National Security & Defense

Obama’s Cuban Policy Is Changing the U.S. More Than It’s Changing Cuba

Poster in Havana advertises President Obama’s visit. (Yamil Lage/AFP/Getty)

After President Obama moved on his own to normalize relations with Cuba, White House officials told reporters they were confident that the thaw between the countries would result in positive change in Cuba. How’s that working out?

Not well. Political dissidents were rounded up before and after Obama’s visit last month. The Columbia Journalism Review noted that last week’s Communist Party Congress was “a particularly opaque affair, even by Cuban standards. Raúl Castro emphatically rejected new reforms during the opening speech.” “Julie Martinez,” a Havana secretary who asked that her real name not be used, told the Financial Times: “The same [80-year old] leaders and the same [lack of] reforms. . . . Am I supposed to wait till I’m their age to see some real change?”

Castro supporters are crowing that the Cuban regime has gained new credibility and legitimacy without having to make more than surface concessions to openness. Indeed, the evidence is that the U.S. policy on Cuban dissidents has, if anything, gotten worse since Obama’s opening. “Obama said his policies would help change Cuba, but instead the evidence is that Cuba is changing America more,” concludes Thor Halvorssen, founder of the Human Rights Foundation, an internationally respected organization fighting authoritarian and totalitarian rule of both the Right and the Left.

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Consider the following three examples of U.S. interests’ kowtowing to the Cuban regime, and discriminating against Cuban Americans, in just the last month.

‐ Paquito D’Rivera, a Cuban-American jazz musician who has won 14 Grammys, had already played at White House events. He was invited to perform there again, on April 29, by the renowned Thelonious Monk Institute — but was then told by the White House that he wouldn’t be attending, because he was “not passing the vetting process.”

D’Rivera quickly smelled a Castro rat, and expressed his belief that Cuban officials had intervened and tried to have him banned. In February, he had told the Miami New Times that Obama’s openness to Cuba would result only in “cosmetic” changes, mostly improvements in the Cuban elite’s access to the West: “Maybe now, some people, some elites, have the chance to go play with American musicians, like Wynton Marsalis going and playing there . . . but that doesn’t change much.”

After his rejection by the White House, D’Rivera wrote an open letter to President Obama objecting to his exclusion:

I fear that this ‘not passing the vetting process’ may have to do with my decades-long vocal position against the dictatorship that oppresses Cuba, my country of birth, and my support of human rights and democratic values that you defended so well a few weeks ago in Havana.

I write to you because it concerns me that your genuine goodwill gestures towards the Cuban people could be understood as a call to be complacent towards the demands of the dictatorship that oppresses it.

A week after he wrote the letter, D’Rivera was suddenly told that the invitation to perform had been restored. “I received a call in my office informing me that there was no veto to my participation and that it had all been an error, so I will be there,” D’Rivera told Telemundo this week. He said he believed that Cuban government officials had intervened and attempted to have him kicked off the list.


‐ Carnival Cruise Lines has announced that it will begin stopping at Cuban ports of call in 2016. But when some Cuban Americans tried to book passage, they were told they wouldn’t be allowed to. Carnival said its policy was a “Cuba decision” and that it was only following a Cuban law that requires U.S. citizens who were born in Cuba to arrive or return from visits to their native land only by plane. 

Francisco Marty, a veteran of the ill-fated 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba by anti-Communist dissidents, filed a class-action lawsuit last week charging that Carnival was violating civil-rights laws by discriminating against Americans born in Cuba.

But on Monday, the company said it will allow anyone to book a cruise. “We want everyone to be able to go to Cuba with us,” CEO Arnold Donald said in a statement. Lawyers say the company’s decision was smart, because it faced certain defeat in court. 

RELATED: President Obama’s Che Moment

‐ Ramon Saul Sanchez leads the Democracy Movement, an important Miami-based group that’s critical of the Castro regime. Sanchez has lived in Miami as a Cuban exile for over 40 years. Last week, he suddenly got a letter from U.S. immigration authorities telling him to leave the country “as soon as possible” or face certain deportation. 

Sanchez first arrived in the United States, with his younger brother, in 1967, when he was twelve years old. Immigration officials gave both Sanchez brothers “parole” documents enabling them to stay in the United States as refugees, apparently indefinitely. Now, suddenly, immigration officials have informed him that his 2002 application for U.S. residency has been denied and that he is in the U.S. illegally — despite not having been accused of any crime.

“This is a new low for this administration. The whole thing screams of political placating,” Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, told Fox News Latino. “The Obama White House is the source of the immigration decision, and it seems like manipulation by the Castro government.”

Sanchez told El Nuevo Herald this week that he believes he will win the right to stay by filing an appeal, but that he is prepared to leave his adopted land and return to Cuba.

#related#“If at the end of the day I have to leave this country, which I love deeply, I will leave, loving it like I always loved it, perhaps loving it even more, but I will not go to a third country,” Sanchez said. “I will leave from here to Cuba.” He explained that he had never applied for U.S. citizenship because “I always feared that if I became a U.S. citizen, the Cuban government would say ‘You are not Cuban, so why do we have to listen to you?’.” Now that decision could cause him to be uprooted after 49 years in this country. 

President Obama trod carefully around the Cuba issue during his first term, knowing he would need Florida’s votes to win re-election (he won the state with only 51 percent of the vote). Before the 2014 election, he heeded warnings from Florida Democrats not to cozy up to the Castros because it would hurt local Democrats in the 2014 elections. But in the home stretch of his final term, Obama’s true colors are now on display. He isn’t just normalizing relations with Castro’s Cuba without having negotiated any reforms in exchange. He is increasingly siding with the Castro brothers against the Cuban people and against those American citizens of Cuban heritage who are still fighting for the liberation of their people. 

– John Fund is national-affairs columnist for National Review



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