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Mary Anastasia O’Grady: Crackdown on Cuba key to peace in Venezuela

The Wall Street Journal

The civilized world wants to end the carnage in Venezuela, but Cuba is the author of the barbarism. Restoring Venezuelan peace will require taking a hard line with Havana.
Step one is a full-throated international denunciation of the Castro regime. Any attempt to avoid that with an “engagement” strategy, like the one former US president Barack Obama introduced, will fail. The result will be more Venezuelas rippling through the hemisphere.
The Venezuelan opposition held its own nationwide referendum on Sunday to document support for regularly scheduled elections that have been cancelled and widespread disapproval of strongman Nicolas Maduro’s plan to rewrite the constitution.
The regime was not worried. It said it was using the day as a trial run to prepare for the July 30 elections to choose the assembly that will draft the new constitution.
The referendum was an act of national bravery. Yet like the rest of the opposition’s strategy — which aims at dislodging the dictatorship with peaceful acts of civil disobedience — it’s not likely to work. That’s because Cubans, not Venezuelans, control the levers of power.
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 US and to Africa to supply Europe. It also relies on cut-rate Venezuelan petroleum.
To keep its hold on Venezuela, Cuba has embedded a Soviet-style security apparatus. In a July 13 column, titled “Cubazuela” for the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba website, Roberto Alvarez Quinones reported that in Venezuela today there are almost 50 high-ranking Cuban military officers, 4500 Cuban soldiers in nine battalions, and “34,000 doctors and health professionals with orders to defend the tyranny with arms”. Cuba’s Interior Ministry provides Maduro’s personal security. “Thousands of other Cubans hold key positions of the state, government, military and repressive Venezuelan forces, in particular intelligence and counter-intelligence services.”
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. On July 6, Reuters reported that since the beginning of April “nearly 30 members of the military have been detained for deserting or abandoning their post and almost 40 for rebellion, treason, or insubordination”.
The idea of using civilian thugs to beat up Venezuelan protesters comes from Havana, as Cuban-born author Carlos Alberto Montaner explained in a recent El Nuevo Herald column, “Venezuela at the Edge of the Abyss.” Castro used them in the 1950s, when he was opposing Batista, to intimidate his allies who disagreed with his strategy. Today in Cuba they remain standard fare to carry out “acts of repudiation” against dissidents.
The July 8 decision to move political prisoner Leopoldo Lopez from the Ramo Verde military prison to house arrest was classic Castro. Far from being a sign of regime weakness, it demonstrates Havana’s mastery of misdirection to defuse criticism.
Cuba’s poisonous influence in Latin America could be weakened if the international community spoke with one voice. The regime needs foreign apologists like former Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and the leftist wing of the Vatican. It also needs the continued support of American backers of the Obama engagement policy, who want the US to turn a blind eye to human-rights abuses.
Yet there are limits to what can be brushed off. When opposition congressmen were attacked by Cuban-style mobs on July 5, and their bloodied faces showed up on the front pages of international newspapers, the Zapateros of the world began to squirm. That was Havana’s cue to improve the lighting for Maduro.
First Maduro claimed he knew nothing about it, though his Vice-President was on the floor of the legislature while it was happening. That was not believable.
Three days later came the sudden decision to move Lopez from military prison to house arrest. Maduro said it was a “humanitarian” gesture.
Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino, an acolyte of Fidel, said it was a “product of dialogue and ­tolerance.”
Thus the images of the savagery in the National Assembly receded while photos of Lopez, kissing a Venezuelan flag outside his home, popped up everywhere. Mission accomplished and Lopez remains detained.
For too long the world has overlooked the atrocities of the Cuban police state. In 1989 Fidel was even a special guest at the inauguration of Venezuelan president Carlos Andres Perez. Today the “special guests” are brutalizing Venezuela as the world wonders what went wrong.

Lack of demand: Southwest cutting service to two Cuban cities

Rapid City Journal

DALLAS | Southwest Airlines, pulling back on its service to Cuba, plans to end flights to two cities on the island in September after determining the routes aren’t sustainable, the company said last week.

Dallas-based Southwest will operate its last flights to Varadero and Santa Clara on Sept. 4. It will continue its service from Fort Lauderdale and Tampa, Fla., to the island nation’s capital, Havana.

Southwest’s decision is the latest sign that U.S. airlines, which got permission to fly to Cuba last year, have been disappointed with their return on investment. Southwest joins American Airlines and JetBlue in cutting back service to Cuba, while Frontier Airlines and Silver Airways ended their Cuba flights altogether.

“Our decision to discontinue the other Cuba flights comes after an in-depth analysis of our performance over several months which confirmed that there is not a clear path to sustainability serving these markets, particularly with the continuing prohibition in U.S. law on tourism to Cuba for American citizens,” Steve Goldberg, Southwest’s senior vice president of ground operations, said in a statement.

Commercial flights between the U.S. and Cuba took off for the first time in 50 years in 2016 as part of a broader push by the Obama administration to liberalize relations between the two countries.

Airlines launched dozens of daily flights to Havana and smaller cities across the island, hoping to stake a claim in a new market with the potential to grow into a major tourist draw.

About 285,000 U.S. citizens traveled to Cuba in 2016, triple the amount that did so in 2014, according to the Boston Consulting Group.

The Obama-era policy made it easier for U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba but did not totally eliminate restrictions and challenges that made visiting the island unlike traveling to any other Caribbean market.

General tourism to the island is prohibited, with U.S. travelers having to visit under one of 12 official purposes, including educational, research or humanitarian.

Traveling to the island is likely to get even more difficult for U.S. citizens after President Donald Trump announced changes this month that will require most visitors to be part of organized tour groups.

For now, much of the traffic between the U.S. and Cuba will likely be Cuban Americans visiting friends and family on the island, a market Southwest will continue to serve with its flights from Fort Lauderdale to Havana.

The company is currently requesting a third daily flight between those two cities and is awaiting a ruling from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

These Cuban coaches think they are still in Cuba

They should be in jail, instead of a baseball field.

Video

New York Post

If you’re going down, go down swinging. The Cuban National Team made use of that axiom Thursday night in an exhibition, 6-5 loss to the Canadian-American League’s Rockland Boulders.

After the umpires overturned a controversial call in the ninth inning, calling Cuba’s runner out at second base due to interference, the Cuban coaching staff lost their minds. One coach arguing with the head umpire turned into a sea of older men in red-and-white uniforms surrounding the umpires on the infield dirt, getting in their faces, bumping them with their chests and kicking dirt on them.

The entire coaching staff was promptly ejected from the game, although that didn’t stop them from stalking the umpires onto the outfield grass.

The umpires eventually made it to safety, exiting the field and forcing the game to end early — with one out in the ninth inning and the tying run on first base.

The game was part of an international showcase which featured the Yeoncheon Miracle, an independent South Korean team, and the Cuban team on a three-week tour through the Can-Am League.

The tour was unaffected by the recent restrictions President Donald Trump placed on predecessor Barack Obama’s Cuban travel policy.

Could 1 million more Cubans be deemed ineligible for remittances?

The Miami Herald

William LeoGrande, an American University professor who specializes in U.S.-Cuba relations, says it appears there might be a “poison pill” in President Donald Trump’s new Cuba policy that potentially could cut off remittances to more than 1 million Cubans.

The memorandum on strengthening Cuba policy that Trump signed last week in Miami specifically states that regulatory changes shall not prohibit “sending, processing or receiving authorized remittances” — the money that’s sent to family members and friends in Cuba.

Currently remittances can be sent to almost anyone on the island — with the exception of members of the Council of Ministers, which includes the president, first vice president, seven first vice presidents, ministers and a few other top officials, and high-ranking military officials.

But the Trump memo greatly expands the definition of so-called prohibited officials.

It includes not only ministers, vice ministers and members of the Council of State and Council of Ministers but also members and employees of the National Assembly of People’s Power — Cuba’s parliament; provincial assembly members; local heads of Committees for the Defense of the Revolution; directors general, sub-directors and higher officers of all Cuban ministries and state agencies; employees of the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Defense; and members and employees of Cuba’s Supreme Court.

The memo also lists secretaries and first secretaries of the Confederation of Labor of Cuba and top editors of all state-run media outlets as prohibited officials.

Such a sweeping category could potentially include a quarter of Cuba’s labor force, LeoGrande said. “It’s literally a million people if you count everyone who works for the military and GAESA that could have their remittances cut off,” he said.

GAESA (Grupo de Administración Empresarial) is a Cuban military conglomerate that controls a broad swath of the Cuban economy, including the Gaviota Tourism Group. One of the cornerstones of Trump’s new Cuba policy is channeling U.S. money and businesses away from GAESA and instead encouraging Americans and U.S. companies to develop economic ties with small private business people in Cuba.

But widening the prohibition on who can receive remittances could potentially hurt many Cuban families — those Trump has said he wants to support with his new policy, LeoGrande said. Many Cubans are dependent on money sent from friends and relatives abroad because state salaries are so low. An estimated $3 billion in remittances is sent to the island annually.

Among the questions, which may by clarified when regulations on the new Cuba policy are written, is how literally to take the definition of all employees of the Ministry of Defense.

All Cuban males must complete compulsory military service. “Does this mean an active duty private is an employee of the Ministry of Defense, and therefore a prohibited person?” asked Robert Muse, a Washington lawyer. “There still has to be more definition of what this means.”

Also in question is whether a person who is a clerk or low-level employee at an enterprise run by GAESA would be considered an employee of the Ministry of Defense.

Trying to sort out such definitions about who is eligible to receive remittances could potentially become a real headache for money transfer companies, Muse said.

In response to a query, Western Union, which has provided money transfer services to Cuba from the United States since 1999 and more recently began to handle remittances from other parts of the world to Cuba, said: “Western Union does not believe the changes are intended to impact the sending of authorized remittances to Cuba.”

Said LeoGrande: “There are a number of things that need to be clarified. The [memorandum] is so ambiguous in places.”

Cuba watchers also point to a section of Trump’s memorandum that instructs the State Department to identify “entities or sub-entities” under the control or acting on behalf of the Cuban “military, intelligence or security services or personnel” and publish a list of those with which “direct financial transactions” would disproportionately benefit them “at the expense of the Cuban people or private enterprise in Cuba.”

Some analysts have zeroed in on the word direct in the memorandum. Previous OFAC directives usually refer to direct and indirect financial transactions.

“Does this mean you can’t go and book at a Gaviota hotel, but you can give a Spanish tour company money and they can get you a room at the Saratoga?” Muse asked. (The Hotel Saratoga is operated under the umbrella of Habaguanex, which was recently transferred to the military.)

How Fidel Castro Supported Terrorism in America

The Wall Street Journal, By  Zach Dorfman
The decision to honor Oscar López Rivera, a terrorist who spent 35 years in federal prison, at New York’s Puerto Rican Day Parade Sunday unleashed a firestorm. Organizers named López Rivera—released in February under an 11th-hour clemency from President Obama —the parade’s first-ever “National Freedom Hero.”

In response, major sponsors such as Goya, Coca-Cola , Univision, Jet Blue and the Yankees pulled their support. New York Police Department Commissioner James O’Neill is refusing to march, as are several Democratic politicians, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.

The wariness over López Rivera—who’ll still march, though he’s said he’ll forgo the “hero” designation—is well-founded. The group he helped lead, the pro-independence Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional Puertorriqueña, or FALN, was one of the most prolific terrorist organizations of its time. Between the mid-1970s and mid-1980s, the FALN perpetrated more than 130 bombings. It was responsible for the 1975 explosion at Fraunces Tavern, which killed four and wounded 63; a bombing spree in New York City in August 1977 that killed one, injured six, and forced the evacuation of 100,000 office workers; and the purposeful targeting and maiming of four police officers, among many other vicious crimes.

Carnage on this scale was possible because of the FALN’s organizational and operational sophistication—including its numerous connections to communist Cuba and its intelligence services. Those connections have been known to law enforcement for decades.

According to court documents, Filiberto Ojeda Ríos, who is believed to have helped co-found the FALN, told an undercover NYPD officer in 1983 that he had received explosives training in Cuba. And the FBI estimated that by 1973, roughly 135 Puerto Rican militants had received “extensive instruction in guerilla war tactics, preparation of explosive artifacts, and sophisticated methods of sabotage” from Fidel Castro’s intelligence services.

The full extent of the FALN’s Cuba connections is unknown. But they may be more enduring than has been publicly reported. According to an NYPD document I discovered at the Hoover Institution archives at Stanford—undated, but apparently circa 1977—by that time officials had come to believe that “the FALN was started in the mid-1960’s with a nucleus of Puerto Rican terrorists that received advanced training in Cuba. . . . After their advanced training in Cuba they returned to Puerto Rico and a wave of bombings and incendiary incidents struck the [latter] island. Within the last few years they have shifted their activities to the mainland. . . . It is believed that they have maintained close links and may in fact work closely with Cuban intelligence operatives.”

That training would help explain the FALN’s professionalism, as well as its ability to bedevil law enforcement. An FALN instructional manual, which I also found at Hoover, includes sophisticated directives for compartmentalized clandestine communications between different “cadres,” or cells, as well as espionage and countersurveillance techniques. “One must observe religiously the rules and regulations of security in order to protect the organization, its cadres, its secrets, its documents, its arms, [safe] houses, and other instruments of work,” the document says. According to the manual, this hyperattention to security even extended to meetings of the MLN, the FALN’s above-ground political organization.

Viewed from this broader perspective, the FALN was not merely a “highly motivated and intelligent adversary,” as the NYPD document I found puts it. It was an instrument in the decadeslong shadow war between the U.S. and Cuba.

This is not to minimize the pro-independence sentiment in Puerto Rico, or the historical, cultural and emotional bonds that tie the two islands together. The Spanish-American War, which gave Cuba its independence, also led to Puerto Rico’s annexation by the U.S. But from Castro’s perspective, training a group of dedicated Marxist militants, whose actions would then destabilize major American cities such as New York and Chicago (as well as Puerto Rico itself), would help form a relatively low-cost, and covert, strategy for weakening his greatest antagonist.

On May 17 López Rivera was released from house arrest, 3½ months after departing prison. The Cuban regime applauded. “Please accept our fraternal congratulations on behalf of the Party, government and people, who share the joy of your liberation,” said President Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother. “We await you in Cuba, with all the honors and affection you deserve, whenever it may be possible for you.”

Mr. Castro neglected to mention that Cuba already plays host to another FALN leader: William Morales, one of the group’s bomb-makers, who after escaping from a U.S. prison in 1979 found his way to Havana. Much of the story of Oscar López Rivera and the FALN takes place far from the streets of Spanish Harlem, Humboldt Park or San Juan.

Mr. Dorfman is a senior fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.

Cuban state-run media confirms gasoline shortage

Reuters

Cuban media on Friday confirmed a three-week-old shortage of premium gasoline that has left embassies, tourists and others scrambling for fuel, and said it was not clear when it would end.

The online edition of the Communist Youth daily, Juventud Rebelde, published a story from Escambray, a central Sancti Spiritus province newspaper, explaining measures taken to deal with the shortage.

“Irregularities in the delivery of this fuel which is not refined in Cuba … led to its substitution with regular gasoline,” the Escambray story said.

In Cuba, where the government rarely directly addresses controversial issues, such round-about-forms of confirmation and explanation are not unusual.

The newspaper quoted provincial directors of the state-run CIMEX Corp, which, along with the state oil monopoly, operates most service stations, as saying that four stations have been set aside in the province for diplomats, tourists and others to buy high-octane gasoline for cash, while others were selling what was left in inventory for cash and lower-quality fuel.

Cash-strapped Cuba depends on crisis-racked ally Venezuela, an OPEC member, for about 70 percent of its fuel needs, including oil for refining and re-exports.

But socialist Venezuela’s subsidized shipments have fallen by as much as 40 percent since 2014. Potential new suppliers usually want cash because of Cuba’s poor credit rating. Most Cubans who own cars, mainly vintage American and Soviet-era models, use lesser-quality fuel that can damage modern engines.

Some Cuban state workers are assigned cars and receive gasoline ration cards, including for premium gasoline if they drive modern state-owned vehicles.

For April, the state issued ration cards only for regular gasoline and sent out an internal memo, leaked to social media, announcing that there would be no deliveries of high octane gasoline and that inventories would go only to cash-paying customers while they lasted.

Miguel Romero, head of CIMEX’s service station division in Sancti Spiritus, said that after an initial period of confusion, cash sales for premium were normal, while sales to state workers with premium ration cards had dropped to nearly zero, reducing overall consumption of high octane gasoline by 60 percent.

The head of CIMEX in the province, Melvin Ruiz Nunez, said there was sufficient premium in stock to continue sales at the present pace through the beginning of May.

“I do not know if current restrictions will continue,” he said.

When U.S. Airstrikes Could Have Destroyed a Terrorist Regime, Freed a Nation and Altered History—The Bay of Pigs

Townhallby Humberto Fontova

“Where are the planes?!” kept crackling over U.S. Navy radios exactly 56 years ago this week. The U.S. Naval armada (22 ships including the Carrier Essex loaded with deadly Skyhawk jets.) was sitting 16 miles off the southern Cuban coast near an inlet known as Bahia de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs). The question — bellowed between blasts from a Soviet artillery and tank barrage landing around him — came from commander, Jose San Roman.

“Send planes or we can’t last!” San Roman kept pleading to the very fleet that escorted his men to the beachhead (and sat much closer to them than the U.S. destroyers Porter and Ross sat to the Syrian coast this week.) Meanwhile the Soviet artillery barrage intensified, the Soviet T-34 and Stalin tanks closed in, and San Roman’s casualties piled up.

By that date the terrorists who ran (and still run) Cuba had been operating terror-training camps for two years, had kidnapped, tortured and murdered dozens of American (to say nothing of tens of thousands of Cubans.) A year later they wantonly brought Western civilization a whisker from nuclear destruction. If foreign terrorists ever merited a MOAB, it was these– based 90 miles from U.S. shores.

Crazed by hunger and thirst the Cuban freedom-fighters had been shooting and reloading without sleep for three days. Many were hallucinating. By then many suspected they’d been abandoned by the Knights of Camelot.

Continue reading When U.S. Airstrikes Could Have Destroyed a Terrorist Regime, Freed a Nation and Altered History—The Bay of Pigs

Cuba’s premium gas shortage leaves diplomats stuck

Newsweek

When they are not tending to international affairs, diplomats based in Havana can be found these days stewing in interminable lines at gas stations and concocting ways to increase the octane in fuel as Cuba’s premium gasoline shortage takes its toll.

Cuba sent around an internal memo last week advising that it would restrict sales of high-octane, so-called “special fuel,” in April. That is not an issue for most Cuban drivers, whose vintage American cars and Soviet-era Ladas use regular fuel.

But it is for the embassies that use modern cars whose engines could be damaged by the fuel at most Havana gas stations. So the diplomats are taking a leaf out of the book of Cubans, used to such shortages, and becoming resourceful.

Given the U.S. trade embargo, Cubans have for decades had to invent new ways to keep their cars on the road, replacing original engines with Russian ones and using homemade parts.

“I bought octane booster, and the embassy has bought lubricants, meant to help the motor deal with rubbish gasoline,” said one north European diplomat, who got a relative to bring the booster in his luggage given it is unavailable in Cuba.

“At the moment we are using the car that runs on diesel, so we can ‘survive’,” said an Eastern European diplomat.

Cuba has not announced the measure officially yet. According to the memo, “the special fuel remaining in stock at gas stations from April will only be sold in cash and to tourists until the inventory is depleted.”

“It’s very serious. I have already suspended a trip to Santiago de Cuba for fear of lack of gas,” said one Latin American diplomat, adding that it seemed like the problem would last. “Diplomats are very worried.”

Some embassies in Havana have people scouting out which stations still have some higher-octane fuel and are sending around regular updates to staff. One gas station worker said they were getting small deliveries of fuel each day still.

The embassies are also advising people to carpool or use the diplomatic shuttle.

Meanwhile the European Union has requested from the ministry of foreign affairs that one or more service centers be set aside for diplomats with special gas, according to a European diplomat.

Cuba has become increasingly reliant on its socialist ally Venezuela for refined oil products but the latter has faced its own fuel shortage in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, the Communist-ruled island cannot easily replace subsidized Venezuelan supplies as it is strapped for cash.

Although the memo referred to April, it is not clear how long the shortage will last. Cubans joke that once something disappears in Cuba, it is never to return, referring to products that have disappeared from their ration book like cigarettes, beef and condensed milk.

The Peugeot dealership in Havana has sent its clients lists of technical tips on how to protect their motors while using lower-grade gasoline, including more frequent maintenance and ensuring vehicles at running at optimum temperature before driving.

The shortage is also impacting others using modern cars such as taxi drivers, tourists and workers at joint ventures.

 

21st Anniversary of the murder of the BTTR pilots by orders of Raúl Castro

On February 24, 1996, Mario Manuel de la Peña, age 24; Armando Alejandre, Vietnam War Veteran, age 45; Carlos Alberto Costa Pino, age 29 and Pablo Morales, age 29 were murdered when Cuban MIGs shot their small civilian airplanes over international waters.

They were flying in a group of three small Cessna airplanes on a humanitarian search and rescue mission for the non-profit organization “Brothers to the Rescue.”

Two occupants perished in each of the two aircraft destroyed; no remains were recovered.

Brothers to the Rescue flew thousands of volunteer missions to spot rafters at sea fleeing Cuba, notifying the U.S. Coast Guard of their location so they would be rescued.

The organization also took food, water and clothing to rafters held in detention centers in nearby countries.

The Cuban government’s actions were denounced by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Cuba and condemned by the International Civil Aviation Organization.

The families of the victims obtained a judgment in U.S. Superior Court against the Cuban government for premeditated murder.