Castro Demands Obama Break the Law, Obama Considers Complying

Friday, July 24, 2015
On Monday, during his State Department press conference, Castro's Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, insisted: "the President of the United States can continue using his executive powers to pay a significant contribution to the dismantling of the blockade."

After all, who knows more about the rule of law than a totalitarian dictatorship?

Yet, only two days later, at a White House pow-wow of Obama's allies, it was reported that the Administration was considering some new regulations, including licensing individuals for people-to-people trips.

Of course, that would be beyond the scope of what is permitted -- or has ever been permitted -- by law and, therefore, considered illegal tourism.

The Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (§910(b) of P.L. 106-387, Title IX) codified the ban on tourist activities, which are defined as any activity not expressly authorized in the 12 categories of travel set forth in the regulations. It further specified, "as such regulations were in effect on June 1, 2000."

Licensing individuals for people-to-people trips, not only falls outside the common-sense threshold of what are tourist activities, but of the legal threshold that was clearly set forth by Congress.

And, it's precisely in Congress where this debate belongs.

Yesterday, the Senate Appropriations Committee included a provision the Financial Services Appropriations bill that would eliminate enforcement of this tourism prohibition for a year.

Meanwhile, the House version of the same Financial Services Appropriations -- also cleared through Committee (though with less media enthusiasm) -- would eliminate "people-to-people" group tours altogether; prohibit any transaction with entities owned or operated by the Cuban military (MINFAR) and security services (MININT); and prohibit the importation of stolen property by travelers, namely confiscated rum and cigar products.

Additionally, in the Transportation Appropriations bill, the House already voted by a 247-176 margin (including over 25 Democrats) to tighten travel sanctions towards Cuba.

And so much more. (Click here for details.)

But that's how the rule of law works.

It would be ironic (at best) for Obama to purport promoting the establishment of the rule of law in Cuba, by violating it himself.

Moreover, at the request of a totalitarian dictator.

Obama's "Back to the Future" Cuba Policy

A Letter to the Editor of The New York Times:

Effects of Our Cuba Policy

In “The New Era Begins With Cuba” (editorial, July 21), you acknowledge: “It would be naïve to expect that the Cuban government, a dynastic police state, will take big steps in the near future to liberalize its centrally planned economy, encourage private enterprise or embrace pluralistic political reforms. In fact, in the face of potentially destabilizing change and high expectations at home, Cuban officials may be tempted to tighten state controls in the short term.”

That, in fact, is what has been occurring since President Obama’s Dec. 17th announcement of a policy change, and, given the regime’s totalitarian proclivity and apparatus, the state’s repression of dissidents and civil society, and its control over the lion’s share of the island’s economy, it is likely to continue into the distant future.

As an academic and policy consultant specializing in Cuba, I came to the conclusion several years ago that the United States faced a moral and political conundrum in its Cuba policy: how to help the Cuban people without helping the Castro regime. Unfortunately, the president’s new engagement policy now makes the United States complicit in propping up the regime both economically and politically, while leaving Cuban society even more isolated and defenseless vis-à-vis the all-powerful, coercive state.

If so, we are “back to the future,” whereby Washington coddled or looked the other way toward the Somoza, Trujillo and Batista dictatorships in Latin America — only in the case of today’s Cuba, the longevity of the regime may now be assured.

Edward Gonzalez
Malibu, Calif.
The writer is professor emeritus of political science at U.C.L.A. 

Political Cartoon: Raising of the Cuban Flag in Washington, D.C.

Senator Leahy's Contempt for Cuban-Americans

Thursday, July 23, 2015
Check out this quote today from U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT):

"Positive change in Cuba will take time. But it will come not as a result of stubborn nostalgia by a vociferous few for the Batista years, but by visiting Cuba, listening to the Cuban people, and engaging with them."

This mindset is the reason why Senator Leahy sees no problem ignoring Cuban dissidents or peddling favors for a Cuban spy convicted for the murder of Americans.

Leahy is still fighting the 1959 Revolution, regurgitating Castro's propaganda and whitewashing its behavior.

Ironically, all three Cuban-American Senator's families (Cruz, Menendez and Rubio) fled the Batista dictatorship, prior to being betrayed by the Castro dictatorship.

The fact is Cuban-Americans simply want to see their homeland and brethren free.

But Leahy prefers to ignorantly stereotype and insult our community.

Sadly, this is one of the main architects of Obama's new Cuba policy.

Cuban Dissidents Feel Abandoned, as Obama Empowers Castro Regime

What a sad testimony of Obama's new Cuba policy.

The Obama Administration relegates democracy leaders in Cuba -- and foreign dignitaries, businessmen and Members of U.S. Congress follow suit.

That the Castro regime is successfully imposing its will -- of sidelining courageous dissidents -- upon U.S. policymakers proves that far from persuading Castro to "behave" better, Obama's unprincipled policy is further empowering it.

From AP:

Cuban dissidents feel sidelined as US focuses on state ties

In the seven months since the U.S. and Cuba declared detente, American politicians have flooded Havana to see the sights, meet the country's new entrepreneurs and discuss the possible end of the U.S. trade embargo with leaders of the communist government.

Their agendas have also featured an increasingly conspicuous hole — the spot once occupied by U.S.-backed dissidents who then sat at the center of Washington's policy on Cuba.

According to an Associated Press count confirmed by leading dissidents, more than 20 U.S. lawmakers have come to Cuba since February without meeting with opposition groups that once were an obligatory stop for congressional delegations.

Advocates of President Barack Obama's outreach to Cuba say it's a more intelligent way to push for democratic reform on the island. After decades of fruitlessly trying to strengthen the government's opponents, they see diplomatic engagement as the best method for persuading Cuba it's time to open the political system and keep loosening control of the centrally planned economy.

That's left many dissidents feeling increasingly sidelined and abandoned as both countries celebrate milestones like Monday's opening of embassies in Havana and Washington.

"The only thing they want is to open up business, the embassy," said Berta Soler, leader of a faction of the Ladies in White, one of the island's best-known dissident groups. "Whenever someone high-level came from the United States before, they always made time to meet with us before getting on the plane (back home), and that's not happening."

Legislative staffers say Cuban officials have made clear that if Congress members meet with dissidents, they will not get access to high-ranking officials such as First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, the man expected to be the next president of Cuba who has met with U.S. politicians like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

Image of the Week: Change of Address Card for New Cuban Embassy

Yesterday, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) introduced legislation to rename the street where the new Cuban Embassy is located as "Oswaldo Payá Way" in honor of the slain democracy leader.

As a follow-up, The Victim of Communism Memorial Foundation sent the following change of address card to the new Cuban Embassy:

Legal Report: Evidence Suggests Cuban Regime May Have Killed Oswaldo Paya

From The Human Rights Foundation (HRF):

Cuba: HRF Report on Oswaldo Payá’s Death; Evidence Suggests Government May Have Killed Him

To mark the third anniversary of the death of Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá, the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) published a legal report today highlighting the inaccuracies and inconsistencies of the official government investigation following Payá’s death in 2012. HRF has documented numerous due process violations, including damning witness accounts, a grossly inadequate autopsy examination, and other key pieces of evidence that were overlooked by the Cuban judicial system. HRF’s report concludes that the “evidence, which was deliberately ignored, strongly suggests that the events of July 22, 2012 were not an accident, but instead the result of a car crash directly caused by agents of the state.”

“Oswaldo Payá was the most prominent Latin American pro-democracy activist of the last twenty five years and he was killed under suspicion of foul play in the Western Hemisphere’s only totalitarian country. Yet, few mainstream politicians, media, and NGOs around the world have cared enough to insist on an independent investigation into Payá’s death,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen. “With the publication of this thorough report, which brings to light evidence that has been purposefully obscured by Cuba’s repressive apparatus, HRF hopes to fill this vacuum and help the Payá family in their search for truth and justice,” said Halvorssen.

The driver of the vehicle carrying Payá, Spanish national Ángel Carromero, was immediately taken into custody at a hospital, and later transferred to prisons in Bayamo and Havana. On October 15, 2012, he was convicted of vehicular homicide and sentenced to four years in prison. On December 29, 2012, Carromero arrived in Spain under an agreement brokered by his government, and soon after retracted all statements he made under duress in Cuba. Carromero eventually told his full story in a book entitled, “Death Under Suspicion.” After analyzing all the evidence that emerged in the months that followed Payá’s death, HRF’s legal report concludes that Carromero was forced to record a self-incriminating video that was broadcast domestically and internationally, and that the Cuban prosecution ignored the complaints made by the Payá family and barred them from the court proceedings.

HRF’s report also found that Carromero did not have access to an attorney for several weeks after the accident, and later had no choice but to hire members of the only lawyers guild allowed by the Cuban government. Members of this guild are legally compelled to “defend the Revolution” and perform their duties “inspired by the example set by the Commander-in-Chief Fidel Castro Ruz.” Finally, the report found that the prosecution did not allow Carromero access to the case file or to the evidence on which the accusation was based; his attorneys could not present new evidence; none of the allegations made for each one of these violations was investigated or clarified by the Cuban authorities; and that, “to date, the victims’ next of kin don’t know the full, complete, and public truth as to what happened to their relatives.”

“The best available evidence, which was deliberately ignored by Cuba’s judiciary, strongly suggests direct government responsibility in the deaths of Mr. Payá and Mr. Cepero,” said Javier El-Hage, general counsel of HRF. “Specifically, the evidence suggests that their deaths were the result of a car crash directly caused by agents of the state, acting with the intent to kill Oswaldo Payá and the passengers in the vehicle he was riding, with the intent to inflict grievous bodily harm to them, or with reckless or depraved indifference to an unjustifiably high risk to their lives,” said El-Hage.

Click here to read the report.

Two Cuba Polls, One Huge Contradiction

Tuesday, July 21, 2015
This morning, the Associated Press released a poll showing that a minority 48% of Americans believe that sanctions towards Cuba should be decreased or removed entirely.

Of the 48% -- 29% believe sanctions should be decreased and only 19% believe they should be removed entirely.

Just a few hours later, Pew released a poll purporting that 72% of Americans support ending the trade embargo entirely.


For the mathematically challenged, that's a 53-point discrepancy between both polls.

There's no margin of error that covers that.

Yet, unfortunately, the Obama Administration and its allies insist on peddling anecdotes, theories and (contradictory) polls to support their Cuba policy -- for the facts (here and here) are too sobering.

Front Page: What Obama's Cuba Policy Looks Like

The front page of USA Today (below) perfectly encapsulates this week's flag-raising event at the Cuban Embassy.

Or as President Obama likes to say -- "what change looks like."

In the big picture, left-wing radical group, Code Pink, chants "Viva Fidel!" and celebrates Obama's recognition of the Cuban dictatorship.

Meanwhile, in the small picture, a Cuban-American human rights activist is arrested for demonstrating on behalf of the victims of Cuba's dictatorship.

A very sad day.

Why I Refuse to Acknowledge the US Embassy in Havana

By Ana Quintana in The Daily Signal:

Why I Refuse to Acknowledge the US Embassy in Havana

Today a Cuban embassy will open in the United States, and an American embassy will open in Cuba. While the Obama administration fawns over its latest concession to the Castro regime, I will be honoring the legacy of a Cuban democratic martyr.

On July 22, 2012, the Cuban government murdered my friend’s father, Oswaldo Payá, and Harold Cepero. Their car was deliberately run off a road by the Cuban government.

To this day, there has never been an independent investigation into their deaths, and the Cuban government has never been held accountable. The Castro regime’s complicity and downright attacks against human rights activists have become all too common.

Earlier that same year, Amnesty International prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo died in prison after the Cuban government denied him water during a hunger strike. The following year, a founder of the Ladies in White, Laura Inés Pollán, died following what is widely suspected to be poisoning by the Cuban government. Their murders were particularly audacious, since they were some of Cuba’s best-known dissidents.

These heroic figures presented a direct threat to the regime. In 1988, Oswaldo Payá founded the Christian Liberation Movement, the largest and arguably the most powerful dissident organization on the island. Founded by Catholics, the organization was founded on the belief of human dignity and democratic governance.

Perhaps Oswaldo Payá’s greatest contribution to Cuban freedom was the “Varela Project,” an initiative in which 11,000 brave Cubans petitioned the Cuban government for political and social freedoms. It should be noted that at the time, the “Constitution of Cuba guaranteed the right to a national referendum on any proposal that achieved 10,000 or more signatures.” This heroic effort was absolutely unprecedented in Castro’s Cuba.

Payá was known throughout the world as Cuba’s leading pro-democracy figure. In 2002, the European Parliament awarded him the Sakharov Prize, and in 2005, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Václav Havel, the former president of the Czech Republic.

Following his death, the U.S. Senate “unanimously approved a resolution honoring the life and legacy of Oswaldo Payá.” That resolution included a call for the “[g]overnment of Cuba to allow an impartial, third-party investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Oswaldo Payá Sardinas.”

Since his death, his daughter Rosa Maria Payá has carried on her father’s legacy. For the past three years, she’s traveled the world, calling on the international community to hold the Cuban government accountable. The United Nations in particular has been an abysmal failure in this case. The governments of China, Pakistan, Belarus and Nicaragua joined the Cuban government in trying to block Rosa Maria Payá’s speech before the Human Rights Council. As her father’s daughter, she’s spent much of her life under surveillance and death threats by the Cuban government.

Earlier this year, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Payá warned the Obama administration:

"The Cuban government wouldn’t have dared to carry out its death threats against my father if the U.S. government and the democratic world had been showing solidarity. If you turn your face, impunity rages. While you slept, the regime was conceiving their cleansing of the pro-democracy leaders to come. While you sleep, a second generation of dictators is planning with impunity their next crimes."

Any decent person should be morally outraged that the White House has allowed Oswaldo Payá’s death to go unpunished. Next month, while Obama’s diplomats celebrate alongside their Cuban counterparts, I’ll be lighting a candle in the memory of Oswaldo Payá.

Obama Rewarding Oppression in Cuba

By Marion Smith in CNN:

Obama rewarding oppression in Cuba

On Monday, for the first time in five decades, the flag of Cuba will fly over an embassy in the United States. But the event is marked by a cruel coincidence -- the same week, the United States officially commemorates the plight of those languishing in captive nations around the world, a tradition started more than 50 years ago.

In 1959, the same year that Fidel Castro's forces proclaimed victory in Havana, Congress designated the third week of July as Captive Nations Week to express America's solidarity with citizens trapped under oppressive communist regimes. Congress recognized that communism "makes a mockery of the idea of peaceful co-existence between nations and constitutes a detriment to the natural bonds of understanding between the people of the United States and other peoples." With this in mind, America would continue to show solidarity with the oppressed "until such time as freedom and independence shall have been achieved for all the captive nations of the world," as the first Captive Nations Week proclamation from President Dwight Eisenhower decreed.

Every president since, regardless of party, has followed this tradition, pledging to those in captivity that we would have their back. But this year, instead of reaffirming our commitment to all those seeking liberty, justice and self-determination, America has turned its back on them.

Instead of isolating and pressuring the repressive Cuban regime, policymakers in Washington are rewarding it with increased trade relations and near-full diplomatic recognition. In welcoming the communist Castro regime back into the family of nations -- with no reform of the Cuban government -- the U.S. government has betrayed decades of sound bipartisan policy inaugurated under President John F. Kennedy.

Today, scores of Cubans still languish in prison for such "crimes" as supporting democracy and a free press. In 2013, Human Rights Watch notes, a group of women who were peacefully demonstrating against the government were arrested, beaten, taken into a bus and dumped far from their homes. Just last month, Cuban human rights advocate Guillermo Fariñas came to Washington to accept the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom, which we awarded him for his more than two dozen hunger strikes against the communist government in Havana. Countless other dissidents and activists risk their life and livelihood every day resisting the restrictive and repressive regime.

Cuba's egregious human rights abuses notwithstanding, America is proceeding to "normalize" relations with this wholly abnormal regime, as if the decades-long, bipartisan isolation of Cuba has all been the result of some silly misunderstanding.

Sadly, America's willful blindness to the tyrannical abuses of other countries is now typical of its foreign policy generally. Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent expansionist escapades in Georgia and eastern Ukraine signal the return of a neo-Soviet bluster that threatens stability and peace in the region. Meanwhile, inside Russia, government authorities systematically chip away at civil society and police remain idle as political opponents, minority groups, lesbians and gays are beaten by local mobs. So far, aside from the limited scope of the so-called Magnitsky Act, this bluster and violence have been met with meekness and platitudes from Western and American leaders.

As we commemorate Captive Nations Week, America has become a captive nation itself -- captive to the idea that values are relative and that we have no right or authority to insist on human rights in our dealings with other countries.

​And our actions -- or lack of them -- are not just an offense to strategic logic; they are not just a violation of our decades-long, stated policy of solidarity with those in captive nations everywhere. They are, in fact, a cruel affront to the victims of communism past and present, who look to the United States to resist totalitarianism boldly wherever it rears its head. Instead, we are sending the message that we simply don't care, that we will do business with anyone.

​But the victims remember. Victims such as Jon Basil Utley, whose Russian father the KGB abducted in the middle of the night, just before Utley was born. Utley never again saw his dad, whom the Soviets later killed. Victims such as Nal Oum, an accomplished medical doctor in Cambodia who fled to America after the Khmer Rouge began its killing sprees. He is the only known physician to have escaped from a Khmer Rouge death camp. Victims such as Jinhye Jo, whose siblings and grandmother starved to death in her native North Korea. Her father was tortured and killed and her mother beaten by state officials.

​These names are not known to most Americans, but America is known to them. They all sought sanctuary here after fleeing oppression and tyranny. They know the importance of Captive Nations Week, because they barely survived life within captive nations. They join tens of millions of other American citizens who are in this country because they or their parents fled communist tyranny to come here. These refugees helped to make America the moral leader of the free world throughout the Cold War -- they represented the voices of the people of their home countries, not the party.

​In recent years, President Barack Obama's statements of support for captive nations have been perfunctory. In sharp contrast to his predecessors, there have been no public events, no impassioned speeches, not even a reference to communism itself in the only proclamation the President should make once a year about this deadly ideology.

​This is a tragic and morally unsustainable situation, one that I believe is contrary to what is inside the President's heart. Like the American people, Obama must care deeply about the plight of the oppressed, the persecuted, the dissidents who disappear in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, his administration's actions tell a different tale.

​President Obama, your place is to stand with the victims of communism, of totalitarianism and oppression, not with those who victimize them.

Diplomatic Relations With Cuba Restored -- At A Great Cost To The U.S.

By Mike Gonzalez in Forbes:

Diplomatic Relations With Cuba Formally Restored--At A Great Cost To The U.S.

Perhaps we should leave it to Gerardo Hernandez to write the definitive epigraph of U.S. foreign policy for the next two years. Hernandez is one of the convicted Cuban spies that President Barack Obama sprung from prison last year to curry enough favor with Cuba’s dictator Raul Castro to see today’s raising of the Cuban flag in Washington. He taunted Obama recently:

“We are going to have diplomatic relations with the United States without having ceded one iota.”

As today’s exchange of embassies in Havana and Washington attests, the KGB-trained spy was right on the money.

Of course, these kinds of boasts do not seem to bother the President. When informed that Syria’s dictator Bashar al-Assad and the mullahs in Tehran were also jeering at the U.S.—this time for giving away the store to Tehran—Obama famously mused:

“It does not give me pause that Mr. Assad or others in Tehran may be trying to spin the deal in a way that they think is favorable to what their constituencies want to hear. That’s what politicians do.”

The scorn and ridicule being heaped on our leader by the world’s worst actors may, however, start to disturb Americans at some point. After all, Obama will leave office in 18 months’ time, but the country will reap the bitter fruit of his foreign policy for years to come.

It’s troubling that President Obama is under the illusion that men like Assad, Castro and Iran’s Ali Khamenei are “politicians” who have “constituencies” they are concerned about. It betrays a naïve, even warped sense of the world. Assad, for one, has massacred 320,000 of his “constituents,” while Castro routinely arrests thousands of his each year for speaking their minds.

Of course, U.S. presidents must first take a cold-eyed look at U.S. national interests, not the depredations practiced by tyrants against those poor souls who have to scratch out lives under them. But from the perspective of U.S. national security, the Cuba deal may in time rival the one with Iran, or the failure to stick by the red line with Syria, as one of the most dangerous to the security of Americans. Ponder Hernandez’s words again.

This spy was duly convicted by a U.S. court in 2001 for conspiracy to commit murder on U.S. soil—though Obama refers to him and the other two spies whose sentences he commuted simply as “Cuban agents.” The President released the three as part of the deal which culminated in today’s embassy swap.

Waive the fact that President Obama did not use the same logic with the Cuban spies that he used with the four Americans detained in Iran. Last week, the President dressed down journalist Major Garrett for asking why he was “content” to leave them in Iran when he struck the deal with Tehran. Obama tartly responded:

“Think about the logic that that creates. Suddenly, Iran realizes, you know what, maybe we can get additional concessions out of the Americans by holding these individuals.”

Obama got nothing from the Cubans, as we know from Hernandez. He didn’t even get gratitude. This is what Hernandez told al-Jazeera this month: “I’ll do it again if I have to.”

And that is the problem with caving in to bad people who think nothing of repressing their own populations. They will think nothing of harming ours, too. Castro has now gained a coterie of spies who, under diplomatic immunity, will have the run of the U.S. They can even lobby Congress.

In exchange for what, Americans may well ask. The president will get another notch on what he considers his legacy, as will Secretary of State John Kerry. The message running across the Twitter feed this morning perfectly captured the mindset, as well as the seriousness, of the Obama Administration’s approach to Cuba: “First on CNN: Kerry to make historic trip to Cuba on Aug. 14.”

So Mr. Obama gets a “legacy.” Mr. Kerry gets a junket. But what will 11 million still-repressed Cubans and 330 million Americans get?

To Embrace Cuba's Regime, State Department Doesn't Have to Behave Like It

It's tough to say which was more repulsive yesterday:

Castro regime officials raising the flag at the Cuban Embassy amid cheers of "Viva Fidel!"?

Or the U.S. State Department telling Rosa Maria Paya, daughter of murdered democracy leader Oswaldo Paya, that if she asked any questions at the press conference with Secretary of State John Kerry and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, she would be forcefully removed?

Is that the "example" the U.S. seeks to set?

Tweet Translation: [State Department spokesperson John] asks me not to ask any questions today at press conference with John Kerry, or they would use force to remove me.

Height of Irresponsibility: NYT Editorial Now Hedges Bet on Cuba

For the past year, The New York Times has aggressively been editorializing about how a U.S. policy of engagement -- and unlimited concessions -- with Castro's regime will encourage reforms and freedoms for the Cuban people.

Now that it owns the policy (along with the Obama Administration), as the flag went up yesterday at the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C., amid cheers of "Viva Fidel!", it editorialized:

"It would be naïve to expect that the Cuban government, a dynastic police state, will take big steps in the near future to liberalize its centrally planned economy, encourage private enterprise or embrace pluralistic political reforms. In fact, in the face of potentially destabilizing change and high expectations at home, Cuban officials may be tempted to tighten state controls in the short term."

In other words, legitimize Castro's vile dictatorship, the sole remaining dictatorship in the Americas; pump billions into the regime's military and security services; help it consolidate the middle ranks of its entrepreneurial apparatchiks; turn a blind-eye to its weapons-smuggling and nefarious activities in Venezuela; and pull the carpet from Cuba's courageous democracy leaders.

All for what?

To preserve the regime's status quo -- or for things to even get worse.

But at least Castro won't be able to blame the U.S., says the NYT in solace.

An excuse that -- apparently -- only the NYT actually believed.

Speaker Boehner: Stand With Cuba's Freedom Fighters, Not With Castro

Speaker Boehner on the Reopening of the Cuban Embassy in Washington, DC

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) today issued the following statement on the reopening of the Cuban embassy in Washington, DC amid reports that the Castro regime continues to beat and imprison pro-democracy activists:

As the Cuban flag rises just up the street from the White House, the Cuban dictatorship continues to attack, arrest, and abuse pro-democracy activists.  It is appalling to see America’s president welcoming – and rewarding – a regime that shows no regard for our most fundamental values.    Instead of mingling with the Castros’ representatives today, our government should be standing with Cuba’s freedom fighters.  These brave men and women, and their families, are certainly in my prayers.”

WaPo Editorial Board: U.S. Would Do Well to Focus on Human Rights in Cuba

By The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

U.S. diplomats in Cuba would do well to focus on human rights

PRESIDENT OBAMA’S opening to Cuba is based on the hope that, after more than a half-century of hostility from the United States, a surge of commerce, information and travel will somehow erode the rigid authoritarian state built by Fidel Castro and now presided over by his brother, Raúl. The assumption is questionable: The opening, including Monday’s reestablishment of embassies, could well enhance rather than undermine the regime. The United States has diplomatic relations with many authoritarian governments that flout human rights, including China, Saudi Arabia and Russia. What will matter with Cuba is not the raising of flags in Washington and Havana but how the United States applies its influence.

Negotiations that led to this point included “a pretty robust conversation” about the abysmal human rights situation in Cuba, a senior administration official told reporters last week. Cuba has released some political prisoners. But frequent reports from the island make it plain that routine harassment continues of dissidents and those who speak out. Short-term detentions and beatings are common, especially when the courageous Ladies in White, a group of wives and female relatives of jailed dissidents, take to the streets after Sunday Mass.

The opening of embassies upgraded the status of U.S. officials in Havana, who will now be full-fledged diplomats, with freedom to move around Cuba. Perhaps they should skip a diplomatic reception or two and use this newfound access to examine one of the most unsettling chapters in the history of the Castro dictatorship.

Three years ago Wednesday, on July 22, 2012, the Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá was riding in a car with an associate, Harold Cepero, and two foreign visitors, from Spain and Sweden. The Spaniard, Ángel Carromero, a leader of the youth wing of Spain’s ruling party, was driving the blue rental car down a remote country road on the way to visit activists in Mr. Payá’s Christian Liberation Movement. The car crashed, killing Mr. Payá and Mr.Cepero.

Mr. Carromero was accused of vehicular homicide and jailed after a show trial in Havana where he was pressured into saying that the car had crashed because of his reckless driving. Mr. Carromero was later released to Spain, and has since declared, in an interview with us and in a book, that the car was forced off the road by another vehicle bearing Cuban government license plates. His statements suggest that Mr. Castro’s goons caused the crash that killed Mr. Payá and Mr. Cepero.

Unfortunately, no government or international institution has carried out a credible investigation of Mr. Payá’s death. On Wednesday the Human Rights Foundation of New York will publish a report highlighting many legal and factual questions that linger. Then there is the political legacy: More than a decade ago, Mr. Payá’s Varela Project received thousands of signatures for a petition calling for a referendum on legal reforms that would liberalize Cuba’s political system. Now that he’s gone, others are carrying on the fight inside Cuba, and suffering for it. They, rather than the Castro regime, should be the focus of U.S. diplomacy.

Miami Herald Editorial Board: New Beginning, Old Script

Monday, July 20, 2015
From The Miami Herald's Editorial Board:

New beginning, old script

As Cuba and the United States re-opened their respective embassies on Monday after 54 years, Secretary of State John Kerry delivered perhaps the only line on which all sides can agree: “This milestone does not signify an end to the many differences that still separate our governments.”

Indeed it doesn’t. The landmark flag-raising celebrating the re-establishment of full diplomatic ties represents an effort by the United States to try something new after a half-century of estrangement that saw freedom inside the island slowly erased and finally eliminated altogether.

It’s a hopeful moment, but many Cuban-Americans and Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits remain skeptical about the new approach. They have yet to see tangible progress in democratic reform and some sign that Cuba is ready to turn the page.

So far, there’s been little of that. Witness the remarks of Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez on Monday. He complained about the U.S. continuing to retain the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba, repeated demands for an end to the 53-year-old trade embargo on Cuba and “compensation to our people for human and economic damages.”

New beginning, same script. No mention of human rights or political liberties, and, of course, no mention of the compensation that Cuba owes for all the properties and businesses that were criminally confiscated after the revolution.

The regime’s actions also conform to the old way of doing things. On the day before the ceremony in Washington, for the 14th consecutive Sunday, the Ladies in White movement reported new acts of repression during their weekly march to demand respect for human rights. They were met with the usual political violence, arbitrary arrests, and other acts of vandalism by Cuban police. The repression is part of a larger, unbroken pattern of anti-democratic violence directed against the voices of dissent on the island, before the rapprochement and afterward.

No one could have reasonably expected the Cuban government to change its character overnight, but until some tangible sign of progress becomes evident, it’s unlikely that the Obama administration’s policy will win new adherents in this country.

“The interests of both countries are better served by engagement than by estrangement,” Sec. Kerry declared said on Monday.

The only way to fulfill those words is to keep pressing for human rights reforms and to ensure that U.S. diplomats in Cuba at the redesignated U.S. Embassy make it a priority to do whatever they can without violating protocol to help ordinary Cubans achieve progress toward freedom.

Statement on the Opening of U.S. and Cuban Embassies

Sunday, July 19, 2015
The terms and conditions for today's opening of U.S. and Cuban Embassies, in Havana and Washington, D.C., represent a tragic failure by the Obama Administration in diplomacy, the rule of law, democratic solidarity and U.S. regional interests.

Failure in diplomacy. The July 1st agreement between the Obama Administration and the Castro dictatorship for the opening of Embassies accepts unprecedented violations of international law in the Western Hemisphere. Despite major concessions made by the Obama Administration, including the removal of Cuba from the "state-sponsors of terrorism" list, the overwhelming majority of U.S. diplomats in Havana will continue to be subject to travel restrictions. Moreover, the Castro regime has refused to respect the inviolability of U.S. diplomatic pouches. Both of these restrictions are in direct contravention of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

Failure to respect the rule of law. It remains the official policy of the United States, as codified in law, that diplomatic recognition is to be considered "when the President determines that a there exists a democratically elected government in Cuba." Thus, the Obama Administration's agreement with the Castro dictatorship represents an affront to the will of the U.S. Congress.

Failure in democratic solidarity. The Obama Administration's decision to formally recognize Castro's brutal, totalitarian dictatorship is a betrayal of the democratic aspirations of the Cuban people. The United States has historically stood as a symbol of freedom and hope for the Cuban people. Today, it risks becoming a symbol of collaboration with the Cuban people's oppressors.

Failure for U.S. regional interests. The Obama Administration's decision to formally recognize the sole remaining dictatorship in the Western Hemisphere risks setting back the near-universal acceptance of democracy in the region. The message being sent is that the United States is sadly -- once again -- open for business with dictators in the Americas. Wanna-be authoritarians throughout the region, namely in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua, are closely taking note.

Finally, it serves as a reminder of the coercive tactics that culminated in this process. As Gerardo Hernandez, the Cuban spy who was sentenced to life in prison by a U.S. federal court for the murder conspiracy of Americans, and thereafter commuted by President Obama as part of his deal for the release of an American hostage held by Raul Castro, boasted this weekend:

"We are going to have diplomatic relations with the United States without having ceded one iota."

Meanwhile, the United States has ceded plenty.