Monday, February 22, 2016

Obama Cuba Visit: Back to the Future

Reviving a shameful legacy of legitimizing dictatorship

President Coolidge with Dictator Machado and President Obama with Dictator Castro
 President Obama's announcement that he and the First Lady would be traveling to Cuba for a two-day visit beginning on March 21st to meet with "President Raul Castro" was not a step forward but a huge step backward to the days when U.S. presidents embraced and legitimized Latin American military despots.

President Lyndon Johnson and "President"Anastasio Somoza (1968)
Lyndon B. Johnson who went to Managua, Nicaragua on July 8, 1968 was the last president to visit a Latin American dictator, when he met with Anastasio Somoza Debayle and offered the following praise:
"President Somoza, Your Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:
I am proud to be the first President of the United States to visit your beautiful country during his term of office." ... "In our conversations during the past few days, President Somoza, I have welcomed the opportunity to discuss with you, in detail, the achievements and the plans of modern Nicaragua that you lead. This magnificent new airport, the growing network of your highways throughout this country, the new efforts you have made in education and public health and rural electrification, are signs of genuine progress."
 On January 19, 1928 President Calvin Coolidge and the First Lady visited Cuba and met with General Gerardo Machado who at the time was transforming his rule into Cuba's first dictatorship. The aftermath of the Coolidge visit coincided in Cuba with dictatorship, violence and years later political upheaval that led to Machado's ouster and exile. State Department meddling during the crisis also assisted the rise of Fulgencio Batista as a national political figure in 1933.

Cuba did have a democratic restoration in the 1940s with the Presidencies of Ramon Grau San Martin (1944 - 1948) and later with Carlos Prio Socarras (1948 - 1952) but did not receive the support of an American president's visit. 

President Obama's planned visit to Cuba is not a step forward, but a huge leap backward into the 1960s when U.S. foreign policy in Latin America embraced military dictators calling them "Presidents." On March 20, 1968 Lyndon Johnson invited General Alfredo Stroessner, the dictator of Paraguay, to the White House and gave him a state dinner. The official video described how the dictator was making "democratic reforms." Stroessner would continue to rule Paraguay as a dictator until 1989 when he was overthrown in a military coup.

Like General Stroessner, and unlike President Obama, Mr. Castro has never had to undergo a popular consultation in a competitive multi-party election. Today he is in power because of the state security apparatus that he rules over thanks to his brother Fidel Castro who handed power over to him in 2006 due to illness.

The President of the United States is already calling Dictator Raul Castro "President" and treating him has an equal. The March 21st visit promises to be another part of the shameful foreign policy legacy of the Obama administration, which in this case prolongs the life of the totalitarian dictatorship in Cuba.  

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