A "Good Time" in Cuba

Saturday, March 7, 2015
By Jay Nordlinger in National Review:

A Good Time in Cuba 

Conan O’Brien posed in front of a mural and tweeted the following: “This iconic Che Guevara image was born right here in Havana.” Isn’t that cool?

Does O’Brien know that Guevara set up the Cuban gulag, into which artists, liberals, gays, and others were tossed? Does he care?

I’m sure he does, or would — he seems like a good guy.

At the invitation of the Castros’ Ministry of Culture, O’Brien went to Havana to film his comedy show. He is evidently proud of his trip. “This is a very historic time,” he said. “Relations between Cuba and the United States are finally starting to thaw.”

If they are starting to “thaw,” that’s in part because the U.S. president has chosen to turn a blind eye to the dictatorship’s ongoing human-rights abuses. That does not mean the rest of us have to. 

In February — February alone (a short month) — there were 492 political arrests in Cuba. Documented arrests, that is. There were undoubtedly many others as well, not documented.

Over the decades, many Cubans have been arrested on the charge of “pre-criminal social dangerousness.” What’s that, you say? The charge means that you have not done anything to offend the dictatorship — yet. But you have a dissident cousin, let’s say, or someone reported you reading the wrong book. Or talking to someone who read a wrong book. Therefore, you are arrested — just so the regime can be on the safe side.

Many Cubans and Cuban Americans are upset by visits such as Conan O’Brien’s to the island. Why? Why does it matter so much to them? What’s wrong with traveling to Cuba, grooving to the music, drinking a few mojitos, and having a good time?

Visitors — especially celebrity ones — rarely show any moral sense. They give no indication whatsoever that they understand where they are: in a one-party dictatorship with a gulag. A country where the innocent are routinely imprisoned, tortured, and murdered.

Cuba has some of the greatest, bravest, most heroic people in the world.

Some of them, it is too late to meet. Orlando Zapata and Oswaldo Payá. They were victims of the regime. But some, you can meet, if you are willing. I myself have interviewed the great Oscar Biscet and Juan Carlos González Leiva.

And if I can — how about the TV star Conan O’Brien?

But the Ministry of Culture wouldn’t like it very much.

No one like O’Brien would have gone to film a show in apartheid South Africa. There was great pressure on entertainers not to perform in South Africa. And on athletes not to compete there. Anyone who did was stigmatized.

But most people, I gather, think that O’Brien’s trip to Cuba was really cool.

These visitors are like Sergeant Schultz from Hogan’s Heroes: “I see nothing” — beyond the pretty girls, the classic old cars, the swaying palm trees, etc.

Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri, was just in Cuba. She met with no dissidents, of course. While she was there, more than 100 were arrested, for such crimes as trying to attend church. The American said nothing.

She did, however, post pictures of old cars to the Internet. Isn’t that cute? There have long been political pilgrims to totalitarian countries. Paul Hollander has devoted a good part of his career to chronicling them.

There have been plain old ignoramuses, too.

As he crossed from Poland into the Soviet Union, George Bernard Shaw threw his food tins out the train window, because there would be no need of them in the land of milk and honey.

He denied that there was famine in the Soviet Union, because there was plenty of food in his hotel — the Moscow Metropol, which was for foreigners only. They have that kind of hotel in Cuba, too.

John Kenneth Galbraith went to Communist China during the Cultural Revolution, when millions were being starved, tortured, humiliated, and killed. He came back with a criticism: The Chinese smoked too many cigarettes.

In my observation, most Cubans and Cuban Americans bear no great grudge against visitors — as long as they show some moral awareness. As long as they have a smidgeon of conscience.

Conan O’Brien was able to flit down there and then flit back home. Does he realize what happens to ordinary Cubans if they try to leave the island? Does he realize that they have been shot and killed in the water, as they desperately try to escape?

I sometimes wish that people in free countries could be sentenced to live in unfree ones — just for a while — in order to appreciate what other people have to endure, and what they themselves have to be grateful for.

Let me end with a movie recommendation (damn rare for me!): Una Noche, made in 2012. It is a glimpse of Cuban reality. And therefore something of a miracle.

Tweet of the Day: Response to Conan


Quote of the Day: You Can't Go To Cuba and Be Apolitical

You can’t go to Cuba and be apolitical. Traveling there is a political act alone. The brands [Conan O'Brien] joked about at the grocery store were all companies that were appropriated by the Cuban government. That cigar factory he visited was taken from a Cuban family of cigar makers. Cubans cannot afford to eat at paladares because the average Cuban only makes $20 a month, creating an unofficial tourist apartheid where foreigners enjoy Cuba while Cubans endure the regime. The “ruins” that took Conan’s breath away are dilapidated buildings that thousands of people have to live in because they are not free to move out of them without government permission.
-- Carmen Pelaez, Cuban-American filmmaker, "Conan’s TV Show Avoided Politics, But For Cubans It’s Not That Easy," Remezcla, 3/6/14

Grains or Weapons for Cuba?

Thursday, March 5, 2015
On the same week that a U.S. agribusiness group traveled to Cuba to sell more grain to the Castro regime, the Castro regime was illegally trafficking weapons disguised as grains.

That's quite the irony.

The U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba, anchored by Minnesota-based Cargill, hosted a delegation of state agriculture officials and farm bureau representatives to visit with Cuba's foreign trade monopoly -- the Castro regime's Alimport.

Cargill is one of the world's largest grain "traders."

Meanwhile, a Chinese-flagged vessel was intercepted in Colombia with a clandestine shipment of war materiels destined for Cuba's military (via a shadow company called TecnoImport).

These include 99 rockets, 3,000 cannon shells, 100 tons of military-grade dynamite and 2.6 million detonators.

What does Cuba's regime need 2.6 million detonators for?

Obviously, for nothing good.

This illegal arms shipment was disguised in containers marked as grain products.

No joke.

Note this is the second time in 20 months that Cuba's regime gets caught illegally trafficking weapons.

In other words, it's an ongoing trend.

Upon its return, the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba will be lobbying Congress to lift financing and tourism sanctions towards the Castro regime.

It argues that more financing and tourism will provide the Castro regime with more resources to purportedly purchase grain.

That's a cute theory -- but the facts prove it simply provides more resources for detonators, artillery, security forces, repression and control.

Rubio to Kerry: Cuba Harbors Terrorists Who Have Killed Americans

In a letter today, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, urged Secretary of State John Kerry to not recommend the removal of Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terrorism List.

Below is the letter:

March 5, 2015

The Honorable John Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20220
Dear Secretary Kerry,

I am greatly disturbed by recent media reports that you are considering recommending to the President that he de-list Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terrorism List (SSTL). I believe that there should be no consideration of such a step while Cuba still harbors fugitives labeled “terrorists” by the FBI, provides support and safe harbor to members of terrorist groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) and continues to flout international norms with respect to weapons smuggling and an ongoing relationship with North Korea.

Cuba continues to provide a safe haven for convicted terrorists like William Morales, a Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional Puertorriquena (FALN) bomb maker who was implicated in a string of bombings in the United States in the late 1970s that resulted in the deaths of four Americans. Morales escaped U.S. custody after his initial imprisonment and has apparently been provided safe harbor by the government of Cuba since the 1980s. Morales is just one of many fugitives who have left a wake of murders and bereaved families in their path, while many others have committed fraudulent acts against hard-working Americans. Another prominent case is that of convicted cop killer Joanne Chesimard, who remains on the FBIs Most Wanted list and has been openly harbored by the Castro regime, which again this week vowed never to return her to the United States.              

Cuba also provides support to ETA by refusing to extradite terrorists Angel Urtiaga and Jose Ignacio Etxarte. They have been wanted since 2010 in a probe into alleged links between Venezuela, ETA and the Colombian rebel group FARC. Last week, Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia Margallo stated that Spain would like the United States to have these terrorists extradited to Spain as part of any talks regarding removing Cuba from the SSTL.

The United States cannot in good faith remove Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terrorism List while the Castro regime harbors terrorists who have killed Americans, actively supports designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations by harboring their members and continues to flout international law through clandestine weapon transfers with a rogue regime like North Korea.

Sincerely,

Marco Rubio
United States Senator

Tweet of the Day: No Foreign Interference, Except by Cuba

By Cuban blogger, Yusnaby Perez:
Maduro on national television: "We will not allow interference from any country."5 minutes later: "Viva Cuba! Viva Fidel!"

Quote of the Day: Standing on the Side of Freedom

I don't legislate by polls. I come here to do what I think is right, and what is right is on the side of freedom.
-- Florida State Rep. Jeanette Nuñez (R-Miami), responded to a colleague who opposed her bill condemning the President Obama's Cuba policy, The Miami Herald, 3/6/15

Nearly 500 Political Arrests in February

Wednesday, March 4, 2015
The Cuban Commission for Human Rights (CCHR) has documented 492 political arrests by the Castro regime during the month of February 2015.

This is the highest monthly tally of political arrests in the last six months.

These are only political arrests that have been thoroughly documented. Many more are suspected.

Obama's deal with Castro on political prisoners is running quite a deficit.

Cuba's Illegal Trafficking of Weapons is a Concerning Trend

From the Latin American policy site, Bloggingsbyboz:

This blog in July 2013, following the seizure of weapons:

"On top of the sanctions question, Panama and the rest of the hemisphere would be correct to ask how many other arms shipments Cuba has covertly sent through the Panama Canal and where they have gone. It seems unlikely that this shipment was the only one Cuba has done."

BBC this week:

"Colombian officials have detained the captain of a Chinese ship bound for Cuba for illegally carrying explosives and other arms...

...About 100 tonnes of gunpowder, almost three million detonators and some 3,000 cannon shells were found on board the Da Dan Xia, officials said. But according to the ship's records, it was carrying grain products."

What is Cuba up to? Why is Cuba shipping unregistered weapons and military hardware around the world?

A spokesman for China's foreign ministry said, "It is completely normal military trade cooperation." No, it's never normal to disguise weapons shipments as grain.

The hemisphere's multilateral organizations never investigated the question of the mint condition military hardware Cuba was trafficking to North Korea and I don't expect anyone to speak up about this shipment either. Everyone is on eggshells about the presence of Cuba at the upcoming Summit of the Americas. Certainly, this seizure is going to provide ammunition (pardon the pun) to those in the US who want to keep Cuba on the state sponsors of terrorism list and prevent the US and Cuba from normalizing relations.

Yet, if there is a country in this hemisphere engaged in the covert trafficking of military-grade weapons, it should probably be an issue that is discussed. This isn't an old Cold War era debate about US-Cuba relations. These are modern shipments of dangerous military gear passing through a vital piece of infrastructure to every economy in the hemisphere that Cuba isn't properly registering or securing as is required by Panamanian law.

And once again, this can't be the only shipment of weapons going to or from Cuba. Two big shipments of weapons seized in 20 months means that this is probably a regular occurrence.

Quote of the Day: On Cuba's Refusal to Extradite Most Wanted Terrorist

The fact that Cuba flat-out refuses to extradite Chesimard and questions the judgment of our legal system proves they are not worthy of having serious discussions to normalize relations with the United States. Continuing any discussions after hearing the Castro regime's position on this matter would be an insult to the families of these criminal's victims who have been deprived of justice for far too long.
-- U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ), on the Castro regime's refusal to extradite FBI Most Wanted Terrorist Joanne Cheismard, The Express Times, 3/4/15

Cuba’s Continuous Support for Terrorism

By Dr. Jaime Suchlicki of The University of Miami:

Cuba’s Continuous Support for Terrorism

Iran, Cuba and Venezuela have developed a close and cooperative relationship against the U.S. and in support of terrorist groups and states. The three regimes increasingly coordinate their policies and resources in a three way partnership aimed at counteracting and circumventing U.S. policies in the Middle East and Latin America. Within this relationship, Cuba plays a strategic role in terms of geography (proximity to the U.S.), intelligence gathering (both electronic eavesdropping and human espionage) and logistics.

In addition to its proven technical prowess to interfere and intercept U.S. telecommunications, Cuba has deployed around the world a highly effective human intelligence network. The type of espionage carried out by Ana Belén Montes, the senior U.S. defense intelligence analyst who spied for Cuba during some 16 years until her arrest in 2001, has enabled the Castro regime to amass a wealth of intelligence on U.S. vulnerabilities as well as a keen understanding of the inner-workings of the U.S. security system.

Such information and analysis was provided to Saddam Hussein prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq and is being provided to a strategic ally like Iran. While one may argue that factors such as Iran’s limited military capabilities and sheer distance diminish any conventional concerns, one should expect that Tehran, in case of a U.S.-Iran conflict would launch an asymmetrical offensive against the U.S. and its European allies through surrogate terrorist states and paramilitary organizations. In such a scenario, Cuban intelligence would be invaluable to Iran and its proxies and Cuban territory could be used by terrorist groups to launch operations against the U.S.

In specific terms Cuba has not abandoned its support for terrorist groups and states:

  • Cuba directly and through Venezuela continues to provide intelligence to Hamas and Hezbollah.
  • Two Arab shiites, Ghazi Nasr Al din and Fawzi Kanaan have set-up shop in Caracas, Venezuela under the protection of the Venezuelan government. Working in coordination with the Cuban government, both are active in promoting Hezbollah and Iranian targets in South America and against the U.S. They fundraise for Hezbollah, facilitate travel for Hezbollah activists to Venezuela and through Venezuela to other countries. This is all part of the strategic alliance between Venezuela, Cuba and Iran.
  • Cuban military officers are acting as liaison between Venezuelan military and the narco-guerrillas of the Colombian FARC. Cuban General Leonardo Ramon Andollo, Chief of Operations of the Cuban MINFAR (Ministry of the Armed Forces), has visited Venezuela and acted as a go between the Cuban and Venezuelan military involved in drug trafficking. 
  • Current and former members of Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA), a Basque terrorist organization continue to reside in Cuba. While some of these terrorists are on the island as part of an accord between the Cuban and Spanish governments, others are hiding in Cuba, fugitives of Spanish justice. In February 2015, the Spanish government requested one more time the extradition from Cuba of two ETA terrorists, Jose Angel Urtiaga Martinez and Jose Ignacio Etxarte Urbieta. The two have lived in Cuba since the 1980s and are wanted by Spanish Justice. In addition to these two there are four other ETA members living in Cuba: two with the knowledge of the Spanish government and two, Miguel Angel Apalategui "Apala" and Joseba Sarrionandia, without Cuba admitting that they are in the island.
  • The FBI estimates that Cuba has provided safe harbor to dozens of fugitives from U.S. justice who live on the island under the protection of the Castro regime. Some of these fugitives are charged with or have been convicted of murder, kidnapping, and hijacking, and they include notorious killers of police officers in New Jersey and New Mexico, most prominent among them Joanne Chesimard, placed by the FBI in 2013 on the "Most Wanted Terrorist List." The FBI is offering one million dollars for information leading to her apprehension.
  • Other terrorists fugitive of the U.S. living in Cuba include Ishmael LaBeet, one of the five men convicted of the infamous Fountain Valley Massacre, a racially tinged 1972 armed robbery in the Virgin Islands that turned into mass murder, with eight dead. William Morales, the master bomb-maker of the Puerto Rican separatist group FALN, which set off 140 or so blasts around the United States during the 1970s and 1980s, killing at least six people. Victor Gerena, an armed robber working for another Puerto Rican separatist group, who is believed to have taken the proceeds of a $7 million heist to Cuba with him. Charles Hill who in 1971 hijacked a civilian plane carrying 49 passengers and fled to Cuba. Hill is also wanted for the 1971 murder of New Mexico State Police officer Robert Rosenbloom. Frank Terpil, a former CIA officer and convicted arms trafficker who is wanted for providing more than 20 tons of plastic explosives to the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
  • In mid-2013, the Castro regime was caught smuggling weapons out of Cuba on a North Korean vessel in violation of UN sanctions. Cuba lied to the international community about the content of the vessel. The official UN Report on "Cuba-North Korea Illegal Weapons Trafficking," published in March 2014, revealed "a comprehensive, planned strategy to conceal the existence and nature of the cargo." The Report concluded, contrary to Cuba's allegations, that "some, if not all, of the consignment was not expected to be returned to Cuba."
  • In 2014 former Cuban intelligence official, Uberto Mario, described how the Castro regime is training Venezuelan "Tupamaros," pro-Maduro groups who violently attack Venezuelan students.
  • Managed by Cubans and Venezuelans sympathetic to Cuba, Venezuela's immigration system, "Misión Identidad," facilitates the entry of Cuban agents into Venezuela. Cubans also control SAIME (Servicio de Identificacion, Migracion y Extranjeria, Caracas) which facilitates the travel of drug organizations, Colombian guerrillas, and Islamist terrorists. Cuba also has on the island duplicate Venezuelan forms and stamps to issue passports and identifications to these groups.
  • Warranting special mention are the outstanding U.S. indictments against Cuban Air Force pilots Lorenzo Alberto Pérez-Pérez, Francisco Perez Perez and General Rubén Martínez Puente, the head of the Cuban Air Force, who in 1996 shot down two unarmed civilian American aircraft over international waters in the Florida Straits. That act of terrorism, ordered by Fidel and Raul Castro, killed four men, three of them American citizens. The Castro brothers personally accepted responsibility for the shot-down.
  • In 2014 the Castro government decreed that it would now begin to freeze bank assets affiliated to Al-Qaeda in Cuba. The Castro regime thus tacitly admitted that they had been facilitating financing of terrorism.
  • "Hezbollah in Cuba," the Hamas-funded Turkish "charity" known as IHH continues to operate in Havana. IHH is a member of the "Union of Good," an umbrella organization that financially supports Hamas.
  • Iran's President has emphasized that "the Islamic Republic of Iran and Cuba can play a significant role in international organizations. Tehran and Havana share common viewpoints in major international issues."
  • In 2014 Cuban First Deputy Minister of Foreign Trade described Iran as a "strategic partner" of Cuba.
  • On November 13, 2013 "Prensa Islamica" published an article on Cuba-Iran growing relationship. The article explains that Cuba has shared with Iran its "vast knowledge on intelligence" and has discussed cooperation "on electromagnetic weapons capable of sabotaging enemy communications."
In an attempt to obtain unilateral concession from the U.S., Gen. Raul Castro’s regime has toned down some of the violent anti-U.S. propaganda of older brother Fidel. Yet his commitments to and interrelationships with anti-American terrorist groups have not disappeared. They have taken a more sophisticated approach; many times using proxies such as Venezuelan supporters.

Cuba Caught Smuggling Weapons (Again)

Tuesday, March 3, 2015
The Colombian authorities have intercepted a Chinese-flagged ship carrying an illegal arms cargo destined for Cuba's military (through its procurement subsidiary, TecnoImport).

This is the second international weapons smuggling incident involving Cuba's military in the last two years.

In the summer of 2013, a North Korean-flagged ship was caught carrying 240 tons of Cuban weapons for Pyongyang. A U.N. Panel of Experts found this to be the most egregious violation of Security Council sanctions to date.

These two incidents raise three important issues:

1. On tourism travel to Cuba. It proves why the U.S. must continue sanctioning Cuba's military-owned tourism industry.

2. On trade financing to Cuba. It proves why the U.S. must not finance commerce with Cuba's military-controlled monopolies.

3. On the "state-sponsors of terrorism" list. It proves why any "assurances" (as required by Section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act) given by Cuba that it will no longer conduct rogue activities are simply not credible.

From The Guardian:

Colombia arrests captain of arms-trafficking ship bound for Cuba

Authorities find 100 tonnes of gunpowder and 3,000 artillery shells amid cargo

Documentation for Hong Kong-flagged ship made no mention of ammunition

The captain of a Hong Kong-flagged cargo ship has been arrested in the Colombian port city of Cartagena, charged with arms trafficking for transporting undocumented large-caliber munitions, reportedly bound for Cuba.

The captain of the Da Dan Xia, a Chinese national identified as Wu Hong, was captured after authorities found 100 tonnes of gunpowder and 3,000 artillery shells among other munitions, an official from the Attorney General’s office told reporters.

The vessel was stopped on Saturday after authorities discovered the unregistered materials in eight shipping containers during inspection.

“Around 100 tonnes of gunpowder, 2.6m detonators, 99 projectiles and around 3,000 cannon shells were found,” the national director of the attorney general’s office, Luis González, said.

The documentation presented by the ship’s crew made no mention of the ammunition on board and instead listed the contents as chemicals and spare parts. “The documentation that the captain had in regards to the merchandise that was being transported in the China-flagged vessel did not correspond to what we found,” González said.

After stopping in Cartagena the vessel was bound for another Colombia port, Barranquilla, and then to Havana, Cuba.

Photos of the crates containing the gunpowder, published by the Cartagena newspaper El Universal, showed they were destined for a company called TecnoImport in Cuba, which according to several blogs is a procurement branch of the Cuban armed forces.

The company officially lists itself as an importer of machinery and industrial products. The supplier is listed on the crates as Norico, a Chinese manufacturer of machinery and chemical products, as well high-tech defense products.

Cuba is currently pushing the US to remove it from a list of state sponsors of terrorism, amid talks between the two countries aimed at normalising diplomatic relations.

The US first included Cuba on the list in 1982, accusing the communist government of sheltering members of militants including members of the Basque separatist group Eta and leftwing Colombian rebels.

For the past two years, Cuba has been the site of two-year-old peace talks between the Colombian government and leftist Farc rebels. However, there was no indication that the weapons were at all related to the Colombian guerrilla forces.

Although some news reports said the Da Dan Xia had sailed from Cartagena, the cargo-ship tracking website MarineTraffic.com located the vessel still docked at the port on Tuesday.

The ship captain was to appear before a judge in Cartagena late Wednesday.

In July 2013, a North Korean ship was seized in Panama after leaving Cuba with Soviet-era weapons and fighter jets hidden under sacks of sugar.

Obama is Clearly Out-of-Touch With Cuba's Reality

Yesterday, in an interview with Reuters, President Obama said he would like to see diplomatic relations established with Cuba's dictatorship by April's "Summit of the Americas" in Panama.

Apparently, at all costs, as the Castro regime has made its removal (or announced removal) from the state-sponsors of terrorism list a precondition for diplomatic relations -- a statutory threshold that Cuba doesn't meet. But that's for another post.

In the interview, Obama offered the following defense of his policy:

"The very fact that, since our announcement, the Cuban government has begun to discuss ways in which they are going to reorganize their economy to accommodate for possible foreign investment, that’s already forcing a series of changes that promises to open up more opportunities for entrepreneurs, more transparency in terms of what’s happening in their economy."

Seriously? That's it?

And what exactly is Obama referring to?

Is he referring to Castro's foreign investment decree, which reiterates that all foreign trade and investment in Cuba must be conducted through the dictatorship's monopolies?

Is he referring to Castro's foreign investment decree, which requires every foreign investor in Cuba to form a joint venture -- as a minority partner -- with the dictatorship?

Is he referring to Castro's foreign investment decree that requires every foreign investor in Cuba to hire workers via a state-employment agency ("Cubalse, S.A."), which in turn pockets 92% of the wages?

Is he referring to Castro's new foreign investment decree, which contravenes the International Labor Organization's (ILO) Forced Labor Convention (No. 29), Abolition of Forced Labor Convention (No. 105), Freedom of Association and Protection to Organize Convention (No. 87), Protection of Wages Convention (No. 05), Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention (No. 98), Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention (No. 111) and Employment Policy Convention (No. 122)?

As for "entrepreneurs," is he referring to the Cuban regime's official entrepreneurs, i.e., the military-owned conglomerates?

Or is he referring to the "self-employed" workers, who have no corporate ownership rights, contractual rights, property rights or capital accumulation rights?

In other words, those working for a façade of the state.

Is Obama that out of touch with Cuba's reality?

Apparently so.

Here's a reminder of the events that have actually transpired since Obama's December 17th policy announcement:

- There have been well-over 800 political arrests.

- Many of the 53 political prisoners released, pursuant to the Obama-Castro deal, have been re-arrested on multiple occasions.

- There's been a crackdown on Cuban artists, including Danilo Maldonado "El Sexto," who has been imprisoned since the day after Christmas; rapper Maikel Oksobo "El Dkano," who was handed a one-year prison sentence for his lyrics; and New York-resident Tania Bruguera, who has been prohibited from leaving the island for a free speech performance (#YoTambienExijo).

- Digna Rodriguez Ibañez, a member of the pro-democracy group, The Ladies in White, was tied to a tree and pelted with tar for her peaceful activism.

- Eralisis Frometa Polanco, also a member of The Ladies in White, forcefully aborted due to violent blows to her stomach during a beating for her peaceful activism.

- The Castro regime has reiterated that it will not extradite any most-wanted fugitives to the United States, including Joanne Chesimard, who is on the FBIs Top Ten Most Wanted Terrorists list.

- Spain's request for the extradition of two Basque terrorists (ETA) has gone unanswered.

- Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro traveled to Havana for consultations prior to ordering the arrest of the Mayor of Caracas and the wave of repression that resulted in the murder of a 14-year old. Castro's regime has declared its full support of Maduro's actions.

- A Chinese-flagged ship was intercepted in Colombia full of undeclared "war materiel" destined for Cuba.

- The Castro regime pinned medals on the Cuban spy, whose life sentence for the murder of Americans was commuted by Obama.

- Raul Castro expanded his list of demands of the Obama Administration to include the return of Guantanamo and reparations for the embargo.

- The Castro regime welcomed a Russian spy vessel, The Viktor Leonov, to dock in the Port of Havana during normalization talks with the U.S.

- A Congressional delegation, led by U.S. Senators Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) stayed at a hotel confiscated from Americans.

- Two other Congressional delegations, one led by U.S. Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and another led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), were coerced into not meeting with with any dissidents.

- Congressional hearings showed how Obama Administration officials lied to the families of the Americans murdered in a conspiracy by the exchanged Cuban spies.

- Congressional hearings showed how Obama Administration officials were unaware (or pretended to be unaware) of how the Cuban military exerts monopolistic control over the island's tourism industry.

- Cuban intelligence officials, some previously expelled from the United States, are Castro's top negotiators in the normalization talks.

- Paris Hilton took "selfies" with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro's son, Fidelito.

- Conan O'Brien filmed a comedy show in Havana at the expense of the Cuban people's tragedy.

- At this week's inauguration ceremony for new Uruguayan President Tabare Vázquez, Raul Castro was lauded and honored with the keys to Montevideo.

- Despite numerous U.S. concessions, the Cuban people do not have any iota of greater freedoms than they had on December 16th.

- Raul Castro declared to the National Assembly - "We won the war!"

- Code Pink led a celebratory delegation of over 150 radical activists to celebrate Castro's victory over the U.S.

That's quite the achievement, Mr. President.

Tweet of the Day: #DictatorshipTourism

Colombia Intercepts Shipment of "War Materiel" Headed to Cuba

The Colombian authorities have intercepted a Chinese-flagged ship loaded with "war materiel" headed for Cuba.

It was intercepted near the Port of Cartagena. The cargo includes long-range weapons systems.

According to El Tiempo, the ship did not have appropriate documentation -- indicating that this was a clandestine shipment.

The ship's captain also resisted any inspection.

The Colombian authorities first believed the heavy weaponry was being smuggled to the South American nation, but the final destination was Cuba.

In the summer of 2013, a North Korean vessel was intercepted trying to cross the Panama Canal with over 240 tons of Cuban weapons headed for Pyongyang.

That vessel also did not have proper documentation and the ship's captain resisted inspection.

Cuba was found to be in violation of U.N. sanctions -- the most egregious violation of these sanctions to date.

Yet, Castro's regime got away scot-free -- despite a U.N. Panel of Experts documenting how the Cuban authorities lied and sought to conceal the weapons shipment.

Instead, the Obama Administration rewarded Castro's regime with the normalization of diplomatic relations and eased sanctions for travel and trade with the Cuban military's monopolies.

Obviously, this has failed to temper the behavior of Castro's regime.

Cuba Says It Will Never Return Most-Wanted Terrorist

The Castro regime has reiterated that it will never extradite Joanne Chesimard, a cop-killer who is on the FBI's Top Ten Most Wanted Terrorists list.

Note Cuba is the only state-sponsor of terrorism nation that is openly harboring a fugitive on the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists list.

It's fascinating to watch Castro's lobbyists try to argue that fugitive and terrorist are somehow mutually exclusive terms.

Terrorists are individuals that commit violent acts for political, religious or ideological goals. Fugitives are individuals that are fleeing from justice.

Terrorists who are wanted by a justice system are also fugitives.

Joanne Cheismard is both a terrorist -- as designated by the FBI -- and a fugitive.

Below is the FBI's most wanted poster for Chesimard -- the top line makes it very clear..

From Yahoo News:

Castro government: We will never return fugitive cop killer to U.S.

A top Cuban official told Yahoo News that his government has no intention of turning over a fugitive wanted by the FBI for killing a New Jersey police officer.

“I can say it is off the table,” said Gustavo Machin, the deputy director for American affairs at the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, when asked about calls for Cuba to return Joanne Chesimard.

Chesimard, 67, is on the list of the FBI’s most wanted fugitives, with a $2 million bounty on her head, for the 1973 murder of a state trooper during a shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike. Convicted in 1977, Chesimard — a onetime member of the radical Black Liberation Army — escaped from a New Jersey state women’s prison two years later and fled to Cuba, where she lives in seclusion under the name of Assata Shakur, officially protected by the Cuban government.

Officials in New Jersey, led by Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Bob Menendez, ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, have demanded that Cuba return Chesimard before the U.S. takes any further steps to normalize relations with the communist government.

Cuba’s decision to provide sanctuary for Chesimard “is an intolerable insult to all those who long to see justice served,” including members of the slain New Jersey state trooper’s family, Menendez wrote in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry last week. In an emailed statement to Yahoo News on Monday, Menendez said Chesimard is a “cop killer” and her return should be “a top agenda” item before any further concessions are made to the Castro government.

Tweet of the Day: Cuban State Journalist Arrested

Monday, March 2, 2015
An official journalist was arrested and insulted for trying to take pictures of a protest in #Camaguey #Cuba. What irony! 

Obama in a Pickle Regarding Cuba Terrorism Listing

The Obama Administration is eager to pretend that Cuba is no longer a "state-sponsor of terrorism," so it can meet the Castro regime's demand to be unconditionally removed from the list.

However, it's in a complicated pickle.

First, the U.S. seeks the extradition of Joanne Chesimard, a cop-killer on the "top ten" of the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists list.

Secondly, there are over fifty FARC (a State Department designated "Foreign Terrorist Organization") terrorists indicted in the U.S. federal courts for narcotics trafficking and the kidnapping of Americans. Many of them are currently in Cuba.

Third, you have three senior Cuban military officials indicted in U.S. federal courts for the murder of Americans, pursuant the 1996 shoot-down of two civilian aircraft over international waters -- an act of terrorism.

And now, Spain has reminded the United States that it still seeks the extradition of ETA (also a State Department designated "Foreign Terrorist Organization") terrorists.

From AP:

Spain Asks US for Help on Extraditions From Cuba

Spain said Monday it has asked the United States to use its talks on taking Cuba off the blacklist of nations sponsoring terrorism to help obtain the extradition of two members of the armed Basque group ETA from the communist country.

Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia Margallo said the government has been in talks with the U.S. in the hope of getting Cuba to extradite Jose Angel Urtiaga and Jose Ignacio Etxarte to Spain.

They have been wanted since 2010 in a probe into alleged links between Venezuela, ETA and the Colombian rebel group, the FARC.

Tweet of the Day: Castro Gloats About Spy Facility

More Collateral Damage From Obama's Cuba Policy

The negative effects of Obama's Cuba policy are already being felt in Venezuela, where Nicolas Maduro has intensified his repression and assault on democracy.  Click here for more.

However, it's not the only nation in the region that faces collateral damage from Obama's erred Cuba policy.

By Mary O'Grady in The Wall Street Journal:

Obama Elbows Into the Colombia Peace Talks

Meddling in the FARC negotiations advances his Cuba policy; the rest is collateral damage.

There was a time when the U.S. might have used its superpower role to undermine the despotism that has taken hold in Venezuela. That those days are long gone is a point worth emphasizing as the Obama administration dispatches a special envoy to join Colombia’s peace talks with the terrorist group FARC.

Secretary of State John Kerry announced the appointment of Bernard Aronson on Feb. 20 in a short speech peppered with praise and platitudes for the Colombian democracy, as if preserving it is a high priority for the Obama administration. Would that it were.

President Obama’s top priority in the region is normalizing relations with the Cuban military dictatorship. Raúl Castro says that cannot happen unless Cuba is taken off the list of state sponsors of terrorism—even though the regime supports the FARC and gives members of its rebel army safe haven.

So the only way to fix the problem is to change the definition of the FARC through a peace agreement that the Colombian people approve. U.S. involvement is intended to raise the odds of that happening.

Colombians, beware. The U.S. will be eager to put its stamp on a peace deal, no matter how much political or economic power it cedes to the FARC. But once it’s done, Colombians will be on their own. If things go wrong, nobody is going to pull their civil liberties out of the fire. Just ask the Venezuelans.

After almost 3½ years of “negotiating” with the Colombian government, the FARC remains intransigent. Last week FARC negotiator Iván Márquez said “the surrendering of weapons is out of the question” and that for his side “there will be zero jail time.”

Colombian President Manuel Santos ’s response during the negotiations has been to offer more concessions. In December he proposed downgrading the FARC’s extensive drug trafficking from a felony to a political crime, which could carry no penalty. He has talked of letting them do “community service” in lieu of jail time for their many atrocities. Some congressmen have called for giving the FARC unelected seats in Congress.

Colombians are not likely to approve such a lopsided deal. It’s not that they are unwilling to forgive, as the president’s supporters allege. The broader worry is that the FARC will use its illicit wealth and political influence to further undermine Colombia’s rule of law and its fragile republican institutions.

Mr. Santos has to allay those fears if he expects to win approval of the FARC’s version of peace. That’s why he’s bringing in reinforcements from Washington, as if the U.S. will be acting as a guarantor of the Colombian democracy.

This is a dangerous trap for Colombians.

Next door, the Venezuelan military dictatorship has declared that it is now legal for police to shoot demonstrators in the streets. The courts are locking up political enemies and the state-run economy is in ruins. But it is important to remember that absolute power was not taken in a bloody revolution or by rolling tanks into Caracas. The independent media were not destroyed with one blow and the military was not purged at once.

Hugo Chávez won an election in December 1998 and then gradually and methodically dismantled the institutions—in civil society and government—which stood in the way of his total control. Plentiful oil revenues in the first decade of the 21st century made it easy to buy off much of the Venezuelan electorate, both rich and poor.

The strategy of burrowing from within has been used by former terrorists all over the region, from Argentina to Nicaragua and El Salvador. Its outlines were minted in Cuba.

In a January 2007 Americas column I noted that Bolivian President Evo Morales, who used violence to get to power, was boasting of the advice given him by Fidel Castro on how to eliminate the opposition. Mr. Morales had said that Castro told him “not to stage an armed uprising” but to “make transformations, democratic revolutions, what Chávez is doing.”

Handing the FARC—which is unlikely to give up Colombia’s cocaine routes no matter what its negotiators claim—political and economic power invites a similar outcome. The country may find its institutions are strong enough to repel a takeover from within. But given the record around the region of countries that granted amnesty to terrorists, it is an enormous risk. It cannot be a coincidence that in Peru, where the Shining Path leaders went to jail, democracy has so far survived the sweep of chavismo.

In a region where the left normally demands that the U.S. stay out of things, it’s logical to smell a rat with the acceptance of the U.S. envoy in the Havana negotiations. The Obama administration is wading into Colombia’s peace talks on behalf of Cuba. All the downside of the trade will belong to the Colombian people.

Spain Demands Extradition of ETA Terrorists From Cuba

Sunday, March 1, 2015
While the Obama Administration is being asked to (willingly) pretend that Cuba's regime no longer provides sanctuary to international terrorists, Spain's government has just reiterated its extradition request for two leading terrorists from the Basque separatist group, ETA.

According to El Mundo, the Spanish government has recently reiterated its request for the extradition of two ETA terrorists, Jose Angel Urtiaga and Jose Ignacio Etxarte.

Urtiaga and Etxarte are wanted in connection with a string of shootings, bombings and murders.

ETA is designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) by the U.S. State Department.

The Castro regime has long-refused to respond to official extradition requests for these terrorists, as reiterated by the Spanish government in December 2014 and February 2015.

Thus, it will be fascinating to see how Obama purports to certify that the Castro regime has not provided sanctuary to any international terrorist within the last six months -- as required by law.

Or will he simply skirt the law?

Must-Read: Troubling Truths About Castro's Cuba

By Candice Malcolm in The Toronto Sun:

Troubling truths about Castro's Cuba

Canadians love Cuba. We travel there in droves. We enjoy their beaches, their cigars and the historic sites and sounds of Havana.

Some Canadians even revel in the lack of Americans at Cuban resorts, and laud our ability to travel to a beautiful part of the world sans our American neighbors.

But things are changing, thanks in part to the Harper government.

Earlier this year, Canadian diplomats facilitated high-level talks between the Obama administration and that of Cuban President Raul Castro. After these talks, Obama announced his intention to “normalize” relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

Canadian leadership in contentious parts of the world is always welcome, but we should also be cautious of the Castro regime in Havana. There are at least three good reasons for skepticism over Cuba.

Political:

Cuba is run by a military dictatorship. It routinely arrests and detains Cuban nationals as “prisoners of conscience.” It’s the most repressive anti-democratic country in the Western Hemisphere. Unlike other despots around the world, the Castro brothers don’t even bother holding fake elections in Cuba.

And to make matters worse, Raul Castro is trying to play Obama and Harper for fools.

As part of the agreement to make peace with Cuba, Harper and Obama negotiated that Cuba release 53 political prisoners in exchange for three Cuban spies jailed in the U.S. The spies were released, but Cuba reneged on its end of the deal. When the names of the prisoners were made public, we learned that a dozen of them had been released before the agreement.

One man was released in October and then re-arrested in December just so he could be released again as part of the prisoner swap.

Reports from within Cuba show that 200 more political prisoners have been arrested since the swap.

Economic:

In his last international appearance as Canada’s foreign affairs minister, John Baird traveled to Boston to applaud America’s change of heart towards Cuba. Baird said he believes, “the more Americans — American values, American capitalism — that permeate Cuba, the freer the Cuban people will be.”

This is generally true. Economic growth and freedoms tend to lead to more democratic and political rights. But we shouldn’t assume that more tourists will automatically result in more money for everyday Cubans.

That’s because Cuba’s military literally owns and controls the tourism industry. Not the government that funds health care and education. The Cuban military. One military-run company, Gaviota, owns a third of all hotels in Cuba and hosted half of all Canadian visitors last year.

Gaviota’s parent company, Gaesa, controls currency exchange and foreign transactions. When a tourist spends Canadian or American money in Cuba, they’re helping fund the Cuban military.

One million Canadians travel to Cuba each year, and yet the average Cuban is 30% poorer than they were in 1990s.

Next time your neighbor brags about a trip to Cayo Coco, you can remind them that their hotel bill likely paid for Cuban military guns; meanwhile, the housekeeper who made the beds and cleaned the rooms takes home less than $20 per month.

Security:

A major sticking point for Obama lifting the embargo against Cuba is addressing U.S. national security concerns. Obama has ordered the U.S. State Department to undergo a six-month review of Cuba’s placement on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Obama cannot move forward with trade deals if the U.S. believes the Cuban government is aiding terrorists, as its current policy suggests.

Cuba was placed on this list in 1982 because it actively trained and armed rebel groups in Africa, Latin America and Spain. For example, Cuba was instrumental in arming the FARC, a Marxist guerrilla insurgency and drug cartel that terrorized Colombia for decades.

Over the last 30 years, Cuba still holds shady ties.

Cuba supports Iran’s nuclear program. It has undermined UN nuclear inspectors and ignored sanctions by supporting Iran through banking agreements.

Cuba also helps orchestrate an immigration fraud network that has smuggled radical Islamists into North America, as demonstrated in the Center for a Secure Free Society’s “Canada on Guard” report.

In 2013, a North Korean ship carrying undeclared Cuban weapons was seized in the Panama Canal, violating a UN weapons treaty. Cuba claimed it was sending weapons to North Korea for repairs. A hard sell, given that the bombs were hidden underneath sacks of sugar.

Bombs hiding under sacks of sugar. How fitting. We should beware of Trojans bearing gifts, and remember some of the more troubling truths about Castro’s Cuba.

The Cuba Deal: How Raul Castro Duped Obama

By Nestor Carbonell in Forbes:

The Cuba Deal: How Raul Castro Duped Obama

On December 17, following a year and a half of secret negotiations with the Castro regime, President Obama trumpeted what many have called a historic breakthrough—a new course to normalize relations with Cuba.

The course, however, is not really new. It was pursued by 10 previous American presidents who tried to engage Fidel Castro directly or through intermediaries both during and after the Cold War. The desired rapprochement failed mainly because the Cuban dictator would not agree to stop his subversive activities and open up the island, or offer a modicum of respect for human rights.

What’s new about President’s Obama’s détente is that he is engaging Raúl Castro—not his ailing brother Fidel—and has not established any preconditions for normalization.

How different is Raúl from Fidel? He is certainly less charismatic and verbose than his older brother, but more focused and disciplined. While Fidel roused and manipulated the masses, Raúl, with Soviet assistance, quietly bolstered the armed forces and built the totalitarian infrastructure of the regime. Despite their contrasting physique and personality, they both share a visceral hatred of the United States, cold-blooded ruthlessness and mastery of deceit.

Fidel’s duplicity, combined with a fair amount of histrionics, is well known. He bragged about tricking the Cuban people, who fell for his promise to restore democracy, and unabashedly proclaimed in December 1961: “I am a Marxist-Leninist and will be one until the last day of my life.”

Fidel also was able to dupe U.S. presidents and senior government officials into believing that he would be amenable to a fair settlement of all outstanding disputes. Even David Rockefeller, a strong advocate of engagement who had a good rapport with Fidel, felt that he could help strike a deal with him.

Heading an impressive delegation of foreign policy heavyweights, Rockefeller presented to Fidel Castro in February 2001 a proposal developed by the Council on Foreign Relations to normalize U.S. relations with Cuba. After five hours of marathon discussions which ended at 4AM, Fidel rejected the “half-measures” proposed by the Council and demanded the unconditional lifting of the U.S. embargo without acquiescing to any significant economic and political reforms. A disillusioned Rockefeller wrote in his memoirs: “Castro harangued us continuously throughout the night…I think there is little possibility for change while Castro remains in power…”

But that was Fidel Castro. What about with Raúl now calling the shots and posing as a pragmatist? Even though Raúl had only introduced non-systemic, revocable reforms to alleviate the appalling living conditions on the island, Obama thought that he could be lured or tamed with goodwill gestures and concessions. So shortly after taking office in 2009, the President relaxed restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba and voted in favor of inviting the Cuban regime to rejoin the Organization of American States, only to be rebuffed by both Castro brothers.

Raúl then played the hostage trick on Obama, and it worked. He arrested Alan Gross, a USAID contractor who was distributing computer equipment to the Jewish community in Havana to gain access to the internet, and sentenced him to 15 years in prison. Fearing that Gross, in poor health, might die behind bars in Cuba, the President accepted the swap proposed by Castro—Gross for three convicted Cuban spies, including one serving a life sentence in the U.S. for conspiring to commit murder. Trying to balance out the uneven swap, Castro released several dozen political prisoners, a bargaining chip he uses when it suits his purpose.

To conduct the secret negotiations, which were broadened beyond the exchange of prisoners, Castro assigned two of his sharpest KGB-trained intelligence officers, fluent in English and well versed in diplomacy as a cover for espionage in the U.S., Josefina Vidal and Gustavo Machin. The deal they were able to extract from the American delegation is so one-sided in favor of the Castro regime that it could well be called the Cuban Munich.

Indeed, from a weak position, with Cuba in dire straits and facing the possible loss of its Venezuelan financial lifeline, Castro got pretty much what he wanted. And Obama, who surrendered the U.S. leverage of continued economic pressure on the Cuban regime and support for the dissident movement, got virtually nothing in return.

The U.S. will restore diplomatic relations with Cuba while repression continues on the island, and will ship telecommunications technology with no assurance that censorship will end. In addition, the Castro regime will receive more dollars from U.S. “purposeful visits,” which will flow to the owners of the tourist industry in Cuba: the military.

But for Castro, more important than those concessions is the removal of Cuba from the U.S. list of terrorist states which would open doors to the IMF, World Bank and other international financial institutions. His regime gets this provision despite smuggling 240 tons of heavy weapons to North Korea in violation of U.N. sanctions, maintaining close links to Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, and harboring dozens of fugitive terrorists and criminals, including one of the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted Terrorists, Assata Shakur.

To meet Castro’s ultimate requirement for normalization of relations, President Obama promised to seek congressional approval for the unconditional lifting of the U.S. trade embargo. This would open the floodgates for U.S. investments in bankrupt Cuba, but in a subordinate position to the only authorized partner—the Cuban government—which controls the economy, hires and fires the labor force, and pockets 92 cents on every dollar of each worker’s salary. Not quite Deng Xiaoping’s model of capitalism.

Not content with that, the cagey Raúl Castro surprised the White House last month with two additional demands that did not surface during the negotiations: payment by the U.S. to Cuba of reparations for the alleged damages caused by the embargo (his claim is for $100 billion), and the return to Cuba of the U.S. Naval Base of Guantanamo. Moreover, he declared that he will not change his Socialist system—not one iota, he emphasized. So democracy, human rights and free enterprise are out.

The Cold War may be over but Raúl Castro seems intent on reigniting it. Last year, he offered Putin an espionage listening post on the island, and is currently training and equipping Venezuela’s repressive forces in support of President Maduro’s plan to Cubanize his country.

The only way out of the President’s one-sided deal with Cuba is not to give the deceitful Cuban ruler a blank check, but to insist on a step-by-step quid pro quo that would safeguard the interests and security of the U.S., as well as the long-fought aspirations of freedom-loving Cubans.