February 25, 2016 | Commentary on Cuba, President Barack Obama, National Security and Defense

Obama Trip Rewards Cuba for Failing Its People

In the continuing saga — going back almost seven years now — of Team Obama’s quest to end the “Cold War” with Cuba, the White House trumpeted last week that the president is heading for Havana next month.

Just another bad idea whose time has come, I guess.

Obama will be the first U.S. president to go to Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928 — and with the trip coming in his last year in office, let’s just say not everyone is happy with the decision.

But a White House spokesman, Ben Rhodes, insisted in a post on Medium:

“[We’re] isolated within our own hemisphere — and in the wider world — which disagreed with our approach [to Cuba]. Most importantly, our policy was not making life better for the Cuban people — and in many ways, it was making it worse.”

Rhodes added: “Ultimately, we believe that Congress should lift an embargo that is not advancing the Cuban people’s individual well-being and human rights, and remove onerous restrictions that aim to dictate to Americans where they can and cannot travel.”

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

The inconvenient truth is that U.S. policies aren’t responsible for the sad state of political, social and religious liberties or the lack of economic prosperity in Cuba. The half-century reign of the repressive Castro regime is.


While we’re a big power, Cuba has ties with about 190 countries and institutions which are free to conduct political, social, security and economic relations with Havana if they so choose.

For instance, though the United States has the world’s largest economy, we’re only about 22 percent of global economic activity. That means there’s lots of commerce outside the U.S. for Havana to join if it wishes.

Cuba’s economic arthritis and the resulting pain felt by its people is the direct result of the corrupt socialist, state-run Castro economy, not a lack of trade opportunities with the United States.

The same is true for human rights.

The only thing keeping 11 million Cuban people from enjoying the liberties we have here in the United States is the power-hungry policies of the communist Castro brothers and their heavy-handed security apparatus.

Indeed, it doesn’t appear as if the human rights situation has improved despite Washington re-establishing diplomatic relations with Havana in 2014, the opening of embassies or the visit of Secretary of State John Kerry to Cuba last year.

Equally troubling, some experts believe that detentions and arrests of political and religious dissidents have actually increased since the U.S.-Cuba normalization process began some 15 months ago.

For example, in January, the Cuban regime “arbitrarily detained” nearly 1,500 dissidents — a “five-year high,” according to Bloomberg, which cited research from the Madrid-based Cuban Observatory on Human Rights.

In light of Team Obama’s professed objectives, how do they explain that?

Far better it would have been for the president to hold off on going to Cuba until we see a huge improvement in the situation there, using the prospect of an historic visit as leverage for the regime to loosen its stranglehold on the Cuban people.

Unfortunately, we’re not going to get that — a massive missed opportunity for driving positive change in Cuba.

 - Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.

 - This piece originally appeared in The Boston Herald.

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

Originally appeared in the Boston Herald