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Pope Francis may visit Cuba this year

April 17 - Pope Francis may travel to Cuba around the time of his September visit to the United States, the Vatican told The Wall Street Journal on Friday.
Recent popes have all sought an end to the U.S. embargo on Cuba, which President Obama called on Congress to do in January. He’s begun to normalize diplomatic relations with the country and met with President Raúl Castro last week during the Summit of the Americas.
That meeting amounted to the most direct contact between leaders of the two countries in more than half a century.
The Obama administration has continued to move forward with its reset of the relationship with Cuba, with the State Department announcing Tuesday that it’s removing the island from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.
The pope’s visit may coincide with his trip to America, where he’s expected to travel to New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Pope Francis is expected to meet with Obama during the visit and is set to address a joint session of Congress.
No pontiff had been to Cuba in the island’s history until 1998, when Pope John Paul II gave a speech in the island chastising it for prohibiting freedom of religion while also calling on the international community to accept it.
“She needs to open herself to the world and the world needs to draw close to Cuba,” he said of Cuba, according to BBC News.
Pope Benedict XVI also traveled to the country in 2012 where he too called for the end of the U.S. embargo on Cuba. After his visit, Good Friday became a national holiday. The Hill

 

Obama's Love Affair with the Castros Continues: Recommends Removing Cuba From Terrorism List

April 14 - President Obama recommended today that the United State government reverse its long-standing policy designating Cuba a state sponsor of international terrorism.
The White House issued a statement declaring the administration "intention to rescind Cuba’s State Sponsor of Terrorism designation" several days after the president returned from the Summit of the Americas in Panama where he met with heads of state from across the region, including for the first time with Cuban President Raul Castro.
"As the President has said, we will continue to have differences with the Cuban government, but our concerns over a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions fall outside the criteria that is relevant to whether to rescind Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement. "That determination is based on the statutory standard – and the facts – and those facts have led the President to declare his intention to rescind Cuba’s State Sponsor of Terrorism designation."
The momentous shift will lift 32 years of numerous financial sanctions against Cuba and represents the latest attempt by the Obama administration to restore relations with the Communist stronghold after more than five decades of a diplomatic freeze.
Cuban officials had made clear during the course of recent negotiations with Washington that relations could never be fully normalized as long as the country was designated as a sponsor of terrorism by the U.S. State Department.
The policy review began following Obama's announcement in December to begin normalization dialogue with the island nation.
"I've instructed Secretary Kerry to review Cuba's designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism. This review will be guided by the facts and the law," he said during the announcement. "Terrorism has changed in the last several decades. At a time when we are focused on threats from al Qaeda to ISIL, a nation that meets our conditions and renounces the use of terrorism should not face this sanction."
Obama will send his decision to Congress, which has 45 days to consider the new policy. Should Congress seek to block the measure, it would need to create a veto-proof law declaring Cuba remains a state sponsor of terrorism. It's unlikely Congress has votes to complete such a task.
The Communist Cuban government was added to the terror list in 1982 after the State Department determined the country repeatedly provided support to terrorist organizations in Latin America, including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. But the State Department acknowledged recently those ties had "become more distant."
Syria, Sudan and Iran are the only other countries remaining on the list.
The decision is expected to draw criticism from those opposed to normalizing relations with the Castro regime in Cuba.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, said after the December announcement that changes to the terror designation would serve to "tighten this regime's grip on power for decades to come."
Cuban officials, meanwhile, have said not only was the designation unwarranted, but also removing it is critical to the process of restoring relations. The banking sanctions associated with the terror designation are so strict that Cuban diplomats cannot even use credit cards while visiting Washington, D.C. or the United Nations in New York, and Cuba's interest section cannot process credit cards for visa applications.
Cuba's leading diplomat told ABC News in February that the decision to put them on the list has always been political.
"People are in disbelief every time they realize that Cuba has been included in the list of so called state-sponsors of terrorism," Josefina Vidal told ABC News' Jim Avila in an exclusive interview. "It has always been a political decision, not a decision based on real facts. Because it's a fact of life, that from the territory of Cuba, terrorism has never been organized, financed, or executed or implemented toward any country in the world including the United States."  ABC News

 

Obama’s deceptions on Iran and Cuba

April 13 - Remember Jonathan Gruber, the Obamacare architect who as caught on tape boasting how the president had taken advantage of the “stupidity” of American voters to pass his health-care law?
Well it seems, Obama is applying the “Gruber Doctrine” once again — this time to foreign policy.
The Gruber Doctrine is based on the premise that, in the words of the now infamous MIT professor, “lack of transparency is a huge political advantage” and that the “basic exploitation of the lack of . . . understanding of the American voter” is “really, really critical” for enacting your preferred policies.
That is precisely what Obama is doing when it comes to Iran and Cuba.
ith Iran, the administration is once again relying on a “lack of transparency” to ram through its nuclear deal. Even Iran’s foreign minister dismissed the administration’s talking points describing the framework agreement as “spin.” Obama is warning that the only alternative to his deal is “another war in the Middle East ,” even though he has yet to reveal the key details: Will sanctions relief be front-loaded, as Iran insists, or will sanctions come off gradually, as the Iranians meet certain performance benchmarks? Will there be any transparency into Iran’s past secret nuclear activity, information that is critical to verifying its compliance today? Will there be “snap inspections” and access to all Iranian facilities, both civilian and military? Iran says no. Obama is counting on the fact that Americans won’t be able to follow all the details about “centrifuges” and “domestic enrichment capacity.” He won’t share the details but wants us to trust him that there will be “unprecedented verification.” If you believe that, you probably still think that if you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan.
Obama is also counting on exploiting the “lack of understanding of the American voter” when it comes to his normalization of relations with the Castro regime in Cuba. At a news conference in Panama this weekend, Obama declared that “There is majority support of our policy in the United States” and that “the American people don’t need to be persuaded that this is in fact the right thing to do.” A new poll commissioned by my American Enterprise Institute colleague Roger Noriega for InterAmerican Security Watch finds that Americans do support Obama’s plan by a margin of 51 to 38 percent . . . until they learn some basic facts about Cuba. When Americans are told that Cuba is hosting Russian ships in its harbors, opposition to normalization jumps to 58 percent while support sinks to 30 percent. When Americans are told of Cuba’s attempts to smuggle 240 tons of weaponry to North Korea, opposition jumps to 63 percent and support drops to 26 percent. When Americans are told that Cuba is harboring a cop-killer and terrorists, opposition jumps to 63 percent, and support plummets to 23 percent. When asked whether sanctions should be maintained pending Cuba’s progress on human rights and free elections, Americans agree by a margin of 64-16. And when asked whether Cuba’s designation as a supporter of terrorism should be maintained because it harbors terrorists, respondents agreed 68 percent to 16 percent.
In other words, Noriega says, “When Americans hear basic facts about Castro’s hostility and human-rights violations, they know that the president’s unilateral concessions only emboldened a dangerous, despotic regime.”
Look for Obama to continue employing Gruberesque tactics to sell his appeasement of Cuba and Iran. No doubt the final Iran deal will be presented in a “tortured way” to “mislabel” Obama’s concessions to Tehran and make the inspections seem more intrusive than they are. The same will be true of Obama’s coming decision to lift Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terror. There will be no mention from the White House of terrorists being protected and supported by the Castro regime, such as Joanne Chesimard — who murdered a New Jersey state trooper and was named in 2013 by Obama’s own FBI as one of its Most Wanted Terrorists . There will be no mention of the 70 other U.S. fugitives that Obama’s own State Department reports “The Cuban government continued to harbor” while providing “support such as housing, food ration books, and medical care” — or of the Spanish and Colombian terrorists receiving similar support from the Castro brothers.
Why would they tell Americans these things? Obama’s attitude, to paraphrase Gruber, is that “I wish . . . we could make it all transparent, but I’d rather have [these agreements with rogue regimes] than not.” Obama and his foreign policy team know what is good for us. And if we’re too “stupid” to catch the deception, that’s our problem, not theirs.
It worked for Obamacare, they figure, so why not Iran and Cuba? The Washington Post

 

Gallery of Infamous Handshakes

 

Cuban rappers criticize government in rhyme at Summit

April 10 - Cuban rapper Skuadron Patriota paced the stage and dedicated his next song to his mom – and moms everywhere who have lost sons to street fights or perilous raft trips from his island country – then launched into his signature spitfire tune, Madre.
"Tolerance zero, freedom of expression zero ... State control to the extreme."
Cuba's historic entry to the Summit of the Americas here has also drawn many of the communist island's critics, including a rare Cuban hip hop protest concert Thursday night. The event took place in a theater just off the Panama Canal and gathered known rappers from the island such as Skuadron, Sivito El Libre and David D Omni.
Omni, who calls himself an "artevista" or art-activist, said he was harassed at the airport upon his arrival by Panamanian customs agents, who warned him not to make trouble or he'd be deported back to Cuba, a complaint echoed by other Cuban dissidents in town for the summit.
Still, he said was excited to share a stage with other Cuban rappers whose lyrics denounce the Castro regime – an event that would be near impossible to pull off in their home country. He said Cuban rappers are unique because they're less concerned with the material trappings that U.S. rappers tend to glamorize and instead focus on social issues and everyday life.
"Cuban hip hop is different," Omni said. "You know you're not going to make money. You rap because you have something to say."
Over the past decade, Cuban hip hop has been one of the main forms of expressing dissent on the island. But it hasn't been without its controversy. A report by the Associated Press last year alleged that the U.S. Agency for International Development attempted to recruit hip hop artists to foster unrest among the country's youth, a charge the artists denied.
The hip hop artists have continued to put out music, often shared through amateur videos on YouTube and many denouncing the Cuban government. Few other artists, singers or political dissidents have been criticizing the Castro government as explicitly and forcefully as Cuban rappers, said Adolfo Leyva, a history professor at Florida State University's Panama campus and an organizer of Thursday's event.
"These people are the ones pushing the envelope," he said.
At the concert, the rappers took the stage in front of a wall flashing images of the Cuban flag, Cuban highways or Havana neighborhoods. Several of them called for the release of artist Danilo Maldonado, known as "El Sexto," who was jailed by Cuban authorities in December for attempting to release two hogs in a public square scrawled with the names "Fidel" and "Raul" – Cuba's iconic leaders.
Gorkí Aguila, front man for Cuban punk band Porno Para Ricardo and an outspoken government critic, played a solo set, including a song mocking Cuban President Raúl Castro, in town for the summit. "I'm here because … well, any chance I have to denounce the Castro government, I'll take it," Aguila said on stage to cheers from the crowd.
One of the headliners of the event was rapper Silvito El Libre, who's father, Silvio Rodriguez, is a renown Cuban musician and favorite of the Cuban government. As his son's rap concert got under way, Rodriguez led his own concert across town, sponsored by Cuban authorities.
Lounging outside the theater before the show, Silvito said he doesn't like to talk about this father. But he said he hopes improved relations with the USA lead to real changes on the island, something that's been elusive for years.
"I think the Cuban government should hand over control to the new generation, to new ideas," he said. "So far, we haven't seen much change."  USA Today

 

Obama bullied again on world stage -- this time by Raul Castro

April 10 - Twenty-four hours before coming face to face with Cuban President
Raul Castro, President Obama on Thursday continued to extend an olive branch from Washington to Havana — but analysts say there are real questions about whether Mr. Castro truly is interested in friendly relations with the U.S.
At a town hall in Kingston, Jamaica — the president’s last stop before heading to the Summit of the Americas in Panama — Mr. Obama praised the “extraordinary” Cuban people and said it’s time for the two nations to put the Cold War behind them.
Also Thursday, the State Department completed its review of whether Cuba should be removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.
The State Department reportedly will recommend to the president that Cuba be taken off the list, though it’s unlikely that Mr. Obama will announce a final decision in the next several days.
The Castro regime has made removal from the terrorism-sponsor list a prerequisite for the opening of a U.S. embassy in Havana and other steps forward in the diplomatic process.
Mr. Castro also has made other demands that the U.S. surely won’t meet, such as reparations for economic damages caused by the U.S. embargo on Cuba and the immediate transfer of Guantanamo Bay to the Cuban government.
Those seemingly unrealistic requests have led many analysts to question whether Mr. Castro truly wants to mend fences with the U.S. or whether he has been forced to begin cooperating with Washington out of sheer economic necessity.
Still, Mr. Obama expressed nothing but optimism Thursday.
“It is my strong belief that if we engage, that offers the greatest prospect for escaping some of the constraints of the past,” the president said at the Jamaica town hall. “I think the Cuban people are extraordinary and have huge potential. And what’s encouraging is the overwhelming majority of Cubans are interested in ending the last vestige of the Cold War and moving forward.”
Mr. Obama announced the historic diplomatic reboot with Cuba in December, but formalizing relations has got off to a slow start.
Analysts say that’s largely because of Mr. Castro, who in his heart likely wants to maintain the status quo.
“By engaging Cuba, I think the president is calling Castro’s bluff. And that’s why we have seen, since December, Raul Castro trying to raise the price of engaging Cuba” with his demands, said Juan Carlos Hidalgo, a policy analyst on Latin America at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity. “He looks like he’s trying to make up excuses to keep the United States an enemy.”
A poor economy in the communist-run island has forced Mr. Castro to the table, some analysts say, and it’s unclear whether he is willing to make the kinds of social and political changes Mr. Obama seeks. The White House continues to demand that Havana stop imprisoning political dissidents and committing other human rights abuses.
The U.S. ultimately may find itself in a situation with formal diplomatic ties with Cuba but also with major human rights objections — somewhat similar to the U.S. relationship with China, said Shannon O’Neil, senior fellow for Latin America studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“There is going to be a very calculated and probably slow process on the Cuban side,” she said on a conference call Thursday. “One could imagine that you could maintain a more authoritarian government with open relations [with the U.S.] — China is the one many people look to.”  The Washington Times

 

Cuban Col. Alexis Frutos identified as one of those who attacked dissidents in Panama

April 9 - The blog cubaaldescubierto.com has identified Cuban Col. Alexis Frutos Weeden, as one of those who took part in the unprovoked attack against Cuban dissidents participating on the OAS Summit in Panama.

Frutos Weeden is Cuba's intelligence chief in Venezuela.

There is no way that the Castro regime can now deny its involvement in yesterdays beating of peaceful dissidents in Panama.

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Boehner: Obama should condemn assault on Cuban activist

April 9 - John Boehner on Thursday questioned President Obama’s decision to re-establish diplomatic ties with Havana after an assault on Boehner’s State of the Union guest, the Cuban democracy leader known as Antúnez.
Antúnez, whose formal name is Jorge Luis García, was among several Cuban political and human rights activists who were allegedly attacked by Castro regime allies on Wednesday in Panama City, Panama. The assault, which also injured a U.S. citizen, was caught on video by La Estrada de Panama.
Obama is headed to Panama City for the Summit of the Americas conference, where he expected to informally speak with Cuban leader Raúl Castro. Boehner called on Obama to condemn the attacks when he meets with Castro, calling them “an outrage and a reminder of the brutal character of the Castro regime.
“It raises serious questions about the wisdom of revisiting diplomatic relations with Cuba and removing the country from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terror while this dictatorship, which practices repression at home and supports violence throughout the region, continues to hold power,” Boehner said in a statement.
“I hope that President Obama, if and when he has a conversation with the Cuban dictator during the Organization of American States summit, will take the opportunity to condemn this violence in the strongest possible terms and reaffirm that the United States should and must always stand on the side of human rights and democracy against Communist tyranny.”
Antúnez spent more than 17 years in a Cuban prison after speaking out against the Castro regime. Boehner invited the pro-democracy leader to Obama’s speech in January to voice opposition to the president’s efforts to normalize relations with Cuba.

The Hill

 

American Citizens Beaten by Castro Agents in Panama

Augusto Monge, Cuban-American activist beaten in Panama by Obama's new friends

April 9 - A half-dozen Cuban dissident leaders and American citizens were attacked this afternoon by a group of Castro regime agents in Panama City.
The activists were placing flowers at the statue of Cuban independence hero, Jose Marti, when approached by a group of Castro regime agents, who began to violently beat them.
Among those attacked were a group of American citizens, including Orlando Gutierrez of the Democratic Directorate, Silvia Iriondo of Mothers Against Repression and Gus Monge.
The Cuban dissidents include former political prisoner Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez," his wife Yris Perez Aguilera and Leticia Ramos Herreria of The Ladies in White.
The Panamanian police watched as the attack took place. Then, it detained the Cuban dissident leaders and American citizens. Meanwhile, the Castro regime agents were allowed to walk.
They are currently being held in the San Francisco detention facility -- facing deportation to Cuba and the United States, respectively.
Also, this afternoon, at the Summit's Civil Society Forum, Cuban dissident leaders, including Rosa Maria Paya and Roberto de Jesus Guerra, were blocked from entering the convention hall by a Castro regime delegation.
The regime delegation that disrupted the Forum was headed by Raul Castro's confidant, former Minister of Culture (and head censor), Abel Prieto.
This is what happens when you grant Cuba's dictatorship unmerited membership to a club of democracies.

Capitol Hill Cubans

 

The charade continues: State Dept. recommends removing Cuba from terrorism list

April 9 - The State Department has sent a recommendation to the White House that Cuba be removed from the State Sponsors of Terrorism List, paving the way for the White House to announce its intent to de-list Cuba as early as Thursday, two administration officials tell CNN.
In making the recommendation, the State Department has certified Cuba has not provided support to terrorist groups within the last 6 months.

President Barack Obama ordered the review of Cuba's place on the list after announcing a historic diplomatic breakthrough with Havana in December and pledged to act quickly once he received the recommendation from the State Department.
The White House has made clear it wanted to make the announcement before Obama attends the Summit of the Americas later this week with Cuban leader Raul Castro, and ordered the State Department to speed up the process. Continue reading CNN

 

Pro-Castro mobs come from inside the Cuban embassy to attack Cuban dissidents in Panama

April 8 - Pro-Castro mobs came from inside the Cuban embassy in Panama and attacked Cuban dissidents who were placing a floral tribute in front of the statue of José Marí in Panama City.

The dissidents are there to take part in the Cumbre de las Américas that will begin in Panama city on Friday.

Watch the video

 

Terrorists continue to hide in Castro's Cuba to flee American justice

April 7 - On a January afternoon 40 years ago, Mary Connor of Fair Lawn made a pan of lasagna for a dinner she was planning with her husband to celebrate the birthdays of their two sons.
As Mary labored in her kitchen, her husband, Frank, who had risen from clerk to assistant vice president at Morgan Guaranty Trust, went to lunch at Fraunces Tavern, the Revo­lutionary War-era restaurant in lower Manhattan where George Washington bid farewell to Continental Army officers two centuries earlier.
As Frank Connor ate with colleagues, a bomb exploded — a homemade device, hidden near his table by Puerto Rican nationalists who said in a note that they wanted to kill “reactionary corporate executives.”
Conner, 33, died along with three others. Mary ended up serving her lasagna at her husband’s wake.
Terrorism tears into the lives of ordinary people in unexpected ways — certainly 9/11 is a ­reminder of that. But the bomb that killed Frank Connor on |Jan. 24, 1975, resonates in ways that could affect international diplomacy.
The alleged bomb-maker, William Morales, a figure in the Puerto Rican ­nationalist paramilitary group Armed Forces of National Liberation, or FALN, now lives freely in Cuba under a grant |of political asylum from Fidel Castro. With President Obama proposing to ­restore diplomatic relations with Cuba, the Connor family is asking a question |the White House has not publicly addressed:
What about demanding the return of Morales and other fugitives in Cuba who escaped U.S. justice?
Over the years, Morales’ story has been largely eclipsed by the attention focused on another fugitive who fled to Cuba, Joanne Chesimard. She was convicted of murdering a New Jersey state trooper, then escaped prison and received political asylum from Castro. The bounty for Chesimard’s capture and return is $2 million; Morales’ is $100,000.
In the wake of Obama’s overtures to Cuba, however, the Morales case is receiving increased attention.
On Wednesday, three New Jersey Republican congressmen — Scott Garrett of Wantage, Leonard Lance of Flemington and Tom MacArthur of Toms River — asked a House committee to withhold money to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba until the Castro regime returns Chesimard, Morales and other fugitives.
Their efforts follow other appeals to the White House to bring back fugitives, by U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, the Paramus Democrat, and Governor Christie.
For more than three lonely decades, the effort to draw attention to Morales has been a family affair by the Connors.
Joseph Connor was only 9 when his father died. Today he lives in Glen Rock, not far from his brother, Tom, who is two years older. Their mother, Mary Connor Tully, now 77 and remarried, still lives in Fair Lawn, not far from the home where she was making lasagna on that fateful day.
“My father’s life was dismissed,” Joseph said in a recent interview, lamenting the lack of attention on the bombing and the largely forgotten escape by Morales.
Joseph said he longed to face Morales in a courtroom.

Continue reading Mike Kelly's column in The Record

 

Obama is ready to remove the terrorists from the terrorist list

April 7 - It seems that all Raúl Castro has to tell Obama is "Jump" and he would just say "How high"?

Anything the Cuban dictator asks for, Obama is willing to give it to him. No questions and nothing asked in return.  And we have another 22 months of this nightmare:

White House officials left open the possibility Tuesday that President Obama could recommend Cuba's removal from a list of state sponsors of terror around the time of the Summit of the Americas later this week in Panama. The officials also sought to soften tensions with Venezuela that threatened to overshadow the summit.
Deputy National Security adviser Benjamin Rhodes said the State Department's review of Cuba's place on that terror list is in "its final stages." While he said the timing is in the hands of Secretary of State John Kerry, he would not rule out an Obama announcement before or during the two-day summit in Panama City.
Removing Cuba from the terror list would be one of the biggest developments since Dec. 17, when Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced they would seek to re-establish diplomatic relations after half a century of antagonism. But Rhodes cautioned that the actual opening of embassies in Havana and in Washington by both countries was still some time off.
"When you have two countries that haven't spoken to each other like this over 50 years, you have lot off issues to work through," Rhodes said in a call previewing Obama's trip to Jamaica and then to the summit in Panama. Obama leaves for the Caribbean on Wednesday.
Among the issues that have slowed the diplomatic efforts have been Cuba's presence on the terror list and U.S. demands that U.S. diplomats be able to interact with the Cuban people without limitations.
Rhodes also downplayed U.S. sanctions against certain Venezuelans in protest of President Nicolas Maduro's crackdown on dissent. Maduro has characterized the sanctions against seven individuals as an act of aggression, citing language in an Obama executive order that describes Venezuela as a threat to U.S. security.
Rhodes sought to tamp down the furor, noting that the language is boilerplate used in executive orders that impose sanctions around the world.
"The U.S. doesn't believe that Venezuela poses some threat to national security," Rhodes said. The action, Rhodes said, "was not of a scale that in any way was aimed at targeting the Venezuelan government broadly."  Associated Press

 

Is Cuba Smuggling Weapons for FARC Terrorists?

April 7 - There is a deafening silence surrounding the recent capture by the Colombian authorities of a Chinese-flagged ship, the Da Dan Xia, which was seemingly headed for Cuba with a weapons cache hidden as "grain products."
Neither the Santos Administration, the Obama Administration, nor the Castro dictatorship want to talk about it -- or answer any questions.
Such secrecy raises serious questions about the real purpose of the illegal weapons shipment and the lack of transparency of the Santos Administration (as it conducts negotiations with the FARC), the Obama Administration (as it seeks to remove Cuba from the state-sponsors of terrorism list) and the Castro dictatorship (sitting pretty amid no consequences).
Here are the facts:
- On February 28, 2015, the Da Dan Xia was intercepted in the Port of Cartagena carrying an unregistered shipment composed of 100 tons of gunpowder, 2.6 million detonators, 99 missile heads and around 3,000 artillery shells.
- The ship's documentation sought to disguise the arms shipment as "grain products."
- After stopping in Cartagena the vessel was bound for another Colombian port, Barranquilla, and then to Havana, Cuba.
- The supplier was listed as Norico, a Chinese manufacturer of machinery and chemical products, as well high-tech defense products. The arms were purportedly destined for TecnoImport in Cuba, the shadowy procurement branch of the Cuban military ("MINFAR").
Now here are the unanswered questions:
Upon the weapons shipment being discovered, the Chinese government stated that the transaction was part of "completely normal military trade co-operation."
That's right. An arms shipment between China and Cuba would have been legal, if conducted with transparency. Instead, the parties chose to illegally conceal the weapons shipment.
- Why did the parties go to such lengths to conceal a shipment that could have otherwise been legal?
-- Was it concealed because the real recipient was an illegal entity in Colombia, i.e, FARC terrorists?
-- Is the composition of the shipment more tailored for use by non-conventional forces (such as the FARC) than for a conventional military forces (such as Cuba's MINFAR)?
If so, this would be further incontrovertible evidence of Cuba's support for international terrorism. Thus, the silence.
As the Obama Administration zealously seeks to remove Cuba from the state-sponsors of terrorism list, it shouldn't leave such questions unanswered -- for it will only embolden Castro's regime to continue its rogue activities.
Let's not forget, this was the second illicit weapons shipment intercepted in the last eighteen months in which the Cuban regime was directly involved. Last year, Cuba was found in direct violation of international sanctions for attempting to smuggle 240 tons of weapons to North Korea hidden as "sugar."
Moreover, the Obama Administration should not ignore inconvenient facts in pursuit of its policy ends.
Last month, we also learned that Spain had (again) recently requested the extradition of two Basque terrorists ("ETA") -- to no avail. Ironically, these two Basque terrorists are also wanted for their illegal activities with the FARC.
If the Spanish government hadn't unwittingly made this revelation, it would have been swept under the rug.
To continue turning a blind-eye -- in order to fulfill (at all costs) Obama's deal with Cuban dictator Raul Castro -- is short-sighted, disingenuous and dangerous.  Capitol Hill Cubans
 

Wall Street Journal: Obama Rehabilitates the Castro Brothers

April 7 - The Organization of American States is now open to dictatorships.
When President Obama travels to Panama for the 7th Summit of the Americas later this week, expect to be inundated with platitudes about the blossoming of democracy in the region. Don’t believe it. Repression is on the march in the Americas, and U.S. ambivalence is part of the problem.
In the White House’s lack of moral clarity, the region’s bullies smell weakness. One result is that a Caribbean backwater run by gangster brothers now has the upper hand in setting the regional agenda.
If the U.S. president is humiliated in Panama City like he was in Port of Spain in 2009, no one should be surprised. That’s when Mr. Obama tried to be one of the boys with Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, who thanked him by presenting him a copy of the famous anti-American diatribe “The Open Veins of Latin America.”
Summits are a waste of time and money for real countries. But this one will be useful for Cuba, which will be allowed to join the group for the first time, and on its own terms. It’s hard to put a finger on the lowest point in Obama foreign policy, but its abject submissiveness regarding this meeting in the U.S. backyard is a serious contender.
For years Cuba was not permitted at the table with the members of the Organization of American States. In April 2001, participants at the Americas summit in Quebec ratified an established policy of including only freely elected democratic governments. In September 2001 the OAS members signed the “Democratic Charter,” requiring the suspension of nondemocratic governments.
The charter had some meaning in its early years, thanks to U.S. influence and the fact that the OAS would not be able to pay its bills without Uncle Sugar. But it started unraveling when Mr. Obama took office and began trying to appease Cuba and Venezuela. This year, not a shred is left.
Being outcasts made Raúl and Fidel Castro feel disrespected. So they pressured much of the rest of the region to say that if Cuba were again left out, they would boycott the event. In December Mr. Obama folded.
It was a sign of how bad things are in the Americas. Authoritarian governments now rule in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina and Bolivia. All employ, to varying degrees, at least some elements of the Cuban model in which the executive consolidates power, civil society is suppressed, and due process is passe.
Elections are rigged. Rulers expropriate at will. Media outlets that dare to differ from the party line face legal burdens that can wipe them out.
Democratic institutions in Brazil and Chile remain intact, but the socialist leaders in both countries are great admirers of the Castros and wouldn’t dream of offending their hard-left constituencies. Colombia is compromised by its peace talks in Havana with FARC narco-terrorists.
A handful of other countries might have defended the democracy principle if they had some confidence in U.S. backing. But a feeble U.S. diplomatic team is no match for Castro’s foreign policy of exporting terror. No one is going out on that limb with Mr. Obama in the White House. So Cuba is in and Raúl will get his long-sought legitimacy from a U.S. president.
Appeasement has brought new demands. Some governments say they will raise a stink in Panama because the U.S. recently declared Venezuela a threat to U.S. national security and sanctioned seven Venezuelan officials. Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro says he has collected more than six million signatures on a protest letter that he will hand to Mr. Obama.
Mr. Obama expected that he would be a hero in Panama, the guy who offered to open diplomatic relations with Cuba for the first time in a half century. But Cuba has rebuffed him. Castro says he won’t accept normal relations until, among other things, Cuba is taken off the U.S. list of state sponsors of terror and the U.S. returns Guantanamo.
Granting most of the Cuba demands would require approval from the U.S. Congress. But pleasing Raúl will be an Obama priority. He might try to take Havana off the list of terror sponsors unilaterally if he believes he has veto-safe support in the event of a congressional challenge.
Here Cuban reality could interfere. The island is home to Basque terrorists wanted in Spain and scores of fugitives from American justice like Joanne Chesimard, who was convicted of the 1973 murder of a New Jersey state trooper. The military dictatorship also arms and trains the FARC. Cuba wants access to the U.S. banking system, but banks have to consider the legal jeopardy they risk if they take on a client with a history of financial support for terrorism and money laundering.
It will be hard even for Mr. Obama to be popular at the Panama summit unless he decides to abandon the war on terror. Even then, it’s unlikely. The Wall Street Journal

 

The Cuban Money Crisis

April 6 - The currency crisis starts about 75 feet into Cuba. I land in the late afternoon and, after clearing customs, step into the busy arrivals hall of Havana’s airport looking for help. I ask a woman in a gray, military-like uniform where I can change money. “Follow me,” she says.
But she doesn’t turn left, toward the airport’s exchange kiosk. Called cadecas, these government-run currency shops are the only legal way, along with banks, to swap your foreign money for Cuba’s tourist tender, the CUC. Instead, my guide turns right and only comes clean when we reach a quiet area at the top of an escalator. “The official rate is 87 for a hundred,” she whispers, meaning CUCs to dollars. “I’m giving you 90. So it’s a good deal for you.”
I want to convert $500, and she doesn’t blink an eye. “Go in the men’s room and count your money out,” she instructs. “I’ll do the same in the ladies room.”
The bathroom is crowded, with not one but two staff and the usual traffic of an airport in the evening. There’s no toilet paper. In an unlit stall I try counting to 25 while laying $20 bills on my knees. There’s an urgent knock, and under the door I see high heels. “I’m still counting,” I say.
She’s back two minutes later and pushes her way into my stall. We trade stacks, count, and the tryst is over. For my $500, I get 450 CUCs, the currency that’s been required for the purchase of almost anything important in Cuba since 1994. CUCs aren’t paid to Cubans; islanders receive their wages in a different currency, the grubby national peso that features Che Guevara’s face, among others, but is worth just 1/25th as much as a CUC. Issued in shades of citrus and berry, the CUC—dollarized, tourist-friendly money—has for 21 years been the key to a better life in Cuba, as well as a stinging reminder of the difference between the haves and the have-nots. But that’s about to change: Cuba is going to kill the CUC. Described as a matter of fairness by President Raúl Castro, the end of the two-currency system is also the key to overhauling the uniquely incompetent and centrally planned chaos machine that is the Cuban economy.

Even in Cuba there are markets, and the effects of Castro’s October announcement of a five-step plan for phasing out the CUC are already rippling out to every wallet in the country. The government has issued notifications and price conversion charts, and introduced new, larger bills to supplement the low-value national peso. Over the next year, the CUC will be invalidated—what Cuban economists call Day Zero—and then, in steps four and five, the regular Cuban peso will become exchangeable and be floated against a basket of five currencies: the yuan, the euro, the U.S. dollar, and two others to be named later.
Thanks to the expected normalization of relations with the U.S., tourism, already the engine of Cuba’s current economic boom, is expected to grow enormously—though by this time next year foreigners will be required to negotiate their visits with mounds of regular pesos. Raúl Castro is effectively gambling that he can release some control over the economy in exchange for growth, ensuring the regime’s survival.
The reality, however, may be anything but orderly. During my visit, I witness the hoarding of dollars, an unstable black market, and a deep distrust of the government’s financial speculations. Get out of CUCs, the rumors urge, and into dollars. For a 3 percent spread, a woman will even follow you into a bathroom stall.
In January 1961, a cargo ship arrived in the harbor of Santiago de Cuba bearing a load of freshly minted cash. Cuba’s pre-revolutionary peso had been stable and valuable for decades, a source of patriotic pride. Overnight, the Cuban revolution invalidated the old peso and replaced it with new bills, signed by Che Guevara and worth what the government said they were worth. The gesture sidelined opponents, reduced the independence of the professional and middle classes, and effectively seized the island’s remaining wealth in one gesture. In 1967, when Che died, it was his face that went on the currency, memorably gracing a 3-peso note that would get you lunch and a drink. Today that same bill is worth 12¢.
The end of Soviet subsidies in 1991 brought real economic desperation to Cuba. Dollars were traded on the black market. (In a dark Havana alley, I once got 125 pesos for a single greenback in a hurried transaction with a frightened man.) By 1994, in an effort to co-opt the black markets and once again take hold of the island’s resources, the government introduced the CUC. Initially this was strictly for tourists, the only legal tender for all those mojitos and langoustines. The CUC was pegged at 1:1 with the U.S. dollar, and just the commissions on exchanging it—up to 20 percent—earned the Cuban government billions a year.
The CUC turned tourism into a lucrative lifeline during the 1990s, and at first only a few essential imports—shoes, soap, tires—were sold to Cubans in CUCs, at a few, heavily guarded stores. Today those misnamed “dollar stores” exist in every neighborhood, and the CUC, first intended to insulate Cubans from capitalism, is the only way to buy the majority of consumer goods.
This is the Cuban dilemma: Salaries are paid in ordinary pesos, and average just $20 a month, even though the cost of survival runs around $50 a month, and must be paid for with CUCs at government stores that, until now, accepted nothing else. As crazily inefficient as the existing two-currency system appears, it has allowed the government to maintain near-total dominance of the economy. The Cuban revolution has always viewed money as a problem, not a solution. That’s why the peso of the old republic had to be destroyed overnight in 1961. Having money let people be independent and operate outside the system. “It’s part of the DNA that Fidel imprinted on the revolution,” notes Ted Henken, a sociologist at Baruch College who has specialized in the island.
What the government has finally grasped is that the two-currency system has become economically and politically unsustainable. To get around it, Cubans steal state resources, work black market jobs, and even arbitrage the price differential between mangoes at opposite ends of the country. “Those in the peso-only economy are completely dependent on the government, which is in control of more than 85 percent of the total economy,” says John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council in New York. For the citizenry to “have a legitimate stake in the economy,” he notes, there should be one currency, used for salaries and all stores, and traded openly. “It needs to happen,” Kavulich says. Continue reading  Bloomberg

 

US Supreme Court rejects appeal from Alan Gross

April 6 - The Supreme Court won't hear an appeal from a former government subcontractor seeking to sue the U.S. government for negligence over his five-year imprisonment in Cuba.
The justices on Monday let stand a federal appeals court ruling that threw out Alan Gross' $60 million lawsuit blaming the federal government for failing to prepare him for the risks of working in Cuba.
Gross was freed in December as the U.S. announced it would re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba. He was working as a U.S. Agency for International Development subcontractor in Cuba when he was arrested in 2009.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled last year that the U.S. government is immune from claims arising in a foreign country.
In a separate case, Gross received $3.2 million in December from the federal government as part of a settlement with the Maryland-based company he worked for at the time of his arrest.
The USAID said it paid Gross to settle claims pending before the Civilian Board of Contract Appeals for unanticipated claims under a cost-reimbursement contract with Development Alternatives Inc. of Bethesda, Maryland.
The USAID said the settlement was not an admission of liability, but was intended to avoid the costs and risks of further legal proceedings.

Associated Press

 

This Is What It’s Like Using the Internet in Cuba

April 6 - The Internet in Cuba is bad -- really, really bad.
Imagine you are back in 2001 and set your computer up to download one, single song off Napster while you are at school all day. It's that kind of bad.
I just got back from Cuba for ABC News’ continuing coverage following the announcement of the renewal of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and the island nation. One of the first things I expected to see changed, even before the embargo gets lifted, was Internet access.
Just to illustrate how bad it seems for an American used to fast connectivity: I was uploading a photo to send to our digital team -- a beautiful photo of the historic city we wanted to use for one of our digital stories. The file was around 30 MB. It took nearly an hour to upload it to Google Drive.
When I returned home, that same file took less than five seconds to upload.
It’s no surprise Cuba is considered the “least connected” country in the Americas, with the Geneva-based ITU ranking the country 125th out of 166 countries worldwide in telecommunications development.
But officials want to change that. With the new U.S. diplomatic relations working toward normalization, a senior U.S. State Department official told members of the media on Monday that Cuba has "real potential" and that, as a member of the United Nations International Communications Union, wants to see 50 percent of households have Internet access by 2020.
“There is real potential here as long as there is a will on the Cuban side,” the official said. "So as long as the Cubans create an environment that's attractive to investment and attractive to deployment and attractive to the delivery of services, I believe that services will reach the island."
In early March, executives from Google visited Cuba for the second time.
Currently, roughly 5 percent of Cubans can access the Internet from home. The only way to get Internet access for most Cubans is to visit a government-run Internet location and pay $5 per hour -- prohibitively expensive for most in the island nation. Those who can afford it often wait for hours to gain access to one of the government-run sites.
The U.S. sent a delegation to Cuba to discuss telecommunications as part of the talks last week. And President Obama announced connectivity as a priority, naming telecommunications equipment, technology and services among the first exemptions to the embargo.
While Internet connectivity moves forward slowly, this American reporter is most looking forward to Internet on a cell phone -- you know, being able to read email on the iPhone.
Hopefully, by the time we go back next month, Internet speeds will be a little better. Probably not, but here is looking to the future.

ABC News

 

Rosa María Payá Cuban arrested on arrival at Panama's Summit of the Americas

April 6 - One of Cuba's most high-profile dissidents has been detained on arrival in Panama, ahead of the Summit of the Americas at which the Cuban and American presidents will hold a meeting for the first time in over 50 years.
Rosa Maria Paya, whose anti-Castro father Oswaldo Paya died in a mysterious car crash in 2012, was arrested at the airport on Sunday evening.
"The national security agents have detained me at the door of the plane," she said on Twitter.
She claimed the police told her: "You are going to be deported to Cuba if you cause any trouble or start raising banners. Go back to your own country to cause trouble."
Miss Paya, 26, said she was held for four hours while they searched her luggage - "even going through my underwear".
The Panamanian officials then released her, and described the incident as "a bureaucratic mistake".
But a second activist, from Argentina, reported on social media suffering similar treatment.
Micaela Hierro Dori said "the same happened to me", and that she was threatened with being deported to Argentina.
"They are looking to silence the young," she said.
The detentions have underlined the tensions ahead of the Summit of the Americas, which will take place on Friday and Saturday in Panama.
Presidents and former presidents of all American states, including Bill Clinton, Cristina Kirchner and Dilma Rousseff, will attend the gathering, which will also draw together hundreds of civil society campaigners.
The names of opposition figures from Cuba travelling to Panama have not been released. However, the website 14ymedio, run by activist Yoani Sanchez, reported that 19 people have been given permission to travel - among them human rights campaigners, independent journalists, bloggers and artists.
President Barack Obama is expected to sit down with President Raul Castro to discuss progress in their "normalising" of diplomatic relations - a process begun on December 17. It is the first time that Cuba has been invited to the summit, and the first time since 1959 that the leaders of the two countries have agreed to a working meeting.
It had been hoped that the two men would announce the re-opening of respective embassies in Washington and Havana, following a series of meetings to iron out the details. However, most analysts do not expect the details to be agreed in time.
Mr Obama also faces what could be an awkward encounter with Venezuela's president, Nicolas Maduro. Caracas and Washington have been engaged in an increasingly bitter war of words over the protests against Mr Maduro in his own country - which the Venezuelan president, backed by Cuba, dismisses as being organized by the US.  The Telegraph
 

Things that will happen if Venezuela implodes

March 26 - An economic implosion is becoming increasingly likely in Venezuela , and the country's debtholders, trade partners and neighbors are bracing for the fallout.
The country's energy-dependent economy requires oil prices above $100 per barrel in order to sustain itself. Oil accounts for 95 percent of the country's export earnings, and combined with gas, it's 25 percent of the country's gross domestic product. Internationally traded Brent crude prices have fallen more than 48 percent in the past year.
Meanwhile, a combination of inflation and currency controls have generated scarcity of basic needs such as flour, toilet paper and medicine. Venezuelans stand in lines for hours waiting to buy whatever may be available. Shortages have even diminished the country's ability to provide medical care.
The government of President Nicholas Maduro has been scrambling to find cash. China , Venezuela's biggest creditor, has loaned it more than $50 billion in the last eight years.
Venezuela pays China with oil, and about half of the oil shipped to China goes to paying existing debt. So as the price of oil declines, the number of barrels it needs to send to China increases.
"Venezuela is committed to amortize its loans with oil. To amortize the loans, you have to multiply volume by price. If the price drops, you have to up the number of barrels shipped," said Pedro Mario Burelli, former member of the executive board of PDVSA, Venezuela's state-run oil company.
China plans to lend Venezuela at least $10 billion more in coming months as part of a bilateral financing deal and for the development of oil fields, Reuters reported last week.
But if there's a default, experts don't think China would suffer much; the Asian giant is likely taking careful steps to protect itself.
"If China asked for guarantees before, can you imagine what they're asking for now that the country is on the brink of disaster," Burelli said. "China is not going to do anything that jeopardizes them. In a default scenario, they still will be in a good position because they have unique terms."
Burelli said the uncertainty in Venezuela makes it impossible to predict the timing of any default, but he said it's certainly a possibility. "A default could happen for two reasons: because you don't have money to meet your debt obligations, or because you can't keep prioritizing external debt over internal needs," Burelli said.
Burelli, along with many other experts, doesn't doubt Venezuela's desire to honor its debts. But as circumstances worsen in the South American nation, Maduro could be forced to reprioritize and put the immediate needs of Venezuelans first, he says.
"Debt payment is a priority now, but problems in Venezuela are getting worse. There are different kinds of problems that could lead to Venezuela to default," Burelli said. "There are a lot of deaths in Venezuela because of a shortage of basic supplies needed in any health system. That will consume interest payments, and the amortization of principal that you thought could be made, but that you won't be able to make."
Michael Ganske, head of emerging markets at investment management firm Rogge Global Partners, said he feels confident about Venezuela's ability to keep up with debt payments through 2015.
Some of Venezuela's trading partners are already reaping the benefits of the country's struggles. Smaller nations that have taken delivery of Venezuelan oil, for example, either have managed to negotiate reduced payments for those shipments or may yet do so.
In January, Maduro's government accepted a $1.9 billion lump debt payment from the Dominican Republic for years of past oil transactions, a sum marked a huge discount to the $4.1 billion market value of those oil shipments. A similar deal with Jamaica could be in the works.
Venezuela would have to make further, drastic changes in order to avoid a default, many of which would affect trade partners: slashing imports, raising domestic gas prices, changing its currency control system or cutting off subsidized oil shipments that it makes to Cuba .
Venezuela is a longtime provider of energy aid to other Caribbean nations through a subsidized-energy alliance called Petrocaribe. Cuts to that aid could create an economic threat to the entire region.
"The cost of doing business in a number of countries that rely on Petrocaribe oil is already extraordinarily high, primarily because they use outdated and outmoded energy sources," said Daniel Hanson, an analyst at Height Securities. "I think any nascent signs of growth in these Latin American and Caribbean countries that are reliant on Petrocaribe are likely to be sapped by the increased cost, primarily electricity."
That said, at least one country in the region could benefit from a Venezuelan collapse: Trinidad and Tobago. The island nation has the largest oil and natural gas reserves in the Caribbean and could take away Petrocaribe customers.
Slashing imports could help Venezuela's balance sheet, but would almost certaily hurt its main commercial partners. Neighboring Colombia is already feeling the pain.
Venezuela is the second-biggest destination for Colombian exports, after the United States. But exports have fallen significantly over the past year. Last year alone, exports to Venezuela fell more than 12 percent year over year.
Venezuela still has not raised prices on gasoline, which it very heavily subsidizes for its domestic market. The fear for Caracas, experts agree, is that such a move could trigger outright violence in the country.
Venezuela last raised gas prices in 1989, resulting in the "Caracazo" or "Caracas disaster," in which fuel price increases led to major social unrest that resulted in hundreds of deaths.
"A rise in gasoline prices will lead to a rise in public transportation and cargo, causing major inflationary pressure, and that will increase the risk of a social explosion," said Diego Moya-Ocampos, a senior political risk analyst at economic data firm IHS. CNBC

 

The Obama - Castro romance, Part III

March 16 - Cuba and the United States meet for talks on restoring diplomatic relations on Monday, seeking more progress toward an agreement while not allowing differences over Venezuela to impede their historic rapprochement.
Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson is due to meet in Havana with Josefina Vidal, the Cuban foreign ministry's chief of U.S. affairs, with talks possibly continuing into Wednesday.
Jacobson and Vidal led their respective delegations with great fanfare in Havana in January and in Washington in February, but this session will take place with smaller teams and, so far at least, a media blackout.
The United States severed diplomatic ties with Cuba in 1961, and relations remained hostile even after the end of the Cold War.
But President Barack Obama reversed the U.S. policy of isolating Cuba, entering 18 months of secret talks that led to a joint announcement with Cuban President Raul Castro on Dec. 17 that the two adversaries would seek to restore diplomatic ties, as well as a release of prisoners by both sides.
Obama told Reuters on March 2 he hoped the United States would open an embassy in Cuba before a Western Hemisphere summit in Panama set for April 10-11, when Obama and Castro could have their first face-to-face meeting since shaking hands at Nelson Mandela's funeral in December 2013.
Before agreeing to restore ties, Cuba wants to be removed from the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism and also to find a bank willing to handle transactions for its diplomatic posts in the United States.
For its part, the United States wants to increase staff at its mission in Havana and have unrestricted travel for its diplomats on the island.
Both sides reported progress on these issues after the first two round of talks.
Then on March 9 the United States declared Cuba's closest ally, Venezuela, a security threat and ordered sanctions against seven officials from the oil-rich country.
U.S. officials have said the Venezuela issue should not affect the Cuba talks, but Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said any attack on Venezuela was also an attack on Cuba, saying Washington "has provoked serious damage to the environment in the hemisphere on the eve of the Summit of the Americas."
"I hope that the U.S. government understands that it can't handle Cuba with a carrot and Venezuela with a garrote," Rodriguez said on Saturday while visiting Venezuela. Reuters

 

It seems that Obama doesn't believe that Cubans are "human beings"

March 8 - President Barack Obama slapped sanctions on Venezuela for abuse of human rights, while at the same time he is  throwing a lifeline to the Castro regime, which is the one pulling the strings of their puppet government in Venezuela, and responsible for tens of thousands of human rights violations and crimes against humanity during the 56 years that it has been in power in Cuba.

This is absolutely crazy! But nothing that comes Barack Hussein Obama's White House should surprise us:

President Obama finally pulled the trigger on Venezuela sanctions today, three months after signing the bipartisan Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014 into law, but lawmakers behind the bill said it was just a first step in dealing with Nicolas Maduro’s regime.
And, as noted by bill co-sponsor and co-author Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), “Even as I welcome this round of sanctions, I question why President Obama is simultaneously moving to lift sanctions on Cuba, which has played a direct role in sowing unrest in Venezuela and has a human rights record even worse than the Maduro regime. Human rights violations in Venezuela stem directly from what the Cuban army and intelligence agency have taught the Chavez-Maduro regime.”
Citing the “erosion of human rights guarantees, persecution of political opponents, curtailment of press freedoms, use of
violence and human rights violations and abuses in response to antigovernment protests, and arbitrary arrest and detention of antigovernment protestors, as well as the exacerbating presence of significant public corruption,” Obama said in his executive order blocking the entry of seven Venezuelan officials, the situation ”constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States, and I hereby declare a national emergency to deal with that threat.”
Venezuela recalled its chargé d’affairs for “immediate consultations.”
“Venezuelan officials past and present who violate the human rights of Venezuelan citizens and engage in acts of public corruption will not be welcome here, and we now have the tools to block their assets and their use of U.S. financial systems,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.
“We are deeply concerned by the Venezuelan government’s efforts to escalate intimidation of its political opponents. Venezuela’s problems cannot be solved by criminalizing dissent. We have consistently called on the Venezuelan government to release those it has unjustly jailed as well as to improve the climate of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, such as the freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly,” Earnest said. “These are essential to a functioning democracy, and the Venezuelan government has an obligation to protect these fundamental freedoms. The Venezuelan government should release all political prisoners, including dozens of students, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and Mayors Daniel Ceballos and Antonio Ledezma.”
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who authored the bill, said he welcomed the announcement but urged the Obama administration “to take further action, including against Venezuelan Minister of Defense Vladimir Padrino López, specifically in the aftermath of his authorization to permit security forces to use lethal force against peaceful protesters.”
“Since the start of 2014, the world has watched in alarm as President Maduro has led Venezuela down a path toward political crisis and economic ruin,” Menendez said. “As the average Venezuelan citizen has suffered the effects of runaway inflation and widespread shortages of basic foodstuffs, the Maduro government has radicalized its agenda, jailing opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez for over a year and arresting Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma. The recent death of 14-year-old Kluiverth Roa, at the hands of government security forces, shows the extreme lengths the regime in Venezuela is willing to go in order to silence the Venezuelan street.”
Agreeing that General Padrino was “inexplicably” and unwisely left off the list, Rubio stressed that “the human rights crisis in Venezuela is getting worse every day, and these long overdue financial sanctions are important steps to hold Nicolas Maduro’s regime accountable.”
“The authoritarian system that Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro have imposed in Venezuela have destroyed its economy and any semblance of democratic order in the country,” Rubio said. “Maduro has ruined lives through both the misery his system has inflicted, but also the lives his regime has cut short in response to demonstrations over the past year. As long as Maduro and his thugs remain in power, economic conditions and human rights will continue to worsen in Venezuela.”
A senior administration official told reporters on a conference call today that Obama’s order is “not action taken against the Venezuelan government as a whole; it is not action taken against the Venezuelan people or the Venezuelan economy.” PJ Media

 

Cuban spy convicted of murder and released by Obama says he’s ready for his ‘next order’

March 2 - In the depths of his 16-year odyssey through the U.S. prison system, convicted Cuban spy Gerardo Hernandez was transferred to an underground cell at Lompoc Federal Correctional Institution that was known to inmates simply as “the cage.”
As Hernandez recalls it, he was stripped to his underwear, cut off from all human contact and tormented by toilet water seeping — drip by drip — from the cell above him into the sink in his cramped living space.
It was days after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the federal Bureau of Prisons was taking no chances — “special administrative measures,” as they were called — with high-profile, politically sensitive inmates such as Hernandez, who was serving a double life sentence, with no possibility of parole, for conspiracy to commit espionage and murder.
“Hello,” he said when he was finally permitted to make his first phone call to his designated contact at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington. “It is the Count of Monte Cristo calling.”
It was Hernandez’s impish allusion to the famous 19th-century novel by Alexandre Dumas, whose hero, Edmond Dantès, is imprisoned in a dungeon on a Mediterranean island for the rest of his life — only to miraculously escape and re-emerge years later, triumphant, as a wealthy member of French nobility.

Today, after a series of plot twists every bit as improbable as those in Dumas’ novel, Hernandez counts himself as the modern-day, real-life equivalent. His sentence commuted by President Barack Obama, he is now a free man in his native Cuba, reunited with his wife, Adriana, and his former spy comrades. Last Tuesday, Hernandez and his fellow spies — the Cuban Five, they are called here — were officially decorated by President Raúl Castro as national heroes in a grand celebration at Cuba’s National Assembly.
And, Hernandez tells Yahoo News in an exclusive interview, he’s ready to return for duty to advance the cause of his country’s communist revolution.
“What I’m telling you right now, I already told Raúl Castro: I’m a soldier,” said Hernandez, pounding his chest. “I’m ready to receive my next order. I can serve anywhere my country believes I am useful.”
Perhaps most astonishing of all, Hernandez, 48, is also the father of a 7-week-old baby, Gema. The girl (her name means “precious stone” in Spanish) was conceived last year while Hernandez was still in a U.S. prison: His frozen sperm was shipped to Panama for secret fertility treatments for Adriana, all facilitated by the Obama administration — at the urging of Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy — as part of its backdoor diplomacy with the Cuban government.
“We have to believe in miracles,” Hernandez said, gently rocking Gema, a glowing Adriana by his side as the couple sat in the courtyard of the foreign ministry villa where they now live, attended to by a government-supplied staff of nannies, cooks and servers.
The release last Dec. 17 of Hernandez, as well as the last two imprisoned members of his Cuban Five spy network, Ramon Labanino and Antonio Guerrero, was a huge propaganda coup for the Castro government. It also paved the way for a historic breakthrough in U.S.-Cuba relations that has already brought a wave of American tourists to the island and U.S. companies knocking on Havana’s door looking for new business opportunities.

But the freeing of Hernandez and the Cuban Five spies — coinciding with Cuba’s release of imprisoned American contractor Alan Gross and a jailed CIA spy — is continuing to stir raw anger among anti-Castro Cubans in South Florida and some members of Congress.
“Shameful,” wrote GOP Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, in a recent letter to the Bureau of Prisons, describing Hernandez as a “convicted spy and murderer” and demanding answers about the medical treatments for his wife. Continue Reading Yahoo News

 

Orestes "Minnie" Miñoso "The Cuban Comet" is dead

March 1 - Baseball has lost another iconic ambassador.
Former White Sox star outfielder Minnie Minoso was found dead in the driver’s seat of his car early Sunday.
An autopsy performed Sunday afternoon determined Minoso died of a tear in his pulmonary artery caused by “chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.” The White Sox and his family said he was 90.
Just over a month after the death of Cubs legend Ernie Banks, Chicago fans and longtime followers of baseball worldwide now mourn the death of Minoso, known as the “Cuban Comet.”
Chicago’s first black major league player, Minoso was much more than a consummate ballplayer.
“I didn’t know Minnie until I bought the club in 1981, but the first time I met him I fell in love with his infectious personality and his love for the White Sox,” White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said Sunday. “He was just one of the most genuine people that you would ever want to know.”
Minoso was driving home from a friend's birthday party when he apparently fell ill and pulled over in the Lakeview neighborhood, according to police and family.
He was found unresponsive in the driver's seat of his car near a gas station in the 2800 block of North Ashland Avenue around 1 a.m., according to police. There were no signs of trauma and Minoso was pronounced dead at the scene at 1:09 a.m., police said.
President Barack Obama, a lifelong Sox fan, released a statement that included the following:
“For South Siders and Sox fans all across the country, including me, Minnie Minoso is and will always be 'Mr. White Sox.' ... Minnie may have been passed over by the Baseball Hall of Fame during his lifetime, but for me and for generations of black and Latino young people, Minnie’s quintessentially American story embodies far more than a plaque ever could.”
Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts issued a statement saying the team was “deeply saddened by the passing of Minnie Minoso. Having recently lost one of our all-time greats, Ernie Banks, we share the heartache with the White Sox organization and fans everywhere who were blessed to enjoy the talent, heart and passion of Mr. White Sox.”
Minoso’s son Charlie Rice-Minoso said: “He was an extraordinary person. He made many contributions to baseball and to Chicago. He'll be missed most by his family and closest friends.
“He had so many amazing relationships with people,” he added, choking up. “It was just amazing to see that, even so many years after he played, to see how he was respected. We're just eternally grateful.”
Billy Pierce, a former star White Sox pitcher and teammate of Minoso, said he could tell Minoso was not feeling well recently.
“I had been with him at SoxFest, and he had to stop two or three times when we were walking because it was tough getting his breath,” Pierce told the Tribune. “He wasn’t real well then, and from what I had been told, at Christmastime he had to go into the hospital because he had the same problem.”
Minoso’s birthday was listed on baseball-reference.com as Nov. 29, 1925, but some believed he was as old as 92. When asked about his age, he once said, “Look what they say in the Sox record book.”
Rice-Minoso said the family is going with 90.
“That's the number we have down in Spanish documents. That's the date,” he said. “It's kind of a running joke. That was the one topic he didn't want to focus on, so of course that's what everyone wanted to know.”
Playing left field on my sandlot baseball team, I always tried to emulate Minnie. He was my favorite baseball player when I was chasing fly balls. In my eyes, Minnie will always be a Hall of Famer! Rest in Peace Mr. Chicago White Sox.
Born in Cuba, Orestes “Minnie” Minoso came to the United States in 1945 and played three seasons for the New York Cubans in the Negro Leagues. Bill Veeck, then owner of the Indians, purchased his contract in September 1948. He made his major league debut in 1949, playing nine late-season games for the Indians.
After spending 1950 in the minors, Minoso came to the Sox in an early season trade in 1951. He became the Sox’s and Chicago’s first black player on May 1, 1951. Minoso wasted no time making his presence felt, getting two hits and two RBIs in an 8-3 loss to the Yankees. He quickly electrified Comiskey Park, hitting .326 to finish second in AL Rookie of the Year voting.
It was just the start for Minoso. In 1954, he had his second straight fourth-place finish in AL Most Valuable Player voting, hitting .320 with 19 homers, 18 triples, 19 stolen bases, 116 RBIs and 119 runs. He played in nine All-Star Games.
I'm proud of everything. I'm proud to be a baseball player.
“I felt Minnie was the one player in the American League who had that intangible quality of excitement that makes fans talk about him when they leave the park,” Frank Lane, the general manager who brought Minoso to the White Sox, once said.
The Sox retired his No. 9 in 1983. However, Minoso’s appeal went beyond Chicago. He was regarded as the first Latin American superstar, inspiring young players who dreamed of joining him in the big leagues.
Minoso spoke broken English, but his vibrant smile and enduring love for the game translated clearly everywhere.
“He and I would talk, and I had to say, ‘Minnie, what did you say?’ But I don’t think he ever said a nasty thing about anybody. It was always good, always friendly,” Pierce said. Read more The Chicago Tribune

 

Venezuela and Cuba: Partners in repression

Feb 24 - Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro paid a visit to Havana and met with Raúl and Fidel Castro, who have been his patrons and who helped to install him in power after the death of Hugo Chávez. Mr. Maduro’s political situation is desperate: As Venezuelans suffer severe shortages of staple goods and soaring inflation, his approval rating has dropped to 22 percent — and that’s before the full impact of falling oil prices hits a country dependent on petroleum for 96 percent of its hard-currency revenue.
On his return from Havana, Mr. Maduro turned to a familiar tactic. Intelligence agents stormed the residence of the elected opposition mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, and took him away to a military prison. Mr. Maduro then delivered a three-hour rant on television in which he accused the opposition leader of plotting a coup against him with the help of the Obama administration. Needless to say, he had no evidence to support this ludicrous charge.
If this sounds like a script borrowed from the Castro regime, that’s because it is. With Havana’s encouragement, Mr. Maduro is trying to shore up his crumbling support by concocting supposed threats from the United States and using them to illegally imprison his leading opponents. Mr. Ledezma follows several other mayors into captivity. With him at the Ramo Verde prison is Leopoldo López, the opposition leader who has been in military custody for more than a year.
The Castros, whose own crumbling economy depends heavily on supplies of discounted Venezuelan oil, are simultaneously trying to sustain their Caracas cash cow and line up new flows of dollars from the United States by restoring diplomatic relations. Intent on carrying out a policy of detente with Cuba that aides say was part of the ideological agenda he brought to office six years ago, President Obama ignores this double game.
To be sure, the White House spoke out sharply against the arrest of Mr. Ledezma and called the coup plot claims “baseless and false.” Following a mandate from Congress, the administration has sanctioned several dozen Venezuelan leaders for involvement in drug trafficking and human rights crimes and says it is considering additional steps. However, the core U.S. policy toward the unfolding disaster in a country that remains a major U.S. oil supplier has been to call on other Latin American countries to do something.
Predictably, they haven’t. Quick to pounce on right-wing governments that violate democratic norms, Brazil, Mexico and Chile have scrupulously avoided crossing the left-wing populist regime created by Chávez. A delegation of ministers from the regional group Unasur, which tilts toward Venezuela, is talking of returning to the country to promote a “dialogue” but has yet to call for Mr. Ledezma’s release.
The country with the most influence in Caracas is Cuba. U.S. officials ought to tell the Castros that they need to choose between Mr. Maduro’s anti-American-themed repression and the new relationship with Washington they say they want. As for Venezuela’s president, U.S. officials ought to seek his formal sanction under the Inter-American charter prohibiting violations of democracy — and challenge Venezuela’s neighbors to show where they stand. The Washington Post

 

Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, talks about Obama's "wrongful decision"

 

Each time the Castro's are desperate for money, an ignorant with money shows up

Obama unmasked

Dec.17 - After the end of the Soviet Union, when the Castro brothers lost the subsidy of more than $4 billion a year, Hugo Chávez came in to their rescue.

Now, 15 years later when Venezuela is on the verge of bankruptcy thanks in great part for having become a colony of Castroland, Barack Obama steps up to the plate to save them once again.

The Castros are always lucky enough to always find an ignorant with money willing to save them

 

Obama gave the Castros everything they asked, and more

Dec.17 - Everything Obama said he wasn't going to do, he did today.

He traded Alan Gross, who had been a hostage in Cuba for 5 years, for 3 Cuban spies including one directly involved in the murder of the Brothers to the Rescue pilots.

He is re-establishing relations with  the Castro brothers without asking anything in return.

He will increase trade relations, travel, tourism, and everything that would bring money to the Cuban dictatorship, so they can continue to enslave, exploit, torture and oppress the Cuban people.

As Raul Castro said in his speech at the same time Obama was speaking to the American people: "We didn't make one single concession".

They didn't have to since Obama was willing to give them everything they wanted and more.

It is a shameful day for America.

 

This is how much the Castro brothers make from their slave doctors

Nov. 17 - No wonder the New York Times wants to make sure Cuban slave doctors cannot escape. The NYT partners in Havana make billions of dollars a year exploiting the slave doctors and other Cuban professionals.

The slave trade brings the Castro brothers almost four times more than tourism.

 

New York's Granma, wants to make sure that the slave doctors can't seek freedom

Nov. 17 - The New York Times, best known as the Castros' mouthpiece in New York, has a new editorial today, the sixth in as many weeks, in favor of the fascist dictatorship in Cuba.

This time, the NYT wants the United States to cancel the program that has allowed thousands of slave Cuban doctors flee their slave masters and seek refuge in this country.

New York's Granma knows that the Castro brothers make more than $9 billion a year in their slave trade with Cuban doctors and other professionals, and want to make sure that those doctors keep working for their partners in Havana.

If you have the stomach to read it, here is today's NYT editorial: A Cuban Brain Drain Courtesy of the US

 

Cuba's Abandoned Communist Nuclear Reactor

Oct. 10 - Just 90 miles off the tip of Florida lies a half-baked, abandoned relic of the Cold War-era arms race — what was once going to be a joint Cuban-Soviet nuclear reactor. Thank God it never panned out. Because not only do we now have these incredible shots from photographer Darmon Richter, but every last aspect of this thing would have been a total and utter disaster.

It all started back in 1976, when comrades in communism, Cuba and the Soviet Union, agreed to build two nuclear reactors near Juragua, Cuba. And if it had ever been finished, just one of these 440-megawatt reactors could have satisfied over 15 per cent of Cuba’s energy needs. As The New York Times explained when construction officially ceased, this wasn’t your everyday reactor:
The V.V.E.R. design, which was the most advanced at the time, was the first to be exported by Moscow for use in a tropical climate. It differs from the Chernobyl-style design in that the radioactive core and fuel elements are contained within a pressurised steel vessel.
Construction didn’t start until 1983, which gave Cuba 10 years to build their potential-livelihood, all thanks to the the steady flow of Soviet funds. Of course, when the Soviet Union fell in 1991, the essential funds ceased, over 300 former Soviet technicians returned to the motherland, and all construction came to a standstill — despite the fact that 40 per cent of the heavy machinery had already been installed.
Still, it wasn’t over quite yet. The whole project spent nearly a decade in limbo, until finally, in 2000, Fidel Castro told Vladamir Putin that he was done with the two countries’ former joint-dream. Now, the power plant at Juragua was officially little more than a testament to what could have been — which is a very good thing. Because as it turns out, “what could have been” basically entailed wildly dangerous conditions and potentially a whole mess of destruction. Continue reading and see more photos Gizmodo

 

Citizens protesting against the regime on March 28 in Havana's famous Galiano Street

 

Videos: The Ladies in White protest in Havana and stopped from marching in Holguín

Dec. 3 - Video of a protest by the Ladies in White on Sunday December 1 at Parque Gandhi in Havana and an attempt to march in Holguin, but were stopped by Castro's police

 

 

Cuban lady is brutally attacked by Castro's police for expressing her opinions

Nov. 4 - Anonymous Venezuela has a warning: This is the future of Venezuela unless they get rid of Maduro and the other puppets under the control of the Castro brothers.

 

Yoani Sáncez's presentation at Google Ideas Summit

October 26 - Yoani Sánchez explains how Internet without Internet is used by Cubans inside the island.

Learn how you can help promote Internet without Internet in Cuba:

The Real Cuba  Also on Twitter: @WebPaqsforCuba  On Facebook: Paquetes Web Para Cuba

 

Learn about a new technology that allows Cubans in Cuba have access to websites banned by the Castro regime and how you can help:

The Real Cuba  Also on Twitter: @WebPaqsforCuba  On Facebook: Paquetes Web Para Cuba

 

Video of another act of repudiation against members of UNPACU

Oct. 9 - This took place in Cardenas on Sunday October 6, 2013

Click here to see the video

 

 Video taken at the Hijas de Galicia Hospital, Luyanó, Havana, Cuba

July 8 - Video taken in April of this year at the Hijas de Galicia Hospital, one of the hospitals for Cubans who do not have hard currency to pay the Castro brothers.

Very different from the hospital where they took Micahel Moore and the hospitals that are used by foreigners who pay with dollars.

Click here to see the video

 

Spanish daily ABC has an article about the false myth of Cuba's healthcare

Foto de la versión impresa del reportaje en ABC

March 17 - On Thursday of last week, Carmen Muñoz a columnist for Spanish daily ABC, called me to ask for permission to use the photos at therealcuba.com for an article about the false myth of Cuba's healthcare.

I was able to send her many of the photos on high resolution to use on the print edition of the newspaper.

The article was published on Sunday on ABC and is also on their web page at ABC.es  (Spanish)

 

Twit by Cuban blogger Orlando Luis Pardo about Paquetes Web Para Cuba

 

Our new page: Fidel Castro, the World's oldest terrorist

 

My interview with Baseball PhD

March 29 - I was interviewed by Ed Kasputis, of Baseball PhD, about baseball in Cuba before Castro and about the two Cubas, the one for foreigners and the one for regular Cubans.
Ed did a previous program with Mr. Sports Travel of San Diego, CA, about the five top international baseball destinations and was surprised to find out that the #1 destination was Cuba.
He received some nice pictures of Cuba and was ready to book a trip when he saw therealcuba.com and changed his mind.
He interviewed me as part of a program about the new Marlins Stadium and I was able to talk about baseball in Cuba before Castro and then we had a long chat about what is the reality of life in Cuba under Castro.
The program lasts 53 minutes, if you are not a baseball fan and just want to hear my interview about Cuba use your mouse to move the dial to minute 25:35  Click here to listen

 

Listen to Fidel Castro

For those who think that the Cuban people chose the system imposed by the Castro brothers, here are some of the things that Fidel Castro said and promised when he gained power Click Here

 

Satellite photos of Cuba's prisons, missile installations, military bases and more

 

A look at Havana before the Castro brothers destroyed it Cuba B.C

 

Visit our updated page: The Useful Idiots

 

We have new photos of Havana taken in October of last year

Oct. 9 - A friend sent me around two dozen photos of Havana that he took at the beginning of this month.

Some of them are very sad, because they show how Havana has been completely destroyed by this gang of human termites.

Some others are hard to believe, including this one of goats having "lunch" off the dumpsters on a Havana street.

Click here  to see them

 

Socio-Economic Conditions in Pre-Castro Cuba

Dec. 17 - Cuba Facts is an ongoing series of succinct fact sheets on various topics, including, but not limited to, political structure, health, economy, education, nutrition, labor, business, foreign investment, and demographics, published and updated on a regular basis by the Cuba Transition Project staff at the University of Miami.

Click here to learn the truth about Cuba's Health, Education, Personal Consumption and much more in pre-Castro Cuba.

 

 

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