President Obama announced a new Cuba policy on Dec. 17, 2014. It gave diplomatic recognition to the sole remaining dictatorship in the Western Hemisphere, unilaterally eased U.S. trade and travel restrictions, and commuted the prison sentences of three convicted Cuban spies, including one imprisoned for plotting the murder of three Americans shot-down by Cuban MIGs while flying over the Florida Straits.
When Obama announced his new policy, describing it as "what change looks like," few believed that the "change" would be for the worse. Yet the policy has clearly proven to be counter-productive. Set aside the policy theories and debates. Instead, look simply at the irrefutable facts since the announcement:
•Political arrests have intensified. Throughout 2015, there were more than 8,616 documented political arrests in Cuba. In November alone there were more than 1,447 documented political arrests, the highest monthly tally in decades. Those numbers compare to 2,074 arrests in 2010 and 4,123 in 2011.
•A new Cuban migration is unfolding. The United States is faced with the largest migration of Cuban immigrants since the rafters of 1994. The number of Cubans entering the United States in 2015 was nearly twice that of 2014. Some 51,000 Cubans last year entered the United States; tens of thousands more are desperately trying to make the journey, via Ecuador and other South and Central American countries. When President Obama took office, the numbers were less than 7,000 annually.
•The number of "self-employed" workers in Cuba has decreased. The Cuban government today is licensing 10,000 fewer "self-employed" workers than it did in 2014. In contrast, Castro's military monopolies are expanding at record pace. The Cuban military-owned tourism company, Gaviota S.A., announced 12 percent growth in 2015 and expects to double its hotel business this year. Even the limited spaces in which cuentapropistas previously operated are being squeezed as the Cuban military expands its control of the island's travel, retail and financial sectors of the economy.
•Internet "connectivity ranking" has dropped. The International Telecommunication Union's (ITU) Measuring the Information Society Report for 2015, the world's most reliable source of data and analysis on global access to information and communication. ITU has dropped Cuba's ranking to 129 from 119. The island fares much worse than some of the world's most infamous suppressors of the Internet suppressors, including Zimbabwe (127), Syria (117), Iran (91), China (82) and Venezuela (72).
•U.S. agricultural sales to Cuba have plummeted. Despite the Obama Administration's easing of sanctions, U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba declined by nearly 40 percent in 2015. In August alone, the value of U.S. agricultural exports dropped 84 percent to $2.25 million from $14.30 million in 2014. That's one of the lowest numbers since the United States authorized agricultural exports to Cuba in 2001.
•Religious freedom violations have increased tenfold. According to the London-based NGO, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), last year 2,000 churches were declared illegal and 100 were designated for demolition by the Castro regime. Altogether, CSW documented 2,300 separate violations of religious freedom in 2015 compared to 220 in 2014.
•Castro reneged on the release of political prisoners and visits by international monitors. Most of the 53 political prisoners released in the months prior and after Obama's December 2014 announcement have since been re-arrested on multiple occasions. Five have been handed new long-term prison sentences. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch noted in its new 2016 report, "Cuba has yet to allow visits to the island by the International Committee of the Red Cross or by U.N. human rights monitors, as stipulated in the December 2014 agreement with the United States."
•International political and economic pressure on Cuba has eroded. Despite the Obama Administration's prediction that the new U.S. policy would allow other countries to hold the Castro regime accountable for its repressive practices, the opposite is occurring. Presidents, foreign ministers and other dignitaries have flocked to Cuba to discuss business opportunities with Castro's state monopolies. None has made even a minimal gesture of solidarity with Cuba's civil society. International creditors have forgiven tens of billions in the Castro dictatorship's debts.
Supporters of Obama's policy point to the re-establishment of diplomatic relations as a sign of "success" in itself. Yet no progress has been made on pressing diplomatic issues like the extradition of one of the FBI's Top Ten Most Wanted Terrorists, who continues to be harbored by Cuba's regime, or compensation or return of billions in Americans property confiscated by the regime. To the contrary, we've learned that throughout this process of negotiations and "changes" sought by the Obama Administration, that Cuba has had a stolen U.S. Hellfire missile in its possession and refused to return it. To make matters worse, defense experts fear Cuba may have shared information about this missile's technology with nations like North Korea.
Unfortunately, the Obama Administration's "talking for the sake of talking" is proving only to be a useful distraction in this country and the world that is allowing the Castro regime to strengthen its political and economic grip over the Cuban people and their future.