Chairman Duncan: Cuban Regime Has Clear Record of Supporting Terrorism, Illegal Activity and Repression

Friday, April 10, 2015
Congressman Jeff Duncan Issues Statement on U.S. Cuba Policy

Panama City, Panama—South Carolina Congressman Jeff Duncan, Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere issued the following statement regarding U.S. Cuba Policy while attending the Summit of the Americas in Panama City, Panama:

"The Cuban regime has a clear record of sponsoring terrorism, supporting illegal activity, and brutally oppressing its own people. While the Administration may be anxious to check the boxes on a few legacy items like U.S. Cuba policy, the fact remains that there is a strong bipartisan coalition in Congress that will insist on a host of democratic, humanitarian, and national security conditions being met first. The State Department is reportedly recommending that the President de-list Cuba from being considered a 'State Sponsor of Terrorism,' but it is worth noting that Congress has a constitutional responsibility to provide oversight of the Administration's actions and ensure they align with our national interests.

Over the past several months, I've had the privilege of meeting with members of the Cuban opposition community who have shared their stories of suffering under the Castro regime. This morning in Panama, our U.S. Congressional delegation continued that dialogue with a meeting of Cuban civil society dissidents who were attacked earlier this week in Panama by thugs from the Cuban Embassy. These brave Cuban individuals are here in Panama to urge governments to actively promote democratic governance and citizen participation. It is my hope that we will stand in solidarity with the Cuban people and that leaders in our hemisphere will take demonstrable action to hold governments, including the Castro regime, accountable as we move forward from this Summit. Empty promises and false assurances from the Castro regime must be met head-on with leadership and accountability from democratic countries in the region, and I look forward to working more closely together with our neighbors to achieve these ends.

The unrelenting and merciless oppression of the Cuban people by a regime hostile to liberty is a direct rejection of the values we as Americans hold as sacred. No regime should be rewarded for such appalling acts. There is no cause dearer to Americans than the cause of freedom. The Cuban people have not forgotten the oppression they face daily, and we will not forget about them."

N.Y. Post Editorial: Cuba’s Free Pass on Terrorism

From The N.Y. Post's Editorial Board:

Cuba’s free pass on terrorism

Sometime during this weekend’s Summit of the Americas in Panama, President Obama is expected to grant one of Cuban President Raul Castro’s top demands and remove his country from the Unites States’ list of governments that sponsor terrorism.

That, as Sen. Robert Menendez warns, not only flies in the face of all evidence, but removes critical leverage in Washington’s efforts to bring scores of fugitive American terrorists to justice.

The latest State Department report on state sponsors of terrorism — a list that has included Cuba since 1982 — notes that Cuba’s longstanding ties to the Basque terrorist group ETA “have become more distant,” though it still provides “safe haven” to its members.

Havana also harbors terrorists who struck in the United States, such as cop-killers Joanne Chesimard and Charles Hill (who also hijacked a plane), FALN bomber Guillermo Morales and scores of others who’ve avoided accountability for their crimes. (Many of those crimes, incidentally, were committed in the tri-state area.)

Under US law, that in itself is enough to keep Cuba on the list. But Castro says he won’t accept the normalized relations Obama so desperately wants until Havana is removed.

Two years ago, Cuba got caught trying to smuggle 240 metric tons of weapons, plus missile-launching radar systems and two MiG-21 aircraft, to North Korea via the Panama Canal aboard the ship Chong Chun Gang.

Confronted with what was the largest single violation of UN sanctions against North Korea, the Castro government claimed the armaments were being sent to Pyongyang for “repair and return.”

The fact is, Cuba has done nothing to earn the legitimacy President Obama is so eager to bestow. It should come with a price tag — not as a gift.

Quote of the Summit: A General Never Elected by the People

The Presidents will be sitting here speaking with a General (Raul Castro) who has never been elected by the people, who arrived in power through dynastic means.
-- Rosa Maria Paya, Cuban democracy leader, daughter of murdered Sakharov prize recipient Oswaldo Paya, Clarin, 4/8/15

Poll Finds Informed U.S. Voters Strongly Against Cuba Normalization

From The PanAm Post:

Poll Finds Informed US Voters Dead Against Cuba Normalization

InterAmerican Security Watch: Awareness Erodes Support

A survey by InterAmerican Security Watch (ISW) challenges the notion that normalization with Cuba will enjoy popular support. ISW acknowledges that right now a slim majority of US citizens agree with President Barack Obama’s move to restore diplomatic ties. Their findings, however, suggest that support evaporates as the same individuals learn of the Castro regime’s foreign-policy record and human-rights violations.

ISW, a policy institute that monitors regional security issues, questioned 700 likely US voters by phone from March 16 to 23, including an “oversample” of 300 Cuban Americans. On March 24 they then published a 51-versus-38 percent tilt in favor of normalization with Havana. However, when respondents were presented with evidence of negotiations between Cuba and terrorist groups, and alliances with Russia and North Korea, levels of approval flipped, to considerable margins of 30-40 percent.

Surveyors emphasized the shipment of 240 tons of weaponry that the regime of Raúl Castro attempted to send to North Korea in 2013. After hearing of this, for example, 64 percent of respondents preferred to maintain sanctions on Cuba until there is progress towards free and multi-party elections, the release of political prisoners, and respect for human rights.

After being acquainted with the topic, 68 percent of respondents also wanted the US federal government to keep Cuba on the list of countries that sponsor terrorism. Self-identified Republicans were the most opposed to Cuba being removed, at 82 percent. This proportion dropped to 66 and 55 percent among independents and Democrats, respectively.

“President Obama’s decision to cave to Castro was terrible diplomacy and, we know now, foolish politics,” Roger Noriega of ISW said.

“When Americans hear basic facts about Castro’s hostility and human-rights violations, they know that the president’s unilateral concessions only emboldened a dangerous, despotic regime,” the former US Ambassador to the Organization of American States added.

Normalization with Whom?

José Azel, a senior researcher at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, suggests that the US public are not well aware of the human-rights violations committed by the Cuban regime, nor of the possible threat to US national security that Cuba’s alliances with countries such as Russia, North Korea, and Iran represent.

“By embracing Cuba’s totalitarian regime, the administration’s new policy sends the wrong message to Latin America. The new policy seems to signal that the United States is no longer concerned with championing democratic values in our hemisphere,” Azel told the PanAm Post.

The expert fears that Washington’s overlooking of the suppression of civil liberties in Cuba, in order to restore diplomatic and commercial links, will embolden authoritarian governments throughout the world.

“That message will have tragic consequences in the years to come.” With these dangers understood, he says “the American public rejects the new policy of unilateral concessions to Cuba’s totalitarian regime.”

Ana Olema, a Cuban democracy activist who now lives in the United States, believes that “the fundamental problem” is the lack of profound changes within the island.

“We have to tell the American people that in Cuba we have a 240 percent tax on products. We have to explain to them that powdered milk costs US$6 [per kilogram], oil costs $3.40 [per liter], and ground beef is at $2.15 [per kg]; while the salary of an engineer, teacher, or lawyer barely gets to $20 [per month]. We must tell them that Cubans cannot go out to the street to protest.”

Olema explains that she comes from a nation that “lacks the truth,” due to the government’s manipulation of official figures. “The international statistics support and applaud a neo-slavery of the Cuban people.… If you tell that to the American people, knowing this republic [the United States] as much as I do, believe me, they will not like that rotten government.”

Cuban Rappers: What Change?

From USA Today:

Cuban rappers cricize government in rhyme at Summit

Cuban rapper Skuadron Patriota paced the stage and dedicated his next song to his mom – and moms everywhere who have lost sons to street fights or perilous raft trips from his island country – then launched into his signature spitfire tune, Madre.

"Tolerance zero, freedom of expression zero ... State control to the extreme."

Cuba's historic entry to the Summit of the Americas here has also drawn many of the communist island's critics, including a rare Cuban hip hop protest concert Thursday night. The event took place in a theater just off the Panama Canal and gathered known rappers from the island such as Skuadron, Sivito El Libre and David D Omni.

Omni, who calls himself an "artevista" or art-activist, said he was harassed at the airport upon his arrival by Panamanian customs agents, who warned him not to make trouble or he'd be deported back to Cuba, a complaint echoed by other Cuban dissidents in town for the summit.

Still, he said was excited to share a stage with other Cuban rappers whose lyrics denounce the Castro regime – an event that would be near impossible to pull off in their home country. He said Cuban rappers are unique because they're less concerned with the material trappings that U.S. rappers tend to glamorize and instead focus on social issues and everyday life.

"Cuban hip hop is different," Omni said. "You know you're not going to make money. You rap because you have something to say."

Over the past decade, Cuban hip hop has been one of the main forms of expressing dissent on the island. But it hasn't been without its controversy. A report by the Associated Press last year alleged that the U.S. Agency for International Development attempted to recruit hip hop artists to foster unrest among the country's youth, a charge the artists denied.

The hip hop artists have continued to put out music, often shared through amateur videos on YouTube and many denouncing the Cuban government. Few other artists, singers or political dissidents have been criticizing the Castro government as explicitly and forcefully as Cuban rappers, said Adolfo Leyva, a history professor at Florida State University's Panama campus and an organizer of Thursday's event.

"These people are the ones pushing the envelope," he said.

At the concert, the rappers took the stage in front of a wall flashing images of the Cuban flag, Cuban highways or Havana neighborhoods. Several of them called for the release of artist Danilo Maldonado, known as "El Sexto," who was jailed by Cuban authorities in December for attempting to release two hogs in a public square scrawled with the names "Fidel" and "Raul" – Cuba's iconic leaders.

Gorkí Aguila, front man for Cuban punk band Porno Para Ricardo and an outspoken government critic, played a solo set, including a song mocking Cuban President Raúl Castro, in town for the summit. "I'm here because … well, any chance I have to denounce the Castro government, I'll take it," Aguila said on stage to cheers from the crowd.

One of the headliners of the event was rapper Silvito El Libre, who's father, Silvio Rodriguez, is a renown Cuban musician and favorite of the Cuban government. As his son's rap concert got under way, Rodriguez led his own concert across town, sponsored by Cuban authorities.

Lounging outside the theater before the show, Silvito said he doesn't like to talk about this father. But he said he hopes improved relations with the USA lead to real changes on the island, something that's been elusive for years.

"I think the Cuban government should hand over control to the new generation, to new ideas," he said. "So far, we haven't seen much change."

WSJ Editorial: Summiting With Raul

From The Wall Street Journal's Editorial Board:

Summiting With Raúl

President Obama courts the Cuban, who is playing hard to get.

President Obama arrived in Panama on Thursday for the 7th Summit of the Americas, where he will share the limelight and probably some public interaction with Raúl Castro. Mark it down as another legacy moment for the U.S. President, whose predecessors since 1959 have refused to legitimize the Cuban regime. So many dictators, so little time left before Jan. 20, 2017.

The meet-and-greet continues Mr. Obama’s attempt to reconcile with Cuba’s Communist regime, though the Castros are proving to be hard negotiators—like, you know, the Iranians. Mr. Obama has offered an economic lifeline and the promise of diplomatic recognition, while asking nothing in return. Raúl has responded by raising his demands.

Fidel’s little brother now says he won’t move on normalization until Mr. Obama hands over Guantanamo and takes Cuba off the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. Mr. Obama is waiting for a review of a State Department analysis on the terror list, but he’s sounding increasingly impatient. We look forward to hearing how Mr. Obama handles Cuba’s harboring of Basque and Colombian terrorists, plus the odd U.S. fugitive.

Since Mr. Obama agreed to a prisoner swap and a path to normal relations in December, arbitrary political detentions in Cuba have increased. The Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami documented 178 political detentions in January, 492 in February and 610 in March.

Cuban repression is also a road show these days, with Raúl’s enforcers this week assaulting Cubans and Cuban-Americans in Panama who had traveled to the summit for a civil society forum. The State Department condemned the violence, though it managed to avoid mentioning Cuba in its statement. You wouldn’t want a diplomatic incident.

Cuba’s South American bestie, Venezuela, will also make a splash at the summit by denouncing America’s minor sanctions. President Nicolás Maduro’s political prisoners back home include the mayor of Caracas, the former mayor of San Cristóbal, and former presidential candidate Leopoldo López.

In better news, 21 former Latin American presidents, including Colombia’s Álvaro Uribe, Chile’s Sebastián Piñera, El Salvador’s Alfredo Cristiani and Felipe Calderón and Vicente Fox from Mexico, as well as former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar, have signed a declaration calling for the immediate release of Mr. Maduro’s prisoners and asking the summiteers to support Venezuelan democracy.

These leaders hail from a day when the summit’s goal was promoting freedom and faster growth in the Western Hemisphere. These days it’s all about the dance of Raúl and Barack.

More Attacks in Panama Against Cuban Dissidents

This morning, Castro regime officials and agents again blocked the entry of any Cuban dissident leaders from the premises of the Hotel Panama, where they had been invited to participate in the Summit's Civil Society Forum.

Castro regime agents have physically assaulted dissident leaders Guillermo Fariñas and Pedro Vidal.

Moreover, they have cornered Rosa Maria Paya, Manuel Cuesta Morua and Eliecer Avila, and impeded their movement anywhere.

It's truly mind-boggling why the Obama Administration continues to reward such violence and misbehavior from the Castro regime (even outside their own country).

In Jamaica, Obama Reveals Cuba Policy Contradiction (and Reasons for Concern)

During a town hall today at Jamaica's University of the West Indies, President Obama contradicted himself and gave us (even more) reason to be concerned about his Cuba policy.

Obama first repeated the -- ad nauseam -- talking point that he's unilaterally changing Cuba policy because:

"We will continue to have some differences with the Cuban government, but we don’t want to be imprisoned by the past. When something doesn’t work for 50 years, you don’t just keep on doing it; you try something new."

But then, a few minutes later, he recommended to Jamaica and the CARICOM nations:

"What I would say to Caribbean countries is, absolutely, you should continue to engage in Cuba in the ways that you’ve already doing -- you’ve already done in the past."

Huh?

So the United States should change its past policy, which conditioned normalization to freedom, democracy and human rights for the Cuban people; but the Caribbean nations (and the rest of Latin America) should continue their past policies of unconditionally embracing the Castro dictatorship?

Why is one policy considered a "failure" and not the other?

And then, Obama gives Cuba's dictatorship a pass -- raising serious concerns:

"I don’t expect every country to pursue the same policies or have the same political practices as the United States."

This line is straight out of Havana's talking points.

In other words, Cuba's totalitarian dictatorship is just "different."

This was also the theme of the Summit host, Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela, who stated:

"[The Summit] is the beginning of a new era of relations based on respect for different systems of government."

Again, Cuba's totalitarian dictatorship is just "different."

We've said it before and we'll say it again -- Obama's Cuba policy is endangering democracy in the region.

Must-Read: Cuban Pro-Freedom Resistance Needs U.S. Support

By Christy Stutzman in The Washington Times:

Cuban Pro-Freedom Resistance Needs U.S. Support

A day before President Obama was scheduled to attend the Summit of the America’s in Panama, Cuban government enforcers brutally attacked several pro-democracy demonstrators taking part in a peaceful march in Panama City.  One of the attackers has been identified as Col. Alexis Frutos Weeden, who is the head of Cuban intelligence in Venezuela. During the attack, a U.S. citizen, Orlando Gutierrez, was pulled from a vehicle and beaten while trying to leave the scene of the mob. Mr. Gutierrez is the national secretary of the Cuban Democratic Directorate, a group that works to improve the human rights situation in Cuba. This is par for the course in Cuba, but such aggressive action taken in broad daylight in Panama City shows an emboldened totalitarian regime now flexing its political will internationally.

And why wouldn’t they be emboldened? For over half a century, they’ve bullied and intimidated their own people, forcing many into a desperate and sometimes deadly trek over perilous waters for a chance at freedom in America. Untold thousands have died trying to cross to freedom. Cuba’s story of communism is horrific but familiar; we’ve seen the same iron grip of despotic regimes on a people before — the Soviet Union, North Korea, Iran, etc. Without exception, the government controls everything, including money, food or aid coming into the country. They ration basic necessities and offer extra benefits as rewards to those citizens willing to spy on their families, friends and neighbors. They deny the general public any access to outside information via radio, television, the internet or wireless connections. Telephones are monitored. Churches are watched and guarded. Even protests are infiltrated by informers and government thugs. Cuban government enforcers have held tight control of Venezuelan police for decades and even taught the military of the old Soviet Union some lessons in communist intimidation and control.

It’s important to note that the Cuban government has not changed its stance, and its actions in the past two years continue to reveal the adversarial intent of the Castro regime toward America and her allies. Twice in the past two years, the Castro regime has been caught red-handed attempting to smuggle illegal arms shipments to and from North Korea or China. On Feb. 26 of this year, the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere held a public hearing titled “The President’s New Cuba Policy and US National Security” to discuss Mr. Obama’s push to remove Cuba from the State Department’s terrorism list. Cuba provides military, police and intelligence advisers to Venezuela to monitor and repress dissenters. There is also an ongoing investigation of the case of 173 Venezuelan passports being issued to Islamist radicals in an attempt to allow them to enter Canada. The testimony also included cases of attempts to sell U.S. state secrets to the governments of Iran, Syria and Russia, and the Castro regime’s attempt to recruit and infiltrate spies in the U.S. government.

So why would the Obama administration insist on establishing normal relations with such a despotic, adversarial regime? Why would it be intent on taking Cuba off the list of terrorist regimes? Has Cuba changed? Is freedom of speech being recognized or embraced? Are protesters allowed to demonstrate in peace without fear of imprisonment, torture or death? Are the people being given honest representation in their government?

Unfortunately, the answer to all of these questions is a resounding no. Nothing has changed. In fact, the famous “Ladies in White” of Cuba, who bravely walk in peaceful protest carrying nothing but flowers in an effort to ask that their loved ones be released from wrongful imprisonments are being attacked more often and more brutally than ever before. The Cuban people use their amazing resourcefulness and ingenuity to figure out when and where they might have a few minutes of access to wireless networks to send out messages and ask for help.

If we want to affect true change, we’re going about it all wrong. We look around the world and think, “If other counties travel there, maybe we’ve got it wrong. Maybe if we’re nice, they’ll start to be nice. If we just spend our money in Cuba and lift our sanctions, they’ll mature and start acting better.” Wishful thinking at best. The government still owns everything and any money coming in doesn’t boost the Cuban economy — it boosts the oppressive Cuban government. There’s a big difference.

It’s time to listen to Cuban-Americans advocating for their former homeland. They’re telling us that there is a solution and it’s pretty simple.  If we truly want to support the expansion of freedom and democracy in Cuba, if we want to support the people of Cuba, we must support the Pro-Freedom Resistance. Led by courageous men and women who have intentionally decided to stay and fight for freedom in Cuba, the resistance movement is well- organized and growing. If we want to help, we must learn the names of the leaders and spread the word about their brave attempts at freedom. Share their stories and denounce their oppressors openly. Refuse to spend our money at the government-owned resorts.

As much as other nations believe they are helping the economy of Cuba by vacationing in their government-owned resorts, they’re not. The Cuban people never benefit from tourist dollars — the government does. The well-meaning vacationers are actually subsidizing the continuing oppression of the Cuban people.

Sometimes, tough love is necessary, and America is the only nation that has held out hope for Cuba by keeping sanctions in place on the brutal Castro regime. For America to legitimize such a tyrannical government in any way, strips hope from the heart of the desperate Cuban resistance movement. The Cuban people understand what is at stake and they are counting on America to stay strong, to limit their government as much as possible until the people of Cuba have again gained power.

Mr. Obama has heard the pleas of Cuban-Americans, but has chosen to legitimize the Castro government with his actions. His “feel-good” gesture of foreign relations is all wrong, because it supports the wrong side. It supports the powerful and privileged oppressors, not the people. I’m “Just Sayin’, haven’t we always sought to promote freedom, the rule of law and free elections in every corner of the globe?  We can’t give up on those who are bravely facing imprisonment, torture and even death in order to gain a chance at freedom just a few miles from our shores.  

Attacker of Americans Identified as Head of Cuban Intelligence in Venezuela

One of the attackers of a group of American citizens and Cuban dissident leaders yesterday at the Parque Porras in Panama City has been identified as Col. Alexis Frutos Weeden, who is the head of Cuban intelligence in Venezuela.

The top picture is of Col. Frutos Weeden with the high command of Venezuela's military. 

The bottom two pictures are of Col. Frutos Weeden assaulting Orlando Gutierrez, head of the Democratic Directorate, yesterday in Panama.

Click here for a write-up on Col. Frutos Weeden (in Spanish) by Fidel Castro's former bodyguard, Juan Reynaldo Sanchez. 



No Summit Declaration, No Dialogue With Cuban Dissidents -- What's the Point of Inviting Castro?

At the last Summit of the Americas (2012) in Cartagena, Colombia, there was no final declaration due to a disagreement over whether totalitarian Cuba should be invited to participate in this club of democracies.

Now, Cuba has been invited, the Democracy Clause of the Summit process has been violated -- and still there will be no final declaration.

So what was the point?

Meanwhile, senior Castro regime official, Abel Prieto, who led the harassment of Cuban dissidents that were invited to participate in the Summit's Civil Society Forum, had this to say:

"It’s not possible to ask Cuba to dialogue with puppets of these special services agencies in the U.S. We can’t legitimize that opposition which is absolutely fabricated; it doesn’t have any weight, it doesn’t have any real connection to our society. It’s just people who are seeking a way of life."

Again, what was the point of inviting Cuba's dictatorship?

Other than to agitate, intimidate, harass peaceful opponents -- and to still oppose U.S. policy and a democratic regional agenda -- no matter how much outreach and concessions Obama gives them.

Oh, that's right, it's all about a photo-op.

From EFE:

No joint declaration from Summit after early Venezuela-U.S. tensions

The Seventh Summit of the Americas will end without a joint declaration due to Venezuela's demand that it include a condemnation of sanctions the United States has imposed on it.

Delegates including foreign ministers from 35 American countries met on Thursday ahead of the Summit and agreed that Panama, as the event's host, should in lieu of a joint declaration draft a final report of the meeting.

That report will clarify any consensus reached at the Summit, convened under the motto "Prosperity with equity."

Sources at the meeting revealed that officials representing U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry vetoed Venezuela's demand.

The same sources revealed that Venezuela spoke with the backing of the vast majority of Latin American and Caribbean governments including Cuba, making its debut at the Summit following its rapprochement with the United States.

N.Y. Post: An ‘Obama Doctrine’ Fail: Cuba Still Won’t Love Us

Thursday, April 9, 2015
By Benny Avni in The New York Post:

An ‘Obama doctrine’ fail: Cuba still won’t love us

With a kiss on the cheek from President Obama, or at least a handshake, Cuba’s brutal Castro brothers are about to gain a stomach-turning dose of regional respectability.

The two men will cross paths at the Organization of American States’ seventh summit, a meeting of 35 Western hemisphere heads of state that kicks off today in Panama.

Cuba was finally invited to attend the two-day affair this year.

Because the Communist regime’s membership in the OAS has been suspended in 1962 (it only accepts democracies as members), and because in past years Washington insisted Cuba be banned from the summit, the island nation wasn’t being invited before.

But this year, the United States dropped its objections, and so Cuban President Raul Castro and Obama can be expected to hug it out like the bros they’re fast becoming.

It’s all part of something that — thanks to New York Times columnist Tom Friedman’s recent interview with the president — is now known as “the Obama Doctrine”: Our enemies will get less enemy-ish, maybe even less ruthless, if we just make nice with them.

Since allowing Cuba to become our new buddy-next-door doesn’t pose “many risks for us,” Obama explained, why not try ending isolation?

As Obama told NPR’s Steve Inskeep, Havana’s transformation may not be quick, but there’s “a great hunger within Cuba to begin a change, a process that ultimately, I think, can lead to more freedom and more opportunity.”

So how’s that working out for ya so far, Mr. President?

Actually, not so good.

Start with something small, like the freedom to use the Internet. Fans of Obama’s new opening to Havana hail the recent visit there by Google executives, who promise to spread the Net’s magic throughout the country. And the home-renting Web site Airbnb snared 1,000 Cuban listings in mere two months.

But so far, only 5 percent of Cubans have Internet access. The government continues to make sure that high costs and restrictions prevent everyone else from logging on.

And so, the vast majority of those Airbnb listings are controlled by a handful of Castro-favored operators. And even if, as promised, 50 percent of Cubans will be online by 2020 (a big if), expect more censorship than even in China.

Meanwhile, much was made back in December of Obama’s plan to restore relations with Havana, and the Castros’ promise to release political prisoners.

Since then, Havana has perfected new forms of oppression, arbitrarily arresting hundreds more prisoners on various pretexts: Some 610 dissidents were arrested in March alone.

As Havana-watcher Maria Werlau of the Miami-based Cuba Archive group says, since the opening with Washington, “There’s an air of new impunity [within the Cuban regime].

The authorities taunt dissidents, telling them, ‘hey, nobody will protect you now.’ ”

Havana’s agents even go off-island to do their dirty work: Known Cuban dissidents, such as independent lawyer Laritza Diversent, activist Rosa Maria Paya and others, were detained and harassed this week upon arrival at Panama’s Tocumen airport.

On Wednesday, activists in Panama City were beaten as they tried to stage an anti-Castro march.

Meanwhile, Havana has actually made new demands — such as that American hand Guantanamo to Cuba and that the State Department take Cuba off its list of terror-supporting states, right away.

Both should be non-starters. For example, given the Castros’ support for Colombian narco-terrorists and other subversive activities in the region, even Foggy Bottom’s most brilliant legal minds will have a hard time finding grounds for Cuba’s removal from the list.

Things go, uh, south from there.

Heck, we can’t even get the Castros and their cat’s paws to stop bashing America for all their failures: Word is Cuban lapdog and benefactor, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, will ambush Obama at the Panama summit with a petition signed by 10 million people denouncing our president for saying Caracas is a “security threat.”

No, things may look rosy for Cuba with Obama’s gesture, but there’s nary a sign the Castros and their allies will end their hostility toward the Yanquis — or that the love Obama envisions will ever be a two-way-street affair.

It’s early yet, but Cuba may soon serve as a lesson to anyone holding out hope from that Obama Doctrine: Don’t.

Oppression and anti-American hostility are in the DNA of regimes like those in Havana, Pyongyang and Tehran. Showing them love won’t change them for the better but will only contribute to spreading their evil.

Speaker Boehner Denounces Attacks on Cuban Democracy Leaders

Speaker Boehner Calls on President Obama to Denounce Attacks on Cuban Democracy Leaders

WASHINGTON, DC – House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) today called on President Obama to condemn attacks on a group of Cuban democracy leaders, who were attacked yesterday by supporters of Raul Castro’s communist regime at a peaceful protest in advance of the Summit of the Americas in Panama:

The assault on Cuban democracy protestors in Panama City, including Jorge Luis García Pérez – who attended the State of the Union as my guest this year – is an outrage and a reminder of the brutal character of the Castro regime. It raises serious questions about the wisdom of revisiting diplomatic relations with Cuba and removing the country from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terror while this dictatorship, which practices repression at home and supports violence throughout the region, continues to hold power. I hope that President Obama, if and when he has a conversation with the Cuban dictator during the Organization of American States summit, will take the opportunity to condemn this violence in the strongest possible terms and reaffirm that the United States should and must always stand on the side of human rights and democracy against Communist tyranny.

NOTE: One of those Cuban Resistance leaders who was beaten in the Panama attacks was Jorge Luis Garcia Pérez, known as “Antúnez,” who was a guest of Speaker Boehner at the president’s State of the Union address this year. Antunez is a leader of a non-violent movement for human rights and democracy in Cuba. He spent more than 17 years in jail as a political prisoner, after being arrested for publicly denouncing the oppressive Castro regime. Since his release from prison in 2007, Antunez has continued to advocate for the freedoms and rights of all Cubans. In an interview, Antunez stressed his commitment to this movement, “I think that my faith in the ideas for which I fight never ceased and never will cease. I believe that faith in God and in this just cause which I defend is what helped me survive.”

American Citizens Beaten by Castro Agents in Panama

A half-dozen Cuban dissident leaders and American citizens were attacked this afternoon by a group of Castro regime agents in Panama City.

The activists were placing flowers at the statue of Cuban independence hero, Jose Marti, when approached by a group of Castro regime agents, who began to violently beat them.

Among those attacked were a group of American citizens, including Orlando Gutierrez of the Democratic Directorate, Silvia Iriondo of Mothers Against Repression and Gus Monge.

The Cuban dissidents include former political prisoner Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez," his wife Yris Perez Aguilera and Leticia Ramos Herreria of The Ladies in White.

The Panamanian police watched as the attack took place.  Then, it detained the Cuban dissident leaders and American citizens. Meanwhile, the Castro regime agents were allowed to walk.

They are currently being held in the San Francisco detention facility -- facing deportation to Cuba and the United States, respectively.

Also, this afternoon, at the Summit's Civil Society Forum, Cuban dissident leaders, including Rosa Maria Paya and Roberto de Jesus Guerra, were blocked from entering the convention hall by a Castro regime delegation.

The regime delegation that disrupted the Forum was headed by Raul Castro's confidant, former Minister of Culture (and head censor), Abel Prieto.

This is what happens when you grant Cuba's dictatorship unmerited membership to a club of democracies.

USA Today: Cuba Still Provides Sanctuary for Wanted Terrorists

It's unclear why CSIS's Carl Meacham tries to use the "repairs" excuse for Cuba's illegal weapons trafficking to North Korea, when the U.N. Panel of Experts' Report specifically called-out Castro's regime for this lie:

"It is the Panel’s view that examining individually the items and their handling suggest that some, if not all, of the consignment was not expected to be returned to Cuba."

From USA Today:

Cuba still provides sanctuary for wanted terrorists

President Obama is weighing whether to remove Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism even as the island nation maintains ties with nations such as North Korea and continues to provide a sanctuary for militants.

Obama plans to meet Cuban President Raúl Castro at a summit of the Americas in Panama on Friday and Saturday as he awaits a State Department review of whether Cuba still belongs on its list of terror sponsors.

Removal from the list after 33 years would allow American banks and businesses to operate in Cuba and remove an impediment to full diplomatic relations with the United States.

The State Department has sent a recommendation to the White House that Cuba be removed from the list, CNN reported Wednesday. It said the White House could announce the change as soon as Thursday, citing two unidentified administration officials.

To remove Cuba from the list, U.S. officials must find that Cuba has not engaged in acts of terrorism in the previous six months and has made assurances it will not do so in the future. If Obama decides to remove Cuba from the list, he must submit a report to Congress, which will have 45 days to block the move or allow it to happen.

The most difficult obstacle to overcome is the sanctuary Cuba continues to offer those deemed terrorists by the U.S. government.

They include members of a violent Spanish separatist movement, the Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA), which the State Department estimates has killed more than 800 people since the 1960s.

Cuba has also provided safe haven to members of the Colombian guerrilla army known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which has been waging a civil war with the Colombian government since the 1960s.

In addition, Cuba is providing refuge for dozens of U.S. fugitives, including one of the FBI's most wanted terrorists — Joanne Chesimard, a member of the Black Liberation Army. She shot and killed a New Jersey State Police trooper execution-style in 1973. She received a life sentence but escaped prison and made her way to Cuba.

"It is essential to recognize that the Castro regime has a long track record of providing sanctuary to terrorists and harboring U.S. fugitives who have murdered American citizens, while undermining national security," Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., wrote in a Feb. 26 letter to Secretary of State John Kerry. "Before Cuba is removed from (the list), the Castro regime must be held to account for these acts and American fugitives must be brought back to face justice in the U.S."

Cuba's stance on accepting international fugitives has been changing, however. Earlier this year, the State Department concluded that "Cuba's ties to ETA have become more distant." The government says it no longer accepts ETA members for sanctuary and has moved eight of the two dozen ETA members out of the country.

Cuba's relationship with the FARC has also changed as Havana has become the host city for multiple rounds of peace negotiations between the guerrilla movement and Colombia's government. That process has been praised by the United Nations and the United States, which appointed a special envoy to the negotiations earlier this year.

While Cuba continues to deny American requests to extradite Chesimard and others, a Congressional Research Service report last August found that Cuba has returned fugitives in three cases in recent years.

Cuba's support of rogue regimes is another source of controversy. In the past two years, it has twice been caught shipping military equipment in violation of international laws.

In March, Colombian officials arrested the captain of a Chinese ship headed for Cuba that contained 100 tons of gunpowder, 2.6 million detonators and other military equipment. And in July 2013, Panamanian authorities stopped a North Korean ship trying to cross the Panama Canal. After digging through 200,000 bags of Cuban sugar, they found containers filled with surface-to-air missile systems, two disassembled MiG-21 aircraft and other military equipment.

Cuba can argue that it is forced to buy spare military parts from nations such as North Korea because the still-to-be-lifted U.S. economic embargo and being on the terror list bar Cuba from dealing with U.S. suppliers, says Carl Meacham, director of the America's Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"They can't go to Boeing and say, 'Hey, we have to refurbish our tanks and our planes and our helicopters' because they've operating as a pariah country," Meacham said. "They've been isolated."

Cuba also remains a close ally of Venezuela, where President Nicolás Maduro has suppressed anti-government protests and arrested political opponents.

Despite such activities, the State Department has concluded that Cuba's days as a global promoter of terrorism and armed insurrections are over. "There was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups (in the past year)," the State Department said in a report this year.

That does not satisfy critics who say Cuba continues to behave badly.

"I think the Obama administration has already made a political decision to remove Cuba from the list," said Mauricio Claver-Carone, executive director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, which opposed Obama's decision to re-establish diplomatic ties with Cuba. "But if the assessment is made on facts and law, it's very difficult to remove them."

Florida House Votes to Oppose Obama's Cuba Policy

New, young generation of Cuban-American elected leaders make another strong statement.

From The Miami Herald:

Florida House votes to oppose Cuba policy

The Florida House on Wednesday took a formal position against President Obama's decision to reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba.

The vote came two days before Obama is scheduled to see Cuban leader Raúl Castro at the Summit of the Americas in Panama. Republican Reps. Manny Diaz, Jr. and Jeanette Núñez said it was important to send a strong message in advance of the gathering.

"We are truly the last best hope for the Cuban people," Núñez said.

The measure is largely symbolic. In addition to expressing "profound disagreement" with the president's decision, it also opposes the opening of a Cuban consulate in Florida.

Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aventura, said the action didn't go far enough.

But Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, said it was the only tool available to state lawmakers.

"There's nothing else that we could possibly do," Trujillo said. "I wish I could tell you that Speaker [Steve] Crisafulli was going to send our powerful armada to Cuba and liberate it and free it."

Núñez said the measure was more than rhetoric.

"It matters because it is about the people," she said. "It's about freedom. It's about liberty that we enjoy and they don't."

The Florida Senate took a similar vote last month.

State lawmakers will now send a formal petition urging Congress to uphold the embargo.

Menendez: White House Pressure to Remove Cuba From Terrorism List is Alarming

Wednesday, April 8, 2015
Menendez Statement on Removing Cuba from the List of State Sponsors of Terrorism

U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) issued the below statement following multiple press reports that the U.S. State Department is closing in on a decision to recommend the removal of Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list.

A recommendation to remove Cuba from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism would represent another significant misstep in a misguided policy, and it is both discouraging and alarming to read about unwarranted pressure from the White House to rush the State Department’s review process.

As the Castro regime continues to provide sanctuary to Joanne Chesimard, who is on the FBI’s list of Most Wanted Terrorists for murdering a New Jersey State Trooper, the Obama Administration is ceding critical leverage in our efforts to bring a brazen criminal to justice. This decision would also ignore the fact that Cuba is harboring dozens of American fugitives – including cop killers, plane hijackers, bomb makers, and arms traffickers – and Basque terrorists wanted by the Government of Spain.

In 2013, Cuba was caught colluding with North Korea to smuggle jets, missile batteries, and other weaponry in direct violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions. And, earlier this month, the Government of Colombia detained a Chinese ship trafficking explosives and arms to Cuba.

The Castro regime’s utter disregard for international security standards should not be rewarded with continued concessions from the United States, and any decision to remove Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism must have close scrutiny by the Congress.”

The Government of Cuba’s Record:

- The Government of Cuba continues to provide sanctuary to American fugitive Joanne Chesimard, who is on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s list of Most Wanted Terrorists, for her role in the murder of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster.

- The Government of Cuba is harboring convicted arms trafficker Frank Terpil; Charles Hill, who is wanted for murdering a New Mexico State Police officer and hijacking a civilian plane; Guillermo Morales, a convicted arson wanted in connection with the 1975 bombing of New York’s Fraunces Tavern; and dozens of American fugitives.

- The Government of Cuba continues to provide sanctuary to Basque terrorists from the Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), despite ongoing requests for extradition presented by the Government of Spain as recently as March 2015. The Department of State has designated ETA as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.

- In March 2015, the Government of Colombia seized over 100 tons of military grade explosives and munitions being trafficked illicitly to Cuba aboard a Chinese ship.

- In June 2013, the Government of Cuba colluded with the Government of North Korea in an attempt to smuggle 240 metric tons of weapons – including MiG jets, missile batteries, and explosives – through the Panama Canal. This incident constituted, to date, the single largest violation of United Nations Security Council sanctions against North Korea.

- Senior members of the Cuba military – including the former head of the Cuban Air Force, General Rubén Martínez Puente, and Cuban pilots Lorenzo Alberto Pérez-Pérez and Francisco Pérez-Pérez – are the subject of open federal indictments pending in the United States for the 1996 shoot down of American civilian planes operated by the Brothers to the Rescue humanitarian organization.

IBD Editorial: Obama's Amateur-Hour Foreign Policy in the Americas

From Investors Business Daily's Editorial Board:

Obama's Amateur-Hour Foreign Policy In The Americas

Seeking applause at a summit in Panama, President Obama vowed to swiftly remove Cuba as a state sponsor of terror. It just shows how his foreign policy runs — for political convenience, not national security.

As he headed off to the Summit of the Americas in Panama, President Obama tossed a tidbit for the region's tyrants that's expected to be a crowd-pleaser: A vow to quickly lift the State Department's designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terror.

The move would let the communist dictatorship buy weapons from the U.S., gain dual-use technologies, end some financial sanctions and open Cuba to foreign aid.

And as for whether Cuba really was a state sponsor of terror and a threat to the U.S., well, that was secondary. Given the huge number of State Department political appointees, an independent assessment isn't possible.

Pressure to lift the designation has come from the Cuban regime as a precondition for opening a U.S. embassy in Havana. Obama said he hoped to open it by the April 10-11 summit. It's also come as Cuban client Venezuela has tried to force the U.S. to lift sanctions on its corrupt officials. More free stuff for Cuba in the form of lifting this sanction, with nothing asked in return, might just take the edge off.

Speaking in an interview Tuesday with National Public Radio, President Obama said the only reason he hasn't lifted the terrorist designation already was that he was waiting for a State Department report.

"As soon as I get a recommendation, I'll be in a position to act on it," Obama told NPR.

That says a lot about what's wrong with his foreign policy. It's not about facts on the ground, historic precedent or, heaven forbid, national security or U.S. interests. It's about being popular with dictators, pleasing his supporters, and "making history." In short, politics.

The reality is that the Cuban regime has a dangerous, half-century history as a state sponsor of terror. Cuba was the originator of the 51-year terror war in Colombia, with Cuban "revolutionaries" providing training for FARC as well as the ELN, a terror group it founded.

It launched a reign of terror in Chile in the 1970s and Cuba's violent agents and their acts were the basis for "the dirty war" across South America at that time.

Cuba also fomented and fostered terrorism in Europe, providing arms and haven to Spain's Basque ETA and Northern Ireland's Irish Republican Army.

In 1964, Cuba planned the first 9/11 — a massive terror attack in the subways under Bloomingdale's, Macy's and other retailers on the busiest shopping day of the year in New York City, in a plot foiled by the FBI.

The Cuban regime also harbors U.S. fugitives who have engaged in terrorist acts. As recently as 2007, the State Department estimated that Cuba shelters about 70 cop-killers, revolutionaries, hijackers and other criminals, and has refused to return them to justice.

Call it ancient history, but remember that these are people Obama's now dealing with.

Sure, the Castro brothers today rely on elected leftists to become dictators in democracy's clothing. But they still engage in terror. Cuban agents run Venezuela's identification system, its electrical system, its internal spies, its agriculture and much of its military.

These aren't mere advisers, but trainers of Venezuela's violent, armed, drug-trafficking paramilitaries, called "colectivos," who also terrorize Venezuela's dissidents, according to Mauricio Claver-Carone, writing in the World Affairs journal.

"Last month's executive order by Obama declaring Venezuela as a national security threat and sanctioning seven senior government officials — with well-known links to Cuba's military and security services . . . underscores this menace," he wrote. More to the point, last year, Cuba was caught red-handed with 240 tons of heavy weaponry headed for North Korea.

Last February, a Chinese-flagged ship bound for Havana was caught in Cartagena, Colombia, with an unregistered cargo of 100 tons of gunpowder, 2.6 million detonators, 99 missile heads and 3,000 artillery shells that the Colombian army suspected was meant for FARC. Obama's foreign policy team has mostly been mum. It just wants Cuba off the terror list to get that embassy up and damn the consequences or the kind of damage Cuba can do. It's foreign policy amateur hour.

Quote of the Day: Obama Sends Wrong Message to Latin America

Like many U.S. liberals, President Obama sees Latin America and the Caribbean as a bundle of grievances against an imperious superpower. Rather than offering straight talk on Venezuela's lawlessness and corruption, Obama pretends not to notice the country's descent into chaos. Rather than engage Brazil and Mexico on transparency and private-sector growth, he leaves them to fend for themselves. Rather than help Central Americans maximize the benefits of free trade, he watches them retreat to cronyism and dysfunction. Rather than defend the rights of Cubans, he caves to Castro. 
-- Amb. Roger Noriega, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Real Clear World, 4/9/15

As Predicted, Obama's Cuba Deal Goes From Bad to Worse

This week, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and The Miami Herald have all expressed grave concern about the the Castro regime's continued repression and regional misbehavior, despite its December 17th deal with (and concessions from) Obama.

Even The New York Times sounded a note of disillusionment. The biggest "accomplishments" they could could note were a visit to Cuba by Google executives and Airbnb's renting of "casa particulares." Of course, it fails to mention that none of these "developments" were legally prohibited prior to Obama's December 17th deal -- hence rendering the President's concessions gratuitous.

Meanwhile, this week's Summit of the Americas promises to be another embarrassment -- again, despite Obama's Cuba concessions.

Seeking amelioration, the President has sent former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, Tom Shannon, to Caracas today to plead with Nicolas Maduro to play nice. And is pressuring the State Department to expedite its de-listing of Cuba's terrorism designation, so he can hand over another unmerited gift to Castro.

Even Chris Sabatini, formerly of the Council of the Americas, and original team cheerleader for Obama's inclusion of Cuba in the Summit, has a piece in Foreign Policy noting the impending disaster.

Unfortunately -- because it provides us no pleasure -- we predicted this back in January ("Obama Give Cuba a Hemispheric Coup," The Huffington Post, January 11, 2015):

"[T]hose who lobbied Obama to attend the Summit regardless of the violation of the 'democracy clause' weren't to be satisfied with his attendance alone. They also wanted the President to arrive with a gift bag for Cuba that includes a further lifting of U.S. sanctions. That, they argued, will ensure a warm reception for Obama from 'troubled' Latin American leaders. And naturally, Castro would be thrilled.

If this sounds familiar, it's because the exact same arguments were made in the months and weeks leading up to the 2009 Summit of the Americas in Trinidad. Just days before that summit, the Obama Administration did ease sanctions against Cuba. Despite this 'gesture,' Obama was not received in Trinidad as a hero. He was treated as a pushover. Then Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez even engineered a photo-op with the President that featured copies of anti-American book, Open Veins of Latin America. Latin America's 'extreme Left' considers the book to be its bible. (The author, Eduardo Galeano, has recently disavowed his creation.)"

Even more concerning is the damage to regional democracy that has been accelerated by Obama's short-sighted Cuba deal.

Last month, The Economist fretted -- "Venezuela's 'Bolivarian' regime is lurching from authoritarianism to dictatorship."

And what's to stop it?

If Obama has opened the doors to Cuba's totalitarian dictatorship, then why not Venezuela's authoritarian dictatorship?

How will the U.S. argue for the Democracy Clause and the Inter-American Democratic Charter, when it has already been violated (with Obama's support) this Summit?

What will happen if (when) Maduro decides to dispense with this fall's parliamentary elections?

Unfortunately, we also predicted this -- over a year ago ("Latin America Has Democracy, But Lacks Democrats," The Hill, February 10, 2014):

"What inhibits (Maduro et al.) is the institutionalization of "representative democracy" as the backbone of hemispheric relations, as was agreed upon in the 2001 Inter-American Democratic Charter signed by 34 of the 35 countries of the Western Hemisphere. To skirt the Charter, they try to manipulate laws and institutions and exert greater executive control while maintaining a facade of democracy.

The biggest deterrent to breaking their public commitments to 'representative democracy' is the omnipresent economic isolation of Cuba as the result of U.S. sanctions. So these leaders pay homage to Castro and engage in fiery rhetoric, but tip-toe around serious aggression. They are keenly aware that they need the United States to survive economically. A case in point is Venezuela, whose struggling economy is entirely dependent on exporting oil to the United States. Thus U.S. sanctions on Cuba serve as 'the stick' to 'the carrot' of the Inter-American Democratic Charter and obeisance, if not enforcement, of its principles.

It's precisely the authoritarian underbelly of these Latin American leaders that makes them such zealous lobbyists for the end of U.S. sanctions on Cuba. It's for this reason that they want to see the Castro regime embraced and 'fully integrated' into inter-American system despite its blatant disregard for representative democracy. Such a U.S. policy change would allow them to accelerate their own authoritarian tendencies and free their zeal for absolute power."

Obama Pressures State Department to Expedite Cuba Terrorism Delisting

It appears The White House may be inappropriately pressuring the State Department to hasten its review of the the state-sponsors of terrorism list -- politicizing the legal review process -- so that Obama can provide another unmerited concession to the Castro regime prior to the Summit.

So much for a review based on "the law and facts."

From Reuters:

"Two U.S. officials close to the matter said an inter-agency team carrying out the review was under pressure from high levels of the administration to wrap up their investigation. But the officials said the exact timing was still being worked out and further delays were possible."

WaPo Editorial: Cuba's Shameful Cost-Free Admission to Summit

From The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

Mr. Obama’s opportunity in Panama

President Obama's move to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba in December was supposed to improve political and economic conditions for average Cubans and remove an irritant in U.S. relations with other Latin American nations, which have been pushing to end the isolation of the Castro regime. Four months later — a short time, admittedly — there is no sign of those benefits. According to Cuban human rights groups, political detentions have increased: There were more than 600 in March alone. More than 50  long-term political prisoners are still being held. Several Cuban opposition leaders are banned from leaving the country, which means they cannot attend this week’s Summit of the Americas in Panama.

U.S. and Cuban officials have yet to agree on the terms for reopening embassies. But the Castro regime has nevertheless reaped some substantial gains. Raúl Castro will be welcomed to the Americas summit for the first time; Mr. Obama will shake his hand. In the coming days, Mr. Obama is likely to offer another big concession by removing Cuba from the State Department’s list of sponsors of terrorism, an act that would disregard Cuba’s continued support for Colombia’s terrorist groups, its illegal arms trading with North Korea and the sanctuary it provides American criminal JoAnne Chesimard.

As for other Latin American leaders, they are unlikely to pressure Mr. Castro on his human rights record, as White House officials predicted they would once the stigma of the U.S. diplomatic boycott was lifted. Instead, many may join in an ambush of Mr. Obama being orchestrated by Mr. Castro’s closest ally. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro claims he will arrive in Panama with 10 million signatures of people protesting U.S. sanctions against his government; his ludicrous but loud propaganda campaign has won support even from supposed U.S. allies such as Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.

In vain, U.S. officials have been pointing out that the sanctions are targeted and well justified, aimed at Venezuelan officials complicit in the killing of peaceful demonstrators and jailing of opposition leaders. Seizing on boilerplate legal language in the sanctions order describing Venezuela as a national security threat, Mr. Maduro is once again raising the absurd specter of a U.S. invasion as a way of distracting attention from the calamitous economic crisis his government has fostered. With the Castros’ support, Mr. Maduro will portray himself — rather than the Venezuelan and Cuban political prisoners — as the summit’s star victim.

Mr. Obama should not allow this perversion of the truth to stand. He can call attention to the real heroes of Latin America by meeting with the members of the Cuban and Venezuelan opposition who will be attending civil society gatherings at the summit and endorsing their agendas for peaceful and democratic change. He should ask Mr. Santos and other Latin American leaders why they are ignoring the Inter-American Democratic Charter, a treaty that should compel them to act against regimes that violate democratic norms. Venezuela, a signatory to the treaty, is a clear case; Cuba, which is not a signatory, shames them all with its cost-free admission to what was once a community of democracies.

Top U.S. Military Commander Confirms Russian Navy Ships Near Cuba

From Fox News:

US military commander: Russian military ‘far more capable’ than Soviet Union’s

A top U.S. military commander warned that Russia’s modern military is now “far more capable” than that of the Soviet Union, saying Moscow is “messaging” the United States that “they’re a global power.”

The warning over Russia’s military might from Adm. William Gortney, head of U.S. Northern Command, is the second in as many months.

Gortney disclosed to Congress in March that Russian heavy bombers flew more "out-of-area patrols" last year than in any year "since the Cold War." On Tuesday, he affirmed that Russia’s “long-range” flights are rising – and occurring in places they haven’t before, like near Canada, Alaska and the English Channel.

He also confirmed there are two Russian Navy ships off the shores of the United States, reportedly near Cuba and Venezuela.

Quote of the Day: Steadfast Repression Since Obama's Cuba Deal

We have been seeing that some prisoners of conscience or dissidents have been put back in jail. Some other dissidents have been harassed.
-- Marshelha Goncalves Margerin, Amnesty International advocacy director, on repression in Cuba since Obama's December 17th deal with Raul Castro, VOA, 4/7/15

In Desperate Pre-Summit Play, Obama to Remove Cuba From Terrorism List

Tuesday, April 7, 2015
The Obama Administration knows it's going to get lambasted at this week's Summit of the Americas in Panama City.

Cuba and Venezuela are preparing to embarrass Obama with a petition of 10 million signatures against his recent Executive Order targeting corrupt officials and human rights violators.  They are also preparing an alternative Summit agenda to turn the event into a full-on circus.

This, despite all of the concessions Obama announced towards Cuba on December 17th.

Desperate to change the subject and to try to further charm Castro and Maduro, Obama also wants to announce the removal of Cuba from the state-sponsors of terrorism list before the Summit. Thus, The White House has been pressuring the State Department to do so this week.

As we recently published in the World Affairs Journal, here are five issues to watch how the State Department will either explain-away or simply ignore:

- Cuba is providing sanctuary to US-designated “Foreign Terrorist Organizations.” It’s indisputable that Cuba currently provides sanctuary to terrorists from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army of Colombia (ELN), and Spain’s Basque separatist group, ETA. If the Obama administration no longer believes FARC, ELN, and ETA are terrorist organizations, which would be mind-boggling, then the State Department must first review their designation as “Foreign Terrorist Organizations.” De-listing Cuba as a state-sponsor of terrorism while countenancing its harboring and abetting of terrorist organizations is disingenuous, a folly akin to placing the cart before the horse.

- Cuba is harboring one of the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted Terrorists.” Joanne Chesimard remains among the top ten on the FBI’s list of “Most Wanted Terrorists” for the execution-style murder of a New Jersey state trooper. Chesimard, who the Castro regime has reiterated will not be returned to face justice, is the only “Top Ten” terrorist to be openly living in a state-sponsor nation. Again, if the Obama administration no longer believes that Chesimard is a terrorist—also mind-boggling—it should first remove her from the FBI list.

- Three senior Cuban military officers remain under a US murder indictment. In 2003, a US federal court indicted then-head of the Cuban Air Force, General Rubén Martínez Puente, and two MiG pilots, Lorenzo Alberto Pérez-Pérez and Francisco Pérez-Pérez, for the 1996 shoot-down of two civilian planes—killing four men—over international waters. Three were American citizens, and one a permanent resident. No similar indictment has been issued against any military officials of other nations deemed to be sponsors of terrorism. Emphasizing this challenge, last month Obama extended a national emergency declaration finding that “the Cuban government has not demonstrated that it will refrain from the use of excessive force against US vessels or aircraft that may engage in memorial activities or peaceful protest north of Cuba.”

- Cuba provides material support to subversive and criminal elements in the region. Cuba was originally placed on the terrorism list in 1982 for its training and arming of subversive forces in Africa and the Americas. Today, thousands of Cuban soldiers and intelligence officials are stationed in Venezuela. Their presence and control of Venezuela’s military, police, and intelligence services is subverting democracy in that nation. Cuba has armed and trained violent paramilitary groups, known as colectivos, and remains involved in narcotics trafficking and other criminal activities. Last month’s executive order by Obama declaring Venezuela as a national security threat and sanctioning seven senior government officials—with well-known links to Cuba’s military and security services—for their nefarious activities underscores this menace.

- Cuba has recently lied twice to the international community about smuggling weapons. In a report last year, United Nations officials confirmed Cuba’s attempt to smuggle 240 tons of heavy weaponry to North Korea, hidden under tons of sugar. Panamanian officials discovered the contraband, which the UN panel described as the largest and most egregious violation of international sanctions to date. The panel documented the Castro regime’s lack of cooperation, false statements, and strategy to conceal and deceive UN authorities. And just this month, a Chinese-flagged ship was intercepted in Colombia carrying an illegal cache of weapons destined for Cuba’s military. Thus, what credible “assurances” can the Castro regime give the United States—as required by law—that it will now refrain from rogue activities?

Also, it should address whether the most recent weapons shipment intercepted in Colombia was an effort by Cuba's regime to smuggle weapons for the FARC. See more here.

Weren't Other Nations Supposed to Promote Freedoms in Cuba (Venezuela) Now?

On February, 3rd, 2015, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberto Jacobson testified in the U.S. Senate that President Obama's new Cuba policy was going to now allow us to "effectively" work with other nations to promote human rights and democracy.

Jacobson repeated it over-and-over-and-over again. She even took it a step further:

"We are already seeing indications that our updated approach gives us a greater ability to engage other nations in the hemisphere and around the world in promoting respect for fundamental freedoms in Cuba."

We are?

Please do tell -- for repression in Cuba continues to dramatically rise and we haven't heard a peep from other nations yet.

To the contrary, just last week, Jacobson was expressing her "disappointment" with other nations' unwillingness to defend democracy in Cuba's puppet-state, Venezuela:

"Words matter, and the tone that leaders set is important... The tone that certain (Latin American) leaders are setting is one of demonizing the United States as the source of Venezuela's problems, when we are not, and so that does make it harder for us to move forward pragmatically."

So just how many concessions and how much nose-rubbing of Castro & Co. is necessary for this theory to function?

What Obama's Cuba Deal Looks Like

Monday, April 6, 2015
On Good Friday, the Castro regime sent its military brigades to repress a peaceful protest by Cuban democracy activists.

The man being assaulted in the image below is Marcelino Abreu Bonora -- one the the 53 political prisoners released under the Obama-Castro deal.

Abreu Bonora had his nose and jaw broken in the attack.

Meanwhile, silence from the Obama Administration.

Why cut deals with ruthless regimes, when they are unwilling to uphold their end of the bargain?

Must-Read: Cuba Props Up Venezuelan Strongman

By Matias Ilivitzky in Dissident:

Cuba Props Up Venezuelan Strongman

The Cuban government beard responsibility for violence not just in Cuba, but throughout the region.

After a third round of negotiations between the US and Cuba, held surreptitiously in Havana on March 16, ended only a day after they started, diplomats from both sides refrained from talking to the press. That didn’t stop Cuba’s octogenarian dictator Raul Castro from publicly denouncing America for its tough stance on another brutal Latin American government–Venezuela–and suggesting that the current diplomatic failure is linked to recent American sanctions against top Venezuelan leaders.

The situation in Venezuela is quickly spiraling into chaos. Since President Nicolas Maduro took office in 2013, prices, scarcity, corruption, and political turmoil have all soared. The arbitrary and autocratic nature of the Venezuelan presidency, already inherited from Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez, is again a daily reality. Pressure on independent media, incarceration of prominent opposition leaders (such as the mayor of Caracas), together with a heavy police and military presence in the streets are proof that Maduro’s regime has by now turned into a dictatorship.

Where is Venezuela learning its dirty tricks? The usual suspect in Latin America: Cuba, which has the bizarre honor of being home to the longest-surviving dictatorship in the Western Hemisphere. Since Chavez was first elected president in 1999 ties between Venezuela and Cuba have become progressively tighter. By now Cuban presence in Venezuela is widespread—there are Cuban advisors in the immigration service, the national telecommunication company, and the Interior Ministry. Perhaps most importantly there are Cuban “advisors” in Venezuela’s military, including at the highest levels. In 2009 a liaison group between the two nations’ armed forces was created. Venezuela’s previous war model had been based on American military doctrine, but changed to more closely resemble Cuban military strategy, emphasizing protracted guerilla war. Approximately 400 military advisors from the island nation give assistance to the Venezuelan presidential guard.

Even the presidential “war room”—a high-tech command center used to thwart popular uprisings and repress grassroots movements—is run by Cubans. That would also explain the presence of a special group of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces called the “Black Wasps,” who are helping Maduro crush protests in the streets. Venezuela’s Intelligence Agency is managed by Cuba’s military attaché. And Cuban military and intelligence advisors were sent to the Ministry of Interior and Justice, the Directorate of Military Intelligence, and various military units.

All this points to the entrenched influence of Castrist elements in Venezuela’s armed forces and, worse, the top spheres of Venezuela’s government. And as Maduro is much less charismatic and beloved than Chavez, as well as lee efficient and more  authoritarian (which is no small accomplishment), his reliance on the military and the security forces is also more important to his staying in power. Therefore one tyranny reinforces another. Unfortunately the Cuban government knows only too well how to keep dissidents and demonstrators suppressed; it continues to export its tactics in order to prop up the moribund dictatorship next door, with which it shares an affinity for repressive politics and anti-American sentiment.

That’s the reason why, after the US announced sanctions on Venezuelan officials on March 9, Cuba brought the topic of its authoritarian comrade to the negotiating table. Specifically, Havana wants Washington to lift its recent sanctions against a group of Venezuelan officials accused of being a threat to US interests. Although it may seem strange for the Castros to jeopardize negotiations with the US—which promise to pay benefits while requiring almost nothing in return—the current demands on behalf of the Venezuelan administration show just how far the regime in Cuba is willing to test the Obama administration’s resolve. The US delegation, to its credit, have seemed to indicate that not everything is “on the table,” and that the issue of human rights in Venezuela will not be allowed to muddy the waters of political negotiations with Cuba.

It remains to be seen if American diplomats will state the obvious: the regime they are now negotiating so openly with bears responsibility for repression and violence not just in its own country, but throughout the region.

Rubio: Panama's Harassment of Cuban Dissidents Sends Chilling Message

Rubio Calls on Panama to Welcome Democracy Activists at Summit of the Americas

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, issued the following statement in response to Panama’s detainment of Cuban activist Rosa María Payá the week before hosting the Summit of the Americas:

The reports that emerged out of Panama this weekend do not bode well for the Summit of the Americas and its supposed commitment to democracy and the right to free expression of all people who live in this hemisphere. I am very concerned by reports of detentions, interrogations, searches and threats made against members of Cuba’s real civil society, including Rosa María Payá.

I call on the Panamanian government to guarantee that all members of Cuba’s democratic movement, along with those from Venezuela and every other country, be welcomed to the Summit and encouraged to exercise their free speech rights.

What happened in Panama’s airport this weekend sent a chilling message to members of Cuba’s pro-democracy movement, one that cannot go unanswered. President Obama’s Cuba policy and his support for Raul Castro’s participation in this Summit have sent the wrong kind of message to the rest of the hemisphere that being democratic and respecting human rights are negotiable and no longer prerequisites for participating in this forum. The President and his administration must make sure that members of Cuba’s real civil society are never again intimidated and threatened the way they have been so far.

Is Cuba Smuggling Weapons for FARC Terrorists?

Sunday, April 5, 2015
There is a deafening silence surrounding the recent capture by the Colombian authorities of a Chinese-flagged ship, the Da Dan Xia, which was seemingly headed for Cuba with a weapons cache hidden as "grain products."

Neither the Santos Administration, the Obama Administration, nor the Castro dictatorship want to talk about it -- or answer any questions.

Such secrecy raises serious questions about the real purpose of the illegal weapons shipment and the lack of transparency of the Santos Administration (as it conducts negotiations with the FARC), the Obama Administration (as it seeks to remove Cuba from the state-sponsors of terrorism list) and the Castro dictatorship (sitting pretty amid no consequences).

Here are the facts:

- On February 28, 2015, the Da Dan Xia was intercepted in the Port of Cartagena carrying an unregistered shipment composed of 100 tons of gunpowder, 2.6 million detonators, 99 missile heads and around 3,000 artillery shells.

- The ship's documentation sought to disguise the arms shipment as "grain products."

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

- The supplier was listed as Norico, a Chinese manufacturer of machinery and chemical products, as well high-tech defense products. The arms were purportedly destined for TecnoImport in Cuba, the shadowy procurement branch of the Cuban military ("MINFAR").

Now here are the unanswered questions:

Upon the weapons shipment being discovered, the Chinese government stated that the transaction was part of "completely normal military trade co-operation."

That's right. An arms shipment between China and Cuba would have been legal, if conducted with transparency. Instead, the parties chose to illegally conceal the weapons shipment.

-- Why did the parties go to such lengths to conceal a shipment that could have otherwise been legal?

-- Was it concealed because the real recipient was an illegal entity in Colombia, i.e, FARC terrorists?

-- Is the composition of the shipment more tailored for use by non-conventional forces (such as the FARC) than for a conventional military forces (such as Cuba's MINFAR)?

If so, this would be further incontrovertible evidence of Cuba's support for international terrorism. Thus, the silence.

As the Obama Administration zealously seeks to remove Cuba from the state-sponsors of terrorism list, it shouldn't leave such questions unanswered -- for it will only embolden Castro's regime to continue its rogue activities.

Let's not forget, this was the second illicit weapons shipment intercepted in the last eighteen months in which the Cuban regime was directly involved. Last year, Cuba was found in direct violation of international sanctions for attempting to smuggle 240 tons of weapons to North Korea hidden as "sugar."

Moreover, the Obama Administration should not ignore inconvenient facts in pursuit of its policy ends.

Last month, we also learned that Spain had (again) recently requested the extradition of two Basque terrorists ("ETA") -- to no avail. Ironically, these two Basque terrorists are also wanted for their illegal activities with the FARC.

If the Spanish government hadn't unwittingly made this revelation, it would have been swept under the rug.

To continue turning a blind-eye -- in order to fulfill (at all costs) Obama's deal with Cuban dictator Raul Castro -- is short-sighted, disingenuous and dangerous.

WSJ: Obama Rehabilitates the Castro Brothers

By Mary Anastasia O'Grady in The Wall Street Journal:

Obama Rehabilitates the Castro Brothers

The Organization of American States is now open to dictatorships.

When President Obama travels to Panama for the 7th Summit of the Americas later this week, expect to be inundated with platitudes about the blossoming of democracy in the region. Don’t believe it. Repression is on the march in the Americas, and U.S. ambivalence is part of the problem.

In the White House’s lack of moral clarity, the region’s bullies smell weakness. One result is that a Caribbean backwater run by gangster brothers now has the upper hand in setting the regional agenda.

If the U.S. president is humiliated in Panama City like he was in Port of Spain in 2009, no one should be surprised. That’s when Mr. Obama tried to be one of the boys with Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, who thanked him by presenting him a copy of the famous anti-American diatribe “The Open Veins of Latin America.”

Summits are a waste of time and money for real countries. But this one will be useful for Cuba, which will be allowed to join the group for the first time, and on its own terms. It’s hard to put a finger on the lowest point in Obama foreign policy, but its abject submissiveness regarding this meeting in the U.S. backyard is a serious contender.

For years Cuba was not permitted at the table with the members of the Organization of American States. In April 2001, participants at the Americas summit in Quebec ratified an established policy of including only freely elected democratic governments. In September 2001 the OAS members signed the “Democratic Charter,” requiring the suspension of nondemocratic governments.

The charter had some meaning in its early years, thanks to U.S. influence and the fact that the OAS would not be able to pay its bills without Uncle Sugar. But it started unraveling when Mr. Obama took office and began trying to appease Cuba and Venezuela. This year, not a shred is left.

Being outcasts made Raúl and Fidel Castro feel disrespected. So they pressured much of the rest of the region to say that if Cuba were again left out, they would boycott the event. In December Mr. Obama folded.

It was a sign of how bad things are in the Americas. Authoritarian governments now rule in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina and Bolivia. All employ, to varying degrees, at least some elements of the Cuban model in which the executive consolidates power, civil society is suppressed, and due process is passe.

Elections are rigged. Rulers expropriate at will. Media outlets that dare to differ from the party line face legal burdens that can wipe them out.

Democratic institutions in Brazil and Chile remain intact, but the socialist leaders in both countries are great admirers of the Castros and wouldn’t dream of offending their hard-left constituencies. Colombia is compromised by its peace talks in Havana with FARC narco-terrorists.

A handful of other countries might have defended the democracy principle if they had some confidence in U.S. backing. But a feeble U.S. diplomatic team is no match for Castro’s foreign policy of exporting terror. No one is going out on that limb with Mr. Obama in the White House. So Cuba is in and Raúl will get his long-sought legitimacy from a U.S. president.

Appeasement has brought new demands. Some governments say they will raise a stink in Panama because the U.S. recently declared Venezuela a threat to U.S. national security and sanctioned seven Venezuelan officials. Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro says he has collected more than six million signatures on a protest letter that he will hand to Mr. Obama.

Mr. Obama expected that he would be a hero in Panama, the guy who offered to open diplomatic relations with Cuba for the first time in a half century. But Cuba has rebuffed him. Castro says he won’t accept normal relations until, among other things, Cuba is taken off the U.S. list of state sponsors of terror and the U.S. returns Guantanamo.

Granting most of the Cuba demands would require approval from the U.S. Congress. But pleasing Raúl will be an Obama priority. He might try to take Havana off the list of terror sponsors unilaterally if he believes he has veto-safe support in the event of a congressional challenge.

Here Cuban reality could interfere. The island is home to Basque terrorists wanted in Spain and scores of fugitives from American justice like Joanne Chesimard, who was convicted of the 1973 murder of a New Jersey state trooper. The military dictatorship also arms and trains the FARC. Cuba wants access to the U.S. banking system, but banks have to consider the legal jeopardy they risk if they take on a client with a history of financial support for terrorism and money laundering.

It will be hard even for Mr. Obama to be popular at the Panama summit unless he decides to abandon the war on terror. Even then, it’s unlikely.

MH Editorial Board: Despite Obama's Deal, Cuba Remains Set in Its Ways

From The Miami Herald's Editorial Board:

Cuba remains set in its ways

Less than four months after it was announced that the United States would begin thawing relations with Cuba, the two sides are moving quickly to reestablish full diplomatic relations. But when it comes to human rights, Havana’s regime still appears frozen in time.

As 34 leaders of Latin American countries, including Raúl Castro, prepare to meet at next weekend’s Summit of the Americas in Panama, there is pressure to finish the negotiations, but the deadline should not be an excuse to give short shrift to the topic of human rights.

The latest round of talks dealt with considering Cuba’s removal from the U.S. list of countries that sponsor terrorism, a key stumbling block. Explaining the official argument in favor of the move last week fell on Stefan M. Selig, undersecretary of Commerce for international trade, who said: “The world has changed.”

Of course, the world has changed, but the dictatorial nature of the Cuban state has not. After a handful of meetings with U.S. diplomats, led by Roberta Jacobson, assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs, there appear to be few concessions from Cuba.

Internally, the Cuban regime maintains the repressive attitude that has allowed it to stay in power for many decades. That includes harassment of peaceful groups like the famed Ladies in White. The daily arrests, acts of repudiation and censorship of any person or group that questions the official line remain as enduring signs that Cuba is not surrendering its hardline ways.

Ms. Jacobson recently explained that Cuba’s removal from the list of terrorist countries still depends on Havana’s behavior and that control of the decision-making process remains in the hands of very few. Clearly, the world has evolved, but the concentration of power in Cuba not so much.

Ms. Jacobson summarizes the state of the negotiations this way: “I know it appears as if we haven’t achieved anything, but after 50 years of distrust, we’ve made a lot of progress. Publicly, much movement won’t be seen until we open an embassy.”

Meanwhile, Cuba hopes to find an escape route from financial disaster with the lifting of travel restrictions and the arrival of more U.S. tourists, who are expected to pump millions of new dollars into the island’s economy.

Ms. Jacobson said a sticking point for the Cubans in regards to reopening the U.S. embassy in Havana is the level of access that should be given to Cubans on the island as well as American citizens. “An embassy is an embassy,” she said.

We urge U.S. negotiators to insist that the rules governing visits to the embassy in Havana by local citizens be the same as the rules that apply at any American embassy in the world, no matter how much Cuba’s government objects.

Human-rights abuses should be of paramount interest as U.S. diplomats try to fashion a new relationship with Cuba. “Cuba thinks that it’s meddling on our part, but we believe those are international obligations,” Ms. Jacobson rightly observed.

At meetings, Cuba often criticizes U.S. affairs, with tirades the our diplomats must tolerate, but that should not influence the U.S. commitment to pursue human rights objectives. When President Obama attends the meeting of hemispheric leaders, he should make it clear that though his administration wants better relations with Cuba, this will not come at the expense of the rights and civil liberties of the Cuban people.