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Obama in Cuba to Celebrate Himself

President Obama’s “historic” trip to Cuba, which began on Sunday, is a legacy-building monument to both him and the Castros. But for the Cuban people, it’s business as usual.

According to human right organizations, the Cuban government’s repression of its people shows little sign of being weakened by Obama’s friendly outreach in the waning days of his presidency.

“Cubans are being beaten, arrested, and otherwise muzzled at higher rates than ever before,” Sen. Bob Menendez said on the Senate floor last week. “The Cuban Commission for Human Rights has documented 1,141 political arrests by the Castro regime in Cuba during the short month of February 2016. In January 2016, the CCHR documented 1,447 political arrests. As such, these 2,588 political arrests — thus far — represent the highest tally to begin a year in decades.”

According to a Human Rights Watch report, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation received more than 6,200 reports of arbitrary detentions from January through October 2015. While this is a relatively minor decrease from the number of detentions during the same period in 2014, “it was still significantly higher than the number of yearly detentions prior to 2012,” the report stated. “Other repressive tactics employed by the government include beatings, public acts of shaming, and the termination of employment.”

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest last summer suggested some kind of amelioration of Cuban brutality might be needed before Obama gave the Castros the PR benefit of a presidential visit.

“The amount of progress that the Cuban government is making as it relates generally to the protection of basic human rights will factor into the decision by the president to travel to Cuba if he makes the decision to travel to Cuba,” Earnest said. It appears that was just for laughs, though.

And Obama is not alone on his visit. He took the family, too, including his mother in law, a sure sign that this is not a sober diplomatic undertaking but a full-on party, complete with dancing on the graves of the masses killed by the Castros. Oh, and a baseball game.

While Cuba’s peasants chew on black beans and rice, if they can get them, Obama will be treated to a lavish feast in a palace — of course, euphamized as the “Revolutionary” Palace.
<blockquote><strong>In the days leading up to Obama’s arrival, the Cuban government was literally paving over the past so Obama wouldn’t have to be bothered by it.</strong></blockquote>
In the days leading up to Obama’s arrival, the Cuban government was literally paving over the past so Obama wouldn’t have to be bothered by it.

“Streets in the hotel district of Vedado were cordoned off as machines resurfaced roadways,” reported the Wall Street Journal. “Gardeners in local city parks added fresh plants, and painters in blue jumpsuits dangled several stories as they applied a fresh coat of paint to the facade of a 1960s-style health ministry building.”

Yes, Obama will meet with some dissidents. But nobody will remember that. What they will recall is that the United States has given its blessing to the Castros’ rule without extracting anything in exchange. What’s more, the dissidents he will convene with are no doubt in the same jeopardy as Carlos Amel Oliva, head of the youth wing of the Cuban Patriotic Union, who was arrested recently after returning to Cuba from a Miami meeting with Obama advisor Ben Rhodes.

Obama is being accompanied by a bunch of American business types who no doubt have dreams of profitable Caribbean resorts and new sources of cheap labor dancing in their heads.

One of these, according to the New York Times, will be Carlos Gutierrez, who as George W. Bush’s secretary of commerce called for tightening sanctions on Cuba. Now, as chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s U.S.-Cuba Business Council, he has other priorities.

Menendez, the son of Cuban immigrants, derided Obama’s cap-feathering.

“I understand the desire to make this his legacy issue, but there is still a fundamental issue of freedom and democracy at stake,” he said.

“The simple truth is — deals with the Devil require the Devil to deal. Opening channels of communication controlled by the regime means nothing unless we are going to communicate our values,” Menendez said. The Castros retain their iron grip, and “until that power is truly challenged, we can expect to witness the further weakening of our leverage.”

A version of this post appeared in LifeZette.

Earnest Gives Cuban “Journalists” a Proper Lecture

Well, good on Josh Earnest.

I wasn’t writing last week, though I attended this White House briefing, so I’m just getting this to you now.

The White House press Secretary seemed prepared to deal with the presence of a few Cuban “journalists” who were in the briefing room. It kind of set the place abuzz – that real live Cuban journalists were in the house. He had a nice little lecture about freedom for them to take home. I’m sure it will be confiscated at the airport in Havana.

Now, as you and I know, there is no such thing as a Cuban “journalist,” at least not one that would be trusted to come to Washington. These are propagandists for a brutal dictatorship, and they may well be marched to the guillotine with the rest of them should the revolution ever occur which – as President Obama’s opening to Cuba guarantees – it won’t.

The Cuba opening is one on which reasonable people can disagree, of course. I get Obama’s point that 50 years of sticking it to Cuba hasn’t really worked, though it at least drained plenty of billions from the Soviet treasury.

On the other hand, Cuba is just now losing the benefactor that replaced the Soviet Union – Venezuela – and the regime did in fact seem to be facing big financial trouble. But now U.S. money will flow into the coffers of the Cuban oligarchy, ensuring its perpetuation for many more years to come.

And I’d like someone to show me the example of where “engagement” has removed a Communist regime. China, anyone? As opposed to confrontation. Soviet Union, par exemple.

Anyway, here’s the Cuban’s question, followed by excerpts of Earnest’s remarks.

Cuban “Journalist:” Thank you very much. Two small questions. First, do you think that it’s possible to see the scenario in which we will open embassies in Havana and Washington? Is that future a scenario? Is the administration committed to being more respectful of the Vienna Convention towards the behavior of the American diplomats in Havana? For example, do you think the programs for regime change will go on or not? Do you have any remarks on that?

And on the other way, do you think that President Obama will also use — continue using his executive prerogative to expand the links, the bonds with Cuba?

Earnest: The President believes that greater engagement between the United States and Cuba would bring about the kind of change that we would like to see in terms of the Cuban government’s treatment of the Cuban people. We continue to have significant concerns about the way that the Cuban government all too often fails to respect the basic universal human rights that we hold so dear in this country; that there are too many Cuban political activists, Cuban journalists who see their freedom of speech, their freedom of assembly, their freedom of expression trampled by the Cuban government. That continues to be a source of significant concern not just on the part of the President of the United States, but by a lot of Americans . . .

As it relates to the way in which this change in Cuba will be brought about, I think that’s something that the Cuban people will determine. I think we would hope — and our aspirations for the Cuban people is that they would be able to express their views and even express their dissent in public without fear of retribution.

That’s a freedom that most Cubans do not enjoy at this point. But we’re hopeful that by making a change in this policy, by facilitating deeper engagement between the U.S. and Cuban people, that that kind of freedom of expression will become more common and, most importantly, will finally be protected by the Cuban government in a way that it isn’t now.

Obama Meets With Castro

President Obama today held an historic meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro.

Obama did not inform Castro whether he would be removing Cuba from the list of terrorism sponsors, but he said he would be making a decision in the “coming days,” according to a senior administration official. The official said it was not a significant part of their discussion.

And that’s because of course he’s going to do it and everybody knows it.

There was also talk about how to expedite the opening of embassies in each country, which is not expected to be a significant problem. Other than that, it seems there was a lot of reflection on the big moment the two leaders were experiencing, and not much else.

Five Reasons Obama’s Cuba Deal Stinks

President Obama is intent on making nice with one of the most oppressive regimes in modern history. It’s what he wanted to do since he no doubt learned from his professors in college about Dependency Theory and the evils of Yankee imperialism.

Here’s why his move to normalize relations with Cuba is such a mistake.

1. It bails the Cuban regime out right when things were really looking bad.

The Castro brothers had two pressing problems: Their money is running out, and they are going to die soon. Obama’s policy change solves the first problem and can make them feel better about the latter.

As the Washington Post noted in its – and this is incredible – critical editorial against the normalization, Obama has come to the rescue just when the lifelines to the Castros were drying up:

In recent months, the outlook for the Castro regime in Cuba was growing steadily darker. The modest reforms it adopted in recent years to improve abysmal economic conditions had stalled, due to the regime’s refusal to allow Cubans greater freedoms. Worse, the accelerating economic collapse of Venezuela meant that the huge subsidies that have kept the Castros afloat for the past decade were in peril. A growing number of Cubans were demanding basic human rights, such as freedom of speech and assembly.

But now, through tourism, remittances by American Cubans, investment and so forth, the Cuban government, which runs the economy, will receive a desperately needed influx of cash.

And whomever within the oligarchy the Castros hand the reins of power to will now have the money to perpetuate their tyranny-enforced socialist paradise. And American recognition gives them newfound legitimacy to hold power and pass it on.

2. The argument the White House makes is that engagement with a totalitarian regime will help loosen its hold on power and create freedom and democracy. But where, exactly has that worked?

We’ve tried “engagement” with China, Vietnam, and Iran, while the South Koreans have tried it with North Korea. Where is the freedom and democracy in those countries? What we’ve succeeded in doing is propping up regimes that might have fallen by now.

To dust off an old chestnut, did appeasing Hitler work?

3. True, it’s been 50 years with Cuba, but isolating and opposing totalitarian regimes is what works. 

Is this White House under the impression that the Soviet Union fell because Pepsi starting selling sodas there? Because of Nixon’s detente? No, it went down because it saw in Ronald Reagan that the United States stood implacably opposed to its oppression and its imperialist aims just as it finally was running out of money. And it took longer than with Cuba – 70 years – but the patience paid off.

Similarly, the downfall of the Nicaraguan Sandinistas in 1990 occurred after they were forced by U.S. pressure to call elections.

4. The reversal on Cuba is a sure sign to our allies and enemies that we lack resolve and are looking to befriend bad actors around the world and trying to nice them into reforming themselves. This is particularly true with respect to Iran. If the surrounding Sunni nations have ever had more incentive to start constructing their own nuclear arsenals to oppose Iran’s inevitable atom bomb, this is it.

5. The U.S. is now in the Deal-for-Hostages business.

Despite the dissimulation coming out of the White House Wednesday, the freedom granted Alan Gross was obviously in exchange for U.S. Cuban intelligence agent prisoners, for diplomatic recognition, or both.

In the latest blow for White House credibility, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest absurdly tried to deny that this was the case, even though both he and President Obama suggested otherwise.

Said Earnest:

So the President has long sought to make this change, and the chief impediment to his ability to make that change was the unjust detention of Mr. Gross.  And because he was released today on humanitarian grounds, because through the work of this administration we were able to secure that release on humanitarian grounds, we removed the impediment to being able to implement some of these policy changes that the President clearly believes are in the best interest of this country, they’re in the best interest of our economy, and they’re in the best interest of our national security . . .

What I’m telling you is that Alan Gross’s release on humanitarian grounds is something that this administration insisted upon.  And once that agreement was reached, it opened the door for additional negotiations and additional agreements to be reached.  So by removing the impediment of Mr. Gross’s unjust detention, we could engage in a conversation with the Cubans about the spy swap.

Said Obama:

While I have been prepared to take additional steps for some time, a major obstacle stood in our way –- the wrongful imprisonment, in Cuba, of a U.S. citizen and USAID sub-contractor Alan Gross for five years.

Sounds like quid pro quo to me. What’s the mystery about it?

Once again, President Obama has shown the world we are weak, naive, and inconsistent. Not only will Cubans suffer because of it, but Americans ultimately will too.

Obama Visit to Cuba Appears Probable

He didn’t exactly say it, but responses by White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest to questions today about the possibility of President Obama visiting Cuba appeared designed to lay the basis for just such a visit.

Speaking at today’s briefing, Earnest pointedly declined to rule out a visit and sought to justify a possible Obama trip the Cuba even if the regime’s repressive tactics had not changed.

Said Earnest:

There’s nothing on the schedule right now. The president did hint that there will be senior government officials who will carry out the kind of work that’s indicative of two nations that are seeking to normalize their relations, so I certainly wouldn’t rule out a presidential visit.

I assume, like many Americans, he has seen that Cuba is a place where they have a beautiful climate and lots of fun things to do, so if there is an opportunity for the president to visit, he wouldn’t turn it down.

Asked if things would have to change in Cuba before Obama would visit, Earnest noted that the president visits other places with unsavory rulers, like China.

Meanwhile, following a threat by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., that Congress would not fund the administration’s planned embassy in Havana, Earnest said the White House might be able to establish it without Congress.

“It’s not clear to me that additional appropriations will be necessary to establish an embassy in Cuba, principally because there is already a diplomatic presence in Cuba,” Earnest said. But Earnest didn’t rule out a future appropriations request by the administration

Obama Announces Normalization of Ties with Cuba

President Obama today announced that the United States would take steps to normalize relations with Cuba, resuming trade and economic ties and opening a U.S. embassy in Havana.

Obama said the change was needed and just because the old policy of walling Cuba off had not dislodged the Castros from power.

“We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries,” Obama said in remarks from the White House. “These 50 years have shown that isolation does not work.”

Obama pointed to “a younger generation of Cuban Americans” who are less supportive of the old policy, and said that “neither the American nor the Cuban people are well served” by it.

The president said he would have acted sooner if not for the imprisonment in Cuba of U.S. contractor Alan Gross, who was released today. The United States also exchanged three Cuban spies in our custody for an American spy who had been imprisoned for years in Cuba.

Some Republicans were quick to voice their opposition.

“The President’s decision to reward the Castro regime and begin the path toward the normalization of relations with Cuba is inexplicable. Cuba’s record is clear,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

“This is an incredibly bad idea,” tweeted Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

Democrats seemed mostly supportive, except for Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who said Obama’s decision had “vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government.”

Writing in the Weekly Standard, Elliott Abrams said America’s sudden rapprochement with its enemy will chill allies around the world, especially with respect to Iran and the possibility that Obama will try to normalize relations with the Ayatollahs.

The American collapse with respect to Cuba will have repercussions in the Middle East and elsewhere—in Asia, for the nations facing a rising China, and in Europe, for those near Putin’s newly aggressive Russia. What are American guarantees and promises worth if a fifty-year-old policy followed by Democrats like Johnson, Carter, and Clinton can be discarded overnight? In more than a few chanceries the question that will be asked as this year ends is “who is next to find that America is today more interested in propitiating its enemies than in protecting its allies?”

Updates may follow . . .

AP: U.S., Cuba to Establish Diplomatic Relations

The United States and Cuba have agreed to establish diplomatic relations and open economic and travel ties, the Associated Press is reporting.

According to AP:

The announcement comes amid a series of new confidence-building measures between the longtime foes, including the release of American Alan Gross, as well as a swap for a U.S. intelligence asset held in Cuba and the freeing of three Cubans jailed in the U.S.

President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro were to separately address their nations around noon Wednesday. The two leaders spoke by phone for more than 45 minutes Tuesday, the first substantive presidential-level discussion between the U.S. and Cuba since 1961.

Wednesday’s announcements follow more than a year of secret talks between U.S. and Cuban officials in Canada and the Vatican. U.S. officials said Pope Francis was personally engaged in the process and sent separate letters to Obama and Castro this summer urging them to restart relations.

Obama will announce the moves at noon today from the White House. I will live stream his remarks.

According to USA Today, news of the Cuba announcement drew criticism from anti-Castro Republicans and some Democrats:

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., a Democrat and the outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said “President Obama’s actions have vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, a Republican and a long-time critic of Cuba’s government, said the U.S. and Cuba are talking about new trade and banking ties, and the prospect of a U.S. embassy in Havana.

Rubio, a possible GOP presidential candidate in 2016, and other Republicans said the Obama administration should demand democratic reform in Cuba before making any concessions.

“I don’t think we should be negotiating with a repressive regime to make changes in our relationship” until Cuba changes, said Jeb Bush, a former governor of Florida and another prospective Republican presidential candidate.