Does Obama Want to Give Gitmo to the Castros?

Saturday, February 27, 2016
By Benny Avni in The New York Post:

Does Obama want to give Gitmo to the Castros?

It didn’t take long for the two Cuban-American presidential contenders to smell a Havana rat.

“You wake up this morning to the news that the president is planning to close Guantánamo — maybe even giving it back to the Cuban government,” Marco Rubio said Tuesday while campaigning in Las Vegas.

Dropping the “maybe,” Ted Cruz said at a Reno rally, “I believe that President Obama intends to try to give the Guantánamo naval facility to Raúl and Fidel Castro as a parting gift.”

Indeed, a diplomat familiar with the administration’s Cuba maneuvering tells me the White House has seriously considered giving in to Raúl Castro’s demand to hand over Guantánamo. America has controlled the naval base since 1903. Since the 1959 revolution, the Cuban government has said Guantánamo is an occupied territory that must be returned.

Most recently, Raúl Castro demanded turning Gitmo over as a condition for renewing relations.

White House officials say that, yes, Obama believes the detention facility should be closed down — but no, not the naval base. Raúl opened a US embassy last year anyway. So unless there’s some secret deal to change all that during Obama’s March 21 visit, let’s assume that, for now, we still have the base.

And remember: Even closing the detention center is far from a done deal. For one, Congress has ruled out any transfer of detainees to US soil. That’s unlikely to change in an election year. So what to do with the 91 terrorists still held at Guantanamo, like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, known as the brain behind 9/11?

In fact, Obama’s entire Cuba strategy is just as tough to implement as his “shut Gitmo” gambit.

The administration insisted that replacing an unproductive embargo with enlightened engagement would lead to much-needed Cuban reforms. That promise is fizzling faster than a Caribbean tropical storm.

Since Obama announced his Cuba détente in late 2014, the Castros have rounded up regime critics faster than ever before, jailing and beating anyone who dares protest. Obama said he’ll raise human-rights issues while on the island; Wednesday, Havana allowed seven dissidents to travel and see Obama (rejecting requests from four other detainees), but a meeting with regime critics while in Cuba is unlikely.

The Castros not only ignore the sensibilities of visiting dignitaries. They seem to enjoy poking them in the eye: Soon after Pope Francis left the island last fall, and after Raúl Castro said playfully that he may have discovered God, the regime launched a campaign of church-closing, rounding up the faithful.

Yet the pontiff, who helped broker Obama’s opening to Cuba, remains the go-between who helps tweak the Washington-Havana thaw.

Not that it’s working very well for Cubans. Most restrictions levied by Congress since the revolution remain and aren’t likely to be removed even if Hillary Clinton wins the White House and Democrats recapture a majority in one house of Congress in November. The island’s notorious centralized economy isn’t improving.

Cubans hear a lot of promises of a rosy future. They’d rather have food.

Need more proof that the Obama spring is yet far off? If you live in Cuba, look no further than your local beisbol columns. They report that earlier this month the isle’s top infielder, Yulierski Gourriel, left the national team while playing in the Dominican Republic. He won’t return.

Gourriel, a slugger who’s always dreamed of playing for a major league team (preferably the Yankees), has waited patiently for hostilities between America and Cuba to end. He was largely expected to be the first Cuban to be drafted by a US team without defecting.

Now he’s defected. Readers of Granma, the regime’s mouthpiece that has survived the Internet age, will be disappointed to learn that their idol now plans to “surrender to the merchants of professional baseball for profit.”

Baseball Spring? Press freedom? Religious rights? Liberalized economy leading to a better standard of living and more openness to the rest of the world? Not as long as the Castros are alive.

And Obama’s opening is doing nothing to change any of that. If anything, his historic “breakthrough” is pushing any Cuban renaissance further into the future. But hey, his visit next month will mark a historic event — a first sitting president visiting, and donning Cuban guayaberas, since 1928.

Now, that’s a legacy.