At the funeral extravaganza commemorating a onetime political prisoner, President Obama went out of his way to smilingly shake hands with the jailer and torturer of the longest-suffering political prisoners in modern history.
The dictator the U.S. president was greeting, and almost bowing before, is also holding U.S. citizen Alan Gross in a KGB-designed prison cell as a hostage. Mr. Obama's smile, handshake and curtsy to Raul Castro came a week after the fourth anniversary of Mr. Gross' jailing.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry insists that the handshake was part of normal diplomatic protocol and signals no major change in U.S. policy toward Cuba. He's probably right. In fact, Mr. Obama was being anything but hypocritical by shaking Raul Castro's hand. He was merely acknowledging the current U.S.-Cuba relationship.
Contrary to what Americans read about the "cruel" and "vindictive" embargo imposed by mean Yankee bullies against the innocent and plucky Castroites who want nothing more than our friendship, some facts are in order:
Mr. Obama abolished President Bush's travel and remittance restrictions to Mr. Castro's terrorism-sponsoring fiefdom and opened the pipeline to a point where the cash flow from the United States to Cuba today is estimated at $4 billion a year. While it was a proud Soviet satrapy, Cuba received $3 billion to $5 billion annually from the Soviets. Almost every year since Mr. Obama took office, more cash has been flowing from the mainland to Cuba than used to flow there from the Soviets at the height of their Cuba sponsorship. Hence, the smile on Castro's face as he shook hands with Mr. Obama.
Here are a few more items meticulously "overlooked" by the media:
In 1957, when Cuba was supposedly a "U.S. economic colony," though U.S. investments in Cuba accounted for only 14 percent the island's gross domestic product, America exported $347.5 million worth of goods to Cuba.
In 2012, when Cuba was purportedly being "strangled by a U.S. economic blockade," the United States exported $457.3 million worth of products to Cuba. In fact, for each of the past eight years, the United States has exported more goods to Cuba than it did in 1957.
When Cuba in 1957 was supposedly a "playground for U.S. tourists," 263,000 people visited Cuba from the United States. In 2012, when Cuba was purportedly being "blockaded" by the United States, an estimated 500,000 people visited Cuba from the U.S. Under Mr. Obama, twice as many people are visiting Cuba and dropping many more millions into Castro regime's coffers than in the 1950s.
In 1958, with Cuba under a "U.S.-backed dictator" and the United States supposedly in control of Cuba's economy, the staff of the U.S. Embassy in Cuba numbered 87, including Cuban employees. Today, with no diplomatic relations with Cuba, the staff of the U.S. Interest Section in Havana numbers 351, including Cuban employees.
According to figures from the U.S. Department of Commerce, the United States has transacted almost $4 billion in trade with Cuba over the past decade. Up until three years ago, the U.S. served as Cuba's biggest food supplier and fifth-largest import partner. We've fallen a few notches recently, but we're still in the top half.
All of this supplied an excellent reason for the smile on Mr. Castro's face as he shook hands with Mr. Obama.
For more than a decade, the so-called U.S. embargo has merely stipulated that the Castro regime pay cash upfront through a third-party bank for all U.S. agricultural products — no taxpayer financing of such sales. Enacted by the Bush team in 2001, this cash-upfront policy has been monumentally beneficial to U.S. taxpayers, making them among the few in the world not stiffed by Cuba, which per capita, qualifies as the world's biggest debtor nation, with a foreign debt estimated at $50 billion, a credit rating nudging Somalia's. Standard & Poor's refuses even to rate Cuba, regarding the economic figures released by its Stalinist apparatchiks as utterly bogus. Just last week, the Russians wrote off almost $30 billion the Castros still owed them.
The disconnect between historic truth and Castroite propaganda is not simply a "failure to communicate." It's perfect communication — between Mr. Castro's propaganda ministry and the U.S. media, to whom it issues Havana press bureaus. American journalists live up to their side of the bargain, "reporting" exactly what Castro wants them to report. Hence, the howlers most liberals believe about the Castros' "revolution."
From Kennedy to Carter to Clinton, the proof has piled up: Playing nice with the Castro brothers only emboldens them to more terrorism abroad and repression at home. Now Mr. Obama is playing nicest of all while Cubans suffer under a record of repression.
"If I were a U.S. citizen, I'd vote for Obama for president," volunteered Raul Castro's daughter, Mariela, during her visit to San Francisco last year. Any questions why?
Humberto Fontova is author of "Fidel: Hollywood's Favorite Tyrant" (Regnery, 2005).