WSJ: Obama’s New Cuban Partners, My Old Jailers

Thursday, August 20, 2015
By Armando Valladares in The Wall Street Journal:

Obama’s New Cuban Partners, My Old Jailers

The regime was built on the blood of dissidents like those the U.S. now avoids acknowledging.

All Rosa Maria Payá wants is a copy of her father’s autopsy report. All her father wanted before he was murdered by Castro’s thugs was free elections. These are simple requests that those of us living in freedom enjoy without issue.

But not in Cuba.

In Cuba, to ask for man’s basic rights is to ask for intimidation, incarceration, torture and death. This persists, despite any fanciful ideas that Americans may have about warming relations with the world’s oldest dictatorship. So it’s a tragedy that our own secretary of state was in Cuba on Aug. 14 and failed to make the simplest of requests for the people of Cuba: freedom of speech and religion.

Thousands of Cubans have died fighting for these rights that Americans so freely enjoy. The right to build a church and preach without fear of harassment and secret recording by government hooligans. The right to protest without wondering if your friends will be carted off, never to be seen or heard from again. The right to criticize your government leaders in the opinion pages of a newspaper without fear of being hauled away at gunpoint in the night.

I experienced the latter in Cuba not for what I said, but for what I wouldn’t say: “I’m with Fidel.” I spent eight of my ensuing 22 years in Castro’s jails naked and in solitary confinement because I refused to wear a prison uniform. I was a conscientious objector, and the regime wanted to mark me as a common criminal.

The final cries of my friends at the execution wall that drifted through my cell window, when I had one, became a sort of refrain for the Castro regime, until the government realized that gagging and silencing them before they died sent a more powerful message. I saw countless friends tortured and executed for protesting a government that still crushes the people of Cuba under its boot. A government that our government is treating as a negotiating partner.

The U.S. Embassy opening on Friday, Aug. 14, was little more than fanfare to placate journalists and complacent diplomats in the international arena. Dissidents were excluded. Though many dissidents walk the streets of Cuba, keeping them away from the public eye erects a different sort of prison.

It’s a prison that contains the truth in a sanitized box to protect the Castro brothers’ carefully crafted image that they are reasonable. The purpose is to legitimize their dictatorship, which has not held elections in 50 years and is built on the blood of former prisoners like myself, like Antonio González Rodiles; like Martha Beatriz Roque; like Héctor Maseda; like the father of Rosa Maria Payá, Oswaldo, who was killed in a suspicious car crash in 2012; and like all the dissidents still suffering in Cuba who were kept away from Friday’s celebrations.

As Cuban-American Sen. Marco Rubio said when he wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry on Aug. 11 asking that dissidents be invited to the embassy ceremony: Dissidents “among many others, and not the Castro family, are the legitimate representatives of the Cuban people.”

For decades, many have protested the Cuban government’s position that rights come from the state, that they are a gift from Fidel that he can revoke as quickly as he grants. America is founded on the principle that rights come from God, they precede the state, and they cannot be usurped. If America begins to cede that principle, it will be signing its own death certificate.

I spent 22 years in jail for the principle that it’s what we do not say—in my case, not wearing the state’s uniform—that can count as much as what we say. Our government, if it is to stand on the principles on which America was founded, has an obligation to speak the truth and demand from the Castro regime the rights that the Cuban people are entitled to by their very humanity. To fail to so do is to say, without saying, “We are with Fidel.”

Mr. Valladares is the author of “Against All Hope,” which was first published in 1986. From 1987 to 1990, he served as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.

How Brookings (and Others) Misleads About Cuban 'Entrepeneurs'

Last year, the Brookings Institution's Richard Feinberg propagandized about "Cuba's Emerging Entrepeneurs":

"In Raul Castro’s Cuba, many small and medium-sized private businesses are yielding good returns to their investors. As the author discovered during his recent return to the island, successful entrepreneurs are reinvesting profits into their expanding enterprises – pointing to the emergence of a new group of on-island capitalists capable of generating some badly needed capital accumulation for the Cuban economy."

Feinberg highlighted the following examples:

"In Havana, many new paladares had opened their doors in recent months, generating a more heated competitive culinary environment. Searching for new profit centers, investors have turned to serving up late-night entertainment at bars and dance clubs, catering both to foreigners and to middle-class Cubans with disposable income. Investors in one successful venture, Shangri-La, have already launched a second night club, 'Up-and-Down,' with VIP lounges requiring a $20 consumption minimum per person, a hefty sum by Cuban standards."

Feinberg is right about one thing:

Shangri-La and Up-and-Down are the hottest nightspots in Havana.

It's where Castro's hip apparatchiks and Obama's elite travelers (in support of the Cuban people -- wink, wink) party the night away.

It's where The New York Cosmos took their "sports diplomacy" to the wee-hours of the morning.

It's where the island's finest jineteros and jineteras line the outside walls looking for a big break.

Feinberg would lead you to believe that Shangri-La and Up-and-Down are the product of Cuban "entrepreneurs" (or to be exact, "a new group of on-island capitalists").

To be fair -- it's not just Feinberg.

USA Today's Rick Jervis (who treated us to this fluff piece about daiquiris at El Floridita) also wrote, "privately owned bars, with names such as Shangri-La, Space and the Up-and-Down, are the latest in Cuba's experiment in entrepreneurship and a sign of progress trickling into the island."

Except their not.

The so-called "owner" was a Spaniard, Esteban Navarro Carvajal, who had been doing business with the Castro regime for over 20 years.

Until this summer, that is.

That's when Navarro got into a dispute with Raul Castro's grandson, Raul Guillermo Rodriguez Castro, over the attention of a beautiful young lady.

Little Raul (though not in size) is not only the sparkle in the Cuban dictator's eyes, but doubles as his bodyguard. (In the image below, he's the one with the earpiece between Raul and Obama.)

His father is General Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas, head of the Cuban military's all-powerful business conglomerate, GAESA, which overwhelmingly controls most of the island's tourism industry.

According to J.J. Almeida, the exiled son of Castro's former second-highest ranking official, Navarro (the Spanish businessman) has since been expelled from Cuba -- without any legal recourse, of course.

As for Shangri-la and Up-and-Down?

They are still open -- and under the control of Castro's cronies -- like everything else in Cuba.

Menendez: Obama's Cuba Policy is a 'One-Way Street'

From Fox News Latino:

Bob Menendez says Obama administration's Cuba policy is 'one-way street'
Sen. Robert Menendez took aim at what he sees as velvet-glove treatment of the Castro regime in Cuba by the Obama administration, saying that all the U.S. overtures toward the communist nation have made zero difference in how oppressed its citizens are.

Menendez, the son of Cuban immigrants who grew up in Union City, New Jersey, was raised on stories about the suffering of people who stayed behind in. And like many Cuban exiles and the children they raised with those stories, the Democratic senator has little tolerance for any move toward being amiable with Cuba’s leaders.

Late last year, both presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro announced a deal to re-establish diplomatic relations, including easing U.S. trade and travel restrictions. But that agreement, he said in an interview with Fox News Latino, “is a one-way street.”

“Cuba said, ‘You want to have a relationship with us? Well, we want our three convicted spies back,’” Menendez said. “Including one who was convicted of conspiracy to commit the murder of three United States citizens.”

In the last few weeks, the two nations re-opened embassies in each other’s capitals. Last Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry was in Havana to raise the American flag in front of the U.S. embassy.

Extending an olive branch to Castro while requiring him to make no meaningful changes in return, is an affront to human rights and the United States moral authority in the world, Menendez maintains.

“We send them the spies back, we get an innocent American – who should never have been held hostage in the first place – in return,” he said. “We don’t send spies back in the world. Anywhere. This is like a whole new [world] order.”

The Obama administration has said that more than 50 years of a Cold War hostility toward Cuba has accomplished nothing, except to give Fidel and Raúl Castro’s regimes an excuse – the U.S. embargo – for why its economy is a mess and people struggle to make ends meet.

The White House has denied that the release of the American, Alan Gross, who was in a Cuban jail for five years, was a swap for the Cuban spies.

Gross was arrested in 2009 for his work as a U.S. government contractor to set up Internet access without local censorship for Cuba’s Jewish community. Cuban officials said it was a crime to engage in what it called subversive work and gave him a 15-year prison sentence.

Menendez said there are numerous, serious human-rights violations Cuba has committed that should have been resolved before any accord involving restoring relations took place.

Those include the U.S. fugitives, including former Black Liberation Army leader Joanne Chesimard, who was sentenced for the 1973 killing of a New Jersey state trooper, who have been granted refuge in Cuba.

Chesimard escaped prison and ended up on the island in 1984. Then-President Fidel Castro called her a hero and granted her political asylum.

Chesimard, 67, is the only woman on the FBI's list of "wanted terrorists" and has a $2 million bounty on her head.

Menendez says Chesimard is but one of “50 to 75 felons that committed major crimes in the United States who are in Cuba.”

There was also the decision, he said, by the Obama administration to invite Cuba to the Summit of the Americas earlier this year.

The basic concept of the summit, he said, is a gathering for democratically-elected officials in the Western Hemisphere.

“I don’t think anyone can dispute that Cuba is not a democratically-elected government,” Menendez said.

All these allowances by the United States, the senator said, “undermine the value of democracy and human rights in the region.”

Obama administration officials and congressional lawmakers, including Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat, who were at the forefront of pushing for restored U.S.-Cuba relations said that leaders from Latin America often complained about Cuba being left out.

“I care about the Cuban people,” Menendez said. “I want to see democracy and human rights … There is no free press there. You can’t elect who you want to govern you. You can’t start your own business at will. You don’t get to choose freely at the altar you worship without consequences.”

He looks at all of the things that have changed since the accord, and sees little trickling down to the people, he said.

“In the first seven months of this year alone, 2,500 human-rights activists and political dissidents have been arrested and detained for peaceful protests,” he said.

“Then on the day that we open our embassy, Secretary Kerry doesn’t invite [Cuba’s] human-rights activists, the political dissidents the independent journalists to the opening and flag-raising. If in the courtyard of the U.S. embassy in Havana dissent is not permitted, it will certainly not be permitted on the island.”

Click here to watch interview.

Bruno Gives Kerry a Tour of Stolen American Property in Cuba

The absence of Cuba's courageous dissidents from the flag-raising ceremony at the U.S. Embassy -- despite there clearly being ample space in the courtyard -- wasn't the only poor imagery during Secretary of State John Kerry's trip to Havana.

After the ceremony, Kerry held bilateral talks with Castro's Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez, at Cuba's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX).

Thereafter, Kerry and Rodriguez held a joint news conference. 

But unlike the joint news conference after the opening of the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C., which was held at the State Department -- the Havana news conference wasn't held at the MINREX

Instead, it was staged at the luxurious, Hotel Nacional.

Thus, the images of Kerry and Bruno shaking hands over the "Hotel Nacional de Cuba" sign -- and of Bruno giving Kerry a tour of the property (see below).

This might seem charming and diplomatic -- except the Hotel Nacional is stolen American property.

As the Library of Congress reminds us, "The Hotel Nacional was inaugurated the evening of December 30, 1930. After 60 years of operation by its American owner, the Cuban government took over the building paying not a cent."

The American owner was the InterContinental Hotels Corporation (IHC), which at the time was a subsidiary of Pan American World Airways.

The InterContinental Hotels Corporation still has a U.S. certified claim for its majority interest in the Hotel Nacional, along with other minority investors.

Upon being seized by the Castro regime in 1960, it was placed under the control of Comandante Osmany Cienfuegos, who would later become a member of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party and Minister of Tourism.

Today, the Hotel Nacional remains the crown jewel of the Gran Caribe Hotel Group, S.A., a shadow company of Castro's Ministry of Tourism, which is headed by Colonel Manuel Marrero Cruz, a confidant of Raul Castro.

Col. Marrero Cruz previously ran Gaviota, S.A., a similar shadow company of the Cuban Ministry of the Armed Forces (MINFAR).

From Kerry down the line -- to all those businessmen, journalists and Members of Congress -- who partied to the tune of "normalization" at the Hotel Nacional, it was a celebration of larceny and profits for the Cuban dictatorship.

Castro couldn't have asked for a better marketing gimmick, while Kerry couldn't be more oblivious to the insult.

Meanwhile, reports indicate the Obama Administration is keen on skirting U.S. law, in order to encourage more American travelers to illegally traffic in stolen property in Cuba.

Tweet of the Week: What Lincoln Never Said

Obama's Shortsighted Approach to Cuba

By Ellen Bork in The World Affairs Journal:

Shortsighted on Cuba

On Friday, the US took another step in its pursuit of normalized relations with Cuba. Fifty-four years after President Eisenhower broke off relations with the Castro regime in 1961, the American flag was raised over the re-opened US Embassy in Havana in a ceremony attended by Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Cuban officials. The US side excluded Cuban democracy activists. Kerry explained in an interview on the Telemundo television network that the dissidents were “not invited … quite openly” “because that is a government-to-government moment, with very limited space, by the way, which is why we are having the reception later in the day, in which we can have a cross section of civil society, including some dissidents.” Of course, it’s possible that the Obama administration never considered including activists and dissidents, and it has not released the guest list. The Guardian newspaper reported that Cuban officials had indicated they would not attend if dissidents did.

Whatever happened behind the scenes, the administration’s behavior was not only revealing but also a bad precedent. If the administration was confronted with a choice, include dissidents or Cuban officials, the answer should have been easy. Go ahead without the officials. In an American embassy in a Communist country and at the outset of a new policy that is troubling to dissidents, the U.S. should take a firm stance on a matter of both substance and symbolism. It’s unlikely the Cuban government would have squandered the opening with the US that is supposed to bring about the end of the economic embargo. On the other hand, perhaps the Cuban side did make it clear they were prepared to do just that, resisting from the outset any concessions to human rights. In which case, it would seem that Washington has more invested in the new policy, and the theater of the flag raising, than Havana does.

Another report suggests the snub of the dissidents is not the only concession Washington has made. According to the New York Times, talks over the renewed relationship nearly foundered over the issue of American diplomats’ freedom to travel within the country. The compromise struck was that the diplomats would give prior notice to the Cuban government. Congress should ask the administration to report in six months what “notice” has meant in practice, whether diplomats are able to carry out their work, and what details of meetings with ordinary Cubans or activists they are sharing with the host government. All of this is taking place within a context of more, not less, persecution of rights activists.

“When one speaks about an unfree country,” Leon Wieseltier wrote recently of the Obama administration’s approach to Iran, “one may refer either to its people or to its regime. One cannot refer at once to both, because they are not on the same side. Obama likes to think, when he speaks of Iran, that he speaks of its people, but in practice he has extended his hand to its regime.” In Cuba, it seems the administration is developing a new approach to deal with this truth. In his remarks at the flag-raising ceremony on Friday, Kerry said, “the reopening of our embassies is important on two levels: People-to-people and government-to-government.” The Obama administration is fooling itself with a shortsighted, misguided approach that shows ignorance and disdain for the realities of Cuban Communist rule.

Latin American Governments Continue to Shun the Cuban People

Lack of Solidarity of Latin American Governments Towards the Cuban People

Civil Rights Defenders Executive Director, Robert Hardh, and Freedom House Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Carlos Ponce, published and op-ed on the lack of solidarity of Latin American governments towards the Cuban people in today's edition of Spain's El Pais.

They write:

“The fact that Cuba once again participates in the activities of the Organization of American States is a victory for Latin American governments that have argued for solidarity with Cuba and that no country should be excluded from the community. But if that solidarity with Cuba would include the whole Cuban people, and not just the government, we would see a real openness to dialogue. This is not the case yet”

The argument is based on the fact that Latin American embassies basically never ask for the opinion of the Cuban opposition, and that representatives of Latin American governments never meet with Cuban human rights defenders when visiting Cuba.

Over the last couple of years such an excluding attitude has been evident when Cuban democracy activists travel to events in the region. The attacks on Cuban democrats by the official Cuban delegation at the Summit of the Americas in Panama in April, when the local authorities did not intervene to protect them or make sure that their events could be organised peacefully, is one of the most flagrant examples.

Another example is the embarrassing way in which the Salvadorean government treated a Cuban delegation invited to the Community of Democracies ministerial meeting in San Salvador in late July. The government let them spend 24 hours at the airport and then made it obligatory for them to travel to Panama to pick up new invitation letters – which were identical to the ones they had already presented at arrival – before they were allowed to enter the country.

The article concludes that if the Latin American governments want to show solidarity with Cuba, they need to open up to the Cubans that are in favor of democracy and human rights too, and not only to the Cuban government.

The full article in Spanish can be read here and the full report here.

A Timely Reminder: On the Codification of U.S. Sanctions Towards Cuba

Wednesday, August 19, 2015
Remarks by former senior White House official, Daniel W. Fisk, at a conference on the Cuban embargo hosted last year by The University of Georgia's School of Law:

Executive and Legislative Pathways to Removing Sanctions

Good morning. I want to thank the University of Georgia School of Law and its Dean Rusk Center for the invitation to participate and for the hospitality shown in my first, but hopefully not my last, visit to Athens.

Having had the unique experience and perspective of direct involvement in both the Executive and Legislative branches in the development and implementation of US policy towards Cuba, I will speak with a first-hand understanding of and respect for the role and prerogatives of the Congress and the Executive – the two political branches that are central to any discussion on the implementation or removal of sanctions.

The topic of “pathways to removing sanctions” is procedural in nature -- as opposed to a policy discussion about the advisability of sanctions. When approaching the topic of “removing sanctions,” it is essential to consider the pathways used to institute them and the impact that this has on any effort to remove sanctions.

I agree with the notion that the Constitution creates an invitation to struggle between the two political branches. The U.S. Constitution does not contain the phrases “foreign affairs” or “national security.” Instead, as this audience knows, the Constitution provides specific powers to each political branch.

Congress, under Article I, Sections 8 and 9, has the power, amongst others, to provide for the common defence, regulate foreign commerce, to make all laws necessary and proper for carrying into execution its powers, and to appropriate funds. The President, under Article II, is vested with the executive power and the Commander-in-Chief power, and shares power with the Senate on treaties and the making of certain appointments, including the appointment of Ambassadors.

Beyond the constitutional text, there are considerations of practice, which are more often seen in presidential assertions of power under a general “foreign affairs” justification. And as we have seen, especially since the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt, the President’s interpretation of his power is quite broad -- almost limitless in his mind and those of his advisors -- when taking actions in the name of “foreign relations” or “national security.”

The text of the Constitution and historical practice are factors in any determination of which branch has authority in the foreign affairs arena. This is the case whether the issue is U.S. policy towards Cuba or policy towards another country or international issue. And we know that this struggle between the Executive and Congress over who has the authority to set U.S. foreign policy is as old as the Republic, extending back to the time of our first president named George, not simply having emerged with the most recent president of that name or his successor, President Obama.

In addition to the constitutional text and practice, there are delegations of authority from the Congress to the President contained in statute. In my view, any discussion of sanctions has to take into account the power of Congress to regulate foreign commerce and the delegation of any of that authority to the Executive.

I am struck by how often this congressional power over international economic relationships is ignored in discussions about sanctions, and not just by Presidents.

The President’s authority to impose, modify or remove sanctions is a delegated authority and Congress retains the power to affirm, modify or revoke that delegated authority.

It is the modification of that delegated authority that Congress has pursued in the case of the economic relationship between the United States and Cuba, most visibly through the Cuban Democracy Act, the LIBERTAD Act, and the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act, as well as through various appropriations bills over the recent past.

The Cuban Democracy Act (CDA), introduced by Congressman Robert Torricelli, Democrat of New Jersey, reflected congressional frustration with the Republican George H.W. Bush Administration’s policy towards Cuba, especially in the context of the political changes in Eastern Europe and the end of the Castro regime’s patron, the Soviet Union.

That Bush Administration well understood what this assertion of congressional authority meant and initially took steps to stop the legislation. However, the Executive then made the calculation that it had no choice except to agree to the legislation, which was signed into law in October 1992.

Three years later, with a different party in control of the Congress and the Executive, Congress again asserted its role over the U.S. economic relationship with Cuba. The Executive again sought to protect what it considered its prerogatives and initially opposed the legislation. A confluence of events, including the brutal shoot-down by Cuban forces of civilian aircraft in international airspace on the apparent orders of Raul Castro, convinced the Executive to accept and sign into law the LIBERTAD Act.

Having had responsibility as the primary staff member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for the drafting of and legislative strategy for the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996, more commonly known as the LIBERTAD or Helms-Burton Act, it has been interesting to observe the evolution in the attention given to the provisions of the Act over the years.

At the time, the most controversial provisions were those creating a right of action for U.S. nationals holding a claim to expropriated property in Cuba against third parties benefiting from those properties. Adding to this controversy was the bill’s creation of a statutory basis for excluding from the United States any alien involved in the expropriation of property or who benefited from property to which a U.S. national held a claim. These provisions, which receive relatively little attention today, were the principal focus of the Executive’s concerns about the legislation.

Administration lawyers, fully empowered to make decisions on behalf of the Executive, were present and active during the House-Senate conference committee deliberations on the final text of the bill. Out of the conference committee came revised wording that addressed the Executive’s concerns about the provisions on expropriated properties in Cuba. The President wanted authority to waive the Title III right of action provision and he received that authority from the Congress.

In exchange, Congress wanted the economic restrictions in place as of March 1, 1996 codified. The Executive Branch representatives – again, empowered to speak for and make commitments on behalf of the Executive – agreed to that deal. Based on that, Congress revised the legislation, providing a waiver to the President on Title III.

The Executive Branch knew what it was getting when the bill hit the President’s desk for signature.

With this review of what happened, it is instructive to give some attention to the President’s signing statement on the LIBERTAD Act. The President, by the way, was President Bill Clinton.

In the Statement by the President issued on March 12, 1996, the President made the standard refrain that “consistent with the Constitution, I will interpret the Act as not derogating from the President’s authority to conduct foreign policy.” Immediately following this statement is the enumeration of six sections or subsections of the Act that he will “construe” as “precatory.”

The so-called Codification provision is not one of these six provisions.

The Codification provision is referenced in the context of the President being able “to respond effectively to rapid change in Cuba” and his concern that that section “could be read to impose overly rigid constraints on the implementation of our foreign policy.” With these words, one would think that the President would treat the Codification provision as “precatory” as well. He does not.

Instead, the President states that he “will continue to work with the Congress to obtain the flexibility needed if the United States is to be in a position to advance our shared interest in a rapid and peaceful transition to democracy in Cuba.”

The phrasing is artful but reflected recognition of what those provisions meant for the President’s authority.

The LIBERTAD Act is not simply a codification of the President’s authority to manipulate the embargo. The Act codified the restrictions in place at the time of enactment (March 12, 1996).

In very straight forward wording, the Act states: “The economic embargo of Cuba, as in effect on March 1, 1996, including all restrictions under part 515 of title 31, Code of Federal Regulations, shall remain in effect upon the enactment of this Act, and shall remain in effect, subject to…” the provisions relating to a presidential determination that a transition or democratically elected government in Cuba is in power.

The Act does not speak of codifying the President’s authority under the Code of Federal Regulations; it speaks clearly to the “restrictions” in place as of a date-certain, March 1, 1996.

The Executive Branch understood congressional intent, understood the plain language of the Act, and understood what it, in fact, effected.

Further, the LIBERTAD Act met the constitutional test of bicameralism and presentment: it was approved by both chambers and presented to the President for his approval or veto. The President signed it with full knowledge of its provisions. Again, he got what he wanted: a Title III waiver in return for what Congress wanted: codification of the restrictions that constitute the embargo.

As for the President’s concerns about his ability to respond effectively to rapid changes in Cuba, Title II of the LIBERTAD Act sets out the requirements for and parameters of assistance to Cuba. This title of the Act does not preclude the President from submitting proposed legislation to Congress to change U.S. policy. The Executive retains the ability to pursue such an initiative.

Further, in developing the LIBERTAD Act, the Congress intentionally did not restrict or condition certain other authorities which contain “notwithstanding” language or authorities which allow the President latitude to respond in extraordinary circumstances.

Depending upon the facts of the situation – and the President/Executive has the ability to make a first determination as to what those “facts” are – there are authorities for Executive action in the Foreign Assistance Act.

That Act contains a number of what are considered “extraordinary authorities” – authorities that give the Executive the ability to deal with “unanticipated contingencies,” in the words of the statute.

After enactment of the LIBERTAD Act, the Executive created an interpretation that the Act really only codified the President’s authority to promulgate and modify the Cuban Asset Control Regulations. This Executive Branch interpretation is based on what some in Congress see as willful blindness to the agreement reached with Congress during the House-Senate conference committee. The Executive Branch rests this interpretation, in part, on an assertion of the President’s inherent foreign affairs powers and the Trading With the Enemy Act.

It is under this legal argument that the Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama Administrations have adjusted elements of U.S. policy towards Cuba, depending on their respective policy assessment of how the United States can best help the Cuban people transition to a society respectful of human rights and based on the consent of the governed.

As noted, I also have seen sanctions implementation from the other end of Pennsylvania Ave, from the Executive Branch.

The George W. Bush (“Bush 43”) Administration modified the CACR during its tenure. In 2004, the administration tightened restrictions in a number of areas, including policies on travel and remittances to Cuba. These actions were deemed consistent with the congressional intent underlying the LIBERTAD Act’s codification provisions.

As Congress noted in the Conference Report accompanying the LIBERTAD Act:

"It is not the intent of this section to prohibit executive branch agencies from amending existing regulations to tighten economic sanctions on Cuba or to implement the provisions of this Act."

Another initiative pursued by the George W. Bush Administration was the promulgation, in 2008, of regulations licensing the provision of selected information technologies, especially involving telecommunications, to the Cuban people. Again, this action was consistent with statutory mandates. Telecommunications have long had a carve-out in embargo policies.

The Cuban Democracy Act (sec.1705(e)(1)) specifically authorized telecommunications services, including authorizing the licensing of payments to Cuba as a result of those services. The LIBERTAD Act (sec. 102(g)) modified the CDA by creating a statutory prohibition on U.S. investment in Cuba’s domestic telecommunications sector.

Both the George W. Bush and Obama Administrations based their decisions to increase the flow of communications technology to the Cuban people, including mobile and cellular devices, on the CDA and LIBERTAD provisions of law.

As this brief review makes clear, if there is one country where Congress has spoken -- and spoken repeatedly – regarding delegated authority over foreign commerce, it is Cuba. And the pathway to removing sanctions is with and through the Congress.

Thank you.

Recognizing Journalistic Integrity in Cuba

We never hesitate to criticize journalists for willfully failing to cover Cuba's realities.

This is specially the case of foreign news bureaus in Havana, which are constantly self-censoring themselves -- for fear of being booted out of the island by the Castro regime.

Meanwhile, visiting foreign journalists easily fall prey to disinformation.

Thus, it's important to recognize journalists when they courageously report beyond the fluff.

During U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's visit to Havana, two journalists provided balanced coverage that showed Cuba's repressive political and economic realities.

They are CNN's Jake Tapper and CNBC's Michelle Caruso-Cabrera.

Watch CNN's Jake Tapper discuss Cuba's repressive political reality below (or here):

Watch CNBC's Michelle Caruso-Cabrera discuss Cuba's repressive economic reality below (or here):

Editorial Cartoon: 'A New Day' in Cuba

Says it all:

What Leahy & Co. Misunderstand About Cuba’s History

By Mike Gonzalez in The Daily Signal:

What the Left Misunderstands About Cuba’s History

Just before Secretary of State John Kerry raised the Stars and Stripes in Havana last week as he opened the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., accused those who oppose President Obama’s Cuba policy of being nostalgic for former dictator Fulgencio Batista.

It’s probably best to clear up some misconceptions he may have left.

Speaking in Congress, Leahy said that “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.”

By all means, let’s listen to the Cuban people.

Certainly, that would include some of the many dissidents—people like Antonio Rodiles, whom the regime’s henchmen beat to a pulp last month for demanding in public that Cuba be free.

Antonio says that Obama’s decision to establish diplomatic relations with the Castro regime has only emboldened it. “They now feel they can act with impunity,” he told me when I last spoke to him. That was before the beating, which proves his assessment was right.

Antonio doesn’t need to visit Cuba.  He lives there. He’s not nostalgic for Batista. He simply yearns for democracy and basic human rights.

And let’s listen to Rosa Maria Paya. Her father, the dissident Oswaldo Paya, was the 2002 winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize. In 2012, he died in a very mysterious car crash. A Spanish lawyer who survived that crash, Angel Carromero, accuses the Castro regime of killing Paya.

Just last month the Human Rights Foundation published a report that cited evidence Paya was assassinated by the Castro regime. It called for an investigation, which the regime refuses to carry out.

Rosa Maria Paya, too, demands an investigation—and a plebiscite so Cubans can vote for change or more of the same. She recently described how Obama’s policy had changed life in Cuba by quoting Vaclav Havel: “The only thing we have left is the power of the powerless.”

No, she isn’t pining for the Batista years, either. But she deeply regrets the further empowerment of a murderous regime.

How about those of us in this country who oppose the new policy? Does Leahy really believe that Texas Pastor Rafael Cruz—who was tortured by Batista—looks back fondly upon the dictator? Does he think that Cruz’s son—who sits with Leahy in the Senate—is a shill for Batista?

I grew up in a Cuban household in the 1960s. There was no love lost for Batista in my family. At the dinner table, I was taught that batistiano—the term for those who followed Batista—was second only to comunista as an insult.

Batista, you see, had my father arrested while he was still in law school. And my father’s father devoted a good part of his life to fighting Batista at every step—when the strongman ruled behind the scenes in the late 1930s, when he was freely elected in 1940 and when he took over in a coup in 1952.

As evidence, I offer one of my grandfather’s columns from the late ‘30s. You don’t have to read Spanish, just look at the cartoon. It shows Federico Laredo Bru, Batista’s puppet president from 1936 to 1940, dreaming that he’s holding Batista in the palm of his hand, only to be awakened in the last frame.

My parents made the mistake of supporting Castro when he was in the mountains. It wasn’t until six months after the triumph of the revolution that they realized, to their horror, that he was a communist.

Before they had not believed Castro was a communist precisely because Batista said that he was.

By all means, let’s listen to the Cuban people. But be sure to listen to those who oppose the regime and not just those who shill for it. The Associated Press reports that more than 20 U.S. lawmakers have visited Cuba since Obama and the Castros declared détente—and not one of them has met with a dissident group.

Meanwhile, if it’s not too much to ask, Leahy should refrain from accusing Rodiles, the Paya family, Pastor Cruz or any of the millions of Cubans and Americans who disagree with the president’s Cuba policy of being closet batistianos.

There’s no need to add insult to this injurious policy.

Post and Courier Editorial: An Opening for Cuban Freedom?

From The Charleston Post and Courier's Editorial Board:

An opening for Cuban freedom?

The re-opening of the America Embassy in Havana on Friday was a historic occasion. So fittingly, Secretary of State John Kerry was there — as were three U.S. Marines who took down the U.S. flag from our embassy 54 years ago — along with many Cuban dignitaries, including private citizens friendly with the government.

Bands played “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “La Bayamesa,” the stirring Cuban national anthem with its words that to live in chains is to live in shame.

But people in Castro Cuba struggling to keep the love of liberty sounded in “La Bayamesa” alive were not invited to the ceremony by Secretary Kerry. And many of them could not have attended.

Less than a week before the ceremony, 90 dissidents were arrested for protesting the re-opening of the American embassy. A demonstration organized in part by the Ladies in White — women whose husbands and children had been arrested by the Cuba dictatorship for political protests — was broken up by police.

Among those arrested was Angel Moya, a former political prisoner and husband of Berta Soler, head of the Ladies in White. Mr. Moya and others wore masks with the face of President Barack Obama. “It’s his fault, what is happening,” he told a reporter for Agence France Presse. He said that “the Cuban government has grown even bolder” in suppressing dissent since the U.S. re-opened diplomatic relations with the Castro regime.

The State Department said some dissidents who are not yet in jail were invited to a private party at the new ambassador’s residence following the official re-opening. Secretary Kerry said he would meet them there and afterward have “an open, free walk” in Havana.

“I look forward to meeting whoever I meet and listening to them and having, you know, whatever views come at me,” Mr. Kerry said, apparently oblivious of the tight control on speech imposed by Castro agents monitoring his “free” walk and anyone who speaks to him. They were trained, after all, by the notorious Stasi secret police of the now-defunct Communist government of East Germany.

To Secretary Kerry’s credit, though, in remarks broadcast on Cuban radio and television he said, “We remain convinced the people of Cuba would be best served by genuine democracy, where people are free to choose their leaders, express their ideas, practice their faith; where the commitment to economic and social justice is realized more fully; where institutions are answerable to those they serve; and where civil society is independent and allowed to flourish.”

The remarks were rebroadcast and printed in Granma, the official newspaper of the Castro government.

Cubans expressed surprise and support in interviews with foreign journalists. Said one Cuban, “For us it’s a drop of hope; it’s something we weren’t expecting.”

Further defending the opening of diplomatic relations with the Castro regime, Kerry said, “We believe our engaging in direct diplomatic relations with the Cuban government, being there, being able to interact with the people of Cuba, will in fact, help the people of Cuba. It will shed light on what is happening.”

There is already plenty of light on what is happening in Cuba, thanks to the Ladies in White and other promoters of real democracy.

What those brave groups need is constant support and frequent reinforcement of their message.

The American opening to Cuba will be a major disappointment if it does not lead in that direction by pressing the Cuban government to open the road to freedom.

Caught on Tape: Sunday's Arrests of Cuban Democracy Leaders

Tuesday, August 18, 2015
Click below (or here) to watch video footage of this past Sunday's arrest of The Ladies in White and other democracy activists in Havana.

Note how they were assaulted by secret police officials, which then call-in a mob to start chanting "Fidel, Fidel" -- chants similar to those at the Cuban Embassy opening in Washington, D.C.

Sadly, foreign new bureaus in Havana were either too tired from Kerry's fluff trip, or (again) too scared of Castro's censors, to cover the repression.

WSJ: The Bare Flagpoles of Havana

By David Feith in The Wall Street Journal:

The Bare Flagpoles of Havana

Before Obama restored ties to Cuba, he ended an inventive U.S. effort to promote freedom.

There was an odd sight over John Kerry’s shoulder as he stood in the Havana sun Friday. At a flagpole in front of him, U.S. Marines were raising the Stars and Stripes to mark the return of a U.S. embassy to Cuba after 54 years. Choreographed and solemn, that was the scene that U.S. and Cuban leaders wanted the world to see.

Behind Secretary of State Kerry, though, was a peculiar sea of other flagpoles, tall and empty, steel spires rising from nowhere. These were visible in photographs splashed across world news but little noted. Which is unfortunate. Because those steel poles are a reminder of an unusually creative and bold chapter in recent U.S. diplomacy—and one the Obama administration ended.

In 2006 the U.S. faced a challenge. For nearly 30 years it had been operating a quasi-embassy in Havana, known as an Interests Section, from the same building that housed the U.S. Embassy before the 1961 break in formal diplomatic ties. The Bush administration wanted to support liberalization by aiding the victims of the Castro regime, including labor activists and journalists and those punished for trying to worship, work or travel freely. But U.S. officials were largely confined to the Interests Section, barred from freely meeting the public or communicating through the state-controlled media.

So American diplomats decided to make clever use of one of the few resources they had: their building. Across 25 windows near the top of the seven-story structure, they created a giant electronic billboard. With 5-foot-tall red letters, they could broadcast messages to the Cuban public from prime real estate along central Havana’s busy Malecón esplanade.

The sign went live on Martin Luther King Day with translated excerpts from the “I Have a Dream” speech, resonant in Cuba with its messages of civil rights and of racial equality—the island’s Afro-Cuban majority often suffers the brunt of the regime’s cruelty. “No man is good enough to govern another man without his consent,” the billboard also declared, quoting Abraham Lincoln.

Its messages on other occasions: “In a free country you don’t need permission to leave. Is Cuba a free country?” and, from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”

Some of the offerings were more acid. “How sad that all the people who would know how to run this country are driving taxis or cutting hair,” the sign blared, quoting comedian George Burns. Then there was the wisdom of rocker (and anti-Soviet icon) Frank Zappa, who quipped that “Communism doesn’t work because people like to own stuff.”

The electronic ticker also offered news about Cuban baseball stars who defected to the U.S. major leagues and became millionaires. And it noted that Forbes magazine had named humble Communist Fidel Castro the world’s seventh-richest head of state, estimating his personal wealth at $900 million.

Months after the billboard came to life, Mr. Castro designed a countermeasure. Across from the U.S. Interests Section, in a plaza called Anti-Imperialist Park, he planted nearly 150 large black flags to obscure from most angles the view of America’s messages.

U.S. diplomats responded, via the ticker: “Who fears the billboard? Why block it?” The answers were obvious. As the Soviet dissident playwright-turned-statesman Václav Havel wrote, the essential truth about tyrannies is their fragility. Tyrants rely on lies, and they fear that any irruption of truth—the circulation of samizdat literature, or even a lone greengrocer refusing to show fealty to the state—could start to unravel the whole fabric of government control.

Hence Mr. Castro’s decades of brutal information suppression and his jitters over a single Havana billboard beyond his grasp. Yet he is nothing if not a survivor, and visitors to Havana reported that his strategically placed flags mostly did the trick in keeping the U.S. ticker out of view. Still it served as a quiet beacon of liberal solidarity in an otherwise benighted land.

Until it didn’t. In June 2009 the Obama administration shut the ticker off, one of the first in a series of U.S. and Cuban gestures leading to last year’s restoration of diplomatic relations and now the transformation of the U.S. Interests Section back into a formal embassy. After the billboard faded to black, the Castro regime took down its oversize flags, leaving behind the bare steel flagpoles that loomed over Friday’s event.

Absent from that ceremony, meanwhile, were any voices of Cuban liberalism. Blogger Yoani Sanchez, Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, “Ladies in White” protest leader Berta Soler: No such dissidents were invited, a sadly fitting reflection of the Obama administration policy by which the Castro regime gains international prestige and hard currency without offering compromises on freedom of speech, freedom of assembly or other basic human rights.

What 'Change Looked Like' in Cuba Over the Weekend

The collage below shows the arrest of various Cuban democracy leaders over the weekend.

Less than 48 hours after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shunned Cuban dissidents from the U.S. Embassy in Havana, over 200 of them were arrested.

Here's "what change looked like":

The More You Know About Cuba, the Less Likely You Are to Support Obama's Policy

By Ambassador Roger Noriega, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, of The American Enterprise Institute (AEI):

On the outside, looking in: Standing with the Cuban people

The less you know or care about Cuba, the more likely you are to support President Obama’s change in US policy. The more you know and care about the Cuban people, the more likely that you will be around to pick up the pieces when Obama’s capitulation to the Castro regime makes things worse for its victims.

The administration cites polls saying that Americans support his opening to Cuba. However, a poll taken since the president’s initiative paints a different picture. A survey in March found that those interviewed initially supported Obama’s decision by a margin of 51 % to 40 %. However, when informed of the simple facts of Cuban reality—including security threats and human rights violations—the results swung dramatically against the move. For example, when asked if US sanctions should be maintained pending Cuba’s progress on human rights and elections, respondents agreed 64 % to 16 %.

Indeed, such human rights preconditions are enshrined in US law, passed by three-fourths majorities in both houses of Congress and signed by President Clinton. The awful reality is that Cuba is the only country in the Western Hemisphere that cannot meet any of the human rights, labor rights, or democracy conditions contemplated in US law. Yet President Obama proposes to drop those principled standards in a rush to engage the Castro regime on its terms.

Congress has refused to go along. The current sanctions on Cuba enjoy bipartisan support, including that of Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (NV) and the chair of the Democratic National Committee, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz (FL). A substantial majority of the House of Representatives has voted twice this year to block Obama’s new policy, and the House Appropriations Committee has even voted to deny the $6 million that the Administration has requested to upgrade the US mission in Havana.

Yet the administration is pressing forward on this ideological venture.  Secretary John Kerry traveled to Cuba on Friday to preside over the symbolic raising of the American flag at the newly designated embassy near Havana’s picturesque seawall.  The significance of the event was captured perfectly by Kerry’s decision to exclude any dissidents, human rights activists, independent journalists or others who are the most genuine representatives of 11 million Cubans. Kerry explained that this was a “government-to-government affair.” And there you go.

US policy toward Cuba is no longer about what’s good for the Cuban people. It’s about what will placate an anti-American regime that has held power by brute force for over 55 years. The president suggests that the US embargo has failed to produce change in Cuba, so it must be the problem.  Anyone who knows or cares about Cuba draws a different lesson, noting that despite being able to trade with every country in the world, the Cuban economy has collapsed. Despite Soviet Union largesse, European investment, Canadian tourist dollars, and Venezuelan oil riches, the Cuban government is bankrupt. Despite the trend toward democracy of the last three decades, Cuba remains a totalitarian dictatorship. Despite being a tropical island, Cuba has shortages of citrus and seafood.

No, Mr. President. The root of the woeful conditions imposed on the Cuban people are the octogenarian despots who are sitting across the table from you and your secretary of state. And they have proclaimed that they will change nothing on the island, and daily brutality and suffocating censorship prove their point. There has been no meaningful economic or political opening in recent years, let alone since the president’s announcement last December. Only people who do not know Cuba will mistake rehashed economic half-measures for genuine change.

The Castro regime will eventually—and probably quite soon—humiliate President Obama and his supporters for misjudging them. And the people who will bear the brunt of this blunder are the victims of the regime who have been abandoned by US policy.

Americans are justifiably proud of seeing their flag, wherever it is raised. But they should be clear-eyed about the simple fact that literally locked outside the US embassy gates are political dissidents, human rights defenders, family members of political prisoners, and 11 million Cubans who are tormented by a brutal regime.

Perhaps President Obama doesn’t know or care about such people. However, they are the heart, soul, and future of Cuba. It is impossible to change Cuba by leaving them on the outside looking in.

Kerry Missed a Historic Opportunity in Havana

By Elliott Abrams of The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR):

Did The Kerry Visit To Cuba Matter?

Secretary of State Kerry traveled to Havana to raise the flag at the U.S. Embassy there last week. As has been noted here in this blog and in many news articles and columns, no dissidents or human rights activists were invited to the ceremony.

It’s fair to ask if that sends any kind of signal to the regime. The fear would be that it expresses a lack of interest in, or at least a refusal to give much priority to, how the Castro regime treats those struggling peacefully for democracy and human rights in Cuba.

How might we judge the answer? Here’s how:

"Less than 48 hours after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shunned Cuban dissidents from the U.S. Embassy in Havana, over 200 dissidents have been arrested. In Havana, 60 members of The Ladies in White, the renowned pro-democracy group composed of the wives, mothers and daughters of Cuban political prisoners, were arrested — along with nearly 20 other activists. Among those arrested were Berta Soler, leader of The Ladies in White; Antonio Rodiles, of Estado de Sats; and Jorge Luis Garcia Perez 'Antunez' of the National Resistance Front. Some of The Ladies in White, such as Yaqueline Boni, were brutally beaten in custody. Others severely beaten include Ciro Alexis Casanova, Jose Diaz Silva and Mario Alberto Hernandez."

Those facts come from a report by Capitol Hill Cubans, found here. The only real defense of Kerry might be that the regime arrests and beats people all the time anyway, so it’s impossible to say this would not have happened even if some of these people had been invited to the flag-raising at the new U.S. Embassy.

Some defense. Experience with communist and other dictatorships has long been that American support for and interaction with dissidents helps them and protects them. Naming them individually does as well, in their common view. In his 1975 Nobel lecture, accepting the Peace Prize, Andrei Sakharov ended his speech by naming–one by one–about one hundred political prisoners. His wife Elena Bonner, who actually read that speech for Sakharov because he was forbidden from leaving the Soviet Union, later said “the listing of names brought joy to the prisoners of conscience, and to their relatives. More important, it somewhat protected them from the camp administration.”

So Kerry missed his chance, and his actions in Havana arguably worsened the situation of dissidents there by suggesting a lack of interest in them and their plight. There were many things he could have done while there, ranging from the daring and heroic to the marginally useful. He did say, during the ceremony, that “We remain convinced the people of Cuba would be best served by a genuine democracy, where people are free to choose their leaders,” and those words like the entire ceremony were broadcast in Cuba. He did meet with human rights activists at a separate reception, as well. Then he did a walking tour of Old Havana, and “After Kerry visited a shop in a boutique hotel, an aide was seen carrying out bags of what appeared to be three bottles of rum, cigar boxes and a humidor.”

Bottom line: Mr. Kerry did the minimum he could really get away with. Think what the impact might have been had he insisted that at least some of the human rights and democracy activists must be present at the official ceremony, or had he in his remarks specifically mentioned the Ladies in White or some of the political prisoners. The reaction of the Castro regime to the Kerry visit is clearly visible already–in those arrests. He had an opportunity to do the minimum he needed to do on human rights in Cuba, or to do something bold and historic and memorable. He made the wrong choice.

Washington Examiner: Obama is Taking the Wrong Side in Cuba

Monday, August 17, 2015
From The Washington Examiner's Editorial Board:

Obama is taking the wrong side in Cuba

A memorable line from Ronald Reagan's famous 1964 speech, "A Time for Choosing," pertained to some left-leaning politicians' accommodationist attitude toward communism. The line stood out last week, as the United States resumed diplomatic relations with Cuba's oppressive Communist regime.

"We cannot buy our security, our freedom from the threat of the bomb," he said, "by committing an immorality so great as saying to a billion human beings now enslaved behind the Iron Curtain, 'Give up your dreams of freedom because to save our own skins, we're willing to make a deal with your slave masters.'"

Today, communism is no longer the formidable and violent global force it once was — there's no question now of "saving our own skins" from Soviet bombs. In a sense, that makes Obama's overly generous deal with the oppressive, terrorist-sponsoring Cuban regime seem less craven. But the lack of a pressing threat also calls into question why any president would show such unnecessary magnanimity, inking a deal with Cuba on such unfavorable terms.

It's not that Obama is wrong to make any deal whatsoever. At some point, it has to happen. The opening up of trade will play a role — albeit not a sufficient one on its own — in freeing Cubans from one of the world's worst governments.

But Obama made a deal that essentially asks nothing of the Cuban regime, while giving it an immense gift that boosts its prestige. Raul Castro can continue his policy of arbitrary arrests of political dissidents, restriction of Internet access so that his subjects lack access to the truth, detention of political prisoners and oppression of Christian churches. In all of these categories, the Cuban government has grown worse in recent years, stepping up its oppression during and after the period when Obama was negotiating with them to renew relations.

Cuba released 53 political prisoners as part of its deal with Obama — a mere drop in the bucket. In its 2015 report on Cuba, Human Rights Watch notes that the regime in 2014 — even as it was negotiating with Obama — more than doubled its number of "short-term arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders, independent journalists, and other critics." Those arrested (more than 7,000 last year) are routinely beaten and held incommunicado for hours or days.

The HRW report adds that "other repressive tactics employed by the government include beatings, public acts of shaming, and the termination of employment."

Just imagine living in a country where simple criticism of the regime can result in your sudden disappearance and torture — and if you're lucky, you might just be bullied (by other grown-ups, no less) and fired from your job. Policemen might also harass and detain you when you try to attend church.

Imagine all that, and then imagine that the United States – the world's beacon of freedom and the refuge for many Cuban refugees – suddenly cozies up to your tormentors, even as they are stepping up the oppression.

This is what Obama has done by failing to make any serious demands on the regime — for example, to release all political prisoners, to stop the arbitrary arrests, or to open up Cuba to hold free elections with fair international monitors. Obama also failed to demand concessions with respect to Cuba's continued harboring of international terrorists — people who committed crimes both within the United States and abroad.

Cuban dissidents were not invited to take part in the Friday ceremony reopening the U.S. embassy in Havana. According to news reports, the Cuban regime threatened to boycott the ceremony if they were. The exclusion sends a clear message: America snubs Cubans who bravely seek freedom and a better life in order to mollify the murderers and torturers who have ruined their country. If this is what U.S.-Cuban relations are going to look like going forward, why bother to renew them?

Less Than 48 Hours After Kerry Shuns Cuban Dissidents, Over 200 Were Arrested

Less than 48 hours after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shunned Cuban dissidents from the U.S. Embassy in Havana, over 200 dissidents have been arrested.

In Havana, 60 members of The Ladies in White, the renowned pro-democracy group composed of the wives, mothers and daughters of Cuban political prisoners, were arrested -- along with nearly 20 other activists.

Among those arrested were Berta Soler, leader of The Ladies in White; Antonio Rodiles, of Estado de Sats; and Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez" of the National Resistance Front.

Some of The Ladies in White, such as Yaqueline Boni, were brutally beaten in custody. Others severely beaten include Ciro Alexis Casanova, Jose Diaz Silva and Mario Alberto Hernandez.

Meanwhile, in eastern Cuba, over 140 dissidents from the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU) were arrested, as they sought to demonstrate in favor of political prisoners Zaqueo Baez, Jordys Dosil and Reinier Rodriguez Mendoza.

Baez and Dosil have been on a hunger strike for the last eight days protesting their unjust imprisonment. Rodriguez, who suffers from asthma and epilepsy, is being denied treatment and weighs 81 pounds.

All three were imprisoned after the Obama-Castro deal.

This is "what change looks like" in Cuba.

On Second Thought, Am Glad Cuban Dissidents Weren't at Embassy

Undoubtedly, for the Obama Administration to shun Cuban dissidents from the flag-raising ceremony at the new U.S. Embassy was a major policy blunder -- not to mention a betrayal of America's principles.

The editorial boards of The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal have eloquently expressed why -- as has The Miami Herald's Andres Oppenheimer.

Moreover, for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to argue that dissidents were excluded from the Embassy event due to "limited space" was pathetic.

As a matter of fact, as CNN's Jake Tapper, clearly revealed -- it was a lie.

Kerry's other excuse -- that it was a "government-to-government" event -- was also a lie.

Sadly, this lie was regurgitated by former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez during an MSNBC interview from Havana.

If it were a "government-to-government" event -- then what was he doing there?

Last we checked, Gutierrez was not a member of the Obama Administration (yet).

Perhaps he was measuring the curtains at the Ambassador's residence, but that would still require his nomination and confirmation by the Senate -- big if's, which would surely require a probe into his clients at The Albright Group, potential conflicts-of-interest and consulting for foreign governments.

It would also raise the questions: 

Would (did) the Castro regime require Gutierrez to use a Cuban passport, as it does anyone born in Cuba?

Would (did) it make Gutierrez go through the same humiliating vetting process that it makes all Cubans go through, in order to get a visa to their homeland (which violates international law)?

Of course, the Obama Administration wouldn't care about any of this, as it has already accepted Castro's restrictions on U.S. diplomats, in contravention of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

But back to the Kerry/Gutierrez "government-to-government" lie.

If it was a "government-to-government" event, then what were all those lawyers, lobbyists, publicists, small bankers, talking heads and business bottom-feeders doing there?

Were any of them more worthy of a seat in that ample courtyard than those Cubans who -- on a daily basis -- sacrifice, blood, beatings, tears, humiliation, imprisonment and risk death for the cause of freedom, democracy and rights for all Cubans?

Thus, in hindsight, after seeing the moral mediocrity -- with the exception of three U.S. Marines -- that populated the Embassy's courtyard on Friday morning, it was clear that no one there was worthy of the presence of Cuba's courageous dissidents.

Cuba's dissident leaders will grace the pages of history alongside Sakharov, Solzhenitsyn, Havel, Walesa, Mandela and Suu Kyi.

While those in the courtyard will barely consist of a footnote.

Cuban Political Activists Still Face Arrest and Detention

From Vice News:

Cuban Political Activists Still Face Arrest and Detention

In Havana's Central Park, visitors have the opportunity to enjoy an idyllic Cuban scene: dashing men in white shirts and straw hats, elderly women in flowery skirts making cigars, children chasing soccer balls through the well-tended grass, and classic American cars with gaudy paintjobs making their rounds.

But seven months ago, on Christmas Day 2014, cars were not the only gaudily-painted things looking to run around Central Park.

Danilo Maldonado Machado, a Cuban graffiti artist and dissident, had brought two live pigs to the park, and painted them green. The green paint imitated military fatigues, and he wrote the names "Fidel" and "Raúl" on their sides, after the names of the Castro brothers, the successive leaders of Cuba's socialist government since 1959.

However, the Cuban political police, a specific branch of Cuba's law enforcement that deals with dissidents, arrested Maldonado as he and his swine accomplices marched toward Central Park. Since then, he has been detained without trial in the Valle Grande prison near Havana, and Cuba's dissident community is indignant.

Maldonado was initially held incommunicado, but he has recently been allowed occasional visitations and phone calls, according to sources in close contact with the activist.

"He didn't even get the chance to realize his performance, but he's in jail for it. It shows the extreme limits we still have on our speech," Henry Constantin, a Cuban activist for freedom of speech and access to internet, told VICE News in an interview.

Constantin was disheartened by Maldonado's arrest, but he also recognizes the irony behind it. Since 2001, there was a campaign conducted by the Cuban government to secure the release of five Cuban spies (or political prisoners, depending on the point of view), popularly known as the "Cuban Five," who intended to infiltrate several anti-Castro groups in the United States.

During the time of the campaign, Maldonado saw the Cuban people as the sixth political prisoner, and "he began signing his work with the name 'El Sexto' to represent all of us. The irony is that the [Cuban Five] have been released, but El Sexto is still in prison. It's a sort of cruel irony," Constantin continued.

The warming relations between the US and Cuba, two Cold War foes who have shared a contentious history since Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution ejected the US-friendly dictator Fulgencio Batistain, began in earnest with a prisoner exchange.

In December 2014, the same month Maldonado was detained, the remaining three members of the Cuban Five were released (two had previously secured freedom) in exchange for Alan Gross, a subcontractor for the US Agency for International Development.

To Constantin, who was expelled from three Cuban universities before being barred from ever studying again in Cuba due to his views on freedom of expression and access to information, the continued imprisonment of Maldonado shows that the Castro regime isn't interested in real political change.

Gorki Águila, the leader of Cuban punk band Porno Para Ricardo, agrees.

"They only want to continue in power. If it seems like they've changed, it's an act," the singer said in his do-it-yourself recording studio in the Miramar district of Havana, La Paja Recold, which he heralds as a "territory free of communism."

The punk rocker has had his fair share of run-ins with the authorities. In 2003, he was arrested by an undercover policewoman after she posed as a fan, asked for drugs, and subsequently received them (the authorities said these drugs were amphetamines, but the singer says it was a few joints). The charges resulted in his serving four and a half years behind bars.

After release, Porno Para Ricardo's lyrics became increasingly anti-Castro, and anti-communism. Then, in 2008, he was re-arrested, on the charge of "dangerousness," a measure that allows for the pre-arrest of individuals deemed likely to commit crimes. He was released after three days.

"It was a matter of fear," he said, reflecting on his 2008 arrest. "It's [the government's] favorite tool for shutting people up."

Águila told VICE News that Cuban authorities recently tried to silence him again. During this year's Biennial festival, a bi-yearly art event in Havana that showcases work from artists in the Global South born out of "conflict and concern" that ran from May 22 to June 22, the singer was putting up posters on the walls of Havana's Museum of Fine Arts with the image of Maldonado and the word "freedom".

The police apprehended him and removed the posters.

"This festival is supposed to show the artwork of the oppressed, and I'm arrested for demanding freedom for an oppressed artist. It's limitless hypocrisy," Águila said.

Obama (Kerry) Fails Major Cuba Policy Test

Sunday, August 16, 2015
Last week, author Andres Oppenheimer forewarned in his column in The Miami Herald:

"It’s time to pay a little less attention to 1950s pre-revolution Chevrolets in Cuba, and a little more attention to the post-revolution people in Cuba, who — mainly because of a decrepit family dictatorship — live in one of the poorest, most backward and repressive countries in the Americas."

Oppenheimer's column was directed at the media.

Little did he know that it was U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's agenda that would be marred by such frivolousness -- Chevy's and all.

Today, Oppenheimer writes in The Miami Herald:

Kerry failed to act on human rights in Cuba

Secretary of State John Kerry deserves applause for saying that human rights will be a top priority in the newly normalized U.S. ties with Cuba, but his decision not to invite Cuban dissidents to the flag-raising ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Havana flew in the face of his promise.

When I interviewed Kerry last week shortly before his trip, the first by a U.S. Secretary of State to Cuba in 70 years, he said that “human rights obviously is at the top of our agenda, in terms of the first things that we will be focused on in our direct engagement with the Cuban government.”

He even told me that he plans to discuss with Cuba a “sort of roadmap” to full normalization that ultimately will involve the lifting of the U.S. embargo, and Cuban steps, such as allowing Cubans “to engage in a democratic process, to elect people.” To his credit, he reiterated these themes in Havana, where he stated that “the people of Cuba would be best served by a genuine democracy, where people are free to choose their leaders.”

All of that sounded great. But then, during his trip to Havana, Kerry did not invite Cuban dissidents to attend, alongside Cuban officials, the flag-raising ceremony at the U.S. Embassy, which was the highlight of his 10-hour trip to the island. Instead, some peaceful government opponents were invited among hundreds of guests to a separate event later that day at the residence of the U.S. charge d’affairs in Cuba.

When I asked Kerry in our interview why he would not include dissidents among his guests at the U.S. Embassy, he downplayed the significance of that decision. “Rather than have people sitting in a chair, at a ceremony that is fundamentally government to government, with very limited space, I will meet with them... and exchange views” separately, Kerry told me.

But Republican critics and many human rights groups say the Obama administration caved in to the Cuban regime, which refuses to participate in diplomatic events attended by Cuban dissidents. In Cuba, the five-decade-old Castro family dictatorship prohibits independent political parties, and brands peaceful opponents as “mercenaries.”

Some opposition leaders who were invited to the charge d’affairs residence declined to attend.

“We do not understand how the U.S. administration could accept the conditions of these dictators,” said Antonio Gonzalez Rodiles, one of the dissident leaders who declined the invitation, to the website El Diario de Cuba.

Bertha Soler, a leader of the Ladies in White who has been arrested more than a dozen times in recent months for staging peaceful protests, told me in a telephone interview that the Obama administration pays lip service to human rights, but keeps a “shameful silence” about ongoing rights abuses in Cuba.

Since Obama announced the start of normalization talks Dec. 17, there have been more than 3,000 political detentions in Cuba, according to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

Kerry says that full diplomatic relations, more U.S. tourists and greater commercial relations will help bring about change in Cuba, although that make take time. He told me, “Let’s just let this work. It’s an opportunity.”

My opinion: Of all the things that Kerry told me, there is one in which I fully agree with, which is that the previous U.S. policy of confrontation with Cuba didn’t work, and that it was time to try something new. No question about that.

That’s why, when Obama first announced that he would start normalization talks on Dec. 17 while simultaneously continuing to “strongly” press for democratic reforms on the island, many of us agreed with him. A two-pronged, carrot-and-stick policy of restoring ties while pressing for human rights is worth trying.

But now, I wonder if it hasn’t become a one-track policy. Kerry’s trip to Havana didn’t break new ground on human rights even symbolically, and in effect hurt Cuba’s fledgling internal opposition by making it look irrelevant in the eyes of many Cubans.

Could it be that Obama is so eager to visit Cuba before he finishes his term — to go down in history as the U.S. president who “opened” Cuba, much as Nixon “opened” China — that he is willing to sacrifice the human rights cause? Could it be that he is so eager for a foreign policy victory that he is willing to abandon a long-standing U.S. policy of moral support to pro-democracy activists?

I hope I’m wrong on this, but Kerry’s trip to Cuba was a first big test of Obama’s new Cuba policy, and the administration didn’t pass it.

Tweet of the Week: Exposing Kerry's Lie About Cuban Dissidents

Just How Bad a Deal Did Obama Cut With Castro

So bad -- that even author Ann Louise Bardach couldn't sugar-coat it.

From Bardach's "Obama's Favorite Castro" in Politico:

And what a deal [Raul Castro] has made with the United States, scoring the big-ticket items on his wish list: the release of the remaining Cuban Five prisoners, an avalanche of American tourists and their cash, a huge uptick in remittances and investment capital, while sliding off the U.S.’s state-sponsored terrorist list.

At the same time, he kiboshed most of the U.S. demands—open elections, human rights’ guarantees, $7 billion in U.S. property claims, an independent media and accessible Internet. Nor will any dissidents be allowed to attend the embassy ceremony on Friday, a move widely viewed as a capitulation. (A senior State Department official explained Wednesday, somewhat improbably, that the absence of dissidents was due to “limited space,” while declining to give the number of invitees.)

While America can merely claim that it has finally removed Cuba as a hot potato irritant for itself, its allies and neighbors—and retrieved the hapless USAID contractor Alan Gross—Raúl Castro has rescued his island-nation from bankruptcy, collapse and isolation.

What 'Change Looks Like': Cuba Won't Move a 'Millimeter'

A testament to the Obama Administration's one-sided deals with rogue regimes.

From The Hill:

Official: Cuba won't move a 'millimeter' to please US opponents

The Cuban government won't move a "millimeter" to please its opponents in America, the nation's top diplomat in talks with the U.S. said Friday after an American flag-raising event in Havana.

"Decisions on internal matters are not negotiable and will never be put on the negotiating agenda in conversations with the United States," Josefina Vidal, Cuba's director of U.S. affairs, told Reuters.

"Cuba will never do absolutely anything, not move one millimeter, to try to respond," she added.

The Real 'Prisoners of History'

An excerpt from this weekend's New York Sun editorial:

The way Secretary Kerry spoke made it seem that the man who once threw away his war medals sees moral equivalence in which innocent “relations” got caught in resin and preserved. If it seems like a kind of linguistic dodge, it would all be of a piece with the administration’s evasion of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, which is known as Libertad or Helms-Burton. It sets strict terms for the government treating with a transition government in Cuba.

The major preconditions are that all political activity must be permitted in Cuba and that Cuba releases its political prisoners and commit itself to “free and fair elections.” Such preconditions also include, among other things, that Cuba is showing progress toward “an independent judiciary” and is allowing “independent trade unions.” Another condition is that the government “does not include Fidel Castro or Raul Castro.”

That is the supreme law of the land in America, like the Constitution, the treaties, and all other laws passed by Congress. Yet Secretary Kerry, who’d just gotten in from Hanoi, was silent on all this as he talked so eloquently in Havana. That may be because when President Clinton signed the measure, he issued a signing statement calling key provisions of the law “precatory.”

We demur. Helms-Burton deserves to be respected in both letter and spirit. It was not history that kept prisoners in the Cold War. The innocent prisoners were the ones held by the Communists. Few of them suffered in a system more devoid of due process or under conditions more cruel than those in Castro’s dungeons. It is a betrayal of them to speak in morally equivalent terms of the struggle for which they gave their lives.

In Cuba’s struggle for freedom, there were seasons when Jose Marti kept his office in the newsroom of the Sun. From the Sun Building, the flag of Free Cuba fluttered over lower Broadway. Today the big journalistic backer of what Messrs. Kerry and Obama are doing in Cuba is the New York Times, which, when Marti perished in battle for a free Cuba, mocked him as a “commonplace poet” who resorted to “lies, false news, and calumny” in a campaign to “pillage under the pretext of ‘Cuba libre’.” Prisoners of history indeed.

Click here to read in its entirety.

Nothing to Celebrate in America's Diplomatic Opening to Cuba

By Ana Quintana in The National Interest:

Don't Celebrate America's Diplomatic Opening to Cuba

The Obama administration "has essentially absolved the Western Hemisphere’s longest running military dictatorship of it past sins, without any expectation of repentance, much less reform."

On Friday August 14, John Kerry is slated to arrive in Havana, where he will formally reopen the United States’ embassy on the island. It will be the first time a U.S. Secretary of State has set foot in Cuba in 70 years.

But the embassy opening should be no cause for celebration. It is a simply one more false step in this administration’s foreign policy—a miscue that undermines America’s credibility and the cause of freedom on the island.

The White House announced its plan to “normalize” relations with Cuba on December 17, and it’s been working hard ever since to sell the deal as another “smart power” success. Yet one can’t help but wonder why, if this is such a smart move, the administration had to do it so furtively.

While negotiations were underway, only a select few in the National Security Council were privy to the fact that a drastic shift in Cuba policy was in the works. Even the State Department diplomats charged with the post December 17 bilateral talks had no knowledge or role in its development. Not to mention the purposeful exclusion of the seven Cuban American members of Congress, from both parties.

From the onset, the deal has been largely unilateral concessions dictated by Havana and fulfilled by Washington. Over the last eight months, the United States has drastically eased sanctions, lobbied Congress to lift the trade embargo, and prematurely removed Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terrorism list. The administration also released some of Havana’s most notorious spies from prison.

Aside from returning an American hostage and releasing a few dozen political prisoners (many whom were already due to be released; others have since been rearrested), our negotiating counterparts were not asked to change their behavior one iota. Much like the agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, the United States chose the path of least resistance.

Kerry’s visit is an attempt to keep public attention focused on the soft side of U.S.-Cuba relations. We are to think that restoring high level diplomatic relations and commercial exchanges will mark the end of hostilities between the two nations. But those tensions were never grounded in the lack of an ambassador or existence of the trade embargo. The United States has had a diplomatic mission on the island since 1977, and Cuban diplomats have been in Washington, D.C., for decades. The Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 authorized U.S. exports of agricultural and medicinal products to Cuba, and the island has long traded openly with countries all around the world,.

Fundamentally, U.S.-Cuba hostilities are grounded upon one thing: the Castro regime’s refusal to alter its behavior to fit into the established norms of the Western Hemisphere. Decades ago, Latin America and the Western hemisphere at large came to a regional consensus in support of two key issues: free trade and democratic values. This was reinforced on September 11, 2001, with the Inter-American Democratic Charter: a pledge by all members of the Organization of American States to uphold democratic governance and basic human rights.

Cuba was not party these agreements. Despots cannot exist in governments based upon the rule of law and respect for humanity. Therefore, the regime has dedicated itself to rewriting the regional narrative.

The United States has an abiding geopolitical interest in the region, and the stability of the hemisphere. There are quite a few destabilizing forces in the region but the most toxic of all has been Cuba. For over half a century, it has exported its one party dictatorship model. Looking at the current political dynamics, you clearly see Castro’s fingerprints all over it. Latin America is essentially divided in two. On one side of the continent you have rule-of-law countries that have favorable relations with the United States. On the hand side, you have the Bolivarian Alliance (ALBA)—Ecuador, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Venezuela—all governed by authoritarians in the mold of Castro.

Under the tutelage of Cuba, ALBA member countries have spearheaded waves of anti-Americanism. Their radical form of socialist populism continues to undermine traditional U.S. foreign policy objectives and create a hostile environment for the United States. For the ALBA bloc, it’s a full-on non-kinetic war against the U.S. They have expelled U.S. diplomats, impeded trade relations, and undermined traditional U.S.-led security and development programs.

When the President’s new Cuba policy is evaluated within this context, the prognosis does not look good. That’s because the negotiations with Havana were far from comprehensive. The negotiators appear to have made no attempt to address Cuba’s continued aggression to the United States, its support of regional anti-American proxies or its persistent human rights violations. Instead, the administration decided to pursue a path of normalization without a single precondition demanding improved behavior from Havana. It has essentially absolved the Western Hemisphere’s longest running military dictatorship of it past sins, without any expectation of repentance, much less reform.

Since the December 17 announcement, a clear and decisive shift has been occurring. Emblematic of the Obama administration’s foreign policy at large, the United States is clearly shifting its focus away from Cuba’s embittered opposition and toward its military dictatorship. No longer does it condemn the Cuban government for its brutality. Independent human rights groups reported between 630-674 political arrests in the month of July alone. Earlier this year, at the Summit of the Americas, Cuban state security pummeled a group of former political prisoners and dissidents. One of those beaten was an American citizen. Yet shortly after, President Obama shook hands and chatted with his Cuban counterpart, General Raul Castro.

Recently the Obama administration announced it would not be inviting Cuban dissidents to Secretary Kerry’s ceremony at the embassy. The announcement came just after last Sunday’s particularly brutal crackdown against dissidents. Over 100 Cuban activists were arrested while wearing face masks of Obama, marking the 17th consecutive Sunday of repression.

How great, and in keeping with the spirit of America, would it have been to see Cuban dissidents standing alongside the Secretary of State as the American flag is raised. Instead, these voices for freedom have been purposefully excluded for the sake appeasing of regime officials. Like Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) said in a letter to Kerry “for the Obama Administration to shun these courageous Cubans after years of enduring imprisonment, physical abuses, assassinations and threats would be another unforgivable betrayal of America’s moral leadership in the world.”