CubaBrief: US Senators push bipartisan bill to compel Cuba to return terrorists. Terror sponsor countries, including Cuba condemn Speaker Pelosi’s Taiwan visit. Castro cracks down on religious Cubans.

Senator Bob Menendez, New Jersey (Democrat) and Senator Marco Rubio, Florida (Republican) “have introduced legislation to force Cuba to return more than 70 American criminals it has long harbored, including Victor M. Gerena, inside man for the violent Puerto Rican nationalists who robbed $7 million from an armored car depot in West Hartford decades ago in what was then the largest cash robbery in U.S. history,” reported Edmund H. Mahony in the Hartford Courant on August 3, 2022.

The bipartisan bill, would require the State Department “to press Cuba to comply with a century old extradition treaty. As leverage, it threatens, among other things, to withhold money for Caribbean narcotics control programs benefiting Cuba.”

The fact that the United States is cooperating with Cuba on a “narcotics control program” is bad policy when one considers Havana’s historic and ongoing ties with drug trafficking and terrorism.

Cuba was first placed on the list of state terror sponsors on March 1, 1982. The US State Department confirmed Havana was using a narcotics ring to funnel arms and cash to the Colombian M-19 terrorist group. On November 6, 1985, members of M-19 stormed Colombia’s Palace of Justice by the time the crisis had ended scores of hostages had been killed or “disappeared,” and 11 of the court’s 25 justices murdered. Terrorists wanted to force the justices to put on trial then Colombian President Belisario Betancur and his defense minister for violating the peace deal with M-19 a year and a half earlier, and they also opposed Bogotá extraditing Colombians to the US. The new incoming president of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, was an M-19 member.

Mark Bowden in his book “Killing Pablo” and Escobar’s son, revealed that Medellin drug bosses, led by Pablo Escobar, paid the guerillas one million dollars for the attack. Colombia Reports in 2015 reported that Gabriel Garcia Marquez delivered letters from Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar to Cuban dictator Fidel Castro over drug shipments, according to Jhon Jairo Velasquez “Popeye,” Escobar’s former right-hand man, in an interview on Puerto Rico’s Wapa TV.

In the 2000s Havana’s involvement with Venezuela’s security forces and government influenced the growth and expansion of the Soles Cartel. “The drug trafficking organization Cartel de Soles or Cartel of the Suns is comprised of a network of cells spread throughout the various branches of the Venezuelan military and government,” reports Samantha Wutz in her 2021 monograph “Cartel de Soles.”

There are no signs that Havana is changing its history of hostility to democracies, and siding with other dictatorships. The Castro regime continues to back Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Center for a Free Cuba on August 3, 2022 reported, “President Miguel Díaz-Canel, the representative of the Castro dictatorship, publicly joined with other terror sponsoring countries: Iran, North Korea, and Syria to support the Chinese Communist dictatorship, and condemn House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the Republic of China (Taiwan). “

“It is not strange that the Cuban dictatorship defends the interests of communist China, since they have been natural allies for decades, but that Havana ignores the sovereignty of a small island nation threatened by a powerful neighbor and exposes it to the charge of hypocrisy. Today all the regimes on the State Department’s list of state terror sponsors ( Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Syria) came together to deny the sovereignty of Taiwan, and to condemn the House Speaker’s visit to Taipei. The Center denounced Cuba’s links with other terror sponsoring countries and terrorist organizations in a fact sheet released on March 12, 2021 and in a report released on July 27, 2022. Diaz-Canel’s statement today together with that of other terror sponsors affirms an old proverb that ‘birds of a feather flock together’,” said John Suárez, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba. “Taiwan needs the support and solidarity of the free world in the face of threats from the Communist Chinese Party and state terror sponsors like Cuba,” he added.

Whereas the Castro regime maintains good relations with state terror sponsors, and international narcotics rings, the same cannot be said of people of faith. The Washington Times in the August 3, 2022 article “Cuba cracks down on religious citizens despite constitutional ‘guarantees,’ experts say“ reported that “The recent expulsion of a dissident Protestant cleric by Cuba’s communist regime is just the latest evidence of a larger crackdown on people of faith in the Caribbean nation, experts at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said this week.

Hartford Courant, August 3, 2022

Connecticut

Two key U.S. lawmakers push bill to compel Cuba to return Puerto Rican nationalist Victor Gerena, wanted in West Hartford robbery

By Edmund H. Mahony

Hartford Courant Aug 03, 2022 at 5:28 pm

Two influential U.S. Senators have introduced legislation to force Cuba to return more than 70 American criminals it has long harbored, including Victor M. Gerena, inside man for the violent Puerto Rican nationalists who robbed $7 million from an armored car depot in West Hartford decades ago in what was then the largest cash robbery in U.S. history.

The bipartisan bill, written by Republican Marco Rubio of Florida and Bob Menendez of New Jersey, would require the state department to press Cuba to comply with a century old extradition treaty. As leverage, it threatens, among other things, to withhold money for Caribbean narcotics control programs benefiting Cuba.

The proposed legislation also would require the state department to report on its progress and produce a list of violent fugitives believed to be living under government protection in Cuba, something the U.S. government has refused to do for two decades.

Past measures to press Cuba to hand over wanted Americans have not produced high profile fugitives. As chairman and second-ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Menendez and Rubio have influence with the state department not seen in earlier measures.

Gerena, who grew up in Hartford and was a top scholar and athlete at Buckley High School, has been one of the highest profile criminals living in Cuba since pulling off the bold robbery of a since-closed Wells Fargo depot in West Hartford in September 1982.

Gerena pulled a gun on two co-workers, bound them and injected them with a sedative. He stuffed $7 million in cash — all that would fit — into a battered green Buick he rented from Ugly Duckling car rental in West Hartford and disappeared.

It was later learned that he had been recruited by Los Macheteros, part of the violent wing of the Puerto Rican independence movement financed by Cuba and led by a former officer in the Cuban intelligence service. Cuba was then supporting so-called national liberation movements in Puerto Rico and across the Caribbean and Latin America.

Los Macheteros, which means Machete Wielders or Cane Cutters, packed Gerena and the money behind false walls in a motor home and drove him to Mexico City, where he was disguised, given counterfeit identity papers and flown with the money to Havana. The government of Cuba kept most of the money, according to a variety of intelligence sources.

The Macheteros planned to use their share of the money, more than $2 million, in an armed struggle for Puerto Rican impendence.

The proposed legislation is named for New Jersey state trooper Werner Foerster and Wall Street trader Frank Connor and is the result of years of pressure on Congress by Connor’s son, Joseph.

Foerster was gunned down in 1973 by Joanne Chesimard, a member of the Black Liberation Army, and two accomplices. Chesimard and the others opened fire on two troopers — and ultimately executed Foerster at point bank range — during a routine traffic stop. She was convicted of murder in 1977 and, two years later, escaped from a New Jersey prison and reached Cuba.

Connor was one of those who died in a terror bombing at the historic Fraunces Tavern in lower Manhattan in January 1975. Police suspect the bomb maker was William “Guillermo” Morales, a member of the Armed Forces of National Liberation, a violent Puerto Rican nationalist group associated with Los Macheteros. Morales is also suspected of bombing the Mobil Oil building in New York in 1977 and of several other bombings.

Morales was partially blinded and lost parts of both hands and ears when one of this bombs exploded prematurely in 1978. He escaped to Mexico and later reached Cuba. During a series of interviews with the Courant in Havana 20 years ago. Morales said he was living under the protection of the Cuban government and would not discuss other fugitives, including Gerena.

Joseph Conner said Wednesday that he has been pressing the U.S. to seek the return of the fugitives for decades

“I started writing letters in 1990,” he said. “This has my father’s name on it and that makes it very personal.”

Together, Los Macheteros and the armed Forces of National Liberation, known by the Spanish acronym FALN, are believed responsible for 130 bombings, several murders and as many as a dozen robberies.

Rubio said the U.S. should withhold any sanctions relief for Cuba until fugitives are returned.

“The communist regime in Cuba has provided safe haven to Joanne Chesimard, Guillermo Morales, Charlie Hill, Victor Manuel Gerena and other criminals responsible for planning and carrying out violent crimes against Americans,” he said. “This bill takes an important step by requiring the Secretary of State and the Attorney General to use diplomatic tools to secure the extradition of all fugitives residing in Cuba to face justice in the United States. Until the regime complies with U.S. law and hands these fugitives over to face trial in American courts, it absolutely should not receive taxpayer assistance or sanctions relief.”

In the late 1990s, the FBI said there were more than 90 fugitive Americans being harbored by Cuba, according to a list obtained by the Courant. Those on the list ranged from a wanted financier, airline hijackers, militants and violent nationalists. The government has since refused requests for an updated list.

In 1997, 12 imprisoned Puerto Rican nationalists, including the convicted mastermind of the Wells Fargo robbery, accepted a clemency offer from then-President William Clinton. The offer was widely viewed as an attempt by Hillary Clinton to win support among New York’s large Puerto Rican population during her run for the U.S. Senate.

https://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-news-menendez-rubio-cuba-legislation-victor-gerena-fugitives-return-20220803-20220803-a7dbjajtcbguzbjp2qqntsvzt4-story.html

Center for a Free Cuba, August 3, 2022

Havana joins coalition of terror sponsoring countries to back Beijing in condemning House Speaker’s visit to Taiwan

Center for a Free Cuba, August 3, 2022, Washington, DC. President Miguel Díaz-Canel, the representative of the Castro dictatorship, publicly joined with other terror sponsoring countries: Iran, North Korea, and Syria to support the Chinese Communist dictatorship, and condemn House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the Republic of China (Taiwan).

On July 29, 2022 a commentator for Beijing’s official state-run publication the Global Time stated in a Tweet that the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] had the right to shoot down Speaker Pelosi’s plane and her escort if they entered Taiwan’s airspace.

“It is not strange that the Cuban dictatorship defends the interests of communist China, since they have been natural allies for decades, but that Havana ignores the sovereignty of a small island nation threatened by a powerful neighbor and exposes it to the charge of hypocrisy. Today all the regimes on the State Department’s list of state terror sponsors ( Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Syria) came together to deny the sovereignty of Taiwan, and to condemn the House Speaker’s visit to Taipei.

The Center denounced Cuba’s links with other terror sponsoring countries and terrorist organizations in a fact sheet released on March 12, 2021 and in a report released on July 27, 2022. Diaz-Canel’s statement today together with that of other terror sponsors affirms an old proverb that ‘birds of a feather flock together’,” said John Suárez, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba. “Taiwan needs the support and solidarity of the free world in the face of threats from the Communist Chinese Party and state terror sponsors like Cuba,” he added.

https://www.cubacenter.org/articles-and-events/2022/8/3/press-advisory-havana-joins-coalition-of-terror-sponsoring-countries-to-back-beijing-in-condemning-house-speakers-visit-to-taiwan

The Washington Times, August 3, 2022

Cuba cracks down on religious citizens despite constitutional ‘guarantees,’ experts say

Reform prospects grim while Castro family holds power

Raul Castro, Cuban dictator

By Mark A. Kellner The Washington Times – Wednesday, August 3, 2022

The recent expulsion of a dissident Protestant cleric by Cuba’s communist regime is just the latest evidence of a larger crackdown on people of faith in the Caribbean nation, experts at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said this week.

Just over a year after the Havana government harshly suppressed a rare outburst of popular protests, the findings represent a fresh hurdle for those advocating a thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations. President Biden came to office hoping to restore some of the diplomatic momentum in bilateral ties begun under President Obama, but he has left many of the more restrictive measures put into place under President Trump. 

The White House faces considerable opposition in Congress — including from key Democrats — to easing tensions with Cuba that date to the Kennedy administration. The administration last month announced visa restrictions on 28 Cuban officials implicated in the suppression of the July 11, 2021, protests.

The faith survey is important because, despite decades of communist rule, 70% of Cubans “identify with a specific religion,” Kirk Dahlgren, an independent consultant who worked on a recent USCIRF report, told a video conference on constitutional reform and religious freedom.

An economic crisis sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic and efforts at currency “reunification” sparked the popular protests in July 2021. Cuban religious leaders were among those targeted in the government crackdown, including the arrests of clerics and other citizens affiliated with religious groups, Mr. Dahlgren said.

https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2022/aug/3/cuba-crackdown-religious-citizens-continues-despit/