More Questions Than Answers at Cuba Hearings

Saturday, February 7, 2015
By Evan Moore of The Foreign Policy Initiative:

More Questions Than Answers at Cuba Hearings

The American people, Congress, and even senior administration officials were surprised by President Obama’s December 17 change of policy in U.S.-Cuba relations.  Concurrent with a prisoner swap that secured the release of former USAID contractor Alan Gross, President Obama announced that Washington would begin to normalize relations with Havana.  In hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) and House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) this week, administration officials and Cuban democracy activists discussed the uncertainties surrounding the new policy and the importance of a renewed push for democratic change in Cuba.

The Need for Transparency

During a November 19 hearing to consider Antony Blinken’s nomination to be Deputy Secretary of State, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) asked, “Do you anticipate, during the rest of the president’s term, that there will be any unilateral change” to Cuba policy absent democratic reforms?  Blinken responded, “Anything that in the future might be done on Cuba would be done in full consultation” with Congress.  Blinken later apologized for misrepresenting the administration’s policy, but the fact remains that Congress expects greater transparency on this issue.

At this week’s hearings, it was clear that the State Department’s senior policymakers were also out of the loop.  Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that “no one in my bureau” was involved in negotiations, which were led “to the best of my knowledge” by National Security Council staffers Ben Rhodes and Ricardo Zuniga.

Similarly, Ms. Rosa Maria Payá, a human rights activist and the daughter of the slain dissident Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, told senators that the new policy can succeed only if “it is addressed with responsibility and with transparency, not more secrets,” and if the voice of Cuban citizens are heard during future negotiations.

Prioritize Human Rights in Cuba

As the State Department noted in its most recent human rights report on Cuba, the Castro regime uses “threats, extrajudicial physical violence, intimidation, mobs, harassment, and detentions” to maintain its rule.  The Havana-based Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation reported last month that there were 8,899 short-term detentions of dissidents and activists in 2014.  That is 2,000 more than the previous year and four times as many as in 2010.

Although 53 political prisoners were released as part of the agreement between the Obama administration and the Castro regime, those individuals remain under conditions that could easily return them to prison—and two have already been re-arrested.  As Mrs. Paya told the panel, “The regime turns political prisoners into pieces to be exchanged, because they can catch-and-release at will more political prisoners.”

Tom Malinowski, the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, told senators that “The release of these prisoners does not change the fundamental nature of a state that tries to stifle everything it does not control.” He added that “We have no illusions about the current leadership’s desire to keep things just as they are.”  Going forward, the administration’s actions should reflect Mr. Malinowski’s recognition that “Human rights and the empowerment of the Cuban people must be the bedrock of our new policy towards Cuba, and it will be.”

Maintaining Pressure on the Castro Regime

In December, President Obama announced that this administration was “removing limits on remittances that support humanitarian projects, the Cuban people, and the emerging Cuban private sector.”  Miriam Leiva, a Cuban human rights activist, told senators that these remittances have helped open new “very small” businesses and lay the “seed for a future bigger business” by establishing financial independence from the regime.

But the emergence of new businesses alone will not free Cuba from the grip of the regime.  As Malinoswki said, “no country ever became a democracy simply because of trade or tourists.”  Indeed, as Paya noted, Cuban “entrepreneurs cannot be a factor to foster democracy because their existence as ‘private’ owners depends on their submission to the government.  There cannot be free markets where there are no free persons.”  She added, “With mojitos and Cuba Libres we’re not going to free our island.”

Lawmakers were even more critical of the administration’s decision to increase business between the United States and Cuba.  Congressman Albio Sires (D-NJ), the ranking member on HFAC’s Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, noted that because 85 percent of Cuban businesses are run by the military, “the people that are fighting for liberty and fighting for democracy on the island are basically left out” of the President’s new approach.  HFAC Chairman Ed Royce warned that “the Administration may have given a 50-year-old failed regime a new lease on life to continue its repression at home.”

Building a Coalition for Democratic Change in Cuba

Ms. Jacobson told skeptical House members that the new Cuba policy will enable the United States to “work more effectively with” Latin American and European countries to bring about change in Cuba.  Manuel Cuesta Morúa, a Cuban civil society leader, concurred, saying the administration’s policy shift “frames the debate over human rights in Cuba on the basis of a conflict about values, not a conflict among states.”

However, the argument that the U.S. embargo was “such an irritant” to Latin American and European countries so as to prevent them from speaking out against Havana’s human rights abuses is thin.  As Malinowski said, “To the extent that they used the embargo and our policy as an excuse for being silent about human rights abuses in Cuba, that was not justified.”  This is because “none of this, Cuba’s repression, its poverty, its isolation, is the fault of the United States or of the embargo. The responsibility lies with the Cuban government, period.”

Mr. Malinowski is right, and there is no excuse for other countries to refrain from condemning the Castro regime for its abuses.  The Obama administration should call on Latin American and European partners to insist that the Castro regime stop abusing human rights and immediately begin a process of democratization.

Conclusion

At this juncture, much remains uncertain about the President’s new Cuba policy.  SFRC Ranking Member Robert Menendez (D-NJ) lamented this week that “While it may have been done with the best of intentions, in my view we’ve compromised bedrock principles for virtually no concessions” from Cuba. Berta Soler, the President of Cuban Ladies in White, warned “You can’t do business with a tyrant. It just doesn’t work that way.” Nonetheless, the administration is reportedly seeking to open an embassy in Havana as soon as April, and is pressing to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism by June.

Moving forward, it is imperative that the Obama administration view its Cuba policy through the lens of helping the Cuban people win their freedom.  What’s more, President Obama should remember the pledge he made during the 2008 campaign that “if a post-Fidel government begins opening Cuba to democratic change, frees political prisoners and holds elections, the United States is prepared to take steps to normalize relations and ease the embargo that has governed relations between our countries for the last five decades.”  Just as Mr. Obama then pledged, any further U.S. steps should be made only after the Cuban regime takes real and irreversible actions to democratize.

With April Summit Looming, Castro Accelerates Coercion

Friday, February 6, 2015
In two concerning news stories today, the White House is pressuring the State Department and intelligence agencies to hastily expedite the removal of Cuba from the "state-sponsors of terrorism" list by April, while the Castro regime is suspending visits by U.S. Congressional delegations until late April.

What's with April?

The Summit of the America's is taking place on April 10-11 in Panama City.

Due to a lack of leadership by the Obama Administration, it will be the first time Cuba's totalitarian dictatorship will be allowed to participate in this gathering of democracies.

That, in itself, is a hemispheric coup for Castro's regime. But it's not enough.

The Castro regime knows that President Obama is desperate to establish diplomatic relations with Cuba -- for the sake of a legacy one-liner.

Moreover, it knows Obama wants to have diplomatic relations established by the April summit -- for the sake of a photo-op to accompany the one-liner.

Thus, Castro does what he knows best -- coerce.

He has conditioned the establishment of diplomatic relations to the removal of Cuba from the "state-sponsors of terrorism" list.

And sadly, the Obama Administration is -- once again -- playing right along.

To ratchet pressure from Castro's (witting and unwitting) Congressional allies, it's also suspending their boondoggles to Cuba until that time.

During his December 17th announcement, Obama stated that Cuba's designation as a "state-sponsor of terrorism" will be based on facts and law.

The fact remains that Cuba continues to provide sanctuary to terrorists and fugitives from justice, including one of the FBI's Top Ten Most Wanted Terrorists and members of Treasury-designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations; it continues to traffic heavy weapons and intelligence to rogue states in violation of international law, i.e., North Korea, Iran and Syria; and it continues to subvert democratic institutions in the Western Hemisphere, i.e., Venezuela.

The fact also remains that indictments remain open against three Cuban regime officials for the murder of Americans pursuant to an "act of terrorism" over international waters.

And finally, the fact remains that Cuba's regime has recently reiterated that it will not budge on any of the above.

Thus, clearly Obama's review has little to do with facts and law -- but everything to do with coercion.

Crony Capitalism and Cuba's Marxist Generals

Thursday, February 5, 2015
By former U.S. Senator Jim Demint (R-SC) in The Miami Herald:

Crony capitalism and Marxist generals

As Congress holds hearings on President Obama’s change in Cuba policy, we are seeing the question of who in Havana will benefit from U.S. trade come up repeatedly. This focus is right on point. Unless Congress acts to stop it, the normalization of ties with Cuba would soon see crony capitalists here striking deals with Marxist generals there — all financed by the U.S. taxpayer.

Cubans will pay, too — by seeing their nightmare prolonged for many years. Some of the generals involved are members of the Castro family, which means that U.S. consumers and taxpayers could end up helping the regime transition into a North Korean-style communist dynasty just 90 miles from our shores.

Americans who use Cuban golf courses will meanwhile be dealing with a state entity called CubaGolf. It belongs to the Palmares holding company, which in turn is owned by the Interior Ministry. The ministry runs the repressive state security apparatus that keeps millions of Cubans in fear.

Lobbyists, of course, will make a killing. Large corporations like Cargill are poised to spend millions of dollars lobbying Congress to drop the embargo. One thing this will accomplish is to force U.S. taxpayers to subsidize their exports via the Export-Import Bank, the federal agency that “facilitates” U.S. exports by doling out loans and loan guarantees.

The mega-corporations have joined with a host of trade associations such as the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Corn Growers Association to form a mega-lobbyist group named the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba.

But is Cuba a fit business partner for the American taxpayer?

A half century of communism has bankrupted Cuba. While members of the Castros’ military oligarchy are personally rich, the state has no money. To exploit American trading opportunities, the regime needs to get financing in advance, use the money to make purchases from U.S. companies, and then resell the products to repay the bank. If the generals renege on paying, the bank will be left holding the bag. In the case of Ex-Im, that would be the taxpayer.

The Castros are well-known deadbeat borrowers who routinely get out of paying what they owe. Put aside the $7 billion in U.S. assets they expropriated in the 1960s — still the largest theft of U.S. property in history. Let’s look at more recent history.

Just last year, Russia had to write off 90 percent of its $32 billion debt to Cuba. Within the last five years, Cuba has also defaulted on billions owed to Mexico, China and Japan. Before that it defaulted to practically all of Western Europe. Now this lending disaster may be headed our way, courtesy of Barack Obama.

The decision to normalize relations with this abnormal regime is purely ideological. The Castros and their hand-picked elite have not changed their spots.

That’s made clear even in November’s Portfolio of Opportunities for Foreign Investment — the Cuban government’s appeal for $8 billion in international investment — that was so ballyhooed by the regime’s overseas cheerleaders. The portfolio makes clear that state enterprises will not be privatized and there will be no deals with Cuba’s very small “self-employed” sector. Translation: This is still a classic Marxist-Leninist regime intent on owning the means of production.

Public companies that must abide by our laws would have to explain to their shareholders and boards — and to a future administration — why they are doing business with the likes of Generals Alejandro Castro and Luis Alberto Rodríguez, Raúl Castro’s son and son-in-law respectively. They control GAESA, the Ministry of Defense holding company that owns most major sectors of the economy.

They will have to explain, too, why its Cuban workers will receive only 10 percent of their wages. Answer: In Cuba’s system, the generals and their children — the “juniors” — keep the rest. They will also have to explain why they are complicit in repressive tactics such as installing surveillance cameras in tourist destinations and selling the generals the IT infrastructure they will need to raise firewalls and spy on Cubans.

We don’t need to soil our hands this way, as Sen. Marco Rubio has made clear in the congressional hearings that began this week. President Obama may delight in calling Raúl Castro “Mr. President,” a deferential practice he has recently adopted. But in reality, Raúl remains a bloody military dictator running a corrupt, failed economy. We should want nothing to do with him or it.

Demint is president of The Heritage Foundation.

Should Ex-Im Finance Exports to Cuba?

From The Daily Caller:

Should Ex-Im Finance Exports to Cuba?

Agricultural interests are asking Congress to formalize President Obama’s easing of the U.S. embargo on Cuba, which would open the door to government support for exports to the island.

In a blog post for The Hill on Tuesday, Mauricio Claver-Carone noted that, “the newly formed U.S. Agriculture Coalition on Cuba is pushing Congress to instruct the Export-Import Bank to finance expanded agricultural sales to the Castro dictatorship in Cuba.”

Obama announced in December that he would use executive authority to ease travel and trade restrictions against Cuba, but full repeal requires an act of Congress, which the coalition began advocating for in January.

According to The Associated Press, “U.S. law still prohibits any form of credit to Cuba’s state-run import agencies,” a restriction that American farmers consider “the main barrier to sales to Cuba.”

“It’s going to take Congress to end this embargo for the U.S. to be competitive in Cuba,” Paul Johnson, vice-chairman of the newly formed U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba, told the AP. “Our products can’t compete with Brazil, Argentina, the EU, and China because of the credit issue.”

Congress relaxed certain restrictions on Cuban-American trade in 2000, allowing agricultural exports on a “cash-in-advance” basis. But after a promising start, sales have slowed in recent years, and the most recent data suggest “2014 could be the worst year for U.S. exports to Cuba since 2004.”

The coalition believes that allowing exporters to secure financing for sales to Cuba would do much to reverse that trend, by putting U.S. products on an even footing with foreign competitors whose governments already allow Cuba to make purchases on credit.

However, Claver-Carone points out that such a move would entail certain risks, insofar as “Cuba ranks among the world’s worst credit-risks and debtor nations,” with a Moody’s credit rating of Caa2, or “very high credit risk.”

Given that the Cuban market has just one official customer—the Cuban government—”the question becomes: Is that customer credit-worthy?”

“It’s one thing to lobby to do business with one of the world’s last remaining totalitarian dictatorships for the sake of profit,” he says, but argues that “it’s quite another to peddle the deceit to the American public that trade with Cuba serves some public interest here or in Cuba.”

Claver-Carone also considers it “somewhat ironic” that, with Ex-Im’s fate still hanging in the balance as the June expiration of its charter approaches, “agribusiness conglomerates who have benefited most from the Ex-Im Bank’s export credits and loan guarantees are lining up to drive the final nail in the bank’s coffin.”

Listen to Cuba's Civil Society Leaders

By Mark P. Lagon in The Hill:

In Cuba, the importance of listening

In his December 2014 announcement of the normalization of U.S. relations with Cuba, President Obama asserted that a new approach would “create more opportunities for the American and Cuban people.” The best way for the administration to determine whether normalization actually expands political, social, and economic freedoms for Cubans is to monitor the role and voices of civil society.

Some of the most recognizable advocates of democracy and human rights, including Berta Soler, Antonio Rodiles, and Guillermo Farinas, proposed a “Hoja de Ruta” or “Roadmap” of recommendations for greater protection of human rights on January 15. While their voices may not be representative of the entire population, their approach shows that many Cubans consider the United States to be a reliable interlocutor, which can pressure the Cuban government for improvements in civil and political rights.

The roadmap emphasizes the need for three main changes: an overhaul of a repressive penal code that creates a never-ending, institutionalized system of political prisoners; creation of a genuinely independent judiciary with prosecutors and judges who can make transparent decisions; and greater attention to universal human rights like freedom of information and assembly.

Human rights advocates also emphasize that the changes need to come from within society and involve the entire population. The growing interest and attention to Cuba, which is likely to accelerate as the Summit of the Americas approaches, provide an opportunity for civil society to participate in discussions from which they have previously been excluded.

To have hope of achieving the "better future” that President Obama said might flow from the United States’ policy change, it is critical that the U.S. administration listen to and incorporate the demands of civil society into its agenda.

Assuming that greater economic investment and fewer travel restrictions will inevitably improve human rights in Cuba would a serious mistake, especially considering the recent arbitrary arrests of civil society activists, accused of fomenting a “public disturbance” when trying to peacefully assemble and foster open expression. Cuba’s government evidently felt no pressure to tolerate dissent despite the diplomatic opening.

Only by making Cuban civil society a centerpiece of U.S. policy can we know whether normalization indeed improves the lives of the Cuban people. U.S. officials, legislators and business executives visiting the island have a practical and moral obligation to support the concerns of Cuban citizens. I urge Congress as well as the administration to ask leaders of civil society about their needs and goals and, no less important, adopt those goals as those of the United States.

Lagon is president of Freedom House.

Video: Cuban Dissidents Protest at National Assembly

Below is a video (or click here) of this morning's protest by Cuban dissidents at the headquarters of Castro's National Assembly. The protesters were all subsequently arrested.

Note the racist remark made by a regime supporter.

To learn more about the protest, including a list of participants, click here.

Dissidents Arrested for Protest Near Cuban National Assembly

This morning, a group of twelve dissidents were arrested as they tried to stage a protest near the Havana headquarters of the Cuban regime's National Assembly.

The dissidents, part of the Orlando Zapata Tamayo Civil Resistance Front ("OZT Front"), took out signs demanding the elimination of Castro's draconian laws (i.e. "social dangerousness") and the ratification of the U.N.'s human rights covenants.

Those arrested include Reinaldo Rodríguez, Francisco Garcia, Lazaro Jose de la Noval, Hugo Damián Prieto, Leudis Reyes, Lázaro Mendoza, José A. Pompa, Luis A. Domínguez, Andrés A. Domínguez, Ernesto Fonseca, Ricardo Luna and Luis E. Lopez.

Their whereabouts remain unknown.

In stark contrast, Cuban democracy activists, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez" and Sara Marta Fonseca, both leaders of the OZT Front, are freely and openly testifying before the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. this morning.

Must-Watch: State Lied to the Families of Americans Murdered by Cuba's Regime

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chair Emeritus of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, questions the Obama Administration on its lies to the families of Americans murdered by Cuba's regime.

The Administration's response is shameful.

Please watch the exchange below (or here):

Chairman Royce: Obama Gives Cuban Regime New Lease on Life

Excerpts from the opening remarks of U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, during today's Cuba policy hearing:

[T]alks with the Cuban regime were conducted by two White House officials. Unfortunately the White House was unwilling to provide these key witnesses today. This Committee, charged with oversight of our foreign policy, is handicapped when those officials most involved in policy making are unavailable. The Administration’s growing track record of secret negotiations, whether Iran or the release of the “Taliban Five,” is increasingly troublesome.

Had the White House consulted more widely, it may have heard that Havana is facing the threats of losing Venezuelan oil subsides and mounting public pressure for basic reforms. This could have been used to leverage meaningful political concessions by the regime. But this was a one-sided “negotiation,” with the U.S. making a series of concessions to Havana [...]

In defending this policy change, the President has compared our economic relationship with Cuba to that of China and Vietnam. But in China and Vietnam - while Communist - at least foreign firms can hire and recruit staff directly, without their pay going directly to the government.

Not so in Cuba, which is more like North Korea than China. A Cuban worker at the foreign-owned resort receives only a fraction of their salary – as little as 5 percent. Castro or Kim, the method is the same – extract hard currency from foreign business and invest in the security apparatus.

Instead of dismantling a 50-year-old failed policy, as it claims, the Administration may have given a 50-year-old failed regime a new lease on life to continue its repression at home and militant support for Marxist regimes abroad.

South FL State Legislators and Officials Write Obama on Cuba Policy

South Florida state legislators and local officials, representing the largest Cuban-American communities in the nation, have sent a letter to President Obama opposing his deal with Cuban dictator Raul Castro.

It was presented in the Congressional Record during yesterday's hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Read the letter below (or click here):

  Cuba Ltr to Obama from FL Electeds 02-03-2015

Cuba: Artist Awaits Decision on Charges

From The New York Times:

Cuba: Artist Awaits Decision on Charges

Tania Bruguera, a Cuban artist based in New York who was arrested in December in Havana, where she planned to stage an open-mike performance to ask citizens to speak about their visions for Cuba, said Wednesday that she had not been able to find a lawyer willing to defend her and that prosecutors had been given 60 more days to decide whether to charge her. The charges being considered include inciting public disorder. She has been released, but her passport has been confiscated. She said six lawyers had refused to represent her because they believed that her case was a lost cause or feared that defending her might hurt their careers.

Code Pink Supports Obama's Cuba Policy

Wednesday, February 4, 2015
The far-left group, Code Pink, attended this week's Senate hearing on Cuba policy to lend their full-throated support for President Obama's deal with Cuban dictator Raul Castro.

Below is an image (courtesy of the Herald-Tribune) of Madea Benjamin, a co-founder of Code Pink, at the hearing:

Agribusiness Should Come Clean About 'Trade' With Cuba

By Mauricio Claver-Carone in The Hill:

Agribusiness should come clean about 'trade' with Cuba

Whether the embattled Export-Import Bank of the United States ("Ex-Im Bank"), which finances and insures U.S. exports, is a needed facilitator or a government agency doling out “corporate welfare” is a debate still raging in Washington. So it’s somewhat ironic that the agribusiness conglomerates who have benefited most from the Ex-Im Bank’s export credits and loan guarantees are lining up to drive the final nail in the bank’s coffin.

Building on the perceived momentum of President Obama’s December announcement that his administration and Cuba are seeking to “normalize” relations, the newly formed U.S. Agriculture Coalition on Cuba ("the Coalition") is pushing Congress to instruct the Ex-Im Bank to finance expanded agricultural sales to the Castro dictatorship in Cuba. Yet Cuba ranks among the world’s worst credit-risks and debtor nations.

While Obama says he will use his executive authority to ease the U.S. embargo and travel restrictions, the extent of that authority is uncertain. Congress codified the embargo and tourism ban into law in 1996 and 2000 and only Congress can actually change the law.

Chaired by Minnesota-based Cargill Inc., the Coalition is eyeing a more immediate “prize”: lifting the prohibition on Ex-Im Bank financing exports of agricultural products to Cuba. It's one thing to lobby to do business with one of the world's last remaining totalitarian dictatorships for the sake of profit; it’s quite another to peddle the deceit to the American public that trade with Cuba serves some public interest here or in Cuba. The Coalition ought to be more forthright about its goals.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D) delivered the Coalition’s rallying call during its launch at the National Press Club in Washington: "We see Cuba as a market of 11 million people; 11 million new customers that can buy American products." Unfortunately, Klobuchar is not "seeing" the facts very clearly. For five decades, every single "foreign trade" transaction with Cuba has been made with a Cuban-government entity. The Cuban government’s exclusive right to trade and control investment is enshrined in Article 18 of Fidel Castro's 1976 Constitution.

Congress authorized “cash-in-advance” sales of U.S. agricultural product to Cuba in the 2000 Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act. More than 250 privately-owned American companies have since sold $4 billion in agricultural products to Cuba. All of those sales were to a single buyer: the Cuban government. That’s hardly surprising, Cuba is a totalitarian state. The only trade and investment partner on the island is the government, run by Fidel and Raul Castro.

Obama's Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack also waxed enthusiastically about the “opportunities” for agricultural sales to Cuba. Yet, his Department’s report on Cuba notes, “The key difference in exporting to Cuba, compared to other countries in the region, is that all U.S. agricultural exports must be channeled through one Cuban government agency, ALIMPORT." Exporting to Cuba is not about trading with small or mid-size farmers, businesses and manufacturers around the island, as the Coalition would like Americans to believe.

It should be no surprise that U.S. products end up on the shelves of government-owned stores that accept only “hard currencies,” such as the U.S. dollar or Euro, with huge price mark-ups. Shoppers at these “dollar stores” are mainly tourists. Little imported food or medicine ever makes it into stores where Cubans shop; neither is it available on ration cards.

But the coalition doesn't care that ALIMPORT is the only "Cuban market.” It only cares that Cuba’s one customer can buy enough to ensure a profit for exporters. So the question becomes: Is that customer credit-worthy?

The Paris Club is a group of 19 nations that extend credit to trade partners. Cuba ranks No. 2 on the Club’s list of most indebted nations. (Greece, with more than five times Cuba's economic output, is the world’s most indebted nation.) Creditors’ claims against Cuba now total $35.193 billion (a $5 billion increase from the previous year). Moody's Investors Service gives Cuba's sovereign debt a Caa2 rating, which translates into "very high credit risk." How have European and Canadian investors in Cuba fared? In 2000, there were 400 foreign companies operating in Cuba as minority partners in joint ventures with the Castro regime. Today, there are less than 200. The British news service Reuters reports that Cuba “failed to make some debt payments on schedule beginning in 2008, and then froze up to $1 billion in the accounts of foreign suppliers by the start of 2009." During the same time, CEOs of various foreign companies doing business in Cuba were arrested. Some are still sitting in jail, even though no charges have been filed against them.

Lastly, let’s not forget the nearly 6,000 unpaid, certified claims, worth nearly $7 billion arising from the Castro government’s confiscation of American-owned business and properties.

This is the Cuban government the new Coalition wants Congress to authorize the Ex-Im Bank to finance and American taxpayers to subsidize. That may serve the selfish interests of Cuba's dictatorship, Cargill and a few other agribusiness conglomerates, but it’s a heavy price for the American and Cuban people to pay for “normalization.”

Claver-Carone is a director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC and host of the foreign-policy show "From Washington al Mundo" on Sirius-XM's Channel 153. He is an attorney who formerly served with the U.S. Department of the Treasury and has served on the full-time faculty of The Catholic University of America's School of Law and adjunct faculty of The George Washington University's National Law Center.

Berta Soler: In the Name of the Victims of Cuba's Regime

Excerpt from today's Senate testimony by Ladies in White leader, Berta Soler:

Honorable Members of the Subcommittee,

Our aspirations are legitimate because they are undergirded by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which Cuba is a party, and the signed international pacts on civil and political rights which have not been ratified by the dictatorship. Our demands are quite concrete: freedom for political prisoners, recognition of civil society, the elimination of all criminal dispositions that penalize freedom of expression and association and the right of the Cuban people to choose their future through free, multiparty elections.

We believe these demands are just and valid. Even more importantly, for us they represent the most concrete exercise of politics, a step in the direction of democratic coexistence. Cuba will change when the laws that enable and protect the criminal behavior of the forces of repression and corrupt elements that sustain the regime change.

In the name of those who have been executed.

In the name of Cuban political prisoners.

In the name of the pilots from the humanitarian organization, Brothers to the Rescue, murdered on Fidel Castro’s orders.

In the name of the victims from the “March 13th” tugboat.

In the name of the victims of Cuba’s Communist regime.

Cuba si, Castro no.


Rosa Maria Paya: Don't Turn Your Backs on Cubans Again

Excerpts from today's Senate testimony by Cuba democracy leader, Rosa Maria Paya:

The Cuban government has permitted more people to operate small businesses, but due to the Cuban laws, entrepreneurs cannot be a factor to foster democracy because their existence as “private” owners depends on their submission to the government. There cannot be free markets where there are no free persons.

The Cuban government said it would free 53 political prisoners, but instead it released them on parole. Meanwhile, many others were not freed at all. Yosvani Melchor was transferred to a maximum security prison last December. He was put in prison 4 years ago for being the son of a member of the Christian Liberation Movement, who refused to cooperate with State Security. The young artist Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto, was imprisoned after December 17 without committing any crime. The regime turns political prisoners into pieces to be exchanged, because they can catch-and-release at will more political prisoners, and democratic nations accept this blackmail with innocent citizens [...]

On 22 July 2012, Cuban State Security detained the car in which my father, Oswaldo Payá, and my friend Harold Cepero, along with two young European politicians, were traveling. All of them survived, but my father disappeared for hours only to reappear dead, in the hospital in which Harold would die without medical attention.

The Cuban government wouldn’t have dared to carry out its death threats against my father if the US government and the democratic the world had been showing solidarity. If you turn your face, impunity rages. While you slept, the regime was conceiving their cleansing of the pro-democracy leaders to come. While you sleep, a second generation of dictators is planning with impunity their next crimes.

Don’t turn your backs on Cubans again; don’t earn the distrust of the new actors of our inevitably free future, in exchange for complicity with a gerontocracy who belongs to the Cold War era.

Tweet of the Day: State Official "Unaware" of Cuba's Military Economy

This Week: Three Cuba Hearings on Capitol Hill

Monday, February 2, 2015
From The Miami Herald:

Cuba hearings to begin Tuesday on Capitol Hill

The first in a series of congressional hearings examining the potential impact of President Barack Obama’s new Cuba policy gets underway Tuesday in the Senate.

Later in the week, the action switches to the House with two hearings: the main show — “Assessing the Administration’s Sudden Shift’’ — before the Committee on Foreign Affairs on Wednesday and a subcommittee hearing on human rights in Cuba on Thursday.

The common theme for this week’s hearings seems to be whether Obama gave away too much without getting enough from Cuba as the two countries work toward restoring diplomatic relations.

That’s the position of Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Western Hemisphere subcommittee called the first Cuba hearing at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

In an opinion piece he wrote Monday for CNN, Rubio recalled a line from The Godfather Part II in which mob character Michael Corleone responds to the demands of a U.S. senator by saying, “My offer is this: nothing.”

“In recent months, I’ve made clear that I believe the president and his allies in Congress are misguided for supporting a policy that gives away practically all the leverage the United States has to bring about democratic change in Cuba in exchange for virtually nothing,” wrote Rubio.

The senator said he wants answers on what the administration has done to secure the repatriation of an estimated 70 fugitives from U.S. justice who now live in Cuba as well as “what exactly the Castro regime has done in exchange for Obama’s softening of travel and banking regulations that will now allow more U.S. dollars to fill the Castro regime’s coffers.”

Rubio, who is testing the waters for a possible presidential run, called the hearing the same day he assumed the subcommittee chairmanship last week.

Among those scheduled to testify at the Senate hearing are Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, who recently headed the U.S. delegation during normalization talks in Havana, and Tomasz Malinowski, assistant secretary for democracy, human rights, and labor.

Rosa María Payá, of the Cuban Christian Liberation Movement, also is scheduled to testify. She is the daughter of Oswaldo Payá, one of Cuba’s most respected dissidents when he died in a mysterious 2012 car crash.

She’ll be joined by activists Berta Soler, Miriam Leiva, and Manuel Cuesta Morúa.

There’s expected to be an overflow crowd when the House Foreign Affairs Committee convenes at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

“The Obama administration’s sudden shift on Cuba policy raises many concerns, including how hard the United States pressed the Castro regime on its abysmal human-rights record during the secret White House negotiations that cut out the State Department,” said Republican Rep. Ed Royce, a Californian who chairs the Committee on Foreign Affairs.

“When it comes to the unilateral concessions provided to the Castro regime, the Obama administration has much to answer for. From the commercial goodie bag provided to the Castro regime to the pardons bestowed upon three convicted spies, one of whom was responsible for the murder of American citizens, the concessions provided to these Caribbean despots is pathetic,” said South Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

“I look forward to hearing from State, Treasury, and Commerce and questioning the basis for normalizing relations with an unworthy regime that continues to detain dissidents,” she said.

In addition to Jacobson, John E. Smith, deputy director of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration Matthew S. Borman are slated to testify.

During a Thursday morning hearing on human rights before the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations, Jorge Luis García Pérez, an anti-Castro activist known as Antúnez, will testify.

Rubio Op-Ed in CNN: Cuba Taking Advantage of U.S.

By U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) in CNN:

Cuba taking advantage of U.S.

In "The Godfather Part II," Michael Corleone famously responds to a U.S. senator's demands by saying, "My offer is this: nothing."

Since President Barack Obama announced his normalization deal with the Cuban regime in December, life appears to be imitating art. Last week, Cuban President Raul Castro declared that his regime would not even entertain the Obama administration's requests to normalize ties until the United States abandons our naval base at Guantanamo Bay, ends the trade embargo, ceases pro-democracy radio and television broadcasts into Cuba and compensates the regime for "human and economic damages" the U.S. has, according to him, inflicted on the Cuban people. Last month, the regime's lead negotiator summed up its position even more succinctly after the first round of U.S.-Cuba normalization talks in Havana, saying, "Change in Cuba is not negotiable."

In other words, emboldened by the first wave of concessions Obama gave the Castro regime in the form of access to more U.S. dollars, it wants even more in exchange for nothing.

When dealing with tyrants, you can't wear them down with kindness. When that approach is attempted and one-sided concessions are made, tyrants don't interpret them as good faith gestures. They interpret them as weakness. This is a lesson the Obama administration has failed to learn from its dealings with Iran, North Korea and Russia, and even terrorists such as the Taliban.

On Tuesday, the American people will have their first opportunity to hear from the Obama administration about its dealings with the Castro regime when I chair a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere affairs. I look forward to hearing the perspectives of State Department officials, even though I am already concerned by the administration's reluctance to allow the American people to hear directly from the two White House officials who negotiated the deal with the Castro regime over the course of 18 months of secret negotiations, and without the input of our government's top diplomats and negotiators.

Many important questions remain about what exactly the Castro regime has done in exchange for Obama's softening of travel and banking regulations that will now allow more U.S. dollars to fill the Castro regime's coffers. For example, it's unclear why, with all the economic leverage it initially brought to the table, the administration apparently accepted a deal to free conditionally 53 political prisoners -- many of whom were released, but with charges pending or were threatened with more jail time if they renew their pro-democracy work. Indeed, some have already reportedly been rearrested in addition to hundreds of new detentions since the December announcement.

Questions also remain about what, if anything, the administration has done to secure the repatriation of what the FBI estimates to be more than 70 fugitives from justice being provided safe harbor in Cuba, including known cop killers such as Joanne Chesimard. Also unknown is what, if anything, the administration intends to do to secure billions of dollars' worth of outstanding American property claims and judgments against the Cuban government. The list of questions and concerns like these goes on and on.

In recent months, I've made clear that I believe the President and his allies in Congress are misguided for supporting a policy that gives away practically all the leverage the United States has to bring about democratic change in Cuba in exchange for virtually nothing. While reasonable people can disagree on the merits of what U.S.-Cuba policy should be in the 21st century, no serious person can argue that America is stronger when we give a cruel regime such as the one in Cuba everything it wants from the United States, including money it uses to repress its opponents, while we get nothing in return except more anti-American bluster from a geriatric dictator.

With Cuba in the news recently, many Americans are asking why Cuba matters to them and why they should care. The simple answer is that what happens with Cuba has far-reaching and potentially damaging implications far beyond the island nation. Cuba is not the only rogue regime with which Obama is engaging in an attempt to end bad behavior. When America sits at the negotiating table with one tyrant or radical regime, the others -- from Iran to North Korea and elsewhere -- watch closely and learn best practices that they can apply to advance their own anti-American agendas. Just as the Cuban regime reportedly cited our swap of five members of the Taliban in the negotiations for Alan Gross' release, the Iranians watched how North Korea exploited U.S. diplomacy, slow-walked negotiations and ultimately achieved their goal of developing a nuclear weapon.

There should therefore be no doubt that regimes around the world will be looking to emulate the Castro regime's so far successful efforts to take advantage of Obama's weaknesses and to undermine the U.S. role as the world's leading economic and military power.

When the President settles for one-sided deals with the Castro regime, it hurts the Cuban people and their aspirations for freedom. When Obama allows the Castro regime to get the best of him in negotiations, it emboldens tyrants around the world. As the President's engagement with the Castro regime continues, I will do all I can to ensure that his "normalization" does not come at all costs, becoming yet another instance of a failed foreign policy that makes America weaker in the world and, ultimately, less safe.

Quote of the Day: Obama's Bad Negotiations

You need an effective negotiator at the top, and, as I’ve said before, I think the president has shown over and over again that he’s not the most effective negotiator, whether you’re talking about the Iranian nuclear talks or whether you’re talking about his recent foray into Cuba. The president has not proven himself to be the most adept negotiator, in my opinion, on behalf of American interests.
-- Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ), The Washington Post, 2/1/15

Russia Plans Joint Military Drills With North Korea and Cuba

From Newsweek:

Russia Plans Joint Military Drills With North Korea and Cuba

Russia could soon be carrying out military drills alongside North Korea and Cuba according to Valery Gerasimov, the chief of staff of the Russian armed forces.

Speaking at a meeting on Saturday which was also attended by Russia’s defence minister Sergey Shoygu, along with the heads of all armed forces branches, Gerasimov announced: “We are planning an expansion of the communication lines of our military central command. We are entering preliminary negotiations with the armed forces of Brazil, Vietnam, Cuba and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”

“We are going to conduct a series of joint naval and air force exercises, as well as joint drills of our ground troops and air assault troops,” the military official added.

Canada Thrilled Obama Likes Its Failed Cuba Policy

Sunday, February 1, 2015
During a meeting with his counterparts from Canada and Mexico this weekend, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was jubilant about the "enormous interest" these nations showed in the Obama Administration's new Cuba policy.

Both nations praised the Obama Administration for seeking to follow their lead -- in other words, "leading from behind" -- in decades of financing Castro's repressive dictatorship.

Canada is Cuba's biggest source of tourists, with 1.1 million traveling last year and staying at the Cuban military's all-inclusive beach resorts. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Canada generously turned tourism into one of Castro's biggest sources of revenue.

Meanwhile, Mexico has been a historic political ally of the Castro dictatorship. Last year, the Pena Nieto government forgave 70% of Castro's $500 million debt to Mexico. Debt forgiveness financed by the impoverished people of Mexico.

All while turning a blind-eye to Cuba's repressive realities, of course.

Yet, apparently, the Obama Administration finds this to be a "successful" alternative.

It's more like a shameful alternative.

Obama Should Focus on Internet, Not Tourists in Cuba

Excerpt by author and columnist, Andres Oppenheimer, in The Miami Herald:

Biggest test in U.S.-Cuba talks: the Internet

Neither a U.S. embassy in Havana, nor a million additional U.S. tourists sunbathing in Varadero beach, nor U.S. exports of paint and building materials for the island’s small private sector, will help open up Cuba’s political system.

Millions of foreign tourists — including nearly two million Canadians and Europeans last year — have long been visiting the island, and European countries and Canada have been exporting goods to Cuba for decades, without any major impact in helping connect Cubans to the outside world, or helping the island emerge from its chronic poverty.

In coming rounds of the U.S.-Cuba normalization talks, Washington should focus on the Internet. And if Cuba balks, as many expect, the United States and Latin America should denounce Cuba for what it is: a military dictatorship that has run out of excuses for refusing to allow its people to access the Internet.

What Business in Cuba Looks Like

Question for the Obama Administration:

How have the Cuban people benefited from decades of European and Canadian investment in Castro's monopolies?

Answer:

They haven't.

Excerpt from The Financial Times:

“Cuba is one of the only places where every direct investment requires the authorization of the highest government body. It is also different since nearly everything is owned by the state,” said Sabastiaan Berger, a Dutch corporate lawyer with more than 15 years’ experience in Cuba and the chief executive of Ceiba, whose investments include the Miramar Trade Center and hotels.

“Can you do business here?” asks Cameron Young, a Canadian lawyer and Mr. Berger’s longtime partner. “Of course. The trade center is full.” But, he added: “Your state partner is also the supplier, the employer of your staff, the buyer, the regulating authority and the entity that taxes you. So it’s a complex place to enter into a normal business transaction.”

On Obama's Cuba Deal: Not In Our Name

From The Huffington Post:

Not In Our Name

On 17 December 2014, President Barack Obama announced a change in U.S. Cuba policy and the Free Cuba Foundation feels the need to make its position clear in the following statement:

The Free Cuba Foundation (FCF) was founded at Florida International University in 1993. Throughout its history, FCF has been a steadfast and independent voice in favor nonviolent resistance to injustice and tyranny.

We agree with President Obama on one general observation from his December 17 statement: that one cannot keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. Unfortunately, the efforts of the Clinton Administration to engage the Castro dictatorship as well as loosen sanctions before and after 1996 went unmentioned in President Obama's comments. President Clinton began joint military exercises with the Castro regime in 1994 in pursuit of normalized relations. The shootdown of two Brothers to the Rescue planes on February 24, 1996, by Castro regime MiGs -- which killed Armando Alejandre Jr. (age 45), Carlos Alberto Costa (age 29), Mario Manuel de la Peña (age 24) and Pablo Morales (age 29) -- led to the passage and signing of The Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act by Congress as an alternative to military action in an election year.

The attack took place on a day that a national gathering called Concilio Cubano was to have started. A massive crackdown had been underway for days attracting international press attention. Despite this act of state terrorism against Americans, President Bill Clinton shook hands with Fidel Castro in 2000 and loosened sanctions that opened cash and carry exports from American corporations to the Castro regime. This turned the United States into one of the top five trading partners of the Castro regime.

Economic sanctions were not designed to overthrow the dictatorship but were part of a policy of containment to prevent the spread of its totalitarian model. The rise of Hugo Chavez and the spread of Cuban influence in Venezuela began during Bill Clinton's presidency and are now harming the entire region undermining the democratic gains of the 1980s and early 1990s. Despite this disaster, the Obama Administration began in 2009 to loosen sanctions on the Cuban dictatorship. The Castro regime's response was to take Alan Gross, a U.S. citizen, hostage. The Obama administration remained very low key about Gross's arrest, and it was 25 days before U.S. diplomats even saw this jailed American. FCF believes that this lack of concern sent a message to the dictatorship that they could continue to arbitrarily detain Gross and use him as a bargaining chip in their goals to secure the release of five Cuban spies captured in 1998. These five had not only engaged in spying on U.S.-military facilities but planned terrorist acts on U.S. soil and were criminally involved in the February 24, 1996 shoot down.

As was the case in 1996, this policy of appeasement had dire consequences for the democratic opposition in Cuba, which suffered several setbacks over the next four years. Prisoner-of-conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo died on hunger strike under suspicious circumstances in 2010; Ladies in White founder Laura Inés Pollán Toledo died from a suspicious illness in 2011; and Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero died in the summer of 2012, under circumstances that point to a state security killing. Rising violence against opposition activists, including machete attacks, is a new and disturbing phenomenon.

FCF is concerned that releasing the three remaining spies, including Gerardo Hernandez -- who was serving two life sentences, one of them for conspiracy to murder four members of Brothers to the Rescue in exchange for Gross and an unknown Cuban intelligence operative -- may lead to the Castro regime murdering more innocents inside and outside of Cuba. We also know, as does the regime, that due to short-term economic interests that economic engagement with the dictatorship will not be seriously impacted by whatever new atrocities are committed.

Additionally, the hostage demand having been met by the United States government also sets a dangerous precedent for Americans traveling abroad. Add to this the normalization of diplomatic relations and the further loosening of sanctions and the signal sent to the hardline elements within the regime is clear: operating with criminal impunity delivers results. This was the same message sent by President Clinton in 2000.

FCF and its members are disturbed by the President's statement on December 19,2014 that the 1996 shoot down was not a premeditated move by Castro but a "tragic circumstance." This statement was deficient on two basic points. First of all, two planes were shot down over international airspace not one as he stated in the press conference. More importantly, the president's statement ignored documented evidence as well as court decisions and investigations by international human rights bodies that have concluded that the attack was indeed a premeditated extrajudicial execution.

Every year since the week following the 1996 shoot-down, FCF members have joined together to hold a silent vigil at Florida International University on February 24th between 3:21pm and 3:27pm at the times both planes were blown up by Castro's MiGs in remembrance of Armando, Carlos, Mario, and Pablo who gave their lives in service to others in a continuing demand for justice. This tradition has been maintained for the past 18 years and next year on Tuesday, February 24, 2015 at 3:21pm we will gather with the families of the four martyrs.

We the present and former members of the Free Cuba Foundation say to the United States government and the Castro regime that the fruits that have emerged thus far from these negotiations point to the impure means upon which they were founded and will only lead to more grief. Therefore, with great respect we say, not in our name!

Signed by:

Brian Alonso
Grace Cuelez Droblas
Oscar Grau
Yosvani Oliva Iglesias
Robert Linares
Neri Ann Martinez
Augusto Monge
Susana Navajas
Cindy Rodriguez
Raisa Romaelle
Pedro M. Ross
Juan Carlos Sanchez
Harold Alexander Silva
John Suarez
César Vásquez