A Cuban Truth Commission

EPA-fidel-castro-death-reaction-havana-4-jt-161126_12x5_1600“The communist state’s pro-Castro narrative still has defenders [e.g., Communist Party USA] in the West.” Mary Anastasia O’Grady

Cubans Need a Truth Commission

Give survivors of Castro’s murderous regime a chance to tell their stories.

Mary Anastasia O’Grady, June 19, 2017, p. A 15

President Trump opened another chapter in U.S.-Cuba relations on Friday when he announced a rollback of portions of the detente policy with Havana introduced by President Obama in December 2014. Human-rights groups cheered, libertarians jeered, and the international—and American—left warned that the new policy will harm Cubans and U.S. investors.

All sides are dug in, as they have been for decades. Yet the reality is that when it comes to liberating Cuba, the embargo is a distraction. With or without it, the Castro police state will hang on until the civilized world speaks with one voice to condemn the illegitimacy of the regime as it did with South Africa during apartheid.

That’s not happening because the communist state’s pro-Castro narrative still has defenders in the West. The human-rights challenge is to expose this big lie. What’s needed is a truth commission that would allow Cubans themselves to tell what really happened.

The Trump administration’s changes are aimed at weakening the military dictatorship by denying it easy access to U.S. dollars via the military-owned tourism industry. American companies’ ability to form partnerships with those businesses will be pared back and American travelers will face new restrictions.

This is an important symbolic change. Yet the effects are likely to be minimal. Despite the tendentious claims of too many American journalists, Cuba is not “isolated,” nor is it starving because of the embargo. The rest of the world can do business in Cuba and the regime buys all the food and medicine it wants from the U.S.

There is no U.S. prohibition on the export of construction materials to nonstate actors in Cuba. But the regime doesn’t allow the free flow of goods because economic freedom is a path to political freedom. Small businesses are permitted only if they don’t become too profitable and their owners don’t express ideas independent of the totalitarian state. Cuban privation is made in Havana.

Raúl Castro loves to whine about Cuba’s lack of internet capability and to blame it on the embargo. But as one dissident on the island wrote to me last week, the regime is the reason Cubans lack access. “Information is always power,” he explained, so the “government doesn’t have the will nor is it a priority” to see people informed. Where there is internet, he noted, the government blocks news sites.

What is more, he wrote, the regime “keeps all the money earned by the people’s sweat and uses it for military contingencies, maintenance of weapons, diplomatic personnel, officials, representatives abroad, spies, etc.” If the dictatorship “decides a dissident should die, it is not difficult to . . . accomplish” the task.

Such complaints counted for little with Barack Obama. Instead, in 2016, the U.S. president attended a baseball game in Havana with Castro, who also invited members of the Colombian narcoterrorist group FARC. The U.S. also barred Cuban dissidents from attending the reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana.

Moral myopia about Cuba is explained in some cases by the fact that the regime is the international symbol for anti-Americanism. To condemn Castro would be to acknowledge that the U.S. was right to try to end the tyranny.

A high-profile truth project would correct the record. One myth that needs to be debunked is that resistance to the Castro hijacking of a revolution originally meant to restore the 1940 constitution came solely from white, upper-class Havana.

In 1958 Cuba was one of the richest countries in Latin America. Cubans widely understood the link between rising living standards and constitutional democracy. They were heavily in favor of removing dictator Fulgencio Batista from power to restore the rule of law. Fidel Castro and the guerrillas in the Sierra Maestra derived their support from that sentiment.

By the summer of 1959 it was clear Fidel wanted absolute power. Among the first to realize it were small farmers living in central Cuba and the foothills of the Escambray Mountains. Those guajiros formed the backbone of a resistance that lasted six years. Their communities suffered unspeakable atrocities in a Soviet-supervised cleansing.

The military savagely attacked villages, displacing families and forcibly relocating many to the remote western end of the island. Survivors have told me that the regime also rounded up women and children and made them captive in Havana while it crammed men and boys into chicken coops for days and weeks to crush the rebellion.

The Cuba Archive Truth and Memory Project has documented 934 executions mostly in the Escambray. Another 607 political prisoners were executed between 1960 and 1970 and the vast majority of them are believed to have been captured in the Escambray.

Mr. Trump has taken a first step toward moral clarity on Cuba. But real progress requires an honest look at the historical record that acknowledges the regime’s many crimes against humanity.

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