Fraternal Relations: Cuba and North Korea

Saturday, October 4, 2014
The National Review's Jay Nordlinger examines Cuba-North Korea relations in his piece entitled, “Thorns and Daggers: The Castros and their allies”:

Fraternal Relations: Cuba and North Korea

- A year before Putin traveled to Cuba — i.e., in July 2013 — a North Korean cargo ship called the “Chong Chon Gang” tried to mosey through the Panama Canal. The Panamanian authorities suspected that the ship was hauling drugs. When they went to inspect, the crew put up violent resistance, and the captain attempted suicide.

The Panamanians found 10,000 tons of sugar, in 250,000 sacks. What was to commit suicide over? The Chong Chon Gang was coming from Cuba, heading back to North Korea. The ship had been loaded at the famous port of Mariel. Apparently, the Castros wanted to supply the starving North Koreans with something sweet. Very thoughtful.

On further inspection, there was more than sugar: There was war matériel, masses of it. This was hidden under the mounds of sugar. The matériel included two MiG-21 aircraft, components for missile systems, and a variety of weapons.

The then-president of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli, came to see this cargo for himself. He looked bemused. With abandon, he tweeted photos of the massive stash to one and all.

North Korea is under an arms embargo by the U.N. Security Council. This makes sense, given Pyongyang’s repeated nuclear provocations. The Cubans were in flagrant violation of the embargo, as the U.N. confirmed in March 2014. The U.N. was exceptionally clear and firm.

The Cubans claimed that they were not giving or selling the matériel to North Korea. No, they were merely sending it over there to be repaired and then returned to the Caribbean. That was pretty funny: The Cubans had taken the trouble to paint over their national insignia on the MiGs. Those MiGs were intended to become North Korean planes.

Also, why do you think the Cubans were hiding this stuff under all that sugar?

Experts are confident that North Korean ships have traveled to Cuba and back in recent years, bearing prohibited cargo. It so happens that the Chong Chon Gang, that one day, got caught.

- Cuba and North Korea have been brothers-in-arms since Fidel Castro and his crew seized power in 1959. They have not always been close-close. But they have always been fundamentally fraternal.

In 1960, Castro’s celebrity sidekick, Che Guevara, traveled to Pyongyang. Footage shows him bantering amiably with Kim Il-sung. Guevara gave a speech in front of huge portraits of Kim and Castro. How young they all were!

- In a gesture of solidarity, Kim sent youth brigades to Cuba to help with the sugar harvest. Alongside their Cuban brethren, the North Koreans were going to cut cane. There was a problem, however: Some of the Koreans expressed “the love that dare not speak its name,” as it was once known, poetically.

Castro had no tolerance for homosexuality (as Cuban gays could tell you): Those Koreans were packed back to Kim.

- Many years later, in 1986, Castro himself visited Pyongyang. Footage of his arrival is somewhat amusing. Castro strides from his plane wearing what some of us used to call a “Brezhnev-style hat” — a warm winter number associated with the Soviet boss Leonid Brezhnev. Castro and Kim extend their right hands, preparing for a handshake. Then they change their minds and fling their arms open, hugging.

Junior — a.k.a. Kim Jong-il — is standing nearby. Later, he will succeed his father as dictator. He extends his hand for Castro, who, now in a hugging mood, embraces him. Castro is very tall; Kim is very not. It is an awkward hug.

Consider this: If Castro were to meet Kim No. 3 — i.e., Jong-il’s son Jong-un — he might well be the only foreign leader to hug all three Kim dictators.

Something to shoot for! (Although be careful when you say “shoot” to Castro.)

- Cuba and North Korea are two of the remaining handful of Communist states in the world, and they do what they can to keep going. Sharing a similar predicament, they buck each other up. Cuba has a “Committee for Supporting Korea’s Reunification” (meaning the reunification of the peninsula on Communist terms). North Korea has a Committee for Solidarity with Cuba.

- In 2010, a top North Korean military official, Ri Yong-ho, visited Havana. He said that his country and Cuba were “comrades-in-arms” on a “common anti-Yankee front.” North Korea and Cuba would keep fighting “in the same trenches,” he said. In 2013, another Nork military big, Kim Kyok-sik, visited the island. He, too, referred to the two countries’ fight “in the same trenches.”

- After the Chong Chon Gang was seized, Fidel Castro was miffed. He is not used to being embarrassed on the international stage. He is used to applause, sympathy, and admiration. He said that prying Panamanians and others were trying to “slander our revolution.” He also revealed a historical tidbit . . .

Yuri Andropov, Brezhnev’s successor as Soviet boss, told Castro that the Soviets would not fight alongside him in the event of a U.S. invasion. (In other words, the Cuban Communists and the Red Army would not be in the same trenches.) This would have been between late 1982 and early 1984, for Andropov died after just 15 months in power.

Upon receiving the unwelcome message from Andropov, Castro appealed to Kim Il-sung, that “veteran and unimpeachable combatant.” (This is Castro talking last year.) Kim came through with arms: sending Castro 100,000 AK-47s, plus the ammo to put in them. And he did all this “without charging us a cent,” said Castro.

- A month into the embarrassment of the Chong Chon Gang, Pyongyang held a ceremony in honor of Cuban–North Korean friendship. Speaking for the Norks was an official named So Ho-won: “The Cuban people have won victory by following the road of socialism despite the U.S. political and military pressure and moves for stifling Cuba economically and its subversive activities and sabotage.”

North Korean mouthpieces are not known for mellifluous speech, at least in translation.

Speaking for the Cubans, or at least the Castroites, was the dictatorship’s ambassador, Señor Ferras: “The friendly relations between our two countries have grown strong in the protracted and rigorous struggle against the U.S. imperialists, the common enemy, and become a model for the world people.”

Is Panama's President Being Coerced by Cuba's Regime?

Friday, October 3, 2014
Coercion is a favorite tool of Cuba's dictatorship.

This week, we learned how Castro imprisoned one of his closest foreign business partners, Canada's Cy Tokmakjian, and asked for a $55 million ransom for his release -- in addition to confiscating over $100 million of Tokmakjian's company assets.

And, of course, we're all familiar with Castro's taking of an American hostage, development worker Alan Gross, in order to coerce the United States into swapping him for five (now three) Cuban spies duly convicted in federal court.

Thus, new Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela's insistence on inviting Cuba to participate in next year's Summit of the Americas -- despite Castro's dictatorship clearly not meeting any of the requirements of the Summit's "democracy clause" -- should raise some questions.

Also noteworthy is the blatant dishonesty being displayed by Panama's Foreign Minister, Isabel Saint Malo, who during a visit to Washington, D.C., was told in no unequivocal terms by senior administration officials that the U.S. strongly opposes Cuba's invitation to the Summit.

Yet, thereafter, Saint Malo falsely stated that the U.S. "understood" Panama's decision and jetted off to conduct a big "dog-and-pony" show in Havana, in order to informally invite Raul Castro.

Perhaps Varela and Saint Malo believe they are currying favor with Havana in order to obtain payment on its large financial debt and to secure the release of imprisoned Panamanian businessman, Nessim Abadi.

Similar to Canada's Cy Tokmakjian, Abadi is a prominent businessman in his 70s, who was arrested in the summer of 2012. He remains imprisoned with no known trial or even formal charges.

Abadi, part of a large family of Syrian Jews who migrated to Panama in the early 1900s, is the owner of the major electronic goods chain, Audifoto. He had been selling Asian-made electronic, household and other goods to the Castro regime for years through Panama’s duty-free Colon Free Zone (CFZ).

A story last year in The Miami Herald noted that, "CFZ businessmen said that Abadi has a reputation for total honesty and that they suspected Cuba arrested him to avoid paying its debt to him — and to send a message to its other debtors in Panama to await any late payments patiently and keep their mouths shut."

The Castro regime's debt with Panama is well over $500 million. Moreover, the Panamanian President's family business, The Varela Group, are major players in the CFZ.

Sooner or later, President Varela will learn (the hard way) that he's set off on a fool's errand. And that's fine.

But sacrificing the Western Hemisphere's historic commitment to democracy is a selfish, heavy and irresponsible price to pay.

(For more on this final point, click here.)

Quote of the Day: A "Colossal Mistake" to Invite Cuba to the Summit

It's a colossal mistake. An attack against democracy. Cuba is not a democratic nation. I'm completely against what is taking place.
-- Ricardo Martinelli, former President of Panama, on his successor's decision to invite Cuba to next year's Summit of the Americas in Panama City, EFE, 10/3/14

U.S. Must Raise the Stakes to Get Alan Gross Released

By Frank Calzon in The Miami Herald:

U.S. must raise stakes to get hostage Alan Gross returned by Cuba

Confronted with the barbaric beheadings of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff by the terrorists of the Islamic State, President Obama has rightly changed course and announced a new strategy.

After six lackluster and bewildering years, the president would do well to reappraise his strategy for dealing with Cuba and North Korea, as well. Cuba is still holding hostage a USAID contractor. Alan Gross is ill and has lost 100 pounds in harsh Cuban prisons.

Havana wants “to exchange” Gross for release of Cuban spies in U.S. prisons who have been convicted of “conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals, destruction of aircraft, and murder.” They not only infiltrated Florida military bases, but also set up the killing of four Miami men, members of Brothers to the Rescue, who were flying unarmed civilian aircraft over the Florida Straits to spot fleeing Cubans aboard rafts in need of help.

Raúl Castro, now president of Cuba but then head of its military forces, personally gave the order to the pilots of the Cuban MiG aircraft that shot down the small planes. Today, Castro’s proposed deal to swap “prisoners” pits the desire of Gross’ loved ones to see him free and home against Cuban-American families in Miami who sought and got justice for their loved ones murdered in the Florida Straits.

Since his election President Obama has pursued a policy of extending a “hand of friendship” to Cuba and to North Korea, an equally brutal communist regime. Nothing’s changed for the better in Cuba or North Korea.

As Bloomberg News reported a year ago, North Korea even announced its military has been given “final authorization to attack the United States, possibly with nuclear weapons.” With U.S. troops still stationed on the border between North and South Korea that’s no idle threat.

Alan Gross committed no crime. He gave a laptop computer and satellite telephone to a group of Cuban Jews wanting to connect to the Internet and had boarded a plane to head home when he was taken hostage. For weeks after he was “arrested,” no charges were presented. Then a kangaroo court imposed a 15-year prison sentence, of which he’s served four years.

The draconian sentence can be explained only as another Cuban attempt to force U.S. leaders to comply. The Obama administration has bent over backward pleading for Gross’ release, to no avail.

In the past, Havana extorted ransom from the United States to free Cubans captured during the Bay of Pigs invasion; our government had trained and equipped the men. Havana subsequently engineered a series of refugee crises.

President Clinton was maneuvered into re-interpreting American law to intercept refugees on the high seas and return them to Cuba instead of U.S. ports and freedom. To free the convicted Cuban spies, Havana once offered to exchange 75 human-rights activists that were in its prisons. The dissidents refused to leave Cuba, declaring they weren’t spies but patriots seeking political and economic changes in Cuba. A few years later Castro, responding to international pressure, banished the dissidents and their relatives to Spain with “no right of return.”

Which brings us back to Gross: He is innocent. Freeing him requires severing Cuba’s extortionate link between him and release of the Cuban spies. The Obama administration and Gross’ advocates ought to join in rejecting any “deal” likely to result in the taking of more American hostages and loss of life.

Castro holds on to Gross because he perceives that it’s a way of getting what he wants from the United States. It’s the same worldwide. And, just last month, there were press reports of a “yet unidentified Cuban spy” caught targeting an intelligence system being “sentenced to 13 years in prison.”

It won’t be long before Havana — and other unfriendly countries — will take another American hostage and start the barter anew.

Pursuing diplomatic channels and negotiating is civilized and useful. There also comes a time when something more is needed. That time is now in Cuba. Only when U.S. government raises the stakes — the political and economic risks facing Cuba — will Alan Gross be allowed to come home, and only then will Havana have to think twice before taking another hostage.

A Very Wise Letter From Canada

A Letter to the Editor of Canada's National Post:

Get out of Cuba

Re: Lawyer Calls Canadian’s Jailing In Cuba ‘Sinister,’ Sept. 30.

Given that all of this is transpiring under the noses of a Canadian government that has bent over backwards to give the Cuban state some legitimacy in the Western world, I think it is high time for our government to officially raise its voice against this type of vicious attack. At issue is not whether there was any wrong doing, it is the fact that Cuba wants everything that is good from the West and the only thing we get back is the same old repressive, controlled and corrupt regime. It is high time that Canada pulls out of Cuba and stops this charade. Only God knows how much Canada has paid (unofficially of course) to the corrupt individuals in Cuba.

Eugene Karadjian, Toronto

Keep Cuba Out of the Summit of the Americas

Thursday, October 2, 2014
By Mauricio Claver-Carone in The Miami Herald:

Keep Cuba Out of Hemispheric Summits

The leadership and resolve of the United States will be tested anew in the Western Hemisphere as the Seventh Summit of the Americas approaches in April 2015.

Cuba has already enlisted its regional cohorts — Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua — in efforts to undermine the key and historic commitments to democracy made in prior gatherings of the 34 democratically elected leaders of the hemisphere’s 35 nations. Cuba’s unrelenting dictatorship has been the odd man out.

The first summit was held in Miami in 1994. Next year’s event will be hosted by Panama. At the 2001 summit, held in Quebec, the 34 leaders of the Americas’ democracies historically declared:

The maintenance and strengthening of the rule of law and strict respect for the democratic system are, at the same time, a goal and a shared commitment and are an essential condition of our presence at this and future Summits.”

Soon after, that declaration was enshrined in international law, under Article 2 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter:

The effective exercise of representative democracy is the basis for the rule of law and of the constitutional regimes of the member states of the Organization of American States.”

No other region in the world can boast of taking such democratic strides. Europe can match this feat, but it, too, has one remaining dictatorship — Belarus.

Think about it: Only a decade earlier, the Americas were plagued by infamous military dictatorships — of the left and of the right. Cuba is the only one remaining and it wants to join the hemispheric gathering but without making a commitment or taking a step toward democracy. It is directing a strategy by the leaders of Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua, whose authoritarian ambitions are clear, to renege on the promises of democracy and nullify the progress made.

If an exception is made to allow Cuba’s dictatorship to join, then the summit will be making exceptions tomorrow for a dictatorship in Venezuela to retain participation, in Bolivia the next day, then Ecuador, then Nicaragua — a veritable unleashing of authoritarian ambitions in the hemisphere.

Ideally, this would be a moment for the Western Hemisphere’s democrats to stand up against such encroachment. Yet the region’s democrats appear to be too intimidated by Cuba’s coercion and Venezuela’s energy prowess to take a bold stand of resistance.

In recent weeks, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos returned to Venezuela a group of student democracy activists who had sought political refuge in Colombia; the students have now been imprisoned for their opposition activities. Similarly, Santos has denied refuge to young Cuban opposition activists, putting their lives at great risk.

Newly elected Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela, who as the summit’s host controls its agenda, ironically dismisses opposition to Cuba’s inclusion as simply “political differences among governments.” A few decades ago, Varela did not regard the brutal repression of Panamanians by Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega’s Cuban-armed Brigadas de la Dignidad as simply “political differences among governments.”

Today Panama appears to be mostly interested in recovering the nearly $500 million it’s owed by Cuba and securing the release of a prominent Panamanian businessman the Castro regime has imprisoned (without trial) for nearly two years.

Riven by doubts, national interests and — perhaps — fear of Russia’s thuggery, the nations of Europe were unable to challenge Russian aggression in Ukraine until the United States stood firm. Now in our own “backyard” and with our own national interests at stake, the United States must stand in unequivocal defense of democracy in the Americas. There simply is no excuse for ignoring and acquiescing in Cuba’s effort to pull the nations of the Western Hemisphere backward.

If Panama’s government succumbs to Cuban blandishments that it be included, the Obama administration must refuse to participate at any senior level. Preserving and fulfilling the commitments made to democracy is in the best interests of all the nations in the hemisphere. Doing less risks dismantling democracy in the Americas.

That is not a legacy any U.S. president should want or embrace.

Chairman Menendez to Panama: Cuba's Participation Would Undermine Summit

Chairman Menendez Writes Panamanian President to Express Dismay Over Intent to Invite Cuba to 2015 Summit of the Americas

U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sent the following letter to Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela regarding his intent to invite Cuba to the April 2015 Summit of the Americas.

The Honorable Juan Carlos Varela
Palacio de las Garzas
Eloy Alfaro Avenue
Panama City, Panama

Dear Mr. President:

Please allow me to express my congratulations on your election as the President of the Republic of Panama. As Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I look forward to working with you and your administration to advance the historic relationship shared by our countries.

Your presidency comes at a moment of great opportunity for Panama, one marked by important economic growth and the opening of the long-awaited expansion of the Panama Canal. In this context, I wish you the utmost success as you set forth an agenda of inclusive development that promotes the security, prosperity, and social well-being of all Panamanians.

I also must take this opportunity to express my dismay over your administration’s intent to invite the Government of Cuba to attend the Seventh Summit of the Americas in Panama in the upcoming year. Cuba’s participation would undermine the spirit and authority of the Summit of the Americas as a space to reaffirm the principles enshrined on the Charter of the United Nations, the Charter of the Organization of American States, and the Inter-American Democratic Charter, as well as commitments made at past Summits.

At the Third Summit of the Americas in 2001, the democratically-elected leaders assembled in Quebec, Canada stated that “the maintenance and strengthening of the rule of law and strict respect for the democratic system are […] an essential condition of our presence at this and future Summits. Consequently, any unconstitutional alteration or interruption of the democratic order in a state of the Hemisphere constitutes an insurmountable obstacle to the participation of that state's government in the Summit of the Americas process.”

The Government of Cuba remains this hemisphere’s must enduring dictatorship, having deprived the people of Cuba of democratic rule for more than a half century. To this day, the Cuban Government continues to deny its citizens their most fundamental political and human rights, and criminalizes all forms of free expression, free association, and dissent in the country. The Government of Cuba fails to meet even the most minimal standard of democratic governance required for its participation at the Summit of the Americas.

I am particularly surprised by the intention to extend an invitation to the Government of Cuba, just one year after the Governments of North Korea and Cuba colluded in an attempt to smuggle arms and military equipment through the Panama Canal. That incident constituted the single largest violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718 since its adoption in 2006.

In closing, I remain committed to strengthening the partnership between the U.S. and Panama. However, I am gravely concerned that inviting the Government of Cuba to the next Summit of the Americas sends the wrong message about the consolidation of democracy in the Americas, will dramatically weaken the democratic credentials of the premier meeting of heads of state in the hemisphere, and ultimately will undermine the validity of the Summits’ declarations.


U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez

Quote of the Day: A Simple Look at Obama's Summit "Dilemma"

[Their argument] seems to be pretty simple: Foreign affairs should be conducted according to the behavior patterns of spoiled 13- or 14- year-old children.  Whatever all the "cool" kids want is correct, and anyone who doesn't want to cave in to that kind of peer pressure instantly becomes a dweeb and an outcast. And who wants a dweeb for a president?
-- Carlos Eire, Yale University Professor, on the Latin American leaders "pressuring" President Obama to undermine the Summit of the America's "democracy clause" and attend regardless of Cuba's participation, Babalu Blog, 10/2/14

Canadian Taxpayers Flip the Bill for Business (Confiscations) With Cuba's Regime

Wednesday, October 1, 2014
By now, we're all familiar with the 15-year prison term the Cuban regime recently handed to Canadian businessman, Cy Tokmakjian, who was one of Castro's biggest business partners.

Moreover, that the Castro regime confiscated over $100 million worth of the company's assets in Cuba.

And finally, that Cuba's military generals asked for an additional $55 million ransom to release Tokmakjian.

Today's news, which should come as no surprise, is that all of Tokmakjian's business in Cuba was financed and guaranteed by the Canadian government -- to the tune of nearly $400 million.

And now, Canada's taxpayers are stuck with the hefty bill.

Note: Canada's credit agency provided the financing directly to Castro's regime.

That's quite a deal -- for Castro.

From Reuters:

Canada agency financed C$418 million in Cuba deals for Tokmakjian firm

A little-known Canadian federal agency helped put in place a total of $418 million ($373 million) worth of Cuban deals for a firm headed by Cy Tokmakjian, the businessman jailed for corruption in Havana last week.

The Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC) acts as Canada's international contracting and procurement agency, helping Canadian firms bid for procurement contracts with foreign governments.

When acting as a prime contractor the CCC helps mitigate risks by signing a contract with a foreign government and then a separate contract with a Canadian supplier. This ensures that a company does not need to worry about being paid as long as it fulfills the term of the contract.

In Cuba, the CCC helped Canadian businessmen like Tokmakjian by providing trade financing to Cuban government buyers.

Must-Read: Risky Business in Cuba

Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Column by Peter Foster in Canada's Financial Post:

Risky business in Cuba

After forty years of ‘constructive engagement’ with Cuba, government-backed Canadian investment has effectively propped up the regime

The Canadian government has for three years asked the Cuban authorities either to lay charges against Canadian businessman Cy Tokmakjian or release him. Unfortunately they got their wish last week, when the 74-year old was tried and sentenced behind closed doors to fifteen years in jail.

The conviction appears outrageous, as does the sentencing for shorter periods of two of his executives, Claudio Vetere and Marco Puche. But the affair raises many questions. Did Mr. Tokmakjian not realize he was operating in a corrupt system that could turn on him at any time? Did he see himself as an agent of change? Was he naïve? To what degree were his Cuban operations financed by the Canadian government? Is such financing defensible?

Businessmen should be allowed to risk their capital wherever they want. Investment in Cuba, as in China and Russia, is also often presented as a subtle way of undermining repressive regimes, but it is clear now, after forty years of “constructive engagement” that government-backed Canadian investment has effectively propped up the regime.

The days have long gone when the Cuban regime can blame the U.S. embargo for the endlessly dismal state of its economy, but the loosening of the U.S. embargo has resulted in as little reform as has investment from other countries.

Tokmakjian Group is a classic story of Canadian immigrant success. Starting with servicing diesel engines, Mr. Tokmakjian, an Armenian immigrant, moved into transit and shuttle bus services both in Canada and abroad. In Cuba, where he set up shop more than 20 years ago, his company distributed Hyundai vehicles and equipment, along with other types of mining equipment.

Mr. Tokmakjian was swept up in a move against “corruption” when Raul Castro took over from his ailing brother Fidel in 2011.

Earlier this year, another Canadian businessman, Sarkis Yacoubian, who was arrested before Mr. Tokmakjian, was expelled from Cuba one year into a nine year sentence. The circumstances are unclear but Mr. Yacoubian reportedly “cooperated” with the Cuban authorities, and may not only have played a part in fingering Mr. Tokmakjian, but in unleashing the whole anti-corruption campaign.

We assume that there is lots of quiet diplomacy taking place on Mr. Tokmakjian’s behalf. According to government spokesman John Babcock, “We continue to follow this case closely and remain actively engaged at senior levels. Consular officials continue to provide assistance to Mr. Tokmakjian and his family.” Somewhat bland, but grandstanding can be dangerous when one of your nationals is in jail under a barbaric regime. That makes it all the more puzzling why Canada remains one of that barbaric regime’s major aid donors and trading partners.

Some still naively – or self-interestedly – claim that Canadians have an “advantage” in Cuba because they are not American. That apparently includes Marc Whittingham, the head of the Canadian Commercial Corp., a shadowy Crown Corporation that specializes in state-to-state deals in areas such as armaments, and which may have provided finance to Tokmakjian Group. He reportedly told a Cuban audience that Canada had also been invaded by the U.S., in 1812, and had responded by burning down the White House. In other words, “We’re all anti-American here.”

The section on Cuba on the website of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development is a masterpiece of pussyfooting. It notes that “The Government of Cuba has acknowledged that its centralized political structure poses a barrier to economic productivity.” I guess “centralized political structure” is more diplomatic than “corrupt dictatorship.”

According to the document, “Cuba needs assistance in developing modern business practices and increasing accountability and transparency of public institutions.” In fact, Havana has zero interest in increasing accountability and transparency, and modern business practices require the rule of law. The Tokmakjian Group’s mission statement stresses “respect, honesty and integrity,” three virtues that could not be more antithetical to a regime whose only priority is to maintain power.

It is almost sickening to read the Canadian government congratulate the island Gulag for meeting targets on “universal primary education; promoting gender equality and empowering women; and reducing child mortality.” Even worse is the declaration that “The country is on track to meet the targets for eradicating extreme poverty and hunger” when it is the Castro regime that has created extreme poverty and hunger in the first place.

The most obvious explanation for arresting Mr. Tokmakjian was simply to seize his business. Communist regimes have never needed lessons in theft, but in this case Vladimir Putin’s expropriation of Yukos might have been a model, since “Putinismo” is seen in Cuba as a possible transition from the disaster of Communism to crony statism. Clearly the fact that an international arbitration court ordered Russia to pay former Yukos shareholders $50 billion didn’t deter Cuba. Nevertheless, Tokmakjian Group has launched a $200 million lawsuit against the Cuban regime.

Mr. Putin may have thoughts about reestablishing the links with Cuba that were severed when the Soviet empire collapsed. Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, for whom Fidel was a role model, eventually took up the slack of subsidizing the Cuban economy with cheap oil, but Venezuela too is now a basket case, so the return of Russia may be timely if the Castros are to continue their geriatric chokehold.

None of this is good news for foreign investors, for whom Mr. Tokmakjian’s experience is a warning. Let’s hope quiet diplomacy works soon in his case, but let’s also stop taxpayer backing for Cuban trade and investment. And let’s hope all those Canadian tourists who flock to Cuba every year give a passing thought to what their dollars are supporting.

Quote of the Day: We Want to be Free, Not Slaves #UmbrellaRevolution

It's high time that we really showed that we want to be free and not to be slaves ... we must unite together.
-- Cardinal Joseph Zen, 82, former Catholic Bishop of Hong Kong, who joined this week's protests against China's authoritarian rule, Reuters, 9/30/14.

Standing With Hong Kong's #UmbrellaRevolution

Our thoughts, prayers, admiration and solidarity are with the courageous democracy activists of Hong Kong's Umbrella Revolution.

Cuba's Military Generals at Center of Business Shakedown

Cuba's military generals control the island's economy.

The militarization of Cuba's economy began in the 1990's under then-Defense Minister, General Raul Castro.

That's Raul's real "reform".

The latest shakedown of foreign businessmen in Cuba is simply a further distribution of the "piñata" among Raul's family, friends and loyalists.

These are the military monopolists that some want the U.S. to illogically lift sanctions and do business with -- in the hope of some miraculous "trickle-down" effect (at best).

Yet, by definition and practice, these military monopolists are the very antithesis of "trickle-down".

If the U.S. were to lift sanctions, it'd simply be handing Raul and his military cohorts the biggest pie in the world to divvy up among themselves.

Something akin to the Russian mafia -- just 90 miles away.

From Canada's National Post:

Canadian businessman’s imprisonment in Cuba ‘very sinister,’ lawyer says

When lawyers for a Canadian businessman imprisoned in Cuba on charges of economic crimes against the state, taxation and bribery went to Havana to meet with tax officials over the allegations, they were taken to a state security office and told to meet with military generals instead, a company official said.

“They were pretty well intimidated and told we’re taking all of your assets and in addition you’re going have to send another $55-million down before Cy [Tokmakjian] would be released,” said Lee Hacker, a vice-president of the successful transportation company that Mr. Tokmakjian founded.

“There is something very sinister going on in Cuba,” he said.

Castro Sought $55 Million Ransom for Release of Canadian Businessman

Sadly, some terrorist tactics never die.

From Reuters:

Cuba asked for $55 mln, assets to release Canadian CEO

Cuba offered to free jailed Canadian executive Cy Tokmakjian in return for $55 million and company assets, his company said on Monday, but the deal fell through because the firm didn't have the money and the businessman wanted to clear his name.

Tokmakjian, 74, founder and chief executive of transportation firm Tokmakjian Group, was sentenced to 15 years in prison on Friday after being convicted of bribery and other economic charges in a case that lawyers and diplomats called a chilling development for potential foreign investors.

After Tokmakjian was detained in 2011, company lawyers met with Cuban officials about the case, said Lee Hacker, the Tokmakjian Group's vice-president for finance.

"They were... told 'We're taking all your assets and in addition you're going to have to send another $55 million down before Cy will be released,'" Hacker said.

It was the first time the company had revealed the Cuban demand, which could not be immediately confirmed with authorities in Havana. Tokmakjian's case has been shrouded in secrecy - he was held for two and a half years before being charged.

Hacker said he was told by the company's lawyers that there was no basis for the $55 million figure. "It was just a number that was thrown out," he told Reuters.

Cuba seized about $100 million worth of the firm's assets on the island and also sent two Tokmakjian aides to prison.

Quote of the Day: A Dangerous Condition for Doing Business in Cuba

'Do as I say, but not as I do.' That seems to be the message being sent by these generals and lieutenant colonels turned professional business men. Not having a military rank is a dangerous condition for doing business on the island.
-- Ignacio Varona, Cuban independent journalist, on the case of imprisoned Canadian businessman Cy Tokmajkian, 14ymedio, 9/30/14

Toronto Star: Cuba Being Ungrateful for Canada's Trade and Tourism

From The Toronto Star's Editorial Board:

Jailing Canadian investors can only hurt Cuba’s economy

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government should publicly decry Cuba’s jailing of a Canadian businessman, and lobby to have him released.

Cy Tokmakjian is a Canadian who has been doing business in Cuba for more than 20 years. All that time Fidel Castro and the government hailed him as a valued partner in developing the island’s feeble economy. His transportation, construction and mining equipment firm was one of the country’s biggest foreign investors, with $100 million in assets there.

Yet suddenly, in 2011, President Raúl Castro’s anti-corruption prosecutors set their sights on Tokmakjian and charged him and 16 others. After what his Concord-based company describes as a deeply flawed trial Tokmakjian, 74, has just been sentenced to 15 years behind bars, and the company’s assets have been seized. Two of his Canadian managers were jailed for 12 and eight years. And 14 Cubans including senior officials got up to 20 years.

Conservative MP Peter Kent calls the proceedings a “travesty of justice” and the sentence “outrageous.” The company says the trial was conducted largely in secret, and maintains that allegations of bribery, tax evasion, currency trafficking and other wrongdoing could easily have been refuted. But the defense was barred from calling expert witnesses. And defense lawyers got only limited access to state evidence. This appears to have fallen short of any credible standard.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government should publicly decry this outcome and lobby to have Tokmakjian released and sent home as other Canadian and foreign businessmen have been in the past. He has been held for three years and is in frail health. His associates should be freed as well.

But the message should also go out that Canadians expect better of Cuba. Despite a 52-year American embargo we have consistently traded with Cuba and vacationed there. Last year Canada was Cuba’s fourth-largest trading partner after Venezuela, the entire European Union and China. We did nearly $1 billion in two-way trade. This is a poor recompense.

Finally the Castro regime should be put on notice that this can only cast a chill on its ambitious push to attract $2.5 billion annually in foreign investment to pump up its small, anemic economy. Havana urgently needs major investment in agriculture, tourism, infrastructure, light industry, energy, mining and other productive sectors. That may prove harder to attract now.

A country that Transparency International says is seen as seriously corrupt isn’t doing itself any favors by hauling in long-time foreign investors on dubious charges, holding less than credible trials, imposing harsh jail terms and seizing assets. If it is open season on Canadians, anyone is fair game. There are safer places to make a buck.

Foreign Investors (Now) Warn Against Doing Business in Cuba

Monday, September 29, 2014
Some foreign businessmen only learn the hard way.

Confiscations are still the norm in Castro's Cuba -- only the modus operandi has changed a bit.

Here are recent quotes from some of Castro's largest (and now former) business partners in the transportation, tourism and food sectors:
I wouldn't recommend anyone go to Cuba to invest.
-- Lee Hacker, Vice President for Finance, Canada's Tokmakjian Group, whose CEO was just handed an arbitrary 15-year prison sentence and had all of its assets confiscated in Cuba, Reuters, 9/27/14

Foreign executives should be under no illusion about the great personal risks they run if they chose to do business [in Cuba].
-- Stephen Purvis, Chief Operating Officer, Britain's Coral Capital, who spent 16 months arbitrarily imprisoned in Cuba and whose company had all of its assets confiscated, The Economist, 8/13/13

Founding a joint venture in Cuba for a small or medium-sized foreign company is the same as putting a noose around your neck.
-- Michel Villand, CEO, France's Pain de Paris, whose two bread factories and thirteen stores in Cuba were abruptly confiscated by the Castro regime, EFE, 11/11/13

South African Exporters Weary About Trade With Cuba

This week, the South African government finally implemented a $31 million "Agreement on Economic Assistance" with Cuba to "stimulate bilateral trade."

The "solidarity" initiative (more ideology than economics) was announced by South African President Jacob Zuma during a visit to Cuba in 2010.

So why did it take so long to implement?

According to South Africa's Minister of Trade and Industry, Rob Davies:

[South African] exporters wanted to have some guarantee of payment prior to goods being shipped to Cuba.”

Before you know it, they'll be asking for "cash-in-advance."

Can't blame them.

Canadian Legislator: Foreign Investors Should Beware of Cuba

From Canada's Globe and Mail:

Canadian’s 15-year sentence in Cuba a ‘travesty of justice,’ MP says

A Canadian businessman sentenced in Cuba to 15 years in prison on corruption-related charges should be sent back home, said a Toronto-area MP who called the conviction a “travesty of justice.”

Cy Tokmakjian, who owns the Ontario-based automotive company Tokmakjian Group, could be expelled from the Caribbean country or transferred to a Canadian facility instead of serving out his sentence there, Peter Kent said Sunday.

“It’s obvious an appeal is a waste of time given the Cuban justice system,” Kent said.

But “it’s not over yet,” he stressed.

The company said its lawyers were notified Friday that Tokmakjian, 74, was convicted and sentences on a variety of charges that Cuban officials call part of a widespread campaign against graft.

He was held for more than two years before being tried in June.

Kent, whose Thornhill riding includes the company’s headquarters, said the sentence is “outrageous,” but not entirely unexpected.

Tokmakjian’s family “hasn’t given up hope” but worries because he is in poor health, said the MP, who has known them for years.

“We want to get him home as soon as possible,” he said.

Kent said the case is “a very strong reminder that international investors should beware” when dealing with Cuba.

Canadian Businessman Gets 15-Year Prison Sentence in Cuba

Sunday, September 28, 2014
A Canadian businessman, who was one of Castro's biggest foreign partners, was handed a 15-year prison sentence on Friday.

Cy Tokmakjian, 74, was arrested in September 2011 and held for nearly three years without charges.

His Ontario-based transportation company, the Tokmakjian Group, had done business with the Castro regime for over 20 years.

During the summer, he faced a summary proceeding -- the outcome of which was clearly predetermined.

His lawyers denounced, "the lack of due process, transparency and independence in the Cuban system."

(Perhaps they should have thought of this while they were turning a blind-eye towards -- and profiting from -- Cuba's repressive dictatorship.)

Two other Canadians associated with Tokmakjian, Claudio Vetere and Marco Puche, were sentenced to 12 and 8 years each, respectively.

And, of course, the Castro regime also confiscated over $100 million of Tokmakjian's company assets.

The Tokmakjian Group has since filed claims worth more than $200 million against Cuba in Canadian courts and at the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris.

(Good luck collecting on that.)

In recent years, dozens of foreign businessmen (from Canada, Sweden, U.K., Mexico, Panama and others) have been imprisoned in Cuba and -- predictably -- had all of their assets confiscated.

Many of these cases have not been publicly revealed due to fear of (even further) repercussions (and coercion) by Castro's regime.

Last year, one of those businessmen, Britain's Stephen Purvis, wrote in The Economist about these arbitrary arrests; their secretive nature; interrogations by Castro's secret police; the confiscations, etc.

"The deception taking place in Cuba is beyond imagination," the Tokmakjian Group told the AP today.

We could have told them that long ago.

Image below: Cuban dictator Fidel Castro with Canadian businessman Cy Tokmakjian.

Must-Read: Real Corruption in Cuba Stems From the Very Top

From 14ymedio (via Translating Cuba):

“J’Accuse” from a High Position 

An Cuban counter-intelligence official with the Housing Institute denounces corruption and privileges, as well as reprisals taken against his family.

Before leaving Cuba in October, 2013, the author of this accusation occupied an important post at the Housing Institute and, as a jurist, saw firsthand the intrigues perpetrated by high-level officers of the agency to illegally grant properties to elites and friends. As is shown in the accompanying photos, Juan Carlos Gálvez Migueles was an active participant in the political life of the Island. On December 14, 2008, Gálvez was elected to the national secretariat of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, and ratified as a member of the executive committee of that organization.

A lawyer by profession, Gálvez worked as a counterintelligence officer following his studies at the Eliseo Reyes Rodríguez “Capitán San Luis” Advanced Institute of the Interior Ministry. His problems started when he refused to collaborate in the legalization of mansions belonging to the children of ex-President Fidel Castro.

“I was disappointed in many things about the system that were drummed into me and that I was taught to defend. The blindfold fell from my eyes when I saw the problems of daily life in the real world of the average Cuban,” Gálvez told 14ymedio in an email exchange. “That system is not made for honest, sincere, hardworking people like me, where the more corrupt one is, the better.”

My Duty is to Denounce – I Am Not Afraid

by: Juan Carlos Gálvez Migueles

By these present, I wish to make a public statement about the violation being committed by officials of the Cuban State who represent the Provincial Housing Administration of Havana, against three women and a girl of just one year of age, with the intent of evicting them from the property located on 3rd Street, Building 15022, Apt. 10, between 7th and N streets, Altahabana neighborhood, Boyeros municipality. These women are: Sara Elvira Migueles Velo, 47-years-old; Rosaima Rodríguez Migueles, 17-years-old; Marinelvis Martínez Migueles, 24-year-old, mother of a one-year-old girl, named Aynoa. They are, respectively, my mother, sisters and niece.

The property from which the authorities want to remove them was acquired by this writer in May, 2012, when I was appointed Principal Specialist of the Havana Provincial Housing legal division, while in process of being named assistant legal director of this agency.

In August of 2013, I was accepted to participate in an advanced public administration course at the University of Extremadura, Spain. However, the Spanish embassy did not grant me a visa because I missed the deadline to submit some required original documents. At that point I decided to leave Cuba for good, due to various reasons that at present I don’t believe it opportune to divulge.

To facilitate my departure I took advantage of the opportunity provided by this course and requested authorizaton by the Provincial Housing Director, Liudmila Mejias Ocaña, to approve my attending this course. In reality, I was leaving for another country but I could not say where I was going, because right away my family’s home would be taken away, as is happening right now. Besides, I also could not disclose what I was up to, because I had been a member of the Interior Ministry and had ties to high-level officials stemming from the duties I carried out.

In October, 2013, I left Cuba, keeping my new home base a secret, until January, 2014, when it becomes known. It was then, in a gesture of cruelty and bad faith, that the Provincial Director of Housing and Assistant Legal Director, Marbelis Velázquez Reyes, imposed a disciplinary measure on me of final separation from the agency for unjustified absences. This is a measure that violates Decree 302 of October 11, 2012, which in turn modifies Law No. 1312, “Migration,” of September 20, 1976, given that what should have been applied in my case was a leave of absence from my position.

But her objective was to take revenge because I had already been selected as assistant provincial legal director. Therefore, she had to attack my family, declaring them illegal occupants without right to relocation, knowing that they had no place of origin. Then, where will they be taken to live? On the street, to a temporary community shelter? I don’t believe this is just or honorable.

Therefore, I am bound to make this accusation:

I was asked to work on the legalization of the houses owned by the children of ex-President Fidel Castro Ruz, all homes that consisted of more than 500 square meters of living space, comprising more than 1000 meters of total lot space, surrounded by hundreds of meters of addition land. I refused to do this, based on it being in violation of the current General Housing Law No. 65, which only recognizes properties up to 800 meters in size.

I was asked to work on the legalization of the houses owned by the children of ex-President Fidel Castro Ruz, all homes that consisted of more than 500 square meters of living space.

These individuals, by virtue of being offspring of a leader, have more rights to a good home than my family. I ask: What do they contribute to society that I haven’t? In what war did they serve? What have they done that is special? Why do these citizens have to have an interior ministry official representing them in their legalization proceedings?

Are they different from other Cubans? Can they not go to the municipal housing administration like other citizens? Could it be that they cannot wait in line? Can they not observe the waiting period established by law? Are they subject to a different law that I was not taught at the Advanced Institute of the Interior Ministry, when I was pursuing my degree in law and operative investigation of counterintelligence? Where is the equality that we so proclaim to the world?

Another case is that of Marino Murillo Jorge, vice-president of the Council of Ministers, to whom was granted a grand residence – or rather, a mansion in the Playa district, in return for an apartment he owned in Cerro municipality. But the irony is that the property Murillo was granted was assigned to the Ministry of Education and, with supposedly just the authorization of Raúl Castro Ruz, it was transferred to the ownership of this citizen without any disentailment process and, hence, no discussion.

Perhaps this citizen, for occupying a high post in the Cuban government, has more right to a dignified home than my family? What merits does he have that hundreds of thousands of Cubans, as educated as he or more so, do not?

I can also speak to the favors granted to officials of the National Housing Institute such as the house that was exchanged for the president of this agency, Oris Silvia Fernández Hernández, a grand property, which originated in a confiscation. Could it be that she has more rights than my family? Does the legal director of the National Housing Institute also have more rights than my family, a corrupt individual who has been sanctioned and yet remains in his post? I could go on naming any number of high State officials.

The granting of housing is decided in the office of the Provincial Director in favor of individuals who pay up to 5000 CUCs.

I denounce how thousands of families live in unhealthy conditions in temporary community shelters. They are not granted public housing, this being a responsibility of the Provincial Housing Director, Liudmila Mejías Ocaña, who does not control the administration of the Provincial Housing Commission. The granting of housing is decided in the office of the Provincial Director in favor of individuals who pay up to 5000 CUCs, friends who give gifts, as well as high-level officials, and relatives and lovers of high-level officials. All of this is public knowledge and has been condemned on various occasions but, as there is so much intrigue that involves high-level officials, nothing happens.

I denounce how legal documents are worked up in the Provincial Housing Office to favor these same people, all under the Thirteenth Special Ruling on Law No. 65 (General Housing Law), being concluded in record time, while the documents in other cases go to eternal rest. Those responsible are the Provincial Director, and the Assistant Legal Director, Marbelis Velazquez Reyes. The latter owns a fine house that was disentailed to her after seven years, very well furnished and equipped, while she earns a monthly salary of only 500 Cuban pesos.

I denounce how my family, on September 17, asked to be seen at the Council of State of the Republic of Cuba to present their case and were refused attention, the officials alleging that only letters are accepted at that location and nobody is seen in-person – an unheard-of and ill-intentioned assertion. This is not the democracy promised by our rule of law.

In similar fashion, they went before the Provincial Party Committee of Havana and the officials who saw them during a public hearing told them to go before the Municipal Administrative Council of Boyeros and, if their problem was not resolved there, they should go before the Provincial Administrative Council of Havana. As we would say in Cuban, it was a ball game, back and forth.

I should ask, why not lease the property to my family? For whom is this property being reserved? It could be that this apartment is already sold, or is being set aside for a friend.

Surely when this accusation comes to light, they will begin to question me about where I obtained the money to leave Cuba. Well, it was from the sale of the deplorable house that my mother owned and a landline telephone that I had in my name, money that I supplemented with funds from a friend who was my older sister’s boyfriend.

I ask that the right of my family to live in a decent home be respected, that events will not be repeated like those we endured when for more than 10 years we lived in a wooden building that was falling apart, where we would bathe in the kitchen, and defecate in nylon bags because we had no toilet. At that time I was a delegate to the Municipal Assembly of Popular Power of San Nicolás de Bari, today Mayabeque province.

My neighbors there and those who voted me in can attest to this. That was also the time that I served as Municipal Housing Director and never did I take even one concrete block for my house – a fact that my employees can corroborate. What did I gain from being so humble, so honest, that now my family should be treated in this manner. For all of this I decided to leave my homeland.

I declare that today I fear for the lives of my family in Cuba, for possible reprisals against them, resulting from this accusation and others that I may be forced to make to defend our rights. By the same token I fear for my life in this country where I reside, for having information about officials, for having been myself a member of the Cuban counterintelligence and someone who knows the methods they employ.

Image below: Juan Carlos Galvez with Cuban "Vice-President" Jose Ramon Machado Ventura.

Video of the Week: Cuban Democracy Activists March for Imprisoned Labor Leader

This week, courageous democracy activists with the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU) marched through the streets of Palma Soriano demanding the release of imprisoned labor leader, Vladimir Morera Bacallao.

Morera Bacallao is in critical condition pursuant to nearly 100 days on a hunger strike protesting his unjust imprisonment.

In November 2013, Morera Bacallao was sentenced to eight years in prison by the Castro regime for his independent organizing activities

See video below (or click here):