In Mockery of Obama, Cuba Hands Long Prison Sentence to Two Dissidents

Saturday, March 5, 2016
Via Cuban Democratic Directorate:

The Cuban Democratic Directorate denounces the sentences to political prison of Cuban resistance activists, Alexander Palacio Reyes and Felipe Martínez Companioni, to five and eight years, respectively, by the Castro Regime, in the Camaguey Provincial Court on March 2, 2016. Both activists are members of the Pedro Luís Boitel Pro-Democratic Movement and the Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Civic Resistance Front.

“Yesterday the activists' houses in the city of Camagüey were being monitored and the military cordoned off the Provincial Court in the Previsora neighborhood to prevent people from attending our brothers’ trial. The military officers spread the rumor that it was the trial of two terrorists to justify their presence in the area,” denounced Alexander Pérez Aguilar, president of the Pedro Luís Boitel Pro-Democratic Movement.

The activists were being held in the Cerámica Roja prison since December 2015 for tossing flyers with anti-government literature on the streets. But after both activists began a hunger strike to demand their freedom, they were relocated to Kilo 8, the highest security prison in Camaguey province as a form of punishment.

Cuban Dissidents Criticize Obama's Trip

By Guillermo Martinez in Sun-Sentinel:

Cuban dissidents criticize Obama's trip to the island

Dissidents in Cuba are no longer as afraid of the government as they used to be

It was on a quiet Saturday night, in a large house near Biscayne Bay.

There, one or two score of Cuban dissidents met with a handful of Cuban exiles interested in hearing from these dissidents what they thought of what was happening in Cuba — and particularly what they thought of President Obama's trip to the island later this month.

Among the better-known dissidents were two who have paid with lengthy prison sentences because of their opposition to the regime.

The well-known graffiti artist (Danilo Maldonado Machado), better known as El Sexto, spent 10 months in jail for taking two piglets and on their backs painting the names of "Fidel" and "Raúl."

It is important to note that El Sexto's jail term came without a trial. The government's secret police simply came one day, picked him up and sent him to the Valle Grande prison.

Times have changed, however. International human rights organizations interceded for him and he was freed.

This year, El Sexto traveled to Miami, where his work is being displayed through March 17 at the Market Gallery. His work includes paintings done in Holland, Cuba and the United States.

When asked where he got the inspiration to paint the name of Fidel and Raul on the back of two piglets, he responded with a smile: "George Orwell (Animal Farm) is to blame."

Jorge Luis Pérez (Antunez) was the best-known dissident at this dinner. He has been jailed several times by the regime.

He is the leader of the Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Resistance Front — a civil society named for a political prisoner who died of a hunger strike in 2010.

Antunez, an imposing Afro-Cuban man, has experienced the regime's discrimination against minorities. He say black Cubans do not have the same education and career opportunities as white Cubans.

The freedom movements in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union inspired him to civil disobedience against the Cuban regime.

He was arrested in March 1990 and sentenced to five years in jail. Because of his refusal to wear the common criminal's uniforms, and other acts of civil disobedience, his five-year sentence turned into 17 years in jail. He was released in 2007.

Throughout the night, Cuban exiles present talked to the dissidents who were in Miami to attend a seminar. All of them will be returning to Cuba. Most will be returning before President Obama's trip to the island.

All of them criticized the president's trip. They said that unless Obama said something extraordinary, the Cuban media will play his visit as evidence of the growing support of the Cuban regime by the American president.

Castro's forces and Cuban mobs are always watching them. The dissidents are aware of that. Yet they are not afraid.

To a man, they all said that people in Cuba were increasingly less fearful of the government's repression.

People in Cuba are no longer afraid of the government, they said.

The evidence came the next day, when international media in Cuba reported that more than 200 dissidents had been arrested that day.

The dissidents in Miami will be back in Cuba and seek to make a peaceful demonstration for Obama to witness. What they plan to do, they would not say. The only thing they said is it would be peaceful. They do not believe in violence.

Personally, I wish them luck. I consider myself very fortunate at the opportunity to sit and talk with them. Now I will be paying more attention to Obama's trip with an eye on what happens to the dissidents I met.

Martha Beatriz Roque: Obama Should 'Correct Course' on Cuba Policy

From EFE:

Martha Beatriz Roque Believes U.S. Should "Correct Course" in Normalization With Cuba 

Cuban dissident Martha Beatriz Roque told EFE on Friday in Miami that she would like to be received by the U.S. President, Barack Obama, to ask him to "correct course" in the process of normalization of relations with Cuba.

In that process, "the only thing the Cuban government does is demand and it has given very little in exchange," said Roque, an economist originally condemned to 20 years in prison in the 2003 "Black Spring" crackdown.

Roque Cabello, who was born in 1945 and also has Spanish nationality, arrived in Miami on Thursday, on a permit granted by the Cuban government that allows her to travel outside the country one time only.

The dissident, who saw her sister for the first time in 55 years this Thursday, said that she would return to Cuba on March 31st, so she will not be there when Obama visits the island on 21st and 22nd, although she would like to be able to speak with him before his trip to explain to him her opinions about the process of normalizing relations announced at the end of 2014.

Not to be radical, I must say that the Cuban government has given very little. All it does is make demands for the embargo to be lifted, the return Guantanamo, the closing of Radio and Television Marti,” she said in a telephone interview with EFE.

In her view, the United States should "correct course," so that the Cuban government offers something from its side.

Roque said it's not time to judge whether Obama was wrong or not about the agreement reached with Raul Castro to end the antagonism between the two countries, which has resulted in a restoration of diplomatic relations.

She would like to be received by Obama before traveling to the island to give him her views on the situation in the country and the changes needed, as she did with the United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, when he visited Cuba.

Roque, from the Assembly to Promote Civil Society, said that after this "private trip" she will return to Cuba on March 31st and will be subject to the parole conditions she received in 2004, unable to leave the country again.

A large group of those convicted in the Black Spring Group of 75 left Cuba under an agreement between the Cuban government, the Catholic Church and the Spanish government in 2010. Of the 11 who remained in Cuba, only seven have received permission to take one trip outside of Cuba, and three are not going to travel, for various reasons, according to Roque.

Don't be Fooled by Kerry's Cuba Trip Cancellation

Friday, March 4, 2016
The Obama Administration has placed itself between a rock and a hard place.

In a December 2015 interview, President Obama stated that he would only travel to Cuba “if, in fact, I with confidence can say that we’re seeing some progress in the liberty and freedom and possibilities of ordinary Cubans.”

Two months later, Obama (again) crossed this "red-line" by announcing he was traveling to Cuba "for fun."

Immediately, the Castro regime took advantage of Obama's broken promise. The state-run Granma propagandized that Obama's trip was, therefore, proof that there were no human rights violations in Cuba.

Of course, the complete opposite is true. Political arrests are at historic highs, the beatings of peaceful female dissidents has become a daily ritual, religious freedom violations have increased tenfold, and political prisoners released as part of the Obama-Castro deal have been handed new sentences, while others are being banished ahead of Obama's trip to the island.

At Congressional hearings last week (see here and here), Secretary of State John Kerry -- embarrassingly -- could not point to any improvement in human rights.

Even supporters of Obama's "normalization" policy have been critical of this premature trip.

Last night, the L.A. Times reported that Kerry cancelled a preparatory trip to the island due to "haggling" about which Cuban dissidents Obama will be allowed to meet.

Of course the irony is that upon announcing the Cuba trip, Obama's adviser Ben Rhodes stated, "we determine who we meet with in different countries."

Yet, the mere fact that the Obama Administration is negotiating with the Castro regime about whom the U.S. President can meet with in Cuba is proof that this was another lie.

Kerry's cancelled trip may be more about logistics and "saving-face" for Obama than about taking a stand for human rights.

We pray to be wrong. But when American Presidents break their word and cross their own "red-lines" it weakens their standing.

The fact remains that the Obama Administration has placed itself (as usual) in a weakened negotiating position. Thus, Kerry is cancelling his trip, so that Obama doesn't cancel his.

The question remains whether Obama will cave (yet again) to the Castro regime on whom he can meet with in Cuba.

Here's a fair and simple litmus:

Obama should -- at the very least -- meet with internationally-awarded dissidents, such as the European Union's Sakharov prize recipients, The Ladies in White, Guillermo Farinas and Rosa Maria Paya (in representation of her murdered father, Oswaldo Paya); and U.S. Presidential of Medal recipient Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet.

If Obama wants to truly leave an honorable mark in history, he would leave Castro's tourist zone and visit The Ladies in White at their headquarters in the Lawton neighborhood of Havana, which is poor and predominantly Afro-Cuban.

We would be the first to commend him.

But don't hold your breath, as Castro won't give him permission.

Chairman Royce: No Guantanamo for Castro

Note: A temporary one-year prohibition on Obama transferring Guantanamo to the Castro regime was approved by a veto-proof majority of Congress in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016. Chairman Royce's bill would make the prohibition permanent.

Chairman Royce Introduces U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay Preservation Act

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) today released the following statement after introducing legislation, H.R. 4678, to prohibit the president from giving U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay to Cuba without congressional approval:

"The U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay is a critical national security and foreign policy asset for the United States. Senior commanders assert it is ‘indispensable’ to our military’s work to ‘secure the air and maritime approaches to the United States.’ And as many will recall, the base played a key role in the U.S. response to the humanitarian disaster created by the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

In just a few weeks, President Obama will meet with the communist government in Cuba. The White House says our Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay is ‘sure’ to be a part of discussions. While giving the base to the Castro regime may not be a part of ‘this trip,’ as the White House insists, its long record of one-sided concessions and lack of transparency over Cuba policy makes me very concerned about the status of this key Naval Station. Because if we move out, who will move in? Are we willing to cede a vital national security tool to Russia?

That is why I’m introducing this important legislation to ensure that Americans and their representatives in Congress have a say in the future of the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay. Too much is at stake for our president to unilaterally cede this base to a Castro regime that denies its people basic rights and freedoms, while allying with governments hostile to U.S. interests. Congress specifically provided the president the authority to acquire Guantanamo Bay from Cuba, and Congress should have a role in any decision to relinquish it.”

Headline of the Day: #CubanSandwich

From The Drudge Report:

Washington Times Editorial: Obama’s Unrequited Cuban Romance

From The Washington Times' Editorial Board:

Obama’s unrequited Cuban romance

The president is unable to tell the difference between friend and enemy

Nothing is more embarrassing to watch than a suitor pursuing unrequited love. There’s no thrill in such romance. Every bouquet of long-stemmed roses and every box of candy Barack Obama sends to Havana is returned with a demand for roses with longer stems and a bigger box of candy.

Over the past year, President Obama has removed Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, re-established diplomatic relations and opened an embassy in Havana, and now Mr. Obama announces that he will be the first American president to visit Cuba in nearly 90 years. He’ll no doubt shave extra close for Fidel’s anticipated kiss.

There have been good reasons for previous presidents to withhold the prestige of a state visit. The Castro alliance with the Soviet Union produced a tense, 13-day political and military standoff in October 1962 over the installation of nuclear-armed Soviet missiles in Cuba, just 90 miles from the Florida coast. For those 13 days the world held its breath in fear of World War III. The Castro regime has since attempted to subvert democratic governments throughout the Hemisphere and organized cabals against the United States.

Mr. Obama’s attempts at romance continued this week when the White House sent to Congress legislation to maintain restrictions on American civilian ships entering Cuban waters. The bill arrived on Capitol Hill on the 20th anniversary of the day the Cuban air force shot down a civilian rescue plane over international waters, a plane operated by an American relief organization called Brothers to the Rescue. The pilots were trying to locate and rescue Cubans fleeing prison or death in Cuba.

“These are the same waters that have witnessed record numbers of Cubans risking their lives to reach freedom because of the oppression they are facing under the Castro regime, a regime that has found an ally in President Obama,” says Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican.

An administration spokesman said the arrival of the legislation on the Hill on the anniversary was an unfortunate coincidence. It’s easy to believe that, because the ignorance of the world that thrives in this administration seems to know no bounds.

The president’s attempt to redress relations between Washington and Havana is not only one-sided but rests on false assumptions. The negotiations which led to reinstating formal ties with Raul Castro’s government were an enthusiastically one-sided affair. Just as the agreement was initialed Raul Castro’s government tossed more political prisoners in jail. The promised economic reforms have reformed nothing. Ever-tighter regulations and continuing government interference, some petty and some not so petty, have made a mockery of attempts to open small businesses. Only the American businessmen who enabled Mr. Obama’s romance are receiving subsidies from Washington, with more to come. They’re pushing now to lift the embargo on trade with the dictatorship.

It’s not likely that the president’s forthcoming visit will win concessions from the Castro brothers. The brothers, basking in the prestige of the presidential visit, and the painting of the resumption of diplomatic relations as a victory for the regime, have learned that they need not answer concessions with concessions. Good faith is not necessary.

Mr. Obama, in his message to the Hill, argued that “longstanding U.S. policy toward Cuba had, at times, tended to isolate the United States.” But it is not the United States that is isolated. The regimes of friends of the Castro brothers, in Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador and Peru, are regimes in crisis.

A new government in Argentina, the most important of the Spanish-speaking countries, wants to be friends with the United States, evidence that Latin America is turning away from corrupt statist economic schemes that have sabotaged development for decades. The president, however, will make only a brief stopover in Argentina, as if he just now looked at a map and noticed that it was not far away. Such an afterthought is an indication of just how ignorant and confused this administration is in our own hemisphere.

Cuba Sentences Four U.S. Residents to Coerce Obama Ahead of Trip

Tuesday, March 1, 2016
On the same day that North Korea releases a "confession" from an American student for "hostile acts" against the Kim regime, Cuba's regime sentences four U.S. residents (two of whom are American citizens) to prison terms of 10-15 years for "hostile acts."

The playbook and goal of both regimes is clear: To (once again) coerce the Obama Administration.

The four U.S. residents are Jose Ortega Amador, Obdulio Rodriguez Gonzalez, Raibel Pacheco Santos and Felix Monzon Alvarez.

They were arrested in May 2014 -- right in the midst of Obama's secret negotiations with the Castro regime -- and hadn't been heard from since.

One of them, Raibel Pacheco Santos, is the son of a former Castro regime official who defected in Mexico in 2012. The family believes his arrest was retaliatory.

Now, nearly two years later, as President Obama prepares to travel to Cuba (with a prior prep-trip by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry), it was announced that these four U.S. residents have been handed sentences of 10-15 years for “crimes against the internal security of the state.”

This is to fill the backpack of requests to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry [prior to Obama's visit],” a relative of one of the imprisoned U.S. residents told 14ymedio.

There are a lot of questions to be answered about this strange case, which both the Obama Administration and the Castro dictatorship have avoided for nearly two years.

But, as we've previously posted, here's the main lesson (warning) Obama failed to learn (heed) from Alan Gross' hostage-taking and prisoner exchange:

- Regimes that coerce concessions are never satisfied. As we've seen since December 17th, 2014, no matter how many unconditional concessions and impunity President Obama grants the Castro regime, it simply emboldens it to want more. Repression, refugees and rogue activities are on the rise. That is the result of Obama's coerced policy.

It's their one-and-only playbook.

A Compilation of Americans Killed by Cuba's Regime

From Cuba Archive:

A Message the U.S. President Should Take to Cuba: No to Impunity

See you in Havana!” With those glib words, President Obama announced on February 18th that he and the First Lady will travel to Cuba this coming March 21st. But, when the leader of the world’s most shining democracy makes his official visit to the island ruled by a criminal military dictatorship, he should take seriously fundamental values of our great nation. At the very least, he should remember the 26 U.S. citizens killed by the Castro regime and the 13 others who died serving freedom in operations against Cuban Communism. The U.S. government has a responsibility to demand truth and justice for them and to require the repatriation of those remains still in Cuba.

Cuba Archive has documented 39 cases of U.S. citizens killed by the Cuban Communist regime or countering it: 8 executions by firing squad without due process of law, 11 extrajudicial assassinations, 1 politically-induced suicide, 5 killed in terrorist attacks sponsored by Cuba, 1 forced disappearance, and 13 killed/disappeared in operations to counter Cuba.

For case details and photographs click here.

Below is a sample of three case summaries:


Earl Glenn Cobeil, Age 36. Extrajudicial assassination (war crime), November 5, 1970, Hoa Lo prison, North Vietnam. U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel and P.O.W. from Pontiac, Michigan, who had been taken prisoner in 1967 when his jet was shot down over North Vietnam. Transferred to Hoa Lo Prison (“The Zoo”), he was subjected to “The Cuban Program,” a vicious experimental domination technique of physical and psychological torture led by Cuban security agents and tested on 18 U.S. POWs held at Hoa Lo during 1967 and 1968. After weeks of beatings, unrelenting psychological torture, electroshocks, and solitary confinement, Cobeil’s physical and mental condition deteriorated progressively until he went into a coma and died in his cell. He left behind a wife and two children.

Frank Thomas Connor, Age 33. Killed in a terrorist bombing attack, January 24, 1975 in New York City, with Harold Sherburne, age 66, Alejandro Berger, age 28, and James Gezork, age 32. The four (bankers or business executives) were having lunch with clients or colleagues in the historic restaurant Fraunces Tavern of Lower Manhattan when a bomb exploded. The Cuba-sponsored Puerto Rican nationalist terrorist group FALN (Frente Armado de Liberación Nacional) took credit for the bombing, but the perpetrators were not captured. In 1978, FALN bombmaker Guillermo “William” Morales accidentally set off a pipe bomb he was building, suffering injuries. Although no firm evidence could be found proving his link to the Fraunces Tavern attack, he was sentenced to 89 years of prison for possession of explosive. He escaped the following year from a hospital prison ward and fled to Cuba, where he is believed to be enjoying safe haven from U.S. justice. Connor left a wife and two sons, ages 11 and 9.

Robert Otis Fuller, Age 25. Executed by firing squad, October 16, 1960, San Juan Hill shooting practice field, Santiago de Cuba. Former U.S. Marine officer, veteran of the Korean War and resident of Coral Gables, Florida, executed with fellow Americans Anthony Zarba and Allen Thompson. They had landed on October 1960 in Oriente province to help the anti-Castro insurgency, but were soon captured. A Revolutionary Tribunal sentenced them to death (with seven Cubans) in a summary trial lasting only 20 minutes. The appeal lasted 20 minutes and the execution was carried out that same day. Fuller’s blood -- and probably that of the other men -- was drained before the execution, as Cuba was selling blood in the world market, a practice it continues to this day.

Radio Interview: On Obama's Upcoming Trip to Cuba

CHC Editor Mauricio Claver-Carone discusses Obama's Cuba policy, including his upcoming trip to Cuba, with Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy's Secure Freedom Radio.

Click here to listen.

Obama’s Cuba Visit Knocks America Down A Peg

By Paul Bonicelli in The Federalist:

Obama’s Cuba Visit Aims To Knock America Down A Peg

For those still trying to categorize President Obama’s foreign policy, look no further than his upcoming trip to Cuba. The visit is the fruition of his Cuba initiative, a policy whose main goal was always to provide a reason for the president to go to Havana and embrace the Castro brothers. The visit epitomizes his view of the world and his role in fixing the United States’s role in the world.

No benefits from his Cuba policy accrue to U.S. security, our economy, our values, or our reputation in the world. That is what’s at the core of Obama’s foreign policy: since the United States has caused problems in the world by being too rich, powerful, and influential, Obama must tame it by giving in, pulling back, and genuflecting before U.S. enemies. With false humility, he defers to those who hate us, and thus he makes the world a better place. He’s earning that Nobel Peace Prize ex post facto.

But of course someone is benefiting from the policy, and greatly: the Castro regime.

What a Young Cuban Knows that Obama Doesn’t

Imagine you are a Cuban twenty-something living in a communist system that oppresses you politically and deprives you economically. A steady diet of propaganda has told you that everything wrong in Cuba is the United States’ fault. To be sure, enough information gets into Cuba that you know there is more to the story. Moreover, no matter what you have been told through official channels, you and your friends would escape to the United States in a heartbeat if you could.

But now the U.S. president is demonstrating that he agrees with the propaganda. Every time over the last year that he has condemned the U.S. embargo and called for normalization and an end to Cuba’s “isolation,” the regime made sure you heard it on state TV and radio.

Nevertheless, because you know the regime far better than Obama does, you don’t take his word at face value any more than you do the regime’s. You have lived the reality of communist oppression your whole life, as have your parents and grandparents. You know the Ladies in White are assaulted regularly as they process to church in support of their imprisoned loved ones.

You know that the youth of Cuba—people like you—who dare to raise their voices in street demonstrations are subject to extra-judicial kidnappings. You know that young Cubans who express their political views through their art, like the rapper Omar Sayut, are jailed for offending the regime’s sensibilities. And you know that 50 years of trade with Europeans and Canadians and anyone else in the world willing to risk doing business with Cuba have made little difference for any Cuban except privileged party members.

You suspect that with Obama’s initiative you are watching a re-energizing of the regime, a regime that holds you in contempt while the octogenarians and younger party cadres eager to take their places solidify their hold on power. You know more than Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry because you live this life, but also because you don’t embrace an absurd worldview that holds the United States responsible for the crimes and incompetence of a dictatorship you experience every day.

Inconvenient Facts about the Cuba Deal

But intentions matter most to the Obama administration. They offer a lot of rhetoric in defense of their Cuba policy. They say it is designed to overturn a failed policy based on an embargo that has not accomplished its goals. They say it is designed to boost Cuba’s economy for the sake of the average Cuban by ending the island’s isolation. They say they hope political reform will be the ultimate result of the new policy. And they say better relations will result in more cooperation on our common security interests in the hemisphere.

Some inconvenient facts contradict them. First, the U.S. embargo was codified into a law, the Libertad Act, that contains a clear path for normalizing relations and expanding commerce. That path is for the Cuban regime to allow free elections and embrace democratic governance. Second, most of the world trades with Cuba and has for years, so the U.S. embargo is not the cause of Cuban economic deprivation. Rather, communism is.

Third, the Castro dictatorship, even after all of Obama’s kowtowing, maintains its close hold on Cuba’s economy so it can keep the party and the military business barons rich and content. Obama and Kerry might be naïve about what is going on here, but the regime is surely not.

Fourth, as to Obama’s hopes of catalyzing political reform, one need only note that since the president’s initiative was rolled out, arrests of political dissidents have skyrocketed and are now at a five-year high. Raul Castro knows his mark, and is making sure any Cuban (or American official) foolish enough to believe he and Obama have reached a deal to end the communists’ reign will be sorely disappointed.

Fifth, as to Obama’s hope for a regional partnership on common security interests, the Cuban regime and Russia continue to discuss their own partnership to reopen a spying outpost at Lourdes, not to mention the nefarious Cuba-North Korea connection and Cuba’s long history of being on the wrong side of the drug war.

How Obama’s Worldview Explains His Policies

The Cuba initiative and anticipated visit might help us understand why Barack Obama’s foreign policy is truly sui generis. The United States has never before had a president like him who sees the world as he does, who believes it is his job to fix the main problem in the world: the United States’ overweening role in the world.

The exploiting classes of the world have insisted that the arc of history is toward Western Civilization’s goals and methods, but this is wrong and should be thwarted by the oppressed peoples of the world.
I’ve observed Obama apologists (and some academics who should know better) over the years try to categorize Obama’s foreign policy as something familiar and therefore less objectionable than what could be summed up as “We are the change we have been waiting for.”

But let us dispense with all that. First, Obama is not a realist. They maximize power to ward off threats, and they give no handouts without getting something for security in. If anyone thinks the president is a realist, he should admit Obama is not a very good one. Neither is Obama a liberal internationalist (what used to be called “idealism”), although he comes close. These defer to international institutions whenever they can, but Obama has played the “cowboy” just as he accused George W. Bush of it.

Witness Libya, a ham-handed intervention if ever there was one. He might want this label if forced to choose one, but he’s sinned against that orthodoxy with both Libya and his drone wars. Nor is Obama a nationalist, but is quite the opposite. Suffice to say there is very little of Old Hickory in him, what with his undefended red lines and the mullahs’ humiliation of our armed forces.

That leaves us with a lesser-known but important tradition in international relations, critical theory. I won’t bother with all the jargon this approach is laden with (its roots are in Marxism so, you know, it would be abstruse when it is not fatuous), but it sums up to this: the exploiting classes of the world have insisted that the arc of history is toward Western Civilization’s goals and methods, but this is wrong and should be thwarted by the oppressed peoples of the world. They have a right to be heard, to be respected, and to chart their own courses without the West being the model. Critical theory encourages a non-Western centric foundation for analysis, then says, “Let’s see what happens when the oppressed are free to be themselves and follow their own ideas.”

Well, good luck with that. These theorists have never been very optimistic that their urgings will be heeded. But just think: what if the leader of the free world agreed with them?

Obama, the West’s Anti-Hero

This view comes as close to explaining (and justifying) Obama’s view of the world as I can imagine. His platitudes about commerce and democracy notwithstanding (note I did not say “free markets,” because I don’t hear him talk much about them, and he’s dramatically reduced our moral and material support for democrats around the world), Obama’s actions in the world trumpet that the United States, as the leader of the Western world, has been the cause of the problems of the non-Western world, and that has to be righted by the emergence of a tamer, quieter, more conciliatory, and accommodating United States.

It so happens that this theory also would have made it convenient for a truly revolutionary president of the United States to thrust himself upon the world stage, give the first in a series of speeches denigrating his own country, and then receive the Nobel Peace Prize (presumably for that speech, since he’d done nothing else on the world stage).

His “bold” initiatives would soon follow: a reset with Russia that ends our missile defense commitment to Eastern Europe; the Iranian deal that rewards them with billions of dollars for terrorism and a path to a nuclear weapon; this Cuba initiative that lets Castro continue to single-handedly determine the future of nine million people; and, if the Wall Street Journal has it right, something has been in the works recently to give the North Koreans the bilateral talks they so desperately want without having to curb their nuclear saber-rattling.

In short, critical theory provides support for Obama’s steadfast belief in his own importance and wisdom. It is all about him. It always has been. Or at least it is more about him than anything else.

The End of American Exceptionalism

I wish to be wrong about the trip. I hope he’ll surprise us all and do something noble while he’s there being presidential and theory-testing. Even as he embraces Fidel and Raul and offers condolences for the loss of their brother, Ramon, who died this week (an agriculturalist and not much of a revolutionary), he should make a show of his and Kerry’s declarations that they care about political reform.

It is too late for him to fix this initiative by demanding reciprocity for the sake of the Cuban people as well as the United States’s reputation, but I would be the first to applaud him if he were to make a scene by trying to visit with dissidents—not regime-approved dissidents, but the Ladies in White, the Cuban Youth Movement for Democracy, and others like them—then leave the visit early when he’s refused.

But I’m not holding my breath. It is about him and his legacy with his base of support that sees him as the first president they can be proud of, precisely because he agrees that the United States is not exceptional and not the greatest force for good the world has ever known.

Over 200 Cuban Dissidents Arrested on Sunday

Monday, February 29, 2016
From Diario de Cuba:

Over 200 activists and Ladies in White arrested in Havana and Oriente for participating in #TodosMarchamos Campaign

Sources from the dissident movement report that more than 200 activists were arrested in Havana and the Oriente province this Sunday for participating in the #TodosMarchamos campaign.

Aliuska Gomez, a member of the National Executive for The Ladies in White, told Diario de Cuba that 29 of members of the all-woman group in addition to 32 other activists were “violently arrested.”

She also went on to say that another seven women and about 20 other dissidents were intercepted by State Security agents before they were able to arrive in Santa Rita, the church where The Ladies in White attended services every Sunday.

In the eastern part of the country, the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU) tallied at least 121 arrests of #TodosMarchamos participants, a campaign that takes to the streets every Sunday calling for amnesty for political prisoners.

Describing the repression in Havana by the mobs routinely organized by the regime, Aliuska Gomez said: “We were violently arrested by the police, by agents of State Security.”

The Ladies in White, we all sat down on the floor and chanted ‘Liberty for political prisoners'” she said.

We were forcibly picked up off the floor and carried into patrol cars and buses to take us to Tarara. At one moment they let me go and I fell to the floor, hitting the ground with my head. Many of us were beaten,” she explained.

She also said she witnessed that various of the men “were being held in a headlock and they threw them into the vehicles like they were throwing them into a cage.”

Gomez said she was put into a patrol car. She added that it was at that moment when she noticed the leader of the women’s group Berta Soler, along with Mailen Gonzalez, “on the floor, surrounded by the police.”

This Sunday is the 43rd Sunday of repression against #TodosMarchamos, an initiative by the Forum for Rights and Liberties that continues to have dissident organizations joining the campaign.

Other reports indicate that 19 Ladies in White were able attend church services in Holguin but seven others were arrested on their way to the church.

In Matanzas, another 43 women were able to carry out their Sunday march under strong surveillance and another 10 did the same in Colon.

According to former political prisoner Ivan Hernandez Carrillo, at least three Ladies in White and another dozen dissident members of the Citizen Movement for Reflection and Reconciliation were arrested in Aguada de Pasajeros, Cienfuegos.

Translation courtesy of Babalu Blog.

U.S. Business (Rightfully) Weary of Cuba

From The Tampa Tribune:

U.S. businesses slow to expand to Cuba

Through a series of executive orders by President Barack Obama during the past year, U.S. citizens are finding it easier to do business in Cuba than at any time in five decades.

Americans can now sell and export items such as materials, equipment and tools for construction or agriculture, on credit if they choose, to the Cuban private sector. They also can establish a presence on the island nation and hire its citizens.

Still, no deals have been struck yet — raising concerns that without brick-and-mortar progress on the ground, the U.S. president who will be sworn in Jan. 20 could wipe away Obama’s orders with a stroke of a pen.

The same clock is ticking on a measure by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, the Tampa Democrat, calling for Congress to lift the embargo on travel and trade that Obama’s orders have whittled away. There is pressure, Castor has said, to pass her Cuba Trade Act during the term of a president she knows would sign it into law.

An established U.S. business presence in Cuba, though, with millions already invested, would prove a major obstacle if the next president seeks to walk back the steps toward normalization that Obama has taken.

Still, can enough of an investment be made in the next 11 months?

Two U.S. businesses seem close to finalizing a deal with Cuba — Alabama-based Cleber LLC, which would sell tractors to farmers, and Tampa’s Florida Produce, which would operate a distribution warehouse for all American goods that can legally be sold on the island nation.

Both ventures have been approved by the U.S. government.

Saul Berenthal, co-founder of Cleber, said the Cuban government verbally OK’d his company’s proposal to open a manufacturing and distribution center in the Mariel special economic development zone, an area covering 180 square miles west of Havana.

Berenthal will formally file the necessary documents with the Cuban government to receive official approval when he returns there March 11 for the International Agricultural Fair.

He expects the approval process to take 60-90 days. His company would then begin building a $5 million to $10 million tractor manufacturing center by end of the year with a goal of starting production in the first half of 2017.

“We are not afraid,” Berenthal said, considering the prospect of a new U.S. president. “We believe this is an important step in improving the relations with the two countries and is something that can help the Cuban people. So it is worth the risk.”

Florida Produce and its owners, Manuel Fernandez and Mike Mauricio, will give their formal presentation to the Cuban government March 29, said Tim Hunt, their attorney, with Tampa law firm Hill Ward Henderson.

Conversations he already had with Cuban government officials left Hunt confident that Florida Produce will win approval of its proposal once all the paperwork is filed and bureaucratic channels navigated.

Florida Produce would then lease a warehouse from the Cuban government in Havana.

Hunt said he could not estimate yet how much his clients will invest, but it would include installation of proper refrigeration and other components of a warehouse. Nor did Hunt have a timeline for beginning operations, except to say they prefer to open before Obama leaves office.

“I think the more we can implement, the harder it will be for the next president to unwind the executive orders,” Hunt said.

Nothing would stand in the way of a president who wishes to rescind Obama’s orders in the view of another Cuba observer, Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the Washington, D.C.-based U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC.

The president’s job, Claver-Carone said, is to uphold the law and he believes Obama’s policies violate the law by circumventing the embargo. Only Congress can change the embargo and allow even limited trade with Cuba, he said.

The only trade Congress allows now is for U.S. companies to sell Cuba agriculture and medical devices, and on a cash-only basis, Claver-Carone said.

Congress also allows U.S. companies to establish telecommunication services with Cuba’s state-run ETECSA, but sale of devices these services require is prohibited, as are investments in the island nation’s domestic infrastructure.

Obama’s executive orders permit commercial exports of limited telecommunications to Cubans, those necessary for communicating with people in the U.S. and the rest of the world.

In addition, telecommunications providers are allowed to establish in Cuba the necessary mechanisms, including infrastructure, to provide commercial telecommunications and Internet services.

“Some of the transactions that Obama is giving a wink-and-nod to today can easily be considered sanctions violations tomorrow,” Claver-Carone said. “Many of the regulations altered already stretch the bounds of the law.”

The companies closing in on a deal with Cuba, Claver-Carone noted, would establish small operations that a new president would feel little compunction to honor. He doesn’t envision any major corporations investing in Cuba under current conditions.

Even American Airlines, with plans to take advantage of a non-binding arrangement allowing as many as 110 commercial U.S. flights to Cuba each day, has no plans yet for one of its signature Admiral’s Clubs in Havana’s José Martí International Airport.

American Airlines is focused on applying for scheduled services through the U.S. Department of Transportation, spokesman Matt Miller said.

That process ends March 21. Commercial service to Cuba is expected to begin a few months later.

“We’ll evaluate this after we’ve started scheduled flights,” Miller said in an email, speaking of an Admirals’ Club.

Claver-Carone said he believes that once an evaluation is complete, the decision will be, “No.”

The location of the Jose Marti airport is property that was nationalized by the government in the years following the revolution of Fidel Castro. The last owners of airport property fled the island nation.

José Ramón López, heir to the land, now lives in the U.S.

Though his relatives were not American citizens when the land was seized, the Helms-Burton Act that codifies the U.S. embargo says the president can allow Cubans now living in the U.S. to seek legal recourse if a U.S. business profits from the seized property.

This adds more potential consequence for Cuba to the question of who is elected U.S. president.

And that makes operating a business anywhere on the island nation is risky, Claver-Carone said, especially considering all the land nationalized by Castro’s government.

“If I am a compliance officer for a major company I am not signing off any deal that could involve stolen properties,” Claver-Carone said.

Then there is the issue of civil judgments levied against the Cuban government by American courts — $4 billion plus interest, primarily in favor of Floridians whose families suffered from Cuba’s actions while it remained on the U.S. State Sponsors of Terrorism list from 1982-2015.

The plaintiffs may be able to freeze money transferred between a U.S. company and Cuba if that cash makes its way through the American banking system.

Asked if he would attempt to do so, Andrew Hall, a Miami lawyer representing a South Florida man who is owed the lion’s share of the judgments — $3.2 billion — sent a simple reply via email: “Yes.”

“It is a real concern and something we have been following,” said Florida Produce attorney Hunt. “My impression is that it has been a topic of much discussion between the U.S. and Cuban governments.”

U.S. State Department and Cuban officials began negotiating in December on settling the civil judgments as well as property claims made by American citizens against the island nation.

Obama Administration Looks to Erase Castro’s Worst Crimes

By John Suarez in The Daily Signal:

Obama Administration Looks to Erase Castro’s Worst Crimes

Even before President Barack Obama’s trip to Cuba next month, his administration has looked to rewrite the history of the Castros’ worst crimes. An example of this was in 2014, when the Obama administration commuted the double life sentence of Gerardo Hernández.

Hernández had been in jail for conspiracy to commit murder through his actions related to the 1996 downing of aircraft owned by the anti-Castro nonprofit “Brothers to the Rescue.”

Brothers to Rescue is a Miami based organization, formed by Cuban exiles, which advocates against the Castro dictatorship.

The atrocities took place in 1996, when two Brothers to the Rescue planes were shot down by Cuban jets over international airspace, killing four. Two more Cuban fighters chased a third Brothers to the Rescue plane to within three minutes of downtown Key West but failed to shoot it down. This plane returned and provided critical information on what had occurred. If it had been shot down, the Cuban government had a cover story in place to justify the shoot-down.

In order to carry out the attack, the Castro regime had a spy, who had infiltrated Brothers to the Rescue, initially pose as a survivor in Cuba to confirm the regime’s story. But this story imploded when the third plane made it back to Florida.

The objective of the Castro Regime was to destroy relief organization while at the same time taking attention away from a crackdown on a national opposition gathering in Cuba.

This was happening in the midst of a warming relationship that started in 1994, between the Clinton administration and Castro that included secret joint military exercises.

Hernández was set free by the Obama administration and was returned to Cuba the same day his sentence was commuted. Two days later on Dec. 19, 2014, Obama sought to rewrite the history of the incident, stating in a press conference that “[i]t was a tragic circumstance that ended up collapsing talks that had begun to take place.”

Historical and legal records demonstrate that Obama is wrong.

The Cuban dictatorship planned the attack by using its spy networks in the U.S. to obtain information, which allowed the Castros to carry out this act of state terrorism while also carrying out an influence operation to blame the victims in the media coverage.

On Nov. 14, 1997, U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King found Cuba guilty in civil court of planning the shoot down before the actual attack, and noted that there had been ample time to issue warnings to the Brothers to the Rescue aircraft.

A jury in criminal court presided by U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard on June 10, 2001, found Cuban spy Gerardo Hernández guilty of conspiracy to commit murder because of his role in providing information to the Cuban government on the flight plans of Brothers to the Rescue.

On Aug. 21, 2003, a U.S. grand jury indicted the two fighter pilots and their commanding general on murder charges for the 1996 shoot-down. Indictments were returned against General Rúben Martínez Puente, who at the time headed the Cuban Air Force, and fighter pilots Lorenzo Alberto Pérez-Pérez and Francisco Pérez-Pérez.

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. They are still at large.

There has been a lack of political will on behalf of the White House to pursue justice in the premeditated murders of these four men, but the indictments remain open.

Family members of the four killed (Carlos Costa, Pablo Morales, Mario De La Peña, and Armando Alejandre) have pursued and will continue to pursue justice and have concrete results for their efforts. Unfortunately, they face an Obama administration that is trying to downplay the actions of the hostile Cuban government.

Obama Supporter: Is POTUS Listening to Cuban-Americans Who Don’t Agree?

By Joe Cardona in The Miami Herald:

Is Obama listening to Cuban Americans who don’t agree?

Even those who don’t support trade embargo question ‘normalization’ policy

As President Obama’s appeasement trip to Cuba approaches, the political discourse in Miami regarding Cuba policy has noticeably shifted — albeit not necessarily the way Democratic pollsters, pundits and hired hands would have us think.

Is there increased support for engagement among Cuban Americans? Unquestionably, there is. However, what is deliberately missed by the administration’s paid supporters is all the hues of gray in this debate.

In an effort to show support for its policy shift, the president’s team points to shifts in political attitudes in Miami. Polls have consistently shown that there is less support for the embargo and the anachronistic policies of the Cold War. Also noted in the surveys is that there is more support for engagement between the United States and Cuba (especially among younger Cuban Americans).

What is rarely, if ever, assessed is how many Cuban Americans (like myself) think that the embargo is a farce and always has been and yet we are deeply disappointed and concerned about the way the administration has carried out its new approach towards Cuba.

In my studies of American history, rarely have I seen such one-sided negotiations between two countries. As far as the objective eye can see, the score stands at Cuba’s totalitarian, criminal regime 100, and the United States — the self-proclaimed beacon for human rights and democracy around the globe — a big zero.

President Obama has had every opportunity to illustrate to the world that the United States is ready, willing and able to normalize relations with Cuba if and when the Cuban regime decides it is going to soften, if not eliminate, its Draconian treatment of its citizens.

According to several human-rights organizations, including the Madrid-based Cuban Observatory on Human Rights, political detentions have increased steadily since the December 2014 announcement of the policy to improve relations between the two countries.

The group says that in January, 1,474 people, including 512 women, were “arbitrarily” detained. Certainly a reasonable basis upon which to take issue with the administration’s policy, right?

But you wouldn’t know it from the media accounts of public opinion in Miami because much of that is based on whether you are a supporter of the trade embargo. Clearly, the embargo has been used as the defining issue to separate those who back the president’s policy and those who don’t.

It used to be, in the Miami of the 1980s and 90s, that there was great criticism for the lack of space for dissenting voices among Cuban Americans in the community who felt differently and dissented from the hard-line approach that the Cuban-American Republican leadership had adopted.

There was validity to those arguments. Now, ironically it is those who dare raise concern with U.S. policy toward Cuba and its execution who are made to feel like irrational fools that time has passed by.

We are somehow lumped into the pile of embargo supporters.

Recently, I heard Ben Rhodes, a national security adviser for the president, say in a press conference that the administration has been actively engaging the Cuban-American community throughout this process and that the community has been largely supportive.

It is apparent that Rhodes and President Obama’s advisers have been getting feedback largely from a homogenous group of Cuban Americans that favors relations with Cuba. It all equals one grand like-minded exercise in group-think futility.

I’d be interested in learning what opposing voices within the Cuban-American community the president’s advisers have heard from.

As a dissenting Cuban American, I would ask President Obama (who I voted for twice) to stand as the leader of the free world and to highlight who the real oppressors of the Cuban people have been for over half a century.

Rewarding tyranny does not leave behind an enviable legacy.