The tragic mistake of President Obama’s Cuba trip

Good news, America. We have finally found the way to defeat terrorism.


“The whole premise of terrorism is to try to disrupt people’s ordinary lives,” President Obama said Tuesday when asked if he regretted attending a baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team with Cuban “president” Raul Castro.

In the aftermath of the horrific terrorist attacks in Brussels, the president decided not to cancel his schedule and return to the United States, confer with allies, and work on a response to yet another bloody attack on the west by Islamic terrorists.

To do that, Obama argued, would be allowing the terrorists to win.

With all due respect, Mr. President, going to a communist hellhole and legitimizing a violent military dictator who, according to the Center for a Free Cuba is currently holding 1,000 people as political prisoners, and taking in a game with him isn’t denying the terrorists a win.

I do support the president’s decision to reopen Cuba in 2014, but this trip has been an embarrassing mistake from top to bottom.

First, the optics were awful, and sent such a horrendous message. I got a sick feeling in my stomach, for example, seeing the pictures of a stately looking President Obama standing in front of a likeness of Che Guevara.

That sick feeling got worse when I heard Castro dismiss his country’s human rights abuses, then lecture an American president about the moral superiority of Cuban health care and education — Cuba’s performance on which are bold-faced lies told by a dictatorial regime.

Obama’s reply to Casto’s statement was everything we should hate about robotic, technocratic psychobabble in government, in one statement.

“I personally would not disagree with him, but it doesn’t detract from some of these other concerns, and the goal of the human rights dialogue is not for the United States to dictate to Cuba how they should govern themselves but to make sure that we are having a frank and candid conversation around this issue, and hopefully that we can learn from each other,” he said.

We’re not here to dictate to Cuba how they should govern themselves? This is the maddening cowardice of the president’s moral relativism.

See, I believe it is, in fact, the president’s role, as leader of the most influential western democracy, to speak clearly, with unmistakable clarity, about the universal nature of certain human rights. Yes, he should dictate to a country like Cuba — a dictatorship — how it should govern itself.

Because Cuba doesn’t, as Obama says, “govern themselves.” Cuba is run by a violent military oligarchy that took power by force and then suppressed and murdered political opponents. It uses concentrated, centralized government authority to oppress its own people, and perpetuate its power.

According to a 2015 report from Human Rights Watch, Cuba is a country that still — even now — holds political prisoners.

“Cubans who criticize the government continue to face the threat of criminal prosecution,” reads the report. “They do not benefit from due process guarantees, such as the right to fair and public hearings by a competent and impartial tribunal.”

That is wrong. Yet the president doesn’t think it is his role to state loudly that it is wrong. His discomfort with certitude and belief that, apparently, each culture’s moral truths are different and self-created, means that he babbles about “having a frank and candid conversation” and “learning from each other.”

President Obama and his family sit with Cuban President Raul Castro at an exhibition baseball game between the Cuban national team and Major League Baseball's Tampa Bay Rays at Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana on Tuesday.  Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

President Obama and his family with Cuban President Raul Castro at an exhibition baseball game between the Cuban national team and Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays in Havana on Tuesday. Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

Then, as more of our European allies lie dead in the streets to yet another terrorist attack, Obama decides not to scrap his ill-advised trip, and instead sits in the stands and does the wave with a dictator.

Not only is this an inappropriately tone-deaf response to a major international crisis, it sends a tremendously bad signal to the world and this country about the legitimacy of the Cuban regime.

It is one thing to take incremental steps toward opening markets and normalizing diplomatic relations. I support that. When the president announced the Cuban embargo was ending, I cheered, because I believe that markets, trade and exposure are what will truly revolutionize the future of Cuba and push it toward a democratic, capitalistic future.

But the current Cuban government is still a corrupt, broken, violent regime built on oppression and lies. Giving them the honor of a presidential visit, and allowing Raul Castro to pretend to be a legitimate leader, laughing and smiling while the persistence of international terrorism is once again visited upon our allies, was a mistake, and served no one.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.