IBD Editorial: For Democracy Activists, Obama's Cuba Deal Means Crackdowns

Thursday, January 1, 2015
By The Investors Business Daily's Editorial Board:

For World's Democracy Campaigners, Obama's Cuba Move Means Crackdowns

President Obama claimed his move to normalize relations with Cuba was a means of nudging the military dictatorship toward democracy. He was wrong. The regime is cracking down on dissent harder than ever.

In what ought to be called Crackdown Tuesday a large group of prominent Havana dissidents — activists, civil society advocates and independent journalists — were arrested as they headed for a pro-free speech soapbox "speaker's corner" event put on by Cuban performance artist Tania Bruguero, whose group is #YoTambienExijo, or "I also demand."

Among the arrested were prominent blogger writer Yoani Sanchez; her husband Reinaldo Escobar, who edits 14ymedio.com, an online dissident publication; Eliecer Avila, a prominent democracy activist; and members of the Ladies in White group, mostly wives of political prisoners.

Bruguero herself was hauled off by the Cuban secret police and held incommunicado for more than a day until she was released. She said Wednesday they tried to force her to sign a confession, but she refused.

So much for "promoting positive change," which is what the White House claimed would be the result of its move toward normalization. Fact is, the Castro regime sees normalization of U.S. ties as a green light to step up the barbarism.

It's not just attacks against high-profile dissidents. The Miami Herald reported earlier this month that the regime rammed and sank a boat of more than 30 refugees fleeing the island, killing one and jailing the men in the group as they were dragged back to shore.

And that underlines the naivete of the Obama administration. "We are separated by 90 miles of water, but are brought together through shared relationships and the desire to promote a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba," the White House website reads.

Brought together through the desire to promote democracy? Not according to his new partner, dictator Raul Castro, who put on his military uniform and warned Cubans not to get any ideas from this move, defiantly warning that the communism that has so failed the country would remain in place.

There's little doubt he knows what he's doing.

Having survived the fall of the Berlin Wall and the "special period" of the 1990s when Soviet subsidies ended, the Castro brothers know very well that openness, democracy and anything the U.S. stands for is the regime's death knell. And that would explain the brutal crackdown, something many of Cuba's beleaguered dissidents saw coming early on.

Fact is, Obama's normalization of ties is nothing but a cash cow lifeline to a brutal police state, with billions in heavily taxed remittance cash and trade credits set to flow in, buttressing the regime by bankrolling the knouts, surveillance equipment, paddy wagons, rammer boats and dungeons being used more heavily than ever now that the communists have gotten what they want from Obama.

And the White House response to the brutality in Havana Wednesday was pure Jimmy Carter:

"We have always said we would continue to speak out about human rights, and as part of the process of normalization of diplomatic relations, the United States will continue to press the Cuban government to uphold its international obligations and to respect the rights of Cubans to peacefully assemble and express their ideas and opinions, just like their fellow members of civil society throughout the Americas are allowed to do."

The hard cash and mealy-mouthed words have sent an awful message not just to Cuba but to all the world's anti-American dictators. Top dissidents were arrested in Moscow and Hanoi, and a hostage was taken in North Korea in the wake of Obama's move.

We expected the bad effects of Obama's ill-advised rapprochment with Cuba to show, but not this soon.

What it shows is the determination of Cuba and all bad actors to survive by any means necessary. They've never had a better ally in President Obama.