Category Archives: Obama’s Cuba Policy

Trump Weighs Slowing Cuba Opening With Curbs on U.S. Tourists

Bloomberg

President Donald Trump plans to follow through on a campaign promise by rolling back the Obama administration’s effort to open Cuba to U.S. tourism and trade, with new limits being considered on travel and investment by U.S. companies.

Trump’s advisers are preparing options including curbs on American travel to the island and restricting partnerships between U.S. companies and entities with ties to the Cuban military, according to two people familiar with the discussions.

Final options haven’t yet been presented to Trump, though a decision is expected before a visit by the U.S. president to Miami on Friday. The people familiar with the plans, both outside the White House, spoke on condition of anonymity because discussions are ongoing.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Monday declined to describe Trump’s plans for President Barack Obama’s Cuba liberalization policy. “When we have an announcement on the president’s schedule we’ll let you know,” he told reporters.

Trump has criticized Obama’s deal-making with Cuba as one-sided, and has said it allowed the Castro regime to continue human rights abuses. Obama re-opened the U.S. embassy on the island, relaxed travel restrictions on American citizens, and allowed U.S. airlines to establish direct flights and U.S. cruise lines to make ports of call in Cuba.

“All of the concessions that Barack Obama has granted the Castro Regime were done through executive order, which means the next president can reverse them –- and that is what I will do, unless the Castro Regime meets our demands,” Trump said at a campaign rally in Miami last September.

Havana Hotel

New sanctions aimed at cutting off flows of money that benefit the Cuban military could affect U.S. hotel partnerships in Cuba, including the Four Points by Sheraton in Havana. The Cuban military had a stake in the hotel’s Cuban partner.

Other ideas under discussion, the people familiar with the matter said, include guidelines that would require Americans to formally explain how their travel to Cuba benefits the U.S. and the Cuban people, as well as increased scrutiny of travelers and the frequency of their visits.

Travel restrictions could impact U.S. airlines with direct flights to Cuba as well as the cruise industry. One advocate of Obama’s policies said a change would have less impact on a vacationer than on people seeking to do business or on Cuban-Americans who want to visit family on the island on a regular basis.

Senator Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican who backed Obama’s Cuba policy, said lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are concerned about what Trump will do.

Any additional restrictions on travel “will go over like a lead balloon, and it should,” Flake said in an interview on Monday. Under the travel limits in place preceding Obama, he said, Cuban-Americans with aging parents in Cuba might have been forced to decide which parent’s funeral to attend.

He also said he does not want to see curbs on Cuban entrepreneurship or the U.S. more focused on Cuba sanctions than on sanctions against North Korea or Iran.

Sanction Effects

Sanctions targeting the Cuban military could have widespread effects, given its large role in the country — perhaps touching even on remittances and agriculture. The impact would depend on how sanctions are structured.

James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a Washington-based group lobbying to end the 55-year old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, said that changes to Obama’s policy could have unintended consequences for U.S. businesses and jobs. “The idea that this is just some kind of modest step back is only true if it’s done extremely carefully in the end,” he said.

A report prepared by his group found that major airlines including American Airlines Group Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc., JetBlue Airways Corp., Southwest Airlines Co., United Continental Holdings Inc., and Carnival Corp., Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. have all taken advantage of Obama’s relaxed travel restrictions.

The island has not been as promising a business opportunity as U.S. airlines once expected, however. Already, Frontier Airlines Holdings Inc., Silver Airways Corp., and Spirit Airlines, Inc. have discontinued flights to Cuba entirely, and American, the largest carrier with service to Cuba, scaled back flights 25 percent earlier this year.

Flake said he and two Democratic senators, Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, met last week with Trump’s national security adviser H.R. McMaster to share their concerns but that McMaster did not signal the administration’s plans.

The president’s advisers have sought input from across his Cabinet but also have been working behind the scenes with critics of the Castro administration, including Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican.

“I am confident the president will keep his commitment on Cuba policy by making changes that are targeted and strategic and which advance the Cuban people’s aspirations for economic and political liberty,” Rubio said in a statement.

Trump, in Miami speech, set to roll back Obama’s Cuba policy

Fox News, By Serafín Gómez

President Trump will head to Miami on Friday, home to a large and influential Cuban-American community, to unveil his administration’s new Cuba policy — which will roll back central parts of his predecessor’s efforts to normalize ties with the Communist island nation, according to a senior administration official and other sources.

While details on the changes to the policy have yet to be fully revealed, a U.S. official suggested that Trump would call for Cuban President Raul Castro to push for more political freedom and to release democratic activists in Cuban prisons, among other initiatives.

Trump is at the same time expected to announce a reversal in some areas of former President Barack Obama’s previous steps toward normalizing relations including the opening of embassies between the two countries and the easing of flight restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba.

The final actions have not been set as the review over the specifics of the plan continues. However, there will likely be steps in restricting travel from the U.S. to Cuba; there are now daily flights from Florida to Cuba. Another directive being weighed is taking steps to limit American companies from dealing with businesses owned by the Cuban military, U.S. sources confirm to Fox News.

While campaigning in Miami during a stop in September of 2016, then-Republican presidential nominee Trump hinted at such a move, tying it to demands on the Cuban government.

“All of the concessions Barack Obama has granted the Castro regime were done through executive order which means our next president can reverse them,“ Trump said. “And that I will do unless the Castro regime meets our demands.”

“Those demands include religious and political freedom for the Cuban people, and the freeing of political prisoners,” Trump added.

Key Republican lawmakers Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Mario Diaz Balart, both Cuban-Americans from Florida, have been directly involved in working with the White House on the new Cuba policy, according to sources with direct knowledge of the situation.

Rubio, who opposed Trump in the 2016 Republican presidential primary, has worked “diligently behind the scenes” with the administration to develop the approach, said a source directly involved in the policy discussions.

“I am confident the president will keep his commitment on Cuba policy by making changes that are targeted and strategic and which advance the Cuban people’s aspirations for economic and political liberty,” Rubio said in a statement.

A senior Rubio adviser previewed what may be represented during Friday’s Trump Cuba policy rollout, including that the new approach would have to be in compliance with the “statutory provisions passed by Congress which govern US-Cuba policy.”

The aide also stressed that the new Cuba policy would be in the best interest of U.S. foreign policy and national security.

Part of the focus is to also encourage the emerging generation of Cuban leaders to take the reigns after Raul Castro steps down in 2018, as he publicly stated he would.

“Raul Castro and his closest advisors are mostly in their 80’s,” the senior aide told Fox News, stressing they are focusing on the “long term.”

“Cuba will soon have a new generation of leaders, one way or another. These policy measures are designed to lay the groundwork for them to empower the Cuban people to develop greater economic and ultimately political liberty.”

Trump will not announce highly anticipated changes in Cuba policy

The Miami Herald

After much anticipation that an announcement on Cuba policy changes would be made no later than Saturday, President Donald Trump — in the midst of various political crises — has not decided what to do, officials said.

The White House had considered holding an event May 20 to commemorate the 115th anniversary of the birth of the Cuban Republic, but Trump will begin an international trip on Friday and the review of the policy toward the island has not concluded, a spokeswoman told el Nuevo Herald.

“The issue of Cuba is extremely complex, and the president does not want to rush it,” said the spokeswoman. “Besides, he won’t be here on May 20.”

The Trump administration is carrying out a review of Cuba policy that involves several federal agencies and is being coordinated by the National Security Council.

Rumors of an imminent announcement circulated around Capitol Hill and even crossed the Florida Straits to the island, although Havana seems less anxious than before, when Trump’s presidential victory and strong statements raised questions about the so-called “thaw” in diplomatic relations initiated by former President Barack Obama in 2014.

“Havana is confident that not much will happen,” said a businessman close to the Cuban government.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a drastic change would not make much sense because the Cuban communist government would quickly adjust to a policy of confrontation with its historical enemy, the United States, and because the island is in the throes of a significant transition — the expected retirement of Cuban leader Raúl Castro, 86, in February.

Continue reading Trump will not announce highly anticipated changes in Cuba policy

Cuban Dissident Artist ‘El Sexto’ Released from Maximum Security Prison

ArtnetNews

He had been held for two months without charge.

Cuban dissident artist Danilo Maldonado Machado, aka El Sexto, was released over the weekend from the maximum security prison outside Havana, where he had been held for nearly two months.

The artist and activist had been held at El Combinado del Este, a maximum security prison used for hardened criminals as well as Cubans whose political views oppose the state. This was his third arrest since December 2014, first in relation to an artwork likening Raul and Fidel Castro to pigs, and again on the eve of a visit by former President Barack Obama to Cuba.

On November 26, 2016, El Sexto was violently taken from his home in Havana by police, who gave no reason for his arrest. He was scheduled to leave Cuba for Art Basel in Miami, where he had planned exhibitions and performances.

Cuban authorities did not give a reason for his release on Saturday, January 21, either; however, Pollock Fine Art London, a gallery that represents El Sexto, noted in a statement that it coincided with a recent communication sent to the Cuban government from the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, regarding their reviewing of a petition to declare the artist’s incarceration illegal according to international law.

More than 13,700 people signed an online petition on Change.org demanding El Sexto’s immediate release. “Short-term arbitrary arrests remain a common tactic to restrict freedom of expression in Cuba,” read the petition’s explanatory text.

Amnesty International also called for urgent action, calling the artist a “prisoner of conscience.”

After his release, El Sexto thanked the petitioners and Amnesty International, as well as other human rights organizations, activists, artists, and writers who supported him. He also expressed his gratitude to the international attorneys who fought for him: Centa B. Rek Chatjtur of the Human Rights Foundation, and Kimberley Motley, who was arrested in Havana on December 16 for attempting to publicize the artist’s unwarranted arrest and incarceration. He is currently at home with his family in Havana.

Obama sends an aide to sign a “counternarcotics, counterterrorism” agreement with a narco-terrorist regime

The Washington Times
With five days remaining in office, President Obama dispatched a top adviser to Cuba Monday for the signing of an agreement governing law enforcement issues such as counternarcotics operations between the two countries.

Deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes is meeting with Cuban officials about cultural engagements and establishing a legal framework for “counternarcotics, counterterrorism, legal cooperation, and money laundering, including technical exchanges that contribute to a strong U.S.-Cuba law enforcement relationship,” the White House said

Mr. Rhodes’ trip to Cuba follows last week’s announcement that the administration is ending the so-called “wet-foot/dry foot” policy that accepted any Cubans who made it ashore in the U.S. after fleeing the Communist country.

The White House said Mr. Obama’s goal is “to help the Cuban people achieve a better future for themselves and to advance the interests of the United States.”

Normalizing The Communists Who Run Cuba Makes This Survivor Sick

The Federalist, by Armando Simón

Totalitarianism touches every aspect of every person’s life, and Cuban communism has been traumatic for adults and children not drunk with fanaticism.

Ever since the death of that psychotic dictator Fidel Castro, I have been experiencing déjà vu. At age ten, I fled my native Cuba after the Communists took over and proceeded to trash the nation to make it conform to their totalitarian ideology. You may think that a ten-year-old would be ignorant of politics and not remember much, but totalitarianism touches every aspect of every person’s life, and it was traumatic for adults and children who were not drunk with fanaticism.

Aside from the constant persecution, militarism, censorship, indoctrination in schools, and idiotic slogans pasted everywhere, there was a complete vanishing of books, comic books, good films, food, clothing, household items, you name it. Not only were the Communists psychotic murderers, they were stupidly incompetent at running the economy, something that they boasted of benefitting the population. In fact, the only ones who never lacked for anything were the Communists. You see, “some animals are more equal than others.”

Continue reading Normalizing The Communists Who Run Cuba Makes This Survivor Sick

Prominent Cuban dissidents detained by state security agents

The Miami Herald

Cuban dissident Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet, recipient of the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, was taken into custody by police and state security agents Wednesday morning in Havana and briefly detained.

Miami-based Inspire America Foundation, a super PAC that supports pro-democracy leaders and policies in Cuba and the Americas, said Biscet, a former political prisoner, was picked up outside his Havana home by four police operatives and two state security agents and put into a patrol car.

By Wednesday afternoon, he was released with a warning about his activities, said Inspire America founder Marcell Felipe, who spoke with Biscet via telephone.

“While in custody he was told to give up his work and that he was getting old and that he was being watched and would go to prison if he continued,” said Felipe.

Three other dissidents — Eduardo Quintana Suárez, José Omar Lorenzo Pimienta, and Yoan Álvares — also were detained.

Inspire America said they had planned to meet in a Havana park to distribute a newsletter celebrating the 4th anniversary of the Emilia Project, a campaign to gather signatures on a document that asks for a new democratic and free parliament to be created to replace Cuba’s National Assembly of People’s Power and demands that a new constitution be drafted on the principles of democracy and freedom.

Biscet, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush in 2007, is one of the directors of the Emilia Project and was arrested in 2002 as part of the “Black Spring” roundup of dissidents. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison but was released in 2011.

The independent Cuban news service 14yMedio also reported that Karina Gálvez, an economist and member of the editorial board of the magazine Convivencia, was detained Wednesday morning and taken to state security headquarters in Pinar del Río. Her home was reportedly searched for nearly four hours.

During his confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Rex Tillerson, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, said that since the Obama administration’s opening toward Cuba and the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, Cuba hasn’t done enough to defend human rights.

After everything he has done for them: Cuban troops chant: We’ll make Obama ‘a hat out of bullets to the head’

The Miami Herald

In a particularly absurd display of military might and tropical folklore, Raúl Castro presided over a military parade in Havana on Monday to honor his dead brother and mark the 58th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution.

But instead of railing against the Republican winner of the U.S. presidential election, who has already taunted and threatened the Cuban government with his infamous tweets, the theme was anti-Obama.

Apparently everybody loves a winner, and Raúl Castro is no exception. He’s ready to ditch President Barack Obama, who opened up to Cuba like no other U.S. president before him.

The parting is ugly.

Listen to the war chant the marching troops were shouting in the parade:

“Commander-in-Chief, command us. Command over this land. We are going to make war if imperialism comes. Obama! Obama! With what fervor we’d like to confront your clumsiness, give you a cleansing with rebels and mortar, and make you a hat out of bullets to the head.”

Nothing like a little santería jargon — una limpieza, a cleansing! — to go with the fatigues, rifles and a threat to do the U.S. president harm.

Even by Cuba’s Kafkian standards, threatening to shoot an American president in the head is way out there. Too reprehensible for words. But the ungrateful display is even more remarkable because Obama has been nothing but a friend to Cuba, unilaterally lifting so many trade and travel restrictions that it worked to his political detriment at home.

Obama’s grave crime against Castro: The American president is more popular in Cuba than Raúl — and his visit last March awakened great hope and expectations in the Cuban people, who welcomed Obama with joy and displays of solidarity with the United States. Cubans heard Obama’s message that there could be a better Cuba if they believed in it, worked for it, embraced change and America’s peace offering.

Continue reading After everything he has done for them: Cuban troops chant: We’ll make Obama ‘a hat out of bullets to the head’

Trump adds Cuba embargo supporter to transition team

mauricio-claver-carone

The Miami Herald

President-elect Donald Trump Monday named Mauricio Claver-Carone, executive director of the most active pro-Cuba embargo group in Washington, to his transition team.

Claver-Carone has been one of the harshest critics of President Barack Obama’s efforts since December of 2014 to improve relations with Cuba, and his appointment to the Trump team could signal a reversal of some of those changes.

He is executive director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee (USCD PAC) as well as Cuba Democracy Advocates, a non-profit that describes itself as “a non-partisan organization dedicated to the promotion of a transition in Cuba towards human rights, democracy and the rule of law.”

The Washington Examiner reported that Claver-Carone was named to the transition team for the U.S. Department of the Treasury, where he was an attorney-adviser until November of 2003.

Trump said during the campaign that he would have negotiated a better deal with Cuba than Obama. Critics of Obama’s changes have complained that Cuba was not required to improve its human rights record or further open its economy.

Claver-Carone’s appointment to the transition team “is a clear signal … that the president-elect will carry out the promise he made to the Cuban American community,” former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela Otto Reich told the Nuevo Herald.

Reich added that the appointment does not automatically mean Claver-Carone will get a top job in the new administration, although Reich predicted that he would accept it if offered. “In my opinion, not many other people know as much about Obama’s mistakes on Cuba policy, and how to change them, as Mauricio,” he said.

In an opinion column published last week in The Miami Herald, Claver-Carone argued that Obama’s new policies on Cuba “made a bad situation worse.” U.S. policy on the island “has gone from what it initially portrayed as a noble purpose to pure sycophancy in pursuit of ‘historic firsts,’ he wrote.

Claver-Carone comments regularly on Cuba issues on his blog, Capitol Hill Cubans, and has hosted a radio program on U.S. foreign policy. A lawyer, he has taught law at the George Washington and Catholic Universities. He testified before a Congressional committee in March about Obama’s Cuba policies.

Claver-Carone has been especially critical of the Obama administration’s approval of several U.S. companies to do business with companies owned by the Cuban government and its military — as in the case of Starwood hotels. He also has attacked the lack of compensation for properties confiscated from U.S. citizens in the 1960s.

His appointment was criticized by Ric Herrero, director of CubaNow, an organization that pushes for warmer U.S. relations with Havana.

Herrero said he lamented the selection of a man “who has dedicated his long career as a lobbyist in our capital to dividing Cuban families and defending the interests of those politicians who have benefited from the failed embargo policy.”

The USCD PAC spent more $600,000 in the most recent elections, according to Federal Electoral Commission records. It made significant donations to the campaigns of Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Carlos Curbelo, as well as Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz – all critics of the Obama shifts on Cuba.

Claver-Carone did not immediately reply to requests for comments for this story.

Guillermo Fariñas urges U.S. to suspend trade and investment in Cuba until regime stops oppression

farinas

Fox News

One of Cuba’s most prominent human rights activists is in the U.S. to push for a halt or suspension of U.S.-Cuba trade and investment changes that he and other leaders say are enriching and empowering the Castro regime.

In an exclusive interview with FoxNews.com, Guillermo Farinas said the Trump administration should halt or undo the Obama administration’s move to open up trade and business deals with Cuba until the Cuban government commits to making democratic reforms.

Farinas, who has been jailed by Cuban authorities for his activism for human rights, said President Obama’s easing of trade restrictions is enriching the regime of Raul Castro, and hardly benefiting the Cuban people.

Farinas has been tirelessly traveling to several states, including Florida, New York, New Jersey and Washington D.C., meeting with members of Congress, Cuban exile leaders, United Nations officials and representatives of leading human rights organizations to build support for a U.S.-Cuba policy that takes a tougher approach to the Cuban government.

“The people of Cuba see very little of the money that comes in from foreign investment and trade,” Farinas told FoxNews.com

“It makes the regime richer, and stronger, and bolder, because they have felt that because of President Obama’s decision to do business with it, it has credibility internationally,” he said. “It uses this international credibility to thumb its nose at the Cuban people, especially its critics and dissidents. And it’s gotten more brutal and more intolerant of dissent.”

Opponents of normalizing relations with Cuba have fought against growing momentum to lift the decades-old embargo, saying that the Cuban government has done nothing to move toward giving its citizens more freedom. Proponents counter that the embargo failed to bring about democratic reforms, and that it is time to try a different approach.

Farinas said he is not seeking a total rescinding of the restored diplomatic relations. The dissident, who’s got multiple health problems stemming from a recent month-long hunger strike he staged to push for human rights, said that he supports the Obama administration’s expansion of travel.

He said that the people of Cuba have been isolated by the regime for too long, and that the ability of the Cuban people to interact with U.S. relatives and visitors exposes them to new views and ideas.

Proponents of lifting the embargo say the Cuban government has taken some steps to change for the benefit of the Cuban people.

They say more Cuban people are now able to run their own business and invest in real estate.

“In Cuba, there is broad support for these changes,” said Madeleine Russak, communications director for Engage Cuba, an organization that favors normalizing ties with the island. “For 55 years the only people who have been hurt by the U.S. policy are the Cuban people.”

To fuel its campaign to get Republicans in Congress to support lifting the embargo, Engage Cuba has established councils in many GOP-leaning states where agriculture is a main industry.

“But with the free flow of information and travel, we’re in a much stronger position to improve the lives of Cubans. We are very optimistic that President-elect Trump, as a businessman, feels the same way.”

“The American people are the best ambassadors of democracy,” she said. “We’re optimistic that if we lift the full embargo, it will improve the lives of the Cuban people.”