As the Obama administration enters its waning days, the president’s “historic” decision to normalize relations with the Castro dictatorship in Cuba is ending not with a bang, but a whimper.
Days after Speaker Paul Ryan declared he had no intention of considering anti-embargo legislation before the U.S. House of Representatives, the administration petulantly ordered U.S. officials at the United Nations to “abstain” for the first time from the General Assembly’s annual embargo-bashing vote.
Think of it: a U.S. administration fails to defend its democratically elected Congress before a reflexively anti-American global body comprised largely of a gaggle of thugs, thieves and assorted other despots whose sole reason for existence is to undermine the United States of America and all it represents.
This is what Mr. Obama’s “historic” Cuba policy has come to.
By nearly every measure it set for itself, what the Obama administration intended to accomplish with its reversal of decades of U.S. policy toward Cuba has failed to occur. Supporting more private entrepreneurship? The Castro regime recently cracked down on “allowing” more Cubans to run their own businesses, a development Reuters called, “a new sign that Cuba’s Communist-run government is hesitant to further open up to private business in a country where it still controls most economic activity.”
More Cuban connectivity to the internet? Two years later, Cuba remains one of least connected countries in the world. According to Freedom House, “Cuba has long ranked as one of the world’s most repressive environments for information and communication technologies. High prices, exceptionally slow connectivity, and extensive government regulation have resulted in a pronounced lack of access to applications and services.”
As for the administration’s effort to build a U.S. business constituency to lobby for the end of all U.S. trade restrictions on Cuba, that too has proven futile. According to a recent report by The Associated Press, “Two years into President Barack Obama’s campaign to normalize relations with Cuba, his push to expand economic ties is showing few results.” In other words, U.S. companies came, they saw, they left.
And who can blame them? After getting one look at Cuba’s bankrupt economy lacking rule of law and any semblance of freedom or predictability (plus continuing potential liabilities from the in-place embargo), most said adios.
The only remaining measure the Obama administration can point to with any satisfaction is an increase in Americans visiting Cuba, which it made happen through presidential decree skirting the embargo’s ban on tourist travel. But these likely one-time curiosity-seekers stay and dine in facilities owned primarily by the Cuban military. How that will empower ordinary Cubans is something no one in the administration has ever bothered to explain.
Perhaps most damning, though, for President Obama’s supposed “legacy” Cuba project is a rising set of other numbers: Cubans fleeing the island and human rights violations.
According to a recent report on National Public Radio, over the past fiscal year, the U.S. Coast Guard intercepted 5,396 Cubans attempting to reach U.S. shores — double the number from the previous year. The mainstream media want you to believe they are fleeing in record numbers because they fear Mr. Obama’s rapprochement will mean the end of immigration privileges to the United States. But that doesn’t answer the question: If Mr. Obama’s policy was targeted toward “improving the lives of ordinary Cubans” then why do people continue to flee?
The answer that Obama apologists want to avoid is that they are fleeing because they have no hope conditions will ever improve under the Castros and that Mr. Obama’s policy shift locks in the status quo.
Equally, human rights conditions have fared poorly since Mr. Obama’s “historic” normalization of relations. The Havana-based Cuban Commission for Human Rights has documented 620 political arrests by the Castro regime during the month of October alone. That means that, with two months still to go this year, the Castro regime has made a record-shattering 9,125 political arrests already this year.
Editorial boards across the country swooned over Mr. Obama’s decision to recognize the Castro dictatorship — local democracy and human activists likely not so much.
The most painful part of this outcome is that it was entirely predictable, as many skeptics pointed out from the very beginning. But the Obama administration thought it knew better. It believed a 50-year record of ideological intolerance and intransigence could be ameliorated by a more supine U.S. position. It is the same contempt for history that has manifested itself across the board in Mr. Obama’s approach to the world.
Obama apologists say that “more time is needed” for his Cuba policy to bear fruit. But anyone who believes that is smoking something — and it’s not Cuban cigars. President-Elect Trump would do well to put an end to Mr. Obama’s dismal experiment and develop a policy that restores a sense in the Cuban people that Castroism is not a permanent blot on their daily lives.
• Jose R. Cardenas is a former acting assistant administrator for Latin America at the U.S. Agency for International Development in the George W. Bush administration and is an associate with Vision Americas.