Sunday, October 26, 2014

For US and Cuba, the space between

For US and Cuba, the space between
by Julia Cooke

Last week, at a conference about reporting in Cuba held at Columbia
University, a writer talked about dealing with Cuban officials — a few
panels were conducted off-the-record, underlining the double-speak that
dominates discussion of Cuba, even when it takes place below the Tiffany
glass of Columbia's Pulitzer Hall. In her many years on the island, the
writer said, there had always been a disparity between the narrative
about Cuba and what her eyes told her, the daily evidence provided by
supermarket shelves, household gossip, jobs and transportation.

Over the course of three days of talks by writers, academics, and
policy-makers —including writers Jon Lee Anderson, Ann Louise Bardach,
historian Louis Perez, former Presidential advisor Dan Restrepo, and
many more — it became clear that the sentiment also refers to how Cuba
is discussed in the United States. Even as expert after expert confirmed
that support for the trade and travel embargo sits at an all-time low
among both politicians and the American public, they confirmed that the
act of Congress required to fully dismantle it wouldn't happen anytime
soon. Yet, experts also pointed out that the six months between
November's midterm elections and next April's Summit of the Americas
stand as a window in which the unpredictable could, potentially, occur.

"We should just do it, unilaterally," said ex-White House council Greg
Curtis, sketching out steps that President Obama could take, no strings
attached, to render the embargo toothless. Personally attend the Summit
of the Americas in Panama, where Raúl Castro will be in attendance, for
one. Re-establish diplomatic relations with the country. Take Cuba off
the list of state sponsors of terrorism, to which it was added in 1982
for supporting Latin American groups designated as terrorist by the U.S.
— something Cuba no longer does. Lift travel restrictions for all
Americans, a step long-supported by members of Congress from both sides
of the aisle, including Massachusetts' Rep. Jim McGovern, D, Arizona's
Sen. Jeff Flake, R.

Here are others who've come out against the embargo in the last few
months: Hillary Clinton, Florida gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist,
and the entirety of the New York Times editorial board, whose recent
editorial summarized the reasons for ending the embargo. Extend the time
period examined to a few years and account for double-speak, and that
list also includes Cuban-American businessman Carlos Saladrigas and
sugar tycoon Alfonso Fanjul, who reported after various visits to the
island that he'd invest in Cuba were it legal to do so. An open letter
to the President outlining the steps he could take under executive
authority to encourage change in Cuba via engagement garnered signatures
from a host of thinktankers, including Anne-Marie Slaughter and John

Were this an issue on which the American public could vote, two separate
polls conducted this year confirm that the embargo would not be long for
this world. The 2014 FIU Cuba Poll revealed that almost three-quarters
of Cubans living in Miami-Dade County believe that the embargo has not
worked. "Cubans may be intransigent, but we're not stupid," said
Guillermo Grenier, FIU sociology professor and the poll's author, as he
presented its results. Peter Schechter, director of the Atlantic
Council's Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, reported that 63 percent
of Florida favors changing U.S. policy toward Cuba. "Polls don't usually
give you 65 percent," he said. "The notion that Florida is a poisoned
chalice that no politician can touch is not true anymore."

Within this context, the U.S.'s elected officials seem to be the party
generating a narrative that doesn't match the evidence provided by the
American public: widespread skepticism of the embargo's efficacy, a
desire to engage Cuba, and the acknowledgement of how useful investment
can be to coax change along. Come November, will voters reveal that they
want the storyline united with its reality?

Source: For US and Cuba, the space between | Al Jazeera America -

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