Obama and the indefinite postponement of change
Imagine the scene: 1987. US President Ronald Reagan is about to complete his second term in office. He arrives at the Airport of Chile to visit that allied country and to meet with General Augusto Pinochet.
Mr. Reagan knows that the Chilean regime has hundreds of citizens incarcerated for political reasons (14 years after his rise to power), censors the press, suppresses the opposition, and does not allow political parties to publicly act or vote in free elections. He also knows that thousands of Chileans have abandoned the country in search of freedom to improve their economic situations.
When he gets off his airplane the US leader approaches the journalists thronging the terminal and states: "I know that there are many aspects about which General Pinochet and I will not agree. But I trust that, through the development of commercial and cultural relationships between the two countries, the human rights situation in Chile will improve, and the regime will evolve towards freedom and democracy."
Now imagine what the international reaction would have been, by the press and government officials, if that visit had ever taken place.
Well, this is what, mutatis mutandis, President Barack Obama is doing during his current visit to Havana. The big difference is that his trip, rather than sparking criticism and condemnation around the world, is receiving universal praise, as the "progressive" press showers admiration upon him.
The worst part is not that Mr. Obama's presence is legitimising a regime that has killed thousands of people, has hundreds of political prisoners in its jails (57 years after it's rise to power!), prohibits political parties and suppresses the opposition, monopolizes the media, generates thousands of boat people, and provides for multiple human rights violations in its Constitution and Penal Code, so that they can be carried out "legally."
The worst part is that the US President has publicly rejected the instruments which would have allowed him to pressure the Cuban regime towards a liberal, democratic transformation, instead endorsing the gradual evolution of the island's economy and culture as the way to "empower" its civil society. That is, after criticising the half century of stagnation that, according to him, had prevailed in Washington with respect to Cuba, Mr. Obama inaugurates a new strategy based on ... the long term. The only problem is that, as John Maynard Keynes used to point out: "In the long run, we are all dead."
Economic development and prosperity are, perhaps, necessary conditions for the development of liberal democracy, but they are not sufficient. The experiences of some Asian countries demonstrate that a dynamic and prosperous society can survive under a post-totalitarian government. The monopoly on political power, absence of human rights and police control exercised against the Chinese people have not proven incompatible with the rapid growth of that nation's economy, and the consequent bolstering of its quality of life.
Taking into account the frailty of Cuba's civil society, the woeful quality of life it provides for, and the reluctance of the Castroist hierarchy to change a system that, despite its many failures, has been very effective at retaining power and smothering opposition, the strategy adopted by Mr. Obama and his advisors offers them 20 more years of Castroism "light," putting off the island's democratization until only God knows when.