How Obama’s Cuba Deal Is Strengthening Its Military 1

PoliticoCastro’s Real Heirs are the Generals, and They’re Going to Make a Bundle From Normalization

By James Bruno, Politico Magazine

In the hit 1992 movie A Few Good Men, Jack Nicholson’s fictional Colonel Jessup famously declares: “I eat breakfast 300 yards from 4,000 Cubans who are trained to kill me.” The Cuban officers I met never gave me that impression. As the State Department’s former representative to negotiations with Cuba’s military, I can tell you that our discussions were typically convivial and constructive. And today, President Barack Obama’s initiative to normalize relations with Havana has presented the United States with a truly mind-boggling prospect: Our most reliable partner on that long-isolated island is probably going to be the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias, Cuba’s military establishment.

And soon they’re going to be making a lot of money.

The Communist Party of Cuba may constitute the country’s political leadership, but it is seen increasingly as an anachronism by the population and after Fidel Castro, 88, and Raúl Castro, 83, pass from the scene, the party may too. Cuba’s legislature, the National Assembly of People’s Power, is a rubber stamp appendage of the party and likewise held in low popular esteem. Civilian agencies have proven inept and sclerotic in managing government programs. The powerful Ministry of Interior is widely feared as the blunt instrument of oppression, but it too is likely to be swept aside eventually by the tide of change. And more than a half-century of authoritarian single-party rule has stunted civil society and held the Catholic Church in check.

This leaves the FAR. Under Raúl Castro’s leadership from 1959 until he succeeded brother Fidel as president in 2006, the now 60,000-strong military has been widely considered to be Cuba’s best managed and stablest official entity. Furthermore, it has never been called upon to fire on or suppress Cuban citizens, even during the so-called Maleconazo protests in 1994, and most observers believe the FAR would refuse any orders to do so.

For years our discussions with the FAR have focused on cooperating on practical matters: avoiding tensions along Guantánamo Naval Base’s 17-mile perimeter, collaborating on firefighting and working out arrangements for the return of Cuban citizens who were picked up at sea while trying to escape their country. In contrast with our stiff exchanges with the North Koreans at Panmunjom, these monthly encounters tend to be productive, constructive and amiable.

Read more: Politico

How a Canadian Businessman Lost Everything in Cuba Reply

Sarkis Yacoubian

Sarkis Yacoubian

By Jeff Gray, The Globe and Mail [Canada]

Canadian businessman Sarkis Yacoubian only knew his Cuban interrogator – the Cubans call them “instructors” – as Major Carlito. When they first met in the dim basement of the Havana house where security agents had initially imprisoned Mr. Yacoubian in July, 2011, he says Major Carlito greeted him by grabbing his own crotch.

“If you are expecting that the Canadian embassy is going to come to your help, this is what they are going to get,” Mr. Yacoubian, 54, says his captor warned him. Then, he says, Major Carlito accused him of being a spy, an accusation that would eventually be abandoned before the Canadian was convicted by a Cuban court of corruption charges and expelled last year.

His story, and that of Toronto-area businessman Cy Tokmakjian, who was released from incarceration in Cuba last month after a similar corruption trial, are cautionary tales for would-be investors in Cuba.

However, some say the historic Dec. 17 announcement of Canada-brokered talks to normalize Cuba’s relations with the United States – plus recent moves by leader Raul Castro to liberalize the economy – still has Canadian investors and entrepreneurs interested in the Communist-ruled island.

Despite Major Carlito’s threat, the Canadian embassy did closely monitor’s Mr. Yacoubian’s status as he spent two years in jail before facing any formal charge. And the ambassador attended Mr. Yacoubian’s 2013 trial, which saw him sentenced to nine years in prison and fined $7-million for corruption, tax evasion and doing “economic damage” to Cuba.

Mr. Tokmakjian, 74, spent more than three years in prison. Two of his Canadian employees who had been blocked from leaving Cuba were also recently freed. His Concord, Ont.-based Tokmakjian Group reportedly had a $90-million-a-year business on the island importing vehicles and construction equipment. His assets in Cuba were seized. Mr. Yacoubian, a former employee of Mr. Tokmakjian’s who broke away from his boss to build what he said was a $20-million-a-year business in Cuba bringing in similar products, says all of his assets on the island were also seized.

Article continues here: Sarkis Yacoubian

Miami Republican Members of Congress Oppose Cuban Embassy in Washington, Citing Spies 6

The Cuban Interests Section in Washington, DC

The Cuban Interests Section in Washington, DC

@PatriciaMazzei, Miami Herald

Miami’s three Cuban-American Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives say they don’t want to see a Cuban embassy opened in Washington D.C. — or a Cuban consulate anywhere else in the country — because it would risk allowing Cuba to spy on the U.S.

There is already a Cuban interests section in D.C., and a Cuban mission to the United Nations.

“We are all too familiar with the Castro regime’s efforts to utilize their diplomats as intelligence agents tasked with the goal of committing espionage against their host countries,” the members of Congress and several colleagues wrote in a letter Thursday to the U.S. State Department. “We believe that allowing Cuba to open an embassy in Washington, D.C. or consulates will further open the door for their espionage activities.”

They also asked to be briefed in detail about the status of the negotiations between the U.S. and Cuba to normalize diplomatic relations.

Signing the letter were Miami Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo, as well as Rep. Albio Sires, a New Jersey Democrat and fellow Cuban American, and Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican whose father was born in Cuba. Cruz is considering a 2016 presidential candidacy.

“The Blockade Has Not Ended” Interview with Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s Top Negotiator & Foreign Ministry Head for U.S. Affairs 2

Senior Directorate of Intelligence (DI) officer Josefina Vidal

Senior Directorate of Intelligence (DI) officer Josefina Vidal

By danielacmke, Wisconsin Coalition to Normalize Relations With Cuba

Cristina Escobar – Cuba and the United States are entering a new stage of diplomatic relations. How can these relations be constructed after so many years of confrontation, and what do the recent talks between the two countries mean? These were the questions posed to Josefina Vidal, Ministry of Foreign Relations (Minrex) Director General for the United States, in an exclusive interview with Cuban television.

Josefina, there are people on the street here in Cuba, and also in the international media saying, or asking, if the United States blockade of Cuba has ended. Is this true?

Josefina Vidal – No, no, the blockade has not ended; what has happened is that the President of the United States, making use of his executive prerogatives, which he has, announced a series of measures modifying the implementation of some aspects of the blockade. It was within this context that a series of regulations were issued – mandated by him and formulated by the Departments of Treasury and Commerce – to expand travel to Cuba, expand as well allowances for remittances, and permit some commercial transactions, still of a limited nature, in spheres such as telecommunications, for example.

Cristina Escobar – When can we say that the blockade has ended? What must happen before we can say it has ended?

Josefina Vidal – Since the blockade was first officially declared in February of 1962, until 1996 when the Helms-Burton law was approved, it was the prerogative of the President; that is, just as President Kennedy had declared the blockade in 1962, a later President could have declared an end to this policy.

In 1996 the Helms-Burton law was approved, which codified the blockade as law, which means it was established that, in the future, the President could not on his own terminate the blockade policy, but rather that it was the United States Congress which had the authority to declare an end to the policy.

Nevertheless, it is very important to point out that the Helms-Burton law itself, in an appendix following the codification of the blockade, clearly establishes that the law does not deny the President his executive prerogatives to authorize, through what is called a licensing procedure, the majority of things related to the blockade.

If this were not the case, President Clinton, in 1998 and 1999, would not have been able to modify some areas which allowed for the expansion of trips to Cuba by some categories of U.S. citizens. If this had not been the case, nor would President Clinton have been able to permit, for example, the limited sending of remittances to our country, nor would Obama, in 2009 and 2011, have been able to reestablish family visits to Cuba, restore permission to send remittances to our country, or allow a group of U.S. citizens, those within 12 categories, to visit our country. And what Obama has done now, that is, using his Presidential prerogatives he has broadened the transactions, the operations which can be done within the framework of a trip, a remittance, some commercial operations, and this means he can continue to use these [prerogatives.]”

Cristina Escobar – Has he used them all?

Josefina Vidal – He has not.

Interview continues here:  Josefina Vidal

 

North Korea, Cuba in ‘Same Trench’ Against US: Minister Reply

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su-Yong (L) shakes hands with his Cuban counterpart Bruno Rodriguez upon arriving at the Foreign Ministry in Havana, on March 16, 2015

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su-Yong (L) shakes hands with his Cuban counterpart Bruno Rodriguez upon arriving at the Foreign Ministry in Havana, on March 16, 2015

By AFP

North Korea and Cuba share the same struggle against US aggression, Pyongyang’s foreign minister said Monday as Washington and Havana held new talks on restoring diplomatic ties.

In a visit to Havana that coincided with the latest round of talks on normalizing US-Cuban relations, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su-Yong played up the two communist regimes’ history of enmity toward the United States.

North Korea and Cuba “share a history of fighting together in the same trench against American imperialism, which continues to exert economic pressure on our countries to this day,” Ri was quoted as saying by Cuba’s state-run news agency Prensa Latina.

Ri also “highlighted the excellent relations” between the two communist countries and gave his Cuban counterpart Bruno Rodriguez “a message from leader Kim Jong-Un expressing his wish to broaden and strengthen (relations) even more,” said the news agency.

Rodriguez reiterated Cuba’s commitment to peacefully reuniting North and South Korea “without foreign interference,” Prensa Latina said.

The visit came as US Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson met her Cuban counterpart Josefina Vidal, Havana’s top diplomat for US affairs, for a third round of talks to advance a possible US-Cuban rapprochement announced on December 17.

The thaw threatens to leave North Korea as the last country still ostracized by the United States over Cold War-era grudges.

Ri’s visit, the first by a North Korean official since the US-Cuba talks, came amid heightened tensions with South Korea and the United States over their annual joint military drills, which Pyongyang condemns as rehearsals for invasion.

North Korea responded last week by firing surface-to-air missiles into the sea off its coast.

US, Cuba to Continue Talks on Restoring Diplomatic Ties Monday Reply

By Global Times (China)

The United States and Cuba will hold a new round of talks on re-establishing diplomatic relations and re-opening embassies Monday, the State Department said Friday.

Roberta Jacobson, US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere, will travel to the Cuban capital of Havana Sunday for talks with Josefina Vidal, Director General of the US Division of Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The two sides have been in communication since last meeting held in Washington in February, the State Department said in a statement, adding that “it is in the interest of both countries to re-establish diplomatic relations and re-open embassies.”

“A US Embassy in Havana will allow the United States to more effectively promote our interests and values, and increase engagement with the Cuban people,” it said.

President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced in December that they have agreed to restore diplomatic relations, in a move to end more than half a century of estrangement between the two countries.

The two sides have held two rounds of talks in hopes of reopening embassies before a regional summit in April.

On Friday, a senior State Department official told reporters on a conference call that the US still hopes that the embassies could be reopened before the Summit of the Americas slated for April 10-11.

One sticking point of the talks is Cuba’s inclusion in the US blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism since 1982. In announcing the policy shift toward Cuba in December, President Obama instructed Secretary of State John Kerry to review Cuba’s designation in the blacklist.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters that the US is still reviewing whether Cuba can be removed from the blacklist and will “complete that as quickly as we can.” “We have always said that that should not be linked to the reestablishment of diplomatic relations or opening of embassies,” said the official, who dismissed that Cuba’s support for Venezuela following US sanctions would affect talks between Washington and Havana.

“Cuba has been, obviously, an ally of Venezuela’s for quite a while. Venezuela’s been an ally of Cuba in the past,” the official said. “But what I will say, and I want to be very clear about this, is, it will not have an impact on these conversations moving forward.”

US Sanctions Disrupt Venezuelan Money-Launderers Reply

BPAThe U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) yesterday named Banca Privada d’Andorra (BPA) as a foreign “money laundering concern.”  FinCEN’s notice also said a senior BPA manager accepted exorbitant commissions to process transactions related to Venezuelan third–party money launderers. “This activity involved the development of shell companies and complex financial products to siphon off funds from Venezuela’s public oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA). BPA processed approximately $2 billion in transactions related to this money laundering scheme,” reported FinCEN. Reuters subsequently reported that the government of Andorra has taken control of BPA.

 

 

 

Expelled Spy Josefina Vidal: US Should Have Never Labeled Cuba A State Sponsor of Terrorism 6

Josefina Vidal

Josefina Vidal

Vidal: Cuba never should have been on US terror list  

By Brian Williams, The Militant

A second round of talks between U.S. and Cuban officials on reestablishing diplomatic relations, which the U.S. government broke off 54 years ago, took place in Washington, D.C., Feb. 27. The shift in Washington’s tactics against Cuba’s socialist revolution was announced by President Barack Obama Dec. 17, at the same time as a press conference by President Raúl Castro announcing the return to Cuba of the final three of the Cuban Five.

The White House is seeking to fast-track the reopening of its embassy in Havana by April, while the Cuban delegation has emphasized steps Washington needs to take to remove obstacles to meaningful diplomatic relations.

“Cuban representatives reiterated the importance of solving a series of issues, which will allow for the creation of the appropriate context to resume diplomatic relations and open embassies in both capitals,” said a Feb. 27 news release from the Cuban delegation. These include removing Cuba from Washington’s State Sponsors of Terrorism list, allowing banking services to Cuba’s Interests Section in Washington and assurances that U.S. diplomatic staff observe “norms governing the functions of diplomatic missions” in “compliance with national laws and non-interference in the internal affairs of States,” the statement said.

Cuba has been on the State Department’s State Sponsor of Terrorism list since 1982. Other countries on it are Iran, Syria and Sudan.

“For Cuba it is a matter of sheer justice,” Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, head of the North American Bureau of Cuba’s Foreign Ministry and the leader of Cuba’s delegation, told reporters at a news conference in Washington after the negotiations. “Cuba strongly believes that it should have never been included in this limited list of countries and today there is no ground to justify the inclusion of our country on that list.” [emphasis added]

The state sponsorship of terrorism issue is not up for negotiation, but “a separate process” of “evaluation” by the U.S., Secretary of State John Kerry said earlier. “Nothing will be done with respect to the list until the evaluation is completed.”

“In our view it’s not necessary to put it all in one package,” Vidal told Cuban reporters after the talks. “If, for example, in a few weeks we receive some satisfactory news in regards to the matter of Cuba’s removal from the terrorist list, I think we can be ready to then begin talking about how to formalize the reestablishing of relations.”

Feature continues here: The Militant

Editor’s Note:  Vidal departed the US in May 2003 as part of the mass expulsion of 14 Cuban diplomat spies. Part of two husband-wife spy teams chosen, she and another spy-spouse departed “voluntarily” when their mate was declared Persona Non Grata.  Thus, the US actually threw out 16 spy-diplomats.

Colombian President Asks US to Release Jailed Terrorist 4

"Ivan Marquez" stands next to a cardboard cutout photo of "Simon Trinidad" (Photo courtesy of EFE)

“Ivan Marquez” stands next to a cardboard cutout photo of “Simon Trinidad” (Photo courtesy of EFE)

‘Colombia asked US to repatriate prominent FARC leader’

by Adriaan Alsema, Colombia Report

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has asked the United States to repatriate “Simon Trinidad,” a FARC leader who is serving 60 years in a US prison, an adviser to ongoing peace talks with the guerrilla group said Monday.

According to former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, the Santos administration asked US Vice-President Joe Biden to see what possibilities exist to repatriate the rebel leader.

Trinidad was convicted in 2007 of conspiring to kidnap three US military contractors, who were held by the FARC between 2003 and 2008.

The FARC has asked for their fellow-rebel’s release since before the peace talks began in November 2012, claiming Trinidad’s release would be an “immense contribution to peace in Colombia.”

The United States at the time turned down the rebel request, saying that “Trinidad committed crimes and will continue to serve his time in jail.”

Simon Trinidad will remain in prison: US

Since then, rebel spokespersons are frequently flanked by a life-size cardboard cutout photo of Trinidad.

Santos’ alleged request to repatriate of the FARC leader appears to be part of a larger effort that also seeks the removal of FARC guerrillas from the United States’ list of extradition requests.

Santos told Spanish newspaper El Pais he would ask Washington to remove FARC members from the extradition list, claiming that “nobody is going to surrender their weapons to go and die in an American prison.”

The Colombian president discussed the ongoing peace talks over the weekend with Bernard Aronson.

The senior US diplomat was appointed Special Envoy for the Colombian Peace Process by US Secretary of State John Kerry less than two weeks ago and has already met with the government and rebel delegations.

US envoy meets FARC peace talks delegates behind closed doors

The leaked secret meetings have not been confirmed or denied by either the US government or the FARC, deemed a terrorist organization by the US and the European Union.

The FARC have been fighting the Colombian state since 1964.

The United States has long played an active part in the conflict and spent billions of dollars in the first decade of this century to support the Colombian state’s military offensive that pushed the rebels to the periphery of the country.

Since the peace talks began, the warring parties have agreed to a rural reform, political participation for the rebels, and the FARC’s abandoning of drug trafficking.

If the negotiators can come to consensus on transitional justice, victim reparation and a truce, the 50-year-old conflict will come to a formal end.

Cuban Government Refuses to Return N.J. Cop-Killer Chesimard, Report Says 5

Posters are arranged before a press conference about fugitive domestic terrorist Joanne Chesimard by the New Jersey State Police and the FBI at the FBI office in Newark on Thursday, May 2, 2013. Ed Murray/The Star-Ledger

Posters are arranged before a press conference about fugitive domestic terrorist Joanne Chesimard by the New Jersey State Police and the FBI at the FBI office in Newark on Thursday, May 2, 2013. Ed Murray/The Star-Ledger

By Paul Milo |  NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

Cuba will not turn fugitive Joanne Chesimard over to the United States, where she was convicted of the 1973 killing a New Jersey state trooper, a Cuban government representative told Yahoo News.

The official, Gustavo Machin, told Yahoo that the subject is “off the table” despite calls from Garden State lawmakers including Gov. Chris Christie and U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) demanding the return of the 67-year-old Chesimard, who remains on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.

While a member of a radical group, the Black Liberation Army, Chesimard and two others gunned down Trooper Werner Foerster during a traffic stop. Two years after her 1977 conviction, Chesimard escaped from prison and fled to Cuba, which has been providing her sanctuary ever since.

Chesimard’s case gained renewed interest in December, when President Obama announced a thawing of relations with one of the world’s last remaining communist nations. But amid the fanfare immediately following Obama’s announcement, the State Police and elected officials demanded Chesimard be turned over as a condition of any change in status between the two countries. Diplomatic ties between Cuba and the United States were largely severed a half-century ago following a communist uprising led by Fidel Castro.

In a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last week, Menendez said refusing to hand over Chesimard is “is an intolerable insult to all those who long to see justice served.”

Editor’s Note:  Directorate of Intelligence (DI) officer Gustavo Machin was thrown out of the US in retaliation for the Ana Belen Montes spy case.