Watch Venezuela's Cynicism at the OAS

Saturday, March 22, 2014
Watch (below or here) the arrogance with which Venezuela's Alternate Ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), Carmen Luisa Velasquez de Visbal, moved to close yesterday's session from the public and the media.

Velazquez de Visbal said the motion, aimed at censoring Venezuelan opposition leader Maria Corina Machado, was one of "private transparency."

Cynical laughter followed.

Scenes like these make it very difficult to understand why the United States continues paying over 40% of the OAS's expenses.

Video the OAS Does Not Want You to See

Below (or here) is the video that Venezuelan opposition legislator, Maria Corina Machado, took to the Organization of American States (OAS), and was censored from showing:

Putin's (et al.) Quiet Latin America Play

From The Hill:

Putin’s quiet Latin America play

Away from the conflict in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin is quietly seeking a foothold in Latin America, military officials warn.

To the alarm of lawmakers and Pentagon officials, Putin has begun sending navy ships and long-range bombers to the region for the first time in years.

Russia’s defense minister says the country is planning bases in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, and just last week, Putin’s national security team met to discuss increasing military ties in the region.

“They’re on the march,” Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) said at a Senate hearing earlier this month. “They’re working the scenes where we can’t work. And they’re doing a pretty good job.”

Gen. James Kelly, commander of U.S. Southern Command said there has been a “noticeable uptick in Russian power projection and security force personnel” in Latin America.

“It has been over three decades since we last saw this type of high-profile Russian military presence,” Kelly said at the March 13 hearing.

The U.S. military says it has been forced to cut back on its engagement with military and government officials in Latin America due to budget cuts. Kelly said the U.S. military had to cancel more than 200 effective engagement activities and multi-lateral exercises in Latin America last year.

With the American presence waning, officials say rivals such as Russia, China and Iran are quickly filling the void.

Iran has opened up 11 additional embassies and 33 cultural centers in Latin America while supporting the "operational presence" of militant group Lebanese Hezbollah in the region.

“On the military side, I believe they're establishing, if you will, lily pads for future use if they needed to use them,” Kelly said. 

China is making a play for Latin America a well, and is now the fastest growing investor in the region, according to experts. Although their activity is mostly economic, they are also increasing military activity through educational exchanges.

The Chinese Navy conducted a goodwill visit in Brazil, Chile and Argentina last year and conducted its first-ever naval exercise with the Argentine Navy.

Today's OAS Vote: Autocracy v. Democracy

Friday, March 21, 2014
Today, Venezuelan opposition leader, Maria Corina Machado, was invited to speak at the Organization of American States (OAS) by the Panamanian government.

The Venezuelan government and its allies were so afraid of what she had to say, that they made a motion to make it a private session, shutting out the public and the press.

The motion passed 22-11.

Which were the nations that supported secrecy and autocracy?

Obviously, Venezuela, joined by Brazil, Nicaragua, Uruguay, El Salvador, Argentina, Bolivia and the CARICOM nations.

Which were the nations that supported transparency and democracy?

Panama, which hosted Machado, along with the United States, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Honduras.

Barbados abstained.

A shameful spectacle.

Quote of the Day: Maria Corina Machado

By Venezuelan opposition legislator, Maria Corina Machado:

The peoples of the Americas should ask themselves what is the fear that the voice of the people of Venezuela is heard in the OAS?

Image of the Week: OAS Silence

The Magnitude of Cuba-North Korea Arms Smuggling

Thursday, March 20, 2014
Scott Snyder, a Korea expert at the Council of Foreign Relations, explains the magnitude of Cuba's illegal weapons smuggling to North Korea:

"If the North Korean-flagged Chong Chon Gang had been successful in bringing its MiG-21 cargo to North Korea, the transaction with Cuba might have been the biggest sale of fighter plane related equipment since a MiG sale from Kazakhstan in 1999. The Chong Chon Gang cargo included mint-condition rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) that are essential to North Korea’s efforts to extend its conventional reach on the peninsula as USFK (United States Forces Korea) command elements transition south from Seoul to Pyeongtaek."

Goldberg Needs a Lesson on the Cuban Five (Three)

Bloomberg's Jeff Goldberg wrote a propaganda-full, fact-less column, lobbying the Obama Administration to exchange the "Cuban Five" (Three) spies for American development worker, Alan Gross.

Predictably, Goldberg tried to downplay the crimes of these imprisoned spies by claiming, "the Cuban Five were spying mainly on right-wing Cuban dissident groups in Florida."

That's cute, but not true.

As former FBI Special Agent and expert on Cuban intelligence operations, Stuart M. Hoyt, Jr., wrote this week in rebuttal to another apologist of the "Cuban Five":

It was the military, not anti-Castro militants that was the primary target of the network and led to the convictions on conspiracy to commit espionage [...]

In 1997, the United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) moved from Panama to Miami, Florida, and became the Wasp Network’s highest priority.  In an intercepted message from Cuba one of the illegal IOs is informed: “This is the report given to the Commander in Chief [Castro] ….. of the development of this infiltration job (of SOUTHCOM) which as you already know is the number one priority of our institution [DI].”  The writer in Cuba notes:  “I emphasized that everything related to SOUTHCOM was of extreme importance and for him [a member of the Network] to keep abreast of every bit of news.” Another message reads:  “Even though we have advanced greatly in our SURCO [SOUTHCOM] mission, we still must advance much more and until we are able to infiltrate it our mission will not be completed.”  Another message to a pair of agents reads: “We are stepping on more solid ground of penetration (of SOUTHCOM) and I am convinced we will achieve our objectives…. and our total commitment to this supreme task.” 

The Cubans acknowledged that it may take time and effort to accomplish the penetration of the military, especially SOUTHCOM. In intercepted messages the Cubans write: “It is necessary that our agents realize we are working on long term objectives due to the complexity of the matter; therefore, we should not tire nor feel we are aiming at the impossible.” Another message states: “I need to stress that the process of penetration of SURCO [SOUTHCOM] is going to be difficult and long.” Another Cuban agent sent to the U.S. from Cuba had no contact with his handler for two years in order that the agent acclimate himself to his new environment and build his cover without arousing suspicion.  Indeed, it was a long term objective [...]

The Five’s primary target was the penetration of the military.

Quote of the Day: Martinelli to Maduro

If [Venezuelan] President Maduro wants to have a dialogue in his country, he should free opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez. Otherwise, he'd only be having a monologue.
-- Ricardo Martinelli, President of Panama, 3/20/14

Imprisoned Labor Leader in Grave Condition

Independent labor leader, Vladimir Morera Bacallao, is in grave condition pursuant to a 70-day hunger strike protesting his unjust imprisonment.

Last year, Morera Bacallao was handed an 8-year prison sentence stemming from his activism with the Federation of Independent Cuban Workers (CTIC).

He is currently under intensive care in an isolated wing of the Hospital Arnaldo Milian Castro in Santa Clara.

Castro Promotes Military Officer (Son-in-Law) at Center of U.N. Smuggling Probe

Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Curiously, Lopez-Callejas' new rank of "brigadier general" was revealed at a ceremony of  Almacenes Universal S.A., the military company that runs Cuba's Port of Mariel facility -- in conjunction with Brazil's Odebrecht Group -- and is at the center of the recent Cuba-North Korean illegal arms smuggling operation.

According to the recent U.N. Panel of Experts report, which found this smuggling operation to violate international sanctions, the Port of Mariel was specifically chosen for this operation, in order to prevent detection and avoid any paper trail.

Moreover, all of the commercial facilities and transactions involved in the Cuba-North Korea smuggling probe fall under Castro's military business conglomerate, GAESA, run by Lopez-Callejas.

Yesterday, the U.N.'s Panel of Experts announced the probe continues into the illegal weapons shipments, seeking to identify the entities that participated in the operation and subjecting them to sanctions.

Surely, GAESA should be one of them. 

And the reason why the Castros continue to withhold info from U.N. investigators.

From The Miami Herald:

Castro son-in-law promoted to general  

A powerful son-in-law of Cuban ruler Raúl Castro, in charge of the military enterprises that dominate the island’s economy, has been promoted to general despite recurring reports of tensions with his wife and brother-in-law.

Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas, in his mid-50s and long identified as a colonel in the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), was identified as a brigadier general in a Jan. 29 report in the Web pages of Cubadefensa, a FAR publication.

Rodriguez heads the Enterprise Administration Group (GAESA), the FAR’s business arm — the military controls 80 percent of the Cuban economy, including hotels, factories, restaurants and airlines — and sits on the Central Committee of the Communist Party.

He also is spearheading the $1 billion development project for the Port of Mariel west of Havana, Cuba’s strategic bet for reinserting itself into the global economy with the help of $800 million in financing from Brazil.

Military promotions in secretive Cuba are seldom announced, but Cubadefensa revealed his new rank in a brief report saying he attended a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the military-run Almacenes Universales S.A.

U.N. Expert: Cuba Hiding Info in Illegal Arms Probe

From EFE:

U.N. will continue probe of Cuba-North Korea arms

The group of U.N. experts in charge of monitoring the compliance of international sanctions against North Korea will continue investigating for the case of the “Chong Chon Gang,” the vessel intercepted last year in Panama with a hidden shipment of Cuban weapons.

"We are going to continue. It's such an important case that we want to make sure we get to the bottom of the issue," said Martin Uden, the group's coordinator.

For the group of experts, the evidence "points to a clear and deliberate efforts to circumvent [U.N.] resolutions."

Uden insisted on this Tuesday, assuring that if there was nothing to hide, it wouldn't have been hidden under tons of sugar.

Among the issues to be resolved is revealing the individuals and entities who participated in the operation, which could imply sanctions against them.

The diplomat regretted that Cuba has not offered the U.N. all of the information its has requested.

Cubans Lead Venezuelan Paramilitary Squads

Tuesday, March 18, 2014
From El Nuevo Herald:

Chavista paramilitary groups, which have been behind a great part of the violence seen in the protests in Venezuela, are being coordinated by Cuban personnel sent by Havana to help the government of Nicolas Maduro overcome the largest threat faced by the Bolivarian revolution in more than a decade.

Former Venezuelan intelligence agents and sources with direct access to active officers of the Bolivarian Armed Forces have told El Nuevo Herald that Cuba plays a leading role in the repression unleashed by Maduro against Venezuelan protesters. The Cubans are in charge of operations, which range for security around the presidential palace to the planning of arrests of opponents.

In what has had grave repercussions in the protests against Maduro, the Cubans have planned the operations of between 600 and 1,000 armed men who comprise the Chavista paramilitary groups, known as "colectivos."

U.S. Highlights Human Rights Abuses in Cuba, Venezuela

Statement by the U.S. Delegation to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva:

Mr. President,

The United States remains deeply concerned about deplorable human rights situations, especially in, but not limited to: Syria, the DPRK, and Iran. We will separately address these situations this session.

We highlight our ongoing concerns in these additional countries.

The Cuban government continued its practice of arbitrary detention, harassment, and violence to silence peaceful voices. We call for the immediate release of Alan Gross, who was detained for facilitating access to the Internet.

China has increased arrests, forced disappearances, and extralegal detentions of those who peacefully challenge official policies and actions, including Xu Zhiyong and Ilham Tohti. The government increased Internet controls, media censorship, and continued to limit religious freedom, particularly in Tibetan and Uighur areas. We note with profound sadness the recent death of Cao Shunli, an activist who urged independent civil society participation in China’s Universal Periodic Review process and was detained until recently.

The Venezuelan government’s arbitrary detention and excessive use of force and violence against protesters and journalists, lack of due process, and the shutdown of foreign media and Internet, endanger human rights. Venezuela should release protesters and protect and respect fundamental freedoms such as freedom of speech and peaceful assembly.

In the Darfur, Blue Nile, and Southern Kordofan states of Sudan, government forces deploy indiscriminate aerial bombardments and human rights violations and abuses continue to be committed by all parties to the conflict. The government’s excessive use of force on protestors in September 2013 resulted in hundreds of casualties.

In Eritrea, the government’s severe repression of fundamental freedoms has contributed to large numbers of people fleeing the country. The government should immediately grant access to the special rapporteur.

Belarus restricts freedoms of expression and assembly, and suppresses civil society and political participation. The government should grant access to the special rapporteur and release all political prisoners and restore their rights.

Lack of due process and respect for rule of law are ongoing problems in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, which enable authorities to obstruct independent media reporting and to punish human rights defenders.

The United States also calls attention to recent developments in several places.

Russia adopted laws to suppress dissent, restrict the media, and stigmatize religious minorities and the LGBT community. Prosecutions of civil society and opposition members continue to raise concerns about rule of law and due process, including in the case of the Bolotnaya defendants. Torture, disappearances, and other serious violations continue in the North Caucasus. There are credible reports of Russian influence in the suppression of free expression on the Crimean peninsula.

Egypt severely restricted freedom of expression, assembly, and association through legal action and excessive force against peaceful demonstrators. Journalists continue to face physical risks, harassment, and retribution from governmental actors in Iran, non-governmental actors in Yemen and Libya, and from both in Iraq.

In South Sudan, forces associated with the government and with opposing armed groups have reportedly committed targeted ethnic killings as well as other serious human rights abuses and violations against civilians.

Shocking: Cuba Denies It Will Allow Home Internet

From Havana Times:

Cuba’s state monopoly telephone company, Etecsa, today denied reports that the island will offer Internet access for home users in the coming months, reported dpa news.

The company said that false news has been circulating in recent days. This is “untrue and misinforms people.”

Different websites reported recently that the government of Raul Castro plans to authorize citizens in the coming months to contract private Internet connection from their homes at very high prices.

Etecsa denied the information and noted that the tariffs apply only to companies and organizations. “Any information on the opening of this service to households will be duly communicated by the company,” it said in a press statement.

Two-Years Later: Sonia Garro Remains Arbitrarily Imprisoned

On March 18th, 2012, Sonia Garro, an Afro-Cuban member of The Ladies in White pro-democracy movement, was arbitrarily arrested by the Castro regime

Two years later, Garro remains imprisoned without charges or trial.

In the wave of repression leading up to Pope Benedict XVI's trip to Cuba, Castro's secret police raider her home, shot her with rubber bullets and imprisoned her.

She has been repeatedly abused and beaten in the infamous Manto Negro women's prison.

Garro's husband, Ramón Muñoz González, was also imprisoned on that day. He is being held -- without charges or trial -- in the Combinado del Este Prison.

Demand their freedom now.

Cuba Backs North Korea's Human Rights Abuses

The Castro regime is opposing a U.N. report alleging North Korea has committed crimes against humanity.

The report, first released on February 17, singles out the "Supreme Leader" of the DPRK, Kim Jong-un, of Nazi-era atrocities and said officials should face the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Such crimes include instances of “extermination,” murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions, persecution, the forcible transfer of populations, enforced disappearances and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation."

Castro rejected the independent commission of inquiry, led by famed Australian jurist Michael Kirby, which was established last year by the UN’s Human Rights Council to investigate the “systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights” in North Korea.

Last week, the U.N.'s Panel of Experts also released a report showing Cuba colluded with North Korea's regime in the smuggling of illegal weaponry.

Anayansi Rodríguez Camejo, Cuba's Ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, argued that "such an imposition does not help dialogue."

Blank checks and impunity are the type of "dialogue" the Castro's (and Kim) prefer.

This Week: D.C. Screening of "CUBAMERICAN"


Czech Embassy hosts evening of Cuban American film and discussion March 19

The Czech Embassy will screen excerpts of "CUBAMERICAN", about Cuban exiles' struggle for freedom and success in the United States, and will host a discussion and reception on March 19.

Cuba Democracy Advocates executive director Mauricio Claver-Carone will moderate the discussion between the film's writer-producer-director José Enrique Pardo and Cuban blogger-photographer Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo.

The film (here's the trailer) explores the Cuban Revolution's sparking an exodus, and the exiles’ struggle for freedom and success in the United States.

Pardo says of his film, "My father’s death prompted me to look back at my life. I experienced a profound feeling of gratitude to him for getting me out of Communist Cuba and bringing me to the United States, where I had lived free to express myself and choose my own path in life. I imagined a kinship with all other Cuban-Americans of my generation who had grown up in the USA. I set out to investigate their journeys and integrate them with mine."

Spanning the last 60 years, "CUBAMERICAN" is a "pro-immigrant story that highlights the absolute need for all of the world's people to be able to freely exercise their fundamental human rights."

The former Czechoslovakia was under a Communist regime for more than four decades until the "Velvet Revolution" in late 1989. Human rights activist and writer Vaclav Havel, who had led the negotiations with the communist government, was elected President in 1990. The Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic became separate nations on Jan. 1, 1993.

Czech Ambassador Petr Gandalovic told me, "More than 40 years under totalitarian rule has been a painful part of the Czech Republic's recent history. We remember well what it means to be deprived of basic civil rights such as the right to express one's opinion and the right to peaceful assembly. We consider it unacceptable that in some places, including Cuba, people can still be imprisoned for exercising these basic rights. That's why we made a strong commitment long ago to support people in Cuba in their striving for democracy and freedom. Since then, the Czech Republic's policy towards Cuba, whether bilateral or as part of the EU, has been based on this fundamental principle."

Location: Embassy of the Czech Republic, 3900 Spring of Freedom Street, NW, Washington, DC 20008. RSVP to Please put “CUBAMERICAN” in the subject line.

Where's the Influence?

Sunday, March 16, 2014
A favorite (silly) argument of anti-sanctions advocates is that we need to embrace the Castro dictatorship and hand (pay) it billions of dollars, in order to exert "influence" over its behavior.

Let's test this argument vis–à–vis two current international crises:

With Russia, the U.S. has "reset" relations multiple times, granted it permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) and scrapped missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic to avoid upsetting Putin. Moreover, the European Union is (overwhelmingly) the largest importer of Russia's natural gas.

With Venezuela, the U.S. is (overwhelmingly) the largest importer of its oil, has avoided confrontation with Chavez-Maduro at all costs and allowed "boligarchs" to use its financial markets, purchase real estate and luxury goods.

And yet, there seems to be no influence over either Putin or Maduro's rash and repressive behavior -- unless pressure is exerted.

There's another lesson to be learned here.

Anti-American tyrants are always going to blame the U.S. for everything under the sun and try to use it as a distraction. The question is whether they will do so with or without our billions in their bank accounts.

Preferably without. Moreover, their citizens are neither stupid, nor gullible, to believe their absurd rants.

Putting Castro's Repression Into Perspective

We've all been inspired by the heroic acts of Venezuela's student protesters.

Moreover, we've all see the images of brutality and repression exercised by Maduro's Cuban-controlled government.

According to Reuters:

"Protests and violence have killed at least 28 people in the last six weeks. More than 300 have also been injured in the South American OPEC nation's worst violence in a decade. Some 1,500 people have been arrested, with 100 or so still detained."

Now, think about this:

What we've seen for the last month and a half in Venezuela -- and have been rightfully appalled by -- is what the Castro regime averages on a monthly basis of political arrests in Cuba.

It really puts into perspective the breathtaking repression of the Castro regime.

In other words, what's taking place in Venezuela is all in a typical month's work for the Castro brothers.

Image of the Day: Venezuelans Against Cuban Interference

This picture was from today's protest in Caracas against Cuban intervention in Venezuela's government and armed forces.

(Note to pro-Maduro U.S. academics: This is not Athens, Madrid, Minsk or Santiago. Click here for perspective.)

The sign reads: Cuba, Get Out of Our Armed Forces

Tweet of the Day: Maduro is Rotten

By former Peruvian President Alan Garcia:

Maduro: your regime is Rotten due to theft, crime and will fall. You squandered $800 billion and there's more poverty and no freedom.

Video: Message From Venezuela's Students

Great video and message from Venezuela's student activists.

See below or here.  Unfortunately, it's only in Spanish.

A Pro-Castro Soiree

Yesterday, a pro-Castro group organized a forum of 100 people in Miami urging the normalization of relations with the Cuban dictatorship.

We don't use that term lightly. The organizers are from a group that has viciously attacked Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez; poked fun of dissidents on hunger strikes; and features a "former" intelligence official (whose cousin runs Raul Castro's main business conglomerate).

They even invited Castro regime officials to participate.

In other words, the organizers aren't reasonable anti-Castro, yet anti-sanctions, activists. These folks are in a whole other stratosphere.

Of course, you probably won't read that in the media.

Instead, the headlines ambiguously read, "Cuban Americans hold rare meeting to discuss normalizing Cuba relations."

Or, "Supporters of stronger US relations with Cuba stage rare gathering in Miami."

Perhaps they are "rare" because they are running out of steam -- even the anti-Castro, anti-sanctions ones. 

Remember the "historic" National Summits on Cuba, which in 2003 bragged about gathering over 400 people in Miami?

Yesterday's forum is like the JV squad of those "groundbreaking" summits that fizzled out.

Or when The Miami Herald wrote about another forum in 2002 (hosted by another group that fizzled out):

"It was billed as a 'historic' event to propel a change of U.S. policy toward Cuba. About 300 people attended a daylong conference Thursday calling for a lifting of the 43-year-old embargo and easing of trade and travel restrictions.

Although some groups have advocated a change in policy for years, it was believed to be the first time that a significant conference opposing the U.S. embargo of Cuba was held in Miami-Dade County."

Or when Alejandro Portes, an "expert" on Cuban-American politics wrote in 2001:

"[A]nother congressional initiative to lift the embargo... is being actively promoted by emerging Miami-based Cuban-American organizations, such as the Cuban Committee for Democracy (CCD) and Cambio Cubano (Cuban Change). These groups are forcefully conveying to Congress that moderates in the exile community are ready to end the vengeful rigidity of past policies."

They too fizzled out.

We've seen (and heard) it all before.

Unbelievable: U.S. Academics Urge Support for Maduro

A group of 46 U.S. academics have written an open letter (published on Al Jazeera) to Secretary of State John Kerry, urging him to support the Cuban-controlled government of Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro.

These academics gloss over the dismantling of democratic institutions by Chavez-Maduro, including its control over the judiciary, the electoral commission, and its crackdown on independent media and government opponents.

Predictably, they ignore the widespread human rights abuses and repression taking place against student protesters.

Instead, they make this mind-boggling assertion: 

"Images of violent episodes from the past have been presented as current events on outlets such as CNN, and numerous images of incidents from Greece, Spain, Belarus, Chile and other countries are being falsely presented as having occurred in Venezuela on YouTube, Twitter and other social media."

And to think that these absurd individuals are teaching young people.

To be clear, this is Venezuela:

And Then There's Bachelet

Last week, we highlighted the hypocrisy of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Uruguayan President Jose Mujica and Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, all of whom called on the international community to condemn and sanction the dictatorships that ruled their respective countries. 

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

How could we forget Chile's Michelle Bachelet: