Monday, December 16, 2013

Obama Needs More Than a Handshake With Cuba

Obama Needs More Than a Handshake With Cuba
By the Editors Dec 16, 2013 12:00 AM GMT+0100

President Barack Obama's handshake with Cuban president Raul Castro at
Nelson Mandela's memorial service last week has fed both hopes and fears
that the half-century freeze between the U.S. and Cuba is about to thaw.

Don't light up the Cohibas just yet. Obama's largely meaningless
courtesy was accompanied by a more relevant bit of meaningless theater:
Republican Senator Ted Cruz's walkout on Castro's speech. Obama has done
little to fix the U.S.'s failed Cuba policy. Yet Congress's
bitter-enders remain determined -- and able -- to defend an embargo that
hurts U.S. interests and undermines its values.

Last month, Obama went to Miami and wisely told a gathering of
Cuban-Americans that U.S. policy toward their homeland "doesn't make
sense." Yet his administration's easing of restrictions on travel and
commerce has basically just restored the status quo under Bill Clinton's
administration, before George W. Bush clamped down from 2001 to 2009.
Obama could do much more before bumping up against the limits to his
executive authority set by Congress, which has made the dismantlement of
the U.S. embargo on Cuba contingent on significant progress toward
democratic governance.

The argument against Obama doing so is that Cuba remains a repressive
regime. As Obama shook Castro's hand, for instance, Cuban security
forces were beating and arresting dozens of activists for celebrating
International Human Rights Day. Although Castro's regime has instituted
some noteworthy economic reforms, its detention and harassment of
dissidents increased last year.

Yet history's direction is as clear as its lessons: Although five
decades of stringent U.S. sanctions haven't dislodged the Castros and
their single-party socialist state, Cuba is nonetheless changing for the
better, with more economic and, yes, political freedom. It also has a
growing middle class (nurtured by an estimated $2 billion in annual
remittances from the U.S.) composed of consumistas, not comunistas.

Moreover, consider the rising costs to the U.S. of sticking to its
course. This year at the United Nations, 188 countries voted to condemn
the U.S. embargo. Even Israel, the one country that supported the U.S.,
has commercial ties with Cuba. At the recent World Trade Organization
talks, Cuba led a group of Latin American nations that sideswiped a
trade agreement because it didn't include a provision that would
invalidate the embargo. The opposition to the embargo not only looms
over U.S. diplomacy in Latin America, but also energizes the
hemisphere's leftist bloc, led by Venezuela. From telecoms and consumer
goods to agriculture, U.S. companies risk losing out on Cuba's nascent

Cooperation with Cuba on issues such as cleaning up oil spills and
fighting drug traffickers -- where Cuba has been remarkably helpful --
will be increasingly important. And surely the U.S. Treasury Department
would be better off spending more time enforcing sanctions against Iran
and North Korea than flyspecking the itineraries of U.S. travelers to
Cuba -- including by vetoing a planned excursion by U.S. researchers to
Cuban baseball games.

Even if Obama is unwilling to expend the political capital to get
Congress to repeal or rewrite the laws governing the embargo, he can
still change Cuba policy for the better with a few strokes of his pen.

He could start by taking Cuba off the State Department's list of State
Sponsors of Terrorism. As the department's 2011 and 2012 terrorism
reports note, there is "no indication that the Cuban government provided
weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups." Keeping it on the
list just undermines support for the larger anti-terrorist cause.

Several research organizations have offered useful suggestions for
Obama, such as resuming ferry services and expanding the categories of
licensed travel between the two nations. The U.S. would also benefit
from speeding up the tempo of recent talks with Cuba on drug trafficking.

Members of Congress who found Obama's handshake "nauseating" --
especially those whose families suffered under Fidel Castro -- will find
it hard to stomach any such policy changes. So be it. What's needed from
the U.S. president now are bold deeds, not empty handshakes.

Source: "Obama Needs More Than a Handshake With Cuba - Bloomberg" -

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