National Review Editorial: Obama, Cuba and Us

Saturday, February 20, 2016
From The National Review's Editorial Board:

Obama, Cuba, and Us 

President Obama has announced that he will visit Cuba next month. This is a natural follow-on from his rapprochement with the Castro regime after our midterm elections in 2014.

In April of the next year, Obama said, “After the midterm elections, my advisers asked me, ‘Mr. President, do you have a bucket list?’ And I said, ‘Well, I have something that rhymes with “bucket list.” Exactly.

An opening to the Castro dictatorship was neither urgent nor necessary nor in the American interest. Obama simply wanted to do it. It was on his list. The dictatorship had been dreaming about this kind of rapprochement for well over half a century. So had the American Left.

Previous administrations had offered linkage: favors from Washington in exchange for liberalization in Cuba. Obama had next to no interest in linkage. He offered his favor to the Castros essentially for free.

Since the Obama opening, they have cracked down all the harder on democrats and dissidents. Oscar Biscet, the Cuban democracy leader, said, “I feel as though I have been abandoned on the battlefield.” Berta Soler, another democracy leader — the leader of the Ladies in White — said, “The European Union, the U.S.A., Pope Francis — they have turned their backs on us.” She also said that Obama had given “a green light to the Cuban government to crush civil society.”

It is the contention of Obama and others that U.S. policy over all these decades has not “worked.” By “worked,” they mean “toppled the regime.” Okay. But what Cuban democrats tend to say is, “At least the Americans haven’t helped the regime. That sets them apart from the Russians, the Western Europeans, the Canadians, and others. God bless them for it.”

Many of our citizens look forward to touring in Cuba. May they have a good time, sipping their mojitos on the beach and exploring what is sometimes euphemistically called “nightlife.” But remember, tourist dollars — or euros or whatever they are — are poured right into the regime, giving the Castros the oxygen they need to keep going.

That the Castros will direct much of that windfall to the persecution of their opponents seems to be of little concern to the administration. In recent months, David Thorne, a senior adviser to the current secretary of state, John Kerry, spoke of our new relationship with Cuba: “As in other parts of the world, we are really trying to also say, Let’s find out how we can work together and not always say that human rights are the first things that we have to fix before anything else.”

With that in mind, a big question about the president’s upcoming trip is whether he will meet with the dictator emeritus, Fidel. Fidel Castro is a hero to leftists all over the world. A rock star. Meeting with him, for the Left, is like meeting with Elvis. Che Guevara would be possibly better, but he is no longer available.

Arguably, Obama has an opportunity to do good in Cuba. He can insist on meeting with democrats and dissidents. He can insist on spotlighting political prisoners, if not outright visiting them. Last September, Pope Francis snubbed the democracy movement. The movement was terribly demoralized. Obama probably can’t get away with a total snub. But will he do more than the minimum? More than pay lip service?

Between Democrats and Republicans, there are many and sharp differences, including on Communism. Consider that a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, Bernie Sanders, honeymooned in the Soviet Union. And that the mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, honeymooned in Cuba.

Among the Republican candidates for president are two Cuban Americans, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. The latter has made an interesting proposal: to rename the street in front of the Castros’ new embassy in Washington, D.C., after Oswaldo Paya — who was a Cuban democracy leader killed in 2012, almost certainly by the regime. We hope someone who can distinguish between Cuba’s oppressed and its oppressors occupies the White House next.

Until then, there is little recourse. This is what Barack Obama does. This is who he is. In this last couple of years, he is crossing off the items on his rhymes-with-bucket list. On to Tehran.