Obama’s Cuba Trip Up
The president’s decision to visit Cuba now sends the wrong message.
By Lawrence J. Haas March 8, 2016, at 12:30 p.m.
President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit Cuba in two weeks in an
oddly timed excursion that, in many ways, encapsulates all that’s wrong
with the philosophy, goals, and priorities of his administration’s
Simply put, it’s the wrong trip, to the wrong place, at the wrong time,
and under the wrong circumstances.
Admittedly, the longstanding U.S. policy of isolating Havana was due for
review. Washington engages with authoritarian regimes of all kinds.
Some, like Beijing and Moscow, are simply too big to ignore; others,
like Cairo and Riyadh, are key to protecting U.S. regional interests.
That tiny Cuba was a lonely exception largely reflected the political
power of its emigre population.
Moreover, hopes that U.S. isolation would help topple the Castro regime
proved illusory, as the ailing revolutionary founder Fidel transferred
power to his brother, Raul, in 2008, leaving the half-century family
business in place.
Still, Obama’s trip is troubling. It will cap off more than a year of
efforts through which the president deployed his usual array of
questionable global strategies – appeasing the regime in question,
downplaying its human rights record and ignoring its growing ties to
America’s adversaries – in hopes of changing Cuba’s behavior.
“I believe that we can do more to support the Cuban people and promote
our values through engagement,” Obama declared in December 2014 in
announcing that he was changing America’s “relationship with the people
of Cuba.” The United States, he said, would work to reestablish
U.S.-Cuba relations, reopen an embassy in Havana, review Cuba’s
designation as a state sponsor of terror, and increase “travel,
commerce, and the flow of information” between the two nations. As he
did with, among others, Tehran and Moscow, Obama reassured Havana of his
good intentions, offered to re-write bilateral relations if Havana
responded in kind, and provided a financial reward up front.
But just as Tehran grabbed the sanctions relief of the U.S.-led nuclear
deal without changing its hostile approach toward Washington, and just
as Moscow secured U.S. concessions over missile defense in Eastern
Europe while remaining belligerent, so too is Havana pocketing U.S.
largesse without changing its stripes. Unfortunately, Obama is
responding to Havana as he did to Tehran and Moscow – showering the
Castro regime with still more rewards while ignoring its
“Where we disagree,” Obama said of Cuba 15 months ago, “we will raise
those differences directly – as we will continue to do on issues related
to democracy and human rights in Cuba.” But, he explained, “I am
convinced that through a policy of engagement, we can more effectively
stand up for our values and help the Cuban people help themselves as
they move into the 21st century.”
But as the president has provided aid to Cuba, lifted its terror
designation, opened the embassy, announced an agreement to restore
direct flights between America and Cuba, and planned to become the first
president to visit the island since 1928, the human rights-abusing
regime has cracked down ever more harshly on its dissidents, detaining,
jailing, beating, restricting and otherwise intimidating them in record
Since Obama’s policy change, Cuba has recorded its three highest monthly
totals of political arrests of the last six years – 1,447 in November
2015, 1,414 in January, and at least 1,141 last month – according to the
opposition Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation.
There have been at least 2,555 political arrests this year already,
totaling almost a third of the 8,616 that took place in all of 2015.
Secretary of State John Kerry canceled plans late last week to visit
Cuba before Obama’s trip due to a dispute with Havana about which
dissidents Obama can see while he’s there. But even in the face of
Havana’s stepped-up political crackdown and its recalcitrance over
dissidents, Obama plans to make his trip.
Meanwhile, Havana is strengthening its ties to North Korea, which is
developing missiles and warheads that can hit the U.S. mainland, raising
questions about whether Cuba’s proximity to Florida could make it a
With tensions between Washington and Pyongyang growing, North Korea’s
foreign minister visited Cuba in March of 2015 and the North Korean
Workers’ Party’s secretary of international relations visited in June.
In recent years, Cuba has been caught smuggling weapons to North Korea,
violating United Nations sanctions.
But if Obama’s concerned that he’s getting little for his new policy,
that human rights in Cuba are deteriorating, and that Havana is cozying
up to one of America’s most reckless enemies, he’s not showing it.
Have a nice trip, Mr. President.
Source: President Obama’s Trip to Cuba Is Misguided – US News –