The Corner

Raul Castro at the White House

White House spokesman Josh Earnest allowed yesterday that such a visit is a possibility. “I wouldn’t rule out a visit from President Castro,” Earnest told reporters. Earnest cited our relations with China and Burma as justification.

Look, we all understood the reasons for opening relations with communist China. It was to throw the Soviet Union off balance. Still, it’s worth recalling that National Review’s founder, Bill Buckley, among others, was highly critical of the tone of Nixon’s visit to China. Clinking champagne flutes with the greatest mass murderer in human history was not necessary to achieve the strategic objective. So, sure, blame Nixon for setting a very bad precedent.  As for Burma, that nation at least released Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and made progress toward democracy and respect for human rights.

Cuba, by contrast, remains one of the worst prison states in the world, an enthusiastic supporter of terror, and a sadistic oppressor of its people. Castro will release some 53 political prisoners as a result of the deal. That’s fine. But what of the others? There are between 30,000 and 80,000 prisoners in Cuba (well, the whole country is a prison actually because they shoot those who try to flee). No one knows the exact number, nor the offenses for which they are held. Some are true criminals. Others do time for a wide variety of offenses against the state.  And who will be checking to learn whether Castro arrests the 53 again in short order? John Kerry? Here’s an excerpt from a State Department report about conditions in Cuba’s prisons (which are not open to international inspection):

Food shortages were widespread, available food was often spoiled or infested with vermin, and many prisoners relied on family parcels of up to 30 pounds of food and other basic supplies that were brought during each visit. Prison cells lacked adequate water, sanitation, space, light, ventilation, and temperature control. Running water was rare and, if available, generally ran only for a limited time. Water for drinking and bathing was foul and frequently contaminated with parasites. Many prisoners reported receiving only one small glass of water per day, even when confined to sweltering cells during the summer. Vermin and insect infestations were common, with inmates reporting rats, cockroaches, fleas, lice, bedbugs, stinging ants, flies, and mosquitoes. Prisoners reported that they lacked access to basic and emergency medical care, including denta care. Prisoners engaged in hunger strikes throughout the year to demand medical treatment. Reports of beatings of prisoners were commonplace, and included beatings by prison officials as well as among prisoners. 

The United States cannot deal only with angels on the world stage of course. But President Obama’s atrocious timing is remarkable. When history presented an opportunity to side with the people of Iran against their oppressors in 2009, Obama stiff-armed them, essentially siding with the mullahs. The opportunity passed. Now, Cuba is on the ropes. Fidel Castro is decrepit. Raul’s grip on power depends upon subventions from Venezuela, which is imploding. Now should be a moment of maximum leverage against the criminal government in Havana. Instead, Obama is drawing up the dinner menu. It’s staggering. In my column today, I argue that for all of his snide put downs of others for Cold War mindsets, Obama is actually trying to reprise the Cold War, only this time, we lose.


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