Video: Cuba Debate at the McCain Institute

Friday, February 27, 2015
Yesterday, the McCain Institute for International Leadership hosted a policy debate entitled, “A New U.S.-Cuba Policy: Did Cuba Win?

The debate teams were composed of:

Julia Sweig, formerly of the Council on Foreign Relations
Jodi Bond, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

vs.

Mauricio Claver-Carone, Cuba Democracy Advocates
Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, Cuban blogger

Watch the entire debate below (or click here):

Menendez Letter to Kerry: On Cuba's Designation as a State-Sponsor of Terorrism

Thursday, February 26, 2015
Today, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on his review of Cuba's designation as a state-sponsor of terrorism.

Read the full letter below:

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

Dear Mr. Secretary:

In his public address on December 17, 2014, President Obama announced that the Department of State would review Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism. As you undertake this review, I write to bring the following issues to your attention.

The Export Administration Act of 1979 – which establishes part of the legal foundation for designating a country as a sponsor of terrorism – defines the term “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism” to include “the recurring use of any part of the territory of the country as a sanctuary for terrorists or terrorist organizations.”

Since 1959, the Castro regime has provided sanctuary to scores of terrorists and criminals wanted for their involvement in the murder of U.S. law enforcement personnel, arms trafficking, and the hijacking of civilian airplanes. According to the State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism, more than 70 U.S. fugitives from justice were living in Cuba as of 2007.

Foremost on the list of American fugitives is Joanne Chesimard, who the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) placed on its list of Most Wanted Terrorists in 2013. In 1977, Chesimard was convicted of first-degree murder for the execution-style killing of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster. After breaking out of prison in 1979, the FBI reports that she fled to Cuba in 1984, where she has received continuous support from the Castro regime for three decades. Cuba’s decision to provide Chesimard with political asylum is an intolerable insult to all those who long to see justice served, including Trooper Foerster’s family and the brave officers serving in the New Jersey State Police.

Additionally, the Castro regime is harboring former Central Intelligence Agency officer and convicted arms trafficker Frank Terpil, who is wanted for his role in providing more than 20 tons of plastic explosives to the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Cuba continues to offer safe haven to Charles Hill, who is wanted for the 1971 murder of a New Mexico State Police officer and the hijacking of a civilian plane carrying 49 passengers – a blatant act of terrorism. These cases are a limited, but representative sample, of the dozens of U.S. fugitives sheltered by the Castro regime to this day.

The Castro regime also provides sanctuary to groups designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations by the State Department, including Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC). Based in Spain, ETA has been responsible for the deaths of more than 800 people, as well as numerous bombings, political assassinations, and kidnappings. The State Department’s most recent Country Report on Terrorism states that more than a dozen ETA members continue to receive safe haven in Cuba. While the Colombian government and the FARC are in negotiations in Havana to end that country’s longstanding armed conflict, members of the FARC remain responsible for the murder and kidnaping of U.S. citizens, as well as countless acts of terrorism in Colombia.

In light of this information, it is imperative to understand that the Export Administration Act, along with the Arms Export Control Act and Foreign Assistance Act, all clearly state that no country can be removed from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism until the President certifies to Congress that the government concerned has provided assurances that it will not support international terrorism and terrorists in the future. Any such commitment from the Castro regime would be highly questionable, given that Cuban Vice Foreign Minister Josefina Vidal, on December 22, 2014, publicly defended Cuba’s “legitimate right” to provide political asylum and sanctuary to anyone its deems appropriate.

Beyond its longstanding efforts to shelter terrorists and U.S. fugitives, Cuba colluded with North Korea in July 2013 to smuggle 240 metric tons of weapons through the Panama Canal. This incident constituted, to date, the single largest violation of United Nations Security Council sanctions against North Korea. Cuba and North Korea’s attempt to smuggle MiG jets, missile batteries, and explosives through the Panama Canal posed a direct threat to global commerce, and demonstrates the two governments’ utter disregard for international peace and security.

Moreover, as you conduct your review, it cannot be overlooked that members of Cuba’s military are the subject of open federal indictments pending in the United States for the 1996 shooting down of American civilian planes operated by Brothers to the Rescue. The former head of the Cuban Air Force, General Rubén Martínez Puente, and Cuban pilots Lorenzo Alberto Pérez-Pérez and Francisco Pérez-Pérez, are wanted on four counts of murder for their role in the incident. Recently, the newspaper Politico reported statements that indicate that Cuban President Raul Castro – in his capacity as Minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba in 1996 – personally gave the order for the shoot down. The increasing evidence of Raul Castro’s culpability in the tragic death of three U.S. citizens and one U.S. permanent resident is a disturbing demonstration of how senior Cuban officials have been complicit in the murder of American civilians.

In closing, as the Department of State moves forward with its review of Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, it is essential to recognize that the Castro regime has a long track record of providing sanctuary to terrorists and harboring U.S. fugitives who have murdered American citizens, while undermining international security. And, before Cuba is removed from the list of State Sponsors of Terror, the Castro regime must be held to account for these acts and American fugitives must be brought back to face justice in the U.S. It is of the utmost importance that the State Department raise these issues in this week’s talks between the United States and Cuba.

Sincerely,

Robert Menendez
United States Senator

Remittances Used to Launder Medicare Fraud Money to Cuba -- And It's Going to Get Worse

Wednesday, February 25, 2015
The Obama Administration's recent policy changes now allow remittances to be sent through a general license, including to non-family members (even to complete strangers).

In other words, there will be no specific scrutiny or accountability.

Thus, it dramatically increases the avenues for the Castro regime and its criminal cohorts to bilk American taxpayers -- and use Cuba's murky banking sector to hide it.

From The Miami Herald:

Miami brother of accused Cuban money-launderer gets 3 1/2 years in prison

The younger brother of a fugitive money man accused of laundering $238 million in dirty Medicare dollars from Florida into Cuba’s banking system was sentenced Wednesday to 3 1/2 years in prison.

Eduardo Perez de Morales, 27, of Miami, got a slight break from U.S. District Judge William Zloch because he was barely an adult when his brother recruited him into the alleged international laundering scheme nearly a decade ago.

Perez helped his 50-year-old brother, Jorge Emilio Perez de Morales, wash the Medicare millions by using a Caribbean-based remittance company to pay off Medicare fraud offenders in the United States in exchange for transferring their tainted healthcare profits to Cuba, according to an indictment.

The “massive money laundering operation,” as described by a federal prosecutor, was unprecedented because it marked the first U.S. case connecting South Florida's Medicare rackets to Cuba’s national bank.

Jorge Perez, a half-brother, is accused of directing the money-laundering operation through his Cuba-licensed remittance company, Caribbean Transfers, from 2005 to 2011. He owns a seaside home in Havana but could be in Mexico, the Dominican Republic or Spain, according to the FBI. Davidson called Jorge Perez’s remittance company, which closed after his indictment in 2012, an offshore Western Union.

Caribbean Transfers provided clean cash — amassed from Cuban exiles sending money to relatives on the island — to corrupt healthcare operators in Florida, Michigan, Tennessee and New York, according to the indictment.

Jorge Perez’s role was uncovered after a convicted Naples check-cashing store owner, Oscar L. Sanchez, fingered him as the man who bankrolled his Florida business and other remittance agencies. The prosecutor said those stateside businesses cashed checks or wired money for Medicare-fraud offenders — then transferred their dirty dollars through Jorge Perez’s shell companies in Canada via Trinidad to Cuba.

At first, investigators estimated that Sanchez laundered more than $30 million on behalf of 70 corrupt Medicare-licensed businesses through December 2006. But the estimated total grew almost eightfold, as they discovered that Caribbean Transfers later financed other check-cashing and remittance businesses involved in the alleged money-laundering scheme.

The Medicare money could have been disbursed as remittances to Cuban families or to others living on the island. “The location of hundreds of millions of dollars is unknown, and a vast fortune is likely sitting in a Communist country,” [the prosecutor] wrote in court papers.

Cuba Continues Coercing the Obama Administration

On December 3rd, 2009, the Castro regime took an American hostage in order to coerce the United States into releasing (then) five imprisoned Cuban spies, including one serving a life-sentence for murder conspiracy in the death of three Americans.

It worked.

(Image below: Yesterday, General Raul Castro honoring the now-released Cuban spy convicted in the murder of three Americans.)

Now -- knowing that President Obama has invested his legacy in the normalization of relations and can be pushed-over -- the Castro regimes seeks to coerce the Administration into removing it from the "state-sponsors of terrorism" list.

Where will the Obama Administration draw the line?

From Reuters:

Cuba would agree to restore diplomatic relations with the United States in time for the April Summit of the Americas if Washington quickly and convincingly removes the Caribbean country from a list of state sponsors of terrorism, a senior Cuban official said on Wednesday.

Diplomatic ties were severed in 1961, and negotiators for the two longtime adversaries will meet in Washington on Friday, following up on the first round of talks held in Havana last month.

If the sides move fast enough, they could reopen embassies in each other's capitals in time for the April 10-11 summit in Panama, where U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro could meet for the first time since agreeing on Dec. 17 to restore ties and exchange prisoners.

A senior Cuban official put the onus on Washington to first strike Cuba from the terrorism list, which can apply sanctions to banks doing business with the designated countries.

"It depends on what the United States does. It does not depend on Cuba," Gustavo Machin, deputy director of U.S. affairs for the Cuban foreign ministry, told reporters on Wednesday. "It depends on whether we are really taken off the list of terrorist countries."

A Question for Obama: From the Mother of an American Murdered by Cuba's Regime

On the 19th anniversary (February 24th) of her son's murder by Cuba's regime, Miriam De la Peña has a question for President Obama.

Watch below (or click here):

Quote of the Week: On Tomorrow's Cuba Hearing

In 1982, Cuba was designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism for providing critical support to many terrorist organizations. Today, given the links between Cuba and China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia and the close proximity to the U.S. homeland, I am deeply concerned about the U.S. national security implications of the Administration’s Cuba policy change. Cuba continues to support terrorist organizations, and it was caught red-handed proliferating weapons to North Korea as recently as last year. Cuba has also been stunningly successful in espionage against the U.S., in trafficking U.S. national security secrets to hostile regimes, and in benefiting from a criminal pipeline spanning Cuba to Florida. This hearing will examine the U.S. national security implications of the President’s Cuba policy change and potential vulnerabilities to Americans as a result.
-- U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC), Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, on the tomorrow's (Thursday, February 26th) hearing on "The President's New Cuba Policy and U.S. National Security."

Cuba Belongs on the State-Sponsors of Terrorism List

By Frank Calzon in The Sun-Sentinel:

Does Cuba still belong on the sponsor of terrorism list?

While President Barack Obama recently "instructed" Secretary of State John Kerry to review whether Cuba belongs on the State Department's list of "State Sponsors of Terrorism," the Federal Bureau of Investigation offered a reward of "up to $1 million for information directly leading to the apprehension of Joanne Chesimard," a terrorist living in Cuba after escaping from prison in 1979, where she was serving a life sentence for killing a New Jersey policeman.

Chesimard was a member of "a revolutionary extremist organization," which used robberies to fund its activities, according to the FBI. Stopped by New Jersey troopers, she and her accomplices opened fire. One trooper was wounded, another shot and killed "execution-style at point-blank range," the FBI said.

Cuba is the only government that appears on the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism to publicly acknowledge providing safe haven to one listed on the FBI's Top Ten Most Wanted Terrorists. Cuba is also the only government on the List of State Sponsors of Terrorism that has several officers under indictment for murder and terrorism by an American federal grand jury: the Cuban Air Force officers who murdered three Americans and a Florida resident on an afternoon in 1996, in the Florida Straits, in international airspace.

They were helping to rescue refugees. The killings were ordered by Raul Castro, who awarded medals to the murderers.

Cuba also provides safe haven for common criminals, such as Robert Vesco, who was wanted in the U.S. for crimes ranging from securities fraud and drug trafficking to political bribery. After difficulties with the Castro brothers, he died in a Cuban prison.

Presumably, the millions of dollars stolen by Vesco ended up in Castro's coffers. There is no record of any effort by Washington to recover those funds.

The Sun Sentinel has reported on "Cuban nationals in various frauds and thefts including Medicare," revealing that hundreds of millions of dollars from American taxpayers have been deposited in Cuba's National Bank; deposits that had to be approved by Raul Castro. There is no record of U.S. demands for those funds to be returned.

Cuba is also the only nation to be caught red-handed shipping 240 tons of heavy weapons, including war planes, beneath bags of sugar to North Korea in violation of United Nations' sanctions. Additionally the Cuban government has trained and equipped Venezuela's repressive forces and offered Russia's Vladimir Putin an espionage "listening post" in Cuba.

If President Obama removes Cuba from the U.S. State Department's list of terrorist states, he will not only have rewarded the Castro regime for its crimes but encourage more of the same.

It is hard to imagine President Obama reversing any of his concessions to Havana but fortunately for the American people, the Founding Fathers -- in their wisdom -- created a government of checks and balances. Congress still has a role to play in shaping U.S. policy at home and abroad.

Venezuela Proves Fallacy of Obama's Cuba Policy

Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Today, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry testified in two Senate hearings -- and contradicted himself.

In the morning, Kerry told a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that the Obama Administration's new Cuba policy had been applauded throughout the region; that it would eliminate Castro's "blame America" excuse; and that it would remove a distraction for other nations to hold Cuba's regime accountable.

(It was also this week's Cuba talking point by White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.)

In the afternoon, Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he was "perplexed" by the Venezuelan government's assault on democracy; that Nicolas Maduro was using the same old script of "blaming America"; and said nothing about the region's unwillingness to hold Maduro's regime accountable.

As background, last week Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro intensified his repressive campaign against Venezuela's opposition by violently arresting the Mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma. Maduro did so after returning from "consultations" in Havana. And this afternoon, a 14-year old Venezuelan student protester was killed by security forces.

Meanwhile, regional leaders remain silent on Maduro's repressive actions. Mum's the word from Mexico and Brazil, while UNASUR nations (led by former Colombian President Ernesto Samper) are actually regurgitating Maduro's "blame America" line.

So riddle me this:

These are the nations the Obama Administration believes are going to now hold Castro's regime accountable?

The same nations that maintain a collaborative silence towards Maduro's regime?

Seriously?

Note:

-- There is no U.S. embargo towards Venezuela;
-- The U.S. has diplomatic relations with Venezuela;
-- The Obama Administration has refused to name Venezuela to the "state-sponsors" of terrorism list, despite its well-documented connections to Hezbollah, Hamas and the FARC; and
-- The State Department's diplomatic finesse with Maduro even resulted in Venezuela's military intelligence chief, Hugo Carvajal, getting away scot-free (after being arrested in Aruba on a U.S. warrant for narcotics trafficking).

Yet, the Venezuelan people's calls for freedom and justice continue to fall on deaf ears.

So how exactly will it be different -- if not worse -- with Cuba?

And let's look right here at home.

Where are the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Farm Bureau's concern about events unfolding in Venezuela?

Where are U.S. Senators Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Amy Klobuchar's (D-MN) condemnatory statements?

Where's House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) outrage?

After all, they've all been peddling the same White House talking points on Obama's new Cuba policy.

Why haven't any of them mentioned the over 300 political arrests in Cuba last week?

Because it would distract from their agenda. Yet another contradiction.

Another Young Venezuelan Murdered by Maduro's Regime

From Fox News:

14-year-old student protester killed during clash with police in Venezuela

A teenage student died Tuesday in Venezuela after being shot in the head during a protest against the government of Nicolás Maduro.

The incident happened in the southwestern city of San Cristóbal.

The boy, identified by the Associated Press as Kliverth Roa, was taking part in a protest when he was struck by a bullet from a rifle, said opposition council member José Vicente García, who is also president of the Human Rights Commission of the Municipal Council of San Cristóbal.

Venezuelan media is identifying the boy as Kluiver Ferney Roa Núñez.

Bring to Justice Indicted Cuban Officials Responsible for Death of Americans

On 19th Year Anniversary of Brothers to the Rescue Shootdown, Ros-Lehtinen, Diaz-Balart and Curbelo Send Letter to Attorney General Asking That Members of the Cuban Regime Responsible For Murdering Four Americans Be Brought To Justice

Washington, DC – U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, was joined by fellow Cuban-American Members of Congress, Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) and Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), in sending a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking that Ruben Martinez Puente, Lorenzo Alberto Perez y Perez, and Francisco Perez y Perez be brought to justice in the U.S. to face pending criminal indictments for their roles in the shoot-down of four Brothers to the Rescue pilots, which resulted in the murder of three American citizens and one U.S. resident. Joint statement by Ros-Lehtinen, Diaz-Balart, and Curbelo:

Today marks the 19th anniversary of the murder of three U.S. citizens, Carlos Costa, Armando Alejandre, Mario de la Peña, and one U.S. resident, Pablo Morales. The surviving families of those Brothers to the Rescue pilots deserve justice, and the United States government must pursue all avenues to bring to the U.S. any Cuban regime member responsible for the murder of these men. The Obama administration jeopardized our national security and made a grave mistake in sending Gerardo Hernandez and the other convicted Cuban spies back to Cuba. It is quite an insult that on the week commemorating the anniversary of the shoot-down, the State Department will roll out the red carpet to Cuban officials who represent the murderous regime that killed Carlos, Armando, Mario, and Pablo.”

Click here to see the letter.

An Act of Terrorism by Cuba's Regime

Monday, February 23, 2015
Nineteen-years later -- justice awaits.

Now, more than ever, as President Obama (in a deal with dictator Raul Castro) recently commuted the life sentence of a Cuban spy, Gerardo Hernandez, who had been convicted for murder conspiracy in this act of terrorism.

Hernandez received a hero's welcome by Castro's regime, while the families of the American victims were denied justice.

Meanwhile, senior Cuban military officials remain indicted in U.S. federal courts and the Castros continue to boast about their ultimate responsibility.

From the final judgment by Senior U.S. District Judge Lawrence King in the civil lawsuit against the Castro regime and the Cuban Air Force (FAR):

"The government of Cuba, on February 24th 1996, in outrageous contempt for international law and basic human rights, murdered four human beings in international airspace over the Florida Straits. The victims were Brothers to the Rescue pilots, flying two civilian unarmed planes on a routine humanitarian mission, searching for rafters in the waters between Cuba and the Florida Keys.

As the civilian planes flew over international waters, a Russian built MiG 29 of the Cuban Air Force, without warning, reason, or provocation blasted the defenseless planes out of the sky with sophisticated air-to-air missiles in two separate attacks. The pilots and their aircraft disintegrated in the mid-air explosions following the impact of the missiles. The destruction was so complete that the four bodies were never recovered."

As regards the criminal case:

"In August 2003, a federal grand jury returned the indictment against General Ruben Martinez Puente, who at the time headed the Cuban Air Force, and fighter pilots Lorenzo Alberto Perez-Perez and Francisco Perez-Perez. The defendants were charged with four counts of murder, one count of conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals and two counts of destruction of aircraft."

In a recent article in Politico, U.S. Rep James McGovern (D-MA) unwittingly revealed that Cuban dictator Raul Castro told him he ordered the murder of these Americans:

"'I gave the order. I’m the one responsible,' [Castro] said."

Or just click below (or here) to listen to Cuban dictators Fidel and Raul Castro -- in their own words -- admitting they gave the order:

WaPo Editorial: Venezuela and Cuba, Partners in Repression

By The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

Venezuela and Cuba: Partners in Repression

Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro paid a visit to Havana and met with Raúl and Fidel Castro, who have been his patrons and who helped to install him in power after the death of Hugo Chávez. Mr. Maduro’s political situation is desperate: As Venezuelans suffer severe shortages of staple goods and soaring inflation, his approval rating has dropped to 22 percent — and that’s before the full impact of falling oil prices hits a country dependent on petroleum for 96 percent of its hard-currency revenue.

On his return from Havana, Mr. Maduro turned to a familiar tactic. Intelligence agents stormed the residence of the elected opposition mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, and took him away to a military prison. Mr. Maduro then delivered a three-hour rant on television in which he accused the opposition leader of plotting a coup against him with the help of the Obama administration. Needless to say, he had no evidence to support this ludicrous charge.

If this sounds like a script borrowed from the Castro regime, that’s because it is. With Havana’s encouragement, Mr. Maduro is trying to shore up his crumbling support by concocting supposed threats from the United States and using them to illegally imprison his leading opponents. Mr. Ledezma follows several other mayors into captivity. With him at the Ramo Verde prison is Leopoldo López, the opposition leader who has been in military custody for more than a year.

The Castros, whose own crumbling economy depends heavily on supplies of discounted Venezuelan oil, are simultaneously trying to sustain their Caracas cash cow and line up new flows of dollars from the United States by restoring diplomatic relations. Intent on carrying out a policy of detente with Cuba that aides say was part of the ideological agenda he brought to office six years ago, President Obama ignores this double game.

To be sure, the White House spoke out sharply against the arrest of Mr. Ledezma and called the coup plot claims “baseless and false.” Following a mandate from Congress, the administration has sanctioned several dozen Venezuelan leaders for involvement in drug trafficking and human rights crimes and says it is considering additional steps. However, the core U.S. policy toward the unfolding disaster in a country that remains a major U.S. oil supplier has been to call on other Latin American countries to do something.

Predictably, they haven’t. Quick to pounce on right-wing governments that violate democratic norms, Brazil, Mexico and Chile have scrupulously avoided crossing the left-wing populist regime created by Chávez. A delegation of ministers from the regional group Unasur, which tilts toward Venezuela, is talking of returning to the country to promote a “dialogue” but has yet to call for Mr. Ledezma’s release.

The country with the most influence in Caracas is Cuba. U.S. officials ought to tell the Castros that they need to choose between Mr. Maduro’s anti-American-themed repression and the new relationship with Washington they say they want. As for Venezuela’s president, U.S. officials ought to seek his formal sanction under the Inter-American charter prohibiting violations of democracy — and challenge Venezuela’s neighbors to show where they stand.

Rubio: On Arrest of Over 200 Cuban Dissidents

Ahead Of Second Round Of U.S.-Cuba Talks, Rubio Comments On Arrest Of Over 200 Dissidents

Washington, D.C. – In light of the second round of U.S.-Cuba normalization talks that are set to begin later this week, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) today issued the following statement regarding the recent arrest of over 200 dissidents in Cuba:

“As the next round of U.S.-Cuba normalization talks begins later this week, U.S. officials are so desperate to open a U.S. embassy in Havana, that they’re forging ahead despite a new wave of repression that has jailed over 200 Cuban democracy activists in the past two weeks. Just this weekend, the Castro dictatorship increased its repression, harassment and incarceration of over 100 peaceful demonstrators and supporters of the Ladies in White. It’s clear there is zero intent on behalf of the Castro dictatorship to engage in a genuine conversation that centers around bringing freedom to the island’s residents.

In addition, the recent congressional delegation that visited Cuba sent worrying signals to the regime that human rights are, in fact, negotiable. By staying in a regime-controlled hotel that was confiscated twice in its history, these U.S. officials sent a worrying message that the many legal claims the U.S. has against the Castro regime are not a priority for U.S. lawmakers. Even worse about this trip is how the members of Congress capitulated to the regime’s terms for this trip by not meeting with dissidents and human rights activists. These are not insignificant actions, because the regime interprets them as signs that U.S. policy makers are not truly interested in the democratic aspirations and human rights of the Cuban people.

As the U.S. negotiators come face-to-face with Cuba’s negotiators later this week, the administration must insist that any future negotiations place democracy, human rights, free expression and the free will of the Cuban people to choose their own leaders through multi-party elections as the highest priority before any more concessions are made to the regime.”

Tweet of the Day: A Man Who Died for All Cubans #OZT

Over 200 Dissidents Arrested in Cuba Today

Last week, over 100 Cuban dissidents were arrested by the Castro regime for peaceful activities, including for trying to attend Mass.

The arrests took place amid a visiting Congressional delegation, composed of U.S. Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Mark Warner (D-VA).

The visiting Senators said nothing about the arrests.

Neither did the delegation led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), which arrived a few days later.

Neither did the Obama Administration, which apparently doesn't want to "offend" the Castro regime prior to the second round of normalization talks this week.

Empowered by such silence and impunity, the Castro regime has doubled the amount of political arrests this week.

In Havana, over 70 Ladies in White were arrested as they sought to extend their peaceful Sunday march. Another 50 activists were arrested for supporting the Ladies in White in their efforts. Among those arrested are renowned democracy leaders Angel Moya, Antonio Rodiles and independent labor leaders, Alexis Gomez Rodriquez and Pavel Herrera Hernandez.

Meanwhile, in Santiago de Cuba, over 90 activists from the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU) have been arrested.

And in Santa Clara, 13 Ladies in White were arrested, along with Sakharov Prize recipient Guillermo Fariñas. One of the Ladies in White activists, Digna Rodriguez Ibañez, was pelted with tar (that's right -- tar).

This Obama-Castro deal is working splendidly -- concessions, silence and impunity (both for Cuba and Venezuela).

Image: Female Cuban Dissident Pelted With Tar

Among the hundreds of political arrests today was the case of Digna Rodriguez Ibañez, a member of The Ladies in White in Santa Clara, who was attacked by Castro regime agents and pelted with tar.

Will U.S. Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) condemn such attacks against female activists?

Will President Obama condemn the racist connotation of such attacks against Afro-Cuban activists?

See the image below (or here) of Digna Rodriguez Ibañez, pursuant to the attack:

Cuban Independent Journalist Gets Long Prison Sentence

Cuban independent journalist, Yoel Bencomo Martinez, was handed a one-year prison sentence earlier this month.

He had been imprisoned since July 2013, without due process, and will now serve another year.

Bencomo is another political prisoner overlooked by the Obama-Castro deal.

His crime? Taking pictures of political arrests by Castro's security forces.

He's being held at La Pendiente prison in Santa Clara.

Cuban Pastor's Son Arrested to Prevent Church Activities

Sunday, February 22, 2015
From BosNewsLife:

Cuba Detains Son Devoted Pastor

The son of a devoted Christian pastor in Cuba has been jailed on false charges as part of a government effort to pressure his family to halt church activities though locals call them a "powerful blessing" to the community, Christians say.

Gabriel Jeyva, 19, was serving his mandatory military service when he was accused of "forming a cartel against the Cuban government," according to Christians familiar with the situation.

"When Gabriel's father went to the prison to visit his son, the guards refused to let them speak to one another," said the Voice Of the Martyrs (VOM) advocacy group.

"We know this is a form of persecution from the government to hurt this young man because he is the son of a pastor," who has been involved in church planting activities, added a VOM contact in a statement seen by BosNewsLife.

Activists say Cuba's Communist government continues to crackdown on "religious activities" deemed dangerous to its power base. Especially Evangelical believers have reported harassment, fines and arrests for conducting public gatherings.

Amid the turmoil at least some "Christian leaders are reluctant to say anything that could be construed as opposing the government in fear that they will then face repercussions," VOM said.

It was not immediately clear when Gabriel would face a court. "Please remember Gabriel in your prayers, asking the Lord to strengthen his faith during this time of great trial," VOM wrote its supporters. Officials did not immediately react to the developments.

VOM told its supporters to pray for his release, the dropping of "false allegations" and an opportunity for him to "share the Gospel with fellow inmates and prison guards who do not yet know Jesus."

"Finally, pray that God will bless the Jeyva family and their ministry efforts so that their church plant may draw many in their community into a lasting and meaningful relationship with our Lord," VOM added in a statement.

WaPo Editorial: Courting the Castros

By The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

Courting the Castros

For all the high expectations, and deep anxieties, that surround the U.S.-Cuba thaw that President Obama announced two months ago, the reality is that the process is still in its very early days. The two countries have not agreed even on one of the simpler bilateral issues: opening full-fledged embassies in each other’s capitals. Cuban President Raúl Castro sounded an ominous note by hinting that complete normalization might depend on such far-fetched demands as the hand-over of the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay or reparations for the U.S. embargo.

U.S. political leaders would be well advised not to succumb to, or foster, exuberance about the transformation in economic relations that might be at hand — much less about the pending transformation of the Cuban regime. Official contacts must not sugarcoat or lend undeserved legitimacy to a dynastic dictatorship that remains one of the most repressive on the planet.

Consider the just-concluded visits to Havana by a House delegation led by Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and a three-senator group made of Democrats Mark R. Warner (Va.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Claire McCaskill (Mo.) — the tone and tenor of which were too starry-eyed by half. Ms. Klobuchar gushed that she and her colleagues “walked freely around the streets and talked with anyone we wanted,” apparently oblivious to the political surveillance within which those “free” conversations occurred. Ms. McCaskill posted charming photos of vintage cars on her Instagram account; nothing depressing, like images of Cuba’s poverty, though.

Both delegations found time to meet with regime officials, including a prestige-enhancing sit-down with Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel, Mr. Castro’s designated successor. Yet neither saw dissidents on the island, many of whom already feel understandably concerned that Mr. Obama negotiated with the Castro regime over their heads. Instead, the U.S. lawmakers met with unidentified “civil society” representatives. This contrasts with the trip last month led by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) , which did include a session with prominent regime opponents .

After that delegation left Cuba on Jan. 19, the government announced it would delay any more such visits for a while because of unspecified scheduling issues. The fact that the House and Senate groups arrived as planned, and did not see dissidents, suggested to some critics of the new policy an understanding that Capitol Hill’s access to the island now depends on avoiding dissidents — who, too, would gain prestige from meeting high-ranking Americans. All of the members of Congress deny such an arrangement and told us they brought up human rights with regime officials.

Yet the timing, and the appearances it created, should remind everyone that the Castro regime remains the gatekeeper to the island, leverage it can be counted on to use for every possible advantage, political or economic. No one, not even a politically powerful American visitor, is immune to being exploited by the Cuban propaganda machine; no one is truly free on that island. U.S. lawmakers need to understand that, fully, and behave accordingly.

Cuba Officially Supports Subversion of Democracy in Venezuela

Last week, Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro traveled to Cuba to receive instructions from his mentors, Fidel and Raul Castro.

Upon returning, Maduro intensified repression against the Venezuelan people and ordered the violent and arbitrary arrest of the Mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma.

All of this under the noses of the Obama Administration and its Congressional allies, who wish to ignore the fact Cuba continues to actively subvert democratic institutions in the Western Hemisphere.

Instead, they seek to continue rewarding the Castro regime for its nefarious activities -- a misguided strategy that will prove to have negative consequences for the entire region.

From Cuba's state media:

Cuba Confirms Solidarity with Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela

Cuba condemned the coup attempt, assassination attempts and conspiracies denounced by the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, while it confirmed its total support for the Bolivarian Revolution.

The Republic of Cuba has expressed its invariable solidarity and support for the people and government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and its legitimate president, Nicolas Maduro Moros, according to a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX).

The MINREX criticized the economic and media warfare waged against the Maduro government, and strongly rejected "statements and interference by the United States and the Organization of American States (OAS), which encourage and promote internal subversion, violating the sovereignty, independence and free determination of the Venezuelan people."

The MINREX's press release ratified that the Cuban collaborators working in Venezuela, as part of the different social missions, will remain in the country "in compliance with their duties under any circumstances, for the benefit of the brother, friendly and noble Venezuelan people."

Tweet of the Week: Maduro's Visit to Cuba is No Coincidence