Why is China Sending Missile Warheads to Cuba?

Friday, March 13, 2015
From Janes360:

Chinese missile warheads found on ship en-route to Cuba

Colombian authorities found a total of 99 Chinese-built missile warheads of unspecified type on 3 March during an inspection of Chinese-flagged merchant vessel Da Dan Xiu at Cartagena.

These were due to be delivered to Cuba.

The warheads may have been intended for use in a Cuban programme to develop modernised self-propelled versions of the Soviet-era S-75 Dvina (SA-2 ‘Guideline’) and S-125 Neva (SA-3 ‘Goa’) surface-to-air missile systems.

During his recent visit to Cuba, Russian defence minister Sergiy Shoigu, accompanied by Cuban president Raul Castro visited the headquarters of the Cuban Armoured Division outside Havana on 13 February 2015. Examples of self-propelled versions of single-rail S-75 and dual-rail S-125 Neva launchers based on the T-54/55 main battle tank chassis were displayed, along with their associated ‘Fan Song E’ and ‘Low Blow’ fire-control radars.

Colombia Seizes Hidden Weapons in Cuba-Bound Ship

From The PanAm Post:

Colombia Seizes Hidden Ammo on Chinese Ship Bound for Cuba

Beijing Claims Deal Part of "Normal Trade"

On Sunday, March 8, a Colombian judge ordered the arrest of Wu Hong, the captain of a Hong Kong registered freighter intercepted on the way to Cuba carrying an unregistered cargo of high-caliber ammunition.

Captain Wu, who faces arms trafficking charges, will remain under house arrest in Cartagena while the investigation is underway.

Colombian authorities impounded the ship at Mamonal Port in Cartagena on March 4, discovering within eight shipping containers some 100 tons of gunpowder, 2.64 million rounds of centerfire ammunition, 99 missile heads, and almost 3,000 cannon shells.

After 48 hours of inspections in the Caribbean city, the police proceeded to request the detention of Wu. Under Colombia’s Criminal and Commerce Laws, restricted firearms cannot be transported on commercial ships.

The Prosecutor’s Office claims the captain put the population of Cartagena at risk, as the boat was docked in Mamonal’s industrial zone near the city’s refinery and factories employing volatile chemicals.

Guns, Not Grain

As soon as the Chinese government found out about the ship’s seizure, its Foreign Ministry claimed that it was involved in “normal trade cooperation.”

A spokeswoman for the Chinese ministry, Hua Chunying, said the Hong Kong-based ship’s transportation of “normal military supplies” to Cuba was part of a legal arms exports deal with the island and did not violate any of China’s international obligations.

Colombian Attorney General Luis González responded that the documentation provided by the crew regarding the merchandise made no mention of ammo, instead only detailing a cargo of grain.

Photographs released by the police reveal that the undisclosed cargo’s provider is Norinco, a Chinese firm that produces weapons and military equipment for the Asian nation’s army. The destination appears as Tecnoimport, a Havana-based company that imports technical supplies with ties to the Cuban military.

Complicating Removal from Terrorist Black-List

One day prior to the seizure of the Da Dan Xia, the presidents of Spain and Colombia gave a joint press conference in Madrid, where Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos stated that the United States is likely to remove Cuba from its list of states that sponsor terrorism. The Colombian head of state said talks are moving “in the right direction.”

Santos heralded US President Barack Obama’s decision to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba, and said it was the first “big step” toward removing the island from the list.

On February 26, the US House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere conducted the public hearing “The President’s New Cuba Policy and US National Security” to discuss whether Cuba should be removed from the State Department’s terrorism list.

Those opposing the action testified about Cuba’s past and present activities directed against the United States, including the sending of Cuban officials to Vietnam during the war. Legislators also highlighted the offering of political asylum to members of terrorist organizations such as ETA and FARC, fugitives accused of million-dollar fraud by the US justice system, and alleged “domestic terrorists” such as Joanne Chesimard, on the FBI most-wanted list.

Others expounded on Cuba’s dispatch of military, police, and intelligence advisors to Venezuela in order to help monitor and repress dissidents; on the Cuban regime’s talks with Russia to reopen the Lourdes telecom signals spy base, and the welcoming of Russian spy ships to Cuban ports.

Witnesses similarly presented the case of 173 Venezuelan passports issued to Islamist radicals for them to enter Canada; the selling of US state secrets to the governments of Iran, Syria, and Russia; and the recruitment and infiltration of spies among the top ranks of the US government.

Caught Red-Handed, Again

In mid-2013, a similar case surfaced when Panamanian authorities impounded a North Korean ship carrying undeclared Cuban weapons amid a cargo of sugar.

A 2014 UN report concluded that the transaction violated international restrictions designed to curb North Korea’s nuclear missiles program.

The Cuban Foreign Ministry claimed to be sending the armaments to North Korea for repairs, but UN experts cited evidence that some weapons had been recently evaluated and certificated, or were even unused in their original packaging.

Cuba’s regime insisted the shipment was part of a legal deal between the two nations but refused to turn in copies of the agreement, citing confidentiality clauses.

SOUTHCOM Commander: Russian Activities in Cuba Concerning

Thursday, March 12, 2015
Excerpt from testimony today by General John Kelly, SOUTHCOM Commander, in the Senate Armed Services Committee:

"Periodically since 2008, Russia has pursued an increased presence in Latin America through propaganda, military arms and equipment sales, counter-drug agreements, and trade. Under President Putin, however, we have seen a clear return to Cold War-tactics. As part of its global strategy, Russia is using power projection in an attempt to erode U.S. leadership and challenge U.S. influence in the Western Hemisphere. Last year and again this year, a Russian intelligence ship docked in Havana multiple times while conducting operations in the Gulf of Mexico and along the east coast of the United States. Russia has courted Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua to gain access to air bases and ports for resupply of Russian naval assets and strategic bombers operating in the Western Hemisphere. Russian media also announced Russia would begin sending long-range strategic bombers to patrol the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, in an effort to 'monitor foreign powers’ military activities and maritime communications.'"

For Obama Administration, Castro is Part of the Solution -- Not the Problem

By Rudy Mayor of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC's Young Leaders Group:

Last week, a group of young Cuban-Americans under the age of 35 traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with The White House, State Department and Members of Congress to voice their concerns about ongoing negotiations between the Obama Administration and the Castro regime.

The trip was led by the U.S. Cuba Democracy PAC’s Young Leaders Group, a diverse group of young professionals and student leaders, founded in July 2013 to engage young Cuban-Americans about human rights in Cuba on social media and in their communities.

The following are my impressions about the progress and purpose of the ongoing U.S.-Cuba negotiations, as a young Cuban-American who was given a glimpse into Washington's top policy-makers.

The Obama Administration knows its new Cuba policy is irreversible and its chances of ushering in democracy is extremely speculative, but they’re pushing it anyway. Human history provides no example where the approach of “democracy through tourism” has succeeded. In fact, for decades freedom-loving Europeans, Latin Americans and others have flocked to Cuba’s beaches and resorts with only a record number of political arrests to show for it. Throughout this time, the Castro regime has been perfecting its deplorable art of repression, while manipulating international travel and investment. As long as the Cuban military owns and controls Cuba’s tourism industry, increased American tourism will do more to finance the government’s repression than it will to end it. Although frequently abused, humanitarian and family travel remain the most effective ways of providing purposeful support to the Cuban people -- but these categories of travel were already permitted under current U.S. law.

The Obama Administration’s new Cuba policy is based, in part, on two fundamental misunderstandings: (1) their overcompensation for the power of leisure tourism to effectuate political change and (2) their miscalculation that entrepreneurs are less dependent on the Cuban government today than they used to be. Specifically, the Obama Administration sees the creation of cuentapropistas – or self-employed - categories as an example of Cuba moving in the direction of economic liberalization. However, because the same cuentapropistas went largely unregulated prior to the Cuban government’s “reforms,” the creation of these categories were actually a strategic way for the Cuban government to bring the “black market” within its oppressive control. What the Obama Administration perceived as a favorable economic environment for adopting a new Cuba policy was actually a mirage of the Castro regime’s policy to exert more control over Cuba’s entrepreneurs.

In considering whether to take Cuba off the state-sponsors of terrorism list, the Obama Administration is full of “strict constructionists.” One of the many preconditions to normalization imposed by the Castro regime is that Cuba be taken off the state-sponsors of terrorism list. The evidence reveals that in 2013, Cuba was caught smuggling 240 tons of heavy weaponry to North Korea, which was described by a U.N. panel as the largest and most egregious violation of international sanctions to date. Just last week, a Chinese-flagged ship was intercepted in Colombia carrying an illegal supply of weapons headed for Cuba's military. These included 99 rockets, 3,000 cannon shells, 100 tons of military-grade dynamite and 2.6 million detonators. What could the Castro regime need 2.6 million detonators for, if not to arm our enemies? Cuba also continues to harbor individuals on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list, including Joanne Chesimard, who escaped a federal prison after the execution-style murder of a New Jersey state trooper. What is considered cold-blooded murder in any rule-of-law country is seen by the Castro regime as an action worthy of political protection under the auspices of asylum. Cuba also arms and trains Venezuela’s violent paramilitary groups, known as colectivos, which target students and peaceful demonstrators whom have been systematically gunned down by their recently sanctioned government. To facilitate these so-called “historic” Cuba negotiations, the Obama Administration is adopting a disingenuously “strict” interpretation of what constitutes “international terrorism” with the predetermined goal of taking Cuba off the list. Before taking Cuba off the state-sponsors of terrorism list, the Castro regime must also provide “assurances” that it will not support international terrorist acts in the future. One can imagine that Cuba’s own interpretation of what constitutes “international terrorism” will be as hyper-technical and politically motivated as President Obama’s.

To achieve the enactment of its new Cuba policy, the Obama Administration is deliberately excluding the Cuban-American community from discussions and meaningful decision-making. In 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama told a group of Cuban-Americans in Miami: "I will maintain the embargo. It provides us with the leverage to present the regime with a clear choice: If you take significant steps toward democracy, beginning with the freeing of all political prisoners, we will take steps to begin normalizing relations." Despite promising a Cuba policy centered on libertad, President Obama deliberately chose not to consult with leaders of the Cuban-American community before deciding on a fundamentally different policy approach. By normalizing relations with Cuba before any political reforms had taken place, President Obama abandoned freedom as a necessary precondition to lifting the embargo. Members of the Cuban-American community were understandably shocked and betrayed by the President’s announcement. Faced with the uncomfortable task of justifying its empty tourism-centered policy to victims of the Castro regime, the Obama Administration has opted to exclude the Cuban-American community altogether until its new Cuba policy is firmly implemented. The result is a new U.S.-Cuba relationship devoid of any input from Cubans or Cuban-Americans but replete with misinformed interpretations of what life is like on that imprisoned island.

The Obama Administration would rather stabilize the Castro regime than promote change in Cuba, if it means avoiding their exaggerated fears of a mass exodus of Cubans to the United States. It's no secret that increasing political and economic instability in Venezuela threatens a sharp downturn in Cuba’s generously subsidized economy. However, the threat of a second “special period” or a replay of the Mariel boatlift is highly unlikely. Expanding tourism and trade with the Castro Regime calms the Obama Administration’s xenophobic fears of a mass Cuban migration, but it does so at the expense of Cuba’s pro-democracy opposition. As the Executive Director of Roots of Hope said after they came out of the political closet -- "The goal is not regime change in Cuba. It’s not to bring down government.” Instead, it is a perverted version of “trickle-down economics” that relies on the Castro regime's goodwill to make the lives of average Cubans better. The Obama Administration has made clear with its actions that the Castro regime is now part of the solution and not necessarily the problem.

Video for the Release of Imprisoned Cuban Artist "El Sexto"

Cuban punk rock group, Porno Para Ricardo, has filmed a music video demanding the release of artist Danilo Maldonado "El Sexto."

El Sexto has been imprisoned since December 26th, 2014, for a performance whereby he painted two pigs with the names -- Fidel and Raul.

He now faces three years in prison.

The song asks that El Sexto "not be given three years for two pigs."

The video also includes a great cameo by Cuba's Ladies in White.

Click below (or here) to watch:

Cuban Pastor Imprisoned a Month Ago, Remains Held Without Charge

From Christian Solidarity Worldwide:

Pastor Imprisoned, Held Without Charge

The family of Rev. Jesús Noel Carballeda, the 44 year-old Cuban pastor of an unregistered church in Havana, is calling for his release from Valle Grande prison in San Antonio de los Baños, Havana Province, where he has been imprisoned for approximately a month without charge.

Rev. Carballeda’s wife, Teresa Castillo Medina, told Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) the pastor was imprisoned five years ago for four months after militant communist neighbors filed legal complaints about the church services they held in their home in Marianao, Havana. Following his imprisonment, he was put on probation and made to check in with the authorities on a regular basis. They were barred from holding church services in their home, but Rev. Carballeda continued to lead his church, holding services in parks, rented halls and other private homes. His wife believes this is the reason behind his re-arrest.

Rev. Carballeda's church is linked to the Apostolic Movement, a fast growing network of protestant churches, which the Cuban government has refused to register. Because the religious group is unregistered, all of the affiliated church's activities are technically illegal and they are unable to apply for permits for a designated place of worship. Castillo Medina told CSW, "We do not want to bother anyone. We just need a place to worship. We are forced to meet in the open air, in parks or rented rooms as [the authorities] will not give us legal recognition."

The detention of Rev. Carballeda is part of a larger crackdown on religious freedom in Cuba over the past few years. In 2014, CSW documented 220 separate cases of religious freedom violations, up from 185 in 2013 and 120 in 2012. Unregistered religious groups have been a particular target of government repression, with religious leaders reporting harassment, fines and threats of confiscation or destruction of property.

Wishful Thinking v. Reality (on Cuba and Venezuela)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015
This morning, Karl Vick exuded wishful thinking ("How Opening Cuba Helped Isolate Venezuela") -- via Time:

"[T]hanks to the ongoing rapprochement between the U.S. and Cuba, Washington is less easy to ignore, especially on matters of morality and fair play."

This afternoon, reality struck -- via AFP:

"[In response to U.S. sanctions on Venezuelan human rights violators], Ecuador's Foreign Minister warned Monday that the Southern American bloc UNASUR would not allow foreign intervention or a coup in Venezuela.

The European Union said Tuesday it has no plans to follow the U.S. lead and impose sanctions on Venezuela."

Obama's Cuba Policy Distracts From Increased Abuses

According to Cuban independent journalists (Hablemos Press), there have been over 200 political arrests during the first eight days of March.

On March 8th alone, nearly 90 members of the opposition group, Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU), were violently arrested.

Yet, there's been no media coverage -- let alone statements of concern from the Obama Administration (or any other nations that were supposed to now challenge the abuses of Cuba's dictatorship).

Instead, the news has been focused on Conan O'Brien's publicity stunt; agricultural trade delegations by shameless U.S. Governors; and whether Major League Baseball will play exhibition games in Cuba.

This is also why the Castro regime loves having "talks" with the U.S. on peripheral issues -- environment, telecommunications, agriculture, etc.

For it provides an easy formula:

More distractions, more abuses.

This, too, was (sadly) predictable.

Fidel's Love Letter to Maduro

(Literally) from Cuba's MINREX (Foreign Ministry):

The historic leader of the Cuban Revolution sent a letter to the Venezuelan President in reference to his speech addressing U.S. threats to his country.

Dear Nicolás Maduro,

President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela:

I congratulate you on your brilliant and courageous speech against the brutal plans of the U.S. government.

Your words go down in history as proof that humanity can and must know the truth.


Fidel Castro Ruz

The Worrisome Results of Obama's Cuba Policy

In an official statement today, the Castro regime has reiterated unwavering support for its puppet regime in Caracas, amid its further radicalization:

"Cuba again reiterates its unconditional support and that of our people for the Bolivarian Revolution, the legitimate government of President Nicolas Maduro, and the heroic brotherly people of Venezuela."

Moreover, at a pep rally in Caracas last week, General Raul Castro's daughter, Mariela, took the microphones to proclaim:

"¡Cuba y Venezuela, una sola bandera" ("Cuba and Venezuela, joined by one flag!") and "¡Viva Maduro, carajo!" ("Viva Maduro, dammit!").

Thus -- in a nutshell -- here are the results of Obama's December 17th announcement to normalize relations with the Castro regime:

1. Repression in Cuba has intensified -- well over 1,000 political arrests since December 17th;
2. Repression in Venezuela has intensified -- another student activist killed and leading opposition figures arrested;
3. The Venezuelan government has consolidated its authoritarian grip;
4. The United States stands alone -- albeit late -- in holding Venezuela's government accountable; and
5. No one -- including the United States -- is holding Cuba's regime accountable.

In other words, as we (sadly) predicted months ago.

Cuba to Repair Venezuelan Missile Frigate

From IHS Jane's Defence:

Cuban shipyard to repair Venezuelan missile frigate
The Venezuelan Navy has contracted Cuba's Granma Military Industrial Shipyards to perform a comprehensive refit of its General Soublette (F 24) Lupo-class guided-missile frigate, according to local Venezuelan media reports.

The contract includes maintenance and repair of the ship's hull and structure.

General Soublette was inspected in November 2014 - along with sister ship Almirante Luis Brion (F 22), Kariña (PC 24) ocean patrol vessel (OPV), and Goajira (T 63) and Los Llanos (T 64) transports - and found to require extensive repairs and maintenance. General Soublette was launched in 1980 at the Cantieri Navali Riuntini and commissioned into the Venezuelan Navy in December 1981.

Quote of the Day: Why is Obama Ignoring Cuba's Role in Venezuela?

Even as I welcome this round of sanctions, I question why President Obama is simultaneously moving to lift sanctions on Cuba, which has played a direct role in sowing unrest in Venezuela and has a human rights record even worse than the Maduro regime. Human rights violations in Venezuela stem directly from what the Cuban army and intelligence agency have taught the Chavez-Maduro regime.
-- U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), Chairman of the Senate's Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, on Obama's announcement of sanctions towards Venezuelan human rights violators, 3/9/15

Cuba’s Wrongdoing Goes Unchallenged

By Frank Calzon in The Miami Herald:

Cuba’s wrongdoing goes unchallenged

A few days after American negotiators met with Cuban officials to continue talks to reestablish formal diplomatic relations, a Chinese ship bound for Cuba was intercepted near Colombia’s Port of Cartagena carrying 100 tons of gunpowder, almost 3 million detonators and some 3,000 cannon shells to Cuba.

On Monday, a Colombian judge ordered that the Chinese captain of the Hong Kong-registered Da Dan Xia be placed under house arrest.

It’s not yet known whether President Obama has been alerted to Havana’s arms purchase. If he has, he’s not likely to say anything in this new era of aggressive niceness. He didn’t say anything about Cuba’s attempt in 2013 to smuggle two warplanes, missile parts and 240 metric tons of war materiél from Cuba into North Korea. Certainly, he wouldn’t say anything resembling his negative response to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress.

As negotiations with Cuba and Iran continue, however, the president might want to seek a briefing by the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies, which tracks Cuba’s foreign policy and describes it as “a close and cooperative relationship against the United States and in support of terrorist groups and states.”

Reporting this month on the relationship among Iran, Cuba and Venezuela, it writes, “Cuba plays a strategic role in terms of geography...intelligence gathering (both electronic eavesdropping and human espionage) and logistics.” Iran’s president is quoted as saying, “The Islamic Republic of Iran and Cuba can play a significant role in international organizations. Teheran and Havana share [a] common viewpoint on major international issues” and “the Hamas-funded Turkish ‘charity’ known as IHH continues to operate in Havana.” In 2014, Castro’s banks were holding accounts for al Qaida affiliates.

Like many, President Obama has bought into the idea that whatever happened between Cuba and the United States, it was many years ago. The president is committed to moving forward and implementing the same failed Cuba policies of the European states, Canada, and others: full diplomatic relations, millions of tourists filling resorts and unrestricted trade facilitated by export insurance and loans that aren’t repaid.

Washington will say as little as possible about the regime’s beating Cuban dissidents that peacefully demonstrate against the lack of civil rights, free elections and economic reforms, and the jailing and killing of human-rights activists.

While Netanyahu’s words are seen as a threat, Raúl Castro’s actions during Obama’s tenure in the White House — not what happened 50 years ago — are not.

Secretary of State John Kerry’s record is not much better. While chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry held secret talks at the home of the Cuban ambassador to the United Nations in New York without telling committee members. The committee was ignored during the 18 months of secret talks between Washington and Havana.

At the same time the president wants to take Cuba off the list of states sponsoring terrorism, he considers putting North Korea back on the list. Does Obama know about the dangerous alliance between Cuba and North Korea? He should. In 2008, the State Department removed Pyongyang from the list, hoping that by doing so the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un would behave differently.

That is the approach Obama is taking with Havana: Ignore the facts and acquiesce to demands for recognition. Kim Jong Un hasn’t changed, and there’s no good reason to think Raúl Castro will change.

While the president believes the Cold War is over, Vladimir Putin, Castro, the Iranians and the North Koreans believe it’s time to push their advantage. There will be no end to the indignities inflicted by North Korea, Iran and Cuba. Moscow is happy. Russian generals think there is merit in extending a Cold War strategy: visits to Cuba by Russian spy ships, as we just saw, establishment of an electronic spy station and when Obama withdraws from Guantánamo, the opening of the Russian Navy base in the warm waters of the Caribbean at Guantánamo Bay.

Obama: Remember Selma's History, Disregard Cuba's

Sunday, March 8, 2015
Yesterday, President Obama delivered a moving speech marking the 50th anniversary of the historic march in Selma, Alabama, in favor of voting rights for African-Americans.

The events of 1965, known as "Bloody Sunday", resulted in the police brutally attacking 600 peaceful demonstrators.

Obama concluded his remarks by reminding us, "Fifty years from Bloody Sunday, our march is not yet finished, but we’re getting closer."

He's right.

But it's ironic how just two months before, Obama urged us to disregard events that took place 50 years ago in Cuba.

Events that resulted in the most repressive dictatorship in the history of the Western Hemisphere.

Events that resulted in the death of hundred of thousands of innocent Cubans and the exile of millions.

Events that -- had Fidel Castro had his way during the 1962 Missile Crisis -- would have resulted in the murder millions of Americans.

As regards these events, Obama stated on December 17th, 2014: "Neither the American, nor Cuban people are well served by a rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born."

Except today, Cubans are experiencing their own Selma.

Just last month, like almost every month, nearly 500 Cubans were violently arrested for marching for their basic rights.

These include, Digna Rodriguez Ibañez, an Afro-Cuban member of the pro-democracy group, The Ladies in White, who was tied to a tree and pelted with tar.

Yet, instead of standing steadfastly in solidarity with Cuba's brave democracy activists, Obama has chosen to normalize relations with their oppressors and engage in commerce with Castro's monopolies.

Obama is not only asking us to disregard history as regards Cuba -- but to stand on the wrong side of it.

Below are images contrasting events in Selma and Cuba (part of a campaign last year by the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC's Young Leaders Group).

These pictures speak louder than words.

WSJ Editorial Board: The Menendez Charges

From The Wall Street Journal's Editorial Board:

The Menendez Charges

The timing has produced skepticism on the right and left.

The partisan default in cases of alleged political corruption is for everyone of the opposite party or philosophy to pile on. So it speaks volumes about the lost credibility of President Obama’s Justice Department that last week's leaks to the media that federal charges are being prepared against Democratic Senator Robert Menendez has produced skepticism across the ideological divide.

It’s impossible to judge the charges without a formal indictment, and Mr. Menendez is from New Jersey, which rivals Chicago as a laugh line about political corruption. The stories say Mr. Menendez will be charged with using his office to aid a friend and donor, Florida eye-doctor Salomon Melgen, with federal business. Mr. Menendez responded by saying, “I have always conducted myself appropriately and in accordance with the law.”

The skepticism results from the politicized nature of Eric Holder’s Justice Department as well as previous abuses in its Public Integrity Section. Recall the indictment of the late Senator Ted Stevens in the middle of his re-election campaign in 2008. His conviction was set aside after a judge found the prosecution had withheld “significant” exculpatory evidence.

The timing of the Menendez charges is also politically suspicious. The Senate Democrat is a leading critic of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy on Russia, Cuba and Iran. Mr. Obama recently accused critics of his Iran diplomacy of bowing to their political donors—that is, to Jewish Americans. According to the New York Times, Mr. Menendez rose at a private meeting of Democratic Senators to tell the President he was personally offended by those remarks. The negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program are coming to a head this month, and it doesn’t hurt the President if a prominent critic is operating under an ethical cloud.

All of which is to say that it’s important to look closely at the evidence and charges in this case and test them before a jury. This Justice Department deserves to be treated with as much doubt as any New Jersey politician.

Cuba Takeaway From Iowa Ag Summit

Politico listed its ten takeaways from last week's Iowa agricultural summit with GOP presidential candidates.

Here's #8:

The Republican field is in lockstep against having anything to do with Cuba.

Farmers tend to support opening new markets for their crops. Some are part of the coalition that has pushed to lift the five-decade-old Cuban trade embargo.

But to a man, the Republicans running for president decried engaging with the current regime.

Perry chastised Obama for giving Cuba three of its spies back in exchange for Alan Gross, who had been held in captivity for five years. “We got the way short end of that deal,” he said.

Cruz, the son of a Cuban émigré, noted that the island just got caught trying to smuggle arms to North Korea through the Panama Canal. “Cuba is a communist dictatorship,” he said. “They are exporting terrorism throughout the hemisphere.”

At Iowa Forum, GOP Candidates Sound Off on Obama's Cuba Policy

From Daily Mail:

'You don't give them ice cream and candy for heaven's sake': At Iowa cattle call GOP presidential hopefuls hit Obama for negotiating with 'horrible' Castro regime in Cuba

Bruce Rastetter, a major player in the renewable energy sector, asked them if they support the opening of trade with communist Cuba

'When you've got [them] doing terrible things to their people, you don't give them ice cream and candy for heaven's sake,' Mike Huckabee said

Chris Christie referenced Black Liberation Army member Joanne Chesimard and said the U.S. shouldn't be trading with a country that is 'promoting someone who is a cop-killer'

Rick Perry said Obama 'really missed the point' of sanctions and had 'basically empowered the Castro regime' by renewing high-level relations

Ted Cruz said he is an 'emphatic advocate of free trade' but doesn't support it with Cuba. 'The Castros have been brutal dictators'

'The simple fact is it looks more like North Korea than a country that's emerging toward a freer place,' former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said of Cuba 

GOP presidential candidates who flocked to Iowa on Saturday for an agricultural summit hosted by a Republican mega donor lit into the Obama administration over its willingness to negotiate with countries that have 'terrible' track records.

'When you've got the Iranians and the Cubans doing terrible things to their people, you don't give them ice cream and candy for heaven's sake,' former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said after the event's host, Bruce Rastetter, a major player in the renewable energy sector, asked him if he supported the opening of trade with communist country.

Responding to the same question during his 20-min Q and A with Rastetter, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie referenced Black Liberation Army member Joanne Chesimard and argued that the U.S. shouldn't be trading with a country that is 'promoting someone who is a cop-killer.'

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry said President Barack Obama 'really missed the point' of sanctions on Cuba and had 'basically empowered the Castro regime' by renewing high-level diplomatic relations.

'This is a regime that has been incredibly onerous to the people of Cuba,' the 2012 presidential candidate said.

If the point of the shift in Cuba policy was to put the country's people in a 'better position,' Perry said, Obama's plan failed.

'I'm not sure you're ever going to change the culture of Cuba until Castro is dead and gone,' Perry said, not specifying whether he was talking about the country's previous dictator Fidel, or his brother, Raul, who now runs the country.

'I think we got a bad deal. I think the Cuban people got a bad deal,' he said, stressing that the exchange of three Cuban spies for aid worker Alan Gross' release wasn't enough.

'In my opinion, we got the way short end of that deal,' Perry added.

Huckabee said that the U.S. should 'quit pretending that Cuba is some wonderful nation with whom we can sit down and visit with any more than the Iranians are.'

'They're not,' Huckabee, a 2008 GOP presidential contender and likely 2016 competitor, he stated 'These are untrustworthy people who never kept an agreement in their lives.'

Furthermore, Huckabee, said they, 'they kick their people in the groin.'

'You don't go around making plans to be nice to people who do horrible things,' he argued during an extended critique of the current occupant of the Oval Office's relations with foreign governments.

'You put pressure on them, you don't release the pressure.'

Continuing, he said, 'I mean, my gosh, if my parents had raised me that way, I'd be a monster.

'My parents corrected my bad behavior. They didn't encourage it by rewarding me with ice cream and candy every time I did something horrible.'

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said 'any efforts taken by the Obama administration right now have not gotten anything in return.'

'Cuban dissidents are still in prison. The economy is controlled by a handful of what we would call, basically party apparatchiks. In the regime there's no small business development,' he asserted.

'All the economy built up by Cuba – the simple fact is it looks more like North Korea than a country that's emerging toward a freer place,' he claimed.

Bush said a 'better approach would have been to say to Cuba, to the regime, "You make these changes and of course we will open up diplomatic relations. Of course we will open up trade." '

That would ultimately create 'great opportunities.'

'But right now this is not something that we should be doing unless there's big-time changes in Cuba,' he concluded.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said he is an 'emphatic advocate of free trade' but, 'I don't support it with regard to Cuba.'

'The Castros have been brutal dictators,' he said, and 'they are exporting terrorism throughout the hemisphere.'

Last year, Cuba was caught trying to send a shipment of arms to North Korea. Pyongyang recently paid a nearly $700,000 fine to the Panama Canal Authority for attempting to traffic arms.

'We've gotta be able to walk and chew gum at the same time,' the freshman lawmaker said.

President Obama's actions will 'directly prop up the Castros,' Cruz said.

Noting that he would be 'thrilled' to open up trade with Cuba, Cruz said he would only support it 'once we see freedom returned to the nation of Cuba.' That means free elections and free speech, he explained.

Christie said the U.S. shouldn't be doing any business with Cuba until it stops harboring a fugitive who killed a New Jersey police officer in 1977.

'You cannot start trading with a country that is promoting someone who is a cop-killer,' he said of Chesimard.

The 67-year-old escaped from a New Jersey prison in 1979 and has been hiding out in Cuba since at least 1984, when Fidel Castro's regime granted her asylum.

'If they're going to keep harboring fugitives,' he said, 'I have a problem with that ... The president doesn't know how to negotiate. You don't give away the idea of trading with America for nothing.'

Raul Castro's regime refused last week to extradite Chesimard, who now goes by the name of Assata Olugbala Shakur.

'I can say it is off the table,' Gustavo Machin, deputy director for American affairs at the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Yahoo News while discussing the latest round of trade negotiations between the U.S. and his country.

Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s Head Of North American Affairs, had previously rejected a deal that would have released five Cuban prisoners being held in the U.S. if his country handed over Chesimard.

'Every nation has sovereign and legitimate rights to grant political asylum to people it considers to have been persecuted,' she told the Associated Press in December.

'We’ve explained to the U.S. government in the past that there are some people living in Cuba to whom Cuba has legitimately granted political asylum.'

Both Texas politicians who spoke at the summit said that unlike Cuba, they support trade with China.

China is different, Perry said, because it basically practices communism at night and capitalism in day time.

Cruz, who spoke after Perry, said that 'with China you can make direct investment.'

'You can directly trade with the people,' which you can't do in Cuba, where workers paid just eight cents of every dollar, Cruz said.