Cuban dictator Raúl Castro has no moral authority to condemn any democratically elected world leader.
Not when the most distinguishing trait of his and his late brother’s legacy is death, prison and exile for millions of his critics and opponents. Not when, as if the Castros didn’t already have enough blood on their hands, there’s another dissident who has died amid questionable circumstances.
Hamell Santiago Mas Hernández, 45, walked into one of Cuba’s most brutal prisons as a healthy man after being arrested in June for a catch-all offense dubbed desacato — disrespect — widely used as an excuse to pick up dissidents. Eight months later, he died awaiting trial, supposedly of a heart attack. He had developed a kidney infection and had lost 35 pounds in three weeks. His wife has denounced conditions at the Combinado del Este prison, where not even the water is fit to drink. The Castros have for decades refused to let independent monitors inspect prisons where political prisoners are kept in inhumane conditions.
So I repeat: Cuban dictator Raúl Castro has no moral authority to condemn any U.S. president.
But President Donald Trump is an easy target — and Castro is no fool.
He smells the weakness — and opportunity — handed to him on a silver platter by Trump acting like the hemisphere’s new bully on the block.
In a regional summit with leftist leaders in Caracas on Sunday, Castro lashed out at Trump’s immigration and trade policies, calling his plan to build a wall along the Mexican border “irrational.”
“The new agenda of the U.S. government threatens to unleash an extreme and egotistical trade policy that will impact the competitiveness of our foreign trade, violate environmental agreements to favor the profits of transnational [companies], hunt down and deport migrants,” Castro said.
And here I am, critic and exile, being forced to agree with the dictator — a first.
How sick is that?
It’s repulsive, but Trump rose to power on an agenda that puts this country at odds with the rest of the Americas, including our allies. His first 1 ½ months in office have been like nothing Americans have ever seen, with Draconian executive orders being signed amid a growing scandal about Russia’s tampering with the U.S. election to benefit him, and the lingering questions: How much did Trump know? Did he participate?
It’s especially notable that Castro has chosen to break his silence on Trump at a time when the Trump administration is in the middle of “a full review” of President Obama’s U.S.-Cuba policy — and before any changes are announced. Castro’s only comment after Trump took office was cordial (and, as always, pompous) indicating Cuba’s willingness to “continue negotiating bilateral issues with the United States on a basis of equality and respect of our country’s sovereignty and independence.” Cuba’s ambassador attended Trump’s inauguration and tweeted from it. At least two of Trump’s White House advisors have been to Cuba and were ecstatic about doing business there during the Obama years.
But Cuban Americans in Congress have been pressuring Trump to get tough on Castro and return to the isolation polices of the late 1990s and early 2000s. That didn’t yield much change, and certainly no end to the 58-year-old dictatorship. But during Obama’s tenure — and under unrelenting internal pressure from dissidents, independent journalists, and a population that simply can’t stand the oppression anymore — Raúl Castro began some reforms, even if the quashing of opponents seldom relented.
It would be a regrettable turn of events if, at this critical juncture, Trump’s protective nationalist policies gave new combative fodder to Castro — who has promised to finally leave his post in 2018 — or to those waiting in the wings to take over Cuba.
I’ll say it again: Raúl Castro — head of one of the longest-lasting dictatorships in the world — is no one to talk.
Yet, here I am, to quote Blue Oyster Cult, giving the devil his due.