President Obama touched down in Cuba on Sunday and was welcomed by Cuban President Raul Castro on Monday. On Saturday, it was reported that nine refugees died trying to escape Castro’s regime. In this vein, Ted Cruz attacked Obama’s visit as “appeasement” and as an insult to the prisoners in Cuba.
In a Sunday op-ed at Politico, Cruz unleashed a scathing attack on Obama:
Political prisoners languishing in dungeons across the island will hear this message: Nobody has your back. You’re alone with your tormentors. The world has forgotten about you.
Cruz, who stands in second place in the Republican presidential primary, mentioned his Cuban heritage and his family’s struggle for freedom from that country.
I am the son of a Cuban who was beaten and tortured by Batista’s regime, and my aunt was likewise brutalized by Castro’s thugs. Thankfully, both my father and my Tía Sonia found freedom in the United States.
This personal history allowed the Texas senator to emphasize political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Cuba as fellow-travelers deserving of United States support, rather than neglect.
Cruz referenced news reports estimating over 100 long-term prisoners of conscience in Cuba (the exact number is unknown, as Castro does not grant international organizations access to his prisons). He also cited the independent Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, which argues that there were 1,141 Cubans detained for political reasons last month, and 1,447 detained in January.
As PJ Media’s Ron Radosh explains, many Cubans are voting with their feet. “Right now, 11,000 Cuban refugees are languishing in Central America, stuck because Nicaragua, which honors the Cuban regimes’ requests, is forbidding them from crossing into border nations that would allow them to travel to the United States,” Radosh explained. “Last year alone, 30,000 Cubans made it to our Southwest border — a 77 percent increase from 2014.”
The White House has declared that Obama’s visit will lead the way in establishing people-to-people relations, but Cruz alleged it has an entirely different effect. “All that Obama’s appeasement of the Castro dictatorship has done so far is create a channel for inside deals between large corporations and the Cuban military, which holds all the keys to the island’s economy,” Cruz wrote. The business deals between American and Cuban firms, celebrated by the president, will actually end up enriching current elites at the expense of the majority of the people, Cruz alleged.
“Corporate cronyism, meet communist totalitarianism.” The Texas senator argued that “the effect will not be liberalization but rather the institutionalization of the Communist dictatorship as the profits from this détente will line the pockets not only of Fidel and Raul Castro, but also of Raul’s son, Alejandro Castro Espin.”
Cruz used Obama’s own words against him. The president told Yahoo News that he would travel to Cuba only “if, in fact, I with confidence can say that we’re seeing some progress in the liberty and freedom and possibilities of ordinary Cubans,” adding that “if we’re going backwards, then there’s not much reason for me to be there.”
Citing the news about the nine deaths in the crossover from Cuba, Cruz replied, “I have news, Mr. President: No progress has taken place. Cuba is going backward.”