Cuba's Rulers Get What They Want

Wednesday, December 17, 2014
By Jeff Jacoby in The Boston Globe:

The Cuban people keep waiting

After five years in a Cuban dungeon, American contractor Alan Gross is finally free, his release part of a deal to restore full diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. But there will be no freedom for the many thousands of Cuban citizens locked in the Castros’ prisons — not even after a US embassy is reopened in Havana.

The United States has always had diplomatic ties with nasty regimes. So in one sense, President Obama’s announcement Wednesday that he intends to normalize relations with Cuba merely adds another to the list. But Cuba isn’t just another dictatorship.

For one thing, it is the only remaining totalitarian state in the Western Hemisphere — one where “officials employ a range of tactics to punish dissent and instill fear in the public,” as Human Rights Watch recently summarized conditions on the island, “including beatings, public acts of shaming, termination of employment, and threats of long-term imprisonment.” There is no freedom of speech or religion in Cuba, no due process of law, no right to criticize the government. Nor is there any right to leave, which is why so many Cubans have lost their lives at sea, drowning in desperate attempts to escape.

Moreover, the Cuban regime is one of the few with which Washington severed ties on a fundamental matter of principle, having first welcomed its accession to power. The United States initially supported the Castros’ overthrow of General Fulgencio Batista and swiftly recognized the new government in 1959. It wasn’t until 1961 that President Eisenhower cut diplomatic relations with Havana — and that was only after Castro had seized private property and nationalized (read: stole) billions of dollars’ worth of assets belonging to US companies in Cuba. More than half a century later, that massive larceny is still unrepaid.

As a candidate for president, Obama vowed that his policy toward Cuba would “be guided by one word: Libertad.” But in Cuba, as in virtually every other region of the world touched by Obama’s foreign policy since 2009, liberty has made no gains. Easing trade sanctions has mostly entrenched Cuba’s rulers, who control the island’s economy; easing them further will likely entrench them even more.

The president’s announcement was filled with warm-and-fuzzy rhetoric about the Cuban people’s right to “live with dignity and self-determination” and how the United States has “proudly . . . supported democracy and human rights in Cuba.” But nothing about this normalization reflects the least concession on Cuba’s part. There is no indication of a coming improvement in human rights. No release of unjustly imprisoned dissidents. No end to censorship or one-party Communist control.

The Castros are getting something they have long desired. As for their millions of beleaguered subjects, still unfree and impoverished: They’ll have to wait for another day.