CubaBrief: Normalizing Cuban relations has proven disastrous

In responding to the June 16 Editorial in The Gainesville Sun there was so much to respond to that several facts were left out. One important fact is that OAS General Secretary Luis Almagro, a man of the Left, stated In a December 2018 conference on human rights in Cuba: “It is estimated that there are some 46,000 Cubans in Venezuela, an occupation force that teaches how to torture and repress, that performs intelligence, civil identification, and migration services.”

A second relevant fact is that Venezuela’s interim president, Juan Guaidó in an interview on May 29, 2019 in El Nuevo Herald stated that “[t]he intelligence network has been somewhat diminished by cutting off the supply of oil to Cuba [with sanctions]. The support of our allies leaves these networks without funding. Through these actions that network is weaker than a year ago.”

A third far reaching fact is that the regime in Cuba, through their client state in Venezuela, continues to directly aid terrorist and guerrilla groups both in Latin America and Europe.

Martin Arostegui in the June 26, 2019 Voice of America article “Spain Separatists’ Terror Link to Venezuela Appears Well-trodden” reveals that whereas most Venezuelans have to struggle through endless bureaucracy to obtain passports, members of ETA, FARC and other insurgent groups who have never set foot in Venezuela, have received passports under a false identity from SAIME (Venezuela’s Administrative Service of Identification, Migration and Immigration. Not mentioned is the role the Castro regime plays in the issuing of identity documents in the South American country.

In 2015 an anonymous source leaked 11.5 million documents that detail financial and attorney-client information for more than 214,000 offshore entities in what has become known as the Panama Papers. According to 14ymedio in a April 5, 2016 article the Panama Papers revealed that the “Cuban government maintains strict control over the system of customizing passports and electronic identity cards in [Venezuela].”

Below is the response posted by The Gainesville Sun today.

Opinion John Suarez: Normalizing Cuban relations has proven disastrous

The Gainesville Sun, July 2, 2019

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Mario de la Peña carries a poster with the photos of the four pilots shot down by Cubans MiGs, during a freedom for Cuba march in Miami in 2011. His son Mario de la Peña, top right, was among the pilots. [AP Photo/ Alan Diaz, File]

By John Suarez / Special to The Sun

The June 16 editorial in The Sun, “Cuban travel limits hit wrong target,” raises several straw man arguments.

The claim that trade and tourism with the Castro regime will provide “an economic lifeline for the Cuban people” is untrue. During President Barack Obama’s détente with Cuba, the Cuban military’s role in the tourist economy expanded and further centralized economic control.

Out of a population of 11 million Cubans, 500,000 “work for themselves.” Cuban law restricts Cubans living on the island from starting their own companies, reports the Miami Herald: “Private sector workers in Cuba, known as cuentapropistas, are licensed only to work for themselves and cannot legally establish companies to expand their work beyond a small scale. Larger enterprises are allowed only for the government and foreigners.” For the self-employed to obtain the license, they must be politically loyal to Castro.

Claims that restrictions on trade and travel have remained constant over the decades, and were designed to overthrow Fidel Castro, are false. Economic sanctions, according to State Department documents from the early 1960s, were designed to contain Castro’s adventurism and raise the costs for the Russians to back Castro.

President Jimmy Carter in a 1996 interview, published in “Conversations with Carter,” said: “When I had only been in office two months in 1977, I opened up all travel for American citizens to go to Cuba and vice versa. And we opened up an entry section, which is just one step short of a full embassy in both Havana and Washington. And those offices, by the way, are still open.”

The discovery of a Soviet brigade of ground forces operating on Cuban territory and ineptness in handling the 1980 Mariel crisis spelled both the end of the policy and Carter’s defeat in 1980. Normalization of relations during Carter’s watch proved disastrous.

Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas, backed by Castro, took power in 1979. A civil war erupted in El Salvador that same year with efforts of Cuban-backed guerillas to overthrow the existing government. Central America became a bloodbath.

President Ronald Reagan in 1981 reintroduced the travel ban, economic sanctions and turned the tide in the hemisphere. During this period, Latin America experienced its longest and deepest wave of democratization in its history.

On March 1, 1982, Cuba was placed on the list of state terror sponsors. This was after the State Department confirmed that Castro was using a narcotics ring to funnel both arms and cash to the terrorist group then battling to overthrow Colombia’s democracy.

During the Reagan-Bush years, Castro allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit Cuba and its prisons for the first time since 1959 and the U.N. Human Rights Commission took a closer look at human-rights abuses in Cuba. Despite the hard-line policy’s success, the normalization agenda reared up again in the 1990s.

The Clinton administration in 1994 initiated regular contacts between the U.S. and Cuban military that included joint military exercises at the Guantanamo Naval base. Despite closer relations, the 1990s saw brutal massacres of Cubans. There were five separate “incidents” in the summer of 1993.

In 1994, Cuban agents carried out a tugboat massacre that killed 37 Cubans. On Feb. 24, 1996, two planes were blown to bits over international airspace by Cuban MiGs, killing four who were engaged in the search-and-rescue of Cuban rafters.

With 1996 being an election year, Clinton signed the Helms-Burton bill and tightened sanctions on Cuba. Following his re-election he began undermining the new law, shook hands with Fidel Castro in New York City and signed an act that opened cash-and-carry trade with Cuba.

In 1998 the FBI broke up a spy network that plotted terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. The leader of the network, Gerardo Hernandez, was convicted of murder conspiracy for his role in supplying information to the Castro regime that led to the Feb. 24, 1996, shoot-down.

Fidel Castro twice asked the U.S.S.R. to launch a nuclear first strike on the U.S. in the early 1960s and 1980s. Castro armed, trained and sent guerrilla expeditions to Latin America and Africa.

In 2011 and 2012 prominent opposition leaders died under suspicious circumstances. In 2013 Castro was caught smuggling weapons to North Korea in violation of international sanctions.

Despite this, the Obama administration took Cuba off the terror sponsor list, freed Gerardo Hernandez and other Cuban spies serving life sentences, and legitimized the dictatorship internationally by normalizing diplomatic relations.

John Suarez is executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba.