Cuban police arrest anti-Castro protesters before President Obama's arrival (Photo: Twitter)

Cuban police arrest anti-Castro protesters before President Obama’s arrival (Photo: Twitter)

President Obama visited Cuba with much pomp and fanfare over the past two days, but critics say Obama’s efforts to thaw nearly six decades of severed ties with the communist regime there gives cover to the brutal repression of political dissidents and rewards the Castro brothers for doing nothing to clean up its human rights record.

On Sunday, Obama touched down in Havana, becoming the first sitting U.S. president to visit Cuba since 1928. On Monday, Obama drew controversy by standing at attention in Revolution Square in front of a giant mural of murderous Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara.

He later held a joint press conference with Cuban dictator Raul Castro, who blasted the U.S. for its record on race and poverty, demanded the return of the Guantanamo Bay naval base and insisted Cuba held no political prisoners.

Obama has asserted for months that normalizing relations with Cuba is a better way to effect human rights changes, rather than continuing a policy of isolation. But one of the leading voices against communism says Obama is simply giving cover to the Castros.

“Nothing has changed since Fidel Castro came to power with Raul almost 60 years ago now,” said Lee Edwards, chairman of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and a distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

Related: “Obama snubbed? Castro fails to welcome Air Force One”

Edwards told WND and Radio America the facts on the Castro regime are clear and brutal.

“We’ve had 100,000 Cubans that have been arrested and imprisoned in the most terrible of conditions,” Edwards said. “Some 20,000 have been executed, according to the ‘Black Book of Communism.'”

Edwards said those numbers often get downplayed by the left under the assumption that the vast majority of those atrocities were conducted during and shortly after the revolution in the late 1950s. He said that’s simply not true.

“Since recognition of last year, 8,000 Cubans have been detained for political reasons,” Edwards said. “Just in January of this year, 1,474 were detained for political reasons. So nothing has changed.”

Listen to the WND/Radio America interview with Lee Edwards: 

The New York Times confirms the increase in political detentions, noting more than 1,000 arrests each in January and February and more than 500 in the first half of this month. Other reporters witnessed the arrest of dissidents in advance of Obama’s arrival Sunday.

The photo of Obama and his delegation standing at attention with the mural of Che Guevara behind them is stirring fierce reaction among his critics. Edwards said Guevara may be a cult hero among some, but his true record is nothing more than being Fidel Castro’s personal hit man.

“In point of fact, he was a cold-blooded murderer and was Fidel Castro’s personally appointed executioner,” Edwards said. “He would just say, ‘Take care of him, Che.’ And Che would go out and shoot him.”

Monday’s press conference also worried Edwards, as a result of Obama being very careful not to offend his host while Castro offered a stream of criticisms against the U.S.

“Obviously, the president has chosen a policy of accommodation and detente, rather than a policy of peace through strength, which is what Ronald Reagan initiated and successfully implemented implemented during the Cold War,” Edwards said. “With ideological opponents like the Castro brothers, you’ve got to be firm and strong and deal from strength.”

He said any instinct Obama may have to see the Castros as honest brokers is a huge mistake.

“As an old, expert anti-communist used to say, ‘You can trust the communists to be communists.’ That is to say that they will lie, and they will cheat, and they will steal if you let them do so,” he said.

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Edwards also believes this visit and acknowledgement of the Castro regime will have other chilling effects, starting with the Cuban dissidents.

“They must be distraught,” Edwards said. “The must be discouraged. Fifty of them were arrested today prior to to meeting.”

He also said other communist and authoritarian leaders see Obama’s actions as their green light for mischief.

“They’re saying, ‘Ah, this is just what we hoped and expected. If we take the strong position, then the Americans will kowtow,'” Edwards said. “If I were China right now, I’d be saying, ‘What can I do to test Americans in the South China Sea?'”

And he said China is not alone.

“If I’m (Russian President Vladimir) Putin, I’m saying, ‘What can I do to test the resolve of the U.S. in places like the Baltic countries and Poland?’ I’m sure they must really be toasting each other and toasting Raul for being able to show up the United States,” Edwards said.

But why would Obama continue to honor his side of the effort to normalize relations if Cuba is making no progress on its human rights record? Edwards believes it’s part gamble and part ego.

“They’re just hoping and praying and maybe they’ve got one eye on Mr. Obama’s legacy as well, thinking things are going to get better,” said Edwards, who argued that’s a prescription for failure.

“As (George) Santayana said, ‘If you don’t study the past, you’re condemned to repeat it. Here we are, not realizing that we’re dealing not with a political party or with a couple of politicians down there. We’re dealing with communists,” Edwards said. “We’re dealing with Marxist Leninists who have an ideology that motivates all of their actions. Unless you understand that and begin with that, you’re not going to be able to make any progress.”

The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation is committed to making all Americans aware of what the spread of communism brings: misery and death on a grand scale.

“People do not know that nearly 100 million people – men, woman and children – died in the 20th century, and they’re still dying in places like North Korea and Vietnam as a result of standing up against communism. That record must be maintained. Those people must be remembered,” Edwards said. “They must not be forgotten. We intend to make certain that they’re not.”

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