CubaBrief: Post Mortem on the Latino Vote in South Florida for Trump

On November 6, 2020 at 7:17am Cuban opposition leader Berta Soler, currently in Cuba shared the following in Spanish over Facebook: “I am Cuban and I have never had the opportunity to go to the polls to vote for my president. If I could vote in the US I would do it for Trump, but whatever happens in the United States elections I support Donald Trump. He is a President whose policy of state against the communist regime of Cuba has been carried out by him as it should be. Trump 2020”

This black Cuban woman who has spent the last 17 years resisting a white minority dictatorship in Cuba is publicly supporting President Trump and his policy in Cuba. She did this today, when such a stance can cost her much both in Cuba and in the United States. It is important to understand her reasoning, while at the same time listening to other voices and their perspectives on the significance of Latino support for Trump in South Florida.

Tuesday’s majority vote by Cuban Americans, Nicaraguan Americans, Venezuelan Americans, and other Latinos for President Trump in Florida has been met with outrage and confusion in the media. First of all the focus has been on Cuban American voters, while ignoring (for the most part) citizens of Nicaraguan, Venezuelan, or other Latin American origin. There have also been attempts to explain this vote that disregard the agency of these voters.

For example in Vogue magazine on November 6th, Paola Ramos, argues that “Trump reopened people’s wounds. He tapped into that feeling of betrayal by falsely but very masterfully casting Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the return of communism.” William Kelly, a PhD candidate in Latin American and Caribbean history at Rutgers University, makes the argument that Trump’s “brashness and a bravado” attract younger Cuban Americans, who recently arrived from Cuba, who ” admire him for espousing their breed of economic self-sufficiency, and they are familiar with his brand of politics.” Mr. Kelly spends time painting a positive picture of the Castro regime, as the “global face of the struggle against oppression.” He also mentioned that Castro “swiftly and systematically restructured every aspect of the Cuban government to bring it under his direct control,” but failed to mention the regime’s role in genocide in Ethiopia or mass televised executions in Cuba.

Ms. Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, a cultural anthropologist, writing for North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) makes a similar argument about recently arrived Cubans presenting a caricature of Cuban Americans describing how she ” can tell the Trump supporters’ houses from the Democrats’, not just because of their Blue Lives Matter, QAnon, Trump or plain U.S. flags, but because of their spectacular displays of all kinds.”

Both Hernandez and Kelly when discussing immigration and Cubans do not mention that it was the Obama Administration that on January 12, 2017 closed the door on Cuban refugees when they ended the Wet Foot Dry Foot policy and the asylum policy for trafficked Cuban doctors, two long term demands of the Castro regime. Kelly doesn’t mention Wet Foot Dry Foot, but Hernandez-Requant does, but fails to mention the Obama Administration’s role in ending it.

At The New York Times, Nikole Hannah Jones, of the 1619 Project, looked to cast the vote by Cuban Americans within the lens of race and whiteness, and identified Cubans as white as opposed to other Latino groups, such as Puerto Ricans who she identifies as black or Guatemalans that she identifies as indigenous.

The problem with Ms. Jones race based argument is that Cuban Americans and other hispanics of all racial origins in South Florida not only came out to vote for Trump, but many took to the streets to support the Republican candidate, and the images are not just “white Cubans”.

On the immigration policy front the choice between Republicans and Democrats for Cubans is a mixed bag. This raises the question what drove Cuban, Venezuelan, Nicaraguan, and Colombian voters into the Republican camp in 2020? The Biden campaign failed to address an unpopular policy, and doubled down on it instead.

Andres Oppenheimer’s column “Biden blew it with Miami’s Cuban, Venezuelan voters, and got clobbered” was published on Nov. 4, 2020 and he laid out a pre-existing problem the Vice President had with Cuban American voters. “Many Cuban exiles, especially older ones, still resent President Obama’s 2014 decision to restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba. Biden, then vice president, was part of that move.” … “But Biden could have overcome that by admitting that the Obama administration’s opening with Cuba has not worked as it should.” Instead for far too long in 2020 the campaign claimed that things had been better for Cubans under the Obama Cuba policy.

A partial review of what took place demonstrates why it remains unpopular.

On April 17, 2009 President Barack Obama said that his Administration sought “a new beginning with Cuba” and stated further that he was “prepared to have my administration engage with the Cuban government on a wide range of issues — from human rights, free speech, and democratic reform to drugs, migration, and economic issues.” 

Towards the end of 2009 the White House was tested by Havana when U.S. citizen Alan Gross was taken and held hostage by the Castro regime. U.S. diplomats did not see him until 25 days later. Furthermore, the policy of rapprochement and loosening of sanctions continued despite Gross’s continued detention.

On January 14, 2010 the “illegal” Cuban Commission for Human Rights, reported the confirmed deaths of at least 20 mental patients at the Psychiatric Hospital known as Mazorra due to “criminal negligence by a government characterized by its general inefficiency” and a day later the Cuban government confirmed that 26 patients had died due to “prolonged low temperatures that fell to 38 degrees.” This only occurred because the images of the victims had been leaked and reported by independent journalists.

On February 23, 2010 Cuban prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo died after a prolonged hunger strike. He had been the victim of numerous beatings and ill treatment that rose to the level of torture over nearly seven years that drove him to go on a water only hunger strike. Prison guards periodically cut off his access to water, contributing to his death.

Extrajudicial killings continued at a higher documented rate than in prior years.

Cuban human rights defender Juan Wilfredo Soto García died on May 8, 2011, three days after being beaten up by police officers in a public park in Santa Clara, Cuba. Amnesty International raised concerns on the circumstances surrounding his death. Juan Wilfredo had previously been a political prisoner for 12 years.

Laura Inés Pollán Toledo, a courageous woman spoke truth to power and protested in the streets of Cuba demanding an amnesty for Cuban political prisoners. She had been a school teacher, before her husband was jailed for his independent journalism in 2003 along with more than 75 other civil society members. Laura was greatly admired both inside and outside of the island.

Laura reached out to the wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters of the 75 prisoners of conscience jailed in March of 2003 among them was her husband, they founded the Ladies in White, and they carried out a sustained nonviolent campaign that after nine years obtained the freedom of their loved ones. Since she did not dissolve the Ladies in White when her husband returned home because she recognized that the laws had not changed, and that political prisoners remained behind bars and that she would continue her human rights activism, the Castro regime did away with her on October 14, 2011. Berta Soler was elected the new leader of the Ladies in White following the founder’s death.

On July 22, 2012 Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, founder and leader of the Christian Liberation Movement and Harold Cepero Escalante, member of the cited movement, lost their lives on the Las Tunas-Bayamo highway, in Cuba. Evidence that the “car accident” was a premeditated act arranged for Oswaldo Paya was that this was not the first time; the regime had also tried with another vehicle 20 days earlier while he was in Havana. The East German Stasi trained the Cuban State Security service known as “G2” and one of its standard tactics was arranging car accidents. Calls for an international investigation continue to circulate and fall on deaf ears. Their movement had launched a petition drive that obtained over 24,000 signatures demanding human rights reforms in an initiative called the Varela Project that forced the regime to change the Constitution to block this type of petition in the future.

The Obama White House and the Castro regime began having secret meetings in June 2013 in Canada. These meetings continued throughout 2013 and 2014. Reporting on these meetings do not mention any reaction to provocative actions by the Cuban dictatorship.

On July 15, 2013 the Cuban government was caught red handed smuggling tons of weapons to North Korea.  This was confirmed by a March 6, 2014 report by a panel of experts for the United Nations Security Council that also reported:

6. In addition, various parts for three SA-2 and six SA-3 missiles were in the cargo, such as the nose cones housing proximity fuses, auto-pilots and transponders, transmitter antennas and some actuators (figure 4). 4 __________________ 4 The Panel notes that some of the SA-2 and SA-3 parts could also meet the criteria defined in the list of items, materials, equipment, goods and technology related to ballistic missile programmes (S/2012/947), whose export and import by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are prohibited. See in particular the Category II, Item 9 of S/2012/947 covering “instrumentation, navigation and direction finding”

There were no consequences for this action of by Havana that was also illegal under international law because the White House had prioritized the normalization of relations with Cuba, and pressed ahead with their secret negotiations.

On December 17, 2014 both President Obama and General Raul Castro announced that they intended to normalize relations. Alan Gross was finally free after nearly five years in captivity, travel would be further liberalized and that some Cuban political prisoners were to be freed was news that would be received positively.

Alan Gross: Before and after his five years of captivity in Cuba

Alan Gross: Before and after his five years of captivity in Cuba

Many Cuban Americans were outraged for a number of reasons. Three spies who had spied on military installations, congressional offices,and had plotted terrorist acts in the United States were returned to Cuba. This spy network had been implicated in the February 24, 1996 murder of three American citizens and one American resident were freed in a swap, setting a terrible precedent. Kidnapping an American and holding him for ransom for five years paid off.  Moderate elements within the dictatorship, seeking to transition Cuba into a responsible member of the family of nations, would remain silent. Gerardo Hernandez, who was serving a double life sentence for espionage and murder conspiracy, returned to Cuba and is now in charge of spying on Cubans domestically through the national network of the Committees in Defense of the Revolution.

Things did not improve, and the consequences of the opening became better known.

On February 3, 2015, Rosa María Payá, in testimony before a subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, indicted the indifference of the US government and the international community: “The Cuban government wouldn’t have dared to carry out its death threats against my father if the U.S. government and the democratic world had been showing solidarity. If you turn your face, impunity rages. While you slept, the regime was conceiving their cleansing of the pro-democracy leaders to come.”

Rosa Maria Paya addresses US Senate Committee

Rosa Maria Paya addresses US Senate Committee

On April 8, 2015 Cuban diplomats streamed out of the Cuban Embassy in Panama attacked civil society representatives who were laying flowers at a bust of Jose Marti in a public park nearby. Several activists were injured and at least one required surgery. During the Summit of the Americas Cuban diplomats disrupted official meetings in order to block Cuban and Venezuelan dissidents from taking part, despite being officially accredited. It was during this Summit that President Obama and General Raul Castro met in a high profile meeting.

Cubans assaulted by Castro diplomats in Panama in 2015

Cubans assaulted by Castro diplomats in Panama in 2015

The situation for reformist elements in Cuba did not improve.

Cuban dissident Sirley Ávila León, age 56, was gravely wounded in a machete attack on May 24, 2015 by Osmany Carrión who had been “sent by state security thugs” and that she is sure that the aggression “was politically motivated.” The attack was severe enough that she suffered deep cuts to her neck and knees, lost her left hand and nearly lost her right arm. Sirley had been a local official who had sought the reopening of a school for Cuban children, and drew the ire of the dictatorship with her persistent demands.

Sirley Avila Leon attacked for speaking out for children.

Sirley Avila Leon attacked for speaking out for children.

On May 29, 2015 the State Department removed Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, despite evidence of continued bad actions.

On Monday, July 20, 2015 at the State Department, Rosa Maria Payá Acevedo attended a press conference with Secretary of State John Kerry and Castro’s foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez. Rosa Maria had proper accreditation as a member of the press. Rear Admiral John Kirby, the State Department spokesman, took Rosa Maria aside and warned her that she would be physically removed if she asked any questions.

The United States reopened its Embassy in Havana, Cuba on August 14, 2015, but did not invite Cuban human rights defenders to the flag raising ceremony in what the media labeled a snub. The State Department argued that it was a government to government affair and that there was not enough space to accommodate the dissidents. However, the State Department did accommodate “entrepreneurs and Cuban American activists” who flew down with Kerry and his official delegation. Despite the plane load of lobbyists and businessmen CNN anchor Jake Tapper in a tweet observed that there was plenty of space to have invited Cuban dissidents.

On January 7, 2016 The Wall Street Journal broke the story that in 2014 an inert US Hellfire missile sent to Europe for a training exercise was wrongly shipped on to Cuba. Since then the United States has been asking the Cuban dictatorship to return the missile but it has not done so. Only after the embarrassing news broke was it returned, but no doubt all the technical specs had been deciphered by then and given (or sold) to America’s enemies.

Three days before President Obama arrived in Cuba, in March 2016 Roberto Ampuero, a Chilean former Minister of Culture and former Ambassador to Mexico tweeted in Spanish: “Paradox: After decades backing Right wing dictatorships in Latin America, now the United States could end up backing a Left wing dictatorship.”

On October 14, 2016 the Obama Administration issued a presidential policy directive on United States – Cuba normalization that instructed the “Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) [to] support broader United States Government efforts to normalize relations with Cuba, with Intelligence Community elements working to find opportunities for engagement on areas of common interest through which we could exchange information on mutual threats with Cuban counterparts.” John Schindler, a security expert and former National Security Agency analyst and counterintelligence officer, revealed that the above directive was opening the door for Castro’s spies in the United States.

Schindler warned that “[g]iven how successful Havana has been at conducting espionage against us, on our own soil, without such large embassies and consulates, there’s every reason to expect Cuban spying to get more aggressive—and effective—in the near future.”

Returning to this policy in the Biden Administration would “unilaterally declared a truce in [America’s] half-century SpyWar with Cuba, but there’s no indication Havana [will do] the same.” This type of policy rightfully frightens Cuban Americans and Venezuelan Americans and it should.

Unfortunately, it was the Obama Administration’s Cuba policy announced on December 17, 2014 and the President’s official state visit in March 2016 that negatively impacted international solidarity and human rights in Cuba, and this included Europe. The decision of the European Union to “open a new chapter” on relations with Havana that dropped human rights as a condition for normalization ended the 1996 European Common Position. This abandonment of a linkage between human rights and commerce was formalized in a December 12, 2016 signing ceremony that did great harm to the cause of human rights in Cuba.

There is much more and the opening ended with scores of brain damaged U.S. diplomats stationed in Cuba, beginning in November 2016.  Cuban troops reviewed by Raul Castro on January 2, 2017 chanting that they would shoot President Obama so many times in the head that they would make him a hat out of bullets is further evidence that the policy failed.

Video grab of Cuban troops marching on January 2, 2017 threatening Obama

Video grab of Cuban troops marching on January 2, 2017 threatening Obama

Candidate Donald Trump in 2016 initially said that he backed the Obama opening, but that he would have gotten a better deal. While holding this position he was polling in the low 30s with Cuban Americans, but when he changed and began advocating undoing the Obama Cuba policy his poll numbers jumped into the 50s, and the Cuban American vote in 2016 played a key role in his election. Hillary Clinton had publicly supported continuing the Obama Cuba policy.

President Trump followed through in dismantling much of the Obama opening, and pressed further than other Presidents in fully enforcing Helms-Burton, and this led to higher levels of support among Cuban American voters.

Vice President Biden doubled down on the old policy.

Mr. Biden, reported Mary O’Grady in her November 1, 2020 column, “has said that he would restore the Obama rapprochement with Cuba. He added that he would ‘insist’ the Cubans ‘keep the commitments they said they would make when we, in fact, set the policy in place.’ But on human rights Cuba didn’t give an inch under the Obama thaw. Democracy advocates rightly posit that U.S. investments in ventures owned by the military dictatorship strengthen the regime.”

Worse yet, for Democrats seeking a win in Florida, during the Democratic primary, Senator Bernie Sanders celebrated the Castro regime’s education system (which is a center of indoctrination) and healthcare system, which is not only mediocre for most Cubans, but conditional on political loyalty. Most Cuban Americans breathed a sigh of relief when Biden defeated him, but became nervous when he later embraced Sanders, trying to appeal to the Left Wing base of the Democratic Party. James Freeman writing in The Wall Street Journal on November 4, 2020 called the Democratic nominee to task. “Attempting to generate leftist enthusiasm for a listless campaign, Vice President Joe Biden did the country a disservice by partially embracing the radical Sen. Bernie Sanders (Socialist, Vt.), rather than appropriately shunning him.”

The vote for Trump by Cuban Americans had a threefold significance: 1. Punishing Obama-Biden for the failed detente with Havana that they continued to call a success. 2. Gratitude for Trump-Pence dismantling the Obama detente and identifying the true nature of the dictatorship. 3. To vote against the Party who had major candidates such as Bernie Sanders celebrating the “achievements” of the Castro regime, and omitting its bloody history.

Venezuelans and Nicaraguans joined with Cubans, because their countries came under the domination of the Cuban military and its intelligence services with dictators backed by Havana in Caracas and Managua.

One can argue with this position, but to attempt to portray it as an appeal to painful memories, shallow materialism, or racial grievance does a disservice not only to these hispanic communities in South Florida, but to those seeking to understand and better approach these communities in the future

The Wall Street Journal, November 4, 2020

Sanders Dogma Dies Loudly in Florida

Democrats pay a price for embracing the millionaire Marxist.

By James Freeman
Nov. 4, 2020 2:16 pm ET

Another election cycle brings another stack of evidence demonstrating the distance between the people of this country and the people who write about the people of this country. The winner of the presidential election remains uncertain after a close race. But once again the national press corps will attempt to explain why its analysis was off target and how it is that a man they presented as a pariah has just run a competitive national race and won roughly half or more of U.S. states.

There’s an argument that it’s not the job of media outlets to rule politicians in or out of consideration. But if reporters were going to deem one national figure outside the bounds of reasonable political conversation, there was a better candidate than Donald Trump. Fortunately the voters of Florida, once again misunderstood by pundits and pollsters, demonstrated the wisdom so lacking among both groups.

Attempting to generate leftist enthusiasm for a listless campaign, Vice President Joe Biden did the country a disservice by partially embracing the radical Sen. Bernie Sanders (Socialist, Vt.), rather than appropriately shunning him.

On Tuesday, the voters of Florida made Mr. Biden pay a political price for this devil’s bargain. Now Americans nationwide can express their gratitude to the immigrant community and the children of immigrants in the Sunshine State who have not forgotten the hell on earth created by Bernie Sanders’s favorite Latin American regimes. Florida voters understood that the significant wealth Mr. Sanders enjoys as a prominent leftist politician would not be available to those forced to live under his governing agenda.

Also on Tuesday, Bloomberg’s Patricia Laya and Alex Vasquez published an update on the progressive democratic socialists who run Venezuela: “The nation’s mighty oil industry has collapsed, water, electricity and gasoline are barely available, and hunger gnaws away at vast portions of the population. The latest university-run survey shows that four out of five Venezuelans couldn’t purchase a basic food basket last year.”

Meanwhile in Florida, Joe Biden wasn’t the only one who paid a political price. Alex Daugherty reports in the Miami Herald:

Republican Maria Elvira Salazar defeated incumbent Democratic Rep. Donna Shalala in Florida’s 27th Congressional District in an upset that neither party anticipated heading into Election Day.

Salazar, a former TV journalist, won her race against one of Miami’s most well-known politicians by successfully tying Shalala to left-leaning Democrats like Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist… Like other Republicans in Miami-Dade County, she also likely benefited from President Donald Trump’s improved performance with Latino voters in a majority Latino district.

“I will not be silenced,” Salazar said in a speech declaring victory. “I will not cower to the mob and when faced with the so-called democratic socialists. I will tell them that we have seen the dogma in action already and it doesn’t work.”

Others in south Florida were also loudly opposed to the failed Sanders dogma. Adriana Gomez Licon of the Associated Press reported last week from Miami:

On the spur of the moment, a singer in a Cuban salsa band had an idea for a lyric to please fellow Trump supporters at a Miami birthday party.

Tirso Luis Paez flicked his hand so his band mates would let him take over during a crowd favorite, “Cuba is Me,” and instead of singing the usual chorus, he belted out: “Yo voy a votar, por Donald Trump!”

The seemingly spontaneous moment with Los 3 de la Habana was live-streamed and soon viewed by tens of thousands… “Anything that smells like socialism to us, the slightest thing already makes us sick. We start shaking,” said Paez, who like many exiled Cubans accuses the island’s Communist leaders of oppressing its people and failing to lift them out of poverty.

Notwithstanding AP’s characterization of the story of communist horror as a mere accusation, the voters of South Florida understand as well as anyone in the country the rare blessing that is the United States of America. And they expressed their rejection of the dogma that failed in multiple ways on Tuesday.

Neil Vigdor reports in the New York Times:

Carlos Gimenez, the Republican mayor of Miami-Dade County, a critical front for President Trump’s successful retention of Florida, knocked off the Democratic incumbent, Representative Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, in a House race on Tuesday with broader implications…

“Today was a rejection of extremism,” Mr. Gimenez said. “Today was a rejection of partisanship. Today was a rejection of socialism and the evils of socialism and communism, and that’s not just rhetoric.”

This column is not a fan of media cancel culture. But if reporters insist on it, perhaps they can start by cancelling communism.


Mr. Freeman is the co-author of “The Cost: Trump, China and American Revival.”


The Wall Street Journal, November 1, 2020

Be Afraid of Biden’s Latin America Policy

The Democrat agenda favors compromises with thugs over human rights.

By Mary Anastasia O’Grady

Nov. 1, 2020 4:36 pm ET

As the U.S. heads to an election for president and key Senate seats on Tuesday, there may be more at stake for Latin America than meets the eye. President Trump’s efforts to restore democracy in Venezuela have been ineffective and a humanitarian crisis looms. It’s tempting to think that things can’t get worse. They can.

Among emails recently released by former Biden family business associate Tony Bobulinski, two Colombian investment opportunities are pitched in a May 2017 draft document prepared for the Chinese energy company CEFC. One unique asset the proposal highlights: Joe Biden’s close relationship with Colombia’s then-President Juan Manuel Santos.

The investor group wasn’t only name-dropping. It was also hawking a ground-floor opportunity thanks to what it called the Obama-Biden administration’s “pragmatic approach” to Latin America.

In Colombia that approach boiled down to a decision to overlook crimes against humanity by FARC terrorists and support an amnesty that Mr. Santos sought for the group. Those crimes included the recruitment of child soldiers, most of whom were never released or accounted for.

In a 2016 referendum Colombians rejected the deal the Santos government made with FARC leaders in Havana. But Mr. Santos, who had pledged to honor the popular will, refused to accept defeat. With full support from the Obama administration, he gave FARC capos not only amnesty but unelected seats in Congress. If Colombia’s democracy can withstand the harm this has done to institutions, the rule of law and domestic peace, it will be a miracle.

It isn’t alarmist to think that a President Biden would double down on the Obama practice of surrender to the region’s thugs. Nor is it going out on a limb to predict that U.S. policy is likely to tilt further in that direction if Mr. Biden’s health begins to fail and radical elements of the Democrat Party take charge.

The main beef against Mr. Trump is that he is uncouth. He also loses points for his managed trade agenda, in particular the withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and his attacks on Mexico and Canada. His efforts to reduce legal immigration earn him demerits too. His State Department’s refusal to grant asylum to former Colombian Agriculture Minister Andrés Felipe Arias, who was a U.S. ally, and its embrace of power-grabbing Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele reveal a worldview no better than Mr. Obama’s.

Yet a Biden presidency won’t provide much relief. Democrats helped rescue the North American free-trade relationship but in exchange they demanded increased labor regulation. They remain champions of the “made in America” mentality. On the foreign-policy front, as weak as the Trump State Department has been defending U.S. values, the Democrats’ record suggests a Biden presidency would be worse.

As arsonists and looters destroyed urban America this summer with barely a peep from Democrats, it was hard to see “moderate” Joe as representative of the party. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) seemed to align more closely with what it means to be a Democrat these days, and her extremism goes well beyond domestic affairs. Her February 2019 browbeating of Elliott Abrams—President Trump’s special envoy for Venezuela—at a congressional subcommittee hearing was chilling.

Venezuela’s military dictatorship will challenge the next administration. Team Trump is expected to continue its strategy of squeezing the Maduro regime via sanctions and looking for ways to win over the military high command. Progress will be difficult as narco-trafficking revenues and gold sales continue to flow into government coffers. Even if Mr. Maduro wants to flee, as rumors suggest, he knows too much and Havana isn’t likely to allow it.

Still Mr. Trump’s maximum-pressure campaign is the best option. Expect Democrats to prefer more talks, almost guaranteeing relief for the bad guys and more repression.

Extremists like Rep. Norma Torres (D., Calif.) backed the show trials held by the U.N.’s International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, or CICIG. Democrats cheered as CICIG unleashed a reign of terror, arbitrarily jailing many suspects without evidence or due process under the banner of “anticorruption.” Fortunately CICIG’s mandate was not renewed in 2018. But Mr. Biden, who was a CICIG fan, can be counted on to try to resurrect it.

Mr. Biden has said that he would restore the Obama rapprochement with Cuba. He added that he would “insist” the Cubans “keep the commitments they said they would make when we, in fact, set the policy in place.”

But on human rights Cuba didn’t give an inch under the Obama thaw. Democracy advocates rightly posit that U.S. investments in ventures owned by the military dictatorship strengthen the regime. That may be a “pragmatic approach” to Cuba in the eyes of Hunter Biden, but hardly one that can be good for U.S. interests or human rights.

Write to O’

The Observer, October 14, 2016


Obama Just Opened the Door for Castro’s Spies

Cuban intelligence will have a field day in the United States thanks to Obama’s latest outreach to Havana

By John R. Schindler • 10/14/16 3:03pm

Normalization of relations with Fidel Castro’s Cuba has been one of the big foreign policy initiatives of Barack Obama’s presidency. During his two terms in the White House, Washington has overturned more than a half-century’s worth of American policies toward the Communist regime in Havana.

Calling that legacy a “failed approach,” Obama’s outreach to Havana, particularly in his second term, has been pronounced, including a visit by the president and the first lady to Cuba. By the time he leaves office in three months, Obama will have substantially re-normalized relations with the Castro regime.

Obama has pressed forward over the opposition of many Cuban-Americans and human rights groups, who note that Washington’s gifts to Havana have not been reciprocated with greater respect for democracy and the rule of law in Cuba, as many had anticipated. In the words of Amnesty International, “Despite increasingly open diplomatic relations, severe restrictions on freedoms of expression, association and movement continued. Thousands of cases of harassment of government critics and arbitrary arrests and detentions were reported.”

Obama seems unperturbed by all this, and today he issued revised guidance for the U.S. Government in its re-normalized dealings with Havana. Presidential Policy Directive 43 is likely to be this president’s last push on Cuban matters, and its call to Congress to drop the Cold War-legacy embargo on the Castro regime seems like to fall on deaf ears.

Most of PDD-43’s guidance won’t impact average Americans, unless they happen to travel to Cuba. Obama has now permitted them to bring back as much Cuban rum and cigars as they like—something Americans were last able to do when Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House.

There’s the usual Obama boilerplate about promoting democracy and human rights in Cuba, though there’s nothing in PDD-43 that seems likely to make any impression on Havana. The document omits the word “Communist” entirely. Cubans expecting this president to demand concessions from the Castro regime in exchange for trade favors and diplomatic recognition have been let down yet again by Barack Obama.

Some of PDD-43’s guidance will have important national security implications. It directs the Defense Department to expand its relationship with Havana, especially in “humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and counternarcotics in the Caribbean.” It further orders the Pentagon to “support Cuba’s inclusion in the inter-American defense system…which will give Cuba a stake in hemispheric stability.”

It’s far from clear that Havana’s Communist rulers—whose entire worldview for more than a half-century has been based on resistance to Yankee hegemony—actually want to be part of any American-led defense apparatus in our hemisphere, but the Pentagon follows orders, so we can expect the U.S. military to have more meetings and conferences with Cuban counterparts at the table.

Perhaps the most curious aspect of PDD-43 is what it tells our Intelligence Community to do. Obama has ordered American spies “to find opportunities for engagement on areas of common interest through which we could exchange information on mutual threats with Cuban counterparts.”

That wording is intentionally vague, as spies like it, and it’s not clear if anything will come of it, beyond low-level information sharing. Nevertheless, it’s apparent that Obama is declaring a truce in the SpyWar that’s raged between Washington and Havana since the early 1960s. In PPD-43, the White House has omitted important facts about the intelligence relationship between the United States and Cuba—namely how hostile it has been for more than 50 years.

For Havana, America possesses the only two existential threats to their Communist system: the U.S. military, which outclasses Cuba’s armed forces a hundredfold, and the Cuban exile community, which Havana has long considered a regime-change cadre in waiting. Cuba therefore has spied intensely on America practically from the moment Fidel Castro took power in 1959.

It needs to be said that Cuban espionage against the United States has been impressive. Well trained by the Russians in spycraft, Havana’s intelligence services have consistently beaten Americans in the SpyWar, displaying a discipline and seriousness that the regime lacks in other areas.

Although it’s practically unknown to the American public, Cuba has consistently ranked among the Big Four counterintelligence threats to our government (the others are Russia, China and Israel, in case you wondered). Havana punches well above its weight in espionage and poses a real threat to our national security—not least because the secrets it steals from us with depressing ease don’t always stay in Havana. Perennially short of cash and lacking much of a legitimate export economy, the Castro regime has a well-developed habit of selling purloined American information to third countries such as Russia, China and Iran.

Just how badly we’ve been beaten by Cuban spies is something Americans should know. Our spy operations inside Cuba have been a bust from Day One. It was bad news for our Intelligence Community in 1987 when the highest-ranking Cuban intelligence defector to ever come to our side revealed that every single agent run by the Central Intelligence Agency since Castro came to power was actually fake. Some four dozen sources in all, they had all been detected by Cuban counterintelligence and turned into double agents for Havana.

This spy debacle, which revealed that the CIA had been decisively outfoxed by Havana, made too little impression on Congress or the public. Needed Intelligence Community reforms did not follow. Neither is there any indication that things have gotten much better for the CIA in the SpyWar against Cuba since 1987.

Even worse is the fact that Cuban intelligence has consistently managed to beat our counterspies inside the United States, too. Lacking much of a diplomatic presence in this country, Cuba for decades has nevertheless done an impressive job of recruiting and running agents on American soil, right under the noses of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Havana’s secret tentacles extend deep into the émigré community and its Miami base. There’s really nothing happening in the Cuban-American world that the Castro regime isn’t aware of, and Havana has never lacked for volunteers eager to spy on fellow Cubans. The only limit to Cuban intelligence penetration of the émigré community, explained a top Cuban intelligence defector to me, is the limited number of case officers that Havana can infiltrate into the United States. There were always more willing volunteers than Cuba could handle.

Indeed, Havana’s penetration of émigré ranks is so deep and pervasive that it can sometimes be difficult to determine what’s really going on. Cuban agent provocateurs are plentiful in Miami, and it can be safely assumed that a significant percentage of the craziest-sounding exiles—the ones agitating for violence and extremism—are really working for Havana to discredit the Cuban-American community.

The so-called Wasp Network, consisting of five Cuban intelligence officers and their many agents, which the FBI rolled up in 1998, stretched deep into the Cuban émigré community in Florida. The Cubans had even orchestrated the deaths of four anti-Castro activists in a notorious 1996 incident. However, the Wasp Network had also penetrated U.S. military installations in Florida, including U.S. Southern Command in Miami, which is the Pentagon’s headquarters for most of its Latin American operations.

Havana has consistently been able to recruit agents inside the Pentagon and our Intelligence Community. The remarkable case of Ana Belén Montes, a Defense Intelligence Agency senior analyst who spied for Cuba her entire Pentagon career, caused less public waves than it merited, in part because she was arrested just 10 days after the 9/11 attacks, when media attention was elsewhere.

However, Montes did enormous damage to the Defense Department and our spy agencies, since she was actively stealing secrets to pass to the Cubans for more than 15 years. She was recruited by Castro’s spy services when she was a graduate student in Washington, and underwent espionage training in Cuba before she joined DIA. In fact, her Cuban handlers told her to get a job inside American intelligence, and Montes faithfully complied.

She was unmasked thanks to diligent counterintelligence analysis by several of our spy agencies, over years, and we learned from the Montes case that she was only one of several Cuban moles lurking inside the Beltway. One of those spies was caught in 2009. That was Kendall Myers, a retired State Department analyst, who spied for Havana for three decades, with his wife’s assistance. His motivation, like Montes, was ideological, not financial: Myers had a serious man-crush on Fidel Castro.

Other Cuban moles remain undetected. One may have been Alberto Coll, who left the Naval War College in 2005, where he was a dean, under a cloud. Coll, a former Pentagon senior official, was caught lying on official forms. A Cuban émigré who came to the United States as a child, Coll had taken trips to Cuba that he failed to tell security personnel about, while he had friendships with Cuban spies he likewise did not disclose, as he was required to. Coll was never charged with espionage, but many Washington counterspies think his ties to Havana went deeper than has ever been publicly revealed.

American counterintelligence hands who know the Cubans best have no doubt that some of those moles remain active in and around Washington. What’s worse is that President Obama has now opened the door to increased Cuban espionage against our country. Soon Cuba will have brand-new diplomatic missions all over the United States and, per standard practice, they will all contain a hefty number of spies posing as diplomats.

Given how successful Havana has been at conducting espionage against us, on our own soil, without such large embassies and consulates, there’s every reason to expect Cuban spying to get more aggressive—and effective—in the near future. President Obama has unilaterally declared a truce in our half-century SpyWar with Cuba, but there’s no indication Havana has done the same.

John Schindler is a security expert and former National Security Agency analyst and counterintelligence officer. A specialist in espionage and terrorism, he’s also been a Navy officer and a War College professor. He’s published four books and is on Twitter at @20committee.