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    Cuba One Year After Obama’s Overtures

    Cuba One Year After Obama’s Overtures
    Thousands of political arrests, migrants flee, and Russia wants in.
    Sound familiar?
    By MARY ANASTASIA O’GRADY
    Dec. 20, 2015 4:13 p.m. ET

    This month marks the first anniversary of President Obama’s unilateral
    rapprochement with Cuba. Upon making the Dec. 17 announcement, the Obama
    administration immediately moved to ease restrictions on American travel
    to the island and, by extension, boost revenues for the owners of its
    tourist industry: the Cuban military.

    In May the U.S. removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of
    terrorism, even though the dictator Gen. Raúl Castro harbors known
    terrorists, including the U.S. fugitive Joanne Chesimard, once a member
    of the now defunct Black Liberation Army and a convicted cop-killer.

    In August the U.S. reopened an embassy in Havana. Last week it announced
    a bilateral agreement to restore direct flights between the U.S. and Cuba.

    Cuba’s dissidents have been hard hit. Days after the new U.S. policy was
    announced, Danilo Maldonado, the Cuban performance artist known as El
    Sexto, was arrested for mocking the Castros. He spent 10 months in jail,
    and Amnesty International named him a prisoner of conscience.

    The Havana-based Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National
    Reconciliation documented 7,686 political arrests in 2015 through Nov.
    30. On that day Mr. Maldonado summarized the effects of the Obama
    détente: “There have been no positive changes. The U.S. has given away
    too much at the normalization talks, and that has let Cuba continue its
    repression.”

    Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights,
    echoes those sentiments. “I was particularly shocked,” he said last
    week, “that a number of people, including members of the Ladies in
    White,” a dissident group, “were arrested on Human Rights Day, on 10
    December. This shows an extraordinary disdain for the importance of
    human rights on the part of the Cuban authorities.”

    In 2014 Cuba passed a new foreign-investment law to boost capital
    inflows. Yet the government retained the power to confiscate assets for
    “public” or “social” ends, and it has gained a reputation for
    arbitrarily jailing foreign businessmen. Writing in the fall 2015 issue
    of World Affairs, José Azel, a senior scholar at the University of
    Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, noted that
    despite the investment law’s “vaulting language, more than a year later
    only a handful of investments have been approved.”

    Perhaps capitalists are not all that important when Russia is itching to
    get back into Cuba in a big way. In 2014 Russian President Vladimir
    Putin forgave $32 billion in Cuban debt to the Soviet Union. Then he
    converted the remaining $3.5 billion due Moscow into a line of credit
    for energy and industrial projects on the island.

    In return, among other things, the Kremlin gets to use Cuba to establish
    a station supporting Russia’s global navigation satellite system
    (Glonass), a rival to the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS). In a
    Nov. 17 website post for the Cuban Transition Project at the University
    of Miami, research associate Hans de Salas-del Valle observed that “the
    installation of a signals facility in Cuba is part of a broader strategy
    to integrate Cuba into Russia’s space program.” He added that “Moscow
    has publicly expressed interest in establishing a satellite launch site
    in Cuba.”

    Mr. Obama agrees with Raúl that the U.S. should lift the embargo. But
    Cuba can already buy food and medicine from the U.S. and, practically
    speaking, there are few limits on American travel, though such travel is
    disguised as “cultural exchange.” What’s left of the embargo is a ban on
    access to bank credit, and legal claims for almost $8 billion in
    property stolen by the revolution.

    The Castros have a solution to the latter. They claim the embargo cost
    Cuba over $100 billion since 1959, so the U.S. actually owes them.

    That’s laughable. What’s not so funny is Cuba’s credit score. Even after
    the Russian write-down, Havana is still in arrears to the rest of the
    world—ex-U.S.—on some $85 billion of debt. Countries are not lining up
    to lend more. The Castros need a new mark. That’s where Mr. Obama comes in.

    Cuba’s economy, heavily dependent on Venezuelan oil and China aid, is
    unable to support the nation. According to Mr. de Salas-del Valle, “the
    assumption that economic engagement with the Castro regime will spare
    the U.S. an immigration crisis across the Florida Straits appears to be
    the underlying if unstated motivation for the White House’s
    unprecedented courtship of Raúl Castro.” If so, it’s a gross
    miscalculation. The policy has emboldened the dictator.

    Some 4,000 Cuban migrants trying to get to the U.S. are now trapped in
    Costa Rica because Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, a Castro pal,
    will not allow them to move north. They’re fleeing tyranny for sure. But
    they couldn’t have arrived there without, at a minimum, the tacit
    approval of the Castro regime.

    Those refugees are being used as Castro pawns to create a humanitarian
    crisis and pressure the U.S. for credit and multilateral aid. Havana is
    betting Mr. Obama will deliver.

    Write to O’Grady@wsj.com.

    Source: Cuba One Year After Obama’s Overtures – WSJ –
    www.wsj.com/articles/cuba-one-year-after-obamas-overtures-1450646000