Obama's Efforts Have Fallen Flat

Sunday, October 16, 2011
From The Miami Herald's Editorial Board:

Cuba’s escape valve

OUR OPINION: Havana shows it has no intention of respecting human rights, improving relations with the U.S.

As Cuba continues its crack down on dissidents and young Cubans complain of no future, the number of Cubans caught at sea or pleading “dry foot” here or at crossings on the U.S.-Mexican border have doubled from last year.

The Castro brothers’ escape valve is operational again. That’s because pressure from within is mounting for change.

The island’s disastrous economy (despite Venezuela’s oil giveaways) is a strong factor, say opposition leaders on the island and Cuban Americans who have been in contact with the new arrivals.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration’s attempts to free U.S. Agency for International Development worker Alan Gross (for a “crime” that most everywhere else would have been handled with a fine and a return trip home) have fallen flat.

No surprise there, as Washington has not yet fully understood that Havana has no interest in negotiating better relations with the United States. Its intent remains turning Uncle Sam into the Boogey Man, to take the heat off the regime’s own failings.

Bill Richardson, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, went to Cuba on an “unofficial” trip looking to bring back Mr. Gross, who’s serving an outrageous 15-year prison sentence. Cuba accuses Mr. Gross, 62 and ill, of being a spy for bringing communications equipment to Jewish groups in Havana.

Predictably, Mr. Richardson returned without him. Just more mind games from a 52-year-old dictatorship worried about the ramifications of the Arab Spring and fearing what technology in the hands of a new generation of Cubans might bring.

Cell phone cameras from Santiago to Havana are capturing growing discontent for the world to see. Brave young women and men are standing on street corners, even on the Capitol steps, to denounce abuses and call for democracy. The protests are gaining in number and in support from average Cubans on the street.

Mr. Richardson maintains human rights are improving in Cuba. It’s a shame he didn’t take a few hours out of his dead-end trip to talk with the Ladies in White, who have been beaten and detained, or to speak with the island’s bloggers like Yoani Sánchez.

In Lima last week, a report issued by the InterAmerican Press Association presented a grim picture regarding the harassment of journalists and bloggers in Cuba and women like 34-year-old independent journalist Sonia Garro. She is among a new generation criticizing the Cuban government’s treatment of Afro-Cubans.

Had Mr. Richardson met Ms. Garro and others who have been beaten, he wouldn’t have expressed surprise that he wasn’t allowed to see Mr. Gross or meet with Raúl Castro.

According to a recent New York Times report, Mr. Richardson was prepared to press the Obama administration to drop Cuba from the State Department’s list of nations that sponsor terror, as a goodwill gesture in exchange for Mr. Gross.

But Cuba wants the Cuban Five spies returned for Mr. Gross. One already is out on three years’ probation after serving a 13-year sentence.

To compare Mr. Gross’ work to help Cubans connect to the outside world to that of Cuban spies who were nosing around military bases like Homestead’s, looking for U.S. secrets, and responsible for the shootdown of the Brothers to the Rescue planes is ludicrous. To talk of removing Cuba from the well-documented list of state sponsors of terror, even more so.