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Why I Don’t Support Obama’s Trip to Cuba

 We are just a few hours removed from the so-called historic exhibition game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban National Baseball Team, which ended in a 4-1 victory for the Rays.

What better way to precede Opening Day for the 2016 MLB season than with a goodwill trip to Cuba? What better way for President Obama to sign off on his presidency than with a diplomatic visit in an effort to warm relationships still frozen solid from the Cold War?

At first blush, it may seem damn-near revolutionary to see President Obama revisit a political relationship that would probably have cobwebs if it were a physical object. But we cannot forget the regime that nearly became the epicenter of a nuclear war, the regime that still rules today, the regime that cruelly punishes its people for any sign of dissent, even if the dissent is simply not displaying an “I’m With Fidel” sign.

Cuban-Americans protesting Obama’s efforts to become friendly with Cuba.

In response to the American trip to Cuba, ESPN and Miami Herald writer, Dan Le Batard, son of Cuban exiles, wrote an equally emotional and scathing indictment of the trip. Le Batard said:

The ocean between our countries is filled with the Cuban bodies that tell the story, lives literally thrown to the wind in desperation, hoping to reach America’s possibility-soaked shores on boats made of old tires and wood and poverty’s debris. No free press. No elections. No freedom. That’s the Cuba that still surrounds the baseball diamond where we play this game. That’s the Cuba people still get on makeshift boats to flee today.

As someone who isn’t of Cuban descent, I don’t truly understand the pain firsthand, but as someone who understands the history and politics of Cuba, I am appalled that so many people are so excited and eager to see Obama shaking hands with a dictator. During his ESPN radio show, Dan Le Batard fought back tears as he described what the Cuban regime symbolized to him.

We’re sending our president to shake that hand? Derek Jeter is going to shake that hand that has the blood of our people on it?… My uncle [was] in prison for a decade for merely having different politics than the government. Keep in mind, students and intellectuals were killed there for believing in elections, for believing in a constitution — killed, not jailed, killed. My mom going to visit him walking past firing squad walls covered in fresh blood wondering, ‘Is that my brother’s blood?’ as she goes to visit. That’s still in charge; that hasn’t changed, it’s the same regime.

It’s disheartening to see the President shaking hands and smiling with a dictator culpable for the deaths of countless people, people who died because they had the audacity to demand a constitution and democratic elections.

Raul Castro and Barack Obama

And what is the purpose? For political niceties? To highlight the unifying power of baseball? To end the trade embargo so people can legally buy Cuban cigars?

It’s incredibly sobering to hear stories of people Cuban citizens who risked their lives and the lives of their loved ones to escape Cuba. You don’t have to look beyond Major League Baseball itself to find such heart-wrenching stories. Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez tried three times to defect, all unsuccessful, all resulting in a jail sentence. During his fourth try, at the ripe age of 15, he heard a splash and jumped overboard to save someone who had fallen, who turned out to be his mother.  Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig tried five times to leave Cuba. On the fifth attempt, he was aided by smugglers from Los Zetas drug cartel, who in turn traded him off to a Florida businessman for $250,000. The businessman agreed to help Puig as long as Puig gave him 20% of all future baseball earnings.

Yasiel Puig and Jose Fernandez risked everything for better lives

You can applaud the Castro regime for stamping out illiteracy or for their stellar healthcare system, but the regime is still a cruel dictatorship. The island maybe full of doctors and literate citizens, but it’s still polluted with the blood of people who spoke out in the name of freedom. For Cuban exiles and their descents, the wounds are still fresh. You can see it by the tears in their eyes when they recall stories of the past the way Dan Le Batard did. You can see it in the way the citizens of Little Havana paraded down the street banging pots and pans when they thought Fidel Castro had died.

Anti-Castro sentiment stems not only from poor US-Cuba relations, but also from an egregious human rights record. 

I’m not saying we should keep ties with Cuba on ice indefinitely. What I would like to see is for some of the benefits from this diplomatic dog and pony show to have a positive effect on the Cuban people who have long-suffered under the thumb of the Castro regime. In between chilling with Raul Castro and taking in a meaningless game between a perpetual MLB basement dweller and a forgettable national team, Barack Obama should be demanding accountability and transparency. Don’t be fooled by all the positive press:  this trip to Cuba is not worthy of our applause or dignity. 

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