- OBAMA'S CUBAN POLICY - NOT MUCH CHANGE
- By David MacMichael ©2009
- Among the changes many observers of United States foreign policy
- expected the Obama administration to make was moving quickly toward
- normalization of relations with Cuba. Conditions seemed almost to demand the
- end of almost fifty years of American attempts to overthrow the
- revolutionary government of Fidel Castro.A government marked by everything
from sponsorship of armed counter-revolutionary invasion at the Bay of Pigs to
- numerous attempts to assassinate Castro to more mundane measures such as
- putting a strict economic embargo on the island nation and attempting to
- isolate Cuba diplomatically both in the hemisphere and internationally.
- Most of these same observers agree that despite producing severe damage
to the overall Cuban economy and a lowered standard of living for the Cuban
- population, Washington's hoped for goal of bringing down the communist
- government in Havana had not been and was very unlikely to be achieved.
- Moreover, in a post-Cold War world the US policy was increasingly condemned
- as even most of the traditionally subservient Latin American nations turned
- against the US and sided with Cuba.
- The Obama administration took office, against a background of dramatic
- political change throughout Latin America, with moderate to leftist leaders
- elected in Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Chile and other major hemispheric
- countries, and even the Sandinistas taking back the government in Nicaragua
- and the former revolutionary FMLN becoming the ruling party in El Salvador.
- Under these circumstances, informed opinion looked for the new US government
- to move toward a more regular relationship with Havana. The fact that Obama
- had carried Florida, home to the hardline, Castro-hating Cuban émigré
- community, was testimony to the fact that the Cuban-American second and
- third generations born in the United States were no longer fiercely
- committed to the overthrow of the Castro regime and more concerned for the
- well being of their kin on the island. Moreover, important US commercial
- interests, particularly agricultural exporters and tourism companies, had
- long been urging Washington to give them access to Cuban markets.
- It soon became clear, however, that the Obama administration, having
- inherited the Bush wars in the Middle East and trying to deal with the
- collapsing US economy and the high priority health care reform battle - not to
- mention the Iran nuclear issue - had little time for attention to Latin
- America generally nor Cuba in particular. Only recently have there been
- signs of activity regarding Cuba and these, as Council on Foreign Relations
- analyst Julia Sweig told a university audience on September 23, have moved
- at the speed of "walking through peanut butter."
- In April, at the OAS meeting in Trinidad-Tobago, President Obama had
- raised the possibility that ending the trade embargo and granting Cuba OAS
- membership would be considered. In July his administration relaxed Bush era
- regulations on the travel of Cuban-Americans to visit and send money to
- their relatives in Cuba. It has also been noted that the US rules on travel
- to Cuba by academics and scientific and cultural groups are being less
- stringently enforced. The reality of this change was brought into question
- in September when a scheduled concert in Havana by the New York City
- Philharmonic Society had to be cancelled when the US refused to allow the US
- citizens who were financing the affair to travel to Cuba. Ironically, when
- the Philharmonic had performed in North Korea a few months earlier the
- sponsors had been allowed to go there.
- The most (literally) visible accomplishment so far came about when a
- midlevel State Department official, Bisa Williams, on a six day visit to
- Cuba in September to discuss establishment of regular US-Cuban postal
- service, agreed to stop the display of anti-Castro electronic messages on
- the walls of the US interest section in Havana. In return the Cuban government
- removed the black flags which blocked their view. At almost the same time,
- however. the State Department placed Cuba, along with Syria, Sudan and Iran,
- on its new list of nations who carry out or support international terrorism.
- There have been few signs, other than the Williams visit, since the
- Trinidad-Tobago meeting, that the Obama administration is prepared to take
- the domestic political risk - however serious that really is - of ending the
- trade embargo or restoring diplomatic relations with Havana. Appeals by the
- Cuban Foreign Minister at the UN General Assembly in September were met by
- repetitions of the statement issued by Obama special assistant for Latin
- America Daniel Resterpe in April that the US reviews its policies toward
- Cuba with the goal of "advancing the cause of freedom there."
- Admittedly, ending the trade embargo is politically complicated since,
- while the president can on his own authority remove Cuba from the
- restrictions imposed in 1961 under the Trading with the Enemy Act - the 1996
- Helms-Burton Act, which added to these restrictions, requires congressional
- approval to remove them.It is doubtful if Obama, even if he wished to
- do this, is prepared to take on the political fight that would ensue. Right
- now the question is moot since on September 14th he extended the embargo for
- another year.
- Nevertheless, many serious American analysts of the Cuban-US situation, are
- openly expressing concern, even disgust, over Washington's failure to
- respond to Cuban overtures and even its hypocrisy, especially in placing
- Cuba on the terror list.
- Among these are retired Ambassador Wayne Smith, former head of the US
- interest office in Havana, who recently stated to this writer his grave
- disappointment with Washington's in his opinion unjustifiable maintenance of
- the embargo and terror accusations. The influential Washington-based Council
- on Hemispheric Affairs takes a similar stance and joins with numerous US and
- international human rights groups in denouncing the extraordinary - up to
- life - prison sentences given to members of the so-called Cuban 5. A group of
Cuban intelligence officers who infiltrated anti-Castro militant groups in Florida
and exposed to US law enforcement agencies these groups violations of
numerous US laws, including the Neutrality Act. For their pains, the Cuban
officers were arrested in Florida, charged with illegal entry and a variety of
espionage crimes and tried before a hostile jury of Cuban-American exiles.
- Many find this situation particularly hypocritical in view of the fact that the
notorious CIA asset Luis Posada Carriles - the admitted mastermind of
the 1976 bombing of a Cuban civilian airliner which killed 73 people and
bombing attacks on Havana hotels in 1997 - remains on bail in Miami with
the US refusing to extradite him either to Cuba or Venezuela from which
latter country he fled after being convicted in the airline bombing.
- Even the conservative retired US Army General Barry McCaffrey, President
- Clinton's former drug czar, recently published an op-ed calling for complete
- normalization of relations with Cuba. California Democratic Congressman Sam
- Farr has 181 votes lined up for his bill that would end restrictions on US
- citizen travel to Cuba.
- On balance, despite these indications that normalization or real easing
- of US relations with Cuba has growing support, it is unlikely that Obama
- will seek "real change." His chief economic adviser, Larry Summers, says
- flatly that ending the trade embargo is "way down the road ." This
- probably expresses the situation accurately.
David MacMichael, PhD, is a historian and a former analyst for U.S. government agencies and lives near Washington, D.C. He is currently a steering committee member of "Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity" (VIPS).
He unregularly contributes to lifeinfo.de. We're happy to forward your e-mail to David.
©David MacMichael/lifeinfo.de 2009
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