A successful trip could vindicate the decision by Mr. Obama and President Raúl Castro of Cuba to pursue an official thaw, broadcasting to both of their publics the possibilities of a new relationship and building political support in the United States for ending a decades-old trade embargo, The New York Times reports:
But a misstep or public dispute has the potential to set back that goal by highlighting the deep differences that remain between the United States and Cuba. There is also the risk of dissonance in trying to open a new chapter in relations when so many of the old plotlines, including differences over human rights violations by Mr. Castro’s government, are still playing out.
“This trip can either be the vindication or the refutation of Obama’s approach in Cuba,” said Christopher Sabatini, a professor of international affairs at Columbia University and the director of the Brooklyn-based research organization Global Americans.
“If the Cubans lecture him on human rights or crack down on dissidents while he is there, it’s going to be quite ugly,” said Sabatini [a former Latin America program officer at the National Endowment for Democracy]. “It would make the president look like a dupe, and it would be a huge indictment of his foreign policy.”
Some analysts believe Obama’s visit could help subvert the Communist regime. But Obama’s trip is troubling to Lawrence J. Haas, a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, author of the forthcoming book “Harry and Arthur: Truman, Vandenberg, and the Partnership That Created the Free World.”
“It will cap off more than a year of efforts through which the president deployed his usual array of questionable global strategies – appeasing the regime in question, downplaying its human rights record and ignoring its growing ties to America’s adversaries – in hopes of changing Cuba’s behavior,” he contends.
The Cuban Commission for Human Rights (CCHR) has documented 1,141 political arrests by the Castro regime in Cuba during the short month of February 2016. In January 2016, the CCHR documented 1,447 political arrests.
These 2,588 political arrests — thus far — represent the highest tally to begin a year in decades, according to Capitol Hill Cubans.
Obama is expected to meet with prominent members of Cuban civil society during his trip.
But Cuba’s democratic opposition needs to learn how to supplement courage and implacable resistance to oppression with strategic thinking and political organization, something it is already beginning to do, argues NED president Carl Gershman.
“Despite all the difficulties, I think that the conditions are favorable for their struggle,” he writes for World Affairs. “Their cause is just, and they are up against a regime that has lost whatever raison d’être it may once have had, is deeply corrupt, and now appears ideologically bankrupt to its own people and, increasingly, to people outside,” he adds:
Because of the exaggerated and perverse role that Cuba has played in international politics for more than half a century, a democratic breakthrough in Cuba will not only liberate the Cuban people but will give new momentum to the movement to strengthen and expand democracy in the world. The Cuban struggle for democracy has entered a new and fateful period with the normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States. Now it’s time for the Cuban government to normalize relations with its own people. The Cuban people should not be alone in fighting for this goal. They need and deserve the solidarity of democrats everywhere.