Editorial Board: How Trump could bring real change to Cuba

From the Washington PostTHE LASTING foreign policy legacy of a president often doesn’t become clear until years after he leaves office. That may be particularly true of President Obama, because some of his most distinctive initiatives were, in large part, bets on long-term results. The ultimate success of the nuclear deal Mr. Obama struck with Iran — assuming it is preserved by the Trump administration — will depend on whether the Islamic regime sets aside its ambition to build nuclear weapons during the coming decade. Similarly, the president’s decision to reopen relations with Cuba without requiring any political liberalization by the Castro regime will be judged on whether greater engagement with the United States eventually helps to bring about that change.

For now, the Iran deal has at least temporarily restrained Tehran’s push for nuclear weapons, but two years of detente with Cuba have delivered almost no positive results. Repression against the political opposition has escalated even since the death of Fidel Castro, whom some had blamed for the regime’s continuing hard line. Last week the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation said it had documented a total of 9,940 arbitrary detentions in 2016, the most since 2010. There were 82 long-term political prisoners in June, it said — just 18 months after the Obama administration boasted that the jails had been emptied as part of the renewal of relations.

The regime’s attacks have been focused on groups seeking a democratic opening, including the Ladies in White, who are regularly assaulted and beaten for attempting to stage peaceful assemblies, and the National Patriotic Union of Cuba, a pro-democracy organization centered in the city of Santiago that was the target of a major sweep shortly before Christmas. Danilo “El Sexto” Maldonado, an internationally renowned dissident artist, has been imprisoned since Nov. 26, when he responded to Fidel Castro’s death by painting the words “he is gone” on a wall. …

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During the last several decades, the United States has invested billions of dollars in trying to help the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean deliver better lives for their citizens. This has meant helping them increase internal security by combating the illicit growing and trafficking in narcotics and the activities of terrorist groups, as well as helping them to shore up their democratic and free market institutions.

Unfortunately, in recent years, continued progress in these areas has been threatened, not least by the elections of radical populist governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador. These governments have instituted retrograde agendas that include the propagation of class warfare, state domination of the economy, assaults on private property, anti-Americanism, support for such international pariahs as Iran, and lackluster support for regional counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics initiatives.

We are a group of concerned policy experts that fear the results of these destructive agendas for individual freedom, prosperity, and the well-being of the peoples of the region. Our goal is to inform American policymakers and American and international public opinion of the dangers of these radical populist regimes to inter-American security.