The recent announcement of a release of a small number of Cuban political prisoners should change nothing with regards to U.S. policy toward the Cuban government. There are thousands of members of the Cuban opposition languishing in Castro’s network of political prisons.
While releasing a few political dissidents may make for good headlines for the regime, especially as sanctions-easing legislation makes its way in the U.S. Congress, U.S. law calls for the release of all political prisoners, not just a select few. This is a carefully calculated release done in collaboration with the Cuban regime and a weak Cuban Catholic Church leadership to afford Catholics in Cuba more freedom. Regrettably for the Church, it is a pyrrhic victory.
At this juncture, what is required from the U.S. is a tightening of U.S. sanctions. Cuban Communist Party apparatchiks need reminding that there is no wiggle room or future for them in Cuba if they cling to anachronistic ways. The future of Cuba is one based on freedom and the rule of law. And this is not my idea, but that of the very dissidents who are languishing in Castro’s prisons who, when released, will likely refuse to leave island. We should support these people, as they have repeatedly requested, by clamping down on U.S. sanctions.
It may not mollify the DC establishment or those around the world that advocate easing sanctions, but the Obama Administration has a unique opportunity to help the opposition, as well as advance U.S. interests, by ratcheting up the pressure on the Cuban regime. Deaths by hunger strike will continue, no matter what the Catholic Church, the Cuban regime, or the Obama Administration opts to do.
Sanction opponents are fond of arguing that the sanctions have failed. Assuming for the sake of argument that they have failed, then what do we have to lose by strictly enforcing U.S. law for a few months? Give the opposition a fighting chance. Under U.S. law, we are supposed to be supporting freedom seekers, not the regime. Easing sanctions would be a mistake.