Obama Frees Cuba-Backed Puerto Rican Terrorist 3

A painting of Oscar Lopez Rivera in Humboldt Park in Chicago in 2011. (Credit: Sally Ryan for The New York Times)

A painting of Oscar Lopez Rivera in Humboldt Park in Chicago in 2011.
(Credit: Sally Ryan for The New York Times)

Obama Commutes Sentence of F.A.L.N. Member Oscar Lopez Rivera

By CHRISTOPHER MELEJAN, New York Times

President Obama on Tuesday commuted the sentence of a man convicted for his role in a Puerto Rican nationalist group linked to more than 100 bombings in New York and other cities in the 1970s and 1980s.

The man, Oscar Lopez Rivera, was serving a 70-year sentence after being convicted of numerous charges, including seditious conspiracy, a charge used for those plotting to overthrow the United States government.

He was linked to the radical group known as the F.A.L.N., the Spanish acronym for the Armed Forces of National Liberation, and was one of more than a dozen group members convicted in the 1980s.

Under Mr. Obama’s commutation order, Mr. Lopez Rivera’s prison sentence will expire May 17. It was one of 209 grants of commutation by the president announced Tuesday.

The F.A.L.N., which waged a violent campaign for the independence of Puerto Rico, was considered by the authorities to be among the most elusive and resilient terrorist groups to operate in the United States. Among its notable attacks was a bombing at Fraunces Tavern in New York in 1975 that killed four people.

The group was known for its tight-knit membership, fanatical zeal and hit-and-run tactics, as exemplified by the bombings of four government buildings in Manhattan and Brooklyn on New Year’s Eve in 1982 that seriously wounded three police officers.

Mr. Lopez Rivera was not specifically charged in the Fraunces Tavern bombing but more broadly with, among other things, the interstate transportation of firearms with the intent to commit violent crimes, and transportation of explosives with intent to kill and injure people and to destroy government buildings and property.

President Bill Clinton offered Mr. Lopez Rivera and other members of the F.A.L.N. clemency in 1999, a decision that stirred an emotional debate. Mr. Clinton said their sentences were out of proportion with their offenses.

While 12 prisoners accepted the offer and were freed, Mr. Lopez Rivera rejected the chance to reduce his sentence because it did not include all of the group’s members, his lawyer, Jan Susler, said at the time. If he had accepted the agreement, she said, he would have been eligible for release in 2009.

Article continues here:  FALN  

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Bill Clinton Says Future of U.S.-Cuban Relations Hinge on Fate of Alan Gross 2

Bill Clinton Says Future of U.S.-Cuban Relations Hinge on Fate of Alan Gross

Bill Clinton Says Future of U.S.-Cuban Relations Hinge on Fate of Alan Gross

Fox News Latino

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton hinted Thursday that any future relations between Washington and Havana hinge on the Cuban government releasing USAID subcontractor Alan Gross from prison.

Speaking with the Miami Herald, Clinton said that his wife and prospective Democratic candidate for president, Hillary Clinton, was in favor of ending the 50-plus years long embargo with Cuba.

“I think we would be well on our way to doing it [ending the blockade] if they released Alan Gross,” he said of the contractor who has served five years of a 15-year sentence. “It is really foolish to allow what is clearly a questionable incarceration to imperil the whole future of U.S.-Cuban relations, but that’s not my call to make.”

The White House last week also urged Cuba to release U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross, who is serving a 15-year sentence on the Communist-ruled island after being convicted for subversion.

“Five years ago today Alan Gross was arrested for his efforts to help ordinary Cuban citizens have greater access to information through the Internet,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement.

President Barack Obama’s administration “remains focused on securing Alan’s freedom from a Cuban prison” and officials in Washington are “deeply concerned” about the health of the 65-year-old Gross, Earnest said.

“The Cuban Government’s release of Alan on humanitarian grounds would remove an impediment to more constructive relations between the United States and Cuba,” the statement concluded.

Gross was arrested in Havana in December 2009 with satellite communications equipment he was planning to distribute among Cuba’s Jewish community.

He traveled to the island for Development Alternatives Inc., a Maryland company acting under a contract with the U.S. Agency for International Development to expand Internet access and the flow of information in Cuba.

In his interview with the Miami Herald, Clinton also took on a more open approach to Cuba than he or most other U.S. presidents have taken while in office. He praised the country’s role in responding to the devastation in the wake of Haiti’s massive earthquake and in responding to the Ebola outbreak in Africa.

Feature continues here: Bill Clinton

 

The Castros’ Captive: Why Appeasing Havana Won’t Free Alan Gross 2

By Frank Calzon in Foreign Affairs (magazine)[a CFR publication]

In “Our Man in Havana,” R. M. Schneiderman suggests that Alan Gross will not be freed from his Cuban prison unless the U.S. State Department shuts down its programs supporting democracy and human rights in Cuba. This conclusion is faulty, if not utterly ridiculous. Gross, who worked for a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) contractor, is serving a 15-year jail sentence for trying to help Havana’s Jewish community connect to the Internet, an act most of the world does not recognize as a crime. In 2009, Gross was seized just before he was scheduled to fly home to the United States and held for 14 months before any charges were filed against him. Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson has aptly described him as a “hostage.”

What seems to gall Schneiderman is not Gross’ imprisonment, but rather that Congress mandated the democracy-promotion program in Cuba in the first place. Schneiderman characterizes the U.S. government’s continuation of such programs as a failed opportunity to do away with “the antiquated politics of the Cold War.” He is correct that the programs are modeled on those that successfully cracked the Iron Curtain and that, after the collapse of European communism, were wholeheartedly endorsed by Lech Walesa, Václav Havel, and others. But he is wrong to call the program “antiquated” when Cuba remains a Stalinist-style state. The programs’ fundamental goal remains to break through the Castro regime’s control of information that isolates the Cuban people and keeps them in bondage.

That the democracy-promotion program annoys the Cuban regime does not make it a failure of U.S. foreign policy. In fact, there is no evidence to support Schneiderman’s claim that canceling the program would have freed Gross or produced other tangible benefits. The author recounts a 2010 conversation between Fulton Armstrong, a senior adviser to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and “high-level Cuban officials.” Armstrong is quoted as telling the Cubans that the democracy programs were “stupid.” He continued, “We’re cleaning them up. Just give us time, because politically we can’t kill them.” Armstrong then asked, “Will this help you release Alan Gross?” to which he believes the Cubans said yes. This misses the fact that when it comes to Cuba, only two people are empowered to say yes — Raúl and Fidel Castro. And the Castros have a long history of biting any hand of friendship extended to them.

Indeed, even though Congress placed a hold on funding for the democracy program in 2010, Gross was tried and sentenced in March 2011. Washington may have had other reasons to think Cuba would be releasing Gross, but he did not come home with either former President Jimmy Carter nor Richardson, both of whom traveled to Havana.

By now, this story should be all too familiar. As president, Carter attempted reconciliation, establishing the U.S. Special Interests Section in Havana and making efforts at establishing some form of diplomatic relations. Castro’s response was to export thousands of prison inmates and patients from insane asylums to Florida, to send Cuban troops to fight a war in Angola in support of Soviet interests, and to assist anti-American insurgencies in Central America. Later, when U.S. President Bill Clinton again sought to improve relations, Fidel ordered two unarmed, civilian American aircraft shot down over the Straits of Florida in international waters. In response to U.S. President Barack Obama’s attempts to reduce the animosity between the two countries by easing trade restrictions and lifting limits on remittances, Raúl Castro — who has taken over for Fidel — not only ignored the president’s suggestion that Cuba reduce its taxes on remittances but also jailed Gross.

Gross is not the only person who has been punished for supporting human rights on the island. The regime has detained and expelled many visitors who dared to meet with dissidents. Among them were the current foreign minister of the Czech Republic; a cabinet secretary from Spain; Dutch, German, and European parliament members; journalists; and human rights activists. Gross’ imprisonment — set against the background of the continued repression of Cubans, the harsh punishment meted out to dissidents, and the refusal to allow prison inspections by international organizations — should serve as a wake-up call to those proposing unilateral concessions for the sake of normalization with Havana. Appeasement does not discourage the bad behavior of dictators; it emboldens it.

The time to normalize U.S. relations with Cuba will come only when Havana begins taking steps toward democracy and a free-market economy and reconsiders its alliances with North Korea, Syria, and other U.S. adversaries. Releasing Gross would be one indication that Cuba is ready to change. Obama ought to tell Raúl Castro that the United States holds him personally responsible for Gross’ well-being. Similarly, policy decisions that have increased and allowed remittances and encouraged American tourists to travel to the island can be reversed and revisited. Cuba has always played hardball, and if Castro’s government wants to continue its ways, the United States is not without rackets.

The View From the American Left: “Kerry’s Cuba Sanity” 2

By Arturo Lopez-Levy, January 4, 2013

Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF) — A project of the Institute for Policy Studies

One would have to go back to John Quincy Adams, who served in the U.S. diplomatic service from the age of 17, to find a predecessor better pedigreed than John Kerry to lead the U.S. State Department. The son of a diplomat, Kerry is a war veteran, senior senator, and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Few experiences have had greater influence on Kerry’s foreign policy views than his decades-long relationship with Vietnam, where Kerry served as a swift boat captain during the Vietnam War.

Kerry’s experience in Vietnam, where visceral ideological attitudes prevailed over rational analysis, prompted the future senator to advocate for a more realistic course for U.S. policy. A decorated veteran, John Kerry became a spokesman for veterans against the war. He learned that to promote U.S. values and interests requires awareness of the relative nature of power and the force of nationalism in the post-colonial world.

Throughout his subsequent political career, Kerry has sought to correct the foreign policy mistakes that led to the fiasco in Indochina, learning to value diplomacy and engagement above force. Together with Senator John McCain (R-AZ), another veteran of the war, Kerry supported President Clinton’s steps to end the U.S. embargo against Vietnam. The result, according to Kerry, has been a “Vietnam that is less isolated, more market oriented, and, yes, freer—though it has miles to go.”

Admittedly, Kerry has not always applied these lessons properly—witness his regrettable support for the Bush administration’s disastrous invasion of Iraq. But elsewhere, as in his efforts to ease the archaic U.S. blockade on Cuba, Kerry continues to promote engagement as the fundamental tool of foreign policy.

In a 2009 Tampa Bay Times op-ed, for example, Kerry relates how the success of the U.S. rapprochement with Vietnam helped shape his advocacy for improved relations with Cuba, which he presented as a defense of U.S. interests and democratic values. “For 47 years,” he wrote, “our embargo in the name of democracy has produced no democracy at all. Too often, our rhetoric and policies have actually furnished the Castro regime with an all-purpose excuse to draw attention away from its many shortcomings.”

This evidence has informed the future secretary of state’s position against the ban on travel to Cuba for U.S. citizens. Based on the experience of tourists from other countries and the return of Cuban-Americans who “have already had a significant impact on increasing the flow of information and hard currency to ordinary Cubans,” Kerry understands that unrestricted U.S. travel to Cuba would be “a catalyst for change.”

The senator also placed a temporary freeze in 2010 on the poorly designed USAID Cuba programs, which have led to the imprisonment of Alan Gross, an agency subcontractor.

Kerry, who has visited Vietnam post-reconciliation, knows that a USAID program there helped to multiply Internet connectivity rates in the country. The USAID program in Vietnam is jointly implemented with the Japanese development agency and with the support of the local government, unlike the Helms-Burton law, which geared USAID programs in Cuba toward regime change and was repudiated in the UN for its unilateralism. The USAID program in Vietnam encourages development, which is what USAID was created for, not efforts to overthrow Hanoi’s government. The premise is that a population more affluent, better educated, and more connected will demand more democratic practices.

According to Kerry, the United States will never stop supporting human rights in Cuba, simply because they are fundamental values of American society. After all, the United States has continued pushing for civil and political liberties in Vietnam since ending its embargo. Washington does so not because it opposes Hanoi’s leaders or to impose a regime change, but as part of a rational strategy of promoting a peaceful evolution to a more open Vietnamese political system. Washington wants stable relationships with the whole Vietnamese nation, not only with the government. Peoples of the world, no matter how suspicious of U.S. motives they may be, appreciate human rights promotion within the framework of international law.

The nomination of John Kerry is also consistent with the political changes that have occurred in the Cuban-American community, expressed by the elevated Cuban diaspora vote for Democrats in the last election. Like Kerry, and as then-Senate candidate Obama stated in 2004, most Cuban-Americans believe that the embargo has failed and that it is time to influence the processes of economic reform and political liberalization that began in Cuba after the retirement of Fidel Castro.

Once public opinion turned against the war in Vietnam, the political leadership in the U.S. found it had no choice but to follow suit. Kerry is better positioned than anyone to be a leader and see that point of departure when it comes to U.S. policy and Cuba.

Judicial Watch’s Backstory on Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte 1

NCLR Official With Ties To Spy Confirmed As U.S. Ambassador

After years of bulldozing, President Obama finally got Senate confirmation for a scandal-plagued diplomat forced out of a U.S. ambassadorship for her close ties to a terrorist-sponsoring foreign government.

That means a leftist open borders activist (Mari Carmen Aponte) with a controversial past officially represents the administration abroad. In a 62-37 vote last week, the U.S. Senate approved the confirmation of Aponte, a former board member of the National Council of la Raza (NCLR) and Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDEF), as the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador.

Obama originally nominated Aponte in December 2009 and made her a recess appointee about a year later in order to bypass Republican opposition. As her temporary, one-year tenure expired, Aponte’s confirmation hearing inevitably came up before the Senate. Incredibly, the attorney and independent consultant was approved to represent the State Department in the civil war-ravaged Central American country.

The highlight of Aponte’s career dates back to the late 1990s when Bill Clinton nominated the Puerto Rican activist as ambassador to the Dominican Republic. Aponte had worked as a volunteer in the White House personnel office and helped raise campaign money for Clinton. But she had a rather large skeleton in her closet, a decade-long romantic relationship with a reported Cuban intelligence spy named Roberto Tamayo. Aponte and Tamayo lived together and the couple met frequently with Cuban intelligence agents, according to various news reports.

Since 1982 Cuba has appeared on the State Department’s list of countries that have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism. That means restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance, a ban on defense exports and sales and other financial restrictions. Iran, Sudan and Syria also appear on the list alongside the communist island.

Aponte’s relationship with the Cuban spy came out when the FBI vetted her for the Dominican ambassadorship years ago and inevitably resurfaced when Obama first nominated her to serve in El Salvador. To avoid discussing her relationship with Tamayo at Senate confirmation hearings, Aponte withdrew Clinton’s nomination to be ambassador to the Dominican Republic.

Years later, the nation’s commander-in-chief acts as if none of it ever happened. In a statement celebrating the value of his “perseverance,” Obama praises Aponte as an “honest broker” who has helped advance programs and policies to enhance citizen security in El Salvador while weakening transnational crime that affects our own national security. The president goes on to call Aponte a “highly effective advocate for the United States in El Salvador” who has earned “respect from across the political spectrum.”