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#Cuba Sorry, Obama: Photo-Ops Won’t Free Cuba – by Alejandro Chafuen

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obamachecubaWhen Ernesto “Che” Guevara (1928-1967) argued that hatred could be a good motivator for his “revolutionary” killings, he was quite specific: no hatred was better than hatred for the United States of America. Having a U.S. president pose for pictures in front of one of the most famous Che Guevara displays in Havana’s “Revolutionary Square” incited emotions of sadness and dismay—but it is also an alert. Unless there is a strong reaction against a one-sided pro-communist interpretation of Cuban and Latin American history, I anticipate that it won’t be too long before we see a Che Guevara statue erected in Washington, D.C.

There is plenty to criticize in how the United States has handled its relationship with Cuba—especially before the Castro dictatorship. But erasing Cuba’s long history of human rights abuses and its support for terrorism beyond its borders from memory can have dangerous consequences today and tomorrow.

“I know the history, but I refuse to be trapped by it,” said President Obama. Fine. But let’s focus on the present, then. We have seen little to no improvement in the conditions and rights of Cubans since December 17, 2014, when the governments of the United States and Cuba announced the decision to re-establish diplomatic relations. Once the decision was made (after 18 months of secret negotiations), the re-opening of embassies and the presidential visit came as no surprise. But what has been surprising is how little the United States government has asked for in return—not only for U.S. citizens whose property was expropriated, but also for Cuban human rights.

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen recently remarked on the House floor that, “the president stated he would go to Cuba only if the conditions were right and human rights and freedom for the Cuban people had improved—this has not happened in Cuba. In fact, nothing in Cuba has changed.” She listed the “over 2,555 arbitrary detentions of peaceful protestors between January and February of 2016 alone, and over 8,000 arrests just last year,” and bitterly complained that “the leader of the free world has chosen a legacy-shopping photo-op enjoying a baseball game with a murderer and a thug.” So far, the only two major changes in the U.S. have been the administration’s move to make it easier for Cubans to receive remittances from the United States, and the liberalization of travel to the island.

The liberalization of travel should come with a “travelers beware” caution. A close friend of mine from Chile, Cristián Larroulet, former chief of staff of President Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014), recently vacationed with his family in Cuba. He wrote about his experience in El Mercurio, Chile’s most important newspaper: “After a few days of walking the streets and talking to people, I was able to confirm the economic deterioration produced by socialism. I bore witness to the decaying housing and urban infrastructure; the precariousness of their public transport system, the chronic food shortages.”

Larroulet stressed the loss of human capital with the emigration of 2 million Cubans, and an educational system full of problems, with a multitude of university graduates working as taxi drivers. In his piece, Larroulet also added that “Health, which the regime has tried to show as an icon of the Cuban socialist model, did not escape the effects of the revolution, where the hospital infrastructure is practically the same for the last 50 years, and the decline in infant mortality indicators. Cuba in 1959 stood at 13th place in the world ranking; now it is 34th.”

But the most important shock that Larroulet recounts in his article is the pervasiveness of police state tactics. After five days in the island, he received an official summons from the powerful Cuban Interior Ministry to “resolve his immigration status.” Mr. Larroulet was accused of meeting with counter-revolutionaries, such Reinaldo Escobar, the husband of Yoani Sánchez. Escobar runs the online newspaper14ymedio. Along with Larroulet, we have, in multiple occasions, spent time with Ms. Sánchez, a valiant blogger and voice for a peaceful quest for freedom. If we can be with her abroad, why can’t some of us visit her husband? Each and every single step Larroulet took on the island had been monitored.

Several observers argue that this new Cuban policy and trip is another example of an attitude of “Legacy or Bust,” to use Charles Krauthammer’s expression: let us sign deals that will secure President Obama’s presence in the history books. But the photo-ops, the warm and cordial exchanges, and the “we can learn a lot from you on matters of healthcare and education” from Obama to the Castros, suggests that one of this policy’s goals is to change the narrative of the history of liberty in the Americas, a history where the United States is portrayed as an aggressor and Cuba, as liberator.

During his speech today at the Grand Theater Alicia Alonso, President Obama stated that he wanted to “bury the only remnant of the Cold War in the Americas.” He did not hide the differences that persist. Cuba has a one party political system, Obama remarked. A one party dictatorship would have been more accurate. He also stated that Cuba has a socialist system and thus believes that the rights emanate from the state, while in the United States, we believe that rights belong to the individual. President Obama stressed that, despite these differences, we need to work together, and that he believes in the Cuban people, and that their future is in their own hands. This he said in decently pronounced Spanish: “Creo en el pueblo Cubano … El futuro tiene que estar en manos del pueblo cubano.” He stressed that the U.S. was not only re-establishing relations with the government of Cuba but also—and especially—with its people.

Obama did not delve into the awful conditions of the Cuban economy. Instead, he praised the island’s socialist education system and Cuba’s provision of healthcare for all, which he considers a universal human right. He made frequent use of Spanish during his speech, and also praised the “cuenta-propista,” the person who works for himself in Cuba. He got scant or no applause when he called for the elimination of an internal economic “apartheid” [he did not use the term] with a dual economy, one for foreigners and those who work for them, and one for locals, who are paid in almost worthless money, and for a “free and open exchange of ideas,” the “right to protest,” and the “freedom to vote.”

An effective point in his speech was his description of the diversity of several of the presidential candidates today in the United States. He declined to mention Trump and instead focused on two Cuban-Americans, fighting against a female candidate, and a democratic socialist. He also presented a humane view of Cuban exiles and their longing for home.

Resounding applause erupted when President Obama called for an end to the embargo. The embargo continues to serve as a propaganda tool for the regime. David Nott, of the libertarian Reason Foundation, who this past January organized educational meetings in Cuba featuring Senator Jeff Flake, (R, AZ), does not buy into this tenet of Cuban propaganda, that the embargo is the main cause of the Cuban plight. Nott argues, “The trade embargo has mostly been symbolic, because Cuba has been able to trade with China, Canada, and the E.U. all along. Cuba is poor because of a lack of property rights and the rule of law. The fractures in socialism show up in dual currencies, forced relocations, and ubiquitous state propaganda.”

The main arguments that the Obama administration has continued to underscore in favor of a policy shift are the following: that the past policies did not work, and that increased opportunities for economic profits will liberate Cuba’s people. Both have a big component of truth. However, in a country where all important things are settled by the intelligence apparatus of the military, profit, especially from big businesses and trade deals, is seldom “liberating.” Reason (along with most libertarians) favors lifting the embargo, as “economic liberties will free Cubans faster than the embargo” yet holds that the road to true liberty in the marketplace still has many barriers. In past articles, and based on what I have seen in other transitions away from communism, I have been writing about the likelihood that Cuba will become fertile ground for crony-socialist and crony-capitalist alliances, and a beachhead for similar operations in the region.

The Cuban military will continue to have a major say during the investment process, and they will be able to find many partners who are used to cronyism. Take Anbang, the Chinese company bidding to acquire Starwood Hotels. Founded only in 2014, Anbang now manages almost $300 billion in assets. The company’s chairman, Wu Xiaohui, is married to the granddaughter of former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping. I was expecting Odebrecht to also play an increased role in Cuba and the region, but with some of their executives in Brazilian jails, it might take them a little time to recover their clout.

To end on a positive note, I do think that one of the best ways to liberate the Cubans is by finding common ground in support for small and budding entrepreneurs. Airbnb, which is already operating in Cuba, was one of the businesses represented in President Obama’s delegation. Wouldn’t it be nice to have Uber? Civil society actors, from the Catholic Church, to brotherhoods and associations, have been developing programs to empower and liberate Cubans from the bottom up. They face arbitrary barriers that make long-term planning difficult. I hope that the future president of the United States will be stronger, more prudent, and pay closer attention to economic and political freedoms than President Obama—and that the promise of a free Cuba becomes a reality, not just another missed opportunity.

* Alejandro Antonio (Alex) Chafuen, Ph.D., has been president of Atlas Economic Research Foundation since 1991. A member of the board of advisors to The Center for Vision & Values and a trustee of Grove City College, he is also the president and founder of the Hispanic American Center of Economic Research. Dr. Chafuen serves on several boards including the Chase Foundation of Virginia, the Acton Institute, the Fraser Institute (Canada), and is an Active Honorary Member of the John Templeton Foundation.

Source: Forbes.com

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