Pavlich: Obama a disgrace on Cuban relations

Pavlich: Obama a disgrace on Cuban relations
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When President Obama landed in Cuba on Sunday, a fawning press ran headlines promoting the historic value of the visit — after all, he’s the first president to step foot on the island in more than 80 years. 

But while the photos of Air Force One flying into Havana are picturesque, the oppressed below who are living under the still repressive, communist Castro regime are lost in translation. 

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Just hours before Obama’s arrival, more than 50 dissidents were beaten in the streets and hauled off to jail. That didn’t stop the president from smiling and waiving as he stepped off Air Force One to shake hands with Cuban officials trained by Russia’s KGB to act against the United States. 

Lost in his own naiveté, Obama tweeted upon arrival, “¿Que bolá Cuba? Just touched down here, looking forward to meeting and hearing directly from the Cuban people.” In other words, “What’s up Cuba?” 

But the Internet in Cuba is severely restricted and citizens have no access to Twitter, not solely because the infrastructure to support it doesn’t exist but because the Cuban government doesn’t allow it. According to U.S. government rankings on Internet freedom around the world, Cuba sits at the bottom. American companies like Verizon have been given approval by Congress to set up shop in Cuba, but the Castro regime has denied entry. 

“The Cuban Internet is different from the Internet that most of the rest of the world knows. And on the Cuban version of the Internet, there is no Twitter, no YouTube, few blogs or publications from the United States or elsewhere beyond the boundaries of that island nation,” The Washington Post reported in 2014. “Instead, explains Internet researcher Sanja Kelly of the pro-democracy group Freedom House, that Cuba-wide web is limited to a national e-mail system, some government-approved Web sites, a Cuban encyclopedia, and little else.”

To further emphasize Cuba’s use of censorship, it’s important to remember that in January 2015, shortly after Obama “normalized” relations, the Castro brothers expressed concern over Western journalism professors training Cubans about reporting and free press. Today, Raúl Castro considers practicing journalism against the regime, and in general, a crime. 

You’d think allowing citizens to access the Internet would be a starting point for normalization and bringing Cuba into the modern world of information, but Obama made the trip without preconditions, similar to how he approached the nuclear deal with the Iranians. The Castros have taken advantage by tightening their grip instead of welcoming in a new relationship and new freedoms. Censorship is as tough as ever, and dissidents are still rotting in jail. 

To make matters worse, while the Castro regime punishes dissidents who want to openly use the Internet and protest without the fear of government brutality, convicted cop killers from the United States roam free as “persecuted” individuals worthy of the Cuban government’s protection.

Assata Shakur, also known as Joanne Chesimard, was convicted of murdering New Jersey state trooper Werner Foerster in 1973. She escaped prison and found refuge in Cuba in 1984 and remains on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. When normalization was announced and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie demanded Chesimard be returned to finish her prison sentence, the Cuban government responded by saying it has a right to protect those who have been “persecuted” in the United States, of whom there are more than 70.

“Every nation has sovereign and legitimate rights to grant political asylum to people it considers to have been persecuted,” Cuba’s North American affairs director, Josefina Vidal, told The Associated Press in 2014. “We’ve explained to the U.S. government in the past that there are some people living in Cuba to whom Cuba has legitimately granted political asylum.”

But Obama’s love for Cuba and promotion of “change” in the country has nothing to do with helping the Cuban people — it instead harkens back to his days as a young, radical activist in Chicago. 

In Obama’s leftist and radical circles, murderers like Che Guevara are celebrated, worn on T-shirts and portrayed as a revolutionary heroes in college classrooms across the country. What isn’t mentioned is the thousands of people Guevara, in partnership with the Castro brothers, executed for opposing them. 

The left takes credit for being the political aisle promoting human rights and fighting oppression, but in the case of Cuba, its adherents promoted oppression and human rights abuses for decades by glorifying the Castro regime and its savage enforcer, Che Guevara. 

The U.S. Embassy in Havana may be reopened, but outside its gates, an open society with more freedom for its people is still absent. 

Pavlich is editor for Townhall.com and a Fox News contributor.