Former Commerce Secretary: Obama Deal a 'Win" for Castro

Saturday, December 20, 2014
From Fortune:

Former Commerce Secretary calls U.S.-Cuba deal a ‘win’ for Castro

Carlos Gutierrez says Cubans today ‘feel that they have had a major victory.’

Former U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez called a move by the Obama administration to restore ties with Cuba a “major political win” for Raúl Castro — comments that come a day after the landmark diplomatic agreement was announced.

Guiterrez, in an interview with Fortune‘s sister publication Time, called the agreement lopsided and said that Cubans today “feel that they have had a major victory.”

“The fact that we recognize them diplomatically is a major political win,” Guiterrez told Time. “The fact that we took them off the terror list during a year when we found a Cuban boat taking weapons to North Korea, all of these are tremendous wins for Cuba.”

The U.S. and Cuba agreed to restore ties after more than a half century of frosty relations. The U.S. is planning to reestablish an American embassy in Havana that closed in 1961 after the Cuban Revolution. The move to normalize relations created some immediate ripples: it will be legal to transport Cuban cigars and other alcohol and tobacco products into the U.S. and some investors placed an early bet on the cruise-line industry if mass tourism becomes a possibility.

But Guiterrez, who led the U.S. Commerce Department from 2005 to 2009 under President George W. Bush, indicated a swift economic shift isn’t likely.

“Cuba is an extremely poor country,” Guiterrez said. “It is not as if a McDonalds is going to open in three weeks, or we are going to start exporting cars.”

Gutierrez is a chair of Albright Stonebridge Group, a commercial diplomacy firm led by Gutierrez, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright and former Deputy National Security Advisor Samuel Berger. Born in Havana, Cuba, Gutierrez spent 30 years employed at food maker Kellogg and later worked at Citigroup.

As to what impact the U.S.-Cuba deal would have on the Cuban economy, Gutierrez seemed skeptical about potential investments. He said that for U.S. credit card companies, telecommunications firms and others to set up shop, it would result in the Cuban government giving up some control.

“You can use your credit card Cuba, but the banks have to set up inside Cuban banks, and there will probably be a fee that goes to the Cuban government,” Gutierrez said. “All of these things are designed to strengthen the government’s hold on the economy, and history suggests that they will not give up an ounce of control.”

The Real Cost of Castro, Inc.

From Fox Business:

The Real Cost of Castro Inc.

There is a price that the Cuban regime will exact from American companies to do business there if U.S.-Cuba relations are fully normalized, a price that likely won’t benefit the country’s lower classes, but will instead line the pockets of Castro & Co., experts on Cuba warn.

Because of its tight grip, the Castro regime has kept Cuba’s GDP hamstrung. It’s economy is now at a tiny $72.3 billion, less than half that of the state of Iowa, notes Richard J. Peterson, senior director at S&P Capital IQ. In fact, the average worker earns less than $25 a month.

Cuba is in crisis, it needs a bailout. Its crony communism has failed, it is steeped in debt, and its money is running low. Historically, Cuba has enjoyed lifelines in the form of money and oil from Venezuela, which had been generously supplying 100,000 free barrels of oil a day, estimates show, nearly two-thirds of Cuba’s consumption needs.

But Venezuela is on the brink of financial collapse as oil continues to plunge toward $60 a barrel, according to sources there, and it cannot supply Cuba the oil it needs. Plus Venezuela is now enduring three health epidemics: Malaria, dengue fever and chikungunya. Russia has also subsidized Cuba’s economy, but it, too, faces a severe economic contraction as oil nosedives.

Cuba needs tourism dollars, it needs trade and bank credits to save itself from bankruptcy. But it wants all that even while it keeps its failed government model in place. Cuba is run by a Soviet-style nomenklatura filled with party elites who call the shots behind the scenes, and who have gotten spectacularly wealthy in the process, all while abusing its people and business partners. Critics of the government, perceived enemies of the state, even those calling for basic human rights continue to be arbitrarily imprisoned without charge or due process, many beaten, even killed.

The Cuban power elite are the Castro brothers and their families, their party chieftains and army leaders. The Cuban economy has changed little since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Unchecked by a probing, independent media or Congress, the Cuban power elite enjoy rich salaries, vacations overseas, yachts, Internet access, beach compounds and satellite dishes to see U.S. movies, notes Cuban émigré and lawyer Nestor Carbonell, author of “And the Russians Stayed: The Sovietization of Cuba” (William Morrow & Co., 1989). The communists in Cuba routinely expropriate the assets of foreign investors, and have seized and control everything of value, including hotels, car distributors, banks, the sugar industry, resorts.

Carbonell adds that, just as Friedrich Engel, co-author of the Communist Manifesto, once said, also holds true of Cuba today, that “once in the saddle,” a new ruling class “has never failed to consolidate its rule at the expense of the working class and to transform social leadership into exploitation.”

If relations are fully normalized, American tourist dollars would pour into companies owned by the Castro regime, since tourism is controlled by both the military and General Raul Castro, warns the Cuba Transition Project (CTP).

That means rum, tobacco, hotels and resorts are all owned and operated by the regime and its security forces. Cuba’s dominant company is the Grupo Gaesa, founded by Raul Castro in the nineties and controlled and operated by the Cuban military, which oversees all investments. Cuba’s Gaviota, run by the Cuban military, operates Cuba’s tourism trade, its hotels, resorts, car rentals, nightclubs, retail stores and restaurants. Gaesa is run by Raul’s son-in-law, Colonel Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas.

The number of foreign companies doing business in Cuba have been cut by more than half since the 1990s, to 190 from some 400. Reasons include: Being forced to partner with army-controlled groups; hire workers through state agencies; and the freezing of bank deposits. Complaints have poured in from former senior executives at Dow Chemical, General Mills, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Colgate-Palmolive, Bacardi, American Express Bank, PepsiCo, Warner Communications, Martin Marietta Aluminum and Amex Nickel Corporation. Iberia, Spain’s national airline which at one time accounted for 10% of foreign commerce with Cuba, killed its Havana routes because they were unprofitable.

If U.S.-Cuba relations are normalized, fresh, new American dollars will only enrich the elite, “dollars will trickle down to the Cuban poor in only small quantities, while state and foreign enterprises will benefit most,” warns CTP, adding U.S. travelers to Cuba could still be “subject to harassment and imprisonment.” Over the decades, tourists visiting Cuba from Canada, Europe and Latin America and spending money there have only strengthened Cuba’s totalitarian state, it notes. There is a chance the free-flow of information from free trade could spark change long-term, but that could trigger an immediate, violent crackdown from the Cuban government, much like what occurred during the Arab spring.

Another significant factor: Corruption is rampant in Cuba, it has no independent, transparent, legal system, Cuba appoints its judges and licenses lawyers, and it repeatedly arrests peaceful pro-democracy activists.

Plus it is a debtor nation with a long history of defaulting on its loans. U.S. businesses risk having their operations confiscated by the government, and/or never seeing their loans repaid.

Cuba exports nickel, but that is largely controlled by Canadian interests, and its sugar industry is on the ropes. About 600 European suppliers have had over $1 billion arbitrarily frozen by the government since 2009, “and several investments have been confiscated,” CTP says.

In fact, Cuban law lets the government confiscate foreign assets for “public utility” or “social interest,” CTP says. Three CEOs of companies doing hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of business in Cuba were arrested and stuck in jail without charges or due process: Cy Tokmakjian of the Tokmakjian Group, Sarkis Yacoubian of Tri-Star Caribbean, from Canada, and Amado Fakhre of Coral Capital of Great Britain.

All of this is why Cuba is ranked 176th out of 177 countries on the index of economic freedom put out by the Heritage Foundation, beating North Korea at dead last, but ranking worse than Iran and Zimbabwe.

WaPo Editorial Board: President Obama’s 'Betrayal' of Cuban Democrats

From The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

President Obama’s ‘betrayal’ of Cuban democrats

President Obama said he decided to normalize relations with Cuba because “we can do more to support the Cuban people and promote our values through engagement.” So it’s important to know the reaction of those Cubans who have put their lives on the line to fight for democracy and human rights. Many have supported engagement and opposed the U.S. embargo. But they are now pretty much unanimous in saying that the way Mr. Obama has gone about this is a mistake.

Actually, “mistake” is the polite word used by Berta Soler of the Ladies in White, an astonishingly courageous group of women who march each week in support of political prisoners. “Betrayal” was the term used by several others, who asked why Mr. Obama had chosen to lift economic restrictions and dispatch an ambassador without requiring the “significant steps toward democracy” he once said must precede liberalization.

Guillermo Fariñas, the general director of the dissidents’ United Anti-Totalitarian Front, told reporters in Havana that Mr. Obama had promised in a November 2013 meeting with himself and Ms. Soler that any U.S. action on Cuba “would be consulted with civil society and the nonviolent opposition. Obviously this didn’t happen . . . they didn’t take into account Cuban democrats.”

The negative response from the people whom Mr. Obama portrays as the beneficiaries of his initiative is one reason to question his contention that Cuba should be treated like China and Vietnam, two Communist nations with which the United States normalized diplomatic and economic relations decades ago. The United States was not able to join with opposition movements in those countries in demanding democratic reforms as part of a normalization process because, at the time, such movements barely existed in either place. In Cuba’s case, the opportunity was there.

Engagement with China and Vietnam also offered huge economic and geopolitical benefits that don’t exist in the case of Cuba, an impoverished island whose main interest to the United States is the freedom and prosperity of its 11 million people. In the past, the Castro regime has hosted Soviet nuclear missiles and sponsored terrorism elsewhere in the region, and it still harbors American criminals. But its worst behavior has been the repression of its own people, which has repeatedly driven waves of refugees to the Florida straits.

But even if the analogy were apt, we would argue that Mr. Obama should have learned and applied some of the hard lessons of normalization with China and Vietnam — most notably that engagement doesn’t automatically promote freedom. When the United States debated extending “most-favored-nation” trading status to China, we shared in what was then the conventional wisdom: Economic engagement would inevitably lead, over time, to political reform inside that Communist dictatorship. President Bill Clinton argued that no autocracy could control the relatively new tool of connection known as the Internet, certainly not while hoping to foster international trade and investment. Travel, openness, exposure to the American example — all this would, inexorably if gradually, push China to liberalize.

But the men who run China had other ideas. They were determined to reap the fruits of foreign investment and trade — for themselves and their families, first, but also for their country — without ceding power. So far, confounding expectations, they have succeeded. The Chinese standard of living has risen, and Chinese enjoy far more personal freedom than they did under Mao — to choose where to live, say, or whom to marry. But in the past decade, political freedom in China has declined — there is less freedom of speech, of the press, of cultural expression. More political prisoners have been locked up and tortured. Tens of thousands of censors keep tight control over the Internet.

The same is true in Vietnam: more foreign investment, less political and religious freedom, more bloggers in prison. And these are not anomalies: In the years that Mr. Obama has been in office, freedom has receded across the globe — without much protest or response from his administration.

What is the right reaction to this? Not to turn away from engagement, which would be impossible and also, in our view, wrong: It is unquestionably good that trade has helped lift many ordinary Chinese into relative prosperity. Rather, practice engagement intelligently; instead of simply assuming that it will help promote freedom, take steps to increase the likelihood that it will do so.

In Cuba’s case, that means listening to the brave freedom fighters Mr. Obama spurned. Mr. Obama’s prescription was not the only alternative to what he saw as the failed policy of the past half-century. Opposition leaders from throughout the island have agreed on four immediate demands to put before the government: the release of political prisoners; the end of repression against human rights and pro-democracy groups; the ratification of international covenants on human rights; and the recognition of Cuban civil society groups.

Rosa Maria Paya: Here’s What Cuba Really Needs, Mr. Obama

An Open Letter by Cuban democracy leader, Rosa María Payá, to President Obama in The Washington Post:

Sr. Barack Obama
President of the United States of America

I am writing to you because I assume that goodwill inspired your decision to change U.S. policy toward my country.

I appeal to this goodwill, notwithstanding your decision to review Cuba’s place on the list of countries that sponsor terrorism despite the Cuban government’s attempt, just a year ago, to smuggle tons of weapons in a North Korean ship through the Panama Canal. And despite Cuban state security provoking the 2012 car crash that took the life of my father, Oswaldo Payá, one of Cuba’s best-known dissidents who represented the alternative to the regime, and his young associate Harold Cepero. And even though the Cuban government refuses to allow an investigation and has not given even a copy of the autopsy report to my family.

The Cuban regime has decided it needs to change its image, so it will relax its grip in some areas while it remains in power. It has discovered that it can allow more Cubans to enter and leave the country and that some people can create a timbiriche (a very small business), but the Cuban government still decides who can travel and who can open a small business. Mr. President, your laws are not what is preventing the free market and access to information in Cuba; it is the Cuban government’s legislation and its constant censorship.

We agree, Mr. President, that you cannot “keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect different results.”

But there is nothing new in treating as “normal” the illegitimate government in Havana, which has never been elected by its citizens and has been practicing state murder with impunity. That strategy already has been done by all the other governments without positive consequences for democracy in my country.

What would be new would be a real commitment to the Cuban people, with concrete actions supporting citizens’ demands. We don’t need interventionist tactics but rather backing for solutions that we Cubans have created ourselves.

For 55 years, the only free, legal and popular demand from Cubans has been a call for a referendum on self-government, the Varela Project. We want changes in the law that will guarantee freedom of expression and association, the release of political prisoners, the right to own private enterprises, and free and plural elections.

You asked in your historic speech : How can we uphold that commitment, the commitment to freedom?

I take you at your word, Mr. President. The answer to you and to all the world’s democratic governments is: Support the implementation of a plebiscite for free and pluralistic elections in Cuba; and support citizen participation in the democratic process, the only thing that will guarantee the end of totalitarianism in Cuba.

My father used to say, “Dialogues between the elites are not the space of the people.” The totalitarianism of the 21st century — which interferes in the internal affairs of many countries in the region and promotes undemocratic practices in countries such as Venezuela — will sit at the table next to the hemisphere’s democracies. I hope censorship doesn’t come to that table as well and that we Cubans, whom you so far have excluded from this process, can have a place in future negotiations.

We expect your administration, the Vatican and Canada to support our demands with the same intensity and goodwill with which you supported this process of rapprochement with the Cuban government. Human rights are the foundation of democracy, and we expect you to support the right of Cubans to decide their future.

We ask you to support an independent investigation into the attack that caused the deaths of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero.

We do not want symbolic solidarity. We do not want to participate only in the parallel forum to the next Summit of the Americas. The chair that will be occupied by the Cuban government is not the chair of the people, because the Cuban government does not represent Cuba’s citizens . That’s why we need to be present at the main summit, so that the demands of Cuban citizens are heard and empowered by the regional democracies.

Mr. President, dare now, after quoting our José Martí, to put into practice the honesty that a free Cuba deserves, “with all and for the good of all.”

God bless our countries.

Merry Christmas to you and your family,

Rosa María Payá Acevedo

Rubio Responds to Reporter's Cuba Polling Spin

From The Shark Tank:

Epic Marco Rubio Smack Down of Reporter’s Question On Cuba

I really don’t know how Senator Rubio contained himself during a press conference in Miami, when a reporter asked him how he could support his current position on Cuba.

According to the reporter, who cited a recent Florida International University poll conducted on normalizing relations with Cuba, the “super majority of Cuban Americans” do not support the existing U.S.-Cuba foreign policy.

Rubio shot back at the reporter, answering his question with several mic-dropping questions of his own:

Reporter: How is it do you take a position that is contrary to the super majority of your constituents?

Sen. Marco Rubio: We have a poll every two years in this state, its called elections. As far as I can tell, everyone of our members of Congress that’s been elected in those districts agrees with my position, and I with their position on this issue.

Where is the pro-embargo, or anti-embargo congressperson from the very district you said was polled? I think that’s the ultimate poll.

I think people have spoken, and tomorrow if people want a Castro appeaser to be their next Senator or their next congressperson, they have the right to do that, I suppose.

Watch the video exchange here.

Cuban-American Members of Congress: United in Opposition to Obama's Deal

Friday, December 19, 2014
From The Wall Street Journal:

For Cuban-Americans in Congress, the Pain Doesn’t Go Away

Lawmakers in Senate and House React to Obama Plan in Personal Terms

Many politicians today see U.S.-Cuba relations as a niche issue, an obsolete preoccupation of the Cold War. But for a small and influential cadre of Cuban-American members of Congress, it is a personal, painful and urgent concern.

Seven members of Congress—three senators and four House members—have family roots in Cuba and ties to the movement that has fought the Castro regime for a half-century. The group has stepped out as a bipartisan phalanx of opposition to President Barack Obama ’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba, putting them at odds with a majority of Americans who, polls say, support the move.

“Cuba is close to home for me both because of my heritage and from the community I live in,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), the son of Cuban immigrants who has led the opposition to the policy shift announced by Mr. Obama this week. “I know the Cuban regime and its true nature better than this president does or anybody in his administration does.”

The group’s united opposition to Mr. Obama is noteworthy because polls show that Cuban-Americans outside Congress are split over the issue, mostly along generational lines. But anti-Castro sentiment is strong and well-organized in the older, politically influential Cuban-American exile community in the crucial swing state of Florida.

There are now three Cuban-American senators, two Republicans and one Democrat—Mr. Rubio, Sens. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) and Robert Menendez (D., N.J.). The four Cuban-Americans in the House include two Republicans—Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida—and two Democrats, Reps. Albio Sires of New Jersey and Joe Garcia of Florida. Mr. Garcia lost his re-election bid and will be succeeded by another Cuban-American, Republican Carlos Curbelo, in January. An eighth Cuban-American, Republican Alex Mooney, will also join the House from West Virginia.

They span in age from 34 to 63, but all are children of the Castro-era migration—an influx fueled more by political turmoil than many other waves of migration to the U.S., which were driven by economic aspirations. They have no formal caucus or meeting structure, but many of them are close. Three—Ms. Ros-Lehtinen and Messrs. Rubio and Diaz-Balart—joined together in a news conference in Florida on Thursday to continue their critique of Mr. Obama’s Cuba policy.

For these politicians, like many Cuban Americans of that generation, exile was a searing experience for them or their families. Ms. Ros-Lehtinen, daughter of an anti-Castro activist, was born in Havana and migrated to the U.S. when she was 8 years old. Mr. Diaz-Balart was born in Florida, but his father was majority leader of the Cuban legislature and a leading anti-Castro figure before migrating to the U.S.

Mr. Curbelo said in an interview that his grandfather was a political prisoner and his great uncle was executed. But those are parts of his biography he doesn’t like to publicize, he said, for fear people will see his support for Cuba sanctions as emotionally driven.

Mr. Rubio is the son of Cubans who migrated to the U.S. in 1956, before Fidel Castro took power. He previously suggested that his parents had fled after Mr. Castro rose to power, but later revised his account amid questions about its accuracy.

Cuban Americans make up less than 1% of the U.S. population, but they are overrepresented in Congress: In the Senate, they make up 3% of the membership and include two potential presidential candidates (Messrs. Cruz and Rubio) and one committee chairman (Mr. Menendez, the current chairman and soon-to-be ranking minority member of the Foreign Relations Committee).

They also run the ideological gamut. Mr. Menendez is a liberal Democrat while Mr. Cruz is a conservative Republican, but they speak almost as one on Cuba policy. Messrs. Menendez and Sires were as forceful in response to Mr. Obama’s policy shift as Mr. Cruz. Only Mr. Garcia refrained from criticism or praise of the policy, saying little more than welcoming the release of American Alan Gross from Cuban prison.

Mr. Diaz-Balart said that the agreement reflects the bond of a group for whom the behavior of a foreign government isn’t an abstract matter of policy, but a reality for family, friends and constituents.

“For us, this is not a hypothetical issue,” said Mr. Diaz-Balart, who disputes polls that suggest Cuban-Americans concern about the regime is waning. “We are in constant communication with people on the island.”

Mr. Rubio, even as he gears up for a possible presidential bid, says he doesn’t worry about political risks of supporting a policy that polls show is a minority view. “I don’t care,” Mr. Rubio said, “if 99% of people in polls disagree with my position. This is my position and I feel passionately about it.”

Ros-Lehtinen Op-Ed in Washington Times: Courting Dictators Won’t Lead to Democracy

By U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) in The Washington Times:

Obama’s futile overtures to Cuba

President Obama’s argument for unilaterally reversing U.S.-Cuba policy rests on the false premise that engagement with dictators and terrorists will somehow get them to change their ways.

This irresponsible deal does not hold the Castro regime accountable as they have made no commitments to expand democratic principles on the island. In fact, the opposite is true: Raul Castro can continue his dictatorial ways without giving in an inch while the White House gave Mr. Castro all the concessions he wanted. Typical of the administration, the desire for a deal — any deal — was stronger than the interest in its contents.

Although it is welcome news that Alan Gross is back with his family in the United States, it is worth noting that he should have never been in jail in the first place. It was clear in the days following Mr. Gross’ arrest that the Castro brothers wanted to trade Mr. Gross for the Cuban Five. The administration’s false equivalency in this swap failed to acknowledge that Mr. Gross was, in essence, a hostage while the Cuban Five spies, who endangered American national security, received full due process including trial by jury.

Time and again, the Obama administration stated they would not swap Mr. Gross for the Cuban Five spies. Unsurprisingly, the administration reneged on its word and commuted the sentences of three convicted spies in exchange for Mr. Gross. The president not only snatched justice away from the families of the slain Brothers to the Rescue heroes, who consisted of three American citizens and one U.S. resident, but he is continuing down the dangerous avenue he began with the Bergdahl exchange to signal to our adversaries the value of holding American citizens as tools for obtaining concessions from the United States.

One critical component missing from this misguided deal with a communist regime is a voice for the freedom-loving people of Cuba. Ever since the deal was announced, leaders of the pro-democracy efforts in Cuba have denounced this one-sided deal. One leader of the largest resistance coalition in Cuba, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez “Antunez,” stated: “This is a betrayal that leaves the democratic opposition defenseless. Obama has allied himself with the oppressors and murderers of our people.” The administration’s actions are a slap in the face for the millions of Cubans on the island and also those in the Cuban-American community who have worked for generations to restore freedom on the island.

In 2009, the president first opened the door to more tourism travel to the island, but the opening for democracy that the president aimed for never came. There have been more than 8,400 political arrests in Cuba at the hands of Mr. Castro’s security forces in 2014, and the administration’s has even issued a travel advisory for Cuba that states: “U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba should be aware that the Cuban government may detain anyone at any time for any purpose, and should not expect that Cuba’s state security or judicial systems will carry out their responsibilities according to international norms.”

The increased travel promoted by the administration will only serve as a propaganda coup for the Castro regime. At a time when the Castro regime is suffering due to spiraling economies in Venezuela and Russia, they have turned to Mr. Obama for help through increased travel as an economic lifeline. Even with almost all the countries in the world trading with Cuba, the economic situation on the island continues to deteriorate, not because of the U.S. embargo but because of the disastrous economic policies of Raul Castro.

The administration continues to highlight the fact that the Cuban regime has decided to engage with the International Committee of the Red Cross, but this is another ruse by the president. In reality, we know that the Red Cross will not have access to Mr. Castro’s gulags and will not be able to monitor prison conditions. The administration calls a success the fact that 53 political prisoners will be released but does not articulate what will happen when the Castro regime puts more people back in jail, evidenced by the recent crackdown of more than 200 arrests on the island on International Human Rights Day on Dec. 10.

The fundamental recurring theme is that the Castro regime will not change their oppressive tactics and will not loosen their grip on the island. Mr. Obama’s recent announcement of plans to ease restrictions is kowtowing to the Castro brothers and gives them all the concessions on the regime’s wish list. It is our role as the world’s lone superpower to uphold democratic values and be the guardian of freedom everywhere, not only where it is convenient for the president’s legacy. Mr. Obama’s policy of dictator engagement has undermined the national security of the United States that sets a dangerous precedent that emboldens other desperate, sanctioned regimes. It is now the role of the legislative branch to oppose this overreach of executive action and reaffirm the need to continue defending freedom and democracy everywhere in the world.

Cuban Dissident Leaders React to Obama's Announcement

Cuban dissident leaders react to President Obama's announcement to normalize relations with Castro's dictatorship:

"Sadly, President Obama made the wrong decision. The freedom and democracy of the Cuban people will not be achieved through these benefits that he's giving -- not to the Cuban people -- but to the Cuban government. The Cuban government will only take advantage to strengthen its repressive machinery, to repress civil society, its people and remain in power."

-- Berta Soler, leader of The Ladies in White.

"[Alan Gross] was not arrested for what he did, but for what could be gained from his arrest. He was simply bait and they were aware of it from the beginning... Castroism has won, though the positive result is that Alan Gross has left alive the prison that threatened to become his tomb."

-- Yoani Sanchez, Cuban blogger and independent journalist, 14ymedio.

"The Cuban people are being ignored in this secret conversation, in this secret agreement that we learned today. The reality of my country is there is just one party with all the control and with the state security controlling the whole society. If this doesn’t change, there’s no real change in Cuba. Not even with access to Internet. Not even when Cuban people can travel more than two years ago. Not even that is a sign of the end of the totalitarianism in my country."

--Rosa Maria Paya, daughter of murdered Christian Liberation Movement leader, Oswaldo Paya.

"[Obama's announcement] is horrible and disregarding the opinion of [Cuban] civil society sends a bad message. The acceptance of neo-Castroism in Cuba will mean greater support for authoritarianism in the region and, as a consequence, human rights will be relegated to a secondary role."

-- Antonio Rodiles, head of Estado de Sats.

"Alan Gross was used as a tool by the Castro regime to coerce the United States. Obama was not considerate of Cuban citizens and of the civil society that is facing this tyrannical regime. In Miami, Obama promised that he would consult Cuba measures with civil society and the non-violent opposition. Obviously, this didn't happen. That is a fact, a reality. He didn't consider Cuba's democrats. The betrayal of Cuba's democrats has been consummated."

-- Guillermo Fariñas, former Sakharov Prize recipient.

"The Obama Administration has ceded before Castro's dictatorship. Nothing has changed. The jails remain filled, the government represents only one family, repression continues, civil society is not recognized and we have no right to assemble or protest... The measures that the government of the United States has implemented today, to ease the embargo and establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, will in no way benefit the Cuban people. The steps taken will strengthen the Castro regime's repression against human rights activists and increase its resources, so the security forces can keep harassing and repressing civil society."

--Angel Moya, former political prisoner of the Black Spring (2003).

"We are in total disagreement with what has transpired today. It's a betrayal of those who within Cuba have opposed the regime in order to achieve definitive change for the good of all Cubans."

-- Felix Navarro, former political prisoner and co-head of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU).

"It's discomforting that the accounts of the Castro regime can grow, as the first step will be more effective repression and a rise in the level of corruption."

-- Jose Daniel Ferrer, former political prisoner and co-head of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU)

"This is a betrayal that leaves the democratic opposition defenseless. Obama has allied himself with the oppressors and murderers of our people."

-- Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez," former political prisoner and head of the National Resistance Front.

"I feel as though I have been abandoned on the battlefield."

-- Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, former Cuban political prisoner and U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient.

Note to White House: Castro's Victims Aren't Amused

On Wednesday, President Obama insisted that his policy concessions to the Castro dictatorship would not diminish the seriousness with which he would address human rights and democracy in Cuba.

That's pretty hard to believe.

Moreover, his White House Press Secretary, Josh Earnest, isn't helping him make the case.

When asked about the hypothetical of a visit to Cuba by President Obama, Earnest responded:

I certainly wouldn't rule out a presidential visit. Like many Americans, he has seen that Cuba is a place where they have a beautiful climate and a lot of fun things to do. (Laughter.) So, if there's an opportunity for the president to visit, I'm sure he wouldn't turn it down.”

Not very amusing to the victims of Castro's repression.

Families of Murdered Americans on Obama's Prisoner Exchange

From WSVN-TV:

Families of Brothers to the Rescue victims criticize US-Cuba accord

Amid the mixed emotions that welcomed the announcement of a restoration of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba Wednesday, several families affected by the prisoner exchange that made the historic accord possible voiced their stern disapproval.

The families of four men killed during a mission for the Miami-based activist nonprofit organization Brothers to the Rescue in 1996 spoke with reporters at the Biltmore Hotel. They called President Barack Obama's decision to release three of the members of the "Cuban Five," five Cuban men convicted of spying on the U.S. government, in exchange for American government contract worker Alan Gross an insult to the U.S. justice system.

"First, I want to say that I'm so happy that Alan Gross will be able to spend Hanukkah with his two daughters, 'cause I'll never have that again with my father," said Marelene Alejandre Triana, who was only 18 when her father, Armando Alejandre Jr., one of the four men on board Cessna Skymasters that had taken off from Opa-locka Airport on Feb. 24, 1996, was shot down over international waters.

One of those spies released this week, Gerardo Hernandez, was serving a life sentence for murder conspiracy for his role in the killings of the Brothers to the Rescue victims. "The only person that we had responsible for what happened, to be let go, it's a slap in the face to my dad," said Alejandre Triana.

The two other Cuban Five prisoners had been released earlier.

The flights, which started after a need to help provide humanitarian aid for people fleeing Cuba on rafts, also claimed the lives of Mario De La Pena, Pablo Morales and Carlos Costa.

Relatives of the four victims were seen hugging U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who was there in support of the families. Their biggest complaint: that they were not contacted by the Obama administration to prepare them for the news. "Everybody knows everyone's phone numbers here, and any way to call, e-mail, anything, and nothing was done," said Alejandre Triana.

"I'd like to say that, not only do I feel that I've been slapped in the face by a president. I feel that the justice system of the United States of America today has suffered a big blow," said Miriam De La Pena, the mother of Mario De La Pena, as she fought back tears.

Menendez Op-Ed in USA Today: One-Sided Deal Rewards Cuba Regime

Thursday, December 18, 2014
By Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), in USA Today:

One-sided deal rewards Cuba regime

Alan Gross is home now. His five-year imprisonment for providing Internet access to Cuba's small Jewish community was cruel, arbitrary and consistent with the behavior of the Cuban regime.

By releasing Mr. Gross in exchange for three convicted Cuban spies who conspired to commit espionage against our nation, this administration has wrongly rewarded a totalitarian regime and thrown the Cuban regime an economic lifeline.

Cuba is a repressive state, but it will now receive the support of the United States, the world's greatest democracy.

For compromising on bedrock U.S. values, we received zero commitments from the regime to change its ways, to hold free elections, permit dissent, halt censorship and free all political prisoners. We abandoned U.S. policy, while the Castro brothers' stranglehold on power just got tighter.

This swap sets an extremely dangerous precedent and invites dictatorial and rogue regimes to use Americans serving overseas as bargaining chips.

Most concerning is that the decision to open relations with Cuba fails to understand the nature of the Castro regime that has exerted its authoritarian control over the Cuban people for 55 years.

There is no reason that Cuba will reform just because the American president believes that, if he extends his hand in peace, the Castro brothers will suddenly unclench their fists.

The opposite is true.

The changes to U.S. policy are clearly intended to circumvent the intent and spirit of U.S. law and Congress. It presents a false narrative about Cuba, suggesting that the United States and not the regime is responsible for its failings.

Cuba's economic struggles are the result of 50 years of failed political and economic experiments. In Cuba, private business is controlled by the Cuban government, with the benefits flowing to the regime's political and military leadership.

Cuba should not be taken off the list of state sponsors of terrorism either. Cuba harbors American fugitive Joanne Chesimard, who is on the FBI's list of Most Wanted Terrorists for murdering New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster. Cuba also colluded with North Korea to smuggle jets, missile batteries, and arms through the Panama Canal in violation of United Nations Security Council Resolutions.

These and other such actions are not the actions of a nation deserving of our engagement.

That is why the president's decision to attend the Summit of the Americas is extraordinarily disappointing. It violates our own principles, laid down in the Inter-American Democratic Charter in 2001, that the summit would be a forum for the hemisphere's democratically elected leaders.

In Cuba today, an untold number of ordinary people yearning for democracy remain imprisoned by the exact same tormentors who punished Alan Gross. They, along with all Cubans, deserve a free and liberated homeland.

That vision is less of a reality today than it was yesterday.

Rubio Op-Ed in WSJ: A Victory for Oppression in Cuba

By U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) in The Wall Street Journal:

A Victory for Oppression

President Obama’s policy is bad news for the Cuban people living under a dictatorship, and it sends a dangerous message to the world.

The announcement by President Obama on Wednesday giving the Castro regime diplomatic legitimacy and access to American dollars isn’t just bad for the oppressed Cuban people, or for the millions who live in exile and lost everything at the hands of the dictatorship. Mr. Obama’s new Cuba policy is a victory for oppressive governments the world over and will have real, negative consequences for the American people.

Since the U.S. severed diplomatic relations in 1961, the Castro family has controlled the country and the economy with an iron fist that punishes Cubans who speak out in opposition and demand a better future. Under the Castros, Cuba has also been a central figure in terrorism, narco-trafficking and all manner of misery and mayhem in our hemisphere.

As a result, it has been the policy and law of the U.S. to make clear that re-establishing diplomatic and economic relations with Cuba is possible—but only once the Cuban government stops jailing political opponents, protects free speech, and allows independent political parties to be formed and to participate in free and fair elections.

The opportunity for Cuba to normalize relations with the U.S. has always been there, but the Castro regime has never been interested in changing its ways. Now, thanks to President Obama’s concessions, the regime in Cuba won’t have to change.

The entire policy shift is based on the illusion—in fact, on the lie—that more commerce and access to money and goods will translate to political freedom for the Cuban people. Cuba already enjoys access to commerce, money and goods from other nations, and yet the Cuban people are still not free. They are not free because the regime—just as it does with every aspect of life—manipulates and controls to its own advantage all currency that flows into the island. More economic engagement with the U.S. means that the regime’s grip on power will be strengthened for decades to come—dashing the Cuban people’s hopes for freedom and democracy.

Of course, like all Americans, I am overjoyed for Alan Gross and his family after his release from captivity after five years. This American had been a hostage of the regime, and it was through his imprisonment that the Cuban regime again showed the world its cruel nature.

But the policy changes announced by President Obama will have far-reaching consequences for the American people. President Obama made it clear that if you take an American hostage and are willing to hold him long enough, you may not only get your own prisoners released from U.S. jails—as three Cuban spies were—you may actually win lasting policy concessions from the U.S. as well. This precedent places a new price on the head of every American, and it gives rogue leaders around the world more clear-cut evidence of this president’s naïveté and his willingness to abandon fundamental principles in a desperate attempt to burnish his legacy. There can be no doubt that the regime in Tehran is watching closely, and it will try to exploit President Obama’s naïveté as the Iranian leaders pursue concessions from the U.S. in their quest to establish themselves as a nuclear power.

Reasonable people can disagree about the efficacy of American foreign policy toward Cuba and even the embargo, but no serious person can argue that the manner in which President Obama unilaterally granted concessions to the regime in Havana was well advised.

For these reasons and many more, in the weeks and months ahead I will work with Republicans and Democrats who share my concerns and do everything in my power to prevent President Obama’s dangerous policies from becoming reality.

While my personal ties to Cuba and its people are well known, this is not just a personal issue. American foreign policy affects every aspect of American life, and our people cannot realize their full promise if the world becomes more dangerous because America retreats from its role in the world. Moreover, the Cuban people have the same rights that God bestowed on every other man, woman and child that has ever lived. All of those who are oppressed around the world look to America to stand up for their rights and to raise its voice when tyrants like the Castros are trying to crush their spirits.

By conceding to the oppressors in the Castro regime, this president and his administration have let the Cuban people down, further weakened America’s standing in the world and endangered Americans.

Cruz Op-Ed in Time: Help the Cuban Opposition, Not the Castros

By U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) in Time:

Help the Cuban Opposition, Not the Castros

In July 2013, I had the opportunity to speak with two prominent Cuban dissidents, Elizardo Sanchez and Guillermo Farinas. Both men had been supporters of the Castros—Sanchez as an academic, Farinas as a soldier—but had come to realize the real brutal, authoritarian nature of their Communist regime. Farinas, for example, spoke of the moment of clarity he had the first time he read Animal Farm during the 1980s, in Russian because he was in the Soviet Union receiving specialized military training.

Sanchez and Farinas painted a grim picture of life in Cuba, which they said had become “a big jail” since 1959. They described how the Castros have a comprehensive apparatus of oppression that exploits economic control, political repression, and propaganda to control each and every Cuban citizen. Growing up in Cuba, they said, meant choosing between becoming part of the repression, pretending to be mentally ill, abandoning your homeland, or confronting the regime, in which case you risked being killed, jailed, or beaten.

My family knows this hard truth about Cuba all too well. My father was imprisoned and tortured by Batista, and my aunt was imprisoned and tortured by Castro. Both fled for America and for freedom.

According to Sanchez and Farinas, Raul and Fidel Castro remain the implacable enemies of the United States. They are constantly thinking of ways to harm America—they are evil, and we cannot make a deal with an evil regime. The goal of the Castros, they explained, was to copy “Putinismo,” or the tricks and deceptions the Russian strongman had used to fool the west with the appearance of change while in reality, his authoritarian government consolidated power. Farinas cautioned that the Castros would try to get the United States to finance their “Putinist project” through the relaxation of the embargo, and that we should reject any deal that did not include real political reform.

As we now know, around the time I was interviewing Sanchez and Farinas, the Obama administration was already planning a major revision of U.S. policy toward Cuba. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recounts in her recent book, Hard Choices, that she recommended this course of action around the time she left office.

But just like the recent failed outreach attempts with Russia and Iran, the administration assumed they could persuade dictatorial tyrants to put the interests of their people and the international community before their own. And so this week, President Obama announced he is unilaterally undoing more than half a century of bi-partisan U.S. policy towards Cuba and reducing economic sanctions before the Castros make a single meaningful concession.

How prophetic Sanchez and Farinas were. America is, in effect, writing the check that will allow the Castros to follow Vladimir Putin’s playbook of repression.

But simply criticizing the Obama administration approach is not enough. As Sanchez and Farinas pointed out, no one can deny that the Castros have successfully exploited their enmity with the United States to enhance their reputation as revolutionary freedom fighters. And as the critics of the embargo argue, we are 50 years into the project and the Castros are still in power. Of course we should look for new ways to relieve the misery of the Cuban people—but there are better options than what the Obama administration has proposed.

First, the United States should have demanded the immediate and unconditional release of Alan Gross before we negotiated economic relief for Cuba. We celebrate his return, but it should have been beholden on the Castros to demonstrate good faith in advance of any concessions on our part. And we should not be creating incentives for other oppressive regimes to seize and ransom American citizens.

In addition, the United States should have recognized the significant pressures the Castro regime currently faces, which recall those in the late 1990s when deprived of Soviet sponsorship, their regime was threatened with economic catastrophe. Then, Hugo Chavez stepped in to save them, but now, with the impending collapse of the Venezuelan economy, disaster looms again. If the United States is to provide an economic lifeline to Cuba at this critical juncture, we might have extracted some significant concessions:

- Rather than arbitrary prisoner releases, the United States should demand significant legal reform so that the Cuban government can no longer detain its citizens—or ours—indefinitely with no process. Otherwise the 53 prisoners they are to release under the terms of this deal can simply be picked up again at the whim of the Castro regime.

- Rather than vague promises of exploring political liberalization, the United States should demand that the political opposition to the Castros be included in any and all negotiations with Cuba, so their concerns will be fully heard and their priorities addressed. Otherwise there will be no incentive for the Castro regime to engage in necessary political reforms.

- Rather than unilaterally lifting the economic embargo on Cuba, the United States should calibrate any relaxation of sanctions directly to the cessation of their repression and human rights violations. Otherwise, American dollars will flow exclusively into the Castros’ pockets while the Cuban people have no relief.

These are only a few of the many ideas I look forward to our considering when the 114th Congress convenes in January. But one area on which there is already broad, bi-partisan consensus is that President Obama’s new Cuba policy is yet another very bad deal brokered by this administration. First Russia, then Iran, now Cuba.

Raul and Fidel Castro, the men who were complicit in the Cuban Missile Crisis; the close allies of Russia, Iran, Venezuela and North Korea; and the systematic persecutors of the Cuban people, have not suddenly become our regional partners.

We do have friends in Cuba, people like Elizardo Sanchez, Guillermo Farinas, and their many colleagues in the opposition. But this misguided policy of President Obama’s does nothing to help them. On the contrary it may well strengthen the Castros and entrench a new generation of their oppressors in power unless Congress steps in to stop it.

Obama's Announcement: Issues of Credibility, Geo-Political Vision and Executive Overreach

Wednesday, December 17, 2014
President Barack Obama has just announced a series of changes to Cuba policy, pursuant to a deal with dictator Raul Castro for the release American hostage, Alan Gross.

These policy changes are in addition to a prisoner exchange, in which three Cuban spies imprisoned in the United States have also been released.

(Please see our statement regarding the prisoner exchange here.)

These policy changes raise serious questions regarding the President's credibility and geo-political vision. They also represent an abuse of his executive authority under U.S. law.

As regards credibility --

Just last year, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee:

"[The Castro regime] has been attempting to trade Alan Gross for the five spies that are in prison here in the US, and we've refused to do that because there's no equivalency."

Yet, that -- in fact -- is what the Obama Administration has done today.

As regards geo-political vision --

President Obama has placed democracy in the Western Hemisphere on the chopping bloc.

In his remarks at noon, Obama cited China and Vietnam as examples of why the United States should normalize relations with Cuba.

So what exactly is the model that Obama seeks for Cuba?

Is it the "China model" whereby U.S. business helps to build the most lucrative dictatorship in human history?

A "Vietnam model" of state capitalism under an iron-fisted rule?

"Burma model" whereby reforms achieved through pressure are rolled back as soon as sanctions are lifted?

Raul Castro, Nicolas Maduro and their puppets revel in such models. But none should have a place -- geographically or politically -- in the Western Hemisphere.

In this hemisphere, every nation (except Cuba) made a commitment to representative democracy in 2001.

Today's announcement sends a message to the Western Hemisphere's wanna-be authoritarians that the U.S. now (once again) views such models as acceptable in the Americas.

Globally, it has sent a blueprint to the other nations on the U.S.'s state-sponsors of terrorism list (Iran, Sudan and Syria) of how to have that designation removed -- take an American hostage.

As regards executive powers --

U.S. policy towards Cuba was codified into law under the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996, and the Trade Sanctions Reform Act of 2000.

The policy changes announced by the President are an overreach of his executive powers under the law.

For example, the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (§910(b) of P.L. 106-387, Title IX), codified the ban on tourist activities, which are defined as any activity not expressly authorized in the 12 categories of travel set forth in the regulations. It further specified, "as such regulations were in effect on June 1, 2000."

Obama's announcement to issue a general license for all twelve categories of authorized travel exceed these regulations, as they were "in effect on June 1, 2000."

Moreover, the official legislative history of the law clarifies that the President has power to tighten economic sanctions, but not to ease them beyond the baseline set on March 1, 1996.

It reads:

"The conference substitute (subsection (102(h)) codifies the 'economic embargo of Cuba' as defined in section 4.  It is the intent of the committee of the conference that all economic sanctions in force on March 1, 1996 , shall remain in effect until they are either suspended or terminated pursuant to the authorities provided in section 204 of this Act (requiring a Presidential determination that a democratic transition is underway in Cuba).  It is not the intent of this section to prohibit executive branch agencies from amending existing regulations to tighten economic sanctions on Cuba or to implement the provisions of this act."

The banking and credit card portions of Obama's announcement exceed economic sanctions, as they were "in force on March 1, 1996."

Finally, under the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, there is a direct prohibition on "investment in domestic telecommunications services." Moreover, that an "investment" in the domestic telecommunications network within Cuba "includes the contribution (including by donation) of funds or anything of value to or for, and the making of loans to or for, such network."

It remains to be seen whether the telecommunications portion of Obama's announcement abides by this direct prohibition.

These are issues that the U.S. Congress should carefully look into.

WaPo: Obama Gives Castro an Undeserved Bailout

From The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

Obama gives the Castro regime in Cuba an undeserved bailout

In recent months, the outlook for the Castro regime in Cuba was growing steadily darker. The modest reforms it adopted in recent years to improve abysmal economic conditions had stalled, due to the regime’s refusal to allow Cubans greater freedoms. Worse, the accelerating economic collapse of Venezuela meant that the huge subsidies that have kept the Castros afloat for the past decade were in peril. A growing number of Cubans were demanding basic human rights, such as freedom of speech and assembly.

On Wednesday, the Castros suddenly obtained a comprehensive bailout — from the Obama administration. President Obama granted the regime everything on its wish list that was within his power to grant; a full lifting of the trade embargo requires congressional action. Full diplomatic relations will be established, Cuba’s place on the list of terrorism sponsors reviewed and restrictions lifted on U.S. investment and most travel to Cuba. That liberalization will provide Havana with a fresh source of desperately needed hard currency and eliminate U.S. leverage for political reforms.

As part of the bargain, Havana released Alan Gross, a U.S. Agency for International Development contractor who was unjustly imprisoned five years ago for trying to help Cuban Jews. Also freed was an unidentified U.S. intelligence agent in Cuba — as were three Cuban spies who had been convicted of operations in Florida that led to Cuba’s 1996 shootdown of a plane carrying anti-Castro activists. While Mr. Obama sought to portray Mr. Gross’s release as unrelated to the spy swap, there can be no question that Cuba’s hard-line intelligence apparatus obtained exactly what it sought when it made Mr. Gross a de facto hostage.

No wonder Yoani Sánchez, Cuba’s leading dissident blogger, concluded Wednesday that “Castroism has won” and predicted that for weeks Cubans will have to endure proclamations by the government that it is the “winner of its ultimate battle.”

Mr. Obama argued that his sweeping change of policy was overdue because the strategy of isolating the Communist regime “has had little effect.” In fact, Cuba has been marginalized in the Americas for decades, and the regime has been deprived of financial resources it could have used to spread its malignant influence in the region, as Venezuela has done. That the embargo has not succeeded in destroying communism does not explain why all sanctions should be lifted without any meaningful political concessions by Cuba.

U.S. officials said the regime agreed to release 53 political prisoners and allow more access to the Internet. But Raúl Castro promised four years ago to release all political prisoners, so the White House has purchased the same horse already sold to the Vatican and Spain.

The administration says its move will transform relations with Latin America, but that is naive. Countries that previously demanded an end to U.S. sanctions on Cuba will not now look to Havana for reforms; instead, they will press the Obama administration not to sanction Venezuela. Mr. Obama says normalizing relations will allow the United States to be more effective in promoting political change in Cuba. That is contrary to U.S. experience with Communist regimes such as Vietnam, where normalization has led to no improvements on human rights in two decades. Moreover, nothing in Mr. Obama’s record of lukewarm and inconstant support for democratic change across the globe can give Ms. Sánchez and her fellow freedom fighters confidence in this promise.

The Vietnam outcome is what the Castros are counting on: a flood of U.S. tourists and business investment that will allow the regime to maintain its totalitarian system indefinitely. Mr. Obama may claim that he has dismantled a 50-year-old failed policy; what he has really done is give a 50-year-old failed regime a new lease on life.

Cuba's Rulers Get What They Want

By Jeff Jacoby in The Boston Globe:

The Cuban people keep waiting

After five years in a Cuban dungeon, American contractor Alan Gross is finally free, his release part of a deal to restore full diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. But there will be no freedom for the many thousands of Cuban citizens locked in the Castros’ prisons — not even after a US embassy is reopened in Havana.

The United States has always had diplomatic ties with nasty regimes. So in one sense, President Obama’s announcement Wednesday that he intends to normalize relations with Cuba merely adds another to the list. But Cuba isn’t just another dictatorship.

For one thing, it is the only remaining totalitarian state in the Western Hemisphere — one where “officials employ a range of tactics to punish dissent and instill fear in the public,” as Human Rights Watch recently summarized conditions on the island, “including beatings, public acts of shaming, termination of employment, and threats of long-term imprisonment.” There is no freedom of speech or religion in Cuba, no due process of law, no right to criticize the government. Nor is there any right to leave, which is why so many Cubans have lost their lives at sea, drowning in desperate attempts to escape.

Moreover, the Cuban regime is one of the few with which Washington severed ties on a fundamental matter of principle, having first welcomed its accession to power. The United States initially supported the Castros’ overthrow of General Fulgencio Batista and swiftly recognized the new government in 1959. It wasn’t until 1961 that President Eisenhower cut diplomatic relations with Havana — and that was only after Castro had seized private property and nationalized (read: stole) billions of dollars’ worth of assets belonging to US companies in Cuba. More than half a century later, that massive larceny is still unrepaid.

As a candidate for president, Obama vowed that his policy toward Cuba would “be guided by one word: Libertad.” But in Cuba, as in virtually every other region of the world touched by Obama’s foreign policy since 2009, liberty has made no gains. Easing trade sanctions has mostly entrenched Cuba’s rulers, who control the island’s economy; easing them further will likely entrench them even more.

The president’s announcement was filled with warm-and-fuzzy rhetoric about the Cuban people’s right to “live with dignity and self-determination” and how the United States has “proudly . . . supported democracy and human rights in Cuba.” But nothing about this normalization reflects the least concession on Cuba’s part. There is no indication of a coming improvement in human rights. No release of unjustly imprisoned dissidents. No end to censorship or one-party Communist control.

The Castros are getting something they have long desired. As for their millions of beleaguered subjects, still unfree and impoverished: They’ll have to wait for another day.

Speaker Boehner on Changes in U.S. Policy Toward Cuba

Speaker Boehner on Changes in U.S. Policy Toward Cuba

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) issued the following statement regarding President Obama’s announcement of changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba:

“Relations with the Castro regime should not be revisited, let alone normalized, until the Cuban people enjoy freedom – and not one second sooner. There is no ‘new course’ here, only another in a long line of mindless concessions to a dictatorship that brutalizes its people and schemes with our enemies. If anything, this emboldens all state sponsors of terrorism, as they now have an even better idea of what the president meant when he once told Russian leaders he would have ‘more flexibility’ after his re-election. We have seen this before, and I fear we will see it again. Despite these reservations about the president’s changes in our policy toward this communist regime, we all feel great joy and relief for Alan Gross and his family. Americans do not forget our own, and we speak out today because we have a moral responsibility not to forget anyone anywhere who longs for liberty and dignity.”

Tweets of the Day: Bipartisan Views on Obama's Cuba Announcement

From U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA):
From the incoming Chairman of the U.S. Senate's Subcommittee on State and Foreign Ops, U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC):

Menendez Statement on Obama's Cuba Policy Announcement

Chairman Menendez’s Statement on U.S.–Cuba Relationship

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), issued this statement regarding the U.S.–Cuba relationship:

“Today’s policy announcement is misguided and fails to understand the nature of the regime in Cuba that has exerted its authoritarian control over the Cuban people for 55 years. No one wishes that the reality in Cuba was more different than the Cuban people and Cuban-Americans that have fled the island in search of freedom. In November, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights & National Reconciliation (CCHR) documented 398 political arrests by the Castro regime. This brings the total number of political arrests during the first eleven months of this year to 8,410. This is a regime that imprisoned an American citizen for five years for distributing communications equipment on the island.  Releasing political prisoners today in Cuba is meaningless if tomorrow these individuals can be arrested again and denied the right to peacefully pursue change in their own country.

It is a fallacy that Cuba will reform just because the American President believes that if he extends his hand in peace that the Castro brothers suddenly will unclench their fists. A majority of democratic activists on the island, including many that I have met with, have been explicit that they want the U.S. to become open to Cuba only when there is reciprocal movement by the Castro government.  They understand that the Castros will not accede to change in any other way.

The United States has just thrown the Cuban regime an economic lifeline.  With the collapse of the Venezuelan economy, Cuba is losing its main benefactor, but will now receive the support of the United States, the greatest democracy in the world. This is a reward that a totalitarian regime does not deserve and this announcement only perpetuates the Castro regime’s decades of repression.

Today’s regulatory changes, which are clearly intended to circumvent the intent and spirit of U.S. law and the U.S. Congress, present a false narrative about Cuba that suggests that the U.S., and not the regime, is responsible for their economic failure. Cuba’s economic struggles are 100 percent attributable to a half century of failed political and economic experiments that have suffocated Cuban entrepreneurs.  In Cuba, private business is controlled by the Cuban government, with the benefits flowing to the regime’s political and military leadership.  Cuba has had political and economic relations with most of the world, but companies choose not to engage because of political, economic and even criminal risks associated with investment on the island, as exhibited by the arbitrary arrests of foreign investors from Canada, England and Panama in recent years.

To suggest that Cuba should be taken off the list of state sponsors of terrorism is alarming while Cuba harbors American fugitives, such as Joanne Chesimard, who is on the FBI’s list of Most Wanted Terrorists for murdering New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster and despite Cuba’s colluding with North Korea to smuggle jets, missile batteries, and arms through the Panama Canal.

With respect to the President’s decision to attend the Summit of the Americas, I’m extraordinarily disappointed that we intend to violate our own principles, laid down in the Inter-American Democratic Charter in 2001, on the Summit being a forum for the hemisphere’s democratically-elected leaders.  This action disavows the Charter and sends a global message about the low priority we place on democracy and respect for human and civil rights.

When the new Congress convenes in January, I urge incoming Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker to hold hearings on this dramatic and mistaken change of policy."

Rubio Statement on U.S.-Cuba Policy Changes

Rubio Comments On Reports Of Change In U.S. Policy Toward Cuba, Release Of Alan Gross

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) today issued the following statement regarding reports that President Obama is set to dramatically change U.S. policy toward Cuba following the release of Alan Gross, an American who was held hostage by the Castro regime in Cuba for five years:

“Today’s announcement initiating a dramatic change in U.S. policy toward Cuba is just the latest in a long line of failed attempts by President Obama to appease rogue regimes at all cost.

Like all Americans, I rejoice at the fact that Alan Gross will be able to return to his family after five years in captivity. Although he is supposedly being released on humanitarian grounds, his inclusion in a swap involving intelligence agents furthers the Cuban narrative about his work in Cuba. In contrast, the Cuban Five were spies operating against our nation on American soil. They were indicted and prosecuted in a court of law for the crimes of espionage and were linked to the murder of the humanitarian pilots of Brothers to the Rescue. There should be no equivalence between the two, and Gross should have been released unconditionally.

The President’s decision to reward the Castro regime and begin the path toward the normalization of relations with Cuba is inexplicable. Cuba’s record is clear. Just as when President Eisenhower severed diplomatic relations with Cuba, the Castro family still controls the country, the economy and all levers of power. This administration’s attempts to loosen restrictions on travel in recent years have only served to benefit the regime. While business interests seeking to line their pockets, aided by the editorial page of The New York Times, have begun a significant campaign to paper over the facts about the regime in Havana, the reality is clear. Cuba, like Syria, Iran, and Sudan, remains a state sponsor of terrorism. It continues to actively work with regimes like North Korea to illegally traffic weapons in our hemisphere in violation of several United Nations Security Council Resolutions. It colludes with America’s enemies, near and far, to threaten us and everything we hold dear. But most importantly, the regime’s brutal treatment of the Cuban people has continued unabated. Dissidents are harassed, imprisoned and even killed. Access to information is restricted and controlled by the regime. That is why even more than just putting U.S. national security at risk, President Obama is letting down the Cuban people, who still yearn to be free.

I intend to use my role as incoming Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Western Hemisphere subcommittee to make every effort to block this dangerous and desperate attempt by the President to burnish his legacy at the Cuban people’s expense. Appeasing the Castro brothers will only cause other tyrants from Caracas to Tehran to Pyongyang to see that they can take advantage of President Obama’s naiveté during his final two years in office. As a result, America will be less safe as a result of the President’s change in policy. When America is unwilling to advocate for individual liberty and freedom of political expression 90 miles from our shores, it represents a terrible setback for the hopes of all oppressed people around the globe.”

Statement on Cuban Hostage Alan Gross' Prisoner/Policy Exchange

For over five years, the Castro dictatorship has held American development worker, Alan Gross, as its hostage for helping the Cuban people connect to the Internet.

This shows the cruel extent to which the Castro dictatorship is willing to go in order to try to silence its own people.

With Gross' hostage-taking, the Castro dictatorship has sought to coerce the Obama Administration into releasing Cuban spies imprisoned in the United States and to unilaterally ease sanctions.

Today, this innocent American, who should have never been imprisoned in the first place, is returning home to his wife and daughters.

But sadly, rather than being released unconditionally, the Obama Administration has acquiesced to the Castro regime's coercion.

While we are relieved at the release of this American hostage today, there are 11 million Cubans that remain hostages of Castro's brutal regime.  Moreover, repression in Cuba today is at a historic high.

In exchange for Gross' release, the Obama Administration will announce the release of three Cuban spies imprisoned in the United States for crimes, including a conspiracy to kill Americans.

Today, our hearts go out to the families of those young Americans, the pilots of the Brothers to the Rescue planes disintegrated in international waters by Cuban MIGs, who were murdered by the Castro regime with the help of these Cuban spies.

The Obama Administration will additionally announce that it will use its executive authority to ease a set of U.S. sanctions -- also in exchange for Gross' release.

As a result of these actions, the world today will be less safe.

Rogue regimes throughout the world will take note that you can take American hostages and will be rewarded with policy concessions.

Moreover, that rogue regimes can murder Americans, have U.S. courts and juries duly convict those involved -- and see justice aborted by a stroke of the President's pen.

Cuban Regime to Keep 92% of Workers' Salaries

Tuesday, December 16, 2014
The Castro regime's arrangement with foreign investors in Cuba is in blatant violation of international labor law.

And yet, this is the arrangement that The New York Times and other anti-sanctions lobbyists want U.S. companies -- which would be required to partner with Castro's monopolies to operate in Cuba -- to partake in.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

From Havana Times:

Cuban Gov. to Keep 92% of Worker Salaries

Cubans working for firms with foreign capital on the island received a bucket of cold water Tuesday when a new resolution published in the official Gazette fixes their salaries at only 8% of what the joint venture or foreign companies must pay the government in hard currency for their services.

The announcement published by Granma daily quotes Vice-Minister of Labor and Social Security, Zamira Marín Triana, as saying the new wage involves a “significant increase” for workers.

If The New York Times Really Cared About Cuban "Entrepreneurs" and "Reformists"...

Yesterday, The New York Times published its seventh editorial criticizing U.S. policy, while whitewashing Cuba's totalitarian dictatorship.

As we noted, this latest editorial was particularly discombobulated.

Amid his trademark contradictions, misrepresentations and omissions, NYT editorial writer Ernesto Londoño argues that lifting U.S. sanctions would help Cuba's "entrepreneurs."

Of course, he provides no facts -- or evidence -- of how exactly that would happen.

Even worse, Londoño doesn't practice what he preaches.

For example, he raves about Cuba's "small business, such as bed-and-breakfasts."

These are known in Cuba as "casas particulares"

However, if Londoño really wanted to help Cuba's "entrepreneurs" -- why didn't he stay at a "casa particular" during his recent two-week trip to Cuba?

Instead, he stayed at the 5-star, luxurious Hotel Saratoga, owned by the Cuban military -- and under the watchful eye of Castro's secret police.

This is also were insensitive celebrities like Jay Z, Beyonce and Naomi Cambell party in Havana.

As an additional nugget, a minority stake in Hotel Saratoga that was owned by its developers, Britain's Coral Capital, was recently confiscated and its executives arbitrarily imprisoned for almost two-years.

(Read about Coral Capital's ordeal here.)

But there's another lingering question from his latest editorial.

He talks in abstract terms about the "old-guard" vs. "reformists" in Cuba.

Once again, he doesn't define who these are -- other than to suggest that among the "reformists" are some "leading economists."

So let's add some facts.

Cuba's so-called "old-guard" is the powerful 14-member military junta that controls the island with an iron-fist.

The "reformists" are apparently some powerless economists that Londoño met during his trip.

(Note how he altogether skips "democrats" as a category -- meaning those courageously fighting for democracy in Cuba.)

Londoño believes -- again, abstractly -- that lifting U.S. sanctions would help these "reformists"

Yet, all foreign trade and investment in Cuba -- according to Castro's 1976 Constitution -- must be transacted with the "old-guard's" monopolies.

So how would funneling billions upon billions of dollars in U.S. trade, tourism and investment through the "old-guard" help the "reformists"?

It doesn't.

To the contrary -- it would put the "reformists" at an even greater disadvantage -- not to mention Cuba's "democrats."

(Another fact that Londoño overlooks is that the most successful transitions of the 20th century were those where the "democrats" have prevailed -- i.e. Czech Republic, Estonia -- not those where so-called "reformists" prevail -- i.e. Russia, Romania. But we'll leave that for another post.)

The New York Times: Reward Cuba's Dictatorship, Not Egypt's

Yesterday, The New York Times' Editorial Board published its seventh editorial lobbying the Obama Administration to unilaterally and unconditionally reward Cuba's dictatorship -- despite its bad behavior.

Yet, today, The New York Times Editorial Board is scolding the Obama Administration for unilaterally and unconditionally rewarding Egypt's dictatorship -- despite its bad behavior.

Huh?

According to today's NYT:

"Two events over the weekend illustrated the contradictory relationship between the United States and Egypt. On Friday, Egypt refused to grant entry to an American scholar and former diplomat, Michele Dunne, who had been invited to attend a conference in Cairo.

The next day, the United States Senate approved a huge spending bill that could allow Egypt to receive more than $1.3 billion in American military aid regardless of whether Cairo continues to repress Egyptian citizens or harass foreigners like Ms. Dunne."

And leading the charge against Egypt's dictatorship in Congress is U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) -- the biggest advocate of appeasing Cuba's dictatorship.

Huh?

Surely, Egypt's dictatorship shouldn't be rewarded for denying Ms. Dunne entry to the country.

But Cuba's dictatorship should also not be rewarded for:

- Quadrupling political arrests since 2010, with over 8,400 arrests thus far this year.

- Holding an American hostage, development worker, Alan Gross, imprisoned for helping Cuba's small Jewish community obtain uncensored Internet access.

- Smuggling over 240 tons of heavy weaponry from Cuba to North Korea. The largest interdiction of weapons in violation of UN Security Council sanctions, anywhere in the world, to date.

- The suspicious deaths of democracy leaders Laura Pollan, leader of The Ladies in White, and Oswaldo Paya, leader of the Christian Liberation Movement.

- Wresting political, civil and military control of Venezuela, and exporting its repressive apparatus to other nations, including Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador.

- Illegally confiscating European and Canadian businesses, having their bank accounts frozen and an unknown number of foreign businessmen imprisoned without charges or trial.

- Denying the Cuban people Internet connectivity through pricing, discrimination and imprisonment.

- Holding long-term political prisoners, many who have been arrested in recent years, and remain arbitrarily imprisoned, e.g. rapper Angel Yunier Remon, labor leader Ulises Gonzalez Moreno, LGBT advocate David Bustamante, author Angel Santiesteban and activist Ivan Fernandez Depestre.

- Mobilizing its diplomatic arsenal in support of Assad's genocide in Syria, of North Korea's crimes against humanity, of a nuclear Iran, of Vladimir Putin's illegal annexation of the Crimea and of the violent actions by Russian separatists in the Ukraine.

Pictured below is Cuba this week (not Egypt):

Newsweek: Cuban Doctors Are the State's Commodity

Excerpts from a great article in Newsweek, which explores how Cuba's regime commoditizes its doctors.

Click here to read the full article.

From Newsweek:

To Fight Ebola, Cuba Is Sending Its Biggest Export - Doctors

“They were trying to get us to do the best job we could. We were told that this is very good income for the country,” said a Cuban doctor we’ll call Dr. Jose Suarez, describing instructions from his government as he prepared, five years ago, to leave Cuba for Venezuela. There he was to join up in his nation’s most prestigious, most successful and most lucrative enterprise: its physician-export industry.

Along with his wife and children, Suarez now lives in New York, having defected to the United States in 2009. He asked that his real name and personal details not be used, fearing that family members back on the island would suffer retaliation.

Cuba’s export of medical professionals has gained the Communist country much praise, including most recently from the island’s neighbor and nemesis, the United States, where top officials have praised Cuba’s response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa. The Cuban contingent of medical professionals sent to the epidemic’s hot zone was larger than any other country’s.

Suarez’s story suggests a nuanced picture behind those international accolades, in which these doctors, who bravely combat diseases and treat the poor around the world, are treated as an instrument of the state.

“You have to work where they tell you,” he said. The young doctor was sent to Santiago de Cuba, a 12-hour bus ride away from his hometown at the center of the island. The ride is expensive, and each trip home ate away at his salary, the Cuban equivalent of $20 a month. A year later, he was lucky to be assigned to a hospital near his hometown [...]

Last July the general director of Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Commerce and Investment, Dagmar González Grau, told Havana’s Popular Assembly that 64,362 Cuban professionals were sent by the state to serve in 91 countries. Three in four of those professionals are in the health sector, González Grau said, according to Trabajadores, a state-run newspaper.

The government, she added, expects those professionals to bring in $8.2 billion in 2014. By those figures, the Cuban government could be earning as much as $6.15 billion from its exportation of doctors alone.

These proceeds far exceed any other Cuban enterprise, with tourism lagging well behind in second place. Sales of Cuban staples like cigars, rum and guayabera shirts are not even close. The sugarcane industry, the pride of the country during the Cold War (though it was heavily subsidized by the Soviet Union), is no longer profitable [...]

According to Gregory Hartl, a WHO spokesman, each doctor working in Western Africa in the fight against Ebola receives from the organization a per diem grant of $200 to $240 a day, depending on the location of service. He said that the money is deposited in a local bank in Africa so that it can be withdrawn by each physician upon presentation of a WHO-supplied approval slip.

A former health professional who still lives in Cuba and asked to remain anonymous said that she recently saw a contract that is typically presented to doctors on their way to the Ebola zone. In it, she said, a doctor is promised $1,500 a month while working in Africa, and an additional $1,500 to be deposited in a Cuban bank account, where it can be withdrawn upon return and evaluation of the work.

It is not clear whether that money comes from the per diem from the WHO—and is distributed by Cuban officials who collect it on behalf of the doctors in Africa—or is separate from the WHO money.

Cuban doctors are “sent by their government, so we do not know how that money is distributed,” said a U.N. official familiar with the international efforts in Africa, who spoke on condition of anonymity, as he was not authorized to discuss the matter with the press [...]

Ramona Matos Rodriguez, a Cuban doctor who was sent to Brazil, defected last summer and sued the Cuban government for damages. She said in a deposition that the government presented her with a contract promising a salary of $400 a month, with an additional $600 that would be deposited in a Cuban bank on the island, to be withdrawn by her later.

When she arrived in Brazil, however, Matos Rodrigues discovered that Brasilia pays an average of $4,200 a month for each of the 11,000 Cuban doctors working in Brazil. That arrangement leaves most of the money Brazil allocates for the doctors in the hands of the Cuban government.

And this month Brazil’s federal prosecutor Luciana Loureiro Oliveira said that paying Cuban doctors a mere quarter of what the Cuban government collects for them is “downright illegal” under Brazilian law.

A Discombobulated New York Times

Monday, December 15, 2014
The New York Times' editorial writer, Ernesto Londoño, has written his first editorial since returning from a two-week trip to Cuba.

(In case you missed the double-standards of Londoño's trip, click here.)

His previous six editorials -- part of a self-admitted "lobbying campaign" by the NYT -- have been full of contradictions, misrepresentations and omissions.

This latest iteration contains all of the above -- plus is discombobulated.

Londoño is so determined to keep lobbying against U.S. policy -- rather than against Castro's totalitarian dictatorship -- that he's strikingly incoherent.

For example, he argues, "[Obama should make] it easier for Americans to provide start up-capital for independent small businesses. Doing that would empower Cuban-Americans to play a more robust role in the island’s economic transformation."

But then, a few paragraphs later, unwittingly recognizes, "Many of those building small businesses, such as bed-and-breakfasts, are Cubans who returned with savings earned abroad and those with relatives outside the country who provided start-up capital."

So are Cuban-Americans providing so-called "start-up capital" (unofficially, through remittances) to "small businesses" -- or aren't they?

Please make up your mind.

Londoño then admits how pursuant to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Castro regime "was forced to allow in some foreign investment and authorize limited private-sector employment." But that in 1999, its newest benefactor, Venezuela, "gave Cuban officials the ability to retighten state control of the economy."

So amid Venezuela's imminent political and economic crisis, why not keep "forcing" Castro's regime?

After all, even Londoño admits how currently, "[Cuban] bureaucrats are throttling businesses that are doing particularly well and forcing some to become joint ventures with the state."

So why bail them out and give them the ability to "retighten state control"?

The fact remains that every single (official) foreign trade and investment transaction with Cuba must be with a state entity, or individual acting on behalf of the state. The state's exclusivity regarding foreign trade and investment is infamously enshrined in Article 18 of Castro's 1976 Constitution.

So how would lifting U.S. sanctions and formalizing trade and investment transactions with Castro's regime help independent entrepreneurs?

Want to directly help Cuba's "independent" bed and breakfasts ("casa particulares")?

Here's a simple middle-ground approach: Add a requirement to "people-to-people" licenses that U.S. travelers must stay at "casa particulares," rather than at the Cuban military's 5-star hotels, as they currently do.

However, Londoño doesn't seek any middle-ground. He only seeks to criticize U.S. policy.

Even if it entails dishonesty.

Undeterred, he again mentions a so-called "growing number of lawmakers who want to expand business with Cuba."

Really? Please document this "growing number" -- for last we checked, advocates of unilaterally lifting sanctions haven't won a vote in Congress since 2004. They've actually lost every vote in the last decade. Moreover, only 18 members of the House of Representatives co-sponsored legislation to lift sanctions this Congress.

He then states (with no explanation) how removing Cuba from the state-sponsors of terrorism list would help the island's "entrepreneurial class."

Really? How exactly would it do that? In Spanish, this is called confusing "la amnesia con la magnesia."

And yet, all of Londoño's desperate spin and discombobulation turns out to be a big waste of print, for he concludes:

"[This] type of engagement is unlikely to succeed unless the United States abandons its policy of regime change. Cuba’s economic transformation may be proceeding slowly, but it could well lead to a more open society."

In other words, the U.S. must -- first and foremost -- accept Cuba's totalitarian dictatorship.

And then -- if lucky -- we can have a China-style, Vietnam-style -- or better yet, another Pinochet-style -- dictatorship in the Americas.

As Fidel would say, "Democracia? For what?"

The Western Hemisphere's wanna-be authoritarians would be thrilled.

That's quite a (lack of) geostrategic vision.