President Obama just blew oxygen into the moribund Cuban economy — and its governing elite — by announcing the reestablishment of full diplomatic relations and economic concessions, a dramatic shift in diplomatic relations between the two countries. The change is huge, but not for the rank-and-file in Cuba who are denied basic human rights, free elections, the rule of law and free speech.
Raúl Castro did have to return American aid worker Alan Gross, who was imprisoned for helping Cuban Jews. This cost him five years of freedom and as many teeth, which says something about life in a Cuban prison.
Gross’ release is celebrated, especially by Cuban exiles, who know all too well what it means to be a political prisoner. Four other families, however, whose loved ones were murdered when their planes were shot down over international waters by Cuban MiGs in 1996 feel betrayed; Raúl Castro supervised that military operation, and a Cuban spy involved in the operation was set free. Three of the dead were American citizens; one was a legal resident.
Obama released three Cuban prisoners who received a hero’s welcome in Havana, including Gerardo Hernandez, who was found guilty of some of the most egregious crimes, including penetrating U.S. military installations, espionage and involvement in the shootdown of three American airplanes. For these crimes, he received two life sentences; today, he is free. The story gets worse.
In dual speeches to the world, in what President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina cooed was a “romantic day,” Castro and Obama spoke about this new relationship, which includes the reestablishment of diplomatic relations; the opening of embassies in both Havana and Washington D.C.; the loosening of regulations by the Treasury Department to get licenses to do business in Cuba and to travel to the island; the ability of U.S. banks to facilitate debit- and credit-card purchases in Cuba; and increased remittances to Cuba up to $8,000 a year, a huge source of income for the government.
These are extraordinary giveaways to a country that is a state sponsor of terrorism, according to the State Department. Apparently, even that status is negotiable for Obama.
The president has instructed Secretary of State John Kerry to review Cuba’s status as a terrorist state, even though it was caught red-handed sending military armaments to North Korea, violating international law. The regime is desperate to be removed from the list in order to be able to access certain international credits, which terrorist states are rightly denied. What does Cuba pledge in return? Very little.
Cuba says that it will release 53 political prisoners (whom Castro will likely re-incarcerate), increase Internet access (which dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez will tell you will not amount to much — if anything) and allow U.N. officials and the International American Red Cross to return to the island.
Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio rightly calls Obama the worst negotiator in his lifetime, and what Rubio says about this issue matters. Come January, Rubio will the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Western Hemisphere Subcommittee.
It is no secret that President Obama is struggling worldwide where adversaries such as Russia, Iran and Syria regularly cross his red lines. He badly wants a victory in foreign policy, but Obama won’t find it with the Castro regime. If the embargo is a failed policy, as the president says, what can be said of a band of brothers that has led the island to ruin for more than five decades and are directly responsible for countless human-rights abuses — and outright murder?
The Obama administration’s concessions fly in the face of history and political reality, and the Castro regime is the beneficiary. It is also an assault on American values as communist dictators are rewarded. Castro is given an economic lifeline just when Venezuela’s significant economic support is challenged by falling oil prices and bad policies.
This all comes at a time when the Obama administration has strengthened sanctions against Venezuelan officials.
President Obama can’t seem to get his story straight.
A number of opposition leaders in Cuba feel betrayed by Obama. “I feel like I am a soldier that has been abandoned on the battle field,” said human-rights advocate Oscar Elias Biscet, who spoke from Cuba on Univision’s popular Radio Mambi.
Too many feel the same way.