Newsweek, by Elliott Abrams
The motto of the American Bar Association (ABA) is “Defending Liberty, Pursuing Justice.”
It should perhaps be revised to “Defending Liberty, Pursuing Justice, and Travel to Cuba.” Right now the ABA is sponsoring at least two trips to Cuba–but neither one has anything to do with liberty or justice.
One could dream of an ABA-sponsored trip that would try to visit political prisoners, or meet with the “Women in White” and other peaceful protesters for human rights. One could envision a confrontation between ABA members and officials of the Cuban regime’s “courts” or its “Ministry of Justice.”
But don’t hold your breath. The two tours advertised in the ABA Journal right now are “Cuba: People, Culture and Art” for next March and “Cuban Discovery” for next February.
In the latter, one does not “discover” anything about Cuba’s dictatorship and its complete disrespect for law–theoretically of some concern to the ABA. “People, Culture, and Art” has nothing to do with those Cuban people who are trying desperately to gain a measure of freedom and live under a system of law.
The brochure describes the latter trip this way:
A uniquely designed itinerary provides opportunities to experience the Cuban culture, history and people in four destinations: Havana; Cienfuegos; Trinidad; and Pinar del Río. Discover the arts during visits to art, dance and music studios, and talk with artists, dancers and musicians about their craft and their lives in Cuba.
Savor authentic flavors of Cuban cuisine at state restaurants and paladars, privately owned and operated restaurants. Learn about contemporary and historic Cuba during insightful discussions led by local experts.
Want to bet how many of the “local experts” are dissidents or human rights activists, fighting for a state of law?
The actual state of life in Cuba is described this week in The Economist. Here is an excerpt:
Queues at petrol stations. Sweltering offices. Unlit streets. Conditions in Cuba’s capital remind its residents of the “special period” in the 1990s caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Today, the benefactor in trouble is Venezuela. For the past 15 years Venezuela has been shipping oil to Cuba, which in turn sends thousands of doctors and other professionals to Venezuela.
The swap is lucrative for the communist-controlled island, which pays doctors a paltry few hundred dollars a month. It gets more oil than it needs, and sells the surplus. That makes Cuba perhaps the only importer that prefers high oil prices. Venezuelan support is thought to be worth 12-20 percent of Cuba’s GDP.
Recently, the arrangement has wobbled. Low prices have slashed Cuba’s profit from the resale of oil. Venezuela, whose oil-dependent economy is shrinking, is sending less of the stuff. Figures from PDVSA, Venezuela’s state oil company, suggest that it shipped 40 percent less crude oil to Cuba in the first quarter of 2016 than it did during the same period last year. Austerity, though less savage than in the 1990s, is back. Cuba’s cautious economic liberalisation may suffer.
The regime ought to be worried indeed–but help is on the way, suggests The Economist:
Tourism has surged since the United States loosened travel restrictions in 2014, which will partially offset the loss of Venezuelan aid.
So that’s where the ABA—remember, “Defending Liberty, Pursuing Justice”—comes in. This vicious, repressive regime depended on the Soviets, and then the Venezuelans, and may now depend on American tourists.
Will it be enough? One cannot know. One can only know that the American Bar Association wants to lend a hand.
This is unconscionable, and in fact no American should be lending a hand to oppression in Cuba. No Americans should be dancing and dining their way through Cuba, enjoying the beaches and the architecture while those struggling for freedom lie in prison.
That American lawyers are willing to do this, and that their main professional association wants to promote it, is a sad reflection on the profession. If the ABA said we want our members to visit if and only if they can do something to promote liberty and law and human rights in Cuba, such visits might be a genuine contribution.
Perhaps the ABA has secretly done this and actually all these trips do include spending time with dissidents and pressing officials to respect the rights of the Cuban people. I wouldn’t place a lot of money on that wager. If it has not, it is betraying the cause of justice and assisting the most repressive regime in the Western Hemisphere.
That isn’t “Defending Liberty” or “Pursuing Justice.” It’s shameful.
Elliott Abrams is senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.