CUBA BRIEF: Elliott Abrams on Noriega’s death, Former Latin American Presidents speak out on Venezuela, Reagan won’t travel to Cuba until it is free, and a Cuban Appeal to President Trump

While a contingent of Cuban agents, experts on repression remain in Venezuela helping to keep Nicolas Maduro in power, a large group of former Latin American presidents issued an urgent appeal to governments in the region to help return Venezuela to the rule of law and civil liberties. The dramatic images of thousands on the streets and many killed failed to prevent Goldman Sachs from purchasing $2.8 billion of Venezuelan bonds for $865 million according to The Wall Street Journal. The Journal also reports that other investors “are distancing themselves from investing in the country because of the association it would carry with the Venezuelan government. ‘We don’t want to make a quick buck and take on reputational risk,’ “ said a managing director of a major investment firm. That “reputational risk” should be taken into account by foreign investors propping up Maduro in Caracas and the Castro regime in Cuba. 

In this brief “An Appeal to the White House”, “Reagan: Won’t visit Cuba until people are free” and Elliott Abrams on Manuel Noriega’s death: — “We should avoid deluding ourselves about the nature of such regimes and such men.”


Diario de Cuba, May 30, 2017

Editorial: An Appeal to the White House

Diario de Cuba | Madrid

Castroism’s plans for 2018 are clear: to officially sanction the transfer of power to the family’s heirs and double down on the kind of state capitalism that the Castros and the military elite already administrate.

This road map involves two farcical elections beginning in November 2017 – municipal and parliamentary ones. In the municipal elections several dozen independent candidates will try to run, for the first time, and after the second ones Raúl Castro might step down from the presidency of the country, which would mean that, for the first time in decades, and at least nominally, a Castro will no longer head up Cuba.

Both events will give rise to an unprecedented scenario and generate dynamics that are difficult to predict, even for the regime itself. The current spike in repression against any form of ndependence on the Island is linked to the authorities’ uncertainty, as they are made even more nervous by the volatile situation facing their Venezuelan ally Nicolás Maduro.

In this context, the White House has proposed withdrawing funds supporting democracy in Cuba. The issue is still to be debated in Congress, but its ultimate approval would have serious consequences for the Cuban democratic cause. [More]


Pressure Points , May 30, 2017

Manuel Noriega, 1934-2017

— “We should avoid deluding ourselves about the nature of such regimes and such men.”

Blog Post by Elliott Abrams

May 30, 2017

Manuel Noriega died over the weekend, and therein lie many tales.

The ancient Latin bromide de mortuis nihil nisi bonum must be stretched to discuss Noriega, who until his capture and jailing by the United States did a great deal of harm as Panama’s dictator. It was to end the abuses, overthrow him, and to stop his trafficking in drugs that President George H.W. Bush invaded Panama in 1989.

Back in the Reagan years, Noriega had a chance to escape what were ultimately decades in prison. A good account of the circumstances exists in former secretary of state George P. Shultz’s memoir, Turmoil and Triumph. For years we at State (Shultz, and I as Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs) urged more pressure against Noriega’s nefarious activities, but we were opposed by Secretary of Defense Weinberger and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Crowe. In their view, the United States had serious interests at stake in Panama—the Canal, and about 35,000 Americans living there—so we should just pipe down about human rights abuses and other Noriega problems. Then in 1988, the U.S. Attorney in Miami indicted Noriega (without prior consultation with Washington) for drug trafficking. Shultz and I wanted to negotiate a deal whereby Noriega would leave power in exchange for our quashing the drug indictment against him. Our reasoning was that the indictment was useless anyway while he ruled Panama, and both the United States and Panama would benefit from his departure.

As Shultz recounts, Vice President Bush (speaking mostly through then-Secretary of the Treasury James Baker) opposed this outcome, in my view because Bush was running for president and worried that quashing the indictment would make him seem soft on drugs. President Reagan ruled against him, siding with Shultz; Bush and Baker never forgave Shultz. In the four years George H. W. Bush was president and James Baker was secretary of state, Shultz was invited back to the State Department exactly one time—when his official portrait was unveiled.

We negotiated with Noriega once President Reagan gave the go-ahead, but he refused a deal. As the saying goes, big mistake. There’s another story worth telling here, about Noriega and Reagan. At one of our briefings, the President asked who would succeed Noriega as strongman and head of the Panama National Guard, as its army was then called, if he agreed to leave. Shultz had known the question was coming and had asked me to be sure I knew the answer. So, consulting with colleagues at State and CIA, I knew who would likely succeed Noriega and knew a good deal about him. He was Col. Marcos Justines, if my memory is correct. When the president asked the question, that’s the answer I gave. President Reagan then said, “Well, is he another drug dealer, just like Noriega?” Because I knew the file, I had the satisfaction of answering the president: “No, no, he does not appear to be involved with drugs at all. He is in charge of prostitution.” This elicited a sardonic smile from the president. Such were the choices we faced at the time in Panama. [More] 


Casper Star Tribune, May 30, 2017

Reagan: Won’t visit Cuba until people are free

By Michael Reagan

Expedia is now booking hotels in Cuba.

American Airlines is flying American tourists from Miami to Havana.

For more than a year American-owned cruise lines have been hauling U.S. citizens by the thousands to the Castro brothers’ beautiful socialist paradise 90 miles off the tip of Florida.

Thanks to President Barack Obama’s decision to liberalize relations with Cuba in 2015, the island is now open to direct visits by American tourists.

I can’t believe how excited so many Americans are to get a chance to see some ‘57 Chevys and Buicks and visit a country that has been wrecked and essentially frozen in time by a dictatorship since JFK was president.

I’d love to see Cuba, too. Its people, culture and beaches are beautiful. Its pre-Fidel history and Spanish heritage are rich.

My wife is in the travel business, so I could go on a cruise to Havana for peanuts anytime I wanted.

But as long as Raul Castro and the other thugs in the Communist Party remain in power in Cuba, I promise I’ll never go there.  [More]


14ymedio, May 28, 2017

The Kremlin is Back

By Yoani Sanchez

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 28 May 2017 — After decades of intense contact, the Russians left few footprints in Cuba. Some young people with the names Vladimir or Natacha, or the nesting matrioshka dolls decorating a few rooms, are the last vestiges of that relationship. However, in recent years the links between Havana and Moscow have gained strength. The Kremlin is back.

Russia has long been disembarking in Latin America into the hands of those same governments that in international forums demand a greater respect for sovereignty and “the free choice of the people.” Its populist leaders, in part to annoy the United States, make alliances with Vladimir Putin under the premise that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

That type of partnership allowed Venezuela’s Miraflores Palace to be equipped with 5,000 shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles (MANPADS), according to a document recently published by Reuters. The arsenal began to be accumulated in the time of the late President Hugo Chavez, but is more dangerous now amid the political instability that is leading Nicholas Maduro to falter.

In Central America, Nicaragua functions as the gateway for the voracious superpower. Daniel Ortega has about 50 combat tanks sent by Moscow and his territory serves as a site for Russian military advisers. The corrupt system of the Sandinistas creates a favorable scenario for the former KGB official’s desire for expansion. [More]