Today’s WaPo editorial asks why does the President ignore this year’s National Endowment for Democracy’s annual Democracy Award honorees – through their representatives, of course, since the honorees themselves are imprisoned and one, Librado Linares García, was placed in a punishment cell right before the awards ceremony.
The other honorees are Jorge Luis Garcia Pérez, (aka “Antúnez”), José Daniel Ferrer García, Ivan Hernandez Carrillo, and Iris Tamara Perez Aguilera. Also arrested were Donaida Pérez Paseiro, Aramilda Contreras and Yaité Cruz Sosa of the Rosa Parks Women’s Movement for Civil Rights. Val has more on the honorees.
None were able to travel to Washington. They have been represented here by Bertha Atúnez, sister of Jorge Luis García Pérez. And Ms. Atúnez, an Afro-Cuban who was active in the Rosa Parks movement before she was forced into exile a year ago, has been snubbed by President Obama. Requests that he meet with her went unanswered. Only as the ceremony began did the White House issue a brief statement.
It’s not that the president is too busy to concern himself with Latin American politics. The White House arranged for a Spanish journalist to ask a question at Tuesday’s news conference; reporter Macarena Vidal pressed Mr. Obama on whether U.S. allies such as Chile and Colombia were doing enough to help with “less democratic countries.” The president replied by heaping praise on visiting Chilean President Michele Bachelet, a socialist who has been promoting Cuba’s readmission into the Organization of American States and who has gone out of her way to avoid offending Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez. “Chile is leading by example,” Mr. Obama said, adding that its good relationship with Washington despite political differences “points the way for other countries . . . where the democratic tradition is not as deeply embedded as we’d like it to be.”
It’s all part of the weenie diplomacy:
Message to Mr. Chávez and the Castro brothers: We can work with you. Message to Cuba’s democratic opposition: We don’t have time for you. “What I’d like is to have an opportunity to express to the president the situation of the island,” Ms. Atúnez told us. “For the Cuban people it’s enormously significant that Obama can become president” — particularly, she said, because of his race and relative youth. “The Cuban people are hoping that he won’t disappoint them.”
Mr. Obama’s hastily drafted statement — issued after The Post inquired about his silence — said he wished “to acknowledge and commend” the five dissidents “and all the brave men and women who are standing up for the right of the Cuban people to freely determine their country’s future.” He called for the release of the three now in prison. Will that satisfy Ms. Atúnez and the other opposition leaders? We suspect not. They, like the beleaguered pro-democracy movements of Venezuela and Nicaragua, are hoping that the American president will focus his policy on supporting them. Yet for now, Mr. Obama’s diplomacy is clearly centered on their oppressors.
And why is that?
Joshua Muravchik, in his very important article, The Abandonment of Democracy, explains that Obama does not value democracy:
Obama seems to believe that democracy is overrated, or at least overvalued. When asked about the subject in his pre-inaugural interview with the Washington Post, Obama said that he is more concerned with “actually delivering a better life for people on the ground and less obsessed with form, more concerned with substance.” He elaborated on this thought during his April visit to Strasbourg, France:
We spend so much time talking about democracy—and obviously we should be promoting democracy everywhere we can. But democracy, a well-functioning society that promotes liberty and equality and fraternity, does not just depend on going to the ballot box. It also means that you’re not going to be shaken down by police because the police aren’t getting properly paid. It also means that if you want to start a business, you don’t have to pay a bribe. I mean, there are a whole host of other factors that people need . . . to recognize in building a civil society that allows a country to be successful.
Whether or not the President was aware of it, he was echoing a theme first propounded long ago by Soviet propagandists and later sung in many variations by all manner of Third World dictators, Left to Right. It has long since been discredited by a welter of research showing that democracies perform better in fostering economic and social well being, keeping the peace, and averting catastrophes. Never mind that it is untoward for a President of the United States to speak of democracy as a mere “form,” less important than substance.
Over at the OAS, an organization that has long outlived its usefulness, Insulza (another one who thinks of democracy as “form” rather than substance) tries to save face while praising Obama. Cuba’s reaction? Cuba, like Woody Allen (or was it Groucho Marx?), doesn’t want to join a club that would have him as a member.
By ignoring the Democracy Award honorees Obama not only imperils their lives, but also endangers the future of human rights and democracy in our hemisphere.