Obama's Cuba policy makes life worse for Cubans
By Jeff Jacoby GLOBE COLUMNIST DECEMBER 24, 2015
WHEN PRESIDENT OBAMAdeclared 12 months ago that he intended to normalize
relations with Cuba, he claimed that rapprochement with the Castro
regime would uphold America's "commitment to liberty and democracy."
Liberalizing US policy, the president predicted, would succeed "in
making the lives of ordinary Cubans a little bit easier, more free, more
He affirmed that message seven months later, as he announced the
reopening of the US embassy in Havana. Life on the island might not be
"transformed overnight," Obama conceded, but he had no doubt that more
engagement was the best way to advance democracy and human rights for
Cuba's people. "This," said the president, "is what change looks like."
The Obama administration's year-long outreach to Cuba has certainly been
frenetic. The American flag was raised over the US embassy in August,
and in Washington the Cuban embassy was reopened. President Obama held a
face-to-face meeting with Raul Castro during the Summit of the Americas
in Panama. The State Department removed Cuba from its list of state
sponsors of terrorism. Restrictions were eased on travel to Cuba by
Americans, resulting in a 54 percent increase in trips this year. Three
Cabinet members — the secretaries of state, agriculture, and commerce —
were dispatched on separate missions to Cuba. And plans have been
announced to resume direct mail service and commercial air travel
between the two countries.
The Castro brothers snapped up all these treats. They will gladly pocket
more of them. But there has been no hint of the expanded freedom and
democratic reforms that Obama's engagement was supposed to unlock.
Cuba remains the only dictatorship in the Americas, as repressive and
hostile to human rights as ever. More repressive, in fact: Over the past
12 months, the government's harassment of dissidents and democracy
activists has ballooned. In November, according to Amnesty
International, there were nearly 1,500 political arrests or arbitrary
detentions of peaceful human-rights protesters. That was the highest
monthly tally in years, more than double the average of 700 political
detentions per month recorded in 2014.
On Dec. 10 — International Human Rights Day — Cuban security police
arrested between 150 and 200 dissidents, in many cases beating the
prisoners they seized. As is usually the case, those attacked by the
regime's goons included members of the respected Ladies in White, an
organization of wives, mothers, and sisters of jailed dissidents. The
women, dressed in white, attend Mass each week, then walk silently
through the streets to protest the government's lawlessness and
brutality. Even the United Nations, which frequently turns a blind eye
to the depredations of its member-states, condemned the Cuban
government's "extraordinary disdain" for civil norms, and deplored the
"many hundreds" of warrantless arrests in recent weeks.
But from the Obama administration there has been no such condemnation.
One might have thought that the White House would make it a priority to
give moral support and heightened recognition to the Cubans who most
embody the "commitment to liberty and democracy" that the president has
invoked. But concern for Cuba's courageous democrats has plainly not
been a priority. Particularly disgraceful was Secretary of State John
Kerry's refusal to invite any dissidents or human-rights advocates to
the flag-raising ceremony at the US embassy in August. To exclude them,
as The Washington Post observed, was a dishonorable gesture of
appeasement to the hemisphere's nastiest regime — "a sorry tip of the
tat to what the Castros so vividly stand for: diktat, statism, control,
and rule by fear."
For all the president's talk about using engagement and trade to promote
the cause of liberty and civil rights in Cuba, his policy of détente has
been wholly one-sided. In an interview with Yahoo! News this month, he
was asked what concessions Havana has made over the past year. He
couldn't think of any.
"Look," he said with an exasperated sigh, "our original theory on this
was not that we were going to see immediate changes or loosening of
control of the Castro regime, but rather that, over time, you'd lay the
predicates for substantial transformation."
Cubans aren't holding their breath. Tens of thousands of them, realizing
that normalization will do nothing to loosen the Castros' grip, have
fled the country. More than 45,000 Cubans arrived at US border
checkpoints in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30; thousands more are
trying to reach the United States by traveling through Central America
or taking to the sea. It is the largest wave of Cuban migrants in
decades. The American president may believe in "predicates for
substantial transformation" and other such amulets and charms. Cuba's
people know better.
We should know better too.
As a candidate for president, Obama promised a Cuba policy that would
"be guided by one word: Libertad." If the regime in Havana wanted the
benefits of normalization, he vowed, it would first have to accept
democratic reforms. But Obama's foreign policy toward Cuba, like his
policies toward Iran and Russia and Syria, turned out to be far more
about accommodating despots, far less about upholding Western norms. His
years in office have coincided with a worldwide retreat of democratic
freedoms; why would Cuba be an exception?
It is clear now that the only change Obama craved in Cuba was a change
in America's go-it-alone stance. Normalization was desirable for its own
sake, not as a means to leverage freedom for Cuba's people.
Last week, 126 former Cuban dissidents wrote a letter pleading with
Obama to reconsider his approach. Showering the Castro regime with so
many benefits, they warned, will "prolong the life of the dictatorship,"
even as it "marginaliz[es] the democratic opposition." Alas, that
doesn't trouble the president nearly as much as it troubles them. He's
on his way out, and no longer has to pretend to care about the fate of
Jeff Jacoby can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter
Source: Obama's Cuba policy makes life worse for Cubans - The Boston