Havana Syndrome continues to baffle U.S. officials

Havana Syndrome continues to baffle U.S. officials

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House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., talks to reporters as lawmakers work to extend government surveillance powers that are expiring soon, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 3, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) more >

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By Joseph Clark

The Washington Times

Friday, October 1, 2021

U.S. officials remain determined to get to the bottom of mysterious, neurological “anomalous health incidents” which have befallen a growing number of diplomats, military personnel and intelligence officials.

Senior leaders in the Biden administration have ramped up efforts to treat those with the mysterious symptoms, which a December National Academy of Sciences report said “are consistent with the effects of directed, pulsed radiofrequency (RF) energy.”

The suspected attacks — causing what’s known as Havana Syndrome, after a rash of reports from U.S. Embassy staff in Cuba — cause often debilitating symptoms, including vertigo and headaches, that can last years. Many suspect the attacks are from a microwave or directed-energy weapon.

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Congress, too, has stepped up its efforts, passing legislation this month to provide financial assistance to victims.

But as for definitively pinning down the source and who may be responsible, the U.S. remains baffled. 

“I feel, still, a strong degree of humility about being able to give you a best guess, because it could be completely wrong,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, California Democrat, told reporters last week.

Mr. Schiff said the U.S. government has not ruled anything out in terms of who or what may be causing the incidents. He said not all of the reported incidents may be “attributable to the same cause.”

“At the same time, the seriousness of the injuries and the proliferating nature of these anomalies demands are full, for the deployment of resources across the government to find out,” he said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and CIA Director William J. Burns have both made firm commitments to determining the cause, and ensuring victims are cared for.

“This was one of the few issues that Secretary Blinken asked to have added to his roster of briefings, even before he was sworn in,” a State Department spokesperson said Friday. “He wanted to make sure that we get a full understanding of where we were in terms of understanding anomalous health incidents, and what more we needed to do.”

Mr. Blinken remains personally engaged in the matter and has appointed a senior official to oversee the State Department’s work alongside the National Security Council, the Department of Defense and the intelligence community to continue to press for answers.

Mr. Burns told NPR in July that the attacks on CIA personnel were among his top priorities.

“I’m certainly persuaded that what our officers and some family members, as well as other U.S. government employees, have experienced is real, and it’s serious,” Mr. Burns told NPR. “I am absolutely determined … to get to the bottom of the question of what and who caused this.”

In August, Mr. Burns recalled the chief of station in Vienna after agency officials determined he did not adequately address multiple anomalous health incidents in Austria.

Earlier this month, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin urged service members to come forward if they experience any symptoms.

“As part of a government-wide effort, the Department is committed to finding the cause and the source of these AHI and ensuring that affected individuals receive appropriate medical care as possible when needed,” Mr. Austin said in a memo. 

Some estimate that more than 200 officials have been targeted in the attacks, which have affected officials from the State Department, the Defense Department and the Central Intelligence Agency.

Since the initial diagnoses in 2016, the number of U.S. officials around the globe reporting symptoms, including on U.S. soil, has continued to swell.

In May, reports revealed information about two U.S. officials struck by Havana syndrome near the White House.

In August, a “possible anomalous health incident” — which some believed to be a Havana syndrome case — was reported by the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi and briefly delayed Vice President Kamala D. Harris’ trip to Vietnam.

Earlier this month, a CIA officer reported symptoms while traveling in India, at the same time Mr. Burns was in the country.

When the incidents first began being reported, several officials said their cases were dismissed by leadership within the State Department and CIA, and that the government denied them access to medical treatment for the symptoms. In some cases, the victims were forced to end their service due to the injuries they sustained, which they said were ignored.

In an early investigation into the rash of reports from the U.S. embassy in Cuba, the State Department in 2018 commissioned a study by the JASON advisory group, which investigated sounds recorded by victims who suffered from anomalous health incidents in Havana.

The report, a declassified version of which was published Thursday by Buzzfeed, paints a picture of the uphill battle early victims faced.

In its report, JASON concluded that the recorded sounds were “mechanical or biological in origin, rather than electronic” and not consistent with a microwave energy attack. The report also concluded that “a possible explanation for the reported symptoms is a psychogenic illness,” though it stopped short of declaring a targeted attack by a bad actor.

The State Department has since dismissed the 2018 study, according to a spokesperson who said the report exhibits several shortcomings, including reliance on scant data and a lack of “broad access to information and effective personnel necessary to fully understand such a complex issue.” The researchers behind the JASON report interviewed only one person who had reported symptoms commonly associated with anomalous health incidents.

“And it was because of the flaws and shortcomings in prior studies including this one, that we have focused on sharing information across departments and agencies and making all of that data available to the [intelligence community’s] expert panel,” he said.

The State Department spokesperson said the JASON report is not “aligned with this administration’s understanding” of the anomalous health incidents and has not “informed” the government’s more recent inquiry into the matter.

“I think we’ve made a lot of improvements in terms of how the government, the whole government, is treating those who are suffering from these anomalies,” Mr. Schiff said.

But Mr. Schiff says there are still questions to be answered. He said he still thinks there could be a variety of causes behind the symptoms.

“These attacks, there’s certainly many of them that seem quite deliberate and what the causes and what the motivation is, what the intent is — I think these are still very much open questions,” he said. “But I do think that we are getting closer to some of the answers, and bringing new tools to bear to help us get those answers.”

Mr. Schiff said he is still open to the possibility that Havana Syndrome is not a result of targeted attacks.

But, he said, “if a nation-state actor is behind it or more than one nation-state actor, and these are deliberate attacks where their efforts are undertaken with the knowledge that they’re causing people physical injury, I’m also confident there’ll be very serious repercussions.”

GOP lawmakers push legislation to counter internet censorship of Cuban dissidents

GOP lawmakers push legislation to counter internet censorship of Cuban dissidents

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Men use a prepaid public Wi-FI connection on their cellphones next to a park that’s popular for connectivity, which costs money, in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, July 14, 2021. The government responded to Sunday’s anti-government protests by shutting down internet and … more >

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By Haris Alic

The Washington Times

Friday, August 20, 2021

Two House Republicans plan to introduce legislation on Friday to counter Cuba‘s efforts to censor dissidents on the internet.

In recent weeks, the Cuban government conducted a sweeping crackdown on free speech as protests have wracked the island nation.

Rep. Claudia Tenney, a New York Republican and one of the authors of the bill, said congressional action was needed because of the White House’s inaction.

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President Biden responded to the wave of censorship in Cuba by issuing new economic sanctions on the government of President Miguel Díaz-Canel. The sanctions, however, have not stopped the censorship or other human rights abuses by the communist regime.

“This bill directs the Biden administration to end its foot-dragging and finally take practical steps to assist the Cuban people in circumventing the regime’s censorship,” said Ms. Tenney.

The bill, which is titled the Championing Uncensored Broadband Access Act or CUBA, would direct the State Department and national security agencies to counter the Cuban government‘s censorship. Currently, more than one million Cubans are relying on anti-censorship technology to get around blackouts of social media sites in the island nation.

The legislation would push the U.S. national security infrastructure to expand that number significantly through the deployment of more digital anti-censorship tools.

A copy of the bill was exclusively obtained by The Washington Times.

Ms. Tenney authored the bill alongside Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, a Florida Republican and daughter of Cuban exiles. Ms. Salazar, whose district is home to one of the largest Cuban-American populations in the country,

“The Cuban people are being massacred. They need unrestricted internet access now,” she Ms. Salara. “The Biden Administration does not have a plan so Congress is moving forward with a strategy to facilitate internet access to the Cuban people.”

The Republican bill faces long odds in the Democrat-run House, though the pro-democracy protests in Cuba have at times garnered bipartisan support in Congress.

Protests against food and medicine shortages have wracked Cuba since mid-July. In response to protests, which were amplified heavily on social media, the Cuban government has heavily curtailed access to the internet.

The new regulations make inciting acts “that alter [the] public order” a crime. Internet providers, in particular, have been ordered to cut access to individuals who “hurt the image of the state.” In practice, this has meant that anyone sharing videos or images of the protests has been blocked.

Ms. Tenney argues that such restrictions only serve to target dissidents while hiding the human rights abuses of the Cuban government.

“The regime in Cuba does not want the world to see the atrocities of socialism, nor does it wish to allow its own people the ability to communicate freely with each other or the outside world,” she said. “The United States must use the tools at our disposal to help the Cuban people overcome their government’s censorship efforts.”

Haiti braces for Grace, Florida for Fred as storms brew

Haiti braces for Grace, Florida for Fred as storms brew

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City workers fill sandbags at a drive-thru sandbag distribution event for residents ahead of the arrival of rains associated with tropical depression Fred, Friday, Aug. 13, 2021, at Grapeland Park in Miami. Forecasters say tropical depression Fred is slowly strengthening … more >

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By Associated Press –

Monday, August 16, 2021

Tropical Depression Grace drenched earthquake-damaged Haiti on Monday, threatening to dump up to 15 inches of rain on a landscape where people are huddling in fields and searching for survivors. Tropical Storm Fred grew stronger as it closed in on Florida’s coast, and a third tropical system was swirling around Bermuda.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Fred’s maximum sustained winds increased to 65 mph as its center moved within 35 miles of Apalachicola, Florida, moving toward the coastal city at 9 mph. Landfall was expected Monday afternoon on a path that will bring heavy rains to a swath of southeastern U.S. this week.

Grace, meanwhile, was moving over Haiti’s Tiburon Peninsula with top winds of 35 mph, bearing down on the disaster area with what forecasters said could total 10 inches of steady rainfall, and still more in isolated areas. The hurricane center warned that flash floods and mudslides were possible, especially along Hispaniola’s southern coasts.

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The oncoming storm couldn’t come at a worse time for Haitians struggling to deal with the effects of Saturday’s 7.2 magnitude earthquake, blamed for an estimated 1,300 deaths.

Grace was centered 70 miles southeast of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and moving west at 12 mph. It was expected to become a tropical storm again as it passes between Cuba and Jamaica Tuesday on the way to Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. A tropical storm watch was in effect for the entire southern coast of Haiti, most of the southern coast of Cuba and the Cayman Islands.

Fred’s main threats are rainfall and storm surge, the hurricane center said. Forecasters expected Fred to sustain 4 to 8 inches from Alabama across Florida’s Big Bend and Panhandle, and even a foot of rain in isolated spots, while the surge could push seawater of between 3 to 5 feet onto the coast between Florida’s Indian Pass and the Steinhatchee River.

Forecasters warned that Fred also could dump heavy rain across and into the mid-Atlantic states, with flash floods as some rivers overflow and even landslides in the Blue Ridge mountains.

Along Panama City Beach in Florida’s Panhandle, lifeguards have hoisted double-red flags, warning beachgoers against going into the Gulf of Mexico. The area braced for rain and some wind from the storm, and while no evacuations were ordered, schools and government offices were closed on Monday.

Shawna Wood, who is still rebuilding the waterfront Driftwood Inn in Mexico Beach after it was destroyed by Hurricane Michael, said the area was getting a lot of rain, but conditions weren’t terrible.

On the Alabama coast, the city of Orange Beach offered sand and bags to residents worried about flooding. A half-dozen school systems shut down Monday, and a large church opened as a shelter. Salt water was washing over roads and causing flooding in low-lying areas of Dauphin Island, a coastal barrier south of Mobile, Alabama, at midday Monday, Mayor Jeff Collier said.

“We’ve certainly been in a lot worse than this, but that’s no reason to be complacent,” said Florida’s Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford. “The less people out on the road, the better. We do expect some heavy rain from this storm.”

Meanwhile, the season’s eighth tropical depression formed late Sunday near Bermuda, and the hurricane center predicted it would become a tropical storm sometime Monday as it circles around the island, about 140 miles offshore. A tropical storm watch was in effect for the island as the system’s top winds grew to around 35 mph.

Tropical Storm Fred nearing the Dominican Republic

Tropical Storm Fred nearing the Dominican Republic

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By Dánica Coto

Associated Press

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) – Tropical Storm Fred swirled toward the Dominican Republic and Haiti on Wednesday, with forecasters warning that heavy rains could cause dangerous flooding and mudslides.

After a quiet month of no named storms in the region, Fred became the sixth of the Atlantic hurricane season late Tuesday as it passed by the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on a forecast track that would carry it toward Florida over the weekend.

Tropical storm warnings were discontinued in the U.S. territories after pelting the islands with rain.

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More than 13,000 customers were without power in Puerto Rico, where Luma, the company in charge of the transmission and distribution system, warned those who depend on electricity for life-saving medical devices to activate emergency plans.

Puerto Rico’s system … continues to be very fragile,” the company said, referring to the power grid Hurricane Maria destroyed in 2017.

Fred was centered 25 miles (40 kilometers) south-southeast of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, on Wednesday morning and moving west-northwest at 16 mph (26 kph), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. It had maximum sustained winds of 45 mph (75 kph).

The Dominican Republic, Haiti and central and eastern Cuba could get hit Wednesday, and people in Florida were urged to monitor updates. Forecasters said the center of Fred was expected to move near the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas on Thursday, and move north of the northern coast of central Cuba on Friday.

Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi closed government agencies on Tuesday at noon and officials noted that some gas stations had shut down after running out of fuel. The heaviest rain was expected to fall during the night, forecasters said.

Eight shelters were opened across the island, though officials said only about seven people had checked in by midevening.

“Do not wait until the last minute to mobilize,” said Nino Correa, Puerto Rico‘s emergency management commissioner. “We don’t want to have fatalities.”

More than a month had passed since the last Atlantic storm, Hurricane Elsa, but this time of summer usually marks the start of the peak of hurricane season.

The hurricane center issued warnings for Dominican Republic on the south coast from Punta Palenque eastward and on the north coast from the Dominican Republic/Haiti border eastward. A watch was in effect for Haiti from the northern border with the Dominican Republic to Gonaives and for the Cuban provinces of Ciego de Avila, Camaguey, Las Tunas, Holguin, Granma, Santiago and Guantanamo. Also included in the watch was the Turks and Caicos Islands and southeastern Bahamas.

The storm was expected to produce rainfall of 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 centimeters) over Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic with up to 6 inches (15 centimeters) in some areas.

US readies new Cuba sanctions as Biden meets Cuban-Americans

US readies new Cuba sanctions as Biden meets Cuban-Americans

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By Aamer Madhani and E. Eduardo Castillo

Associated Press

Friday, July 30, 2021

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Biden administration is expected to impose new sanctions on Cuba on Friday as President Joe Biden meets with Cuban-American leaders at the White House to discuss a U.S. response to recent social protests on the island.

Officials say new moves against the communist government are likely to be announced shortly after Biden’s afternoon meeting, which will cover a range of options the administration is considering in response to the protests, including providing internet access to Cubans. The officials were not authorized to preview the actions and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The White House meeting comes almost three weeks after unusual July 11 protests in which thousands of Cubans took to the streets in Havana and other cities to protest shortages, power outages and government policies. They were the first such protests since the 1990s.

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Details of the new measures, expected to be announced jointly by the White House, Treasury and State Department, were not immediately clear.

Among the people who will meet with Biden is Yotuel Romero, one of the authors of the song “Patria y vida!” which has become a kind of anthem for the protests, said the official, who was bit authorized to discuss the plans in public and spoke on condition on anonymity.

Also present will be L. Felice Gorordo, CEO of the company eMerge Americas; Ana Sofía Peláez, founder of the Miami Freedom Project, and Miami’s former mayor, Manny Díaz, among others.

The White House did not provide more details, only saying that new sanctions will be discussed as well as ways to establish internet access for the Cuban people.

Internet access is a sensitive issue in Cuba. In the days before the recent protests, there were calls on social media for anti-government demonstrations. Cuba‘s government said anti-Castro groups in the United States have used social media, particularly Twitter, to campaign against it and blamed Twitter for doing nothing to stop it.

Internet service was cut off at one point during the July 11 protest, though Cuban authorities have not explicitly acknowledged that they did it.

Some U.S. leaders, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, have said the White House should do something to maintain internet service in Cuba, including using balloons as Wi-Fi access points for the population.

José Miguel Vivanco, Human Rights Watch’s director for the Americas, said protecting internet access in Cuba must be one of the top priorities of the Biden administration.

“The growing access to the internet on the island has been a true revolution that has allowed the population to communicate, organize protests and report abuses almost immediately – something that would have been impossible a few years ago,” he stold The Associated Press.

Regarding the sanctions, Vivanco said their value is “mostly symbolic,” because it is not realistic to think that they alone will change the situation on the island. He said one way to stop human rights violations in Cuba is a “multilateral and coordinated condemnation,” along with moving toward a policy that puts an end to the current embargo.

In addition to the internet, the Biden administration is considering proposals put forward by U.S. advocates of trade with Cuba that would restore ways for Cuban-Americans to send money to relatives on the island.

Biden and others have rejected the outright restoration of remittances because of a percentage fee of the transaction paid to the government. But under one proposal being considered, the transfer agents would waive that fee until the end of the year, according to proponents.

The proposal would have to be cleared by the Cuban government, however, and it is not at all clear it would agree.

Last week, the U.S. government announced sanctions against the minister of the Cuban armed forces, Álvaro López Miera, and the Special Brigade of the Ministry of the Interior – known as the “black berets” – for having participated in the arrest of protesters.

International organizations have harshly criticized the Cuban government, which has said that while people affected by the country’s crisis participated in the protests there were also “criminals” who took advantage of the situation to create disturbances. At times, the protests turned into vandalism with looting, robbery and confrontations with the police.

Government sympathizers also took to the streets to defend the authorities and the revolution.

So far it is unclear how many people were detained, although the judicial authorities have said there have been 19 trials involving 59 people.

Cuban embassy in Paris attacked with gasoline bombs, foreign minister says

Cuban embassy in Paris attacked with gasoline bombs, foreign minister says

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Cuba´s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez speaks during a press conference in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, July 13, 2021. Rodriguez spoke after a rare outpouring of weekend protests over high prices and food shortages in the island nation where little dissent against … more >

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By

Associated Press

Monday, July 26, 2021

HAVANA — The Cuban Embassy in Paris was attacked with gasoline bombs, Cuba‘s foreign minister said Monday night.

Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez did not offer any details of the incident in a post on his Twitter account announcing the attack. There was no indication of whether any damage or injuries occurred.

“I hold the U.S. Government responsible for its continuous campaigns against our country that encourage these behaviors and for calls for violence, with impunity, from its territory,” Rodriguez said.

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Over the past three weeks, Cuban embassies in many cities around the world have been the scene of demonstrations both against and for Cuba‘s government in reaction to protests that erupted across the island on July 11 and 12.

Cuba has accused the U.S. government of fomenting a social media campaign aimed at destabilizing the Caribbean nation, which is going through a severe economic crisis exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and U.S. sanctions.

U.S., 20 nations demand the release of Cuban protesters

U.S., 20 nations demand the release of Cuban protesters

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Anti-government protesters march in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, July 11, 2021. As Cubans facing the country’s worst economic crisis in decades took to the streets in droves over the weekend into Monday, July 12, 2021, authorities blocked social media sites in … more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Monday, July 26, 2021

Foreign ministers from the U.S. and 20 other nations condemned the mass arrest and detention of Cubans participating in a wave of protests against the communist regime and the deprivations they face on the island.

The State Department said demonstrators must be released and be able to share information over the web and in the press.

“We call on the Cuban government to respect the legally guaranteed rights and freedoms of the Cuban people without fear of arrest and detention,” the joint statement said. “We urge the Cuban government to release those detained for exercising their rights to peaceful protest. We call for press freedom and for the full restoration of Internet access, which allows economies and societies to thrive. We urge the Cuban government to heed the voices and demands of the Cuban people.”

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Other signers included ministers from Austria, Brazil, Colombia, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Estonia, Guatemala, Greece, Honduras, Israel, Latvia, Lithuania, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, South Korea and Ukraine.

Protesters in Cuba have cried “Libertad,” or “freedom,” and for President Miguel Diaz-Canel to step down as they face deteriorating conditions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The street marches, the largest in decades, have sparked a crackdown from the oppressive government and raised concerns abroad.

Some Cubans say the Biden administration needs to offer more tangible assistance. The White House has said it is looking for ways to do that without enriching the communist government.

As first lady Jill Biden returned Monday to the White House from the Tokyo Olympics, her motorcade passed a demonstrator on the National Mall who said, “No negotiation with the Cuban regime.”

Congressional Republicans will highlight the Cuba issue during a Washington demonstration on Tuesday that serves as counter-programming to the first hearing of the committee probing the Jan. 6 riot at the  U.S. Capitol.

Biden sanctions Cuban officials for human rights abuses

Biden slaps new sanctions on Cuban officials for human rights abuses

President bucks progressives who urged him to lift the U.S. embargo

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Demonstrators shout their solidarity with the Cuban people against the communist government during a rally outside the White House in Washington, Saturday, July 17, 2021.(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana) more >

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By Jeff Mordock

The Washington Times

Thursday, July 22, 2021

President Biden on Thursday slapped Cuban officials with sanctions, accusing them of human rights abuses during the island government’s crackdown on protesters earlier this month.

The sanctions mark the first response by the Biden administration to show stronger support for Cuban protesters by pressure the communist regime there.

Measures to bring increased internet access to Cuba were included as part of the sanctions. When protests broke out early last week, the government shut down the internet in an attempt to stop future demonstrations.

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The Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Cuba’s defense minister Alvaro Lopez Miera and the communist nation’s special forces brigade.

Mr. Biden said the sanctions were just the beginning and vowed to continue to hold Cuba accountable for repressing protesters.

“I unequivocally condemn the mass detentions and sham trials that are unjustly sentencing to prison those who dared to speak out, in an effort to intimidate and threaten the Cuban people into silence,” Mr. Biden said in a statement. “The Cuban people have the same right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly as all people.”

“The United States stands with the brave Cubans who have taken to the streets to oppose 62 years of repression under a communist regime,” the president continued.

By issuing the sanctions, Mr. Biden bucked progressives in his own party who have urged him to lift the U.S. embargo against Cuba and return to the Obama-era effort of normalizing relations with the communist regime.

The latest sanctions were imposed under the Global Magnitsky Act, passed in response to Russian government oppression, and then later extended to totalitarian governments like Venezuela.

The sanctions block the Cuban officials from doing business with all U.S. individuals or within the U.S. itself. 

It is a largely symbolic action because such transactions are already blocked under the U.S. embargo on Cuba. Still, it calls out the communist regime in a very public and global way.

“Treasury will continue to enforce its Cuba-related sanctions, including those imposed today, to support the people of Cuba in their quest for democracy and relief from the Cuban regime,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.

Thousands of protesters filled the streets across Cuba, venting their frustration over food and power shortages. It was the largest protests the country has seen since the 1990s and fueled, in part, by the country’s struggles to contain the coronavirus crisis.

President Miguel Diaz-Canel said the regime was “prepared to do anything” to stop the protests.

“We will be battling in the streets,” he said, blaming the U.S. for the protests, according to media reports last week.

U.S. transfers Guantanamo Bay prisoner to Morocco; Gitmo population drops to 39

U.S. transfers Guantanamo Bay prisoner to Morocco; Gitmo population drops to 39

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This Wednesday, June 6, 2018, file photo, reviewed by U.S. military officials, shows a placard announcing prayer call at the maximum-security prison at Camp VI, at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, in Guantanamo, Cuba. The detention center opened in … more >

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Monday, July 19, 2021

The Biden administration said Monday that it had transferred a detainee from the Guantanamo Bay detention center back to his native country of Morocco, cutting the total number of prisoners at the site in Cuba to 39 with more moves on the horizon.

Pentagon officials said Abdul Latif Nasir, an al Qaeda explosives trainer captured by U.S. forces during the early years of the war on terror, no longer needed to be housed at the facility.

It was the first transfer of a Guantanamo prisoner since President Biden took office in January and a sign that the administration is prepared to forge ahead with the long-standing Democratic goal of shuttering the prison. Critics say the Guantanamo Bay detention camp has outlived its usefulness, has become a financial burden and serves as a terrorist recruiting tool in some corners of the world. 

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Along with the unfolding U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan, the shuttering of Guantanamo would mark a symbolic turning point from the war on terror, which has dominated the American national security landscape for 20 years.

The imprisonment of Nasir, 56, was under review for a decade as part of a much broader effort in the Obama administration to dramatically reduce the number of Guantanamo detainees. The Defense Department’s periodic review board found in 2016 that it was no longer necessary to hold Nasir at the facility, but his release was delayed throughout President Trump’s tenure.

“In 2016, the Periodic Review Board process determined that law of war detention of Abdul Latif Nasir no longer remained necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the national security of the United States,” the Pentagon said in a statement. “Therefore, the PRB recommended that Nasir be authorized for repatriation to his native country of Morocco, subject to security and humane treatment assurances. The steps necessary to effectuate the repatriation were unable to be completed prior to the end of the Obama administration.”

“The United States commends the Kingdom of Morocco for its long-time partnership in securing both countries’ national security interests,” the Pentagon said. “The United States is also extremely grateful for the Kingdom’s willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility.”

Nasir was captured in Afghanistan in January 2002 while trying to escape into Pakistan, said a Defense Department memo released by WikiLeaks. The message said Nasir was an associate of al Qaeda leader and 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden.

Nasir worked with the terrorist organization as an explosives expert and weapons instructor. He fought U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan as a member of bin Laden’s 55th Arab Brigade, the memo said.

His transfer leaves 39 detainees at Guantanamo. Of those, administration officials say, another 10 “have been recommended for transfer” to their native countries or other destinations. Advocacy groups are pushing for quick action.

“The Biden administration urgently needs to negotiate and implement similar decisions for other cleared prisoners,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the National Security Project at the American Civil Liberties Union. “Bringing an end to two decades of unjust and abusive military detention of Muslim men at Guantanamo is a human rights obligation and a national security necessity.”

Another 17 Guantanamo prisoners are eligible to have their cases heard by the review board, officials said, meaning they could soon be recommended for transfer.

Ten more detainees are moving through military commission proceedings. They include Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, thought to be one of the key perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The remaining two prisoners have been convicted. 

Should Guantanamo be closed, those who have been convicted or may be found guilty will likely be transferred to maximum-security prisons on the U.S. mainland. That idea has met fierce resistance from lawmakers whenever it has been floated over the past two decades.

Such resistance ultimately helped scuttle Mr. Obama’s efforts to close the facility, which is growing increasingly expensive as its prisoners age and require extensive medical care.

Though he did not close the prison, Mr. Obama dramatically shrank its population from 245 to 41.

Mr. Trump, meanwhile, said he would fill Guantanamo with Islamic State terrorists and other “bad dudes” captured around the world, but he did not follow through on that promise. The Guantanamo population held relatively steady during his presidency. Only one detainee was released.

With their party back in control of the White House, Democrats on Capitol Hill mounted a renewed effort to cut funding for Guantanamo and effectively force it to close. Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee released a draft defense budget this month that eliminates funding for the prison by the fall of 2022.

Although many lawmakers argued for years that Guantanamo became too expensive and served as a recruitment tool for extremists, others said the combatants were too dangerous to release.

• Joseph Clark and Mike Glenn contributed to this report.

White House: ‘Failed ideology’ in Cuba led to a health crisis

White House: ‘Failed ideology’ in Cuba led to a health crisis

Responds to critics who say Biden focused narrowly on COVID-19 complaints

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White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Thursday, July 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Thursday, July 15, 2021

The White House on Thursday said Cubans are protesting oppression under communism and the pandemic-related deprivations that stem from that “failed ideology.”

Press secretary Jen Psaki was responding to critics who say the administration characterized the street protests in Havana and elsewhere as an outburst over the coronavirus instead of a rebuke of decades of oppressive rule.

She said it’s both, essentially, with one leading to the other.

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“Communism is a failed ideology,” she said. “It has failed the people of Cuba, they deserve freedom. They deserve a government that supports them, whether that is making sure they have health and medical supplies, access to vaccines, or whether they have economic opportunity and prosperity.

“Instead, this has been a government — an authoritarian, communist regime — that has repressed its people and has failed the people of Cuba, hence we’re seeing them in the streets,” Ms. Psaki said.

Some of the protesters have called on President Biden to rally to their aid as Cuban authorities fail to meet their demands and arrest demonstrators.

Ms. Psaki said Mr. Biden is voicing support for the Cuban protesters and reviewing U.S. policy to provide humanitarian support for Cubans without “padding the pockets” of the authoritarian regime.

Pitbull tells world to ‘wake … up’ over communist oppression in Cuba: ‘This is about freedom’

Pitbull tells world to ‘wake … up’ over communist oppression in Cuba: ‘This is about freedom’

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Cuban-American rapper Pitbull listens to a question during a news conference one day before the World Cup soccer tournament starts in Sao Paulo, June 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana) ** FILE ** more >

Print

By Douglas Ernst

The Washington Times

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Pitbull has a message for world leaders as Cuba‘s communist police state cracks down on pro-freedom demonstrators: “Wake the f—- up.”

The Cuban-American pop superstar made an impassioned plea this week to billionaire Jeff Bezos and other world leaders to support citizens taking to the streets in Havana.

“This is a message to the world: We need to stand up, step up,” he told over 25 million Twitter followers Wednesday. “But if you don’t understand what’s going on, then you need to wake the f—- up.”

The entertainer, born Armando Christian Pérez, said it was maddening that he couldn’t do more to help protesters on the ground in Cuba despite his fame and fortune.

“It frustrates me, to a certain extent, being a Cuban-American and having a platform to speak to the world and not being able to help my own people,” he said. “Not being able to get them food, not being able to get them water, not being able to get them medicine. But most of all not being able to help and really get them what they deserve, which is freedom.”

Pitbull then called for “all world allies” to find ways to assist those opposing Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel.

His comments come against a political backdrop in which 140 Cubans have been detained by Cuba‘s security forces.

 

Biden administration slammed for barring Cubans fleeing by sea

‘Truly awful’: Biden administration slammed for barring Cubans fleeing by sea

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Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas speaks about aviation security ahead of the summer travel season during a news conference at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Tuesday, May 25, 2021, in Arlington, Va. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) more >

Print

By Valerie Richardson

The Washington Times

Updated: 4:50 p.m. on
Wednesday, July 14, 2021

The Biden administration was accused Wednesday of a double-standard on asylum-seekers after Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas warned that Cubans fleeing unrest and persecution from the island’s Communist regime would be turned away. 

Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, compared the hard line on refugees from Cuba and Haiti to President Biden’s more welcoming approach to the flood of Central American migrants being processed as they seek to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.

“It seems for Joe Biden and [Vice President] Kamala Harris the only immigrants on the face of the earth that they don’t want to come to America are Cubans,” said Mr. Cruz on Fox’s “America Reports.” “That’s the only instance in which the Biden administration is expressing a resistance to people coming here illegally.”

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Mr. Mayorkas said Tuesday that Cubans and Haitians attempting to cross the Caribbean Sea and Straits of Florida would not be permitted on U.S. soil, but that those who establish a “well-founded fear of persecution or torture” would be referred to third countries for resettlement. 

“Allow me to be clear: If you take to the sea, you will not come to the United States,” Mr. Mayorkas said, citing the dangers of such a voyage. 

Unprecedented anti-regime protests have broken out in Cuba, prompting violent clashes between demonstrators and authorities, while Haiti has been rocked by the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moise. 

“The time is never right to attempt migration by sea,” Mr. Mayorkas said. “To those who risk their lives doing so, this risk is not worth taking.” 

Former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, a potential 2024 Republican presidential hopeful, said Wednesday that the administration was “literally scared and they don’t know what to do.” 

“They refuse to fix the border back to the way President Trump had it, yet now they’re going to tell allies in Cuba who are begging for freedom, ‘Don’t come, oh, and by the way, we’re not going to do anything to help you,’” said Ms. Haley on Fox. “It’s awful, truly awful.” 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that U.S. policy for those who arrive by sea as well as by land remains to go through the asylum application process. 

“What [Mr. Mayorkas] is reiterating is this is not the time to travel irregularly. It’s dangerous. People could lose their lives as they have in the past,” said Ms. Psaki.

Even so, critics condemned the contrast with the situation at the southern border.

“While the Biden administration does not want a wall at the southern border and is stockpiling children in cages (notice how no one cares about that anymore), people fleeing the chaos of a communist dictator in Cuba and the chaos of Haiti will be turned away,” said conservative radio host Erick Erickson. “Water walls are good. The actual walls are bad, apparently.”

Rick Manning, president of Americans for Limited Government, accused the Biden administration of harboring a political agenda.

“Refusing to give political asylum to those who are legitimately fleeing political violence and oppression in Cuba, after opening the borders to anyone who makes an asylum claim from Central America, demonstrates that Biden’s border policy is not about human rights, it is about importing voters,” Mr. Manning said. “Those fleeing Cuba will never vote for the left’s Marxist nightmare, so they are denied even as they are living under one of the most repressive regimes in the world.”

Conservative pundit Dana Loesch tweeted that the Biden administration “should just come out and say they’ll only allow in people who don’t vote Republican.”

Mr. Mayorkas himself fled Cuba as an infant with his family in 1960 to escape F idel Castro’s revolution and ended up in Los Angeles.

He said there has been no “surge” in the number of Cubans and Haitians intercepted by the Coast Guard. So far this fiscal year 470 Cubans and 313 Haitians have been apprehended at sea, versus 49 Cubans and 430 Haitians in the previous fiscal year.

WATCH: @tedcruz reacts to the fourth day of anti-government protests in Cuba and DHS Secretary Mayorkas’ message to those who might be considering the journey to the U.S. #AmericaReports pic.twitter.com/MpneXLspNI

— America Reports (@AmericaRpts) July 14, 2021

Cuban-Americans march to White House, demand Biden give stronger support to protesters in Cuba

Cuban-Americans march to White House, demand Biden give stronger support to protesters in Cuba

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Emilio Fajardo, leader of MORE, a Cuban freedom group, urges the Biden administration to establish ties with Cuban protesters during a rally in front of the White House on July 13. (Jeff Mordock/The Washington Times) more >

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By Jeff Mordock

The Washington Times

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

A group of activists rallied in front of the White House Tuesday demanding President Biden show stronger support for the freedom protests in Cuba.

An activist leader said Mr. Biden had given the anti-communist little more than a tweet or a statement.

“Mr. Biden, a bunch of us supported your cause, and now it’s your turn,” Emilio Fajardo, leader of the Cuban-American group MORE, said to the roughly 50 protesters who chanted “Freedom” and “Free Cuba.”

SEE ALSO: Cuba’s untested president faces biggest challenge of post-Castro era

Mr. Fajardo later told The Washington Times: “We have the right to demand a little more firm action from the president.”

He called on the White House to establish a formal relationship with the leaders of the protests against the island nation’s communist regime.

“The first thing the administration should be doing is establishing a conversation [with the Cuban protesters],” he said. “That needs to be established because everybody knows that a revolution without a conscience is a perfect recipe for chaos.”

The demonstrators stood on Pennsylvania Avene and trickled into Lafayette Square across from the White House. They hollered and chanted in a demonstration of solidarity with their counterparts in Cuba.

Mr. Fajardo said his group will continue to demonstrate until the Biden administration increases its overtures to the protesters in Cuba.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the protestors.

Mr. Biden said Monday the U.S. “stands firmly” with the people of Cuba after thousands of Cubans launched the biggest protest against their communist government in decades. Thousands of Cubans took to the streets amid the country’s ongoing economic crisis and a surge of coronavirus cases.

“The Cuban people are bravely asserting fundamental and universal rights. Those rights, including the right of peaceful protest and the right to freely determine their own future, must be respected,” Mr. Biden said in a statement. “The United States calls on the Cuban regime to hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment rather than enriching themselves.”

White House offers support for Cuban protesters, warns communist leaders against crackdown

Biden to Cuban regime: Meet protesters’ needs

Cubans take to the streets in Havana, other cities over food, COVID-19 vaccine shortages

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Police scuffle and detain an anti-government demonstrator during a protest in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, July 11, 2021. Hundreds of demonstrators went out to the streets in several cities in Cuba to protest against ongoing food shortages and high prices of … more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Monday, July 12, 2021

President Biden on Monday told Havana’s Communist leadership to respect protesters’ rights and meet their demands for relief from the pandemic and the “economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba‘s authoritarian regime.”

Mr. Biden weighed in as thousands of Cubans flooded the streets of the capital and other cities Sunday to demand food, vaccines and other support. 

Protesters shouted “Libertad” — a cry for freedom — and some called for President Miguel Diaz-Canel to step down.

SEE ALSO: ‘Libertad!’: Flood of Cuban protesters rise up against the communist regime

“The Cuban people are bravely asserting fundamental and universal rights,” Mr. Biden said. “Those rights, including the right of peaceful protest and the right to freely determine their own future, must be respected. The United States calls on the Cuban regime to hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment rather than enriching themselves.”

Mr. Biden later told White House reporters that Cubans are “demanding their freedom.”

“I don’t think we’ve seen anything like these protests in a long long time if, quite frankly ever,” he said. “The U.S. stands firmly with the people of Cuba as they assert their universal rights. And we call on the government of Cuba to refrain from violence in their attempt to silence the voices of the people of Cuba.”

Cuba‘s economic situation has worsened amid the pandemic due to a drop in tourism and imports. The Cuban regime says U.S. economic sanctions, which were tightened under the Trump administration bear much of the blame for the island’s plight.

The U.S. embassy in Cuba and top U.S. officials acknowledged the protesters’ plight and warned Cuban leaders to respect their rights instead of cracking down.

“The U.S. supports freedom of expression and assembly across Cuba, and would strongly condemn any violence or targeting of peaceful protesters who are exercising their universal rights,” tweeted Jake Sullivan, Mr. Biden‘s national security adviser.

Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, went further, saying the communist regime must be consigned to the “dustbin of history.”

“This regime has brutalized and denied freedom to generations of Cubans, forcing many including my family to flee or be murdered, and over the coming days will widen its violence to try to suppress the brave protesters in the streets,” he said. “The American people stand squarely with the men and women of Cuba and their noble fight for liberty, and the Biden administration must unequivocally and forcefully tell the world as much — immediately.”

Marco Rubio rips Biden over silence on Cuba protests

‘Yet to say a word’: Rubio rips Biden’s silence as Cubans rise up against socialist tyranny

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Sen. Marco Rubio spent much of the day tweeting about 20 videos of protests against the communist dictatorship, and then he noted that President Biden had been maintaining radio silence. (Associated Press/File) more >

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By Victor Morton

The Washington Times

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Sen. Marco Rubio accused the Biden administration Sunday evening of silence on Cuba after a day of the biggest anti-regime demonstrations in decades.

The Florida Republican had spent much of the day tweeting about 20 videos of protests against the communist dictatorship, and then he noted that President Biden had been maintaining radio silence.

“The people of #Cuba bravely take to the streets against 62 years of socialist tyranny. 12 hours later President @joebiden @POTUS has yet to say a word about it,” Mr. Rubio wrote.

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The Cuban-American senator repeated the statement in Spanish moments later.

As of 8:30 p.m. there had been no official comment from the White House or State Department about the day of demonstrations in Cuba calling for “libertad!” and declaring that “we are not afraid.”

The top-ranking administration voice to that point had been the Twitter account of Julie Chung, acting assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, tweets the U.S. Embassy in Cuba reposted in Spanish. 

“We are deeply concerned by ‘calls to combat’ in #Cuba. We stand by the Cuban people’s right for peaceful assembly. We call for calm and condemn any violence,” Ms. Chung’s account posted in one of two tweets, though she apparently did not personally write either of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Free Iran World Summit 2021’ sparks Iran regime’s ire

Rhetoric from ‘Free Iran’ summit strikes nerve, sparks regime’s ire

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People attend a protest rally in Berlin, Germany, Saturday, July 10, 2021 as part of the ‘Free Iran World Summit 2021’. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn) more >

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By David R. Sands

The Washington Times

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and a parade of former officials and current lawmakers from countries around the world told a mass virtual gathering of Iranian exiles over the weekend that the regime in Tehran was weak, illegitimate, incompetent and not long for this world.

They seem to have struck a nerve.

Iran‘s Foreign Ministry reacted angrily Sunday on the second day of the three-day “Free Iran World Summit 2021,” which attracted anti-regime activists from more than 100 locations around the globe hosted by the umbrella group the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

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Iran‘s semi-official IRNA news service reported Sunday that regime officials had handed Slovenia’s envoy in Tehran an official letter of protest over a video message Prime Minister Janez Jansa speech Saturday critical of the regime, calling Mr. Jansa’s remarks “baseless allegations.”

Mr. Jansa was one of the few government officials currently in power to directly address the three-day gathering, but the summit heard from a broad bipartisan array of lawmakers on Capitol Hill, as well as such prominent figures as former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and former Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini.

It was Mr. Pompeo‘s extensive attack on the Tehran regime Saturday which attracted perhaps the most media attention.

Iran‘s theocratic government is at “its weakest point in its now 40 years of existence,” Mr. Pompeo told the summit, arguing that now is the time for the U.S. and its allies to step up pressure on hardline President-elect Ebrahim Raisi as he prepared to take office.

Mr. Pompeo was a chief architect of the Trump administration’s tough line with Tehran, which included repudiating the 2015 Iran nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration and reimposing harsh economic sanctions on the regime and its trading partners. He said Mr. Trump’s approach was beginning to bear fruit, even if “its application for under two years was insufficient to fully achieve its end goals.”

He cited what he called Tehran‘s bungling of the COVID-19 crisis, a foreign policy that has left Iran a “pariah” in the Middle East, and economic policies that have led to food shortages and sharp increases in the price of basic consumer goods.

“In short, Iran is not working, and the Iranian people know it,” Mr. Pompeo said.

The former secretary of state — and potential contender for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination — also dismissed any notions that President-elect Raisi represents any change for the regime, even as the Biden administration moves to strike a deal for the U.S. to rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal.

“This Raisi fellow, he is not the president of the people of Iran,” Mr. Pompeo argued. “He is the president of the [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei]. His mission is clear: Inflict pain; frighten, continue to loot, and to plunder; protect the clerics and protect the Republican Guards.”

The current head of the Iranian judiciary who was elected from a field in which most prominent moderates were banned from running, Mr. Raisi “was chosen by the Ayatollah because he is just about 60 years old and thus could lead for the next two to three decades,” Mr. Pompeo said.

Although hardliners in Iran opposed the original nuclear deal, Mr. Pompeo predicted the Supreme Leader and the new president will happily accept the benefits if the U.S. rejoins in the coming weeks.

Among the dozens of others who addressed the virtual rally over the weekend were House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican; former British Defense Secretary Liam Fox; former French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner; and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat.

Speaker after speaker on Sunday echoed the same lines of attack: that Iran‘s recent low-turnout elections were illegitimate and a sign of crumbling popular support; that Mr. Raisi’s brutal past — human rights groups have called for an investigation into his leading role in the executive of thousands of political prisoners during the bloody eight-year Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s — renders him unfit to serve; and that a 10-point peace plan put forward by NCRI leader Maryam Rajavi is the only realistic path to a free, democratic Iran.

The plan includes an end to the mullah-led Islamic Republic, political freedoms, an independent judiciary and gender equality, a rejection of nuclear weapons, and more economic opportunity and respect for workers’ rights.

Nicaragua’s descent into dictatorship vexes Biden’s pro-democracy agenda

Nicaragua’s descent into dictatorship vexes Biden’s pro-democracy agenda

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In this file photo, Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega speaks next to first lady and Vice President Rosario Murillo during the inauguration ceremony of a highway overpass in Managua, Nicaragua. (AP Photo/Alfredo Zuniga, File) more >

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By Guy Taylor

The Washington Times

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is establishing a full-blown dictatorship, according to regional experts who warn the jailing of opposition figures and gunning down of protesters in the tiny Central American nation represents an outsized challenge for President Biden’s pro-democracy agenda.

“It’s a poor country and a geostrategically insignificant country, but that doesn’t mean Nicaragua’s symbolic value is any less in terms of exposing a lack of U.S. influence in the region,” says Christopher Sabatini, a Latin America scholar at Chatham House, the British think tank.

“The Biden administration has an opportunity here to take a loud and proud stand against what Daniel Ortega is doing,” Mr. Sabatini said in an interview. “One way would be to mobilize multilateral sanctions and support for the Nicaraguan opposition, to rally international awareness for their plight and try to expose Ortega’s isolating, incoherent and immoral grip on power to his inner circle.”

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The Biden administration has struggled to produce an impactful response in the wake of an increasingly brazen series of moves by the 75-year-old Nicaraguan strongman. Mr. Ortega spent June accelerating a power grab that he and his immediate family have been building for years.

The one-time leftist icon has long thumbed his nose at Washington’s efforts to contain him.

Despite U.S., Canadian and the European Union sanctions already in place against him over his violent crackdown on opposition protesters in 2018, Mr. Ortega triggered fresh international scorn last month when his government began arresting potential rivals in Nicaragua’s Nov. 7 election.

Human Rights Watch issued a statement on June 22 asserting that “Ortega closely controls the security forces,” and outlining how the latest arrests represent a continuation of the crackdown that has been unfolding for the past three years.

Ortega has long relied on repression to stay in power,” the group said. “The National Police and armed pro-government groups brutally cracked down on protesters in 2018, arbitrarily arresting and prosecuting hundreds and leaving over 300 people dead and 2,000 injured. Serious human rights violations, including torture and killings, have gone unpunished.”

Washington’s policy toward the situation has been one of flip-flopping.

Former President Obama largely ignored Mr. Ortega while seeking to appease the dictatorship in nearby Cuba, a long-time ally of the Nicaraguan strongman. Former President Trump moved swiftly to reverse course, imposing U.S. sanctions against companies tied to Mr. Ortega and his family.

In 2019, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the goal was to “hold the government of Daniel Ortega accountable for acts of corruption and unconscionable human rights violations and to support the Nicaraguan people’s struggle for a return to democracy.”

The Biden administration added fresh sanctions last month. It also leveled harsh new criticism against Mr. Ortega and suggested that if his crackdown continues and Nicaragua’s upcoming election is a sham, the White House might kick the country out of the Central America Free Trade Agreement.

“If Ortega continues on this path, he will further cement his status as an international pariah,” Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Julie Chung said on a conference call.

Eric Farnsworth, who heads the Washington office of the Council of the Americas and Americas Society, praised the Biden administration for trying, but said the “problem” with the approach so far is that it “essentially gives Ortega a free pass until November.”

“By then you’ve got a consolidated dictatorship in Nicaragua,” Mr. Farnsworth told The Washington Times.“If we’re going to do something, it’s time to do it now, loudly, publicly and boldly with our friends and allies in the region. We have to make it a priority. If we don’t, we’re going to have to be willing to live with a human rights-abusing dictatorship in Nicaragua.”

Mr. Farnsworth underscored the risks of acting alone against Mr. Ortega, saying it would likely be “politically costly” because it could feed a narrative promoted by U.S. critics that America is an overbearing nation trying to exert its will on small Central American countries.

“If the U.S. takes too many steps unilaterally against Ortega, it will be condemned not just by people in Latin America and the Caribbean, but frankly a whole cottage industry of people in the United States, who cut their teeth on these issues back in the 1980s and still have a world view that Washington is a bully in Latin America,” he said.

The U.S. does have a turbid history in Nicaragua, reaching back most notably to the Cold War, when the CIA armed rebels to fight Soviet Union-backed Sandanistas there in a politically controversial scheme that later became known as the Iran-Contra Affair.

Mr. Ortega’s past is intertwined with that history as a Sandanista leader during the 1970s, prior to first emerging as Nicaraguan president from 1985 to 1990. He was voted out of office that year, but spent the next decade-and-a-half fighting to win back the presidency, and did so in 2006.

He has remained in power ever since, aligning with other autocratic governments in the region, including Cuba and Venezuela, and drawing renewed support for Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Mr. Ortega in 2014, and recent weeks have seen Moscow underscore its historic links with Nicaragua. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said last month that “support from Moscow is more needed than ever” for Russian “allies” Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua to counter “external threats,” the Uruguayan news agency MercoPress reported.

The Russia connection aside, analysts said Washington has an interest in rallying others, particularly Costa Rica, Panama and Mexico, around the risks of a potential surge of migrants fleeing Nicaragua.

The Biden administration is presently trying to work with the so-called Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala to stem the flow of undocumented migrants from those nations, which are situated directly north of Nicaragua.

But some are warning of a potentially worsening crisis tied directly to the conditions in Nicaragua. Last month’s Human Rights Watch statement cited data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as showing that more than 108,000 of Nicaragua’s roughly 6.5 million people have been forced to flee since 2018, with two-thirds seeking refuge in neighboring Costa Rica.

The threat of increased regional instability has inspired bipartisan calls for action. Mr. Ortega’s “authoritarian power grab poses direct challenges to U.S. national security [and] regional stability,” Sens. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, and Bob Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, wrote in a recent letter to the Biden administration.

“The situation must be met with a coordinated response from the international community,” wrote the two lawmakers, who are pushing legislation that would require increased sanctions coordination with Canada and EU, expand oversight of banks lending to Nicaragua and strengthen intelligence reporting on Ortega regime corruption and Russian government activities in Nicaragua.

A bipartisan group in the House has introduced a separate bill to require the White House to review Nicaragua’s free-trade status.

The best way for the Biden administration to respond is through “a broader coalition,” said Mr. Farnsworth. The catch, he said, is that several key powers in the Western Hemisphere aren’t even willing to publicly criticize Mr. Ortega, let alone band together behind such collective action as multilateral sanctions.

Last month saw Mexico, Honduras, Argentina and Dominica abstain, when the Organization of American State (OAS) voted on a resolution to condemn the arrest of opposition presidential candidates in Nicaragua. Bolivia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines voted against the resolution, which ultimately passed with 26 other countries supporting it.

“The U.S. is dealing with a divided international community on this issue,” Mr. Farnsworth said. “Argentina and Mexico abstained because they have asserted under their new presidents a strict, non-intervention foreign policy. That sounds good in a college classroom, but when it comes to Nicaragua’s human rights-abusing dictatorship, you could at least vote to condemn those actions at the OAS.”

Mr. Sabatini described the developments in Nicaragua as the “most brazen attack on human rights and political opponents by a Latin American government since the 1976 coup in Argentina and the 1973 coup in Chile.”

The U.S. and like-minded partners are “struggling to figure out how to respond” and “they’re coming up way short.”

“That Daniel Ortega can so boldly thumb his nose at the U.S., EU, OAS and to all other regional governments demonstrates that our human rights infrastructure is just not fit for purpose,” Mr. Sabatini said.

“This should have been a point of multilateral cooperation long ago but it wasn’t,” he added. “Now it’s a bipartisan failure of the democracy agenda, period. It’s a glaring sign of U.S. and the liberal order’s impotence. To put it bluntly, it’s Nicaragua. We’re not talking about Iran. We’re not talking about China. We’re talking about one of the poorest countries in the world that we have a trade agreement with, but are unable to enforce and defend the most basic political and civil rights.”

Cuba’s struggling entrepreneurs look to Biden with hope

Cuba’s struggling entrepreneurs look to Biden with hope

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Idania Del Río, left, and Leire Fernández, owners of Clandestina, pose with a mannequin dressed in clothes they created, outside their store in Havana, Cuba, Feb. 18, 2021. Tourists poured through their shop until the Trump administration turned off the … more >

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By ANDREA RODRÍGUEZ

Associated Press

Friday, March 5, 2021

HAVANA (AP) – Business was booming for a trendy little clothing shop called Clandestina in the heart of Old Havana, one of thousands of new private businesses that had arisen in what was once a near-wholly state-run socialist economy.

A torrent of tourists poured through the doors to pick through bags, sweatshirts, camisoles and caps – at least until the Trump administration turned off the taps that had been opened just a few years before by then-President Barack Obama.

Today, those glass-and-wood doors swing open less often, with tourism choked both by U.S. sanctions meant to punish Cuba’s government and a pandemic that has squashed tourism almost everywhere.

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With their business tottering, Clandestina’s owners – Idania Del Río and Leire Fernández – subsist on hope that new U.S. President Joe Biden will reverse at least some of the restrictions implemented by his predecessor.

“If Biden allows travel to Cuba, gives an image of Cuba as a friendly country … that in itself is a radical change for the cash registers of entrepreneurs,” Fernández, 44, told The Associated Press.

In 2010, in an attempt to energize the island’s sluggish, top-down economy, then-President Raúl Castro promoted an unprecedentedly broad opening to the private sector, allowing hundreds of sorts of small businesses – restaurants, shoe repairers, small clothing workshops and more – that have grown to employ some 600,000 people.

Some of the most successful targeted a surging number of tourists – part of another government opening meant to save the economy.

Tourism got a huge boost at the end of 2014 when Obama announced a historic thaw of relations with Cuba, arguing that five decades of U.S. sanctions against communist governments had failed and that more vibrant ties would do more to help the Caribbean nation’s people.

Clandestina launched in 2015 about five blocks from the country’s capitol building – modeled on the one in Washington – just in time to fill its sails with the breeze from the U.S. opening.

“The store was small, we barely had anything and a lot of people began to show up,” Del Río, 39, told the AP. “A lot of Americans came, deals were signed.”

Quickly the shop was running out of large-sized shirts bought by husky foreigners.

With U.S. interest in Cuba high, Clandestina’s clothes quickly became a hit, even appearing at New York fashion shows.

It even began to sell online – something unprecedented for a country where internet connectivity is limited even today.

“It was something very radical: all of a sudden a 100% Cuban brand in New York, being sold to North American citizens, to tourists, to everyone,” Del Río said.

In November 2018, U.S.-based Google featured the company in an open-air fashion show, “Country under Construction,” showing off rustic shirts, leather boots and overalls stamped with the “Wi-Fi” symbol in the courtyard of Havana‘s Museum of Fine Arts.

But the party was ending. The Trump administration had begun issuing a series of measures banning most trips by Americans and limiting money sent to the island. It also slashed the number of U.S. diplomats, banned cruise ships and punished companies shipping the Venezuelan oil Cuba‘s economy has relied upon.

The restrictions, imposed piece by piece, haven’t loosened the government‘s control, but they have squeezed its budgets, and those of ordinary Cubans as well. The government blames U.S. sanctions for widespread shortages of food and fuel and says they cost Cuba some $5.5 billion.

“Four very hard years have passed since Obama’s time,” said Fernández, who is Spanish and Del Río’s partner. She said that Clandestina lost 50% of its income after Trump’s initial travel restrictions.

And they’re not alone. A 2019 survey of 126 business owners published by Auge, a local business consultant, found that 80% reported being affected by Trump’s measures.

Biden has long said that he would reinstate at least some of Obama’s policies toward Cuba. His advisers have spoken of eliminating Trump-era restrictions on remittances sent by Cubans in the U.S. to their homeland, and on travel.

So far though, it’s not clear when such actions might come.

Also holding out hope is Reymel Delgado, 44, who worked on U.S. productions such as “Fast and Furious” and “Transformers” that were allowed to film in Cuba in 2016 before Trump shut them down.

“We were very affected directly,” he said of Trump’s arrival. “There were many projects that were underway and others that were planned, and that stopped. Some were eliminated and others were on standby, and we will see what happens now.”

Cuban authorities say Trump imposed more than 200 measures against Cuba, accusing the island’s government of violating human rights, trampling on democracy and being responsible for a series of still-unexplained illnesses that affected U.S. and Canadian diplomats.

Biden represents hope for everyone,” Rigoberto Romero, owner of a carriage and nine horses who used to make a living catering to travelers Now, he waits at home taking care of his animals.

The Cuban leadership has lived through a series of openings and closings imposed by U.S. leaders since sanctions were first enacted some 60 years ago and tightened as Fidel Castro allied himself with the Soviet Bloc. Cuban leaders want the U.S. Congress to repeal the underlying laws that give presidents broad powers to impose such sanctions – though analysts say that’s highly unlikely under Biden.

For Cuban economist Omar Everleny Pérez, who is often critical of the government, policies that allow ties between local businesses and the U.S. “can only be shielded with greater economic interrelation, that is, more trade and investment.”

Back at the Clandestina shop in Old Havana, the partners are trying to keep their spirits up.

“We have survived the siege,” Fernández said.

“The energy is a little low, but it comes back,” she said. Already the little business has plans this month to present a collection of T-shirts in New York – an event coordinated almost entirely over WhatsApp, which began to expand after the government improved internet services in 2018.

Cuban official asks Biden’s gov’t to reconsider sanctions

Cuban official asks Biden’s gov’t to reconsider sanctions

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Deputy Director for the United States division of the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs Johana Tablada speaks to reporters in Havana, Cuba, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. The Cuban government expects that the administration of President Biden reverts the measure taken … more >

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By Associated Press

Associated Press

Thursday, February 11, 2021

HAVANA (AP) – A top Cuban official said on Thursday that declassified U.S. documents pointing out deficiencies in the response to health issues reported by American diplomats on the island show some of the falsehoods the Trump administration used to impose measures against Cuba.

Johana Tablada, deputy director for U.S. affairs at Cuba‘s Foreign Ministry, said the new U.S. government should consider reversing measures imposed by Trump against the island after tensions increased because of the health incidents and other issues.

Between late 2016 and May 2018, several U.S. and Canadian diplomats in Havana complained of health problems from an unknown cause. Trump’s administration officials suggested that Cuba may have been behind the incidents or allowed alleged sonic attacks against the diplomats, something the island has always denied.

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A declassified assessment by the State Department, made public on Wednesday by the nonprofit National Security Archive, indicated there was a poor response to the incidents and a lack of coordination. The report was completed in 2018, but not released publicly, and it’s not conclusive about what caused the reported health problems.

The Cuban government is interpreting the document to mean there were no actual attacks against the diplomats.

“If there was no attack, the U.S. consulate in Havana should not be closed, Cuban families should not be prevented from assisting loved ones in Florida and vice versa, bilateral agreements should not be affected,” Tablada said.

Former President Barack Obama’s administration eased or lifted sanctions after restoring full diplomatic relations with Cuba in 2015. Trump later reversed many of his predecessor’s decisions.

President Joe Biden’s government has promised to renew relations with Cuba.

Argentina’s abortion law enters force under watchful eyes

Argentina’s abortion law enters force under watchful eyes

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FILE – In this Dec. 30, 2020 file photo, abortion-rights activists watch live video streaming of lawmakers in session, outside Congress in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Argentina became the largest nation in Latin America to legalize elective abortion after its Senate … more >

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By ALMUDENA CALATRAVA

Associated Press

Sunday, January 24, 2021

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) – Argentina’s groundbreaking abortion law went into force Sunday under the watchful eyes of women’s groups and government officials, who hope to ensure its full implementation despite opposition from some conservative and church groups.

Argentina became the largest nation in Latin America to legalize elective abortion after its Senate on Dec. 30 passed a law guaranteeing the procedure up to the 14th week of pregnancy and beyond that in cases of rape or when a woman’s health is at risk.

The vote was hailed as a triumph for the South American country’s feminist movement that could pave the way for similar actions across the socially conservative, heavily Roman Catholic region.

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But Pope Francis had issued a last-minute appeal before the vote and church leaders have criticized the decision. Supporters of the law say they expect lawsuits from anti-abortion groups in Argentina’s conservative provinces and some private health clinics might refuse to carry out the procedure.

“Another huge task lies ahead of us,” said Argentina’s minister of women, gender and diversity, Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta, who has acknowledged there will be obstacles to the law’s full implementation across the country.

Gómez Alcorta said a telephone line will be set up “for those who cannot access abortion to communicate.”

The Argentine Catholic Church has repudiated the law and conservative doctors’ and lawyers’ groups have urged resistance. Doctors and health professionals can claim conscientious objection to performing abortions, but cannot invoke the right if a pregnant woman’s life or health is in danger.

A statement signed by the Consortium of Catholic Doctors, the Catholic Lawyers Corporation and other groups called on doctors and lawyers to “resist with nobility, firmness and courage the norm that legalizes the abominable crime of abortion.”

The anti-abortion group Unidad Provida also urged doctors, nurses and technicians to fight for their “freedom of conscience” and promised to “accompany them in all the trials that are necessary.”

Under the law, private health centers that do not have doctors willing to carry out abortions must refer women seeking abortions to clinics that will. Any public official or health authority who unjustifiably delays an abortion will be punished with imprisonment from three months to one year.

The National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion, an umbrella group for organizations that for years fought for legal abortion, often wearing green scarves at protests, vowed to “continue monitoring compliance with the law.”

“We trust the feminist networks that we have built over decades,” said Laura Salomé, one of the movement’s members.

A previous abortion bill was voted down by Argentine lawmakers in 2018 by a narrow margin. But in the December vote it was backed by the center-left government, boosted by the so-called “piba” revolution, from the Argentine slang for “girls,” and opinion polls showing opposition had softened.

The law’s supporters expect backlash in Argentina’s conservative provinces. In the northern province of Salta, a federal judge this week rejected a measure filed by a former legislator calling for the law to be suspended because the legislative branch had exceeded its powers. Opponents of abortion cite international treaties signed by Argentina pledging to protect life from conception.

Gómez Alcorta said criminal charges currently pending against more than 1,500 women and doctors who performed abortions should be lifted. She said the number of women and doctors detained “was not that many,” but didn’t provide a number.

“The Ministry of Women is going to carry out its leadership” to end these cases, she said.

Tamara Grinberg, 32, who had a clandestine abortion in 2012, celebrated that from now on “a girl can go to a hospital to say ‘I want to have an abortion.’”

She said when she had her abortion, very few people helped her. “Today there are many more support networks … and the decision is respected. When I did it, no one respected my decision.”

While abortion is already allowed in some other parts of Latin America – such as in Uruguay, Cuba and Mexico City – its legalization in Argentina is expected to reverberate across the region, where dangerous clandestine procedures remain the norm a half century after a woman’s right to choose was guaranteed in the U.S.

___

AP journalists Víctor Caivano and Yésica Brumec contributed to this report.

World hopes for renewed cooperation with US under Biden

World hopes for renewed cooperation with US under Biden

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Joe Biden’s cousin Joe Blewitt speaks to the media underneath his mural painted on a wall in Ballina, Ireland, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. Joe Biden’s great-great grandfather Patrick Blewitt was born in Ballina, County Mayo, in 1832. He left for … more >

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By LORNE COOK and CHRISTOPHER SHERMAN

Associated Press

Thursday, January 21, 2021

MEXICO CITY (AP) – World leaders welcomed into their ranks the new U.S. President Joe Biden, noting their most pressing problems, including the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, require multilateral cooperation, an approach his predecessor Donald Trump ridiculed.

Many expressed hope Biden would right U.S. democracy two weeks after rioters stormed the Capitol, shaking the faith of those fighting for democracy in their own countries.

Governments targeted and sanctioned under Trump embraced the chance for a fresh start with Biden, while some heads of state who lauded Trump’s blend of nationalism and populism were more restrained in their expectations.

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But the chance to repair frayed alliances and work together on global problems carried the day.

China, whose U.S. relations nosedived due to widespread frustration in Washington over its human rights record and accusations of technology theft, expressed cautious hope about the change in the White House.

“China looks forward to working with the new administration to promote sound & steady development of China-U.S. relations and jointly address global challenges in public health, climate change & growth,” China’s ambassador to the U.S., Cui Tiankai, tweeted.

Biden “understands the importance of cooperation among nations,” said former Colombian president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Juan Manuel Santos, who left office in 2018. “As a matter of fact, if we don’t cooperate – all nations – to fight climate change, then we will all perish. It’s as simple as that.”

French President Emmanuel Macron and Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama were among those welcoming U.S. attention to climate change. After Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris climate accord, Biden reversed the move in the first hours of his presidency Wednesday.

With Biden, “we will be stronger to face the challenges of our time. Stronger to build our future. Stronger to protect our planet,” Macron wrote on Twitter. “Welcome back to the Paris Agreement!”

Other European allies saw a chance to come in out of the cold after strained relationships with the Trump administration.

European Council President Charles Michel said trans-Atlantic relations have “greatly suffered in the last four years” while the world has become less stable and less predictable.

“We have our differences and they will not magically disappear. America seems to have changed, and how it’s perceived in Europe and the rest of the world has also changed,” added Michel, whose open criticism of the Trump era contrasted with the silence that mostly reigned in Europe while the Republican leader was in the White House.

In Ballina, Ireland, where Biden’s great-great-grandfather was born in 1832, a mural of a smiling Biden adorned a wall in the town, where some of the president’s relatives still live.

“As he takes the oath of office, I know that President Biden will feel the weight of history – the presence of his Irish ancestors who left Mayo and Louth in famine times in search of life and hope,” Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who formed close ties with Trump, noted a personal friendship with Biden and said he looked forward to working together to further strengthen the U.S.-Israel alliance.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has accused Trump of unfair bias toward Israel with policies like moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, expressed hope for a more even-handed approach from Biden. He urged “a comprehensive and just peace process that fulfills the aspirations of the Palestinian people for freedom and independence.”

In Latin America, Biden faces immediate challenges on immigration, and the leaders of the two most populous countries – Brazil and Mexico – were chummy with Trump. The Trump administration also expanded painful sanctions against governments in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

In Venezuela, President Nicolás Maduro’s government urged dialogue with the Biden administration, while hoping the new president abandons the avalanche of damaging sanctions Trump imposed to attempt a regime change.

Some Venezuelans, however, like retired accountant Jesús Sánchez, 79, said he was disappointed to see Trump leave power. Trump backed opposition leader Juan Guaidó, giving Venezuelans like him hope that Maduro’s days in power were numbered.

Carlos Vecchio, Guaido’s envoy in Washington who the U.S. recognizes as Venezuela’s ambassador, tweeted photos of himself at Biden‘s inauguration. The invitation to attend was touted by Venezuela’s opposition as evidence the Biden administration will continue its strong support and resist entreaties by Maduro for dialogue that the U.S. has strenuously rejected until now.

Cuba’s leaders perhaps have a more realistic hope for improved relations: Biden was in the White House for the historic thaw in relations in 2014, and various officials expressed willingness to reopen a dialogue with Washington if there was respect for Cuba’s sovereignty.

President Miguel Díaz-Canel railed against Trump via Twitter, citing “more than 200 measures that tightened the financial, commercial and economic blockade, the expression of a despicable and inhuman policy.”

In Mexico, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who cultivated an unexpectedly friendly relationship with Trump and was one of the last world leaders to recognize Biden’s victory, read from a letter he sent to Biden in 2012, calling for reorienting the bilateral relationship away from security and military aid and toward development.

He urged Biden to implement immigration reform, and added: “We need to maintain a very good relationship with the United States government and I don’t have any doubt that it’s going to be that way.”

U.S. allies in the Asia-Pacific region expressed anticipation of strengthening those alliances under a Biden administration. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen and others highlighted their shared values as leaders of democracies.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said: “America’s new beginning will make democracy even greater.”

Former Australian diplomat Rory Medcalf said Biden would likely find diplomatic partners across the Indo-Pacific region ready not for American leadership but partnership in “collective action” against Chinese “strategic assertiveness.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Biden was a good friend to New Zealand and highlighted in particular the words given in his inaugural address. “President Biden’s message of unity as he takes office is one that resonates with New Zealanders,” Ardern said.

World leaders also acknowledged the history of Vice President Kamala Harris taking office. She is the first woman, the first Black woman and the first South Asian to hold that office in the U.S.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Twitter congratulated both Biden and Harris, whose maternal grandfather was Indian.

“That is an historic moment and one that, I think as a father of daughters, you can only celebrate,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

__

Cook reported from Brussels. AP journalists around the world contributed to this report.

___

This version has been corrected by removing the reference to the U.S. as the world’s largest democracy.

Tampa-Cuba ties frayed under Trump, Now, it’s Biden’s turn

Tampa-Cuba ties frayed under Trump, Now, it’s Biden’s turn

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Print

By PAUL GUZZO and The Tampa Bay Times

Associated Press

Saturday, January 9, 2021

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) – Before Fidel Castro, before Communism, Tampa residents jokingly said their city was Cuba’s northern-most province due to the ties they shared.

Cuban immigrants helped found Ybor City. Cuban tobacco was rolled in Tampa cigar factories. Tampa residents traveled to the island for weekend excursions.

The link was rekindled under President Barack Obama’s efforts to normalize relations with Cuba. Cruises and commercial flights connected Tampa and Havana. Scientific collaborations and art exchanges began.

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But President Donald Trump rolled back most of Obama’s Cuba policies, tightening restrictions and sanctions while considering placing the nation on its state-sponsored terrorism list.

Some cheered Trump’s approach.

Others criticized it.

Now, both sides of the Cuba debate wonder what Joe Biden will do.

Will the president-elect maintain the status quo? Or will the man who served as Obama’s vice president immediately re-establish policies of engagement?

Those who study the issue believe Biden will fall somewhere in between. Whatever he does will impact the Tampa Bay area, which has the nation’s third-largest Cuban American population.

“I don’t expect anything major to happen in the first 100 days, because Biden hasn’t mentioned it,” said Albert A. Fox Jr. who, as president of the Tampa-based Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation, helps forge relationships with Cuba. “I think it will be in dribs and drabs during his term.”

John Kavulich, president of the New York-based U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council that studies the business relationship between the nations, said he sees a key difference between Obama and Biden.

Obama’s Cuba initiative was a “legacy” policy, he said.

“What’s the political value for Biden to be the second president landing at José Martí International Airport in Havana?” Kavulich asked. “And there is no political constituency that matters to president-elect Biden that is screaming for anything to be done. I think he will make changes, but it will be over time and be conditional.”

Kavulich believes Biden will demand more from Cuba than Obama did. He pointed out that John Kerry, who helped orchestrate Obama’s Cuba policy as secretary of state and is now part of the Biden administration as special presidential envoy for climate, has said normalization of relations did not bring about the results for which he’d hoped.

“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 the normalization of U.S.-Cuba ties, Kerry told the Miami Herald in September. “Cuba seemed to harden down after the initial steps were taken.”

Kavulich noted that Biden on the campaign trail hammered Cuba for human rights violations.

“There’s more political prisoners. The secret police are as brutal as ever,” Biden said during an October campaign stop in Miami.

And, as Trump did for four years, Biden tied human rights issues in Venezuela to their relationship with Cuba, Kavulich said.

“That likely means the Biden administration will make decisions on Cuba based upon what is happening in Venezuela,” Kavulich said. “Democracy and human rights in other countries was part of the Biden’s campaign ethos and will be tied to any Cuba policies.”

Tampa’s Rafael Pizano, who lobbies internationally for better human rights in Cuba, hopes that Biden demands “political diversity” rather than the one-party Communist system, “freedom of views independent of the state” and the “release of political prisoners” as “a show of good will.”

For that to happen, Biden must fully staff the U.S. embassy in Havana, said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat in favor of better relations with Cuba.

In 2017, Trump slashed that staff following what remain mysterious brain injuries to diplomats. The State Department describes those as “sonic attacks” with microwave energy.

The cutbacks, Castor said, included “human rights officers on the streets.”

“Cubans are clamoring for freedom of expression,” she said, “and we don’t have the support they need on the island to promote their cause.”

Re-staffing the embassy would have other impacts.

Visas are no longer issued there. Instead, Cubans who want to visit the United States must obtain a visa through a trip to a U.S. embassy in a third country.

“The average Cuban cannot afford that,” Castor said. “That is keeping families apart.”

It’s also hurting scientific exchanges, said Dan Whittle, who directs the New York-based Environmental Defense Fund’s marine and coastal conservation projects in Cuba.

“Environmental cooperation needs to be a two-way exchange,” he said. “Cuban scientists need to be able to obtain visas to come to the United States.”

Those collaborations are especially important to Tampa Bay, Whittle said, because the region shares an ecosystem with Cuba.

Still, the partnership between Tampa’s Florida Aquarium and Havana’s National Aquarium has endured. They work together to save the coral reefs.

Cuban scientists visited Tampa during the Obama years.

Those meetings have been held remotely under Trump, even before the pandemic.

“In a world of connectivity and technology, sharing critical scientific data among our coral scientists is the most important aspect of our collective effort,” said Roger Germann, chief executive officer of The Florida Aquarium. “We continue to work together despite our physical distance.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has recently hinted that he wants to redesignate Cuba as a state sponsor of terror. Cuba spent decades on the list until Obama removed it.

If Trump returns Cuba to the list, the University of South Florida would be banned from academic collaborations with Cuba. Florida prohibits state universities from using state money for travel to countries designated as terrorism sponsors.

Biden could again remove Cuba from that list but not until the State Department conducts a formal review.

Suzanne Carlson, the founder of Tarpon Springs’ Carlson Maritime Travel, hopes Biden immediately re-establishes Obama’s Cuba travel policies.

Visits to Cuba solely for tourism have been illegal for six decades, but Obama made travel there easier by establishing “people-to-people” visas that allowed Americans to visit for educational tours and cultural exchanges and without having to provide documented proof of such engagement.

“A boom of American tourists flocked to Cuba, which in turn helped foster new restaurateurs, new entrepreneurial thinking and a new hope,” said Carlson, who booked clients on daily commercial flights from Tampa International Airport to Havana.

Critics said those visas allowed Americans to illegally visit beach resorts because requirements were fulfilled on the honor system. Trump ended them.

Trump also barred U.S. cruise ships from docking in Cuba, saying that the excursions financially supported an oppressive government.

Royal Caribbean and Carnival Corp. had offered cruises from Tampa to Havana.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, who has flown to Cuba four times and helped bring Cuban artists to his city, said those cruises supported the Cuban people.

“To not have those cruise ships delivering visitors to Havana’s doorstep is a huge economic impact to the private businesses,” he said. “For example, where those cruise ships dock is right where there is an artisan market. Hundreds of people sold their work to the visitors.”

Tampa City Councilman Bill Carlson wants the Biden administration to go big and allow trade with Cuba, something Obama fell short of doing.

Carlson is among those who believes Cuba’s Port of Mariel will become a global shipping hub.

TC Mariel, which runs the Cuban port, previously told the Tampa Bay Times that Port Tampa Bay is its preferred U.S. partner because of its proximity to central Florida, home to regional distribution hubs.

“They want Tampa to be their gateway for Asian products to the United States,” Carlson said. “This could transform Tampa’s economy and make Tampa the business capital of Florida.”

Biden would have to reverse a law prohibiting goods from being loaded onto a ship in Cuba and sent to the United States. That restriction includes items created in and coming from a third nation.

Fox of the Alliance said something as “simple” as rolling back Trump’s restrictions on remittances could help the Cuban people “immensely.” Americans are limited to sending $1,000 per quarter to family in Cuba and can’t send anything to non-family members. Remittances were unlimited under Obama.

Western Union closed hundreds of locations across Cuba due to recent U.S. sanctions on its Cuban partner company Fincimex. The Trump administration said Fincimex profits benefit the Cuban government.

“The Cuban people rely on the remittances,” Congresswoman Castor said. “They rely on their families in the United States, especially family in Tampa.”

Fox said such a change can be made with an executive order during Biden’s first days in office. “If he doesn’t, the message is clear – he has the wrong people advising him on Cuba.”

Fox might now have an unlikely ally.

Tampa attorney Ralph Fernandez, a longtime leader in Florida’s Cuban dissident community, spoke out against Obama’s efforts to normalize relations.

He is softening that stance.

“The Trump policies have been an absolute failure,” he said. “Cuba is used to tightening its belt.”

Pressed if that means he believes the Cuban embargo is not working, Fernandez replied: “Politics is like science. There is an evolution … I think everything is on the table now.”

Still, he hopes Cuba is not a priority for an administration dealing with a pandemic and politically polarized nation.

“Let the Cubans worry about Cuba,” Fernandez said. “We need to worry about our country.”

Pitbull & J Balvin – Hey Ma (feat. Camila Cabello) (Spanish Version)

[Verse 1: J Balvin]
Dale, sin miedo
Arriésgate y sígueme el juego
Sola, creo
Di a tus amigas hasta luego
No des explicaciones, solo vente
Que tu mente es malvada, eso yo lo sé
En tu mirada yo lo puedo ver
Te mata mi estilo y eso yo lo sé
Vamo’ a romper la disco, rampapampam
Baila que no te he visto, pampapampam
Porque tú eras lo que yo soñé
No perdamos el tiempo, pampapampam

[Chorus: J Balvin & Camila Cabello]
I need you
Hey mama, hey mama, hey mama, hey ma’
I need you
Hey mama, hey mama, hey mama, hey ma’
Girl, it’s getting hotter
I can’t take much more
I need you
Hey mama, hey mama, hey mama, hey ma’
I need you

[Verse 2: Pitbull]
Pa’lante con la libertad de Cuba
Y que la isla entera suba
De la Habana hasta Santiago
Todo mundo fumando puros y tomando tragos
¡Qué relajo! El vago trabaja doble
So, ponte las pilas
Todo mundo quiere una Cubana, ponte en fila
Esto es un party, que siga, como sea
¿Cómo qué? Como tú quieras, a tu manera
Are you single?
Quítate las payamitas pa’ que tú veas
No soy un mono vestido de seda
Esas mujeres están calientes y mucho más
Te queman por aquí, te queman por allá

[Pre-Chorus: Camila Cabello]
No miraré atrás, oh, no, ya no
No puedo respirar sin tu amor
Baby, tu amor

[Chorus: J Balvin, Camila Cabello, Both]
I need you
Hey mama, hey mama, hey mama, hey ma’
I need you
Hey, mama hey mama, hey mama, hey ma’
Girl, it’s getting hotter
I can’t take much more
I need you
Hey mama, hey mama, hey mama, hey ma’
I need you
I need you
Hey

[Bridge: Camila Cabello]
Si tocas mi piel
Tú saciarás mi sed
Oh, voy a enloquecer
Dime lo que vas a hacer
Dime lo que vas a hacer, no, no, no, no, no, no, no

[Chorus: Camila Cabello & J Balvin]
I need you
Hey mama, hey mama, hey mama, hey ma’
I need you
Hey, mama, hey, mama, hey, mama, hey, ma’
Girl, it’s getting hotter
I can’t take much more
I need you
Hey mama, hey mama, hey mama, hey ma’
I need you

[Outro: Camila Cabello]
I need you, hey!
Pa mi gente latina, stand up!
¡Cuba!

Pitbull – Hey Ma lyrics

[Verse 1: J Balvin]
Come on, without scare
Take care and follow me the game
Alone i think
Tell your friends later
Do not explain, just come
That your mind is evil, that I know
In your look I can see it
You kill my style and I know that
I’m going to break the record, rampapampam
Dance that I have not seen you, pampapampam
Because you were what I dreamed
Let’s not waste time, pampapampam

[Chorus: J Balvin & Camila Cabello]
I need you
Hey, mama, hey, mama, hey, mama, hey, ma’
I need you
Hey, mama, hey, mama, hey, mama, hey, ma’
Girl, it’s getting hotter
I can’t take much more
I need you
Hey, mama, hey, mama, hey, mama, hey, ma’
I need you

[Verse 2: Pitbull]
Pa’lante with the freedom of Cuba
And that the whole island will rise
From Havana to Santiago
Everyone smoking cigars and drinking drinks
What a relaxation! The bum works double
Just put the batteries
Everyone wants a Cuban, stand in line
This is a party, follow, whatever
Like what? As you want, your way
Are you single?
Take the payamitas for you to see
I’m not a silk dress monkey
These women are hot and much more
They burn you out there, they burn you over there

[Pre-Chorus: Camila Cabello]
I will not look back, oh, no, no more
I can not breathe without your love
Baby your love

[Chorus: J Balvin, Camila Cabello, Both]
I need you
Hey mama, hey mama, hey mama, hey ma’
I need you
Hey, mama hey mama, hey mama, hey ma’
Girl, it’s getting hotter
I can’t take much more
I need you
Hey mama, hey mama, hey mama, hey ma’
I need you
I need you
Hey

[Bridge: Camila Cabello]
If you touch my skin
You will quench my thirst
Ooh, I’m going to go crazy
Tell me what you’re going to do
Tell me what you are going to do, no, no, no, no, no, no, no

[Chorus: J Balvin & Camila Cabello]
I need you
Hey, mama, hey, mama, hey, mama, hey, ma’
I need you
Hey, mama, hey, mama, hey, mama, hey, ma’
Girl, it’s getting hotter
I can’t take much more
I need you
Hey, mama, hey, mama, hey, mama, hey, ma’
I need you

[Outro: Camila Cabello]
I need you
Hey
[??]
Cuba!

LUPE FIASCO – Made In The USA lyrics

The American motherfucking dream nigga
Yeah!
On my shit nigga
Drogas, Drogas, Drogas
Where you from nigga?
Read the mothafuckin tag bitch
Salute the flag bitch

My Glock came from Savannah, Georgia
My AR-15 from California
My cocaine come from Arizona
My Detroit whip run quick like Forrest

Made in the U.S.A. (Made in the U.S.A.)
Made in the U.S.A. (Made in the U.S.A.)
Made in the U.S.A. (Made in the U.S.A.)
Made in the U.S.A. (Made in the U.S.A.)

Bad little bitch from Miami
Came from Cuba but here with family
When I speak that English she don’t understand me
‘Cause I speak I speak I speak that Spanish
On my shit

Made in the U.S.A. (Made in the U.S.A.)
Made in the U.S.A. (Made in the U.S.A.)
Made in the U.S.A. (Made in the U.S.A.)
Made in the U.S.A. (Made in the U.S.A.)

Ku Klux man from Indiana (Fuck them niggas)
Brought that shit from Alabama
Making it rain, give ’em Atlanta
Making it, making it rain, rain like New Orleans, Louisiana (Yeah!)
That gang shit came from Illinois
That bang shit came from Illinois
That murder rate in Illinois
‘Nother AR-15 that bitch that made in Illinois

Made in the U.S.A. (Made in the U.S.A.)
Made in the U.S.A. (Made in the U.S.A.)
Made in the U.S.A. (Made in the U.S.A.)
Made in the U.S.A. (Made in the U.S.A.)

That lean cup came from Houston, Texas
For the police was Ruthless Records
Black Panthers was moving breakfast
Bitch united state of mind got me shooting reckless
And I was like raised in that fuckin’ ghetto
Made in that fuckin’ ghetto
You ain’t where I’m from bitch
You ain’t on my fucking level
And the whole world want my swag
Bloods and Crips and shit all up in my flag
‘Cause it’s

Made in the U.S.A. (Made in the U.S.A.)
Made in the U.S.A. (Made in the U.S.A.)
Made in the U.S.A. (Made in the U.S.A.)
Made in the U.S.A. (Made in the U.S.A.)

All my heroes from Hollywood (Fuckin’ Hollywood)
Put Tony Montanas all in my hood (Chico)
This rap shit came from New York City (New York City, City)
My momma came from Mississippi (Momma, we made it)
?? my racks in D.C
Cheese steaks when I’m out in Philly
KFC is trying to kill me
Ridding around without a (feeling/filling?)
And I got ?? from every region
And I be speaking starts and stripes
And I be dreaming pledge allegiance, (bitch!)

Made in the U.S.A. (Made in the U.S.A.)
Made in the U.S.A. (Made in the U.S.A.)
Made in the U.S.A. (Made in the U.S.A.)
Made in the U.S.A. (Made in the U.S.A.)

All my Jordans come (from Portland/imported?)
You shop at a mall, I shop at (Oregon?)
Rest of that shit it ain’t important, (yeah!)

Farhan Shah – Terjatuh Hati lyrics

Elak soalan, aku harap kau cuba
Sampaikan jawapan bilaku masih bertanya
Adahkah mungkin kita lebih dari kawan
Harapkan ini bukan sekadar berangan

Aku Ingin Seluruh Yang Ada
Pada diri dan batinmu jua
Sayangkan aku seperti ku sayangmu
Pulangkan hati, yang kau curi padaku

Jalan tak menentu arah bila kau tiada disini
Luka meneman duka bila kau jauhkan diri
Kerna ku selalu memikirkan kamu
Mungkin tandanya ku sudah telah terjatuh hati

Entah mengapa, diriku merasa resah
Snapstreak pun sampai melebihi empat puluh lima
Ambil aku jadi pacar selamanya
Hingga kau inginkan kita bina keluarga

Aku Ingin Seluruh Yang Ada
Pada diri dan batinmu jua
Sayangkan aku sperti ku sayangmu
Pulangkan hati, yang kau curi padaku

Jalan tak menentu arah bila kau tiada disini
Luka meneman duka bila kau jauhkan diri
Kerna ku selalu memikirkan kamu
Mungkin tandanya ku sudah telah terjatuh hati

Kaulah yang aku perlukan dalam hidupku setiap hari
Sedikit pun tak kepenatan dalam minda kau berlari
Mengapa ku selalu memikirkan kamu
Mungkin tandanya ku sudah telah terjatuh hati

Ella – Kesal lyrics

Berulang kali ku cuba mengerti
Namun kau tak pernah untuk menyedari
Walaupun akhirnya semua kan berlalu
Hadapi kenyataan
Biarpun penuh berduri
Harusku hadapi

Tuk sejenak diri lupakan problema
Agar lepas dari segala prasangka
Aku cuba berlari
Ikuti langkahku
Menyongsong matahari
Biarlah kan ku tempuh
Jalan hidup sendiri

Tanpa engkau lagi ingin kubuktikan semua
Bahwa diri ini bukanlah sekadar
Boneka yang dapat kau jadikan mainan

Resahku kerna dia
Kesalku kerna dia
Harapan hidup berdua
Ternyata sia-sia

Resahku kerna dia
Kesalku kerna dia
Lebih baik putus saja
Daripada tersiksa
Hidupku jadinya
O…O….