US Senators Meet Cuban Vice President, Foreign Minister
By Zee News
Havana: A delegation of United States’ Republican senators met with Cuban First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel and Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and discussed bilateral relations and other issues.
Senators Jeff Flake, Susan Collins and Pat Roberts met with Diaz-Canel at the Palace of the Revolution on Saturday and discussed the “progress made in the modernisation of Cuba`s economic and social model”, current bilateral relations and the “need to end the embargo”, state-run National Information Agency (AIN) reported.
Cuban foreign ministry`s Director General for the US, Josefina Vidal, who heads the Cuban team in negotiations with Washington, attended both meetings.
The delegation – which arrived in Cuba on Friday – is the first ever made up entirely of the Republicans since Washington and Havana announced last December 17 the decision to renew diplomatic relations.
The new policy of US President Barack Obama toward Cuba has met with strong opposition from some sections of the Republican Party, in whose ranks, however, there are lawmakers like Jeff Flake that support bilateral understanding.
Senator Flake of Arizona is the chief promoter of the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, introduced in the US Congress last January as a move toward ending legal restrictions on US citizens traveling to the island nation.
Flake, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, first traveled to Cuba last November along with Democrat Tom Udall to visit imprisoned US contractor Alan Gross, who was freed following the announcement of the thaw in US-Cuban relations.
Editor’s Note: Directorate of Intelligence (DI) officer Josefina Vidal was thrown out of the United States for espionage in 2003. She is likely to become the first Cuban Ambassador to the US under the Castro regime.
Pamela Dockins, Voice of America
STATE DEPARTMENT— The United States has dropped Cuba from its State Sponsor of Terrorism list but the removal does not clear Havana of all U.S. embargoes and statutory restrictions. The State Department announced Friday that Cuba had been removed from the blacklist – a designation that it shared with Iran, Syria and Sudan.
In an April statement, Secretary of State John Kerry said “circumstances have changed since 1982,” when Cuba was put on the list because of its “efforts to promote armed revolution by forces in Latin America.”
But Cuba still faces U.S. restrictions on transactions such as exports and foreign trade because of other punitive measures that remain in place.
“In addition to the State Sponsor of Terrorism designation, there is a web of restrictions and sanctions that have been applied over the years and some of them are unrelated to the State Sponsor of Terrorism designation,” said State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke.
Among them, is the Helms-Burton Act, which includes an embargo and other financial restrictions.
Mixed Views on significance of Cuba’s removal
Cuba’s removal from the list is largely symbolic, said William LeoGrande, a Latin American politics professor at American University. “It is more symbolic than it is practical in the sense that most of the sanctions that fall upon a country that is on the terrorism list already apply to Cuba because of the broader embargo,” he said. But he said the removal was very important to Cuba, as Washington and Havana work to normalize relations.
Feature continues here: Cuba Off State Sponsor List
FILE – The Cuban flag flies in front of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, May 22, 2015.
Cuban criminals are exploiting America’s generosity and must be brought to justice, a South Florida congressman told the new U.S. attorney general.
In a letter to Loretta Lynch, U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch said a U.S. law meant to help Cubans fleeing communism is instead being used by crooks “to evade arrest, avoid prosecution and deliver money stolen from American businesses and taxpayers back to Cuba.”
He cited a January Sun Sentinel investigation that found criminals taking advantage of the Cuban Adjustment Act to come to the U.S. and steal more than $2 billion over two decades.
The 1966 act gives Cubans extraordinary benefits unavailable to other immigrant groups: even Cubans arriving without permission can stay and become legal residents in just a year.
That makes it easier for the organized rings to rob Medicare, cheat credit card companies, and rip off auto insurers in schemes that can yield large sums with little risk of significant jail time, the newspaper found. Thieves and illicit money flow between Florida and its communist neighbor, aided by a law enacted as a gesture of good will a half century ago.
The law was adopted to help Cubans escape the Castro government, not “create a pipeline for sophisticated financial fraud,” Deutch wrote. “Yet crime rings in South Florida are using our humanitarian policy to successfully send cash and criminals back to the island without fear that the Cuban regime will extradite these fugitives.”
He urged the Justice Department to consider the issue in its negotiations with Cuba on reestablishing diplomatic relations. “Given the extent of the criminal activity described by the Sun Sentinel, I hope you agree that the issue of fugitives must be addressed during talks underway between the United States and Cuba.”
Deutch asked Lynch to update him “on this critical issue.” She took office in April, replacing Eric Holder, who resigned.
Diplomats from the U.S. and Cuba are scheduled to meet Thursday in Washington to continue discussions on establishing formal embassies in the two countries and creating greater avenues for cooperation. This historic move to restore diplomatic relations was announced by President Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro five months ago.
Feature continues here: Cuban Criminals
U.S. and Cuba Meet for Talks to Fully Restore Diplomatic Ties
By Randal C. Archibold, New York Times
MEXICO CITY — The United States and Cuba are closer than ever to reaching an agreement to fully restore diplomatic relations and reopen embassies, officials in both countries said as negotiators met Thursday in Washington for another round of talks to iron out remaining details and discuss possible dates.
The move toward full diplomatic relations broken decades ago during the Cold War has been seen as a key step toward ending hostilities and normalizing ties with a historic opponent that once agreed to allow Soviet nuclear missiles on its soil and repelled an invasion by American-backed insurgents.
Yet progress toward full diplomatic relations has not gone as swiftly as initially hoped in December, when President Obama and President Raúl Castro of Cuba first committed to restoring ties in a surprise announcement.
Now, with a number of obstacles out of the way or close to it, particularly for the Cubans, the talks have reached the most optimistic point after four rounds of conversations in Havana and Washington.
“I’m trying not to sound too Pollyannaish,” said a senior State Department official, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly about closed-door diplomatic matters. “But I do think we’re closer than we have been in the past, and I think my counterparts are coming up here with a desire to get this done.
“But equally,” the official added, “we have certain requirements that we need met, so we just have to see whether we can get there in this round of talks. I certainly hope so.”
Gustavo Machin, a top Cuban diplomat who has been part of his country’s delegation at the talks, told reporters in Havana on Monday, “We don’t see obstacles but rather issues to resolve and discuss.”
The governments closed their embassies after President Dwight Eisenhower broke diplomatic relations on Jan. 3, 1961, in response to a demand by Cuba’s new leader, Fidel Castro, that the American Embassy staff be significantly reduced. Mr. Castro called the embassy a spy outpost, part of an American plot to topple the Communist government he installed after the 1959 revolution.
Feature continues here: Spies Lead Talks
Editor’s Note: Josefina Vidal and Gustavo Machin, both undercover members of the Directorate of Intelligence (DI), are suspected of being Department M – I (US Targets) officers. The elite staff of this Department handles penetrations of the US Intelligence Community, Congress, other Federal agencies, and academia.
U.S. probe targets No. 2 official Diosdado Cabello, several others, on suspicion of drug trafficking and money laundering
By José de Córdoba and Juan Forero, Wall Street Journal
May 18, 2015
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 probes.
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 Caracas.
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.”
Feature continues here: Venezuelan Drug Trafficking
The Cubans try to control the new American compound in Havana
By THE WASHINGTON TIMES [OPINION]
Barack Obama’s romance with the Castro brothers is rapidly turning into a sour shack-up. That’s what happens sometimes to romances under a tropic moon and the rustle of the coconut palms. Cuba wants to redefine the sanctity of embassies, and how they function. The public still doesn’t know what concessions the president is making to keep a flame under the romance, but it doesn’t sound good for our side.
The State Department has asked for another $6 million to expand the “American interests section,” in all but diplomatic protocol the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana. Legally and officially, the American Interests Section is part of the Swiss Embassy, but it’s staffed by American diplomats and housed in the old American Embassy in a large building facing the Jose Marti Anti-Imperialist Plaza, which was cobbled together to “embarrass” the Americans.
John D. Feeley, a diplomat with the usual mouthful of title, “the principal deputy assistant secretary of state” in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, asked in testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for the money. Unless he told the senators more in private than he did in the public forum, it’s not clear what the money will be used for.
However, Mr. Feeley said some startling things about the big romance. American negotiators are still arguing about whether the security officers at the embassy are to be those of the Cuban secret police, and whether the U.S. can take its own electronic security equipment to expand the mission.
Whether American criminals who have taken refugee in Havana would be returned has not been determined, either. Within 48 hours of the announcement by the Obama administration that it would restore full relations with Havana, several Cuban dissidents were arrested, and are likely to remained imprisoned for an unknown period of time. The question of what the United States will get from reopened relations is not clear. What is clear is that the Cubans get a new center for Cuban infiltration, subversion and espionage in Washington.
WT OPINION continues here: Embassy Confusion?
By Jim Wyss, jwyss@MiamiHerald.com
The five Cuban spies recently released from U.S. custody spent a second day in Venezuela being hailed as heroes and bestowed with honors.
On Tuesday, President Nicolás Maduro honored the men at the National Pantheon, where South American liberator Simon Bolivar is interred, saying that they helped stop “dozens” of U.S. attacks on Cuba, including the bombing of hotels and the killing of foreign tourists.
Maduro also blamed the media for describing the men as “spies,” saying news agencies, including Reuters, Associated Press, AFP and EFE were “machines of media manipulation.”
“They declare war when there needs to be war and they pardon and turn people into angels when they need to be pardoned and turned into angels, even if that person is the world’s biggest murderer,” he said.
The five men were convicted in 2001 of infiltrating South Florida military installations and spying on the exile community. They were also linked to the 1996 shoot-down of two Brothers to the Rescue planes that killed four exile pilots over the Florida Straits.
The last imprisoned members of the spy ring were released in December as Washington and Havana began rapprochement talks. Their release coincided with Cuba’s freeing of USAID contractor Alan Gross. The men are expected to be in Venezuela — Cuba’s closest ally — through Saturday.
For 17 years, Juan Reinaldo Sanchez served as a bodyguard to Fidel Castro. But when he became disillusioned with the Cuban dictator’s hypocrisy and tried to retire in 1994, Castro had him thrown in prison. Sanchez made 10 attempts to escape the island, finally making it to Mexico by boat, then across the Texas border in 2008. Now he reveals all in his new book, “The Double Life of Fidel Castro.” In this excerpt, Sanchez explains how he lost faith in the revolution — and “El Jefe.”
The end of 1988. A day like any other was coming to a close in Havana. In a few minutes, my life would be overturned.
Fidel had spent his afternoon reading and working in his office when he stuck his head through the door to the anteroom, where I was, to warn me that Abrantes was about to arrive.
Gen. José Abrantes, in his 50s, had been minister of the interior since 1985 after having been, notably, the commander in chief’s head of security for 20 years. Utterly loyal, he was one of the people who saw El Jefe daily.
While they met, I went to sit in my office, where the closed-circuit TV screens monitoring the garage, the elevator and the corridors were found, as well as the cupboard housing the three locks that turned on the recording mikes hidden in a false ceiling in Fidel’s office.
A moment later, the Comandante came back, opened the door again, and gave me this instruction: “Sánchez, ¡no grabes!” (“Sánchez, don’t record!”)
The interview seemed to go on forever . . . one hour went by, then two. And so, as much out of curiosity as to kill the time, I put on the listening headphones and turned Key No. 1 to hear what was being said on the other side of the wall.
Their conversation centered on a Cuban lanchero (someone who smuggles drugs by boat) living in the United States, apparently conducting business with the government.
And what business! Very simply, a huge drug-trafficking transaction was being carried out at the highest echelons of the state.
Abrantes asked for Fidel’s authorization to bring this trafficker temporarily to Cuba as he wanted to have a week’s vacation in his native land, accompanied by his parents, in Santa María del Mar — a beach situated about 12 miles east of Havana where the water is turquoise and the sand as fine as flour. For this trip, explained Abrantes, the lanchero would pay $75,000 — which, at a time of economic recession, wouldn’t go amiss . . . Fidel was all for it.
Article continues here: Sanchez
By George Phillips, InterAmerican Security Watch
Let us not give Castro the resources he needs to continue his regime’s 56-year reign of terror on his own people, and his continued support for terrorists and terrorist states.
To enrich and solidify that dictatorship at this time only prevents the Cuban people from being able to forge a better life through elections in a few years, now that they are finally “on the one-yard line,” when the Castro brothers, now in their eighties, could simply be left to their natural, un-bankrolled, ends. In a dictatorship such as this, only the dictators benefit.
As Sonia Alvarez Campillo was leaving Catholic Mass on July 14, 2013 with fellow members of Ladies in White, her pro-democracy organization, she was assaulted by Raul Castro’s agents.
These “security” agents broke Alvarez Campillo’s wrist as well as her husband’s ribs in their attack on her and other members of her group.
Sunday after Sunday in Cuba, the Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco) — members of a movement started in 2003 by wives and other female relatives of jailed dissidents in Cuba — have peacefully demonstrated for freedom and human rights in cities across Cuba. They have continually been harassed, beaten, and imprisoned in Raul Castro’s Cuba.
In an attack just two months ago, Lady in White member Digna Rodriquez Ibañez was pelted with tar by agents of the regime.
The Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation – an organization of Cuban dissidents that the Castro regime claims is illegal — reported that in 2014 alone, 1,810 members of the Ladies in White were detained. The detentions of these extraordinary women are among the total of 8,899 detentions evidently designed to crush political dissent. That figure represents a 27% rise from the previous year.
Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero were leaders of the Christian Liberation Movement, a political party opposed to Castro’s Communist Party.
In July of 2012, Cuban state security agents allegedly murdered Paya and Cepero by ramming into their car and running them off the road, where they crashed and died.
The Cuban government officially claims the crash was an accident. But, as documented in the U.S. State Department’s Human Rights Report for 2013, when David Gonzalez Peres, another leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, was arrested, Cuban officials at the jail warned him about what happened to Paya.
Paya and Cepero were most likely murdered for trying to change a system in which all 612 candidates in a recent Cuban election were members of the Communist Party and ran unopposed, and in which all other candidates had been rejected by the regime.
Article continues here: Terror List