Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Baby steps

Baby steps
Aug 18th 2010, 18:08 by The Economist online

IT IS far too early to speak of a new dawn in Cuban-American relations.
But since Barack Obama became president, he has revived the Florida
Straits strategy of Bill Clinton, his Democratic predecessor, which
promoted greater "people-to-people" contact between the two countries
while bypassing intransigence from Cuba's government. Shortly after
taking office, Mr Obama won passage of legislation that allowed
Cuban-Americans to visit the island and to send money there. Now, senior
officials in his administration and in the Democratic Party are saying
he plans to formalise the further liberalisation of travel restraints
between the countries that has taken place since then.

In recent months, the Treasury Department has steadily increased the
number of licenses granted to athletes and musicians from the United
States for "public performances" in Cuba—one of the exemptions to the
travel ban established as part of America's 1962 trade embargo on the
island. Last year, it gave an unspecified "professional research"
license to three actors (Robert Duvall, James Caan and Bill Murray),
enabling them to visit the country for four days. Similarly, more Cubans
are being allowed into the United States than in the past. A group of 12
Cuban actors presented a Spanish-language version of Shakespeare's A
Midsummer Night's Dream at the University of Alabama last year, and
Silvio Rodríguez, a legendary revolutionary folk signer, performed in
New York in June.

American officials openly expressed frustration that such gestures were
not being met with corresponding moves by Cuba. But the island's
governing tandem of Fidel and Raúl Castro (the latter succeeded his
older brother as president in 2006) did take such a step last month,
when they agreed to free as many as 52 political prisoners, around a
third of the total. And Mr Obama now has one specific concession he
hopes to extract from the Castros: the release of Alan Gross, an
American aid worker, who was detained in Cuba last December for
distributing illegal satellite telephones to Jewish dissidents.

In part to secure his release, America is likely to make a public
announcement that it is interpreting regulations on travel licenses more
loosely, and to allow flights to Cuba to depart from more airports (they
are currently limited to Miami, New York and Los Angeles). However, the
declaration will probably not be made until next month at the earliest,
and may well be delayed until after November's midterm elections. And
for all Mr Obama's talk of openness and engagement, he is still opposed
to lifting the embargo before a semblance of democracy comes to Cuba. A
relationship that has been frozen for 50 years, he said in 2009, "won't
thaw overnight."

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