President Obama heads to Cuba as the first U.S. President since Calvin Coolidge visited the Island in 1928. Unfortunately for the people of Cuba the nation has fallen very far from the independence, prosperity, peace and political freedom they enjoyed in the 1920’s.
In his speech, Coolidge said, “Thirty years ago Cuba ranked as a foreign possession, torn by revolution and devastated by hostile forces. Such government as existed rested on military force. Today Cuba is her own sovereign. Her people are independent, free, and prosperous, peaceful, and enjoying the advantages of self-government.”
Cuba under the Communist Castro regime has suffered greatly from economic and political oppression. Prior to the Marxists seizing power in 1959, Cuba was actually a prosperous nation with a per capita income as high as many European nations.
Marxists have ruled Cuba for more than a half-century now. Fidel Castro, Argentine guerrilla Che Guevara, and their 26th of July Movement forced Fulgencio Batista from power in 1959 and replaced his standard-issue authoritarian regime with a Communist one. The revolutionaries promised liberal democracy, but Castro secured absolute power and flattened the country with a Marxist-Leninist battering ram. The objectives were total equality and the abolition of money; the methods were total surveillance and political prisons. The state slogan, then and now, is “socialism or death.”
Cuba was one of the world’s richest countries before Castro destroyed it—and the wealth wasn’t just in the hands of a tiny elite. “Contrary to the myth spread by the revolution,” wrote Alfred Cuzan, a professor of political science at the University of West Florida, “Cuba’s wealth before 1959 was not the purview of a privileged few. . . . Cuban society was as much of a middle-class society as Argentina and Chile.” In 1958, Cuba had a higher per-capita income than much of Europe.
In addition to those fleeing and dying, many are killed at the hands of their own government at home. Actually, the international organization Genocide Watch includes Cuba in their list of nations guilty of Genocide.
Beyond the horrors of a nation that is so oppressive that people risk death to escape, there’s the issue of the government harboring a known fugitive from justice who happens to have been convicted of murdering a New Jersey State Trooper. Joanne Chesimard was convicted in 1973 for the murder of State Trooper Werner Foerster. She escaped from prison in 1979 and has been in Cuba ever since. She’s also included in the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted Terrorist list.
Congressman Scott Garrett joined me this morning on NJ 101.5 about what Congress plans to do to push the administration to demand her extradition before continuing the pursuit of normalized relations. Congress is exploring options including denying appropriations. Both Republicans and Democrats, including Cuban American Democrat US Senator Bob Menendez oppose the administration’s actions.
It seems that the President is more interested in having a legacy of changing the relationship with Cuba without considering that the newfound money flowing to Cuba from tourism and trade with the US will largely flow to the very regime that continues to oppress millions politically and economically. Opening up a normalized relationship without any concessions on fugitives and political change is ill-advised. Doing this with a nation that continues to oppress its own people, forcing thousands to take to the seas, is ignorant of political realities. When you add in that Cuba continues to harbor one of the FBI’s most wanted, this trip and the political plan become an egregious affront to law enforcement and Cuban Americans who escaped tyranny. It’s disappointing and dangerous that the current American President is making a move that will empower tyrants to have a better funded oppression machine and won’t change the course for millions of Cubans who deserve better.