

What "Drives" Us Against Odebrecht?

The President of Odebrecht USA, Gilberto Neves, claims to be unaware of why we oppose his company's business ties with Cuba.

I don’t know what’s driving them,” Neves told The Miami Herald about efforts to stop public contracting with Odebrecht, while it continues partnering with the Castro regime.

Here's what "drives" us, Mr. Neves:

- For over a decade, Odebrecht has received billions of dollars in taxpayer money from Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County, a community that has suffered greatly at the hands of the brutal Castro dictatorship.

- Insensitive to this, in 2010, Odebrecht entered into a strategic partnership with the Cuban military to modernize the Port of Mariel, a priority business objective of the Castro regime.

- It is also partnering with the Cuban military to create the Mariel Special Development Zone, in order to facilitate "maquilas" (and exploit slave labor) for the Castro regime, a known violator of international labor norms.

- Odebrecht's business partners in Cuba routinely harass, torture and imprison thousands of peaceful democracy activists -- including women and children -- each year.  Not to mention deprive 11.5 million human beings of internationally-recognized human, political, civil and economic rights.

- Former Brazilian President Lula da Silva inked the Port of Mariel deal in Havana between Odebrecht and the Castro regime on the same day that Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo died from an 85-day hunger strike.

- In order not to offend the Castro regime and complete the deal for Odebrecht, Lula compared Orlando Zapata Tamayo and Cuban dissidents to "common criminals."

- Despite concerns raised by Miami-Dade County officials in 2011 about Odebrecht's partnership with the Castro regime, Odebrecht decided to double-down on its business ties with Cuba and in 2012 also contracted with the Castro regime to help manage its sugar industry.

- Today, Odebrecht remains the Castro regime's most trusted foreign business partner.  Odebrecht was similarly one of former Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez's closest business partners.  Chavez boasted of his close friendship with Odebrecht's executives.  As Reuters reported last week, now Odebrecht is pushing for Chavez's appointed successor in order to protect its business ties with the Venezuelan government.

- During her recent trip to Brazil, Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez publicly questioned the Brazilian government's indifference to human rights violations in Cuba.  The answer is simple: Brazil's silence and indifference is to protect Odebrecht's business ties with the Castro brothers.

- Florida taxpayers spoke nearly unanimously - through their elected representatives - not to have their money spent on companies that do business with the brutal dictatorships of Cuba and Syria.

- Due to Odebrecht's absolute unwillingness to sever ties with the Castro dictatorship, it instead decided to legally challenge the democratic will of Florida's taxpayers.

- Nearly 62% of Miami-Dade County voters said during the November 2012 election that they did not want their taxpayer funds used to contract with companies that partner with the regimes of Cuba, Iran, Syria and Sudan.

- Odebrecht has proven it has no respect for Florida's taxpayers, let alone for the victims of Castro's dictatorship.

- Used to inking back-room deals with the Castro brothers in Havana, Chavez in Caracas and Gaddafi in Tripoli, Odebrecht wants to force its will upon the taxpayers of Miami-Dade County.

The question remains: Will Miami-Dade County's elected officials allow them to do so?

From The Miami Herald:

Contractor Odebrecht USA has invited construction trade organizations to attend an information session Monday on a massive new project for Miami International Airport called Airport City. But don’t expect to see the Latin Builders Association there.

The LBA will skip the session because a subsidiary of Odebrecht’s Brazilian parent company is renovating the Cuban Port of Mariel. That connection has put the Coral Gables-based Odebrecht USA in political hot water. Several county commissioners have opposed giving the firm any more work.

“We must be steadfast in our resolve for our brothers in Cuba,” LBA President Bernie Navarro wrote in a letter. “We can’t allow Odebrecht to traffic with our suffering. Our position is not negotiable.”

Navarro, however, made sure to call Gilberto Neves, Odebrecht USA’s president, “a class act.” “His actions and respect for this community are not the same as those of his corporate parent,” he wrote.

Navarro’s letter was distributed by Mauricio Claver-Carone, executive director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee in Washington that has vocally complained about Odebrecht’s ties to Cuba. A handful of Miami-Dade cities have approved legislation opposing Airport City.

“I don’t know what’s driving them,” Neves told The Miami Herald’s editorial board last week about the cities’ resolutions. “I hope that the benefits of [the project] outweigh that.”

Religious Persecution Intensifies in Cuba

Wednesday, April 3, 2013
From Christian Solidarity Worldwide:

Events in the first quarter of 2013 point to an ongoing trend of a broader political crackdown on religious freedom in Cuba, while reported violations tripled in 2012, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s (CSW’s) latest report on religious freedom in Cuba.

Religious freedom violations reported to CSW in 2012, many involving dozens of people at a time, rose to 120 compared to 40 in 2011. These numbers do not include the hundreds of devout Catholics who were arrested, sometimes with force, and arbitrarily imprisoned during the week of the Pope’s visit, in order to prevent them from attending any of the scheduled Masses or other events.

After a period in which it appeared that the government was moving towards more subtle and refined pressure on church leaders, 2012 saw a return of the use of more brutal and public tactics. For the first time in years, CSW received multiple reports of violent beatings of Protestant pastors in different parts of the country. In one particularly egregious case, Pastor Reutilio Columbie of the Shalom Christian Centre, a Pentecostal church in Moa, Holguín Province, was left with permanent brain damage following a violent attack as he travelled from his home to the provincial capital to file a legal complaint against local Communist Party officials who had illegally confiscated a vehicle owned by and licensed to the church.

The government has in general moved away from issuing lengthy prison sentences to political dissidents, and now employs a strategy of frequent, temporary arbitrary detention without charge; a tactic increasingly used against religious leaders and Christians who are explicitly prevented from attending Sunday morning services. There were also increased reports of threats of forced closure and demolition of church buildings, as well as confiscation of property, often ordered by the Office of Religious Affairs (ORA), an arm of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party (CCP) and which has authority over all religious groups and associations.

Discrimination against Christians continues to be a problem; children are particularly vulnerable. Earlier this month a primary school-aged girl who attends a Baptist church in Ciego de Avila province was barred from school and threatened with expulsion for refusing to proclaim that “Comandante Hugo Chávez was more important than Jesus Christ” during compulsory memorial activities organised in the wake of President Chávez’ death. CSW has also received reports that children of church leaders, particularly outside Havana, are frequently singled out for harassment and ridicule because of their faith by teachers and school administrators.

Read the full report here.

Odebrecht Facilitating Cuban Slave Labor

The Castro regime is a known violator of international labor conventions.

Its labor practices are in violation of the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention, the Equal Remuneration Convention, the Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention and the Labor Inspection Convention.

Despite this, Brazil's Odebrecht is helping the Castro brothers set up a "maquila" monopoly for the regime ("the Mariel Special Development Zone"), whereby foreign companies can set up manufacturing operations (in partnership with the Cuban military), in order to exploit the island's slave labor conditions.

And this is the same company that Miami-Dade County wants to keep rewarding with Cuban-American taxpayer dollars, despite the unanimous objection of Florida's legislature and the opposition of a majority of the county's voters.

From AFP:

Cuba on Tuesday unveiled rules for its first free trade manufacturing zone, a vast $900 million project being paid for mostly by Brazil in the port of Mariel near Havana.

The Mariel Special Development Zone, a major trial balloon being floated by President Raul Castro's communist government, is slated to feature manufacturing operations both for export and for the Cuban market, as well as a megaport that would take over shipping now done in Havana.

The government on Tuesday published a legal decree in the Official Gazette detailing rules for the area and its operations.

Brazilian multinational Odebrecht is handling the infrastructure on the project, and Brazil is providing $640 million in financing, with Cuba handling the rest.


354 Political Arrests in March

According to the Havana-based Cuban Commission for Human Rights (CCHR), the Castro regime conducted over 354 known political arrests during the month of March.

These are only arrests that are known and have been fully documented, as many more are believed to have taken place.

Furthermore, the CCHR reports:

"The CCHR and the majority of dissident organizations do not perceive any credible signs that the Cuban government is willing to undertake real reforms, despite the urgency with which our country needs them. Instead, the regime that has ruled Cuba for over 54 years keeps buying itself time for the sake of 'lasting to rule and ruling to last' and sending false signals to confuse and distract the international community of democratic nations and domestic and international public opinion."

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for a discussion on trouble brewing in Pakistani politics with Dr. Daniel Markey, Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Then, Business Insider's Rob Wile on whether "peak oil is dead."

Dr. Dan Twining, former senior State Department official, on the National Intelligence Council's (NIC) Global Trends 2030 Report.  Twining, currently with the German Marshall Fund of the United States, served as a consultant on the NIC's report.

And Kelly Stoetzel, director of TED, on the global conferences non-profit.

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

Why Cuba Remains a State-Sponsor of Terrorism

Tuesday, April 2, 2013
By Mauricio Claver-Carone in The Journal of the American Enterprise Institute ("The American"):

Cuba Sees an Opening

The State Department is reportedly considering dropping Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. Doing so would hand Havana a major – and unmerited – diplomatic victory.

Cuba’s Castro brothers have spent billions of dollars over the last decade seducing U.S. farm bureaus and agri-business to lobby Congress to support lifting sanctions on Cuba. Recently recognizing that Congress is unlikely to support unconditional changes, and perceiving a possible opening with the new Secretary of State John Kerry, Castro lobbyists have shifted their focus to the Obama administration and a related goal: the removal of Cuba from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Kerry supported unilaterally easing sanctions on Cuba during his Senate career, and speculation that the State Department is considering removing Cuba from the state sponsor list – which also includes Iran, Sudan, and Syria – has been spurred by news reports citing contradictory remarks from anonymous administration sources. Some high-level diplomats have suggested Cuba be dropped from the list, according to the Boston Globe. But the State Department's spokesperson Victoria Nuland clarified in late February that it had “no current plans” to change Cuba's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. However, that has not slowed efforts by those seeking rapprochement with the Castro regime, as a final decision will not be officially revealed until April 30.

Cuba has been on the state sponsors of terrorism list since 1982 due to its hostile acts and support of armed insurgency groups. While being on the list of terrorist sponsors imposes sanctions such as prohibiting the United States from selling arms or providing economic assistance, removing Cuba from that list would have little effect on these sanctions, as these were separately codified in 1996. However, it would certainly hand the Castro brothers a major – and unmerited – diplomatic victory. The Castros have long protested and sought to escape the ostracism associated with the terrorism listing, while refusing to modify the egregious behavior that earned them the designation. They are also hoping the change could improve their standing among otherwise reluctant members of Congress and lead to an unconditional lifting of sanctions in the near future.

Pursuant to the statutory criteria stipulated under Section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act (as currently re-authorized under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act), Cuba can only be removed from the state sponsors of terrorism list in two ways:

Option one is to have the U.S. president submit a report to Congress certifying that there has been a fundamental change in the leadership and policies of Cuba’s government, that Cuba no longer supports acts of international terrorism, and that Cuba has provided “assurances” that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.

It would be disingenuous for anyone to argue that there has been a “fundamental change” when the Castros have ruled Cuba with an iron fist for 54 years. Option one does not pass the laugh test.

Option two is to have the president decide to terminate the listing and submit, at least 45 days before doing so, a report to Congress that the Cuban government has not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding six months and has made assurances to the United States that it will not support terrorist acts in the future.

It would be an insult to the American people if Cuba were to be removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism based solely on assurances of change by a dictatorship that brutally represses its population, defies the rule of law, routinely foments anti-Americanism around the world with provocative anti-democratic rhetoric, and is holding in its prisons an American aid worker, Alan P. Gross. Arrested in December 2009, Gross’s “crime” was helping members of Cuba’s Jewish community connect to the Internet.

The last time the United States relied on a dictator’s “assurances” to justify removing a country from the sponsors list was in 2008, when President George W. Bush accepted the assurances of the Kim family that North Korea would not provide support for or engage in international terrorism. That obviously has not worked out well.

The Castro brothers’ lack of credibility alone is legally sufficient to prohibit changing Cuba's designation. Cuba should also be disqualified because it continues to promote and support international terrorism. The State Department’s 2011 Country Reports on Terrorism lays out a three-point rationale for Cuba’s designation as a sponsor of terrorism:

First, “current and former members of Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) continue to reside in Cuba … Press reporting indicated that the Cuban government provided medical care and political assistance to the FARC. There was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training for either ETA or the FARC.”

The United States designates ETA and the FARC as foreign terrorist organizations and Cuba continues to provide support for both groups. The favorite new argument of those seeking Cuba’s removal from the list is to note that peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC are taking place in Havana. But the United States would need to rescind its designation of ETA and the FARC as foreign terrorist organizations before it could remove Cuba from the terrorism sponsor list. More importantly, there is no peace agreement or peace in Colombia and ETA continues to threaten Spain.

Testifying on Colombia before the House Armed Services Committee, General John F. Kelly, head of the U.S. Southern Command, provided some perspective:

"Terrorist groups represent a persistent challenge that has plagued the region for decades. The FARC is the region’s oldest, largest, most capable, and best equipped insurgency. The government of Colombia is currently in peace negotiations with the FARC, but the fight is far from over and a successful peace accord is not guaranteed. Although weakened, the FARC continues to confront the Colombian state by employing improvised explosive devices and attacking energy infrastructure and oil pipelines."

Second, the State Department country report says that “the Cuban government continued to permit fugitives wanted in the United States to reside in Cuba and also provided support such as housing, food ration books, and medical care for these individuals.”

That has not changed either. The FBI estimates that Cuba has provided safe harbor to more than 70 fugitives from U.S. justice who live on the island under the protection of the Castro regime. Some of these fugitives are charged with or have been convicted of murder, kidnapping, and hijacking, and they include notorious killers of police officers in New Jersey and New Mexico.

Warranting special mention are the outstanding U.S. indictments against Cuban Air Force pilots Lorenzo Alberto Pérez-Pérez and Francisco Pérez-Pérez and General Rubén Martínez Puente, the head of the Cuban Air Force, who in 1996 ordered the pilots to shoot down two civilian American aircraft over international waters in the Florida Straits. That act of terrorism killed four men, three of them American citizens.

Third, the State Department report says that the Financial Action Task Force has identified Cuba as having deficiencies in combatting money laundering and terrorism financing. In February, the Castro regime made “a high-level political commitment” to work with the FATF to address money laundering and the flow of money through Cuba to terrorists. There has been no discernible effort since to criminalize money laundering or to establish procedures to identify and freeze the assets of terrorists.

The State Department’s previous rationale for continuing to list Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism stands and now new justifications can be added:

Terrorism is defined in U.S. law as “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” The arrest and arbitrary imprisonment of Alan P. Gross for actions internationally protected under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Cuba is a signatory, is an act of terrorism. Moreover, the Castro regime has now made it clear that Gross will be held hostage until the United States releases five Cuban spies convicted in U.S. federal courts.

In addition, thousands of Cuban soldiers and intelligence officials are stationed in Venezuela. Cuba’s presence and control over the highest levels of Venezuela’s military, police, and intelligence services not only threatens to subvert democracy in that nation, but it allows those Venezuelan authorities to be Cuba’s proxies in trafficking drugs and weapons, and in providing support to such extremist organizations as Hezbollah and Iran’s al-Quds.

Cuba’s close political ties with other state sponsors of terrorism – particularly Iran and Syria – and its history of sharing intelligence with rogue regimes are of serious concern and, according to former U.S. intelligence officials, pose a risk to U.S. counter-terrorism efforts in the Middle East and elsewhere.

As President Obama himself recognized last month when he renewed the “national emergency” designation regulating the movement and anchorage of vessels in the Florida Straits (a yearly evaluation process undertaken by U.S. presidents since the 1996 downing of U.S. civilian aircraft by the Castro regime), “the Cuban government has not demonstrated that it will refrain from the use of excessive force against U.S. vessels or aircraft that may engage in memorial activities or peaceful protest north of Cuba.”

To remove Cuba from the state sponsors of terrorism list based on mere hopes of bettering relations would be foreign-policy malpractice. Cuba must earn its removal from this list. Clearly it has not done so, and, as long as the Castro brothers retain their absolute control over the island, nor is it likely to do so.

Mauricio Claver-Carone is a director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC and host of "From Washington al Mundo" on Sirius-XM's Cristina Radio. He is an attorney, served as an attorney-advisor with the U.S. Treasury Department, and was a member of the law faculty at the Catholic University of America and George Washington University.

Quote(s) of the Day

Monday, April 1, 2013
With its monumental spaces and its winter nights, which we shared with a community of Cubans, who until then knew us only through the internet, Washington seemed like the most civil city in the world, free of armed troops guarding government buildings, and with a sea of students excitedly visiting Capitol Hill and the White House. Such a thing would be inconceivable at the ministries in my country.
-- Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, Cuban artist and blogger, on his recent trip to Washington, D.C., Sampsonia Way, 4/1/13

We are going to need each other for a future Cuba and we need each other in the present Cuba. Without you our country would be incomplete, as if someone had amputated its limbs. We cannot allow them to continue to divide us.
-- Yoani Sanchez, Cuban blogger, in her remarks today at Miami-Dade Community College (MDCC), 4/1/13

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for a conversation on the political and economic implications of Zimbabwe's new Constitution with the Brooking Institution's Mwangi Kimenyi.

Then, Forbes columnist Gordon Chang on his latest piece, "Did China Just Declare War on Apple?  Looks Like it."

Dr. Tim Stanley of the U.K.'s Telegraph on the North Korean regime's drug-trafficking network.

And former Ethiopian government official Dawit Giorgis on the radicalization of African Islam.

You can 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).

WSJ on Sonia Garro: Two Easters in Castro's Dungeons

By Mary Anastasia O'Grady in The Wall Street Journal:

Two Easters in Castro's Dungeons

For speaking about human rights, Sonia Garro has been held in prison without charge since March 18, 2012.

It's hard to believe a year has passed since Pope Benedict XVI visited Cuba and met with the Castro brothers. Tempus fugit. That is, unless you're Sonia Garro, a dissident who has been sitting in a Cuban jail since then. For her, time moves painfully slow. Ms. Garro's sister, Yamilet, recently told the independent online newspaper Diario de Cuba that Sonia "feels she has been forgotten."

That's exactly how her jailers want it.

Ms. Garro is a 37-year-old mother and a member of a women's group that supports the Ladies in White. Both groups work for the release of political prisoners. Ms. Garro just spent her second Easter in lock-up even though she has never been charged with a crime. She is now being held at the notorious Manto Negro prison.

Her husband, Ramón Alejandro Muñoz, who tried to defend his wife, was arrested at the same time and also has never been charged. He is being held at Havana's maximum-security Combinado del Este prison. Both jails are run down, rat-infested dungeons where neither international Red Cross observers nor the United Nations special rapporteur on torture are permitted. Government investigators say they are still mulling over their cases. The couple's 16-year-old daughter is in the care of her aunt.

Welcome to the surreal world of Cuban "reform," where the more the regime talks of change, the worse things get for anyone with a conscience. In the latest episode, Cuban propagandists have been flaunting the new travel policy that has allowed a few high-profile government critics out of the country. But a much larger group has been left behind. Their inhumane treatment, rarely covered by the media, underscores how little progress has been made.

Ms. Garro and Mr. Muñoz were taken from their home on March 18, 2012, a week before Benedict was scheduled to arrive on the island for a three-day visit. The Ladies in White and Ms. Garro's group, Ladies in Support, had been refused an audience with the pope but they were still agitating to see him in the hope that the Vatican would relent. Suddenly armed guards from the ministry of the interior descended on the Garro-Muñoz home.

Journalist Iván Garciá recently interviewed a neighbor who was there for a report published in Diario de Cuba on March 19. The guards "were dressed like riot police in American films. They used rubber bullets. They employed exaggerated violence; they detained Sonia and her husband Ramón. They took away almost all their belongings. It was something tremendous. They treated them as if they were terrorists." In a letter written from prison in February, Mr. Muñoz said 60 armed men invaded his house that day and one of the rubber bullets hit Ms. Garro in the left leg.

Ms. Garro is poor, black, generous in spirit and nonconformist—in short everything the regime detests and fears. Born in 1975, 17 years after Fidel Castro seized power, she has lived the racism and impoverishment of the glorious revolution. Mr. García reported that Ms. Garro told him in 2009 that she grew up in "a marginalized and violent neighborhood" but believed that if she studied and worked hard "I could change my luck."

The revolution had other ideas. One example: She studied to be a lab technician and earned highest honors. Because of this her diploma was to be presented in person by the minister of public health at graduation. Just before the ceremony a government official told her that someone else would stand in for her because her dark skin would spoil the photo. She told Mr. García that she never picked up her diploma.

Later she was fired from her job because of her husband's opposition to Fidel. That's when she learned to sew and began working out of her home to earn a living. She noticed the children in the streets in her neighborhood. Girls as young as 13 and 14 were working as prostitutes, and other children were getting hurt because they had no supervision. Ms. Garro opened a community center for them in 2007.

"The first rule was no talking politics," Ms. Garro told Mr. García. The children were encouraged to draw, sew and study music. The center was so successful—with donations from foreign charities—that she opened another center in a different neighborhood. The response from the government was to unleash a mob of citizen thugs to lay siege to her home three times and to twice beat her up. The harassment finally forced the closing of the community centers.

For her determination to try to change Cuba for the better, Ms. Garro has paid a steep price. In one seven-hour detention by state security in 2010 she suffered a broken nose.

Cuban dissidents know her story well, and it is meant as a warning to them. That you have probably never heard of Sonia Garro, put away for daring to speak about human rights ahead of Pope Benedict's visit, is a testament to the power of regime propagandists and the weakness of American journalism.


Have No Fear: Kim Appoints a "Reformer"

From Saif Gaddafi to Bashar Assad, to Raul Castro and Kim Jong Un, the media is obsessed with the story-line of brutal dictators as "reformers."

Apparently, they can torture, murder and imprison countless innocent people -- so long as they pretend to implement some sort of economic "reform."

Doesn't this all sound eerily familiar?

From today's AP:

North Korea taps reformist premier amid nuclear tension

North Korea on Monday shifted, at least temporarily, away from weeks of warlike rhetoric, appointing a new premier seen as an economic reformer after a high-level declaration that nuclear bomb building and a stronger economy are the nation's top priorities [...]

The reemergence of Pak Pong Ju as premier at an annual spring parliamentary session is seen by analysts as a clear signal that leader Kim Jong Un is moving to back up recent statements vowing a focus on strengthened economic development. The U.N. says two-thirds of the country's 24 million people face regular food shortages. Pak was reportedly sacked as prime minister in 2007 after proposing a U.S.-style wage system.

The appointment signals that Pak will play a key role in economic policymaking again.

"Pak Pong Ju is the face of economic reform, such as it exists -- reform with North Korean characteristics as they say," said John Delury, a professor and North Korea analyst at Seoul's Yonsei University.

WaPost: Who Will Extract the Truth From Cuba?

Sunday, March 31, 2013
By The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

Oswaldo Payá’s death must not be squelched

WHAT WAS it about a simple petition drive more than a decade ago that so frightened Fidel Castro? Cuba’s constitution provides that a law may be proposed by citizens if 10,000 people or more sign a petition. The dissident Oswaldo Payá and others gathered 11,020 signatures by May 2002 on the petition of the Varela Project, what Mr. Payá said was “a citizens’ movement for peaceful change,” demanding guarantees of political freedom in Cuba. Then Mr. Castro’s state security went into overdrive. In what was called the Black Spring in 2003, some 75 of Mr. Payá’s friends and colleagues were rounded up and imprisoned, including 29 journalists. Many served years in squalid jails before being released.

They suffered for a document that is elegant and logical on its face but that profoundly threatened the Castro regime. First, the petition demanded guarantees of free speech and association. It declared, “These rights and all human rights existed before anyone formulated them or wrote them down; you and all your fellow men have these rights because you are people, because you are human. Laws do not create these rights, but they must guarantee them.” Next, the petition called for amnesty for political prisoners. A third section authorized private enterprises. Mr. Payá understood that economic and political freedom went hand in hand. Lastly, the petition called for competitive elections and candidates elected directly by popular vote, breaking the hold of the one-party state.

In the end, Mr. Castro squelched the Varela Project. But the timeless goals of the petition are still relevant in the search for truth about the deaths of Mr. Payá and activist Harold Cepero last July in a car crash in eastern Cuba. To read the Varela document again today is to see that Mr. Payá struck where the regime is most vulnerable: at its legitimacy to rule from above. Mr. Payá insisted that legitimacy came from below, from “the participation of citizens in the political, economic and cultural life of the country as free people.” Perhaps that is why, although not imprisoned, Mr. Payá had been subjected to death threats for so long.

The suspicious circumstances of the deaths of Mr. Payá and Mr. Cepero demand an investigation that won’t be tainted by the Cuban authorities. That investigation must address serious questions about whether the car in which the men were riding was rammed from behind by a vehicle with government license plates, as the car’s driver, Ángel Carromero, said in a recent interview published on the opposite page.

On Thursday, the United States joined calls for such a probe, which have also been made by 10 U.S. senators and Mr. Payá’s family. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, “The people of Cuba and the families of these two activists deserve a clear, credible accounting of the events that resulted in their tragic deaths.” The next question is who will have the principled courage of Mr. Payá and lead an investigation to extract the truth from Cuba.

Castro's Launch Racist Attack Against Berta Soler

The Castro regime has released a racist video, where it depicts the leader of The Ladies in White, Berta Soler, who is Afro-Cuban, as some sort of "ignorant gorilla" character.

The Ladies in White are a peaceful democracy movement composed of the wives, daughters, mothers and relatives of Cuban political prisoners.  Many of its members are Afro-Cuban.

This video (below)  is part of the Castro regime's efforts to smear courageous pro-democracy leaders Berta Soler and Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez.

This racist video should be condemned internationally.


H/T Enrique del Risco.