NPR's Weekend in Washington Debate: Claver-Carone vs. LeoGrande on Cuba Policy

Wednesday, February 10, 2016
A few months ago, NPR's famous Weekend in Washington event featured a Cuba debate between CHC Editor Mauricio Claver-Carone and American University Professor William LeoGrande.

It was entitled "The U.S. and Cuba: Changing Policy, Changing Relations."

Click below (or here) to watch the substantive exchange:

Bipartisan Lawmakers Question Obama's Decision to Give Stolen Trademark to Cuba

Ros-Lehtinen and Wasserman Schultz Lead Bipartisan Letter To Secretaries Kerry and Lew Asking Why OFAC Granted Havana Club Trademark License To Castro Regime-Owned Cubaexport

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and nearly two dozen other Members on both sides of the aisle sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Secretary of State John Kerry standing up for American intellectual property rights and asking why the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has departed from its previous positions and granted a license for the Havana Club trademark to Castro-regime owned Cubaexport.

Statement by Ros-Lehtinen: “I’m pleased to lead this bipartisan letter to voice my opposition to the decision of State and Treasury to allow Cubaexport, an entity owned by the Castro regime, to renew an expired trademark registration for Havana Club rum in contravention of U.S. law. Let me be clear: this original family’s factories and trademarks were confiscated by the Castro regime and the U.S. government should not take any action which would embolden any foreign entity that could confiscate U.S. trademarks and intellectual property. This politically motivated decision could unfortunately serve as a negative precedent regarding the expropriation of U.S. based intellectual property by foreign governments.”

Statement by Wasserman Schultz: “I’ve been firmly committed to protecting the intellectual property rights of American companies, and I was pleased to join this letter with Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and many of my Florida colleagues. We must ensure American companies’ trademarks are protected against confiscation by any foreign government. I’ve cosponsored legislation in the past two congresses to work on this issue, and I’ve worked on intellectual property matters extensively in my role as Ranking Member on the Legislative Branch Appropriations subcommittee.”

To view the letter click here

Members of Congress joining Ros-Lehtinen and Wasserman Schultz in signing the bipartisan letter were: Ed Royce (R-CA), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Jeff Duncan (R-SC), Albio Sires (D-NJ), Darrell Issa (R-CA), Lois Frankel (D-FL), Bill Posey (R-FL), Alan Grayson (D-FL), Ted Yoho (R-FL), Frederica Wilson (D-FL), Ander Crenshaw (R-FL), Patrick Murphy (D-FL), Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Pedro Pierluisi (D-PR), Ron DeSantis (R-FL), Corrine Brown (D-FL), Peter Roskam (R-IL), Jeff Miller (R-FL), and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN).

Q&A: Will New U.S. Rule Changes Benefit the People of Cuba?

From The Inter-American Dialogue's Latin America Advisor:

FEATURED Q&A

Will New U.S. Rule Changes Benefit the People of Cuba?

Q. The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama announced Jan. 26 that it was removing many restrictions on U.S. financing of exports to Cuba, allowing U.S. banks to directly finance the exportation of any product other than agricultural commodities, among other changes. How important are the latest Cuba policy revisions for U.S. companies wanting to do business with the island? How will the changes in rules affect Cuba’s economy and citizens? What do the revised rules mean for Cuba’s state enterprises, which supporters of the U.S. economic embargo fear will be used to prop up the Castro regime and enrich governing elites? What other changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba are likely to take place before Obama leaves office next year?

A. Otto Reich, president of Otto Reich Associates LLC and former assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs under President George W. Bush:

“The latest Obama administration Cuba revisions, like other administration foreign policy initiatives, are vain attempts at self-fulfi lling prophesies, intended to give the impression of progress. They mean nothing to U.S. companies as long as they are expected to do business with a dictatorship controlled for 57 years by one family, the Castros, and a military regime run by an active-duty army general (84-year-old Raúl), the last dictator left in the Americas. Cuba’s government has no respect for contract sanctity and proves it by continuing to confiscate foreign businesses whenever the ruling family sees one it wants for itself. The country has no newspaper, radio or television station, school, university, labor union, trade or civic association, or any other institution of civil society that is not under the control and censorship of the Communist Party of Cuba, the only political party recognized by the country’s laws. The government also requires foreign companies to contract its workers exclusively through a state agency that receives the worker’s salary in foreign currency but pays Cuban workers an artificial, government-set wage that amounts to 5 cents of each dollar that the foreign employer has paid the government, a practice that has been described as ‘virtual slavery.’ Cuba also forces foreign investors into joint ventures controlled by the Castro family and does not allow collective bargaining, freedom of association, press or speech; and has put in place a succession of the family enterprise, also known as Cuba, to the children of Fidel and Raúl Castro. For those reasons, it is not just ‘supporters of the U.S. economic embargo’ who fear that Obama policies will be ‘used to prop up the Castro regime and enrich governing elites’. Anyone who knows Cuba knows that the regime exists for one purpose: self-perpetuation in power. This is why the overwhelming majority of Cuban dissidents condemn the Obama administration’s policy as having strengthened the regime’s hand, rather than ‘empowering the Cuban people,’ as President Obama eloquently but emptily repeats, as if wishing will make it so.”

A. Frank Calzon, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba:

“It is hard to disagree with Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.): The ‘action by the administration is a contravention of the law—the will of Congress, and the people who elected us, and a betrayal to those brave Cubans who have raised their voices in support of freedom, only to be silenced by a regime we are now helping.’ Since the president’s announcement on Dec. 17, 2014, there has been a reduction of more than 50 percent in U.S. agricultural cash purchases. The reduction in Havana’s purchases was designed to blackmail corporate interests to prod the administration to burden the American taxpayers if Havana fails to pay. The president’s disregard for the law establishes a most dangerous precedent. While many focus on Obama’s economic underwriting of the Cuban regime, Raúl Castro continues to hold a U.S. Hellfire missile, a strategic matter the administration has swept under the rug. Havana also continues to hold hundreds of millions of stolen Medicare and Medicaid funds which are deposited in Cuba’s National Bank. The administration and American agricultural interests pretend that the nature of Raúl Castro’s regime is not important. When an American investor ends up in a Cuban jail on trumped up charges without due process, as it happened to Alan Gross, he might spend years in prison, lose his teeth and be abused. President Obama’s response, if any, will be to pay ransom once again, while the Cuban people are ignored and the regime is strengthened.”

DNI Director: Cuba Remains a Top Counterintelligence Threat

Excerpt from today's testimony in the Senate Armed Services Committee by General James R. Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, on the 2016 Worldwide Threat Assessment:

"Moving to counterintelligence, 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. As well, the threat from insiders taking advantage of their access to collect and remove sensitive national security information will remain a persistent challenge for us."

Yet, despite this ominous warning, Cuban intelligence officials are invited by the Obama Administration to discuss human trafficking "cooperation" in the Miami headquarters of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (click here).

Meanwhile, a Cuban spy, expelled from the United States as persona non grata in 2002, led the Cuban delegation to a regional security forum hosted by the U.S. Southern Command (click here).

And that's in the last two weeks alone.

Must-Read Letter From Cuba: Four Questions for President Obama

Via Translating Cuba:

Four Questions For You, President Obama

Mr. President, I am a young Cuban woman who lives in Cuba and I do not want to leave. Exile hurts and I lack the courage to miss my homeland. I want to stay in Cuba and the reality of my people leaves me with many questions. I think it is up to Cubans alone – all of us without exception – to resolve our problems; peaceful change toward democracy is ours and is in us. I dream of a sovereign people, with self-determination because we have a voice, rights and freedom. I dream of an independent, democratic and sovereign Cuba, where there is a genuine rule of law and democracy, the indispensable foundations for Cubans to be able to achieve prosperity and well-being.

You have said you want to help Cubans to improve our quality of life, which leads me to ask you some questions:

  • What has improved in Cubans’ quality of life since 17 December 2014?
  • You have called Raul Castro ‘president’; does this mean you consider him your counterpart?
  • Can a dictatorship turn itself into a democracy?
  • Do you believe that the dignity of the human person, as well as his or her well-being and quality of life starts with rights?
Thank you for your time.

Yuslier L. Saavedra
La Salud, Mayabeque Province
Cuba

Cuba: Church Demolished and Hundreds Arrested

From Christian Solidarity Worldwide:

Church Demolished and Hundreds Arrested

Emanuel Church, a large church in eastern Cuba affiliated to the Apostolic Movement, an unregistered Protestant denomination, was demolished by the authorities on 5 February while hundreds of church members were detained.

The property of Reverend Alain Toledano in Santiago de Cuba was surrounded by officials including members of the police, state security and the military at approximately 5am on 5 February. They detained his wife, Marilín Alayo Correa, before demolishing both Emanuel Church and the pastoral home.

The destruction of the church follows similar demolitions of two Apostolic Movement churches in Camaguey and Las Tunas provinces on 8 January.

Over the course of 5 February approximately 200 leaders and members of Emanuel Church were also detained. A group of around 40 were held in a local school while others were taken to police stations across the region to stop them from protesting the demolition. Church leaders reported that many were beaten while they were being detained. The government has repeatedly refused to register the Apostolic Movement denomination.

Reverend Toledano was in the United States attending a religious event at the time of the government action against the church. He told Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) that he believes the Cuban government intentionally carried out the eviction and demolition when he was out of the country. He expressed concern at the impact on his daughters, ages 11 and 12, who he said were screaming as they witnessed their mother being detained, adding that this is the second time they have experienced the destruction of their home and church. In 2007, the Cuban government carried out a significant operation to destroy the church, also located in the Abel Santamaria neighborhood of Santiago, which at the time had around 700 members.

Church leaders told CSW that the church and family home were totally destroyed. In addition, the government confiscated goods belonging to the church including pews, chairs, audio equipment a piano and other musical instruments. Over 1,000 blocks of cement were also confiscated, despite the fact that the Toledano family has documents showing that they were legally purchased.

The property is privately owned by Reverend Toledano and the government had approved the construction of and renovation work on the buildings. However, Reverend Toledano notified CSW of numerous threats of church eviction and closure that he received throughout 2015. These included threats by three men claiming to be government officials on 13 October 2015. In response to the threats, the church organised a ‘sleep in’ on 13 November 2015 with members staying on the property 24 hours a day. However, these efforts were met with an eviction order issued by government Planning and Housing officials two weeks later.

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “We are extremely disturbed to learn of this latest church demolition by the Cuban authorities, in a similar manner to the destruction of the two Apostolic Movement churches on 8 January. We are also extremely concerned for the family of Reverend Toledano and his wife Marilín, who saw their home razed as part of this destruction. This series of demolitions since the New Year indicates a worrying escalation in terms of violations of freedom of religion or belief in Cuba. Again, we urge the international community to raise the demolition of these three churches, the mass detentions of pastors and church members, as well as the threats against others with the Cuban government as a matter of urgency. We continue to 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.”

Obama "Empowers" Castro Henchman on Human Trafficking

Tuesday, February 9, 2016
Under a veil of secrecy, the Obama Administration acknowledged that it recently held "technical meetings" with the Cuban regime on human trafficking.

The meetings took place from February 1-4 in Miami, Florida.

Yet, the State Department didn't acknowledge the meetings until February 5 -- and perhaps wouldn't have done so if The Miami Herald hadn't been tipped off and revealed it.

Perhaps the secrecy was partly due to the unsavory characters being flown in for the meetings -- let alone their content.

The Cuban regime was represented by a nefarious henchman from Castro's Ministry of the Interior (MININT) -- Colonel Mario Mendez Mayedo.

The MININT is the organ of Castro's domestic state security and secret police apparatus. It's responsible for vigilance, espionage and political repression. It's akin to the Soviet KGB or East German Stasi.

Specifically, Col. Mendez Mayedo is the head of the MININT's Identification, Immigration and Foreigners department.

In this role, he is responsible for the national identity-card that keeps track of all Cubans, their whereabouts, networks and activities. He is also responsible for tracking the movement of all foreigners who visit Cuba.

(Isn't it curious how just two days before Obama's announcement on December 17th, 2014, the MININT announced a new system for Cubans who run "casa particulares" that immediately reports and identifies foreigners staying in their homes?)

The MININT spares no expense for the latest technology to monitor all Cubans, particularly their political activities. They also keep a watchful tab on every foreigner who visits the island. (Yes, even those who ingenuously believe they are not being watched.)

Col. Mendez Mayedo is also frequent traveler to Venezuela, where he oversaw the implementation of the passport and national-identity card system of the Chavez-Maduro regime for its domestic intelligence service (SEBIN).

Adding irony to insult is the fact that the Obama Administration would welcome this henchman to discuss "cooperation" in human trafficking.

Not only is the Castro regime one of the world's worst perpetrators of state-sponsored human trafficking, but the Obama Administration remains under Congressional scrutiny after a Reuters investigation last year 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. This is one of the reasons why U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson's nomination for Ambassador to Mexico remains stalled in the U.S. Senate.

Finally, let's put this in perspective vis-à-vis President Obama's rhetoric that his policy aims to "support the Cuban people."

What message in being sent to the Cuban people, when the henchman responsible for tracking all of their movements and activities is now working in conjunction with the Obama Administration?

What message is being sent to Cuban-Americans who travel back to the island under the MININT's watchful eye?

What message is being sent to Cubans who run "casa particulares" and are required to immediately report to the MININT the names and passport information of every American who booked a room through Airbnb?

(Of course, those staying at Cuba's military-owned hotels are easily monitored.)

Not a good one -- by any stretch of the imagination.

It simply continues the Obama Administration's trend of talking about "empowering" the Cuban people, while truly "empowering" the Castro regime.

Heritage/WSJ Index: Cuba Remains World's Second Least-Free Economy (After North Korea)

Monday, February 8, 2016
According to the 2016 Index of Economic Freedom, which was released today, Cuba remains the world's second least-free economy.

Cuba ranked 177 out of 178 in the world. Only North Korea is less free.

The Index of Economic Freedom is an annual guide published by The Wall Street Journal and The Heritage Foundation.

The reason for Cuba's dismal placement is the Castro regime's insistence on monopolizing all foreign trade and investment, and the lack of a rule of law.

Let's be clear. This doesn't mean that business opportunities don't exist in Cuba -- or in North Korea -- as the media constantly reminds us.

It means that those opportunities are not with the Cuban people, they are with the repressive Castro dictatorship's state monopolies and its cronies -- which have never benefited the Cuban people.

So why isn't U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker leading a trade delegation to Zimbabwe (#175), which is two-notches freer than Cuba?

Why isn't the U.S. Chamber of Commerce forming a Working Group for Iran (#171), which is six-notches freer than Cuba?

Or how about a U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Belarus, which is twenty-notches freer (#157) than Cuba?

Rather, why is the Obama Administration and its unscrupulous business allies so intent on financing Castro's brutal, monopolistic dictatorship?

Quote of the Day: With Embassy, Nothing Has Changed in Cuba

We thought that things would change when the American embassy reopened, but nothing has changed. They [Fidel and Raúl Castro] don’t want things to change—they just want to get the Americans to give them money now that [Hugo] Chávez is dead and Venezuela is in the toilet.
-- Yunasy, chef at a famous Havana "paladar", New American Media, 2/5/16

Images: Despite Threats, Beatings, and Arrests, Cuban Dissidents Demonstrate

For the 40th Sunday in a row, Cuban dissidents have faced down threats, beating and arrests to peacefully demonstrate as part of the #TodosMarchamos (#WeAllMarch) campaign.

Yesterday, over 100 dissidents were arrested, including the leader of The Ladies in White, Berta Soler, and Antonio Rodiles of Estado de Sats.

The images below are from yesterday's demonstrations in Havana and Santiago.

Yet, as these courageous democracy leaders take to the streets for the freedom and rights of all Cubans, the Obama Administration, foreign leaders and businessmen seek deals to embrace their oppressors.

What side do you want to be on?



Quote of the Day, Pt 2: On Obama's Embrace of Raul Castro

Obama gave a handshake to a man who with the same hand signs death sentences. That’s something very, very hard for me to understand.
-- Omar Rodriguez Saludes, Cuban independent journalist who spent seven years as a political prisoner during Cuba's "Black Spring", on Obama's policy of engagement with dictator Raul Castro, Global Journalist, 2//8/16

Miami Herald Editorial: This Time, Put Your Foot Down on Castro, Mr. Obama

Sunday, February 7, 2016
From The Miami Herald's Editorial Board:

This time, put your foot down, Mr. Obama

Speculation persists that President Obama will visit Cuba

Cuban dissidents want him to demand concessions from the Castro government

Well into the “Republicans be damned” phase of his second term, President Obama this week touched a third rail — and lived; he visited a mosque, a move that for years he had wanted to make, but never had, likely aware of the fallout.

With less than a year left in his administration, and with the spotlight falling on the candidates vying for his comfy chair in the Oval Office, he made the first-ever stop, in Baltimore, in support of beleaguered Muslim Americans. He hardly created a news splash, but made a powerful statement.

Now, Mr. Obama likely has another controversial visit on his presidential bucket list where he can make another statement of affirmation.

It’s a trip to Cuba, just 90 miles away from South Florida. There is not a whiff of White House confirmation, but rumblings continue that he’s toying with the idea of making a historic visit, possibly in March.

This much is true: He shouldn’t represent the United States on the island without gaining some real concessions from Raúl Castro’s regime. For real this time.

In anticipation of the possible visit, which will likely make headlines around the world, Cuban dissidents have asked the president to make his visit contingent on a list of conditions.

They request that he ask that there be an “immediate cessation of repression” for those who oppose the Cuban government; that amnesty be granted to political prisoners; that the U.S. president be allowed to meet with representatives of the opposition, according to a statement from dissidents obtained by El Nuevo Herald.

The Forum for Rights and Freedoms said in its online page that Mr. Obama’s visit should be a catalyst for improvement of human rights on the island. After all, wasn’t that the goal of reestablishing diplomatic ties?

Back in December 2014 when the president called for an end to a half-century of hostility, the justification was to “unleash the potential of 11 million Cubans.”

Today there’s little evidence that much has changed in Cuba, except for an influx of tourism dollars because travel restrictions have eased. In fact, detentions have spiked in recent months. The state continues to monopolize radio, television and newspapers, and Cubans continue to flee to the United States by the thousands, via Central America.

Only last Sunday, as denounced by the Cuban independent publication the Diario de Cuba, there were hundreds of arrests on the island. In Guantánamo and Camaguey, police detained more than 170 members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba and the Resistance Front Orlando Zapata Tamayo.

And in Havana, as is routine now every Sunday, police arrested 15 Ladies in White during their traditional march in defense of prisoners along Fifth Avenue in Miramar. The monolithic ideology of the Cuban regime does not accept opposing views. Never has.

But it’s time for Mr. Obama to be far more insistent on this point.

Meanwhile, the United States continues to grant the wily Cuban government unilateral concessions, and asking — and receiving — nothing in return.

It’s past time for the United States to play hardball. But it has been aggravatingly timid in pressing for Cuba to grant its citizens the most basic of human rights.

An Obama visit, which would be a wonderful optic for Cuba, should come as a prize. What if this American president voices those dissidents’ demands before he sets foot on the island? That would be a non-campaign stop worth endorsing.

Castro Mocks Obama's Outreach

By Elliott Abrams of the Council on Foreign Relations:

Castro Mocks the American Outreach

The efforts of the Obama administration to ‘normalize’ relations with Cuba have been mocked this past week.

The U.S. Southern Command holds an annual regional security conference. For decades one of its main purposes was to protect the region against Cuba, but this time the Obama administration made sure that Cuba was invited to attend. The conference was held at the very end of January.

What did the Cubans do? They sent as their representative a man who spied against the United States and was thrown out of our country. He is Gustavo Machin Gomez, a Cuban spy declared persona non grata in 2002. Now this man was accepted by us to sit with American military officers as a fit person with whom to discuss regional security.

There’s one other thing to consider as one thinks about this invitation. Cuba still holds the Hellfire missile that somehow was sent there, and the regime will not give it back to the United States. The Wall Street Journal has reported that “for more than a year, amid a historic thawing of relations between the U.S. and Cuba, American authorities have tried to get the Cuban government to return the missile….”

Presumably, Cuba is happily sharing what the Journal called  “this sensitive military technology” with Russia and other regime allies. The return of the missile was, amazingly enough, not made a condition of ‘normalization’ by the Obama administration in its negotiations with Cuba. And now we see that its return was not even made a condition of inviting Cuba to participate in a regional security conference.

They keep the missile, they send a man thrown out of the United States for spying to our regional security conference, and the Obama administration appears to think all is just swell with the new opening to Cuba. Castro must be wondering if he’s dreaming.

But here’s the nightmare. It seems clear that President Obama wants to cap off his years in office with a visit to Cuba, where he can meet the great Fidel Castro and do some wonderful photo ops. So throughout 2016, we can expect this kowtowing to the Castro regime to continue, and we can expect to see more and more displays of regime contempt for the United States. And meanwhile, the arrests and the beatings of Cubans struggling for democracy and human rights continue, and increase -- and they have increased since Mr. Obama signed his deal with the Castro brothers. The price for Mr. Obama’s photo ops would be paid by Cubans struggling for freedom. And that would be an immoral bargain.

Cuban Regime Demolishes Evangelical Church; Pastor, Dozens Arrested

From 14ymedio:

Evangelical Pastor Arrested During Demolition Of A Temple In Santiago De Cuba

The evangelical pastor Marilin Alayo was arrested today, Friday, during the demolition of a temple in the Abel Santamaria district in Santiago de Cuba, as reported to this newspaper by Pastor Bernardo de Quesada, founder of the Apostolic Movement, a Christian group that separated from the Cuban Council of Churches in 2003.

The demolition comes at a time when the church pastor and Alayo’s husband, Alain Toledano, is traveling in Miami.

Pastor Toledano explained through a message on Facebook that, so far, he has been unable to talk to his wife, who is still being held incommunicado, along with pastors of the network and the local church. “More than 40 of our spiritual children are detained in the school in the municipality of Guama, they were beaten, abused, threatened. The other disciples do not know where they are, there are many people detained and so far we do not know where they are,” he wrote.

Liudmila Cedeño, an activist with the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), confirmed to 14ymedio that at 5:00 am on Friday a large group of people, among whom were prosecutors, police and officials from the Institute of Physical Planning, proceeded to demolish the temple of the apostolic ministry.