Saturday, February 20, 2016

An American President in Cuba

An American President in Cuba

President Obama spoke passionately last year about the importance of
term limits during a visit to Africa, where he argued that "nobody
should be president for life." His administration has been more muted on
this issue in Latin America, where a handful of leaders have become
strongmen disinclined to share or relinquish power.

Next month, when he becomes the first American president to visit Cuba
in 88 years, Mr. Obama will have an opportunity to make that point
closer to home. As an American president who is wildly popular in Cuba,
his message about democratic traditions, leadership and power stands to
resonate powerfully.

He should challenge President Raúl Castro of Cuba, who has vowed to step
down in 2018, to set the stage for a political transition in which all
Cubans are given a voice and a vote. He should urge Cubans of all
ideologies to start debating their differences constructively, ending
the repression of those who are critical of the regime.

Mr. Obama should note that Cuba's leaders could be doing far more to
revitalize the island's languishing economy, which would stem the flow
of people seeking to leave for better futures elsewhere. And he should
tell Cubans that they deserve better than leaders picked by the
Communist Party who are unaccountable to their people.

The relatively small faction in Congress that continues to favor a
punitive policy toward Cuba has stubbornly stood in the way of efforts
to repeal the embargo against the island. Those critics contend that Mr.
Obama's visit to Cuba will be interpreted as a validation of a
repressive regime. That is shortsighted.
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The United States has sought for decades to bring about regime change in
Cuba through a series of failed strategies that included the use of
force and subterfuge. Those policies failed and gave Cuban leaders a
pretext to run the country like a police state.

Mr. Obama and a growing number of American politicians have come to
recognize that the United States is ill equipped to dictate how leaders
of sovereign nations should govern, and is more effective when it leads
by example and champions those who fight peacefully for dignity and

Mr. Obama's short trip is unlikely to spark overnight reforms in Cuba.
But it has the potential to do more to plant the seeds for
transformational change than any of his predecessors ever achieved.

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