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Venezuela's Desperate Times and Maduro's Desperate Measures

April 22 - On March 1, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced the latest in a series of claims accusing the United States of meddling in Venezuela's affairs: an unspecified number of U.S. citizens, among them an American pilot, arrested in Táchira were, according to Maduro, conducting espionage operations for the U.S. government.
This all comes just one day after his government released four U.S. missionaries arrested earlier in the week.
Over the weekend, Maduro also announced a series of new measures supposedly designed to counter U.S. influence in Venezuela, including visa requirements for U.S. citizens traveling to Venezuela, significantly downsizing the U.S. embassy in Caracas, and banning a number of prominent U.S. officials (some already retired) from entering Venezuela. In recent weeks, Caracas has also accused Vice President Joe Biden of conspiring to overthrow the Maduro administration and alleged that U.S. officials helped to plan an attempted attack on the presidential palace.
All of this bluster and bombast amounts to this: desperate moves from an administration desperate to distract from Venezuela's desperate political and economic straits.
The past two years have been grim (at best) for Venezuela. The country's oil sector, mismanaged under Maduro and his predecessor Hugo Chavez, can no longer support the government's vast social programs - particularly not in the context of last year's rapid drop in oil prices.
Without oil income, Venezuela's economy has ground to a halt. Inflation is over 60 percent, the bolivar is at an all-time low even on the black market, and scarcity has topped 80 percent. Goods as basic as toilet paper and milk are nowhere to be found, and the government is frantically seeking additional sources of loan-based income.
Meanwhile, the political environment is toxic. Since early 2014, protests have persisted across Venezuela as the opposition has fought to preserve its place in the country's politics. Last year saw over 40 casualties - not to mention the hundreds injured and jailed. Just last week, that violence resurged when Venezuelan police shot and killed a 14-year-old boy during peaceful protests in San Cristobal.
Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez has been incarcerated for over a year on trumped-up charges, and he was recently joined by Caracas opposition-party mayor Antonio Ledezma. All eyes are on prominent opposition politicians Maria Corina Machado, Julio Borges, and Henrique Capriles as potential targets of political backlash from Maduro's administration. Repression of political dissidents only increases as Maduro's approval ratings - now hovering just above 20 percent - continue to plummet.
Meanwhile, National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello is facing accusations that he heads an international drug cartel - all based on information from his former head of security, who has since defected to the United States and is working with U.S. federal prosecutors.
All of this is to say that Venezuela - and particularly the government of Nicolás Maduro - is in crisis. Maduro's eagerness to lash out at the United States says little (if anything) about the bilateral relationship - but the worst could be yet to come. Still, it speaks to his sense of panic: panic over his country's economic disaster, panic over his unpopularity, and panic over the faltering of Chavismo in a country so wedded to it.
The recent arrests of Americans in Venezuela, Maduro's anti-U.S. speeches, empty rhetoric, and accusations of espionage, sabotage, and collusion-all of this is no more than an attempt at distraction by a floundering leader desperate for his own preservation.

Real Clear World


Pope Francis may visit Cuba this year

April 17 - Pope Francis may travel to Cuba around the time of his September visit to the United States, the Vatican told The Wall Street Journal on Friday.
Recent popes have all sought an end to the U.S. embargo on Cuba, which President Obama called on Congress to do in January. He’s begun to normalize diplomatic relations with the country and met with President Raúl Castro last week during the Summit of the Americas.
That meeting amounted to the most direct contact between leaders of the two countries in more than half a century.
The Obama administration has continued to move forward with its reset of the relationship with Cuba, with the State Department announcing Tuesday that it’s removing the island from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.
The pope’s visit may coincide with his trip to America, where he’s expected to travel to New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Pope Francis is expected to meet with Obama during the visit and is set to address a joint session of Congress.
No pontiff had been to Cuba in the island’s history until 1998, when Pope John Paul II gave a speech in the island chastising it for prohibiting freedom of religion while also calling on the international community to accept it.
“She needs to open herself to the world and the world needs to draw close to Cuba,” he said of Cuba, according to BBC News.
Pope Benedict XVI also traveled to the country in 2012 where he too called for the end of the U.S. embargo on Cuba. After his visit, Good Friday became a national holiday. The Hill


Obama's Love Affair with the Castros Continues: Recommends Removing Cuba From Terrorism List

April 14 - President Obama recommended today that the United State government reverse its long-standing policy designating Cuba a state sponsor of international terrorism.
The White House issued a statement declaring the administration "intention to rescind Cuba’s State Sponsor of Terrorism designation" several days after the president returned from the Summit of the Americas in Panama where he met with heads of state from across the region, including for the first time with Cuban President Raul Castro.
"As the President has said, we will continue to have differences with the Cuban government, but our concerns over a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions fall outside the criteria that is relevant to whether to rescind Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement. "That determination is based on the statutory standard – and the facts – and those facts have led the President to declare his intention to rescind Cuba’s State Sponsor of Terrorism designation."
The momentous shift will lift 32 years of numerous financial sanctions against Cuba and represents the latest attempt by the Obama administration to restore relations with the Communist stronghold after more than five decades of a diplomatic freeze.
Cuban officials had made clear during the course of recent negotiations with Washington that relations could never be fully normalized as long as the country was designated as a sponsor of terrorism by the U.S. State Department.
The policy review began following Obama's announcement in December to begin normalization dialogue with the island nation.
"I've instructed Secretary Kerry to review Cuba's designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism. This review will be guided by the facts and the law," he said during the announcement. "Terrorism has changed in the last several decades. At a time when we are focused on threats from al Qaeda to ISIL, a nation that meets our conditions and renounces the use of terrorism should not face this sanction."
Obama will send his decision to Congress, which has 45 days to consider the new policy. Should Congress seek to block the measure, it would need to create a veto-proof law declaring Cuba remains a state sponsor of terrorism. It's unlikely Congress has votes to complete such a task.
The Communist Cuban government was added to the terror list in 1982 after the State Department determined the country repeatedly provided support to terrorist organizations in Latin America, including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. But the State Department acknowledged recently those ties had "become more distant."
Syria, Sudan and Iran are the only other countries remaining on the list.
The decision is expected to draw criticism from those opposed to normalizing relations with the Castro regime in Cuba.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, said after the December announcement that changes to the terror designation would serve to "tighten this regime's grip on power for decades to come."
Cuban officials, meanwhile, have said not only was the designation unwarranted, but also removing it is critical to the process of restoring relations. The banking sanctions associated with the terror designation are so strict that Cuban diplomats cannot even use credit cards while visiting Washington, D.C. or the United Nations in New York, and Cuba's interest section cannot process credit cards for visa applications.
Cuba's leading diplomat told ABC News in February that the decision to put them on the list has always been political.
"People are in disbelief every time they realize that Cuba has been included in the list of so called state-sponsors of terrorism," Josefina Vidal told ABC News' Jim Avila in an exclusive interview. "It has always been a political decision, not a decision based on real facts. Because it's a fact of life, that from the territory of Cuba, terrorism has never been organized, financed, or executed or implemented toward any country in the world including the United States."  ABC News


Obama’s deceptions on Iran and Cuba

April 13 - Remember Jonathan Gruber, the Obamacare architect who as caught on tape boasting how the president had taken advantage of the “stupidity” of American voters to pass his health-care law?
Well it seems, Obama is applying the “Gruber Doctrine” once again — this time to foreign policy.
The Gruber Doctrine is based on the premise that, in the words of the now infamous MIT professor, “lack of transparency is a huge political advantage” and that the “basic exploitation of the lack of . . . understanding of the American voter” is “really, really critical” for enacting your preferred policies.
That is precisely what Obama is doing when it comes to Iran and Cuba.
ith Iran, the administration is once again relying on a “lack of transparency” to ram through its nuclear deal. Even Iran’s foreign minister dismissed the administration’s talking points describing the framework agreement as “spin.” Obama is warning that the only alternative to his deal is “another war in the Middle East ,” even though he has yet to reveal the key details: Will sanctions relief be front-loaded, as Iran insists, or will sanctions come off gradually, as the Iranians meet certain performance benchmarks? Will there be any transparency into Iran’s past secret nuclear activity, information that is critical to verifying its compliance today? Will there be “snap inspections” and access to all Iranian facilities, both civilian and military? Iran says no. Obama is counting on the fact that Americans won’t be able to follow all the details about “centrifuges” and “domestic enrichment capacity.” He won’t share the details but wants us to trust him that there will be “unprecedented verification.” If you believe that, you probably still think that if you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan.
Obama is also counting on exploiting the “lack of understanding of the American voter” when it comes to his normalization of relations with the Castro regime in Cuba. At a news conference in Panama this weekend, Obama declared that “There is majority support of our policy in the United States” and that “the American people don’t need to be persuaded that this is in fact the right thing to do.” A new poll commissioned by my American Enterprise Institute colleague Roger Noriega for InterAmerican Security Watch finds that Americans do support Obama’s plan by a margin of 51 to 38 percent . . . until they learn some basic facts about Cuba. When Americans are told that Cuba is hosting Russian ships in its harbors, opposition to normalization jumps to 58 percent while support sinks to 30 percent. When Americans are told of Cuba’s attempts to smuggle 240 tons of weaponry to North Korea, opposition jumps to 63 percent and support drops to 26 percent. When Americans are told that Cuba is harboring a cop-killer and terrorists, opposition jumps to 63 percent, and support plummets to 23 percent. When asked whether sanctions should be maintained pending Cuba’s progress on human rights and free elections, Americans agree by a margin of 64-16. And when asked whether Cuba’s designation as a supporter of terrorism should be maintained because it harbors terrorists, respondents agreed 68 percent to 16 percent.
In other words, Noriega says, “When Americans hear basic facts about Castro’s hostility and human-rights violations, they know that the president’s unilateral concessions only emboldened a dangerous, despotic regime.”
Look for Obama to continue employing Gruberesque tactics to sell his appeasement of Cuba and Iran. No doubt the final Iran deal will be presented in a “tortured way” to “mislabel” Obama’s concessions to Tehran and make the inspections seem more intrusive than they are. The same will be true of Obama’s coming decision to lift Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terror. There will be no mention from the White House of terrorists being protected and supported by the Castro regime, such as Joanne Chesimard — who murdered a New Jersey state trooper and was named in 2013 by Obama’s own FBI as one of its Most Wanted Terrorists . There will be no mention of the 70 other U.S. fugitives that Obama’s own State Department reports “The Cuban government continued to harbor” while providing “support such as housing, food ration books, and medical care” — or of the Spanish and Colombian terrorists receiving similar support from the Castro brothers.
Why would they tell Americans these things? Obama’s attitude, to paraphrase Gruber, is that “I wish . . . we could make it all transparent, but I’d rather have [these agreements with rogue regimes] than not.” Obama and his foreign policy team know what is good for us. And if we’re too “stupid” to catch the deception, that’s our problem, not theirs.
It worked for Obamacare, they figure, so why not Iran and Cuba? The Washington Post


Gallery of Infamous Handshakes


Cuban 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 extreme."
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 everyday life.
"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 denied.
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


Obama bullied again on world stage -- this time by Raul Castro

April 10 - Twenty-four hours before coming face to face with Cuban President
Raul Castro, President Obama on Thursday continued to extend an olive branch from Washington to Havana — but analysts say there are real questions about whether Mr. Castro truly is interested in friendly relations with the U.S.
At a town hall in Kingston, Jamaica — the president’s last stop before heading to the Summit of the Americas in Panama — Mr. Obama praised the “extraordinary” Cuban people and said it’s time for the two nations to put the Cold War behind them.
Also Thursday, the State Department completed its review of whether Cuba should be removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.
The State Department reportedly will recommend to the president that Cuba be taken off the list, though it’s unlikely that Mr. Obama will announce a final decision in the next several days.
The Castro regime has made removal from the terrorism-sponsor list a prerequisite for the opening of a U.S. embassy in Havana and other steps forward in the diplomatic process.
Mr. Castro also has made other demands that the U.S. surely won’t meet, such as reparations for economic damages caused by the U.S. embargo on Cuba and the immediate transfer of Guantanamo Bay to the Cuban government.
Those seemingly unrealistic requests have led many analysts to question whether Mr. Castro truly wants to mend fences with the U.S. or whether he has been forced to begin cooperating with Washington out of sheer economic necessity.
Still, Mr. Obama expressed nothing but optimism Thursday.
“It is my strong belief that if we engage, that offers the greatest prospect for escaping some of the constraints of the past,” the president said at the Jamaica town hall. “I think the Cuban people are extraordinary and have huge potential. And what’s encouraging is the overwhelming majority of Cubans are interested in ending the last vestige of the Cold War and moving forward.”
Mr. Obama announced the historic diplomatic reboot with Cuba in December, but formalizing relations has got off to a slow start.
Analysts say that’s largely because of Mr. Castro, who in his heart likely wants to maintain the status quo.
“By engaging Cuba, I think the president is calling Castro’s bluff. And that’s why we have seen, since December, Raul Castro trying to raise the price of engaging Cuba” with his demands, said Juan Carlos Hidalgo, a policy analyst on Latin America at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity. “He looks like he’s trying to make up excuses to keep the United States an enemy.”
A poor economy in the communist-run island has forced Mr. Castro to the table, some analysts say, and it’s unclear whether he is willing to make the kinds of social and political changes Mr. Obama seeks. The White House continues to demand that Havana stop imprisoning political dissidents and committing other human rights abuses.
The U.S. ultimately may find itself in a situation with formal diplomatic ties with Cuba but also with major human rights objections — somewhat similar to the U.S. relationship with China, said Shannon O’Neil, senior fellow for Latin America studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“There is going to be a very calculated and probably slow process on the Cuban side,” she said on a conference call Thursday. “One could imagine that you could maintain a more authoritarian government with open relations [with the U.S.] — China is the one many people look to.”  The Washington Times


Cuban Col. Alexis Frutos identified as one of those who attacked dissidents in Panama

April 9 - The blog cubaaldescubierto.com 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.



Boehner: Obama should condemn assault on Cuban activist

April 9 - John Boehner on Thursday questioned President Obama’s decision to re-establish diplomatic ties with Havana after an assault on Boehner’s State of the Union guest, the Cuban democracy leader known as Antúnez.
Antúnez, whose formal name is Jorge Luis García, was among several Cuban political and human rights activists who were allegedly attacked by Castro regime allies on Wednesday in Panama City, Panama. The assault, which also injured a U.S. citizen, was caught on video by La Estrada de Panama.
Obama is headed to Panama City for the Summit of the Americas conference, where he expected to informally speak with Cuban leader Raúl Castro. Boehner called on Obama to condemn the attacks when he meets with Castro, calling them “an outrage and a reminder of the brutal character of the Castro regime.
“It raises serious questions about the wisdom of revisiting diplomatic relations with Cuba and removing the country from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terror while this dictatorship, which practices repression at home and supports violence throughout the region, continues to hold power,” Boehner said in a statement.
“I hope that President Obama, if and when he has a conversation with the Cuban dictator during the Organization of American States summit, will take the opportunity to condemn this violence in the strongest possible terms and reaffirm that the United States should and must always stand on the side of human rights and democracy against Communist tyranny.”
Antúnez spent more than 17 years in a Cuban prison after speaking out against the Castro regime. Boehner invited the pro-democracy leader to Obama’s speech in January to voice opposition to the president’s efforts to normalize relations with Cuba.

The Hill


American Citizens Beaten by Castro Agents in Panama

Augusto Monge, Cuban-American activist beaten in Panama by Obama's new friends

April 9 - A half-dozen Cuban dissident leaders and American citizens were attacked this afternoon by a group of Castro regime agents in Panama City.
The activists were placing flowers at the statue of Cuban independence hero, Jose Marti, when approached by a group of Castro regime agents, who began to violently beat them.
Among those attacked were a group of American citizens, including Orlando Gutierrez of the Democratic Directorate, Silvia Iriondo of Mothers Against Repression and Gus Monge.
The Cuban dissidents include former political prisoner Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez," his wife Yris Perez Aguilera and Leticia Ramos Herreria of The Ladies in White.
The Panamanian police watched as the attack took place. Then, it detained the Cuban dissident leaders and American citizens. Meanwhile, the Castro regime agents were allowed to walk.
They are currently being held in the San Francisco detention facility -- facing deportation to Cuba and the United States, respectively.
Also, this afternoon, at the Summit's Civil Society Forum, Cuban dissident leaders, including Rosa Maria Paya and Roberto de Jesus Guerra, were blocked from entering the convention hall by a Castro regime delegation.
The regime delegation that disrupted the Forum was headed by Raul Castro's confidant, former Minister of Culture (and head censor), Abel Prieto.
This is what happens when you grant Cuba's dictatorship unmerited membership to a club of democracies.

Capitol Hill Cubans


The charade continues: State Dept. recommends removing Cuba from terrorism list

April 9 - The State Department has sent a recommendation to the White House that Cuba be removed from the State Sponsors of Terrorism List, paving the way for the White House to announce its intent to de-list Cuba as early as Thursday, two administration officials tell CNN.
In making the recommendation, the State Department has certified Cuba has not provided support to terrorist groups within the last 6 months.

President Barack Obama ordered the review of Cuba's place on the list after announcing a historic diplomatic breakthrough with Havana in December and pledged to act quickly once he received the recommendation from the State Department.
The White House has made clear it wanted to make the announcement before Obama attends the Summit of the Americas later this week with Cuban leader Raul Castro, and ordered the State Department to speed up the process. Continue reading CNN


Pro-Castro mobs come from inside the Cuban embassy to attack Cuban dissidents in Panama

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 on Friday.

Watch the video


Terrorists continue to hide in Castro's Cuba to flee American justice

April 7 - On a January afternoon 40 years ago, Mary Connor of Fair Lawn made a pan of lasagna for a dinner she was planning with her husband to celebrate the birthdays of their two sons.
As Mary labored in her kitchen, her husband, Frank, who had risen from clerk to assistant vice president at Morgan Guaranty Trust, went to lunch at Fraunces Tavern, the Revo­lutionary War-era restaurant in lower Manhattan where George Washington bid farewell to Continental Army officers two centuries earlier.
As Frank Connor ate with colleagues, a bomb exploded — a homemade device, hidden near his table by Puerto Rican nationalists who said in a note that they wanted to kill “reactionary corporate executives.”
Conner, 33, died along with three others. Mary ended up serving her lasagna at her husband’s wake.
Terrorism tears into the lives of ordinary people in unexpected ways — certainly 9/11 is a ­reminder of that. But the bomb that killed Frank Connor on |Jan. 24, 1975, resonates in ways that could affect international diplomacy.
The alleged bomb-maker, William Morales, a figure in the Puerto Rican ­nationalist paramilitary group Armed Forces of National Liberation, or FALN, now lives freely in Cuba under a grant |of political asylum from Fidel Castro. With President Obama proposing to ­restore diplomatic relations with Cuba, the Connor family is asking a question |the White House has not publicly addressed:
What about demanding the return of Morales and other fugitives in Cuba who escaped U.S. justice?
Over the years, Morales’ story has been largely eclipsed by the attention focused on another fugitive who fled to Cuba, Joanne Chesimard. She was convicted of murdering a New Jersey state trooper, then escaped prison and received political asylum from Castro. The bounty for Chesimard’s capture and return is $2 million; Morales’ is $100,000.
In the wake of Obama’s overtures to Cuba, however, the Morales case is receiving increased attention.
On Wednesday, three New Jersey Republican congressmen — Scott Garrett of Wantage, Leonard Lance of Flemington and Tom MacArthur of Toms River — asked a House committee to withhold money to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba until the Castro regime returns Chesimard, Morales and other fugitives.
Their efforts follow other appeals to the White House to bring back fugitives, by U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, the Paramus Democrat, and Governor Christie.
For more than three lonely decades, the effort to draw attention to Morales has been a family affair by the Connors.
Joseph Connor was only 9 when his father died. Today he lives in Glen Rock, not far from his brother, Tom, who is two years older. Their mother, Mary Connor Tully, now 77 and remarried, still lives in Fair Lawn, not far from the home where she was making lasagna on that fateful day.
“My father’s life was dismissed,” Joseph said in a recent interview, lamenting the lack of attention on the bombing and the largely forgotten escape by Morales.
Joseph said he longed to face Morales in a courtroom.

Continue reading Mike Kelly's column in The Record


Obama is ready to remove the terrorists from the terrorist list

April 7 - It seems that all Raúl Castro has to tell Obama is "Jump" and he would just say "How high"?

Anything the Cuban dictator asks for, Obama is willing to give it to him. No questions and nothing asked in return.  And we have another 22 months of this nightmare:

White House officials left open the possibility Tuesday that President Obama could recommend Cuba's removal from a list of state sponsors of terror around the time of the Summit of the Americas later this week in Panama. The officials also sought to soften tensions with Venezuela that threatened to overshadow the summit.
Deputy National Security adviser Benjamin Rhodes said the State Department's review of Cuba's place on that terror list is in "its final stages." While he said the timing is in the hands of Secretary of State John Kerry, he would not rule out an Obama announcement before or during the two-day summit in Panama City.
Removing Cuba from the terror list would be one of the biggest developments since Dec. 17, when Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced they would seek to re-establish diplomatic relations after half a century of antagonism. But Rhodes cautioned that the actual opening of embassies in Havana and in Washington by both countries was still some time off.
"When you have two countries that haven't spoken to each other like this over 50 years, you have lot off issues to work through," Rhodes said in a call previewing Obama's trip to Jamaica and then to the summit in Panama. Obama leaves for the Caribbean on Wednesday.
Among the issues that have slowed the diplomatic efforts have been Cuba's presence on the terror list and U.S. demands that U.S. diplomats be able to interact with the Cuban people without limitations.
Rhodes also downplayed U.S. sanctions against certain Venezuelans in protest of President Nicolas Maduro's crackdown on dissent. Maduro has characterized the sanctions against seven individuals as an act of aggression, citing language in an Obama executive order that describes Venezuela as a threat to U.S. security.
Rhodes sought to tamp down the furor, noting that the language is boilerplate used in executive orders that impose sanctions around the world.
"The U.S. doesn't believe that Venezuela poses some threat to national security," Rhodes said. The action, Rhodes said, "was not of a scale that in any way was aimed at targeting the Venezuelan government broadly."  Associated Press


Is Cuba Smuggling Weapons for FARC Terrorists?

April 7 - There is a deafening silence surrounding the recent capture by the Colombian authorities of a Chinese-flagged ship, the Da Dan Xia, which was seemingly headed for Cuba with a weapons cache hidden as "grain products."
Neither the Santos Administration, the Obama Administration, nor the Castro dictatorship want to talk about it -- or answer any questions.
Such secrecy raises serious questions about the real purpose of the illegal weapons shipment and the lack of transparency of the Santos Administration (as it conducts negotiations with the FARC), the Obama Administration (as it seeks to remove Cuba from the state-sponsors of terrorism list) and the Castro dictatorship (sitting pretty amid no consequences).
Here are the facts:
- On February 28, 2015, the Da Dan Xia was intercepted in the Port of Cartagena carrying an unregistered shipment composed of 100 tons of gunpowder, 2.6 million detonators, 99 missile heads and around 3,000 artillery shells.
- The ship's documentation sought to disguise the arms shipment as "grain products."
- After stopping in Cartagena the vessel was bound for another Colombian port, Barranquilla, and then to Havana, Cuba.
- The supplier was listed as Norico, a Chinese manufacturer of machinery and chemical products, as well high-tech defense products. The arms were purportedly destined for TecnoImport in Cuba, the shadowy procurement branch of the Cuban military ("MINFAR").
Now here are the unanswered questions:
Upon the weapons shipment being discovered, the Chinese government stated that the transaction was part of "completely normal military trade co-operation."
That's right. An arms shipment between China and Cuba would have been legal, if conducted with transparency. Instead, the parties chose to illegally conceal the weapons shipment.
- Why did the parties go to such lengths to conceal a shipment that could have otherwise been legal?
-- Was it concealed because the real recipient was an illegal entity in Colombia, i.e, FARC terrorists?
-- Is the composition of the shipment more tailored for use by non-conventional forces (such as the FARC) than for a conventional military forces (such as Cuba's MINFAR)?
If so, this would be further incontrovertible evidence of Cuba's support for international terrorism. Thus, the silence.
As the Obama Administration zealously seeks to remove Cuba from the state-sponsors of terrorism list, it shouldn't leave such questions unanswered -- for it will only embolden Castro's regime to continue its rogue activities.
Let's not forget, this was the second illicit weapons shipment intercepted in the last eighteen months in which the Cuban regime was directly involved. Last year, Cuba was found in direct violation of international sanctions for attempting to smuggle 240 tons of weapons to North Korea hidden as "sugar."
Moreover, the Obama Administration should not ignore inconvenient facts in pursuit of its policy ends.
Last month, we also learned that Spain had (again) recently requested the extradition of two Basque terrorists ("ETA") -- to no avail. Ironically, these two Basque terrorists are also wanted for their illegal activities with the FARC.
If the Spanish government hadn't unwittingly made this revelation, it would have been swept under the rug.
To continue turning a blind-eye -- in order to fulfill (at all costs) Obama's deal with Cuban dictator Raul Castro -- is short-sighted, disingenuous and dangerous.  Capitol Hill Cubans

Wall Street Journal: Obama Rehabilitates the Castro Brothers

April 7 - The Organization of American States is now open to dictatorships.
When President Obama travels to Panama for the 7th Summit of the Americas later this week, expect to be inundated with platitudes about the blossoming of democracy in the region. Don’t believe it. Repression is on the march in the Americas, and U.S. ambivalence is part of the problem.
In the White House’s lack of moral clarity, the region’s bullies smell weakness. One result is that a Caribbean backwater run by gangster brothers now has the upper hand in setting the regional agenda.
If the U.S. president is humiliated in Panama City like he was in Port of Spain in 2009, no one should be surprised. That’s when Mr. Obama tried to be one of the boys with Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, who thanked him by presenting him a copy of the famous anti-American diatribe “The Open Veins of Latin America.”
Summits are a waste of time and money for real countries. But this one will be useful for Cuba, which will be allowed to join the group for the first time, and on its own terms. It’s hard to put a finger on the lowest point in Obama foreign policy, but its abject submissiveness regarding this meeting in the U.S. backyard is a serious contender.
For years Cuba was not permitted at the table with the members of the Organization of American States. In April 2001, participants at the Americas summit in Quebec ratified an established policy of including only freely elected democratic governments. In September 2001 the OAS members signed the “Democratic Charter,” requiring the suspension of nondemocratic governments.
The charter had some meaning in its early years, thanks to U.S. influence and the fact that the OAS would not be able to pay its bills without Uncle Sugar. But it started unraveling when Mr. Obama took office and began trying to appease Cuba and Venezuela. This year, not a shred is left.
Being outcasts made Raúl and Fidel Castro feel disrespected. So they pressured much of the rest of the region to say that if Cuba were again left out, they would boycott the event. In December Mr. Obama folded.
It was a sign of how bad things are in the Americas. Authoritarian governments now rule in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina and Bolivia. All employ, to varying degrees, at least some elements of the Cuban model in which the executive consolidates power, civil society is suppressed, and due process is passe.
Elections are rigged. Rulers expropriate at will. Media outlets that dare to differ from the party line face legal burdens that can wipe them out.
Democratic institutions in Brazil and Chile remain intact, but the socialist leaders in both countries are great admirers of the Castros and wouldn’t dream of offending their hard-left constituencies. Colombia is compromised by its peace talks in Havana with FARC narco-terrorists.
A handful of other countries might have defended the democracy principle if they had some confidence in U.S. backing. But a feeble U.S. diplomatic team is no match for Castro’s foreign policy of exporting terror. No one is going out on that limb with Mr. Obama in the White House. So Cuba is in and Raúl will get his long-sought legitimacy from a U.S. president.
Appeasement has brought new demands. Some governments say they will raise a stink in Panama because the U.S. recently declared Venezuela a threat to U.S. national security and sanctioned seven Venezuelan officials. Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro says he has collected more than six million signatures on a protest letter that he will hand to Mr. Obama.
Mr. Obama expected that he would be a hero in Panama, the guy who offered to open diplomatic relations with Cuba for the first time in a half century. But Cuba has rebuffed him. Castro says he won’t accept normal relations until, among other things, Cuba is taken off the U.S. list of state sponsors of terror and the U.S. returns Guantanamo.
Granting most of the Cuba demands would require approval from the U.S. Congress. But pleasing Raúl will be an Obama priority. He might try to take Havana off the list of terror sponsors unilaterally if he believes he has veto-safe support in the event of a congressional challenge.
Here Cuban reality could interfere. The island is home to Basque terrorists wanted in Spain and scores of fugitives from American justice like Joanne Chesimard, who was convicted of the 1973 murder of a New Jersey state trooper. The military dictatorship also arms and trains the FARC. Cuba wants access to the U.S. banking system, but banks have to consider the legal jeopardy they risk if they take on a client with a history of financial support for terrorism and money laundering.
It will be hard even for Mr. Obama to be popular at the Panama summit unless he decides to abandon the war on terror. Even then, it’s unlikely. The Wall Street Journal


Orestes "Minnie" Miñoso "The Cuban Comet" is dead

March 1 - Baseball has lost another iconic ambassador.
Former White Sox star outfielder Minnie Minoso was found dead in the driver’s seat of his car early Sunday.
An autopsy performed Sunday afternoon determined Minoso died of a tear in his pulmonary artery caused by “chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.” The White Sox and his family said he was 90.
Just over a month after the death of Cubs legend Ernie Banks, Chicago fans and longtime followers of baseball worldwide now mourn the death of Minoso, known as the “Cuban Comet.”
Chicago’s first black major league player, Minoso was much more than a consummate ballplayer.
“I didn’t know Minnie until I bought the club in 1981, but the first time I met him I fell in love with his infectious personality and his love for the White Sox,” White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said Sunday. “He was just one of the most genuine people that you would ever want to know.”
Minoso was driving home from a friend's birthday party when he apparently fell ill and pulled over in the Lakeview neighborhood, according to police and family.
He was found unresponsive in the driver's seat of his car near a gas station in the 2800 block of North Ashland Avenue around 1 a.m., according to police. There were no signs of trauma and Minoso was pronounced dead at the scene at 1:09 a.m., police said.
President Barack Obama, a lifelong Sox fan, released a statement that included the following:
“For South Siders and Sox fans all across the country, including me, Minnie Minoso is and will always be 'Mr. White Sox.' ... Minnie may have been passed over by the Baseball Hall of Fame during his lifetime, but for me and for generations of black and Latino young people, Minnie’s quintessentially American story embodies far more than a plaque ever could.”
Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts issued a statement saying the team was “deeply saddened by the passing of Minnie Minoso. Having recently lost one of our all-time greats, Ernie Banks, we share the heartache with the White Sox organization and fans everywhere who were blessed to enjoy the talent, heart and passion of Mr. White Sox.”
Minoso’s son Charlie Rice-Minoso said: “He was an extraordinary person. He made many contributions to baseball and to Chicago. He'll be missed most by his family and closest friends.
“He had so many amazing relationships with people,” he added, choking up. “It was just amazing to see that, even so many years after he played, to see how he was respected. We're just eternally grateful.”
Billy Pierce, a former star White Sox pitcher and teammate of Minoso, said he could tell Minoso was not feeling well recently.
“I had been with him at SoxFest, and he had to stop two or three times when we were walking because it was tough getting his breath,” Pierce told the Tribune. “He wasn’t real well then, and from what I had been told, at Christmastime he had to go into the hospital because he had the same problem.”
Minoso’s birthday was listed on baseball-reference.com as Nov. 29, 1925, but some believed he was as old as 92. When asked about his age, he once said, “Look what they say in the Sox record book.”
Rice-Minoso said the family is going with 90.
“That's the number we have down in Spanish documents. That's the date,” he said. “It's kind of a running joke. That was the one topic he didn't want to focus on, so of course that's what everyone wanted to know.”
Playing left field on my sandlot baseball team, I always tried to emulate Minnie. He was my favorite baseball player when I was chasing fly balls. In my eyes, Minnie will always be a Hall of Famer! Rest in Peace Mr. Chicago White Sox.
Born in Cuba, Orestes “Minnie” Minoso came to the United States in 1945 and played three seasons for the New York Cubans in the Negro Leagues. Bill Veeck, then owner of the Indians, purchased his contract in September 1948. He made his major league debut in 1949, playing nine late-season games for the Indians.
After spending 1950 in the minors, Minoso came to the Sox in an early season trade in 1951. He became the Sox’s and Chicago’s first black player on May 1, 1951. Minoso wasted no time making his presence felt, getting two hits and two RBIs in an 8-3 loss to the Yankees. He quickly electrified Comiskey Park, hitting .326 to finish second in AL Rookie of the Year voting.
It was just the start for Minoso. In 1954, he had his second straight fourth-place finish in AL Most Valuable Player voting, hitting .320 with 19 homers, 18 triples, 19 stolen bases, 116 RBIs and 119 runs. He played in nine All-Star Games.
I'm proud of everything. I'm proud to be a baseball player.
“I felt Minnie was the one player in the American League who had that intangible quality of excitement that makes fans talk about him when they leave the park,” Frank Lane, the general manager who brought Minoso to the White Sox, once said.
The Sox retired his No. 9 in 1983. However, Minoso’s appeal went beyond Chicago. He was regarded as the first Latin American superstar, inspiring young players who dreamed of joining him in the big leagues.
Minoso spoke broken English, but his vibrant smile and enduring love for the game translated clearly everywhere.
“He and I would talk, and I had to say, ‘Minnie, what did you say?’ But I don’t think he ever said a nasty thing about anybody. It was always good, always friendly,” Pierce said. Read more The Chicago Tribune


Venezuela and Cuba: Partners in repression

Feb 24 - Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro paid a visit to Havana and met with Raúl and Fidel Castro, who have been his patrons and who helped to install him in power after the death of Hugo Chávez. Mr. Maduro’s political situation is desperate: As Venezuelans suffer severe shortages of staple goods and soaring inflation, his approval rating has dropped to 22 percent — and that’s before the full impact of falling oil prices hits a country dependent on petroleum for 96 percent of its hard-currency revenue.
On his return from Havana, Mr. Maduro turned to a familiar tactic. Intelligence agents stormed the residence of the elected opposition mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, and took him away to a military prison. Mr. Maduro then delivered a three-hour rant on television in which he accused the opposition leader of plotting a coup against him with the help of the Obama administration. Needless to say, he had no evidence to support this ludicrous charge.
If this sounds like a script borrowed from the Castro regime, that’s because it is. With Havana’s encouragement, Mr. Maduro is trying to shore up his crumbling support by concocting supposed threats from the United States and using them to illegally imprison his leading opponents. Mr. Ledezma follows several other mayors into captivity. With him at the Ramo Verde prison is Leopoldo López, the opposition leader who has been in military custody for more than a year.
The Castros, whose own crumbling economy depends heavily on supplies of discounted Venezuelan oil, are simultaneously trying to sustain their Caracas cash cow and line up new flows of dollars from the United States by restoring diplomatic relations. Intent on carrying out a policy of detente with Cuba that aides say was part of the ideological agenda he brought to office six years ago, President Obama ignores this double game.
To be sure, the White House spoke out sharply against the arrest of Mr. Ledezma and called the coup plot claims “baseless and false.” Following a mandate from Congress, the administration has sanctioned several dozen Venezuelan leaders for involvement in drug trafficking and human rights crimes and says it is considering additional steps. However, the core U.S. policy toward the unfolding disaster in a country that remains a major U.S. oil supplier has been to call on other Latin American countries to do something.
Predictably, they haven’t. Quick to pounce on right-wing governments that violate democratic norms, Brazil, Mexico and Chile have scrupulously avoided crossing the left-wing populist regime created by Chávez. A delegation of ministers from the regional group Unasur, which tilts toward Venezuela, is talking of returning to the country to promote a “dialogue” but has yet to call for Mr. Ledezma’s release.
The country with the most influence in Caracas is Cuba. U.S. officials ought to tell the Castros that they need to choose between Mr. Maduro’s anti-American-themed repression and the new relationship with Washington they say they want. As for Venezuela’s president, U.S. officials ought to seek his formal sanction under the Inter-American charter prohibiting violations of democracy — and challenge Venezuela’s neighbors to show where they stand. The Washington Post


Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, talks about Obama's "wrongful decision"


Each time the Castro's are desperate for money, an ignorant with money shows up

Obama unmasked

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


Obama gave the Castros everything they asked, and more

Dec.17 - Everything Obama said he wasn't going to do, he did today.

He traded Alan Gross, who had been a hostage in Cuba for 5 years, for 3 Cuban spies including one directly involved in the murder of the Brothers to the Rescue pilots.

He is re-establishing relations with  the Castro brothers without asking anything in return.

He will increase trade relations, travel, tourism, and everything that would bring money to the Cuban dictatorship, so they can continue to enslave, exploit, torture and oppress the Cuban people.

As Raul Castro said in his speech at the same time Obama was speaking to the American people: "We didn't make one single concession".

They didn't have to since Obama was willing to give them everything they wanted and more.

It is a shameful day for America.


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.


New York's Granma, wants to make sure that the slave doctors can't seek freedom

Nov. 17 - The New York Times, best known as the Castros' mouthpiece in New York, has a new editorial today, the sixth in as many weeks, in favor of the fascist dictatorship in Cuba.

This time, the NYT wants the United States to cancel the program that has allowed thousands of slave Cuban doctors flee their slave masters and seek refuge in this country.

New York's Granma knows that the Castro brothers make more than $9 billion a year in their slave trade with Cuban doctors and other professionals, and want to make sure that those doctors keep working for their partners in Havana.

If you have the stomach to read it, here is today's NYT editorial: A Cuban Brain Drain Courtesy of the US


Cuba's Abandoned Communist Nuclear Reactor

Oct. 10 - Just 90 miles off the tip of Florida lies a half-baked, abandoned relic of the Cold War-era arms race — what was once going to be a joint Cuban-Soviet nuclear reactor. Thank God it never panned out. Because not only do we now have these incredible shots from photographer Darmon Richter, but every last aspect of this thing would have been a total and utter disaster.

It all started back in 1976, when comrades in communism, Cuba and the Soviet Union, agreed to build two nuclear reactors near Juragua, Cuba. And if it had ever been finished, just one of these 440-megawatt reactors could have satisfied over 15 per cent of Cuba’s energy needs. As The New York Times explained when construction officially ceased, this wasn’t your everyday reactor:
The V.V.E.R. design, which was the most advanced at the time, was the first to be exported by Moscow for use in a tropical climate. It differs from the Chernobyl-style design in that the radioactive core and fuel elements are contained within a pressurised steel vessel.
Construction didn’t start until 1983, which gave Cuba 10 years to build their potential-livelihood, all thanks to the the steady flow of Soviet funds. Of course, when the Soviet Union fell in 1991, the essential funds ceased, over 300 former Soviet technicians returned to the motherland, and all construction came to a standstill — despite the fact that 40 per cent of the heavy machinery had already been installed.
Still, it wasn’t over quite yet. The whole project spent nearly a decade in limbo, until finally, in 2000, Fidel Castro told Vladamir Putin that he was done with the two countries’ former joint-dream. Now, the power plant at Juragua was officially little more than a testament to what could have been — which is a very good thing. Because as it turns out, “what could have been” basically entailed wildly dangerous conditions and potentially a whole mess of destruction. Continue reading and see more photos Gizmodo


Citizens protesting against the regime on March 28 in Havana's famous Galiano Street


Videos: The 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



Cuban lady 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.


Yoani Sáncez's presentation at Google Ideas Summit

October 26 - Yoani Sánchez explains how Internet without Internet is used by Cubans inside the island.

Learn how you can help promote Internet without Internet in Cuba:

The Real Cuba  Also on Twitter: @WebPaqsforCuba  On Facebook: Paquetes Web Para Cuba


Learn about a new technology that allows Cubans in Cuba have access to websites banned by the Castro regime and how you can help:

The Real Cuba  Also on Twitter: @WebPaqsforCuba  On Facebook: Paquetes Web Para Cuba


Video of another act of repudiation against members of UNPACU

Oct. 9 - This took place in Cardenas on Sunday October 6, 2013

Click here to see the video


 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


Spanish 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 newspaper.

The article was published on Sunday on ABC and is also on their web page at ABC.es  (Spanish)


Twit by Cuban blogger Orlando Luis Pardo about Paquetes Web Para Cuba


Our new page: Fidel Castro, the World's oldest terrorist


My interview with Baseball PhD

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 minute 25:35  Click 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 Click Here


Satellite photos of Cuba's prisons, missile installations, military bases and more


A look at Havana before the Castro brothers destroyed it Cuba B.C


Visit our updated page: The Useful Idiots


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.

Click here  to see them


Socio-Economic Conditions in Pre-Castro Cuba

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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