By Mary Anastasia O'Grady in The Wall Street Journal:
Obama Betrayed Cuba’s Dissidents
Civil liberties have deteriorated since the U.S. said that it would normalize ties.
Fidel Castro turned 90 years old on Saturday, adding plausibility to the popular Cuban theory that even hell doesn’t want him. Meanwhile Cuba’s military dictatorship, now headed by his 83-year-old brother Raúl, is cracking down with renewed brutality on anyone who dares not conform to its totalitarian rule.
If President Obama’s December 2014 softening of U.S. policy toward Cuba was supposed to elicit some quid pro quo on human rights from Havana, it has so far failed. Independent groups that monitor civil liberties on the island say conditions have deteriorated in the 20 months since the Obama decision to normalize relations and ease Cuba trade and travel restrictions for Americans. Many dissident groups opposed any U.S. thaw without human-rights conditions attached and say they feel abandoned by the U.S., which they had long relied on for moral support.
Guillermo Fariñas, a 54-year-old psychologist and winner of the European Parliament’s Andrei Sakharov Prize, is one such disappointed Cuban.
In a July 20 letter to Gen. Castro, Mr. Fariñas announced “a hunger and thirst strike” until Castro “designate[s]” a vice president to meet with the opposition and declares an end to the state policy of torturing and arresting dissidents and confiscating their property. Mr. Fariñas has been taken to the local hospital in the city of Santa Clara twice for rehydration, but is now at home. He is gravely ill.
Flirting with death is a sign of desperation and it is difficult not to see a connection between that and Mr. Obama’s decision to drop the longstanding U.S. commitment to the democracy movement on the island so that he can be on better terms with the despots. Mr. Fariñas also has personal reasons for feeling betrayed.
In November 2013 he and Berta Soler, the leader of the dissident group Ladies in White, met with Mr. Obama at the Miami home of Jorge Mas Santos, the president of the Cuban-American National Foundation, who was hosting a Democratic Party fundraising event. After the meeting Mr. Fariñas and Ms. Soler told local press that they had asked the president to ensure that any change in U.S.-Cuba policy consider the views of the nonviolent opposition.
An elated Mr. Fariñas raved about the “words of support from the president of the United States, the most powerful democracy in the world,” according to a report in El Nuevo Herald. The White House did not respond specifically to my request for comment about what Mr. Obama told the dissidents that night.
When Mr. Fariñas was honored in Washington in June by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, he spoke about the great letdown he and his peers felt when Mr. Obama cut his own deal. He said since the announcement the opposition has “lived with the terrible news that the Cuban people, and especially the ones who have fought to establish a democracy in Cuba, were not going to be taken into account” in the continuing negotiations. “Many of us were discouraged.” Still, he said, they decided to fight on.
That fight took on new dimensions for Mr. Fariñas when 28-year-old Carlos Amel Oliva launched a hunger strike on July 13 and more than 20 members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, many of them young, joined him.
Mr. Amel, who was arrested in July, also sought an end to the state’s policy of beating and arresting dissidents. In his letter to Raúl Castro, Mr. Fariñas wrote that when he went to the police to inquire about charges against the hunger-striking Mr. Amel and another dissident, he was handcuffed and tortured.
Thus Mr. Fariñas’s strike began both as an act of solidarity with other dissidents and as a protest against the continuing repression. Mr. Amel and the other strikers ended their fasts last week. Mr. Fariñas has not.
He seems to be holding on to the hope that his sacrifice might generate compassion and support from the international community for the grave injustices that Cubans bear at the hands of the Castros. And that Gen. Castro, whether for humanitarian or pragmatic reasons, will agree to give to the opposition a hearing. Perhaps Mr. Fariñas has faith that Pope Francis, who has hosted Raúl at the Vatican, will intervene on the side of life.
The Holy Father might also try to lend some help to the peaceful, flower-bearing Ladies in White. On their way to Mass on Sundays they are beaten, kicked and pelted with stones by Castro surrogates.
They’re often arrested. Recently 10 were dragged off to jail because they draped a Cuban flag over the casket of a friend at her funeral. Four members of the group have been in prison, without a trial, since April 15 for participating in a peaceful protest. One of them, Yaquelin Heredia Morales, is being held in a facility exclusively for HIV/AIDS prisoners though she does not carry the virus.
This is what President Obama calls normalization?