Has Obama Forgotten About Human Rights in Cuba?
BY JOSÉ R. CÁRDENAS JULY 27, 2015 - 2:56 PM
Seven months after President Obama announced his intention to normalize
U.S.-Cuba relations, dissidents and human rights activists on the island
are already saying they've been abandoned. Last week, the Associated
Press ran a story headlined "Cuban Dissidents Feel Sidelined as U.S.
Focuses on State Ties," which reported that "more than 20 U.S. lawmakers
have come to Cuba since February without meeting with opposition groups
that once were an obligatory stop for congressional delegations."
Indeed, it is not hard to see why human rights have been moved to the
back burner. Much of the reporting and analysis of President Obama's new
policy has focused on normalization and reconciliation with the Castro
regime as ends in themselves — as in, letting Cold War bygones be
bygones, accepting the status quo in Cuba, and, meanwhile, it's peace
and mojitos for our time.
That is not the way President Obama presented it last December, or even
at the beginning of July, when he said, "I believe that American
engagement — through our embassy, our businesses, and most of all,
through our people — is the best way to advance our interests and
support for democracy and human rights."
Yet, somehow, what began as a strategy to support democracy and human
rights has morphed into one of building "mutual respect" between the
U.S. and the Castro regime, as John Kerry put it in hosting the Cuban
Foreign Minister at the State Department last week.
Let's be clear: supporting democracy and human rights in Cuba and
building "mutual respect" with the regime are utterly incompatible, no
matter how artfully White House spinsters put it. Interestingly, not a
single administration spokesperson has to date been able to articulate
just how Obama's new approach is supposed to work, so let me take a crack.
The administration is taking the Castro regime's propaganda at face
value that the Cuban opposition has been created in Washington and its
goal is to promote regime change. By assuring the Castro brothers that
Washington doesn't indeed seek their overthrow, then that will allow a
level of comfort to the regime to be more tolerant of opposition and
their demands. Meanwhile, supporting existing micro-enterprises will
create an inexorable force for change on the island as more economically
independent Cubans will begin to petition their government for redress
of their grievances and, slowly, peaceful, orderly change will come to Cuba.
If only the world worked as agreeably as a theory developed in an
In any case, leaving aside important questions as what could possibly be
the regime's interest in democratization or why it otherwise would be a
willing participant in its own undoing, I'll take the president at his
word that his goal is democracy and human rights for Cuba. However, if
that is truly the case, then he is seriously in need of resurrecting
that purpose as the lodestar of his policy, as legions of Castro
apologists are threatening to hijack his effort to provide nothing but
succor to the Cuban regime.
The president can first reassert control over his policy by ensuring
that members of Cuba's beleaguered dissident community are invited to
the flag-raising ceremony to take place at the U.S. diplomatic mission
in Havana on Aug. 14. With Secretary of State John Kerry to be in
attendance, it will overwhelmingly be the hottest ticket in town and
command worldwide media attention. The presence of Cuban dissidents will
send an unmistakable signal that the United States sees them as
legitimate actors in the Cuban political process — and put the regime on
notice that their continued abuse of dissidents will put the onus on
them for a failure in his outreach.
The second thing the administration needs to make abundantly clear is
that any U.S. presidential visit to Cuba before Obama leaves office is
predicated on exactly that, the regime's behavior towards dissidents:
they must stop assaulting them on a daily basis.
It is a fact that the regime's behavior since Obama's decision has
only worsened, as they have read the same headlines we all have,
seemingly portraying the administration as de-prioritizing human rights.
A very clear signal to the regime that the U.S. has in no way lessened
its commitment will reinvigorate the dissident community and serve
better than any other policy prescription to advance U.S. ultimate
interests in Cuba.
It is quite clear the White House sees the president's Cuba initiative
as part of securing his legacy. But history will not record if
normalizing relations simply led to better co-operation with the Castro
regime on transitory issues, but only if it led to transformative change
in Cuba. If that is the case, it is difficult to see how marginalizing
those Cubans who share his vision for a different Cuba will achieve what
he has ostensibly set out to accomplish.
Source: Has Obama Forgotten About Human Rights in Cuba? | Foreign Policy