CubaBrief: Fact check on Castro regime diplomat interview in The Hill “Cuba seeks to thaw Biden administration’s cold shoulder”

Fact check on Castro regime diplomat interviewed in The Hill in the October 15, 2023 article “Cuba seeks to thaw Biden administration’s cold shoulder”

1. CLAIM:  Johana Tablada, deputy director for U.S. affairs at Cuba’s Foreign Ministry blames the U.S. for Cuba’s mass emigration.

FACT CHECK: The disproportional flow of migrants to the US was triggered by Havana fully weaponizing migration in Nov 2021.

This exodus benefits the communist dictatorship financially and politically. Nicaragua is a client state of Havana, and it is coordinating with Cuba to weaponize migration to gain concessions from the U.S. Managua lifted visa requirements for Cubans visiting Nicaragua on Nov. 22, 2021. This new route for Cuban migrants to the United States has exacerbated the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. The mass exodus of disgruntled Cubans has strengthened the dictatorship’s grip on the island. Meanwhile, travel agencies affiliated with the communist regime are selling $4,000 plane tickets to Managua, thereby enriching regime oligarchs. In comparison, a slightly longer flight from Miami to Managua costs less than $400. [ This was back in January 2023] 

Source: “Why Cubans leave” by John Suarez, Opinion Contributor, The Hill 01/04/23 https://thehill.com/opinion/international/3798177-why-cubans-leave/

2. CLAIM: Tablada claims the inclusion of Cuba on the state sponsor of terrorism list is “fraudulent.”

FACT CHECK:  Cuba remains a state sponsor of terror.

Terrorist backed by Cuba.

Cuba was first added to the list of state sponsors of terrorism on March 1, 1982. The U.S. Department of State had confirmed Havana was using a narcotics ring to funnel both arms and cash to the Colombian M19 terrorist group, which was fighting to destabilize Colombia’s democracy. Obama’s decision to remove Cuba from this list [in 2015] was a political decision, responding to Havana’s conditions for normalization. Cuba was returned to the list on Jan 11, 2021 for having refused Colombia’s requests to extradite 10 ELN leaders living in Havana after the group claimed responsibility for the Jan 2019 bombing of a Bogota police academy that killed 22 people and injured more than 87 others. Secondly, “the Cuban intelligence and security apparatus has infiltrated Venezuela’s security and military forces, assisting Nicholas Maduro to maintain his stranglehold over his people while  allowing terrorist organizations to operate. The Cuban government’s support for FARC dissidents and the ELN continues beyond Cuba’s borders as well, and the regime’s support of Maduro has created a permissive environment for international terrorists to live and thrive within Venezuela. Now, Havana is supporting Moscow’s illegal war in Ukraine. Cuban soldiers are fighting in the Russian military on the front lines.”

Source: “Cuba remains a threat we cannot placate | Opinion” by John Suarez, South Florida Sun Sentinel, October 10, 2023 https://www.sun-sentinel.com/2023/10/10/cuba-remains-a-threat-we-cannot-placate-opinion/

3. CLAIM: Tablada says Havana is cooperating with Washington on law enforcement & terrorism.

FACT CHECK: Cuba is a state terror sponsor. Sharing intelligence ignores the Castro regime’s nature, placing lives at risk.

Port in Wilmington, North Carolina visited by Cuban agents in February 2023.

The phrase ‘law-enforcement dialogue’ is inaccurate. In Cuba, there is no rule of law. To keep power, there is a dictatorship and a repressive security apparatus. There is no such thing as ‘law enforcement. The Biden administration’s Cuba policy—a return to that of the Obama administration, based on a misreading of history & misinformation spread by agents of influence in D.C.—does not bode well for U.S. interests. The reality is that Cuba’s dictatorship is a criminal enterprise that has spent more than six decades destabilizing democracies in the Americas & succeeded in ending them in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Bolivia.”

Source: “Biden’s Misguided Cuba Policy, Havana’s Master Spy, and the Danger of Wishful Thinking” by  John Suarez, Daily Signal, January 13, 2023 https://www.dailysignal.com/2023/01/13/bidens-misguided-cuba-policy-havanas-master-spy-and-danger-of-wishful-thinking/

On May 17, 2012, the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing on “Cuba’s Global Network of Terrorism, Intelligence, and Warfare.” Christopher Simmons, retired from the Defense Intelligence Agency with over 23 years of experience as a counterintelligence officer, presented the following analysis of Cuba.

“In many respects, Cuba can be accurately characterized as a violent criminal organization masquerading as a government. The island’s five intelligence services exist not to protect the nation, but to ensure the survival of the regime. … Transitioning to the issue of terrorism, Havana takes a three-tier approach to its involvement in terrorism: Regime-directed, regime-supported, and finally, alliances with state sponsors. For regime-directed activities, we’re looking at specifically bona fide acts of terrorism, Cuban Intelligence Service targeting of the U.S. war on terrorism, and ‘Active Measures.’ ”

Source: “Cuba remains a threat we cannot placate | Opinion” by John Suarez, South Florida Sun Sentinel, October 10, 2023 https://www.sun-sentinel.com/2023/10/10/cuba-remains-a-threat-we-cannot-placate-opinion/

Despite this reality the Obama Administration hosted visits to U.S. Coast Guard facilities by Cuban Border Guard officials in 2016. Officials and security analysts expressed concerns at the time “that closer ties with Cuba will benefit aggressive Cuban intelligence operations in the United States that have been underway for decades.”

Source:  “Obama Administration Hosts Cuban Border Guard Visits Trips to Coast Guard facilities raise security concerns” By Bill Gertz, The Washington Free Beacon, June 3, 2016 https://freebeacon.com/national-security/obama-administration-hosts-cuban-border-guard-visits/

On February 26, 2023 the Biden Administration had Cuban officials tour Port facilities in the United States.It raised concerns at the time from Members of Congress.

“As one of our nation’s oldest adversaries and a state sponsor of terrorism, Cuba’s communist government is no friend of the United States or anyone else who believes in freedom,”  said Congressman David Rouzer, R-NC. “Cuba has a history of being a strategic Western asset to our greatest adversaries, including China, Russia, and Iran. And they regularly cooperate with narcotics traffickers bringing cocaine, fentanyl, and other deadly drugs to our country.”

In a Feb. 26 letter to the Secretary of Homeland Security, the chairmen of the Homeland Security Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Reps. Mark Green and Mike McCaul, and other representatives expressed serious concern about the then-upcoming visit. The representatives wrote the visit would entail a Cuban delegation of officials from the country’s Border Guard and Ministry of Foreign Affairs to visit the U.S. Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C. and the Port of Wilmington. 

Source: “Rouzer Raises Red Flags About Port Tour With Cuban Officials” By Johanna F. Still, Wilmington Biz, Mar 8, 2023 https://www.wilmingtonbiz.com/maritime/2023/03/08/rouzer_raises_red_flags_about_port_tour_with_cuban_officials/24205

Considering that FBI Director Christopher Wray announced on October 15, 2023 that there are fears of Hamas terror attacks in the United States.

Furthermore that Cuba has provided intelligence to Hamas for decades, and that in Feb 2023 a senior Hamas delegation met with the Cuban Ambassador in Lebanon. 

Granting Cuban government agents access to U.S. Port facilities now appears reckless, and a threat to American lives.

Source: “Hamas delegation visits Cuba Ambassador to Lebanon”  Middle East Monitor, February 25, 2023 https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20230225-hamas-delegation-visits-cuba-ambassador-to-lebanon/

Sun Sentinel. October 10, 2023

Cuba remains a threat we cannot placate | Opinion

Miguel Diaz-Canel with Vladimir Putin

By John Suarez | PUBLISHED: October 10, 2023 at 10:58 a.m

In his Viewpoint essay of Oct. 4, Manuel Gomez writes that the relation between Cuba and the United States is not irrelevant despite it not making headlines recently. He is right about that — but wrong about nearly everything else. The thawing of relations advocated by Gomez and others like him will only embolden a despotic regime that, despite Gomez’s insistence, remains a sponsor of terroristic acts at home and abroad

Venezuelan and Nicaraguan refugees are aware of Havana’s role in bolstering dictatorships in both countries, as well as how the Cuban military and intelligence service torture Venezuelans and Nicaraguans.

President Barack Obama’s Cuba policy increased Cuban suffering, led to increased violence against dissidents, the murder of dissident leaders Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero on July 22, 2012, the machete attack against dissident Sirley Avila Leon on May 24, 2015 and legitimized General Raul Castro’s dictatorship, but got nothing in return.

In a Sept. 9, 2020 interview, Obama’s Secretary of State John Kerry stated, “It’s fair to say that everybody shares a little bit of disappointment about the direction that the government in Cuba chose to go” after normalizing US-Cuba relations. Kerry added, “Cuba seemed to harden down after the initial steps were taken.”

Left out of Secretary Kerry’s analysis is that during the Obama thaw migration was weaponized by Havana and over 120,000 Cubans entered the United States. The claim that uncontrolled Cuban migration is caused by sanctions on the dictatorship ignores six decades of history.

During the Carter and Clinton administrations, migration was weaponized by Havana to leverage concessions. During the 1980 Mariel Boatlift, Fidel Castro personally chose rapists, murderers and mental patients to seed the exodus, smearing the Cuban diaspora and causing a deadly crime wave in the United States.

Cuba poses a threat to the US and the wider region

On May 17, 2012, the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing on “Cuba’s Global Network of Terrorism, Intelligence, and Warfare.” Christopher Simmons, retired from the Defense Intelligence Agency with over 23 years of experience as a counterintelligence officer, presented the following analysis of Cuba.

“In many respects, Cuba can be accurately characterized as a violent criminal organization masquerading as a government. The island’s five intelligence services exist not to protect the nation, but to ensure the survival of the regime. … Transitioning to the issue of terrorism, Havana takes a three-tier approach to its involvement in terrorism: Regime-directed, regime-supported, and finally, alliances with state sponsors. For regime-directed activities, we’re looking at specifically bona fide acts of terrorism, Cuban Intelligence Service targeting of the U.S. war on terrorism, and ‘Active Measures.’ ”

Cuba was first added to the list of state sponsors of terrorism on March 1, 1982. The U.S. State Department had confirmed Havana was using a narcotics ring to funnel both arms and cash to the Colombian M19 terrorist group, which was fighting to destabilize Colombia’s democracy.

Obama’s decision to remove Cuba from this list was a political decision, responding to Havana’s conditions for normalization.

Cuba was returned to the list on Jan. 11, 2021 for having “refused Colombia’s requests to extradite 10 ELN leaders living in Havana after the group claimed responsibility for the January 2019 bombing of a Bogota police academy that killed 22 people and injured more than 87 others.” Secondly, “the Cuban intelligence and security apparatus has infiltrated Venezuela’s security and military forces, assisting Nicholas Maduro to maintain his stranglehold over his people while  allowing terrorist organizations to operate. The Cuban government’s support for FARC dissidents and the ELN continues beyond Cuba’s borders as well, and the regime’s support of Maduro has created a permissive environment for international terrorists to live and thrive within Venezuela.”

Now, Havana is supporting Moscow’s illegal war in Ukraine. Cuban soldiers are fighting in the Russian military on the front lines.

Ignoring this, and pretending Cuba is not a threat, will end in tragedy.

John Suarez is a human rights activist and executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba in Washington D.C.

https://www.sun-sentinel.com/2023/10/10/cuba-remains-a-threat-we-cannot-placate-opinion/

Wilmington Biz, March 8, 2023

Maritime

Rouzer Raises Red Flags About Port Tour With Cuban Officials

By Johanna F. Stil

U.S. Coast Guard officials gave Cuban government affiliates a tour of the Port of Wilmington last week. (File photo)

Officials with the Cuban government toured the Port of Wilmington last week, and Congressman David Rouzer, R-N.C., has raised national security concerns about the apparently sanctioned visit. 

Cuba was first designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1982 due to its track record of supporting guerrilla groups and terrorists, according to the U.S. Bureau of Counterterrorism. Though the designation was rescinded in 2015, it was reinstated in 2021 “for repeatedly providing support for acts of international terrorism in granting safe harbor to terrorists,” the State Department shared at the time. 

Laura Blair, a spokesperson for the N.C. State Ports Authority, said the event was not initiated or sponsored by the authority. 

“[U.S. Coast Guard] Sector North Carolina requested and coordinated the delegation visit,” Blair wrote in an email Wednesday. “The Ports provided the access and support as requested by Sector North Carolina.” 

In a statement Wednesday, a spokesperson for the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) told the Business Journal that the military branch conducts assessments of foreign ports “and provides reciprocity of access” to advance the Department of Homeland Security’s “national security and antiterrorism mission,” as required by law. 

“USCG officials visited Cuba and conducted a cyclical port security assessment in January, contingent on this reciprocity, in the same manner as visits that took place in 2019,” the spokesperson said. “The U.S. Coast Guard performs these assessments to assess the effectiveness of antiterrorism measures maintained at foreign ports.”

During Tuesday’s Morning Hour Debate in the U.S. House of Representatives, a practice that allows representatives to speak for a limited time on non-legislative issues, Rouzer aired his concerns about the tour. 

Rouzer said he was informed of the visit on Friday after it had already occurred. The visit was “planned and authorized” by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State, Rouzer said. 

“As one of our nation’s oldest adversaries and a state sponsor of terrorism, Cuba’s communist government is no friend of the United States or anyone else who believes in freedom,” he said. “Cuba has a history of being a strategic Western asset to our greatest adversaries, including China, Russia, and Iran. And they regularly cooperate with narcotics traffickers bringing cocaine, fentanyl, and other deadly drugs to our country.”

In a Feb. 26 letter to the Secretary of Homeland Security, the chairmen of the Homeland Security Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Reps. Mark Green and Mike McCaul, and other representatives expressed serious concern about the then-upcoming visit. The representatives wrote the visit would entail a Cuban delegation of officials from the country’s Border Guard and Ministry of Foreign Affairs to visit the U.S. Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C. and the Port of Wilmington. 

According to the letter, the visit was organized under the U.S. Coast Guard’s International Port Security Program. 

“Now I’m told this trip, as well as others in the past, have been arranged as part of a reciprocal relationship to turn back Cubans fleeing to the United States. So, we apparently have this arrangement where we view their ports and security protocols, and they view ours,” Rouzer said on the House floor Tuesday. “Now, there is no reason any nation with a State Sponsor of Terrorism designation should be hosted by the United States, let alone be allowed to analyze sensitive coastal and maritime security protocols. Ironically, the decision to designate Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism and the decision to authorize this trip were made by the same agencies. This action flies in the face of the purpose of both the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State and makes a mockery of American strength against our adversaries.”

The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State did not return a request to comment. However, a State Department spokesperson told the National Review the Cuban delegation’s visit was “not new.” 

“The U.S. Coast Guard and Cuban Border Guard have had a collaborative relationship for decades that focuses first and foremost on maritime safety,” the spokesperson told the outlet. “The most recent visit of a Cuban delegation as part of the International Port Security Program took place in 2019.”

Rouzer concluded his remarks by stating it is imperative to maintain the domestic security of maritime borders. “Mr. Speaker, bottom line is this visit should have never happened and the American people deserve to know what steps were taken to protect our national security interests,” he said. 

https://www.wilmingtonbiz.com/maritime/2023/03/08/rouzer_raises_red_flags_about_port_tour_with_cuban_officials/24205

The Daily Signal, January 13, 2023

Security Commentary

Biden’s Misguided Cuba Policy, Havana’s Master Spy, and the Danger of Wishful Thinking

A spy for communist Cuba was released Jan. 6 from a federal prison in Texas after serving 20 years of her 25-year sentence for espionage. Pictured: Now-deceased Cuban dictator Fidel Castro .

John Suarez / January 13, 2023

The Biden administration’s Cuba policy—a return to that of the Obama administration, based on a misreading of history and misinformation spread by agents of influence in Washington—does not bode well for U.S. interests.

The reality is that Cuba’s dictatorship is a criminal enterprise that has spent more than six decades destabilizing democracies in the Americas and succeeded in ending them in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Bolivia.

Without well-placed spies in Washington, that would not have been possible.

Ana Belen Montes, a 17-year spy for the Fidel Castro dictatorship, served 20 years of a 25-year prison sentence and was released on Jan. 6 from a federal prison facility in Fort Worth, Texas. Officially, the reason for the shortened prison stay was due to good behavior. Montes, a Puerto Rican, has moved to Puerto Rico.

Unrepentant, Montes repeated the same narratives she advanced while working for the Castro dictatorship in her first statement out of prison.

Montes, 27 at the time and a Johns Hopkins University master’s degree student working for the Justice Department, was recruited by Cuban intelligence in 1984. In 1985, she began working for the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency after graduating.

She worked for Cuba, a state sponsor of terrorism, through 17 years spying for Havana, and her analyses downplayed Havana’s threat. Montes whitewashed Havana’s six-decade record of terrorism (including on U.S. soil), drug trafficking, brutality against Cubans, repression in Nicaragua and Venezuela, and genocide in Ethiopia.

Along with Montes at DIA, Havana’s Directorate of Intelligence successfully infiltrated the CIA, the State Department, and the U.S. Agency for International Development, conducting influence campaigns, burning spies, and passing secrets to Havana that were then sold to other enemies of America.

Montes revealed secrets that led to the deaths of 65 Central American soldiers, and at least one American soldier. In March 1987, Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front guerrillas killed Greg Fronius, a 27-year-old American soldier, because Montes leaked secrets to Havana.

In June 1985, they brutally killed four U.S. Marine embassy guards, two other American civilians, six Salvadorans, and citizens of other countries as they sat at a sidewalk cafe near the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador.

In February 1996, Montes facilitated a meeting between U.S. government officials and retired U.S. Navy Adm. Eugene Carroll to relay recent Cuban threats, allowing the now-deceased Carroll—who had become a left-wing anti-military activist—to shape public opinion in favor of Cuba while negatively portraying the anti-Castro Cuban exile group Brothers to the Rescue.  

U.S. counterintelligence officer Scott Carmichael wrote in his book “True Believer: Inside the Investigation and Capture of Ana Montes, Cuba’s Master Spy” that he believed that that was a “influence operation”—a covert attempt to influence public opinion.

In 1997, Montes drafted a Pentagon report claiming Cuba had a “limited capacity” to harm the U.S., which Castro referred to as “an objective report by serious people.”

Montes was chosen as a team leader to examine the effectiveness of U.S. Air Force bombing in Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Officials feared that, given Havana’s long history of selling secrets to enemies of the U.S., if Montes obtained the Pentagon’s war plans for Afghanistan and gave them to Havana’s Directorate of Intelligence, the Castro regime would pass them on to the Taliban.

That hastened her arrest on Sept. 21, 2001.

The “most damaging non-human intelligence she provided to the Cubans,” according to retired FBI agent Peter Lapp, was information about “a U.S. secret satellite program” that was so sensitive “that prosecutors were banned from using it had the case gone to trial.”

Although the information was unrelated to Cuba, investigators believe Castro passed it on to other regimes hostile to the United States. According to DIA analyst Chris Simmons, selling secrets is a profitable business for Havana.

Montes’ claims that Cuba posed no threat persisted in Congress for a decade after her arrest, in order to justify removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

During her tenure in Washington, the following facts were buried:

  • Cuba was first added to the list of state sponsors of terrorism in March 1982. The State Department confirmed that Havana was using a drug ring to smuggle arms and money to Colombia’s  M-19 terrorist group.

  • M-19 members stormed Colombia’s Palace of Justice in November 1985. Eleven of Colombia’s 25 Supreme Court justices were among the hostages killed. Gustavo Petro, Colombia’s current president, was an M-19 member in the 1980s.

  • “In the Arab world, some 3,000 [Cuban advisers] can be found in Libya and Algeria, among other things training terrorists and Polisario guerrillas,” wrote John Hoyt Williams in The Atlantic in 1988. 

  • On Feb. 24, 1996, Havana carried out Operation Scorpion, using intelligence provided by the Wasp Network in the U.S., which led to the killing of four Brothers to the Rescue members in international airspace.

According to Simmons, the former Defense Intelligence Agency spy catcher, the Wasp Network (“La Red Avispa” in Spanish) “was the largest foreign spy network to operate in the United States.”

This spy network also targeted U.S. military facilities, planned to smuggle arms and explosives into America, and assassinate a retired CIA agent.

The post-Castro regime in Cuba has continued to sponsor and harbor terrorists to the present day, despite vehement denials, and shows no signs of abating.

The record shows Montes was a traitor who supported a terrorist regime that killed Americans and U.S. allies while harming U.S. interests

She should have been sentenced to life in prison, but instead struck a deal and was sentenced to 25 years and last week was released early. At minimum, given the harm she caused and her lack of repentance, Montes should not have been released before serving her full sentence.

The State Department announced Thursday, less than a week after her release, that it was resuming a “law-enforcement dialogue” with the stated goal of bringing “transnational criminals to justice.”

Then-President Donald Trump ended the “dialogue” initiated by President Barack Obama in 2015. During the initial three-year dialogue, none of the terrorists or fugitives from American justice held by Havana were handed over to the U.S.

The phrase “law-enforcement dialogue” is inaccurate. In Cuba, there is no rule of law. To keep power, there is a dictatorship and a repressive security apparatus. There is no such thing as “law enforcement.”

That was evident during the nationwide protests on July 11, when political police beat down, clubbed, and shot nonviolent protesters in the back. That became clear when Cuban witnesses who had documented that criminal behavior were tried and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Where might this Biden thaw lead to? On Oct. 14, 2016, the Obama administration issued a presidential directive on “United States-Cuba Normalization,” which included a problematic instruction.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) will 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.

Reading this presidential directive from 2016, it’s clear that the Biden administration is using it as a blueprint for its unfolding Cuba policy, which ignores the nature of the regime in Havana and threatens not only American lives and property, but also the fate of democracy in the Americas.

The Daily Signal publishes a variety of perspectives. Nothing written here is to be construed as representing the views of The Heritage Foundation.

Have an opinion about this article? To sound off, please email letters@DailySignal.com and we’ll consider publishing your edited remarks in our regular “We Hear You” feature. Remember to include the url or headline of the article plus your name and town and/or state.

https://www.dailysignal.com/2023/01/13/bidens-misguided-cuba-policy-havanas-master-spy-and-danger-of-wishful-thinking/


The Hill, January 4, 2023

Why Cubans leave

by John Suarez, Opinion Contributor – 01/04/23 11:00 AM ET

More than 227,000 Cubans fled Cuba last year. The U.S. Coast Guard reported that 22 migrants died during fiscal 2022. On Dec. 21, Associated Press reporters said that families of Cubans who fled the country during the current exodus had compiled a list of 135 missing relatives.

Havana does not keep track of how many of its citizens are missing. Nor does the Cuban government allow independent actors in Cuba to track the numbers.

Francisco Chaviano González, a former mathematics teacher and political prisoner, attempted to compile a list of Cubans who went missing while trying to flee Cuba. Cuban officials threatened him with arrest and a 15-year prison sentence if he continued to count the number of missing Cubans.

Cuba has experienced a mass exodus over the last six decades, with more than 2.7 million Cubans moving to the U.S. Tens of thousands of Cubans perished while attempting to flee the Castro dictatorship. Some Cuban migrants who attempted to flee were massacred by agents of the Cuban dictatorship.

Between 1959 and December 1991, over 940,000 Cubans fled the Castro regime and entered the United States while Havana received massive subsidies from the Soviet Union. Cuban leader Fidel Castro repeatedly ridiculed the ineffectiveness of the U.S. trade embargo, but changed his tune in 1992 after the USSR collapsed on Christmas Day 1991.

The U.S. embargo on the Cuban government is not the cause of this mass exodus. Cuba’s communist dictatorship is.

In 1993, the Clinton administration in an official note charged that Cuban marine patrols repeatedly tossed grenades, strafed fleeing swimmers with automatic weapons fire and recovered bodies with gaff hooks, within sight of U.S. personnel at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. 

On July 13, 1994, a group of Cuban migrants attempted to flee aboard the “13 de Marzo” tugboat. State Security forces and four Transportation Ministry boats attacked the tugboat seven miles off the coast of Cuba, sinking it. Thirty-seven Cubans were killed, including 11 children.

1995 study by two academics reported that “a total of as many as 100,000 balseros may have died in crossing” the Florida Straits.

The most recent massacre was reported on Oct. 28, 2022. A Cuban Coast Guard ship deliberately collided with and sank a boat near Bahia Honda in Cuba’s Artemisa province. On the ship bound for the U.S., seven Cubans were killed, including a two-year-old girl.

Several other factors are contributing to the ongoing exodus. Some of these also led to the nationwide protests that began on July 11, 2021, and still impact Cuba today.

Havana’s decision not to obtain foreign vaccines for Cubans in order to claim that Cuba was the first country in the world to vaccinate their entire population with homegrown vaccines caused many deaths, and public outrage.

Havana used the pretext of the pandemic to tighten monopoly control over the distribution of assistance with no transparency, and refused to allow farmers markets on the island, increasing scarcity. Now Cubans with hard currency, and who were well off, cannot easily find food and other necessities.

This, combined with the lack of freedom, led to last year’s mass protests across Cuba, but the regime’s response is also contributing to the exodus.

When the protests erupted, President Miguel Diaz-Canel declared in a nationally televised broadcast: “The order to fight has been given — into the street, revolutionaries!” and “They will have to pass over our dead bodies If they want to confront the revolution, and we are willing to do anything.”

Police and paramilitaries shot Cuban protesters. They fatally shot Cuban artist Diubis Laurencio Tejeda in the back. Some witnesses who documented his killing were arrested and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Over a thousand Cubans were jailed for taking part in or recording images of the 11J protests, and the trials continue.

In response to the protests, Havana passed a new penal code in May 2022, which went into effect on Dec 1. Amnesty International referred to it as “a chilling prospect for 2023.” According to the human rights organization, the new code expands the death penalty to 23 crimes and punishes freedom of expression with long prison sentences.

These factors heightened Cubans’ desire to flee, but they do not explain the magnitude of the current exodus.

This exodus benefits the communist dictatorship financially and politically. Nicaragua is a client state of Havana, and it is coordinating with Cuba to weaponize migration to gain concessions from the U.S.

Managua lifted visa requirements for Cubans visiting Nicaragua on Nov. 22, 2021. This new route for Cuban migrants to the United States has exacerbated the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The mass exodus of disgruntled Cubans has strengthened the dictatorship’s grip on the island. Meanwhile, travel agencies affiliated with the communist regime are selling $4,000 plane tickets to Managua, thereby enriching regime oligarchs. In comparison, a slightly longer flight from Miami to Managua costs less than $400.

The Biden administration must demonstrate its support for Cuban democracy, not the dictatorship’s fabricated stability, which amounts to thinly veiled blackmail.

Three steps would be a good start: fully funding Marti Noticias (an international radio and television service funded by the U.S. government that broadcasts in Cuba) so that it can communicate directly with Cubans; applying Magnitsky sanctions on Diaz-Canel for the murderous violence he has inflicted on Cubans; and demanding Havana lift its internal blockade.

Only with these and other changes will the Cuban mass exodus begin to abate.

John Suarez is executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba and a human rights activist.

https://thehill.com/opinion/international/3798177-why-cubans-leave/