Did The Kerry Visit To Cuba Matter?
by Elliott Abrams
August 17, 2015
Secretary of State Kerry traveled to Havana to raise the flag at the
U.S. Embassy there last week. As has been noted here in this blog and in
many news articles and columns, no dissidents or human rights activists
were invited to the ceremony.
It's fair to ask if that sends any kind of signal to the regime. The
fear would be that it expresses a lack of interest in, or at least a
refusal to give much priority to, how the Castro regime treats those
struggling peacefully for democracy and human rights in Cuba.
How might we judge the answer? Here's how:
Less than 48 hours after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shunned
Cuban dissidents from the U.S. Embassy in Havana, over 200 dissidents
have been arrested. In Havana, 60 members of The Ladies in White, the
renowned pro-democracy group composed of the wives, mothers and
daughters of Cuban political prisoners, were arrested — along with
nearly 20 other activists. Among those arrested were Berta Soler, leader
of The Ladies in White; Antonio Rodiles, of Estado de Sats; and Jorge
Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez" of the National Resistance Front. Some of
The Ladies in White, such as Yaqueline Boni, were brutally beaten in
custody. Others severely beaten include Ciro Alexis Casanova, Jose Diaz
Silva and Mario Alberto Hernandez.
Those facts come from a report by Capitol Hill Cubans, found here. The
only real defense of Kerry might be that the regime arrests and beats
people all the time anyway, so it's impossible to say this would not
have happened even if some of these people had been invited to the
flag-raising at the new U.S. Embassy.
Some defense. Experience with communist and other dictatorships has long
been that American support for and interaction with dissidents helps
them and protects them. Naming them individually does as well, in their
common view. In his 1975 Nobel lecture, accepting the Peace Prize,
Andrei Sakharov ended his speech by naming–one by one–about one hundred
political prisoners. His wife Elena Bonner, who actually read that
speech for Sakharov because he was forbidden from leaving the Soviet
Union, later said "the listing of names brought joy to the prisoners of
conscience, and to their relatives. More important, it somewhat
protected them from the camp administration."
So Kerry missed his chance, and his actions in Havana arguably worsened
the situation of dissidents there by suggesting a lack of interest in
them and their plight. There were many things he could have done while
there, ranging from the daring and heroic to the marginally useful. He
did say, during the ceremony, that "We remain convinced the people of
Cuba would be best served by a genuine democracy, where people are free
to choose their leaders," and those words like the entire ceremony were
broadcast in Cuba. He did meet with human rights activists at a separate
reception, as well. Then he did a walking tour of Old Havana, and "After
Kerry visited a shop in a boutique hotel, an aide was seen carrying out
bags of what appeared to be three bottles of rum, cigar boxes and a
Bottom line: Mr. Kerry did the minimum he could really get away with.
Think what the impact might have been had he insisted that at least some
of the human rights and democracy activists must be present at the
official ceremony, or had he in his remarks specifically mentioned the
Ladies in White or some of the political prisoners. The reaction of the
Castro regime to the Kerry visit is clearly visible already–in those
arrests. He had an opportunity to do the minimum he needed to do on
human rights in Cuba, or to do something bold and historic and
memorable. He made the wrong choice.
Source: Pressure Points » Did The Kerry Visit To Cuba Matter? -