Duncan-Sires Press Obama on U.S. Hellfire Missile and Increase in Religious Freedom Abuses in Cuba

Saturday, January 16, 2016
Duncan and Sires Continue Oversight of Cuba’s Counterintelligence Actions and Abuses of Religious Freedom

Chairman Jeff Duncan (SC-03) and Ranking Member Albio Sires (NJ-08) of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere sent the following oversight letters to the Obama Administration regarding reports that Cuba has refused U.S. requests to retrieve a U.S. Hellfire missile that was sent to Havana in 2014 and that Cuba has increased its persecution of religious groups.

Chairman Duncan: “Two years ago, the Obama Administration knew that a serious security breach had occurred with the shipment of a U.S. Hellfire missile to Cuba. Yet, the Administration went ahead to utterly upend longstanding U.S.-Cuba policy and reward the Castro regime in numerous ways. What has the U.S. gotten out of these concessions to Cuba? Havana refuses to give back our missile and has likely shared the technology with Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria, and Venezuela. Cuba also continues to increase its abuses of human rights, launching an assault on religious freedom in particular, and the State Department has remained silent. Congress has an oversight responsibility to require accountability from the Administration on their policies, and I look forward to their response to these letters.”

Ranking Member Sires: “The fact that Cuba was able to keep a U.S. Hellfire missile throughout the secret negotiations to normalize relations is further proof that the Castro Regime is the only benefactor of this misguided policy. I implore the Administration to do more to fight for the rights of the Cuban people and avoid actions that strengthen the hand of the Castro dictatorship. Our top priorities in Cuba should be to fight for the well-being, human rights, and liberation of the Cuban people.”

Click here to read letter on the U.S. Hellfire missile sent to Cuba.

Click here to read letter on religious freedom abuses in Cuba.

Quote of the Week: Bacardi Vows to Fight Obama's Illegal Trademark Concession

[Bacardi will] take every means available to fight [the decision], including litigation. It’s appalling that this administration goes ahead and grants this license to the Cuban government for assets that were confiscated.
-- Rick Wilson, Bacardi's Executive Vice President of External Affairs, on the Obama Administration's illegal decision to grant a stolen trademark to the Castro regime, The Wall Street Journal,  1/15/16

Obama's Cuba Policy Met By Crackdown in Cuba

By Ellen Bork in The World Affairs Journal:

Obama's Cuba Policy Met By Crackdown in Cuba

The Obama administration is continuing to drop heavy hints that the president will go to Cuba, and that he believes his presence would make be a big, perhaps decisive factor, in getting the Castro regime to end its repression of the Cuban people. According to the New York Times, “Administration officials believe that, rather than waiting for the Castro government in Cuba to loosen its grip on power before making a presidential visit there, Mr. Obama can use his presence to help create momentum toward democracy that the Castros will be unable to stop.” The Times story echoes the interview the president gave on December 14th, in which he said that he hoped to visit Cuba in 2016. The purpose of his trip, the president said, would be “to shine a light on progress that’s been made, but also maybe [go] there to nudge the Cuban government in a new direction.”

It needs more than nudging. Since the president’s launch of a new approach to the Castro regime one year ago, the human rights situation has deteriorated. One hundred protesters were arrested on December 10th, International Human Rights Day. Overall, arrests are on pace to exceed the 2014 total, which was a record.

Then, on December 20th, Antonio G. Rodiles was arrested after a march. Rodiles had just returned from a visit to the US during which he met with members of Congress, the State Department, and the Washington Post. (Rodiles has also written for this publication.) Speaking to Mike Gonzalez of the Heritage Foundation by telephone from Havana after spending five hours in jail, Rodiles said he had been charged with “public disorder” and fined, steps he believes are preliminary to having his passport confiscated. “It had everything to do with the meetings I had in Washington,” he told Gonzalez. “Things are going to get worse.”

In his interview, Obama told Olivier Knox of Yahoo! News that he would make the trip to Havana only if he were able to meet democracy and human rights activists, or as he put it, “talk to everybody.” However, it’s hard not to be skeptical about the conditions the president would accept for such a visit. After inspiring initial rhetoric about freedom and democracy in speeches, these have hardly been a top priorities for his presidency. When Secretary of State John Kerry went to reopen the American Embassy in Havana, dissidents and activists were excluded from the ceremony, apparently because the Cuban government opposed it.

If the president wants to shine a light on what’s happening in Cuba and meet with critics of the Castro regime, he can do so without getting on a plane. One hundred and twenty-six former Cuban political prisoners wrote to him on December 16th to tell him that his Cuba policy “will prolong the life of the dictatorship.” They believe that the Obama policy is bolstering the Castro regime economically and politically. Added together, the time they spent in the Castros’ prisons exceeds 1,900 years.

Over the past year, the president has been more focused on changing American policies than Cuba’s. Thanks to him, the word “legacy” is taking on a new meaning in the political lexicon: elevating the image of success above substantive goals and US interests. That’s bad enough. Even worse, people struggling for freedom under repressive regimes will no longer wish for support from an American president.

Obama Hands Castro Monopoly a Trademark, Violates U.S. Law

Thursday, January 14, 2016
Earlier this week, we'd posted how the mask had quickly come off Obama's Cuba policy.

For the past year, Obama purported -- in rhetoric -- that his new Cuba policy was aimed at increasing "support for the Cuban people."

Now, it's just blatantly looking to change policies simply because "Castro doesn't like them."

Tonight, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office handed Cubaexport, a monopoly owned by the Castro dictatorship, a trademark for the Havana Club brand.

The Havana Club brand was stolen by the Castro regime from its original owners. Its legal owner today is the Bacardi Corporation.

In 1996, Cubaexport was denied the ability to register the Havana Club trademark. In subsequent litigation, the U.S. Government argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that Section 211 of the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 1998 provided the legal rationale for this prohibition.

Here's what Section 211 states:

"Bars certain transactions with respect to intellectual property in which the Cuban Government or a Cuban national has an interest with respect to a mark or trade or commercial name that is the same as or substantially similar to one that was used in connection with a business or assets that were confiscated unless the original owner or successor-in-interest has expressly consented."

Clearly Bacardi has not consented to the Castro regime's use of the stolen Havana Club brand. To the contrary, it has fought it in court -- and won.

So how does granting a Castro monopoly a trademark -- in violation of U.S. law -- "support the Cuban people"?

How does it help Cuba's "self-employed"?

Please, do tell, Mr. President..

It's another mentirita -- pun intended.

It's bad enough that the Castro regime has no respect for property rights -- and that its victims suffered the cost once.

But now Obama doesn't either. Or U.S. law for that matter.

Who Will Succeed Raul Castro?

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

It's worth reading his analysis carefully.

By Roberto Alvarez Quinones in Diario de Cuba:

Who will succeed Raul Castro?

General Raúl Castro has stated that he will retire when he finishes his second term as president of Cuba, in 2018, even indicating that he then plans to head to Mexico to summer there.

Of course, the bit about enjoying a nice overseas escape was a slip of the tongue, revealing that he has either already stolen a hefty sum of public funds, or that the State will be footing the bill for a vacation abroad for him, his family and bodyguards. As was the case with his nephew, Antonio Castro, on a large yacht in the Mediterranean. Because in Cuba a retiree, no matter how good his pension, cannot even take a vacation in the city where he lives.

Politicians, leaders and members of the media all over the world assume that in 2018 the Castros' time in power will come to an end. And many believe that this will mark the start of profound changes leading the towards democratization of the country’s political system.

That all sounds very nice, but they’re overlooking something. General Castro has not stated whether at the 7th Congress of the Communist Party (PCC), to be held next April, he will step down as the party's First Secretary, a position that gives him the "right" to continue for another five years, in accordance with the rules adopted at the organization's meeting in 2011.

That is, it is not clear whether his retirement in 2018 will be only as the Head of State and Government, and not as the head of the PCC. And this is pivotal, because Castro's status as a dictator does not stem from his role as president of the nation, but rather as the leader of the PCC, the highest level of political power under the Constitution, and as Commander-in-Chief of the army, navy and air force.

It is unlikely that the General will cede his pharaonic throne within three months. Especially with his brother still alive, who has demanded that he remain in the post as long as his health allows, so as to keep alive the legacy of Moncada and the Sierra Maestra, etc. And, if by some miracle he did step down, the position would be de jure and not de facto.

The dictator is obviously pondering two possibilities: 1) continuing as the head of the regime beyond 2018, or 2) continuing to head up the PCC for another two years and relinquishing the post when he gives up the presidency.

If he remains as the leader of the PCC "until death does them part," in 2018 Cuba's new president will be his puppet, like Osvaldo Dorticós was for Fidel Castro, who in February of 1959 annulled the Constitution of 1940 and made the President of the Republic a subordinate of the Prime Minister.

And if Castro II abandons his leadership of the PCC in 2018, it will be to remain behind the scenes as the regime's political/military "guide," as did China's Deng Xiaoping, who, after "retiring," actually continued to run the country until his death at the age of 93.

The point is that, if he only leaves the presidency in 2018, and not his Party post, for the first time the First Secretary of the PCC would no longer be the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, as the socialist Constitution stipulates that it falls upon the President of the Council of State to "assume the Supreme Command of all armed institutions and determine their general organization."

This would be unacceptable in a militarized regime that is increasingly so. Today, four of the six vice presidents of the Council of Ministers are officers, as are 9 of the 14 members of the Political Bureau. Really in charge of Cuba is a 15-member military junta headed by a commander-in-chief who has always been the First Secretary of the PCC.

That is, it would be necessary to amend the Constitution to strip the Head of State of his status as supreme commander of the armed forces, or the fact that he is a puppet of the dictator would be all too obvious. The leader of the PCC will always be the head of the country's military. Period.

But if Raúl, who will be 87 in 2018, also decided to hand over leadership of the PCC, and for his replacement to also serve as the Head of State, the situation would be different: if the dictator were to become ill, or die, his successor would be called upon to guarantee the implementation of the neo-Castroist military model of State-backed capitalism that has been underway for years now.

Even with General Castro still alive there would exist the possibility that the new head, with all the branches of government under his command, would just ignore Raúl's guidance. Thus, the dictator's successor is bound to be chosen for his fierce loyalty.

It will not be Díaz-Canel

Who could that successor be? Nobody knows, but we can say that it will not be Miguel Díaz-Canel, as he does not form part of the political-military elite holding power. The current First Vice-president’s mission is marketing: selling the false idea that Cuba's ruling cadre is being overhauled. Díaz-Canel could only be President of Cuba if Raúl died, and only until 2018.

The answer to the previous question will depend largely on who will be the new Deputy Secretary of the PCC, as we know that José R. Machado Ventura, about to turn 86, will not be ratified. A strong candidate, even for the official "number one," if Raúl were not to continue as head of the PCC, is General Álvaro López Miera. At age 72 he is the youngest and the most capable of the "historic" generals, and the dictator has been protecting him like a child since, at the age of 14, he went up to the Sierra Cristal to fight against Batista's army.

López Miera is the First Deputy Minister of the MINFAR, head of the General Staff, and the man who in practice really runs that Ministry, as its official head, General Leopoldo Cintra Frías, is short on talent, we might say, and was given the post to placate his protector Fidel Castro. In the Sierra Maestra "Polito" was always under Fidel's direct command.

The most powerful generals are old commanders back from the Sierra Maestra days, who are now in their 80s or older. But there are other equally powerful young people, many with command over troops, and all of them members of the Party's Central Committee - almost all of whom distinguished themselves as invading officials in Africa - who qualify to succeed the dictator.

What about Alejandro Castro Espín?

Of course, there is also Colonel Alejandro Castro Espín, the youngest member of the Military Junta. But there are some things that would have to happen first.  At the next congress, in addition to being promoted to the Party's Central Committee, he would also have to be promoted to the Political Bureau. If this spectacular ascent were to occur, and if before or after the 7th Congress Alejandro were promoted to general, we would be looking at the new crown prince of the House of Castro in 2018.

However, such a meteoric rise could produce rifts in the regime's political and military apex. It seems unlikely that the seasoned general would agree to be under the command of an inept young person without military experience and with serious difficulties communicating and interacting with others, just because he's a daddy's boy. We are, however, dealing with Castroism, so nothing can be ruled out.

In short, whatever decision the dictator and his military junta make at the 7th Congress, unfortunately it does not look like there will be many pleasant surprises on the Cuban political horizon, at least in the short term. Hopefully there will be, and Castroism does not manage to mutate into neo-Castroism in 2018.

Image below: General Alvaro Lopez-Miera trafficking weapons to the North Koreans.

Jorge Ramos: Cuba is Still a Dictatorship

A thoughtful piece by Univision's Jorge Ramos.

One point of disagreement with Ramos -- Obama may not be naive, but he's proving to be extraordinarily short-sighted as regards the high costs and consequences of his unprincipled policy.

And all the metrics (see here and here) prove it.

By Jorge Ramos in Fusion:

Cuba is still a dictatorship

Sometimes those of us who live outside Cuba forget that the country remains a dictatorship. But for the 11 million people living on the island, forgetting is impossible—they live the consequences every day.

But the thaw between Washington and Havana that began last year has dramatically shifted the conversation in the U.S. For instance, when covering Cuba these days, the media no longer focuses on the lack of freedoms, economic shortages or human-rights violations. Rather, the news is dominated by the reopening of the American embassy, the growing number of tourists visiting Cuba and a potential end to the decades long U.S.-imposed embargo. Some daring commentators even envision that the American-controlled facilities at Guantanamo might one day soon be handed back to the Cubans.

However, the Castro dictatorship still holds power. Almost 10 years ago, after decades in charge, Fidel Castro hand-picked his brother Raul to succeed him (Fidel will be 90 in August; Raul is 84). The Castros reign over a country where there are no pluralistic elections or a free press, and where dozens of political prisoners remain locked up for speaking out against the government. Essentially, the regime still rules with fear.

But don’t just take my word for it. Ask any of the thousands of Cubans who continue to flee the island any way they can.

Many are traveling to Ecuador, then trying to cross Central America by land in order to make it to the U.S., which has led to regional immigration troubles. Some 8,000 Cubans are currently stranded in Costa Rica, unable to get transit visas to Nicaragua because Nicaragua has “closed its border and stopped the traffic that was going on normally, albeit run by traffickers, for many years” Luis Guillermo Solis, the president of Costa Rica, told me in a recent interview.

Other Cuban migrants risk a perilous ocean journey on small boats in order to reach Florida. On Christmas morning last month, about 15 Cuban migrants showed up in the parking lot of a drugstore in the Florida Keys, still soaking wet from their journey.

The ultimate goal of many Cuban migrants is to reach the U.S. no matter what because policies here generally allow them to stay and become residents after a year. According to government figures, more than 40,000 Cubans came to the U.S. last year. Cynical critics will say that the reason for this influx of migrants is fear that thawing relations between the U.S. and Cuba will mean that Cuban immigrants won’t receive special status much longer. But the cynics are wrong. The real fault lies with the Castro dictatorship that forces them to flee.

That the U.S. accords Cubans a privileged status has long been a sore spot for many Mexicans and Central Americans. Undocumented immigrants from those countries are in constant danger of being detained and deported. Cubans don’t face such a threat. However, I do think that we should continue to protect Cuban refugees who arrive in the U.S.—at least until the Castro dictatorship disappears. We should always protect victims from any dictatorship.

As for the Cuban-Americans who vehemently oppose the Obama administration’s current initiatives with the Castro regime, I understand their apprehension. I wouldn’t want to shake hands with someone who took away my house or my job, who killed or imprisoned a family member, or forced me to flee my country. But I suspect that behind this diplomatic rapprochement lies a hidden goal.

President Obama is not naïve—he can’t come out and say that the purpose of his policies toward Cuba is to remove the Castros. But Cuba will change, and once the democratic winds begin to circulate there again, I’m sure that we will know many more details about the closed-door meetings in Washington where the country’s fate was discussed.

In the end, only Cubans can change Cuba. But they should realize that they’re not alone. The Internet is on its way to reaching every corner of the island, despite government restrictions and a price that remains prohibitively high for the average Cuban. But Cubans know that change is happening elsewhere—notably in Guatemala, Argentina and Venezuela. And Cuba is next on the list.

Nothing can stop an idea whose time has come.

Statement on Obama's Final State of the Union

Wednesday, January 13, 2016
During tonight's State of the Union address, President Obama said:

"Fifty years of isolating Cuba had failed to promote democracy, setting us back in Latin America. That’s why we restored diplomatic relations, opened the door to travel and commerce, and positioned ourselves to improve the lives of the Cuban people. You want to consolidate our leadership and credibility in the hemisphere? Recognize that the Cold War is over. Lift the embargo."

First of all --

Far from setting us back in Latin America, the U.S.'s policy of isolating Cuba has successfully promoted democracy in the region. It's for this reason that -- after decades of military dictatorships -- today 34 out of 35 countries in the Western Hemisphere are democracies. To the contrary, nothing harks back more to the Cold War than once again backing dictatorships in Latin America, as President Obama is now doing.

Moreover --

If diplomatic relations with Cuba have been "successful," then why has the Castro regime refused to return a stolen U.S. Hellfire missile that it has in its possession, to extradite one of the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Terrorists that it continues harboring and to return properties confiscated from American citizens?

As regards "the lives of the Cuban people," here are the facts --

Since Obama's new Cuba policy was announced on December 17th, 2014:

-- Political arrests have intensified. There were over 8,616 political arrests in 2015, including 1,447 during the month of November, which is the highest recorded number in decades.

-- Released political prisoners have been re-imprisoned. Over half of the 53 political prisoners released in the Obama-Castro deal have been re-arrested at some point, with five serving new long-term sentences.

-- Cubans fleeing the island has skyrocketed. The number of Cuban fleeing the island has nearly doubled in 2015 compared to the previous year. We are currently facing the biggest migration of Cubans since the 1994 rafters crisis.

-- The number of "self-employed" workers has decreased. There are nearly 10,000 less "self-employed" licensees in Cuba today than in 2014. Meanwhile, Castro's military monopolies are expanding at record pace.

-- Religious freedom has regressed. Last year alone, 2,000 churches were declared illegal and 100 were designated for demolition by the Castro regime.

Tweet of the Day: Cuba is Once Again a U.S-Backed Dictatorship

Another Failed Metric of Obama-Castro Deal: A Regression in Religious Freedom

Tuesday, January 12, 2016
From Christian Today:

Cuba: Churches demolished and pastors arrested in latest government crackdown

Two churches have been demolished and several church leaders arrested in the latest state crackdown in Cuba.

Both churches were part of the Apostolic Movement which is unregistered by the Cuban government and were destroyed without warning on January 8, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

"Just after 4 am police and state security agents broke down the door and handcuffed Reverend Bernardo de Quesada Salomon and his wife Damaris, taking them to two separate prisons while the demolition took place," said a statement from the religious freedom charity.

"Damaris was released at around 1 pm while Rev de Quesada Salomon was dropped off by state security after 3 pm, after the church had been destroyed. Their son was handcuffed and held in the house during the demolition of the open-air structure."

The demolitions follow aborted attempts to destroy an Assemblies of God church in Santiago, Cuba, last November. Officials halted the planned destruction after church members held a sit-in at the church building.

However this time a number of other church leaders in Cuba were "arbitrarily detained or confined to their homes by state security agents," CSW said, "presumably to stop them from going to support the churches being demolished".

Church leaders in Cuba have pointed to the "worrying context" of these latest demolitions. Last year alone, 2,000 churches were declared illegal and over 100 were designated for demolition.

Chief executive of CSW, Mervyn Thomas, said he was deeply concerned by the events and branded the treatment of the two pastors "unacceptable".

"Contrary to the hopes of many that political dialogue with United States and the European Union would lead to more freedom in Cuba, over the past year we have seen a severe regression in terms of freedom of religion or belief and shrinking space for religious groups to operate," he said.

"We call on the EU and the US to make freedom of religion or belief a central component of its dialogues with Cuba and to insist on improvement in this area."

Fleeing Cuba's "New Cool" in Droves

Excerpt from Ron Radosh's "New York Times Promotes Fantasy Tours to Communist Cuba" in PJ Media:

Rather than applaud Obama’s new Cuban policy, many Cuban are voting with their feet. Even the New York Times reported, in the same edition of the Times as the travel story appeared, that since the new policy took effect thousands of Cubans are fleeing the country, because they fear that the Obama administration will void the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act. The Act gives Cubans who manage to get to the United States a fast track to legal residency, and then the ability to obtain a green card.

Right now, 11,000 Cuban refugees are languishing in Central America, stuck because Nicaragua, which honors the Cuban regimes’ requests, is forbidding them from crossing into border nations that would allow them to travel to the United States.

Last year alone, 30,000 Cubans made it to our Southwest border -- a 77 percent increase from 2014.

Why would so many Cubans flee their country if things are going so well?

The hype about the "New Cool" does not include the information that the average Cuban cannot find a job and lives in a hovel that is next to unlivable. If he or she has a job? They receive a pittance. Recall the left's championing of the Cuban healthcare system during the Obamacare fight? Cuban doctors sent abroad to countries like Venezuela and Brazil are paid an average of $22 a month -- far less than the Cuban hotel workers and taxicab drivers you might see on your Potemkin Village tour -- and the Sun-Sentinel reports that many of the doctors the regime so proudly sends abroad choose to defect to the U.S. once they arrive at their assigned post.

One of the theories prevailing among supporters of the new policy is that once Americans travel to Cuba, the country will be brought into the modern world, political repression will be reduced and eventually end, and that Cubans will learn from American visitors what genuine democracy is.

Actually, the opposite was more likely to occur, and already is occurring.

The regime is tightening its control of the population, taking measures that firm up its power, and is using Western travelers’ vacation cash to further enrich the apparatchiks and the regime’s leaders.

Meanwhile, the organized Potemkin village tours -- approved by the regime’s tourist bureau and designed to send Westerners home with the impression that the country is thriving and is in wonderful hands -- are working wonderfully. Just listen to starry-eyed Melanie Lieberman.

So what can we do? Aside from not traveling to the island, I have one suggestion.

The only thing to do right now is to prevent the possibility that Obama will end the Cuban Adjustment Act by executive action before he leaves office. Obama has already said that he hopes to make an official visit to Cuba before his term is over. Such a visit, before the Cuban government has made any concessions at all that limit its ability to control the populace, will further legitimize the dictatorship.

It does not appear to concern the Obama administration that, by giving the Cuban government what it wanted without demanding anything in return, the United States condemned the Cuban people to suffer under a stronger regime. Those beaches and hotels aren't for them, just for Western tourists to spend time in what they mistakenly see as vacation paradise.

WSJ: North Korea’s Cuban Friends

By Mary Anastasia O'Grady in The Wall Street Journal:

North Korea’s Cuban Friends

The Castro boys now have a U.S. Hellfire missile to share with Kim Jong Un.

You’d think that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un wouldn’t have a friend in the world these days. His relentless pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and willingness to starve his own people is evil madness. Last week even communist China condemned the supreme leader’s fourth nuclear test, which the chubby little psychopath called “the thrilling sound of our first hydrogen bomb explosion.”

But Mr. Kim is not all alone. He still has the Caribbean’s Cosa Nostra—aka the Castro family—as a friend and ally. The Cold War may be long over, but Cuba is sticking by the North Korean pariah.

This bond exposes Americans to grave risk. Analysts fret that Pyongyang is developing missiles and miniaturized warheads that will allow it to lob a bomb into the continental U.S. But having a desperate ideological pal 90 miles from U.S. shores magnifies the danger. In the past 21/2 years Cuba has tried to smuggle weapons to Pyongyang, engaged in high-level meetings with North Korean officials, and secured U.S. military technology. Anybody want to connect the dots?

On Friday, Wall Street Journal reporters Devlin Barrett and Gordon Lubold broke the story that the State Department became aware in June 2014 that a Hellfire missile had gone missing and that it was “likely in Cuba.”

Let’s face it: That was no shipping error, as some have speculated. Stealing weapons technology is what spies do for a living, and getting hold of a sophisticated piece of U.S. equipment is a major coup for Havana.

It is not a stretch to think that the regime will share, for a price, everything there is to know about the laser-guided, air-to-surface Hellfire—which can be launched from a helicopter or drone as well as from a plane—with its good friends Iran, Russia and North Korea, and even with other terrorist organizations.

President Obama seems to think that the Castros have abandoned their revolutionary obsession with harming the U.S. The theft of the Hellfire would have disabused even Chauncey Gardiner of such naiveté.

But not Mr. Obama. He was already engaged in a rapprochement with the regime when the State Department learned that Havana had the missile. If he issued an ultimatum that it be returned, his talks might have collapsed.

So six months later he went ahead with his plan to throw a lifeline to the economically struggling Castros by restoring diplomatic relations and liberalizing American travel to the island. In May Cuba was removed from the State Department’s list of state-sponsors of terrorism.

The missile is only the latest example of the no good that Cuba is still up to. In July 2013 Panama Canal authorities discovered 240 metric tons of weapons—including jet fighters and missiles—hidden under a sugar shipment aboard a North Korean ship that had sailed from Cuba and was bound for North Korea.

Havana tried to play down the incident, calling the weapons outmoded. But the U.N.’s North Korea sanctions committee said the shipment demonstrated “intent to evade UN sanctions” and that it was “consistent with previous attempts by” Pyongyang “to transfer arms and related materiel through similar tactics in contravention of Security Council prohibitions.” Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., called it a “cynical, outrageous and illegal attempt” by the two countries to evade U.N. sanctions.

In the 13 months since Mr. Obama’s announcement that he would reopen a U.S. embassy in Cuba and use executive decrees to weaken the U.S. embargo, Cuba has repeatedly pledged its loyalty to North Korea. In March 2015, according to Cuba’s state-run news agency, North Korea’s foreign minister visited Havana and reminded Cubans that the two peoples “share a history of struggle together in the same trench against U.S. imperialism, which continues exerting economic pressure on our countries to this day.” The news agency also reported that the minister brought a “message from Jong-Un in order to expand and strengthen” the excellent relations between the two countries.

In June 2015 Raúl Castro hosted Kang Sok Su, the secretary of international relations for the North Korean Workers’ Party. In September Mr. Kim received Cuban Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel in Pyongyang. Cuba’s state-owned newspaper Granma reported that Mr. Kim sent “an affectionate greeting” to the Castro boys during the visit. It also said that Messrs. Díaz-Canel and Kim discussed the two countries’ close relations and mutual cooperation.

This ought to worry U.S. national-security officials. But Mr. Obama is busy worrying about shaping his legacy. I’m not sure why: He’s the first U.S. president to bow to a Saudi king, the first to open the door for Iran to get the bomb, and the first to prop up the Castros even while they hold a stolen Hellfire missile. His place in history is already secure.

Tweet of the Week: Why Won't Castro Return the Hellfire Missile?

Hellfire and Damnation: Obama’s Cuba Failures

By Amb. Roger Noriega of the American Enterprise Institute:

Hellfire and damnation: Obama’s Cuba failures

A Wall Street Journal article published last week contained the startling revelation that a US-owned Hellfire missile wound up in the hands of the Cuban government. The Journal described the incident as “a loss of sensitive military technology that ranks among the worst-known incidents of its kind.” This revelation comes as President Obama’s image-makers tout the possibility of a visit to Cuba as part of what might well be dubbed a capitulation tour in his final year in office.

The Hellfire is an air-to-ground missile with sophisticated sensors and targeting technology, and figures prominently in America’s anti-terrorism drone strikes. The missing missile, which was not armed with explosive material, was sent by Lockheed Martin to Europe in 2014 for use in a NATO training exercise. Instead of being returned to the United States, it was shuffled mysteriously around Europe before being shipped to Cuba.

The Journal also revealed that US authorities located the missile in June 2014, in the midst of the White House’s secret negotiations to normalize diplomatic relations with Castro. The stolen missile remains in Cuban control today, the Journal said, and Havana rebuffed repeated US requests for the return of this sensitive technology.

My guess is that the missile was somehow captured by the Cuban intelligence service. It is inconceivable that such a device made its way through Cuban customs without being managed by regime agents. Given the long-standing practice of the Cuban government of gathering intelligence on US targets and sharing it with other hostile regimes, it is highly probable that Cuban, Chinese, Russian, Iranian, and North Korean experts have been or will be given the opportunity to study and exploit the missile’s design. As the Journal points out, access to this sophisticated device gives US enemies the knowledge needed to enhance their own weapons systems and to develop countermeasures that compromise the missile’s effectiveness in US military operations.

The case of the purloined Hellfire can be added to the long list of failures of Obama’s hapless negotiations with the Castro regime. The old jest, “What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is mine,” is quite literally the Cuban strategy for dealing with the Obama White House.

Today, the Cuban government is reaping the economic benefits of increased US tourism and the promise of more US investment. President Obama and apologists for his bumbling policy hail trivial agreements on marine conservation and the availability of Netflix and Airbnb in Cuba as achievements of his strategy. Meanwhile, serious issues like this latest threat to US security, human rights abuses, dying political prisoners, and the return of US fugitives residing are swept under the rug. Worse yet, Obama continues to press Congress to gut human rights and democracy conditions for lifting the US embargo.

The Obama administration already has made clear that sacrificing the rights and welfare of 11 million Cubans is worth a presidential photo-op. We now know that a serious threat to US security is the price being paid for a snapshot of Obama with a sunny gulag in the background.

Cuban and North Korea Share More Than Weapons Smuggling

Excerpt by Barbara Demick in The New Yorker:
[T]he economic fundamentals in these last bastions of Communism are much the same. Like North Korea, Cuba maintains a distribution system in which citizens pay a low cost for inadequate rations of staple foods. (At one state shop, the provisions, listed on the blackboard, were grains, washing soap, bathing soap, toothpaste, sugar, salt, coffee, evaporated milk, eggs, and oil.) As in North Korea, archaic laws prevent the private sale of commodities that have been deemed strategic to the nation. Fishing is limited in both countries on the grounds that the bounty of the seas is the exclusive property of the state.

Obama Keen to Facilitate Cuba's State-Sponsored Human Trafficking

Monday, January 11, 2016
The mask has quickly come off Obama's Cuba policy.

For the past year, Obama has purported -- at least in rhetoric -- that his new Cuba policy is aimed at increasing "support for the Cuban people."

Now, it's just blatantly looking to change policies simply because "Castro doesn't like them."

Last week, it was reported that the Obama Administration will likely end the Cuban Medical Professional Parole ("CMPP") program, which provides safe-passage for Cuban doctors who have defected in third-countries.

The rationale for this program is simple -- the terms and conditions under which Castro exports Cuban doctors-for-profit constitutes human trafficking.

Human trafficking is the Castro regime's main source of income, with the export of doctors netting over $8 billion last year alone. This is a high margin business for the Castro dictatorship, whereby Cuban doctors are coerced, have absolutely no say about salary, work in deplorable conditions and often have their passports confiscated. Meanwhile, the Castro regime keeps over 90% of their income.

This practice has been denounced internationally as a violation of the Trafficking in Persons Protocol and the International Labor Organization's ("ILO") Convention on the Protection of Wages.

It is forced labor -- plain and simple.

As Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez has previously explained, these doctors are "feudal serfs" of the regime.

So how -- by any stretch of the imagination -- does ending the CMPP program, which is the only safeguard these doctors currently have, "support the Cuban people"?

Clearly, it doesn't.

Doesn't Obama see anything wrong with Cuban doctors being tracked-down, kidnapped and repatriated, upon trying to defect; or the security and intelligence apparatus that keeps a watchful eye of them; or withholds their passports; or separates their families, in order to dissuade defection?

Upon arriving in the United States, Cuban doctors who choose to defect face an uphill struggle to ever practice medicine again. Thus, the CMPP program doesn't "lure" them, as some detractors claim.

Here's a novel concept -- how about ending the CMPP program when Castro stops trafficking in these individuals in violation of international law?

Sadly, this is only part of a pattern whereby the Obama Administration appears keen to give the Castro regime a free-pass on human trafficking.

Last month, it was reported that Obama is also considering allowing MLB to contract directly with the Castro regime -- namely with Fidel's son, Antonio, through a state-entity called INDER -- to traffic in baseball players to the United States.

This would allow Antonio Castro (sorry INDER -- wink, wink) to negotiate, contract and keep a large chunk of these player's wages for himself -- strengthening the notion that all athletes in Cuba (like doctors) are "feudal serfs" of the regime.

Never mind that this would also be in violation of U.S. sanctions, labor and human trafficking laws.

Finally, let's not forget last summer's infamous politicization of the Trafficking in Persons Report.

Pursuant to the release of the 2015 Trafficking in Persons (“TIP”) report, a Reuters investigation revealed that human-rights experts at the State Department concluded that trafficking conditions had not improved and Cuba did not deserve to be upgraded from a bottom Tier 3 ranking to Tier 2. The reports indicated that senior Obama Administration officials pushed without legal merit and prevailed in upgrading Cuba -- as another concession to the Castro regime.

The Obama Administration's lead negotiator with the Cuban regime in the normalization talks, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, has since admitted that she made a recommendation about Cuba’s status in the TIP report, but she has refused to share this recommendation -- and its justification -- with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

During an August 2015 hearing on the TIP Report, all such input was requested from the State Department, and the committee chairman, Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), even threatened to subpoena the information.

To our knowledge -- there has yet to be a response.

Maybe they couldn't figure out how it would "support the Cuban people."

Nearly 300 Cuban Dissidents Arrested Over the Weekend

This past weekend, over 300 Cuban dissidents were arrested for peacefully demanding the release of all political prisoners and their fundamental rights.

Among those arrested were 50 members of the renowned pro-democracy group, The Ladies in White, in Havana. Various of them, including Yamile Garro and Aliuska Gomez, were cornered and violently beaten beforehand.

In the eastern provinces, over 200 members of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU) were arrested. In Santiago de Cuba alone, there were 137 arrests.

A major raid by Castro's secret police sought to stop a gathering for the third anniversary of the pro-democracy initiative, Proyecto Emilia. Among those arrested was its founder, Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, a U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, along with 24 other activists.

Finally, there's great concern about the well-being of Cuban political prisoner, Jorge Ramirez Calderon, one of the 53 prisoners re-arrested after Castro reneged on his agreements with Obama. He's on the 23rd day of a hunger strike protesting his unjust imprisonment and has been transferred from a punishment cell in Manacas prison to an undisclosed location.

More "change" you can't believe in.

Rhetoric, Remittances and Reality

There was an article in The Wall Street Journal over the weekend entitled, "In Cuba, Cash Trickles In for Budding Capitalists."

The byline (and narrative) argued:

"Obama administration’s removal of U.S. limits on money transfers is helping small, private businesses get started or expand."

Yet, here's the sole example given of this narrative:

"Cubans such as retired teacher Rafaela Suarez are the beneficiaries. With money wired by a brother-in-law in Miami, Ms. Suarez, 68 years old, has built a cafe inside her tiny first-floor apartment in Havana’s once swanky Vedado neighborhood not far from the Cuban capital’s Plaza of the Revolution.

'That’s what helped me get started,' Ms. Suarez said of the wired cash—$40 in one transfer, perhaps $100 the next—as she swept the small kitchen that serves as a dining room for customers and off-hours parlor for her. 'It was crucial for me.'"

Reality-check:

None of this is different than what remittance regulations permitted -- and what took place -- under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

The article also mentions Western Union, which serves as "a major conduit of the remittances flow."

While on the subject, here's a tip for journalists:

Why not investigate how Western Union discriminates against which Cubans can receive money on the island?

For example, Western Union recently informed the family of Cuban democracy leader, Jose Daniel Ferrer, that they can not send him any money to the island.

Western Union is probably acting at the behest of its processing partner on the island, CIMEX, which is owned by the Cuban military conglomerate, GAESA.

In other words, Western Union is now acting as an organ of Castro's security apparatus.

Not as warm and fuzzy a story -- but very real.