The Irony of Mariela's Visit

Saturday, May 4, 2013
By George Washington University law student (3L), Rudy Mayor:

The Irony of Mariela Castro's Visit to the United States

This week, the U.S. State Department reversed its initial rejection of Mariela Castro’s visa to travel to the United States. The purpose of the trip for Mariela, who is also Cuban dictator Raul Castro’s daughter, is to attend an LGBT conference where she is scheduled to receive an award for her work with the gay community in Cuba. All that is seemingly benign, until of course, you get to thinking why this Irony-Tour is allowed in the first place.

Perhaps the height of the Irony-Tour was Ms. Castro’s visit to the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. There she paid lip-service to the significance of freedom and civil rights, not only to the United States, but to the international community as well. Did she mean Cuba, too? While I don’t mean to undermine whatever work she has done in Cuba to help the condition of gays in her country – what’s the point of this visit?

If Cubans did not have Mariela Castro as an advocate for gays, what would they have? They certainly would not have the democratic avenues that exist in the United States for gays to express their political views and wield their political power. Cuban gays have no independent judiciary to challenge actions like Proposition 8 in independent Cuban courts. Also, Cuban gays have no unfettered and unregulated civil society by which to persuade their national leaders and fellow Cubans to support whatever measures the gay community considers important.

Even if Mariela were successful in achieving equality for gay Cubans on the same level as non-gay Cubans, what is the playing field we are working with? Truth is, even if gay Cubans were to achieve Mariela’s equality – all Cubans are oppressed. She should stop acting like she’s doing gay Cubans a favor. Do us all a favor Mariela, go back to Cuba and call for real equality and freedom.

Questions About Mariela Castro's Trip

The following inquiry has been sent to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry by U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Albio Sires (D-NJ), and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL):

According to Presidential Proclamation 5377, Section 1:

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

In addition to granting the visa, reports indicate that the State Department reversed its previous position by allowing Mariela Castro to travel outside the 25-mile radius from New York to attend a conference in Philadelphia.

Accordingly, we request that you answer the following questions:

Why is the State Department ignoring current U.S. law by continuing to provide visas to Cuban Communist Party operatives such as Mariela Castro?

Given the fact that the United States must approve any travel outside of the 25-mile radius in New York for Cuban operatives, what is the justification for granting Mariela Castro such permission?

Has reciprocity been provided to U.S. Interests Section personnel to travel outside of Havana, Cuba?

Granting U.S. entry to this high-level individual from the Castro regime on two separate occasions undermines key foreign policy objectives, disregards Congressional intent, and rewards a top operative of the repressive Castro dictatorship.

From The State Department

From the U.S. State Department's Daily Press Briefing with spokesperson Patrick Ventrell:

QUESTION: One directly has to – relates to travel restrictions. And that is, have you gotten this letter from three members of Congress – Representative Ros-Lehtinen, Representative Sires, and Representative Diaz-Balart about Castro’s – about Ms. Castro’s visa?

MR. VENTRELL: I’ll have to check on that, Matt. I wasn’t aware of that this morning.

QUESTION: Okay, well, regardless, the letter sent to Secretary Kerry was just sent, I think, this morning. So I’m not surprised you don’t have it. But perhaps you are able to answer some of the questions that they have --

MR. VENTRELL: I’ll do my best.

QUESTION: One is, why – these are questions that they asked: Why is the State Department ignoring current U.S. law by continuing to provide visas to Cuban Communist Party operatives such as Mariela Castro?

MR. VENTRELL: I do have a little bit of information about this. And again, what I said about adjudicating visas based on U.S. laws is something that we absolutely do. While we can’t discuss the individual – specific details of individual cases, under Presidential Proclamation 5377 and other applicable requirements, those are all duly considered and strictly followed in adjudicating visa applications submitted by Cuban nationals. Each visa request is reviewed on a case by case basis, including with our agency partners, and there’s no blanket ban on issuing visas to Cuban Government officials.

QUESTION: Okay. Number two: Given the fact that the United States must preclude any travel outside of a 25 mile radius – New York – for Cuban operatives – and I understand she was given a visa to go to New York to attend some kind of UN meeting – why did Mariela Castro get permission to go outside that 25 mile radius and attend this conference in Philadelphia?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I can’t speak about specific cases. You’re right, Matt, that for certain countries at the UN, there are specific restrictions about officials who have come from that country who are going just for UN business in terms of traveling outside that radius, but those can be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

QUESTION: So if the – and not – and again, not specifically about this case, which you say you can’t talk about specifically, but if permission was granted, it would – to go outside that radius, it would have been because there was some kind of compelling reason for that person to do so? Is that correct?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, they have to be considered on a case-by-case basis.

QUESTION: All right. And then the last one is – it’s a question about reciprocity --

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- and whether U.S. diplomats in Cuba are given the – are freed or the restrictions on their travel have been either removed or eased in any way.

MR. VENTRELL: I’m not aware that they’ve been eased. There certainly are restrictions on our people, and at times, from time to time in the past, we’ve had frustrations or problems with travel, even sometimes for routine consular matters. But I’d have to check in terms of the very recent past.

QUESTION: All right. But you don’t know of any specific reciprocity for – in exchange for the Mariela Castro (inaudible)?

MR. VENTRELL: Not in this specific case, but reciprocity is something that is one of our principal concerns and something that does govern how we look at this.

QUESTION: Okay. And when you do answer – when you do get this letter, when the Secretary does get this letter, and presumably there will go – be a response --

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- do you know if the Department is able to say more to members of Congress than you are allowed to say from the podium?

MR. VENTRELL: I think there are some waivers to visa confidentiality for members of Congress, and I think that they’ll be able to answer in more detail in terms of how this specific presidential – again, let me read it to you again. It’s --

QUESTION: Yeah, no, they cite it --

MR. VENTRELL: Okay.

QUESTION: -- 5377, Section 1, all right.

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. So I imagine in the letter we’ll be able to get into more detail.

NY Post: From Fidel, With Love

From The New York Post's Editorial Board:


In the category of dubious distinctions, a Queens-born citizen has just achieved another first: Joanne Chesimard has just become the first woman to make the FBI’s list of Most Wanted Terrorists.

The FBI made the announcement during a press conference with the New Jersey state police. The terror listing should remind us of two things: First, that she killed a cop. And second, that domestic terrorism did not begin with Oklahoma City.

Chesimard was a member of the Black Liberation Army, just one of the many radical organizations from the 1960s and 1970s that unleashed a reign of terror on the United States, specializing in both bombings and police-killings. Forty years ago this week on the New Jersey Turnpike, Chesimard murdered State Trooper Werner Foerster, execution-style, after he pulled over the car she and her accomplices where riding in.

Chesimard was tried, convicted and given a life sentence. But in 1979, she was sprung from a New Jersey prison with the help of accomplices from the BLA and the Weather Underground. After hiding in safe houses, she eventually found her way to Fidel Castro’s Cuba. There she remains, protected by the regime, immune from extradition and hailed by many as a hero.

These days Chesimard goes by the name Assata Shakur (Tupac Shakur, the slain rapper, was her step-nephew). She knew what she was doing when she picked Cuba. For the Castro regime also gave refuge to other US fugitives, including William Morales, who built bombs for the Puerto Rican group that blew up Fraunces Tavern, as well as CIA turncoat Philip Agee.

In other words, in a Cuban prison sits Alan Gross, an American whose crime is to have helped Cubans improve Internet access, while an American cop-killer walks Havana’s streets free as a bird. All worth remembering next time there’s talk about normalizing relations.

The Cuban Spy Network in the U.S.

Friday, May 3, 2013
Excerpt from Stratfor Global Intelligence's report this week, "The Cuban Spy Network in the U.S. Government":

The [Marta Rita] Velazquez case, when studied in conjunction with those of [Ana Belen] Montes and Walter and Gwendolyn Myers, provides a fascinating window into the scope and nature of Cuban intelligence efforts inside the United States. With Velazquez at the U.S. Agency for International Development, Montes at the Defense Intelligence Agency and Myers in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, the Cubans had incredible coverage of the American government's foreign policy and intelligence community. Even after Montes was arrested and Velazquez fled to Sweden, Myers remained at the State Department until his retirement in 2007.

It is also quite interesting that all three of these cases are linked to the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Velazquez and Montes were students in the program in the early 1980s, and Myers taught there until 1977, after receiving a Ph.D. from the school in 1972. He returned to the school following his retirement in 2007 and worked as a professor of European Studies until his arrest in June 2009. The school is a high-profile institution that has a proven track record of placing graduates in the American foreign affairs and intelligence communities -- and of hiring former government personnel to serve as professors. Still, it is not the only program with such a profile, and the Cubans would almost certainly have recruited a promising agent from Georgetown's Walsh School, Harvard's Kennedy School or any other program if provided the opportunity. The fact that there were three high-profile Cuban agents who penetrated the U.S. government and who were all associated with the School of Advanced International Studies would seem to be an incredible coincidence. The FBI is probably still looking for potential agents who Myers could have spotted for recruitment when they studied there from 2007 to 2009.

When considering espionage cases, we often refer to an old Soviet KGB Cold War acronym -- MICE -- to explain the motivations of spies. MICE stands for money, ideology, compromise and ego. Traditionally, money has proved to be the top motivation for Americans arrested for espionage, but as seen in the Velazquez, Montes and Myers cases, the Cubans were very successful in recruiting American agents using ideology. Like the Montes and Myers complaints, there is no indication in the Velazquez complaint that she had ever sought or accepted money from the Cuban intelligence service for her espionage activities. While Velazquez and Montes were both of Puerto Rican descent, Myers' recruitment shows that Cuban intelligence officers did not just confine their recruitment activity to Hispanics.

In addition to the Cuban preference for ideologically motivated agents, this case also shows that the Cuban intelligence service is very patient and is willing to wait years for the agents it recruits to move into sensitive positions within the U.S. government rather than just focus on immediate results. It took several years for Velazquez to get a job with access to Top Secret information. Although it must be recognized that this is often the case with ideologically motivated agents who are commonly recruited while students. It is also clear that Cuban espionage efforts against the United States did not end with the Cold War and continue to this day. 

Perhaps the most disturbing revelation from the Velazquez case for American counterintelligence officials, though, is the fact that Velazquez was not caught due to some operational mistake or intelligence coup. The only reason she was discovered is because of Montes' arrest and confession, which uncovered her activities. This means that her espionage tradecraft was solid for the nearly 18 years that she worked as a Cuban agent within the U.S. government. Furthermore, the background investigations conducted for the security clearances she held with the Department of Transportation and the Agency for International Development did not pick up on her anti-American sentiments -- even the "full field" investigation that would have been conducted prior to her being granted a Top Secret clearance.

377 Political Arrests in April

Thursday, May 2, 2013
The Castro regime conducted over 377 political arrests during the month of April 2013.

According to Cuban independent journalists (Hablemos Press), that brings the 2013 total -- thus far -- of political arrests to 1,544.

Note these are only arrests that are known and documented.  Many more are believed to have taken place.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Quote of the Day

[Chesimard] flaunts her freedom in the face of this horrific crime. To this day, from her safe haven in Cuba, she been given the pulpit to preach and profess. She has been used by the Castro regime to greet foreign delegations visiting Cuba.
-- Col. Rick Fuentes, superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, during today's FBI press conference naming cop-killer Joanne Chesimard to the Most Wanted Terrorists list, Fox News, 5/2/13

FBI: U.S. Fugitive in Cuba is a Terrorist

From Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI):

Fugitive Joanne Chesimard Is First Woman on Most Wanted Terrorists List

On the 40th anniversary of the cold-blooded murder of a New Jersey state trooper, the fugitive convicted of the killing, Joanne Chesimard, has been named a Most Wanted Terrorist by the FBI—the first woman ever to make the list.

Officials from the FBI and the New Jersey State Police made the announcement this morning during a press conference, noting that the FBI is offering a reward of up to $1 million for information leading to the apprehension of Chesimard, who is believed to be living in Cuba under political asylum. Additionally, the state of New Jersey is offering an independent reward of up to $1 million, bringing the total maximum reward to $2 million.

“Joanne Chesimard is a domestic terrorist who murdered a law enforcement officer execution-style,” said Aaron Ford, special agent in charge of our Newark Division. “Today, on the anniversary of Trooper Werner Foerster’s death, we want the public to know that we will not rest until this fugitive is brought to justice.”

“This case is just as important today as it was when it happened 40 years ago,” added Mike Rinaldi, a lieutenant in the New Jersey State Police and member of our Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) in Newark. “Bringing Joanne Chesimard back here to face justice is still a top priority,” he said.

On May 2, 1973, Chesimard and a pair of accomplices were stopped by two troopers for a motor vehicle violation on the New Jersey Turnpike. At the time, Chesimard—a member of the violent revolutionary activist organization known as the Black Liberation Army—was wanted for her involvement in several felonies, including bank robbery.

Chesimard and her accomplices opened fire on the troopers. One officer was wounded, and his partner—Trooper Foerster—was shot and killed at point-blank range. One of Chesimard’s accomplices was killed in the shoot-out and the other was arrested and remains in jail.

Chesimard fled but was apprehended. In 1977, she was found guilty of first-degree murder, armed robbery, and other crimes and was sentenced to life in prison. Less than two years later, she escaped from prison and lived underground before surfacing in Cuba in 1984.

In addition to being the first woman named as a Most Wanted Terrorist, Chesimard is only the second domestic terrorist to be added to the list.

“This crime was always considered an act of domestic terrorism,” said Rinaldi, who has been working the case for six years with other members of the JTTF. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he explained, the Black Liberation Army was a “radical left wing terror group that felt justified killing law enforcement officers. Throughout the ‘70s,” Rinaldi added, “this group conducted assaults on police stations and murdered police officers.”

Chesimard’s 1979 escape from prison was well planned, Rinaldi explained. “Armed domestic terrorists gained entry into the facility, neutralized the guards, broke her free, and turned her over to a nearby getaway team.”

Although Chesimard has been granted asylum in Cuba, Rinaldi stressed,“This is an active investigation and will continue as such until Chesimard is apprehended.”

17-Year Old Near Death for Father's Freedom

I am not afraid to die for my father’s freedom.
-- Enrique Lozada, 17-year old son of Cuban political prisoner Luis Enrique Lozada, on a hunger strike seeking his father's release, 4/30/13

Enrique Lozada was rushed to the hospital yesterday (on the 15th day of his hunger strike) in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba.

His health has taken a dramatic turn for the worse.

There are over 60 activists from the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU) on hunger strike in solidarity with the Lozada family.

Also rushed to the hospital yesterday -- as a result of the hunger strike -- were Ana Celia Rodriguez, a member of the Ladies in White, and an elderly activist, Dionisio Blanco.

Cuba Ranks 191 of 196 in Press Freedom

According to Freedom House's 2013 Freedom of the Press Index, Cuba is tied with Iran as the 191st worst oppressor of press freedom in the world.

Only five countries ranked slightly worse: Belarus, Eritrea, Uzbekistan, North Korea and Turkmenistan.

According to the report:

The world’s eight worst-rated countries, with scores of between 90 and 100 points, are Belarus, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. In these states, independent media are either nonexistent or barely able to operate, the press acts as a mouthpiece for the regime, citizens’ access to unbiased information is severely limited, and dissent is crushed through imprisonment, torture, and other forms of  repression. In 2012, conditions worsened in Cuba, which fell from 91 to 92 points, due to an increase in the number of arbitrary detentions, sometimes violent, of independent journalists.

Castro's U.N. Fraud Exposed

Yesterday, the U.N.'s Human Rights Council reviewed (through its "Universal Periodic Review", UPR) Cuba's human rights record.

As expected, Syria, Iran, North Korea took the floor to defend the Castro regime.

Moreover, the independent watchdog group, U.N. Watch, documented how the review of Cuba’s rights record was tainted by “massive fraud” -- whereby the regime used 454 front groups to officially register 93 statements praising Havana’s practices.

Read the full report by U.N. Watch, entitled “How Cuba Hijacked its UPR,” here.

Cuba Remains a State-Sponsor of Terrorism

Wednesday, May 1, 2013
From The Hill:

State to miss deadline for terrorism report, will not change Cuba status

The State Department is expected to release its annual Country Report on Terrorism in the latter half of May, missing today's deadline by a few weeks, according to a State Department spokesperson.

The much-anticipated annual report was released much later last year -- in July.

And while several news outlets have reported that the annual report may include a new finding on whether Cuba is a state sponsor of terrorism, those reports are incorrect — the report will in fact make no changes to the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Instead, the report will remain a snapshot of the prior year, 2012 in this case.

"We don't use this report to announce designations," the State spokesperson said.

As such, the report will continue to list Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria as state sponsors of terrorism. "They won't be coming off the list," the spokesperson said.

Under current law, the president has the authority to make the case to Congress that a country should be removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. But he may do this at any time, and it has nothing to do with the April 30 deadline for State's Country Report on Terrorism.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Must-Read: Taking Cues From Havana

Tuesday, April 30, 2013
From The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

A "Hard Hand" in Venezuela

Any doubt that new Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro is taking his cues from Cuba should have been dispelled by events over the weekend. As Mr. Maduro huddled with the Castro brothers in Havana and recommitted Venezuela to the heavy subsidies that keep the Cuban economy afloat, his functionaries back in Caracas made two announcements: first, that a promised audit of the questionable election that ratified Mr. Maduro as the successor to Hugo Chavez would be perfunctory, excluding the materials that the opposition says would show evidence of fraud; and second, that a 35-year-old U.S. filmmaker arrested last week on ludicrous accusations of espionage had been criminally charged.

The dog-eared Castro playbook calls for distracting the public at times of crisis with crude anti-Americanism — and taking hostages who can be used for leverage with Washington. For more than three years, Cuba has been holding Alan P. Gross, a Bethesda-based contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development, on patently false espionage charges, in the hope that he can swapped for five confessed Cuban spies imprisoned or paroled in the United States.

Now Mr. Maduro has his own “gringo,” as he called him: Timothy Tracy, a Hollywood-based documentary maker who spent several months interviewing Chavez militants and opposition students before he was abruptly arrested at the airport last Wednesday. Unlike Mr. Gross, who was hired by USAID to deliver Internet equipment to Cuba’s Jewish community, Mr. Tracy was not working for any U.S. agency, as the State Department quickly made clear. Friends described him as a naif who barely speaks Spanish.

Mr. Maduro and the regime’s propaganda apparatus are nevertheless portraying him as a sinister secret agent who was financing “violent groups” to provoke “a civil war.” That, claimed Interior and Justice Minister Miguel Rodriguez, “would lead to the intervention of a foreign power to bring order to the country.” Fear of a U.S. invasion? Another Castro cliché.

The real danger in Venezuela is not that an Obama administration unwilling to provide leadership in Syria would make any serious attempt to prevent Mr. Maduro’s consolidation of power. It is that Mr. Maduro will follow up on his jailing of an innocent American with a full-scale crackdown on the opposition. Government spokesmen have taken to calling Henrique Capriles, who challenged Mr. Maduro in the presidential election and demanded an audit of the results, a “fascist murderer”; the prisons minister said she has a cell waiting for him.

On Saturday, authorities arrested a retired general, Antonio Rivero, who — no surprise — is known for his denunciations of Cuban infiltration of the Venezuelan military. Mr. Maduro keeps promising he will soon apply “mano dura,” or a hard hand — a phrase that has been a favorite of Latin strongmen ranging from Anastasio Somoza to Augusto Pinochet.

Mr. Maduro and his Cuban tutors will likely watch to see if there is any substantial response from the Obama administration or other South American governments to the seizing of Mr. Tracy. If there is not, don’t be surprised to see Venezuela’s jails filled by Mr. Capriles and other political prisoners.

Rodiles: Now is the Worst Time to Lift the Embargo

From The Miami Herald:

Cuban dissident Antonio G. Rodiles said Tuesday his Estado de SATS movement is trying to knit together a network of domestic and exile opposition forces that will facilitate the nation’s transition to democracy.

Rodiles said that now “is the worst time to lift the embargo” because the island’s disastrous economy is already forcing Raúl Castro to make “minuscule” reforms. “The table is set,” he said, for opposition groups to “try to find the cracks in the system” and eventually ease Cuba toward democracy.

Another State Department Concession to the Castro Family

Monday, April 29, 2013
Last week, the State Department decided to deny permission to Raul Castro's daughter, Mariela, to travel to Philadelphia to attend an LGBT conference.

Today, it reconsidered and an official told CNN that, "the restriction on her visa has been lifted."

In doing so, the State Department has (yet again) made an exemption for the Cuban dictator's daughter from Presidential Proclamation 5377, which denies visas to Cuban nationals affiliated with that country's totalitarian regime.

Mariela is not only the daughter of Cuba's dictator, but she is a member of his regime's National Assembly, a spokesperson for its repression against democracy activists (whom she refers to as "despicable parasites") and a defender of the arbitrary taking of American hostage Alan Gross.

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

Mariela's father, is one of the world's worst offenders of such detentions.

Just this weekend, dozens of members of the Ladies in White pro-democracy group were savagely beaten and arrested for their peaceful  advocacy.

Despite this, the Castro family gets rewarded with another U.S. visit.

Let's be clear on another point:  Mariela Castro does not support "LGBT rights."

She doesn't support the right of any Cuban -- gay or straight -- to exercise their fundamental human rights.

To claim that Mariela Castro supports the rights of LGBTs, while she supports violating the fundamental rights of all Cubans, is nonsensical. 

Why doesn't Mariela allow the recognition of independent LGBT groups on the island?  

Or any independent group for that matter?

To continue rewarding the Castro family, while they continue brutalizing men, women and children (of all sexual preferences) is insulting and demoralizing to all those courageously clamoring for freedom.

Tweet of the Day

From European Parliament President Martin Schulz:

WSJ: Lady in White

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

Lady in White

In the debate about whether the U.S. should end what is left of the embargo it has imposed against Cuba for the last half century, the side that wants to lift it often invokes the names of dissidents on the island who agree. But there are also Cuban dissidents who support the embargo because they fear that ending it would strengthen the dictatorship.

One of the most prominent supporters of the embargo was in Washington last week. She is Berta Soler, wife of former political prisoner Angel Moya and a member of the prestigious Ladies in White. Ms. Soler's visit drew attention because what she lacks in support from Washington politicians and lobbyists who want to do business with the dictator she makes up for in moral authority.

Ms. Soler's movement began in 2003 with a handful of women. Each Sunday they attended Mass together at St. Rita's church and then, each carrying a single flower, they walked silently in the streets of Havana to demand the release of their husbands, brothers and sons who were political prisoners. It seemed like a suicide mission. For decades Cuban dissidents have met grisly ends. Many have been murdered, many more have been tortured in prison until they were broken.

Nevertheless the women were able to hold their ground thanks in part to the international recognition they got and the embarrassment they caused the regime. In 2005 they were awarded the European Parliament's Sakharov prize for freedom of thought, though they were denied permission to pick it up. When supporters wielding cell phones took photographs of pro-Castro mobs assaulting the women, the pictures went around the world, further revealing just how nasty and brutish life is in the revolutionary paradise.

In January the regime partially lifted its ban on Cubans traveling outside the island, and earlier this month Ms. Soler was finally given permission to travel with others from the group to Brussels to pick up their Sakharov prize. Then she headed to the U.S.

Last week in a meeting with Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.) Ms. Soler explained how important international support is to the cause of liberty in Cuba. "I am looking for moral and spiritual support from governments that love liberty, lovers of peace and from the international community," she said. "The government of Cuba sells an image to foreigners and I bring the true history of my people, because I am a woman who has suffered day after day abuses, beatings only for having expressed myself."

During her visit to Washington, Ms. Soler also alluded to the regime's specious claims that the embargo is what makes Cuba poor: "First, I want to say that the embargo, the blockade, is inside Cuba." As to the U.S. position, she said, "I respect the opinions of everyone in the world, but mine [and] that of the Ladies in White is don't lift the embargo."

Name That Movie: Fidel's Son Wins Golf Tournament

Russian state media has reported that Cuban dictator Fidel Castro's son, Antonio, has won the 5th annual Montecristo Cup Golf Tournament held in Varadero Beach, Cuba.

According to the story, "the tournament featured over 100 players from 15 countries, including the US, Canada, the UK and Spain."

Yet, somehow all we can think about are the "Wadiyan Games" from "The Dictator":

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Castro Tutors Maduro on Taking American Hostages

Venezuela's selected President, Nicolas Maduro, visited Havana this weekend, where he received tutorials from Cuba's Castro brothers.

On top of the tutorial list was -- how to take American hostages.

The Castros have experience in this.

Since December 2009, the Castro brothers have held hostage an American development worker, Alan P. Gross, for helping the island's Jewish community connect to the Internet.

In exchange for Gross, the Castros have demanded the release of five Cuban spies convicted by U.S. federal courts for, among other crimes, conspiracy to commit murder and penetrating U.S. military facilities.

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.”

Thus, the arrest and arbitrary imprisonment of Alan P. Gross is clearly an act of terrorism.

While -- to its credit -- the U.S. has refused to be coerced into releasing these five Cuban spies, it has also refused to hold the Castro regime accountable for this hostage-taking.

Instead, it eased sanctions towards the Castro regime in January 2011, authorizing non-humanitarian trips by Americans to Cuba (so called "people-to-people" travel) -- a boon for the regime's tourism industry (at a time when European travelers have been steadily declining).

Taking careful note was the Maduro government in Venezuela, which this week decided to take an American hostage of its own (see below).

It will now try to coerce the U.S. into recognizing Maduro's questionable election.

Plus (it figures), if that doesn't work, what's the worse than could happen?

Judging by Gross's detention in Cuba -- nothing.

According to AP:

A 35-year-old filmmaker from California has been arrested by Venezuelan authorities who are accusing him of fomenting post-election violence on behalf of the U.S. government.

President Nicolas Maduro said Thursday that he personally ordered Timothy Tracy's arrest on suspicion of "creating violence in the cities of this country." Venezuela's interior minister said Tracy was working for U.S. intelligence, paying right-wing youth groups to hold violent demonstrations in order to destabilize the country after Maduro's narrow election win last week.

Friends and family of Tracy told The Associated Press that he had been in Venezuela since last year making a documentary about the country.

In One Week: From Brussels to a Cuban Prison

Sunday, April 28, 2013
The Castro regime has brutally beaten and arrested members of the Ladies in White upon leaving Mass in the eastern city of Palm Soriano.

The Ladies in White is a peaceful pro-democracy group composed of the female relatives of Cuban political prisoners.

Members of Castro's secret police punched and hit them with umbrellas as they exited the church, Our Lady of the Rosary.

Among those arrested was Belkis Cantillo, who just returned from Brussels this week, where she joined Ladies in White leader Berta Soler in receiving the European Parliament's Sakharov Award for Freedom of Thought.

Cantillo's current whereabouts are unknown.

(Another group of seven Ladies in White have been beaten outside the the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity in Santiago.)

In the picture below, Cantillo is second from the left.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Lawmakers: Cuba Remains a State-Sponsor of Terrorism

For a comprehensive analysis on why Cuba remains a state-sponsor of terrorism, click here.

In The Hill:

Cuban-American lawmakers press White House to keep Cuba on terror list
 
Cuban-American lawmakers are pressing the Obama administration to keep Cuba on its list of state sponsors of terrorism as the State Department prepares to release its annual assessment next week.

The four Cuban-Americans in the House are drafting a joint letter to Secretary of State John Kerry laying out why they think the communist island still meets the criteria established by the 1979 sanctions law. And the Senate's three Cuban-Americans are also vocally opposed to delisting Cuba, which was first added in 1982.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) told The Hill she's collaborating with Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), Albio Sires (D-N.J.) and Joe Garcia (D-Fla.) on a letter urging the State Department to retain Cuba alongside Iran, Syria and Sudan. The push comes amid reports – vehemently denied by the State Department – that U.S. diplomats have concluded Cuba should be removed from the list to pave the way for better relations with President Raul Castro.

“We will be laying out a very concrete plan in this coming week about why Cuba deserves to maintain its place in this rogues' gallery,” Ros-Lehtinen said.

She said she was particularly encouraged by Thursday's news that the Justice Department has indicted a former U.S. Agency for International Development employee, Marta Rita Velazquez, for allegedly helping a convicted former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst spy for Cuba. The Obama administration is seeking her extradition from Sweden.

“It's a recent indication again of the threat that the Castro regime poses to U.S. national security interests,” Ros-Lehtinen said. It “means that somebody in the administration is still aware of the threat that Castro poses.”

To delist a country, the State Department must make the case to Congress that a country has seen a change in leadership and policies or that it has not engaged in acts of international terrorism in the past six months and has provided assurances it won't in the future. Cuba says it has stopped supporting Colombia's leftist rebels and is hosting peace talks, but U.S. lawmakers say the country is still running afoul of the law by serving as a safe haven for fugitives from U.S. law and keeping USAID contractor Alan Gross in prison on charges he sought to undermine the Cuban state by distributing communications equipment.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said he is also drafting a letter to Kerry.

“We've certainly communicated with them, we have,” he said. “We think it's critically important they remain on the list, for multiple reasons.”

“But certainly I think Cuba continues to classify as a country that supports terrorism and has actively supported it in the past – increasingly against its own people, unfortunately,” Rubio said, a reference to recent incidents such as the death of Cuban activist Oswaldo Payá in a car crash. His driver has said he was driven off the road by a car with government license plates.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, declined to share what outreach he's been engaged in.

“I would expect that there would be no change, because all the elements of why Cuba was on the terror list in the first place still continue to be the same,” he said. “We'll look forward to the State Department's decision but I would not expect a change.”

Likewise, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) declined to detail his interactions with the State Department but has made his feelings about the Castro regime clear.

“Hopefully, in the not too distant future, Fidel Castro and Raul Castro will join Hugo Chavez, and all three will face the ultimate judgment,” he told the annual Cuba-Democracy PAC luncheon in Miami last month, according to Florida's Shark Tank blog. America, he said, needs a “president that will stand up today and say, Mr. Castro, let the Cuban people go. Mr. Castro, open up the ballot box. Mr. Castro, empty the jails.”

Venezuelan General Who Denounced Cuban Military Control Arrested

Venezuelan Army General (R) Antonio Rivero has been arrested this weekend.

General Rivero is being held at the headquarters of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN), but neither his family or lawyers have been notified of the reasons for his detention.

He had been previously accused by a military prosecutor of "insulting the armed forces" and "disclosure of private information" after he reported on the prevalent role of Cuban military personnel in the Venezuelan armed forces.

This past February, General Rivero again denounced the presence of more than 300 Cuban military officers in Venezuela, who in his own words, "shape the policies of defense and organization of the armed forces, which is a violation of national sovereignty." 

These Cuban military officers are based in "Fuerte Tiuna" (Fort Tiuna), located in Caracas, the main military installation in Venezuela.

Below is a picture of Cuban Minister of the Interior, General Abelardo Colome Ibarra, and other senior Cuban military officials with their Venezuelan colleagues.


Quote[s] of the Weekend

It's a tie:
I’ve got 99 problems and now Jay-Z’s one.
The guy has not finished a single term in the Senate and he thinks he's ready to be president. Kids these days!
-- U.S. President Barack Obama, joked separately about Jay-Z's trip to Cuba and buzz of a 2016 Presidential run by U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), White House Correspondent's Dinner, 4/27/13