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Easing Cuban Travel Restrictions, Team Obama Slaps Cuba's Political Prisoners In the Face

It was a strange way to kick off the Martin Luther King weekend. But last Friday night, President Obama slapped hundreds of Cuba’s political prisoners’ right in the face.

That’s when the administration announced it will make it easier for Americans who support Castro’s government to send money there and visit the island for propaganda purposes. Travel restrictions will be lifted or relaxed, as will remittances and charter flights.

It’s a deplorable change -- and totally unnecessary. After all, the Castro brothers’ thugs do a good job making their victims miserable without help from the Oval Office.

Cuba’s prison guards keep their prey in dank underground cells, the easier to dump urine and excrement on them when the whim strikes them, or for rats to scurry in and bite the prisoners while they sleep—which they have to do standing up. (Their cells are not big enough to lie down in.) If you’re uncomfortable reading about these conditions, imagine what it’s like for the prisoners who endure them.

These men and women—behind bars for years for such infractions as exercising their freedom of speech, assembly, religion or movement—are the few on that island Gulag who still refuse to give in to the communist regime. Cuba’s other millions have learned the art of outwardly going along, lest they, too, get whisked away to one of the prison compounds that dot the island. Who can blame them? How many of us would not just surrender and practice what Orwell called “doublethink”?

The least we on the outside can do is stand up for the people of Cuba and do exactly what the prisoners do—refuse to cooperate with their tormentors. Unfortunately, President Obama has once again chosen to compromise and cooperate with Castro’s Cuba corrupt regime.

The timing of the announcement betrays the shame that some in the administration must have felt. Late Friday before a holiday weekend is the time one selects to bury news you’d rather not see get much sunlight.

As Sen. Marco Rubio, (R-Fla)., said in a statement Friday, “It is unthinkable that the administration would enable the enrichment of a Cuban regime that routinely violates the basic human rights and dignity of its people.”

Unthinkable not only because this decision throws a cash-starved regime some money, but because of the message it sends Cuba’s prisoners—those actually behind (or in Cuba’s case, under) bars and the millions others walking the streets, but prisoners nonetheless. The U.S. message at the moment is: You’re utterly alone; we outside are accommodating your tyrants, why not you?

As former Soviet prisoner of conscience Nathan Sharansky has amply testified and written, support from outside nourishes those who languish inside communist borders; it helps them understand they’re not crazy to continue opposing totalitarianism. Denouncing the regime and doing everything to deny it internationally legitimacy is a beacon of light shot inside the Gulag. The Obama administration just dimmed it.

Mr. Gonzalez, a former journalist, is vice president of communications at The Heritage Foundation. Follow him at www.twitter.com/Gundisalvus.

Mike Gonzalez is Vice President, Communications, at The Heritage Foundation. He is a former Bush administration official, Wall Street Journal editorial writer and foreign correspondent. He is writing a book on Hispanics due out in September.