FPI Resources on President Obama’s Visit to Cuba

March 21, 2016

Hours before President Barack Obama arrived in Cuba on Sunday, the Castro regime arrested more than 50 activists associated with the “Ladies in White” human rights advocacy group. The group, known as Damas de Blanco in Spanish, was formed in 2003 by Laura Pollán after her husband was arrested by the Castro regime as part of a nationwide crackdown on dissent. Yesterday’s arrests indicate how little has changed for Cuban dissidents between President Obama’s December 2014 announcement that he would reverse longstanding American policy toward Cuba and his visit this week.
 
As such, the visit contradicts his recent pledge not to visit the country unless the Castro regime allowed “more progress in the liberty and freedom and possibilities of ordinary Cubans.” Indeed, as he said, “If we’re going backwards, then there’s not much reason for me to be there.”
 
Since December 2014, the Foreign Policy Initiative has closely followed U.S.-Cuban relations. Last spring, FPI Fellow Jamie Kirchick wrote in the National Review about his trip to interview Cuban dissidents in person. One of his subjects, Berta Soler of Ladies in White, told Kirchick that “the American government is receiving nothing” in return for the change, and that “we are in the same position or even worse.” In a January 2016 preview of the President’s trip, FPI Director for Human Rights and Democracy Ellen Bork warned in World Affairs Journal that the human rights situation has deteriorated in Cuba over the past year, with 2015 arrests exceeding the total in the year before. Those arrests include that of Ms. Soler yesterday.
 
FPI will continue to monitor developments in Cuba, and believes that the following resources will be useful for policy makers and the general public.


Obama Is About to Visit Cuba. He Should Know It Hasn’t Changed – Yusnaby Pérez – The Daily Beast – March 16, 2016
 
I wish President Obama all the best during his visit to Cuba. And I sincerely hope he enters the history books by being the first leader who calls for respect for human rights while in the island. And during his negotiations on this point, Obama must have absolute clarity about one thing: Cuba has not changed. It is still a dictatorship.
 
The New Fight: Cuba and the Movement for Democracy – Carl Gershman – World Affairs Journal – Winter 2016
 
Now it’s time for the Cuban government to normalize relations with its own people. The Cuban people should not be alone in fighting for this goal. They need and deserve the solidarity of democrats everywhere.
 
Mr. President, There Is A Reason No U.S. President Has Visited Cuba For 88 Years – Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) – Independent Journal – March 21, 2016
 
Just in December, President Obama said he would travel to Cuba only if the liberty and freedom of ordinary Cubans had improved. With more than 2,500 political arrests in Cuba already this year, it seems that the president has quickly discarded his earlier requirement.
 
Obama Is Surrounded By Symbols to Win the Hearts of Cubans – Yoani Sánchez – Huffington Post – March 20, 2016
 
In the prisons, thousands are waiting for the president of the United States to achieve an amnesty…In the hospitals, patients await the arrival of resources to upgrade deteriorating emergency rooms, and in the Cuban countryside expectation of access to machinery and seeds bears the face of Uncle Sam.
 
Menendez Remarks Ahead of POTUS Trip to Cuba – Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) – Office of Senator Robert Menendez – March 17, 2016
 
Cubans are being beaten, arrested, and otherwise muzzled at higher rates than ever before. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights (CCHR) has documented 1,141 political arrests by the Castro regime in Cuba during the short month of February 2016.  In January 2016, the CCHR documented 1,447 political arrests.  As such, these 2,588 political arrests -- thus far -- represent the highest tally to begin a year in decades. This is what happens when President Obama first announces he won't visit Cuba unless there are tangible improvements in the respect for human rights—then crosses his own “red-line.”  And these are only political arrests that have been thoroughly documented. Many more are suspected.
 
The Disgraceful Obama Trip to Cuba – Elliott Abrams – Council on Foreign Relations – February 18, 2016
 
Yes, the trip could be salvaged–if Obama had a “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” moment. Yes, if he directly demanded free elections, and an end to the one-party rule, and free expression, and free trade unions, and demanded that every single political prisoner be released immediately. This visit is about the President’s vanity and search for a legacy, not about freedom and human rights for the people of Cuba. And that’s a disgrace.
 
Obama to Oppose Regime Change in Havana Speech – Marc Thiessen – American Enterprise Institute – March 17, 2016
 
Anyone holding their breath waiting for President Obama to have a “tear down this wall” moment during his Tuesday morning speech in Havana can exhale. The White House says that that the US is no longer in favor of an end to the Castro regime.
 
Waiting for Obama in Havana – José Cárdenas – Foreign Policy – March 14, 2016
 
President Obama, as a sitting president, has an even bigger opportunity. He can impart to the Cuban people the American creed that all human beings are endowed with inalienable rights, and that no government that does not enjoy the consent of the governed is legitimate. He can help to restore in them some semblance of confidence that they can and should determine their own future, and that legitimate governments don’t use force against their own citizens trying to exercise their rights to free speech and assembly.
 
What President Obama Needs to Say About Cuba’s Elections – Carl Gershman – Washington Post – March 17, 2016
 
Given the timing of his visit, right before the party congress and at a moment when Cubans are beginning to think about the potentially historic election in 2018, his endorsement of the proposals advanced by Another 18 and for the cause of real democracy in Cuba could have far-reaching consequences.

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The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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