Tweet of the Day – Slavery is illegal everywhere, except in Cuba

September 23, 2017 by Alberto de la Cruz

The Wall Street Journal’s Mary Anastasia O’Grady reminds everyone that while slavery is technically illegal throughout the world, Cuba is still an island with 11-million+ people enslaved by the apartheid Castro dictatorship.

The Wall Street Journal, September 25, 2017

Cuba’s Sonic Attacks

How to respond to the harm done to 21 Americans in Havana.
By  The Editorial Board

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told CBS ’s “Face the Nation” recently that the U.S. is thinking about closing its Embassy in Havana in response to mysterious acoustic attacks on U.S. personnel that have injured at least 21 Americans.

Here’s a better idea: Keep the Embassy in Havana open but expel from the U.S. 19 Cubans working at its embassy in Washington. Since the U.S. already expelled two Cuban diplomats in August in response to the attacks, the new round of expulsions would bring the number of Castro personnel asked to leave to the same number of U.S. personnel that have been medically confirmed to have suffered injuries.

The U.S. can tell Cuba that things will return to normal when Raúl Castro explains to the State Department how the Embassy employees were harmed. As of now, all we know is that the State Department believes some sort of sonic harassment has left them with “a variety of physical symptoms.”

That’s an understatement. The American Foreign Service Association, a union for U.S. diplomats, said earlier this month that it has spoken with 10 of the affected and that “diagnoses include mild traumatic brain injury and permanent hearing loss, with such additional symptoms as loss of balance, severe headaches, cognitive disruption and brain swelling.”

Mr. Castro says he is shocked to hear this news and claims he has no idea how it could have happened. That would be easier to believe if Cuba were not a police state with a long record of harassing U.S. government employees on the island. According to retired ambassador James Cason, who ran the U.S. Interests Section in Havana from 2002-2005, leaving feces on a dining room table or a car door-handle and poisoning pets are a few ways that Castro’s boys have shown hospitality toward Americans over the years. Embassy personnel engaged on human-rights issues and with dissidents were among the most likely targets because the regime wanted to send a message, Mr. Cason told us.

The sonic attacks are different because the Americans didn’t know they were being harmed until after the fact. One theory is that one of Cuba’s allies, like North Korea or Iran, decided to test a new assault device from its embassy on the island. Another theory is that a rogue wing of the regime wants to undermine the U.S. rapprochement. But a regime that specializes in spying on its own people isn’t often surprised by local developments. As Mr. Cason puts it, “nothing happens [in Cuba] without the government knowing about it.”

On the odd chance that the attacks aren’t regime-approved, a one-party state that learned from the Soviets certainly has the power to investigate. Yet these incidents began last November, the U.S. first complained in February and as recently as August they continued. Not withstanding Mr. Castro’s bafflement, his government has done nothing about the attacks. Perhaps Raúl figured he could simply get away with it after he won normal relations with the U.S. without making any concessions.

Mr. Tillerson said “it’s a very serious issue with respect to the harm that certain individuals have suffered.” Expelling Cuban embassy personnel will anger Cuba because it will weaken its espionage ability here. But the U.S. has a responsibility to protect its diplomats and a failure to respond will encourage other regimes to do the same.

Appeared in the September 26, 2017, print edition.


Cuba sets up hurricane relief bank account. U.S. citizens should be wary of contributing

By Mimi Whitefield

September 22, 2017 7:18 PM

After Hurricane Irma’s devastating 72-hour pass through northern Cuba, the Cuban government took a novel approach to storm relief: It posted a Cuban bank account number on social media where humanitarian donations can be sent.

Even though the Cuban Foreign Ministry helpfully provided the SWIFT transfer code to facilitate donations to an account at the government Banco Financiera Internacional, U.S. humanitarians should think twice.

While people around the world can use the bank transfer method, it isn’t advisable for U.S. citizens. “The embargo would make this unavailable to U.S. citizens,” said Robert Muse, a Washington lawyer. Embargo law is designed “to prevent direct contributions of money to the Cuban government.”

Many Cuba watchers were surprised by such a direct pitch for relief.

But Cubadebate, an official Cuba website, said the account was set up after multiple requests “from friends around the globe” who wanted to help Cuba recover from the hurricane, which resulted in 10 deaths, widespread coastal flooding and extensive damage to agriculture, tourism facilities and homes.

When Mariela Castro Espin, the daughter of Cuban leader Raúl Castro, posted information about the new bank account on Facebook, her account was blocked. Less than 24 hours later, it was restored.

“Back to Facebook! Grateful for the solidarity of friends,” she wrote and reproduced a message of apology that said a Facebook employee had eliminated her post by error. Her first order of business: reposting the bank account information.

Cubadebate also reported that when “a friend of Cuba” in the Netherlands tried to deposit a hurricane relief donation in the account of Friendship Association RFA-Cuba, a Cuba solidarity organization based in Germany, ING — a Dutch bank — refused, saying it does not carry out direct or indirect transactions with certain countries, including Cuba.

“The banks are terrified about getting nailed over dealing with dollars in Cuba transactions,” said Muse. In 2012, ING was sanctioned by the United States and agreed to pay a $619 million penalty for illegally moving money through the U.S. banking system on behalf of clients in Cuba, Iran and other countries.

But there are legal means for U.S. citizens who want to send hurricane relief to Cubans, Muse said.

They can send remittances to family and friends or send gift parcels addressed to individuals or religious, charitable or educational organizations. The U.S. publishes a list of items, such as medicine and food, that are allowed to be sent in gift parcels.

Humanitarian donations also may be made to church and other organizations in Cuba that have verifiable distribution systems on the island, Muse said. “Donations typically have to go to non-state actors,” he said. But Cuba also has to agree to accept such donations.

When U.S. State Department officials gave a briefing earlier this week on planned U.S. hurricane assistance to Caribbean nations hit hard by Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma, mention of Cuba was notably absent.

Asked about it, Kenneth Merten, deputy assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs, responded: “The Cubans do not ask for assistance there typically. I’m hard pressed to remember if the Cubans have ever asked us for assistance after a hurricane or some kind of natural disaster so that — there is your answer.”

During a speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Friday, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez said he wanted to express “profound gratitude for those who have offered to assist Cuba” and offered to help hurricane victims in neighboring Caribbean islands to “the extent of our modest possibilities.”

“I want to convey the testimony of the people of Cuba, who are currently carrying out a colossal effort to recover from the severe damages caused by hurricane Irma to housing, agriculture, the power system and other services,” Rodríguez said.