From The Florida Times-Union's Editorial Board:
Listen to Cuban dissidents on opening relations
It’s clear that 50 years of embargo have not changed the Cuban dictatorship or helped the Cuban people.
And yet it also is clear that the Obama administration’s outreach produced next to nothing on either front.
Administration spokesmen are more hopeful than realistic that opening trade will produce more freedom for the Cuban people.
The Cuban regime has two examples that disprove that theory — China and Vietnam.
As The Washington Post editorialized, “With no consequences in sight, Cuba continues to crack down on free speech.”
In fact, shortly after the Obama administration’s changes, the Cuban government shut down demonstrations by free speech activists. In the four weeks following Obama’s speech, there were about 200 political arrests, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Far from leading to more freedoms, signs are that the Castro government is ratcheting up its demands. Cuba wants the embargo lifted, the return of Guantanamo Bay, the cessation of radio and TV transmissions to Cuba — and the frosting on the cake — reparations.
That’s proof that the Castros are really living in a tyrannical bubble.
What should have happened is clear — a series of proportional steps, offering one bit of trade for a proportional addition of freedom for the Cuban people.
OBAMA SAID IT
As Barack Obama said in 2008, significant steps toward democracy must precede normalization.
The heartbreaking cost of the bungled Obama policy was dramatized recently when Cuban dissidents addressed a congressional hearing.
Jorge Luis Garcia Perez Antunez was imprisoned for 17 years for calling for political and economic reforms.
He called the Obama administration’s reforms “a betrayal of the aspiration to freedom by the Cuban people.” He said the Obama policy is “a farce” that will only perpetuate the Castro regime.
He said there needs to be a full restoration of civil rights, an amnesty for political prisoners, the ability to organize independent political parties and labor unions, genuinely free elections and the separation of power of the Castro brothers.
“This is the moment to demand real changes from the Castro regime,” Antunez said.
One of the more impressive speakers at the congressional hearing was Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White. This group was formed in 2003 through the inspiration of Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King.
Relatives and wives formed the organization after civil rights demonstrators, librarians and journalists were imprisoned. The Ladies in White march in Havana.
Shortly before Soler left Havana for Washington, activists were arrested for attempting to place flowers at statues of Cuban founding father Jose Marti.
She said Raul Castro has vowed to not give up “one millimeter” of its system of government.
“For us, this signals the continuation of beatings, jailing, forced exile, discrimination against our children at school and all manner of patterns of intimidation that we suffer daily for wanting to see a pluralistic, democratic and inclusive Cuba,” she said.
Cuba needs dollars. Its protectors, especially Russia and Venezuela, are suffering from a decline in oil revenues. Offering a measured opening of trade in return for a proportionate increase in freedoms could have been a win for everyone.
There is a blueprint for these changes, the Agreement for Democracy in Cuba, a road map toward democracy.
Including Congress in this process would have been helpful, as well. In any case, Congress will never agree to ending the embargo with this muddied policy.
Instead, there is strong evidence that the Obama administration has been taken.
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