Duke Student: Obama's Cuba Deal is as Bad as it Sounds

Wednesday, August 26, 2015
By Barak Biblin in The Duke Chronicle:

Another failure is no surprise

Earlier this month, a column arguing for the merits of the Iran deal was published in The Chronicle, titled “If it sounds too bad to be true, it probably isn’t.” Although I believe that this administration’s deal with Iran will go down in history as one of the most detrimental foreign policy failures, I think that it is a topic that has already been well covered here on The Chronicle by both sides. Instead, I will address the skepticism and hesitancy from supporters of the deal to believe that the President of the United States could be so na├»ve. Could the Obama administration truly have failed as miserably as critics claim?

Fortunately for those still skeptical, the president has provided us with plenty of proof that he is truly capable of a failure of this magnitude. Under this administration, if it sounds too bad to be true, then we have made another deal with a tyrant, terrorist or oppressor. As we enter the final years of this weak presidency, the enemies of the free world – from Putin to Assad to even ISIS and the Taliban – jump on the opportunity to take advantage.

If you’re baffled by the situation with Iran, just take a look at Cuba. Thanks to President Obama, Raul Castro scored the biggest victory of his career, securing everything from much needed finances to unprecedented global legitimacy. What did we receive in return? Not a single one of our goals have been met. As the US embassy in Cuba opened this month for the first time in 54 years, Secretary of State John Kerry proclaimed this a victory, saying, “having normal relations makes it easier for us to talk – and talk can deepen understanding.” While the president and his administration continue to live in their fantasy of a worldview, the Castro regime laughs at the notion of any talks or change in their own oppressive policies.

Within just the first 48 hours of the opening of the US embassy in Cuba, over 200 political dissidents were arrested. Just in Havana, 60 members of a pro-democracy group composed of wives, mothers and daughters of Cuban political prisoners were arrested. Some were brutally beaten.

And if you are still as optimistic as the president is that more “talk” is the solution to tyranny, here is what Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s lead negotiator and director of US affairs for the Cuban Foreign Ministry, tells Reuters: “Decisions on internal matters are not negotiable and will never be put on the negotiating agenda in conversations with the United States… Cuba will never do absolutely anything, not move one millimeter, to try to respond.” Although Secretary Kerry may convince himself that “Cuba’s future is for Cuban’s to shape” following these new relations, a very different reality persists. The future of Cuba is shaped completely and will remain to be shaped by the Castros and their military dictatorship. Even though they have pocketed all of our concessions, they have made it clear to the Cuban people and the entire world that they will not change their ways.

Additionally, the notion that more trade or tourism will liberate the Cuban people is yet another fantasy. As long as 90 percent of the Cuban economy continues to be state owned, almost every dollar flowing into Cuba will continue to go towards fueling one of the most repressive and militaristic regimes in the world. Today, every single other market economy and 99 percent of the world allows trade and travel with Cuba. When every Canadian dollar, euro, peso, ruble or franc flowing into Cuba goes to the government, it is no surprise that the very trade and travel President Obama advocates for has proven to be useless. The Cuban economy is not one of the poorest in the world because they cannot have an Apple store in Havana; it is because every foreign business in Cuba has to turn over their employee’s wages to the regime. The Cuban people do not live in poverty because of our policies; they do so because of Castro’s repressive economic policies, ideologies and corruption – all of which President Obama is clearly willing to further fund with American dollars.

Even as the oppression of the Cuban people continues to grow, the administration seems fully content with lining the pockets of the oppressors themselves. Although Cuba released 53 political prisoners as part of the deal, this is less than a drop in the bucket. In 2014, Human Rights Watch reports that even as Cuba was negotiating with the administration, the regime more than doubled its number of “short-term arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders, independent journalists, and other critics." Furthermore, as USAtoday writes, “according to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, the number of political prisoners detained in Cuba has risen from 2,074 in 2010 to 6,424 in 2013. Through the first 11 months of 2014, that number is at 8,410.” Granted not all political dissenters are detained; "other repressive tactics employed by the government include beatings, public acts of shaming, and the termination of employment.”

Despite his tyranny, Raul Castro secured concessions he could have only dreamed of – the release of the remaining Cuban spies, an increase in remittances and investments, a flow of American tourists and their dollars – all of this as we mistakenly remove his regime from the state-sponsored terrorist list.

As the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama truly holds the best cards at any negotiation table. As the leader of the free world with the greatest economy and military behind him, he is the only person who could have stood up to the most evil regimes in our world. Instead, he folded.

While our hope in Cuba should be democracy and the end of oppression, no part of this deal moves that aspiration forward; it does the opposite. As in both Cuba and Iran, while we lose our best leverages, military dictatorships stand to gain in every way.