Obama's Cuba Deal Are a Blow to Pro-Democracy Efforts

Sunday, December 21, 2014
By Ben Boychuk in Tribune News Service:

New Cuba relations are a blow to pro-democracy efforts there

Re-establishing diplomatic ties with Cuba is a great win for President Barack Obama. He'll go down in history as the man who thawed relations with Raul and Fidel Castro after a half-century standoff.

That's one way of looking at it, anyway. In reality, Obama just abandoned Cuba's struggling pro-democracy movement in order to burnish his legacy. For captive people across the globe, this move is a decisive setback.

Obviously, diplomatic relations represent a huge win for the Cuban socialist regime.

At long last, the Castro brothers have the two prizes they long desired but could never obtain from the United States: recognition and legitimacy. Now they can tell their dissident population, "See, even the Americans stand with us now."

Don't expect closer U.S.-Cuba economic ties to lead to greater political freedom — any more than economic liberalization has freed any except a small, politically connected class in China. About 1.3 billion Chinese remain under the boot heel of political and economic repression despite their country's emergence as the second largest economy on Earth.

If anything, expect the Castros to take a page from Beijing's playbook and use expanded trade to shore up their authoritarian regime. Under Cuba's 1976 constitution, all trade must be conducted through government-owned monopolies. That's not going to change.

Yet, for nearly 25 years, American business groups with Cuban ties have made the case for lifting the U.S. trade embargo. Isolating Cuba will only lead to more boat people and maybe even war, they said.

Think of the business opportunities we're missing, they said. We're losing out to the Germans! The Mexicans! The Spanish! Even the Canadians, for heaven's sake!

And the truth is that for nearly 25 years, all of that German, Mexican, Spanish and Canadian investment has done precious little to improve the lives of Cubans. Neither has the increased flow of U.S. dollars into the island nation.

Despite it all, Cuba continues to persecute its dissidents, sponsor terrorism and foment anti-American sentiment across Latin America. To expect new relations to change that is the height of folly.