President Obama’s Visit to Cuba: An Opportunity to Refocus on Human Rights

Heritage FoundationBy Ana Quintana

On March 20–22, President Barack Obama will visit Cuba, the first sitting U.S. President to do so since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. As part of his radical Cuba policy shift, the President is meeting with his Cuban counterpart, Raúl Castro. Since the President announced this shift in December 2014, U.S. policy toward Cuba has deviated drastically from a focus on human rights and a democratic transition to engaging the Castro regime and providing the government in Havana with expanded commercial opportunities with the U.S.

President Obama should use the opportunity afforded by this trip both to prove his critics wrong and to set Cuba policy back on the proper course. While he has rightly expressed his desire to meet with dissidents and members of Cuban civil society, that alone is insufficient. Rather than continuing to appease the government in Havana, the President should use his bully pulpit to publicly push for a human rights agenda in Cuba.

The Administration’s Inconsistent Commitment to Cuban Freedom

While members of the Administration claim human rights are a core part of their engagement strategy, these words have yet to transform into actionable policy. For over a year, the U.S. has granted unilateral concessions to Havana without conditioning them upon human rights improvements, a strategy that has clearly emboldened the regime. Even with the impending visit of the President, the regime continues to publicly and violently repress dissidents. Secretary of State John Kerry was forced to cancel a planned trip to Cuba, planned for shortly before the President’s, due to the regime’s unwillingness to negotiate with the State Department. News outlets have reported that even the White House has been reduced to negotiating with its Cuban counterparts over which members of civil society the President will be allowed to meet. …

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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.

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