Editor’s note: If a government’s mission is to be of service to its citizens, President Obama’s less than transparent visit to Cuba in 2016 betrayed the citizens of the United States. Mr. Obama’s visit was stagecraft meant to signal to the unquestioning that only he has a grasp of right and wrong. To his American audience he left the impression that a little fence-mending would make the Castro regime more amenable to democratic reforms. Simply book a cruise on Royal Caribbean or a flight on JetBlue to Havana and voila Cuba’s ills will wither. Left unsaid is that the Cuban government pockets the hard currency from such transactions and in turn pays its workers in worthless pesos – in contrast, in 1958 the Cuban peso and the U.S. dollar traded on a par. Meanwhile, a near-universal economic deprivation continues to grip the nation.
President Obama’s Keynote speech was delivered at the Gran Teatro, a storied music hall confiscated by Fidel Castro. Mr. Obama’s performance was a classic example of dramatic irony ancient Greek theatergoers would have been proud of as the audience knew exactly what was going on even if the main character did not. The gentlest rebuke of Cuba’s sixty-year dictatorship would have served to remind the world that the island nation is in a ramshackle state courtesy of the Castro brothers.
Cuba’s economy was one whose productivity and services rivaled those of Germany and Japan. Cuba, pre-Castro, had a large middle class, low infant mortality (lower than France or Germany), and an 80% literacy rate. Havana, especially, enjoyed amenities, conveniences, and luxuries more in keeping with a major American city. In 1958, for instance, Havana had more movie theatres than any other city in the world. Cuba ranked fifth in the Western hemisphere in per capita income, third in life expectancy, and second in per capita ownership of automobiles, telephones, and television sets. Cuba’s income distribution was hardly that of a banana republic but of a progressive modern nation. Healthcare was widely available to the underprivileged. Today, the propaganda that all citizens have access to free healthcare is meaningless when one considers that the government mandates who will receive medical care and when, that pharmaceuticals are in short supply, medical equipment is decrepit, and hospitals and clinics are rickety. Physicians, on slave wages (about $65 a month), somehow manage to keep the system lumbering along. Furthermore, it is widely acknowledged that the government manipulates medical outcomes data, especially on infant mortality, to give the appearance of its being a modern developed nation. Physicians, for example, aggressively misrepresent neo-natal deaths as late fetal deaths, and engage in coercive abortions all intended to conceal the true rate of infant mortality while boosting life expectancy numbers.
As to education, Cuba had near-universal public education and outspent every European country and the United States on education as a percent of GDP. Pre-Castro, and as a first in Latin America, Cuba introduced the minimum wage, and the eight-hour work day.
In sum, before Castro’s repressive regime came along, Cuban citizens were educated, had decent healthcare, were entrepreneurial, and most importantly were free to come and to go. The Cuban economy, based largely on tourism and services was thriving, before suddenly imploding at the hands of the Castro regime. Mr. Obama did a great disservice to the citizens of both the United States and Cuba by remaining mum on the nation’s violent and retrograde slide over sixty years.
THE CUBAN MARXIST SYSTEM IS IMPERVIOUS TO OLIVE BRANCHES
The group of Cuban-American businessmen who accompanied Mr. Obama to Cuba – a tiny and hardly representative group of Cuban-American entrepreneurs – was obsequious and self-serving despite their denials. Their travel to Cuba betrays the memory of the hundreds of thousands of Cubans who have perished in gulags, against the paredón, and at sea. Their visit was an embarrassing spectacle only surpassed by the President of the United States joking and palling around with a Cuban communist comic or by doing the wave at a baseball game. Shortly after all of the horseplay, Obama rescinded U. S. policy granting residency to Cubans who risked their lives coming to our shores.
On the eve of Mr. Obama’s landing in Cuba on Palm Sunday – with full family in tow at U. S. taxpayer expense – nine migrants drowned seeking their freedom. A more tragic metaphor for Barack Obama’s feckless policy of “letting bygones be bygones” and of making nice with Fidel and Raul Castro could scarcely have been better scripted. A question Mr. Obama was never asked by the trailing New York Times reporters in the wake of his visit was: “Mr. President, how did it feel to shake hands with a cold-blooded killer?”
Communism in Cuba is nothing new and it certainly was not the brainchild of Fidel Castro. Cuban communism has a long history on the island going back to the nation’s independence from the United States in 1902 (Cuba had gained its nominal independence in 1898 after a three-year struggle with Spain but remained under the military suzerainty of the United States). My father recalled that in his hometown of Santa Clara, roughly the geographic mid-point of the island and where disgustingly a statue of the maniac Che Guevara now stands, there were communist agitators in the 1940’s. Castro’s contribution in this context was to cement Marxism for good.
WHY CUBA IS A FAILED STATE
The dismal failure that is the Cuban economy is not the result of the U.S. embargo despite the mythology that claims it is so. Why? Because every other country in the world – at last count 190 countries – trades with Cuba. Cuba is bankrupt because its leaders took to heart Karl Marx’s dictum “to abolish all private property” and to further abolish the individual (the individual, Marx admonished, must “be swept out of the way, and made impossible”). Marx’s injunctions apparently did not apply to El Lίder Máximo, however, as the regime rewarded the communist strongman with multiple beach-front estates, women, whiskey and song.
Today, the average Cuban must do with ration books while many, even in the nation’s capital, need to haul their own drinking water, and deal with mountains of uncollected trash overrun by rats and swarms of flies. The 43,000 Cubans who escaped the communist nation for the U.S. in 2015, and the 56,000 who did so in 2016, many risking a crossing of the shark-infested Florida Straits on a raft, is emblematic of the hellhole that is Cuba.
Former Serbian strongman, Slobodan Milosevic, was arrested and turned over to the United Nations to face a war crimes tribunal at The Hague. He died in jail. Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega was deposed and brought to the United States to stand trial for drug trafficking and languished in jail in Panama City before passing away in May of 2017. In contrast, the narco-trafficking, and contraband smuggling Castro regime which has slaughtered many more thousands of its own citizens and who has bled the country white for sixty years is rewarded for its debauchery with an American Embassy fawningly re-opened by Secretary of State John Kerry.
Castro, it must be remembered, gave safe haven to the Basque separatist organization ETA known to have been responsible for the murder of hundreds of innocents. The ETA terrorists were given political asylum in Cuba as part of an agreement with Spain that the separatists would no longer cause tumult in their home country. In the process, of course, the ETA henchmen trained the Cubans in the fine art of exploding homemade bombs via remote control; a technology which they subsequently exported throughout South America. Adding further ignominy – if that were necessary – to Castro’s trail of depravity is the fact that for years he ran what can only be described as a “university” campus for terrorists from Africa, Asia, and Latin America including the Ortega brothers in their Sandinista inspired revolution of Nicaragua. Castro’s mafia itself was well trained as China’s paramilitary force, the People’s Armed Police (PAP), has trained the Cubans on the fine art of crowd control.
RESTORE FULL DEMOCRACY AS A CONDITION TO END THE EMBARGO
As to ending the embargo – the utterly naive, and smiling U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary, Penny Pritzker, told Cuban authorities that Barack Obama’s goal was to end the embargo – there should be no such plan without reciprocal actions by the Cubans. For starters, there needs to be verifiable evidence of democratic reforms, including freedom of the press, and the conduct of free elections. None of that is likely to happen, however, as the Cuban “constitution”, such as it is, sanctions only the political activities of the Cuban Communist party. A move toward democratic freedoms is not the only condition the United States should seek if the two nations are indeed to play “nice” with each other. The release of political dissidents, and the return of thugs like the Puerto Rican, Victor Manuel Gerena sought by the FBI for bank robbery, and the Black Panther assassin Asata Shakur who is wanted by the FBI for the murder of a State Trooper in New Jersey should also be part of any final resolution.
Moreover, the Cubans need to indemnify those Americans as well as Cubans whose property was confiscated by the Castro regime to the tune of approximately $8 billion. In this connection, the United States government has not been a friend to those who had their properties confiscated. In 1996, the Congress passed the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act. Title III of this so-called Libertad Act penalized foreigners who trafficked in property owned by U.S. citizens confiscated after the Cuban revolution of 1959 and allowed those citizens to file suit in U.S. Court. Alas, the Act gave the U.S. President the ability to suspend the lawsuit provision and every President since the Act’s passage under the Bill Clinton administration chose to suspend such provision for fear of “offending” foreigners. President Trump had no such compunction and in April 2019 waived the suspension.
My mother’s house in Old Havana was confiscated without any due process. She died with a broken heart and without any recompense like so many other thousands who fell prey to the depredations of the Castro regime. Habaneros now anxiously await the 500th anniversary of the founding of the city in 1519 while the government scrambles to paint the facades of decrepit and dilapidated structures for the benefit of naïve tourists.
The average American remains ignorant of the continuing mischief caused by the Castro regime including the recent deployment of Cuban soldiers to help prop up the murderous thugs of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. This is nothing new for the Cuban military which over the years has sought to support communist uprisings in Angola, Congo, Ethiopia, and Bolivia. They also fought in Vietnam, and on the Arab side against Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Again, Mr. Obama’s visit was nothing more than an ostentatious grandstand which only served to hoodwink the people he was elected to serve. It is embarrassing to our nation that Mr. Obama would deign to set foot on a nation with the most malevolent dictatorship on the continent without any conditions. On the other hand, the visit was a public relations coup for Fidel Castro who showed the world that he had finally cowered El Imperialismo Yanqui as he had long promised.