Despite Obama's Concessions, Ag Sales to Cuba Plummet Further

Friday, June 10, 2016
Despite the Obama Administration's new policy, U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba declined by nearly 40 percent in 2015.

During the first quarter of 2016, the slide continues.

From January through April 2016, Castro's monopoly, Alimport, purchased only $63 million in U.S. agricultural products.

That represents a 21 percent drop from the same period in 2015.

Perhaps one of the most interesting bits from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's latest figures is that the Castro regime felt compelled to purchase nearly $550,000 worth of sugar from the U.S.

So let's go through this drill again.

For years we'd 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 embraced the Castro regime -- offering it every concession it can deliver.

As part of these concessions, the Obama Administration eased payment terms for agricultural sales.

As a result of these concessions, American travel to Cuba has doubled.

The international community has pardoned Castro's debts to the tune of $30 billion.

Cuba's GDP grew by nearly 5% during 2015 -- thanks to growth in Castro's monopolies.

And endless U.S. business and trade delegations have descended upon Havana, while senior Castro regime officials are fĂȘted by lobbyists in Washington, D.C.

So what gives?

Simple.

The biggest lesson the Castro regime has learned from dealing with the Obama Administration is that it has more to gain from hostage-taking and coercion, than from good-will or behavior.

Thus, keep cutting purchases dramatically, and watch the lobbying for financing, mass tourism and investment for Castro's monopolies continue intensify.

Call it Obama's policy of the limp hand.

At this point, U.S. agri-business should consider playing Castro at his own game -- and start lobbying for tightening sanctions.

House GOP Targets Financial Ties With Cuban Military

Thursday, June 9, 2016
This morning, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan (R-WI), released the House GOP's agenda on foreign policy and national security, as part of his "Better Way" blueprint for 2016.

Below are some key Cuba-related excerpts:

In recent years, American foreign policy has often focused on appeasing rather than opposing our adversaries on vital issues of national security. Interpreting U.S. attempts at rapprochement as weakness, countries like Russia and Iran have expanded their influence at the expense of America and our allies. As a result, other countries are beginning to ignore our demands, warnings, and red lines, damaging America’s influence and credibility. The United States must begin decisively confronting adversarial powers and rogue regimes when they threaten our interests. We must also restore the confidence of our allies, who often feel ignored and even abandoned by Washington.

The Obama administration took office with the misguided goal of conducting closer engagement with America’s adversaries. They extended an open hand to governments in Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria, and Venezuela, and made damaging concessions often from a position of weakness. In the process, they have emboldened those regimes, alienated our allies, and left America in a more vulnerable strategic position. Now we must take immediate action to repair alliances and partnerships around the globe and to be clear about how the United States treats friends and foes. [...]

[I]n our own backyard we will continue to work with our friends and stem the influence of foes. Our relations with Canada and Mexico are crucial, especially in managing trans-border trade and countering trans-border threats. But we cannot blindly follow the administration’s normalization plan with communist Cuba, a regime that is fundamentally opposed to U.S. policy and that represses an entire population only 90 miles from our coastline. Instead, we will work to restore U.S. leverage, hold the Castro regime accountable, and make sure any further accommodations are met first with real concessions from the Cuban government. A first step should be to ban financial transactions with the Cuban military. [...]

Our leverage to promote democracy and human rights should never be squandered. The Obama administration sought to normalize relations with the Castro regime in exchange for the promise of democratic and human rights progress in Cuba. One year into the agreement, which included reopening the American embassy in Havana, the Castro regime is as repressive as ever. In the first two months of 2016 alone, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights registered 2,588 political arrests. Nevertheless, President Obama reneged on his vow to refuse to travel to Cuba until human rights had improved.

The voice of the President is a powerful tool. History will forever remember President Reagan’s resounding demand, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”—two years before it fell. East Germans, Poles, and Russians rejected Communism for many reasons, but Reagan’s clarion call inspired millions behind the Iron Curtain. By contrast, in both word and deed, President Obama has wavered in opposing repression worldwide. In his determination to reach rapprochements with oppressive regimes, the president has given short shrift to the strivings of Iranians, Cubans, and other peoples living under the boot of his new negotiating partners.

Over 724 Political Arrests in May, Repression Exponentially Rising in Cuba

Tuesday, June 7, 2016
The Cuban Commission for Human Rights (CCHR) has documented 724 political arrests by the Castro regime during the month of May 2016.

Thus far, there have been 6,075 political arrests in Cuba during the first five months of 2016. This represents -- by far -- the highest rate of political arrests in decades.

It already nearly matches last year's year-long tally of 8,616 political arrests.

Moreover, it's already (in just five months) nearly thrice the tally of political arrests throughout all of 2010, as Obama began his presidency.

And these are only political arrests that have been thoroughly documented. Many more are suspected.

Thus, 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 keeps getting a pass for its repressive acts.

It's also why political repression in Iran has sharply risen since Obama's deal with the Mullahs.

And why deaths have mounted in Syria since Obama crossed his own red-line.

Apparently -- legacy is more important than lives.

The North Korea-Cuba Connection

By Samuel Ramani in The Diplomat:

The North Korea-Cuba Connection

Havana’s continued cooperation with Pyongyang is an alarming blow to the normalization process.

On May 24, 2016, the Korea Times reported that senior officials from North Korea’s governing Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and the Communist Party of Cuba held talks on strengthening ties between Pyongyang and Havana. This meeting followed Cuba’s congratulatory rhetoric toward Kim Jong-un after his re-election during last month’s historic Workers’ Party Congress. That congress was the first such-meeting since 1980.

While relations between North Korea and Cuba have been close since the Cold War, this revelation is an embarrassing blow to the Obama administration’s attempts to normalize relations with Cuba. North Korea’s close ties to Cuba can be explained by a shared normative solidarity against American values and perceived American imperialism. This ideological bond is formed out of historical experience and has occasionally manifested itself in symbolically significant shipments of arms and manufactured goods. These trade linkages persist to this day, despite tightened UN sanctions and strides towards a less confrontational U.S.-Cuba relationship.

North Korea and Cuba: A Cold War-Born Ideological Alliance

Over the past half-century, Cuba has been one of North Korea’s most consistent international allies. This alliance has caused Havana to resist diplomatically recognizing South Korea, despite growing economic cooperation with Seoul. Cuba’s firm pro-Pyongyang stance has deep ideological underpinnings, stemming from both countries’ shared Communist experiences. In 1960, Che Guevara visited North Korea, praising Kim Il-sung’s regime as a model for Fidel Castro’s Cuba to follow.

While both regimes preserved authoritarian systems and the trappings of a planned economy, their ideological synergy did not translate into convergent governance trajectories, as Guevara predicted. As Wilson Center expert James Person argued in a July 2013 BBC article, North Korea wanted to avoid Cuba’s dependency on Soviet weaponry following Khrushchev’s retreat from confrontation during the Cuban Missile Crisis. This resulted in North Korea transitioning toward a military-first policy, to the detriment of the country’s economic development. Meanwhile, despite visiting North Korea in 1986, Fidel Castro avoided creating a cult of personality resembling Pyongyang’s, as he felt that statues erected in his honor were incompatible with the Soviet Marxist-Leninist principles that he adhered to.

Despite their divergent development courses, both countries have remained close allies to this day, and there are signs that the bilateral relationship has strengthened further under Raul Castro’s rule. Panama’s interception of a North Korean ship in 2013 containing Cuban arms concealed under bags of sugar represented the most significant Havana-Pyongyang commercial linkage since the 1980s. Despite Cuban attempts to downplay the controversy, Panama’s foreign minister regarded this action as just part of a much larger Cuba-North Korea arms deal. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, also condemned Cuba for violating international sanctions.

The U.S.-Cuba normalization has done little to shake Cuba’s close ties with North Korea. In March 2015, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez declared that Cuba maintained solidarity with the North Korean regime, despite Pyongyang’s increased international isolation. Rodriguez justified his stance on the grounds that Cuban foreign policy is based on upholding just principles and resisting Western interference into the internal affairs of countries.

While leading North Korea expert Andrei Lankov interpreted these statements as proof that Cuba’s criticisms of U.S. imperialism would continue unabated despite the normalization, some NK News analysts have contended that Cuba’s show of support for North Korea may be more rhetorical than substantive. Cuba is mentioned only sporadically by the North Korean state media, and in a limited range of contexts. This suggests that the Obama administration’s Republican critics may have overblown the strength of the Havana-Pyongyang bilateral linkage.

Even if the extent of the relationship has been periodically exaggerated, Cuba’s September 2015 and May 2016 reaffirmations of an alliance with North Korea suggest that the ideological partnership remains alive and well. South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se’s visit to Cuba for the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) summit on June 4 and Seoul’s open calls for normalization with Cuba are unlikely to cause illicit trade between Cuba and North Korea to diminish or become more covert. This is because the symbolic significance of arms shipments and small-scale trade deals between the two countries still outweighs the economic benefits Cuba could glean from enhanced South Korean capital investments.

How Illegal Trade Persists Between Cuba and North Korea

Despite the immense international controversy resulting from Cuba’s 2013 arms sales to North Korea, sporadic trade linkages between the two countries have continued largely unhindered. In January 2016, Cuba and North Korea developed a barter trade system, which officially involved transactions of sugar and railway equipment.

According to Curtis Melvin, an expert at the Washington D.C.-based U.S. Korea Institute, barter trade is an effective way for Cuba and North Korea to evade international sanctions without depleting their hard currency reserves. Cuba’s use of sugar as a medium of bilateral trade has close parallels with Myanmar’s historical use of rice in exchange for North Korean military technology assistance. This form of trade has been vital for the North Korean regime’s survival in wake of the Soviet collapse and more inconsistent patronage from China.

While Cuba’s ability to use North Korean railway equipment remains unclear, NK News reported in January that Kim Jong-un was planning to modernize the DPRK’s railway networks, This development initiative could result in heavy industry production that can be bartered to Havana.

While trade in civilian goods between Cuba and North Korea appears to be on the upswing, trade in illicit arms continues to be the most symbolically potent and controversial form of bilateral trade. A 2013 Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) report noted that a large number of North Korean arms brokers speak fluent Spanish. This language training demonstrates the importance of Cuba as a trade destination for the DPRK. The SIPRI report notes that Cuban arms dealers are especially attractive because they can deal with North Korea with a sense of impunity. This contrasts sharply with a British arms dealer who faced prison time in 2012 for purchasing North Korean weapons.

While the 2013 incident remains the most recent confirmed incident of weapons trading between Havana and Pyongyang, recent revelations of a lost U.S. Hellfire missile turning up in Cuba have sparked fresh concerns about a revival of the long-standing arms trade.

Cuba has consistently insisted that its arm shipments to the DPRK are for repair purposes, and therefore do not violate sanctions, which only ban one-way arms transfers. But Mary O’Grady of the Wall Street Journal recently speculated that Cuba’s intelligence sharing and close cooperation with the DPRK constituted a highly pernicious blow to the prospects of U.S.-Cuba normalization.

While the Obama administration has removed Cuba from the state sponsors of terrorism list and taken a big stride toward lifting the Kennedy-era embargo on Cuba, Havana’s continued cooperation with Pyongyang is an alarming blow to the normalization process. The current linkage between anti-Americanism and the Cuban Communist Party’s regime security makes a shift in Havana’s North Korea policy unlikely in the short-term. It remains to be seen if Castro’s planned retirement in 2018 will take Cuban foreign policy in a more pragmatic direction, and allow South Korean diplomatic overtures to finally be successful.

Quote of the Week: Obama Policy Facilitates Cuban Espionage Against U.S.

Cuba—with historic, deeply held KGB connections—continues to command an enormous intelligence capacity and network to spy on America. Hosting Cuban government officials and delivering them to ‘tour’ American national security facilities—as well as critical infrastructure sites in the United States—proves that this administration naively believes that Cuba has changed. It has not. And its espionage against the United States continues.
-- U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS), a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Washington Free Beacon, 6/3/16

Russia's Strategic Use of Cuban Ports

By U.S. Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) in The Washington Examiner:

Russian ports and NATO

Russia's Europe-facing ports were ice-locked for part of the year until the 20th century. Even with the invention of the ice breaker, these ports still didn't grant easy access to the Mediterranean, which is of great economic and military importance to Russia.

Therefore, Russia's best option was, and has been, to borrow from other countries and use their warm water ports to extend its global reach.

Cuba is one of the most obvious examples. Even though it's not on the Mediterranean, it demonstrates how enlarged Russia's scope is with the gain of Cuba's friendly warm water ports. Russian vessels have utilized Cuba's installations, along with Nicaragua and Venezuela's, to reach west across the North Atlantic. As a result, Russia announced in 2014 that it would be reopening an "eavesdropping base" 150 miles away from U.S. soil: In Cuba. Through the access to these strategic ports, Russia's reach handily extended across the Atlantic.

Under a swath of false narratives, Russia invaded Crimea in 2014 and annexed the region shortly after. This invasion secured the warm waters of Sevastopol for Russia along with a dominant position over the Black Sea.

Another key military intervention facilitated by Russia's desire to maintain its influence came in the form of Syria. Russia rallied to shore up Syrian President Bashar Assad's abusive regime there, and this, too, awarded them the assurance of a continued naval base at Tartus in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Russia's recent aggressive interventions were driven in part by its desire to access the world's blue waters. And now we've seen some of our own NATO allies facilitating this access by accomodating the Russian navy. Russian ships routinely call into Spanish ports in the enclaves across the strait of Gibraltar. Greece has also lent access to a naval base.

Theoretically our NATO neighbors to Russia shouldn't feel nervous; their fears should be allayed by NATO's collective defense clause, which states that an attack against one ally is an attack against all of them. But a strong NATO requires sacrifice: All members must remember that being a member of the alliance, and reaping the benefits that come through its solidarity, requires this essential component.

America has poured its resources into protecting its allies within the NATO alliance, providing assurance with deployments, and continuing a robust level of defense expenditures. We've sacrificed, and so must every member state. There is unity in strength, and that is what we need to stave off Russia's aggression.

Accountability must accompany our mutual commitment and friendship.

Recently I moved to increase transparency by introducing an amendment to require reporting on each country that allows Russian naval vessels to use its ports. This amendment, which the House included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that passed two weeks ago, should shine an uncomfortable light on governments that feel the need to welcome Russian warships and submarines.

Even with the invention of the ice breaker, Russia still desperately needs warm water ports for further expansion and aggression. Governments across the globe should stand unified in denying them access to our waters.

Obama's Cuba Policy Has Gutted the Democratic Charter

Monday, June 6, 2016
We've seen numerous counter-productive consequences of Obama's Cuba policy on the island: a dramatic rise in repression; a new refugee crisis; tenfold rise in religious persecution; plummeting U.S. agricultural sales; and the strengthening of Castro's military monopolies.

In the last couple of weeks, we've also seen how Venezuela's regime is making a mockery of the Inter-American Democratic Charter and -- despite the best efforts of OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro -- the region's tragic ambivalence to defending democracy.

Yet another consequence of Obama's short-sighted Cuba policy, which we predicted (below) from Day One.

By Mauricio Claver-Carone in The Huffington Post (on January 11th, 2015):

Obama Gives Cuba a Hemispheric Coup

The recent political witch-hunt against famed Venezuelan opposition legislator Maria Corina Machado reinforces growing concerns that democratic institutions are under concerted attack in the Western Hemisphere.

“Justice is on its knees in Venezuela with sentences being dictated from Miraflores or Havana,” Machado says, summing up the political alliance between Cuba and Venezuela’s governments that drive her country’s politics. She stands accused of conspiring to kill Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro. Another opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez, has already been imprisoned.

Through its cohorts and directly, Cuba has been pounding democratic institutions not only in Venezuela, but also Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua. Democracy’s advocates in the region are too shortsighted, beleaguered or intimidated to fight back aggressively. In fact, they invited Cuba to participate in the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Panama, despite the fact that Cuba’s Castro dictatorship openly scorns the “democracy clause” that reserves Summit membership and participation to the region’s democratic governments. Thirty-four of the 35 nations comprising the Western Hemisphere adopted that clause during the Quebec Summit. Cuba was then and still is the Hemisphere’s last remaining totalitarian state; it also has a long history of “exporting revolution” into democratic states.

The Obama Administration initially stated its opposition to Cuba being invited to the Summit. However, in a turn-around announcement on December 17, it chose to “lead from behind” and acquiesce to the whims of those hemispheric leaders all-too-eager and willing to suspend the “democracy clause.” Not only has President Obama now accepted Cuba’s participation, but he will also be there to personally welcome dictator Raul Castro.

However, those who lobbied Obama to attend the Summit regardless of the violation of the “democracy clause” weren’t to be satisfied with his attendance alone. They also wanted the President to arrive with a gift bag for Cuba that includes a further lifting of U.S. sanctions. That, they argued, will ensure a warm reception for Obama from “troubled” Latin American leaders. And naturally, Castro would be thrilled.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because the exact same arguments were made in the months and weeks leading up to the 2009 Summit of the Americas in Trinidad. Just days before that summit, the Obama Administration did ease sanctions against Cuba. Despite this “gesture,” Obama was not received in Trinidad as a hero. He was treated as a pushover. Then Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez even engineered a photo-op with the President that featured copies of anti-American book, Open Veins of Latin America. Latin America’s “extreme Left” considers the book to be its bible. (The author, Eduardo Galeano, has recently disavowed his creation.) A few months after that summit, the Cuban government of Raul Castro seized an American hostage, Alan Gross, in a successful effort to coerce the United States into releasing a group of imprisoned Cuban spies.

For months, advocates for lifting sanctions used the Panama Summit as a prop in their campaign against what they call the United States’ “failed policy.” They would happily sacrifice our national interest in regional democracy to advance their narrow agenda. Not only is this dangerous and irresponsible, it also begs the serious question: What do they consider to be a “successful” policy alternative?

Is it the “China model,” whereby U.S. business helps to build the most lucrative dictatorship in human history?

A “Vietnam model” of state capitalism under an iron-fisted rule?

A “Burma model,” whereby reforms achieved through pressure are rolled back as soon as sanctions are lifted?

Raul Castro, Nicolas Maduro and their puppets revel in such models. But none should have a place — geographically or politically — in the Western Hemisphere. In this hemisphere, every nation (except Cuba) made a commitment to representative democracy in 2001. It was a historic commitment that, backed by the United States, has blocked the authoritarian ambitions of wannabe dictators in Latin America and generated continued support for democracy and civil society. It was a commitment that Obama’s December 17 announcement has now placed on the chopping block.

Must-Read: The Perils of Secret Diplomacy

Don't miss this week's cover story in The Weekly Standard, "The Perils of Secret Diplomacy: From Nixon to Obama," by Dr. Ray Takeyh.

Below is an excerpt:

Secret diplomacy has a special place in the annals of American history. Henry Kissinger’s furtive trip to China has been acclaimed as the quintessence of diplomacy. The Obama administration, steeped in its own brand of realism, is another devotee of secret talks, meeting with Iranian officials in Oman and Cuban functionaries in less-exotic Canada. Richard Nixon and Barack Obama are probably the two presidents with the greatest affinity for surreptitious maneuverings. Such practitioners of clandestine diplomacy believe that revolutionaries are, behind the curtains, just waiting to offer concessions: Once ensconced in hideaways with their American counterparts, the revolutionaries' essential pragmatism will reveal itself. The actual track record for such secret talks, however, shows that the revolutionaries inevitably gain the high ground. Washington ends up abandoning its sensible red lines and often betraying its longstanding allies [...]

 If there are some vague strategic arguments to be made on behalf of the administration’s nuclear diplomacy, there are no such justifications for the opening to Cuba—other than the traditional progressive attraction to Fidel Castro. Obama often speaks about transcending the rot of history, yet his Cuba policy is all too reminiscent of the 1960s New Left’s infatuation with Castro. The irony is that despite all its economic problems, Cuba’s Communists did not really want the normalization and Obama emissaries had to do all the pleading. The talks again had to be secret since the only thing the White House was asking of Cuba was to accept its argument that American policy has been a mistake. Raul Castro, clearly the more cunning of the two brothers, finally yielded to American entreaties and Obama was granted his visit to Havana.

 The historic visit began inauspiciously: Obama was met at the airport by the relatively junior Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez rather than the actual head of state. In his address, Obama declared, “I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas.” The president may have been so willing but Fidel was not prepared to abandon his enmities. Not only did he refuse to see Obama but declared, “We don’t need the empire to give us anything.” Obama capped off his visit by accompanying Raul to a baseball game and doing the wave just after Brussels had been struck by terrorist attacks.

Since the signing of the JCPOA [with Iran] and the normalization of relations with Cuba, both dictatorships have become more repressive. Iran continues to abuse its citizens while enabling Bashar al-Assad’s killing machine in Syria and menacing Israel with its sponsorship of terrorist groups. The Islamic Republic is second only to China in executions, while Cuba has arrested 5,351 dissidents so far this year. Soon American commerce will flow to the island, allowing the Castro brothers a means of sustaining one of the last outposts of Communist rule. But just as the JCPOA was not about arms control, the opening to Cuba was not about fostering democratic change. It was just a left-wing dream—acting on its long-held resentment against America’s Cold War in the Third World—come to fruition.

 It was not unwise for Nixon to reach out to the most populous country in the world; it was unwise to do so without demanding any Chinese reciprocity. An agreement was a sensible approach to Iran’s nuclear imbroglio; an accord that did not impose durable limits on that program is not astute arms control. A Cuba that adhered to global human-rights conventions and liberalized its political system should have been welcomed back into the community of nations; a Castro-led tyranny should not have been offered the same dispensation. Too often, secret diplomacy has served as a platform for America to concede its just standards and propitiate dictators with scant interest in changing their ways.

Obama Further Raises Value of Taking Hostages and Harboring Fugitives

In exchange for an American hostage held by the Castro regime, the Obama Administration has already released three Cuban spies imprisoned in the United States for crimes, including a conspiracy to kill Americans.

Now, in exchange for various U.S. fugitives harbored by the Castro regime, the Obama Administration is considering the release of one of the most damaging spies in history.

Either the Obama Administration is naive, doesn't understand or simply doesn't care that it continues to dangerously raise the value of taking American hostages and harboring fugitives from justice. 

More harmful, long-term consequences for Obama's short-term legacy.

From NBC:

Cuba Wants Convicted Spy Released in U.S. Prisoner Swap

Cuba and the United States are discussing possible exchanges of prisoners, including the release of a woman considered one of the most damaging spies in recent history, U.S. officials told NBC News.

The discussions, said to be in their early stages, are part of efforts by the two countries toward normalization of diplomatic relations.

Among the names floated by Cuban leaders, officials say, is Ana Montes, convicted in 2002 of spying for the Cuban government for nearly two decades while working for the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency.

Castro: Cuba Will Never Rejoin "Imperialist" OAS

Let's just say that Obama's policy of unconditional engagement is not nudging Cuba in the right direction.

From BBC:

Cuba will never rejoin OAS over Venezuela row, says Castro

Raul Castro offered "firm solidarity" with Venezuela over its dispute with the OAS

Cuban President Raul Castro says the country will not return to the Organization of American States (OAS) in a show of solidarity with Venezuela.

OAS Secretary General Luis Almargo has called for sanctions against Venezuela.

At a summit of Caribbean countries in Havana, Mr Castro called the OAS "an instrument of imperialist domination".