Courting the Castros
By Editorial Board February 21 at 6:29 PM
FOR ALL the high expectations, and deep anxieties, that surround the
U.S.-Cuba thaw that President Obama announced two months ago, the
reality is that the process is still in its very early days. The two
countries have not agreed even on one of the simpler bilateral issues:
opening full-fledged embassies in each other’s capitals. Cuban President
Raúl Castro sounded an ominous note by hinting that complete
normalization might depend on such far-fetched demands as the hand-over
of the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay or reparations for the U.S.
U.S. political leaders would be well advised not to succumb to, or
foster, exuberance about the transformation in economic relations that
might be at hand — much less about the pending transformation of the
Cuban regime. Official contacts must not sugarcoat or lend undeserved
legitimacy to a dynastic dictatorship that remains one of the most
repressive on the planet.
Consider the just-concluded visits to Havana by a House delegation led
by Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and a three-senator group
made of Democrats Mark R. Warner (Va.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Claire
McCaskill (Mo.) — the tone and tenor of which were too starry-eyed by
half. Ms. Klobuchar gushed that she and her colleagues “walked freely
around the streets and talked with anyone we wanted,” apparently
oblivious to the political surveillance within which those “free”
conversations occurred. Ms. McCaskill posted charming photos of vintage
cars on her Instagram account; nothing depressing, like images of Cuba’s
Both delegations found time to meet with regime officials, including a
prestige-enhancing sit-down with Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel, Mr.
Castro’s designated successor. Yet neither saw dissidents on the island,
many of whom already feel understandably concerned that Mr. Obama
negotiated with the Castro regime over their heads. Instead, the U.S.
lawmakers met with unidentified “civil society” representatives. This
contrasts with the trip last month led by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) ,
which did include a session with prominent regime opponents .
After that delegation left Cuba on Jan. 19, the government announced it
would delay any more such visits for a while because of unspecified
scheduling issues. The fact that the House and Senate groups arrived as
planned, and did not see dissidents, suggested to some critics of the
new policy an understanding that Capitol Hill’s access to the island now
depends on avoiding dissidents — who, too, would gain prestige from
meeting high-ranking Americans. All of the members of Congress deny such
an arrangement and told us they brought up human rights with regime
Yet the timing, and the appearances it created, should remind everyone
that the Castro regime remains the gatekeeper to the island, leverage it
can be counted on to use for every possible advantage, political or
economic. No one, not even a politically powerful American visitor, is
immune to being exploited by the Cuban propaganda machine; no one is
truly free on that island. U.S. lawmakers need to understand that,
fully, and behave accordingly.
Source: Courting the Castros – The Washington Post –