Surely, Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel’s purpose at an upcoming United Nations gathering in New York is to rail against the U.S. embargo, and like a six-decade-old broken record, paint the Caribbean island as a victim of hawkish U.S. foreign policy.
Playing the blame game is what every Cuban dictator does best.
This one is No. 3.
But Díaz-Canel’s presence at the world’s premier international diplomatic forum also would expose him to a referendum on his brutish rule, during and after the historic protests in 2021, and not only inside the U.N. He also will get scrutiny from the media and from diverse generations of Cuban Americans.
A disunited, but considerable, exile community that, thanks to Castroism’s longevity, now runs the political gamut, including the Cuban intellectual left, once Fidel Castro supporters.
The world will be reminded that Díaz-Canel is keeping imprisoned a visual artist who was a Time magazine influential person of the year and a Grammy-winning rapper. Their crimes?
Making poignant, inspirational art and music the regime doesn’t like.
Cuba leader Miguel Díaz-Canel plans to travel to New York to speak at the United Nations
A visa from Biden
President Joe Biden has given mixed signals, wavering between flirting with engagement and keeping some of ex-President Trump’s sanctions on Cuban officials and entities responsible for repression.
A safe, but unproductive, position.
The Biden administration has steered clear of meaningful action on Cuba, except to deal with record immigration from Cuba and restoring Americans’ right to travel there.
Biden should put domestic politics aside and issue Cuba’s dictator du jour a visa to attend the United Nations General Assembly in September.
Surely, his gesture will be used as fodder during the U.S. presidential campaign. But how it might play in Miami or Florida elections isn’t as important as bringing a dictator, hiding behind his militarized police to stay in power, into the halls of diplomacy.
Republicans will clobber Biden, whose policies, no matter how successful, will never please them. Cuba is no exception. And with the Cuban Americans’ vote mostly devoted to Trump, pleasing them shouldn’t be a consideration.
Handling an regime 90 miles from Florida strategically should be the priority. There’s more to gain and nothing really to lose by engaging Díaz-Canel in a diplomatic setting.
Given his record of increased and unrelenting repression of basic freedoms — and his role in plunging the Cuban economy into a crisis worse than after the Soviet withdrawal in the 1990s — it won’t be easy for him to scapegoat the United States for Cuba’s problems.
READ MORE: Cuba’s economic crisis is worse than after fall of the Soviet Union, economists warn
Five years into his run as the hand-picked president of Cuba’s sole political party, we know who Díaz-Canel is: a dictator cut from the worst of the Castros’ moldy cloth, in the body of a younger man.
Under Díaz-Canel, 63, opposition to the Communist dictatorship has only grown, not withered as might have happened if a post-Castro opening to modernity had brought economic prosperity and political reform.
There’s no good reason, except to hang on to absolute power and wealth, to withhold from the Cuban people a world of economic and political choice.
During the past year, as his people starve, Díaz-Canel has been making trips abroad seeking support and foreign investment. He recently met with Pope Francis at the Vatican, historically, an indication that the regime is looking for help in engaging with the United States. And Biden is Catholic.
The diplomacy game
Díaz-Canel has only led Cuba back to the darkest of days. But to withhold a visa would only play into the regime’s anti-U.S. rhetoric.
We saw what happened when President Obama negotiated a hopeful opening with Raúl Castro. Welcoming Cubans flying the American flag all over Havana in celebration of a new day.
The United Nations is a great place to remind Cuban leaders that it was they who rejected Americans’ olive branch — and the economic prosperity that temporarily came with it. They, not the Americans, shut down the nascent private sector they’re now trying to revive.
As for the U.S. embargo, one has to ask, What embargo?
American tourists are free to travel to Cuba under people-to-people guidelines, and many tour operators are offering a range of options, from ecotourism to luxury cultural itineraries.
The Miami Herald reports that U.S. companies exported to Cuba $37 million in food products and agricultural commodities in June alone, compared to $23 million same month last year, according to data from U.S. government sources, U.S. ports and companies compiled by the U.S. Cuba-Trade and Economic Council.
READ MORE: What are Cuba’s private entrepreneurs importing from the United States? Take a look
Alimport, a company of the Cuban government, has been importing chicken, soybeans and corn. That a country with land as fertile as Cuba’s has to import chicken and corn is pure regime mismanagement. But the better news for the Cuban people is that increased imports from the United States is being attributed to the regime’s concession, amid the crisis, to resurrect the private sector.
A “duh” moment for the Díaz-Canel regime.
He stifles dissent by providing economic incentives — supported by American goods. The embargo barely exists. It’s just a smokescreen.
The real issue that should be discussed at the U.N.? The hundreds of young people that Cuba has imprisoned and the thousands driven into exile.