CubaBrief: United States holds the Castro regime to account and imposes travel sanctions on Raul Castro and his family

The decision by the United States today to impose travel sanctions on Raul Castro and his progeny is targeted and holds the dictator, and the family members benefiting from his rule accountable. Matt Spetalnick, in his Reuters article, “U.S. issues travel ban for Cuba’s Castro over human rights accusations, support for Venezuela’s Maduro,” calls it “symbolic,” but if strictly applied so that regime elites are unable to go on shopping sprees in the United States it will have a real impact. It finally breaks the bubble of impunity that they have too often enjoyed.

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In 2012 while the Castro regime held U.S. citizen Alan Gross hostage in a Cuban prison, in conditions were he lost many of his teeth, and was left emaciated, Raul Castro’s grand kid was going on a shopping spree and partying in New York City. This sent a message that the United States was not serious about holding the dictatorship accountable.

Things have changed, and the Castro military junta is being held to account.

Ambassador Michael G. Kozak, the Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs in the U.S. State Department is a career diplomat with a strong record on human rights, and experience dealing with Cuba that stretches back decades. He has called attention to the lie that there is a “blockade” on Cuba.

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Furthermore, calling out these falsehoods of the Castro regime’s propaganda on trade between the two countries is another important step in U.S. diplomacy that needs to be repeated and underscored. The chicken Cubans are eating in Havana was purchased by the Castro regime from Hudson Midwest Foods, a subsidiary of the U.S. company Tyson foods.The food is packaged in the red, white and blue of the American flag. Havana has been purchasing U.S. agricultural products for close to two decades.

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There also needs to be more focus on the realities surrounding healthcare in Cuba. The New York Times in a September 29, 2017 article titled “Cuban Doctors Revolt: ‘You Get Tired of Being a Slave” exposed the Castro regime’s trafficking in medical professionals.

“In a rare act of collective defiance, scores of Cuban doctors working overseas to make money for their families and their country are suing to break ranks with the Cuban government, demanding to be released from what one judge called a “form of slave labor.” Thousands of Cuban doctors work abroad under contracts with the Cuban authorities. Countries like Brazil pay the island’s Communist government millions of dollars every month to provide the medical services, effectively making the doctors Cuba’s most valuable export.”

The New York Times also reported on how Cuban doctors in Venezuela were ordered to deny or ration care to advance Nicolas Maduro’s election prospects in the March 17, 2019 article, “It Is Unspeakable’: How Maduro Used Cuban Doctors to Coerce Venezuela Voters.” Today at the Foreign Press Center in New York City Cuban doctors testified on their ill treatment in overseas assignments. Ambassador Kozak issued an urgent call for action “to investigate these medical missions and pursue justice for Cuban doctors.”

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Returning to the initial report that travel sanctions were issued today against Raul Castro, and his immediate family, due to human rights abuses committed in Cuba, and the Cuban dictator’s support for the Maduro dictatorship in Venezuela. Economic sanctions, travel sanctions and refuting regime propaganda with facts, if sustained, can have a huge impact that will contribute to the return of democracy both in Cuba and Venezuela. Below is the Reuters article announcing the new policy.

Reuters, September 26, 2019

U.S. issues travel ban for Cuba’s Castro over human rights accusations, support for Venezuela’s Maduro

By Matt Spetalnick

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration on Thursday imposed U.S. travel sanctions on Cuban Communist Party chief Raul Castro over his support for Venezuela’s socialist president, Nicolas Maduro, and involvement in what it called “gross violations of human rights.”

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Taking a direct but largely symbolic swipe at Cuba’s leadership as part of U.S. President Donald Trump’s continuing pressure campaign against Havana, the State Department banned travel to the United States by Castro, Cuba’s former president and younger brother of the late Fidel Castro, as well as family members.

“Castro is responsible for Cuba’s actions to prop up the former Maduro regime in Venezuela through violence, intimidation, and repression,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

In addition to Castro, the State Department also sanctioned his children, Alejandro Castro Espin, Deborah Castro Espin, Mariela Castro Espin, and Nilsa Castro Espin.

The measures that Pompeo said would block their entry to the United States are likely to have limited impact. Castro last visited in 2015 to address the United Nations General Assembly. His children are also believed to have rarely traveled to the United States. Mariela Castro Espin, a gay rights activist, made stops in New York and San Francisco in 2012.

Pompeo also accused Castro, Cuba’s most powerful figure, of overseeing “a system that arbitrarily detains thousands of Cubans and currently holds more than 100 political prisoners.”

The Cuban government, which strongly rejects such accusations, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

It was the latest in a series of punitive measures that Trump has taken against Washington’s old Cold War foe since taking office in 2017, steadily rolling back the historic opening to Havana under his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama.

Trump has focused especially on Cuba’s support for Maduro, a longtime ally of Havana. Earlier this year, the United States and dozens of other countries recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful president, though Maduro retains the backing of Russia and China as well as the OPEC nation’s military.

“In concert with Maduro’s military and intelligence officers, members of the Cuban security forces have been involved in gross human rights violations and abuses in Venezuela, including torture,” Pompeo said. Cuba has strongly denied the U.S. accusations.

Speaking in New York while attending the U.N. General Assembly, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza scoffed at the U.S. measure against Castro, saying it was an attempt to humiliate him.

“And neither Raul Castro nor his family even want to come to this country! We are forced to come here because the U.N. headquarters is in New York, for now,” said Arreaza, referring to a similar U.S. travel bar on Venezuelan officials and citing a Russian offer to host the United Nations in Sochi.

Last week, the Trump administration ordered the expulsion of two members of Cuba’s delegation to the United Nations.

Washington has made clear that a key objective of its tough approach to Cuba is to force it to abandon Maduro, something Havana has said it will never do. However, Trump has stopped short of breaking off diplomatic relations with Cuba restored by Obama in 2015 after more than five decades of hostility.

Maduro has accused Guaido – who earlier this year assumed an interim presidency after alleging that Maduro had rigged the last election – of trying to mount a U.S.-directed coup.

“Castro is complicit in undermining Venezuela’s democracy and triggering the hemisphere’s largest humanitarian crisis,” Pompeo said.

Reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert in Washington, Sarah Marsh and Marc Frank in Havana; and Andrew Cawthorne in Caracas; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Lisa Shumaker