WSJ Editorial: Cuba No Libre

Saturday, August 15, 2015
From The Wall Street Journal's Editorial Board:

Cuba No Libre

The U.S. outreach has changed little about life on the island.

‘Cuba’s future is for Cubans to shape,” declared Secretary of State John Kerry in Havana on Friday as he reopened the U.S. Embassy after 54 years. If only this were true. The reality is that Cuba’s future is still reserved for the Castro brothers and their political comrades to shape, and that hasn’t changed a whit since President Obama decided to recognize the Cuban regime in December.

“Having normal relations makes it easier for us to talk—and talk can deepen understanding even when we know full well that we will not always see eye-to-eye on everything,” Mr. Kerry said. This sums up the Obama vision of foreign policy, in which talk typically turns out to be its own reward.

Certainly there isn’t much to show so far for the U.S. outreach to Cuba. The U.S. has supplied the government run by Fidel and Raúl Castro and the military with much-wanted new global legitimacy. The U.S. has also eased travel restrictions to the island, and American business interests and the Obama Administration are lobbying Congress to end the U.S. trade embargo.

What hasn’t changed is life for average Cubans who aren’t connected to the ruling elite. They are still paid in relatively worthless pesos even when they work for foreign businesses that give the government hard currency for their labor. They can still be arrested if they use the Internet to hear independent news about the world or Cuba. And they will be arrested if they protest against the government. Only last Sunday the government detained for four and half hours 90 Cubans who protested against Mr. Kerry’s visit for emboldening the regime’s crackdown on dissent.

“The leaders in Havana and the Cuban people should also know that the United States will remain a champion of democratic principles and reforms,” Mr. Kerry said, and we’d like to think this is true too.

But the U.S. failed to invite Yoani Sanchez, an important Cuban blogger unloved by the regime, to the Embassy event. Also kept away from the Embassy were some of the Spanish-speaking media with large audiences in Miami that are not all enamored of the President’s Cuban outreach. But all the big U.S. media networks were on hand to record the historic day. They might learn more if they stayed to travel around the island, but the government restricts where foreign media can go.

The new Embassy replaces a U.S. “interests section,” which was a place where Cubans could go to get some support and occasionally protection. What a shame it would be if, in the name of opening Cubans to the outside world, the U.S. Embassy becomes a place where dissidents fear to tread because America doesn’t want to jeopardize better relations with the Castros.