The U.S. abstained in the annual vote to condemn its embargo of Cuba.
By Elliott Abrams
Today, for the first time ever, the United States abstained in the annual United Nations General Assembly vote to condemn the U.S. embargo of Cuba. Needless to say, President Obama is very proud, Ben Rhodes is very proud, John Kerry is very proud, and our ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, is especially proud.
Power’s remarks to the General Assembly were a perfect rendition of the Obama approach to Cuba, which is to say they were full of apologies about the United States and falsehoods about Cuba. Let’s take a look.
First, Power said that “after 50-plus years of pursuing the path of isolation, we have chosen to take the path of engagement. Because, as President Obama said in Havana, we recognize that the future of the island lies in the hands of the Cuban people, of course.” The Obama policy has been to engage with Cuban regime, not the Cuban people — who are suffering worse repression since Obama signed his deal with Castro. In what possible sense does the future of the Cuban people, suffering under a Communist dictatorship, lie in their own hands? It quite obviously lies in the hands of the Castros, their anointed successors, and the Communist party of Cuba.
Because Obama’s policy was to give the regime all the new advantages it has gotten without demanding anything serious in exchange – without demanding human-rights improvements, for example — an observer might think that perhaps Obama just doesn’t care much about the rights of the Cuban people. No, no! Power tells us that abstaining on this resolution does not mean that the United States agrees with all of the policies and practices of the Cuban government. We do not. We are profoundly concerned by the serious human-rights violations that the Cuban government continues to commit with impunity against its own people — including arbitrarily detaining those who criticize the government; threatening, intimidating, and, at times, physically assaulting citizens who take part in peaceful marches and meetings; and severely restricting the access that people on the island have to outside information.
We are profoundly concerned, and what are we going to do about it? Give the regime more free gifts, it seems. There is no hint in what Power said at the U.N. of any additional pressure on Cuba to stop beating and jailing dissidents. None. Then come the apologies. God forbid that criticizing this vicious Communist regime might lead anyone to think we in the U.S. don’t have LOTS to be ashamed of. Power continued:
Let me be among the first to acknowledge — as our Cuban counterparts often point out — that the United States has work to do in fulfilling these rights for our own citizens. And we know that at times in our history, U.S. leaders and citizens used the pretext of promoting democracy and human rights in the region to justify actions that have left a deep legacy of mistrust. We recognize that our history, in which there is so much that makes us proud, also gives us ample reason to be humble.
It’s worth adding that in the most important sense Power has no Cuban counterpart. Yes, they have ambassadors too, but she is the representative of a duly elected, democratic government. She represents the people of her country. No Cuban official can make that claim.
Is it impossible for a representative of this administration to speak of the United States with pride, period — not pride and apology, not pride and sorrow, not pride and humility, not pride but with reference to crimes in our past — just once? Once?
Power then goes on to say that “we also recognize the areas in which the Cuban government has made significant progress in advancing the welfare of its people, from significantly reducing its child-mortality rate to ensuring that girls have the same access to primary and secondary school as boys.” Any honest study will show how far Cuba has dropped since 1959 in many tables measuring welfare in Latin American countries.
Even PBS has acknowledged that before the Castro takeover, the literacy rate, 76%, was the fourth highest in Latin America. Cuba ranked 11th in the world in the number of doctors per capita. Many private clinics and hospitals provided services for the poor. Cuba’s income distribution compared favorably with that of other Latin American societies. A thriving middle class held the promise of prosperity and social mobility. . . .
Between 1952 and 1958, Cubans from all walks of life — students, businessmen, mothers, politicians — united in opposition against Batista. Author Carlos Alberto Montaner describes the mood: “the talk was about democracy, freedom and respect for human rights; the . . . objective was to restore the rule of law that had been swept aside by Batista.”
In truth this regime ended Cuba’s economic growth by placing the straitjacket of Communism on its economy, and then of course made sure that if you talked about “democracy, freedom and respect for human rights,” you ended up in prison. For decades. So girls and boys go to school now and learn about Lenin and Fidel and Communism, and Ambassador Power applauds.
But she did not bother to get the facts. I looked at the website of Humanium, a children’s-rights organization, which explains that Cuba, a one-party nation, does not yet respect all children’s rights. While children do have access to the bare essentials, they must still grow up in what are often closed surroundings. . . . Infant mortality, although it is constantly falling, remains a major problem in Cuba. . . . Access to education is compulsory through the ninth year and Cuban law prohibits children below the age of 15 from working. Despite this, numerous children below the age of 15 are seen doing so. . . . In Cuba, the prevailing attitude is that each citizen’s personal success and happiness is of secondary importance in comparison to the State’s well-being. This being the case, children do not have the freedom to do as they wish and express themselves in ways that run contrary to the opinion of the government.
Power then told us that “the United States believes that there is a great deal we can do together with Cuba to tackle global challenges.” Really? Cuba is a very poor country, with GDP per capita about $6–10,000 (ranking around 125th in the world, depending on who’s counting), with a population of 11 million and a brutal tyranny ruling it. There’s a great deal we can do together?
This is the kind of speech that gives rhetoric a bad name. But far worse, it is an abandonment of the people of Cuba, who are struggling, and suffering, for their freedom. This speech barely makes believe that we are with them, for a few lines of text, but then buys into Castro propaganda about the island. Power was obviously instructed to abstain in the vote on the embargo. Fair enough: Ambassadors don’t get to make those decisions. But they do get to choose their words. Hers ought to embarrass her.