President Obama and those supporting the opening to Cuba have been repeating a mantra the last few days that our engagement will help the Cuban people toward their goal of achieving democracy.
What do the people fighting for freedom in Cuba today think? Perhaps the president should have talked to them before taking this step. An editorial in the Washington Post details the reaction of major dissidents in Cuba, and, not surprisingly. it turns out that they feel betrayed by the president.
PRESIDENT OBAMA said he decided to normalize relations with Cuba because “we can do more to support the Cuban people and promote our values through engagement.” So it’s important to know the reaction of those Cubans who have put their lives on the line to fight for democracy and human rights. Many have supported engagement and opposed the U.S. embargo. But they are now pretty much unanimous in saying that the way Mr. Obama has gone about this is a mistake.
Actually, “mistake” is the polite word used by Berta Soler of the Ladies in White, an astonishingly courageous group of women who march each week in support of political prisoners. “Betrayal” was the term used by several others, who asked why Mr. Obama had chosen to lift economic restrictions and dispatch an ambassador without requiring the “significant steps toward democracy” he once said must precede liberalization.
Guillermo Fariñas, the general director of the dissidents’ United Anti-Totalitarian Front, told reporters in Havana that Mr. Obama had promised in a November 2013 meeting with himself and Ms. Soler that any U.S. action on Cuba “would be consulted with civil society and the nonviolent opposition. Obviously this didn’t happen . . . they didn’t take into account Cuban democrats.”
What does a promise to people risking their lives for freedom matter when there’s history to be made! This president’s mania for getting his name in the history books has already led to a gargantuan health insurance law that isn’t working, the enabling of Iran (the world’s most fanatical and dangerous regime) to build a nuclear weapon, the abandonment of Iraq to the forces of evil in his historic bid to end the war, and the amnestying of 6 million people without congressional approval.
The president is making history, alright — no matter how many people are hurt along the way.
Those who are promoting the Cuban opening invariably point to the examples of China and Vietnam — two repressive Communist states who no doubt benefited economically from international trade. But as the Post points out, both nations have regressed as far as freedom is concerned:
But even if the analogy were apt, we would argue that Mr. Obama should have learned and applied some of the hard lessons of normalization with China and Vietnam — most notably that engagement doesn’t automatically promote freedom. When the United States debated extending “most-favored-nation” trading status to China, we shared in what was then the conventional wisdom: Economic engagement would inevitably lead, over time, to political reform inside that Communist dictatorship. President Bill Clinton argued that no autocracy could control the relatively new tool of connection known as the Internet, certainly not while hoping to foster international trade and investment. Travel, openness, exposure to the American example — all this would, inexorably if gradually, push China to liberalize.
But the men who run China had other ideas. They were determined to reap the fruits of foreign investment and trade — for themselves and their families, first, but also for their country — without ceding power. So far, confounding expectations, they have succeeded. The Chinese standard of living has risen, and Chinese enjoy far more personal freedom than they did under Mao — to choose where to live, say, or whom to marry. But in the past decade, political freedom in China has declined — there is less freedom of speech, of the press, of cultural expression. More political prisoners have been locked up and tortured. Tens of thousands of censors keep tight control over the Internet.
The same is true in Vietnam: more foreign investment, less political and religious freedom, more bloggers in prison. And these are not anomalies: In the years that Mr. Obama has been in office, freedom has receded across the globe — without much protest or response from his administration.
All presidents want to leave a glowing legacy so that future historians will treat them kindly. But presidential greatness is not measured by how many policies are changed. History remembers those presidents who confront the challenges of the times and ride the whirlwind of events successfully. The challenges this president has faced haven’t been met, or have only been partially confronted. In that sense, no matter how many openings to totalitarian regimes the president makes, he’s still a failure.
Completely overturning the health care system has consequences that are still being calculated. Abandoning the effort to deny fanatics a nuclear weapon may be an historic act, but its wisdom has yet to be determined.
And throwing Cuban democrats under the bus may make history, but betrays not only the Cuban people, but American values and ideals.