Saturday, March 4, 2017

President Obama's goodbye gift to General Raul Castro: Whitewashing Cuba's drug trafficking record

Reality check on the Castro regime's continuing links to drug trafficking

Diosdado Cabello target of the DEA with General Raul Castro and his Foreign Minister
Only ignorance of history and hemispheric realities could lead one to believe the newest and last claims by the Obama Administration with regards to Cuba and it is not the first time. For example, the Obama State Department played politics with human trafficking to portray the Cuban government in a more positive light that drew criticism from human trafficking experts that it had been politicized. They are now doing the same with drug trafficking in the just released 2017 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) where on page 142 made the following extraordinary claim:
"Cuba Despite its proximity to the largest exporters of illegal drugs in the hemisphere and the U.S. market, Cuba is not a major consumer, producer, or transit point of illicit narcotics. Cuba’s domestic production and consumption remain low due to active policing, strict sentencing, and nationwide prevention and public information programs."

No mention made in the report or in The Miami Herald of the Panamanian police seizing more than 400 kilograms of cocaine in a Cuban ship on its way to Belgium in April of 2016.

At the same time the report recognizes that out of the world wide list of  22 "major illicit drug producing and/or drug - transit countries" identified and notified to Congress by the President on September 14, 2015 includes regimes with close ties to the Castro regime, its military and intelligence services: Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua,and Venezuela.  The report also identifies that out of these 22 countries "three have 'failed demonstrably' during the previous 12 months to adhere to their obligations under international counternarcotics agreements" and they are "Bolivia, Burma, and Venezuela."

Drug trafficking and consumption are out of control and the regime in Cuba has a long history of being implicated in the narcotics trade not only for the hard currency but to do harm to the United States as both an existential and ideological enemy.

Cocaine shipment from Cuban ship hidden under molasses discovered in Panama
Castro's ties to Colombian and Venezuelan drug trafficking
 It is important to recall that Cuba was placed on the list of state sponsors of terrorism on March 1, 1982, less than three months after the US State Department confirmed that the Cuban government was using a narcotics ring to funnel both arms and cash to the Colombian M19 terrorist group then battling to overthrow Colombia’s democratic government.

General Raul Castro has played a high profile role in mediating the peace negotiations between the Santos government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) FARC in Colombia. FARC are known for funding their conflict with Cocaine production. The State Department's report offers ominous news on Cocaine production in Colombia:
 The United States estimates that the area devoted to coca cultivation in Colombia increased 42 percent in 2015 to 159,000 ha from 112,000 ha in 2014, returning to cultivation levels last seen in Colombia in 2007. 
Jackson Diehl in The Washington Post reported on the Venezuela, FARC, Cuba trafficking axis on May 24, 2015 in the article "A drug cartel’s power in Venezuela":
Ever since Colombian commandos captured the laptop of a leader of the FARC organization eight years ago, it’s been known that Chávez gave the Colombian narcoguerrillas sanctuary and allowed them to traffic cocaine from Venezuela to the United States with the help of the Venezuelan army. But not until a former Chávez bodyguard [ Leamsy Salazar] defected to the United States in January did the scale of what is called the “Cartel of the Suns ” start to become publicly known.

The day after Salazar’s arrival in Washington, Spain’s ABC newspaper published a detailed account of the emerging case against Cabello, and last month, ABC reporter Emili Blasco followed up with a book laying out the allegations of Salazar and other defectors, who say Cuba’s communist regime and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah have been cut in on the trafficking. That was followed by a lengthy report last week in the Wall Street Journal that said Cabello’s cartel had turned Venezuela into “a global hub for cocaine trafficking and money laundering.”
Worse yet American diplomats also know that the Castro regime provides safe haven for the FARC in Cuba because it has appeared in Wikileaks. The close relationship between the regimes in Havana and Caracas has been long and well documented. Tens of thousands of Cuban advisers have been operating in Venezuela for years.

General Manuel Noriega with the late Fidel Castro
Manuel Noriega and the trouble with engaging corrupt dictators in the drug fight
Unfortunately overlooking sordid practices of dictators for perceived short term political gains has a long history in US foreign policy. The DEA celebrated Panamanian strong man Manuel Noriega's fight against drug trafficking before he was indicted for drug trafficking generating a crisis that ended with a military invasion, scores of Panamanians dead and General Noriega in US custody and placed on trial. 

General Manuel Noriega mug shot

Noriega's link to Castro and Cocaine
During General Manuel Noriega's 1992 trial information emerged publicly implicating the Castro regime that Sun Sentinel reported at the time:

"Federal prosecutors say Noriega traveled to Havana to ask [Fidel] Castro to mediate a potentially deadly dispute with top members of Colombia`s Medellin cocaine cartel. They say the cartel chiefs were upset because a major drug lab had been seized in Panama despite payment of millions of dollars in protection money to Noriega. According to the Noriega indictment, Castro negotiated a peace accord between the cartel and Noriega at the 1984 meeting. The allegation forms a cornerstone of the racketeering and drug trafficking charges against Noriega."
At the same time convicted cartel leader Carlos Lehder directly implicated Raul Castro and U.S. fugitive Robert Vesco "to route cocaine flights through Cuba." Capitol Hill Cubans blogged how two years later, a federal indictment listed General Raul Castro as part of a conspiracy that smuggled seven and a half tons of cocaine into the United States over a 10-year period but the Clinton administration overruled prosecutors

WGBH Frontline Documentary: Cuba and Cocaine
In a 1991 Frontline documentary, Cuba and Cocaine, U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Commander Jeff Karonis, stated, "We would observe in the middle of the day an air drop going on inside Cuban waters. The scenario would be for a small twin-engine airplane with maybe 1,000 to 2,000 pounds of cocaine to fly over Cuba, drop the drugs to a predesignated rendezvous point to several boats. Then it would exit back down off Cuba, and many times a Cuban military vessel would be in the immediate vicinity, right on scene with them.''

In 1989, a federal grand jury indicted Robert Vesco for arranging safe passage for drug planes over Cuban airspace after obtaining approval from Cuban authorities.

According to the 1989 indictment, Reinaldo Ruiz was allowed to land planes in Cuba to refuel after dropping drug cargo off the Cuban coast. Drug-smuggling motorboats would come from Florida to pick up the cargo, and Cuban Coast Guard radar monitored U.S. Coast Guard cutters to help the smugglers evade them. The indictments demonstrated the foolishness of sharing intelligence on drug operations with Havana.

In 2014 Juan Reinaldo Sanchez who served as a bodyguard to Fidel Castro for 17 years published a book of memoirs "The Double Life of Fidel Castro." He passed away a year after releasing the book. In the book Reinaldo Sanchez described a meeting in 1988 between Fidel Castro and his Minister of the Interior, General José Abrantes in which Castro asked the recording equipment be turned off:

The interview seemed to go on forever . . . one hour went by, then two. And so, as much out of curiosity as to kill the time, I put on the listening headphones and turned Key No. 1 to hear what was being said on the other side of the wall. Their conversation centered on a Cuban lanchero (someone who smuggles drugs by boat) living in the United States, apparently conducting business with the government. And what business! Very simply, a huge drug-trafficking transaction was being carried out at the highest echelons of the state. Abrantes asked for Fidel’s authorization to bring this trafficker temporarily to Cuba as he wanted to have a week’s vacation in his native land, accompanied by his parents, in Santa María del Mar — a beach situated about 12 miles east of Havana where the water is turquoise and the sand as fine as flour. For this trip, explained Abrantes, the lanchero would pay $75,000 — which, at a time of economic recession, wouldn’t go amiss . . . Fidel was all for it.
 The Castro regime has a long established record of deceit and should not be underestimated. Drugs are flooding into the United States at unprecedented levels fueling overdoses and an epidemic endangering American lives. Sharing drug intelligence with the Castro regime, considering its history is madness. Whitewashing Cuba's drug trafficking record to do it is a disservice to the American people.

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