Monthly Archives: February 2016

Granma: Obama’s trip “dismantles the myth” that the Castro regime violates human rights


As expected, the upcoming trip by President Barack Obama to Castro’s Cuba is turning into a propaganda gold mine for the dictatorship.

According to Granma, the official newspaper of Cuba’s Communist Party, the trip “dismantles the myth” that the Cuban regime violates human rights.

There are 3 other ‘myths’ that are also being dismantled thanks to Obama’s trip, according to Castro’s official rag:

2 – That Obama has done everything he can do: No way! There is much more that Obama still can do in support of the Cuban regime, and this was confirmed by Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser to Obama, according to Granma.

3 – That giving the Castro brothers everything they ask for has a high political cost. Not true, according to Castro’s mouthpiece. The president has a lot of “political capital” and he can use it to continue giving his full support to the dictatorship without losing it.

4 – “The omnipotent power of Miami’s ultra-right”.  With several lawmakers and two Cuban-American presidential candidates opposed to Obama’s policy, the fact that he is willing to go to Cuba without any preconditions proves that he still has the power to dictate United States foreign policy.

As we have said before, Obama’s shameful trip to Castroland will only benefit the brutal tyranny that has enslaved the Cuban people for 57 long years.

IBD Editorial: Castro Brothers The Only Beneficiaries In Obama Trip To Cuba


Investor’s Business Daily

Cuba: Announcing another historic “first,” President Obama said he and the first lady would visit communist Cuba to help improve the lot of the Cuban people. Last time he said that, when he normalized ties, the whip came down.

No regime has been showered with goodies the way the White House has heaped them onto the Castro brothers’ 57-year military dictatorship. From cash and trade, to the prestige of a costly U.S. presidential visit, the Castros have made out like bandits. The U.S. gets nothing in return. Nada.

The visit will no doubt be full of colorful celebrity-style photo-ops, perhaps driving on the Malecon in a ’57 Chevy, or sipping mojitos amid crumbling architecture, to make it all hip yet quaint for the cameras.

The president claims it’s “to advance our progress and efforts that can improve the lives of the Cuban people.” Seems he forgot his vow to not visit the island if he couldn’t say with confidence “that we’re seeing some progress in the liberty and freedom and possibilities of ordinary Cubans,” as he told Yahoo News in 2014.

Because the sorry reality is that life has not improved for Cubans since the thaw in relations. Human rights groups warn that, if anything, repression has increased following restoration of diplomatic ties. The regime still harasses dissidents with beatings, harassment arrests (some 8,600 last year), mob attacks and job firings, according to Human Rights Watch. What’s more, Cubans are terrified that the thaw will end their one thin reed of hope: escape to the U.S. They have since flooded U.S. borders in dramatically escalated numbers, surely a sign they expect little change.

Sure, the White House pays lip service to human rights. And Obama’s advance men have told the press he will even speak to dissidents, although they have declined to answer press questions about how these “dissidents” will be chosen. The more likely scenario is the one that came with Pope Francis’ trip to the island recently: Dissident roundups and beatings to keep the locals from getting any ideas.

It all adds up to the same sorry picture since Obama announced the normalization of ties. Now, with a Potemkin tour in the works, the only beneficiary will be the geriatric Castro regime, which will gain more legitimacy with the presidential visit, not to mention money.

Add it to the long list of Obama’s concessions to Cuba.

In 2009, President Obama loosened restrictions on remittances to the island, rapidly raising the regime’s cash flow, much of which was siphoned off through taxes by the regime. Remittances have doubled since then, to $4 billion.

Then, with no strings attached, President Obama normalized diplomatic relations with Cuba (ranked No. 177 out of 178 nations in the Heritage Foundation’s 2016 Index of Economic Freedom) and opened an embassy in Havana, pointedly banning dissidents from attending, and then falsely claiming there was a lack of seat space.

After that, Obama took Cuba off the list of state sponsors of terror — even while, at the same time, emails subpoenaed from then-Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton showed that she knew Cuba had permitted the opening of an “operational” Hezbollah base on the island, a clear example of state-sponsored terror.

Meanwhile, egregious arms violations — such as the transport of Cuban missiles through the Panama Canal on their way to North Korea and another suspicious shipment to Colombia and likely its FARC guerrillas went unsanctioned. There was also the suspicious shipment of a U.S. Hellfire missile to Havana. Cuba returned it only this week, two years after it received the supposedly misdirected package.

Frankly, we doubt any change will come to Cuba with this trip. It’s just another legacy-builder for selfish aims. The Castros will gain, but the cause of freedom will be set back.

Cuba’s Dissident Crackdown Peaks Ahead of Obama’s Visit



Even some supporters of President Barack Obama’s moves to strengthen relations with Cuba are questioning the timing of his planned visit to the Communist island next month, after arrests of dissidents by Raul Castro’s government reached a five-year high.
Obama vowed Thursday that he’ll promote human rights during his historic visit, the first by a sitting American president since 1928. But more than a year of warming relations between the nations, separated by just 90 miles, have so far failed to slow the Cuban government’s crackdown on political dissidents.
The Madrid-based Cuban Observatory on Human Rights said 1,474 people, including 512 women, were “arbitrarily” detained in January. The arrests have been climbing since the December 2014 announcement that the two governments would improve ties.
“A presidential visit should occasion a broader progress on the human-rights agenda. And I haven’t seen any changes on that front,” said Christopher Sabatini, an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs who has supported the rapprochement.
Sabatini said Cuba can take a number of steps to show progress ahead of Obama’s March 21-22 visit, including freeing its remaining political prisoners, allowing greater freedom of expression, providing citizens with more access to the Internet or joining the Organization of American States, which would place it under the scrutiny of the regional body’s human rights commission.
‘Relatively Easy’
“Some of these are relatively easy to do,” he said. “It’s not like we’re asking them to hold free and fair elections tomorrow.”
Ric Herrero, who heads the #CubaNow advocacy group that seeks to end the five-decade U.S. trade embargo against the island, said “it would have been ideal” for Obama to make the visit later but voiced confidence in his ability to advocate for human rights on the trip. Under the 84-year-old Castro, Cuba’s human-rights record is rated as the worst in the Americas by Freedom House.
Press officials at Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Relations didn’t immediately respond to questions about the country’s human rights record when contacted by Bloomberg News.
“We still have differences with the Cuban government that I will raise directly,” Obama said Thursday on his Twitter account. “America will always stand for human rights around the world.”
At a news conference after the announcement, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said, “We see everything that we’re doing as being in the net positive for the lives and human rights of the Cuban people.” He said long-term detentions have declined.
Kerry Visit
The White House said Obama will meet with civil society groups while in Havana, without naming which ones. During a visit to open the U.S. embassy in Havana last year, Secretary of State John Kerry was criticized by human-rights groups for not inviting dissidents to attend the ceremony alongside Cuban officials. He met with them separately later in the day.
“Despite the increase in the dictatorship’s repression, UNPACU believes Obama’s visit will be positive,” Luis Lazaro Guanche, a leader of one of the largest dissident groups, the Patriotic Union of Cuba, said on his Twitter account. The group said separately that the government has raided 20 of its members’ homes in the past three months, the most recent coming on Thursday.
Obama’s visit, the first by a sitting president since Calvin Coolidge arrived for a Latin American summit, follows administration moves aimed at making it easier for tourists to visit and U.S. companies to do business on the island. The president doesn’t have the authority to completely end the trade embargo, put in place after Raul’s brother Fidel took power and confiscated U.S. property in a 1959 revolution. Only Congress can do that.
Airbnb Business
Some travel companies have taken advantage of the nascent opening, including Airbnb Inc., which said Cuba is its fastest-growing market with more than 3,000 rooms available less than a year after it started doing business there.
Yet with companies including American Airlines Group Inc. and Carnival Corp.’s cruise line saying they are eager to do business in Cuba, the island’s government has been slow to change its own restrictions on U.S. companies.
The Cubans “are aware of it, and they are trying to address it,” said Pedro Freyre, the Miami-based chair of Akerman LLP’s international practice who has led business and legal delegations to Cuba. “Part of the problem is that they are overwhelmed. There is a small group of trained professionals and they are vetting these and their desks are just stacked to the ceiling with applications.”
Cuban officials have maintained that the U.S. must fully lift the embargo and return the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base before relations can be fully normalized.
Josefina Vidal, the head of Cuban affairs toward the U.S., said on Thursday that discussions during Obama’s visit should be based on principles of international laws.
“Cuba is open to talks with the U.S. government on any issue, including human rights, which, of course, we have different views on, as there are different ideas and views on other issues such as democracy, political models and international relations,” she said at a news conference in Havana.

Obama Will Go to Cuba, But Won’t Attend Scalia’s Funeral


President Obama announced on Thursday that he will travel to Cuba on March 21 and 22 to meet with Cuban dictator Raúl Castro, however, the White House also announced that Obama will not attend the funeral of Justice Antonin Scalia next Saturday.

Scalia died on Saturday at age 79. He joined the court in 1986 and was its longest-serving justice.

There was no word from the White House as to why the first family is passing on attending Scalia’s funeral.



U.S. Airlines Will Face Major Turbulence En Route to Cuba


HAVANA - APRIL 18:  A man stands outside the International airport April 18, 2003 in Havana,  Cuba. The Cuban government reacted angrily to reports on April 18, 2003 that the administration of  U.S. President George W. Bush is considering punitive actions, including suspension of family remittances from relatives in the U.S. and direct flights, to punish the communist nation for its recent crackdown on political dissidents. (Photo by Jorge Rey/Getty Images)

Air Force One will probably be fine.

On Twitter Thursday morning, President Barack Obama announced a planned trip to Cuba, a historic excursion that would be the first by a sitting president in 90 years. He’s just getting ahead of the rush.

Starting as soon as this fall, any American that fits into one of 12 fairly loose categories will be able to book a scheduled flight to Cuba on major carriers. Under the new rules, there will be more than 100 regularly scheduled flights to the country per day, many times more than the handful of charter flights that go there now.

Major U.S. carriers, including American Airlines AAL -0.20% , Delta Airlines DAL 0.04% , Jet Blue JBLU -1.16% and United UAL 2.05% have already announced intentions to apply for the newly available routes to Cuba, USA Today reports. A spokesman for American Airlines, which currently offers the most charter flights to Cuba, said that it was early to gauge what demand would be, but that it would move quickly to add routes, calling the agreement a “great opportunity.”

The new flight paths are part of a major thaw in Cuban relations touched off by the Obama administration that will leave the U.S. and Cuba closer politically and economically than they have been in 50 years. There are huge hurdles to normalizing relations, though, not the least of which is a Republican Congress. At a town hall on Wednesday, GOP presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz lambasted Obama’s approach to the country. “He’s allowing billions of dollars to go to tyrants who hate America,” Rubio said. And though many businesses are slowly making in roads on the island, most will be blocked for the foreseeable future unless Congress lifts the embargo (not likely any time soon).

For Americans that do make their way there, decades of Communist rule and neglected infrastructure present significant hurdles. Big airlines will have to find a way to operate even though no U.S. credit cards can currently be used in the country, making it will be difficult to pay for checked bags, flight changes, or other amenities. There’s virtually no mobile Internet, and booking flights on the island is not for the faint of heart (it’s not unheard of to have to visit the airport in person and even furnish an employee with cash to secure a seat quickly). What Internet there is in the country tends to be expensive and slow. And the main Havana airport is aging—not to mention there’s only one runway.

Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst and founder of Atmosphere Research, says airline companies are now scouting the country’s airports to determine how feasible the new flight routes will be. “They’ll be looking at everything from connectivity to language proficiency,” he says. And the stakes are high: If Cuba handles the first wave of tourism poorly, it may blow its chance at future ones.

“If they don’t get this launch right it could set their tourism launch back by several years,” Harteveldt says. “It will have a terrible reputation and it will squander this literally once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Colorado-based aviation analyst Michael Boyd says he’s not worried about airports being overrun by Americans—but only because he thinks the hotels will keep them out first. “There are more hotel rooms on the Las Vegas strip than in all of Cuba,” Boyd wrote to Fortune in an email. “And the quality is pretty low.”

Right now, Boyd says Cuba “is a place for adventure tourism, not mass travel.” That is, at least until major investments are made in infrastructure and tourism amenities. Here’s hoping it doesn’t take another 50 years.

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Hillary Emails: Intelligence Report Said Hezbollah Has Base in Cuba


Breitbart News

A private intelligence report from Hillary Clinton’s confidant, Sid Blumenthal, claimed that Hezbollah, the Iran-backed terrorist organization, had set up shop in Cuba, according to an email released by the State Department over the weekend.

The group was actively “casing” facilities related to U.S. interests, the intelligence report also says.

The dispatch read:

During the week of September 5, 2011 extremely sensitive sources reported in confidence that the Israeli Intelligence and Security Service (Mossad) has informed the leadership of the Israeli Government that Hezbollah is establishing an operational base in Cuba, designed to support terrorist attacks throughout Latin America.

The confidential intelligence report from Blumenthal to Clinton continued:

These sources believe that Hezbollah supporters have been instructed to also begin casing facilities associated with the United States and the United Kingdom, including diplomatic missions, major banks, and businesses in the region. These individuals believe that the Hezbollah military commanders in Lebanon and Syria view these U.S. and U.K. entities as contingency targets to be attacked in the event of U.S. and British military intervention in either Syria or Iran, at some point in the future.

Breitbart News has reported extensively on Hezbollah’s encroachment into the western hemisphere, noting the group’s rapid rise in the west in recent years.

U.S. officials, members of Congress, and defense experts continue to warn that Iran is utilizing Hezbollah to expand its influence in the region, and is utilizing cultural centers and mosques to spread the message of the Shia Islamic revolution.

Moreover, a recent report alleged that Hezbollah is now “moving freely” throughout the United States and Latin America.

When reached by Breitbart News, the intelligence services of Canada and Mexico would not confirm or deny reports that Hezbollah had extensive operations already set up within the United States.

A State Department official recently acknowledged in a statement to Breitbart News: “Hizballah receives funding from supporters around the world who engage in a host of licit and illicit activities, some of which takes place in the Western Hemisphere.”

Obama will announce tomorrow that he is going to Cuba to thank the Castro brothers


President Barack Hussein Obama will announce tomorrow that he is going to Cuba to meet with his Cuban idols, Fidel and Raul Castro.

The bad news is that he is not staying there!

No information has been provided by the White House as to whether Obama will participate in any “mitin de repudio” against the Ladies in White or other dissidents.


Yriade Hernández Aguilera, a member of UNPACU, was one of the dissidents severely beaten by Castro's police
Yriade Hernández Aguilera, a member of UNPACU, was one of the dissidents severely beaten by Castro’s police






Our Man – in Havana?


The Catholic Thing

The meeting between Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis on Friday in Havana was a pivotal moment in relations between Western and Eastern Christianity. It’s also the culmination of decades-long efforts to get Europe to “breathe with both lungs,” as St. John Paul II said. And in several respects, it owes a great deal to particular qualities of Pope Francis, for both good and ill.

Francis’s public persona gets much praise, and criticism (on this page, as elsewhere) from people who think he’s confusing and is putting crucial Catholic doctrines in jeopardy. Both charges are correct – sometimes – but there’s more to the story. He has a gift for bringing people together – yes, not always with the necessary clarity or caution. But in this instance, he mostly did very well. With one serious misstep, of which more below.

The meeting probably would have been harder to arrange if the pope were a Western European. JPII, a Pole, knew the Slavic world well. Benedict XVI profoundly understood the theological differences between East and West. Both made overtures towards the Orthodox. But a Latin American pope made things less starkly East/West.

It’s worth reading the Joint Declaration that was signed in Cuba. It starts by strongly regretting millennium-old divisions within the Church, which Christ Himself prayed would be one, as He and the Father are one. And adopts a fraternal tone – something even factions within Catholicism and Orthodoxy don’t always use towards one another – seeking closer relations and common action.

That’s a genuine religious advance, but it’s also a response to the public challenges all Christians face today: “Human civilization has entered into a period of epochal change. Our Christian conscience and our pastoral responsibility compel us not to remain passive in the face of challenges requiring a shared response.”

First, in urgency (and the text) is persecution, martyrdom, and wholesale genocide of Christians, in the Middle East, Africa, etc. Many believe that was the primary motivation for the meeting.

Continue reading Our Man – in Havana?

Pact on U.S.-Cuba Flights Reopens Battle for Property Stolen by Castro

José Ramón López, 62, the exiled heir to the Havana airport and to Cuba’s national airline
José Ramón López, 62, the exiled heir to the Havana airport and to Cuba’s national airline

The New York Times

The Obama administration’s top transportation officials will join Cuban dignitaries at the Hotel Nacional in Havana on Tuesday to sign an agreement that will restore commercial airline service between the two countries for the first time in more than 50 years.

José Ramón López, 62, the exiled heir to the Havana airport and to Cuba’s national airline, was not invited.

This being Cuba, even a significant diplomatic announcement has a back story involving old wounds, confiscated properties and uphill legal battles.

Mr. López is the son of the former owner of the airport, whose property was seized by the Communists after the triumph of the Cuban revolution. He says he deserves compensation if the United States is going to agree to a commercial deal involving the airport with the government that stole his inheritance.

“The airport in Havana is private property — mine,” Mr. López said. “How are American corporations going to go there and benefit from it?”

Mr. López says his is a cautionary tale that highlights the perils of doing business in Cuba, where unresolved, decades-old disputes complicate efforts by Cuba and the United States to resume not only diplomatic relations but also economic ones.

Mr. López is a former Cuban merchant mariner who left Cuba in 1989 and moved to Miami seven years ago. He has paperwork showing that he is the only child of José López Vilaboy, an associate of Fulgencio Batista, the Cuban dictator who was overthrown early in 1959.

Mr. López Vilaboy ran to safety on Dec. 31, 1958, when it became clear that a young bearded rebel named Fidel Castro had defeated the Batista forces and that the dictator would step down. Mr. López Vilaboy hid in the Guatemalan Embassy for nine months before fleeing the country; his properties were immediately seized.

Among his many holdings were a bank, a couple of hotels, factories, a newspaper, two airlines and Rancho Boyeros, the airport serving Havana now known as José Martí International Airport.

As far as the new Cuban government was concerned, Mr. López Vilaboy’s many properties were the fruits of his close relationship to a corrupt regime.

Mr. López Vilaboy eventually arrived in South Florida, and he lived quietly in a two-bedroom apartment in Miami Beach until his death in 1989.

He never saw his son after he left Cuba.

In 2010, a probate court in Miami declared Mr. López to be one of Mr. López Vilaboy’s heirs.

Over the years, he met with various lawyers, but he said they shrugged him off, viewing him as just one of the thousands of Cuban-Americans who lost property in the revolution — which they had little chance of ever getting back.

Then it was announced late last week that the American secretary of transportation, Anthony Foxx, and the assistant secretary of state for economic and business affairs, Charles H. Rivkin, would lead a delegation to Cuba for a signing ceremony at the Hotel Nacional.

By the fall, United States airlines will operate 20 flights a day from the airport Mr. López still considers his.

“I just don’t understand how American corporations can do business with my property,” he said. “If they are not giving it to me, then pay me for using it.”

Mr. López enlisted the help of Andy S. Gómez, a retired scholar of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, who helped him arrange meetings to explore possible legal recourse. “Americans need to understand the risks of doing business in Cuba,” Mr. Gómez said.

He said the moment was particularly crucial now, as President Obama seeks to ease restrictions on doing business with Cuba and as more American companies flock there hoping to sign deals. Last week, the Obama administration approved the first American factory to operate in Cuba in more than 50 years, a small tractor company from Alabama.

The Helms-Burton Act, signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996, says that anyone who profits from properties that were confiscated from American citizens is liable for damages, even if the owner was not an American citizen at the time. Yet the law has provisos that allow the president to decide whether, for the sake of American interests, the law should be enforced.

It has pretty much never been enforced.

“It would be a slug fest,” said Pedro A. Freyre, a Miami lawyer who specializes in Cuban business deals. “It would be a brawl, a free-for-all, everyone suing every Canadian company, airline, hotel, you name it — and it would be detrimental to U.S. foreign relations.”

Martha Pantin, a spokeswoman for American Airlines, which is expected to bid for the Cuba routes, said Mr. López’s problem is one best answered by government agencies. “This is not an airline issue,” she said. Continue reading Pact on U.S.-Cuba Flights Reopens Battle for Property Stolen by Castro