Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Cuba country report: 2016 - 2017

Obama policy marginalized dissidents, legitimized regime. Fidel Castro died and Miami celebrated. Meanwhile more repression in Cuba, new prisoners of conscience, and a more aggressive posture in Venezuela. The Trump Presidency has begun the process of undoing some of the previous Administration's Cuba policy.
Cuba in 2017 is a captive nation that since 1959 has been subjected to a communist regime run by the Castro family. 11 million souls continue to have their lives coarsened by a totalitarian regime that systematically violates the human rights of all Cubans.   The Obama Administration's Cuba policy continued to unfold further marginalizing dissidents, legitimizing the Castro regime internationally until the final days of his presidency. Three decisions cemented the Obama White House's legacy on Cuba at the expense not only of a free Cuba but of the lives and security of American citizens. 
  • On October 14, 2016 The White House issued a Presidential Policy Directive ( PPD) that calls for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to "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." A former NSA official wrote that "Obama just opened the door for Castro's spies."
  • On January 12, 2017 The White House released a "Statement by the President on Cuban Immigration Policy" that does two concrete things: Further restricts the Cuban Adjustment Act and ends the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program. The Obama administration secretly negotiated with the Castro regime and did not consult with Congress in restricting the Cuban Adjustment Act, which is US law.
  • On January 17, 2017 President Barack Obama granted clemency to Oscar López Rivera, a founder of the Armed Forces of National Liberation Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN), who has been portrayed by leftists as a political prisoner while downplaying his violent past, but the facts demonstrate otherwise. The New York Daily News on January 17, 2017 offered the following summary:
    FALN placed more than 130 bombs in American cities — including one in New York on Jan. 24, 1975. The explosive went off in busy Fraunces Tavern during lunch hour. Four people died, including Frank Connor, a 33-year-old father. “I faced Lopez six years ago at his parole hearing ... If he had expressed any atonement, any sympathy or empathy ... we’d have recommended he be released. But he didn’t,” said Joe Connor, who was a 9-year-old when his father was killed. López got 10 years tacked onto his sentence when he and a fellow FALN member were caught plotting a prison break that included killing their guards.
     Zach Dorfman in The Wall Street Journal wrote an important analysis on June 8, 2017 of how Fidel Castro supported terrorism in America and the role played by the dictatorship in funding and training the FALN. Long time Cuban activist Frank Calzon in a June 5, 2017 oped in The Miami Herald provided a partial summary of the Castro regime's support for international terrorism including the United States:
"A summary of Havana’s support for terrorism should include the heist of $7 million from Wells Fargo in West Hartford, Connecticut, in 1983. The money was taken to the Cuban Embassy in Mexico and turned over to the regime. Castro’s Cuba has also been associated with the infamous terrorist Carlos, who in 1975 kidnapped 70 hostages in Vienna (three people were killed) at a meeting of oil ministers from OPEC. “Carlos” who committed several murders in France was, according to The Guardian, provided by Cuba “with passports, money and five apartments in Paris.” As a result, the Quai d’Orsay expelled several Cuban diplomats."

Read more here:

2016: Year of change at the top
The past year ushered in a historic change that many had awaited with great anticipation and that was the death of  Fidel Castro on November 25, 2016. Celebrations broke out in the streets of Miami where tens of thousands of Cubans and Cuban Americans went out to celebrate the tyrant's departure.

Cuban American voters played a role in ushering in another, but unexpected change, with Mr. Donald J. Trump winning the Presidency of the United States. President elect Trump had a clearer and historically more accurate view of Fidel Castro that he expressed in a statement following the dictator's death that read in part:
"Today, the world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades. Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights."
Granting unilateral concessions to long term items that the Cuban government had wanted for decades as President Obama did over eight years did not endear him to the Castro regime. Instead they viewed him as weak and it manifested in high profile ways. 
President Obama does the wave with Dictator Raul Castro at baseball game
Nine months after President Obama's state visit to Cuba (March 20 - 22, 2016) 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.”
Not fearing reprisals for bad actions the regime has been more aggressive at home and abroad engaging in violent repression to the detriment of Cubans and Venezuelans.

Human Rights
In 2016 there were  9,940 politically motivated arrests in Cuba documented by the Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation.  There are new prisoners of conscience. Compare this with 2009, the first year of the Obama Administration, there were just 869 arbitrary detentions documented. During the eight years of the Obama White House there was more than an eleven fold increase in politically motivated arbitrary detentions with 2016 being the worse. Religious repression escalated in Cuba in 2016  with pastors beaten up, Churches confiscated, and some demolished by the dictatorship.

Sirley Avila Leon denounces death threats against her son and mom
Update on 2015 machete attack victim
Sirley Ávila León on May 24, 2015 was the victim of a brutal machete attack carried out by Osmany Carriòn, with the complicit assistance of his wife, that led to the loss of her left hand, right upper arm nearly severed, and knees slashed into leaving her crippled. Following the attack she did not receive adequate medical care and was told quietly by medical doctors in Cuba that if she wanted to get better that she would need to leave the country. The regime had been embarrassed by a campaign she organized to keep a school open. She arrived in Miami on March 8, 2017 and thanks to the Cuban exile community a team of medical doctors attended to her and by September of 2017 Sirley was walking and returned home to Cuba. She found her home occupied by strangers and went to her mother's house. A short time later a camera was set up outside to spy on her. By mid October 2016 Sirley was getting death threats from state security and feared for her life.  She fled back to the United States a couple of weeks later and sought asylum.

Rising repression during the Obama Presidency

New prisoners of conscience
Cubans had to mourn the death of Fidel Castro or else face punishment. Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas was the founding leader of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) and when he was killed on July 22, 2012 along with the organizations youth leader, Harold Cepero Escalante a new leader was selected: Eduardo Cardet Concepción.  The new MCL leader was traveling abroad when Fidel Castro died on November 25, 2016 and gave a frank assessment of the old tyrant's legacy in Cuba. When he returned to Cuba five days later he was beaten up in front of his family, jailed and in March of 2017 sentenced to three years in prison. An entire family: Maydolis Leyva Portelles, the mother, twin sisters Anairis, Adairis Miranda Leyva and their brother Fidel Manuel Batista Leyva were taken away and detained for not grieving Fidel Castro's death and going out during the official period of mourning.

Jailed pro-democracy leader Eduardo Cardet of the Christian Liberation Movement
Dissident arrested and sent to psychiatric facility as punishment
On May Day in Cuba before the world's cameras a lone Cuban ran down the path the parade would take, waving an American flag he was tackled down by State Security and jailed.  Daniel Llorente Miranda was charged with "public disorder and resistance" and was initially held at the Technical Department of Investigations of the Police in 100 and Aldabó. Weeks later he was transferred to the Comandante Dr. Bernabé Ordaz Ducungé Psychiatric Hospital better known by its pre-revolutionary name Mazorra. Using psychiatric facilities to torture dissidents is a practice that originated in the Soviet Union but was adopted early on by the Castro regime's intelligence services. Mazorra is a madhouse of death were patients have died by the score from exposure to the elements and neglect by hospital staff.

Students and faculty expelled for their beliefs
Fếlix Yuniel Llerena López, a 20 year-old religious freedom defender, was expelled from the Enrique José Varona Pedagogical University in Havana on May 8, 2017 following a visit to the United States. 18-year-old journalism student, Karla Pérez González, was expelled from Marta Abreu University of Santa Clara for “political reasons” on April 12, 2017 and her expulsion ratified three days later. 24 year old David Mauri Cardoso was expelled from the University of Cienfuegos in February of 2017 after he honestly answered politically loaded questions in what was supposed to be a Spanish literature exam. If you have a relative who is a dissident, although you are not, you can still be fired from your job. Professor Dalila Rodriguez from the University of Las Villas was expelled from her job on May 9, 2017 because her father, Leonardo Rodriguez is a dissident.  These are not  new tactics. Expelling students and denying them an education for their political orientation has a long and shameful history in Cuba under the Castro regime too often ignored.

 In spite of repeatedly loosening sanctions on the dictatorship, trade between Cuba and the United States has imploded under the Obama Administration. Peak year of U.S. trade in goods with Cuba was 2008, the last year of the Bush Administration. The two worst years in trade are the ones following the new Cuba policy launch in December of 2014. All of the details are available at the U.S. Census Bureau. The Cuban economy contracted in 2016 and at the same time military control over it has expanded including the Old Havana project that until this past year had been under civilian control.  Trade peaked under Bush in 2008 with $711.5 million  and began a steady decline under Obama with just $245.5 million in 2016.

Trade with Cuba collapsed during Obama Presidenecy

Venezuela: Cuba's colonial possession
On May 15, 2016 Henry Ramos Allup, the head of the National Assembly of Venezuela complained 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. Despite this long time reality Secretary of State John Kerry in August of 2015 reported "the United States and Cuba are talking about ways to solve the Venezuelan crisis."
Mary O'Grady writing in The Wall Street Journal in an oped titled "How Cuba Runs Venezuela" explained:
"Havana doesn’t care about Venezuelan poverty or famine or whether the regime is unpopular. It has spent a half-century sowing its ideological “revolution” in South America. It needs Venezuela as a corridor to run Colombian cocaine to the U.S. and to Africa to supply Europe. It also relies heavily on cut-rate Venezuelan petroleum.  To keep its hold on Venezuela, Cuba has embedded a Soviet-style security apparatus." ... Every Venezuelan armed-forces commander has at least one Cuban minder, if not more, a source close to the military told me. Soldiers complain that if they so much as mention regime shortcomings over a beer at a bar, their superiors know about it the next day."
The Obama Administration's view that the Castro regime can be a partner in resolving the crisis in Venezuela indicates that it did not understand that it is the Cuban dictatorship that is causing the crisis and has existential reasons to continue driving the South American nation into becoming another Cuba. The new Trump Administration appears to be going in another and saner direction on both Cuba and Venezuela policy.

Cuba, National Security and the war on terror.
U.S. Marine Corps. Lt. Gen. Vincent R. Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency reported to the Senate Armed Services Committee in his written submission on May 23, 2017:
Russia and China are preeminent among the foreign intelligence threats to DoD and U.S. national security through their robust use of traditional and nontraditional collection efforts against U.S. personnel, operations, and capabilities. Iran and Cuba also pose persistent foreign intelligence threats to the United States. Cuba’s intelligence apparatus, for example, maintains a robust capability and an intent to give priority to collection on the United States.
The previous Administration's director of national intelligence had reported similar information in February of 2016 to the same committee that also highlighted Cuba as one of four main threats.
Undeclared military cargo Cuba tried to smuggle to North Korea
Smuggling heavy weapons to North Korea (2013)
Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli tweeted the above photo with the following text on July 15, 2013: “Panama captured North Korean-flagged ship from Cuba with undeclared military cargo.” On March 6, 2014 a panel of UN experts reported that in the  the shipment of smuggled weapons sent by Cuba to North Korea, hidden under bags of sugar, what was found, in part, was: "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." 

The Cubans were caught trying to provide the North Koreans with surface to air missile systems (SA-2 (C-75 Volga) and SA-3 (C-125 Pechora), two MiG 21 jet fighters, and 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. 

The Panel noted "that some of the SA-2 and SA-3 parts could also meet the criteria defined in the list of items, materials, equipment, goods and technology related to ballistic missile programmes (S/2012/947), whose export and import by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are prohibited."

Colombian government seizes smuggled weapons shipment bound for Cuba (2015)
On March 2, 2015 news broke that the government of Colombia had 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." Blogging by Boz, founder of Hxagon, a consulting and technology company that provides risk assessments and predictive analysis in emerging markets, reached a reasonable conclusion: "Two big shipments of weapons seized in 20 months means that this is probably a regular occurrence."

U.S. Hellfire missile ends up in Cuba (2014 - 2016)
A U.S. Hellfire missile, used in NATO exercises in Europe, on its way back to the United States ended up in Cuba by June of 2014. Despite repeated requests from the Obama Administration, Cuba refused to return it until it became a public embarrassment over a year later in February of 2016. This took place while the White House was secretly negotiating with the Castro regime to normalize relations.

Harboring cop killers and terrorists
Cuban diplomats for more than 50 years plotted and facilitated terrorist attacks, beat up peaceful protesters, threatened and bitten protesters using homophobic language, and participated in the cover up of extrajudicial killings. The case of escaped cop killer Joanne Chesimard harbored by the Castro regime is often mentioned in the press but there are many others.

Guillermo Morales who according to The Washington Post, "escaped from a hospital in New York while under police custody. He has admitted he was planting a bomb at a New York military installation when the bomb blew up, taking nearly all his fingers. He was facing 89 years in prison when he escaped. He is still believed to be living in Cuba." The New York Times reported on June 29, 2017 that Ishmael LaBeet (today goes by the name Ishmael Muslim Ali) who in 1973 "was convicted along with four other men of murdering eight people in a shooting at the Fountain Valley Golf Course in St. Croix, V.I., in 1972"and "in 1984, as he was being transferred from a court in the Virgin Islands back to prison on an American Airlines flight, he hijacked the plane and redirected it to Cuba, where he has lived ever since."

On July 8, 2017 The New York Times reported that there are an estimated 70 other fugitives from U.S. justice being harbored by the Castro regime. The Obama Administration removed Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism but if the Castro regime today continues to harbor and host terrorists in Cuba shouldn't they return this terrorists and killers to face justice in the United States or failing to do that be returned to the list of terror sponsors?

Drug trafficking
Ermal Hoxha (age 42), the grandson of former Albanian communist dictator Enver Hoxha, was found guilty earlier this month of belonging to a "criminal group involved in cocaine trafficking from Cuba" was arrested in January 2015 and 264 pounds of cocaine confiscated.  In another case not involving Hoxha, but involving the Cuban government, Panamanian police seized more than 880 pounds of cocaine in a Cuban ship on its way to Belgium in April of 2016.  There is  a long history of collaboration between international drug cartels and the Castro regime stretching back at least to the early 1980s where cocaine trafficking profits were used to fund communist guerilla movements in South America.  Despite all this under the Obama Administration the Drug Enforcement Agency publicized how it was sharing intelligence on drug trafficking with the Castro regime, and one still wonders why cocaine is flooding America and deadly overdoses are at record highs?

Ending a failed policy? A good first step but more is needed.
The Trump Administration took a first step to address the previous Cuba policy's shortcomings on June 16, 2017 releasing the "National Security Presidential Memorandum on Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba" that begins by defining what will guide this new policy:

My Administration's policy will be guided by the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States, as well as solidarity with the Cuban people.  I will seek to promote a stable, prosperous, and free country for the Cuban people.  To that end, we must channel funds toward the Cuban people and away from a regime that has failed to meet the most basic requirements of a free and just society.
The previous US Cuba policy was drawn up in secret, excluding Congressmen, Senators and even the State Department but included high ranking members of the Castro regime, among them Raul Castro's son, Alejandro Castro, with a small group of Administration officials led by an individual with a degree in creative writing, and does not serve the just interests of the United States.

President Trump begins to undo predecessor's Cuba policy

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