Reuters reports [December 14] that Venezuela’s “crippling economic crisis already forced it to slash cheap oil shipments to Cuba.” Significantly, “Venezuela has pulled out of a partnership with Cuba in its Cienfuegos oil refinery.”

Also in this issue two nephews of Nicolas Maduro’s wife were sentenced in New York this week to 18 years in prison for scheme to bring 1,700 pounds of cocaine into the United States. [The Washington Post, December 14] Efrain Campo, 31 and his cousin Francisco Flores, 33 would not have had any possibility of implementing their plan without their family connections. The Justice Department ought to look into the Venezuelan regime’s leadership role in narcotrafficking. It is difficult to believe that President Maduro and the Cuban intelligence officers deployed in Caracas do not know about such crimes.

Attention Cuba Engage, Carlos Gutierrez, Senator Patrick Leahy and Ben Rhodes: Havana’s digital newspaper, very much persecuted by the regime says that “Nothing guarantees that the human being can enjoy adequate public health services, a quality education or a satisfactory and sustainable social security, if the authorities can not be questioned about the fulfillment of their obligations, and if each individual does not have the right to protest.” [14ymedio, December 11]

The Washington Post, December 14, 2017

Venezuelan 1st lady’s 2 nephews get 18 years in prison

By Larry Neumeister and Claudia Torrens | AP December 14 at 7:42 PM

NEW YORK — Two nephews of Venezuela’s first lady were sentenced Thursday to 18 years in prison for drug conspiracy convictions by a judge who said their ineptness at their criminal craft and otherwise crimeless background earned them leniency.

U.S. District Judge Paul A. Crotty said Efrain Campo and his cousin Francisco Flores “were not the most astute drug dealers who existed. They were in over their heads.”

Yet, he added, they schemed in 2015 to capitalize on their political connections to make the flight of a drug-laden private plane from Venezuela to Honduras seem legitimate. Besides the prison time, the judge also imposed $50,000 fines.

Campo, 31, and Flores, 33, are nephews of Venezuelan first lady Cilia Flores. A jury convicted them in November 2016 of conspiring to import more than 1,700 pounds (770 kilograms) of cocaine into the U.S. and other charges that carried a potential life sentence.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Emil Bove requested a 30-year sentence, saying the men were trying to raise millions of dollars in drug proceeds to help fund a political campaign to keep their family in power in a country where its leaders have a reputation for “locking up” those who oppose them.

Defense lawyers requested no more than a 10-year term, saying the men were novices in the drug trade and they never transported drugs.

Each man apologized before the sentence was announced.

“I am very remorseful and ashamed for all the harm and suffering this has caused,” Campo said.

“I’m so sorry for the terrible mistake I committed,” Flores said. “We’re all human, and sometimes we sin.”

The judge noted the men seemed “more concerned about the impact on their family than violations of the law of the United States.”

Outside the courthouse, Norma Flores, no relation to the defendant, stood with others who were born in Venezuela but moved to the United States. She said the sentence was too lenient.

“The sentence is a slap in the face of all Venezuelans,” she said.

She said she went to the courthouse on behalf of all Venezuelans who have lost their lives in protests or are dying because they cannot afford food or medicine.

Lawyers for the men said their clients are misunderstood.

Attorney John Zach said Campo was “shockingly naive.”

“He is a gentle soul. He is a good person,” Zach said. “He is a danger to no one. He’s been thoroughly humiliated by this episode.”

Attorney David Rody said Flores was living with a roommate in a two-bedroom apartment when he was arrested in late 2015.

“This is not the life of a drug kingpin,” Rody said. “He is not a hardened criminal.”

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press.


Reuters, December 14, 2017

Cuba Takes Over Venezuela Stake In Refinery Joint Venture 

Thursday Dec 14, 2017   

HAVANA/HOUSTON, Dec 14 (Reuters) - Venezuela has pulled out of a partnership with Cuba in its Cienfuegos oil refinery and the Caribbean island has taken full ownership of the plant, Cuban state media said on Thursday.

Venezuela is grappling with a crippling economic crisis that already forced it to slash cheap oil shipments to Cuba, which has had a knock-on effect on the island's ailing economy.

The reason for the dissolution of the partnership was not immediately obvious. A former Venezuelan government official said Cuba had taken Venezuelan state oil-firm PDVSA's 49 percent stake in the Cienfuegos refinery as payment for debts it said the country incurred.

The source added that Cuba said Venezuela owed it for professional services provided as well as the rental of tankers.

PDVSA's Cuba unit was unable to provide immediate comment. Cuba's state-run oil monopoly Cubapetroleo (Cupet), which runs the refinery, did not respond to a request for comment.

"Since August 2017, the Cienfuegos refinery has been operating as a fully Cuban state entity," the ruling Communist Party's newspaper Granma wrote.

The Cienfuegos refinery is a Soviet-era facility configured to run Russian crude that was later upgraded by PDVSA to convert up to 65,000 barrels per day (bpd) of Venezuelan oil into refined products for Cuba's domestic market and exports.

It processed just 8 million barrels of crude in 2017 (roughly 24,000 barrels per day), Granma reported, indicating it was operating well below capacity due to lower shipments of oil from Venezuela.

A lack of medium and light oil had forced PDVSA this year to change the quality of the crude shipped to the island to heavier grades, which are more difficult to process at Cienfuegos.

Cuba has long relied on the OPEC nation for about 70 percent of its fuel needs. But shipments have fallen by as much as 40 percent since 2014 and Cuba is looking for new suppliers to help mitigate electricity and fuel rationing to state companies.

Cuba took a delivery of oil from Russia in May, helping compensate somewhat for that drop, and Russian oil major Rosneft said in October it was looking to expand cooperation.

That could mean increased deliveries to Cuba, joint extraction projects as well as cooperation to modernize the Cienfuegos refinery, Rosneft said.

Venezuela remains Cuba's top ally and President Nicolas Maduro was due to stop off in Havana on Thursday as he returned from a conference in Turkey, newspaper El Nacional reported.

Still, lower Venezuela oil supplies and a cash crunch have forced Cuba to slash imports and reduce the use of fuel and electricity over the past two years.

This helped tip its centrally planned economy into recession in 2016 for the first time in nearly a quarter century. The government is expected to give an estimate for economic performance this year at the twice-annual parliamentary session next week.

(Reporting by Sarah Marsh in Havana and Marianna Parraga in Houston; Editing by Andrew Hay)

14ymedio, December 11, 2017

The Human Rights That Are Missing In Cuba

14ymedio, Havana, 11 December 2017 – Until a few years ago the concept “human rights” was frowned upon by Cuba’s ruling party. The mere mention of these two words together automatically labeled a citizen as on the opposing side and there was no lack of acts of repudiation against dissidents in which slogans were shouted in the style of “Down with human rights!”

Over time, the island’s government understood that it was better — and less scandalous — to adopt not only the language alluding to this concept but also the commemorations around December 10, the day that celebrates the United Nation’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In the last decade, the authorities have filled the official media and the squares of the country with slogans alluding to all the rights allegedly enjoyed by Cubans. In those avalanches of benefits the collective rights are always mentioned, while the individual ones are ignored.

On this day, the Plaza of the Revolution extols the right to education and public health, while avoiding reference to the rest of the conditions that must surround human existence such as freedom of expression or conscience, the possibility of choosing a religion without restrictions, or freedom of association.

While controlling activists and opponents so that they do not demonstrate on this day, the government of Raul Castro monopolizes the headlines of the national media with orchestrated demonstrations to show a strong adherence to its policy. Thus, they hijack the date.

However, the apparent dichotomy that places citizens in the dilemma of having to renounce a good part of their individual rights to enjoy the collective ones is a result of the blackmail to which the rulers subject the ruled for the purpose of perpetuating themselves in the power.

Nothing guarantees that the human being can enjoy adequate public health services, a quality education or a satisfactory and sustainable social security, if the authorities can not be questioned about the fulfillment of their obligations, and if each individual does not have the right to protest.