Friday, November 4, 2016

Address to the International Young Democrat Union at its Annual Council meeting in Miami, FL

Obama's Cuba policy legacy is an unmitigated disaster for Cuba

Addressing IYDU members at Miami City Hall
Background on Cuba Policy
Cuba has suffered under a 57 year old totalitarian dictatorship in Cuba that came to power in January of 1959 promising a democratic restoration. They lied. Instead the Castro brothers and their revolutionary cadre embraced the communists who had previously opposed them and broadcast footage of the firing squads they were carrying out where scores of Cubans were executed to terrorize the populace. Within Cuba anti-Castro guerrillas fought up in the hills of the Escambray until the mid 1960s when they were finally all exterminated or imprisoned. The same first generation of communist leadership, now in their 80s, remains in power today. They have groomed a second generation of hard line leadership to replace them with high profile members of the Castro family in key roles for the succession.

Executed in Santiago de Cuba by the Castro regime in 1959
The Castro regime since the beginning has had a revolutionary project to spread communism throughout the Americas. They sought within the first months that they were in power to destabilize and overthrow governments across Latin America. The United States attempted to overthrow the dictatorship Cuba in 1961 at the Bay of Pigs that failed and instead consolidated the Castro regime.

The economic embargo, first erected following the massive confiscation of U.S. properties without compensation, became an instrument of containment to raise the cost for the Soviet Union and Castro to export revolution in the Americas. Following attempts by the Castro regime to violently overthrow governments in Latin America and the Cuban Missile Crisis the Organization of American States voted to isolate Cuba, and it worked. No governments were violently overthrown.

However in 1977 President Carter arrives in The White House and began normalizing relations with Cuba, loosening sanctions, suspending the travel embargo.  This effectively ended the era of isolation of the Castro regime. It is not a coincidence that the Sandinistas came to power at the end of the Carter Administration. Nor that in Africa in places like Angola and Ethiopia, in the 1970s and 1980s thousands of Cuban troops fought to spread their revolutionary project there. In the case of Ethiopia Cuban troops assisted in the Red Terror that claimed thousands of lives and manufactured famine that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

Reagan's rollback of Carter concessions and greater human rights scrutiny in Cuba
Nor does easing sanctions improve the situation for Cuban dissidents. The only time the Castro regime permitted the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit Cuban prisons, and Amnesty International to visit Cuba was in the late 1980s after Ronald Reagan took a hard line on human rights violations in Cuba at the United Nations, rolled back the Carter Administration’s 1977 opening of the travel embargo in 1982, toughened economic sanctions, and began broadcasting uncensored news to Cuba over Radio Marti.  Bush continued the Reagan Administration's Cuba policy and then Bill Clinton did all he could to undo it but still win The White House pretending otherwise.

The rapprochement between the Obama Administration and the Castro regime today reminds Cubans of a similar effort in the 1990s by the Clinton Administration that began with joint military exercises in 1994 and reached its high point in 2000 with Bill Clinton shaking hands with Fidel Castro in New York City and months later opening up cash and carry trade.  This period of time also coincided with a  worsening human rights situation on the island, the use of grenades and snipers on swimmers trying to reach Guantanamo naval base, a rafter mass exodus in 1994 - 1995, and the above mentioned Brothers to the Rescue shoot down in 1996.

It is important to remember that as President Obama did in 2008 and again in 2012, President Clinton ran both times as  a pro-sanctions candidate linking lifting the U.S. embargo to improvement on human rights in the island. In fact in 1992 Clinton ran to the right of George Bush supporting legislation further tightening the Embargo and in 1996 signed the Helms-Burton bill, following the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down, further tightening sanctions on the Cuban dictatorship. This won him inroads among the Cuban American voting block, but once in office he went in a radically different direction than the one advertised during both elections shaking hands with Fidel Castro and opening up cash and carry trade. Castro at the time said he would not buy a grain of rice because he wanted credits.

This all changed when George W. Bush arrived in the White House in 2001 and trade took off with American agriculture selling hundreds of millions in goods to Cuba becoming one of its top trading partners despite the Republican President tightening sanctions.  The peak year of trade between the United States and Cuba was 2008. The last year of the Bush presidency.

Correlation between U.S. - Cuba Normalization and Democratic Reverses in the Americas
Castro had some success first in Nicaragua in 1979 then in Venezuela in 1999 and today the regime is a strong and anti-democratic force in the hemisphere and at the United Nations Human Rights Council. No surprise that these regime offensives coincided with normalization policies of the United States.

At first look, it is surprising that trade between the United States and Cuba collapsed to 2002 levels under the Obama Administration but then one must consider the nature of the regime in Cuba. The Cuban government is a totalitarian dictatorship that controls the economy and all foreign trade. Cuba has demonstrated over the past 57 years that political considerations trump economic ones even if it causes great suffering in the Cuban populace. Once Obama began to offer unilateral concessions the Castro regime did not need to purchase influence buying American agriculture.

President Obama in 2009 offered to extend a hand of friendship to America's enemies in the hope that they would uncurl their angry fists. He did this early on with Cuba, unilaterally loosening sanctions, and the Castro regime responded by taking Alan Gross, an American citizen, hostage in December 2009. The Obama administration responded with more unilateral concessions until five years later on December 17, 2014 when they freed the last of five Cuban spies serving long prison sentences in the United States. Between 2009 and the present date with this green light the Cuban men and women in the democratic opposition have been subjected to a dramatic increase in repression not seen in years. Opposition leaders, respected the world over who could have overseen a nonviolent democratic transition have been murdered in state security operations or died under suspicious circumstances.

Secret negotiations between the Obama Administration and the Castro regime began in 2013 and ended in December 2014 during which a North Korean ship in 2013 was stopped in Panama with a cargo manifest that read sugar, but was in reality a weapons shipment sent by Havana to Pyongyang with fighter jets, fighter jet parts, missile technology and other weapons. Also in 2014 a U.S. Hellfire missile that had been used in NATO exercises in Europe somehow ended up on its return trip to the United States in Cuba in the possession of Castro's intelligence service. The White House negotiators requested its return and were told no. Finally in January of 2016 The Wall Street Journal broke the story and a month later it was finally returned.

U.S. policy on Cuba
The Brigade 2506 Bay of Pigs Veterans Association formally and publicly endorsed Donald Trump for President on October 25, 2016 and received him at The Bay of Pigs Museum in Little Havana. This is the first endorsement for President ever made by the organization. A natural question arises: "Why after more than a half century of formal neutrality in Presidential elections did the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association decide to endorse a candidate?"

There are a number of reasons for this decision and why large numbers of Cuban Americans may vote for Trump in higher percentages than previously predicted by pollsters.

Freeing a murderer of four Cuban Americans and downplaying state terrorism
On December 17, 2014 President Obama announced he was normalizing relations with the Castro regime, and he commuted the prison sentences of three Cuban spies. One of them Gerardo Hernandez was serving a life sentence for the murder of four members of Brothers to the Rescue on February 24 1996.  Two days later on December 19, 2014 at a year end press conference President Obama downplayed the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down as a "tragic circumstance" and not the premeditated act of state terrorism that had been plotted weeks in advance of February 24, 1996.

The 2000 handshake between Fidel Castro and Bill Clinton was reported on but no video or photos were ever made public. However in 2015 video appeared of former President Clinton warmly greeting and meeting with Raul Castro in New York City despite General Castro's role in the murder of American citizens on Clinton's watch.

Young Cuban Americans picketed Clinton, protested Cuban embassy opening (2015)

Secretary Clinton sets out a different campaign message on Cuba

In June of 2014 the New York Post reported on Hillary Clinton’s address to the Council of Foreign Relations while promoting her book, “Hard Choices” where she declared “The embargo is Castro’s best friend,” and that the regime was using it as an excuse” to blames all of its problems on the United States.  Secretary Clinton repeated the same argument on July 31, 2015 at Florida International University in a speech where she called for the lifting of the embargo on the Castro regime stating “Lifting the embargo doesn’t set back the advance of freedom – it advances freedom where it is most desperately needed.” She also failed to make a simple gesture. A few hundred yards from where the former Secretary of State spoke there was a monument to the thousands of victims of the Castro regime, but she did not visit it.

Cuban millennials at Florida International University in Miami were outside picketing against Secretary Clinton protesting her anti-embargo speech and harassed by the police, who did not want the youthful protesters to be visible, and tried unsuccessfully to corral them in a designated protest zone. In mid-April 2016 hundreds of Cuban Americans poured into the Miami Beach City Hall to reject efforts to bring a Cuban Consulate there. Nevertheless an FIU poll appeared on September 14, 2016 claiming that a majority of Cuban Americans no longer supported the embargo and supported President Obama's new Cuba policy.

Despite Secretary Clinton's claims, the Castro dictatorship wants all sanctions eliminated in order to be completely legitimized internationally and to obtain additional financial credits. The claim that the Castro regime wants the embargo to continue is absurd when one considers that all the spies for the Cuban dictatorship uncovered by U.S. counter-intelligence have been pushing an anti-embargo agenda within the U.S. government, academy and media.

Obama's failed Cuba policy on all fronts
The Obama policy that Hillary Clinton championed in 2014 and 2015 has not had the desired results.  Human rights violations are at record levels in Cuba, there is a mass exodus of over a 100,000 Cubans fleeing the island, not seeing a future there because the White House has legitimized the regime and assisted in a generational succession with Colonel Alejandro Castro Espin, Raul Castro's son, and the U.S. is more isolated than ever in Latin America with its embrace of the Castro regime alienating it. The Colombian peace initiative, backed by the Obama administration, mediated by Raul Castro in Havana was rejected by the Colombian people in a national vote. The situation in Venezuela has descended into crisis as Nicaragua also slides into dictatorship.

What Secretary Clinton and the Obama administration call “engagement” and advancing freedom” in practice has meant American companies such as Starwood trafficking in stolen properties, and Cuban Americans discriminated against by American corporations such as Carnival and American Airlines to satisfy the whims of the Castro dictatorship that sparked protests and controversy in South Florida. Despite all of this trade with Cuba has collapsed during the Obama administration.

In August of 2015 Secretary of State John Kerry in an interview with journalist Andres Oppenheimer made it known that "the United States and Cuba are talking about ways to solve the Venezuelan crisis." Walter Russell Mead in March of 2016 in The American Interest explained the logic behind this approach:
"Socialism has failed both in Cuba and in Venezuela. The Cuban people know just what is happening in Venezuela, and they know, too, that the two excuses that the Castros have always made for socialism’s abysmal record in Cuba (no oil, and the U.S. embargo) simply fall to pieces in the light of the Venezuela catastrophe. They know that the Castros aren’t getting any younger, and they know that integration with the U.S. economy represents the only possible future for their island.
Just possibly, Fidel and Raul have genuinely drawn the appropriate conclusions from more than half a century of socialist failure in the Americas. Just possibly, they want to burnish their legacies by doing something to help Venezuela step away from the abyss, especially if they can get some U.S. help for Cuba by doing so. Investigating that possibility was the most important reason, other than grandstanding, for the President’s visit. Let’s hope the subject came up."
The Obama Administration and the Castro regime share a common interest in stabilizing the Maduro regime and avoiding chaos in Venezuela. According to Secretary Kerry if the current Maduro regime fails then Venezuela will become a refuge for terrorists and drug traffickers. This approach ignores some inconvenient facts. Franco Ordoñez of The Miami Herald reported on October 28, 2016 that
"One of the nephews of the Venezuelan first family pressed for a quick cocaine deal because his “mother” needed campaign cash, according to a newly released transcript of a conversation he had with a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration informant from October 2015. Efrain Campo, 29, also was recorded saying “we’re at war” with the Americans and laughing about sending opposition leaders to jail, according to the transcript, which was filed in federal district court in New York.
At the time of the conversation, Campo’s aunt, Cilia Flores, who is married to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, was running for a seat in the National Assembly. Campo referred to her as his mother. Two of Flores’ nephews face federal charges of conspiring to smuggle 800 kilograms of cocaine into the U.S."  
The trial is scheduled to start on November 7th. None of the above should be a surprise. First the Castro regime has been involved in drug trafficking for decades in the service of its ideological mission to undermine the United States with drugs and use the profits to fund guerrilla and terrorist movements. Raul Castro faced a federal indictment for drug trafficking in the 1990s but the Clinton administration quashed it. Despite ample evidence of continued bad acts the Obama administration took Cuba off the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Second Venezuela under both Chavez and Maduro has become a refuge for terrorists and drug traffickers with the aid of Cuban state security agents. A high profile example is Diosdado Cabello, the past head of Venezuela's National Assembly and suspected by U.S. prosecutors of being in charge of the infamous drug-trafficking organization, "Cartel de los Soles".

The Obama Administration's Cuba policy is a failure across: human rights, national security, migration, strengthening democracy regionally, and even in the area of trade that was supposed to be a "no brainer."

The Cuban American Republican Vote
Cuban-Americans have been a reliable Republican voting block since at least 1980 with Ronald Reagan. This has been due to the GOP's consistent anti-communist stand on the Castro regime in Cuba.  Nevertheless, there has been an attempt over the decades to claim that younger Cubans are shifting and voting Democrat while at the same time softening their "hard-line" (read pro-democracy) stand on Cuba.

This has been a fatal belief for aspiring politicians whose policy positions are driven by dodgy polls. The latest victim was Charlie Crist in 2014 who lost narrowly to Florida governor Rick Scott. This was because the forces advocating for the end of economic sanctions on the Castro dictatorship produced push polls that convinced candidate Charlie Crist in his run for governor of Florida to support ending the embargo and announce that he planned to go to Cuba. As reality hit and his numbers dropped the trip was put off but in the end Crist lost despite running against the unpopular incumbent Rick Scott in a tight race in part because of the Cuban vote.

The Trump Conundrum
In the Republican primary in Florida the two candidates loudly rejecting the Obama administration's Cuba policy got 75% of the Cuban-American vote to Donald Trump's 18%. Cuban American voters have rejected the Obama administration's failed Cuba policy.

Donald Trump's candidacy posed a threat to continued Cuban-American support for the Republican Party, and despite conventional wisdom, it was not due to his anti-immigration stand. Both Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz tried to out trump Trump on being tough on immigration and together got 75% of the Cuban vote to Trump's 18%. Polls in May of 2016 in Miami-Dade placed Trump ahead of Clinton among Cuban Americans by 37% to 31% which is extremely low compared to previous elections. This was also part of the reason that Clinton was ahead in South Florida by 27 points.

This was because Donald Trump had repeatedly publicly declared luke warm support for Obama's Cuba policy which is extremely unpopular with Cuban-Americans, and especially the vast majority of those who are Republicans.

All that changed on September 16, 2016.

The 2016 presidential election was going to be a wash on Cuba policy but then that was turned upside down. Mr. Trump on September 16, 2016 in Miami announced that he had changed his mind on the President's Cuba policy. CNN reported on what the GOP presidential candidate said:
Trump -- speaking in a state with a heavy Cuban voting bloc -- characterized Obama's deal as "one-sided" and benefiting "only the Castro regime."... "But all of the concessions that Barack Obama has granted the Castro regime were done with executive order, which means the next president can reverse them. And that is what I will do unless the Castro regime meets our demands," Trump said Friday. ... "Those demands will include religious and political freedom for the Cuban people and the freeing of political prisoners," Trump said.
Less than two weeks after Trump's rejection of Obama's Cuba policy, Hillary Clinton began attacking him with radio advertisements for having supposedly violated the embargo, without mentioning her own anti-embargo position. Nor did she mention that Trump enterprises in 1998 like many other businesses then hired a consulting firm to explore opportunities in Cuba because the Clinton administration was encouraging it at the time. The same thing is happening now with the Obama Administration.

The response of the Clinton campaign demonstrated that they also knew that Cuban Americans supported the U.S. embargo on Cuba, and did not accord with what pollsters had been peddling to the press.

Mr. Trump began to lose ground in Florida to Secretary Clinton when he did not provide context to the events of 1998 in a sustained manner, but the he returned to South Florida on October 25, 2016 and first met a small group of Cuban American leaders for breakfast. Among the guests were Mario and Miriam de la Peña whose son Mario was one of the four men murdered on February 24, 2016 and describe what had happened to their family as "our Benghazi."  Trump listened intently and asked questions about photos of Cuba's Ladies in White being beat up including when the pictures had been taken. One of the photos had been taken the same day President Obama and his family arrived in Cuba earlier in March 2016 for their official visit.  A visit that the President had initially said would only be done if human rights had improved in Cuba. Although the human rights situation had in fact worsened the Obama family went anyway.

Now in the final weeks of the campaign President Obama announced on October 14, 2016 a directive that says "the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) will support broader United States Government efforts to normalize relations with Cuba, with Intelligence Community elements working to find opportunities for engagement on areas of common interest through which we could exchange information on mutual threats with Cuban counterparts." This has been described as unilateral surrender by a former National Security Agency analyst.

On October 26, 2016 at the UN General Assembly Ambassador Power abstained from voting against a resolution condemning the US embargo presented by the Castro dictatorship and agreed with a Castro regime talking point:
Let me be among the first to acknowledge – as our Cuban counterparts often point out – that the United States has work to do in fulfilling these rights for our own citizens. And we know that at times in our history, U.S. leaders and citizens used the pretext of promoting democracy and human rights in the region to justify actions that have left a deep legacy of mistrust. We recognize that our history, in which there is so much that makes us proud, also gives us ample reason to be humble. 
Frank Calzon over twitter explained why this is such a terrible statement. "By saying U.S. leaders used the pretext of human rights to justify US policy, Ambassador Samantha Power, kicks dirt on Jimmy Carter's [human rights] legacy. Ambassador Power says Obama Cuba policy is new. But it is the same discredited policy of embracing dictators of long ago: $ over principles."

All of this activity by the Obama Administration is mobilizing Cuban American voters and in a tight race in Florida could swing the state for Trump. Perhaps this electoral disaster for the Democrats would finally convince President Obama that his Cuba policy has been an unmitigated disaster.

At the end of the presentation the following video was shown to the audience present:

1 comment:

  1. Nothing will ever convince Obama and his Democratic colleagues that their Cuba policy is a disaster. They're not any more capable of introspection than the Castros. They could be staring at a mountain of corpses, and they'd still crow about the "free" healthcare and high literacy rate under the Castros. But then again, incompetent people don't know they're incompetent.