Monday, August 20, 2007

Obama Calls for Easing Anti-Cuba Restrictions

So Barack Obama has taken the bold step into Cuban-American politics. He is set to release an op-ed announcing his intention to reverse a couple mean-spirited Bush policies that affect Cuban-Americans ability to travel and send money to relatives.

Obama's move is a modest and politically popular position - even in most Miami neighborhoods. Still, to be the first to stake out this easy position was politically very smart. It could help him in the Florida (and NJ) primaries. If someone wanted to trump him, and get help in the farm states, they'd pledge to also end the senseless agricultural restrictions (on payment and just doing business). If convictions trumped politics, they'd pledge to also end the travel ban.

I find the hardline response in the Herald (from the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC's Claver-Carone) to be completely uninformed: "It (Obama's as yet unknown op-ed) entrenches the regime at this historic time."

Havana already knows the their prospects in Washington are better than at any time in recent history. As long as they don't make any mistakes, Cuba will be in a position to negotiate (behind the scenes) with the next Admin successfully. I think Raul has been trying to make that clear. Cuba could care little about reversing these stupid Bush policies. They will wait until they get a just return from the US in return for any planned reforms. Perhaps a grand bargain - property claims cancel out embargo damages. End of embargo for certain political or economic adjustments that give the US political cover. The path seems to be getting clearer as Cuba's relative strength increases. Obama however, is not to blame - Bush's stupid policies and Cuba's relative strength and stability are.

UPDATE: The editorial is online now and while it predictably talks a lot about what Cuba must do, it also talks about positive steps an Obama Administration is willing to do to at the same time to eventually, hopefull, drop the embargo.

Obama's piece blends nicely with what is coming out of Havana in terms of a view towards an endgame negotiated settlement. The following paragraph, to me, is more significant than any appeal to drop a couple anti-family Bush provisions. It is the first time I've heard a serious candidate talk about moving concurrently with Cuba, rather than wait for some unrealistic moving target of Western style markets and democracy in Cuba.

Accordingly, I will use aggressive and principled diplomacy to send an important message: If a post-Fidel government begins opening Cuba to democratic change, the United States (the president working with Congress) is prepared to take steps to normalize relations and ease the embargo that has governed relations between our countries for the last five decades. That message coming from my administration in bilateral talks would be the best means of promoting Cuban freedom. To refuse to do so would substitute posturing for serious policy -- and we have seen too much of that in other areas over the past six years.



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