Castro: A hug from Hollande

The headline of a Washington Post editorial on January 31 didn’t mince words: “Failure in Cuba.”

HAVANA, CUBA - AUGUST 14: Secretary of State John Kerry (R) watches as Marines raise the American flag at the U.S. Embassy August 14, 2015 in Havana, Cuba. Kerry will visited the reopened embassy, the first time an American secretary of state has visited Cuba since 1945, a symbolic act after the the two former Cold War enemies reestablished diplomatic relations in July. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Secretary of State John Kerry at the reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana, August 14, 2015

President Obama’s opening to Cuba,” argued the Post‘s editors, had failed in its declared objective, namely to “unleash the potential of 11 million Cubans,” to “engage and empower the Cuban people,” and to “empower the nascent Cuban private sector.” Obama, the editorial charged, had made concession after concession to the Castro regime without demanding human-rights advances, the release of dissidents from prison, the introduction of independent media, Internet access, or an end to state control of the economy.

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Hollande and Raúl Castro at the Elysee Palace, Paris

In sum: while Fidel and Raúl Castro were profiting handsomely from Obama’s opening to Cuba, they were refusing to make any meaningful reforms. Obama kept making concession after concession to the Cuban tyrants, but in return the Cuban people were getting nada. “Autocrats everywhere,” wrote the Post‘s editors, “must be watching with envy the Castros’ good fortune.”

Cut to Paris, where Raúl Castro made a historic state visit on February 1. It was a perfect opportunity for French President François Hollande to call for precisely those changes in Cuba that the Post editorial had enumerated.

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Yoani Sanchez

Yoani Sanchez, the internationally known Cuban blogger and pro-freedom activist, wrote an article urging Hollande to “take advantage of Raúl Castro’s official visit to demand a democratic opening.” France, she wrote, would lose nothing by taking “a stronger stance on the lack of freedom under which 11 million Cubans live.” Reporters without Borders agreed.

Did Hollande heed their call? Au contraire. He gave Castro (in the words of Voice of America) “the red-carpet treatment.” He hugged him. He threw a state dinner. And, according to one source, he actually “declared his love” for Castro.

Indeed, instead of criticizing the Cuban dictator, Hollande lectured Obama, exhorting him to make even more unilateral concessions to the Havana regime. The U.S. embargo, Hollande insisted, was a “vestige of the Cold War” and must be lifted in its entirety so that Cuba could “fully takes its place” in the community of nations. This, Hollande added, was not only “the will of this country” – i.e., France – but was also “the will of the international community.”

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Castro and Hollande raising a toast at the state dinner

Hollande made it clear, in short, he’s big on “normalizing” the world’s relations with Cuba. But he didn’t drop so much a hint that if the Cuban government wants its country to fully join the community of nations, it has its own job of “normalization” to do – it needs, quite simply, to grant its people the same individual liberties enjoyed by everyone else in the Western hemisphere.

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Last May, Hollande visited Havana and met with Fidel

What’s the background to this Franco-Cuban lovefest? Briefly put, Hollande sees Cuba as a golden opportunity for French business development, and thinks U.S. policies are keeping many French entrepreneurs from diving in. Yet as one contractor told Le Monde, the main obstacle to Cuba’s re-entry into the community of nations isn’t the U.S. embargo; it’s the Castros’ refusal to turn their dictatorship into a nation of laws, with property rights, financial transparency, and so on. Without such reforms, many potential foreign investors will prefer to put their money elsewhere.

Meanwhile, we’re left with Hollande’s shameful silence on Cuban Communism. “This encounter,” lamented one Cuban emigre, “is all about profiting from Cuban slave labor. Nothing more, nothing less.”

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