Monthly Archives: November 2015

Travel agencies out thousands of $$ after flights to Cuba halted



Less than two weeks since the first flight to Cuba from Southwest Florida International Airport, Choice Aire has temporarily discontinued the service.

The decision has cost local travel agencies thousands. A lot of them say their phones have been ringing off the hook with customers demanding refunds.

After President Obama relaxed relations with Cuba in January, Choice Aire CEO Danny Looney started working on plans to offer commercial flights to the country.

Some businesses in Southwest Florida latched on to the idea.

“We started booking. We started doing a lot of advertising,” said Jesse Reyes with Jema Travel Agency.

But Reyes fears it may all have been too soon after she was informed that Choice Aire was discontinuing flights to Cuba from RSW.

Local travel agencies like Jema spent thousands to advertise vacation packages to Cuba, and they said it worked. Even this weekend they were getting calls, but it was business they had to turn away.

They also don’t know why and Choice Aire isn’t exactly giving a straight answer. An email to NBC2 from the airline cited an unforeseeable technicality with the airport. NBC2 reached out Choice on Sunday for further explanation, but has yet to hear back.

“We decided to refund our customers from our money, because our idea is they’re suffering enough to know that they know they’re not going. They’re demanding answers, they’re demanding their money back,” Reyes said.

She said Choice owes her more than $10,000 in ticket refunds.

Nicaragua turns back Cuban migrants to Costa Rica



Nicaragua has turned back hundreds of Cuban migrants which it accuses of “storming” its border crossing from neighboring Costa Rica on Sunday.

The Cubans are traveling north, trying to reach the United States by land.

They fear that with ties between Cuba and the US improving, the US could stop granting Cubans who reach the US by land the right to stay.

Nicaragua accused Costa Rica of “hurling thousands of Cubans at Nicaragua’s southern border posts”.
‘Humanitarian crisis’

The Cubans said they had flown to Ecuador from where they had made their way north through Colombia and Panama to Costa Rica.
They reported being stranded in Costa Rica after the trafficking ring which they had paid to get them to the US was broken up by the authorities.

On Saturday, Costa Rica issued seven-day transit visas to more than 1,700 Cubans detained after crossing illegally into Costa Rica from Panama.

Nicaragua’s left-wing government, which has close ties to Cuba, said that move had “unleashed a humanitarian crisis with serious consequences for our region”.

The Cubans told Nicaraguan media they had waited for hours to be granted Nicaraguan transit permits before getting impatient and entering the Penas Blancas border post by force.

They continued on foot on the Panamerican Highway north, where they were met by Nicaraguan security forces who took them back to Costa Rica.

Some migrants said Nicaraguan security forces had fired tear gas and rubber bullets.

Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel Gonzalez criticised Nicaragua’s response.

“When other countries take the irresponsible decision to close their borders, people will use any means to reach their destination,” he said.
Long journey

One Cuban migrant told Nicaraguan newspaper El Nuevo Diario that “most of us have been travelling for more than two months”.

“We’re fleeing unemployment [in Cuba] and among this group, which started gathering in the past days in Costa Rica, are children and pregnant women,” the 50-year-old migrant said.

Another migrant told Reuters news agency that “we don’t want to stay in any of these countries, our aim is to reach the United States, that’s our objective”.

The number of Cubans leaving the Communist-run island has risen since last December when Cuba and the US announced a thaw in their relations.

Historically, Cubans reaching US soil have been given preferential treatment over migrants from other countries.

Under the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, they can be granted asylum much more easily than applicants from other countries.

But with relations between the former Cold War foes improving, many Cubans fear this policy, which dates back to the Cold War, could be abolished.

According to US Customs and Border Protection figures, more than 25,000 Cubans entered the US through its southern border between October 2014 and September 2015.

1,403 Arbitrary Arrests in Cuba under US Embassy Watch



Regime Escalates Repression following Normalization of Relations

While President Barack Obama reviews options to ease the trade and financial embargo on Cuba, the Cuban police are busy arresting dissidents for political reasons almost daily.

Since August 14, when the US flag was raised over the Havana embassy once again, Cuban security forces have conducted 1,403 “arbitrary arrests,” according to the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS) at the University of Miami.

The ICCAS report released on November 6 claims that Cuban authorities made 647 political arrests in July, 768 in August, and 882 in September.

Police detained these activists for various reasons, including holding pro-freedom events on Fidel Castro’s birthday, protesting the opening of the US embassy, attending mass, and calling for human rights with messages written on a bed sheet.

The report, which draws on monthly data from the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), identifies the city where each arrest took place, the names of the arrested activists, the alleged crime, and the name of the source.

The Targeted

Among the thousands targeted, the document claims that police harassed Wilberto Parada Milán of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) on August 14, and warned him not to leave his house in Havana to protest against the opening of the US embassy.

It further alleges that Cuban intelligence agents, dressed up as civilians, beat up Marcelino Abreu Bonora of the Civic Action Front, and told him they had orders to do it again if he approached Plaza Ernesto Guevara.

Others included independent journalists Lázaro Yuri Valle Roca and Yasel Rivero Boni, who spent five hours in jail for taking pictures of a fallen wall. Police also detained Javier Joss Varona of the Eastern Democratic Alliance (ADO) for two days, because they suspected he could “illegally” travel out of the country.

The report lists other reasons activists were arrested, including trying to attend Pope Francis’s mass, denouncing the living conditions of a mother of three at the Communist Party’s provincial office, and being married to a dissident woman.

Torture Center for Dissidents

Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White dissident group, tells the PanAm Post that Cuban police can detain citizens for hours for almost any reason.

“In Cuba, you can get arrested if they catch you talking about human rights with someone, or if they see you handing out anti-government flyers,” she says.

The Ladies in White group was among several other dissident organizations that Cuban police prevented from attending the pope’s mass in late September.

Soler spends time in jail almost every Sunday, along with her fellow Ladies in White, for taking part in the We All March campaign, calling for an end to arbitrary detentions, the release of all political prisoners, and free and plural elections.

The dissident leader has no doubt that the state’s repression of activists has escalated since the United States and Cuba reestablished diplomatic relations last December: “In September, there were hundreds of dissidents arrested who wanted to attend the pope’s mass.”
Continue reading 1,403 Arbitrary Arrests in Cuba under US Embassy Watch

Arrest of Maduro’s nephews highlights Venezuela’s growing role in U.S. drug trade

MIAMI BEACH, FL - AUGUST 02: Some of the 15,000 pounds of cocaine that U.S. Coast Guard crew members offloaded from the Cutter Oak are seen next to the ship on August 2, 2011 in Miami Beach, Florida. The cocaine worth more than $180 million was seized from a self-propelled semi-submersible vessel in the western Caribbean Sea on July 13. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Fox News Latino

For decades, Venezuela has been overshadowed by its neighbors when it comes to drug trafficking.

Neither a major drug producing nation nor home to infamous narcotraffickers like Pablo Escobar or Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the South American nation was viewed by many as a dreary backwater in the drug trade while the real business was going on in places like Colombia, Mexico and throughout the Caribbean.

But the recent arrest of two nephews of Venezuela’s first lady for conspiring to import cocaine into the United States – and news earlier this year of a major U.S. investigation into the involvement of high ranking Venezuelan officials in cocaine trafficking and money laundering – has shed light on the major role the country plays in the international drug trade.

“Venezuela is a big hub for transshipment of drugs,” Eric Olson, the associated director of the Latin American program at the Woodrow Wilson Center told Fox News Latino. “Venezuela is strategically positioned to traffic drugs to the Caribbean, the U.S. and even Europe.”

For decades, Venezuela has been a key throughway for traffickers moving their products between Colombia and the rest of the world. Colombian traffickers used their country’s shared border with Venezuela to ferry drugs into the country and also used Venezuela as a base of operations during periods of crackdowns by Colombian officials.

The DEA estimates that over 200 tons of cocaine passes through Venezuela each year, though security forces generally seize less than a quarter of that number every year. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) calculates that Venezuela ranks fourth in the world in terms of cocaine seizures. Mexican organizations like Guzmán’s Sinaloa Cartel have also established cells inside Venezuela in recent years

While Venezuelan officials have been involved in the drug trade almost since its inception in the country – a major from the country’s army reserve was caught with 667 kg of cocaine in a small aircraft in 1983 – experts say government involvement began to flourish under the late President Hugo Chávez and continued under the command of current leader Nicolás Maduro.

No evidence has been made public that directly links Maduro to the drug trade, but his two nephews, Efraín Antonio Campos Flores and Francisco Flores de Freites, reportedly told the Drug Enforcement Administration that they were acting in connection with Diosdado Cabello, speaker of the National Assembly, and former Venezuelan Minister of the Interior Tareck el Aissami – both close allies of the president.

“There is no reason to believe that the Venezuelan government is not involved in narcotrafficking,” Sonia Schott, the former Washington D.C. correspondent for Venezuelan news network Globovisión told FNL. “If they’re not involved, why didn’t they make any investigations into the drug trafficking.”

Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal published a report – citing the U.S. Justice Department – that said an investigation by federal prosecutors in New York and Miami and a DEA unit found “extensive evidence” to suggest Cabello was one of the heads of a suspected trafficking cartel involving military officers and top government officials.

And last month, judges in the southern district of Florida unsealed drug trafficking indictments against Pedro Luís Martín, a former head of financial intelligence for Venezuela’s secret police, and Jesús Alfredo Itriago, a former counternarcotics official with Venezuela’s investigative police.

Despite the numerous arrests and indictments, little has been done in Venezuela to stem the flow of drugs entering the country or to root out those within the government involved in trafficking. Instead, the Maduro government has fallen back on criticizing the U.S. for what it says are baseless charges from an ideological foe.

“Whenever the U.S. takes some actions against Venezuela, high-level leaders, or those closely associated with those leaders in Venezuela, the government tries to use it as an opportunity to claim they’re under attack by a meddling United States,” Jason Marcazk, the ‎deputy director at Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, told FNL.

Marczak added that with parliamentary elections coming up in December, Maduro will most likely try to use the arrests of his two nephews for his political advantage. But that will likely not work, he said, because the country’s economy is spiraling – most Venezuelans cannot afford to buy basic goods like toilet paper and shampoo – and Maduro’s approval ratings are at a record low.

“There are long-running suspicions of elite ties to the drug trade,” Marczak said. “Whether those associations are with high-ranking authorities, those in the military, there’s increasingly concern by the Venezuelan people about the direction in which their country is going.”

Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro’s Relatives Indicted in U.S. for Cocaine Smuggling



Two of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s relatives have been indicted in the United States for cocaine smuggling, according to court papers on Thursday, following an international sting that Venezuela cast as an “imperialist” attack.

Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas, 30, and Efrain Antonio Campo Flores, 29—who are nephews of Maduro’s wife and first lady Cilia Flores—were charged in a one-count indictment filed in federal court in Manhattan.

The two were arrested in Haiti and flown to New York on Tuesday, people familiar with the matter said. They were expected to appear in court later on Thursday.

The charge against them alleged that in October, the pair participated in meetings in Venezuela  regarding a shipment of cocaine that was to be sent to the United States via Honduras.

The case is an embarrassment for Maduro, the 52-year-old successor to Hugo Chavez, as his ruling socialists head towards parliamentary elections in December.

The party faces the possibility of losing the National Assembly for the first time in the “Chavismo” movement’s 16-year rule due to voter anger over economic crisis in the OPEC member, which has been hit hard by falling oil prices.

Maduro and other senior officials have long said accusations of collusion with drug trafficking by the United States are part of an international campaign to discredit socialism in  Venezuela .

Flores, who was in Geneva on Thursday with Maduro as he addressed the United Nations human rights body, refused to speak to reporters seeking comment on her nephews.

Government officials point to scores of local arrests as evidence of their efforts to clamp down on the drug trade, but U.S. investigators appear to be chasing a plethora of cases that allegedly involve  Venezuela n officials.

“Neither attacks nor imperialist ambushes can harm the people of the liberators,” tweeted Maduro, soon after news that the two Venezuela ns had been whisked out of Haiti to New York.

“The fatherland will follow its course,” he added.

Influential First Lady

The pair had contacted an undercover U.S. agent about selling 800 kg (1,763 lb) of cocaine, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing two sources familiar with the matter.

The two were arrested at a hotel in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, on Tuesday by anti-narcotics police at the request of U.S. authorities, according to a senior Haitian official. They were flown out of the country accompanied by agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the official said.

Mainstream media coverage of the affair in  Venezuela  was muted. The front page of two leading newspapers, which have softened their criticism of the government since recent changes of ownerships, made no mention of Flores’ nephews.

Opposition critics, however, took to Twitter to poke fun at the powerful first lady. One digital mock-up put her face into an advert for the Spanish-language soap opera “La Reina del Sur,” which is about a female drug kingpin.

Another revamped the Coca-Cola logo to read “Coca-Flores,” with the government’s “Made in Socialism” seal added mockingly.

Flores, 62, called the “First Combatant” by the president, is highly influential in her husband’s government. She was on the legal team of late socialist leader Chavez, working to secure his 1994 release from prison after a failed coup attempt.

In 2006, she became the first woman elected to lead the legislature, taking over that role from Maduro, and is registered as a candidate in the Dec. 6 legislative elections.

The U.S. State Department says more than half of the cocaine produced in neighboring Colombia moves through  Venezuela  toward Europe and the United States.

The U.S. Treasury has nine Venezuelan officials on a “kingpin” list, which bars those suspected of involvement in large-scale drug trafficking from the U.S. financial system.

BREAKING NEWS – Relatives of Venezuelan president arrested trying to smuggle nearly 1 ton of drugs into U.S.


Fox News Latino

Nephews of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and his wife have been arrested on charges of drug smuggling, Fox News Latino has confirmed.

The two men were arrested in Haiti on Tuesday as part of a sting operation coordinated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York presented the charges against Efraín Antonio Campos Flores and Francisco Flores de Freites, Spanish news outlet ABC said.

Campos claimed to be the son of Flores and stepson of President Nicolas Maduro, said former DEA official Michael Vigil to the Associated Press. Vigil says he was briefed by U.S. authorities about the undercover operation that resulted in the arrests.

The men allegedly were in the process of smuggling cocaine – just under a ton, roughly about 1,700 lbs. – into the United States when they were arrested in Port-au-Prince, where their plane arrived, and brought by authorities to New York.

Both men are scheduled to appear before a federal judge on Thursday, the Wall Street Journal says.

The arrests come at as U.S. officials have been saying that drug smuggling involves people at the highest ranks of the Venezuelan government.

The young men told authorities that they had diplomatic immunity, but police found no basis for their claim, ABC said.

They told the DEA that they were acting in connection with Diosdado Cabello, speaker of the National Assembly, as well as with a governor, Tarck el Aissami, who is the former Venezuelan Minister of the Interior.

They said that the high-ranking officials had helped with the drug shipment.

One of the young men, it is unclear which one, was raised by Maduro and his wife, Cilia Flores.

Cabello, Venezuela’s second most powerful figure, has been a focus of U.S. drug-trafficking investigation involving top members of the Venezuelan government.

A longtime ally of late President Hugo Chavez, whom he met while in the Military Academy back in the 80s, Cabello is known these days as Chavismo´s main bully and has repeatedly been accused of corruption.

This is not the first time that young people related to Maduro and Flores have been implicated in drug smuggling.

A former chief of security for the late Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, said that Walter Jacob Gavidia Flores, son of Maduro’s wife, and Nicolas Maduro, son of the current president, used small planes belonging to the national petroleum company, PDVSA, to transport drugs, according to ABC.

The security chief also implicated Hugito Chavez, the son of the late president, and Cuba’s former ambassador to Venezuela, German Sanchez Otero – and other Cuban officials — in cocaine smuggling. He said that they used PDVSA’s corporate jets to take drug shipments to Cuba, and then smuggled to the United States.

By investigating Cabello, the U.S. is taking on one of the Venezuela’s most influential figures – one whose downfall could further fracture an administration already reeling from an economy on the brink of collapse.

Last month not many were shocked when he sued 22 media executives whose outlets had carried news reported by Spanish newspaper ABC regarding him being investigated in the U.S. – basically anticipating The Wall Street Journal article that broke the news to the American world this week.

The media executives found out too that a court order now also bans them from leaving the country, and Cabello readily admitted on his TV show that he was behind the move.

Longtime critics of the Maduro and Chavez governments say the arrests are yet another example of the corruption that has pervaded the administration.

“It is becoming increasingly difficult for the Venezuelan government to hide its true colors,” said Thor Halvorssen, president of the Human Rights Foundation and a relative of the jailed opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez. “Venezuela’s government is a criminal enterprise composed of a drug cartel, a money laundering financial system, and a kleptocracy.”

“Maduro, his family, and his henchmen make Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel look disorganized and small-time,” Halvorssen said. “Venezuela uses its army, its foreign ministry, and its banking sector as accessories to a profitable drug business.”

Another Canadian comes forward with story of being detained in Cuba



Taylan Evrenler had been to Cuba twice before but his visit last week, that included a trip to Havana, is easily the most memorable. He was detained and questioned by police over a two-day period and was only allowed to leave when he agreed to make a payment.

“You have to pay 4,250 pesos or else you are not going on your flight,” Evrenler said he was told by police on the second day of questioning, adding that he was warned he would not get the documentation necessary to return home to Toronto otherwise.

Evrenler was staying at a licensed Cuban guest home called a Casa Particular in Havana last week because he wanted to visit an international trade expo.

When he went to check out of the home, he said he was met by two non-uniformed Cuban police officers who accompanied him to a police station.

Inside, Evrenler said he was ordered to surrender his passport and cellular phone. He said he waited most of the first day and was told to return the following day.

“They gave me back my phone and was told to come back at eight in the morning and everything’s finished,” said the 28-year-old high risk analyst.

But after returning the next day and waiting about three hours, he said he was interrogated in Spanish, and limited English, and told he owed money for “damages” caused at another guest home on a previous trip.

“It was absolutely false,” Evrener told Global News, who said he had not damaged anything on the previous visit.

Faced with what he said was no option except to pay up, Evrener said he travelled “pretty much all over Havana” on Sunday when the city’s banks were closed.

Eventually, he found a financial institution that would provide a cash advance on his MasterCard.

Evrener’s account follows a series of Global News stories about a Vancouver couple who were detained at a Cayo Coco hotel because they didn’t pay approximately $400 in damages demanded by the resort.

Katharine Foran, 26 and Adam Babuik, 30, say they were not allowed to leave their hotel and could not pay for a broken lamp bulb and broken wall because their credit cards did not function at the hotel. Eventually, they were permitted to return to Canada.

Legal experts say travellers to Cuba aren’t guaranteed the same treatment as they could expect in many other countries.

“There’s a lot of evidence in the case of Cuba that it is not a legal system where the normal rules we expect would apply,” said Toronto immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman.

The Cuba tourist office in Toronto said it has no authority to investigate incidents involving guest homes, a spokesperson said.

The office director said he was too busy to sit down for an on-camera interview to discuss questions about tourist safety in Cuba.

Calls to the Cuba Embassy in Ottawa and Cuba Consulate in Toronto were not answered.

Evrener eventually paid police even though he said he did nothing wrong.

“It was very scary,” he said.

“Someone accuses me of something I didn’t do and unless you pay you’re pretty much trapped.”

But despite the experience with police, Evrener said he would like to return to Cuba in the future.

“I fell in love with the country,” he said. “It’s beautiful.”

Cuba admits Canadians were held against their will at Cayo Coco resort


Global News

Cuba’s tourist office in Canada and a Cayo Coco hotel acknowledge two Canadians were detained at the seaside resort last week against their will.

Canada’s foreign affairs department confirmed to Global News on Friday that “two Canadian citizens … were detained in Cuba” but would not discuss specifics of the case.

She was referring to the case of Katharine Foran, 26, and Adam Babuik, 30, who spent two extra days at the Hotel Playa Coco where they were guests of the all-inclusive, three-and-a-half star resort.

Global News reported last week that the couple described being virtually held “hostage” at the hotel under constant security watch after they attempted to check out.

The couple admits they were intoxicated during their all-inclusive vacation and as a result, broke part of a light fixture in their room and damaged a wall in another.

A Canadian tourist staying at the hotel at the same time, who asked not to be identified, said she saw Foran dump a drink on Babuik’s head in the main bar.

Cuba’s tourist office in Canada and a Cayo Coco hotel acknowledge two Canadians were detained at the seaside resort last week against their will.

Canada’s foreign affairs department confirmed to Global News on Friday that “two Canadian citizens … were detained in Cuba” but would not discuss specifics of the case.

“In Cuba, when you break, you have to pay, that is the law,” said Karen Puebla, with the Cuba Tourist Board based in Toronto.

She was referring to the case of Katharine Foran, 26, and Adam Babuik, 30, who spent two extra days at the Hotel Playa Coco where they were guests of the all-inclusive, three-and-a-half star resort.

Global News reported last week that the couple described being virtually held “hostage” at the hotel under constant security watch after they attempted to check out.

The couple admits they were intoxicated during their all-inclusive vacation and as a result, broke part of a light fixture in their room and damaged a wall in another.

A Canadian tourist staying at the hotel at the same time, who asked not to be identified, said she saw Foran dump a drink on Babuik’s head in the main bar.

“This was unacceptable…and downright disrespectful to the staff and facilities,” the woman wrote in an email to Global News, saying any detainment was the couple’s own fault.

Foran said she and Babuik offered to pay the $400 demanded by the hotel but said her Vancity Visa credit card would not function, although they say they had sufficient credit to cover the damage charges. However, when the couple could not pay, they were not allowed to leave the hotel.

“When you travel to any country where the rule of law isn’t respected, you are always taking a chance,” said Toronto immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman, who has represented clients imprisoned in Cuba for a variety of reasons.

“Fortunately, it was only two days; I’m aware of a lot of other instances where people have been confronted with a lot more serious problems,” Waldman said.

In an email in Spanish from the hotel’s general manager to the tourist board, Otoniel Riverond Portela said the Canadians also stole alcohol from the beer garden and that at various times, the Canadians’ behavior was aggressive.

Riverond Portela acknowledged the the couple had agreed to pay for damages.

Reached in Vancouver Monday, Foran focused on the trauma associated with being prevented from contacting her family or the Canadian Embassy in Havana during the two-day detention.

“That’s a violation of international law under the Geneva Convention,” said Waldman. “You are supposed to be able to call your embassy and get counsel or assistance.”

Foran said family members were still upset at their temporary disappearance. Her mother filed a missing person’s report with the Vancouver Police Department.

Foran and Babuik are considering pursuing a complaint with the Department of Foreign Affairs of their treatment at the hotel in Cuba.

An upsurge in misery in Cuba. The Castro brothers crack down in the wake of the Obama wooing


The Washington Times Editorial

Barack Obama’s attempt to woo Fidel and Raul Castro away from their regime’s totalitarian roots has turned from disaster to catastrophe, giving a new and ugly meaning to President Obama’s campaign slogan of “hope and change.” So far there’s been no change and no hope, but more misery.

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights reports an upsurge in arrests — more than a thousand peaceful dissidents during the month of October, the highest monthly tally in recent history.

The U.S. Coast Guard has rescued record numbers of Cubans at sea trying to flee to the United States this year — more than at any time since the “rafters’ crisis” two decades ago.

Raul Castro has reinforced his post-Soviet alliance with Vladimir Putin — dispatching Cuban soldiers to Syria in support of the Russian intervention to preserve the wretched Damascus regime.

The Castro government has imposed new restrictions on the tiny Cuban private sector it had earlier permitted to blossom — with price controls, new taxes and restrictions, some petty and all meant to punish.

The regime has cut authorizations for American imports by some 40 percent, increasing its feeble trade ties with China and Spain as an alternative. These new restrictions are meant to put more pressure on the Obama administration for trade credits. The Obama administration’s response is to persist with concessions to the Castro regime which it insists will lead to liberalization. The original deal with Havana, which Mr. Obama regards as part of his legacy, got no concessions to the United States.

In fact, he threw a lifeline to the Castro brothers, whose special relationship with oil-rich Venezuela collapsed with the death of Hugo Chavez in 2013. The $18 billion in loans, investments and grants Mr. Chavez had given to the brothers between 2008 and 2011 led to the economic crisis in Caracas.

The Castro lobby within the U.S. State Department continues to assure critics that additional concessions to the Castro brothers will continue non-existent liberalization policies, mounting contrary evidence notwithstanding. So the regime wobbles on. Fidel, fading into dementia at 89, gave way to his 84-year-old brother to lead a youth movement, but the regime looks ever more like the usual Latin American military junta, with Soviet trappings.

Castro propaganda insists that the American embargo, announced in 1966 and confirmed into law by Congress in 1969, is the source of all difficulties, and not the usual failures of Marxist faith. In fact, the embargo has been constantly whittled away, but the brothers continue to use it as a weapon to squeeze America for more credits and concessions.

Mr. Obama insists that Congress lift the 1962 embargo, but that is not likely if the Republicans screw up the courage to resist in the months before the Obama era finally ends in January 2017. As part of his “opening to Cuba” Mr. Obama has twice used executive authority to ease restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba and on certain products manufactured by the small Cuban private sector. American telecommunications companies are now permitted to operate on the island. More such regulatory changes will be made if and when Cuba absorbs these concessions, says David Thorne, a senior adviser to Secretary of State John Kerry.

“We are making progress,” he says. “We are making regulatory changes. We’ll make more.” That might mean easing restrictions on military hardware, so whether this is “progress” depends on who’s making the definitions.

Obama’s olive branches are lifelines for authoritarian regimes


The Washington Post Editorial

At the heart of President Obama’s foreign policy is a long bet: that American engagement with previously shunned regimes will, over time, lead to their liberalization, without the need for either a messy domestic revolution or a bloody U.S. use of force. By definition, it will be years before we know whether the policy works.

It nevertheless is becoming clear that the regimes on which Obama has lavished attention have greeted his overtures with a counter-strategy. It’s possible, they calculate, to use the economic benefits of better relations to entrench their authoritarian systems for the long term, while screening out any liberalizing influence. Rather than being subverted by U.S. dollars, they would be saved by them.

So far, the dictators’ bet is paying off. The latest evidence of that came Sunday in Burma, when the generals who still rule the country staged an election carefully structured to preserve their power. The constitution under which it was held bans opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president and reserves a quarter of parliamentary seats for the military.

Obama might claim that the lifting of U.S. sanctions and the two trips he made to the country helped prompt this limited democratic opening. The generals see it another way: The restricted system, and the inflow of U.S. and European investment it enables, makes their political supremacy sustainable for the long term. As proof, they can point to the fact that they rebuffed U.S. appeals for constitutional reforms before the election with no consequence for the new economic relationship.

That Iran’s supreme leader is pursuing a similar course became clear in recent days as the arrests of two businessmen with U.S. citizenship or residency came to light. Having allowed reformist president Hassan Rouhani to negotiate the nuclear deal with Obama, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guard intend to pocket the $100 billion or so in proceeds while forcibly preventing what they call the “penetration” of Western influence that Obama hopes for.

Hence the taking of more U.S. hostages. To the imprisonment of The Post’s Jason Rezaian and two other Iranian Americans, add Nizar Zakka, a U.S.-based Internet specialist, and Siamak Namazi, an Iranian American who has publicly advocated for better relations between the countries. The lack of any U.S. response means that the open season on Americans will continue in Tehran.

Khamenei, however, doesn’t get the prize for the best jujitsu on Obama. That goes to Raú l Castro, the 84-year-old ruler of weak and impoverished Cuba, who has managed to transform the resumption of U.S.-Cuban relations into an almost entirely one-sided transaction.

Since announcing the end of the 50-year freeze between the countries 11 months ago, Obama has twice loosened restrictions on U.S. travel and investment in Cuba. Thanks to that, tourism arrivals are up 18 percent this year, and billions in fresh hard currency are flowing into the regime’s nearly empty treasury. The White House has dispatched a stream of senior officials to Havana, including Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker. The deputy secretary of homeland security, Alejandro Mayorkas, last month paid court to the general who heads Castro’s repressive internal security apparatus.

In response to this, Castro has done virtually nothing, other than reopen the Cuban Embassy in Washington and allow a cellphone roaming agreement . His answer to repeated pleadings from U.S. officials for gestures on human rights has been to step up repression of the opposition. According to the independent Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, there were at least 1,093 political detentions in October, the highest number in 16 months.

Castro has meanwhile shunned offers from U.S. businesses and dramatically cut U.S. imports. Pritzker did not sign a single deal during her high-profile visit last month. Instead, Cuban officials are using the prospect of increased U.S. trade and investment as “chum” to strike bargains with other countries, according to a report by the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. While imports of U.S. food are down 44 percent this year, imports from China are up 76 percent.