Castro's Visit to Mexico Further Disproves Obama's Theory

Saturday, November 7, 2015
In pitching the Obama Administration's new Cuba policy to Congress, Roberta Jacobson, the U.S.'s Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on May 20, 2015:

"We have begun to see the Administration’s new approach to Cuba providing space for other nations in the hemisphere and around the world to focus on promoting respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cuba."

Yet we're still searching for what she's "seeing" -- without any evidence in sight.

This weekend, Cuban dictator Raul Castro visited Mexico -- any evidence there?

Nope, quite the contrary actually.

From The Tico Times:

Castro, Peña Nieto seal warmer Cuba-Mexico ties

Cuban leader Raúl Castro received a warm welcome in Mexico on Friday as President Enrique Peña Nieto sought to end a diplomatic chill and boost business opportunities on the island.

With the colonial Caribbean city of Mérida serving as the backdrop, Castro was given red carpet treatment at the Yucatán state government palace for his first official visit to Mexico since taking power in 2006.

“Long live the indestructible brotherhood between the people of Cuba and Mexico,” Castro said as he delivered a speech alongside Peña Nieto following a private meeting.

For his part, Peña Nieto greeted Castro with an embrace and told him that “Mexico welcomes you with open arms.”

Congressional Field Hearing Probes Obama's Cuba Policy

From CBS Miami:

Miami Hearing Shines Light On Human Rights In Cuba, Venezuela

U.S. officials traveled to Miami to take up human rights issues in Cuba and Venezuela.

The hearing being held, is meant as a form of checks and balances on the administration’s efforts to renew ties with Cuba and to shine a light on human rights issues in Venezuela.

As part of the hearing, witnesses to such violations testified at a Miami-Dade location – a location considered appropriate for the matter.

“This is the home of so many victims of the Castro regime and the Venezuelan regime,” said U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo. “They have contributed a lot to this community and to this country.”

U.S. Congressman Jeff Duncan focused heavily on human rights violations and freedom of expression in both countries.

“I am deeply concerned about the trajectory of both Cuba and Venezuela on these matters,” said Duncan who is the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere.

But Cuba dominated the hearing. Duncan said despite various meetings with Cuban officials, the issue of human rights is lacking in conversations with the island nation.

“The Administration has made no real effort with the Cubans to prioritize human rights or property claims issues. They haven’t even scheduled one single meeting in all their bilateral discussions to raise these issues,” said Duncan.

All this comes as a senior state department official said President Barack Obama could relax the U.S. trade embargo without first demanding human rights progress from Cuba.

Duncan concluded his remarks with a call to act on the issues at hand.

“U.S. Congress must do more to hold the Obama Administration accountable for their actions on these issues, and I believe the United States must do a better job communicating a clear message of support to the victims of human rights abuses in Cuba and Venezuela and to both regimes that such repression is utterly deplorable and must end,” said Duncan.

From NBC6:

Congressional Panel Slams Obama's Cuba, Venezuela Policies

The chairman of a congressional panel torched the Obama administration's policy toward Cuba and Venezuela at a hearing Friday to review the human rights records of both Latin American countries.

Rep. Jeff Duncan, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, said the administration "has made no real effort with the Cubans to prioritize human rights or property claims issues'' following the historic rapprochement between the former Cold War foes.

In its relations with Venezuela, the South Carolina Republican said the U.S. has seen "no results'' from talks between the U.S. State Department and the government led by President Nicolas Maduro.

The three-hour hearing was held in Miami, home to hundreds of thousands of Cuban exiles who escaped the longtime communist nation and Venezuelan immigrants who fled the socialist South American country.

Duncan said Cuban President Raul Castro's government averaged 741 "arbitrary detentions'' per month last year and that it rose to 882 during Pope Francis' historic visit in September. He added that more than 6,000 people were arrested and detained in the first 10 months of this year. He said nearly 9,000 Americans owned property that was confiscated after Fidel Castro's revolution.

Duncan said Venezuelan state security forces quashed anti-government protests that triggered weeks of unrest that left 900 injured and 43 dead. He called Maduro's recently announced human rights plans "laughable'' at a time "when human rights atrocities continue unabated.''

Two panels of witnesses, one focused on Cuba, the other on Venezuela, condemned the human rights records of both countries and called for the U.S. to support dissidents and opposition leaders.

Cuban political activist Antonio Rodiles, leader of the relatively hard-line dissident group Estado de SATS, said the Cuban government is aligned with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran to "prolong the denial of fundamental rights and freedoms to the Cuban people.''

He added that Maduro is "a puppet regime'' that is "directly run by Castroite advisers at the behest of the dictatorship in Havana.''

Tampa Leader: Cuban Consulate Would be 'Ultimate Betrayal'

By Daniel Alvarez in The Tampa Tribune:

Cuban Consulate in Tampa would be ‘ultimate betrayal’

A Cuban Consulate in Tampa is wrong. There really is just no other way to say it. Tampa is the historical home of Cuban freedom. It was on the red brick streets of our famed Ybor City that Jose Marti rallied support and raised funds to help remove the yoke of oppression from the Cuban people.

It was from our port that American men, some led by Teddy Roosevelt, sailed to meet their deaths fighting alongside Cuban rebels in order to secure that very same freedom.

When Fidel Castro’s murderous regime took over, Tampa was one of the key places that provided haven for refugees seeking protection. These are the second-wave immigrants who populated West Tampa, Town ’n Country and Citrus Park. They help make up the 28 percent of the Hispanic population in this county.

And now comes the Hillsborough County Commission, echoing their friends on the Tampa City Council, who want to invite the very people who brutally took away that hard-earned freedom to be our neighbors by asking the dictatorial Cuban government to plant a consulate here. It is a strange world indeed.

I am quite sick and tired of the Tampa Chamber of Commerce and its like pushing a money-driven agenda veiled in false promises of freedom for the Cuban people. It’s amazing how blind one can become after a few mojito-laced walks through Ol’ Havana on “fact-finding” missions guided by a government handler.

A member of my staff just came back from a trip to Cuba sponsored by the Florida Bar, where she was briefed by a Canadian attorney. He warned the Florida lawyers that if their clients were not ready to lose 100 percent of their investment in Cuba, they should stay away.

Because that is how it is. Your infusion of cash must first go to the Castro family — then maybe some will trickle to the people at the bottom doing the real work. That’s how it has always been. Castro and the Communist Party come first.

Supporters tell me that Tampa is the natural choice for the Cuban Consulate because of our longstanding history with the island nation. I cannot tell you how many times I have been told to “get over it” and that we need to “move on” when it comes to Cuba. As the grandson of a man the Cuban government tried to murder, that idea is a little hard to swallow.

For the many Cuban refugees I know who were tortured and unjustly imprisoned, and for the family members of murder victims who have been left behind, asking the Cuban government to move into our ZIP code is the ultimate betrayal. I would remind Tampa’s pro-Cuba supporters that it is this same Cuban government that murders people at will, consistently denies due process and imprisons those who disagree with it.

It has not moved on. It continues to oppress and terrorize its people in a way that no member of the Tampa City Council or Hillsborough County Commission would ever support. Yet they both want to invite them here with all the dignity a legitimate government-to-government relationship would bring. It is shameful.

I understand America’s policy toward Cuba has changed. I reluctantly accept it, but that does not mean this city and county need to abandon everything it would normally stand for just so a select few can make a dollar. As a city, county and a people, we are better than that. Businesses will not be hurt by the lack of a Cuban Consulate. Send it to Orlando. Send it to Jacksonville.

Send it anywhere but here, and we send a message that although we may begin a normalization process with Cuba, we will never abandon our heritage or the legacy of freedom we inherited from those who bled before us.

To do anything less would be just wrong.

Daniel Alvarez is a lawyer and former journalist. Earlier this month he was named Hispanic Man of the Year by Tampa Hispanic Heritage Inc.

Winning the Future in Latin America

By George Phillips in The Washington Examiner:

Winning the future in Latin America

The next president will be forced to confront myriad problems in the Middle East, as well as the growing aggression of Russia, China and North Korea.

But our next president should also lay out a plan for winning the future in Latin America because its prosperity is linked to ours.

The U.S. exported $424 billion in goods to Mexico and Central and South America in 2014 — more than the $333 billion we exported to Europe and nearly as much as the $480 billion we exported to Asia. The potential for even more economic cooperation is great.

Individual Americans bear the responsibility for the illegal drug use that led to more than 8,000 heroin and nearly 5,000 cocaine-related deaths in 2013 and landed hundreds of thousands of others in prison. But more prosperous Latin American nations will be better able to stem the flow of illegal drugs into the U.S.

Our nation also bears the responsibility of controlling our borders and maintaining fair and just immigration laws. But citizens of Latin American nations will be less likely to leave for the US if they have vibrant economies in their home countries.

Here are four keys to winning the future in Latin America:

First, bad actors need to be called out.

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation reported that the Castro regime averaged of 741 arbitrary arrests each month in 2014 and 882 such arrests in September of this year — the month Pope Francis visited.

President Nicolas Maduro's continued failed socialist policies in Venezuela after the death of Hugo Chavez have left his nation in disarray with 56 percent inflation and a skyrocketing murder rate. More than 9,000 protests took place in 2014 against the government and they have continued throughout this year.

Unfortunately both Cuba and Venezuela push their oppressive policies and anti-U.S. message throughout the region and influence other leftist heads of state, including Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, Rafael Correa in Ecuador and Juan Morales in Bolivia.

If a change in leadership occurs in any of these countries that is favorable towards the U.S., it will influence the entire region.

Second, heroes need to be raised up.

These include the Ladies in White in Cuba, brave women who led protests against the Castro regime for twenty weeks in a row this year against the imprisonment of their loved ones who have spoken out for freedom.

Leopold Lopez, a former mayor and presidential candidate, is a leading voice of opposition in Venezuela. He led a 30-day hunger strike in June on behalf of other political prisoners and was recently sentenced to 13 years in prison in what human rights groups have called a sham trial.

If heroes like the Ladies and White and Lopez are raised up by the US and the world as Lech Walesa was in Poland in the 1980s, they could lead their countries to freedom, as Walesa did.

Third, economic successes and failures needs to be continually highlighted.

In 2014, the average gross domestic product growth of the Pacific Alliance Trade Bloc nations of Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Chile, which have embraced trade and open markets, was an impressive 4.25 percent. In that same year, the growth of Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina — countries that have embraced socialism and protective tariffs — was a meager 2.5 percent.

The state of the economy in Brazil is so poor that a recent poll showed two out of three Brazilians wanted to impeach President Dilma Roussef — a former Marxist who now promotes socialism.

Finally, the message of the United States should be that we are trying to share the gift of free markets and economic prosperity with the world — not imposing our will on others. Throughout our history, both citizens of the United States and immigrants to our nation have lived with the promise that through hard work they could obtain a better life for themselves and their children due to our system of limited government and economic freedom. We want nothing more than for people in all of the Americas to share in this promise.

George Phillips served as an aide to Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey, working on human rights issues.

What We've Learned About Obama's Cuba Policy This Week

Friday, November 6, 2015
As Benjamin Franklin famously wrote -- "One of the greatest tragedies of life is the murder of a beautiful theory by a gang of brutal facts."

In that regards, it has been a brutal week for Obama's Cuba policy.

Of course, it is now beyond vox populi that Obama's policy is one where the United States gives-and-gives, while the Castro regime only takes-and-takes, with the hope that it will also give at some point (based on some sort of totalitarian "good-will").

But, this week alone, we've seen six trends in Obama's Cuba policy, which show clearly that this theory doesn't bode well:

1. Repression continues to skyrocket. This week, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights documented the arrest of over 1,093 peaceful dissidents during the month of October 2015, which is the highest monthly tally in recent history.

2. Worst migration crisis in 20 years. This week, the U.S. Coast Guard reported that more Cubans have been intercepted at sea this fiscal year than at any time since the rafter's crisis of 1994.

3. Closer ties to Russia. Rather than weaning the Castro regime away from Vladimir Putin, Obama's policy has further strengthened political, economic and military ties between Cuba and Russia.

4. Castro is tightening its grip on the small "self-employed" ("cuenta-propistas") sector. As history has taught us (but some stubbornly ignore), once Cuba's monopolies regain their economic foothold -- this time thanks to Obama's new policy -- the crackdown on "cuenta-propistas" begins. This week, we've seen new confiscations, arbitrary quotas and prohibitions.

5. Human rights are an afterthought. Despite the Obama Administration's rhetoric, its actions have shown little regard for the dramatic rise in repression on the island since December 17th. This week, State Department official, Amb. David Thorne, confirmed that the human rights of the Cuban people are simply not a priority for the Obama Administration.

6. Cuba lessens purchases from the U.S., increases from China and Europe. Since Obama's new policy, Castro's monopolies have slashed authorized imports from the U.S. by over 40%, while increasing purchases from China (by 76%), Spain (by 42%), Holland (by 34%)and Germany (by 24%). In other words, Obama's concessions have helped Castro's monopolies increase its business ties throughout the world, while blackmailing the United States for more concessions.

A tragedy indeed.

Which State Department Official is Lying About Obama's Cuba Policy?

Thursday, November 5, 2015
In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on February 3, 2015, Tom Malinowski, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, stated:

"The promotion of universal human rights and the empowerment of all Cubans must be the bedrock of our policy toward Cuba. President Obama has made clear that it will be."

During the same hearing, Roberta Jacobson, Assistant Secretary for the Western Hemisphere, stated:

"The President’s initiatives look forward and are designed to promote changes that support universal human rights and fundamental freedoms for every Cuban, as well as changes that promote our other national interests."

Both statements were utterly contradicted yesterday by Amb. David Thorne, senior advisor to Secretary of State John Kerry, who in an interview from Havana now contends that (despite the dramatic rise in repression in Cuba):

"As in other parts of the world, we are really trying to also say: Let's find out how we can work together and not always say that human rights are the first things that we have to fix before anything else."

Meanwhile, as regards the U.S.'s national interest, Thorne reveals that it's really about accommodating the Castro dictatorship:

"The pace is really going to be set by the Cubans and we are satisfied with how they want to do this."

Thorne's comments come amid his farcical trip to "support Cuba's emerging private sector" -- but which in reality was focused on visits with Castro regime officials and their military-run monopolies.

So who is lying about Obama's new Cuba policy -- Malinowski, Jacobson or Thorne?

It also makes you wonder whatever happened to Obama's historic Inauguration Day axiom:

"To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."

Perhaps that will go down as the ultimate lie.

Freedom House: Grounds for Cuba's Human Trafficking Upgrade Deeply Questionable

Excerpt from yesterday's Congressional testimony by Amb. Mark Lagon, President of Freedom House and former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Trafficking in Persons, during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing (Demanding Accountability: Evaluating the 2015 “Trafficking in Persons Report”):

"Cuba was upgraded to Tier 2 Watch List. With a diplomatic opening unmatched by any political opening, Freedom House ranks Cuba as Not Free. Some might claim a past downward political bias against Cuba in U.S. trafficking assessments was removed with the diplomatic opening. I do not look at the past that way.

The grounds for an upgrade are deeply questionable. The Report says:

- 'The penal code does not criminalize all forms of human trafficking' on paper, not to speak of enforcement.

- The Cuba regime did not even dissemble and claim any 'efforts to prevent forced labor' nor 'any trafficking-specific shelters.'

It is far-fetched to suppose that there is no forced labor in state enterprises or for political prisoners in one of the world’s few remaining Marxist-Leninist states. Also, a burgeoning sex industry – welcoming sex tourism – fuels exploitation, despite steps the Report notes taken by Cuba to address sex trafficking."

Quote of the Week: We Have to Be Free

Things are really bad over there (in Cuba). When you hit the water like that, it's something crazy, but we have to be free. We'd like to have the freedom, and you want to reunite with your family here, and it is what it is.
-- Yandre Garcia Hernandez, 27-year old Cuban rafter who arrived in South Florida on Halloween night, Local 10, 11/2/15

Highest Number of Cubans Intercepted-at-Sea in 20 Years

Like other aspects of Obama's new Cuba policy, rather than preventing a migration crisis -- ironically -- it has ignited one.

From Sun-Sentinel:

Number of Cubans intercepted at sea rises to highest level in two decades

Highest number of Cubans intercepted at sea in past two decades, Coast Guard says

More Cubans were stopped at sea while trying to reach the U.S. in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30 than at any time since the chaotic rafter crisis of 1994, according to figures from the U.S. Coast Guard.

The total number of Cubans picked up on the ocean — heading to South Florida in vessels often makeshift and unseaworthy — and returned to the island during those 12 months was 2,924, according to figures released this week.

In October, the first month of the federal government's fiscal 2016, 433 Cubans were stopped a sea, a figure higher than any month in the previous fiscal year.

The Cuba Deal Alone Justifies Opposition to Obama's Mexico Nominee

Tuesday, November 3, 2015
By Mauricio Claver-Carone in The National Review:

Roberta Jacobson Should Not Be the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico 

The United States’ relationship with Mexico is among the most important in the world. Common interests and broad concerns range from extensive commercial ties, border security, narcotics and other crime syndicates, to family and cultural heritage. It’s a relationship that merits the presence of a U.S. ambassador with extraordinary diplomatic skills, a result-oriented record of success, as well as direct access to the president of the United States.

President Obama’s nomination of Roberta Jacobson, currently serving as assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, to become the U.S. ambassador to Mexico clearly does not meet this criteria.

Jacobson is a respected civil servant and administrator, but she is not a professional diplomat (Foreign Service officer) — and the objective of maintaining a diplomatic mission in Mexico is greater than simply “keeping the lights on” at our embassy. We should be upgrading our relations with Mexico to ensure we have the coordination and cooperation we need to deal successfully with the serious diplomatic challenges that our two nations face.

Any new ambassador to Mexico will need the absolute trust of the United States Congress, which, regrettably, Jacobson does not have. Any new ambassador to Mexico will need the absolute trust of the United States Congress, which, regrettably, Jacobson does not have. As assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, Jacobson testified in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing held May 8, 2014, pursuant to the introduction of legislation (the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014) that sought to revoke the visas and to freeze the bank accounts of Venezuelan officials responsible for serious violations of human rights. In her testimony, Jacobson falsely claimed that opposition leaders from Venezuela’s Democratic Unity Roundtable opposed such targeted sanctions. That was blatantly untrue, but it was the position the Obama administration wanted to peddle at the time. Ultimately, Jacobson was forced to correct the record after being contradicted by the Venezuelan opposition leaders themselves.

While on the subject of Venezuela, there’s also the infamous case of Hugo Carvajal, a retired Venezuelan military general appointed consul-general to Aruba by Nicolas Maduro’s government. Carvajal was wanted in the United States on charges of cocaine trafficking. Hearing that Venezuela was appointing Carvajal to be consul-general in Aruba, U.S. prosecutors moved quickly to arrange his arrest upon arrival. But the government of Nicolas Maduro diplomatically outmaneuvered Jacobson to gain Carvajal’s release. Overnight, Carvajal went from being the highest-ranking Venezuelan official to being arrested on a U.S. warrant to receiving a hero’s welcome in Caracas.

Given this record, is Jacobson the person the United States wants negotiating with the Mexican government for the extradition of Sinaloa cartel kingpin, El Chapo, when he’s eventually recaptured by authorities? In fact, Jacobson led the State Department team that badly fumbled the diplomatic effort to extradite El Chapo prior to his recent tunnel escape from a Mexican prison.

Jacobson’s highest-profile assignment, however, was leading U.S. negotiations for normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba, pursuant to President Obama’s December 17, 2014, initiative. Senators scrutinizing Jacobson’s nomination need look no further than her performance in that role.

Here are six reasons that Jacobson’s nomination as ambassador to Mexico should not proceed:

1. The Trafficking in Persons Report was politicized on Jacobson’s watch. Pursuant to the release of the 2015 Trafficking in Persons (“TIP”) report this summer, a Reuters investigation revealed that human-rights experts at the State Department concluded that trafficking conditions had not improved and Cuba did not deserve to be upgraded from a bottom Tier 3 ranking to Tier 2.

The reports indicated that senior officials in the department pushed without legal merit and prevailed in upgrading Cuba — as another concession to the Castro regime. Jacobson has admitted that she made a recommendation about Cuba’s status in the TIP report, but she has refused to share this recommendation — and its justification — with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. During an August 2015 hearing on the TIP Report, all such input was requested from the State Department, and the committee chairman, Senator Bob Corker (R., Tenn.), even threatened to subpoena the information.

It would set a terrible precedent for Jacobson’s nomination to proceed until and unless the State Department provides such information; until we know whether the issue of Cuba’s trafficking came up during negotiations with the Castro regime, and whether Jacobson advocated upgrading the island’s status, in spite of the objections of the State Department’s human-rights experts.

2. Rules for the U.S. Embassy in Havana fail to meet international legal standards. According to the deal negotiated by Jacobson with the Cuban regime for the establishment of diplomatic relations, only the top four diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Havana have purportedly unrestricted travel rights on the island. The remaining 47 diplomats must give “prior notice” before traveling, a clear violation of Article 26 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which states that “the receiving State shall ensure to all members of the mission freedom of movement and travel in its territory.” Similarly, Jacobson failed to reach any clear agreement with the Cuban regime on the inviolability of diplomatic pouches to the U.S. Embassy in Havana. Yet Article 27.3 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations states, “The diplomatic bag shall not be opened or detained.”

No other nation in the Western Hemisphere imposes similar restrictions on U.S. diplomats and pouches. Such a poor, short-sighted agreement not only raises questions about Jacobson’s skills as a negotiator; it also emboldens the Cuban regime’s allies in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Nicaragua to pursue the same restrictions.

3. The U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism may have been politicized on Jacobson’s watch, leading to Cuba’s removal from the list. Was the recent removal of Cuba from this list compelled by political considerations (as seems to have been the case with the TIP Report as well)?

According to the 2014 Country Reports on Terrorism, released on June 19, 2015: “The Government of Cuba does continue to allow approximately two dozen members of the Basque Fatherland and Liberty Organization (ETA) to remain in the country.”

This fact clearly did not change in the five months between December 31, 2014, and May 29, 2015, when Cuba was officially removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

According to the 2014 Country Reports on Terrorism, which was released on June 19, 2015: “The Government of Cuba does continue to harbor fugitives wanted to stand trial or to serve sentences in the United States for committing serious violations of U.S. criminal laws, and provides some of these individuals limited support such as housing, food-ration books, and medical care.”

Again, this fact clearly did not change in the five months between December 31, 2014, and May 29, 2015, when Cuba was removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

The State Department’s report recommending Cuba’s removal from the list of state sponsors of terrorism is based solely on a handful of “commitments” purportedly received from the Cuban regime. Again, Jacobson’s nomination should not proceed until the State Department substantiates these “commitments” in order to determine whether Cuba’s rescission was based on political considerations rather than on the criteria stipulated in law. Not to do so would set a terrible precedent vis-à-vis any future efforts to de-list the remaining state sponsors of terrorism — namely Iran, Sudan, and Syria.

4. Jacobson misled the families of Americans murdered by the Castro regime. Jacobson had conveyed to the families of Americans murdered by the Cuban regime, pursuant to the 1996 shoot-down of two civilian aircraft by Cuban MiG fighter jets over international waters, that the Cuban spies serving sentences in the United States — in connection with this crime — would not be released as part of any deal with the Castro regime. Yet they were released. Jacobson was obviously not forthright with these families. At a February 2015 hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Jacobson was unable to deny that these American families were misled and was clearly unapologetic. (See the exchange here.)

5. Jacobson misled Congress about human-rights standards for Cuba. Throughout 2015, Jacobson testified to Congress on various occasions that the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba would not diminish the U.S.’s focus on the democratic aspirations for the Cuban people and would not quell criticism of human-rights violations on the island. Again, she was misleading. For example, no Cuban democracy activists were invited to the flag-raising ceremony at the new U.S. Embassy in Havana. Also, since the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba, the U.S. Embassy’s Twitter account has covered a wide range of issues, such as climate change and sports, and it has even promoted Cuban government officials; yet there hasn’t been a single tweet promoting human rights and democracy from the embassy’s Twitter account. Meanwhile, Cuban democracy activists and human-rights monitors have documented a dramatic increase in repression since the Obama administration’s December 17 agreement, but the stepped-up repression has received scant response from the State Department.

6. Jacobson is unprepared on the legal fundamentals of U.S. policy toward Cuba. Finally, despite her role as lead negotiator with the Cuban regime, Jacobson was repeatedly and woefully unprepared to respond to congressional concerns. During one committee hearing, Senator Marco Rubio described — in detail — the Cuban military’s business conglomerates’ ownership of the island’s tourism- and travel-related service industry and the control exercised over it by the Castro family, through Raul’s son-in-law, General Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas. Jacobson admitted she was unaware of this important fact. (See the exchange here.) In another exchange in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Jacobson was asked to list the conditions of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act (“Libertad Act”) but was unable to do so. Yet those conditions constitute the key framework of the United States’ policy toward Cuba. (See the exchange here.)

Now President Obama wants Senate Republicans to pin a medal on Jacobson for the poor execution of an already troublesome policy. They should not.

Jacobson’s nomination demonstrates President Obama’s lack of commitment to one of our most important allies. If Obama truly wants to prioritize the United States’ relationship with Mexico, he should nominate someone without such shortcomings, failures, and record of controversies.

Mauricio Claver-Carone is a director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC and editor of CapitolHillCubans.com in Washington, D.C. He is an attorney who formerly served with the U.S. Department of the Treasury and has served on the full-time faculty of The Catholic University of America’s School of Law and adjunct faculty of The George Washington University’s National Law Center.

Over 1,093 Political Arrests in October

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights (CCHR) has documented 1,093 political arrests by the Castro regime during the month of October 2015.

This bring the total number of political arrests in the first ten months of this year to 6,239 -- which is (tragically) on-pace to become one of the most repressive years in recent history.

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

Now let's do an exercise.

Which one of the following news items have you seen discussed by the Obama Administration or covered by the media this week?

a. The arrest of over 1,093 peaceful Cuban dissidents in October 2015.

b. The incommunicado imprisonment of dissident leaders, Hugo Damian Prieto Blanco and Wilfredo Parada Milian, since last week's protest at Castro's Chief Prosecutor's headquarters.

c. The incommunicado imprisonment of Cuban dissidents, Zaqueo Baez, Maria Josefa Acon and Ismael Boris, since September 20th, 2015, for approaching Pope Francis during his Mass in Havana and pleading for his support.

d. The critical state of Cuban independent journalist, Lamberto Hernandez, who is unconscious and near death on the 27th day of a hunger strike protesting his unjust imprisonment.

e. U.S. companies courting the Castro dictatorship at the Havana International Trade Fair for deals with its monopolies.

Answer: Only (e).

A perfect distraction for Castro's (increasing) repression.

Cuba: Russia’s Unsinkable Aircraft Carrier

Of course, the irony here is that Obama's policy has only strengthened Castro's ties to Putin.

By Stephen Blank of The Jamestown Foundation:

Cuba: Russia’s Unsinkable Aircraft Carrier

Despite all of the other major foreign policy issues on its agenda, Russia has not forgotten Cuba. Indeed, it appears that Moscow’s strategic interest in this Caribbean island country has grown steadily, despite reported stagnation in their bilateral economic ties. Recently, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin announced plans to establish a signals calibration center in Cuba for Russia’s Global Navigation Satellite System, more commonly known as GLONASS—the Russian equivalent of the United States’ Global Positioning System (GPS). He also announced that Russia may set up an aviation engineering center in Cuba. These initiatives are not coincidences or wholly new gambits. Russia has sought to reestablish military bases in Cuba for some time. For instance, in February 2014, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced that Moscow was seeking a network of global naval bases that included Cuba and Nicaragua; and Russia could be discussing similar arrangements with Argentina as well. Although Moscow’s top diplomat, Sergei Lavrov, denied that Russia was seeking or needs foreign bases, he did admit that his country wants “repair and maintenance stations” for its ocean-going fleet. Yet, at the same time, Shoigu observed that Moscow not only wanted the use of ports for its ships but also installations for the refueling of its long-range bombers.

Shoigu subsequently declared, in November 2014: “Given the situation that has developed, we have been forced to provide a military presence in the western part of the Atlantic Ocean, in the eastern part of the Pacific Ocean, and in the waters of the Caribbean Basin and the Gulf of Mexico.” His remarks signified the escalation of Moscow’s decision to challenge the United States militarily as well as in more general strategic terms throughout the Americas. Furthermore, Shoigu emphasized the need for aerial reconnaissance of foreign (i.e., U.S.) militaries using long-range aviation, along with training missions for these pilots in these specific areas. In a further expansion of Russia’s military investment in the Western Hemisphere, Shoigu’s deputy minister Anatoly Antonov indicated the following month that Russia plans to build up military and military-technical cooperation with Latin American countries by establishing logistics support (MTO) facilities there for ship calls and by using local airfields in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. Although he denied that Russia was interested in bases, clearly that is exactly what is involved here—even if it is being arranged, in imitation of US naval presence in Asia, as “places not bases.”

Thus, in light of such statements by defense ministry officials, Deputy Prime Minister Rogozin’s recent remarks reflect a long-term and continuing policy that enjoys considerable strategic backing in Moscow. Igor Korotchenko, the editor-in-chief of the Russian magazine National Defense, has observed that Cuba is of interest to Russia as a port of call for warships and nuclear submarines on missions in the Western Hemisphere as well as for long-range aircraft making scheduled landings for rest and refueling. Following President Vladimir Putin’s Latin American tour in July 2014, as well as after Shoigu visited Cuba in February 2015, Russian media was awash with rumors of the possible reactivation of the Lourdes electronic and signals intelligence facility. Apparently, an agreement exists in principle to reopen Lourdes; and if implemented, this would provide Moscow with a significant intelligence gathering boost in the Western Hemisphere. Indeed according to one report, many Russian politicians and experts view Cuba as “an unsinkable aircraft carrier” and springboard in the event of a Russo-US confrontation.

As Shoigu’s remarks also indicate, Cuba is by no means the only focal point of Russian interest in the Western Hemisphere. Nicaragua, Argentina, Ecuador and Venezuela are all areas of considerable interest to Moscow in its anti-U.S. campaign. Moreover, as the foregoing evidence indicates, the current economic crisis has likely not constrained Russia from seeking strategic and military points of access in Cuba or throughout Latin America.

The reopening of Cuban relations with the U.S. led Russian experts to wonder if Russia “has lost” Cuba, even if Foreign Minister Lavrov has sternously denied such worries publicly. But the many Western reports that Cuban forces or officers have joined the Russian military campaign in Syria suggest that despite the reopening of ties with Washington, the government in Havana still aligns its actions strongly with Moscow. Therefore, Russian threats in Ukraine, Europe and Syria will increasingly compete with the challenge posed by Moscow’s efforts to establish strategic beachheads, both military and non-military, in Latin America. Such attempts are serious, possess a long-term persistent character, and allow Russia to challenge the U.S. at low cost with “house money” in pursuit of considerable gains. It would be a mistake to ignore Russian activities here.

Substantial Drop in U.S. Companies at Havana International Trade Fair

Monday, November 2, 2015
Despite the Obama Administration begging U.S. companies to participate in the Havana International Trade Fair -- and the media's sensationalism surrounding the event -- attendance was quite scant compared to previous years.

According to USA Today:

"More than 70 countries are represented at this week's trade fair, and dozens of U.S. companies are displaying their wares, from rice to building materials to tractors.

Myron Brilliant, executive director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, strolled through the central pavilion Monday and marveled at how quickly the relationship between the two countries has changed. The chamber hosted its first board meeting Monday of its U.S.-Cuba Business Council, and he said more than 50 representatives from 33 companies are on the trip."

Meanwhile, in 2003:

"With 14 Florida firms, the Sunshine State led 71 companies from 19 states selling grains, lumber, frozen chicken, fresh vegetables and other prepared and bulk foods." (Sun-Sentinel, 11/4/03)

And in 2007:

"[O]fficials from Minnesota, Alabama and Ohio — and more than 100 American businesses — were working the giant Havana International Fair, trying to secure part of the $1.6 billion the Cuban government spends each year to import sugar, wheat, livestock, poultry and beans, among other staples." (The New York Times, 11/12/07)

Part of the reason is because it's all mostly driven by lobbyists -- not by fundamentals.

But perhaps also U.S. businesses -- despite Obama's push -- have finally caught on to Castro's charade.

Recycling the "Havana Trade Fair" Hype

Today, USA Today has an article entitled, "American businesses flood Cuban trade fair."

Here's the gist:

"[Cuba's International Trade Fair starting Monday on the outskirts of Havana] will the first one since the United States and Cuba announced in December they would re-establish diplomatic relations after a 50-year freeze, a change that opened trade opportunities and kick-started a rush of American companies hoping to get access to the long-isolated island.

This week's trade fair will feature dozens of American companies exploring trade opportunities, from giants such as Cargill and Caterpillar to smaller enterprises such as Cleber and the Oregon-based Ninkasi Brewery Co. looking to sell its beer to the island."

This must be some new development, right?

Far from. 

It's the same hype that has been written about over-and-over again throughout the last decade.

Here's The Sun-Sentinel in 2003, "American Firms Flock To Havana For Trade Fair":

"[A] record number of American food and business executives Monday at Havana's 21st annual International Trade Fair, the most significant trade event on the island, drawing about 600 companies from 50 countries, mostly in Europe, Canada and Asia.

With 14 Florida firms, the Sunshine State led 71 companies from 19 states selling grains, lumber, frozen chicken, fresh vegetables and other prepared and bulk foods."

And The New York Times in 2007, "For U.S. Exporters in Cuba, Business Trumps Politics":

"Just weeks after President Bush delivered an address calling on the world to isolate Cuba, officials from Minnesota, Alabama and Ohio — and more than 100 American businesses — were working the giant Havana International Fair, trying to secure part of the $1.6 billion the Cuban government spends each year to import sugar, wheat, livestock, poultry and beans, among other staples."

And CNN in 2009, "U.S. vendors look to Cuban market":

"This week, dozens of Americans are in Havana, peddling their wares at an international trade fair: apples, pears, grapes, raisins, nuts out of California.

In Havana, billboards depicting the U.S. president as Adolf Hitler have disappeared. In Washington, President Obama has lifted restrictions on Cuban-American travel and money transfers.

The new political climate has prompted companies such as Chicago Foods to come to Havana's trade fair for the first time. They're hoping to break into the little-known market and go home with a contract."

It's the same recycled "dog-and-pony show" every year.

It's really rather pathetic. 

Here's how it works:

In Cuba, only the Castro regime is allowed to engage in foreign commerce. The Cuban people are strictly prohibited from doing so.

As such, there's only one customer in Cuba.

Thus, the trade fair consists of Castro regime officials -- mostly military officers in guayaberas -- roaming the halls of the convention site, while foreign commercial representatives jump all over each other, do tricks and grovel for their business.

The regime officials then choose their favorites, string them along, then blackmail them to go back to Washington and lobby against U.S. sanctions.

All subject to the dictator's final approval.

Absurd: Kerry Aide to Support "Private Sector" Through Castro's Military Conglomerates

Last week, we posted how the Obama Administration seeks to "empower" the Cuban people by protecting sharks -- while the number of Cubans fleeing the island doubles -- and through "security cooperation" with Castro's ruthless Ministry of the Interior.

No joke.

As if that weren't absurd enough, one of Secretary Kerry's senior advisors, Amb. David Thorne, is in Havana today to purportedly "support Cuba's emerging private sector."

And how is Amb. Thorne doing so?

Through meetings with Castro regime officials, a visit to the Port of the Mariel and attending the Havana International Fair.

In other words, Thorne is meeting with regime officials; visiting the (corruptly-built) Port of Mariel, which is owned by the Cuban military's shadow company, Almacenes Universales S.A.; and attending the Havana International Trade Fair, which only has one customer, Castro's monopolies.

So much for the "emerging private sector."

And simultaneously, over 150 Cuban dissidents were harassed, beaten and arrested, right under the noses of this U.S. latest delegation.

Every day, it becomes more tragically clear how hopelessly out-of-touch the Obama Administration is with Cuba's realities.

Over 150 Cuban Dissidents Arrested Yesterday

Sunday, November 1, 2015
For the 28th Sunday in a row, over 150 Cuban dissidents were arrested by the Castro regime as they tried to attend Mass, then peacefully demonstrate as part of the #TodosMarchamos (#WeAllMarch) campaign.

Among those arrested were over 80 activists from the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU) in the eastern city of Santiago.

Meanwhile, in Havana, over 70 members of The Ladies in White -- the renowned group composed of the wives, daughters, mothers and other relatives of Cuban political prisoners -- were arrested.

Finally, urgent attention continues to warranted for the leaders of the Civic Action Front (FAC-Orlando Zapata Tamayo), who organized last week's protest at the Chief Prosecutor's headquarters.

As we recently posted, Hugo Damian Prieto Blanco was arrested over a week ago and his whereabouts remain unknown.

This past Saturday, Reinaldo Rodriguez, was also arrested in the early morning. He hasn't been heard from since.

As usual, this increased repression is met with silence from the Obama Administration, which is too busy promoting business ties with Castro's monopolies.

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

The Castros Just Want the Embargo Lifted

Roberto Alvarez Quinones is a Cuban journalist who spent over 25-years in Castro's state-run Granma newspaper, as an economic commentator. He also served stints at the Cuban Central Bank and the Ministry of Foreign Trade. In other words, he knows and understands the "belly of the beast."

It's worth reading his analysis carefully.

By Roberto Alvarez Quinones in Diario de Cuba:

The Castros do not want normalization, just the embargo lifted

The Castro brothers have always understood U.S. presidents and the intricacies of political power better than the Americans have comprehended the Cubans. In Washington they still can't fathom why the two brothers and their military junta don't want friendly and harmonious relations with the U.S., but rather for the embargo to be lifted, and to receive loans and tourists from the north with bulging wallets. Simple as that.

With the Venezuelan crisis deteriorating by the minute, an end to the embargo has become urgent for the Castro regime. But having politically cordial and normal relations with Washington is not in their best interest. Hence, they will do everything possible to prevent them, or to sabotage them, even if the "blockade" (a military term that has nothing to do with a unilateral trade embargo placed by one country on another) is lifted.

The dictatorial elite's view is that "too much" rapprochement with the US would generate great internal and external trouble, as it would mean "betraying" its history as an anti-American leftist leader in Latin America. But, above all, it could undermine the regime's Orwellian control over all of Cuban society. People on the island feel would be less fearful of demanding more freedoms if the "Empire" were a strong ally.

The gerontocracy of "historical" commanders is not prepared - nor do they want to be - to grapple in a civilized way with the political, ideological, economic, cultural and psychological "contamination" that could spring from a close relationship with the U.S. The training of the Castro regime's nomenklatura has always been based on the opposite: visceral confrontation with the "imperialist enemy."

Castro's Manifest Destiny

In reaction to U.S.-made rockets fired at a farmer’s house in the Sierra Maestra by Batista dictatorship aircraft on June 5, 1958, Fidel Castro wrote a letter to Celia Sánchez setting forth the Manifest Destiny of his revolution: "When this war is over, for me a much longer and greater war shall begin: that which I will wage against them. I realize that this will be my true destiny. "

That war did not end with the reopening of embassies in Havana and Washington. And it will not end as long as the island is ruled by Castro and the commanders who joined the anti-U.S. crusade conceived by their leader. There will be no close relationship between Cuba and the United States until there is a new "de-ideologized" political leadership on the island.

But they don´t understand this in Washington. Even if the embargo were lifted, the Castroist leadership would throw up roadblocks to stymie the normalization process. On October 3 Commander José Ramón Machado Ventura, second-in-command in the regime, made this clear: "the Communist Party of Cuba will always be the backbone of the Cuban nation's resistance." In the language of Castroism, that means that the political and media struggle against the U.S. shall continue.

Strong alliances with Russia, Iran, China, North Korea, Syria, direct intervention in Venezuela to support the Chávez regime, and encouraging anti-US positions in Latin American governments, all form part of the Castros' geopolitical arsenal to maintain serious differences with their neighbor and forestall the full normalization of relations.

They will continue to blame the U.S.

It's a mistake to believe that with the end of the embargo Castroism will be left politically speechless, unable to continue blaming the U.S. for Cuba's dire economic woes. No. The Castros will never recognize that they themselves, and socialism, are responsible for the widespread misery in Cuba.

The day after the repeal of the Helms-Burton Act, the regime would launch its Plan B: an aggressive worldwide diplomatic, legal, political and media campaign to demand the 100 billion dollars that it says the U.S. should pay Cuba in damages for the embargo. They will argue that it was the embargo that impoverished Cuba, which was left without financial resources, machinery or raw materials, enough food, and sidelined it from the technological revolution.

They will insist that if Washington does not disburse this money it will be impossible to improve the Cuban people's standard of living, or to reconstruct the country, or to create the infrastructure required for US investments, or to develop the economy and integrate into the global economic system.

A silent transfer of power

Havana needs an end to the embargo, and fast, for two reasons: 1) with the collapse of oil prices, the political and financial outlook of its Venezuelan benefactor is getting worse and worse and 2) the end of the “blockade” would economically facilitate a silent transfer of political-military power from the Castros and their "historic" cronies to their younger family members and fledgling generals.

Whether or not Castro is their surname, they will be responsible for installing the neo-Castroist model. They will be the ones who are "empowered" by an end to the embargo. By law, the self-employed cannot even negotiate directly with foreign entities. By the way, if Cuba's current Stalinists laws are not overturned, it will be hard to attract any significant American investment in Cuba.

The foundations of that succession model will be presented at the next Communist Party Congress in April 2016, a formula representing a melding of State-driven capitalism and post-Soviet and Chinese elements, with entirely fascist features, due to its decidedly military character. And watch out: the most important “change” in the economic sphere introduced by "Raulism" thus far has been the militarization of the economy.

More militarized than ever

The great paradox of the Cuba-US "thaw" is that it is occurring when the country is more controlled than ever by the armed forces, while its political system is shedding the formal appearance of an orthodox "socialist democracy" and starting to look more like a fascist military regime.

It doesn't matter what Marxism-Leninism says, or the Cuban Socialist Constitution, on the leading role of the Communist Party. That militarization was not envisioned by the Leninist and Stalinist leaders of the Communist old guard, like Blas Roca, Juan Marinello, Carlos Rafael Rodríguez, César Escalante or Lázaro Pena. None of them today would have the political strength, influence and power they did in their time.

The GAESA (Grupo de Administración Empresarial SA) is a gigantic, truly capitalist corporation attached to the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), which receives all the currency entering the country and almost 80% of revenues generated on the island. It is not institutionally accountable to the Government of the Republic. Thus, the Castros laugh at the basic principles of socialism as envisaged by Marx, according to which the "State of the people, workers and peasants" is charged with socially distributing and redistributing the "surplus" created by the workers. And hence, Antonio Castro is able to cruise the Mediterranean in a luxury yacht.

What the military cadre that reigns in Cuba wants is to shake off the embargo in order to access loans and get rich off the tourism and business they could do with the Americans, and to financially facilitate a succession that is inevitable, for biological reasons, towards a military dictatorship whose members will benefit from capitalism - but without allowing everyday Cubans to do the same.

Until then, the full normalization of relations with Washington does not form part of the regime’s plans, as it is not compatible with their Manifest Destiny.

Apparently neither is it in the plans of the neo-Castroists, but unpredictable events could upset everything and throw a wrench in the dictatorial succession scheme.

Treasury Fines Travel Company for Cuba Sanctions Violations

This is an important reminder for anyone who -- pursuant to the Obama Administration's new policy -- is looking to play fast-and-loose with the law.

It's should also serve as a reminder that the statute of limitations for Cuba sanctions violations extends well-beyond the end of the Obama Administration.

From the U.S. Department of the Treasury:

Gil Tours Travel, Inc. Settles Potential Civil Liability for Apparent Violations of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations: Gil Tours Travel, Inc. (Gil Travel), of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has agreed to pay $43,875 to settle potential civil liability for apparent violations of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, 31 C.F.R. part 515 (CACR). Between October 21, 2009 and August 19, 2010, Gil Tours appears to have violated § 515.201 of the CACR when it dealt in property in which Cuba or Cuban nationals had an interest, by providing Cuba travel-related services involving 191 individuals, without authorization from OFAC. OFAC determined that Gil Travel did not voluntarily self-disclose the apparent violations and that the apparent violations occurred “prior to agency notice.” Under the Cuba Penalty Schedule, 68 Fed. Reg. 4429 (Jan. 29, 2003), the base penalty amount is $97,500.

The settlement amount reflects OFAC’s consideration of the following facts and circumstances, pursuant to the General Factors under OFAC’s Economic Sanctions Enforcement Guidelines, 31 C.F.R. part 501, app. A: Gil Travel had some awareness that it was providing Cuba-related travel services, and that its conduct could be in violation of the CACR; Gil Travel had no sanctions compliance plan at the time of the apparent violations; Gil Travel has not received a penalty notice or Finding of Violation from OFAC in the five years preceding the date of the first transaction giving rise to the apparent violations; and Gil Travel substantially cooperated with OFAC during its investigation of the apparent violations, including by entering into a statute of limitations tolling agreement for a total of 446 days.

Pursuant to Obama's Policy, New Exodus of Cubans Headed to U.S.

Clearly the Cuban people are not very "hopeful" pursuant to the Obama-Castro deal.

From The Miami Herald:

New exodus of Cubans headed to US is underway across the Americas

They line up on the edge of the water, their silhouettes barely visible in the wee hours before the sun rises. Groups of 10 to 12 climb aboard rafts mounted with plywood and pay less than $2 to be ferried to the other side. Within the span of 20 minutes, at least 60 have crossed aboard six rafts.

All of them are Cuban migrants en route to the United States. The illegal crossing scene at the Rio Suchiate -- the body of water that separates Guatemala from Mexico -- is happening every day under the cover of darkness.

A new exodus of Cubans is underway at this river in Ciudad Hidalgo in the Mexican state of Chiapas. Over the past month, hundreds have come across from the border town of Tecun Uman, Guatemala, and those making the journey say many more are on the way.

"We're leaving in droves," said one Cuban as he rushed to get away from the river and onto a van that would drive his group to the nearest immigration center in Tapachula, about 18 miles away. "Everybody is leaving Cuba."

"Another hundred are waiting to cross," shouted another young man as he dismounted the raft from Guatemala and caught up with the group of new arrivals in Mexico.

The migrants are from across the island, predominantly between 20 and 40 years old. Many travel with children. Most are headed to South Florida.

The migrants are Cubans who have either spent some time in third countries such as Ecuador or who travel directly from the island to a third country as tourists and immediately proceed on their journey across South and Central America to make their way to the U.S.-Mexico border.

The migration route is not new for Cubans. But the numbers passing through over the past month have grown to the point that human rights activists in Mexico have labeled it a "migration crisis" that is adding to the already high number of Central American migrants also using Mexican land as a pathway toward America.

"A lot are coming through here," said Sister Maria del Carmen, who helps run a Catholic migrant shelter in Tapachula. Since it opened its doors in early September, more than 500 Cubans have been served at the shelter.

"But the figure is much higher," del Carmen said. "The immigration center is full of Cubans."

Official data show a significant increase in the number of Cubans coming across the U.S.-Mexico border.

According to the latest figures from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, at least 27,413 Cubans have entered through the U.S.-Mexico border from Oct. 1, 2014, through Aug. 31. Another 9,056 arrived without visas at Miami International Airport during the same time frame.

The border entries are at its highest since 2005 with increases each fiscal year over the past four years: 5,316 border entries in 2011; 10,315 in 2012; 11,932 in 2013 and 17,459 in 2014.

Most of those interviewed after entering Mexico said they have little hope for significant changes in Cuba under the Castro regime, despite the restored diplomatic relations and some economic openings on the island signed off by Cuban leader Raul Castro.

"Everybody who leaves Cuba knows that nothing is going to change there," [30-year old Angel] Reyna Rojas said. "And if there is going to be change, it will take 30 or 40 years. Perhaps longer."

"Now with the new relations (between the U.S. and Cuba), there might be a little more flexibility but the situation in Cuba is not going to change," he said. "That belongs to them and they will not change. I blame them for everything we've been through -- Fidel and Raul."