National Security & Defense

Cuban Dissidents’ Choices

Protesters in Miami oppose President Obama’s new Cuba policy. (Joe Raedle/Getty)
D.C. polite society has little use for Cuba’s dissidents.

There are many different shades of shame in President Obama’s decision to recognize Cuba’s unelected military dictatorship, starting of course in the Oval Office, where the plan was hatched. But certainly one of the most disgraceful things happening is the treatment being meted out to the long-suffering dissidents of that poor island by what passes for polite society in Washington, D.C.

Observe as Exhibit One what is taking place at the Brookings Institution (certainly there’s nothing more highbrow than that creature of the establishment, right?). This is what one of its senior fellows, Richard Feinberg, had to say to the New York Times recently about Cuba’s dissidents: “The hard-liners here will have to either engage, or perish. . . . Obama had a conversation with Raúl Castro. Then why can’t they?”

Perish? Is this really what our academics think should happen to those who won’t kowtow to dictators? And does Mr. Feinberg truly think that it is the dissidents who are being hardline, while Raúl extends a hand of friendship?

Mr. Feinberg, of course, is hardly alone in this thinking at Brookings. His colleague Ted Piccone, another Cuba expert, recently observed that “democratic change” in Cuba “requires indigenous citizen movements who are willing to take the difficult steps to demand it themselves.”

Really? It may interest Messrs. Feinberg and Piccone to know that this is what happens when dissidents try to speak their minds, and this, and this (and this). We also know from the testimony of political prisoners (Amnesty International is not given access, so we must take their word for it) what happens in Cuba’s prisons.

Many of these dissidents and former prisoners are able to come through Washington, and I am sure are available to meet with the good folks at Brookings, as they are to meet with other Washington think tanks. For the benefit of readers who do not have this level of access, here’s what one former prisoner, Armando Valladares, wrote after a prison guard poured a bucket of human ordure and urine on him:

The shock of the cold was what woke me. I was bathed from top to bottom and sitting in a caramel-colored, foul-smelling puddle. Down my face and neck were sliding pieces of excrement. I was the first of those prisoners to receive the impact of that bath, and it took me so off guard that I opened my mouth in surprise. Chunks of excrement fell into my mouth.

Are Messrs. Feinberg and Piccone really unaware of all this?

We understand that they must travel often to Havana, since they have formed “working groups” and “joint research projects” with members of the regime — i.e., the tormentors of Mr. Valladares and the dissidents in the videos. Piccone was actually in Havana when President Obama announced he was going to recognize the Castro regime. This is how he elatedly described it:

We were at this conference together at the Ministry of Foreign Relations’ diplomatic academy. You had a group of 100 people, maybe 20 Americans, the rest were Cuban specialists, focusing on the prospect for U.S.-Cuba relations. There were pessimists and optimists but none of us quite got it right. It was head snapping what happened on December 17. It had a drama to it that was important.

Cuba, however — despite President Obama’s unwise decision — may not neatly follow the Chinese and Vietnamese model, where the Communist cadre has remained in charge decades after the transition from the founders. Cuba may instead follow the Czech, Polish, or Baltic model, and become free. Today’s dissidents, if they don’t perish, may one day be in charge.

Something for Cuba researchers to think about.

— Mike Gonzalez is a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Davis Institute for International Studies and the author of A Race for the Future: How Conservatives Can Break the Liberal Monopoly on Hispanic Americans.


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