The White House said nothing of substance took place between Raul Castro and Barack Obama except for the handshake at the Summit of the Americas, but that’s not to say that Obama stopped there. Reuters captures the moment between the leader of the free world and the dictator of Cuba, but the real substance came later:
The White House insisted that the handshake was informal, but there were significant communications in the days preceding it, as ABC’s Jim Avila reports:
Castro and Obama arrived within minutes of each other at the same military air field in Panama Thursday night for the Summit of the Americas. Shortly after arrival, the two presidents spoke by phone, according to a Facebook post by Jorge Leganoa, the deputy director of Cuba’s state-run National Information Agency. According to the post, the call came “minutes before” the meeting between Kerry and Rodriguez.A White House Official confirmed to ABC News that a call occurred, but said it actually happened earlier.
“I can confirm that President Obama spoke with President Castro on Wednesday, before President Obama departed Washington,” the official said.
The call marks the second time the two leaders spoke by phone. The first lasted approximately 45 minutes and occurred shortly before a Dec. 17 announcement that began the restoration of diplomatic ties between and the U.S. and Cuba.
Count Marco Rubio among the unimpressed. In an interview with Breitbart’s Frances Martel, Rubio accused Obama of abandoning US security interests for the sake of a short-term “legacy”:
Rubio went on to criticize President Barack Obama’s Cuba policy. Obama has been far more conciliatory toward the Castro regime than previous presidents and Rubio, whose parents were born in Cuba, has been one of the loudest voices attacking him for it. As Breitbart News’ Frances Martel has reported, Obama is currently rumored to be considering removing Cuba from the State Department’s list of State Sponsors of Terrorism.
“It’s ridiculous,” Rubio says. “I don’t see how they can rationalize taking them off the list, other than the president’s desire to achieve a legacy issue that he’s the one that opened up Cuba and changed fifty years of policy.”
“It doesn’t make any sense,” he continued, noting Cuba is “harboring the fugitives of American justice, including the killer of an American police officer, and dozens of people who have stolen millions of dollars from Medicare — fraud from the American taxpayer.” …
Cuba has also been caught twice in the last few years helping North Korea evade weapons sanctions, said Rubio, and “they continue to provide shelter and material support for terrorist groups like the FARC in Columbia and others. This is the country that is the third most active espionage force in America today, operating against us, [and also has] military officials who have been indicted in federal court for the murder of U.S. citizens over international waters.”
Obama spoke earlier to civic leaders at a meeting in Panama City, in a speech seemingly calculated for Cuba and Venezuela above all. He promised that the US would no longer interfere in the affairs of nations in this hemisphere:
Mr Obama told a forum of civil society leaders in Panama City that “the days in which our agenda in this hemisphere presumed that the United States could meddle with impunity, those days are past”. …
Before the summit began, the US president stressed that he hoped the thaw in relations would improve the lives of the Cuban people.
“Not because it’s imposed by us, the United States, but through the talent and ingenuity and aspiration and the conversation among Cubans, among all walks of life. So they can decide what is the best course of prosperity.”
In other words, the Monroe Doctrine is dead. That’s not exactly news anyway; since the rise of easy global travel and free trade, the effect of the Monroe Doctrine has been largely rhetorical. The Soviet Union utterly ignored it, and now Iran and Russia are following in the footsteps of the USSR, especially with Venezuela and Argentina. Obama didn’t say that we would refrain from using our influence — the thaw with Cuba is intended to increase that influence, misguided or not — but it’s more of a recognition of diplomatic reality. The only way to contain attempts to influence and infiltrate the Western hemisphere from the Eastern hemisphere is to contain those threats at their origination point.
Unfortunately, the Obama administration has done the exact opposite. They have offered reset buttons to both, and in the case of Iran are negotiating to unleash economic sanctions that have at least limited Iran’s ability to engage this far out from its base in the Middle East. The handshake with Castro is the sideshow, although certainly not for the people living under the oppression of the Castro regime. The rest of the world had already legitimized the Castros in Cuba. We’re about to legitimize and fund the oppressive mullahcracy in Tehran, while announcing that we’re only interested in soft power in our own back yard. Those signals might get momentary applause in Panama City and Turtle Bay, but they’ll cause us plenty of headaches in the years to come.