Saturday, March 20, 2021

Legacy of President Obama's 2016 State visit to Cuba: Appeasement's price and the whims of the Cuban dictator

The price of appeasement

President Barack Obama and his family arrived in Cuba on March 20, 2016 with high expectations. Much was made in 2016 of the shift from decades long imprisonment to shorter term detentions in the press and by U.S. officials but little was 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. Five years later and the failure of this visit and the overall policy becomes ever more evident.

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." Five years later, and scores of U.S. diplomats with brain injuries, and a shuttered embassy indicates that Sirley was right. The attacks began in November 2016, just months after the President's historic visit.

President Barack Obama and Dictator Raul Castro at press conference
The U.S. English speaking press did 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. 
On March 21, 2016 at a 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 the 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.

President Obama did not 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 an 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?
President Obama did not lay a flower at Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas's tomb in Havana, Cuba that would have honored the request made by Oswaldo's daughter, Rosa María Payá. He failed to 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 Cubans to be free with the Varela Project

Murdered dissidents was part of the price of appeasement with Castro

Three days prior to the visit the true significance of the visit was tweeted by Chile's former Minister of Culture and former Ambassador to Mexico tweeted in Spanish: "Paradoxes: After decades backing right wing dictatorships in Latin America, now the United States could end up backing a left wing dictatorship."
This is the trouble, rather than abandon a bad practice, supporting right wing dictatorships - such as Saudi Arabia, the Obama Administration expanded this practice to include dictatorships hostile to the United States. The policy was not a step forward, but back to an era of backing dictators in Latin America. 


  1. To answer your question about whether the photo of Barack Obama standing in front of the Che Guevara iron cast armature portrait gracing the facade of the MININT HQ was deliberately done, Obama never asked the White House photo crews to take a picture of him in front of the Che image. Just b/c Obama was photographed in this pose doesn't make him admire Che Guevara, because in 2013 the US Ambassador to the UN, David Killion, criticized UNESCO for planning to add the works of Che Guevara to the Memory of the World Register due to Che's advocacy of violence and bloodshed to achieve Fidel Castro's bankrupt vision for the developing world (see Obama, nonetheless, rightly showed respect for US values by laying a floral wreath in front of the Jose Marti Memorial in Revolution Square in Havana.

  2. How do you know this? Were you part of President Obama's advance team in Cuba?

    1. When heads of state visit Cuba, and they wait for the Cuban honor guard to assist them in laying floral wreaths in front of the Jose Marti Memorial, they stand in front of the Che Guevara iron cast armature portrait gracing the facade of the MININT HQ, regardless of whether or not they hate Che Guevara.