Supporters of President Obama's policy of unconditional engagement with the Castro dictatorship are in a terrible bind after last week's VII Cuban Communist Party Congress ("Congress").
They argue that the prior U.S. policy of principled accountability had given Castro an "excuse" for its recalcitrant and repressive behavior. Removing this "excuse" is the premise of their policy.
So it was interesting to gauge their reaction to the recent Congress.
During the Congress, Gen. Raul Castro retrenched politically, making it clear that he will remain the "supreme leader" of Cuba and its sole party until 2021, hence, not giving up power in 2018, as many naively believed.
Castro also retrenched economically by criminalizing any subjective "accumulation of wealth" by Cuba's "self-employed" sector ("cuentapropistas") and refusing to recognize them as legal entities. This, in addition to the previously criminalized "accumulation of property."
Moreover, the Congress served a healthy dose of anti-American rhetoric, lambasting President Obama and referring to the United States as "the enemy."
So what was the reaction of Obama's supporters? That Castro's retrenchment is due to his feeling "nervous," "threatened," and "vulnerable" by the new policy.
In other words, those who argue that the previous policy served as an "excuse" are now arguing that Castro is using Obama as an "excuse." Better yet -- the "excuse" excuse is now their new excuse.
Note how they have dizzied themselves in circles:
- Before they argued that Castro's recalcitrance was due to a "failure" in U.S. policy. Now they argue that Castro's recalcitrance underscores the "success" of Obama's policy.
- Before they argued that U.S. policy buoyed Castro's anti-American rhetoric. Now they argue that Castro's anti-American rhetoric shows Obama has made him "nervous."
- Before they argued that President Bush served as a scapegoat for Castro's attacks.
- Now they argue that Castro attacked Obama because he feels "threatened" and "vulnerable."
But my favorite is U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. During his tenure in the Senate, Kerry consistently argued that U.S. policy "endangered" dissidents.
Yet, in an recent interview, Kerry now argues that increased repression on the island is a good thing — part of "a positive transformation."
These inherent contradictions are due to the fact that their premise is wrong.
If the United States and other democratic nations embrace dictatorial regimes, does anyone truly believe that they'll democratize and stop repressing their people? Of course not.
Let's look at some of today's repressive regimes: What's the Nicolas Maduro government's excuse for arresting, torturing and killing Venezuelans? There are no U.S. sanctions on Venezuela and the Obama administration repeatedly sought to accommodate Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez. What was Iran's excuse for the 2009 arrest, torture, and killing of courageous democracy activists during the Green Revolution?
The Obama administration remained shamefully silent throughout that tragic crackdown on Iranian dissent. What’s Basar al-Assad's excuse for the genocide he is waging against the Syrian people? What's Kim Jong Un's excuse for his crimes against humanity against the North Korean people?
Dictators use repression to stay in power. They don't need excuses. When for some reason they feel they must justify their actions, they’ll make up an “excuse,” just as Raul Castro is now doing with Obama. The only people who believe a dictator’s “excuse” are the minions that propagate them.
Knowing that Raul Castro and his cohorts will make up excuses to stay in power, regardless of what the United States and the free-world does, it should be a no-brainer for the American government to oppose its dictatorship and actively support the democracy activists that challenge it.
We can't recognize or become complicit with Castro's dictatorship, through tourism, trade and investment deals with its military monopolies, while wishfully awaiting its "good-graces" to reform. That's not "change" — it's delusional.
Mauricio Claver-Carone is the executive director of Cuba Democracy Advocates in Washington, D.C. Mauricio also is a co-founder and director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC. He has served as an attorney-adviser for the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Claver-Carone’s work has been featured in a variety of publications including, The New York Times, Politico, and The Hill. Claver-Carone is also the editor of the blog Capitol Hill Cubans. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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