An Asinine Meeting: Obama Official Discusses "Security" With Head of Cuba's Repressive Organs

Friday, October 30, 2015
Last week, the Obama Administration gleefully announced an agreement with the Castro dictatorship to protect the island's shark population.

This, of course, while the number of Cubans fleeing the island has skyrocketed since the Obama-Castro deal. And God-knows the countless number of innocent Cubans who have lost their lives on the Florida Straits trying to flee Castro's dictatorship over the years. Some estimate nearly 100,000.

Yet, the Obama Administration is focused on protecting the sharks.

It's truly unbelievable.

And just when you think it can't get any more tasteless and insulting, the Obama Administration strikes again.

Yesterday, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, visited Havana and met with none other than Castro's "new" Minister of the Interior (MININT), General Carlos Fernandez Gondin.

General Gondin is in charge of the repressive apparatus that harasses, tortures, imprisons and kills innocents Cubans. There's no sugar-coating here -- these MININT forces, which include the feared "Avispas Negras" ("Black Hornets") special forces (pictured below), are absolutely brutal.

In recent years, General Gondin has also been Castro's point-man in coordinating Venezuela's repressive organs, which has resulted in thousands of arrests and the death of dozens of protesters, including young students.

General Gondin is popularly referred to in Cuba as "The Fairy Godmother" for "he loves to make numbers out of names and turn people into a national security issue."

Isn't that charming?

And yet, Undersecretary Mayorkas, was discussing "bilateral cooperation" and the "need for greater security" with this ruthless General.

Protecting Cuba's sharks and partnering with its repressive organs -- is that how Obama seeks to empower the Cuban people?

We'd also note this stands contrary to U.S. law.

One of the conditions for the lifting of the embargo in the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act ("Libertad Act") is precisely for the Cuban regime to "dissolve the present Department of State Security in the Cuban Ministry of the Interior, including the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution and the Rapid Response Brigades."

Yet, the Obama Administrations seeks to "cooperate" with it.

Just think of the dangerous message being sent.

From AFP:

Cuba, US Agree on Need to Cooperate on Security

The United States and Cuba have agreed on the need to cooperate on security issues surrounding trade and travel between the two former Cold War foes, the communist party newspaper Granma said Thursday.

US Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas held talks Wednesday with Cuba’s recently named Interior Minister Major General Carlos Fernandez Gondin, the latest in a series contacts since the two countries restored diplomatic relations in July.

“During the meeting there was agreement on the need to give substance to bilateral cooperation with the goal of providing greater security to the citizens of both countries and other nations,” Granma said.

Cuban Dissident Leader Remains Missing Days After Arrest

Cuban dissident leader Hugo Damian Prieto has not been seen or heard from since his arrest last Sunday.

As we'd warned over the weekend, the Castro regime began a manhunt against the members of Cuba's Civic Action Front (FAC-Orlano Zapata Tamayo), who staged a surprise protest at the Chief Prosecutor's office.

Damian Prieto was one of the leaders of that protest.

The protest called for the release of Zaqueo Báez Guerrero and Ismael Bonet Rene and María Josefa Acón Sardiñas, who were arrested over a month ago during Pope Francis' visit to Cuba.

Those three remain imprisoned -- incommunicado -- at the Ministry of the Interior's infamous torture facility, known as 100 y Aldabo in Havana.

Meanwhile, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas was in Havana discussing "security cooperation" with their  jailer, the Minister of the Interior, Gen. Carlos Fernandez Gondin.

Absolutely shameful.

Human Rights Defenders: Release Cuban Dissidents

URGENT APPEAL

CUB 001 / 1015 / OBS 090
Judicial harassment / Arbitrary detention
Cuba

October 28, 2015

Cuba: Judicial harassment and arbitrary detention of members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU)

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Cuba.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the continued judicial harassment and arbitrary detention of members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) Messrs. Zaqueo Báez Guerrero and Ismael Bonet Rene as well as Ms. María Josefa Acón Sardiñas, also member of the Ladies in White, a peaceful protest group founded by female relatives of Cuban political prisoners.

According to the information received, on September 20, 2015, the three human rights defenders, along with other activists, were arrested while trying to approach Pope Francis in his car in Havana on his way to the mass he was giving, and dragged away by security personnel at Havana’s Revolution Square. Their intention was apparently to raise awareness over human rights violations and the increasing repression against Ladies in White, UNPACU, and other groups in Cuba. As of issuing this urgent appeal, the three human rights defenders would still be detained.

The Observatory would like to recall that these arbitrary detentions are part of genuine wave of political and social repression that led to several “preventive detentions” that took place around Pope Francis’ visit, and at least 882 in September, as denounced by Cuban human rights organisations. Activists have been arrested and detained by the authorities to prevent them from attending papal ceremonies.

The Observatory urges the Cuban authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Messrs. Zaqueo Báez Guerrero, Ismael Bonet Rene and Ms. María Josefa Acón Sardiñas as well as all human rights defenders currently held in detention, since their detention only aims at sanctioning their human rights activities aimed at protecting and defending freedom of expression.

The Observatory more generally calls upon the Cuban authorities to put an end to the continuing harassment, including at the judicial level, against the above-mentioned human rights defenders and to protect and respect the right to freedom of expression.

Despite Obama's Concessions, United Nations Backs Castro

Wednesday, October 28, 2015
Yesterday, the Castro regime presented its annual resolution at the United Nations' General Assembly ("UNGA") condemning the United States’ bilateral sanctions toward Cuba.

It prevailed 191-2, with Israel standing by the U.S.’s side.

In the run-up to yesterday's vote, the media kept focusing on two issues:

1. Whether there would be any sort of “good-will” gesture by the Castro regime in light of the Obama Administration's unilateral efforts to ease sanctions and normalize relations.

Predictably, there was not.

2. Whether the Obama Administration would abstain from defending the law of the United States.

To its credit, it ultimately did.

But there is another fundamental issue no one has raised:

3. Why didn't any of the U.S.’s democratic allies at least recognize -- by abstaining -- the Obama Administration's unilateral efforts to establish diplomatic relations, ease sanctions and normalize relations with Cuba's regime?

After all, the Obama Administration's most passionate argument for its new policy was that it would encourage our allies to join U.S. efforts to promote human rights and democracy in Cuba.

Yet, since December 17th, 2014, despite the shower of foreign dignitaries, celebrities, Members of the U.S. Congress and even a Pope, who have descended upon Havana -- not a single one of them has courageously called for the freedom of the Cuban people.

Similarly, all of the other metrics of the Obama Administration's new Cuba policy also continue moving in the wrong direction (click here to read Senator Menendez’s recent floor speech on these metrics).

The issue of which nations the U.S. chooses to conduct commerce with is one of a bilateral nature, which lies on the will of our democratically-elected Congress. It is not the prerogative of the United Nations.

Moreover, Cuba's regime does not have a "right" to receive business, financing and investment from the United States. That is a "privilege" that should be earned.

The conditions for Cuba receiving such business, financing and investment are codified in U.S. law. If anyone disagrees with any of those simple conditions in U.S. law, then click here -- and please identify which one.

If other nations choose to do business with Cuba's dictatorship, that's (for worse) their prerogative. As a matter of fact, practically every other nation in the world does business with Cuba's dictatorship and we've seen first-hand how those billions are all funneled through Castro's monopolies, while serving no benefit to the Cuban people.

If U.S. policy towards Cuba has purportedly "failed" -- as its critics contend -- then the policies of the 191 nations that have embraced Castro's regime have (at least) equally failed.

The Obama Administration seeks for the United States to "lead from behind" regarding Cuba policy. It believes that if Americans act like the Mexicans, French and Canadians in coddling Castro, that somehow the Mexicans, French and Canadians will begin acting more like Americans and press Castro.

That is a fundamental folly, which will be proven wrong time-and-again.

The United States should never lower its standards and principles with the hope that other nations might raise theirs.

Obama's Policy is the Problem, Not the Cuban Adjustment Act

By Guillermo Martinez in The Sun-Sentinel:

Obama Administration is Problem, not Adjustment Act

Don't get rid of law because some violate it.

Many in the Cuban exile community are responding to the series of abuses committed by their countrymen who come under the Cuban Adjustment Act, and are proposing that the law be abrogated.

I disagree.

It is undeniable that a good number of those coming under the law passed in 1966 are coming in as refugees, and a year and a day after arriving in the United States are jumping on a plane to go back to Cuba. Those who do this are not refugees.

Others make arrangements so they can get Social Security payments deposited in a bank account in this country and then for a fee, a friend who keeps part of the money sends the rest to the recipient who is living in Cuba. There the exiled Cubans who have returned to live with more money than the average Cuban who earns about $24 a month. They should be prosecuted.

People who abuse the Cuban Adjustment Act are not refugees and should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. And after they serve their time in jail they should be sent back to Cuba with a notation that they are not welcome in this country.

What I do not accept is the premise that because people violate a law, the law should be abolished. Those who violate it should be prosecuted. If they are not, that is the responsibility of a government that is not making sure its laws are enforced.

Cubans are now arriving in record numbers, and only a percentage of them are coming in under the Cuban Adjustment Act. Twenty thousand visas are raffled in Cuba, so those who have no families in the United States have an opportunity to migrate to this country.

Many in this group are also going back to Cuba and violating laws that prohibit Cubans from opening businesses on the island and living there while maintaining their American residency. They, too, should be prosecuted.

Finally there are those that are coming because their relatives in the United States have become U.S. citizens, and are filing immigration papers to bring their spouses, children and parents to this country. They, too, travel to Cuba, which is no longer banned by U.S. law.

The problem we have now is the Obama Administration has made so many changes to U.S.-Cuba relations that it is difficult to discern what is legal and what is not.

That is not a problem with the law. The problem resides with a president who is desperate to normalize relations with Cuba. He wants to become the president that re-established and normalized relations with the Communist-governed island.

Barack Obama is giving away the store to Raul Castro, who has repeatedly said Cuba is not going to change. Cuba will not permit free elections, a free press or foreign companies not controlled by Cuba's military. Human rights abuses are increasing every month. The Cuban government also wants the United States to return the base at Guantanamo, shut down Radio and TV Marti, and for the American government to pay trillions of dollars in reparations for damage done by the embargo/blockade.

It has now been 10 months since relations between the two countries were re-established. The Obama Administration has given Cuba countless benefits. Tourists can now travel to the island and pay with American credit cards. Cubans in the United States can now send more money to relatives or friends on the island.

The Obama Administration has given the Castro regime more than it should. In turn, Raul Castro has not even said "thank you, Mr. President."

The problem is not the abuses under the Cuban Adjustment Act. The problem is not the abuses by the thousands of Cubans who now send money to relatives and friends and go visit the island frequently.

The problem is an administration that has given everything in exchange for very little, and does not make people obey existing law.

I would not trust this administration to modify the Cuban Adjustment Act or any other law regarding Cuba. I refuse to make everyone pay for the crimes committed by some. Prosecute those who violate the law.

I don't want the privileges we enjoyed taken away from those still seeking freedom. It would hurt me to hear: You came under that law and now that you are here you want to close the door to others.

Too many immigrants have done that. I don't want to be one of them

#BlackLivesMatter, Except When They’re Cuban

By Cuban blogger Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo in The PanAm Post:

White House Honors Omara Portuondo: Singer, Performer, Executioner

Eighty-year-old Omara Portuondo traveled all the way from Havana to DC to perform a 20-minute salsa concert alongside the Buena Vista Social Club for Barack Obama. The president, however, shook her hand and exited the West Wing before the show was over.

Perhaps Obama’s advisers, after a quick Google search on Portuondo, passed him a last-minute tip, instructing him to avoid too many photographs with a woman with blood on her hands.

Nevertheless, the two are clearly made for each other.

On April 19, 2003, 27 public figures signed and released an outrageous document called “Message from Havana for Far-Away Friends.” Without knowing the context behind the message, or the situation in Cuba at the time, the short and cryptic letter doesn’t say much.

Fidel Castro himself wrote the 285-word message, while he was still in office. Cubans know his nasty style all too well, and can readily recognize his poisonous metaphors against anything having to do with the United States: the “anti-Cuban propaganda machine”; the “great campaign seeking to isolate us”; the “superpower attempting to impose their fascist dictatorship on a global scale.”

He even inserted a reminder of “the defeat of the mercenary Bay of Pigs Invasion,” and the excuse that “Cuba has been forced to take energetic measures we naturally did not wish to take.” By signing their names to this document, some 20 white Cubans validated the death sentence summarily pronounced against three black Cubans, who had already been executed earlier that month.

Among those who rushed to endorse this document were Cuban authors, actors, film directors, painters, singer-songwriters, and the performer Omara Portuondo.

The Castro Revolution restored capital punishment in Cuba as soon as they took power in January 1959, even though they enforced it generously during the guerrilla years. Biopolitics has always underpinned Cuban communism: whoever truly opposes the regime — not with petty online denunciations or childish marches — must go into exile or die. In some cases, both.

Over a decade later, one-third of those 27 public figures have passed away, and another handful are well on their way out of this world. The rest of them may as well be dead, since the public regards them with such disdain for betraying a nation screaming for freedom, and for endorsing the self-imposed transition to Castroism without Castros — or worse yet, with second- and third-generation Castros.

Two weeks before executing the three innocent black Cubans, Fidel Castro used George W. Bush’s war against Saddam Hussein as an excuse to incarcerate dozens of members of the Cuban opposition during the Black Spring.

Portuondo and the other 26 who signed the “Message from Havana” endorsed the fates of these peaceful activists who had not violated any laws, and whose combined prison sentences summed up to almost 1,500 years.

The only leader that the Castro regime didn’t lock up was Oswaldo Payá, so that Cuban intelligence agents could murder him, along with Harold Cepero, on July 22, 2012, in another one of these “energetic measures” that I suppose Cuba “naturally did not wish to take.”

Nevertheless, Portuondo and most of the other surviving executioners were never held accountable for consenting to these actions, and can today apply for multiple-entry visas to come and go as they please, to and from their former enemy, the United States of America.

Ironically, they’ve found a loophole for the embargo and can rake in imperialist wages in undeclared US dollars, with the added bonus of doing so by performing at the White House.

Maybe it’s better this way, since the 80-year-old murderous woman and the young US president, who lies about his views on Castroism, are perfect for each other. The three murdered black men, Enrique Copello Castillo, Bárbaro Leodán Sevilla García, and Jorge Luis Martínez Isaac, don’t elicit the same compassion from Obama as the black men that US police kill off.

Black lives matter to Obama, but it appears that some matter more than others.

Will Obama Side With the Victims or With Cuba/Iran in Terrorism Restitution Cases?

Tuesday, October 27, 2015
Two recent articles highlight some important issues regarding the outstanding U.S. court judgments from lawsuits against the regimes of Cuba and Iran.

Sadly, both authors seem to think that it's more important for President Obama to embrace these ruthless regimes, rather than side by their American victims.

(Both authors should thank God they have never been tormented, imprisoned, tortured, or their loved ones murdered, by the Castros or Ayatollahs. Otherwise, they'd surely feel different.)

But as these victims proceed to collect judgments, the question remains -- will Obama have the Department of Justice side with Castro and the Ayatollah's -- or with their victims?

Ultimately, the courts will decide, but it would be a grave injustice -- and send an even greater message of impunity -- if the Obama Administration sided with the aggressors.

Here's Julius Taranto arguing in Foreign Policy ("How Terrorism Restitution Cases Limit U.S. Foreign Policy"):

"[T]hese restitution cases could harm U.S.-Iranian business relations. Even after the nuclear deal is fully implemented, only narrow categories of U.S. business with Iran will be permitted, but it seems unlikely that state-owned Iranian enterprises will strike even small deals with U.S. companies if much of their revenues will go toward satisfying terrorism claims. And this isn’t just an Iranian problem. From a business perspective, these terrorism judgments present a far larger hurdle for U.S.-Cuban relations, which are in the process of defrosting along much broader economic terms. Entire industries within Cuba, such as oil, mining, shipping, and tobacco, are state-owned and will likely want to trade with the United States. But with Cuba owing judgments totaling at least $4 billion—more than twice the Cuban government’s annual budget—to victims of Cuban torture, imprisonment, and execution, such trade may not be possible."

And some recent examples:

"Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Katherine Forrest decided that under the so-called terrorism exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (which determines how foreign governments can be sued in U.S. courts), three corporate entities that owned U.S. property were effectively fronts for the Iranian government and that their assets could thus be forfeited to pay terrorism victims. This order enabled the U.S. Marshals Service to seize and auction off 650 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, a 36-story office building next to Rockefeller Center that was built by the shah of Iran in the late 1970s. A large portion of the proceeds will go to families of the Beirut bombings.

Similarly, Gustavo Villoldo, a former CIA officer who won a large judgment over his father’s imprisonment by (then) Cuban President Fidel Castro, has slowly made headway in seizing the Cuban government’s New York bank accounts—HSBC turned over the contents of a blocked Cuban account just last week."

Meanwhile, Jeremy Kryt writes in The Daily Beast (while trying to rewrite history regarding the 1976 murder of anti-Castro activists Aldo Vera in Puerto Rico):

"[A] series of lawsuits—including one related to the Vera murder—could put the kibosh on the president’s plan to normalize relations with the Pearl of the Caribbean while he’s still in office.

Turns out Havana owes Uncle Sam for outstanding legal fees—to the tune of about $3.5 billion, and growing as interest accrues.

During the decades that Cuba was included on the State Terror list the protection traditionally afforded nations by the legal concept of sovereign immunity failed to apply. That meant American citizens could sue La Republica de Cuba in U.S. civil court.

Until the court debts are paid off, or forgiven, however, Cuban planes would be unable to touch down at U.S. airports, and export products made on the island couldn’t be sold in American markets. Cuban ships and cargo could be liable to seizure by plaintiffs as part of damages owed. And all this is in addition to the trade embargo still imposed by the U.S. Congress.

De-listing Cuba from state terrorist status, which officially happened last May, was supposed to solve this very problem. Many experts believed that after the State Department’s official granting of clemency this justice system would follow suit—waiving the damages and retroactively restoring the sovereign immunity that would have ordinarily have shielded Cuba from liability. Only that didn’t happen.

On Sept. 8, in the first judicial ruling related to an exiled Cubano family suing the Castros, the Second Circuit ruled in favor of the Vera estate—striking down an attempt by a Spanish bank, Banco Bilbao, to appeal a subpoena for Cuban assets the bank allegedly holds.

The court upheld the original ruling in favor of Vera, suggesting “compliance with the challenged subpoena,” as one justice wrote, ending any hope that the State Department’s restoration of Havana’s immunity might quash the ongoing legal conflict.

Because the judges’ decision is the first to be made since the State Department struck Cuba from the terror list—and because the court refused to even allow Banco Bilbao’s appeal, let alone dismiss the damage charges—it’s likely to set a precedent that could stand indefinitely."

Cuba's MININT: Castro Replaces 76-Year Old General, With 77-Year Old General

This is what "change" in Raul Castro's Cuba looks like.

Last night, Cuba's Minister of the Interior ("MININT"), 76-year old General Abelardo Colome Ibarra (known as "Furry") resigned for health reasons.

The MININT mainly runs the island's intelligence and domestic security services.

He was replaced by 77-year old General Carlos Fernandez Gondin.

Like Colome Ibarra, Gondin is a MINFAR General ("Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces").

This is part of Raul's on-going effort to centralize all power sectors in Cuba under the MINFAR.

Here's some history, which remains very pertinent today:

In 1989, then-Defense Minister (MINFAR) Raul Castro led an operation to purge the leadership of the MININT, along with its lucrative commercial enterprises (e.g. CIMEX).

It resulted in the execution of three senior officials -- including Cuba's most famous officer, General Arnaldo Ochoa -- and the arrest of the Minister of the Interior (who died of a "heart attack" in prison), Jose Abrantes.

They were "officially" charged with serious acts of corruption, dishonest use of economic resources and abetting drug trafficking.

But in reality -- the operation was designed to centralize all of the island's armed, intelligence and economic forces under Raul's MINFAR.

Since then, the MININT has been headed by MINFAR General Colome Ibarra, a close confidant of Castro.

It's Vice-Minister (now promoted), General Fernandez Gondin, who is also known as Castro's point-man in control of Venezuela's security services.

And its most symbolic figure, MINFAR Colonel Alejandro Castro, Raul's son.

That's why it's humorous when the Obama Administration and its "experts" sit-around speculating -- and obviating history -- about who are the Cuban regime's "hard-liners" and "reformers."

Raul has always been the regime's top "hard-liner."

Cuba's New Interior Minister: "The Fairy Godmother"

They called him “The Fairy Godmother” because he loves to make numbers out of names and turn people into a national security issue.
-- J.J. Almeida, son of deceased Raul Castro confidant General Juan Almeida, on Cuba's new Minister of the Interior (MININT) General Carlos Fernandez Gondin, Marti News, 9/25/11

Russian Presence (Facilitated by Cuba) Near Undersea Cables Concerns U.S. Officials

Sunday, October 25, 2015
We'd add that just this past week, senior Cuban regime official, Ricardo Cabrisas, visited Moscow and discussed "building up cooperation in the naval sphere" with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shogun.

Moreover, Russian spy ships have also been "coincidentally" docked in Havana during the rounds of U.S.-Cuba normalization talks.

From The New York Times:

Russian presence near undersea cables concerns U.S.

Russian submarines and spy ships are aggressively operating near the vital undersea cables that carry almost all global Internet communications, raising concerns among some U.S. military and intelligence officials that the Russians might be planning to attack those lines in times of tension or conflict.

The issue goes beyond old Cold War worries that the Russians would tap into the cables — a task U.S. intelligence agencies also mastered decades ago. The alarm today is deeper: The ultimate Russian hack on the United States could involve severing the fiber-optic cables at some of their hardest-to-access locations to halt the instant communications on which the West’s governments, economies and citizens have grown dependent.

There is no evidence yet of any cable cutting.

Inside the Pentagon and the nation’s spy agencies, the assessments of Russia’s growing naval activities are highly classified and not publicly discussed in detail. U.S. officials are secretive about what they are doing both to monitor the activity and to find ways to recover quickly if cables are cut. But more than a dozen officials confirmed in broad terms that it had become the source of significant attention in the Pentagon.

“I’m worried every day about what the Russians may be doing,” said Rear Adm. Frederick J. Roegge, commander of the Navy’s submarine fleet in the Pacific, who would not answer questions about potential Russian plans for cutting the undersea cables.

In private, commanders and intelligence officials are far more direct. They report that from the North Sea to Northeast Asia and even in waters closer to U.S. shores, they are monitoring significantly increased Russian activity along the known routes of the cables, which carry the lifeblood of global electronic communications and commerce.

Just last month, the Russian spy ship Yantar, equipped with two self-propelled deep-sea submersible craft, cruised slowly off the East Coast of the United States on its way to Cuba – where contractors are installing a major cable between Florida and the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay.

The cables carry more than $10 trillion a day in global business, including from financial institutions that settle their transactions on them every second. Any significant disruption would cut the flow of capital. The cables also carry more than 95 percent of daily communications.

#ElSexto Demonstrates With Cuba's Ladies in White, Is Re-Arrested

Cuban artist Danilo Maldonado ("El Sexto") joined The Ladies in White today during their Sunday march (#TodosMarchamos), in order to thank them for their courageous advocacy on his behalf.

El Sexto was released from prison last week after serving 10 months, without trial or charges, for drawing the names "Fidel" and "Raul" on two pigs, as part of an artistic performance.

Every Sunday, The Ladies in White, a pro-democracy group composed of the mothers, wives, daughters and other relatives of Cuban political prisoners, demonstrated for El Sexto's release, along with that of other innocent Cubans.

Yet ironically, over 120 Cuban dissidents were arrested today for demonstrating as part of #TodosMarchamos, including El Sexto himself.

El Sexto has referred to The Ladies in White as "the most courageous women in Cuba."

Below is an image of El Sexto with some of The Ladies in White today, prior to their peaceful demonstration and arrest.

New Book: Since Obama-Castro Deal, Cuban Presence in Venezuela Has Increased

With all the recent (justified) concern over reports of Cuban military support for Russia's actions in Syria, it begs the question --

Why isn't Cuba's incontrovertible military presence (and control) in Venezuela similarly unacceptable? 

From Spain's ABC:

U.S.-Cuba Relationship Has Not Diminished Cuban Presence in Venezuela

Journalist Gustavo Azócar published the book "Shoot to Kill" on the ideological indoctrination of the Venezuelan armed forces

The normalization of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States has not led to a reduction of Cuba's presence in Venezuela, warns Gustavo Azócar, a Venezuelan journalist who has just published "Shoot to Kill," a book on the ideological indoctrination of the Bolivarian Armed Forces, which among other revelations highlights the degree of Cuban involvement in its "brain washing and ironing," as he describes it. One chapter was advanced to ABC.

Despite what anyone might think about the rapprochement between Havana and Washington, "the fact is that Cuban presence in Venezuela has not declined, but has increased," said Azócar by telephone from Venezuela, where up to ten publishers have refused to publish his book for fear of government reprisals. Given the growing political and economic instability of the Government of Nicolas Maduro argues journalist, it is even more reliant on Cuba to sustain "chavismo." "It can only maintain itself with the support of Cuban intelligence and a military leadership indoctrinated by Cubans," he says.

The information contained in "Shoot to Kill" comes largely from the manuals and study guide used in the Bolivarian Military University of Venezuela. The university was created in 2010, integrating various educational institutions of the armed forces and incorporating some Cuban teachers, "with the aim of accelerating the indoctrination of the Venezuelan military," added Azócar. He says, based on the testimony of students who have graduated from the Military University, that they are told to "be willing to kill anyone who opposes the implementation of the XXI Century Socialism," as Chavez named his political project.

Among the extracts of the documents revealed in the book are those relating to the mission and operation of the Bolivarian Militia, conceived as "an army within the army" and with the goal of reaching one million militants. Manuals claim that members of the militia are prepared to act immediately when they are called into action. In case they are not properly armed, "knives can also be used and any homemade weapons that militants with their wit are able to manufacture and obtain."

Combatants in companies

Chavez has also created a body of combatants embedded in companies to take control if necessary. The texts explain that these "workers in public and private companies serve as a guarantee that they remain functioning amid any adverse situation."

Azócar warns that all of these irregular forces, along with the armed forces, would go to the streets in defense of the political legacy of Chavez if the United Socialist Party of Venezuela loses the legislative elections on Dec. 6. "Maduro has already said that if the government loses the elections, there is a plan to take to the streets to defend the revolution."

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce: Obama’s Cuba Legacy is Another Negotiations Failure

By House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman, U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), in Human Events:

Obama’s Cuba Legacy: Another Negotiations Failure

Last December, President Obama announced a major shift in US-Cuban relations. The White House left Congress and most of the President’s own Administration – including the State Department – in the dark. Instead, two White House aides held a series of secret talks with the Cuban regime over two years – talks which the Administration has since conceded were “non-transactional.” In other words, these turned out to be one-sided negotiations, with the U.S. making a series of concessions to Havana.

Had the White House consulted more widely, it might have heard that Havana was facing the prospect of losing the largesse of its benefactor, Venezuela, a country suffering under the weight of failed socialist policies, plummeting global oil prices, social unrest, and the world’s highest inflation rates. Under these conditions, the US could have insisted that the Cuban government make basic human rights concessions, such as ending the systematic harassment and imprisonment of dissidents in Castro’s gulags. The fact is, these negotiations turned out to be a tragic missed opportunity for the United States to stand with Cuban dissidents in support of human rights and democratic values.

Indeed, when the Stars and Stripes was hoisted over the U.S. Embassy in Havana, a ceremony Secretary of State John Kerry presided over, Cuban dissidents and human rights activists were shamefully kept out. The Secretary later explained that the ceremony was a “government to government moment, with very limited space,” a weak excuse that underscores the extent to which the Cuban regime is calling the shots in the thawing of relations.

While the negotiations did secure the release of a USAID contractor who had been held in deplorable conditions on trumped up charges, the more sophisticated Cuban negotiators won the release of three Cuban spies held in the U.S. for espionage and their involvement in shooting down a US plane in 1996. As if this weren’t enough, the Cuban negotiators got normalized diplomatic relations along with relaxed trade, travel, and banking regulations that directly benefit the regime. Cuba also won its removal from the state sponsor of terrorism list, despite the fact that the country continues to harbor members of US-designated terrorist groups FARC and ETA, not to mention the US terrorist and Black Liberation Army activist Joanne Chesimard, who is on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List.

Perhaps seeing how he has outmaneuvered President Obama, Raul Castro demanded even more concessions from the United States last month at his speech before the UN General Assembly: a return of the US Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, the end of U.S.-sponsored Radio and TV Marti broadcasts and other “destabilizing” activities against Cuba, and “just compensation” for the embargo.

In defending this policy change, the President has compared our economic relationship with Cuba to that of China and Vietnam. But China and Vietnam at least allow foreign firms to hire and recruit employees, without their pay going directly to the government.

Not so in Cuba, with its North Korea-like economy. Cuban workers at a foreign-owned resort receive only a fraction of their salary – as little as 5 percent. Castro or Kim, the method is the same: extract hard currency from foreign business and invest in the state’s security apparatus.

This makes a sham of President Obama’s claim that the U.S.’s one-sided concessions were all done in the spirit of “empowering the Cuban entrepreneur.” To the contrary, changes that would allow budding entrepreneurs on the island to benefit from relaxed import/export regulations designate the communist Cuban government as the arbiter of what sector and which individuals will be considered “entrepreneurs.” This will most certainly help to further line the pockets of the Castro brothers while leaving the Cuban people out, just as Secretary Kerry did when he opened the U.S. embassy in August.

While White House negotiators did manage to secure the release of 53 Cuban dissidents, more than half have been rearrested at some point since. A recent Freedom House report reads: “systematic use of short-term ‘preventative’ detentions—along with harassment [and] beatings,” is used to intimidate the opposition, isolate dissidents, and maintain control. Advocates put the number of political arrests in Cuba last year at over 8,000. In September alone, there were 882 political arrests, of which at least 353 were during the Pope’s visit. Human rights watchers are particularly concerned about Zaqueo Baez, Maria Acon and Ismael Bonet, all of whom were arrested as they tried to plea with the Holy Father during his visit to the island. While their arrests were captured live by the international media, since their imprisonment, there has not been any information regarding their well-being.

Instead of dismantling a 50-year-old failed policy, as it claims, the Administration has given a 50-year-old failed regime a new lease on life to continue its repression at home and support for militant regimes abroad. Congress must stand firm and resist any attempt by President Obama to hand over the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo. Despite rumors that the Administration will acquiesce to Castro’s demand that the base be returned – and in doing so, fulfill the President’s long-stated goal of closing its detention center – Guantanamo still provides essential support to U.S. security and humanitarian operations in the Western Hemisphere. According to SOUTHCOM Commander General John Kelly, “Beyond the detention operations, the naval station has played a key role as a logistical hub in support of disaster relief, migrant contingency, and counter-illicit trafficking operations.” In addition, further attempts by President Obama to chip away at the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996 – continuing his penchant for ruling by executive fiat – will be met by staunch resistance in Congress.

As with the Iranian nuclear agreement, President Obama has been out-negotiated, in this case by a tiny communist nation. The fact is, capitulation and the neglect of time-honored U.S. values has done very little to bring about peace, and instead has made parts of the world less safe, less stable, and less democratic. Obama’s Cuba legacy is but another example of his tragic foreign policy failures.

Quote of the Day: U.S. Must Not Accept a Hybrid Regime in Cuba

We have to persuade people in the U.S. and elsewhere not to accept a hybrid regime in Cuba as an acceptable alternative to dictatorship. Competitive authoritarianism is arguably marginally better than a full-blown dictatorship, but it’s not democracy, and if democratic leaders in the United States, Europe, and Latin America appear to embrace it, they’re going to betray the Cuban people and undermine the moral and political case for democracy.
-- Carl Gershman, President of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), remarks marking the 25th anniversary of the Cuban Democratic Directorate, 10/25/15

Christie Gets Bipartisan Backing in Effort to Curb Cuba Flights

From AP:

The head of the agency that runs New Jersey's main airport has joined with the state's governor in seeking to stop United Airlines from launching flights from there to Cuba until a woman convicted of killing a state trooper is returned to the United States.

A day after Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called on Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Chairman John Degnan to reject service to Cuba, Degnan sent a letter to acting United CEO Brett Hart on Thursday urging United to reconsider.

Christie said in a letter to Degnan that flight service to Cuba is "unacceptable" until fugitive Joanne Chesimard is extradited, and Degnan agreed.

"As a former attorney general of New Jersey, who was appalled at the Cuban government's provision of sanctuary to Joanne Chesimard, I shared his sentiments," Degnan wrote.

From CBS New York:

[Democratic] New Jersey State Senator Brian Stack has come out in favor of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s stance to reject any efforts to launch flight services between Newark and Cuba until a fugitive accused of killing a state trooper is returned to the United States.

“A thousand percent against any normalization of relationships with Cuba as long as the Castro brother’s are in charge,” Stack said.

Stack, who also serves as mayor of Union City — where the population is largely Cuban-American — understands why flight service is desired, but said he “doesn’t see normalization” with Cuba’s current regime, who he said “murdered Cubans over the years, just for speaking out,” WCBS 880’s Levon Putney reported.