“To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”
— Elie Wiesel
Two days after Secretary of State John Kerry’s ceremonial flag-raising in Havana, Cuba, the predictable blows, insults and detentions rained down on peaceful dissidents. The grievous totalitarian and capitalist partnership was procured at a great price. To achieve the embassy opening and solidify his legacy, at whatever cost, President Obama had to make more embarrassing concessions to the Castro dictatorship. The unjustifiable removal of Cuba from the list of States Sponsors of Terrorism, and an unmerited upgrade on the list of nations facilitating human-trafficking, paved the way for diplomatic recognition of Cuba.
The presence of a U.S. embassy in Cuba, however, violates the 1996 Libertad Act (Helms-Burton), which stipulates that diplomatic recognition is contingent upon the existence of a “democratically-elected government” and monetary restitution for stolen U.S. properties. Castro’s Cuba has satisfied neither requirement. Under the U.S. Constitution, the President is expected to enforce existing laws passed by the U.S. Congress; not breach them.
At the U.S. embassy, Cuba’s valiant, persecuted dissidents were conspicuously absent from the assembled pro-Castro throng of U.S. bankers, lawyers and entrepreneurs. The Obama administration, not wanting to offend the Castro regime, had barred the dissidents from attending the event. Official statements from the Obama administration purport to advance the cause of democracy and civil liberties in Cuba, but their actions are inconsistent with their stated objectives. Many of Cuba’s dissidents, who daily bear the brunt of Castro’s despotism, and are reeling from Obama’s betrayal, have adamantly stated that U.S. engagement with Cuba, that does not address civil liberties and respect for human rights in the public discourse, is a major setback for democracy efforts.
“The United States is talking with the Government and those surrounding it. But civil society is left outside. It is a privilege reserved for the Cuban caste. For the rest, it is a situation of exclusion,” said Rosa María Payá, democracy activist and daughter of the martyred Oswaldo Payá. “The European Union, the U.S.A., Pope Francis - they have turned their backs on us,” similarly laments Berta Soler, the leader of the Ladies in White.
Since rapprochement began, the repression has intensified in Cuba. Every week, hundreds of Cuban dissidents and independent journalists are subjected to beatings, public acts of repudiation, arrests and imprisonment. Cuba was ripe for a democratic transition; however, Obama’s botched diplomacy only succeeded in prolonging the totalitarian nightmare.
The sociopolitical mistakes the U.S. has made with China, Vietnam and Burma should not be repeated with Cuba. All the foreign money pumped into these totalitarian economies did nothing to alleviate the political persecution of their respective citizens. Saturating Cuba with tourism and business ventures controlled by a corrupt regime will not generate a democratic transition as China effectively illustrates. Foreign revenue only serves to entrench Castro’s totalitarian rule, fund terrorism and perpetuate slave labor on the island and abroad. Cubans desire freedom; not further exploitation.
Callously sweeping aside 56 years of Castro’s tyranny does not satisfy the demands of justice. To date, there has been no justice for the thousands of innocent Cuban men, women and young boys executed by firing squad without cause or trial. To date, there has been no justice for the hundreds of political prisoners tortured or starved to death in Castro’s gulag. Nor has there been justice for the 41 men, women and children massacred on July 13, 1994 when their old tugboat filled with 71 souls was rammed and deliberately sunk by three Cuban vessels. The pleas for help by the drowning mothers and their children were ignored by the pitiless Cuban authorities. Castro’s victims and their families deserve justice. Instead of a handshake, the Castro brothers should have been held accountable for their crimes against humanity.
For more than half a century, Cuban exiles have been staunch and unapologetic defenders of freedom. Historically, we know that capitulation to tyrants amounts to legitimization of their evil, oppressive ideology. Expressing solidarity with Cuba’s pro-democracy dissidents, and supporting U.S. legislation that defeats Obama’s bad Cuba policy is the morally right course of action.