The Shameful Rush To Normalize Repressive Regimes

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Like the kids in a Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland musical, American liberals and business interests are eager to put on a show with their newly available friend, the Castro regime in Cuba.

From the moment President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced the restoration of diplomatic relations in 2014, admirers of the 57-year-old dictatorship have been climbing over each other to get in line to travel to the imprisoned island.

Two of the latest examples: state lawmakers in Vermont and officials at Houston Community College in Texas.

“I’ve always wanted to go to Cuba,” said state Rep. Mary Sullivan, D-Burlington. “It would be interesting to see the place and look at their educational system, agriculture and health care.”

The Greater Houston Partnership called its trip “an excellent opportunity to improve trade relations.”

Houston Community College Chancellor Cesar Maldonado says the mission “aligns with our Strategic Plan.”

One HCC professor registered her interest in making the trip by exclaiming in an email “I want to go. To Castro land,” as if she were planning a trip to Disney World.

When Missouri Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon went to Cuba in May, he cited a desire to boost his state’s agricultural trade. He met with representatives of the government, of the Cuban Chamber of Commerce and individual companies. But no dissidents.

Most of those jetting off to Cuba are Democrats, but not all. U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, an Arkansas Republican, went in April, like Nixon to push farm exports, following on the heels of a visit by GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

Crawford derided those critics of Cuba “who still view it through the Cold War lens.”

Congressman, we hope you’ll forgive the imprisoned dissenters languishing in Cuban jails for still viewing their predicament through a “Cold War lens.”

What almost none of these trips include is any chance for the smitten visitors to meet with ordinary Cubans who have suffered under the Castros for decades.

Not that they seem to care much.

Despite the obviously political nature of the Vermonters’ planned trip, Tate justified ignoring the Cuban regime’s repressive nature by laughably claiming that “it would be better if we left politics out of the visit.”

This is the trouble with normalizing relationships with non-normative regimes.

We are fed a steady dose of “there’s no harm in talking” and we must “recognize reality,” while the talking is mostly pointless and the gruesome reality is almost always ignored.

Whether there is any harm in talking depends on with whom one is talking and what they are talking about.

And while there is inherent value in “recognizing reality,” it’s the normalization of the reality of oppression that is at question.

The president and his liberal allies in the press are aghast – with some justification -- at the notion that Donald Trump might be “normalized.” (See, here and here and here and here.) But they have no problem normalizing the behavior of the Castros, who have murdered, imprisoned and tortured their political opponents, or the mullahs of Iran, who hold American citizens hostage, sew terror around the world and massacre their own people.

They enthusiastically endorse treating Cuba and Iran as if they were like Japan or Australia or Belgium -- just two more friendly countries we do business with on a regular basis.

They aren’t.

And those who pretend otherwise should be ashamed of themselves.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn explained why in his historic speech at Harvard in 1978.

“The communist regime in the East could stand and grow due to the enthusiastic support from an enormous number of Western intellectuals who felt a kinship and refused to see communism's crimes. When they no longer could do so, they tried to justify them.”

Unfortunately, not much has changed in the intervening decades, except to add non-communist criminal regimes like Iran’s to the roster of those defended by Western intellectuals and their political allies on the left.

John Bicknell is executive editor of, a nonprofit journalism project of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. Intern Erin Clark contributed to this article.

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