Author Archive

Government welcomes guerrilla ceasefire but says it won’t back down

| December 19th, 2014 | No Comments »
The Miami Herald

By Jim Wyss

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Thursday welcomed the decision by the country’s largest guerrilla group to declare a unilateral ceasefire, but said the armed forces would not let down their guard or quit defending the population.

On Wednesday, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) announced an indefinite ceasefire and asked the international community to verify the détente. They also said they would only break the ceasefire if they were attacked.

“We value this gesture of a unilateral and indefinite ceasefire but we cannot accept conditions like international verification,” Santos said in the town of Quibdó in northern Colombia. He also said he had a constitutional and legal obligation “to defend the security and liberty of all Colombians in every corner of the country.”

Government and FARC negotiators have been meeting in Havana for more than two years trying to hammer out a deal that would end the half-century conflict. ... Read More

On Cuba, Obama Had An Ace, And Played A Deuce

| December 19th, 2014 | No Comments »
Investor's Business Daily

Diplomacy: As the Castros rejoice at President Obama’s move to normalize ties, extend trade credits, take their country off the terror list and free its deadly spies, the queasy question remains: What did the U.S. get in return?

The question is being asked by the more serious leaders in Washington. Marco Rubio for one. “(Obama’s) foreign policy is, at a minimum, naive and perhaps truly counterproductive to the future of democracy in the region,” said the Florida senator in the wake of the giveaway.

“Barack Obama is the worst negotiator that we’ve had as president since at least Jimmy Carter, and maybe in the modern history of this country.”

“When it comes to foreign policy and national security interests . .. ,” added Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, “the president should be focused on exactly that — on protecting national security interests. And this doesn’t do that.”

Both are right, because the bottom line on normalizing ... Read More

Mexico to Long Island Heroin Pipeline Busted, DA Says

| December 19th, 2014 | No Comments »
long island press

By Timothy Bolger

Heroin traffickers disguised as travelers drove an SUV mounted with bicycles and a kayak while smuggling up to $12 million worth of the drug monthly from Mexico to New York, authorities said.

Undercover Nassau County detectives who bought a pound of heroin in Manhasset and Great Neck traced it to the source over the course of an 18-month continuing joint investigation with New York City and federal authorities, prosecutors said. When New Jersey State Police stopped the alleged drug ring’s Dodge Durango on Sept. 23, investigators said they found about 5 kilos of vacuum-packed black tar heroin hidden in the engine block—making it undetectable to drug-sniffing dogs at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“A border patrol dog would not have picked it up, it was so well secreted,” Rick Whelan, chief of the Nassau district attorney’s organized crime bureau, told reporters Thursday during a news conference announcing the bust. “That car blends ... Read More

Brazil’s Rousseff to slash budget to regain confidence

| December 19th, 2014 | No Comments »

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is planning a package of budget cuts and tax increases worth as much as 100 billion reais ($36 billion) in an aggressive attempt to recover investor confidence at a time of growing strain on emerging markets, senior government officials told Reuters.

The fiscal adjustment, which is at the high end of market expectations, is the latest sign that Rousseff is adopting a significantly more austere and business-friendly agenda for her second term, which will start on Jan. 1.

It also comes as some of Brazil’s peers are moving to shield themselves from falling commodities prices and a general loss of confidence in emerging markets. Russia’s central bank hiked interest rates by 6.5 percentage points this week amid recent heavy declines in oil prices and its currency. 

After a long boom last decade, Brazil’s economy has averaged less than 2 percent annual ... Read More

Mexico in Crisis

| December 19th, 2014 | No Comments »
Article appeared in The Weekly Standard


The fiesta is over. Mexico, a remarkably important nation of some 120 million people—indeed, the world’s fifteenth largest economy—is descending into crisis. Students have been slaughtered en masse with the complicity of a corrupt police force. The country’s young president and his finance minster are embroiled in a corruption scandal. And the recent fall in oil prices—which looks set to continue—only portends further suffering.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. When 48-year-old Enrique Peña Nieto was elected Mexican president in 2012, his country’s future looked bright. A self-styled reformer, the leader of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and former governor of Mexico State moved immediately to implement his Pact for Mexico, which called for the achievement of some 95 goals over his six-year term.

Peña Nieto enjoyed remarkable success over his first two years in office. He liberalized the country’s telecommunications market, greatly weakening the monopoly of billionaire (and New York Timessavior) Carlos Slim. Ditto for ... Read More

How are Venezuelans coping with tumbling oil prices?

| December 19th, 2014 | No Comments »

Falling global oil prices have been a headache for many oil-producing countries, with exports now failing to bring in cash they used to just six months ago.

On Thursday, the price of Brent crude was just below $63 a barrel, while US crude was near $58.

The price of Venezuelan oil, which is very heavy by international standards, was even lower – at $57.53 a barrel for the week ending 13 December.

The dramatic downward slide started in June.

Six months of falling prices have hit Venezuela particularly hard – the country is heavily dependent on oil money, with 96% of export revenues coming from oil, according to reports.

BBC News has been speaking to a selection of Venezuelans on the streets of Caracas to find out how they have been personally affected by the fall in oil prices.

Oil down, goods up

Alex Hernandez, a businessman in Caracas, says the problem is exacerbated ... Read More

The Real Cost of Castro Inc.

| December 19th, 2014 | No Comments »

By Elizabeth MacDonald 

There is a price that the Cuban regime will exact from American companies to do business there if U.S.-Cuba relations are fully normalized, a price that likely won’t benefit the country’s lower classes, but will instead line the pockets of Castro & Co., experts on Cuba warn.

Because of its tight grip, the Castro regime has kept Cuba’s GDP hamstrung. It’s economy is now at a tiny $72.3 billion, less than half that of the state of Iowa, notes Richard J. Peterson, senior director at S&P Capital IQ. In fact, the average worker earns less than $25 a month.

Cuba is in crisis, it needs a bailout. Its crony communism has failed, it is steeped in debt, and its money is running low. Historically, Cuba has enjoyed lifelines in the form of money and oil from Venezuela, which had been generously ... Read More

Obama Signs Bill to Sanction Venezuelan Officials

| December 18th, 2014 | No Comments »
ABC News

President Barack Obama has signed legislation into law allowing him to sanction Venezuelan government officials who were involved in a crackdown on anti-government protesters.

The bill authorizes sanctions that would freeze the assets and ban visas for anyone accused of carrying out acts of violence or violating the human rights of those opposing the South American nation’s socialist government.

Last summer, the State Department imposed a travel ban on Venezuelan officials who were accused of abuses during street protests that left dozens of people dead.

Click here for original ... Read More

Bush Commerce Secretary Says Obama Gave Cuba ‘a Major Political Win

| December 18th, 2014 | No Comments »
From Time

By Eliza Gray

“The U.S. has given so many concessions and not received anything in return,” Carlos Gutierrez tells TIME

Former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez told TIME Thursday that the U.S “will have egg on our face” following President Barack Obama’s move to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba for the first time in half-a-century. Gutierrez, a Cuban-born former Kellogg CEO who worked in the administration of President George W. Bush, is now a consultant at the Albright Stonebridge Group.

Here’s his Q&A with TIME, lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

How much flexibility will businesses have if Congress doesn’t actually act to lift the embargo?

How much flexibility there will be for U.S. businesses will depend on how much flexibility the Cuban regime gives to U.S. businesses. That’s the aspect of this that has brought down these agreements. At the end of day, ... Read More

Colombia rejects FARC’s verification demand for ceasefire

| December 18th, 2014 | No Comments »
Article originally appeared in Reuters


(Reuters) – Colombia on Thursday welcomed an offer by Marxist rebels for a ceasefire but rejected their demand for independent monitoring, putting the plan to stop hostilities on uncertain ground hours before it was to start.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) announced an indefinite ceasefire from Saturday if the government allows independent verification. But Latin America’s oldest insurgency said it would be called off if government forces attacked.

In a statement, President Juan Manuel Santos’ government rejected the call for verification but did not explicitly address the demand for a bilateral ceasefire, though it has continually ruled that option out.

“This must remain clear: the government will continue fulfilling its indeclinable constitutional duty to guarantee and protect the rights of Colombians,” the statement said.

The FARC’s stance puts the government in an awkward position by leaving the success of the group’s offer to end hostilities up ... Read More

Cuba Opening Shines Light on Obsolete Telecom Links

| December 18th, 2014 | No Comments »
Wall Street Journal WSJ-01


Cuba is closing the gap to the U.S. Next up: Closing the gap to the Internet.

The island nation has just one modern, fixed Internet connection to the outside world, with spotty access to satellite links providing the rest. Cuba has access to about 1% of the Internet bandwidth available in the nearby Dominican Republic, according to researcher TeleGeography.

Cuba’s population of about 11 million is bigger than the Dominican Republic’s roughly 10 million, but the Dominican Republic is served by five underwater cable systems. The other fiber optic communications lines crisscrossing the Caribbean wrap around Cuba, a black hole in an otherwise connected hemisphere.

That omission is by design. Cuba keeps tight control of its citizens’ access to information, and the U.S. embargo has limited American companies’ ability to build infrastructure that touches the island. The normalization of relations with the U.S. creates an opportunity to bridge the gap, but ... Read More

Price of U.S.-Cuba deal: Releasing a murderer

| December 18th, 2014 | No Comments »

By Josh Gerstein

The deal President Barack Obama announced Wednesday setting in motion the most significant warming in U.S.-Cuba relations in half a century comes with an American concession that may be a tough sell for the White House: releasing from a U.S. prison a Cuban spy serving a life term for murder.

One of the three Cubans whose sentences Obama commuted Wednesday as part of the groundbreaking  agreement between Washington and Havana is Gerardo Hernández, who was convicted in 2001 of conspiracy to commit murder in connection with the shootdown of two Brothers to the Rescue planes over Cuba in 1996, in which four Cuban émigrés aboard the aircraft were killed.

Hernández and the two others released were members of the so-called “Cuban Five” — a group of Cuban nationals convicted in 2001 of acting as what amounted to a spy ring known as ... Read More

Obama Gives Rubio a Gift From Cuba

| December 18th, 2014 | No Comments »

By Eli Lake & Josh Rogin 

U.S. President Barack Obama’s announcement today on plans to normalize relations with Cuba is good news for many constituencies. It’s good for the agribusinesses that stand to sell more food to Cuba. It’s good for Democrats, desperate for a tangible foreign policy success from their president. And of course, it’s good for Alan Gross, the Jewish aid worker arrested in 2009 who warned visitors recently that he feared he would die in his Cuban jail cell.

But Obama’s decision is also very good news for Marco Rubio, the man emerging as the leader of the Republican fight against Obama’s new outreach to Cuba. When Republicans take control of the Senate in the next Congress, Rubio will be in charge of the subcommittee that oversees diplomacy in the Western Hemisphere and would hold nomination hearings for America’s first ambassador to Cuba since 1960.

It doesn’t look like that nomination ... Read More

On Cuba, Obama abandons a clear position for a vague project

| December 18th, 2014 | No Comments »
From the Washington Post

By Charles Lane

The U.S. embargo on Cuba — or what’s left of it after President Obama’s dramatic Cuba policy announcement — may be a futile gesture. But it is, or was, not an empty gesture.

It put the United States firmly on record that it would have as little as possible to do with a regime whose misdeeds have included inviting Soviet nuclear weapons onto its soil, sponsoring violent guerrilla groups throughout the Western Hemisphere, harboring fugitives from U.S. justice and — last but certainly not least — systematically trampling its citizens’ most basic rights.

In place of this clear position, Obama has taken a stance that is more nuanced morally but, he assures us, more efficacious practically.

He might be right, too — if you believe that this administration, or its successors, will have the diplomatic smarts, and the attention span, to maneuver the Castro regime into letting its people have more ... Read More

Obama and Cuba: The Triumph of Ideology over U.S. National Interests

| December 18th, 2014 | No Comments »
National Review

By Elliot Abrams

The American Left has loathed the embargo and overlooked all of Castro’s repressive actions since the 1960s. They have blamed the U.S.–Cuba deadlock entirely on the United States and have sought the end of the embargo whenever a Democrat was in the White House. Under Johnson, Carter, and Clinton they did not get their way; that had to await Obama.

When the Soviet Union fell, the Castro regime was in dire straits. It survived through sheer repression — until it was sustained by Venezuelan oil money sent by Hugo Chávez. Today Chávez is dead, oil is under $60 a barrel, and Venezuela is reeling. Who will bail Castro out this time? Now we have the answer: Barack Obama.

Put aside the prisoner exchange, which one can be for or against and still decry the rest of Obama’s moves today. It’s clear that Obama told the Cubans ... Read More

Rubio Leads Republican Charge to Block Obama Cuba Policy in 2015

| December 18th, 2014 | No Comments »

By Kathleen Hunter

Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who may run for president in 2016, is leading a Republican charge to do everything possible to block President Barack Obama’s move to normalize relations with Cuba.

Yet even Rubio says there may be little the Republican-controlled Congress can do.

“I would concede that many of the changes that have been made today, such as diplomatic relations, fall within the purview of the presidency,” Rubio told reporters today in Washington.

Rubio, whose parents left Cuba in 1956, said Republican lawmakers will “use every tool at our disposal in the majority to unravel as many of these changes as possible.”

Blocking funds for an embassy in Cuba and refusing to confirm an ambassador to the island nation are steps Rubio and others in his party suggested Congress might be able to take.

“We’re going to have a very ... Read More

Cuba’s Castro Brothers Get Big Present From Santa Obama

| December 18th, 2014 | No Comments »
Investor's Business Daily

Foreign Policy: Just as its patron Venezuela hit the rocks, Cuba got a last-minute rescue from none other than President Obama, who announced a Santa Claus-like package of wish-list goodies for the Castro brothers. Why?

In many ways, President Obama’s announced plan to normalize relations with Cuba, lift the embargo, extend trade credits and remove Cuba from the state sponsors of terror list is about on par with the rest of his foreign policy.

It was done by executive order without consulting Congress, just like last month’s decision to temporarily legalize 5 million illegal immigrants.

It was justified by a claim the U.S. embargo was “not working,” comparable to Obama’s claim the U.S. immigration system is “broken.” In reality, the problem in both cases is that of a halfhearted willingness to enforce the law, rendering it full of holes.

As for the hostage swap in the bargain, that of U.S. Agency for International Development subcontractor ... Read More

Cuba’s Castro has given little and gained a lot, analyst says

| December 18th, 2014 | No Comments »

The restoration of diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba has triggered debate on how far normalization will go. Human rights fellow Mark P. Lagon tells DW why he doesn’t expect dramatic changes to come fast.

DW: Why did President Obama push ahead with this now?

Mark P. Lagon:He feels that the Senate is shifting in power to a Republican majority and he wants to take a step in a direction that’s of dialogue with an autocratic government. This is in line with some other politics he’s pursued in the past; for example he also has an inclination to dialogue with the Iranians.

What are the chances that this rapprochement will go any further – seeing as the US House of Representatives and Senate will be dominated by Republicans soon, who may not be in favor of lifting the embargo?

This not cut entirely along partisan lines. ... Read More

Obama gives the Castro regime in Cuba an undeserved bailout

| December 17th, 2014 | No Comments »
From the Washington Post

By Editorial Board

IN RECENT months, the outlook for the Castro regime in Cuba was growing steadily darker. The modest reforms it adopted in recent years to improve abysmal economic conditions had stalled, due to the regime’s refusal to allow Cubans greater freedoms. Worse, the accelerating economic collapse of Venezuela meant that the huge subsidies that have kept the Castros afloat for the past decade were in peril. A growing number of Cubans were demanding basic human rights, such as freedom of speech and assembly.

On Wednesday, the Castros suddenly obtained a comprehensive bailout — from the Obama administration. President Obama granted the regime everything on its wish list that was within his power to grant; a full lifting of the trade embargo requires congressional action. Full diplomatic relations will be established, Cuba’s place on the list of terrorism sponsors reviewed and restrictions lifted on U.S. investment and most travel to Cuba. That liberalization will provide ... Read More

A Victory for Oppression

| December 17th, 2014 | No Comments »
Wall Street Journal WSJ-01


The announcement by President Obama on Wednesday giving the Castro regime diplomatic legitimacy and access to American dollars isn’t just bad for the oppressed Cuban people, or for the millions who live in exile and lost everything at the hands of the dictatorship. Mr. Obama’s new Cuba policy is a victory for oppressive governments the world over and will have real, negative consequences for the American people.

Since the U.S. severed diplomatic relations in 1961, the Castro family has controlled the country and the economy with an iron fist that punishes Cubans who speak out in opposition and demand a better future. Under the Castros, Cuba has also been a central figure in terrorism, narco-trafficking and all manner of misery and mayhem in our hemisphere.

As a result, it has been the policy and law of the U.S. to make clear that re-establishing diplomatic and economic relations with Cuba is ... Read More

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