The More You Know About Cuba, the Less Likely You Are to Support Obama's Policy

Tuesday, August 18, 2015
By Ambassador Roger Noriega, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, of The American Enterprise Institute (AEI):

On the outside, looking in: Standing with the Cuban people

The less you know or care about Cuba, the more likely you are to support President Obama’s change in US policy. The more you know and care about the Cuban people, the more likely that you will be around to pick up the pieces when Obama’s capitulation to the Castro regime makes things worse for its victims.

The administration cites polls saying that Americans support his opening to Cuba. However, a poll taken since the president’s initiative paints a different picture. A survey in March found that those interviewed initially supported Obama’s decision by a margin of 51 % to 40 %. However, when informed of the simple facts of Cuban reality—including security threats and human rights violations—the results swung dramatically against the move. For example, when asked if US sanctions should be maintained pending Cuba’s progress on human rights and elections, respondents agreed 64 % to 16 %.

Indeed, such human rights preconditions are enshrined in US law, passed by three-fourths majorities in both houses of Congress and signed by President Clinton. The awful reality is that Cuba is the only country in the Western Hemisphere that cannot meet any of the human rights, labor rights, or democracy conditions contemplated in US law. Yet President Obama proposes to drop those principled standards in a rush to engage the Castro regime on its terms.

Congress has refused to go along. The current sanctions on Cuba enjoy bipartisan support, including that of Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (NV) and the chair of the Democratic National Committee, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz (FL). A substantial majority of the House of Representatives has voted twice this year to block Obama’s new policy, and the House Appropriations Committee has even voted to deny the $6 million that the Administration has requested to upgrade the US mission in Havana.

Yet the administration is pressing forward on this ideological venture.  Secretary John Kerry traveled to Cuba on Friday to preside over the symbolic raising of the American flag at the newly designated embassy near Havana’s picturesque seawall.  The significance of the event was captured perfectly by Kerry’s decision to exclude any dissidents, human rights activists, independent journalists or others who are the most genuine representatives of 11 million Cubans. Kerry explained that this was a “government-to-government affair.” And there you go.

US policy toward Cuba is no longer about what’s good for the Cuban people. It’s about what will placate an anti-American regime that has held power by brute force for over 55 years. The president suggests that the US embargo has failed to produce change in Cuba, so it must be the problem.  Anyone who knows or cares about Cuba draws a different lesson, noting that despite being able to trade with every country in the world, the Cuban economy has collapsed. Despite Soviet Union largesse, European investment, Canadian tourist dollars, and Venezuelan oil riches, the Cuban government is bankrupt. Despite the trend toward democracy of the last three decades, Cuba remains a totalitarian dictatorship. Despite being a tropical island, Cuba has shortages of citrus and seafood.

No, Mr. President. The root of the woeful conditions imposed on the Cuban people are the octogenarian despots who are sitting across the table from you and your secretary of state. And they have proclaimed that they will change nothing on the island, and daily brutality and suffocating censorship prove their point. There has been no meaningful economic or political opening in recent years, let alone since the president’s announcement last December. Only people who do not know Cuba will mistake rehashed economic half-measures for genuine change.

The Castro regime will eventually—and probably quite soon—humiliate President Obama and his supporters for misjudging them. And the people who will bear the brunt of this blunder are the victims of the regime who have been abandoned by US policy.

Americans are justifiably proud of seeing their flag, wherever it is raised. But they should be clear-eyed about the simple fact that literally locked outside the US embassy gates are political dissidents, human rights defenders, family members of political prisoners, and 11 million Cubans who are tormented by a brutal regime.

Perhaps President Obama doesn’t know or care about such people. However, they are the heart, soul, and future of Cuba. It is impossible to change Cuba by leaving them on the outside looking in.