How Obama's Cuba and Iran Policies Are Hurting Hillary's White House Chances

Saturday, August 1, 2015
From The National Journal:

How Obama's Foreign Policy Is Hurting Hillary Clinton's White House Chances

The president’s unorthodox foreign policy, conducted after his reelection in 2012, will receive a clear up-or-down vote in Florida next year—but with Hillary Clinton on the ballot.

President Obama has taken two huge political risks when it comes to his second-term foreign policy. He's sought to normalize relations with Cuba, demanding few changes in the dictatorship's human-rights record while granting the country diplomatic recognition. And on Tuesday, he cut a controversial nuclear deal with Iran, one that's expected to be opposed by the mainstream pro-Israel American Israel Public Affairs Committee—and has chilled the traditionally close relationship between the U.S. and the Jewish homeland.

Those decisions will be reverberating in Florida, the most-significant battleground state on the presidential map, where Cuban-Americans and Jewish-Americans make up a sizable share of voters. Obama won the state in 2012 by only a 0.87 percent margin, or 74,000 votes out of over 8.4 million cast. His victory wouldn't have been possible if he didn't make major inroads with the traditionally conservative Cuban-American community, or if he'd lost significant ground with Jewish voters in the state. Obama's unorthodox foreign policy, conducted after his reelection in 2012, will receive a clear up-and-down vote in the Sunshine State next year—but with Hillary Clinton on the ballot.

Obama advisers say they believe in the rapidly-changing nature of the American electorate, that younger voters are more liberal than their parents and are reshaping the country's politics in dramatic ways. That's particularly true of the Obama administration's approach towards the Cuban-American and Jewish communities. Administration officials have argued that millennial voters within these constituencies hold less-predictable views than previous generations, and are more amenable to Obama's message of engagement with hostile regimes. They point to polling that shows more-recent Cuban immigrants holding markedly different views about foreign policy than their parents, and the rise of left-wing alternatives like J Street to the traditional pro-Israel advocacy groups reflects diversity within the Jewish community.

But on these specific foreign policy issues, the president's election-year rhetoric suggested he didn't actually believe that the politics behind Cuba and Iran engagement were in his favor. In 2012, Obama didn't campaign on his second-term policies during his reelection. Instead, he gave a presidential-year speech to AIPAC in which he said he "will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and his interests." During the Iranian nuclear talks, he gave an interview with Israeli TV arguing that "a military solution will not fix" the problem. If he thought Cuban-American public opinion had markedly changed towards engagement of Cuba, his spokesman wouldn't have argued before the 2012 election that Obama "has repeatedly renewed the trade embargo with Cuba, pressured the Castro regime to give its people more of a say in their own future, and supported democracy movements on the island."

In reality, the argument that he's in line with changing public opinion is a smoke screen for the seismic shift in foreign policy he's been conducting. It's a clever way to clamp down on opposition to his policies by describing it as being stuck in the past.

Contrary to the administration's spin that a younger, less-hawkish electorate is emerging, there are clear warning signs of a nasty backlash from constituencies that were once either overwhelmingly Democratic (Jewish voters) or were trending in the Democrats' direction (Cuban-American voters).

When you look specifically at the groups of Cuban-Americans and Jewish-Americans who are engaged closely with their communities, a much different picture emerges. Among the relatively small Jewish population, there's a huge gap between Jews who define themselves as being Jewish "by religion" and those with a more tenuous connection to the community. In the Pew Research Center's seminal 2013 survey of Jewish-Americans, it found 76 percent of "Jews by religion" either very or somewhat attached to Israel, but only 45 percent of Jews "of no religion" claiming such an attachment. It's the former group that has grown more disillusioned with Obama's concessions towards Iran in the diplomatic negotiations; Obama has been more reliant on the less-affiliated Jewish voters.

Gallup found that a historically low 61 percent of all Jewish voters identified as Democrats in 2014—a 5-point drop from the party's 2012 election-year standing, and a 10-point drop from 2008. Among moderately and very religious Jewish voters, Democratic affiliation now lies in the 50 percent range. It's a reflection of the Jewish community's institutional angst over the president's pursuit—and now a deal—with Iran.

The pattern with Cuban-Americans is similar. Obama is winning over younger Cuban-American voters, but many of them aren't registered to vote, even more aren't reliable voters, and a small number aren't even citizens. The political energy within the Cuban-American exile community still lies with the older voters. Obama made inroads with the Florida Cuban vote primarily over his message on the economy, not over engagement with the Castros.

To underscore the point, look at the gap between registered and unregistered voters in the 2014 Florida International University poll often cited by supporters of Cuban engagement. Among those registered to vote, 51 percent supported the embargo, while only 43 percent of those unregistered did. A whopping 83 percent of unregistered Cuban-American voters supported diplomatic engagement, while only 55 percent of registered voters did so. Narrow the screen to the most likely voters, and support for Obama's preferred policies diminishes more. The impact of those Cuban-Americans who aren't playing a role in the political process has inflated the level of support for Obama's approach. It's akin to the Democrats who claim Texas will be an emerging swing state, before recognizing that the Hispanic voters they're courting aren't interested in voting.

One telling sign that all isn't well with Florida Democrats came from the Democratic National Committee's own chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who is closely attuned to the political sentiment among both key Florida constituencies. Wasserman Schultz's heavily-Democratic Broward County district contains one of the largest Jewish constituencies in the country and a sizable Cuban-American one. She's been remarkably quiet about Obama's Iranian diplomacy, knowing the groundswell of opposition from her constituents. And in a recent interview with CBN anchor David Brody, she gently hinted that Obama shouldn't be as aggressive with his Cuban diplomacy as long as human-rights standards aren't being met. "My view is different from President Obama's," she told the Daily Signal. "I believe a relationship with the United States should be earned. And before we fast-forward through the progress we'd like to see, perhaps we should make sure that some of these human rights concessions are secured prior to moving forward."

When a president is at odds with his own national party committee chair, it's clear they have widely differing views over the political wisdom of his approach. And it puts the spotlight squarely and uncomfortably on Hillary Clinton, who has a lot on the line—and has a lot to lose—with Obama's foreign policy decisions.

From the beginning of her campaign, she's decided to hitch her fortunes to Obama as she seeks to win over the same coalition that brought him to office. Clinton cautiously embraced Obama's nuclear deal with Iran—based on what she knows now—even as the strongest supporters of Israel within her party have remained conspicuously noncommittal. She's backed Obama's Cuban diplomacy, though she hasn't aggressively advertised it on the campaign trail.

On both of these issues, she's chosen to speak softly without carrying a big stick. Regarded as a hawk when she represented New York in the Senate, Clinton doesn't want to alienate major donors or reliable supporters needlessly over the president's Middle East policies. But she clearly doesn't want to gratuitously poke Obama in the eye, given how reliant she is on his coalition's support and energy to win the presidential election next year.

If she remains wedded to Obama's approach, any political backlash would begin in Florida—which, in turn, could determine the presidential election. Two of her leading GOP opponents hail from the state, and both are stalwart supporters of Israel, deeply skeptical of Obama's Iran deal, and outspoken critics of Obama's Cuba policy. The political outcome in Florida may not just determine the next president, but outline the foreign policy direction the United States will pursue after Obama is no longer at the helm.

Marco Rubio to Hillary: No More Failed 'Resets'

Marco Rubio on Hillary Clinton's Call to Lift the Cuban Embargo

After Secretary Clinton's failed 'reset' with Putin, now she wants to do a 'reset' with Castro. She is making another grave mistake. Unilateral concessions to the Castros will only strengthen a brutal, anti-American regime 90 miles from our shore.

President Obama and Secretary Clinton must learn that appeasement only emboldens dictators and repressive governments, and weakens America's global standing in the 21st Century.

As president, I will stand with the Cuban people and only support an end to the embargo that is accompanied by real democratic reform.

Jeb Bush: Cuban People Aren't Imprisoned by Past, They're Imprisoned by Castro

Jeb Bush on Hillary Clinton's Endorsement of Ending Cuban Embargo

It’s insulting to many residents of Miami for Hillary Clinton to come here to endorse a retreat in the struggle for democracy in Cuba. This city has become a home and a refuge to thousands and thousands of Castro’s victims. Secretary Clinton’s call to abandon the embargo – and the principles of democracy and freedom for the Cuban people – in exchange for nothing in return from the regime in Havana adds insult to the pain they and their families feel.

The American people deserve principled leaders who will stand up to our adversaries and stand up for our values. Secretary Clinton’s politically expedient embrace of President Obama’s unilateral concessions to Cuba makes clear she will do neither.

The Obama-Clinton policy is rooted in a false narrative that paints the embargo as a relic of the Cold War. They claim to want to free Cuba from the past, but they misunderstand the present. The Cuban people are not imprisoned by the past, they are imprisoned by the Castro regime.

Americans, especially our government officials, should listen to the stifled voices of Cuban dissidents who languish in prison or are harassed by Castro’s security services, rather than mouthpieces of the Castro regime.

Hillary Clinton had it right when she once said – consistent with the law of the land – that removing the embargo should come only when Cuba is on the path to democracy. She has abandoned that principled position, and with it she has abandoned the people of Cuba who aspire at long last to experience a free and democratic society.

I long for the day when the Cuban people are free from oppression and free to choose their own leaders, and, if elected President, I will be committed to helping them achieve that long-denied liberty.

Scott Walker: Clinton's Misguided Cuba Policy

Governor Walker Statement on Hillary Clinton’s Misguided Cuba Policy

Today, after Hillary Clinton’s speech in Miami, Governor Scott Walker released the following statement on her misguided Cuba policy:

Hillary Clinton’s support of this administration’s misguided Cuba policy is further evidence that if she is elected, she will be nothing more than a third term of the Obama presidency.

When President Clinton signed the embargo against Cuba into federal statute, it was in response to the Castro regime’s oppressive treatment of the Cuban people, its despotic grip on power, and rampant corruption. Nothing has changed. These problems still remain. And yet, the Obama-Clinton policy is to reward the Castro brothers, provide them with a financial lifeline, and turn a blind eye to their egregious human rights violations.

Americans deserve a leader who won’t make sweetheart deals with dictators, and as president, my approach to Cuba would be the opposite of President Obama and Hillary Clinton’s failed policy. That means leveraging our strength to advance U.S. interests, facilitate greater economic and democratic freedoms for the Cuban people, and secure relief for those harmed by the Castro regime's oppression.”

Tweet of the Day: Young Cuban-Americans Against Hillary's Policy of Appeasement

Proud to stand with my student friends at FIU protesting Hillary's policy of appeasement.

Here We Go Again: The Exiles Are Changing, the Exiles Are Changing!

Friday, July 31, 2015
Like the little boy who cried wolf, Hillary Clinton will call for the lifting of Cuba sanctions in Miami today, while media pundits will argue that this is due to the "changing" views of the Cuban-American community.

Never mind that every single Cuban-American elected official -- local, state and federal -- of all political persuasions, support maintaining sanctions.

Yes, elections matter.

Or that no candidate who supports lifting sanctions has ever won statewide in Florida, including President Obama, who campaigned on his support for the embargo in 2008 and 2012.

Yes, facts matter.

Here's a reminder of how this theory has been propagated throughout the years -- yet has never come to political fruition.

Ironically, the young Cuban-American generations of the 1970s, 80s and 90s, which had been purportedly "changing" -- are today called hardliners.

This is what you'd call -- a failed theory of the past.

The very active anti-Castro groups in Miami have faded into virtual obscurity.”

The New York Times, December 5, 1965

Virtually all of several dozen Cubans interviewed would like to visit Cuba either to see their relatives or just their country, which they have not seen for 10 years or more; and some segments of the exile community, especially young refugees brought up and educated here, are not interested in the Cuban issues.”

The New York Times, October 10, 1974

For the first time significant number of exiles are beginning to temper their emotion with hardnosed geopolitical realism.”

The New York Times, March 23, 1975

A majority of the persons interviewed — especially the young, who make up more than half of the 450,000 exiles here — are looking forward to the time when it will be possible for them to travel to Cuba. Even businessmen, who represent a more conservative group than the young, are thinking about trading with Cuba once the embargo is totally lifted.”

The New York Times, August 31, 1975

A new generation of professionals between 25 and 35 years of age has replaced the older exile leadership.”

The New York Times, July 4, 1976

"...there has been a generational change among Cuban voters. The power is no longer being wielded exclusively -- perhaps not even primarily -- by those whose political orientation is Cuba..." 

The Miami Herald, November 10, 1985

"The memory was reinforced in a similar conversation with a middle-aged Cuban American who watches some of his contemporaries react in anger and frustration to the obvious Americanness of their yuca (Young Upscale Cuban American) children. They want their children to feel the loss of Cuba as they feel it.  This wish to have our children re-create our own past experiences is common, perhaps even universal. But it is a vain hope, one that brings only grief if it is pressed very hard." 

The Miami Herald, November 20, 1988

"For Hispanic candidates banking on ethnic calls to arms, the survey suggests that the approach may bring no better than mixed results right now. And in the future, they may not work at all, as the numbers of younger voters overtake their seniors." 

The Miami Herald, November 7, 1993

"There is a generational transition going on," said Jose Ceballos, Hispanic coordinator for the Clinton-Gore campaign. 'I have a lot of young Cubans who come up to me and say, 'Don't tell my Mom, but your guy's doing pretty good.'

The Miami Herald, October 27, 1996

"There are also some generational differences. Younger people are more likely than older exiles to favor dialogue and to want to hear music from the island played on Miami radio, according to the poll." 

The Miami Herald, June 29, 1997 

"Some of the change is generational . Cubans who came to the United States in the 1960s - and traditionally have held the more conservative views - now make up only a third of the Cuban population in Miami-Dade. 'Through time, there has been a greater acceptance that there are going to be these initiatives,' Perez said. 'I also think that to some extent, there's been a transition in the Cuban-American community. People have changed their position, and many of the traditional hard-liners have died.'' 

The Miami Herald, March 26, 1999

Miami Herald Editorial: Keep the Embargo

Thursday, July 30, 2015
From The Miami Herald's Editorial Board:

Keep the Cuban trade embargo

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton will be in Miami today — and reports are that she’s going to tackle Miami’s Cuban exile community’s historic third rail question: Should the 50-plus-year-old U.S. trade embargo on Cuba be lifted?

Candidate Clinton is boldly taking a strong stand on this issue — calling for an end to the embargo now, a doubling down of the Obama administration’s testing of the waters. It’s not a new stand for Mrs. Clinton, but expounding it so openly in Miami is novel.

There was a time when any politician running for office who needed the Cuban-American vote held a rally in Little Havana to be captured on camera shouting the proverbial chant: “Viva Cuba Libre!” — the battle cry of those who believe the embargo stays until the Castros leave power.

Mrs. Clinton, who will speak at Florida International University, is probably the first serious presidential contender in recent years to bring her opposing point-of-view to Miami’s exile community. Cuba isn’t the only pressing issue that will influence how Floridians will cast their vote for president, but it’s still important. However, Mrs. Clinton’s stance on Cuba gives her a chance to present a contrast with leading contenders in the GOP field — mainly Sen. Marco Rubio and ex-Gov. Jeb Bush, two local candidates and staunch supporters of maintaining the embargo.

That support in the GOP may be wavering, though. In another sign of the rapidly changing landscape, U.S. House Republican Tom Emmer of Minnesota this week introduced legislation that would lift the embargo on Cuba.

True, people in South Florida are not as strongly anti-embargo as they once were, but at the same time many understand the malicious nature of the Cuban government and would like to see some sign that the current normalization talks are having an impact on the island government. So far, we’ve seen precious little.

Mrs. Clinton’s support for lifting the embargo reflects a political calculation about the evolution of the Cuban exile community in Miami. It has indeed evolved, which is why we support the normalization process.

But at some point there must be evolution on the other side, as well. One does not have to be a hardliner to expect a quid pro quo of some kind as this process moves forward. Simply put, Cuba hasn’t earned the embargo’s end. Far from it.

Despite months of talks between the two countries that began in December with President Obama’s announcement that relations would be normalized, we have yet to see any significant actions by the Castro regime that will benefit the United States or enhance the civil liberties and freedoms of the Cuban people.

Internally, the regime maintains the same repressive attitude that has allowed it to stay in power for decades. That includes harassment of peaceful groups like the famed Ladies in White for a series of successive Sundays, when they engage in peaceful marches. The daily arrests, acts of repudiation and censorship of any person or group that questions the official line are still in place.

Financially, Cuba has much to gain from the lifting of the embargo. Venezuela, which has been helping prop up Cuba’s chronically weak economy, is running low on cash. The Castros needed another lifeline.

If little has changed if and when Mrs. Clinton reaches the White House, she should wait before restoring full trade relations with Cuba. The embargo may be a relic of the past. But so, too, is Cuba’s government.

Top Senators Probe Political Motivations in Cuba Trafficking Upgrade

From Politico:

Senators probe political motivations for trafficking report

The top Republican and top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are raising questions about the integrity of the State Department’s annual report on human trafficking, pointing to the upgraded status of Cuba and Malaysia as cause for concern.

The report, which was released Monday, lifted both Cuba and Malaysia from Tier 3, considered the worst offenders, to the Tier 2 Watch List. It said both countries are making progress in battling sex trafficking and various forms of forced labor.

But the upgrade for Cuba comes as the Obama administration has renewed diplomatic ties and is pursuing more cooperation with the communist-led island nation. The upgrade for Malaysia, where mass graves of migrant workers have recently spurred alarm, also makes it legally easier to include the country in a massive Asia-Pacific trade pact.

That has led opponents of the trade pact and the opening to Cuba, groups that include both Republicans and Democrats, to question whether the upgrades in the report were politically motivated.

Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey has been one of the leading critics of the latest report and has said he would push for hearings, investigations and more to probe its rankings. “Upgrades for Malaysia and Cuba are a clear politicization of the report, and a stamp of approval for countries who have failed to take the basic actions to merit this upgrade,” the Democrat said in a statement Monday.

In their letter, sent late Tuesday, Cardin and Corker said they viewed the annual Trafficking in Persons report as an “essential global tool for ensuring continued progress against human trafficking including its worst forms which amount to modern slavery” and that “maintaining the integrity of the TIP report is essential to our success.”

A Redux of Clinton's Cuba Policy

Wednesday, July 29, 2015
On Friday, Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, will give remarks in South Florida, where she will call for the lifting of the U.S. embargo towards Cuba.

Of course, this isn't a surprise, as Hillary already revealed her Cuba policy position in the book, "Hard Choices."

But it does merit a look back at Cuba policy the last time a Clinton served in The White House:

In 1993, President Clinton intervened at the last minute to scrap a federal indictment against General Raul Castro, then Minister of Defense (MINFAR), who in conjunction with 14 other senior Cuban regime officials, was the head of a major cocaine smuggling conspiracy.

In 1994, President Clinton succumbed to Castro's migratory coercion and began secret talks with senior Cuban regime officials in Toronto, Canada.

In 1995, as a result of those secret talks, President Clinton adopted the infamous "wet-foot, dry-foot policy," whereby catching Cubans before they reach a U.S. beach became a perverted sport.

(Why was it acceptable for President Clinton to label Cubans as "wet-feet"? Isn't that just as insulting as calling Mexicans "wet-backs"? Same derogatory concept, different body part.)

In February 1996, President Clinton failed to support the historic gathering of Concilio Cubano, a coalition of over 130 dissident groups, which had successfully been garnering opposition against the Castro regime. On February 24th, during a major gathering of the coalition, the Castro regime began a nationwide crackdown on Concilio Cubano. To divert attention from the crackdown, the Castro regime scrambled MiG fighter jets to shoot down two civilian aircraft over international waters, killing three Americans and a permanent resident of the United States.

In March 1996, President Clinton refused to tighten sanctions against the Castro regime. While compelled to sign the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act ("LIBERTAD Act"), as the least aggressive response he was presented to the shoot-down of two American civilian aircraft by the Castro regime, Clinton waived the main section tightening sanctions. As such, the LIBERTAD Act codified the embargo and authorized funding for democracy programs, but did not tighten sanctions.

In 1996, President Clinton refused to classify the shoot-down of the two civilian aircraft by Cuban MiG fighter jets over international waters, as an "act of terrorism" under U.S. law.

In 1998-1999, President Clinton eased travel sanctions towards Cuba and created the "people-to-people" travel category, whereby tour groups hosted by the Castro regime lead salsa, baseball and cigar tours of the island, while frequenting the Cuban military's 4 and 5-star tourism facilities.

In 2000, Clinton contemplated lifting tourism travel restrictions towards Cuba, which was Castro's main source of income. Cuba charter companies even hired the President's brother, Roger Clinton, to lobby him. In anticipation, Congress preemptively codified the travel ban to prevent any further Presidential expansion of travel.

In 2000, President Clinton pushed the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act (TSREEA), which authorized the sale of agricultural and medical products to Cuba. Due to Congressional intervention, a caveat was included that these sales must be cash-only. Since then, nearly $5 billion in agricultural products have been sold to Cuba -- all to Castro's food monopoly, Alimport. Not one penny has been transacted with regular Cubans.

In 2000, President Clinton sent armed U.S. Marshals into the Little Havana home of Elian Gonzalez's family, in order to forcefully return him to Cuba. Rather than having an impartial family judge decide what was in the best interests of the small boy, whose mother died for his freedom, Elian's fate was decided by President Clinton. Today, Elian is a young Communist militant, paraded for propaganda, while hailing Fidel Castro as "his God."

By the end of 2000, the Castro regime had effectively eradicated Concilio Cubano and most other dissident groups -- under the willful blindness of President Clinton. Sadly, it took years for the Cuban democracy movement to regroup.

As Cuban democracy leader, former prisoner of conscience and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, wrote last year, "President Clinton missed a historic opportunity to pressure the end of the Castro regime in the 1990s, amid the profound crisis it faced from the end of its Soviet benefactor."

Instead, he did the opposite.

Today, amid a similar crisis resulting from the downward spiral of Castro's Venezuelan benefactor, Obama (and Hillary) are keen to make the same mistake.

But perhaps it's not fair to judge Hillary on her husband's record.

Thus, let's do so based on her own record as Secretary of State.

As regards Syria, Hillary infamously believed that Bashar al-Assad was a "reformer" that the U.S. could work with.

Since then, Assad has led a genocide with a tally of over 200,000 victims.

As regards Burma, Hillary engaged its military dictatorship, traveled to the Southeast Asian nation and led the push to prematurely lift sanctions.

Since then, Burma's military dictatorship has reaped a financial windfall, retrenched on reforms and re-intensified its repression.

As regards Iran, Hillary ignored pleas for help from the "Green Movement," bitterly fought Congress against sanctions from 2009-2013 and pushed for talks with the mullahs.

Since then, Iran' regime brutally suppressed the democracy movement. Yet, in an interesting twist, Clinton now seeks to rewrite history and take credit for the sanctions she fought against.

As regards Russia, Hillary literally pressed a "reset" button in order to "start fresh" bilateral relations.

Since then... Well, we all know how that's turned out.

Doesn't this sound like a familiar trend?

And now, she joins Obama's call to lift sanctions and "reset" relations with Cuba.

Based on her record, there's plenty of cause for concern.

Are Cuba's Victims Less Worthy?

On July 1st, 2015, in announcing his bad deal on diplomatic relations with Cuban dictator Raul Castro, President Obama stated that, "we don’t have to be imprisoned by the past."

This has become the talking point (and oxymoron) of every step taken by Obama to embrace Castro's octogenarian, bankrupt regime.

Yet, only nine days later, on July 10th, marking the 20th anniversary of the horrific crimes of Srebrenica, Obama stated:

"Only by fully acknowledging the past can we achieve a future of true and lasting reconciliation. Only by holding the perpetrators of the genocide to account can we offer some measure of justice to help heal their loved ones. And only by calling evil by its name can we find the strength to overcome it."

So why are Cuba's victims less worthy?

And why aren't we calling Castro's regime by its name?

Rather than visiting Havana, Obama should instead spend some time at the "Memorial Cubano," which honors tens of thousands of victims of Castro's evil regime.

Quote of the Week: No Action by Castro That Benefits U.S. or Cuban People

We still have yet to see any significant actions by the Castro regime that will benefit the United States or enhance freedoms and circumstances for the Cuban people.
-- U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Knoxville News Sentinel, 7/27/15

U.S. Concessions to Cuba Are Not Justified

By Sebastian A. Arcos in The Miami Herald:

U.S. concessions not justified

And did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
“Wish You Were Here,”

PINK FLOYD

Seven months after Dec. 17, President Obama’s process of normalization with the Castro regime seems as unstoppable as a runaway freight train. The new policy was heartily embraced by pundits, the media, and public opinion, and neither the warnings nor the informed arguments from seasoned experts have been able to curb their enthusiasm. This is certainly baffling, because all that supporters have against a wall of reasonable arguments is hope, mostly based on incorrect assumptions and unfounded expectations.

The old policy of containment did not work — they argue — and it is time to try something new. But they forget that, with all its flaws, it was the old policy that brought the Cubans to the negotiating table to begin with. Furthermore, the new policy of engagement is not really new. It has been tried and tested by the Canadians and the Europeans for over 25 years with no results whatsoever.

The new policy — supporters argue — will better foster U.S. interests such as the promotion of human rights, and will empower a rising class of Cuba entrepreneurs. Before Dec. 17, we conveyed our disapproval of the regime’s human rights violations via a diplomatic “statement of concern” from the Department of State. Now we will be able to do exactly the same from our embassy in Havana. How is the latter more effective than the former? Will Cuban entrepreneurs, created and regulated by the regime, be able to expand into a middle class capable of forcing regime change? Of course not. It hasn’t happened anywhere else, simply because in a totalitarian setting, entrepreneurs are as incapable of expanding political freedoms as politicians are of creating wealth. The same goes for American tourists.

What then, explains this irrational exuberance? There is no question that hope is a powerful positive feeling, but as Henry Kissinger said recently, diplomacy is not an exercise in good feelings. Rather, it is an ad hoc mixture of pragmatism and fundamental values, tailored to the needs of each case. Forsaking one for the other is never a good idea. In the case of Cuba, we have abandoned fundamental values inherent to our entire foreign policy in exchange for a fruitless pragmatism.

Change in itself could be invigorating, especially coming from a young and hip president. The combination of change and hope has proven exceptionally intoxicating, to the point of dismissing rational skeptics as a bunch of boring, resentful relics, and welcoming advocates as reasonable, sophisticated and, yes, hip. Because I am a boring skeptic, I must remind readers that most hope-change intoxications usually end in a nasty hangover, like the one Cubans still suffer from that riotous party back in 1959 — courtesy of another young, hip leader.

Smart and eloquent, President Obama has a tendency to oversimplify complex problems, which endears him to the media and uninformed voters alike. Oversimplification, however, betrays a one-dimensional view of the world that only makes any problem worse (remember when ISIS was just a JV team?). Eventually, enthusiasts will realize that the validation of this Cuba-policy turnaround is mainly the rationalizing of a personal crusade to make up for past excesses — both real and perceived — of American “imperialism,” as well as the banal attempt at legacy building. None of these rationalizations can possibly justify the concessions made to an obdurate regime, the forsaking of fundamental values in exchange for nothing, and the long-term damage done to both U.S. interests and Cuban democratic aspirations.

Obama Leaves Dictators Free to Flourish

By Roger Boyes in U.K.'s The Times:

Barack Obama leaves dictators free to flourish, human rights hit

Ever since Barack Obama demoted the US from global policeman to risk-averse traffic warden, an important question has nagged contemporary historians: whatever happened to detente? Can the West ease tensions with the world’s many aggressive dictators and avert war without surrendering the moral high ground?

Forty years ago this week the Helsinki Final Act, a diplomatic masterpiece, showed how it could be done. It helped to defuse the Cold War, appeared to give the Soviet bloc the security it craved but, by setting up a mechanism to scrutinise human rights, gave legitimacy to dissident groups who started to subvert communism from within. “If you open that Pandora’s box, you never know what Trojan ‘orses will jump out,” as the former British foreign secretary Ernie Bevin once had it. Obama’s statecraft has to be measured against the Helsinki yardstick.

On almost every count, the President falls short. He has given dictators leave to rule and enrich themselves until they die peacefully in their beds. The grand bargain with Iran leaves the clerical regime unscathed. Indeed, while negotiators were locked in nuclear talks over the past six months in Vienna, 694 people were executed in Tehran. Fourteen years after Helsinki, dissidents in eastern Europe, emboldened by Western diplomacy, toppled their rulers. Fourteen years after the Iran deal, Tehran will be free of most constraints on its nuclear program; it will be wealthier and more assertive.

The US calculates that the opening up to Western trade will give Iran a more liberal and responsive government. The evidence suggests otherwise: Russia and China are building up an alternative value system that encourages countries to snub Western models and pursue a combination of managed capitalism and authoritarian rule that supposedly offers stability rather than the hazards of parliamentary democracy.

In Cuba too the Castro brothers and their broken regime have been given a lifeline by Obama’s determination to restore normal relations. There has been no US demand to make serious improvements in human rights. Since the thaw more than 3000 people have been detained in Havana. The migrant flow to the US has more than doubled since the opening because Cubans believe the Americans, at Raul Castro’s request, will start turning back refugees.

Dictators are most likely to take the path of conciliation with the West when they are on the ropes, yet no pressure is being put on them to pay the price of political rehab. Bashar al-Assad last week lamented the lack of Syrian military manpower. His message was directed at Iran, his chief sponsor. Don’t desert me, he was pleading, just because you now have a deal with the US. If I fall, you lose too.

Bashar doesn’t have to worry, though. Cash and guns will still flow from Iran. And Obama is not going to touch him either. Not as long as he surrenders the moral argument by co-opting bad guys in the name of regional stability. Obama entered the White House committed to ending imperial overstretch, winding down two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That mission, though, has mutated into an almost dogmatic reluctance to use force or coercive diplomacy.

Even the dimmest autocrat now grasps he can rule with impunity and that the age of Western-influenced regime change is over. It wasn’t long ago that tyrants like Saddam Hussein ended on the gallows calling “Down with the traitors!” Now their last words, spoken in palaces surrounded by fawning courtiers, are more likely to be the gasped details of their numbered Swiss bank accounts.

It’s pretty much official: the US administration no longer considers anything worth fighting for beyond a direct and verifiable-in-triplicate threat to the homeland. Its allies are split between the relieved, the discomfited, the nervous and the downright perplexed.

Perhaps no one is more bewildered than the Kurdish fighter who for the past year has considered himself, proudly, to be Obama’s man-on-the-ground in the war against Islamic State in Syria — and who is today being bombarded by a NATO ally, Turkey, with the apparent approval of the US.

The result: moral confusion all round. America’s allies are being built up and then left hanging in the wind. Human rights are promoted and then betrayed. Obama wanted to leave behind him a world that conformed to rules of good behaviour, to international norms. Instead, through his lack of consistency, his over-eagerness to abandon the principles of strong, democratic foreign policymaking in exchange for imaginary future gains, much of the world will be pleased to see him go.

Details of Bad Cuba Deal Emerge

Monday, July 27, 2015
Buried in a Politico story about the Obama Administration's unmerited upgrade of Cuba in the trafficking watch list, some details are revealed about the deal cut to establish diplomatic relations with the Castro dictatorship.

As we'd posted before, the details had been shrouded in secrecy.

Now we know why. Because it's bad -- real bad.

Here's the bottom line:

The deal "negotiated" by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson for the opening of embassies allows for only 4 out of 76 U.S. diplomats in Havana to have unrestricted movement on the island.

That's right -- 4 out of 76.  

That is what Jacobson "achieved" in six months of negotiations.

Never mind that it's in direct contravention of Article 26 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which states that "the receiving State shall ensure to all members of the mission freedom of movement and travel in its territory."

Not only is this incompetent -- allowing restrictions on 95% of our diplomats in Havana -- but it's in violation of international law.

It is also unprecedented in the Western Hemisphere -- though not for long, as surely Maduro and Co. are aware of the "sweet deal" given to Castro, and will want a similar one.

And what about the inviolability of the diplomatic pouch, which is also required by international law?

You guessed it -- the Obama Administration caved on that as well.

Excerpt from Politico:

The State Department has declined to make public many elements of its agreement with Cuba on reopening embassies, although it has offered classified briefings to lawmakers. It has declined repeated requests from POLITICO for details and will not say if it’s common to keep such data under wraps.

However, a congressional aide and an administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, shed some light on the agreement.

The sources said that the top four diplomats at both the Cuban mission in Washington and the U.S. Embassy in Havana will have unrestricted travel rights. The remaining diplomats will have to give notification — though not obtain permission — of a few days at most before they pursue any travel.

The administration official added that each country would be allowed to have 25 additional diplomats based in each other’s capitals. The congressional aide, meanwhile, noted that American lawmakers worried about the agreement were more concerned about Cuban activities on U.S. soil than vice versa.

According to an 2014 inspector general’s report, the U.S. interests section in Havana had 51 American diplomats and more than 300 Cuban employees. Kerry is due to visit the Cuban capital on Aug. 14 to celebrate the reestablishment of a U.S. Embassy.

Must-Watch: Why Does Jacobson Insist on Misleading?

The following exchange between U.S. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson during her recent confirmation hearing -- for U.S. Ambassador to Mexico -- speaks for itself.

Click below (or here) to watch:

In Clear Side Deal, Obama Upgrades Cuba in Trafficking Watch List

Dictators hate to be placed on watch lists. It scorns their zeal for legitimacy.

Thus, the long-standing obsession of the Castro regime to be removed from the U.S.'s "state-sponsors of terrorism" list.

In order to be removed from that list, the Castro regime simply coerced the Obama Administration.

It made it very clear (and public) that it was more than willing to hijack Obama's legacy of establishing diplomatic relations, unless it was first removed from the terrorism watch list.

And the Obama Administration complied.

In April, the State Department proceeded to remove Cuba from the terrorism list -- despite recognizing that Cuba continues to harbor one of the FBI's Top Ten Most Wanted Terrorists and members of U.S. classified Foreign Terrorist Organizations ("FTO's").

The removal was based solely on "assurances" that Castro would behave better in the future -- and accepting a lie that it has "never supported terrorism."

Today, the same has taken place with the U.S.'s human trafficking watch list.

The Obama Administration has decided to upgrade Cuba from the lowest tier -- despite recognizing that Cuba remains a major source country for sex trafficking and forced labor.

The upgrade is based solely on "assurances" that Castro is making efforts to address trafficking issues -- and accepting its lie that forced labor is not a problem within Cuba.

Never mind that the Castro regime itself is the source and beneficiary of Cuba's vast human trafficking infrastructure.

Its practices have been widely documented to violate nearly every major international forced labor, trafficking and human rights covenant.

There's absolutely nothing that merits Cuba's upgrade in the trafficking watch list -- other than some side deal as part of its ongoing negotiations.

It's simply another unmerited, unilateral concession.

Unfortunately, as in the case of Iran, the Obama Administration is not only proving to be misguided in its policy -- but also untrustworthy in the process. 

Cuba "Celebrates" Diplomatic Relations With Over 75 Political Arrests

Sunday, July 26, 2015
This morning, the media noted how the speeches at the "26 de Julio" ("Rebellion Day") commemoration -- one of the Castro regime's main holidays -- had toned down anti-American rhetoric.

They concluded this was due to renewed diplomatic relations with the United States.

Yet, the violence against peaceful Cuban dissidents remained unchanged (and unreported).

This afternoon, over 75 democracy activists, including 46 members of The Ladies in White, were beaten and arrested.

Its leader, Berta Soler, was punched in the mouth.

Clearly, the "theory" that Castro needs the U.S. as a nemesis to crackdown on dissidents is nonsense.

But we've known that.

As we've written before, dictators need no excuses to crackdown on dissent.

The Ladies in White, composed of the wives, mothers, daughters and other relatives of Cuban political prisoners, had dedicated today's demonstration to the third-anniversary of the murder of democracy leader, Oswaldo Paya.

They were intercepted, beaten and arrested.

It's what "change looks like" in Cuba.

Tweet of the Week: What "Change Looks Like" in Cuba

By former prisoner of conscience and independent labor leader, Ivan Hernandez Carrillo:

#Cuba This abuse took place on Sunday afternoon when military officials asked the this victim to show them his identification card. 

WaPo Editorial: Obama's Cuba Deal Set Bad Precedent for Venezuelan and FARC

From The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

Tricky negotiations in the wake of the Cuba thaw

AS THE Obama administration has pursued normalization with Cuba, it has been drawn into lower-profile but thorny dialogues with two of Havana’s long-standing clients: the Venezuelan government of Nicolás Maduro and Colombia’s Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC). The diplomacy has reinforced President Obama’s doctrine of engagement with U.S. adversaries; the Maduro government has repeatedly claimed that the United States is plotting its overthrow, while the FARC has been designated a terrorist organization by the State Department. As in the case of Cuba, however, the results of the dialogues so far have been meager.

In both instances, U.S. officials say, the initiative did not originate in Washington. Mr. Maduro, facing an economic catastrophe, reached out to what he usually calls “the imperium,” while Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, a close U.S. ally, asked that an American envoy join his government’s ongoing peace talks with the FARC. The administration responded by naming a veteran former diplomat, Bernard Aronson, to attend the Colombian negotiations, which are held being in Havana. Mr. Aronson and a senior State Department counselor, Thomas Shannon, separately visited Caracas to meet Mr. Maduro. Last month, Mr. Shannon went a step further, sitting down with Venezuela’s national assembly president, Diosdado Cabello, even though he is the target of a U.S. criminal investigation into drug trafficking by senior Venezuelan officials.

Such contacts can be useful, if they do not lead to one-sided and unwarranted U.S. concessions — the result, in our view, of the administration’s diplomacy with Cuba. The administration’s aims with respect to the FARC and the Maduro regime are the right ones: to push the militants in Colombia to accept the steps needed to complete a peace deal that has been under negotiation for two-and-a-half years, and to induce Caracas to release political prisoners and hold fair elections to its national assembly later this year.

After Mr. Shannon’s meeting with Mr. Cabello, the Maduro government announced a date for elections and released a couple of prisoners — enough for jailed opposition leader Leopoldo López to end a hunger strike that had endangered his life. But the regime still holds Mr. López and scores of other prisoners and has not accepted the international monitoring needed to ensure a fair vote. It appears to hope its half-measures will induce Mr. Obama to name a new ambassador to Venezuela and lift sanctions recently imposed on senior officials.

Mr. Santos’s negotiations with the FARC, meanwhile, have gone backward. The insurgents broke a unilateral cease-fire in April and have since carried out a host of attacks that have infuriated Colombians; 9 out of 10 say in polls that FARC leaders should be tried for their crimes. This month it announced a new cease-fire, Yet, rather than agree on a plan for transitional justice, the main sticking point in the talks, the FARC is demanding that the United States release a top leader serving a sentence in a U.S. prison. Mr. Obama’s agreement to free Cuban spies held in the United States probably encouraged that bid.

Therein lies the problem: With one eye on Havana, the FARC and the Maduro regime appear to regard the Obama administration as a potential source of easy favors. Unless they are disabused, U.S. diplomacy is unlikely to do much good.

As Odebrecht's Corruption Probe Widens, So Should Some Politicians' Shame

For years, we have been making the case against the Brazilian conglomerate, Odebrecht.

Its close alliance with the Castro dictatorship in Cuba; the Chavez government in Venezuela; its human trafficking activities; slave labor practices; and corruption.

Over the last decade, Odebrecht has become the Castro dictatorship's biggest and most trusted business partner -- spanning ports, airports and sugar mills.

Yet, it sadly remained Miami-Dade County's largest recipient of taxpayer funds.

When the Florida legislature stepped-in to take action, Odebrecht hired an army of lawyers and lobbyists to challenge it.

And throughout, Odebrecht's political allies and beneficiaries in Miami-Dade County criticized us.

Odebrecht's crowning glory in Miami-Dade County would have been the Airport City project, whereby it was set to be handed nearly 35 acres of the most valuable land in the county -- to run as it pleases for nearly half-a-century -- and pay MIA some "rent."

Some Miami-Dade politicians fought tooth-and-nail for Odebrecht, despite mounting evidence of its shameful activities.

Today, Odebrecht's Chairman, Marcelo Odebrecht (below), remains in prison as part of a major corruption probe.

To add some extra shadiness -- while in prison, Brazilian police intercepted a note from Odebrecht telling his lawyers to "destroy emails."

This week, Swiss authorities began a formal investigation of Odebrecht's corrupt activities.

Inquiries have also been made in Peru, Panama, Ecuador and Colombia.

Meanwhile, Brazilian investigators have been working with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Imagine how embarrassing and shameful it would have been for the most valuable land in Miami-Dade County to have been run -- essentially as a fiefdom -- by a company whose Chairman is in prison and facing a major international corruption probe.

It came close. But hopefully, lesson learned.

Quote of the Week: I Will Not Betray My Soul for a Stroll Down the Malecon

It makes no sense for me to return to Cuba in body, but not in soul. It serves no purpose for them to allow me in, but not my books, for example. I am what I write; what I think; what I do. I am also the rights that I claim. I cannot return peacefully if all those things can't accompany me. In Cuba, I was imprisoned for writing what I think, then I was stripped of my civil rights and pushed into exile. I was thrown out because neither I, nor my dreams, fit under that system. I had to renounce them and, in order to defend them, I was exiled. It makes no sense for me to abandon them now, to betray them (and myself), in exchange for a stroll down the Malecon.
-- Juan Manuel Cao, renowned Cuban author and journalist, El Nuevo Herald, 7/23/15

"Hope Indicator": Repression, Defections and Rafters Sharply Rise in Cuba

There are two indisputable facts since Obama's engagement of Castro's dictatorship:

First, repression has sharply risen.

Second, defections and those risking their lives at sea have sharply risen.

It seems that -- thus far -- the only ones that actually believe that Obama's policy will benefit the Cuban people -- is the Obama Administration itself.

Let's call this the "hope indicator."

Yesterday, half of the Cuban men's field hockey team defected to the United States.

One thing is for sure -- they are not seeking lucrative men's field hockey contracts.

This is only the latest in a string of defections during the Pan American Games and the Gold Cup.

Also, see the graph below from USA Today.

Note the steady rise in Cubans risking their lives at sea since Obama took office -- and the shark increase since his intensified engagement with Castro.

It doesn't bode well for the "hope indicator."

From AFP:

Half of Cuba men's hockey team defects

Half of the Cuban men's field hockey team at the Pan American Games in Toronto defected to the United States, a player and sources close to the Cuban delegation said.

The sources said eight of the 16 Cuban players had deserted, while team member Roger Aguilera put the number at seven, just the latest in a rash of Cuban defections across several sports.

"Everyone knows what happened to our team, we have seven of them in the United States," said Aguilera, after the decimated Cubans were hammered 13-0 by Trinidad and Tobago.

Short of manpower, Cuba could only field eight players instead of the standard 11 plus five substitutes.

They are not the first Cubans to defect during the Pan Am Games, after four rowers disappeared last week, including silver medalist Orlando Sotolongo.