Why is Obama visiting Cuba?
The Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016 6:00AM EST
Last updated Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016 7:13PM EST
Only two months ago, U.S. President Barack Obama laid out the conditions
under which he would visit Cuba before he leaves office. “If, in fact, I
with confidence can say that we’re seeing some progress in the liberty
and expression and possibilities of ordinary Cubans, I’d love to use a
visit as a way of highlighting that progress,” he said on the first
anniversary of his historic announcement of the renewal of U.S.
diplomatic relations with the Communist holdout.
The world has become accustomed to Mr. Obama’s foreign policy flip-flops
(see his “red line” in Syria) and desire to do away with the image of
the United States as a meddling and moralizing superpower. But even
critics of the five-decade U.S. policy of isolating the Castro regime
were taken aback by news that Mr. Obama will next month become the first
sitting president to visit to Cuba in 88 years.
In no material sense has Cuban President Raul Castro, who took over from
his ailing brother Fidel in 2006, expanded the freedoms of ordinary
citizens. Recent baby steps toward economic reform fit a pattern that
seasoned Cuba watchers recognize all too well. The Castros are experts
in diffusing the frustrations of average Cubans with their stultified
economic conditions by offering up mini-reforms that, once the dust
settles, never amount to much for average folk. Low expectations are now
so integral to the Cuban condition that mere crumbs are welcomed.
There has been even less progress on human rights. Arbitrary arrests and
detentions climbed steadily throughout 2015 and hit 1,474 people in
January, according to the Cuban Observatory on Human Rights. Political
repression has not eased. “The figures reflect only certain repressive
actions, and therefore do not express all the violations of various
human rights that occur in Cuba,” the Madrid-based organization noted.
“But they serve to demonstrate the lack of political will to change on
the part of the Cuban government, which remains stuck in intolerance and
This has not stopped the Obama administration from unilaterally easing
restrictions on Americans travelling to Cuba and sending remittances to
relatives on the island. It has reopened the U.S. embassy in Havana and
announced plans for the resumption of commercial flights to Cuba by U.S.
airlines. (Congress, however, has no intention of lifting the U.S. trade
Mr. Obama plans to meet with dissidents, but under what conditions
remains to be seen. The visit will be covered by Cuba’s state-run media,
which will showcase to Cubans their censored version of it. It is not
Mr. Obama’s style to deliver a Reaganesque ultimatum on foreign soil.
The President hopes to “nudge the Cuban government in a new direction.”
Good luck with that.
The Castros have not held on to power for 57 years by taking friendly
advice from neighbours on how to transition to democracy. If anything,
Mr. Obama risks enhancing their legitimacy and strengthening their grip
on the island’s economy. The Cuban military, also headed by Raul Castro,
controls most of the economy (including its burgeoning tourist industry)
and stands to benefit the most from increased U.S. trade and investment.
The regime is desperate for hard currency, especially now that
fast-spiralling Venezuela can no longer play Cuba’s benefactor.
Mr. Obama seeks to make his opening toward Cuba “irreversible” for a
future president and prepare for a post-Castro Cuba. But it would be
naive to believe the 84-year-old Raul, who plans to quit the presidency
in 2018, has not planned for his succession. Many Cuban experts believe
he has chosen 55-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, a Communist
hardliner and first vice-president of the Cuban Council of State, to
succeed him as president. But the real post-Raul power may lie with his
son and/or son-in-law; both are top military officials who run some of
Cuba’s biggest businesses.
Supporters of Mr. Obama’s approach argue that human-rights violations
and political repression have not stopped the United States from
pursuing economic and diplomatic relations with China. So why apply a
tougher standard to Cuba, especially when the United States continues to
indefinitely detain and deprive of due process dozens of prisoners at
The answer is that Cuba is in North America’s backyard and the Castros
head the longest-running dictatorship in the Western hemisphere. Their
brutality is well documented, in spite of the romanticism with which
Canadians often view them.
The world does not need more (of the Castros’) Cuba.
Source: Why is Obama visiting Cuba? – The Globe and Mail –