WaPo Editorial: Will Obama Make Trip to Cuba Count?

Saturday, February 20, 2016
From The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

President Obama must make the trip to Cuba count

In scheduling a visit to Cuba next month, President Obama broke his word about the conditions under which he would offer that gift to the Castro regime. Just two months ago, the president said that he would travel to Havana only “if, in fact, I with confidence can say that we’re seeing some progress in the liberty and freedom and possibilities of ordinary Cubans.” On Thursday, the White House acknowledged the obvious — that there has been no such progress. Mr. Obama is going anyway: “It’ll be fun,” he said.

This is not the first time the president has ditched a pledge to connect greater U.S. engagement with Cuba to political liberalization. When he renewed U.S. diplomatic relations with the Castros in 2014, he disregarded his promise that normalization would require “significant steps toward democracy,” as well as a vow to consult with Cuban civil society before going forward. It’s little wonder that since the opening, political detentions and beatings of Cubans have spiked, and imports of U.S. goods have fallen steeply: The regime perceives that Mr. Obama is so intent on what he regards as a major legacy that it need do nothing in exchange for his concessions.

Those have been abundant and lucrative for the Castros. U.S. visitor traffic to Cuba is up by more than half, and remittances to the island flow more freely, meaning the regime is collecting billions in precious hard currency. The regime is using the prospect of U.S. investment to attract business from other countries, such as China, while not actually allowing in American firms. Dissidents say Raúl Castro is methodically using the fresh resources to fortify the communist regime for the long term.

The White House doesn’t really dispute these facts. Instead it argues that the way to overcome the failures of its policy is to unilaterally offer still more “engagement.” “A presidential visit is a forcing mechanism,” deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told the media. “I think it has the potential benefit of making our government and the Cuban government do as much as we can to make normalization move forward.”

We’d like to believe that. It is certainly the case that Mr. Obama is enormously popular in Cuba, where many people fervently hope that his initiatives will bring change to a country stuck in a putrid Stalinism. Sometimes expectations stirred by charismatic outsiders can create uncontainable pressure on dictatorships — witness Pope John Paul II’s 1979 visit to communist Poland.

If the president’s visit is to serve that purpose, however, it must be designed with the Cuban people, not the Castros, in mind. Mr. Rhodes said the president’s two-day schedule is still being roughed out and that he will meet with opponents of the regime as well as Raúl Castro. But will Mr. Obama address Cubans directly, in places where thousands of ordinary people — not hand-picked party cadres — can see and hear him? Will he visit private businesses? Will he give an interview to Yoani Sánchez, the country’s renowned independent journalist?

The regime will seek to prevent all such activity, which is why Mr. Obama should have negotiated it before committing to the trip. Asked if the administration had lost its leverage, Mr. Rhodes offered that “what [the president] says and how the trip goes will depend on whether we are demonstrating progress.” Let’s hope that at least that pledge is honored.

IBD Editorial: Only Castro Will Benefit From Obama's Cuba Trip

From Investor Business Daily's Editorial Board:

Castro Brothers The Only Beneficiaries In Obama Trip To Cuba

Announcing another historic “first,” President Obama said he and the first lady would visit communist Cuba to help improve the lot of the Cuban people. Last time he said that, when he normalized ties, the whip came down.

No regime has been showered with goodies the way the White House has heaped them onto the Castro brothers’ 57-year military dictatorship. From cash and trade, to the prestige of a costly U.S. presidential visit, the Castros have made out like bandits. The U.S. gets nothing in return. Nada.

The visit will no doubt be full of colorful celebrity-style photo-ops, perhaps driving on the Malecon in a ’57 Chevy, or sipping mojitos amid crumbling architecture, to make it all hip yet quaint for the cameras.

The president claims it’s “to advance our progress and efforts that can improve the lives of the Cuban people.” Seems he forgot his vow to not visit the island if he couldn’t say with confidence “that we’re seeing some progress in the liberty and freedom and possibilities of ordinary Cubans,” as he told Yahoo News in 2014.

Because the sorry reality is that life has not improved for Cubans since the thaw in relations. Human rights groups warn that, if anything, repression has increased following restoration of diplomatic ties. The regime still harasses dissidents with beatings, harassment arrests (some 8,600 last year), mob attacks and job firings, according to Human Rights Watch. What’s more, Cubans are terrified that the thaw will end their one thin reed of hope: escape to the U.S. They have since flooded U.S. borders in dramatically escalated numbers, surely a sign they expect little change.

Sure, the White House pays lip service to human rights. And Obama’s advance men have told the press he will even speak to dissidents, although they have declined to answer press questions about how these “dissidents” will be chosen. The more likely scenario is the one that came with Pope Francis’ trip to the island recently: Dissident roundups and beatings to keep the locals from getting any ideas.

It all adds up to the same sorry picture since Obama announced the normalization of ties. Now, with a Potemkin tour in the works, the only beneficiary will be the geriatric Castro regime, which will gain more legitimacy with the presidential visit, not to mention money.

Add it to the long list of Obama’s concessions to Cuba.

In 2009, President Obama loosened restrictions on remittances to the island, rapidly raising the regime’s cash flow, much of which was siphoned off through taxes by the regime. Remittances have doubled since then, to $4 billion.

Then, with no strings attached, President Obama normalized diplomatic relations with Cuba (ranked No. 177 out of 178 nations  in the Heritage Foundation’s 2016 Index of Economic Freedom) and opened an embassy in Havana, pointedly banning dissidents from attending, and then falsely claiming there was a lack of seat space.

After that, Obama took Cuba off the list of state sponsors of terror — even while, at the same time, emails subpoenaed from then-Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton showed that she knew Cuba had permitted the opening of an “operational” Hezbollah base on the island, a clear example of state-sponsored terror.

Meanwhile, egregious arms violations — such as the transport of Cuban missiles through the Panama Canal on their way to North Korea and another suspicious shipment to Colombia and likely its FARC guerrillas went unsanctioned. There was also the suspicious shipment of a U.S. Hellfire missile to Havana. Cuba returned it only this week, two years after it received the supposedly misdirected package.

Frankly, we doubt any change will come to Cuba with this trip. It’s just another legacy-builder for selfish aims. The Castros will gain, but the cause of freedom will be set back.

National Review Editorial: Obama, Cuba and Us

From The National Review's Editorial Board:

Obama, Cuba, and Us 

President Obama has announced that he will visit Cuba next month. This is a natural follow-on from his rapprochement with the Castro regime after our midterm elections in 2014.

In April of the next year, Obama said, “After the midterm elections, my advisers asked me, ‘Mr. President, do you have a bucket list?’ And I said, ‘Well, I have something that rhymes with “bucket list.” Exactly.

An opening to the Castro dictatorship was neither urgent nor necessary nor in the American interest. Obama simply wanted to do it. It was on his list. The dictatorship had been dreaming about this kind of rapprochement for well over half a century. So had the American Left.

Previous administrations had offered linkage: favors from Washington in exchange for liberalization in Cuba. Obama had next to no interest in linkage. He offered his favor to the Castros essentially for free.

Since the Obama opening, they have cracked down all the harder on democrats and dissidents. Oscar Biscet, the Cuban democracy leader, said, “I feel as though I have been abandoned on the battlefield.” Berta Soler, another democracy leader — the leader of the Ladies in White — said, “The European Union, the U.S.A., Pope Francis — they have turned their backs on us.” She also said that Obama had given “a green light to the Cuban government to crush civil society.”

It is the contention of Obama and others that U.S. policy over all these decades has not “worked.” By “worked,” they mean “toppled the regime.” Okay. But what Cuban democrats tend to say is, “At least the Americans haven’t helped the regime. That sets them apart from the Russians, the Western Europeans, the Canadians, and others. God bless them for it.”

Many of our citizens look forward to touring in Cuba. May they have a good time, sipping their mojitos on the beach and exploring what is sometimes euphemistically called “nightlife.” But remember, tourist dollars — or euros or whatever they are — are poured right into the regime, giving the Castros the oxygen they need to keep going.

That the Castros will direct much of that windfall to the persecution of their opponents seems to be of little concern to the administration. In recent months, David Thorne, a senior adviser to the current secretary of state, John Kerry, spoke of our new relationship with Cuba: “As in other parts of the world, we are really trying to also say, Let’s find out how we can work together and not always say that human rights are the first things that we have to fix before anything else.”

With that in mind, a big question about the president’s upcoming trip is whether he will meet with the dictator emeritus, Fidel. Fidel Castro is a hero to leftists all over the world. A rock star. Meeting with him, for the Left, is like meeting with Elvis. Che Guevara would be possibly better, but he is no longer available.

Arguably, Obama has an opportunity to do good in Cuba. He can insist on meeting with democrats and dissidents. He can insist on spotlighting political prisoners, if not outright visiting them. Last September, Pope Francis snubbed the democracy movement. The movement was terribly demoralized. Obama probably can’t get away with a total snub. But will he do more than the minimum? More than pay lip service?

Between Democrats and Republicans, there are many and sharp differences, including on Communism. Consider that a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, Bernie Sanders, honeymooned in the Soviet Union. And that the mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, honeymooned in Cuba.

Among the Republican candidates for president are two Cuban Americans, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. The latter has made an interesting proposal: to rename the street in front of the Castros’ new embassy in Washington, D.C., after Oswaldo Paya — who was a Cuban democracy leader killed in 2012, almost certainly by the regime. We hope someone who can distinguish between Cuba’s oppressed and its oppressors occupies the White House next.

Until then, there is little recourse. This is what Barack Obama does. This is who he is. In this last couple of years, he is crossing off the items on his rhymes-with-bucket list. On to Tehran.

N.Y. Post Editorial: Obama’s Cuba Trip Guarantees Another Crackdown

From The New York Post's Editorial Board:

Obama’s Cuba trip guarantees another Castro crackdown

President Obama says he’s headed to Cuba next month to “advance our progress” and increase “efforts that can improve the lives of the Cuban people.” Let’s hope that “advance” is worth the brutal crackdown his visit guarantees.

In advance of Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit last August, the Castros arrested 90 dissidents wearing Obama masks, for protesting in Havana against the reopening of the US embassy.

“What is happening is [Obama’s] fault,” former political prisoner Angel Moya said before the protest. “The Cuban government has grown bolder. That’s why we have this mask on. Because it’s his fault.”

And what “progress” does Obama mean to “advance”? Yes, Havana released 53 political prisoners in the runup to Obama’s normalization of relations — but it has since rearrested them all.

“We still have differences with the Cuban government that I will raise directly,” Obama tweeted of his trip. “America will always stand for human rights around the world.”

But not stand up for them, if it endangers a chance to “make history” as the first sitting president to visit Cuba in 88 years.

Last year, Cuba saw more than 8,616 documented political arrests. November alone brought at least 1,447, the highest monthly total in decades, The World Post reports.

Obama & Co. insist the president’s trip will be fruitful, and that he will be meeting with dissidents.

Ones the Castros opt to leave free, anyway.

Rubio Urges Obama to Reconsider Trip to Cuba

Thursday, February 18, 2016
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) today responded to President Barack Obama’s plans to visit the communist island of Cuba. In a letter to the President, Rubio warns of the consequences such a trip would pose, and urges him to reconsider.

Below is the text of the letter:

Dear Mr. President:

Your determination to visit the communist state of Cuba on March 21st and 22nd, regardless of the disastrous consequences, is a mistake. I strongly urge you to reconsider visiting Cuba in the absence of the government undertaking meaningful reforms including: reforming their oppressive political system, reigning in a police state that orchestrated over 8,600 political arrests in 2015, freeing all political prisoners, resolving the billions of dollars in outstanding property claims and court judgments against the Castro regime, and returning fugitives from U.S. justice.

In other words, having an American president go to Cuba simply for the sake of going there, without the United States getting anything in return, is both counterproductive and damaging to our national security interests. Any time a president visits a foreign country, it speaks volumes to the host country, to the American people and to the rest of the world. If you proceed with this visit, you will further confirm what the Castro regime has learned throughout its negotiations with your Administration: that you are willing to give up all the leverage the United States has in exchange for virtually nothing. You will send the message to the oppressed Cuban people that you stand with their oppressors. You will send the message to the Western Hemisphere and the rest of the world, especially our enemies, that the United States can grow tired of standing up for our national security interests and principles.

Furthermore, your Administration’s recent handling of its re-opening of the U.S. embassy in Havana demonstrated complete diplomatic incompetence that does not bode well for a future presidential visit. That event further proved to the Castro regime that it can get extraordinary concessions from your government in exchange for nothing. That episode also showed a blatant disregard for the patriotic Cuban dissidents who have toiled for years in advancing the cause of freedom only to be shut out of the public ceremony on August 14, 2015.

A presidential visit to Cuba would inevitably entail staying at hotels and other accommodations controlled by the Cuban military, providing American taxpayer dollars to the regime, in addition to the economic concessions you have been making over the past year. As you know, the island's repressive apparatus is under the iron fist of Raul Castro's son, Colonel Alejandro Castro, while the economy remains under the control of the lucrative military monopoly, Enterprise Administration Group (GAESA), run by Raul Castro's son-in-law, General Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas. To date, the concessions you have given to the regime have strengthened Castro's military monopolies not the Cuban people.

In sum, I urge you to reconsider visiting Cuba and instead insist that the Castro regime finally make some serious concessions that have so far not been prioritized in negotiations. Before you announced your new Cuba policy on December 17, 2014, the United States possessed significant economic and diplomatic leverage over the Castro regime. Rather than achieving several long-standing U.S. goals and national security interests, you have methodically squandered this opportunity, legitimizing the Castro regime and enriching it in the process. A presidential visit to Cuba absent of any concessions from its government is a dangerous idea, and I urge you to reconsider.

Menendez Statement on President Obama’s Trip to Cuba

U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) issued the following statement on President Barack Obama’s upcoming trip to Cuba:

“It is totally unacceptable for the President of the United States to reward a dictatorial regime with an historic visit when human rights abuses endure and democracy continues to be shunned.

This will mark the first time a U.S. President is visiting a dictatorship in Latin America since Lyndon Johnson's 1968 visit to Nicaragua and it’s the first presidential visit to Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. Since Castro seized power, nine American Presidents – Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton, and George W. Bush – did not rush to the island to shake hands with an oppressive dictator. They instead stood firmly against a regime that represses its people’s freedoms and blatantly violates human rights just 90 miles from our shore. The President is – again – prioritizing short-term economic interests over long-term and enduring American values. He will rue this decision, just as he will ultimately rue giving a lifeline to the Ayatollah.

As our President plans this trip with expectations that the world will watch and cheer, I remain of the belief that until the Cuban people are given the freedoms and liberties they deserve, eased relations should not be cheered.

Over a year ago when the Administration ushered in a one-sided deal with Cuba that was a win for the regime and a loss for the Cuban people, it started on an ill-fated trajectory. At every turn, I have urged President Obama to correct this course, but, unfortunately, the news of this trip is another step in the wrong direction.

This is reminiscent of the case of Burma, where amid great fanfare, we declared victory with a Presidential visit in 2012. At least in that case, we exacted 11 commitments from the government under the mantra of “action-for-action.”

We’ve seen multiple steps that have shifted leverage to the Castro regime: Travel, finance and commerce regulations have been eased, Cuba has been removed from the State-Sponsor of Terrorism List and an embassy has opened. However, since these sweeping changes started in December 2014, Cubans have been beaten, arrested, and repressed at higher rates than ever before. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights documented over 900 political arrests by the Castro regime in the month of December 2015 and 1,400 in January 2016 alone. U.S. fugitives, like Joanne Chesimard who remains on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorism List for the murder of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster, are still enjoying safe harbor on the island and not a penny of the $6 billion in outstanding claims by American citizens and businesses for properties confiscated by the Castros has been repaid. To this day, we have not seen one substantial step toward transparent democratic elections, improved human rights, freedom of assembly, or the ability to form independent political parties and trade unions in Cuba.

And yet, despite the lack of reciprocity from a despotic and reinvigorated Castro regime, our President is rewarding this oppressive regime with a visit. In the case of Cuba, we should at the very least expect Joanne Chesimard to step off Air Force One with U.S. marshals.”

Obama's Trip About Legacy, Not Freedom and Human Rights

By Elliott Abrams of The Council on Foreign Relations:

The Disgraceful Obama Trip to Cuba

Eight months after the U.S. Embassy opened in Cuba, what is the effect of this much-celebrated opening of diplomatic relations? Who has benefitted?

The Washington Post noted today that “there has been little movement on political freedoms…and the number of dissidents in detention has steadily increased in recent months.” In fact there has been no progress on freedom whatsoever. So far, the real effect of the Obama “opening” is an increase in the flow of funds to the Castro regime through tourism and business with state-owned companies.

But the White House says President Obama will visit Cuba in March. Why is the President visiting, given the lack of change? Because he cannot resist the photo op with Fidel Castro. It’s as simple as that.

What about human rights? The Post tells us that “in recent weeks, administration officials have made it clear Obama would travel to Cuba only if its government made additional concessions in the areas of human rights, Internet access and market liberalization.” The President has said that “If I go on a visit, then part of the deal is that I get to talk to everybody. I’ve made very clear in my conversations directly with President Castro that we would continue to reach out to those who want to broaden the scope for, you know, free expression inside of Cuba.”

What does that mean? Will the President meet with the brave Ladies in White who have fought for freedom for years? Which courageous dissidents will he see? What does it mean to “reach out to those who want to broaden the scope for, you know, free expression,” to quote the President’s inartful words.

Not too hard to guess: a tame group of civil society types, some artists who have galleries catering to American tourists, some people who want the right to open new restaurants. The Cuban regime will never allow Obama to meet with “everybody,” and they will get away with it. They know that Obama is dying to make this trip and get his photo with Fidel, and that gives the police state the upper hand– just as it did throughout the Obama negotiations with Cuba.

Yes, the trip could be salvaged–if Obama had a “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” moment. Yes, if he directly demanded free elections, and an end to the one-party rule, and free expression, and free trade unions, and demanded that every single political prisoner be released immediately.

This visit is about the President’s vanity and search for a legacy, not about freedom and human rights for the people of Cuba. And that’s a disgrace.

Ros-Lehtinen Statement on Obama Visit to Castro’s Cuba

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, made the following statement regarding reports that President Obama intends to visit Castro’s Cuba in March of 2016.

Statement by Rep. Ros-Lehtinen:

“If true, it is absolutely shameful that Obama is rewarding the Castros with a visit to Cuba by a sitting American president since their reign of terror began.  For more than 50 years Cubans have been fleeing the Castro regime yet the country which grants them refuge, the United States, has now decided to quite literally embrace their oppressors. There has been no progress in regards to human rights on the Castro brothers’ island gulag nor have conditions in Cuba improved since this administration began providing the regime with concession after concession. A visit by President Obama more than one year after his unilateral concessions to the regime will only legitimize the Castros’ repressive behavior.

It is a slap in the face to the memory of the Brothers to the Rescue pilots, three U.S. citizens and one U.S. resident, who were murdered by the Castro regime and those who have fled the Castro’s oppression to see Air Force One land in Havana. Instead of standing up for pro-democracy leaders like Las Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White), Jorge Luis Garcia Perez ‘Antunez,’ and others, the Obama administration has decided to cater to aging autocrats who rule by denying Cubans their basic human rights. Unfortunately, this announcement encapsulates President Obama’s Cuba policy characterized by unilateral concessions and willfully neglecting to pursue American claims.”

Diaz-Balart: Obama's Trip to Cuba is Latest in Litany of Concessions

Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) released the following statement in response to reports that President Obama would be announcing a March trip to Cuba:

"Regrettably, President Obama's planned travel to Cuba is hardly a surprise. Instead, it is the latest addition to the litany of concessions to dictators that have come to characterize this administration. The Castro brothers continue to harbor more than seventy fugitives from U.S. justice including 'Most Wanted Terrorist' Joanne Chesimard, Charles Hill and William Morales, smuggle weapons with North Korea and China, and even invited Hezbollah to establish a stronghold within its borders.

While campaigning for President, Senator Obama promised in Miami that, 'I will maintain the embargo. It provides us with the leverage to present the regime with a clear choice: if you take significant steps toward democracy, beginning with the freeing of all political prisoners, we will take steps to begin normalizing relations.' Obviously, he has abandoned that commitment. And last year, he said that his trip to Cuba would be conditioned on an improvement in human rights. That if 'we're seeing some progress in the liberty and freedom and possibilities of ordinary Cubans, I'd love to use a visit as a way of highlighting that progress... I'm not interested in validating the status quo.' Yet in 2015, political arrests totaled more than 8,000 and political activists Danilo Maldonado Machado 'El Sexto', Vladimir Morera Bacallao, and Misael Canet Velazquez languished near death in Castro's gulag. Cuba remains the only country in the Americas to be classified as 'Not Free' by Freedom House. By any objective measure, the Castro regime has not improved its human rights record. Neither has it unclenched its fist.

During his time in Cuba, President Obama should at least meet with those who risk their lives in the struggle for freedom and who have suffered most as a result of his policy of appeasement. He should meet with activists such as Berta Soler and the Ladies in White, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez 'Antunez' and his wife Yris Tamara Aguilera, Danilo Maldonado Machado 'El Sexto', and Antonio Rodiles.

The Cuban people will be free. Unfortunately, they will do so in spite of President Obama's alliance with their oppressors."

Statement on Obama's Trip to Cuba

Wednesday, February 17, 2016
This morning, President Obama announced a trip to Cuba by the end of March.

In the 20th century, various U.S. Presidents visited and fêted Latin America's military dictators. A trip by Obama to Cuba would be the first visit by a U.S. President to a dictatorship in Latin America since Lyndon Johnson's 1968 visit to Nicaragua with Anastasio Somoza Debayle. That should be unacceptable in the 21st century.

After decades of military dictatorship -- both of the left and the right -- thirty-four (34) out of thirty-five (35) nations in the Western Hemisphere are representative democracies. Albeit some imperfect, and while Cuba's regime has worked diligently to subvert democratic institutions in countries like Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Argentina -- those efforts are being slowly thwarted. Unfortunately, a Presidential visit to Cuba, prior to that nation's government taking any steps towards democratic reforms -- or even making any commitments to do so -- would harken back to the days of "business as usual" with the military dictatorships of the Americas.

Cuba is the only country in the Americas ranked as "Not Free" by Freedom House. It is the worst violator of human rights in the region. Rather than legitimizing the sole remaining military dictatorship in the Western Hemisphere, the United States should be focused on celebrating the advancement of democracy in most of the remaining others. We should be embracing a new generation of democratic leaders in the Americas, rather than emboldening the regime of General Raul Castro, his heirs and military cronies.

Upon taking office, Obama famously stated to the world's tyrants that "we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist." That turned out to be a lie -- Obama has extended his hand, and left it extended, as political arrests and repression in Cuba have intensified throughout the last year.

During a December 2015 interview with Yahoo News, Obama stated that he would only travel to Cuba if he can meet with pro-democracy dissidents there. Such meetings should -- at the very least -- include internationally-recognized dissidents, such as Sakharov prize recipients, The Ladies in White and Guillermo Farinas; U.S. Presidential of Medal recipient Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet; Estado de Sats' Antonio Rodiles and former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez". Otherwise, Obama will have lied -- again.

On Malmierca's Visit: Cuban Spies, Businessmen and 'Useful Idiots'

This week, Cuba's Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment, Rodrigo Malmierca Diaz, is visiting Washington, D.C., where he will discuss business with Obama Administration officials and be fêted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Let's be clear: Malmierca is not "the Cuban people."

This trip is not about doing business with "the Cuban people" or any of the discredited rhetoric of the Obama Administration and its new Chamber friends, led by former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez.

During this trip, Malmierca will distribute the Cuban dictatorship's glossy 168-page book of 246 business "opportunities" with Castro's state monopolies, which are run by its military and intelligence services.

But it's also about recruiting "useful idiots" ("poleznye idioty").

You see -- Malmierca is not simply Cuba's Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment (MINCEX, Spanish acronym).

Rodrigo Malmierca Diaz is the son of Isidoro Malmierca Peoli, a historic Castro confidant and founder of Cuba's counter-intelligence and state-security services. In the 1980s, Rodrigo himself entered Cuba's intelligence services (known as "DGI") as an officer in the Q-2 Department, which was tasked with "recruitment" and other operations against Cuban exiles. As a DGI officer, Rodrigo would serve under "diplomatic cover" at Castro's Embassies in Brazil, Belgium and the Cuban Mission to the United Nations in New York. Then, in 2009, he was named Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment.

Rodrigo Malmierca is not the first senior MINCEX official to visit the United States.

In 1995 (that's right 1995), Cuba's Vice-Minister of Foreign Trade, Ismael Sene Alegret, traveled throughout the Midwest as part of a month-long Cuban "trade delegation" in the United States. (Click here to see how familiar this article reads). His goal was to "recruit" allies in the agri-business community.

Like Malmierca, Sene Alegret was a senior DGI officer.

Sene Alegret officially served in Cuba's DGI from 1967-1997. (That's right, he was still a DGI officer while serving at MINCEX). He was a senior Cuban intelligence official in Eastern Europe -- with close KGB ties -- where he headed missions in the former Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.

Ironically, in 2011, Sene Alegret was arrested in his apartment near the now-U.S. Embassy in Havana. His crime? He knew too much. But that's for another post.

There's a reason why Cuba's DGI controls its Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment.

It's rather simple. Foreign businessmen (and entities like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce) have an exploitable weakness: They easily suspend moral judgment for the sake of a profitable opportunity.

They'll propagate you, fête you and become pro-bono lobbyists of the regime. And they'll do so, while ingenuously thinking they're "smarter" (also an exploitable weakness).

And that's music to DGI's ears.

(Last week, U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper recognized Cuba as one of the world's top counterintelligence threats -- and for good reason.)

Bacardi: Obama Should Reverse Granting Stolen Trademark to Cuban Regime

Bacardi Demands U.S. Government Revoke License Granted to Cuban Government

Bacardi details reasons why Office of Foreign Assets Control should reverse decision to grant Cuban government Havana Club trademark registration

As part of continued efforts to defend the legitimacy of its rights and ownership of Havana Club rum, Bacardi has requested the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) to reverse its decision to grant the Cuba government a license to renew and maintain the Havana Club trademark registration in the United States.

In its submission to OFAC, regarding License No. CU-2015-323837-1 (“License 837-1”), Bacardi explains that it – not the Cuban government – is the current and lawful owner of all rights and claims related to the Havana Club trademark in the United States. That mark was used in conjunction with the Havana Club rum business by the original owner, Jose Arechabala S.A. (“JASA”), which founded the company in 1878 in Cuba. JASA sold Havana Club rum in the United States after the brand was created in 1934 until the business was forcibly confiscated by the Cuban government in 1960. Bacardi obtained its ownership interest in the Havana Club mark through a lawful and OFAC-licensed transaction with JASA. Bacardi has been selling Havana Club rum in the United States since the mid-1990s.

In fact, Bacardi is the only entity authorized to sell Havana Club rum in the United States, and has an application pending in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) to register the Havana Club trademark on rum (Application No. 74/572,667) which has been on hold because of Cuba’s registration and its pending cancellation.

The Bacardi submission to OFAC details a history of fraud committed by the Cuban government in obtaining and renewing the Havana Club registration, including failing to disclose in its 1976 application that it had confiscated JASA assets. The fraud culminated around 1996 when Cuba attempted to transfer its rights in the U.S. registration to a joint venture company half owned by Pernod Ricard. Cuba misled OFAC into granting a license authorizing this transaction by failing to inform OFAC that the joint venture was half owned by non-Cubans. When OFAC learned of the fraud, it revoked the license retroactively, in accordance with the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) and to prevent the enrichment of the Cuban government. Again, in 2006, OFAC properly denied Cuba a license to renew its registration, recognizing it was contrary to U.S. law and policy.

“OFAC’s decision to grant the license to the Cuban government reverses its prior decision in 2006 to deny that very same license and contradicts its own defense of that decision in various U.S. courts,” says Eduardo Sánchez, senior vice president and general counsel, Bacardi. “OFAC has acted in violation of well-settled U.S. law and Congressional intent in a covert action that is unjustified in law. We request that OFAC revoke License 837-1 retroactively to prevent Cuba – and its business partner Pernod Ricard – from their continued trafficking in illegally confiscated property.”

In past defense of its 2006 decision to deny a license to the Cuban government, the then-Director of OFAC testified that it was OFAC’s determination that “the Havana Club trademark constituted a mark… that is the same as of substantially similar to a mark… that was used in connection with a business or assets that were confiscated,” that Bacardi was the successor-in-interest to the rights in that mark, and that neither Bacardi nor JASA ever consented to Cubaexport’s (an entity controlled by the Cuban government) registration of the mark.

Bacardi contends that Congress has made clear its refusal to recognize rights in marks and trade names in conjunction with confiscated businesses, except with the agreement of those who suffered those confiscations. The U.S. has had a long-standing policy of non-recognition of foreign confiscations, including trademarks. And U.S. law and policy also disfavors joint ventures with the Cuban government involving U.S. property – such as trademarks – which was associated with a confiscated business.

“OFAC’s decision to authorize Cuba’s renewal of the stolen Havana Club mark encourages exactly the type of joint venture that Congress plainly intended to discourage and makes it easier for Cuba and its business partner to facilitate traffic in stolen property for prohibited purpose,” adds Sánchez. “OFAC should comply with the letter and spirit of U.S. law and revoke Cuba’s license.”

Bacardi also argues that none of the recently announced policy changes toward Cuba remotely suggest that the United States should set aside well-established law and ignore the Congressional mandate of Section 211 to protect the rights of confiscated property owners and their successors. To the contrary, the Administration’s announced changes are all aimed at helping the Cuban people “gain greater economic independence from the state” and the Administration has never disclosed to the public the intent of surrendering expropriated properties or expropriation claims. The Administration should uphold the law and its public policy goals – and the victims of expropriation should not be victimized a second time. OFAC’s decision should be reversed.

Bacardi has been a long-time supporter of trademark rights for legitimate trademark holders and remains committed to defending the fundamental rights against confiscations without compensation. The company supports both legislation and legal action to uphold the principle of protection of trademarks and ensuring trademarks that have been confiscated by the Cuban government without the consent of their rightful owners not be recognized by the international community.

Bacardi will continue to pursue all the necessary legal and other actions regarding its rights and ownership of Havana Club rum. As the company has maintained all along, Bacardi is the legitimate owner of the brand.

NYT: Pact on U.S.-Cuba Flights Reopens Battle for Seized Property

Tuesday, February 16, 2016
From The New York Times:

Pact on U.S.-Cuba Flights Reopens Battle for Seized Property

The Obama administration’s top transportation officials will join Cuban dignitaries at the Hotel Nacional in Havana on Tuesday to sign an agreement that will restore commercial airline service between the two countries for the first time in more than 50 years.

José Ramón López, 62, the exiled heir to the Havana airport and to Cuba’s national airline, was not invited.

This being Cuba, even a significant diplomatic announcement has a back story involving old wounds, confiscated properties and uphill legal battles.

Mr. López is the son of the former owner of the airport, whose property was seized by the Communists after the triumph of the Cuban revolution. He says he deserves compensation if the United States is going to agree to a commercial deal involving the airport with the government that stole his inheritance.

“The airport in Havana is private property — mine,” Mr. López said. “How are American corporations going to go there and benefit from it?”

Mr. López says his is a cautionary tale that highlights the perils of doing business in Cuba, where unresolved, decades-old disputes complicate efforts by Cuba and the United States to resume not only diplomatic relations but also economic ones.

Mr. López is a former Cuban merchant mariner who left Cuba in 1989 and moved to Miami seven years ago. He has paperwork showing that he is the only child of José López Vilaboy, an associate of Fulgencio Batista, the Cuban dictator who was overthrown early in 1959.

Mr. López Vilaboy ran to safety on Dec. 31, 1958, when it became clear that a young bearded rebel named Fidel Castro had defeated the Batista forces and that the dictator would step down. Mr. López Vilaboy hid in the Guatemalan Embassy for nine months before fleeing the country; his properties were immediately seized.

Among his many holdings were a bank, a couple of hotels, factories, a newspaper, two airlines and Rancho Boyeros, the airport serving Havana now known as José Martí International Airport.

As far as the new Cuban government was concerned, Mr. López Vilaboy’s many properties were the fruits of his close relationship to a corrupt regime.

Mr. López Vilaboy eventually arrived in South Florida, and he lived quietly in a two-bedroom apartment in Miami Beach until his death in 1989.

He never saw his son after he left Cuba.

In 2010, a probate court in Miami declared Mr. López to be one of Mr. López Vilaboy’s heirs.

Over the years, he met with various lawyers, but he said they shrugged him off, viewing him as just one of the thousands of Cuban-Americans who lost property in the revolution — which they had little chance of ever getting back.

Then it was announced late last week that the American secretary of transportation, Anthony Foxx, and the assistant secretary of state for economic and business affairs, Charles H. Rivkin, would lead a delegation to Cuba for a signing ceremony at the Hotel Nacional.

By the fall, United States airlines will operate 20 flights a day from the airport Mr. López still considers his.

“I just don’t understand how American corporations can do business with my property,” he said. “If they are not giving it to me, then pay me for using it.”

Mr. López enlisted the help of Andy S. Gómez, a retired scholar of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, who helped him arrange meetings to explore possible legal recourse. “Americans need to understand the risks of doing business in Cuba,” Mr. Gómez said.

He said the moment was particularly crucial now, as President Obama seeks to ease restrictions on doing business with Cuba and as more American companies flock there hoping to sign deals. Last week, the Obama administration approved the first American factory to operate in Cuba in more than 50 years, a small tractor company from Alabama.

The Helms-Burton Act, signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996, says that anyone who profits from properties that were confiscated from American citizens is liable for damages, even if the owner was not an American citizen at the time. Yet the law has provisos that allow the president to decide whether, for the sake of American interests, the law should be enforced.

It has pretty much never been enforced.

“It would be a slug fest,” said Pedro A. Freyre, a Miami lawyer who specializes in Cuban business deals. “It would be a brawl, a free-for-all, everyone suing every Canadian company, airline, hotel, you name it — and it would be detrimental to U.S. foreign relations.”

Martha Pantin, a spokeswoman for American Airlines, which is expected to bid for the Cuba routes, said Mr. López’s problem is one best answered by government agencies. “This is not an airline issue,” she said.

A spokesman for the State Department, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in keeping with department policy, said officials in the United States and their Cuban counterparts had touched on the topic during aviation talks. The State Department is negotiating with the Cubans over compensation for confiscated properties, but the cases of people who were not American citizens at the time of the confiscations were not included in those talks.

And unlike the situation after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when heirs of property owners in the former East Germany received compensation for seized assets, the confiscators in Cuba are still in power.

“Claims issues have been one of our highest priorities since we re-established diplomatic relations with Cuba,” the State Department spokesman said.

The United State Department of Transportation said the administration could not stop people with legal judgments against the Cuban government from going to court to seize Cuban assets. But Mr. López does not have a judgment against the Cuban government or Cubana de Aviación, the national airline that his father owned.

Even if he did, because of the many judgments by American courts against the Cuban government, planes belonging to Cubana de Aviación are not expected to start flying to the United States.

“We do not anticipate Cuban-owned aircraft serving the United States in the near future,” Thomas S. Engle, deputy assistant secretary for transportation affairs at the State Department, told reporters on a conference call last week.

He said negotiators were clear with Havana that the Obama administration would not be able to stop their planes from being seized by people who have successfully sued the Cuban government in American courts.

Andrew C. Hall, a Miami lawyer whose client won a $2.8 billion verdict against the Cuban government, considers himself first in line to seize Cuban planes should they try to land here.

“If it comes here, I’m going to go get it,” Mr. Hall said. “And if American Airlines at some point owes Cuba money, I will try to intercept that money.”

Mr. Hall said the United States government would be unlikely to get involved in cases like Mr. López’s, because governments generally have a right to confiscate property. But the dispute could be among the kind that help push for a resolution, he said.

“Hopefully, as the political process begins to develop, Cuba will compensate its citizens for property it confiscated,” Mr. Hall said.

The Cuban government did not respond to a request for comment.

Emails Released: Clinton Warned About Hezbollah Base in Cuba

A batch of emails ordered to be released by a federal judge from former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's private email server -- containing sensitive information -- reveal that she was warned about terrorist group, Hezbollah's, plan to set up an operational base in Cuba.

The information came from Israeli intelligence services, the Mossad.

We'd also note that Hezbollah was among the first to celebrate Obama's one-sided deal (coercion) with Castro on December 17th, 2014.

Here is the text of the email to Secretary Clinton from her long-time advisor, Sidney Blumenthal:

During the week of September 5, 2011 extremely sensitive sources reported in confidence that the Israeli Intelligence and Security Service (Mossad) has informed the leadership of the Israeli Government that Hezbollah is establishing an operational base in Cuba, designed to support terrorist attacks throughout Latin America. While this operation is aimed particularly at Israeli diplomatic and business interests, these sources believe that Hezbollah supporters have been instructed to also begin casing facilities associated with the United States and the United Kingdom, including diplomatic missions, major banks, and businesses in the region. These individuals believe that the Hezbollah military commanders in Lebanon and Syria view these U.S. and U.K. entities as contingency targets to be attacked in the event of U.S. and British military intervention in either Syria or Iran, at some point in the future.

The Hezbollah office in Cuba is being established under direct orders from the current General Secretary Hasan Nasrallah, who replaced Musawi in 1992. According to the information available to this source, in preparation for establishment of the base, Nasrallah, working from inside of Lebanon, carried out secret negotiations with representatives of the Cuban Government, particularly the Cuban Intelligence Service (General Intelligence Directorate — DGI), agreeing to, maintain a very low profile inside of Cuba. Nasrallah also promised to take measures to avoid any trail of evidence that could lead back to Cuba in the event of a Hezbollah attack in Latin America.

Obama's Mariel Deal Violates International Labor Law

The Obama Administration has given a special license to a small U.S. company, Cleber LLC, to invest and export components to the Cuban military's Mariel economic zone, in order to manufacture tractors.

First and foremost, this deal violates U.S. law, including the Obama Administration's most recent regulations.

It also raises transparency issues, as it involves a company that has never built a single tractor, or that has any experience in doing so. Instead, it stems from a concerning relationship between one of its founders, who has been traveling to Cuba since the mid-1990s, and Castro regime officials.

Finally, Cleber LLC's deal with the Cuban military's Mariel economic zone, violates major international labor covenants.

It's shameful how the Obama Administration, which claims to be a champion of labor, will now allow this American company to partake in such gross violations of international law.

This deal, with the seal of approval of the Obama Administration, clearly violates the following covenants:

1. Freedom of Association and Protection to Organize Convention (No. 87) - Article 1(g) of Cuba's Labor Code grants the workers “the right to associate themselves voluntarily and establish Unions.” In practice, it is not allowed.

2. Protection of Wages Convention (No. 05) - Cuba violates this Convention that prohibits deductions from wages with a view to insuring a direct or indirect payment for obtaining or retaining employment made to a state intermediary agency.

3. Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention (No. 98) - Collective bargaining is nonexistent in Cuba.

4. Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention (No. 111) - By selecting the workers to supply to foreign enterprises, Cuba does not follow the mandate of equality of opportunity or treatment in employment and occupation.

5. Employment Policy Convention (No. 122) - Cuba’s policy is of selecting who works where, regardless of skills or endowments, and transfers are not the result of the will of the worker.

And also:

6. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 23) - Nonexistent in Cuba are: the right to work; free choice of employment; just and favorable working conditions; protection against unemployment; the right to equal pay for equal work; just and favorable remuneration; and the right to form and join trade unions.

Gallup Under Obama: Cuba is Good, Israel is Bad

According to Gallup, for the first time in decades, a majority of Americans (54%) have a favorable view.

This upward swing is due to a huge leap among Democrats, 73% of whom (following Obama's lead) now view Cuba favorably.

(Only 34% of Republicans viewed Cuba favorably.)

This is what happens when the leader of your party goes out of his way to white-wash the brutal realities of Cuba's dictatorship in favor of his political "legacy."

It's also what makes an avowed admirer of Fidel Castro a serious contender for your party's nomination.

Never mind that every single metric proves the situation in Cuba has gotten worse since Obama's new policy. (See here.)

It's a policy -- propagated by the media -- that favors '57 Chevys to freedom and democracy.

Of course, this shouldn't be all that surprising.

Last year, Gallup found support for Israel dropped 10 points among Democrats, as Obama was making his case for the Iran deal.

For the first time ever, less than half of all Democrats (48%) were less sympathetic to Israel than to some of their regional adversaries.

Upon taking office, Obama famously stated to the world's tyrants that "we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."

That turned out to be a lie -- Obama has extended his hand, and left it extended -- regardless.

But to justify it by white-washing Cuba's repressive realities (or Israel's regional concerns) is unjustifiable.

Obama Green-Lights Mariel Investment, Violates Own Regulations

Monday, February 15, 2016
The Obama Administration has given a special license to a small U.S. company to enter into a venture with the Cuban military to manufacture tractors at the Mariel economic zone.

Not only is this in direct violation of the language, intent and purpose of U.S. law -- as codified by Congress -- but it contravenes the Obama Administration's own regulations issued on January 26, 2016.

Those regulations specifically stated that:

"A general policy of denial will still apply to exports and reexports of items for use by state-owned enterprises, agencies, or other organizations of the Cuban government that primarily generate revenue for the state, including those in the tourism industry and those engaged in the extraction or production of minerals or other raw materials. Additionally, applications to export or reexport items destined to the Cuban military, police, intelligence and security services remain subject to a general policy of denial."

Yet, this license authorizes the tractor company to invest and conduct export transactions with the Cuban military, through one of its shadow companies, Almacenes Universales, S.A., which owns the Mariel economic zone.

That is illegal -- plain and simple. It also highlights the insincerity of the Obama Administration.

Ironically, this news comes as the world learns how North Korea's Kaesong economic zone, after which Mariel was modeled, served only to benefit the nefarious activities, control apparatus and luxurious lifestyle of the Kim regime.

This decision by the Obama Administration should not go unchallenged.

From AP:

US OK's first factory in Cuba since revolution

The Obama administration has approved the first U.S. factory in Cuba in more than half a century, allowing a two-man company from Alabama to build a plant assembling as many as 1,000 small tractors a year for sale to private farmers in Cuba.

The Treasury Department last week notified partners Horace Clemmons and Saul Berenthal that they can legally build tractors and other heavy equipment in a special economic zone started by the Cuban government to attract foreign investment.

Must-Read: How Cuba's Kaesong (Mariel) Works

For two years, we've explained how Cuba's Mariel economic zone, a centerpiece of every tour by Obama Administration officials and U.S. businessmen, is a ruse. (See here and here.)

Cuba's Mariel zone was modeled after North Korea's Kaesong industrial complex.

It is owned by a shadow company of the Cuban military called Almacenes Universales, S.A.

Ironically, Mariel is also the facility where 240 tons of weapons smuggled to North Korea in 2014 originated from. It was specifically chosen for this operation, in order to prevent detection and avoid any paper trail. (See here to learn more.)

And, as the South Koreans have finally fessed up to as regards Kaesong (see below), it's a source of slave labor, in order to finance the nefarious activities, control apparatus and luxurious lifestyles of the Kim and Castro families.

From Reuters:

North Korea took 70 percent of Kaesong wages for weapons program: South Korea

South Korea said 70 percent of the U.S. dollars paid as wages and fees for the suspended Kaesong industrial project, run jointly with the North, had been diverted for Pyongyang's weapons program and luxury goods for leader Kim Jong Un.

It is the first formal acknowledgement by the South that the 55,000 North Korean workers at the Kaesong complex saw little of the $160 they were paid on average a month.

South Korea on Wednesday suspended the project as punishment for the North's long-range rocket launch on Feb. 7 saying it would no longer allow the funds paid to Kaesong to be used in the North's missile and nuclear programs.

The North conducted its fourth nuclear test last month.

The North called the South's move to suspend operations "a declaration of war" and kicked out all South Korean workers on Thursday and froze the assets of the South Korean firms.

"The wages for the North's workers and other fees were paid in cash in U.S. dollars to the North's authorities and not to the workers," South Korea's Unification Ministry said on Sunday. "This is believed to be channeled in the same way as other foreign currency it earned."

The cash is then kept and managed by the ruling Workers' Party's Office 39 and other agencies, the ministry said. The ministry said it had confirmed the movement of the money through various sources but did not specify them.

Office 39 is widely believed to exist to finance the luxurious lifestyle of the North's leader. The office is also believed to be part of the North's agencies that fund the country's missile and nuclear program.

The Buzz on Zika: Increased Travel to Cuba May Come Back to Bite Us

By Dr. Sherri Porcelain of The University of Miami:

The Buzz on U.S.-Cuba Diplomacy

In an increasingly borderless world with greater speed, further reach and quicker exchange, both old and new diseases have gone global. Unlike the restriction of other undesirables there is no wall to prevent migrating mosquitoes from freely traveling. As a result, the rise in mosquito-borne diseases such as the Zika virus - along with dengue and chikungunya viral infections- has spread rapidly throughout the Americas. The main culprit is the highly resilient aedes aegypti mosquito that has skillfully adapted to environmental changes.

According to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the regional arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), 22 countries and territories in the Americas have reported transmission of the Zika virus since the first locally acquired cases were confirmed in Brazil in May 2015. In the U.S. there are more than thirty confirmed cases of the Zika virus from people who traveled to countries with known transmission, two from Miami-Dade County, and no locally acquired cases identified at this time. Cuba, however, remains silent. 

Cuba’s year of unprecedented drought, impact of natural disasters, and failing infrastructure of deteriorating water, sewage, and housing systems forms a perfect storm for the reality of a mosquito population explosion. This is especially significant since the aedes aegypti mosquito, which can also transmit yellow fever, dengue, chikungunya and Zika virus, resides in Cuba with ongoing dengue transmission.

As of January 28, 2015 Haiti and Dominican Republic report local transmission of the Zika virus, suggesting it is likely to have also reached Cuba. Although we know Cuba still reports no cases of chikungunya which seems highly unlikely since according to PAHO statistics, all countries and territories in the Hispanic Caribbean, other Caribbean, in additional to Central and most South American countries and the United States have reported imported and local transmission occurrences since late 2013.

In my research, I interviewed people who traveled to communities in Cuba in November 2015. They shared stories of both dengue and cholera in the Santiago de Cuba province, and well beyond the Holguin region where there have been officially reported cases. No one denies that Cuba conducts active surveillance with proactive community strategies to reduce the mosquito population and promote improved hygiene. Nevertheless when someone becomes ill with dengue or cholera, the Cuban government’s false denial is obvious with the use of euphemistic terms such as a febrile illness or gastro intestinal upset.

In an effort to manage global health security the International Health Regulations of the WHO collects and disseminates disease outbreak information and acts on global public health emergencies. In Cuba, notorious for officially failing to report disease outbreaks in a timely manner, information often leaks out through unauthorized health professionals, independent journalists, or travelers returning home with infections. This is both frustrating and unethical since Cuba has a well-developed disease surveillance system with highly skilled health professionals.

So don’t be fooled into believing that no mosquito- borne diseases exist in Cuba just because Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is no longer posting any travel health notices for this country. CDC depends upon a country’s official reporting to make an appropriate determination on whether to issue a watch, alert or warning for travelers. Even though it is known that there are countries that fail to accurately disclose information for lack of surveillance and laboratory capabilities, fear of trade and/or tourism declines, or as a function of its own internal politics, clearly this policy needs to change if global health security is to be achieved.

Like Cuba, Venezuela presents the same concerns among health professionals and citizens since its government remained silent for months, and now faces criticism for underestimating their Zika epidemic. Venezuela, following Cuba’s lead, has failed to release up-to-date epidemiologic data on disease outbreaks.

The timing could not be more perfect to make health diplomacy part of the U.S.–Cuba’s redefined relationship. This would mean much more than collaborating on research for drug and vaccine development, since it would also require sharing timely information to protect travelers. This is an absolute necessity with U.S. travel to Cuba expected to continue to increase through charter flights, major airlines and cruise ships.

In the meantime, the U.S. government may need to change its policy on travel notices and seek out other sources for a more reliable rapid reporting to protect travelers. Otherwise, the increased travel to Cuba may come back to bite us.

Sherri Porcelain is Senior Lecturer of Global Public Health in World Affairs & Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami. Professor Porcelain is currently writing a book on U.S. Foreign Policy and Global Health: The Nexus of Infectious Diseases.

Hellfire Missile Affair: Why Obama's Cuba Policy Can't Be Trusted

Sunday, February 14, 2016
For eighteen months (beginning in July 2013), the Obama Administration held secret talks with Cuba's dictatorship in Toronto, Ottawa and Rome, to negotiate the release of an American hostage.

The talks were led by two White House officials, in order to avoid Congressional oversight, while the Cuban delegation was led by Col. Alejandro Castro, Raul's son and key figure in the Ministry of the Interior's (MININT) repressive apparatus.

These talks culminated in a deal announced on December 17th, 2014, whereby the Castro regime agreed to release its American hostage in exchange for three Cuban spies convicted in U.S. courts, including one serving two life sentences for the murder conspiracy of three Americans, the restoration of diplomatic ties and the unilateral easing of trade and travel sanctions.

Unbeknownst to the American people at the time was that the Castro regime had taken another "hostage" (of sorts) amid the talks (on June 2014) -- a stolen Hellfire missile with sensitive U.S. military technology.

Despite this, the Obama Administration proceeded with its deal, opening Embassies and easing sanctions.

Nearly two years later, "quiet diplomacy" (or "willful ignorance") by the Obama Administration had failed to retrieve the stolen Hellfire.

It wasn't until last month (January 2016), when The Wall Street Journal revealed news of the stolen Hellfire and its national security implications, that the Obama Administration was publicly shamed into action -- and the Castro regime into finally returning it last week.

But with nearly two years to exploit the Hellfire and share its sensitive technology with other U.S. foes, including Russia and North Korea, the damage has already been done.

Similarly, last week, the Obama Administration welcomed one of Castro's most nefarious henchmen, Col. Mario Mendez Mayedo, to the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) headquarters in Miami, Florida.

The visit was held under a cloak of secrecy until it was revealed by The Miami Herald.

After being scooped (and Col. Mendez was back in Cuba), the State Department finally recognized the visit and stated that it was to discuss "human trafficking" activities.

Col. Mendez is the MININT official in charge of surveillance, tracking the movement and whereabouts of all Cubans (issuing state-of-the-art national ID cards) and foreign tourists who visit the island.

Days later, it's clear that the visit was actually to coordinate the oversight and control of Cubans, Cuban-Americans and U.S. travelers to the island as part of the upcoming commercial flight agreement.

Throughout the last year, we've consistently seen the Obama Administration's rhetoric about "empowering" the Cuban people being supplanted by the reality of "empowering" Castro regime officials (politically) and their state monopolies (economically).

Such secrecy further strains any credibility in Obama's policy.