Friday, April 17, 2009

WSJ Editorial: Now Open Cuba's Prisons

The Obama opening does little for Castro's political prisoners

President Obama's decision this week to ease some parts of the embargo against Cuba is being hailed as a first step toward altering a U.S. policy that has prevailed for a half-century without unseating Fidel Castro. We don't object, though it'd be nice if Mr. Obama also began speaking up against the Castro dictatorship. Mr. Obama's changes are partly a humanitarian response to Cuban hardship. They might even expose the regime's phony claim that the Yankee "bloqueo," or embargo, is the cause of Cuba's misery. But let's not expect too much. Embargo or not, Cuba will remain an island prison until its rulers are forced to ease their grip. We have long supported lifting the embargo as a way of accelerating that process. But the demoralized Cuban people also need international solidarity. Economically engaging the regime while ignoring the hundreds of political prisoners and millions trapped in squalor would betray the cause of Cuban liberty. To that end, the most useful thing Mr. Obama can do at this weekend's Summit of the Americas is to call on other leaders to denounce the regime's human rights violations. The Obama plan to lift all limitations on family visits and cash remittances is a welcome development for Cuban-Americans who left loved ones behind. Family separation is a tragic consequence of the Castro regime, and the restrictions on visits, tightened by the Bush Administration to once every three years, have increased that pain. Lifting the remittance cap, also tightened by President Bush, will allow free Cubans to support poor relatives. The Administration says it will also allow U.S. telecom companies to compete on the island, offering fiber optics and other advanced technology. A State Department official tells us the idea is to achieve "a greater level of connectivity and information flow" with Cubans. In theory this has marvelous possibilities. Imagine a Cuban accessing the Web via telephone and realizing that others think the way he does. It would erode the silent fear that the regime depends on to survive -- which may explain why Havana hasn't embraced Mr. Obama's offer. A spokesman at the Cuba Interests Section in Washington said he thinks access to Cuba for U.S. telecom companies should be contingent on re-establishing diplomatic relations. This gets at the heart of Cuba's objection to the embargo. It wants "normalization" with the U.S., which would allow the dictatorship to tap the cash wells at the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and InterAmerican Development Bank. Having earned global deadbeat status for defaulting on loans from the former Soviet Union, Europe and Latin America, Cuba is also seeking credit in the U.S. On Monday Brazil Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said Cuba's absence "from the inter-American system, including the [Organization of American States], is an anomaly and needs to be corrected." This is odd given that the OAS has something called the "democratic charter," which all members supposedly back. But then Brazil sees investment opportunities in a post-embargo Cuba that has access to the U.S. market. Mr. Obama should respond by asking Brazil to unite behind a call for Cuba to free political prisoners and hold elections. The embargo has not worked to free Cuba, but a hemisphere united against the Castro tyranny has never been tried.

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