Back in January, I wrote about how we should not expect substantial changes to Cuba’s communist political system despite the “thaw” in relations between it and America. Dissidents in Cuba know this is true, and events this past weekend prove it. John Kerry’s scheduled to visit the island on this Friday brought protesters to the streets of Havana on Sunday. Among them were the Ladies in White, a group formed by wives and female relatives jailed dissidents.

Like one might expect of the Castro regime, 90 of them were arrested, with roughly 50 from the Ladies in White and about 40 other activists. What’s especially important to note about these protests, though, is what some of the activists were wearing: Obama masks. From the AFP (emphasis mine):

One protester slammed Obama, and said the December announcement to normalize relations between the former Cold war foes had bolstered Havana’s crackdown on dissidents.

“It’s his fault, what is happening,” said former political prisoner Angel Moya, speaking about Obama.

“The Cuban government has grown even bolder,” he added before being detained.

“That’s why we have this mask on. Because it’s his fault,” said Moya, husband of Ladies in White leader Berta Soler.

Meanwhile, as the article also notes, the activists who were not arrested dispersed to chants of “down with the pack of worms” from pro-government protesters. I cannot prove it, but I suspect the latter group was there because the Castro regime put them there. It would be entirely consistent with the acts of similar regimes, so I see no reason it couldn’t be true here.

A later article makes sure to note that the arrested protesters were only detained for four and a half hours before being released. That’s a small bit of progress, I suppose, but imprisonment is still imprisonment. Their activities are still all but certainly being tracked.

As the protesters themselves said, this is exactly the sort of thing the United States should be using its leverage to end. Instead, we are giving the Cuban government exactly what they want–trade with the United States–while getting essentially nothing in return. It’s why we won’t get our fugitives back. It’s why there won’t be free and fair elections at any level of government there. It’s why there still won’t be freedom of speech, assembly, or the press in the country. It’s why Cubans still won’t have meaningful religious freedom.

It’s the exact same thing that happened with the Iran deal. We have the power to force real concessions from both countries if we seriously wanted to do so, but President Obama is so eager to secure a legacy and weaken America’s standing in the world that we get deals like these that will become law whether Congress likes it or not.

This is why elections are important folks, and in particular, it’s why we must elect a Republican in 2016. The thaw probably won’t go away, but we must use whatever leverage we still have to force concessions from the Castro regime. Obama won’t do that, and neither will any of the Democrats running to replace him.