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Will Obama dump dissidents for baseball in Cuba?

Will Obama dump dissidents for baseball in Cuba?
By Editorial Board March 7 at 8:07 PM

THE WHITE House is said to be thrilled that President Obama will attend
a baseball game when he visits Cuba two weeks from now: The matchup
between the Tampa Bay Rays and a Cuban team will provide a splashy
exhibition of the warming relations with the Castro regime. There’s
still no word, however, about a promised presidential meeting with Cuban
dissidents, the brave women and men whose fight for democratic freedoms
in one of the world’s most repressive countries is less glamorous — and
more dangerous — than Major League Baseball.

So let’s be clear: Notwithstanding Mr. Obama’s expectation that Cuba
will “be fun,” his visit will be an ignoble failure if he does not have
a meaningful encounter with the island’s most important human rights
activists.

The risk of such an outcome seems to be rising. Administration officials
who said Mr. Obama would choose whom he met when he is on the island are
now conceding that Cuban officials are trying to prevent him from seeing
true opposition leaders. Instead they are proposing that Mr. Obama
gather with regime-approved members of “civil society,” perhaps with a
couple of moderate government critics mixed in. The disagreement
reportedly contributed to a decision by Secretary of State John F. Kerry
to cancel a preparatory trip to Havana last week.

The Castros’ resistance is understandable. A direct meeting between
Mr. Obama and leaders such as Guillermo Fariñas, the winner of the
European Union’s Sakharov Prize for human rights, or the Ladies in
White, another winner, would give a big boost to their cause. It would
legitimize their demands for free speech, free assembly and freedom for
political prisoners and put pressure on the regime to respond to them.
It would give hope to Cubans that Mr. Obama’s engagement with their
country might bring about long-overdue change.

What the Castros hope is that Mr. Obama instead will focus on baseball
and new U.S. steps to bolster the Cuban economy, such as allowing use of
the dollar. That would divert attention from the fact that repression in
Cuba has not eased in the 15 months since the diplomatic thaw began; in
fact, it has gotten worse. Dissidents who tried to meet with Pope
Francis during his recent visit were detained or beaten. Will those who
try to approach Mr. Obama meet the same fate? Any critic who manages to
get into a “civil society” meeting such as that proposed by the regime
would be drowned out by its loyalists.

As so often in its dealings with the Castros, the administration
sacrificed leverage by announcing the presidential visit before the
terms for a meeting with dissidents were agreed on. That makes it harder
to insist on the gathering that should take place: a small, focused
dialogue with internationally recognized advocates of democracy and
human rights. Still, if the White House pushes as hard to see
Mr. Fariñas and the Ladies and White as it has for the Tampa Bay Rays,
it should succeed. If not, Mr. Obama can and should call off his trip.

Source: Will Obama dump dissidents for baseball in Cuba? – The
Washington Post –
www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/baseball-shouldnt-trump-human-rights-on-obamas-cuba-trip/2016/03/07/629a8140-e493-11e5-a6f3-21ccdbc5f74e_story.html

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