Russian Spy Ship Targets U.S. Nuclear Submarines, Then Heads to Cuba

Saturday, September 5, 2015
Throughout the year, the Castro regime has continued to host and harbor Russian spy ships tasked with monitoring sensitive U.S. defense networks.

It even did so while Obama's negotiators were in Havana. Talk about bad faith.

Since Obama's "normalization" of relations with Castro began, repression has increased and its rogue activities remain undeterred.

So why exactly are we pumping billions into Castro's monopolies -- for absolutely nothing in return?

That is, other than for Castro's military and intelligence services to have more resources to repress and damage U.S. interests.

From The Washington Times:

U.S. shadows Russian ship near nuke submarine bases

U.S. intelligence ships, aircraft and satellites are closely watching a Russian military vessel in the Atlantic that has been sailing near a U.S. nuclear missile submarine base and underwater transit routes, according to Pentagon officials.

The Russian research ship Yantar has been tracked from the northern Atlantic near Canada since late August as it makes its way south toward Cuba.

Defense officials familiar with reports on the Russian ship say the Yantar is believed to be gathering intelligence on underwater sensors and other equipment used by U.S. nuclear submarines based at Kings Bay, Georgia. The submarines, their transit lanes and training areas stretch from the coastal base through the Atlantic to Europe.

Intelligence analysts believe the ship, one of Russia’s newest military research vessels commissioned this year, is part of a larger strategic intelligence-gathering operation against U.S. nuclear missile submarines and other targets.

One official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity owing to the sensitivity of the information, said the ship is a concern because it is equipped with deep-sea surveillance craft and cable-cutting equipment.

In addition to cutting or tapping into undersea cables, the Yantar’s gear also could be used to rescue submarines if they become entangled in underwater cables.

A second defense official said the Yantar’s mission is not only to prepare to disrupt underwater communications. The ship is also part of a Russian underwater reconnaissance program to identify undersea communications trunk lines and nodes.

A major target of the program is the Department of Defense Information Network, known as DoDIN. Moscow is seeking to map the global information network that is vital for U.S. war fighters and policymakers and is a key target of Russian information warfare efforts.

The network includes dedicated military links as well as leased communications and computer systems.

Tweet of the Day: Russian Spy Ship Docked in Havana

Quote to Remember: On the China Model

Chinese and Tibetan dissidents are either locked up in prison, forced into hiding, or silenced by fear of police retaliation against their families. All the happiness about China's economic growth has made many Americans forget that police clubs and guns and the Laogai system keep the Communist Party in power. Moreover, it is still little recognized how American resources help to sustain that power through trade, investments, and the transfer of technology... It is only when the Laogai is abolished in China that real change will come about.
-- Harry Wu, founder of the Laogai Research Foundation, who spent 19 years imprisoned in Chinese forced labor camps.

Cuban Troops Participate in Military Parade in Beijing

From Xinhua:

Cuban troops join military parade in Beijing

Cuban troops joined the Chinese military parade in Beijing, with Cuba's first Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel attending the event. Analysts say Cuba's participation in the commemoration underlines the fact that China is one of the island nation's most important strategic partners.

A contingent of Cuban troops were among the thousand or so foreign troops from some 17 countries who joined their Chinese counterparts for the giant military parade through Beijing. Cuba’s First Vice President, Miguel Diaz-Canel also attended the event. Cuba declared war on the Axis powers after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. A close US ally at the time, Cuba was involved in anti-submarine patrols and in escorting Allied convoys through hostile Caribbean and Atlantic waters.

Cuba was never involved in the Pacific theater, but the government here felt it was important to have a military presence in Beijing for the 70th anniversary victory parade.

"It underlines the fact that China is one of Cuba’s most important strategic allies, together with Vietnam and Venezuela. So as we advance in better relations with the United States it’s only natural that Cuba would like to underline, hey guy, yes I want a good relations with the United States but our real good friends are in Beijing,” international affairs analyst Carlos Alzugaray said. Cuba’s military has developed strong working relationship with the Chinese armed forces. In June of this year General Fan Changlong, vice chairman of Central Military Commission visited Cuba, signing a series of cooperation agreements.

Cuban Regime Re-Affirms Ties With North Korea

From Cuban state media:

Diaz-Canel Highlights Friendship Relations with DPRK

The vice president of the Council of State and the Council of Ministers of Cuba, Miguel Diaz-Canel, highlighted here the friendship relations with the Democratic People''s Republic of Korea (DPRK), the Cuban Embassy said on Saturday.

The source told Prensa Latina that Diaz-Canel, who is visiting Pyongyang, met on Friday at the Mansudae Palace of Congresses with Yang Hyong Sop, a member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea.

Yang, who is also the vice president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly of the DPRK, thanked Cuba for its unlimited support and solidarity for the just cause of the Korean people, in tune with all revolutionary principles and of camaraderie.

Diaz-Canel, in turn, noted that the invincible friendship relations between Cuba and the DPRK, prepared by President Kim Il Sung and Leader Kim Jong Il, along with comrades Fidel Castro Ruz and Raul Castro Ruz, consolidate and develop under the special attention of dear comrade Kim Jong Un.

The Cuban vice president thanked Korean officials for their warm sentiment and friendliness expressed to the delegation accompanying him.

He underlined that friendship relations between the two countries will be eternal, and stressed that the Cuban people will always be alongside the Korean people.

A Cuban Political Prisoner Writes Pope Francis

Thursday, September 3, 2015
The following letter was courageously smuggled out of the Cuban prison of Quivicán:

To His Holiness Pope Francis

First of all I would like to convey my highest respect and admiration and to wish you God’s blessings throughout your whole tenure as pontiff.

My name is Osvaldo Rodriguez Acosta and the purpose of this letter is to let you know that there are indeed political prisoners in Cuba, and that I am one of them, and am confined in Quivicán Prison.

I will begin by informing you that on September 23, 2012, my family and I were victims of an illegal police attack in our own home. This attack was led by Alberto Álvarez Rivero, a lieutenant colonel of the political police known as State Security, who destroyed the door to my house and entered it, in violation of the law, including Article 56 of the Constitution of our Republic, which declares everyone’s home inviolable.

Alberto Álvarez Rivero was assisted by several policemen who immediately began to attack all of us who were there: me and my wife, Juana Castillo Acosta, and our two sons, Osvaldo, who is twenty-five years old, and Christian, who is twelve. While they were carrying out this arbitrary attack, Alberto Álvarez Rivero launched into a rabidly aggressive assault on my wife and my youngest son, who were beaten without mercy and left unconscious on the floor, along with me and my oldest son.

Afterwards, we were taken by other military personnel to the municipality of San José de las Lajas, where three of us were imprisoned for more than three months without any contact with the outside world. My youngest son was placed in the care of my mother after the assault on our house.

In March 2013, at the provincial Popular Tribunal of Mayabeque, in a trial manipulated by the political police, we were unjustly condemned. My wife was sentenced to five years of correctional labor. My oldest son was sentenced to seven years in prison, and I was sentenced to nine. We were all found guilty of violent behavior, an ironically reversed charge the Castro regime levels routinely against those dissidents who are the victims of its violence.

I have been tortured four times in prison. The torture has been carried out with impunity by Norge Biscet, Aroidi Lores Rodríguez, Silva y Giovanni, all of them military personnel, but the Military Prosecutor refuses to bring them to trial, despite the fact that there is ample evidence to condemn them, including documents that describe the wounds inflicted on me.

My youngest son Christian has been psychologically traumatized to such an extent by this experience that he has not been able to attend school since 2012. He lives in constant fear of being attacked again and is in desperate need of being reunited with his family and of overcoming his trauma.

Your Excellency, may Our Lord allow you to expose the injustices to which we are subjected and to demand that we be freed immediately, especially because we have not committed any crime. My family and I thank you in advance for any effort you may make toward freeing us.

Osvaldo Rodriguez Acosta

Translation by Professor Carlos Eire in Babalu Blog.

The image below is of Osvaldo Rodriguez Acosta on September 23rd, 2012, pursuant to being beaten by Castro's secret police:

Cuba's Regime is Unrepentant, Its Crimes Are Ongoing...

By Dr. Yleem Poblete in The National Review:

The Castros Are Unrepentant, Their Crimes Are Ongoing, and They Do Not Deserve Forgiveness 

In October 1953, Cuban Communist guerilla Fidel Castro faced charges for leading the failed attack on the Moncada barracks. He defended himself with a four-hour-long speech concluding with: “History will absolve me.” Has it? Has the Castro regime been exonerated of responsibility for its crimes? The apparatchiks have not changed. Yet President Obama announced on December 17, 2014, that he was unconditionally reversing U.S. policy toward the Communist dictatorship. 

A concerted U.S. effort has since been under way to whitewash the Cuban dossier. Most recently, the administration reportedly manipulated the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report to justify upgrading the regime’s status and to create the illusion of Havana as a responsible stakeholder. Full diplomatic relations have been restored, numerous economic restrictions have been eased, and more U.S. concessions are expected. These steps, according to Secretary of State John Kerry, are rooted in a decision “to stop being the prisoners of history and to focus on the opportunities of today and tomorrow.”

With the Holy See playing an integral role in this U.S.–Cuba rapprochement, will the pontiff follow Washington’s lead and also wipe the slate clean? Will the Holy Father provide political absolution to the Havana tyranny and Communist-party leadership during his visit to Cuba? Do the elements exist that would justify forgiving their crimes?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the sacrament of forgiveness requires “contrition, confession, and satisfaction.” Contrition requires the sinner to possess deep sorrow for past offenses against God and neighbors. The sinner must be firmly committed to amend his evil ways and resolve to sin no more. In the case of Cuba, the dictatorship does not detest the more than five decades of murder, torture, arbitrary arrests of human-rights dissidents and political opponents, or infanticide using Rivanol (among other methods). Quite the opposite.

Raúl Castro’s words and deeds since December 17, 2014, are boastful and strident in defense of Communism and the totalitarian system that his brother started and he continues. The Castro machinery is stained with the blood and tears of prisoners of conscience and human-rights defenders. The regime shows no remorse for past acts. In fact, it gave a hero’s welcome to a convicted Cuban spy who was complicit in the murder of innocent Americans. It still harbors wanted terrorists, killers, and other fugitives. Injuries continue. Thousands of men and women of all races, ages, and backgrounds, seeking to exercise their fundamental rights, have been beaten and arrested in just the last eight months.

Turning to the other elements necessary for forgiveness, the Catechism, citing the Council of Trent, further instructs that sinners, in addition to having a contrite and humble heart, must “confess with the lips” and practice “fruitful satisfaction.” It continues: “One must do what is possible in order to repair the harm. . . . Simple justice requires as much.” The penance “must correspond as far as possible with the gravity and nature of the sins committed.” In the case of other egregious offenses committed by the Castro regime, such as confiscation of private property and goods, the Catechism references the sinner’s “return of stolen goods” and “compensation for injuries.” Saint Augustine’s maxim underscores that “the sin is not forgiven unless what has been taken away is restored.” On all fronts, whether mortal or venial sins, Cuba’s Communist leadership has not taken steps to “make amends” or “expiate.” Instead, the apparatchiks have gone to great lengths to avoid accountability, shifting the blame to their victims.

The five-plus decades of heinous crimes carried out, knowingly and willingly, by Fidel and Raúl Castro, by the regime and its party machinery, are particularly grave in nature. There is no contrition, no public acknowledgment of transgressions, no atonement. Pope Francis should not grant political absolution or forgiveness. Instead, he should remind representatives of the Havana tyranny of Proverbs 14:19: “The evil shall fall down before the good: and the wicked before the gates of the just.”

Shrouded in Silence, Cuban Religious Leader Spends Six Months in Prison

The Castro regime recently punished Reverend Jesús Noel Carballeda with six months in prison -- without trial or charges -- for holding "authorized" religious services.

We challenge anyone to find a story in the mainstream media over the last six months raising Reverend Carballeda's imprisonment.

Or by John Kerry's entourage to Havana last month, including former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, U.S. Senators Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).

Or by farm bureaus, lobbyists and business groups.

Just imagine how good people of faith in Iowa, Arkansas, Georgia and throughout the American heartland, would react if they knew about these egregious attacks on religious freedom by the Castro regime.

From Christian Solidarity Worldwide:

Reverend Carbadella Released From Prison

Reverend Jesús Noel Carballeda, a 45 year-old Cuban pastor of an unregistered church in Havana who had been imprisoned for six months for holding unauthorized religious services, was released on 31 August.

Reverend Carballeda was detained in early February and imprisoned in the Valle Grande prison in San Antonio de los Baños outside of Havana. He does not appear to have been tried, but while in prison he was informed by government officials that he would be held for six months as punishment for his continued unauthorized religious activity.

Reverend Carballeda was previously imprisoned in 2000 for four months after militant communist neighbors filed legal complaints about church services he held in his family home in Marianao, Havana. Following his imprisonment, he was put on probation and made to check in with the authorities on a regular basis. While he was barred from holding any religious activity in the family home he continued to lead his church, holding services in parks, rented halls and other private homes.

Reverend Carballeda's church is linked to the Apostolic Movement, a fast growing network of protestant churches which the Cuban government has refused to register. Because the religious group is unregistered, all of the affiliated church's activities are technically illegal and they are unable to apply for permits for a designated place of worship. In March, Reverend Carballeda’s wife told CSW: "We do not want to bother anyone. We just need a place to worship. We are forced to meet in the open air, in parks or rented rooms as [the authorities] will not give us legal recognition."

The detention of Reverend Carballeda is part of a larger crackdown on religious freedom in Cuba over the past few years. In 2014, CSW documented 220 separate cases of religious freedom violations, up from 185 in 2013 and 120 in 2012. Unregistered religious groups have been a particular target of government repression, with religious leaders reporting harassment, fines and threats of confiscation or destruction of property. The case of Reverend Yiorvis Bravo Denis, a leader in the Apostolic Movement whose home was arbitrarily expropriated by the government in 2013, has been filed with the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, petitioning for precautionary measures.

U.S. Embassy Re-Opened Amid Record Political Arrests in Cuba

Wednesday, September 2, 2015
The Cuban Commission for Human Rights (CCHR) has documented 768 political arrests by the Castro regime during the month of August 2015.

That is the highest number of political arrests over the last 15 months and higher than any monthly average over the last 10 years.

These are only political arrests that have been thoroughly documented. Many more are suspected.

According to CCHR: "In the months that have passed in 2015, we have observed a deterioration of human and political rights in Cuba (the worst in the Western Hemisphere), while the [Cuban] government has not taken a single significant step to improve the situation."

Meanwhile, the Observatory for Human Rights in Cuba independently documented 913 political arrests by the Castro regime during the same period -- of which 462 were women.

Sadly, this took place during the same month that Secretary of State John Kerry visited Havana for the flag-raising ceremony at the U.S. Embassy.

It was at this event that Cuban dissidents were shunned by the Obama Administration.

A message Castro clearly noted.

Moreover, this repression took place under the noses of the Kerry entourage -- including Members of Congress, journalists, lawyers, lobbyists and unscrupulous businessmen.

All of them were -- wittingly or unwittingly -- oblivious to Cuba's tragic reality.

This is "what change looks like" in Cuba.

Remarkable Cuban-American Congressional Unity

Yesterday's announcement by U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), that she will support President Obama's deal with the Iranian mullahs, (sadly) ensures that it will prevail against any Congressional effort to reject it.

It is the 34th vote necessary for the Senate to sustain President Obama's veto.

Despite a $50 million lobbying campaign by pro-Israel groups against the Iran deal, the Obama Administration was able to overcome this strong challenge by strategically dividing Jewish-American lawmakers.

Facing a setback due to opposition from U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), it immediately countered with the support of other Jewish lawmakers, including U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA); but most importantly, of the longest serving Jewish member of Congress, U.S. Rep. Sandy Levin (D-MI), and U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), who represents the most Jewish district in the nation.

One can't help contrast this with the remarkable unity shown by Cuban-American lawmakers against President Obama's deal with the Castro dictatorship.

In the Senate, Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), couldn't differ more on domestic policy.

Yet, there's no daylight between them when it comes to Cuba policy.

In the House, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) represent the only two majority Cuban-American congressional districts in the nation.

Their enormous popularity among their constituencies speaks for itself.

Also, in the House, there's Albio Sires (D-NJ), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) and Alex Mooney (R-WV).

Reinforcing such unity, among partisan, generational and regional lines.

It is also reflected at the state level, where both the Florida and New Jersey legislatures have passed resolutions rejecting Obama's deal with the Castro dictatorship.

In Florida, the resolution was led by Republican legislators, while in New Jersey, it was led by Democratic legislators -- all Cuban-Americans.

It's also why opponents of Cuba sanctions obsess with push-polls -- and are constantly pushing them (pun intended) -- for the ultimate and only reliable poll (the ballot box) continues to reject their theories.

These sanctions foes want policymakers to ignore all Cuban-American elected officials -- and instead believe their push-polls.

Something akin to -- "elecciones, para que?"

Church Denies Refuge to Cuban Dissidents, Allows Security Forces to Arrest Them

Five Cuban democracy activists took refuge in the Cathedral of San Rosendo, a Catholic entity in the eastern province of Pinar del Rio.

They issued a video message calling for the respect of human rights and freedom for the Cuban people.

The activists warn the international community, including the Obama Administration, that there has been no real change in Cuba.

Finally, they ask for the support of Pope Francis, prior to his upcoming visit to Cuba.

The activists are Caridad León Valladares, Leodán Suárez Quiñones, Carlos Alberto Rodríguez Seruto, Michael Valladares Cala and Daudi Ermelo Lago.

In a shameful display, Catholic officials allowed Castro's secret police to enter -- and forcibly remove the activists -- from the Cathedral.

The Bishop, Jorge Enrique Cerpa, even called them "counter-revolutionaries."

Their whereabouts remain unknown.

Watch their video message below (or here):

Lopez-Cantera: Cuba and Iran Deals Reveal a White House in Denial

By Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera in The Sun Sentinel:

Dealings with Cuba and Iran reveal a White House in denial

As the son of a Cuban father and a Jewish mother, my life has been formed by the histories and experiences of my parents and their parents.

The stories of loss and oppression as Castro destroyed a prosperous Cuba are more recent with my Cuban family, but the retelling of a longer history of hardships, oppression, sacrifice and loss at gatherings with my Jewish family and in synagogue have made recent foreign-policy decisions of this administration strike a deep and extremely troubling chord in me.

In normalizing relations with Cuba, the Obama administration is ignoring the history of the last 60 years, renewing relations with a government that epitomizes the word dictatorship and is responsible for the wholesale confiscation of life, liberty and happiness of the Cuban people.

It is this willful blindness to history and past behavior that makes me look at the administration's Iran deal with the deepest concern. This president is ignoring Iran's history ... and his own.

We have heard repeatedly from the president and numerous members of his administration that no deal is better than a bad deal.

After studying the deal and speaking with numerous experts, it is abundantly clear the agreement with Iran is a bad deal and will bring us closer to war, not further as many supporters of the deal contend.

I am joined in my opposition to this deal by leaders from both political parties and more importantly, by the vast majority of Floridians and the American people.

I believe the president's Iran deal may stand as one of the most dangerous and consequential diplomatic mistakes of the last or next 100 years. Rather than eliminate the threat of nuclear Iran this deal guarantees the threat of a nuclear Iran. Rather than treat Israel as an ally in this process, President Obama has treated them as the hostile power, and Iran as a nation to be accommodated at every turn.

Previous limits on Iran's economy will be removed, giving them new economic resources by way of freeing previously restricted cash, access to new markets around the world for their conventional business enterprises and the sale of oil. I fear hundreds of billions of dollars of new income will allow Iran to not only expand their existing enterprises of extremism throughout the Middle East, but with their eventual nuclear capability could guarantee that Iran grows at the least to a regional hegemon.

As if the nuclear component of the Iran deal was not bad enough, the removal of sanctions against leaders of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp as well as the removal of limits on the Iranians' ability to import and export weapons guarantees that Iran's current support of violent terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas and for the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria will greatly expand.

The president is clearly bent on accommodating an extremist regime that screams it's hatred for American values, American lives and American interests at every point.

This should not be a partisan issue; the Iranians don't chant death to Republicans or Democrats; they chant death to America. The Iranians are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American soldiers. When they call for death to America, they mean it.

America should pursue a better deal, one that would truly end the Iranians' quest for a nuclear weapon without rewarding a regime whose hands are awash in American and Israeli blood.

Congress must reject this deal, as they have in the past over 200 times, and ask the negotiators to return to the table.

Responsible American leaders from both parties who value the security of the United States, Israel, the region and the world should reject this dangerous concession to a nuclear Iran.

I look forward to the day when my wife and I can take our daughters to visit the Jewish homeland, and I pray that day can come without Israel living under the terrible shadow of a nuclear-armed Iran.

Carlos Lopez-Cantera is the lieutenant governor of Florida and a candidate for U.S. Senate.

Hillary Belittles Little Havana

Last month, Hillary Clinton gave a speech at Florida International University (FIU), where she doubled-down on President Obama's Cuba policy.

In her remarks, Clinton wished, "every Cuban back in Cuba could spend a day walking around Miami and see what you have built here, how you have turned this city into a dynamic global city."

Of course, like with so many other issues, she was being disingenuous.

(She was also being insensitive, as Cubans know quite well what Cuban-Americans have built in Miami, which is why they risk their lives to get there.)

As one of her recently-released emails reveals, just a few years back, Hillary was poking fun at the Cuban-American community and belittling Little Havana.

The email exchange was from her tenure as Secretary of State, when she was using a private home server to discuss official business with then-Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs, Richard Verma.

The email exchange (pictured below) is about a "hold" placed by then-U.S. Senator George LeMieux (R-FL) on President Obama’s nominee to be Ambassador to Brazil, Tom Shannon.

(Shannon today is responsible for the Obama Administration's "normalization" efforts with Venezuela's government.)

What took them so long [to lift the hold]? Did you promise your first born?” Clinton writes.

Verma's reply: "Yes, I sold my soul to George Lemieux today. I am not proud of it."

Clinton: “Does this mean you have to go to Cuba and arrest Castro or just shovel more $ into Little Havana?

What a comedian, that Hillary.

Yet, here's what the State Department actually promised (according to Senator Lemieux's own statement at the time), in return for lifting his hold:

"In Cuba, the U.S. will reopen the process for non-profit organizations to apply for pro-democracy grants, the practice of including members of the Cuban pro-democracy movement in events at the U.S. Interests Section will be restored, Title IV of the Helms Burton Act will be enforced, and the awarding of Cuba Democracy Assistance grants will be done in a fair and transparent manner."

During that time, the Pelosi-controlled Congress, along with the Obama Administration, had decided to cut funding for democracy programs that supported Cuba's independent civil society. Never mind that these programs provided support to the families of Cuban political prisoners, their loved ones fired from their jobs and their children expelled from school. The programs also provided cell phones, laptops and other basic items that Cuba's bloggers needed to break through the regime's censorship and information monopoly in their efforts to build a civil society; and that they provided books to independent libraries, paper and pencils to labor unions and journalists to allow them to exercise their fundamental human right of free expression.

Nothing to take lightly -- let alone poke fun of.

Moreover, these programs were not administered in Little Havana, as Hillary facetiously writes, but by internationally-renowned NGOs based in Washington, D.C. and throughout the world. Instead, the Obama Administration had wanted to begin channeling democracy funds through the Castro regime and its fictitious NGOs, which would have gone squarely against the Congressional mandate for these programs -- not to mention against the best interests of the Cuban people.

Also, at the time, the Obama Administration had begun shunning Cuba's courageous pro-democracy activists from events at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. Sadly, this is a policy Obama is once again (shamefully) revisiting during the fourth quarter of his presidency, as we saw during the flag-raising ceremony at the U.S. Embassy.

To his credit, Senator Lemieux objected against a then-popular President and Secretary of State.

Finally, as for the commitment to enforce Tittle IV of Helms-Burton, which requires the State Department to deny U.S. visas to foreign businessmen that traffic in property stolen from Americans?

Well, Hillary just lied.

Cuba Trains "Thugs" in Venezuela

By Emilio J. Cardenas, former Argentinian Ambassador to the United Nations, in El Diario Exterior:

Cuba Trains "Thugs" in Venezuela

As a result of the so-called process of "normalization" of relations between Cuba and the United States, the former country has been formally excluded from the U.S.'s list of countries that "export" terrorism. Right or wrong. But that's how it is.

One would think this would definitely preclude Cuba from the possibility of further promoting violence in our region, as indeed it did -- actively and constantly -- in the 1970s, feeding and arming those who killed innocent civilians during the various "internal armed conflicts" in the decade of lead. But this, as we shall see, is not necessarily the case. There are different types of deception, and infamous variants, that are still being used.

Cuba, for a long time, has usually repressed dissidents through its security forces, but also "accompanied" by groups of allegedly independent "thugs" who -- in the streets and squares of the country -- beat opponents mercilessly, with a reprehensible "professionalism".

This allows the communist authorities to argue that only the allegedly "spontaneous" group are responsible for the repression and its consequences. Never the authorities. They pretend to have nothing to do with the violence, when in fact, they are the ones who prepare, decide and to put in place their "thugs" for the crackdowns. It's similar to what is done by the Russian Federation, in Crimea, as in eastern Ukraine. An old trick, which no longer fools anyone, but still serves to hide the sad truth of violence against innocent people. They do the "dirty work" for authoritarian regimes. Again and again. With the endorsement, hidden but real, of the authorities.

This technique is also used by Nicolas Maduro, with his so-called "collectives". They move on motorcycles, in pairs. They are groups of thugs armed to the teeth, not only with guns, but also with sticks and chains to hurt their targets. And to intimidate. They carry revealing designations: "Los Tupamaros", "La Piedrita" or other. They are directly responsible for the violence; especially repression against students, of whom they have killed 25, and have wounded several hundred others participating in peaceful protests -- of both sexes.

These Venezuelan groups are trained in Cuba or by Cuban instructors. Or on the border of Venezuela, with instructors from the FARC, as revealed by the content of computers seized by the Colombian army from the leaders of this terrorist organization. They train for periods of up to three months.

Moreover, they are often serve as "bodyguards" for public officials at all levels. As was the case of a former secretary of commerce, now processed, among us. Among those responsible for the training -- according to reports -- are three Cuban generals: Leonardo Andollo; Ramiro Valdes; and Carlos Fernandez Rondín.

This must be investigated, denounced and cannot be ignored. Of course, Cuba has the responsibility to discontinue these abhorrent practices. To no longer intervene in the internal affairs of other countries in the region. And also, to act with the decency and transparency that this delicate moment in its history requires.

Translation by CHC.

Cuba Strengthens Relations With Rogue Regimes

From The Tehran Times:

No policy change despite breakthrough with U.S.: Cuban envoy

The Cuban ambassador to Tehran says his country’s foreign policy will remain unchanged despite the fact the ice between Havana and Washington has started melting.

“It is necessary to emphasize that in the process of rapprochement with the U.S., Cuba has not made any concessions and its foreign policy will remain strengthened,” Vladimir A. Gonzalez Quesada tells the Tehran Times.

From Syrian state media, SANA:

The 50th anniversary of Syrian-Cuban diplomatic relations celebrated

Syria-Cuba Friendship Association at the Regional Leadership of al-Baath Arab Socialist Party organized on Sunday a celebration on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Head of the Association Dr. Abdul-Nasser Shafie highlighted the depth of the historical ties binding Syria and Cub that are based on mutual respect and common struggle against imperialism, underscoring how much the bilateral relations were consolidated under late President Hafez al-Assad and the Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

He hailed the recent achievement of the Cuban Revolution through which the US and the West were forced to recognize Cuba after failing over five decades to make it bow to pressure.

Let's Try This Again: A Middle-Ground Approach to Help Cuba's "Self-Employment" Sector

Tuesday, September 1, 2015
On April 24, 2014, we proposed a reasonable "middle-ground" approach to help Cuba's "self-employment" sector.

Rather than forging any common ground, the Obama Administration instead chose to undertake a "dictator-down-economics" approach to its Cuba policy.

Amid media reports that the Obama Administration is seeking ways to bypass (and even contravene) U.S. law in order to further foment business ties with Castro's monopolies (and praying that it will somehow, somewhere, someway trickle-down), let's (again) appeal to a direct "middle-ground" approach.

As posted on April 24, 2014:

Frustrated by the broad bipartisan support in Congress for current U.S. sanctions towards Cuba, opponents of the policy want President Obama to violate the clear mandates of the law.

For those unaware, Article I of the U.S. Constitution grants Congress the sole authority to enact legislation. Meanwhile, under Article II, the President is responsible for the execution and enforcement of the laws created by Congress.

U.S. sanctions towards Cuba, as codified into law in 1996 (trade) and 2000 (travel), is not an issue where Congress was ambiguous.

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

In other words, if the license and category of travel didn't exist on June 1, 2000, then it's considered tourism and strictly prohibited. Only Congress can create new travel categories or lift the sanction altogether.

But that doesn't stop U.S. policy foes from calling on the President to do so anyway. After all, it's only the law.

The latest siren song is that lifting U.S. sanctions would help Cuba's "self-employment" sector (despite the Castro regime's monopoly over all of the island's foreign commerce).

Facts and history prove that lifting sanctions is the worst way to help Cuba's "self-employment" sector.

We recently explained why in The Huffington Post. Click on this link to read, "In Cuba Policy Debate, Theories Don't Cut It."

Here's an excerpt:

"Cuba's military and intelligence services control and run the conglomerates of Cuba. The 'self-employment' sector represents a very small part of the island's economy and it is important, in the debate over sanctions, to understand its nature and limits. During economic crises, the Castro regime typically authorizes a host of services that Cubans can be licensed to provide, keeping at least a portion of what they may be paid. The world's news media refers to these jobs as 'private enterprise,' which implies 'private ownership.' Yet Cuba's 'self-employed' licensees have no ownership rights whatsoever - be it to their artistic or 'intellectual' outputs, commodity they produce, or personal service they offer. Licensees have no legal entity (hence business) to transfer, sell or leverage. They don't even own the equipment essential to their self-employment. More to the point, licensees have no right to engage in foreign trade, seek or receive foreign investments. Effectually licensees continue to work for the state -- and when the state decides such jobs are no longer needed, licensees are shut down without recourse.

A central tenet of capitalism is recognition of property rights and it's precisely such rights that the Castro regime avoids through its distorted, licensing model. It's also why, despite these 'self-employment' licenses, Cuba remains ranked 177 out of 178 nations in the world in the Index of Economic Freedom, a yearly joint compilation of The Wall Street Journal and The Heritage Foundation. Only North Korea is considered less economically free.

Based on the lessons of history, those who still believe 'self-employment' licenses are 'a step in the right direction' toward capitalism, actually have all the more reason to support U.S. sanctions. Self-employment was a temporary reaction to loss of Soviet subsidies, and with the remnants of the Chavez regime in Venezuela now imploding, Cuba will likely continue allowing it. Yet the historic lesson is clear: The Castro regime only responds when it is economically pressed. Once the Cuban economy stabilizes or begins to 'bounce back,' the Castro government reverses itself to freeze or revoke self-employment licenses. Lift U.S. sanctions and Cuba's government will solely focus on strengthening its state conglomerates and the repression required to suppress change. Thus, U.S. sanctions are the best friends that 'cuentapropistas' now have."

So we propose a middle-ground approach.

It's an approach that would: 1. help Cuba's "self-employment" sector; 2. not violate U.S. law; 3. not entail any new stream of capital entering the island; and 4. deny funds to Castro's monopolies.

It's a win-win all around.

It stems from a floor speech earlier this month by U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who made the important point:

"On the economic front, I think it's important to make the point that when people argue for trade and travel with Cuba, they are arguing to do so with Castro's monopolies. Let’s be clear, regular Cubans are prohibited from engaging in foreign trade and commerce. So we want to trade with Castro's monopolies? Do we? Do we want to reward the regime?

The U.S. government’s own report of agricultural sales to Cuba states how every single transaction with Cuba, by hundreds of American agricultural companies, have only had one counter-part: Castro's food monopoly, through a company named Alimport that hasn't helped the people one bit. So do we really want to unleash billions to Castro's monopolies?

Also, every single foreign 'people-to-people' traveler currently stays at a hotel or resort owned by the Cuban military (GAESA). No exceptions!

So, M. President, how does that promote the 'independence of the Cuban people from the regime?' as President Obama's policy statement upon releasing these regulations states?"

At the very least, they should be compelled to stay at a 'casa particular' – a private home – but staying at the military's facilities contravenes the President's own policy statement. This hardly constitutes an economic opening for the people of Cuba."

There you have it.

We propose a simple requirement whereby all U.S. "people-to-people" travelers to Cuba -- better yet, every category of U.S. travelers to Cuba -- must stay exclusively at "casa particulares" and dine only at "paladares."

No more stays at the Castro regime's fancy Hotel Nacional and Hotel Saratoga, or parties at La Bodeguita del Medio, El Floridita and Tropicana.

And if the "casa particular" or "paladar" is a front for the Cuban military -- it's also a no-go.

Let's do it. For the "self-employment" sector.

20th Straight Sunday of Political Arrests in Cuba, Ladies in White Barred From Mass

Sunday, August 30, 2015
For the 20th Sunday in a row, nearly 50 Cuban dissidents were violently arrested in Havana yesterday, as they peacefully demonstrated for human rights and the release of all political prisoners.

Among those arrested were over 30 members of The Ladies in White, including its leader, Berta Soler.

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

Reports indicate several of The Ladies in White were brutally beaten, including Danaysi Muñoz, who was taken to the military detention facility at Tarara.

Also beaten was Yaquelin Boni, who witnessed her son, Yasser Rivero Boni, being attacked and rearrested. He had just been released last month after serving four years in prison.

(Below is an image of Yaqulin Boni pursuant to another recent beating at the hands of Castro's secret police.)

Others arrested include independent journalists, Juan Gonzalez Febles and Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca, and Raul Borges, who is the father of political prisoner, Ernesto Borges.

Meanwhile, in the town of Aguada de Pasajeros (Cienfuegos), two members of The Ladies in White, Milaidis Espino Diaz and Niurvis de La Rosa Hernandez, were barred from attending Mass by the parish priest.

This behavior, akin to the Obama Administration's during the U.S. Embassy flag-raising ceremony, doesn't bode well for the upcoming visit of Pope Francis.

This is "what change looks like" in Cuba.

Cuba Purchases Latest Russian 'Air-to-Air' Missiles

The Cuban Air Force ("DAAFAR") will receive the newest version of Russian R-73 short range "air-to-air" missiles by the end of 2015, according to RIA Novosti.

The R-73 is a highly maneuverable "air-to-air" missile capable of striking targets at a height of 5 meters to 20 kilometers, moving at a speed of up to 2,500 kilometers per hour. It's equipped with optical laser and radio controlled fuses.

The R-73 was the missile used by the Castro regime to shoot-down two civilian aircraft over international waters in 1996, resulting in the death of three American citizens and a permanent resident of the United States.

In 2003, a U.S. federal court indicted then-head of the Cuban Air Force, Gen. Ruben Martínez Puente, and two MiG pilots, Lorenzo Alberto Perez-Perez and Francisco Perez-Perez, for the murder of these four Americans.

No similar indictment has been issued against any military officials of other nations (currently or previously) deemed to be sponsors of terrorism.

So why would the Castro regime need the latest "air-to-air" missiles?

Didn't the Obama Administration and its lobbyists tell us that doing business with Castro's monopolies would result in "dictator-down-economics" that will somehow benefit the Cuban people -- rather than in nefarious activities and power plays?

Perhaps the Obama Administration should prioritize American interests and bring these indicted Cuban Air Force officials to justice.

Must-Read: State Department Snubs Cuban Independent Journalists

Such a sad testament. 

The Obama Administration has clearly lost its moral compass.

By Cuban independent journalist, Ivan Garcia:

U.S. Government Snubs the Independent Cuban Press

The U.S. Embassy in Havana, the State Department, and the administration of Barack Obama, have intentionally mapped out a strategy to prevent independent Cuban journalists from covering the visit of John Kerry and the official reopening of the diplomatic headquarters on Friday, August 14.

For the the four-day historic event, no independent journalist, dissident, or human rights activist has been invited to participate in the ceremony, or the press conference by Kerry.

Since July 22nd, I have made a dozen calls to the U.S. Public Affairs Office in Havana to request a press pass that would allow me to cover the event for Diario las Americas, El Periodico de Catalunya, and Webstringers LCC, a Washington-based media communications company, and I have not received a response from any official.

According to a diplomatic source, effective July 20th, the process changed for obtaining a credential to cover events or press conferences of politicians, business organizations, or Americans visiting the island.

Before that date, when Lynn W. Roche was head of the Public Affairs Section, I could get credentials in record time. I was able to cover the visit of Roberta Jacobson, congressmen, senators, businessmen, and officials from the State Department, among others.

Now, according to this source, accreditation must be obtained at the International Press Center of the [Cuban] Ministry of Foreign Affairs, located at 23rd and O, in Vedado. A rather crude strategy designed to get rid of independent journalists.

The worst part is not the disrespect or indifference. The U.S. government has the sovereign right to invite to its events those people it deems appropriate.

But out of respect, at least have the courtesy to speak face-to-face with independent journalists and inform them of the new policy. Don’t beat around the bush.

The U.S. government, which is not stupid, knows that for 54 years Cuba has been ruled by a military autocracy that prohibits political opposition and independent journalism.

Leaving press accreditation to the Cuban regime for events that the United States puts on in Cuba is like putting a child molester in charge of a Boy Scout camp.

Armed with a letter from Maria Gomez Torres, director of content for Webstringers, I personally went to the International Press Center. The official who vetted me, after reading the letter, looked through her papers and said with mock surprise, “Mr. García, you do not appear as an accredited journalist in Cuba.”

“And how can I be accredited?” I asked her.

“You must have an operating license and a permit from the Center,” she replied.

“Fine. Can you handle that for me?”

“No, because you do not qualify,” she replied with a tone of mystery.

“Why don’t I qualify, since I’ve collaborated with newspapers in Spain and the United States since 2009?” I inquired.

“Our Center reserves the right to give permission to reporters as we see fit,” snapped the bureaucrat.

After the unsuccessful attempt, I again called on the U.S. Embassy to request an appointment with an official who could tell me why an independent journalist cannot be accredited to the August 14 event.

But no one would take my call.

December 17th marked a new era between Cuba and the United States. That noon, Barack Obama promised to empower the Cuban people and to promote respect for human rights on the island.

Pure demagoguery. The government that claims to promote democratic values, shamelessly tramples the spirit and letter of its Constitution, where the right to inform is sacred.

The U.S. government is trying not to tarnish its August 14th gala, knowing that if it accredits independent journalists and invites dissidents, then officials of the regime will not attend.

The olive-green autocracy has a rule that it will not take part in any event with Cuban dissidents, whom it considers “mercenaries and employees of the U.S. government.”

This time, the Obama Administration is going to pander to them.

Obama's 'Sunshine Policy' Towards Cuba

In 2010, we ominously warned the Obama Administration about the dangers of a "sunshine policy" towards the Castro dictatorship, akin to South Korea's failed approached to relations with its northern neighbor.

In light of recent events in inter-Korean relations -- and now that the Obama Administration has chosen to walk down this counter-productive path -- this warning remains more pertinent than ever.

In short, here's what the South Korea's "sunshine policy" entailed -- as per Max Fischer in Vox:

"The idea was that decades of hostility with the North hadn't worked, but maybe that taking a softer line would ease tensions. That included lots of political summits and official rhetoric about Korean unity, but it also meant opening up some trade with the North. But it turned out that North Korea was just exploiting the Sunshine Policy as a con. The greatest symbol of this was the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a big production center just on the North Korean side of the border, where South Korean companies and managers contract with North Korean workers. The idea was that this daily contact would ease cultural tension and that the shared commercial interests would give the countries a reason to cooperate. In practice, though, the North Korean government stole most of the workers' wages, big South Korean corporations exploited the ultra-cheap labor to increase profits, and North Korea didn't ease its hostility one iota."

Sound familiar?

That's precisely what we warned as regards Cuba:

(Note the op-ed below was written three years before Cuba's regime got caught red-handed smuggling 240 tons of weapons to North Korea -- the most egregious violation of U.N. sanctions to date -- which the Obama Administration chose to basically ignore.)

By Mauricio Claver-Carone in The Washington Times:

June 28, 2010

‘Sunshine policy’ toward Cuba?

Similar wishful thinking failed to bring together the two Koreas

North and South Korea are facing their gravest crisis since the end of the Korean War as South Korea threatens to retaliate against North Korea for sinking one of its warships. Forty-six sailors died in the torpedo attack by a North Korean submarine.

Yet only a decade ago, South Korean politicians and pundits were saying that five decades of political containment and economic isolation had "failed" and should be replaced with a new policy of engagement and reconciliation toward the totalitarian regime of North Korea's Kim Jong-il. The rest of the world had moved on past the Cold War, they argued, while the Koreas were still trapped in a state of conflict and mistrust.

If that sounds familiar, it's because opponents of U.S. sanctions policy use the same argument regarding Cuba.

In 1997, Kim Dae-Jung was elected president of South Korea by a new generation of South Koreans who didn't share their grandparents' horrific war experiences and viewed North Korea as a harmless Cold War relic. A year later, Mr. Kim began articulating his sunshine policy of greater political and economic contact between the Koreas to create an atmosphere conducive to change and reform in North Korea. The policy was greeted with great international fanfare. Mr. Kim and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il held a high-level summit in Pyongyang, initiating high-profile business ventures, and a series of family reunification visits commenced. Kim Dae-Jung was awarded the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize.

Critics, however, were voicing concerns that unconditionally fostering better relations with the North Korean regime while ignoring the repressive, belligerent nature of its dictatorship would prop up Kim Jong-il at a time of economic vulnerability and uncertainty. The Soviet Union, which had been North Korea's main supplier of military and economic aid, had collapsed just years earlier.

Ten years later, the critics have been proved correct. The sunshine policy provided the North Korean regime the wherewithal to become an international nuclear menace while intensifying the brutal oppression of its population.

Nonetheless, there are U.S. politicians and pundits arguing today that it's time for the United States to set aside its policy of isolation and containment toward Cuba and the Castro regime and adopt its own sunshine policy of dialogue and engagement.

Similarities abound in the relationships between South and North Korea and between the United States and Cuba. The two Koreas share a geographical and cultural proximity. While the population of South Korea is only twice that of North Korea, its economy is 30 times greater than that of the North, making it the North's most natural source of income.

The United States and Cuba also share geographical and cultural proximity. Thanks to a large Cuban-American community, the United States is Cuba's most natural (and currently most pursued) source of income. The purchasing power of 2 million Cuban-Americans residing in the U.S. is 30 times that of Cuba's 11.5 million people, so Cuba looks to the United States as a natural source of income.

Similarities also abound in the regimes of North Korea and Cuba. In addition to their daunting totalitarian tastes for control and repression, the regimes of Kim Jong-il in North Korea and Raul and Fidel Castro in Cuba also share a pathological hatred for the United States and the unenviable distinction of remaining the world's sole communist command-economies. Both countries are unwilling, irrational and unreliable partners.

North Korea didn't use the billions in aid and trade that flowed out of South Korea's sunshine policy for the benefit of its people. Neither did it undertake any discernible political or economic reforms. North Korea used the money to solidify its repressive control at home and be a regional menace.

The same can be said of every penny Cuba's regime has received from abroad, be it the aid from the Soviet Union in the 1980s, from European and Canadian tourists throughout the 1990s or from Venezuelan oil for the past 10 years. People's lives in Cuba didn't improve one bit, but Castro's internal repression and regional menace increased proportionally.

The Castro brothers' regime has been crippled by its current economic crisis. It is facing a determined pro-democracy movement led by such courageous leaders as Guillermo Farinas, now in the third month of a hunger strike, and the Ladies in White. It is beset by domestic criticism and calls for change from a new generation of bloggers and independent journalists. And it has been internationally discredited by the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo in an 85-day hunger strike protesting the use of torture in Cuba.

The United States has a choice to make: It can just give the Castro regime the "sunshine" and legitimacy that it so desperately wants, or it can remain steadfast in its demand that Cuba first demonstrate respect for human rights and begin enacting democratic reforms.

As South Korea's sunshine policy demonstrates, only after the sun sets on repression can it shine on and for the people of Cuba.

Mauricio Claver-Carone is a director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC and founding editor of CapitolHillCubans.com in Washington.

Odebrecht's Man in Havana

Read the original piece in Brazil's Epoca magazine here (in Portuguese).

From Reuters:

Brazilian weekly says Lula lobbied for Odebrecht in Cuba

A Brazilian news magazine has accused former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of acting as lobbyist in Cuba for Brazil's largest engineering firm Odebrecht, which built the container terminal at the Cuban port of Mariel.

In this week's edition headlined "Our Man in Havana," Epoca magazine cited Brazilian diplomatic cables about visits to Cuba by Lula after he had left office. During those visits he sought to further Brazilian business interests on the island, it said.

One cable from 2014 reported on a meeting in Havana at which Lula discussed with Odebrecht executives how to secure Cuban guarantees for loans from Brazilian state development bank BNDES to finance new projects sought by Odebrecht in Cuba.

Lula is under investigation for improperly using his influence to benefit Odebrecht, whose billionaire chief executive Marcelo Odebrecht was arrested in June in connection with the massive bribery and political kickback scandal focused on state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA.

Prosecutors say Lula frequently traveled abroad at Odebrecht's expense after leaving office, from 2011 until 2014.

The inquiry puts the legacy of one of Brazil's most popular former leaders on the line at a time when some are calling for the impeachment of his chosen successor, President Dilma Rousseff, for alleged campaign finance irregularities.

Epoca, owned by the Globo media group, said Lula lobbied to get Cuba good terms for a $682 million loan from BNDES that went to finance the Mariel port project built by Odebrecht.

Editorial Cartoon: A Bad Cuba Deal