From The Miami Herald's Editorial Board:
No time to ease up on Cuba
OUR OPINION: Havana has done nothing to warrant U.S. concessions
Just as interest groups in this country mount a renewed effort to improve U.S. relations with Cuba, the regime in Havana offers fresh evidence that this is no time for Washington to ease restrictions on trade and travel.
A letter signed by more than 40 prominent American business figures and former diplomats urged President Obama to take advantage of Raúl Castro’s efforts to reform the moribund economy by changing the rules on trade, travel and investment.
The impressive list of signers included two former heads of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana, as well as Thomas Pickering, Strobe Talbott and Arturo Valenzuela, all former ranking State Department officials. “Timing matters,” said the letter, “and this window of opportunity may not remain open indefinitely.”
Well, yes, timing does matter. On that, we would agree wholeheartedly. So let’s take a look at recent events in Cuba and consider the timing:
• The island’s top human-rights group reported a sharp rise in short-term arrests of Cuban dissidents in the first four months of this year. The total came to 3,821, more than double the figure for the first quarter of 2013. Human-rights leaders say this reflects rising popular discontent and the government’s grim determination to stifle it.
• This week, prominent blogger Yoani Sánchez attempted to break the government’s 55-year monopoly on distribution of information by launching a digital newspaper called 14ymedio (“14 and a half” in English). It was hacked shortly after its morning launch, and visitors inside the island were redirected to a page devoted to criticizing Ms. Sánchez — the work of a regime incapable of tolerating freedom of expression.
• This week, also, a publication of the U.N. Security Council issued a report playing up Cuba’s role in trying to break the international embargo on shipping arms to the rogue regime in North Korea last July. Although the Security Council may wimp out by giving Cuba a mere slap on the wrist, the report leaves no doubt that Cuba’s role in the Chong Chon Gang incident was an egregious violation of the international arms embargo.
• Meanwhile, four and half years after his initial arrest, U.S. citizen Alan Gross spent his 65th birthday earlier this month in a Cuban jail. The pretext for his incarceration amounts to no more than a Customs violation, but he’s actually being held as a political hostage in hopes the United States will swap him for Cuban spies in U.S. jails.
And that’s just a partial list of recent Cuban violations of internationally recognized rules of conduct, violations that occur with depressing regularity on the beleaguered island.
In March, the dissident group Ladies in White reported, for example, that State Security officers detained several members handing out toys at a park and seized the 60 to 70 toys. That’s right — toys. During Easter here in Miami, Archbishop Thomas Wenski asked that masses at the Our Lady of Charity shrine say special prayers for Cuban dissident Sonia Garro and two others jailed without trial in Cuba since shortly before a papal mass in Havana in 2012.
This continuing display of unbending authoritarian rule makes it imperative that the Obama administration take no actions that would be deemed a concession to the unreformed, intransigent despots in Havana. That is especially true regarding the plight of Alan Gross. Until he is released, there can be no easing of sanctions against the Cuban regime.
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