For many years, author Robert Ripley roamed the Earth collecting oddities and strange stories and establishing “odditoriums” to display them. Were Ripley still alive, he’d be writing and drawing cartoons about Cuba, the Castros and President Barack Obama’s attempt to “normalize” relations between the United States and Cuba.
Whether the Americans today “believe it or not,” just two years ago the Cuban government was caught trying to smuggle, through the Panama Canal, two warplanes, missiles and other armaments packed under tons of sugar in a North Korean freighter heading “home” from Cuba. The United Nations was outraged that Cuba violated the sanctions it had placed — at Europe’s insistence — on arms shipments to North Korea.
President Obama? Not so much. While declaring the U.S.’ 50-year trade embargo imposed on Cuba a failure, Obama pivoted to embrace Europe’s 50-year-old “policy of engagement” with the Castros’ regimes.
Can you believe it? After 50 years, an American president has declared a failure U.S. trade policy aimed at easing the oppressive grip of communism on Cuba and restoring a rule of law in order to embrace Europe’s policy of engagement, which in 50 years has achieved exactly the same result: Nada.
Cuba has no free elections, no free enterprise, no rule of law, no free speech or press, no respect for human rights. What it has are political prisoners, food rationing, a passion for exporting revolution and refugees.
The new policy is the same 50-some-year-old European policy of engagement.
The “Cuba policy” of Europe, Japan, and Canada is to maintain “normal” diplomatic relations, send millions of tourists to the island, extend credit to facilitate trade and to gift the Castro regime with millions in development aid. It is a policy that has changed nothing for the Cuban people.
Were President Obama’s logic and measure of success to be applied to European, Japanese and Canadian policies for “engaging Cuba,” those policies, too, would be judged failures.
What is and has been missing in international policy vis-à-vis Cuba are conditions — “We’ll do this, if you do that.” Cuba’s President Gen. Raúl Castro wants loans, tourists, access to the World Bank.
Only the United States has tried to tie what Havana “wants” to specific economic reforms and an end to repression on the island. Without such conditions, or linkages, “opening the island” does not empower the Cuban people or improve their lives; it empowers the Castro communist dictatorship.
It’s not hard to image that Ripley, were he alive today, might note that, “Believe it or not,” President Obama:
▪ Has a more amicable relationship with the Castros’ hostile Cuban regime than with Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, an important U.S. ally.
▪ Asked Secretary of State John Kerry to determine how Cuba can be removed from the State Department’s list of states sponsoring terrorism. He did so, even though Cuba refuses to return Joanne Chesimard, who fled to the island after killing a New Jersey State Trooper while escaping from a U.S. prison. The FBI lists her as one of its 10 Most Wanted Terrorists, but Fidel Castro granted her safe haven.
▪ Isn’t seeking the return of hundreds of millions of dollars stolen in the United States and deposited in Cuba’s National Bank, including $300 million tracked to a Medicare fraud.
Then there are the oddities, like stories of emboldened Cuban-American exiles seeking to reclaim confiscated property or to re-establish their business, believing they can profit because the Cuban government-controlled wages average $20 a month and independent labor unions, collective bargaining and strikes are banned.
And, of course Fidel Castro’s famous cow, White Udder. White Udder enjoyed air conditioning, a special diet, medical care and classical music piped into her barn. She broke all records for milk production. After dying of tuberculosis, she was embalmed and placed in a glass case at a school where admiring children line up to visit her — just as tourists line up in Red Square to visit Lenin’s Tomb.
Frank Calzon is executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba in Washington, D.C.