On the Release of North Korea's American Hostages

Saturday, November 8, 2014
This weekend, the North Korean regime released its two remaining American hostages, Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller.

Bae, who had been handed a 15-year prison term, was held since late 2012. Miller, who had been handed a 6-year sentence, was arrested in April of this year.

Last month, North Korea also released Jeffrey Fowle, after five-months in detention.

According to U.S. officials, there was no "quid pro quo" for the men's release.

Moreover, it was reiterated that if North Korea wants improved relations with the U.S., "it must abide by commitments toward denuclearization and improved human rights."

In other words, the U.S. will not reward North Korea's regime for a crisis of its own creation.

North Korea has recently come under increased pressure, as charges for "crimes against humanity" hover over its young dictator, Kim Jong Un.

Last week, it was revealed that North Korea even recruited the efforts of Cuba's regime to diplomatically intervene with the European Union on Kim's behalf.

With the release of North Korea's hostages, Cuba's regime is now left looking more recalcitrant than its Northeast Asian ally.

Cuba's regime has been holding its American hostage, development worker Alan Gross, since December 2009. Gross was handed a 15-year prison term.

It has even brazenly stated its ransom demand for Gross -- the release of three Cuban spies convicted in U.S. federal court for penetrating U.S. military installations and forming part of a conspiracy to murder three American citizens and a permanent resident of the United States.

However, unlike North Korea's regime, Cuba has a sophisticated lobbying and public relations apparatus actively pressuring the Obama Administration for a "quid pro quo."

Just last week, it even persuaded The New York Times to publicly call for a "quid pro quo" for Gross' release. Interestingly enough, the NYTs did not make a similar plea for North Korea's hostages.

Such irresponsible actions have given Cuba's regime unrealistic expectations, which they are holding-out for.

Instead of parroting the Cuban regime's ransom demands, it's way past time to begin pressuring for the release of Alan Gross.

Hiding the Real Cuba

Last month, a conference was held at Columbia University entitled, "Covering Cuba in an Era of Change," which gathered over a dozen U.S.-based Cuba "experts" (propagandists), in order to praise Raul "the reformer" and criticize the United States.

The panelists included U.S. Rep. James McGovern (D-MA), attorney Greg Craig, William LeoGrande, Peter Kornbluh, etc. -- you get the point.

An exception among the participants was renowned Cuban dissident and blogger, Miriam Celaya, who left horrified by the deceptive image of Cuba that these U.S.-based "experts" were propagating.

These are the same lies and deceptions that the media then regurgitates.

Here's what Celaya wrote in 14ymedio (Translating Cuba) about her experience at the conference:

These past few days I have been attending -- perplexed -- the debates of many speakers who think they know, perhaps with the best intentions in the world, what the Cuban reality is and what is best for us. I have heard the old version of Cuban history where Fidel Castro is heir to the Martí philosophy, and successor to the struggle for independence. I have heard many compliments about the fabulous achievements of the Cuban system in matters of ecology, social services and even in economics. I have discovered the Cuba that those who wish to sway public opinion in this country want to show.

Notably absent were Cubans. Not just the ones from Miami -- who they generically lump in a big bag in these parts, as if they were mere numbers to swell statistics and public opinion polls, and who they consider to be like Haitians, fleeing their country for purely economic reasons -- but also the thousands who continue to emigrate by any means in an ever-growing and constant way, and the millions condemned to a life of poverty and hopelessness in our Island. But the most glaring vacuum, with my exception, was that of the journalists and independent bloggers that do actually cover the day-to-day reality from the depths of the Island.

Once again, the sugar-coated views of foreigners prevailed.A privilege of the powerful, the media and politicians, for whom Cuba is only an exotic and beautiful island, long ruled by a genius -- perhaps a tad tyrannical, but who will have to die someday -- and replaced, in dynastic order, by his brother. An island inhabited by the most cheerful and happy people in the world.

Amnesty International: Cease Harassment of Cuba's Ladies in White

Friday, November 7, 2014
From Amnesty International:

Cuba: Detainees left in limbo as trial postponed yet again

The trial of three people arrested in Cuba during a government crackdown on peaceful protests has been postponed for a fourth time in two and a half years, leaving the detainees in an unfair legal limbo, said Amnesty International today.

Sonia Garro Alfonso, who is a member of the Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco) a protest group, her husband Ramón Alejandro Muñoz González and their neighbour Eugenio Hernández Hernández have been in pre-trial detention since 18 March 2012. Their trial was finally due to start this morning but was once again postponed without explanation. No new trial date has been set.

“The Cuban authorities’ continual postponing of the trial without explanation raises concerns that the charges against the three may be politically motivated. They should now be released immediately and be allowed to await their trial outside of prison,” said James Burke, Caribbean Researcher, Amnesty International.

Amnesty International had been calling for the trial to go ahead in accordance with international standards, including the right of the accused to call defense witnesses and to challenge the evidence against them.

All three people were arrested on 18 March 2012 during a demonstration by a group of government supporters that had gathered in front of Sonia Garro Alfonso and Ramón Alejandro Muñoz González’s house. The government supporters, helped by state security officials, were attempting to prevent the couple from participating in in events to commemorate the anniversary of the crackdown on dissidence which started on 18 March 2003 and led to the imprisonment of 75 peaceful activists.

They were charged by the public prosecutor in September 2013 with public disorder (desórdenes públicos) and attempted murder (asesinato en grado de tentativa). Sonia Garro Alfonso faces the additional charge of using violence or intimidation against a state official (atentado). Their trial has been postponed previously on three occasions, in November 2013, June 2014 and October 2014, with no reason ever given for each postponement.

This morning across Cuba, members of the Ladies in White have been peacefully demonstrating in front of their local courts on behalf of Sonia Garro Alfonso, Ramón Alejandro Muñoz González and Eugenio Hernández Hernández. There have been reports of arrests of members in the city of Matanzas and the town of Palma Soriano in the province of Santiago de Cuba. There were also reports yesterday that officials from the Department of State Security summoned a number of members of the Ladies in White or visited their homes in order to threaten them not to attend demonstrations today.

Amnesty International calls on the authorities to cease their continual harassment and arbitrary detention of the Ladies in White and allow them to carry out their peaceful activities without fear of reprisals. 

Cuban Dissident's Lesson for The New York Times

By Mike Gonzalez in The Daily Signal:

This Blind Cuban Dissident Tells the New York Times What They Have Wrong on Cuba

On the day when millions of Americans were exercising their sovereign right to elect their leaders, a blind Cuban dissident who’s never been able to cast a vote in his life was in Washington with a simple message for The New York Times.

“If you end the embargo now like The New York Times wants, Cuba will have 50 more years of misery, 50 more years of state criminality and 50 more years of torture,” Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva told think tankers and some Hill staffers at a luncheon. Cuba’s problems, he said, “have nothing to do with the embargo.

The New York Times has for decades echoed Cuban dictator Fidel Castro’s call for an end to the embargo, but has stepped up this campaign to almost an obsessive level since hiring Ernesto Londoño as editorial writer back in July. To many long-time Cuba watchers it is as though the ghost of Times foreign correspondent Herbert Matthews has returned.

More than any other journalist, Matthews is rightly blamed for making Castro palatable to the Eisenhower administration and to America at large. Among his most infamous quotes on Castro was his 1959 observation, “This is not a Communist Revolution in any sense of the term. Fidel Castro is not only not a Communist, he is decidedly anti-Communist.”

One would think that, with this record, the Times would be a bit contrite. But no. Just yesterday it once again echoed another long-standing demand of the Castros, calling for the swap of three Cuban spies serving well-deserved prison sentences here for Alan Gross, the USAID contractor thrown into a Cuban prison for giving computers to members of Cuba’s Jewish community.

Gonzalez Leiva, who describes his two years in a Cuban prison—into which he was thrown for daring to write Fidel Castro a letter asking for freedom—as “the devil having his way with you for [a couple of years],” said the New York Times should send reporters to Cuba and interview dissidents. “Let them interview me,” he said. Better yet, he said, the Times should ask for access to Cuban prisons and interview the political prisoners there.

Cuba’s economy doesn’t work because when a dairy farmer succeeds and goes from two cows to 10, the government comes in and confiscates eight or nine, he said, and in an island surrounded by water Cubans are not allowed to fish. Lifting the embargo, said Gonzalez Leiva, would give the Castros’s communist dictatorship—for Mathews was tragically wrong there—access to international credit markets it needs to survive at this point.

“Communism has made Cuba a parasite, first of the Soviet Union and now of Venezuela. Without communism we would be prosperous once again, as prosperous as Miami,” said Gonzalez Leiva. “Don’t lift the embargo until all political prisoners are out of prison, until civil society is recognized and free speech is allowed.”

It’s a message we should all welcome on this most hallowed day of democracy.

Reasons Why Charlie Crist Fell Short

The Florida political site, St. PetersBlog, has written, "The ultimate post-mortem: 16 reasons why Charlie Crist fell short."

Here's #6:

Cuba — Crist’s idea to visit Castroworld after he ad libbed a call to end the embargo against Cuba during an appearance on Bill Mahr’s show turned out to be an epic unforced error. Crist ended up banging the beehive of Cuban Republicans who had yet to fully embrace Scott, while getting nothing in return (except a few pissed off donors like David Straz). No wonder Crist underperformed in Miami-Dade.

Amnesty International: On Imprisonment of Sonia Garro

Thursday, November 6, 2014
From Amnesty International:

URGENT ACTION

Cuba: Fair Trial Must Go Ahead Without Further Delay

Following three postponements, the trial of two government critics and their neighbor is set to take place on 7 November. Amnesty International is concerned for the lack of full guarantees of a fair trial, including the right to call witnesses and challenge the evidence.

Lady in White Sonia Garro Alfonso, her husband Ramón Alejandro Muñoz González and their neighbor Eugenio Hernández Hernández have been in pre-trial detention since 18 March 2012, when a group of government supporters gathered in front of Sonia Garro Alfonso and Ramón Alejandro Muñoz González’s house to carry out an “act of repudiation”, a demonstration led by government supporters with the participation of state security officials aimed at harassing and intimidating government critics. The purpose of this act was to prevent Sonia Garro Alfonso and Ramón Muñoz González from participating in events to commemorate the anniversary of the crackdown on dissidence which started on 18 March 2003 and led to the imprisonment of 75 peaceful activists.

All three were charged by the public prosecutor in September 2013 with public disorder (desórdenes públicos) and attempted murder (asesinato en grado de tentativa). Sonia Garro Alfonso faces the additional charge of using violence or intimidation against a state official (atentado). Their trial has been postponed on three occasions, in November 2013, June 2014 and October 2014, with no reason ever given for each postponement. The latest date is set for 7 November.

Amnesty International is concerned the trial may lack the essential guarantees of a fair trial, as is usually the case in trials against government critics. The Cuban authorities must ensure the trial goes ahead in accordance with international standards, including the right of the accused to call defense witnesses and to challenge the evidence against them. The authorities must also guarantee the charges brought against them are based on clear evidence. In view of the long period of time they have been detained, the authorities must not postpone the trial once again or else permit their release pending trial.

From The White House: On Alan Gross

From The White House's Press Briefing with Press Secretary, Josh Earnest:

Q. Recently, there have been editorials in The New York Times about cooperation with Cuba. Is the President, in the last two years, more open to starting a dialogue with Cuba -- perhaps a prisoner exchange involving the prisoners here in the United States and Alan Gross in Cuba?

MR. EARNEST: Well, as a general matter, Jim, let me just say that the United States believes that Mr. Gross should be released immediately; that his detention is certainly not appropriate, it’s not justified, and it’s time for him to be reunited with his family here at home. He is, after all, a development worker, and it’s time for him to come home.

We have also indicated that his continued detention is an obstacle in the relationship between the United States and Cuba and certainly would interfere with any effort along the lines of what you’re talking about.

So the President has been pretty clear that it’s -- as he said in the past, that it’s worth reconsidering our policy as it relates to Cuba, reflecting, however, the significant concerns the United States retains about their human rights record, their failure to observe basic human rights, as it relates to not just the illegitimate detention of Mr. Gross, but as it relates to the basic rights to free speech and political expression of the people of Cuba. And we continue to have concerns about that.

But again, I think the bottom line here is that Cuba’s failure to release Mr. Gross is hurting the relationship between the United States and Cuba.

Q. And is the United States open to any negotiations with Cuba about Mr. Gross and whether or not the three Miami -- the three people in Miami who are being held -- in Florida, I should say, not Miami -- who are Cuban -- is there any negotiations there? Are they open to any negotiations?

MR. EARNEST: Well, Jim, I don’t have any negotiations to talk about from here other than to say that both publicly and privately the United States has been clear that Mr. Gross should be released.

Brazilian Prosecutor: Cuban Doctors Agreement is "Frankly Illegal"

As we recently posted, Castro's "medical diplomacy" is a commercial (and illegal) -- not a humanitarian -- enterprise.

From AP:

Brazil prosecutor blasts ‘More Doctors’ program

A federal prosecutors’ office has alleged irregularities in the way Brazil pays Cuban doctors participating in a program set up to provide health care in remote areas, and is urging the country to pay the physicians directly rather than through their government.

In a statement issued late Monday, prosecutor Luciana Loureiro Oliveira blasted as “frankly illegal” an agreement among the Cuban and Brazilian governments and the World Health Organization. Under the setup, the program’s Cuban doctors are paid about a fourth of what Brazil gives the Cuban government through the World Health Organization for their services.

While Brazil pays about $4,000 per month for each of the around 11,000 Cuban doctors in the program, Oliveira said it found a contract in which at least one of those doctors was getting only $1,000 a month.

The statement urged Brazil to pay the Cubans directly, instead of going through the WHO and the Cuban government, arguing the payment is an unfair labor practice.

Tweet of the Day: Cuba's Internet Apartheid

A Bad Night for Cuba Sanctions Foes

Tuesday, November 4, 2014
Over the summer, the AP cheerfully wrote:

"[Charlie] Crist's [gubernatorial] campaign will be the first statewide test of whether the trade restrictions are still a live wire for politicians in Florida, home to 70 percent of the nation's Cubans."

The test results are in: Charlie Crist failed.

Not only did Crist fail, but he lost by an even greater margin than Governor Rick Scott's opponent in 2010.

As such, no opponent of the Cuban embargo has ever won state-wide in Florida.

So set aside The New York Times editorials, push-polls and deceptive advertisements -- for facts speak louder than spin.

Meanwhile, in Florida's 26th Congressional District, where Cuban-Americans represent 35% of the electorate, U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia (D-FL) lost to School Board Member Carlos Curbelo.

While Garcia generally supports the U.S. embargo towards Cuba, his policy nuances created distrust among the Cuban-American electorate.

In an interesting twist, during the last week of the election, Garcia attempted damage control by releasing a television ad featuring Cuban dissident leader Guillermo Fariñas, a strong supporter of the U.S.'s sanctions policy.

But it proved too little, too late.

Also, in West Virginia's 2nd Congressional District, Alex Mooney (R) won his bid for the U.S. House of Representatives.

Mooney's victory will bring the number of Cuban-Americans serving in the 114th Congress to eight -- alongside U.S. Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), and U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Albio Sires (D-NJ) and U.S. Rep.-elect Carlos Curbelo (R-FL).

Of course, Cuban-Americans played little-to-no-role in this West Virginia district.

However, it strengthens the coalition of Cuban-American Members of Congress, who disagree among themselves on many issues, but are all lock-step regarding U.S. policy towards Cuba.

Finally, it's important to note that U.S. Rep.-elect Curbelo is a 34-year old member of the "new generation" of Cuban-Americans; Scott's Lt. Governor, Carlos Lopez-Cantera, is 40-years old; and U.S. Rep.-elect Mooney is 43-years old.

So much for that "theory" as well.

Welcome Carlos and Alex. Sorry Charlie.

Political Arrests Nearly Quadruple in Cuba

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights (CCHR) has documented 413 political arrests by the Castro regime during the month of October 2014.

This bring the total number of political arrests during the first ten months of this year to 8,012.

In just ten months, these 8,012 political arrests nearly quadruple the year-long tally of 2,074 political arrests in 2010.

To provide further perspective, since the Obama Administration began its efforts in 2009 to unilaterally ease sanctions and engage Castro's dictatorship, political arrests have nearly quadrupled -- and at this monthly rate, will more than quadruple by year's end.

The Castro regime clearly feels it's enjoying a high-level of impunity.

After all, despite its dramatic rise in repression, some still want to reward it with even greater sanctions relief.

It's a win-win for Cuba's dictatorship.

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

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Nine Cuban Political Prisoners Handed Long Sentences

In one of its recent editorials, The New York Times lauds that "in recent years [Cuban] officials have released political prisoners who had been held for years."

Of course, The New York Times chose to omit all those who are still serving long prison terms, as well as new political prisoners who have been arrested in recent years and remain arbitrarily imprisoned, e.g. The Ladies in White's Sonia Garro, labor leader Ulises Gonzalez Moreno, LGBT advocate David Bustamante and activist Ivan Fernandez Depestre.

Meanwhile, just last month (October), nine Cuban political prisoners were handed prison terms of 2-7 years for their democratic opposition.

They are Angel Remón Arzuaga, Alexander Otero, Jaquelin García, Johannes Arce, Yoelkis Rosabal, Ricardo Pelier, Ernesto Dufos, Carlos Manuel Figueroa and Santiago Montes de Oca.

Despite the deceptive efforts of The New York Times, Castro's lobbyists and propagandists, their names will not be forgotten.

Tweet of the Day: NYT Fails to Criticize Castro

From USAID's Associate Administrator, Mark Feierstein:

The New York Times Rests Our Case

Monday, November 3, 2014
There's an old saying in Spanish: "por la boca muere el pez" ("fish die through their mouths").

Over the last two weeks, The New York Times' newest editorial writer, Ernesto Londoño, has (obsessively) written a half-dozen editorials and commentaries on U.S. policy towards Cuba.

As we've documented, these have been full of glaring contradictions, misrepresentations and omissions.

The more Londoño writes, the more desperate and shameless (and clearly uneducated) his attacks.

And today, he drove off the policy cliff.

He's penned an editorial calling for President Obama to commute the sentences of three Cuban spies (part of the "Wasp Network"), duly convicted by a federal jury in the United States, and exchange them for an American development worker, who was taken hostage by the Castro dictatorship precisely as a tool of coercion.

Like his previous editorials, which have been praised by Fidel Castro himself, today's piece is already being circulated by Cuba's embassies worldwide and the regime's state security bloggers (cyber-warriors).

After all, it's not every day that a major American newspaper echoes the ransom demands (and talking points) of a brutal, anti-American, totalitarian dictatorship. Not to mention, one considered a "state-sponsor of terrorism" by the U.S. government.

The good news is that serious policymakers know this is a highly irresponsible proposition, which would set a very dangerous precedent. It has also left quite evident the agenda and resounding inexperience of its author.

Londoño -- on behalf of The New York Times' Editorial Board -- argues that the United States should succumb to Castro's coercion, mainly for two reasons:

1. Because a unilateral and unconditional rapprochement with Castro's dictatorship merits it.

Of course, he omits that the American development worker, Alan Gross, was taken hostage just a few months after Obama's first attempt at a unilateral and unconditional rapprochement with Castro's dictatorship in 2009.

Thus, this rationale is utterly senseless (at best).

2. Due to "troubling questions" about the "fairness" of the federal trial against the Cuban spies in the Southern District of Florida.

Of course, he omits that no Cuban-American jurist or juror served in the trial.

He also omits that these Cuban spies fully enjoyed due process of law.

He also omits Operacion Escorpion ("Operation Scorpion"), the code-name used by the leader of the Cuban spy ring for the operation to shoot-down the civilian planes of the humanitarian group "Brothers to the Rescue," which resulted in the murder of three American citizens and a permanent resident of the United States.

He also omits that the primary task of the Cuban spy network was to penetrate and report on U.S. military installations and activity, including the Southern and Central Command, Ft. Bragg and the Boca Chica Naval Air Base.

And very pertinently, he also omits that the Cuban spy network was tasked with the manipulation of the media, political institutions, and public opinion, including using anonymous or misidentified telephone calls and letters to media and political figures.

Read all about these convicted Cuban spies and their mission first-hand from the Office of the U.S. National Counterintelligence Executive, right here.

However, the most fascinating irony in Londoño's desire to raise doubts about the convictions of these Cuban spies is that The New York Times, in its long-standing campaign for enemy combatants and terrorists to be tried on U.S. soil, has been the staunchest advocate of the federal court system.

In defending the 2010 verdict against Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani -- the first former Guantanamo detainee to be tried in federal court -- which some argued was too faulty and lenient, The New York Times' Editorial Board poignantly wrote:

"What really makes this country strong is that it is based on laws not bluster. The federal courts have proved their ability to hold fair trials and punish the guilty. That is what we call getting the job done."

Except, apparently, when it comes to trying Cuban spies, including those who have conspired to kill Americans.

The New York Times should spare us Londoño's continuous bluster -- and instead practice what it preaches.

British Minister Shows What Normalization (Sadly) Looks Like

Sunday, November 2, 2014
Last week, we posted how normalizing relations with Cuba would relegate human rights and democracy to the bottom of the policy agenda.

This week, British Foreign Office Minister, Hugo Swire, showed us (once again) exactly what that looks like.

Swire's trip -- hyped in the media as the first British government Minister to visit Cuba in nearly 10 years -- was billed "to discuss trade, investment and concerns about human rights."

Upon the conclusion of his three-day trip, Swire had discussed plenty of trade and investment with Castro's monopolies -- but very little about human rights and zero about democracy.

Apparently, Swire was more interested in expressing his gratitude to Castro for recently confiscating millions from Britain's largest (former) investor in Cuba, Coral Capital Group Ltd. -- and arbitrarily arresting its executives -- but at least repatriating them after a couple of years in prison.

After all, Castro could have instead handed them 15-year sentences (like Canada's Cy Tokmakjinan).

Swire glorified his meetings with Castro's Minister of Trade and Investment, Rodrigo Malmierca, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and Deputy Foreign Minister Rogelio Serra.

And, of course, there was the compulsory propaganda conference at Castro's official "International Press Center."

To top off the visit, Swire was enchanted by Cuban dictator Raul Castro's daughter, Mariela.
  
And human rights?

Those were "broached" (to rhetorically check off the box) with Cardinal Jaime Ortega -- best known for scolding dissidents, squashing internal critics, banishing political prisoners and denying safe harbor to the persecuted.

And what about Cuba's independent civil society, democracy leaders and opposition activists?

Who? 

Cheerio.

The collage (below) in Swire's departing tweet, shows it all:

Quote of the Day: LGBTs Should See Castros for What They Are

I for one will not fall for the lies that this desperate dictatorship continues to spread. [I] really hope our LGBT community around the globe does their homework and sees the Castros for what they are, and not what they tell us they are. When Cubans have true freedom to vote, speak, travel and love — then we can talk about planning conferences and celebrating the successes of the island’s leadership. For now we simply mourn its victims and pray for actual rights — not blood-stained press releases and staged pictures.
-- Herb Sosa, president of the Unity Coalition, a Miami-based LGBT advocacy group, on Cuba's efforts to host the International Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans and Intersex Association’s biennial global conference in 2016, The Washington Blade, 11/1/14

Odd (Yet Welcome) Tweet of the Week: Obama Has Absolutely No Plans to Travel to Cuba

Not sure what prompted this odd tweet from the National Security Council (NSC), but it's welcome news nonetheless: 

Cuban Cigars in Tampa Can Wait a Little Longer

A Letter to the Editor of The Tampa Tribune:

On normalizing relations with Cuba, freedom first

The desire by some to open full relations with Cuba seems to be a hot topic that has become a source of dialogue for many in my recently adopted community of Tampa. It seems to me, from the many articles and statements I have read, that nothing short of normalizing relations is acceptable.

What confuses me and alarms me is that I see this push for normalization as a way for businesses to make money in the Tampa area. People forget about the real issues that have changed Cuba from a superbly thriving country into the state of chaos this nation finds itself in today.

It seems that not a week goes by that we don’t see more and more Cubans risking life and limb to escape the island nation. Why? It is because tens of thousands of these folks have realized that Cuba is a closed society run by a government that routinely and purposefully violates the rights of anyone who does not agree with its government credo. It is a government that unjustly incarcerates people to “get them out of the way,” a government that has denied its citizenry access to world media and free movement of travel until very recently, and a society where people can barely make a living to feed and clothe themselves and their families. And this failed attempt at social communism has been going on for over 50 years.

As a person who was born in Cuba of American parents, went to school in Cuba and left the island at the age of 12, I, too, wish that relations were normalized so I could travel back and see where I was born and spent my early, formative years. But I want to do this the right way.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a local and vocal proponent of normalization, has been quoted as saying that “the U.S. is indeed the outlier on this issue” of normalizing relations and that “it is time we recognize this and do more to bring our two nations together.”

Fidel Castro is the one who took power in an illegal coup d’état. It was he who confiscated all private houses and business entities belonging to American citizens without any compensation. It was he who has subjugated the Cuban people for 50 years because of his failed philosophy of communist ideals. It was he who allowed Soviet missiles aimed at the U.S. to be stationed in Cuba in the 1960s. It was he who opened up his jails and sent all the criminals and undesirables on a course toward Florida in order to hurt us. Remember Mariel?

Rep. Castor, let’s open relations with Cuba. First, however, we need to recognize that the U.S. is not the bad guy in this deal. We have opened our doors wide to all Cubans who want to defect and come and live here. The bad guy is Fidel Castro and his brutal regime. Let him begin the normalizing process by telling us what he plans to do about it, since he was the one who stole Cuba from its people. He should start by freeing all political prisoners and opening up the government to true, free elections.

Let Castro grant freedom to the Cuban people as the first step, and stop looking at the mighty dollars that could be made there. Cuban cigars in Tampa can wait a little longer.

George A. McNenney
Palm Harbor

The writer is a retired special agent in charge, U.S. Customs Service.