A source inside the U.S. District Attorney’s Office said a group growing marijuana in Southern Colorado planned to ship it to Cuba. The source also said a “fair number” of those arrested in the raids are from Cuba.
The U.S. Department of Justice says that a federal drug raid on eight properties in Cotopaxi and Westcliffe netted more than 1,000 marijuana plants and 20 indictments.
Six of the raided properties had Cotopaxi addresses in Fremont County, and two had Westcliffe addresses in Custer County.
An affidavit obtained by KRDO NewsChannel 13 says the raid was part of an ongoing investigation by the Colorado Springs Office of the Drug Enforcement Agency that began last year.
Eight search warrants that were obtained as part of that investigation were executed on Sept. 1, 2015.
The execution of those warrants resulted in the recovery of 1,002 marijuana plants, 50 pounds of dried marijuana, 28 firearms and over $25,000 cash.
The DOJ says indictments were obtained for 20 people as a result of the raid. It says 17 of those people have been arrested. The remaining three are considered fugitives. No names were released.
The DOJ says all 20 suspects face a variety of drug trafficking charges, including conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than 1,000 plants of marijuana. It says that they each face penalties of not less than 10 years, and up to life in federal prison.
“This heavily armed, rogue drug-trafficking organization was transporting a substantial amount of marijuana to people outside Colorado,” said U.S. Attorney John Walsh. “And the drug traffickers were making a large profit in return.”
The Department of Justice says that the investigation that led to the raids began with a traffic stop in May 2014. It says that during the investigation, multiple vehicles were placed under surveillance. The DOJ says that one of the vehicles that was being watched left Cotopaxi on Oct. 20, 2014 and was pulled over in Pennsylvania on Oct. 21, 2014. It says that three duffel bags filled with approximately 34 pounds of marijuana were found in the car.
The DOJ says that another of the vehicles that was placed under surveillance was followed to a UPS store in Colorado Springs on Nov. 3, 2014. It says someone in that car used the UPS service to mail two large boxes of marijuana to Florida.
“Colorado’s permissive marijuana policies and laws continue to be exploited by large scale marijuana trafficking organizations, who are establishing their marijuana grow operations in Colorado to support their nationwide marijuana distribution network,” said DEA Denver Division Special Agent in Charge Barbra Roach.
The Department of Justice says additional arrests are possible.
Church Denies Refuge to Cuban Dissidents, Allows Security Forces to Arrest Them
Five Cuban democracy activists took refuge in the Cathedral of San Rosendo, a Catholic entity in the eastern province of Pinar del Rio.
They issued a video message calling for the respect of human rights and freedom for the Cuban people.
The activists warn the international community, including the Obama Administration, that there has been no real change in Cuba.
Finally, they ask for the support of Pope Francis, prior to his upcoming visit to Cuba.
The activists are Caridad León Valladares, Leodán Suárez Quiñones, Carlos Alberto Rodríguez Seruto, Michael Valladares Cala and Daudi Ermelo Lago.
In a shameful display, Catholic officials allowed Castro’s secret police to enter — and forcibly remove the activists — from the Cathedral.
The Bishop, Jorge Enrique Cerpa, even called them “counter-revolutionaries.”
Their whereabouts remain unknown.
Activists in Cuba are divided over the thaw in diplomatic relations with the U.S., but they say the time is ripe to push harder than ever for human rights.
U.S. and Cuban officials cemented the restoration of diplomatic ties at a historic, emotional Aug. 14 flag-raising ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Havana. But the conspicuous absence of Cuban dissidents at the event was hard to ignore. Those who had long carried the burden of bringing attention to political repression from the Castro administration were not invited to the event, once again raising a prickly question among the island’s human rights activists: Will new relations with the United States help or hinder human rights in Cuba?
As U.S. and Cuban officials chart the waters of a revived relationship, some Cuban dissidents are drawing up ambitious, large-scale plans to push for new civil rights and pave the way for an eventual democratic opening in Cuba – with or without the United States’ help. The Cuban government retains a tight grip on power, and nobody is under illusions that democracy will come to the island quickly. But activists say the thaw between Havana and Washington has created new dynamics that make it a ripe time for Cubans to mobilize and reassert demands about their country’s future.
Cuba’s Communist Party has dominated the island nation’s one-party system for more than five decades under former leader Fidel Castro and his brother, current President Raul Castro. The constitution only recognizes the Communist Party as the superior political authority of Cuba and prohibits political campaigning. The government also owns all the main news outlets on the island, and those who disseminate dissenting views are often met with arrest or harsh punishments, making it an extremely difficult task for anyone from outside the Communist Party to enter into mainstream politics. Dissidents generally face heavy censorship and constant threats of arrest for advocating changes to the existing system.
U.S. officials have constantly criticized the Cuban government for stifling democracy and free speech since freezing ties and launching its economic embargo against Cuba in the early 1960s. But bold attempts by the U.S. over the years to foster discontent and uprisings against the Castro regime have only provoked widespread mistrust of the U.S. on the island, which has accounted for a tense, bilateral relationship even as both countries navigate their newly restored relations.
By Carlos Lopez-Cantera lieutenant governor of Florida and a candidate for U.S. Senate in the Sun Sentinel
As the son of a Cuban father and a Jewish mother, my life has been formed by the histories and experiences of my parents and their parents.
The stories of loss and oppression as Castro destroyed a prosperous Cuba are more recent with my Cuban family, but the retelling of a longer history of hardships, oppression, sacrifice and loss at gatherings with my Jewish family and in synagogue have made recent foreign-policy decisions of this administration strike a deep and extremely troubling chord in me.
In normalizing relations with Cuba, the Obama administration is ignoring the history of the last 60 years, renewing relations with a government that epitomizes the word dictatorship and is responsible for the wholesale confiscation of life, liberty and happiness of the Cuban people.
It is this willful blindness to history and past behavior that makes me look at the administration’s Iran deal with the deepest concern. This president is ignoring Iran’s history … and his own.
We have heard repeatedly from the president and numerous members of his administration that no deal is better than a bad deal.
After studying the deal and speaking with numerous experts, it is abundantly clear the agreement with Iran is a bad deal and will bring us closer to war, not further as many supporters of the deal contend.
I am joined in my opposition to this deal by leaders from both political parties and more importantly, by the vast majority of Floridians and the American people.
I believe the president’s Iran deal may stand as one of the most dangerous and consequential diplomatic mistakes of the last or next 100 years. Rather than eliminate the threat of nuclear Iran this deal guarantees the threat of a nuclear Iran. Rather than treat Israel as an ally in this process, President Obama has treated them as the hostile power, and Iran as a nation to be accommodated at every turn.
Previous limits on Iran’s economy will be removed, giving them new economic resources by way of freeing previously restricted cash, access to new markets around the world for their conventional business enterprises and the sale of oil. I fear hundreds of billions of dollars of new income will allow Iran to not only expand their existing enterprises of extremism throughout the Middle East, but with their eventual nuclear capability could guarantee that Iran grows at the least to a regional hegemon.
As if the nuclear component of the Iran deal was not bad enough, the removal of sanctions against leaders of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp as well as the removal of limits on the Iranians’ ability to import and export weapons guarantees that Iran’s current support of violent terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas and for the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria will greatly expand.
The president is clearly bent on accommodating an extremist regime that screams it’s hatred for American values, American lives and American interests at every point.
This should not be a partisan issue; the Iranians don’t chant death to Republicans or Democrats; they chant death to America. The Iranians are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American soldiers. When they call for death to America, they mean it.
America should pursue a better deal, one that would truly end the Iranians’ quest for a nuclear weapon without rewarding a regime whose hands are awash in American and Israeli blood.
Congress must reject this deal, as they have in the past over 200 times, and ask the negotiators to return to the table.
Responsible American leaders from both parties who value the security of the United States, Israel, the region and the world should reject this dangerous concession to a nuclear Iran.
I look forward to the day when my wife and I can take our daughters to visit the Jewish homeland, and I pray that day can come without Israel living under the terrible shadow of a nuclear-armed Iran.
Many of you have stopped me at the grocery store or have written me asking me my opinion about the United States’ new policy toward Cuba.
For what it is worth, this is my family’s view.
We envisioned the day the American flag was raised at the U.S. embassy in Havana would be after Cuba was finally free from Castro’s tyranny. The flags standing side by side would represent freedom and democracy for Cuba.
Despite the talk about change, Fidel Castro, on his 89th birthday, lashed out at the United States in an essay published in the Communist Party newspaper Granma.
Castro wrote, “Cuba is owed compensation equivalent to damages, which total millions of dollars.” He is referring to the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.
He didn’t mention in his essay, however, that one of the reasons the embargo was put in place was because of the American assets Castro seized when he took over the country.
According to an article in the University of Miami Inter-American Law Review, it is said to be one of the largest uncompensated taking of American property by any foreign government in history. At the time, it was estimated to be worth
I have heard so many people mention how excited they are about visiting Cuba, and according to them, they want to do so before U.S. influence ruins the island.
You are not visiting an uninhabited island, you are visiting the result of a communist dictatorship. The U.S influence is what most Cubans on the island dream of and hope will come save them from the circumstances of their existence.
Cuba is in ruins and has been for many years. Apartment buildings and homes are falling apart. It is not uncommon for roofs to collapse during the rainy season.
The electricity goes out on a regular basis. Food and medicine is scarce and Cubans lack the most basic of necessities.
Before Castro, Cuba was one of the most advanced and successful countries in Latin America. This is the Cuba I wish Americans could see, not the devastation they will see when they visit the island.
Cuban Americans have mixed feelings about the new U.S. policy with Cuba. Some feel that the embargo hasn’t worked and that it should be lifted.
Every dollar spent on tourism in Cuba goes directly to the Cuban government. Lack of freedom and speech, and repression increases and continues on a daily basis.
Nothing has changed or will change for the Cubans until the Castro brothers acknowledge that socialism and the communist doctrine they have forced on the country doesn’t work.
My family, as well as many other Cuban-Americans, feels that unless Cuba improves human rights and moves toward democratic reform Congress should not lift the embargo.
Next week, I will share my views on the reality television show “Cuban Chrome” that the Discovery Channel is filming in Cuba. Maria Luisa Salcines is a freelance writer, and certified parent educator with The International Network for Children and Families in Redirecting Children’s Behavior and Redirecting for a Cooperative Classroom. Follow her on Twitter @PowerOfFamily or contact her at her website at www.redirectingchildrenrgv.org.
A Brazilian news magazine has accused former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of acting as lobbyist in Cuba for Brazil’s largest engineering firm Odebrecht, which built the container terminal at the Cuban port of Mariel.
In this week’s edition headlined “Our man in Havana,” Epoca magazine cited Brazilian diplomatic cables about visits to Cuba by Lula after he had left office. During those visits he sought to further Brazilian business interests on the island, it said.
One cable from 2014 reported on a meeting in Havana at which Lula discussed with Odebrecht executives how to secure Cuban guarantees for loans from Brazilian state development bank BNDES to finance new projects sought by Odebrecht in Cuba.
Lula’s foundation called the Epoca story “offensive” and “malicious” and “criminal manipulation” of government documents.
“These are normal activities. The ex-president did nothing illegal and was discussing sovereign guarantees for loans to Cuba in a meeting where a diplomat was present,” said Jose Chrispiniano, a spokesman for the Lula Institute.
Lula is under investigation for improperly using his influence to benefit Odebrecht, whose billionaire chief executive Marcelo Odebrecht was arrested in June in connection with the massive bribery and political kickback scandal focused on state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA.
Prosecutors say Lula frequently traveled abroad at Odebrecht’s expense after leaving office, from 2011 until 2014.
The inquiry puts the legacy of one of Brazil’s most popular former leaders on the line at a time when some are calling for the impeachment of his chosen successor, President Dilma Rousseff, for alleged campaign finance irregularities.
Epoca, owned by the Globo media group, said Lula lobbied to get Cuba good terms for a $682 million loan from BNDES that went to finance the Mariel port project built by Odebrecht.
The Lula Institute said that, by the time Lula visited Cuba in 2011, the loan for Mariel had been approved two years earlier in contracts “that no alleged lobbyist could alter.”
Lula, founder of the ruling Workers’ Party, said in a radio interview on Friday he could run again for the presidency in 2018 to prevent his opponents winning the elections.
While still an influential politician, Lula’s popularity has been hurt by the arrest on corruption charges of his former chief of staff and the treasurer of his party. Recent polls show the leftist leader would be defeated if he ran again.
The leader of a human rights group is concerned that the Cuban government will repeat its 2012 crackdown on opposition activists when Pope Francis visits the nation next month.
During Pope Benedict XVI’s visit three years ago, Cuban officials made arrests and took other actions to keep the dissidents from communicating with each other, said Berta Soler, leader of Women in White, a group of wives and other relatives of jailed Cuban dissidents.
“We’re really worried,” Soler told CNA last week. “When Pope Benedict XVI came to Cuba they shut down telephone lines in an area of some 15 to 25 miles. They did the same to the cell phones of human rights activists and their close relatives.”
She said the government put them under surveillance three days before Pope Benedict’s arrival.
“Cuban officials began arresting all the human rights activists so we couldn’t participate in the Masses the Pope celebrated in Santiago de Cuba and Havana.”
Pope Francis will visit Cuba Sept. 19-22.
“We’re waiting (to see what will happen), we’re thinking the same thing is going to happen when the Holy Father Pope Francis comes,” Soler said.
Nevertheless, she stated that Women in White as well as other human rights activists will try to go to the Masses because “we want to be close to the Holy Father.” She said they know that they’re going to be arrested.
Soler met with Pope Francis in Saint Peter’s Square in May 2013 and sent a letter to the pontiff through the nunciature and through friends. She asked the Pope: “When you come to Cuba could you listen to us even for a few minutes?”
The dissident leader reported arrests of the Women in White and other opposition activists on recent Sundays.
“We’ve been going out now (to march) for 18 Sundays and we can take it for granted that the Castro regime is going to come after the Women in White and the human rights activists on Sunday, Aug. 23rd… because we’re deep into our #TodosMarchamos (We’re all marching) campaign to free the political prisoners.”
She said that the Castro government is assembling “paramilitary mobs organized and financed by (the regime) to physically and verbally attack us.” National police and state security agents are also involved.
According to Soler, at present “there are about 80 political prisoners and 42 who are only technically released or on parole.” The latter 42 could be arrested again and sent back to prison without trial at any moment.
Pope Francis is due to visit Cuba in September – but group’s opposing the government have concerns
The leader of a human rights group has raised concerns that the Cuban government will repeat its crackdown on activists when Pope Francis visits next month.
In 2012 Cuban officials made arrests during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit, to keep dissidents from communicating with one another, according to the head of an opposition group.
Berta Soler is the leader of Women in White, a group of wives and other relatives of jailed Cuban dissidents.
“We’re really worried,” Soler told CNA. “When Pope Benedict XVI came to Cuba they shut down telephone lines in an area of some 15 to 25 miles.
“They did the same to the cell phones of human rights activists and their close relatives.”
Soler claims the government put them under surveillance three days before the former pope’s arrival.
“Cuban officials began arresting all the human rights activists so we couldn’t participate in the Masses the Pope celebrated in Santiago de Cuba and Havana,” she said.
Pope Francis is due to visit Cuba next month, from September 19th to 22nd.
“We’re waiting [to see what will happen]” Soler said. “We’re thinking the same thing is going to happen when the Holy Father Pope Francis comes.”
Solder said The Women in White as well as other human rights activists will try to go to the Masses because “we want to be close to the Holy Father.”
They aim to go, despite feeling they are going to be arrested.
Soler met with Pope Francis in Saint Peter’s Square in May 2013 and sent a letter to the pontiff through the nunciature and through friends.
Soler said she asked the Pope: “When you come to Cuba could you listen to us even for a few minutes?”
The dissident leader said there had already been arrests of The Women in White and other opposition activists recently.
The group has been going on marches for the past 18 Sundays.
She said that the Castro government is assembling “paramilitary mobs organized and financed by (the regime) to physically and verbally attack us.”
She thinks national police and state security agents are also involved.
According to Soler, “there are about 80 political prisoners and 42 who are only technically released or on parole.”
The latter 42 could be arrested again and sent back to prison without trial at any moment.
On Sunday August 16th more than 60 human rights activists along with some Women in White were restrained and arrested as they were marching after Mass at Saint Rita’s Church in Havana.
Then another 50 human rights activists and members of the Women in White were arrested in Havana on Sunday August 23 at at the protest march.
Speaking to the newspaper Martí News, Solder said excessive force was used in some arrests.
Those detained were released five hours later, while others were released at nightfall in uninhabited areas where Soler said there was risk of violence or assault.
Soler was also charged.