Famed Cuban Artist Arrested, Transferred to Secret Police Headquarters

Friday, December 26, 2014
Famed Cuban artist, Danilo Maldonado, known as "El Sexto," was arrested yesterday (on Christmas Day) prior to one of his scheduled "visual art performances."

The performance entailed releasing two pigs onto the streets with the names "Fidel" and "Raul" painted on them.

This morning, he was transferred to Castro's infamous secret police headquarters, known as Villa Marista.

Apparently, they didn't get the memo on President Obama's "deal" with Raul there.

El Sexto is known for his art, paintings and graffiti, with political overtones.

He has been arrested on multiple occasions and has had his art confiscated.

#FreeElSexto

Obama's Policy Change Worries Cuba's Democratic Opposition

Read this story in today's New York Times very carefully.

On the one hand, you have Cuba's courageous democrats urging the United States not to unconditionally normalize relations and lift sanctions towards the Castro regime.

On the other, you have the Brookings Institution's Richard Feinberg defending Obama's betrayal of Cuba's democrats in favor of "shift toward political freedom would come from within the ranks of the Communist Party, as it did in Russia."

The most successful democratic transitions in modern history have been those where the United States sided with the democratic opposition, i.e., Poland's Walesa, the Czech Republic's Havel, South Africa's Mandela, Estonia's Laar.

Yet instead, Feinberg wants the United States to side with Cuba's Putins -- and Obama seems all-too-happy to oblige.

Because that worked out so well.

Finally, this article gets a fundamental fact upside down:

It's not whether Cuba's democrats will sit at the table to negotiate with Castro -- for they've never been invited. It's whether Castro will allow them to legally function without beatings, harassment and imprisonment -- let alone give them a seat at the table.

From The New York Times:

Sudden U.S. Thaw Worries Cuban Dissidents

Sitting in her brother’s spare apartment, near a blinking plastic Christmas tree, Sonia Garro was relishing her newfound freedom, happily trading her prison garb for a purple dress and flip-flops with bright pink plastic bows over the toes.

Ms. Garro, a member of the Cuban dissident group known as the Ladies in White, had just spent, by her count, two years, nine months and 20 days behind bars. Her surprise release, a senior American official said, came as part of the secret negotiations that led to the historic agreement restoring diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba.

But while Ms. Garro flashed a toothpaste-ad smile, thrilled to be spending Christmas with her 18-year-old daughter and other relatives, she had serious reservations about the deal. Like many dissidents, she was uneasy with the sudden rapprochement between Washington and Havana, including the softening of the longstanding economic embargo against Cuba.

“A country that violates the human rights of its people shouldn’t have sanctions lifted,” Ms. Garro said. “Here there is no freedom of speech, there is no freedom of anything. This will give them more leeway to continue operating with the same impunity that they have always operated with.”

There have long been certainties in a dissident’s life in Cuba: the weekly marches of the Ladies in White; the hours, days, years spent behind bars; the crowds of government supporters and state agents at the doors of activists, hurling eggs, insults or blows.

And until last week, many dissidents say, there was the United States, a predictable ally and defender of those who dared to protest openly against the Cuban government.

Now, some say, President Obama has put an end to that certainty.

“He betrayed those of us who are struggling against the Cuban government,” Ángel Moya, a former political prisoner whose wife, Berta Soler, leads the Ladies in White, said of Mr. Obama’s decision to begin normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba. “There will be more repression, only this time with the blessing of the United States.”

As the United States and Cuba enter a period of unprecedented dialogue, many dissidents who have stood shoulder to shoulder with American officials in condemning the Castros contend that Mr. Obama gave away too much — and got too little in return.

As part of the deal with the United States, the Cuban government freed Alan P. Gross, an American government contractor jailed on the island, and agreed to release 53 prisoners who Washington said were being held for political reasons.

Ms. Garro’s name was on that list, the senior American official said, and she was freed on Dec. 9 with two other prisoners — more than a week before the deal was officially announced.

Many dissidents argue that the United States surrendered its leverage without extracting broad political changes, and they wonder whether American officials will continue to press as hard for reform now that a deal has been struck.

But experts say dissidents fear something else as well: that in an era of negotiation, dissidents who reject dialogue will become irrelevant.

“The hard-liners here will have to either engage, or perish,” said Richard Feinberg, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Mr. Obama ended the posture of nonengagement “with a stroke,” he said, adding: “Obama had a conversation with Raúl Castro. Then why can’t they?”

Cuban opposition groups have been prone to rivalries and failed to gain much of a following among ordinary Cubans, experts and other government critics say.

In the meantime, a new wave of activists and critics has emerged — on and off the island — that is no longer governed by a simple polarity: pro- and anti-revolution.

They are bloggers, artists, rappers, writers and economists of all ages, many of them Internet savvy. Even some who profess loyalty to the revolution write cutting commentaries on the failings of the system. Many of them believe that the end of hostilities will allow more debate and bring openings that could lead, eventually, to democracy.

“Civil society in Cuba is a whole group of actors who have social and cultural roles and different political visions,” said Roberto Veiga, director of Cuba Posible, an organization that promotes political dialogue. “Last week’s announcement was a great gesture of détente, and we Cubans have to make the same gesture with one another.”

Keen to signal that détente did not mean taking pressure off the Castro government, Mr. Obama said last week, “I share the concerns of dissidents there and human rights activists that this is still a regime that represses its people.”

“I don’t anticipate overnight changes,” he added.

Nor do the dissidents. Elizardo Sánchez, head of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, a group that tracks human rights in Cuba, said the system of political repression was too sweeping — and the government too entrenched — for the loosening of the embargo to ensure change.

He and other critics contended that the police held dozens of activists for hours on Dec. 10, only days before the government announced the new relationship with the United States.

Loosening the embargo might help more Cubans see that “the first cause of poverty and lack of liberty is not the embargo, it’s the totalitarian government of Cuba,” Mr. Sánchez said. Still, he said, he is “profoundly skeptical.”

Antonio Rodiles, whose project, Estado de Sats, hosts political debates and publishes them on the Internet, said the American government had miscalculated.

“This is a blank check for the Castros and their heirs in power,” he said.

Mr. Castro, in a speech to the National Assembly last week, acknowledged the two countries’ profound differences over “national sovereignty, democracy and human rights.”

“I reaffirm our willingness to discuss every aspect of these issues,” he said.

Regina Coyula, a blogger who worked for 20 years in state security, said that, while dissidents like the Ladies in White were brave, a country in transition needed a more varied opposition with a more developed vision of how the country will forge a new future.

To begin a truly national debate, activists said, they need to find ways of raising their profiles among ordinary Cubans and reflecting people’s everyday concerns, beyond the issue of freedom of speech. They have called on the government to legalize independent associations, which they believe would make it easier to connect to groups off the island and involve the public.

Spreading the word is not easy on an island where few have Internet access and there is no independent television or printed news media. Yoani Sánchez, Cuba’s most widely read blogger, has millions of followers around the world, but many Cubans have never read a word she has written.

Experts doubted that a popular movement would emerge in Cuba any time soon, if at all. Largely cut off from the Internet and living in a system where most people depend on the government for a job, Cubans have developed an apathy that will be hard to alter, they said.

Mr. Feinberg predicted that the shift toward political freedom would come from within the ranks of the Communist Party, as it did in Russia.

The United States, he said, “should push for a constructive dialogue between members of civil society and reform-minded people within the government.”

But some doubt that groups like the Ladies in White, many of whose members say the government is illegitimate and should not be recognized, would sit down at the table for negotiations.

Lázaro López, 50, a former political prisoner who stood in solidarity with the women last Sunday as they ended their march in a park shaded by great banyan trees, said the movement was still, and always, “about protest.”

“We just want liberty,” he added. “We want what’s just.”

Can Obama’s One-Sided Cuba Deal Be Salvaged?

By Will Inboden in Foreign Policy:

Can Obama’s One-Sided Cuba Deal Be Salvaged?

For almost a week, the Obama administration has been basking in the glow of editorial page plaudits (at least the editorial pages of the New York Times and Granma) for its gambit in moving to normalize relations with Cuba. But now that some time has passed, it is worth taking a closer look at the nature of the deal itself, and what the next steps might be.

Spoiler alert: the Cuba deal is not a halcyon moment in the annals of American diplomacy.

In its negotiations with Cuba, the Obama administration made two fundamental mistakes. First, the White House failed to realize that it holds a much stronger negotiating hand than Havana. The Castro regime is at arguably its weakest and most vulnerable point in over 50 years, as it faces the loss of its petroleum patronage from a fragile Venezuela buffeted by $60 per barrel oil prices. This is a dictatorship desperate to survive.

Yet instead of capitalizing on America’s substantial leverage to gain meaningful Cuban concessions, the Obama administration made its second mistake of communicating to the Castro regime that Washington was more desperate for a deal than Havana. The savvy Cubans realized this. The result is an agreement in which the United States grants to Havana substantial political and economic advantages, while Havana concedes pretty much nothing. (This is setting aside the prisoner swap, which is a separate matter and could have been undertaken as a confidence-building measure prior to diplomatic negotiations on the overall relationship).

There may be a case for amending U.S. policy toward Cuba – as Walter Mead astutely points out in the American Interest, the Castro regime has cynically used the embargo as an instrument in clinging to power – but the timing, manner, and especially nature of the Obama administration’s new policy is a major setback for American interests, and for the interests of the Cuban people. It is a failure of diplomacy.

Judging by President Obama’s comparisons to past American policy shifts towards China and Vietnam, it is also a failure to understand history. In both cases, China and Vietnam had undertaken substantial reforms in their foreign and economic policies before the United States normalized the respective bilateral relationships. It was based on these demonstrated improvements that the United States could reciprocate with diplomatic upgrades and closer economic ties.

In the case of China, Nixon’s historic 1972 visit cemented China’s status as a strategic partner aligned with the U.S. in the Cold War contest against the Soviet Union. Then in 1978, Deng Xiaoping launched his historic economic reforms. The geopolitical shift in China’s external behavior, and Deng’s internal reforms, both occurred prior to America’s official normalization of the U.S.-China relationship (though the normalization negotiations were undertaken as Deng’s reforms were unfolding). Likewise with Vietnam, which launched its pivotal Doi Moi economic liberalization reforms in 1986, nearly a decade before the Clinton administration normalized the U.S.-Vietnam relationship.

In jarring contrast, Cuba has not undertaken any similar reforms in either its external behavior or its internal political and economic structure. If anything, the Castro regime seems intent on pocketing the Obama administration’s concessions as yet another lifeline to maintain its hold on power and keep its dictatorship alive. As Yale historian and Cuban exile Carlos Eire points out in an eloquent remonstrance to the new policy:

"While much attention has been paid to President Obama’s Cuba policy speech, hardly any has been paid to dictator Raúl Castro’s shorter speech, broadcast in Cuba at exactly the same time. In his spiteful address, the unelected ruler of Cuba said that he would accept President Obama’s gesture of good will 'without renouncing a single one of our principles.'"

The White House has dug a deep diplomatic hole for the United States, but more negotiations lie ahead to implement the new Cuba policy, so all opportunities are not yet lost. In the spirit of the holidays and Shadow Government’s tradition of offering constructive criticism, here are some specific suggestions for steps the United States should seek from Cuba:

- Cuba itself may not be much of a security threat to the United States, but the Castro regime has happily offered the island as a prime intelligence collection platform for our geopolitical rivals China and Russia. The White House should demand that Havana expel all Chinese and Russian intelligence agents and listening posts before normalization. (One precedent for this is Egypt under Anwar Sadat, who expelled all Soviet military advisors from Egypt in 1972, laying the groundwork for an eventual rapprochement with the United States).

- The White House trumpeted Cuba’s apparent willingness to release 53 political prisoners, a shameful token in light of the reported over 8,000 prisoners of conscience incarcerated in Cuba. As candidate Obama himself said in 2008, the White House should demand the release of all prisoners of conscience before normalization. (For those Castro apologists who downplay Havana’s repression, the comparison with Vietnam is revealing: Vietnam has a population of 92 million people and about 70 political prisoners. Cuba has a population of 11 million people and over 8,000 political prisoners).

- Cuba still gives sanctuary to over 70 fugitives who fled American justice, including murderers and domestic terrorists. The White House should demand the extradition of every American fugitive before normalization.

President Obama’s speech unfortunately implied that the American embargo has prevented the Cuban people from accessing the Internet, when in fact it is the Cuban government that bans private internet access. The White House should demand that Havana permit unfettered Internet access for every Cuban citizen before normalization.

These are just a start. There are many other issues that should be on the negotiating table as well, especially economic reforms such as currency conversion and access, and substantial increases in private property rights.

At this juncture, Cuba has successfully parlayed its weakest hand in a half-century into a strategic win – not because of the Castro regime’s negotiating genius, but because of its good fortune in having a desperate and diplomatically maladroit counterpart in the Obama administration. But this is just the opening chapter, and as the White House moves into the implementation negotiations, and as Congress exercises its authorities in oversight, funding, and economic relations, there remain many areas to press for improvements from Havana.

After all, even the Castro brothers are sometimes willing to make reforms. This week it bears recalling that in 1997 Fidel agreed to lift his three-decades old ban on Christmas.

Must-Read: The Pope's Cuban Blunder

By Nicholas G. Hahn in The New York Daily News:

Cuban dissident voices & Pope Francis’ deaf ears

The wives of imprisoned critics of the Castro regime deserved better

When Berta Soler met Pope Francis, it had been a long time coming.

Soler’s Ladies in White, a Catholic opposition movement comprised of relatives of jailed human rights activists in Cuba, had pleaded numerous times for a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI. He declined and visited the communist island in 2012 only to continue a policy of détente established by his predecessor, John Paul II.

But a short blessing by Pope Francis in March 2013 signaled a slight shift in direction — or that’s at least what Soler believed.

“We think a Latin American Pope is very good for us. Pope Francis knows a little better the problems that our peoples have, he comes from far down and he can help the people who are suffering,” Soler told the Italian newspaper La Stampa after receiving some papal encouragement.

If only Soler and her Ladies had known better. Last week, the Vatican confirmed that for more than 18 months, the Holy See had been working to restore diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. The pontiff seems to have blessed the Cuban opposition with one hand, and the Castro brothers with the other.

Soler’s Ladies, Cuban exiles, and other dissident groups have long lobbied against new relations without any concessions from the communist regime. They aren’t as hopeful as others who say more U.S. trade with the Caribbean island may lead to more freedom.

The international aid worker Alan Gross’ release is perhaps the only Cuban concession — and thank goodness for that — but even so, it came as a small part of a lopsided prisoner swap.

“Democracy and freedom for the Cuban people aren’t going to be achieved by what Obama has given to the Cuban government,” Soler said in a post on her group’s website. In his announcement of re-establishing diplomatic relations, President Obama thanked Pope Francis for helping broker a Cold War-era thawing, saying his “moral example shows us the importance of pursuing the world as it should be, rather than simply settling for the world as it is.”

The President and the Pope may be settling for far less than they might think. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Catholic and son of parents who fled the communist paradise, denounced, warning that the move as “more than just putting U.S. national security at risk, President Obama is letting down the Cuban people, who still yearn to be free.” Rubio didn’t spare any words for his spiritual shepherd, who he politely encouraged to “take up the cause of freedom and democracy, which is critical for a free people — for a people to truly be free.”

The Argentine pontiff should know a thing or two about the church’s cause for freedom. When a military junta in his own country took power in a 1976 coup during what is called the “Dirty War,” Father Bergoglio was head of the Jesuits.

The future-Pope saw many of his priests and seminarians jailed and killed. Bergoglio is reported to have helped many flee the country and even met with the military dictatorship to save the lives of two imprisoned priests.

But those experiences may not have been on the pontiff's mind when he wrote personal letters to Obama and Castro or when he hosted delegates from Cuba at the Vatican.

While it might be fodder for sensational journalism, Rubio and other Catholics who make public policy shouldn’t have to correct their pontiff on foreign affairs. Clerics are spiritual leaders, not political ones. When prelates pretend to be diplomats, it dilutes their authority on issues of faith and morals.

Francis might have done one better by prodding the Castro brothers about their regime’s woeful human rights record. That would have been in a Pope’s wheelhouse.

And it would have been what Berta Soler deserved.

Hahn is the editor of RealClearReligion.org.

Curbelo Op-Ed in The Miami Herald: Obama's Failure to Lead on Cuba

By 34-year old, U.S. Congressman-elect Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) in The Miami Herald:

President’s failure to lead

In my campaign to represent Florida’s 26th Congressional District in the U.S. House, I pledged that when discussing U.S.-Cuba policy, I would do so from my perspective as a proud U.S.-born citizen, seeking to advance our country’s interests, independent of my personal and emotional ties to the Cuban tragedy of the past 56 years.

When President Obama announced the release of three convicted Cuban spies and Cuba’s return of American hostage Alan Gross and a then-anonymous intelligence agent — as well as the sweeping changes in our nation’s relationship with the Cuban dictatorship — I carefully considered the president’s actions.

But it didn’t take long to conclude that, while the cause for freedom in Cuba had certainly suffered a major setback; even greater damage had been done to American leadership in the world.

The president has given every anti-American dictator and terrorist group a blueprint for successfully extorting the United States: Take an American hostage. Be patient, and eventually you’ll extract every concession you seek. Cuba’s totalitarian regime has extracted a major reward at a critical time for taking Gross hostage in 2009.

The magnitude of the Cuban bounty cannot be overstated. The regime received three spies — including one convicted of conspiring in the murder of three American citizens and one legal resident in the 1996 shootdown of the Brothers to the Rescue planes — and the prestige and legitimacy of full diplomatic relations with the U.S.

As secret negotiations between the United States and Cuba began, the Cubans were caught trafficking 240 tons of illegal arms to North Korea in flagrant violation of U.N. sanctions. In addition, Cubans were complicit in the murder of more than 40 Venezuelan student activists demonstrating against Nicolás Maduro’s authoritarian regime. These actions make evident the depth of the president’s poor judgment, and the duplicity of the Cuban government.

This is disturbing, but it certainly should not surprise anyone. The president’s reckless conduct regarding Cuba is another symptom of a perilous worldview and an incoherent foreign policy. Obama seems to believe that we credibly can negotiate with Iranian mullahs, who have promised to annihilate Israel and hang homosexuals from cranes. He set a fleeting “red line” for Syria’s Bashar al Assad as our allies looked to the U.S. for leadership.

Four years and 200,000 dead later, Assad remains and the world knows Obama’s threats were hollow. This is the administration of the failed “Russian reset” and that stalled before sanctioning the Maduro government. The trend, unfortunately, continued with another feeble attempt at peace through weakness and appeasement.

To justify his actions on Cuba, Obama used the disingenuous argument that our sanctions policy “has not worked.” I doubt the president actually believes that sanctions were supposed to cause regime change in Cuba. That would be naïve. Where the sanctions have been successful is in denying the Cuban government billions of dollars in profits from a commercial relationship with the United States and from American tourism.

A well-funded Cuban government means a more sophisticated, interventionist Cuban military and the aggressive exporting of anti-Americanism throughout the Western hemisphere. This is the type of conduct the regime engaged in when it was last cash-rich.

We should rejoice in Gross’ freedom. Cuba’s dictators were cruel to use him in a successful effort to extort the United States. Come January, the new Congress should work to mitigate the damage inflicted on American leadership and the cause for freedom by President Obama’s actions.

In an unstable and dangerous world, America must lead with courage and clarity. If the President cannot, Congress must.

WaPo: As a Cuban Exile, I Feel Betrayed by President Obama

By professor Carlos Eire in The Washington Post:

As a Cuban exile, I feel betrayed by President Obama

I am furious, in pain, and deeply offended by those who laud this betrayal of the Cuban people as a great moment in history.

My family and native land were destroyed by the brutal Castro regime. In 1959, as an 8-year-old, I listened to mobs shout “paredon!” (to the firing squad!). I watched televised executions, and was terrified by the incessant pressure to agree with a bearded dictator’s ideals.

As the months passed, relatives, friends, and neighbors began to disappear. Some of them emerged from prison with detailed accounts of the tortures they endured, but many never reappeared, their lives cut short by firing squads.

I also witnessed the government’s seizure of all private property – down to the ring on one’s finger – and the collapse of my country’s economy. I began to feel as if some monstrous force was trying to steal my mind and soul through incessant indoctrination.

By the age of 10, I was desperate to leave.

The next year, my parents sent me to the United States.  I am one of the lucky 14,000 unaccompanied children rescued by Operation Pedro Pan. Our plan to reunite within a few months was derailed by the policies of  the Castro regime, which intentionally prevented people like my parents from leaving Cuba. Although my mother did manage to escape three years later, my father remained stuck for the rest of his life. When he died, 14 years after my departure, the Castro regime prevented me from attending his funeral.

I am now a professor of history and religion at Yale University.

And I long for justice. Instead of seeing Raúl Castro shaking President Obama’s hand, I would like to see him, his brother, and all their henchmen in a court room, being tried for crimes against humanity. I also long for genuine freedom in Cuba. Instead of seeing his corrupt and abusive regime rewarded with favors from the United States, I long for the day when that regime is replaced by a genuine democracy with a free market economy.

The fact that I am a historian makes me see things differently, too. I earn my living by analyzing texts and documents, sifting evidence, and separating facts from lies and myths. I have been trained to read between the lines, and to discern the hidden meaning in all rhetoric.

While much attention has been paid to President Obama’s Cuba policy speech, hardly any has been paid to dictator Raúl Castro’s shorter speech, broadcast in Cuba at exactly the same time.

In his spiteful address, the unelected ruler of Cuba said that he would accept President Obama’s gesture of good will “without renouncing a single one of our principles.”

What, exactly, are those principles?

Like his brother Fidel, whose name he invoked, and like King Louis XIV of France, whose name he dared not mention, Raúl speaks of himself as the embodiment of the state he rules, as evidenced by his mention of “our principles,” which assumes that all Cubans share his mindset. Raúl claims that he is defending his nation’s “self-determination,” “sovereignty,” and “independence,” and also dares to boast that his total control of the Cuban economy should be admired as “social justice.”

In reality, he is defending is his role as absolute monarch.

Cubans have no freedom of speech or assembly. The press is tightly controlled, and there is no freedom to establish political parties or labor unions. Travel is strictly controlled, as is access to the Internet. There is no economic freedom and no elections. According to the Associated Press, at least 8,410 dissidents were detained in 2014.

These are the principles that Raúl Castro is unwilling to renounce, which have driven nearly 20 percent of Cuba’s population into exile.

Unfortunately, these are also the very principles that President Obama ratified as acceptable, which will govern Cuba for years to come.

Although President Obama did acknowledge the lack of “freedom and openness” in Cuba, and also hinted that Raúl Castro should  loosen his grip on the Cuban people, his rhetoric was as hollow as Raúl’s. He didn’t make any demands for immediate, genuine reforms in Cuba. Equally hollow was his reference to Cuba’s “civil society.” He made no mention of the constant abuse heaped on Cuba’s non-violent dissidents, or of the fact that the vast majority of them have pleaded with him to tighten rather than ease existing sanctions on the Castro regime.

But it was not just what was left unsaid that made his rhetoric hollow. Some of the “facts” cited in support of his policy changes were deliberate distortions of history that lay most of the blame for Cuba’s problems on the United States.

Among the most glaring of these falsehoods was the claim that “our sanctions on Cuba have denied Cubans access to technology that has empowered individuals around the globe.” The real culprit is not the embargo, but the Castro regime itself, which actively prevents Cubans from accessing the Internet. Cuba has been purchasing all sorts of cutting-edge technology from other countries for use by its government, its military, its spies, and its tourist industry.

If studied carefully, what President Obama’s artful speech reveals is a fixation on the failures of American foreign policy, and on his role as a righteous reformer. Moreover, the speech is riddled with false assumptions and wishful thinking.

Does President Obama really believe that somehow, magically, an influx of American diplomats, tourists, and dollars is going to force Raúl Castro and his military junta to give up their beloved repressive “principles”?

Dream on. President Obama knows all too well that the Castro regime has had diplomatic and economic relations with the rest of the world and hosted millions of tourists from democratic nations for many years. Such engagement has brought no freedom or prosperity to the Cuban people. He also knows that tourism has only served to create an apartheid state in which foreigners enjoy privileges that are denied to the natives.

President Obama’s disingenuous formulation of a new Cuba policy has been praised by many around the world, but will be challenged by the legislative branch of the government of these United States.

Thank God and the Constitution for that.

The American people and the Cuban people deserve a much better future and a much better interpretation of history than those offered to them in President Obama’s shameful speech.

Obama’s One Hand Clap With Castro

By Doug McIntyre in The Daily Beast:

Obama’s One Hand Clap With Castro

There was really only one good reason to maintain the embargo: Trade with Cuba strengthens the Castros. So what, exactly, are we getting in return for Obama’s radical step?

“No cerveza, no trabajo” is about all I’ve retained from Brother Victor Serna’s Spanish II class at St. Mary’s High School.

Of course it’s been over 40 years, and that’s a long time to remember anything. But truth be told, I never came close to mastering the language despite my excellent grades.

I did not deserve them.

While I accepted every A- and B+ as a gift from the school gods, Brother Victor Serna was forever chastising me for slacking off from my “usual” stellar A/A+ efforts.

Brother Victor had taught my brother, Jeff, the previous year with far greater success. After years at the head of a parochial school classroom, he could no longer distinguish one blond Irish Catholic kid from another. I coasted through Spanish II on Jeff’s stellar effort.

What I won’t ever forget were Brother Victor’s periodic anti-communist tirades. His face a brilliant crimson, neck veins bulging and spittle flying, he looked like America’s most famous Cuban, Ricky Ricardo, after Lucy had pissed him off and left him sputtering in his native tongue.

A Spaniard by birth, Victor Serna left home shy of his 14th birthday and entered the monastery to become a Marist brother. By 1943, he was missioned to Cienfuegos, Cuba.

In 1950, Serna earned his Ph.D. from the University of Havana, where he had befriended a classmate named Fidel Castro.

By 1961 Castro had seized power and Serna publicly criticized his old friend for his regime’s barbaric suppression of individual and religious rights. This courageous act earned him a late-night knock on the door with orders for Serna to vamos from Cuba. He had 24 hours to pack.

He never returned.

It’s fair to ask exactly what we got other than the return of Alan Gross. Right now it looks like the diplomatic equivalent of one hand clapping.

“I do not believe we can keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result,” said President Obama as he announced his intention to undo the policy of isolation followed by the previous 10 presidents.

The prison camp island nation known as Cuba erupted in celebration.

Closer to home, the reaction has been mixed.

With the midterm elections safely in the rearview mirror, Obama is on legacy patrol.

The Affordable Care Act is safely embedded, with repeal unlikely even with a freshly minted Republican Senate. His executive order granting work privileges and immunity from deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants may be headed to court, but not any time soon. Now he’s taking a radical new approach to the hemisphere’s only Stalinist government.

It’s hard to argue for the continuation of the U.S. embargo of Cuba. If the embargo were effective, the Castro brothers would have been doing Love Letters with the Duvaliers years ago. We trade with China and Vietnam, so why not Cuba, right?

Well, here’s one big reason to continue the embargo: Trade with Cuba strengthens the regime.

The Cuban government siphons off revenue from nearly every business transaction in the country. Until 2011, barbers were employees of the state. While cruise ship companies would like nothing more than to add Havana to their ports of call, the people of Cuba will still be paid a pittance. The average Cuban makes between $20 and $50 a month.

That’s not a typo.

On the upside, we’re likely to get better jazz, slick fielding middle infielders, and an army of great mechanics.

Granted, we’ve been waiting for half a century for the Cuban economy to collapse.

It hasn’t. Not even after its parent company, the Soviet Union, took a dive in 1991.

Obama has latched on to the failure of the embargo to topple the Castros as justification to shuffle the deck. But does he really want the Castos toppled? If so he has yet to say so publicly.

What he has said publicly is an apology for colonialism, something we are not guilty of in Cuba. The only other thing he has offered is vague boilerplate about a more “open” Cuba in the future after exposure to “American values.”

But the blunt truth is that nothing we do will free the Cuban people as long as they are subjugated by a thuggish government modeled on Stalin’s police state. Our secret weapon may be the hardening of Fidel’s and Raul’s arteries.

Poverty in the Caribbean worker’s paradise is not the result of America’s embargo. It’s the result of decades of draconian socialism.

While the president correctly points out that the United States is the only country with an embargo on Cuba, he misses the obvious point: If the Cubans are free to trade with the rest of the world, why aren’t they driving Subarus and Fiats?

Canada, Mexico, China, Japan, Germany, France, and every other nation on earth does business with Cuba, but the people there are still driving ’56 DeSotos, and many lack Internet access and nearly every other tool of the modern world. The reason? Fidel and Raul Castro.

Obama’s gambit is not irrational. Insanity, after all, is doing the same thing and expecting a different result, right? But the president’s new policy is naive.

For all his gifts, Obama has had one consistent glaring blind spot: He’s a terrible judge of tyrants. The Castros are the latest in a long line of despots he believed he could negotiate with.

From Vladimir Putin to Hosni Mubarak to Bashar al-Assad and the Kim du jour in North Korea, Obama seems the last person to recognize the monstrous evil these thugs represent.

It’s fair to ask exactly what we got in the president’s bargain with Cuba other than the return of Alan Gross. Right now it looks like the diplomatic equivalent of one hand clapping.

While the days of exploding cigars are happily behind us, the iron grip of an intolerant despot has not and is not likely to loosen under Obama any more than it did in the days of JFK.

Hezbollah Celebrates Cuba's Coercion of Obama, Takes Note

Wednesday, December 24, 2014
In last week's statement on Obama's bad Cuba deal, we wrote:

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

We've already seen Iran overjoyed by Castro's coercion of Obama.

And now, Hezbollah.

From Lebanon's Daily Star:

Hezbollah: U.S.-Cuba thaw proof of colonial demise

Hezbollah views Washington’s historic reconciliation with Cuba after five decades of Cold War impasse as a popular victory against colonial hegemony, a party official said Wednesday.

“The achievements of Cuba, which was firm on its principles, is a lesson for all people of the world who are suffering from American hegemony,” Hezbollah official Ammar Moussawi said after a meeting with the Cuban ambassador to Lebanon.

Cuba’s success reveals how the will of the people is much stronger than a policy of sanctions, threats and intimidation practiced by hegemonic forces, Moussawi said.

Moussawi also congratulated Cuba for “thwarting a political, economic and military siege which was carried out as policy by Washington against Cuba for more than half a century.”

The firmness of Cuba’s positions and the steadfastness and patience of the Cuban people has pushed the US administration to recognize the inability of the siege to force Cuba to join American colonial policies, he said.

Quote of the Week: Who Will Now Stand for Cuban Freedom?

Why are we [the new generations] sad?  Because what happened last week is that we realized that if the United States of America does not stand up for freedom, then who does? If we are not the ones that tell the entire world, even if we stood alone, even if we said that we are the only ones that are going to stand for freedom. If we, the United States of America, do not stand up for freedom, then what was it for? What did the hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of people, who have died for the freedom of Cuba -- what did those lives mean? 
-- Anitere Flores, 38-year old Florida State Senator, remarks at a protest against Obama's Cuba deal, 12/20/14

Statement by Youngest Cuban-American Member of Congress

Statement by 34-year old, U.S. Congressman-elect Carlos Curbelo (R-FL):

We are happy for Alan Gross and his family. The Cuban dictatorship cruelly held him hostage for over five years in an effort to extort the Obama Administration. It worked. The fact that his release was part of a swap for imprisoned Cuban spies who represented a serious threat to US national security and who were accomplices in the murders of American citizens is condemnable and  unacceptable. Furthermore, the Obama Administration's unilateral changes to US-Cuba policy represent an affront to the US Congress. I will work tirelessly to hold the Administration accountable for this reckless conduct that damages US national security and benefits Cuba's dictators.

Bipartisan Cuban-American State Legislators in NJ and NY Oppose Obama's Deal

Tuesday, December 23, 2014
Statement by New Jersey Assembly Speaker, Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson/Bergen)

When I came from Cuba as a boy with my mother, our goal was to find the American Dream. We wanted to succeed through our own hard work, think what we wanted to think, speak what we wanted to speak and enjoy the fruits of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We found that and more in America, and I will forever be grateful. Tragically, those in Cuba, even after all these years and to this very day, have never tasted such freedoms.

That's why I do not agree with normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba. This is a very emotional and personal issue for me. I lived under the regime that, for all intents and purposes, still exists in Cuba. I know first-hand the regime's poor record on human rights. I've seen with my own eyes the regime's resistance to democracy. I fear normalizing relations will do nothing more than strengthen the regime and cement its permanency.

As Americans, we must hold true to our ideals, and until we see progress in Cuba toward democracy and human rights, we cannot help give this regime credibility.

Statement by New Jersey Assemblywoman, Marlene Caride (D-Bergen/Passaic):

My parents left Cuba for a better life, not because they wanted to, but because they knew they would not be able to flourish if they remained. They left their families and the only home they knew, hoping that one day Cuba and its people would be liberated. Instead, they have watched in frustration as the Castro regime has tightened its grip and continued to deny the Cuban people the most basic civil liberties.

As much as I want to believe that this move could be the beginning of a democratic awakening in Cuba, I simply don't see that happening under the current regime. Restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba gives the Castro regime legitimacy and threatens to embolden the regime. This is an alarming thought considering their atrocious human rights record. The people of Cuba deserve better than having the Castro regime recognized as a partner worthy of doing business with while they still have to live under its oppressive rule.

By 34-year old New York Assemblywoman, Nicole Malliotakis (R-Brooklyn/Staten Island):

President Obama's proposal will make it increasingly difficult to make progress in the quest for a free Cuba and fail the Cuban people who have looked to the United States as a source of hope for democracy. Normalizing relations and restoring diplomatic ties with Cuba without obtaining assurances of human rights improvements and economic opportunities for the Cuban people is a bad deal.

Young Florida Cuban-American State Legislators Oppose Obama's Deal

Statement by 30-year old Cuban-American state legislator, Florida Rep. Bryan Avila:

Words can not adequately describe the dismay and betrayal felt by freedom lovers within the Cuban-American community. While I am grateful for every opportunity the United States has offered me and our entire exiled family, I wholeheartedly believe that President Obama's executive action to normalize relations with the tyrannical regime in Cuba is not representative of our fundamental beliefs of liberty and defense of human rights. President Obama's decision was both ill-conceived and disastrous for the future of a free Cuba, as clearly expressed in the aftermath by the actual oppressed dissidents currently residing in Cuba. Furthermore, I believe the President's unilateral executive action, in the absence of Congressional approval or ratification, is illegal. I strongly urge Congress to stand with the Cuban-American community, the oppressed dissidents in Cuba, and the Cuban people in opposition to President Obama's actions, and uphold the principles that have made our nation a beacon of freedom throughout the world.

Statement by 38-year old Cuban-American state legislator, Florida Rep. Erik Fresen:

Raul Castro is a communist dictator and an enemy of the United States. At a time when so many of our fellow Americans are giving their lives for freedom and liberty on foreign lands, our President has sided with tyranny and human rights violators. While it is great that Alan Gross will be home with his family for the Holidays, it is outrageous that the perpetrators of his illegal incarceration have been rewarded for their illegal and inhumane actions toward Mr. Gross. The ransom for this innocent hostage has been paid with 3 convicted criminals who were responsible for the deaths of Americans. This administration has negotiated unilaterally with a terrorist nation and its dictator and betrayed every promise it has made to freedom loving Americans.

Statement by 40-year old Cuban-American state legislator, Florida Senator Rene Garcia:

The release of Alan Gross from a Cuban jail is welcomed news especially now during the holidays. I, however, am extremely upset by the Presidents inability to negotiate a deal that will help promote democracy on the Cuban island. For those that think this is a good deal let me remind you, Alan Gross was unjustly incarcerated for bringing cellphones and electronics to people on the island. In comparison, the Cuban spies who we swapped were part of the conspiracy that brought down “The Brothers to the Rescue" airplane, a civilian airplane on a humanitarian mission over international waters in 1996. "The Brothers to the Rescue” airplane was over the Florida Straits in search of Cuban refugees when Cuban military aircrafts shot them down on a direct order from the Cuban government.

I agree that the Cuban people are in dire need of economic relief, however sacrificing our democratic integrity and maintaining the communist status quo is absolutely unacceptable. The fifty years of struggle, displacement, and sacrifice that our parent’s generation and many political prisoners faced should not be in vein. Unfortunately, Cuban Americans across the United States are now being told to forgive and forget, while the Cuban government continues to oppress, intimidate, and imprison an entire country in plain sight.

Today, the Cuban people on the island awoke with not an ounce of change. The Cuban government has repeatedly exhibited an intolerance for basic human rights of its citizens. There still remains a complete absence of freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and most importantly freedom of speech. The President's deal did nothing to further any of these basic, implicit human rights that we are blessed to enjoy in the United States, and the future advancement of these rights are nowhere in sight through “normalizing" diplomatic relations with Cuba. For these reasons and many more I cannot bring myself to support the President’s policy shift.

Statement by 41-year old Cuban-American state legislator, Florida Rep. Manny Diaz, Jr.:

I find it appalling that the President would try to build another relationship with those that openly oppose the value of freedom. Those who brutally oppress and ignore basic human rights should be punished, not rewarded. We hope Alan Gross and his family are in good health. But we cannot negotiate in good faith with those that have a track record of oppression towards their own people. I strongly condemn President Obama’s actions with opening up relations with Cuba and hope that my fellow legislators, community leaders, and activists join me in letting their voices be heard.

Must-Read: Why This Cuban-American Millennial Will Not Support Obama’s Betrayal

By Ana Quintana in The Federalist:

Why This Cuban-American Millennial Will Never Support Obama’s Betrayal

Thugs like the Cuban Castros deserve censure, not encouragement.

In May 1981, my mom and her family were forced to leave their home in Havana, Cuba. They, along with thousands of others, sought asylum at the Peruvian embassy, no longer wanting to live in a country where they could be brutally punished for not conforming with the Castro regime.

My family came to this country during the Mariel Boat lift, part of the 125,000 Cubans who came to the United States after the embassy incident. I was born in Miami several years later after my mom met my dad, another member of the Mariel exodus. He, too, had escaped to freedom.

Conforming in Cuba was out of the question. My grandfather had never allowed his kids to participate in the mandatory Communist Party youth groups. My grandmother, God rest her soul, never gave up on her Catholic beliefs, despite the widespread condemnation of Christianity under communism. Because of this, they were punished regularly by the dictatorship.

This is the nature of the government with which my president, Barack Obama, has decided to establish ties. The unelected dictator who leads the international cartel known as the Cuban military could soon visit my White House.

Oppression Is Baked Into the Castro Regime

To this day the regime oppresses its own people on a daily basis, just as it did my family so many years ago. Since my family wouldn’t bow to the regime, the regime decided in the 1970s to starve them into submission. It cut their already meager food rations. After a while, they had no choice but to leave.

Since my family wouldn’t bow to the regime, the regime decided in the 1970s to starve them into submission.

But here’s the twist. My family members were among the lucky ones. Yes, government goons vandalized their home. But many other homes were totally destroyed, their occupants physically assaulted in the streets. Government-sponsored mobs called them “gusanos,” the Spanish word for “worm,” meaning traitors to the revolution, and pelted them with rocks and eggs.

My family were lucky, too, in that they were able to flee to this country. At first, my mom’s family of seven moved into a tiny house in Miami. During the day they went to school, and at night they worked as janitors.

Growing up second-generation Cuban American in Miami essentially defines you. By the time I was 10 years old, I could recite the poetry of Cuba’s independence hero José Martí from memory, knew that Fidel Castro’s birthday sometimes landed on Friday the thirteenth  (coincidence, I think not) and that nothing was better than a little Cuban cafecito.

Normalizing Relations with Cuba Is a Betrayal

We children of immigrants were also told the heartbreaking realities of Cuba, and knew never to trust the false narratives the Left painted. You know your family back on the island will never have enough to eat, enough clothes to wear, or sufficient medicine to take. They’ll never be allowed to vote or to decide their careers. The Communist Party makes that choice for them.

Cuba’s leader Raul Castro reaffirmed his commitment to communist rule and declared the regime has ‘won the war.’ Shortly thereafter, a Cuban gunboat sank a vessel filled with 32 would-be migrants.

That’s why my generation, Cuban-American millennials, continue fighting for freedom on the island. My friend Rudy Mayor recently wrote of the burdens of my generation taking the baton from our parents’ generation, and put it this way:  “It is indeed a heavy burden and responsibility considering the giants that you are inheriting it from.”

In the days following President Obama’s announcement, there has been much prattle in the press about my generation cheering what Obama has just done. Here’s what else has happened in the past few days: Cuba’s leader Raul Castro reaffirmed his commitment to communist rule and declared the regime has “won the war.” Shortly thereafter, a Cuban gunboat sank a vessel filled with 32 would-be migrants.

Conceding the moral high ground that our country had enjoyed until now, my president now refers to Cuban dictator Raul Castro as president—a man who was never elected and whose only claim to power is that he is the biological successor of his ruthless elder brother, Fidel Castro.

My generation understands Cuban reality, and we also feel the pain of what the president has done. Don’t count on our support for “normalization.” We will never betray our parents, or the country of their birth.

Young Leader: Castro 1, USA 0: No Concessions, Just More Repression

By Rudy Mayor of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC's Young Leaders Group:

Castro 1, USA 0: No concessions, just more repression

Proponents of lifting the embargo and now President Obama say that U.S. policy has failed because the Castro brothers are still in power. Yet, no policy approach towards Castro’s Cuba has been more broadly applied internationally as the one Obama proposes. Again this year, 188 of 193 countries in the United Nations voted to condemn the U.S. embargo. How successful have those 188 countries been collectively in advocating for democracy in Cuba?

Even those nations that pledge to advocate for democracy while doing business with Cuba’s state-owned monopolies end up paying mere lip-service to human rights. After Obama’s proposed changes, I fear the U.S. will become another contributor in an already long list of nations that helps finance the Castro regime’s repression.

And what about Cuba’s newest tourists? It is of course dangerously naiive to think that mojito sipping/cigar smoking American tourists will accomplish what other freedom loving peoples haven’t by vacationing in Cuba. The embargo already contained exceptions for Americans who legitimately wanted to engage in humanitarian work. It was in fact one of those exceptions that permitted Alan Gross to visit Cuba and his humanitarian work landed him in jail. After Obama’s announcement, I expect the floodgates of irresponsible and ignorant tourists to descend upon Havana to usher in a new era of exploitation and to provide the Castro regime with a bigger lifeline than Soviet Russia or oil-rich Venezuela ever could.

The U.S. bailout of the Castro regime could not come at a better time. Venezuelan oil becomes cheaper by the day and the future of the Maduro regime less certain. With a more organized pro-democracy opposition in Cuba, the Castros also need more resources to continue their record setting number of political arrests. Opening up to U.S. business and travel is also more secure than ever for the Castro regime after having mastered the art of profit and repression without threatening their grip on power.

Since it remains illegal in Cuba for foreigners to do business with anyone other than its state-owned monopolies, we should not expect Americans to be doing business with everyday Cubans anytime soon. Unfortunately that is one in a long list of concessions President Obama forgot to discuss with dictator Raul Castro.

F.A.C.E.: Obama’s Cuba Move is Misguided

A Letter to the Editor of The Miami Herald:

F.A.C.E.: Obama’s Cuba move is misguided

F.A.C.E., Facts About Cuban Exiles, usually does not enter the strictly political arena, but as its name implies, it is an organization that aims to tell the truth.

President Obama, in his broadcast to the nation, dedicated some words to those of us in the Cuban exile community that might be opposed to his unilateral decision to reestablish full diplomatic relations with Cuba, a country that his own administration still regards as a terrorist state (the cart before the horse). Hence we feel obliged and eager to reply.

An innocent American has been exchanged for three criminals who conspired with the Castro regime to down over international waters two American airplanes belonging to Brothers to the Rescue on Feb. 24, 1996, killing three Americans and a U.S. resident. They were on patrol to rescue rafters escaping Cuba.

These criminals, some serving a life sentence, were convicted by a federal jury on which no Cuban Americans sat.

The innocent American, Alan Gross, served five of 15 years for bringing cell-phone and Internet technology to the Jewish community in Havana, precisely one of the areas in which the president now plans to expand opportunities for U.S. business in Cuba.

President Obama also called for Congress to repeal the 1961 embargo, alleging that the United States is the only country in the world that restricts trade with Cuba, thereby making the embargo ineffective.

Never mind that, in spite of the fact that all other countries trade with Cuba, the communist economy has led the country to ruin.

And so, the “Yankee Go Home” philosophy of the Castro brothers is responsible for shortages of sugar and other staples in Cuba.

But by far the greatest shortages in Cuba are freedom of the press, expression, assembly and religion, while in great supply are lies, injustice, and persecution of anyone that emerges as a business or political leader.

The military junta governing Cuba is broadcasting its victory over Yankee Imperialism while at the same time Dictator Raúl Castro continues to charge that the U.S. is holding a “blockade” against Cuba.

The new U.S. ambassador to Cuba will need to quantify the great progress that President Obama expects to take place in the areas of human rights and basic economic and political freedoms while simultaneously being constantly attacked by the single, official, and totalitarian regime press.

There will not be a party in Miami until the Cuban people are free and there are political parties in Cuba.

The “blockade” continues, but by Castro on the Cuban people. A new business model has been created, spies for hostages.

And there is a great supply of Cuban spies in the United States and a great supply of potential American tourists and businesspeople now available for the taking.

National Fraternal Order of Police: Cuba Must Return Harbored Murderers Before "Normalization"

The National Fraternal Order of Police, which represents over 330,000 members of the Fraternal Order of Police, has sent a letter to President Obama urging him not to provide further concessions to the Castro dictatorship, while it continues to harbor terrorists and fugitives responsible for the murder of Americans.

According to the letter:

"The Fraternal Order of Police believes strongly that before any further 'normalization' is considered, the Cuban government must return those who murdered U.S. law enforcement officers and fled our justice system. Simply put, we ought not to reward the Cuban policy of providing a safe-haven for the murderers of Americans."

"The American people and the Fraternal Order of Police do not feel that we must compromise our system of justice and the fabric of our society to foreign dictators like Fidel and Raul Castro."

"The blood of American law enforcement officers doing their job on American solid is too high a price to pay for closer ties with the Cuban regime."

Click here to read the full letter.

Leader McConnell Opposes Obama on Cuba

From Reuters:

Senate Republican leader McConnell opposes Obama on Cuba

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said on Monday he opposed U.S. President Barack Obama's plans to normalize relations with Cuba, and spoke of steps lawmakers might take to rein in the new policy.

Speaking by telephone from his home state of Kentucky, McConnell said he agreed with the Senate's most outspoken critics of Obama's new Cuba policy, Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Democratic Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, "that it was a mistake."

Obama's actions to forge relations and expand commercial ties with the Communist-led island after half a century of hostility has divided Republicans in Congress and could weigh on the 2016 campaign for president.

McConnell said there were some "pretty obvious" ways to keep the policy from being fully implemented. Only Congress has the power to remove some barriers to relations with Cuba since "a number of sanctions" were written into law, he said. He said any U.S. ambassador to Cuba would require Senate approval.

"Look at Vietnam," McConnell said. "We normalized relations with them and they are a Communist regime that still represses people. Sometimes engagement works, sometimes it doesn't."

Despite Obama's Concessions, Cuba to Continue Harboring Terrorists

From AP:

Cuba signals that extradition of U.S. fugitives off the table

Cuba’s point person on U.S. relations says anything is up for discussion as the two countries move to re-establish diplomatic ties, from anti-drug cooperation to joint environmental agreements.

But there’s at least one area where Cuba appears unwilling to budge: Asylum for fugitives whom the U.S. has long sought to extradite from the communist-run country.

“Every nation has sovereign and legitimate rights to grant political asylum to people it considers to have been persecuted,” the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s head of North American affairs, Josefina Vidal, told The Associated Press.

“We’ve explained to the U.S. government in the past that there are some people living in Cuba to whom Cuba has legitimately granted political asylum,” Vidal said, noting also that the two countries have no extradition treaty in effect.

Vidal’s comments in a Monday interview were the clearest sign yet that Cuba has no intention of extraditing America’s most-wanted woman, Joanne Chesimard, following a historic detente announced by last week by President Barack Obama and Raul Castro of Cuba.

Iran Endorses Obama's Bad Deal With Cuba, Wants One Too

From Iran's state media:

Iran’s Foreign Ministry on Saturday hailed Cuba for withstanding the US economic embargo for more than 50 years, and praised the recent rapprochement between Havana and Washington as “useful” for the international developments.

“The resistance shown by the Cuban nation and statesmen and their insistence on their revolution’s principles and causes over the past 50 years revealed that imposition of isolation and sanctions policies by the hegemonic powers is useless and futile vis-à-vis the independent nations and governments’ resolve and resistance,” Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham said.

From The Los Angeles Times:

A prominent Iranian cleric cited the U.S. normalization of relations with Cuba during weekly remarks at Friday prayers as evidence that sanctions against his country are destined to fail.

“As [President] Obama and John Kerry admitted, the 55 years of sanctions against Cuba have not worked and John Kerry himself said that by sanctions we have sanctioned ourselves not Cuba,” said Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Movahedi Kermani, the leader of Friday prayers in Tehran. “Sanctions are futile against Iran."

Conservative political analyst Hossian Royvaran agreed.

"Obama is doing a wise thing by normalizing relation with Cuba and has no option but make a deal with Iran and start lifting sanctions and normalizing with Iran too," Royvaran said.

From Iran's D.C.-based lobbyists:

America's Cuba policy has long been an open joke in international circles. Seldom has a country pursued such a futile policy for so long while clearly recognizing its senselessness. It's probably the foremost example of how American domestic politics can take its foreign policy hostage, leaving everyone a loser.

Today, President Barack Obama took bold action to put an end to this farce. Over half a century of a counterproductive sanctions and isolation policy is coming to an end.

But Cuba is only one of many examples of domestic politics rendering American foreign policy dysfunctional. Nor is it a unique case of how sanctions and isolation tend to be counterproductive.

Almost everything the president said about the failure of America's Cuba policy could be said of our policy on Iran (although Obama is thankfully also changing this policy).

Mr. President, Bring This Terrorist Back From Cuba

Monday, December 22, 2014
By Joseph F. Connor in The New York Post:

Bring this terrorist back from Cuba

President Obama’s move to normalize relations with Cuba offers an important opportunity to bring some of America’s enemies to justice.

As we approach the 40th anniversary of the deadly January 24, 1975, lunchtime terrorist bombing of New York’s historic Fraunces Tavern, which killed my father, now is the time for Obama to demand the extradition of terrorist fugitives receiving safe haven in Cuba, including William Morales.

Morales was the chief bomb-maker and one of the leaders of the clandestine Puerto Rican terrorist group, Armed Forces for National Liberation (FALN), one of the most prolific terrorist organizations ever to wage war against the United States.

Between 1974 and 1983, the FALN claimed responsibility for over 130 bombings in the US and Puerto Rico, including the premeditated attack on Fraunces. That attack claimed the lives of four innocent men, including my father, 33-year-old Frank Connor.

As chief bomb-maker, Morales may well have built the sinister device that killed our father the very day our family was set to celebrate my 9th and my brother’s 11th birthday.

Ironically, on what would have been my dad’s 37th birthday, July 12, 1978, Morales blew the fingers off of both his hands and part of his face when a bomb he was crafting exploded in his bomb factory in Queens.

As Rick Hahn, a retired FBI agent in charge of the FALN investigation, reports, the bomb factory contained explosives, incendiary mixtures, tools, FALN communiqués and significantly the copy machine used to make the FALN letterhead.

Such letterhead was used for communiqués, including the January 24, 1975, communiqué found after the Fraunces murders.

Morales was captured, tried and convicted in federal and state courts and sentenced in 1979 to up to 89 years in prison but escaped from Bellevue prison hospital with the assistance of Marilyn Buck and other white radicals who called themselves the Revolutionary Armed Task Force.

During the state trial, he made threats to New York detective Bill Valentine, accusing Valentine of “terrorizing” him. “They are not going to hold me forever,” Morales boasted.

“No jail is going to hold me forever. They can put 1,000 of us in jail. They are not going to hold us forever. That’s what I have to say.”

Through a FALN investigation run by the Chicago Terrorist Task Force, Morales was located in Puebla, Mexico, in 1983. When the Mexican police closed in, he and an accomplice killed a Mexican police officer. Morales was arrested and charged with being an accessory to murder.

Despite the Reagan administration’s request for extradition, the sympathetic Mexican government sent him to Cuba in 1988, where he continues to live as a guest of the Castro regime.

Between 1981 and 1983, 16 core members of the FALN and Los Macheteros, a related group, were arrested, convicted and sentenced to long and well-deserved sentences.

Despite my regular communications with the Clinton departments of State and Justice beginning in the early 1990s, demanding the return of Morales, in 1999 President Clinton with the cover of then-Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder, infamously granted clemency to 16 unrepentant FALN and Machetero comrades.

My communications continue to this day with regular meetings with the NYPD’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.

As recently as 2012, the Department of State wrote to Rep. Peter King, “We have expressed the strong US desire that they (Morales and convicted cop killer Joanne Chesimard) and other fugitives be returned to the United States to face prosecution or resume serving their sentences. The Department of State will continue to press this issue.”

Americans must be aware of what is at stake here. We cannot allow Obama to needlessly give away our safety and prestige, receiving nothing in return.

Though I strongly disagree with fostering a relationship with the brutal Castros, if Obama is bent on doing so, he must get these killers back in US prisons to pay their debt to society. Clemency to these fugitives, as was provided to Morales’ comrades and has been rumored is a possibility, is no option.

My father’s life and untimely death in the name of an illegitimate “political” cause has haunted my family for nearly 40 years. Now we have the chance to bring justice to one of the conspirators.

My mother, Mary, told me this week she always hoped she would live long enough to see Morales brought to justice. This is our chance to grant her that wish.

Prominent Jewish Democrat: A Threat to Israel in Obama’s Cuba Policy?

By Dr. Steven Windmueller in the Jewish Daily Forward:

A Threat to Israel in America’s Cuba Policy?

As a life-long Democrat, I was deeply disturbed by the Obama Administration’s decision to act unilaterally on the Cuban question. The policy option may have been a valid one, but the process invoked raises major concerns.

Realizing that his presidency would be without a Democratic majority in either the Senate or House for the remainder of his term, did Obama decide that his Administration would conduct the business of foreign policy outside of the traditional policy framework of bipartisanship?

The embargo on Cuba was set into place 54 years ago, in 1960. We need to remind ourselves that both Republicans and Democrats embraced the actions taken at that time by the Eisenhower Administration.
Obama’s arbitrary action, taken without any public input or Congressional oversight, raises a set of challenging questions. Do each of the president’s recent pronouncements, including his executive order on immigration and the Iran nuclear agreement, suggest a different framework for decision-making by this White House? Will we continue to see a series of new political pronouncements without the engagement of the Congress or the input of public opinion?

I introduce these questions in the context of my particular concern for the U.S.-Israel relationship. Could such a proactive decision-making pattern have some potential linkage to a change in America’s special and historic relationship with Israel? Could the Administration’s frustration with the Netanyahu government produce a similar outcome, namely a shift in its balance of support?

And could the decision by the Palestinian Authority to take the matter of “statehood” to the United Nations Security Council enable the White House to use such an occasion to alter the “special relationship” by invoking its support for a Palestinian state, even over the objections of Israel, its American supporters and the United States Congress?

Is this formula for action as evidenced in a particular foreign policy setting likely to be applied to policy matters in other regions? Simultaneous to the U.S. engagement with Cuba, there are increasing signals that American officials and our allied partners have opened the door for Iran to play a more active role in our military campaign against ISIS. Should we read into this new arrangement of convenience a broader policy shift that may be underway in the Middle East, altering our nation’s historic connection to Israel and changing the political equation in the region?

Certainly other presidents have acted without the “advice and consent” of the Congress. But the idea of “checks and balances” has been a cardinal principle associated with the American political process. Does that become null and void when a particular administration feels that it should act arbitrarily to change the direction of U.S. policy, or believes it cannot secure consensus over its proposals?

Consider the war powers of the president. While historically presidents have turned to Congress to empower the nation to act on behalf of its self-defense, in recent times there have been a number of occasions when American presidents have acted without first securing Congressional approval. Throughout the 20th century we can identify several of these exceptions, including our invasion of Panama in 1903, of Grenada in 1983, and of Panama in 1990; the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War are the most significant examples of presidents acting without prior consent from the Congress.

The changing power of the presidency to invoke the use of military force seems to be evident in other policy arenas as well. The 20th century would see a vast expansion of presidential executive agreements, at times supplanting treaties and bypassing the role of the Senate in affirming these formal arrangements. Defenders of this alternative model of governance have argued that such agreements offer a “pragmatic solution” when the country requires a rapid or secret response.

These decision-making trends have special significance for the Jewish community. Our communal system has focused much of its attention and resources on seeking to shape public opinion and in garnering the support of the Congress for policies important to American Jewry. Should presidents elect to bypass the public square and/or Congressional channels, what will this mean for the future of interest group advocacy?
The pro-Israel community, the civil rights coalition and the social justice collective — all constituencies that are or have been a part of the Jewish civic culture — may well be facing an uncertain future when it comes to determining their political effectiveness as advocates.

Obama's Cuba "Euphoria" Will Now Meet Congressional "Reality"

By Gardner Peckham in The Hill:

Cuba ‘normalization’: Euphoria meets reality

Media reports last week trumpeted the “normalization” of US-Cuba relations but in the light of day this widespread euphoria crashes headlong into the reality of the limited running room available to the Obama administration and it supporters in Congress.

From the early 1960’s until the 1990’s, nearly all U.S. economic sanctions aimed at Cuba were imposed by Executive Order under the “Cuban Assets Control Regulations issued by the U.S. Treasury Department. But, with enactment of the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, and even more so with the “Helms/Burton” legislation in 1996, the economic embargo was strengthened and codified into legal statute, that is law. As a result, the only way the economic embargo on Cuba can be meaningfully lifted is with the advent of Jeffersonian democracy in Cuba or, in lieu of that, Congress repealing or changing the law. Since the Administration’s negotiators appear to have received no concessions on liberalizing Cuban governance, it would seem that Congress must act to repeal some or all of the embargo, or most of what the White House achieved is somewhere between hope and (prospective) change.

Another significant obstacle for the administration is the fact that when the Castro regime came to power, it confiscated and nationalized $1.8 billion of U.S. property, now worth in excess of $7 billion. Nearly six thousand U.S. owners of factories, oil refineries, mines, and other business enterprises owned by U.S. individuals and corporations were seized and many of those property claims remain active. In order to satisfy Helms/Burton, these claims must be resolved.

Meanwhile, reaction on Capitol Hill was swift and predictable. While some Republicans and Democrats supported the White House, well-placed and significant party leaders on both sides denounced the deal with Cuba. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said that “President Obama's actions have vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government.” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said “it is still unclear what steps the Cuban government is taking in return for this change in U.S. policy... I am very troubled by the lack of engagement with Congress on this serious policy shift.

The president is chiefly responsible for the conduct of U.S. diplomacy and has, within the bounds of the Helms/Burton law, authority to administer sanctions with some, limited flexibility and licensing authority. And, he has promised to use more of that authority to allow family, educational, and other visits to Cuba by Americans. He can reestablish diplomatic ties with the Cuban government but a U.S. ambassador must be confirmed by the Senate. He can seek to open an embassy in Havana, and there is currently a “U.S. Interests Section” (formally, part of the Swiss embassy, but a separate facility) but must have appropriations in order to operate it, or buy, construct or restore a more robust diplomatic facility there.

In announcing this new policy, the White House suggested that the president is “charting a new course on Cuba.” The bottom line is that while he can chart that new course, sailing the ship of state in this dramatically new direction will require the cooperation of other members of the crew, including the Congress. No orders from the Commander in Chief – Executive or otherwise – can force Congress to agree to this fundamental course change. Given that fact, failing to notify the crew of his plans prior to announcing them, was probably not a propitious way in which to foster a spirit of cooperation with the new Congress.

Chairman Royce: "Very Troubled" by Obama's Cuba Deal

Chairman Royce Statement on Release of Alan Gross, U.S.-Cuba Relations

U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued the following statement regarding President Obama’s announcement of changes in U.S.-Cuba relations and the release of Alan Gross:

For more than five years, Alan Gross, a humanitarian worker, was wrongly imprisoned by the Castro regime. He should have been unconditionally released a long time ago. Period. Instead, a disturbing pattern is emerging where the Obama Administration is willing to negotiate the release of spies or terrorists. I fail to see how this trend will improve the long-term security of the United States and its citizens.

The President outlined numerous changes to U.S. policy toward Cuba, intended to bolster civil-society and Cuban access to information. It’s ironic that’s exactly what Alan Gross was imprisoned for.

It is still unclear what steps the Cuban government is taking in return for this change in U.S. policy. It doesn’t look like much. The President compared our economic relationship with Cuba to that of China and Vietnam. But in China and Vietnam, while Communist, at least foreign firms can hire and recruit staff directly, without their pay going to and bolstering the government, as it does in Cuba.

In this respect, Cuba is more like North Korea than it is China. For your Cuban worker at the foreign-owned resort, they only receive a fraction of their salary – as little as 5 percent. Castro or Kim, the method is the same – extract hard currency from the outside, invest in the security apparatus, and make zero changes at home. Ordinary Cubans will not be economically or politically empowered unless Cuba’s economic system changes; until President Obama’s announcement, the United States had been demanding this change.

I am very troubled by the lack of engagement with Congress on this serious policy shift.”

WaPo: Obama’s Faulty Logic on Cuba

Sunday, December 21, 2014
By Jackson Diehl in The Washington Post:

Obama’s faulty logic on Cuba

The most revealing sentence in President Obama’s explanation of his radical revision of U.S. Cuba policy last week was his admonition to Americans, and Cubans, that they should not seek the “collapse” of the Castro regime. “Even if that worked,” the president asserted, “we know from hard-earned experience that countries are more likely to enjoy lasting transformation if their people are not subjected to chaos.”

Embedded in that short remark is the essential logic behind Obama’s decision to lift — or seek to lift — all U.S. sanctions on Cuba without requiring the “significant steps towards democracy” he once said would be needed for such a normalization. It is also the organizing principle of much of his foreign policy. If regime collapse is not a desirable outcome in Cuba — or, for that matter, in Syria, Iran and other dictatorships — it follows that the correct policy is U.S. “engagement” or “direct diplomacy” with such regimes, aimed not at overturning them but at gradually nudging them toward more civilized behavior.

The no-chaos rule explains why Obama would have declined to support the 2009 Green Movement in Iran while dispatching letters to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei offering detente. It lies behind his refusal to provide decisive support to Syrian rebels, instead seeking a negotiated solution with the regime of Bashar al-Assad. And it answers those who wonder why he would provide what amounts to a bailout to the Castros just as they were facing the twin threats of losing Venezuelan oil subsidies and mounting popular pressure for basic freedoms.

Obama cited “hard-earned experience” for his nostrum, and he’s certainly had some he can point to: Libya, Iraq or Egypt, where the overthrow of regimes led to counterrevolution or civil war. The president, however, articulated his ideology before he took office — and the failures on his watch stem in part from his own reluctance to vigorously support democratic transitions.

They also don’t negate two historical facts: A large number of successful democracies have grown out of regime collapse; and U.S. “engagement” with Stalinist-style totalitarian regimes, such as Cuba, has never produced such a transition.

Obama’s chaos theory won’t make much sense to former citizens of East Germany, who last month celebrated the 25th anniversary of the sudden collapse of their regime — and the Berlin Wall. Nor to Romanians, who a month later lived through bloody anarchy in the streets of Bucharest and Timisoara as the Stalinist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu imploded — and for the past two decades have built a peaceful and increasingly prosperous democracy.

As a visiting journalist I witnessed the havoc wreaked on Jakarta in 1998 when the Suharto dictatorship abruptly collapsed and mobs looted the capital. Indonesia shortly thereafter became the world’s largest majority Muslim democracy, and it remains so nearly 17 years later.

It’s easy to go on: the Philippines in 1987; Serbia in 2000; Georgia in 2003. People took to the streets; regimes quickly collapsed; “chaos” ensued for a time; and the result was an enduring transition to democracy. U.S. “engagement” with dictatorships, on the other hand, has a much thinner record of results — and none in the former Soviet Bloc.

Authoritarian leaders themselves, from the Castros to Egypt’s generals to China’s first secretaries, routinely offer a version of Obama’s argument — that the alternative to them is chaos — as reason for dodging the liberalizing steps Washington urges. Governments such those in China and Vietnam have proved far more adept than U.S. policymakers anticipated in pocketing the profits of U.S. investment and trade while preventing political liberalization.

Cooperating with such regimes yields other goods, of course. The opening to China has helped produce the largest reduction of poverty in history. Dictatorships in the Middle East offer bases for the U.S. military, not to mention oil supplies. While Cuba has little value in strategic terms, detente with Havana will remove an irritant from U.S. relations with more important countries, like Brazil. And though Obama didn’t say so, a Castro collapse could have unpleasant short-term consequences for the United States, such as a massive flow of refugees.

It’s possible, in short, to articulate a rationale for engaging with regimes like Cuba’s. Contrary to Obama’s rhetoric, however, it is a policy that reduces the possibility of near-term democratization in favor of economic benefits and geopolitical stability. China is a country where the gains from such a strategy outweigh the costs, particularly as U.S. leverage to bring about political change is limited. In Cuba the calculus is different: The economic benefits of engagement are minor, while the possibility that continued sanctions could be used to engineer regime change — or at least meaningful political concessions — is far greater.

Obama, of course, can make the case for appeasing the Castros. But his claim that Cubans should not hope for their collapse as a route to freedom is not only patronizing; it’s wrong.

WSJ: Who Would Benefit if the Cuban Embargo is Lifted?

By Mary Anastasia O'Grady in The Wall Street Journal:

Who Benefits if the Embargo Is Lifted?

The Castros already welcome foreign trade and investment. Fat lot of good it’s done for Cubans.

On a trip to Havana in the late 1990s, I toured the restoration of a 17th century convent with a Cuban architect. He told me the project was having trouble getting replacement floor tiles because of the U.S. embargo. I smiled and told him there was no blockade of the island and that the tiles could be sourced in Mexico. He grinned back at me.

“Well, OK,” he said. “The real problem is that we don’t have any money to buy them.”

Cubans are programmed from an early age to complain to anyone who will listen that “el bloqueo” is the cause of the island’s dire poverty. They know it’s a lie. But obediently repeating it is a survival skill. It raises the odds that the demented dictator won’t suspect you of having counterrevolutionary thoughts, boot you from your job, kick your children out of school and haul you off to jail.

President Obama appeared to be trying to prove his own revolutionary bona fides when he announced on Wednesday new diplomatic relations with the military dictatorship and plans to make it easier for Americans to travel to the island and engage in commerce with Cubans. He repeatedly linked the isolation of the Cuban people to U.S. policy, as the regime teaches Cuban children to do. He complained that the embargo strives to keep “Cuba closed off from an interconnected world.” In a reference to the limited access that Cubans have to telecommunications, he said “our sanctions on Cuba have denied Cubans access to technology that has empowered individuals around the globe.”

Even the humblest Cuban peasant would split his sides laughing if he heard those statements, which none did because they do not have access to anything other than Cuban state television—speaking of isolation. Cubans know that the island is not isolated from foreigners. According to Cuban statistics in 2013 there were 2.85 million visitors to the island of 11 million inhabitants. These included European, Chinese, Latin American, Canadian and American tourists and investors. In the first six months of this year, according to The Havana Consulting Group, there were 327,000 visitors to Cuba from the U.S.

The isolation (news flash Rand Paul) is caused by the police state, which controls and surveils foreigners’ movements, herding most visitors into resort enclaves. Foreign journalists who vocally oppose the Communist Party line are not allowed into the country.

More visitors won’t do anything to reduce Cuban poverty. The regime pockets the hard currency that they leave behind and pays workers in worthless pesos. Foreigners who decide to reward good workers without state approval can face prison.

It’s true that the Cuban people lack access to technology, but Mr. Obama’s suggestion that it is because of the embargo is a howler. Carlos Slim , the Mexican telecom monopolist and global player; Telefónica , the Spanish broadband and telecommunications provider; Vietnam’s Natcom; Ireland’s Digicel and countless other companies can do business on the island. But they can’t provide Internet access in homes because the state prohibits it.

U.S. telecom companies are lobbying Washington to be able to do business with the dictator. So to peddle the idea to the rest of us, Mr. Obama claims that this small, backward Caribbean country is a huge untapped export market. Question: How come the likes of Mexico and Spain haven’t flooded the virgin paradise for capitalists and turbocharged the Cuban middle class? Maybe because a couple of hoodlums have rigged the game. They decide who and what enters the country, treat Cubans like slaves, and arbitrarily jail foreign entrepreneurs and take property when it suits them.

Some delusional pro-market pundits think the anti-market Mr. Obama is suddenly pushing their ideas in Cuba. Mr. Obama wants us to believe that when Americans do business in Cuba, Cubans will be empowered. Funny that he didn’t feel that way about helping democratic Colombia when its U.S. free-trade agreement was up for ratification. Back then the White House was fretting about Colombian workers’ rights. Now, well, never mind.

The Castros are in full-blown panic mode because Venezuela, which has been their financial lifeline for 15 years, is broke. The last time things were this bad, when Soviet subsidies dried up in the early 1990s and the regime ran out of money, Castro introduced the “special period.”

Cubans were permitted to run restaurants in their homes, operate taxis and provide other services to foreigners and locals. As entrepreneurship blossomed, the state began to lose the absolute control it had relied on since 1959. Fidel clamped down as soon as Cuba stabilized.

Now the gangsters are again on the ropes. If they can up the number of U.S. travelers to the island and later wrangle multilateral funding now blocked by the U.S., they might squeeze by. But if not, the dictatorship is likely to come unglued, which raises the question of just who Mr. Obama is trying to help by stepping in now.

Must-Read: Senator Lindsey Graham, "Don't Bother Applying for U.S. Ambassador to Cuba"

Must-read exchange with U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), incoming Chairman of the Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on State-Foreign Operations, on CBS's Face the Nation:

BOB SCHIEFFER: Let's talk a little about this Cuban surprise that we got from President Obama to resume relations with Cuba. You were very much against that.

Some people would argue, Senator Graham, that this is a good place for Americans to be selling American products. We sell a lot of grain down there already. We sell medical products under the heading of humanitarian aid.

SENATOR GRAHAM: Yes.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Why do you think it's such a bad idea to do that?

SENATOR GRAHAM: Well, North Korea would be great place to sell products. They don't have anything.

When America engages a country, we do so with our moral voice, just not cigars and rum. So, for the last 50 years, Cuba's gone from being an interventionist communist power in Angola to Grenada, to a backwater, poor dictatorship. And without any reason, we have changed our policy.

Look in your vault of CBS News stories in 2013 and 2014 and show me one where Cuba is becoming more democratic. As to what the Congress will do, Bob, if you are being offered the ambassadorship to Cuba, turn it down because you don't have a snowball's chance in hell of getting confirmed.

The Congress is not going to reinforce this policy. There will be no confirmation of an ambassador to Cuba because the Castro brothers are terrible dictators who deserve no new engagement. They deserve to be condemned and isolated.

And when it comes to funding any proposed embassy in Cuba, I'm in charge of all foreign aid, all State Department funding. I will be the chairman of the Foreign Operations Subcommittee. I will do everything I can to limit to size and scope of this embassy, because you are rewarding people who kidnap Americans and who really are still communists in every way.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Senator, do you think that Cuba at this point in time represents a security threat to America?

SENATOR GRAHAM: Last year, the Cubans were shipping arms to North Korea in violation of the embargo.

Yes. Cuba to me represents everything that threatens us. And who are we? We believe in freedom and democracy. Are we safe when somebody right off our shores practices totalitarian communism in our backyard? They were actively trying to send weapons to North Korea a year ago. Should we be worried about North Korea? Yes. Should we be worried about Cuba? Yes.

But Iran is watching. I can only imagine what the ayatollahs in Iran must be saying to themselves when our president called the North Korean attack on our way of life, not just a movie, vandalism, and when he reaches out to a communist dictatorship that has done nothing to change.

They must be feeling pretty good about their chance to negotiate a deal with America.