Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Warning to Democrats running for President: Don't drink the anti-embargo kool-aid

What the Pro-Castro lobby does not want Democratic and Republican candidates to know about Cuban American politics in Florida.

Young Cuban Americans picketed Clinton & protested Cuban embassy opening (2015)
Colton Carpenter's article "The Cuban Paradox" published in the Harvard Political Review   on December 31, 2018 offers an excellent analysis on what happened with the Cuban American vote both in 2016 and 2018.
Exit polls for the greater Cuban-American population in Florida, for example, indicate that a disproportionate amount of Cuban-Americans supported Trump compared to other Latino groups. While 54 percent of Cuban-Americans supported Trump, only 35 percent of Latinos nationwide did. Similarly, in the 2018 Florida gubernatorial election, Republican Ron DeSantis won twice as many Cuban-American votes as his Democratic opponent Andrew Gillum. A nearly identical percentage of Cuban-Americans also chose current Republican Gov. Rick Scott over Democrat Bill Nelson in the Florida senate race. The Cuban vote was solidly red in 2016 and 2018 despite the trend of Latino voters being reliably blue.
Sadly, when it comes to trends and explaining how Democrats gained and lost Cuban votes over the years Carpenter's article failed to look at the policies put forward, and relied on the usual suspects who continue to argue that Cuban Americans have been assimilated and no longer prioritize U.S. - Cuba policy. Reviewing recent history provides a different picture.

Candidate Bill Clinton in 1992 ran  as a "hardliner" on Cuba policy supporting the Cuban Democracy Act also known as the Torricelli Bill. A bill that President George H.W. Bush had initially refused to sign, but relented once Cuban exiles got Candidate Clinton's backing. As was the case with his approach to China once he got into office Clinton did an about face.

Congressman Robert Torricelli ( Democrat)
First, President Bill Clinton between 1993 and 1996 pursued a policy of engagement with the Castro regime. In 1994 the Clinton administration initiated regular contacts between the U.S. military and the  Castro regime's military that included joint exercises at the Guantanamo Naval base. This was  confirmed by Raul Castro in a December 2008 interview with Sean Penn where he stated "we've had permanent contact with the US military, by secret agreement, since 1994." Not only contacts but joint military exercises according to General Raul Castro:

"It is based on the premise that we would discuss issues only related to Guantánamo. On February 17, 1993, following a request by the United States to discuss issues related to buoy locators for ship navigations into the bay, was the first contact in the history of the revolution. Between March 4 and July 1, the Rafters Crisis took place. A military-to-military hot line was established, and on May 9, 1995, we agreed to monthly meetings with primaries from both governments. To this day, there have been 157 meetings, and there is a taped record of every meeting. The meetings are conducted on the third Friday of every month. We alternate locations between the American base at Guantánamo and in Cuban-held territory. We conduct joint emergency-response exercises. For example, we set a fire, and American helicopters bring water from the bay, in concert with Cuban helicopters.
During this period of "constructive engagement" brutal massacres of Cubans such as the July 13, 1994 "13 de Marzo" tugboat massacre and the February 24, 1996 Brothers to the Rescue shoot down took place. The shoot down involved two planes blown to bits over international airspace by Cuban MiGs killing three American citizens and a Cuban resident who were engaged in the search and rescue of Cuban rafters. Since it occurred while President Clinton was seeking re-election and his only options were to do nothing, military action, or toughen sanctions he opted for the latter signing the Cuban Libertad Act of 1996 better known as the Helms-Burton. Once again Bill Clinton ran as a hardliner on Cuba and was rewarded with more support from Cuban Americans at the ballot box. 

Clinton signs the Helms-Burton bill in 1996
 However once re-elected Clinton again pursued normalized relations, despite being limited by a codified embargo that he could no longer unilaterally lift because of the Helms-Burton bill that he had signed. Bill Clinton was the first sitting president to shake hands with Fidel Castro on September 6, 2000 and one month later he signed the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act (TEFRA) that opened trade between the Castro regime and U.S. companies. Opposition in congress led to that trade not being subsidized by U.S. taxpayers through government backed credits ensuring that business would be cash and carry.

This combined with the Elian episode costs Al Gore Cuban American support in 2000 and led to the loss of Florida in a tight race. Florida would remain in Republican hands when John Kerry ran for president in 2004. He had a radically anti-embargo position and did poorly with Cuban-Americans as a result.

Candidate Barack Obama courts Cuban American votes in 2008
Barack Obama as a Chicago Senator was deeply critical of the embargo on Cuba, but when he decided to run for president, he spoke at an event hosted by the Cuban American National Foundation and announced his support for the Cuban embargo in 2008 and reaffirmed this position when he ran for re-election in 2012.

Barack Obama did not take that chance when he was running for the White House in 2008 and 2012 on a pro-embargo on Cuba platform, but was willing to risk Hillary's prospects in 2016. To be fair Hillary Clinton also bought the conventional wisdom.  

Bendixen-Amandi polls and the FIU Poll with dubious methodology have tricked more than one politician into believing that the Cuban-American community has changed and that backing a policy that legitimizes the Castro regime while human rights worsen on the island will not erode their support.

The candidacies of John Kerry (2004) and Hillary Clinton (2016) in Florida indicates that is not the case. 

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Responding to Carlos Gutierrez and Alan Gross on Cuba policy

Question asked and answered

Some of the Cubans killed by the Castro regime during Obama detente
 Secretary Carlos Gutierrez's observation would be more accurately directed at the Obama Administration that legitimized a dictatorship, distanced itself from dissidents, freed terrorists that planned attacks on U.S. soil and killed Americans, and looked the other way while diplomats and their dependents were being harmed in Cuba.

This was not a foreign policy but wishful thinking that was also doing the bidding of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Agriculture lobby to open up credits to the Castro regime that would saddle Americans with the bill, and perpetuate the Castro dictatorship at the expense of the Cuban people.
Victims of state violence in Cuba during Obama detente
Oswaldo Payá, and Laura  Pollán, opposition leaders that would have overseen a democratic transition were killed, and repression exploded without consequences during the Obama years. Extrajudicial killings of fleeing Cubans continued but during the Obama years high profile activists also met untimely deaths that appear to have been carried out by Castro's state security service. The same spy agency that Obama's October 2016 Presidential Directive on Cuba ordered the CIA to share intelligence with.

Explosion in arbitrary detentions during Obama detente with Castro regime
Finally, with regards to the point raised by Alan Gross on agricultural export sales. They collapsed on President Obama's watch because they were no longer politically necessary to purchase leverage in the American political process. The Castro regime was getting everything it wanted through unilateral concessions. 



Prison conditions in Cuba: What we know, what we don't know and why

A polemical question?
Alan P. Gross: Before and after five years in a Cuban prison
Alan Gross was never debriefed by the U.S. government following five years in captivity in Cuba. The Obama Administration never placed him as a priority in the normalization campaign, and this was a contributing factor to his long and unjust incarceration. During these five years in a Cuban prison he lost 5 teeth, 110 pounds and contemplated suicide before his December 17, 2014 release.

According to Alan Gross in a 2015 Sixty Minutes interview, Cuban officials had "threatened to hang me. They threatened to pull out my fingernails. They said I'd never see the light of day."

Officially, Gross was jailed for trying to provide uncensored internet access to a local Cuban Jewish community. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on November 13, 2012 confirmed that Alan Gross has been arbitrarily detained and should be immediately released.

In reality, Gross was a hostage used by the Castro dictatorship as a bargaining chip to obtain the release of Cuban spies arrested for espionage that involved planning terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, gathering information on military bases and conspired to carry out an act of state terrorism that led to the deaths of four civilians.

Gross commenting on the terrible conditions for migrants, including children, at the Clint border station in Texas has repeatedly made the claim that he was treated better as a political prisoner in Cuba.  

Mr. Gross was a special case, of high value for the Cuban government that led to the release of key members of their WASP spy network. Therefore his experience may not have been typical.

It is possible to learn what prison conditions are like in U.S. prisons, but it is not so easy to do so in Cuba. The last time the International Committee of the Red Cross, Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch were granted permission to enter a Cuban prison was in 1988. The International Committee of the Red Cross prior to that had not had access since 1959.
British businessman spent 16 months in Cuban prisons
Other foreigners, such as British businessman Stephen Purvis, have written their own accounts of prison life in Cuba, but there are also reports from respected human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch that paint a grim picture. 

In their World Report 2019 Human Rights Watch provides the following summary on prison conditions in Cuba:

Prison Conditions

Prisons are overcrowded. Prisoners are forced to work 12-hour days and are punished if they do not meet production quotas, according to former political prisoners. Inmates have no effective complaint mechanism to seek redress for abuses. Those who criticize the government or engage in hunger strikes and other forms of protest often endure extended solitary confinement, beatings, and restrictions on family visits, and are denied medical care.

While the government allowed select members of the foreign press to conduct controlled visits to a handful of prisons in 2013, it continues to deny international human rights groups and independent Cuban organizations access to its prisons.

On August 9, Alejandro Pupo Echemendía died in police custody at Placetas, Villa Clara, while under investigation for a crime related to horse racing. Family members say his body showed signs of severe beatings; authorities contend he threw himself against a wall and died of a heart attack. Allegations have surfaced of family members and witnesses being coerced to withdraw their initial statements and to confirm the official version.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in their 2017 annual report cited the Cuban NGO Cubalex that "reported that since the 2013 Universal  Periodical  Review  (UPR)  there have been 22 suicides of inmates by hanging in Cuba."

We know about the dismal conditions in the Texas border station and in the Guantanamo Naval Base prison because there is oversight. The reason that so much is known about the Guantanamo detention facility with regards to the prisoners there is because the International Committee of the Red Cross has visited it over 100 times. Meanwhile the Castro regime over the past 60 years permitted only one visit by the International Committee of the Red Cross to Cuba's prisons and that was 31 years ago in 1988.

The lack of international outrage sends a message and that is that not allowing human rights organizations to visit prisons for decades has a lower cost then opening them up to international inspection.



Saturday, June 22, 2019

Setting the record straight on human trafficking in Cuba and Saudi Arabia

Cuba downgraded status in this year’s #TIPReport because Cuban regime fails to provide trafficking victims the justice and protection they deserve.- Kimberly Breier, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs


On July 27, 2015 the Obama administration continued its drive to normalize diplomatic relations with the Castro regime by whitewashing the dictatorship's record on human trafficking. The State Department upgraded Cuba's status after 12 years from Tier 3 to Tier 2 in its Trafficking in Persons Report, but there had been no improvement. Melysa Sperber, director of the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST) back in 2015 expressed both her surprise and concern that these were "blatantly political decisions" by the Kerry State Department that would "have a really detrimental impact on both the integrity of the report and progress in the global fight to end modern slavery."

Four years later on June 20, 2019, the State Department's 2019 Trafficking in Persons report is finally setting the record straight. Both Cuba and Saudi Arabia have been placed on Tier 3, the blacklist for human trafficking. They should have both been on this list for some time, and Cuba had been for many years because of its dismal record. The Pompeo State Department has restored the integrity of the report, demonstrating their commitment to end modern slavery.




2019 Trafficking in Persons Report: Cuba

CUBA: Tier 3

The Government of Cuba does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so; therefore Cuba was downgraded to Tier 3. Despite the lack of significant efforts, the government took some steps to address trafficking, including prosecuting sex traffickers and one labor trafficker and imprisoning sex tourists engaged in child sex trafficking. However, the government did not take action to address forced labor in the foreign medical mission program, despite persistent allegations Cuban officials threatened and coerced some participants to remain in the program. The government did not criminalize all forms of forced labor or sex trafficking of children ages 16 and 17. The government lacked procedures to proactively identify forced labor victims, lacked a comprehensive package of services to include housing and physical protection, and detained or charged potential sex trafficking victims for unlawful acts their traffickers coerced them to commit.

PRIORITIZED RECOMMENDATIONS

Implement policies to prohibit force, fraud, or coercion by foreign labor recruiters and state-owned or controlled enterprises, including foreign medical missions in recruiting and retaining employees. • Draft and enact a comprehensive anti-trafficking law that prohibits and prescribes significant prison terms for all forms of human trafficking, including forced labor, sex trafficking of children ages 16 and 17, and the full range of trafficking “acts” (recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring, or receiving persons).
• Vigorously investigate and prosecute both sex trafficking and forced labor offenses.
• Implement formal policies and procedures on the identification of all trafficking victims and their referral to appropriate services, and train officials, including first responders, in their use.
• Proactively identify trafficking victims, including among vulnerable populations.
• Adopt policies and programs that provide trafficking-specific, specialized assistance for male and female trafficking victims.
• Ensure participants in the foreign medical missions program retain control of their passports.
• Screen individuals charged or detained for prostitution-related offenses for sex trafficking and refer victims to care providers.
• Educate all Cuban workers about trafficking indicators and where to report trafficking-related violations.
• Establish a permanent inter-ministerial anti-trafficking committee and implement the 2017-2020 national anti-trafficking action plan in partnership with international organizations. • Provide specialized training on trafficking indicators for hotline staff and interpretation for non-Spanish speakers.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Washington D.C. radio station highlight's case of American who delivered US national defense information to Castro for 17 years

WTOP recalls traitor in "City of Secrets" series

Defense Intelligence Analyst Ana Belen Montes delivered defense information to Cuba
Washington D.C. radio station, WTOP, highlight's case of Ana Belen Montes, the DIA analyst who delivered U.S. national defense information to the Castro regime for 17 years, in their three-part series “City of Secrets,” by WTOP National Security Correspondent J.J. Green. Green gets it mostly right, but failed to report who enlisted her to spy for the Cuban dictatorship.

Ana Belen Montes was recruited in 1984 by Marta Rita Velazquez, once a legal officer at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Ms. Velazquez fled to Sweden, a neutral country, where she married a Swedish Foreign Ministry insider, and cannot be extradited to the United States.

Below is the text from the WTOP story on Ms. Belen Montes
Nothing stood out about her.

She lived in a modest two-bedroom cooperative apartment on a quiet tree-lined street in D.C.’s Cleveland Park neighborhood. She drove a red 2000 Toyota Echo. She banked at Riggs Bank in the District’s Friendship Heights section. She was bright, engaging, trusted and well-adjusted at work.
But she was also something else.

Ana Belen Montes, 44, was a spy — engaged in one of the most devastating espionage operations in the history of the United States.

She was arrested on Sept. 21, 2001, and charged with conspiracy to deliver U.S. national defense information to Cuba.

Her arrest dealt a blow to the U.S. government, because she was a senior-level analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).

Her cover worked perfectly until, according to FBI documents, “an astute DIA colleague — acting on a gut feeling — reported to a security official that he felt Montes might be under the influence of Cuban intelligence.”

Scott Carmichael, now a former senior security and counterintelligence investigator for the Defense Intelligence Agency, was that “astute colleague.”

Another colleague who had suspicions was Chris Simmons, former chief of the Americas team with DIA’s counterintelligence research unit.

“There were gatherings in D.C. at various academic forums where Cuban intelligence officers would show up to do presentations, and she and other DIA employees went there. But they were warned by security to stop attending because ‘you’re at risk,’” Simmons said.

All the others stopped attending, he said, “but she refused.”

It wasn’t until she received an ultimatum, according to Simmons — “stop attending or get fired” — that she ceased going to the events.

Montes was so skilled at spying that during her years at DIA, even though security officials learned about her foreign policy views and were concerned about her access to sensitive information, they had no concrete reason to believe she was sharing secrets. Besides, she had passed a polygraph.

In her 15-year career at DIA, she had acquired a top-level security clearance and become DIA’s top Cuban analyst. And she was known throughout the U.S. intelligence community for her expertise.
Montes was in possession of extremely sensitive information — which it turned out she was giving to her Cuban handlers when they’d meet at various restaurants near D.C. Metro stops.

After a long investigation, authorities determined she was a spy and figured out how she’d been turned.

“A classic tale of recruitment” is how official court documents in 2001 describe what happened.
In 1984, Montes worked in a clerical job at the Department of Justice in D.C. “She often,” according to one document, “spoke openly against the U.S. government’s policies towards Central America. Soon, her opinions caught the attention of Cuban ‘officials’ who thought she’d be sympathetic to their cause.”

According to the FBI, she met with them and “soon after, Montes agreed to help Cuba.”

In order to do that, she sought out a job in the U.S. intelligence community and applied at DIA, an important producer of intelligence for the Pentagon. According to the court documents, by the time she started work there in 1985, “she was a fully recruited spy.”

“To escape detection, Montes never removed any documents from work, electronically or in hard copy,” said the documents.

“Instead,” Simmons said, “she memorized the details and went home and typed them out on her laptop.”

The court documents also indicate that she transferred the information onto encrypted disks. After receiving instructions from the Cubans in code via short-wave radio, she’d meet with her handler and turn over the disks.

Montes, serving a 25 year sentence, is scheduled to be released in 2023.

Her case was just one of many international spy stories that have unfolded in the D.C. area, and each is unique.
 According to spycatcher Chris Simmons, who played a role in the capture of Ana Belen Montes she was responsible for at least the deaths of 65 soldiers, including a U.S. green beret Gregory A. Fronius in 1987.
Victim of Montes's spying Gregory A. Fronius
 There have been other spies that worked for the Castro regime and also did plenty of harm.

Walter Kendall Myers and his wife Gwendolyn spent thirty years spying against the United States for Fidel Castro. Kendall Myers was a high-ranking analyst for the U.S. State Department with top-secret clearance who had been recruited in 1978 by Cuban intelligence.  His wife would pass her husband's acquired information on to their Cuban contacts. Kendall Myers was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison and his wife got a shorter sentence in 2010.

Walter Kendall Myers and his wife Gwendolyn
 CIA defector Philip Agee, who died in Cuba in 2008 at the age of 72, had defected to Cuba in 1973 and made public the identity of 250 alleged CIA officers and agents.  It was the Cubans and not the KGB who successfully recruited him. 

Philip Agee spied for Castro at the CIA
Some experts have come to understand how deep and comprehensive the Cuban infiltration of the United States government has been and are justifiably alarmed.

The Cuban dictatorship beginning in 1959 invited the most effective intelligence agency of the Warsaw Pact, the East German Stasi to train and structure its intelligence service. The Stasi also effectively infiltrated the West German government and assassinated defectors in West Germany.

Underestimating the Castro brothers can have catastrophic consequences for the United States. Lets not forget that at least one American soldier has been identified who was killed thanks to the intelligence provided by Ana Belen Montes to the Castro regime.