Cuban Dissidents From Obama-Castro's List of 53 Rearrested

Saturday, January 17, 2015
UPDATE: According to Cuban democracy leader, Jose Daniel Ferrer, up to 60 dissidents were arrested at this week's gathering of the Movement for a New Republic, including the rearrest of 5 from the Obama-Castro list of 53.

From Fox News:

Two of the 53 dissidents released by Cuba rearrested

In a move that has angered lawmakers and activists in the United States, the Cuban government has rearrested two political prisoners from the list of 53 whose release had been negotiated by the U.S.

According to independent media sources in Cuba, Ronaldo Reyes Rabanal and Luís Enrique Labrador – along with other activists – were arrested while attending a meeting of the opposition group, Movement for a New Republic. Lazara María Borrego Guzmán, a member of the Ladies in White opposition movement, was also allegedly arrested during the meeting and Cuban officials allegedly broke her arm.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-NJ, confirmed to Fox News Latino the re-arrest of the political prisoners.

Menendez, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that Reyes Rabanal was detained for several hours on Thursday and released in the afternoon. The dissident said that Cuban police drove him outside of Havana and left him along the road upon his release.

The New Jersey lawmaker added that Labrador is still in custody.

The U.S.-Cuba deal announced in December has drawn harsh criticism from lawmakers in the U.S. opposed to the cooling in diplomatic relations between the longtime foes.

"The President's flawed and arbitrary list of 53 political prisoners falls far short of a condition that should be non-negotiable: the permanent release of all political prisoners," Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida said in a press release.  "When the Castro regime re-arrests political prisoners after the President ‘negotiated’ their release, it makes a mockery of the entire bad deal."

Along with the arrests of Reyes Rabanal and Labrador, another member on Obama’s list was rearrested late last year. Marcelino Abreu Bonora – who was originally released from prison in October, but was included on the list of 53 – was rearrested on December 26, beaten by Cuban officials and finally re-released again on January 7 after being held in a punishment cell for almost two weeks.

Dissidents on the island – including those that were part of the list of 53 – have spoken out about the state of fear that they have been living in since their release from prison.

"They can arrest us again whenever they see fit," José Lino Ascensio López, a dissident who was part of the 53 dissidents recently released from prison, told Fox News Latino. "We knew that from the moment they let us go."

Last week, the U.S. Foreign Affairs Committee released the names of the political prisoners but did not disclose their whereabouts after their release. The Cuban government said it released the prisoners as part of last month's historic deal between the United States and Cuba.

Most of the released dissidents belong to the Patriotic Union of Cuba, an anti-government group based in far eastern Cuba. The group’s spokesman told Fox News Latino that even though the political prisoners were sprung, the move is purely "cosmetic."

While the White House has not released statement about the rearrest on Monday, Obama's U.N. ambassador alluded to the recent release of the 53 dissidents but said more needs to be done.

"Welcome as that step is, and heartening as it is for their families," Samantha Powers said," (it) does not resolve the larger human rights problems on the island."

Western Hemisphere Chair: Obama's Policy a Reward to Cuba's Dictatorship

Congressman Duncan Releases Statement on the Obama Administration’s New Cuba Regulations

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Congressman Jeff Duncan (R-SC) issued the following statement on the recently issued regulations regarding the recent policy change towards Cuba:

I remain deeply concerned with the Obama Administration’s decision to circumvent Congress by disregarding existing U.S. law through Executive Action in an attempt to normalize U.S. relations with Cuba. The Castro regime has not changed its ideology or practices. It remains Communist. It continues to abuse and oppress the Cuban people. It continues to support terrorist organizations, proliferate weapons to countries like North Korea, and to facilitate the operations of Iran, Russia, and China in the Western Hemisphere. Although Cuba released 53 political prisoners over the weekend, thousands more continue to languish in Cuban jails.

The Administration’s announcement today of new Executive rules to significantly weaken the U.S. embargo against the Cuban regime through allowing greater U.S. trade and travel will only secure more funds for the Cuban Government, leaving the average Cuban citizen with very little economic improvements. President Obama’s action is a reward to a Communist dictatorship at the expense of the Cuban people, and I find it disgraceful that under this Administration, the U.S. – a bulwark for freedom against tyranny since our country’s inception – would seek to appease an autocratic Government so publicly opposed to liberty.  I look forward to conducting vigorous Congressional oversight of the Administration’s actions through my role as Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.”

Obama Should Help Cubans, Not Castro

By Amb. Roger Noriega in AEI's The American:

Obama should help Cubans, not Castro

Touted as a historic shift in US-Cuba relations, ironically, the Obama administration’s latest initiatives serve to reinforce the status quo — legitimizing and benefiting a regime that has a 55-year track record of opposing change.

President Obama’s new Cuba policy is taking shape this week as his administration announced high-level talks on diplomatic recognition of the Castro regime and released new regulations to liberalize travel to and transactions with the island. Touted as a historic shift in US-Cuba relations, ironically, all of these initiatives serve to reinforce the status quo — legitimizing and benefiting a regime that has a 55-year track record of opposing change. Accepting that this is not what the president intended, he must get serious about engaging the 11 million people of Cuba rather than placating the regime that torments them.

The State Department has announced that Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson will travel to Cuba this month to advance the normalization of diplomatic relations. The highest-level US official to visit the island in 50 years, Jacobson will lead the latest round of migration talks — which may touch on the remarkable 117 percent increase in the number of Cubans fleeing their homeland in the month since Obama’s rapprochement with Castro.

This week, the Treasury Department announced new regulations to make it easier to travel to Cuba to visit family members or for other broadly defined purposes — journalism, research, humanitarian aid, cultural exchange, and more.  These regulations do not authorize tourism, per se. However, recent history has shown that even specific licenses for so-called people-to-people exchanges were routinely abused to include rum tastings, golf outings, and sailing regattas. The agencies that oversee these licenses have no strategy for policing abuses, according to congressional staff. The problem is that US tourism could represent a billion-dollar windfall to Cuba’s hospitality sector — all of which is co-owned by the regime, with most of the industry operated by the military, and much of  it located on property confiscated from US nationals.

The regulations also authorize a substantial liberalization of restrictions on cash transfers in support of families, private microenterprises and farms, and humanitarian projects.  In addition, the administration proposes to allow US telecommunications companies to offer services and products and even invest in Cuba. Perhaps the strongest argument against these concessions is that the administration failed to seek assurances from the regime that entrepreneurs would not be harassed or over-taxed and that Cubans would be allowed unfettered access to the Internet and communication with the outside world. Without such requirements, the regime will vacuum up remittances and shake down US companies while restricting benefits to the Cuban people.

President Obama’s accord with the Castro regime has been met with bitter skepticism among the island’s leading dissidents. They know that the last American who tried to offer Cuba’s small Jewish community Internet access, Alan Gross, was jailed for five years for his efforts. They know that one of their own who sought a dialogue with the regime under the rules of Castro’s own constitution, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, was killed when the secret police ran his car off the road in southeastern Cuba in July 2012.

The administration’s backers have excoriated Cuban dissidents who have challenged the logic behind Obama’s new policy. For example, former Clinton administration National Security Council staffer Richard Feinberg of the Brookings Institution snarled that these Cubans must either “engage” with the Castro regime “or perish.” No doubt, Feinberg regrets his harsh critique, which exposes a remarkable indifference to the systematic oppression of the Castro regime. Payá spent 15 years trying to engage his government, until he lay dead on a country road.

Cuba’s dissidents, independent journalists, bloggers, and others will continue their freedom quest — but they should not have to do so alone. President Obama should dispatch a high-profile, personal envoy to key Latin American, Caribbean, and European capitals to explain how he intends to engage Cubans other than Castro. He should invite his counterparts to join him in explaining these efforts at the Summit of the Americas in Panama in April.

Surely, these governments can agree to call on Cuban authorities to liberate all political prisoners; allow people to exercise their political liberties, as detailed in the Inter-American Democratic Charter; commit to organizing free elections as soon as possible; end the ban on the importation of books; grant unfettered access to the Internet; stop the electronic jamming of international news broadcasts; permit Cubans to travel to and from their island without restrictions; allow independent journalists — both Cuban and international — to practice their profession openly and freely; allow the Inter-American Human Rights Commission to make its first visit to Cuba and to establish a permanent office to monitor conditions in that country; and give the International Committee of the Red Cross access to inspect Cuban prisons and jails.

Those in the US Congress who know Cuba best have questioned the president’s engagement of the regime as a strategy for bringing about change on the island — not because they hope he’s wrong but because they know it. Unless he redeems himself with a vigorous international campaign for helping the people of Cuba, his new approach will do more harm than good.

Video: Menendez Floor Remarks on U.S.-Cuba Policy

Friday, January 16, 2015
Below is the video (or click here) of this week's floor speech by U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

Quote of the Day: On Cuban Prisoner Re-Arrests

They can arrest us again whenever they see fit. We knew that from the moment they let us go.
-- Jose Lino Ascensio Lopez, a Cuban dissident who was part of the 53 political prisoners recently released, Fox News Latino, 1/16/15

Statement on Obama's New Cuba Regulations

Thursday, January 15, 2015
Today, the Obama Administration has released regulations implementing the limited sanctions relief the United States offered to Cuba's Castro dictatorship, pursuant to a one-sided deal announced on December 17th.

It is the third time in his Presidency that Obama eases sanctions towards Cuba, with the first two being on April 2009 and January 2011.  It's also the third time that Obama does so in return for no guarantees or improvements on political freedoms, human rights and democratic reforms for the Cuban people. To the contrary, since the first set of sanctions were eased, yearly political arrests in Cuba have more than quadrupled from 2,074 political arrests in 2010 to 8,899 in 2014.

Moreover, since Obama's policy of appeasement began in 2009, the Castro dictatorship has felt further emboldened to take an American hostage to (now) successfully coerce the United States into further concessions; to traffic heavy weapons to North Korea in violation of international law; to obstruct investigations into the mysterious deaths of renowned democracy leaders Laura Pollan, of The Ladies in White, and Oswaldo Paya, of the Christian Liberation Movement; to subvert democratic institutions and direct violence against peaceful student protesters in Venezuela; and to mobilize its diplomatic arsenal in support of Assad's genocide in Syria, North Korea's crimes against humanity, a nuclear Iran, Vladimir Putin's illegal annexation of the Crimea and of the violent actions by Russian separatists in the Ukraine.

Furthermore, the lack of transparency and accountability by the Obama Administration in its handling of the list of the 53 Cuban political prisoners, which it had negotiated for release, also raises concerns. Upon the list being leaked, pursuant to weeks of Congressional and media pressure, it was revealed that 14 of the political prisoners listed had been released before the December 17th announcement. Some up to 6-8 months ago, and one over one-year ago. At least three, had already completed their sentences. Such secrecy only leads to further distrust of the Obama Administration in pursuing this policy.

Finally, the new regulations announced by the Treasury and Commerce Departments raise questions regarding the legal authority under which President Obama has implemented some of the changes.  It also raises questions whether some of the newly-authorized transactions towards Cuba are in violation of statutory prohibitions. These are issues Congress should look closely into during the coming weeks.

Castro Re-Arrests Cuban Dissidents From the List of 53

Two Cuban political prisoners from the list of 53 that had been negotiated by President Obama and General Raul Castro have been re-arrested.

They are Rolando Reyes Rabanal and Luis Enrique Labrador.

According to Hablemos Press, Rabanal and Labrador were arrested -- along with other activists -- as they sought to attend a meeting of the opposition group, Movement for a New Republic.

Also arrested at the meeting was Lazara Maria Borrego Guzman, a member of The Ladies in White. Regime officials fractured her arm during the violent arrest.

Meanwhile, another opposition activist, Miguel Daniel Borroto Vazquez, was beaten and arrested outside his home. Borrot Vazquez in being held at the Castro detention center in Havana, known as El Vivac.

Rabanal and Labrador aren't the first from the list of 53, who have been re-arrested.

Marcelino Abreu Bonora, who had been out of prison since October 24th, but was somehow included in Obama's list of 53 was then re-arrested after the December 17th announcement (on December 26th), brutally beaten (click here to see evidence) and kept in a punishment cell for nearly two weeks before being re-released on January 7th.

This Obama-Castro deal is clearly going from bad to worse.

Tweet of the Day: The Clear Beneficiary of Obama's Cuba Regs

By Cuban blogger, Yusnaby Perez:

Obama allows Americans to pay with credit cards in Cuba. 

Castro will continue prohibiting private businesses from charging with cards.

Only the government's businesses are allowed to operate with credit cards. Private businesses are prohibited from doing so.

Senators Question Legality of Cuba Regulatory Changes

With today's changes in Treasury and Commerce regulations to implement President Obama's Cuba deal with dictator Raul Castro, the following questions raised by U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Dan Coats (R-IN) are particularly important:

January 14, 2015

The Honorable Jacob J. Lew
Secretary of the Treasury
United States Department of the Treasury

Dear Secretary Lew:

We are deeply concerned that several aspects of the President Obama’s new approach to Cuba, especially those related to unilaterally easing U.S. sanctions, violate the letter and spirit of several U.S. laws, and increase the moral and financial risk to the American taxpayer and financial system of doing business through Cuba’s government-controlled financial system.  We ask that you explain in detail how the Treasury Department plans to implement the President’s announcement under current law.

On December 17, the President announced that “U.S. institutions will be permitted to open correspondent accounts at Cuban financial institutions to facilitate the processing of authorized transactions.”

As you know, Section 7207 of the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act (TSREEA) explicitly prohibits U.S. assistance and financing to Cuba. Moreover, it contains no Presidential waiver. Also, Section 103 of the LIBERTAD Act prohibits any financing of transactions involving confiscated property belonging to U.S. nationals.

Given these stark differences between the letter of the law and the Administration’s announcement, we ask that you provide clear answers to the following questions:

  • What legal authority does the Administration have to allow establishment of correspondent accounts in Cuba, and the use of U.S. credit and debit cards by travelers to Cuba?
  • How would the opening of correspondent accounts and the use of U.S.-backed credit cards expose U.S. financial institutions and affect legal action from Americans who have outstanding judgments rendered against the Cuban government by U.S. courts?
  • How would these regulatory changes impact U.S. obligations to protect U.S. trademark holders, namely those who had their intellectual property confiscated?
  • Less than three years ago, Cuba blocked access to the Cuba-based correspondent bank accounts of its European trading partners and confiscated their cash.  Can the Administration ensure that this will not happen to U.S. accounts?
The President also announced that “Telecommunications providers will be allowed to establish the necessary mechanisms, including infrastructure, in Cuba to provide commercial telecommunications and internet services.”

  • While Congress has authorized certain transactions to improve telecommunications services between the United States and Cuba, U.S. law prohibits U.S. investments in Cuba’s domestic telecom infrastructure.
Specifically, the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 (22 USC 6004) includes a direct prohibition on “investment in domestic telecommunications services.”  Moreover, it states that an “investment” in the domestic telecommunications network within Cuba “includes the contribution (including by donation) of funds or anything of value to or for, and the making of loans to or for, such network.”  The LIBERTAD Act subsequently reinforced this “no investment” in telecom prohibition (22 USC 6032(g)).

  • What legal authority does the Administration have to allow U.S. investments in Cuba’s telecommunications infrastructure?
  • How would such investments affect legal action from Americans who have outstanding judgments rendered against the Cuban government by U.S. courts?
Also, as part of the President’s announcement, general licenses will be issued for all 12 categories of authorized travel in the existing categories.  However, TSREEA codified the ban on tourist activities, which are defined as any activity not expressly authorized in the 12 categories of travel set forth in the regulations. It further specified, “as such regulations were in effect on June 1, 2000.”  At the time of codification, non-academic educational travel (“people-to-people”) was only permitted via specific license.

  • Under what authority will the President license travel beyond the June 1, 2000 levels?
Under the travel codification, trips related to activities that are primarily tourist-oriented -- including self-directed educational activities intended only for personal enrichment -- are illegal.

  • How will Treasury enforce violations of travel for self-directed educational activities and by groups that sponsor people-to-people trips, which seek to engage primarily in tourist activities?
  • How do certain travel activities, including staying at confiscated properties by U.S. travelers, not violate the ban on trafficking, and “indirect financing,” of confiscated property in LIBERTAD?
The fact that the Administration has been unable to answer these and many other questions almost a month after the President’s announcement, raises serious concerns about the process which preceded it.  We thus would like to know whether the Treasury Department was even consulted regarding these significant policy changes regarding Cuba, and if so, on what date.

We appreciate your prompt answers to these questions.

Sincerely,

Marco Rubio
Daniel Coats

Quote of the Day: Cuba is Not Dubai

This is not Dubai 93 miles south of Key West. There needs to be meaningful commercial and economical change in Cuba before anything that the president announced is going to be beneficial to U.S. exporters.
-- John Kavulich, senior policy adviser to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, USA Today, 1/12/15

Must-Read: Senator Menendez Floor Remarks on U.S.-Cuba Relations

Wednesday, January 14, 2015
U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following remarks today on the Senate Floor about U.S.-Cuba relations:

“Mr. President, I rise to say that nothing has changed in Cuba since Cuban arms were captured on this North Korean ship going through the Panama Canal a year and a half ago, just after the Obama Administration started its secret negotiations with the Cuban government. Not the regime. Not its mindset, not its oppression of its people!

We could not trust the Castro regime then, and we cannot trust it now. What we can trust are the voices of the dissidents who have been arrested and re-arrested – time-and-time-again – year-after-year – for demanding nothing more than the ability to speak their minds, freely, openly, without fear.

Voices like Berta Soler, the leader of the Ladies in White, who said: 'Sadly, President Obama made the wrong decision. The freedom and democracy of the Cuban people will not be achieved through these benefits that he's giving – not to the Cuban people – but to the Cuban government. The Cuban government will only take advantage to strengthen its repressive machinery, to repress civil society, its people and remain in power.'

Or the voice of Yoani Sanchez, a prominent Cuban blogger and independent journalist who said: '[Alan Gross] was not arrested for what he did, but for what could be gained from his arrest. He was simply bait and they were aware of it from the beginning. Castroism has won, though the positive result is that Alan Gross has left alive the prison that threatened to become his tomb.'

'Or the voice of Rosa Maria Paya – the daughter of Oswaldo Paya – the island’s most prominent and respected human rights advocate – killed in what remains a suspicious – quote – unquote –  automobile accident.' Rosa Maria Paya said, 'The Cuban people are being ignored in this secret conversation, in this secret agreement that we learned today. The reality of my country is there is just one party with all the control and with the state security controlling the whole society. If this doesn’t change, there’s no real change in Cuba. Not even with access to Internet. Not even when Cuban people can travel more than two years ago. Not even that is a sign of the end of the totalitarianism in my country.'

Or the voice of Sakharov Prize winner, Guillermo Farinas who spoke for many Cuban dissidents when he said this: 'Alan Gross was used as a tool by the Castro regime to coerce the United States. Obama was not considerate of Cuban citizens and of the civil society that is facing this tyrannical regime. In Miami, Obama promised that he would consult Cuba measures with civil society and the non-violent opposition. Obviously, this didn't happen. That is a fact, a reality. He didn't consider Cuba's democrats. The betrayal of Cuba's democrats has been consummated.'

And the powerful voice of the husband of Berta Soler, Angel Moya, a former political prisoner of the Black Spring in 2003 when the Fidel Castro imprisoned 75 including 29 journalists along with librarians and democracy activists. 'The Obama Administration has ceded before Castro's dictatorship. Nothing has changed. The jails remain filled, the government represents only one family, repression continues, civil society is not recognized and we have no right to assemble or protest. The measures that the government of the United States has implemented today, to ease the embargo and establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, will in no way benefit the Cuban people. The steps taken will strengthen the Castro regime's repression against human rights activists and increase its resources, so the security forces can keep harassing and repressing civil society.'

'These are the voices of freedom in Cuba. These are the men and women who have been arrested and suffered under the oppressive hand of the Cuban Regime for their belief in the right of all Cubans to be free. These are the people who know that nothing – nothing – nothing – has changed. The Regime – after reaping the benefits of what, in my view, is a bad deal – is still arresting peaceful protesters, including more than 50 at the end of December.

Let me say, while I welcome the news that Cuba has released these 53 political prisoners, and that the Administration has shared the list of names it negotiated with the Castro Regime – this entire process has been shrouded in secrecy. However, while Reuters reports that Administration officials said that the list was created in June or July, some of the 53 were released well before June, fourteen – to be exact – were released 6 to 8 months before the December 17th announcement, and one was released over a year ago. Many had simply finished their unjust prison terms. Clearly, keeping the list secret provided the regime flexibility to define 'mission accomplished.'

The fact is – the release of 53 political prisoners doesn't mean there are no longer political prisoners in Cuba. Human rights groups had stated – prior to the President's speech in December – that there were over 100 long term political prisoners in the country. And, there were 8,900 – to be exact – 8,889 political detentions in Cuba last year, an appalling number.

In short, while 53 political prisoners have been let-out of jail, the same corrupt jailer is still ruling the country. The Castros have a long history of re-arresting these political and human rights activists whom they’ve previously released.

Will these 53 political prisoners be able to peacefully work in their country for freedom and human rights – or will they be thrown into Castro’s gulags once again? That remains to be seen.

The fact is – as a Cuban-American who has spoken out time and time again on the brutal repression of the Cuban people under the Castro Regime – someone whose family has suffered the consequences – I believe the agreement the Administration has reached with the Castro Regime is one-sided and misguided.

It fails to understand the nature of the regime that has exerted its authoritarian control over the Cuban people for over 55 years. No one wishes that the reality in Cuba was more different than the Cuban people and Cuban-Americans that have fled the island in search of freedom.

In December, the same month the President announced changes to U.S. policy, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights & National Reconciliation (CCHR) documented 489 political arrests – bringing the total number of political arrests during the first eleven months of 2014 to 8,900.

This is a regime that imprisoned an American citizen for five years for distributing communications equipment on the island. Releasing political prisoners today in Cuba is meaningless if tomorrow these individuals can be arrested again and denied the right to peacefully pursue change in their own country.

Mr. President, it’s a fallacy that Cuba will change just because the American President believes that if he extends his hand in peace that the Castro brothers suddenly will unclench their fists. As you have seen from the quotes I have read – a majority of democratic activists on the island – many with whom I have met – have been explicit that they want the U.S. to become open to Cuba only when there is reciprocal movement by the Castro government. They understand that the Castros will not accede to change in any other way. In my view, and in theirs, the United States has thrown the Cuban regime an economic lifeline.

With the collapse of the Venezuelan economy, Cuba is losing its main benefactor, but will now receive the support of the United States, the greatest democracy in the world. This is a reward that a totalitarian regime does not deserve. It is a reward that, at the end of the day, perpetuates the Castro regime’s decades of repression. The regulatory changes the Regime has won – which are clearly intended to circumvent the intent and spirit of U.S. law and the U.S. Congress – present a false narrative about Cuba that suggests that the U.S., and not the regime, is responsible for their economic failure.

Let’s be clear – Cuba’s economic struggles are 100 percent attributable to a half century of failed political and economic experiments that have suffocated Cuban entrepreneurs. In Cuba, private business is controlled by the Cuban government, most significantly the military, with the benefits flowing directly to the regime’s political and military leadership. Cuba has had political and economic relations with most of the world, but companies choose not to engage because of political, economic and even criminal risks associated with investment on the island, as exhibited by the arbitrary arrests of foreign investors from Canada, England and Panama in recent years.

So, to suggest that Cuba should be taken off the list of state sponsors of terrorism is alarming while Cuba harbors American fugitives like Joanne Chesimard – a cop killer – who is on the FBI’s list of Most Wanted Terrorists for murdering New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster. And despite Cuba’s colluding with North Korea to smuggle jets, missile batteries, and arms through the Panama Canal – in violation of the U.N Security Council Resolution. And for giving refuge to the FARC from Colombia – and the ETA from Spain – groups that the State Department recognize as Foreign Terrorist Organizations.

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

In this new Congress, I urge incoming Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker to hold hearings on this dramatic and mistaken change of policy. And I will keep coming to this floor to address – at length – all of the issues I have raised. I will come to this floor – again and again – to expose one of the most oppressive, repressive, and undemocratic regimes in the world.

To those of my colleagues who herald this agreement – and for those in the press who still live with the mistaken romanticism of the Castros’ revolution and who speak out about human rights abuses and democratic movements all over the world – it is so hypocritical that you are so silent – a deafening silence – when it comes to the democratic and human rights movement in Cuba.

This does not end here. It does not end today with one speech. It will not end until the people of Cuba are truly free!

With that, Mr. President, I yield the floor."

Why is the Obama Administration Being Dishonest About the Cuban Prisoners List?

Click below (or here) to view the State Department's Marie Harf and Cuba Democracy Advocates' Mauricio Claver-Carone in MSNBC's The Rundown:

Rubio Presses Obama for Answers on Cuban Prisoner's List

January 13, 2015

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

Yesterday, after weeks of inquiries, Secretary of State John Kerry shared a list of 53 former political prisoners with members of Congress that have supposedly been released as part of your efforts to normalize relations with Cuba. While we all rejoice for any political prisoner who is no longer unjustly held by the Cuban police state, Secretary Kerry’s list raises more questions than it answers.

Cuban activists report that many of the people on the list had already been released months prior to your announcement on December 17, in one case, more than a year earlier. Others had already served the bulk of their sentences and were already due to be released. One political prisoner was released and then subsequently re-arrested and beaten and then released again. Human rights groups also report that many of those released have been done so conditionally with charges still pending against them, released on probation, released with the threat of being imprisoned again if they resume their efforts in support of freedom for the Cuban people, or released with prohibitions on being able to leave the country.

The list thus raises additional questions about your administration’s handling of the negotiations with Havana. It also increases uncertainty about whether the Cuban regime can be expected to abide by its commitments in the future:

  • What commitments did the Cuban government make, if any, regarding the treatment of released prisoners?
  • Does the United States agree that releasing prisoners on probation and with pending charges is consistent with the deal?
  • Who compiled the original list submitted to the Cuban government and what criteria were used to determine who was placed on the list?
  • What Cuban human rights groups were consulted about the prioritization of the list?
  • Did the Cuban regime refuse to release any prisoners that the United States requested?  If so, who?
  • According to Reuters, the State Department claims that this list was finalized in July, five months before your December 17 announcement. Why was the list of prisoners not updated to account for new prisoners jailed during the intervening five months and those that were already scheduled to be released for serving out their terms?
  • What is the United States doing to continue to address the plight of Cuba’s remaining political prisoners?
  • What specifically does your administration hope to achieve on this issue of securing the unconditional release of all remaining political prisoners – and seeing to it that they are all released unconditionally – during the course of the normalization talks in Havana next week?

I urge you to ensure that U.S. policy going forward is devoted to ending the regime that has committed these abuses, not strengthening it through half measures and incomplete negotiations. The goal of U.S. policy should be to ensure that there are no more political prisoners in Cuba. Answers to the above questions will help further this agenda.

Sincerely,

Marco Rubio
U.S. Senator

WSJ: The U.S.-Cuba Deal Heightens the Spy Threat

Tuesday, January 13, 2015
By Yleem and Jason Poblete in The Wall Street Journal:

The U.S.-Cuba Deal Heightens the Spy Threat

In addition to freeing three Cuban spies on Dec. 17, President Obama announced additional concessions and sanctions-easing proposals as part of his effort to “normalize” relations with the Castro regime in Cuba. Perhaps most troubling is his administration’s desire to upgrade the U.S. and Cuban diplomatic posts to embassy status and restore full recognition to the dictatorship.

Since at least the 1980s, a number of Cuban nationals accredited as “diplomats” at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C., as well as Cuba’s United Nations Mission in New York, have been expelled for “hostile intelligence activities” against the U.S., according to the State Department.

More recent expulsions have been due to “a pattern of unofficial activities deemed harmful to the United States.” These continuing pursuits by Cuban agents should provide sufficient reason for any responsible policy maker to refrain from normalizing relations.

In May 2003, 14 Cuban diplomats were declared persona non grata by the State Department and expelled from the U.S. for “unofficial activities,” which is diplomatic speak for espionage. One was the first secretary of the Cuban Interests Section, Jose Anselmo Lopez Perera. His wife, Josefina Vidal, also a first secretary and known Cuban intelligence officer, left with her husband. In exchange for her “heroic” exploits on behalf of the Revolution—yes, they still talk this way in Havana—the Castro regime rewarded Vidal by placing her in charge of North American Affairs or the “United States Division” as Cuba’s Foreign Ministry refers to it.

In her capacity as chief anti-American operative, Vidal traveled to the U.S. in May 2014 to meet with State Department officials. Her interlocutor? Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, whom President Obama has chosen to lead a high-ranking delegation to Havana this month for normalization talks.

With elevated diplomatic status comes enhanced capacity and flexibility for these regime operatives to engage in hostile activities. The new Congress, specifically the House and Senate committees on foreign affairs, should re-examine this issue, cross-reference and study cases, and assess the president’s decision to restore diplomatic ties in context by considering the range of regime activities against U.S. interests.

As Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.), then-chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said last month after the release of the three Cuban spies in exchange for Alan Gross, a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development jailed in Cuba since 2009: “President Obama’s actions have vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government. There is no equivalence between an international aid worker and convicted spies.”

When President Dwight Eisenhower officially severed ties with Havana on Jan. 3, 1961, he issued the following statement: “There is a limit to what the United States in self-respect can endure. That limit has now been reached.” Havana’s communist guerrilla leaders had violated the rights of Americans, directly threatened U.S. interests, and defied international legal and humanitarian standards. This could not be allowed to continue without a firm response from the U.S. The same is true today, possibly more so.

Has there been a fundamental change in the behavior, policies and actions of the Castro regime in Cuba? No. Has it done anything to merit reversal of the Eisenhower decision? No. (On Monday, news emerged that Havana had finally honored its recent agreement to free 53 individuals whom the U.S. considers political prisoners. But the U.S. appears to have no way of ensuring that their future dissent will not result in imprisonment, as countless others languish in jail for their pro-democracy advocacy.)

Is there a different leadership in Cuba—one that espouses freedom and no longer threatens the U.S. or undermines its interests and objectives? Absolutely not.

Under the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, signed into law by President Clinton in 1996 and which could be viewed as also codifying the Eisenhower decision to sever ties with Cuba, the legal criteria for normalization of relations, including the political reward of full diplomatic recognition, have clearly not been met.

It is incumbent upon Congress to be the responsible party and focus on U.S. national security and foreign-policy priorities that have been lost in the euphoria over access to Cuban beaches, cigars and rum. It must act swiftly and resolutely—using all statutory, legislative, oversight and funding tools at its disposal.

Only then can the members of the House and Senate hope to prevent the further erosion of American dignity and self-respect that President Eisenhower sought to preserve and that has been damaged by the Obama administration’s recent actions.

When Will Cuba's Remaining Political Prisoners be Released?

Today, a senior U.S. official announced that all 53 Cuban political prisoners, who were part of the December 17th Obama-Castro deal, have been released.

Also, after intense scrutiny from Congress and the media, the Obama Administration finally "leaked" a list of the 53 political prisoners.

Why didn't it release the list on December 17th?

Here are a few clues:

The list includes over a dozen prisoners who were released prior to the December 17th announcement, such as Sonia Garro, Ramon Alejandro Munoz, Eugenio Hernandez Hernandez, Juliet Muechelena Diaz Vladimir Morera Bacallao, Alcibiades Guerra Marin, Eider Frometa Allen, Madeline Lazara Caraballo Betancourt, Jorge Cervantes García, Juan Carlos Vasquez Osoria and Niorvis Rivera Guerra.

The Administration insists that they were also part of the Obama-Castro deal. Of course, since they kept the list secret all this time, we'll never know. So much for accountability and transparency.

One of the prisoners on the list, who was also released prior to December 17th, Marcelino Abreu Bonora, had been out of prison since October 24th. He was then re-arrested on December 26th (after the Obama-Castro deal), brutally beaten (click here to see evidence) and kept in a punishment cell for nearly two weeks before being re-released on January 7th.

Abreu Bonora's case proves how fungible and fickle this deal is.

What's clear is that the Obama Administration didn't want to travel to Havana next week for further talks, while questions lingered about the unknown fate of these 53 prisoners.

Thus, after sitting on their hands for four weeks, they ratcheted the pressure on the Castro regime.  Imagine that, pressure works.

Or they simply got creative with the list.

(Additionally, most of the political prisoners were released on the "condition" they don't renew their democracy activism -- or face re-arrest -- while many were at the tail-end of their sentences.)

But as we celebrate the release of these 53 Cuban political prisoners, questions remain about the fate of nearly 50 other known, long-term political prisoners who remain imprisoned.

Not to mention the 8,900 political arrests that took place throughout 2014 -- any of which could easily become a long-term imprisonment. (Part of Castro's revolving-door in using political prisoners to coerce foreign concessions.)

Why did the Obama Administration only settle for the release of 53?

After all, Castro released 3,600 political prisoners to President Jimmy Carter in 1978 and nearly 100 were released pursuant to international pressure following the murder of Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo in 2010.

Plus now that Obama has negotiated away all of his executive powers for the release of these 53 political prisoners (also proving that leverage works) -- what leverage does he have left for the remaining others?

What will be their fate?  

They include Yosvany Melchor, imprisoned since 2010 for his mother's activism in Oswaldo Paya's Christian Liberation Movement (MCL); labor leader Ulises Gonzalez Moreno; and famed author and critic, Angel Santiesteban-Prats.

Or famed Cuban artist, Danilo Maldonado ("El Sexto"), who was imprisoned after the December 17th announcement (on Christmas Day) and awaits sentencing.

Or what about (date of imprisonment)?

Harold Alcala Aramburo (2003)
Claro Fernando Alonso Hernandez (1996)
Miguel Alvarez (2012)
Lewis Arce Romero (2003)
Mercedes Arce (2012)
Ariel Arzuaga Pena (2011)
Lazaro Avila Sierra (2003)
Ernesto Borges Perez (1998)
Juana Castillo Acosta (2012)
Maikel Delgado Aramburo (2003)
Jose Angel Diaz Ortiz (2003)
Darian Ernesto Dufuss Preval (May 2014)
Carlos Manuel Figueroa Alvarez (October 2014)
Angel Frometa Robaina (2012)
Jacqueline Garcia Jaens (October 2014)
Alexander Gonzalez Estrada (2003)
Alexis Guerrero Cruz (April 2014)
Ramon Henry Grillo (2003)
Jose Herman Aguilera (1993)
Mario Hernandez Leyva (May 2014)
Ricardo Hernandez Ruiz (2011)
Hector Hierrezuelo Marquez (March 2014)
Wilmer Ledea Perez (2003)
Rider Lescay Veloz (2007)
Santiago Montes de Oca (October 2014)
Ricardo Pelier Frometa (May 2014)
Jorge Perez Puentes (2003)
Francisco Reyes Rodriguez (2003)
Osvaldo Rodriguez Acosta (2012)
Osvaldo Rodriguez Castillo (2012)
Yoelkis Rosabal Florez (May 2014)
Ruben Sintes Rodriguez (2009)
Yoanny Thomas Gonzalez (2003)
Juan Antonio Torres Fernandez (2011)
Hector Velazquez Gomez (2013)
Ruvisnel Villavicencio (October 2014)

Bipartisan New Jersey Congressional Delegation: Return Cop-Killer From Cuba

From North Jersey's The Record:

Letter to President Obama urges return of cop-killer Joanne Chesimard from Cuba

President Obama should make the extradition of Joanne Chesimard from Cuba “an immediate priority,” Rep. Scott Garrett and four House colleagues said in a letter to Obama released Monday.

Chesimard escaped from a New Jersey prison in 1979 after serving two years of a life sentence for the 1978 murder of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster during a traffic stop on the New Jersey Turnpike. She is believed to have moved to Cuba in 1984 and was granted asylum.

The letter to Obama circulated by Garrett was also signed by Reps. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-Harding; Frank LoBiondo, R-Ventnor; Frank Pallone, D-Long Branch and Bill Pascrell Jr., D-Paterson.

Governor Christie made a similar request in a letter released Dec. 18, a day after the White House announced plans to ease relations with Cuba.

On Dec. 17, several other members of the state's delegation in Congress also called for Chesimard's return, including Sen. Bob Menendez, D-Paramus, Reps. Chris Smith, R-Robbinsville, and Albio Sires, D-West New York, and Frelinghuysen.

The Cuban government on Dec. 22 said it has the right to grant asylum to U.S. fugitives, a sign it did not intend to release Chesimard, The Associated Press reported.

While Obama Celebrates Releases, More Cuban Dissidents Arrested

While the Obama Administration pats itself on the back for the release of 53 Cuban political prisoners, including over a dozen released prior to the December 17th announcement, new arrests continue.

Yesterday, in the town of Santa Clara, Yoel Bravo Lopez, head of the Youth Awakening Opposition Movement (MOJD), and Nestor Alfonzo Cabrera, were brutally beaten and arrested for handing out leaflets in a public park that asked for the release of Cuban political prisoners and the ratification of international human rights accords.

Also arrested were two female members of the group, Lisnelly Alfonso Cabrea and Yaime Calmenate, for handing out similar leaflets at the town's agricultural market.

Shunning Cuba's Dissidents

Monday, January 12, 2015
By Mike Gonzalez in National Review:

Cuban Dissidents’ Choices 

D.C. polite society has little use for Cuba’s dissidents. 

There are many different shades of shame in President Obama’s decision to recognize Cuba’s unelected military dictatorship, starting of course in the Oval Office, where the plan was hatched. But certainly one of the most disgraceful things happening is the treatment being meted out to the long-suffering dissidents of that poor island by what passes for polite society in Washington, D.C.

Observe as Exhibit One what is taking place at the Brookings Institution (certainly there’s nothing more highbrow than that creature of the establishment, right?). This is what one of its senior fellows, Richard Feinberg, had to say to the New York Times recently about Cuba’s dissidents: “The hard-liners here will have to either engage, or perish... Obama had a conversation with Raúl Castro. Then why can’t they?”

Perish? Is this really what our academics think should happen to those who won’t kowtow to dictators? And does Mr. Feinberg truly think that it is the dissidents who are being hardline, while Raúl extends a hand of friendship?

Mr. Feinberg, of course, is hardly alone in this thinking at Brookings. His colleague Ted Piccone, another Cuba expert, recently observed that “democratic change” in Cuba “requires indigenous citizen movements who are willing to take the difficult steps to demand it themselves.”

Really? It may interest Messrs. Feinberg and Piccone to know that this is what happens when dissidents try to speak their minds, and this, and this (and this). We also know from the testimony of political prisoners (Amnesty International is not given access, so we must take their word for it) what happens in Cuba’s prisons.

Many of these dissidents and former prisoners are able to come through Washington, and I am sure are available to meet with the good folks at Brookings, as they are to meet with other Washington think tanks. For the benefit of readers who do not have this level of access, here’s what one former prisoner, Armando Valladares, wrote after a prison guard poured a bucket of human ordure and urine on him:

"The shock of the cold was what woke me. I was bathed from top to bottom and sitting in a caramel-colored, foul-smelling puddle. Down my face and neck were sliding pieces of excrement. I was the first of those prisoners to receive the impact of that bath, and it took me so off guard that I opened my mouth in surprise. Chunks of excrement fell into my mouth."

Are Messrs. Feinberg and Piccone really unaware of all this?

We understand that they must travel often to Havana, since they have formed “working groups” and “joint research projects” with members of the regime — i.e., the tormentors of Mr. Valladares and the dissidents in the videos. Piccone was actually in Havana when President Obama announced he was going to recognize the Castro regime. This is how he elatedly described it:

"We were at this conference together at the Ministry of Foreign Relations’ diplomatic academy. You had a group of 100 people, maybe 20 Americans, the rest were Cuban specialists, focusing on the prospect for U.S.-Cuba relations. There were pessimists and optimists but none of us quite got it right. It was head snapping what happened on December 17. It had a drama to it that was important."

Cuba, however — despite President Obama’s unwise decision — may not neatly follow the Chinese and Vietnamese model, where the Communist cadre has remained in charge decades after the transition from the founders. Cuba may instead follow the Czech, Polish, or Baltic model, and become free. Today’s dissidents, if they don’t perish, may one day be in charge.

Something for Cuba researchers to think about.

Obama Gives Cuba a Hemispheric Coup

Sunday, January 11, 2015
By Mauricio Claver-Carone in The Huffington Post:

Obama Gives Cuba a Hemispheric Coup

The recent political witch-hunt against famed Venezuelan opposition legislator Maria Corina Machado reinforces growing concerns that democratic institutions are under concerted attack in the Western Hemisphere.

"Justice is on its knees in Venezuela with sentences being dictated from Miraflores or Havana," Machado says, summing up the political alliance between Cuba and Venezuela's governments that drive her country's politics. She stands accused of conspiring to kill Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro. Another opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez, has already been imprisoned.

Through its cohorts and directly, Cuba has been pounding democratic institutions not only in Venezuela, but also Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua. Democracy's advocates in the region are too shortsighted, beleaguered or intimidated to fight back aggressively. In fact, they invited Cuba to participate in the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Panama, despite the fact that Cuba's Castro dictatorship openly scorns the "democracy clause" that reserves Summit membership and participation to the region's democratic governments. Thirty-four of the 35 nations comprising the Western Hemisphere adopted that clause during the Quebec Summit. Cuba was then and still is the Hemisphere's last remaining totalitarian state; it also has a long history of "exporting revolution" into democratic states.

The Obama Administration initially stated its opposition to Cuba being invited to the Summit. However, in a turn-around announcement on December 17, it chose to "lead from behind" and acquiesce to the whims of those hemispheric leaders all-too-eager and willing to suspend the "democracy clause." Not only has President Obama now accepted Cuba's participation, but he will also be there to personally welcome dictator Raul Castro.

However, those who lobbied Obama to attend the Summit regardless of the violation of the "democracy clause" weren't to be satisfied with his attendance alone. They also wanted the President to arrive with a gift bag for Cuba that includes a further lifting of U.S. sanctions. That, they argued, will ensure a warm reception for Obama from "troubled" Latin American leaders. And naturally, Castro would be thrilled.

If this sounds familiar, it's because the exact same arguments were made in the months and weeks leading up to the 2009 Summit of the Americas in Trinidad. Just days before that summit, the Obama Administration did ease sanctions against Cuba. Despite this "gesture," Obama was not received in Trinidad as a hero. He was treated as a pushover. Then Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez even engineered a photo-op with the President that featured copies of anti-American book, Open Veins of Latin America. Latin America's "extreme Left" considers the book to be its bible. (The author, Eduardo Galeano, has recently disavowed his creation.) A few months after that summit, the Cuban government of Raul Castro seized an American hostage, Alan Gross, in a successful effort to coerce the United States into releasing a group of imprisoned Cuban spies.

For months, advocates for lifting sanctions used the Panama Summit as a prop in their campaign against what they call the United States' "failed policy." They would happily sacrifice our national interest in regional democracy to advance their narrow agenda. Not only is this dangerous and irresponsible, it also begs the serious question: What do they consider to be a "successful" policy alternative?

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

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

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

Raul Castro, Nicolas Maduro and their puppets revel in such models. But none should have a place -- geographically or politically -- in the Western Hemisphere. In this hemisphere, every nation (except Cuba) made a commitment to representative democracy in 2001. It was a historic commitment that, backed by the United States, has blocked the authoritarian ambitions of wannabe dictators in Latin America and generated continued support for democracy and civil society. It was a commitment that Obama's December 17 announcement has now placed on the chopping block.

Tweet of the Day: Evidence of Abuse by the Cuban Authorities

[Cuban democracy activist] Marcelino Abreu Bonora shows the shirt he was wearing when he was arrested on 12/26/14 in [the town of] Caibaguan.

Note: This violent arrest took place nine days after President Obama's Cuba announcement.

Quote of the Day: Not Free, Until Cuba is Free

I’m not really free yet, because our country is not yet free, but I am now alongside my children and my wife. I am here again, confronting the situation that all us Cubans have to face.
-- Angel Yunier Remon ("El Critico"), young Cuban rapper and political prisoner who was released last week, Pedazos de la Isla, 1/9/15

Tampa Lawyer Killed in Cuba, Secrecy Ensues

And as typically occurs with such crimes in Cuba, it will now be shrouded in secrecy.

From Tampa Bay Times:

Tampa lawyer killed in Cuba

Alberto Romero, a Tampa lawyer, was killed in Cuba while visiting family last week, a family spokesman said.

Hal Flowers, a close family friend, said the family received the news late Friday and has very little information.

"The family of Alberto Romero is privately grieving the loss of their loved one as more details are being sought and the circumstances of this tragedy are being investigated," a written statement from the family said. "At this profoundly sad time, the Romero family respectfully requests privacy as they surround themselves with family, loved ones and close friends."

It was unclear if Romero was killed Thursday night or Friday morning.

Flowers said the family has limited information about the circumstances of Romero's death, but has been working with U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor's office. Castor, D-Tampa is trying to help secure the return of Romero's body so his family can plan a memorial service.

Romero, 39, received his law degree from the University of Illinois College of Law in 2001 and was a marital and family law attorney based in South Tampa.

He started with Gulf Coast Legal Services in 2002, defending indigent victims of domestic violence, according to his website. He then spent several years with the office of Mason Black & Caballero before he opened Alberto Romero PA.

Obama Has Created a Dangerous Precedent in Cuba

By Sebastian Arcos in The Huffington Post:

Hope In Change Is Not a Valid Doctrine

It was not my intention to turn this essay into a critique of President Obama's foreign policy, mainly because I wanted to avoid bringing the red herring of partisanship into what ought to be a debate about the best interests of the US in Cuba. Besides, although twice I did not vote for Mr. Obama, I actually agree with some of his policy decisions, such as trying to close the Guantanamo prison, or relaxing restrictions on Cuban-American travel and remittances to the island. Still, it is impossible to discuss the recent changes in US policy toward Cuba outside the context of President Obama's entire foreign-policy record.

A few years ago, the President defined the tenet of his foreign policy as "Don't Do Stupid S..." The more I look at this Castro deal, the more I see it as another example of that same stupid stuff he wished to avoid. In this light, his latest exploit belongs right next to other foreign-policy disasters, such as the Russian reset, the Syrian red line and the handling of the Egyptian crisis.

By almost every parameter, this agreement with Castro is a bad one. First, President Obama ignored Alan Gross' predicament for almost five years while the hostage's health deteriorated. Then he rushed in to negotiate under pressure, to avoid the black eye the death of the hapless Mr. Gross would have represented. Once at the negotiating table, Mr. Obama reneged on his principle that a swap for the convicted Cuban spies was unacceptable, and went on to release them. Then he went farther, and gave Castro another item from his wish list: removing Cuba from the roster of countries that support terrorism. Then he went even farther and granted Castro the political legitimacy implied by US diplomatic recognition -- the legitimacy he craves to perpetuate his regime in the hands of his chosen heirs. All this in exchange for little, aside from the emaciated Mr. Gross.

Thus, President Obama not only handed Castro a huge propaganda victory, but also created a dangerous precedent by signaling our enemies that major policy concessions can be gained by taking an American hostage. What's worse, he relinquished the two basic tenets of our Cuba policy: the principle of reciprocity -- whereby the US would relax their policy of isolation as the Castros relaxed their absolute control over the island -- and the emphasis on genuine freedom for the Cuban people. On this last issue, Mr. Obama broke his personal promise to Cuban dissidents.

The justification for this dramatic reversal can be summarized in three words: "Hope in Change." Mr. Obama hopes that his change will achieve three goals: to tilt Cuba's internal dynamic toward a transition to democracy; to encourage Latin American nations to pressure Cuba to improve its human-rights record; and to enhance the perception of the US in the region. I fear he will be sorely disappointed on all three. Blaming the US is too valuable a commodity for Latin American populists to discard it so easily. It is naïve to believe that the same nations who have insisted on Cuba joining the OAS and the Summit of the Americas will apply any significant pressure on the human-rights issue. Hoping that American engagement will substantially change Cuba's internal dynamic goes beyond wishful thinking. Why would American engagement succeed where others have failed? Is American engagement inherently superior to others?

This is possibly the most important flaw in the liberal approach to US-Cuba policy. Curiously, the same people who reject the idea of American exceptionalism are willing to believe that American engagement will make all the difference in Cuba. They are imbued by a belief -- I call it the "reaction theory" -- that explains everything that happens in Cuba as a reaction to an American action. According to this, Fidel Castro embraced the Soviets because of US hostility, or invaded Angola to derail President Carter's attempt to normalize relations. This profoundly racist theory consistently overestimates the power of US engagement, and underestimates the Cubans' ability to exercise free will and make decisions as rational actors.

The truth is that the Cuban regime has always favored internal control above all else, including the welfare of its own people. No enticement will be sufficient to change their minds. This will begin to change only when a new generation takes the reins of power. It was in that eventuality where the old policy had its best chance to work. By surrendering our incentives now, this deal squandered that possibility, decreasing the chance of near-term democratization in favor of goals that are, at best, uncertain.

It is true that foreign policy is a pragmatic business where you are forced to make unsavory decisions to uphold other priorities. Cuba, however, offered the US a rare opportunity to align national security with a principled policy in support of democracy and human rights. In favoring stability over regime change, this deal with Raul Castro smacks of the times when the US legitimized cruel Latin American tyrannies for the sake of geopolitical stability.

Quote of the Day: Cuba's "Conditional" Releases

[The Cuban political prisoners] are being released on parole, in one of those tricks of infamy that they have accustomed us to. They put on the sheet of paper that they were released on condition of good behavior. Yet they had been denying them any kind of benefit because, according to the State Security jailers, they were behaving very badly by also protesting within the prisons. What's most important has yet to be resolved, which is for what we fight -- ending the arbitrary legal order that gives rise to so many innocent people going to prison, the lack of a independence of powers of the state of Cuba, the largest factory of prisoners of conscience.
-- Jose Daniel Ferrer, head of Cuba's largest democratic opposition group, the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU), 1/10/15

An Important Role for Radio and TV Marti in Cuba

By A. Ross Johnson and S. Enders Wimbush in The Washington Post:

Radio and TV Martí have roles to play as Cuba enters a new era

When the Berlin Wall came down, Eastern Europe liberated itself and the Soviet Union collapsed, the role of U.S. international broadcasting was universally recognized. In the wake of these world-changing events, Václav Havel, Lech Walesa, Boris Yeltsin and other new leaders insisted that Radio Free Europe (RFE), Radio Liberty (RL) and the Voice of America were central to the peaceful democratic transitions in their countries. Western broadcasts provided essential information to all those dedicated to change and helped accelerate that change. Cuba is approaching such a moment, and once again the United States has a powerful instrument in place to help shape the outcome.

Miami-based Radio and TV Martí was established in 1984 on the model of RFE and RL as a “surrogate” broadcaster to provide accurate information about developments in Cuba and the world otherwise denied to Cubans. The RFE/RL experience suggests that Martí’s role will become more important as diplomatic relations with Cuba are restored and cultural, educational and economic ties with the United States expand. With domestic media still tightly controlled, Cubans will turn to Martí for information on civil society, human rights protests, local opposition blogs, travel rules, economic developments, controversy within the regime — in short, for all domestic news and with a focus on voices from Cuba about Cuba.

This comprehensive surrogate media role will not be performed by CNN or other commercial media. Nor should it be viewed — as some U.S. diplomats have viewed RFE and RL from time to time — as an irritant to improved state-to-state ties. One day, when Cuba is as free and democratic as the former communist countries of Eastern Europe with their own thriving free media, Martí will not be needed. Until then, it can play a key role in fostering peaceful democratic transition in Cuba.

Martí has impact. Once derided for its unsuccessful efforts to telecast from an airplane flying just beyond Cuban airspace, TV Martí grounded that plane in May 2013. Its programs are now carried 24/7 on Hispasat satellite TV and on DirecTV, which penetrate not just Cuba but most of Latin America. Martí distributes both DVDs — 59,000 in 2014, and currently about 15,000 per month — and flash drives containing its radio and TV programs throughout Cuba, where they are copied and distributed by volunteer networks of activists, journalists, bloggers, members of opposition political parties and churches. Martí launched Reporta Cuba in May as a social platform that collects complaints and other information through dozens of citizen reporters across the island. And every day, Martí airs video packages produced on the island itself by independent video journalists denied access to Cuban media.

Martí also reaches Cubans on the Internet, almost nonexistent in Cuba only a few years ago. On the day President Obama announced his intention to reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba, more than 27,000 visitors visited martinoticias.com for news, analysis and context. The president’s speech was broadcast live with simultaneous translation, and when prisoner Alan Gross landed on U.S. soil, his news conference was carried live to Cuba on Martí’s broadcast and Internet channels.

Martí programming is classic surrogate fare — information Cuban media would carry if it were free. Martí reports on the Cuban economy, including corruption, are among the only objective assessments anywhere. Martí provides extensive coverage of women’s issues, and it covers Cuba’s public health challenges. It devotes continual attention to the activities of dissidents and human rights advocates — such as the famous Ladies in White. News of its hemisphere — for example, protests in Venezuela — is a daily offering, and its special programming on media and a free press is extremely popular.

An indicator of Martí’s effectiveness is the efforts by the Cuban regime to block its programs. The regime continues to jam Martí radio broadcasts with some success, especially in Havana. But Martí has countered by buying time on commercial stations in Miami whose signals reach the island successfully. The regime also attempts to prevent access to the Martí Web site, which the Martí leadership circumvents by providing proxy servers.

No one should assume that Obama’s overture to Raúl Castro will result soon in a free press, any more than were Mikhail Gorbachev or Wojciech Jaruzelski ready to relax their control of Soviet and Polish media until domestic pressure forced them to do so. We should expect the Castro regime to fight tooth and nail to prevent media freedom, and it is likely that the regime will intensify measures to derail Radio and TV Martí as the broadcaster informs Cubans about the deepening crisis of the current system. Again, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty are precedents. Attacked and vilified by flailing regimes (Jaruzelski constantly complained to the U.S. Embassy about RFE Polish broadcasts), the Radio Frees doubled down and fulfilled their historic role.

Post-communist transitions may be protracted and suffer reversals. But we know from our experience on the front lines of U.S. international broadcasting that unforeseen events can enhance the role of surrogate free media and accelerate change. Obama’s decision to reestablish diplomatic ties with Cuba, regardless of whether it is followed by liberalization or more repression, is likely to be this kind of game-changer for Martí. This is the moment for which Radio and TV Martí were created. The White House and Congress should make available the resources necessary for Martí to provide Cubans with information that will help them gain their freedom.

A. Ross Johnson, a fellow at the Wilson Center and the Hoover Institution, was director of Radio Free Europe from 1988 to 1991. S. Enders Wimbush was director of Radio Liberty from 1987 to 1993 and a member of the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors from 2010 to 2012.

The Cuba Deal: Coexisting And Profiting With Tyrants

By Dr. Alex Chafuen in Forbes:

The Cuba Deal: Coexisting And Profiting With Tyrants

We all celebrate when an innocent person is released from prison. The freedom of Alan Gross is welcome news. But the release of three convicted Cuban spies and operatives (who were directly responsible for the killing of other innocents), the continued lack of consultation by the administration with other branches of government and Congress, and the disregard for the unrelenting oppression of political freedoms are a high cost to pay.

The leading Cuban-Americans in the legislature, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Sen. Robert Menéndez (D-NJ), and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) released statements with scathing criticisms. Sen. Rubio stated that the deal was “disgraceful for a president who claims to treasure human rights and human freedom. This president is the single worst negotiator we have had in the White House in my lifetime.” The statement by Ros-Lehtinen complements Rubio’s criticism: “This misguided action by President Obama will embolden the Castro regime to continue its illicit activities, trample on fundamental freedoms, and disregard democratic principles.”

I spoke with several human rights and democracy advocates and all were strongly critical. Tony Guedes, leader of the Cuban Liberal Union, Unión Liberal Cubana, who lives in exile in Spain, is convinced that the policies just announced will help the Cuban communist regime and will delay the transition to a real democracy. Guedes believes that the announcements are connected with President Obama’s decision to attend the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Panama.

Sen. Robert Menéndez, the Democrat who is Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had strong words about this as well. He said, “I’m extraordinarily disappointed that we intend to violate our own principles, laid down in the Inter-American Democratic Charter in 2001, on the Summit being a forum for the hemisphere’s democratically-elected leaders.” According to Menéndez, the new actions on Cuba “disavows the Charter and sends a global message about the low priority we place on democracy and respect for human and civil rights.”

Unlike the above bipartisan critics, the leader of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed the new Cuban policy. Its CEO Tom Donohue stated that the “U.S. business community welcomes today’s announcement, and has long supported many of the economic provisions the president touched on in his remarks” and continued “the Chamber and its members stand ready to assist as the Cuban people work to unleash the power of free enterprise to improve their lives.”

Free enterprise indeed improves lives. Free trade also works wonders to bring people and countries together. But trade managed by communist oligarchs can hardly be defined as free trade. An economy where all the key decisions are made by men in uniform can’t be described as free enterprise. Echoing the Chamber, a powerful German think-tank, the Bertelsman Foundation, published a piece which concludes with a typical modern-day capitalist statement “who knows, maybe the US will be able to export a few more Che Guevara tee-shirts along the way.”

Fernando Menéndez, a Cuban expert of the Center for a Secure Free Society, noted that when making the announcement, President Raúl Castro—who had been wearing civilian clothes—donned his military uniform to send a signal of who still remains in power. Crony capitalism of the left, if that is an appropriate name for the Chinese model, might create huge opportunities for profits but, as we see in the current disputes in Hong Kong, it can also weaken the struggle for political freedoms and respect for human rights.

The decline in the price of oil was threatening Cuba with a reduction of the subsidy it receives from its sugar daddy: Venezuela. This deal was arranged because the Obama administration is struggling to create some positive legacies. It aims to get credit for reversing a policy, a stringent embargo, which on its own failed to bring down communism. The Pope and the Canadian government, mentioned as playing important roles, seek different benefits. Pope Francis sees opportunities for the Catholic bishops in Cuba who receive periodic permissions from the tyrants to expand their preaching and educational efforts.

Mainstream media also hails the role of Canada, whose government hosted and facilitated some of the negotiations. Canadians have less restrictions to travel and conduct business in Cuba. The U.S. sanctions and embargo certainly cause them headaches. The Canadian government has a pro-Western stance but it is not immune from the power of economic interests and these might trump concerns for political and human rights.

The economic crisis in Cuba resulting from the woes of Russia and Venezuela would have been a wonderful opportunity to demand true changes. Cuba is still listed as a State sponsor of terrorism. It could be delisted if it stopped meddling in other countries. Its major ally Venezuela would likely have to release its own political prisoners. Not yet. Unfortunately the potential of selling more Che Guevara T-shirts carried the day.