Give Castro’s embassy in Washington the address it deserves

Marion Smith, Executive Director of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in The Washington Post:

Give Castro’s embassy in Washington the address it deserves

Rename 16th Street for a dissident who died under mysterious circumstances.

Raising the flag at the U.S. Embassy in Havana on Aug. 14 was a historically symbolic act, but equally symbolic were the absence of dissidents and the failure to talk about Cuba’s repressive regime at this public moment. The 45-minute ceremony illustrated everything that is wrong with Washington’s Cuba policy.

Americans and Cubans who have wanted for decades to hold the island’s dictatorship accountable for its human rights crimes absorbed a tough blow. But if the Obama administration won’t give them the right Cuba policy, Congress can award them an important and symbolic concession: Rub a reminder of the regime’s brutality in its face, every day, by renaming the street where its embassy stands in D.C. after one of its victims, the slain opposition leader Oswaldo Payá.

We all want a free, democratic and prosperous Cuba at peace with the United States. But this is not what Fidel and Raúl Castro want. Raul has made it clear that Cuba will remain under the control of the Communist Party and will not change the nature of the regime. As Josefina Vidal, director of U.S. affairs for the Cuban Foreign Ministry, put it: “Decisions on internal matters are not negotiable and will never be put on the negotiating agenda.” This is why the Cuban government refused to offer any meaningful political or economic reforms that might loosen its stranglehold on power, such as democratic elections or the release of all prisoners of conscience.

Despite good intentions, the U.S. policy shift morally and financially bolsters the Communist Party and disheartens people — both here and in Cuba — who have fought for freedom and prosperity. America’s recognition of the Castro regime legitimizes the party’s rule and makes continuity of party control more, not less, likely after Raul’s retirement or death. Victims of the Castro regime feel they have lost their staunchest ally, the United States. During an audience with Congress, dissident Jorge Luis Garcia Pérez — commonly known as Antúnez — said the majority of Cuba’s dissidents consider the negotiations between Washington and Havana a betrayal that threatens Cuban people’s aspirations for freedom.

People who oppose the rapprochement appear powerless. Easing the embargo bails out the party by letting it broker deals with U.S. corporate investors while choosing which Cubans get to do business with Americans. Tourism dollars coming from the United States will open a new revenue stream for the Cuban military, which owns the largest hotel conglomerate in Latin America and the Caribbean and most of the hotels on the island. Its parent company is run by Castro’s son-in-law, Luis Alberto Rodriguez López-Callejas.

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