After bombs burst in Brussels many were chagrined that President Obama watched Tampa Bay face Cuba at a ball field in Havana. Anger came from all points of the political spectrum, from the most reactionary left to the most radical right. Liberal Chris Matthews was put off no less than Conservative Mike Gallagher.
Republicans are upset that Obama’s presence in Cuba displays acceptance of the Castro regime. They are bothered by a steady stream of billions of dollars that have enriched the Castros since Obama began to thaw the relationship when he entered the White House seven years ago. This act was never brought to Congress for approval and was enabled by the president’s executive order. US funds eclipse the amounts the Soviets sent.
Prior to the Revolution, Cuba was a flourishing island resort with a huge entertainment industry. Ernest Hemingway and Mafiosi enjoyed mojitos while enjoying the sunshine and seashore. Matters shifted after the Revolution.
When the Castro regime arose, an embargo was set by President Kennedy. It was a reaction to the dictatorial regime brought to Cuba by Che Guevara and Fidel Castro with the goal that democracy would be reestablished. Losing other financial support, Cuba became a client of the Soviet Union. Poverty there was gruesome. Human rights violations abounded. On a per capita basis, the abuse of citizens was the highest in the world. From the time of the Revolution through our time, citizens disagreeing with regime activities are jailed without trial, and remain imprisoned for many years.
Since the thaw in relations the situation has worsened. Cuban leaders now benefit from an influx of more cash from America than ever received from Russians. That money has not trickled down to the people. Fidel Castro, the symbol of the proletariat, amassed a personal fortune of over $900M America refuses to use the power of the dollar to influence the Cuban government, and allows the leadership to act with impunity as it rakes in funds. Despite occasional releases, the number of political prisoners in Cuba increases. Raoul’s dictatorship is as harsh as any in the world. His family’s hold on power is matched only by that in North Korea. As in Asia, the Cuban leadership remains in the Castro family. Several years have passed since Fidel retired and brother Raoul took over. Months remain until Raoul leaves office and his son is slated to take over.
As righteous as it may be to oppose the visit to Cuba, that trip must be distinguished from Obama’s attendance at a baseball game.
It may seem galling that any president would go on as if nothing terrible happened when Americans suffered and were murdered in an ISIS rampage. It was wrong that President Obama offered less than a minute of attention to Belgium in his address from Havana. Pundits also felt it was weird for the first family to join Castro in a wave from their bleacher seats.
They are right, but Obama was too. Whether or not it was acceptable for him to be in Cuba, what he did once there was set well in advance of his visit. He spoke correctly when he claimed that if terrorists stop us from living as normally as possible after they attack, the terrorists will have succeeded. There is no question that America must do more to contain terrorism in general and ISIS specifically. Americans cannot allow terrorists to determine how they live their lives. That would be a terrible, unaffordable loss.
Just as Israelis go on living when Palestinians attack restaurants, hotels, stores and schools, so must Americans. On that score, as odd as it is to view, Obama got it right.