from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

The Cuba Score: Obama 53, Castro 492

March 6, 2015

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Cuba

Human Rights

Politics and Government

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As part of the Obama administration’s deal with the Castro regime in Cuba, Castro agreed to release 53 prisoners. This was not quite the concession that it appeared to be, for some of the prisoners had already been released and the release of the rest had already been promised to Spain. Sen. Robert Menendez noted that “Some of the 53 were released well before June, before the list was supposedly put together,” he said. “As a matter of fact, 14, to be exact, were released six to eight months before the December 17 announcement. One was released over a year ago.”

But the larger problem is that tyrants can always arrest dissidents, human rights activists, and peaceful protesters faster than we can get them out. So it is in Cuba, where the Cuban Commission for Human Rights has documented 492 political arrests during the single month of February 2015. This was the month during which Nancy Pelosi led a congressional delegation to Cuba, but neither she nor any of the other members of her delegation have said one word about this wave of arrests.

When he announced the changes in Cuba policy last December, President Obama said "Now, where we disagree, we will raise those differences directly -– as we will continue to do on issues related to democracy and human rights in Cuba. But I believe that we can do more to support the Cuban people and promote our values through engagement."

So far, that’s a delusion. And what have we done to support human rights in Cuba since the president’s announcement on December 17th? We’ve engaged in lots of secret discussions with the regime. Here is the statement from the Department of State after the meeting in late January:

Today, January 22, 2015, U.S. and Cuban officials met in Havana to discuss issues of mutual interest to the United States and Cuba. The Cuban delegation was led by the Foreign Ministry’s Director General for U.S. Affairs, Josefina Vidal Ferreiro. I led the delegation for the United States.

This extended bilateral session has included constructive and encouraging dialogue. We discussed cooperation on important issues of mutual interest such as trafficking in persons, law enforcement, environmental protection, telecommunications and global health security, including coordinated responses to oil spills and Ebola. As a central element of our policy, we pressed the Cuban government for improved human rights conditions, including freedom of expression and assembly.

We look forward to continuing our bilateral dialogue on these important issues, including those on which significant differences remain, as our nations build on the success of these talks going forward.

Note the tone: no denunciation of growing human rights abuses in Cuba. Instead, "we pressed the Cuban government." In other words, the subject was raised at these cordial secret meetings. One can imagine how much pressure the Cubans felt themselves to be under.

On February 27th, more of the same from the State Department official conducting the talks with Cuba, Roberta Jacobson:

I am pleased to report that today we saw the type of constructive exchange that advances us toward a more productive diplomatic relationship.

This spirit of exchange is also evident in the events of the coming weeks. Next week, Cuba will send two delegations for separate consultations on trafficking in persons and civil aviation. Next month, a delegation led by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy Ambassador Danny Sepulveda will travel to Havana to work with the Cuban Government on increasing its capacity for greater internet connectivity to better support access to information by the Cuban people. Also in March, an interagency delegation will travel to Cuba to exchange ideas and information about recent U.S. regulatory changes. We agreed to meet at the end of March to discuss the structure of our human rights dialogue.

Does that sound like "pressing the Cuban government" very hard? The "spirit of exchange." "Constructive exchange." Again, those remarks were made in the very month in which a wave of arrests occurred. How will the Obama administration react? Well, we have the answer: a "human rights dialogue."

I once engaged in such a formal dialogue, with the Ceaucescu regime in Romania, in 1982. It was a farce, as are all such "dialogues" with vicious and oppressive regimes. Here is the key point: formal "human rights dialogues" are a substitute for action against abuses, not a form of action against abuses. So it will be with Cuba.

We are now about ten weeks since the president’s great announcement on relations with Cuba, and the result so far is deeper oppression there. That increase in oppression has resulted in nothing from the American side: no serious denunciation, no words from the president, no actions (such as a delay in talks).

Results so far: Obama 53 (if you want to be generous), Castro 492.  It’s not hard to see who’s winning, and it’s not hard to see that the Cuban people are losing.

More on:

Cuba

Human Rights

Politics and Government

United States

Diplomacy and International Institutions

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