Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    Deal with Cuba benefits only the Castros

    Deal with Cuba benefits only the Castros
    February 04, 2015 12:00 am • MONA CHAREN

    Cuban President Raul Castro has issued new demands for normalizing
    relations with the U.S. He wants us to lift the trade embargo, remove
    Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terror and give Cuba the U.S.
    naval base at Guantanamo Bay. Truly. You can look it up.

    One can imagine President Obama being awfully tempted to give Guantanamo
    to them. He’s planning to close the prison there piecemeal anyway. And
    who needs naval bases these days when, as Obama schooled Mitt Romney,
    “We have these things called aircraft carriers now…”?

    More astonishing than the audacity of the demands is the fact that
    Castro thinks he’s in a position to make any demands at all. Before the
    revolution, Cuba’s average per-capita income was higher than in much of
    Europe. Communism brought Cuba the distinction of being the only country
    in the Western Hemisphere whose standard of living has steadily fallen
    for 50 years.

    The usual Castroite excuse for Cuba’s squalor and degradation (buildings
    are dilapidated, cars are old wrecks and prostitution is extremely
    widespread) is that the U.S. maintains a trade embargo. Nonsense. The
    rest of the world, including the European Union, Russia, India, China,
    Canada and Latin America, trades with Cuba and has done so forever. Want
    a Cuban cigar? Just drive to Canada or Mexico.

    But all of that trade couldn’t help Cuba, because it’s communist. Cuba’s
    crippled economy stayed afloat (more or less) through generous subsidies
    from the Soviet Union. In return, Cuba provided the USSR with a foreign
    legion, sending arms and agents to kill freedom-loving people in places
    like Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Grenada, Angola and Ethiopia.
    When the USSR went down, many thought Cuba would soon taste liberty. But
    Hugo Chavez rode to Fidel Castro’s rescue and supported the island
    dictatorship with Venezuelan oil money.

    Now, with oil prices dropping below $44 a barrel and Venezuela sinking
    from atrocious leadership, we have Cuba over a barrel — or we should,
    except that Obama has stepped into Chavez’s boots, riding to the Castro
    brothers’ rescue.

    Obama negotiated with Raul Castro. Castro got full diplomatic
    recognition, increased travel and remittances, the return of three
    spies, and the promise that Obama would attempt to lift the embargo
    fully. Obama got an intelligence agent who worked for the CIA, Alan
    Gross (a State Department contractor who was wrongfully arrested and
    imprisoned for attempting to give computers to Cuba’s Jewish community),
    and the release of 53 political prisoners.

    Obama proclaimed the bargain a great breakthrough that would “begin a
    new chapter among the nations of the Americas” and replace a “rigid
    policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were

    Raul Castro told his people not to get too excited: “We must not expect
    that in order for relations with the United States to improve, Cuba will
    abandon the ideas that it has struggled for.”

    You can take that to the bank. Cuba did release some political
    prisoners, though exactly how many remains murky, and the State
    Department seems uncurious about their names and whereabouts. Two
    already have been rearrested for attempting to attend a pro-democracy
    meeting. Just two weeks after the announcement of the diplomatic
    breakthrough, the BBC reports, Cuba arrested dozens of dissidents who
    were planning a demonstration in Revolution Square. Raul didn’t lie.

    In the years since Fidel Castro seized Cuba, its chief exports have been
    violence, terror and subversion. But it has contributed one precious,
    shining ornament to the world and especially to the U.S.: Cuban emigres.
    Admittedly, the Castros didn’t send them willingly, but one million
    left. They carried with them a burning hatred of tyranny and an
    appreciation for freedom.

    Among elected Democrats, Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey stands out
    for his eloquent defense of human rights. As a Cuban American, he seems
    to have a visceral understanding of despotism — and he applies that
    insight to others, such as the Iranian regime. Among Republicans,
    hardheadedness about foreign threats is more common (if not quite as
    universal as it once was), but who can deny that Rep. Ileana
    Ros-Lehtinen, Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Ted Cruz bring particular
    passion and intensity to the defense of freedom?

    Here’s the deal Obama should have made: In exchange for the release of
    Gross, he should have asked for the release of all political prisoners
    held in Cuba’s jails (several thousand) and invited them to become
    Americans. That would have improved their lives and our politics. The
    deal Obama actually made benefits only the Castros.

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