After 5 months, and all the gifts from Obama, still no breakthrough in
May 22 - There has been no
breakthrough on embassy re-openings at the conclusion of the latest
round of talks between Cuba and the United States, according to a
statement out Friday from the Cuban Foreign Ministry. The statement
added that more "exchanges" are planned between the U.S. and Cuba.
This comes after five months of U.S. negotiations with Cuba, that took
place with the hopes of hammering out an agreement that will normalize
relations and restore diplomatic ties between the two nations that were
formally severed in 1982 when the U.S. put Cuba on the list of State
Sponsors of terror.
A senior State Department official told reporters Tuesday that the Obama
administration is "optimistic" about the talks, adding "We've clearly
gotten closer and worked our way to fewer items on the checklist."
Earlier this week, the deputy director of USA affairs at the Cuban
Foreign Ministry, Gustavo Machín, told reporters that this round of
talks to normalize relations between the U.S. and Cuba could be "the
last" since the two nations are close to reaching a consensus on key
Before reopening an embassy in Washington, Cuban President Raúl Castro
said that a condition to this move would be the U.S. removing Cuba from
the list of State Sponsors of terror.
Last month, President Barack Obama issued a message to Congress, to
notify them of his recommendation to remove Cuba off the list and that
move is expected to move forward at the end of the month.
In a statement on the President's decision, Secretary of State John
Kerry said that "Circumstances have changed since 1982," referencing the
time when Havana was supporting armed insurgencies in Latin America,
during the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
Will Obama's Cuba Moves Stick?
May 21 - The U.S. and Cuba
began a fourth round of talks today aimed at restoring diplomatic
relations between the two countries and reopening embassies in each
other’s capitals. Some sticking points remain: the U.S. wants its
diplomats to be able to travel freely in and out of Havana while the
Cuban government is suspicious of their intentions, accusing the U.S. of
recruiting spies. But these concerns seem surmountable.
President Obama has already gone farther toward normalizing relations
with Cuba than any president since Dwight Eisenhower broke off
diplomatic ties with the Castros’ regime in 1961. But the question now
is just how much farther he can go in the time he has left, and how many
of the changes he makes will be permanent.
Obama has taken Cuba off the state sponsors of terrorism list—a major
political impediment to restoring ties. He has also effectively ended
the ban on travel to the island. Yes, tourism is still banned, but 12
types of travel are permitted, including a few that could serve as a
fairly easy pretext for some sightseeing—and you can even pay with your
MasterCard. There are still no direct flights to Cuba, though they will
likely be coming in a few months, but there are an increasing number of
charter services and soon a ferry from Florida. It’s also now much
easier to send money to Cuban citizens and invest in Cuban companies.
That’s a lot—and Congress hasn’t approved any of it. If the negotiations
with Havana succeed in getting the embassies reopened, it will probably
be about all the president can do through executive action alone. The
embargo has been U.S. law since 1996 and Obama can’t restore trade or
fully lift travel restrictions without help from Congress. The brand new
embassy might not even have an ambassador, as that would require a
Senate confirmation. (This wouldn’t actually be that unusual: At one
point last year there were over 30 countries without U.S. ambassadors
thanks to congressional gridlock.)
And when Obama’s gone? Depends who his successor is. Cuban-American
presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are both opposed to
lifting travel restrictions. Floridian Jeb Bush is also opposed to
Obama’s Cuba moves and was calling for even tougher sanctions before
them. So if normalization is accomplished solely through executive
action, it’s conceivable that it could also be undone by it.
This has happened before. In 1977, Jimmy Carter’s administration lifted
most of the travel ban, but it was put back in place in 1982 by Ronald
Reagan along with tougher trade sanctions. Some have argued that Obama’s
changes will be harder to undo, since U.S. companies are chomping at the
bit to do business in Cuba and a growing number of Americans, including
most younger Cuban-Americans, favor lifting the embargo.
If Congress agrees to lift the embargo, it will likely stand no matter
who is president. But if Obama’s presidency ends with just reversible
moves, that’s another story. Hillary Clinton would certainly leave these
policies in place, and a less committed Republican might also, given how
public opinion is moving on this issue. But Bush, Cruz and Rubio are
staunch Cuba hawks and if one of them is elected, the “thaw” in
relations might get quite frosty again.
Remove Cuba Language From Commerce Appropriations Defeated
May 21 - Via
Capitol Hill Cubans:
During today's full committee
markup of the Commerce Justice Appropriations bill ("CJS"), U.S. Rep.
Sam Farr (D-CA) presented an amendment to remove language banning
transactions with Cuba's military ("Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed
Forces") and security services ("Ministry of the Interior"), and
business entities under their control.
here to learn more about the provision.)
Farr was resoundingly defeated in a bipartisan fashion.
The Commerce Justice Appropriations bill, including the Cuban military
and security services ban, passed the full committee shortly thereafter.
Last week, the House Appropriations Committee also marked up its
Transportation Appropriations bill, which contains language prohibiting
any new travel that exploits confiscated airports or maritime ports.
As such, there are now two must-pass bills that have been marked-up
through the House, which contain language limiting President Obama's
unilateral concessions to the Castro regime.
Senators question wisdom of Obama's Cuba policy
May 20 - President Obama's
top negotiator with Cuba was grilled during a tense Senate hearing
Wednesday, as senators doubted whether the normalization of relations
with the island would change its communist government.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson was repeatedly asked
how the re-establishment of diplomatic relations would end Cuba's dismal
human rights record, its lack of free elections and other injustices
against the Cuban people.
Jacobson argued that having Americans operating more broadly in Cuba —
diplomatically, economically and as regular visitors — would help the
Cuban people reach a point where they could determine their own futures.
She acknowledged that despite months of negotiations, the Cuban
government has not promised any specific changes.
"We're not sure what the Cuban government will do in the face of these
things," Jacobson told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "I think
they're still absorbing our changes and making their own policy
Wednesday's hearing came on the eve of the fourth round of diplomatic
talks between Jacobson and her Cuban counterparts at the U.S. State
Department. Jacobson said she was hopeful that could result in a final
agreement to reopen embassies in Havana and Washington after 54 years of
She faced questions about exactly what the U.S., and the Cuban people,
were getting from the deal.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a Cuban-American and 2016 presidential
candidate, asked how the U.S. could prevent the Cuban government from
profiting from the expected increase in travel by Americans, since it
owns all major hotels on the island.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the committee chairman, asked how the ability
of American telecommunications to build up Cuba's Internet
infrastructure would help Cubans, when most of people there are denied
access to the Internet. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., asked whether
fugitives wanted in the U.S. would be returned to face justice.
And Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., a Cuban-American, asked what the country
got in return for removing Cuba from its State Sponsors of Terrorism
"President Obama may have outstretched his hand, but the Castros still
have their firsts real tight," Menendez said. "I have deep concerns that
the more these talks progress, the more the administration continues to
entertain unilateral concessions without in return getting agreement on
fundamental issues that are in our national interest and those of the
Jacobson got some support from other committee members answering those
On the question of where Americans would stay in Cuba, Sen. Barbara
Boxer, D-Calif., said the U.S. government should never be in the
business of dictating where its citizens stay when traveling abroad. She
highlighted emerging companies like San Francisco-based Airbnb that are
increasing opportunities for Cuban people to rent out rooms to travelers
on their own.
"Are we going to start telling people what hotels to stay in in China?
In Russia? In Vietnam?" Boxer said. "We don't do that. We're not an
On the questions of American fugitives and expanded human rights, Sen.
Ben Cardin, D-Md., said the U.S. is currently unable to prompt change
precisely because it has no diplomatic relations with the government.
"Every day our diplomats around the world demonstrate their ability to
engage foreign governments and advance U.S. national interests," he
said. "It is not unreasonable to think that we will have a better chance
... if we actually engage in direct dialogue with the Cuban government."
Jacobson told the senators that she was not blind to the many
differences that remain between the U.S. and Cuban governments. "As
anyone who has ever dealt with Cuba knows, a realistic perspective is a
very useful one to have," she said.
She assured them that they were all striving for the same goal — a free,
democratic Cuba — and that engagement is a better option than five
decades of isolation that has failed to change the Castro regime.
"Our policy toward Cuba is based on a clear-eyed strategy that empowers
the Cuban people to determine their own future by creating new economic
opportunities and increasing their contact with the outside world," she
Wall Street Journal: Venezuelan Officials Suspected of Turning Country
into Global Cocaine Hub
May 18 - U.S. prosecutors are
investigating several high-ranking Venezuelan officials, including the
president of the country’s congress, on suspicion that they have turned
the country into a global hub for cocaine trafficking and money
laundering, according to more than a dozen people familiar with the
An elite unit of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Washington and
federal prosecutors in New York and Miami are building cases using
evidence provided by former cocaine traffickers, informants who were
once close to top Venezuelan officials and defectors from the Venezuelan
military, these people say.
A leading target, according to a Justice Department official and other
American authorities, is National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello,
considered the country’s second most-powerful man.
“There is extensive evidence to justify that he is one of the heads, if
not the head, of the cartel,” said the Justice Department official,
speaking of a group of military officers and top officials suspected of
being involved in the drug trade. “He certainly is a main target.”
Representatives of Mr. Cabello and other officials didn’t return phone
calls and emails requesting comment. In the past, Venezuelan authorities
have rejected allegations of high-ranking involvement in the drug trade
as an attempt by the U.S. to destabilize the leftist government in
In an appearance on state television Wednesday, Mr. Cabello said he
solicited a court-ordered travel ban on 22 executives and journalists
from three Venezuelan news outlets that he has sued for publishing
stories about the drug allegations earlier this year. “They accuse me of
being a drug trafficker without a single piece of evidence and now I’m
the bad guy,” Mr. Cabello said. “I feel offended, and none of them even
said they’re sorry.”
The Obama administration isn’t directing or coordinating the
investigations, which are being run by federal prosecutors who have wide
leeway to target criminal suspects. But if the probes result in publicly
disclosed indictments of Mr. Cabello and others, the resulting furor in
Venezuela would likely plunge relations between the two countries into
their most serious crisis since the late populist Hugo Chávez took
office 16 years ago.
“It would be seismic,” said a U.S. official, of the expected Venezuelan
reaction. “They will blame a vast right-wing conspiracy.”
U.S. authorities say they are
far along in their investigations. But they say any indictments that may
result might be sealed, making them secret until authorities can make
arrests—something that would be difficult if not impossible unless the
suspects travel abroad.
The investigations are a response to an explosion in drug trafficking in
the oil-rich country, U.S. officials say. Under pressure in Colombia,
where authorities aggressively battled the drug trade with $10 billion
in U.S. aid since 2000, many Colombian traffickers moved operations to
neighboring Venezuela, where U.S. law-enforcement officials say they
found a government and military eager to permit and ultimately control
cocaine smuggling through the country.
“Most of the high-end traffickers moved to Venezuela in that time,” said
Joaquín Pérez, a Miami attorney who represents key Colombian traffickers
who have acknowledged operating out of Venezuela.
Venezuela doesn’t produce coca, the leaf used to make cocaine, nor does
it manufacture the drug. But the U.S. estimates that about 131 tons of
cocaine, about half of the total cocaine produced in Colombia, moved
through Venezuela in 2013, the last year for which data were available.
Prosecutors aren’t targeting President Nicolás Maduro, who has been in
power since Mr. Chávez’s death two years ago. U.S. law-enforcement
officials say they view several other Venezuelan officials and military
officers as the de facto leaders of drug-trafficking organizations that
use Venezuela as a launchpad for cocaine shipments to the U.S. as well
‘A Criminal Organization’
“It is a criminal organization,” said the Justice Department official,
referring to certain members of the upper echelons of the Venezuelan
government and military.
Mildred Camero, who had been Mr. Chávez’s drug czar until being forced
out abruptly in 2005, said Venezuela has “a government of
narcotraffickers and money launderers.” She recently collaborated on a
book, “Chavismo, Narcotrafficking and Militarism,” in which she alleged
that drug-related corruption had penetrated the state, naming more than
a dozen officials, including nine generals, who allegedly worked with
Law-enforcement officials in
the U.S. said that they have accelerated their investigations in the
past two years, a period that has seen Venezuela’s economy worsen
dramatically. Rampant crime has spiked, making Venezuela the continent’s
most violent country and spurring people to emigrate.
The deepening crisis has made it easier for U.S. authorities to recruit
informants, say those working to enlist people close to top Venezuelan
officials. Colombian and Venezuelan drug traffickers have also arrived
in the U.S., eager to provide information on Venezuelan officials in
exchange for sentencing leniency and residency, U.S. officials say.
“Since the turmoil in Venezuela, we’ve had greater success in building
these cases,” said a federal prosecutor from New York’s Eastern District
who works on Venezuelan cases.
In January, U.S. investigators made a major catch when naval captain
Leamsy Salazar defected and was brought to Washington. Mr. Salazar, who
has said he headed Mr. Cabello’s security detail, told U.S. authorities
that he witnessed Mr. Cabello supervise the launch of a large shipment
of cocaine from Venezuela’s Paraguaná peninsula, people familiar with
the case say.
Mr. Cabello has publicly railed against his former bodyguard, saying he
didn’t head his security detail and calling him “an infiltrator” who has
no proof of his involvement in drug trafficking. “Our conscience is
totally clear,” he said in a radio interview.
Rafael Isea is another defector who has been talking to investigators,
people familiar with the matter say. A former Venezuelan finance
minister and governor of Aragua state, Mr. Isea fled Venezuela in 2013.
People familiar with the case say Mr. Isea has told investigators that
Walid Makled, a drug kingpin now in prison, paid off former Interior
Minister Tarek El Aissami to get drug shipments through Venezuela.
Almost a year after leaving the country, Mr. Isea was accused of
committing “financial irregularities” during his days as governor by
Venezuela’s attorney general, and by Mr. El Aissami, who succeeded him
as governor of Aragua.
“Today, Rafael Isea, that bandit and traitor, is a refugee in Washington
where he has entered a program for protected witnesses in exchange for
worthless information against Venezuela,” Mr. El Aissami said recently
on Venezuelan television.
Mr. Isea has rejected the accusations as false, politically motivated
and meant to discredit him.
In addition to Mr. El Aissami,
other powerful officials under investigation include Hugo Carvajal, a
former director of military intelligence; Nestor Reverol, the head of
the National Guard; Jose David Cabello, Mr. Cabello’s brother, who is
the industry minister and heads the country’s tax collection agency; and
Gen. Luis Motta Dominguez, a National Guard general in charge of central
Venezuela, say a half-dozen officials and people familiar with the
Calls and emails seeking comment from several government ministries as
well as the president’s office went unanswered. Some officials have
taken to social media to ridicule the U.S. investigations. A Twitter
account in the name of Gen. Motta Dominguez earlier this year said: “We
all know that whoever wants his green card and live in the US to visit
Disney can just pick his leader and accuse him of being a narco. DEA
tours will attend to them.”
To build cases, U.S. law-enforcement officials work with Venezuelan
exiles and others to locate and recruit disaffected Venezuelans.
“We get people out of Venezuela, and we meet with them in Panama,
Curaçao, Bogotá,” said a former intelligence operative who works with
U.S. officials to recruit and debrief Venezuelans who have evidence of
links between Venezuelan officials and the drug trade.
Former Venezuelan military officers and others living outside the
country provide help by contacting their former comrades and urging them
to defect, the recruiter said. If the defector can provide useful
information, the recruiter said, he is flown to the U.S. and a new life.
“What does the U.S. want?” said the recruiter, who has been working
Venezuelan cases since 2008. “The U.S. wants proof, evidence of
relations between politicians, military officers and functionaries with
drug traffickers and terrorist groups.”
Recently, at Washington’s posh Capital Grille restaurant, a few blocks
from Congress, a Venezuelan operative working with a U.S. law
enforcement agency took a call from a middleman for a high-level
official in Caracas seeking to trade information for favorable treatment
from the U.S.
“Tell him I’ll meet him in Panama next week,” said the operative,
interrupting a lunch of oysters and steak.
The biggest target is 52-year-old Mr. Cabello, a former army lieutenant
who forged a close link in the military academy with Mr. Chávez when the
two played on the same baseball team. When Mr. Chávez launched an
unsuccessful 1992 coup, Mr. Cabello led a four-tank column that attacked
the presidential palace in downtown Caracas.
Mr. Cabello has been minister of public works and housing, which also
gave him control of the airports and ports, as well as minister of the
interior and vice president. He was also president for a few hours in
April 2002 when Mr. Chávez was briefly ousted in a failed coup.
Many analysts and politicians in Venezuela say they believe Mr.
Cabello’s power rivals that of Mr. Maduro and is rooted in his influence
among Venezuela’s generals.
Julio Rodriguez, a retired colonel who knows Mr. Cabello from their days
at Venezuela’s military academy, says that of 96 lieutenant colonels
commanding battalions in Venezuela today, Mr. Cabello has close ties to
The stocky and bull-necked
Mr. Cabello, who often sports the standard Chavista uniform of red shirt
and tri-color windbreaker in the red, yellow and blue of the Venezuelan
flag, is host of a television program, “Hitting With the Sledge Hammer,”
on state television, in which he uses telephone intercepts of opponents
to attack and embarrass them. Mr. Rodriguez said he believes Mr. Cabello
will never make any kind of a deal with the U.S. “Diosdado is a
kamikaze,” he said. “He will never surrender.”
U.S. investigators have painstakingly built cases against Venezuelan
officials by using information gathered from criminal cases brought in
the U.S. In Miami, people familiar with the matter say a key building
block in the investigations involved a drug-smuggling ring run by
Roberto Mendez Hurtado. A Colombian, Mr. Mendez Hurtado moved cocaine
into Apure state in western Venezuela and, according to those familiar
with his case, had met with high-ranking Venezuelan officials. The
cocaine was then taken by boat or flown directly to islands in the
Caribbean before reaching American shores.
Mr. Mendez Hurtado pleaded guilty in Miami federal court and received a
19-year prison term in 2014. People close to that investigation say that
Mr. Mendez Hurtado and his fellow traffickers wouldn’t have been able to
operate without paying off a string of top military officers and
“The involvement of top officials in the National Guard and in the
government of Venezuela in drug trafficking is very clear,” said a
former Venezuelan National Guard officer who served in intelligence and
in anti-narcotics and left the country last year frightened by the
overwhelming corruption he saw daily.
“Everyone feels pressured,” he said. “Sooner or later everyone
surrenders to drug trafficking.”
In another case, in Brooklyn, prosecutors have learned about the
intricacies of the drug trade in Venezuela after breaking up a
cocaine-smuggling ring led by Luis Frank Tello, who pleaded guilty,
court documents show. The cocaine was brought in across the border from
Colombia and, with the help of National Guard officers, shipped north,
sometimes from the airport in Venezuela’s second-largest city,
The U.S. investigations of Venezuelan officials have been going on for
years, though investigators have sometimes been thwarted by politics.
In 2008, the U.S. Treasury Department put three top aides to
then-President Chávez on a blacklist and froze any assets they might
have in the U.S. Among the three was Mr. Carvajal, known as “El Pollo,”
or the Chicken, then the head of military intelligence. The U.S. acted
after extensive evidence surfaced earlier that year in the computers of
a dead Colombian guerrilla commander of burgeoning cocaine-for-arms
exchanges between the rebels and top Venezuelan generals and officials,
according to the U.S. and Colombian governments.
In 2010, Manhattan prosecutors unsealed the indictment of Mr. Makled,
the Venezuelan drug dealer accused of shipping tons of cocaine to the
U.S. through the country’s main seaport of Puerto Cabello, which he
allegedly controlled. Mr. Makled, who had been captured in Colombia,
boasted of having 40 Venezuelan generals on his payroll.
“All my business associates are generals,” Mr. Makled said then to an
associate in correspondence seen by The Wall Street Journal. “I’m
telling you we dispatched 300,000 kilos of coke. I couldn’t have done it
without the top of the government.”
DEA agents interviewed Mr. Makled in a Colombian prison as they prepared
to extradite him to New York. But instead, Colombia extradited him in
2011 to Venezuela, where he was convicted of drug trafficking. This
February, he was sentenced to 14 years and six months in jail.
Last July, American counter-drug officials nearly nabbed Mr. Carvajal,
who had been indicted in Miami and New York on drug charges and detained
in Aruba at the American government’s behest. But Dutch authorities
released him to Venezuela, arguing that he had diplomatic immunity.
Upon Mr. Carvajal’s release, President Maduro praised the former
intelligence chief as a dedicated anti-drug fighter who had set a
worlds’ record capturing drug capos.
The U.S. is also gathering information from bankers and financiers who
handle the money for top Venezuelan officials. Since last year, people
familiar with the matter say the U.S. government has revoked the visas
of at least 56 Venezuelans, including bankers and financiers whose
identities haven’t been made public. Some have sought to cooperate with
investigators in order to regain access to the U.S.
“They are flipping all these money brokers,” said a lawyer who is
representing two Venezuelan financiers who have had their visas revoked.
“The information is coming in very rapidly.”
The Wall Street Journal
Hugo Chavez was complicit in major drug trafficking scheme, ex bodyguard
May 12 - A new book by a
Spanish journalist casts even more light on the alleged connections
between pro-Chávez Venezuelan officials and major drug traffickers in
the South American nation.
In “Boomerang Chávez,” Emili J. Blasco, the Washington DC correspondent
for Spanish news outlet ABC, writes about the alleged sponsorship of
drug trafficking by government officials, which Blasco asserts started
under the presidency of late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez.
Blasco’s sources most of his information from interviews with Leamsy
Salazar, the former head of security for National Assembly President
Diosdado Cabello and a former member of Chavez's security detail, who
deserted from the military earlier this year and made statements to U.S.
media about Cabello’s alleged drug trafficking ties.
In an instance in the book, Salazar describes a scene in 2007 at a farm
near Venezuela’s border with Colombia where Chávez negotiated with FARC
guerrilla leaders to trade drug shipments from them in exchange for
weapons and military supplies.
Salazar said that after Chávez’s death, Cabello became the organizer of
the Venezuelan government's drug trafficking and criminal activities.
During one alleged mission, Salazar said he was present when Cabello
inspected four go-fast boats that were loaded with several tons of
cocaine and days later was present when a number of suitcases loaded
with stacks of $100 dollar bills was delivered to Venezuela's tax
agency, where Cabello had an office.
Cabello is the second most powerful figure in Venezuela's ruling party,
after President Nicolás Maduro.
In Washington, William Brownfield, the State Department's top
anti-narcotics official, said in January that there is significant
evidence that some members of the Venezuelan government have been
corrupted by trafficking organizations and said the report naming
bodyguard Leamsy Salazar "is not inconsistent with that narrative. That
is as far as I am inclined to go."
He said he was neither confirming nor denying the report.
Cabello responded on Twitter, thanking people for their support at a
time of "infamy and intrigue."
"Every attack against me strengthens my spirit and resolve," he said.
The U.S. has long accused top Venezuelan political and military leaders
of complicity in the drug trade. In July of last year, former
intelligence chief Hugo Carvajal was arrested in Aruba on a U.S.
warrant. Venezuela was ultimately able to use diplomatic wrangling to
have him set free.
Fox News Latino
Payá Looks Death in the Eye
May 12 - Fearless Activist
Returns to Confront Her Father's Murderers
Ever since Rosa María Payá
was a child, death has roamed her home. An uninvited guest in the
family, the intruder was imposed by a fascist state called Revolution.
The totalitarian Cuban state began murdering even before it took power,
it prevailed for decades by murdering, and will continue to murder. It’s
the only governing strategy the Castros — a multi-generation dynasty of
unelected rulers — are good at.
In Rosa María’s infancy, death peeked through her window and revealed to
her a deep, true fear. She always knew the Cubans wanted to kill her
After a year and a half of living outside Cuba, Rosa María now returns
to the island where the remains of her closest friend Harold Cepero and
her father Oswaldo Payá lie. She takes them a flower. A small, common,
and mundane flower from Miami, to where thousands of drug mules travel
every day, accomplices of the Castro regime. Where every businessman is
a Castro in disguise, pretending to be experts on Cuba but really just
after dollars and power.
This caste of false high priests peddles the story of economic
empowerment of Cuban civil society, but they really aspire to enslave
Cuba for profit and corruption. They’re not just another worthless
mafia: they’re the same group, holding the same ideological views as the
On Sunday, July 22, 2012, Cepero and Payá were murdered in Cuba on the
orders of the Interior Ministry. It was a personal vendetta by the
genocidal Castro brothers, a crime against humanity that will never be
wiped clean, and for which their descendants will have to respond before
justice: especially Alejandro Castro Espín, an official at the Interior
Ministry when they assassinated Cepero and Payá.
The crime would have never been carried out without consent from abroad.
Prior to the hit, the Castro regime consulted the highest spheres of
power at the European Union and in the United States, the feeble
Catholic Church on the island, and even the Vatican (Ratzinger‘s
resignation one day will be fully explained). The Cuban-American tycoons
also gave their approval in exchange for the promise they would be
allowed to return soon.
Such a plot is not launched overtly but rather indirectly. It feeds off
hallway gossip and social unrest, hostages and promises of appeasement,
a process of disgusting diplomacy. The international powers that be all
agreed that there would be no punishment for the Castros over the death
of an old man the majority barely liked anyway, whose moral superiority
was neither tolerated in Cuba nor overseas.
The self-righteous democrat had to be sacrificed. Cuba had to sink even
lower in hopelessness. Harold Cepero’s death was just collateral damage
on that summer day. Had Rosa María Payá also traveled on that rented
Hyundai, as she had intended a couple of hours before, she would have
been buried next to her father three years ago.
But today Rosa María returns to Cuba as a Cuban. From day one, the whole
world, especially the agents of the Castro regime in the Miami media,
derisively labeled her a “refugee” and the last of the “exiled.” As if
all Cubans, no matter where we live, weren’t refugees and exiled,
surviving however we can under the Castro regime’s jackboot.
With Rosa María’s return, they will soon resume calling her vile things,
as soon as the commanders at the El Habana Herald e-mail them the next
steps in their strategy of stigmatization.
But Rosa María Payá is heading to face the executioners, people who have
had a lifelong vendetta against her and her family. They haven’t even
allowed the family to see Oswaldo’s autopsy report. Only Fernando
Raysberg, an Uruguayan terrorist who became a privileged journalist on
the island, wrote with nauseating detail that his body had been
obliterated: skull split in five pieces, heart pierced, and kidneys
beaten into a “pulp.”
Today, Monday, May 11, Rosa María stands up to that obliterated nation,
a wreck with no citizens, only subjects. A country with no values, no
future. An abomination of our times, a constitutional aberration. Where
the eternal hobby is hate and disdain, where the culture of appearances
reigns, and people can only aspire to kill or be killed. So much damage
to humanity, buried under violence. A place where both the state and god
are absent, or corrupted beyond all measure.
We can now expect anything from the Castro regime against this girl,
whom death visited in her dreams during the Special Period. Today the
assassins don’t need to earn approval for their crimes beforehand.
President Obama and Pope Francis already shook hands with the Cuban
dictator, the octogenarian bathed in innocent Cubans’ blood.
After Jail in Cuba, Alan Gross Now Wants to Help the Castro Regime
May 3 - A political-action
committee backing candidates in favor of a U.S.-Cuba policy shift will
launch its campaign effort Monday with the help of a notable guest: Alan
Gross, the U.S. citizen who spent five years in Cuban prisons.
The committee, called New Cuba PAC, will back candidates who favor
reorienting U.S.-Cuba policy, particularly with more trade and travel
between the two countries. President Barack Obama took steps to lift
financial and travel regulations in December as part of a normalization
push, but it will take congressional action to fully lift an embargo and
allow for full travel to the island.
Mr. Gross’s lawyer, Scott Gilbert, will host the PAC’s inaugural event
at his Miami home. Mr. Gross, a U.S. Agency for International
Development contractor, was released from detention in Cuba in December
when Mr. Obama announced he would move toward normalizing ties with
Since returning to the U.S., Mr. Gross has appeared at the State of the
Union address, but otherwise has remained largely out of the public
spotlight. On Twitter, he’s documented his return to normality,
including a recent visit to an Apple Store in New York City.
Mr. Gross also has taken to Twitter to voice support for Mr. Obama’s
Cuba policy and to urge further change there.
He’s visited Capitol Hill and met with Obama administration officials to
discuss his experience in captivity. In February, he submitted testimony
to the House and Senate Foreign Relations Committees in support of
ending the travel and trade embargo.
“My five years in Cuba did not deter me from wanting to bring about
change through development and engagement,” he said in written
statements to both committees.
Mr. Gross hopes to return to Cuba one day, Mr. Gilbert said, “though in
a very different capacity.” Mr. Gross wants to use his experience to
bring about change in Cuba, his attorney said.
“This is a person who did not come back to the United States at all
bitter and angry, he came back and really has transcended this
experience to try to turn it and to use it for good purposes,” Mr.
Mr. Gross on Monday will address a crowd of around 50 at the PAC’s
kickoff, which will be a private event. Mr. Gross is expected to speak
about his five years in captivity as well his thoughts on Mr. Obama’s
Cuba policy. He will take questions from attendees.
“I believe and Alan believes that the path to a better relationship and
benefits for people in Cuba and the United States is increased travel
between our countries and increased trade, including information flow,”
Mr. Gilbert said.
The PAC’s leadership includes directors James Williams, a consultant who
has advised companies and organizations on Cuba, and Ricardo Herrero,
also executive director of the pro-engagement Cuba Now, as well as
treasurer Maria Garcia Berry, a Cuban-born Republican donor.
“The purpose is to show that folks are willing to put their money where
their mouths are in terms of this important policy, and really show that
there’s strength on the side of a new course on Cuba,” said Luis
Miranda, a consultant who is advising the PAC and is the Obama
administration’s former director for Hispanic media.
The PAC is part of a broader campaign that includes an advocacy group,
The New Cuba PAC, the first to launch since Mr. Obama’s December
announcement, enters an arena where several other PACs already are
engaged in pro- and anti-embargo action. Among them is the pro-embargo
US-Cuba Democracy PAC, which raised around $560,000 in 2014, according
to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Mr. Williams, the New
Cuba PAC director said his group is confident it can raise more, but
wouldn’t disclose fundraising targets or contributions.
In Congress, lawmakers expect a protracted legislative battle to end the
travel and trade embargo. Several measures seek to dismantle the Cold
War restrictions on relations between the two countries, including one
introduced by Sen. Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.) in January that would end all
travel restrictions. It is co-sponsored by most members of the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee, but has yet to move out of committee.
In the House, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R., Fla.) last week introduced an
amendment to a larger budget bill that would bar flights and cruises to
The U.S. and Cuba have yet to reopen embassies. In a key move toward
doing so, Mr. Obama has removed Cuba from the U.S. list of state
sponsors of terrorism.
Washington and Havana are expected to engage in more face-to-face talks
before they raise flags, but no date has been set for those discussions.
The Wall Street Journal
interview with Cuban priest José Conrado Rodríguez
May 3 - If Cuban priest José
Conrado Rodríguez is proud of anything, it is of being a humble man.
"I try to live like the people live," he says. And those who know him
confirm that's true. He uses part of his salary to support a program
that feeds underprivileged children in his parish.
Conrado recently came to Miami to baptize Pablo, a 16-year-old he helped
to leave Cuba so that the boy could receive cancer treatment in the
United States. "That's what fulfills me," he says with a smile.
In the first part of an exclusive interview with el Nuevo Herald, the
priest spoke about the planned September visit to Cuba by Pope Francis,
the role of the Catholic Church in Cuba and the fear felt on the island.
During this second part of the interview, he speaks about what he
describes as a "crisis of spirituality."
His words are often charged with emotion. "I believe that a man is worth
what his heart is worth," he says. "The phrase is not mine. It is from a
friend who is in Heaven. Either you believe that others are important
for you, or there's no meaning in your life."
The Cubans who go to your Church today, what are they looking for?
I hope they are looking for God, because that's the only thing we can
give them. People look for truth, something that is real, something that
brings them to life.
Are there Communist Party members among your parishioners?
Yes, of course. Some of them used to walk out when I said something
strong during the homily. Now they don't leave. (He laughs). The
majority are humble people and people who have never had anything to do
with the government.
Has Church membership increased recently?
I just added 18 benches to my Church. They are not always full but, yes,
in general I believe it is growing although not as much as I wish. In my
case, there is a silent war. We have had problems because we are trying
to provide food for children who live in two small towns far from the
school. They criticize us, and they have tried to persuade people to
stop sending their children. We don't teach them the catechism, we give
them lunch. We have some cots where they can take naps, we teach them
how to eat. Many rural schools have closed because of the country's
poverty, and the number of children in the country has dropped.
What you are saying reflects a government that is not ready to
decentralize and lose control. Do you see any type of political opening
in the future?
That's one of the great challenges faced by the Cuban government. In
Cuba, it's not just the economic problems that need to be fixed. And
they must be fixed, because otherwise we will die of hunger. I hope the
government understands that we can only save Cuba precisely by opening
the doors to other actors, creating a climate of respect for those who
are different and seeking help from everyone — not with a totalitarian
mindset but a desire for democracy, for the real participation of people
in the future.
The Patriotic Union of Cuba is very active in Palma Soriano. Do you
believe that these kinds of dissident groups have roots among the
people? (The Cuban government dismisses dissident groups as miniscule "grupúsculos").
Grupúsculo? What is that? A small group of people can sometimes change
history because at a certain moment they embody a truth, a justice
needed at that time. It is not the number that decides, but the truth of
the work they do. Many times, selfish interests turn up in struggles
that should be selfless, but that happens everywhere. I do see the
groups growing. For the first time, I see there's a commitment to
coordination, to dialogue. Cuba's grave problem always has been that all
of us want to be generals, not soldiers. There are people who never want
to be part of "us," and they end up alone.
Do you see anyone who could become a political leader in Cuba?
Not just one, there are several. There are also many people who have the
education, the interest — but are careful — and who are not in those
groups today but are in the wings.
Could some of them even be within the current government?
I believe the (future) government of Cuba will be made up of people who
were also part of the (current) government. And I hope that will happen
because it is not good to sweep everything away. There are good people
in the Communist Party. I don't know how many, but there are some. Cuba
needs all of its children and we have to learn tolerance, to accept that
others are different, and the greatness of forgiving those who made a
mistake. The fatherland belongs to all, not to one or two or to a small
What's the biggest problem for the Cubans in your Church and those who
live in the towns you serve?
There is a very big crisis of spirituality. It manifests itself in
different ways in towns and cities. Trinidad is a wealthy city, with
more than 1,000 families who rent rooms in hard currency and more than
100 private restaurants. This creates jobs. It is a prosperous city
where you can see all the houses have been painted — something you don't
see in other places. But I see that people still have a lot of fear and
hang on to material things, because people sell their souls to the devil
when there is big scarcity. There is the quest to own and not share. On
the other hand, there's a lot of poverty …
Do you believe that a priority for the Cuban government should be the
design of a strategy to combat poverty?
Of course. With the help of the Church and all the other Cubans. I don't
believe that the Church is the government's co-protagonist. The
government must learn that each Cuban has the right to struggle and the
possibility of doing it by themselves. If you don't empower people so
that the individual can be truly responsible, you are lost because you
cannot meet so many demands.
There's a lot of speculation about who will succeed Cardinal Jaime
Ortega. Who would be the best person to become head of the Cuban Church
and reflect your ideals?
I have my candidate to succeed Jaime, which I expect will happen soon.
But I can't say who it is because I would get into trouble with other
What qualities are important for the leaders of the Cuban Catholic
To be men of God. That is fundamental. To be men of God, pious. Without
that, there's nothing to be done.
As a priest in Cuba, what is the most difficult thing for you?
That question is very good, but very difficult to answer. I am hit hard
by a hard heart. It is a kind of distrust, of skepticism, of
intolerance. It's like a many-headed hydra. To be a priest in Cuba is
very difficult because there are many people who believe in nothing and
Sometimes one bears the weight of the suffering of the people and
becomes depressed. I am an optimist, and that is one of the
characteristics of the Cuban people. We believe in the future. As bad
off as we are today, we know there will be a tomorrow. But when one
struggles and struggles and does not see any results, or you try to do
good and they do you wrong, they betray you, they defame you … the same
people for whom you would be willing to die …
And sometimes, there's also fatigue. Of course, what has hit me the
hardest is when I have run into incomprehension, suspicion or
indifference within the Church itself. When it is your own brothers,
that really hurts.
anniversary passes with N.J. trooper's convicted killer at large
May 2 - Forty-two years ago
today, New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster was killed in a shootout
on the New Jersey Turnpike.
The woman convicted of killing him, Joanne Chesimard, remains at large
after escaping from prison and fleeing to Cuba, but a recent thaw in
relations with the island nation has brought up new questions and old
wounds dating to that early morning in 1973.
Foerster, 34, a resident of Old Bridge, was backing up a fellow trooper
who had pulled over Chesimard, James Coston and Clark Edward Squire for
a broken tail light on a white Pontiac.
Authorities say that Chesimard fired the first shot. Coston and Foerster
were killed in the ensuing hail of bullets.
In 1977, Chesimard was convicted of Foerster's murder and other charges
stemming from activities in the Black Liberation Army. But two years
later, she escaped from prison, and in 1984 she turned up in Cuba,
according to the FBI. Chesimard's escape — she now goes by Assata Shakur
— landed her on the FBI's list of most wanted terrorists.
Late last year, President Obama announced that he was working toward
normalizing relations with Cuba, long the subject of a trade embargo and
a travel ban. But it's still unclear whether the rapprochement will
bring Chesimard back to the United States, and Gov. Chris Christie has
called on Obama to demand Chesimard's return as a condition of lifting
One recent report said that the State Department will begin negotiations
with Cuba over Chesimard's return.
State Police said in a Facebook post on Saturday that Foerster was a
veteran of the Vietnam War, and had previously worked as a welder in New
Brunswick. He was survived by his wife and a 3-year-old son.
"His service with the Division was characterized by loyalty, fearless
performance of duty and faithful and honorable devotion to the
principles of the New Jersey State Police," police said in a Facebook
rappers criticize government in rhyme at Summit
April 10 -
Cuban rapper Skuadron Patriota paced the stage and dedicated his next
song to his mom – and moms everywhere who have lost sons to street
fights or perilous raft trips from his island country – then launched
into his signature spitfire tune, Madre.
"Tolerance zero, freedom of expression zero ... State control to the
Cuba's historic entry to the Summit of the Americas here has also drawn
many of the communist island's critics, including a rare Cuban hip hop
protest concert Thursday night. The event took place in a theater just
off the Panama Canal and gathered known rappers from the island such as
Skuadron, Sivito El Libre and David D Omni.
Omni, who calls himself an "artevista" or art-activist, said he was
harassed at the airport upon his arrival by Panamanian customs agents,
who warned him not to make trouble or he'd be deported back to Cuba, a
complaint echoed by other Cuban dissidents in town for the summit.
Still, he said was excited to share a stage with other Cuban rappers
whose lyrics denounce the Castro regime – an event that would be near
impossible to pull off in their home country. He said Cuban rappers are
unique because they're less concerned with the material trappings that
U.S. rappers tend to glamorize and instead focus on social issues and
"Cuban hip hop is different," Omni said. "You know you're not going to
make money. You rap because you have something to say."
Over the past decade, Cuban hip hop has been one of the main forms of
expressing dissent on the island. But it hasn't been without its
controversy. A report by the Associated Press last year alleged that the
U.S. Agency for International Development attempted to recruit hip hop
artists to foster unrest among the country's youth, a charge the artists
The hip hop artists have continued to put out music, often shared
through amateur videos on YouTube and many denouncing the Cuban
government. Few other artists, singers or political dissidents have been
criticizing the Castro government as explicitly and forcefully as Cuban
rappers, said Adolfo Leyva, a history professor at Florida State
University's Panama campus and an organizer of Thursday's event.
"These people are the ones pushing the envelope," he said.
At the concert, the rappers took the stage in front of a wall flashing
images of the Cuban flag, Cuban highways or Havana neighborhoods.
Several of them called for the release of artist Danilo Maldonado, known
as "El Sexto," who was jailed by Cuban authorities in December for
attempting to release two hogs in a public square scrawled with the
names "Fidel" and "Raul" – Cuba's iconic leaders.
Gorkí Aguila, front man for Cuban punk band Porno Para Ricardo and an
outspoken government critic, played a solo set, including a song mocking
Cuban President Raúl Castro, in town for the summit. "I'm here because …
well, any chance I have to denounce the Castro government, I'll take
it," Aguila said on stage to cheers from the crowd.
One of the headliners of the event was rapper Silvito El Libre, who's
father, Silvio Rodriguez, is a renown Cuban musician and favorite of the
Cuban government. As his son's rap concert got under way, Rodriguez led
his own concert across town, sponsored by Cuban authorities.
Lounging outside the theater before the show, Silvito said he doesn't
like to talk about this father. But he said he hopes improved relations
with the USA lead to real changes on the island, something that's been
elusive for years.
"I think the Cuban government should hand over control to the new
generation, to new ideas," he said. "So far, we haven't seen much
change." USA Today
Alexis Frutos identified as one of those who attacked dissidents in
April 9 - The
has identified Cuban Col. Alexis Frutos Weeden, as one of those who
took part in the unprovoked attack against Cuban dissidents
participating on the OAS Summit in Panama.
Frutos Weeden is Cuba's
intelligence chief in Venezuela.
There is no way that the
Castro regime can now deny its involvement in yesterdays beating of
peaceful dissidents in Panama.
mobs come from inside the Cuban embassy to attack Cuban dissidents in
April 8 -
Pro-Castro mobs came from inside the Cuban embassy in Panama and
attacked Cuban dissidents who were placing a floral tribute in front of
the statue of José Marí in Panama City.
The dissidents are there to
take part in the Cumbre de las Américas that will begin in Panama city
Watch the video
leader of the Ladies in White, talks about Obama's "wrongful decision"
the Castro's are desperate for money, an ignorant with money shows up
Dec.17 - After the end of the
Soviet Union, when the Castro brothers lost the subsidy of more than $4
billion a year, Hugo Chávez came in to their rescue.
Now, 15 years later when
Venezuela is on the verge of bankruptcy thanks in great part for having
become a colony of Castroland, Barack Obama steps up to the plate to
save them once again.
The Castros are always lucky
enough to always find an ignorant with money willing to save them
This is how
much the Castro brothers make from their slave doctors
Nov. 17 - No wonder the New
York Times wants to make sure Cuban slave doctors cannot escape. The NYT
partners in Havana make billions of dollars a year exploiting the slave
doctors and other Cuban professionals.
The slave trade brings the
Castro brothers almost four times more than tourism.
protesting against the regime on March 28 in Havana's famous Galiano
Ladies in White protest in Havana and stopped from marching in Holguín
Dec. 3 - Video of a protest
by the Ladies in White on Sunday December 1 at Parque Gandhi in Havana
and an attempt to march in Holguin, but were stopped by Castro's police
is brutally attacked by Castro's police for expressing her opinions
Nov. 4 - Anonymous Venezuela
has a warning: This is the future of Venezuela unless they get rid of
Maduro and the other puppets under the control of the Castro brothers.
another act of repudiation against members of UNPACU
Oct. 9 - This took place in
Cardenas on Sunday October 6, 2013
to see the video
taken at the Hijas de Galicia Hospital, Luyanó, Havana, Cuba
July 8 - Video taken in April
of this year at the Hijas de Galicia Hospital, one of the hospitals for
Cubans who do not have hard currency to pay the Castro brothers.
Very different from the
hospital where they took Micahel Moore and the hospitals that are used
by foreigners who pay with dollars.
Click here to see the video
daily ABC has an article about the false myth of Cuba's healthcare
Foto de la
versión impresa del reportaje en ABC
March 17 - On Thursday of
last week, Carmen Muñoz a columnist for Spanish daily ABC, called me to
ask for permission to use the photos at therealcuba.com for an article
about the false myth of Cuba's healthcare.
I was able to send her many
of the photos on high resolution to use on the print edition of the
The article was published on
Sunday on ABC and is also on their web page at
Our new page:
Fidel Castro, the
World's oldest terrorist
My interview with
March 29 - I was interviewed by Ed Kasputis, of Baseball PhD, about
baseball in Cuba before Castro and about the two Cubas, the one for
foreigners and the one for regular Cubans.
Ed did a previous program with Mr. Sports Travel of San Diego, CA, about
the five top international baseball destinations and was surprised to
find out that the #1 destination was Cuba.
He received some nice pictures of Cuba and was ready to book a trip when
he saw therealcuba.com and changed his mind.
He interviewed me as part of a program about the new Marlins Stadium and
I was able to talk about baseball in Cuba before Castro and then we had
a long chat about what is the reality of life in Cuba under Castro.
The program lasts 53 minutes, if you are not a baseball fan and just
want to hear my interview about Cuba use your mouse to move the dial to
here to listen
Listen to Fidel Castro
For those who think that the Cuban people chose the system imposed by
the Castro brothers, here are some of the things that Fidel Castro said
and promised when he gained power
photos of Cuba's prisons, missile installations, military bases and
A look at
Havana before the Castro brothers destroyed it
We have new photos of
Havana taken in October of last year
Oct. 9 - A friend sent me around two dozen photos of Havana that he took
at the beginning of this month.
Some of them are very sad, because they show how Havana has been
completely destroyed by this gang of human termites.
Some others are hard to believe, including this one of goats having
"lunch" off the dumpsters on a Havana street.
to see them
Socio-Economic Conditions in Pre-Castro
Dec. 17 - Cuba Facts is an ongoing series of succinct
fact sheets on various topics, including, but not limited to, political
structure, health, economy, education, nutrition, labor, business,
foreign investment, and demographics, published and updated on a regular
basis by the Cuba Transition Project staff at the University of Miami.
Click here to learn the truth about Cuba's Health, Education,
Personal Consumption and much more in pre-Castro Cuba.
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