Cuban Regime Threatens Dissidents Against Meeting With Obama

Saturday, March 19, 2016
From The L.A. Times:

Cuba ordering its dissidents to skip meeting with Obama

On the eve of President Obama’s historic visit to Cuba, authorities there are ordering dissidents invited to meet with the American leader to stay home instead, a leading human rights activist said Saturday.

Elizardo Sanchez, a Cuban anti-government activist who chronicles political detentions month-to-month, said he and most of those invited planned to defy the government order.

Sanchez, speaking by phone from Havana, said U.S. officials were offering to help the activists get to the meeting with Obama, scheduled for Tuesday.

“Everyone is pretty determined,” he said.

There was no immediate comment from the U.S. Embassy in Havana, the White House or the Cuban government.

The government of President Raul Castro, while welcoming Obama and the overtures Washington has made to normalize relations between the erstwhile Cold War enemies, remains insistent that it will not sacrifice its basic socialist principles in the interest of better ties.

To drive home that point, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez delivered a speech on Thursday that belittled many of the U.S. actions so far, as Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the anti-American chief executive in Latin America, arrived in Havana for a visit.

Obama is portraying his trip, the first by a sitting U.S. president to Cuba in nearly 90 years, as an embrace of the Cuban people and an attempt to empower them through freer economic exchange that may eventually bring more democracy.

The White House has said Obama would meet with dissidents and members of civil society of his choosing. White House officials bristled at the suggestion that Cuban authorities might try to impose limits.

But it appears that Cuba has resorted to a common technique, briefly detaining dissidents or ordering an ad hoc house arrest to prevent them from reaching meetings with visiting dignitaries. Several reported being subject to the same treatment ahead of Pope Francis’ arrival last year.

Sanchez was detained Saturday at the Havana airport upon returning from Miami with his wife. He said he is used to such treatment and was soon released.

“The threatening and detention of government critics prior to visits by foreign leaders has been standard practice in Cuba for years,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, head of the Americas section for Human Rights Watch.

Mr. President, As You Visit Cuba, Remember Selma

By Dr. Jose Azel of The Cuba Transition Project:

Mr. President, As You Visit Cuba, Remember Selma

In 2015, an alliance of Cuban groups opposing the Castro regime launched a campaign for rights and liberties spearheaded by peaceful marches identified as Todos Marchamos (We All March). Each Sunday, hundreds of Cuban citizens march peacefully demanding amnesty for political prisoners of the regime only to be brutally suppressed by General Castro’s security forces.

The Cuban marchers are “motivated by dignity and a disdain for hopelessness,” as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. described the 1965 marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama protesting racial injustice in the American South. At that time, the legislatures of Southern States had maintained a series of discriminatory practices that disenfranchised African Americans not unlike the way Cuban citizens are disenfranchised in Cuba by the Castros’ totalitarian regime.

On March 7th, 1965, in what became known as “Bloody Sunday,” state troopers and deputized possemen in Selma brutally attacked the peaceful marchers with nightsticks, whips, and tear gas. Alabama governor George Wallace had ordered his deputies to “use whatever measures are necessary to prevent a march.” Seventeen marchers were hospitalized and many others treated for lesser injuries. One of the organizers of the march, Amelia Boynton was cruelly beaten and her photograph, lying on the road unconscious, appeared on the front page of newspapers around the world.

Worldwide televised coverage of the violent repression of the marchers, and the resulting national outcry, impelled President Lyndon Johnson to ask for the passage of voting rights laws to enable African Americans to register and vote without harassment.

This month, fifty one years after the Selma marches, the first African American President will visit Cuba where disenfranchised Cubans will be marching for their rights and liberties. Their marches are inspired by Dr. King’s teaching that “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

Following President Obama’s December 17, 2014 initiative for a rapprochement with the Cuban government, repression has markedly increased in Cuba with 1,141 political arrests reported in February of this year alone. And exhibiting the intractability that white officials showed in the Alabama of the 1960’s, the Cuban government has repeatedly stated that it will not change its ways.

The Castro government will do all it can outside camera range to prevent the Todos Marchamos groups from carrying out their peaceful marches. It will arrest group leaders preventively, it will intimidate them, it will restrict their movement, and more. General Castro’s repression forces will be smarter than County officials in the Alabama of the 1960’s in keeping their abuses off camera; but repress they will.

Many of the Cuban marchers will be Afro Cubans, among them Ladies in White leader Berta Soler who, like Amelia Boynton did in Selma, will be marching for her rights as a citizen. Let’s pray Berta and the Todos Marchamos Cubans are not beaten like Amelia and the Selma marchers were.

It would be appalling if an African American President chooses to look the other way as the Cuban version of the Selma marches for civil rights takes place during his visit to that tragic Island.

Mr. President as you visit Cuba, remember Dr. King’s admonition that “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it. In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Mr. President, as you visit Cuba, remember Selma.

WSJ: U.S. Ties Bring No Relief to Cuba’s Dissidents

Friday, March 18, 2016
Excellent reporting from The Wall Street Journal:

U.S. Ties Bring No Quick Relief to Cuba’s Dissidents

As Obama prepares to arrive in Havana, dissidents say repression by Raúl Castro’s government hasn’t let up for those daring to speak out

About 30 anti-government protesters gathered at this city’s Mahatma Gandhi Park on Sunday and unfurled a banner in anticipation of President Barack Obama’s groundbreaking visit next week. “Obama, Cuba has a dream,” it read. “Cuba without Castros.”

They were soon surrounded by an angry crowd, followed by Cuban security officers who tore the banner from their hands, hustled them into police cars and took them away.

Some arrested demonstrators said they were kicked, hit, pushed to the ground and stripped naked before being released hours later. Their treatment was part of a more general crackdown on dissidents as the U.S. president prepares to arrive in Havana on Sunday.

Since the U.S. began normalizing relations with its long-standing political foe in December 2014, tourism here has flourished, making central Havana bustle with new restaurants, hotels and gift shops. But in crumbling neighborhoods outside the elegant tourist areas, residents say the repression by President Raúl Castro’s government hasn’t let up for those daring to speak out.

“Here in Cuba nothing has changed,” said Berta Soler, a member of a dissident group calling itself the Ladies in White, moments before she was arrested with those carrying the banner. “The Cuban government keeps trying to stop us, to demonize us, and we all live in fear.”

Ladies in White, whose members wear white to symbolize peace, are among the dissidents targeted in a wave of arrests around the island in recent days, say human-rights activists here and abroad. That comes in part because the dissidents have stepped up their activities as they strive to be noticed ahead of Mr. Obama’s visit.

More than 300 people have been arrested since March 8 in Havana, the eastern city of Santiago and elsewhere, said Ms. Soler and members of the Patriotic Union, another Cuban group. The dissidents say they get roughed up, threatened and dropped off in remote areas, forcing them to walk home in searing heat.

Officials at Cuba’s Foreign Ministry in Havana and its embassy in Washington didn’t respond to calls and emails seeking comment on the dissidents’ claims. But an editorial in Granma, the state newspaper that airs the state’s official position, said the U.S. “should abandon its pretense of creating an internal opposition, supplied with U.S. contributions.”

Four dissidents who had been repeatedly jailed were allowed this week to quietly leave Havana, Ovidio Martin Castellanos, a member of the dissident Cuban Patriotic Union, said in an interview on Thursday. Obama administration officials didn’t immediately confirm or deny the arrival of the dissidents on U.S. soil. “They know that these days there are foreigners and foreign press here,” Ms. Soler said of the Cuban government, “and they don’t want people to see the opposition and think it has too much support.”

In the U.S., some Republicans—notably Sen. Marco Rubio, the former presidential candidate born to Cuban parents—have said Mr. Obama’s detente and Cuba visit are windfalls for the Castro government, providing little benefit to Cubans.

“Here’s a good deal: Cuba has free elections. Cuba stops putting people in jail for speaking out. Cuba has freedom of the press,” Mr. Rubio said in a recent presidential debate.

Supporters of the detente say the U.S. has diplomatic and trade relations with many countries with far worse human-rights records than Cuba, including China and Saudi Arabia.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.) said no one who supports the thaw expects fundamental change on human rights soon.

“But my goal is to remove barriers and create opportunities for the Cuban and American people,” he said. “The Cuban leadership may believe their repressive system can survive, but I don’t think future generations will put up with it.”

Human-rights activists such as Daniel Wilkinson, managing director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch, said when Mr. Obama meets with Mr. Castro he “needs to be clear, categorical and forceful, specific in denouncing the abusive practices and calling for steps by the Cuban government to address them.”

“If it ends up he spends the day just enjoying a baseball game with President Castro, it will undermine whatever message he has about human rights,” Mr. Wilkinson said.

Here in Cuba, dissidents are divided on detente and on Mr. Obama’s trip.

Aurelio González, member of an opposition group associated with the Ladies in White, was adamant that Washington’s new stance toward Cuba has done nothing to improve rights. “The U.S. has stopped supporting us from a moral point of view, from one of solidarity,” said Mr. González, who was also recently arrested.

Still, there are dissidents like Wilberto Parada, a member of the opposition Patriotic Union movement and one of more than 50 political prisoners the Cuban government freed in early 2015 in the wake of the re-establishment of relations between the two countries.

“We support the visit of Obama,” Mr. Parada, 44, said, sitting in the dim living room of a crumbling Havana apartment while his 5-year-old son scampered in and out. “But he needs to talk to the real members of the opposition here, to learn the truth.”

Ben Rhodes, deputy national-security adviser in the Obama administration, said the president would meet with “prominent dissidents, people who have made enormous sacrifices” in Cuba, but didn’t identify specific persons.

Last Sunday at Mahatma Gandhi Park, Ms. Soler fielded calls from relatives of at least 20 women she said were detained on their way to the demonstration. One was 37-year-old Maylen González, who said state security officers handcuffed her after she left her home and pushed her into a car. One guard pushed her head between her knees and another jammed an elbow into her back, she said.

“They are always violent,” said Ms. González as she sat stiffly in a rocking chair at Ms. Soler’s home the day after her detention. “This time was terrible. I thought they permanently broke my spine.”

After the Ladies in White were detained Sunday, government officials brought in musicians and a dance troupe, which started performing as people filtered back into the park. When a group of men who had witnessed the detentions were asked where the demonstrators had been taken, they simply shrugged.

“We didn’t see anything,” said one man.

IBD Editorial: Obama Derelict In Failing To Call For Regime Change In Cuba

By Investor's Business Daily's Editorial Board:

Obama Derelict In Failing To Call For Regime Change In Cuba

Junkets: Ahead of his “historic” trip to communist Cuba, President Obama has made it clear he won’t be calling for regime change in the 57-year totalitarian dictatorship. So the trip will be little more than a U.S. endorsement of a detested military police state.

President Obama’s speech to the Cuban people, explained Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, “will address the very complicated history between our two countries,” leaving little doubt he meant “apology.” “Obama will make clear,” Rhodes said, “that the United States is not a hostile nation seeking regime change.”

Well, a sane person might ask, why not?

Sixteen months after President Obama’s “historic” rapprochement with the brutal communist military regime that took power even before Obama was born, the aim of a thaw has gone badly awry. Obama stated he was normalizing relations to improve conditions for Cubans. He’s instead achieved the exact opposite, with dissident arrests up dramatically to 8,616 in the year following normalization. Mob beatings and harassment are back with a vengeance.

Business licenses fell by 10,000 in 2015, too, Mauricio Claver-Carone of Cuba Democracy Advocates told Congress this week. The private sector has shriveled even as Castro’s military has seen its profits go up with an influx of Obama business money, he noted. That’s at odds with Rhodes’ recent justifications on the White House website for the trip, where he claimed private business was on the upswing. Internet connectivity is down, too, Claver-Carone noted on his blog Capitol Hill Cubans.

Meanwhile, as Obama heads to reassure the regime the U.S.wants no change, more than 93,000 Cubans have voted with their feet, fleeing their lives as slaves in a totalitarian regime for freedom in the U.S.

Instead of a message of hope for these Cubans, as the great Ronald Reagan once did for long-suffering Russians, Obama gives a message of hope to their oppressors instead.

The message won’t be about the values of freedom and respect for human rights that Americans hold dear, but a cold offering of gringo cash via foreign investments and cash transfers.

The Cuba trip will be one of the largest junkets of Obama’s career, a Marie Antoinette-like procession of yanqui excess. Obama is bringing four cabinet secretaries, 40 members of Congress, dozens of business people, assorted Cuban-Americans and the Tampa Bay Rays. Combined with the Secret Service, logistics specialists, diplomats, and journalists, the presidential procession will take up 1,200 Havana hotel rooms at a cost of millions — another big gift to Raul Castro’s military, which owns the hotels. The elaborate size and scope of the trip will be a de facto stimulus package for the dictatorship, while the Obama entourage will steep itself in tourist selfies of mojitos, classic cars, salsa, cigars and “quaint” tumbledown architecture as impoverished Cuban locals look on.

The arrogant message sent will be that Obama and his gilded entourage have cast the U.S. lot with the Castro brothers and the Cuban elites, not the Cuban people. Those fighting for democracy and paying the price will only have a higher uphill climb. Obama’s refusal to call for regime change amid all this excess is cowardice. It’s a disgrace.

What President Obama Needs to Say About Cuba’s Elections

By Carl Gershman in The Washington Post:

What President Obama needs to say about Cuba’s elections

President Obama’s forthcoming visit to Cuba comes as preparations are being completed for the Seventh Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), scheduled to open in Havana on April 16. The main order of business will be to establish the process for transferring power to a new generation of Cuban leaders in 2018, when Raúl Castro will step down as president. While this change will mark the end of the Castro era in Cuban politics, the regime has made clear that it considers the current system “irrevocable ” and that it won’t renounce a single one of its “revolutionary and anti-imperialist” principles, as the party’s official newspaper, Granma, stated recently in an editorial on Obama’s visit.

The chief item on the agenda of the Seventh Congress will be the consideration of a new electoral law for the general election in 2018, when Castro’s successor will be chosen. Under the current system, according to the independent blogger Yoani Sánchez, “the electoral machinery is strictly controlled” to ensure whatever outcomes the regime wants. Control is enforced at the grass roots by the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs), which Fidel Castro called “a Revolutionary system of collective surveillance” when he established it in 1960. The CDRs determine the voter lists and oversee town hall assemblies at which candidates are nominated by a show of hands. The overall voter registry is administered by the Ministry of the Interior, which is a military institution. There is no secret ballot, and fear of reprisals blocks the selection of candidates who might have “counter-revolutionary” views. Campaigning is not allowed, candidates are banned from putting forward a program, and there is no right to ask what a candidate thinks about a specific problem. Voters, according to Sánchez, cast ballots “for a photo and a list of merits — as inflated as they are impossible to prove.” Needless to say, the PCC is the only recognized party.

The regime has not offered any details about the changes to the law being considered, presumably, to give some legitimacy to the 2018 election. There is talk, for example, of allowing the electorate a choice of candidates, and candidates might be permitted to engage in public debates. But the changes are unlikely to be more than cosmetic, another example of what Cuban democracy leader Oswaldo Payá, who died in 2012 under suspicious circumstances, called “a fraudulent change so those that have all the power may keep it and once more marginalize the people of Cuba.”

But Cuban democrats are not ready to accept that. Rosa María Payá, the daughter of the martyred activist, has launched a campaign called Cuba Decides that builds upon her father’s famous Varela Project and calls for a plebiscite on whether to hold free, fair and multiparty elections. And just last week a coalition of pro-democracy nongovernmental organizations called Another 18 (#Otro18) presented the draft of an alternative electoral law to the National Assembly and held a news conference and a forum on the theme “For Freedom of Choice.”

The alternative law drafted by Another 18 is a comprehensive set of legislative proposals to guarantee the right to freely elect officials and to remove the CDRs from the process; to establish transparent rules for updating and correcting the electoral registry; to give citizens the right to run as candidates for public office at all levels, thereby eliminating the Candidacy Commissions and town hall assemblies that control the nomination process; to recognize the basic freedoms of expression, assembly and association that are essential for real electoral competition; and to establish an independent electoral body to administer the voter registry and safeguard the integrity of elections.

The regime is fearful that Another 18 might begin to mobilize grass-roots support for its proposals, and it arrested José Daniel Ferrer, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, and detained others to prevent them from participating in the forum on free elections. International support for those fighting for democracy in Cuba has never been more needed.

When former president Jimmy Carter visited Cuba in 2002, he used an unprecedented public address carried live on state radio and television to urge that Cuba “join the community of democracies,” and to praise the Varela Project, which most Cubans knew nothing about, as the government had forbidden any mention of it by state media.

Obama needs to do at least as much when he visits next week. Given the timing of his visit, right before the party congress and at a moment when Cubans are beginning to think about the potentially historic election in 2018, his endorsement of the proposals advanced by Another 18 and for the cause of real democracy in Cuba could have far-reaching consequences.

Diplomatic relations between the Cuban government and the United States have now been normalized. The time has come for the Cuban government to normalize its relations with the Cuban people.

Carl Gershman is president of the National Endowment for Democracy.

U.S. Presidents and Cuban Dictators

By Mike Gonzalez in National Review:

U.S. Presidents and Cuban Dictators 

Will President Obama’s visit to Havana lead to a freer Cuba? 

There seems to be something about Eastertime that makes liberal American presidents want to indulge Cuba’s atheist dictators. Perhaps it’s the hope of redemption and resurrection, which are, after all, at the center of the Easter story. The facts, however, weigh heavily against that idea.

Take President Obama’s plans to visit Cuba on Monday of Holy Week. One can’t help remembering that wretched Good Friday 16 years ago when President Clinton pried Elián González out of a closet in Miami and sent him away from freedom and into Fidel Castro’s arms.

Did that make Castro any less anti-American? No. If anything, it made him more obdurate. He redoubled his efforts to nurture a hard-core crop of Latin American dictators determined to thwart the U.S. in the hemisphere and around the world. At the height of that effort, the group included the leaders of Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina, El Salvador, Ecuador, and Nicaragua; at times, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay were also involved.

President Obama’s two-day Havana journey will do no more to redeem Fidel’s little brother, Raúl, who took the reins of power from the ailing Fidel in 2008, or to resurrect civic and economic life on the island of Cuba.

All Mr. Obama’s visit will do is legitimize Raúl Castro’s rule and make it easier for him to, in a Caribbean version of North Korea’s dynastic Communism, pass political power to his son, Colonel Alejandro Castro Espín, and economic power to his son-in-law, General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas. Mr. Obama’s entire Cuba policy has been great for the Castro family and their military-state monopolies, but terrible for average Cubans and for Americans.

In fact, Mr. Obama’s entire Cuba policy has been great for the Castro family and their military-state monopolies, but terrible for average Cubans and for Americans. Let’s examine the facts. 

Travel by Americans to Cuba has increased 50 percent since Mr. Obama announced his change of policy in December 2014, leading Cuba’s GDP to rise by 4 percent. And where has all this money gone? Right into the coffers of the Castros’ military state.

Gaviota S.A., the company that controls tourism on the island, says its revenue grew by 12 percent in 2015, and it expects hotel revenues to double in 2016. Gaviota is part of the many-tentacled GAESA holding company, run by the armed forces. In congressional testimony on March 15, Mauricio Claver-Carone, executive director of Cuba Democracy Advocates, called GAESA the largest hotel company in Latin America. “Every tourist that stays at Cuba’s famed Hotel Nacional, drinks a mojito at El Floridita, [or] catches a show at the Tropicana has one thing in common — contributing to the Cuban military and security services’ bottom line,” Mr. Claver-Carone told the Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade Subcommittee of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

All those American tourists traipsing through Havana are also adding to the Castro family’s bottom line, for GAESA is controlled by none other than General Rodríguez López-Callejas. 

And what about average Cubans — the 11 million or so who are not part of the Castro clan? Cubans on the island tell us that the more GAESA gorges itself, the worse the Cuban people have it. And indeed, there are some 10,000 fewer “self-employed” licensees in Cuba today than there were in 2014. The ones that remain in business represent a very small percentage of the Cuban economy.

So much for the economic side of Cuban life. What about democracy and human rights? Since the opening of Cuba to American visitors, Castro’s henchmen have taken particular delight in beating up Cubans who dare protest, detaining them or terrorizing them by other means.

According to the independent Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, 1,141 Cubans were detained for political activities last month alone, following some 1,447 detained in January. Last year saw one of the highest numbers of political detentions in many years: 8,616.

And things will only get worse. The mouthpiece of Cuba’s Communist party, the “newspaper” Granma, fired off a salvo on March 9, welcoming Mr. Obama by warning him to save his breath with regard to getting the Castros to allow democracy on the island.

“The pretension of fabricating a domestic political opposition, supported by money from U.S. taxpayers, must be abandoned,” read the 3,000-word editorial, which was reminiscent of Fidel Castro’s interminable speeches.

Granma rubbed salt in the wound by reminding Mr. Obama that his visit was the result of an American capitulation in which the Castros gave up nothing. “This point has been reached, in the very first place, as a result of the Cuban people’s heroic resistance and loyalty to principles,” Granma said. “Not with force, economic coercion, or isolation were they able to impose conditions on Cuba which were contrary to our aspirations.”

Also important, it said, was the pressure put upon Washington by the coterie of leftist regimes that Fidel Castro nurtured back in the day, “which put the United States in an unsustainable position of isolation” — a point that the Obama administration, mindlessly, has also made.

And still Mr. Obama will go to Cuba next Monday. Undoubtedly he thinks this will be another feather in his legacy cap. Perhaps he is thinking of what Nixon’s visit to China did for the legacy of our 37th president.

More likely, however, Mr. Obama’s visit will have much the same effect as the last visit by a sitting American president to Cuba — Calvin Coolidge, who hobnobbed in 1928 with the bloody dictator Gerardo Machado.

Perhaps Mr. Obama should reconsider.

Speaker Ryan to Obama: You Are Bound by the Law on Cuba

Statement during today's press briefing by the Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan (R-WI):

In a few days, the president is traveling to Cuba, the first presidential trip to the communist country in nearly 90 years.

Let’s not forget that the Castro regime has been guilty of countless human rights abuses over the decades. Hundreds of thousands of Cubans have fled persecution and found asylum in the United States.

Unfortunately, it’s doubtful that the president will bring up the need for reform of the Cuban government during his visit next week.

Instead, he will  announce new commercial deals between U.S. companies and Cuba, which will legitimize and strengthen the communist government.

However, the U.S. trade embargo with Cuba—passed by Congress after the 1959 Cuban revolution—is still intact and enforceable.

Despite the president’s attempts to undermine this decades-long embargo by executive action, he is ultimately bound by it.

It’s the law.

Must-Watch: Like Kerry, Treasury Secretary Lew Unable to Defend Obama's Cuba Policy

A few weeks ago, before a Congressional panel, we witnessed how U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was woefully uninformed and unable to name any human rights improvements in Cuba.

This week, it was Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew's turn to testify before the House Appropriations Committee.

Like Kerry, Lew was woefully uninformed of the details of licenses trumpeted by the Obama Administration, their consequences and legality.

Then, Lew completely fell apart trying to defend Obama's policy in general.

Click below (or here) to watch:

Paradox of Obama's Cuba Policy

Tweet by former Chilean Minister, Amb. Roberto Ampuero:

Paradox: After spending decades supporting right-wing dictatorships in Latin America, now the U.S. ends up supporting a left-wing dictator.

Chairman Royce: New Cuba Regs Pose Risk to Integrity of U.S. Financial System

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) released the following statement regarding the Obama administration’s announcement of additional changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba:

"These unilateral actions will further prop up a communist regime in Cuba that has a long record of brutal human rights abuses. And for what? While the Castros and their agents are given access to the U.S. financial system, the suffering Cuban people will still get paid in funny money – if at all. Workers at foreign-owned resorts receive only a fraction of their salary, sometimes as little as five percent.  The government pockets the rest. 

Additionally, I’m very concerned these moves pose significant risks to the integrity of the U.S. financial system, U.S. companies doing business in Cuba, and certified claims of American citizens against the Castro regime. The state-run financial system is opaque and unregulated, and in the past has conducted plenty of business with terrorist organizations and likely narcotics traffickers. Corruption in the government is endemic. 

Under existing law, the president, after consultation with Congress, is only authorized to suspend the economic embargo of Cuba if there is a transitional government in place that allows for all political activity, frees political prisoners, makes a commitment to free and fair elections, and does not include Raul Castro. Obviously these conditions have not been met. Instead of ignoring the law to hand more one-sided concessions to an oppressive regime, President Obama should be working with Congress to stand with the Cuban people who long for freedom.”

NOTE: Noting that the human rights situation in Cuba has gone from bad to worse since the administration began normalizing relations with Raul Castro, Chairman Royce has urged President Obama to postpone his trip to Cuba unless meaningful engagement with internationally recognized human rights activists can be secured.

Meet the Fugitive U.S. Terrorists Sheltered by Cuba

By Rick Fuentes in The New York Post:

Meet the fugitive US terrorists sheltered by Cuba

President Obama is going to Cuba next week, the first official state visit by a sitting president in more than 80 years.

It’ll surely be followed by regularly scheduled domestic airline and cruise-ship service, rock concerts, major sporting events, US corporate investment and thousands of American tourists curious to see Marxism up close and how an entire country can be reduced to an underclass.

Havana is where most of the tourists will likely travel. There’s a sprinkling of four- and five-star hotels along the scenic port and bay of Havana, several of which have at their backs the barrios of the Old City and Centro Habana.

There is something beautiful and rustic about the panorama of poverty when it is viewed from the upper floors of a luxury hotel.

But Americans, beware. Unlike the president and his entourage, you aren’t dignitaries with security teams, or part of a pampered and propagandized political delegation fattened and flattered by the type of cuisine and accommodations most Cubans can only dream about.

I’m not saying that the jittery Cuban military and police aren’t interested in your movements on the island — in fact, they surely are — but you’ll have no visible escorts or other functional layers of protection.

You also should know that some of America’s most wanted terrorists are living openly in Cuba. These still-dangerous revolutionaries roam the island, disenchanted about all things American.

It’s highly unlikely that the Cuban landscape will be swept of their presence before your arrival because US government negotiators, speaking on behalf of the Obama administration, seem to lack both the will and intent to press the Castro brothers for their return to the United States to answer for their crimes.

Make no mistake, however, about the will and intent of Gov. Chris Christie and the New Jersey State Police to continue to advocate strongly against their privileged and coddled status of political asylum.

Four of them — Joanne Chesimard, William Guillermo Morales, Victor Manuel Gerena and Charles Hill — hail from US-based domestic terror organizations whose violent track record includes bringing about the deaths of 17 police officers, five American civilians and two members of the US military, as well as perpetrating a string of 159 bombings that have destroyed the lives and families of many more.

Gerena remains on the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted list, and Chesimard holds the distinction of being the only woman on the photo spread of the FBI’s Most Wanted International Terrorists list.

The FBI and the state of New Jersey continue to pledge a $2 million reward for Chesimard’s return to prison for her conviction in the murder of New Jersey Trooper Werner Foerster in 1973.

My connection to Foerster’s murder by Chesimard and several accomplices runs the breadth of my career.

From the time of her escape from a New Jersey prison on Nov. 2, 1979, to my deeper investigative involvement in her flight from justice while assigned to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in the mid-’80s and into my current role as colonel and superintendent, the New Jersey State Police and I have never lost the determination to see her returned to prison.

For your safety, before you depart for your long-awaited Cuban vacation, please visit the New Jersey State Police website at njsp.org. You’ll find the most updated photographs of these four terrorist fugitives accompanied by a short bio from the FBI.

If your walk about the island crosses the path of any of these coddled criminals, I’d ask you to immediately report their sighting to the US Embassy in Havana. At all hours, the embassy can be reached at (53)(7)839-4100, a handy number to keep in your pocket to mitigate many of the unforeseen perils of travel to Cuba.

Enjoy your trip.

Col. Rick Fuentes is superintendent of the New Jersey State Police.

Menendez on Senate Floor: Latest Cuba Regs 'Set the Stage for Legal Action'

Thursday, March 17, 2016
U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), senior member of the Senator Foreign Relations committee, delivered the following remarks (or click here to watch) on the Senate Floor ahead of President Obama’s visit to Cuba:

I rise in memory of all Cuban dissidents who have given their lives in the hope of Cuba, one day, being free from the yoke of the Castro regime. It is that freedom I had hoped President Obama was referencing when he said: "What I’ve said to the Cuban government is – if we’re seeing more 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. If we’re going backwards, then there’s not much reason for me to be there."

But that is obviously not the case, which is why the Boston Globe’s headline on February 25th says it all: Obama Breaks Pledge – Will Visit Cuba Despite Worsening Human Rights.

Instead of having the free world’s leader honor Latin America’s only dictatorship with a visit, he could have visited one of the 150 countries which he has not visited, including several in Latin America that are democracies.

The President has negotiated a deal with the Castros, and I understand his desire to make this his legacy issue, but there is still a fundamental issue of freedom and democracy at stake that goes to the underlying atmosphere in Cuba and whether or not the Cuban people – still repressed and still imprisoned – will benefit from the President’s legacy, or will it be the Castro Regime that reaps the benefits.

Unless the Castros are compelled to change the way they govern the island and the way they exploit its people, the answer to this won’t be any different: The Castro Regime will be the beneficiary.

At the very least the President’s first stops should be meetings with internationally-recognized dissidents: U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom winner, Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet; the European Union's Sakharov prize recipients, Guillermo Farinas and Rosa Maria Paya in respect for her murdered father Oswaldo Paya who was leading the Varela Project advocating civil liberties, collecting thousands of signatures petitioning the Castro regime for democratic change as permitted under the Cuban constitution – so threatening was his peaceful petition drive that he was assassinated by Castro’s security agents.

And he should meet with Berta Soler, at her home, in her neighborhood; With The Ladies in White, with dissidents and democracy advocates in Havana – and then that will be the front-page photograph we see next week. Only then will the message that the United States will not give-in or give-up on our commitment to a free and democratic Cuba be clear to the world and to the Cuban people.

To leave a truly honorable mark in history, this would mean the President leaving the Castro's cordoned-off-tourist-zone and seeing Berta Soler and her Ladies in White at their headquarters in the Lawton neighborhood of Havana, where poverty – Castro style -- not opportunity, not freedom, not democracy – but poverty – created by a Stalinist state, is the umbrella under which they live.

The President should witness their bravery, listen to their stories, feel their despair, see the fear under which they live – and stand-up with them and for them.

He could learn of the story of Aliuska Gomez, one of The Ladies in White who was arrested this past Sunday for marching peacefully. In an article in Diario de Cuba she told her story: "'We were subjected to a lot of violence today, said Aliuska Gomez. Many of us were dragged and beaten,' she added pointing out that this has taken place only one week before President Obama’s visit. Aliuska…related how she was taken to a police station in Mariano where she was forcibly undressed by several uniformed female officers in plain view of some males. 'After they had taken away all of my belongings, she said, they told me to strip naked, and I refused so they threw me down on the floor and took off all of my clothing, right in front of two men, and they dragged me completely naked into a jail cell. Aliuska was then handcuffed and thrown on the cell’s floor, naked, and left alone for forty-five minutes.'"

Or how about the young Cuban dissident who met with Ben Rhodes and was arrested in Havana. It was reported on March 14th that ‘yesterday the Castro regime arrested Carlos Amel Oliva, head of the youth wing of the Cuban Patriotic Union, a major dissident organization. He is being accused of anti-social behavior. On Friday, Amel Oliva had participated in a meeting in Miami with Ben Rhodes, President Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor. He returned to Havana on Sunday.

I guess that’s what Raul Castro thinks about those who meet with the President’s Deputy National Security Advisor.

Notwithstanding their true stories, and the stories of thousands like them, the President first announced sweeping changes to America’s strategic approach to the Castro Regime in December 2014. In broad strokes, we learned of the forthcoming reestablishment of diplomatic relations – an exchange of symbols with the American flag flying over a United States Embassy in Havana and the Cuban flag flying over a Cuban Embassy in Washington.

We learned about the process by which Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism would be lifted; and, we learned about the forthcoming transformative effects of a unilateral easing of sanctions to increase travel, commerce, and currency.

For those of us who understand this regime, we cautioned for nuance, and against those broad strokes. We asked that the Administration at least require the Castros to reciprocate with certain concessions of their own, which would be as good for U.S. national interests as for the Cuban people and for U.S.-Cuban relations.

For example, before the President ever traveled to Burma—a country with notorious human rights abuses and with which this Administration began to engage—the U.S. first demanded, and received action by the Burmese to address their human rights record. To be sure, the Burmese government agreed to meet nearly a dozen benchmarks as part of this “action for action” engagement, including granting the Red Cross access to prisons, establishing a U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Office, release of political prisoners, conclusion of a cease fire in Kachin State, and ensuring international access to conflict areas.

We asked, as the President’s Cuba policy unfolded, that they push for changes that put Cubans in control of their own political processes, economic opportunities, civil society and governance. We didn’t get them. We asked for changes that would honor America’s legacy as a champion for human rights. We didn’t get those either. We suggested changes that would ultimately bring Cuba into the community of nations, contributing to, rather than detracting from, the overall prosperity of the hemisphere. And there were none.

But, most importantly, we asked that they remember that it is a lack of resources – not a change of heart – that slowed the Castros’ adventurism and instability-inducing support for those who would pose threats to our national interests within the Western Hemisphere.

In essence, we were not thinking strategically. Instead, we traded strategy for tactics. And leading Cuban human rights and democracy activists have criticized U.S. policy.

The simple truth is – deals with the Devil require the Devil to deal. Opening channels of communication controlled by the regime means nothing unless we are going to communicate our values. It means nothing if we do not champion the material changes that the Cuban people seek. It means nothing if we do not speak the language that the Castros understand – that the communist revolution has failed miserably, and it’s time to let the Cuban people decide their future.

The Castros know it, but it’s the antiquated hallmark of the revolution and the iron-fisted rule that came from it that keeps them in power. And, until that power is truly challenged, we can expect to witness the further weakening of our leverage.

In the meantime, the regime is already moving forward, already breathing new life into its existing repressive state systems: Cubans are being beaten, arrested, and otherwise muzzled at higher rates than ever before. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights (CCHR) has documented 1,141 political arrests by the Castro regime in Cuba during the short month of February 2016. In January 2016, the CCHR documented 1,447 political arrests. As such, these 2,588 political arrests -- thus far -- represent the highest tally to begin a year in decades.

This is what happens when President Obama first announces he won't visit Cuba unless there are tangible improvements in the respect for human rights -- then crosses his own ‘red-line.’ And these are only political arrests that have been thoroughly documented. Many more are suspected.

U.S. fugitives and members of foreign terrorist organizations still enjoy safe harbor on the island – like Joanne Chesimard, the convicted killer of New Jersey State Trooper, Werner Foerster – or Charlie Hill who killed New Mexico State Trooper, Robert Rosenbloom.

Not a penny of the $6 billion in outstanding claims by American citizens and businesses for properties confiscated by the Castros has been repaid. Unrelenting censorship and oppression of Cuban journalists continues unscathed; and the Cuban path to liberty doesn’t include the United States Embassy.

So what do we learn? We learn that, despite the Obama Administration's engagement with the Castro dictatorship and increased travel to the island, repression on the island is exponentially rising. Why? Because the Castro regime, one of the most astute observers of the American political system, is rushing to take advantage of the permissive environment created by the President’s hunger for legacy and the relaxation of restrictions.

Mr. President, legacy is not more important than lives. For years we’ve heard how an improvement in U.S.-Cuba relations, an easing of sanctions and an increase in travel to the island would benefit the Cuban people. A benefit not realized despite the visits and investments of millions of Europeans, Canadians, Mexicans, and South Americans.

These assumptions are wrong. And since December 17, 2014, the President has engaged the Castro regime, offering unilateral concessions that the Castros are more than happy to accept.

And, if that is not enough for us to at least question our Cuba policy, we are now facing a new unfolding Cuban migration crisis. The United States is faced with the largest migration of Cuban immigrants since the rafters of 1994. The number of Cubans entering the United States in 2015 was nearly twice that of 2014, some 51,000; and tens of thousands more are desperately trying to make the journey, via South and Central America. Why would Cubans flee if the promise of a better life in Cuba were on the horizon? When President Obama took office, the numbers were less than 7,000 annually.

We hear that "self-employment" – such as it is in Cuba – is growing. But the number of ‘self-employed’ workers in Cuba has actually decreased. The Cuban government today is licensing 10,000 fewer ‘self-employed’ workers than it did in 2014. In contrast, Castro's military monopolies are expanding at record pace. Even the limited spaces in which ‘self-employed’ workers previously operated are being squeezed as the Cuban military expands its control of the island's travel, retail and financial sectors of the economy.

While speaking recently to a business gathering in Washington, D.C., President Obama argued how he believes this new policy is "creating the environment in which a generational change and transition will take place in that country." But the key questions is, "a generational change and transition" towards what and by whom? Cuban democracy leader, Antonio Rodiles, has concisely expressed this concern – "legitimizing the [Castro] regime is the path contrary to a transition."

CNN has revealed that the Cuban delegation in the secret talks that began in mid-2013 with U.S. officials in Ottawa, Toronto and Rome, and which led to the December 17th policy announcement, was headed by Colonel Alejandro Castro Espin. Colonel Castro Espin is the 49-year old son of Cuban dictator Raul Castro.

In both face-to-face meetings between President Obama and Raul Castro this year -- first at April's Summit of the Americas in Panama City and just last month at the United Nations General Assembly in New York -- Alejandro was seated (with a wide grin) next to his father. Alejandro holds the rank of Colonel in Cuba's Ministry of the Interior, with his hand on the pulse and trigger of the island's intelligence services and repressive organs. It's no secret that Raul Castro is grooming Alejandro for a position of power.

Sadly, his role as interlocutor with the Obama Administration seeks to further their goal of an intra-family generational transition within the Castro clan similar to the Assad’s in Syria and the Kim’s in North Korea. And we know how well those have worked out. To give you an idea of how Colonel Alejandro Castro views the United States, he describes its leaders as ‘those who seek to subjugate humanity to satisfy their interests and hegemonic goals.

But, of course, it also takes money to run a totalitarian dictatorship, which is why Raul Castro named his son-in-law, General Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez Callejas, as head of GAESA, which stands for Grupo de Administracion Empresarial, S.A or translated Business Administrative Group. GAESA is the holding company of Cuba’s Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, Cuba’s military.

It is the dominant driving force of the island’s economy. Established in the 1990s by Raul Castro, it controls tourism companies, ranging from the very profitable Gaviota S.A., which runs Cuba’s hotels, restaurants, car rentals and nightclubs, to TRD Caribe S.A., which runs the island’s retail stores. GAESA controls virtually all economic transactions in Cuba.

According to Hotels Magazine, a leading industry publication, GAESA (through its subsidiaries) is by far the largest regional hotel conglomerate in Latin America. It controls more hotel rooms than The Walt Disney Company. As McLatchy News explained a few years back, "Tourists who sleep in some of Cuba's hotels, drive rental cars, fill up their gas tanks, and even those riding in taxis have something in common: They are contributing to the [Cuban] Revolutionary Armed Forces' bottom line."

GAESA became this business powerhouse thanks to the millions of Canadian and European tourists that have and continue to visit Cuba each year. The Cuban military-owned tourism company, Gaviota Tourism Group, S.A., averaged 12 percent growth in 2015 and expects to double its hotel business this year.

These tourists have done absolutely nothing to promote freedom and democracy in Cuba. To the contrary, they have directly financed a system of control and repression over the Cuban people all while enjoying cigars made by Cuban workers paid in worthless pesos, and having a Cuba Libre, which is an oxymoron, on the beaches of Varadero.

Yet, despite the clear evidence, President Obama wants American tourists to now double GAESA's bonanza – and, through GAESA, strengthen the regime.

An insightful report by Bloomberg Business also explained how, "[Raul's son-in-law, General Rodriguez] is the gatekeeper for most foreign investors, requiring them to do business with his organization if they wish to set up shop on the island…If and when the U.S. finally removes its half-century embargo on Cuba, it will be this man who decides which investors get the best deals." In other words, all of the talking points about how lifting the embargo and tourism restrictions would somehow benefit the Cuban people are empty and misleading rhetoric.

In addition, internet "connectivity ranking" has dropped. The International Telecommunication Union's (ITU) Measuring the Information Society Report for 2015, the most reliable source of data and analysis on global access to information and communication. ITU has dropped Cuba's ranking to 129 from 119. The island fares much worse than some of the world's most infamous suppressors, including Syria (117), Iran (91), China (82) and Venezuela (72).

In Cuba, religious freedom violations have increased. According to the London-based NGO, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, last year 2,000 churches were declared illegal and 100 were designated for demolition by the Castro regime. Altogether, CSW documented 2,300 separate violations of religious freedom in 2015 compared to 220 in 2014.

And, if that is not enough, Castro reneged on the release of political prisoners and visits by international monitors. Most of the 53 political prisoners released in the months prior and after Obama's December 2014 announcement have since been re-arrested on multiple occasions. Five have been handed new long-term prison sentences.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch noted in its new 2016 report, "Cuba has yet to allow visits to the island by the International Committee of the Red Cross or by U.N. human rights monitors, as stipulated in the December 2014 agreement with the United States." These were the conditions that prompted Congress, over the course of our long history with Cuba, to pass successive laws to build on -- not detract from -- Executive Orders that created the embargo.

I stand with thousands of Cuba’s civil society leaders, dissidents, journalists, and everyday men and women who long for the day when the freedom we enjoy in our great country extends to theirs. As long as I have a voice, they will have an ally to speak truth to power against this dictatorship, and against any effort to legitimize it or reward it.

We must realize the nature of the Castro regime won't be altered by capitulating on our demands for basic human and civil rights. If the United States is to give away its leverage, it should be in exchange for one thing, and one thing only, a true transition in Cuba.

And, as for the latest announcements from the Administration, I stand against any rollback of the statutory provisions that codified Cuba sanctions. We learned this week that the Administration has cleared the way for individual travel to Cuba outside the auspices of a group or organization. This is tourism, plain and simple.

We learned this week that the Administration has cleared the way for Cubans – athletes, artists, performers, and others – to earn salaries in the United States. Unfortunately, much if not all of those salaries will go back to the regime as they must pay the regime most of their earnings.

We learned that Americans may purchase Cuban origin products and services in third countries – the cigars, alcohol, and basic products produced by a system of slave labor that funnels proceeds to one place – the regime’s pockets. When it comes to banking and financial services, we will now permit the U.S. financial system to facilitate the flow of these and other proceeds directly to the regime.

The Administration will allow the Cuban government, which profits from the sale of intelligence, to export Cuban-origin software to the United States – never mind that the Cuban government aggressively monitors the internet activity of Cuban dissidents and sensors users on the island – and permit direct shipping by Cuban vessels.

These "significant amendments" to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) and the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) – cornerstones of implementation of United States sanctions against the Castro regime -- announced on Tuesday create new opportunities for abuse of permitted travel. They authorize trade and commerce with Castro monopolies, and permit the regime to use United States dollars to conduct its business.

They are unilateral concessions, requiring no changes from the Castro regime to the political and economic system under which the Castros exploit the lives and labor of Cuban nationals. In meetings late last week, I warned officials at the Department of Treasury that these changes come up to the line and in some cases cross it with respect to statutory authority.

Their actions are inconsistent with existing statutes and incompatible with the intent of Congress as expressed through those statutes. I should know as I was one of the authors of the "Libertad Act" when I served in the House of Representatives. In my view, at the end of the day, this is a unilateral transfer of the little remaining leverage that the Administration hadn’t given away prior to this week’s announcement.

With these steps, I believe Commerce and Treasury have set the stage for legal action against the Administration. Congress has authorized categories of travel to Cuba, but none of the categories were tourism or commerce-for-commerce’s-sake with the regime.

The President has said that his Cuba policy ‘helps promote the people’s independence from Cuban authorities.’ But it does not.

And yet, this week, in what would seem to contravene the letter and spirit of U.S. law – the Administration will reportedly allow the regime to use U.S. dollars in international financial transactions and a U.S. hotel company to partner with a Cuban military conglomerate run by the Castro family. Let’s be clear, it’s not the Cuban people who are eager and willing to shuffle dollars through BNP Paribas, INB Group, and HSBC Bank. Only the regime is willing and eager to do so.

As for the reports that Starwood-Marriott is looking for arrangement with the regime – with the blessing of the Administration – it would be an agreement with a subsidiary of GAESA, the Cuban military conglomerate run by Raul Castro’s son-in-law, General Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas. It would be an agreement to manage a hotel for the Cuban military. Among those considered is Havana’s swanky hotel Saratoga, which has been twice confiscated by the Castro regime – an agreement by which employees are hired by the regime’s state employment agency in violation of international labor laws.

So I ask – How does allowing U.S. companies to do business with the Castro regime – let alone the Castro family itself – 'promote the Cuban people’s independence from the authorities," as the President has said? This breathes new life into the Castro’s repressive state systems. That new life means one thing – the repressive system will continue without changes.

Mr. President, next week, when we anticipate that we will see a photograph of the President of the United States laughing and shaking hands with the only dictatorship in the Western Hemisphere, I will be thinking of Berta Soler of The Ladies in White and her fellow human rights and democracy advocates, when she testified before Congress last year. She said in her testimony: "Our demands are quite concrete; freedom for political prisoners, recognition of civil society, the elimination of criminal dispositions that penalize freedom of expression and association and the right of the Cuban people to choose their future through free, multiparty elections."

Those are the words of freedom. That is the legacy we should work toward until the Cuban people are finally free.

Cuban-American Voters Overwhelmingly Rejected Obama's Policy

On Tuesday, Miami-Dade County GOP voters -- overwhelmingly composed of Cuban-Americans -- chose Marco Rubio over Donald Trump by 63%-22%.

Factor in Ted Cruz's performance (9%) and the Cuban-American duo defeated Trump by 72%-22%.

As for intensity, Miami-Dade County GOP turnout was 50%, which was 4-points higher than the statewide average of 46%.

Meanwhile, according to a CNN exit poll, Cuban-Americans statewide supported Marco Rubio over Donald Trump by 62%-18%.

Factor in Ted Cruz's performance (13%) and the Cuban-American duo defeated Trump by 75%-18%. 

Unfortunately, this significant cushion was insufficient to overcome Trump's 2-to-1 advantage among non-Hispanic voters statewide.

Trump had been the candidate most closely associated with Obama's Cuba policy, though (to be fair) he began to correct his views at the most recent debate in Miami.

But it provides an important lesson to whomever the Republican nominee is in November -- for he's going to need every single one of those Cuban-American votes to prevail in Florida's general election.

Bacardi Files Suit Against Obama Administration's Trademark Decision

Bacardi Advances Havana Club Trademark Case in U.S. District Court

Bacardi files new complaint; Asks court to strike the Havana Club mark from the register

In an ongoing effort to defend its rights and ownership of the Havana Club rum brand and trademark in the United States, Bacardi has filed an amended complaint with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. This filing amends the original complaint Bacardi filed in March 2004 under the Lanham Act (also known as the Trademark Act of 1946), the federal statute that governs trademarks, service marks, and unfair competition. The Defendants in the complaint are Cubaexport, an agency of the Cuban government, and Havana Club Holding S.A., the joint venture company between the Government of Cuba and Pernod Ricard – the second largest spirits company in the world.

With this filing, Bacardi asks the Court – presided over by District Judge Emmet Sullivan – for the cancellation of the Cuban government’s Havana Club trademark registration in the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (“PTO”) based on, among other things, the Administration’s fraud in obtaining the original filing. Bacardi also seeks a declaration that it has common law rights in the mark based on distribution and sales of Havana Club branded products in the United States. Bacardi obtained the rights to the mark through a lawful and U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”)-licensed transaction with the brands original owner and creator Jose Arechabala S.A.

“We are extremely disappointed to have to resort to using the precious time and resources of the U.S. justice system due to the failure of the U.S. government in following established legal and public policy protecting the rights of those who have suffered confiscations of property,” says Rick Wilson, senior vice president for external affairs for Bacardi in the U.S. “A ‘let the courts decide’ mentality is not the way to go when, for decades, the Cuban government and its business partner intentionally and knowingly concealed and misrepresented to the PTO the pertinent facts that have undermined its claims as the lawful owner of the mark in order to deceive the PTO and maintain the registration.”

In the filing, Bacardi outlines the elaborate, misleading, fraudulent and deceptive activities employed by the Cuban government and its joint venture partner Pernod Ricard concerning the obtaining, maintenance and renewal of the Havana Club trademark in the U.S. Among other things, Bacardi states that Section 211 prohibits any U.S. court from recognizing, enforcing or otherwise validating the Cuban government’s assertion of rights in a mark incorporating the words Havana Club because the mark was associated with a business that was illegally confiscated by the Cuban government in 1960.

“The United States has a long history of upholding the law and non-recognition of foreign confiscations so we are confident Bacardi will once again prevail in this decades-long matter,” says Eduardo Sánchez, senior vice president and general counsel for Bacardi. “No company or government should be able to profit from stolen property.”

Bacardi seeks four specific actions from the Court:

1) Reversal of the PTO decision by striking the Havana Club registration from the principal register on the grounds that the Cuban government failed to file the mandatory renewal application and declaration prior to the end of the statutory period in 1996, and failed to file a legally adequate renewal application in 2006, or alternatively, canceling that registration on the grounds that the U.S. Havana Club registration was fraudulently obtained, maintained, and renewed; that the registered mark was abandoned; and that the registered mark misrepresents the source of goods;

2) A declaration that Bacardi owns the common law rights in the Havana Club mark for rum, and that the Defendants has no common law or other rights in any mark incorporating or consisting of the words Havana Club;

3) A declaration that Bacardi’s use of the Havana Club mark does not infringe on any mark owned by the Cuban government or its joint venture partner or otherwise violate any enforceable rights of the Cuban government or a state-owned entity, because longstanding U.S. public policy and Section 211 of the Omnibus Consolidated and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act, passed by a bi-partisan Congress on Oct. 21, 1998, preclude recognition and enforcement of purported rights in a trademark or registration that are founded on the Cuban government’s expropriation of assets; and

4) An injunction prohibiting the Defendants from using or registering in the U.S. any mark incorporating or consisting of the words Havana Club and from interfering with Bacardi’s use and registration of the Havana Club mark.

“Following the U.S. government’s failure to uphold the protection of confiscated properties, the U.S. courts will now need to step in and recognize the rights of legitimate owners whose properties have been expropriated,” adds Sánchez.

On August 3, 2006, the PTO issued an office action that stated that the Cuban government’s registration of the Havana Club mark will be “cancelled / expired.” Because cancellation of the registration would provide equivalent relief that was sought in this matter, the D.C. District Court stayed the entire case on May 24, 2007, pending final resolution of the PTO office action. In January of this year, the PTO suddenly and unexpectedly reversed course and permitted the Cuba government to renew its Havana Club registration retroactively. Thus, Bacardi has no choice but to continue its efforts in the D.C. District Court to obtain cancellation of the Cuban government’s registration and protect Bacardi’s rights in the Havana Club mark in the United States.

Congressional Testimony: The Reality of Trade With Cuba

Tuesday, March 15, 2016
Testimony of Mauricio Claver-Carone during today's hearing (“Trade With Cuba: Growth and Opportunities”) before the Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member and Members of the Committee.

It's truly a privilege to join you here today to discuss important and consequential issues surrounding U.S. trade policy towards Cuba. I particularly appreciate being given the opportunity to be the sole dissenting voice in this panel, as free expression is a right enjoyed by 34-of-35 nations in this Western Hemisphere, with only one exception – Cuba.

My name is Mauricio Claver-Carone and I'm the Executive Director of Cuba Democracy Advocates, a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to the promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Cuba.

Obama’s Policy Changes Have Proven Counter-Productive

As you are aware, pursuant to the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (‘TSREEA’), the sale of agricultural commodities, medicine and medical devices to the Castro regime in Cuba was authorized by Congress, with one important caveat – these sales must be for cash-in-advance. Prior to that, the export of food, medicine and medical devices to the Cuban people had been authorized under the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 (‘CDA’). I, for one, have no problem with taking cash away from the Castro regime. That is not a point of contention in this hearing. It’s the consequences of expanding cash-in-advance sales to bilateral trade, financing and investment – in other words, flushing the Castro regime with cash – that should concern us all.

For years we've heard how an improvement in U.S.-Cuba relations, an easing of sanctions and an increase in travel to the island, would benefit U.S. farmers. Well, since December 17th, 2014, the Obama Administration has engaged the Castro regime and has provided a litany of unilateral policy concessions.

As part of these concessions, the Obama Administration eased payment terms for agricultural sales; American travel to Cuba increased by over 50%; Cuba’s GDP grew by over 4%; diplomatic relations were established; and endless U.S. business and trade delegations have visited Havana.

Thus, surely U.S. agricultural sales to Cuba would have grown exponentially, right? Wrong.

U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba plummeted by nearly 40% in 2015. In August alone, the value of U.S. agricultural exports dropped 84% to $2.25 million from $14.30 million in 2014. That's one of the lowest numbers since the United States authorized agricultural exports to the Castro regime in 2000.

And that’s not the only counter-productive result of President Obama’s policy of unilateral easing sanctions in December 2014. Additionally:

Political arrests have intensified. Throughout 2015, there were more than 8,616 documented political arrests in Cuba. In November alone there were more than 1,447 documented political arrests, the highest monthly tally in decades. Those numbers compare to 2,074 arrests in 2010 and 4,123 in 2011.

A new Cuban migration crisis is unfolding. The United States is faced with the largest migration of Cuban immigrants since the rafters of 1994. The number of Cubans entering the United States in 2015 was nearly twice that of 2014. Some 51,000 Cubans last year entered the United States; tens of thousands more are desperately trying to make the journey, via Ecuador and other South and Central American countries. When President Obama took office, the numbers were less than 7,000 annually.

The number of "self-employed" workers in Cuba has decreased. The Cuban government today is licensing 10,000 fewer "self-employed" workers than it did in 2014. In contrast, Castro's military monopolies are expanding at record pace. The Cuban military-owned tourism company, Gaviota S.A., announced 12% growth in 2015 and expects to double its hotel business this year. Even the limited spaces in which “self-employed” workers previously operated are being squeezed as the Cuban military expands its control of the island's travel, retail and financial sectors of the economy.

Internet "connectivity ranking" has dropped. The International Telecommunication Union's (ITU) Measuring the Information Society Report for 2015, the world's most reliable source of data and analysis on global access to information and communication. ITU has dropped Cuba's ranking to 129 from 119. The island fares much worse than some of the world's most infamous suppressors of the Internet suppressors, including Zimbabwe (127), Syria (117), Iran (91), China (82) and Venezuela (72).

Religious freedom violations have increased tenfold. According to the London-based NGO, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (‘CSW’), last year 2,000 churches were declared illegal and 100 were designated for demolition by the Castro regime. Altogether, CSW documented 2,300 separate violations of religious freedom in 2015 compared to 220 in 2014.

Castro reneged on the release of political prisoners and visits by international monitors. Most of the 53 political prisoners released in the months prior and after Obama's December 2014 announcement have since been re-arrested on multiple occasions. Five have been handed new long-term prison sentences. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch noted in its new 2016 report, "Cuba has yet to allow visits to the island by the International Committee of the Red Cross or by U.N. human rights monitors, as stipulated in the December 2014 agreement with the United States."

You may ask – what do these facts and figures on political, civil and economic rights have to do with trade with Cuba?   The answer is: Everything -- because the Castro regime is the only client/business partner for foreign companies in Cuba.

The Reality of Doing Business in Cuba

In order to have an honest debate about trade and tourism sanctions on Cuba, it’s important to understand how that totalitarian regime conducts business.

First and foremost, from an economic perspective, the very concept of trade and investment in Cuba is grounded in a misconception about how "business" takes place on the island. In most of the world, trade and investment means dealing with privately-owned or operated corporations. That's not the case in Cuba. In Cuba, foreign trade and investment is the exclusive domain of the state, i.e. Fidel and Raul Castro. There are no "exceptions."

Here's a notable fact: In the last five decades, every single "foreign trade" transaction with Cuba has been with a state entity, or individual acting on behalf of the state. The state's exclusivity regarding trade and investment was enshrined in Article 18 of Castro's 1976 Constitution.

The state's exclusivity extends also to what the rest of the world considers to be "humanitarian" transactions. Since the passage of TSREEA in 2000, nearly $5 billion in U.S. agricultural and medical products have been sold to Cuba. It is an unpleasant fact, however, that all those sales by more than 250 privately-owned U.S. companies were made to only one Cuban buyer, the Castro government.

As the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s own report on Cuba notes, “The key difference in exporting to Cuba, compared to other countries in the region, is that all U.S. agricultural exports must be channeled through one Cuban government agency, ALIMPORT."

Therefore, it should be no surprise then that these U.S. products end up with huge price mark-ups, on the shelves of the stores set up by the Castro regime that only accept "hard currencies," such as the U.S. dollar or Euro. These are stores where mostly tourists shop. Little of the food or medicine is made available to Cuba's general population.

This being the case with the sale of U.S. food and medicine, try imagining the disproportionate benefit the Cuban regime has derived from three decades of unfettered trade with the Soviet bloc, or the billions in European and Canadian trade and investment in the Cuban state since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. There is not a shred of evidence to suggest any of the benefits got beyond the Castro regime.

Hence we already know what lifting sanctions towards Cuba would look like. TSREEA sales from the U.S. and business ventures with other nations exhibit the model: A mercantilist system whereby commerce is simply a tool to benefit and strengthen Cuba's totalitarian regime.

The dominant force in Cuba's economy is the armed forces' holding company, called GAESA. Founded by Raul Castro in the 1990s, GAESA controls a wide array of companies, ranging from the very profitable Gaviota S.A., which runs the island's tourist hotels, restaurants, car rentals and nightclubs, to TRD Caribe S.A., which runs all retail operations. In plain words: GAESA controls virtually every economic transaction in Cuba, making it -- by far -- the most powerful company in Cuba's totalitarian-command economy. It is run by Raul's son-in-law, General Luis Alberto Rodríguez Lopez- Callejas.

GAESA is the largest hotel company in Latin America. It controls more hotel rooms that the The Walt Disney Company. Thus, every tourist that stays at Cuba's famed Hotel Nacional, drinks a mojito at El Floridita and catches a show at The Tropicana, has one thing in common -- contributing to the Cuban military and security services bottom line.

These are the same Cuban armed forces that held a stolen U.S. Hellfire missile for nearly two years; that have recently been caught twice internationally-smuggling heavy weaponry, including the worst sanctions violations ever to North Korea; that oversee the most egregious abuses of human rights in the Western Hemisphere; that are subverting democracy in Venezuela and exporting surveillance systems and technology to other countries in the region; that welcome Russian military intelligence ships to dock in their ports; that share intelligence with the world's most dangerous anti-American regimes; and of which three senior Cuban military officers remain indicted in the United States for the murder of four Americans.

Surely you will hear from my fellow panelists today about Cuba’s so-called “self-employment” sector, which some will refer to as the “private sector.” First of all, the "self-employment" sector represents a very small part of the island's economy and it is important to understand its nature and limits. During economic crises, the Castro regime typically authorizes a host of services that Cubans can be licensed to provide, keeping at least a portion of what they may be paid. "Private enterprise" implies "private ownership." Yet Cuba's "self-employed" licensees have no ownership rights whatsoever - be it to their artistic or "intellectual" outputs, commodity they produce, or personal service they offer. Licensees have no legal entity (hence business) to transfer, sell or leverage. They don't even own the equipment essential to their self-employment. More to the point, licensees have no right to engage in foreign trade, seek or receive foreign investments. Effectually licensees continue to work for the state -- and when the state decides such jobs are no longer needed, licensees are shut down without recourse.

A central tenet of capitalism is recognition of property rights and it's precisely such rights that the Castro regime avoids through its distorted, licensing model. It's also why, despite these "self-employment" licenses, Cuba remains ranked 177 out of 178 nations in the world in the Index of Economic Freedom, a yearly joint compilation of The Wall Street Journal and The Heritage Foundation. Only North Korea is considered less economically free. It is not by coincidence that the Magna Carta preceded Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations – not vice-versa.

In sum, Cuba is a totalitarian dictatorship, where all business decisions are based on the political and control-based calculations of the Castro regime -- not on market forces. If the Cuban people enjoyed property rights to establish their businesses and were allowed to freely partake in foreign trade and investment – my testimony today would be very different.

Protect American Victims of Stolen Property

According to the Inter-American Law Review, the Castro regime’s confiscation of U.S. assets was the “largest uncompensated taking of American property by a foreign government in history.” Unfortunately, President Obama's policy of expanding business transactions with the Castro regime is already encouraging American companies to traffic and exploit properties stolen from other fellow Americans. Any expansion of such transactions by the U.S. Congress allowing bilateral trade, financing and investments with the Castro regime would further expose American victims. The Castro regime would be all-too-happy to “lease back” property stolen from one group of Americans to another group of Americans. But that would be a miscarriage of justice.

Meanwhile, President Obama is denying any recourse, through his waiver of Title III of the 1996 Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act (‘Libertad’), to Americans who are seeing their property rights trampled upon. If the Obama Administration is unwilling to protect the rights of grieved Americans, then a private right of action should allow for the victims to do so directly through the rule of law.

As such, I would urge the U.S. Congress to pass legislation to end the President’s waiver authority over Title III of the Libertad Act and grant Americans the legal standing to pursue justice. Moreover, any effort in the U.S. Congress tied to expanding business transactions with Castro regime -- beyond those currently authorized by statute – should have a mandatory Title III right of action attached to it.

Uphold U.S. Law and International Labor Norms

Lifting U.S. sanctions toward Cuba would also imply foreign investment. All foreign investment in Cuba must be done through minority joint ventures with Castro’s military monopolies. Moreover, all workers in Cuba must be hired through the Castro regime’s state-employment agency (Grupo Palco, S.A.), which in turn, pockets upwards of 92% of those workers’ salaries. Recently, the Obama Administration issued a specific license to an Alabama tractor company (that has never built a tractor), Cleber LLC, to set up operations in the Cuban military's Mariel economic zone. This week, it also reportedly plans to allow Starwood Hotels to partner with the Cuban military to manage previously confiscated hotel properties. These deals are in direct contravention of the letter, spirit and intent of current U.S. law, as codified by statute. Regardless of your view of U.S. policy towards Cuba, the Congress should challenge such outright distortions of current U.S. law by the Obama Administration. Moreover, these deals violate a myriad of international labor covenants, including:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

There are many theories and estimates about how much more money one sector or another can make from conducting business with the Castro regime, if U.S. sanctions towards Cuba were further eased or lifted. Today, you’ll surely hear many of those theories and estimates. However, as we’ve learned from the drastic drop in agricultural sales figures over the last year -- despite the Obama Administration easing sanctions and establishing diplomatic relations with the Castro regime -- that is hardly guaranteed. Moreover, any such theories must be weighed by serious factual considerations regarding the troubling structure of Cuba’s business entities (military-run monopolies), its beneficiaries (the Castro family and regime cronies), the rights of its victims (both Cubans and Americans), and whether such practices are in the U.S.’s national interests.

Obama Lied About the Cuban People, Promotes Business With Castro Family

Monday, March 14, 2016
Next week, President Obama will break his pledge that he'd only travel to Cuba "if, in fact, I with confidence can say that we’re seeing some progress in the liberty and freedom."

But that's not his biggest lie.

The biggest and most consequential lie of President Obama's Cuba policy is that its purpose has been "to help promote the [people's] independence from Cuban authorities."

Hence this week -- in direct contravention of the letter, spirit and purpose of U.S. law -- the Obama Administration will reportedly allow the Castro regime to use U.S. dollars in international financial transactions and a U.S. hotel company to partner with a Cuban military conglomerate run by the Castro family.

As we wrote last week, the "Cuban people" are not shuffling dollars through BNP Paribas, ING Group and HSBC Bank. Only the Castro regime and its apparatchiks are able, willing and eager to do so.

As for reports that Starwood-Marriott seeks to cut a deal with the Castro regime, with the blessing of the Obama Administration, let's clarify what that illegal transaction would entail:

-- It would be an agreement by Starwood-Marriott with a a subsidiary of GAESA, the Cuban military conglomerate run by Raul Castro's son-in-law, General Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas.

-- It would be an agreement to manage a hotel property(-ies) for the Cuban military. Among those considered is Havana's swanky Hotel Saratoga, which has been twice-confiscated by the Castro regime.

-- It would be an agreement whereby employees are hired via the Castro regime's state-employment agency (Grupo Palco, S.A.), in violation of numerous International Labor Organization ('ILO') conventions (Nos. 05, 87, 98, 111 and 122).

Thus, how does allowing U.S. companies to conduct business with entities run by the Cuban military -- let alone with the Castro family itself -- and which violate basic international labor norms, "promote the Cuban people's independence from the authorities"?

How are such deals compliant with the letter, spirit and purpose of U.S. law?

Sadly, it's precisely these types of distortions in executive authority by the Obama Administration, and its gross disregard for the rule of law, that is fueling the anger and distrust currently poisoning the political discourse in America.

It's absolutely shameful.

Young Cuban Dissident Who Met With Ben Rhodes, Arrested in Havana

Today, the Castro regime arrested Carlos Amel Oliva (below), head of the youth wing of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU), a major dissident organization.

He is being accused of "anti-social" behavior.

On Friday, Amel Oliva had participated in a meeting in Miami with Ben Rhodes, President Obama's Deputy National Security Advisor.

He returned to Havana on Sunday.

The Castro regime will continue pushing the limits of the President Obama, as it has concluded he's driven more by legacy than lives.

Thus, Castro now wields all the leverage. 




Female Dissident Arrested, Sexually Assaulted by Castro Regime

From Diario de Cuba:

'Lady in White' stripped naked, handcuffed, dragged to a jail cell

Ladies in White and other activists who participated this Sunday in the #TodosMarchamos campaign told Diario de Cuba of a worrisome increase in violence that included at least one incident of sexual abuse.

“We were subjected to a lot of violence today,” said Aliuska Gómez (below). “Many of us were dragged and beaten, “ she added, pointing out that this has taken place only one week before President Obama’s visit.

Aliuska, of The Ladies in White, related how she was taken to a police station in Mariano, where she was forcibly undressed by several uniformed female officers in plain view of some males. .

“After they had taken away all of my belongings,” she said, “they told me to strip naked, and I refused… so they threw me down on the floor and took off all of my clothing, right in front of two men, and they dragged me completely naked into a jail cell.”

Aliuska Gómez was then handcuffed and thrown on the cell’s floor, naked, and left alone for forty minutes.

After that, she said, “One of the officers came by and I told her that what they had done to me was very degrading, and that I couldn’t understand how she could do this to me, another woman, just like her, who is also a mother, sister, or daughter.”

The guard replied: “This is my job.”

“Nothing like this had ever happened to me in my life,” said Lady in White Aliuska Gómez, adding: “My hands are swollen and they still hurt from the handcuffs and from being dragged across the floor.”

After her clothing was returned to her, Gómez insisted on speaking to an official of State Security, and said she would refuse to leave the police station until she “received an explanation” for the abuse she had endured.

The police responded by dragging her out to a patrol car and taking her home. “I will never forget what they did to me today,” said Aliuska Gómez.

Gómez was only one of twenty-one Ladies in White and a dozen other activists arrested on Sunday as they left St. Rita Church on their way to Ghandi Park on Fifth Avenue in Mirarmar, a suburb of Havana.

Translation courtesy of Babalu Blog.

Castro Biographer: How Raul Has Outmaneuvered Obama

Sunday, March 13, 2016
Carefully ponder the following statement from General Raul Castro's Italian biographer, who spent years closely analyzing and understanding the Cuban dictator:
With a cynical and unscrupulous diplomacy, Raul has achieved everything Fidel had dreamed of. He's been lucky. He's had a weak and ingenuous American president as an intermediary, who's anxious to leave a legacy. In sum: Raul has gotten everything: international legitimacy, freedom to repress, the promise of major investments, the suspension of the embargo (until Congress removes it). And he's had to concede nothing as regards democracy and human rights. Here's the problem: There's no change in Cuba. What has taken place is an American surrender and an uneven agreement between each side. Raul may even obtain for 'free' the return of Guantanamo! Truly an amazing result.
-- Doménico Vecchioni, Raul Castro biographer and former Italian Ambassador to Cuba from 2005-2009, Marti News, 3/8/16

Why Does Obama Reward Foes, Punish Allies in Latin America?

By renowned journalist and author, Carlos Alberto Montaner:

It's the inconsistency, stupid

Obama will travel to Cuba. His visit is more important than the visits of the popes. Obama is the most popular person in Cuba. On the island, after 58 years of communism, there are not many Catholics and barely any Marxists remain, but there are millions of people who are deliriously pro-American.

Will Barack Obama's visit serve to shorten the dictatorship's life? The Cubans don't believe that and continue to flee the country by any means possible. By now, not even Obama believes it. He has realized that nobody should harbor any illusions about the Castro regime, a stubbornly Stalinist military dynasty. Perhaps, after many years, commerce will soften the regime and vestiges of democracy will gradually emerge, but there's not the slightest guarantee that that will happen. Almost all examples demonstrate the opposite.

The Constitution specifies that communism is irreversible and the country is condemned to be eternally led by the Communist Party. The newspaper Granma has just restated that to President Obama in a blunt editorial. Surely the next Party Congress, scheduled for mid-April, will endorse that sinister course.

The system has no cure. It's like a person who's born a halfwit, a dwarf or someone with an outsize head. No such thing as a former halfwit or a former dwarf. The system will remain the same until death. It has opened a minimal economic space but a closely watched one, whose single objective is to support the Military State Capitalism designed by Fidel and Raúl Castro.

Is Barack Obama aware of the evil genie he has removed from the lamp? I was told the following by a former Central American president, constitutionally and democratically elected, who declined (for obvious reasons) to give his name: “To be well considered by Washington, the best way is to kick the Americans around, the way Cuba does.” He said it with great bitterness.

Then he recited a long list of suspicions, which I transcribed approximately the way he spoke it but redacting his chaotic monologue.

Vice President Joe Biden came here not long ago and threatened to deny us economic aid if we didn't agree to accept the requirements of the Department of Homeland Security."

If Guatemala didn't ratify to the United Nations the presence of the CICIG (International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala), the Americans would withdraw their aid. Later, through the OAS (Organization of American States), they imposed on Honduras the MACCIH (Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras). In Cuba, they have renounced a regime change, but not here. They propose creating international mechanisms of justice in all countries in the region, Mexico included."

I understand that. The five issues sacred to the gringos are drug trafficking, clandestine migration to the U.S., aid to the terrorists, the use of regional banks to launder money, and the politicians' corruption."

All that is understandable, but inconsistency is not. Obama is a totally inconsistent fellow who measures us with two different sticks."

• The Castro brothers engaged in drug trafficking for years, a practice supervised by no less than Raúl Castro himself. No other Latin American government has done that so brazenly as the Cuban regime. The U.S. Congress published a book describing those links.

• Several times, the Cuban regime has propelled a massive exodus of rafters toward U.S. territory. Tens of thousands of Cubans have been publicly encouraged to emigrate by the Castros' government. They have removed criminals from prisons and insane people from asylums to send them to the U.S.

• Cuba has spent more than half a century supporting terrorists. It cultivates the friendship of Hamas, Hezbollah, the FARC and Iran while giving North Korea military aid. Terrorists from all nations have trained on that island and the murderers of Americans live there.

• The Cuban banking system (and the FBI knows this) is the world's leading laundromat for ill-gotten money. Everything from the ransom money extorted by Argentine guerrillas to the money swindled from Medicare has ended up in Cuban banks.

• Are there any politicians more corrupt than the Castros? They, their relatives and a hundred functionaries and army officers have lived like gods at the expense of a pauperized people.

To this,” he added, “you must add the Castros' permanent anti-yanqui militancy. The São Paulo Forum and the circuit of 21st-Century-Socialism countries converge and coordinate in Cuba. Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, nations that are in permanent conflict with Washington, are states counseled and directed by the Cuban intelligence services.”

He ended with a sorrowful question:

Why does Obama treat us so badly while treating so well the only country in Latin America that has been engaged for decades in deliberately harming U.S. interests? I don't understand it.”

I was tempted to tell him, in the manner of James Carville, “it's the inconsistency, stupid,” but I refrained.