President Obama spoke of a “new day” in Cuba Monday, but he chose to ignore the tragic and oppressive past decades of the old Castro regime. A “new day” in Cuba cannot be achieved when the old tyrannical guard still maintains absolute power over its subjugated people.
On his historic trip to the island Obama talked about engagement with the Cuban people, but the Cuban government only allows for strict engagement on their terms and with those who strictly follow and support their communist ideology and its repressive military. The president’s utopian mentality fails to align itself with the realities of a system and government that has suffocated the freedoms of the Cuban people for decades.
Tuesday, in his speech to the Cuban people, Obama stated: “the future of the Cuba has to be in the hands of the Cuban people.” The reality is that as of today the future of Cuba belongs to the Cuban regime, the military and the Communist Party apparatchiks that are the only ones that benefit financially from any trade or exchange with the United States. As one Cuban said anonymously, “the change is for the government and their children, not for the Cuban people.”
As a Cuban American whose father was imprisoned and tortured in Cuba by the Castro brothers for over 6 years, it is very difficult for me to understand how a United States president who should stand on the side of democracy has decided that appeasement of an intractable dictatorship is the best way to promote “change” in Cuba. The Cuban government has made no reforms within their own structure of government and military. As with his approach to Iran, the president’s willingness to reward corrupt and evil behavior is one reason why an overwhelmingly majority of Americans do not trust him and his party on issues of foreign policy.
Watching Monday’s press conference in Havana, Cuba was disturbing. The dictator Raul Castro brazenly criticized the United States by presenting a holier-than-thou comparison that his corrupt regime provides “free” health care and education for the Cuban people and equal pay for women. Castro should be the last one defending his regime’s record when on the day of Obama’s arrival, his thugs brutalized and imprisoned political dissidents, including the Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco), who came out to peacefully protest the regime.
Raul Castro’s intransigence was further put on display when CNN reporter Jim Acosta asked the first question about the political prisoners, and he angrily responded: “Give me a list and I’ll release them. If we have those political prisoners they will be released before tonight ends.”
Moments later, the Cuban American National Foundation released a list of 47 Cuban political prisoners. Raul Castro must have ignored the letter. His actions show how the old communist dictator, echoing the dark days of the Cold War, is still able to intimidate and destroy his own people for the sake of failed ideology.
Obama’s Cuba visit and Raul Castro’s actions are a façade. The world witnessed semi-engagement between the two leaders during the president’s visit. But official meetings, a stroll in Old Havana, a baseball game, Cuban food, cigars, and freshly painted mansions will not in any way cure the ills of a failed communist system whose people are starving and living in misery. Doesn’t Obama know the real secret about the Castro regime? The secret is that the regime is not about to change. And that’s not the only secret. It is also impossible to move forward when the Cuban government continues to monitor the Cuban people to ensure that they stay in line and voice no opposition.
Despite Obama’s attempt to foster a new relationship with Cuba, tens of thousands of Cubans are still fleeing to the United States in record numbers. Despite the thaw in relations between the two countries the Cuban peoples’ desire to escape from Cuba has not diminished.
President Obama is hoping to “close a chapter” of Cold War history. What he fails to recognize is that it cannot end until the remnants of the old Castro regime—who have brutalized, tortured, and stolen the private property of millions of Cubans—are completely removed from power.
If Cuba wants better relations with the United States, we should negotiate the deal on our terms and demand no less than free and open elections and the release of political prisoners for the sake and future of the Cuban people and the freedom of future generations. Instead, Castro is the one making all the demands, including ending the five-decade long economic embargo and returning the Guantanamo Naval Base.
If a Democrat winds up in charge of the White House next year he or she will surely double-down on Obama’s weak deal with Cuba, which means we can expect more appeasement and no significant change from the Cuban government while human rights abuses continue on the island.
If Obama were really serious about ending this chapter of Cold War history, standing on our principles and negotiating a stronger deal would have been the right place to start.
Mercedes Viana Schlapp is a FOX News Contributor, Cuban-American and co-founder of Cove Strategies. She worked as Director of Specialty Media at The White House under President George W. Bush.