Obama rewarding oppression in Cuba
By Marion Smith
Updated 1315 GMT (2015 HKT) July 20, 2015
Cuba to open an embassy in the U.S. for first time in five decades
Marion Smith: America is captive to the idea that values are relative
Marion Smith is executive director of the Victims of Communism Memorial
Foundation in Washington. The views expressed are his own.
(CNN)On Monday, for the first time in five decades, the flag of Cuba
will fly over an embassy in the United States. But the event is marked
by a cruel coincidence — the same week, the United States officially
commemorates the plight of those languishing in captive nations around
the world, a tradition started more than 50 years ago.
In 1959, the same year that Fidel Castro’s forces proclaimed victory in
Havana, Congress designated the third week of July as Captive Nations
Week to express America’s solidarity with citizens trapped under
oppressive communist regimes. Congress recognized that communism “makes
a mockery of the idea of peaceful co-existence between nations and
constitutes a detriment to the natural bonds of understanding between
the people of the United States and other peoples.” With this in mind,
America would continue to show solidarity with the oppressed “until such
time as freedom and independence shall have been achieved for all the
captive nations of the world,” as the first Captive Nations Week
proclamation from President Dwight Eisenhower decreed.
Every president since, regardless of party, has followed this tradition,
pledging to those in captivity that we would have their back. But this
year, instead of reaffirming our commitment to all those seeking
liberty, justice and self-determination, America has turned its back on
Instead of isolating and pressuring the repressive Cuban regime,
policymakers in Washington are rewarding it with increased trade
relations and near-full diplomatic recognition. In welcoming the
communist Castro regime back into the family of nations — with no
reform of the Cuban government — the U.S. government has betrayed
decades of sound bipartisan policy inaugurated under President John F.
Today, scores of Cubans still languish in prison for such “crimes” as
supporting democracy and a free press. In 2013, Human Rights Watch
notes, a group of women who were peacefully demonstrating against the
government were arrested, beaten, taken into a bus and dumped far from
their homes. Just last month, Cuban human rights advocate Guillermo
Fariñas came to Washington to accept the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom,
which we awarded him for his more than two dozen hunger strikes against
the communist government in Havana. Countless other dissidents and
activists risk their life and livelihood every day resisting the
restrictive and repressive regime.
Cuba’s egregious human rights abuses notwithstanding, America is
proceeding to “normalize” relations with this wholly abnormal regime, as
if the decades-long, bipartisan isolation of Cuba has all been the
result of some silly misunderstanding.
Sadly, America’s willful blindness to the tyrannical abuses of other
countries is now typical of its foreign policy generally. Russian
President Vladimir Putin’s recent expansionist escapades in Georgia and
eastern Ukraine signal the return of a neo-Soviet bluster that threatens
stability and peace in the region. Meanwhile, inside Russia, government
authorities systematically chip away at civil society and police remain
idle as political opponents, minority groups, lesbians and gays are
beaten by local mobs. So far, aside from the limited scope of the
so-called Magnitsky Act, this bluster and violence have been met with
meekness and platitudes from Western and American leaders.
As we commemorate Captive Nations Week, America has become a captive
nation itself — captive to the idea that values are relative and that
we have no right or authority to insist on human rights in our dealings
with other countries.
?And our actions — or lack of them — are not just an offense to
strategic logic; they are not just a violation of our decades-long,
stated policy of solidarity with those in captive nations everywhere.
They are, in fact, a cruel affront to the victims of communism past and
present, who look to the United States to resist totalitarianism boldly
wherever it rears its head. Instead, we are sending the message that we
simply don’t care, that we will do business with anyone.
?But the victims remember. Victims such as Jon Basil Utley, whose
Russian father the KGB abducted in the middle of the night, just before
Utley was born. Utley never again saw his dad, whom the Soviets later
killed. Victims such as Nal Oum, an accomplished medical doctor in
Cambodia who fled to America after the Khmer Rouge began its killing
sprees. He is the only known physician to have escaped from a Khmer
Rouge death camp. Victims such as Jinhye Jo, whose siblings and
grandmother starved to death in her native North Korea. Her father was
tortured and killed and her mother beaten by state officials.
?These names are not known to most Americans, but America is known to
them. They all sought sanctuary here after fleeing oppression and
tyranny. They know the importance of Captive Nations Week, because they
barely survived life within captive nations. They join tens of millions
of other American citizens who are in this country because they or their
parents fled communist tyranny to come here. These refugees helped to
make America the moral leader of the free world throughout the Cold War
— they represented the voices of the people of their home countries,
not the party.
?In recent years, President Barack Obama’s statements of support for
captive nations have been perfunctory. In sharp contrast to his
predecessors, there have been no public events, no impassioned speeches,
not even a reference to communism itself in the only proclamation the
President should make once a year about this deadly ideology.
?This is a tragic and morally unsustainable situation, one that I
believe is contrary to what is inside the President’s heart. Like the
American people, Obama must care deeply about the plight of the
oppressed, the persecuted, the dissidents who disappear in the middle of
the night. Unfortunately, his administration’s actions tell a different
?President Obama, your place is to stand with the victims of communism,
of totalitarianism and oppression, not with those who victimize them.
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