Will Senator McCaskill Visit Cuban Dissident Nearly Beaten to Death?

Saturday, February 14, 2015
U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) is headed to Cuba this weekend to explore "trade opportunities."

In other words, she's going to visit Castro's dictatorship, which maintains a monopoly over all foreign trade with the island.

Click here for more details.

But perhaps Senator McCaskill can take some time from her concocted itinerary to visit the victims of her tyrannical hosts.

She should take a few minutes to visit with Rolando Diaz Silva (below), of the Movement for a New Republic, who was nearly beaten to death this week.

He surely needs international solidarity.

Or with the half-dozen dissidents from The Ladies in White and other groups, who were arrested for seeking medical assistance for Diaz Silva.

We know, we know...

Diaz Silva and these dissidents, along with 99.99% of other Cubans, aren't allowed (by Castro's regime) to buy agricultural products from Missouri.

Plus they are not the focus of Obama's new rapprochement with Cuba's dictatorship.

But they matter too.

Image: Cuban Dissident Nearly Beaten to Death

Cuban democracy activist, Rolando Diaz Silva, was viciously attacked with a metal pipe inside his home.

The attack has been attributed to tactics by Castro's security forces that seek to intimidate lesser-known dissidents and dissuade them from joining opposition groups.

After being beaten nearly to death, it took over four hours for an ambulance to arrive at Diaz Silva's home.

A group of six dissidents who protested the lack of medical attention were subsequently beaten and arrested by the authorities. They include Lourdes Esquivel, a Ladies in White activist, and Mario Alberto Hernandez, a recently released political prisoner from Obama-Castro's "Group of 53."

Below is an image of Diaz Silva after the attack.

Cuba, Russia to Boost Military Cooperation

From Xinhua:

Cuba, Russia vow to further boost military cooperation

Cuban President Raul Castro held talks here Friday with visiting Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, with both sides expressing readiness to further strengthening military-technical cooperation between their two countries.

During the talks, Castro and Shoigu reviewed "the historical ties linking the two nations and ratified the willingness to continue strengthening the collaboration bonds," according to a press release issued by the Cuban government.

Besides the Russian delegation led by Shoigu, the talks were also attended by Cuban Defense Minister Leopoldo Cintra Frias and senior officers of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces.

Shoigu started the official visit to Cuba on Friday. Before the talks, Shoigu laid a wreath at the Cacahual Mausoleum outside Havana holding the remains of the independence war hero Antonio Maceo (1845-1896).

It is Shoigu's first visit to Cuba since his appointment as the defense chief by President Vladimir Putin. His agenda also includes visit to military units, according to local media.

How Does Fortifying Cuba's Regime Promote Democracy?

By Dr. Jose Azel in PanAm Post:

Can Democracy Be Negotiated in Cuba?

Castros Will Never Willingly Give Up Their Military Dictatorship

Democracy is an abnormal and unnatural political system. This is the view held by all authoritarian and totalitarian regimes and their want-to-be sycophants. And, in one respect, they are right. A liberal democracy aberrantly requires those holding power to respect statutory constraints on their powers and, even more unnatural, to enable processes that may remove them from power.

It is commendable that, while in Cuba, chief US negotiator Roberta Jacobson met with dissidents, and expressed US concern regarding the lack of civil liberties. However, to advance citizen’s rights in Cuba she will have to persuade the Cuban government to change its very nature.

Defenders of the new US-Cuba policy have argued, ad nauseam, that the old policy of economic sanctions has not worked, and that the new policy will work to weaken the Cuban government. These assertions are suspect since the new measures will enrich primarily the Cuban military, which controls most economic activity, and thus will bolster the regime. It is hard to discern how fortifying a totalitarian government promotes democracy, but let us take the discussion past the platitudes into less explored quicksand.

What liberal democracy advocates is not weak government, but limited government. The authority of the Cuban state knows no bounds; it is an unlimited form of government. I know of no argument offering that the new US-Cuba policy will advance limited government in Cuba. The adversary of totalitarian government is not weak government; it is limited government.

Our conception of human rights is that rights exist prior to, and distinct from any man-made law; they cannot be granted or repealed by government fiat. By our definition, human rights can only exist under a government that is limited in its authority. But to Marxists, human rights are the social creation of a particular vision of society. In their view, rights are no more than a whimsical invention of government that can be revoked at the pleasure of the government. They are permissions, not rights.

All governments hold a legal monopoly on the use of physical force. Thus we need limits on government to protect ourselves from the involuntary servitude to others demanded by collectivism. The question of whether rights are creations of particular societies, or independent of them, is fundamental to our stance on moral conduct and political organization.

A desirable democracy — one that respects and protects individual rights — requires limited government. But Cuba is a totalitarian regime that demands complete subjection of the individual to the authority of the collective. Without limited government, human rights are inaccessible.

A liberal democracy also requires the unfettered participation of an autonomous opposition that is able to compete freely, fairly, and often for the levers of power. Yet, to allow opposition means to impose limits on your own power. The Castros have built a police state, and police states do not subject themselves to the possibility of relinquishing power.

Stated plainly, the Castros will not self-impose limits on their governing controls, and will not undertake any process that may deprive them of their powers.

Assistant Secretary of State Jacobson has expressed that she has no illusions about changing the Cuban regime. Again commendable, because US policymakers tend to naively see the world through the lenses of their own cultural and historical experiences in a form of analytical provincialism.

In order to secure whatever advantages they may be pursuing, Cuban negotiators may offer some minor power-limiting promises. Having secured the advantage, however, the Castros will no longer find it in their self-interest to fulfill those commitments.

Thus, before getting into bed with Raúl Castro, and surrendering, in amorous embrace, whatever little leverage we may have left, US negotiators should know that the General will not respect them in the morning.

Chairman Goodlatte & Ros-Lehtinen: Why Did Obama Help Cuban Spy Artificially Inseminate Wife?

Thursday, February 12, 2015
Goodlatte & Ros-Lehtinen: Why Did Administration Help Cuban Spy Artificially Inseminate Wife?

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) today sent a letter to Federal Bureau of Prisons Director Charles Samuels, Jr. expressing outrage over the measures taken by the Obama Administration to help a convicted Cuban spy artificially inseminate his wife in Panama while he was imprisoned in a U.S. federal prison. The spy, Gerardo Hernandez, was sentenced to two life terms in federal prison after being found guilty of 13 criminal counts, including conspiracy to commit espionage and conspiracy to commit murder.

In their letter, Chairman Goodlatte and Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen demand the Obama Administration provide answers about its controversial decision to help a convicted spy and murderer in this manner.

Below is the text of the letter. The signed letter can be found here.

Dear Director Samuels:

We write to express our dismay and outrage over measures taken by the Obama Administration to facilitate the artificial insemination of Cuban national Adriana Perez, wife of convicted Cuban spy Gerardo Hernandez.

On December 12, 2001, Hernandez was sentenced to two life terms in federal prison after being found guilty of 13 criminal counts, including conspiracy to commit espionage and conspiracy to commit murder.  Specifically, Hernandez’s actions, which he took under direct orders from the Castro regime, resulted in the deaths of three American citizens and one U.S. resident: Carlos Costa, Armando Alejandre, Mario de la Peña, and Pablo Morales, all of whom were members of the humanitarian group “Brothers to the Rescue.”  Intelligence provided by Hernandez enabled the Cuban regime to shoot down these individuals’ planes over international waters.

Media reports indicate that the U.S. government went to great lengths to assist Mr. Hernandez, a convicted spy and murderer, in becoming a father.  It is shameful that, in doing so, the Obama Administration overlooked the sad and grim reality that, because of Hernandez’s actions, some of the Brothers to the Rescue victims were prevented from having families of their own.  Hernandez’s actions robbed three American families of their futures and the Department of Justice and the Administration rewarded his taking of life by proactively intervening to help him become a father.  With that in mind, we request answers to the following questions:

1. What statute or regulation authorizes the U.S. government to facilitate an artificial insemination in this manner?

2. Please explain who submitted this request and who approved it.

3. Who incurred the costs for this medical procedure? How much did it cost?  If the costs were borne by the U.S. government, from which account(s) was any or all of this process funded?

4. To where was the specimen sent and who delivered it?

5. Has this sort of arrangement happened before with other federal inmates or was this an exception?  If it has happened before, what were the circumstances?

We request that you submit answers to these questions no later than February 27, 2015.  Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

AEI: Obama’s Gambit Misunderstands Cuban Reality

Ambassador Roger Noriega has written a new report for the American Enterprise Institute evaluating President Obama's new Cuba policy.

Read the entire report here.

Below are the key points and introduction:

Obama’s gambit misunderstands Cuban reality

  • President Obama’s new push to normalize relations with Cuba neglects the Cuban dictatorship’s internal oppression, relentless hostility to US interests, and implacable opposition to change.
  • The Obama administration has rushed to facilitate new travel and trade with Cuba, but the Castro regime controls virtually every aspect of the economy, benefits from cash remittances and tourism, and stifles the country’s potential growth.
  • While the Obama administration struggles to justify its unilateral concessions and has yet to press for international help on Cuba, the Castro regime has rejected calls for change and is making new demands to put the administration on the defensive.
  • For Obama to salvage his new Cuba approach, his team will have to develop and implement an actual strategy that measures up to his rhetoric without letting down American interests and ideals.
President Obama’s decision to normalize diplomatic relations with the Castro government after 54 years is certainly dramatic. However, it appears that his new approach to Cuba, announced on December 17, will neither advance US interests nor produce any significant change on the island.

Although Obama’s actions have been characterized as bold, their practical impact is to reinforce the status quo and favor a soft landing for the Castro dictatorship. Critics of the president’s initiatives assert that the normalization of political relations confers political recognition on a totalitarian regime, prioritizing conventional dialogue with the state over solidarity with the Cuban people.

Accepting the premise that US policy—not the willful Castro regime—is the primary obstacle to change (“[I]solation has not worked,” he proclaimed), the president has proposed wholesale changes without laying out a meaningful strategy for advancing US interests, let alone for addressing the plight of 11 million Cubans. It remains to be seen whether Obama’s executive action on Cuba will be part of his legacy or just another example of a president’s reach exceeding his grasp.

Obama claims that US policies meant to isolate the Castro regime are ineffective and hinder people-to-people engagement—travel, trade, and communications—that he believes will help Cubans prepare for a post-Castro transition. Also, by restoring diplomatic ties with the regime, Obama apparently hopes to eliminate an irritant in US relations with his counterparts in the Americas.

The early results are not promising. Most Cuban dissidents have rejected the concessions, including a measure relaxing controls on dollar transfers to family members. “The more resources a dictatorship enjoys, the higher the level of repression is within the country,” said human rights and democracy activist Jorge Luis García Pérez. “And the stronger the dictatorship, the stronger the repression.”

While the administration has rushed to facilitate new commerce with Cuba, these narrow measures mostly serve to raise expectations of new business opportunities with a bankrupt command economy. Meanwhile, a triumphant Raúl Castro has been quick to demand other substantial concessions (described later) from the US, while making clear that his regime will not reciprocate with fundamental changes to the Cuban economy or state.

Tweet for Freedom: Three (Artist) Prisoners of Castro #FreeTaniaAngelElSexto

Throughout tomorrow (Friday) morning, join the Twitter demonstration (#FreeTaniaAngelElSexto) demanding the freedom of:

Danilo Maldonado, a Cuban artist known as "El Sexto," who has been imprisoned since December 26th, 2014 -- pursuant to the Obama-Castro deal.

Angel Santiesteban-Prats, a Cuban novelist who has been imprisoned since February, 28, 2013, and was left behind by the Obama-Castro deal.

Tania Bruguera, a New York-based Cuban artist, who was temporarily arrested on December 30, 2014 for organizing a free speech performance entitled #YoTambienExijo -- pursuant to the Obama-Castro deal. She had her passport confiscated and is not allowed to leave the island.

Is Obama's Policy to "Empower" or Insult the Cuban People?

President Obama has stated that the purpose of his new travel policy is to "empower" the Cuban people.

(Let's put aside for a moment the fact that Cuba's travel industry is owned by Castro's military and security services, which a top State Department official was clearly unaware of during last week's Congressional hearings.)

Yet, one of the first delegations to travel to the island pursuant to Obama's policy is the far-left group, Code Pink.

Their "people-to-people" trip is called "To Cuba With Love," for it aims to gush over Castro's dictatorship.

Predictably, upon their return, Code Pink has announced that it will embark on an effort to lobby the Obama Administration to remove Cuba from the "state-sponsors" of terrorism list.

After all, Cuba's unmerited removal from the "state-sponsors" list remains one of the main concessions that Raul Castro is further demanding from Obama.

Sadly, none of this is a joke.

Here is Code Pink's itinerary and press release.

(Note to OFAC: How doesn't this trip violate the requirement that "a predominant portion of the activities must not be with individuals or entities acting for or on behalf of a prohibited official of the Government of Cuba"?)

CodePink Delegation Arrives in Cuba

A group of 150 journalists, academics and activists have arrived in Havana, Cuba, as part of a delegation with the peace group CodePink. The delegation plans meet with Cuban officials and members of the Cuban 5 who were recently released from U.S. prison. The activists have called for Congress to lift all travel restrictions and return Guanatánamo Bay to Cuba. CodePink co-founder Medea Benjamin said Cuba should also be removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, where it stands alongside Iran, Sudan and Syria.

Medea Benjamin: "We also think it’s important that we work, when we go back, to push that Cuba be taken off the terrorist list. There is a State Department report that’s supposed to come out in March that is supposed to advise President Obama on whether Cuba still belongs on that terrorist list, and we want to be ready for when that report comes out by putting out educational work and organizing and lobbying for Cuba to be taken off the list."

During Senate Hearing on Human Trafficking, Cuba Concerns Raised

Yesterday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on the global problem of forced labor and sex slavery, and on how the U.S. can fight it.

Excerpt from Bloomberg:

Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the committee, asked about talks to normalize relations with Cuba, saying that the State Department has identified the island nation as a source for sex trafficking of women and children.

Menendez pointed out that Cuban doctors sent overseas to work don’t receive payments, which instead are sent directly to the Cuban government.

“One thing is to have a blind eye, the other thing is to be complicit in the trafficking, and that’s the reality of Cuba,” said Menendez, a critic of the Obama administrations moves to normalize relations with Cuba.

‘Nefarious Aspects’

Sarah Sewall, the under secretary of state for civilian security, democracy and human rights, told Menendez that Cuba presents a challenge.

“Government complicity in trafficking is one of the most troubling and nefarious aspects” of the issue, she said. While U.S. officials are raising the issue with Cuban counterparts in the talks, and “we would like to take advantage of any opening we have, the problems, as you pointed out, are severe.”

Obama's Muddied Cuba Policy

From The Florida Times-Union's Editorial Board:

Listen to Cuban dissidents on opening relations

It’s clear that 50 years of embargo have not changed the Cuban dictatorship or helped the Cuban people.
And yet it also is clear that the Obama administration’s outreach produced next to nothing on either front.

Administration spokesmen are more hopeful than realistic that opening trade will produce more freedom for the Cuban people.

The Cuban regime has two examples that disprove that theory — China and Vietnam.

As The Washington Post editorialized, “With no consequences in sight, Cuba continues to crack down on free speech.”

In fact, shortly after the Obama administration’s changes, the Cuban government shut down demonstrations by free speech activists. In the four weeks following Obama’s speech, there were about 200 political arrests, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Far from leading to more freedoms, signs are that the Castro government is ratcheting up its demands. Cuba wants the embargo lifted, the return of Guantanamo Bay, the cessation of radio and TV transmissions to Cuba — and the frosting on the cake — reparations.

That’s proof that the Castros are really living in a tyrannical bubble.

What should have happened is clear — a series of proportional steps, offering one bit of trade for a proportional addition of freedom for the Cuban people.

OBAMA SAID IT

As Barack Obama said in 2008, significant steps toward democracy must precede normalization.

The heartbreaking cost of the bungled Obama policy was dramatized recently when Cuban dissidents addressed a congressional hearing.

Jorge Luis Garcia Perez Antunez was imprisoned for 17 years for calling for political and economic reforms.

He called the Obama administration’s reforms “a betrayal of the aspiration to freedom by the Cuban people.” He said the Obama policy is “a farce” that will only perpetuate the Castro regime.

He said there needs to be a full restoration of civil rights, an amnesty for political prisoners, the ability to organize independent political parties and labor unions, genuinely free elections and the separation of power of the Castro brothers.

“This is the moment to demand real changes from the Castro regime,” Antunez said.

IMPRESSIVE BRAVERY

One of the more impressive speakers at the congressional hearing was Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White. This group was formed in 2003 through the inspiration of Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King.

Relatives and wives formed the organization after civil rights demonstrators, librarians and journalists were imprisoned. The Ladies in White march in Havana.

Shortly before Soler left Havana for Washington, activists were arrested for attempting to place flowers at statues of Cuban founding father Jose Marti.

She said Raul Castro has vowed to not give up “one millimeter” of its system of government.

“For us, this signals the continuation of beatings, jailing, forced exile, discrimination against our children at school and all manner of patterns of intimidation that we suffer daily for wanting to see a pluralistic, democratic and inclusive Cuba,” she said.

Cuba needs dollars. Its protectors, especially Russia and Venezuela, are suffering from a decline in oil revenues. Offering a measured opening of trade in return for a proportionate increase in freedoms could have been a win for everyone.

There is a blueprint for these changes, the Agreement for Democracy in Cuba, a road map toward democracy.

Including Congress in this process would have been helpful, as well. In any case, Congress will never agree to ending the embargo with this muddied policy.

Instead, there is strong evidence that the Obama administration has been taken.

The New Cuba Policy: Breakthrough or Bailout?

Over 50 former diplomats, university professors and Cuban opposition leaders published the following letter in The Washington Post yesterday against the Obama Administration's new Cuba policy.

Click here to enlarge:

For Terror Victims, Obama's Cuba Deal Revives Painful Memories

Wednesday, February 11, 2015
By James Rosen in Fox News:

For relatives of terror victims, Cuba detente revives painful memories

Joe Connor was just a few days past his ninth birthday when the news hit on January 24, 1975: His father, Frank, a financial executive, had been killed that afternoon by a bomb blast at a lower Manhattan restaurant.

He had taken some out-of-town clients to lunch at Fraunces Tavern – the Revolutionary War-era watering hole where George Washington bade farewell to his troops – when someone who has never been identified placed a knapsack with a bomb in it just behind Frank’s chair. He died instantly in the blast, as did one of his out-of-town clients.

That day, the militant Puerto Rican nationalist group FALN issued a communique to the news wire services claiming responsibility for the attack, which killed four and injured five dozen others. The group said it chose the tavern – which was popular with Wall Street types – in order to target “reactionary corporate executives,” and had committed the attack in exchange for a deadly bombing a few days earlier in the Puerto Rican town of Mayaguez, which locals blamed on the Central Intelligence Agency.

“It’s something I struggle with all the time,” says Connor today, four decades after the afternoon that changed his life, and the lives of his family members, forever. A financial adviser in his own right, with children of his own, Connor has spent much of his free time over the past two decades writing to officials, testifying before Congress, appearing on TV programs – including some on Fox News – campaigning for Cuba to extradite the one man whom Connor has reason to suspect played a direct role in his father’s killing.

That would be Guillermo Morales, once the chief bomb-maker for FALN.

Five years after the Fraunces Tavern attack, Morales blew off both his hands when one of his incendiary creations detonated prematurely in Queens. Despite that handicap, he managed to escape from Bellevue Hospital in New York and fled to Mexico. A deadly confrontation there led to his spending five years in a notoriously harsh Mexican prison. But in 1988, without explanation, the Mexican authorities allowed Morales safe passage to Cuba, where he lives fairly openly to this day.

Morales is, in fact, one of an estimated 70 fugitives from American justice believed to be living in Cuba today. The crimes of which these fugitives are accused range from Medicaid fraud to terrorism and even murder. Even more infamous than Morales is the case of JoAnne Chesimard, a Black Power radical convicted in the killing of a New Jersey state trooper during a bloody shootout along the New Jersey Turnpike in May 1973. Chesimard was captured in the gunfight, but – like Morales – escaped from incarceration. In Chesimard’s case, freedom came with the aid of three armed accomplices who broke her out of a state prison in 1979, two years after her conviction.

Reports differ as to how soon Chesimard – who calls herself Assata Shakur – arrived in Castro’s Cuba; the State Department says it was 1979, the same year she escaped from prison, but her literary agent once placed the date of arrival in 1984. Either way, she, too, has lived fairly openly, at certain points even listing herself in the Havana phone book.

State Department officials dating back at least to the Clinton administration have pressed, in vain, for her extradition; in 2005, the FBI made Chesimard the first woman to appear on the bureau’s most wanted terrorists list.

The Obama administration’s decision, in December, to reestablish full diplomatic ties with Cuba has angered some victims of the fugitives’ crimes and their families, particularly because the State Department is not pressing for the fugitives’ return as a condition for the reopening of an American Embassy in Havana.

“It's amazing,” Connor told Fox News in an interview last week. “In the last few days, you had Raul Castro making demands of the U.S. for normalization of relations, including closing Guantanamo Bay, when we're the most powerful nation on earth. We shouldn't be taking demands from Cuba to basically infuse life-saving capital into their country; it should be going quite the opposite.”

Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, the U.S. official spearheading the normalization talks with Cuba, told lawmakers last week that she presses the Chesimard case, and those of the other fugitives, every time she interacts with her counterparts in the Castro regime. The Englewood, New Jersey native met with those counterparts in late January, when she led the highest-level U.S. delegation to Havana since 1980.

Jacobson calls herself “a child of New Jersey,” and said she grew up with the Chesimard case. But when asked what the Cuban diplomats actually say as to why their regime has so long blocked extradition of the convicted cop killer and terrorist, Jacobson demurs. “I can’t give you much more in the way of a rationale because they have not given much more,” she told reporters in December.

Critics in Congress have assailed the Obama administration for not formally linking the case of Chesimard to the normalization process. “Why was her return not part of the deal?” asked Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J.

Jacobson told a Senate hearing last week that reopening the U.S. Embassy in Havana “would enable us to do more, pursue additional things – for example, in our law enforcement, in getting fugitives returned.”

For the moment, Connor remains skeptical. But he sees some light creeping in from the end of the tunnel. He believes Chesimard, the aging revolutionary, remains popular in the Castros’ inner circle, but that Morales, the bomb-maker with no hands, has, as Connor puts it, “worn out his welcome in Cuba.”

“He's no longer viewed as an asset to the Castro regime,” Connor told Fox News. “So I think at this point they're probably not going to put up much of a fight to keep him.”

Extradition of Morales would bring some measure of closure to the Connor family, and help Joe Connor better navigate the demands of work, family – and justice. “When I'm sitting on the couch watching TV with the family, sometimes I'm thinking maybe I should be writing something [ to advance the case],” he said. “This stuff is draining….Writing about it continuously, over and over, is physically and mentally draining.”

But it’s the precious photographs and home movies of Frank Connor that keep his son going.

“My dad deserved my best,” he said.

Image below: Castro-harbored terrorist, Guillermo Morales, as spotted in Havana a few years ago.

As Normalization Talks Continue, So Do Cuban Spy Broadcasts

By former U.S. Counterintelligence Official , Chris Simmons, in Cuba Confidential:

As Normalization Effort Continues, Cuban Spy Broadcasts Continue

As expelled Cuban spy-diplomats Josefina Vidal and Gustavo Machin (below) push for greater U.S. concessions, their spy colleagues continue to go “old-school” in targeting the U.S.

Click here to listen to recent Cuban “numbers stations” broadcasts (instructions) from Havana to the Castro regime’s spies in the U.S.

Groups, States Supported by Cuba Continue to Spread Terror

From The Washington Free-Beacon:

Groups, States Supported by Cuba Continue to Spread Terror

U.S. officials consider removing Castro regime from terror list

U.S. officials are considering removing Cuba from a list of state sponsors of terrorism, even as Cuban allies continue to launch military attacks and trade for weapons.

As part of President Barack Obama’s announcement in December that he would normalize relations with Cuba, Obama instructed Secretary of State John Kerry to review Cuba’s terror designation and issue a report in six months.

While reports indicate that the administration is leaning toward removing Cuba from the terror list, such an action would conflict with the Cuban regime’s support for Colombian militants, Iran, and North Korea.

Cuban President Raul Castro and his government have been hosting peace talks since 2012 between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a communist insurgency that has battled the Colombian military since the 1960s in a conflict claiming 200,000 deaths. U.S. diplomatic cables leaked in 2010 revealed that Cuba had harbored FARC militants and formed close ties with the group’s political wing.

Despite the Cuban-sponsored negotiations aimed at ending the internal Colombian conflict, the FARC has not halted its belligerent actions. Talks were temporarily suspended last November after the FARC captured a Colombian general. The Marxist rebels have also attacked oil installations and civilians throughout the negotiating period and largely finance their operations by trafficking cocaine.

Colombia’s military intercepted a shipment of Russian-made anti-aircraft rockets last week that were headed to the FARC, according to regional reports. The rebel insurgency has increased its arm purchases during the talks.

A State Department spokesperson said in an email that, “the United States is an unwavering supporter of the Colombian government’s efforts to achieve a negotiated peace and to bring an end to decades of violence.” The spokesperson did not say whether Cuba’s support for the FARC and the group’s attacks during the peace talks in Havana would affect discussions about removing Cuba from the terror list.

“That review is underway, and as the president instructed, is guided by the facts and the law,” the spokesperson said.

Cuba remains a close ally of Iran and has helped it develop military partnerships and criminal networks within Latin American countries, according to some analysts. The Islamic regime in Tehran is widely regarded as the world’s foremost sponsor of terrorism, including militant groups in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Bahrain.

“Iran used the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) and its regional proxy groups to implement foreign policy goals, provide cover for intelligence operations, and create instability in the Middle East,” the State Department said in its most recent country reports on terrorism.

Additionally, Cuba attempted to ship Soviet-era MiG-21 fighter jets, air defense systems, missiles, and command and control vehicles to North Korea in 2013—a violation of the United Nations ban on arms transfers to the communist country. Panamanian officials seized the weapons after discovering that they were concealed under bags of sugar.

Castro said in a speech last month that the United States must remove Cuba from the terror list before he would consider normalizing relations, as well as return the Guantanamo Bay military base to his government and repeal the long-standing trade embargo. Roberta Jacobson, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, told lawmakers last week that the United States would not relinquish Guantanamo but would continue holding talks to seek a rapprochement with Cuba.

U.S. lawmakers from both parties have blasted what they call “secret” negotiations between White House officials and the Cuban regime before Obama’s formal announcement in December of reestablishing ties.

“As if negotiating in secret is not bad enough, the Castro regime continues to defy this administration, as the chairman and ranking member said, by setting preconditions publicly on the negotiations, such as demanding the return of land of Guantanamo, which is so vital to U.S. national security interests,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R., Fla.), a Cuban-American lawmaker and staunch critic of Castro, during the hearing with Jacobson.

“It’s so pathetic for this strong, wonderful, generous country to look so weak when negotiating with the Castro regime.”

Communists With Swiss Bank Accounts

From Note from the Cuban Exile Quarter:

Communists From Cuba and Venezuela With Swiss Bank Accounts

How communists cultivate more poverty and inequality

The regimes in Caracas and Havana speak of social justice and defending the poor, but in practice they are the opposite of what they claim. Dictators with absolute power who once and while are revealed for who they truly are: a rich and unaccountable minority plundering the riches of once great nations whose peoples are spiraling into deeper poverty and misery.

HSBC is the second largest bank in the world. It was founded in London in 1991 by the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has released 60,000 leaked files and alleges that HSBC profited from doing business with dictators, tax evaders, dealers of blood diamonds, arms dealers and other clients. According to the leaked files 29 clients with 70 bank accounts totaling $83.8 million connected are to Castro's Cuba. The maximum amount of money associated to one client connected to Cuba is worth $48.5 million. This is just one bank which leads to the question: What other bank accounts of the Castro dictatorship are there in Switzerland?


Most Venezuelans live in poverty. Poverty is shooting up in Venezuela, but not all are feeling the impact of hard economic times. The Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela has 1,138 clients with 1,282 bank accounts totaling $14.8 billion. Out of 188 countries with bank accounts at HSBC Venezuela had the third largest amount of money deposited in the bank. One client has a bank account with $11.9 billion.

State Department Official Clearly Unprepared to Lead Cuba Talks

Tuesday, February 10, 2015
Last week, three hearing were held in the U.S. Congress analyzing President Obama's December 17th announcement to normalize relations with Cuba, which stemmed from 18-months of secret negotiations and a lopsided deal with dictator Raul Castro.

The main witness at the hearings was the State Department's top diplomat for Cuba, Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Roberta Jacobson.

(The White House did not authorize the two National Security Council officials who undertook the secret negotiations to testify.)

The main takeaway from the hearings was that Jacobson is clearly unprepared to execute normalization talks with Cuba's dictatorship.

The hearings demonstrated that:

1. Jacobson lacks credibility. The most impacting moment of the hearings was U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's (R-FL) exchange with Jacobson in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, whereby it was demonstrated how the State Department lied to the families of three murdered Americans. The State Department had previously told the families (and Congress) that a Cuban spy, who was serving a life sentence for murder conspiracy in the death of three Americans, would not be swapped in a hostage deal with the Castro regime. Yet, that's exactly what the Administration did, despite poor efforts to wordsmith around it.

Thus, how can the American people, let alone the victims of Castro's regime, believe any further commitments made by these incredulous U.S. officials?

Click here to watch the exchange.

2. Jacobson is unaware of Cuba's realities. During the Senate hearing, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) described -- in detail -- how the Cuban military's business conglomerates own the island's tourism and travel-related service industry. Moreover, how this sector is under the direct control of the Castro family, through Raul's son-in-law, General Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas. Jacobson was unaware of this important fact. Yet, she still argued that the Cuban people would benefit from increased American travel more than the Castro regime.

How can we trust that the Obama Administration's policy will not disproportionately benefit the Castro regime, when top U.S. officials are shockingly unaware of the Cuban military's control over the economy?

Click here to watch the exchange.

3. Jacobson is unaware of U.S. policy. In another stunning exchange with Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, Jacobson was asked if she can name the conditions for lifting sanctions under the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act ("Libertad Act"). She could not. Perhaps the Administration is more interested in Congress changing the law, than implementing it -- but that is not going to happen any time soon. Thus, it's Jacobson's constitutional responsibility to execute the laws of the United States.

How can the State Department's top Cuba diplomat lead talks with Castro's regime, while not knowing the conditions set forth in U.S. law for the full normalization of relations?

Click here to watch the exchange.

Instead, Jacobson kept regurgitating two talking-points:

- That U.S. sanctions policy toward Cuba has purportedly failed. This is particularly rich coming from an official who couldn't even explain what U.S. policy towards Cuba is. Moreover, in one of the most honest moments of the hearings, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Tom Malinowski, admitted to U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) that the U.S.'s engagement policy towards China had clearly failed to yield freedom, human rights and democracy.

Thus, the Obama Administration is using a failed policy as a model to substitute what it also purports to be a failed policy. Makes perfect nonsense.

- That other nations are thrilled with Obama's policy shift. Jacobson was most enthusiastic that other nations were pleased with the normalization announcement. Of course, those other nations have been economically financing and politically apologizing for Castro's dictatorship for decades. They are the same nations whose tourists and businesses helped Castro's regime survive the post-Soviet economic debacle of the 1990s. And now, the U.S. seeks to please them by helping Castro regime's survive its post-Venezuela economic debacle.

Rather than leading by example, the U.S. will now seek to "lead from behind" and adopt an immoral economic relationship with Castro's regime, in order to please other nations. More perfect nonsense.

Tweet of the Day: Netflix for the Castro Family

By Cuban blogger, Yusnaby Perez:

NETFLIX announces it will be available in #Cuba at a fixed monthly price of $7.99. Only Castro & his family will be able to watch.  

Analyzing Obama’s Cuba Policy

By Elliott Abrams of The Council on Foreign Relations:

Analyzing Obama’s Cuba Policy

The shortcomings of the new Obama administration policy toward Cuba have been sharply described in a recent blog post at the Cuban civil society web site Estado de SATS, by Antonio G. Rodiles. Rodiles, a human rights activist, was beaten and arrested in 2012, and released after Amnesty International and other groups protested this arrest.

What does Rodiles say?

First, the Obama approach grants treats the Castro regime as the legitimate government of Cuba. But it has never been elected, and should not be granted that legitimacy.

Second, the Obama approach grants that Cuba’s future and its “transition to democracy” will be in the hands of the current regime and its top officials. No political preconditions have been put in place before the United States moves forward toward diplomatic relations, removing the embargo, and taking other steps that aid the regime. The assumption seems to be that today’s powers that be –the Castros and their closest collaborators–will remain tomorrow, but that is a formula for continuing authoritarianism.

Third, the Obama approach treats democratic development and respect for human rights as the eventual product of supposed economic transformations in Cuba. But freedom should be the prime goal, not a hypothetical by-product of economic change.

Finally, Rodiles notes that this Obama approach will of course favor those Cubans who go along, as against those who seek a quicker move toward liberty and view the regime as brutally repressive and illegitimate. This too helps the Castro regime. Instead, the goal should be to open sufficient space for political actors and civil society to have the main say in the direction of change in Cuba.

Cuban dissidents, democracy activists, and human rights activists have many opinions about U.S. policy, all the products of a living under the Castro regime where they face and often experience brutality and prison. It’s unfortunate in the extreme that those views appear to have no role in the formulation of American policy toward Cuba.

So How’s That Cuba Deal Going?

Monday, February 9, 2015
By Mary Anastasia O'Grady in The Wall Street Journal:

So How’s That Cuba Deal Going?

Raúl Castro’s demands include reparations and no more U.S. asylum for doctors who defect.

Less than two months after his “historic” outreach to Havana with a promise to “normalize relations,” the U.S. commander in chief is getting the back of Raúl Castro’s hand.

On Dec. 17, President Obama floated his plan to revise a half-century-old U.S.-Cuba policy by promising engagement. “We intend to create more opportunities for the American and Cuban people,” he said. The trouble is that as his statements in recent weeks have shown, Raúl Castro has no interest in doing things differently.

The message from Havana is that if Mr. Obama wants a Cuba legacy it will have to be on Cuba’s terms. That means he will have to go down in history as the U.S. president who prolonged the longest-running military dictatorship in the Western Hemisphere.

Days before Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemispheric Affairs Roberta Jacobson arrived in Havana on Jan. 21 for talks, the Cuban state newspaper Granma published the government’s list of “demands” for normalizing relations. One of them was that the U.S. recognize Cuban state-run community groups as nongovernmental organizations. It did not name any, but the notorious “Committees to Defend the Revolution,” which exist to enforce repression by spying on the neighbors, come to mind. Also on the list published in Granma was a demand that the U.S. end its asylum program for Cuban doctors who escape while serving in third-world countries where they have been sent to work for slave wages.

A few days later, at a summit of Latin American and Caribbean leaders in Belén, Costa Rica, the 83-year-old little brother of Fidel reiterated some of his other demands. He said that relations would not be normalized unless Washington unilaterally lifts the embargo, returns Guantanamo Bay to Cuba, ceases radio and television transmissions beamed into Cuba and makes reparations for the half-century-long embargo.

Mr. Obama may want to give back Guantanamo as his critics claim. But it is not clear that he could do so without congressional approval. He definitely needs Congress to lift the embargo and there’s not a snowball’s chance in Havana that Congress is going to accept any such thing as embargo reparations, let alone pay them. Raúl Castro knows this, so in other words he’s telling Mr. Obama to take a hike.

But Mr. Obama wants to be friends with the military dictatorship. To prove it, he has promised to use his executive pen to streamline the permit process for so-called educational and cultural travel by Americans to the island. The military owns the tourism industry and more American tourists will mean more dollars going into its coffers.

No problem there for the Castros. But don’t expect any quid pro quo that requires a softening of the totalitarian machine. That much was made clear in the days following Mr. Obama’s speech.

Mr. Obama said that Cuba had pledged to release 53 prisoners of conscience in exchange for three Cubans serving lengthy sentences in the U.S. for espionage. This was supposed to be proof that Havana would behave more reasonably if only Washington would show more humility.

Snookered again. The spies were released but Havana did not keep its side of the bargain until pressure mounted weeks later, and not even then in any true sense. When the names of the prisoners finally were made public, the Havana-based Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation found that about a dozen of them had been released before the “swap” was even announced. Some had completed or were close to completing their sentences and were already scheduled for release.

Marcelino Abreu Bonora was on the list. He had been released in October. He was rearrested on Dec. 26 and spent two weeks in a solitary punishment cell before being released again in mid-January. His crime was holding a sign that said “change.” There were some 200 political arrests in the four weeks following Mr. Obama’s speech.

Cuba has never granted freedom to prisoners of conscience, as the treatment of the 75 dissidents rounded up during the “Black Spring” of 2003 shows. Sixty-three of them were exiled. The 12 who refused to leave are sporadically detained and denied the right to travel abroad.

Mr. Obama says Cuba can help the U.S. fight drug trafficking. Cuba certainly knows the business. It runs Venezuelan intelligence these days—and Caracas is home to some of the region’s most notorious drug capos. But who can believe that Havana would interfere with the cash flow the trade generates for its closest revolutionary ally?

Cuba’s top demand is that it be taken off the U.S. list of state-sponsors of terrorism. But in 2013 it was caught running weapons for North Korea. It is an Iranian ally. Last week the Colombian military intercepted 16 Russian-made antiaircraft rocket launchers bound for the Cuba-supported Colombia guerrilla group FARC.

No one doubts that Mr. Obama is hard up for friends these days, but courting Cuba makes him look desperate.

Quote of the Week: Commerce With Cuba Does Not Benefit the People

Without freedom to negotiate, the so-called "self-employed" ("cuentapropistas"), which are a small minority, are blackmailed and manipulated by the regime. They have to respond to the regime's interests in order to keep their small business. They cannot have their own labor unions. They cannot defend their rights. That's why I insist that no type of commerce with Cuba benefits the Cuban people. Whatever enters Cuba ends up in the coffers and accounts of the regime.
-- Sara Marta Fonseca, Cuban democracy leader, in testimony to the U.S. House of Representative's Foreign Affairs Committee, 2/5/15

How Much Has Cuba's Regime Cost the World?

By author and journalist, Carlos Alberto Montaner:

How much has the Cuban revolution cost the world?

Raúl Castro has handed Barack Obama a set of conditions to reestablish diplomatic relations. One of them is to receive compensation for the damages caused by the commercial embargo.

How much are the damages? According to the punctilious economists in the Cuban government, the figure is exactly 116 billion 860 million dollars. I have no idea how they arrived at that monstrous figure, but let's accept it as accurate for the purposes of this column.

Naturally, that leads us to an inevitable question: How much have the incompetence and the interference of the Cuban revolution cost the world? After all, Cuba's claim carries an implicit acknowledgment that there exist rights of property, lost profits, and punitive damages against those who violate those rights or harm innocent victims.

Let me jot some hurried notes.

First, of course, are the ill-treated Cubans. In 1959, Cuba had a population of 6 million 500. In addition to 1.8 million dwellings, there were 38,384 factories, 65,872 businesses, and 150,958 agricultural establishments. All were seized by the government without real compensation, provoking the sudden impoverishment of Cuban society.

What does that plunder amount to? The State probably owes the Cuban people 30 times what Raúl Castro demands from Obama today. They went from the first ranks of development in Latin America to the last ones.

United States. The Americans, very conservatively, set a $7 billion assessment on the properties that were confiscated on the island. Their bill doesn't include (among other forgotten items) the enormous cost of integrating 2 million Cuban refugees in the United States (20 percent of the island's population), or the damages caused by the thousands of criminals deliberately removed from Cuban jails and sent to the U.S. during the Mariel exodus in 1980.

Nor does it take into account the U.S. copyrights on books, music, movies, television, medicine, computer programs and objects of every kind copied or utilized limitlessly by the Cubans. An astronomical figure. They should add them up.

Spain. "Society 1898," established in Madrid to protect the interests of Spaniards who were hard hit on the island -- they owned much of the retail trade in Cuba -- says that the 3,000 Spanish families it has managed to locate are owed about $8 billion in today's U.S. currency.

The Soviet Union. According to Russian economist Irina Zorina, the subsidies to Cuba, not counting the massive donations of arms, exceeded $100 billion. In summer of 2014, Vladimir Putin forgave Cuba 90 percent of an irrecoverable debt of $35 billion that Cuba acknowledged to the Paris Club that it received from Russia. The remaining 10 percent, which Russia won't get back either, would hypothetically be invested in the island.

Venezuela. Economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago estimates the value of the Venezuelan subsidy at some $13 billion a year. Ernesto Hernández-Catá, another great professional, puts it at $7 billion. Either way, a humongous figure that explains, among other reasons, the magnitude of the Venezuelan disaster.

Argentina. The original $2.4 billion debt contracted in the 1970s remains unpaid and today exceeds $11 billion.

Japan. Cuba owed the Japanese $1.4 billion. They forgave 80 percent of the debt and postponed payment on the remaining 20 percent for 20 years. Naturally, they canceled all the Cubans' lines of credit.

Mexico. Did more or less the same as Japan. Cuba owed Mexico $487 million; the Mexican government forgave $341 million and postponed payment on the remainder for 10 years.

And now, let us partially approach interference, but with more questions than answers, because -- as far as I know -- nobody has yet put figures on the cost of Cuban meddling into the internal affairs of other countries.

What was the cost to Venezuela of the landing of Cuban guerrillas in the 1960s and the Castro brothers' support to the Venezuelan guerrillas and terrorists for more than a decade? What is the cost of the harebrained advisory that has plunged Venezuela into ruin?

What was the cost to Bolivia of the attempt by Che Guevara and Cuban gunmen to overthrow that country's government?

What was the cost to Chile of the radicalization of the government of Salvador Allende, motivated mostly by the presence in that country of Cuba's special troops and by Havana's suicidal advice?

What was the cost to Central America -- in human lives and economic resources -- of Cuba's creation of and support for guerrillas in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua? (Nicaragua still has not regained the indices of economic development that it had in 1979, the year of the Sandinist victory.)

What was the cost to Colombia of Cuba's links to the National Liberation Army (ELN), Jaime Bateman's M-19, and the FARC?

How much did the Argentines spend fighting the People's Guerrilla Army, organized by Cuba and led by Jorge Ricardo Masetti, as proved by journalist/historian Juan Bautista Yofre in his book "It Was Cuba"? Or the mindless attack on the La Tablada barracks, with Cuban weapons, during the administration of Raúl Alfonsín?

Why go on? The small island of Cuba, led by a madman who, like others, thought he was Napoleon Bonaparte but only tried to be him and devoted all his life to be him, has been a catastrophe, not only for the Cubans but also for half the world. A catastrophe that has cost everyone a huge amount of money.

Ex-Political Prisoner Warns Congress of U.S.-Cuba Accord

Sunday, February 8, 2015
From The Sun-Sentinel:

Ex-political prisoner warns Congress on U.S.-Cuba accord

President Barack Obama's outreach to Cuba will only perpetuate the torture, beatings and harsh imprisonment faced by Cubans who dare speak out against the Castro regime, former political prisoner Jorge Garcia Perez Antunez told members of Congress on Thursday.

Republicans welcomed testimony from Antunez and two other advocates for human rights in Cuba as an opportunity to shed light on Cuba's repression of dissidents and abuse of people jailed for opposing the government. They also seized a chance to blast Obama's move toward normal relations with Cuba.

"These are the people who have suffered the consequences of this administration," Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, said of the witnesses. "The administration is turning its back on them."

"It is important to understand the murderous regime in Cuba that the administration wants to establish relations with," she said.

The hearing by the House subcommittee on global human rights — the third this week on Cuba policy — focused on human rights but gave critics a chance to raise other concerns.

Subcommittee Chairman Christopher Smith, R-N.J., blasted Obama for agreeing to move toward normal relations without demanding that Cuba turn over Joanne Chesimard, a former member of the Black Liberation Army wanted for the 1973 murder of a New Jersey state trooper.

Cuban leaders are "not interested in discussing her return," Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson testified at a hearing on Wednesday.

"This is unacceptable," Smith said on Thursday. He read a comment from Christopher Burgos, president of the State Troopers Fraternal Association of New Jersey: "We are shocked and very disappointed that returning a convicted killer of a state trooper was not already demanded and accomplished in the context of the steps announced by the White House regarding this despotic dictatorship."

Police officials from New Jersey will take part in a future hearing, Smith said.

Cuban officials have indicated that they are willing to discuss the return of fugitives accused of common crimes but not those who were granted asylum in Cuba for accusations considered political in nature.

A Sun Sentinel investigation found evidence that large numbers of Cubans who ripped off Medicare, credit-card companies and insurers have found refuge in Cuba. Jacobson promised on Wednesday to press for the extradition of fugitives in Cuba.

At Thursday's hearing, Democrats defended Obama's policy, saying it provides an opportunity to pressure Cuba to improve its human rights record.

"You cannot change people and governments that you do not engage with," said Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif.

"The embargo [of Cuba] has impeded our relations throughout the Western Hemisphere, as many Latin Americans see the embargo as a violation of human rights against the Cuban people."

Dissidents in Cuba contacted by American news organizations have given conflicting opinions about Obama's policy. Some see it as a betrayal, others as an opportunity to pressure the government to improve living conditions, open up the economy and accept international standards on human rights.

Antunez, who said he was tortured during 17 years of imprisonment in Cuba, remains stoutly opposed to the U.S.-Cuba accords.

"These agreements are considered by a vital segment of the Cuban resistance as a betrayal of the aspiration to freedom of the Cuban people," he said. "They are unacceptable to us."

U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, told him and other witnesses: "This House will continue to stand with you, with the people of Cuba."

Young Cuban-American CT State Senator Discusses Cuba Policy

A great speech on Cuba policy by 26-year old, Connecticut State Senator Art Linares.

While the media and push-polls continue to peddle a false narrative, young Cuban-American elected leaders (from throughout the country) continue to express concern about Obama's Cuba deal.

Click below (or here) to watch: