Since President Obama's December 17th announcement to establish ties with the Castro regime, there has been nearly a 120% percent increase in the number of Cubans risking their lives to reach freedom in the United States; well over 3,000 political arrests; a dramatic increase in weekly violence against democracy activists, such as The Ladies in White; new long-term political prisoners, such as Cuban artist Danilo Maldonado "El Sexto"; the beatings and re-arrest of most of the 53 political prisoners who were released as part of the December 17th agreement; violence employed against Cuban democracy activists even outside the island, such as the nefarious attacks that took place at the Panama Summit; and Cuban activists who have been barred from leaving the island, like artist Tania Bruguera and democracy leader Antonio Rodiles.
We've also heard testimony from Cuban democracy leaders and political prisoners, who have told us how during the beatings and attacks against them now, they are mocked with comments like "this one is courtesy of Obama" and "the United States doesn't care about you."
Meanwhile, Cuban dictator Raul Castro has since been named for the first time as one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People. Popes, Presidents and Foreign Ministers visit and fawn over the Castros in Havana, but ignore Cuba's dissident leaders.
Last week, Congress put its foot down in a major way.
First, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry making it clear that he will block the confirmation of any U.S. Ambassador to Cuba absent concrete results on political reforms and human rights; the repatriation of U.S. terrorists and fugitives being harbored in Cuba; uncompensated property claims; and the removal of restrictions on U.S. diplomats in Cuba.
Second, the House Appropriations Committee released its FY 2016 State Department, Foreign Operations bill with key provisions that prohibit funds for an embassy or other diplomatic facility in Cuba, beyond what was in existence prior to the President’s December announcement proposing changes to the U.S.-Cuba policy. It also restricts funds to facilitate the opening of a Cuban embassy in the U.S., increases democracy assistance and international broadcasting to Cuba, and provides direction to the Secretary of State on denying the issuance of visas to members of the Cuban military and the Communist party.
Third, President Obama nominated Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, who is the key U.S. negotiator with the Castro regime, to be Ambassador to Mexico. Some Senators immediately raised questions about her credibility in light of deceptive statements regarding the Venezuelan opposition and the families of Americans murdered by the Castro regime. Undoubtedly, her negotiations with the Castro regime will play a central role in her confirmation process, particularly if she accepts restrictions on U.S. diplomats or on the operations of a potential U.S. Embassy in Havana.
Fourth, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a provision -- by a vote of 273-153 -- that would tighten sanctions against the Castro regime. The provision in the FY 2016 Commerce, Justice Appropriations ("CJS Appropriations") bill, supported by more than 30 Democrats, would ensure that no exports to Cuba under President Obama's new "Support for the Cuban People" category can go through entities owned or controlled by officers of Cuba's military ("MINFAR") and security services ("MININT"), or their immediate relatives.
Fifth, a group of Senators led by U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Finance Committee Chairman Orin Hatch (R-UT), et al., introduced the “Cuban Military Transparency Act,” legislation (similar to the provision overwhelmingly approved by the House in CJS Appropriations) that would ensure any increase in resources to the island reach the Cuban people by prohibiting financial transactions with the Castro regime’s military and security services.
Sixth, the U.S. House of Representatives -- by a vote of 247-176 -- approved a provision that would prohibit the use of confiscated property by any new flights or vessels authorized for travel to Cuba. The provision in the Transportation Appropriations bill ("THUD Appropriations"), supported by more than 25 Democrats, ensures that no new flights or vessels approved for travel to Cuba under President Obama's new policy can be facilitated through, or benefit from, confiscated property.
Kudos to Congress for its principled stand.
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