- - Tuesday, January 17, 2017

I couldn’t have imagined that President Obama could do any more harm to the Cuban people before he left office, but I was wrong. With only a week left in his presidency he announced that the long-standing policy of accepting Cubans that flee the Communist island of Cuba by sea — the policy known as “wet feet, dry feet” — would change. That policy has been in place since President Clinton declared it so after the horrific debacle of the Clinton administration’s handling of 9-year-old Elian Gonzalez. Elian survived the torturous waters between Cuba and the U.S., often called the Florida Straits, after his mother fell off the boat in a storm trying to get her son to the United States.

I have often wondered if the same thing had happened during the height of the Cold War, with a mother rushing the Berlin Wall from the East trying to get her young son to safety in the West, would we have given him back to the Communist Stasi? I think not. For the Cuban people enslaved on that island, the path to freedom is what horror movies are made of. The sea passage between Cuba and the United States is one of the most dangerous in the world. Elian, his mother and a handful of others fled Cuba to try to reach freedom in the United States. Imagine the horrors in Cuban life that could lead a young mother to risk the life of her 9-year-old son, and her own in search of liberty. These are the very freedoms and liberties that our Founding Fathers wrote about and fought for in the Revolutionary War. The inalienable rights that are given by God to every man and woman — and that no man has the right or power to take from another — have sadly eluded the Cuban people for decades.

After the forced deportation of Elian Gonzalez by armed U.S. federal agents under the direction of President Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno, the Clinton administration decided to only allow Cuban refugees to stay in the United States if they were able to take a step on the ground of U.S. territory. If they were picked up in an inner tube or raggedy, handmade boat “at sea,” they were returned to Cuba to certain punishment, imprisonments or death.

Now, with just a few days left of the Obama administration, Mr. Obama is giving the Cuban people yet another little gift. The president is changing U.S. policy and is reversing the “wet feet, dry feet” Cuban refugee policy. In the future, freedom-seeking Cubans will all be retuned. Thanks to Mr. Obama. How thoughtful and incredibly generous from the first U.S. president to visit Cuba, who tried to lift the embargo placed on Cuba after Fidel Castro brutally took over in Cuba with his Communist Revolution in 1960.

There have been 10 U.S. presidents, five Democrats and five Republicans, since then. All adhered to the embargo put in place by Democratic President John F. Kennedy. Mr. Obama, however, opened diplomatic relations with Cuba this year. The Obama administration raised the U.S. flag in Havana (my birthplace). It brought tears to my eyes when I thought of my late father, Dr. Claudio F. Benedi. My father fought all his life for human rights and freedom for Cuba, and for when the day would come that the U.S. flag would proudly be raised alongside the Cuban flag.

Cuba would be a free republic again. Unfortunately, the flags are up, but the people are in chains, and this breaks my heart. Cuba, a Communist and totalitarian country, systematically violates the human rights of its people. There are more beatings and detentions of dissidents inside Cuba now than ever before. For more information on this issue and many others about Cuba, please look up Center for a Free Cuba. Its executive director, Frank Calzon is one of the foremost, if not the best source on Cuba today — a true patriot.

Nothing has changed or will change in the near future. Cuba has been ruled brutally by the revolutionary Communist leader of 1959, Fidel Castro, and now the power has been passed to his younger brother Raul Castro. A parting present to Raul (“the butcher of Havana”), is a reversal of Cuba and U.S. policy. One of those 10 U.S. presidents has broken that policy. Please, President Obama, please think before you condemn people to slavery.

Cuba has been a leading force in spreading revolutions in the Western Hemisphere. Cuba is also a known sponsor of terrorism.

As a Cuban American, I have been waiting patiently for something positive to happen in Cuba because of your new policy. Unfortunately, I have only seen more attacks on citizens, more dissidents detained and despairing, even more freedoms taken away. Our brothers and sisters need our attention more than ever.

Please, President-elect Donald Trump. I have followed you for a long time. I believe you are the right leader at the right time to finally free Cuba. I pray and hope that you and your administration will make Cuba a priority. The Cuban people have longed for this moment. It is at hand. Please.

Antonio Benedi, a former special assistant to President George H.W. Bush, is a member of the board of directors of the Patrick Henry Center for Individual Liberty. He is a naturalized U.S. citizen, born in Cuba.

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