Shortsighted on Cuba

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On Friday, the US took another step in its pursuit of normalized relations with Cuba. Fifty-four years after President Eisenhower broke off relations with the Castro regime in 1961, the American flag was raised over the re-opened US Embassy in Havana in a ceremony attended by Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Cuban officials. The US side excluded Cuban democracy activists. Kerry explained in an interview on the Telemundo television network that the dissidents were “not invited … quite openly” “because that is a government-to-government moment, with very limited space, by the way, which is why we are having the reception later in the day, in which we can have a cross section of civil society, including some dissidents.” Of course, it’s possible that the Obama administration never considered including activists and dissidents, and it has not released the guest list. The Guardian newspaper reported that Cuban officials had indicated they would not attend if dissidents did.

Whatever happened behind the scenes, the administration’s behavior was not only revealing but also a bad precedent. If the administration was confronted with a choice, include dissidents or Cuban officials, the answer should have been easy. Go ahead without the officials. In an American embassy in a Communist country and at the outset of a new policy that is troubling to dissidents, the U.S. should take a firm stance on a matter of both substance and symbolism. It’s unlikely the Cuban government would have squandered the opening with the US that is supposed to bring about the end of the economic embargo. On the other hand, perhaps the Cuban side did make it clear they were prepared to do just that, resisting from the outset any concessions to human rights. In which case, it would seem that Washington has more invested in the new policy, and the theater of the flag raising, than Havana does.

- You can read the remainder of this post for free at Democracy Road, FPI Senior Fellow Ellen Bork's blog at World Affairs Journal

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