Washington Examiner: Obama is Taking the Wrong Side in Cuba

Monday, August 17, 2015
From The Washington Examiner's Editorial Board:

Obama is taking the wrong side in Cuba

A memorable line from Ronald Reagan's famous 1964 speech, "A Time for Choosing," pertained to some left-leaning politicians' accommodationist attitude toward communism. The line stood out last week, as the United States resumed diplomatic relations with Cuba's oppressive Communist regime.

"We cannot buy our security, our freedom from the threat of the bomb," he said, "by committing an immorality so great as saying to a billion human beings now enslaved behind the Iron Curtain, 'Give up your dreams of freedom because to save our own skins, we're willing to make a deal with your slave masters.'"

Today, communism is no longer the formidable and violent global force it once was — there's no question now of "saving our own skins" from Soviet bombs. In a sense, that makes Obama's overly generous deal with the oppressive, terrorist-sponsoring Cuban regime seem less craven. But the lack of a pressing threat also calls into question why any president would show such unnecessary magnanimity, inking a deal with Cuba on such unfavorable terms.

It's not that Obama is wrong to make any deal whatsoever. At some point, it has to happen. The opening up of trade will play a role — albeit not a sufficient one on its own — in freeing Cubans from one of the world's worst governments.

But Obama made a deal that essentially asks nothing of the Cuban regime, while giving it an immense gift that boosts its prestige. Raul Castro can continue his policy of arbitrary arrests of political dissidents, restriction of Internet access so that his subjects lack access to the truth, detention of political prisoners and oppression of Christian churches. In all of these categories, the Cuban government has grown worse in recent years, stepping up its oppression during and after the period when Obama was negotiating with them to renew relations.

Cuba released 53 political prisoners as part of its deal with Obama — a mere drop in the bucket. In its 2015 report on Cuba, Human Rights Watch notes that the regime in 2014 — even as it was negotiating with Obama — more than doubled its number of "short-term arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders, independent journalists, and other critics." Those arrested (more than 7,000 last year) are routinely beaten and held incommunicado for hours or days.

The HRW report adds that "other repressive tactics employed by the government include beatings, public acts of shaming, and the termination of employment."

Just imagine living in a country where simple criticism of the regime can result in your sudden disappearance and torture — and if you're lucky, you might just be bullied (by other grown-ups, no less) and fired from your job. Policemen might also harass and detain you when you try to attend church.

Imagine all that, and then imagine that the United States – the world's beacon of freedom and the refuge for many Cuban refugees – suddenly cozies up to your tormentors, even as they are stepping up the oppression.

This is what Obama has done by failing to make any serious demands on the regime — for example, to release all political prisoners, to stop the arbitrary arrests, or to open up Cuba to hold free elections with fair international monitors. Obama also failed to demand concessions with respect to Cuba's continued harboring of international terrorists — people who committed crimes both within the United States and abroad.

Cuban dissidents were not invited to take part in the Friday ceremony reopening the U.S. embassy in Havana. According to news reports, the Cuban regime threatened to boycott the ceremony if they were. The exclusion sends a clear message: America snubs Cubans who bravely seek freedom and a better life in order to mollify the murderers and torturers who have ruined their country. If this is what U.S.-Cuban relations are going to look like going forward, why bother to renew them?