For the first time since 1959, on Thursday someone with a last name other than Castro became president of the island nation. However, as Heritage Foundation expert Ana Quintana explains to The Daily Signal, that is about the only thing that will change in the communist regime.
Because Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez is the hand-picked successor of Raúl Castro, brother of longtime dictator Fidel Castro, those hoping for a more open country with free markets and respectful treatment of political and human rights activists likely will be sadly disappointed. A lightly edited transcript of the video is below.
Genevieve Wood: Welcome to The Daily Signal’s Facebook Live. I’m Genevieve Wood and I’m joined here in our studio by my colleague at The Heritage Foundation, Ana Quintana. She is here to talk about a very important date in history coming up this week. Ana, this is going to be the first time since 1959 that somebody without the last name Castro is going to be the head of Cuba.
Ana Quintana: Exactly.
Wood: Why isn’t this getting more press in the United States?
Quintana: It’s getting some press, but the press that it’s getting is, you know, “This is an exciting new development, we’re going into the post-Castro era, Cuba’s finally liberalizing.” There’s an opportunity for change, but in reality, the vice president [Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez], he cut his teeth under Fidel Castro.
Wood: The person who’s going to take over?
Quintana: Exactly, that’s the rumor. The rumor is that he’s going to be the one who will be selected by the country’s National Assembly. They’re voting on that today and it’s supposed to be released, announced tomorrow.
So Miguel Diaz-Canel is essentially a carbon copy of the previous ruler. So this is really not a change, it’s kind of like a mutation.
Wood: As you just said, the National Assembly here is voting. … They are not having free and fair elections in Cuba [in] electing a new president.
Quintana: No. Cuba’s a one-party system, it’s been a one-party system since Fidel Castro took over in 1959. There are no such things as free and fair elections. You’re only allowed to choose the Communist Party candidate and it’s the Central Communist Party that selects the candidates, and that’s who you can vote for.
So now, this is an opportunity where Cuba could’ve held open elections. Raúl Castro is “retiring,” and this could’ve been an opportunity for the Cuban people to finally choose, but again, three generations of Cubans have been deprived of that right.
Wood: You said he’s in the same mold that the Castros [brothers Fidel and Raúl] have always been. As you well know, former President Obama lifted sanctions on Cuba … wanted normalized relations with Cuba. How much has that changed the way the people in Cuba are able to live today?
Quintana: The whole idea of normalizing relations with a country that is not normal is beyond absurd, right? When it comes to the day-to-day life of Cuban people as a result of Obama’s Cuba policy, it has not changed for the positive. If anything … Obama’s policy legitimized the Castro regime and it made it normal in the international community to accept a military dictatorship, right?
So even after all this time … since 1959 that these guys have been in power, now the international community’s saying, “Well, you know what, if the United States accepted them, then everything is fine and everything is cool.”
Wood: But I thought this was supposed to open up business, it was going to open up tourism. And that by nature, having more free markets if you will, that was going to open up more freedom for the people in Cuba. You’re saying that hasn’t happened?
Quintana: No. Obama’s policy was a series of unilateral concessions, right? There was never any conditions put in place on the Cuban government, on changing their behavior. They were never told to stop arresting political dissidents, they were never told to stop religious persecution. They were never told to liberalize and open up their markets.
They were never told again to … change their economic practices to make it suitable and safe for American businesses. Nor did they ever compensate the Americans whose property was stolen at the revolution. It’s close to $8 billion of property that was stolen. None of that was done.
Wood: And talk about political dissidents who’ve been arrested and beaten. Those numbers have been higher in recent years then almost any time in Cuba’s history.
Quintana: In 2016, which was supposed to be the big year of Cuba relations, you know, President Obama traveled to Cuba. Everything was going, things were going great, [but] at the end of 2016 there were nearly 10,000 political prisoners arrested in Cuba. About 498 of them were arrested during Obama’s 72 hours on the island.
So if you kind of break that down, that’s about seven people per minute that were arrested in Cuba, including people who were supposed to meet with President Obama, who the Cuban government and the American government cleared to meet. So you kind of look at it every which way. The human rights situation has not improved, the situation for U.S. national security has not improved.
Cuba has not been cooperative with the United States on dealing with regional issues. And then we also have … these diplomatic attacks that have been going on as well, that’s an issue that’s gone unresolved.
Wood: Speak very quickly on those, the diplomatic attacks that have not gotten a lot of media attention, where not only U.S. diplomats but now we’re learning Canadian diplomats and potentially others have been attacked; their hearing and other issues, they’re having medical issues, that’s clearly coming from a Cuban-instigated attack.
Quintana: That’s exactly it. So since the end of 2016, U.S. diplomats and their relatives … U.S. diplomatic personnel have been reporting hearing loss and other neurological symptoms. They were hearing like high-pitched noises, experiencing vertigo, memory loss, migraines, and to date, it’s been over 20 U.S. diplomats and their personnel. They were targeted specifically at their homes and at the hotels in which they stayed.
Two Canadian diplomats as well have also been targeted. So this goes to show that Cuba is a police state. For anybody that’s traveled to Cuba—I’ve been to Cuba, Cuba’s a police state. The Cuban government, if you are a foreigner, particularly if you’re a foreigner of interest, which foreign diplomatic personnel are, they will watch you. They know what’s going on.
So even if Cuba per se was not directly involved in this, they know who did it; they’re protecting who did it. And until that situation is resolved, I think we really need to consider whether continuing normalizing relations is a good idea.
Wood: So, final question for you on that front. What should the Trump administration be doing? And what about the Cuban community in this country, that for so many years was so vocal about getting rid of Castro? What should be their reaction to this somewhat change in power?
Quintana: I think President Trump has done the right thing in down-scaling our diplomatic representation in Cuba, because the Cuban government cannot keep our diplomats safe. So many people have been hurt, there could be more that have been targeted in attacks, and it’s simply unknown at this point.
And also recently at the Summit of the Americas, Vice President [Mike] Pence issued a really strong rebuke against the Cuban government and this illegitimate transition that’s taking place.
I think things like that need to continue happening, and they need to continue meeting with the dissidents, with the opposition. Folks that are going to be the future of Cuba. In the United States, I think the Cuban-American community and just anybody who’s interested in the cause of freedom, and in making sure that U.S. national security is protected … should remain vigilant as to what the Cuban government is doing and also recognize they are not our friends.
Wood: Thank you very much for giving us some light on this issue. Appreciate it very much.
Quintana: Of course.
Wood: And thank you all for joining us as well. We will see you back here next time on The Daily Signal’s Facebook Live.