Obama’s legacy in Cuba: An apology for America’s sins against Cuba

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By Elliott Abrams in CFR’s Pressure Points:

The Obama Legacy in Cuba

Moving fast in his waning months, President Obama concluded he had not done enough to overturn U.S. policy toward Cuba and ensure that his new policies will survive. So he has issued a new “Presidential Policy Directive” that goes even further.

Two things are striking about it. First, what the United States gets in return from the Castro regime is exactly and precisely nothing. This is not a bargained-for exchange; Castro makes no promises, allows no one to get out of prison, does not even make a vague allusion to reform. Nothing. This is because Cuba policy is, for the President, less an exercise in statesmanship than the true product of ideological politics. This policy is a remedy, a medicine, an apology, to make up for what he sees as decades of American sin toward Cuba.

Of course, in Mr. Obama’s imagination “Cuba” means “Castro;” the Cuban people are really not an actor here. The benefits of all the commerce that will now grow go directly to the regime. For example, the hotels that Mr. Obama wishes to fill with American tourists are owned by the Cuban military. No matter, it seems.

One can see glimpses of all this in the actual text of the Directive. For example, take these lines: “we are not seeking to impose regime change on Cuba; we are, instead, promoting values that we support around the world while respecting that it is up to the Cuban people to make their own choices about their future.” Later in the text we see this again: “We will not pursue regime change in Cuba. We will continue to make clear that the United States cannot impose a different model on Cuba because the future of Cuba is up to the Cuban people.”

This is blindness, because the real problem facing the Cuban people is precisely that the future of Cuba is NOT up to them, but is under the control of a tyrannical communist regime. They are not permitted “to make their own choices about their future,” and when they try they are beaten and jailed. Mr. Obama’s failure to recognize and admit this is at the heart of the moral abdication that is his Cuba policy. And it is at the heart of his administration’s broader failures in human rights policy: when he sees “Iran,” he sees the regime, not the people, so he remains silent in June 2009 when they rise up in the Green Revolution. In truth the people of Iran were getting in the way of his Iran policy, so they had to be ignored. This is the precise phenomenon we see as well in Cuba.

In fact the Cuban people are suffering from a human rights crackdown since the signing of the first agreement with the regime. (See this report, or this, for example.) American newspapers have reported this very widely, and one might have expected Mr. Obama to hold back on further concessions until the crackdown was lifted. One might, that is, if one had not been paying attention: for Mr. Obama, this is another “legacy item,” and it has nothing to do with the actual, real-world human rights situation in Cuba. Human rights and democracy activists there are on their own.

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1 thought on “Obama’s legacy in Cuba: An apology for America’s sins against Cuba”

  1. If you think this is bad, wait till Castro, Inc. falls and its victims are expected and pressured to not only forget real justice and restitution but to admit that both sides were to blame more or less equally–or at least that what Castro, Inc. did was “understandable” and “well-intentioned” but not very well executed.

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