Red Bull Fined for Cuba Sanctions Violations

Saturday, June 28, 2014
From the U.S. Treasury Department:

Red Bull North America, Inc. Settles Potential Civil Liability for Alleged Violations of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, 31 C.F.R. Part 515

Red Bull North America, Inc. (“RBNA”) has agreed to pay $89,775 to settle potential civil liability for seven alleged violations of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, 31. C.F.R. part 515 (the “CACR”). Between June 8 and June 18, 2009, seven representatives of RBNA traveled to Cuba in order to film a documentary, without authorization from OFAC. The production of the film, as well as the associated travel, was approved by RBNA management.

OFAC determined that RBNA did not voluntarily self-disclose the alleged violations and that the alleged violations constituted a non-egregious case. The maximum penalty amount for the alleged violations was $455,000, and the base penalty amount was $105,000.

The settlement reflects OFAC’s consideration of the following facts and circumstances, pursuant to the General Factors under OFAC’s Economic Sanctions Enforcement Guidelines, 31 C.F.R. part 501, app. A: RBNA had prior knowledge of U.S. sanctions on Cuba and took steps to conceal the transactions; RBNA is a U.S. subsidiary of a sophisticated multinational company with extensive experience in international trade; RBNA made a remedial response by instituting an OFAC compliance program; and RBNA has not received a penalty notice or Finding of Violation from OFAC in the five years preceding the date of the unauthorized travel to Cuba.

Amnesty International: Young Cuban Prisoners of Conscience Await Sentencing

From Amnesty International:

URGENT ACTION

Cuba: Prisoners of Conscience Await Sentencing

Three brothers who have been in pre-trial detention in Cuba since late 2012 have now been tried and are due for sentencing. They are at risk of being sentenced to between three and five years’ imprisonment. Amnesty International believes they are prisoners of conscience, detained solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression.

Twenty-two-year-old Alexeis Vargas Martín and his two 18-year-old twin brothers, Vianco Vargas Martín and Django Vargas Martín, detained in November and December 2012 respectively, were tried on 13 June at the Provincial Court in Santiago de Cuba, south-eastern Cuba. They are now awaiting sentencing, due to be issued on 1 July, for the charges against them of public disorder of a continuous nature (alteración del orden público de carácter continuado). According to information received by Amnesty International, the Public Prosecutor has asked for Alexeis Vargas Martín to be sentenced to five years’ imprisonment and three years for Vianco and Django Vargas Martín, who were 16 at the time of arrest. They were reportedly subjected to a summary trial, with none of the witnesses for the defence being allowed to testify. In political trials such as these it is typical for the judge to pass the sentences requested by the public prosecutor.

The brothers, from the city of Santiago de Cuba, are all members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unión Patriótica de Cuba, UNPACU), a civil society organization which advocates for greater civil liberties in the country. Since their detention, Alexeis Vargas Martín is being held at Aguadores Prison in Santiago de Cuba province, while Vianco and Django Vargas Martín are held at the Mar Verde prison in the same province.
Amnesty International believes that their arrest and detention is in response to their peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression and that it is intended to send a message of intimidation to other government critics, particularly other members of UNPACU. The three brothers are prisoners of conscience and must be immediately and unconditionally released.

Amnesty International believes that their arrest and detention is in response to their peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression and that it is intended to send a message of intimidation to other government critics, particularly other members of UNPACU. The three brothers are prisoners of conscience and must be immediately and unconditionally released.

Cuba Punishes 6 Baseball Players for Exit Attempts

Hadn't the media previously reported that Raul's "reforms" had dealt with this issue?

Obviously not.

From AP:

Cuba Punishes 6 Baseball Players for Exit Attempts

Six more baseball players have been ruled out of the current national squad for trying to defect, Cuban authorities said Wednesday.

Government news website Cubadebate listed the players as Villa Clara pitchers Diosdani Castillo and Yasmani Hernandez Romero; infielders Gelkis Jimenez and Adriel Labrada; pitcher Carlos Manuel Portuondo of Santiago, and Isle of Youth outfielder Alejandro Jaime Ortiz.

Cubadebate said they were implicated in "attempts to leave the country illegally." It did not give details or say whether any were successful.

Cubadebate also named Yasmani Tomas, a hard-hitting outfielder formerly with Havana ball club Industriales whose departure was acknowledged by officials on Friday.

Cuban ballplayers who defect often have their sights set on Major League Baseball, where many have signed multimillion-dollar contracts.

Last year Cuba began letting players compete in overseas leagues while still in their prime for the first time in decades. Some have signed lucrative deals in Japan.

The players named by Cubadebate will not figure in the squad selected to face a U.S. collegian team in five games next month in Cuba.

In Week-Long Series, NPR Oblivious to Human Rights in Cuba

Friday, June 27, 2014
This week, NPR has run a week-long "special series" on Cuba.

The series covered the Port of Mariel (as Castro's "window to the future"); the need for more tourism; an interview with Castro regime official (and intelligence officer) Josefina Vidal to criticize U.S. policy; Cuba's "budding" entrepreneurs (despite having no rights); and Cuban-American remittances.

The Castro regime was so happy with these pieces that it even reproduced some of them (in their entirety) on state media -- no joke.

And for its final segment, it featured, "On Being Gay, and Socialist, in Cuba Today" -- an ode of sorts to Cuban dictator Raul Castro's daughter, Mariela.

How about on being gay in Cuba, regardless of ideology?

Why didn't NPR cover the case of David Bustamante, the 21-year old gay rights activist who just this month (while NPR's intrepid reporters were in Cuba) was arrested, brutally beaten (left with broken limbs) and confined to an AIDS prison?

His crime? Staging a peaceful protest outside his home.

David's mother is a member of The Ladies in White, a democracy group composed of the wives, mothers, daughters, sisters and other relatives of Cuban political prisoners.

Why didn't NPR spend a Sunday with The Ladies in White in Matanzas, where every weekend they are confronted, beaten and arrested by Castro's agents as they try to attend Mass?

Or cover the case of Sonia Garro, an Afro-Cuban member of The Ladies in White, who has been imprisoned for over 2-years without trial or charges?

During NPR's visit to Cuba, the home of democracy leader Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez" and his wife, Yris, was raided at dawn. They were arrested, beaten and chocked unconscious in prison.

Their crime?  Leading a letter signed by over 830 democracy activists asking the U.S. not to lift sanctions until human rights are recognized and respected in Cuba.

How about visiting Antunez in Placetas?

During NPR's visit, Cuban independent journalists were rounded up, beaten and harassed, including the head of Hablemos Press, Roberto de Jesus Guerra, whose face was left disfigured.

NPR did briefly speak with this fellow journalist -- but only after giving one of Castro's official journalists most of the segment to propagandize and trying to make Guerra appear as some sort of U.S. agent.

However, not a single mention by NPR of the dramatic increase of repression in Cuba under Raul Castro.

NPR could have spent a day in Santiago with members of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU), the island's largest opposition group, and witness first-hand the violent repression they are exposed to.

Or discuss the case of dissident rapper, Angel Yunier Remon "El Critico", who has been imprisoned for over a year without trial or charges?

Or discuss the deaths of democracy advocates Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Laura Pollan, Wilmar Villar Mendoza, Juan Wifredo Soto, Oswaldo Paya Sardiñas and Harold Cepero.

Or the 1,000+ documented political arrests undertaken by the Castro regime each month.

But it purposefully chose not to.

This is not unlike a "people-to-people" trip to Cuba -- the U.S.-licensed, Castro-hosted tours of the island for Americans.

Nor is it unlike those who seek to lift sanctions and do business with Castro's monopolies.

To them, the lack of fundamental freedoms and human rights are simply incidental costs of doing business.

NPR's "special series" has just given us another taste of what that looks like.

An Apology for Cuba's Military Dictatorship

American University Professor William LeoGrande has provided us with a text-book example of how to apologize for Cuba's military dictatorship.

He writes in The Huffington Post:

"Today, eight ministries are led by career military officers, three of whom are still on active duty. Of the 10 vice-presidents of the Council of Ministers, five are active-duty or former career military officers, not counting Raúl himself. Of the 13 members of the Political Bureau of the Cuban Communist Party, four are active-duty generals and another is retired military, again not counting Raúl.

Both in Cuba and abroad, the prominence of so many senior officers in civilian posts has prompted speculation about a military 'takeover' of the Cuban government. But to regard this circulation of elites as breaching some clear divide between civilian and military roles is to misunderstand the nature of civil-military relations in Cuba."

That's right.

Never mind that Castro's military exerts totalitarian control over Cuba -- both in political and economic terms.

Cuba is not a military dictatorship, claims LeoGrande.

Never mind that the bureaucratic proportions he cites stymie those of the military juntas that ruled throughout Latin America in the 60s, 70s and 80s -- which at least tried to (poorly) hide behind the civilian puppets they'd parade as figure-heads.

Cuba is not a military dictatorship, he insists.

Then again, LeoGrande also believes that "Raúl Castro became president of Cuba in his own right in 2008."

In some alternate universe perhaps.

Tweet of the Day: Castro Supports Assad at U.N.

The "Extreme Cruelty" of the Castro Regime

Thursday, June 26, 2014
This gruesome event took place 21-years ago today.

Also, don't forget who was the Minister of Defense (MINFAR) -- General Raul Castro.

From The Miami Herald:

U.S. Rips Cuba's "Extreme Cruelty", Protests 3 Killings Near Base

Cuban marine patrols, determined to stop refugees from reaching the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, have repeatedly tossed grenades and shot at fleeing swimmers and recovered some bodies with gaff hooks, U.S. officials charged Tuesday.

At least three Cubans have been killed in the past month as Cuban patrol boats attacked swimmers within sight of U.S. Navy personnel at Guantanamo.

The killings are the latest sign that Cuba is resorting to violent means to stop a torrent of desperate people from fleeing the impoverished island.

"This is the most savage kind of behavior I've ever heard of," said Robert Gelbard, deputy assistant secretary of state for Latin America. The United States has no previous record of such activity in Cuba, he added, calling the practice "even worse than what happened at the Berlin Wall."

The Clinton administration filed a formal protest Monday with the government of President Fidel Castro, calling on Havana to "immediately cease these barbaric practices," said a State Department aide.

Courtesy of Notes From the Cuban Exile Quarter.

Question for U.S. Chamber: On Ex-Im Bank and Cuba

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has mounted a lobbying offensive to save the taxpayer-funded, U.S. Export-Import Bank ("Ex-Im Bank"), whose charter expires on September 30th.

Ex-Im Bank provides direct loans to foreign buyers of U.S. products, credit guarantees to American companies, and political and credit insurance for exports.

Many in Congress argue that Ex-Im Bank is a nest of corporate cronyism, which only benefits large U.S. and foreign companies.

Others argue that Ex-Im Bank is important to "level the playing field" versus other foreign export credit agencies.

We're not staking a position here, simply making an observation.

Some of the biggest beneficiaries of Ex-Im Bank include companies such as Caterpillar, Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland, which have led the lobbying charge (within the U.S. Chamber and in Congress) to lift Cuba sanctions.

After all, if sanctions were lifted, U.S. taxpayers would finance the Castro regime's purchases from these companies, and provide political and credit risk insurance for business with the Cuban dictatorship's monopolies.

Courtesy of the Ex-Im Bank.

It's a win-win for these these companies (and for Castro).

So the question for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is:

Would you be so enthusiastic about conducting business with Castro's bankrupt and deadbeat regime if Ex-Im Bank ceased to exist?

Of course not.

NPR Contradicts Hillary Clinton and Cuba Sanctions Foes

Today's NPR story, "Tourism Money Flows Into Cuba, Bringing Economic Hopes And Fears," notes:

"Tourism is essential to the Cuban economy, accounting for nearly 10 percent of the country's GDP in 2013, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. More than 2 million foreign tourists visit every year, and the Cuban Ministry of Tourism says the 2014 high season that just ended was the biggest on record — a 5 percent increase from the previous year. The government is also hoping a possible lifting of the American embargo, which has economically squeezed the island for more than 50 years, would add to that growing revenue."

What?

Haven't anti-sanctions lobbyists told us that Castro really doesn't want the embargo lifted?

Didn't they convince Hillary Clinton of this, who now claims the embargo is Castro's "best friend"?

Obviously, that's non-sense.

In a nutshell, this is precisely why the U.S. sanctions tourism travel to Cuba -- because it's key to the Castro regime's economy.

NPR fails to note that all of the tourism hotels, resorts and facilities are owned by the Cuban military.

But it does remind us:

"Travel writer Christopher Barker says there is speculation that 1 million new American tourists would flood the country in the first year following the end of the embargo, and 2 to 3 million annually after that."

Just as with Canadian and European tourists, nothing would make the Castro's financially happier.

Members of Congress Question State About Visas for Cuban Human Rights Violators

See the letter below (or here):

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North Korea Up to No Good in Venezuela

The U.N. Panel of Expert's report on Cuba's smuggling of 240 tons of weaponry to North Korea, in violation of international sanctions, revealed how North Korea's Embassy in Havana played a central role in the financial and logistical execution of this operation.

Evidence found on the ship pointed to involvement of [North Korea] embassy staff in Cuba,” the report said, citing contact phone numbers and records in the captain’s log from the Chong Chon Gang vessel, which was used to smuggle the weapons.

Now, North Korea is opening an Embassy in Caracas.

Considering the Venezuelan government's ties to narcotic trafficking and its support for terrorist organizations, does anyone believe any good will come of this?

From UPI:

North Korea to open embassy in Venezuela

North Korea is preparing to open its first embassy in the South American country of Venezuela.

North Korea is planning to open an embassy in Venezuela, having recently received approval from the Venezuelan government to do so.

It would be North Korea's first embassy in Venezuela since diplomatic relations began in 1974. To date, the North Korean ambassador to Cuba has represented North Korean interests in Venezuela.

North Korea maintains a trade office in the capital city of Caracas that was opened in 1991 and closed briefly in 1999 before reopening in 2000.

North Korea and Venezuela, both with anti-U.S. foreign policies, are on friendly diplomatic terms.

Boston Globe: Lift the Embargo -- but Freedom First

Wednesday, June 25, 2014
By Jeff Jacoby in The Boston Globe:

Lift the embargo – but liberate Cuba first

At a June 12 appearance in New York before the Council on Foreign Relations, Hillary Clinton made the familiar argument for ending the US trade embargo against Cuba, the same one critics of the policy have been making for years.

“The embargo is Castro’s best friend,” the former secretary of state said; it provides the Havana regime with “an excuse for everything.” Scrapping sanctions would “change the psychology of this issue” and improve US relations with the rest of the hemisphere. So “we should advocate for normalizing relations and see what [Cuba’s rulers] do.”

A few hours earlier, Cuba’s rulers had been doing one of the things they do best: persecuting peaceful dissidents. More than 40 pro-democracy activists were rounded up on June 11, and several were allegedly beaten by security agents. One of Cuba’s most respected dissidents, Jorge Luís García Pérez, widely known as Antúnez, said he was battered and choked into unconsciousness in a police station in Santa Clara, according to the Miami Herald. State security officials warned Antúnez to stop collecting signatures on a petition condemning international efforts to reduce US sanctions against Cuba.

In Cuba, as in the United States, it requires no bravery to publicly oppose the embargo. Cubans who publicly support it, on the other hand, risk being prosecuted for committing a crime punishable by up to 15 years imprisonment. Clinton’s critique of the US embargo drew attention because she is a potential candidate for president. But what really merits the headlines is the courage shown by the hundreds of ordinary Cuban citizens openly urging the free world not to do more business with the dictatorship that for so long has kept Cuba on its knees.

Conventional wisdom holds that the US embargo has persisted only because Cuban-Americans in Florida, a key voting bloc, strongly defend it. Florida International University generated some media notice last week with a new poll showing that by a narrow majority, Cubans living in metropolitan Miami — the capital of the Cuban American community — actually oppose the embargo. Critics quickly flagged some glaring problems with the poll, such as the 90 percent of respondents who claimed to be registered voters, while only 62 percent said they were US citizens. And the reported results filtered out the “unsures,” which on the embargo question amounted to 12 percent of respondents. Including those numbers in the overall tally would show 45 percent against the embargo — a plurality, not a majority.

Yet the focus on polling data is a distraction. The US economic embargo is not the cause of Cuba’s misery. The Castro tyranny is. Unilaterally repealing the embargo would not weaken that tyranny by flooding the island with American tourists, consumer goods, and democratic notions, as sanctions opponents romantically imagine. Nearly 3 million tourists already visit Cuba annually, hundreds of thousands of Americans among them. In recent years, more tourists have traveled to Cuba from the United States than from any other country except Canada.

The trade embargo is far from hermetic. Since 2000, US exporters have sold close to $5 billion in food, agricultural, and medical goods to Cuba — for several years, in fact, the United States was Cuba’s fifth-largest trade partner. Meanwhile, Cuba has had the rest of the world to do business with, unfettered by embargoes or Florida politics.

If tourism and trade were going to undermine Cuba’s communist regime, it would surely have toppled long ago. But engagement with totalitarians doesn’t turn them into free and democratic neighbors. Rather, it empowers them to crack down on their subjects with even greater impunity. According to Elizardo Sanchez, a well-known human rights activist in Havana, detentions of dissidents have spiked, reaching more than 3,800 in just the first four months of 2014, far above the previous high of 2,795 two years ago.

The embargo, or what remains of it, is not chiseled in granite. It is, however, codified in US law. The Helms-Burton Act, signed by Hillary Clinton’s husband in 1996, allows the embargo to be lifted once the Cuban government legalizes political opposition, frees its political prisoners, and schedules democratic elections. Cuban dissidents insist on that point at the risk of going to prison. Shouldn’t American politicians, with nothing at risk but their credibility, insist on it as well?

Paris Club: Cuba Remains 2nd Most Indebted Nation

The Paris Club, a group composed of the world's 19 largest creditors nations, has released its annual list of outstanding claims (debtors).

These claims are held either by The Paris Club member States directly, or through their appropriate institutions (especially export credit or official development aid agencies) on behalf of the member States.

Cuba owes $35.193 billion, which makes it The Paris Club's 2nd most indebted nation.

This represents a $5 billion increase from 2011.

That same year, Indonesia was the largest debtor with $40.679 billion owed. Yet, this year, Indonesia's debt has decreased to $29.297 billion.

This year's most indebted nation is Greece, which owes $70.305 billion.

Quote of the Day: Cuba's Deceleration Intensifies

This implies a greater deceleration than expected.
-- Adel Yzquierdo, Castro's Economy Minister, on Cuba's paltry 0.6% reported growth rate during the first half of 2104, The Post Online, 6/25/14

How Cuba's State Security Welcomed a Free-Thinker Home

By Isbel Diaz in Havana Times:

How Cuba’s State Security Welcomed Me on Returning to Havana

After participating in the congress of the Association of Latin American Studies in Chicago, I returned home to Cuba this past June 20th, following a one-month stay in the United States. I arrived at terminal 2 of Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport to be received by Cuban State Security agents. Customs officers then proceeded to take away my cell phone and other belongings.

I was detained at the airport for three hours and all of my personal belongings were meticulously inspected. The officials were chiefly interested in all of the documents I carried with me and all electronic devices that could store information.

As such, in addition to my phone (which stored all of my personal contacts and private notes), two external hard disks and their cables, two cell phones I had brought my nephew and my boyfriend as gifts and an SD memory with family videos were confiscated, even though the authorities didn’t know what their contents were and didn’t even take the trouble of asking.

All of these devices were classified as items for personal use by the customs authorities themselves – the number of items didn’t exceed the limit established by Resolution 320 / 2011, which establishes what imports are of a commercial nature, nor did their respective prices surpass the limits established in the Value List published under Resolution 312 / 2011.

It is therefore quite evident that these confiscations are the result of the arbitrariness and excessive monitoring that all Cubans with free-thinking postures that are critical of the country’s socio-political reality are subjected to.

The fact that Lt. Colonel Omar, a well-known State Security officer, came in and out of the premises, reveals that the reasons behind this incident are clearly political.

I was given absolutely no explanation as to why my belongings were being confiscated. I was only referred to the customs resolution that empowers these officials to retain what they see fit. The contents and scope of the said resolution were not explained to me either.

What was explained to me were the reasons they confiscated several of the documents I carried with me. According to the Confiscation and Notification document, they “tarnish the country’s morals and customs.” The documents in question were:

- Historian Frank Fernandez’ classic El anarquismo en Cuba (“Anarchism in Cuba”), a book the author had sent to the Cuban Anthropology Institute (as the dedication he had handwritten attested to). Fernandez had learned that a group was studying the issue at the institute and he wanted to contribute to the work with his research on Cuba’s workers’ and anarcho-syndicalist movements.

- The open letter dissident Manuel Cuesta Morua had addressed to the Association of Latin American Studies, to which all Cubans who participated in this year’s LASA congress had access.

- A page from a Nuevo Herald newspaper with part of an article dealing with the LGBT community on the island and showing a photograph of the Day Against Homophobia activities organized every year by Cuba’s National Sexual Education Center headed by Mariela Castro. By chance, the page also showed a photo of dissident Yoani Sanchez. This immediately piqued the interest of the customs official, who labeled the document “anti-Cuban propaganda” without having read the article.

The only item that could in any way be construed as an affront on Cuban morals and customs is the photo of the Day Against Homophobia activities, which shows several people wearing colorful feathers singing on a Cuban stage. This homophobic posture must be condemned by our community on the island.

I publicly denounce this violation of my rights and abuse of power before the international community, and know that I will demand the immediate return of my cell phone and the rest of my belongings, all acquired legally.

I am not the first person who suffers this type of violence and I will probably not be the last, not while the Cuban political police continue to enjoy the prerogatives and privileges they do now.

Why Do Cuban (and Venezuelan) Human Rights Perpetrators Get U.S. Visas?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Cuban singer Tony Avila was recently given a visa to perform in the U.S.

This prompted the concern of Cuba's Ladies in White, who contend that Avila has participated in violent acts against peaceful democracy activists.

The Ladies in White are subject to weekly arrest and beatings by the Castro regime. To disrupt the group's meetings, security officials will often set-up concerts with free alcohol and bus-in loyalists to "repudiate" the democracy activists. As the alcohol flows, so does the violence.

A letter by 16 Ladies in White from the Matanzas province, where Avila hails from, states that he has not only led some of these concerts, but has insulted, harassed and physically assaulted the female activists.

Meanwhile, former Cuban prisoner of conscience Ivan Hernandez Carrillo has also reported that Jose Suarez, who was director of the brutal Aguica Prison, is also visiting Miami.

This isn't new.

Despite President Obama's Presidential Proclamation 8697 of August 2011, which supposedly sought to "close the gap" in granting visas to foreign nationals affiliated with human rights violators, the State Department has continuously given visas to Castro's family, elites and human rights perpetrators.

Similarly, the State Department continues to "green-light" the Dadeland and Aventura shopping-sprees of Venezuela's "boligarchs" and repressors.

This sends a simple (and horrible) message: Repress innocent people and get rewarded by the U.S.

In contrast, the Obama Administration keeps slapping visa restrictions on Russians responsible for human rights violations against political opponents in the Ukraine.

Although for Russia's repressors, London is the main travel destination.

Go figure.

In Their Own Words: Democracy Activists on Repression in Cuba

Former Cuban prisoner of conscience, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez," and The Ladies in White's leader, Berta Soler, describe repression in Cuba.

See below (or click here):


Even Charlie Crist Recognizes FIU's Cuba Poll is a Sham

Monday, June 23, 2014
Not surprisingly, Florida gubernatorial candidate, Charlie Crist, has just flip-flopped on his Cuba flip-flop.

For months, Crist had intensified his newly-found opposition to U.S. sanctions toward Cuba, which was to culminate in a much-hyped, business trip to Havana this summer.

If Crist were to believe FIU's recent Cuba poll, he'd be at the Castro regime's Hotel Nacional sipping mojitos as we type.

But in reality, he saw his numbers tank dramatically among Cuban-Americans.

Thus, Crist changed his mind -- yet again. 

This morning, the Crist campaign put out a statement announcing that he would no longer be visiting Cuba this summer.

We had called it.

Quote of the Day: Crist's Disgraceful Vision

It’s disgraceful that Charlie Crist's vision for Florida's economy is to propose business ventures with a failed terrorist state that's been holding an American hostage for the last five years.
-- Carlos Lopez-Cantera, Lt. Governor of Florida, Sunshine State News, 6/23/14

Why Would Obama Admin. License Travel for Cuban Apartheid Tournament?

It's hard to imagine a more insulting scenario than a fishing tournament in Cuba, where the Castro regime prohibits regular Cubans from even boarding vessels.

It's -- by definition -- an apartheid event.

According to the Castro regime's port authorities, Cubans are not authorized to board any vessel. This includes fishing boats, yachts, catamaran, jet-skis, etc. The only exception are Cubans married to citizens of another country, which can request a special permit.

Yet, earlier this month, the 64th International Fishing Tournament of Ernest Hemingway took place in Havana.

And in true dictatorial fashion, the tournament was "won" by Fidel Castro's son, Tony Castro.

(Tony also "won" last year's 5th Montecristo Cup Golf Tournament held in Varadero Beach. It seems he just can't lose.)

What's even more interesting is that Castro "won" aboard the yacht "Santy", which the regime-friendly magazine OnCuba lauded as being owned by the "proprietors" of a famous sushi "paladar" in Havana.

Shocking.

(For those still unaware, the only "paladares" allowed to thrive in Cuba are those owned or connected to the Castro regime and its cohorts. We refer to these as the "MININT's Paladares." They are the successful "private" businesses we often see featured in the media.)

But that's not what's most insulting.

What's most insulting is that the U.S. State and Treasury (OFAC) Departments purportedly licensed 130 Americans to participate in this apartheid fishing tournament.

Only 13 were able to attend as the Commerce Department held up the licensing of their vessels.

Under what travel category did OFAC approve these licenses?

Moreover, what policy rationale was given to allow these Americans to rub apartheid in the Cuban people's face?

Was it under the "American people" insult the "Cuban people" category?

Pictured below: Note the Cuban military personnel at the opening ceremony of the tournament.

Tweet of the Day: Pregnant Democracy Activist Beaten, Miscarries

From Cuban democracy leader, Martha Beatriz Roque:

#Cuba Yalennis Aguilera, of The Ladies in White in Gibara, miscarries after beating by State Security, hospitalized, 2 1/2 months pregnant 

How the Question on Cuba Sanctions Should be Asked

The Miami Herald's Marc Caputo has a good column on Cuba, Hillary Clinton and FIU's sloppy poll.

Most importantly, he laments that FIU didn't ask the following precise question:

"Do you favor lifting the embargo only if Cuba holds open and fair elections, releases political prisoners and allows for a free press and labor unions?"

After all, that's how the law is written.

Amnesty International: Cuban Journalist Threatened and Attacked

Sunday, June 22, 2014
From Amnesty International:

URGENT ACTION

Cuba: Journalist Threatened and Attacked

Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez, director of the independent news agency Hablemos Press has been receiving threatening telephone calls and was assaulted on the streets of Havana, the capital. He believes these are attempts by the Cuban authorities to dissuade him from continuing his activities as a journalist.

Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez, founder and director of the independent news agency Hablemos Press (Let’s Talk Press) has been repeatedly receiving threatening telephone calls since 6 June. Different male voices have called his mobile phone and the landline at his home, which also doubles as the office of Hablemos Press, and have threatened that Roberto will be killed.

Just after 11am on 11 June Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez was walking in the municipality of Plaza de la Revolución in central Havana on his way to use internet facilities at the Czech Embassy. He was attacked without warning by an unknown individual who started to punch and kick him, leaving him with a broken nose and bruises all over his body. As he was being beaten four men on two motorcycles which are typically used by the Cuban Department of State Security pulled up beside him. Roberto stated that one of the men said “ok, that’s enough” (ya, ya, no le des más) before they drove off. Roberto recognized one of the four men as someone who had participated in repressing demonstrations by dissidents. Roberto and his wife filed a complaint against the attack at the police station in the Cerro municipality of Havana. Roberto was called back to the police station later that night where he identified his attacker from photographs he was shown.

At around 6pm on 17 June the same man who attacked Roberto shouted threats outside his house, including that he would kill Roberto and set fire to his house. Roberto’s wife returned to the same police station to file another complaint but they refused to take it and told her that they had no grounds for complaint (“la denuncia no procedía”).

Odebrecht Accused of Slave Labor and Human Trafficking

For years, we have highlighted the questionable practices of the Brazilian conglomerate, Odebrecht.

Odebrecht is a favorite business partner of the world's most brutal dictators.

In the Western Hemisphere, it remains the Castro regime's strategic ally and the Maduro government's biggest cheerleader.

And yet, somehow, it had also (questionably) remained the largest recipient of Miami-Dade County taxpayer money.

Now, we can add slave labor and human trafficking to Odebrecht's repulsive practices.

This week, Brazil's Ministry of Public Works initiated a judicial process against Odebrecht for slave labor, inhumane conditions, international human trafficking, curtailment of freedom, retention of documents and other violations.

The BBC has more here.

These violations stem from the construction of a sugar cane mill in Angola between 2011 and 2012 and involve some 500 workers.

This sugar mill project is similar to the one Odebrecht has contracted with the Castro regime in the Cienfuegos province, where it will have the blessing of the Cuban authorities for its slave labor and human trafficking practices.

In the U.S. State Department's 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report ("Report"), Cuba received the lowest ranking (Tier 3), as a country that does not comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking.