Cuban dissidents have reportedly been forbidden from meeting with President Obama during his trip to Cuba, some apparently placed under house arrest to prevent going to such meetings. The Cuban government’s orders were not issued out of fear of what Obama would say to them, rather out of concern that they might disturb Obama’s preconceived notions of how Cuba is faring since his reopening of diplomatic relations last year.
For the Castro government there’s no concern that Obama, in his coming speech to the Cuban people, would demand that they be given freedom, that a democratic government replace the old-style communism of the Castros replicated only in North Korea and China, or that the Cuban people be allowed access to news, Internet, and telephone services that might open Cuba to the kind of speech, thought, and debate that enable freedom. No, there’s no worry about that.
Obama, the first American president to visit Cuba in about ninety years, has chosen a different mission for himself: to teach Latin America the lesson he’s taught the Russians, the Chinese, the Iranians and North Koreans, that the United States will grant major diplomatic, military, and economic concessions without receiving any in return.
We don’t know, for example, if Joanne Chesimard was in the crowd welcoming Obama. Chesimard, the convicted killer of a New Jersey state cop, escaped from prison and fled to Cuba in 1979, where she has lived in freedom along with several other American escaped felons. Obama didn’t demand their return before reopening diplomatic relations or in preparation for his trip.
Obama’s friendship toward the repressive Castro gang is not new. Go back to 2009, his first year as president. When Honduran President Manuel Zelaya’s term of office ran out, he refused to leave office and claimed control of the nation’s military. But when the Honduran Supreme Court, backed by a near-unanimous congress, ordered the military to throw the bum out, they complied, exiling him to Costa Rica.
Instead of praising Hondurans’ respect for democracy, their own constitution and laws, Obama sided with Fidel Castro by condemning their actions as a coup d’état. Obama’s action then established an important element of his foreign policy, siding with our enemies against democracy and freedom.
The Castro regime has been busily repainting the buildings Obama will see and repaving streets he’ll travel. What Obama won’t see is the crushing poverty communism has created in Cuba.
Since 1960, when President Eisenhower broke diplomatic relations with Cuba and declared an embargo on exports to it, Cuba has been our dedicated enemy. In 1962, President Kennedy announced a complete trade embargo on Cuba that included a prohibition against travel there. The embargo has been effective in preventing the migration of American technology and progress to Cuba.
But Cuba traded freely with the Soviet Union and its satellites, as well as many European nations. When the Soviet Union fell apart in 1989, Cuba’s crutch was abruptly kicked away from its legs. Venezuela tried to step in under Hugo Chavez (who was Castro on steroids), but even free oil from Venezuela couldn’t prop Cuba up for long. Now even that support is withdrawn.
About six months ago, a friend of mine went on one of the Cuba trips for business leaders now encouraged by Obama. What he heard and saw left him with the strongest impression of how badly off the Cuban people are.
When you ask a Cuban the date, he told me, they don’t say “May 15, 2015” or whatever we’d say. They answer that it’s “May 15, in the sixty-second year of the Revolution.” They have been conditioned to say that, and fear saying anything else.
He described the food his delegation was served in stark words: beans, rice, and some sausage of indescribable origin. Remember, these were business leaders the Cubans wanted to impress.
His overall description of Cuba is a nation effectively enslaved by poverty. Cubans may not literally be starving, but they hunger for food, for clothing, and for the ability to live without fear of arrest for opposing the Castro regime. They are impoverished in the way communism always impoverishes its subjects.
My old friend, Jose Sorzano, was deputy UN ambassador to Jeane Kirkpatrick during the Reagan administration. Cuban-American, Jose is fierce in his opposition to the Castro government and his characterizations of Obama.
Sorzano’s description of the Cuban people’s oppression begins with, “It’s the ‘no hay, ‘no te toca’ economy.” In English that means whenever a Cuban goes to a store, be it a grocery store, clothing store or wherever, the answer is the same: “there isn’t any,” or “it’s not your turn.”
In his two-and-a-half-day visit, Obama could do a lot to promote freedom in Cuba, but he has chosen not to. He could have made conditions for his visit that would have demonstrated our commitment to freedom.
Obama could have met with famed Cuban dissident Armando Valladares before he left on his trip. Valadares was a political prisoner of the Castros from 1960 until 1982 and wrote the book Against All Hope, a description of his imprisonment in Castro’s worst jail. But he didn’t. Obama could at least have read that book, but there’s no chance he did. Obama could have met with Jose Sorzano and gotten an ear full on the repressive Castro regime, but he didn’t do that either.
Obama could have insisted that he’d have unfettered access to Cuban dissidents such as the Ladies in White, who march in protest weekly in support of husbands and sons held as political prisoners. But he didn’t. (White House press flak Josh Earnest said there was a list of dissidents Obama wanted to meet with that is “non-negotiable.” We’ll see.)
Obama could make a speech to the Cubans calling on the Castros to release anyone imprisoned for political reasons, to call for freedom of the press including unrestricted access to the Internet. But he won’t.
Obama will tour the Potemkin constructs of Havana, attend a baseball game with Raul Castro, and perhaps have his picture taken with one of the new posters slapped on walls all over Havana showing a picture of him with Raul Castro, smiling under the banner of “Bienvenidos a Cuba” — welcome to Cuba.
In the past seven years we’ve become too accustomed to Obama’s embrace of our enemies and shunning of our friends and allies. We’re accustomed to the lack of condemnation of his actions by leading Republicans. Obama’s trip to Cuba is an opportunity for those leaders — especially Cuban-American presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz — to begin breaking us out of this mindset.
If that’s too much, we have to ask why.