As they say, only Nixon could open China – can only Barack Obama open Cuba?
Although the President had pledged to visit the island nation only if their human rights record improved (it hasn’t), he will make the journey next month anyway, alongside the Rolling Stones and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who will, I assume, prove to the world that Cuba is not the dictatorial hellhole so many have escaped from over the last several decades, but rather a free-thinker’s paradise of fun and frivolity, obviously competitive with the larger world.
President Barack Obama has made it official: He is going to Cuba next month.
“I’ll travel to Cuba to advance our progress and efforts that can improve the lives of the Cuban people,” the president announced on Twitter Thursday morning.
“We still have differences with the Cuban government that I will raise directly,” Obama said. “America will always stand for human rights around the world.”
The president and first lady Michelle Obama are expected to arrive March 21 and stay through the following day. The trip will be followed by a two-day stopover in Argentina.
The timetable will put him in Cuba during a week when Havana is awash in special events. On the 20th, the Rolling Stones are expected to conclude their Latin America tour with a concert in Cuba and on March 22, Cuba’s national baseball team will play the Tampa Bay Rays in Havana. It’s unclear whether the president will attend the baseball game.
To me, this is more a fast-forward on his “Cuba initiative,” locking in a “success” that he can trumpet on the speaking circuit once he leaves office, than it is a worthwhile endeavor. Cuba’s position on dissidents – especially those who value democracy – hasn’t changed, and the Castro regime has continue to imprison and torture those who push for freedom. They still have no problem arresting and imprisoning people who fight for basic human dignity and human rights, freedom of the press, and political enemies.
The Pope, who recently visited Cuba, is more uniquely positioned to move the country forward. As a religious leader, he has no “foreign policy” to protect, and little national interest he must preserve, so he can work more effectively as a catalyst for Cuba’s re-entry into the modern world, even if the effort seems in vain. A President has constituents, countrymen, whose interest is paramount – above this sort of effort – and whose safety, security and personal experience should inform the President’s decisions. When I had the opportunity to speak with Cuban refugees in Miami last year, their answer to whether Cuba should be “opened” was universal: the Cuban people deserve to interact with the world, but the Castros should not be rewarded. Open Cuba when the Castros are out of power. Until then, opening Cuba is merely a reward for a dangerous, dictatorial regime.
Americans aren’t in such a hurry to get Cuban cigars that we need to push Cuba’s “opening” forward, ahead of any real change (plus, Castro uprooted all the tobacco to plant sugar cane, a more profitable crop – the smart farmers took their “Cuban seed” tobacco to the Dominican Republic, whose cigars are now, thanks to such incredible foresight, far superior to Cuba’s). If the President wants a real, lasting change in the Western hemisphere’s last remaining Communist dictatorship, he needs to move slow. Slow won’t get his name on the side of many libraries, I know, but it will make all the difference. Unfortunately, I don’t believe the President thinks in terms of any lasting legacy, except his own.