This is not the time to go to Cuba, Mr. President
Planned trip to Cuba in March would make Obama look weak.
U.S. has gotten short end of ‘normalization’ deal.
There will be time for such a trip, but that time is not now.
BY MICHAEL PUTNEY
President Obama wants to go to Cuba in the worst way. And it will be in
the worst way if he visits Havana this spring before the Castro
government has made substantial improvements on human rights. Which they
show no willingness to do.
Nevertheless, Obama is planning a trip to Cuba in March, according to
deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes. He says the president would
like to see movement on human rights before he goes, but believes his
presence there will force rights concessions by the Castro government.
That assumption belies more than five decades of revolutionary
misadventures, marathon speeches scalding the United States, spy
networks, diplomatic deceptions and a missile crisis that almost caused
nuclear Armageddon. Los hermanos Castro have a long history of sucker
punching American presidents. And getting away with it.
But President Obama wants his Nixon-in-China moment, a foreign policy
victory for the ages and he’ll pay any price to get it. He evidently
thinks his very presence in Cuba will be a kind of freedom toothpaste
that Raúl will not be able to put back in the tube. Obama’s visit may
inspire ordinary Cubans with expectations of hope and change, but what
does Raúl want? U.S. dollars to prop up an aging, authoritarian regime.
Obama will be greeted with a big abrazo from Raúl, who will have
accomplished what his brother Fidel could not: Luring an American
president to Cuba with afalse promise of openness, making him look
credulous and naive, After Obama’s gone, Raúl will be laughing all the
way to the World Bank. And the International Monetary Fund.
In the year since the new relationship was announced, the U.S. appears
to have made all the concessions. Cuba, as far as anyone can tell, has
made none that matter. U.S.-owned properties seized by Fidel after he
took power? Nope, still in Cuban hands. U.S. criminals like Joanne
Chesimard who’ve been given safe haven? Still there. Ladies in White and
other pro-democracy dissidents? Still being harassed, beaten, detained
and jailed. Raúl promised the old guard that nothing would change and he
has kept his word. Nothing important has. The so-called “dialogue” about
normalization has been una calle en sola direccion, a one-way street.
At the same time there’s been an even harsher crackdown on pro-democracy
activists. The Cuban Commission on Human Rights says there were 930
political arrests in December, nearly twice as many as in the same month
a year ago. Altogether, the CCHR says more than 8,600 dissidents were
arrested in 2015. With barely a peep from the Obama administration.
I recently asked the top U.S. diplomat in Cuba, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, if
he had raised the issue of human rights abuses with his Cuban
counterparts. He smiled and said they’d had some “lively conversations.”
That’s diplo speak for serious arguments. And yet, there’ve been no
concessions on rights by Castro regime.
U.S. visitors, meanwhile, have poured into Havana and beyond in record
numbers for “people-to-people” visits since tourism is still not
allowed. U.S. airlines will soon resume regular flights. Cruise ships
will dock. Agricultural and other U.S. business interests are itching to
get in. Their allies in Congress want Cuba to be able to buy on credit,
which has been forbidden until now. For the Cuban government, the new
relationship has been a godsend since Venezuela’s economy is in tatters
and their oil subsidy worth considerably less.
What has the U.S. gotten in return? Talks on drug trafficking, property
claims and an agreement on environmental matters. A resumption of mail
service. A broad agreement on direct flights. Not bad, but not much. The
prime beneficiary so far is the Cuban government, not the Cuban people. .
Obama’s strategy is to improve the lives of the Cuban people while
by-passing their government. Sadly, that’s almost impossible. Cubans did
catch a break when Raúl allowed licenses (out of economic necessity) for
a wave of cuentapropistas, small business owners who’ve shown remarkable
grit and resourcefulness. Some have been quietly helped with expert
advice and encouragement from Miami health care mogul Mike Fernandez and
former U.S.. Commerce Sec. Carlos Gutierrez. They and about a dozen
other prominent Cuban American business executives put aside old
grievances to help nascent Cuban entrepreneurs in the hope of creating a
self-sufficient civil society
That may also be President Obama’s goal, but he’ll look weak and
feckless if he goes to Cuba before the Castro regime takes its boot off
the neck of Cubans who simply want more freedom. Who want the right to
speak and publish freely. To come together without fear of harassment
from government thugs. To vote for candidates of their choice in free
elections. Visiting Cuba before any of these things happen will put the
presidential imprimatur on the repressive status quo.
The time may come when a visit to Cuba by an American president is
called for. That time is not now.
Source: This is not the time to go to Cuba, Mr. President | Miami Herald