Did Secretaries Pritzker, Vilsack and Amb. Thorne Violate U.S. Sanctions Law?

Friday, November 13, 2015
The U.S.-Cuba Economic Trade and Economic Council, which supports business engagement with Cuba -- but apparently respects the rule of law (unlike some of its peers) -- has raised a very important issue in its latest "Economic Eye on Cuba" report.

According to the report:

On 20 October 2015, the United States Department of Commerce reported that Republic of Cuba-related activities by it (and by extension the United States Government) and The Honorable Penny Pritzker, United States Secretary of Commerce, were restricted and/or prohibited by the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act (TSREEA) of 2000, title IX, Public Law 106-387 [22 U.S.C. 7207(a)(1)] (TSRA).

Restricted and/or prohibited not by choice (policy), but by law:

"Sect. 7207. Prohibition on United States assistance and financing

(a) Prohibition on United States assistance

(1) In general Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no United States Government assistance, including United States foreign assistance, United States export assistance, and any United States credit or guarantees shall be available for exports to Cuba or for commercial exports to Iran, Libya, North Korea, or Sudan.

(2) Rule of construction

Nothing in paragraph (1) shall be construed to alter, modify, or otherwise affect the provisions of section 6039 of this title or any other provision of law relating to Cuba in effect on the day before October 28, 2000.

(3) Waiver

The President may waive the application of paragraph (1) with respect to Iran, Libya, North Korea, and Sudan to the degree the President determines that it is in the national security interest of the United States to do so, or for humanitarian reasons."

(CHC Editor: Note that Congressional intent was so clear and determinative that Cuba was specifically excluded from the President's waiver authority.)

Given Secretary Pritzker’s statements before, during and after her October 2015 visit to the Republic of Cuba, and citing the subsequently-released October 2015 rationale from the United States Department of Commerce, there is reasonableness to conclude that her visit should not have been permitted.

The visit by representatives from BIS and Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the United States Department of the Treasury who accompanied Secretary Pritzker should not have been permitted.

The use of a United States government aircraft should not have been permitted.

The expenditures for the visit should not have been permitted.

The webinars hosted by OFAC/BIS should not be permitted.

Participation by representatives of the OFAC and BIS in conferences throughout the United States should not be permitted.

The legality of the October/November 2015 visits to the Republic of Cuba by the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, Commissioner of United States Customs and Border Protection, Senior Advisor to the United States Secretary of State, and Assistant Secretary for the Private Sector of the United States Department of Homeland Security need also be questioned as media releases and articles relating to the visits referenced commerce and trade; partial text of a media release from the United States Department of State: "...attend the inauguration of the U.S.-Cuba Business Council [an entity created by the United States Chamber of Commerce] and the opening ceremony of the 33rd annual Havana International Fair (FIHAV); Havana’s largest annual multi-sector trade fair... to meet with government officials and business leaders.”

(CHC Editor: We'd add this week's trip by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to the mix.)

Read the whole report here.

Quote of the Day: North Korean Forced Labor System Almost Identical to Cuba's

The Kim dictatorship is known for its crimes against humanity. Yet, the scope of its cruelty never ceases to astonish—the North Korean government’s exploitation and abuse of its people extends well beyond the borders of the dictatorship. Incidentally, this nefarious State-sponsored system implemented to earn foreign currency is almost identical to the one put in place by the Cuban dictatorship, which ships health-care workers worldwide and makes billions of dollars through the exploitation of workers with no rights whatsoever.
-- Thor Halvorssen, president of The Human Rights Foundation, on this week's report by the U.N. Special Rapporteur condemning the forced labor conditions suffered by approximately 50,000 Koreans who were sent by the Kim regime to work abroad, 11/12/15

Havana International Trade Fair: Much Ado About Nothing

By Fernando Damaso in Diario de Cuba:

Much ado about nothing

The Feria Internacional de La Habana just ended. Previous editions of the event have yielded scant results. It would be worth knowing what this latest event has generated.

The Mariel Special Development Area, Foreign Investments Law, legal amendments, portfolios of opportunities, promotional trips to many countries, yet another new portfolio of opportunities, and another Feria Internacional de la Habana, etcetera. Many activities and paltry results. There is only talk of eight approved projects initiating their investment processes, without specifying which ones.

Cuban authorities today acknowledge that the country needs foreign investment for its development, without which it will be impossible.

Investors, whatever country they are from, care little about the social system of the country where they intend to invest: they do not care whether they are democratic or totalitarian, or whether or not they respect citizens' freedoms and rights. Investors are interested, however, in the legal security of their investments, earning quick profits, and recovering the capital they have invested in the shortest time possible.

These conditions do not currently exist in Cuba. Moreover, there are restrictions that make investing decidedly un-enticing: the investor cannot directly hire workforces, but rather must do so through a government contracting agency, to which he gives the funds for wages, paid in foreign currency, with the agency paying the workers in devalued Cuban pesos, at a rate of 2x1, when the official rate is 24x1; 70% of production must be commercialized in the country, in a depressed market where the population has limited financial resources because it receives measly wages; and they must export 30% to highly competitive markets where major brands have been established for years.

And, as if that were not enough, disputes arising between foreign investors and the Cuban Government must be settled in the Cuban courts.

At the recent International Fair in Havana the potential comprehensive export of goods and services for health and sustainable agro-industrial development were proposed, with great added value promised. The proposal seemed almost a bad joke in a country where health services for citizens are seriously deficient, and agro-industrial development is conspicuously absent, unable to meet the country's food needs via domestic production, with many products having to be imported.

It is striking how little has been published about whatever actually came of the letters of intent or commercial agreements signed at the edition’s previous 32 editions. Apparently little ever came of them. It would be healthy for the country if, after the 33rd edition, this phenomenon were not repeated and yielded more than attendance figures, without tangible results.

With all these limitations it is very difficult to get foreign investors (Cubans are still excluded) to risk their capital. The rules of the game must be significantly changed, and the Cuban government must finally understand that it cannot control everything. In its present form, this policy of attracting foreign investment is doomed.

Some signs of this are already are visible.

Chinese Naval Flotilla Visits Cuba for 1st Time, Strengthen Ties

From AFP:

Chinese navy visits Cuba, amid Havana-Washington thaw

A Chinese naval flotilla arrived in Cuba Tuesday to bolster close military ties between the two Communist-ruled allies, its commander Wang Jianxun said.

"This is the first time a (Chinese) military flotilla has come to the island," Wang said at the Port of Havana.

And it is really "a chance to strengthen ties between the navies and armed forces of both countries."

Cuba and China "share ideals and a shared independent development path aimed at building socialism," he said in a report in Cuban official media. The visit had not been announced earlier in state media.

Don’t Ignore Cuba’s Role in Human Trafficking

Thursday, November 12, 2015
By Frank Calzon in The Miami Herald:

Don’t ignore Cuba’s role in human trafficking

Report says pressure led to better ranking in State Dept. report.

Continued international trafficking of people and the sexual abuse of minors are two of the world’s most serious human rights issues. Last Friday, the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere of the U.S. House of Representations held a Miami hearing on abuses of human rights in Venezuela and Cuba.

The inquiry was prompted by reports that in compiling its latest report on human trafficking, high officials within the State Department exerted undue pressure on staff to improve the rankings of several countries, including Cuba, Malaysia and Russia.

At a congressional hearing in August, Undersecretary of State Sarah Sewall defended the rankings saying, “We don’t comment on internal deliberations” and asserted “the reporting that was done by the TIP office and the team at the State Department was thorough and fact-based.” Yet, according to the British news service Reuters, staffers had come forth to reveal 2015 ratings were watered down in the report issued by the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Reuters cited an administration spokesman as dismissing the allegations, saying “[s]ome diplomats who say that the staffers should avoid acting like ‘purists.’ ”

The report is a tool used to shame governments into enacting and enforcing laws to prevent sex trafficking and forced labor and prosecuting traffickers. One of its unintended consequences, however, was that when it focused world public opinion on Southeast Asia’s poor records on slave labor and “sex tourism” involving the use of children, many traffickers found a new haven in Cuba. Moreover, given the recent influx of thousands of new tourists, sex trafficking in Cuba is increasing.

Sources on Capitol Hill tell me that the integrity of the report on human trafficking is one of the issues that Congress will be exploring with Assistant Secretary for the Western Hemisphere Roberta Jacobson, as she now seeks confirmation to become U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. Jacobson led the negotiations to “normalize” U.S. relations with Cuba.

In 2011, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police reported that Cuba was the most popular destination in America for child sex tourism. In 2013, a 78-year-old Canadian returning home from Cuba was charged under Canadian law with nine counts of child-sex tourism. He had pled guilty in 1995 and 1998 to possession of child pornography filmed in Cuba. According to Canada’s CTV News, all of his alleged victims were young Cuban girls, “some as young as 4-years-old.” It’s not likely that the substantial increase of foreign tourists now visiting the island has diminished human trafficking. Secretary of State John Kerry also should be answering the several Congressional letters sent him.

“The perceived hit to the integrity of the 2015 report can do lasting damage,” Reuters reported. As Mark Taylor, former senior coordinator for reports and political affairs in the monitoring office, says “It only takes one year of this kind of really deleterious political effect to kill its credibility.”

Unfortunately, President Obama’s legacy is likely to be marred by more than one instance of political considerations taking precedence over the facts. Another manipulation of State Department reports happened in late May, when Cuba was removed from the U.S. list of foreign governments supporting international terrorism. That happened while convicted killers of American police officers are still enjoying the safe haven of “political asylum” in Cuba.

Diluting of the trafficking report was, without doubt, a concession to the Castros. Democracy Digest, a blog of the National Endowment for Democracy, observed that these actions “hardly assuage the concerns of Cuban dissidents that the administration is downplaying human rights and democracy as it seeks to cement its new rapprochement with the island’s Communist authorities.”

Revulsion over human trafficking and the sexual abuse of children is not limited to “purists” within the State Department. It’s widely shared by the American people.

Rubio Opposes Obama’s U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Nominee

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, on the nomination of Roberta S. Jacobson as U.S. Ambassador to Mexico:

"I have always taken seriously my ‘advice and consent’ role in the Senate on nominations made by the President. I believe that America must be represented around the world by the very best ambassadors and that is especially true for the next U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, our second-largest trading partner.

In evaluating nominees to such important positions, I examine several key factors, including: the nominees’ qualifications for their anticipated roles; the nominees’ track records; and their honesty and candor in answering questions posed to them during the confirmation process.

During her confirmation process to be U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Roberta Jacobson, the current Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, refused to provide several documents I requested, and failed to provide clear answers to questions I asked about specific decisions she was involved in – or major events that occurred in the Western Hemisphere – during her tenure.

It took three attempts for Jacobson to answer a straightforward question regarding her role in the extradition process for the most notorious drug lord in the Western Hemisphere. Ultimately, she admitted that the Obama Administration did not formally request the extradition of ‘El Chapo’ Guzman until June 2015 – one year and four months after he had been arrested and just a month before he escaped from a Mexican prison.

On Jacobson’s watch, at her bureau’s request, the State Department manipulated Cuba’s ranking in its annual ‘trafficking in persons report’ – sending a chilling signal about the integrity of U.S. human trafficking assessments of a country that investigations have shown to be one of the top destinations in the Americas for sex tourism.

Jacobson misrepresented the views of Venezuela’s pro-democracy movement on human rights sanctions, demonstrated a lack of interest in seeing the sanctions law fully implemented, and was slow to respond to abuses committed by the Maduro regime.

Since President Obama announced his new Cuba policy on December 17, 2014, Jacobson has testified before Congress on various occasions that the U.S. would continue to prioritize human rights as part of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba. However, this has not been the case. In the last eleven months, thousands of Cubans have been arrested, beaten and jailed for peacefully advocating for democracy. The number of monthly political arrests has increased by nearly five-fold between January and October 2015.

The Ladies in White, a civil society group that advocates for the release of political prisoners by attending Sunday Mass and then peacefully walking through the streets dressed in white clothing, have seen their members arrested every single week. The Cuban government has even engaged in violence against American citizens and Cuban civil society groups outside of the island, as was witnessed during the attacks at the Summit of the Americas in Panama.

There has been absolutely no improvement in human rights in Cuba since President Obama’s Cuba policy change was announced. To the contrary, repression has dramatically increased and has now been dangerously buoyed by a senior State Department official, who conceded during a recent interview that ‘Washington would not first demand human rights progress from Havana’ in exchange for a relaxation of the embargo. This clearly contradicts Jacobson’s previous testimony about the priority that would be given to human rights in the new Cuba policy.

It is clear that the Obama Administration’s foreign policy around the world, and specifically in the Western Hemisphere has been short-sighted and counter-productive. Our allies have been left to question the commitments we have made to them, while our adversaries have been emboldened to challenge the U.S. at every step. As the United States’ lead diplomat for the Western Hemisphere, Roberta Jacobson has played a central role in that failure.

In sum, Ms. Jacobson has refused to be forthcoming with Congress and has proven to be unprepared to handle significant policy decisions, which have transpired on her watch. We need an ambassador in Mexico City that has the trust of Congress for this important post. I do not believe that Ms. Jacobson is that person and will oppose her confirmation."

Menendez Remarks in Opposition to Roberta Jacobson's Nomination

Remarks by U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ):

Senate Foreign Relations Committee—November 10, 2015

Mr. Chairman,

For the 10 years I have served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I have taken the role of advice and consent of State Department nominees very seriously.

Whether it was the nominee for Secretary of State or a nominee to represent the United States at our most distant outpost – from one end of the spectrum to the other – I have delved into the individual’s views, experience, as well as their willingness to be open, direct, truthful and consultative as critical elements of whether they would earn my support and my vote for confirmation.

I carried the same standard whether I was simply a member of the committee or its Chairman. And even where I disagreed with the nominees views, especially if they were just espousing the views of an administration, I would often support them if the other elements I considered important were present.

In the case of Ms. Jacobson, I cannot in good conscience support her nomination to a critical post. Let me state why…

When I met Ms. Jacobson for her present position of Assistant Secretary of State, I stressed the importance to me of consultation and openness to questions and requests for information. She acknowledged the importance of such and committed to doing so.

At her nomination hearing for Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, which I chaired, I raised the questions of under-funding of the Western Hemisphere accounts, as well as the IDB, the only regional bank that did not get an increase at the time, and of authoritarian trends in the Western Hemisphere and asked what she would do to reverse those trends as the Assistant Secretary. I did so recognizing that as the deputy assistant secretary for the Western Hemisphere she would have had a role in these issues, but obviously not with the same authority. While I was not convinced by her answers, both in terms of openness or in terms of substance, I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

As the Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, I found her not to be the advocate she promised to be, for the region and against the authoritarianism that has only grown in the hemisphere, but I found her not to be at all consultative or forthcoming as to informational requests. Information coming from her, came only after constant questioning and repeated information requests. In essence, she was not the open, direct and consultative leader I had expected.

By way of example of these concerns, are her responses in a hearing I held as Chairman, on Human Rights in Venezuela on May 8, 2014.

In a question I posed, which I'll read from the record, I asked, "Madame Secretary, President Obama has determined that Venezuela has failed to meet its obligations under international narcotics agreements. The Treasury Department has designated members of the Venezuelan government and military as kingpins, and the drugs flowing out of Venezuela have their debilitating effects on levels of violence, governance and the rule of law in Central America and the Caribbean. Given widespread signs of collusion between drug trafficking and the Venezuelan government, does the situation in Venezuela constitute a national security threat to the United States?" Her answers all hedged and were evasive.

It took a series of follow-up questions to pierce through her answers and finally get to the conclusion that yes, it was a national security threat. Something by the way the President made a determination of.

Furthermore, I specifically asked her, whether she had been asked by Venezuelan civil society not to have us pursue sanctions for human rights abuses in Venezuela, as we were contemplating pursuing sanctions legislatively, and her answer was yes. I pursued her on this because she had said so in answers to the questions of other members, and I knew that wasn't the case and I wanted to give her the opportunity to clarify the record.

She doubled down on her answer and, soon after the hearing, social media exploded in Venezuela, by civil society groups condemning the statement and vehemently saying it wasn't true! She subsequently asked me to change her answer, which I allowed her to do, but the damage had been done.

Subsequently, at her July 15, 2015 nomination hearing for U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, I pursued a line of questioning as to why the U.S. did not request the extradition of Joaquin Guzman known as El Chapo until two years after he was captured in February 2013. She evasively said that I had to go to the Justice Department to get an answer, but upon further questioning, acknowledged that the State Department and its lawyers are involved in the extradition process. This from the person who is in charge of the Western Hemisphere and the nominee to be the Ambassador to Mexico.

I also, revisited the question of whether we considered Venezuela a national security threat, especially in light of new information we had, and she said it was not a national security threat. Totally opposite of what she had told me a year before.

I further pursued the issue of human rights sanctions in Venezuela, and I want to read from the transcript:

"You know when I have individuals who are brought before the committee for the advice and consent of the Senate I take it very seriously. And one of the elements I take very seriously is that I'm going to get fair, honest, transparent answers to my questions so that I can make judgments in the issues I am called upon as a U.S. Senator and as a senior member of this committee to make judgments on."

"In a hearing on Venezuela.... I asked you whether or not the opposition in Venezuela as you had stated, was actually opposed to us pursuing sanctions.” (I would note parenthetically for the committee, that this was during the time that the committee was considering sanctions legislation).

Your answer to me at that time was "The opposition elements engaged in the current dialogue have suggested we refrain from sanctions against individuals guilty of human rights violations."

"Now, that was not the case. And you ultimately made it very difficult for me at a moment that I was trying to understand what would be the consequences.”

"I thought that the sanctions that ultimately the President signed were the right ones. But you created a doubt in me, a doubt that shouldn't have been there. Because then, I heard a chorus of voices from the opposition in Venezuela who said no, we never said that."

"So, if I am going to look to advise and consent and vote affirmatively for someone, I need honest and open and transparent answers. And I don't feel that I got that from you at that time."

I also have serious concerns that the nominee, who has admitted that she weighed in on the trafficking in persons report, was influential in having Cuba be removed from its tier 3 designation without any appropriate justification. I think the members of the committee know how passionate I am about the integrity of the TIP report and the general sentiment that exists on the committee among members that this year's TIP report was politicized.

Mr. Chairman, Mexico is one of the most important bilateral relationships we have, not only in the Western Hemisphere, but in the world. The US Ambassador to Mexico plays an instrumental role in helping forge an even stronger partnership between our two nations, and the decision we make on this nomination is consequently one of the most important we face. From expansive trade and economic issues, to energy issues, to immigration, drug trafficking and human rights, we need someone who will be open, honest, transparent and consultative with us as we in the Senate continue to formulate policy and views to our neighbor to the south.

I do not have that experience with the nominee, nor the belief, that having given her previous opportunities to assuage my concerns, she will do so.

For these reasons, and other such examples I could give, I will be voting no.

Canadian Tourists Being Arbitrarily Detained in Cuba, Shaken Down

From Canada's Global News:

Another Canadian comes forward with story of being detained in Cuba

Taylan Evrenler had been to Cuba twice before but his visit last week, that included a trip to Havana, is easily the most memorable. He was detained and questioned by police over a two-day period and was only allowed to leave when he agreed to make a payment.

“You have to pay 4,250 pesos or else you are not going on your flight,” Evrenler said he was told by police on the second day of questioning, adding that he was warned he would not get the documentation necessary to return home to Toronto otherwise.

Evrenler was staying at a licensed Cuban guest home called a Casa Particular in Havana last week because he wanted to visit an international trade expo.

When he went to check out of the home, he said he was met by two non-uniformed Cuban police officers who accompanied him to a police station.

Inside, Evrenler said he was ordered to surrender his passport and cellular phone. He said he waited most of the first day and was told to return the following day.

“They gave me back my phone and was told to come back at eight in the morning and everything’s finished,” said the 28-year-old high risk analyst.

But after returning the next day and waiting about three hours, he said he was interrogated in Spanish, and limited English, and told he owed money for “damages” caused at another guest home on a previous trip.

“It was absolutely false,” Evrener told Global News, who said he had not damaged anything on the previous visit.

“I was scared.”

Faced with what he said was no option except to pay up, Evrener said he traveled “pretty much all over Havana” on Sunday when the city’s banks were closed.

Eventually, he found a financial institution that would provide a cash advance on his MasterCard.

Evrener’s account follows a series of Global News stories about a Vancouver couple who were detained at a Cayo Coco hotel because they didn’t pay approximately $400 in damages demanded by the resort.

Katharine Foran, 26 and Adam Babuik, 30, say they were not allowed to leave their hotel and could not pay for a broken lamp bulb and broken wall because their credit cards did not function at the hotel. Eventually, they were permitted to return to Canada.

Legal experts say travelers to Cuba aren’t guaranteed the same treatment as they could expect in many other countries.

“There’s a lot of evidence in the case of Cuba that it is not a legal system where the normal rules we expect would apply,” said Toronto immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman.

Washington Times Editorial: Castro Crack Down in Wake of Obama Wooing

Tuesday, November 10, 2015
From The Washington Times' Editorial Board:

An upsurge in misery in Cuba

The Castro brothers crack down in the wake of the Obama wooing

Barack Obama’s attempt to woo Fidel and Raul Castro away from their regime’s totalitarian roots has turned from disaster to catastrophe, giving a new and ugly meaning to President Obama’s campaign slogan of “hope and change.” So far there’s been no change and no hope, but more misery.

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights reports an upsurge in arrests — more than a thousand peaceful dissidents during the month of October, the highest monthly tally in recent history.

The U.S. Coast Guard has rescued record numbers of Cubans at sea trying to flee to the United States this year — more than at any time since the “rafters’ crisis” two decades ago.

Raul Castro has reinforced his post-Soviet alliance with Vladimir Putin — dispatching Cuban soldiers to Syria in support of the Russian intervention to preserve the wretched Damascus regime.

The Castro government has imposed new restrictions on the tiny Cuban private sector it had earlier permitted to blossom — with price controls, new taxes and restrictions, some petty and all meant to punish.

The regime has cut authorizations for American imports by some 40 percent, increasing its feeble trade ties with China and Spain as an alternative. These new restrictions are meant to put more pressure on the Obama administration for trade credits. The Obama administration’s response is to persist with concessions to the Castro regime which it insists will lead to liberalization. The original deal with Havana, which Mr. Obama regards as part of his legacy, got no concessions to the United States.

In fact, he threw a lifeline to the Castro brothers, whose special relationship with oil-rich Venezuela collapsed with the death of Hugo Chavez in 2013. The $18 billion in loans, investments and grants Mr. Chavez had given to the brothers between 2008 and 2011 led to the economic crisis in Caracas.

The Castro lobby within the U.S. State Department continues to assure critics that additional concessions to the Castro brothers will continue non-existent liberalization policies, mounting contrary evidence notwithstanding. So the regime wobbles on. Fidel, fading into dementia at 89, gave way to his 84-year-old brother to lead a youth movement, but the regime looks ever more like the usual Latin American military junta, with Soviet trappings.

Castro propaganda insists that the American embargo, announced in 1962 and confirmed into law by Congress in 1996, is the source of all difficulties, and not the usual failures of Marxist faith. In fact, the embargo has been constantly whittled away, but the brothers continue to use it as a weapon to squeeze America for more credits and concessions.

Mr. Obama insists that Congress lift the 1962 embargo, but that is not likely if the Republicans screw up the courage to resist in the months before the Obama era finally ends in January 2017. As part of his “opening to Cuba” Mr. Obama has twice used executive authority to ease restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba and on certain products manufactured by the small Cuban private sector. American telecommunications companies are now permitted to operate on the island. More such regulatory changes will be made if and when Cuba absorbs these concessions, says David Thorne, a senior adviser to Secretary of State John Kerry.

“We are making progress,” he says. “We are making regulatory changes. We’ll make more.” That might mean easing restrictions on military hardware, so whether this is “progress” depends on who’s making the definitions.

Tweet of the Day: Havana's International (Military) Trade Fair

As Cuban independent journalist Yoani Sanchez discovered, the directory of Cuban businesses handed to foreign investors at last week's Havana International Trade Fair was composed mostly of Castro's military enterprises.

Miami Herald Editorial: Target Abuses of Cuban Refugee Law

From The Miami Herald's Editorial Board:

Target law that leads to abuse of our charity

Close loopholes in Refugee Education Assistance Act of 1980.

Prompted by soaring immigration from Cuba and abuses of laws intended to help the neediest exiles, Cuban-American legislators are planning revisions to plug the holes. These changes are necessary and deserve support across the political spectrum.

As we outlined yesterday, the Cuban Adjustment Act has been on the books for nearly half a century. It may be time to consider doing away with it altogether. But let’s get real. That’s not going to happen amid a presidential campaign, nor do we advocate a knee-jerk reaction to take down a law that has done so much good for so many in our community and elsewhere in our country.

The egregious abuses that have prompted alarm are not part of the Cuban Adjustment Act, a fact often overlooked. The Refugee Education Assistance Act of 1980 gives Cuban migrants access to a host of welfare benefits — cash assistance for resettlement and adjustment, Supplemental Security Income, temporary assistance for needy families, etc. — without being means tested.

Virtually no other group receives this aid except Haitians. However, Haitians do not have the benefit of the Cuban Adjustment Act. They don’t receive red-carpet treatment when they arrive. Indeed, many of them are sent back for illegal entry. Thus, those who are allowed in are relatively few and should not be denied the benefits of the 1980 law.

Cubans, who are considered political refugees, come in much greater numbers and are speedily deemed legal permanent residents. Indeed, migration rates from Cuba have hit their highest levels since 2005, with some 36,000 entering from Oct. 1, 2014, through Aug. 31 of this year.

But as the Sun-Sentinel has reported in an eye-opening series of articles, many recent arrivals manage to obtain welfare benefits conveyed by the 1980 refugee aid law, and continue to receive them directly or indirectly even when they go back home.

Cuban-American legislators, commendably, have been the most outspoken critics of this abuse. “It is outrageous that America’s generosity toward Cuban nationals is being taken advantage of by those who abuse the law,” says Sen. Marco Rubio, a son of Cuban immigrants.

“They’re coming here and they’re taking welfare benefits when they’ve never worked in the United States, they’ve never contributed to the greatness of our nation and they’re taking their money and going to Cuba,” U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen told Jim DeFede, of Herald partner CBS4 in a recent Sunday interview.

U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, also a Miami Republican, said he expects to propose corrective legislation soon to close the loophole that’s given Cuban migrants access to a special category of welfare benefits. “We’re definitely going to take a look at that,” he told the Editorial Board.

But this action, it bears repeating, will not affect the Cuban Adjustment Act. It could be repealed, and Cuban migrants who still managed to enter and be deemed legal residents would continue to get special welfare benefits.

That’s why Rep. Curbelo is right to target the abuses at this time. It should be a legislative priority. But other members of Congress are aiming to repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act because they feel its time has passed. They’re unlikely to make much headway, but it should open a long-needed conversation, particularly in light on President Obama’s “normalization” process.

There are laws on the books to protect anyone entering this country who seeks political asylum.

Even without the Cuban Adjustment Act, exiles from that country could still seek and obtain the protections they afford. But wholesale acceptance for individuals who do not even have to claim political persecution should be discarded.

Green-Light for Repression: Over 200 Cuban Dissidents Arrested on Sunday

Sunday, November 8, 2015
Last week, while encouraging U.S. businessmen to cut deals with the Castro dictatorship, Amb. David Thorne, senior advisor to Secretary of State John Kerry, stated in an interview from Havana:

"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."

The Castro regime took this dangerous message as a (further) green-light for repression.

Over 200 Cuban dissidents were arrested on Sunday as they sought to peacefully demonstrate, pursuant to the #TodosMarchamos (#WeAllMarch) campaign.

Of those arrested, over 125 were from the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU) in the eastern provinces. (See a list of those arrested here.)

In two particularly egregious cases, Castro's secret police ordered local party officials to hurl stones at a group 30 dissidents in Palma Soriano, prior to their arrest. Among those seriously injured was Jorge Cervantes Garcia.

And, in Camaguey, a group of dissidents were arrested, handcuffed and locked in police cars for several hours to suffer in the hot sun. They included Fernando Vazquez Guerra, Dorico Sanchez Aguilar, Davilexis Sanchez Aguilar, Leopoldo Lopez Betancourt, Ediyersi Santana Jous and Raul Padron Suarez

Meanwhile, in Havana, over 75 members of The Ladies in White -- the renowned group composed of the wives, daughters, mothers and other relatives of Cuban political prisoners -- were arrested.

In other notable cases last week:

-- Cuban dissidents Geovanys Izaguirre and Laudelino Rodriguez were handed six-month prison sentences for demonstrating with anti-Castro signs.

-- Cuban rocker Gorki Aguila was arrested for wearing an anti-Castro t-shirt, while he was being interviewed by two French reporters.

-- Four Cuban independent journalists (with Hablemos Press) were arrested within a 48-hour time period for their reporting. They are Oscar Sanchez Madan, Ricardo Sanchez Tamayo, Pablo Morales Marchan and Raul Ramirez Puig.

-- Famed Cuban novelist, dissident and political prisoner, Angel Santiesteban, was re-arrested.

-- A police vehicle rammed a scooter carrying Cuban democracy leader, Damaris Moya, and her husband, Yandi Peraza, injuring both of them. This is how Cuban democracy leader, Oswaldo Paya, was murdered in 2012.

It's "what change looks like" -- not to mention Thorne's irresponsibility -- in Obama's Cuba.

WaPo: Castro Gets Prize for Best Jujitsu on Obama

By Jackson Diehl in The Washington Post:

Obama’s olive branches are lifelines for authoritarian regimes

At the heart of President Obama’s foreign policy is a long bet: that American engagement with previously shunned regimes will, over time, lead to their liberalization, without the need for either a messy domestic revolution or a bloody U.S. use of force. By definition, it will be years before we know whether the policy works.

It nevertheless is becoming clear that the regimes on which Obama has lavished attention have greeted his overtures with a counter-strategy. It’s possible, they calculate, to use the economic benefits of better relations to entrench their authoritarian systems for the long term, while screening out any liberalizing influence. Rather than being subverted by U.S. dollars, they would be saved by them.

So far, the dictators’ bet is paying off. The latest evidence of that came Sunday in Burma, when the generals who still rule the country staged an election carefully structured to preserve their power. The constitution under which it was held bans opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president and reserves a quarter of parliamentary seats for the military.

Obama might claim that the lifting of U.S. sanctions and the two trips he made to the country helped prompt this limited democratic opening. The generals see it another way: The restricted system, and the inflow of U.S. and European investment it enables, makes their political supremacy sustainable for the long term. As proof, they can point to the fact that they rebuffed U.S. appeals for constitutional reforms before the election with no consequence for the new economic relationship.

That Iran’s supreme leader is pursuing a similar course became clear in recent days as the arrests of two businessmen with U.S. citizenship or residency came to light. Having allowed reformist president Hassan Rouhani to negotiate the nuclear deal with Obama, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guard intend to pocket the $100 billion or so in proceeds while forcibly preventing what they call the “penetration” of Western influence that Obama hopes for.

Hence the taking of more U.S. hostages. To the imprisonment of The Post’s Jason Rezaian and two other Iranian Americans, add Nizar Zakka, a U.S.-based Internet specialist, and Siamak Namazi, an Iranian American who has publicly advocated for better relations between the countries. The lack of any U.S. response means that the open season on Americans will continue in Tehran.

Khamenei, however, doesn’t get the prize for the best jujitsu on Obama. That goes to Raul Castro, the 84-year-old ruler of weak and impoverished Cuba, who has managed to transform the resumption of U.S.-Cuban relations into an almost entirely one-sided transaction.

Since announcing the end of the 50-year freeze between the countries 11 months ago, Obama has twice loosened restrictions on U.S. travel and investment in Cuba. Thanks to that, tourism arrivals are up 18 percent this year, and billions in fresh hard currency are flowing into the regime’s nearly empty treasury. The White House has dispatched a stream of senior officials to Havana, including Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker. The deputy secretary of homeland security, Alejandro Mayorkas, last month paid court to the general who heads Castro’s repressive internal security apparatus.

In response to this, Castro has done virtually nothing, other than reopen the Cuban Embassy in Washington and allow a cellphone roaming agreement . His answer to repeated pleadings from U.S. officials for gestures on human rights has been to step up repression of the opposition. According to the independent Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, there were at least 1,093 political detentions in October, the highest number in 16 months.

Castro has meanwhile shunned offers from U.S. businesses and dramatically cut U.S. imports. Pritzker did not sign a single deal during her high-profile visit last month. Instead, Cuban officials are using the prospect of increased U.S. trade and investment as “chum” to strike bargains with other countries, according to a report by the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. While imports of U.S. food are down 44 percent this year, imports from China are up 76 percent.

Remarkably, the administration appears happy to accept this. The latest high-level envoy, State Department senior adviser David Thorne, told Reuters in Havana last week: “The pace is really going to be set by the Cubans, and we are satisfied with how they want to do this.” What about the lack of progress on human rights? “As in other parts of the world,” Thorne grandly replied, “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 we have to fix before anything else.”

So the message is: It’s okay to capture U.S. dollars while excluding U.S. business and cracking down on anyone favoring liberalization. No wonder the dictators are winning.

Jackson Diehl is deputy editorial page editor of The Post.

Cuba's Top Canadian Investor Concerned About Regime's Payments

And yet, some are lobbying the U.S. Congress to allow financing for the Castro regime.

From Qba-Intel:

Sherritt International Concerned Over Cuban Govt' Making Payments

Sherritt, the Canadian mining company, with business interests in Cuba held its 3rd Quarter results via a webcast on October 28, 2015. Sherritt, notably points out Cuba in its “forward-looking statements”:

Risks related to the Cuban government’s and Malagasy government’s ability to make certain payments to the Corporation.”

A pdf document of the webcast was posted on the company’s website, which is no longer available. However, Google has a cache of the pdf.

Such a statement from an established international company conducting business with the Castro regime for years serves as a warning of the risks to U.S. companies rushing to do business with the Cuban government.

Tweet of the Week: Malinowski Corrects the Record (on Thorne's Remarks)

Keep the Chamber Out of Cuba Policy

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has exercised poor judgment in every defining foreign policy issue of modern times.

And always for the same short-sighted reason -- because it placed the profits of some of its member companies over American foreign policy interests.

Both are important -- but not necessarily compatible.

In 1941, the Chamber actively lobbied against American involvement in World War II.

"American businessmen oppose American involvement in any foreign war," argued the Chamber.

Why? Because some of its member companies, including DuPont, Standard Oil and Alcoa, had business arrangements with German companies and cartels.

They were afraid to disrupt those profits, so Hitler became more palatable -- "hitherto we have been a nation... with no jealousy or resentment with respect to the aggrandizements of other countries," said the Chamber.

The Chamber also fought bitterly against General Douglas McArthur's post-war breakup of the zaibatsu -- the Imperial monopolies that overwhelmingly controlled Japan's economy -- and whose executives were responsible for war crimes.

Why? Because long-established business relationships would be severed.

Imagine how different the world would have been if the Chamber had gotten its way.

In 1982, the Chamber actively lobbied against President Reagan's boycott of the Trans-Siberian gas pipeline.

Reagan believed that the pipeline would bring desperately needed hard currency to the Soviets, plus make Germany and France energy dependent on the USSR.

But the Chamber only cared about General Electric's contracts for compressors, turbine rotors and pipelaying equipment.

It even publicly accused Reagan of "economic warfare" and a "potentially dangerous conflict" in NATO.

History has shown the disruption of the pipeline was key to the collapse of the Soviet empire.

Again, how dangerously wrong the Chamber was.

In 2010, the Chamber actively lobbied against sanctions towards Iran.

Remember those sanctions that are now universally credited for having debilitated Iran's regime and bringing it to the negotiating table?

(Never mind whether the Obama Administration then ultimately cut a good deal at the table or not.)

Guess who were the main opponents of those sanctions -- aside from the Mullahs, of course?

That's right -- the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

A nuclear Iran? U.S. national security? None a priority.

What mattered were the business interests of Cargill, Boeing, Halliburton, Caterpillar and Siemens.

In 2014, the Chamber actively lobbied against sanctions on Russia for its aggression towards the Ukraine.

No armed incursion, violent provocation or violation of international law is worth disrupting any financial, defense or energy deal with Putin's cronies, argued the Chamber.

Needless to say, Putin has gotten that dangerous message loud and clear.

And following this tradition, last week, the Chamber led a delegation to the Havana International Trade Fair -- desperately seeking a deal with Castro's monopolies.

Here in the U.S., the Chamber likes to disingenuously talk about Cuba's "emerging private sector," the "people" and "entrepreneurship."

But an article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal described how it was all about meetings with Castro's apparatchiks -- over cigars and mojitos -- at the mezzanine of the twice-confiscated, luxurious Hotel Saratoga.

It was about how to cut a deal with one of the shadow companies run by Castro's military and intelligence services, which alone control over 80% of the Cuban economy.

"We need two or three or four or five important deals... to show that there’s momentum, to show that this is for real," said former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez.

(Newsflash: Since 1992 and 2001 -- through sanctions exemptions -- over 250 U.S. companies have cut deals with Castro's telecom monopoly, ETECSA, and food import monopoly, ALIMPORT. None have trickled-down to the Cuban people.)

Well, that's dandy for Gutierrez's consulting fees, the Chamber's member companies, its delegation's Havana trysts and Castro's heirs.

But it does nothing to promote political and economic freedom for the Cuban people.

To the contrary -- it has proven to only empower the Castro family's repressive political and economic monopoly.

Thus please, based on its long history of poor foreign policy judgment -- for the noble cause of a free and democratic Cuba -- keep the Chamber out of the policy.