Why Is Rahm Emanuel Vacationing in Repressive Cuba?

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel listens to remarks at a news conference in Chicago, Illinois, United States, December 7. Jim Young/Reuters

This article first appeared on the Council on Foreign Relations site.

Here's the news out of Chicago:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is cutting short his family vacation in Cuba and will return to Chicago on Tuesday to deal with the latest crisis involving the city's Police Department.

While the press is paying attention to the shootings, I'd like to ask another question: what is he doing taking a "family vacation" in a viciously repressive communist country?

Think of it: the liberal Democrat ignores suppression of freedom of the press and speech and religion. The elected mayor frolics in a place where there has not been one free election since Fidel Castro took over in 1959, nor will there be while he and his brother Raul live.

The island's prisons are full of political prisoners, but Emanuel ignores this. There are plenty of human rights activists and former political prisoners who would be happy to talk with him about Cuba's future, but that won't happen: he's on a "family vacation," you see.

Can you imagine a "family vacation" on South Africa's beautiful beaches while Nelson Mandela sat in prison on Robben Island? A fun time in Russia while Sharansky was in the Gulag? No. So why is Cuba different?

Emanuel's visit to Cuba is an expression of indifference to human freedom. Cuba is surrounded by democracies whose people do not live in a police state and do not go to jail for asking to vote or trying to publish a newspaper–and their beaches are equally beautiful.

Chicago's mayor chose to hand some badly needed cash to the Castro regime, and there is simply no excuse for it. But there is a considerable irony here: just as Amnesty International is pounding Emanuel over protection of human rights in Chicago, he's off sunning himself on an island that is famous precisely for the violation of human rights.

Elliott Abrams is senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.