An Appalling Indictment of Castro

Saturday, June 13, 2015
By former CIA analyst Brian Latell in The Miami Herald:

An appalling indictment of Fidel

Juan Reinaldo Sánchez Crespo was one of the dozen or so defectors from Cuba’s intelligence and security services I interviewed when researching Castro’s Secrets. We met on a number of occasions in Miami after his arrival from Cuba in 2008. He confirmed for me that Fidel had ordered an assassination attempt in London against Florentino Aspillaga, a ranking defector from Cuban intelligence.

Sánchez made it clear, nonetheless, that he was saving his best recollections for his own book. First published in France, The Double Life of Fidel Castro, has been worth the wait.

For seventeen years, as Castro’s chief bodyguard and trusted factotum, Sánchez was close to the Cuban throne. He witnessed and recorded sensitive conversations, was ordered to compile obsessively detailed records of Fidel’s activities, coordinated his security and travel, vacationed with him, and accumulated a remarkably textured understanding of the commander in chief.

Sánchez worshipped Fidel, even after being demoralized by the trial and execution of general Arnaldo Ochoa and three others in 1989. Yet in 1994 the faithful bodyguard was imprisoned. He says it was only because Castro no longer trusted him after a brother fled Cuba on a raft to Miami. After two years in prison and ten unsuccessful attempts to do the same, Sánchez boarded a smugglers’ boat and fled.

With the collaboration of Axel Gylden, a prominent French journalist, Sánchez has penned a scathing account of his years in Castro’s entourage. It is filled with surprising details of the Cuban dictator’s hypocritically regal life style. An island retreat, so exorbitantly lavish that only a select few have been invited to experience it, has been kept secret from the Cuban masses. Sánchez reveals that Castro also had at his disposal another twenty homes, a luxurious yacht, an ultra-modern private hospital, and even compatible blood donors recruited to be at the ready whenever he might need a man-to-man transfusion.

Sánchez confirms past Cuban government support for international terrorism and drug trafficking. He tells of how members of the terrorist Spanish Basque ETA “were welcomed with open arms by Fidel.” They taught bomb-making, a skill then shared with Latin American guerrilla groups.

Although it has scarcely been in doubt, Sánchez confirms that Puerto Rican terrorist Victor Manuel Gerena – on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list since 1984 — is in Cuba. After stealing more than $7 million from a Wells Fargo armored car terminal in Connecticut in 1983, he was covertly exfiltrated to Havana in a series of Cuban intelligence operations.

The enormous costs of protecting Castro form a leitmotif that runs through this smoothly written memoir. Sánchez tells of being dispatched with a briefcase full of dollars to purchase homes in Harare, Zimbabwe before a visit by Fidel. The one where Castro briefly stayed was extensively remodeled for him, including the addition of an underground air raid shelter.

Such extraordinary measures were standard through Fidel’s decades in power. I learned from another defector that when Castro visited the United Nations in 1995, and stayed overnight in New York, he brought along with him in the Cuban delegation an elevator repairman. The man stood ready to extricate Fidel should the elevator in the Cuban diplomatic mission malfunction. When it did, I was told that Fidel kicked furiously on the door until the old man brought along for just such an eventuality quickly accomplished the necessary fix.

For me, Sánchez’s most appalling indictment of Fidel concerns the chaotic exodus of more than 125,000 Cubans in 1980 from the port of Mariel. Most who fled were members of Cuban exile families living in the United States. They were allowed to board boats brought by relatives and to make the crossing to South Florida.

But many of the boats were forcibly loaded by Cuban authorities with criminals and mentally ill people plucked from institutions on the island. Few of us who have studied Fidel Castro have doubted that it was he who ordered those dangerous Cubans to be exported to the United States. He has persuaded few with his denials of any role in the incident.

Yet Sánchez adds an appalling new twist to the saga. We learn that prison wards and mental institutions were not hurriedly emptied, as was previously believed. Sánchez reveals that Castro insisted on scouring lists of prisoners so that he could decide who would stay and who would be sent to the United States. He ordered interior minister Jose Abrahantes to bring him prisoner records.

Sánchez was seated in an anteroom just outside of Fidel’s office when the minister arrived. The bodyguard listened as Fidel discussed individual convicts with Abrahantes.

“I was present when they brought him the lists of prisoners,” Sánchez writes, “with the name, the reason for the sentence, and the date of release. Fidel read them, and with the stroke of a pen designated which ones could go and which ones would stay. ‘Yes’ was for murderers and dangerous criminals; ‘no’ was for those who had attacked the revolution.” Dissidents remained incarcerated.

A number of the criminal and psychopathic marielitos put on the boats to Florida went on to commit heinous crimes — including mass murder, rape, and arson. Among the many despicable acts Fidel Castro committed over the years, his decision to facilitate that violence stands in a sordid class by itself.

Amendment to Cut Radio-TV Marti Defeated, Another to Restore Embassy Funds Withdrawn

Thursday, June 11, 2015
An amendment this morning in the House Appropriations Committee, which sought to cut $5 million in funding for Radio and TV Marti failed by a bipartisan vote of 18-33.

The amendment was offered by U.S. Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY) during the markup of the FY 2016 State Foreign Operations Appropriations bill.

Another amendment, which sought to restore funding for a potential U.S. Embassy in Cuba -- currently prohibited in the bill -- was withdrawn after sensing it would also be defeated.

Religious Freedom Violations Worsen Since Obama-Castro Deal

From Christian Solidarity Worldwide:

The number of violations of freedom of religion or belief held steady, while the violations themselves grew in severity, in the first half of 2015. For the first time since 2011, to CSW’s knowledge, a church leader has been imprisoned; while the government also apparently modified their tactics to target the property of religious organisations as a means to control these groups. Foreign students involved in religious activities linked to unapproved groups were expelled and had their visas revoked. In line with previous years, scores of mostly women and some men were violently arrested and temporarily imprisoned to prevent them from attending Mass. This has occurred each Sunday since the beginning of the year.

CSW is deeply concerned by the continued imprisonment without charge of Reverend Jesús Noel Carballeda, who was arrested in early February. His wife believes that his continued leadership of an unregistered church and persistence in leading religious services, even after a previous imprisonment five years ago, angered the authorities and led to this second detention. On the previous occasion, Reverend Carballeda was imprisoned for four months after militant communist neighbors filed legal complaints about church services he held in his home in Marianao, Havana. Following his imprisonment he was put on probation and required to check in with the authorities on a regular basis. After his release Reverend Carballeda no longer held religious services in his home, as per the conditions of his release. However, he continued to lead his church, holding services in the countryside, in parks, in rented rooms and in other private homes. Inquiries to the Cuban authorities as to the reason for Reverend Carballeda’s imprisonment have been met with silence. He is being held in the Valle Grande prison in Antonio de los Baños, Havana Province.

New legislation, Legal Decree 322: the General Law on Housing, was announced on 5 September 2014 and came into force on 5 January 2015.1 The law is meant to regulate private properties, mostly homes, and enforce zoning laws. However, it has reportedly been used by government officials to claim the right to seize church properties and to force the churches into the role of paying tenant. Cuban lawyers have told CSW that although the law does not specifically mention religious groups, government officials have claimed it gives them the authority to expropriate property when they deem it ‘necessary.’ One legal expert linked to the Cuban Council of Churches and speaking anonymously told CSW that churches of all denominations and in multiple provinces are affected: “They are applying the law rigorously. In the case of the churches it is worse. They propose to convert the church into a tenant. This has consequences. For example, the ‘new owner’ is able to decide what the church can or cannot do in this place. That is to say they lose autonomy. They cannot accept this. The situation is complicated.”

Read the full report here.

In Normalization Talks: U.S. Gives, Cuba Takes

By Joe Cardona in The Miami Herald:

In normalization talks, U.S. gives, Cuba takes

Ever since President Obama began charting a new policy track toward Cuba, I have followed the negotiations carefully and have remained cautiously optimistic. Until now.

As we pass the half-year threshold of his decision, sadly, all I see so far are several important concessions on the American side of the ledger and not a single significant, conciliatory gesture on the part of the Cuban government.

I recently shared a café with Orlando Gutierrez Boronat, who heads the Cuban National Directorate. He affirmed that he is “not surprised in the slightest” that the Cubans have been unyielding. “What would truly have been surprising is if they had budged on human rights or democratization issues.”

Gutierrez Boronat further explained that many (including me) assumed that the Cuban government would be negotiating from a vulnerable position — given the somber economic state to which Obama responded. “The Castros have never preoccupied themselves with their country’s economic well-being. Their primary obsession has always been to maintain power. The Cuban government,” Gutierrez Boronat continued, “is negotiating, at least in their minds, from a position of strength. They perceive the Obama olive branch as a sign of weakness — a loss of American political and ideological resolve and will.”

Perhaps that assessment of the Cuban government’s mindset is the reason why Cuba’s contribution in the diplomatic talks has been so paltry and uninspiring. The last couple of weeks have been a public-relations nightmare for Raúl Castro and his monolithic regime and their quest for the normalization of relations with the United States.

While the United States scratched Cuba from its terrorist list, Cuba summarily shut down a Ladies in White protest; detained, harassed and censored Tania Bruguera, a Cuban installation and performance artist, along with several members of opposition groups throughout the island; and apparently made underwhelming impressions on a couple of groups of Florida attorneys and investors who were in Cuba on fact-finding missions.

One of the investors was Miami Dolphins’ owner Stephen Ross, who put the kibosh on the Cuban government’s best laid plans by stating on CNBC that, “You need a government that really wants change, that really wants business and really wants to see growth, and (in Cuba) you don’t really have any of that feeling at all.”

This week I spoke with several attorneys from a group of Florida Bar members who went to the island to learn more about Cuba’s business environment. Gauging from most of their reactions, the presentations made by the Cubans were less than convincing. “Cuba is a long way away,” Miami attorney Jim Meyer expressed. “I could not advise a client to invest in Cuba because the issue of rule of law is imperative in offering a potential investor stability and confidence — right now Cuba’s legal system is nowhere near where it needs to be.”

Another Miami attorney who went on the trip, Barbara Alonso, was not willing to give the green light for investors quite yet, though she explained that, “for those who have a higher tolerance for risk, Cuba may offer some opportunities.” Alonso also shared her perception of the upbeat spirit among the Cubans she spoke to in Havana. “There are more signs of entrepreneurism, and that was good to see.”

While the subjects of entrepreneurial enterprise and private property were bandied about in Havana, I couldn’t help wonder what the Cuban government intends to do with the properties they expropriated (euphemism for “stole”) from families like mine. “I suspect not much for now,” legal consultant Nicolas Gutierrez shared with me. “But that issue will soon come up. Generally, most, if not all, confiscated owners have been recognized by the new governments in every single formerly communist Central/Eastern European country and Nicaragua.”

Regrettably, up to this point, the conversations between the United States and Cuba have been remarkably one-sided. I will continue to monitor their progress, but not as optimistically as I once did.

Treasury Appropriations Bill Tightens Cuba Sanctions

Wednesday, June 10, 2015
The House Appropriations Committee has just released its FY 2016 Financial Services Appropriations bill.

This bill funds the operations of the Treasury Department, including the Office of Foreign Assets Control ("OFAC").

As the bill's summary highlights, it contains the following prohibitions:

Cuba – A prohibition on travel to Cuba for educational exchanges not involving academic study pursuant to a degree program, a prohibition on the importation of property confiscated by the Cuban Government, and a prohibition on financial transactions with the Cuban military or intelligence service.

In other words, it would effectively terminate "people-to-people" trips, which have been a guise for illegal tourism transactions; prohibit all transactions with entities owned or operated by the Cuban military and security services; and prohibit the importation of stolen property by travelers, namely confiscated rum and cigar products.

This is the fourth must-pass Appropriations bill with Cuba limitations.

Also, the Commerce, Justice Appropriations bill contains a provision (supported by a vote of 273-153) ensuring that none of the exports authorized under the Obama Administration's new "Support for the Cuban People" category (under Commerce Department regulations) can be funneled through entities owned or controlled by the Castro regime's military or security services.

The Transportation Appropriations bill contains language (supported by a vote of 247-176) prohibiting the use of confiscated property for new travel -- by airplane or vessels -- to Cuba.

And the State Department, Foreign Operations bill contains key provisions that prohibit funds for an embassy or other diplomatic facility in Cuba, beyond what was in existence prior to the President’s December announcement proposing changes to the U.S.-Cuba policy. It also restricts funds to facilitate the opening of a Cuban embassy in the U.S., increases democracy assistance and international broadcasting to Cuba, and provides direction to the Secretary of State on denying the issuance of visas to members of the Cuban military and the Communist party.

Must-Read: American Tourists Won’t Bring Democracy to Cuba

Tuesday, June 9, 2015
By Dr. Jose Azel in The Miami Herald:

American tourists won’t bring democracy to Cuba

The proposition seems intuitively reasonable: American tourists will help bring democracy to Cuba. But, it is also demonstrably false.

The idea that American tourists, innately imbued with democratic values and norms, will proudly reflect and share those values while traveling abroad is an authentic premise. Thus, we view American tourists as ambassadors for democracy, and a powerful force in communicating the virtues of democratic governance. Though this indeed may be the case, it does not follow with syllogistic certainty that such ambassadorship can empower of the citizens of a totalitarian regime.

In the case of Cuba, for decades 2 million tourists from Canada, Europe, Latin America and elsewhere have traveled yearly to the island with no impact whatsoever on the Cuban regime. The more empirically valid argument is that expenditures by tourists add to the longevity of the regime, since the monies flow into enterprises controlled by the Cuban military. Moreover, tourist dollars allow the regime to avoid meaningful economic and political reforms.

In any case, international tourism has not brought about political reforms in Cuba, or in the remaining universe of totalitarian regimes. For example, China and Vietnam welcome 130 million and 8 million tourists respectively each year with no impact on their form of government.

Advocates of tourism as a means to democratic governance counter-argue that Cuba is different and suggest that it’s not the total number of visitors that counts, but American tourism. Yet, the logic behind this chauvinistic view of Americans as the only effective couriers of democratic values is never explained. It is only offered that American tourists, by some vague cultural and historic affinity, are better endowed to convey the values of democratic governance to the Cuban people.

But if such cultural and historical kinship does exist, it applies much more to Spanish-speaking tourists from Latin America and Spain. In fact, American tourists have only limited contact with the Cuban population. Most tourist resorts are in isolated areas, controlled by the security apparatus and off limits to the average Cuban. Most Americans encounter a language barrier, and it is not clear that they consider their vacation time as an opportunity to subvert the Cuban regime.

Most likely, Americans, as with most tourists, prefer to relax with mojitos in the beautiful beaches of Cuba. In the case of cruise-ship tourism, passengers will disembark for a few hours to purchase rum and cigars, then return to the ship. Again, it is not clear how this helps to usher in democratic governance, unless the argument relies on some mysterious osmotic process.

Nonetheless, rather than rejecting the “American tourists” arguments only on its lack of logical merits, I looked for statistical proxies to test the hypothesis.

American tourists represent only 1.6 percent of inbound tourism in China. In Cuba, tourists from the United States account for 3.3 percent of total tourism. In other words, Cuba’s tourism is twice as “American intensive” as China’s. Neither country has engaged in political reforms, but it is only fair to ask: What percentage of tourists must be American in order to validate the “American tourists will bring democracy” thesis? Answer: unknown.

Another revealing comparison is to relate the number of American tourists to the population of the host countries. China, with a population of 1.3 billion, receives 2 million American tourists each year. Cuba, with a population of 11.2 million, welcomes 90,000 Americans. Thus, on a per-capita basis, Cuba welcomes an American visitor for every 124 Cubans, while China receives an American tourist for every 650 Chinese citizens. In theory, at least, this means that the per-capita concentration of American tourists in Cuba is five times greater than that of Americans in China, and yet no democratic reforms are visible in either country.

The point of all this is simply to show that the proposition that democracy in Cuba relies on American tourists, a tenet of the Obama administration’s new U.S.-Cuba policy, fails to pass the most basic tests of logical coherence. We deserve more critical and rigorous thinking from our policymakers.

Quote of the Week: Caveat Emptor in Cuba

There is a virtual 100 percent conviction rate. Once detained you will be charged and found guilty. It's just a question of what for.
-- Stephen Purvis, major British investor in Cuba who was arrested in 2011 and had millions confiscated upon falling out of favor with the Castro regime, Reuters, 6/8/15

Rum, Risk and Ruin: 13 Reasons Why You Still Shouldn’t Do Business in Cuba.

Great post by Santiago A. Cueto in International Business Law Advisor:

Rum, Risk and Ruin: 13 Reasons Why You Still Shouldn’t Do Business in Cuba.

The removal of Cuba from the U.S. state sponsors of terrorism list this week sparked a groundswell of excitement among U.S. entrepreneurs, lawyers, and investors looking to profit from the “enormous opportunities” on the island.

As part of the Florida Bar’s first-ever delegation to Havana, Cuba last week, I got the chance to see these “opportunities” for myself.

Indeed, Cuba does have lots of things to “offer”.

But they’re not what you’d expect.

The things I found most abundant in Cuba where rum, risk and ruin.

 Rum

First, the rum.

It’s everywhere.

Whether it’s meant to dull the senses of the locals to the island’s stark dystopian scene or to enhance the experience of the throngs of daily visitors, the abundance of rum is enough to fill Havana Bay twenty times over.

So there’s that.

Risk

Then there’s risk.

I’m not talking about the “getting mugged on a street corner” kind of risk– I always felt safe walking in Havana.

I’m talking about the “getting mugged by the Castro regime” kind of risk.

Economic risk.

Contractual Risk.

Investment Risk.

It’s all the same.

As one Florida banker put it “Capital doesn’t like to go where there’s risk….it’s not going to Iran, it’s not going to Iraq and it probably won’t go to Cuba for a while because of the risk.”

Ruin

Finally, there’s the ruin.

Structural, economic and social.

All manifested in dilapidated buildings, crumbling mansions and 60 year-old Franken-cars.

I’m talking epic decay.

To this point, many sections of Havana are in such a state of deterioration that my taxi driver refused to go down some streets because there was a real danger that a building would collapse on top of us.

This is particularly true after it rains.

In short, Havana is a Sherwin-Williams’ salesman’s dream.

Imagine an entire city that’s not had a fresh coat of paint in 60 years.

With the paint company’s stock (SHW) down 5.05% to $282.21 today there’s real opportunity in Havana for Sherwin-Williams.

But it will need to wait another 20 years.

I’m serious.

That’s how long I it will take before I’d advise anyone to do business in Cuba in the most optimistic of circumstances.

Just look at China.

I’m still wary of doing business there.

And its been 40 years since Nixon and Mao Zedong embarked on their normalization initiative.

Forty. Years.

13 Reasons You Still Shouldn’t Do Business in Cuba.

The below list is by no means exhaustive. I’ll be elaborating on each of them in the next few weeks.

1. Embargo will not be lifted for foreseeable future.
2. No Rule of Law.
3. Lacks of Independent judiciary.
4. Abysmal Human Rights Record
5. Outstanding Property Claims.
6. No Recognition of Property Rights.
7. Lack of Infrastructure.
8. No Skilled Work force.
9. No Major Industries.
10. Lack of Natural Resources.
11. No consumer class.
12. Mass Migration of Youth
13. Majority Elderly population.

Conclusion

To be sure, catching opportunities in Cuba is not unlike the experience of Santiago in Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.

In the story, Santiago struggles for days to catch a giant marlin off the coast of Havana.  When he finally catches the giant fish, it is quickly devoured by sharks.

For all his efforts, an exhausted Santiago is left with only a skeletal carcass to take back to his village.

One need only replace the sharks with the Castro regime to see how the current story’s going to end.

Fish bones anyone?

A Bad Week for Obama's Cuba Policy

Monday, June 8, 2015
Since President Obama's December 17th announcement to establish ties with the Castro regime, there has been nearly a 120% percent increase in the number of Cubans risking their lives to reach freedom in the United States; well over 3,000 political arrests; a dramatic increase in weekly violence against democracy activists, such as The Ladies in White; new long-term political prisoners, such as Cuban artist Danilo Maldonado "El Sexto"; the beatings and re-arrest of most of the 53 political prisoners who were released as part of the December 17th agreement; violence employed against Cuban democracy activists even outside the island, such as the nefarious attacks that took place at the Panama Summit; and Cuban activists who have been barred from leaving the island, like artist Tania Bruguera and democracy leader Antonio Rodiles.

We've also heard testimony from Cuban democracy leaders and political prisoners, who have told us how during the beatings and attacks against them now, they are mocked with comments like "this one is courtesy of Obama" and "the United States doesn't care about you."

Meanwhile, Cuban dictator Raul Castro has since been named for the first time as one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People. Popes, Presidents and Foreign Ministers visit and fawn over the Castros in Havana, but ignore Cuba's dissident leaders.

Last week, Congress put its foot down in a major way.

First, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry making it clear that he will block the confirmation of any U.S. Ambassador to Cuba absent concrete results on political reforms and human rights; the repatriation of U.S. terrorists and fugitives being harbored in Cuba; uncompensated property claims; and the removal of restrictions on U.S. diplomats in Cuba.

Second, the House Appropriations Committee released its FY 2016 State Department, Foreign Operations bill with key provisions that prohibit funds for an embassy or other diplomatic facility in Cuba, beyond what was in existence prior to the President’s December announcement proposing changes to the U.S.-Cuba policy. It also restricts funds to facilitate the opening of a Cuban embassy in the U.S., increases democracy assistance and international broadcasting to Cuba, and provides direction to the Secretary of State on denying the issuance of visas to members of the Cuban military and the Communist party.

Third, President Obama nominated Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, who is the key U.S. negotiator with the Castro regime, to be Ambassador to Mexico. Some Senators immediately raised questions about her credibility in light of deceptive statements regarding the Venezuelan opposition and the families of Americans murdered by the Castro regime. Undoubtedly, her negotiations with the Castro regime will play a central role in her confirmation process, particularly if she accepts restrictions on U.S. diplomats or on the operations of a potential U.S. Embassy in Havana.

Fourth, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a provision -- by a vote of 273-153 -- that would tighten sanctions against the Castro regime. The provision in the FY 2016 Commerce, Justice Appropriations ("CJS Appropriations") bill, supported by more than 30 Democrats, would ensure that no exports to Cuba under President Obama's new "Support for the Cuban People" category can go through entities owned or controlled by officers of Cuba's military ("MINFAR") and security services ("MININT"), or their immediate relatives.

Fifth, a group of Senators led by U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Finance Committee Chairman Orin Hatch (R-UT), et al., introduced the “Cuban Military Transparency Act,” legislation (similar to the provision overwhelmingly approved by the House in CJS Appropriations) that would ensure any increase in resources to the island reach the Cuban people by prohibiting financial transactions with the Castro regime’s military and security services.

Sixth, the U.S. House of Representatives -- by a vote of 247-176 -- approved a provision that would prohibit the use of confiscated property by any new flights or vessels authorized for travel to Cuba. The provision in the Transportation Appropriations bill ("THUD Appropriations"), supported by more than 25 Democrats, ensures that no new flights or vessels approved for travel to Cuba under President Obama's new policy can be facilitated through, or benefit from, confiscated property.

Kudos to Congress for its principled stand.

9th Consecutive Sunday: Over 70 Cuban Dissidents Arrested, Silence From Obama

Sunday, June 7, 2015
For the ninth consecutive Sunday, over 70 Cuban dissidents have been violently arrested by the Castro regime.

Among those arrested were 40 members of the pro-democracy group, The Ladies in White. One of them, Ada Lopez Canino, lost some of her teeth during the beating she received.

Also arrested were dozens of other dissidents, including rocker Gorki Aguila, artist Tania Bruguera, photographer Claudio Fuentes, former political prisoner Angel Moya and democracy leader Antonio Rodiles.

Last month, over 641 dissidents were arrested -- the highest number of political arrests in the last ten months.

Meanwhile, the Obama Administration remains silent and unmoved -- not to mention the U.S.'s regional allies, whom the President assured us would be more critical of rights abuses in Cuba thanks to his new policy.

As a result, the Castro regime is now completely emboldened and unaccountable in its repression.

Engaging Castro Won't Free the Cuban People (Nor Benefit U.S. Interests)

By U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ) in The Arizona Republic:

Talking to Cuba now won't free its people

Open relations with Cuba is achievable, but it should be done the right way for the right reasons.

The worldwide promotion of time-tested American values, and the assurance of our own nation's security, must be our principal foreign policy aim.

Pursuing relations with Cuba without first insisting on liberty and human rights for the Cuban people reflects a moral cowardice beneath the values of our great country, thereby damaging our values and our national security. It would be like single-mindedly seeking relations with North Korea.

Helping to free the Cuban people has been our nation's long-standing policy, but the administration's timing is as bizarre as it is unfortunate.

Falling oil prices and the monumental failure of regional left-wing economic polices has dealt us a powerful hand in our efforts to help the Cuban people reach their aspirations for liberty. Cuba's largest benefactor, Venezuela, is imploding economically, providing us a rare moment to steer the conversation to favor the Cuban people.

There has never been a better time to demand the fundamental changes necessary in a system that keeps Cubans impoverished and Raul Castro's family exceedingly rich. Instead, the Obama administration gave this decrepit communist dictatorship a new lease on life without requiring any steps toward democratization in return.

No one thinks of the communist method employed in this island nation when they envision trade. Cuba operates a system where wages are paid directly to the Cuban government, which then sends a pittance to the worker and keeps the rest.

While our administration insists their goal is to empower the Cuban entrepreneur by easing import/export restrictions, regulatory changes fall far short. For example, the administration foolishly allows the Cuban government to be the sole arbiter in defining what constitutes a Cuban "entrepreneur," rendering it unlikely that our new regulations will empower anyone except the Cuban military apparatus.

Perhaps most troubling about these actions concerns our national security.

While serving as chairman of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, I saw the Cuban government's continued role in undermining democratic values and its support of terrorist organizations. Cuba has ties to Hezbollah and actively harbors Columbia's FARC and Spain's ETA terrorists just 90 miles from our shores. As recently as last year, Cuba was caught red-handed trafficking shipments of illegal weapons with China and North Korea.

Furthermore, showing their disdain for American justice, the Cuban government continues to harbor U.S. fugitives, and senior Cuban military officials are still wanted on federal indictments for the murder of American citizens.

And let's not forget the Lourdes Signals Intelligence facility, Russia's largest abroad, which the Kremlin signaled intentions to reopen last year, placing a Russian spy site 100 miles south of Florida.

How does the administration respond to these dangerous actions by a communist regime long-desiring to undermine our national security? By removing them from the sponsors of terrorism list.

The promotion of international trade and commerce will always be a priority for me. So too will the protection of our national security. But let's not forget, ultimately, countries like Iran and Russia are closely watching how we deal with Cuba.

WSJ: The Secret Life of Fidel Castro

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

The Secret Life of Fidel Castro

A former security agent shows the leader lived large while preaching revolutionary sacrifice.

For 17 years Juan Reinaldo Sánchez was part of the elite team of Cuban security specialists charged with protecting the life and privacy of Fidel Castro. But in 1994 his loyalty came into question when, with a daughter already living abroad, a brother jumped on a raft for Florida. Castro fired him.

Sánchez was imprisoned for two years and tortured. In 2008 he defected to the U.S., making him the only member of el maximo lider’s personal escort ever to flee the island.

Last month Sánchez died, weeks after he published “The Double Life of Fidel Castro,” an English-language version of “La Vida Oculta de Fidel Castro,” first published in 2014 in Spain. The timing of his demise has some wondering if the long arm of the dictatorship did not reach out to exact revenge for his tell-all about his former boss. The official cause of death has been reported as lung cancer.

The legend of Castro as a great revolutionary who sacrifices for his people is preserved by keeping the details about his life a state secret. Sánchez’s account shows the real Castro: vengeful, self-absorbed and given to childish temper tantrums—aka “tropical storms.” “The best way of living with him,” Sánchez wrote, “was to accept all he said and did.”

The book is timely. The Obama administration has just removed Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism amid sharp criticism from exiles. Their concerns are sensible: Though Castro is now rumored to be feebleminded, the intelligence apparatus he built—which specializes in violence to destabilize democracy and trafficks in drugs and weapons—remains as it has been for a half century.

Sánchez witnessed firsthand Castro’s indifference to Cuban poverty. The comandante gave interminable speeches calling for revolutionary sacrifice. But he lived large, with a private island, a yacht, some 20 homes across the island, a personal chef, a full-time doctor, and a carefully selected and prepared diet.

When a Canadian company offered to build a modern sports-facility for the nation, Castro used the donation for a private basketball court. Wherever he traveled in the world, his bed was dismantled and shipped ahead to ensure the comfort he demanded.

Castro was obsessed with spreading his revolution. Outside of Havana was a secret camp called Punto Cero de Guanabo where, Sánchez wrote, Cuba “trained, shaped and advised guerrilla movements [and organizations] from all over the world.” Recruits from places like Venezuela, Colombia, Chile and Nicaragua practiced hijacking airplanes and learned to use explosives.

“The Chile of Salvador Allende at the start of the 1970s,” Sánchez wrote, “was without doubt the country in which Cuban influence had penetrated most deeply. Fidel devoted enormous energies and resources to it” and he infiltrated it heavily with Cuban intelligence operatives.

Sánchez learned about what had happened in Chile from Castro’s notorious revolutionary spymaster Manuel Piñeiro, who “was always hanging around the presidential palace” talking about it.

The Cuban regime “penetrated and infiltrated [Allende’s] entourage” with the objective of creating “an unconditional ally in Santiago de Chile.” Marxists “ Miguel Enríquez, the leader of [Chile’s] Movement of the Revolutionary Left, and Andrés Pascal Allende, co-founder of that radical movement and also nephew of President Allende” were Castro protégés who trained in Cuba.

Allende’s daughter Beatriz, married to a Cuban diplomat in Santiago, persuaded her father to fire the presidential guard he inherited. It was replaced with “militants of the left” including Cuban agents. After Allende fell, Castro continued training Chilean recruits in Cuba. One of those was Juan Gutiérrez Fischmann, who according to Sánchez has been “long sought by Interpol” for his role in the assassination of Chilean senator Jaime Guzmán.

One day in 1988 while Sánchez was posted outside of Castro’s office, the comandante received the minister of the interior. Castro instructed Sánchez to break with his normal routine by not secretly recording the meeting.

When it dragged on and Castro never opened the door to call for a whiskey as he usually did, a curious Sánchez put on his headphones and listened in. He heard the two discussing “a huge drug trafficking transaction” that was “being carried out at the highest echelons of the state.” That’s when the scales fell from his eyes, Sánchez told me in an interview in Miami in October.

The following year Castro ordered Gen. Arnoldo Ochoa—the most revered Cuban military hero from the Bay of Pigs to the Angola conflict—and three others in the high ranks of the military to face a firing squad for drug trafficking.

Sánchez came to realize that Fidel used people “and then dispose[d] of them without the slightest qualms.” It’s the story of the Cuban Revolution, but it’s not clear if the Obama administration understands it.

Must-Read: Seven Final Warnings About Obama's Cuba Policy

By renowned Cuban author, Carlos Alberto Montaner:

Seven final warnings about Obama's new Cuba policy

The first warning is that the government of the Castro brothers maintains in 2015 exactly the same vision of the United States that it had when the guerrillas came to power in January 1959.

To them, the huge and powerful neighbor and its purported predatory practices in the economic field are at the root of mankind's basic problems.

The second warning, a consequence of the first, is that that regime, wholly consistent with its beliefs, will continue to try to affect the United States negatively in all instances that present themselves.

Yesterday, it placed itself under the Soviet umbrella. In the post-Soviet era, it built the foundation for the São Paulo Forum and later for the circuit known as 21st-Century socialism, which extended to the countries of the so-called ALBA. Today, it allies itself firmly with Iran and is lining up with the Sino-Russian side in this new and dangerous Cold War being gestated. To the Castros, anti-Americanism is a moral crusade that they'll never renounce.

The third one is that the Cuban dictatorship has not the slightest intention to begin a process of liberalization that might allow political pluralism or freedoms, as these are known among the world's most developed nations.

Opposition democrats are tolerated so long as their movements and communications can be regulated and watched by the political police.

The regime perfectly dominates the techniques of social control. Aside from the conventional police to keep the opposition in check, it has at least 60,000 counterintelligence officers under the MININT [Interior Ministry] and tens of thousands of collaborators. To them, repression is not a dark and shameful behavior but a constant and patriotic task.

The fourth is that the economic system being erected by Raúl Castro has not been conceived to nurture a civil society, a society that someday will magically overthrow the dictatorship. Instead, it is a model of Military Capitalism of State (MCS), whose backbone consists of the Army and the Ministry of the Interior, institutions that control most of the country's productive apparatus.

Within that scheme, as can be surmised from the words of official economist Juan Triana Cordoví, the State (in reality, the military sector) reserves for itself the management and exploitation of the country's 2,500 medium and large businesses, leaving to the self-employed entrepreneurs a large number of small activities that it doesn't care to sustain.

Contrary to the thinking in Washington and among the nongovernmental Cuban sectors that support those economic reforms, Raúl Castro and his advisers assume, correctly, that the self-employed entrepreneurs will be a source of stability for the Military Capitalism of State, not because of ideological affinity but because they don't want to lose the small privileges and advantages they gain.

The fifth one is that the Castro brothers' regime is not at all interested in propitiating the enrichment of foreign businessmen. They despise the capitalists' zest for profiting, which they find repugnant, although they themselves practice it discreetly, somehow.

Investments from abroad will be welcome only and solely if they contribute to strengthen the Military Capitalism of State that they are forging. To the Cuban government, those investments are a necessary evil, like someone amputating his own arm to save his life.

If anybody thinks that that regime will permit the emergence and growth of an independent entrepreneurial fabric, it's because he has not taken the trouble to study the writings and speeches of the officials of the regime or even to examine their behavior.

Real-estate investor and renowned millionaire Stephen Ross was absolutely right when, after returning from a trip to Cuba, he declared that he had not seen on the island the tiniest serious opportunity to do business. In reality, there is none, except in those activities that provide a clear profit for the government or those that are absolutely indispensable for the survival of the regime.

It is obvious that the Castros' priority is to cling to power and not develop a vigorous entrepreneurial fabric that will bring Cubans out of misery. To explain their shortfalls, they have created the alibi of revolutionary austerity and criticism of consumerism (people's attraction to “junk”) as a heroic and selfless form of confronting poverty.

The sixth warning is that, in the face of this depressing picture of abuse and insistence on the usual blunders, Washington's rejection of containment and its substitution by engagement (plus cancelling the objective of trying to promote a regime change, as Obama announced in Panama) is a dangerous and irresponsible hastiness that will harm the United States, encourage its enemies, dishearten its allies and affect very negatively the Cuban people, who desire freedoms, real democracy and an end to their misery.

What's the sense of the United States -- and the Catholic Church -- helping to strengthen a Military Capitalism of State, a foe of freedoms including economic freedom, a violator of Human Rights that perpetuates in power a collectivist dictatorship that has destroyed Cuba and today contributes to destroying Venezuela, because it cannot show anything other than what it has done for 56 years?

The seventh warning is that the democratic opposition has never been more fragile and less protected than today, despite the impressive number of dissidents and the heroism they display. It has never been more alone.

Why would anyone take that opposition into account when the United States has renounced regime change and is willing to accept the Cuban dictatorship without demanding anything in exchange?

The United States has renounced to indicating to Havana clearly that true change begins at the moment when the top level of the dictatorship accepts that the first step is to dialogue with the opposition and admit that societies are pluralistic and harbor differing points of view.

What argument can be wielded now by the silent and always cowed reformists in the regime to ask -- sotto voce -- for political and economic changes from the Castros' government when nobody else demands them?

In sum, Obama has made a serious mistake by separating himself from the policy followed by the 10 presidents, Democratic and Republican, who preceded him to the White House.

Nobody can state by decree that his enemy has suddenly turned into his friend and has begun to think along one's lines. That's childish.

It is not a question of criticizing Obama for having essayed a new policy. The problem is that it is a bad policy.

You cannot ignore reality without paying a high price in the end. What's sad is that we Cubans will pay that price.
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Excerpts from the lecture Relations Between the United States and Cuba at the New Stage of the Thaw: Common Sense or Irresponsible Hastiness? delivered by Carlos Alberto Montaner at the Interamerican Institute for Democracy in Miami on June 4, 2015.

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Congressional Response Shows Overwhelming Rejection of Obama’s Cuba Policy

By Ana Quintana in The Daily Signal:

Congressional Responses Show Overwhelming Rejection of Obama’s New Cuba Policy

If there was any confusion as to where Congress stood on Cuba, this week definitely put that to rest. From spending bills to legislation, a bipartisan coalition in Congress is pushing back against the Obama Administration.

On Wednesday, the House passed the Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) spending bill which included a provision prohibiting either agency from funding commercial transactions with the “Cuban military or intelligence service, or an immediate family member thereof.” Currently, White House regulations only make exceptions to “certain officials of the government or the Communist party.”

That same day, a bipartisan group of Senators led by Senator Marco Rubio (R–FL) introduced the Cuban Military and Transparency Act. Co-sponsoring the bill are Senators Tom Cotton (R–AR), Ted Cruz (R–TX), Cory Gardner (R–CO), Orin Hatch (R–UT), Mark Kirk (R–IL), Bob Menendez (D–NJ), and David Vitter (R–LA).

Rubio said:

"It is not in the interest of the United States or the people of Cuba for the U.S. to become a financier of the Castro regime’s brutality. The Cuban Military Transparency Act would prevent U.S. dollars from getting into the hands of the Cuban military and would demand accountability from the Obama Administration regarding fugitives of American justice in Cuba, the return of stolen and uncompensated property and the role of the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces and the Ministry of the Interior in Cuba."

Support for stricter sanctions was echoed the following day when the House approved the Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development spending bill, banning the Federal Aviation Administration, Maritime Administration, and the Federal Maritime Commission from approving new landing and docking areas on confiscated lands in Cuba.

It has been almost six months since the President announced his radical Cuba policy shift. Since then, we have been consistently reminded of just how bad of a deal the White House negotiated for the U.S. In less than six months, President Obama has given Havana three convicted spies, drastically eased sanctions, lobbied Congress to lift the embargo, and removed Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terrorism list. While Congress still has more to do, such as maintaining the embargo and the Guantanamo Bay naval base, this week proved just how unpopular the President’s new Cuba policy is.