Wednesday, March 23, 2016
One of the first places I visited on a government-sanctioned "educational" tour to Cuba several years back was the Plaza de la Revolucion, a hideous expanse of concrete at the center of Havana that makes, say, Tiananmen Square look positively charming. It was there that President Obama was featured in that now-infamous photo in front of a giant mural of Che Guevara.
It was unfortunate that the president lent his imprimatur to Guevara, a totalitarian who was responsible for the death of thousands. But, in some ways, the photo-op was even worse than it looked. Because as we learned on our tour, the building that Guevara's face adorns is home to the Cuban Ministry of the Interior.
Unlike our own Ministry of the Interior, Cuba's is not charged with innocuous tasks like protecting endangered waterfowl. Rather, it operates the National Revolutionary Police, which, in addition to keeping law and order on the streets, harasses and arrests dissidents, and suppresses "counter-revolutionary" activities. In other words, it's Cuba's version of the Stasi.
President Obama boasted on his trip that he wasn't going to tell Cubans to "tear something down," a reference to President Reagan's famous exhortation to tear down the Berlin wall. Of course, there's no wall - only ocean - separating Cuba from the rest of the world to tear down. But Obama could have at least told Castro to tear down the monument to repression that he was happily photographed in front of.