Elliott Abrams

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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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The Disgraceful Obama Trip to Cuba

by Elliott Abrams
February 18, 2016


Eight months after the U.S. Embassy opened in Cuba, what is the effect of this much-celebrated opening of diplomatic relations? Who has benefitted?

The Washington Post noted today that “there has been little movement on political freedoms…and the number of dissidents in detention has steadily increased in recent months.” In fact there has been no progress on freedom whatsoever. So far, the real effect of the Obama “opening” is an increase in the flow of funds to the Castro regime through tourism and business with state-owned companies.

But the White House says President Obama will visit Cuba in March. Why is the President visiting, given the lack of change? Because he cannot resist the photo op with Fidel Castro. It’s as simple as that.

What about human rights? The Post tells us that “in recent weeks, administration officials have made it clear Obama would travel to Cuba only if its government made additional concessions in the areas of human rights, Internet access and market liberalization.” The President has said that “If I go on a visit, then part of the deal is that I get to talk to everybody. I’ve made very clear in my conversations directly with President Castro that we would continue to reach out to those who want to broaden the scope for, you know, free expression inside of Cuba.”

What does that mean? Will the President meet with the brave Ladies in White who have fought for freedom for years? Which courageous dissidents will he see? What does it mean to “reach out to those who want to broaden the scope for, you know, free expression,” to quote the President’s inartful words.

Not too hard to guess: a tame group of civil society types, some artists who have galleries catering to American tourists, some people who want the right to open new restaurants. The Cuban regime will never allow Obama to meet with “everybody,” and they will get away with it. They know that Obama is dying to make this trip and get his photo with Fidel, and that gives the police state the upper hand– just as it did throughout the Obama negotiations with Cuba.

Yes, the trip could be salvaged–if Obama had a “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” moment. Yes, if he directly demanded free elections, and an end to the one-party rule, and free expression, and free trade unions, and demanded that every single political prisoner be released immediately.

This visit is about the President’s vanity and search for a legacy, not about freedom and human rights for the people of Cuba. And that’s a disgrace.

Post a Comment 9 Comments

  • Posted by Andrew Halmay

    If the Castros would let him see the real Cuba, he would see what he himself would produce given the chance and power to run America as he would like to run it. I visited a hotel in Eastern Cuba last month. My first visit, a Canadian package. I may have been the only American at the hotel, which was filled with grossly obese tourists who may have been born with a scowl and never learned to smile.

    To distance myself from these tourists I took a long walk on the beach and met some Cubans who managed with a few words of English while I relied on my poco of espanol. They were in their 40s with children and much good cheer. They invited me to their home. When I mentioned the name Donald Trump, they looked blank. They had never heard of him. They are cut off from world news. They are not allowed to have Internet. They are rearing children in a pre-digital world.

    Another tourist told me he had an air conditioning technician in to fix a faulty unit. He learned the man earned $12 per month and their doctors earn $25.00 per month. All left leaning Americans should be shipped to Cuba to see what Socialism produces.

    Obama and Castro should find much in common. Neither had any any qualifications to run a country or much else. Castro has had more time to achieve their goals.

  • Posted by Daniel Farrow

    Barack Obama is undoing everything that was established through JFK’s blockade of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis without any thought as to whether or not anything really has changed in Cuba since Fidel Castro took over.

  • Posted by Adam

    At the end of his term, one really gets a sense of Obama’s true colors (no pun intended). He is weak on dictators and radical regimes, because he wants to appease them. It’s a fool’s errand.

  • Posted by Dean Smallwood

    We’ve seen in Iran how Obama extracts “concessions” . Cuba will be no different . Obama’s “foreign policy” has been a monumental farce from start to finish .

  • Posted by Luis Zuniga

    An excellent article. I goes directly to the key and fair issues in Cuba not to the excuses and alibis of those favoring an unconditional concession to the Cuban military dictatorship: lifting the U.S. Embargo.

  • Posted by Omerli

    You keep assuming he has a moral compass – as he showed in 2013 in Syria, he doesn’t. Its all about politics and with the whole world railing against his paralysis in Syria – no longer confused with analysis – Cuba (in an irony) is his only refuge…

  • Posted by Steven

    I agree, it is a disgrace on Obama’s part and history will judge him harshly in our opinions. If he only went to China post Cultural Revolution and was a Republican, now that would be OK but a Commiecrat in Cuba today definitely says something about the future of this country. Great nonpartisan post!

  • Posted by Robert

    I agree with Mr. Abrams that president Obama wants to go to Cuba to meet Fidel. Fidel is probably not long for this world and I’m sure our president doesn’t want to pass up the chance to meet one of the great leaders of the 20th century.

    Progressive people all over the world know Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution for what it is and for us, meeting Fidel would be as great an honor as meeting Mandela if he were still alive.

  • Posted by Cassandra Dee

    Perhaps if Andrew Halmay had kept walking along the beach until he met someone who spoke English he might have gotten more accurate facts. I suspect the whole thing is invented, however, because I recognize the salaries he cites from 15-year-old online sources.

    Cuban “cited salaries” are less than half their working income — it is a nation-wide “floor” on top of which are “bonuses” they never mention, including annual seniority increases. And free cafeterias at work or school. And, of course, they are after taxes, housing, healthcare and university for their kids.

    On that basis, many middle class American families have negative earnings.

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