WSJ: Obama Rehabilitates the Castro Brothers

Sunday, April 5, 2015
By Mary Anastasia O'Grady in The Wall Street Journal:

Obama Rehabilitates the Castro Brothers

The Organization of American States is now open to dictatorships.

When President Obama travels to Panama for the 7th Summit of the Americas later this week, expect to be inundated with platitudes about the blossoming of democracy in the region. Don’t believe it. Repression is on the march in the Americas, and U.S. ambivalence is part of the problem.

In the White House’s lack of moral clarity, the region’s bullies smell weakness. One result is that a Caribbean backwater run by gangster brothers now has the upper hand in setting the regional agenda.

If the U.S. president is humiliated in Panama City like he was in Port of Spain in 2009, no one should be surprised. That’s when Mr. Obama tried to be one of the boys with Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, who thanked him by presenting him a copy of the famous anti-American diatribe “The Open Veins of Latin America.”

Summits are a waste of time and money for real countries. But this one will be useful for Cuba, which will be allowed to join the group for the first time, and on its own terms. It’s hard to put a finger on the lowest point in Obama foreign policy, but its abject submissiveness regarding this meeting in the U.S. backyard is a serious contender.

For years Cuba was not permitted at the table with the members of the Organization of American States. In April 2001, participants at the Americas summit in Quebec ratified an established policy of including only freely elected democratic governments. In September 2001 the OAS members signed the “Democratic Charter,” requiring the suspension of nondemocratic governments.

The charter had some meaning in its early years, thanks to U.S. influence and the fact that the OAS would not be able to pay its bills without Uncle Sugar. But it started unraveling when Mr. Obama took office and began trying to appease Cuba and Venezuela. This year, not a shred is left.

Being outcasts made Raúl and Fidel Castro feel disrespected. So they pressured much of the rest of the region to say that if Cuba were again left out, they would boycott the event. In December Mr. Obama folded.

It was a sign of how bad things are in the Americas. Authoritarian governments now rule in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina and Bolivia. All employ, to varying degrees, at least some elements of the Cuban model in which the executive consolidates power, civil society is suppressed, and due process is passe.

Elections are rigged. Rulers expropriate at will. Media outlets that dare to differ from the party line face legal burdens that can wipe them out.

Democratic institutions in Brazil and Chile remain intact, but the socialist leaders in both countries are great admirers of the Castros and wouldn’t dream of offending their hard-left constituencies. Colombia is compromised by its peace talks in Havana with FARC narco-terrorists.

A handful of other countries might have defended the democracy principle if they had some confidence in U.S. backing. But a feeble U.S. diplomatic team is no match for Castro’s foreign policy of exporting terror. No one is going out on that limb with Mr. Obama in the White House. So Cuba is in and Raúl will get his long-sought legitimacy from a U.S. president.

Appeasement has brought new demands. Some governments say they will raise a stink in Panama because the U.S. recently declared Venezuela a threat to U.S. national security and sanctioned seven Venezuelan officials. Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro says he has collected more than six million signatures on a protest letter that he will hand to Mr. Obama.

Mr. Obama expected that he would be a hero in Panama, the guy who offered to open diplomatic relations with Cuba for the first time in a half century. But Cuba has rebuffed him. Castro says he won’t accept normal relations until, among other things, Cuba is taken off the U.S. list of state sponsors of terror and the U.S. returns Guantanamo.

Granting most of the Cuba demands would require approval from the U.S. Congress. But pleasing Raúl will be an Obama priority. He might try to take Havana off the list of terror sponsors unilaterally if he believes he has veto-safe support in the event of a congressional challenge.

Here Cuban reality could interfere. The island is home to Basque terrorists wanted in Spain and scores of fugitives from American justice like Joanne Chesimard, who was convicted of the 1973 murder of a New Jersey state trooper. The military dictatorship also arms and trains the FARC. Cuba wants access to the U.S. banking system, but banks have to consider the legal jeopardy they risk if they take on a client with a history of financial support for terrorism and money laundering.

It will be hard even for Mr. Obama to be popular at the Panama summit unless he decides to abandon the war on terror. Even then, it’s unlikely.