Chairman McCaul's Cuban Visa Crisis

Friday, June 24, 2016
From the Homeland Security Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives:

Chairman McCaul's Cuban Visa Crisis

The Obama Administration Fast Tracks Cuba Relations, but Cuban Government Slow Rolls Visas

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Despite President Obama opening friendly relations with Cuba, the Cuban government failed to approve visas for Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee Michael McCaul (R-TX) and other Members of Congress to visit Havana to assess security and passenger screening at airports, which will soon have direct flights into the United States. The delegation planned to evaluate the potential risks to national security related to resuming commercial air service to Cuba.

The Obama Administration plans to open regularly scheduled commercial air service this fall between the two countries and designate ten new airports as Last Points of Departure (LPD) airports to the United States, with up to 110 daily flights between the U.S and Cuba. LPD airports are of concern to the Homeland Security Committee as ISIS and other terror groups continue to target the aviation sector.

The Committee held a hearing on May 17, 2016 on these topics with DHS officials who refused to adequately comment on Cuban airport security.

Chairman McCaul:At a time when the Obama Administration is rolling out the red carpet for Havana, the Cuban government refuses to be open and transparent with the peoples’ Representatives. Sadly, it appears to be easier for Cubans to come to the United States than for Members of the House Homeland Security Committee to get to Cuba. Last points of departure airports are critically important to our homeland security, but these security concerns seem to be taking a back seat to the President’s legacy building effort.”

Rep. John Katko (R-NY):The Administration is eager to have as many people as possible visit Cuba – except for those who are attempting to examine Cuban security infrastructure. We still don’t know if Cuba has the adequate body scanners and explosive detection systems in place, whether it has the technology to screen for fraudulent passports or ID, whether or how aviation workers are screened, and if Federal Air Marshals will be allowed to fly missions to Cuba on commercial flights. This is a government that was only just removed as a state sponsor of terrorism list one year ago, and it is not enough to rely on the Castro regime’s word that these airports are secure.”

Cuba Blocks Homeland Security Delegation Inspecting Airport Security

As we've posted before (see here and here), the House Homeland Security Committee has been investigating serious security and infrastructure concerns surrounding Cuba's airports.

This morning, the Cuban regime has blocked visas for Homeland Security Committee Chairman, U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Transportation Security Subcommittee Chairman John Katko (R-NY).

It seems the Cuban regime (and the Obama Administration) have something to hide regarding the security of its proposed flights to Cuba.

Moreover, it proves how the only Congressional delegations welcome in Cuba are those that follow the Castro regime's "dog-and-pony" show.

From The Syracuse Post-Standard:

Cuba blocks visit from Rep. John Katko, delegation from Congress

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Cuba has denied visas to U.S. Rep. John Katko and a delegation from the House Homeland Security Committee that wanted to visit this weekend to inspect airport security.

Katko, chairman of a subcommittee on transportation security, said Friday that the congressional delegation visit was called off at the last minute after the Cuban government blocked the trip.

Katko, R-Camillus, and members of the congressional delegation wanted to assess security risks at Cuban airports before the start of daily commercial air service with the United States later this year.

'We tried for over a month and a half to get visas, and we couldn't get them," Katko said in an interview Friday.

Katko said his delegation had planned to visit airports in Havana, smaller airports in other Cuban cities, and stop at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay.

At a hearing last month, Katko and other members of the Homeland Security Committee questioned whether proper security screening equipment and procedures will be in place before the start of more than 100 roundtrip commercial flights per day with the United States.

"Our job is to look at last point of departure airports around the world, and they're not letting us do it," Katko said Friday. "Some experts believe Cuba could become a gateway to the U.S. for terror suspects from Europe. But they're not even letting us take a look at their airports"

Katko and House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, have said they felt stonewalled by U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials who declined to answer questions about the security capabilities of Cuban airports.

The House members wanted to know if Cuba had adequate body scanners, explosive detection equipment, and the ability to screen for fraudulent passports or IDs. The committee also wanted to know if federal air marshals would be allowed on flights to and from Cuba.

Democrats say Katko wants to politicize a Homeland Security issue before the U.S. resumes flights to Cuba.

Katko said he does not necessarily trust Cuban President Raul Castro and his government to make airport security a priority.

"This is a government that was only just removed as a state sponsor of terrorism one year ago, and it is not enough to rely on the Castro regime's word that these airports are safe," Katko said.

One Brave Cuban’s Message to Obama: ‘The Totalitarian Regime Is Intact’

Thursday, June 23, 2016
Great interview in The Atlantic with Cuban democracy activist, Rosa Maria Paya, the 27-year old daughter of slain democracy leader Oswaldo Paya.

Below is a must-read excerpt.

Read the full interview here.

‘The Totalitarian Regime Is Intact’: One Cuban’s Message to Obama

The U.S. is pressing ahead with its opening to Cuba. What does that mean for democracy on the island? 

[Rosa Maria] Paya recalled Obama’s offers to extend a hand to America’s foes, including Cuba, and then cited a saying of her father’s: “If you are going to extend a helping hand to the Cuban people, you should first ask for the Cuban people to have their hands untied.”

I countered that for nearly 60 years, the U.S. government had largely followed her father’s advice, with little to show for it. Cubans’ hands remained tied, despite all of Washington’s asking and demanding and coercing. The Obama administration appeared to be rejecting that logic, prioritizing dialogue over democracy and betting that a hand extended might ultimately be more beneficial to the Cuban people than a hand withheld. A number of international-relations theorists believe engaging enemies is more productive than isolating them, I noted.

Paya bristled at my mention of theory. “We Cubans shouldn’t be the objects of any theoretical experiment,” she responded. “We are human beings… Conversation [between countries] itself is not enough.” What matters is what’s being discussed. Ten years after the U.S. and China established full diplomatic relations, she pointed out, the Chinese government committed the Tiananmen Square massacre with impunity: “I’m a physicist. I know what [proof] you need to demonstrate a theorem. And we don’t have that. We cannot say that the process that has been started [between the U.S. and Cuba] is a process that is going to end in democracy.”

“What doesn’t need to be proved is that if people can decide [their future], you don’t have a totalitarian regime,” she added.

“Cubans are not less than Americans,” Paya insisted. “Why do we have to sit down and wait for a king to die? No. We can have rights today. There’s not a single reason to deny human rights to a whole population.”

The Democracy Report

I asked how that denial manifested itself in her daily life in Cuba. “You cannot choose how to live your life,” she said. “You cannot choose the work you’re going to have after university. You cannot choose the school you’re going to attend. You cannot choose your leaders. You cannot decide to move not even out of the country, [but] inside the country because you could be called—and this is a good one—an ‘illegal’ in your own country. National deportations [from Havana to other parts of the country] are taking place in Cuba.” And if you join civil society or oppose the government and political system, “then you could face prison, you could face isolation, you are definitely going to suffer the persecution of the state security [forces]. And if you succeed [in your campaign for political reform], like my father, then you could face death.”

Paya is now lobbying both Cubans and international actors to exert pressure on the Castro regime to hold a nationwide referendum on the Cuban political system. Such a vote, in her mind, could result in a constituent assembly that drafts a new constitution and a transitional government that organizes free and fair elections. U.S. officials, she reasons, should be talking to their Cuban counterparts not just about coffee sales and commercial flights, but also democratic reforms, like the plebiscite, that are advocated by Cubans.

But it’s far easier to talk coffee than constitutions. After all, the Cuban Constitution enshrines the country’s socialist system as “irrevocable.” And, as Paya herself admits, authoritarians don’t “commit suicide.”

Cuba Remains Russia's Top Regional Ally

From Russia's TASS news agency:

Cuba remains Russia’s reliable ally in Latin America — top lawmaker

The speaker of the Russian State Duma Sergei Naryshkin drew attention to the intensification of political contacts at the highest level

Cuba continues to be Russia’s most reliable ally in Latin America, speaker of the Russian State Duma (lower house of parliament) Sergei Naryshkin said at a meeting with President of the Cuban National Assembly of People’s Power (parliament) Esteban Lazo Hernandez on Thursday.

"Cuba remains our strong and reliable partner in Latin America and the Caribbean," he said. According to Naryshkin, Russia is "satisfied the level of multifaceted cooperation between our two countries, which fully reflects the strategic nature of relations between Russia and Cuba."

The speaker drew attention to the intensification of political contacts at the highest level. He added that Russia "appreciates the fact that the historic meeting between Patriarch (Kirill -TASS) of Moscow and All Russia and Pope Francis was held in Havana."

Oscar Biscet's Cuba

By Daniel Allott in The Washington Examiner:

Oscar Biscet's Cuba

"No," Oscar Biscet said, smiling, when I asked him in broken Spanish whether he was getting tired after a series of meetings on Capitol Hill. "After spending more than 11 years in prison, including nearly six months in solitary confinement, I like to be around people."

That's especially the case, he added, when those people are discussing democracy, religious freedom and human rights. Those are concepts Biscet has devoted his life to advancing in a country where having such discussions can land you in prison.

Dr. Biscet is one of Cuba's most important human rights activists and political dissidents. Biscet was in the middle of an eight-day visit to Washington, D.C.

During his trip, Biscet met with members of Congress (including Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio) and officials at the White House and State Department, gave several think tank speeches and spoke with the editorial boards of two publications (including this one).

He had just finished meeting with Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Chris Smith and other sympathetic congressmen, and was on his way to deliver a talk at the Heritage Foundation.

When I spoke with Biscet later, he said that the thing he appreciated most about being in Washington was the warm welcome he had received from government officials.

In Cuba, where he had spent all of his 55 years until last month, Biscet has lived the last quarter century either incarcerated or under close surveillance by the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, neighborhood gangs that report to the government on any "counter-revolutionary" activity.

Biscet, a physician, has had three stints in prison for such "counter-revolutionary" acts as exposing and protesting against widespread infanticide in Cuba's health system, displaying a Cuban flag upside down and meeting with a small group of political activists to discuss a petition drive demanding the recognition of human rights.

For that last offense, Biscet was given a 25-year prison sentence, of which he served more than eight years before being released in 2011. Over the last two decades, Biscet has become a leading advocate of a nonviolent resistance to the Castro regime and of a peaceful transition to democracy on the island.

Biscet has received numerous accolades for his human rights work, including, in 2007, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He was on his way to Texas to pick up the award from President George W. Bush as this column went to press.

The Castros granted Biscet permission to leave the island earlier this year. Biscet suspects they did so to ingratiate themselves to the U.S. The regime is known to encourage dissenters to leave the country, hoping that they will enjoy the freedom and opportunities life outside Cuba affords so much that they'll never go back.

But Biscet will go back. While in prison, he was repeatedly offered freedom in return for exile, but refused. "I have a moral and ethical commitment to return. I can't leave my people enslaved," he said.

God is at the center of all of Biscet's work. And he believes religious freedom is the key to Cuba's resurgence. "Cuba's a country with a Christian soul," he said. Cuba is officially a secular state. Its constitution plays lip service to religious liberty, but in practice it's very limited. Biscet says Cubans are allowed to go to church, but not much more.

Biscet's main purpose in visiting D.C. was to raise awareness of the Emilia Project, an initiative he launched to help teach Cubans how to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience.

He was also there to inform Americans "of the perverse nature of the regime that still exists." President Obama visited Cuba in March. In his weekly address before his arrival, Obama said that his trip would "advance American interests and values" and "help the Cuban people improve their lives."

The visit was timed to take place before Cuba's Communist Party Congress. The White House apparently hoped to influence the congress and perhaps persuade it to implement some meaningful reforms.

But no reforms were enacted, and during an April 19 address to the congress, his first in nearly two decades, Fidel Castro said that though he will soon die, "the ideas of the Cuban communists will remain as proof on this planet that if they are worked at with fervor and dignity, they can produce the material and cultural goods that human beings need, and we need to fight without a truce to obtain them."

Since Obama's recent overtures to Cuba, which included the opening of embassies in both countries, loosening of travel restrictions to Cuba and Obama's call for the trade embargo to be lifted, there has been an increase in repression.

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights reports that there were 6,075 political arrests during the first five months of this year, the highest number in decades. That number includes Biscet, who was briefly detained on Mothers' Day.

Biscet is a charismatic figure and an engaging and animated speaker. His influences include King, Hayek, Sharansky, Gandhi and Jesus Christ.

It's that last influence that matters most. In a meeting with Rep. Chris Smith, they discussed the possibility of Biscet testifying before Congress about the purported economic reforms on the island ("The people are far removed from the benefits," Biscet says).

Smith expressed his concern that Biscet would be in danger if he returned to Cuba after testifying against the regime. But Biscet said he was not worried: "God will take care of it."

Cuban Priest Subject to 'Smear Campaign' by Castro Regime

From The Miami Herald:

Cuban Catholic priest says he’s the target of a “smear campaign”

The Rev. José Conrado Rodríguez said that after President Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba, he personally noticed the "resurgence" of repression.

The Rev. José Conrado Rodríguez, who favors a more socially committed Catholic church in Cuba and has spared no criticism against the island’s leaders, has denounced being the center of a "smear campaign."

Conrado said that after President Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba, he personally noticed the "resurgence" of repression.

"They've launched a smear campaign presenting me as a terrorist,” the priest told el Nuevo Herald said during a recent pass through Miami. “They’ve made a documentary and have presented it to teachers and children."

Obama's Cuba Flights Jeopardize U.S. Security

Monday, June 20, 2016
The Obama Administration has gone to great lengths to distract from the major security concerns stemming from new commercial flights to Cuba.

At a Congressional hearing last month, it was revealed that Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials privately expressed concerns to lawmakers about the security and infrastructure woes at Cuba's airports.

However, when the Homeland Security Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives called a hearing to investigate these concerns, The White House immediately stonewalled its efforts.

The Committee had to succumb to subpoena threats in order to get one TSA official to testify.

Last week, the AP traveled to Havana with airline officials to access Cuba's airports. Its investigate report further underscored three major concerns:

1. The Obama Administration is dangerously cutting corners. As the AP reports, "The Department of Transportation on Friday granted American and five other airlines permission to fly to nine Cuban cities. Normally, airlines spend up to a year preparing for new foreign markets. In this case, flights must start within 90 days of the government awarding the route."

This is even more concerning when taking into consideration that Cuba isn't simply "a foreign market." Cuba is not Belize of Fiji -- it's a totalitarian dictatorship that was a state-sponsor of terrorism (until politically unlisted by the Obama Administration); which continues to harbor American hijackers and terrorists as heroes; controls passports and visas for Venezuela's government; traffics visas in Afghanistan; and remains a key ally of some of the world's most dangerous terrorist organizations (including Hezbollah) and states (such as Iran and Syria).

See more regarding these security issues here.

2. There will be no independent personnel at Cuba's airports. As the AP reports, "[A]ll the workers are government employees, leading airlines to question if they will have a dedicated staff who can be trained in their policies and computer programs ... Check-in involves one long, snaking line for all U.S. flights, regardless of which airline passengers are flying. The same Cuban government workers process all flights. With the start of scheduled service, the U.S. carriers would prefer their own, dedicated staff — still Cuban government employees — handle check-in."

Again, sacrificing security for legacy, the Obama Administration is allowing these flights to proceed without the presence of any independent U.S. airline personnel or security officials on the ground. The Obama Administration is outsourcing all of the administrative and security functions for these direct flights to the U.S. to the Castro dictatorship.

This is the same Castro dictatorship that -- in addition to the security concerns listed above -- was recently named by the Director of National Intelligence as one of the top counter-intelligence threats to the United States and of which three senior air force officials remain indicted in U.S. federal courts for the murder of Americans.

3. U.S. flights relegated to oldest terminal. As the AP reports, "[a]ll U.S. charters arrive at Terminal 2 where passengers must use stairs to exit planes and then walk or take buses to the terminal. Airlines would prefer to use the more modern Terminal 3, which has eight jet bridges and is currently used by other foreign airlines."

 In other words, all of the security, technology and infrastructure woes associated with commercial flights to Cuba are multiplied by the fact that the Castro regime is relegating them to Havana airport's oldest, most inadequate terminal. And if Havana's airport is bad, just imagine Cuba's small, accident-ridden, regional airports -- e.g. Holguin, Santa Clara, Santiago.

To understand the sheer magnitude of the risks entailed, consider the following:

As Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) stressed at last month's hearing, there are currently five direct flights per week to Egypt's Cairo airport, which is infinitely better suited from an infrastructure and security perspective than Havana's. Meanwhile, the Obama Administration is proposing 110 direct flights per day to Cuba.

It's a security disaster waiting to happen.

Cuba's 'Self-Employed' Are Not 'Agents of Change'

Sunday, June 19, 2016
Well-intended supporters of Obama's Cuba policy argue that the island's "self-employed" can be "agents of change."

Of course, that's difficult to reconcile with Obama's actual policy of strengthening Castro's military dictatorship -- through political recognition and business deals.

Never mind also that the Castro regime created "self-employment" precisely as a tool for stability during turbulent financial times -- pursuant to the collapse of the of the USSR in the 1990s and Venezuela's downward spiral starting in 2010.

But even the well-intended premise is (unfortunately) misguided -- for Cuba's "self-employed" are among the most subservient to the regime (in order to be able to function) and their ultimate goal is to emigrate (rather than fight for change on the island).

The example below is case and point.

Meanwhile, under Obama's policy, Cuba's real "agents of change" -- the courageous dissidents that risk their lives for a better future for all Cubans -- are being relegated to business interests.

By Ivan Garcia in Translating Cuba:

Havana, Where Businesspeople Make Money So They Can Emigrate

While it is still dark outside, Nelson gets up, turns on the light and quickly gets dressed. He then goes to the kitchen, makes a cup of coffee and with his calculator starts balancing his books.

Yesterday he had a bad day at work. Two months ago he opened a cafe that sells Italian food and yesterday sales were flat. “I make on average two thousand pesos (about ninety dollars) a day. My goal is to raise all the money I can to get my family out of Cuba,” says the fifty-two-year-old entrepreneur.

Last fall he spent two months in Tampa, where he worked as a construction assistant and a waiter at a restaurant on the outskirts of the city.

“With the money I saved, I opened this business. For over twenty years I made pizza, pasta and lasagna at state restaurants. Now my dream is to be able to permanently emigrate with my wife and four kids. There’s nothing for us here. In the United States my family and I will have better opportunities,” says Nelson as he and two assistants prepare pizza dough.

This is Nelson’s dream. “The state still views us with suspicion. As long as these guys are in still power, Cuba won’t change.” And every night he counts his money, balances his books and figures out how much he still needs to get on a plane.

How to Humiliate the Cuban People

Here's how Obama policy supporters purport tourism will help the Cuban people.

Through sheer degradation and humiliation.

By Drew Haden Taylor in Now Toronto:

My Cuba Alert

It’s not a place I would have expected to experience the familiar stirrings of an existential crisis

Varadero – Most would consider a trip to a Cuban resort a pleasant distraction – warm sand, rum and a shallow excursion into another culture.

I had been there in 1983 and was eager to see it one more time before more and more Americans start arriving and gradually Kardashianiz-ing the whole island and Golden Arches start popping up beneath every palm tree.

It’s not a place where you’d expect to experience a slight, if annoying, artistic and existential crisis of Aboriginal proportions.

It was a hot sunny day, as is frequently the case in Cuba, and a horde of us resort refugees were swarming the countryside in jeeps on our way to a lovely half-hour trip down an isolated river. Getting out of the jeeps at a little restaurant/bar where our boats were located, we were told something special had been planned for us.

That something was the performance of an Indigenous dance performed by two men and four women in body paint and identical long black wigs. One of the women was lying on the dock, and a male dancer came up to her and did some sort of magical hand movements over her as the rest sang and danced. When she came to life, all six proceeded to thank the gods by doing some more oddly contemporary dancing for the tourists.

We were told the performance was about the power of the river, though our guide seemed vague on its historical origins. It was about then I began to feel the familiar stirrings of a cultural red alert many Indigenous people get when they travel.

I know for a fact there are no longer any Aboriginal people living in Cuba. They were long ago killed off in the fervent hunt for gold, and the growing need to cultivate sugarcane – the chief ingredient of soft drinks and rum – was deemed more important by European standards.

That’s true of most of the Caribbean islands, with the possible exception of Dominica, where the last surviving island Caribs are reputed to live.

The Caribbean archipelago had been the home of tens of thousands of Carib and Arawak Indians before they were sacrificed on the altar of Manifest Destiny. I am sure there is a hotel on the Gulf of Mexico for practically every native person killed to maintain the standard of living of your average conquistador.

I questioned our tour guide about this, and he cheerfully acknowledged that the dancers weren’t native and that the tribal body paint was an approximation, as was the dance.

The language spoken during the performance was not the real local dialect, which has been forgotten. As far as I could tell, some of the words had been copied down by historians and were being spoken randomly out of context during the dockside dance.

I am native (Ojibway to be exact). I am a native in the arts. So I was observing this from two different perspectives, and both were making me uncomfortable.

I should also point out that the four women were topless.

This may once have been authentic Aboriginal practice, as is customary in many hot climates, but (how to put this delicately) the ritual/dance involved a substantial amount of jumping up and down. A lot. To the point that it actually looked painful. The women’s breasts were highlighted with white circles, making the bouncing more attention-grabbing. And while there were plenty of bouncing boobs, my girlfriend doesn’t remember seeing any bouncing penises.

After the dance, the tourists were invited to have their picture taken with the local “natives.” A whack of middle-aged white guys stood proudly beside the lovely young topless women performers. Their wives didn’t seem to have a problem with this, no doubt thinking this was a local Indigenous custom.

I’ve been to more than 140 Aboriginal communities across Canada and the U.S., and a fair number of other Indigenous locations around the world, so trust me when I say there was nothing culturally accurate about the display.

One of the things that bothered me most was the thought that this pseudo-ritual dance performance would be taken, in memory, across the world by my fellow tourists, who came from Germany, Russia, France and Chile. Fellow Canadians in the group considered the spectacle a respected example of Caribbean Indigenous culture – sort of like a Cuban pow wow.

My girlfriend and I wanted to tell them it wasn’t, but most were too busy getting their picture taken.

The rest of our vacation was fabulous – except for the small town we passed named after the massacre of a large number of Indians.

Sigh.

Cruise Travel Serves No Benefit to Cuban People

Last year, we warned how scores of "cuentapropistas" were shut down and expelled from the Avenida del Puerto, an area adjacent to the Port of Havana.

In anticipation of cruise-ship arrivals (thanks to the Obama Administration), all of the areas surrounding the Port were taken over by GAESA, the military corporation run by Raul Castro's son-in-law, General Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas.

Thus, all of those cruise-ship travelers overwhelmingly benefit the Castro regime from beginning-to-end.

Now, as Diario de Cuba reports:

Cuban private businesses have little access to Adonia's passengers

The third arrival of Carnival's cruise ship, Adonia, has shown the Cuban government's efforts to limit the contact of its tourists with ordinary people and with local private businesses.

A police cordon at the Sierra Maestra cruise terminal welcomes the passengers. The limited tour of Havana, under the control of government (MINTUR) guides, is composed of the main plazas of the historic center, a lunch at the bar-restaurant El Floridita and a visit to the Ernest Hemingway museum in Finca Vigia.

"We are seeing how the construction of 'bridges' among the people as Obama said in his speech, that was supposed to generate more income for small businesses, is evaporating," said Saul Matos, a coco-taxi driver.

"The competition is unequal for the tourism agencies are controlled by the government. The police bans us from the area, despite there being a waiting area there that corresponds to us," he added.