I had the honor recently to meet with Cuban dissident Oscar Biscet, who was visiting the United States to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom that President George W. Bush had awarded him in 2007. Then serving a 25-year prison sentence for promoting human rights in Cuba, Dr. Biscet originally had to accept the award in absentia. But following his 2011 release, he was here in person.
I asked Dr. Biscet if his ability to leave the island was emblematic of political liberalization after normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States just over a year ago. Smiling, this man who has endured savage torture by Raúl and Fidel Castro’s police state said No. There was no liberalization. The Castros were just trying to appear reasonable so they could get the most money possible out of tourists coming to the island.
Didn’t Americans understand, he asked in genuine amazement, that their dollars were going to enrich the Communist regime? The answer is, once again, No. American tourists and industries are tripping over themselves to visit Cuba and project themselves onto a 1950s movie set, all while imagining their commerce trickles down to the Cuban people.
In 2013, I heard similar words from Guillermo Fariñas, a former soldier for Castro who had come to see Communism for the oppression that it is. Fariñas traveled to Brussels to receive the Andrei Sakharov Prize for his brave opposition to the Castros. But his leaving Cuba was not a sign of progress. Rather, he called it a ploy by the Castros to get American money while retaining political power. He said they were employing Putinismo — trying to imitate Putin.
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Press reports this July confirmed the unchanged and grim state of affairs in Cuba. Fariñas began his 24th hunger strike to protest the vicious beating from Castros’ goons merely because he inquired after a colleague arbitrarily detained. Fariñas is asking the regime “to commit to ending the escalation in violence against peaceful opposition and to stop the beatings, death threats, prosecutions for false crimes and that they stop confiscating their personal property.”
But rather than accede to this simple request, the Castros have let him starve for two weeks. Some island paradise.
The fact is that a bad situation is getting worse, not better. The Obama administration encourages a dangerous delusion about conditions in Cuba, which perpetuates the status quo. Fariñas’ plight is a physical manifestation of the ugly reality that the Castros are enemies of everything the United States represents.
We must face this reality. By ignoring it we not only are turning our backs on a brave man, the Obama administration’s increased coordination with the Cuban regime also places the United States at risk. For example:
▪ Immigration: Visa-less immigration from Cuba has increased 80 percent in the year since the Obama administration announced normalized relations, the majority of immigration through Laredo, Texas. Government benefits for these immigrants will cost the taxpayers $2.45 billion over the next decade. There are also disturbing reports that migrants from Afghanistan and other Middle Eastern countries use black-market visas to Cuba to gain access to the United States.
▪ Aviation: The administration’s termination of the travel embargo raises concerns that Cuba’s airports may not have adequate security procedures in place to ensure that Americans are safe from potential terrorist attacks. While six U.S. airlines have been granted licenses to fly directly to nine Cuban airports, only seven meet the minimum security standards.
▪ Counter-narcotics cooperation: In July, the Obama administration signed a counter-narcotics arrangement with Cuba, which creates information-sharing between our two countries against illegal drug trafficking. These blanket assurances to cooperate are hardly assuring, especially considering Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s statement that Cuba is an intelligence threat to America, on par with Iran. There is also concern that the Castros will use information gleaned from their cooperation to service Venezuela’s anti-American policies.
▪ Military-to-military cooperation: The administration precipitously invited Cuba to participate in the Caribbean Nations Security Conference in January, despite Cuba’s long history as a State Sponsor of Terrorism and participation in illicit arms trafficking with enemy nations such as North Korea. This “cooperation” with an overtly hostile country makes the U.S. military vulnerable to Cuban espionage. To credit Cuba’s return of our Hellfire missile in February as progress betrays a precarious naïveté. Since the Obama administration has ceded its diplomatic and economic leverage against the Castros, the United States may not be so lucky the next time American military hardware suspiciously appears in Havana.
It would be nice to imagine that introducing capitalism to Cuba would create political liberalization, but failed attempts from China to Iran suggest this will not be the case. And absent this liberalization, increased cooperation with Cuba poses an intolerable security threat to the United States.
When Congress returns in September, I hope my colleagues will join me in insisting on proper oversight of the dangers posed by the Obama administration’s misguided rapprochement with the Castros. Congress can present a united front in opposing any nominees to be ambassador to Cuba and any funding for embassy construction in Havana until Cuba addresses basic human-rights issues.
It is the very least we can do to assure Oscar Biscet, Guillermo Fariñas and others that some in America still stand with them, and not with the Castro regime that continues to oppress them.
Former Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz is a U.S. senator from Texas.