After U.S. waits decades to recognize Cuba, Obama picks the worst possible moment to do so

Jackson Diehl in the National Post:

Jackson Diehl: The U.S. waits 65 years to recognize Cuba, then picks the wrong moment

An enduring characteristic of Barack Obama’s presidency has been his determination to implement the ideological agenda with which he arrived in office without regard for conditions in the real world. He imposed timetables for “ending the wars” in Afghanistan and Iraq unlinked to military progress. He insisted on pursuing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, even though the leaders of both sides were manifestly unwilling. He began his second term by seeking a new nuclear arms deal with Vladimir Putin, despite abundant evidence that Putin was preparing for confrontation with the West.Now, six years into his presidency, Obama has launched, as his first significant initiative in Latin America, detente with Cuba. It’s a torch that many liberals have carried for decades. Once again, however, the president has acted with willful disregard for current events.

In particular, two salient facts were ignored. The first is that the regime of Raúl Castro was desperate for an economic opening to the United States — meaning that concessions offered gratis by Obama could have been used to leverage meaningful political concessions by the regime. A simple one could have been an end to the arrests and beatings of peaceful dissidents, such as those that occurred last week.

Second, Obama ignored the slowly mushrooming crisis that triggered Castro’s distress and that ought to be the focus of U.S. energies in Latin America. That is the slow but potentially catastrophic collapse of Venezuela, a major U.S. oil supplier with three times Cuba’s population that, as 2015 begins, is well on its way to becoming a failed state.

Venezuela has been a virtual Cuban colony in recent years, which is one big reason for the fix it is in. After sheltering caudillo Hugo Chávez during his slow demise from cancer, Havana helped to install as his successor Nicolás Maduro, a former bus driver of astonishingly small talents. Since Chávez’s death 22 months ago, Maduro has faithfully continued the 100,000-barrel-a-day oil subsidy that keeps Cuba’s moribund economy from crumbling.

Meanwhile, Maduro has overseen the degeneration of his country’s economic, political and social situation from abysmal to truly disastrous. Economic production declined by 5 percent in the first half of this year, inflation rose past 60 percent and an estimated one-third of consumer goods were in shortage — and that was before the 50 percent drop in the price of Venezuela’s oil, which provides 95 percent of the hard currency for a country that imports most of its food and medicine.

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