How Tourism Foments Repression 101

Saturday, January 31, 2015
This week's re-introduction of legislation fomenting tourism travel to Cuba is a good opportunity to remind people how this enterprise foments repression in totalitarian states; particularly in Cuba, where it's one of the Castro dictatorship's top sources of income.

Watch below (or click here) for a short video from the International Society for Human Rights called "Tourist Paradise," which explains it interactively:

Quote of the Day: Relegating Rights to Trade With Bankrupt Regime

Is President Obama doing the [Cuban] people any favors by saying that their rights do not matter, because he’s in a hurry to trade with the bankrupt government of Cuba?
-- Amb. Roger Noriega, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, The Epoch Times, 1/31/15

Investing in Cuba is a Very Risky Business

By Frank Calzon in The Miami Herald:

Investing in Cuba can be a risky business

The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce holds its annual South Florida Economic Summit today. This is what businessmen should know about doing business with Cuba:

From a business perspective, commercially engaging with Havana is different than doing business in most countries. Until now the American companies that have exported hundreds of millions of dollars in products to the island have benefited from American restrictions that required a cash and carry basis for American exports to Cuba.

Those restrictions have saved U.S. taxpayers millions because Havana is well-known for not paying its bills.

In 1986, Cuba stopped paying principal and interest to the Paris Club, to whom it owed billions of dollars to governments, banks, and foreign companies. Since then, Havana has restructured some debt. Some creditors forgave part of it due to the regime’s near bankruptcy.

The Heritage Foundation 2015 Index of Economic Freedom ranks 178 countries according to freedom from corruption, the rule of law, labor and business freedoms. Only North Korea ranks worse in terms of business and investment environment than Cuba.

Corruption is endemic in Cuba, posing a great risk to anyone who disputes the authorities on a business matter.

In September of 2014, BBC News reported the sentencing of Cy Tokmakjian, 74, “the president of a Canadian transport company to 15 years in jail for bribery.” He had been detained since 2011 and denies the charges. Two other Canadians working for the Ontario-based company were sentenced to 8 and 12 years.

The Tokmakjian Group said the regime seized assets worth about $100 million, and a Canadian Member of Parliament, Peter Kent, told the Financial Post that, “the trial was, from almost any measure, extraordinarily unfair and rigged.” The company said that “lack of due process doesn’t begin to describe the travesty of justice that is being suffered by foreign businessmen in Cuba.”

There are other cases. According to The Economist, “On October 11, 2011, Amado Fakhre, a British citizen and the head of Coral Capital, an investment fund, was awakened at dawn and taken for questioning...His company owns Havana's poshest hotel in partnership with the government... His Havana office has been closed and declared a crime scene.”

El Pais, Madrid’s daily, reported in October 2009 that the Spanish foreign minister had visited Havana to intercede on behalf of Pedro Hermosilla, a Spanish businessman specializing in sales of medical equipment. He had been detained for over a month at Cuba’s political police headquarters. About 280 Spanish companies had about $300 million frozen by the government and were not permitted to send any profits home. “Diplomatic sources admitted that the measure was due to Cuba’s lack of hard currency and the serious economic situation.”

And there is more:

▪ Investing in Cuba requires a joint venture with the Castro government (the Castro family and the regime’s elite).

▪ Minimal requirements before risking shareholders’ capital should include the sanctity of contracts, the rule of law, and the ability to bring disputes before independent courts.

▪ Raúl Castro came to power in 2006. Despite what cheerleaders for his economic “reforms” say, they amount to a lot less than they claim. Many Cubans say they’re a sham. Oswaldo Payá, the leader of Cuba’s Christian Liberation Movement, denounced them as fraud. He was murdered when his car was run off the road by Cuban police. The government refuses to turn over the autopsy report to his family.

▪ The regime does not allow foreign companies to hire their workers; instead, they’re provided by the government. Investors pay thousands of dollars per worker to the government, which then pays the workers $30 or $40 a month, in violation of international labor agreements.

Obama's Cuban policy is based on the misconception that full diplomatic relations and American trade will bring about respect for human rights and an economic breakthrough. But in fact he will be implementing a policy that has failed as long as the embargo: the Europeans’ policy of engagement. That policy has had absolutely no beneficial impact on the rights of Cubans.

Their engagement with Cuba will benefit ordinary Cubans only when Europeans and Americans condition all of their actions benefiting the regime to specific Cuban government reforms.

Castro Asks, Flake-Leahy Deliver

Friday, January 30, 2015
Just 24 hours after Cuban dictator Raul Castro demanded a whole new series of concessions from the Obama Administration, U.S. Senators Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) sought to satisfy him.

President Obama already -- unilaterally and unconditionally -- handed over most of his leverage on December 17th, so Flake and Leahy had to step up to the plate.

Thus, they introduced legislation to lift the tourism ban and provide the Cuban military with a cash windfall.

Note the lifting of the tourism ban has been a priority demand specifically relayed to the Obama Administration on numerous occasions.

For those unaware, the Cuban military owns and operates the island's tourism industry -- hotels, restaurants, gas stations, car rentals, nightclubs, etc.

As a matter of fact, Hotels Magazine recently recognized the Cuban military as the largest hotel conglomerate in Latin America.

Tourism to Cuba's regime is akin to oil for Iran's.

And yet, that's exactly what Flake and Leahy's bill would deliver on a golden platter.

MSNBC: Not Satisfied, Raul Castro Issues New Demands of Obama

Thursday, January 29, 2015
Interview with Mauricio Claver-Carone on MSNBC's The Rundown.

Watch below (or click here):

Quote of the Day: No Tourism Concessions to the Cuban Military

We should not aspire to help the Castro regime fill the coffers of its military monopolies with the dollars of American tourists while the Cuban people still struggle to make ends meet and are forced to labor under the oppressive conditions dictated by their government. Any further changes to U.S. policy towards Cuba and additional sanctions relief must be conditioned on the Castro regime’s actions.
-- U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Ranking Member of the Foreign Relations Committee, on legislation introduced today to lift the tourism ban towards Cuba, USA Today, 1/29/15

Castro Knows He Can Keep Upping the Bid on Obama

From Investors Business Daily's Editorial Board:

Castro Is Now Issuing Demands On U.S. -- Well Done, Mr. Obama

Soon after President Obama announced plans to normalize relations with Cuba, Sen. Marco Rubio called him the worst negotiator since Jimmy Carter. Cuban officials are now proving Rubio right.

As soon as Obama made his announcement, it became clear he'd pretty much given up the store and gotten nothing in return.

Cuba didn't have to make any concessions on freedom of speech, democratic elections, a market economy. It didn't have to turn over U.S. fugitives, including a convicted cop killer, whom it's been protecting for years.

Indeed, as we noted in this space after Obama's announcement, Raul Castro was soon bragging about how he'd struck a deal with Obama "without a single sacrifice of our principles."

Castro apparently feels no need to do so in the future, either. After the opening round of talks, Cuban diplomat Josefina Vidal told the AP that "changes in Cuba aren't negotiable."

Now, to add insult to injury, Castro has started issuing his own set of demands.

In a speech at the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States summit in Costa Rica on Wednesday, he said there'd be no normalization of relations unless the U.S. ends the trade embargo, closes the naval base at Guantanamo Bay and takes Cuba off the list of state sponsors of terror.

Oh, and he also wants the U.S. to stop allowing Cubans to stay in this country just because they manage to set foot on American soil. That's been causing a brain drain from the island, you see.

Castro has even told Obama what to do, saying in his speech the president should "use with resolve his broad executive powers to substantially change the scope of the blockade, even without the Congress' decision."

Why shouldn't Castro be so brazen? Obama has already shown his hand. So Castro knows he can keep upping the bid, assuming — most likely correctly — that Obama will do anything to keep the normalization process from folding.

If this were the only time Obama has miserably failed at the bargaining table, it would be bad enough. But it's just the latest in an continuing and ominous pattern — from his dealings with Iran, his prisoner exchange with the Taliban, his phony "red line" in Syria, his "reset" with Russia, etc.

Come to think of it, saying Obama is the worst negotiator since Jimmy Carter is actually an insult to Carter.

The Odds of Congress Lifting the Cuban Embargo

Excerpt from McClatchy News:
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who stands 5-foot-7, joked that the odds of Congress lifting the trade embargo on Cuba are about the same as his own chances of playing professional basketball in the NBA.

Either Raul Lied or Obama Misled on Cuba

Wednesday, January 28, 2015
On December 17th, President Obama announced a deal with Cuban dictator Raul Castro -- pursuant to 18 months of secret negotiations -- in which he gave a whole lot of concessions for very little in return.

Last week, we detailed how Obama's Cuba deal had gone from bad to worse.

It's now officially hit rock bottom.

During a speech today in Costa Rica, Castro stated that his regime would not cede "a millimeter."

Moreover, that the "normalization" of relations would not advance until Obama met a series of further concessions.

In Raul's own words:

"The re-establishment of diplomatic relations is the beginning of a process toward the normalization of bilateral relations, but this will not be possible while the blockade remains in effect; the territory illegally occupied by the Guantánamo Naval Base is not returned; the radio and television broadcasts breaching international rules and regulations do not cease; and, adequate compensation is not paid to our people for the human and economic damages sustained. If these issues are not resolved, a diplomatic rapprochement between Cuba and the United States would not make any sense."

Thus, either Raul Castro lied to Obama -- or Obama misled the American people about the terms of his deal with Castro.

Cuba Remains World's Second Least-Free Economy

According to the 2015 Index of Economic Freedom, which was released today, Cuba remains the world's second least-free economy.

Cuba ranked 177 out of 178 in the world. Only North Korea is less free.

The Index of Economic Freedom is an annual guide published by The Wall Street Journal and The Heritage Foundation.

The reason for Cuba's dismal placement is the Castro regime's insistence on monopolizing all foreign trade and investment, and the lack of a rule of law.

So why isn't U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker leading a trade delegation to Zimbabwe, which is two-notches freer than Cuba?

Why isn't the U.S. Chamber of Commerce forming a Working Group for Iran, which is six-notches freer than Cuba?

Or how about a U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Belarus, which is fourteen-notches freer than Cuba?

Rather, why are the Obama Administration and its agri-business allies so intent on financing Castro's brutal, monopolistic dictatorship?

Cuban Dissident Rapper Gets One-Year Prison Sentence Today

Today, the Castro regime handed rapper, Maikel Oksobo (known as "El Dkano"), an arbitrary one-year prison sentence.

He was sentenced under a draconian charge known as "peligrosidad predelictiva" ("dangerousness likely leading to a crime"), which is used to imprison dissidents for long terms.

As part of the Obama-Castro deal of December 17th, another imprisoned rapper, Angel Yunier Remon ("El Critico") was recently released.

However, he has now been replaced in Castro's "revolving-door" of political prisoners by another dissident rapper.

Meanwhile, Cuban artist Danilo Maldonado ("El Sexto") remains imprisoned since Christmas Day and is currently in poor health, battling pneumonia in the Valle Grande Prison.

The Obama-Castro deal is clearly a farce-a-minute.

Quote of the Week: Inviting Cubans to the Negotiations

Tuesday, January 27, 2015
When will the non-violent, internal opposition be called to join the negotiations?
-- Guillermo Fariñas, Cuban democracy leader and Sakharov Prize recipient, on the U.S.-Cuba "normalization" talks, The Miami Herald, 1/27/14

Over 300 Democracy Activists Concerned With Obama-Castro Deal, Create Democratic Roadmap

Forum for Rights and Freedoms

The announcements made by U.S. President Barack Obama and his administration have triggered an intense debate about the Cuban problem. Many of those in the opposition and activists from civil society, both inside the island and in exile, have lamented, above all, the lack of transparency and unilateral and unconditional character of the new measures announced.

It is indisputable and indispensable that Cubans be primarily responsible for the fate of our nation, but we also expect an effective commitment from the democratic community for the defense of fundamental freedoms and the establishment of the rule of law in Cuba.

Those of us who experience the abuses of the Cuban regime daily and those in exile who suffer and have suffered from the totalitarianism in their home country, are vital players in the process of transition. Ignoring many of our voices and acting from only one perspective of the problem weakens objectivity and endangers any political dialogue.

We are faced with two options. First, to accept the transformation of the regime to authoritarian capitalism where Cubans will have to settle for meager handouts, while the inheritors of Castroism dispose of our rights ans wealth. Second, to demand concrete and measurable changes that are conducive to the establishment of a true democracy.

The demand for the restoration of our freedoms is a necessary prerequisite for achieving a successful political transition. During these 56 long years of one-party dictatorship, activists and the opposition have repeatedly demanded the full exercise of freedoms inherent to human beings, often paying a high price for such claims.

The violation of fundamental rights in our country is validated under the current legal system. We therefore believe that the ratification and particularly the legal implementation of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, with their optional protocols, serves as a key instrument and road-map for solving the Cuban problem. Similarly, the guidelines of the International Labor Organization will provide us with an accurate idea of how to work on the legal system regarding labor issues and trade union freedoms.

We hope that Latin American countries, the European Union, Canada, the Holy See and the United States, as important political actors in the Cuban issue, join us in this fair and urgent demand. We have used as a reference the association agreement signed between the EU and Central America in 2012, with a clear emphasis on respect for human rights and democracy promotion.

Upon ratification of these agreements, we propose the following road-map to ensure the effective and prompt implementation of the commitments made:


  • The immediate release and cancellation of sentences against all prisoners arrested for political reasons (to decree amnesty)
  • On the Constitution, laws, regulations, procedures and administrative practices: the abolition of all articles that violate the International Covenants and restrict liberties on freedoms of expression, association, assembly, movement, conscience and religion, economic and cultural rights. To establish full guarantees for the exercise of those freedoms
  • On the Penal Code: the elimination of the clause of pre-criminal dangerousness, as well as all rules that can contribute to arrests, arbitrary detentions and acts of harassment that violate the agreements made
  • The restoration of constitutional-level judicial guarantees and the right to due process
  • New Law of Association that includes a multiparty system and guarantees for freedom of assembly. Concerning trade union rights, standards set by the International Labor Organization should be taken into account
  • New Media Law guaranteeing freedom of expression and the free flow of information
  • New Election Law (Restoration of National Sovereignty)
We believe that every step should be conditioned on the progressive advance of the road-map indicated above, sustained on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Our ultimate goal is to move toward becoming a true democracy, with political pluralism, judicial independence, freedom and human rights. Where a Cuban, through consultations and a process of free and transparent elections, as well as the creation of a constitutional assembly, can define the destiny of our nation.

All genuine actors of the opposition and civil society, through their projects and demands both on the island and in exile, must play an active role in any process that seeks a solution to the Cuban problem.

At stake is the very future of the nation. We exercise this great responsibility which has fallen to us.

Signatories:

Ada María López Canino
Adelma Guerra
Adis Niria Dallet Argüelles
Adnaloy Rodríguez Díaz
Adonis Castro-Ruz Campello
Adonis Salgado Pérez
Adrian Perez Mendoza
Agustín López Canino
Aida Norma Roque
Aidé Gallardo Salazar
Ailer González Mena
Aliette Padrón Antigua
Alberto Sanchez Martiatu
Alejandro Raga
Alejandro Garcia Arias
Alexis Pérez Lescailles
Alexis Jardines
Alfredo Guillermo Rodríguez
Alina Brouwer
Ana María Socarras Piñón
Ana Olema
Alexander Perez Rodriguez
Alina de la C García
Aliuska Gómez García
Amelia Suarez Naranjo
Ana Torricella Morales
Anay Peñalver Subit
Andrés Pérez Suarez
Ángel Luis Díaz
Ángel Luis Martín
Ángel Moya Acosta
Ángel Santiesteban Prats
Anislay Escalona Polo
Antonio G. Rodiles
Antonio Jose Ponte
Arelis Blanco Coello
Arelis Rodríguez Silva
Ariadna Mena Rubio
Ariel Gonzalez Cuevas
Ariobel Castillo Villalba
Armando Abascal Serrano
Armando Peraza Hernández
Bárbara Rodríguez Vizcaíno
Barbara Viera Rodriguez
Benito Fojaco Iser
Berta Soler Fernández
Borris Larramendi
Camilo Ernesto Olivera Peidro
Caridad Ramírez
Caridad Valdés Soriano
Carlos Lázaro Tamayo Frías
Carlos M Figueroa Álvarez
Carlos M Hernández
Carlos Manuel Figueroa
Carlos Orlando Olivera Martinez
Carlos Rodríguez Seruto
Cecilia Guerra Alfonso
Cesar Reynel Gomez
Ciro Javier Diaz Penedo
Claudio Fuentes Madan
Cristina Xiomara Duques
Dairon Moisés Torre Paz
Dairy Coello Basulto
Daisy Artiles del Sol
Damaris Reve Rodríguez
Damarys Moya Portieles
Damián Albert Suviaut
Danai López Perdomo
Danaise Muños López
Dandy Lazo
David Águila Montero
Delises González Borrego
Digna Rodriguez Ibanez
Duvier Blanco Acosta
Edely Orlando Suarez
Hirain Alvarez Gálvez
Eduardo González Molina
Eduardo Marcos Pacheco Ortiz
Egberto Ángel Escobedo Morales
Elena Larrinaga
Elías Amor
Enrico M. Santí
Enrique Díaz Rodríguez
Enrique Martínez Marín
Enrique Rafael Valido
Enrique del Risco
Eralidis Frometa Polanco
Ernesto Gutiérrez
Ernesto Fonseca Garcia
Ernesto Hernandez Busto
Esteban Ajetes Abascal
Eugenia Díaz Hernández
Eugenio Hernández Hernández
Evelin Pineda Concepción
Félix Navarro
Félix Perez Palenzuela
Francisco Rangel Manzano
Francisco Valido
Frank Cosme Valdés
Gerardo Sánchez
Gisela Sánchez Baños
Gladis Capote Roque
Gloria Samper Oliva
Gorki Águila
Guillermo Fariñas Hernández
Guillermo García V
Gustavo Garabito Gómez
Haymee Moya Montes de Oca
Hugo Damian Prieto Blanco
Igdariz Pérez Ponciano
Ignacio Blanco Jimenez
Iris Quindelan
Iván Founier Costa
Iván García Quintero
Ivonne de las Mercedes
Abreu Jaime Bravo
Jaqueline Bone Hechevarria
Jaqueline Cutiño Leite
Jeovani Díaz López
Jeovany Jimenez Vega
Jesús Aristides Hernandez Pérez
Joel Brito
Jordanca Borquinelis
Jorge Luis Cuervo
Jorge Enrique Carbonell
Jorge Luis Artiles Montiel
Jorge Luis García Ostia
Jorge Luis Romero Becerra
Jorge Luis Trujillo González
Jorge Olivera Castillo
Jorge Rodríguez Rivero
Jose Alberto Gutierrez
José Agustín Benítez López
José A. Zamora García
Jose G. Ramón Castillo
José Díaz Silva
José Hernandez Lopez
José Ignacio Brito
José Luis León Pérez
José Ramón Polo Borges
José Raúl Rodriguez Rangel
Juan Alberto de la Nuez Ramirez
Juan Antonio Blanco
Juan Carlos Linares Balmaseda
Juan González Febles
Juan Manuel Lora Vidal
Julia Herrera Roque
Julio Aleaga Pesant
Julio Antonio Ramírez
Julio Herrera Roque
Julio Rojas Portal
Kessell Rodríguez Rodríguez
Kirenia Molina
Laritza Olivares Dinza
Laudelina Alcalde García
Laura Marante
Laura Marante Delgado
Lazara B. Sendiña Recalde
Lazara M Borrego Guzmán
Lázaro Díaz Sánchez
Lazaro Mendoza Garcia
Lázaro Fresneda Fernández
Lázaro Luis Ruíz Hechevarria
Lázaro R Armenteros Martorel
Lázaro Yosvani Montesino
Lázaro Yuri Valle Roca
Liu Santiesteban
León Padrón Azcuy
Lia-Lianelis Villares
Liset Naranjo
Lismeirys Quintana Ávila
Livan Serafín
Lourdes Esquivel
Lucia Molina Villegas
Lucinda González Gómez
Luis Alberto Cruz Silva
Luis Bárbaro Ortega Avenza
Luis Cino Álvarez
Luis Enrique Labrador Díaz
Luis Felix Fernandez Moreno
Luis Jesús Gutiérrez Campos
Luisa R Toscano
Luis Trapaga
Lupe Busto
Maikel Norton Cordero
Mailen González González
Manuel Aguirre Labarrere
Manuel Zayas Martínez
Marcelino Lorenzo Fernández
Margarita Rodríguez Díaz
María Acon Sardiñas
María Cristina Labrada Varona
María Josefa Sardiñas
María Rosa Rodríguez Molina
Marislaidys Sánchez Vargas
Maritza Concepción Salmiento
Mark Alonso Parada
Marta Belquis Rodríguez González
Mayelin Peña Bullain
Mayelin Santiesteban López
Maylin González González
Melvia Aguilera
Mercedes Pérez
Merenis Herry García
Mijail Bonito
Miguel Ángel Tamayo Frías
Miguel Daniel Borroto Vázquez
Miguel Farinas Quey
Mista Ricardo Torres
Nelson Rodríguez Chartrand
Nilo Gilbert Arencibia
Noelvis León López
Normando Hernandez Gonzalez
O Díaz Becerra
Odelin Alfonso Torna
Olaida del Castillo Trujillo
Olga Lidia Torres Iglesias
Omar Suarez Campo
Orlando Rodriguez Rodriguez
Orlando Villar de Armas
Oscar Luis Milian Reinoso
Oslien Noda Fonseca
Osmal Laffita Rojas
Osmani Díaz Cristo
Oylin Hernández Rodríguez
Pablo J.Hernandez Gonzalez
Paulino Estévez Jiménez
Pedro Fontanal Miranda
Pedro Benítez
Quirenia Díaz Argüelles
Rachel Gamboa Campos
Rafael Hernández Blanco
Rafael Rodríguez Rivero
Raisel Rodríguez Rivero
Ramon Alejandro Munoz Gonzalez
Ramon Chavez Gonzalez
Ramón Jiménez Arencibia
Ramón Mor Hernández
Ramon Zamoza Rodriguez
Raquel María Rodríguez Morejón
Raúl Borges Álvarez
Regla Ríos Casado
Reinaldo Figueros
Reinaldo Martínez
Ricardo Almira
Ricardo Mansilla Corona
Roberto Arsenio López Ramos
Roberto Pupo Tejeda
Rogelio Fabio Hurtado Rodríguez
Rolando Ferrer Espinosa
Rolando Pulido
Rolando Reyes Rabanal
Rolando Rodríguez Rivero
Ronny Gámez Luna
Rosalinda Visiedo Gómez
Roxilene Sotolongo Cruz
Saúl González
Santiago Jordan Rios
Sebastian Arcos
Serafín Moran Santiago
Serafín Moran Santiago
Sergio Girat Estrada
Smith Cantillo Pérez
Sodrelis Torruella Poncio
Sonia Álvarez Campello
Sonia Garro Alfonso
Stewe Maikel Pardo Valdez
Tamara Rodríguez Quesada
Ubaldo Herrero Hernández
Vicente Campanioni
Vicente Sebastián Borges
Virgen Coello Basulto
Vikingo Ferrari
Vladimir Ortiz Suarez
Vladimir Turru Paez
Xiomara de las M Cruz Miranda
Yadelys Montano León
Yaimel Rodríguez Arroyo
Yamile Borges Hurtado
Yamile Garro Alfonso
Yamile Naranjo
Yaneisi Herrera Cabrales
Yanisel Bosa Garrido
Yanitza Estrada Liranza
Yasil Fernández Denis
Yasmani Barroso Bergolla
Yasmani Barroso Pergolla
Yasmani Cuesta González
Yelky Páez Rodríguez
Yeniset Aguilera
Yoan Guzmán Díaz
Yoisy Jaramillo Sánchez
Yolanda Santana Ayala
Yoraida Peña Padilla
Yosbani Arce Blanco
Yuleidis Ortiz
Yuliet Margarita Rodríguez Báez
Yulinne Tamayo Frías
Yuneisis Coto Casino
Yuniesqui Gainza
Yuniset Amores Aguilera
Yurineisi Alemán
Yurleani Tamayo Martínez
Yuslaidis Balero Concepción
Zaqueo Báez Guerrero
Zenen Daniel Cruz
Zulema Lay

Cuba's Regime Facilitating Narcotics Trafficking (Again)

At the 1991 trial of Panamanian strongman, Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, Medellin Cartel kingpin Carlos Lehder Rivas, testified how he met twice in Havana with Gen. Raul Castro, Cuba's then-Minister of Defense, to coordinate cocaine shipments through Cuban territory to Florida.

Two years later, a federal indictment listed Gen. Raul Castro as part of a conspiracy that smuggled seven and a half tons of cocaine into the United States over a 10-year period. However, at the last minute, a recently inaugurated Clinton Administration got cold-feet and squashed it.

Let's repeat that -- Gen. Raul Castro, with whom the Obama Administration is now "normalizing" relations and engaging in counter-narcotics "cooperation," was nearly indicted in the U.S. for leading a major cocaine trafficking conspiracy.

Castro's narco-trafficking links have also been corroborated recently by Fidel's former bodyguard, Lt. Col. Juan Reinaldo Sanchez.

Now fast-forward to today.

We're just learning that Capt. Leamsy Salazar, Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez's former security chief, has arrived in the United States and is currently serving as a key witness for the DEA and federal prosecutors.

Salazar has identified Diosdado Cabello, head of Venezuela's National Assembly, as the leader of the infamous drug-trafficking organization, "Cartel de los Soles"

Moreover, he's revealed Cuba's role in the Cartel's narco-trafficking operations, particularly regarding transshipment to the United States.

This is something Gen. Raul Castro has lots of practice in.

None of this should come as a surprise considering Cuba's complete control over Venezuela's security and intelligence apparatus.

Plus bad habits die hard.

Will the Obama Administration "see no evil, hear no evil" again -- like it did with Cuba's recent smuggling of 240 tons of heavy weapons to North Korea?

Religious Freedom Violations on the Rise in Cuba

From Christianity Today:

Religious freedom worsening in Cuba: 'There is a crackdown happening'

Violations of religious freedom are increasing in Cuba, according to a new report released by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) today.

The number of recorded violations has risen year on year. There were 220 recorded incidences in 2014, up from 180 the previous year, 120 in 2012, and 40 in 2011.

The incidences have also become more violent, with cases of Protestant pastors being arbitrarily detained or beaten and churches being demolished.

But the increase in the figures is partly owed to more information being reported, despite government restrictions on information.

"There is a crackdown happening... but that's come simultaneously with more people speaking out and being ready to put their work and their situation on the line to make sure information gets out," CSW's Cuba advocate told Christian Today. "I think that then provokes a more intense crackdown, so it's a circular cycle."

"Everything's monitored, so the Cuban government has complete control over telephone lines and internet connection. Any pastor or church official who tries to send information out is doing that knowing that what they are doing, the government's going to know about and that comes with repercussions."

Those who have reported violations have been harassed and some have been threatened with arrest.

Religious life in Cuba is regulated by the Communist Party's Office of Religious Affairs (ORA), which has the power to recognize certain religious groups and permit them to build new premises while denying others.

But even churches that are registered, legally operating church can face intimidation. CSW's spokesperson said members of the congregation can be threatened with losing their jobs, pastors' children are often singled out at school, and the ORA can refuse to allow building repair work to be done.

Unregistered churches can experience anything from the confiscation of property to the demolition of the church building.

In July 2014 the ORA sanctioned the demolition of the Establishing the Kingdom of God Church in Santiago de Cuba. The pastor and his family were from their home, where the church met, early one morning and then the building was reduced to rubble.

One Baptist leader, Rev Homero Carbonell, left the island last year after 52 years of ministry and was granted asylum in the US on the basis of harassment from the ORA.

However, the authorities did sanction the building of two new Catholic churches in Santiago de Cuba and Pinar del Rio.

The inconsistency of treatment by the ORA is a major concern of the report. There are fears that by making concessions to some communities, such as the Catholic Church, the government is trying to improve its image abroad, while restricting the activities of other groups.

"On the one hand the government is promoting this image that everything's fine and they respect religious freedom, while simultaneously back home, really cracking down," the CSW spokesperson said. "My worry is that people will buy into that and believe that narrative, when the numbers just don't show that."

The report calls for governments to recognize this double standard.

"Real religious freedom can only exist if it is enjoyed by all religious groups without discrimination," the report says. "It is vital that the European Union, United States and other governments around the world do not allow the Cuban government to pretend that granting limited privileges to one or two religious groups over others constitutes an improvement in religious freedom."

Although the Roman Catholic Church has more freedom than most, it too has faced problems in the last year. Having waited for years for permission to conduct necessary repairs, the Franciscan monastery in Guanabacoa was forced to close in 2014. As a result, most of the monks will be leaving Cuba even though their order has been there for centuries.

Visitors travelling for religious reasons also encounter restrictions imposed by the ORA. Visas must be issued via the ORA, which means that unregistered groups often cannot receive visitors.

Importing Bibles and other religious materials is also severely restricted, as it must go through the Cuban Council of Churches, to which the majority of Protestant Cubans, as well as the Roman Catholics, do not belong.

"The negative trend seems to be part of a general attempt by the government to eliminate the potential or any social upheaval by cracking down on any groups it perceives as potentially problematic," the report says.

Religious groups could be considered 'problematic' if the government fears they will call for social and political reforms.

CSW does not think it likely that improved relations with the US will have any effect on the treatment of religious groups.

The Catholic Church estimates that about 6 per cent of the Cuban population regularly attend mass. According to CSW about 12-15 per cent are actively involved in Protestant denominations. A large proportion of the population (up to 80 per cent) have some involvement in non-Christian Afro-Cuban traditional religious groups.

Tweet of the Day: MasterCard Can't Purchase Freedom

Castro's $6 Billion Problem

From Fox News:

A $6 billion sticking point could create headaches for the U.S.-Cuba talk

Though concerns over human rights, press freedoms and U.S. fugitives living free on the island have dominated debate over the Obama administration's negotiations on restoring diplomatic ties, the Castro regime also still owes Americans that eye-popping sum.

The $6 billion figure represents the value of all the assets seized from thousands of U.S. citizens and businesses after the Cuban revolution in 1959. With the United States pressing forward on normalizing relations with the communist country, some say the talks must resolve these claims.

"The administration has not provided details about how it will hold the Castro regime to account for the more than $6 billion in outstanding claims by American citizens and businesses for properties confiscated by the Castros," Sen. Robert Menendez, D-Fla., top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry ahead of historic talks in Havana last week.

Menendez urged the U.S. to "prioritize the interests of American citizens and businesses that have suffered at the hands of the Castro regime" before moving ahead with "additional economic and political concessions."

Beginning with Fidel Castro's takeover of the Cuban government in 1959, the communist regime nationalized all of Cuba's utilities and industry, and systematically confiscated private lands to redistribute -- under state control -- to the Cuban population.

The mass seizure without proper compensation led in part to the U.S. trade embargo.

Over nearly 6,000 claims by American citizens and corporations have been certified by the U.S. Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, totaling $1.9 billion.

Today, with interest and in today's dollars, that amount is close to $6 billion.

U.S. sugar, mineral, telephone and electric company losses were heavy. Oil refineries were taken from energy giants like Texaco and Exxon. Coca-Cola was forced to leave bottling plants behind. Goodyear and Firestone lost tire factories, and major chains like Hilton handed over once-profitable real estate for nothing in return.

According to the Helms-Burton Act, which enforces the sanctions, the embargo cannot be lifted until there is "demonstrable progress underway" in compensating Americans for their lost property. (Congress also would have to vote to lift the embargo.)

One-Sided Deal (and Talks) Benefiting Cuba's Dictatorship

Monday, January 26, 2015
Over the weekend, we summed-up the first round of U.S.-Cuba "normalization" talks as "Castro Coerces, Obama Acquiesces" (click here) and "Obama's Cuba Credibility Deficit" (click here).

The first round of these talks looked a whole lot like the Obama-Castro secret agreement that preceded it: a one-sided deal benefiting Cuba's dictatorship.

Since December 17th, we've seen repression unchanged, new political prisoners and no gestures from Cuba's dictatorship. To the contrary, it now wants even more unilateral and unconditional concessions.

Meanwhile, President Obama has given away his entire diplomatic, political and economic arsenal -- in exchange for nothing. Actually, not for nothing, in exchange for the release of an American hostage -- an innocent man who should have never been imprisoned in the first place.

In case you don't believe us, here's the AP's take:

Cuba Digs in Heels on Concessions as Part of Better US Ties

The start of talks on repairing 50 years of broken relations appears to have left President Raul Castro's government focused on winning additional concessions without giving in to U.S. demands for greater freedoms, despite the seeming benefits that warmer ties could have for the country's struggling economy.

Following the highest-level open talks in three decades between the two nations, Cuban officials remained firm in rejecting significant reforms pushed by the United States as part of President Barack Obama's surprise move to re-establish ties and rebuild economic relations with the Communist-led country.

"One can't think that in order to improve and normalize relations with the U.S., Cuba has to give up the principles it believes in," Cuba's top diplomat for U.S. affairs, Josefina Vidal, told The Associated Press after the end of the talks. "Changes in Cuba aren't negotiable."

Tweet of the Day: 13 Ladies in White Arrested in Cuba Yesterday

By Cuban democracy leader, Ivan Hernandez Carrillo:

#Cuba Berta Soler informed me that yesterday morning at least 13 Ladies in White were arrested, 4 in Havana, 4 in Holguin and 5 in Granma.

Quote of the Day: Cuba is About Control, Control, Control

Cuba is about three things. Control, control and control. Rational thinking comes and goes.
-- European diplomat in Havana, on last week's U.S.-Cuba "normalization" talks, The Washington Post, 1/24/15

Obama's Cuba Credibility Deficit

Sunday, January 25, 2015
One of the biggest problems with the Obama Administration's deal with the Castro dictatorship is its lack of credibility.

The secrecy of the negotiations that preceded it and the lack of accountability in its implementation have certainly not helped.

But also adding to this lack of credibility are the Obama Administration's past actions.

Take the following two statements this weekend by Obama Administration officials.

First, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, Roberta Jacobson, upon her return from the first round of "normalization" talks in Havana:

"One of the most important aspects of our visit, and of the the next ones, was to make sure that [opposition] activists understand that nothing in our policy changes our desire to work with them and maintain our support. That was one of our first objectives. If they felt abandoned, we wanted to assure them that wasn't the case."

That's nice rhetoric.  

However, ask Iran's Green Movement, Syria's moderate opposition, Venezuela's student movement, China's intellectuals and Burma's ethnic minorities how the Obama Administration's empty rhetoric (while embracing their oppressors) have worked out?

Not so well.

Then, White House Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough, tells Fox News Sunday:

We don’t get into negotiations with terrorists, we don’t pay ransoms, because that cash then fuels further kidnappings, which just continues to exasperate the problem.

That's nice also.

However, ask the Taliban, Iran's mullahs and Cuba's Castro brothers whether they believe this to be true. After all, the Obama Administration has -- in fact -- negotiated with them, been coerced and paid ransoms for the taking of American hostages.

This is also why during these week's "normalization" talks, the Castro regime continued trying to coerce the United States.

For actions speak louder than words.

U.S. Officials Must Demand Free Elections and Accountability for Murdered Activists

By Rosa Maria Paya in The PanAm Post:

U.S. Officials Must Keep Their Eyes on the Prize in Cuba

Nothing Less: Free Elections, Accountability for Murdered Activists

At the time of writing, I’ve been in Washington, DC, for 12 hours: just enough to accept Senator Marco Rubio’s kind invitation to attend President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech with him.

It’s winter here, but dusk saw a warm glow fall on the nation’s capital. On Capitol Hill, I had the chance to speak with several Democrat and Republican legislators on Cuban affairs. I told them two points, in particular, which continue to be crucial when weighing up the developing talks between the United States and Cuba.

First, the United States is holding high-level talks with a government that has not been elected by its citizens. We therefore expect that support for a referendum on the current Cuban regime, demanded by thousands of Cubans who want free and plural elections, will soon be put on the table.

Second, U.S. officials have repeatedly backed the need for an independent investigation into the deaths of my father, Oswaldo Payá, a recipient of the European Union’s Andrei Sakharov prize for Freedom of Thought, and Harold Cepero, a leader of Cuba’s Christian Liberation Movement. This matter should be discussed with the Cuban government now, because the opportunity to make a formal request exists through new official channels.

On my flight back from D.C., I ran across Roberta Jacobson, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. I came up to her immediately and she stood up to greet me.

“Going back home or just to Miami?” she asked me. “To Miami,” I told her, remembering at the same time that it’s been over a year since I returned to my home in Havana. The last time I was there, next to Manila Park in the El Cerro district, state security forces attacked my brothers in the street, and called me with death threats.

Jacobson was heading to Havana to meet Cuban officials. One of them was intelligence agent Gustavo Machín, who in July 2012 orchestrated the sham press conference given by Aron Modig, the Swedish activist who was with my father at the moment of his death. Aron was held without charges in solitary confinement, and after the press conference, Machín, ignoring our families’ requests to meet with him, expelled Aron from the country.

Aron was traveling in the same car as my father the day the Cuban regime attacked him, and state security forces kidnapped him immediately after the vehicle was driven off the road.

I asked Jacobson if holding of an independent investigation would be part of talks with the Cuban government. “This is a point that we always raise,” she replied, nodding.

She also told me officials from both countries planned to discuss human rights on the island. She spoke to me casually, as if she wasn’t traveling to the heart of the world’s longest dictatorship to meet criminal agents, some of whom have even served as spies on U.S. soil.

The Cuban government lied to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions when it demanded explanations about my father’s death. After more than two years, Cuban authorities still deny us access to the autopsy report, which the family has a right to, even according to Cuban law.

On Friday at the White House I will meet with Ricardo Zúñiga, Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs. I hope by then that he has some news from the Cuban government on the request made by Roberta Jacobson about an investigation into that fateful day in 2012, which our family long feared but prayed would never come.

The United States, and free nations around the world, should know that there will be no democracy or real stability in Cuba until the truth comes to light about this, and other atrocities, carried out in the name of the mythologized “revolution.”

Image of the Week: American and Cuban Civil Rights Icons Meet

This week, U.S. civil rights icon, U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), met with Cuban civil rights icons, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez" and Yris Perez Aguilera.

Antunez is a former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, who served 17-years in Castro's gulag, while Perez Aguilera heads Cuba's Rosa Parks Feminist Movement for Civil Rights.

A Question for Roberta Jacobson

By Clive Rudd Fernandez in 14ymedio:

A Question for Roberta Jacobson

In July of last year, when I talked to some of the victims of the “Marzo de 13tugboat massacre in the Bay of Havana, I found a list of horrifying statistics.

Two of them would make any halfway decent human being shudder: the bodies recovered from the sea as a result of the sinking of the boat were never returned to the families, and there was never an independent investigation into the massacre in which 41 Cubans lost their lives. Ten of them were minors.

What was so shocking about these events was not just the impunity of those who perpetrated the atrocity on Cuban soil, but that what happened on 13 July 1994 is a pattern that has been repeated almost since the Revolutionary government took power in 1959.

The violent deaths, on 22 July 2012, of Oswaldo Payá, winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, and Harold Cepero, young leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, followed the same path of an absence of justice and the utter helplessness of the affected families. Although in this case the bodies were handed over to the families, neither Payá nor Harold were given an autopsy or an independent investigation.

With the policy changes of the Obama administration and the Havana dictatorship, some voices have begun to ask for independent investigations of these violent deaths, especially where it is known that the authorities had some participation.

Other think that these kinds of “problems” have to full potential to point the accusing finger at the face of the government in Havana and that “this is not the opportune moment to talk about accusations, but rather the issues that bring both nations closer,” like an independent blogger on the island told me.

The international media ignores the issue to the same extent. The saddest thing isn’t that they don’t emphasize these presumed assassinations, but rather that the majority of us, Cubans inside and outside the country, don’t consider it one of the most important issues to address. An independent investigation into the deaths of Osvaldo Payá and Harold Cepero protects all of us Cubans.

The alleged “accidents” and “careless doctors” who caused the deaths of Laura Pollán, Oswaldo Payá, Harold Cepero and many other Cubans are the extrajudicial executioners that hang like the Sword of Damocles over the heads of all Cubans living on the Island.

Those who dare to dissent and openly criticize the Government have felt the danger much more closely. Many of them have received death threats from members of State Security, who act with total impunity, as they themselves know, without legal consequences.

Last night I heard that Rosa María Payá met Robert Jacobson on a plane, when the daughter of the Cuban dissident was returning from a short trip to Washington, where she had the privilege of being the guest of Senator Marco Rubio at the State of the Union. The Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs was on her way to Havana to meet with officials from the Cuban Government in one of the meetings between the two nations at the highest level since the Jimmy Carter administration.

In this short encounter, Rosa María Payá asked whether the investigation into the death of her father would be on the negotiating table. The answer, as politically correct as it was evasive, was, “This is always a point that we can raise,” this is always an issue we can touch on.

Maybe I’m wrong, but judging by the response, the issue of the unexplained deaths of opponents like Oswaldo Payá and Laura Pollán will remain unaddressed (for now) and, with them, the fear every Cuban has of being murdered at any moment, without consequences for the executioners, nor for those who give the orders.

U.S.-Cuba Talks Recap: Castro Coerces, Obama Acquiesces

Saturday, January 24, 2015
This week's "normalization" talks between the United States and Cuba were akin to the secret negotiations that preceded them. Namely, the Castro regime seeks to coerce the U.S., while the Obama Administration plays along.

Let's not forget that this entire process stems from the Castro regime taking an American hostage, development worker Alan Gross, in order to coerce the United States into releasing Cuban spies and easing sanctions.

And, as we all know -- once you cave to coercion, you will be coerced time and again.

Prior to the U.S. delegation arriving in Havana, Castro's mouthpiece, Granma, listed (as Cubans say, "con cara dura") its conditions for "normalization." They are:

1. Repealing the Cuban Adjustment Act.
2. Lifting the embargo.
3. Removing Cuba from the "state-sponsors of terrorism" list.
4. Recognizing the Castro regime's "official NGOs" -- e.g. Committees for Defense of the Revolution, Youth Communist League.
5. Compensating "damages" caused by the embargo.
6. Ending the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program.
7. Opening embassies in Havana and Washington, D.C.

So what does the Cuban regime have to do in return for all these demands of the Obama Administration?

Nothing, of course.

Asked whether Cuba's regime might at least examine how to expand freedoms to help Obama pitch Congress on lifting the embargo, Castro's top negotiator Josefina Vidal said:

"Absolutely not. Change in Cuba isn't negotiable."

After all, they haven't needed to do anything for all the concessions they've gotten -- thus far -- from the U.S.

Instead, the Obama Administration has also decided to role play and give credence to Castro's rhetoric: the brutal totalitarian regime is the "victim" worthy of concessions and the world's greatest democracy is the "victimizer" that shouldn't ask for freedoms in return.

No wonder Vidal was all smiles.

Moreover, upon concluding the first round of talks, the lead U.S. negotiator, Assistant Secretary of State, Roberta Jacobson, admitted she wasn't very sure whether the Obama Administration's new approach would be successful.

In other words, the Obama Administration's new strategy policy boils down to acquiescing to coercion, handing over all the U.S.'s economic and diplomatic leverage to the Castro regime and its monopolies -- leverage that will be nearly impossible to pull back once given -- in the hopes that it will play nice (or nicer).

That's not a strategy. It's wishful thinking (based on a dangerous premise). It's being a push-over.

Meanwhile, the talks took place under the watchful eyes (and ears) of The Viktor Leonov, a Russian spy ship docked in Havana.

Quite a week.

Video: The Nightly Show Talks Cuba

Friday, January 23, 2015
In case you missed last night's episode of The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore on Comedy Central, click here to watch the video.

The panel included broadcast journalist Soledad O'Brien, actor John Leguizamo and Capitol Hill Cubans Editor Mauricio Claver-Carone.

Senators Press Justice Department on Fugitives Harbored in Cuba

In light of President Obama’s decision to transfer three convicted foreign intelligence agents in federal custody to Cuba, U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), David Vitter (R-LA) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) today pressed Attorney General Eric Holder for answers on the status of U.S. cop killers and other fugitives that the Castro regime is harboring, as well as the threats posed to the U.S. legal system by the administration’s unilateral concessions to Cuba, including its possible removal from the State Sponsors of Terrorism List:

January 23, 2015

The Honorable Eric Holder
Attorney General
Department of Justice
Robert F. Kennedy Building
Tenth Street and Constitution Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20530

Dear Attorney General Holder:

We are writing to express our strong concern about the Department of Justice’s role in President Obama’s recent announcement of a change in U.S. policy toward Cuba and to pose several questions related to your Department’s actions on this issue.

As Attorney General, you serve as our country’s chief law enforcement officer. You are expected to ensure the credibility of the American legal system and as well as help to protect and defend the American people.

We were thus troubled to learn that you played a role in the President’s decision to transfer three convicted foreign intelligence agents from federal custody to Cuba. As you know, in addition to their infiltration of the Cuban-American community for espionage, one of the individuals in question was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder related to the downing of civilian planes operated by the U.S. humanitarian group Brothers to the Rescue in international airspace.

We have several questions regarding their cases:

  • Was there a formal assessment conducted of the consequences for the credibility of the U.S. justice system of releasing individuals that were not just convicted foreign intelligence agents, but also a convicted accessory to murder?
  • Why was there no effort made by the U.S. government to provide an explanation to the families of the murdered victims about this prisoner release before it took place or in the immediate aftermath of President Obama’s announcement?
Related to the same 1996 incident, in a recent press report, a member of Congress recounted being told by Cuban President Raul Castro that, “I gave the order. I’m the one responsible,” for the shoot down. This information sheds new light on the 1996 events and bolsters previous evidence of Castro’s culpability in this heinous crime.

  • Has the Justice Department discussed this conversation with the member of Congress in question and does the Justice Department rule out the indictment of President Castro for murder given his apparent admission of guilt for the murder of three American citizens?
Another issue that falls under your Department’s jurisdiction is the effort to seek the return of fugitives from justice who have fled to other countries. As you know, there are reportedly more than seventy such individuals who have sought refuge in Cuba and are currently being harbored by the Castro regime. These include such violent criminals as Joanne Chesimard, who the FBI regards as a “domestic terrorist” and was named to the FBI’s Most Wanted List in 2013, as well as Victor Manuel Gerena, Charles Hill and others. Chesimard and Hill were both involved in the murders of American police officers. There are numerous others guilty of lesser but still important crimes, including money laundering and health care fraud. While the United States government has publicly described the situation related to these fugitives in reports in the past, there is little definitive information about their cases available publicly. We agree with the President of the Fraternal Order of Police, who recently wrote to President Obama that, “The blood of American law enforcement officers doing their job on American soil is too high a price to pay for closer ties with the Cuban regime.”

We would like the following information and questions answered about these American fugitives from justice:

  • Please provide a list of all fugitives from justice that the FBI considers likely to be harbored in Cuba.
  • Please provide copies of the indictments of each of the individuals on this list.
  • As the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, do you support the normalization of relations with Cuba without the return of fugitives from justice for prosecution who have the blood of Americans, including law enforcement officers on their hands?
  • As the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, do you support the removal of Cuba from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism if the Castro government continues to harbor “domestic terrorists” such as Joanne Chesimard?
As the facts of these cases show, the actions of the individuals in question have deprived some Americans of their lives and affected the lives and well-being of countless others.  Attempting to gloss over the facts of their crimes against the United States is an insult to the values and ethics of our judicial system and those same ideals that you, as our nation’s chief law enforcement officer, are supposed to uphold.

We thus look forward to your answers to all of these questions, which we also intend to consider as part of the confirmation process of your successor.

Sincerely,

Senator Marco Rubio

Senator David Vitter

Senator Ted Cruz

Quote of the Day: U.S. Gives a Lot, Despite Cuba Giving Little

The U.S. is conscious that it will obtain little [from the Castro regime.]
-- Martha Beatriz Roque, Cuban democracy leader, pursuant to today's meeting with U.S. Assistabnt Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson in Havana, Diario de Cuba, 1/23/15 

As U.S.-Cuba Talks End, Russian Spy Ship Departs

This morning, the Russian intelligence communications vessel, The Viktor Leonov, was seen departing Havana.

In other words, the spy ship docked on the eve of the U.S. delegation arriving in Cuba to begin "normalization" talks, and is now departing upon the conclusion of the talks.

A perfectly timed sojourn.

Meet the Cuban Spies Leading "Normalization" Talks With U.S.

Thursday, January 22, 2015
By former U.S. counterintelligence official, Chris Simmons, in Cuba Confidential:

Senior Cuban Spies Leading “Normalization” Talks With U.S.

Two career Cuban spies, Josefina Vidal Ferreiro and Gustavo Machin Gomez, will lead this week’s migration and normalization discussions with the United States. The pair are members of Cuba’s primary foreign intelligence service – the Directorate of Intelligence (DI), and serve as Director and Deputy Director, respectively, of the North American Division in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX). This is Machin’s second time in the Division, having served as Deputy Chief in 2003 and Division Chief from 2004-2005.

As Havana’s lead “diplomats” on U.S.-Cuban relations, they handled the Alan Gross negations, the return of three of Havana’s jailed spies, and the artificial insemination of DI officer Adriana Perez O’Connor (wife of freed spy Gerardo Hernandez). Perez herself was a member of the Wasp Network – the largest Cuban spy ring ever known to operate in the US. Incidentally, when details are eventually released regarding the Obama Administration’s secret talks to restore US-Cuba relations, Vidal and Machin will undoubtedly be at the center of events.

From the DI’s perspective, MINREX’s North America Division is now seen as a de facto wing of the spy service. This assignment is so important that three former members were appointed to ambassadorships. Now we are witnessing the unprecedented return of Ambassador Gustavo Machin to serve as Josefina Vidal’s deputy. Given this pattern of events, I think it’s fairly safe to say Vidal is Raul Castro’s choice to be the first Cuban Ambassador to the United States.

Espionage Backgrounds

Little is publicly known about Vidal’s espionage career. In May 2003, the U.S. expelled 14 Cuban diplomats for espionage. Seven diplomats were based at the Cuban Mission to the United Nations and seven at the Interests Section. Among the seven Washington-based spies declared Persona Non Grata was First Secretary Jose Anselmo Lopez Perera. His wife, First Secretary Josefina Vidal, also known to the U.S. as a Cuban Intelligence Officer, voluntarily accompanied her expelled spouse back to Cuba.

Previously, Vidal’s lone known success was her support to the influential Council on Foreign Relations (CFR); in particular, Julia E. Sweig, a CFR Senior Fellow and Deputy Director of the Latin America Program. In her book, Inside the Cuban Revolution: Fidel Castro and the Urban Underground, Sweig profusely thanked six Cuban spies for assisting her with her research. The six intelligence officers were Jose Antonio Arbesu, Ramon Sanchez Parodi, Fernando Garcia Bielsa, Hugo Yedra, Jose Gomez Abad and Josefina Vidal.

The son of a revolutionary hero, Gustavo Machin Gomez, was expelled in November 2002 in retaliation for the Ana Belen Montes case. In 2003, he was Deputy Director of MINREX’s North America Division and Chief the following year. In 2006, he was appointed Cuba’s first ambassador to Pakistan, where he is believed to have targeted U.S. counterterrorism operations in the region. He then returned home to head the International Press Center before his current assignment.

DI officer Johanna Tablada preceded Machin in his second tour as Deputy Division Chief before her appointment as ambassador to Portugal. She was suspected of being assigned to Department M-I, the elite element focused on targeting the US intelligence community, universities, and Congress.

Eduardo Martinez Borbonet previously assisted Vidal as a Counselor in the North America Division. In November 2011, two weeks after a landslide victory propelled longtime Havana-ally Daniel Ortega into a controversial third term, he became Havana’s ambassador to Nicaragua.

In late December 1998, First Secretary Martinez Borbonet was expelled for his involvement in the South Florida based Wasp Network. The diplomat-spy served at the Cuban Mission to the United Nations (CMUN), the traditional hub for Havana’s US-based espionage operations. He had arrived approximately eight years earlier as a lowly Third Secretary.

CHC Editor's Note: On April 14th, 2000, Gustavo Machin was also one of nearly two dozen Cuban "diplomats" who violently assaulted a small group of peaceful demonstrators -- including myself, as a young law student at the time -- during a vigil outside of the Cuban Interests Section (CUBINT) on 16th Street in Washington, D.C. Federal indictments remain outstanding against five Castro regime officials for this criminal act.

Menendez Raises Cuba Policy Concerns With Secretary Kerry

U.S Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sent the following letter to Secretary John Kerry regarding Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson’s visit to Havana, raising serious concerns that need to be addressed during this trip:

The Honorable John F. Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20520

Dear Mr. Secretary,

As Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson travels to Havana, I ask that you recall that the hardships faced by the Cuban people do not stem from failures in U.S. policy or actions taken by our government.

In Cuba, the tragic absence of basic personal freedoms, democratic elections, a free press, and a market economy based on respect for private property is the sole result of five cruel decades of authoritarian rule by Fidel and Raul Castro. For over half a century, the Castros have forsaken their citizens and the development of a modern, open society in pursuit of a police state designed to suppress the aspirations of the Cuban people.  This indisputable truth should serve as the foundation for discussions with the Castro regime.

While I believe that there should be conditions precedent on democratic principles, human rights, and political prisoners before agreeing to meet, the following issues should be raised by our government this week.

Political Prisoners: I am deeply concerned that several of the political prisoners who were released by the Castro regime have been granted only provisional freedom and continue to live under significant restrictions.  I am also troubled that three of the 53 political prisoners already have been rearrested, including Marcelino Abreu Bonora, who was brutally beaten and jailed on December 26 for a period of two weeks.

Furthermore, the release of 53 political prisoners disregards the fact that prior to President Obama’s December 17 speech, human rights organizations recognized over 100 political prisoners in Cuba and documented over 8,899 political detentions in just 2014.  To that end, days after the President’s announcement, the Castro regime arrested and detained more than 50 Cubans that sought to test this historic moment and publicly share their vision for the future of the country.  This event underscores the absolute intolerance of a government that jails its citizens for simply seeking to express their hopes and expectations.

It is imperative that Assistant Secretary Jacobson uses this week’s meetings to demand the unconditional freedom of the 53 political prisoners and demand an end to the politically motived arrests of peaceful democracy and human rights activists.  Assistant Secretary Jacobson should also hold Cuba to its commitment to permit visits by the United Nations and International Committee of the Red Cross, visits that must include full access to Cuban prisons and prisoners, not just to regime officials.

Normalization: As a result of eighteen months of secret talks, the Administration has announced that it will normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba.  However, the Administration has not provided details about how it will hold the Castro regime to account for the more than $6 billion in outstanding claims by American citizens and businesses for properties confiscated by the Castros or the more than $2 billion in unpaid civil and criminal judgments rendered against the Castro regime by U.S. courts.

In her discussions this week, Assistant Secretary Jacobson must prioritize the interests of American citizens and businesses that have suffered at the hands of the Castro regime before providing additional economic and political concessions to a government that remains hostile to U.S. interests.  These issues clearly must be addressed before the United States moves to establish diplomatic relations or further normalizes relations with Cuba.

U.S. Fugitives: Given that the Department of State is reviewing Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, I am concerned there has been no mention as to whether the Castro regime will return the dozens of U.S fugitives that receive sanctuary in Cuba, including Joanne Chesimard, who is on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s list of Most Wanted Terrorists.  Ms. Chesimard is wanted for the 1971 murder of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster and her case is of particular concern to Trooper Foerster’s family, the men and women of the New Jersey State Police, and the citizens of my home state.

State Department and FBI reporting indicates that, as of 2007, the Castro regime is harboring more than 70 American fugitives wanted for their involvement in the murder of U.S. law enforcement personnel, arms trafficking, and the hijacking of airplanes.  It is of the utmost importance that Assistant Secretary Jacobson insists that these fugitives be immediately returned to the United States to face justice for their deplorable crimes.

Mr. Secretary, after five decades of authoritarian, one-party rule, we must recognize that the Castros will never relax their iron-fisted control over Cuba unless compelled to do so.  As the Administration pursues further engagement with Cuba, I urge you to link the pace of changes in U.S. policy to reciprocal action from the Castro regime.  The Cuban people, in their continued struggle for democracy and fundamental freedoms, deserve nothing less than our unwavering support.

Sincerely,

Robert Menendez

Did Obama Misstep on Cuba During the SOTU?

Interview with Mauricio Claver-Carone on MSNBC's The Rundown.

Watch below (or click here):

Quote of the Day: Trade and Tourists Don't Bring Democracy

I don’t know of a single contemporary, reluctant tyranny that has become a democracy because of more trade and tourists. China is now the world’s richest tyranny, Vietnam continues to be a communist tyranny. And [Myanmar] Burma, even though they actually agreed to some democratic openings when the U.S. recognized them diplomatically, they have actually begun to take back a lot of those democratic openings.
-- U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), on President Obama's efforts to end the Cuban embargo,  U.S. News and World Report, 1/21/15

Obama Official (at Best) Misled Congress on Cuba

Wednesday, January 21, 2015
From The Hill:

Obama official 'regrets' lawmakers weren't consulted on Cuba

Former deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken told a congressional panel Wednesday that he "regrets" not consulting lawmakers more during the White House negotiations last year to normalize relations with Cuba.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) pressed Blinken, who is now the deputy secretary of State, on comments he made in November asserting that White House would consult Congress when changing its Cuba policy.

“Anything that might be done on Cuba will have to be consistent with the law,” Blinken said at his confirmation hearing in November. “Anything that in the future might be done on Cuba would be done in full consultation” with Congress, he added.

On Dec. 17, the White House announced it was relaxing trade and travel rules with Cuba after a deal was struck to release dozens of political prisoners as well as two Americans held captive in Cuba.

"I regret that I did not live up to the standard I set during that hearing and in the remarks you just quoted," Blinken said Wednesday at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. "I think that I could have done a better job in engaging with you and in consulting with you in advance, and I regret that."

Blinken said the White House reached out to "a number" of members of Congress about the Cuba talks but declined to offer names when pressed by Rubio.

"I assure you that I was not consulted," the committee's ranking member Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) interjected, noting the "difference between notification and consultation."

Lawmakers have also sparred with the White House over its threat to veto new sanctions on Iran. Wednesday's hearing focused on negotiations over Iran's nuclear program, which Rubio compared to the Cuba deal.

"We're, as a new Congress, being asked to sit tight because we're going to be fully consulted," Rubio said of the White House's moves on Iran. "It sounds like the only people who are going to be fully consulted are the people who agree with the administration, and if you don't agree with the administration, you'll only be notified."

Rubio told The Weekly Standard last month that Blinken was "dishonest" and "clearly evasive" when he repeatedly dodged questions about a potential change in U.S.-Cuba policy. He added Wednesday that the administration's definition and use of "consultation" was "problematic."

A staunch critic of the administration's moves to normalize relations with the communist government, Rubio assailed the terms of the White House's deal with Cuba, which promised to release 53 political prisoners, American captive Alan Gross and another U.S. operative.

Fourteen of the 53 political prisoners had already been released by Dec. 17, including one released almost a full year beforehand, Rubio said. Four had fully completed their prison sentences, and another five had been rearrested, Rubio said.

Cuba has made 200 new political arrests since the White House announcement last month, Rubio said.

The State of Obama's Cuba Deal is Clearly Not Strong

Tuesday, January 20, 2015
During tonight's State of the Union address, U.S. President Barack Obama defended his December 17th deal with Cuban dictator Raul Castro.

The optics of the address in itself showed he is on the wrong-side of history.

As Obama pitched his embrace of Cuba's octogenarian dictators, sitting in the Chamber were Rosa Maria Paya, the 25-year old daughter of murdered democracy leader Oswaldo Paya, and Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez", a 43-year old former prisoner of conscience who has spent nearly half of his life in Castro's jails.

(Paya was a special guest of U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, R-FL, while Antunez was a special guest of House Speaker John Boehner, R-OH.)

Rather than betting on Cuba's future -- on its young, courageous democracy leaders -- Obama chose to secretly normalize relations with its elderly oppressors.

In the speech, he chose not to call for the freedom and human rights of the Cuban people.

And while we share in the joy of American hostage Alan Gross' release, Obama chose to reward the Castro regime for imprisoning an innocent man in order to (successfully) coerce the United States.

Now he wants the U.S. Congress to endorse his deal with Castro.

So let's take a look at the current State of Obama's Cuba Deal:

- For weeks after the December 17th announcement, Obama insisted on keeping secret the list of 53 political prisoners, who were supposed to be released as part of the deal. After significant pressure from Congress and the media, the list was finally revealed. We learned that 14 of the prisoners had been released before December 17th, including Cesar Andres Sanchez Perez, who had been released nearly one-year ago. Moreover, four had completed their full sentences prior to release -- Jorge Cervantes, Eider Frometa Allen, Juan Carlos Vazquez Osoria and Eliso Castillo Gonzalez. All 53's release remains conditioned upon their political activities.

- During the Obama-Castro negotiations (July 2013-December 2014), there were over 13,000 political arrests in Cuba. As a matter of fact, the rate of political arrests doubled as soon as the negotiations began. Furthermore, at least 50 political prisoners, not included in the negotiated list of 53, remain in prison.

- Since the December 17th announcement, there have been nearly 200 new political arrests, including the re-arrest of at least three prisoners from the negotiated list of 53. There is also a new long-term prisoner of conscience, Cuban artist Danilo Maldonado "El Sexto," who was arrested on Christmas Day.

- Obama negotiated the swap of three Cuban spies imprisoned in the U.S., including one serving a life sentence in the murder conspiracy of three Americans (the daughter of one of the murdered Americans, Marlene Alejandre Triana, was also sitting in the Chamber during Obama's speech), in return for only one U.S. intelligence asset, Rolando Sarraff Trujillo. However, similar U.S. intelligence assets remain in Castro's prisons, such as Claro Alonso Hernandez, Ernesto Borges Perez, Amado Medel Martin and Maximo Omar Ruiz Matoses. Why didn't Obama at least negotiate a 3-for-3 deal?

- Rather than allowing Internet access, as Castro supposedly promised Obama, ETECSA (Cuba's telecom monopoly) has re-emphasized that only the highly limited local “Intranet” will operate. Moreover, just this week, a young Cuban computer expert, Leinier Cruz Salfran, was arrested after turning his laptop into a "hot spot," allowing other Cubans high-speed access to the Internet.

- As for access to Cuba by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the U.N.'s Special Rapporteur on Torture, which Castro also promised Obama, mum's the word.

- The Castro regime has reiterated that it will not repatriate over 70 fugitives from U.S. justice openly being harbored in Cuba, including Joanne Chesimard, who remains on the FBI's Top Ten Most Wanted Terrorists list.

- Cuban democracy leaders have had their passports withheld and are prohibited from leaving the island. These include Estado de SATS' Antonio Rodiles and Ailer Gonzalez, and Cuban artist Tania Bruguera.

- A delegation of Congressional Democrats, led by U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), visited Cuba over the weekend and were shunned by General Raul Castro.

- Globally, other rogue regimes have taken note. Venezuela now also wants to swap innocent political prisoners for criminals in the United States; Iran has indicted a Washington Post reporter to coerce the Obama Administration; and North Korea wants lopsided terms for talks.

- And finally, on the eve of a U.S. delegation's arrival in Cuba to begin talks on the normalization of diplomatic relations, an armed Russian intelligence-gathering vessel that monitors U.S. communications (The Viktor Leonov), was welcomed to Havana and has been docked in clear view.

Mr. Speaker, Members of Congress, the State of Obama's Cuba Deal is clearly not strong.

Putin Sends Spy Ship to Cuba, Castro Slyly Welcomes It

From U.K.'s The Telegraph:

Russian spy ship docks in Havana on eve of historic Cuba-US talks

President Vladimir Putin sends Cold War-style message to Washington on day that Kremlin announces plans to extend global military presence with new bases

A Russian spy ship has docked in central Havana on the eve of a ground-breaking visit to Cuba by a senior US delegation in a defiant display of military might by President Vladimir Putin.

The Viktor Leonov, an armed intelligence-gathering vessel that monitors US communications, arrived at a passenger cruise terminal in full public view for what a Russian embassy official called a “friendly” three-day stay.

The port call came on the same day that Kremlin defence minister Sergei Shoigu announced plans for Russia to extend its global military footprint with new bases in a number of countries, including Vietnam, Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Mr Putin seemed to be sending a typically blunt message about Russia’s influence with its communist Caribbean ally by timing the vessel’s visit to coincide with this week’s trip by a US team led by Roberta Jacobson, the assistant secretary of state.

Ms Jacobson, the top US diplomat for the Americas, will on Wednesday begin negotiating a restoration of diplomatic ties with Washington’s long-time foe Cuba against the backdrop of a stark visual reminder of the island’s pivotal role in the Cold War.

President Barack Obama last month announced plans to end five decades of hostility with Havana by re-establishing full diplomatic links and easing trade and travel restrictions.

But Russia also struck a deal last year with Cuba to re-open a huge eavesdropping base just 150 miles from the US mainland as relations between Washington and Moscow deteriorated over the Ukraine crisis.

The Viktor Leonov monitors military and some civilian electronic communications, with its focus almost exclusively on the US. It regularly patrols the waters of the North Atlantic and the Caribbean and last docked in Havana in 2012.

It re-appeared as Mr Shoigu told reporters in Moscow about Russian’s plans to establish a permanent military presence outside its borders in several countries in Latin America and Asia.

“The talks are under way, and we are close to signing the relevant documents,” said the minister. He added that the negotiations cover not only military bases but also visits to ports for Russian vessels and the opening of refueling sites for Russian strategic bombers on patrol.

Moscow currently has only one naval base outside the former Soviet Union – in Tartus, Syria, but the fate of this naval facility is uncertain because of the ongoing civil war in that country.

Rubio Urges Obama Administration to Condition Cuba Normalization

As a high-level U.S. delegation travels to Cuba to begin talks to normalize U.S.-Cuba relations, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) today called on Secretary of State John Kerry to not normalize relations with Cuba without progress being made on key issues:

January 20, 2015

The Honorable John Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Kerry:

As you prepare to send a high-level delegation to Cuba this week to discuss normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba, there are several issues I urge you to make central to this process. As you know, I remain skeptical of the President's decision to reward a despotic totalitarian regime that has made no promises of political reform with the status of diplomatic recognition by the United States.  That said, in the past, administrations of both political parties have conditioned normalization of relations with countries of concern on specific progress made by the country in question in resolving longstanding bilateral issues as well as their own political reforms.

To this end, just as this administration and Congress have done with Burma, I urge you to make political reforms and progress on human rights central to your discussions.

Since President Obama’s December 17th announcement of changes to the U.S.’s policy toward Cuba, there has not been any improvement in human rights conditions on the island.  Although there was a nominal release of 53 political prisoners, serious questions still remain about the conditions of their release. Numerous released prisoners have reported that they were told to halt their political activities, while others had already completed their unjust sentences when they were released.  At least five have been reportedly re-arrested since their release and some have been released but with charges still pending.

Additionally, over one hundred political activists who were separate from the list of 53 have already been targeted and arrested since President Obama's December 17th announcement. Many have also had their passports confiscated, so these activists cannot travel outside of Cuba and tell the truth about government repression.  Normalizing relations with the Castro regime without verified improvements in the situation faced by the Cuban people would not be consistent with our values as a nation.

A second issue I urge you to make central to the normalization talks is the repatriation of known terrorists and other fugitives from U.S. justice.  As you are surely aware, the FBI believes there are more than 70 fugitives from justice being provided safe-harbor by Cuba's regime.  These include Joanne Chesimard, a cop-killer on the FBI's Top Ten Most Wanted Terrorists list, and Frank Terpil, a renegade CIA agent who became an assassin-for-hire and arms smuggler for Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The victims of these violent individuals, who are being openly harbored by Cuba's dictatorship, deserve justice prior to the full normalization of relations, let alone before any consideration of removing Cuba from the State Department's state-sponsors of terrorism list.  As the President of the Fraternal Order of Police recently wrote to President Obama, "The blood of American law enforcement officers doing their job on American soil is too high a price to pay for closer ties with the Cuban regime."

Finally, there are billions of dollars of outstanding American property claims against the Cuban government.  In the past, as in the case of Libya, the United States has not normalized relations with countries subject to outstanding American claims until they have been resolved or a process for their resolution has been established.  There are thousands of verified American claimants who have been waiting for decades to be compensated for the Castro regime's illegal expropriation of their property and assets. There are also billions of dollars in outstanding judgments from U.S. federal courts against the Cuban government for acts of terrorism. It has long been the intent of U.S. law that these issues must be resolved prior to normalization of relations.

I want to see a free and democratic Cuba in the near future, but that will be impossible if the United States continues to ignore these fundamental issues in your discussions with the Cuban regime. I intend to look for tangible signs of progress in these three areas as I consider any administration requests to implement the President's new Cuba policy.

Respectfully,

Marco Rubio