The State Department’s Protocol Office published documents Wednesday revealing that former President Barack Obama and adviser Ben Rhodes received over $5000 in gifts from the government of communist Cuba, including luxury rum and cigars.
The documents reveal that Raúl Castro himself sent Obama the extravagantly valued gifts in the last two years of his tenure, presumably in gratitude for reversing longstanding American policy against the regime. The Cuban-American outlet Martí Noticias reports that Obama received “205 cigars of an unspecified brand, a humidor, and a cigar cutter in 2015.” Obama also reportedly received a wooden bust of Abraham Lincoln and a bottle of Cuban rum.
The Cuban government is embroiled in a longstanding feud with Bacardi, one of the world’s largest rum producers, over the brand name “Havana Club.” The Cuban Bacardi family, which has continued to produce its rum in exile, recently debuted a “Havana Club” rum with the blessing of the Arechabala family, which created the Havana Club brand but ceased to produce rum when their business was nationalized by the communists and they were forced into exile. The families have joined forces in exile, incensing the government that stole their business in the 1960s and continues to profit from their larceny.
The State Department documents do not specify what brand of rum Obama received as a gift.
The communist regime also sent former First Lady Michelle Obama a traditional Cuban white linen dress and a ceramic plate estimated to be worth $1,190. The Castro regime also sent the Obamas gifts for their daughters, including two dresses, frames, and CDs of Cuban music.
Voice of America—which places the value of the gifts Obama received at “over $2,000″—lists gifts that Ben Rhodes, a prominent supporter of expanding friendly relations with the repressive Castro regime and attendee at Fidel Castro’s funeral, including another cigar set, “a silver earring and necklace jewelry set and a music CD worth a total of $670 in 2016.”
The outlet notes that high-ranking government officials are allowed to accept these gifts when rejecting them would create an embarrassing diplomatic situation, and that Obama handed his gifts over to the National Archives and the Secret Service. The State Department must also alert the public to the gifts received in its register.
During his tenure, President Obama radically changed the relationship between the United States and the repressive island regime. In 2014, he announced that his government would begin a “thawing” process that would see the reopening of the U.S. embassy in Havana and a spy base for the Castro regime opened in Washington. Two years later, Obama made a “historic” visit to Havana, the first president since Calvin Coolidge to do so, in which he “welcomed” criticism of American policy from Raúl Castro and attended a baseball game with the dictator, joining in the audience in a “wave” during the game.
Pro-democracy dissidents on the island warned that the visit would cause significant “collateral damage” to them. Following his visit, 2016 boasted a significant spike in arbitrary arrests of dissidents, beatings, and state-sponsored public acts of shaming (actos de repudio).
In addition to expanding ties with the Cuban regime, the Obama administration ended the “wet foot/dry foot” refugee policy that welcomed Cubans attempting to escape the brutal regime to the United States, branding any Cubans who arrived by sea to America’s coasts illegal.
President Donald Trump has begun a reversal of Obama’s policies, including expelling Cuban diplomats from Washington and reducing personnel at the U.S. embassy in Havana only to “essential” staff following the revelation that American State Department workers and their families were suffering health attacks that the Cuban government did not appear to act to stop.
Following President Trump’s announcement of a reversal in Obama’s policies, Rhodes wrote an article declaring that policies which regarded the Castro regime as a rogue state that violates human rights “will fail.”