Ros-Lehtinen Op-Ed in Washington Times: Courting Dictators Won’t Lead to Democracy

Friday, December 19, 2014
By U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) in The Washington Times:

Obama’s futile overtures to Cuba

President Obama’s argument for unilaterally reversing U.S.-Cuba policy rests on the false premise that engagement with dictators and terrorists will somehow get them to change their ways.

This irresponsible deal does not hold the Castro regime accountable as they have made no commitments to expand democratic principles on the island. In fact, the opposite is true: Raul Castro can continue his dictatorial ways without giving in an inch while the White House gave Mr. Castro all the concessions he wanted. Typical of the administration, the desire for a deal — any deal — was stronger than the interest in its contents.

Although it is welcome news that Alan Gross is back with his family in the United States, it is worth noting that he should have never been in jail in the first place. It was clear in the days following Mr. Gross’ arrest that the Castro brothers wanted to trade Mr. Gross for the Cuban Five. The administration’s false equivalency in this swap failed to acknowledge that Mr. Gross was, in essence, a hostage while the Cuban Five spies, who endangered American national security, received full due process including trial by jury.

Time and again, the Obama administration stated they would not swap Mr. Gross for the Cuban Five spies. Unsurprisingly, the administration reneged on its word and commuted the sentences of three convicted spies in exchange for Mr. Gross. The president not only snatched justice away from the families of the slain Brothers to the Rescue heroes, who consisted of three American citizens and one U.S. resident, but he is continuing down the dangerous avenue he began with the Bergdahl exchange to signal to our adversaries the value of holding American citizens as tools for obtaining concessions from the United States.

One critical component missing from this misguided deal with a communist regime is a voice for the freedom-loving people of Cuba. Ever since the deal was announced, leaders of the pro-democracy efforts in Cuba have denounced this one-sided deal. One leader of the largest resistance coalition in Cuba, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez “Antunez,” stated: “This is a betrayal that leaves the democratic opposition defenseless. Obama has allied himself with the oppressors and murderers of our people.” The administration’s actions are a slap in the face for the millions of Cubans on the island and also those in the Cuban-American community who have worked for generations to restore freedom on the island.

In 2009, the president first opened the door to more tourism travel to the island, but the opening for democracy that the president aimed for never came. There have been more than 8,400 political arrests in Cuba at the hands of Mr. Castro’s security forces in 2014, and the administration’s has even issued a travel advisory for Cuba that states: “U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba should be aware that the Cuban government may detain anyone at any time for any purpose, and should not expect that Cuba’s state security or judicial systems will carry out their responsibilities according to international norms.”

The increased travel promoted by the administration will only serve as a propaganda coup for the Castro regime. At a time when the Castro regime is suffering due to spiraling economies in Venezuela and Russia, they have turned to Mr. Obama for help through increased travel as an economic lifeline. Even with almost all the countries in the world trading with Cuba, the economic situation on the island continues to deteriorate, not because of the U.S. embargo but because of the disastrous economic policies of Raul Castro.

The administration continues to highlight the fact that the Cuban regime has decided to engage with the International Committee of the Red Cross, but this is another ruse by the president. In reality, we know that the Red Cross will not have access to Mr. Castro’s gulags and will not be able to monitor prison conditions. The administration calls a success the fact that 53 political prisoners will be released but does not articulate what will happen when the Castro regime puts more people back in jail, evidenced by the recent crackdown of more than 200 arrests on the island on International Human Rights Day on Dec. 10.

The fundamental recurring theme is that the Castro regime will not change their oppressive tactics and will not loosen their grip on the island. Mr. Obama’s recent announcement of plans to ease restrictions is kowtowing to the Castro brothers and gives them all the concessions on the regime’s wish list. It is our role as the world’s lone superpower to uphold democratic values and be the guardian of freedom everywhere, not only where it is convenient for the president’s legacy. Mr. Obama’s policy of dictator engagement has undermined the national security of the United States that sets a dangerous precedent that emboldens other desperate, sanctioned regimes. It is now the role of the legislative branch to oppose this overreach of executive action and reaffirm the need to continue defending freedom and democracy everywhere in the world.