The U.S. president had not set foot in Cuba when the regime began to drop rhetorical bombs. First came a long editorial in Granma. Its essence? That Cuba won't budge an inch from its socialist and anti-imperialist positions, including its support for the Chavismo it spawned in Venezuela, an enormous source of subsidy for the Cubans, of woe for the Venezuelans, and of unease for its neighbors.
Then, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, the Castros' diplomatic errand boy, warned that his government would not appreciate it if Obama spoke about empowering the Cuban people. Or if the United States tried to impose the Internet on the Cubans. Cuba, he said, "will protect the technological sovereignty of our networks." In plain language he meant that the political police will continue to control communications. They live for that and make a living from that.
The U.S. president was undeterred. He will speak openly about human rights on his visit to Cuba. He has said so and will do so. But there's more: Barack Obama apparently won't visit Fidel Castro. (Caution: Never say never about this dictator.) At least for now, he will downplay the anthropological curiosity that this elderly tyrannosaurus always arouses. Today, Fidel is a slouched caricature of himself, but there is a certain morbidity in talking with a historical figure who has managed to spend 60 years flitting through TV newscasts.
Besides, Obama will be generous enough to meet with some of the democrats in the opposition. There's a whole message there. It's a good lesson for Mauricio Macri, who has still not gone to Cuba, and for François Hollande, who went through Havana and didn't have the civic valor to perform a gesture of solidarity with the dissidents. Obama will meet with the hard-liners. He will place his arm over the shoulders of the fighters, the most abused and the most seasoned. Those whom the political police describes falsely as terrorists and CIA agents.
In any case, I think that Obama has not quite realized the hornet's nest he has walked into. He has unilaterally decreed the end of the Cold War with Cuba, even though the island nation insists on assisting the North Koreans with weaponry, helping terrorists in the Middle East, and backing Syria's Bashar al-Assad and the Iranian ayatollahs.
It also seems unimportant that Havana leads the orchestra of 21st-Century socialist countries (Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua), all of which are decidedly anti-American and intent on reviving the battle that the Soviet Union left unfinished.
Obama feels invulnerable. He rides a huge elephant, the greatest that history has ever known and, from his perspective of the world's leading power, those colorful Latin American pygmies are like fleas that will naturally be crushed by the weight of a reality that's inevitably overwhelming.
That might be, but there's a serious flaw in his logic. In Panama, Obama stated that the United States had given up trying to change the Cuban regime, but that it would continue to push for the defense of human rights and the West's democratic vision. That's a clear contradiction.
The Castro brothers' dictatorship violates human rights precisely because it subscribes to the Leninist vision that the very idea of such right is subterfuge by the calloused capitalist bourgeoisie. It doesn't believe in them. "The revolution" subscribes to other values, expressed in the so-called social rights. To achieve them, the Communist Party deserves sole and total control over society. That's written in the Constitution, inspired by the one that Stalin imposed on the Soviet Union in the 1930s.
When a Cuban expresses his opinion freely, and that opinion contradicts communist dogma, he is not exercising his right to the free expression of thought, but is committing a crime. When two or more Cubans try to meet to defend their ideals or interests outside of official channels, they are not exercising the right to assemble. They are committing a crime.
These abuses won't stop until the island changes regime. It is possible that the thaw will improve the living conditions of some Cubans, and it is probable that certain U.S. exporters will profit from the opening of this famished market, even though the bill will eventually be paid by U.S. taxpayers.
But there will be no freedoms granted, no respect for human rights, and anti-American zealotry will not end until the totalitarian regime ends and is replaced by a real democracy. And that will hardly be accomplished by granting concessions to the dictatorship. Appeasement is never a good policy.