In New York this week, I asked a former Eastern European dissident who spent time in prison under the Communists: “If you were sitting in a cell in Cuba, Iran or Syria and saw this photo of a smiling American president shaking hands with a smiling Hugo Chávez, what would you think?”
He said: “I would think that I was losing ground.”
Monday’s WSJ carried a letter from an actual Cuban dissident, 29-year-old Luis Fernandez. Writing from Barcelona, Mr Fernandez (“I am a black Cuban and I love my land. I was expelled in 2002 from my medical studies because I was considered a dissident”) describes the sense of betrayal he feels as a result of Obama’s actions:
I confess, it is very sad to see the president of a champion of democracy like the U.S., standing shoulder to shoulder with leftist populists like Hugo Chávez and Daniel Ortega. It is frustrating to see the leader of a proven democratic nation smile and shake hands with people who have no idea about democracy and have no respect for other points of view.
It is outrageous to see the commander in chief of the U.S., who should give the example to others, sitting and chatting in a friendly way with people whose friends put innocent people in jail and who repress any attempts at free association, or any free movement. I give no benefit of the doubt to somebody like President Barack Obama. He missed a tremendous and important opportunity to tell Latin America that the U.S. does not tolerate dictators and does not support repression. He did not say once that his country does not accept the imprisonment of journalists, doctors and independent librarians just for expressing what they think.
It does not matter to the president that the Castros have inflicted suffering, anguish and pain on millions of people for decades. For Barack Obama, Cuban living conditions, values, and honor are meaningless.
Meryl Yourish points out that the Jewish community in Venezuela could use some encouragement and support these days…support which is certainly not provided by excessive friendliness with Mr Chavez.
(Venezuelan) Jews not only fear the petty criminal, but being subjected to abuse because they are Jewish and identify with Israel. Today, the Jewish community is a target of a vicious campaign instigated by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who compared Israel’s entry into Gaza to Nazi aggression.
In fact, on the cover of the most recent edition of PDVSA, the monthly magazine of the Venezuelan state oil company, there is a picture of a concentration camp with a watchtower and barbed wire. Flying over the camp is an Israeli flag. The caption emblazoned across the picture reads “NUEVA ADMINISTRACION” (”under new management”).
Meryl links Robert Avrech, who says:
When the President of the United States warmly greets and embraces a Jew-hating tyrant, there are consequences.
The tyrant’s cruel reign is legitimized.
The tyrant’s Jew-hatred is legitimized.
Those who oppose the tyrant are dealt a terrible blow.
And of course, the lives of victims of totalitarian regimes—the unjustly imprisoned, the tortured, the murdered and the maimed—are devalued.
Of course, there are times when the leader of a democracy must work with the leaders of a repugnant regime. Even Winston Churchill, a fervent anti-communist, found it necessary to cooperate closely with Joseph Stalin. But this was done under the pressure of the most urgent necessity, and there is no remotely similar justification for excessive friendliness with Chavez and other similar dictators. Moreover, Obama’s whole positioning of the United States–that we have an almost infinite backlog of misdeeds for which he must endlessly apologize on our behalf–gives powerful encouragement to such people.
UPDATE: WSJ article today on the extent of anti-Semitism…specifically, government-instigated anti-Semitism…in Mr Chavez’s Venezuela.