Friday, February 26, 2016

Obama to Cuba - Who Benefits?

Obama to Cuba: Who Benefits?
February 25, 2016 COHA
By Myra Miranda and Seohyeon Yang, Research Associates at the Council on
Hemispheric Affairs

Hopes are riding high on President Barack Obama's trip to Cuba on March
21 and 22. Millions in both countries hope the visit will help ensure
the continuity in the progress already made in normalizing relations
between the United States and the island nation. Many others, including
at least two presidential aspirants, apparently hope it will fail to
advance an administration policy of rapprochement between neighbors, but
will succeed in helping elect a Republican to follow him in office.

President Obama's trip (with his wife, first lady Michelle Obama) is the
first time in 88 years that a sitting U.S. president visits Cuba. In
1927 President Coolidge traveled to the island with the official purpose
of attending the Sixth Annual Conference of American States, held in Havana.

As announced on February 18 by the White House press secretary, Josh
Earnest, the Obama administration's goals include:

"advancing commercial and people-to-people ties that can improve the
well-being of the Cuban people, and expressing our support for human

Besides meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro, President Obama "will
engage with members of civil society," Earnest said.[1]

It's about time. After half a century of Washington's desire to isolate
Cuba, this historic event marks a peak for U.S-Cuba relations. Since
July 2015, the White House has asserted that restoring diplomatic ties
between Washington and Havana will allow for new opportunities to
connect U.S. and Cuban citizens through travel, commerce, and access to
information.[2] President Obama's efforts to lift the trade embargo that
has harmed Cubans for almost 55 years has been opposed by a
Republican-controlled Congress that has shown little interest in ending
the embargo. Any U.S. president so inclined needs Congressional support,
since only Congress can repeal this exclusion policy.

Contrasting Reactions in the U.S.

Not all Republicans oppose President Obama's move. Senator Jeff Flake
(R-Arizona) issued a positive statement regarding the president's Cuba
visit in which he stated:

"For Cubans accustomed to watching their government sputter down the
last mile of socialism in a '57 Chevy, imagine what they'll think when
they see Air Force One. Just think of the progress that can come from
one day allowing all freedom-loving Americans to travel to Cuba."[3]

This is in line with Senator Flake's support on the direction of the
Administration's Cuban policy. He had welcomed previous moves to
re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, increase travel and contact
between U.S. citizens and the Cuban people. However, he is an exception
in his party.

Republican presidential hopefuls Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, both sons of
Cuban immigrants, criticized President Obama's visit to Cuba on CNN's
Republican presidential town hall last week. Senator Rubio has
consolidated his stance against Obama's Cuba policy by saying that he
would not visit Cuba if he was President unless it was a "free Cuba."[4]
Senator Cruz denounced President Obama's decision as a "mistake" in
which the president would "essentially act as an apologist … before
tyrants who hate America." He added, "My family has seen firsthand the
evil and the oppression in Cuba. We need a president who stands up to
our enemies."[5]

Cruz and Rubio found common ground in regarding Cuba's government as an
"anti-American communist dictatorship," in Rubio's words.[6] Jeb Bush,
the former governor of Florida (who has since called off his
presidential campaign), termed Obama's plans a "disaster,"
characterizing the decision as an attempt to build his legacy before
leaving the White House.[7] For U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
(R-Florida), who was born in Cuba, it is "absolutely shameful … Pitiful
that Obama rewards Castro with visit to Cuba while conditions for the
Cuban people are getting worse."[8]

In contrast to Republican political figures' strong opposition, the U.S.
public sees Castro's Cuba positively, according to a Gallup poll taken
last week. The Gallup survey's sample in the United States recorded that
54 percent of respondents held a favorable opinion of Cuba.[9] It is the
first Gallup survey since 1997 that reflects a favorable view of Cuba by
a majority of the interviewed. Cuba, however, remains a highly
polarizing issue for many Americans, and the partisan gap has widened.
Gallup reports that the major changes in opinion relating to Cuba
happened among Democrats. In 2015, 73 percent of responding Democrats
had a positive view on Cuba, showing a 28-point increase from 2014;
there was, however, only a six-point increase in Republicans' approval
of Cuba side during the same period.[10]

Cuban-Americans, who increasingly favor Obama's Cuba policy in general,
have tended to oppose his intentions to visit the Caribbean state. A
survey made on December 17, 2015, by Bendixen & Amandi International, a
Hispanic and multicultural research firm, found that 56 percent of
Cuban-Americans agree with Obama's normalization of ties between the two
countries and 53 percent think the U.S. embargo on Cuba should not
continue. However, 52 percent answered "No" to the question, "Should
President Obama visit Cuba before he leaves office?"[11]

Cuban Ministry Upbeat on Visit

In Havana, Josefina Vidal, Director General for North America at the
Foreign Ministry, welcomed new negotiations with her government, saying:

"Obama's visit will be an opportunity for him to have a direct
experience of Cuba's reality and everything we have been doing in
accordance with Cuba's sovereignty. It will be an opportunity to ratify
Cuba's willingness to continue building new relations with the United

Asked about President Obama's intention to address human rights in Cuba,
she responded that she would be open to conversations with the U.S.
government on any issue but noted that the Cuban government has its own
opinion of how countries deal with human rights, including the United
States. She predicted, however, that dialogue between the two nations
could bring great improvements.

Cuban President Raul Castro has made no public statement on Obama's
scheduled visit so far. He announced at the U.N. General Assembly last
September that relations between the two countries can only be restored
when the embargo is lifted and Guantanamo Bay is returned to his

Despite claims that new negotiations with Cuba would make the United
States appear weak internationally, one cannot altogether deny the
advantages and positive impacts that can result from the summit-level
diplomacy. It has been argued that the embargo should not be lifted
unless Cuba is willing to abandon its Communist regime and espouse new
economic and political reforms, including a democratic system that
recognizes human rights.[14] After more than five decades of waiting for
a result that clearly did not reach its objectives, Cuba shows no signs
of renouncing its current system. Its citizens have been the ones most
negatively affected by the economic sanctions, which have deprived them
of greater access to technology, better health care, and affordable
food.[15] Additionally, a study by Texas A&M University found that the
embargo has cost U.S. farmers $1.24 billion a year in lost revenue.[16]
Same study suggests that lifting sanctions could generate more than
31,000 jobs in the United States. Clearly, removing the trade embargo
would not only allow Cuba to rise from political and economic isolation
but also advance its reintegration with world commerce and global
affairs — it would also materially benefit the United States and its

President Obama's efforts to normalize relations with Cuba have already
set a precedent for his successors. History and many academics have
concluded that isolating Cuba and applying economic sanctions to
penalize leaders only end up affecting innocent civilians and fail to
achieve positive or constructive outcomes.[17] Alternatively, a policy
of engagement can create opportunities for people in Cuba and the United
States to interact, cooperate, and do business. President Barack Obama
is making important and overdue steps in repairing U.S-Cuba relations.
The visit will be a legacy for his successors in the White House and in
the policy establishment.

By: Myra Miranda and Seohyeon Yang, Research Associates at the Council
on Hemispheric Affairs

Please accept this article as a free contribution from COHA, but if
re-posting, please afford authorial and institutional attribution.
Exclusive rights can be negotiated. For additional news and analysis on
Latin America, please go to: and Rights Action.

Featured Photo: Cumbre de las Américas 2015: Barack Obama y Raúl Castro
Discurso completo, taken from NOTICIASMVS.

[1] The White House. "Statement by the Press Secretary on the
President's Travel to Cuba and Argentina." News release, February 18,
2016. The White House. Available at:
Accessed on February 23, 2016.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Flake Statement on President's Planned Visit to Cuba." News release,
February 18, 2016. Jeff Flake U.S. Senator. Accessed February 23, 2016.
Available at:
Accessed on February 23, 2016.

[4] Lee, MJ. "Cruz Prosecutes, Rubio Gets Personal at CNN Town Hall."
CNN. February 18, 2016. Available at:
Accessed February 23, 2016.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Acosta, Jim, Elise Labott, Nicole Gaouette, Kevin Liptak, and Allie
Malloy. "Obama Announces Cuba Visit." CNN. February 18, 2016. Available
at: Accessed
February 23, 2016.

[7] Dyer, Geoff. "Barack Obama to Press for Reforms during Cuba Visit –" Financial Times. February 18, 2016. Available at:
Accessed February 23, 2016.

[8] Ros-Lehtinen, Ileana. "Ros-Lehtinen Statement on Obama Visit to
Castro's Cuba." Ros-Lehtinen Statement on Obama Visit to Castro's Cuba.
February 17, 2016. Available at:
Accessed February 23, 2016.

[9] Norman, Jim. "Majority of Americans View Cuba Favorably for First
Time." February 15, 2016. Available at:
Accessed February 23, 2016.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Amandi, Fernand R.
PDF. Bendixen & Amandi International, December 17, 2015. Available at:
Accesed on February 23, 2016.

[12] " Será una oportunidad para que el presidente Obama pueda apreciar
la realidad cubana y seguir intercambiando sobre las posibilidades de
ampliar el diálogo… también una ocasión para ratificarle la voluntad
del gobierno Cubano de continuar avanzando en la construcción de una
nueva relación… Esta visita constituirá un paso más hacia la mejoría de
las relaciones entre Cuba y los Estados Unidos." Translated by the
authors. Taken from: Sitio Oficial Del Ministerio De Relaciones
Exteriores De Cuba. Proceedings of Cancillería De Cuba Anuncia Visita
Oficial Del Presidente De Los Estados Unidos, Centro De Prensa
Internacional. February 18, 2016. Available at:
Accessed on February 23, 2016.

[13] "Remarks by Raul Castro Ruz, President of the Councils of States
and Ministers of the Republic of Cuba." In General Assembly of the
United Nations. Proceedings of General Debate of the 70th Session of the
UNGA, New York. Available at:
Accessed on February 23, 2016.

[14]Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996, §
6021-6091 of the U.S. Code (1996). See also CUBAN DEMOCRACY ACT ("CDA"),
§ 6001 (1992).

[15] Frank, Michele, Elisabeth A. Squeglia, and Robert J. White. et.
al. Denial of Food and Medicine. The Impact of U.S. Embargo on Health
and Nutrition in Cuba. Report Available at: impact of the U.S.
Embargo on Health & Nutrition in Cuba.pdf. Accessed on February 23, 2016.

[16] Rosson, Parr, and Flynn Adcock. Economic Impacts of U.S.
Agricultural Exports to Cuba. Report. October 2001. Available at: Accessed on February
23, 2016.

[17] Gottstein, Ulrich. "Peace through Sanctions? Lessons from Cuba,
Former Yugoslavia and Iraq*." Medicine, Conflict and Survival. Volume
15, no. 3 (1999): 271-85. Accessed on February 23, 2016.

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