Will Tehran be Charlie Crist's October Surprise?

Friday, May 9, 2014
Proponents of doing business with the Castro dictatorship usually try to get around the inconvenient fact that Cuba remains designated as a "state-sponsor of terrorism" by rejecting the label altogether.

They simply deny, deny, deny.

They turn a blind-eye to the Castro regime's smuggling of weapons to North Korea; its arming, training and financing of Venezuelan paramilitary groups; its harboring fugitives of from U.S. justice, including cop-killers and a Top Ten Most Wanted Terrorist; and its continuous support for foreign terrorist organizations.

Deny, deny, deny.

But not Charlie Crist.

In today's Miami Herald, Charlie Crist recognizes and supports the U.S.'s designation of Cuba as a "state-sponsor of terrorism" -- but wants to do business with its regime anyway.

Thus, Crist has no problem doing business with terrorist states.

He then elaborated that he sees trade and travel with Castro as "different" than with Iran and Syria. Moreover, that he wants to pursue "trade with the Cuban people."

Crist is right that trade and travel is "different" in Cuba than in Iran and Syria.

As a matter of fact, Cuba is much more economically-repressive than Iran and Syria.

While Iranians and Syrians are permitted to participate in foreign trade and actually own their businesses, the Castro regime strictly forbids Cubans from partaking in foreign trade or owning their businesses.

All foreign trade and investment with Cuba is solely with the Castro regime and its monopolies.

That's why Cuba remains ranked 177 out of 178 nations in the world in the Index of Economic Freedom, a yearly joint compilation of The Wall Street Journal and The Heritage Foundation. Only North Korea is considered less economically free.

Iran ranks at 173 -- four slots "economically-freer" than Cuba.

Upon learning these facts, will Tehran be Crist's October surprise?

Outrageous: U.S. Company Sells Helicopters to Venezuelan Military

While Venezuela's regime arrests, tortures and murders student protestors, its military is purchasing helicopters from a U.S. company.

The Obama Administration should evaluate whether the Leahy Law (ironically), which prohibits assistance to military forces from any country deemed to violate human rights -- or any other current legislative authority -- applies.

Otherwise, Congress should step in to impede such sales.

From UPI:

Venezuela orders U.S.-made helicopters

Venezuela's Ministry of Defense has contracted Enstrom Helicopters of Michigan to supply 16 training aircraft for its air force and navy, the first buy of helicopters from a U.S. original equipment manufacturer in 10 years.

Venezuela's Ministry of Defense has ordered 420B training helicopters from Michigan-headquartered Enstrom Helicopter Corporation.

The contract is for 16 helicopters for use by the country's air force and navy and will be delivered within the next 18 months.

Also included in the deal are spare parts and tools, pilot and mechanic training and in-country technical assistance during the life of the contract.

No details as to the financial value of the award, however, were disclosed.

"We are very excited about this opportunity to provide training helicopters for Venezuela," said Tracy Biegler, Enstrom chief executive officer. "This is their first helicopter purchase from a U.S. Original Equipment Manufacturer in more than 10 years. We are pleased that the 480B was selected for this training mission."

Tweets of the Day: Cuba and Summit of the Americas

Bipartisan Senators v. Obama on Venezuela Sanctions

Great quotes by U.S. Senators Durbin, Rubio, McCain and Corker.

From McClatchy:

As Venezuela continues crushing dissent, a bipartisan push in Senate for sanctions

The Obama administration said in a Senate hearing Thursday it was hesitant to use individual sanctions as a tactic in the Venezuelan political crisis, saying that doing so could escalate the situation into a fight between the Maduro regime and the United States rather than a struggle between that country’s people and their government.

In response, Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee sharply criticized the administration, indicating it was being far too timid in pushing back against the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and its repressive tactics against political protesters.

Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, was among the sharpest critics, blasting officials from the State Department for failing to advocate for sanctions against individuals in Venezuela although sanctions have been used – and continue to be used – elsewhere.

Citing sanctions against individuals in Russia for that country’s actions in Ukraine, Rubio asked what the difference was between repressive officials there and those in Venezuela.

“We sanction human rights violators all the time,” Rubio said. “The only difference between those sanctions, those people, and others, is they spend their weekends in Miami.”

He spoke of people connected to the Venezuelan regime who live in Miami and “drive up and down the streets in their fancy cars. They laugh at you and they laugh at us, because they know they can get away with these things.”

Using sanctions against the Venezuelan officials will not cause them to be unified against the United States, because they already are, Rubio said.

“Let me give you a brief bulletin: They are already united against us,” Rubio said.

Rubio, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and others are backing legislation that would authorize sanctions to help mitigate the situation in Venezuela.

The criticism of the administration’s go-slow stance was bipartisan. Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said the administration’s hesitancy on sanctions in the Venezuelan crisis could be applied to the use of sanctions in other places.

“I think you continue to make arguments against sanctions, and I have to ask you, ‘What’s your alternative?’” he said. “If we start with the premise that we can’t do anything that might affect the Venezuelan economy because it will hurt innocent people, we find ourselves at the end of the day saying, ‘Well, they’re just aren’t many sanctions’” the U.S. could use.

“If we’re not going to use military force, what are sanctions that might result in a positive outcome?” Durbin asked.

The administration, represented by Roberta Jacobson, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, stressed that the administration’s policy was to attempt to make sure the Venezuelan conflict didn’t escalate into a Maduro-vs.-U.S. dispute. Sanctions, while they can be effective some times, need to be used carefully, she said.

Asked Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.: “If we were going to nudge you along, how would you like to be nudged?”

“We think we don’t necessarily need the nudge,” Jacobson said. “We’re considering these things. We do think that right now they would be counterproductive.” She said sanctions would serve to reinforce a narrative of the Venezuelan government standing up to the United States – rather than the Venezuelan people standing up for themselves.

Added Tom Malinowski, another State Department official, on sanctions: “They work in some places, they don’t work everywhere. Timing is extremely important.”

But Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., responded that administrations often needed to be prodded by Congress to use sanctions.

“It’s sometimes a bit entertaining when administration witnesses come forward to talk about how tough various administrations have been on sanctions when by and large they have initiated with the Congress,” McCain said.

Since February, Venezuelans protesting the Maduro regime have been met with often brutal state-sanctioned violence. According to Rubio, “The government’s barbaric repression has resulted in at least 41 deaths that we know of, more than 2,519 detentions and at least 80 documented cases of torture.”

Several of these atrocities are being committed by the Venezuelan National Guard, Rubio said.

In a new report from Human Rights Watch, investigators found that the crackdown in Venezuela was widespread.

“These are not isolated incidents or the excesses of a few rogue actors,” Human Rights Watch’s Jose Miguel Vivanco told the Senate committee. The situation the group witnessed was “the worst we have seen in Venezuela in years,” he said.

The legislation Rubio and others introduced earlier this year – the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014 – would authorize sanctions on persons involved in serious human rights violations against peaceful demonstrators in Venezuela, or those who have directed crackdowns on people exercising freedom of expression or assembly.

The Plight of Alan Gross

By former Cuban political prisoner, Basilio Guzman, in The Miami Herald:

The plight of Alan Gross

I sympathize with the plight of Alan Gross, a USAID contractor unjustly sentenced to 15 years in a Cuban prison. Some reports have said he is, or was, waging a hunger strike to protest his confinement; other reports say he is “fasting.” I, too, was once a political prisoner in Cuba.

Gross has been quoted saying his jailers treat him inhumanely. Mistreatment of political captives is common in Cuba. During my 22 years in prison, I witnessed severe abuse, including the outright killing of fellow political prisoners, and was denied visits or letters for years.

Hunger strikes are serious matters. I have seen people lose their minds. I know of cases when people became invalids near the end of lengthy hunger strikes and cases when guards refused water to a dying prisoner.

When Bill Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and once governor of New Mexico, traveled to Cuba with hopes of gaining the release of Gross, he was not even permitted to see him. Upon leaving Cuba, Richardson described Gross as a “hostage” being held to obtain the release of convicted Cuban spies in American prisons.

Alan Gross, an American Jew, has been in prison for more than four years. He has lost more than 100 pounds. While he was charged with spying, the only allegation made against him was that he had given a laptop and a satellite telephone to a group of Cuban Jews. That wasn’t a known crime.

Only a regime afraid of its people denies them access to the Internet. Yet Havana continues to use Gross to extort from the Obama administration the release of convicted Cuban spies. There is no moral equivalency between the Castro brothers, who deny all human rights, and President Obama, who seeks to help people. It is disturbing that Gross’ lawyer, Scott Gilbert, seems to be trying to invent one.

Nothing that Gross says while under the control of Cuban intelligence should be accepted as fact. He is not free to express his opinions. One only needs to talk to a former American POWs in Vietnam to know and understand what happens to someone held in a cell for 23 hours a day for months or held with inmates who are likely to be cooperating with authorities to obtain a little more food and other “rewards.”

It is sad that Gilbert, is saying that a USAID program designed to overcome Cuba’s censorship has “put Gross’ life in greater jeopardy.” What Gilbert is saying, in effect, is: President Obama should accede to the Castros’ extortion. If previous American administrations had yielded to demands to halt their democracy programs, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty would not have existed and Poland’s Solidarity movement would never have gained U.S. support.

While in prison, many Cuban political prisoners become critical of the United States and of the Cuban-American community because they are constantly fed misinformation by the regime.

When I was finally released to the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who went to Cuba and didn’t take Fidel Castro’s “No” for an answer, I discovered hundreds of people had been working to free us.

Upon arriving at Dulles International Airport, I was embraced by many Cuban exiles and by dedicated Amnesty International volunteers who had worked specifically on my case. Some time later, I was lucky to marry one of them.

Once Gross is free, he will learn about President Obama’s many efforts. He will learn about the many other appeals from world leaders and the work done on his behalf by human-rights organizations and American Jews.

It says a lot about this country’s ideals that when a Cuban spy serving his sentence in a halfway house sought permission to visit his ailing mother in Cuba, Washington said, “Yes.” When Alan Gross made a similar request, Raúl Castro said, “No.” I don’t have any doubt that, if the Cuban spy had not been permitted to go to Cuba, President Obama would have been blamed, as he is now being blamed for Raúl Castro’s decision not set Gross free.

In a few days, millions will be celebrating Mother’s Day. I hope that thousands of Americans — Jews and Gentiles — will send a Mother’s Day card addressed to Cuba’s President Raúl Castro, Havana, Cuba. Ask him to release Alan Gross to return home for good to the embrace of his mother.

Basilio Guzman is a former political prisoner who spent 22 years in a Cuban jail. He lives in Arlington, Va.

Quote of the Day: Europe's Policy Toward Putin (Castro)

Applies to the European Union's current negotiations with Cuba's Castro regime, as well:
They talk softly and carry a big baguette. 
-- Thomas L. Friedman, author and columnist, on Europe's response to Putin's aggression in Ukraine, The New York Times, 5/6/14

Recommendation: Reveal Intel on Cuba's Role in Venezuela

Excerpt from the testimony of Moises Naim, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, at yesterday's hearing of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

[A]s we speak there is another improbable and surprising external power calling the shots in Venezuela and interfering with the will of the people there: Cuba. I hope that this Committee will discuss Cuba's defining role in Venezuela in a future hearing [...]

Rumors, individual cases, whispered revelations, confessions by Venezuelan government operatives, wild accusations and sporadic reports all tell of the Cuban influence on Venezuelan government policies, of the enormous influence of narcotraffickers or their accomplices in the government and of the massive corruption in the use of government revenues and contracting.  The US security and financial agencies are well-informed on each of these realities.  My recommendation is to conduct an information audit of all intelligence and law enforcement reports that illuminate the Venezuelan situation and to release the information that can be made public without threatening security assets or damaging the intelligence community's need to protect sources and methods.  I am sure that such audit will find that the US government holds secret information whose revelation can shed important light into the workings of the Venezuelan government and its Cuban partners (or the narcotraffickers  in its midst)  without causing any lasting damage to US intelligence.  

It is critically necessary to present information about the level of foreign influence, illegal money flows, government criminality and corrupt practices in Venezuela and to document how its government has become an important enabler of the illicit trade in drugs, people and weapons. Under conditions of widespread media censorship and coercion, the potential for manipulating the public with false information is high.  Again, the US government could take an important step in countering this misinformation by systematically revealing what it knows about these corrupt practices.

Who's Lying About Venezuela Sanctions?

Meanwhile, Venezuela's "boligarchs" are fueling their private jets for their weekly, weekend shopping spree in Dadeland and Aventura.

From El Universal:

MUD denies having requested the US not to impose sanctions on Venezuela

Venezuelan opposition umbrella group, Mesa de la Unidad Democratica (MUD), denied the remarks issued on Thursday by Roberta Jacobson, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, who told the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that members of the opposition coalition had requested the White House not to impose sanctions on Venezuelan officials charged with alleged violations of human rights.

Based on information disclosed by AP, Jacobson said that some members of the Venezuelan opposition had recommended not to impose sanctions yet. However, Jacobson would not single out such opposition leaders, while she conceded that some sectors within the opposition do endorse sanctions.

In a statement, the MUD replied to Jacobson's comments and called for an explanation. Dissenters claimed that Jacobson's statement "may lead to undesired misunderstandings. MUD's declarations are public and widely known. No MUD spokesperson has requested to any U.S. official what has been reported by the media today. If any organization or individual from civil society has done it, it is under its or his own responsibility, and they must deal with it."

AIG Fined for Cuba Sanctions Violations

Thursday, May 8, 2014
From U.S. Department of Treasury:

American International Group, Inc. Settles Potential Civil Liability for Apparent Violations of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, 31 C.F.R. part 515:

American International Group, Inc. (“AIG”), an international insurance and financial services organization headquartered in New York, New York has agreed to remit $279,038 to settle potential civil liability for 3,560 apparent violations of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, 31 C.F.R. part 515, that occurred between January 1, 2006, and March 29, 2009.

The Office of Foreign Assets Control ("OFAC") has determined that AIG voluntarily self-disclosed the apparent violations and that the apparent violations constitute a non-egregious case. The total base penalty amount for the apparent violations was $413,390. 

Between January 2006 and March 2009, two AIG subsidiaries in Canada issued or renewed three types of property and casualty insurance policies that insured Cuban risks of a Canadian corporate entity for an estimated aggregate premium of $486,137.71. The polices involved Comprehensive General Liability, Director’s and Officer’s (“D&O”) Excess Liability, and Pollution Legal Liability coverage. One of the AIG subsidiaries in Canada also maintained a D&O Liability insurance policy that insured certain directors and officers of three Cuban joint venture partners of a Canadian corporation between January 1, 2006, and October 4, 2006. The estimated total premium for D&O coverage during this time period was $55,578.08.

Separately, from March 17, 2006, through September 30, 22008, Travel Guard Canada—an AIG subsidiary in Canada—sold, renewed, or maintained in force 3,446 individual or annual multi-trip travel insurance policies in which the insured identified Cuba as the travel destination. The total premium collected for these policies was $337,973.25. During the coverage period of these 3,446 policies, and extending to December 31, 2008, Travel Guard Canada paid 103 claims for a total value of $96,910.47.

Riddle Me This: On Cuban-American Politics

There are only two majority Cuban-American Congressional Districts in the United States -- Florida 27, represented by U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and Florida 25, represented by U.S. Representative Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL).

(In case you are wondering, Florida 26, represented by U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia (D-FL), is not a majority Cuban-American Congressional District.)

U.S. Reps. Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart are among the strongest supporters of maintaining and strengthening sanctions towards Cuba's Castro dictatorship.

Critics of U.S. Reps. Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart argue that they are "out of touch" and too "single-issue focused" on Cuba.

For example, The Tampa Bay Times' [unprofessional and disrespectful] Editorial Board wrote about them recently, "the vitriolic responses [...] by two Cuban-American members of Congress from Miami are predictable, outdated and out of touch with generational and demographic changes."

Yet, last Friday, May 2nd, was the filing deadline for candidates for the U.S. Congress in Florida and their vitriolic foes could not find any viable opponents to run against them.


Because they would be too tough to beat.

Tweet of the Day: Three Newspapers, Only One Editor

By Cuban blogger and democracy activist, Yusnaby Perez:

3 newspapers, only one editor. #Cuba and its "press freedom." 

Independent Cuban NGO's Excluded From LGBT Conference

From The Washington Blade:

Cuban advocates not invited to international LGBT conference

A group of independent Cuban advocates have sharply criticized organizers of an international LGBT conference underway in the Communist country over their decision not to invite them to the event.

The Washington Blade on Tuesday obtained a copy of a statement onto which the Cuban League Against AIDS and six other LGBT advocacy groups that are not affiliated with the country’s National Center for Sexual Education signed. CENESEX’s director, Mariela Castro Espín, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro, is president of the local committee that organized the sixth International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association for Latin America and the Caribbean Conference that is currently taking place in the beach resort of Varadero.

“We reject and denounce the fact that this meeting will take place with only the presence of a Cuban official and some non-governmental organizations,” reads the statement.

The groups describe the conference as a “mockery,” referring to the Cuban government’s human rights record they say includes continued harassment of independent LGBT activists from the authorities. The organizations specifically criticize both ILGALAC and Mariela Castro.

“Cuban civil society of which we are members is one that permanently denounces all these violations of human rights not acknowledged by those organizing the event,” reads their statement. “We are those who are not able to take a seat at the table of complicity that pretends to show an island where our community covers new ground.”

Ignacio Estrada Cepero, founder of the Cuban League Against AIDS, noted to the Washington Blade from Miami where he currently lives with his wife, Wendy Iriepa Díaz, a trans-woman who once worked at CENESEX, that the Cuban government sent more than 25,000 gay men and others deemed unfit for military service to forced labor camps in the years following the 1959 Cuban Revolution.

The ILGALAC conference is the first time Cuba has hosted an international LGBT gathering.

The Free Rainbow Alliance of Cuba, another independent Cuban LGBT advocacy group, also criticized Mariela Castro and ILGALAC for not inviting it to attend the conference.

“The Cuban authorities, through the National Center of Sexual Education (CENESEX,) through its director’s political use of family ties and personal aura, try to control, manipulate and win international legitimacy as promoters and guarantors of rights for the LGBTI community,” said the Free Rainbow Alliance of Cuba in a statement that Caribe Afirmativo, a Colombian LGBT advocacy organization, sent Blade last Thursday.

Cuba's Regime Can't Be Trusted on Terrorism

Tuesday, May 6, 2014
Among the statutory criteria stipulated under Section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act (as currently re-authorized under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act) for removing Cuba from the State Department's "state-sponsors of terrorism" list is:

That Cuba provides “assurances” that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.

(For an in-depth analysis of all the criteria, click here.  Note the referenced analysis was written before Cuba's regime got caught red-handed smuggling weapons to North Korea last summer, and the arming and training of Venezuela's paramilitary "colectivos" became fully evident this winter.)

Last week, in response to its retention on the 2013 "state-sponsors of terrorism" list, the Castro regime stated:

"The Government of Cuba ratifies that its national territory has never been used and never will be to harbor terrorists of any origin, nor to organize, finance or perpetrate acts of terrorism against any country in the world, including the United States."

That's quite a whopper.

Just ask Castro's favorite pupil, Carlos "the Jackal" -- or ETA, FARC, ELN, PLO, M-19, Medellin Cartel, Montoneros, Macheteros, FLN, EGP, MIR, IRA, FALN, NLF, MRTA or PFLP, just to name a few of the international terrorist groups trained, financed and abetted by the Cuban regime.

Thus, how can the U.S. even consider accepting "assurances" on terrorism from a regime that falsely [and absurdly] claims it has never supported terrorism in the first place?

That makes any such "assurances" automatically worthless and untrustworthy.

The U.S. made that obvious mistake once in recent years -- courtesy of the Bush Administration with North Korea.

Note how well that turned out.

Another Travel Company Fined for Cuba Sanctions Violations

Last month, Treasury fined travel provider, CWT B.V., for Cuba sanctions violations.

This week, it has similarly fined Decolar.com.

From U.S. Treasury Department:

Decolar.com, Inc. Settles Potential Civil Liability for Apparent Violations of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations.

Decolar.com, Inc. (previously known as Despegar.com, Inc.), together with its subsidiaries and affiliates (collectively "Decolar"), a Delaware company with headquarters in Buenos Aires, Argentina, has agreed to pay $2,809,800 to settle potential civil liability for apparent violations of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations. 31 C.F.R. part 515 (the "CACR"). From March 2, 2009, through March 31, 2012, Decolar appears to have dealt in property in which Cuba or Cuban nationals had an interest when its foreign subsidiaries assisted 17,836 persons with flight reservations for travel between Cuba and countries other than the United States and/or hotel reservations for stays in Cuba, without authorization from OFAC.

Quote of the Day: FARC Attacks Continue

It is inconceivable and unacceptable that while peace talks are being held in Cuba, the electrical infrastructure is destroyed in Tolima by [FARC] terrorists.
-- Luis Carlos Delgado, Governor of the Colombian department of Tolima, on an attack by the 21st Front of the FARC on energy towers that left 200,000 people without electricity, El Tiempo, 5/2/13

Venezuela: Unarmed Protestors Beaten, Shot

Venezuelan security forces have used unlawful force in response to anti-government demonstrations, severely beating unarmed protesters and shooting them at point blank range, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Security forces also subjected detainees to severe physical and psychological abuse, including in some cases torture, and justice officials failed to safeguard detainees’ due process rights.

The 103-page report, “Punished for Protesting: Rights Violations in Venezuela’s Streets, Detention Centers, and Justice System,” documents 45 cases from Caracas and three states, involving more than 150 victims, in which security forces have abused the rights of protesters and other people in the vicinity of demonstrations. Security forces have also allowed armed pro-government gangs to attack unarmed civilians, and in some cases openly collaborated with the gangs.

Read the full report here.

Dictators Need No Excuses to Crack Down on Dissent

Monday, May 5, 2014
By Mauricio Claver-Carone in The Hill:

Dictators need no excuses to crack down on dissent

Don’t give them an excuse to crack down on dissent,” is a favorite sophism spread among foreign-policy elites, lazy bureaucrats and big-chair academics. Dictators love it.  Why? Because as soon as it’s uttered, it shifts blame, immunizes them and effectively silences freedom’s advocates, even in the face of egregious violations of human rights and crimes against humanity.

Opponents of U.S. policy toward Cuba have seized “Don’t give them an excuse to crack down…” to fuel their attack on a USAID program that introduced and cultivated Twitter-style communications. Officially known as "Zunzuneo" (Cuban slang for hummingbird), the U.S.-funded effort gave the Cuban people a social-media means for communicating freely with each other, with no regard for the dictates of the Castro regime. Zunzuneo ran from 2009-2012. It ended not because it was ineffective, but because it was so successful, so quickly. Eventually, its success became disproportionate to its funding. That demonstrates the repressed hunger the Cuban people have to communicate freely.

In a recent report, “Freedom on the Net,” issued by Freedom House, Cuba is ranked as the world’s second-worst suppressor of freedom on the Internet and in digital media. Only Iran has a worse record. (North Korea was not ranked due to lack of any information.)

Yet, critics argue that the revelation over U.S.-backing of "Cuban Twitter" now gives the Castro regime an "excuse" to crack down on dissent.

Seriously? If so, what was the Castro regime's “excuse” for its widespread repression before the "Cuban Twitter" revelation? What’s the “excuse” for the Castro regime's weekly harassment, arrest and beating of peaceful pro-democracy Cuban women, known as The Ladies in White, for trying to congregate and attend Sunday Mass? What “excuse” does Cuba’s dictator Raul Castro use to justify his continuing repression?  Political arrests are averaging more than 1,000 per month. Why? And what’s the “excuse” for the recent mysterious deaths of such Cuban democracy leaders, as Laura Pollan of The Ladies in White and of Oswaldo Paya, head of the Christian Liberation Movement?

Since taking office, the Obama administration has been implementing an "extended hand" policy toward Cuba, by unilaterally easing sanctions and reinstating bilateral talks. Of course, there are some who blame Cuba’s repression on the U.S. embargo. But how does that explain Fidel Castro’s repression, mass executions and illegal confiscation of properties before the embargo?

Some critics try to extrapolate: A University of North Carolina Professor, Zeynep Tufekci, has called the revelation of U.S. funding the “Bay of Tweets.” She argues that the U.S. effort to provide Cubans with a Twitter-like platform has “just put Internet activists all over the world in danger” because oppressive regimes throughout the world will use it as an “excuse” to crack down on dissent.

Did Radio Free Europe and other historic U.S.-funded efforts to facilitate communications for democracy activists in the Soviet Bloc endanger them? Or did it empower them in their struggle against those repressive regimes?  Former Czech dissident-turned-President Vàclav Havel and Poland's Lech Walesa would argue the latter. They, too, were labeled as "U.S. fascist mercenaries" -- to no effect.

Let's look at some of today's repressive regimes:  What's the Nicolas Maduro government's excuse for arresting, torturing and killing Venezuelan students?  There are no U.S. sanctions on Venezuela and the Obama administration repeatedly sought to accommodate Maduro's predecessor, Hugo Chavez. What was Iran's excuse for the 2009 arrest, torture and killing of courageous democracy activists during the Green Revolution? The Obama administration remained shamefully silent throughout that tragic crackdown on Iranian dissent. What’s Bashir al-Assad's excuse for the genocide he is waging against the Syrian people? What's Kim Jong-un's excuse for his crimes against humanity against the North Korean people?

If the United States and other democratic nations embrace these dictatorial regimes, does anyone truly believe that they'll stop repressing their people?  Of course not.

Dictators use repression to stay in power.  They repress because they're afraid of dissent. They don't need excuses. When for some reason they feel they must justify their actions, they’ll make up an “excuse,” just as Russia is doing in the Ukraine. The only people who believe a dictator’s “excuse” are the minions that propagate them.

Knowing that dictators make up excuses for their repression - regardless of what the United States and the free-world does - it should be a no-brainer for the American government to stand and actively support the development of civil societies and the democracy activists that strive to establish them within closed regimes throughout the world.

The United States should not subsidize repression or remain silently complicit, while wishfully awaiting the "good-graces" of dictators.

Claver-Carone is a director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC and host of the foreign-policy show "From Washington al Mundo" on Sirius-XM's Cristina Radio. He is an attorney who formerly served with the U.S. Department of the Treasury and has served on the full-time faculty of The Catholic University of America's School of Law and adjunct faculty of The George Washington University's National Law Center.

Cuba: Average Monthly Political Arrests Double in 2014

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights (CCHR) has documented 905 political arrests by the Castro regime during the month of April 2014.

This brings the tally of political arrests for the first four months of 2014 up to 3,814.

Moreover, it shows the average tally of monthly arrests in 2014 (954) has nearly doubled from 2013 (536) and nearly tripled from 2011 (344).

These are only political arrests that have been thoroughly documented. Many more are suspected.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Memo to Sen. Bob Graham: Cuba's Oil Ambitions on (Long-Term) Hold

Sunday, May 4, 2014
This week, Petroleum Economist ran a good analysis (below) on how the Castro regime's oil ambitions have been "stymied by a triple whammy of geology, costs and sanctions."

But don't tell former U.S. Senator Bob Graham and former EPA Administrator William Reilly, who wrote a joint oped in The Miami Herald over the weekend, ingenuously arguing to ease some U.S. sanctions, which would only make it easier for Cuba to drill.

Graham and Reilly recognize that thanks to U.S. sanctions (10% U.S. content cap) there is only one rig in the world that can be used for deep-water drilling in Cuba's territorial waters.  That has made it cost prohibitive for foreign companies to pursue extensive drilling, in partnership with the Castro regime.

Yet, they argue to ease sanctions, so that more rigs will become accessible. That would only make it cheaper and easier for the Castro regime to pursue the deep-water drilling that Graham and Reilly purportedly dread. In other words, they want to make a feat that is currently inviable, viable.

Want to even further prevent the Castro regime from deep-water drilling? It's easy -- just raise the U.S. content cap and put that one rig out of commission as well.

After all, given the choice between preventing and facilitating the Castro regime's deep-water drilling, we should be preventing it -- right?

We argued it in 2008 and will argue it again, U.S. sanctions have been the environment's best friend in dealing with Castro's oil ambitions.

Even more strangely, despite these ambitions proving to be cost and logistically prohibitive, Graham and Reilly hold that the Cuban regime will continue its oil pipe-dreams based solely on some "intentions" they perceived from bureaucrats (at best) they met in Havana through long-time Castro propagandist, Julia Sweig.

Come on, Senator. You are better than that.

From Petroleum Economist:

Cuba’s deep-water drive on hold

Havana’s oil ambitions stymied by triple whammy of geology, costs and sanctions

The waters around Cuba once promised to be a new frontier in Caribbean exploration and an economic boost to an island that has been bound by US trade sanctions for more than five decades. However, after three dry wells, hopes of deep-water success have been tempered by tricky geology and high drilling costs. And a string of drilling failures in 2012 now hangs over the sector.

According to the US' Energy Information Administration (EIA), Cuba's proved oil reserves total just 24 million barrels, plus 2.5 trillion cubic feet (cf) of natural gas. But the country's little-explored deep waters are thought to share some of the same rich geology that has made the US Gulf of Mexico one of the world's most prolific oil provinces.

The US Geological Survey estimates the North Cuba basin holds 4.6 billion barrels of recoverable crude oil, as well as 900 million barrels of natural gas liquids and 9.8 trillion cf of natural gas. Around 70% of Cuba's offshore oil reserves are thought to lie in a narrow, near-shore section of the North Cuba basin called the North Cuba Foreland basin.

Cuban officials are even more bullish. In 2008, they claimed the country's offshore could host as much as 20 billion barrels of undiscovered crude.

A number of international companies, including Repsol, Venezuela's PdV and Malaysia's Petronas snapped up offshore blocks in Cuba's Exclusive Economic Zone, in the Gulf of Mexico, hoping to tap this bounty.

In 2004, Repsol, along with partners Statoil and ONGC Videsh, drilled Cuba's first deep-water well, Yamagua-1, in Block 27, around 32 kms offshore Havana. The well hinted at Cuba's potential. Repsol said oil was discovered, though not in commercial quantities.

But, after that initial success, it took eight years before the exploration campaign could continue. Companies had to wait on construction of Saipem's $750 million Scarabeo-9 ultra-deep water semi-submersible drilling rig, a unit which did not contravene the terms of US sanctions against Cuba.

A year of misadventure

The Scarabeo-9 mobilised into Cuban waters in early 2012. It was to be a pivotal year for Cuba's oil hopes. The country started 2012 optimistic that a deep-water oil boom would boost its economy and reduce its dependence on Venezuelan oil. While Cuba produced 171,000 barrels a day of oil in 2012, this met just a third of its oil demand, EIA data show. The shortfall was plugged with Venezuelan barrels.

The Scarabeo-9's first task was to spud the Jagüey well. Drilling started in January 2012, but in May Repsol said Jagüey was a duster. It added it would not go ahead with a second planned well.

Despite the disappointment, hopes remained high as the Scarabeo-9 began work for Petronas and Gazprom Neft, spudding the Catoche 1X well in a deep-water prospect offshore Pinar del Rio province, in the north. In August 2012, though, Cuba's state-run producer Cupet announced that Catoche 1X, despite showing indications of oil, was not commercial.

Venezuela's PdV was next, with the Cabo de San Antonio 1X well, also in the northern offshore. In November, it emerged that it too was a duster. It marked the end of a disappointing year for Cuba's offshore oil hunt, and the experience appears to have dampened explorers' enthusiasm for Cuba's offshore play.

A Repsol spokesperson told Petroleum Economist the company has no plans to return to Cuba's deep waters, preferring instead to focus on its Brazilian and West African projects. While Repsol admitted the long-standing US trade embargo was a factor in its decision, Cuba's difficult geology and the high cost of drilling there were more important concerns.

Cuba's hopes of developing an offshore oil sector now rest with Russian state-owned explorer Zarubezhneft. However, the pace of work has been slow. Zarubezhneft abandoned a shallow-water exploration well in Block L, offshore Cayo Santa Maria, in June 2013 when its charter for the semi-submersible rig Songa Mercur expired. The planned drilling programme was hampered by a number of problems, including a malfunction with the blowout preventer's shear ram.

Local media have claimed the Songa Mercur could return to Cuba at the end of 2014, once it completes work for Eni offshore Vietnam. However, this appears doubtful. Songa Offshore has not confirmed any Cuban contracts for the unit. Besides this, the Songa Mercur is contracted to drill at least one well offshore Vietnam for Idemitsu Oil & Gas once the Eni charter expires. And Idemitsu has an option to extend this charter for the rig for a second well. Besides which, the Songa Mercur is rated for water up to 1,200 feet; if, as is hoped, Cuba has substantial offshore resources, these are likely to be found in deeper waters. The Scarabeo-9 - which is capable to deep-water drilling and does not breach sanctions - is operating offshore Angola, and these is no indication it is likely to return to Cuban waters anytime soon.

For now, Cuba's offshore oil ambitions are on hold. And given the difficulties Cuban operations bring with them, operators are looking at other, less complicated, plays instead - Brazil's pre-salt and Mexico's offshore, for example. It may well be that Cuba has missed its opportunity.

Quote of the Week: Ileana Responds to Maduro

If Maduro is worried about foreign influence, why doesn’t he expel all the Cuban military and intelligence members helping his regime and the ‘colectivos’ that commit human rights violations against the people of Venezuela? 
-- U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), in response to Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro's absurd accusation that her husband is part of a foreign plot to topple his government, 5/2/14

Cuba Vows Support for a Nuclear Iran

From Iranian state media, FARS News:

Cuba Vows to Continue Defending Iran's Nuclear Rights

Cuban Ambassador to Tehran Vladimir Andres Gonzalez Quesada underlined that Havana will continue its full support for Iran's right to use peaceful nuclear technology.

"Cuba's position is very clear and explicit since Havana supports all independent world states' right of using the nuclear energy for peaceful purposes," Gonzalez Quesada told FNA on Sunday.

"Our today position for defending Iran's access to to the nuclear energy will possibly be adopted for other nations since such an approach expresses and displays our right of access to the civilian nuclear technology," he added.

Gonzalez Quesada also referred to the talks underway between Iran and the Group 5+1 (the US, Russia, China, Britain and France plus Germany), and said Cuba believes that these negotiations are important for Iran, the western states and those countries which are affected by these talks and it also believes that these negotiations indicate Iran's vital importance.

Washington and its Western allies accuse Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian nuclear program, while they have never presented any corroborative evidence to substantiate their allegations. Iran denies the charges and insists that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.

Tehran stresses that the country has always pursued a civilian path to provide power to the growing number of Iranian population, whose fossil fuel would eventually run dry.

Despite the rules enshrined in the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) entitling every member state, including Iran, to the right of uranium enrichment, Tehran is now under four rounds of UN Security Council sanctions and the western embargos for turning down West's calls to give up its right of uranium enrichment.

Tehran has dismissed West's demands as politically tainted and illogical, stressing that sanctions and pressures merely consolidate Iranians' national resolve to continue the path.

Eduardo Galeano Repents, Will His Adherents Follow Suit?

In an interview published on Perfil.com, Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano reveals that he considers his 1971 book, “The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent,” so bad that "he wouldn’t be capable of reading it again.”

Galeano's “The Open Veins of Latin America” is a favorite among the region's radicals and anti-U.S. agitators. Its thesis is that all of Latin America's modern-day problems are due to U.S. "exploitation."

That traditional leftist-style prose is awful," Galeano repents today.

He also admitted that he wrote it "without properly knowing enough about economics and politics."

Galeano's comments came at the II Bienal in Brazil, an international book fair held in Brasilia.

At the 5th Summit of the Americas in 2009, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez orchestrated a highly-publicized encounter, where he famously cornered U.S. President Barack Obama and handed him a copy of "The Open Veins of Latin America."

The Open Veins of Latin America” has also been a favorite of U.S. college professors and -- thus -- formed the thinking of Latin Americanists in media, academia and government for decades.

Will Galeano's stunning confession make them pause?

Tweet of the Day: #PressFreedomDay

By the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power:

On #PressFreedomDay: Letter to Raul Castro

From the Editor of Translating Cuba:

Raul Castro, Think Again

The months keep passing, and Angel Santiesteban — the only “common prisoner” to whom the political police have offered “freedom” in exchange for his renouncing his political position, witnessed in a video — continues punished, victim of constant inspections and deprived of passes to which by law he has a right; nor do they permit him to go to the dentist or the barber.

Now, this “common prisoner” was chosen among the 100 Freedom of Information Heroes by Reporters Without Borders. Those who took him to jail should be writhing in shame; also those who have been and are complicit with their silence.

Why does the Regime fear him so? Because if it considers him a common prisoner, nothing they undertook against him makes sense, besides being illegal.

Angel remains incarcerated, and he considers it an honor; the Review of his trial remains ignored and his attorney disqualified. From whatever point you try to understand this unjust sentence, the one who loses is the dictator Castro, because being a “common prisoner” he treats him — for all purposes — as a political prisoner, by which we can imagine that he wants to aggravate his situation “converting him” now into an enemy of the Revolution and traitor to his country.

If they make this official, they will only admit that Angel is a political prisoner, and there will be in evidence — once again — the true nature of the Castro dictatorship. It is also true that the democratic governments that make deals with Cuba at the cost of the sacrifice, suffering and blood of Cubans, don’t care at all. These governments and the Castro dictatorship will pass, because everything passes.  But they will remain forever in history.

Raul Castro, think again; you can still correct this injustice–and all those that are committed against the more than one hundred political prisoners. Do not do it for Cuba or for your victims; you as well as your brother demonstrated amply that no one and nothing matters to you, that only power interests you; do it for your children and grandchildren, those who throughout life are condemned to carry your last name and your stigma. Because the moment will come in which everything will fall into place, although you and your brother perhaps will no longer be–regrettably–and will be saved from facing Justice.

It is not only incomprehensible that the dictatorship is the most tolerated of the world, but no one ever will be able to understand why a “Revolution” that never spared bullets and violence so fears the words and opinions of an intellectual, of peaceful opponents and of decent women who bear as a “weapon” a gladiolus.

The only certainty is that history will not absolve them.