Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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John Kerry, George Shultz, and the Kerry Visit to Cuba

by Elliott Abrams
August 6, 2015


Secretary of State Kerry will visit Cuba soon–on August 14.

Since the opening of diplomatic relations and of the Cuban embassy in Washington, what’s been going on in Cuba?

More repression. There were 630 political arrests in June, according to the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights. Jorge Ramirez Calderon, one of the political prisoners released as part of President Obama’s rapprochement with the Castro regime, was notified this week that he is facing a 4-year sentence for “public disorder.” His crime was joining a demonstration for human rights in March. So, while Kerry was celebrating the opening of Castro’s embassy in Washington, the Cuban regime was cracking down harder on the Cuban people.

This raises two important questions about that Kerry visit to Cuba. What will he say while in Cuba about human rights, and whom will he meet?

As to the speeches, these are critical. Will he call for freeing all political prisoners, for freedom of speech and press? Will he say the Cuban people must govern themselves through free, multi-party elections? Or will he be silent about the brutal repression Cubans face every day?

And will he meet with Cuban dissidents, or only with regime officials? The flag will be raised at the U.S. Embassy on September 14, and the Cuban foreign minister will be there. Will the Ladies in White, whose peaceful protests have for years kept the cause of freedom alive, be invited? Ironically, because so many leading Cuban dissidents are barred from leaving the island, they will be there and could come to the Embassy. What wonderful show of American support for freedom it would be for them to be invited.

What’s the worst thing that could happen? That the foreign minister or all Cuban officials would avoid the ceremony? That would be just fine, because our Embassy in Cuba should above all reach out to the Cuban people, not the regime. Let it be clear that we view the regime as a relic of the past; let the regime’s officials choose not to come if they cannot be in the same hall or on the same lawn as those who peacefully struggle for freedom in Cuba.

Is this impossible? Not at all; Secretary of State Shultz did something like this in Moscow in 1987. Here’s the New York Times account:

Sixty Soviet Jews who have been denied their most passionate dream, emigration, joined Monday night to celebrate a festival recalling the liberation centuries ago from a hostile land. For the Passover meal, they had ritual matzoh to eat, kosher wine to drink–and George Shultz as their guest. The secretary of state, in an unprecedented demonstration of solidarity with Soviet Jews, joined the “refuseniks“ in an emotional observance of the Passover ceremony, known as a seder. Between day-and-night arms-control talks, Shultz used the break to demand that the Kremlin honor human rights. After spending several moments with each of the Soviet Jews at the seder, Shultz said: “You are on our minds. You are in our hearts. We think about you, we pray for you, we are with you.”

Think of the impact if Kerry were to meet with dissidents in Havana and say to them what his great predecessor said to dissidents in Moscow in 1987: “You are on our minds. You are in our hearts. We think about you, we pray for you, we are with you.” And that was in the capital of a superpower, not that of a tiny and bankrupt Cuba.

The ball is in Kerry’s court. Will he live up to the Shultz record and model, or cave to Castro regime pressure to stay away from dissidents and from the subject of human rights?

Post a Comment 7 Comments

  • Posted by Milton Sanchez-Parodi

    Human rights issues are essential but misguided in the US media. The US needs to focus on significant issues of human rights in the USA. Police brutality, health care, overwhelming jailing of the black population, and costly higher education, support of brutal regimes are pertinent issues. The USA spends tens of millions of dollars a year buying Cubans to be their dissidents and the US media plays along. It is time for the US to deal with Cuba in a transparent manner and to correct significant social issues at home before accusing and contriving issues abroad.

  • Posted by D'Allessandro

    “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots?” This ancient biblical phrase can be adapted to the current situation in Cuba…unfortunately in certain political quarters no one seems to understand the nature of the regime…hopefully Secretary of State John Kerry will follow Schultz’s actions and meet with the island dissidents but the former has a history of coddling to left leaning rogue states in the past (or in the present deal with Tehran). Let’s hope for the sake of the Cuban population that he has learned the lesson that it is a folly to support governments that oppress their people.

  • Posted by Adam

    Wow! What a powerful juxtaposition of two administrations. What do Obama and Kerry hope to achieve with this rapprochement with a regime that belongs in the dustbin of history? They don’t seem to have achieved much at all.

  • Posted by Michael C. Polt

    The reestablishing of full diplomatic relations with Cuba is the right thing to do, for the U.S., as well as the Cuban people. And so is the outreach and engagement by Secretary Kerry to the oppressed civil society in Cuba as he raises our flag in Havana.

  • Posted by TA

    The Cuban government cannot be oblivious to the reality that its ideology is a failed ideology. With the appropriate level of engagement by the US government it must be possible to help the Cuban government to “save face” and to gradually move to a more capitalist and democratic system, much like the Chinese government is doing.

  • Posted by Elido Castilla

    This event for first time in the history.USA constitution sponsoring criminals,gangsters dictators and murderers.Shame on this goverment…!!!

  • Posted by William Palmer

    [we should] “correct significant social issues at home before accusing and contriving issues abroad.”

    It may help our programs back home if we are active and helpful and listening to similar problems abroad.

    Besides there is no principle that says we can’t multitask.

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