Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Obama in Cuba: The price of appeasement and the whims of the Cuban dictator

The price of appeasement

Much has been made of the shift from decades long imprisonment to shorter term detentions in the press and by U.S. officials but little has been said with regards to the simultaneous escalation in knife attacks, breaking bones, machete attacks and extrajudicial killings of high profile human rights activists since 2010. On April 6, 2015 made the case "why the Obama policy will worsen human rights in Cuba and in the Americas" highlighting new patterns of repression that have emerged in the island during the Obama administration. 

The suspicious deaths of human rights defenders such as Orlando Zapata Tamayo (2010), Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia (2011), Laura Inés Pollán Toledo (2011), Wilman Villar Mendoza (2012), Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas (2012), and Harold Cepero Escalante (2012) is a terrifying alternative to the long prison sentences that the Castro regime would use to take opposition leaders out of circulation, as was the case in 2003, during the Bush administration.

On May 14, 2015 Sirley Ávila León lost her left hand, had her right arm broken by a second machete blow, and her knees slashed by several more machete blows by a married couple in an attack orchestrated by Cuban state security. The husband wielding the machete and the wife throwing the severed hand into a pigsty. Cuban doctors told her that because of the contamination in the pigsty that the hand could not be reattached. She was left completely incapacitated, not even able to bend her knees. 

Human rights defender machete attacked on May 24, 2015
The reason for the attack? Sirley Ávila León had been an elected delegate of the municipal people's power assembly and taken seriously the pledge to represent her constituents. When the order came from on high to shut down schools in the country side (as a cost saving measure) and one of those schools was in her area, Sirley began to lobby first through official channel. When the official channels ignored her entreaties she went to the international media. This got her booted out of her position through a series of machinations by Castro regime officials. She responded by joining the opposition and the repression against her escalated into harassment, threats of violence, home invasion and beat down by state security, arson, and the machete attack that nearly killed her.

In an interview on March 21, 2016 with the Spanish Daily ABC the human rights activist declared: "After they began relations with Obama, the totalitarian regime tightened up against those who truly fight for the rule of law in Cuba." ... "All this" - in allusion to the trip of the US president to the island- "is a fallacy." For her, "this friendship of Obama [with Raul] will not bring anything good to the Cuban people."

President Barack Obama and Dictator Raul Castro at press conference
The U.S. English speaking press has not reported on this preferring to focus their questions to Raul Castro on the issue of Cuban political prisoners while going along with the lie that education and healthcare in Cuba are rights and not privileges, given and taken away on the whims of the dictator. Yesterday at the joint press conference with President Obama, General Raul Castro claimed not to have political prisoners and then announced that if he were provided a list of political prisoners that he would immediately free them. That same day Cuban human rights organizations presented lists to the international media in the hope that long term political prisoners would be freed. Some are now trying to spin the joint press conference as Obama laying a trap for Raul Castro. This is highly unlikely. The Castro regime has trafficked in political prisoners for over a half century. Freeing with one hand while imprisoning with another and using human beings as currency for their propaganda campaign.

However the silence by President Obama, the U.S. press corps on the escalating violence and murder of opposition activists speaks volumes on moral failings of the Cuba policy of the United States that is assisting in a dynastic succession of the Castro regime by meeting with Alejandro Castro in the official sit down with Raul Castro while ignoring the terrible price being paid by Cubans who want to be free.

There is still one day left in this official visit and an important meeting planned with Cuban civil society, but the actions of the past seven years and the images of the past two days do not give much cause for President Obama to have a "Reagan moment" in Cuba. The image of President Obama photographed with the Ministry of the Interior in the background with Che Guevara prominently featured and used by Cuban official media as endorsement of the violent revolutionary martyr sends an unfortunate message around the world. We need more images of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi not a mass murdering and hate filled communist icon.

Did Castro manipulate Obama into this photo-op or did White House want it?
 Hopefully, President Obama will lay a flower at Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas's tomb in Havana, Cuba honoring the request made by Oswaldo's daughter, Rosa María Payá. It would be a powerful gesture and honor the memory of a man who nonviolently struggled for a free Cuba and was killed on July 22, 2012 along with Harold Cepero for empowering Cuban people to be free with the Varela Project

Will President Obama pay his respects to a man of peace?

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