State Department on Cuban Repression: Speak Softly, Send Mixed Messages and Carry No Stick

Wednesday, December 31, 2014
In a tweet, Cuban democracy leader Ailer Maria Gonzalez, who was arrested yesterday as she sought to participate in the #YoTambienExijo performance, alluded to how "empowered" Castro's secret police seemed during the arrest, beating and interrogation of activists.

Ailer's remarks were aimed at President Obama and his allies, who argue that normalizing relations with -- and providing concessions to -- the Castro dictatorship will somehow "empower" Cuban civil society.

Yet, as both President Carter and Clinton learned (or failed to learn) before Obama -- it only "empowers" the Castro dictatorship.

Earning a particular chuckle in Havana was a statement released by the State Department (click here), which expressed "deep concern" about yesterday's wave of repression against Cuban dissidents.

(Curiously, we haven't seen any statements of condemnation from Obama's Cuba advisers and Castro darlings -- U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont and U.S. Rep James McGovern of Massachusetts -- or Obama's Republican U.S. Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona.)

Think about this -- throughout 2014, while Obama and Castro were playing footsie in Ottawa and Vatican city, political arrests in Cuba quadrupled to over 8,600.

Now it's abundantly clear why Castro felt so "empowered" to execute such record-breaking repression -- for there were no consequences to fear.

Even worse, when Cuba got caught red-handed trafficking 240 tons of heavy arms to North Korea in July 2013, Obama and Castro had already been seducing each other for over a month.

No wonder Castro got away scot-free with the most blatant violation of international sanctions -- anywhere in the world -- to date.

But here's the real kicker in the State Department's statement:

"We have always said we would continue to speak out about human rights, and as part of the process of normalization of diplomatic relations, the United States will continue to press the Cuban government to uphold its international obligations and to respect the rights of Cubans to peacefully assemble and express their ideas and opinions, just like their fellow members of civil society throughout the Americas are allowed to do."

That's cute -- except Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Roberta Jacobson, has already given the Castro regime a blank-check on this also, which it's already cashing.

On the day after Obama's Cuba policy announcement, Jacobson stated:

"I do not necessarily think that we’re talking about direct human rights conditionality in the restoration of diplomatic relations part. That is a legal process, if you will, or a diplomatic process that will be fairly mechanical."

Repress away -- for there are no consequences.

Finally, as for "international obligations" and the rights "of civil society throughout the Americas" -- perhaps Obama should have thought about that before he acquiesced to suspending the "democracy clause" of the Summit of the Americas process for Castro to participate.

Obligations?  What obligations?

(Curiously, we haven't seen any statements of condemnation from Latin American leaders either.)

Castro truly feels even more "empowered" to state -- "democracia, para que?" ("democracy, for what?").

Bring out the military fatigues.

Cuban Rights Performance Organizer Arrested, Whereabouts Unknown #YoTambienExijo

Tuesday, December 30, 2014
Renowned Cuban artist Tania Bruguera, organizer of today's rights performance #YoTambienExijo, was arrested this morning.

Bruguera's sister believes she was taken to the infamous secret police headquarters, known as Villa Marista.

However, there is no confirmation of her whereabouts, as she remain incommunicado.

The performance, in which a microphone would be placed in Havana's Revolutionary Square, so Cubans can express their demands in one-minute intervals, was scheduled to begin at 3 p.m.

Bruguera never made it to the site.

Castro's secret police showed up to her apartment at 5 a.m. to arrest her.

Over a dozen dissidents were also arrested to prevent them from assisting the event.

A heavy police presence surrounded the site all day.

Tweet(s) of the Day: If Cuba is Reforming...

By U.N. Watch's Hillel Neuer:

On the Backs of Cuba's Political Prisoners

This political cartoon says it all:

Rubio: Raul Castro Makes a Mockery of Obama's New Cuba Policy

Rubio Comments on Castro Regime's Latest Wave of Repression

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) issued the following statement today regarding news reports of the Castro regime's efforts to suppress Cuban activists and independent journalists attempting to attend a rally in Havana:

"The Castro regime's latest acts of repression against political dissidents in Cuba make a mockery of President Obama's new U.S.-Cuba policy. The fact that the regime continues to violate the human rights of Cubans like this shows that it has even less incentive to change its ways since President Obama intends to give the Castros numerous unilateral concessions in exchange for zero steps towards more political freedom.

This is the real human tragedy of the President's new Cuba policy. President Obama should be ashamed of legitimizing and empowering the Castros while abandoning courageous Cuban dissidents like the ones who have been on the receiving end of the regime's repressive tactics in recent days."

Cuban Activists Arrested to Prevent Attendance at Rights Performance #YoTambienExijo

From The Miami Herald:

Cuban activists arrested to prevent their attendance at a Havana gathering

Police mobilize to prevent activists from taking part in a gathering at the Plaza de la Revolución in Havana.

Cuban authorities arrested several dissidents and independent journalists Tuesday in an apparent attempt to prevent them from attending a rally in Havana’s revolutionary square organized by a new movement that calls itself #YoTambienExijo (IAlsoDemand).

Among those detained as of early afternoon were journalist Reinaldo Escobar, editor of the online 14ymedio publication and husband of prominent blogger Yoani Sánchez. Eliecer Ávila, an activist, and Antonio Rodiles, who directs a human rights group called Estado de Sats, also were taken into custody. The arrests were reported via Twitter by Sánchez, who founded 14ymedio.

Sánchez said she was placed under house arrest and also reported that several other 14ymedio contributors were visited by State Security officers, who warned them not cover the event, which was scheduled to take place at 3 p.m. at the Plaza de la Revolución. The demonstration called for participants to go before a microphone for one minute to share their thoughts, concerns or ideas about how Cuba’s future should unfold.

The rally was promoted via social media after the historic Dec. 17 announcement of renewed diplomatic ties between Washington and Havana. Hundreds of people said they planned to attend even though Cuban authorities denied permission to organizers, headed by prominent Cuban artist Tania Brugera.

Cuban government opposition leader, Angel Moya, also reported the arrest of Aliuska Gómez, a member of the Ladies in White group, and said several other human rights activists had gotten visits by State Security officers at their homes.

Several opponents and independent journalists said they were receiving fake text messages on their cell phones stating that the event had been cancelled.

Bruguera met with Cuba’s National Council of Fine Arts President Ruben del Valle for more than three hours on Saturday to try to obtain official permission for the event to no avail. A posting on the government-controlled website, The Jiribilla, lambasted the #YoTambienExijo rally as "a sham."

Bruguera, who refers to the event as “performance” art, said the idea came from a letter she wrote to President Barack Obama, Cuban leader Raúl Castro and Pope Francis following the Dec. 17 announcement in which she demanded that all Cubans have a right to stake their claim on the future of the island and also have a right to express their opinions through peaceful demonstrations in favor or against government action without “being punished.”

Meanwhile, a simultaneous rally is scheduled to take place in Miami at 3 p.m. in front of the Freedom Tower downtown.

More New Political Arrests in Cuba

Instead of releasing 53 political prisoners (which remains a mystery in itself) -- as Raul Castro "promised" President Obama -- this past week we've seen the arrest (and re-arrest) of democracy activists and political prisoners.

On Christmas Day, Cuban artist Danilo Maldonado (known as "El Sexto") was arrested for scheduling a visual arts performance, in which he was going to release two pigs onto the streets with the names "Fidel" and "Raul" painted on them. He remains arbitrarily imprisoned and faces charges of "disobedience."

On the day after Christmas, it re-arrested former political prisoner, Marcelino Abreu Bonora, who had just been released on October 24th. He was arrested for carrying a white sheet with the word "Cambio" ("Change") written on it. He remains arbitrarily imprisoned, was savagely beaten and his family denied information of his whereabouts.

On the following day, Luis Quintana Rodriguez, an activist with Oswaldo Paya's Christian Liberation Movement, was arrested, threatened and interrogated by the Castro regime about his opposition activities.

And today, all eyes are on the #YoTambienExijo performance in Havana's Revolutionary Square at 3 p.m., where a microphone will be placed for the Cuban people to demand their rights.  The organizer, artist Tania Bruguera, has already been threatened with "legal and personal consequences."

As of noon, Cuban democracy leader Eliecer Avila and Yoani Sanchez's husband, Reinaldo Escobar, have been arrested.

As of 3 p.m., nearly a dozen other activists including Antonio Rodiles, Amaury PachecoJose Diaz SilvaClaudio Fuentes and Aliuska Gomez have also been arrested.

Meanwhile, silence from the Obama Administration.

Obama's Cuba Deal Poses Major U.S. Counter-Intelligence Challenge

We disagree with the first half of this assessment by former U.S. defense and intelligence official, Daniel J. Gallington, regarding the impact that American culture and capitalism will have on the Cuban people -- for they have been exposed to this (with limited impact) for decades through geographical proximity, American relatives, and millions of foreign tourists.

Sadly though, Mr. Gallington may be right about a successor to Castro stemming from the military, which Obama may have just facilitated thanks to his betrayal of Cuba's democrats.

Moreover, he's absolutely right regarding the influx of Cuban spies that will emanate from Obama's announcement -- and the imminent challenge it poses for U.S. counter-intelligence officials.

By Daniel J. Gallington, in U.S. News and World Report:

Keeping an Eye on Cuban Spies

America's new relationship with Cuba will likely mean an influx of Cuban spies.

On balance, it was probably a good idea to move forward with a new relationship with Cuba. The Castros are old, getting older and will soon be gone – and it’s doubtful that the Cuban people will choose, voluntarily of course, to succeed them with another such family dynasty. When the Castros are finally gone, there likely will be a muffled internal insurrection or two, as the competing factions for power seek to kill each other off – and there is likely to be a period of uncertainty before the emergence of a new personality that can coalesce a central government. The most likely successor will probably come from the military. No real surprises here.

During the coming next few years, we really don’t have to actually do much to influence the people of Cuba except inundate them with our media, social or otherwise, movies, TV, investments, business, travel, sports teams, tourism and the Internet. They continue to be huge consumers of American culture and capitalism will creep into their lives whether they want it or not, and no matter what the Castro government says or does to keep it out. In short, President Raul Castro can say that they will remain Communist all he wants, but that system will not be able to sustain itself in the face of the onslaught of American commercialism. Like the old Soviet Union, Cuba will soon implode from American and Western cultural influence – especially as they realize how poor they have become compared to their neighbors from the North.

What do we want from them? Cigars and resorts for our tourists? Not a whole lot really, nor do we need much of anything to let the natural symbiosis of the new relationship work out in our favor. In short, it will happen, and it will be to our advantage – especially after Raul is gone, just as Fidel is already mostly out of the picture.

So is that the end of the story with Cuba?

Not by a long shot, because we must now prepare ourselves for an onslaught of hundreds, perhaps thousands of Cuban spies. And I have bad news for you – they are very, very good at it, probably the best in our hemisphere, including us, who look like amateurs compared to them, especially when it comes to the long-term penetration of high-value intelligence targets and getting critical information therefrom. In my day, the Cubans were thought to be every bit as good as the East Germans, who were probably the best in the world, next to the Israelis, of course.

It is not surprising, therefore, that part of the deal we made to establish the new relationship was to release three members of the notorious “Cuban Five” from federal prison, one of them serving multiple life sentences for espionage and murder.

The Cuban Five, if you may remember, were a group of spies who successfully penetrated the Brothers to the Rescue and other Cuban-American groups in the U.S. that advocated overthrow of the Castro regime. The FBI broke them up in the late 90’s and they were all sentenced to prison. While there is lots of controversy surrounding them, the Cuban government later acknowledged that the five were intelligence agents.

The record of Cuban spies in our country is long and of major concern to our counterintelligence services and agencies. While the Chinese, just for example, are probably the largest and most prolific spies in our country, the Cubans make up for it with their specialized skills and knowledge of American social structures.

So one can only hope that an essential part of the new relationship with Cuba will also be an aggressive counterintelligence program on our part to protect ourselves from Cuban spies. And Cuba's spying program will no doubt also be enhanced by the Castro government as it expands its ability to gather national security information against us, both in Cuba and in the United States.

I say “only hope” because counterintelligence has long remained the unwanted step-child of our intelligence community, despite some new attention to its organization and structure. It remains to be seen, however, whether we have really improved our ability to actually catch spies, both outside and inside our government. And the Cubans, because of their consummate skills and abilities to penetrate our most sensitive targets, will no doubt be able to decide this for themselves – and probably before we realize it.

In short, I’m not optimistic. The Cubans are good, real good!

Must-Watch: The Ladies in White, Dissident Leaders Gather at Havana's Gandhi Park

Please watch the video below (or click here) of The Ladies in White, Estado de Sats' Antonio Rodiles and other dissident leaders at Havana's Gandhi Park this past Sunday:

Arguing With Idiots About Cuba

Young Cuban-American lawyer, author and columnist A.J. Delgado has a great piece entitled, "Arguing With Idiots About Cuba."

She's also a member of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC's Young Leaders Group.

It's so visual, dynamic and multi-faceted that it'd serve no justice to reproduce any part of it.

Thus, please click here to read it (and enjoy it) in its entirety.

Security Expert: Likelihood of Future Cyberattacks From Cuba is '100 Percent'

From The Washington Times:

Expert’s warning: Likelihood of future cyberattacks on U.S. emanating from Cuba is ‘100 percent’

The U.S. and Cuba are enjoying a nice honeymoon following the recent reconciliation between the two nations after five decades of acrimony. But don’t get too chummy, warns one information security expert.

“Apparently the United States has not yet learned its lesson of the downside of giving away communication technology to Communist regimes, and will once again pay the price. In a year or two when Cuba gets advanced broadband circuits promised by President Obama, the likelihood that we will see attacks on U.S. public and private networks emanating from Cuba is 100 percent,” predicts James W. Gabberty, professor of information systems at Pace University in New York City and an alumnus of both the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and New York University Polytechnic Institute.

“To Cuba, the internet is a veritable lifeline through which it will be able to concomitantly make accommodation bookings for the myriad future American hotels that will one day dot its coastline while simultaneously siphon intellectual property from U.S. industries, perhaps even our Hollywood movies that hopefully won’t offend Cuba’s communist regime,” Mr. Gabberty continues.

“When the day comes that Cuban-based cyberattacks penetrate U.S. networks, Cuba can simply follow China’s typical repudiation posture, and challenge the U.S. administration to prove it. That has worked for Russia, China, North Korea and Iran, and there is no reason to think it won’t work for Cuba,” he observes.

No Matter How You Spin It, Obama Betrayed Freedom-Loving Cubans

Monday, December 29, 2014
By Guillermo Martinez in The Sun-Sentinel:

No matter how you spin it, Obama betrayed Cuban exiles

One thing is absolutely clear in my mind: I am delighted that Alan Gross is free and back in the United States with his family.

The American contractor jailed for the last five years for taking satellite equipment to the small Jewish community in Cuba did not deserve the punishment he got, for what he did is not a crime in a civilized world.

How his freedom came about is another story. They say he was released for humanitarian reasons. But attached to his freedom came many unsavory agreements.

The much-ballyhooed agreement for Cuba and the United States to re-establish diplomatic relations brings more questions than answers to mind.

For example:

Why now? Why President Barack Obama waits for the day after Congress ends its session to make the announcement of the new opening in relations with Cuba?

Why now when the price of oil is putting Venezuela and Russia in dire economic straits?

How much has Cuba really given to achieve this agreement? It has promised to listen respectfully to American demands in future negotiations — listen, nothing else.

Obama gave Cuba everything the island nation wanted, and in return got the release of a handful of political prisoners, a long-time intelligence agent that nobody knew anything about, and the promise it would listen to American demands — listen, nothing else.

It is obvious the answers to the questions raised explain clearly why the announcement came now, and give us an indication of what we can expect in the future.

President Obama waited until Congress finished its session so it would have time to create a lobby for his actions before the new Republican-dominated Congress convenes on Jan. 6. He wants to give the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is desperate to start selling products to Cuba, time to convince the Republican Congress it is in their best interest to open relations with Cuba.

Cuba accepted the deal now because Venezuela's economy is rapidly deteriorating and won't be able to continue providing cheap oil too much longer.

Raúl Castro is not as charismatic as Fidel, but he is a wise old man and he clearly understood that unless he allowed the U.S. to give him a helping hand, Cubans would be desperate for their basic needs.

It is important to note most of the dissidents in Cuba have criticized the new deal between Cuba and the United States. They know better than anyone else that Cuban security agents will not stop beating them up for demanding the right to free association and free speech. They cannot forget that less then a week ago, they were beaten for trying to gather on the day the United Nations celebrates Human Rights Day.

Now let's look at what comes next.

The U.S. Congress is going to have to approve the nomination of a new ambassador to Cuba. With all Cuban-American representatives and senators opposed to the new agreement, that will not be an easy task.

It is also going to be hard to get Congress to finance opening a new embassy in Havana and consulates throughout the island. It will closely study the new proposals to see if they violated the Helms-Burton law passed in 1996 under the Clinton Administration.

This reminds me that we have to talk about the relatives of the four Brothers to the Rescue members who were shot down by Cuban Migs in international waters over the Florida Straits. Brothers to the Rescue watched for rafts floating from Cuba so the U.S. Coast Guard could pick them up and prevent them from drowning.

To the relatives of Brothers to the Rescue, to the veterans of the Bay of Pigs, to the many Cubans who were infiltrated back into the island to fight the Castro regime, to the thousands of people who have been killed by the communists in Cuba, to the many tens of thousands of former political prisoners and to all decent Cubans, what President Obama has done is unacceptable. He has betrayed the exile community and the people of Cuba.

Despite Official Threats, Cuban Artist's Rights Performance Will Continue #YoTambienExijo

Cuban artist Tania Bruguera has organized a performance whereby Cubans will be given an opportunity to publicly demand their rights.

It's called #YoTambienExijo (#IAlsoDemand).

The concept is very simple:

An open microphone will be placed in Havana's Revolutionary Square at 3:00 pm on Tuesday, December 30th.

Everyone will have a right to speak at the microphone for one minute to demand their rights -- no insults, violence or profanity.

(A simultaneous performance is scheduled at Miami's Freedom Tower. Same date, time and format.)

Yesterday, the Castro regime warned Bruguera that she will suffer "legal and personal consequences" if she proceeds with this performance.

Another Cuban artist, Danilo Maldonado (known as "El Sexto") remains imprisoned since Christmas Day for scheduling another visual arts performance, in which he was going to release two pigs onto the streets with the names "Fidel" and "Raul" painted on them. He now faces charges of "disobedience."

We demand their right to be heard.

Does the Obama Administration?

Cuban Dissidents Blast Obama’s Betrayal

By Marc Thiessen in The Washington Post:

Cuban dissidents blast Obama’s betrayal

President Obama is basking in global adulation for his decision to normalize relations with Cuba. But there is one group that is not impressed with Obama’s rapprochement with the totalitarian regime in Havana — the dissidents on the island who are risking their lives for democracy and human rights.

Yoani Sánchez, Cuba’s most influential dissident blogger, declared that with Obama’s move “Castroism has won.” Guillermo Fariñas, a dissident journalist and winner of the European Union’s 2010 Sakharov prize for human rights, told the Guardian newspaper that Obama’s move is “a disaster.” Fariñas, who has conducted 23 hunger strikes to protest Cuban repression, added “We live in daily fear that we will be killed by the fascist government. And now, the U.S. — our ally — turns its back on us and prefers to sit with our killers.”

Ángel Moya, who was recently released from an eight-year prison sentence, told the New York Times that Obama “betrayed those of us who are struggling against the Cuban government. There will be more repression, only this time with the blessing of the United States.” Moya further declared that dissidents “are totally against the easing of the embargo” because “the government will have more access to technology and money that can be used against us.”

Moya is right. U.S. tourism and investment in Cuba won’t help ordinary Cubans at all; it will help the regime repress them. Here is why: The Castro brothers are the nation’s sole employer. Virtually everyone in Cuba works for the state. The regime’s monopoly on employment is a source of political control. Cubans are dependent on the Castros for everything — work, housing, education, food — and can see those things taken away for the slightest expression of counterrevolutionary sentiment.

This means that if U.S. businesses invest in Cuba, they would have to partner with the Castro brothers. They would not be allowed to hire Cuban workers directly or pay them in U.S. dollars. They would have to pay the Castro regime as much as $10,000 per worker. The regime then would give the worker a few hundred worthless Cuban pesos and pocket the rest. So rather than helping ordinary Cubans become independent of the state, U.S. businesses will be directly subsidizing the Castro police state, while using what effectively amounts to Cuban slave labor.

That is reason enough to bar U.S. investment in Cuba. But the other reason Cuban dissidents oppose Obama’s move is that he has given up U.S. leverage to influence a post-Castro democratic transition. As Rebecca Roja, a dissident who said the secret police knocked out two of her teeth during beatings, told the Guardian: “The Castros got what they wanted from the U.S. Now they have no incentive to change.”

After five decades, it is clear the Castros were never going to follow in the footsteps of the regime in Burma (also known as Myanmar), which negotiated a loosening of repression in exchange for a lifting of sanctions and normalization of relations. But those who succeed the Castros were likely to do so once the brothers were gone. Virtually everyone on the island — both inside and outside the regime — was waiting for the Castros to finally die so that the process of normalizing economic and political ties could finally begin.

Now the regime doesn’t have to wait or give anything in return — because Obama has unilaterally given the Cuban regime the political recognition it was desperately seeking. Obama has given the Castros legitimacy and hopes to soon unleash a flood of tourists and business investment that will only help the regime maintain its totalitarian system. The president apparently did not even seek any liberalization from Havana in exchange — no agreement to allow a free press, independent political parties, free market reforms or free elections, much less to end repression against dissent.

Fortunately, Obama was constrained from lifting the embargo entirely because Congress codified it in 1996 as part of the Helms-Burton Act. The complete lifting of economic sanctions on the Castros is conditioned by law on a post-Castro regime taking meaningful steps to dismantle the police state and move toward democracy and a free market economy.

The remaining legal restrictions on trade with Cuba are the last piece of leverage the United States has to press for democratic change on the island when the Castros are gone. Congress should listen to the dissidents on the island and refuse to go along with any further loosening of economic sanctions unless real democratic change occurs in Cuba.

The United States should not give away its last bit of leverage just as time prepares to do what the embargo could not — bring about the end of the Castro regime.

Albuquerque Journal Editorial: Make Fugitives' Return Part of Cuba Deal

By The Albuquerque Journal's Editorial Board:

Make return of fugitives part of new Cuban deal

In November 1971, a New Mexico State Police patrolman, Robert Rosenbloom, was shot and killed during a traffic stop on Interstate 40 west of Albuquerque. Three suspects who belonged to a black militant separatist group known as Republic of New Afrika hid out for weeks, then carjacked a wrecker truck at gunpoint and forced the driver to take them to the Albuquerque airport. On Nov. 27, they hijacked Trans World Airlines Flight 106, flew to Tampa, Fla., where passengers were allowed off the plane, then flew on to Cuba and into the welcoming arms of the Cuban government, which gave them political asylum.

Two have since died, but Charlie Hill is still living in Cuba. Among other U.S. fugitives given asylum in Cuba is a member of the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army. She was convicted in 1977 of killing a New Jersey state trooper and sentenced to life in prison. She escaped to Cuba in the ’80s.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie want the Barack Obama administration to get these dangerous fugitives back as part of the thawing out of relations with Cuba.

Cuban officials say extraditing U.S. fugitives is off the table, claiming that, as a sovereign nation, it has the right to grant political asylum to those “it considers to have been persecuted.” It’s an interesting insight into the Castro regime that it considers those who kill police officers and flee to be persecuted.

The change in relations is much more important for Cuba, which has suffered a stagnant economy and repressive regime, than it is for the United States. Obama and Congress shouldn’t give up much, and the president shouldn’t even consider a personal visit to Cuba for camera mugging sessions with the Castro brothers until he gets an extradition deal to return some of America’s most wanted fugitives to U.S. soil and U.S. justice. And our Democrat congressional delegation should hammer that point home.

What a Deal for Castro - No Help for Cubans' Rights

By Rich Lowery in San Antonio Express-News:

What a deal with Cuba — no help for Cubans’ rights

Candidate Barack Obama said that, as president, he would talk to anti-American dictators without precondition. He didn’t mention that he would also give them historic policy concessions without precondition.

His surprise unilateral change in the U.S. posture toward the Castro dictatorship came without even the pretense of serious promises by the Cubans to reform their kleptocratic, totalitarian rule.

The trade of Alan Gross, the American aid worker jailed in Cuba for the offense of trying to help Jewish Cubans get on the Internet, for three Cuban spies is understandable (we also got back one of our spies, and Cuba released several dozen political prisoners as a sweetener).

The rest of Obama’s sweeping revisions — diplomatic relations and the loosening of every economic sanction he can plausibly change on his own — are freely granted, no questions asked. It is quid with no pro quo.

After waiting out 10 other U.S. presidents, the Castro regime finally hit the jackpot in Obama, whose beliefs about our Cuba policy probably don’t differ much from those of the average black-turtleneck-clad graduate student in Latin American studies.

Every dictator around the world must be waiting anxiously for a call or a postcard from Obama. The leader of the free world comes bearing gifts and understanding. He is willing to overlook human-rights abuses. And his idea of burnishing his legacy is to clinch deals with his country’s enemies.

Who helped negotiate the one with Cuba? Harry Truman had Dean Acheson. Richard Nixon had Henry Kissinger. Barack Obama has Ben Rhodes, the deputy national-security adviser who has what it takes to collapse U.S. policy toward Cuba and get nothing in return.

There is no doubt that economic sanctions are a blunt and dubious instrument, and reasonable people can disagree about their wisdom (I’ve gone back and forth about the Cuban embargo through the years). But dictatorial regimes hate them for a reason. All things considered, they want more economic wherewithal rather than less.

Cuba is heavily dependent on the largesse of its ideological partner Venezuela, whose irrational, left-wing policies have helped trash its economy. Just as the Cuban dictatorship faces the dire prospect of the collapse of Venezuela’s support, here comes El Yanqui to cushion the blow. The Castro regime will take a cut of the increased trade, remittances and tourism that will spring from Obama’s concessions.

Consider tourism. The Cuban military has an enormous holding company called GAESA. One of its companies, Gaviota, operates an extensive network of hotels and resorts, according to the strategic consultancy Stratfor. Imagine if the Pentagon owned the Marriott and Hilton hotel chains. That is the Cuban tourism industry in a nutshell.

About a million Canadian tourists go to Cuba every year. In total, more than 2 million tourists visit annually, and yet the Castro regime is still standing.

It is true, of course, that the embargo — which Obama can’t lift on his own — hasn’t ended the Castro regime. On the other hand, there is little reason to believe that lifting the embargo will end it, either. Our vast trade with China hasn’t yet made Beijing any less repressive.

The Cuba embargo is condemned as a relic of the Cold War, but it is the regime itself that is a relic, an inhuman jackboot left over from the era when people actually professed to believe in workers’ paradises.

There are holdout believers, still. The Nation magazine is doing a trip to Cuba, perhaps because the journey to North Korea is too long. The liberal elite has often treated Fidel Castro as a cute, plucky figure of defiance, and even now, the government has determined apologists in the U.S. Congress.

If Cuba were a racist apartheid-style system rather than a communist dictatorship, no one would be so eager to do business with it. The great and good celebrate the Obama changes as the end of an era. But they will replenish the coffers of a Cold War regime that is stubbornly still standing.

Why Isn't Obama Being Transparent About His Deal With Cuba's Regime?

Sunday, December 28, 2014
When President Obama first took office in 2009, he declared that "transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their government is doing."

Well, either Obama is not being transparent about his secret deal with Cuban dictator Raul Castro.

Or the deal is even worse than we thought.

In exchange for a myriad of concessions from the United States, the Castro regime was supposed to release 53 political prisoners.

Apparently, Obama was unaware that the Castro regime has been trading political prisoners for concessions for decades -- just ask Jimmy Carter -- and then re-arrests them (or new ones) later.

However, no negotiated political prisoner release has ever been surrounded with such silence and mystery -- or lack of "transparency" -- as the current 53.

As Reuters reported this morning:

"Cuba's most prominent dissidents say they have been kept in the dark by U.S. officials over a list of 53 political prisoners who will be released from jail as part of a deal to end decades of hostility between the United States and Cuba. For years, dissident leaders have told the United States which opponents of Cuba's communist government were being jailed or harassed, but they say they were not consulted when the list of prisoners to be freed was drawn up or even told who is on it. The lack of information has stoked concern and frustration among the dissidents, who worry that the secret list is flawed and that genuine political prisoners who should be on it will be left to languish."

According to Obama, the Castro regime also agreed to release a Cuban, U.S. intelligence asset, who is widely believed to be Rolando Sarraff Trujillo.

Sarraff Trujillo was exchanged for three Cuban spies imprisoned in the U.S., including one serving a life sentence for a conspiracy to kill Americans.

As if this 1-for-3 deal wasn't bad enough, there's still no information about Sarraff or his whereabouts.

As Reuters also reports, "his parents said they are desperate to hear from their son as they haven't spoken with him since before Obama's Dec. 17 announcement."

Meanwhile, former spy and double agent, Bill Gaede, who worked closely with Sarraff in the 1990s, has shed further doubts:

"The only reason people strongly suspected that the mysterious spy might be Rolando Sarraff Trujillo (a.k.a. Roly) is that his family can't find him. Cuban prison officials told them that their son had been transferred, but not to worry about him. He was in 'good hands'. Certainly, Roly fit most of the description made by Obama at his press conference announcing reestablishment of relations with Cuba: a Cuban intelligence officer locked up for 20 years for providing cryptographic information that led to the capture of the aforementioned spies. So who else could it be? And if in addition the Obama Administration 'carelessly leaks' the name through 'unidentified official' sources, we have the makings of what appears to be 'disinformation'. This speculation is reinforced by Roly's resume. It certainly meets the '20 years' part. It does not even come close to meeting the part about 'cryptography and the capturing of the Cuban spies'. There's a contradiction somewhere. Either the secret spy is not Roly or President Obama is lying through every corner of his mouth."

Needless to say, we believe the President of the United States over a former double-agent like Gaede.

But Obama's lack of transparency is not making it easy.

McConnell: After Obama's Cuba Deal, Israel Should be Worried

[Obama's Cuba deal] is going to strengthen the Castro brothers providing them with the kind of foreign currency that will allow them to continue to prop up their oppressive regime. We have a couple of Cuban Americans in the U.S. Senate: Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey; Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida -- both of them spoke forcibly against what the president did. As, interestingly, did the Washington Post. So I think it was another example of the president's foreign policy, which seems to reward repressive regimes and raise doubts among our friends about whether we are truly going to be with them at times of crisis... If I were the Israeli government, looking at what the president did yesterday with regard to Cuba, I would be pretty nervous that the president is not above making a bad deal. 
-- U.S. Senator Mitch McConell (R-KY), incoming Senate Majority Leader, interview with Israel Hayom, 12/26/14

Political Cartoon: On Obama's Bad Cuba Deal

Did Obama Lie to Cuban-Americans?

By Russ Sloan in The Daily Commercial:

Lies and politics are close cousins in the White House

“Lying can never save us from another lie” is probably the most famous quote from Vaclav Havel, the first president of the Czech Republic. In politics we have often been subjected to political spin, half truths, exaggeration and downright lies. But when political lies consistently follow one after another, at what point can we believe anything that source says?

On May 23, 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama was speaking to the Cuban-American Foundation’s annual Cuban Independence Day luncheon, where he said the following: “My policy towards Cuba will be guided by one word, liberty. The road to freedom for all Cubans must begin with justice for Cuba’s political prisoners, the right of free speech, a free press, freedom of assembly, and it must lead to elections that are free and fair. This is my commitment.”

He stated that he would not begin to “normalize” relations with Cuba until all political prisoners are released. To all of the political prisoners still in Cuba, President Obama’s promise must ring very hollow today based on his decision to renew relations with the Castro brothers’ oppressive regime. To those of us who know what he said in 2008, it is just one more significant lie piled on a continuous stack of presidential lies.

One wonders how any politician today, knowing that there exists volumes of recorded utterances, can so blatantly ignore what they promised and now do the exact opposite. Apparently the president shares the beliefs of Jonathan Gruber, the MIT professor who scoffed that the American people were stupid as they drafted and passed Obamacare.

I ask myself, how many times can anyone lie before you recognize that this person is no longer trustworthy? The entire litany of President Obama’s lies would exceed my column space, but the important ones would be his 30-plus promises that you could keep your health care plan, doctor and save money, or his 20-plus utterances that he could not ignore a significant portion of our immigration laws since he was a president not an emperor.

Obama campaigned against the spending of George Bush, only to make Bush look like a miser. He said Bush was un-American for adding $4 trillion to our national debt over eight years, only to see his administration run up $7.4 trillion more debt during his six years. He states that he has issued fewer executive orders than previous presidents but does not mention that his numerous presidential proclamations virtually amount to the same thing. This was just a deliberate half truth. We’re making progress.

Throughout his administration, over 20 times, he has promised that Iran would not get nuclear weapons. Does anyone now believe that? Iran has played Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama like novices in a high stakes poker game. It is one thing to disagree with the president based on an honest difference of opinion, but to constantly be inundated with lies is dumbfounding.

Vaclav Havel was correct, “Lying can never save us from another lie.” For the past six years, we have been subjected to a series of major lies that can all be fully documented by the president’s very own words.

Famed Cuban Artist Arrested, Transferred to Secret Police Headquarters

Friday, December 26, 2014
Famed Cuban artist, Danilo Maldonado, known as "El Sexto," was arrested yesterday (on Christmas Day) prior to one of his scheduled "visual art performances."

The performance entailed releasing two pigs onto the streets with the names "Fidel" and "Raul" painted on them.

This morning, he was transferred to Castro's infamous secret police headquarters, known as Villa Marista.

Apparently, they didn't get the memo on President Obama's "deal" with Raul there.

El Sexto is known for his art, paintings and graffiti, with political overtones.

He has been arrested on multiple occasions and has had his art confiscated.

#FreeElSexto

Obama's Policy Change Worries Cuba's Democratic Opposition

Read this story in today's New York Times very carefully.

On the one hand, you have Cuba's courageous democrats urging the United States not to unconditionally normalize relations and lift sanctions towards the Castro regime.

On the other, you have the Brookings Institution's Richard Feinberg defending Obama's betrayal of Cuba's democrats in favor of "shift toward political freedom would come from within the ranks of the Communist Party, as it did in Russia."

The most successful democratic transitions in modern history have been those where the United States sided with the democratic opposition, i.e., Poland's Walesa, the Czech Republic's Havel, South Africa's Mandela, Estonia's Laar.

Yet instead, Feinberg wants the United States to side with Cuba's Putins -- and Obama seems all-too-happy to oblige.

Because that worked out so well.

Finally, this article gets a fundamental fact upside down:

It's not whether Cuba's democrats will sit at the table to negotiate with Castro -- for they've never been invited. It's whether Castro will allow them to legally function without beatings, harassment and imprisonment -- let alone give them a seat at the table.

From The New York Times:

Sudden U.S. Thaw Worries Cuban Dissidents

Sitting in her brother’s spare apartment, near a blinking plastic Christmas tree, Sonia Garro was relishing her newfound freedom, happily trading her prison garb for a purple dress and flip-flops with bright pink plastic bows over the toes.

Ms. Garro, a member of the Cuban dissident group known as the Ladies in White, had just spent, by her count, two years, nine months and 20 days behind bars. Her surprise release, a senior American official said, came as part of the secret negotiations that led to the historic agreement restoring diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba.

But while Ms. Garro flashed a toothpaste-ad smile, thrilled to be spending Christmas with her 18-year-old daughter and other relatives, she had serious reservations about the deal. Like many dissidents, she was uneasy with the sudden rapprochement between Washington and Havana, including the softening of the longstanding economic embargo against Cuba.

“A country that violates the human rights of its people shouldn’t have sanctions lifted,” Ms. Garro said. “Here there is no freedom of speech, there is no freedom of anything. This will give them more leeway to continue operating with the same impunity that they have always operated with.”

There have long been certainties in a dissident’s life in Cuba: the weekly marches of the Ladies in White; the hours, days, years spent behind bars; the crowds of government supporters and state agents at the doors of activists, hurling eggs, insults or blows.

And until last week, many dissidents say, there was the United States, a predictable ally and defender of those who dared to protest openly against the Cuban government.

Now, some say, President Obama has put an end to that certainty.

“He betrayed those of us who are struggling against the Cuban government,” Ángel Moya, a former political prisoner whose wife, Berta Soler, leads the Ladies in White, said of Mr. Obama’s decision to begin normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba. “There will be more repression, only this time with the blessing of the United States.”

As the United States and Cuba enter a period of unprecedented dialogue, many dissidents who have stood shoulder to shoulder with American officials in condemning the Castros contend that Mr. Obama gave away too much — and got too little in return.

As part of the deal with the United States, the Cuban government freed Alan P. Gross, an American government contractor jailed on the island, and agreed to release 53 prisoners who Washington said were being held for political reasons.

Ms. Garro’s name was on that list, the senior American official said, and she was freed on Dec. 9 with two other prisoners — more than a week before the deal was officially announced.

Many dissidents argue that the United States surrendered its leverage without extracting broad political changes, and they wonder whether American officials will continue to press as hard for reform now that a deal has been struck.

But experts say dissidents fear something else as well: that in an era of negotiation, dissidents who reject dialogue will become irrelevant.

“The hard-liners here will have to either engage, or perish,” said Richard Feinberg, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Mr. Obama ended the posture of nonengagement “with a stroke,” he said, adding: “Obama had a conversation with Raúl Castro. Then why can’t they?”

Cuban opposition groups have been prone to rivalries and failed to gain much of a following among ordinary Cubans, experts and other government critics say.

In the meantime, a new wave of activists and critics has emerged — on and off the island — that is no longer governed by a simple polarity: pro- and anti-revolution.

They are bloggers, artists, rappers, writers and economists of all ages, many of them Internet savvy. Even some who profess loyalty to the revolution write cutting commentaries on the failings of the system. Many of them believe that the end of hostilities will allow more debate and bring openings that could lead, eventually, to democracy.

“Civil society in Cuba is a whole group of actors who have social and cultural roles and different political visions,” said Roberto Veiga, director of Cuba Posible, an organization that promotes political dialogue. “Last week’s announcement was a great gesture of détente, and we Cubans have to make the same gesture with one another.”

Keen to signal that détente did not mean taking pressure off the Castro government, Mr. Obama said last week, “I share the concerns of dissidents there and human rights activists that this is still a regime that represses its people.”

“I don’t anticipate overnight changes,” he added.

Nor do the dissidents. Elizardo Sánchez, head of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, a group that tracks human rights in Cuba, said the system of political repression was too sweeping — and the government too entrenched — for the loosening of the embargo to ensure change.

He and other critics contended that the police held dozens of activists for hours on Dec. 10, only days before the government announced the new relationship with the United States.

Loosening the embargo might help more Cubans see that “the first cause of poverty and lack of liberty is not the embargo, it’s the totalitarian government of Cuba,” Mr. Sánchez said. Still, he said, he is “profoundly skeptical.”

Antonio Rodiles, whose project, Estado de Sats, hosts political debates and publishes them on the Internet, said the American government had miscalculated.

“This is a blank check for the Castros and their heirs in power,” he said.

Mr. Castro, in a speech to the National Assembly last week, acknowledged the two countries’ profound differences over “national sovereignty, democracy and human rights.”

“I reaffirm our willingness to discuss every aspect of these issues,” he said.

Regina Coyula, a blogger who worked for 20 years in state security, said that, while dissidents like the Ladies in White were brave, a country in transition needed a more varied opposition with a more developed vision of how the country will forge a new future.

To begin a truly national debate, activists said, they need to find ways of raising their profiles among ordinary Cubans and reflecting people’s everyday concerns, beyond the issue of freedom of speech. They have called on the government to legalize independent associations, which they believe would make it easier to connect to groups off the island and involve the public.

Spreading the word is not easy on an island where few have Internet access and there is no independent television or printed news media. Yoani Sánchez, Cuba’s most widely read blogger, has millions of followers around the world, but many Cubans have never read a word she has written.

Experts doubted that a popular movement would emerge in Cuba any time soon, if at all. Largely cut off from the Internet and living in a system where most people depend on the government for a job, Cubans have developed an apathy that will be hard to alter, they said.

Mr. Feinberg predicted that the shift toward political freedom would come from within the ranks of the Communist Party, as it did in Russia.

The United States, he said, “should push for a constructive dialogue between members of civil society and reform-minded people within the government.”

But some doubt that groups like the Ladies in White, many of whose members say the government is illegitimate and should not be recognized, would sit down at the table for negotiations.

Lázaro López, 50, a former political prisoner who stood in solidarity with the women last Sunday as they ended their march in a park shaded by great banyan trees, said the movement was still, and always, “about protest.”

“We just want liberty,” he added. “We want what’s just.”

Can Obama’s One-Sided Cuba Deal Be Salvaged?

By Will Inboden in Foreign Policy:

Can Obama’s One-Sided Cuba Deal Be Salvaged?

For almost a week, the Obama administration has been basking in the glow of editorial page plaudits (at least the editorial pages of the New York Times and Granma) for its gambit in moving to normalize relations with Cuba. But now that some time has passed, it is worth taking a closer look at the nature of the deal itself, and what the next steps might be.

Spoiler alert: the Cuba deal is not a halcyon moment in the annals of American diplomacy.

In its negotiations with Cuba, the Obama administration made two fundamental mistakes. First, the White House failed to realize that it holds a much stronger negotiating hand than Havana. The Castro regime is at arguably its weakest and most vulnerable point in over 50 years, as it faces the loss of its petroleum patronage from a fragile Venezuela buffeted by $60 per barrel oil prices. This is a dictatorship desperate to survive.

Yet instead of capitalizing on America’s substantial leverage to gain meaningful Cuban concessions, the Obama administration made its second mistake of communicating to the Castro regime that Washington was more desperate for a deal than Havana. The savvy Cubans realized this. The result is an agreement in which the United States grants to Havana substantial political and economic advantages, while Havana concedes pretty much nothing. (This is setting aside the prisoner swap, which is a separate matter and could have been undertaken as a confidence-building measure prior to diplomatic negotiations on the overall relationship).

There may be a case for amending U.S. policy toward Cuba – as Walter Mead astutely points out in the American Interest, the Castro regime has cynically used the embargo as an instrument in clinging to power – but the timing, manner, and especially nature of the Obama administration’s new policy is a major setback for American interests, and for the interests of the Cuban people. It is a failure of diplomacy.

Judging by President Obama’s comparisons to past American policy shifts towards China and Vietnam, it is also a failure to understand history. In both cases, China and Vietnam had undertaken substantial reforms in their foreign and economic policies before the United States normalized the respective bilateral relationships. It was based on these demonstrated improvements that the United States could reciprocate with diplomatic upgrades and closer economic ties.

In the case of China, Nixon’s historic 1972 visit cemented China’s status as a strategic partner aligned with the U.S. in the Cold War contest against the Soviet Union. Then in 1978, Deng Xiaoping launched his historic economic reforms. The geopolitical shift in China’s external behavior, and Deng’s internal reforms, both occurred prior to America’s official normalization of the U.S.-China relationship (though the normalization negotiations were undertaken as Deng’s reforms were unfolding). Likewise with Vietnam, which launched its pivotal Doi Moi economic liberalization reforms in 1986, nearly a decade before the Clinton administration normalized the U.S.-Vietnam relationship.

In jarring contrast, Cuba has not undertaken any similar reforms in either its external behavior or its internal political and economic structure. If anything, the Castro regime seems intent on pocketing the Obama administration’s concessions as yet another lifeline to maintain its hold on power and keep its dictatorship alive. As Yale historian and Cuban exile Carlos Eire points out in an eloquent remonstrance to the new policy:

"While much attention has been paid to President Obama’s Cuba policy speech, hardly any has been paid to dictator Raúl Castro’s shorter speech, broadcast in Cuba at exactly the same time. In his spiteful address, the unelected ruler of Cuba said that he would accept President Obama’s gesture of good will 'without renouncing a single one of our principles.'"

The White House has dug a deep diplomatic hole for the United States, but more negotiations lie ahead to implement the new Cuba policy, so all opportunities are not yet lost. In the spirit of the holidays and Shadow Government’s tradition of offering constructive criticism, here are some specific suggestions for steps the United States should seek from Cuba:

- Cuba itself may not be much of a security threat to the United States, but the Castro regime has happily offered the island as a prime intelligence collection platform for our geopolitical rivals China and Russia. The White House should demand that Havana expel all Chinese and Russian intelligence agents and listening posts before normalization. (One precedent for this is Egypt under Anwar Sadat, who expelled all Soviet military advisors from Egypt in 1972, laying the groundwork for an eventual rapprochement with the United States).

- The White House trumpeted Cuba’s apparent willingness to release 53 political prisoners, a shameful token in light of the reported over 8,000 prisoners of conscience incarcerated in Cuba. As candidate Obama himself said in 2008, the White House should demand the release of all prisoners of conscience before normalization. (For those Castro apologists who downplay Havana’s repression, the comparison with Vietnam is revealing: Vietnam has a population of 92 million people and about 70 political prisoners. Cuba has a population of 11 million people and over 8,000 political prisoners).

- Cuba still gives sanctuary to over 70 fugitives who fled American justice, including murderers and domestic terrorists. The White House should demand the extradition of every American fugitive before normalization.

President Obama’s speech unfortunately implied that the American embargo has prevented the Cuban people from accessing the Internet, when in fact it is the Cuban government that bans private internet access. The White House should demand that Havana permit unfettered Internet access for every Cuban citizen before normalization.

These are just a start. There are many other issues that should be on the negotiating table as well, especially economic reforms such as currency conversion and access, and substantial increases in private property rights.

At this juncture, Cuba has successfully parlayed its weakest hand in a half-century into a strategic win – not because of the Castro regime’s negotiating genius, but because of its good fortune in having a desperate and diplomatically maladroit counterpart in the Obama administration. But this is just the opening chapter, and as the White House moves into the implementation negotiations, and as Congress exercises its authorities in oversight, funding, and economic relations, there remain many areas to press for improvements from Havana.

After all, even the Castro brothers are sometimes willing to make reforms. This week it bears recalling that in 1997 Fidel agreed to lift his three-decades old ban on Christmas.

Must-Read: The Pope's Cuban Blunder

By Nicholas G. Hahn in The New York Daily News:

Cuban dissident voices & Pope Francis’ deaf ears

The wives of imprisoned critics of the Castro regime deserved better

When Berta Soler met Pope Francis, it had been a long time coming.

Soler’s Ladies in White, a Catholic opposition movement comprised of relatives of jailed human rights activists in Cuba, had pleaded numerous times for a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI. He declined and visited the communist island in 2012 only to continue a policy of détente established by his predecessor, John Paul II.

But a short blessing by Pope Francis in March 2013 signaled a slight shift in direction — or that’s at least what Soler believed.

“We think a Latin American Pope is very good for us. Pope Francis knows a little better the problems that our peoples have, he comes from far down and he can help the people who are suffering,” Soler told the Italian newspaper La Stampa after receiving some papal encouragement.

If only Soler and her Ladies had known better. Last week, the Vatican confirmed that for more than 18 months, the Holy See had been working to restore diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. The pontiff seems to have blessed the Cuban opposition with one hand, and the Castro brothers with the other.

Soler’s Ladies, Cuban exiles, and other dissident groups have long lobbied against new relations without any concessions from the communist regime. They aren’t as hopeful as others who say more U.S. trade with the Caribbean island may lead to more freedom.

The international aid worker Alan Gross’ release is perhaps the only Cuban concession — and thank goodness for that — but even so, it came as a small part of a lopsided prisoner swap.

“Democracy and freedom for the Cuban people aren’t going to be achieved by what Obama has given to the Cuban government,” Soler said in a post on her group’s website. In his announcement of re-establishing diplomatic relations, President Obama thanked Pope Francis for helping broker a Cold War-era thawing, saying his “moral example shows us the importance of pursuing the world as it should be, rather than simply settling for the world as it is.”

The President and the Pope may be settling for far less than they might think. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Catholic and son of parents who fled the communist paradise, denounced, warning that the move as “more than just putting U.S. national security at risk, President Obama is letting down the Cuban people, who still yearn to be free.” Rubio didn’t spare any words for his spiritual shepherd, who he politely encouraged to “take up the cause of freedom and democracy, which is critical for a free people — for a people to truly be free.”

The Argentine pontiff should know a thing or two about the church’s cause for freedom. When a military junta in his own country took power in a 1976 coup during what is called the “Dirty War,” Father Bergoglio was head of the Jesuits.

The future-Pope saw many of his priests and seminarians jailed and killed. Bergoglio is reported to have helped many flee the country and even met with the military dictatorship to save the lives of two imprisoned priests.

But those experiences may not have been on the pontiff's mind when he wrote personal letters to Obama and Castro or when he hosted delegates from Cuba at the Vatican.

While it might be fodder for sensational journalism, Rubio and other Catholics who make public policy shouldn’t have to correct their pontiff on foreign affairs. Clerics are spiritual leaders, not political ones. When prelates pretend to be diplomats, it dilutes their authority on issues of faith and morals.

Francis might have done one better by prodding the Castro brothers about their regime’s woeful human rights record. That would have been in a Pope’s wheelhouse.

And it would have been what Berta Soler deserved.

Hahn is the editor of RealClearReligion.org.

Curbelo Op-Ed in The Miami Herald: Obama's Failure to Lead on Cuba

By 34-year old, U.S. Congressman-elect Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) in The Miami Herald:

President’s failure to lead

In my campaign to represent Florida’s 26th Congressional District in the U.S. House, I pledged that when discussing U.S.-Cuba policy, I would do so from my perspective as a proud U.S.-born citizen, seeking to advance our country’s interests, independent of my personal and emotional ties to the Cuban tragedy of the past 56 years.

When President Obama announced the release of three convicted Cuban spies and Cuba’s return of American hostage Alan Gross and a then-anonymous intelligence agent — as well as the sweeping changes in our nation’s relationship with the Cuban dictatorship — I carefully considered the president’s actions.

But it didn’t take long to conclude that, while the cause for freedom in Cuba had certainly suffered a major setback; even greater damage had been done to American leadership in the world.

The president has given every anti-American dictator and terrorist group a blueprint for successfully extorting the United States: Take an American hostage. Be patient, and eventually you’ll extract every concession you seek. Cuba’s totalitarian regime has extracted a major reward at a critical time for taking Gross hostage in 2009.

The magnitude of the Cuban bounty cannot be overstated. The regime received three spies — including one convicted of conspiring in the murder of three American citizens and one legal resident in the 1996 shootdown of the Brothers to the Rescue planes — and the prestige and legitimacy of full diplomatic relations with the U.S.

As secret negotiations between the United States and Cuba began, the Cubans were caught trafficking 240 tons of illegal arms to North Korea in flagrant violation of U.N. sanctions. In addition, Cubans were complicit in the murder of more than 40 Venezuelan student activists demonstrating against Nicolás Maduro’s authoritarian regime. These actions make evident the depth of the president’s poor judgment, and the duplicity of the Cuban government.

This is disturbing, but it certainly should not surprise anyone. The president’s reckless conduct regarding Cuba is another symptom of a perilous worldview and an incoherent foreign policy. Obama seems to believe that we credibly can negotiate with Iranian mullahs, who have promised to annihilate Israel and hang homosexuals from cranes. He set a fleeting “red line” for Syria’s Bashar al Assad as our allies looked to the U.S. for leadership.

Four years and 200,000 dead later, Assad remains and the world knows Obama’s threats were hollow. This is the administration of the failed “Russian reset” and that stalled before sanctioning the Maduro government. The trend, unfortunately, continued with another feeble attempt at peace through weakness and appeasement.

To justify his actions on Cuba, Obama used the disingenuous argument that our sanctions policy “has not worked.” I doubt the president actually believes that sanctions were supposed to cause regime change in Cuba. That would be naïve. Where the sanctions have been successful is in denying the Cuban government billions of dollars in profits from a commercial relationship with the United States and from American tourism.

A well-funded Cuban government means a more sophisticated, interventionist Cuban military and the aggressive exporting of anti-Americanism throughout the Western hemisphere. This is the type of conduct the regime engaged in when it was last cash-rich.

We should rejoice in Gross’ freedom. Cuba’s dictators were cruel to use him in a successful effort to extort the United States. Come January, the new Congress should work to mitigate the damage inflicted on American leadership and the cause for freedom by President Obama’s actions.

In an unstable and dangerous world, America must lead with courage and clarity. If the President cannot, Congress must.

WaPo: As a Cuban Exile, I Feel Betrayed by President Obama

By professor Carlos Eire in The Washington Post:

As a Cuban exile, I feel betrayed by President Obama

I am furious, in pain, and deeply offended by those who laud this betrayal of the Cuban people as a great moment in history.

My family and native land were destroyed by the brutal Castro regime. In 1959, as an 8-year-old, I listened to mobs shout “paredon!” (to the firing squad!). I watched televised executions, and was terrified by the incessant pressure to agree with a bearded dictator’s ideals.

As the months passed, relatives, friends, and neighbors began to disappear. Some of them emerged from prison with detailed accounts of the tortures they endured, but many never reappeared, their lives cut short by firing squads.

I also witnessed the government’s seizure of all private property – down to the ring on one’s finger – and the collapse of my country’s economy. I began to feel as if some monstrous force was trying to steal my mind and soul through incessant indoctrination.

By the age of 10, I was desperate to leave.

The next year, my parents sent me to the United States.  I am one of the lucky 14,000 unaccompanied children rescued by Operation Pedro Pan. Our plan to reunite within a few months was derailed by the policies of  the Castro regime, which intentionally prevented people like my parents from leaving Cuba. Although my mother did manage to escape three years later, my father remained stuck for the rest of his life. When he died, 14 years after my departure, the Castro regime prevented me from attending his funeral.

I am now a professor of history and religion at Yale University.

And I long for justice. Instead of seeing Raúl Castro shaking President Obama’s hand, I would like to see him, his brother, and all their henchmen in a court room, being tried for crimes against humanity. I also long for genuine freedom in Cuba. Instead of seeing his corrupt and abusive regime rewarded with favors from the United States, I long for the day when that regime is replaced by a genuine democracy with a free market economy.

The fact that I am a historian makes me see things differently, too. I earn my living by analyzing texts and documents, sifting evidence, and separating facts from lies and myths. I have been trained to read between the lines, and to discern the hidden meaning in all rhetoric.

While much attention has been paid to President Obama’s Cuba policy speech, hardly any has been paid to dictator Raúl Castro’s shorter speech, broadcast in Cuba at exactly the same time.

In his spiteful address, the unelected ruler of Cuba said that he would accept President Obama’s gesture of good will “without renouncing a single one of our principles.”

What, exactly, are those principles?

Like his brother Fidel, whose name he invoked, and like King Louis XIV of France, whose name he dared not mention, Raúl speaks of himself as the embodiment of the state he rules, as evidenced by his mention of “our principles,” which assumes that all Cubans share his mindset. Raúl claims that he is defending his nation’s “self-determination,” “sovereignty,” and “independence,” and also dares to boast that his total control of the Cuban economy should be admired as “social justice.”

In reality, he is defending is his role as absolute monarch.

Cubans have no freedom of speech or assembly. The press is tightly controlled, and there is no freedom to establish political parties or labor unions. Travel is strictly controlled, as is access to the Internet. There is no economic freedom and no elections. According to the Associated Press, at least 8,410 dissidents were detained in 2014.

These are the principles that Raúl Castro is unwilling to renounce, which have driven nearly 20 percent of Cuba’s population into exile.

Unfortunately, these are also the very principles that President Obama ratified as acceptable, which will govern Cuba for years to come.

Although President Obama did acknowledge the lack of “freedom and openness” in Cuba, and also hinted that Raúl Castro should  loosen his grip on the Cuban people, his rhetoric was as hollow as Raúl’s. He didn’t make any demands for immediate, genuine reforms in Cuba. Equally hollow was his reference to Cuba’s “civil society.” He made no mention of the constant abuse heaped on Cuba’s non-violent dissidents, or of the fact that the vast majority of them have pleaded with him to tighten rather than ease existing sanctions on the Castro regime.

But it was not just what was left unsaid that made his rhetoric hollow. Some of the “facts” cited in support of his policy changes were deliberate distortions of history that lay most of the blame for Cuba’s problems on the United States.

Among the most glaring of these falsehoods was the claim that “our sanctions on Cuba have denied Cubans access to technology that has empowered individuals around the globe.” The real culprit is not the embargo, but the Castro regime itself, which actively prevents Cubans from accessing the Internet. Cuba has been purchasing all sorts of cutting-edge technology from other countries for use by its government, its military, its spies, and its tourist industry.

If studied carefully, what President Obama’s artful speech reveals is a fixation on the failures of American foreign policy, and on his role as a righteous reformer. Moreover, the speech is riddled with false assumptions and wishful thinking.

Does President Obama really believe that somehow, magically, an influx of American diplomats, tourists, and dollars is going to force Raúl Castro and his military junta to give up their beloved repressive “principles”?

Dream on. President Obama knows all too well that the Castro regime has had diplomatic and economic relations with the rest of the world and hosted millions of tourists from democratic nations for many years. Such engagement has brought no freedom or prosperity to the Cuban people. He also knows that tourism has only served to create an apartheid state in which foreigners enjoy privileges that are denied to the natives.

President Obama’s disingenuous formulation of a new Cuba policy has been praised by many around the world, but will be challenged by the legislative branch of the government of these United States.

Thank God and the Constitution for that.

The American people and the Cuban people deserve a much better future and a much better interpretation of history than those offered to them in President Obama’s shameful speech.

Obama’s One Hand Clap With Castro

By Doug McIntyre in The Daily Beast:

Obama’s One Hand Clap With Castro

There was really only one good reason to maintain the embargo: Trade with Cuba strengthens the Castros. So what, exactly, are we getting in return for Obama’s radical step?

“No cerveza, no trabajo” is about all I’ve retained from Brother Victor Serna’s Spanish II class at St. Mary’s High School.

Of course it’s been over 40 years, and that’s a long time to remember anything. But truth be told, I never came close to mastering the language despite my excellent grades.

I did not deserve them.

While I accepted every A- and B+ as a gift from the school gods, Brother Victor Serna was forever chastising me for slacking off from my “usual” stellar A/A+ efforts.

Brother Victor had taught my brother, Jeff, the previous year with far greater success. After years at the head of a parochial school classroom, he could no longer distinguish one blond Irish Catholic kid from another. I coasted through Spanish II on Jeff’s stellar effort.

What I won’t ever forget were Brother Victor’s periodic anti-communist tirades. His face a brilliant crimson, neck veins bulging and spittle flying, he looked like America’s most famous Cuban, Ricky Ricardo, after Lucy had pissed him off and left him sputtering in his native tongue.

A Spaniard by birth, Victor Serna left home shy of his 14th birthday and entered the monastery to become a Marist brother. By 1943, he was missioned to Cienfuegos, Cuba.

In 1950, Serna earned his Ph.D. from the University of Havana, where he had befriended a classmate named Fidel Castro.

By 1961 Castro had seized power and Serna publicly criticized his old friend for his regime’s barbaric suppression of individual and religious rights. This courageous act earned him a late-night knock on the door with orders for Serna to vamos from Cuba. He had 24 hours to pack.

He never returned.

It’s fair to ask exactly what we got other than the return of Alan Gross. Right now it looks like the diplomatic equivalent of one hand clapping.

“I do not believe we can keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result,” said President Obama as he announced his intention to undo the policy of isolation followed by the previous 10 presidents.

The prison camp island nation known as Cuba erupted in celebration.

Closer to home, the reaction has been mixed.

With the midterm elections safely in the rearview mirror, Obama is on legacy patrol.

The Affordable Care Act is safely embedded, with repeal unlikely even with a freshly minted Republican Senate. His executive order granting work privileges and immunity from deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants may be headed to court, but not any time soon. Now he’s taking a radical new approach to the hemisphere’s only Stalinist government.

It’s hard to argue for the continuation of the U.S. embargo of Cuba. If the embargo were effective, the Castro brothers would have been doing Love Letters with the Duvaliers years ago. We trade with China and Vietnam, so why not Cuba, right?

Well, here’s one big reason to continue the embargo: Trade with Cuba strengthens the regime.

The Cuban government siphons off revenue from nearly every business transaction in the country. Until 2011, barbers were employees of the state. While cruise ship companies would like nothing more than to add Havana to their ports of call, the people of Cuba will still be paid a pittance. The average Cuban makes between $20 and $50 a month.

That’s not a typo.

On the upside, we’re likely to get better jazz, slick fielding middle infielders, and an army of great mechanics.

Granted, we’ve been waiting for half a century for the Cuban economy to collapse.

It hasn’t. Not even after its parent company, the Soviet Union, took a dive in 1991.

Obama has latched on to the failure of the embargo to topple the Castros as justification to shuffle the deck. But does he really want the Castos toppled? If so he has yet to say so publicly.

What he has said publicly is an apology for colonialism, something we are not guilty of in Cuba. The only other thing he has offered is vague boilerplate about a more “open” Cuba in the future after exposure to “American values.”

But the blunt truth is that nothing we do will free the Cuban people as long as they are subjugated by a thuggish government modeled on Stalin’s police state. Our secret weapon may be the hardening of Fidel’s and Raul’s arteries.

Poverty in the Caribbean worker’s paradise is not the result of America’s embargo. It’s the result of decades of draconian socialism.

While the president correctly points out that the United States is the only country with an embargo on Cuba, he misses the obvious point: If the Cubans are free to trade with the rest of the world, why aren’t they driving Subarus and Fiats?

Canada, Mexico, China, Japan, Germany, France, and every other nation on earth does business with Cuba, but the people there are still driving ’56 DeSotos, and many lack Internet access and nearly every other tool of the modern world. The reason? Fidel and Raul Castro.

Obama’s gambit is not irrational. Insanity, after all, is doing the same thing and expecting a different result, right? But the president’s new policy is naive.

For all his gifts, Obama has had one consistent glaring blind spot: He’s a terrible judge of tyrants. The Castros are the latest in a long line of despots he believed he could negotiate with.

From Vladimir Putin to Hosni Mubarak to Bashar al-Assad and the Kim du jour in North Korea, Obama seems the last person to recognize the monstrous evil these thugs represent.

It’s fair to ask exactly what we got in the president’s bargain with Cuba other than the return of Alan Gross. Right now it looks like the diplomatic equivalent of one hand clapping.

While the days of exploding cigars are happily behind us, the iron grip of an intolerant despot has not and is not likely to loosen under Obama any more than it did in the days of JFK.

Hezbollah Celebrates Cuba's Coercion of Obama, Takes Note

Wednesday, December 24, 2014
In last week's statement on Obama's bad Cuba deal, we wrote:

"Rogue regimes throughout the world will take note that you can take American hostages and will be rewarded with policy concessions."

We've already seen Iran overjoyed by Castro's coercion of Obama.

And now, Hezbollah.

From Lebanon's Daily Star:

Hezbollah: U.S.-Cuba thaw proof of colonial demise

Hezbollah views Washington’s historic reconciliation with Cuba after five decades of Cold War impasse as a popular victory against colonial hegemony, a party official said Wednesday.

“The achievements of Cuba, which was firm on its principles, is a lesson for all people of the world who are suffering from American hegemony,” Hezbollah official Ammar Moussawi said after a meeting with the Cuban ambassador to Lebanon.

Cuba’s success reveals how the will of the people is much stronger than a policy of sanctions, threats and intimidation practiced by hegemonic forces, Moussawi said.

Moussawi also congratulated Cuba for “thwarting a political, economic and military siege which was carried out as policy by Washington against Cuba for more than half a century.”

The firmness of Cuba’s positions and the steadfastness and patience of the Cuban people has pushed the US administration to recognize the inability of the siege to force Cuba to join American colonial policies, he said.

Quote of the Week: Who Will Now Stand for Cuban Freedom?

Why are we [the new generations] sad?  Because what happened last week is that we realized that if the United States of America does not stand up for freedom, then who does? If we are not the ones that tell the entire world, even if we stood alone, even if we said that we are the only ones that are going to stand for freedom. If we, the United States of America, do not stand up for freedom, then what was it for? What did the hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of people, who have died for the freedom of Cuba -- what did those lives mean? 
-- Anitere Flores, 38-year old Florida State Senator, remarks at a protest against Obama's Cuba deal, 12/20/14

Statement by Youngest Cuban-American Member of Congress

Statement by 34-year old, U.S. Congressman-elect Carlos Curbelo (R-FL):

We are happy for Alan Gross and his family. The Cuban dictatorship cruelly held him hostage for over five years in an effort to extort the Obama Administration. It worked. The fact that his release was part of a swap for imprisoned Cuban spies who represented a serious threat to US national security and who were accomplices in the murders of American citizens is condemnable and  unacceptable. Furthermore, the Obama Administration's unilateral changes to US-Cuba policy represent an affront to the US Congress. I will work tirelessly to hold the Administration accountable for this reckless conduct that damages US national security and benefits Cuba's dictators.

Bipartisan Cuban-American State Legislators in NJ and NY Oppose Obama's Deal

Tuesday, December 23, 2014
Statement by New Jersey Assembly Speaker, Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson/Bergen)

When I came from Cuba as a boy with my mother, our goal was to find the American Dream. We wanted to succeed through our own hard work, think what we wanted to think, speak what we wanted to speak and enjoy the fruits of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We found that and more in America, and I will forever be grateful. Tragically, those in Cuba, even after all these years and to this very day, have never tasted such freedoms.

That's why I do not agree with normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba. This is a very emotional and personal issue for me. I lived under the regime that, for all intents and purposes, still exists in Cuba. I know first-hand the regime's poor record on human rights. I've seen with my own eyes the regime's resistance to democracy. I fear normalizing relations will do nothing more than strengthen the regime and cement its permanency.

As Americans, we must hold true to our ideals, and until we see progress in Cuba toward democracy and human rights, we cannot help give this regime credibility.

Statement by New Jersey Assemblywoman, Marlene Caride (D-Bergen/Passaic):

My parents left Cuba for a better life, not because they wanted to, but because they knew they would not be able to flourish if they remained. They left their families and the only home they knew, hoping that one day Cuba and its people would be liberated. Instead, they have watched in frustration as the Castro regime has tightened its grip and continued to deny the Cuban people the most basic civil liberties.

As much as I want to believe that this move could be the beginning of a democratic awakening in Cuba, I simply don't see that happening under the current regime. Restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba gives the Castro regime legitimacy and threatens to embolden the regime. This is an alarming thought considering their atrocious human rights record. The people of Cuba deserve better than having the Castro regime recognized as a partner worthy of doing business with while they still have to live under its oppressive rule.

By 34-year old New York Assemblywoman, Nicole Malliotakis (R-Brooklyn/Staten Island):

President Obama's proposal will make it increasingly difficult to make progress in the quest for a free Cuba and fail the Cuban people who have looked to the United States as a source of hope for democracy. Normalizing relations and restoring diplomatic ties with Cuba without obtaining assurances of human rights improvements and economic opportunities for the Cuban people is a bad deal.

Young Florida Cuban-American State Legislators Oppose Obama's Deal

Statement by 30-year old Cuban-American state legislator, Florida Rep. Bryan Avila:

Words can not adequately describe the dismay and betrayal felt by freedom lovers within the Cuban-American community. While I am grateful for every opportunity the United States has offered me and our entire exiled family, I wholeheartedly believe that President Obama's executive action to normalize relations with the tyrannical regime in Cuba is not representative of our fundamental beliefs of liberty and defense of human rights. President Obama's decision was both ill-conceived and disastrous for the future of a free Cuba, as clearly expressed in the aftermath by the actual oppressed dissidents currently residing in Cuba. Furthermore, I believe the President's unilateral executive action, in the absence of Congressional approval or ratification, is illegal. I strongly urge Congress to stand with the Cuban-American community, the oppressed dissidents in Cuba, and the Cuban people in opposition to President Obama's actions, and uphold the principles that have made our nation a beacon of freedom throughout the world.

Statement by 38-year old Cuban-American state legislator, Florida Rep. Erik Fresen:

Raul Castro is a communist dictator and an enemy of the United States. At a time when so many of our fellow Americans are giving their lives for freedom and liberty on foreign lands, our President has sided with tyranny and human rights violators. While it is great that Alan Gross will be home with his family for the Holidays, it is outrageous that the perpetrators of his illegal incarceration have been rewarded for their illegal and inhumane actions toward Mr. Gross. The ransom for this innocent hostage has been paid with 3 convicted criminals who were responsible for the deaths of Americans. This administration has negotiated unilaterally with a terrorist nation and its dictator and betrayed every promise it has made to freedom loving Americans.

Statement by 40-year old Cuban-American state legislator, Florida Senator Rene Garcia:

The release of Alan Gross from a Cuban jail is welcomed news especially now during the holidays. I, however, am extremely upset by the Presidents inability to negotiate a deal that will help promote democracy on the Cuban island. For those that think this is a good deal let me remind you, Alan Gross was unjustly incarcerated for bringing cellphones and electronics to people on the island. In comparison, the Cuban spies who we swapped were part of the conspiracy that brought down “The Brothers to the Rescue" airplane, a civilian airplane on a humanitarian mission over international waters in 1996. "The Brothers to the Rescue” airplane was over the Florida Straits in search of Cuban refugees when Cuban military aircrafts shot them down on a direct order from the Cuban government.

I agree that the Cuban people are in dire need of economic relief, however sacrificing our democratic integrity and maintaining the communist status quo is absolutely unacceptable. The fifty years of struggle, displacement, and sacrifice that our parent’s generation and many political prisoners faced should not be in vein. Unfortunately, Cuban Americans across the United States are now being told to forgive and forget, while the Cuban government continues to oppress, intimidate, and imprison an entire country in plain sight.

Today, the Cuban people on the island awoke with not an ounce of change. The Cuban government has repeatedly exhibited an intolerance for basic human rights of its citizens. There still remains a complete absence of freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and most importantly freedom of speech. The President's deal did nothing to further any of these basic, implicit human rights that we are blessed to enjoy in the United States, and the future advancement of these rights are nowhere in sight through “normalizing" diplomatic relations with Cuba. For these reasons and many more I cannot bring myself to support the President’s policy shift.

Statement by 41-year old Cuban-American state legislator, Florida Rep. Manny Diaz, Jr.:

I find it appalling that the President would try to build another relationship with those that openly oppose the value of freedom. Those who brutally oppress and ignore basic human rights should be punished, not rewarded. We hope Alan Gross and his family are in good health. But we cannot negotiate in good faith with those that have a track record of oppression towards their own people. I strongly condemn President Obama’s actions with opening up relations with Cuba and hope that my fellow legislators, community leaders, and activists join me in letting their voices be heard.