Putin Headed to Cuba Next Week

Saturday, July 5, 2014
From AFP:

Putin to visit Cuba and other LatAm nations

President Vladimir Putin will next week begin a major Latin America tour that will take him to Cuba, Argentina and Brazil as he seeks to counter Russia's growing international isolation over the Ukraine crisis.

Putin will begin his six-day tour with the July 11 visit to Cuba, where he will meet President Raul Castro and the 87-year-old father of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, the Kremlin said on Friday.

The visit to the Communist-run island will come as tensions remain high between Russia and the West over the Ukraine crisis. Havana has sided with its old ally Russia in the conflict.

Putin and his Cuban hosts are expected to discuss cooperation in energy, transport, aviation, space and health, the Kremlin said.

Ahead of the visit, Russian parliament voted on Friday to write off 90 percent of Cuba's Soviet-era debt of more than $35 billion and said the rest would be earmarked for investment projects in Cuba.

Swiss Banking Regulators Take Tough Stance on Sanctions Violations

From the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA):

Inadequate risk management of US sanctions: FINMA closes proceedings against BNP Paribas (Suisse)

The Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority FINMA conducted enforcement proceedings against BNP Paribas (Suisse) SA. The proceedings focused on the bank's compliance with US sanctions, especially those issued against Sudan. FINMA has concluded that in particular between 2002 and 2007 the bank persistently and seriously violated its duty to identify, limit and monitor the inherent risks, subsequently breaching supervisory provisions. FINMA has ordered additional capital requirements for operational risks and banned the bank from conducting business with companies and persons subject to EU and US sanctions.

The US authorities conducted an investigation against the BNP Paribas (Group) regarding the violation of US sanctions against Cuba, Iran and Sudan. FINMA also examined whether the Swiss company, the BNP Paribas (Suisse) SA (= BNP Suisse), had breached Swiss supervisory law in this regard. During the probe, FINMA examined how BNP Suisse identified, limited and monitored the risks emanating from its cross-border trading business from 2002 to 2011. Business developments with business partners in countries sanctioned by the US, the bank's business and monitoring policy since 2002 and compliance with internal rules and regulations were also examined.

FINMA has issued a decree and has thus concluded its enforcement proceedings against BNP Paribas (Suisse) SA. It has established that the bank seriously violated its duty to identify, limit and monitor the risks involved in making transactions with business partners in countries subject to US sanctions. The bank exposed itself to unduly high legal and reputational risks and violated requirements for adequate organisation under Swiss supervisory law. On the other hand, FINMA found no indications of Swiss sanctions having been breached.

The proceedings also found that BNP Suisse had in the meantime adapted its procedures for making transactions with business partners in countries subject to sanctions in order to avoid any further breaches in compliance. FINMA will engage an independent third party to review the consistent implementation of those measures.

The supervisory authority will also order additional capital adequacy requirements for operational risks and impose a two-year ban on conducting business with companies and persons subject to EU and/or US sanctions.

It will also continue its probe into determining the extent to which the board of directors, management and other BNP Suisse employees were involved in the misconduct.

Why Sanctions Are Important

By Catherine Rampell in The Washington Post:

The U.S. should use its economic clout responsibly

It’s a scandal! It’s a conspiracy! It’s economic warfare!

No, not the crimes the U.S. government is punishing the French bank BNP Paribas for perpetrating, but the punishment itself.

So say French politicians, at least.

On Monday, BNP Paribas pleaded guilty to violating U.S. economic sanctions against Sudan, Iran and Cuba. As part of the settlement, it agreed to pay nearly $9 billion and temporarily suspend some of its valuable dollar-clearing services. The magnitude of the penalties — the largest imposed on a financial institution for U.S. sanctions violations — reflect not only the astounding volume of forbidden transactions routed through the U.S. financial system but also the lengths the bank went to to hoodwink authorities. Internal documents revealed that BNP officials falsified records and obscured the countries involved, even as they privately recognized that some of the entities they served were party to a “humanitarian catastrophe” and directly supported terrorists.

In other words, BNP officials knew all along that they were behaving badly, from both a moral and a legal standpoint.

But no matter. The real problem, French politicians have asserted for the past few months, is that the United States shouldn’t be sticking its nose into BNP’s business.

Last month, French President Francois Hollande confronted President Obama over “l’affaire BNP” at a D-Day event, insisting that Obama intervene to ease the proposed fine. Hollande also took up the cause with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other European governments, according to the Financial Times. U.S. regulators, after all, are still investigating other foreign banks — including, reportedly, Germany’s Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank, Italy’s UniCredit and France’s Credit Agricole and Societe Generale – that may have also violated our trade embargoes. The penalties in those cases could be similarly onerous.

The United States is engaging in a cash grab from helpless foreigners, French politicians have intimated, and is attempting to hobble U.S. banks’ competitors. Large fines “sometimes offer some advantages in economic warfare,” French economic minister Arnaud Montebourg said recently, adding ominously, “Maybe we should imitate them.”

Never mind that U.S. regulators recently slapped JPMorgan Chase with an even higher penalty of $13 billion over its mortgage business or that Bank of America is anticipating similarly scaled punishment. Extraterritorial bullies that we Americans are, we’ve resorted to stealing France’s lunch money just because we can.

Of course, such bristling at the United States’ attempts to curb international companies’ transactions with terrorists, drug cartels and corrupt politicians is nothing new.

“You [expletive] Americans,” an executive at London-based Standard Chartered Bank wrote in a leaked e-mail from 2006. “Who are you to tell us, the rest of the world, that we’re not going to deal with Iranians.”

Indeed, who are we to exert such control over foreigners’ behavior?

We are no longer just the world’s policeman. Thanks to our status as the largest market in the world and the guarantor of the world’s reserve currency, the United States has become the world’s economic conscience, too. And in my view, that is a very good thing as long as we brandish our economic superpower status responsibly.

Since the days of our earliest English-speaking settlers, America has tried to be a “city upon a hill.” Believing that the eyes of all people were upon us, we tried to lead by example. Of course, our success at persuading others to embrace our self-proclaimed values of equality and freedom, like our own commitment to them, has been somewhat mixed. And when they would not see the light, we at times sought to impose our ideals (and interests) upon others by force, bludgeoning them into adopting the one true path toward democracy, freedom and respect for human life.

Today, however, 238 years to the day after the launch of the American experiment, we have a far superior, and more peaceful, weapon: economic clout. Right now, if not necessarily forever, we live in a world in which we can use our economic superpowers to pressure others to behave more honorably. We can tell the world: If you want to do business with us, or even just transact with our currency, you can’t also be the de facto central bank for the government of Sudan. That’s true even if your home country is uninterested in banning such profiteering.

Trade sanctions (and laws such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act) are exactly the kinds of policies we should be pursuing to make the world a better place through our economic influence — instead of, to the maximum extent possible, our military influence. Lord knows that if other rising superpowers ever develop the same economic clout we have, they might be somewhat less conscientious about wielding it for the betterment of mankind.

On July 4th, the "Hard-Liners" Prevailed

Friday, July 4, 2014
Like every July 4th, we're re-posting the following reminder of why taking an uncompromising stand for political freedom and democracy is the most American of traditions.

By Mauricio Claver-Carone in The Washington Times:

Why Cuban-Americans are "Hard-Liners"

May 21, 2008

The nation's mainstream media and political pundits rarely miss an opportunity to attach the label of "hard-liner" to Cuban-American critics of the dictatorship.

That begs a question: Are Cuban-Americans fairly labeled as "hard-liners"?

Indisputably, the Cuban-American community has maintained its uncompromising support for complete political freedom and democracy in Cuba. Cuban-Americans have consistently and ardently opposed any political or commercial engagement with Cuba's regime until it meets conditions set out in the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act passed by Congress in 1996. Those essentially are: Immediate release of all political prisoners; recognition and respect for fundamental human rights set out by international accords; and legalization of opposition political parties, an independent news media and independent labor unions.

HBO's popular new TV series, "John Adams," about our nation's Founding Father and second president, offers some significant historical perspectives on what "hard-liners" can achieve.

The enlightened and inspiring debates of the Second Continental Congress of 1775 included the likes of such "hard-liners" and "radicals" — as some historians now refer to them — as John Adams of Massachusetts and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia. Adams and Jefferson, who became our third president, adamantly rejected all negotiations with the British monarch until the God-given freedoms of the American people were fully recognized.

Those early debates also provide some perspective about the "moderates" of the time, such as John Dickinson of Pennsylvania and John Rutledge of South Carolina. They advocated dialogue and reconciliation as embodied in the "Olive Branch Petition" — also known as the "Humble Petition" — to King George III. The petition sought only limited economic and political concessions, rather than absolute emancipation. The British monarch's rejection of the petition allowed the "hard-line" views of Mr. Adams to prevail and led directly to the democratic underpinnings of this great society.

During the course of the American independence movement, a "hard-line" approach also developed and became the basis for the 19th Century abolitionist movement that sought the immediate and absolute emancipation of all slaves. Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, who founded the abolitionist periodical "The Liberator" in 1839, was white and drew upon his deeply religious convictions. Frederick Douglass, who founded "North Star" in 1847 was a former slave, who drew upon personal tragedy and a lifetime of resolute resistance. While the two only differed in their backgrounds and the source of their inspiration, both were vitriolic in their opposition to slavery and uncompromising in their support for emancipation.

Douglass summarized his political philosophy as follows: "If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will."

Garrison concluded: "With reasonable men, I will reason; with humane men I will plead; but to tyrants I will give no quarter, nor waste arguments where they will certainly be lost."

It is inarguable that after Fidel Castro took control of Cuba, his tyranny trampled the fundamental human rights of the people of Cuba. Today the Cuban people do not have the benefit of free press that Garrison and Douglass placed at the service of the abolitionist cause. Neither do the Cuban people have the ability to somewhat gather as America's Founding Fathers did to debate the form of government and rally popular support for independence. Yet Cubans share the same goal and desire for freedom and political rights.

Americans of all origins should find it fair and easy to conclude that not only are Cuban Americans uncompromising "hard-liners" on the issues of freedom and full emancipation of Cuba but also that there is no reason to back away from that hard line.

It is, after all, a most American tradition.

CHC: The following short clip brilliantly re-enacts one of the debates between the "moderate" John Dickinson and the "hard-liner" John Adams.

Please watch below (or here):

Another International Bank Pulls Out of Cuba

Thursday, July 3, 2014
Kudos to the Obama Administration for its handling -- thus far -- of the BNP Paribas case, particularly the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Treasury.

Laws are meant to be enforced.

As such, we are already seeing banks step up compliance (at best) or streamline their duplicity (at worst).

Case and point -- from the Irish Independent:

BoI bans trade with Cuba after US ruling

The Irish Independent has seen correspondence from the lender written to long-standing customers with legitimate business interests in Cuba telling them it can no longer process international transactions to or from the Caribbean island.

The ban comes as French bank BNP Paribas was hit with a $9bn (€6.5bn) fine by the US amid allegations it violated US sanctions involving Cuba, Iran and Sudan.

Bank of Ireland has a tie-up with a leading bank in the US which handles all of Bank of Ireland's transactions under new European payment rules known as the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA)

The US lender is bound by US regulations which ban payments being made to Cuba, Iran and Sudan, Bank of Ireland said.

Bank of Ireland confirmed that it had written to affected customers who are doing business with Cuba explaining that it could not process payments on their behalf.

"Our correspondent bank for all SEPA transaction is a leading US bank who must comply with its own regulatory requirements and obligations and to avoid a possible exposure to regulatory sanctions and penalties," Bank of Ireland said in a statement.

"As a result of the decision by our correspondent bank, we are not in a position to process such transactions.

"This affects all international payments to or 
 from Cuba and also any related 
SEPA payments."

The US government has sanctions in place against a select number of countries including Cuba, Iran and Sudan. The EU has also had sanctions in place against Iran and Sudan but not Cuba.

The Department of Finance said the decision was a commercial one for Bank of Ireland and declined to comment further.

Bank of Ireland would not disclose the name its correspondent bank, but said it did not have one handling euro-area payments before the introduction of SEPA earlier this year.

It is not clear why a correspondent bank is now required for transactions under SEPA and a Bank of Ireland spokeswoman declined to comment further when 
asked if it had any plans to change 
this arrangement.

It also declined to say how many of its customers were affected.

French bank BNP Paribas this week pleaded guilty to two criminal charges and agreed to pay almost $9bn to resolve accusations it violated US sanctions against Sudan,

Cuba and Iran. In an unprecedented move, regulators banned BNP for a year from conducting certain US dollar transactions, a critical part of the bank's global business, in addition to the record-breaking fine.

In addition, the bank will need to prohibit all US dollar clearing as a correspondent bank for unaffiliated third-party banks in New York and London for two years.

The US has brought at least 22 cases against financial firms since 2009 for doing business or handling funds linked to sanctioned countries.

Penalties totalling $4.9bn have been levied against the 21 other banks since US President Barack Obama took office.

Most of those cases targeted overseas banks, with less than $90m in fines imposed on US firms.

More Banks Under Scrutiny for Sanctions Violations

From AFP:

After BNP, U.S. may hit other banks for sanctions-busting

After French giant BNP Paribas, other big European banks like Credit Agricole, Deutsche Bank and UniCredit may be in the cross-hairs of U.S. authorities for sanctions-busting.

U.S. authorities on Monday slammed BNP, France‘s largest bank, with a record $8.9 billion in penalties for violating U.S. economic sanctions against Iran, Sudan and other countries and pleaded guilty to criminal charges.

The blow raised speculation that some of its rivals in Europe would be punished, but less severely.

The United States has focused its investigations on dollar operations of a handful of European banks with countries blacklisted by the U.S.: Iran, Sudan, Cuba, Syria and North Korea.

The probes, begun in 2009, are looking at the alleged transfer of billions of dollars to the accounts of blacklisted entities, which benefited from a U.S. legal loophole that closed in 2008.

The investigations are being led by several U.S. authorities: the Justice and Treasury departments, the Federal Reserve and New York state’s Department of Financial Services.

French bank Societe Generale recently opened an internal investigation and said it was holding talks with the Office of Foreign Assets Control, the Treasury‘s agency that enforces U.S. economic sanctions.

French rival Credit Agricole is investigating dollar transactions, especially by Credit Agricole CIB, its corporate and investment banking arm.

Both banks say they are cooperating with U.S. authorities.

Germany’s largest bank, Deutsche Bank, is suspected of having business transactions with entities in Sudan, Iran and Syria, according to people close to the situation.

On Wednesday, the bank told AFP it was providing information requested by U.S. regulatory authorities.

“While we cannot with any degree of certainty predict the effect these matters will have on us, they have the potential to result in the imposition of significant financial penalties or have other adverse consequences for us,” Deutsche Bank spokesman Michael Golden said in an email.

Credit Suisse analysts have estimated the German bank is facing a $3.3 billion U.S. fine.

The second-largest German bank, Commerzbank, revealed in 2010 that its Iran-linked dollar transactions were under investigation by the United States.

It has not estimated the size of a potential penalty.

U.S. authorities also are investigating the German subsidiary of Italy‘s largest bank, UniCredit, for transactions with Iran. UniCredit has set aside more than a billion euros ($1.4 billion) for legal costs.

In addition, the U.S. has probes under way on manipulation of interbank interest rates, tax evasion and foreign-exchange market rigging.

British bank Barclays and Switzerland’s UBS and Credit Suisse have already been severely punished as part of U.S. efforts in these areas, and other decisions are in the pipeline.

The European banks‘ large provisions for U.S. investigations come as European regulators, including the European Central Bank, insist they maintain sufficient capital buffers to weather a financial crisis.

The banks are expected to set aside $39 billion in litigation costs this year after taking $37 billion so far, Credit Suisse analysts said in research note, adding the banks would still be able “to absorb other costs.”

U.S. Congressman Hosts Castro Regime Official in Pittsburgh

Wednesday, July 2, 2014
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) invited the head of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C., Jose Cabanas, to visit Pittsburgh to discuss trade and business opportunities.

This is the same Rep. Doyle, who virulently opposed the "job-killing" trade agreements with democracies such as Peru, Colombia, Panama, Dominican Republic and Chile -- but has no problem promoting trade with Castro's dictatorship.

Moreover, this is the same Rep. Doyle, who claims to be a champion of  labor, but is seemingly unconcerned that Cuba's entire foreign trade and investment framework is in violation of international labor law.

In his website, Rep. Doyle claims, "I believe that the United States should promote democracy and human rights around the world – and that a US policy of consistently promoting such values will benefit our country substantially in the long run."

Except in Cuba, where he prefers to schmooze with officials from the sole totalitarian dictatorship and worst human rights violator in the Western Hemisphere.

Nearly 1,000 Political Arrests in June, Arrests Quintuple Since 2010

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights (CCHR) has documented 963 political arrests by the Castro regime during the month of June 2014.

The average of 983 arrests per month (thus far) in 2014 is nearly double last year's average of 536 and quintuple the 173 average in 2010.

The Castro regime is clearly en route to shatter all political arrest records this year.

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

More "reform" you can't believe in.

BNP Paribas Terminates Cuba Business

In addition to the historic financial penalties, $8.9 billion, leveled against BNP Paribas (BNNP) for violating sanctions towards Cuba, Iran and Sudan, various other provisions were agreed to with the pertinent U.S. agencies.

As part of the Settlement Agreement between the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control and BNNP, it was further stipulated that:

"BNPP has taken global remedial actions by increasing the frequency and content of its employee training program, adding additional resources to the bank's Compliance units, enhancing its internal audit process, implementing a stronger compliance review of its client base, reinforcing the bank's existing intemal controls (such as upgrading its interdiction filter to identify transactions where a sanctions target may have been removed from a set of payment instructions), and prioritizing compliance from the top levels of the bank's senior management. These efforts included policy changes, including terminating all business and prohibiting new business in any currency with sanctioned entities. In addition, BNPP relocated its group responsible for developing and strengthening sanctions policies from Paris to New York. BNPP has also taken substantial steps to discipline individuals who were involved in the conduct at issue, including terminating several employees, reducing bonus compensation, mandating training, and issuing warnings, among other types of discipline."

Quote of the Week: On Doing Business in Cuba

The trial was, from almost any measure, extraordinarily unfair and rigged. I would suggest that before any international investor considers putting a penny into Cuba, they take a look at the way Cy and other businessmen have been treated ...What appears to be the intent of this whole farce is they will seize these very valuable companies, lock up the legitimate owners and try and run the companies as their own.
-- Peter Kent, Member of Canada's Parliament, on imprisoned Canadian businessman Cy Tokmakjian who is facing a 15-year prison term in Cuba, Financial Post, 7/1/14

Tweet of the Week: Cubans Need More Than a Smartphone

By Cuban democracy activist, Ailer Gonzalez Mena:

Eric Schmidt of Google visits #Cuba and ignores #HumanRights. According to him, all that us Cubans need is a smartphone

Google's Eric Schmidt Pulls a Pyongyang in Havana

Tuesday, July 1, 2014
Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt's goal "to promote the virtues of a free and open Internet" in closed societies is commendable.

However, the means can be questionable.

Last year, Schmidt visited Pyongyang, North Korea, where he visited with Kim regime officials and did a "dog and pony" tour of Kim Il Sung University.

We had hoped his trip to Cuba last weekend would be different. But it barely was.

Schmidt visited with Castro regime officials and did a "dog and pony" tour of the University of Information Sciences (known as "UCI"), an entity created by Castro in 2002 to form the regime's "cyber-warriors." The UCI is located at a "former" Russian espionage and communications interception base.

The only difference in Cuba is that he visited with dissident blogger and journalist, Yoani Sanchez, for which we commend him. He should have visited with other courageous democracy activists as well.

Upon his return, Schmidt drafted a brief memo on Google+, which is full of misinformation, irony and contradictions.

He notes how he met mostly with female regime officials and regurgitated some propaganda they told him about gender "equality" in Cuba:

Schmidt shouldn't be unaware that Cuba is run by a 14-member, male, military junta.

Schmidt shouldn't be unaware that while he was in Cuba, peaceful female democracy activists known as The Ladies in White, were being harassed, beaten and arrested by the Castro regime.

Schmidt shouldn't be unaware that the female regime officials he met included intelligence officer, Josefina Vidal. In 2003, Vidal and her husband, Jose Anselmo Lopez Perera, had been stationed as "diplomats" in Washington, D.C. He was declared Persona Non Grata and expelled (Vidal along with him) for espionage. This was due to the Castro regime providing Iraqi intelligence with information on U.S. troop movements.

He then alludes to the "blockade" (more propaganda), but argues that we need "to empower the citizens with smart phones (there are almost none today) and encourage freedom of expression and put information tools into the hands of Cubans directly."

Schmidt shouldn't be unaware that U.S. policy does precisely that. Executive Orders by Presidents Bush in 2008 and Obama in 2009 were issued to that effect.

Schmidt shouldn't be unaware that there's an American being held hostage by the Castro regime, Alan Gross, for putting "information tools into the hands of Cubans directly."

He then proposes that telecom ("information") should be treated similar to food sales to Cuba.

Schmidt shouldn't be unaware that every penny worth of food sales to Cuba since 2000 has been transacted with only one Cuban entity -- Castro's monopoly ("Alimport").  Thus, regular Cubans have not directly (or indirectly, for that matter) benefited from these imports.

Schmidt shouldn't be unaware that telecom exemptions already exist under the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992.

Schmidt shouldn't be unaware that the "business license" he traveled to Cuba under is a product of this telecom exemption (similar to a "business license" for food sales).

Schmidt shouldn't be unaware that expanding these exemptions would only add to Cuba's monopoly, censorship and control, rather than directly benefiting the Cuban people.

For example, as Yoani Sanchez noted in 14ymedio, "In 2011, a fiber optic cable was installed between Cuba and Venezuela to facilitate access to the Internet. Three years after the cable installation was completed there is still no home access to the world wide web and one hour’s connection from a public place costs a third of a month’s salary."

Finally, he criticizes U.S. policy, but then concludes:

"Cuba will have to open its political and business economy, and the US will have to overcome our history and open the embargo."

Schmidt shouldn't be unaware that U.S. sanctions were precisely written and codified into law that way.

(We all support those events taking place -- in that order.)

It's just a Google Search away.

BNP Paribas Transacted $1.7 Billion With Cuban Regime

Yesterday, BNP Paribas S.A. (BNPP), a global financial institution headquartered in Paris, agreed to enter a guilty plea to conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and the Trading with the Enemy Act (TWEA) by processing billions of dollars of transactions through the U.S. financial system on behalf of Sudanese, Iranian, and Cuban entities subject to U.S. economic sanctions.

BNPP will pay total financial penalties of $8.9736 billion, including forfeiture of $8.8336 billion and a fine of $140 million.

In Cuba, BNNP transacted over $1.7 billion with the Castro regime, including with a Specially Designated National (SDN) identified as "one of Cuba's largest state-owned commercial companies."

This company was surely owned and operated by the Cuban military.

According to the court documents filed by the U.S. Department of Justice:

"From at least 2000 up through and including 2010, BNPP, through its Paris headquarters, conspired with numerous Cuban banks and entities as well as financial institutions outside of Cuba to provide U.S. dollar financing to Cuban entities in violation of the U.S. embargo against Cuba. During the course of its illicit conduct, BNNP processed thousands of U.S. dollar denominated financial transactions with Sanctioned Entities located in Cuba, with a total value in excess of $1.747 billion, including transactions involving a Cuban SDN with a value in excess of $300 million."

Castro Sends Message Through Imprisoned Canadian Businessman

Monday, June 30, 2014
Cuban state media has announced that "in the coming days" a decision will be announced regarding the fate of Canadian businessman Cy Tokmakjian, who was one of the Castro regime's closest and biggest business partners.

In 2011, Tokmakjian's business was suddenly confiscated and he's spent 2 1/2 years imprisoned in limbo awaiting "trial and sentencing." He now faces a 15-year prison term.

As we've said before, Mr. Tokmakjian and other foreign businessmen should have though about "the lack of due process, transparency and independence in the Cuban system" (as his lawyers now claim) before they decided to partner with -- and profit from -- Cuba's repressive dictatorship.

But the most interesting part of the "official" note by Cuban state media is the reminder that Cubans are third-class citizens who can only be directly hired and paid by the Castro regime, which skims an overwhelming portion off-the-top.

According to Cuban state media:

"Cy Tokmakjian was accused of using fraudulent and corruption-oriented mechanisms to benefit from trade negotiations with Cuban entities, thus causing considerable damage to Cuban economy; he was also accused of unauthorized operations related to financial intermediation ... as well as of giving money to several workers, who were involved in activities foreign to those legally authorized or were not hired by Cuban entities."

In other words, this is a message to foreign businessmen that they cannot directly hire Cubans.

Moreover, that Cubans are prohibited from directly partaking in foreign trade and investment.

Cuba's workers are exclusively the domain of the Castro regime, whose monopoly must be paid directly for labor in foreign currency. It will then only pay the workers a small fraction's worth in local currency.

All of this in violation of international labor law.

This is also the "slave labor" practice that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and those unscrupulous businessmen who seek to lift U.S. sanctions are more than willing to exploit.

BNP Paribas Pleads Guilty, Will Pay $8.9 Billion for Sanctions Violations

Notice how banks that get caught doing business with one state-sponsor of terrorism, also happen to be doing business with all other (or most other) state-sponsors of terrorism.

From Reuters:

BNP pleads guilty, agrees to forfeit $8.8 bln in sanctions case

BNP Paribas on Monday pleaded guilty to two criminal charges and agreed to forfeit $8.83 billion, as part of a broad investigation into allegations the French bank violated U.S. sanctions laws.

A lawyer for BNP briefly appeared in New York state court on Monday, to answer one count of falsifying business records, and one count of conspiracy.

One of the prosecutors said BNP engaged in a "long-term, multi-jurisdictional conspiracy" to violate sanctions laws by facilitating transactions involving Sudan, Cuba, and Iran.

51st Sunday in a Row: Ladies in White Arrested in Cuba

Sunday, June 29, 2014
For the 51st Sunday in a row, members of The Ladies in White were harassed and arrested by the Castro regime as they tried to attend Mass.

The Ladies in White are a pro-democracy group composed of the wives, mothers, daughters, sisters and other relative of Cuban political prisoners.

Among those arrested in the province of Matazans were Asunción Carrillo Hernàndez, Mayra Garcìa, María Teresa Castellano Valido, Leticia Ramos Herreria, Yamila Sendra Ruiz and Katiuska Rodríguez Rives.

Meanwhile, according to 14ymedio, 76 Ladies in White peacefully marched after Mass through Havana's 5th Avenue.

However, six of Havana's Ladies in White were arrested, along with blogger Agustín López and opposition activist Damián Prieto.

Cuban Pastor Detained, Religious Freedom Violations Rise

From Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW):

Rev. Lleonart Barroso Temporarily Detained, Computer Confiscated 

Religious freedom activists Rev. Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso and his wife Yoaxis Marcheco Suarez were temporarily detained by Cuban police in the municipality of Camajuaní on June 22 and released two hours later without charge. Their laptop computers and a memory flash drive were confiscated.

The police told the couple the computers and memory stick were needed for further investigation into possible criminal activities.

Marcheco told Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) the majority of the music used in their church services is saved on one of the laptops. There are concerns that state security officials could plant information on the couple’s computers in order to justify criminal charges.

Rev. Lleonart was arrested and interrogated in the past but has never been charged with any crime. Earlier this year, despite pressure by state security agents to force him to do so, he refused to sign an “Advertencia Oficial” or Official Warning, which is often used in Cuba as evidence in future arrests. However, in that incident, the state security agents took DNA and scent samples from him.

Rev. Lleonart leads the Ebenezer Baptist Church in the village of Taguayabon in the Camajuani municipality, located in the central province of Villa Clara. He also helped to establish the Patmos Institute, an independent inter-denominational forum to promote Christian intellectual thought, based in Villa Clara.

Prior to the June 22 detention, Rev. Lleonart and another Patmos Institute leader, Father Felix Ben Castilla of the Vetero-Catholic Church, were detained June 6 along with Cuban singer David Omni as they traveled between locations during an interdenominational series of concerts celebrating Pentecost. When Rev. Lleonart queried the reason for the arrest, a state security agent told him it was “for being a bad father.” They were released without charge, although Father Ben Castilla was temporarily detained again June 11.

Rev. Lleonart maintains the blog Cubano Confesante, where he regularly denounces violations of religious freedom in Cuba. He and his wife travelled to Washington DC last year to brief US policy makers and raise awareness of ongoing and widespread violations of religious freedom in Cuba.

CSW has registered more than 130 serious documented violations of religious freedom in Cuba, with many involving large groups of people, since Jan. 1. Many of those included were documented by Rev. Lleonart and his wife. This follows a trend of a crackdown on religious freedom in recent years; 185 violations were recorded in 2013, up from 120 in 2012.

While in Cuba, Argentine VP Indicted for Shady Deals

Last Friday, an Argentine judge charged Vice President Amado Boudou with bribery and conducting business incompatible with public office in the acquisition of the company that prints the country's currency and of later benefiting from government contracts.

According to AP, Boudou is accused of using shell companies and secret middlemen to gain control of the company that was given contracts to print the Argentine peso and campaign material.

He was in Cuba, on an official visit, when the indictment was published.

Boudou's cozy picture (below) this weekend with Castro regime official, Miguel Diaz-Canel, is worth 1,000 words.

Chinese Teens Smuggled Into U.S. Through Cuba?

If true, it's hard to imagine that Castro's totalitarian regime (at some level) would be unaware.

From The New York Post:

Chinese teens trafficked into US through Central America

The signs at the Texas border offer a glimpse of the enormity of the problem of unaccompanied minors trying to sneak into the US.

The instructions are printed in English and Spanish, of course — but also, surprisingly, they’re instructions for help are also in Chinese.

Hundreds of Chinese teens are slipping into the US a year, immigration groups say, mostly through Central America and Cuba.

They make their way to New York City, typically on buses, where they are farmed out across the country to work in Chinese restaurants.

Lauren Burke, a lawyer who speaks Mandarin, has worked with some 200 kids under age 18 in the last five years. She now has a caseload of 30 who need legal status.

“Some of them are actually trafficked by their parents. The parents are very complicit,” Burke said.

“Sometimes, the family member gets duped by somebody who says . . . ‘I see you can’t afford to send your kid to school anymore. If you send them to America, there are streets paved with gold.’ ”

They take complicated routes to get here, through cities where visas are easily secured. Guatemala and Cuba are favored stops, said Burke, executive director of Atlas: DIY, an advocacy group in Brooklyn.

From Guatemala, they take overland routes to the US border.

One of Burke’s clients who flew from Bejing to Guatemala then took buses to the border. Once there, smugglers put him in a coffin to cross the border.

Another girl hid in a Guatemalan tour-bus bathroom that was marked out of order.

Those who land in Cuba come to the United States hidden under the floorboards of boats.

Quote of the Week: Cuba's Havel and Walesa

Our own [Vaclav] Havel and [Lech] Walesa are there in Cuban society. Their names are irrelevant because leaders emerge. There are young leaders who are very charismatic in the opposition. I see them and it’s very encouraging.
-- Elizardo Sanchez Santacruz, head of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCHR-RN), The Miami Herald, 6/28/14

Image of the Week: Berta Soler Meets With German Foreign Minister

This week, the leader of Cuba's Ladies in White, Berta Soler, met with German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, to discuss the critical human rights situation on the island and dissuade the European Union from closer ties to the Castro regime.

Image below:

Cuban Dissident Headquarters Raided, a Dozen Arrested

Last night, Castro's secret police raided the headquarters of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU) -- the island's largest opposition group -- and arrested a dozen of its activists, including its leader, former prisoner of conscience Jose Daniel Ferrer.

Nearly 40 regime officials, including the heavily-armed special forces known as "black berets" (below), were used to violently raid UNPACU's headquarters in Santiago de Cuba.

Those violently arrested were:

Anyer Antonio Blanco Rodríguez
Melki Fabre Hechavarria
José Daniel Ferrer García
Martha Beatriz Ferrer Cantillo
Belkys Cantillo Ramírez
Iriades Hernández Aguilera
David González Pérez
Vladimir Alarcón Mora
Maylin Isaac Sánchez
Lorenzo Malesu Isaac
Enma Isaac Sánchez
Enmanuel Robert Claramut