I had the opportunity to visit Havana with the permission of the U.S. government in March 2013. Thankfully, I am blessed with a vivid imagination, and I could see that it must have been an incredible city prior to 1959 -- certainly the crown jewel of the Caribbean. That is no longer the case. The torment of communism is absolute, and it eats away at buildings the same way it does mankind.
Those buildings tell their own story. Once-beautiful facades, paint chipped and fading, hid rotting wood floors and crumbling walls. Famed cars from the 1950s drove past these buildings, several now serving as taxis, driven by doctors who pick up fares to supplement their measly incomes. Nothing brought home the lasting impact on everyday life of the Castro regime so much as to see the homes along once-spectacular boulevards once bedecked with flowing water fountains. These served as single-family homes. The former owners of the remarkable buildings, however, fled long ago to American shores, and the homes now are filled by three or four families that hang their clothes on wires from window to window and sit hunched over listening to radios, while their 60+ year old car, if they have one, sits idle in the driveway.
So I wanted to observe President Barack Obama's visit in Cuba without any bias. After all, I had been to Havana, and unlike so many others I know, I do not have a personal connection to Cuba, nor was my family displaced because of the Castros and their band of thugs. But I know too much -- not just what has been written about the Cuban revolution, but the real, often unpublished, gut-wrenching personal accounts from first- or second-generation Cuban-American families who are in utter disbelief that Obama would visit the failed state of Cuba to kiss the ring of President Raul Castro when this could have been accomplished from Washington -- without the president shaking the bloodstained hands of old men in Havana. Why could he not just send a mid-ranking official from the State Department to do this dirty work, they wonder.
Nevertheless, all those feelings aside, I watched hoping President Obama would not just roll over upon his arrival. I hoped that he had learned from his past foreign policy fiascoes in Libya and in Syria, from the bad Iran deal, from the failed reset with Russia, and from the rise of the Islamic State group.
I do not, moreover, entirely disagree that the embargo has probably run its course and remains an outmoded relic of the Cold War. It is however the moral imperative of the United States to be doing all that we can to help the Cuban people break the chains of their decades-long communist bondage.
An incredible history binds the United States and Cuba. Almost since the beginning of our republic, Cuba has been held in high regard. Early American leaders advocated for the inclusion of the island into the Union at first chance. Americans fought for Cuban independence. And our nations only became closer when Cuba gained its independence -- that is, until the brutal Cuban Revolution, and the beginning of the Castros' reign of terror. I had therefore hoped that when the U.S. government eventually advocated for the end of the embargo, it would also mean the end of the Castros. Unfortunately, it does not.
The policies of the Obama administration serve to fill the coffers and prop up the Castro regime and their ilk, enriching another crop of communist thugs so that they will remain in power after the eventual death of Fidel and Raul, whenever the devil should take them. The visit of an American president should have been to usher in a new era of freedom and democracy in Cuba, not inflict another generation of Cubans with the soul-crushing disease of communism.
The United States has lost its way. Our moral compass is broken. We used to stand for something. We are supposed to be the nation that shines as a beacon for freedom and democracy. We used to believe there is only one simply truth to life: live free or die.
Yet when given the chance, we turned our back on the political prisoners and dissidents who have been killed, imprisoned, or exiled by the Castro regime. We have disgraced all Cubans who have left everything behind over the years and traveled to this nation, making perilous journeys without the guarantee they would reach our shores or borders. Obama could not bring himself to acknowledge the Ladies in White, who rallied for human rights on the day of his arrival and were subsequently imprisoned. Even Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser to President Obama, turned into a shill for the Castro regime's deplorable detention of political prisoners by stating, "It's their [the Cuban government's] belief that they are not political prisoners, that they are in prison for various crimes and offenses against Cuban law."
Furthermore, President Obama chose to stand side by side with Raul Castro, a military dictator, not a president, legitimizing the violence and brutality of a "revolution" that overturned a democracy. This would be like a future president standing side by side with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of ISIS, six decades from now. That would be incomprehensible and unacceptable, and so too should be this meeting between Obama and Castro. While Brussels burned, Obama sat coolly next to Raul, a man whose reign of terror was just as heinous as the enemy we now seek to eliminate.
This is not merely hyperbole. Ernesto "Che" Guevara, Cuban revolutionary, homicidal maniac, and the Castros' brother-in-arms, eerily echoes leaders of ISIS of today:
"The U.S. is the great enemy of mankind! Against those hyenas there is no option but extermination. We will bring the war to the imperialist enemies' very home, to his places of work and recreation. The imperialist enemy must feel like a hunted animal wherever he moves. Thus we'll destroy him! We must keep our hatred against them alive and fan it to paroxysms!"
Now, President Obama shakes the hand of a man that helped blindfold people as Che prepared to shoot them. Not to mention, he stood in front of this man's likeness for a photo-op. This is change I cannot believe I am witnessing.
The years of communist rule have taken their toll; on Cuba's buildings, on its people, on its economy. The Castros long ago submitted to Soviet overlords, only to be abandoned and left in ruins. The communist Cuban Revolution failed. The United States should have come to put them out of their misery; instead we gave them life.