How Obama Cut a Cuba Deal: Lies, Hypocrisy and Secrecy

Tuesday, March 24, 2015
This week, Reuters took a retrospective view of the process leading up to President Obama's December 17th agreement with Cuban dictator Raul Castro.

It's entitled, "How Obama outmaneuvered hardliners and cut a Cuba deal."

The title gets it half-right -- Obama did indeed cut a Cuba deal, but it was Obama who was (sadly) outmaneuvered by Castro.

Let's begin with the overall premise, which Reuters overlooks:

In December 2009, the Castro regime took an American hostage, development worker Alan Gross, whom it wanted exchanged for five Cuban spies convicted by U.S. federal courts, including one serving a life-sentence for murder conspiracy. Castro had also demanded a series of policy concessions.

That began a long process of how Obama could conduct such a trade (in fact), while denying it (in rhetoric) -- or of how Castro's ransom demand could be sugar-coated (no pun intended) with the least political impact to Obama himself.

It was done through lies, hypocrisy and secrecy.

1. Lie to the Cuban-American community. In one paragraph, Reuters purports that Obama "took advantage of a generational shift that greatly reduced the political risk" in announcing his Cuba deal. Yet, in the following paragraph, it recognizes how it wasn't until after his re-election (2012) that Obama instructed aides to make Cuba a priority and "see how far we could push the envelope." And it wasn't until after the very last midterm election (2014) of his presidency, which saw Florida anti-embargo gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist lose and U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia (D-FL) go down with him, that Obama announced his Cuba deal. Oh, and of course, only after waiting methodically for Congress to leave for the holidays.

Instead, here's what Obama had told Cuban-Americans during the 2008 election: "I will maintain the embargo. It provides us with the leverage to present the regime with a clear choice: if you take significant steps toward democracy, beginning with the freeing of all political prisoners, we will take steps to begin normalizing relations."

Meanwhile, during the 2012 election, the Obama campaign exploited how Republican nominee Mitt Romney's VP pick, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), had previously voted in Congress to lift the embargo: “That did their ticket a lot of harm with Cubans and allowed us to at least get a hearing with them about many other economic issues,” an Obama campaign official admitted to The Financial Times.

So much for political bravado.

2. Lie to Congress and the families of murdered Americans. For years, the Obama Administration told Congress and the families of the American victims of the imprisoned Cuban spies, that there would not be a prisoner swap for Alan Gross. It wasn't until months into the negotiations that Rolando Sarraff, a U.S. agent imprisoned in Cuba since 1995, suddenly dawned upon them. As Reuters itself states, with Sarraff, "the White House could claim it was a true 'spy swap,' giving it political cover." In other words, it could lie.

If you remain unconvinced on this point, click here to watch an exchange between U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson at a recent House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. Then judge for yourself.

So much for justice.

3. Hypocritically use the Pope's "moral influence." Reuters reveals how Obama, together with U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), decided to solicit (and maneuver) Pope Francis' intervention, in order to use his "moral influence" as a shield from criticism by Cuban-American lawmakers.

Yet, these are the same people who are now holding up anti-sex trafficking legislation in the Senate because they want the victim's fund in the bill to also pay for abortions.

Of course, we all know where Pope Francis stands on this. But suddenly, he is of little consequence.

So much for "moral influence."

4. Hide the details from Congress and the American people. Reuters claims that "Obama at first froze out the State Department in part due to concern that 'vested interests' there were bent on perpetuating a confrontational approach." That's funny. The State Department's bureaucracy would have been Obama's most willing accomplice in cutting this deal.

The reason why Obama kept this negotiation within The White House -- and had his speechwriter lead the team -- is to not be accountable to Congress or the American people. It would extend executive privilege upon those White House officials not to have to testify before Congress and answer questions to the American people. Meanwhile, the State Department could claim "ignorance" about the process and details.

So much for transparency.