U.S. Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) enjoyed a “friendly meeting” with Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel on Monday, praising his “fluent” understanding of internet issues as an engineer.
The meeting was the first with an American government guest since taking office for Díaz-Canel, who remains subordinate to the country’s leader, dictator Raúl Castro.
Joining Flake in Havana was the chief executive of Google, Eric Schmidt, who encouraged Communist Party leaders to allow internet companies to seek greater profits on the island.
During a brief press engagement with Schmidt, Flake praised Díaz-Canel and stated he had a “good meeting” with him. “We are hopeful for the future if we can have more connectivity, more travel, more meetings with Cubans and vice versa,” he told reporters.
“It was certainly a friendly meeting with the president, he very much … he’s an engineer and was certainly, talking about this subject, was very fluent in what is needed in Cuba and the benefits that come from greater connectivity,” Flake said.
Flake, who has compared democratically elected U.S. President Donald Trump to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, did not publicly challenge Díaz-Canel or any Cuban officials on the gross human rights violation the Castro regime has inflicted on its people for six decades.
While in Cuba, Flake and Schmidt met with Díaz-Canel and senior members of the Cuban Foreign Relations Ministry, including Foreign minister Bruno Rodríguez. Also joining them is senior American diplomat in Cuba Philip Goldberg, a career diplomat who represented America before some of the world’s most challenging leaders – having been declared persona non grata by leftist Bolivian President Evo Morales and dismissed as “annoying” by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte – before Trump appointed him to the post in Havana.
Ministro @CubaMINREX #BrunoRguez, recibió al senador republicano @JeffFlake y al presidente ejecutivo de @Google, @ericschmidt. Dialogaron sobre impacto negativo del retroceso en relaciones #Cuba–#EEUU y temas actualidad internacional. https://t.co/mbP4sMUHaw pic.twitter.com/AfS9lpI7ED
— Cancillería de Cuba (@CubaMINREX) June 4, 2018
According to the Foreign Ministry, Flake and the Cuban diplomatic team “dialogued over relations between Cuba and the United States and the negative impact of the regress produced” by the Trump administration’s undoing of predecessor Barack Obama’s appeasement policy with the Castro regime.
“Foreign Minister Rodríguez thanks [Flake and Schmidt] for their interest in contributing to the debate in favor of better relations between both nations.”
Again, the statement does not make any mention of the Americans discussing Cuba’s flagrant human rights abuses with regime representatives.
Flake and Schmidt did not appear to meet with Raúl Castro.
Under Raúl Castro – who, as leader of the Communist Party of Cuba, outranks Díaz-Canel – Cuba has continued the decades of abuse against pro-democracy dissidents that his brother, the late Fidel Castro, began. Among the worst hit by state repression are the Ladies in White, a dissident group made up of the female relatives of political prisoners whose sole act of protest is to attend Catholic Mass dressed in white. Every Sunday, dozens of Ladies in White face brutal beatings, verbal abuse, arrest, and humiliation at the hands of state-sponsored mobs. Independent dissidents who speak publicly against communism also face arrest without charge, beatings, and abuse.
There is no evidence that Díaz-Canel has eased Castro’s repression policies, or that he would have the authority to do so.
Flake, who has made multiple trips to Cuba seeking to expand business ties between free American corporations and the communist regime, has repeatedly defended Cuba in the public eye. Flake supported the removal of Cuba from the State Department’s State Sponsors of Terrorism List despite Cuba’s support for both Hezbollah and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Flake also claimed there was “no evidence” of any attacks on U.S. diplomats in Cuba a month before a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found concrete proof that diplomats had suffered brain damage through a “novel mechanism” of attack in Havana.
Flake’s stances on these issues stands in contrast with his condemnation of U.S. President Trump, who he has accused of endorsing the arrest and abuse of journalists abroad and, as mentioned prior, compared to Stalin.
Of Trump, Flake has said, “our presidency has been debased by a figure who has a seemingly bottomless appetite for destruction and division, and only a passing familiarity with how the Constitution works.”
“I have never been in favor of the embargo, but of normalizing relations between the two countries,” Flake said in Havana on Monday. “We have had a few setbacks, but I trust that we can overcome them,” referring to Trump’s reversal of the Obama appeasement policy, which triggered a spike in human rights abuses across the island.
Flake’s visit to Cuba also made front-page news in Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba. The Granma report provided little information other than that Flake and the Cuban government authorities discussed issues of “mutual interest.”