Obama to visit Cuba on March 21 as part of regional tour

The last US sitting president to visit the island was Calvin Coolidge 88 years

US President Barack Obama announced on Thursday that he would travel to Cuba on March 21 and 22 and hold talks with Cuban President Raúl Castro during the trip.

“I'll travel to Cuba to advance our progress and efforts that can improve the lives of the Cuban people,” Obama said on his Twitter account.

“We still have differences with the Cuban government that I will raise directly. America will always stand for human rights around the world,” the president said.

The trip, which will be part of a broad multi-nation tour of Latin America, is expected to be a high-point toward ending 56 years of chilled relations between Havana and Washington. The two countries began building a framework to initiate a process of normalizing diplomatic relations in 2014.

Last July, Cuba and the United States formally established relations. A month later, John Kerry became the first US Secretary of State in more than half a century to go to Cuba, where he helped inaugurate the reopening of the US Embassy in Havana.

With this trip, Obama hopes to make history by becoming the first sitting president in more than 80 years to travel to the island. In 1928, US Republican President Calvin Coolidge visited Havana to speak at the Sixth Annual International Conference of American States, which would later become the Organization of American States (OAS). Former US President Jimmy Carter visited Havana in 2002 but he was no longer in the White House.

In an interview with Yahoo! News last December, the US leader said he wanted to go to Cuba but only if the conditions were right.

“If I go on a visit, then part of the deal is that I get to talk to everybody,” Obama said. “I’ve made very clear in my conversations directly with President [Raul] Castro that we would continue to reach out to those who want to broaden the scope for, you know, free expression inside of Cuba.”

This will be the third time that Obama and Castro meet face to face.

But even though the trip will capture the world’s attention, there are some political risks involved. Obama will arrive in Cuba to try to cement his presidential legacy but without accomplishing what has been a sore point between the two sides.

Cuba has said that full diplomatic relations cannot be achieved unless the US economic and trade embargo is lifted.

Even though Obama has eased some restrictions for US citizens traveling to Cuba and agreed to allow direct flights between both nations, it would take an act of Congress to lift the more than 55-year-old embargo.

There have been various bills filed in the House of Representatives calling for the end of sanctions, but for the moment, its sponsors do not have enough support to push them through their respective committees.

Obama could fail in accomplishing full diplomatic relations with the Communist island government, but the outside pressure on Congress has been growing.

US air carriers have already filed their paperwork to obtain licenses to begin flights to Cuba by the fall. Vacation cruise lines have also submitted their petitions to include Cuba as one of their stops in the Caribbean.

On Thursday, US Trade Secretary Penny Pritzker and Cuban Trade Minister Rodrigo Malmierca will finalize their second round of talks aimed at pushing for bilateral trade.

While they both said at the beginning of their meeting that there were a lot of issues to be discussed, both officials acknowledged that there is pressure by US businesses who do not want to miss any opportunities in Cuba.

Obama’s trip to Cuba will no doubt become a major issue in the US presidential race.

While some candidates – such as Republican senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, who are both of Cuban origin – have criticized Washington’s policy toward Havana, the issue has mostly been ignored in debates and campaign speeches.

But the candidates are aware that there is broad support by US citizens for the normalization of relations with Havana, and they know how unpopular – not to say impossible – it would be to halt the process initiated by Obama.

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USA, Forum to Facilitate Normalization of Relations with Cuba

Created last year by the bipartisan entity The Howard Baker Forum, this consortium brings together companies, nonprofit organizations, investors, academics and entrepreneurs, who will discuss the policies for normalization of relations and the barriers for this process, announced by Presidents Raúl Castro and Barack Obama in December 2014.

The event coincides with the presence here of a delegation from the island, led by Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment, Rodrigo Malmierca, which held meetings at the United States Chamber of Commerce and participated in a dialogue with host authorities to promote ties in the context of the validity of the blockade.

According to the program of the conference, welcoming words will be pronounced by the president of The Howard Baker Forum, Scott Campbell, and the co-leaders of Consorcio Cuba, former senators Nancy Kassebaum and Tom Daschle.

Meanwhile, Malmierca and the US Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, will give the opening speeches.

Yesterday, both officials reiterated the will of Havana and Washington for relations to progress, despite obstacles such as the full implementation of the blockade.

Consorcio Cuba has among its objectives to inform and advise Americans interested in the normalization process, to follow the economy of the island, to link to institutions and small entrepreneurs on the island and to promote travels to the Caribbena country to assess business opportunities.

This is one of the organizations founded in recent months to accompany the bilateral approach, which is already showing progress with the restoration of diplomatic relations and high-level contacts among experts in areas of mutual interest.

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Obama 'Interested' in Visiting Cuba

U.S. President Barack Obama said Monday he is open to visiting Cuba sometime in 2016.

"I am very much interested in going to Cuba, but I think the conditions have to be right," Obama said in an interview with Yahoo News.

The president said “progress in the liberty and freedom and possibilities of ordinary Cubans” would be a precondition for a visit. That seemed to include being able to “talk to anybody,” including U.S. funded “pro-democracy” groups.

During the same interview, Obama conceded he would likely be unable to fulfill his electoral promise to close Guantanamo Bay, adding that a future U.S. president may decide to hand the site back to Cuba.

The interview was conducted on the one year anniversary of an announcement that Washington and Havana would restore diplomatic ties.

While both sides say significant progress has been made over the past year, the Cuban government says normal ties will be impossible unless the United States dismantles its blockade.

Obama said in July that the blockade had failed. Since then, he has often hinted that it would soon be lifted. But despite beginning a path to normalize bilateral dealings, including lifting some travel and trade bans to the island, the sanctions continue, as a change of policy would have to be passed by the U.S. Congress.

Cuban President Raul Castro has reiterated that in order for full relations to be re-established, the United States must meet four conditions: to leave Guantanamo detention camp; end the blockade; end the “wet-foot-dry-foot” law encouraging Cubans to pursue residency in the U.S.; and end anti-government radio and television transmissions into the island.

Lifting of the half-century blockade would represent a historic moment for Cubans, 77 percent of whom were born under the harsh economic conditions resulting from it.

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Hollande to tell Obama Europe can’t wait for US war of attrition with ISIS to succeed – report

French President François Hollande is to call for the US to review its strategy in fighting terrorist group Islamic State, arguing that Europe cannot wait for America’s long war of attrition with the jihadists to work, the Guardian reports.
 

Hollande is to meet US President Barack Obama on Tuesday next week before going to Russia for a visit. The French leader intends to make Obama aware of the extent of damage done to Europe by the developing refugee crisis and the rising threat of terrorist attacks, a European diplomat told the British newspaper.

“The message that we want to send to the Americans is simply that the crisis is destabilizing Europe,”said the diplomat, who did not wish to be named. “The problem is that the attacks in Paris and the refugee crisis show that we don’t have time. There is an emergency.”

The source said that’s the reason why the French president will visit Washington on Tuesday before flying to Moscow.

According to the diplomat, Paris’ position is that the Europeans cannot afford to wait for years for the war of attrition that the US-led coalition is waging on Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) in Iraq and Syria, to take effect. There is an impression in Europe that the US doesn’t fully comprehend the urgency of the issue because it doesn’t have to take the bulk of the refugees fleeting Middle East and pouring into Europe in the biggest movement of people since World War II.

Hollande earlier called on the US and Russia, both of which lead a separate effort to eradicate IS, to join forces. Moscow said a broad coalition was needed to defeat the terrorists, but Washington said it would only agree if Russia shared its goals in Syria.

READ MORE: Russian warplanes disrupt ISIS oil sales channels; destroy 500 terrorist oil trucks in Syria

The White House insists that the Syrian conflict can only be resolved if President Bashar Assad steps down.

"Bottom line is, I do not foresee a situation in which we can end the civil war in Syria while Assad remains in power," Barack Obama told reporters in Manila on the sidelines of the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.

The Kremlin sees the Syrian government as the most viable force in the country that can provide ground troops to battle terrorist groups. Russia says Assad’s political future should be decided by the Syrian people, but the US insists he should not be part of a political settlement.

The Pentagon on its part wants to rely on “moderate rebel forces” and Kurdish militias to attack terrorists on the ground in Syria. So far the strategy wasn’t effective. Kurds fought IS militants when they attacked Kurd-controlled territories, but are reluctant to go on offensive. The empowerment of Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria also puts the US-led coalition at odds with NATO member Turkey, which has been fighting Kurdish insurgency for decades.

As for the program to train and arm moderate rebels, it proved to be a failure with the Pentagon reporting in September just a handful of US-prepared soldiers actually fighting IS.

IS strategy has become one of the major campaign issues for the upcoming presidential election in the US. Republican candidates like Jeb Bush and Donald Trump have been criticizing the Obama administration for being too soft on terrorists.

Voices calling for the Obama administration to reconsider its ‘Assad must go’ mantra are coming from intelligence professionals as well.

“I think it’s now crystal clear to us that our strategy, our policy vis-à-vis ISIS is not working and it’s time to look at something else,” former CIA deputy director Michael Morell told CBS. “The question of whether President Assad needs to go or whether he is part of the solution – we must look at it again. Clearly he is part of the problem but he may also be part of the solution. An agreement, where he stays for a while and the Syrian army supported by the coalition takes on ISIS may be give us the best result.”

‘France is at war’: Hollande urges more security spending & stripping of citizenship
Enlace permanente de imagen incrustada

According to the diplomat, Paris’ position is that the Europeans cannot afford to wait for years for the war of attrition that the US-led coalition is waging on Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) in Iraq and Syria, to take effect. There is an impression in Europe that the US doesn’t fully comprehend the urgency of the issue because it doesn’t have to take the bulk of the refugees fleeting Middle East and pouring into Europe in the biggest movement of people since World War II.

Hollande earlier called on the US and Russia, both of which lead a separate effort to eradicate IS, to join forces. Moscow said a broad coalition was needed to defeat the terrorists, but Washington said it would only agree if Russia shared its goals in Syria.

READ MORE: Russian warplanes disrupt ISIS oil sales channels; destroy 500 terrorist oil trucks in Syria

The White House insists that the Syrian conflict can only be resolved if President Bashar Assad steps down.

"Bottom line is, I do not foresee a situation in which we can end the civil war in Syria while Assad remains in power," Barack Obama told reporters in Manila on the sidelines of the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.

The Kremlin sees the Syrian government as the most viable force in the country that can provide ground troops to battle terrorist groups. Russia says Assad’s political future should be decided by the Syrian people, but the US insists he should not be part of a political settlement.

US intentionally spare ISIS in Syria, want terrorists to weaken Assad – Russian FM Enlace permanente de imagen incrustada

The Pentagon on its part wants to rely on “moderate rebel forces” and Kurdish militias to attack terrorists on the ground in Syria. So far the strategy wasn’t effective. Kurds fought IS militants when they attacked Kurd-controlled territories, but are reluctant to go on offensive. The empowerment of Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria also puts the US-led coalition at odds with NATO member Turkey, which has been fighting Kurdish insurgency for decades.

As for the program to train and arm moderate rebels, it proved to be a failure with the Pentagon reporting in September just a handful of US-prepared soldiers actually fighting IS.

IS strategy has become one of the major campaign issues for the upcoming presidential election in the US. Republican candidates like Jeb Bush and Donald Trump have been criticizing the Obama administration for being too soft on terrorists.

Voices calling for the Obama administration to reconsider its ‘Assad must go’ mantra are coming from intelligence professionals as well.

“I think it’s now crystal clear to us that our strategy, our policy vis-à-vis ISIS is not working and it’s time to look at something else,” former CIA deputy director Michael Morell told CBS. “The question of whether President Assad needs to go or whether he is part of the solution – we must look at it again. Clearly he is part of the problem but he may also be part of the solution. An agreement, where he stays for a while and the Syrian army supported by the coalition takes on ISIS may be give us the best result.”

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Moscow and Washington work together to restructure international relations

Russia is making slow but steady progress at the United Nations. Her leaders are convinced that the Islamist terrorist groups have been encouraged by the CIA since the 1950’s, and that today they constitute a menace not only for the stability of the region, but for the interests of the United States themselves. As Vladimir Putin explained last year to the Valdai International Discussion Club, it is therefore preferable to work together to resolve the current problem.

However, the Russian leaders are also convinced that Washington only listens to its partners when they are powerful. The Douma therefore debated the idea of a military intervention against the terrorist groups in Syria, and gave its approval. This will be the second exterior intervention by the Russian Federation since its creation in 1991 – the first was the war of South Ossetia in 2008. Immediately after having received the authorisation, the Russian army scrambled its jets from Latakia and destroyed Al-Qaïda and Ahrar Al-Sham strongholds.

The choice of targets was intended to

- force the other powers to clarify their policies concerning these terrorist groups ;

- send a message to Turkey, whose officers currently supervise Ahrar Al-Sham ;

- and finally, to demonstrate that no terrorist groups will be spared.

The intervention demonstrates Russia’s will to play a role in the Near East, not against the United States, but with them. Far from defying President Obama, Russia intends, on the contrary, to supply him with the military assistance he lacks, while the Pentagon has become a closed arena for its own internal confrontations.

Who is supporting the terrorist groups ?

It has become common knowledge that the jihadists in Syria are armed and financed by foreign powers. However, no state will publicly assume responsibility for such support. The reactions to the Russian anti-terrorist operation in Syria have revealed the contradictions displayed by several participants.

As an example, the French Minister for Foreign Affairs, Laurent Fabius, declared that « ...a coalition [led by Russia] whose bases would interdict any gathering of Syrians against the terrorists, would in reality feed Daesh’s propaganda and reinforce its power of attraction ». By this statement, he admitted that the objective of France and its allies in Syria – Turkey and Saudi Arabia – is not to fight Daesh, but the Russian vision of international relations.

The President of the US Senate Armed Services Committee, John McCain, confirmed that Ahrar Al-Sham comprised elements which had been trained and armed by the United States. Consequently, according to him, the Russian attack against the terrorists is an aggression against the United States. Using this logic, he recommended delivering ground to air missiles to the jihadists so that they could shoot down Russian planes.

A message to Turkey

Since the group Ahrar Al-Sham, once sponsored by Kuwait, is presently funded and supervised mostly by officers of the Turkish army, the bombing also sent a warning to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Erdoğan had first of all replaced Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan as the coordinator of international Islamist terrorism. Then he gave the Muslim Brotherhood refuge in Turkey, replacing Qatar. In December 2014, Turkey signed a strategic gas agreement with Russia, which it finally abandoned under US pressure. Simultaneously, Turkey and Ukraine created an « International Islamic Brigade » to fight the « Russian occupation of Crimea ». Relations between Ankara and Moscow quickly became strained.

During a visit to Moscow by President Erdoğan, on the 23rd September, for the inauguration of the largest mosque in Europe, his Russian opposite number managed to convince him to mellow his rhetoric against the Syrian Arab Republic, but failed to convince him to abandon his aggressive politicies.

Once back in his own country, Mr. Erdoğan settled for stating that the departure of President el-Assad was no longer a prime condition for the resolution of the Syrian crisis. Russia considered that this was insufficient, and showered praise on the PKK for its anti-Daesh stance, suggesting that it might support the Kurdish party against its government.

No terrorist group will be spared

By choosing to strike Al-Qaïda and Ahrar Al-Sham, Russia has replaced the debate over the supposed unanimity against Daesh with the cacophony concerning Al-Qaïda. Although everyone now admits that the organisation founded by Osama ben Laden is originally a creation of the United States, everyone still believes, or pretends to believe, that it turned against its creator and inflicted the terrible losses of 911.

But Al-Qaïda was the ally of NATO in Libya for the overthrow of the Jamahiriya and the assassination of Mouamar el-Kadhafi. This reality was so shocking for US General Carter Ham, the commander of AfriCom, that he asked to be relieved of his functions and transferred to the Atlantic Alliance.

In Syria, France and Turkey delivered munitions to Al-Qaïda via the Free Syrian Army, as attested by an FSA document transmitted on the 14th July 2014 to the United Nations Security Council.

And currently, General David Petraeus, ex-director of the CIA, and his friend John McCain, are calling for the support of Al-Qaïda against the Syrian Arab Republic.

The Ahrar Al-Sham group itself was created just before the beginning of the events in Syria, in March 2011, by the Muslim Brotherhood. Certain members of the group were officers of Al-Qaïda. Incidentally, its existence demonstrates that, contrary to the declarations of President Hollande at the UNO, terrorism in Syria existed before the beginning of the war, and is therefore not the consequence of the war, but in fact the cause of it, as President el-Assad claims.

Finally, whatever lies we are told by NATO, and the contradictions they create for all concerned, the Russians will not be sparing certain groups in deference to their secret sponsors, but will bomb all targets linked to the terrorist groups listed by the United Nations - Al-Qaïda, Al-Nosra, and Daesh.

Who is actively opposed to the Russian intervention ?

Since the beginning of the deployment of the Russian army – and there is as yet no discussion of the ground troops to be sent by the CSTO – a vast campaign of disinformation is being waged world-wide in order to accuse Russia of

- supervising the Syrian Arab Army ;

- bombing not the terrorist groups, but the civilian populations who are « hostile to the regime » ;

- preparing a vast offensive with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

War propaganda - the foundation and characteristic of the 4th generation war coordinated by NATO from February 2011 to March 2012 - progessively diminished. While for the space of a year, we were subjected on a daily basis to another imaginary story illustrating the supposed crimes of the « régime », the war propaganda limited itself to a few small groups – including the SOHR (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights), a London-based office of the Muslim Brotherhood which provides fodder for the Atlantist Press. As if by Pavlovian reflex, the Atlantist media visit the trough and then unthinkingly reproduce the most shameful lies.

First of all, they used a video taken by the Syrian Arab Army in which we hear men speaking Russian, in an attempt to make us believe that the Syrian fighters were commanded by Russian officers. In truth, the voices come from a walkie-talkie exchange between jihadists. Yuri Artamonov revealed this mistake by studying the sound track.

Then we were treated to a tsunami of images and videos about the civilian victims of Russian bombing raids. However, these images and videos were broadcast during the Douma debates, in other words, before the bombing took place.

Finally, the presence of Iranian fighters in Syria was presented as proof of the preparation of a vast counter-offensive by the « régime » and its allies against the « rebels ». In reality, after the fall of Palmyra, the Iranian forces had been authorised by the United States to become involved in Syria, but their number remains inferior to 5,000 men, which is absolutely insufficient to wage a counter-offensive over such a vast territory. As for the armed rebels, we have already pointed out that they are all linked either to al-Qaïda or Daesh.

We still need to prove who is organising this campaign of intoxication, and why. While it is impossible to find a solution to this question by considering Syria alone, the answer becomes clear once we place the theatre of war in the context of the re-establishment of international relations.

The Russian proposition to the Security Council

Russia has proposed that the Security Council spend October studying the best way of fighting terrorism, not only in Syria, but throughout North Africa and the Near East.

Evidently, Moscow and Washington have agreed to now begin applying the agreement they concluded in 2012 – and which Clinton, Petraeus, Allen, Feltman, Hollande and Fabius sabotaged – to share out the responsibilities in the Arab world. However, Russia has no wish to deploy on quicksand, and is asking for the terrain to be cleared first.

Let’s remember the basis of this agreement – the United States could withdraw part of their troops stationed in the region when Russia agrees to guarantee the safety of Israel.

Russia poses one condition to the new sharing of the world - the passage from an imperialist system, like the Yalta agreement, to a system based on international law in general, and the United Nations Charter in particular. It therefore condemns in advance « ...interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states, the recourse to force without the authorisation of the Security Council, and the delivery of arms to extremist non-state groups ».

Let there be no mistake about it, this solution supposes the application of Security Council resolutions, including those concerning Israel, the implementation of the Arab Peace Initiative and the common Global Action Plan concerning the Iranian nuclear programme, the creation of control mechanisms for the respect by the states of the assembly for all of these texts, and finally, global opposition to the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Indiscreet Editorial of Las Americas Newspaper?

Partially financed by the Cuban-Venezuelan far right-wing of Miami, it approached the current politics of Washington towards Havana.

It did it in an editorial where it suggests that its essential purpose is to impose a régime change.

Such writing was published on Thursday entitled “Obama, Castro and the Embargo.”

It affirms that the new meeting between “ruler” Castro and president Obama, now in New York, left to many mouths opened.

On one side, it adds, Cuba demanding among other matters the end of what the editorial calls embargo.

On the other hand, Obama defending to eliminate a policy that has failed in more than 50 years.

It is worth clarifying that it did pay off thanks to those who have promoted it in Washington and Miami: its huge diplomatic isolation in that topic.

The first voting of the UN General Assembly on the “blockade to Cuba” took place in 1992 and it would repeat with that message for 20 of its yearly sessions until 2014.

In that first year, 57 countries rejected it and about twelve months ago 188 did the same, while Washington, supported by Israel, remained as main supported.

A detail worth mentioning is that never during that UN period has used the term “embargo” to substitute the most exact term “blockade”.

Now it’s speculated that after the well known gradual approach between Cuba and United States, the White House could abstain in the coming voting of the United Nations on this issue.

Las Americas newspaper point out that apparently Obama and Raúl coincide, but there’s a great difference between them on how to achieve the same objective.

Seemingly the Cuban régime conquered in the last days, but Obama insists “that only his strategy has changed to take a future of progress and human rights to the people of Cuba”, adds the editorial.

It reads that it’s a politics where the régime from Havana attempts to keep the cave in darkness or with a dim light.

At the same time, according to the article, the United States shows Cubans that the world “is full of light and opportunities.”

How to assess the meaning of those words amid the everyday tragedy of so many millions of inhabitants in the planet?

Simply, like a slap to human intelligence, a mock to the doomed of the Earth.

Just that blundered criterion strips from all seriousness everything written up to that point and what comes afterwards.

Like when they insist in the version that Washington has given plenty to Cuba without receiving something in return, mistake, firstly they would have to lift the blockade.

Then it resorts to a more aggressive approach when it outlines that in the long run “there won't be anyone capable to contain the huge influence that the most powerful nation in the world through its “soft power.”

The Editorial Staff of Las Americas finished with a sentence that strips naked all that insinuates very clearly:

“There isn’t a strong rock for soft waves.”

Hence, the forewarned war circling above Cubans bare its fangs wider enveloped in silk.

And Las Americas Newspaper, unlike others, strips it naked, untimed, and brutally.

Will any official or propagandist spokesman from Washington dare to deny it? The ball is in their turf.

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