Announcing that “I have come to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas,” President Obama wrapped up his two day trip to Cuba by attending a baseball game and calling for an end to the U.S. embargo against Cuba. But most of the world, and the news media, were focused on the latest act of Islamic terrorism, in the heart of Europe. Three bombs in Brussels, Belgium have resulted in at least 34 dead and more than 250 injured.
While the mainstream media continue to praise another one of President Obama’s signature “achievements” in further expanding relations with Cuba, in reality his visit there legitimizes the oppression and corruption of that regime. Although the Cuban government has done little to reform itself from within, Obama has honored the island with a visit that constitutes little more than an American blessing upon Raul Castro’s continued repression.
“[Deputy National Security Advisor Ben] Rhodes and Obama have cited Cuba—along with a brokered deal with Iran to end its nuclear program—as successful evidence of the President’s 2009 inaugural vow to ‘extend a hand’ to traditional U.S. foes,” reports CNN, pointing to Congress for its refusal to open trade with Cuba.
“No one has changed the law that imposes the tourism ban,” wrote the editorial board of the New York Sun. “But, as the New York Times gleefully explains in an editorial this week, proving that a trip has ‘educational purposes’ will now ‘rest with the travelers.’”
“The incredible thing is that in the 1990s, Congress passed a historic law setting the conditions under which America could begin normalizing relations with Cuba,” wrote the Sun. “The measure is called the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act. It’s also known as Libertad, or the Helms-Burton.”
This law requires that a number of criteria be met before opening trade with the regime, including, according to the Sun, that Castro has “legalized all political activity,” “released all political prisoners”… “‘free and fair elections for a new government’ with the participation of ‘multiple independent political parties.’”
None of these criteria have yet been met. But why would that stop President Obama?
Amazingly, one member of the press described Cuba as making everyone equal and lifting the population up. CNN’s Chris Cuomo, who was in Cuba, noted, in response to a question, that the shirt he was wearing was his father’s, and that it was given to his father by Fidel Castro himself: “What is the point of this communist regime if it is not to truly make everyone equal, not at the lowest level, not by demoralizing everyone…but lifting everyone up,” he said. “My father, generations of politicians have been fighting this.” Hearing that remark, his father would be turning over in his grave.
When people talk about how far right the Republicans have moved politically, they should remember this moment. Not only is a socialist (yes, yes, a democratic socialist) running a very strong race against Hillary Clinton, the heir apparent to the throne, but she keeps tacking left to keep the far-left element of the party intact for her general election. And Chris Cuomo has inadvertently revealed what many leftist Democrats think of communism: “What is the point of this communist regime…? but lifting everyone up.” Incredible. In fact, it’s a totalitarian ideology that has enslaved billions and murdered more than a hundred million people over the last century. This, at a time when President Obama was in Cuba trying to blur the distinctions between a relatively free country like ours, and a communist tyranny that has lasted more than 55 years.
“There are 61 international instruments to recognize how many countries in the world comply with all the human rights and civil rights,” said Raul Castro during a joint press conference with President Obama. “What country complies with them all? Do you know? I know. None. Not a single country.”
Obama was fine with suggestions from Castro that the U.S. has its own legacy of shortcomings. Who are we to suggest that our form of government is somehow morally superior to communism?
Castro then went on to say that Cubans have healthcare, education, and equal wages as human rights. When asked about freeing political prisoners in his country, Castro said, “Well, give me a list of the political prisoners and I will release them immediately. …What political prisoners?”
CNN correspondent Jim Acosta said that it was progress that the question about political prisoners was asked at all. Real progress would be freeing them from Castro’s jails, and from the dictatorial regime.
But what none of the media were talking about is the desperation of the Cuban people. As this Associated Press article points out, just last Friday a cruise ship picked up 18 Cuban migrants who had fled Cuba on a 30-foot “rustic” boat that had been at sea for 22 days. Nine others had died and were placed overboard. Do these people count as former political prisoners? The article says that last month, “269 Cuban migrants attempted to reach U.S. shores and about 2,420 have tried to reach the United States by sea since last October.”
It added that “On the same day Royal Caribbean rescued the group it found, the Coast Guard returned 42 other migrants to Cuba after they were picked up in the Florida Straits in two separate incidents earlier in the week.” So I guess it depends on what the definition of “political prisoner” is.
Secretary of State John Kerry has further lowered the bar for Cuba, signaling that Cuban human rights abuses are no problem. “As in other parts of the world, we are really trying to also say, ‘Let’s find out how we can work together and not always say that human rights are the first things that we have to fix before anything else,’” he said.
“Well, as I think we both indicated, we had a very fruitful conversation around issues of democracy and human rights,” said President Obama in a Havana appearance with Castro on March 21. “Our starting point is that we have two different systems. Two different systems of government, two different economies. And we have decades of profound differences, both bilaterally and internationally.”
While President Obama extended Cuban leader Raul Castro a hand, this effort at diplomacy, much like that with Iran, seems once again peculiarly one-sided. As Jay Nordlinger writes for National Review, the Castros need President Obama more than Obama needs them.
Yet Castro did not even meet President Obama at the airport, deliberately snubbing him as if Cuba had little to gain from his diplomacy. On CBS, one co-anchor argued that the opening with Cuba would involve interactions that would “force change eventually.” This seems to be the same rationale given for appeasement to the hardliners in Iran.
The unsigned farce of a deal between the P5+1 and Iran will do little to stop that totalitarian regime from building nuclear weapons. Similarly, President Obama’s visit has only intensified Castro’s repressive efforts to silence, and jail, many of those who oppose the communist regime.
The Cuban authorities stage-managed each aspect of President Obama’s visit in a way that turned his trip into a propaganda victory for Castro.
Media descriptions of President Obama’s Cuban trip have emphasized how he dined at a “paladar,” a private Cuban restaurant. Such examples are supposed to offer further hope of Cuban moves toward capitalism.
Yet the Castro strong arm is overshadowing what is supposed to herald a strategic opening between the U.S. and Cuba. “Obama arrives in Cuba; hopes visit will usher in change” states a CNN headline.
What is happening is more of the same. According to The New York Times, “Some of the Old Havana shops near where Mr. Obama strolled on Sunday evening had been ordered to stay closed.” Also, it reports, “The police have been sweeping up prostitutes from nightclubs and beggars from the streets.”
The Cuban government even paved the streets to improve its image.
“Crowds had gathered in the faded colonial streets of Old Havana to glimpse Obama and his family as they passed through on foot,” reports CNN. However, at the same time, according to The UK Telegraph, “dissidents were being visited by the police and told to stay indoors until after Mr. Obama had left the country.”
Papers such as The New York Times cast opposition to President Obama’s visit as coming from Republicans. However, it is Democratic Senator Bob Menendez (NJ) who noted that in the first two months of this year Castro’s government has made “2,588 political arrests…represent[ing] the highest tally to begin a year in decades.”
“Que bolá Cuba?” tweeted President Obama. “Just touched down here, looking forward to meeting and hearing directly from the Cuban people.”
President Obama heard directly from some Cuban people during his visit—but only those citizens that Castro permitted him to meet. The baseball game Obama attended was “an invitation-only event, with most seats going to government loyalists,” according to the Times. Obama did meet with some handpicked dissidents on his final day, including Berta Soler, the leader of the Ladies in White movement, some of whose members were arrested on Sunday.
“Once upon a time, there was linkage,” wrote Nordlinger for National Review. “The deal was, we would bend toward the Castros if they bent on their own island: that is, if they liberalized,” he continues. “The Castros typically opted not to liberalize.”
“Then came Obama: who gave them what they wanted. For free.”
Nordlinger wrote that Berta Soler told him, “The European Union, the USA, Pope Francis—they have turned their backs on us.” She said that Obama promised that his new policy would empower civil society in Cuba. “But we are seeing that what he has done is give a green light to the Cuban government to crush civil society.”
President Obama had insisted, just three months ago, that “If I go on a visit [to Cuba], then part of the deal is that I get to talk to everybody.” That clearly didn’t happen, but Obama caved, instead of holding out for a better deal, and accepted the dictator’s terms. Cuba continues to harbor the American cop-killer fugitive Joanne Chesimard, among others. The former rogue CIA agent, Frank Terpil, who wound up doing business with some of the world’s worst tyrants, also found refuge in Cuba, but died earlier this month.
While Obama continues giving Castro everything he wants, and more, for free, the media continue to cast his continued appeasement as a new form of diplomacy. And though the baseball game clearly had an emotional impact on many of those involved, the media continue to ignore the plight of an oppressed people in an attempt to hand Obama another signature foreign policy achievement.
But The Washington Post deserves credit for publishing a column by perhaps Cuba’s best known former prisoner of conscience, Armando Valladares. “Dictators dream about friendly visits from heads of state; such a favor from the president of the United States is the ultimate fantasy,” wrote Valladares. “It provides an endless trove of propaganda material that helps lend legitimacy to the Castro regime, whose agenda of late consists of courting big corporations desperately needed to boost a failed experiment in socialism on the one hand, and bulldozing house churches on the other.”
Roger Aronoff is the Editor of Accuracy in Media, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.