Saturday, June 8, 2019

Reviewing the historical record: The case for undoing Obama's Cuba policy and how it will help Venezuelans.

Reviewing some "highlights" of the Obama record on Cuba and why it must be reversed.

Dictator Raul Castro and President Barack Obama
Detente with the Castro regime had and continues to have negative and unintended consequences. The consensus with Europe established in 1996 in the EU Common Position, linking improved relations to improvement in human rights, was ended. The influx of cash and international legitimacy during the Obama Administration emboldened the dictatorship to behave more aggressively in the region, and against the democratic opposition in Cuba. 

It was a policy born of secrecy, great injustices, skirting Congressional oversight, and U.S. law. A former U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States warned that the policy would "represent a billion-dollar windfall to Cuba’s hospitality sector - all of which is co-owned by the regime, with most of the industry operated by the military, and much of  it located on property confiscated from US nationals."

On April 17, 2009 President Barack Obama said that his Administration sought "a new beginning with Cuba" and stated further that he was “prepared to have my administration engage with the Cuban government on a wide range of issues — from human rights, free speech, and democratic reform to drugs, migration, and economic issues.” The White House also marginalized Cuban dissidents and downplayed their importance early on in 2009 refusing to meet with them.  

Strong man Daniel Ortega and President Obama in 2009
Despite normal relations and high level outreach early in the Obama Administration both the Ortega regime and the Chavez regime pursued closer relations with Russia and China. Cuban intelligence services have played a large role in both Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Embracing Hugo Chavez in 2009 did not help democracy in Venezuela
Less than eight months later Alan Gross was taken hostage in Cuba. Alan Gross was arrested on December 3, 2009. This American citizen spent 25 days in a Havana jail before being visited by a U.S. diplomat. By that time Alan Gross had been approached by a Cuban “attorney” who just happened to be representing five Cuban spies imprisoned in the United States for espionage and conspiracy to commit murder. This Cuban attorney represented Alan Gross before his show trial and later appeals.  Alan Gross’s supposed crime was attempting to provide Internet access to the local Jewish community in Cuba.

Orlando Zapata Tamayo
Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Cuban dissident and Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, died in Havana, Cuba on February 23, 2010 at the age of 42 after more than eighty days on a water only hunger strike. During the hunger strike prison officials denied him water for more than two weeks in an effort to force him to end the strike contributing to his death.   

In February 2010  Ramiro Valdes, then age 77, was hired "as a consultant for that country's energy crisis" but his expertise is not in energy.  Valdes was the Vice President of the Council of State and Minister of Communications in the Cuban government. His role in Communications was figuring out in 2007 a way to muzzle the internet, what he called a "wild colt of new technologies."

Nicolas Maduro and Ramiro Valdes
Commander Ramiro Valdes, founder of the Castro regime's feared Ministry of the Interior, head of the organization between 1961 and 1968 and was viewed by some as "the No. 3 man in the Cuban hierarchy." He is the architect of Cuban totalitarianism's repressive apparatus and assisted Chavez and Maduro in building the Venezuelan version.  

Laura Inés Pollán Toledo
Laura Inés Pollán Toledo died on October 14, 2011 from heart failure at the age of 63. One week after she had fallen suddenly ill from a respiratory infection compounded with dengue fever and already existing condition as a diabetic. Secret police limited access in the hours prior to her death. Furthermore a Cuban medical doctor described her death as caused by purposeful medical neglect.

Report of Cholera outbreak in Manzanillo, in eastern Cuba, broke in El Nuevo Herald on June 29, 2012 thanks to the reporting of the outlawed independent press in the island. State controlled media did not confirm the outbreak until days later on July 3, 2012. The BBC reported on July 7, 2012 that a patient had been diagnosed with Cholera in Havana. The dictatorship stated that it has it under control.

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and Harold Cepero Escalante were last seen alive at 1:50pm Eastern Standard Time on July 22, 2012, on a Sunday afternoon, and were later extrajudicially executed by agents of the political police, who staged a car crash. The location of their killings in Cuba remains to be determined. Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas had both the international stature and political savvy to oversee a non-violent transition in Cuba. He was critical of the policy pursued and called it fraudulent change. This may have contributed to his untimely death.

Some of the weapons bound from Cuba to North Korea in 2013

The Cuban government was caught on July 15, 2013 trying to smuggle tons of weapons hidden under bags of sugar to North Korea through the Panama Canal on a North Korean-flagged ship from Cuba with undeclared military cargo.” Among the weapons sent by Cuba to North Korea were found: "A total of 25 standard shipping containers (16 forty-foot and 9 twenty-foot) and 6 trailers were found, for a total of about 240 tons of arms and related materiel." Cubans provided North Koreans with surface to air missile systems, two MiG 21 jet fighters, 15 MiG-21 engines, eight 73 mm rocket propelled projectiles (PG-9/PG-15 anti-tank and OG-9/OG-15 fragmentation projectiles) to be fired with recoil-less rifles, as well as a single PG-7VR round, a high explosive antitank tandem charge to penetrate explosive reactive armor, were also in the shipment. 

Nevertheless, the Administration continued outreach to the Castro regime through secret negotiations, its policy of unilateral concessions, that included loosening sanctions, and skirting laws prohibiting travel to Cuba by re-designating it "people to people contact." This policy was a reboot of a legal tactic carried out by the Clinton Administration in the 1990s. 

Barack Obama and Raul Castro on December 17, 2014
President Obama announced his new Cuba policy on December 17, 2014 to great fanfare but downplayed commuting the sentences of three Cuban spies and freed them the same day. These spies had planned terrorist acts on U.S. soil on orders from Havana. The ring leader, Gerardo Hernandez, was serving a life sentence for his role in a murder conspiracy that claimed four innocent lives in the February 24, 1996 Brothers to the Rescue shoot down

Cuban spies plotted terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.
The Kerry State Department threatened the daughter of a martyred dissident in order to protect the sensibilities of the Castro regime's foreign minister in 2015. Not to mention claiming that there was no room for dissidents at the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana later that same year.

On March 2, 2015 the government of Colombia seized a shipment of ammunition bound for Cuba on a China-flagged ship due to a lack of proper documentation. The BBC reported that "officials said about 100 tons of gunpowder, almost three million detonators and some 3,000 cannon shells were found on board. The ship's records said it was carrying grain products." 

China-flagged ship smuggling ammunition bound for Cuba in 2015

Hxagon, a consulting and technology company that provides risk assessments and predictive analysis in emerging markets, concluded: "Two big shipments of weapons seized in 20 months means that this is probably a regular occurrence."  

On May 29, 2015, despite a long history of international terrorism, the Obama State Department removed Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. This did not end the Castro dictatorship's promotion of terrorism to advance its policy aims.

Leticia Ramos and Augusto Monge attacked in Panama by Cuban secret police
On April 8 - 9, 2015 parallel to the Summit of the Americas in Panama agents of the Castro regime engaged in acts of repudiation to shutdown down dialogue and parallel and official events. At Porra park in Panama City  a group of Cuban dissidents were physically assaulted when they sought to lay flowers before a bust of Jose Marti by Cuban secret police. Carlos Alberto Montaner reported on twitter that the ringleader of the attacks in Panama. was Colonel Alexis Frutos Weeden, head of Cuban intelligence in Venezuela.

Secretary Kerry on August 20, 2015 reported that "the United States and Cuba are talking about ways to solve the Venezuelan crisis."  Four years later and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland is repeating the same mantra as the situation in Venezuela has spiraled out of control and become a humanitarian catastrophe.

On January 7, 2016 The Wall Street Journal broke the story that in June 2014 an inert US Hellfire missile sent to Europe for a training exercise was "wrongly" shipped on to Cuba when it was supposed to be on its way back to the United States. Since 2014 the United States had been privately asking the Cuban dictatorship to return the missile but refused to do so when first discovered.  It was returned shortly after the story broke in the above mentioned paper.

President Obama does the wave with Raul Castro at a baseball game in Cuba
 In March 2016, the month that President Obama visited Cuba in the midst of a human rights crackdown, the Cuban government signed a confidential military cooperation and intelligence-sharing agreement with North Korea reported the Paris based publication Intelligence Online. The Cuban dictatorship, under Raul Castro, has had extensive relations with the Hermit Kingdom.

In April 2016 Nicaragua purchased 50 Russian battle tanks at a cost of $80 million. Vladimir Putin signed a new security agreement with Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega that same year. 

On May 15, 2016 Henry Ramos Allup, the head of the National Assembly of Venezuela was complaining over social media of the leadership role played by a Cuban general and 60 Cuban officers over the Venezuelan military to maintain Maduro in power and continue exploiting Venezuela's natural resources.

On September 2, 2016 warned about the dangerous spin in Associated Press reporting, done to maintain their Havana bureau, repeats Castro regime propaganda as news because the claims made in "Cuba reports remarkable success in containing Zika virus" would lead travelers to go to Cuba believing the Zika virus threat in Cuba is over. 

On September 9, 2016 The Washington Times in the article “Cuban military expands its economic empire under détente” reported: 
“The military’s long-standing business wing, GAESA (Armed Forces Business Enterprises Group), assumed a higher profile after Gen. Raul Castro became president in 2008, positioning the armed forces as perhaps the prime beneficiary of a post-detente boom in tourism. Gaviota, the military’s tourism arm, (a subsidiary of GAESA) is in the midst of a hotel building spree that outpaces projects under control of nominally civilian agencies like the Ministry of Tourism.” The same article also reported that “Gaviota has 62 hotels with 26,752 rooms across Cuba, pulling in some $700 million a year from more than 40 percent of the tourists who visit Cuba.”
The military general in charge of GAESA is Luis Alberto Rodriguez, General Raul Castro’s son in law.  

American diplomats started being harmed in attacks in November of 2016. On December 7, 2016 the United States and Cuba held their fifth Bilateral Commission meeting where they celebrated progress on U.S.-Cuba relations, and signed 11 non-binding agreements on health, the environment, counter-narcotics, and other areas of cooperation. No word on these attacks.

Source: Comisión Cubana de Derechos Humanos y Reconciliación Nacional (CCDHRN)
On January 2, 2017 Raúl Castro presided over a military parade in Havana where marching troops chanted about shooting the American President in the head: "Obama! Obama! with what fervor we’d like to confront your clumsiness, to give you a cleansing with rebels and mortar, and send you a hat of lead to the head.”
On January 12, 2017 the Obama Administration provided further concessions to Cuba gutting the Cuban Adjustment Act and ending the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program that had bothered General Castro for years.  

On January 16, 2017 the Obama State Department issued a statement that "the United States and Cuba [had] signed a bilateral Law Enforcement Memorandum of Understanding to deepen law enforcement cooperation and information sharing." American diplomats were suffering serious harm, including mild traumatic brain injury, permanent hearing loss that included loss of balance, headaches, and brain swelling. Yet, according to The Wall Street Journal no complaint was made until February of 2017.  

Cuban troops in military parade chant they'll shoot President Obama in the head
 On January 17, 2017 President Obama granted clemency to Oscar López Rivera, a founder of the Armed Forces of National Liberation Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN), a movement responsible for more than 130 bombings in American cities - including one in New York City on January 24, 1975 that went off in the Fraunces Tavern during lunch hour killing four people. Unrepentant, López had 10 years added to his sentence when he and another FALN member were caught plotting a prison break that included killing their prison guards. On November 17, 2017 Mr. 
López Rivera received the Order of Solidarity from the Cuban government.

In March 2017 Lonely Planet pitches Cuba as "old school cool" and an "escape from the hustle and bustle" but at the bottom of the web page has one line of caution: "The US Center for Disease Control has issued a travel alert suggesting that pregnant women postpone travel to Cuba due to the presence of the zika virus." The Castro regime has a poor history of timely reporting of epidemics on the island, placing tourists at risk. Travel agencies are being sued by disgruntled tourists.

In November 2017 former Cuban diplomat, Jose Antonio "Tony" Lopez was also linked to terrorists responsible for the June 17, 2017 bombing in Bogota, Colombia that killed three and injured nine according to prosecutors in the South American country. 

U.S. Embassy in Havana
The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a preliminary report on February 15, 2018 and an accompanying editorial studying health impacts on 21 U.S. government employees in Havana between December 2016 and August 2017. These individuals had severe injuries and the bottom line on medical findings are that: "Concussion-like symptoms were observed in U.S. government personnel in Cuba after they reported hearing intensely loud sounds in their homes and hotel rooms and feeling changes in air pressure caused by an unknown source. The symptoms were consistent with brain injury although there was no history of head trauma."

OAS General Secretary Luis Almagro, former Foreign Minster for José Mujica, Uruguay's leftist president, stated In a December 2018 conference on human rights in Cuba: “It is estimated that there are some 46,000 Cubans in Venezuela, an occupation force that teaches how to torture and repress, that performs intelligence, civil identification, and migration services.”  

The publication New Scientist reported on January 8, 2019 that "thousands of Zika virus cases went unreported in Cuba in 2017, according to an analysis of data on travelers to the Caribbean island. Veiling them may have led to many other cases that year." Founded in 1956, New Scientist is the world’s most popular weekly science and technology magazine.  The article should raise concerns for travelers to the island. However they did forget to mention that the Castro regime in the recent past failed to report Dengue (1997) and Cholera (2012) outbreaks in Cuba. Jailing those who warned the world of the threat.

In February 2019 reports emerged that lawsuits were filed by both American and Canadian diplomats impacted by health attacks in Cuba. Twenty six (26) American diplomats and their family members were harmed in Havana, but Cuban officials claimed that the diplomats had preexisting conditions.  In the Canadian case it has been reported that "nine (9) adults and five (5) children from diplomatic families have developed unusual illnesses in Havana, with symptoms including nausea, dizziness, headaches and trouble concentrating." These are the same symptoms reported by the Americans.

Timeline of health attacks in Cuba targeting U.S. and Canadian diplomats.

Venezuela’s interim president, Juan Guaidó in an interview on May 29, 2019 in El Nuevo Herald reported that "[t]he intelligence network has been somewhat diminished by cutting off the supply of oil to Cuba [with sanctions]. The support of our allies leaves these networks without funding. Through these actions that network is weaker than a year ago."

Treasury Secretary’s Mnuchin’s statement that the new policy is “a strategic decision to reverse the loosening of sanctions and other restrictions on the Cuban regime,” and the objective “to keep U.S. dollars out of the hands of Cuban military, intelligence, and security services,” within the context outlined above is a reasonable policy that should have been instituted a while ago.

Why should the US allow the flow of tourist dollars to Havana while thousands of Cuban soldiers repress Venezuelans? The ‘people to people’ travel was designed to circumvent the law which bans tourism to the island, and during President Obama’s détente this led to an expansion of military control over the Cuban economy. It was a failure (as was President’s Carter similar détente in 1977-1980 and Clinton's 1994-2000) and needs to be completely reversed to restore a policy of containment.

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