Obama's Cuba Team Are Worst Negotiators Ever

Friday, May 22, 2015
This week, we posted the litany of concessions the Obama Administration has already made to the Castro regime, in order to establish diplomatic relations.

We also highlighted the three remaining obstacles for the establishment of diplomatic relations -- namely the restrictions on U.S. diplomat's movement; the inspection of diplomatic pouches for the mission; and the Castro regime's police cordon to intimidate Cubans. 

Thus, the question remained whether the Obama Administration would also cave to those demands from the Castro regime.

The answer came before the negotiations even started.

According to Article 26 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, "the receiving State shall ensure to all members of the mission freedom of movement and travel in its territory."

Yet, even before the fourth round of negotiations began yesterday, the lead Obama Administration negotiator, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, publicly agreed to accept restrictions on U.S. diplomats, similar to those in China and Vietnam.

Instead, she stated the U.S. only seeks to "minimize" them.

(On a side note: Why do U.S. diplomats still have restrictions in China and Vietnam despite decades of normalized relations, trade and investment? Clearly, a failure of our engagement policy.)

The Castro regime is surely delighted to know this beforehand.

Of course, it is absurd for the U.S. to accept such restrictions on our diplomats anywhere in the world, specially in the Western Hemisphere, where it is unprecedented.

The Obama Administration is opening a Pandora's Box, which will result in a great disservice to U.S. regional interests.

How long do you think it will be before Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua and other Castro allies begin requiring similar restrictions on U.S. diplomats in those countries?

The U.S. should have made it absolutely clear that any such restrictions were unacceptable.

But clearly the U.S. team is at a negotiating disadvantage.

MSNBC: How Obama Deal Has Empowered Castro

Below from MSNBC's Daily Rundown (or click here to watch):

Democratic Congressman Presses Obama on Cuban Crime Rings

From The Sun-Sentinel:

Congressman seeks answers on Cuban crime rings

Cuban criminals are exploiting America's generosity and must be brought to justice, a South Florida congressman told the new U.S. attorney general.

In a letter to Loretta Lynch, U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch said a U.S. law meant to help Cubans fleeing communism is instead being used by crooks "to evade arrest, avoid prosecution and deliver money stolen from American businesses and taxpayers back to Cuba."

He cited a January Sun Sentinel investigation that found criminals taking advantage of the Cuban Adjustment Act to come to the U.S. and steal more than $2 billion over two decades.

A year-long Sun Sentinel investigation found money stolen in the United States streaming back to Cuba, and a revolving door that allows thieves to come here, make a quick buck and return.

The 1966 act gives Cubans extraordinary benefits unavailable to other immigrant groups: even Cubans arriving without permission can stay and become legal residents in just a year.

That makes it easier for the organized rings to rob Medicare, cheat credit card companies, and rip off auto insurers in schemes that can yield large sums with little risk of significant jail time, the newspaper found. Thieves and illicit money flow between Florida and its communist neighbor, aided by a law enacted as a gesture of good will a half century ago.

The law was adopted to help Cubans escape the Castro government, not "create a pipeline for sophisticated financial fraud," Deutch wrote. "Yet crime rings in South Florida are using our humanitarian policy to successfully send cash and criminals back to the island without fear that the Cuban regime will extradite these fugitives."

He urged the Justice Department to consider the issue in its negotiations with Cuba on reestablishing diplomatic relations. "Given the extent of the criminal activity described by the Sun Sentinel, I hope you agree that the issue of fugitives must be addressed during talks underway between the United States and Cuba."

Deutch asked Lynch to update him "on this critical issue." She took office in April, replacing Eric Holder, who resigned.

Diplomats from the U.S. and Cuba are scheduled to meet Thursday in Washington to continue discussions on establishing formal embassies in the two countries and creating greater avenues for cooperation. This historic move to restore diplomatic relations was announced by President Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro five months ago.

The State Department has said it will meet with Cuban officials on law enforcement matters such as the return of fugitives to the U.S., but no date has been set for those discussions.

U.S. authorities, including many members of Congress, have been eager to recover several high-profile American citizens who fled to Cuba decades ago after hijacking planes or committing murder, such as New Jersey cop killer Joanne Chesimard.

Dozens of Cuban citizens have also returned to their homeland to escape U.S. justice for financial or other crimes.

The FBI estimates that up to 50 health care fraud fugitives fled to Cuba in the past decade. The Sun Sentinel, through court documents and interviews, determined that at least 50 more fled to the island, escaping other fraud or marijuana cultivation charges.

As part of its year-long investigation, the Sun Sentinel traveled to the island and found two fugitives living openly: one wanted in a $1 million Texas credit card fraud case and another sought in the cargo heist of $180,000 in nickels from the U.S. Federal Reserve.

Florida's Marco Rubio and two other U.S. senators asked Holder in January for the names of all fugitives thought to be in Cuba and copies of their indictments. There's been no reply.

A Justice Department spokesman said Wednesday that the department is working on a response to the senators' inquiry, which asked for information dating back years.

The Sun Sentinel reported in February that the United States has no way of tracking all fugitives in Cuba, and most prosecutors don't bother to seek extradition because the chances of success are so low. Cuba has returned to the U.S. only four fugitives – all non-Cubans -- since 2011.

Other members of Congress have been pressing the Obama Administration about Cuban crime rings operating in the United States.

In March, leaders of a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee wrote to National Security Advisor Susan Rice, asking, among other questions, whether the Castro government played a role in plundering U.S. government programs and businesses.

"Is there any evidence that the Cuban Government is directly sponsoring, facilitating, enabling, supporting or training Cuban criminals to engage in crimes, such as Medicare fraud, insurance fraud, credit card fraud, and narcotics trafficking against the U.S.," wrote subcommittee Chairman Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, a Republican, and New Jersey's Albio Sires, the ranking Democrat.

A State Department official replied but did not directly address the question. The renewal of diplomatic relations and the re-opening of an embassy will enable the U.S. to "more effectively press the Cuban government on law enforcement issues," including fugitives, responded Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs Julia Frifield.

Rep. Duncan held a hearing in February on the national security implications of the plan to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba, noting his concerns over the "criminal pipeline from Cuba to Florida."

Obama Could Duck Fight Over U.S. Ambassador to Cuba

From Politico:

Barack Obama could duck fight over U.S. ambassador to Cuba

“I don’t think it’s useful to confront a situation that may not have a successful completion,” Ben Cardin says.

President Barack Obama may be able to quickly remove Cuba from the state sponsors of terrorism list, restore some trade with the communist-led island and even establish a U.S. Embassy in Havana. But when it comes to appointing an ambassador to Cuba, at least one top Democrat says the president should bide his time.

Ambassadors require Senate confirmation and a nomination could trigger a potentially bitter fight with 2016 overtones: Two of the senators most opposed to Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba — Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz — are running for president. It’s also an unnecessary battle, some argue, because the U.S. mission in Havana can be run without an official ambassador, and the lead American envoy there now is well-regarded.

When asked whether Obama should bother to nominate someone, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland), the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that while he “ultimately” would like to see a confirmed ambassador, it may take “a little longer” than other aspects of the new U.S.-Cuba relationship.

“I don’t think it’s useful to confront a situation that may not have a successful completion,” Cardin said.

Effort to Remove Cuba Language From Commerce Appropriations Defeated

Thursday, May 21, 2015
During today's full committee markup of the Commerce Justice Appropriations bill ("CJS"), U.S. Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) presented an amendment to remove language banning transactions with Cuba's military ("Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces") and security services ("Ministry of the Interior"), and business entities under their control.

(Click here to learn more about the provision.)

Farr was resoundingly defeated in a bipartisan fashion.

The Commerce Justice Appropriations bill, including the Cuban military and security services ban, passed the full committee shortly thereafter.

Last week, the House Appropriations Committee also marked up its Transportation Appropriations bill, which contains language prohibiting any new travel that exploits confiscated airports or maritime ports.

As such, there are now two must-pass bills that have been marked-up through the House, which contain language limiting President Obama's unilateral concessions to the Castro regime.

Tweet of the Day: Boehner on Obama's Cuba Policy

Menendez Remarks at Senate Hearing on Cuba

Watch the videos below (or click here).

Menendez Remarks at Foreign Relations Committee Hearing on Cuba

U.S. Senator Bob Menendez delivered the following remarks at today’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing titled: “U.S. Cuba Relations – The Way Forward.

Below are his beginning remarks, as prepared for delivery:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this important hearing at such a critical time. Today is 113th anniversary of Cuban Independence Day, a bittersweet date given that the island – after more than fifty long years – has lived under the totalitarian reign of the Castro regime.

As Assistant Secretary Jacobson re-opens negotiations between Cuba and the United States tomorrow, let me be frank. Not one member of this Committee has ever said the U.S. should never talk with the regime. But I have deep concerns that the more these talks progress, the more the Administration continues to entertain unilateral concessions without – in return – getting agreement on fundamental issues that are in our national interest.

I have not seen any movement toward greater freedom for the Cuban people. I have not seen movement toward greater tolerance, democracy, or the rule of law. Human rights abuses continue unabated with more than 1,600 cases of arbitrary political rests this year. And, today, only days before the Administration’s recommendation to remove Cuba from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism goes into effect, known terrorists continue to enjoy safe haven in Cuba. Joanne Chesimard, on the FBI’s most wanted terrorist list for murdering New Jersey State Trooper, Werner Foerster, and Charles Hill, wanted for killing a New Mexico State trooper and hijacking a U.S. civilian plane – are both living in Cuba, protected by the regime.

Negotiations aside, hopes aside, this administration’s desire to move Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terrorism list aside – Cuba’s actions have not changed. Nothing has changed. The real change will come when the Cuban people are finally free.

Rubio Remarks at Senate Hearing on Cuba

Watch the video below (or click here).

Rubio Cautions Obama Administration Of Consequences Regarding Increased Travel To Cuba

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), chairman of the Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, today in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, cautioned Obama Administration officials of the negative consequences of easing travel restrictions to Cuba.

“If you travel to Cuba, if you stay in a Cuban hotel, in all likelihood you’re staying in a hotel run by the Cuban military; if you rent a car, you’re renting it from the Cuban military; if you fill up your gas tank, you’re filling up from the Cuban military,” Rubio said. “And I would add that if you stay at a hotel, you are staying, in all likelihood, in a confiscated property, a land that was taken from a previous private owner, who was never compensated for it.

“In essence, when you travel to Cuba, and stay in one of these hotels, not only are you putting money in the hands of the Cuban government, you’re trafficking in stolen goods, because it is a property that belonged to a private holder, some of them American citizens, who were never compensated for it,” Rubio added. “So when we talk about increased travel to Cuba and more commerce with Cuba through travel, what we’re really talking about is increased business ties with the Cuban military.”

Rubio also touched on the differences in the human rights records of the U.S. and Cuba and asked questions about the Castro regime’s restrictions on the Cuban people’s access to Internet and technology on the island.

Senators Lambasted Obama's Cuba Policy

Wednesday, May 20, 2015
From USA Today:

Senators question wisdom of Obama's Cuba policy

President Obama's top negotiator with Cuba was grilled during a tense Senate hearing Wednesday, as senators doubted whether the normalization of relations with the island would change its communist government.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson was repeatedly asked how the re-establishment of diplomatic relations would end Cuba's dismal human rights record, its lack of free elections and other injustices against the Cuban people.

Jacobson argued that having Americans operating more broadly in Cuba — diplomatically, economically and as regular visitors — would help the Cuban people reach a point where they could determine their own futures. She acknowledged that despite months of negotiations, the Cuban government has not promised any specific changes.

"We're not sure what the Cuban government will do in the face of these things," Jacobson told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "I think they're still absorbing our changes and making their own policy decisions."

Wednesday's hearing came on the eve of the fourth round of diplomatic talks between Jacobson and her Cuban counterparts at the U.S. State Department. Jacobson said she was hopeful that could result in a final agreement to reopen embassies in Havana and Washington after 54 years of isolation.

She faced questions about exactly what the U.S., and the Cuban people, were getting from the deal.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a Cuban-American and 2016 presidential candidate, asked how the U.S. could prevent the Cuban government from profiting from the expected increase in travel by Americans, since it owns all major hotels on the island.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the committee chairman, asked how the ability of American telecommunications to build up Cuba's Internet infrastructure would help Cubans, when most of people there are denied access to the Internet. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., asked whether fugitives wanted in the U.S. would be returned to face justice.

And Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., a Cuban-American, asked what the country got in return for removing Cuba from its State Sponsors of Terrorism List.

"President Obama may have outstretched his hand, but the Castros still have their firsts real tight," Menendez said. "I have deep concerns that the more these talks progress, the more the administration continues to entertain unilateral concessions without in return getting agreement on fundamental issues that are in our national interest and those of the Cuban people."

From Politico:

Rubio slams Obama plans to ease travel restrictions on Cuba

GOP presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio took another shot Wednesday at the Obama administration’s effort to restore ties with Cuba, slamming the island’s communist leaders for human rights abuses and insisting that loosening travel restrictions will only boost the Cuban government’s coffers.

The Florida senator’s comments during a Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing came a day before American and Cuban negotiators were to sit down to continue talks on reopening embassies in each other’s capitals, the next stage in a rapprochement after decades of estrangement.

“Their views on human rights are not legitimate, they’re immoral,” Rubio said of the Cuban government.

Rubio said Americans who travel to Cuba would benefit the Cuban state, and especially its military, because so many hotels and tourist establishments are owned by the government, much of it on property that was improperly confiscated.

Rubio also noted that other countries don’t have embargoes on Cuba, but that despite the availability of trade from nations such as Japan, the Cuban people were still largely blocked from full access to the Internet and other technologies. The reason, he pointed out, was the Cuban government’s policies.

“Why isn’t Cuba awash in Samsungs?” Rubio asked, adding later: “This is a government that won’t even allow you to bring in certain books to the island.”

On the Road to Diplomatic Relations -- Castro Asks, Obama Delivers

The road to establishing diplomatic relations has been a unilateral gift bag for the Castro regime.

Castro asks, Obama delivers.

  • Ease sanctions -- check.
  • Prisoner swap -- check.
  • Remove Cuba from state-sponsors of terrorism list -- check.
  • Find Castro a U.S. bank to process payments -- check.
  • Seek to "change" U.S. democracy programs -- check.
  • Skirt U.S. law in the process -- check.
And what has Castro done?

Nada.

Below are (at least) three remaining obstacles placed by the Castro regime, in contravention of international law, for the establishment of diplomatic relations.

Will Obama shamefully give in (yet again)?

Don't hold your breath.

From USA Today:

After months of negotiations, American and Cuban diplomats will meet in Washington on Thursday to try and finalize a deal to reopen embassies in each country's capital after 54 years of diplomatic isolation.

Mauricio Claver-Carone, executive director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, which opposed Obama's decision to re-establish diplomatic ties with Cuba, pointed to three possible sticking points in the negotiations that could delay a deal:

•Diplomatic travel. Diplomats from both countries already work and live in each other's capitals, where they conduct basic consular services such as processing visas. But the diplomats are restricted from traveling. Cuban officials generally cannot travel outside the Washington Beltway, a freeway that circles Washington, D.C., and parts of northern Virginia. American officials are mostly restricted to the boundaries of Havana. Both sides want the restrictions lifted.

•Package inspections. The U.S. side wants to end the Cuban practice of inspecting or intercepting diplomatic packages sent to American officials in Cuba.

•Police presence. The Americans want the Cubans to remove the dozens of government police officers who surround the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, a security cordon that they say dissuades many Cubans from trying to enter the building.

Claver-Carone said no other U.S. embassy operates under such conditions, so accepting a deal that maintains any of them would be a disappointment. "If (the Obama administration) accepts those things in order just to raise the flag, then it's pretty clear that this is all about a photo (opportunity) and not about the pursuit of a cohesive, constructive policy," he said.

Bill Requires Cuba Resolve Legal Claims Before Easing U.S. Sanctions

Rubio, Vitter: Cuba Must Resolve Legal Claims Before U.S. Re-Establishes Relations

Castro regime has seized an estimated $7-8 billion of U.S. assets. 8000 active legal claims are unresolved 

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and David Vitter (R-LA) today introduced the “Cuban U.S. Claims Settlement Act,” legislation that would require Cuba to address unsettled and unpaid legal claims with the U.S.

There are between $7-8 billion in outstanding claims by American citizens and businesses for properties confiscated by the Castros in Cuba that are currently unsettled. This is the largest uncompensated seizure of U.S. assets by a foreign government in U.S. history. Vitter and Rubio’s bill would require these claims to be addressed before easing restrictions on travel and trade with Cuba. Current law that set the trade embargo requires the president to address these claims, however, President Obama has ignored this key requirement during recent negotiations with Cuba.

“Many families and entities in the U.S. and around the world deserve just compensation for the properties the Castro regime seized from them and has been making money off of to repress the Cuban people,” said Rubio. “At the very least, President Obama and any future president should force the Castro regime to pay back the people they stole from before travel and trade restrictions are eased.”

“It’s obvious that President Obama wants a quick fix, but we shouldn’t lift our embargo against Cuba without adequate assurances to protect future U.S. business. Ensuring that these legal claims are accounted for and are being settled is a must for the American families and businesses whose property was seized, and for ensuring any degree of future business with Cuba,” said Vitter. “We need a long-term plan to ensure that these families’ claims are returned once and for all.”

The U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba was implemented to protect U.S. businesses following the Castro regime’s illegal seizure of U.S. assets. Vitter and Rubio’s bill, the “Cuban U.S. Claims Settlement Act,” would require the President to include a plan to address the outstanding Foreign Claim Settlement Commission (FCSC) Cuban Claims Program in any further negotiations with Cuba. The FCSC represents U.S. nationals in legal claims against foreign governments. American citizens are prevented under current law from doing business in or with Cuba until Cuba repays its unsettled legal claims to the U.S. Under this legislation, unfinished claims must be addressed by the FCSC before the U.S. eases restrictions on travel and trade with Cuba.

On Cuban Independence Day: Freedom is the Goal

By U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) in The Miami Herald:

On Cuban Independence Day: Freedom is the Goal 

As we mark Cuban Independence Day this Wednesday, we must never forget that the only true form of independence for the Cuban people is freedom and democracy, and we must recommit our state and nation to the goal of helping them achieve that vital objective. 

I am the proud son of Cuban-American parents and was raised in a community of Cuban exiles. The trajectory of my life has been a product of their support, of true freedom, and of a uniquely American ideal: that where you come from does not determine where you can go or who you can be. Yet just 90 miles from the shores of our nation are men and women of my ancestry and heritage who still do not have freedom. Yet they look to this country for the hope that they someday will.

I believe we must not fail them. In the last decade and a half, every single country in the Western Hemisphere has had a free and fair election at some point except for one: Cuba. The United States has always stood on the side of peoples around the world who yearn for freedom. But today, our president has decided to take a different approach. Not only has he forsaken our duty to advocate for oppressed peoples, but he has traveled many miles in the opposite direction: going so far as to pay homage to the whims of the very dictatorial regime that denies the freedom of the Cuban people.

In defending his egregious concessions to the Castro regime, President Obama often makes the argument that if the embargo hasn’t worked for 50 years, we should try something new. My question is: Why hasn’t he tried making a similar argument to the Castro regime? For over 50 years, they've tried tyranny and Communism and it hasn’t worked. The Cuban people today have a standard of living well below that of virtually every other nation in the hemisphere.

President Obama also continues to make the false claim that the people of Cuba do not have access to advanced, 21st century technology because of the U.S. embargo. The real reason they do not have access to telecommunications, like smartphones and unrestricted Internet access, is because the repressive Castro regime has made it illegal. The notion that the Cuban people will be allowed access to freedom of speech and freedom of information now that President Obama has made concessions to them is complete fiction.

The truth is the exact opposite. With a diplomatic opening to America — the leading nation of the free world and the global gold standard for human rights — the Castro regime and its repressive tactics will receive international legitimacy as well as a substantial economic boost that will benefit the regime, not the oppressed Cuban people.

We must never forget a crucial fact: The Castro regime is not some benign Cold War relic. It is an enemy of the United States. They have one of the most active espionage operations targeting America, and they help the Russians and the Chinese spy on our nation. The Cuban government was caught two years ago trying to smuggle weapons to North Korea in violation of U.N. sanctions.

I believe America’s role in relation to Cuba is very simple: We should provide unconditional support to Cuba’s pro-democracy movement, promote greater access to uncensored information for the Cuban people, and deprive the Castro regime of funding for its repressive apparatus. The United States must also support groups like the Ladies in White, who are doing some of the most important work inside Cuba to expose the regime and lay the foundation for what will eventually be a free Cuba.

The Obama administration’s insistence on moving forward with policies that will only put more money in this terrorist-sponsoring regime’s coffers is baffling and runs contrary to everything America should stand for. America needs a president who is not ashamed to stand up for the principles of freedom and human rights that have made our nation the single greatest power in the history of the world.

Castro's Congressional Allies Now Defend Maduro Regime

Tuesday, May 19, 2015
A group of House Democrats, led by Congress' top cheerleaders for embracing Castro's regime, have sent a letter to President Obama asking him to rescind sanctions against corrupt Venezuelan officials and human rights violators.

In other words, they believe the U.S. should turn a blind-eye to human rights abuses, as well as corrupt and illegal activities, by Venezuelan officials.

Signatories include U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (CA), Jose Serrano (NY), Sam Farr (CA), Karen Bass (CA), Charlie Rangel (NY) and Bobby Rush (IL).

They argue that even targeted sanctions "hinder dialogue" and "undermine regional diplomacy."

Sound familiar?

Ironically, the Congressional letter "coincided" with the revelation of U.S. federal investigations against Venezuelan government officials for cocaine trafficking and money laundering.

Needless to say, there are many reasons to question the intentions of these Members of Congress and the policies they promote towards Cuba and Venezuela.

Yet, the Obama Administration has endorsed their Cuba policy -- and judging by the current "not-so-secret" (anymore) negotiations with the Maduro regime -- will likely follow suit on Venezuela.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Venezuelan Officials Suspected of Turning Country into Global Cocaine Hub

U.S. prosecutors are investigating several high-ranking Venezuelan officials, including the president of the country’s congress, on suspicion that they have turned the country into a global hub for cocaine trafficking and money laundering, according to more than a dozen people familiar with the probes.

An elite unit of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Washington and federal prosecutors in New York and Miami are building cases using evidence provided by former cocaine traffickers, informants who were once close to top Venezuelan officials and defectors from the Venezuelan military, these people say.

A leading target, according to a Justice Department official and other American authorities, is National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, considered the country’s second most-powerful man.

“There is extensive evidence to justify that he is one of the heads, if not the head, of the cartel,” said the Justice Department official, speaking of a group of military officers and top officials suspected of being involved in the drug trade. “He certainly is a main target.”

Confirmed: Alan Gross' Lawyer Shilling for Cuba's Regime

Confirming what we posted last week about Alan Gross' lawyer, Scott Gilbert, including his lack of transparency and conflicts of interest.

Gilbert is now shilling for Castro's monopolies and lobbying for U.S. businesses who want to make a quick profit off the captive Cuban people. 

Here's an excerpt from Fox News:

[Scott] Gilbert has a new relationship with the island – he is guiding its government on how to take steps to handle and attract American businesses.

An email from a spokesman for Gilbert about his efforts explained that, "Scott's experience in Cuba is now leading him to help the Cuban government set up structures and systems of governance (such as a system of arbitration) that will help, among other things, bring investment into Cuba."

Gilbert receives no payment from the Cuban government, he said.

And through Reneo, a consulting firm he launched more than a year ago, Gilbert also provides guidance to Americans who want to invest or do business in Cuba, often traveling there for these projects and reinforcing ties that he developed during the Gross case.

Despite Repression, Cuban Rapper Remains Undeterred

From The PanAm Post:

Home Invasion Fails to Silence Cuban Dissident Rapper El Critico 

200 Regime Supporters Assault, Threaten "Rebellious Character"

On Saturday, May 9, a pro-regime mob assaulted Cuban rapper and dissident-activist Ángel Yunier Remón Arzuaga, also known as El Crítico (the Critic), at his home in Bayamo. The musician reported that the around 200 attackers sought to intimidate him into ceasing his activities as a leader of the opposition party Cuba Patriotic Union (Unpacu) in the eastern Granma Province.

Remón told the PanAm Post over the phone that Cuban state security agents organized a violent demonstration against him. He recounted that policemen and army officers threw rocks and broke into his home, threatened and verbally abused him. One the rocks hit Remón on the head, causing him to bleed heavily.

“They try to outdo us in numbers so they can say they are the people. But the truth is that these mobs respond to government interests,” said a fearless Remón, adding that he “stands firm and fast against terror.”

Remón “barricaded” himself inside his home during the attack, and was plunged into darkness during the whole incident — for which he blamed the state-owned electricity firm.

“They left the whole neighborhood without electricity, so no one could see the thugs who came to attack me,” Remón said.

Government officials have put up signs and distributed pamphlets vilifying Unpacu in his neighborhood. “They don’t want us to grow. And since I have a rebellious character, they want to bury me. They want to channel all their anger against the system toward me,” Remón argued.

On April 30 an intelligence official showed up unannounced at his home claiming to be “worried” about the singer’s health.

In a home video recorded by Remón he can be heard to question the visit’s real motives.

“Do I have a health problem? Or do you worry like this over every Cuban citizen? You were the one who signed my official discharge from prison, don’t you know? Why have you come, then?” the rapper demands.

Some witnesses told Remón to go inside, but he kept interrogating the agent: “What, you’re going to attack me? I’m completely peaceful, I’m protected by Articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights … and you come here to violate my rights.”

Rapper and Political Activist 

In March 2013, Remón was sentenced to six months in prison over an alleged plot against the government, along with dozens of opposition leaders and human-rights activists. However, on January 6 this year, he was released after a series of deals arranged between the Castro regime and the United States.

The singer now finds himself in legal limbo: “I cannot travel or vote; I have no rights. I’m free under supervision.”

Remón Arzuaga added that he continues to compose music but hasn’t been able to record anything new yet.

El Crítico formerly belonged to the hip-hop band Los Hijos que Nadie Quiso, whose song “Mi Delito” (My Crime) is one of the harshest criticisms delivered in music against the Cuban regime, now in power for nearly six decades.

Over 100 Dissidents Arrested in Cuba Today

Sunday, May 17, 2015
This afternoon, the Castro regime violently arrested nearly 60 members of The Ladies in White, pursuant to attending Sunday Mass in Havana.

The Ladies in White is a pro-democracy group composed of the mothers, wives, daughters and other relatives of Cuban political prisoners.

Over 30 other democracy activists, who had accompanied The Ladies in White, were also arrested.

Additionally, 13 female members of the Cuban Patriotic Union ("UNPACU") were beaten after attending Sunday Mass at the Shrine of our Lady of Charity in eastern Cuba. They were assaulted with batons and tear gas. Three of them were arrested.

Meanwhile, silence from the Vatican and the Obama Administration.

As for the foreign media, they are more interested in sailing regattas.

Behind the Pope’s Embrace of Castro

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

Behind the Pope’s Embrace of Castro

Speculation runs from a Trojan horse plan to Latin American antipathy of the U.S.

The warmth and hospitality that Pope Francis showed to Raúl Castro at the Vatican last week has baffled many Catholics—and for good reason. The dictator went to Rome for a PR boost. The pontiff obliged him.

During their encounter Castro mocked the faith with a quip about returning to the church if the pope behaved. He also mocked every Cuban refugee, dead or alive, by giving the pope, of all things, a piece of art depicting a migrant at prayer.

Pope Francis gave the dictator a copy of his 2013 apostolic exhortation titled “The Joy of the Gospel,” in which he sharply criticizes economic freedom. Talk about preaching to the converted. As Raúl put it, “The pontiff is a Jesuit, and I, in some way, am too. I studied at Jesuit schools.” No kidding.

It’s always possible that Pope Francis is hoping to get close to the regime in order to change it. Maybe he has in mind a spiritual version of a Trojan horse that once inside the gates of Cuban hell will unleash an army of angels.

With God all things are possible. But I suspect that this papal rapprochement with Castro has more mundane roots.

The Holy Father is a native of 20th-century Argentina, ideologically defined by nationalism, socialism, corporatism and anti-Americanism. It wouldn’t be surprising to learn that this influences his views toward the U.S. and the island 90 miles from its shores.

When the Cuban dictatorship lost its Soviet sugar daddy in the early 1990s, it nearly crumbled. Last year deep economic troubles again looked as if they might force change. As Venezuelan oil subsidies to Havana slowed, the rotting system teetered on the edge of collapse.

It was an opportunity for the church to show solidarity with the powerless Cuban people—or at least stand back. Instead the Vatican stepped in to help the Castros. In December we learned that Pope Francis brokered the Obama-Castro thaw, which while unlikely to spur improvements in human rights is already generating new interest in investing with the military government.

Some Catholics have tried to excuse the pope’s hostility toward economic freedom in “The Joy of the Gospel” by arguing that he grew up in a corrupt state-run economy and probably mistook it for a capitalist system. This is nonsense. Argentine statism explicitly denounces market economics.

There is another more plausible explanation for why the pope shows disdain in his exhortation for “a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.” It lies in an Argentine sense of cultural superiority over the money-grubbing capitalists to the north and faith in the state to protect it.

Mexican historian Enrique Krauze traces this to an intellectual backlash against the U.S. after the Spanish defeat in the Spanish-American war. Examples he cites in his 2011 book “Redeemers” include the Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío and the Franco-Argentine historian Paul Groussac, who both painted Americans as uncivilized beasts. According to Mr. Krauze, the southern cone—especially Argentina—also had imported the idea of a “socialism that fought to improve the economic, cultural and educational level of the poor, while generating a nationalist state.”

In 1900 Uruguayan José Enrique Rodó published “Ariel,” which emphasized “the superiority of Latin culture over the mere utilitarianism espoused” by the North. Rodó was “the first ideologue of Latin American nationalism,” and his influence spread throughout the region. “Latin Americanism, especially in the South, was also anti-Yankeeism,” Mr. Krauze writes.

Fast forward 115 years and Cuba is again a symbol of struggle between the North and the South. Many Latin American intellectuals don’t like the dictatorship but they loathe U.S. affluence and power. They know that a full-blown collapse of Cuba would likely bring back the Americans. That’s why they tolerate the status quo.

I can only speculate about the Holy Father’s Cuba views. But he is earning a dubious political reputation. In August 2014, he lifted the church’s 29-year ban on Maryknoll priest Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann’s right to celebrate Mass. The communist cleric who once served as Nicaraguan foreign minister for the Marxist Sandinistas was demoted by Pope John Paul II for refusing to get out of politics.

After the ban was lifted, Father d’Escoto rushed to denounce the late beloved Polish pontiff for “an abuse of authority.” He also declared Fidel Castro a messenger of the Holy Spirit in “the necessity of struggle” to establish “the reign of God on this earth that is the alternative to the empire.”

Last week Rev. Gustavo Gutierrez, the Peruvian who launched liberation theology, was back at the Vatican. He told journalists that the church never condemned his brand of thinking and praised Pope Francis’ views on poverty. He didn’t mention the sharp drop in Peruvian poverty since policy makers threw out his ideas. Maybe the pope will talk about it on his September trip to Cuba.

Cuba’s 12 Most Absurd Prohibitions That Tourists Are Aloof To

By Cuban blogger Yusnaby Perez in The Daily Beast:

Cuba’s 12 Most Absurd Prohibitions That Tourists May Never Notice

It's getting easier to go to Cuba, but not necessarily to live there. Sometimes it’s the little things that make you crazy. But, then, there are big things, too.

Here’s a list of the 12 most absurd prohibitions and limitations that we Cubans have to endure in our homeland. It is worth highlighting that the socialist Government of Cuba applies some of them exclusively to Cuban citizens, while foreign residents and tourists do not suffer from the bans. A curious double standard, no? And worth remembering if you are planning a visit and discover your new Cuban friends can’t join you in the fun.

1-Cubans can’t access the Internet from their homes or on their cellphones. ETECSA is the Cuban state-owned telecommunications monopoly. According to its policy, Internet access in private homes is not a service provided to Cuban citizens. It is exclusively provided to state-owned and foreign businesses, and to foreigners residing in the country, as its website makes clear.

2-No sailing on tourist boats. There is not an actual law that forbids Cubans getting on boats and ships, but authorities have applied this restriction for many years. According to Cubatur (a state travel agent) “Cubans—no matter where they live—may not be sold a tourist package that includes a catamaran or a yacht. This enjoyment is exclusive to foreign tourists.”

3-No cable TV. The socialist firm Telecable is the only one that provides cable TV. This service is exclusive to the tourist infrastructure (mainly hotels), diplomats, foreign companies, and foreigners residing in Cuba. Telecable offers a selection of international channels such as CNN, Discovery, HBO, ESPN…

The Cuban population, for no other reason than being Cuban, cannot access this service and can only consume national state-owned TV channels and Telesur (a socialist Latin American channel).

4-Can’t live in Havana (without a permit). Can someone from L.A. live in Washington, D.C.? The answer is obvious. But in Cuba, can someone from Bayamo live in Havana? The answer is NO, unless he or she has a permit. The Decree-Law 217-1997 on “Internal migrations regarding the city of Havana” dictates that people from other provinces may not live in the capital without a “transitory” document; that is, an authorization issued by the Ministry of the Interior. This violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says, “Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.” Not here.

5- No public demonstrations allowed. The Constitution of Cuba (1976) recognizes the right to demonstrate under certain regulations while the Penal Code, in its article 209, warns that “he who participates in meetings or demonstrations celebrated without respecting the dispositions that regulate this right, is committing a felony against public order.” But in the 39 years that have gone by since 1976, no law has been adopted to regulate the right to demonstrate in Cuba. It’s a Catch-22. Not to belabor the point, “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association,” according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

6-No Political Parties allowed (except the Partido Comunista de Cuba). Even though the Cuban Constitution permits all citizens to run in public elections, our magna carta also mentions in its article 62 that, “None of the recognized freedoms of citizenship may be executed against the Constitution, the laws or the existence or ends of the socialist State, nor the decision of the Cuban people to build socialism and communism. Violating this principle will be punished.”

The Constitution also declares that, “The Communist Party of Cuba… the organized vanguard of the Cuban nation, is the superior managing force of society and the state, organizing and guiding the common efforts towards the high ends of the construction of socialism and advances towards the communist society.” Therefore one can infer that any political party that is not the Communist Party is forbidden.

7-No investment in medium and large enterprises. Law 188 on foreign investment regulates investments in Cuba by foreign individuals and legal entities, as well as by Cuban legal entities that partner with a foreign party with the objective of investing in Cuba. There is no mention of Cuban individuals or their right to invest in Cuba. The only possibility for a Cuban individual who wants to engage in private economic activity is to become “self-employed,” but in this case he or she is only allowed to work in one of the professions authorized by the government (such as restaurants, hair dresser, food vendor on the street, lumberjack, masseur, public toilet security, etc.)

The Cuban police are allowed to fine or even confiscate the vehicle of a Cuban citizen if he or she gives a ride to a foreigner.

8-Can’t import wireless microphones, walkie-talkies and satellite communication devices without authorization. Resolution 10-2006 states in its second section that a person who wishes to import wireless microphones, walkie-talkies and satellite communication devices “needs a specific authorization to introduce the equipment into the country and a license for its installation, exploitation and functioning, both issued by the Supervision and Control Agency of the Ministry of Information of Communications.” And, in case you are getting your hopes up, it clarifies “requesting the authorization does not necessarily imply that it will be granted.”

9-No inviting a foreigner to spend the night without a permit. If the police or migratory authorities catch a foreigner sleeping without authorization in the home of a Cuban, the owner of the house may face a severe fine.

10-Freely selling lobster and shrimps is not allowed. Only the state and foreigners can sell these delicacies in this Caribbean nation.

11-If you pick up a foreigner in a private car you may be in trouble. The Cuban police are allowed to fine or even confiscate the vehicle of a Cuban citizen if he or she gives a ride to a foreigner without a taxi license. There is no explicit law that forbids it, but a foreigner in a car privately owned by a Cuban (there are not that many, most cars are state-owned) might be interpreted as “illicit enrichment.”

12-Bringing from abroad 25 artificial fingernails violates the law. The Cuban Customs Law establishes exhaustively detailed limits on the goods that can be imported from abroad into the island. Sometimes these are ridiculous, especially for items that cannot be found in the country. Customs Resolution 206 specifically limits the number of artificial nails to 24 units.

Of course, there are more—many more—bans and prohibitions that Cuba imposes on Cuba. This was just a taste.

Another Cuban Rapper Arrested

Yesterday, Cuban rapper Soandry del Rio, of the group "Hermanos de Causa" ("Brothers of a Cause"), was arrested by Castro's secret police.

Del Rio had recently been expelled from the regime's official Agency of Rap, which regulates and censors Cuban rappers, for his participation in a concert during the Summit of the Americas in Panama that was critical of the Castro dictatorship.

Also, last week, Cuban rapper and former political prisoner, Angel Yunier Remon (known as "El Critico") was violently assaulted in his home by Castro agents. (See image below).

Meanwhile, Maikel Oksobo (known as "El Dkano") continues serving a one-year prison sentence since January 28th, for his critical lyrics.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Policy Changes Towards Cuba Should be Conditioned

Excerpt from an interview with U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) in Georgia's Marietta Daily Journal:

Q: Your former colleague, Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, said yesterday in Marietta that “we are kidding ourselves if we think it is in our best interest to have full trade and diplomatic relations with Cuba in the short term.” Do you agree?

Rubio: I think he’s right. He’s right. First of all, there’s no such thing as a Cuban economy. The entire Cuban economy is operated by a holding company run by Raul Castro’s son-in-law. So when we’re talking about more trade with Cuba, what we’re talking about is more trade with the Cuban military. And all of that is going to go through the filter of their own hands. They’re going to choose what comes in and they’re going to choose what goes to the people. And largely their interest is not benefiting the people. Their interest is in solidifying power for another generation. Second, it does not behoove the United States to have 90 miles from its shores an anti-American dictatorship that sponsors intelligence facilities used by the Chinese and the Russians and which is the third most active intelligence agency against us, who harbors fugitives of American justice, including dozens of fugitives and a cop killer from New Jersey, and a country who helps North Korea evade sanctions, as evidenced by a ship that left the port of Mariel or Havana last year and was intercepted in the Panama Canal, destined for North Korea with weapons that were in violation of the UN sanctions on North Korea. I think a better approach would be to condition U.S. policy changes on political changes on the island of Cuba.