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Rubio to FBI: Investigate anti-embargo NGO 'Bridges of Love' links to Cuban regime

“The FBI should recognize the group and its members for what they are, malicious foreign actors inside the United States,” Rubio said

El senador de los Estados Unidos Marco Rubio, solicitó al FBI este lunes 1 de agosto una investigación “inmediata” del activista anti embargo Carlos Lazo
El senador de los Estados Unidos Marco Rubio, solicitó al FBI este lunes 1 de agosto una investigación “inmediata” del activista anti embargo Carlos Lazo | Shutterstock & America Teve [photo]

August 3, 2022 12:34am

Updated: August 10, 2022 1:06am

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is asking the FBI for an “immediate” investigation into anti-embargo NGO Puentes de Amor  (Bridges of Love), according to a letter obtained by ADN.

The Washington state-based organization was co-founded in 2020 by anti-embargo activist Carlos Lazo and has since been a vocal proponent of removing sanctions against Cuba’s communist regime. Rubio identified the organization as an entity of concern in a letter he sent Monday to the FBI.

“Yesterday, Puentes de Amor (Bridges of Love) held a demonstration in Coral Gables, Florida, as part of a coordinated effort by the Cuban regime to sow division, incite conflict, and influence the foreign policy of the United States. The group also flew flags marking Castro’s July 26th movement, in open support of the Cuban Revolution that ultimately led to the communist dictatorship which remains in place today,” Rubio wrote in a letter sent Monday to Christopher Wray, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The Cuban American senator then drew ties between the organization and Cuban regime officials.

“Puentes de Amor (Bridges of Love) has well-known associations with the Cuban regime, and as recent as last month, its leaders met with the Díaz-Canel regime in Cuba,’ Rubio wrote. The FBI should acknowledge the group and its members for what they are – malign foreign actors inside the United States – and conduct investigations of individuals who may be acting as foreign agents of the Cuban regime so that all FARA violations can be enforced to the fullest extent of the law.”

The Florida-based U.S. Senator then asked the FBI to investigate the activities of Puentes de Amor and its members, under the terms of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

"Consistent with the oft-cited efforts of the U.S. Department of Justice, FARA increases transparency in our democratic system by making visible individuals and entities engaged in foreign influence activities. As such, I respectfully request an immediate investigation into Bridges of Love, its members, and activities," Rubio wrote in his letter.

The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) imposes disclosure requirements and other legal obligations on any person or entity that becomes an "agent of a foreign principal," FARA states on its official website.

The organization’s founder, Seattle-based Spanish teacher Carlos Lazo is Cuban-born and publicly met with Cuban communist president Miguel Diaz-Canel in August 2021 shortly after the massive anti-government protests that erupted last summer in more than 60 Cuban towns, known as 11J. The two met again in June 2022.

The Sunday, July 31 caravan organized by Bridges of Love was also promoted by Díaz Canel and promoted on the Twitter accounts of multiple world Cuban embassies, including the Cuban Embassy in Canada and the Cuban mission to the UN.

Díaz-Canel also thanked Bridges of Love on Twitter for their demonstration against what they called, “the blockade,” saying that it stood as a sign that “Cuba is not alone.”

“The FBI should recognize the group and its members for what they are, malicious foreign actors inside the United States, and conduct investigations of individuals who may be acting as foreign agents of the Cuban regime,” Rubio wrote in his FBI request.

Lazo has long been a member of what the Cuban regime calls the “solidarity movement” with the island, according to The Miami Herald.

The so-called “Cuba solidarity movement” has been identified as an effort promoted by Havana and supported in the U.S. by the National Network on Cuba (NNOC) to openly support the Castro regime and end the embargo.

Bridges of Love has worked in conjunction with the National Network on Cuba (NNOC) on campaigns and petitions directed at swaying President Joe Biden.

The Cuban regime uses Bridges of Love “in propaganda efforts to convince domestic audiences that it has support inside the United States, a strategy previously followed by Fidel Castro with far-left U.S. organizations such as Pastors for Peace,” the Herald adds.

The far-left organization Pastors for Peace, which is reportedly part of the National Network on Cuba (NNOC) responded to Rubio's letter in a Tweet saying, "We are all #Puentesdeamor."

NNOC's board of directors includes several Pastors for Peace members such as Gail Walker and John Waller. Also on the board are Mimut Re Nuhu of the African People's Revolutionary Party, Cheryl LaBash of the radical feminist organization Woman’s Struggle, and Sharon Wrobel, a professor at the University of Memphis in Tennessee.

The organization also included the late communist Alicia Jrapko, as co-chair. Jarpko passed away in January, but previously led Cuba's efforts abroad to free the ‘Cuban Five’ group of agents imprisoned for espionage activities in the U.S.

Since 2019, NNOC's membership has also included the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).

The DSA, founded in 1982, is today “the largest socialist organization in the United States, with more than 92,000 paid-up members and divisions in all 50 states.” There are currently 80 people in public office who are members of the DSA including U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

For several months now, the Bridges of Love caravans have had the support of the DSA, according to the organization.

With nearly 100,000 subscribing members, the DSA states on its website that it is “uniquely positioned to mobilize a national grassroots campaign to counter U.S. sanctions” against Cuba. They also add that they are “beginning to build a broad network of DSA organizers who can participate in all forms of work.”

The NNOC umbrella has engaged the lower branches of the U.S. government to pass at least 50 anti-embargo resolutions, at the level of city councils, county boards, and state legislatures, according to its website. 

The Boston City Council has been one of the latest governmental bodies to pass a resolution supporting the Cuban government and the lifting of the U.S. embargo. 

The NNOC, which has praised Fidel Castro in its publications, has recently produced a “Hands off Cuba Map,” which reflects U.S. areas that purportedly support lifting the embargo.

Other Cuba Solidarity Network members include the Communist Party USA, Socialist Action, a group working “for the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of a workers' government to achieve socialism,” and the feminist group Woman in Struggle

Covert Action Magazine, a magazine founded by CIA agent Philip Agee, who died in Cuba in 2008 and was accused of receiving more than $1 million in payments from Cuban intelligence, is also part of the NNOC. The organization recently endorsed Geoff Young, the Democratic Party's candidate for Congress seeking to defund the CIA. Young was affiliated with the DSA, according to Ballotpedia. 

In the past, Rubio has questioned Bridges of Love's meetings with political officials such as Deputy Secretary of State Emily Mendrala, in connection with a photograph the two took of each other in Washington. D.C. a few days after the July 11 protests last year.

According to Lazo, he gave Mendrala a document at the event that asked to lift the embargo. The meeting was reported by Cuba's state press, which is controlled by the Communist Party.

Before receiving her White House appointment to the State Department, Mendrala was CEO of the Center for Democracy in the Americas (CDA), a think tank that promotes the so-called engagement between the United States and Cuba. The CDA also has other Bridges of Love directors, Collin Laverty, on its board according to some reports.

Last May, Cuban activists and relatives of political prisoners raised questions about Laverty being related through his wife to one of the directors of Havin Bank in London, a Cuban regime financial enterprise that is U.S.-sanctioned.

At the anti-embargo demonstration last Sunday, members of Bridges of Love raised a banner of the 26th of July Movement (M-26-7), an assault group founded by Fidel Castro in the 1950s to fight the government of Fulgencio Batista. After conquering power, the M-26-7 eliminated other revolutionary factions who had more democratic leanings to establish a one-party communist dictatorship.

On Sunday, July 31, in Coral Gables, pro-democracy activists organized a countermarch in response to the Bridges of Love event, during which time they burned an M-26-7 flag in a symbolic gesture. Two anti-Castro demonstrators were arrested by police.