Obama's Cuba Policy Met By Crackdown in Cuba

Saturday, January 16, 2016
By Ellen Bork in The World Affairs Journal:

Obama's Cuba Policy Met By Crackdown in Cuba

The Obama administration is continuing to drop heavy hints that the president will go to Cuba, and that he believes his presence would make be a big, perhaps decisive factor, in getting the Castro regime to end its repression of the Cuban people. According to the New York Times, “Administration officials believe that, rather than waiting for the Castro government in Cuba to loosen its grip on power before making a presidential visit there, Mr. Obama can use his presence to help create momentum toward democracy that the Castros will be unable to stop.” The Times story echoes the interview the president gave on December 14th, in which he said that he hoped to visit Cuba in 2016. The purpose of his trip, the president said, would be “to shine a light on progress that’s been made, but also maybe [go] there to nudge the Cuban government in a new direction.”

It needs more than nudging. Since the president’s launch of a new approach to the Castro regime one year ago, the human rights situation has deteriorated. One hundred protesters were arrested on December 10th, International Human Rights Day. Overall, arrests are on pace to exceed the 2014 total, which was a record.

Then, on December 20th, Antonio G. Rodiles was arrested after a march. Rodiles had just returned from a visit to the US during which he met with members of Congress, the State Department, and the Washington Post. (Rodiles has also written for this publication.) Speaking to Mike Gonzalez of the Heritage Foundation by telephone from Havana after spending five hours in jail, Rodiles said he had been charged with “public disorder” and fined, steps he believes are preliminary to having his passport confiscated. “It had everything to do with the meetings I had in Washington,” he told Gonzalez. “Things are going to get worse.”

In his interview, Obama told Olivier Knox of Yahoo! News that he would make the trip to Havana only if he were able to meet democracy and human rights activists, or as he put it, “talk to everybody.” However, it’s hard not to be skeptical about the conditions the president would accept for such a visit. After inspiring initial rhetoric about freedom and democracy in speeches, these have hardly been a top priorities for his presidency. When Secretary of State John Kerry went to reopen the American Embassy in Havana, dissidents and activists were excluded from the ceremony, apparently because the Cuban government opposed it.

If the president wants to shine a light on what’s happening in Cuba and meet with critics of the Castro regime, he can do so without getting on a plane. One hundred and twenty-six former Cuban political prisoners wrote to him on December 16th to tell him that his Cuba policy “will prolong the life of the dictatorship.” They believe that the Obama policy is bolstering the Castro regime economically and politically. Added together, the time they spent in the Castros’ prisons exceeds 1,900 years.

Over the past year, the president has been more focused on changing American policies than Cuba’s. Thanks to him, the word “legacy” is taking on a new meaning in the political lexicon: elevating the image of success above substantive goals and US interests. That’s bad enough. Even worse, people struggling for freedom under repressive regimes will no longer wish for support from an American president.