Obama Capitulates on Cuba

Bows to Dissidents
      This week -- Monday, Dec. 14th -- President Barack Obama gave an interesting and exclusive interview to Yahoo News. The headline from the interview {aboveconcerned his strong desire to visit Cuba in 2016, the last year of his two-term presidency. But his desire to visit the island while he's still President didn't go over too well with two influential Cubans -- Josefina Vidal and Cristina Escobar.
         Olivier Knox, the chief Washington correspondent for Yahoo News, conducted this week's presidential interview. Mr. Obama said: "If I go on a visit {to Cuba"}, the part of the deal is that I get to talk to everybody." It was an innocent enough and very democratic sentence. But that word "everybody" irked a very important Cuban.
        Josefina Vidal, Cuba's primary Minister on all things American, has never been afraid or reluctant to point a finger right back at anyone she feels "is not treating Cuba fairly." She took exception to President Obama's interview yesterday with Yahoo News, specifically his use of the word "everybody" and the tone in which he used it. To her, he meant that his impending visit to Cuba as President in 2016 would be to "encourage or create" anti-Cuban dissent on the island.
       Josefina Vidal's perceptions and rationale, which define Cuba's views of America, have never wavered even as she negotiated masterfully with President Obama's representatives to bring out massive changes in U.S.-Cuban relations, such as the opening of embassies in Havana and Washington for the first time since 1961. But she insists that the neighboring world superpower treat Cuba "with mutual respect." She questions yesterday's use of the "everybody" by Obama to mean he would plan to spend most of his time in Cuba "encouraging and creating dissent." If so, she would prefer he stayed home, for these reasons: "On the island, there are relatively few dissidents, perhaps far fewer than U. S. dissidents. Yet, to this day the U. S. Congress is allowed to lavishly fund a host of regime change programs that manufacture and encourage dissidents in Cuba. That's because the U. S. democracy allows four members from Miami to dictate Cuban laws in a U. S. Congress that has 535 overall members. That's because the U. S., as the world's nuclear power, can ignore the 192-to-2 vote in the United Nations against the embargo-blockade of Cuba that has existed since 1962. I have lived in Washington and I admire democracy. But I am Cuban and I wish the U. S. would remember it is a democracy when it deals with Cuba. Yes, the U. S. has 535 members of Congress and just four -- aided by one more from New Jersey and one more from Texas -- to set Cuban laws that satisfy them and dissatisfy the rest of the world. There are 315 million Americans and just four, at most six, are allowed to set policy that hurts 11 million Cubans and millions of others. Perhaps, before it showers its form of democracy on us, the U. S. should respect its own democracy a bit more."
  Josefina Vidal is indeed striving to "normalize" relations with the United States but it is clear she knows that is impossible. Yet, she keeps trying. Yesterday in Paris Cuba reached agreement with the 15-nation Paris Club, which includes the U. S., to repay $2.6 billion to creditor nations over the next 18 years with the understanding that $8.5 billion in interest will be canceled. A few days earlier, the U. S. and Cuba agreed to direct mail service for the first time in five decades. Vidal trusts President Obama but she surely does not trust the U. S. Congress and she is prepared when and if a Republican replaces Obama in the White House in 2017. Meanwhile, if she thinks Cuba is being mistreated -- like with Obama's use of the word "everybody" yesterday -- she is perfectly willing to dis-invite him on his planned visit to Cuba in 2016. Furthermore, despite incredible inroads toward normalizing relations with Obama's America, Vidal holds no illusions about how fragile those steps are or how easily Congress or the next U. S. President can "smash them to bits and not expect the American people to care." With that mindset, Josefina Vidal is never far away from tossing in the towel herself. That is reflected in the fact that, as Cuba reshapes its economic posture, Vidal is much more comfortable having Cuba's financial sector deal with investment opportunities from "nations we trust." That phrase coming from Vidal presents a tone of mistrust towards the United States as she doggedly vacillates between the pros and cons of negotiating diplomatically with the colossus just off Cuba's northern coastline.
      Cristina Escobar, Cuba's dynamic and ultra-talented news anchor, is very influential, especially with the twenty-somethings that will have a lot to say about the island's future. She made history as a Cuban journalist when she was in Washington to cover the last Vidal-Jacobson diplomatic session this summer. For 14 straight minutes she dominated a crowded news conference conducted by White House spokesman Josh Earnest, firing off a blistering series of pertinent questions, such as: "Will the new U. S. embassy in Havana treat Cuba fairly?"; "Will the regime-change programs continue?"; "Will Obama visit Cuba in 2016?", etc. If Josefina Vidal doesn't trust the United States intentions regarding Cuba, Cristina Escobar is even more dubious.
      During her journalistic endeavor in Washington -- at that headline-making news conference, in speeches around town, and even in one-on-one interviews with U. S. journalists -- Ms. Escobar stressed one particular point: "The lies the U. S. media tell about Cuba hurts the everyday Cubans the most." She is a great defender of Revolutionary Cuba and, particularly, "everyday Cubans." At the news conference exchange with Josh Earnest, she indicated she would be pleased if Mr. Obama, while still President, visited Cuba in 2016. Like Vidal, it can now be assumed that Cristina has reservations about that. She probably interprets his "everybody" reference to coincide with Vidal's interpretation, meaning she thinks Mr. Obama was implying his main thrust in Cuba would be to foster dissent. Escobar has said, "The piles of money Cubans in America make off of being Cuba's enemy insults the American democracy more than it insults Cuba. And the money Cubans on the island make off of being Cuba's enemy falls into that category too. I have no problem with the few genuine dissidents in Cuba. But I have a big problem with foreign-made dissidents. I have expressed both viewpoints on my newscasts."  
Photo courtesy of: Pablo Martinex Monsivais/Associated Press.
       In his Brave and Herculean efforts to normalize relations with Cuba, President Obama has done far more in confronting a Batistiano-dictated U. S. Congress and Republican right-wingers than any other human being, including the ten other U. S. presidents since the 1950s. But in Cuba, Vidal and Escobar tend to believe that fair-minded Americans like Mr. Obama are over-matched whenever it comes to Cuba.

       A star-studded contingent of Major League Baseball players and Hall of Famers have arrived in Cuba on a Good Will mission Tuesday, Dec. 15th. The players include Jose Abreu and Miguel Cabrera. The Cuban-born Abreu, on the left above, is the superstar first baseman for the Chicago White Sox. Cabrera is the first baseman for the Detroit Tigers and the best baseball hitter on the planet. The Hall of Famers leading the mission are top MLB executives Joe Torre and Dave Winfield. As an additional Good Will gesture, MLB made a $200,000 donation to Caritas Cubana.
       The $200,000 MLB baseball donation to Caritas Cubana apparently slipped past the anti-Cuban cabal of Cuban-Americans in the United States Congress, possibly because Senators Rubio and Cruz were too busy campaigning for President and preparing for tonight's Republican debate. In any case, Caritas Cubana is one of the very few pro-Cuban projects actually allowed by the U. S. embargo to help everyday Cubans, not just dissidents. It provides them humanitarian, social, and emergency services -- obviously to the chagrin of the vast Castro Industry in the U. S.
And finally:
      In a war-ravaged world, sanity and children are sadly over-matched. Notice two things about this precious little girl: The expression on her face and the toy truck in her right hand. Well-dressed and well-groomed, someone cared about her. I wish everybody did. But both you and I know, that's not the world we live in today.
       This little girl, about 8, is trying to to build a barrier to protect her younger siblings. I hope she succeeded. But the odds were stacked very high against her.
    This photo was taken by Swedish journalist Niclas Hammarstrom. Unicef, the UN's children's agency, selected it as the "Photo of the Year." The Unicef caption said the Syrian girl's name is Donia. That made me feel a little better. It could have said was.  

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