President Donald Trump offered the most forthright criticism of Cuba since John F. Kennedy when he addressed a crowd in Miami ahead of signing an executive order reversing the Obama administration’s policy of normalization.
In a speech frequently interrupted by applause, and by cameo appearances from Cuban-American activists, Trump laid out a moral case against the Castro regime and its policies that few previous presidents have dared to make.
“We will not be silent in the face of communist oppression any longer,” Trump said. He laid out his principles and policies, including regime change: “With God’s help, a free Cuba is what we will soon achieve,” he said, to sustained cheers and chants of “U-S-A!”
He listed some of the human rights abuses of the Castro regime, acknowledging those in the audience who had suffered the “true and brutal nature of the Castro regime … many of you witnessed terrible crimes committed in service of a depraved ideology.” He mentioned activists in Cuba who were prevented from leaving to attend his speech. He saluted exiles and dissidents present, some of whom had suffered decades of imprisonment in Cuba.
Trump declared defiantly — in a swipe at his predecessor: “Now that I am president, America will expose the crimes of the Castro regime and stand with the Cuban people in their struggle for freedom. Because we know it is best for America to have freedom in our hemisphere, whether in Cuba or Venezuela, and to have a future where the people of each country can live out their own dreams,” he said.
For nearly six decades, the Cuban people have suffered under communist domination. To this day, Cuba is ruled by the same people who killed tens of thousands of their own citizens, who sought to spread their repressive and failed ideology throughout our hemisphere, and who once tried to host enemy nuclear weapons ninety miles from our shores. The Castro regime has shipped arms to North Korea, and fueled chaos in Venezuela. While imprisoning innocents, it has harbored cop killers, hijackers, and terrorists. It has supported human trafficking, forced labor, and exploitation all around the globe. This is the simple truth of the Castro regime. My administration will not hide from it, excuse it, or glamorize it. And we will never, ever be blind to it. We know what’s going on, and we remember what happened.
And he declared:
The previous administration’s easing of restrictions on travel and trade does not help the Cuban people. They only enrich the Cuban regime. The profits from investment and tourism flow directly to the [Cuban] military. The regime takes the money and owns the industry. The outcome of [the] last administration’s executive action has been only more repression, and a move to crush the peaceful, democratic movement.
He later laid out conditions for a new agreement to improve relations, including dramatic improvements in Cuba’s human rights policies, the holding of free elections supervised by international observers, and the “return of the cop killer, Joanne Chesimard.” (The latter is known as “Assata Shakur” and is still lionized by the American left.)
It was all too much for at least one Obama administration adviser. As Trump spoke, former Obama White House official Ben Rhodes, one of the main architects of normalization with Cuba, tweeted furiously in opposition. He declared: “Trump doesn’t care about the human rights of the Cuban people and his policies will do nothing to help them.” Rhodes also challenged the Cuban-Americans in the audience: “The few people in Miami enabling Trump in carrying out this charade should be embarrassed/ held accountable. He could care less about Cubans,” he tweeted. “It’s tragic that some people in Fla are so determined to cling to a failed hardline on Cuba that they’re hitching themselves to Donald Trump,” he later added.
Trump left the door open to diplomacy, stating that his new policy will maintain the U.S. embassy in Havana: “Our embassy [in Cuba] remains open in the hope that our countries can forge a stronger and much better path,” he said. “We will respect Cuban sovereignty, but we will never turn our backs on the Cuban people,” he later added.
Trump left no doubt that relations would henceforth have to be based on a foundation of truth — not lenience toward a regime that secured one-sided concessions from the Obama administration without any domestic political change.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.