new approach could represent a relatively easy first step down a
generally more controversial path of engaging with America's
Howard LaFranchi Read Spanish Version
The Christian Science Monitor
- A desire
by President-elect Obama to enter the White House signaling change in
US foreign policy may well lead to quick -- though perhaps modest --
action on Cuba.
he assumes office, Mr. Obama will be largely focused on addressing
the worst economic dive in generations. But in that context there are
several reasons a shift toward Cuba -- a thorn in the side of the
last nine presidents -- could begin early next year:
could take a number of steps, such as easing contacts between
Cuban-Americans and their families on the island, by executive action
-- thus signaling a shift from Bush policies without dedicating a lot
of effort to it.
November elections and recent polls reveal a Cuban-American community
more disposed to opening up channels to the communist island, even
though the Castro brothers continue to govern it -- meaning the
political capital spent on a shift would be negligible.
on Cuba would give Obama something of a "twofer," signaling
to the rest of Latin America the advent of a different policy toward
Cuba a test case of a new willingness to engage with US adversaries
could be a relatively easy first step down a generally more
presents Obama with "low-hanging fruit," easily picked, to
suggest "a new foreign-policy direction," says Anya Landau
French, a senior fellow at the Lexington Institute, a
free-market-oriented think tank in Washington. Steps as basic as
increasing antinarcotics cooperation, she says, offer "a way to
break from Bush policy without a great effort."
of this means the 48-year-old US embargo of Cuba will quickly go by
the boards. Despite the longstanding view of many Cuba experts and a
majority of Latin American leaders that the embargo hasn't worked --
a view Obama himself held before his run for the presidency -- the
president-elect now says the embargo is "an important inducement
to change" that he would lift once "freedom and justice"
arrive on the island.
Obama is likely to do is ease restrictions on travel to Cuba by
Cuban-Americans and on the flow of remittances from Cuban-Americans
across the Straits of Florida. Both moves would revert to openings
pursued by the Clinton administration that President Bush reversed.
the campaign, Susan Rice, Obama's chief foreign-policy adviser (and
now tapped by him to become U.S. ambassador to the United Nations),
said Obama would maintain the embargo "as leverage to use as we
work to negotiate with the Cuban government." She called lifting
the general ban on trade and formal diplomatic ties "the
political observers considered Obama's shift in stance on the embargo
a bow to the anti-Castro Cuban-American community. But some recent
polls suggest that the majority of Cuban-Americans -- and especially
the younger set -- no longer support the embargo.
half (55 percent) of Cuban-Americans support ending the embargo,
according to a poll conducted by Florida International University's
Institute for Public Opinion Research shortly after Election Day. The
poll found lowest support for the embargo among Cubans who came to
the United States most recently.
focal point of support for change in US Cuba policy is the business
community. "Cuba presents an easy opportunity for Obama to
demonstrate that change is coming to American foreign policy,"
says Jake Colvin, vice president for global trade issues at the
National Foreign Trade Council in Washington.
at a recent Inter-American Dialogue forum in Washington, he said that
suspending restrictions to allow U.S. business to sell machinery to
Cuba and rescinding a "cash in advance" rule on
agricultural sales to Cuba are "innovative" steps that
Obama could take.
business would also like to see any lifting of the travel ban to Cuba
include all Americans. But even change on that order would be less
than some Cuba watchers might have expected at one time from Obama.
"We're going to see some changes at the margins, but less
dramatic than we would expect," says Damian Fernandez, provost
of Purchase College, State University of New York, who is also a Cuba
expert. New under Obama will be a "tendency towards engagement"
– although "engagement has its limits," he adds.
underlying challenge to Obama's new diplomatic approach, Mr.
Fernandez says, will be: "Are we willing to accept a Cuban
regime that is not very good to its own people?"