Washington Times Editorial: Castro Crack Down in Wake of Obama Wooing

Tuesday, November 10, 2015
From The Washington Times' Editorial Board:

An upsurge in misery in Cuba

The Castro brothers crack down in the wake of the Obama wooing

Barack Obama’s attempt to woo Fidel and Raul Castro away from their regime’s totalitarian roots has turned from disaster to catastrophe, giving a new and ugly meaning to President Obama’s campaign slogan of “hope and change.” So far there’s been no change and no hope, but more misery.

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights reports an upsurge in arrests — more than a thousand peaceful dissidents during the month of October, the highest monthly tally in recent history.

The U.S. Coast Guard has rescued record numbers of Cubans at sea trying to flee to the United States this year — more than at any time since the “rafters’ crisis” two decades ago.

Raul Castro has reinforced his post-Soviet alliance with Vladimir Putin — dispatching Cuban soldiers to Syria in support of the Russian intervention to preserve the wretched Damascus regime.

The Castro government has imposed new restrictions on the tiny Cuban private sector it had earlier permitted to blossom — with price controls, new taxes and restrictions, some petty and all meant to punish.

The regime has cut authorizations for American imports by some 40 percent, increasing its feeble trade ties with China and Spain as an alternative. These new restrictions are meant to put more pressure on the Obama administration for trade credits. The Obama administration’s response is to persist with concessions to the Castro regime which it insists will lead to liberalization. The original deal with Havana, which Mr. Obama regards as part of his legacy, got no concessions to the United States.

In fact, he threw a lifeline to the Castro brothers, whose special relationship with oil-rich Venezuela collapsed with the death of Hugo Chavez in 2013. The $18 billion in loans, investments and grants Mr. Chavez had given to the brothers between 2008 and 2011 led to the economic crisis in Caracas.

The Castro lobby within the U.S. State Department continues to assure critics that additional concessions to the Castro brothers will continue non-existent liberalization policies, mounting contrary evidence notwithstanding. So the regime wobbles on. Fidel, fading into dementia at 89, gave way to his 84-year-old brother to lead a youth movement, but the regime looks ever more like the usual Latin American military junta, with Soviet trappings.

Castro propaganda insists that the American embargo, announced in 1962 and confirmed into law by Congress in 1996, is the source of all difficulties, and not the usual failures of Marxist faith. In fact, the embargo has been constantly whittled away, but the brothers continue to use it as a weapon to squeeze America for more credits and concessions.

Mr. Obama insists that Congress lift the 1962 embargo, but that is not likely if the Republicans screw up the courage to resist in the months before the Obama era finally ends in January 2017. As part of his “opening to Cuba” Mr. Obama has twice used executive authority to ease restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba and on certain products manufactured by the small Cuban private sector. American telecommunications companies are now permitted to operate on the island. More such regulatory changes will be made if and when Cuba absorbs these concessions, says David Thorne, a senior adviser to Secretary of State John Kerry.

“We are making progress,” he says. “We are making regulatory changes. We’ll make more.” That might mean easing restrictions on military hardware, so whether this is “progress” depends on who’s making the definitions.