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“Obama’s Visit Will Hasten Freedom In Cuba”: The Culmination Of Common-Sense Revamping Of U.S. Policy Toward Cuba

The historic visit of a sitting U.S. president to Havana — which should have come a half-century sooner — will almost surely hasten the day when Cubans are free from the Castro government’s suffocating repression.

President Obama’s whirlwind trip is the culmination of his common-sense revamping of U.S. policy toward Cuba. One outdated, counterproductive relic of the Cold War remains — the economic embargo forbidding most business ties with the island nation — and the Republican-controlled Congress won’t even consider repealing it. But Obama, using his executive powers, has been able to reestablish full diplomatic relations, practically eliminate travel restrictions and substantially weaken the embargo’s grip.

All of which is long overdue. The United States first began to squeeze the Castro government, with the hope of forcing regime change, in 1960. It should be a rule of thumb that if a policy is an utter failure for more than 50 years, it’s time to try something else.

I say this as someone with no illusions about President Raúl Castro, the spectral but still-powerful Fidel Castro or the authoritarian system they created and wish to perpetuate.

Hours before Obama’s arrival Sunday, police and security agents roughly arrested and hauled away members of the Ladies in White dissident group as they conducted their weekly protest march; this time, U.S. network news crews happened to be on hand to witness the ritualized crackdown.

I wrote a book about Cuba, and each time I went to the island for research I gained more respect and admiration for the Cuban people — and more contempt for the regime that so cynically and capriciously smothers their dreams. Those 10 trips convinced me, however, that the U.S. policy of prohibiting economic and social contact between Americans and Cubans was, to the Castro brothers, the gift that kept on giving.

I saw how the “menace” of an aggressive, threatening neighbor to the north was used as a justification for repression. We’d love to have freedom of the press, freedom of association and freedom of assembly, the government would say, but how can we leave our beloved nation so open, and so vulnerable, when the greatest superpower on earth is trying to destroy our heroic revolution?

Most of the Cubans I met were not fooled by such doublespeak. But they did have a nationalistic love for their country, and their nation was, indeed, under economic siege.

There are those who argue that Obama could have won more concessions from the Castro regime in exchange for improved relations. But this view ignores the fact that our posture of unmitigated hostility toward Cuba did more harm to U.S. interests than good. Relaxing travel restrictions for U.S. citizens can only help flood the island with American ideas and values. Permitting such an influx could be the biggest risk the Castro brothers have taken since they led a ragtag band of guerrillas into the Sierra Maestra Mountains to make a revolution.

Why would they now take this gamble? Because they have no choice. The Castro regime survived the collapse of the Soviet Union — and the end of huge annual subsidies from the Eastern Bloc — but the Cuban economy sank into depression. Copious quantities of Venezuelan oil, provided by strongman Hugo Chávez (who was Fidel Castro’s protege), provided a respite. But now Chávez is gone, Venezuela is an economic ruin and Cuba has no choice but to monetize the resource it has in greatest abundance, human capital. From the Castros’ point of view, better relations with the United States must now seem unavoidable.

It is possible that Raúl Castro, who has promised to resign in 2018, will seek to move the country toward the Chinese model: a free-market economic system overseen by an authoritarian one-party government. Would this fully satisfy those who want to see a free Cuba? No. Would it be a tremendous improvement over the poverty and oppression Cubans suffer today? Absolutely.

Fidel Castro will be 90 in August; Raúl is just five years younger. At some point in the not-too-distant future, we will see whether Castroism can survive without a living Castro. Anyone who wants U.S. policymakers to have influence when that question arises should applaud Obama’s initiatives.

And speaking of applause, did you see the rapturous welcome the president and his family received in Havana? Cubans seem to have a much more clear-eyed — and hopeful — view than Obama’s shortsighted critics.


By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 21, 2016

March 23, 2016 Posted by | Cuba, President Obama, Raul Castro | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Sanity Initiative”: Obama Realizes What 10 Presidents Didn’t; Isolating Cuba Doesn’t Work

President Barack Obama made the dramatic announcement Wednesday that his administration is ending efforts to isolate Cuba that go back more than 50 years. While Congress will have to decide whether to end a formal economic embargo and a ban on casual tourism, senior administration officials said in a White House conference call that they would do everything within their power to end what Obama called a “failed policy.”

“Isolation has not worked,” said Obama from the White House.

Isolation has not helped to promote human rights in Cuba, it has not led to the downfall of the Castro government, and it is a policy carried out by the United States alone in the world. “I do not believe we can continue doing the same thing for five decades and expect a different result,” said Obama in a none too subtle allusion to a popular definition of insanity.

The initiative comes after 18 months of secret talks, with a major impetus provided by Pope Francis, who hosted the final discussions between Cuban and U.S. officials at the Vatican in the fall. (We should have known something was up when Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro shook hands at Nelson Mandela’s funeral a year ago.)

On Tuesday, Obama and Raul Castro spoke on the telephone for the better part of an hour, going down the checklist of measures that had been agreed upon in the negotiations.

These included a swap of three Cuban spies imprisoned in the United States for the last 15 years in exchange for an unnamed “U.S. intelligence asset” who has spent the last two decades in Cuba’s prisons. The asset was said to have provided the vital information that led to the shutting down of three different Cuban spy operations in the United States, including one in the Defense Intelligence Agency.

The release of American contractor Alan Gross, imprisoned for the last five years, was presented by the administration as a humanitarian decision by Havana since he was not an intelligence agent—despite Cuban claims—and thus the U.S. government would not trade spies to gain his release. Clearly the liberation of Gross took place in the context of what might be called a “grand bargain.”

Other measures include the decision to reopen embassies, closed since 1961, and steps to remove Cuba from the State Department list of countries that support terrorism.

There will be a dramatic expansion of the kinds of licenses that will allow Americans to travel legally to Cuba, covering everything from journalism to humanitarian work and help to the private sector on the island. Even if “tourism” is still barred by law, it is difficult to imagine that anyone wanting to visit the island will not be able to find some category that allows that to happen. And visitors can bring up to $100 worth of Cuban cigars back to the U.S. with them.

To help with those purchases, U.S. financial institutions will be able to operate to some extent in Cuba, and, perhaps most importantly, U.S. credit cards and debit cards will start to function.

Obama is arguing that engagement is more likely to bring about change in Cuba than isolation ever did, and his new policy will try to target areas where change is needed and can be made, particularly with regard to human rights, private enterprise, and access to information. (In what may be a significant gesture, Cuba released 53 prisoners on a list provided by the Obama administration although, of course, this was presented as a sovereign decision by Havana.)

The Treasury and Commerce departments also intend to clear the way for the U.S. export to Cuba of goods that will help small private construction firms, entrepreneurs and small farmers. Telecommunications workers and investors clearly will find it easy to travel to Cuba, at least from the American side. A major part of the Obama initiative aims to get more and better Internet access for the Cuban people.

Not the least of the Obama administration’s motives is the sense that the American policy of isolating Cuba has, instead, isolated the United States. Not a single country in the world supported it, including and especially the other countries of the Americas, north and south.

Even in the darkest days of right-wing dictatorships in South America in the 1980s, even they thought it wiser to engage the Castro regime than to attack it so relentlessly and gratuitously that it had an excuse for all its own failings. More than 30 years ago, the Argentine ambassador to Havana, who served the generals in Buenos Aires, would tell visiting reporters, “the best way to make war on Castro is with peace.”

Obama couldn’t say that on Wednesday, of course.


By: Christopher Dickey, The Daily Beast, December 17, 2014

December 18, 2014 Posted by | Cuba, Foreign Policy, Raul Castro | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


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