Summit Meeting

Don’t ignore Cuba’s role in human trafficking

November 13th, 2015

November 11, 2015, The Miami Herald


Continued international trafficking of people and the sexual abuse of minors are two of the world’s most serious human rights issues. Last Friday, the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere of the U.S. House of Representations held a Miami hearing on abuses of human rights in Venezuela and Cuba.

The inquiry was prompted by reports that in compiling its latest report on human trafficking, high officials within the State Department exerted undue pressure on staff to improve the rankings of several countries, including Cuba, Malaysia and Russia.

At a congressional hearing in August, Undersecretary of State Sarah Sewall defended the rankings saying, “We don’t comment on internal deliberations” and asserted “the reporting that was done by the TIP office and the team at the State Department was thorough and fact-based.” Yet, according to the British news service Reuters, staffers had come forth to reveal 2015 ratings were watered down in the report issued by the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Reuters cited an administration spokesman as dismissing the allegations, saying “[s]ome diplomats who say that the staffers should avoid acting like ‘purists.’ ”

The report is a tool used to shame governments into enacting and enforcing laws to prevent sex trafficking and forced labor and prosecuting traffickers. One of its unintended consequences, however, was that when it focused world public opinion on Southeast Asia’s poor records on slave labor and “sex tourism” involving the use of children, many traffickers found a new haven in Cuba. Moreover, given the recent influx of thousands of new tourists, sex trafficking in Cuba is increasing.

Sources on Capitol Hill tell me that the integrity of the report on human trafficking is one of the issues that Congress will be exploring with Assistant Secretary for the Western Hemisphere Roberta Jacobson, as she now seeks confirmation to become U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. Jacobson led the negotiations to “normalize” U.S. relations with Cuba.

In 2011, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police reported that Cuba was the most popular destination in America for child sex tourism. In 2013, a 78-year-old Canadian returning home from Cuba was charged under Canadian law with nine counts of child-sex tourism. He had pled guilty in 1995 and 1998 to possession of child pornography filmed in Cuba. According to Canada’s CTV News, all of his alleged victims were young Cuban girls, “some as young as 4-years-old.” It’s not likely that the substantial increase of foreign tourists now visiting the island has diminished human trafficking. Secretary of State John Kerry also should be answering the several Congressional letters sent him.

“The perceived hit to the integrity of the 2015 report can do lasting damage,” Reuters reported. As Mark Taylor, former senior coordinator for reports and political affairs in the monitoring office, says “It only takes one year of this kind of really deleterious political effect to kill its credibility.”

Unfortunately, President Obama’s legacy is likely to be marred by more than one instance of political considerations taking precedence over the facts. Another manipulation of State Department reports happened in late May, when Cuba was removed from the U.S. list of foreign governments supporting international terrorism. That happened while convicted killers of American police officers are still enjoying the safe haven of “political asylum” in Cuba.

Diluting of the trafficking report was, without doubt, a concession to the Castros.Democracy Digest, a blog of the National Endowment for Democracy, observed that these actions “hardly assuage the concerns of Cuban dissidents that the administration is downplaying human rights and democracy as it seeks to cement its new rapprochement with the island’s Communist authorities.”

Revulsion over human trafficking and the sexual abuse of children is not limited to “purists” within the State Department. It’s widely shared by the American people.



President Obama’s good intentions and bad outcomes

August 25th, 2015

United Press International, August 25, 2015
By Frank Calzon

President Obama was not looking to start an arms race in the Middle East when he negotiated an accord with Iran. Obama said he wanted to stop Tehran’s manufacturing of nuclear weapons. But in light of what they considered a bad agreement and afraid to rely on Washington’s assurances, if Tehran were to threaten them, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Iraq, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates have begun looking for weapons to deter the Ayatollah’s ambitions.

The accord negotiated by the U.S., Russia, France, and Tehran offers little but a hope that Iran will not have a nuclear weapon in 15 years. But here is what we do know: It provides Tehran trillions of dollars, that Iran, the most important financier of terrorist groups, will share with the likes of Hamas and Hezbollah.

Obama also says he had good intentions when he said that Syria’s dictator Bashar al-Assad had to go. When that didn’t work, Obama made a threat on American television; if Assad would crossed a red line by using chemical weapons against his own people, the U.S. would act. When Damascus gassed, according to Susan Rice, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, “hundreds of children,” the President failed to act, and the Syrian strongman was emboldened. The unintended consequence has been an estimate of 330,000 dead and 4,013,292 Syrian refugees.

The U.S. accord with Havana is not better. The President, in search of a personal legacy, wanted to normalize relations with Havana. He gave in to Havana’s blackmail in order to free an American hostage by releasing four convicted Cuban spies from American prisons, one of whom played a part in the murder of three Americans and a U.S. resident in international airspace by Cuban warplanes under the command of Cuba’s then-Minister of the Armed Forces, General Raul Castro. Obama received in exchange an American hostage languishing in a Cuban jail for the crime of distributing computers among Havana’s Jewish community.

Mr. Obama ordered removing Havana from the list of countries supporters of terrorism while American terrorists continue to enjoy the regime’s hospitality.
And because Cuba’s tourist industry is controlled by the military, American tourists are now bringing to Cuba’s security forces millions of dollars.

While the U.S.-Cuba talks were underway, the Da Dan Xia, a Chinese ship, was intercepted by Colombia with a large shipment of weapons hidden under tons of cereal. The ship was on its way to two Colombian ports and then to Havana. To maintain its deniability of Cuba’s terrorist activities, the U.S. failed to ask Cuba if the weapons were intended for the FARC, the Colombian terrorists.

In 2013, again Havana was caught, this time by Panama, in the process of smuggling war planes and war materiel on a North Korean ship to North Korea in violation of UN sanctions and Washington looked the other way.

Another unintended consequence of the deal with Havana has been the discarding, for all intents and purposes, of the Democratic Charter that limited recognition in the Americas to democratic governments freely elected and under the rule of law.
Washington may claim that it did not intend to subsidize Iranian support for terrorism or an increase of repression, suffering and abuse in Cuba, but those consequences are real and Raul Castro in Havana and the Ayatollahs in Iran have been emboldened.
As they say, the road to somewhere is paved with good intentions.

Obama administration turns a blind eye to Cuba’s transgressions

August 25th, 2015

The Miami Herald, June 1, 2015

As Gen. Raúl Castro celebrates his removal from the U.S. State Department’s list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, President Obama’s finding that Havana “no longer supports international terrorism” is not one to be taken seriously in Washington.

On Feb. 28, just weeks before the U.S. president embraced the Cuban dictator in Panama, the Colombian Navy seized a Chinese freighter, the Da Dan Xia en route to Havana. The vessel’s cargo? “Around 100 tons of powder, 2.6 million detonators, 99 projectiles and around 3,000 cannon shells,” according to Colombia’s daily, El Espectador. The weapons and war materiel were hidden in the hole of the ship under 28,451 tons of cereal. Norinco, a Chinese government enterprise, was readily identified as the manufacturer.

Colombia’s defense minister told the newspaper the military “has confiscated from FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a communist insurgency), and destroyed, Norinco-manufactured rifles and pistols throughout the country.”

Given President Obama’s commitment to normalizing relations with Cuba, and Colombia’s ongoing negotiations in Havana with the FARC to end the insurgency, the Da Dan Xia was released along with its cargo.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is not a firebrand looking for a showdown with President Obama, like, say, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu. Santos wasn’t going to risk spoiling the summit for either the United States or Cuba. Much of Latin America faces the same dilemmas that Colombia faces.

For the sake of American security, however, the U.S. Congress should be asking more questions about Obama’s U.S.-Cuba rapprochement and whether there are any real benefits for Cubans or the United States absent any true economic or political reforms in Cuba.

The Panama Summit was an unprecedented “love fest” for Raúl Castro and President Obama. Castro flew hundreds of Cuban security agents to Panama to disrupt conferences on civil society that the Panamanian government had organized to coincide with the summit. Among those agents was Alexis Frutos Weeden, an intelligence officer stationed in Caracas who has been advising and training Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s police force on how to repress Venezuela’s democratic opposition.

Panamanian TV broadcast Col. Frutos beating up Americans trying to place a wreath at the base of a statue of Jose Martí, Cuba’s national hero. Washington officials believe the beating of Americans by Cuban intelligence agents is a “judicial” matter for the Panamanian courts.
After acquiescing to demands to delist Cuba from the list of terrorist states, the administration has little clout to steer Cuba under Raúl toward reform.

Raúl won’t get more reasonable about establishing a rule of law in Cuba, holding free elections, introducing and sustaining economic reforms. Nor is he likely to allow the United States to try the Cuban military pilots indicted for murder in the 1996 shootdown of two civilian American aircraft over the Straits of Florida that killed three Americans and one Florida resident. Raúl, who headed Cuba’s military at the time, gave the order to down the planes and gave the pilots medals for their “courage.”

Many believe Obama has granted Raúl impunity now and forever for that crime or others, but having put away the U.S. “stick” he’s certainly come close to being Raúl’s enabler.


Obama administration ignores ‘fugitive issue’

April 27th, 2015

The Miami Herald, April 26, 2015

President Obama’s actions to remove Cuba from the State Department’s list of terrorist states is stripping the United States of its leverage to achieve economic and political reform in Cuba.

Cuba’s removal from the list has been the Castro brothers’ No. 1 goal, facilitating Cuba’s access to international financial institutions and trade credits. To remove the designation is to ignore their engagement with terrorist organizations and their provision of safe haven to convicted felons and fugitive terrorists.

During the Obama administration, the same State Department that just recommended to the president to remove Cuba from the list had conducted five annual reviews concluding that Havana’s ties to international terrorism were still relevant. The U.S. Congress might want to ask Secretary of State John Kerry what has changed since April 2014 when the the department made its last such determination.

Read the rest of this entry »

US Cuba Relations C SPAN

April 8th, 2015

Cuba Debate at the University of Kansas Dole Institute

April 7th, 2015

Frank Calzon and FIU professor Marifeli Perez-Stable

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs: Debate on Cuba

April 7th, 2015

Frank Cazlon, Alberto Coll, Luis Martinez-Fernandez, Marcelino Miyares, Ted Piccone, Julissa Reynoso

Es Lamentable Que EE UU Este Conversando Con Cuba Mientras Hay Un Aumento En El Numero De Presos P

April 6th, 2015

Squaring Cuba’s Terror Designation in the Circle of the Law

March 20th, 2015

By Mauricio Claver-Carone in World Affairs Journal:

Cuba’s Castro regime has made it clear in recent weeks that “normalizing” relations with the United States hinges on removing the designation of that island nation from the US list of “state-sponsors of terrorism.” Iran, Sudan, and Syria are the only other nations currently on the list, which is compiled by the State Department.

Last December, as President Obama announced his intent to re-establish formal diplomatic relations with Cuba, he also publicly instructed Secretary of State John Kerry to review Cuba’s status. The review, the president added, should be “guided by the facts and the law.” In the weeks since, there have been reports of the White House pressuring the State Department and intelligence community to accelerate the review so that the president and his Cuban counterpart, Raúl Castro, Fidel’s brother, can shake hands at the April “Summit of the Americas,” in Panama City, Panama. Read the rest of this entry »

Cuba’s wrongdoing goes unchallenged

March 10th, 2015

Miami Herald


A few days after American negotiators met with Cuban officials to continue talks to reestablish formal diplomatic relations, a Chinese ship bound for Cuba was intercepted near Colombia’s Port of Cartagena carrying 100 tons of gunpowder, almost 3 million detonators and some 3,000 cannon shells to Cuba.

On Monday, a Colombian judge ordered that the Chinese captain of the Hong Kong-registered Da Dan Xia be placed under house arrest.

It’s not yet known whether President Obama has been alerted to Havana’s arms purchase. If he has, he’s not likely to say anything in this new era of aggressive niceness. He didn’t say anything about Cuba’s attempt in 2013 to smuggle two warplanes, missile parts and 240 metric tons of war materiél from Cuba into North Korea. Certainly, he wouldn’t say anything resembling his negative response to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress. Read the rest of this entry »

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