Cuba Solidarity Activists Arrested at Senator’s Office

Cuba Solidarity Activists Arrested at Senator’s Office
Cuba solidarity activists arrested at the D.C. office of U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D–N.J.). Photo by Bill Hackwell

On June 22, three activists, including Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO)/Pastors for Peace Executive Director Gail Walker, who lives in New Jersey, went to the Washington, D.C., office of U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D–N.J.) to try to meet with the senator. They were arrested while sitting in his office, awaiting his return.

“We wanted to have a conversation with Sen. Menendez. We wanted to talk to him about his policy toward Cuba, his policy of  keeping Cuba unjustly on the State Sponsors of Terrorism List…and that’s why we’re being arrested,” said Walker, with her arms handcuffed behind her back.

“We’re standing in defense of our Cuban family because we believe this policy is unjust.”

Also arrested was Calla Walsh, co-chair of the National Network on Cuba. “The Capitol Police used 20 officers to arrest three of us peacefully sitting in Sen. Menendez’s office, asking him to stop killing the Cuban people,” said Walsh.

“Remember, the U.S. is the real police state and state sponsor of terrorism. End the blockade! Take Cuba off the list!

“You know, it’s funny that we’re always told that Cuba is a repressive dictatorship, a police state, when we’re getting arrested just for trying to have a conversation.

“The U.S. people do not support this, and we will not stop protesting until [the blockade] is lifted. Why isn’t Menendez being arrested for his fraud and corruption?”

“Why isn’t Menendez being arrested for his fraud and corruption?”

On April 1, 2015, Sen. Menendez, and Salomon Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist, were indicted in connection with a bribery scheme in which Menendez allegedly accepted gifts from Melgen in exchange for using the power of his Senate office to benefit Melgen’s financial and personal interests. They were both indicted in the District of New Jersey for one count of conspiracy, one count of violating the travel act, eight counts of bribery and three counts of honest services fraud. Menendez was also charged with one count of making false statements.

The U.S. Department of Justice site states that “according to allegations in the indictment, between January 2006 and January 2013, Menendez accepted close to $1 million worth of lavish gifts and campaign contributions from Melgen in exchange for using the power of his Senate office to influence the outcome of ongoing contractual and Medicare billing disputes worth tens of millions of dollars to Melgen and to support the visa applications of several of Melgen’s girlfriends.”

Specifically, the indictment alleges that, among other gifts, Menendez accepted flights on Melgen’s private jet, a first-class commercial flight and a flight on a chartered jet; numerous vacations at Melgen’s Caribbean villa in the Dominican Republic and at a hotel room in Paris; and $40,000 in contributions to his legal defense fund and more than $750,000 in campaign contributions. Menendez never disclosed any of the reportable gifts that he received from Melgen on his financial disclosure forms.

According to allegations in the indictment, during this same time period, Menendez allegedly engaged in three efforts to use his Senate office and staff to advocate on behalf of Melgen’s personal and financial interests.

First, Menendez allegedly pressured executive agencies in connection with a conflict between Melgen and the government of the Dominican Republic relating to a disputed contract that Melgen purchased to provide exclusive screening of containers coming through Dominican ports.

Second, Menendez allegedly advocated on behalf of Melgen in connection with a Medicare billing dispute worth approximately $8.9 million to Melgen.

Third, Menendez allegedly took active steps to support the tourist and student visa applications of three of Melgen’s girlfriends, as well as the visa application of the younger sister of one of Melgen’s girlfriends.

Throughout these efforts, Menendez allegedly engaged in advocacy for Melgen all the way up to the highest levels of the U.S. government, including meeting with a U.S. cabinet secretary, contacting a U.S. Ambassador, meeting with the heads of executive agencies and other senior executive officials and soliciting other U.S. senators, all to assist Melgen’s personal and pecuniary interests.

Menendez beat the rap, with a hung jury, in a trial in Newark, N.J., in 2017. His co-defendant, Melgen, was subsequently sentenced in Florida to 17 years and fined $42.5 million for Medicare fraud. On Trump’s last day in office, Melgen was one of those pardoned, along with Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon. In Trump’s announcement, he said that the pardon was supported by Menendez.

Now, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York is conducting an investigation about more corruption. Menendez and his wife are alleged to have received money, jewelry, an apartment and a Mercedes from IS EG Halal, a business that was awarded an exclusive contract with the Egyptian government to certify Halal meat exports worldwide.

Seven companies in various parts of the world that previously held these contracts were suddenly fired by the Egyptian government, and the contracts were given to IS EG Halal. This company, despite the name, is run by a Christian without prior experience in Islamic certification of international meat imports and exports.

Peter Paradis, former deputy assistant inspector general at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), said the contract change “defies logic” and that “IS EG Halal has no preexisting relationship with the U.S. beef industry or Islamic organizations.”

None of the “gifts” appear listed on Menendez’s Senate disclosure forms. Menendez never disclosed any of the reportable gifts that he received from Melgen on his financial disclosure forms, either.

Menendez, the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, oversees foreign aid to Egypt.

Why is this corrupt senator in charge of the Foreign Relations Committee?

In April 2018, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics stated that “the Committee concludes that your actions violated Senate Rules and related statutes, and reflected discredit upon the Senate. Accordingly, you must repay the fair market value of all impermissible gifts not already repaid, and amend your Financial Disclosure Reports to include all reportable gifts. Finally, by this letter, you are hereby severely admonished.”

This seems to have been an empty admonishment.


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