So, Obama couldn’t make it to Chris Kyle’s memorial service, Antonin Scalia’s funeral, or Nancy Reagan’s funeral, but he will stand at attention for Che Guevara.
Back dropped by a monument depicting Cuba’s revolutionary murderer Ernesto “Che” Guevara, U.S. President Barack Obama, Vice-President of Cuba’s State Council Salvador Valdes Mesa, right, and other members of the U.S. delegation stand in respect during a ceremony at the Jose Marti Monument in Havana, Cuba, Monday March 21, 2016.
“It is a great honor to pay tribute to Jose Marti, who gave his life for independence of his homeland. His passion for liberty, freedom, and self-determination lives on in the Cuban people today,” Obama wrote in dark ink in the book after he laid a wreath and toured the memorial dedicated to the memory of Jose Marti.
Associated Press reporter Peter Orsi said there was a “collective gasp” in the press room when Obama paused in front of the Che Guevara sculpture in Revolution Square.
Obama’s Cuba policy makes life much worse for Cubans
Cuba remains the only dictatorship in the Americas, as repressive and hostile to human rights as ever. More repressive, in fact: Over the past 12 months, the government’s harassment of dissidents and democracy activists has ballooned. In November, according to Amnesty International, there were nearly 1,500 political arrests or arbitrary detentions of peaceful human-rights protesters. That was the highest monthly tally in years, more than double the average of 700 political detentions per month recorded in 2014.
On Dec. 10 — International Human Rights Day — Cuban security police arrested between 150 and 200 dissidents, in many cases beating the prisoners they seized. As is usually the case, those attacked by the regime’s goons included members of the respected Ladies in White, an organization of wives, mothers, and sisters of jailed dissidents. The women, dressed in white, attend Mass each week, then walk silently through the streets to protest the government’s lawlessness and brutality. Even the United Nations, which frequently turns a blind eye to the depredations of its member-states, condemned the Cuban government’s “extraordinary disdain” for civil norms, and deplored the “many hundreds” of warrantless arrests in recent weeks.
But from the Obama administration there has been no such condemnation. One might have thought that the White House would make it a priority to give moral support and heightened recognition to the Cubans who most embody the “commitment to liberty and democracy” that the president has invoked. But concern for Cuba’s courageous democrats has plainly not been a priority. Particularly disgraceful was Secretary of State John Kerry’s refusal to invite any dissidents or human-rights advocates to the flag-raising ceremony at the US embassy in August. To exclude them, as The Washington Post observed, was a dishonorable gesture of appeasement to the hemisphere’s nastiest regime — “a sorry tip of the tat to what the Castros so vividly stand for: diktat, statism, control, and rule by fear.”
For all the president’s talk about using engagement and trade to promote the cause of liberty and civil rights in Cuba, his policy of détente has been wholly one-sided. In an interview with Yahoo! News this month, he was asked what concessions Havana has made over the past year. He couldn’t think of any. Not a single one.
“Look,” he said with an exasperated sigh, “our original theory on this was not that we were going to see immediate changes or loosening of control of the Castro regime, but rather that, over time, you’d lay the predicates for substantial transformation.”
Cubans aren’t buying it. Tens of thousands of them, realizing that normalization will do nothing to loosen the Castros’ grip, have fled the country. More than 45,000 Cubans arrived at US border checkpoints in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30; thousands more are trying to reach the United States by traveling through Central America or taking to the sea. It is the largest wave of Cuban migrants in decades. The American president may believe in “predicates for substantial transformation” and other such amulets and charms. Cuba’s people know better.
We should know better too.
As a candidate for president, Obama promised a Cuba policy that would “be guided by one word: Libertad.” If the regime in Havana wanted the benefits of normalization, he vowed, it would first have to accept democratic reforms. But Obama’s foreign policy toward Cuba, like his policies toward Iran and Russia and Syria, turned out to be far more about accommodating despots, far less about upholding Western norms. His years in office have coincided with a worldwide retreat of democratic freedoms; why would Cuba be an exception?
It is clear now that the only change Obama craved in Cuba was a change in America’s go-it-alone stance. Normalization was desirable for its own sake, not as a means to leverage freedom for Cuba’s people.
Last week, 126 former Cuban dissidents wrote a letter pleading with Obama to reconsider his approach. Showering the Castro regime with so many benefits, they warned, will “prolong the life of the dictatorship,” even as it “marginaliz[es] the democratic opposition.” Alas, that doesn’t trouble the president nearly as much as it troubles them. He’s on his way out, and no longer has to pretend to care about the fate of beleaguered democrats.