Category Archives: Obama’s Cuba Policy

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.”

Trump won over Cubans in Florida, in possible backlash against Obama’s Cuba detente

Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump speaks during the Fox Business Network Republican presidential debate at the North Charleston Coliseum, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

The Washington Times

About half of Cuban voters in Florida backed President-elect Donald Trump, perhaps in a backlash against President Obama’s detente with Communist dictator Raul Castro’s Cuba.

Fifty-four percent of Cubans supported Mr. Trump, compared to 41 percent support for Hillary Clinton, according to National Election Pool exit poll data. In Florida, Cubans were about twice as likely as non-Cuban Latinos to vote for Mr. Trump, the report shows.

The Miami Herald earlier this month predicted Cuban Americans — many of whom voted for Mr. Obama in previous elections — may switch their vote to Mr. Trump because of Mr. Obama’s Cuban policies.

“Obama’s Oct. 14 decision to further relax the U.S. embargo on Cuba by allowing American tourists to bring back unlimited quantities of Cuban rum and cigars, as well as his Oct. 26 decision to abstain for the first time in a United Nations vote against the U.S. embargo on Cuba, have probably pushed many undecided Cuban Americans in Florida to vote for Trump,” Herald columnist Andrés Oppenheimer wrote on Nov. 2.

“In conversations with many Cuban Americans, I found that even among those who cautiously support Obama’s normalization with Cuba, many say he’s offering too many concessions to the island’s dictatorship without getting anything in return,” Mr. Oppenheimer wrote. “Resuming diplomatic relations was OK, they say, but why keep making unilateral gestures in the absence of any political opening on the island?”

Mr. Trump said he would “cancel Obama’s one-sided Cuban deal,” and promised anti-Castro Republicans in a late state push that he would keep the decades-long U.S. economic embargo on the island and close the recently reopened US embassy in Havana.
Two-thirds (67 percent) of the nation’s 1.2 million eligible Cuban voters live in Florida, with many living in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach area, Pew reports. As Puerto Ricans enter the state, the Cubans’ share of the Latino electorate is diminishing, and the National Survey of Latinos has found that Cuban registered voters have been shifting to the Democratic Party in recent decades.

Mr. Trump was able to stave off that shift, with the Cuban vote helping to give him the win in the Sunshine State.

 

Cloud of uncertainty hangs over U.S.-Cuba relations with a Trump presidency

trump-bay-of-pigs-1026

The Miami Herald

Donald Trump’s election as the next president of the United States has cast a shadow over the Obama administration policy of warming relations with Cuba.

While Cuban leader Raúl Castro issued a short congratulatory message on Trump’s victory, the official Granma newspaper on Wednesday also announced five days of upcoming military preparedness exercises, a signal that the island is getting ready for a “hostile” U.S. administration.

Those exercises began during the Reagan administration in 1980 but had not been held for the last three years. A reporter on a Havana TV news program noted that Cuba has had “similar” experiences and maintains its “will to resist the big neighbor to the North.”

President Barack Obama’s legacy on Cuba could well be affected by whatever happens after Trump moves into the White House.

Obama announced dramatic changes in U.S. policy toward Havana starting in December 2014. Saying he wanted to end the last vestige of the Cold War, he decided to reestablish diplomatic relations, broken more than 50 years ago, and eased economic sanctions on the island.

U.S. residents can now travel to Cuba more easily, commercial flights have been restored and many companies are looking over the Cuban market, although the island’s government has been unwilling to give them more access so far. One month before Tuesday’s election, the president also lifted restrictions for travelers on the importation of Cuban cigars and rum for personal use and published a presidential directive that sketched out a path for fully normalizing relations.

But the directive could remain just a piece of paper if Trump honors some of the promises on Cuba policy that he made during the campaign.

As the Republican candidate, Trump started out saying he supported relations with Cuba but added that he would have negotiated “a better deal” with Havana. Later, to win the votes of Cuban-American Republicans in South Florida, he promised to reverse the Obama opening.

“We will cancel Obama’s one-sided Cuban deal, made by executive order, if we do not get the deal that we want and the deal that people living in Cuba and here deserve, including protecting religious and political freedom,” he declared in Miami just a week before the election.

Obama changed policy on Cuba through executive powers that were allowed by the trade embargo on the island, and can be reversed by the new president. The Obama administration tried to make them “irreversible” with written guidelines sent to federal agencies.

A senior administration official told reporters in October that a new president could issue a new directive on Cuba to reverse Obama’s directive, although that would “take a significant amount of time.” The Obama guidelines remain in place in the meantime, the official added.

Frank Mora, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Latin America from 2009 to 2013 who now teaches at Florida International University, said the next president has several options for changing the Obama policies on Cuba.

On the day of his inauguration, Mora said, Trump “can simply write, although I doubt that would be one of his priorities, something that says that everything in the presidential directive related to U.S. policy on Cuba is invalid.”

The document would not have to be long, but must be explicit, Mora said.

Trump also could “totally freeze the process, and would not need a [new] directive or even something in writing. It could be an oral instruction to the secretary of state,” Mora said. “If he wants to, he can break [diplomatic] relations with Cuba.”

Even if Trump does not go to that extreme, Cuba watchers agree that he probably will make some gesture to fulfill his campaign promises and acknowledge the support of Cuban Americans whose votes might have helped him to win Florida.

“He has a political debt with the Cuban community, and perhaps feels that he has to pay it in some way, maybe not reversing everything … but signaling that he’s returning to the status quo before the Obama changes,” Mora said.

Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the pro-embargo U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC in Washington, agreed.

“As for President-elect Trump, his Cuban-American supporters will surely hold him to his commitment to reverse Obama’s executive orders,” he said. “Moreover, his election and the huge win of the Cuban-American Congressional delegation give Trump the clear mandate to do so.”

Sen. Marco Rubio and Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Díaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo — all Cuban Americans from South Florida who oppose Obama’s policies on Cuba — were reelected Tuesday. And Republicans retained control of both chambers of Congress.

Lawmakers have submitted bills to ease or strengthen U.S. sanctions on Cuba in recent years, but neither side has prevailed.

Supporters of the sanctions say the election of Trump and a Republican Congress has put an end to any possibility of lifting the embargo in the next two years.

“There was minimal chance that a new Congress would ease or remove [embargo] sanctions,” Claver-Carone said, “and those slim chances are now down to zero.”

John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, which monitors business with Cuba, agreed that in the effort to ease or lift the embargo: “The legislative pathway is deceased. It passed at 3 a.m. [when Trump was declared president-elect].”

Kavulich added that the Obama administration must now focus on making as many regulatory changes as it can and “finish strong,” even though there’s no hope that the Cuban government will reciprocate by agreeing to a broader economic or any political opening.

Nevertheless, Engage Cuba, a group of companies and organizations that has lobbied against the embargo and promoted an expansion of U.S. travel and exports to Cuba, said it will continue with efforts to solidify ties with the island.

“Growing commercial and cultural ties that have been forged between our two nations have irreversibly altered our bilateral relations with Cuba,” the group’s president, James Williams, said in a statement. “We remain hopeful that Mr. Trump, who has previously supported engagement with Cuba as a businessman and a politician, will continue to normalize relations that will benefit both the American and Cuban people.”

Rick Herrero, who has long worked for organizations that favor improving relations with Havana, such as the Cuba Study Group and Cuba Now, said he’ll wait to see which side of Trump prevails — the pragmatic side that according to Newsweek and Bloomberg reports explored business opportunities on the island a few years ago, or the political side that would seek to retain Cuban-American support.

Either way, Herrero said, the chances of Congress making any changes in Cuba policy are minimal.

“The forces in Congress that want to isolate the Cuban people … have gained strength, and it will be very difficult to open ourselves to Cuba through Congressional action in the short run,” he said.