Halliburton Fined for Cuba Sanctions Violations

Saturday, February 27, 2016
For the second time this week, a reminder that the statute of limitations for sanctions violations does not end with the Obama Administration -- despite The White House's political prodding (and "winks-and-nods") today.

Note these sanctions violations took place in 2011.

From the U.S. Department of Treasury:

Halliburton Atlantic Limited and Halliburton Overseas Limited Settle Potential Civil Liability for Alleged Violations of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations

Halliburton Atlantic Limited (HAL) has agreed to pay $304,706 on behalf of itself and its affiliate, Halliburton Overseas Limited (HOL), to settle potential civil liability for alleged violations of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, 31 C.F.R. part 515 (the “CACR”), by HAL and HOL.

From on or about February 15, 2011, to on or about April 6, 2011, HAL and HOL, two Cayman Island subsidiaries of the U.S. company Halliburton Energy Services, Inc. (collectively, “Halliburton”), appear to have violated § 515.201(b) of the CACR by dealing in property in which Cuba or a Cuban national had an interest when they exported goods and services in support of oil and gas exploration and drilling activities within the Cabinda Onshore South Block oil concession (the “Concession”) in Angola. Specifically, Cuba Petroleo, a state-owned Cuban company also known as Cupet, held a five percent interest in an oil and gas production consortium (“the Consortium”) and corresponding interests in the Concession and any oil or gas procured within the Concession. HAL and HOL knew or should have known they were dealing in property in which Cupet — and therefore Cuba — had an interest. HAL issued 19 invoices to the Consortium operator, a company with headquarters in Angola, related to these goods and services, and HOL primarily performed the services which were invoiced. The total amount invoiced by HAL was $1,189,752.

Must-Read: Why is Obama Visiting Cuba?

By Konrad Yakabuski in Canada's The Globe and Mail:

Why is Obama visiting Cuba?

Only two months ago, U.S. President Barack Obama laid out the conditions under which he would visit Cuba before he leaves office. “If, in fact, I with confidence can say that we’re seeing some progress in the liberty and expression and possibilities of ordinary Cubans, I’d love to use a visit as a way of highlighting that progress,” he said on the first anniversary of his historic announcement of the renewal of U.S. diplomatic relations with the Communist holdout.

The world has become accustomed to Mr. Obama’s foreign policy flip-flops (see his “red line” in Syria) and desire to do away with the image of the United States as a meddling and moralizing superpower. But even critics of the five-decade U.S. policy of isolating the Castro regime were taken aback by news that Mr. Obama will next month become the first sitting president to visit to Cuba in 88 years.

In no material sense has Cuban President Raul Castro, who took over from his ailing brother Fidel in 2006, expanded the freedoms of ordinary citizens. Recent baby steps toward economic reform fit a pattern that seasoned Cuba watchers recognize all too well. The Castros are experts in diffusing the frustrations of average Cubans with their stultified economic conditions by offering up mini-reforms that, once the dust settles, never amount to much for average folk. Low expectations are now so integral to the Cuban condition that mere crumbs are welcomed.

There has been even less progress on human rights. Arbitrary arrests and detentions climbed steadily throughout 2015 and hit 1,474 people in January, according to the Cuban Observatory on Human Rights. Political repression has not eased. “The figures reflect only certain repressive actions, and therefore do not express all the violations of various human rights that occur in Cuba,” the Madrid-based organization noted. “But they serve to demonstrate the lack of political will to change on the part of the Cuban government, which remains stuck in intolerance and immobility.”

This has not stopped the Obama administration from unilaterally easing restrictions on Americans travelling to Cuba and sending remittances to relatives on the island. It has reopened the U.S. embassy in Havana and announced plans for the resumption of commercial flights to Cuba by U.S. airlines. (Congress, however, has no intention of lifting the U.S. trade embargo.)

Mr. Obama plans to meet with dissidents, but under what conditions remains to be seen. The visit will be covered by Cuba’s state-run media, which will showcase to Cubans their censored version of it. It is not Mr. Obama’s style to deliver a Reaganesque ultimatum on foreign soil. The President hopes to “nudge the Cuban government in a new direction.” Good luck with that.

The Castros have not held on to power for 57 years by taking friendly advice from neighbours on how to transition to democracy. If anything, Mr. Obama risks enhancing their legitimacy and strengthening their grip on the island’s economy. The Cuban military, also headed by Raul Castro, controls most of the economy (including its burgeoning tourist industry) and stands to benefit the most from increased U.S. trade and investment. The regime is desperate for hard currency, especially now that fast-spiralling Venezuela can no longer play Cuba’s benefactor.

Mr. Obama seeks to make his opening toward Cuba “irreversible” for a future president and prepare for a post-Castro Cuba. But it would be naive to believe the 84-year-old Raul, who plans to quit the presidency in 2018, has not planned for his succession. Many Cuban experts believe he has chosen 55-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, a Communist hardliner and first vice-president of the Cuban Council of State, to succeed him as president. But the real post-Raul power may lie with his son and/or son-in-law; both are top military officials who run some of Cuba’s biggest businesses.

Supporters of Mr. Obama’s approach argue that human-rights violations and political repression have not stopped the United States from pursuing economic and diplomatic relations with China. So why apply a tougher standard to Cuba, especially when the United States continues to indefinitely detain and deprive of due process dozens of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay?

The answer is that Cuba is in North America’s backyard and the Castros head the longest-running dictatorship in the Western hemisphere. Their brutality is well documented, in spite of the romanticism with which Canadians often view them.

The world does not need more (of the Castros’) Cuba.

Does Obama Want to Give Gitmo to the Castros?

By Benny Avni in The New York Post:

Does Obama want to give Gitmo to the Castros?

It didn’t take long for the two Cuban-American presidential contenders to smell a Havana rat.

“You wake up this morning to the news that the president is planning to close Guantánamo — maybe even giving it back to the Cuban government,” Marco Rubio said Tuesday while campaigning in Las Vegas.

Dropping the “maybe,” Ted Cruz said at a Reno rally, “I believe that President Obama intends to try to give the Guantánamo naval facility to Raúl and Fidel Castro as a parting gift.”

Indeed, a diplomat familiar with the administration’s Cuba maneuvering tells me the White House has seriously considered giving in to Raúl Castro’s demand to hand over Guantánamo. America has controlled the naval base since 1903. Since the 1959 revolution, the Cuban government has said Guantánamo is an occupied territory that must be returned.

Most recently, Raúl Castro demanded turning Gitmo over as a condition for renewing relations.

White House officials say that, yes, Obama believes the detention facility should be closed down — but no, not the naval base. Raúl opened a US embassy last year anyway. So unless there’s some secret deal to change all that during Obama’s March 21 visit, let’s assume that, for now, we still have the base.

And remember: Even closing the detention center is far from a done deal. For one, Congress has ruled out any transfer of detainees to US soil. That’s unlikely to change in an election year. So what to do with the 91 terrorists still held at Guantanamo, like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, known as the brain behind 9/11?

In fact, Obama’s entire Cuba strategy is just as tough to implement as his “shut Gitmo” gambit.

The administration insisted that replacing an unproductive embargo with enlightened engagement would lead to much-needed Cuban reforms. That promise is fizzling faster than a Caribbean tropical storm.

Since Obama announced his Cuba détente in late 2014, the Castros have rounded up regime critics faster than ever before, jailing and beating anyone who dares protest. Obama said he’ll raise human-rights issues while on the island; Wednesday, Havana allowed seven dissidents to travel and see Obama (rejecting requests from four other detainees), but a meeting with regime critics while in Cuba is unlikely.

The Castros not only ignore the sensibilities of visiting dignitaries. They seem to enjoy poking them in the eye: Soon after Pope Francis left the island last fall, and after Raúl Castro said playfully that he may have discovered God, the regime launched a campaign of church-closing, rounding up the faithful.

Yet the pontiff, who helped broker Obama’s opening to Cuba, remains the go-between who helps tweak the Washington-Havana thaw.

Not that it’s working very well for Cubans. Most restrictions levied by Congress since the revolution remain and aren’t likely to be removed even if Hillary Clinton wins the White House and Democrats recapture a majority in one house of Congress in November. The island’s notorious centralized economy isn’t improving.

Cubans hear a lot of promises of a rosy future. They’d rather have food.

Need more proof that the Obama spring is yet far off? If you live in Cuba, look no further than your local beisbol columns. They report that earlier this month the isle’s top infielder, Yulierski Gourriel, left the national team while playing in the Dominican Republic. He won’t return.

Gourriel, a slugger who’s always dreamed of playing for a major league team (preferably the Yankees), has waited patiently for hostilities between America and Cuba to end. He was largely expected to be the first Cuban to be drafted by a US team without defecting.

Now he’s defected. Readers of Granma, the regime’s mouthpiece that has survived the Internet age, will be disappointed to learn that their idol now plans to “surrender to the merchants of professional baseball for profit.”

Baseball Spring? Press freedom? Religious rights? Liberalized economy leading to a better standard of living and more openness to the rest of the world? Not as long as the Castros are alive.

And Obama’s opening is doing nothing to change any of that. If anything, his historic “breakthrough” is pushing any Cuban renaissance further into the future. But hey, his visit next month will mark a historic event — a first sitting president visiting, and donning Cuban guayaberas, since 1928.

Now, that’s a legacy.

Jorge Ramos: Obama and Pope Francis Are Best Friends Castro Could Hope For

Friday, February 26, 2016
By Univision news anchor Jorge Ramos in Fusion:

Cuba Libre?

Pope Francis and President Obama are the best friends that Cuba could hope for. Both leaders have resolved to ally with the Castro regime, despite its decades long record of repression, censorship and human rights violations. The mystery is why.

Raul Castro, like his brother Fidel, is on the wrong side of history. But perhaps Obama and the pope are betting that by getting close to this regime, they can work to free the island from tyranny. If that’s their ultimate strategy, however, they aren’t saying.

Obama’s visit to Cuba next month could be his very own “Nixon moment.” In 1972, President Richard M. Nixon, with the crucial assistance of Henry Kissinger, embarked on his historic visit to China, which resulted in opening up the secretive Asian giant to the rest of the world. But just as Nixon’s trip didn’t transform China into a democracy, Obama’s visit to Cuba won’t bring about multiparty elections, the release of political prisoners, or more press freedoms. But it could mark the beginning of a long-term strategy that goes far beyond the reopening of American embassies.

Obama is taking a lot of criticism for his Cuba strategy. Years from now, though, I hope I can interview Obama and have him admit that his goal all along in normalizing relations was to help bring real democracy to Cuba. Sooner rather than later, perhaps, the people of Cuba will force the Castro regime to face justice. Perhaps Cuba’s aging leaders will answer for their crimes before they’re gone. It’s a shame to see a dictator die in a comfortable bed rather than in a prison cell—as was the case with Chile’s Augusto Pinochet and Francisco Franco of Spain. We’ll have to wait and see.

Pope Francis’ overtures to the Castro regime have likewise disappointed people who yearn for change in Cuba. In his tenure as pontiff, Francis has visited the island twice, both times greeting the brothers Castro as legitimate rulers and ignoring their despotic past. As I mentioned last week, it was especially galling to watch the arrest of a Cuban activist who tried to speak to Francis as the pope visited Cuba in September. As plainclothes security agents pushed the young man to the ground and dragged him away, Francis said nothing.

While he was in Cuba, the pope also failed to meet with prominent dissident groups such as the Ladies in White. Nor did he speak with independent journalists like the popular blogger Yoani Sanchez. Rather than interact with those who dare raise their voices against oppression, Francis seemingly prefers to remain silent.

While he vigorously speaks out against immigration abuses and the excesses of capitalism in the U.S., he won’t make the same kind of criticisms in Cuba or Latin America. I find it incomprehensible that, in his visit to Mexico earlier this month, Francis didn’t meet the victims of pedophile priests, or the relatives of the 43 students missing college students from Ayotzinapa, presumably murdered by a drug gang. Instead, he preferred to meet with governors from states where journalists are murdered and where the killings of women are tolerated.

Both the pope and the president can do much to foster a democratic transition in Cuba. But the images of those leaders shaking hands with the island’s dictators du jour are hard to stomach. That’s especially true of the pope, who, as an Argentine, witnessed firsthand how heinous a military dictatorship can be.

I would love to be in Cuba when Obama visits, but the Cuban government has blocked me from entering the country since 1998, when I covered Pope John Paul II’s visit there. They apparently didn’t approve of my interviewing political dissidents and independent journalists. If Cuba is interested in opening up to the world, the Castro regime should immediately lift restrictions against foreign journalists and stop trying to impose its agenda on the global press.

I’ll watch Obama’s visit on television and the Internet, though I’d much rather be there in person to see whether Cuba has changed, whether its leaders are more tolerant and whether the nation is more free. Of course, as any bartender can tell you, ‘Cuba Libre’ is an oxymoron. For now, anyway.

Must-Watch: Ros-Lehtinen Presses Kerry on Human Rights, Fugitives and Confiscated Properties in Cuba

Yesterday, during a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) challenged U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Cuba policy.

Again, Kerry resorted to hollow talking points.

Click below (or here) to watch:

While Obama Fiddles With Castro...

By Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post:

While Obama fiddles ...

State of the world, Year Eight of Barack Obama:

1. In the South China Sea, on a speck of land of disputed sovereignty far from its borders, China has just installed antiaircraft batteries and stationed fighter jets. This after China landed planes on an artificial island it created on another disputed island chain (the Spratlys, claimed by the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam). These facilities now function as forward bases for Beijing to challenge seven decades of American naval dominance of the Pacific Rim.

2. Syria. Russian intervention has turned the tide of war. Having rescued the Bashar al-Assad regime from collapse, relentless Russian bombing is destroying the rebel stronghold of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, creating a massive new wave of refugees and demonstrating to the entire Middle East what a Great Power can achieve when it acts seriously.

The U.S. response? Repeated pathetic attempts by Secretary of State John Kerry to propitiate Russia (and its ally, Iran) in one collapsed peace conference after another. On Sunday, he stepped out to announce yet another “provisional agreement in principle” on “a cessation of hostilities” that the CIA director, the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff deem little more than a ruse.

3. Ukraine. Having swallowed Crimea so thoroughly that no one even talks about it anymore, Russia continues to trample with impunity on the Minsk cease-fire agreements. Vladimir Putin is now again stirring the pot, intensifying the fighting, advancing his remorseless campaign to fracture and subordinate the Ukrainian state. Meanwhile, Obama still refuses to send the Ukrainians even defensive weapons.

4. Iran. Last Thursday, Iran received its first shipment of S-300 antiaircraft batteries from Russia, a major advance in developing immunity to any attack on its nuclear facilities. And it is negotiating an $8 billion arms deal with Russia that includes sophisticated combat aircraft. Like its ballistic missile tests, this conventional weapons shopping spree is a blatant violation of U.N. Security Council prohibitions. It was also a predictable — and predicted — consequence of the Iran nuclear deal that granted Iran $100 billion and normalized its relations with the world.

The U.S. response? Words.

Unlike gravitational waves, today’s strategic situation is not hard to discern. Three major have-not powers are seeking to overturn the post-Cold War status quo: Russia in Eastern Europe, China in East Asia, Iran in the Middle East. All are on the march.

To say nothing of the Islamic State, now extending its reach from Afghanistan to West Africa. The international order built over decades by the United States is crumbling.

In the face of which, what does Obama do? Go to Cuba.

Yes, Cuba. A supreme strategic irrelevance so dear to Obama’s anti-anti-communist heart.

Is he at least going to celebrate progress in human rights and democracy — which Obama established last year as a precondition for any presidential visit? Of course not. When has Obama ever held to a red line? Indeed, since Obama began his “historic” normalization with Cuba, the repression has gotten worse. Last month, the regime arrested 1,414 political dissidents, the second-most ever recorded.

No matter. Amid global disarray and American decline, Obama sticks to his cherished concerns: Cuba, Guantanamo (about which he gave a rare televised address this week) and, of course, climate change.

Obama could not bestir himself to go to Paris in response to the various jihadi atrocities — sending Kerry instead “to share a big hug with Paris” (as Kerry explained) with James Taylor singing “You’ve Got a Friend” — but he did make an ostentatious three-day visit there for climate change.

So why not go to Havana? Sure, the barbarians are at the gates and pushing hard knowing they will enjoy but 11 more months of minimal American resistance. But our passive president genuinely believes that such advances don’t really matter — that these disruptors are so on the wrong side of history, that their reaches for territory, power, victory are so 20th century.

Of course, it mattered greatly to the quarter-million slaughtered in Syria and the millions more exiled. It feels all quite real to a dissolving Europe, an expanding China, a rising Iran, a metastasizing jihadism.

Not to the visionary Obama, however. He sees far beyond such ephemera. He knows what really matters: climate change, Gitmo and Cuba.

With time running out, he wants these to be his legacy. Indeed, they will be.

Boston Globe: Obama Breaks Pledge, Will Visit Cuba Despite Worsening Human Rights

Thursday, February 25, 2016
By Jeff Jacoby in The Boston Globe:

Human rights are on the ropes in Cuba, but Obama is eager to visit

President Obama makes no secret of his eagerness to visit Cuba, but as recently as December he insisted that there would be no such trip until human rights and civil liberties on the island had improved.

What I’ve said to the Cuban government is, 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,” Obama told Yahoo! News. “If we’re going backwards, then there’s not much reason for me to be there.”

Cuba is going backwards. By all accounts, the Castro regime’s repression has grown worse, not better, since the renewal of diplomatic ties with the United States in 2014. Beatings and arrests of dissidents have soared. There has been a crackdown on churches and religious groups.

Yet Obama announced last week that he’s going to Cuba anyway, thus abandoning his December pledge and rewarding the hemisphere’s sole dictatorship with the enormous prestige of a presidential visit. Obama claims he’ll “speak candidly” to Raul Castro about human rights and democracy. But his desire to go to Havana isn’t about the plight of Cuba’s dissidents. It’s about making his diplomatic embrace of the Castro government a permanent fact of life. As deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters Thursday, the president’s goal is “to make this an irreversible policy.”

So far, Obama’s “engagement” with the Castros hasn’t opened even a crack in their Stalinist system. It is folly to imagine that his trip next month will do anything to expand freedom or justice for Cuba’s beleaguered people. But, oh, what a boon it will be for their brutal rulers: the ultimate stamp of approval for the only totalitarian regime in the Americas.

A visit from the president of the United States is a huge deal in most countries. The opportunity to host the leader of the free world is a coveted prize, especially for nations that are not global powers in their own right. President Obama has traveled widely, visiting more than 50 countries to date. But that still leaves nearly 150 countries he hasn’t been to, many of which would relish the chance to welcome an American president and bask in the international spotlight that accompanies him.

Some foreign journeys presidents undertake because they have to. Attendance at NATO or G-20 summit meetings is part of the job. Authoritarian states such as Russia, China, or Saudi Arabia merit presidential visits because they are too important to snub.

But when it comes to discretionary travel, shouldn’t a president visit nations that the United States admires or particularly wishes to encourage? If Obama is concerned to promote liberal democracy and civil rights, why go out of his way to bolster the odious Castro government?

Instead of honoring Latin America’s only dictatorship with a visit, he could travel to Tunisia, and publicize his support for the Arab world’s fledgling democracy.

Instead of lending legitimacy to Cuba’s entrenched communists, the president could visit countries like Lithuania, Mongolia, or Slovenia — all of which used to be communist-ruled, but today are robust multiparty democracies whose leaders are chosen in free elections.

Instead of bestowing the trappings of a presidential visit on a country where human rights are routinely strangled, Obama could head to Finland or New Zealand or Slovakia — civilized nations where human rights are firmly upheld.

From Cape Verde to Belize to Taiwan, there are worthy destinations aplenty for a president seeking to make a statement about American values and friendships. Cuba isn’t one of them, and Obama shouldn’t be going.

Must-Watch: Kerry Woefully Uninformed, Can't Name Human Rights Improvement in Cuba

During a hearing in the House Appropriations Committee, U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) pressed Secretary of State John Kerry to provide any evidence of human rights improvements in Cuba.

Not only was Kerry unable to do so, but was woefully uninformed about Cuba's realities.

Click below (or here) to watch:

WSJ Editorial: Castro Tries to Exile Dissidents Ahead of Obama's Visit

From The Wall Street Journal's Editorial Board:

Cuba Isn’t Libre

The Castro brothers try to exile dissidents for Obama’s March visit

The media build-up to President Obama’s March 21 visit to Cuba is well along pumping “historic” significance into the trip. That’s what happened last year when Pope Francis visited Cuba, with “history” served by publicizing photographs of the pontiff with Fidel and Raul Castro. The real story in Cuba, though, is always out of sight, in the cells of its many political prisoners.

Human-rights groups recently have noted something odd about Mr. Obama’s historic normalization of relations with Cuba in late 2014. Since then the number of individuals jailed arbitrarily has gone up. This past January, according to the Madrid-based Cuban Observatory on Human Rights, some 1,474 individuals were jailed at the regime’s whim, more than 500 of them women.

On Monday Cuba’s interior ministry told eight paroled political prisoners that they were being given permission to make a “one-time” trip abroad. Unlike Americans hopping on planes to discover Cuba, the average Cuban can’t leave the island without permission.

The response of the dissidents to the get-out-of-Cuba offer speaks volumes about the reality of life there. Felix Navarro called it a “strategy” related to the Obama visit and said he isn’t leaving. “I will always continue to live in Cuba,” Mr. Navarro said.

Marta Beatriz Roque, the one woman in the group, said “My perception is that they want us to stay [outside of Cuba], but I’ve been going along like this for 25 years and I’m not going to throw in the towel for a trip.”

Announcing his March trip Saturday, Mr. Obama said he will “speak candidly” there about “our serious differences” on democracy and human rights. Asked about the President’s intentions last week, Josefina Vidal of Cuba’s foreign ministry said, “Cuba is open to speak to the U.S. government about any topic, including human rights.” But she added: “We have different ideas about human rights.”

It’s nice, we guess, that Fidel and Raul are willing to chat about all this with President Obama. More significant will be the day when one of these historic visitors from the free world asks to visit with Cuba’s political prisoners in their cells.

An Act of Terrorism by Castro, An Abortion of Justice by Obama

Tuesday, February 23, 2016
On February 24th, 1996, General Raul Castro ordered Cuban MiG 29 fighter jets to shoot down two civilian planes over international waters -- thereby murdering three young Americans and a permanent resident of the United States.

Twenty-years later -- justice awaits.

Instead, on December 17th, 2016, President Obama -- as part of his 'deal' with Raul Castro -- commuted the life sentence of a Cuban spy, Gerardo Hernandez, who had been convicted by a U.S. federal court for murder conspiracy in this act of terrorism.

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

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

Meanwhile, three senior Cuban military officials remain indicted in U.S. federal courts -- General Ruben Martinez Puente, who at the time headed the Cuban Air Force, and fighter pilots Lorenzo Alberto Perez-Perez and Francisco Perez-Perez (pictured below) -- and the Castros continue to boast about their ultimate responsibility.

From the final judgment by Senior U.S. District Judge Lawrence King in the civil lawsuit against the Castro regime and the Cuban Air Force (FAR):

"The government of Cuba, on February 24th 1996, in outrageous contempt for international law and basic human rights, murdered four human beings in international airspace over the Florida Straits. The victims were Brothers to the Rescue pilots, flying two civilian unarmed planes on a routine humanitarian mission, searching for rafters in the waters between Cuba and the Florida Keys.

As the civilian planes flew over international waters, a Russian built MiG 29 of the Cuban Air Force, without warning, reason, or provocation blasted the defenseless planes out of the sky with sophisticated air-to-air missiles in two separate attacks. The pilots and their aircraft disintegrated in the mid-air explosions following the impact of the missiles. The destruction was so complete that the four bodies were never recovered."

As regards the criminal case:

"In August 2003, a federal grand jury returned the indictment against General Ruben Martinez Puente, who at the time headed the Cuban Air Force, and fighter pilots Lorenzo Alberto Perez-Perez and Francisco Perez-Perez. The defendants were charged with four counts of murder, one count of conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals and two counts of destruction of aircraft."

In an article in Politico last year, U.S. Rep James McGovern (D-MA) unwittingly revealed that Raul Castro told him he ordered the murder of these Americans:

"'I gave the order. I’m the one responsible,' [Castro] said."

Or just click here to listen to Cuban dictators Fidel and Raul Castro -- in their own words -- admitting they gave the order.

Sadly, they are Obama's new partners.

Obama Green-Lights Deal With Cuban Arms Traffickers

Last month, a Singapore court ruled against a shipping company, Chinpo Shipping, for its role in smuggling 240 tons of weapons from Cuba to North Korea in mid-2013, in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Both the United States and United Nations have further sanctioned three North Korean entities — Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB), Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation (KOMID) and Korea Tangun Trading Corporation — for their role in this incident.

To date, the only entity that has not been sanctioned for the largest weapons cache ever intercepted to North Korea, in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, was its central player -- a shadow company of the Cuban military, Almacenes Universales S.A.

To make matters worse, the Cuban military even refused to cooperate or provide any information to the U.N. Panel of Experts that was tasked with investigating this blatant sanctions violation.

Yet, last week, the Obama Administration instead chose to reward this shadow company of the Cuban military, Almacenes Universales S.A., with a $5-10 million investment from a U.S.-based tractor company, Cleber LLC (that has never manufactured a tractor) to build a factory at its Port of Mariel facility.

As the U.N Panel of Experts report ("Report") notes:

Mariel is being developed as a major deep-water port and free trade zone by a Cuba-Brazil consortium, with the Cuban military controlled Almacenes Universales S.A.

The Report also notes that the Port of Mariel was specifically chosen for this arms-smuggling operation, in order to prevent detection and avoid any paper trail.

According to the Report, some of the techniques utilized in the Cuba-North Korea operation were:

• Concealment and disguise of the ship’s position by switching off the automatic identification system, a system providing real-time information on a ship’s location, after exiting the Panama Canal until re-entry to hide the ship’s movements, particularly the docking in Mariel and drifting, and by falsifying the ship’s logs.

• Loading in Mariel as opposed to Havana or Puerto Padre; the cargo was accepted by the ship without standard shipping documents, loading receipts, loading reports and cargo survey reports.

Below is an image of the Captain's Note from the North Korean ship, Chong Chon Gang, that was intercepted carrying the 240 tons of weapons from Cuba. It shows his instructions to pick up the shipment at the Port of Mariel and identifies the Cuban military contact.

Mariel was also the facility at the center of another Cuban-related illicit cargo of weapons (100 tons) intercepted in February 2015 by the Colombian authorities.

Thus, not only is this deal approved by the Obama Administration mired in legal questions -- as it violates the letter, spirit and intent of U.S. law -- but it defies logic how it serves the national security of the U.S. and helps "the Cuban people" (as Obama purports).

Treasury Fines Oil Services Company for Cuba Sanctions Violations

A reminder that the statute of limitations for sanctions violations does not end with the Obama Administration -- despite The White House's political prodding (and "winks-and-nods") today.

Note these sanctions violations took place between 2010-2011.

From the U.S. Department of Treasury:

CGG Services S.A., and Its Affiliated Companies, Settle Potential Civil Liability for Alleged Violations of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations 

CGG Services S.A., formerly known as CGGVeritas S.A. (“CGG France”), has agreed to pay $614,250 on its own behalf and on behalf of its affiliated companies, CGG Services (U.S.) Inc., formerly known as CGGVeritas Services (U.S.) Inc. (“CGG U.S.”), and Veritas Geoservices Ltd. S.A. (“Veritas Geoservices”) (collectively the “affiliated companies”), to settle potential civil liability for alleged violations of
the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, 31 C.F.R. part 515 (the “Regulations”). CGG France and its affiliated companies provide services, spare parts, and equipment for oil and gas exploration and seismic surveys.

On or about December 14, 2010, CGG France and CGG U.S. appear to have violated §515.201 of the Regulations when they exported spare parts and other equipment from the United States to M/V Amadeus while the vessel operated in Cuba’s territorial waters.

On or about March 10, 2011, CGG France and CGG U.S. appear to have violated §515.201 of the Regulations when they exported spare parts and other equipment from the United States to M/V Veritas Vantage while the vessel operated in Cuba’s territorial waters.

From on or about February 28, 2011 to on or about July 20, 2011, CGG France appears to have violated §515.201 of the Regulations when, on 13 occasions, it exported U.S.-origin goods from companies unaffiliated with CGG France to the vessel M/V Veritas Vantage while the vessel operated in Cuba’s territorial waters.

From on or about February 1, 2011 to on or about February 3, 2011, CGG France appears to have violated §515.201 of the Regulations when, on two occasions, it exported U.S.-origin goods from companies unaffiliated with CGG France to the vessel M/V Princess while the vessel operated in Cuba’s territorial waters.

From on or about September 20, 2010 to on or about February 22, 2011, Veritas Geoservices, a Venezuelan subsidiary of CGG U.S., appears to have violated §515.201 of the Regulations when it engaged in five transactions at the request of CGGVeritas France involving the processing of data from seismic surveys conducted in Cuba’s Exclusive Economic Zone benefiting a Cuban company.

Chairman Royce on Obama’s Planned Trip to Cuba

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) released the following statement on President Obama’s decision to travel to Cuba:

“A year ago, President Obama said he wouldn’t visit Cuba unless he could confidently say ‘we’re seeing some progress in the liberty and freedom and possibilities of ordinary Cubans.’ So what has changed? The Cuban people continue to be denied basic rights. Assaults on democracy advocates have persisted. Cuban workers continue to be exploited. And in 2015 alone, the Castros jailed nearly 9,000 political prisoners.

The Obama administration’s one-sided concessions have only shored up a communist regime that brutalizes its people. When President Obama lands in Havana, how will he stand up for human rights?”

Only 48 Hours After Obama's Trip Announced, 200 Cuban Dissidents Arrested

Monday, February 22, 2016
The Castro regime clearly has no respect or deference from President Obama.

They see him as a push-over -- plain and simple.

That's why political arrests in Cuba have increased so sharply since December 17th, 2014. (See graph here.)

That's why Castro wouldn't return a stolen U.S. Hellfire missile for nearly two years -- surely sharing its technology with our foes.

That's why Castro reneged on his deal regarding the release of 53 Cuban political prisoners -- most of whom have been re-arrested -- with several serving new long prison terms.

And now yesterday, just 48 hours after Obama announced his March trip to Cuba, some 200 Cuban dissidents were arrested.

In Havana, over 40 members of The Ladies in White, the internationally-renowned group composed of the wives, daughters, mothers and other female relatives of Cuban political prisoners, were arrested.

Meanwhile, in the eastern provinces, over 150 activists from the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU) were arrested.

Their crime? Peacefully demonstrating as part of the #TodosMarchamos (#WeAllMarch) campaign.

More "change" (and Obama's promises) you can't believe in.

Oppenheimer: Obama's Cuba Trip May Set Dangerous Precedent

By Andre Oppenheimer in The Miami Herald:

Obama’s No. 1 challenge in Cuba

He should hold an exclusive meeting with Cuba’s peaceful opposition leaders during his trip

A proposed meeting with Cuba’s “civil society” that includes government-paid “intellectuals” would be a sham.

It’s too soon to pass judgment on President Barack Obama’s decision to visit Cuba, but this much can be said: if he doesn’t hold an exclusive meeting with Cuba’s peaceful opposition leaders, his trip will help legitimize the longest-ruling dictatorship in the Western Hemisphere.

Obama may give us a pleasant surprise, and prove that Republican presidential hopefuls and others who automatically criticized his March 21-22 trip to the island were wrong. He could show skeptics that direct contact with Cuba is more effective to advance the cause of universal freedoms on the island than trying to isolate it.

But judging from the first White House statements on the visit, it’s doubtful whether Obama will have the sort of high-profile meeting with opposition leaders that would have a real impact in Cuba.

Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters that, during his stay in Cuba, Obama will meet with Cuban ruler Gen. Raúl Castro and “members of civil society, including those who certainly oppose the Cuban government’s policies.” My translation: that’s a room full of people from all walks of life, including many government supporters, where a handful of dissidents will get lost in the crowd.

Such an Obama meeting with Cuba’s “civil society” would be a sham. It would allow Cuba’s official media — the only ones that are allowed on the island — to portray it as a gathering of the visiting U.S. president with a cross-section of Cuban society, including government-paid “intellectuals” who wold be the only ones to appear in the local media.

Sure, the White House could use the occasion to take a picture of Obama with the handful of dissidents in the room, for domestic consumption in the United States. But that would miss the whole point of his trip, if the president is sincere in his claim that through engagement with the Cuban regime he will help open up Cuba’s society.

In Cuba, for nearly 60 years now, the ruling Castro family has pretended that there is no political opposition, and that anybody who dares to exercise his or her universal right to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly is a foreign agent. That’s why the regime demands that visiting dignitaries abstain from meeting with opposition leaders, and wants any such meetings to be disguised as larger gatherings with “civil society.”

Eager to make history and cement Obama’s foreign policy legacy as the U.S. president who restored ties with Cuba, much like Richard Nixon did with China, U.S. officials have argued that the United States has normal ties with many dictatorships, including China, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia. U.S. presidents going to these countries do not have separate meetings with opposition leaders. Why should Cuba be treated differently? they ask.

Well, there is a powerful reason that Obama aides conveniently ignore: unlike China, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia, Cuba is in the Western Hemisphere, and is bound by various regional treaties — including pre-1959 Organization of American States statutes and the 1996 Viña del Mar declaration, which was signed by Fidel Castro — to respect representative democracy and freedom of the press. There are no similar agreements with China, Vietnam or Saudi Arabia.

Furthermore, Obama would be breaking a bi-partisan U.S. tradition dating from the mid-1970s to defend human rights and democracy in the Western Hemisphere. That policy has been followed by Democratic and Republican presidents since 1976, when former President Jimmy Carter decided to put an end to the times when U.S. presidents embraced dictators in Central and South America, and allowed U.S. policy in the region to be dictated by United Fruit and other U.S. corporations.

My opinion: Obama is right in saying that isolating Cuba has not worked, and that it’s time to try something new.

But if he keeps granting Cuba everything that the Cuban regime demands without pushing the limits of government censorship and repression on the island by holding an exclusive meeting with opposition leaders, as presidents usually do when traveling to any civilized country, he will be breaking a five-decade bi-partisan U.S. policy of defending democracy and human rights in Latin America.

What’s worse, he would be setting a precedent for returning to the dark days when the United States tacitly or actively supported Latin American dictators. I, for one, hope that Obama will not make that dangerous mistake.

Obama's Cuba Trip in a Nutshell

This Letter to the Editor of The Miami Herald encapsulates Obama's upcoming trip in a paragraph:

Obama in Cuba

Flush from his recent successes in Libya, Crimea, Ukraine, Syria and North Korea, President Obama has decided to further varnish his foreign policy accomplishments by visiting the Cuban regime run by Raúl Castro, who was in charge of the Cuban armed forces when it shot down unarmed Brothers to the Rescue civilian planes, piloted by American citizens over international waters.

Perfect.

Armando Lamelas
Pembroke Pines

Quote of the Week: A U.S.-Backed Dictatorship in Cuba

Sunday, February 21, 2016
Obama is so eager to normalize relations without negotiating any concessions that the U.S. is very close to creating a situation where we now have a U.S.-backed dictatorship in Cuba.
-- Dr. Javier Corrales, Latin America expert and Professor at Amherst College, on Obama's policy and trip to Cuba, The Wall Street Journal, 2/18/16

Obama Should Say, ‘Let Cubans Vote’

By Amb. Roger Noriega of The American Enterprise Institute:

Obama should say, ‘Let Cubans vote.’

Let Cubans vote.” Those three words, spoken by President Obama on his planned trip to Cuba, could unite all Americans — including those Americans in neighboring countries — behind a worthy cause. Will a man elected promising “hope and change” advance those objectives in a country where they are genuinely needed? We shouldn’t have to ask.

The president’s visit to Cuba comes as the winds of change have shifted toward freedom, away from the authoritarian populism promoted by the Castro brothers for 60 years. Voters in Argentina recently elected a pro-free-market conservative who has pledged to seek a positive relationship with the United States. In December, Venezuela’s democrats won congressional elections in a landslide and now represent a majority that opposes the Cuban-backed regime that has brought the country to political and economic ruin.

Castro’s acolytes in Bolivia and Ecuador have seen their political prospects plummet in recent months. A socialist government in Brazil is besieged by corruption investigations, succumbing to the rule of law after squandering the country’s oil wealth and taking the economy into recession.

In each of these countries, politicians have to face the polls, where unpopular authoritarians cannot always rig the results. So this would be the very best time for Obama to challenge Raúl Castro to give 11 million Cubans the same right that their neighbors take for granted. A phony “voto unido,” an artifice where Cuba’s communist party approves one candidate for every assembly seat, will not suffice.

The Castros are experts at playing the passive aggressive victim. Raúl may say, “Cubans will vote, if….”  “Cubans will vote, when….” “Cubans will vote, but….” Obama can short-circuit such arguments by rallying the region to press Castro to simply “Let Cubans vote” in elections in which opposition candidates can campaign and communicate at least as freely as they do in every other country in the Hemisphere.

When a Cuban named Oswaldo Payá dared to petition the Castro government formally — gathering signatures from tens of thousands of Cubans asking for a pluralistic democracy — he ended up dead, murdered in 2012 when police ran his car into a tree. His daughter, Rosa María, has launched an international campaign, “Cuba decide”—“Cuba decides.” This is the hour when the community organizer in Obama can do great things to help an oppressed majority by backing the simple proposition that people should decide their own future.

Obama’s normalization of diplomatic relations with Havana has been scorned by those who see it as a careless gambit that failed to recognize that one can help the Castro dictatorship or the Cuban people, not both. Even the president’s critics in Congress might be persuaded to pass a bipartisan resolution backing a declaration by him to, “Let Cubans vote” — urging him to deliver that message in meetings with dissidents, to the regime’s leadership, and in a national broadcast.

There is reason to doubt Obama’s intentions. He has continued to heap concessions on the Castro regime, despite repression that dissident leaders say has increased since Washington’s rapprochement. Obama has called on Congress to scuttle the preconditions for lifting the embargo on a post-Castro Cuba — which were approved by overwhelming bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress and signed into law by President Clinton: freeing political prisoners, dismantling the police state, and committing to free elections, independent courts, and workers’ rights.

The dirty little secret is that Cuba is the only country in the Western Hemisphere that cannot meet any of these conditions. The idea that Obama would dumb down US standards and break faith with the Cuban people to embrace such a regime is damning evidence that he is motivated by ideology and not principle.

After a year of indulging the Castro regime and getting nothing in return, President Obama can vindicate his outreach to Cuba with three simple words, “Let Cubans vote.” He should care less about Raúl Castro’s response, which is altogether predictable, than about the judgment of history. If Obama refuses to redeem his visit with this sort of meaningful gesture, his stop in Cuba will amount to a grave robbery, where he stole a photo-op and left 11 million Cubans to rest in peace until someone who cares comes along.

Obama's Cuba Policy in a Graph

Obama in Havana: Turns Back to Human Rights

By Ana Quintana in The National Interest:

Obama in Havana: Turns Back to Human Rights

The Castro regime has a long history of using violence and poverty as tools of repression.

Earlier this week, President Obama announced plans to visit Cuba in March. Logically—and more importantly—strategically, the visit makes no sense.

Mr. Obama and General Raul Castro have already met. Their famous handshake occurred last year, at the Summit of the Americas.

Today, a little over year after the president’s radical shift in Cuba policy, conditions have not improved for the Cuban people. The government has not loosened its grip on the economy. Octogenarian generals are still the titans of Cuban industry. Human rights activists face heightened levels of repression. As for the political system, Raul Castro has vowed that Cuba will remain a communist nation.

Proponents of the president’s policy shift have praised his decision to visit the island. What they fail to acknowledge, though, is that this decision reveals the true intent of his Cuba policy: the legitimization of the Castro regime.

In trying to be “progressive,” the White House is actually taking bilateral relations backwards—replicating the relationship between the United States and Cuba in the 1950s. Exploitative economic conditions, dominated by big business interests, led to the Cuban revolution. Those interests funded the Batista dictatorship, which allowed tourism and dollars to trump human rights and freedom.

Today, one of the lead advocates of “normalization,” in terms of dollars, has been the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. While free enterprise is a wonderful—indeed, liberating—force, cronyism and cartelism is not. Business interests should never be allowed to jeopardize or dictate U.S. national interests, but the Chamber has never been shy about trying. It actively lobbied against U.S. involvement in World War II and fought President Reagan’s Soviet Union boycott. More recently, it lobbied against Iranian sanctions in 2011 and Russian sanctions (in response to Ukraine) in 2014.

Part of the problem of Obama’s new Cuba policy is that it ignores the Castro regime’s long, sad history of violence, murder and poverty as tools of repression. While Obama may be able to sweep that under the rug, generations of exiles and their sons and daughters (myself included) will continue demanded the justice due.

Here, the hypocrisy of progressives is jarring. The Castro regime embodies everything the left supposedly hates: military dictatorships, racism, economic imperialism and repression of freedom of expression. Yet the Obama administration cabinet members are frequent guests of the Castros. The same administration continues to turn a blind eye to Cuba’s ‘Nelson Mandela,’ Jorge Luis Garcia, commonly known as Antunez. A dissident of Afro-Cuban descent and a former political prisoner of seventeen years, Antunez still fights for freedom on the island. Despite his high profile (he was House Speaker John Boehner’s guest at last year’s State of the Union address), he and his wife have been repeatedly arrested and brutalized by Cuban security services. Their only crime is being political dissidents who want a free and democratic Cuba.

Another advocate for restoring relations is Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT). The long-serving senator is a frequent critic of abuses by military forces in Latin America. The U.S. law that bans  American assistance from going to foreign security services that have “committed a gross violation of human rights” bears his name.

Yet Senator Leahy remains a tireless supporter of restoring relations with the Western Hemisphere’s longest running and most ruthless military dictatorship. Progressives seem to have a blind eye when it comes to upholding human rights standards in Cuba.

If Secretary Kerry’s actions during the embassy opening are any indication of how dissidents will be treated during Obama’s visit, expectations should be kept low. Kerry claimed dissidents would not be invited to the flag ceremony at the American embassy “because that is a government-to-government moment with very limited space.” Yet the AP reported that State Department officials shunned them to avoid angering the regime. Where freedom-fighting dissidents could have witnessed the American flag being raised, a multitude of anti-embargo lobbyists and representatives from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce took their place.

Timing is everything in politics and the timing of the president’s announcement about visiting Cuba reinforces what critics of normalization have been claiming: that the new policy is aimed at propping up the Cuban government. Shortly before that announcement, Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment, speaking before the Chamber of Commerce, urged the administration to continue granting the regime cash flows by easing the embargo. Twenty-four hours later, the president announced his travel plans.

To stand up for democracy, President Obama should not allow this brutal regime to dictate the terms of his visit, as Secretary Kerry did during the embassy opening. President Obama must not allow the Castros to set his itinerary, particularly whom he meets with at the U.S. embassy, which is sovereign American territory. Cuba’s heroic dissidents deserve an opportunity to meet with the U.S. president and acquaint him with the real Cuba, the one they know all too painfully well.