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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing, of course.

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

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

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

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

No wonder Vidal was all smiles.

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

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

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

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

Quite a week.

Video: The Nightly Show Talks Cuba

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

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

Senators Press Justice Department on Fugitives Harbored in Cuba

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

January 23, 2015

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

Dear Attorney General Holder:

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

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

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

We have several questions regarding their cases:

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Senator Marco Rubio

Senator David Vitter

Senator Ted Cruz

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

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

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

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

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

A perfectly timed sojourn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Espionage Backgrounds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Menendez Raises Cuba Policy Concerns With Secretary Kerry

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

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

Dear Mr. Secretary,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Robert Menendez

Did Obama Misstep on Cuba During the SOTU?

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

Watch below (or click here):

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

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

Obama Official (at Best) Misled Congress on Cuba

Wednesday, January 21, 2015
From The Hill:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Putin Sends Spy Ship to Cuba, Castro Slyly Welcomes It

From U.K.'s The Telegraph:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rubio Urges Obama Administration to Condition Cuba Normalization

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

January 20, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully,

Marco Rubio

Democracy Advocates, Lawmakers Blast Obama's Cuba Plans

From McClatchy News:

Cuba advocates, GOP lawmakers blast Obama plans

Cuban democracy advocates and Republican lawmakers on Tuesday blasted the White House and its proposed easing of tension with the Castro government, saying during a Capitol Hill press conference that the Obama administration had sided with the oppressors and not the oppressed.

“There can’t be a normalizing of relations until there is justice on that island, and until there’s been justice paid for all the atrocities they have committed against people there and people here,” said Marlene Alejandre Triana, the daughter of a man whose plane was shot down by the Castro regime 19 years ago.

The event, arranged by U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo – all Republicans from Miami – came in advance of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address and during a week that U.S. diplomats are expected to begin discussions in Havana about the initial steps to open the nations’ respective embassies and thaw relations that have been frozen for half a century.

Attending the event were Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, an activist known by his nickname Antunez, and his wife, Yris Pérez Aguilera, who have a long history of fighting for human rights and democracy in Cuba. Both were scheduled to be guests of U.S. House Speaker John Boehner at Tuesday night’s State of the Union address.

Asked what he’d say to the president if he could speak to him directly, Antunez said through a translator, “I would tell President Obama that these agreements, these negotiations ... are illegitimate. Engagement with the Castro regime only strengthens the Castro regime.”

According to Boehner’s office, Antunez spent more than 17 years in jail as a political prisoner after being arrested for denouncing the Castro regime. He was released in 2007. His wife is also a human rights activist in Cuba, and she has worked to help homeless women and children find places to live.

Their presence Tuesday in Washington – at the invitation of Boehner – should show how serious Congress is in opposing the White House’s Cuba policy, Diaz-Balart said.

“You have the president, who is turning his back on the future leaders of the Cuban people in order to appease and placate and give concessions to the Castro regime,” Diaz-Balart said in an interview.

“And yet Congress – through the speaker – is showing solidarity not with the oppressors but with those who have suffered from the abusers,” he said. “That’s a very telling difference between Congress showing solidarity with the oppressed and President Obama showing solidarity with the oppressors.”

Triana is the daughter of Brothers to the Rescue pilot Armando Alejandre Jr., who was killed when his plane was shot down over international waters by the Castro regime nearly two decades ago. Her father was a volunteer for the Miami-based nonprofit, which coordinated rescue missions with the U.S. Coast Guard and dropped pro-democracy leaflets over Cuba.

Triana was a guest of Ros-Lehtinen for the State of the Union.

Russian Spy Ship Arrives in Havana Ahead of U.S. Delegation

According to CNN's Patrick Oppmann and AFP's Laurent Thomet (see below), a Russian spy ship has arrived in Havana this morning.

The timing is particularly odd, as a U.S. delegation led by Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Roberta Jacobson, arrives in Havana tomorrow to begin talks on the normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba's regime.

Moreover, there hasn't been any announcement in Cuban state media regarding the Russian ship's visit.

Surely this is not an "act of good faith" by the Castro regime.

Antunez to Join Speaker Boehner at State of the Union

From The Washington Examiner:

Boehner's SOTU guest is top Cuban dissident

House Speaker John Boehner will broadcast his opposition to President Obama’s executive action to normalize relations with Cuba to an international audience by bringing a top leader of the Cuban resistance movement to the State of the Union speech.

One of Boehner’s confirmed guests for the evening is Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, who is known as “Antunez.”

Antunez, the 43-year-old leader of Cuba’s civic resistance movement, served more than 17 years in prison, with the Castro regime releasing him in 2007 ahead of expected European sanctions. He lives in Cuba and will return there in two weeks.

He was imprisoned in 1990 after participating in a pro-democracy march. In prison, he refused to wear the uniform provided and rejected communist re-education lessons, which resulted in guards sending him to solitary confinement and adding more years to his original five-year sentence.

Already in Washington ahead of Obama’s speech, Antunez thanked Boehner for inviting him and said his presence at the speech is an “important recognition to the Cuban resistance” about the significance of their plight — especially now, just a few days after the administration eased major sanctions on the island nation for the first time in 50 years.

“He is an ambassador for the Cuban resistance — for those struggling inside Cuba,” Antunez told the Washington Examiner on Monday night through an interpreter. “He especially feels that he is here representing all of those prisoners who are not released in response to the Obama-Castro” agreement.

He also highlighted a document, the Agreement for Democracy, signed by top Cuban resistance leaders in 1998, laying out their demands from the Castro regime, including free and fair elections and the release of all political prisoners. He specifically named Ciro Alexis Casanova, Ernesto Borges Perez and Armando Sosa Fortuny as two resistance leaders who remain in prison that should be immediately released.

Antunez also had a strong message for Obama.

“He would tell President Barack Obama that the way to change Cuba is not by engaging the Castro regime — and that Cuba is not the Castro regime,” he said, making the point that “the stronger the regime becomes economically because of investment, the weaker the resistance becomes.”

He also took issue with what he regarded as Obama’s “secret negotiations” with the Castro regime, describing them as “illegitimate” because they did not involve resistance leaders or average Cubans.

“The future of Cuba should not have been agreed to in secret — as these secret negotiations between Cuba and the regime have been carried out,” he said. “No agreement that excludes the Cuban resistance and the Cuban people can be considered legitimate.”

A Cuban of African-American descent, fellow inmates nicknamed him the “black diamond” to recognize what they considered his courage and unbreakable spirit, and many Cuban’s refer to him as the island’s Nelson Mandela.

In his essay “A Word From the Opposition,” in the January 2009 issue of the Journal of Democracy, Antunez highlighted the Cuban resistance movement’s adherence to the non-violent principles set forth by Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King.

He is married to Iris Tamara Pérez Aguilera, president of the Rosa Parks Women’s Movement.

Prominent members of the Cuban-American community in Congress, Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, both Republicans from Florida, also have Cuban dissidents as their guests to the State of the Union.

Rubio has invited Rosa Maria Paya Acevedo as his personal guest to Obama’s annual speech to Congress on Tuesday, his office confirmed Monday.

Paya Acevedo is a Cuban Christian Liberation Movement activist whose father, Oswaldo Paya, one of Cuba’s best-known dissidents, was killed in 2012 in a car crash under suspicious circumstances.

The Paya family argues that the Castro brothers orchestrated the crash and that it had been driven off the road, while the Cuban government asserts that the driver lost control of the vehicle and hit a tree. The Cuban government has refused to allow an investigation and has withheld a copy of the autopsy report from the family.

Ros-Lehtinen, a former chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is bringing a representative of the family members whose relatives were killed by Castro regime in 1996.

In February of that year, members of the anti-Castro group Brothers to the Rescue were in a pair of Cessnas flying over international waters near the island. The Cuban Air Force shot the planes out of the sky, killing three American pilots.

Ros-Lehtinen has invited Marlene Alejandre Triana, the daughter of Armando Alejandre, a decorated Vietnam veteran and one of the pilots who died in the 1996 shoot-down.

Earlier Monday, the White House announced that Alan Gross, a subcontractor recently freed by the Cuban government after five years of imprisonment, will be one of first lady Michelle Obama’s guests at the State of the Union address, along with Gross’s wife Judy.

Gross’s release came the same day Obama announced his unilateral action to reestablish diplomatic ties to the one-party Communist island nation, which is viewed by those supporting the new relationship with Cuba as a positive outgrowth of loosening restrictions on the island nation.

Rosa Maria Paya to Join Senator Rubio at State of the Union

Rubio Announces Rosa Maria Paya as His Guest for State of the Union

Ms. Payá is daughter of slain Cuban democracy leader Oswaldo Payá

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) today announced that Cuban activist Rosa María Payá will be his official guest for Tuesday evening’s State of the Union address by President Obama. Payá is the daughter of the late Oswaldo Payá who, along with Cuban youth activist Harold Cepero, was killed in an automobile accident on July 22, 2012, in Bayamo, Cuba.

Since then, the vehicle’s driver has alleged that the car was deliberately targeted by Cuban government officials. However, the Cuban regime has denied all requests to conduct an independent investigation.

In announcing Ms. Payá as his guest, Rubio issued the following statement:

For years, Oswaldo Payá courageously traveled throughout Cuba collecting tens of thousands of signatures from ordinary Cubans on a petition that came to be known as the Varela Project, which sought a peaceful democratic transition. All Oswaldo Payá wanted was a better future for Cuba and the Cuban people, and the Castro regime assassinated him for it.

I’m honored that Rosa María Payá will join us in the Capitol on Tuesday evening as the president addresses our nation. Since her father’s murder, Rosa María has honored his legacy by continuing to advocate for a free and democratic Cuba and also fighting to bring his murderers to justice. In 2013, Rosa María visited the Senate and met with several senators who pledged their assistance in her search for justice.

In his remarks, I expect the president will bring up his new Cuba policy, especially since his administration is heading to Havana this week to discuss giving the regime legitimacy and greater access to American dollars it will use to fund its machine of repression – the very machine that harassed Oswaldo Payá for years, eventually murdered him and pays hush money to potential key witnesses.

While I disagree with the president’s new Cuba policy, I hope Rosa María Payá’s presence on Tuesday night will at least remind him that her father’s murderers have not been brought to justice, and that the U.S. is now, in fact, sitting at the table with them. I hope the administration takes the opportunity to demand reforms and changes in Cuban behavior before relations are normalized. At the very least, President Obama and his administration should push the Cuban regime to allow an impartial, third party investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Oswaldo and Harold.

Talk to Cuba's Democracy Advocates

By Frank Calzon in The Miami Herald:

Talk to Cuba’s democracy advocates

This week, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson will travel to Havana to continue negotiations with the Cuban authorities.

We wish her Godspeed, and hope that besides talking with her Cuban counterparts, Ms. Jacobson will meet with Cubans whom President Obama wants to empower — human-rights activists, pro-democracy leaders — to help them build Cuba’s civil society grounded on human rights and the rule of law.

The beginning of Obama’s new Cuba policy has not been promising: It took Raúl Castro more than two weeks after the Cuban spies were home and development aid worker Alan Gross had arrived in America, and considerable attention by media and Capitol Hill, for the promised release of political prisoners to take place.

Of the 53 on the State Department’s list, several were close to completing their sentences, others had been released months ago and some of the original 53 were rearrested. A group of Cubans who wanted to meet peacefully at Havana’s Revolutionary Square were harassed, mistreated and detained.

Perhaps more important for the future of U.S.-Cuba relations is how Cubans perceive the new agreement.

To this day, they remember how ordinary Cubans were kept out of the negotiations between the United States and Spain at the end of Cuba’s War of Independence. The negotiations were held in secret, and the Cubans who fought colonial rule for more than 30 years were not at the negotiating table.

More than a century later, an American administration negotiates another secret agreement affecting the lives of millions of Cubans without informing them or obtaining their consent. This time with a Cuban dictator.

Imagine the president of the United States holding secret discussions with another government on matters of great importance to the American people without telling Congress, and you will understand the sense of betrayal and despair that the Obama-Castro negotiations have generated. Now with the negotiations resuming between Washington and Havana, perhaps it is not too late for Jacobson to attempt to remedy the situation, to meet with leaders of the pro-democracy movement in Havana.

Other important issues that have an impact on U.S. national security interests should be part of the agenda:

▪ The presence in Venezuela of thousands of Cuban security officers who repress Venezuelan demonstrators and train Venezuela’s secret police.

▪ Cuba’s close alliance with North Korea. Havana attempted to smuggle two warplanes and missiles under tons of sugar in a North Korean cargo ship caught at the Panama Canal two years ago. More recently, Havana led a coalition that attempted to block a U.N. resolution sending North Korea’s tyrant to the International Criminal Court.

▪ While the Obama-Castro negotiations took place, an American court sentenced a Cuban American who had committed Medicare fraud for $300 million that were deposited in Cuba’s National Bank. Has the administration asked Castro to return those funds?

▪ The president apparently wants to remove Cuba from the list of countries supporting international terrorism without giving due consideration to American fugitives enjoying Castro’s hospitality. According to the FBI, one of them escaped from a U.S. prison in 1979 after being sentenced for killing a New Jersey state trooper.

Amnesty International objected recently to the dangerousness “law” used by the Cuban government to send dissidents to prison if the government believes that, even without any evidence, the person could commit a crime in the future.

Amnesty said after the president’s statement that if there were no changes in Castro’s arbitrary decrees, the prisoners’ release would be little more than a smokescreen covering abuse and repression on the island.

Shouldn’t absurd laws like this also be on the U.S. agenda?

Must-Read: Obama's Five Mistakes in His New Cuba Policy

Monday, January 19, 2015
By renowned Cuban author, Carlos Alberto Montaner, in Spain's El Pais:

Obama's five mistakes in his new Cuba policy

The upcoming January 21st visit to Cuba by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Roberta Jacobson, aimed at officially restarting a dialogue with the Castro dictatorship, will prove to be problematic. The diplomat, who has always showed concern about issues of human rights on the island, will arrive in a very weakened position, as President Barack Obama has previously given away all of the U.S.'s negotiating leverage. Ms. Jacobson will now have working against her, at the very least, the five worst mistakes Obama made in his new Cuba policy.

First mistake

To assume that he was ending a policy that had not worked. That's not true. The aim to liquidate the communist regime ceased to exist in 1964, when Lyndon Johnson ended, by a stroke of the pen, all subversive operations against Castro and activated a strategy of “contention” somehow similar to the one used against the Soviet Union, based on three basic elements: propaganda, restricted economic relations and political isolation.

Those were Cold War measures against a country that has never stopped combating the United States. Ever since, Washington has not seriously tried to eliminate Castroism. In the first half of the 1990s, when the USSR had disappeared and Castroism lacked allies, it would have been very easy to put an end to the Cuban dictatorship, but Bill Clinton was not interested in eradicating the neighboring regime.

He could have done it, with the support or indifference of the Russia of Boris Yeltsin and foreign minister Andrei Kozyrev, when Castro unleashed the “raft exodus” of 1994. He could have done it in 1996, when Castro downed the Brothers to the Rescue planes and authorized the murder of several American citizens over international waters. But Clinton didn't even consider Cuba as an enemy country and limited himself to signing the Helms-Burton Act.

To Clinton, Cuba seemed to be a historic anachronism, a Jurassic Park phenomenon, but he was not interested in wiping that government off the face of the earth. At the time, the idea prevailed that Cuba was a decrepit tyranny that would collapse with time. It was, Clinton thought, a mole that would drop off. There was no need to remove it.

Perhaps Obama should have said that he was canceling some Cold War measures against a country that had left that era behind. But how to explain that, in July 2013, the authorities in Panama halted a ship clandestinely loaded in Cuba with 250 tons of war materiel? How to reclassify as “a normal country” a nation described as terrorist, an ally of the worst Islamic tyrannies -- Iran and Qaddafi's Libya -- a regime that plots with Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua to articulate a major anti-U.S. campaign not unlike the worst days of the Cold War? Don't dozens of U.S. criminals, political and common, continue to live in Cuba, protected by the authorities?

Cuba was not a former enemy. It kept its anti-American virulence intact.

Second mistake

To cancel that policy of contention without having a strategic vision that defines the policy that replaces it and the objectives being sought.

It is obvious that what should interest the United States is that, in that island so close to its borders, in that land that has caused the U.S. so many mishaps, there should be a democratic, peaceful and politically stable government, so that no further migratory spasms occur, like the ones that have sent 20 percent of the Cuban population to U.S. soil. Costa Rica is a good example of that model of tranquil nation that I describe.

Also, what's convenient to all, especially to the Cubans, is for Cuba to have a prosperous, developed and friendly society with which other nations can engage in many mutually satisfactory commercial transactions. The foolish “theory of dependency” characterized and summarized in the book “The Open Veins of Latin America” lacks any sense. To the U.S., a rich and tranquil Cuba is preferable to a roiling and impoverished Cuba.

Are those democratic and stabilizing objectives achieved by empowering a military dynasty notorious for its collectivism, its single party, and an absence of human rights? Is it possible to promote a rich society ignoring that Raúl and his military staff have divvied up the nation's productive apparatus in Russia's Mafia style?

Isn't it obvious that, by not creating institutions of law that are able to absorb the changes and exercise authority in an orderly, peaceful and democratic manner, that island will experience new confrontations and conflicts in the not-too-distant future?

Obama thinks that he has solved a problem by amending relations with Raúl Castro. Wrong: what he has done is postpone that problem. In the near future, other crises will come up and they will drag the U.S. into them. It has been so since the 19th Century. That's what happens when wounds are not permanently healed.

Third mistake

The damage that Obama has done to the democratic opposition. Perhaps it is the gravest of all. For decades, the message sent by the more credible dissidents to the dictatorship was very clear: “Let us sit down to talk and, among Cubans, let us find a democratic solution. The problem is between us, not between Washington and Havana.”

To that approach (which, with different shadings, was that of Gustavo Arcos, the Cuban Democratic Platform, and Oswaldo Payá) the regime responded with repression and accusations that it was a CIA ploy. But that outcome, as in Eastern Europe, as in Pinochet's Chile, as in 1990 Nicaragua, was the best for everyone, including the United States, and it was the obvious road for anyone who might inherit the Castro brothers' power, both of them on their final stage for biological reasons.

Nevertheless, to achieve this, Washington had to remain firm and refer the dictatorship to the opposition side whenever, directly or indirectly, the possibility of reconciliation was insinuated. The problem was between Cubans and had to be solved between Cubans. This was well understood by Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, the two U.S. presidents of the post-Soviet era, and this is what Obama has just invalidated irresponsibly, denying the opposition any chance to be an important actor in the forging of the island's future.

Why engage in democratic reforms, Castro's heirs will say, if we have been accepted as we are? Didn't Roberta Jacobson say, on behalf of the U.S. government, that Washington held no hopes that the Castros would permit freedoms? On Dec. 30, 2014, exactly 13 days after the reconciliation was announced, the Cuban political police detained several dozen intellectuals and artists who attempted to carry out a performance on Revolution Square. What incentive is left for Washington to induce respect for human rights if Washington has made most of the concessions unilaterally?

This was expressed clearly by a high-ranking intelligence officer, Jesús Arboleya, a Cuban diplomat, expert in Cuba's relations with the U.S. and Canada, in an interview with El Nuevo Día of Puerto Rico on Dec. 30, 2014. The newspaper asked him if he feared Obama's new policy.

“If in the past, when they had all the power to impose their values, [that policy] didn't work, why should it work beginning now?” was his answer.

The dictatorship is euphoric. It feels that it has carte blanche to crush the democrats without paying the least price. Lacking all sensitivity, Obama has contributed to weakening the opposition.

Fourth mistake

One of a moral nature. Beginning with the Jimmy Carter administration, a democratic doctrine for Latin America was gradually generated in the United States. The exceptionality of the region was cited for the purpose of defending democracy and freedom.

Either for strategic reasons or realpolitik, the United States could not order China to maintain a democratic behavior, but -- in the same way that Latin America could be declared a region free of nuclear weapons -- it was possible to declare Latin America free of dictatorships and human rights abuses.

That spirit culminated in the signing of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, signed by all hemispheric nations in Lima on Sept.11, 2001, the same day that the Islamic attacks on New York City and Washington took place. That document described the features and behaviors of the nations fit to participate in the Organization of American States. Cuba met none of those requirements. It was a despicable dictatorship, a carbon copy of the Soviet-Stalinist model.

Somehow, the text of that Charter, on which the United States labored arduously, put an end to the shameful tradition of permanent deals between Washington and the worst Latin American dictatorships throughout the 20th Century: Trujillo, Stroessner, Somoza, Batista, and a long et cetera. No longer valid was the cynical dictum: “He may be a son of a bitch, but he's OUR son of a bitch.”

After the reconciliation between Obama and Raúl Castro, the United States is back to its old habits. At home, it delivers a great speech about freedom but negates it with its diplomatic behavior. True, that's what many Latin American countries desired, but it remains a pity that, in inter-American relations, there is no space for moral considerations. The United States has needlessly sacrificed its position as an ethical leader and has returned to the worst moral relativism. A great pity.

Fifth mistake

One of a legal nature. The United States is a republic directed by the delegates of society, selected through democratic elections. Among them, the President is the principal representative of the popular will, but not the only one. There is a legislative power that shares many functions with the White House, and there is a Constitution, interpreted by the judiciary power, by which everyone must abide. As we all know, the essence of the republic is the division of power to avoid a dictatorship and to force the leadership to find formulas for consensus.

It is possible that the surveys will reflect that a majority in U.S. society will circumstantially support a reconciliation with the Cuban dictatorship -- as in 1939 a majority supported neutrality vis-à-vis the Nazis -- but that factor has only a relative importance. The United States, I insist, is a republic observant of the law and a representative democracy. That's what matters, and it has little to do with surveys or the decisions made by an assembly of citizens.

Well, then; it's very likely that Obama will spend a substantial portion of the two years remaining in his term explaining to the House and Senate why he deceived public opinion and the other powers of the state by telling them, even up to the eve of his joint announcement with Raúl Castro on Dec. 17, 2014, that he would make no unilateral concessions until the Cuban dictatorship took steps toward freedom and aperture. It was not a silent diplomatic maneuver. It was deceitful.

In the two chambers there are five Cuban-American representatives and three Cuban-American senators, Republicans and Democrats, who have enormous expertise on the subject. Shouldn't the President have talked previously with them about his Cuban policy and sought their opinions and advice? Is there no civic cordiality in the White House? Didn't Democratic Senator Bob Menéndez, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, deserve that consideration?

It is true that foreign policy is a prerogative of whoever holds the presidency, but the legislators have a clear role to play in that field and they all feel that the President has tricked them. In fact, some legislators believe that the President broke the law and they will try to prove that contention.

What Obama thinks will be part of his legacy -- full and cordial relations with a military dictatorship -- might turn into a nightmare. For now, it is a terrible mistake, which none of the 10 presidents who preceded him ever made. There must have been a reason.

Despite Deal With Obama, Cuba's Cracking Down on Dissent

Sunday, January 18, 2015
From The Orange County Register's Editorial Board:

Despite deal with Obama, Cuba still cracking down on dissidents

Nineteen-year-old twin brothers Bianco and Diango Vargas Martin were turned out of a Cuban prison last week. They are two of 53 dissidents released by the government of Raul Castro as part of an agreement with the Obama administration for “normalized” relations between Washington and Havana.

“We welcome this very positive development,” said State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, “and are pleased that the Cuban government followed through on this commitment.”

Well, we, too, welcome the release of the 53 Cuban political prisoners, while at the same time noting that the Obama administration actually presented a longer list during its secret negotiations with Havana before settling for the 53 detainees the communists grudgingly agreed to set free.

We also note that that the fortunate 53 were not released unconditionally. For instance, the brothers Vargas, sentenced to two and a half years in prison for membership in a peaceful opposition group, Unión Patriótica de Cuba, may not travel beyond their province and must regularly report to Cuban authorities.

And that’s not the only condition faced by the 53. In an appearance Monday on “CBS This Morning,” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American, said that all the releasees were warned “that if they take up the cause of democracy, they’ll be right back in jail.”

Meanwhile, Amnesty International has certain misgivings about the Castro regime’s bow to Washington.

Erika Guevara Rosas, the organization’s Director for the Americas, pointed to “incredibly worrying reports about a rise in harassment and short-term detentions of dissidents throughout 2014, which have continued in recent weeks.”

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation reported last week there were 8,899 short-term detentions of dissidents and activists in 2014, up from 6,424 in 2013. And the harassment and short-term detentions continue in 2015.

On New Year’s Day, Cuban performance artist Tania Bruguera was arrested – the third time in two days – for attempting an “open mike” performance in Havana’s Revolution Square in which members of the public would be invited to express themselves for one minute each. In addition to the artist, another several dozen activists and dissidents were similarly rounded up by Cuban state security.

Despite her arrest, Ms. Bruguera supports diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States. But, as demonstrated by her unjust detention, the despotic Castro regime still has far to go before earning such status.

Prominent Democracy Leader Denied Permission to Leave Cuba

From Cubanet (via Translating Cuba):

Democracy leader Antonio Rodiles is not allowed to leave Cuba

The director of the opposition group Estado de SATS, Antonio G. Rodiles, reported last week that the regime has refused to allow him to leave the country.

The opponent was arrested the day of Tania Bruguera’s #YoTambienExijo performance, with his wife, artist Ailer Gonzalez, whose passport was also withheld. Bruguera, currently in Havana, has also been denied permission to leave the country.

Cubanet spoke with Rodiles by telephone. He explained how he had gone to the office of the Ministry of the Interior, where passports are processed to renew his passport (the Cuban passport is valid for six years, but must be “renewed” every two to maintain its “validity”), and the official attending him, after searching for his name on the computer, simply informed him that his passport could not be renewed; and, consequently, he could not travel abroad “for reasons of public interest.”

Days earlier, during the arrests that Rodiles and his wife, Ailer Gonzalez (pursuant to Bruguera's attempted performance at Revolutionary Square), one agent of the Ministry of Interior told Gonzalez to hand over both passports, which she did not do.

It is significant is that, so far, Rodiles and Ailer Gonzalez, who had no direct involvement in organizing Bruguera‘s performance, are the only opponents against whom the government has taken this step.

List of 53 Cuban Political Prisoners Was Misleading

From Voxxi:

List of 53 Cuban political prisoners may be misleading

The list of the 53 political prisoners released from Cuba in a historical move this year is being called into question. The Miami Herald reports that 31 of the 53 names belonged to members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU in Spanish), the largest and most active opposition group on the island.

Among their crimes were dangerousness, public disorder, resisting arrest, distributing anti-government leaflets, and disrespecting the Castro brothers. Three human rights activists included in the list had already fully served their sentences according to the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), Jose Daniel Ferrer, when they were released as part of Cuba’s historic deal with President Barack Obama. The deal is meant to reestablish diplomatic relations between both countries.

Ferrer alleges that four members of the group “had fulfilled every minute of their arbitrary sentences,” and they should have been released separately from this agreement. Those four men are Jorge Cervantes, Eider Frómeta Allen, Juan Carlos Vazquez Osoria and Eliso Castillo González.

Cuban dissidents also argue that the list contains at least 14 people who were released before the announcement of the agreements between the US and Cuba on December 17. Frómeta González Castillo and Allen were released in July and García Cervantes in August after exhausting their sentences. Another prisoner, César Andrés Sánchez Pérez was released almost a year ago, but the list was supposedly completed in July, as reported by Reuters.