Friday, March 25, 2016

Obama’s Legacy Will Be Marked by His Silence on Human Rights in Cuba

Ana Quintana,

Image from article, with caption: It is now clear that there is nothing that the Cuban regime can do to draw Obama’s criticism.

Back in 2015, long before his trip was announced, President Barack Obama stated that he would only travel to Cuba if he saw “some progress in the liberty and freedom”. But like his red-line of the use of chemical weapons in Syria, such assurance was clearly just another one of the president’s “red-lines”, and Gen. Raul Castro knew it.

Since the thaw began, the Cuban government has doubled down on its repressive tactics, with political and religious persecution levels increasing drastically.

It is now clear that there is nothing that the Cuban regime can do to draw Obama’s criticism. Just a few hours shy of Air Force One’s landing in Havana, the Ladies in White were assaulted by government agents, a local pastor and a journalist were brutally arrested, and more than three-hundred dissidents were detained.

Yet, in spite of these circumstances, there were plenty that hoped Obama would pivot and stand up to Castro once in the island. This assumed that the president would see the light, and through public diplomacy would attempt to improve the lives of the people of Cuba.

Any such hopes were crushed by Obama’s joint press conference with Castro. While there were moments when Obama spoke of basic rights like freedom of speech, he spent the majority of the time being lectured by Castro.

Instead of taking the despot to task for his countless crimes, or at the very least defend the country he represents, Obama chose to welcome a butcher’s criticism without offering any in return.

While Castro’s attacks were predictable, the president’s submissiveness shouldn’t have been. This was Obama’s best opportunity to condemn the Cuban regime for its countless human rights abuses and take a public stand in favor of the Cuban people.

In an appalling absence of courage, Obama went on to defer the task of confronting Castro to two journalists. In a display of the very best virtues that underwrite their profession, both of them looked Castro in the eye and did what Obama failed to do, they took him to task.

The exchange that ensued put Castro’s pettiness in full display, as he proceeded to lose his temper after being challenged on the status of political prisoners. A small win, but one that the president will undoubted take credit in his memoirs one day.

After all, he called on them, right? The truth is that throughout his trip Obama cowered at every opportunity to reject the abuses of the regime.

By failing to condemn Castro’s abuses in front of him and the people he oppresses, Obama has effectively appeased a murderous regime and enabled it to continue its crimes.

The president’s silence is a tacit approval of the Cuban regime’s crimes.

The president’s silence is a tacit approval of the Cuban regime’s crimes. Through this visit, Obama officially joins the shameful ranks of other hemispheric leaders that have turned a blind eye to human rights abuses in the region—choosing to sell out the Cuban people in the name of good economic relations with their oppressor.

Obama’s visit will be remembered not for the business deals he brokered with the Cuban military, nor his first pitch in for the Tampa Bay Rays, or even for his awkward handshake with Castro, but for the deafening sound of his silence.

His betrayal of the Cuban people will live in infamy, and like his hosts, history will not absolve him.

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