North Korea Takes New Hostage, Wants Cuba/Iran-Style Deal

Friday, January 22, 2016
Again, as we ominously warned on December 17th, 2014, pursuant to the Obama-Castro deal:

"As a result of these actions, the world today will be less safe. 

Rogue regimes throughout the world will take note that you can take American hostages and will be rewarded with policy concessions.

Moreover, that rogue regimes can murder Americans, have U.S. courts and juries duly convict those involved -- and see justice aborted by a stroke of the President's pen."

Today, from CNN:

North Korea arrests American student for 'hostile act,' state media says

An American college student has been arrested in North Korea.

Otto Frederick Warmbier was detained in Pyongyang on January 2, according to Young Pioneer Tours, the China-based travel company he was with.

The tour group said Warmbier's family has been informed and that it is working with the U.S. State Department, the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Swedish Embassy, which carries out some consular services for U.S. citizens in North Korea, to address the incident.

Warmbier is a third-year student studying commerce at the University of Virginia, according to The Cavalier Daily, the school's student newspaper. School spokesman Anthony de Bruyn would only say that the school "has been in touch with Otto Warmbier's family and will have no additional comment at this time."

North Korean state media said Warmbier, who reportedly entered North Korea on a tourist visa, is accused of carrying out "a hostile act against the DPRK," referring to the acronym for the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea.

In 9-3 Vote, Miami-Dade County Opposes Cuban Consulate

From The Miami Herald:

Miami-Dade County leaders oppose Cuban consulate in Miami

Until democracy comes to Cuba, a Cuban consulate should not come to Miami, county leaders proclaimed Wednesday.

In a 9-3 vote, Miami-Dade County commissioners urged the federal government to avoid placing a Cuban consulate on their turf. The talk of a hypothetical consulate in Miami has grown as President Barack Obama pursues warmer relations with the island nation.

Cuba’s embassy in Washington reopened in July. The typical next step would be a U.S. consulate in a city with a large Cuban immigrant population.

Miami obviously fits that description, but County Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo — the son of a Bay of Pigs veteran — says the time is not right. Bovo, who sponsored the county’s anti-consulate resolution Wednesday, said talks between Washington and Havana haven’t produced meaningful changes in how the Cuban government treats its people. The Cuban government is still oppressive, he said, and a consulate location in Miami’s exile community could spark protests, and leave Miami-Dade taxpayers to foot the bill for the cost of protecting consular officials.

“To think for a second, to have the Cuban government here, the dictatorship basically, here in Miami, I think is an affront to a huge majority of the Cuban-American community,” Bovo told the Herald after his measure passed.

Rubio: Obama Doing Nothing to Stop Cuban Migrant Crisis

From CNN:

Marco Rubio: Obama not doing enough to stop Cuba migrant crisis

Sen. Marco Rubio used the Cuban migrant crisis approaching U.S. borders on Thursday to lambast President Barack Obama's policies toward Cuba as laughable.

The Cuban-American Republican senator from Florida was asked what he would do about Cuba as president on Thursday at an Americans for Peace, Prosperity and Security forum in New Hampshire.

He attacked Obama's move to normalize relations with Cuba, saying the U.S. made "major concessions" and Cuba changed "nothing" in how they behave in return, including harboring fugitives, collaborating with U.S. enemies and oppressing its citizens.

"Cuba oppresses its people so bad that today we have a migratory crisis from Cuba that's being under-reported," Rubio said. "You literally have thousands of Cuban migrants who have gone to Costa Rica and are now working their way up Central America to cross the U.S. border because once they come into the United States, they're legal."

There are roughly 8,000 Cuban migrants who have been stranded in Costa Rica, and they recently began a journey through Central America to cross into the U.S. at the southern border, with the first batch of dozens arriving over the weekend.

"That is the consequences of having a dictatorship 90 miles from our shores," Rubio said. "They continue to send thousands and thousands and thousands of migrants toward the United States."

Regarding the thawing of relations, Rubio said nothing was changing in Cuba.

"What kind of one-sided deal is this?" he said. "No wonder why people around the world laugh at Barack Obama."

Pursuant to Obama Deal, Cubans Increasingly Desperate to Flee

Not only has the number of Cubans fleeing the island doubled since Obama's deal with Castro, but they are resorting to increasingly desperate measures not to be repatriated.

Clearly, the Obama-Castro deal has not improved the lives of Cubans. To the contrary, they are more desperate than ever to flee.

As the AP reports:

Security has been increased for Cuban migrants aboard Coast Guard vessels because more are jumping overboard, trying to poison themselves or suffering self-inflicted wounds in frantic attempts to be taken to U.S. shore for treatment, Capt. Mark Fedor said.

"It's been a dangerous uptick. The last six months, it's come to a head," Fedor said.

Cruz Seeks to Block Joint U.S.-Cuba Security Exercises

From The Washington Free Beacon:

Cruz Seeks to Block Joint U.S.-Cuba Security Exercises

Demands return of dummy Hellfire missile

Congress may consider blocking the United States and Cuba from conducting joint security exercises until the Obama administration can prove the communist regime has dialed back its anti-American efforts, according to a letter sent to the Pentagon and obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), a leading critic of the administration’s detente with Cuba, petitioned Secretary of Defense Ash Carter on Wednesday, demanding that he disinvite Cuba from the upcoming Caribbean Nations Security Conference, which will be held later this month in Jamaica. Cruz is concerned about recent reports that Cuba is in possession of a dummy American Hellfire missile.

The inclusion of Cuba in these sensitive discussions is “reckless” and any invitation should be rescinded “at the very least until the Hellfire is returned to the United States,” Cruz wrote in the letter.

In the months since the Obama administration renewed relations with Cuba and removed it from the official state sponsors of terror list, the Cuban regime has continued to harbor fugitives from the U.S., including one who was convicted in 1977 of murdering a New Jersey State Trooper.

Cruz maintains that it is not in the national security interests of U.S. to include Cuba in the high-level security talks, which were announced by the Pentagon earlier this month.

It seems “recklessly premature to participate in a joint security exercise with Cuba this month, especially as they seem likely to only use it as a platform from which to demand the return of Naval Station Guantanamo Bay,” Cruz wrote, referring to recent indications by Cuba that it will push the Obama administration to return the land currently being used to house terror suspects.

“I would like to know the rationale behind this decision, and I urge you to reconsider this invitation at the very least until the Hellfire is returned to the United States,” Cruz wrote.

The senator also disclosed current discussions in Congress aimed at barring the administration from conducting joint military exercises with Cuba.

“I also warn you of my intention to insert language into the FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act prohibiting any future such joint exercises until Congress receives convincing assurances that the anti-American posture of the Castro regime has undergone a material change,” Cruz wrote.

Pentagon leaders disclosed this month that, for the first time, a delegation of Cuban officials would participate in the annual Caribbean security conference, which is run in part by U.S. Southern Command.

“We’ve normalized now and, regardless of how we think of each other in terms of politics, we have very, very common challenges,” Gen. John Kelly, Southern Command’s leader, told the Associated Press.

Cuba continues to pose a danger to regional stability and has continued to illicitly move arms to nations like North Korea, according to Cruz.

“Regardless of the diplomatic détente offered to Cuba by the Obama administration, the regime of Raul and Fidel Castro has been for more than half a century the implacable enemy of the United States,” Cruz wrote.

“They have detained our citizens. They are still harboring fugitives … they have participated in violent, destabilizing activities through the region, notably in Colombia and Venezuela,” according to Cruz.

The lawmaker has requested that the Pentagon respond to his letter no later than Jan. 25.

Since Obama Deal, Number of Self-Employed Licensees in Cuba Drops

Wednesday, January 20, 2016
Fact: There are less "self-employed" licensees in Cuba today than when President Obama announced his one-sided deal with Cuban dictator Raul Castro on December 17, 2014.

Over the last year, the number of "self-employed" licensees has dropped by nearly 10,000.

Add this to every other metric that proves Obama's policy has been counter-productive: repression has intensified; Cubans fleeing the island has doubled; U.S. agricultural exports have plummeted; religious freedom violations have increased tenfold; and Cuba's Internet access ranking has fallen.

However, the decrease in the number of "self-employed" licensees is perhaps the most symbolic, as Obama's entire policy has been focused on "empowering" this small sector -- even at the cost of Cuba's courageous democracy leaders.

All of the changes in Commerce and Treasury Department regulations have been geared at specifically helping the "self-employment" sector grow.

Yet, the opposite has been taken place -- which was entirely predictable.

Back in April 2014, we warned about this wrong-headed theory:

"Can lifting U.S. trade and investment sanctions benefit Cuba's 'self-employment' (cuentapropistas) sector?

The short answer is: Not really.

Cuba's military and intelligence services control and run the conglomerates of Cuba. The 'self-employment' sector represents a very small part of the island's economy and it is important, in the debate over sanctions, to understand its nature and limits. During economic crises, the Castro regime typically authorizes a host of services that Cubans can be licensed to provide, keeping at least a portion of what they may be paid. The world's news media refers to these jobs as 'private enterprise,' which implies 'private ownership.' Yet Cuba's 'self-employed' licensees have no ownership rights whatsoever - be it to their artistic or 'intellectual' outputs, commodity they produce, or personal service they offer. Licensees have no legal entity (hence business) to transfer, sell or leverage. They don't even own the equipment essential to their self-employment. More to the point, licensees have no right to engage in foreign trade, seek or receive foreign investments. Effectually licensees continue to work for the state -- and when the state decides such jobs are no longer needed, licensees are shut down without recourse [...]

Based on the lessons of history, those who still believe 'self-employment' licenses are 'a step in the right direction' toward capitalism, actually have all the more reason to support U.S. sanctions. Self-employment was a temporary reaction to loss of Soviet subsidies, and with the remnants of the Chavez regime in Venezuela now imploding, Cuba will likely continue allowing it. Yet the historic lesson is clear: The Castro regime only responds when it is economically pressed. Once the Cuban economy stabilizes or begins to 'bounce back,' the Castro government reverses itself to freeze or revoke self-employment licenses. Lift U.S. sanctions and Cuba's government will solely focus on strengthening its state conglomerates and the repression required to suppress change. Thus, U.S. sanctions are the best friends that 'cuentapropistas' now have."

The fact remains that the Castro regime has never made any changes out of good-will, but only when forced out of necessity.

Nothing has changed.

Thus, rather than empowering Cuba's "self-employed" sector, the opposite has been the case. The Castro regime's military conglomerates, led by GAESA, have been at the center of all trade delegations. Even the limited spaces in which "cuentapropistas" previously operated are being constricted so that GAESA can further centralize its control of the island's travel, retail and financial sector. This has led to the widespread expulsion, arrest and confiscation of "cuentapropistas" from designated tourist zones.

Meanwhile, a follow-up theory of the Obama Administration was that U.S. businesses would pressure Castro into allowing greater space for the "self-employment" sector to operate.

Again, the exact opposite is happening.

Just this week, Cuba's Minister of Tourism, Col. Manuel Marrero Cruz, stated about U.S. business interests, "the Americans will come, but they'll enter dancing to our tune."

They already are.

Rather than pressuring the Castro regime, the business community is instead lobbying the Obama Administration to circumvent U.S. law and allow it to cut deals with Cuba's military monopolies.

The biggest losers -- the Cuban people.

Quote of the Day: American Business Will Come Dancing Castro's Tune

The Americans will come, but they'll enter dancing to our tune. We'll set the rules.
-- Col. Manuel Marrero Cruz, Castro's Minister of Tourism, asked about the potential of American investment in Cuba's tourism sector, La Vanguardia, 1/19/16

Human Trafficking: The Nadir of Cuba's Economy

Excerpt by Fabio Rafael Fiallo in Diario de Cuba:

Human trafficking: the nadir of Castro's socialism

[T]he service sector (medicine and education, port infrastructure and tourism, among others) was ripe for exploitation, and the Castro regime dove right in.

Exporting professionals (doctors, schoolteachers), in order to appropriate a portion of their wages, is one of the Cuban regime's favorite economic tactics to obtain the foreign capital necessary for its survival.

To do this, ideologically akin governments (especially in Venezuela, Brazil and Ecuador) have agreed to use Cuban professionals under contractual conditions that enable the Castro regime to retain a portion of their wages.

By way of example, the Brazilian Government pays the Government of Cuba $4,255 per month for each Cuban doctor hired, while the physician ends up receiving just $1,245 from the Government, a percentage of this sum in an account in Havana. The rest (over 70%) lines the Cuban regime's coffers.

For good reason, the Castro regime's scheme with the country's doctors has been compared to the slave trade in colonial times.

And, like any human trafficking, the victims, in this case the doctors exported, try to escape their fate, just as African slaves once did.

Hence, hundreds of Cuban doctors, once in the countries assigned for their work, have opted to defect. Cubans in a range of professions are using Ecuadorian visas as a way to escape the cage of Castroism. Even Cuban baseball players go the way of Villadiego to leave behind the misery wages paid them by the Cuban state.

Havana regularly blames these defections on U.S. immigration policy, which facilitates entry into the U.S. by Cuban professionals, but it cannot evade the fact that the vast majority of these professionals yearn and struggle to settle in countries that guarantee better working conditions and more quality of life.

In fact, according to the December 2015 decree which reintroduced restrictions (that had been abolished in 2013) on outgoing Cuban doctors, the Castro regime claims that they are being lured away by "the conditions offered by various countries." (i.e., not just the U.S.).

In this respect Havana’s positions are incongruous. On the one hand it has been trying to attract, with promises of houses and cars, doctors who had escaped from Cuba. On the other it is imposing stricter requirements on those leaving the country. Given this contradiction, and the danger of not being able to go abroad again if one wishes to do so, what doctor will want to sign up?

The results have been equally disappointing with regard to the "special economic zone" of the Port of Mariel, a project launched with great fanfare in January of 2014 but that, as the BBC World website has observed: "still does not work."

The site adds that, in accordance with a decision by the Cuban regime, workers in the area are to receive "salaries equivalent to those of public servants, which are limited to a pittance in US dollars per month." According to a port worker, the pay is not even enough to buy the Real Madrid t-shirt he was wearing when he was interviewed (which was probably a gift from a tourist or a relative living in Spain).

Like the countries purchasing Cuban medical services, foreign investors operating in Mariel have to hire staff and pay wages (in foreign currency) through an agency of the Cuban government, which receives the currency and pays personnel in Cuba pesos at exchange rates that short workers.

The State ultimately retains two-thirds of the salary in dollars paid by an investor in the area.

Hence, we are dealing here with a new case of human trafficking, with the difference that this time it is done in situ, i.e., without exporting the workers.

With this morass of obstacles and counterproductive controls, there is no economic sector - industry, agriculture, mining or services - able to function effectively.

Paraphrasing Lenin, who stated that imperialism would be the highest stage of capitalism, it could be said that human trafficking marks a new low for Castro's socialism; that is, its nadir.

Obama: No Clemency for Violent Criminals in Iran Swap, But Yes for Cuba

Tuesday, January 19, 2016
Over the weekend, President Obama offered clemency to seven criminals of Iranian origin imprisoned in the United States, in exchange for four American hostages.

Obama also promised to waive charges against 14 other Iranian criminals wanted for extradition by the United States.

In justifying the swap, senior Obama Administration officials have argued that none of the criminals were "associated with terrorism-related offenses or violent crimes."

So why didn't Obama adopt this "minimal" standard in its prisoner swap with Cuba's regime?

In its (three criminals-for-one American hostage) swap with the Castro regime, President Obama commuted the life sentence of Gerardo Hernandez, the head of a deadly Cuban spy network in the United States, who was sentenced to two life terms for conspiracy to commit murder in the February 1996 deaths of four Americans.

In an extraordinary failure of leadership, President Obama has yet to offer any sympathy or support to the mothers and other relatives of the young Americans who were murdered by the Castro regime in collusion with the Cuban agent whose prison sentence he commuted. In addition to losing their loved ones, these American families saw justice aborted -- without any notice or gesture -- by a stroke of their own President's pen on December 17, 2014.

"It's like they murdered my son all over again," lamented one of the mothers.

Sadly, these American lives mattered less to President Obama.

Tweet of the Day: The Price for an American Has Gone Up

Forget Cuba, North Korea is 'Next Hot Emerging Market'

Doesn't this all sound familiar?

Massive oil reserves, street markets, tourism, high literacy, growing middle class and "a strong military-industrial complex."

One thing is for sure, Pyongyang looks like Dubai compared to Havana (see below).

Read this story carefully. It brings perspective to the similar stories (err: lunacy) written about Cuba throughout last year.

From Business Insider:

North Korea might be the next hot emerging market

North Korea has been in the news a lot already this year after the country claimed to have successfully detonated a hydrogen bomb at the beginning of January.

The reclusive nation is in the news again today, but this time, the country is being touted as the next hot frontier market by James Passin, a hedge fund manager at Firebird Management.

In an interview with the New York Times, James Passin stated that he believes North Korea is sitting on as much as a billion barrels of crude, which, if unlocked is enough to make the country as big a producer as Oklahoma. And it’s not just the oil that has attracted Passin. “You have a country with 25 million people — young, highly disciplined, literate — and a strong military-industrial complex,” he said in the NYT interview. “It’s possible that the early investors will be rewarded with potential for massive appreciation.”

James Passin isn’t the only frontier market speculator that’s expressed a desire to invest in North Korea. Jim Rogers, who co-founded the Quantum Fund with George Soros and has made a name for himself as the Indiana Jones of Finance, told the Wall Street Journal last September, “if I could put all my money on North Korea, I would.”

“Yes! I’m very excited about North Korea. If I could put all of my money into North Korea, I would. Massive changes are taking place there.” — Jim Rogers, Wall Street Journal

According to Rogers, North Korea today looks similar to China in the 1980s. The country is going through a period of significant change after Kim Jong-Un took over the role of leader after the death of his father Kim Jong-il in December 2011.

North Korea is an extremely secretive nation, so it’s difficult for most investors and emerging market analysts to get hold of any reliable economic data. That said, it’s possible to get some idea of how the country is developing via the sporadic news and data releases on the country from various news outlets around the world.

North Korea: Economic activity increasing

Lacking any reliable concrete figures, 38 North a program of the U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS (USKI) uses commercial satellite imagery to study the level of activity around key North Korean trading areas at various points in time to get an idea of the country’s economic activity. The trading areas which are the most revealing are the country’s street markets.

Studying the number of street markets in operation, and the number of people visiting these markets may seem like a trivial operation at first, but this topic deserves a great deal of attention. Until the 1990s, North Koreans had to put up with a centrally planned economy. After the country’s central planning began to break down in the 1990s an increasing amount of economic activity is taking place outside the country’s state-run economy. Market activity is one of the only ways of measuring the progression of capitalism inside the reclusive nation.

Satellite imagery shows that North Korea’s markets have seen overall growth since the early 2000s. In some cities, they have grown only marginally, but in cities like Sinuiju, across from Dandong in China, markets have increased in size by over 110% between 2003 and 2014. This growth is all the more impressive when you consider the fact that the country’s GDP growth averaged -0.5% per annum between 1990 and 2014.

That said, while it seems that the country is becoming more open to capitalist ideas, North Korea’s government is still widely unpredictable (as we’ve seen over the past year) and will not hesitate to shut down enterprises it believes are not in the government’s best interest. In 2010, the authorities tore down one of the largest wholesale markets in the country wiping out 70% of a city’s market space in a single day.

Economic development is may not be taking off in North Korea’s provinces, but in the country’s capital,  Pyongyang  Kim Jong-un is carving out a reputation as a champion of modern facilities for the country’s new middle class. A massive building boom is currently underway. A new ski resort, theme park, and waterpark have already been completed, along with an 18-tower 47 story apartment complex in the center of the capital. Alongside these project, the North has also constructed a new international airport (home to the country’s flagship carrier Air Koryo, the world’s only one-star airline), part of the state’s goal to welcome two million tourists a year by 2020.


Cuba: Tenfold Increase in Religious Freedom Violations in 2015

Monday, January 18, 2016
Cuba: Unprecedented Crackdown in Religious Freedom in 2015 Drives Spike in Violations

An unprecedented crackdown on churches across the denominational spectrum in Cuba in 2015 has fueled a spike in reported violations of freedom of religion or belief (FoRB), according to a new report by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

Figures compiled by CSW, which are not exhaustive but which serve as an indicator of the level of FoRB violations, reveal a tenfold increase - with 2,300 separate violations recorded in 2015 compared to 220 in 2014. Many incidents involve involved entire churches or, in the case of arrests, dozens of victims. A digital illustration by CSW highlights the crackdown on churches in Cuba.

The spike in cases was largely due to the government declaring 2,000 Assemblies of God (AoG) churches illegal, ordering the closure or demolition of 100 AoG churches in three provinces, and expropriating the properties of a number of other denominations, including the Methodist and Baptist Conventions. Legally registered and unregistered religious groups across the denominational spectrum reported varying degrees of hostility from the government.

According to the report, “the consistently antagonistic relationship” between Caridad del Rosario Diego Bello, director of the Office of Religious Affairs (ORA), an arm of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party which oversees religious affairs on the island, and the leadership of many religious groups, “is evidence that the office exists solely to monitor, hinder and restrict the activities of religious groups.”

In 2015, the ORA continued to deny authorization for a number of religious activities and in cooperation with other government agencies, issued fines and threats of confiscation to dozens of churches and religious organizations. The ORA also sanctioned the arbitrary expropriation of historic, registered church properties and the actions against the AoG churches.

CSW’s report also highlights “more brutal and public tactics” being employed by government agents than were witnessed in the first decade of the millennium:

Week after week, state security agents physically and violently dragged scores of women away from Sunday morning services. Most were arbitrarily detained until after the conclusion of religious services. The government continued to employ a strategy of frequent, temporary arbitrary detention to target those it views as political dissidents. This tactic is also applied to religious leaders who are viewed as problematic, for whatever reason, by the authorities…for the first time in four years a church leader was sentenced to and served six months in prison for holding unauthorized religious services.

In the face of intense pressure, many Christians are engaging in peaceful protest, as seen in the case of the attempted demolition of an AoG church in Santiago de Cuba in November 2015 which was thwarted after local Christians held a peaceful sit-in at the church building. On 8 January 2016, a large-scale government operation led to the mass arrests of several church leaders and the blocking of their communications devices while two churches were demolished, possibly to pre-empt a similar protest. Both churches belonged to the Apostolic Movement, an unregistered network of Protestant churches.

Click here for CSW’s report on Freedom of Religion or Belief in Cuba in 2015.

Click here for the digital illustration of the crackdown on churches in Cuba.

On This Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

We honor all of the political prisoners held throughout the world as a result of their peaceful acts of civil disobedience.

"An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law."

-- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In particular, we remember independent labor leader, Jorge Ramirez Calderon (image below), who is on the 30th day of a hunger strike, and the other Cuban political prisoners who have been re-imprisoned after Raul Castro reneged on his deal with President Obama.

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

-- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

We pray that the international community -- despite what the Obama Administration wrongfully predicted on December 17, 2014 -- will stop appeasing the brutal regime that impunely imprison them.

"We will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

-- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Nearly 200 Cuban Dissidents Arrested on Sunday

From Diario de Cuba:

Dozens of activists arrested in Havana and Oriente to prevent participation in #TodosMarchamos

Dozens of Ladies in White and other activists were arrested today in Havana and various other eastern provinces on this 37th Sunday of repression against #TodosMarchamos, a campaign of marches demanding amnesty for political prisoners.

Some reports from social networks indicate that the number of dissident arrests could be close to 200.

In Havana, some 40 activists and Ladies in White who were able to reach the Santa Rita church were arrested according to former political prisoner Angel Moya via his Twitter account. Among those arrested were photographer Claudio Fuentes, Ladies in White leader Berta Soler, and Moya himself.

A similar number of dissidents and Ladies in White were arrested as they left their homes to join the march.

Independent journalist Yusmila Reyna reported arrests in Santiago de Cuba. There were also arrests in Guantanamo, Holguin, Camaguey, and Las Tunas.

Translation by Babalu Blog.

Flashback and Ominous Warning: Statement on Release of Castro's American Hostage

Sunday, January 17, 2016
Yesterday, President Obama announced that he had granted clemency to seven Iranian criminals imprisoned in the United States (and confirmed over $100 billion in sanctions relief), in exchange for four American hostages held by Iran's regime.

In light of this news, below is our statement from December 17th, 2014, regarding Obama's similar deal with Cuba's regime -- and the ominous warning therein.

From CapitolHillCubans.com:

For over five years, the Castro dictatorship has held American development worker, Alan Gross, as its hostage for helping the Cuban people connect to the Internet.

This shows the cruel extent to which the Castro dictatorship is willing to go in order to try to silence its own people.

With Gross' hostage-taking, the Castro dictatorship has sought to coerce the Obama Administration into releasing Cuban spies imprisoned in the United States and to unilaterally ease sanctions.

Today, this innocent American, who should have never been imprisoned in the first place, is returning home to his wife and daughters.

But sadly, rather than being released unconditionally, the Obama Administration has acquiesced to the Castro regime's coercion.

While we are relieved at the release of this American hostage today, there are 11 million Cubans that remain hostages of Castro's brutal regime.  Moreover, repression in Cuba today is at a historic high.

In exchange for Gross' release, the Obama Administration will announce the release of three Cuban spies imprisoned in the United States for crimes, including a conspiracy to kill Americans.

Today, our hearts go out to the families of those young Americans, the pilots of the Brothers to the Rescue planes disintegrated in international waters by Cuban MIGs, who were murdered by the Castro regime with the help of these Cuban spies.

The Obama Administration will additionally announce that it will use its executive authority to ease a set of U.S. sanctions -- also in exchange for Gross' release.

As a result of these actions, the world today will be less safe. 

Rogue regimes throughout the world will take note that you can take American hostages and will be rewarded with policy concessions.

Moreover, that rogue regimes can murder Americans, have U.S. courts and juries duly convict those involved -- and see justice aborted by a stroke of the President's pen.

Rubio: America's Enemies Know Obama Will Cut Deals for Hostages

The people [Obama's] releasing – they were convicted in a court law after due process... The president has pardoned them in exchange for a release of hostages which had done nothing wrong and it proves once again now that nations and enemies of America around the world know there’s a price for Americans. If you take an American hostage, Barack Obama will cut a deal with you, whether it’s Bergdahl, what he did with the Castro brothers, and now what he’s done with Iran.
-- U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), on Obama's most recent criminals-for-hostages exchange with a foreign rogue regime, CBS News, 1/17/16

Obama Should Promote, Defend Democracy in Latin America

By Ambassadors Lino Gutierrez and Robert Callahan in The Miami Herald:

Obama should do more to support democracy in Latin America

Recent elections in Argentina and Venezuela have reinvigorated democracy activists in the hemisphere. Over the last decade or so illiberal populism has been ascendant in parts of Central and South America. Backed by Venezuela’s oil revenues and animated by Hugo Chávez’s socialist “Bolivarian” vision, several Latin American countries have adopted populist economic programs, run roughshod over the political opposition, and undermined fragile democratic institutions.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration and America’s allies in the region have largely ignored, or paid scant attention to, these abuses, apparently in an effort to avoid public disputes with neighboring countries. In the process, many democrats in Latin America have become dispirited and dismayed.

But the victories by Mauricio Macri in Argentina for president and the political opposition in Venezuela’s legislative elections have reshuffled the deck and dealt a new hand to democracy advocates in Latin America, giving them the hope and encouragement that have been absent in recent years.

In Argentina, Macri’s victory puts an end to the 12-year sway of Néstor and Cristina Kirchner, populists who railed against foreign investors, the IMF, and the United States, all the while cozying up to Russia, Iran, and the Venezuelan-led ALBA pact.

In Venezuela, the opposition won an overwhelming victory against the inept Chávez-Maduro regime, a victory that poses a real challenge to Bolivarian preeminence well beyond Venezuela itself. And in Brazil, which under presidents Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff has made common cause with populist governments and overlooked their authoritarian tactics, President Rousseff is fighting for her political life while facing a trial for abuse of power.

These profound changes come as the Obama administration is a year into its Cuban initiative, described as “empowering the Cuban people to decide their own future,” though there has been little evidence of that. Instead, the Castro government arrests dissidents in record numbers while numerous U.S. government and business representatives visit the island with little to show for it.

In fact, it seems that Washington has accepted the argument by some in Latin America and at home that it should not respond to — or even criticize — governments in the region that take positions inimical to American values and interests.

In Nicaragua, for example, the Sandinista government of Daniel Ortega has fixed elections, co-opted or bought most of the media, and illegally altered the constitution to allow Ortega to remain in power. In Ecuador, President Rafael Correa has closed the DEA operation, declared one American ambassador persona non grata, and harassed opposition media. His soulmate, President Evo Morales in Bolivia, has thrown out the American ambassador — the position has been vacant since 2008 — and sent the DEA, the Peace Corps, and the Agency for International Development packing.

In response, the United States has said and done little. Besides the expulsion of the offending countries’ ambassadors in retaliation for their tossing ours, which is customary diplomatic practice, and occasional statements denouncing the abuses, the Obama administration has shown mostly patience, offering meager assistance to those seeking democratic change.

If the true democrats in the region are to build on the fragile opportunity that these recent elections have given them, two things must happen.

▪ First, the opposition must unite, as they did in Argentina and Venezuela, and once in office they must govern effectively. For too long and in too many countries democrats have engaged in petty squabbles to the detriment of their parties and nations. And, when they have come to power, too many of them proved to be more interested in enriching themselves than in improving the lives of their people.

▪ Second, the United States must be more assertive in promoting and defending democracy. If a government restricts the basic freedoms of speech, assembly, and press, if it rigs elections and tampers illegally with the constitution, if it adopts policies that damage American interests, then we must condemn these actions and show our displeasure through measures that call to account those responsible.

This is not to say that we should exchange public insults with individuals who revel in smearing others and fabricating stories. Nor is it to suggest that we resort to gunboat diplomacy or political skullduggery to get rid of an antagonistic government.

But we do have aid programs and preferential trade agreements in place and we can suspend or alter many of them. We also could work to create a hemispheric free-trade zone for those countries that subscribe to and practice good governance.

And we could speak out, unabashedly, from the White House and State Department, about our belief in basic liberties, human rights, and democracy. If that makes us unpopular, or if it leads to the bankrupt charges of Yankee imperialism or interventionism, so be it.

The brave men and women fighting today for these ideals in the hemisphere need our support. Now is the time to provide it.

Lino Gutierrez is a retired U.S. diplomat who served as ambassador to Argentina and Nicaragua. Robert Callahan is a former U.S. diplomat who served as ambassador to Nicaragua from 2008 to 2011.

Hopes for Democracy Won't Stay Buried in Cuba

By Frank Calzon in The Sun-Sentinel:

Hopes for democracy won't stay buried in Cuba

People should remember what the dictators have done

It is the 57th anniversary of Fidel Castro's triumphant march into Havana, after dictator Batista fled in 1959.

Fidel entered the city on Jan. 8; a few days earlier his brother Raul had taken control of Santiago, Cuba's second largest city. On Jan. 10, Raul Castro, now president of Cuba, ordered a long, deep trench dug near the historical San Juan Hill, site of the U.S. skirmishes against the Spanish led by Teddy Roosevelt, which took place and on Jan. 11. His army's trucks hauled 70 Cuban nationals to the site, lined them up and executed them. Their bodies fell into the trench and were buried. There were no trials or "due process."

That action ought to enlighten Americans today as to nature of the Castro regime and the character of the man who inherited the Cuban presidency from his ailing brother and is now engaged with U.S. President Barack Obama in making decisions affecting Cuba's future and relationship with the United States.

While Fidel Castro enthralled Habaneros with long speeches, the most important promise of the Castros' revolution was immediately betrayed and abandoned. Fidel had repeatedly said that once Batista was gone, Cuba's Constitution would be reinstated. Millions celebrated the departure of Batista and arrival of Fidel's self-declared "democratic revolution." Cuba's Constitution prohibits the death penalty. Fidel's promise of democracy rapidly disappeared, and neither brother shows any new respect for the rule of law.

Cuban Army trucks hauled the doomed Cubans to the hill. Some cried, others pleaded to live professing support for the Castro Revolution. Some were blindfolded. Many remained silent. One execution was delayed several hours to accommodate TV crews who wanted better lighting to film the grisly event. Time magazine reported the details in its Jan. 26, 1959, edition.

As in Eastern Europe under the Soviet Union's communist rule, where similar mass executions took place, there is no marker indicating where the Cubans' remains lie. There is also no marker at the cemetery in Havana where Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa is buried.

Ochoa joined the Castros' rebel army in the Oriente mountains as a young boy, eventually becoming part of Fidel's personal guard. He became a general leading the Cuban armies in Angola, was very popular with the enlisted men and known for cracking jokes about Fidel's leadership. After all, none of Fidel's skirmishes against Batista compared with the bombing campaigns and the tank warfare that the general directed in Africa. In a speech, Cuba's minister of defense Raul Castro, Arnoldo's longtime friend, warned Arnoldo that jokes about Fidel were "not funny."

Fidel Castro ordered the general's home wired and taped everything said. In a kangaroo-court trial, the general and "Hero of the Revolution" was sentenced to die, marched to the infamous "paredon" (execution wall) and buried in an unmarked tomb. Perhaps, after the Castros are no longer in power, his name will be inscribed on the door, and the tomb will become a tourist attraction at Colon Cemetery.

These are the Castro brothers that Obama hopes to embrace during his planned visit to Havana this spring. Indeed, the smiling Raul Castro shown in a photograph taken at the United Nations with the president and Michelle Obama is the same man who, in 1996, ordered Cuban MIGs to shoot down civilian Americans flying in international airspace and searching for refugees adrift in the Florida Straits. Raul Castro awarded the MIG pilots medals and hailed as a "hero" one of the Cuban spies, Gerardo Hernandez, who was convicted in U.S. courts of helping to plan the murders.

Obama ordered Hernandez released in 2014 as part of a deal to restore diplomatic relations.

The president argues that much of what happened that triggered American animosity toward Cuba happened before he was born. Yet it does matter to Cuban Americans today. And it will matter to Cubans tomorrow when they learn the real history of the island and the story of the American president who meant well and inspired their hopes and then turned his back on the people of Cuba to embrace another dictator, as so many of his predecessors did.