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Opinion Obama’s visit to Havana does nothing to help the Cuban people

President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro shake hands at the Revolution Palace in Havana on Monday. (Nicholas Kamm/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

Why did President Obama go to Cuba?

Was it because Cuba has abandoned its one-party system and allowed other political parties to function?


Was it because the Castro regime is now permitting a free press?


Was it because the regime has made Internet available so that Cubans can communicate with the rest of the world?


Was it because the regime opened the jails and released all political prisoners?


Was it because the regime has ceased seizing and jailing dissidents, sometimes beating them up?


Was it because the regime so respected the president of the United States that it stopped detaining dissidents just for this visit?


In fact, the Cuban regime showed remarkable contempt for Obama. It rounded up some protesters and dissidents just before Air Force One landed. Obama gave Cuba what it wanted, and he got nothing of value in return.

But the question is beside the point. It hardly matters what Obama or the United States got out of the trip. What matters are the rights of the Cuban people. They remain the same — severely limited, bordering on none. In fact, in Obama’s presence, Cuban President Raúl Castro insisted that there are no political prisoners. “Give me a list of the political prisoners and I will release them immediately,” Castro said, responding to a reporter’s question. “Just mention the list. What political prisoners?”

Of course, there is a list. There are political prisoners.

The pictures of Obama in Havana show him smiling. But what is so funny? He went to a small, unimportant nation as a beggar. He wanted to put the Cold War behind him, but he put the prestige of the presidency behind him as well. He was right to end the embargo of Cuba and open relations, but a presidential visit is a different matter. The president does not go everywhere. This is not his gap year. He represents the United States of America. A visit ought to mean something. He ought to have won some concession regarding human rights.

Obama is the very personification of the American left’s goofy infatuation with Cuba. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) pretty much summed things up talking to Anderson Cooper last night. Yes, Cuba has an authoritarian regime, but it has a first-class medical system. This is but an iteration of the left’s old mantra on Stalinist Russia: Yes, it’s a dictatorship, but, boy, have you seen those Moscow subway stations! Would you rather see a doctor or have free speech? How about both?

Cuba is a small, unimportant country. It is not China or Russia, authoritarian regimes that unavoidably have to be dealt with, nor is it knee-deep in oil, like Saudi Arabia. It is a rotten dictatorship, an abuser of human rights, and there was no need for Obama to go there.