Monday, May 23, 2016

Why are some folks not blessing Obama's trips to Cuba and Vietnam?

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. - Matthew 5:9

Reverend King has the answer to the question
David Beeson over twitter asked an important question: "Blessed are the peacemakers, we're told. Obama has been to Cuba and now to Vietnam. So why aren't his Bible-thumping critics blessing him?"

The trip to Vietnam is still ongoing, but there are already shadows on the visit that would give peacemakers pause. First rescinding a decades-old ban on sales of lethal military equipment to Vietnam is not a nonviolent act or the action of a peacemaker. The response by China, warning the White House to not spark a “regional tinderbox” is ominous pointing to an arms race or even conflict.

In answering the question with a focus on the Cuba half  there have been a couple of months since the visit and time to further reflect on it.

First, since the December 17, 2014 announcement by President Obama and General Castro the level of repression in Cuba has grown exponentially.

Secondly, Christian Solidarity Worldwide has compiled figures that  reveal a tenfold increase in religious repression in Cuba with 2,300 separate violations recorded in 2015 compared to 220 in 2014.

Cuban Americans warned that this would happen in an open letter in February of 2015 published in The Washington Post but were completely shut out and ignored.

Furthermore, the Obama administration signed off with Carnival on an agreement with the Castro regime that discriminated against Cuban Americans that prompted mass protests.

Obama in Cuba and in Vietnam being photographed in front of communist icons
Lastly, the visit to Cuba in and of itself had some very troubling aspects that could prolong the life of the dictatorship and send the wrong message internationally on the figure of Che Guevara. Within the context of the Cuba visit being photographed in front of the Ministry of the Interior with image of the Argentine guerilla in the background is unfortunate.

Now in Vietnam, President Obama is photographed in front of the statue of the murderous Ho Chi Minh. That the U.S. ambassador would also be hanging out in the Vietnamese regime's Ministry of Public Security in a smiling photo opportunity with the head of that organization, despite that buildings history of persecuting and torturing dissidents, is again unfortunate.

Vietnam’s Minister of Public Security To Lam and US Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius
The Obama administration's Cuba policy has reduced tensions between the United States and Cuba but it has not addressed the presence of injustice or the fact that it has increased during this time of reduced tension. The failure of this policy can be measured by the tens of thousands of Cubans voting with their feet and leaving the island. This is a dramatic increase over previous years and can only be compared with other attempts to reach an accommodation with the Castro regime.

It is important to recall that the United States lifted economic sanctions on Vietnam on February 3, 1994 and normalized relations on July 11, 1995. Twenty two years later the Obama administration has opened the sale of weapons to Vietnam, but unlike in Cuba that still has economic sanctions, President Obama was not able to meet with Vietnamese dissidents in a scheduled meeting.

Ending sanctions reduces leverage and normalizing relations with abnormal regimes such as Vietnam and Cuba leads the United States in being complicit with the injustice taking place there. Perhaps that is why some Americans guided by biblical principles are so upset.

Human Rights Watch's Kenneth Roth tweeted the following caricature summing up President Obama's visit to Vietnam.

There is an alternative and it is the road less traveled of nonviolence which has a great record of success. Unfortunately, neither the Bush policy of preemptive wars or the Obama policy of neo-appeasement follows this path.

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