Guy W. Farmer: President Obama, our man in Havana
When President Obama arrives in Havana, Cuba Monday, he’s going to be the first American president to visit that troubled Caribbean island in nearly 90 years. President Calvin Coolidge visited Cuba in 1928, and our presidents have avoided it ever since, especially since the Castro brothers took over there in the late 1950s.
When the U.S. renewed diplomatic relations with Cuba last year President Obama promised to visit the island if the Castro brothers showed progress on human rights. They haven’t, but Obama is going there anyway, much to the chagrin of many Cuban-Americans including Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
According to Alfredo Estrada, the Harvard-educated editor of “Latino” magazine, Cuba hasn’t made progress on human rights since the renewal of diplomatic relations. In fact, he wrote in The Hill, “There were more than 8,616 documented political arrests in Cuba in 2015, as compared to 2,074 arrests in 2010 and 4,123 in 2011 (and) Christian Solidarity Worldwide documented 2,300 violations of religious freedom in 2015 compared to 220 in 2014.” So much for human rights.
“Then why is Obama in Cuba?” Estrada asked. The president’s Deputy National Security Adviser, Ben Rhodes, offered a possible reason when he said “the guiding principle of our Cuba policy . . . remains taking steps that will improve the lives of the Cuban people.” So how will Obama’s visit improve their lives? Estrada notes “previous American attempts to improve the lives of the Cuban people . . . led to fiascos like the Bay of Pigs. . . . No-drama Obama has caused a ruckus by offering a carrot with no stick.”
But these are the kinds of agreements the Obama administration negotiates with our erstwhile enemies. Last year’s agreement with Iran, where the U.S. released billions of dollars to a state sponsor of terrorism, is another example of a one-sided international agreement. No wonder bombastic GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump strikes a chord when he criticizes Obama for negotiating bad deals for the U.S. “We should have made a better deal,” Trump said.
Even liberal Democrat journalist Juan Williams has reservations about the president’s visit to Cuba. “President Obama’s trip to Cuba leaves a bitter taste in my mouth,” he wrote in The Hill. Williams, an African-American, explained a Castro-like dictator in Panama, Arnulfo Arias, discriminated against dark-skinned people like Williams’ parents and grandparents.
“The repression extended to confiscating property and even trying to take away citizenship from people like my father, who had come from Jamaica,” Williams wrote, noting “America’s left-wing academics and Hollywood celebrities have long romanticized Latin American strongmen as righteous revolutionaries.” Have they ever! Think Sean Penn and Oliver Stone, among others.
Obama is watching a baseball game while he’s in Cuba, and I hope he has a good time. But, as Williams wrote, “Knowing what my father went through in Panama, it’s hard to match fun and games with the ongoing repression in Cuba.” Obama is meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro, but not with his evil older brother Fidel, the patriarch of the Cuban revolution.
Anyone doubting the level of oppression that exists in the Castro brothers’ dictatorship should read a graphic 1986 book, “Against All Hope,” by former political prisoner Armando Valladares, who was tortured during 22 years in filthy, vermin-infested Cuban prisons. He wrote about watching executions of his fellow prisoners as they prayed for forgiveness for their executioners. It’s a powerful indictment of the long-running Castro dictatorship in Cuba, where our president is currently enjoying a baseball game.
Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, lived and worked in Latin America for almost 20 years during his U.S. Foreign Service career.