Monday, December 22, 2014

"Obama's Christmas Gift to Castro"

                  Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“Obama’s Christmas Gift to Castro”
December 22, 2014

“The Obama administration is ushering in a transformational era for millions of Cubans who had suffered as a result of more than fifty years of hostility between the two nations;” so opined the New York Times last Thursday in applauding Mr. Obama’s “historic move on Cuba.” Certainly, talking is better than not, and the benefits of trade tend to be mutual, but I had no idea that the people of the United States were responsible for the repressive conditions under which most Cubans live. I, obviously naively, had always thought that the absence of the rule of law, the suppression of free speech, the poverty, the jailing of dissidents had something to with the communist government the Castro brothers had imposed on their Country fifty years ago. The opinion leaders of the Times apparently believe differently. We Americans, according to them, share in the blame.

Mr. Obama emphasized that point when he mistakenly inferred that the United States had been a colonizer of Cuba, rather than its liberator in the Spanish-American War. He spoke on Thursday, with words directed at the Cuban people: “Others have seen us as a former colonizer, intent on controlling your future. Let us leave behind the legacy of both colonization and communism.” While it is true that the Cuban Constitution, until the early 1930s, included an “intervention” clause,” Cuba was never colonized by the United States. It was true, though, that American companies like United Fruit operated in Cuba, with advantages accruing to shareholders at the expense of Cuban employees, and the Mafia, an American institution, made Havana an open city in the post-World War II era. So, why does Mr. Obama twist and exaggerate history for his own purposes? Why does mainstream media not call him out?

Headlines in the media and comments from some in the columnists have said that our isolating of Cuba has not worked. It is time, they said, to try something new. I agree, it is time to try something new. Communism has not worked. Will opening the doors to American tourists and American businessmen and women rid the country of its legacy of dictatorial suppression? I don’t know. It seems doubtful. But I agree, why not try? Will business or individuals invest? I suspect not, or at least not in any meaningful way, absent the rule of law. Why not try democracy and give all Cubans the right to own property and permit them to speak freely? Why not let the people freely elect their leaders? If Raúl Castro is to be believed change may be slow in coming. On Saturday, he gave a wide-ranging speech. “We won the war,” he declared. David defeated Goliath is the way he put it. He said the changes need to be gradual to create a system of “prosperous and sustainable communism.”

Cuba has not been isolated in the world. It is not, as President Obama alleged at last Friday’s news conference, “hermetically sealed.” It has relations with 160 nations, and it provides civilian assistance workers, mainly medical, to more than 20 nations. Nevertheless, trade with nations like Canada, Germany and Spain, not to mention mentoring nations, like China, Russia and Venezuela, have done nothing to improve the lives of the people. Cuba is a member of the united Nations and, believe it or not, a lead country on the United Nations Human Rights Council, which says more about the United Nations than Cuba. Yet, the government persecutes those who disagree. It is a persistent violator of human rights. It sponsors terrorism and foments anti-Americanism across Latin America.

At Friday’s news conference, Mr. Obama said, “I want to work with this new Congress to get things done.” Yet, the President missed an opportunity to both work with Congress and improve his chances of permanently changing America’s policies toward Cuba. Why did he not seek to co-opt the three U.S. Senators of Cuban heritage, Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX)? Why did he not consult the four Representatives of Cuban heritage in the House – two Democrats and two Republicans? I suspect the answer is that his ego would not let him share the stage. Yet, if he had, he might very well of helped restore civility and bi-partisanship to Washington, and he would have ensured the smooth passage of any new legislation regarding Cuba. Most former Presidents would have done so.

Instead, it was Pope Francis who played a key role, perhaps hoping to reprise the part played by Pope John Paul II in helping to bring down the Iron Curtain. Cuba, once a Catholic nation, has been on the Vatican’s radar since Fidel Castro took over. Their five-decade failure to exorcise the atheism of Cuban leaders has never diminished their desire to do so. Pope Francis, by all accounts, is a good and kindly man, but I find it troubling that the spiritual leader of Roman Catholics recently chose not to meet the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. Unlike Mr. Obama who did meet with the Dalai Lama at the White House, Pope Francis seemed to be concerned he would offend China’s communist leaders.

In this season of Christmas, it is worth considering a recent study by Cornell University, which compared happiness derived from gifts of a material nature to those they called experiential – the gift of an experience – a dinner out, theater tickets or a trip. They found the latter provided greater happiness. Perhaps that is what Mr. Obama had in mind during this Pentecostal season. The Castro’s, since seizing control in 1959, have argued that the poverty their people endure is due to the monster that is the United States. Raúl Castro accepted Mr. Obama’s gift and declared victory. There is, however, a catch. If life for Cubans does not improve, it will be harder to blame the Goliath to their north. If life does improve, will they credit their northern neighbor? I suspect we know the answer.

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I do hope your Holidays will be enjoyable, that you will be able to spend time with family and friends, and I wish you the very best for a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

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