Russia Threatens to Reopen Military Base in Cuba

Friday, October 7, 2016
Both Cuba's Castro regime and Russia's Putin will use this to further extort greater concessions from the Obama Administration in its final days. 

It's the dangerous precedent Obama's Cuba, Iran, Ukraine and Syria policies have set.

From Russia Today:

Russian MoD pondering re-launch of military bases in Cuba and Vietnam – Deputy Defense Minister

Moscow is considering plans to return to Cuba and Vietnam where it had military bases in the past, Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Nikolay Pankov said on Friday, according to RIA news agency.

We are working on this,” Pankov said, while declining to elaborate. The Russian Defense Ministry is re-assessing the decisions made in the past to shut down the bases in those countries, according to the defense official.

Previously the deputy head of the foreign affairs committee of the Russian parliament, Aleksey Chepa said that Russia “should re-assess the issue of our presence in other regions of the world. I believe that it would correspond with Russian interests to restore the bases in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Africa that were closed,” as quoted by TASS.

There were Soviet and Russian military bases in Cuba and Vietnam until 2002. The Russian navy was deployed in Cam Rahn, Vietnam, and Russia had a radio-electronic intelligence center in Lourdes, Cuba.

While functioning, the Lourdes SIGINT facility was the largest of its kind operated by the USSR (and later Russia) outside of the country. The facility occupied 73 square kilometers and hosted some 1,500 employees at the peak of its activity.

Freedom House: In Cuba, Political Repressions Grows

From Freedom House:

Cuba: Political Repression Grows

In response to a growing number of arbitrary detentions in Cuba and greater intimidation of civil society, Freedom House issued the following statement:

“We are alarmed by the significant increase of arbitrary detentions, secret police raids, and intimidation targeting a wide cross-section of civil society,” said Carlos Ponce, director for Latin America programs. “The international community should demand protection of the Cuban human rights defenders and prodemocracy movements.”

The Comisión Cubana de Derechos Humanos y Reconciliación Nacional (CCDHRN) reports that there have been more than 7,800 politically motivated arrests in 2016, in many cases with the use of violence. A new report by Instituto Cubano por la Libertad de Expresión y Prensa (ICLEP) documented freedom of expression and the press violations.

Cuba is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2016, Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2016, and Not Free in Freedom on the Net 2015.

Congress Should Put the Brakes on 'Engaging' Cuba

By Ana Quintana in The National Interest:

Congress Should Put the Brakes on 'Engaging' Cuba

U.S. exporters can sell to only one customer—the Castro government.

Will Congress lift the ban on private financing towards Cuba’s agriculture sector? Proponents of a bill to do just that claim it would benefit American farmers as well alleviate the suffering of the Cuban people. Unfortunately, that is not how it works.

Proponents of the bill overlook the reality of Cuba’s agricultural market: U.S. exporters can sell to only one customer—the Castro government. Article 18 of Cuba’s constitution mandates the state to control all foreign trade and investment.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reaffirms as much, noting that “all U.S. agricultural exports must be channeled through one Cuban government agency.” That lone agency is ALIMPORT, a subsidiary of the Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Trade. As such, ALIMPORT conducts business based on political considerations, rather than market conditions.

This should come as a surprise to no one. As Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint notes, the Castros have created “a classic Marxist-Leninist regime intent on owning the means of production.”

Cuba consistently fails to meet even the most basic of labor standards, including denial of employment due to belief systems. In short, rather than empower the average Cuban, increased U.S. trade and investment in the agricultural sector would serve only to enrich the Castro machinery.

Nor is more trade with Cuba a ticket to success for American farmers. For one thing, it’s by no means a booming market. Since the Obama Administration weakened sanctions in late 2014, agricultural exports to Cuba have decreased. They are now at their lowest point since agricultural trade was authorized in 2000. Arguably, it could be a means to exert pressure on U.S. lawmakers.

Cuba has long been one of the worst credit-risk and debtor countries in the world. It still owes Americans close to $8 billion in certified claims. In total, the Cuban government owes roughly $75 billion to foreign creditors. Despairing of ever getting their money back, many countries have simply given up and forgiven Cuba’s debts.

It is easy—and rational—to be cynical about who will really profit from allowing private financing for agricultural exports. It is not a far-fetched prediction that it would be the Castros and their cronies.

We have already seen how the regime’s military moved to capitalize on the anticipated influx of American visitors resulting from the relaxation of travel restrictions. Gaviota, the Cuban military’s very own tourism company, quickly absorbed many tourist facilities and is expanding at breakneck speed, crowding out the very “self-employed” workers that the new engagement policy was supposed to “empower.” The military apparatus is almost certain to make a similar encroachment into the agricultural sector, should opportunities for expanded U.S. investment present themselves.

And it goes beyond agriculture and tourism. The Associated Press recently reported how the Cuban military is expanding its control of the economy in the midst of normalizing relations with the United States. This has been accompanied by surging political arrests, religious persecution, and outward migration.

Unilaterally weakening sanctions and granting concessions does nothing to further freedom on the island or prosperity for American farmers. Rather, it undermines Washington’s ability to influence positive change on the island. Lawmakers should put the brakes on policies that “engage” with tyranny by appeasing it.

Hillary Clinton Fails "Two Faces" ("Dos Caras") Standard on Cuba

Tuesday, October 4, 2016
Hillary Clinton has launched a radio ad in South Florida attacking Donald Trump for Newsweek's allegations that he violated the Cuban embargo.

The ad is entitled "Two Trumps" in English and "Dos Caras" ("Two Faces") in Spanish. It says:

"One Donald comes to sip cafecito Cubano and talk about the human rights abuses of Castro's communist regime. The other Donald thinks because of his money and his businesses that he is above the law."

As we've repeatedly posted, if Seven Arrows (a consulting firm Trump hired) didn't obtain the appropriate OFAC license for its travel-related transactions, or lied about the purpose of the trip, there should be legal consequences against Seven Arrows and any Trump executives that knowingly colluded with it.

However, note how the ad fails to mention that Hillary Clinton supports lifting the Cuban embargo, President Obama's lax enforcement of the embargo, or his efforts to encourage American businesses and travelers to skirt the embargo.

So let's apply the "Two Faces" standard to Hillary:

"One Hillary talks about the human rights abuses of Castro's communist regime. The other Hillary supports lifting the embargo to allow business deals with Castro's communist regime"; or

"One Hillary attacks Donald Trump for allegedly violating the Cuban embargo. The other Hillary won't press Obama to strictly enforce the Cuban embargo"; or

"One Hillary attacks Donald Trump for looking 'to line his pockets' in Cuba. The other Hillary supports Obama skirting the embargo to allow American hotel companies (Starwood) to cut deals with the Cuban military, which violate corporate ethics and international labor law"; or

"One Hillary attacks Donald Trump for looking 'to line his pockets' in Cuba. The other Hillary forgets that (Congressional records show) her brother-in-law, Roger Clinton, was 'receiving substantial sums of money' at the time to lobby then-President Bill Clinton on business in Cuba, while failing to register as a lobbyist"; or

"One Hillary attacks Donald Trump for putting his business 'ahead of the laws and values' that comprise the Cuban embargo. The other Hillary supports Obama skirting the embargo to allow banks (Stonegate) to finance transactions involving property stolen in Cuba from fellow Americans"; or

"One Hillary argues the Cuban embargo has 'empowered extremists' in Cuba. The other Hillary instead supports cutting unethical business deals, and for corporate America to 'line its pockets', with those same 'extremists'"; or

"One Hillary argues that the Cuban embargo has 'prolonged repression' in Cuba. The other Hillary hides the fact that repression in Cuba has dramatically increased under Obama's one-sided deal with Castro's communist regime"; or

"One Hillary rejects 'trickle-down economics'. The other Hillary supports Obama's 'dictator-down economics' policy in Cuba, whereby business deals with Castro's monopolies (Cuba's 1%) will purportedly 'trickle-down' to the people."

Et al.

By all measures, Hillary fails her own "Two Faces" standard on Cuba.

WaPo: Security Risk at Cuba's Airports Not Worth Price of Obama's Legacy

Monday, October 3, 2016
By Josh Rogin in The Washington Post:

Fear of flying: GOP lawmakers worry about security gaps at Cuban airports

In pursuing his historic opening of relations with Cuba, President Obama has frequently pushed legal and political boundaries. Now congressional Republicans are up in arms about another such initiative: an airline travel agreement they say exposes the United States to dangerous security gaps at Cuban airports.

Congressional committees charged with overseeing the Department of Homeland Security and Transportation Security Administration have engaged in a months-long feud with the administration over security vulnerabilities at 10 Cuban airports that have begun direct flights to the United States. The lawmakers say the lapses increase the risk of terrorists, criminals, drugs and spies entering the United States.

The security dogs that can be seen at Cuban airports are “mangy street dogs” that were fraudulently posed as trained animals, the TSA’s top official for the Caribbean, Larry Mizell, told congressional officials behind closed doors in March, according to these officials.

He also told them that there are few body scanners at the Cuban airports and that those in place are Chinese-made versions for which no reliability data exists.

When direct commercial flights began in August, federal air marshals were not allowed on them by order of the Cuban government. No TSA personnel can be stationed at the Cuban airports. All of the local airport employees for the U.S. carriers are being hired, vetted and paid by the Cuban regime, lawmakers said, and the United States has not been given information that resulted from their vetting or how it was conducted.

“In an effort to secure Obama’s legacy on Cuba, they rushed to get it done without doing the proper due diligence,” said Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee’s subcommittee on transportation security. “Our concern is oversight, to make sure what the agency tells us we can verify. There are still a lot of things we don’t know. What we do know is troubling.”

Two TSA officials told me that agency personnel have made several visits to each of the 10 Cuban airports that have been certified as “last points of departure” for direct flights to the United States and that the agency is confident they are safe for Americans to fly to and from. All 10 airports meet the minimum standards for security under U.S. and international law, the officials said.

But the TSA officials declined to comment on any of the vulnerabilities identified by the oversight committees, citing those details as “security sensitive information.” Several congressional officials said that when Mizell, the TSA official, originally told lawmakers and staff about the problems, no claim was made about information sensitivity. But when the committee convened open hearings on the issue, officials refused to repeat the facts in public.

The TSA officials also said the Cuban government had finally agreed to allow federal air marshals on commercial flights to and from Cuba on Sept. 26. The administration has not provided the text of that agreement to Congress because it was still being translated from Spanish to English, the officials said.

In June, a group of lawmakers tried to visit the Cuban airports to review matters for themselves, but the Cuban government denied their visas. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), the leader of the would-be delegation, told me that the administration, which he said denied repeated requests for assistance and information, was ultimately responsible for thwarting congressional oversight.

“It is my responsibility to ensure that any administration puts the safety and security of the American people above all else,” McCaul said. “Like with the Iran deal and so many other times, the Obama administration prioritizes legacy building at the expense of national security.”

Only days after the lawmakers were denied visas, NBA basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal was granted a visa to visit Cuba as part of a State Department cultural exchange program.

The congressional Republicans sounding the alarm about the Cuban airports also oppose Obama’s overall Cuba policy and doubt that thawing relations with the government of Cuban President Raúl Castro will encourage reform there. That debate likely won’t be resolved for many years, but when it comes to airport security, they certainly have a point.

“Cuba remains a state sponsor of terrorism that is allied with some of the most despicable regimes in the world, from Iran to North Korea, and I can’t comprehend how this administration has allowed commercial flights to Cuba without the proper vetting and security procedures in place at each of the Cuban airports,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told me.

The security situation at Cuban airports is an open invitation for any bad actor who wishes to do harm to the United States to try to board a flight to the United States with whatever dangerous contraband they can carry. If that’s the price of Obama securing his Cuba legacy, it’s not worth it.

Lesson of the Day: For Colombians (and Cubans), Justice Prevails Over Impunity

The image below of FARC leaders lounging in their comfort chairs, puffing cigars in Havana, as they watch the results of the referendum, encapsulates why the Colombian people rejected the Cuba-brokered deal.

These FARC narco-terrorists, murderers and kidnappers deserve to be in prison, not enjoying impunity and given political office.

It's also a lesson for those who argue that we should forgive-and-forget Castro's crimes and "normalize" its regime.

As renowned American journalist, William Allen White, warned: "Peace without justice is tyranny."

Tweet of the Day: Colombians Say NO to Cuba-Brokered Deal

Political Cartoon: Colombians Reject Castro-FARC Sweetheart Deal

Senators Vow to Block Obama’s Cuba Ambassador Pick

From The Washington Free Beacon:

Senators Vow to Block Obama’s Cuba Ambassador Pick

Demand greater oversight of human rights violations by communist regime

Leading senators are vowing to block President Obama’s recent nomination of an ambassador to Cuba, citing the administration’s failure to address ongoing human rights violations by the communist regime, the Washington Free Beacon has learned.

Sens. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) and Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) will hold up Obama’s nomination of Jeffrey DeLaurentis to be the first U.S. ambassador to Cuba in decades until the administration takes firm action to combat the communist country’s human rights violations.

As a sign of protest, the lawmakers, along with Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.), filed a measure late Wednesday stating that the Cuban regime has “unyieldingly violated basic human rights” and dubbing the reestablishment of ties with the country a failure, according to a copy of the resolution exclusively obtained by the Free Beacon.

The measure also expresses U.S. solidarity with Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas, who recently endured a lengthy hunger strike in peaceful protest against the Castros’ totalitarian regime.

Congressional critics of the administration’s detente with Cuba accuse Obama of turning a blind eye to the country’s human rights failures in an effort to avoid offending the Castro regime and potentially harming the new relationship.

“President Obama’s decision yesterday to try to jam through his nominee to be Ambassador to Cuba during the lame duck session is just the most recent example of how exactly backwards his Cuba policy is,” Cruz told the Free Beacon. “The president is laboring under the misconception that heaping honors on Raul and Fidel Castro will magically make them change the pattern of the last half-century and become pro-American.”

“Unfortunately,” Cruz added, “over the last twenty months of high-level delegations, embassy openings, and state visits, the opposite has proven to be the case. Rather than liberalizing, the Castros have become even more firmly entrenched—and enriched—by the Obama administration policy. Even worse, they have escalated their human rights abuses against their own citizens as their favored tools of coercion such as arbitrary detentions and beatings have only increased.”

Cruz went on to cite Fariñas’ treatment as a prime example of Cuba’s failure to reform following the renewal of ties with the United States.

“Two months ago, for example, the distinguished recipient of the 2010 Andrei Sakharov Prize from the European Union Parliament and well-known dissident Guillermo Farinas inquired with the authorities about the fate of a colleague who had disappeared some days before,” Cruz said. “He was severely beaten for his audacity, which prompted him to embark on his 24th hunger strike protest—his only peaceful means to draw attention to the plight of the Cuban people.”

“This resolution is Congress’ means to let them know there are still some in America who stand with them, not the Castros,” Cruz said.

The resolution “honors the courage” of Fariñas and criticizes Cuban authorities for launching a campaign to disgrace him in public.

The measure also states the Castro regime has “unyieldingly violated basic human rights and steadfastly suppressed peaceful dissent in Cuba, despite nonviolent calls for change in Cuba and internationally,” according to text.

The resolution goes on to state that “unconditional reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba” has “failed to meaningfully improve the predicament of the people of Cuba.”

ALERT: Cuban Regime Escalates Violent Assaults on Civil Society

Sunday, October 2, 2016
From The World Movement for Democracy:

Cuban Authorities Escalate Violent Assaults on Civil Society

On September 23, 2016, police authorities raided the headquarters of Cuban Legal Information Center (CUBALEX) and confiscated computers, hard drives, USB drives and cell phones. Cuban activist Kirenia Yalit stated: “when it seemed that everything was going to end and they had concluded their interrogations’ of the activists, they forced them to strip naked "and squat to verify that there was nothing hidden in their bodies.” The authorities also told Laritza Diversent, Director of CUBALEX, that members of the organization could be accused of “illicit economic activity” and “illicit association.”

CUBALEX is an independent Cuban organization based in the Havana municipality of Arroyo Naranjo, and provides free legal advice to Cuban citizens and civil society activists. Unfortunately, the raid of the CUBALEX offices was part of a larger wave of harassment against Cuban civil society that has been taking place since last week.A day earlier, 23 activists belonging to the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) were arrested, one of whom was indefinitely detained. This arrest marks the 43rd UNPACU member who has been imprisoned by the authorities.

On September 18, 27 members of The Ladies in White movement, and several #TodosMarchamos (We All March) demonstrators, were arrested during peaceful protests. In a separate incident, Ladies in White activist Leticia Ramos, is facing baseless charges of “public disorder” after a police raid on her home. As of now, Ramos is under a government-imposed house arrest. On September 20, Cuban political police raided and disbanded a “meeting of several trade unionists,” according to Iván Hernández Carrillo, spokesman for Cuba’s Independent Trade Union Coalition. On September 27, Cuban authorities detained Arturo Rojas and Ada López, members of the Otro18 (Another 18) initiative, which seeks to promote independent candidates trying to run in Cuba’s 2018 elections. The two activists were prevented from traveling to Colombia to observe the upcoming plebiscite on the country’s Peace Accords.

The World Movement for Democracy is deeply concerned about the Cuban government’s ongoing crackdown on civil society, and urges them to seize the harassment immediately. Cuban activists should be able to practice their right to freedom of assembly and association without encountering state-sponsored violence. Ladies in White leader, Berta Soler, has urged the world to stand up for Cuba’s human rights activists in her recent interview.

Below is an image from the Cuban regime's assault of CUBALEX's headquarters. Note how they are all plain-clothed officials from Castro's secret police ('DSE').

Quote of the Day: Two Years Later, Cubans Live Worse

Two years after the announcement of the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States, Cubans live worse than they could have ever imagined the future would bring.
-- Yoani Sanchez, renowned Cuban independent journalist, interview with El Salvador's El Diario de Hoy, 9/29/16

Cubans Intercepted at Sea Surges Another 65%

Cubans continue to flee Obama-Castro's "hope and change" arrangement at record levels.

From AP:

Coast Guard: Number of Cubans Caught at Sea Surges Higher

The Coast Guard says the number of Cubans intercepted at sea while trying to reach U.S. shores has risen even higher amid Washington's increasing contact with Havana.

According to a Coast Guard statement , authorities encountered 7,358 Cubans risking sea crossings to U.S. soil in the fiscal year ending Friday. That's a 65 percent increase from 4,473 tallied in the previous year.

A surge of Cubans has been fleeing the island over the last two years.