Among the 2014 winners are the infamous Castro Brothers of Cuba. On these pages, I have written about the persecution of Christians under the Communist regime of Cuba. In late October, I described how religious freedom remains deeply suppressed in Cuba. After Fidel Castro, Cuba’s dictator, seized power in 1959, all Christian broadcasts were canceled. The next year, all Christian publications were halted, and all Christian schools, whether Roman Catholic, Protestant, or non-denominational, were closed. Ordinary Christians and their leaders were labeled “social scum” and jailed in Cuba’s notorious labor camps. Even Christmas and Easter were abolished. Regulations were enacted by the Communists that forbid the sale of paper, ink, typewriters, computers, and mechanical parts for photocopiers and printing presses to any religious organization. And in spite of all the imprisonment, persecution and onerous regulation, today Christian churches in Cuba are flourishing, and are filled to overflowing. Last October, the Cuban Communist government announced that they would allow construction of the first new Roman Catholic parish church in 55 years. The new church, funded by Roman Catholics from Tampa, Florida, is expected to hold 200 worshipers when completed.
Before Christmas, Mr. Obama surprisingly announced that the United States and Cuba will once again enter into diplomatic relations for the first time since 1961. Mr. Obama’s decision could pave the way for a number of agreements between the two nations, but importantly for Mr. Obama and his allies, will facilitate remittances to Cuba by Americans and will expand commercial sales and exports of American goods and services. Under Mr. Obama, the export of goods to Cuba from the United States have dramatically declined to $359 million last year, compared with a high of $711 million in 2008. (Did you really think that there was an embargo?) The decrease in trade has troubled corporate supporters of Mr. Obama. Following Mr. Obama’s announcement, The New York Times reported:
PepsiCo wants in. So do Caterpillar and Marriott International. Within hours of President Obama’s historic move to restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba, companies in the United States were already developing strategies to introduce their products and services to a market they have not been in for the better part of 50 years — if ever. “Cuba is a potential market for John Deere products and services,” Ken Golden, a spokesman for Deere & Company, a leading maker of farm and construction equipment based in Illinois.”
Of course, Mr. Obama, as much as he might like to do so, cannot unilaterally end the embargo against Cuba with the stroke of a pen. (Ending the present embargo requires a change in the law, and while Messrs. Obama and Raul Castro have begun the process to restore diplomatic relations, legislation allows the president to lift the economic embargo only if full democratic elections are held and a free-market economic system introduced. And can we really expect that a Republican-controlled Congress will provide funding to build a new embassy in Havana?) So why are the Castro Brothers winners? As a result of this announcement, Mr. Obama has thrown an economic lifeline to the Castros and the Cuban communists. The Cuban economy is deeply troubled. Although some mild reforms were instituted by Raul Castro in 2010-2011, but the results have been disappointing with no improvement in Cuba’s economic decline. Average monthly salaries remain less than $15, meat consumption per capita is lower than it was in the 1950s, and even cell phone subscriptions per capita are among the lowest in the world. Further, notwithstanding the assertions of filmmaker Michael Moore, Transparency International has determined that Cuba has pervasive corruption in this socialist paradise. Venezuela’s waning support for the authoritarian Cuban kleptocracy has, in light of Venezuela’s economic collapse, made the Cuban economy much worse.
Writing in Foreign Policy, Javier Corrales recently wrote the following:
Remarkably, an important group in this conservative, pro-normalization coalition has been organized religion. The conservative evangelical lobby, a key constituency of the GOP, is fully behind normalization. Christian Conservatives look with envy the fact that the Vatican has negotiated with the Cuban government a sort of monopoly over Christianity. (No organization enjoys more autonomy in Cuba than the Roman Catholic Church.) Protestants and Evangelicals in the United States want to end this and begin evangelizing. But they need the embargo to be lifted in order to make inroads into Cuba’s Christian market.
I am not so confident of Mr. Corrales’ conclusion, and Mr. Corrales provides scant support for his contention. However, I am sure that Christians worldwide want to see all Cubans presented with the claims of Jesus Christ, and to see many Cubans come to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. But they have been following Christ throughout the regime of the Castros. Nevertheless, while the United States and Cuba were in talks to restore diplomatic relations, an independent Cuban human rights group said yesterday that the Cuban government carried out a record number of detentions of dissidents and political activists last year. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation recorded 8,899 short-term detentions of dissidents and activists in 2014. That was about 2,000 more than the previous year, and four times as many as in 2010, said the group’s head, Elizardo Sanchez. The report also said dissidents inside Cuba do not know who is on the list of 53 whom the United States asked Cuba to release as part of the initial agreement announced by Mr. Obama. Neither the United States nor Cuba have made the list public. (Yes, why hasn’t that list been made public?) Further neither nation said openly whether any of those on the list have been released so far. However, a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said yesterday that the release of all dissidents (the 53 are merely a subset of all incarcerated dissidents) wasn’t a prerequisite for planned talks in Cuba between the Obama administration and Cuba, scheduled for later this month.
As examples of obnoxious Cuban law enforcement, among those arrested in recent weeks are expatriate artist Tania Bruguera, who was arrested three times since her return to Cuba to organize a performance art piece involving the installation of an open microphone in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution. The open microphone was set up so that Cubans could speaking openly about their country. However, the planned “performance” did not take place. In addition, there was also the arrest of graffiti and performance artist Danilo Maldonado, who was arrested in central Havana. What was his crime? He attempted to release two pigs labeled “Fidel” and “Raul.” He is charged with the crime of “disrespect for authority,” which carries a prison sentence of up to three years. It just seems to me that having survived the administration of ten American presidents, the Castro Brothers do not deserve our nation’s lifeline. And the people of Cuba, including the many Christian believers, Roman Catholic and non-Roman Catholic, deserve so much better from our nation. Please continue to pray for the Cuban people, and in particular for those on this prison island who are of the household of faith. I say, as Mr. Obama should have said, Viva la Libertad Para el Pueblo Cubano!