One year ago today, President Barack Obama announced a radical change in U.S. policy towards the rogue communist government of Cuba, insisting that funneling new money to the Castro regime would empower “democracy and human rights” on the island.
Today, the failure of President Obama’s diplomacy is abundantly clear. Cuba’s political detention rates have skyrocketed, the number of Cuban refugees risking their lives to leave the island has soared, and the Cuban government has begun to more openly support terrorist organizations like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
While Cuban dictator Raúl Castro promised the diplomatic thaw would yield a “prosperous and sustainable socialism,” President Obama simultaneously claimed on American television that “we can do more to support the Cuban people and promote our values through engagement.”
The President began implementing diplomatic changes almost immediately, following a speech where he blamed the United States for Cubans’ lack of access to telecommunications and – adding insult to injury – misquoted Cuban founding father José Martí.
Statistics show that, rather than relaxing its position on political speech, the Cuban government has reinforced its police state.
“There has been no substantial improvement in regard to human rights and individual freedoms on the island… [The Cuban government] has adapted its repressive methods in order to make them invisible to the scrutinizing, judgmental eyes of the international community, but it has not reduced the level of pressure or control over the opposition,” a new report by the Czech NGO People in Need explains. In the year since President Obama’s concessions to the Castros, “the political system in Cuba has fallen more and more into the hands of an elite clique linked to the Revolutionary Armed Forces, which controls the majority of companies and foreign investments in Cuba and has also been gaining influence within the Communist Party of Cuba.”
Arrests have skyrocketed, as have unusual methods of abuse against political dissidents. The change happened fast; between January and March 2015, political arrests on the island increased 70 percent.
The report notes that “these days there are even more detentions than there were before, but of a shorter duration.” In October 2015, for example, 1093 arbitrary detentions were recorded. People in Need has provided a chart showing the clear rise in arrests following President Obama’s announcement.
What these arrests look like today is even more harrowing than their sheer number. People in Need notes that most of these are temporary, many occurring in police cars for some hours. During these arrests, police have been reported “throwing activists over an anthill or forcing them to remove their clothes and shoes far away from their homes where they will eventually need to return.” Political dissidents are usually released from captivity miles way from their homes with no money or way to travel home.
When the regime cannot find an excuse to arrest a dissident, it sends angry mobs to the doorsteps of known dissidents, who engage in “shouting insults and throwing various objects or excrement.”
The Cuban government used to try to hide these abuses. In 2015, dissidents were violently attacked not only in public, but before some of the largest viewing publics possible. Perhaps the most dramatic of these incidents was the arrest of dissident Zaqueo Báez, whose physical assault and arrest was caught on camera in front of the convoy of Pope Francis, visiting the island in September.
The Pope would later go on to deny that he witnessed this incident.
At the Summit of the Americas in April, held in Panama, a mob of communists assaulted peaceful pro-democracy activists who had been invited to attend the summit. While President Obama did not meet with these dissidents after the attack, he did shake Raúl Castro’s hand in a public gesture of good will.
The Cuban government never hid its intentions. Cuban diplomat Josefina Vidal insisted in August that Cuba “would not move one millimeter” on human rights. Even those political prisoners freed following President Obama’s announcement on December 17, 2014 are already mostly behind bars again.
The boldness with which the Castro regime has taken on the work of intimidating and physically injuring the democracy movement in Cuba tells only half the story. The new friendship between the White House and Havana has also prompted thousands of Cubans, many with no history of political activity, to flee the island as soon as possible, fearing the United States will no longer be a safe haven for Cuban refugees if Castro demands President Obama overturn the Cuban Adjustment Act.
The change was immediate. In December 2014, the United States Coast Guard recorded a 117-percent increase in the number of Cubans risking the trip from the island to Florida compared to December 2013, and a 60-percent rise in the number of Cubans found making their way to the United States in the last trimester of 2014.
Meanwhile, on land, the Obama Cuba deal has caused a humanitarian crisis in Costa Rica. Thousands of Cuban refugees, fearing that the U.S. Coast Guard may be more hostile to them following the blossoming of the Castro-Obama friendship, have attempted to reach America by flying to communist-friendly countries like Ecuador and making the trek north. At least 2,000 of them were stopped by the government of Honduras, which deployed soldiers to attack the refugees with tear gas and push them back into Costa Rica. As a result, the refugees were forced into a 5,000-people tent city in Costa Rica and are awaiting the granting of some legal status, any legal status in any country but Cuba.
The Cuban government has blamed the United States for this situation.
In addition to the violent oppression of domestic political dissidents and the creation of a full-fledged refugee crisis abroad, the Cuban government has been active in supporting international terrorism. President Obama made this much easier for the Castro regime by removing Cuba from the State Department’s list of State Sponsors of Terrorism.
The result has been a resurgence of the 50-year-old terrorist group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), now the world’s wealthiest non-jihadist terror organization. After being almost completely eradicated from Colombia through a counter-terrorism operation aided by the CIA in the mid-2000s, FARC leadership fled to Havana, where they have been allowed to operate freely. The group has slowly been rebuilding into a formidable terrorist organization boasting significantly fuller coffers than Al Qaeda. Its influence has grown to the point that it has convinced the government of Colombia to accept a “peace deal” that would not require most members of the FARC to serve time in prison for their crimes of murder, drug smuggling, recruitment of child soldiers, and forced abortions, among other crimes. In exchange, the FARC has promised to reshape itself into a legitimate political party, though there is no evidence it has abandoned its lucrative drug trade.
Raúl Castro has largely taken credit for this “peace deal,” shoehorning himself into a handshake between Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader “Timochenko” during their meeting in September (in Havana, of course):
Cuba has also been rumored to have sent troops to advise Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, a man President Obama refers to as a “tyrant… who drops barrel bombs to massacre innocent children.” The Obama administration is now open to working with Assad, too.
One year in, the extent to which the Obama administration will be able to cement the Castro regime’s stranglehold on power during its last year remains to be seen. It can certainly get much worse. The Cuban government, for one, appears to be preparing for one final bow to their will: a visit by President Obama himself, meticulously puppeted by the communists in power.
“The day that the president of the United States decides to visit Cuba, he will be welcome,” Cuban diplomat Josefina Vidal said this week. But she added: “[Cuba] is not going to negotiate matters that are inherent to its internal system.”