As Obama Meets Castro, Rubio Urges Him Not To Cave On Embargo Vote At U.N. Too

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and Cuban President Raul Castro adjust their jackets at the start of their meeting at the United Nations General Assembly in New York September 29, 2015.   REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque       TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and Cuban President Raul Castro adjust their jackets at the start of their meeting at the United Nations General Assembly in New York September 29, 2015. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights and Global Women’s Issues, today urged President Barack Obama to vote against an anti-embargo resolution coming up in the United Nations and expressed that the Administration’s position would play a role in his consideration of State Department nominees in the coming months.

“Media reports that your Administration is considering abstaining from voting against the anti-embargo resolution are of even greater concern,” wrote Rubio. “Regardless of your beliefs, the U.S. embargo toward Cuba is codified in U.S. law and the reasons that it was imposed, including the Cuban government’s theft of billions of dollars of private property, remain unaddressed by Havana. Any disagreements over this law, which only regulates transactions by U.S. persons, should be debated in the United States Congress — not at the United Nations General Assembly.”

“I intend to watch closely the position your Administration takes when this resolution is debated at the United Nations and consider the Administration’s position as key to my advice and consent of involved State Department nominees in the coming months,” Rubio continued.

A PDF of the letter is available here, and the text is below:

September 29, 2015

President Barack Obama

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

As you know, the United Nations General Assembly will vote in the coming weeks on a resolution presented by the Cuban regime calling for an end to the U.S. embargo towards Cuba. While the General Assembly’s vote is symbolic, with no binding jurisdiction over the United States Congress, it fails to take into account the plight of those within the island that seek freedom.  Much has transpired between the governments of Cuba and the United States in the last nine months. Your administration has made many concessions to the Cuban dictatorship, none of which have been reciprocated. To the contrary, Cuba’s rulers, including Raul Castro, whom you are meeting with today, have responded with a dramatic increase in political arrests and other violations of fundamental human rights.

The embargo is critical to denying hard currency to the Cuban regime’s monopolies, which history has proven are only used to further oppression and enrich those close to the ruling class. Article 18 of the country’s Communist Constitution requires that all foreign trade with the island must be funneled through the state. Until this changes, it is illogical to argue that lifting the embargo would somehow benefit the Cuban people. It is the Cuban dictatorship and its backward political and economic policies — not the embargo — that has kept Cuban society from fulfilling its true potential.  Throughout the years, the United States has eased many aspects of the trade embargo, as well as travel restrictions to the island, and each time the Cuban dictatorship has manipulated these unilateral policy changes to its benefit. It is well past time for the Cuban government to change its repressive policies, without any further rewards.

Media reports that your Administration is considering abstaining from voting against the anti-embargo resolution are of even greater concern. Regardless of your beliefs, the U.S. embargo toward Cuba is codified in U.S. law and the reasons that it was imposed, including the Cuban government’s theft of billions of dollars of private property, remain unaddressed by Havana. Any disagreements over this law, which only regulates transactions by U.S. persons, should be debated in the United States Congress — not at the United Nations General Assembly.

Furthermore, a failure by your Administration to defend U.S. law at the United Nations General Assembly would send a dangerous message to tyrants throughout the world that the President of the United States refuses to pursue policies changes through the U.S. democratic system and instead seeks to challenge his country’s own laws in international fora.

Last, but not least, an abstention by your administration would cripple the efforts of Cuba’s growing dissident movement, which is detained and harassed on a daily basis. It would be interpreted as the United States siding with the Cuban dictatorship over the island’s courageous democracy activists. Your Administration should instead use this opportunity to encourage the Cuban dictatorship to open its society by allowing freedom of expression, freedom of press, and multi-party elections. It should also demand that the Cuban dictatorship remove the real barriers that limit the Cuban people from economically flourishing. Then, and only then, would it merit the lifting of the embargo.

I intend to watch closely the position your Administration takes when this resolution is debated at the United Nations and consider the Administration’s position as key to my advice and consent of involved State Department nominees in the coming months.

Respectfully,

Marco Rubio

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Rubio: On Cuban Independence Day: Freedom Is The Goal

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By Marco Rubio

Miami Herald

May 20, 2015

http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/op-ed/from-our-inbox/article21400620.html

As we mark Cuban Independence Day this Wednesday, we must never forget that the only true form of independence for the Cuban people is freedom and democracy, and we must recommit our state and nation to the goal of helping them achieve that vital objective.

I am the proud son of Cuban-American parents and was raised in a community of Cuban exiles. The trajectory of my life has been a product of their support, of true freedom, and of a uniquely American ideal: that where you come from does not determine where you can go or who you can be. Yet just 90 miles from the shores of our nation are men and women of my ancestry and heritage who still do not have freedom. Yet they look to this country for the hope that they someday will.

I believe we must not fail them. In the last decade and a half, every single country in the Western Hemisphere has had a free and fair election at some point except for one: Cuba. The United States has always stood on the side of peoples around the world who yearn for freedom. But today, our president has decided to take a different approach. Not only has he forsaken our duty to advocate for oppressed peoples, but he has traveled many miles in the opposite direction: going so far as to pay homage to the whims of the very dictatorial regime that denies the freedom of the Cuban people.

Keep reading here.

In Senate Hearing, Rubio Challenges Obama Administration On Cuba, Colombia

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Yesterday, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights and Global Women’s Issues held a budget authorization hearing to review the budget requests of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, and the Office of Global Women’s Issues.

In his opening remarks, Rubio addressed the importance of these issues for the Department of State and for America’s role in the world, and reviewed some of the challenges facing the U.S. in the Western Hemisphere and around the world.

In his exchanges with Obama Administration officials, Rubio expressed his concerns regarding the security of our Interests Section in Cuba and the possibility of the Interests Section in Havana being infiltrated by Cuban intelligence agents , and asked about the impact of these concerns on the transition of the Interests Section into an embassy (20:40). Rubio also touched on the Cuban military’s smuggling of weapons from China and to North Korea (31:30).

Rubio also inquired whether the U.S. had received a request from the Colombian government to release narco-terrorist Simón Trinidad, who is currently in U. S. custody, as part of its peace negotiations with the FARC (15:50), to which the administration replied that at the present time there were no discussions about his release.

Rubio’s other questions focused on “The Girls Count Act” (7:15), The National Action Plan for Women, Peace, and Security (9:26), religious freedom around the world (10:44), and the persecution of Christians in the Middle East (12:56).

A video of Rubio’s opening statement and the full exchanges is available here.

A transcript of Rubio’s full opening remarks is available below.

Senator Marco Rubio: “Today’s hearing is to review the resources, priorities, and programs in FY 2016 State Department budget request focused on our work here in the Western Hemisphere as well as transnational crime, civilian security, democracy, human rights, and global women’s issues.

“Our witnesses today from the administration are the Honorable Catherine Russell, the Ambassador-At-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Dr. John Feeley, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary from the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, and Ms. Virginia Bennett, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

“The hearing is going to focus on a review of resources, priorities, and programs in the FY 2016 budget request in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs and the Office of Global Women Issues.

“I want to thank all of you for being a part of this today.

“These are important issues for the Department of State and for America’s role in the world. Just as ensuring that our military is adequately funded to deter our enemies, the international affairs budget, of which the State Department budget is one component, is an essential element of our national security. The programs we will review today help advance U.S. national security interests in key regions, and help us ensure that our foreign policy reflects our values.

“I want to take this opportunity to briefly review some of the challenges facing us in the Western Hemisphere as well as across the globe:

“In Central America, the countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, which are collectively known as the Northern Triangle Countries (NTC), have been mired in economic stagnation, rocked by violent crime brought on by the proliferation of Narco traffickers and hobbled by entrenched corruption that inhibits economic growth and safety. I am cautiously optimistic about the desire of these countries to move themselves forward and the attention that the Administration is now giving to this particular region. While there cannot be a blank check and no accountability, Central American governments must look within and stamp out corruption to restore public confidence in public institutions.

“In Colombia, I remain supportive of the Government of Colombia and the Colombian people’s right to seek what is in their best interest with regards to the ongoing peace talks with the FARC. However, the FARC’s most recent deadly attack violated a ceasefire that had been in place since December and resulted in the death of 10 soldiers. This is not the first time that FARC has violated a ceasefire agreement, and the attack highlighted how deadly FARC continues to be. Our assistance to Colombia has been instrumental to the success in bringing the FARC to the negotiating table. The U.S. and Colombia must make sure that the FARC knows they’ve been defeated on the battlefield.

“In Haiti, the suspension of the October 26 elections last year were very startling, and the announcement by the president that he would rule by decree was even more disturbing. Haiti, unfortunately, has a history of turbulent elections and the recent suppression of political protestors cannot continue. We are hopeful that the upcoming August election will go forward as planned and that a new democratically elected government will be installed that will be responsive to the people of Haiti.

“In Cuba, despite all efforts by the Obama Administration to fast track and reestablish relations with that government, the Castro Dictatorship has used this opportunity to ridicule and attack American interests. The Cuban government has made no concessions, nor attempts to open a society that has been in darkness for 55 years. A darkness, make no mistake, that has been inflicted by the Castro brothers due to their ineffective and failed ideology.

“In fact, since December 17, the regime has increased its repression and beatings of dissidents, and has shown every intent of making US overtures a one-sided deal. In particular, the consistent attacks on the Ladies in White show this brutal regime’s true nature.

“In Venezuela, we continue to be concerned with the increasing authoritarian rule by Nicolás Maduro over Venezuela. The recently announced nationalization of privately owned commercial companies  through the use of his decree powers is an affront to a free society. He also continues to lash out at the United States as the cause of Venezuela’s problems, never acknowledging that he is the one who has imposed restrictions on currency, travel, and trade. The Venezuelan people deserve better.

“In Argentina we continue to mourn the death of Argentine Special Prosecutor Alberto Nisman, a courageous man, who relentlessly pursued those who were responsible for the bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) in Buenos Aires on July 18, 1994, that killed 85 people and wounded more than 300. I am concerned with the slow pace of the investigation into his death and with that in mind I introduced a resolution today regarding his courageous work and life, and a call for a swift and transparent investigation into his tragic death.

“Nicaragua continues to reestablish its close ties with Russia, rekindling memories of Soviet presence in Central America during the 80s. New military cooperation agreements between Vladimir Putin and Daniel Ortega, serves as further expansion of Russian reach into the hemisphere.

“Mexico– which we join today in commemorating its army’s defeat of the French army in Puebla on Cinco de Mayo – continues to be a strong partner of the United States both economically through trade and security. I continue, of course, to be concerned about the violence that proliferates across the country, driven by drug cartels that seek to terrorize the communities they operate in. I am particularly concerned about the massacre of 43 students in the city of Iguala.

“On democracy and human rights, we are seeing a deterioration of democracy and human rights across the globe. In particular, freedom of press and freedom of religion is being challenged in every corner of the globe. In 2015 Freedom House Freedom of the World Report identified that global press freedom declined in 2014 to its lowest point in more than 10 years. A 2013 Pew Research Study, found that Christians were harassed, either by government or social groups, in 102 of the 198 countries included in the study. There are also serious questions about whether the U.S. government is structured adequately to make human rights and democracy a priority of foreign policy.

“Women and girls face numerous challenges across the globe. From China’s One-Child policy which places a preference on boys over girls, to Saudi Arabia where the state of women’s rights is so abysmal that they aren’t even allowed to drive. Gender-based violence cuts across ethnicity, race, class, religion, education level, and international borders. An estimated one in three women worldwide has been beaten, coerced into sex or experienced some other form of abuse in their lifetime.

“While this list of challenges seems daunting, the U.S. government is dedicated to improving the status of democracy, human rights, and women’s rights. Today we are exploring how we can best dedicate our resources to improve ongoing U.S. efforts. With that, I will recognize Ranking Member Senator Boxer.”

Ahead Of U.S.-Cuba Talks, Rubio Urges Administration To Condition Normalization

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 As a high-level U.S. delegation travels to Cuba to begin talks to normalize U.S.-Cuba relations, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) today called on Secretary of State John Kerry to not normalize relations with Cuba without progress being made on key issues.

In a letter to Secretary Kerry, Rubio highlighted three areas of concern: human rights conditions, the repatriation of known terrorists and fugitives in Cuba, and outstanding American property claims against the Cuban government. Rubio stated his intention to look for tangible progress in these areas as he considers any administration requests to implement the President’s new policy toward Cuba.

“Since President Obama’s December 17th announcement of changes to the U.S.’s policy toward Cuba, there has not been any improvement in human rights conditions on the island. Although there was a nominal release of 53 political prisoners, serious questions still remain about the conditions of their release,” Rubio wrote. “Additionally, over one hundred political activists who were separate from the list of 53 have already been targeted and arrested since President Obama’s December 17th announcement.”

“A second issue I urge you to make central to the normalization talks is the repatriation of known terrorists and other fugitives from U.S. justice. As you are surely aware, the FBI believes there are more than 70 fugitives from justice being provided safe-harbor by Cuba’s regime,” Rubio added. “The victims of these violent individuals, who are being openly harbored by Cuba’s dictatorship, deserve justice prior to the full normalization of relations, let alone before any consideration of removing Cuba from the State Department’s state-sponsors of terrorism list.”

“There are thousands of verified American claimants who have been waiting for decades to be compensated for the Castro regime’s illegal expropriation of their property and assets. There are also billions of dollars in outstanding judgments from U.S. federal courts against the Cuban government for acts of terrorism,” Rubio wrote. “It has long been the intent of U.S. law that these issues must be resolved prior to normalization of relations.”

A PDF of the letter is available here. The full text of the letter is below:

January 20, 2015

The Honorable John Kerry

Secretary of State

U.S. Department of State

2201 C Street NW

Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Kerry:

As you prepare to send a high-level delegation to Cuba this week to discuss normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba, there are several issues I urge you to make central to this process. As you know, I remain skeptical of the President’s decision to reward a despotic totalitarian regime that has made no promises of political reform with the status of diplomatic recognition by the United States.  That said, in the past, administrations of both political parties have conditioned normalization of relations with countries of concern on specific progress made by the country in question in resolving longstanding bilateral issues as well as their own political reforms.

To this end, just as this administration and Congress have done with Burma, I urge you to make political reforms and progress on human rights central to your discussions.

Since President Obama’s December 17th announcement of changes to the U.S.’s policy toward Cuba, there has not been any improvement in human rights conditions on the island.  Although there was a nominal release of 53 political prisoners, serious questions still remain about the conditions of their release. Numerous released prisoners have reported that they were told to halt their political activities, while others had already completed their unjust sentences when they were released.  At least five have been reportedly re-arrested since their release and some have been released but with charges still pending.

Additionally, over one hundred political activists who were separate from the list of 53 have already been targeted and arrested since President Obama’s December 17th announcement. Many have also had their passports confiscated, so these activists cannot travel outside of Cuba and tell the truth about government repression.  Normalizing relations with the Castro regime without verified improvements in the situation faced by the Cuban people would not be consistent with our values as a nation.

A second issue I urge you to make central to the normalization talks is the repatriation of known terrorists and other fugitives from U.S. justice.  As you are surely aware, the FBI believes there are more than 70 fugitives from justice being provided safe-harbor by Cuba’s regime.  These include Joanne Chesimard, a cop-killer on the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted Terrorists list, and Frank Terpil, a renegade CIA agent who became an assassin-for-hire and arms smuggler for Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The victims of these violent individuals, who are being openly harbored by Cuba’s dictatorship, deserve justice prior to the full normalization of relations, let alone before any consideration of removing Cuba from the State Department’s state-sponsors of terrorism list.  As the President of the Fraternal Order of Police recently wrote to President Obama, “The blood of American law enforcement officers doing their job on American soil is too high a price to pay for closer ties with the Cuban regime.”

Finally, there are billions of dollars of outstanding American property claims against the Cuban government.  In the past, as in the case of Libya, the United States has not normalized relations with countries subject to outstanding American claims until they have been resolved or a process for their resolution has been established.  There are thousands of verified American claimants who have been waiting for decades to be compensated for the Castro regime’s illegal expropriation of their property and assets. There are also billions of dollars in outstanding judgments from U.S. federal courts against the Cuban government for acts of terrorism. It has long been the intent of U.S. law that these issues must be resolved prior to normalization of relations.

I want to see a free and democratic Cuba in the near future, but that will be impossible if the United States continues to ignore these fundamental issues in your discussions with the Cuban regime. I intend to look for tangible signs of progress in these three areas as I consider any administration requests to implement the President’s new Cuba policy.

Respectfully,

Marco Rubio

Rubio Comments On Easing Of U.S. Sanctions On Cuba

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U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) today issued the following statement regarding the Obama Administration’s announcement of new regulations to ease U.S. sanctions on Cuba:

“This is a windfall for the Castro regime that will be used to fund its repression against Cubans, as well as its activities against U.S. national interests in Latin America and beyond. Given existing U.S. laws about our Cuba policy, this slew of regulations leave at least one major question President Obama and his administration have failed to answer so far: what legal authority does he have to enrich the Castro regime in these ways?  

“Yesterday I requested answers from Secretary Lew on how this new Cuba policy would be implemented without violating the letter and spirit of several U.S. laws, and without increasing the moral and financial risk to the American taxpayer and financial system of doing business through Cuba’s government-controlled financial system. While those questions remain unanswered, one thing that’s become even more crystal clear today is that this one-sided deal is enriching a tyrant and his regime at the expense of U.S. national interests and the Cuban people.”

Rubio, Coats Seek Answers From Treasury Department On Lawfulness Of Easing U.S. Sanctions On Cuba

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U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Dan Coats (R-IN) today called on Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew to detail how the Department of the Treasury plans to lawfully implement President Obama’s announcement to unilaterally normalize relations with Cuba.

In a letter to Secretary Lew, Rubio and Coats expressed concern over “stark differences between the letter of the law and the Administration’s announcement,” and urged the Treasury Department to clarify the Obama Administration’s legal authority regarding its intentions to ease U.S. sanctions on Cuba.

“We are deeply concerned that several aspects of the President Obama’s new approach to Cuba, especially those related to unilaterally easing U.S. sanctions, violate the letter and spirit of several U.S. laws, and increase the moral and financial risk to the American taxpayer and financial system of doing business through Cuba’s government-controlled financial system,” the senators wrote. “We ask that you explain in detail how the Treasury Department plans to implement the President’s announcement under current law.

“On December 17, the President announced that ‘U.S. institutions will be permitted to open correspondent accounts at Cuban financial institutions to facilitate the processing of authorized transactions,’” the senators added. “As you know, Section 7207 of the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act (TSREEA) explicitly prohibits U.S. assistance and financing to Cuba. Moreover, it contains no Presidential waiver.”

A PDF of the letter is available here, and the full text is below.

January 14, 2015

The Honorable Jacob J. Lew

Secretary of the Treasury

United States Department of the Treasury

Dear Secretary Lew:

We are deeply concerned that several aspects of the President Obama’s new approach to Cuba, especially those related to unilaterally easing U.S. sanctions, violate the letter and spirit of several U.S. laws, and increase the moral and financial risk to the American taxpayer and financial system of doing business through Cuba’s government-controlled financial system.  We ask that you explain in detail how the Treasury Department plans to implement the President’s announcement under current law.

On December 17, the President announced that “U.S. institutions will be permitted to open correspondent accounts at Cuban financial institutions to facilitate the processing of authorized transactions.”

As you know, Section 7207 of the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act (TSREEA) explicitly prohibits U.S. assistance and financing to Cuba. Moreover, it contains no Presidential waiver. Also, Section 103 of the LIBERTAD Act prohibits any financing of transactions involving confiscated property belonging to U.S. nationals.

Given these stark differences between the letter of the law and the Administration’s announcement, we ask that you provide clear answers to the following questions:

·         What legal authority does the Administration have to allow establishment of correspondent accounts in Cuba, and the use of U.S. credit and debit cards by travelers to Cuba?

·         How would the opening of correspondent accounts and the use of U.S.-backed credit cards expose U.S. financial institutions and affect legal action from Americans who have outstanding judgments rendered against the Cuban government by U.S. courts?

·         How would these regulatory changes impact U.S. obligations to protect U.S. trademark holders, namely those who had their intellectual property confiscated?

·         Less than three years ago, Cuba blocked access to the Cuba-based correspondent bank accounts of its European trading partners and confiscated their cash.  Can the Administration ensure that this will not happen to U.S. accounts?

The President also announced that “Telecommunications providers will be allowed to establish the necessary mechanisms, including infrastructure, in Cuba to provide commercial telecommunications and internet services.”

While Congress has authorized certain transactions to improve telecommunications services between the United States and Cuba, U.S. law prohibits U.S. investments in Cuba’s domestic telecom infrastructure.

Specifically, the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 (22 USC 6004) includes a direct prohibition on “investment in domestic telecommunications services.”  Moreover, it states that an “investment” in the domestic telecommunications network within Cuba “includes the contribution (including by donation) of funds or anything of value to or for, and the making of loans to or for, such network.”  The LIBERTAD Act subsequently reinforced this “no investment” in telecom prohibition (22 USC 6032(g)).

·         What legal authority does the Administration have to allow U.S. investments in Cuba’s telecommunications infrastructure?

·         How would such investments affect legal action from Americans who have outstanding judgments rendered against the Cuban government by U.S. courts?

Also, as part of the President’s announcement, general licenses will be issued for all 12 categories of authorized travel in the existing categories.  However, TSREEA codified the ban on tourist activities, which are defined as any activity not expressly authorized in the 12 categories of travel set forth in the regulations. It further specified, “as such regulations were in effect on June 1, 2000.”  At the time of codification, non-academic educational travel (“people-to-people”) was only permitted via specific license.

·         Under what authority will the President license travel beyond the June 1, 2000 levels?

Under the travel codification, trips related to activities that are primarily tourist-oriented — including self-directed educational activities intended only for personal enrichment — are illegal.

·         How will Treasury enforce violations of travel for self-directed educational activities and by groups that sponsor people-to-people trips, which seek to engage primarily in tourist activities?

·         How do certain travel activities, including staying at confiscated properties by U.S. travelers, not violate the ban on trafficking, and “indirect financing,” of confiscated property in LIBERTAD?

The fact that the Administration has been unable to answer these and many other questions almost a month after the President’s announcement, raises serious concerns about the process which preceded it.  We thus would like to know whether the Treasury Department was even consulted regarding these significant policy changes regarding Cuba, and if so, on what date.

We appreciate your prompt answers to these questions.

Sincerely,

Marco Rubio

Daniel Coats