Obama's Cuba Policy Stifles Real Reforms

Friday, May 15, 2015
A month before the Obama-Castro deal, we'd posted how lifting sanctions would stifle any real reforms in Cuba, for the regime would solely focus on strengthening its state monopolies and the repression required to suppress change.

It's exactly what happened in Burma -- once Obama embraced that regime, reforms fell by the wayside

And it's exactly what's happening in Cuba now.

This week, The Economist frets that -- despite Obama's concessions -- the Castro regime is not budging on reforms.

But what incentive does Castro have to loosen his iron grip?

He's already getting everything he wants, without having to do anything in return.

From The Economist:

Be more libre

The transformation of the economy needs to happen much faster

It has been five months since Cuba and the United States announced that they would end their long cold war, but Cuba’s president, Raúl Castro, is still basking in the afterglow. On his way home from Russia this week he stopped off at the Vatican to see the pope, and said he might return to the Catholic faith. Later François Hollande paid the first-ever visit to Cuba by a French president; he was granted an audience with Fidel Castro, Raúl’s ailing brother, who led the revolution in 1959 and ruled until 2008.

But beneath the bonhomie lies unease. Cuba’s creaky revolutionaries spent half a century blaming the American embargo for all the island’s woes. Now they resist American capitalism for fear of being overrun. The result for most ordinary Cubans is not too much change but too little. The island is poorer than many of its neighbours. Doctors earn just $60 a month—after a 150% pay rise. Food and other basics are in short supply. Boat people still flee to Florida’s shores.

Cuba deserves a proper democracy and a robust market-based economy. Sadly, that is unlikely to happen soon. Some things are changing. Private guesthouses, restaurants, barber shops and the like have begun to flourish, creating the kernel of an entrepreneurial middle class. But if Cubans are to benefit from the opening with America, their rulers need to reform more boldly and quickly than they have done so far.

A cocktail of reform

Where to start? Cuba should begin by opening up many more sectors to private enterprise. Currently, Cubans can be “self-employed” in 201 activities (including reading Tarot cards), but few that require a university degree. In place of a “positive list” of permitted private activities, the government should publish a negative one that reserves just a few for the state. All others would then be open to private initiative, including professions such as architecture, medicine, education and the law. The new bourgeois are potential customers for professional services; catering to that demand would in turn expand the middle class.

Liberalisation is urgent in wholesale markets. Today enterprises such as restaurants are forced to buy supplies from state-run supermarkets where ordinary people shop, which exacerbates shortages. This undermines popular support for the emerging private sector.

The climate for foreign investment must also improve. Cuba woos foreign investors for the expertise, jobs and currency they bring, but treats them shabbily. Under a supposedly friendly new law, they must still recruit workers through state agencies, to which they pay hard currency; the agencies then pay out miserly salaries in pesos. Imported inputs pass through bureaucratic state-run enterprises. Worst of all, legal codes are vague and their application is arbitrary. In recent years several foreign businessmen have been imprisoned (and later released) with little explanation.

How much of this thicket Mr Castro is prepared to clear away is uncertain. The party’s leadership has hinted that its congress would strengthen the National Assembly, a rubber-stamp body. A proper legislature that could write laws would give security to enterprise. Cuba is also bracing for a painful currency unification, which will end a huge subsidy to state companies (see article).

For many of the revolution’s ageing leaders reform and privatisation are yanqui-inspired dirty words. The regime looks to China and Vietnam, where communist governments have embraced capitalism without yielding power. The Cuban communists are wary: they fear that, if they give up too much economic control, they will be obliterated just like the communists of eastern Europe. Yet the bigger risk would be merely to tinker with a system that keeps Cubans poor at a time when their aspirations are rising.

Quote of the Week: Cuba in No Business Panacea

Everyone believes that Cuba is this panacea and I don't see it. It's the result of central planning gone awry. I mean, Cuba has no infrastructure. It doesn't have a real economy. How do we think this suddenly is going to support dozens and dozens of non-stop flights a day? If I were them, I would do two things: I would quickly put together a legal and banking system that would respect private property and private capital. Number two: I would adopt the U.S. dollar as my currency.
-- Richard Anderson, Delta Air Lines' CEO, AP, 5/15/15

"Empowering" Cubans to Flee

The Obama Administration stated that its new policy of embracing the Castro regime would help "empower the Cuban people."

Apparently, the Cuban people have interpreted it differently.

From Reuters:

Cuban immigration surges after thaw in US-Cuba relations

The number of Cuban migrants looking to enter the United States ballooned in early 2015, partly driven by uncertainty over the future of special immigration consideration for Cubans after the two countries announced efforts to improve ties.

In the first three months of the year, 9,371 Cubans arrived in the United States, mostly on the Mexico border and in Miami, an increase of 118 percent over same period in 2014, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Experts say the numbers indicate a surge since the Dec. 17 announcement of efforts by the presidents of Cuba and the United States to restore diplomatic ties and work to normalize relations after more than 50 years of hostility.

Regime Change Works Better Than Trusting Dictators

By Max Boot in Commentary Magazine:

Regime Change Works Better Than Trusting Dictators

For some reason naïve Westerners expect that every new dictator who takes over just about anywhere in the world will be a closest liberal and a reformer and an all around good guy. Remember in the early 1980s how Yuri Andropov, the KGB chief, was supposedly a jazz-loving Americanophile? Or more recently how Bashar Assad was going to be a breath of fresh air in Syria? Or how Hassan Rouhani would liberalize Iran?

Such expectations have been brutally dashed time and again, and nowhere more so than in North Korea where the ascension of Kim Jong Un, following the death of his father Kim Il-Jong in 2011, was supposed to usher in Chinese-style reforms. For a refresher on such hopes, check out this Time article from 2012, headlined, “Is Kim Jong Un Preparing to be North Korea’s Economic Reformer?”

Turns out that Kim Jong Un, far from being a closet liberal, is cast in precisely the same Stalinist mode as his father and grandfather—only perhaps more so. In 2013 Kim Jong Un had his uncle, Jang Sung-taek, who was one of the most powerful officials in the regime, arrested and executed. Now, South Korean intelligence is reporting that Gen. Hyong Yong-chol, minister of the People’s Armed Forces, was executed with an anti-aircraft gun (imagine the mechanics of that) for showing “disrespect” to the new Dear Leader. “Mr. Kim deemed General Hyon disloyal after he dozed off during military events and second-guessed Mr. Kim’s orders,” South Korean intelligence claims.

That’s a pretty severe response for getting a little shuteye. In reality, one assumes, Gen. Hyon was executed for the same reason as Jong Sung-taek—because they were viewed as being potential threats to Kim Jong Un’s absolute power. Young Kim is especially paranoid about the power of the army and determined to make it utterly subservient to his will. But that Kim Jong Un is dealing with potential challengers not by sacking them or even by arresting them but by executing them shows how ruthless and determined he is to consolidate power.

He apparently chooses particularly gruesome execution techniques to make a point—other senior officials have reportedly been killed not just by anti-aircraft guns but by mortars and flame throwers if media accounts are to be believed although it’s unlikely that Jang Song-thaek was torn apart by wild dogs. The good old firing squad has apparently lost its shock value.

Kim is also, predictably, going full speed ahead with North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. In fact just recently Kim was pictured smiling broadly over the launch of a ballistic missile from a submarine — the kind of reaction normal people exhibit upon the birth of a baby.

Oh and of course there is no sign of any real economic reforms. Kim’s major economic initiatives are to build ski resorts and water parks where he and other regime insiders can cavort while the ordinary people of his country live in near-starvation conditions.

Bottom line: Don’t expect a princeling like Kim Jong Un or Bashar Assad to transform the system that brought him to absolute power. Occasionally real reformers do rise to the top of dictatorial systems—e.g. Deng Xiaoping and Mikhail Gorbachev. When that happens the West must be prepared to engage. But such instances are rare. The West should stop getting seduced by faux-reformers. Sadly the only way that regimes such as those in Syria or North Korea are likely to change is if they collapse. Our policy focus should be on hastening regime change rather than trying to extend a lifeline to such cruel and capricious rulers.

Commerce Appropriations Bill Prohibits Exports to Cuban Military

Wednesday, May 13, 2015
Last month, the must-pass Transportation Appropriations bill was introduced in the House with language prohibiting the use of confiscated property for new travel -- by airplane or vessels -- to Cuba.

This morning, that language passed the full House Appropriations Committee's markup of the legislation.

The Transportation Appropriations language poses the question:

Should the Castro regime be allowed to use stolen property for its commercial benefit? 

Also this morning, the House Appropriations Committee released its must-pass bill funding the Commerce and Justice Departments ("CJS").

The bill includes a provision ensuring that none of the exports authorized under the Obama Administration's new "Support for the Cuban People" category (under Commerce Department regulations) can be funneled through entities owned or controlled by the Castro regime's military or security services.

The Commerce Appropriations language poses the question:

Should exports to Cuba be funneled through Castro's military and security services? 

Surely, the answer to both is no.

Below is the provision in Commerce Appropriations:

SEC. 540. (a) No funds made available in this Act may be used to facilitate, permit, license, or promote exports to the Cuban military or intelligence service or to any officer of the Cuban military or intelligence service, or an immediate family member thereof.

(b) This section does not apply to exports of goods permitted under the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (22 U.S.C. 7201 et seq.).

(c) In this section—

(1) the term ‘‘Cuban military or intelligence service’’ includes, but is not limited to, the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, and the Ministry of the Interior, of Cuba, and any subsidiary of either such Ministry; and

(2) the term ‘‘immediate family member’’ means a spouse, sibling, son, daughter, parent, grandparent, grandchild, aunt, uncle, niece, or nephew.

Barbara Lee Fails Strike Cuba Provisions From Transportation Appropriations Bill

AP reports on today's full committee markup of the House Transportation-HUD Appropriations bill:

Liberal Democrat Barbara Lee of California also failed, by voice vote, in her attempt to strike a provision by Mario Diaz-Balart to block new Obama administration rules that would ease travel restrictions to Cuba and permit regularly scheduled flights there for the first time.

WSJ: Springtime for Dictators

By Daniel Henninger in The Wall Street Journal:

Springtime for Dictators

Not everyone gets an hour-long audience with the pope, as Raúl Castro did this past Sunday at the Vatican. But Raúl Castro isn’t everyone. Raúl is the president of Cuba and the heir to his brother’s half-century-old Communist dictatorship. And right now, Raúl is hot.

Raúl Castro is taking meetings with everyone from President Barack Obama in Panama last month to Pope Francis in Rome last weekend. Then he returned to Havana for a meeting with President François Hollande of France, who flew in to see him and Fidel. How good can it get?

“President” Castro is in some sense an honorific title. When Raúl ran for president of Cuba for the first time in 2008, he was the only candidate. And while the Communist Party isn’t the only party in Cuba, the others can’t campaign, and political speech is forbidden. One might argue that the Castros’ Cuba is the model for how Vladimir Putin has reset the Russian political system.

A beaming, star-struck Mr. Hollande on Monday received a one-hour audience (there is no other word) with the 88-year-old Fidel. The French president said, “I had before me a man who made history.”

“Bienvenido!” said Pope Francis to Raúl Sunday when they met at the Vatican. “Welcome!” The Vatican press office didn’t release details of the meeting, other than to describe it as “very friendly.”

Photographs of the meeting between the president of Cuba’s inhabitants and the leader of the world’s Catholics suggest they hit it off, with both men aglow in smiles. In fact, Raúl seems to have thought he’d died and gone to heaven. Baptized into Marxism while in college, he announced he might rejoin the Catholic Church. But let Raúl explain his sudden reconversion:

“I read all the speeches of the pope, his commentaries, and if the pope continues this way, I will go back to praying and go back to the church. I’m not joking.” Who could doubt it?

When he says, “if the pope continues this way,” we assume the Cuban president is referring to Francis’ criticisms of capitalism, as when he wrote in 2013: “Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.” Francis described this theory as an “opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts.”

Raúl was so excited after his meeting with the pope Sunday that he said when Francis visits Cuba this September, “I promise to go to all his Masses.”

Let us return to earth.

For starters, we posit a hypothetical: Let us assume that instead of being the pope, Francis was just a guy in Cuba named Jorge Mario Bergoglio, living in Havana. If this guy no one had heard of summoned the courage to say something in public as harsh about Castro’s communist system as the pope did about capitalism, Raúl would do any number of things to Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

Raúl would have the Cuban police grab him off the street and drive him far outside Havana, where they would beat him up and abandon him. Or they would dump Jorge in prison, where he’d get beaten some more and better not get sick because medical treatment for political dissidents is hard to come by. Or a mob might show up to scream obscenities at him anytime he showed up in public.

Shaming, harassment and humiliation is what Raúl and Fidel have done to, among many others, the Ladies in White, who are wives of jailed dissidents, and who march in Havana to—of all things—Sunday Mass. What they find on the way to Mass is not fellow communicant Raúl but his mobs or police, which routinely attack them.

We know this because Raúl’s brutal modus operandi for critics of Cuba’s system is described at length in reports by the U.S. State Department and Human Rights Watch. But the Castros’ celebrity status with international elites transcends anything they do, and so Cuba is a member of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.

Sophisticated opinion holds that Barack Obama’s December “opening” to Cuba means the market and tourists will change the place—for example, Raúl’s release of 53 political prisoners. According to Hablemos Press, which operates inside Cuba, some of those 53 have been rearrested. Other post-“opening” dissidents have been beaten. How come? They tried to meet with an opposition group, Movement for a New Republic.

Last weekend German Chancellor Angela Merkel went to Russia to honor the Russian soldiers who died in World War II. But while in Moscow, Ms. Merkel, who grew up in East Germany, said directly to Vladimir Putin: “I would like also to recall that the end of World War II did not bring democracy and freedom for all of Europe.”

Would that one of these men of the world had the guts to say that to Fidel’s face in Havana.

Raul Castro Corners Obama (Yet Again)

Tuesday, May 12, 2015
Cuban dictator Raul Castro has stated that ambassadors could be named after his regime is removed -- without merit -- from the state-sponsors of terrorism list on May 29th.

Castro knows well the issues impeding the establishment of diplomatic relations, namely that his regime is unwilling to abide by the international standards set forth in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which require that U.S. diplomats be permitted freedom of movement throughout the island.

Moreover, Castro insists on maintaining its repressive security cordon around the U.S. Interests Section, in order to harass, intimidate and monitor any Cubans in its proximity.

The United States does not accept such restrictions in any Embassy throughout the world.

Castro emphasized today that this security cordon is necessary because, "as I said concretely to [President Obama], what most concerns me is that they continue doing illegal things ... for example, graduating independent journalists."

That's verbatim. Imagine that, independent journalists -- the horror!

What Castro did today is corner Obama -- yet again.  

He knows Obama has bet his legacy on establishing diplomatic relations with the Castro regime (the hype of "normalization" has since been downgraded as reality has struck).

Thus, he's betting Obama will make an exception for Castro and allow the establishment of diplomatic relations after May 29th, despite the restrictions against U.S. diplomats and its repressive security cordon.

Such blackmail has worked for Castro on the release of Cuban spies (murderers), the easing of sanctions and its removal from the state-sponsors of terrorism list.

So what's discarding the Vienna Convention and further abandoning Cuban dissidents?

After all, a one-sided deal is still a deal -- of sorts.

Former British Ambassador: Dangers of Investing in Cuba

By Amb. Paul Hare in The Financial Times:

Dangers in economy run by Cuba’s revolutionary in a business suit

Both leaders wore business suits at the Panama summit last month. Raúl Castro, the one-time guerrilla from the Sierra Maestra, shook hands with Barack Obama, the former law professor from Chicago. Are Cuba and the US back in business?

In its “normalisation” of relations, the US is finally catching up with more than 100 other countries with embassies in Havana. Americans will now experience the Cuban way of doing business. Existing links can be built on: Cubans want more of the cheap food, such as chicken and rice, that has been sold by US companies in the past decade. They also want fully open US tourism: the prospect of their young people mixing with American peers on their traditional “spring break” is no longer feared by the Castros. Havana wants to maintain billions of dollars in family remittances from the US. But even when the 55-year-old embargo is dismantled, a new business relationship will take time to emerge.

Cuba in 2015 is not a country confidently set in a new direction. Mr Castro can see its past more clearly than its future. He remembers when US companies dominated the economy, and when he and Fidel nationalised them in 1960. Cuba later became dependent on other nations: first the Soviet Union and then Venezuela — which is now looking increasingly wobbly, an important reason to mend relations with America.

So what awaits US companies flying to Cuba? The welcome will be lavish. They will visit revolutionary showpieces such as the Latin American School of Medicine. The mojitos and cigars will taste better. Even the home-run distance at the Havana baseball stadium is marked in feet not metres.

Yet Cuba is still a foreign land for international business. Features of the revolution endure to this day; rudimentary use of the internet is only the most visible. Statistics are produced by the state and there is no independent verification. Foreign exchange reserves are never published. Military-controlled companies retain almost all the hard currency Cuba earns. State employees — estimated at more than 70 per cent of working-age Cubans — receive an average of less than $30 a month in currency worthless anywhere else. “They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work” is a joke almost as old as Havana’s Cadillac Eldorados.

Foreign investors and embassies, forbidden by law to select their own employees, pay well above state rates, producing absurd results: at the British embassy, I had a PhD in microbiology working as a nightwatchman. Education matters little when you cannot pay your bills. Apathy is prevalent: I remember the Havana fun fair manager who closed for lunch with a queue of 50 customers; and the biotech marketing managers who visited the UK but returned with no leads.

US companies bidding for foreign investment projects will face competitors from countries including China, Brazil, Venezuela and the EU. Political considerations will weigh heavily; and if things go wrong the business climate is unfamiliar. The courts have never ruled for a foreign business against the government. And, though Havana badly wants to buy US imports on credit, its record on payment is poor.

Mr Castro will want to put in place a framework for new relations with the US before he steps down in 2018. But he has not yet signalled he wants Cubans to grow rich in private business. Few countries can match the investment potential of his nation. Cuba currently has only two golf courses; the Dominican Republic has more than 30. Some pro­jects will succeed; yet the recent jailing of British investors in Havana’s luxury Saratoga Hotel — after a trial that took place behind closed doors, of which few details have been released — serves as a warning.

The Castro brothers in the Sierra Maestra proceeded cautiously, building their campaign of revolution. American businesses should recognise that they are dealing with the same strategists.

The writer was British ambassador to Cuba from 2001 to 2004, and is now a lecturer at Boston University

Yoani Sanchez: Hollande Lauds and Encourages Castro Regime in Cuba

Before the Obama-Castro deal, we warned how "normalization" would relegate human rights and democracy to silence and business.

With every passing day, this tragic reality will sink-in to even the most wishful thinkers.

By Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez in The Huffington Post:

Hollande Lauds and Encourages the Castro Regime on His Visit to Cuba

The official reception at the airport, the photo shaking hands with the host, the wreath laid at the statue of José Martí and the expected lecture at the University of Havana. How many foreign politicians have followed this script in recent months? So many that we have lost count.

A true shower of presidents, foreign ministers and deputies has intensified over Cuba without daily life feeling any kind of relief from such illustrious presences. To this parade of world leaders has been added, this week, the French president François Hollande, who assured us that his country wants to "strengthen ties with Cuba" so that both nations, "assume greater international leadership."

During his stay, the politician met with Raul Castro, visited Fidel Castro in his home and awarded the Legion of Honor to Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino. The agenda did not include, however, any meeting with dissidents and activists. His vision of the Cuban stage could not be completed with a critical eye on the Government's relationship with its own people. As the presidential plane lifted off, the official version of events barely registered on the retinas and ears of the French.

In a lecture at the University of Havana's Great Hall, Hollande said that, "To come to Cuba is to come to a country that represents for Latin America a form of expression, of vindication of dignity and independence." Although he didn't say it, the French president knows that he is in a nation with prisoners of conscience, without political parties, where opponents are threatened and repressed. A land without union rights, with an illegal independent press and a military power that is handed down in the family.

On this visit, we needed reaffirmation that the France of the "Rights of Man" still believes in the unshakeable values that recognize the rights of individuals to disagree, to express their differences without fear and to organize around them. We demanded some words of support, words that would confirm for us that the government of the European country is willing to support, in Cuba, the desires for freedom that have so marked and modeled its own national history.

A man who has declared that French and Cubans have "shared the same movement of ideas," the same aspirations, the same philosophical inspiration, cannot believe that he has visited a country where citizens have chosen by their own free will to subordinate themselves to a totalitarian power. Does Hollande think that we have tacitly chosen the cage? Does he suppose, perhaps, that we are comfortable in our chains?

On the positive side of this visit, we will be left with the opening of the new Alliance Francaise headquarters, and a wider collaboration in tourism, education and health. However, in the minds of many, the first French president on Cuban soil will be remembered for his complacent posture toward the authorities. Hard to remember, after all these years, a trip with a script so very played-out.

Hollande was accompanied by a business delegation made up of companies such as Pernod Ricard, the hotel chain Accor, Air France, the distribution group Carrefour, the telecommunications company Orange and several banks. Closing deals in the energy and tourist sectors was ultimately the most substantial share of their presence in Cuba, although the meeting with Fidel Castro has dominated the headlines.

Time will pass and our country will progress to a new political situation. We will hear some historians say that the influence exercised by the French president was decisive on this path to change. But that will be later, when the historians rewrite the past and adorn it at their convenience. For now, it is difficult to know how this insipid visit could influence our future.

French President in Cuba: Meets Castros, Criticizes U.S., Ignores Dissidents

Monday, May 11, 2015
President Obama told us that his new Cuba policy would encourage other nations to hold the Castro regime accountable for the lack of human rights and democracy on the island.

We have yet to see a single case of this.

Today, French President Francois Hollande visited Havana -- and he was no exception.  

Here are the major takeaways of Hollande's visit:

- Met with Fidel and Raul Castro.
- Fawned over Fidel.
- Told the Castros he is "a faithful ally."
- Criticized U.S. policy towards Cuba.
- Held a business round-table with Castro's monopolies and French companies that traffic in stolen properties.
- Ignored dissidents.

We are watching Obama's "empowerment" of the Castro regime play out before our eyes.

Alan Gross' Lawyer Has (Another) Conflict of Interests

Scott Gilbert, the attorney for Castro's former American hostage Alan Gross, is no stranger to conflicts of interest.

He's a skilled personal injury attorney who made a fortune in asbestos litigation -- though sometimes a bit too ambitious for his own good.

In what The Wall Street Journal called, "The Great Asbestos Scam," Gilbert was penalized $13 million by a U.S. federal judge in 2006 for a major violation of the rules of professional conduct, whereby he colluded to make money from all the parties in a litigation.

In other words, it was unclear who he represented.

Last week, Gilbert hosted the inaugural fundraiser -- at his Miami Beach home -- for a new PAC that seeks to lift sanctions against the Castro regime.

The fundraiser's headliner was Alan Gross. But Gilbert was the media's headliner, handling all interviews and PR.

Gilbert pitched Gross' participation in the event as altruistic.

Surely Alan Gross supports the Obama-Castro deal that got him released from Cuba.  All hostages support the ransom paid for their release, regardless of whether it's good policy or the dangerous precedent it sets.

No one blames him for that. Gross was and remains a victim.

With Gilbert's guidance, Gross received $3.2 million (minus legal fees, of course) from the U.S. government, as part of a deal with his former employer, Development Alternatives, Inc. ("DAI").

He had also filed a separate $60 million lawsuit against the U.S. government, but it was tossed out by a federal appeals court. A separate lawsuit against DAI was settled for an undisclosed amount.

Not missing an angle, Gilbert has now created a consulting firm, Reneo LLC, which is lobbying on behalf of U.S. companies that seek to do business with the Castro regime.

(Remember: The Cuban people are prohibited from participating in foreign trade and investment on the island. All foreign trade and investment in Cuba is solely conducted by Castro's monopolies.)

Thus, Gilbert was featured in Forbes over the weekend, grumbling about foreign competitors in Cuba, the need to lift the embargo for U.S. businesses, etc.

Clearly, he wants to capitalize on his new contacts in the Obama Administration and Castro regime.

Fair enough -- but Gilbert should be transparent about who he's representing.

And whether Gross is being used as the poster boy for his new business.

"Self-Employed" Set for Repression, Not Liberation

By Dr. Jose Azel in The PanAm Post:

History Lessons for the Architects of the New US-Cuba Policy

Self-Employed Set for Repression, Not Liberation

President Barack Obama’s announcement of a rapprochement with the Cuban regime, US government officials have offered that fostering the small-enterprise sector in Cuba is a centerpiece of the new policy.

Architects of the new US-Cuba policy rationalize that unconditionally ending economic sanctions will strengthen Cuba’s self-employed sector and, thus, foster a civil society more independent of the government. Eventually, they explain, this more autonomous civil society will function as agents of change, pressuring the regime for democratic governance.

This is an ethnocentric proposition anchored on economic determinism that overweighs economic variables and fails to understand the Cuban regime. For example, in a totalitarian system, those in self-employed activities remain bound to the government for the very existence of their businesses. Self-employment in a totalitarian setting does not confer independence from the government. On the contrary, it makes the newly minted entrepreneurs more beholden to the government in myriad bureaucratic ways, as few are willing to risk their livelihood antagonizing their all powerful patrons.

History instructs us as to the outcome we can expect. During the student protest in Tiananmen Square, China’s business community did not come out in support of the students. More recently we also witnessed a similar situation in Hong Kong. Sadly, these business communities were not willing to jeopardize their positions and support the students promoting democratic change. What makes administration officials think that a Cuban business community bound to an all powerful state for their very existence would act differently?

Supporters of the new policy believe that a critical mass of self-employment will make it very difficult, if not impossible, for the regime to resist the social pressures for change. That is, thousands of micro-firms operating in Cuba would be an unstoppable force for change. From this perspective of economic determinism, governments under such pressures must change or collapse. Again, this fails to account for the nature of the Cuban regime. We can look for instruction in Cuban history.

Beginning in the early days of the Cuban Revolution and climaxing with Fidel Castro’s “Revolutionary Offensive,” the regime embarked on an effort to eliminate all private property. First came the expropriations of foreign enterprises, followed by the expropriation of large Cuban-owned businesses, and finally all economic activity was taken over in 1968.

According to Cuban-government statistics, 55,636 micro enterprises, mostly of one or two persons, were confiscated. Among them, 11,878 food retailers, 3,130 meat retailers, 3,198 bars, 8,101 food establishments, 6,653 dry cleaners, 3,345 carpentry workshops, 4,544 automobile mechanic shops, 1,598 artisan shops, and 1,188 shoeshine stands.

Even with this sizable private sector in operation, the regime was able to exert total control. Moreover, this private sector had fresh memories of an imperfect, but significantly free pre-Castro Cuba. It was a civil society still imbued with the political principles of the 1940s Cuban Constitution enshrining liberty. And yet, this civil society was unable to prevent the communization of the island, or bring about change in the regime.

Not coincidentally, and perhaps correlational, this period was the most brutally repressive of the Castro era, with thousands of executions and tens of thousands of long-term political prisoners. A strong argument could be made that self-employment without political freedom requires intensified repression in order to maintain control. Thus, increased repression in Cuba could be one of the unintended consequences of the new policy.

The self-employment Cuba permits consists of permits to provide services in 201 subsistence activities, such as repairing umbrellas and peeling fruits. Its participants are mostly individuals born after 1959 with no living memories of political freedoms. So, on what grounds do supporters of the new policy formulate change championed by the newly self-employed?

Controlled laboratory experimentation is mostly unavailable to social scientists. Therefore, our analysis is necessarily based on the use of analogies, often borrowed from historical experience, as I have done above. The new US-Cuba policy is one that accommodates the Cuban regime for the continued denial of political freedoms. It is a condescending formulation that sets aside expectations of freedom without offering even an analogical defense for the thesis that freedom may come some day as a byproduct of economic engagement.

In the United States we believe in the presumption of freedom. And yet, the new policy abandons the historical US exigency for political freedom. Therefore, just as the burden of proof is on the accuser and not on the accused, the burden of demonstration on the efficacy of the policy is on those yielding on our core principle of freedom. The advocacy for liberty needs no validation.

Must-Read: The Castro Regime's Windfall

The cover story of The National Review's upcoming edition.

By James Kirchik:

The Castros’ New Friend 

Obama’s change of policy helps Cuba’s oppressive regime, not its democratic dissidents 

Havana — I’ve visited more than my fair share of dictatorships, but Cuba is the only one where travelers at the airport must pass through a metal detector upon entering, in addition to leaving, the country. Immediately after clearing customs at José Marti International Airport, visitors line up for a security check. Anyone found carrying contraband — counterrevolutionary books, say, or a spare laptop that might be given to a Cuban citizen — could find himself susceptible to deportation.

Click here to read.

Has "Flood" of Diplomatic and Business Visits Benefited the Cuban People?

Sunday, May 10, 2015
The AP has a story about the "flood" of diplomats and businessmen visiting Cuba since President Obama stamped the full faith and credit of the United States on the Castro dictatorship.

It notes how "top diplomats from Japan, the European Union, Italy, the Netherlands and Russia have visited the island in recent months in bids to stake out or maintain ties with an island that suddenly looks like a brighter economic prospect amid warming U.S.-Cuba relations."

Thus, it's fair to ask some simple questions:

Have these top diplomats visited with Cuban dissidents during their trips?

Answer: No.

Have these trips improved the human rights situation in Cuba?

Answer: No.

Have these visitors publicly called for the freedom and rights of the Cuban people?

Answer: No.

Have these trips led the media to focus on human rights in Cuba?

Answer: No.

Have any of these foreign investors met with Cuba's "independent" entrepreneurs?

Answer: No.

Have any of these foreign investors cut any deals with Cuba's "independent" entrepreneurs?

Answer: No.

Are the Cuban people even allowed to cut deals with foreign investors?

Answer: No.

Are the Cuban people allowed to import-export goods?

Answer: No.

Will foreign investors who cut deals with the Castro regime be allowed to hire Cubans directly?

Answer: No.

Will the Cuban people who work for these foreign investors -- through Castro's employment agency -- be allowed to keep 10% of their wages?

Answer: No.

Will these foreign investors abide by international labor standards in Cuba?

Answer: No.

So who have all of the trips and business deals in Cuba been with?

Answer: Castro.

Rosa Maria Paya Returns to Cuba

Cuban democracy leader, Rosa Maria Paya, is returning to Cuba this week to visit her father's tomb.

Paya's father, Oswaldo, was murdered in a car crash in 2012.

Follow her journey at #UnaFlorparaPaya

Godspeed.

She explains her journey below (or click here):

Castro Thanks Pope for One-Sided Deal

In Moscow this weekend, General Raul Castro joined some of the world's worst tyrants in supporting Putin's spectacle of military force (and snub of the West).

On his return to Havana, the Cuban dictator stopped by the Vatican to thank Pope Francis for his role in mediating relations with the U.S.

And what's not to be thankful for.

Castro is very grateful that he has received a host of political and economic concessions from the United States -- a deal that has thrust him as one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People and provided his regime with a financial lifeline, just as his Venezuelan subsidies were waning.

The best part for Castro is that he's had to do absolutely nothing in return -- political repression continues to rise at alarming rates and his economic monopoly remains intact.

The deal "negotiated" by Obama -- with the help of Pope Francis -- was so one-sided and timely for Castro's regime that Raul is feeling inspired:

"If things continue this way, I'll even begin praying and attending Mass again."

But who needs prayers when you have President Obama and Pope Francis in your corner.

Tweet of the Day: Cuban Rapper Brutally Beaten

While Raul Castro visited Pope Francis in the Vatican, his forces were brutally attacking Cuban rapper and former political prisoner, Angel Yunier (known as "El Critico"), in his home.

As the tweet states:

"In #Cuba, the regime brings repression to your doorstep. Here's how they left rapper Angel Yunier last night."

The Worst of All Possible Cubas

By Mike Gonzalez in The American Interest:

The Worst of All Possible Cubas

Three distinct patterns of transition out of communist rule exist: Russian, Chinese, and East European. The new American policy dooms Cuba to the worst of the lot.

President Barack Obama’s decision to recognize Raúl Castro’s government seems destined to produce exactly the type of post-Castro transition in Cuba that would be most inimical to American interests. It paves the way for a takeover by a military oligarchy-turned-business class that exists only because it has shown unswerving loyalty to the Castro family and its anti-American communist cause. It tilts the future of Cuba’s political economy toward a well-known post-totalitarian type: authoritarian kleptocracy.

Generally speaking, there are three recognized models of transition out of communist totalitarianism. The first is the Russian model of kleptocratic chaos, which has led to the rise of a strongman in Moscow whose claim to fame is stability. The second is the Chinese model, which is much more ordered, but comes at a price: the continued suppression of political and individual freedom. The third is the East European model, in which the people were allowed to vote communists out of office and, in many if not all cases, to hand power to formerly harassed dissidents.

In the instances of the first two models, members of the old nomenklatura have remained in the halls of power, where their mixture of autocracy at home and anti-Americanism overseas has continued to marinate. The transition has been from communism to something more akin to fascist corporatism, albeit without the ideological pretensions of the mid-20th-century examples. It is only in the third model that, for all its fits and starts, we have seen the greatest degrees of economic and political freedom emerge from totalitarianism. Only in Eastern Europe are there examples of countries that have gone through an outright break from communism and transitioned to democracy and free markets. Unstinting U.S. support for dissidents and persistent denunciation of communist oppression played key roles in the collapse of the system and in the pre-transition rise of the opposition.

President Obama has clearly dimmed Cuba’s prospects for Option Three by granting recognition and deeper economic ties to the Castro regime in exchange for zero concessions on human rights or democratic reforms. No Helsinki “basket three” here; no help for the formation of alternative elites and pro-democratic civil society movements. The generals who control different sectors of the economy, and the technocrats who work for them, have suddenly seen their chances to succeed Fidel and Raúl Castro vastly improved.

It may be tempting to conclude that it was not Barack Obama who may have consigned Cuba to a Russian or Chinese future but history itself that relegated the island to the Russian or Chinese model of transition. For those who succumb to this temptation, Cuba is so like these countries already that it is almost bound to follow one of their paths. But if we consider the pertinent parts of Cuba’s half a millennium of history, we would find that it is at least as disposed to political and economic freedom as Poland, Lithuania, or Slovakia. That is why Cubans who dare speak their minds are dismayed that a U.S. President would have made such a move. They accuse Obama of betrayal. They also understand that repression may now be extended for decades.

Clearly, the President and members of his Administration don’t see things in these terms. They believe they have placed a bet in favor of Chinese-style, piecemeal reforms at the cost of abandoning regime change. This much is demonstrated by the fact that the Administration is seeking to repeal the U.S. law that conditions lifting the embargo on the restoration of civil rights to Cuban society.

Academics at U.S. universities and think tanks who have long urged warm relations with the Castro government also support this course. In fact, many of them have for months and in some cases years worked closely with the technocrats of the Cuban regime to help them prepare for this moment. Many of these U.S. academics turn up their noses at the Cuban opposition and its dismay at Obama’s policy.

With the Administration and the academy dominating the Cuba narrative, few Americans realize that President Obama has in effect strengthened the hands of the communist generals and their accountants. American commentators (as well as a couple of Republican Senators who should know better) have been repeating the facile cliché that “communism will not able to survive an onslaught of McDonald’s and American tourists”—a somewhat tamer version of the traditional soft-power formula of “sex, drugs, and rock and roll.” There are plenty of examples, however, of lands that have been littered for decades with fast-food eateries and hipsters from Brooklyn, yet remain under the control of Communist Party apparatchiks (think China and Vietnam). And nobody has yet addressed the foreign policy consequences of a transition in Cuba that favors a Chinese or Russian model over an East European one.

Not all is lost, however. The presidential campaign ahead provides an opportunity to educate the American people. To do that, we must understand what each model has wrought in other countries.

The Russian model—with variations in Ukraine and Belarus—is widely seen as the most inept and corrupt of the three. “Privatizations” of state assets left many of the old Bolshevik managers of state-controlled enterprises in control of the new entities, yielding what Michael Weiss and Julia Pettengill called in a 2011 Henry Jackson Society paper “a kind of kleptocratic feudalism.” Dissidents never got a toehold politically or economically under Russia’s system of “state capitalism”, even under President Boris Yeltsin. And all these pathologies deepened under KGB-trained President Vladimir Putin, whose formula for establishing “order” seems to channel Al Capone. Dissidents in Russia continue to be intimidated, imprisoned, and occasionally killed while Putin keeps control over what Russians watch and hear. Under Putin, the merger between the Kremlin and the oligarchs has deepened, with public servants becoming directors of state enterprises or ones that have been re-nationalized. According to Weiss and Pettengill, “civil servants, who officially make five-figure salaries, are found to be the owners of multi-million dollar dachas, or wearing luxury watches that would cost half their yearly earnings.”

In foreign policy, Russia has proved to be deeply adversarial to U.S. interests. Putin pushes around neighbors unsheltered by Western institutions, invading Georgia, Ukraine, and, for all practical purposes, Moldova. Internationally, he has become a major obstacle to U.S. interests, helping to foil American aims from Syria to Iran to Venezuela. In Europe he supports (many say bankrolls) extremist parties on the Left and the Right that share an aversion to democracy, market economics, and the United States.

The Chinese model—with variations in Vietnam and Burma—has been more economically successful than the Russian one. China has benefited economically to the degree it has introduced economic freedoms since 1978, which it has done only selectively. In the political arena, the Chinese Communist Party remains firmly in control and ruthlessly suppresses individual and political rights. From the start, however, it was clear that the goal was a level of economic growth high enough to keep the population from rebelling, not economic freedoms per se and definitely not political freedoms. Whenever reforms appeared to be threatening Communist Party rule, as with the Tiananmen upheavals, politics trumped economics, and the experiment was scaled back.

After thirty years of change, all national corporations in the sectors that make up the core of the Chinese economy are still “required by law to be owned or controlled by the state”, according to Derek Scissors of the American Enterprise Institute. The government still owns all the key financial institutions, railroads, and grain distribution mechanisms. After 2002 the government made clear that it aimed to perfect state-led capitalism, which has since given rise to the Red Director phenomenon we see in Russia. “State enterprises draw their top executives from the same pool as does the government”, says Scissors.

Unsurprisingly, corruption is rife. People with connections to the Party—especially the children of present and former leaders (called “princelings”) and other close family members—benefit economically and politically from their links. They now rank among the wealthiest people in China (where, not incidentally, reporting on individual wealth is forbidden).

Internationally, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is a thorn in the side of the United States, which it seeks to replace as the leading power in Asia. It bullies U.S. allies and democratic friends such as Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and the Philippines. The PRC has also reneged on promises it made to Hong Kong prior to the handover of the former British colony to Beijing to respect its high degree of autonomy and to allow it to elect its own leaders.

Of the three transition models, the East European one has produced by far not just the freest people, but also the most pro-American governments. Ten former Soviet satellite states or constituent Soviet republics are so friendly to the United States that they have become treaty allies. Some of their leaders rank among the most pro-American statesmen in contemporary Europe.

In reality, of course, there isn’t one European model, but ten of them—one for each of the seven former Soviet satellite states and three Baltic constituent republics that emerged free from the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. But the most successful countries, such as the Czech Republic, Poland, and Estonia, have several things in common:

  • The main leaders who took power after 1989 were pro-democracy dissidents and/or free market enthusiasts, many of whom had read, surreptitiously, free-market thinkers such as Ludwig von Mises, Milton Friedman, and Friedrich Hayek.
  • They believed that political reforms needed to come first; they sought a radical break with the Marxist-Leninist past and wanted democratic legitimacy for the economic steps they were about to undertake.
  • After gaining power through democratic means, they quickly pushed through radical reforms on property rights, currency policy, privatization, and taxes, believing that their window of opportunity was limited and that piecemeal reform was useless.
  • They understood that once the reforms were in place, there would be a backlash from the opposition, which they firmly resolved to ignore.
  • They received strong moral and financial support from the United States, which they regarded as a beacon of freedom.
Leszek Balcerowicz, known as the architect of Poland’s free-market reforms, called the window of opportunity “the era of extraordinary politics.” After countries become free, there is a brief period of euphoria that reformers need to use to advantage. “Bitter medicine is easier to take in one dose than in a prolonged series of doses”, he wrote in 1994. Mart Laar, the brilliant dissident who became Estonia’s Prime Minister at the age of 32, agrees with Balcerowicz. “The window of opportunity does not last long. It quickly gives way to the more mundane politics of contending parties and interest groups, which is normal in established democracies”, he wrote in 2007. “The countries that miss these opportunities risk macro-economic instability, excessive and chaotic state regulations, and massive corruption.”

In the Czech Republic, a voucher privatization program turned 80 percent of state assets into private ones within just five years of the fall of the communist government, creating an investment society in the process. Every adult was given the right to buy a voucher book for about the equivalent of an average weekly wage, and 75 percent of eligible adults participated. The process was overseen by Finance Minister Vaclav Klaus, a disciple of Friedman and Hayek, and President Vaclav Hável, an absurdist playwright who had been in and out of prison during the communist era.

East Europeans today enjoy high levels of political, economic, and individual rights. There have been populist opportunists and authoritarian recidivists from time to time, but from the Russian border to the Oder, and from the Baltic to Trieste, a dictator has not emerged in more than two decades. These nations are members of international democratic groupings such as NATO and the European Union and are model international citizens. None of this can be said of the countries pursuing the Russian or Chinese models.

As for Cuba, it is still far from initiating even the economic reforms that Deng Xiaoping undertook in China in 1978, despite the much-acclaimed “economic reforms” of the past few years. In a 2014 paper for the Brookings Institution, University of Pittsburgh Cubanologist Carmelo Mesa-Lago wrote that Cuba is actually closer to North Korea in terms of its political-economic structure: “Cuba and North Korea are two socialist economies with the largest role of a planned economy and state property and the smallest role of the market and private property.” The Cuban state has begun experimenting with land-use policies here and there, but still farmers are not free to choose what to grow, whom to sell to, or at what price. Even Richard Feinberg, a cheerleader for warmer ties with the Castros whose contempt for the dissidents is legendary (he recently said that they now must either negotiate with Raúl Castro or “perish”), admits that the regime’s reforms are puny. In a recent analysis he wrote, “Most land is firmly owned by the state, allowing just 15 percent for private farmers and another 7 percent for farmer cooperatives.” Small wonder, then, that just one third of Cuba’s arable land is being cultivated.

Another reform that has received much attention is the regime’s move to allow some Cubans to become self-employed. A closer look reveals, however, that self-employment remains a heavily regulated and highly taxed chimera. The government keeps a tight lid on which self-employment activities are permitted, giving the nod mostly to low-skill activities such as cleaning bathrooms. Most important, “university graduates cannot work on their own. Thus, an architect can be a taxi driver but not practice his or her trained profession privately”, says Mesa-Lago.

Moreover, the new co-ops that hire some private workers “must go through four bureaucratic stages to get approved and the final decision is left to the Council of Ministers”, reports Mesa-Lago. Furthermore, they are not really private-sector actors, because “the degree to which the co-ops will be fully independent from state intervention remains unclear.” In order to prevent private-sector growth, the tax on labor can reach 200 percent for co-ops with more than five employees. In short, the only reason any kind of private sector is being permitted at all is that an estimated 36 percent of the state labor force is superfluous to Cuba’s underdeveloped state-owned industrial sector. Unlike in China, according to Feinberg, foreigners cannot invest in or sell to the self-employed. “The Sino-Vietnamese reforms have advanced much more than Cuba’s in this area”, Mesa-Lago concludes.

Yes, Cubans in theory can now buy or sell their own house, also formerly forbidden. Here again, however, there is much less than meets the eye. After 55 years of communism, Cuba’s houses are in a bad state of disrepair. Some 230 structures collapse daily in Havana. Also, Cubans who want to buy a house must conduct their transaction through a state bank, supplying information that can be used against them by a regime they do not trust. On top of that, prices are well beyond the means of most Cubans. A low-end house might sell for as little as $5,000, but that amounts to 21 years’ worth of average wages. Small wonder that more houses are sold on the black market than in the legal one. As for building new homes, bureaucratic red tape means that Cubans must spend about 132 days at government offices to secure the necessary paperwork. Then they have to contend with shortages of materials, high prices, and shoddy quality.

As Feinberg concludes, “Cuba will remain a state-driven economy dominated by large government holding companies and the authorities will dictate the direction and the pace of change.”3 These holding companies will do business with capitalists overseas; indeed, this is how Raúl Castro can meld the Chinese model of crony capitalism with single-party rule. The holding companies all belong to members of the Cuban military, usually under the umbrella of the Grupo de Administración Empresarial, Sociedad Anonima (GAE.SA), the holding company that belongs to the Defense Ministry. Tourists who shop will do so at establishments that belong to TRD-Caribe. When they travel on the island or stay at hotels they will be dealing with Gaviota, and when they play golf they will give their greenbacks to CubaGolf. All three of these companies are under the GAE.SA umbrella.

Sitting atop GAE.SA is none other than CEO General Luis Alberto Rodriguez, Raúl Castro’s son-in-law. And behind all of them is the heir apparent, Raúl’s son Alejandro Castro Espin, who has let it be known that Cuba will not see an end to communism, nor to rule by the Castro family. “Alejandro Castro Espin has a different mentality than Raúl and Fidel Castro”, Guillermo Fariñas, an opposition member, told journalist Andres Oppenheimer this past February. “He wants to do like Vietnam, China or Russia, which have managed to get their enemy—the United States—to finance their dictatorships.”

The manner in which Communist Party rule was introduced in Cuba might lead some to conclude that the island was always more likely to follow the Russian and Chinese models. In Eastern Europe and the Baltics, Communist rule was imposed from without, by dint of the invading Soviet Red Army during World War II. In Russia and China, however, homegrown communist revolutionaries took power. These were, to varying degrees, popular communist-led revolts that followed on the heels of relatively short attempts to reform absolutist monarchical systems that had lasted for centuries.

The ideology the revolutionaries introduced may have been foreign, but the levers of power ultimately rested in the hands of men and women indigenous to China and Russia (with one notable exception in the latter case). Mao and the succession of Soviet leaders prior to the breakup of the Soviet Union may have been despots who implemented an absurd economic system, but they were not puppets of another state.

And, indeed, in Cuba the rebels who took Havana on New Year’s Eve 1959 were led by Cubans (again, with one notable exception, Ché Guevara). There the parallels break down, however. The guerrillas who accompanied Mao on the Long March in the 1930s and the Bolsheviks who overthrew the provisional Kerensky government in Moscow in 1917 were proud to call themselves communists. Not so with Fidel Castro and the other leaders. They went out of their way at first to insist they weren’t communists, even while they were busily nationalizing properties and implementing a Marxist blueprint through agrarian and urban reforms. Castro repeated his denials in English. During his 1959 trip to the United States, he asserted plainly: “I have said very clear that we’re not communists, very clear.”“I have said very clear that we’re not communists, very clear.”

Not until December 1961, after he was entrenched in power, did Fidel Castro admit on national television what the whole country already knew or suspected: “I am a Marxist-Leninist and shall be one until the end of my life.” Why he had to wait is easy to understand in the Cuban context. Cubans were mostly unhappy with the dictator Fulgencio Batista, but they had reason to be satisfied economically. As the Economist recognized in 2012, “In 1959 Cuba was one of the leading five Latin American countries on a range of socio-economic indicators. Life expectancy was close to that of the United States and it had more doctors per person than Britain and France.”

In terms of per capita food consumption, television sets per capita, literacy rates, and other indicators, Cuba was always among the top three in Latin America. And this wasn’t because a thinly layered upper class skewed the statistics. Its 58 national newspapers were the fifth-most in Latin America, in a country far smaller than Argentina, Brazil, or Mexico. Its inequality index was low by Latin standards—more than two times lower than Mexico’s and six times lower than Brazil’s—and it had steadily fallen during the democratic years of 1940–52, stabilizing (though not rising) during the Batista years.

This explains why, though he was welcomed initially, opposition to Castro’s expropriations grew so strong that hundreds of thousands fled and a police state had to be built to keep the rest in line. Indeed, throughout their long history, Cubans have repeatedly rebelled when absolutist leaders have tried to impose political and economic autarky; the desire for free trade and political freedom has persisted and won out in the end. An early outbreak of opposition came between 1717 and 1723 when vegueros, or tobacco planters, rebelled against the mercantilist policies introduced by the newly installed Bourbon King Philip V, whose colonial officials established el estanco, or a tobacco monopoly. Eleven of the rebels were hanged and their bodies were put on display on the roads leading to Havana. Hundreds of the vegueros fled west to get away from the monopoly’s reach and be free to trade with pirates. They settled in a region, Vuelta Abajo, unconnected by road to Havana. (By sheer chance, it turned out to be the best land in the world for growing tobacco.) Their flight presaged the Miami exodus by two and a half centuries.

As this brief history shows, Cubans are as inclined to freedom as East Europeans. Their dissidents are as admirable and numerous, too. This raises the following question: It is easy to understand why the Castros—Raúl, Alejandro, and what might be left of Fidel—prefer the Russian and Chinese models to the regime change in Eastern Europe, but why would Barack Obama?

Lack of support for pro-democracy dissidents overseas has been a hallmark of the Obama Administration since the beginning, starting with Iran in 2009. There is also the important fact that the dissidents-turned-leaders in Eastern Europe have been closely associated with the two most conservative of the past three Republican presidents, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Men such as Poland’s Lech Wałęsa, the Czech Republic’s Hável and Estonia’s Mart Laar embraced pro-American values and freedoms of speech, association, and religion. They were often eloquent in displaying gratitude to President Reagan for his support of their cause while they were under Moscow’s dominion, and to Presidents Clinton and Bush for accepting them into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as a guarantee against future Russian designs. Their attachment, however, was less to a party than to the values of the United States.

President Obama, however, has during most of his tenure seemed more eager to work with (“engage”) adversaries than with allies and friends. That includes, beyond the Iranian regime, the leaders of communist China and autocratic Russia. Obama has sought little contact and has developed no personal rapport with the freely elected leaders of Eastern Europe. He snubbed Poland and the Czech Republic by pulling out without prior consultation the anti-missile batteries they housed there. In Poland’s case, he announced the decision on the anniversary of the 1939 Soviet invasion of that country, an insult that will not soon be forgotten (and one to which the Administration was oblivious).

With Russia, Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attempted a snake-bitten “reset.” Obsequiousness has also failed to work with Beijing, which routinely ignores Washington. There is perhaps little reason to be surprised, then, that with Cuba President Obama’s team is reaching out to the regime even if doing so dampens any hope for an East European-style collapse of communist power.

This leaves an opening for those seeking to succeed Obama in the Oval Office. They can make it clear that they will revert to the traditional U.S. policy of standing up for opposition leaders, be they dissidents or formal party leaders, who put their lives on the line against tyranny and oppression. They can be clear that what they will work for in Cuba is the East European model of regime change, whether there are official diplomatic relations or not. They can refuse to lift the embargo until the Castros restore civil rights to the Cuban people—the freedoms of speech, association, elections, religion, and union formation—as called for in the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996.

Meanwhile, Congress can do its part by hanging tough on the Helms-Burton Act. It will be hard even for a Democratic nominee, whether Hillary Clinton or someone else, to actually campaign for a Caribbean version of the Russian or Chinese transitions.