Obama should cancel Cuba trip if thwarted
President should meet with dissidents of his choosing
He should be prepared to decline to visit if regime blocks him
If President Obama cannot meet with the dissidents of his choice — and
of his choice alone — when he visits Cuba this month, then he should
just stay home. Sure, it’s his chance to make history, his long-sought
But he risks looking weak, sycophantic, should he not conduct the trip
on his own terms.
Normalization with Cuba is supposed to be a two-way street — give some,
get some. But, since December 2014, the United States has done most of
the giving, with the Cuban dictatorship smug with the bulk of the
getting. And the Ladies in White are still beaten up and thrown in jail
Relations hit a big bump last week when Secretary of State John Kerry
canceled a trip to the island in advance of the president’s visit.
According to U.S. officials, the State Department and its Cuban
counterparts couldn’t reach “common agreement,” including on access to
Friday, however, things had been paved over, with Mr. Kerry and Bruno
Rodriguez, Cuba’s foreign minister, affirming their commitment to making
the president’s trip a successful one.
But that will depend on how each side defines success. Mr. Obama should
put Cuba’s human-rights abuses front and center. If he mutes the issue,
then it allows the dictatorship to assume that it’s not a big deal for
the United States, and that there’s absolutely no need for anything to
change. After all, the regime is already getting that welcome influx of
tourist money since the United States loosened travel restrictions.
It’s imperative that the U.S. administration disabuse President Raúl
Castro of that fantasy before Mr. Obama arrives on March 21. So far it
has been far too timid, and the regime has been bold in continuing to
pull the wool over its eyes. And if it can do so again while Mr. Obama
is paraded around Cuba, providing useful optics for Mr. Castro, then
that for the regime, will be success.
And Mr. Obama’s visit will have been something akin to failure.
On Friday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that Mr. Obama
himself will decide with whom he meets when he goes to Cuba, and that
Cuban officials would have no say. At best, that’s optimistic; at worst,
it’s pretty naive.
That is why the ground rules must be in place before Mr. Obama is
wheels-down in Havana. In fact, many Cuban dissidents have asked
President Obama to make his visit contingent on a list of conditions.
According to a statement obtained by El Nuevo Herald, they seek
“immediate cessation of repression” for those who oppose the Cuban
government; that amnesty be granted to political prisoners; that Mr.
Obama be allowed to meet with representatives of the opposition.
Yes, “allowed.” Let’s be clear — Mr. Obama is a head of state and must
not “allow” the regime to constrict his movements or with whom he meets.
In September 1960, a young, dynamic Fidel Castro, fresh off the success
of his takeover, attended a meeting of the United Nations General
Assembly. While in New York, he met with Malcolm X, an American
revolutionary who was causing dyspepsia as he led a black-liberation
movement. But government officials didn’t interfere with Castro’s
ability to commune with him.
That’s how it works in a democracy. Unfortunately, Cuba remains anything
but. Better for President Obama to cancel his visit with integrity if he
is hamstrung in any way than to become a compromised pawn.
Source: Obama should cancel Cuba trip if thwarted | Miami Herald –