Tag Archives: Bob Menendez

Cuba airport security causes senators to call for pause in U.S.-Cuba flights


CBS News

Last week, regularly-scheduled commercial flights between the U.S. and Cuba took off for the first time in more than fifty years. Now, a bipartisan pair of senators has submitted legislation to ground those planes over what they say are airport security concerns.

Senators Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, and Marco Rubio, R-Florida, have submitted legislation to that would pause the Cuba-US routes until an assessment of Cuban aviation safety could be completed.

Is Cuba ready for a boom in U.S. tourism?

“With so many serious security threats around the world, it is irresponsible to leave key aspects of our airport security in the hands of anti-American, repressive regime in Cuba,” Rubio said in a statement.

But the Transportation Security Administration says it has reviewed operations at eight of the 10 Cuban airports set to provide commercial flights to and from the U.S. and that all met international standards.

TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger, who was to meet with members of Congress Thursday, told CBS News earlier this summer that his agency “will ensure that they in fact meet all of those requirements that we put in place at last points of departure.”

Currently, the United States and the Republic of Cuba have an agreement allowing federal air marshals on board certain passenger flights between the two nations. But Menendez says it’s not enough.

“Cuba is a totalitarian dictatorship that continues to harbor American hijackers and terrorists as heroes…and remains a strategic ally of some of the world’s most dangerous terrorist organizations,” he said. “Every airport worker is employed directly by the regime, and its airports lack the technology and security capabilities we’ve grown to expect in the United States.”

Excitement over first flights from U.S. to Cuba

While Cuba, a nation of more than 11 million about 90 miles south of Key West, Florida, has been largely off limits to the United States for 55 years, it is a major tourist destination from Canada, Europe, Latin America and Russia. Dozens of international airlines serve Cuba each day.

Scheduled commercial airline service from the U.S. ended in 1961 after the communist government of Fidel Castro rose to power, and nationalized foreign assets (many of them belonging to American companies). The Cuban missile crisis brought the world to brink of nuclear war, after the Castro regime allowed Russian missiles to be set up, prompting the ongoing U.S. embargo.

But even before Jetblue flight 387 left Fort Lauderdale with 150 passengers August 31st bound for Cuba, on average 17 charter flights travel between the U.S. and the island nation daily. The charter flights have existed for years, and all of the passengers on those flights passed through Cuban airport security without legislation from Congress to stop it.

CBS News was on that first commercial flight to Santa Clara, Cuba’s fifth largest city. Our experience was far from a comprehensive review of airport security. We found it to be similar to screenings at airports around the world, but with a few quirks.

Upon arrival in Cuba, our bags were x-rayed with equipment resembling those seen in American airports. Each passenger passed through a magnetometer. Some were also “wanded” with a handheld metal detector. Security officers would not allow bottled water past the checkpoint and held a safety razor (used for shaving) for no clear reason. When asked why water couldn’t enter the terminal, the officer simply said it wasn’t allowed.

Our photojournalist was allowed to keep his water. Prior to heading for customs, the razor was returned, and we were screened again. At the Santa Clara airport, we did not see body scanners.

After checking into our return flights and clearing immigration in Havana, the security checkpoint at Jose Marti International Airport’s Terminal 3, looked a lot like security at many small airports in the U.S. There were several lanes closed — and just one screening passengers. While the line wasn’t long, the process was slow. Bags were x-rayed, passengers passed through metal detectors, and in some cases were also ‘wanded’ by a handheld scanner. This terminal appeared to have one body scanner station.

Our CBS News crew was selected for additional screening, our bags were emptied and examined. Security officers express particular concern over several old books we purchased.

The senators’ Cuban Airport Security Act follows a similar measure introduced by Congressman John Katko, R-New York, in July. Earlier in the summer members of the House Homeland Security Committee were denied visas to enter Cuba for a trip to examine airport security there.

On the day the senate bill was announced American Airlines began rolling out its service to Cuba with a flight to Cienfuegos. The Department of Transportation has authorized up to 110 daily flights from the U.S. to Cuba on 10 carriers. Flights to the island’s capitol city are expected to begin in November.

Sen. Bob Menendez: Obama administration’s Cuba policy is ‘one-way street’


Sen. Robert Menendez took aim at what he sees as velvet-glove treatment of the Castro regime in Cuba by the Obama administration, saying that all the U.S. overtures toward the communist nation have made zero difference in how oppressed its citizens are.
Menendez, the son of Cuban immigrants who grew up in Union City, New Jersey, was raised on stories about the suffering of people who stayed behind in. And like many Cuban exiles and the children they raised with those stories, the Democratic senator has little tolerance for any move toward being amiable with Cuba’s leaders.
Late last year, both presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro announced a deal to re-establish diplomatic relations, including easing U.S. trade and travel restrictions. But that agreement, he said in an interview with Fox News Latino, “is a one-way street.”
“Cuba said, ‘You want to have a relationship with us? Well, we want our three convicted spies back,’” Menendez said. “Including one who was convicted of conspiracy to commit the murder of three United States citizens.”
In the last few weeks, the two nations re-opened embassies in each other’s capitals. Last Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry was in Havana to raise the American flag in front of the U.S. embassy.
Extending an olive branch to Castro while requiring him to make no meaningful changes in return, is an affront to human rights and the United States moral authority in the world, Menendez maintains.
“We send them the spies back, we get an innocent American – who should never have been held hostage in the first place – in return,” he said. “We don’t send spies back in the world. Anywhere. This is like a whole new [world] order.”

Continue reading Sen. Bob Menendez: Obama administration’s Cuba policy is ‘one-way street’

Cuban-American lawmakers react at Cuba’s upgrade on trafficking report


U.S. Sen. Bob Menéndez, Democrat from New Jersey: “Upgrades for Malaysia and Cuba are a clear politicization of the report, and a stamp of approval for countries who have failed to take the basic actions to merit this upgrade. In Cuba, adults and children are subjected to sex trafficking and the government continues perpetrating abusive practices of forced labor, coercing tens of thousands of its own doctors and medical professionals to serve abroad under conditions that violate international norms.” Menéndez said the upgrade “challenges common sense” and he pledged to use “all of the tools at my disposal -– from hearings to legislation to investigations –- to challenge these upgrades.”

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican and also chairwoman of a House Committee on Foreign Affairs subcommittee: “It has become clear that the White House’s willingness to bend over backward to appease the ruthless dictators in Cuba knows no bounds.”

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida and a presidential candidate, said in a statement, “I find it difficult to believe that Cuba has been elevated this year from Tier 3 to Tier 2 Watch List solely based on the Cuban regime’s record.”



Was the Castro regime behind Menendez investigation? His attorneys want to know


Attorneys for Sen. Robert Menendez want to know whether an agent of the Republic of Cuba kick-started the federal investigation that led to the indictment of New Jersey’s senior senator on political corruption charges.
During a hearing in U.S. District Court Wednesday, Menendez attorney Abbe Lowell said he has requested documents in the government’s possession, which might show that prosecutors “got information from the Republic of Cuba to start this case.”
Federal prosecutors won’t say whether or not such information exists. And Lowell did not offer details on his request.
But on Wednesday Justice Department prosecutors asked Judge William Walls to review any documents it has that it considers classified before deciding whether they should be turned over to the defense.
Menendez’s lawyers believe the government’s move was prompted by a request made in May for government documents relevant to their defense.
“Any documents or information describing or reflecting any allegation of wrongdoing by Robert Menendez made by an individual or agency from Cuba,” the request said.
On Wednesday, Walls agreed to review any material the government considers classified based on national security concerns before deciding whether to turn them over to the defense.
The suggestion that Cuban agents might be behind the Menendez criminal probe threatens to inject politics into a case that federal prosecutors say is about “government corruption,” not political payback.
Menendez’s April indictment came while the senator was speaking out against the Obama Administration’s efforts to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba as a ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Continue reading Was the Castro regime behind Menendez investigation? His attorneys want to know