President Barack Obama inadvertently found the perfect photo-op for his Cuba visit at a wreath-laying ceremony at the Jose Marti Memorial in Havana.
A news photo at Revolution Square caught Obama standing together with American and Cuban officials, with an enormous mural of the iconic revolutionary Che Guevara looming over his shoulder on the adjacent Ministry of the Interior building.
President Obama’s trip is self-consciously historic. As the president’s introducer at an event at the U.S. Embassy put it, Obama often said, “Yes, we can,” and now we can say, “Yes, we did.”
EDITORIAL: Obama, Cuba, and Us
The regime made it clear that it wouldn’t bother with maintaining a pretense of relaxing its grip, with the arrest of protesters at a march of the dissident group Ladies in White while President Obama was en route to the country. A reporter with a government news outlet told the New York Times that he and colleagues had been warned not even to discuss Obama’s visit with friends.
There is no sign of greater openness in Cuba since President Obama forged his break with long-standing U.S. policy. Political arrests have accelerated. There were more than 8,000 in 2015, four times as many as in 2010. The exodus of desperate Cubans to the United States has picked up. And the country still ranks below Zimbabwe and Iran on Internet connectivity.
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But Obama’s opening has produced a financial windfall for the regime. The Cuban military occupies the commanding heights of the economy and controls the tourism business, which has been thriving with the influx of American tourists. Starwood Hotels and Resorts just got special permission from the U.S. Treasury to operate three hotels in Havana, in a boost, not for the free market, but for the Cuban government.If Cuba were a repressive, small-minded military dictatorship of the right, Obama’s visit and accommodationist attitude wouldn’t be considered so broad-minded. But a patina of revolutionary romance, embodied by that image of Che looking down on President Obama, still hangs over Cuba. It makes its human-rights abuses, theft, and lies an afterthought, or even excusable, for the American Left.
After the Cuban missile crisis, Che said that in the event of a U.S. attack, “if the rockets had remained, we would have used them all and directed them against the very heart of the United States, including New York, in our defense against aggression.” It would have been beyond his imagining that so many decades later, with the revolutionary regime cash-strapped and decrepit, the imperialist Goliath would come bearing gifts and asking for nothing substantial in return, except a line in President Obama’s Wikipedia entry.
—Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: [email protected]. © 2016 King Features Syndicate