Monday, August 31, 2015

Editorial Cartoon: A Bad Cuba Deal

Odebrecht's Man in Havana

Read the original piece in Brazil's Epoca magazine here (in Portuguese).

From Reuters:

Brazilian weekly says Lula lobbied for Odebrecht in Cuba

A Brazilian news magazine has accused former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of acting as lobbyist in Cuba for Brazil's largest engineering firm Odebrecht, which built the container terminal at the Cuban port of Mariel.

In this week's edition headlined "Our Man in Havana," Epoca magazine cited Brazilian diplomatic cables about visits to Cuba by Lula after he had left office. During those visits he sought to further Brazilian business interests on the island, it said.

One cable from 2014 reported on a meeting in Havana at which Lula discussed with Odebrecht executives how to secure Cuban guarantees for loans from Brazilian state development bank BNDES to finance new projects sought by Odebrecht in Cuba.

Lula is under investigation for improperly using his influence to benefit Odebrecht, whose billionaire chief executive Marcelo Odebrecht was arrested in June in connection with the massive bribery and political kickback scandal focused on state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA.

Prosecutors say Lula frequently traveled abroad at Odebrecht's expense after leaving office, from 2011 until 2014.

The inquiry puts the legacy of one of Brazil's most popular former leaders on the line at a time when some are calling for the impeachment of his chosen successor, President Dilma Rousseff, for alleged campaign finance irregularities.

Epoca, owned by the Globo media group, said Lula lobbied to get Cuba good terms for a $682 million loan from BNDES that went to finance the Mariel port project built by Odebrecht.

Obama's 'Sunshine Policy' Towards Cuba

In 2010, we ominously warned the Obama Administration about the dangers of a "sunshine policy" towards the Castro dictatorship, akin to South Korea's failed approached to relations with its northern neighbor.

In light of recent events in inter-Korean relations -- and now that the Obama Administration has chosen to walk down this counter-productive path -- this warning remains more pertinent than ever.

In short, here's what the South Korea's "sunshine policy" entailed -- as per Max Fischer in Vox:

"The idea was that decades of hostility with the North hadn't worked, but maybe that taking a softer line would ease tensions. That included lots of political summits and official rhetoric about Korean unity, but it also meant opening up some trade with the North. But it turned out that North Korea was just exploiting the Sunshine Policy as a con. The greatest symbol of this was the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a big production center just on the North Korean side of the border, where South Korean companies and managers contract with North Korean workers. The idea was that this daily contact would ease cultural tension and that the shared commercial interests would give the countries a reason to cooperate. In practice, though, the North Korean government stole most of the workers' wages, big South Korean corporations exploited the ultra-cheap labor to increase profits, and North Korea didn't ease its hostility one iota."

Sound familiar?

That's precisely what we warned as regards Cuba:

(Note the op-ed below was written three years before Cuba's regime got caught red-handed smuggling 240 tons of weapons to North Korea -- the most egregious violation of U.N. sanctions to date -- which the Obama Administration chose to basically ignore.)

By Mauricio Claver-Carone in The Washington Times:

June 28, 2010

‘Sunshine policy’ toward Cuba?

Similar wishful thinking failed to bring together the two Koreas

North and South Korea are facing their gravest crisis since the end of the Korean War as South Korea threatens to retaliate against North Korea for sinking one of its warships. Forty-six sailors died in the torpedo attack by a North Korean submarine.

Yet only a decade ago, South Korean politicians and pundits were saying that five decades of political containment and economic isolation had "failed" and should be replaced with a new policy of engagement and reconciliation toward the totalitarian regime of North Korea's Kim Jong-il. The rest of the world had moved on past the Cold War, they argued, while the Koreas were still trapped in a state of conflict and mistrust.

If that sounds familiar, it's because opponents of U.S. sanctions policy use the same argument regarding Cuba.

In 1997, Kim Dae-Jung was elected president of South Korea by a new generation of South Koreans who didn't share their grandparents' horrific war experiences and viewed North Korea as a harmless Cold War relic. A year later, Mr. Kim began articulating his sunshine policy of greater political and economic contact between the Koreas to create an atmosphere conducive to change and reform in North Korea. The policy was greeted with great international fanfare. Mr. Kim and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il held a high-level summit in Pyongyang, initiating high-profile business ventures, and a series of family reunification visits commenced. Kim Dae-Jung was awarded the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize.

Critics, however, were voicing concerns that unconditionally fostering better relations with the North Korean regime while ignoring the repressive, belligerent nature of its dictatorship would prop up Kim Jong-il at a time of economic vulnerability and uncertainty. The Soviet Union, which had been North Korea's main supplier of military and economic aid, had collapsed just years earlier.

Ten years later, the critics have been proved correct. The sunshine policy provided the North Korean regime the wherewithal to become an international nuclear menace while intensifying the brutal oppression of its population.

Nonetheless, there are U.S. politicians and pundits arguing today that it's time for the United States to set aside its policy of isolation and containment toward Cuba and the Castro regime and adopt its own sunshine policy of dialogue and engagement.

Similarities abound in the relationships between South and North Korea and between the United States and Cuba. The two Koreas share a geographical and cultural proximity. While the population of South Korea is only twice that of North Korea, its economy is 30 times greater than that of the North, making it the North's most natural source of income.

The United States and Cuba also share geographical and cultural proximity. Thanks to a large Cuban-American community, the United States is Cuba's most natural (and currently most pursued) source of income. The purchasing power of 2 million Cuban-Americans residing in the U.S. is 30 times that of Cuba's 11.5 million people, so Cuba looks to the United States as a natural source of income.

Similarities also abound in the regimes of North Korea and Cuba. In addition to their daunting totalitarian tastes for control and repression, the regimes of Kim Jong-il in North Korea and Raul and Fidel Castro in Cuba also share a pathological hatred for the United States and the unenviable distinction of remaining the world's sole communist command-economies. Both countries are unwilling, irrational and unreliable partners.

North Korea didn't use the billions in aid and trade that flowed out of South Korea's sunshine policy for the benefit of its people. Neither did it undertake any discernible political or economic reforms. North Korea used the money to solidify its repressive control at home and be a regional menace.

The same can be said of every penny Cuba's regime has received from abroad, be it the aid from the Soviet Union in the 1980s, from European and Canadian tourists throughout the 1990s or from Venezuelan oil for the past 10 years. People's lives in Cuba didn't improve one bit, but Castro's internal repression and regional menace increased proportionally.

The Castro brothers' regime has been crippled by its current economic crisis. It is facing a determined pro-democracy movement led by such courageous leaders as Guillermo Farinas, now in the third month of a hunger strike, and the Ladies in White. It is beset by domestic criticism and calls for change from a new generation of bloggers and independent journalists. And it has been internationally discredited by the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo in an 85-day hunger strike protesting the use of torture in Cuba.

The United States has a choice to make: It can just give the Castro regime the "sunshine" and legitimacy that it so desperately wants, or it can remain steadfast in its demand that Cuba first demonstrate respect for human rights and begin enacting democratic reforms.

As South Korea's sunshine policy demonstrates, only after the sun sets on repression can it shine on and for the people of Cuba.

Mauricio Claver-Carone is a director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC and founding editor of CapitolHillCubans.com in Washington.

Must-Read: State Department Snubs Cuban Independent Journalists

Such a sad testament. 

The Obama Administration has clearly lost its moral compass.

By Cuban independent journalist, Ivan Garcia:

U.S. Government Snubs the Independent Cuban Press

The U.S. Embassy in Havana, the State Department, and the administration of Barack Obama, have intentionally mapped out a strategy to prevent independent Cuban journalists from covering the visit of John Kerry and the official reopening of the diplomatic headquarters on Friday, August 14.

For the the four-day historic event, no independent journalist, dissident, or human rights activist has been invited to participate in the ceremony, or the press conference by Kerry.

Since July 22nd, I have made a dozen calls to the U.S. Public Affairs Office in Havana to request a press pass that would allow me to cover the event for Diario las AmericasEl Periodico de Catalunya, and Webstringers LCC, a Washington-based media communications company, and I have not received a response from any official.

According to a diplomatic source, effective July 20th, the process changed for obtaining a credential to cover events or press conferences of politicians, business organizations, or Americans visiting the island.

Before that date, when Lynn W. Roche was head of the Public Affairs Section, I could get credentials in record time. I was able to cover the visit of Roberta Jacobson, congressmen, senators, businessmen, and officials from the State Department, among others.

Now, according to this source, accreditation must be obtained at the International Press Center of the [Cuban] Ministry of Foreign Affairs, located at 23rd and O, in Vedado. A rather crude strategy designed to get rid of independent journalists.

The worst part is not the disrespect or indifference. The U.S. government has the sovereign right to invite to its events those people it deems appropriate.

But out of respect, at least have the courtesy to speak face-to-face with independent journalists and inform them of the new policy. Don’t beat around the bush.

The U.S. government, which is not stupid, knows that for 54 years Cuba has been ruled by a military autocracy that prohibits political opposition and independent journalism.

Leaving press accreditation to the Cuban regime for events that the United States puts on in Cuba is like putting a child molester in charge of a Boy Scout camp.

Armed with a letter from Maria Gomez Torres, director of content for Webstringers, I personally went to the International Press Center. The official who vetted me, after reading the letter, looked through her papers and said with mock surprise, “Mr. García, you do not appear as an accredited journalist in Cuba.”

“And how can I be accredited?” I asked her.

“You must have an operating license and a permit from the Center,” she replied.

“Fine. Can you handle that for me?”

“No, because you do not qualify,” she replied with a tone of mystery.

“Why don’t I qualify, since I’ve collaborated with newspapers in Spain and the United States since 2009?” I inquired.

“Our Center reserves the right to give permission to reporters as we see fit,” snapped the bureaucrat.

After the unsuccessful attempt, I again called on the U.S. Embassy to request an appointment with an official who could tell me why an independent journalist cannot be accredited to the August 14 event.

But no one would take my call.

December 17th marked a new era between Cuba and the United States. That noon, Barack Obama promised to empower the Cuban people and to promote respect for human rights on the island.

Pure demagoguery. The government that claims to promote democratic values, shamelessly tramples the spirit and letter of its Constitution, where the right to inform is sacred.

The U.S. government is trying not to tarnish its August 14th gala, knowing that if it accredits independent journalists and invites dissidents, then officials of the regime will not attend.

The olive-green autocracy has a rule that it will not take part in any event with Cuban dissidents, whom it considers “mercenaries and employees of the U.S. government.”

This time, the Obama Administration is going to pander to them.

Cuba Purchases Latest Russian 'Air-to-Air' Missiles

The Cuban Air Force ("DAAFAR") will receive the newest version of Russian R-73 short range "air-to-air" missiles by the end of 2015, according to RIA Novosti.

The R-73 is a highly maneuverable "air-to-air" missile capable of striking targets at a height of 5 meters to 20 kilometers, moving at a speed of up to 2,500 kilometers per hour. It's equipped with optical laser and radio controlled fuses.

The R-73 was the missile used by the Castro regime to shoot-down two civilian aircraft over international waters in 1996, resulting in the death of three American citizens and a permanent resident of the United States.

In 2003, a U.S. federal court indicted then-head of the Cuban Air Force, Gen. Ruben Martínez Puente, and two MiG pilots, Lorenzo Alberto Perez-Perez and Francisco Perez-Perez, for the murder of these four Americans.

No similar indictment has been issued against any military officials of other nations (currently or previously) deemed to be sponsors of terrorism.

So why would the Castro regime need the latest "air-to-air" missiles?

Didn't the Obama Administration and its lobbyists tell us that doing business with Castro's monopolies would result in "dictator-down-economics" that will somehow benefit the Cuban people -- rather than in nefarious activities and power plays?

Perhaps the Obama Administration should prioritize American interests and bring these indicted Cuban Air Force officials to justice.

20th Straight Sunday of Political Arrests in Cuba, Ladies in White Barred From Mass

For the 20th Sunday in a row, nearly 50 Cuban dissidents were violently arrested in Havana yesterday, as they peacefully demonstrated for human rights and the release of all political prisoners.

Among those arrested were over 30 members of The Ladies in White, including its leader, Berta Soler.

The Ladies in White are the renowned pro-democracy group composed of the wives, mothers, daughters and other relatives of Cuban political prisoners.

Reports indicate several of The Ladies in White were brutally beaten, including Danaysi Muñoz, who was taken to the military detention facility at Tarara.

Also beaten was Yaquelin Boni, who witnessed her son, Yasser Rivero Boni, being attacked and rearrested. He had just been released last month after serving four years in prison.

(Below is an image of Yaqulin Boni pursuant to another recent beating at the hands of Castro's secret police.)

Others arrested include independent journalists, Juan Gonzalez Febles and Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca, and Raul Borges, who is the father of political prisoner, Ernesto Borges.

Meanwhile, in the town of Aguada de Pasajeros (Cienfuegos), two members of The Ladies in White, Milaidis Espino Diaz and Niurvis de La Rosa Hernandez, were barred from attending Mass by the parish priest.

This behavior, akin to the Obama Administration's during the U.S. Embassy flag-raising ceremony, doesn't bode well for the upcoming visit of Pope Francis.

This is "what change looks like" in Cuba.


(Edi Israel/Flash90)
Israeli desalination plant

Jewish National Fund (JNF) has announced that it will host a series of water summits across the United States in order to share Israel’s drought solutions with American communities.
Seth M. Siegel, author of the upcoming book “Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water-Starved World,” will be the keynote speaker at summits in Chicago (Oct. 26, 2015); Austin, Texas (Dec. 1-3, 2015); San Diego (Dec. 8-10, 2015); Denver (Jan. 26-28, 2016); Las Vegas (Feb. 2-4, 2016); Los Angeles (March 1-3, 2016); Washington, DC (June 8-9, 2016); Albany, N.Y. (TBD); Boston (TBD); New York City (TBD); and Phoenix.
“We are on the brink of a global water crisis and California’s drought is only the beginning,” Siegel said. “The U.S. government predicts that 40 of our 50 states—and 60 percent of the Earth’s land surface—will soon face alarming gaps between the supply and growing demand for water. Without immediate action, food prices will rise, economic growth will slow, and political instability is likely to follow. I thought that rather than just laying out the problem, concerned citizens and policymakers would want to have a model for what actually works and how we can blunt the worst of this coming water crisis. Israel is that model.”
Laureine Greenbaum, chair of JNF’s National Water Task Force, said, “For many years, JNF has worked to help bolster Israel’s water economy by developing alternative water sources and advancing Israeli agriculture while improving the environmental water quality and saving the country millions every year. We are so happy to partner with Seth on these summits to heighten American awareness on this relevant and urgent issue.”
By: JNS.org

WATCH: A Muslim Woman Who Loves Her Country – Israel!

Israeli Arabs Who Love Israel

There are many Arab-Israeli citizens who love living and working in the State of Israel. Watch an inspiring, young Muslim share her love for her country – Israel!
Meet Kothar, a Muslim Arab woman who truly loves the experience of living and working in Israel.
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She proudly affirms that when people boycott Israel, “they are boycotting me!”
It’s a story you won’t want to miss – tell all your friends to watch it too!
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President Barack Obama. (AP/Gerald Herbert)
President Barack Obama

President Obama addressed the American Jewish community to defend the Iran nuclear deal and express support for Israel, calling the disagreement an argument ‘within the family’.
Iran deal
Delegates of the P5+1 Powers and Iran at the signing of the nuclear accord. (Joe Klamar/AP)
President Barack Obama on Friday compared tensions between the US and Israel over the Iranian nuclear deal to a family feud and said he expects quick improvements in ties between the longtime allies once the accord is implemented.
The president’s comments came as momentum for the nuclear accord grew on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers will vote next month on a resolution to disapprove of the deal. Democratic Senator Tom Carper became the 30th senator to publicly back the agreement, saying Friday that it was a good deal for America and for allies like Israel.
“Like all families, sometimes there are going to be disagreements,” Obama said in a webcast with Jewish Americans. “And sometimes people get angrier about disagreements in families than with folks that aren’t family.”
If Senate Democrats can amass 41 votes in favor of the deal, they could block passage of the disapproval resolution. Obama has vowed to veto the resolution if it passes, and Democrats could hold off Republican efforts to override his veto if they get 34 votes — just four more than they have now.
The looming congressional confrontation has sparked a summer of intense debate between supporters and opponents of the nuclear accord.
The president encouraged skeptics of the agreement to “overcome the emotions” that have infused the debate and evaluate the accord based on facts.
“I would suggest that in terms of the tone of this debate everybody keep in mind that we’re all pro-Israel,” he said. “We have to make sure that we don’t impugn people’s motives.”
While Obama was measured in his remarks Friday, he has spoken passionately about the nuclear accord in the past, accusing those who oppose the deal of supporting war over diplomacy.
Earlier Friday, his spokesman equated an anti-deal rally Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz plan to hold next month to a “pro-war rally.”
Obama also infuriated congressional Republicans earlier this month when he compared opponents of the agreement to Iranian hardliners who chant “Death to America” in the streets of Tehran.
Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said Friday that Republicans were still waiting for the president to retract that assertion.

Attempts at Reconciliation

As he has in previous speeches and interviews, Obama sought to refute criticism of the accord point by point. He disputed the notion that Iran would funnel the bulk of the money it receives from the sanctions relief into terrorism, saying Iranian leaders are more likely to try to bolster their weak economy. He also said the agreement wasn’t built on trusting Iran’s government, which frequently spouts anti-American and anti-Israeli rhetoric.
Obama and Netanyahu
US President Barack Obama (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (AP)
“It’s precisely because we’re not counting on the nature of the regime to change that it’s so important for us to make sure they don’t have a nuclear weapon,” he said.
Friday’s webcast was hosted by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and The Jewish Federations of North America. Organizers said thousands of people participated and questions submitted online were selected by the moderators.
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, one of the fiercest critics of the nuclear agreement, took part in a similar webcast hosted by the same organizations earlier this month. While Obama and Netanyahu have never had a warm relationship, the Iran deal has deeply strained ties between the leaders.
Obama said once the nuclear accord is implemented, he expects “pretty quick” improvements in US-Israeli relations. He called for resuming talks with Israel over ways to boost its security in a dangerous neighborhood.
In the weeks following completion of the nuclear deal, Israeli officials have reportedly resisted discussing increased security assistance with the US because they say such talks would imply acceptance of the accord.
By: AP and United with Israel Staff

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Israeli wounded in Palestinian drive-by terror attack

An Israeli citizen was wounded in the latest of a rapidly growing string of Palestinian terror attacks in Judea and Samaria.   
By: Aryeh Savir, World Israel News
IDF forces at the scene of a previous terror attack in Samaria. (Basel Safadi/Flash90)
An Israeli civilian was lightly wounded on Sunday afternoon when Palestinian terrorists fired on the vehicle he was driving on a main route in Samaria.
The terrorists fired at the man as they were driving past him. They then fled the scene, reportedly towards the city of Shechem (Nablus), which is under control of the Palestinian Authority (PA).
The Israeli, 46, was lightly wounded in his legs and managed to drive to the entrance of the nearby community of Kedumim, where he received preliminary medical treatment by IDF and Magen David Adom (Israeli Red Cross) medics before being evacuated to Meir Hospital in Kfar Saba, near Tel Aviv. According to one report, the victim himself is a volunteer ambulance driver.
The IDF rapidly deployed forces in an attempt to capture the assailants.
The victim expressed anger at the precarious security situation that the Israeli residents of Judea and Samaria are forced to endure. “I feel like it’s a Russian roulette,” he said, according to a spokesperson from the Samaria Regional Council. “You drive on the road and all of the sudden they shoot at you. I am a citizen of the State of Israel, and I want to feel safe in my country.”  He also said he was grateful to God for saving his life.
Yossi Dagan, head of the Samaria Regional Council and a close friend of the victim, called on the Israeli government to change its policy. “It is inconceivable that the government has bound the IDF’s hands and does not enable it to defend the citizens of Israel, and that is exactly what happened here,” he stated, after speaking to the victim by phone. “There used to be a security barrier exactly where the terror attack occurred, which was removed ‘as not to hinder the Palestinians’ daily routine.’ The attack would have been prevented if the barrier was there.”
This incident is the latest terror attack in a rapidly growing string of attacks by Palestinian terrorists against Israeli security forces and civilians.
The previous night, an IDF soldier was lightly wounded in a car terror attack in the Hebron area in Judea.
The attack occurred two months after two separate attacks by Palestinian terrorists that claimed the lives of Malachi Rosenfeld and Danny Gonen, both 25.