The New York Times reported this morning that, before his trip on March 25, President Obama will ease further restrictions on American travel to Cuba. Individuals will now be able to travel to Cuba without having to purchase expensive packages sold by approved tourist agencies.
No longer will they have to join a group studying Cuban music, photography, politics, etc. They will only have to promise to engage in “people to people” exchanges. Read broadly, it means you can go to Cuba as long as you engage in serious conversations with Cubans you meet.
This surely does not include chats with dissidents.
Obama will also make it easier to use dollars in financial transactions with American banks, thereby easing currency exchange problems. This, as the Times’ report puts it, is “something government officials in Havana have long pressed for.” Both Obama and Castro hope that these behind-the-scenes deals, made in advance of Obama’s trip, will help to “ensure that his trip is seen as a success.”
Once again, Obama appears to be giving the Cuban regime what it wants without getting anything in return. The results of such a policy are turning out to be counter to his stated goals — to open Cuba up and to move it towards democracy.
In fact, since announcing his normalization policy a year ago, the Castro regime has cracked down harder on Cuban dissidents. The independent blogger Yoani Sanchez writes:
Inside the country, [Raul Castro] has not wanted to give even the slightest recognition to his critics, against whom he has continued arrests, mob actions and painful character assassination.
As for opening Cuba to the outside, Charles Lane correctly observes:
[T]he dictator [Raul Castro] has every incentive to limit U.S.-Cuban interactions to those he can contain and control, which is what he has done so far. … When Yahoo News asked Obama to list “concessions” Castro had made, the president couldn’t name one.
What will Obama’s schedule include when he arrives in Cuba? Perhaps he’ll attend the free concert by The Rolling Stones, in addition to his commitment to attend an exhibition baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team. His office, however, has remained silent on whether he will spare the time to meet with official Cuban dissident groups — which would be a signal that he approves of the legitimacy of their protests.
The Washington Post, whose editorial board has been supportive of the cause of Cuban freedom, editorialized that while meeting with and encouraging advocates of democracy in Cuba is “less glamorous and more dangerous than Major League Baseball,” if the president does not openly meet with dissidents and invite them to the embassy for discussion, “his visit will be an ignoble failure.”
Originally, the Obama administration said they would meet with whomever they wanted. Now, however, they have found that Castro’s apparatchiks are doing what they can to prevent a meeting with democracy advocates. And why shouldn’t they? They have learned that the president offers those with whom he wants rapprochement all they ask for. He does this to supposedly show his good faith. Hence he asks for no reciprocal measures from Cuba and gets nothing in return.
We know from many reports that conditions in Cuba have become much worse since the opening of Cuba began 15 months ago. Yet tourists are flocking, and scores of U.S. business leaders are traveling there to make deals for new factories, hotels, agricultural produce and farm machinery, and for products that can be sold there.
We expect that American businessmen will be looking at how the new relationship with Cuba will improve their bottom lines. Traveling with Obama will be the CEO of Marriott, Arne Sorenson. Starwood, whose hotels include Sheraton and Westin, is expecting U.S. and Cuban approval to build new properties in Cuba or to manage existing ones in their name.
It is doubtful that this will filter down to the Cuban people. These deals are being worked out without demanding that the Cubans employed receive their pay in U.S. dollars, instead of the current arrangement. At present, hotel workers’ salaries paid in U.S. currency are given to the Cuban government, which in return pays hotel labor a pittance in worthless Cuban pesos.
Whatever one thinks of Marco Rubio’s doomed presidential race, he is right when he talks about Cuba policy. The trip will be successful, Rubio told the Washington Post, if:
… the Cuban government announces after meeting with Barack Obama [that] we’ve decided to create democratic openings in Cuba. We’re going to allow independent media outlets. We’re going to free every political prisoner. We’re going to stop detaining dissidents. Any sort of progress in that direction would be a positive development, much along the lines of what they were able to get out of Myanmar.
Rubio is wise enough to know that his dreams will not happen this time, especially since Obama is not even putting such goals forth. Americans should demand that more is gained from this trip than Obama returning to tell the American people that, as he hoped, he had “fun” in Cuba.
And as far as the “embargo” on Cuba goes, the Obama administration has effectively bypassed Congress and repealed it. Don’t be surprised that Obama’s next move is to circumvent Congress again and hand Guantanamo back to Raul Castro. After all, he wants it, and Obama is a man who just can’t say no to tyrants.