Hillary Clinton Should Demand Obama Fully Enforce Cuba Sanctions Law

Friday, September 30, 2016
The entire thrust of yesterday's Newsweek story on Trump-Cuba boils down to one legal question:

Whether the New York-based consulting firm, Seven Arrows Investment and Development Corporation ("Seven Arrows"), lied about the purpose of its travel to Cuba in 1998?

As we posted yesterday, if Seven Arrows didn't obtain the appropriate OFAC license for its travel-related transactions, or lied about the purpose of the trip, there should be legal consequences against Seven Arrows and any Trump executives that knowingly colluded with it.

Hillary Clinton strongly agrees.

A statement from her campaign blasted Trump:

"Trump’s business with Cuba appears to have broken the law, flouted U.S. foreign policy, and is in complete contradiction to Trump’s own repeated, public statements that he had been offered opportunities to invest in Cuba but passed them up. This latest report shows once again that Trump will always put his own business interest ahead of the national interest - and has no trouble lying about it."

Then, talking to reporters from her plane last night , Hillary added:

"Trump put his personal and business interests ahead of the laws and values of the United States."

First of all, it's great to see Hillary finally recognize that business with Cuba's regime contradicts U.S. law and values. Moreover, that it flouts and contradicts the national interests of the United States.

She should immediately send a memo to The White House.

More importantly and consistently, Hillary should immediately demand that President Obama fully enforce Cuba sanctions and not allow American business and travelers to flout U.S. law.

Specifically:

Akin to the accusation against Seven Arrows, Hillary should immediately seek OFAC enforcement against all American travelers lying on their affidavits on regularly scheduled flights to Varadero, Cayo Coco and Cayo Largo, and staying at the Cuban military's all-inclusive beach resorts. These trips violate U.S. law.

Hillary should seek OFAC enforcement against Starwood Hotels management deal with the Cuban military's, Gaviota, S.A., which is contrary and inconsistent with U.S. law, traffics in stolen American property and violates international labor law.

Hillary should seek OFAC enforcement against Stonegate Bank and Banco Popular de Puerto Rico for issuing credit cards that provide financing of transactions through stolen properties, which is in direct violation of U.S. law.

Again, as we posted yesterday -- there's an opportunity here.

We can now all agree that doing business with the Castro dictatorship is bad; that U.S. law must be respected; and OFAC should take enforcement action against those who violate it.

Newsweek's Trump Cuba Story Needs Perspective

Thursday, September 29, 2016
This morning, Newsweek published a rather sensationalist (and hypocritical) story on Trump's involvement with a consulting firm that took a scouting trip to Cuba in 1998.

Here's the gist --

Trump's company apparently hired a consulting firm, Seven Arrows Investment and Development Corporation ("Seven Arrows"), to do a scouting trip to Cuba in 1998. Months after, Seven Arrows billed Trump's company over $68,000 for the trip.

In the late 1990's -- like today -- the Bill Clinton Administration was licensing and encouraging U.S. companies to take scouting trips to Cuba, with the hope they would return and lobby Congress to ease the sanctions that he codified into law in 1996. Sound familiar? At the time, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was forming coalitions to do business in Cuba with the same zeal as today. (Click here to learn more.)

Also -- like today -- these scouting trips could be legally licensed. What was illegal -- and remains illegal (with the statutory exceptions of telecom connections, and cash sales for agriculture, medicine and medical equipment) -- is actually transacting business with the Castro regime

Hence, if Seven Arrows didn't obtain an OFAC license for the trip and (after-the-fact) sought to cover-up the motive, then there should be legal consequences against Seven Arrows and any Trump executives that knowingly colluded with it.

However, Trump never transacted business with the Castro regime, as the Newsweek article claims. To the contrary, Trump concluded that those who seek to do business with the Castro regime were mistaken.

Trump even penned an op-ed in The Miami Herald in 1999, in which he admits:

"Several large European investment groups have asked me to take the 'Trump Magic' to Cuba. They have 'begged' me to form partnerships to build casino-hotels in Havana. With the influx of foreign tourists, we would make a fortune, they promise, and they are no doubt right. They are also right to say that this type of arrangement would allow me to skirt the U. S.-imposed embargo.

But rushing to join those who would do business in Cuba would do more than that. It would place me directly at odds with the longstanding U. S. policy of isolating Fidel Castro. I had a choice to make: huge profits or human rights. For me, it was a no-brainer."

Perhaps he deserves some kudos for this.

However, it's fascinating to watch those who are currently working to hand the Castro regime billions of dollars -- beginning with the Obama Administration, Clinton campaign and its talking heads -- now attacking Trump for this $68,000 consulting expenditure.

Moreover, how those actively advocating for U.S. business, banks and travelers to skirt current sanctions law -- which remains the same as in 1998 -- are now wagging their finger.

So perhaps there's an opportunity here.

Maybe we can all agree now that doing business with the Castro dictatorship is bad; that U.S. law must be respected; and OFAC should take enforcement action against those who violate it.

Senate Foreign Relations Chair: 'Highly Unlikely' Cuba Ambassador Will Be Approved

Wednesday, September 28, 2016
From Reuters:

U.S. senator: 'Unlikely' Cuba ambassador will be approved this year

The chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which oversees the confirmation of foreign service nominees, said on Wednesday it was "highly unlikely" that an ambassador to Cuba would be approved this year.

President Barack Obama on Tuesday nominated career diplomat Jeffrey DeLaurentis to be the first U.S. ambassador to Cuba in more than five decades.

"The committee was notified of the nomination yesterday but has not yet received the appropriate paperwork to begin its work," Republican Senator Bob Corker said in a statement emailed to Reuters. "However, it is highly unlikely that an ambassador to Cuba would be approved in the lame-duck."

The appointment of DeLaurentis, the top American official at the U.S. embassy in Havana, marked Obama’s latest move to go as far as he can in normalizing ties between the former Cold War foes before he leaves office in January.

But the nomination must be approved by the Republican-controlled Senate, which is seen as a long shot.

Corker's committee would have to hold a confirmation hearing for DeLaurentis and vote to approve his nomination before it would go to the full Senate, where it could be blocked by any senator.

Rubio: Obama's Cuba Ambassador Nomination Should Go Nowhere

Rubio: President Obama's Nomination of Ambassador to Castro Regime Should Go Nowhere

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) issued the following statement today regarding President Obama’s nomination of Jeffrey DeLaurentis to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the Castro regime:

President Obama capitulated to the Castros in December 2014, and his Cuba policy has allowed the regime to further cozy up with other terrorist regimes like Iran, help North Korea evade international sanctions, carry out more repression and human rights abuses, and do nothing to improve the lives of the Cuban people. It’s been 21 months and by any objective measure, President Obama’s appeasement of the region’s only totalitarian regime has been a complete disaster.

From the Obama Administration’s failure to invite dissidents to the opening of the embassy in Havana, to its muted response to the ongoing repression in Cuba – including an embassy Twitter handle under Mr. DeLaurentis’ leadership that seems more like a travel agency than an advocate for American values and interests – President Obama has failed the Cuban people. 

Just like releasing all terrorists from Guantanamo and sending U.S. taxpayer dollars to the Iranian regime, rewarding the Castro government with a U.S. ambassador is another last-ditch legacy project for the President that needs to be stopped. A U.S. ambassador is not going to influence the Cuban government, which is a dictatorial and closed regime. This nomination should go nowhere until the Castro regime makes significant and irreversible progress in the areas of human rights and political freedom for the Cuban people, and until longstanding concerns about the Cuban regime’s theft of property and crimes against American citizens are addressed.

Obama's Cuba Policy Has Brought No Leverage With Venezuela

In July 2015, Bloomberg's Editorial Board applauded Obama's new Cuba policy, arguing that it would give the U.S. "more leverage with Venezuela."

This was also a favorite talking point of some Washington "think-tanks" and "Latin Americanists."

It turns out -- as we had correctly predicted -- that the exact opposite happened.

Thus now, Bloomberg is seeking pressure on Venezuela's Cuban-puppet regime.

Imagine that.

From Bloomberg's Editorial Board:

Obama Needs to Step Up the Pressure on Venezuela

In yet another stunning anti-democratic maneuver, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has managed to have any recall referendum effectively delayed until next year. In response, President Barack Obama needs to revisit U.S. policy toward the Western Hemisphere’s most dysfunctional nation.

Until even a few years ago, some U.S. “strategic patience” toward Venezuela made sense. High oil prices cushioned the country with the world’s largest reserves from its increasingly harebrained economic policies, and from outside pressure over its political repression, high-level collusion with narco-trafficking, and other bad behavior. And the reflexive anti-Americanism of Chavismo -- the idiosyncratic ideology championed by the late Hugo Chavez -- had sympathizers in influential neighbors such as Argentina and Brazil.

Things have changed. Oil prices have collapsed, and Venezuela faces triple-digit inflation and a third year of recession. Shortages of food, medicine and basic goods have immiserated its citizens and created a potential humanitarian crisis.

Maduro has responded to public discontent and a landslide opposition victory in last year’s legislative elections by intensifying his subversion of democratic institutions. Last month, for instance, his well-packed Supreme Court annulled much of the new legislature’s work. And now the country’s Electoral Authority has set unprecedented hurdles for any recall vote; by delaying the process, it has also all but ensured that even if a recall succeeds, Maduro’s ruling party will control the presidency until new elections in late 2018.

Venezuela's Revolution

Without meaningful outside pressure, that could mean two more years of deepening misery, corruption and repression, with ugly consequences beyond Venezuela’s borders.

Thankfully, Chavismo’s allure has ebbed regionally and globally. New governments in Argentina, Brazil and Peru are more willing to criticize Venezuela. If Venezuela fails to comply with the human rights and immigration standards set by the Mercosur trade bloc, for instance, it should be suspended. Likewise, the obstruction of the recall should spur the Organization of American States to begin the process that could lead to Venezuela’s suspension.

The U.S. should take up the recent call by Peru’s president to offer Venezuelans humanitarian aid. But it should also step up sanctions on Venezuelan officials. Even as arbitrary detentions and abuses have increased, the U.S. has not widened its net beyond the seven officials whose assets were frozen in a March 2015 executive order; the State Department still says “more than 60” Venezuelans are subject to visa bans, similar to what it was saying a year and a half ago. For starters, it should target more officials for rampant public corruption, which Obama’s executive order also covers. Among other things, that would further chill the willingness of financial institutions to do business with an increasingly unsavory government -- one that already teeters on default.

Of course, Venezuela’s future should ultimately be decided at the ballot box. By holding the country’s leaders to account, Venezuela’s neighbors can help ensure that the outcome of any election is not a foregone conclusion.

Obama's Cuban Migration Crisis (Tragedy) Exacerbates

The Obama Administration -- pursuant to its new policy -- is facing the largest migration of Cuban nationals since the rafters of 1994.

The number of Cubans fleeing to the United States in 2015 was nearly twice that of 2014. Some 51,000 Cubans last year entered the United States and this year’s figures will easily surpass that.

The numbers of Cuban nationals fleeing the island have now quintupled since President Obama took office, when it was less than 7,000 annually.

As the tragedy exacerbates, the silence of the Obama Administration regarding this very tangible and measurable consequence of its new policy is deafening.

From The Miami Herald:

Five bodies found along Keys; Coast Guard searches for missing Cuban migrants

Five bodies have been recovered from Florida Keys waters or shorelines since Saturday, possibly victims of a capsized migrant vessel that left Cuba.

None of the five - three men and two women - has been publicly identified.

Three men found alive near Big Pine Key told authorities that about two dozen people were aboard a makeshift boat that departed from Cuba on Sept. 20. The aging boat capsized and sank a day later.

Three bodies were found Saturday in international waters off the Upper Keys, about 23 miles east of Islamorada. A fourth body was found on a Lower Keys beach Saturday.

The fifth victim, a woman, was discovered Monday near Little Palm Island in the Lower Keys by a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission patrol boat, part of an extensive search by state and federal agencies for survivors or more fatalities.

The woman’s body was not far from Ramrod Key, where a man’s body was found Saturday on a remote beach off mile marker 27.

“The deceased people have not been identified,” said Deputy Becky Herrin, information officer for the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office. “Their bodies have been turned over to the [county] Medical Examiner’s Office for an autopsy to determine the cause of their deaths, and to attempt to determine their identities.”

A fisherman found the first body, a man, offshore of the Upper Keys around 10:45 a.m. Saturday. An FWC aircraft responding to the area spotted the bodies of a man and a woman near an overturned raft around 2:30 p.m.

At 6 p.m. Saturday, Ramrod Key property owners found a man’s body at the isolated beach. "Detectives say there were no obvious signs of trauma on the man’s body, which was found lying on the remote strip of beach," the Monroe County Sheriff's Office reported. "The dead man had two bottles of water and a small amount of food near him when he was found."

Amid U.S. and E.U. Silence, Cuba Unleashes Wave of Repression

Tuesday, September 27, 2016
An excellent roundup of the recent wave of repression throughout Cuba.

From Diario de Cuba's Editorial Board:

Cuban regime unleashes repression all over the island

The Cuban regime launched a massive crackdown on the offices of the Legal Information Center (Cubalex), headed up by attorney Laritza Diversent, according to information received by DIARIO DE CUBA, just hours after the European Commission formally proposed that the EU countries support the political cooperation and dialogue agreement with Havana, which would supersede the Common Position, in force since 1996.

Sources close to Diversent said that police forces raided the headquarters and accused the entire Cubalex team of "economic crimes".

At 10 am in the morning two police cars arrived, along with 20 agents in plain clothes, and a lady in a white coat who claimed to be a doctor. They waited for the entire CUBALEX team to be inside the building before commencing the operation.

They broke in through the garage door with a crowbar, and used a jimmy to access the kitchen, confiscating all their technological resources, computers, memories and hard drives – even those for personal use.

A week of intense repression

The week saw a wave of repression unleashed across the Island against many opposition and civil society organizations.

On Thursday the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) reported the arrest of 23 activists and the imprisonment of one of its members, who would mark "political prisoner number 43" from the organization.

On Tuesday, 20 September, police officers and State Security agents prevented a dozen young dissidents from completing visa processes at the Spanish consulate in Havana to travel to Madrid to take a training course at the Instituto Atlántico.

That same day, the spokesman for Cuba’s Independent Trade Union Coalition, Iván Hernández Carrillo, reported that the political police had deployed a large force to break up a meeting of several trade unionists seeking to fuse the Island's three main labor organizations.

On Sunday, 18 September, repression was also perpetrated against The Ladies in White: 27 women were arrested in Havana, along with several activists with the #TodosMarchamos (We All March) campaign on the 71st Sunday of the constant persecution of the organization's marches.

Another group of women was also harassed on Tuesday, when State Security deployed forces near a house in which they were to hold a meeting, while keeping the participants trapped in their own homes.

The women, coordinators of a numbers of projects, had planned to present their work and draft a single document for submission to an upcoming international forum.

Last Friday, meanwhile, the activist Marthadela Tamayo, a member of the Committee for Racial Integration (CIR), was seized by political agents, held and interrogated for eight hours. Her family and friends, unaware of her whereabouts, reported her missing. Following her release Tamayo spoke to DIARIO DE CUBA.

Another victim of the current clampdown was Lady in White Leticia Ramos. On Saturday police searched her house for two hours.

At about 8:30 am 26 agents from the Interior Ministry showed up at her home in Cárdenas, Matanzas, proceeding to seize magazines, a publication of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and to arrest Ramos's husband.

Leticia Ramos is now under investigation, accused of "public disorder." The authorities will not allow her to leave her home.

Last week the authorities also arrested, beat and stripped three women activists from the Partido Arco Progresista (PARP) who were on their way to the Santuario de El Cobre. The activists wore T-shirts endorsing the #Otro18 campaign, which seeks to promote candidates not backed by the regime to run in the 2018 "elections."

Far from easing up on repression in order to secure international approval, Raúl Castro seems bent on ratcheting it up.

Cuba, Russia Sign Nuclear Energy Cooperation Deal

Take note: This will become a shiny new tool for the Castro regime to further blackmail Obama and the next U.S. Administration.

(Also, see yesterday's post regarding the Cuba-ties of Putin's new foreign intelligence chief.)

From EFE:

Cuba, Russia sign nuclear energy cooperation deal

Cuba and Russia relaunched their relations on Tuesday with a pacific nuclear energy deal signed in Vienna alongside the International Atomic Energy Agency's General Conference.

Cuban vice Minister of Science, Environment and Technology José Fidel Santana signed the deal with Sergey Kirienjo, director of the Russian state nuclear energy company Rosatom.

Santana said that, after two years of negotiations, the deal would give both countries a framework to immediately begin developing bilateral projects, especially related to the medical and agricultural uses of nuclear energy.

He insisted that the projects were still in their initial phases, so the economic and material volume of the deal could not yet be evaluated.

The deal also includes the creation of Cuban nuclear specialists, applied and fundamental investigations and the management of radioactive waste.

Bilateral relations between Russia and Cuba have intensified in the last few months and they have signed several deals, including one on the sale and repair of train engines for merchandise transport on the island between 2017 and 2021.

Quote of the Week: Do Business in Liberty City, Not Castro's Cuba

Wait until this year's presidential election is over. Wait until Fidel Castro dies. Wait to see who dares to do anything of significance; entrepreneurially-speaking. And, at the end of this waiting period, if you really want to start up a business, come to Liberty City.
-- T. Willard Fair, president and CEO, Urban League of Greater Miami, in response to The Miami Herald's CEO Forum on when to do business in Cuba, 9/25/16

Another Bogus Cuban Oil Story

For decades, hyped reports of Cuban oil discoveries have made their way to the media, which goes on a frenzy.

Then, they always turn out to be untrue. (Click here to learn more about Castro's oil charade.)

And yet again this month.

From The Havana Times:

Cuba Denies Reported Oil Discovery

The state company CubaPetróleo (Cupet) reduced the level of expectations created by the alleged discovery of a major oil field in the center of the island and said the news was a “misinterpretation”, reported dpa news.

The deputy director of CubaPetróleo (Cupet), Roberto Suarez, said some media “distorted” the press release issued by the MEO Australia that “at no time used the word discovery or finding,” but referred to” identification of potential.”

In July news reports spread that the Australian based company MEO had confirmed the discovery of a deposit of 8.2 billion of high quality oil, in a zone located between the central provinces of Matanzas and Ciego de Avila.

MEO has a production contract with Cupet, under which it conducts exploration studies, seismic work and reprocessing data from block number #9, according to Suarez quoted by the official newspaper “Granma”.

Cupet said the alleged discovery still requires an “evaluation, exploration and analysis” because the prospecting “implies risks”.

Currently, Cuba’s oil production covers 60 percent of the energy needed by the island, said the head of exploration Cupet, Oswaldo Lopez, told state television.

Putin Names Cuba Adviser as Russia's New Intel Chief

Monday, September 26, 2016
Earlier this year, General James R. Clapper, the U.S Director of National Intelligence, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that:

"The threat from foreign intelligence entities, both state and nonstate, is persistent, complex, and evolving. Targeting and collection of US political, military, economic, and technical information by foreign intelligence services continues unabated. Russia and China pose the greatest threat, followed by Iran and Cuba on a lesser scale."

Only one of these nations is in the Western Hemisphere -- just 90 miles from the United States. 

In the last week alone, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited Havana to discuss (further) strengthening ties with Castro's regime.

In other words, contrary to the argument of President Obama and his supporters, The White House's new Cuba policy has only emboldened and coalesced these anti-American regimes.

Also this week, Russia's Vladimir Putin named Sergei Naryshkin as head of its notorious foreign intelligence service, known as the SVR.

Naryshkin is a long-time Putin confidant. They first met as pupils at the KGB's "training school" in the late 1970s.

He is also a long-time Cuba hand.  

Naryshkin travels to Havana frequently and has very close relationships with senior Castro regime officials, whom he recently referred to as "Russia's most trustworthy partners in Latin America."

He led the effort to forgive 90% of Castro's debt to Russia and has been a proponent of Cuba forming part of Russia's political-military alliance, Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).

(Learn more here.)

In The Washington Post last week, U.S. officials estimated that Russia's SVR, now led by Naryshkin, is believed to have 150 or more operatives in the United States.

Add to that Cuba's vast network of intelligence operatives in the United States, which has been exacerbated by Obama's new policy -- along with the Castro regime's unprecedented access to U.S. officials, Members of Congress, celebrities and business leaders -- and it's a bonanza for intelligence collection, influence and blackmail.

Picture below: Naryshkin (with a red cap) recently taking a tour of Old Havana, the Cuban military's newest tourism holding.

ALERT: Number of Female Cuban Political Prisoners Grows, Violence Intensifies

Sunday, September 25, 2016
The Castro regime is taking full advantage of the Obama Administration's policy distractions -- and the media's willful blindness -- to intensify repression against female democracy activists and add new political prisoners to its roster.

Please take note of the following cases of grave concern:

-- Yaquelin Heredia Morales (pictured below), of The Ladies in White and Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU), remains held at a prison for patients with HIV/AIDS (Yaquelin does not have AIDS) since April 15th, 2016, for staging a peaceful pro-democracy protest in Havana's Fraternidad Park. On September 12th, Yaquelin was brutally beaten by the military head of the prison, Jorge Luis Castillo.

-- Marietta Martinez Aguilera, of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU), was transferred from the Prisión de Mujeres de Occidente (Guatao) to the Women’s Prison in Holguin province. Meanwhile, Xiomara de las Mercedes Cruz Miranda, of The Ladies in White, who was also confined at the Guatao Prison, was transferred to Bellote Prison in the city of Matanzas. Marietta and Mercedes were both participants alongside Yaquelin in the April 15th protest. They remain arbitrarily imprisoned without trial.

-- Aimara Nieto Muñoz, of The Ladies in White, was arrested on April 11th, 2016, and accused of "disorderly conduct" for publicly distributing pro-democracy leaflets. She remains imprisoned without trial at at the Prisión de Mujeres de Occidente (Guatao).

Cuban Regime Harasses, Arrests and Dissappears Independent Labor Leaders

From Diario de Cuba:

Cuban regime blocked a meeting of trade unionists who sought to create a broad and independent coalition

The spokesman for the Independent Trade Union Coalition, Iván Hernández Carrillo (pictured below), reported that State Security deployed forces on Tuesday to thwart a meeting of several trade unionists seeking to unify the Island's three historic trade unions.

"We had a meeting organized to finalize the details," Hernández Carrillo told DIARIO DE CUBA.

The meeting, however, could not be held because several activists were arrested, others besieged in their homes and threatened, and one, at least, has apparently disappeared, said the union activist

Among those detained was Ariadna Mena Rubio, while another activist, Aimé Cabrera, "was threatened with arrest if she left her house."

The whereabouts of three activists summoned to the meeting are still unknown. "Their phones are switched off or without coverage, suggesting that they may have been arrested, but this has not been confirmed," explained Hernández Carrillo.

In the case of Ariadna Mena, said the activist, "her relatives do not know where they have taken her. She was intercepted after dropping her daughters off at school." Also detained for four hours was the unionist Alejandro Sánchez.

The venue where the meeting was to be held was surrounded by plainclothes police officers.

Hernández Carrillo, meanwhile, explained that he managed to elude the siege he faced in Matanzas.

The unionist regretted that State Security was able to foil a meeting whose purpose was to "unite the three organizations and make union work in Cuba stronger, more solid, and more united."

This unit, he added, "intends to join forces to achieve what we are looking for: real changes within the Cuban nation, which lead to the rule of law, and where all workers enjoy rights, including that to organize freely."

“The political police,” said Hernández, “insists that it will not allow this to happen. We are going to work to achieve our goal.”

Video: Interview With Leader of Cuba's Ladies in White

The World Movement for Democracy recently interviewed, Berta Soler, leader of The Ladies in White, about the struggles and triumphs of being an activist in Cuba.

The Ladies in White -- mothers, wives and relatives protesting on behalf of political prisoners -- are frequently targets of state-sponsored violence in Cuba. Cuban authorities often arrest, and physically assault the peaceful activists during their weekly Sunday marches.

Despite the government’s brutality, The Ladies in White have continued to march on, garnering support from the international community, and inspiring Cuba activists to fight for democracy.

Click below (or here) to watch the interview:

Cuban Regime Raids Independent Legal Center (Cubalex)

From 14ymedio (via Translating Cuba):

Cuban Police Seize Legal Center’s Work Equipment 

Friday’s police assault against the headquarters of Cubalex, Center of Legal Information, located in the Havana municipality of Arroyo Naranjo, resulted in the seizure of six computers, several hard drives, USB drives and cell phones. The officers informed the lawyer Laritza Diversent (pictured below, center)  that she could be accused of the crime of “illicit economic activity,” according to a report from the activist Kirenia Yalit to this newspaper.

The headquarters of the independent group was searched on Friday, by members of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) and members of State Security, who stormed the place breaking down the doors.

The thorough search of the building lasted until after eleven p.m. and “when it seemed that everything was going to end and they had concluded their interrogations” of the activists, they forced them to strip naked “and squat to verify that there was nothing hidden in their bodies,” said Yalit.

The independent lawyers denounce the fact that they never showed a warrant that met the requirements for a search.

“They took everything, they just left some chairs and tables,” says Yalit, which 14ymedio was able to confirm through sources near the site. The prosecutor who led the operation informed the attorneys that the case “is of interest to the Attorney General of the Republic” and that they would undertake all relevant investigations to determine whether to proceed with an indictment against them.

Dayan Pérez Noriega, who was taken to a police station when he tried to send Twitter messages about what was happening, was released at around ten at night. The attorney Julio Ferrer, a member of Cubalex, remains missing after having been intercepted by the police on Friday.

After the operation at the property was completed, the lawyers received no  immediate injunction, fines or written summons.

Attorney Laritza Diversent intends to denounce “the outrage committed,” as she has done on previous occasions when she demanded the return of her belongings seized by Cuban Customs at the airport.

The Legal Information Center, Cubalex, is an independent agency that has provided free legal advice since 2010. The lawyers’ group also focuses on human rights issues. In July of this year Cuba’s Ministry of Justice rejected the application filed by the group’s members for legal status for the organization.

How Kim (DPRK) and Castro (Cuba) Blackmail Abe (Japan)

Friday, September 23, 2016
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived in Cuba today and met with dictators Fidel and Raul Castro.

The purpose of Abe's trip was simple -- to seek help over North Korea's nuclear provocations and its clandestine operations in Japan.

Nearly on a monthly basis, some senior North Korean is on a "working visit" to Cuba. Or some senior Cuban regime official is on a "working visit" to North Korea.

With the exception of China, there's no other nation in the world that North Korean officials visit with such frequency.

Just a few months ago, General Kim Yong-chol, head of North Korea's intelligence, cyber-warfare and clandestine operations agency, was on one of those "working visits" to Cuba.

And, of course, we all recall Cuba's smuggling of 240 tons of heavy weaponry to North Korea in 2013 -- the largest, ever violation of U.N. Security Council sanctions.

Cuba's regime will now offer its "help" -- for a price. And Kim's regime in North Korea will get a cut.

Call it the Castro-Kim two-step -- or simply blackmail.

For starters, Abe will mostly forgive Castro's $1.75 billion debt to Japan. That will open new lines of credit for Castro's regime. Abe is also extending Castro a foreign aid package.

Here's how Japan's Asahi Shimbun (diplomatically) reported it, "in the first visit to Cuba by a Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe on Sept. 22 offered billions of yen in grant aid and debt forgiveness while seeking cooperation on dealing with North Korea."

It's mostly unknown that Japan became Cuba's single, biggest creditor pursuant to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Such "engagement" with Japanese banks did nothing to promote democracy, openness or help the Cuban people. Instead, Cuba defaulted in October 2002 on a $750 million refinancing agreement with Japan’s private sector after having signed a debt restructuring accord with Tokyo in 1998.

Most of Cuba's debt to Japan is now owned by that nation's government-backed trade insurer, NEXI. (Note to Congress and those lobbying to extend financing for Castro's regime.)

Both Cuba and North Korea are desperate for hard currency, so it presents a perfect opportunity to put the squeeze on Japan and, most importantly, its banks.

The cycle begins again. After all, rogue behavior (sadly) pays off in today's world.

Image below: North Korean military officials during a "shopping spree" in Cuba.

As Predicted, Venezuela's Maduro Officially Becomes a Dictator

Thursday, September 22, 2016
Another tragic consequence of Obama's new Cuba policy was the green-light sent to Castro's allies in the region that there would be no consequences for subverting democracy.

To the contrary, they would be rewarded with normal diplomatic relations, unilateral concessions, fêted at Summits, and benefit from a business marketing campaign directed from The White House.

This week, Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro subverted the recall referendum process outlined in the Constitution and, thus, guaranteed that his Cuban-controlled regime will remain in power through at least 2018.

Just weeks after Obama announced his new Cuba policy, we predicted this would happen.

As published by The Huffington Post on January 11, 2015:

Obama Gives Cuba a Hemispheric Coup

by Mauricio Claver-Carone

The recent political witch-hunt against famed Venezuelan opposition legislator Maria Corina Machado reinforces growing concerns that democratic institutions are under concerted attack in the Western Hemisphere.

“Justice is on its knees in Venezuela with sentences being dictated from Miraflores or Havana,” Machado says, summing up the political alliance between Cuba and Venezuela’s governments that drive her country’s politics. She stands accused of conspiring to kill Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro. Another opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez, has already been imprisoned.

Through its cohorts and directly, Cuba has been pounding democratic institutions not only in Venezuela, but also Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua. Democracy’s advocates in the region are too shortsighted, beleaguered or intimidated to fight back aggressively. In fact, they invited Cuba to participate in the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Panama, despite the fact that Cuba’s Castro dictatorship openly scorns the “democracy clause” that reserves Summit membership and participation to the region’s democratic governments. Thirty-four of the 35 nations comprising the Western Hemisphere adopted that clause during the Quebec Summit. Cuba was then and still is the Hemisphere’s last remaining totalitarian state; it also has a long history of “exporting revolution” into democratic states.

The Obama Administration initially stated its opposition to Cuba being invited to the Summit. However, in a turn-around announcement on December 17, it chose to “lead from behind” and acquiesce to the whims of those hemispheric leaders all-too-eager and willing to suspend the “democracy clause.” Not only has President Obama now accepted Cuba’s participation, but he will also be there to personally welcome dictator Raul Castro.

However, those who lobbied Obama to attend the Summit regardless of the violation of the “democracy clause” weren’t to be satisfied with his attendance alone. They also wanted the President to arrive with a gift bag for Cuba that includes a further lifting of U.S. sanctions. That, they argued, will ensure a warm reception for Obama from “troubled” Latin American leaders. And naturally, Castro would be thrilled.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because the exact same arguments were made in the months and weeks leading up to the 2009 Summit of the Americas in Trinidad. Just days before that summit, the Obama Administration did ease sanctions against Cuba. Despite this “gesture,” Obama was not received in Trinidad as a hero. He was treated as a pushover. Then Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez even engineered a photo-op with the President that featured copies of anti-American book, Open Veins of Latin America. Latin America’s “extreme Left” considers the book to be its bible. (The author, Eduardo Galeano, has recently disavowed his creation.) A few months after that summit, the Cuban government of Raul Castro seized an American hostage, Alan Gross, in a successful effort to coerce the United States into releasing a group of imprisoned Cuban spies.

For months, advocates for lifting sanctions used the Panama Summit as a prop in their campaign against what they call the United States’ “failed policy.” They would happily sacrifice our national interest in regional democracy to advance their narrow agenda. Not only is this dangerous and irresponsible, it also begs the serious question: What do they consider to be a “successful” policy alternative?

Is it the “China model,” whereby U.S. business helps to build the most lucrative dictatorship in human history?

A “Vietnam model” of state capitalism under an iron-fisted rule?

A “Burma model,” whereby reforms achieved through pressure are rolled back as soon as sanctions are lifted?

Raul Castro, Nicolas Maduro and their puppets revel in such models. But none should have a place — geographically or politically — in the Western Hemisphere. In this hemisphere, every nation (except Cuba) made a commitment to representative democracy in 2001. It was a historic commitment that, backed by the United States, has blocked the authoritarian ambitions of wannabe dictators in Latin America and generated continued support for democracy and civil society. It was a commitment that Obama’s December 17 announcement has now placed on the chopping block.


Rubio Demands Answers From White House About TSA Lies, Security of Cuba Flights

Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Of course, the irony is that while Iran's Hassan Rouhani is in Havana plotting with the Castro regime how to undermine U.S. interests, the Obama Administration is lying to the American people and making it easier for them.
 
Kudos to Senator Rubio for his leadership.
 
Rubio Demands Answers From White House About TSA Lies, Security of Cuba Flights
 
Washington, D.C. – In a letter to President Obama, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) is demanding The White House answer questions about the complete absence of federal air marshals on commercial flights between the U.S. and Cuba, and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials’ false statements to Congress and the public about an agreement with the Cuban government that does not exist.
 
The full text of Rubio’s letter is below:
 
September 19, 2016
 
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania, Ave NW
Washington, D.C.
 
Dear President Obama,
 
You and your administration’s lack of concern for the American people’s safety – as evidenced by allowing commercial, non-charter flights between the U.S. and Cuba to commence without the presence of federal air marshals, and lying about it to Congress – is further proof that you are putting your legacy ahead of the safety and security of the American people, including the people of Florida.
 
During a House Homeland Security Committee hearing last week, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Deputy Administrator, Dr. Huban Gowadia, confirmed that there are currently no federal air marshals on commercial flights between the U.S. and Cuba. This admission contradicts earlier claims by your administration that the federal air marshal agreement was finalized and they would be on commercial flights. Simply put, your administration has been caught in a bold-faced lie that has put American lives at risk.
 
It was incumbent upon your administration to finalize a federal air marshal agreement before U.S.-Cuba commercial flights first departed on August 31st. However, TSA officials have now publicly admitted the Castro government has not yet signed the document you submitted. In my view, Cuba remains a state sponsor of terrorism that is allied with some of the most despicable regimes in the world, including Iran to North Korea, and it is astonishing that the administration has allowed hundreds of U.S. passengers to board flights to and from Cuba under the false pretense that there would be federal air marshals on board. You have created an opportunity for our worst fears to become reality, just as they did on September 11, 2001.
 
In addition to this troubling news, you have refused to share with Congress key documents detailing the Cuban government’s vetting of airport workers and security procedures. Given your administration’s pattern of secrecy, misinformation and dishonesty on this matter, I believe the information in these apparently secret documents will likely further validate my concerns. I respectfully request that you provide the answers to the following questions:
 
- Why did the TSA lie to the American people and announce a federal air marshal agreement had been reached with the Cuban regime?
 
- When do you expect the Cuban regime to approve the agreement?

- Are there any flights between the U.S. and another country operated by a U.S. air carrier in which federal air marshals are not allowed on the flights? If so, which countries?
 
- In the meantime, what is the TSA doing to mitigate security risks associated with the lack of federal air marshals on these flights from Cuba to the United States?
 
- Did any White House official or officials instruct the TSA to proceed with allowing commercial flights between the U.S. and Cuba before appropriate security procedures were in place? If so, please provide their name or names.
 
- Please also provide copies of the draft federal air marshal agreement with the Cuban regime, and the document detailing the Cuban government’s vetting of airport workers and airport security procedures.
 
Thank you for your attention to this critical matter, and I look forward to a timely response.
 
Respectfully,
 
Marco Rubio
United States Senator

In Havana, Iran's Rouhani Urges Enhanced Ties With Cuba's Regime

From Iranian state media:

President Rouhani urges enhanced Iran-Cuba trade ties

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has stressed the need for the promotion of all-out relations between the Islamic Republic and Cuba, particularly trade ties, following a landmark nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers.

“The goal of some powerful countries to resort to pressure and sanctions against independent states is to maintain their monopoly over cutting-edge and important technologies,” President Rouhani said in a meeting with his Cuban counterpart Raúl Castro in Havana on Monday.

“We are delighted that, with the resistance of the Iranian nation, the way was paved for developing countries” to gain access to new technologies, the president said.

He underlined the need for cooperation among independent states in the field of science and technology, noting that Tehran and Havana must uplift the level of their technological cooperation, namely in the areas of nano- and biotechnology.

He called on the Iran-Cuba economic commission to follow up on the previously-singed bilateral agreements to deepen mutual economic relations.

“Cuba has always been a close friend of Iran in international organizations, and this friendship and unity between the two countries, which serve the interests of both nations, should continue on international and regional matters,” Rouhani said. Rouhani further said that Iran and Cuba share common viewpoints concerning regional and international issues.

Castro, for his part, said he was glad that President Rouhani was visiting Cuba, stating that the Latin American country “will proudly be a steady partner of Iran” and that “nobody can stop the advancement of Cuba-Iran relations. He further underlined the need for the promotion of Cuba-Iran relations in all areas.

Trump Vows to Revert Obama's Cuba Concessions

Monday, September 19, 2016
Below is a transcript of Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump's, remarks last Friday in Miami, Florida:

"On policy after policy, we are going to provide opportunity, prosperity and security for all Americans.

We are also going to stand with the Cuban people in their fight against communist oppression.

The President’s one-sided deal for Cuba benefits only the Castro regime. But all of the concessions that Barack Obama has granted the Castro regime were done through executive order, which means the next President can reverse them – and that is what I will do, unless the Castro regime meets our demands. Those demands will include religious and political freedom for the Cuban people.

Let’s also talk about Venezuela.

Venezuela is a beautiful, vibrant, and resource-rich country, filled with amazing and hardworking people. But Venezuela has been run into the ground by socialists.

The next President of the United States must stand in solidarity with all people oppressed in our hemisphere, and I will stand with the oppressed people of Venezuela yearning to be free."

Iran's Rouhani Begins Visit to Cuba

From Cuban state media:

Iranian President Begins Visit to Cuba

Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, begins an official visit to Cuba today after participating at the 17th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in Venezuela this weekend.

According to a note from the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the head of State of the Islamic country will meet in Havana with President, Raul Castro, among other activities.

During the NAM Summit, Rouhani handed over the rotating presidency of that group to Venezuelan President, Nicolas Maduro, and expressed confidence in the South American nation and its authorities to assume such responsibility for the coming three years.

During that meeting, he also condemned the expressions of terrorism and interference in the internal affairs that threaten peace and endanger several NAM members.

Tweet of the Day: No Applause for Obama's Cuba and Iran Deals

Cuba Vows to Work Against U.S. Interests, While Further Squeezing Obama

Cuban dictator Raul Castro seems to really (not) be warming up to Obama's overtures and concessions.

After all, it's a unilateral free-for-all for his regime.

At the Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Venezuela this weekend, Raul's message was clear -- Cuba will continue working against U.S. interests internationally, while it continues to squeeze every concession (and pressure for more) from Obama.

Castro on international affairs:

"[W]e are witnessing increasing attacks on Venezuela’s sovereignty and self-determination. Cuba reaffirms its unconditional support to the Venezuelan Government and people, to the civic-military union and to constitutional President Nicolás Maduro Moros.

We strongly repudiate the judicial-parliamentary coup d’état engineered against President Dilma Rouseff, for it is an act of contempt against the sovereign will of the people who elected her with more than 53 million votes.

We express our confidence in the people of the Arab Republic of Syria for we know that they are capable of resolving their differences by themselves without foreign interference aimed at promoting ‘regime change’."

Castro on U.S.-Cuba relations:

"Twenty-one months have passed since our simultaneous announcement with President Barack Obama of the decision to reestablish diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States.

There have been some progress, mostly in the diplomatic area and cooperation on issues of common interest, but the same cannot be said of the economic and commercial sectors due to the limited, albeit positive, scope of the measures so far adopted by the U.S. Administration.

Cuba will persevere on its demand to have the economic, commercial and financial blockade lifted, a blockade that brings so much damage and hardship to our people, and which also has a negative impact on many other countries due to its extraterritorial implementation. By the same token, Cuba will continue urging the return to our sovereignty of the territory illegally occupied by the United States Naval Base in Guantanamo.

There will not be normal relations before that issue is resolved and other policies harmful to Cuba’s sovereignty still in force are terminated, such as interventionist and subversive programs.

We reaffirm our disposition to engage the United States Government in a civilized relationship, but Cuba will neither renounce any of its principles nor compromise on its sovereignty and independence. Cuba will not cease defending its revolutionary and anti-imperialist ideals or supporting the self-determination of all peoples."

WaPo Editorial: Cubans Don’t Benefit From American Business — Castro Does

Saturday, September 17, 2016
From The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

Cubans don’t benefit from American business — Castro does

AS YOU ponder the impact on political and economic freedom in Cuba of the Obama administration’s diplomatic opening to that Communist-ruled country, keep this figure in mind: $50. That’s how much every American visitor has to pay the Castro regime for a tourist visa each time he or she travels to the island, as the administration is aggressively encouraging people to do. Last year, 160,000 people visited Cuba from the United States, which translates into $8 million, not chump change for the financially troubled regime. Those numbers are on course to double in 2016.

We make this point to place the latest celebratory headlines about the renewal of scheduled air travel from the United States to Cuba in a broader perspective. If you think the president’s policy will “empower” the fledgling Cuban private sector, as opposed to the overbearing state, think again. Easy money from expensive visas is a relatively minor example of the regime’s so-far successful efforts to reap direct benefit from the new relationship with the United States. Even more important is the fact that the Cuban armed forces own the country’s dominant tourism companies, and those firms are expanding their role in anticipation of an American influx.

As the Associated Press recently reported, the Cuban military has taken over a previously autonomous office that controlled Old Havana, a major tourist attraction, as well as a bank responsible for most of Cuba’s international financial transactions. Gaviota, a military-owned tourism company, is in the midst of what the AP calls “a hotel building spree,” which Cuba needs because its existing hotels lack sufficient capacity, by far, to accommodate hundreds of thousands of additional visitors from the United States. To date, Cuban private operators had been filling the gap by renting rooms in their homes. The military’s activities show that the regime has no intention of sharing the market with these cuentapropistas, as Cuban small businesses are known in Spanish. The Obama administration claims that support for these entrepreneurs is a major aim of its policy; it sees them as a potential source of middle-class pressure in favor of democracy. Meanwhile, it authorizes Starwood Hotels, a giant U.S. firm, to join forces with the Cuban state in operating government-run hotels.

Stripped of the high-minded rhetoric, the fundamental tendency of the new dispensation in U.S.-Cuban relations is toward collaboration between U.S. corporations and military gatekeepers on the island, in which profits take priority over the basic human rights of the Cuban people. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s very much like the arrangement that once existed between Washington and the kleptocratic Batista regime Fidel Castro overthrew in 1959.

Rubio Calls for Suspension of Cuba Flights Pursuant to Obama's Lie About Federal Air Marshals

Friday, September 16, 2016
On Senate Floor, Rubio Calls for Suspension of Cuba Flights after Obama Administration Lie about Federal Air Marshals is Exposed

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) took to the Senate floor today to blast the Obama Administration after the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) admission that, contrary to earlier claims, U.S. federal air marshals are not present on commercial flights to and from Cuba because the Obama Administration and Castro regime have actually not finalized an agreement the U.S. announced last month.

In his remarks, Rubio highlighted the potential for terrorists to hijack these flights to attack the United States, and he called for a suspension of these flights at least until adequate security measures are in place.

Last week, Rubio introduced the Cuban Airport Security Act, a bipartisan bill that would strengthen American security at airports in Cuba and on commercial flights between the two countries, and pause all commercial flights until a proper security assessment has been completed

Below is a full transcript of Rubio’s remarks:

"Back in May, the Assistant Secretary for Policy, at the Department of Homeland Security told the House Homeland Security Committee that new scheduled air service from the United States to Cuba and vice versa was not going to start until air marshals were allowed to be on board those flights. In August, the TSA provided the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council as well as reporters a statement, and they said that the United States and Cuba had entered into an aviation security agreement that sets forth the legal framework for the deployment of air marshals on board certain flights to and from Cuba.

Well, today at a hearing in the house, a top TSA official divulged for the first time that Cuba has yet to agree to allow air marshals aboard scheduled airline flights between the two countries, meaning there have been no air marshals on board thus far despite the fact that the administration said there would be.

So basically what we have here is an outright lie.

Last month, to great fanfare the administration announced that the agreement had been reached that there was going to be air marshals on the flights to and from Cuba, on the commercial flights. And today, they confirmed that they weren't telling the truth. There was no agreement finalized. On most if not all of these flights there are no air marshals, and this is endangering U.S. passengers. 

This is a startling admission from the administration; it's a startling admission by the TSA, and to the American people that they lied. They told us these flights would not begin until they had reached an agreement with the Cuban government to have air marshals and other security measures in place. And today only because they were asked -- only because they were asked -- did they admit that this is not happening.

It’s incumbent upon the TSA to lock down a federal air marshal agreement before these flights started taking off to begin with. That’s what they told us they were going to do. That’s what they said or implied was happening. And unless that question had been specifically asked today at that hearing, we would not have known about this.

And my friends, this is the latest example of an administration that is so intent on burnishing its legacy, on getting credit for this opening that they're willing to throw everything else out the window. They already are ignoring the human rights violations. We had one of the leading dissidents in Cuba on the verge of death because of a hunger strike and this administration hasn’t said a word about it. They don’t do anything about it. They don’t highlight that case.

Instead they're celebrating and popping corks of champagne on these new flights that they told us we’re going to be safe because they were going to have air marshals and today because they were specifically asked we find out it's not true. This is outrageous.

The TSA, under the Obama administration, has lied to us about the status of the security.

Last week I filed a bill that would stop all flights to Cuba, commercial flights, until this agreement was in place, until adequate security is in place. And now we know for a fact that adequate security is not in place. These flights should be suspended until such time as this agreement is signed. And I want you to think about what this means if it doesn’t happen. What it means is that these are now flights that are vulnerable. There’s a reason why we have air marshals on flights, because of the experience of 9/11 that we just commemorated the anniversary of on Sunday.

And you now have flights 90 miles from our shores that could theoretically be commandeered and you could have a repeat of that, particularly South Florida which is just minutes away from the airport in Havana. This is just unacceptable.

Forget how you feel about Cuba policy for a moment. They have lied to the American people and congress and they were only caught today because they were specifically asked about the status of this. This puts us in incredible danger. And by the way it is important for everyone to remember years ago there were no metal detectors even at airports. You know why they started putting metal detectors at airports 35, 30 years ago? Because of hijackings to Cuba. There's a reason.

And so now here you have this situation where theoretically some terrorist can travel from any country in the world into Cuba and then try to come into the United States, commandeer an aircraft and I don't need to tell you what can happen next. This is an incredibly dangerous situation.

I think we need to unite across the aisle and basically say no matter how you feel about Cuba policy, we all agree that travel to Cuba should be safe, no less safe than travel to the Bahamas, no less safe than travel to the Dominican Republic, no less safe than travel to Mexico. Why does the Cuban government and why are we allowing them to conduct flights without the same conditions that we have on allies of the United States? Cuba is not an ally of the United States. The Cuban government hosts intelligence facilities for both the Chinese and Russians. The Cuban government harbors fugitives of the American justice. The Cuban government helped North Korea evade U.N. sanctions on missile technology and weapons. And yet we have allies in this hemisphere who have to comply with all of this, but not Cuba? This is absurd.

The TSA has lied. It leaves this nation vulnerable and those commercial flights need to be immediately suspended until such time as these security measures are put in place. And I hope that – this is something that just broke hours ago – and I hope that we can come together here and actually deal with it irrespective of how you may feel about the issue of Cuba."

Click below (or here) to watch a video of Rubio's floor remarks:

Obama Administration Lied About Federal Air Marshals on Cuba Flights

Click here and here to understand why these commercial flights to Cuba pose a security risk and why the Obama Administration's lie about the presence of federal air marshals adds gravity to these concerns.

From USA Today:

TSA admits scheduled Cuba flights lack air marshals

The Transportation Security Administration acknowledged Wednesday that officials misspoke when they said scheduled flights to Cuba, which resumed for the first time in 50 years, would have air marshals aboard who travel armed and undercover to thwart terrorists.

JetBlue made the first scheduled flight to Cuba since 1961 on Aug. 31, as part of President Obama's initiative to restore relations with the Communist country 90 miles from Florida. American Airlines has also begun scheduled flights that could total 110 per day to 10 cities on the island.

But while charter flights have visited the island for decades, lawmakers have repeatedly raised security concerns about the regularly scheduled flights.

TSA officials said scheduled flights wouldn’t begin unless air marshals could be on board. Seth Stodder, assistant secretary of Homeland Security for border and trade policy, told the Homeland Security subcommittee on transportation in May that TSA was negotiating an air-marshal agreement, but that flights wouldn't begin without an agreement.

“The initial arrangement will apply only to public charter flights,” Stodder said. “Once scheduled flights begin later this year, a new (air marshal) arrangement will be necessary to cover those flights.”

TSA released a statement Aug. 9 stating that the U.S. and Cuba entered an agreement for air marshals “on board certain flights to and from Cuba.”

But Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., who heads the subcommittee, said Wednesday that the agreement covered only charter flights and not the new scheduled flights.

“You misled the American public when you issued that press release saying it was going to be on select commercial flights,” Katko told Department of Homeland Security officials.

“Not having air marshals on flights is not a good idea," Katko said, arguing for "more collaboration instead of obfuscation" from TSA.

Huban Gowadia, deputy administrator at TSA, told Katko that talks are continuing to place air marshals on Cuba flights, but haven’t been finalized yet. A draft agreement approved by the State Department has been sent to Cuba.

“We will continue to work to get that memorandum in place,” Gowadia said. “We will continue to attempt get as many (air marshals) on as many flights from as many last points of departure as possible.”

Gowadia said Stodder was wrong.

“He did misspeak,” she said.

New Cuba Flights Lead American Airlines to Discriminate Against Cuban-Americans

By Fabiola Santiago in The Miami Herald:

Cuba won’t allow Cuban-Americans flight crews to stay overnight, so an airline grounded them

When American Airlines launched the first of an unprecedented 12 daily commercial flights from Miami to six cities in Cuba, the company rolled out the Cuban-American brass to mark the milestone at Miami International Airport.

At a pre-flight ceremony, the executives evoked their emotional connection to the business at hand — winning the bid to fly the largest number of commercial flights to Cuba.

“Today is historic not only for American Airlines, but also for Miami, the heart and soul of the Cuban-American community in the United States,” said Ralph Lopez, American vice president of Miami hub operations, before the Sept. 7 departure to the city of Cienfuegos on the southern coast of the island.

Fernand Fernandez, American’s vice president of global marketing, spoke of the “pride and excitement” he felt.

“This flight is not only important to our airline, to our 12,000 employees here in Miami — many of them Cuban-American — but also… this is of huge importance for Miami-Dade County, home to so many Cuban Americans like my parents."

Behind the scenes, however, another story was playing out.

When doing business with Cuba, all those American Airlines employees of Cuban origin Fernandez heralded in his speech don’t have the same rights as their U.S.-born counterparts, or their Latin-American counterparts, or their counterparts born anywhere else in the world for that matter.

The first “historic” flight to Varadero brought home the point.

A Cuban-born crew member arrived without a Cuban passport — required for anyone born there who left the country after 1970, even as babies — and a brouhaha ensued with Cuban authorities on the ground. The crew member was not allowed entry, much less the required overnight rest stop after a crew member flies 12 hours.

Questions were posed by AA to authorities: What happens in the future if there’s a flight with a mechanical delay and the crew that includes a Cuban American is grounded overnight? What will happen, routinely, with the two Varadero flights that require the overnight stay of the crew?

The answer: Only in the most “extenuating circumstances” would Cuba allow an exception to its separate set of archaic travel requirements for Cuban Americans. No overnights for Cuban-American crew members. Period.

Now the Dallas-based airline, which makes its schedules far from Cuban politics in Texas, had to identify Cuban-American employees and take them off Cuba flights that required an overnight stay.

“Please remember that those who are Cuban born should be removed with pay from Cuba flights until we can verify what requirements the Cuban government has for these crewmembers,” says an AA memo to managers that a source shared with me.

And I have to ask: Can you imagine in your company a staffing memo that says, “Please remember that those who are Israeli born should be removed?”

Or, please remember that those who are (fill in the blank any other place of origin) should be removed?

The Cuban government’s long arm is cherry-picking the assignments of employees of an American company. How is that for a historic development?

Sounds as outrageous as when Miami-based Carnival Corp. denied bookings to Cuban Americans on its cruises to the island because of an archaic Cuban maritime law that said Cuban Americans could not arrive by sea.

Now with commercial flights, an American company once again finds itself in the position of having to discriminate against a class of people — their employees of Cuban origin.

“No crew member born in Cuba is allowed to enter Cuba unless they meet immigration requirements,” American spokeswoman Alexis Aran Coello confirmed. “That’s a Cuban government demand. That’s not something we’re saying. We are abiding by the laws of the Cuban government.”

Cuba’s discriminatory rules also apply, of course, to the flight crews of JetBlue and Spirit, which also recently began commercial flights, and to the others that will soon follow them.

This is the price of doing business with the still-repressive and antiquated Cuban government: Giving up American ethics for a piece of the action.

Complying with the Cuban government’s discriminatory policies against Cuban Americans — spelled out in the U.S. Embassy’s website as a warning to travelers — is a choice. Airlines need to negotiate harder. Enough of an uproar from the traveling public convinced Cuba to change its maritime rule and allow Cuban Americans to travel there on cruise ships.

On the American side, strides have been made in the last 18 months since President Barack Obama announced an end to hostilities between the two countries. But the Cuban government remains stuck in anti-exile, anti-American bellicose mode despite documented evidence that a growing number of Cuban Americans strongly support President Obama’s engagement policy and the reestablishment of relations. For the first time since 1991 Florida International University began surveying Cuban Americans, a new poll shows that a majority — 54 percent — said support the lifting of the Cuban embargo.

Cuba, however, has a long way to go to show it is seriously interested in being a travel destination for all Americans.

Perhaps customer response, if not companies, might help move the needle: Saturday’s flight on American to Cienfuegos had 53 out of 120 seats empty as of this writing. It may be the slow season, but were it not for Cuba’s restrictive policies, there might not be a single seat left.

As Americans know well, discrimination is bad for business.

Testimony House Agriculture Committee: 'American Agricultural Trade With Cuba'

Wednesday, September 14, 2016
The following is today's testimony by Mauricio Claver-Carone during a hearing of the House Agriculture Committee on 'American Agricultural Trade With Cuba':

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member and Members of the Committee.

It's truly a privilege to join you here today to discuss important and consequential issues surrounding U.S. agricultural trade with Cuba. I commend you for including a dissenting voice on this panel.

My name is Mauricio Claver-Carone and I'm the Executive Director of Cuba Democracy Advocates, a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to the promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Cuba.

My testimony will be divided into two parts. First, I would like to present key facts regarding agricultural trade with Cuba and highlight the counter-productive trends we are seeing since President Obama announced a new policy of unconditional engagement with the Castro regime on December 17th, 2014. Second, I would like to focus on the issue of financing agricultural sales to Cuba, which I understand is a priority for my fellow panelists, with the good faith and disposition to find common ground.

The Reality of Trade With Cuba

As you are surely aware, pursuant to the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (‘TSREEA’), the sale of agricultural commodities, medicine and medical devices to the Castro regime in Cuba was authorized by Congress, with one important caveat – these sales must be for “cash-in-advance.” Prior to that, the export of food, medicine and medical devices to the Cuban people had already been authorized under the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 (‘CDA’).

This is an important distinction that needs to be made, for in order to have a productive discussion about agricultural trade with Cuba, one should understand how the island’s totalitarian regime conducts business.

In most of the world, trade means dealing with privately-owned or operated corporations. That's not the case in Cuba. In Cuba, foreign trade and investment is the exclusive domain of the state, namely the Castro regime. There are no "exceptions."

Here's a noteworthy fact: In the last five decades, every single "foreign trade" transaction with Cuba has been with a state entity, or individual acting on behalf of the state. The state's exclusivity regarding trade and investment remains enshrined in Article 18 of Castro's 1976 Constitution.

Since the passage of TSREEA in 2000, over $5 billion in U.S. agricultural products have been sold to Cuba. It is an unpleasant fact, however, that all of those sales by more than 250 privately-owned U.S. companies were made to only one Cuban buyer – the Castro regime.

As the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (‘USDA’) own report on Cuba notes, “The key difference in exporting to Cuba, compared to other countries in the region, is that all U.S. agricultural exports must be channeled through one Cuban government agency, ALIMPORT."

ALIMPORT is an acronym for Empresa Cubana Importadora de Alimentos, S.A. It is a subsidiary of Cuba's Ministry of Foreign Trade and serves as the sole procurement agency for U.S. agricultural products. Throughout the years, the Castro regime has ensured the Ministry of Foreign Trade is run by senior officials from Cuba's intelligence services (known as Directorio General de Inteligencia, or ‘DGI’). The current Minister of Foreign Trade is a DGI official, Rodrigo Malmierca Diaz, who is the son of Isidoro Malmierca Peoli, a historic Castro family confidant and founder of Cuba's counter-intelligence and state-security services.

Hence another unpleasant fact: All business decisions in Cuba are based on the political and control-based calculations of the Castro regime -- not on market forces. If the Cuban people enjoyed property rights to establish their businesses and were allowed to freely partake in foreign trade and investment – my testimony today would be very different.

ALIMPORT primarily supplies government institutions, and the Cuban military's hard currency retail stores (known as Tiendas de Recuperacion de Divisas, ‘TRDs’), hotels and other facilities that cater to tourists and other foreigners.

So let’s immediately debunk a myth: Financing agricultural transactions with Cuba is not about assisting small and midsize farmers on the island, but about financing a monopoly of the Castro regime.

Again, as the USDA itself recognizes: “U.S. food products will be sold and delivered to Alimport, which will take control of the imports at the Cuban point of entry, manage distribution throughout Cuba and coordinate payments. Consequently, U.S. agricultural firms planning on doing business with Cuba need to learn to negotiate and transact business with the Cuban government through Alimport.”

As a result, we already know what any further lifting sanctions towards Cuba would look like. TSREEA sales from the U.S. and business ventures with other nations exhibit the model: A mercantilist system whereby commerce is simply a tool to benefit and strengthen its totalitarian regime.

President Obama’s Policy Changes Have Proven Counter-Productive

President Obama’s policy of unilaterally easing sanctions has proven to be counter-productive for agricultural sales to Cuba. But before focusing on those figures, it’s important to note how President Obama’s new policy has broadly proven to yield counter-productive results.

For example, since December 17th, 2014:

· Political arrests have intensified. Throughout 2015, there were more than 8,616 documented political arrests in Cuba. Thus far, there have already been over 7,935 political arrests during the first eight months of 2016. This represents the highest rate of political arrests in decades and nearly quadruples the tally of political arrests throughout all of 2010 (2,074), early in Obama’s presidency.

· A new Cuban migration crisis has unfolded. The United States is faced with the largest migration of Cuban nationals since the rafters of 1994. The number of Cubans fleeing to the United States in 2015 was nearly twice that of 2014. Some 51,000 Cubans last year entered the United States and this year’s figures will easily surpass that. The numbers of Cuban nationals fleeing the island have now quintupled since President Obama took office, when it was less than 7,000 annually.

· Castro’s military monopolies are displacing "self-employed" workers. There are fewer licensed "self-employed" workers in Cuba today than in 2014. In contrast, Castro's military monopolies are expanding at record pace. The Cuban military-owned tourism company, Gaviota S.A., announced 12% growth in 2015 and expects to double its hotel business this year. Even the limited spaces in which “self-employed” workers previously operated are being squeezed as the Cuban military expands its control of the island's travel, retail and financial sectors of the economy.

· Internet "connectivity ranking" has dropped. The International Telecommunication Union's (ITU) Measuring the Information Society Report for 2015, the world's most reliable source of data and analysis on global access to information and communication. ITU has dropped Cuba's ranking to 129 from 119. The island fares much worse than some of the world's most infamous suppressors of the Internet suppressors, including Zimbabwe (127), Syria (117), Iran (91), China (82) and Venezuela (72).

· Religious freedom violations have increased tenfold. According to the London-based NGO, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (‘CSW’), last year 2,000 churches were declared illegal and 100 were designated for demolition by the Castro regime. Altogether, CSW documented 2,300 separate violations of religious freedom in 2015 compared to 220 in 2014. In the first half of 2016, there have already been 1,606 separate violations of religious freedom.

· Democracy’s regional foes have been emboldened. President Obama’s unconditional recognition and engagement of the sole remaining dictatorship in the Western Hemisphere has sent a message to Castro’s allies in the region that there are no consequences for rogue and undemocratic behavior. Hence the recent militarization (with Cuba’s support) of Venezuela's regime and the parliamentary coup in Nicaragua.

Agricultural sales have not escaped this downward trend.

Over the years, in this same Committee room, I have heard testimony professing that an easing of sanctions; re-defining of “cash-in advance”; improving U.S.-Cuba relations; and an increase in travel to the island, would benefit U.S. farmers. And, as we all know, since December 17th, 2014, the Obama Administration has engaged the Castro regime and extended a litany of unilateral concessions.

As part of these concessions, the Obama Administration has redefined “cash-in-advance”; eased payment terms for agricultural sales; American travel to Cuba has increased by over 50%; Cuba’s GDP grew last year by over 4%; diplomatic relations were established; and endless U.S. business and trade delegations have visited Havana.

Yet, U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba plummeted by nearly 40% in 2015. During the first quarter of 2016, the slide continued, as ALIMPORT purchased only $63 million in U.S. agricultural products. That is an additional 21% percent drop from the same period in 2015. These are the lowest numbers since the United States authorized agricultural exports to the Castro regime in 2000.

Of course, those who understand how the Castro regime operates are not surprised -- for it has long used agricultural sales as a tool of political influence.

As a 2007 report of the U.S. International Trade Commission (‘ITC’) confirmed: "Alimport reportedly initiated a policy in 2003 that limited or ceased purchases from U.S. companies that did not actively lobby the U.S. government for changes to laws and regulations regarding trade with Cuba. Purchases are also allegedly geared to particular U.S. States or Congressional districts in an effort to heighten local interests in pressing the Administration to normalize trade with Cuba."

Today is no different. The Castro regime wants the U.S. Congress to lift tourism, financing and investment sanctions that would overwhelmingly benefit its military monopolies, so it is putting on the squeeze.

Financing Agricultural Sales to Cuba

We will surely hear testimony today about Cuba being one of the U.S.’s largest export markets pre-1959 and how we need to “recapture” it. Politics aside, I would caution that Cuba’s economy is nowhere near the same today as it was throughout its pre-1959 history, when it was free-market oriented, with a dynamic private sector, property rights, and among the largest middle class and highest per capita income in Latin America at the time. Today, Cuba is a totalitarian dictatorship, with a centralized control economy and the lowest per capita income in Latin America.

We will also surely hear testimony about Cuba purchasing rice from Brazil and Vietnam, instead of from the United States, as a result of the prohibition on U.S. financing for agricultural sales. But I would caution that Brazil and Vietnam’s rice sales to the Castro regime are heavily state-subsidized and made pursuant to political arrangements. They are not based on competitive terms and rates. I would further argue that the recent downfall of the socialist government in Brazil -- and its shady financing deals with the Castro regime that are currently under investigation by the Brazilian authorities -- may lead to a bigger increase in U.S. rice sales to Cuba than anything the U.S. Congress could do.

Finally, we will surely hear many theories and estimates about how much more money one commodity sector or another -- or one state or another -- can make from exports to the Cuba, if U.S. sanctions were further eased or lifted. However, as we’ve learned from the dramatic decline in agricultural sales figures over the last year -- despite the Obama Administration easing of sanctions and establishing diplomatic relations with the Castro regime -- that is hardly guaranteed.

Let me be absolutely clear. Those of us who support sanctions and oppose the financing of transactions with the Castro regime do not do so with the intent of harming American farmers. Conversely, I know that American farmers do not seek to sell their products with the intent of supporting or subsidizing the Castro regime.

American farmers are the best in the world and we all share their desire to establish and expand markets. As a matter of fact, I’m sure Cuban-Americans in Florida consume more rice than any amount ever sold to Cuba pre- or post-1959. However, the agricultural groups represented here today remain steadfast in their desire for the financing of agricultural sales to Cuba and there is even legislation before this Committee to that end.

But any such proposition must be weighed by serious factual considerations regarding the troubling structure of Cuba’s business entities (military-run monopolies), its beneficiaries (the Castro family and regime cronies), the rights of its victims (both Cubans and Americans), and whether such practices are in the U.S.’s security interests.

Thus, the question comes down to: How to authorize private financing for U.S. agricultural sales to Cuba without subsidizing its derelict regime and in a manner consistent with U.S. security interests and the rights of victims?

We are obviously not going to resolve this challenge today. But hopefully, this discussion can be helpful in understanding each other’s concerns and in highlighting important safeguards that could address broader policy implications.

These safeguards fall into three categories:

1. Protect American Taxpayers.

Cuba ranks among the world's worst credit-risks and debtor nations. Moody's Investors Service gives Cuba's sovereign debt a Caa2 rating, which translates into "very high credit risk."

Despite highly publicized (and politicized) debt forgiveness concessions from Russia and the Paris Club, Cuba still owes upward of $75 billion to a long international list of creditors. As recently as 2010, Reuters reported how Cuba “failed to make some debt payments on schedule beginning in 2008, and then froze up to $1 billion in the accounts of foreign suppliers by the start of 2009." That should make anyone unwise enough to leave money sitting in a Cuban bank account reconsider.

And just a few months ago, on July 8th, 2016, General Raul Castro stated, in his own words: "I should recognize that there have been some delays in current payments to creditors."

I am confident we all agree that American taxpayers must not be exposed to any direct bailout of the Castro regime. It is for this reason that TSREEA includes a prohibition (Sec. 7207(a)) on United States assistance, which reads:

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.”

But American taxpayers should also not be exposed to any indirect bailout of the Castro regime. Thus, TSREEA should further be supplemented by a prohibition in the Internal Revenue Code that would prevent any losses stemming from commercial transactions with Cuba’s regime -- pursuant to Obama’s policy changes -- from being deducted when calculating business taxes.

2. Protect American Victims of Stolen Property.

According to the Inter-American Law Review, the Castro regime’s confiscation of U.S. assets was the “largest uncompensated taking of American property by a foreign government in history.” Unfortunately, President Obama's policy of expanding business transactions with the Castro regime is already encouraging American companies to traffic and exploit properties stolen from other fellow Americans. Any expansion of such transactions by the U.S. Congress would further expose American victims.

There are nearly 6,000 unpaid, certified claims, worth nearly $7 billion arising from the Castro regime’s confiscation of American-owned business and properties. They include many of the ports and other infrastructure used for agricultural exports to Cuba.

American farmers understand the importance of property rights. Property is the very core of farming. As such, it is easy for farmers to appreciate the injustice of having your property stolen, and then coopted, exploited and marketed to someone else to the benefit of the thief. This injustice must be corrected and resolved for the victims. Part of that solution will involve restitution from those collaborators who have knowingly benefited from the theft. The injustices occurring today in Cuba regarding confiscated property must be resolved; U.S. law promises that it will, and it is not just the Castro regime that is on the hook.

It is for this reason that Section 103 of the 1996 Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act (‘Libertad Act’) contains a prohibition on the indirect financing of Cuba, which states:

“No loan, credit, or other financing may be extended knowingly by a United States national, a permanent resident alien, or a United States agency to any person for the purpose of financing transactions involving any confiscated property the claim to which is owned by a United States national.”

The American victims of stolen property in Cuba must not only remain protected from any financing involving their property, but they should be provided recourse.

Unfortunately, President Obama is denying any recourse -- through his waiver of Title III of the Libertad Act -- to Americans who are now seeing their property rights trampled upon by other fellow Americans. That used to be unimaginable. If the Obama Administration is unwilling to protect the rights of grieved Americans, then a private right of action should allow for the victims to do so directly through the rule of law.

As such, the U.S. Congress should pass legislation to end the President’s waiver authority over Title III of the Libertad Act and grant Americans the legal standing to pursue justice.

3. Prevent Support for Cuban Military Entities.

Today, the Cuban military owns and operates one of the largest conglomerates in Latin America, known as the Grupo de Administración Empresarial, S.A., or GAESA. Its portfolio includes companies that dominate ports, trade zones, tourist attractions, restaurants, hotels, real estate, retail stores, currency exchanges, gas stations, airlines, and other transportation services. Its head, Gen. Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas, is Raul's son-in-law.

Far from empowering Cuba’s small sector of "self-employed" residents, the Castro regime is taking full advantage of President Obama's new policy to accelerate the military's holdings of every entity poised to benefit from current U.S.-Cuba relations.

As an Associated Press report this weekend confirmed: “the [Cuban] military's long-standing business wing, GAESA, assumed a higher profile after Gen. Raul Castro became president in 2008, positioning the armed forces as perhaps the prime beneficiary of a post-detente boom in tourism. Gaviota, the military's tourism arm, is in the midst of a hotel building spree that outpaces projects under control of nominally civilian agencies like the Ministry of Tourism. The military-run Mariel port west of Havana has seen double-digit growth fueled largely by demand in the tourism sector. The armed forces this year took over the bank that does business with foreign companies, assuming control of most of Cuba's day-to-day international financial transactions, according to a bank official.”

Let there be no doubt, the Cuban military is already encroaching into the U.S. agricultural trade sphere, which is currently under the direction of the nominally-civilian Ministry of Foreign Trade. However, if Congress were to authorize any financing for agricultural sales to Cuba, I guarantee that GAESA would absorb ALIMPORT as swiftly -- with no legal process and lack of transparency -- as it recently did Habaguanex, S.A. and Banco Financiero Internacional. (Both were the focus of the AP story referenced in the prior paragraph).

With great foresight, just a few months after President Obama announced his new Cuba policy, the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes (Cal.), and the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry (Tex.), anticipated this trend and introduced the Cuban Military Transparency Act (H.R. 2937), which seeks to ensure that any increase in resources to Cuba -- pursuant the Obama Administration's recent policy changes -- truly reach the Cuban people and are not funneled through the Castro regime's armed forces.

After all, these are the same Cuban armed forces that recently held a stolen U.S. Hellfire missile for nearly two years; that have been caught twice internationally-smuggling heavy weaponry, including the worst sanctions violations ever to North Korea; that oversee the most egregious abuses of human rights in the Western Hemisphere; that are subverting democracy in Venezuela and exporting surveillance systems and technology to other countries in the region; that welcome Russian military intelligence ships to dock in their ports; that share intelligence with the world's most dangerous anti-American regimes; and of which three senior Cuban military officers remain indicted in the United States for the murder of four Americans.

As such, I would urge that this important piece of legislation, introduced by your national security counterparts, remain the priority of any Cuba policy consideration by the U.S. Congress.

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my testimony. Again, I thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I look forward to continuing this important discussion and working in furtherance of our common interests.