WSJ: Behind the President’s Visit to Havana

Sunday, March 20, 2016
By Mary Anastasia O'Grady in The Wall Street Journal:

Behind the President’s Visit to Havana 

The spectacle is designed to pressure Congress into lifting the Cuban embargo.

President Obama travels to Havana this week in an effort to extract concessions, not from Communist Cuba, but from the U.S. Congress. To that end, get ready for what the late, great entertainment host Ed Sullivan might have called “a really big shew.”

Keep in mind as this extravaganza unfurls over the next couple of days that some foreigners who have been critical of the regime, including your humble columnist, are barred from reporting from the island.

On Dec. 17, 2014, Mr. Obama announced that he would normalize relations between the U.S. and Cuba. He also said that the U.S. embargo—which prohibits foreign direct investment in Cuba by Americans, credit for Cuba from U.S. financial institutions, and Cuban sales of goods to the U. S.—should be lifted.

The dictatorship loves the idea. But Congress believes that before there are American investments in Cuba the regime ought to pay for the property it stole after the 1959 revolution, and ensure basic human-rights for Cubans. Since Congress still passes the laws in this country, Mr. Obama’s capitalism for the Castros remains uncertain until U.S. lawmakers capitulate.

The regime-choreographed spectacle, in which Mr. Obama will play the lead role, is designed to make Americans comfortable with underwriting the masters of the plantation—and to make Congress appear unreasonable.

Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes says the aim of the trip is to make the Obama administration’s Cuba policies “irreversible.” On Cuba’s part there is nothing to reverse. Since Mr. Obama launched his détente, the regime has doubled down on its long-standing practices of denying employment to dissidents as well as beating, torturing and jailing them.

The Obama administration boasts that it negotiated the liberation of 53 political prisoners in 2014. But more than half of those have been rearrested, and four who received multiyear sentences were exiled last week. In 2015 there were more than 8,600 political detentions, and in the first two months of this year there were 2,555, according to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

On March 13, the secret police in Havana again set upon the Ladies in White, a group of peaceful dissidents. One member, Aliuska Gómez, told the online newspaper Diario de Cuba about her arrest. “After they had taken away all of my belongings,” she said, “they told me to strip naked, and I refused . . . so they threw me down on the floor and took off all of my clothing, right in front of two men” and “they dragged me completely naked into a jail cell.” That alone should have been enough for Mr. Obama to cancel his trip.

The regime will turn out plenty of compliant Cubans who will tell reporters that the embargo is the source of Cuban poverty. Mr. Obama has invited some dissidents to the U.S. Embassy but over the weekend the dictatorship warned them not to attend. Yet even if there is a U.S nod to the opposition, there also will be a wink, as the president poses with the dictator along with members of the Colombian terrorist group FARC—invited by Mr. Obama—at a baseball game and pushes for U.S. policies that will finance the totalitarian apparatus.

The big lie will be that by legalizing commercial and banking relations with Cuba, the U.S. will empower the Cuban people. The opposite is true.

Raúl Castro legalized a narrow number of economic activities for the purpose of putting to work millions of Cubans the bankrupt state can no longer “employ.” But these businesses, such as selling fruit and shining shoes, are not allowed to hire employees, and they are only legal as long as they remain the urban equivalent of subsistence farming.

If there is a great capital infusion from the U.S., it can flow only to state-owned monopolies. U.S. hotel chains, for example, will become minority partners with the Cuban military, which owns the tourism industry.

Visitors to the island are charged in hard currency, but Cubans who work in tourism are hired and paid by the state in all-but-worthless pesos. They can’t form independent unions. The big profits go to the Castro mafia, which uses some of the money to run the repressive intelligence network necessary to contain rebellion and keeps the rest for personal gain. Last week Mr. Obama stepped up to help the Castros move these profits around the international banking system by lifting the U.S. ban on facilitating their dollar transactions.

None of this will liberate Cubans, who are voting on the matter with their feet. Some 51,011 undocumented Cubans arrived in the U.S. in 2015, an 84% increase over the previous year. An additional 20,000 entered the country with visas.

As the first U.S. presidential visit to Cuba in 88 years, the Obama journey will be historic. But if he doesn’t call out the racist, Marxist dictatorship and call for the liberation of the Cuban people it will live in infamy. We can all hope.