National Security & Defense

U.S. Presidents and Cuban Dictators

Cuban leader Raul Castro in 2008 (Sven Creutzmann/AFP/Getty)
Will President Obama’s visit to Havana lead to a freer Cuba?

There seems to be something about Eastertime that makes liberal American presidents want to indulge Cuba’s atheist dictators. Perhaps it’s the hope of redemption and resurrection, which are, after all, at the center of the Easter story. The facts, however, weigh heavily against that idea.

Take President Obama’s plans to visit Cuba on Monday of Holy Week. One can’t help remembering that wretched Good Friday 16 years ago when President Clinton pried Elián González out of a closet in Miami and sent him away from freedom and into Fidel Castro’s arms.

Did that make Castro any less anti-American? No. If anything, it made him more obdurate. He redoubled his efforts to nurture a hard-core crop of Latin American dictators determined to thwart the U.S. in the hemisphere and around the world. At the height of that effort, the group included the leaders of Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina, El Salvador, Ecuador, and Nicaragua; at times, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay were also involved.

President Obama’s two-day Havana journey will do no more to redeem Fidel’s little brother, Raúl, who took the reins of power from the ailing Fidel in 2008, or to resurrect civic and economic life on the island of Cuba.

All Mr. Obama’s visit will do is legitimize Raúl Castro’s rule and make it easier for him to, in a Caribbean version of North Korea’s dynastic Communism, pass political power to his son, Colonel Alejandro Castro Espín, and economic power to his son-in-law, General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas.

Mr. Obama’s entire Cuba policy has been great for the Castro family and their military-state monopolies, but terrible for average Cubans and for Americans.

In fact, Mr. Obama’s entire Cuba policy has been great for the Castro family and their military-state monopolies, but terrible for average Cubans and for Americans. Let’s examine the facts.

Travel by Americans to Cuba has increased 50 percent since Mr. Obama announced his change of policy in December 2014, leading Cuba’s GDP to rise by 4 percent. And where has all this money gone? Right into the coffers of the Castros’ military state.

Gaviota S.A., the company that controls tourism on the island, says its revenue grew by 12 percent in 2015, and it expects hotel revenues to double in 2016. Gaviota is part of the many-tentacled GAESA holding company, run by the armed forces. In congressional testimony on March 15, Mauricio Claver-Carone, executive director of Cuba Democracy Advocates, called GAESA the largest hotel company in Latin America. “Every tourist that stays at Cuba’s famed Hotel Nacional, drinks a mojito at El Floridita, [or] catches a show at the Tropicana has one thing in common — contributing to the Cuban military and security services’ bottom line,” Mr. Claver-Carone told the Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade Subcommittee of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

All those American tourists traipsing through Havana are also adding to the Castro family’s bottom line, for GAESA is controlled by none other than General Rodríguez López-Callejas.

And what about average Cubans — the 11 million or so who are not part of the Castro clan? Cubans on the island tell us that the more GAESA gorges itself, the worse the Cuban people have it. And indeed, there are some 10,000 fewer “self-employed” licensees in Cuba today than there were in 2014. The ones that remain in business represent a very small percentage of the Cuban economy.

So much for the economic side of Cuban life. What about democracy and human rights? Since the opening of Cuba to American visitors, Castro’s henchmen have taken particular delight in beating up Cubans who dare protest, detaining them or terrorizing them by other means.

According to the independent Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, 1,141 Cubans were detained for political activities last month alone, following some 1,447 detained in January. Last year saw one of the highest numbers of political detentions in many years: 8,616.

And things will only get worse. The mouthpiece of Cuba’s Communist party, the “newspaper” Granma, fired off a salvo on March 9, welcoming Mr. Obama by warning him to save his breath with regard to getting the Castros to allow democracy on the island.

“The pretension of fabricating a domestic political opposition, supported by money from U.S. taxpayers, must be abandoned,” read the 3,000-word editorial, which was reminiscent of Fidel Castro’s interminable speeches.

Granma rubbed salt in the wound by reminding Mr. Obama that his visit was the result of an American capitulation in which the Castros gave up nothing. “This point has been reached, in the very first place, as a result of the Cuban people’s heroic resistance and loyalty to principles,” Granma said. “Not with force, economic coercion, or isolation were they able to impose conditions on Cuba which were contrary to our aspirations.”

Also important, it said, was the pressure put upon Washington by the coterie of leftist regimes that Fidel Castro nurtured back in the day, “which put the United States in an unsustainable position of isolation” — a point that the Obama administration, mindlessly, has also made.

And still Mr. Obama will go to Cuba next Monday. Undoubtedly he thinks this will be another feather in his legacy cap. Perhaps he is thinking of what Nixon’s visit to China did for the legacy of our 37th president. 

More likely, however, Mr. Obama’s visit will have much the same effect as the last visit by a sitting American president to Cuba — Calvin Coolidge, who hobnobbed in 1928 with the bloody dictator Gerardo Machado.

Perhaps Mr. Obama should reconsider.


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