In Cuba, An Awkward Question About Terrorism John Kerry Should Ask Raul Castro

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Kerry (center) stands with other dignitaries as members of the U.S. Marines raise the American flag over the newly reopened embassy. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Pool/Reuters

This article first appeared on The Daily Signal.

There is a strong likelihood that when Secretary of State John Kerry raises the American flag in Havana today, August 14, he will meet with General Raul Castro or other Cuban government officials who continue to support the FARC, a Colombian terrorist group.

Neither Kerry nor President Obama want to ask embarrassing questions.

The Washington Post recently called attention to Obama's efforts not to raise significant issues that could derail the legacy he seeks by his approach to Raul Castro's regime: "Tricky negotiations in the wake of the Cuba thaw," The Post said. "As the Obama administration has pursued normalization with Cuba, it has been drawn into lower-profile but thorny dialogues with two of Havana's long-standing clients: the Venezuelan government of Nicolás Maduro and Colombia's Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC)."

The infamous relationship between the FARC and Raul Castro's regime is nothing new and we're not talking about ancient history. At a Congressional hearing on June 24, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., asked Special Envoy Bernard Aronson who had just returned from Cuba about a Cuba-bound Chinese ship loaded with weapons that was intercepted by the Colombian navy.

The ship was scheduled to dock in two Colombian ports: Cartagena and Baranquilla, and the weapons manufactured in China were of the same type used by the Colombian terrorists. The weapons were purchased by Raul Castro, but in a telling detail they were shipped under tons of cereal.

The issue of the smuggling operation is a matter of no interest to Obama, because if, as it is likely, the weapons were meant to increase terrorist violence in Colombia, the administration's decision to remove Cuba from the list of countries that are supporters of terrorism would have been impossible to defend.

Thus the unwillingness of the administration to ask questions can only be explained as an effort to maintain deniability. The president, the administration, Kerry and the Central Intelligence Agency simply did not know and do not wish to know.

We are not talking about a few pistols and hand grenades. The amount of deadly cargo included the following: "100 tons of gunpowder, 2.6 million detonators for bullets, 99 'projectiles' (rocket-propelled grenades, to venture a guess) and 3,000 artillery shells."

At the hearing, Ros-Lehtinen addressed Special Envoy Aronson as follows: "In your trips to Cuba, did you ask the Cuban authorities if the large weapons shipment bought by Havana was intended for the FARC? Did you ask the Cuban authorities the reason for hiding the shipment under tons of grain?"

Aronson could not have been more disingenuous. He said: "I don't engage with the Cuban authorities on a bilateral issue. I only talked to them once while I was down there on the progress of the peace talks."

To this day, the administration has shown a vexing lack of interest in the Chinese ship and Havana's smuggling of weapons.

Isn't it troublesome for Castro to be bringing into Cuba or Colombia such huge amount of war materiel, at a time when the president was and remains very much accommodating to the Castro dynasty?

If the Obama administration asked the Colombian government to permit American officials to interview the crew of the Da Dan Xia, the American people nor the Congress has been told.

The episode is not the first time that the Cuban regime is caught red-handed smuggling weapons.

In July 2013, again while the administration was extending a hand of friendship to Havana, Panama intercepted a North Korean ship coming from Cuba attempting to cross the Panama Canal loaded with war planes, missiles and other weapons in violation of United Nations sanctions. The administration, when asked, said that the shipment "did not rise to a sufficient level" to be of significant concern.

Kerry will be in Havana on August 14 to raise the American flag. There are rumors that the secretary is considering visiting Fidel Castro to congratulate the Cuban leader on his birthday. But the secretary of state does deal with bilateral issues, if he wants to.

Will Kerry ask General Raul Castro one or two simple questions: Were those weapons intended for the FARC in Colombia? And if not, since Cuba has a legitimate right to purchase weapons, why were they being smuggled?

The American people and the U.S. Congress deserve an answer.

Frank Calzon, executive director at the Center for a Free Cuba in Washington, D.C., was born in Cuba and trained as a Political Scientist at Rutgers (BA Political Science) and at Georgetown (MA Comparative Politics). He has testified on Cuba before Congressional committees and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. Mr. Calzon served for 10 years as the Washington representative for Freedom House, the human rights organization. He has written many articles for major dailies in the United States and elsewhere, and has appeared in many radio and TV programs. His work at the Center for a free Cuba entails the development and maintenance contacts with the Congress, the diplomatic corps and democratic government officials around the world.​