Wednesday, October 19, 2011

BP shows Oil Spill Live Feed as slick scale estimates questioned ...

Live video feed of the Gulf of Mexico oil leak has been posted online on Thursday.

LPP First Draft...

Rubio Letter to Secretary Clinton

Wednesday, October 19, 2011
October 19, 2011

The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Clinton:

I write out of deep concern about recent reports that the Administration is considering to dramatically ease United States policy towards the totalitarian regime in Cuba, even as the regime continues to hold a fellow innocent American hostage.

During her testimony before Congress on October 14th, Undersecretary for Political Affairs Sherman confirmed that the Administration had recently met with the Cuban Government to discuss the ongoing imprisonment of Mr. Gross. On the same day, the State Department's spokesperson confirmed other issues of "mutual interest" were discussed, including the possibility of unilaterally easing restrictions by expanding the number of airports authorized to handle U.S. travel to Cuba. Can you provide details about who participated in these discussions on each side and where did the discussions take place? Can you provide a detailed list of actions taken by Administration in the last twenty months to convey U.S. Government displeasure with the unjust imprisonment of Mr. Gross?

I was encouraged to hear that the Administration continues to advocate for Mr. Gross' humanitarian release. However, I am concerned about recent statements by the Department's spokesperson that raised questions about the extent of such commitment. Has the Administration considered or proposed releasing members of the 'Wasp Network' in exchange for Mr. Gross' freedom? Has the Administration considered or proposed releasing any other Cuban nationals in exchange for Mr. Gross' release? Has the Administration considered negotiating Mr. Gross' release under conditions other than an unconditional humanitarian release?

In addition to continuing to hold an innocent American hostage, the Cuban regime's repression of peaceful dissent has reached alarming new levels. According to the Havana-based Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, the regime arrested at least 563 activists for political reasons in September 2011, the highest number in the last 30 years. Yet, media reports indicate that the Administration is willing to reduce U.S. democracy programs in Cuba and end a program that makes it easier for Cuban medical personnel to move to the United States and flee the enslaved labor conditions under which Cuba keeps them in foreign countries. Can you firmly deny that the Administration has ever considered or could consider taking such actions? Does the Administration consider U.S. democracy programs in Cuba a cornerstone of its foreign policy?

Thank you for your attention to this matter. As you know, U.S. policy toward Cuba is of enormous importance to me and many of my constituents, and I look forward to your timely response to these questions.

Marco Rubio
United States Senator

Lady of Valor

From Investor's Business Daily's Editorial Board:

Cuba's Lady Of Valor

Laura Pollan Toledo was a humble schoolteacher who led Cuba's defiant Ladies in White. She died Friday in Havana. But she left a legacy of untold courage that terrified Cuba's long-communist dictatorship.

As surely as the sun will rise, a day will come when Cuba is free of its 52-year Marxist nightmare. And when its history is written, it's likely to begin with the story of Laura Pollan Toledo, the wife of an arrested dissident who shined a light on the totalitarian nature of the regime for all the world to see.

Pollan was a founder of the Ladies in White, the noted group of dissidents' wives who silently walked in procession, wearing white and carrying gladiolus flowers. They attended Mass together at St. Rita's Church to pray for their husbands' return.

They never made public statements, but the Castro regime understood the power of their silent protest and its global impact. For that, they considered Pollan a threat.

Pollan and the others, mostly wives of 75 dissidents arrested in the Black Spring of 2003, were followed, insulted, harassed, threatened, beaten by mobs and menaced for silently witnessing to the truth about Cuba's lack of human freedom.

Pollan died in a Cuban hospital of dengue fever and a viral infection, in the end at the mercy of Cuba's collapsing state health system, refusing transfer to an elite medical facility as the publicity-nervous regime offered.

It's hard to imagine the courage that Pollan's simple act of witness took, in a regime that considers going to church a threat to the state.

In Castro's island hellhole, praised by the Hollywood and congressional left, free speech is forbidden. Calling for elections brings a knock on the door at midnight. Trying to leave the island brings prison — even death.

Yet amid this island prison just 90 miles from our shores, Pollan and her friends stood up for truth.

She died without seeing the free Cuba she longed for. Still, the pure flame of her courage changed Cuba in ways large and small, and helped set it on a path of ultimate liberation. RIP. 
Capitol Hill Cubans

Other Voices: Cuba wants U.S. to take its heat

08:40 AM CDT on Wednesday, October 19, 2011
As Cuba continues its crackdown on dissidents and young Cubans complain of no future, the number of Cubans caught at sea or pleading “dry foot” here or at crossings on the U.S.-Mexican border have doubled from last year.
The Castro brothers’ escape valve is operational again. That’s because pressure from within is mounting for change. The island’s disastrous economy (despite Venezuela’s oil giveaways) is a strong factor, say opposition leaders on the island and Cuban Americans who have been in contact with the new arrivals.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration’s attempts to free U.S. Agency for International Development worker Alan Gross (for a “crime” that most everywhere else would have been handled with a fine and a return trip home) have fallen flat.
No surprise there, as Washington has not yet fully understood that Havana has no interest in negotiating better relations with the United States. Its intent remains turning Uncle Sam into the Boogey Man, to take the heat off the regime’s own failings.
Bill Richardson, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, went to Cuba on an “unofficial” trip looking to bring back Gross, who’s serving an outrageous 15-year prison sentence. Cuba accuses Gross, 62 and ill, of being a spy for bringing communications equipment to Jewish groups in Havana.
Predictably, Richardson returned without him. Just more mind games from a 52-year-old dictatorship worried about the ramifications of the Arab Spring and fearing what technology in the hands of a new generation of Cubans might bring.
Cellphone cameras from Santiago to Havana are capturing growing discontent for the world to see. Brave young women and men are standing on street corners, even on the Capitol steps, to denounce abuses and call for democracy. The protests are gaining in number and in support from average Cubans on the street.
Richardson maintains human rights are improving in Cuba. It’s a shame he didn’t take a few hours out of his dead-end trip to talk with the Ladies in White, who have been beaten and detained, or to speak with the island’s bloggers like Yoani Sanchez.
In Lima last week, a report issued by the InterAmerican Press Association presented a grim picture regarding the harassment of journalists and bloggers in Cuba and women like 34-year-old independent journalist Sonia Garro. She is among a new generation criticizing the Cuban government’s treatment of Afro-Cubans.
Had Richardson met Garro and others who have been beaten, he wouldn’t have expressed surprise that he wasn’t allowed to see Gross or meet with Raul Castro.
According to a recent New York Times report, Richardson was prepared to press the Obama administration to drop Cuba from the State Department’s list of nations that sponsor terror, as a goodwill gesture in exchange for Gross.
But Cuba wants the Cuban Five spies returned for Gross. One already is out on three years’ probation after serving a 13-year sentence.
To compare Gross’ work to help Cubans connect to the outside world to that of Cuban spies who were nosing around military bases like Homestead’s, looking for U.S. secrets, and responsible for the shootdown of the Brothers to the Rescue planes is ludicrous. To talk of removing Cuba from the well-documented list of state sponsors of terror, even more so.
The Miami Herald

Espionage: Old School...LPP Archive...

Espionage: Old School

American officials have arrested former State Department employee Walter Myers, 72, and his wife, Gwendolyn Myers, 71, and charged them with having spied on the United States for Cuba for the past 30 years.  Walter Myers spent 30 years working for the State Department before retiring in 2007.  He had top secret security clearance as an instructor at the Foreign Service Institute.  Gwendolyn worked for a DC-based bank, though she never received security clearance from the US government.

Walter Myers was approached by the Cubans in 1978, the FBI alleges, and Gwendolyn joined him after they married n 1982.  His preferred method of giving information to the Cubans was to exchange carts in the grocery store with his contacts.  The Myerses were arrested in an FBI sting, when an agent posing as a Cuban officer persuaded them to hand over information on their activities.  The FBI also alleges that the Myerses told its agent that they planned to one day "escape" the US to settle in Cuba, fed up as they were with North Americans (oddly, not "Americans", but "North Americans"), which they said were the bane of the United States.

The Myerses claim to have met Fidel Castro, something which Castro himself acknowledged in an editorial published last weekend in Havana.  He says he met them in Mexico in 1995, but there is nothing interesting in that in and of itself; he claims to have met thousands of American citizens over the years for a multitude of reasons.  Castro, however, dismissed the story as an "espionage comic strip."

Today, the Myerses were denied bail in a DC court, as the judge found them to be a flight risk; they had been planning a sail around the Mediterranean at the time of their arrest.  Moreover, the FBI alleges, sailing charts for Cuban waters were found in their home, along with a calendar that noted the start date for their sailing adventure with no return date.

As for Castro, he questions the timing of the Myerses' arrest only days after the Organisation of American States lifted its membership ban on Cuba.  It had been in place since 1962, around the same time the US enacted sanctions against Cuba.  It's also worth noting that the Obama Administration has also just lifted the sanctions on Cuba, including lifting the travel ban on American citizens going to Cuba.

If convicted, the Myerses face anywhere from 20-35 years in prison.

In Probation, spying ?...

Spy Rene Gonzalez to Castro : 'It's an honor to serve the cause you inspired'

Probation in the U.S. is' a trench in which I will continue in the same fight, "he says. 'I will continue his orders to do what needs to be done '.
Fidel Castro published Tuesday in one of his "Reflections" a message that you sent the spy René González after leaving prison, which the agent praises him profusely, he said it was "an honor to serve  cause "that he" inspired "and he promises to continue" in the same battle. "
Gonzalez released from prison on 7 October, but still must serve three years probation in the United States.
Although not specifically mentioning the period of probation,  the spy says: "For me now this is a trench in which follow  in the same fight you called me and I to the end, until justice is done, to follow orders, do what you have to do. "
Castro said in his reflection that the message of October 9, not had published because the president of the National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcón, he recommended waiting until the probation officer of the Florida Federal Court formally communicate conditions Spy parole. That procedure occurred on October 11.
In his text Gonzales Castro thanked "by the way it has mobilized an entire nation and mobilized solidarity international ".
The spy was convicted in 2001 along with four other agents Havana still serving their sentences.
The campaign launched by the Government has failed to get them out of prison. Gonzalez turned 13 years of imprisonment were imposed,  something called Castro "brutal and unjust punishment"In another reflection, published on Monday.
The spy says in his message that Castro was "inspiration" and "Example" for him and the other agents, "a banner behind which never stop going to go. "

Read More...(Spanish Version)

Majority of Cuban-Americans for warmer US-Cuba ties, poll says, but...

Those who support warmer US-Cuba ties, including lifting travel restrictions and re-establishing diplomatic relations, are not eligible to vote in the US, diminishing their political influence.

By Anya Landau FrenchGuest blogger / October 19, 2011

Florida International University has just released the results of a poll on Cuban American attitudes on Cuba and US policies (this is their tenth poll over the last twenty years). This latest FIU poll raises a lot of the big questions on the table right now and gets some contradictory answers.

Overall, a majority of respondents say they support maintaining the embargo (56 percent), and only 39 percent are ready to expand trade and investment in Cuba beyond current levels. At the same time, a majority (57 percent) favors lifting all restrictions on travel, 60 percent oppose restrictions on family travel, and 57 percent even support re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba. Oh, and a whopping 80 percent of respondents believe that the embargo has “not worked very well” or “not worked at all." Yes, you read that right.
What a mixed picture, right?

But it’s not so mixed if you start to look at specific categories, like the responses of 18-44 year-olds or of after-94’ers (those who arrived to the US after 1994). Those categories lead the pack on supporting engagement via diplomacy (70+ percent support), travel (75+ percent support), food and medicine sales (75+ percent), private investment, you name it. But what’s more important is where they fall behind – in citizenship and voter registration. Two-thirds of the after-1994 group are either non-citizens or non-registered citizens.
So, while 76 percent of the after-1994 group opposes a law that would limit family travel to the island to once every three years (a return to the Bush administration regulations, as proposed by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart this summer), the lawmaker who proposed these restrictions only has to worry about the 54 percent of the registered voters who say they oppose the changes. Across the board, the decided engagement tilt of the younger and more recent cohorts of Cuban Americans is tempered by slightly conservative tilt among registered-citizen Cuban Americans.
Some folks argue that money talks and US policy is shaped to a large degree by political campaign donations. No real argument here. But it’s not the only factor. Politicians do care about raw numbers. They may not respond to how a given community as a whole feels, but they do pay attention to how the voting part of that community feels, and what they intend to do about it.
Does anyone really doubt that most American voters are focused on jobs and the country's economic recovery? I’d argue that those Cuban Americans for whom their vote is tied to Cuba weren’t going to vote for Obama anyway. But what would happen if more of the after-1994 cohort registered to vote, and genuinely feared their travel rights being curtailed? Maybe maintaining those rights would be so important they’d camp outside their representatives’ offices. Or maybe they’d just go to Cuba illegally through a third country. There's really no way to know for sure until more of them start becoming citizens and get registered to vote.

--- Anya Landau French blogs for The Havana Note, a project of the "US-Cuba Policy Initiative,” directed by Ms. Landau French, at the New America Foundation/American Strategy Program.

Lawmakers fret over Cuba oil-drilling...

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The government is doing what it can to ensure that the first full-scale oil exploration in Cuba's part of the Gulf of Mexico will not endanger Florida's pristine beaches that lie only miles away, the top drilling regulator told lawmakers on Tuesday.
But the assurances did not completely convince senators at a Capitol Hill hearing that the United States would be prepared to respond to a worst-case oil spill scenario in waters controlled by its long-time Communist foe.
The government is evaluating the safety and emergency plans of Repsol YPF, which plans to explore for oil in the Gulf of Mexico after a Chinese-made rig arrives later this year, said Michael Bromwich, head of the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.
The development is a delicate environmental issue for the United States as BP's oil blowout in the Gulf last year remains fresh in the minds of U.S. coastal residents. Drilling is also banned off Florida's coast.
It is also a sensitive political issue because if there was a spill, U.S. technology might be prevented from being quickly deployed due to the long-running trade embargo with Cuba.
"The question is, are we going to get caught in some kind of political tangle that keeps us from bringing to bear the best response capability needed?" Jeff Bingaman, chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, told reporters after the hearing.
Bingaman said he has long supported an end to the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba that requires U.S. companies to obtain licenses to work in Cuba and use U.S. technology there.
Tuesday's hearing did not explore that issue, although one senator said the embargo was the elephant in the room.
"It seems like there are some policies that we have that are sort of 'Cutting your nose off to spite your face' that may be worth looking at," said Bob Corker, a Republican.
U.S. Coast Guard officials and the drilling regulator will inspect Repsol's rig when it reaches Trinidad and Tobago on its way to Cuba, Bromwich said.
"It's not optimal," Bromwich told senators. "But this is a lot better than nothing."
The rig, called Scarabeo 9, is owned by a unit of the Italian oil company, Eni SpA. Repsol, in partnership with Norway's Statoil and India's ONGC, plans to drill at least one well off Cuba.
Repsol, which also has assets in the United States, has been cooperative with the U.S. regulator, Bromwich said.
"We can't obviously direct Cuba to impose our standards, and so really our exclusive vehicle is through the operator," he said.
The U.S. Justice Department is investigating whether it could hold Repsol liable in the event of a spill in Cuban waters, he said.
If there were a spill, government licenses needed for U.S. companies to help "would be granted very, very quickly," Bromwich said.
But the only U.S. company to currently have a license to assist with a spill was skeptical, and said more flexibility would help with emergency planning for the Repsol project.
"I know of no expedited process today," said Paul Schuler, chief executive of Clean Caribbean and Americas.
"I would want to see that institutionalized, formalized because my experience is not the same," Schuler told Reuters.
Cuban exiles oppose any U.S. involvement in the Cuban project, which they argue will support the Communist government.
"The Obama Administration should have been focused on convincing Repsol not to engage with the Cuban regime," said Cuba-born U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, in a statement.
Florida is the most populous of the presidential swing states and a key battleground for the 2012 vote. Obama won the state in 2008.
Cuba believes it may have 20 billion barrels of oil offshore. The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated the reserves at 5 billion barrels.
The U.S. drilling regulator has asked Repsol for proprietary information about the characteristics of the oil reservoir where it will work, its drilling plans and information about its contractors.
"The more information we can get, the more comfortable we'll feel," Bromwich said.
Repsol is providing as much information as it can without breaching confidentiality agreements, said Kristian Rix, Madrid-based spokesman for Repsol.
"We're giving them as much information as possible and, especially on safety they have absolute cooperation and access," Rix said.
(Additional reporting by Pascal Fletcher in Miami and Bruce Nichols in Houston; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Bob Burgdorfer)
The Cuban government arrested the managing director of a British investment fund in Havana.
Reuters reports, Amado Fakhre, a Lebanese-born British citizen, was arrested in an “investigation by Cuban authorities of corrupt practices among the Communist island’s state businesses and their foreign partners.”
Fakhre worked for Coral Capital Group Ltd, a venture partner in Havana’s upscale Saratoga Hotel and another hotel complex on the resort key of Cayo Coco, the wire story added.
According to a cached main page of Coral Capital’s website that is offline, the company was involved in the “Mariel Development Zone,” which is the Cuban military’s port development project:
A 600 hectare, economic development zone is to be constructed adjacent to the new deep water container terminal at Mariel. This is a major strategic initiative of the government. “Promote the creation of special economic zones” Proyecto de Lineaminatos PCC April 2011 Item III:96. Over five years, Coral has developed a business plan with their strategic partner Economic Zones World (part of Dubai based JAFZA). Using specialist consultancy services from E&Y, LCP and Drewry Shipping a masterplan has been developed. The first phase envisages an investment of $43m in building out 50,000 sqm of warehousing, LIU’s and offices.
It is interesting to note the participation of the Saudis in this Cuban military business project through JAFZA (Jebel Ali Free Zone), a subsidiary of the Dubai-based Economic Zones World (EZW), a global developer and operator of economic zones, technology, logistics and industrial parks under the Dubai World Group.
(Image: Cached image of Amado Fakhre from Coral Capital’s offline website.)