THE TALE OF TWO NEWSPAPERS

While many have criticized The New York Times editorials on Cuba and its important advocacy of President Obama's concessions to the regime, few have taken notice of The Washington Post's siding with the Cuban people, and with Cuban dissidents and its thoughtful criticism of the Castro's dictatorship. The Washington Post provides an important service to its many readers, including Senators, Members of Congress, Administration officials, and the diplomatic corps in the nation's capital, who might be misled by The New York Times tendency to give Havana the benefit of the doubt. A sample of The Post's articles follow. 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/cuba-makes-changes--but-ignores-one-of-the-most-important/2018/07/25/0b42ef2e-8e99-11e8-8322-b5482bf5e0f5_story.html

 

The Post's View Opinion

Cuba makes changes — but ignores one of the most important

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A member of the National Assembly studies the proposed update to the Cuban constitution in Havana on July 21. (Abel Padron/Agencia Cubana de Noticias via AP)

By Editorial BoardJuly 25

ALTHOUGH THE full text has not yet been released, the news from Cuba about a new constitution is tantalizing. The document could lead to laws that permit same-sex marriage and could permit owning private property. If true, this would mark a reversal from decades of hostility to homosexuality and capitalism. But don’t hold your breath for major change. The constitution will not allow the most basic right of all — for Cubans to choose their own leaders or determine the shape of their own government.

In Raúl Castro’s 10 years as president, which ended this year, there were modest openings for private entrepreneurs who were eager to build small businesses but found themselves hampered by sudden restrictions from the state, which began to hold up licenses last year. This kind of gradual, paternalistic, stop-start thinking is characteristic of the regime, even under the handpicked new president, Miguel Díaz-Canel . The constitutional rewrite, carried out under Mr. Castro’s supervision, does not auger a radical break from it.

In the 1960s, Fidel Castro created penal colonies that incarcerated homosexuals, as well as others deemed “deviants” by the regime. Now, according to Reuters, the constitution will define marriage as a union between two people, not as between a man and a woman. More legislation would be required to legalize same-sex marriage, but the change would begin to catch up with evolving social values around the world. Likewise, the new constitution reportedly will tip the hat to the market and private property — but also strongly endorse the principles of a socialist system with state-owned companies in a dominant position. This does not seem likely to truly free Cuba’s entrepreneurs, with all their vigor and aspirations, from the heavy hand of Cuba’s long-outdated socialist dictates.

Cuba’s 1940 constitution was a progressive document. It was followed by a dozen years of elected but corrupt government, then abrogated by Fulgencio Batista’s coup of 1952. Castro took power in 1959 but only got around to a new constitution in 1976 as part of an effort to consolidate his Soviet-backed, Marxist one-party state. The 1976 document included a provision that allowed 10,000 eligible voters to propose laws to parliament. When Oswaldo Payá and other dissidents put this to the test in May 2002 with the Varela Project citizens initiative, submitting 11,020 signatures to parliament demanding a referendum on democracy, a free press, free markets and freedom for political prisoners, their request was coldly ignored, and instead Castro sponsored a referendum to enshrine socialism as irrevocable in Cuba’s political, social and economic life.

This leads to what is really deficient about the current exercise — it does not envision a Cuba where people are free to choose their own leaders, nor open the Communist Party to serious competition. If anything, the regime wants to don a nice new suit, but its basic authoritarian and repressive methods have not changed.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/no-more-castroism-cuba-needs-to-free-its-own-people/2018/04/13/c3d7c796-3e5b-11e8-8d53-eba0ed2371cc_story.html?utm_term=.f9d50e67d398

 

 

No more Castroism: Cuba needs to free its own people

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Cuban President Raúl Castro. (Ariana Cubillos/AP)

By Editorial BoardApril 13, 2018

WHEN RAÚL Castro steps down as Cuba’s president on Thursday, as he has promised, it will mark the end of an era. He will remain a power behind the scenes as head of the Cuban Communist Party and the army, but for the first time in nearly six decades, neither he nor his brother Fidel will be at the helm. Already, there has been much attention to narrow questions, such as whether the expected successor, Miguel Díaz-Canel, will be different by any measure. But at this point, it is worth asking bigger questions, too: Why does Cuba need Castroism any longer? More of the same — for what?

At one time, free education and health care were totems of the Castro revolution’s promise of equality and better lives. But today Cuba is a grim shadow of its former self. The economist Richard E. Feinberg, in a recent report for the Brookings Institution, writes that for many crops, such as sugar, coffee, tobacco, citrus and fish, “pre-revolutionary production levels far exceeded today’s harvests.” In other words, Cuba was producing more before 1959 than it is today. In Havana, food shortages have long been common; recently it was eggs that were hard to find. More of the same?

While authoritarianism is enjoying a comeback in Russia, totalitarianism in Cuba never left. Dissidents are regularly rounded up; there is no freedom of information, press or association; and a tired system of Communist Party loyalty and monopoly on power lumbers on. The country is run by a clique — one that in recent years has been getting rich, too — and most Cubans have no say whatsoever in how their country is governed. Even a mention of democracy causes government officials to shiver. As Mr. Feinberg put it, “Over six decades, the vanguard party has become the rearguard party, lagging badly behind popular opinions and aspirations.” More of the same?

Even Raúl Castro’s relatively timid early economic reforms seem to have frightened his own party bureaucrats. The private economy expanded during his decade-long watch; the number of authorized self-employed people grew from 150,000 in 2008 to 580,000 last year. The private sector now is about 29 percent of workers, including farmers and private enterprises, while the state is 71 percent. Suddenly alarmed that people were making real money in private businesses, the government last August stopped issuing new licenses and threw on the brakes. This kind of tiptoeing to the future is not enough to break Cuba’s deep and disenchanting stagnation.

For too long, Fidel and Raúl Castro deflected blame by claiming it was all the fault of the U.S. trade embargo. Now some are blaming President Trump’s harder line in the wake of the mysterious attacks on U.S. diplomats in Havana. It is just too facile to blame the United States for everything wrong in Cuba. The change Cuba needs must come from within. Cuba needs to free its own people: to speak, to vote, to own, to produce and to travel. After six decades of Castroism, the last thing it needs is more of the same.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/let-cubans-choose-their-future/2016/12/01/b9e93afa-b741-11e6-b8df-600bd9d38a02_story.html?utm_term=.79ce13ed9e59

 

Let Cubans choose their future

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People line the street as they await the arrival of a military convoy with the flag-draped chest containing the remains of Fidel Castro. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

By Rosa María Payá AcevedoDecember 1, 2016

Rosa María Payá Acevedo is president of the Latin American Youth Network for Democracy.

The tyrant is dead, but his tyranny is still alive.

Today on the island, the communist Castro-totalitarianism regime survives the corpse of its most visible head. That is why the repression continues and in fact intensified a few hours after the news of Fidel Castro’s death, with the arrests and harassment of opponents.

And it is why the universal value of the right to decide our future must now take center stage. This is a right that belongs to all Cubans by virtue of our humanity. It is a right that has been violated for more than half a century and that today is denied to us by the Cuban constitution, which prohibits us, as a people, from determining the economic, political and social system under which we want to live.

One after another, the world’s authoritarians have proclaimed their mourning for Castro. From them, we expected it. But it is always disappointing, if not surprising, to see presidents of democratic countries and world religious leaders join the likes of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in sentiments of regret for Castro’s passing.

Castro died without facing the consequences of his actions, with impunity, but that record cannot be erased and should not be ignored. He is directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of more than 97,000 people, a number that accounts for only a part of the documented cases.

Among them is my father, Oswaldo Payá, who in 2012 was run off the road by agents of the Castro regime. Castro had vowed to take measures against my father, winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought, when the time was right. “We will act, come what may and whatever it costs,” he told Spanish intellectual Ignacio Ramonet.

And so we Cubans confront the double challenge of peacefully ending an orphaned dictatorship and dealing with the hypocrisy disguised as protocol from a good portion of the international community, including the European Union, the United States and the young Canadian leader Justin Trudeau. That’s part of the reason we have turned to basic values and undeniable principles to shape our future.

The Cuban people still live under a regime tailored by the Castro clan — communist and exclusionary. It is the same one that engendered and incubated Latin America’s so-called Socialism of the 21st century, the euphemism used to disguise and propagate authoritarian regimes in our hemisphere, with the support of the Cuban intelligence apparatus and petrodollars provided by Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela. Now, it is believed that its portion of the Colombian-Venezuelan drug trade, if it isn’t doing so already, will be the next source of sponsorship of Cuban totalitarianism.

That is why the Cuba Decide initiative invites everyone, including the mourning international leaders, as well as presidents-elect and incumbents, to support holding a binding plebiscite in Cuba on the option of exchanging tyranny for a democratic system. It is the only tool remaining to guarantee that all of our citizens will be able to design their own future, and so to start a transition that cannot truly begin until all Cubans are a part of it.

The mobilization of citizens in favor of a binding plebiscite is the path we will use to liberate ourselves and to liberate Latin America from the interference of the Cuban government through its state security — that is, from the imperial voracity of the Castro regime to reproduce and perpetuate itself despotically across Latin America. We hope we can count on the unwavering support of the world’s democracies in the rightful demand of our liberties, and in their solidarity and timely denunciation of all the crimes committed by the Castro regime.

Right now, the international community’s support is the only protection that Cuban families can turn to in the face of state repression at the hands of Raúl Castro and his cronies. We hope that we will not be left alone in our peaceful struggle for a life in truth, and that the world will not, through the complicity of silence, share in the responsibility for the death of the next martyr of Cuban dissidents.

 

http://www.washingtonpost.com/the-posts-view/2011/12/07/gIQAoEIscO_page.html

The Washington Post, November 26, 2016

The Post's View

Fidel Castro’s terrible legacy

By Editorial Board November 26, 2016

IN CONTRAST to his long life of violence, both verbal and physical, Fidel Castro’s demise at 90 was, apparently, peaceful. Cuba’s communist dictator from 1959 until illness obliged him to hand control to his brother Raúl in 2006, Mr. Castro did not so much die as fade away. It was an unlikely conclusion to a turbulent career that Mr. Castro’s many enemies, including successive U.S. administrations, might gladly have ended more abruptly many years ago.

Mr. Castro’s legacy is a 57-year-old “revolution” that once punched above its weight in world affairs, especially in Latin America, but in more recent years became a decrepit museum piece of Soviet-style totalitarianism. Over Fidel’s objections, Raúl Castro has tried to adapt and preserve the regime, including through an opening to the United States. Too eagerly reciprocated by President Obama, that initiative has brought in more U.S. dollars and tourists but no relief from stifling and frequently violent repression of speech, assembly and other basic human rights.

Fidel’s Cuba boasted a previously unknown degree of sovereign separation from the United States. Under his rule, too, Cuban public health and literacy indicators were significantly better than those of many other Latin American states (though that was also true pre-revolution).

For those “achievements,” however, the Cuban people paid a terrible price — far higher than they could have expected when Mr. Castro roared into Havana, promising to restore political freedoms lost under the U.S.-backed dictatorship that he ousted. Though counterproductive to his ostensibly humane social policies, Mr. Castro’s political repression reached an extreme that would have made his predecessor, Fulgencio Batista, blush.

It began with mass summary executions of Batista officials and soon progressed to internment of thousands of gay men and lesbians; systematic, block-by-block surveillance of the entire citizenry; repeated purges, complete with show trials and executions, of the ruling party; and punishment for dissident artists, writers and journalists. Mr. Castro’s regime learned from the totalitarian patron he chose to offset the U.S. adversary — the Soviet Union, whose offensive nuclear missiles he welcomed, bringing the world to the brink of armageddon. Mr. Castro sponsored violent subversive movements in half a dozen Latin American countries and even in his dotage helped steer Venezuela to economic and political catastrophe through his patronage of Hugo Chávez.

Cuba’s pre-Castro economy was overly reliant on sugar exports and left many in poverty, and the post-1961 U.S. trade embargo did not help the revolution prosper. But Mr. Castro himself did by far the lion’s share of damage, impoverishing the island through a program of total state control, occasionally punctuated by his own grandiose schemes — from the ill-fated 10 million-ton sugar harvest in the 1960s to the brutally austere “Special Period” after Soviet subsidies ended in the 1990s.

Today, Cuba lives off Venezuelan oil and money sent home by the millions who fled Mr. Castro’s rule; it also depends on tourists, including an increasing number of Americans — many of whom, alas, are drawn by the officially tolerated sex trade. In that sense, the revolution has simply brought Cuba full circle to the Batista days. Fidel Castro’s passing is unlikely to change that much, thanks to Raúl Castro’s consolidation of the regime. But it provides added impetus for a new U.S. administration to rethink how best to promote freedom as well as more trade and better relations with the talented but devastated nation Mr. Castro leaves behind.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/fidel-castros-terrible-legacy/2016/11/26/0659042c-b3de-11e6-8616-52b15787add0_story.html

The Post's View

The Washington Post, October 18, 2016

Obama to the Castro regime: Do whatever you want

By Editorial Board October 18, 2016

ON FRIDAY, President Obama unveiled a Presidential Decision Directive trumpeting further overtures to the Cuban government designed to make thethaw he announced on Dec. 17, 2014, “irreversible.” That would imply “regardless of results” — which so far have been paltry, at least in terms of freedom and prosperity for Cuba’s long-suffering people. Indeed, Cubans are “worse off now than how they imagined their future” when normalization began, opposition journalist Yoani Sanchez noted recently.

The Castro regime has arrested almost as many peaceful opponents so far this year (8,505) as it did in all of 2015 (8,616), according to the nongovernmental Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation. The ranks of the repressed include dissident lawyer Julio Alfredo Ferrer Tamayo, who was thrown in prison Sept. 23. His law firm was also ransacked and documents were taken. Havana’s municipal government has just banned new licenses for private restaurants and instructed existing ones that it will start enforcing onerous taxes and regulations more tightly. It was, Reuters reported, “a new sign that Cuba’s Communist-run government is hesitant to further open up to private business in a country where it still controls most economic activity,” following similar retrenchment in agriculture and transportation last year.

The economy is stagnating due to the Castro regime’s perennial mismanagement and cutbacks in aid from Cuba’s chaotic patron, Venezuela. In July, Cuba’s economy minister warned that fuel consumption would have to be cut by nearly a third in the rest of the year, along with restrictions in state investments and imports. Cuba’s cash crunch helps explain why sales of U.S. goods (those permitted under long-standing humanitarian exceptions to the embargo) are running well below what they were before the thaw. Some 89,000 Cubans have fled to the United States since the policy began.

Havana’s response to Mr. Obama’s latest olive branch was to demand more concessions. Mr. Obama’s directive “does not hide the purpose of promoting changes in the political, economic and social order,” top diplomat Josefina Vidal asserted. Shortly thereafter, Ms. Vidal led a large nationally televised rally at Havana University to protest the “genocidal” embargo, part of a broad anti-U.S. propaganda campaign timed to coincide with Mr. Obama’s announcement.

An optimistic view of these developments would be that the administration’s strategy is working: Frightened by the prospect of freer business activity, and ideologically challenged in the absence of a Yanqui enemy, Cuba’s leaders must clamp down on the former and invent the latter — and round up the usual dissident suspects. That may be true; but recent events also show the tension between the president’s twin goals of doing business with the Cuban government as a legitimate equal and relieving the misery of the Cuban people, which is caused by their government. Even on the ideological defensive, the Cuban regime retains the capacity to resist change and to punish citizens who seek to bring it about.

We have never opposed a thaw in relations, only Mr. Obama’s decision — contrary to his earlier promise — to exclude from the process all those Cubans who have been bravely fighting for increased freedom. Now Mr. Obama is giving the regime a green light: No amount of repression can derail his policy. That is a strange and unfortunate message.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/obama-to-the-castro-regime-do-whatever-you-want/2016/10/18/61232c62-949d-11e6-bb29-bf2701dbe0a3_story.html?utm_term=.b97377cca3b7

 

The Washington Post, September 16, 2016

The Post's View

Cubans don’t benefit from American business — Castro does

By Editorial Board September 16, 2016

AS YOU ponder the impact on political and economic freedom in Cuba of the Obama administration’s diplomatic opening to that Communist-ruled country, keep this figure in mind: $50. That’s how much every American visitor has to pay the Castro regime for a tourist visa each time he or she travels to the island, as the administration is aggressively enouraging people to do. Last year, 160,000 people visited Cuba from the United States, which translates into $8 million, not chump change for the financially troubled regime. Those numbers are on course to double in 2016.

We make this point to place the latest celebratory headlines about the renewal of scheduled air travel from the United States to Cuba in a broader perspective. If you think the president’s policy will “empower” the fledgling Cuban private sector, as opposed to the overbearing state, think again. Easy money from expensive visas is a relatively minor example of the regime’s so-far successful efforts to reap direct benefit from the new relationship with the United States. Even more important is the fact that the Cuban armed forces own the country’s dominant tourism companies, and those firms are expanding their role in anticipation of an American influx.

As the Associated Press recently reported, the Cuban military has taken over a previously autonomous office that controlled Old Havana, a major tourist attraction, as well as a bank responsible for most of Cuba’s international financial transactions. Gaviota, a military-owned tourism company, is in the midst of what the AP calls “a hotel building spree,” which Cuba needs because its existing hotels lack sufficient capacity, by far, to accomodate hundreds of thousands of additional visitors from the United States. To date, Cuban private operators had been filling the gap by renting rooms in their homes. The military’s activities show that the regime has no intention of sharing the market with these cuentapropistas, as Cuban small businesses are known in Spanish. The Obama administration claims that support for these entrepreneurs is a major aim of its policy; it sees them as a potential source of middle-class pressure in favor of democracy. Meanwhile, it authorizes Starwood Hotels, a giant U.S. firm, to join forces with the Cuban state in operating government-run hotels.

Stripped of the high-minded rhetoric, the fundamental tendency of the new dispensation in U.S.-Cuban relations is toward collaboration between U.S. corporations and military gatekeepers on the island, in which profits take priority over the basic human rights of the Cuban people. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s very much like the arrangement that once existed between Washington and the kleptocratic Batista regime Fidel Castro overthrew in 1959.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/cubans-dont-benefit-from-american-business--castro-does/2016/09/16/674e32b2-79e5-11e6-bd86-b7bbd53d2b5d_story.html?utm_term=.da83e98bc42b

The Washington Post, May 30, 2016

The Post's View

On U.S.-Cuba military cooperation, proceed with caution

By Editorial Board May 30, 2016

IDAEL FUMERO Valdés is not someone you’d expect to see as an honored guest of the U.S. military. As chief of investigations for Cuba’s National Revolutionary Police, a part of the military-controlled Ministry of the Interior, he plays a key law enforcement role in a state where beating and arresting human rights activists is considered law enforcement. Yet there he was at a U.S. naval air base in Key West, Fla., on April 21, touring the facilities at the invitation of the U.S. military command for Latin America.

Accompanying Mr. Valdés were senior officials of the Cuban anti-drug agency and border guards, plus a diplomat. Separately, U.S. officials have attended a security conference outside the United States with a Cuban delegation headed by Gustavo Machín Gómez, who was expelled from a previous diplomatic post in the United States 14 years ago due to his involvement with a highly damaging Cuban espionage operation against the Defense Intelligence Agency. Apparently the White House has decided to let that bygone be a bygone.

Welcome to the brave new world of military-to-military contact with Cuba, the Obama administration’s latest idea for engagement with that island nation. Direct communications between the two countries’ security forces have been going on for years, of course — in limited, operational contexts such as avoiding clashes around the Guantanamo Bay naval base and repatriating Cuban rafters plucked from the sea by the U.S. Coast Guard. That’s necessary and appropriate.

As the Key West visit suggests, however, the administration has a wider agenda in mind. For the first time, the United States accepted Cuban participation, alongside military officers from democracies, in this year’s Caribbean Nations Security Conference in Kingston, Jamaica. The deputy secretary of homeland security, Alejandro Mayorkas, visited Havana earlier this month to discuss law enforcement cooperation. At a conference on the benefits of expanded contacts Thursday sponsored by the American Security Project think tank, a retired Army colonel suggested that the United States could seek information from Cuban military intelligence about North Korea and other countries.

Latin American military and police crave the legitimacy that comes from ties with their U.S. counterparts. A great bipartisan achievement in U.S. foreign policy toward Latin America over the past three decades has been to condition military cooperation and assistance increasingly on respect for the rule of law and human rights — rather than turn a blind eye to military abuses in the name of either anti-communism or the war on drugs, as U.S. officials so often did in previous years.

Today, in a hemisphere where military dictatorship was once widespread, no generals rule. The exception is Cuba, where Gen. Raúl Castro’s word is law. Normalizing military-to-military ties between the United States and Cuba, for the sake of fighting drugs or other “common threats,” would imply that civilian rule doesn’t matter so much to us anymore — that Cuba’s military is morally equivalent to its hemispheric counterparts — when, in fact, it is deeply complicit in political repression and corruption.

Legislation pending in Congress would block full military-to-military normalization until Cuba democratizes. At a time when Cuba’s beleaguered civilian democracy activists need unequivocal U.S. moral support, the administration and outside supporters of its Cuba policy should not be eager for potentially compromising relationships with the Cuban people’s uniformed oppressors.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/on-us-cuba-military-cooperation-proceed-with-caution/2016/05/30/b34beaa8-236c-11e6-9e7f-57890b612299_story.html?utm_term=.bbc01a690ee7

 

The Post's View

The real test of Obama’s thaw with Cuba

By Editorial Board March 22, 2016

PRESIDENT OBAMA concluded his groundbreaking trip to Cuba with a speech to the island’s people that celebrated democracy in the presence of Raúl Castro, leader of a decaying system of authoritarianism and control. A bright future for Cuba, Mr. Obama declared, “depends on the free and open exchange of ideas.” He said that “citizens should be free to speak their mind without fear,” and free “to organize, and to criticize their government, and to protest peacefully, and that the rule of law should not include arbitrary detentions of people who exercise those rights.” He added, “And yes, I believe voters should be able to choose their governments in free and democratic elections.” None of this exists in today’s Cuba, and the real question about Mr. Obama’s thaw with the nation is whether serious change will come any sooner — or at all — because of his rapprochement.

Mr. Obama admonished Mr. Castro, “You need not fear the different voices of the Cuban people — and their capacity to speak, and assemble, and vote for their leaders.” He described American democracy as imperfect but reminded the Cuban people and their ruler that its strength is open debate. “It’s healthy,” he said. “I’m not afraid of it.” Mr. Castro clearly is.

Mr. Obama met privately with a group of dissidents, many of whom have felt the United States ignored them in recent months as it made concession after concession without winning any reduction in Cuba’s assault on human rights. Among those he met were Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, a group that was formed by relatives of victims of a regime crackdown more than a decade ago, and Antonio Rodiles, a courageous exponent of democracy who has been detained and beaten for his views. Dozens of other political dissenters were not present because they are still in prison.

A truculent Mr. Castro responded to a serious question about political prisoners by asking , “What political prisoners?” Before Mr. Obama arrived, protesters were again detained; the Internet remains highly restricted; political plurality does not exist.

Mr. Obama insisted he was not seeking regime change, hailed Cuba’s education and health systems and lavished praise on Cuba’s entrepreneurs. He left much unsaid about the overweening socialist system, the ubiquitous secret police and the regime that still dominates so much of Cuban life. Will the regime be enhanced or undermined by Mr. Obama’s policy shift? Does the effective end of the embargo give a lift to Cuba’s rulers, or infect the population with a yearning to throw off the suffocating diktat? The real test of Mr. Obama’s thaw is not to be found in the pomp and circumstance of his visit, but in whether it leads to a Cuba that is freer and more open after Air Force One has departed.

 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-real-test-of-obamas-thaw-with-cuba/2016/03/22/3281aeac-f05f-11e5-a61f-e9c95c06edca_story.html?utm_term=.00f910bfe37d

The Washington Post, March 7, 2016

The Post's View

Will Obama dump dissidents for baseball in Cuba?

By Editorial Board March 7, 2016

THE WHITE House is said to be thrilled that President Obama will attend a baseball game when he visits Cuba two weeks from now: The matchup between the Tampa Bay Rays and a Cuban team will provide a splashy exhibition of the warming relations with the Castro regime. There’s still no word, however, about a promised presidential meeting with Cuban dissidents, the brave women and men whose fight for democratic freedoms in one of the world’s most repressive countries is less glamorous — and more dangerous — than Major League Baseball.

So let’s be clear: Notwithstanding Mr. Obama’s expectation that Cuba will “be fun,” his visit will be an ignoble failure if he does not have a meaningful encounter with the island’s most important human rights activists.

The risk of such an outcome seems to be rising. Administration officials who said Mr. Obama would choose whom he met when he is on the island are now conceding that Cuban officials are trying to prevent him from seeing true opposition leaders. Instead they are proposing that Mr. Obama gather with regime-approved members of “civil society,” perhaps with a couple of moderate government critics mixed in. The disagreement reportedly contributed to a decision by Secretary of State John F. Kerry to cancel a preparatory trip to Havana last week.

The Castros’ resistance is understandable. A direct meeting between Mr. Obama and leaders such as Guillermo Fariñas, the winner of the European Union’s Sakharov Prize for human rights, or the Ladies in White, another winner, would give a big boost to their cause. It would legitimize their demands for free speech, free assembly and freedom for political prisoners and put pressure on the regime to respond to them. It would give hope to Cubans that Mr. Obama’s engagement with their country might bring about long-overdue change.

What the Castros hope is that Mr. Obama instead will focus on baseball and new U.S. steps to bolster the Cuban economy, such as allowing use of the dollar. That would divert attention from the fact that repression in Cuba has not eased in the 15 months since the diplomatic thaw began; in fact, it has gotten worse. Dissidents who tried to meet with Pope Francis during his recent visit were detained or beaten. Will those who try to approach Mr. Obama meet the same fate? Any critic who manages to get into a “civil society” meeting such as that proposed by the regime would be drowned out by its loyalists.

As so often in its dealings with the Castros, the administration sacrificed leverage by announcing the presidential visit before the terms for a meeting with dissidents were agreed on. That makes it harder to insist on the gathering that should take place: a small, focused dialogue with internationally recognized advocates of democracy and human rights. Still, if the White House pushes as hard to see Mr. Fariñas and the Ladies in White as it has for the Tampa Bay Rays, it should succeed. If not, Mr. Obama can and should call off his trip.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/baseball-shouldnt-trump-human-rights-on-obamas-cuba-trip/2016/03/07/629a8140-e493-11e5-a6f3-21ccdbc5f74e_story.html?utm_term=.ff3a3a9634ea

The Post's View

President Obama must make the trip to Cuba count

By Editorial Board February 19, 2016

IN SCHEDULING a visit to Cuba next month, President Obama broke his word about the conditions under which he would offer that gift to the Castro regime. Just two months ago, the president said that he would travel to Havana 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.” On Thursday, the White House acknowledged the obvious — that there has been no such progress. Mr. Obama is going anyway: “It’ll be fun,” he said.

This is not the first time the president has ditched a pledge to connect greater U.S. engagement with Cuba to political liberalization. When he renewed U.S. diplomatic relations with the Castros in 2014, he disregarded his promise that normalization would require “significant steps toward democracy,” as well as a vow to consult with Cuban civil society before going forward. It’s little wonder that since the opening, political detentions and beatings of Cubans have spiked, and imports of U.S. goods have fallen steeply: The regime perceives that Mr. Obama is so intent on what he regards as a major legacy that it need do nothing in exchange for his concessions.

Those have been abundant and lucrative for the Castros. U.S. visitor traffic to Cuba is up by more than half, and remittances to the island flow more freely, meaning the regime is collecting billions in precious hard currency. The regime is using the prospect of U.S. investment to attract business from other countries, such as China, while not actually allowing in American firms. Dissidents say Raúl Castro is methodically using the fresh resources to fortify the communist regime for the long term.

The White House doesn’t really dispute these facts. Instead it argues that the way to overcome the failures of its policy is to unilaterally offer still more “engagement.” “A presidential visit is a forcing mechanism,” deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told the media. “I think it has the potential benefit of making our government and the Cuban government do as much as we can to make normalization move forward.”

We’d like to believe that. It is certainly the case that Mr. Obama is enormously popular in Cuba, where many people fervently hope that his initiatives will bring change to a country stuck in a putrid Stalinism. Sometimes expectations stirred by charismatic outsiders can create uncontainable pressure on dictatorships — witness Pope John Paul II’s 1979 visit to communist Poland.

If the president’s visit is to serve that purpose, however, it must be designed with the Cuban people, not the Castros, in mind. Mr. Rhodes said the president’s two-day schedule is still being roughed out and that he will meet with opponents of the regime as well as Raúl Castro. But will Mr. Obama address Cubans directly, in places where thousands of ordinary people — not hand-picked party cadres — can see and hear him? Will he visit private businesses? Will he give an interview to Yoani Sánchez, the country’s renowned independent journalist?

The regime will seek to prevent all such activity, which is why Mr. Obama should have negotiated it before committing to the trip. Asked if the administration had lost its leverage, Mr. Rhodes offered that “what [the president] says and how the trip goes will depend on whether we are demonstrating progress.” Let’s hope that at least that pledge is honored.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/president-obama-breaks-his-word-in-planning-a-trip-to-cuba/2016/02/19/1bfbd668-d73b-11e5-be55-2cc3c1e4b76b_story.html?utm_term=.82c934ae2bc4

The Washington Post, January 31, 2016

The Post's View

Failure in Cuba

By Editorial Board January 31, 2016

CAN AN authoritarian regime convert to democracy by itself? The historical record isn’t encouraging. In the absence of a popular uprising, it is rare for tyrants to voluntarily retire. The military junta of Burma has promised to relinquish some power to an elected government, but it has not yet delivered. China’s party-state shows no inclination to try. Russia’s strongman is reversing what incipient democracy existed.

This goes to the core of why President Obama’s opening to Cuba seems to be failing to live up to its declared goals. When the end to a half-century of hostility was announced in December 2014, the proclaimed U.S. purpose was to “unleash the potential of 11 million Cubans,” to “engage and empower the Cuban people,” and to “empower the nascent Cuban private sector,” among other things.

The administration continued to offer this rationale for its latest moves. New regulations that took effect Jan. 27 from the Commerce and Treasurydepartments further lifted restrictions on financing of exports to Cuba and relaxed limits on shipping products to the island. Most importantly, the rules will allow banks to finance exports to Cuba on credit, with the exception of agricultural commodities covered by the still-existing trade embargo, rather than requiring cash as before, or burdensome routing through third countries.

Yet there is scant evidence so far of a sea change in Cuba — perhaps because Mr. Obama continues to offer the Castro regime unilateral concessions requiring nothing in return. Since the United States has placed no human rights conditions on the opening, the Castro regime continues to systematically engage in arbitrary detention of dissidents and others who speak up for democracy. In fact, detentions have spiked in recent months. The state continues to monopolize radio, television and newspapers.

The administration has defined one of its goals as opening Cuba to the Internet, but the nation still suffers from some of the lowest connectivity rates in the world. The regime established a few dozen Wifi spots but charges people $2 an hour to use them; the average salary is $20 a month. The state retains a chokehold on the economy, including tourism; the benefits of a 50 percent increase in U.S. visitors are being garnered by Raúl Castro’s son-in-law, the industry’s boss. .Meanwhile, Cuba’s purchases of U.S. goods have fallen by a double-digit percentage.

The hoped-for explosion in individual enterprise has not materialized either. On the contrary: The number of licensed self-employed workers has been dropping. If there are commercial deals as a result of the latest U.S. measures, it is Cuban state organizations that will benefit; only they are allowed to engage in foreign trade.

What’s most evident over the past year is that the Castro brothers are effectively preventing real change and reform even as they reap the rewards of Mr. Obama’s opening. The president’s only response has been more unilateral concessions, along with talk of a visit to the island before he leaves office. Autocrats everywhere must be watching with envy the Castros’ good fortune.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/failure-in-cuba/2016/01/31/f725a6c6-c5f0-11e5-a4aa-f25866ba0dc6_story.html?utm_term=.750109d46488

OpEds

The Washington Post, November 26, 2016

Opinions

Farewell to Cuba’s brutal Big Brother

By Carlos Eire November 26, 2016

Carlos Eire is an author and the T.L. Riggs Professor of History and Religious Studies at Yale University.

One of the most brutal dictators in modern history has just died. Oddly enough, some will mourn his passing, and many an obituary will praise him. Millions of Cubans who have been waiting impatiently for this moment for more than half a century will simply ponder his crimes and recall the pain and suffering he caused.

[Este artículo en español]

Why this discrepancy? Because deceit was one of Fidel Castro’s greatest talents, and gullibility is one of the world’s greatest frailties. A genius at myth-making, Castro relied on the human thirst for myths and heroes. His lies were beautiful, and so appealing. According to Castro and to his propagandists, the so-called revolution was not about creating a repressive totalitarian state and securing his rule as an absolute monarch, but rather about eliminating illiteracy, poverty, racism, class differences and every other ill known to humankind. This bold lie became believable, thanks largely to Castro’s incessant boasting about free schools and medical care, which made his myth of the benevolent utopian revolution irresistible to many of the world’s poor.

Many intellectuals, journalists and educated people in the First World fell for this myth, too — though they would have been among the first to be jailed or killed by Castro in his own realm — and their assumptions acquired an intensity similar to that of religious convictions. Pointing out to such believers that Castro imprisoned, tortured and murdered thousands more of his own people than any other Latin American dictator was usually futile. His well-documented cruelty made little difference, even when acknowledged, for he was judged according to some aberrant ethical code that defied logic.

This Kafkaesque moral disequilibrium had a touch of magical realism, for sure, as outrageously implausible as anything that Castro’s close friend Gabriel García Márquez could dream up. For instance, in 1998, around the same time that Chile’s ruler Augusto Pinochet was arrested in London for his crimes against humanity, Cuba’s self-anointed “maximum leader” visited Spain with ample fanfare, unmolested, even though his human rights abuses dwarfed those of Pinochet.

Even worse, whenever Castro traveled abroad, many swooned in his presence. In 1995, when he came to New York to speak at the United Nations, many of the leading lights of that city jostled so intently for a chance to meet with him at media mogul Mort Zuckerman’s triplex penthouse on Fifth Avenue that Time magazine declared “Fidel Takes Manhattan!” Not to be outdone, Newsweek called Castro “The Hottest Ticket in Manhattan.” None of the American elites who hobnobbed with Castro that day seemed to care that he had put nuclear weapons to their heads in 1962.

[Fidel Castro and dead utopianism]

If this were a just world, 13 facts would be etched on Castro’s tombstone and highlighted in every obituary, as bullet points — a fitting metaphor for someone who used firing squads to murder thousands of his own people.

●He turned Cuba into a colony of the Soviet Union and nearly caused a nuclear holocaust.

●He sponsored terrorism wherever he could and allied himself with many of the worst dictators on earth.

●He was responsible for so many thousands of executions and disappearances in Cuba that a precise number is hard to reckon.

●He brooked no dissent and built concentration camps and prisons at an unprecedented rate, filling them to capacity, incarcerating a higher percentage of his own people than most other modern dictators, including Stalin.

●He condoned and encouraged torture and extrajudicial killings.

●He forced nearly 20 percent of his people into exile, and prompted thousands to meet their deaths at sea, unseen and uncounted, while fleeing from him in crude vessels.

●He claimed all property for himself and his henchmen, strangled food production and impoverished the vast majority of his people.

●He outlawed private enterprise and labor unions, wiped out Cuba’s large middle class and turned Cubans into slaves of the state.

●He persecuted gay people and tried to eradicate religion.

●He censored all means of expression and communication.

●He established a fraudulent school system that provided indoctrination rather than education, and created a two-tier health-care system, with inferior medical care for the majority of Cubans and superior care for himself and his oligarchy, and then claimed that all his repressive measures were absolutely necessary to ensure the survival of these two ostensibly “free” social welfare projects.

●He turned Cuba into a labyrinth of ruins and established an apartheid society in which millions of foreign visitors enjoyed rights and privileges forbidden to his people.

●He never apologized for any of his crimes and never stood trial for them.

In sum, Fidel Castro was the spitting image of Big Brother in George Orwell’s novel “1984.” So, adiós, Big Brother, king of all Cuban nightmares. And may your successor, Little Brother, soon slide off the bloody throne bequeathed to him.

[Photos: The life of Fidel Castro (1926-2016)]

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/farewell-to-cubas-brutal-big-brother/2016/11/26/d369affe-0eeb-11e6-bfa1-4efa856caf2a_story.html?utm_term=.72e1463d009b

 

The Washington Post, December 1, 2016

Opinions

Let Cubans choose their future

By Rosa María Payá Acevedo December 1, 2016

Rosa María Payá Acevedo is president of the Latin American Youth Network for Democracy.

The tyrant is dead, but his tyranny is still alive.

Today on the island, the communist Castro-totalitarianism regime survives the corpse of its most visible head. That is why the repression continues and in fact intensified a few hours after the news of Fidel Castro’s death, with the arrests and harassment of opponents.

And it is why the universal value of the right to decide our future must now take center stage. This is a right that belongs to all Cubans by virtue of our humanity. It is a right that has been violated for more than half a century and that today is denied to us by the Cuban constitution, which prohibits us, as a people, from determining the economic, political and social system under which we want to live.

One after another, the world’s authoritarians have proclaimed their mourning for Castro. From them, we expected it. But it is always disappointing, if not surprising, to see presidents of democratic countries and world religious leaders join the likes of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in sentiments of regret for Castro’s passing.

Castro died without facing the consequences of his actions, with impunity, but that record cannot be erased and should not be ignored. He is directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of more than 97,000 people, a number that accounts for only a part of the documented cases.

Among them is my father, Oswaldo Payá, who in 2012 was run off the road by agents of the Castro regime. Castro had vowed to take measures against my father, winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought, when the time was right. “We will act, come what may and whatever it costs,” he told Spanish intellectual Ignacio Ramonet.

And so we Cubans confront the double challenge of peacefully ending an orphaned dictatorship and dealing with the hypocrisy disguised as protocol from a good portion of the international community, including the European Union, the United States and the young Canadian leader Justin Trudeau. That’s part of the reason we have turned to basic values and undeniable principles to shape our future.

The Cuban people still live under a regime tailored by the Castro clan — communist and exclusionary. It is the same one that engendered and incubated Latin America’s so-called Socialism of the 21st century, the euphemism used to disguise and propagate authoritarian regimes in our hemisphere, with the support of the Cuban intelligence apparatus and petrodollars provided by Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela. Now, it is believed that its portion of the Colombian-Venezuelan drug trade, if it isn’t doing so already, will be the next source of sponsorship of Cuban totalitarianism.

That is why the Cuba Decide initiative invites everyone, including the mourning international leaders, as well as presidents-elect and incumbents, to support holding a binding plebiscite in Cuba on the option of exchanging tyranny for a democratic system. It is the only tool remaining to guarantee that all of our citizens will be able to design their own future, and so to start a transition that cannot truly begin until all Cubans are a part of it.

The mobilization of citizens in favor of a binding plebiscite is the path we will use to liberate ourselves and to liberate Latin America from the interference of the Cuban government through its state security — that is, from the imperial voracity of the Castro regime to reproduce and perpetuate itself despotically across Latin America. We hope we can count on the unwavering support of the world’s democracies in the rightful demand of our liberties, and in their solidarity and timely denunciation of all the crimes committed by the Castro regime.

Right now, the international community’s support is the only protection that Cuban families can turn to in the face of state repression at the hands of Raúl Castro and his cronies. We hope that we will not be left alone in our peaceful struggle for a life in truth, and that the world will not, through the complicity of silence, share in the responsibility for the death of the next martyr of Cuban dissidents.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/let-cubans-choose-their-future/2016/12/01/b9e93afa-b741-11e6-b8df-600bd9d38a02_story.html?utm_term=.0bb15b555976