Havana Playbook: Obama’s Cuba Policy Year in Review

Thursday, December 17, 2015
Havana Playbook: Obama’s Cuba Policy Year in Review, Presented by the Office of U.S. Senator Marco Rubio

A CHOKEHOLD ON FREEDOM: Dissident Arrests at Record High, Obama Continues To Make Unreciprocated Concessions – PLAYBOOK EXCLUSIVE: Rubio Comments On Anniversary of Cuba Deal

A not so good Thursday morning, especially for the 53 Cuban dissidents whose “releases” were announced a year ago as part of the Obama-Castro normalization deal, some of whom have been rearrested and arbitrarily detained again since, some several times.‎

HEADLINE HISTORY: One year ago today, President Obama announced his intention to normalize diplomatic relations with the communist regime. “Today, America chooses to cut loose the shackles of the past so as to reach for a better future –- for the Cuban people, for the American people, for our entire hemisphere, and for the world,” Obama said.

WHEN YOU SHOW UP TO A HOLIDAY GIFT EXCHANGE WITH SOMEONE WHO DOESN’T HAVE ONE FOR YOU -- While that “better future” for the Cuban people has not materialized, Obama has announced a steady stream of concessions to the regime in the past year and now says he even wants to visit his “non-ideologue” friend Raul Castro in Cuba. Meanwhile, Cuba has made no progress on political reforms or human rights. Perhaps if Obama visits Cuba in 2016, he can bring a check back for the nearly $8 billion in uncompensated property claims and $4 billion (plus interest) in U.S. court judgments against the Castro regime? Or maybe he’ll bring back some of the more than 70 fugitives who continue to be harbored by Castro in Havana, some of whom the FBI has described as “domestic terrorists,” to face justice?

PLAYBOOK EXCLUSIVE – STATEMENT BY U.S. SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: “The first year of President Obama’s Cuba policy has been like the rest of his foreign policy: a disaster that prioritizes legacy-shaping headlines over freedom and results, treats our enemies far better than our allies, and negotiates deals from a position of weakness – as if we are ashamed of our moral obligations as the world’s most powerful nation. Because of President Obama's Cuba policy, the U.S. has never been closer to the tyrants that rule the island or more alienated from the Cuban people working tirelessly to build a free and democratic future. Because of President Obama’s weakness in negotiating with the Castro regime, cop killers, terrorists and other fugitives from U.S. justice continue to enjoy greater freedoms in Cuba than average Cubans who are experiencing a historically relentless wave of repression and political arrests this year.

-- “American businesses have placed a risky bet to enrich themselves and, in the process, enrich the Cuban military that actually controls the economy.‎ The next U.S. president should end the many concessions this one has made to the regime, and send a clear message that betting against the Cuban people’s free and democratic future is a losing bet. With a year to go, President Obama can still inflict a lot of damage that further sets back the cause of a free and democratic Cuba, but those who care about freedom and the fate of the Cuban people will continue to fight him at every turn.”

WRONG PRIORITIES – From the Associated Press, 11/18/2015: “Environmental cooperation has been one of the most visible areas of progress in the relationship as the United States and Cuba negotiate and discuss a number of issues. They include much thornier matters on which the two countries remain far apart…”

As for one of those thornier matters… Between December 17, 2014 and October of this year, politically motivated arrests increased by over 500%, jumping from 178 arrests in the former month to 1,093 in the latter. According to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), an internationally-recognized human rights watchdog, the total number of political arrests during the first ten months of this year was 6,239. In just ten months, the number of political arrests surpassed the yearlong tallies recorded for 2010 (2,074 political arrests) and 2011 (4,123 political arrests). CCDHRN publishes monthly reports of every reported case of abuse or persecution in Cuba. Check it out: http://bit.ly/1TDOcNN

PREDICTIONS FULFILLED – Rubio in The New York Times in July 2015: “Yet Mr. Obama insists that building economic and diplomatic ties is likely to bring freedom and democracy to the island. However, our extensive experience with transitions from Communism has shown that economic opening and diplomatic engagement do not automatically lead to political freedom.” http://nyti.ms/1NvorLQ --Rubio in The Wall Street Journal in December 2014: “The entire policy shift is based on the illusion – in fact, on the lie – that more commerce and access to money and goods will translate to political freedom for the Cuban people.” http://on.wsj.com/1Rnabe7

BLOODY SUNDAY (x34) -- For 34 Sundays in a row, Cuban dissidents, including the Ladies in White, have tried to peacefully demonstrate after Catholic Mass under the slogan #TodosMarchamos (#WeAllMarch)… Every Sunday, regime thugs violently beat and often arrest them. One Cuban dissident leader, Antonio Rodiles once had to be operated on overnight to repair his nose after receiving a beating at the hands of state security agents during one of those peaceful Sunday marches.‎

-- Berta Soler, president of the Ladies in White in Cuba, testified before Rubio’s Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee during a February hearing regarding U.S. policy toward Cuba, where she and several other human rights activists described the repressive life on the island. http://bit.ly/1YiEBNW

RED CARPET TREATMENT FOR REGIME PROPAGANDISTS: “Cuban reporter asks Josh Earnest a question (or 6)” by USA Today’s Gregory Korte: “That reporter was Cristina Escobar of Cuba’s national television network, who got the last question for White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest. She immediately fit right in alongside her American counterparts, asking a four-part question on a wide range of Cuban issues — with a two-part follow-up… At least a dozen Cuban journalists attended [the May 2015] briefing.” http://usat.ly/1Y2z1o2

PRISON CELL TREATMENT FOR INDEPENDENT JOURNALISTS: From Reporters Without Borders: “Conditions for journalists in Cuba have worsened in recent months. They are still subjected to harassment, which typically takes the form of arbitrary arrest. Dozens of independent journalists covering the marches through the streets of Havana that the Ladies in White opposition movement stages every Sunday have been arrested, held for several hours and then released.” http://bit.ly/1QAUVZG ‎Despite Obama Administration’s pledges one year ago, international human rights experts have yet to be granted access to Cuban prisons.

REAL POLITICO PLAYBOOK - VIA MIKE ALLEN ON 8/15/2015 -- CNN’s JAKE TAPPER showed up the broadcast networks yesterday – and did U.S. journalism proud -- with tough coverage from Cuba that included opposition views and ballsy questions. See a Storify, “Tapper live tweets his trip to Havana.” http://cnn.it/1KnttI8

OUT AND ABOUT: The August 15, 2015 flag-raising ceremony at the newly re-opened U.S. Embassy in Havana was quite the affair… SPOTTED: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, State Department officials, Castro regime thugs, American business interest leaders and anti-embargo lobbyists… NOT SPOTTED: A single Cuban dissident, pro-democracy leader or activist. Apparently they were left off the invite list due to a “lack of space” and “protocol.” How then to explain the tens of empty seats during Kerry’s speech?

EMBARRASSMENT FROM WHITE HOUSE PODIUM (12/17/2014): Press Secretary Josh Earnest talking like this is a White House Spring Break trip – On President Obama’s possible visit to Cuba: “I assume like many Americans he has seen that Cuba is a place where they have a beautiful climate and a lot of fun things to do. So if there’s an opportunity for the president to visit I’m sure he wouldn’t turn it down.” http://bzfd.it/1C2DmJb

INFELIZ (UNHAPPY) NAVIDAD?: Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel is getting ready for a Cuban Christmas, “You had a private conversation with me and now you decide to make that public. I really don’t appreciate that, for one, I really don’t… And yes, this year, if my wife doesn’t kill me now because of what you just did, we will take our kids to Cuba to be exposed to that culture…” – Video here: http://politi.co/1RILCHN

CYBERCRIMES AGAINST THE CUBAN PEOPLE: New York Times editorial11/30/2015: “The only thing keeping the island in the digital Dark Ages is a lack of political will.”

– “The Cuban government has shut down the island's only official email service provider and it's not clear when it'll come back… As is often the case in Cuba, the communist government hasn't given an official reason for the shutdown.” Via Motherboard: http://bit.ly/1I1jpKm

NOT THE ONION: “US, Cuba talk cybercrime cooperation” by The Hill’s Cory Bennet: “Law enforcement is a key area in the bilateral relationship as the United States continues on the path toward normalized relations with Cuba,” the State Department said in a statement‎. Law enforcement cooperation - except when it comes to the extradition of more than 70 fugitives from American justice walking freely on the island, including cop killers. Former Attorney General Holder didn’t seem interested in pushing cooperation on behalf of their victims when pressed earlier this year.‎

SHOT: Last year, “These 5 Facts Explain the Economic Upsides of an Opened Cuba” by TIME’s Ian Bremmer: “The Caribbean country could be the next frontier of global business”‎

CHASER: MOVE OVER SMALL BUSINESS, MAKE ROOM FOR THE OBAMA CRUISE: Earlier this month, “Nearly 60 Cuba ‘cuentapropistas’ (‘self-employed licensees’) were arrested in the historic Old Havana district… These ‘cuentapropistas’ had their personal effects confiscated, along with their work equipment and money. To add insult to injury, upon arrest, their bail was set at 5,000 pesos.” http://bit.ly/1RevY7G-- All of the areas surrounding the Port have been taken over by Raul Castro’s son-in-law so the military corporation can open retail stores to re-fill their coffers. http://bit.ly/1NKRD5k

CASTROS LOSE PROXY VOTE IN VENEZUELA (12/6/15): Castro-worshipper Nicolas Maduro’s socialist party suffers electoral defeat in overwhelming rebuke of Venezuela’s Cuba-style policies – “Venezuela’s opposition party wins parliament in a blow to Maduro” by CNN: http://cnn.it/1TFSp3H

TRANSITIONS? – Following her bureau’s request for the State Department to manipulate Cuba’s ranking in its annual ‘trafficking in persons report,’ Roberta Jacobson was nominated for U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, despite no follow through on her sworn congressional testimony that the U.S. would continue to prioritize human rights as part of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba… http://1.usa.gov/1My87gl-- According to The Grey Lady, actually insisting nominees answer questions is beyond the pale…http://nyti.ms/1TOlyd1

LAW? WHAT LAW? “Top U.S. diplomat comes up short on conditions for lifting Cuba embargo” by The Washington Examiner’s Susan Crabtree: “Late in the [February 2015] hearing, Jacobson had trouble answering a basic question about the conditions current law requires Cuba to meet for the trade embargo to be lifted….

-- “Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., a Cuban-American who has long fought for human rights changes in Cuba, pressed Jacobson on the topic. She said Obama had requested that Congress lift the embargo and wanted to know which conditions under the Helms-Burton Act of 1996 the Cuban government had met to make that possible.

-- “’I’m sorry, I don’t have that in front of me,’ Jacobson said.

-- “Clearly annoyed, Ros-Lehtinen quickly responded: ‘I hope that when you’re negotiating with the Castro government you know the current laws… Please go and check that out,’ she added, ‘because that is U.S. law, and we are hoping you will abide by that.’ http://washex.am/1Ri3bPQ

COMING ATTRACTIONS – “Cubans are streaming north in large numbers” by the Washington Post’s Nick Miroff: “A year after President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced with great fanfare their plans to normalize relations, an old source of tension has stubbornly returned, with a rush of Cubans trying to get to the United States.‎

“The number of unauthorized Cubans arriving in the United States nearly doubled in fiscal 2015, rising to 43,159 from 24,278 the previous year, according to U.S. border officials, and the surge appears to be accelerating. The vast majority are coming not in rickety boats or rafts but right through U.S. ports of entry at the border with Mexico. Combined with the more than 20,000 who are issued immigration visas annually under existing accords, it amounts to the largest influx of Cubans into the United States in decades. http://wapo.st/1SQRGfM

FOR YOUR RADAR: Rubio on the Cuban Adjustment Act: “It is outrageous that America’s generosity toward Cuban nationals is being taken advantage of by those who abuse the law. Furthermore, the Obama Administration’s normalization policy has created a series of inconsistencies, which have led to widespread abuse of the benefits in a law meant to assist those fleeing repression. While it’s important to preserve the protections the Cuban Adjustment Act affords to Cubans fleeing persecution, we need to eliminate the loopholes being exploited by those who abuse U.S. law, travel back to Cuba frequently and take advantage of American taxpayers. The federal government also needs to follow through in securing a data agreement between the Social Security Administration and DHS to make sure no one is illegally collecting benefits outside the U.S.

-- “The Cuban Adjustment Act was designed to protect Cubans fleeing the repression of Castro’s dictatorship. The need to help those fleeing repression in Cuba has not changed given that, since the Obama Administration announced its counterproductive policy of normalization with Castro’s dictatorship, political arrests and repression have increased. But if you keep returning to the country you are supposedly fleeing, it’s hard to argue that you are a refugee and deserve the assistance that comes with it.  The law should be reexamined to reflect this.” http://bit.ly/1M7HXfD‎

REMEMBERING --Carlos Costa, Armando Alejandre, Jr., Mario de la Peña, and Pablo Morales…The “Brothers to the Rescue” pilots that were shot down in 1996 by the Cuban military after a “Cuban Five” spy infiltrated the group… Reminder: Ringleader Gerardo Hernandez’s double life sentence was commuted by Obama as part of normalization deal… As the Brothers to the Rescue pilots families mourn the loss of their loved ones, Hernandez’s “frozen sperm was shipped to Panama for secret fertility treatments for Adriana [his wife], all facilitated by the Obama administration — at the urging of Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy — as part of its backdoor diplomacy with the Cuban government.” http://yhoo.it/1NlhUmQ

-- New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster… Murdered during a traffic stop on the New Jersey Turnpike in 1973 by Joanne Chesimard… “Chesimard escaped from prison in 1979 and eventually ended up in Cuba, where she was granted asylum by Fidel Castro and has been living under the name Assata Shakur.” http://7ny.tv/1SQTyFs‎

-- Frank Connor… Husband and father of two killed in a 1975 lunchtime bombing orchestrated by Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional Puertorriquena (FALN) bomb maker, Morales who was implicated in a string of bombings in the United States in the late 1970s that resulted in the deaths of four Americans... Morales escaped U.S. custody after his initial imprisonment and has apparently been provided safe harbor by the government of Cuba since the 1980s. http://1.usa.gov/1lSH2KB

TO COVER CUBA, YOU MUST FOLLOW THESE DISSIDENTS ON TWITTER: The Ladies in White: @DamasdBlanco – Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White: @bertasolerf -- Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez,"Afro-Cuban opposition leader: @antunezcuba -- Antonio Rodiles, head of the independent think tank, Estado de Says: @AGRodiles -- Guillermo Farinas, former prisoner of conscience and Sakharov Prize winner: @cocofarinas -- Lia Villares, youth leader and blogger: @liavillares -- Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, former prisoner of conscience and US Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient: @OscarBiscet -- Ivan Hernandez Carrillo, independent labor leader: @ivanlibre -- Damaris Moya Portieles, female Afro-Cuban democracy leader: @DamarisMoyaP -- Leticia Herreria, regional leader of The Ladies in White: @leticiarhcuba -- Felix Navarro, independent farmer, teacher and former prisoner of conscience: @felixncuba --Rosa Maria Payá, Cuban political dissident, human rights activist and journalist: @RosaMariaPaya -- Cuban blogger @yoanisanchez-- Danilo Maldonado aka “El Sexto,” Cuban artist and dissident recently released from prison: @dmmelsexto

BIRTHDAYS: Fidel Castro is...ageless (h/t Vladimir, Nicolas, Bashar, Kim Jong Un)…