Witnesses speaking to the House of Representatives Oversight Committee on Tuesday argued that the Obama administration aided Cuban government profits, ignoring demands for justice for American citizens, as it sought closer ties to the communist regime.
In a hearing titled “The Obama Rapprochement with the Castro Regime: The Anatomy of a Policy Failure,” a panel of Cuban-American witnesses explained how President Barack Obama helped line the pockets of Raúl Castro’s military regime while State Department bureaucracy failed to help those whose property was stolen during the Cuban Revolution of 1959.
Dr. Javier García-Bengochea, whose family owns the Santiago de Cuba port and has sought justice following the Castros’ expropriation of it during the Revolution, told the panel that he had reason to believe Chinese government companies and American cruise lines were benefitting from the use of property stolen by “Cuba’s white male military dictatorship.” When he approached the Obama-era State Department requesting help in regaining control of his family’s property, García says they did nothing.
García inherited the port from a cousin who was a U.S. citizen. The port is thus rightfully American citizen property.
“Regardless, bureaucrats at the State Department allow[ed] [Cuba] to violate my property rights and laws that protect me regarding my property confiscated in Cuba,” he concluded, “while allowing the Chinese to protect assets and take advantage of our rule of law that protects property ownership in general.”
In written testimony, García added that he was not alone in having his family’s property used for criminal profits. “Foreign entities and more recently U.S. cruise ships have been trafficking in our stolen property without our consent or consideration to us,” he argued.
García specifically accused Cuba State Department boss Mark Wells of having “refused to act and serially lied to me and my proxies that work was being done on my behalf when, in fact, nothing had been done.”
García had approached the State Department and issued testimony before Congress of evidence that the state-run China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) had used his port in Santiago for profit:
I submitted a detailed account of CCCC’s activity to the State Department with evidence and a request that State issue a letter to CCCC notifying them that unless they could prove otherwise or negotiate a settlement with me, US law required that the visas of their executives and their families be revoked.
CCCC, he notes, is not only a corrupt Chinese state corporation but specifically the one responsible for extensive illegal construction in the South China Sea, on territory belonging to the Philippines and Vietnam.
Hopeful in Secretary of State John Kerry—if not “Obama’s Rasputin on all things Cuba and Iran” Ben Rhodes—García approached the department. He received no help, not when denouncing the Chinese government, and not when noting that American cruise line corporations were also illegally using private ports stolen by the Castro regime.
One such corporation, Carnival Cruises, went as far as to violate the 1964 Civil Rights Act by banning Cuban-Americans from their cruises to Cuba at the regime’s request.
“The Chinese and the cruise lines are indisputably trafficking in our stolen properties in Cuba. They must receive Title IV notifications. If they are innocent, they have ample resources to defend themselves,” García argued.
The extensive hearing on Tuesday also featured a panel of Cuba experts who explained how the money Cuba is making from ports like García’s gets funneled into terrorism, political repression, and global crises. Policy expert Ana Quintana of the Heritage Foundation explained that Cuba has managed to fund a near-complete conquest of the Venezuelan government.
“OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro describes the Cuban presence in Venezuela as one of an occupational army,” she noted. “For decades, Venezuela has been Cuba’s sole benefactor, propping the regime up with petrodollars. In exchange, the Cuban government has provided Venezuela with its tutelage in repressive tactics and political control.”
Otto Reich, who served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, noted that President Obama removed Cuba from the department’s “State Sponsors of Terrorism” list “even though it cooperates with Syria, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, and harbors fugitives from U.S. justice and members of foreign terrorist organizations from Europe and other regions.”
“In order to safeguard his Cuba rapprochement, Obama overlooked the biggest violation of the U.N. arms embargo against North Korea,” Reich argued, citing a 2014 case in which a North Korean ship, the Chong Chon Gang, attempted to smuggle illegal Cuban weapons across the Panama Canal. The Cuban government suffered no consequences for the discovery of proof it was violating international sanctions.
“Since assuming formal power in Cuba in 2006 … General Raul Castro has continued his close alliance with Venezuela, Iran, and China,” Jamie Suchlicki, former director of the University of Miami’s Institute of Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, explained. “Venezuela’s vast purchases of Russian and Chinese military equipment, the close Venezuela-Iran relationship and the Cuba-Venezuela alliance are troublesome.”
“Raul is unwilling to renounce the support and close collaboration of countries like Venezuela, China, Iran, North Korea and Russia in exchange for an uncertain relationship with the United States,” he concluded.
The Cuban regime has shown no signs of changing these alliances since 2014, when President Obama announced multiple concessions to the regime intended to bring America back into the communist dictatorship’s good graces. President Obama visited Cuba in 2016—doing “the wave” with Castro at a baseball game and triggering a major spike in arbitrary arrests and police beatings of dissidents—and accepted thousands of dollars in gifts from Castro during his tenure, according to the State Department.