Why Are Snipers Being Used Against Venezuelan Protesters?

Saturday, March 15, 2014
The following image shows how the Maduro government is deploying snipers against Venezuela's student protesters:

Why would the Maduro government take such a repressive measure? Ask Raul Castro (yes, that's Maduro looking on):

Heard About the Chinese Rights Activist Who Died (Was Killed)?

Tragically, you probably haven't -- for the world is more concerned about business with China's regime and the yuan trading band.

Meanwhile, we are still waiting for all of the trade, business and engagement with China to bring respect for human rights and political reform.

From Australia News Network:

Prominent China activist dies after critical illness

Chinese human rights activist Cao Shunli has died after falling critically ill in police detention, a prominent dissident says.

Rights groups say the activist became sick when she was at first denied treatment.

The hospital informed her brother her condition had become serious but despite arriving within about an hour, reports say she'd already died.

Ms Cao joined a rare protest outside China's foreign ministry in June last year to demand greater participation in the UN's review of human rights in China.

She was set to travel to Switzerland for a UN Human Rights Council review last September but police detained her at Beijing's international airport, her lawyer Wang Yu had said earlier.

She became seriously ill and her condition worsened after she was refused medical care, he said.

According to Chinese Human Rights Defenders, she fell unconscious after suffering organ failure in late February.

Cuba Participates in "Friends of Assad" Meeting in Iran

Friday, March 14, 2014
Check out this (dangerous) circus.

From Castro's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX):

IRAN - During the day the 1st Meeting of the Chairmen of Foreign Policy Committees of the Parliaments of Syria Friend Countries took place in this capital, summoned by the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Parliament) of Iran and attended by delegations from Algeria, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Russia. Cuba and Venezuela were represented by its respective Ambassadors.

Dr. Ali Larijani, Iranian Parliament President, was present in the morning session and delivered speech to thank the presence of the delegations attending the event. He emphasized the importance of increasing support and solidarity with Syria, whose territory has become a workshop for making terrorists and sending them to other neighboring countries which should shame the international community.

Dr. Alaeddin Boroujerdi, Chairman of the Committee on National Security and Foreign Policy of the Islamic Consultative Assembly, who was leading the meeting, commented in one of his interventions about his recent tour for Latin America, in which he had the opportunity to visit Venezuela and Cuba. He stated that he held fruitful exchanges with parliamentary authorities and invited them to participate in this event, but since the short time available to prepare their trip and the proximity of the International Parliamentary Union meeting, it was decided to be represented by theirs Ambassadors in Tehran. He expressed appreciation for it.

In his speech, the Cuban Ambassador Vladimir Gonzalez Quesada ratified the solidarity, friendship and brotherhood of Cuba with the people and government of Syria to affront the external aggression and terrorist acts. He indicated that the Island, on the basis of the principles that guide its foreign policy, condemns the crimes committed against the Syrian people and deny the terrorism in all ways and manifestations.

Venezuelans to Demonstrate Against Cuban Intervention

From VOA News:

Venezuelan opposition legislator María Corina Machado has invoked a national demonstration this Sunday to protest against Cuban interference in the country.

"This Sunday, we are going to have a national demonstration against Cuban interference, for the dignity of Venezuela... we will protest against the brutal repression," she said.

Machado stated that "the orders for brutal repression come from Havana," alluding to the presence of thousands of Cubans that have been placed in political and military positions in Venezuela.

The legislator indicated that they will demand "the immediate expulsion of Cubans from our armed forces," which she described as "humiliating."

Quote of the Week: Cuba Confounds

Thursday, March 13, 2014
Cuba continues to confound, and there are continued problems there. The Obama Administration is prepared to try to have a different policy but we haven't seen the indicators that merit that at this point in time.
-- U.S Secretary of State John Kerry, testifying at the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, 3/12/14

Must-See: Rousseff, Mujica and Kirchner's Hypocrisy

When Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Uruguayan President Jose Mujica and Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner were young, they called on the international community to condemn and sanction the dictatorships that ruled their countries. 

Yet today, they sit idly by and befriend the repressive regimes of Cuba and Venezuela.

Menendez Senate Legislation: Strengthens Venezuelan Civil Society, Calls for Targeted Sanctions

Chairman Menendez Introduces the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act

Legislation Strengthens Venezuelan Civil Society, Calls for Targeted Sanctions in Response to Grave Violations of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms

Washington, DC – Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) joined by Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) introduced the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014 today.

This bipartisan legislation authorizes $15 million in new funding in the FY2015 budget to defend human rights, support democratic civil society organizations, assist independent media, and strengthen good governance and the rule of law in the face of the massive violence and repression being carried out by President Maduro against peaceful protesters.

It also requires President Obama to impose sanctions on persons that have been involved in serious human rights violations against peaceful demonstrators and others in Venezuela or that have directed or ordered the arrest or prosecution of a person due to their legitimate exercise of freedom of expression or assembly.

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution introduced by Chairman Menendez outlining the framework for legislative action on Venezuela.

Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014

Section 1. Short Title: Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014.

Section 2. Findings: This section presents key findings regarding Venezuela’s growing economic crisis; alarming levels of criminal violence; and erosion of democratic governance, freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

Section 3. Sense of Congress: This section states that it is the sense of the Congress that 1) the United States seeks a mutually beneficial relationship with Venezuela based on respect for human rights and the rule of law, and a productive relationship on issues of public security, including counternarcotics and counterterrorism; 2) that the Government of Venezuela is responsible for the chronic mismanagement of its economy, the levels of violence in the country, and for undermining democratic governance; and 3) these crisis conditions prompted the demonstrations taking place throughout Venezuela.

Section 4. U.S. Policy Towards Venezuela: This section recognizes that it is the policy of the United States to 1) support the democratic aspirations of the Venezuelan people as defined under the Inter-American Democratic Charter; 2) work in concert with the members of the Organization of American States – as well as the European Union – to ensure the immediate end of violence against protesters and a peaceful resolution of the current crisis in Venezuela; and 3) hold accountable government and security officials responsible for or complicit in the use of force against anti-government protestors.

Section 5. Sanctions on Persons the President Determines Are  Responsible for Violence in Venezuela: This section requires the President to impose sanctions on persons that he determines 1) have perpetrated, ordered or directed significant acts of violence or serious human rights abuses in Venezuela against persons associated with the anti-government protests in Venezuela, including current and former officials of the Government of Venezuela  or 2) have directed or ordered the arrest or prosecution of a person primarily because of the person’s legitimate exercise of freedom of expression or assembly. Sanctions to be imposed by the President would include 1) asset blocking - using all powers granted to the President by the International Emergency Economic Powers Act to block and prohibit all transactions in property; and 2) exclusion from the U.S. and revocation of visas – denying visas, excluding from the United States, and revoking visas and other documents in accordance with the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Section 6. Support for Civil Society in Venezuela: This section authorizes $15 million in new funding in FY2015 to 1) defend human rights, 2) build the capacity of democratic civil society, 3) support independent media outlets and unrestricted access to the internet, 4) improve government transparency and accountability, and 5) assist civil society activists, journalists and protesters that have been targeted for their activity.

Bipartisan House Bill to Support Democracy in Venezuela

Ros-Lehtinen Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Support Democracy in Venezuela and Hold Accountable Maduro Regime Officials Responsible For Human Rights Violations

"This bill sends a clear message to Maduro and other repressive leaders in the region that the U.S. will not stand idly by as they assault democratic institutions and violate human rights."

Washington - U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, along with Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Rep. Albio Sires (D-MJ), Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ), Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), Rep. Joe Garcia (D-FL), Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), and Lois Frankel (D-FL) introduced H.R. 4229 - Venezuelan Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, which seeks to hold accountable violators of human rights of the Maduro regime.

H.R. 4229, Venezuelan Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act is an important legislation that:

· Denies visas to enter the United States, blocks property, freezes assets, and prohibits financial transactions to members of the Venezuelan regime who are responsible for the commission of serious human rights abuses against the citizens of Venezuela;

· Makes a Statement of Policy that calls for the U.S. government to further reduce its imports of Venezuelan oil;

· Calls on the President to transmit to Congress a report on persons that are engaged in censorship or other activities with respect to the Venezuelan regime that prohibit, limit, or penalize the exercise of freedom of expression or limits access to print or broadcast media; and

· Directs the United States Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States (OAS) to use the voice, vote, and influence of the United States at the OAS to defend and protect the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and strengthen the independent Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to advance the protection of human rights throughout the Western Hemisphere.

Why Odebrecht's Port Was Chosen for Cuba's Illegal Arms Smuggling

Among the many concerning revelations in this week's report by the U.N. Panel of Experts are details of how Cuba's Port of Mariel was used for smuggling 240 tons of weapons to North Korea, in violation of international sanctions.

Most notably how the Port of Mariel was specifically chosen for this operation, in order to prevent detection and avoid any paper trail.

According to the report, some of the techniques utilized in the Cuba-North Korea operation were:

Careful operational secrecy within the crew and in communications, based on secret instructions restricted to senior personnel, detailing code words for communications with the ship’s operators, and contingency instructions for false declarations of the cargo (see annexes IX to XII)

Concealment and disguise of the ship’s position by switching off the automatic identification system, a system providing real-time information on a ship’s location, after exiting the Panama Canal until re-entry to hide the ship’s movements, particularly the docking in Mariel and drifting, and by falsifyingthe ship’s logs

Loading in Mariel as opposed to Havana or Puerto Padre; the cargo was accepted by the ship without standard shipping documents, loading receipts, loading reports and cargo survey reports

Intentionally failing to keep shipping agents in both Cuba and Panama informed as to the ship’s movements and actual cargo

Instead of loading the containers topmost (as would be recommended for dangerous cargo) the ship was adapted to load 40 foot containers deep in the hold so that they could be covered by three layers: sugar bags/tween deck hatch cover/sugar bags

The report also explains:

"Mariel is being developed as a major deep-water port and free trade zone by a Cuba-Brazil consortium, with the Cuban military controlled Almacenes Universal S.A. The port was previously a submarine base and its development was formally opened on 27 January 2014."

The Cuban military's Brazilian partner in this consortium is the conglomerate, Odebrecht.

So why was the Port of Mariel specifically chosen (as stated in the report) for this illegal smuggling operation?

Obviously, because the Cuban military felt comfortable enough with its Brazilian partner, Odebrecht, to think that it could get away with such dangerous shenanigans.

Odebrecht's infamous ties to some of the world's most repressive regimes, including Cuba's Castro brothers, Venezuela's Chavez-Maduro government and Libya's Muammar Gaddafi; its corruption probes stemming from questionable activities in Angola and Argentina; and the Brazilian government's secret "classification" of all documents related to Odebrecht's Cuba deals, are cause for caution and concern.

A recent Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) complaint filed against Odebrecht also raised questions about the conglomerate's "complex web" in the U.S.

The Cuban military's Almacenes Universal, S.A., surely poses a prime target for sanctions stemming from this flagrant violation of the U.N.'s arms embargo. Odebrecht's potential knowledge, or role, should be investigated as well.

In the last few years, Odebrecht has been subject to criticism stemming from its insensitivity towards the victims of Cuba and Venezuela's regimes -- for it seeks to continue bilking their taxpayer funds in Miami-Dade County, while partnering directly with their loved one's repressors.

Judging by these developments, additional questions should be raised about whether Odebrecht can be trusted with projects that have sensitive security implications, such as its obsession with Miami International Airport.

Diaz-Balart Questions Kerry on Cuba, Venezuela

Wednesday, March 12, 2014
During today's hearing of the powerful House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) asked U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry about Cuba and Venezuela.

Click below (or here) to watch the exchange: 


Rubio: Cuba-North Korea Sanctions Violation Must Be Punished

Rubio: Cuba-North Korea Sanctions Violation Must Be Punished With Real Measures 

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Select Committee on Intelligence, issued the following statement regarding the newly published United Nations report confirming that North Korea violated international sanctions in 2013 with the assistance of the Cuban regime:

North Korea is the worst of the world’s worst when it comes to breaking its promises, violating international security agreements, destabilizing the world, repressing innocents and displaying generally bizarre behavior befitting a rogue state. The U.S. and international community must send a clear message to North Korea that there are consequences for flagrantly violating previous weapons agreements and trying to circumvent sanctions.

The Cuban regime’s complicity is also reprehensible and must be punished. The Cuban regime’s alliance with North Korea and its active involvement in facilitating this type of illicit activity in our own hemisphere is a threat to America’s security as well as the region.

The Obama Administration should stop allowing military-affiliated hotels, restaurants and other tourist facilities in Cuba to profit from American travel. The administration should also work with like-minded nations and others interested in upholding international non-proliferation accords to condemn this behavior and take meaningful actions to punish it.”

(Once Again) Not Surprised by Cuba's Weapons Smuggling to North Korea

Pursuant to this week's release of the U.N. Panel of Expert's report, which has found Cuba to be in flagrant violation of international sanctions toward North Korea, we thought it'd be timely to re-post this op-ed from August 2013.

And most importantly, the warning at the end.

By Mauricio Claver-Carone in The Huffington Post:

Not Surprised by Cuba's Weapons Smuggling to North Korea

A lot of people were baffled -- although it's not clear why the befuddlement -- that Cuba's Castro brothers were caught red-handed smuggling fighter jets, radar and missile components, and other weaponry to Kim Jong-un and North Korea in violation of the U.N. Security Council's arms embargo.

It was no great surprise to those who've watched the defiant dictators of Cuba. We know the Castros don't think with their brains first. Instead they remain obsessed with flashing their cojones. What's baffling is that year after year they still get with away with it.

It can't be a surprise either that the world's remaining totalitarian states pursue their own survival, mutually assisting each other politically, economically and militarily. Apparently neither wants the dubious honor of becoming the world's sole remaining totalitarian state.

Throughout their long rule in Cuba, the Castro brothers have acted illegally and irresponsibly with brawn -- even when it's borrowed at the time from allies-of-convenience. It's a "machismo" thing that they enjoy practicing at home, as for example, their use of brute force against the Havana democracy advocates known worldwide as "The Ladies in White."

In 1962, Fidel Castro was lusting over the nuclear missiles of the Soviet Union. He provoked the "Cuban Missile Crisis" and then urged Nikita Khrushchev, then-Soviet premier, to push the button and launch a nuclear strike against the United States. The Castro objective was: Kill tens of millions of Americans. Khrushchev wrote about the incident in his memoirs concluding that Fidel Castro is crazy. Apparently Fidel and Raul didn't care that the United States would retaliate and obliterate the island of Cuba.

The Castros' power fantasies and fallacies don't seem to fade. In the 1980s, Fidel's ego took a beating and Cuba's economy foundered under the weight of his ill-considered military adventures in Africa, which became deeply unpopular in Cuba. To keep playing on the world stage, the Castros are always searching for "hard currency" and the Angola war was one way to extract it from the Soviet Union.

As Soviet cash dried up, the Castros turned to courting Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel, opening Cuba's ports to the cartel for trans-shipping narcotics. To Fidel, who considers the United States his arch enemy, this too was an entirely sensible policy: If he couldn't nuke his capitalist American enemies, or run 'em out of Africa, he'd ship 'em drugs and Americans would poison themselves. What's to lose?

When the United States turned up the heat on drug smuggling, Fidel and his brother Raul, then-head of Cuba's armed forces, identified Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa Sanchez as their scapegoat. Cubans in general held Ochoa's legendary courage in the African wars in high esteem. To the Castros that made him a potential rival. In quick order, Ochoa was accused of drug trafficking, given a televised Stalinist-style trial and executed.

Several months later, the United States invaded Panama and arrested its leader Manuel Noriega for selling "safe passage" through the Panama Canal to the Medellin Cartel. Noriega was hauled off to Miami, tried and convicted. Testimony and evidence gleaned in that trial led U.S. prosecutors, in 1993, to prepare a racketeering indictment naming Raul Castro and 12 other high-ranking officers in Cuba's armed forces as drug-trafficking conspirators with the Medellin cartel. The Clinton administration later chose not to pursue the charges.

Economic depression gripped Cuba in 1996, which the Castros named "the Special Period." The suffering populace was unhappy and 130 opposition groups, banded together as Concilio Cubano, announcing a February 24th "unity rally" demanding free elections. To thinking people, the date might have been a good time for the Castro government to announce political and economic reforms. Instead Raul Castro rolled out his guns and ordered Cuban Air Force MIG fighters to shoot down a couple of civilian-American Cessna's flying over international waters in the Florida Straits in search of Cuban rafters to rescue. Four men died when the small planes were shot down. There was an international outcry and investigation that pinned responsibility on Raul. World attention was diverted from the rally in Havana, and the protesting dissidents arrested and jailed.

Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, famously called out the Castros for their criminal acts: "This is not cojones, this is cowardice."

Now, Panamanian authorities have found an arsenal of Cuban weapons loaded onto a North Korean ship, the Chong Chon Gang, and hidden by bags of sugar, all loaded in Havana. Ironically the Panamanians had stopped the ship expecting to find drugs. In the last few years, five other ships have set sail from North Korea, docked in Havana and then returned directly to North Korea via the canal. Who knows what else has passed through the canal? Kim and the Castros know, but those addicts of power, force and flouting impunity are not gloating... yet.

Will U.S. Outsource Decision on Cuba's Illegal Weapons Smuggling to Russia?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Since General Raul Castro became dictator-in-chief, the Cuban regime has dramatically increased repression against its own people, taken an American hostage and consummated the subversion of democracy in Venezuela.

Despite this, the Obama Administration has continued to "extend its hand" and unilaterally ease sanctions (twice).

Now, the Castro regime has been caught red-handed smuggling illegal weaponry to North Korea. 

So what will be the U.S. response?

According to the State Department (below), the U.S. will take "appropriate action," but stressed this is a U.N. Security Council issue.  

In other words, the U.S. will consider outsourcing its decision to Russia (a veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council).

While we are at it -- why not let the U.N. Security Council decide how to deal with Russia's illegal actions in Ukraine as well?

Probably not a good idea.

To recap, this is the first time any country in the Western Hemisphere has been found in violation of an international arms embargo. 

Moreover, it's the most egregious violation of North Korea sanctions -- by any country -- to date.

And yet, the U.S. is going to let Russia decide (which has a military spy ship docked in Havana harbor) how to deal with Castro's regime?

Let's hope not.

Or Castro will be laughing with his friend Assad.

Click here to see details of the U.N. Panel of Experts report on Cuba's weapons smuggling to North Korea.

Otherwise, here's a good summary from The Miami Herald:

UN: Cuba would not ID those responsible for North Korea arms shipment

Cuba's government refused to identify the people or entities involved in a weapons shipment to North Korea last year that violated a U.N. arms embargo, and might have violated the embargo twice more in 2012, according to a U.N. report made public Tuesday.

Some of the weapons and equipment that Cuba described as "obsolete" had been calibrated just before they were put aboard the freighter Chong Chon Gang, the document added, and Cuban insignias on two MiG21 warplanes were painted over.

The report also declared that the shipment intercepted in Panama violated the U.N. embargo on the Asian nation, and that despite Havana's denials there were indications Cuba intended to turn over the weapons to the Pyongyang government.

Cuba's 240-ton shipment was "the largest amount of arms and related materiel" interdicted going to or from North Korea since the Asian nation was hit with an arms embargo in 2006 because of its nuclear weapons program, the document added.

The public part of the 127-page report makes no recommendations on sanctions for Cuban or North Korean entities involved in the violations. But it mentions a secret annex submitted to the U.N. Security Council, or UNSC, committee in charge of banking and travel sanctions on violators.

The U.S. State Department said it will “pursue appropriate action” based on the report but added, “We do not view this as a bilateral issue between the United States and Cuba. This is about a potential violation of U.N. Security Council sanctions on North Korea.”

Anti-Castro activist Mauricio Claver Carone urged the Obama administration to adopt "tangible repercussions that would make it unequivocally clear to the Castro regime that such behavior isn't inconsequential. Otherwise, it will continue to feel emboldened."

Cuba declared in July that it sent the weapons to North Korea to be repaired and returned. It later argued to U.N. investigators who visited Havana that they did not violate the U.N. ban on the "supply, sale or transfer" of weapons to Pyongyang because Cuba retained ownership and the embargo covers "maintenance" but not "repairs."

Those arguments were rejected in the document Tuesday, the annual report by the panel of U.N. experts that investigates all violations of the North Korea sanctions. It was submitted last month to the UNSC committee that enforces the embargo, and parts of it had leaked to the news media.

"The Panel is unconvinced by Cuba's rationale to distinguish 'maintenance' and 'repair,'" the report said, adding flatly that the shipment "violated the sanctions."

Although Cuba told the U.N. investigators that the state-run Cubazucar had shipped the 200,018 sacks of sugar that covered and hid the weapons on the Chong Chon Gang, it refused to identify the Cubans involved in the weapons shipment and contract with Pyongyang.

"It declined ... to give the panel copies of these agreements, citing confidentiality clauses in the contracts," the report said. "The Panel is not, therefore, able to identify the entities or individuals involved in these agreements."

The report said the weapons were loaded aboard the freighter at the port of Mariel west of Havana that's being expanded by a consortium of Almacenes Universal S.A., run by the Cuban military and Brazilian enterprises.

Packed in 25 metal shipping containers and six trailers were two anti-aircraft missile systems, two MiG-21UM jet trainers, 15 engines and afterburners for the MiG21s, artillery shells and other munitions and materiel - most of it from the Soviet era.

While Cuba claims the weaponry was to be returned to the island, the report said it was the "panel's view that examining individually the items and their (packaging) ... suggest that some, if not all, of the consignment was not expected to be returned to Cuba."

And although Cuba claims the weapons were "obsolete," the report added, "records accompanying a great deal of the equipment indicated or certified the equipment functioned in accordance with specification or had been calibrated just before packing. Further, some of the equipment was unused or still in its original packaging."

What's more, the report said, Cuba had confirmed that North Korean military officers visited the island in 2012 to assess the weapons that were shipped in 2013. If the visit was "to provide services or assistance ... they would also have been a violation."

The report added that another North Korean freighter docked in April 2012 at some of the same Cuban ports as the Chong Chon Gang. Havana claimed it made only one weapons shipment last summer, but the experts could not confirm that claim.

The report also detailed the efforts to hide the Cuban weapons under the sugar and the freighter's failure to report its true cargo as it prepared to cross the Panama Canal westbound to North Korea. Panama intercepted the ship on a tip it was carrying drugs.

Cuba argued that it was not responsible for hiding the weapons under the sugar, according to the U.N. experts' report.

The document included the text of a message, marked "secret," notifying the captain of the freighter that he would be taking on some unscheduled cargo in Cuba and telling him to inform only his deputy captain and the political and security commissars aboard.

"After unloading in Havana ... load the containers first and load the 10,000 tons of sugar (at the next Port) over them so that the containers cannot be seen," added the message, found aboard the ship.

"The extraordinary and extensive efforts to conceal the cargo of arms" and the freighter's failure to include the weapons in its cargo manifest "point to a clear and conscious intention to circumvent" the arms embargo, the report said.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Approves Venezuela Resolution

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has just approved S. Res. 365 deploring the violent repression of peaceful demonstrators in Venezuela, calling for the full accountability of human rights violators in Venezuela, and supporting the right of the Venezuelan people to the free and peaceful exercise of representative democracy.

The resolution was approved with Senators Menendez, Rubio, Durbin, Nelson, Cruz, Begich, Kirk, Markey, Cardin, McCain, Cornyn and Kaine as cosponsors.

The text of S. Res. 365 resolution can be seen here.

Cuban Women Staged Protest, Arrested in Central Havana

This morning, four courageous Cuban women staged a peaceful protest near Havana's famed ice cream shop, Coppelia.

They held signs calling for the release of political prisoners and an end to the Castro dictatorship.

The women, who have yet to be identified, were arrested soon after.

Below is a picture and cellphone video of the protest taken by Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez:

Must Read: U.N. Releases Report on Cuba-North Korea Illegal Weapons Trafficking

The U.N.'s Panel of Experts ("Panel") has released its official report on North Korea's illegal trafficking of weapons, in conjunction with Cuba's Castro regime.

In July 2013, a North Korean flagged vessel, Chong Chon Gang, was intercepted carrying weaponry from Cuba hidden under 200,000 bags of sugar.

According to the report, such weapons trafficking remains "one of [North Korea's] most profitable revenue sources."

The report also documents North Korea's efforts to sell weaponry to Iran, Somalia, Eritrea, Myanmar and other countries of concern.

In the case of Cuba, it's the first time a nation in the Western Hemisphere is found in blatant violation of U.N. sanctions.

Moreover, the report notes similar Cuba trafficking patterns by other North Korean ships in the recent past.

Here are some notable excerpts from the report:

- The Panel concluded in its incident report submitted to the Committee that both the shipment itself and the transaction between Cuba and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea were sanctions violations.

- The Panel found that the hidden cargo amounted to six trailers associated with surface-to-air missile systems and 25 shipping containers loaded with two disassembled MiG-21 aircraft, 15 engines for MiG-21 aircraft, components for surface-to-air missile systems, ammunition and miscellaneous arms-related materiel.This constituted the largest amount of arms and related materiel interdicted to or from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea since the adoption of resolution 1718 (2006).

- No records show the ship stopping at any countries other than Cuba between exiting the Panama Canal on 1 June and its return passage on 11 July.

- On 20 June, the ship docked in the port of Mariel, where it took onboard the arms and related materiel.

- Cuba argued that “maintenance”, as set out in paragraph 8 (c) of resolution 1718, was distinct from “repair”, which Cuba claimed was the basis of its contract with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea... The Panel is unconvinced by Cuba’s rationale to distinguish “maintenance” and “repair.”

- The transportation of undeclared weapons and explosives in this manner posed a significant danger to all persons and facilities in proximity to the ship and should be a cause of concern among shippers, port authorities, the international maritime community and insurers.

- Evidence found on the ship (see annexes XX and XXI) pointed to involvement of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea embassy staff in Cuba. Contact phone numbers and records found in the captain’s notes led the Panel to conclude that embassy officials in Havana were engaged in making arrangements for the shipment of the consignment of arms and related materiel, including the payment methods.

- In its consultations with the Panel, Cuba confirmed the parties involved in the sugar and said that the arms shipment was part of a governmental agreement. It declined, however, to give the Panel copies of these agreements, citing confidentiality clauses in the contracts.

- The incident involving the Chong Chon Gang revealed a comprehensive, planned strategy to conceal the existence and nature of the cargo.

- All identification markings and insignia of the Cuban Revolutionary Air Force had been removed from both MiG-21 aircraft; the Panel observed signs of overspray and scratch marks in places dedicated to original insignia.

- While the age of the items found in the shipment varied greatly, most appeared to have been well maintained. Records accompanying a great deal of the equipment indicated or certified the equipment functioned in accordance with specification or had been calibrated just prior to packing.

- It is the Panel’s view that examining individually the items and their handling suggest that some, if not all, of the consignment was not expected to be returned to Cuba.

- [The Panel] notes that the voyage of another Democratic People’s Republic of Korea-flagged and -owned vessel to Cuba presents a very similar pattern to the recent voyage of the Chong Chon Gang.

- On April 2012, the general cargo vessel O Un Chong Nyon Ho (IMO 8330815) operated by OMM,11 sailed directly from Nampo to Cuba and back without any further calls in the region. After having stopped in Havana and Puerto Padre, the O Un Chong Nyon Ho drifted for several weeks off northern Cuba before returning for three weeks to Havana. Its Automatic Identification System was switched off (in violation of IMO requirements) during these three weeks, however, effectively preventing determination of further ports’ calls,as in the case of the Chong Chon Gang.

Independent Labor Leaders: Don't Relax the Pressure

Monday, March 10, 2014
Statement from the Independent Trade Union Coalition of Cuba

The Independent Trade Union Coalition of Cuba (CSIC) reaffirms its commitment to democracy, collective and individual freedoms, market economy and social justice, essential requirements for equitable development and the rescue of the most cherished values of the Cuban people.

We urge the international community, and in particular the United States and the European Union, that any progress in the relations with the Castro regime should have as reference the observance of human rights, freedom of prisoners of conscience, an end to the persecution against dissent, and a full compliance with fundamental labor rights established by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The highly publicized reforms are nothing but a political and commercial gimmick. The totalitarian principles guiding the oppressive dictatorship’s logic remain intact. The only way to advance on the democratic road is to have a clear idea of the intentions, limitations and scope of these reforms. To relax the pressure to democratize the country, without taking into account the violations of fundamental rights supporting the regime, would be a serious mistake.

Cuba is a totalitarian country, where there is no labor freedom, and where workers and union leaders who organize independent unions are systematically repressed, harassed and sentenced for simply defending the freedom of association and labor rights, globally recognized.

The State maintains total control over the Cuban worker. The official trade union monopoly, the government employment agencies, the harassment and persecution of independent trade unions, the draconian disciplinary statutes in government-run enterprises, and all labor laws and decrees, are tools that prevent the establishment of democratic and cooperative labor relations, necessary for the promotion of private initiative and the welfare of workers and their families.

Cuban authorities only recognize one “union”: the Central de Trabajadores de Cuba (CTC), State-controlled and led by the Communist Party –which appoints its leaders. The CTC in its own bylaws recognizes the Communist Party as the only governing body of society. The CTC is a State apparatus of social control and not an organization representative of workers.

The Government of Cuba repeatedly violates the major ILO Conventions and Recommendations of which Cuba is signatory, while prohibiting the creation and development of independent trade unions. The right to strike is not recognized.

On the hundreds of thousands of laid-off workers, expected to be absorbed by the self-employed sector (the so-called cuentapropismo), the government imposes excessive tax burdens, total control of the means for acquiring products and essential services; and, extorts them via the imposition of fines, and the denial of access to credit that would allow them to achieve the development of private enterprises and generate employment and well-being. Meanwhile, the authorization of these licenses is being portrayed as an important market opening, when in reality it is no more than a control mechanism tending to thwart the self-employment initiative. To complement the social control, these workers are forced to join one of the CTC’s official unions.

The Foreign Investment Law No. 77 of 1995 stipulates that foreign companies can only hire workers through employment agencies created by the State. Investors pay the agencies in dollars or euros, and in turn the agencies pay workers a lower figure in the devalued Cuban currency, withholding up to 98 % of their salaries. In addition, they are subjected to a rigid system of vetting covering their political background before being hired.

The Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment announced an upcoming new legislation that will “deepen” foreign investment. We are alarmed by this new legislation aimed at promoting foreign investment based on “deepening” the comparative advantages of a labor force fully controlled by the State, and about the special conditions laid down in the Mariel Special Development Zone. No new provisions on labor rights or environmental controls are being announced. On the contrary, the government is seeking to create industrial “havens” that will compete in the regional and global trade based on a social dumping that the State will enforce by blood and fire, to the detriment of workers and environmental preservation.

In essence, abusive and repressive labor practices are promoted as the engine of profit and guarantee of advantages, from which foreign companies will benefit using labor practices illegal in their own countries.

Under these conditions devised for the Mariel Special Development Zone, the government pretends to boost the presence of foreign companies on the Island, which has fallen by 50% in the last decade.

We denounce the pretense, illegal from the point of view of international human and labor rights, of a financial project that aims to establish itself on the shoulders and the sweat of the workers, and as such offered to foreign companies as bait for direct investment.

Therefore, we demand multinational companies operating or seeking to operate in Cuba not to become complicit with an oppressive State, and to impose on their negotiations with Cuban authorities clear labor practices regulations, in line with international standards and the full exercise of corporate social responsibility.

Emblematic foreign enterprises, such as Spain’s Melia and Canada’s Sherritt, have profited for decades based on the most shameful and exploitive working practices. Their violations of international labor laws and practices have been thoroughly documented, and we will continue to monitor all new investments. The democratic awakening in our country will know how to deal with these companies, in accordance with international laws.

Cuban workers and independent trade union organizations will track the behavior of these companies and their degree of complicity in the violations of human and labor rights and the individual dignity of its workers.

Companies may impose more favorable terms in negotiations if they so wish, or may fall into the easy profits derived from the oppressive complicity. In a democratic state of law and social justice, their behavior will be evaluated by those that are exploited and oppressed today.

The “comparative advantages” that the dictatorship presents as enticement to foreign capital are a shameless and manifest violation and discrimination of the Cuban salaried worker. That companies will take advantage of these exploitive benefits for a short-term profit undoubtedly constitutes a serious precedent in a democratic Cuba.

The CSIC, by ratifying its commitment to freedom, democracy and social justice, is ready to work with all organizations fighting inside and outside Cuba against the Castro-Communist oppression and for the emancipation of our country, returning its people the dignity and happiness they deserve.

La Habana, Cuba

María Elena Mir Marrero Secretary General
National Independent Confederation of Cuban Workers

Maybell Padilla Pérez
Secretary General
Unitary Council of Trade Unions of Cuba

Iván Hernández Carrillo
Secretary General
Independent Workers Confederation of Cuba

Castro Increases Sentence of Imprisoned Labor Activists

The Castro regime seeks to arbitrarily increase the sentences of two jailed independent labor activists.

Vladimir Morera Bacallao is currently serving an eight-year prison sentence. The regime now seeks to add another five-years to his sentence.

Morera Bacallao has been on a hunger strike for more than 55 days protesting his unjust imprisonment.

Meanwhile, Jorge Ramirez Calderon is currently serving a four-year prison sentence. The regime now seeks to add another seven-years to his sentence.

Both activists form part of the Independent Trade Union Coalition of Cuba (CSIC), for which they were accused of the "crimes" of "public disorder" and "disobedience."

Tweet of the Day: On Internet Connectivity in Cuba

Brazil Supports Maduro's Repression to Protect Odebrecht

Sunday, March 9, 2014
By Professor Juan Nagel in Caracas Chronicles:

Dilma Rou$$eff

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, she for whom everything is “an internal affair” unless it involves left-wing Latin presidents, is calling for an emergency meeting of UNASUR next week here in my adopted hometown of Santiago.

As we all know, Foreign Minister Elías Jaua went on a whirlwhind tour of South America last week, desperate to prevent the OAS from discussing Venezuela, and instead proposing it go to a friendlier forum such as Unasur. It seems like that is going to happen a few kilometers from where I am writing this. We can expect a wholehearted endorsement of the Maduro administration from UNASUR, as well as a denunciation of a “soft coup” and of “fascists” trying to overthrow him. It won’t matter one bit, since people will remain on the streets.

The interesting thing, though, is that Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht, the Gerald Fords of construction firms, are owed more than $2 billion from the Venezuelan government. Should I connect the dots for you? Dilma + UNASUR + $2 billion = Love for Maduro.

Odebrecht has become the nuts and bolts of the Brazilian operation in Venezuela. With $20 billion in investment projects in the country, and 13,000 employees in Venezuela alone, this firm is so deeply entrenched in the survival of the Maduro administration, that it becomes the Brazilian Foreign Ministry’s only concern in Venezuela, just like its diplomacy toward Cuba is guided by the same goals. And if Maduro continues to destroy PDVSA, a competitor of Petrobras, then that’s just the cherry on top.

A Complicit Silence

Video: Freedom for Venezuela

Click below (or here):

Why Mexico Fears Cuba's Regime

Because it's aware of what it's capable of doing to its foes.

Meanwhile, some argue that Cuba's regime is harmless.

By Andres Oppenheimer in The Miami Herald:

Mexico’s new friend: Castro’s Cuba

There are many theories about why Mexico is cozying up to Cuba’s dictatorship and looking the other way as Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro brutally represses street demonstrations, but I think the most credible one can be summed up in one word — fear.

Well-placed foreign policy analysts tell me that Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s disregard for the defense of universal rights and basic freedoms in Cuba and Venezuela is partly due to fear that these two countries could use their clout with Mexico’s leftist movements to stir up trouble at home.

Peña Nieto has recently passed ambitious energy, education, and telecommunications reforms that have gained enthusiastic applause from Wall Street, but that most of Mexico’s left opposes. The last thing Peña Nieto wants is for Cuba and Venezuela to encourage these leftist groups to derail the reforms in Congress, or through protests on the streets.

“Cuba and Venezuela are domestic policy issues in Mexico,” says Miguel Hakim, a former Mexican undersecretary of foreign affairs in charge of Latin American affairs. “The Peña Nieto government does not want them to stir up the pot at home while he is trying to implement his energy and education reforms.”

Late last year, Peña Nieto forgave 70 percent of Cuba’s nearly $500 million foreign debt to his country. During an official visit to the island in January, he met with semi-retired Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and praised him as “Cuba’s political and moral leader.” The Peña Nieto government has also remained largely silent on Maduro repression of street protests that have already left 20 dead.

Close aides to Peña Nieto told me that Mexico’s foreign policy is guided by pragmatism, and by a desire to be a major player in Latin America’s diplomatic community. During the recent governments of Vicente Fox (2000-2006) and Felipe Calderón (2006-2012), of the opposition National Action Party, Mexico had adopted a more pro-human rights, pro-democracy stand regarding Cuba and Venezuela, which had infuriated those countries’ leaders.

“We have a very pragmatic view of how we should conduct our foreign policy,” Peña Nieto’s chief of staff Aurelio Nuño told me in an interview last week. “In the case of Venezuela, we prefer to be prudent. We do not believe that strident positions will be very useful.”

Most South American countries, led by Brazil, are openly backing the Maduro government in Venezuela. But Brazil’s support for Cuba and Venezuela — which is much more explicit than Mexico’s — comes as less of a surprise, because it is consistent with Brazil’s shameless foreign policy regarding democracy and human rights issues in recent years.

In its quest to become a Third World power, Brazil has befriended some of the bloodiest dictators in the Americas, Africa and Asia. Also, Brazil’s leftist government has been pursuing free market economic policies, while keeping its leftwing base happy with a pro-Cuba, pro-Venezuela foreign policy. Brazil has also invested heavily in Cuba and Venezuela’s oil and infrastructure projects over the past 10 years.

Among the few Latin American governments that have expressed concern about the bloodshed in Venezuela are Chile, Peru, Colombia and Panama. Outgoing Chilean president Sebastian Piñera told me in an interview last month that Latin American countries “share a commitment to defend freedom, democracy and human rights not only within our borders, but also outside them.”

My opinion: Peña Nieto’s policy toward Cuba and Venezuela is not “pragmatism,” but — in addition to a shameful disregard for Latin American treaties committing countries to defend universal rights — is a textbook case of diplomatic over-reaction.

If Peña Nieto wanted to keep Cuba and Venezuela from firing up Mexico’s left, he could have done the same with polite diplomacy, without the need to praise as a “moral leader” a dictator who is responsible for thousands of deaths and has not allowed a free election in five decades. In an effort to distance himself from his predecessors, Peña Nieto has gone overboard.

In addition, Peña Nieto’s new friendship with Cuba will hurt Mexico’s image. Mexico’s recent passage of long-delayed economic reforms has turned this country once again into a darling of the international financial community, but if Mexico tries to sell itself to the world as a modern democracy, it will not help itself by teaming up with Cuba and Venezuela.

Mexico will have a harder time joining the First World if it embraces some of the most retrograde regimes of the Third World.