If it were not for the Middle East, Russia and China (and the premature pullout from Iraq), we might consider Cuba to be President Obama’s worst foreign policy debacle. He relaxed sanctions against the dictatorship. U.S. citizen Alan Gross was arrested and thrown in prison. He is in poor health. We’ve done nothing and have not reinstituted sanctions. And what has Cuba done?
Well, as former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams points out, in conjunction with Pope Benedict XVI’s visit, 1,158 people were swept up and detained. That’s more than have been grabbed off the streets or from their homes since the Bay of Pigs in 1961. Abrams rightly is concerned that the Catholic Church has gone mute, failing to respond to the widespread human rights violations.
We should be concerned about the loss of a critical voice for human rights and dignity, but the bigger problem here is U.S. policy. We have not re-upped sanctions, we have not exacted any penalty for the imprisonment of Gross and we are virtually silent on the hemisphere’s worst dictatorship.
Last September Obama spoke to the General Assembly of the United Nations. In his remarks he declared:
We believe that each nation must chart its own course to fulfill the aspirations of its people, and America does not expect to agree with every party or person who expresses themselves politically. But we will always stand up for the universal rights that were embraced by this Assembly. Those rights depend on elections that are free and fair; on governance that is transparent and accountable; respect for the rights of women and minorities; justice that is equal and fair. That is what our people deserve. Those are the elements of peace that can last.
Moreover, the United States will continue to support those nations that transition to democracy — with greater trade and investment — so that freedom is followed by opportunity. We will pursue a deeper engagement with governments, but also with civil society — students and entrepreneurs, political parties and the press. We have banned those who abuse human rights from traveling to our country. And we’ve sanctioned those who trample on human rights abroad. And we will always serve as a voice for those who’ve been silenced.
But that not what this administration does. It does nothing in the face of increased human rights abuses in Cuba. It is paralyzed in the face of mass murder in Syria. It is trying to do business with Iran (with human rights nowhere on the agenda), and it tried to give away more goodies to North Korea. In short, Obama’s responsibilities are far greater than the pope’s, for the president is the leader of the world’s only superpower and of the free world. But he is as mute and ineffective as the Catholic Church. It’s a disgrace and a signal to our foes that America will no longer “stand up for universal rights.” Obama can’t be bothered; he is running for reelection, you know.