Video: Obama to visit Cuba even after mass arrests of dissidents

Get ready to watch another check box on Barack Obama’s Legacy Tour to get checked — at the expense of Cuban dissidents. Fourteen months ago, Obama normalized relations with the Castro regime in Havana and expressed a desire to visit Cuba while still in office — but only if Cuba’s human-rights record improved. The White House let leak last night that Obama has decided to visit next month, and he’s taking the Tampa Bay Devil Rays with him:

As part of his opening to Cuba, President Barack Obama is expected to visit the island in March, becoming the first sitting U.S. president to travel there in almost 90 years, sources said Wednesday.

The president is expected to arrive March 21, sources said. That timetable would put him in Cuba during a week when Havana is awash in special events. On the 20th, the Rolling Stones are expected to conclude their Latin America tour with a concert in Cuba and on March 22, Cuba’s national baseball team will play the Tampa Bay Rays in Havana. It’s unclear whether the president will attend the baseball game.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) blasted the planned excursion as “absolutely shameful,” the Miami Herald’s Mimi Whitefield reports:

“If true, it is absolutely shameful that Obama is rewarding the Castros with a visit to Cuba by a sitting American president since their reign of terror began,” said U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami. “A visit by President Obama more than one year after his unilateral concessions to the regime will only legitimize the Castros’ repressive behavior.”

The news broke during CNN’s GOP townhall, and Marco Rubio also lit into Obama:

COOPER: Another item in the news which actually I’ve literally just learned about, someone was talking in my ear as you were coming out. We just learned that President Obama plans to visit Cuba some time I think this month. I don’t know the exact date but he does plan to visit. Is that something as President you would ever do?

RUBIO: Not if there’s not a free Cuba. And I’ll tell you the problem with the Cuban government; it’s not just a communist dictatorship, it is an Anti-American communist dictatorship. The Cuban government three years ago helped North Korea evade U.S. Sanctions. They were caught trying to sell missile parts to North Korea but nothing happened.

The Cuban government today harbors hundreds of fugitives of American judicial, Medicare fraud – there are people there who have stolen your money. They come to the U.S., they steal money – Medicare fraud, they go back to Cuba, the Cuban government’s protecting them. The Cuban government is harboring a killer from New Jersey who killed a state trooper in New Jersey. The killer escaped jail, fled to Cuba and the Cuban government is protecting her.

Beyond that, they’re a repressive regime. There’s no elections in Cuba, there’s no choice in Cuba. And so my whole problem – I want the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba to change but it has to be reciprocal.

Look at what we did with Burma or Myanmar, where the U.S. opened up to them but they made political changes. And today, the former minority party is now the majority party in their legislative body because our change towards them was conditional on their change towards their people. He didn’t even ask that of the Cuban government. And so today, a year and two months after the opening of Cuba, the Cuban government remains as repressive as ever. But now, they have access to millions to not billions of dollars in resources that they didn’t have access to before this opening.

Well, has there been progress in Cuba? The left-leaning Human Rights Watch seemed hopeful when Obama and Castro normalized relations, calling the move “a breath of fresh air and a chance to make some real progress on human rights.” Fourteen months later, their assessment of Cuba doesn’t indicate that much has changed at all:

The Cuban government continues to repress dissent and discourage public criticism. It now relies less on long-term prison sentences to punish its critics, but short-term arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders, independent journalists, and others have increased dramatically in recent years. Other repressive tactics employed by the government include beatings, public acts of shaming, and the termination of employment.

So much for red lines, eh? CBS News’ Pamela Falk offers a good explanation of what Obama intends from this trip, and it’s not reform of Cuba — it’s protecting his legacy:

CBS News’ Pamela Falk calls the planned visit “a shocker.”

“By going to Cuba while he is still in office, Mr. Obama is showing Havana that he will continue to make enough progress that it will be difficult for the next president to change course from restoring ties with Cuba — and he is proving to Congress that the president still has a lot of executive authority to change foreign policy,” Falk said.

Obama is selling out pro-democracy dissidents in Cuba to take one last contemptuous potshot at Congress. That’s certainly in line with the legacy that he’s building thus far in his presidency.