Commentary Magazine


Despite Obama, Business as Usual for Cuban Tyrants

Yesterday, President Obama formally announced his plan to re-open a U.S. embassy in Cuba at an event held in the Rose Garden in the White House, declaring that he was opening a “new chapter” in relations between the two countries. But while he was saying that “we don’t have to be imprisoned by the past,” the communist dictatorship in Havana was demonstrating that it had no intention of changing its character in order to justify the enormous boost the infusion of American cash will give the regime. In recent weeks, while the president was preparing to pat himself on the back for ending a policy aimed at isolating the Castro government, the Cuban tyrants arrested a prominent artist who had returned home to test whether Obama’s rapprochement would yield any tangible benefits for those seeking to promote freedom in the island nation. The answer to that query from the president’s new partners was a resounding “no.” The Congress, which is being asked to both fund the new embassy and to lift the embargo on Cuba, should be paying more attention to that arrest than to Obama’s talk about reconciliation.

As the Arts section of the New York Times noted yesterday, performance artist Tania Bruguera returned to her native Cuba last December at the same time as the president’s announcement of his decision to resume diplomatic relations with the island’s communist government. As the newspaper reported, “implicit in this development was the idea that Cuba would gradually loosen up on its policing of public dissent. Ms. Bruguera decided to stage a public performance that would put that to the test.”

Her venue for that test was the Havana Biennial, an arts festival that draws international attention, and to which artists and art critics have flocked. Bruguera used the occasion to perform something she calls “Tatlin #6” in Havana’s Revolution Plaza. It consists of her setting up a microphone and inviting anyone who wanted to participate one minute to speak without censorship. But as soon as Bruguera announced her intentions, she was arrested. She was later released and then staged a marathon reading with supporters of Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism at her Havana home. A government-hired road crew set up outside to drown out participants’ voices with jackhammers. Afterwards, she was again taken into custody and questioned for hours.

Bruguera’s fate is not yet decided. The regime would clearly like her to leave the country again but the artist has so far resisted, knowing she would likely be never allowed back home again.

The Times declared her protest a “success” since it overshadowed the festival and exposed the realities of Cuba that the government and the arts establishment in that country wish the world to ignore. That may well be true but unfortunately one of those who continue to ignore Cuban realities is the man in the White House, who worries more about American policy being “imprisoned” by the need to go on resisting Cuban tyranny than the actual imprisonment of dissidents in that country.

The problem with Obama’s decision is not so much that he is trying to deal with Cuba; it’s that he has gotten virtually nothing in return for the economic bounty and legitimacy that U.S. recognition will give one of the last vestiges of communism in the world. Like his negotiations with Iran, the president cared more about getting an agreement at any price than obtaining concessions from Cuba that might have justified the move (other, that is, than the release of American hostage Alan Gross). The repression of Tania Bruguera is just one small example of how Cuban tyranny operates in a country whose prisons are filled with dissenters. Though the president may argue that a U.S. diplomatic presence in Havana could aid dissenters, his embrace of the regime, without forcing it to change, undermines any notion that America will make much of a difference on the ground. The only thing we know for sure is that if the president gets his way, the regime will be enriched (along with those American businesses that choose to profit from the relationship) and that ordinary Cubans will remain silenced and impoverished.

That is why Congress should resist the president’s appeal to lift the embargo. If Cuba wants the benefits of relations with the United States, it must cease imprisoning people like Bruguera and allow genuine freedoms. In the absence of such a shift, Congress must maintain the embargo and refuse to fund the new embassy. Though foreign policy remains the province of the executive, in this case the power of the purse allows the legislative branch to take up a task that the president has shown no interest in pursuing: defending American principles and values.


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2 Responses to “Despite Obama, Business as Usual for Cuban Tyrants”


    I am highly ambivalent on this matter; I do not see it as being as straightforward as this article describes.
    For me, the principal determinant of our foreign policy toward rogue regimes is whether or not they are engaging in destabilizing efforts outside their borders, not their activities against their own polity.
    There are numerous countries with which the US has normal relations and that are grotesquely repressive regimes, such as Saudi Arabia. We even have normal relations with rabidly Jew-hating regimes in the EU, such as Belgium and Sweden.
    In general, it is usually expected that our foreign policy should not be geared to interfering in the internal politics of other countries, is that not so?
    I thought the principal purpose in keeping the embargo against Cuba was to inhibit their rogue foreign policy of fomenting revolution in other countries. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, it is not so well-reported as to whether Cuba has continued its export of revolution. If it is has, then in my opinion, the opening to Cuba with no commitment on their part to stop those rogue activities, is of course a mistake.
    However, if Cuba is no longer interfering in the affairs of other countries to incite overthrow of governments, then the opening to Cuba is no different from our good relations with monstrous human rights abusers such as Turkey, or China for that matter.
    It would help if one of the foreign affairs experts here would inform us of Cuba’s activities in other countries.
    Finally, to go full circle on this matter, it is also relevant to me that senators Rubio and Cruz, who are faithful supporters of Israel, are adamant in their disapproval of opening to Cuba without some change in Cuba’s human rights policies.
    As a result, notwithstanding everything else I’ve written , that such good friends of Israel seek support for their position on Cuba is completely sufficient for me to agree with them on Cuba.


      I don’t know much about it, Mr. Braitman, but Cuba is an active exporter of revolution and repression to Venezuela where they have assisted with putting down the populace’s protest of the existing regime (the legacy of Chavez’s regime), a BIG protest that does not seem to get the reporting it should, except by a few experts and Marco Rubio. They have also strong ties and have lent active support to the narco-terrorists in Columbia. They have relations with Brazil, which has subsidized Havana to an inordinate degree over many years, and which, while not an ‘export’ of trouble from Cuba to Brazil, implicates Brazil in the repression that occurs on that island. And one wonders what Cuba does for Brazil… can’t be anything good.

      Cuba was heading for dire straits for the loss of oil transfers from Venezuela until our President threw them the lifeline of normalization.

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